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08 September 2012

East Mountain, Vermont: The Most Unusual Hike I've Ever Done!


It was on my recent hike to Brousseau Mountain (click HERE) that I first heard about East Mountain.  I met a hiker at the top of Brousseau who pointed out the faint outlines of structures atop a mountain way off in the distance.  He explained that these buildings were part of an abandoned U.S. Air Force Base on East Mountain in Essex County, VT.  He further indicated that this site is accessible via public land which is administered by Vermont's Agency of Natural Resources (ANR).

Since I'm always on the lookout for new and different places for hiking, this tidbit of information piqued my curiosity.  I consulted several maps to determine the location of East Mountain.  It was surprising to learn that it would only be about an hour's drive from my home in Bethlehem, NH to reach the starting point for a hike to this mountaintop.  
Okay, that was it!  I was hooked, and immediately started planning a hike!
(Depending on your Internet browser, clicking on the image below might enlarge it.)
MAP COMPOSITE: Topographic map, plus VT ANR map showing East Mountain

With some Internet research, I discovered that this now abandoned radar station was commissioned in 1952 by the US Air Force, and it was operational by 1955.  It was originally known as the North Concord Air Force Station, but later changed in 1962 to Lyndonville Air Force Station.  This facility saw most of its use during the Cold War era.  It was one of many ground-based radar stations that were scattered around the U.S. at the time, and was used to seek out Russian planes or missiles entering U.S air space.  The site was abandoned in 1963, and the lonely, rundown buildings now serve as a reminder of the Cold War.

This station gained some notoriety in 1961 when supposedly it reported a UFO sighting which lasted roughly eighteen minutes, and occurred just a few hours before the alleged abduction of Barney and Betty Hill near North Woodstock, NH.  Books have been written about this UFO incident, and there was a TV movie starring James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons.

My Internet research about East Mountain (3,438 ft  elevation) also revealed that it ranks as the highest point in Essex County, VT, and that it ranks as 46th on the list of Vermont's 50 highest peaks.  Also, this mountain is 29th on the list known as New England Fifty Finest Peaks.  It's not my thing, but for those readers who are list-oriented and are unfamiliar with the "50 Finest" criteria, click HERE for more information.

Therefore, with having done my "homework" about East Mountain, on 07-Sep-2012 I eagerly launched my adventure!  There are several ways to reach the locked gate on Radar Road, which is the starting point for the 8-mile round-trip hike.  The route I chose from Bethlehem was to travel to US Rt. 2 in Lancaster, NH to hook up with VT Rt. 102, and then turn off onto Granby Road which leads to Radar Road.

Upon parking my car near the gate, I noticed a guy in a pickup truck parked right at the gate.  As it turned out, he's an employee of the State who was replacing the lock which had been damaged by vandalism.  I confirmed with him that it was permissible to hike the abandoned road to East Mountain.  His only admonition was that it's considered unsafe to try getting a view by climbing the abandoned military buildings at the top of the mountain.

I had read several trip reports on the Internet about folks who had hiked this mountain, and some said they had climbed the stairways on the old buildings and got some fabulous views.  Whereas others said there was "no way" they would ever attempt to climb on those rusted structures.   From the outset, I rather suspected that I would be among those opting NOT to do any climbing!  If I were to ever suffer the misfortune of being injured while hiking, my preference would be to do something such as slipping on a wet rock, rather than falling from a rusty set of stairs on an abandoned building!

The deserted road leading up the abandoned military installation is a well preserved corridor in the middle of the woods.  It appears that it is still lightly-used by those who administer this land.  There are long stretches of this roadway where the asphalt is still very much intact, even after being laid down nearly 50 years ago!  It was actually a very pleasant walk with nothing to be seen but trees in any direction.  And while climbing higher and higher, it was interesting to see the trees gradually changing from hardwoods to spruce and fir.

The next photo composite shows snapshots of the roadway taken at various points along the way.
Snapshots of  roadway taken at various points along the way to top of mountain

About halfway up the mountain, there are the remains of the buildings which were used to feed and house the staff that worked at the radar facility at the top of the mountain. Shown below is a composite photo of the exterior and interior of the dining hall.
Exterior and interior of the Dining Hall

Shortly after leaving the abandoned dining hall and barracks area, there is an opening where you look across a meadow and see some of the buildings associated with the main radar facility at the top of the mountain.
Distant view of buildings associated with main radar facility at top of mountain

From various points near the upper end of the roadway, there are "eye-of-the-needle" views of distant mountains.  The next photo shows one of those views.  I'm uncertain, but this particular vista might show Mts. Garfield and Lafayette in NH.  I was looking southward when this photo was taken.
Possibly Mts. Garfield and Lafayette in NH

Upon arrival at the decaying radar station at the top of the mountain, it sort of felt like a scene from one of those disaster movies where you emerge into a world that has been devastated by a horrific catastrophe, like a nuclear war, or something of that magnitude.  This feeling is magnified by having just walked up a 4-mile long paved road without any vehicular traffic at any point along the way.

The next 3 photos show some of the many buildings at the abandoned Air Force facility atop East Mountain in Vermont.



Time was taken to explore all of the buildings, but mostly from the outside.  They have been pretty well boarded up to keep people out.  However, there were a few doors that have been pried open to gain access to the stairwells that lead to the top of the structure.  

I poked my head inside of these opened doorways and saw enough to quickly dispel any thoughts of climbing the stairs to seek out a view.  First of all, the interior of these buildings are dank and as dark as sin.  Through the dim lighting, I could see holes in the flooring, as well as pieces of every imaginable type of debris.  Also, there were disconcerting sounds of loose pieces of metal flapping in the wind.  And to top it off, there were signs posted on the buildings regarding asbestos danger (see photo below).
Asbestos warning signs

Some readers are probably asking why I ever undertook an 8-mile round-trip hike to such an unattractive place.  In response, I'd offer that the mileage went by very quickly since the "trail" was generally a paved surface from start to finish.  Of course, the decrepit buildings are definitely an eyesore.  Nonetheless, the surrounding landscape is attractive, and the setting is quite remote.

But the most compelling reason for undertaking this adventure was because of it being something new to me, which always has a huge appeal.  Also, by engaging in something new, it jolted me from my routine routes of travel, and thereby provided the opportunity to drive through some picturesque Vermont countryside and villages that I'd never visited.  Particularly quaint was the village was Granby, VT with a total population of 88 as of the 2010 Census, thereby making it the least populated incorporated town in the State.
Post Office in Granby, VT
 Granby, VT Central School

To sum it up, I have no regrets for having done this rather strange hike.   The 8-mile round-trip journey (with an elevation gain of about 1,700 ft) provided a great workout, and it led me to an unusual place through some beautiful and remote forestland in Vermont.
/ / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / /


ADDENDUM (added 10-Sep2012):
Shown below are some photos which were generously provided to me by a reader.  They show some of the views that can be had by climbing around on the old buildings.  I'm very grateful for the photos, especially since they allow me to see views that I'll likely never experience first-hand! :-)  I just cannot see myself ever climbing the rusted stairwells inside those buildings.




Also included in this addendum is a composite which shows a photo that I took while visiting this abandoned site in 2012, and compares it to a photo taken in 1962.  I think both snapshots show the same building, but from different vantage points.  You'll undoubtedly note in the 1962 photo that there was a "protective bubble" on top of the structure.  As I understand it, this was used to shield  the sensitive radar equipment from the weather.

And lastly, with some additional Internet research, I came up with the image that is shown below.   Apparently this abandoned site was written up in a Rutland, VT newspaper back in the year 2000.



35 comments:

  1. Cool find, John. I can always count on you to find these out-of-the-way kind of places. Detailed and never a bore. Thanks!

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    1. Hi Owen,

      Thank you! Feedback that you and others provide is always useful and very much appreciated.
      It was especially great to learn that you didn’t find this rather detailed report to be boring!

      John

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  2. Pretty cool John.
    Tho I'm amazed that in almost 50 years no one thought to throw that mattress away :)

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    1. Hi Gary,

      Like you, I also was sort of surprised to see a mattress among the rubble inside the old Dining Hall building. I have no idea if it’s been there for 50 years, or if it might be a relatively recent “enhancement”. :-)

      Thanks for posting your comments!

      John

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  3. Hi John, Marc did this trip this summer, and it was a surprise to me. I used to spend a week every year in Glover on Shadow Lake as a kid, and we were up in Lyndonville a lot as my grandmother lived there. Good stuff, and worth a trip up to revisit an area with some dear memories.

    Mike, aka Salty

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    1. Hi Mike,

      Thanks for posting your thoughts and comments . . . much appreciated!

      Although this hike is a bit odd in that it doesn’t involve a more traditional destination like a pond, ledge, waterfall, etc, I think it’s still very worthwhile. To reach the abandoned airbase, you’re hiking through some beautiful woods in a remote part of Vermont. That alone, scores some big points with me! Also, this hike involves visiting a slice of history that occurred 50 years ago. It’s sort of puzzling to understand why some folks would consider a visit to this abandoned facility to be less worthy than a visit to an abandoned logging camp which might be just about 50 years older!

      John

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  4. Interesting Trip report! Looks like a place worth checking out! You sure have found some gems this year~! In all the trip reports I've read over the years, I haven't come across this one. You surely are keeping to your motto of doing something different! I continue to enjoy your blog! Thanks for the time you put into it to share!!

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    1. Anonymous: Thank you on several counts! Thanks for taking time to post your comments. Thanks for your kind words. And thank you for recognizing and appreciating the time involvement for putting together the Blog reports! Feedback such as this helps to make it all worthwhile! :-)

      John

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  5. REALLY enjoyed the ehike and photos!! Thank You for sharing!! The area and buildings reminded me of my hikes (when I was young) to a local mountain area, that also has an abandoned radar station. I have photos of myself and my family there on a visiting day in the early 1970s when they were still in operation and open for non-military visitors. [Mount Umunhum, California, (Ohlone, meaning resting place of the hummingbird) is the fourth-highest peak in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. The mountain is situated in Santa Clara County, southeast of Los Gatos and south of South San Jose. The peak can be recognized in the South Bay Area by the five-story concrete radar tower building, known locally as "the cube" or "the box", that sits atop the summit. The tower construction began in 1960 and completed in 1962. It supported a 85.5-ton General Electric model AN/FPS-24 long range search radar antenna "sail" used to detect incoming hostile aircraft during the Cold War.]


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    1. Thank you for your comments, and thanks for sharing some of your hiking experiences to similar locations. Places like abandoned facilities, ghost towns, etc are special in that they provide a unique way to experience a slice of history.

      John

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  6. John, To agree with Owen, nice find! Your description is so spot on, its like you just took us on a tour. If it wasn't peak bagging, the second thing I would do is explore places like this. But since you do it, and so well, I don't have to! It was cool to see the link for the New England 50 finest peaks. I didn't know about that until now. After hiking in VT this weekend, I enjoyed the remote feel of each mountain. Adding to your reply to Salty, you have to think the United States chose that site for some reason, which could also be the same reason for anyone to explore it. Well done!

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    1. Dan, thank you for comments and compliments!

      It’s terrific to read that you have also been enjoying some Vermont hiking.

      Also, it’s cool to read that the list called “New England Fifty Finest Peaks” was new to you as well. Although I’m not a “list-person”, I’m generally aware of the lists that are out there, but I’d never heard of the 50 Finest list until doing research about this hike. There’s always something new to be learned! :-)

      John

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  7. You find the neatest and most unusual places! You need to write a book called, "Most Unusual New England Hikes". This one might take top honors. As a former AF brat, this certainly piqued my interest, although it was just a hair before my father's time. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thanks Summerset! Hmmm . . . a book called “Most Unusual New England Hikes”! Perhaps if one could pin down a definition for “unusual” then maybe it might have some possibilities. But I suppose that one person’s “usual”, might be someone else’s “unusual”! :-)

      Thanks once again for taking a moment to post your comments!

      John

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  8. Old rusty buildings..not your typical outdoor destination...but intriguing non the less. The history is very interesting and the views from on top of that building are amazing.

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    1. Steven, thank you so much for your comments!

      I completely agree that outdoor destinations typically do not include old rusty buildings of such a relatively recent vintage, like those which are the subject of this report. However, there are a number of hikes here in New England which include destinations that have old buildings from earlier time periods, like early 20th century, and late 19th century. Regardless of the time era, I think they all represent a slice of history which can provide the makings for a fascinating hiking adventure!

      Thanks again,
      John

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  9. Another very cool report John! You always manage to find unique and interesting places to hike. I'm surprised that the ANR allows hikes to this facility, considering the possibility of lawsuits should someone be injured by ignoring the warnings and going into the buildings.

    I love your description of seeming like you've entered the scene of one of those disaster movies where an apocalypse has occurred. That's exactly what it looks like!

    I agree that the remoteness of the location makes this an intriguing hike.

    A fun read, and a most unusual hike indeed!

    Rita

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    1. Hi Rita,

      As always, I’m appreciative of your comments! And yes, the remote location of this hike was a huge draw for me. However, in doing some further research about this old Air Base, I discovered that many of the airmen considered an assignment to this location to be highly undesirable. It was likened to being sent to a remote outpost in some foreign country!

      John

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    2. Yes, I think most considered the site remote and undesirable. On the other hand, to a GI there are only two good places - where you were last and where you are going next. I was stationed there '57 - '58. While I was there the site was designated as remote and you were not required to stay there more than a year. I, and probably most, left as soon as possible.

      Thanks for this blog. I found it while doing some post-visit analysis. My wife and I visited the site on September 11, 2012 (didn't go to the towers). It is a little hard to match my memory with what was left of the site. Quite a bit of decay -- both to the site and to my memory!

      Joe

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    3. Joe,

      I’m so appreciative of you taking the time to post your comments. It’s truly awesome to hear from a member of the military who was actually stationed at this remote location. I was hoping that someone such as you might stumble upon my Blog report and then take the time to provide some input based upon real-life experience. Thank you for your military service, and thank you for posting your comments!

      John

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  10. Hi John.....

    Been a while since I've commented. I've been distracted from hiking the past few weeks ever since I got a mountain bike. THe last hike I did was the Wildcats via the Wildcat Ridge trail that I used the Polecat for the descent on your reco, but I'm planning on finally hiking Mt. Moosilauke on Monday.

    Anyway, nice report and great pictures! As a hiker who is a fan of history and post-apocalyptic fiction and film, this is pretty intriguing to me. Old, decaying, rundown buildings are fascinating to me. However, the fact that it's following an old, somewhat paved road makes me want to jump on my mountain bike and do it as an epic cycling climb rather than a hike. Out of curiosity and based on what you saw, do you think that is feasible? Also, based on your conversation with the state employee, did he say anything that might indicate biking there would be illegal?

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    1. Hi Chris,

      Glad that you enjoyed this report. For certain, this is a fascinating slice of history from the Cold War era, over a half-century ago!

      Anyway, regarding doing this trek on a mountain bike, if you do some Internet searching you should come up with a report about this having been done. I saw one such report when I was doing my research about this location, but I’ll be darned if I can find it again! Maybe you’ll have better luck. There are a few short segments of the road where it’s quite steep. And, there are a few places (mostly at the beginning of the roadway) where the asphalt has deteriorated, but the road surface is still very “bike-able”.

      Regarding the guy who was replacing the lock at the roadgate, my conversation with him was very brief. As indicated in my report, his only admonition was that it was considered unsafe to climb the stairways on the old buildings. There were no posted signs, and no signs saying anything about biking or hiking being disallowed. The only signs I saw had to do with asbestos warnings which were posted on the outside of all the buildings.

      Hope this helps,
      John

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  11. A reader of this Blog informed me via private communication that this abandoned Air Force base is the setting for a scene toward the end of a novel entitled "The Disposable Man" written by Archer Mayor.

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  12. John,
    I showed your report to a student of mine doing an Independent Learning Opportunity on the evolution of warfare in the 20th century. I have been trying to get him to narrow his focus and your post provided him the inspiration to study the Cold War bases in the North Country. I am familiar with and we will be visiting East Mountain radar base as well as the St. Albans radar base on Fairfield mt. a Atlas missile site in Alburg Vt, and making a trip to visit the gentleman who is in charge of decommissioning the Plattsburg Airbase. FYI i got the school librarian to procure a copy of the Rutland Herald article. I was wondering if you knew of any other sites in northern NH?
    Thanks for making my job a little easier!

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    1. Dave,

      It’s very gratifying to know that at least one of my Blog reports has made a difference in someone’s life! As a teacher, you must be familiar with that feeling!

      Anyway, what goes around, comes around. I learned a few things from your response to my report. I had no knowledge of the other Cold War facilities that you listed in your reply. The St. Albans radar base, in particular, will be something that I’ll visit the next time I’m over in the Burlington, VT area.

      Regarding your question about other Cold War military sites in northern NH, I do not know of any. However, if I should become aware of any, I can let you know if you want to provide me with an e-mail address. You can e-mail me at randonneur8 AT yahoo DOT com.

      John

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  13. Just today, from WCAX, seems the mattress is no more.

    http://www.wcax.com/story/19704872/fire-at-abandoned-vt-radar-base-was-arson


    By the way, how long did it take to to hike the road?

    Alton

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    1. Alton, thanks so much for sending that WCAX link! Very interesting, and very much appreciated!
      Hope the authorities don't close the road to hiker/biker traffic because of this.

      Regarding how long it took me to hike the road up to the top of East Mountain, I can't recall the exact time, but I'm thinking it was well under 4 hours (round-trip).

      John

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  14. Stacia mountaingirl327@yahoo.comFebruary 20, 2013 at 8:28 AM

    Hey there Happy Hiker,

    Stumbling upon this trip report made my morning. I went on my one and only 4wheeling jeep adventure to this site 30 years ago. Looks the same including the mattress which I see is not more. At that time, in my more youthful and potentially foolish days, I climbed to the top of the round platforms pretty wild, complete with butterflies even than. I was interested in the history which was unknown to me at that time. I was told that it was a hangout for the Hell's Angels but...that could just be a rumor. I still remember that trip and the area very well. I remember going to Holiday in the Hills in Victory I believe. The backroads around the Granby area bring back memories, the one room school house and some of the local loggers both men and woman. Thanks for flooding my brain with wonderful memories. It is just one of those places that stands out in ones memory. As an aside would you have worked at NHH in the past??

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    1. Hi!

      It’s so gratifying to read that my report brought back some wonderful memories to you!

      East Mountain is such a fascinating place. It’s sort of like a modern-day version of the old ghost-towns in the far west regions of the U.S. And the backroads around the Granby area are so charming and unique.

      You asked if I once worked at NHH. Don’t know if NHH is an acronym for the New Hampshire Hospital, but regardless, I’ve never worked at a place with those initials.

      John

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  15. Is this base and the old buildings still there now that it is 2014? Does anyone have info? Thanks :)

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    1. Owen, as of mid-May 2013, the old buildings were still there (see link below). My guess is that this abandoned facility will be around for quite a while since it would likely be difficult to obtain the necessary funding for its removal.

      http://www.franklinsites.com/hikephotos/Vermont/eastmtn-2013-0512.php

      John

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    2. As of Oct 25, 2015 the buildings are still there. I just made this hike bird hunting yesterday.

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    3. Thanks for the update, Chris. It’s good to know that this unique place is still there.

      John

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  16. Im planning on going on a camping and hiking trip in mid may this year, and I was wondering if you remember how long it took you to do this trail? Beautiful photos by the way!

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    1. Abbey, according to my notes, this adventure took me just a tad over 4 hours (round-trip) of actual hiking time. But, when including time to explore the site and to take photos, then the total time was probably a bit over 5 hours.

      Hope this helps. Please feel free to ask any follow-up questions that you might have.

      Thanks for the kind words about the photos included in this report.

      John

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