Most of my hiking is done within the State of New Hampshire where I live. However, there are many hiking opportunities in Vermont that are within an hour's drive from my home in Bethlehem. On a Saturday in late July 2013, my friend Marty and I decided to drive over to Vermont and hike in the Mt. Pisgah/Lake Willoughby area which is located along Rt. 5A near Westmore, VT. This area lies within a region known as the Northeast Kingdom.
Lake Willoughby is a glacial lake reaching a depth of over 300 ft. in places. Because of how it is dramatically situated between the steep cliffs of Mt. Pisgah and Mt. Hor, it has a close resemblance to a Norwegian fjord.
There is an interesting bit of history associated with Lake Willoughby relating to the French & Indian War (1754-1763). In 1759, Robert Rogers led his Rangers on a successful raid of the Abenaki Indian settlement of St. Francis in Quebec, Canada. This raid was in retaliation for the Abenaki attack on a retreating British unit while under a flag of truce. After the raid, Rogers and his men were pursued through northern Vermont by French and Indian forces as they made their way back to base. As part of their escape route, the men hugged the rough and rocky eastern shoreline of Lake Willoughby.
As you are approaching the Lake Willoughby area while driving north on Route 5A, there is a surrealistic image of Mt. Hor and Mt. Pisgah that suddenly comes into view (see photo below).
|Mt. Hor (on left) and Mt. Pisgah (on right) as viewed from Route 5A|
Mt. Pisgah would, in some ways, be a new destination for both Marty and me. This would be Marty's first time ever to ascend this mountain, and it would be my first ascent via the North Trail. My other two treks to Mt. Pisgah have been via the South Trail. For both trails the elevation gain is identical, i.e. 1,375 ft. However, the hiking distances are slightly different. The one-way distance for the North Trail is 2.2 miles, versus 1.7 miles for the South Trail.
|Map showing trails and major overlooks for the Mt. Pisgah hike|
The three major outlooks from Mt. Pisgah are located on the north side of the summit (see map shown above). You need to appreciate that all of these viewpoints involve venturing out onto small ledges on the edge of the Willoughby Cliffs. The photo shown below doesn't do complete justice to the rather precarious drop-offs at each of these outlooks.
|Downward view from one of Mt. Pisgah's outlooks on the Willoughby Cliffs|
The next photo might serve to give some idea of the rather small size of these outlooks. This hiker is perched on an outlook peering down at me where I was standing on a lower outlook.
|Hiker perched on one of the small outlooks on the Willoughby Cliffs|
Although the drop-offs at these outlooks might prove a bit unsettling to some, they do provide dramatic vistas. The photos presented below provide a couple of examples of the awesome views.
|Northwesterly vista (massive cliffs on Mt. Wheeler on left side of photo)|
|Slightly zoomed photo providing a closer view of Mt. Wheeler|
Just as a side note, the trek to Mt. Wheeler is another Vermont adventure that is definitely worth considering (click HERE for my Blog report about that hike).
Looking nearly due north from the outlooks on Mt. Pisgah you can see Lake Memphremagog. About 75% of this lake is in Canada (Quebec), with the remaining portion in the Vermont towns of Derby and Newport. Along the western shore of Lake Memphremagog are several prominent mountains, such as Owl's Head, Elephantis, and the Sugar Loaf.
The next photo shows the Lake Memphremagog vista. It's a rather poor quality image. But please bear in mind that it's a highly zoomed photo of landscape features that are nearly 25 miles away!
|Zoomed photo of Lake Memphremagog located 25 miles north|
After enjoying the views from the three overlooks atop the Willoughby Cliffs, Marty and I continued onward to the top of Mt. Pisgah to experience the views from ledges located just a couple hundred feet from the true summit.
These ledges provide a broad view looking down the West Branch of the Pamsumpsic River Valley. Burke Mountain dominates the landscape and is easily recognizable by its ski slopes. On the distant horizon, about 50 miles away, you can see the White Mountains of New Hampshire, including high peaks in the Presidential Range, Franconia Range, and other ranges as well.
Shown below is just an example of one of the vistas from the ledges near the summit of Mt. Pisgah.
|Burke Mtn (foreground); peaks in Franconia Range and the Kinsmans (distant horizon)|
The next photo probably will have little significance unless you've visited the abandoned U.S. Airbase on East Mountain, VT. From the summit ledges on Mt. Pisgah, I could faintly see one of the many buildings that are still standing at the abandoned airbase.
The top panel of this composite photo shows what could be seen through my binoculars when looking at this mountaintop which is located about 15 miles to the southeast. The bottom two panels show images of some of the structures atop East Mountain that can be seen when visiting the site. (If you're interested in reading more about this abandoned airbase, then click HERE for a Blog that I wrote after hiking to this rather unusual place.)
|Composite photo showing structures on abandoned U.S. Airbase atop East Mountain, VT|
And so, the narrative presented above provides a summary of our trek to various viewpoints atop Mt. Pisgah. After we arrived back at the trailhead, we decided to do a short 0.2 mile "hike-ette" to the south end of Lake Willoughby. From the south end of the lake, there is a rather stunning view looking northward (see next photo).
|Looking northward from Lake Willoughby's south shore|
From this vantage point, Marty and I could get a good look at the Willoughby Cliffs where we had literally "hung out" earlier in the day!
|Willoughby Cliffs on Mt. Pisgah's west side|
On the far left side of the above photo, you will notice that there is a seagull who apparently flew in to spend the day admiring the vistas at Lake Willoughby! The next photo shows a close up image of that touristy seagull.
|Seagull "tourist" enjoying the day at Lake Willoughby|
To sum it up, in addition to the area around Lake Willoughby, there are numerous other excellent hiking opportunities in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Many of these hikes are described in a book published by The NorthWoods Stewardship Center (in partnership with the Green Mountain Club of VT) which is entitled "Northeast Kingdom Mountain Trail Guide" by Luke O'Brien.