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28 July 2013

A Trek to Mt. Pisgah (Vermont) via the North Trail

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.


Ellen Snyder said...

Hi John,

I've never been to the Northeast Kingdom, despite its great name and allure. Your trip report and photos are a great invite to visit and hike. Lake Willoughby looks beautiful and peaceful. Were there many other people using the lake? The weather on the day you hiked (based on your lovely photos) seems so unlike the weather of summer 2013. You picked a good day!

Steve Smith said...

Wow, those are some serious dropoffs, John! Fantastic photos from a less-known area. What a great day for views! Haven't been up in that area in a long time - thanks for showcasing it.


1HappyHiker said...

Hi Ellen,

You are correct! The sunny weather on the day of our hike was indeed very atypical for this Summer of 2013!

And yes, I certainly would agree with your sentiments about the beauty of Lake Willoughby. Actually, in 2010, this lake was listed by Yankee magazine as one of the three best lakes in all of New England. (Lake Champlain and Lake Winnipesauke were the other two.)

You asked if there were many people using the lake. It was the weekend, and it was a lovely day, and therefore it was busy. But yet, it was not overly crowded, and there was plenty of personal space to be had.

Although this is fairly well-known, perhaps it should be mentioned that nudists sometimes congregate on a beach area at the far west corner of the lake’s south end. However, there is about 0.2 mile of shoreline along the south end which provides ample space to get northward views where the human body is not displayed. :-)


1HappyHiker said...

Hi Steve,

Yes, those are indeed serious drop-offs on the Willoughby Cliffs. They truly meet the definition of perpendicular! I was over there a couple of winters ago and was amazed to watch ice climbers scaling those vertical walls. Can’t imagine EVER doing that!!


Rita Wechter said...

I see that Lake Willoughby is really close to the town of Glover, where I was a little over a week ago! And it looks like such a beautiful spot; I should have made a short detour over there. The next time I travel to Vermont I'll definitely have to spend more time in the northeast kingdom.

I agree with Steve about the drop-offs. Your "downward view" photo left me with sweaty palms! NOT for the acrophobic! (Personally, I think ice climbers are crazy.)

Looks like you picked a great day for this winner of a hike, John. Fun to read about your New England adventures—as always!

1HappyHiker said...

Rita, thanks as always for your comments!

Yes, if you ever have the opportunity, the Northeast Kingdom (NEK) of Vermont is definitely worth exploring. I feel fortunate to live so close to this area which is so rich in natural beauty.

And just as an interesting side note, I’m told that up until the late 1970s, information on NEK hiking trails was scarce, and their location was known only to a small number of local residents, camp owners, etc. Although I’m grateful that there are now several hiking guides and trail maps for the NEK, I can’t help but wonder if this has perhaps diminished some of the “magic” associated with this area?


Unknown said...

Love the Willoughby area. That's really where I started hiking back in the early 1980s when I lived in Lyndonville. If I'm not mistaken, my first hike with Steve Smith was an ascent of Mount Pisgah back in the spring of 1984.

1HappyHiker said...

Mike (I presume), that is so interesting! Had no idea that you and Steve started hiking together in VT. Always presumed it was NH!
Thanks so much for sharing!


Victor said...

Thank you for a nice tribute to Willoughby. I spent many wonderful years living there. There are many miles of trails worth hiking, in some of the most beautiful country in New England.

1HappyHiker said...

Victor, thank you for taking time to post such positive feedback about my report on hiking in the Lake Willoughby area!

I’m in complete agreement with your assessment about this area having some of the most beautiful countryside in all of New England. Hiking anywhere in the Northeast Kingdom is always a pure delight.


Caily said...

I am staying at a cottage on lake willoughby for my honeymoon. We got married at The Woodstock Inn, in North Woodstock NH this weekend. We are planning on Hiking Mt. Pisgah tomorrow! Thank you for the Lovely pictures and great post!!!! I do a lot of hiking in NH too. Check out some of the pics on my blog...

1HappyHiker said...

Caily, congratulations on your wedding! The Woodstock Inn was a great venue for that memorable event. And, Lake Willoughby is an awesome place to spend your honeymoon!

Thank you so much for including a link to your blog. Wow! You have taken some remarkable photos. The one of the Pine Marten on Mt. Tom is especially impressive!!

I appreciate you taking time to read and reply to my blog posting!