A shout out goes to our friend Jerrod Hall who responded to my Facebook posting looking for a Vermont hiking recommendation. Turned on to Camel’s Hump, I am reminded that while he and our son Will were roommates at St. Michael’s College in Vermont, they hiked this third highest mountain in the state.
Leaving home in York, Maine at 6A on this Monday in early September, we know we have a three plus hour drive to Camel’s Hump in north central Vermont. Our friend Liz Marshall suggested Eaton’s Sugar House in South Royalton, VT for breakfast.
Ideally located within a half of mile of I-89 off exit 3, Eaton’s Sugar House looks like something out of the 19th century California Gold Rush. Once inside, we are greeted by our waitress Charity and select one of the fifteen picnic tables on this quiet Monday.
Opting for blueberry pancakes, I wait for them trying my skill at the IQ Tester peg game. Leaving just two pegs means I am above average; which totally confirms what my mother always told me. Hannah chooses the two egg, bacon, home fries, and homemade bread toast with coffee special for $4.95.
Carbo loaded, we drive another hour to exit 10 on I-89 and wind our way through the town of Waterbury, VT; shadowing the Winooski River we see signs for Camel’s Hump which eventually guide us to the trailhead lower parking lot suitable for twenty cars. The upper lot can handle 20 more for what many believe is the most popular (and no fee) hike in all of Vermont.
It’s 11A as we put water bottles, sandwich fixings, gorp, and energy bars in our fanny packs for the climb to the top. Even on this workday Monday there are ten cars in the lot and no shortage of people hiking.
The Monroe Trail is a 3.4 mile ascent that has us hiking to the summit of the only undeveloped peak over 4000 feet in Vermont. In guide books there are two prominent trails up the mountain: the Burrows, shorter at 4.2 round-trip, and the longer Monroe at 6.8 miles round-trip with its 2600 feet of elevation gain.
In 1.3 miles through the heavy forest, we see the turn for the Dean Trail to the top but we opt to stay on the Monroe Trail since we don’t know how much the elevation gain will take out of us. As a trail that is rocky and constantly rising, it’s really a climb/hike through hardwoods and pines. As “here for the physical challenge” hikers (as opposed to “stop and smell the roses” hikers), Hannah and I are loving the climb as we pursue a great workout.
Never does the Monroe Trail seem perilous nor does it have the steep rock faces that its sister climb across the valley has (Mount Hunger in Center Waterbury). Rarely do we have to grab the stone mountainside for balance. It’s a challenging nearly two hour hike but not daunting; clearly with all the stones and rocks, it is no mountain to climb in even light rain.
On this 60s day, we hike in shorts and tee shirts, sweating much of the way. A hat for protection from the sun, even sunscreen is hardly necessary as we are shaded for 95% of the hike. The trail is well-marked and easy to follow. Climbers up and down provide for a moment of connection.
A clearing just 0.3 miles from the top is the convergence with the Long Trail and the Burrows Trail as we prepare for our final assault. By the way. going along the mountain tops of Vermont from Massachusetts to Canada, the Long Trail predates the Appalachian Trail.
Once at the summit, we have panoramic views of the Vermont countryside. With dogs aplenty at the top, we hikers are all admonished to walk just on rocks and stay off the grassy portions of Camel’s Hump due to its fragile arctic alpine vegetation.
Check out the video from the windy mountain top.
While the descent taxes our knees over jutting rocks and roots, we are soon passed by a barefoot hiker. While our hiking boots allow us to step on the sharp edges in the rocky trail, he navigates in and around them quite effortlessly. When we ask, he says if you walk properly and care for your feet, it’s not hard to do. And then he’s gone. We’ll stick with hiking boots.
Once back at the trailhead there is a feeling of satisfaction. Checking my watch I see that it took us just as long to descend the mountain (1h 50 minutes) as we did to climb it. Camel’s Hump is Vermont hiking at its best.
For directions and description of the Camel’s Hump hike try:
Vermont Hiking: Day Hikes, Kid-Friendly Trails and Backpacking Treks by Michael Lanza
Hiking Vermont by Larry Fletcher
(Both I found on interlibrary loan in the state of Maine)
Click on this link for an excellent trail map.