Camel’s Hump is Vermont’s third-highest peak, at 4083 feet, and near and dear to my heart. It is surely the state’s finest summit, iconic in profile and its highest undeveloped mountain. Here in frigid New England, 4000 feet is enough to clear tree line, and so Camel’s Hump is crowned with one of the state’s few patches of alpine tundra. Immediately below, a krumholtz of red spruce and balsam fir drops into a drenched and gnarled elfin forest, lair of Bicknell’s Thrush, one of Vermont’s ornithological specialities, and whose wintering grounds in the mountains of Hispañola are an odd geographic parallel to this range. Below the evergreens, northern hardwood forest, in some patches quite mature, spreads out on the mountain’s flanks. On nearby Bald Hill, spacious groves of birches allow for excellent backcountry skiing, and in the summer, brigades of clipper-wielding enthusiasts keep undergrowth at bay, the ethics of which I am conflicted over, but whose efforts I nonetheless (hypocritically) enjoy the fruits of. (The most famous skiing in the area, however, is the annual Camel’s Hump Challenge, a high-country circumnavigation of the mountain.)
Since returning to Vermont for the holidays, training for Wilson Creek Frozen 50k has mostly been relegated to snowy dirt road runs, complemented by a few laps of skiing on Stark Mountain, but I’ve been up Camel’s Hump regularly to maintain some relictual climbing strength in my legs. Of these excursions, two in particular have been notable. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, it was rewarding to finally make the trip solely under my own power. From the door of my house, a trip to the summit of Camel’s Hump and back is 25.5 miles and about 4300 feet of vertical gain, mostly on hilly dirt roads through farmland before a steady and steep climb to the trailhead. The second was an earnest personal record attempt on the Burrows Trail — of several routes to the summit, this is the most direct and most popular, ascending some 2200 vertical feet in a mere 2.4 miles. With Kasie Enman training on the mountain, I’m sure there’s an impressive record on the hypothetical books, but on a personal level, I had only vague benchmarks in mind, knowing :45 to the summit and :30 on descent was typical for my more casual outings. The trail, alas, was mostly a sheet of ice, and my microspikes being somewhat ill-fitting, I wasn’t expecting much. I started much too quickly, and almost blew up after about 10 minutes, merely hanging as the trail steepened and I was reduced to a painful power hike. I reached the summit in 38:44, and descended in 20:52 for a round trip of 59:36 with a minute or so lost to futzing with layers. Squeaking under the hour mark was something I had thought I would only be able to manage in dry conditions during the summer, and so despite losing time to ice on the descent, I was happy with the run. One of the fascinating things about any sort of record attempt is that so much lies in the art of its execution rather than merely fitness; in the rhythm of exertion during the climb and descent. In this respect, I don’t think I nailed it, and so I’ll be interested to see how this number might change during better conditions the next time I’m back in Vermont.