#13  Mount Mansfield, Vermont (4,393 ft.)

On the lower slopes of Mount Mansfield's Halfway House Trail it dawned on me that serious hiking trails in the East as a rule don't mess around with switchbacks. Some trails are steeper than others, some meander more than others, but most cut quickly and precipitously to the chase.


We climbed Mansfield on 9/11. Accordingly, in the morning, as we were camped near Stowe (yes, on the wrong side of the mountain), we heard jets overhead, no doubt flying from some  distant airbase to commemorate you-know-what. We also climbed Mansfield on the same day as Kristen Kelleher, a Vermont native and the youngest woman to complete the Lower 48 highpoints (which she did that very day, in her home state). Her entourage naturally brought up watermelon, patron fruit of high pointing  which they shared with us. Kristen went on to summit Denali and remains the youngest woman to complete all 50 states. It was a privilege to bask ever so briefly in her alpenglow.

Dolley Shot: Mansfield

When viewed from the valley below, Mansfield's long summit ridge resembles the profile of a human face, hence the nicknames of its most prominent features (Forehead, Nose, Chin, and Adam’s Apple). The mountain itself was named after the former town of Mansfield, dissolved in the nineteenth century.

In my field, art history, Mansfield is equally notable for being the subject of numerous fine paintings, including several by Hudson River School artist Sanford R. Gifford, a founding trustee of the Metropolitan Museum, and Jerome B. Thompson, whose Belated Party perfectly illustrates the mountaineering tenet of the alpine start. Among the corseted picnickers enjoying the sunset is a young man brandishing a pocketwatch (lower left), clearly concerned by the approach of darkness and the perilous descent to come. For my part, I would not relish the thought of hiking the Sunset Ridge Trail, which we took on the descent, while loosening my cravat and toting a picnic basket.


Jerome B. Thompson (1814-1886), The Belated Party on Mansfield Mountain, 1858.
Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York;Rogers Fund, 1969 (69.182)

The same year Thompson painted The Belated Party, the Summit House was built just beneath the nose, presumably just below where the ill-fated party in the painting chose to picnic:

Summit House and Chin from the Nose, Mount Mansfield, ca. 1863-80. Albumen print (stereoscope image). New York Public Library, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs

About five years later, the Mansfield Hotel was constructed just up the ridge, but to be honest I can't be sure about that. I wish the online sources were more specific about differentiating among the structures on the summit. The Green Mountain Inn's website describes the hotel as being 3 1/2 stories tall and 300 feet long and having 2 rear wings, livery for 200 horses, and accommodations for 450 guests. Here are two different views of the "Mount Mansfield Hotel," but to me it looks like it occupies the same site as what is otherwise called the "Summit House" or the "Vermont Hotel." 


Above: Robert Wilkinson, Summit House Hotel and Chin of Mount Mansfield from the South, 1926. Hand-colored lantern slide. Below: Theron S. Dean, Summit House on Mount Mansfield, 1926. Lantern slide. University of Vermont Libraries


The hotel was apparently destroyed by fire in 1889; the summit house was closed only in 1957, however, and deconstructed in 1963. The second of these images is obviously from after the era of liveried horses and certainly postdates 1889, so I assume these are photos of the Summit House, not the hotel. I still can't quite ascertain what the difference was, if any.


Herbert Wheaton Congdon, Mount Mansfield, Summit of the Nose, 1920. Hand-colored lantern slide. University of Vermont Libraries

The University of Vermont Center for Digital Initiatives has a wonderful archive of images of Mansfield, including collections from Robert Wilkinson, Theron S. Dean, and Herbert Wheaton Congdon. I am particularly fond of Congdon's  haunting picture of the summit (above), with its pale, tattered semaphore and watchful scout.

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