I did not sleep well at all last night; I'm thinking it might be the caffeinated drink flavoring I've been using with dinner. The somewhat cloudy morning and potentially dreary afternoon wether forecast also didn't help. But whatever the reason, I started off somewhat low energy. This is a terrible way to start a steep climb up Vermont's tallest mountain, but, there was nowhere to go but up.
The trail from Taft Lodge to Mansfield's "Forehead" wasn't too difficult to start, but it got a bit steep at places. Not surprising when you've got 2,000 feet of elevation gain that happens in just over two miles. Near the top, the trail picked up some steep rock scrambles. They were a bit difficult, but also at least somewhat interesting. And, once above treeline, here were some nice views on the way up.
Finally, I reached the Forehead, shortly before Climber and Sidewinder, who had left the shelter 15 or 20 minutes before I did. From the Forehead, the trail meandered through a high-altitude alpine forest and a brief walk along a gravel road near some communication towers, before heading to a visitor center at the top of the auto road.
The visitor center (still very much a work in progress) was staffed by a GMC Caretaker. Climber, Sidewinder, and I took a break there and chatted with the caretaker for a short while, interrupted occasionally as he greeted other visitors. From the caretaker, I learned that there was an open ski lodge with a restaurant a bit off the trail, so I figured I'd take the detour and grab a mountaintop burger and beer before continuing on. (I did much the same last year on my AT thru-hike when I went to the ski lodge near the top of Killington.)
From the visitor center, the trail followed a fairly rocky ridge, though nothing actually difficult, as it headed towards the "Chin", Mansfield's summit. Shortly before the summit, the Cliff Trail split off, leading to the ski lodge. It wound up being considerably steeper than I expected, and parts of it were very difficult to navigate with a pack on. At one particularly difficult place, where the trail actually goes through a bit of a rock tunnel, I didn't actually see the tunnel, so I couldn't find a proper way to navigate forward. After trying to make the descent going forwards, and then backwards (neither of which worked because I either couldn't see, or couldn't reach, the rocks below), I tried to take an alternate route: an adjacent rock, tilted at an angle, looked promising, and I figured I would sit down on it and inch my way down the slope.
It turned out that my feet, hands, and pack dragging on the rock didn't provide adequate grip, and instead of slowly inching my way forward, I wound up sliding right off the slope, shooting over the rock I was attempting to land on, and crashed (pack first) into a tree stump. It was quite an experience, and one I hope never to repeat.
Apparently made out of rubber, I bounced up, to the awe of half a dozen onlookers, with only a few scrapes and a nice thump on my leg, but no real injury to speak of. That said, I was a fair bit shaken up, and, realizing that I had narrowly missed a hike-ending injury (I was pretty sure on the way down I was going to break something), I was rueing the decision to come down this trail. But now, I was committed to the restaurant.
As expected, the restaurant, the Cliff House, was ridiculously expensive, and the burger I got there was merely ok, but I was still too shaken up to actually enjoy the beer I wanted, so instead I just ordered a Sprite. The ordeal did appear to call for something special, though, so I ordered a "warm" brownie and ice cream desert. (They brownie didn't appear to be very warm, but I was also a bit cold, and uncomfortable, so it's possible I just couldn't notice.)
Although I was somewhat hesitant to climb back up the Cliff Trail, going up is almost always easier than coming down, and this time, I knew which way I was supposed to go, so off I went. The climb back up went a lot faster than the climb down, and soon, I was back on the ridge, which I continued to follow to Mansfield's summit.
From the summit, the trail was very steep, down rocks, until it reached the treeline. This was one section of trail I would really not have wanted to have been on in any sort of inclement weather.
Finally, around 3:45, about eight hours after I left Taylor Lodge, I made it to Taft Lodge, a distance of only 6.8 miles. The food detour turned out to be much more of a time sink than I had anticipated, I was tired, and running on low morale after the incident on the Cliff Trail. I wanted to go further, but I didn't feel confident I'd have the energy to do it. However, I still got to where my plan called for me to be today, so with that in mind, I decided to end the day at Taft.
Taft Lodge is a fairly nice shelter. Elevated, it has a small porch out font. Inside is a large dining table, and two sets of bunks, with a total capacity of 24 if everyone packed in tightly. Also, an elevated platform provides a bunk space for the shelter's caretaker, who sleeps in the shelter, as opposed to in a special tent space, as in most other shelters with caretakers.
The shelter was also fairly full: a family on an outing made up at least ten people in the shelter, plus me, Climber, and Sidewinder, and a few others. Then, around 5 pm, a group of ten girls arrived, part of a Farm and Wilderness club, which would have put the shelter well over capacity if they all tried to stay in the shelter. Fortunately, only the two group leaders stayed in the shelter; the other eight disappeared off into the woods to camp. (Presumably this was worked out in advance, since there's normally no camping allowed near Taft Lodge.)
I wound up having a light dinner, eating the second half of the dinner I didn't have yesterday. As I was cooking, a light rain started to fall, though only for a few minutes. Later, around 7, a more substantial rain started.
Since I'm trying to make it up and over another set of rocky mountains tomorrow, I'm actually trying to get to sleep before 9 pm for once. The forecast for tomorrow is calling for rain all day, so it's really not going to be a fun hike, and the sooner I can get started, the better.