is the highest mountain in Vermont, standing at 4,393 feet. The Abenaki Native American tribe called this mountain Mozodepowadso, which can be translated into English as Moosehead Mountain. It's now called Mount Mansfield as a tribute to the old town of Mansfield, Vermont, where the mountain was located (but the town no longer exists).
When viewed from the east and the west, Mount Mansfield is known for resembling a human profile, with a distinct forehead, nose, chin, and Adam's apple:
The Face of Mansfield
Can you see it? Left to right: Forehead, nose, chin (highest point), Adam's apple. Yes, it's a quite elongated face. Photo credit to Paul Eagerly, best roommate ever.
Mansfield is one of only two places in Vermont where Alpine Tundra can be found (the other being Camel’s Hump). So what does that mean? Basically, alpine tundra refers to areas where rare plants (remnants of the last ice age) can still grow. These plants are tough and hearty enough to withstand the extreme weather on this exposed summit, and there are less than 275 acres total in Vermont of this “Alpine Tundra.”
There's a few ways to summit- this time around I did the classic Sunset Ridge Trail, which is a little more than 6 miles round-trip. Roughly half of the hike on this route is exposed, making for great scenery of the Green Mountains and Adirondacks, but also making for a very windy and cold hike during the colder months (when I did this route a few years back in early October, it was still pretty intense, despite no snowfall at the summit). Parking for this route is at Underhill State Park, which does have toilets and campsites and, of course, a small parking fee (to avoid this, park on the road a little ways down from the trailhead).
Mansfield is a beauty, despite an almost guaranteed no view at the top (always in the clouds). But this just adds to it's whimsicality and dreamlike nature - you don't hike Mansfield for the view.
This hike is very doable for any type of hiker, and doesn't take more than 4-6 hours for the average hiker. It's always an invigorating, capricious hike, and I can guarantee it won't disappoint.
AND the Skin
Hiking can wreak havoc on your skin - harsh climates, cold/wet conditions, intense UV radiation, breaking in new gear...but some of the worst times on the trail happen because of getting into plants that contain urushiol - i.e. poison ivy.
But poison ivy isn't the only plant that contains this highly allergenic oily sap. Poison oak, poison Sumac, parts of the mango tree, and even raw cashews and pistachios contain urushiol. There are also numerous other plants that don't have urushiol but can be abrasive to the skin and cause rashes / skin irritation, such as giant hogweed, wild and cow parsnip, nettle, poison hemlock, and poodle-dog bush. The American Academy of Dermatology has a great map of the states and where these different plants can be found (click here).
Jewelweed - The natural Poison Ivy Remedy
Hiking with an environmental scientist has it's perks - as we hiked Mansfield, I asked Connor to point out the different plants, naming their genus and species, followed by their common name, as I'd like to become more knowledgeable in this arena. In the beginning of the hike, he pointed out a patch of plants, which I had seen so many times before, but never knew what they were - until now.
Impatiens capensis, AKA Jewelweed, AKA Spotted-Touch-Me-Not, is a very common and widespread annual plant that likes to grow in moist, semi-shady woodland areas of the northeast. It has beautifully delicate red-orange flowers that begin to blossom in mid-summer and bloom until the first frost. It's called Jewelweed because of it's water-repellent leaves, which collect droplets of water (that look like jewels) after a rainfall.
Jewelweed was used extensively by the Native Americans for different skin ailments. Jewelweed is best known for it's natural anti-itch and analgesic properties - essentially as an antidote for poison ivy and the like. Ironically, Jewelweed likes to grow next to poison ivy. The sap from the stems (and leaves, to a lesser extent) is rubbed directly onto any areas that have come into contact with the offending plant. There are numerous salves and oils infused with Jewelweed for sale online, marketed as "Poison Ivy Salve" (check it out on Etsy!). Due to it's anti-itch and analgesic properties, Jewelweed also helps other skin ailments, such as bug bites & hives, and is also said to have anti-fungal properties.
This NPR article is interesting - a lab at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is developing a spray that will fluoresce in the presence of urushiol. This will come in handy for those of you that really react to poison ivy - I've seen some pretty gnarly cases at work. Unfortunately, if you've got a raging case of an allergic contact dermatitis from poison ivy, the only thing that will really give you relief is a topical and / or oral steroid. Over-the-counter remedies, like TecNu (DO NOT USE REGULAR SOAP!), Calamine, and Benadryl® lotion are a good idea for more mild cases, but more extreme cases should be evaluated and treated by your dermatologic practitioner - especially if you're experiencing facial / throat swelling. Studies have shown that most general practitioners / family practitioners don't treat poison ivy rashes aggressively enough, leading to a rebound of the itchy rash. So try to get into your derm provider - these rashes are our jam!