Posted February 12th, 2011
I’ve always had a thing for maps. I don’t know quite what it is, but I love scanning across their pages, following the sinuous contours of rivers, picking out all the peaks I’d like to climb one day, and looking for all the appealing corners of the world I haven’t yet visited. It’s some kind of cartographic obsession.
Early last winter, as I sat poring over a map of the state of Vermont, I found myself fixating on the gaps. And not just any of the gaps. The ones with roads over and through them, and more specifically, the ones whose roads were closed to autos during winter. That narrow focus resulted in a pretty short list, consisting primarily of Lincoln Gap, Smugglers’ Notch, and Hazen’s Notch.
I had heard about rocket sledding during winter at Lincoln Gap, and I was already well-versed in the ice climbing opportunities of Smugglers’ Notch (Hazen’s Notch was new to me). As I pondered these gaps, reclaimed by Mother Nature during winter, I wondered what it would be like to traverse them.
That simple curiosity morphed into something more. I resolved to traverse the gaps in winter, starting in a town on one side, and finishing in a town on the other side (with perhaps a stay overnight at a B&B before making the return trip). There was a certain appeal to such a point-to-point trip. In my mind, it lived up to some vaguely European idea of mountain recreation, making one’s way through the high country by day, and spending the nights with a hot meal and a warm roof over one’s head.
Perhaps more so, the appeal of bridging the gaps in this way spoke to my recent affinity for simply walking out the front door and heading into the mountains. Certainly, there are times when I simply have to drive to a trailhead. But even if it’s the front door of a B&B, I just plain liked the idea of waking up, eating breakfast, grabbing my gear, and leaving straight from town.
Of course, there was no reason I couldn’t do the same thing on trails over the mountains, rather than on mountain roads through gaps closed for the winter. But I’ve been on plenty of trails in my lifetime (with plenty more trails to come), and there was something novel about traveling on the roads. Plus, they were wider than foot trails, which made for faster, more enjoyable linked turns on the ski descents down from the gaps.
With friends in the Mad River Valley, my inaugural gap-bridging trip focused on Lincoln Gap. Leaving the Pitcher Inn and the Town of Warren behind, I headed west up into the mountains. Following the snow-covered shoulder of the road, I passed a farmstead set in an open field, an assortment of mountain cabins sprinkled in the forest here and there, and finally, a maple sugar orchard. It was a gradual departure from civilization into a semi-wilderness.
Beyond the maple orchard, the road rose up steeply, twisting and turning, until at last it deposited me on the tiny, narrow Lincoln Gap (elevation 2,424 feet), where the Long Trail follows the spine of the mountains. To the west, an enjoyable descent brought me, all too soon, to the winter road closure outside of the Town of Lincoln. A short distance farther, the snowy gravel road turned to snowy pavement, and a few quick miles beyond that, I arrived at the Old Hotel in Lincoln. It was a return to civilization that mirrored my departure from Warren earlier that day.
The next day I reversed my route, but the journey had just begun. Smugglers’ Notch and Hazen’s Notch both awaited me on future days, and now, I’ve set my sights on added goals: following old, abandoned roads (often now trails) through yet more gaps and notches (such as Nebraska Notch from Moscow to Stevensville, where an old road once snaked its way south of Mount Mansfield, through the notch between Mount Clark and Dewey Mountain). In a place like Vermont, where the communities and the mountains are so intimately connected, this bridging of the gaps, from town to wilderness to town, seemed more than merely doable. It somehow seemed “right.”
The one-way journey from Warren to Lincoln covers about 10 miles, including about 2.5 miles of the winter road closure over the gap itself. Elevation ranges from about 920 feet above sea level in both towns, to 2,424 feet at the height of Lincoln Gap. From central Warren, follow Main Street south to Covered Bridge Road to Vermont 100 to Lincoln Gap Road, and follow the gap road all the way to Lincoln.
The one-way journey from Stowe to Jeffersonville covers more than 17 miles, including about 3 miles of the winter road closure over the notch itself. Elevation ranges from about 720 feet above sea level in town, to 2,170 feet at the height of the notch. From the intersection of Vermont 100 and the Mountain Road in Stowe, follow the recreation path west toward Smugglers’ Notch, then follow the notch road—closed for winter—over the notch to Smugglers’ Notch ski area and continue along Vermont 108 to Jeffersonville.
Hazen’s Notch, from Lowell to Montgomery Center
The one-way journey from Lowell to Montgomery Center covers more than 10 miles, including about 5 miles of the winter road closure through the notch itself. Elevation ranges from about 970 feet above sea level in town to more than 1,900 feet through the notch. From Lowell, head west on Vermont 58, through Hazen’s Notch State Park, past the Hazen’s Notch Association welcome center, to Montgomery Center.
Peter Bronski (www.peterbronski.com) is a frequent contributor and award-winning writer whose work has appeared in some 75 magazines.