In 2012 Mark Kelley found himself in a rut. He was 48, recently single, and unfulfilled at work. He needed a jumpstart to get him out of his rut. Like many folks, he set a goal to help him build a habit and stay focused. “I started this whole hiking passion of mine in earnest in 2012 when I set a goal to complete 100 summits of Mansfield by the end of the year. I have always hiked and the idea of doing the 100 summits just spoke to me and energized me,” says Mark. He hiked the Sunset Ridge trail, up and back, for each of the 100 hikes. From there, Mark’s passion for summits has only continued to grow.
Both Mt. Mansfield and Camel’s Hump, two of Vermont’s 4,000-footers and most popular day hikes, are about equidistant from Mark’s home in Burlington, and they offer everything he’s looking for in getting in some moderate elevation gain nearly every single day. “I climb Mansfield in the spring [post-mud season], summer, and fall. I climb Burrow’s Trail on Camel’s Hump all through the winter.”
Mark’s near-daily winter ascents are catching attention in the popular Hiking in Vermont Facebook group, with his brief condition and weather reports, photos, and positive “Happy Wednesday”-esque sign-offs. The commenters are full of admiration and questions for Mark’s willingness to hike the same trail, day after day, in a variety of harsh winter conditions. For his part, Mark is straightforward about less-than-ideal conditions, his extensive experience, and the precautions he takes to handle them.
November 27, 2021:”Today marked my 1,700th summit between Mansfield and CH since the start of 2012. I earned the summit today as I laid the first tracks through about a foot of new snow. Happy Saturday”
January 15, 2021: “Burrows on CH this late morning. -12 at the base but so thankful for the sun. Other than the otherworldly cold on the summit it actually was lovely. Happy Saturday”
February 3, 2022: “All to myself round trip this morning on Burrows on CH. So peaceful, contemplative and quiet. Enjoyed the Avalonian mist and snowfall. Thank you to the snowshoe hare that laid the first tracks. Bring on the snow. Happy Thursday.”
December 13, 2021: “Just rocks and ice for the vast majority of the trail on Burrows on CH this morning. Still a blast. Happy Monday.” A commenter mentioned: “That’s a lot of ice. Be safe.” and Mark replies, “Safety is paramount. Takes me a bit longer in these conditions but I do my best to minimize the risks.”
Winter Hike Must-Haves
So, how does Mark handle all the variable conditions on one of Vermont’s highest exposed summits from November through March? “My most valuable piece of winter gear are my Kahtoola Microspikes. I wear them over trail runners in all conditions, and they are invaluable.” From there, he checks weather and road conditions and layers appropriately according to temperature, potential windchill, and cloud cover. A sub-zero day with sun and little wind is often more comfortable than warmer temps with cloudy skies and windchill.
During the frigid days of mid-January, Mark still climbed many days, just taking into account warmer layers. With the more recent cycle of thaw, freeze, and heavy wind, Mark adjusts his gear, and his pace, accordingly. “I have multiple pairs of gloves, hats, and base layers for all temperatures. Overall I try not to overdress no matter the temps as my body heats up quickly with the pace I move at.” He’s partial to Darn Tough Socks and a Black Diamond shell jacket, though items from any brand may suffice.
For hikers who may have a slower pace, additional layers are paramount. Good traction is a must, no matter your experience level or trail of choice.
He hikes at various times of day, though usually in the morning, and will stay off the mountain for a few days if road or trail conditions are particularly bad. “I always text both my brother and my girlfriend to let them know where I am going, when I am starting, and when I am back off the mountain.” Camel’s Hump from Huntington (where the Burrow’s Trail begins) is a cell phone dead zone, so it is paramount to plan your communications and emergency response ahead of time. The Burrows Trail is often well-trafficked in winter, but not always on the coldest or iciest days.
Mark stresses that this method of winter hiking works for him, but won’t necessarily work for everyone else. Some of his Facebook replies to commenters include “Always vital to know one’s comfort zone and when the risk outweighs the benefits,” and ” You just have know your own fitness and comfort level. Very doable provided you go at your own pace,” in response to a less-experienced winter hiker’s comment.
Just getting into winter hiking? Mt. Philo or Snake Mountain provide more moderate climbs where you can start at your own pace and figure out what gear, footwear, and pace work best for you. Check out all
Never the Same Hike
With all the great mountains Vermont, New York, and New Hampshire have to offer, doesn’t Mark get bored of hiking Camel’s Hump every day? No, he says. “I never get tired or bored of doing the same hike continually. Every time I go, I notice something different about the trail or myself or both. Everything is constantly changing from the seasons to the microclimates that occur within the season. I have great trail interactions with new people, old trail friends and people that recognize me from my [Facebook] posts. I have incredible wildlife interactions.”
He’s also aware of the ways in which his own approach to hiking has changed. Now 57, he’s more interested in keeping the hiking habit going than crushing any personal fastest times up or down the mountain. “I no longer time myself as I want to keep this sustainable as I get older. I still move at a brisk pace but my goals and motivation have evolved.”
“Sometimes I have energy to burn so I go really hard, while other times I go at a more controlled pace and it is more contemplative and meditative. I almost always notice something new about the mountain. The mountain is my sanctuary where I go when I’m experiencing my highest of highs and lowest of lows and everything in between. I have learned that I can get all that from my two mountains without having to go further afield. I have never once been bored on the trail and I am always grateful for every trip to my two mountains that I get to make.”
As of February 22, 2022, Mark has summited Mt. Mansfield 1,054 times times and Camel’s Hump 722 times, 46 times in 2022 so far. He hopes to get to 1,000 summits for each. After that, who knows? One thing is for sure, he’ll keep hiking.