We’ve been 4,393 feet up.
JJ and I started our quest to become the highest sober paddlers in Vermont by hiking up to Sterling Pond @ 3,000 feet and completed the quest by hiking up and over Mt. Mansfield to Lake of the Clouds @ 3,927 feet. As far as we know, these are the two highest lakes in Vermont and we were the first to paddle them on Stand Up Paddleboards!
” When I started stand up paddleboarding it was easiest on flat, calm lakes. Soon I wanted more of a challenge so I began to paddle rivers; planning & completing several multi-day adventures in Vermont & Pennsylvania. Again, I wanted to do something more with the sport and that’s when I got the idea to paddle two bodies of water that had been untouched by SUPs. -JJ”
To make this idea happen, we needed inflatable paddleboards. Umiak Outdoor Outfitters in Stowe, VT lent us one 10’6 Badfish MCIT from Boardworks SUP for the trip. Sherman White lent us another identical board to make the trip up Mt. Mansfield. With our two borrowed inflatables stowed away in the truck, we headed up Route 108 to the Sterling Pond trailhead for stage one. After quickly getting distracted by a tractor trailer that thought he could drive through the Smuggler’s Notch (he didn’t make it), we loaded our packs and started up the trail. We steadily progressed up well maintained stone steps for an hour before arriving at Sterling Pond. We quickly unrolled the boards and pumped them up. We were anxious to get on the water. Once on the water, we did a couple laps around the small mountain pond with amazing views of Mansfield while the sun went down. We headed back to shore to pack up just before dark. Just as we got off the water, Caitlin, the Sterling Pond Caretaker, appeared out of the woods in full winter gear. She was dressed for the night, while were dressed to paddle in our T-shirts and shorts/capris. She was thrilled to see us, and said she kept expecting to see someone paddling up there all summer long. We were glad to have someone so excited to share the moment with. We headed down the trail just as the sun was setting. We hurried down, but still didn’t make it before dark. We turned our headlights on and continued downwards. The sound of streams trickling down through the woods around us made it very peaceful and a great end to stage one of our plan. Stage two started with a drive up the Stowe Toll Road. We listened to the CD they provided us with mild interest and talked about the day ahead as we ascended up into the foggy top of Mt. Mansfield. We reached the top and parked next to the only other car up there. We loaded our boards onto our sore shoulders from stage one of the plan and headed up the trail. We scrambled over rocks trying to stay off the fragile, arctic grass and fought against the wind until we reached the top of Mansfield @ 4,393 feet. We quickly snapped a picture before the wind blew us right off the top. We could only see 5 feet from us and it felt like the rocks dropped straight down all around us. We quickly headed down the chin only to slow way down as we traversed down a cliff face on the steepest trail in Vermont, Hellbrook. One spot was so tight and steep I had to hand my pack down to JJ so I could jump the extra couple feet my legs couldn’t reach. Once down, off the face we had a couple trail intersections to navigate through before we found the lake. We had lunch and caught our breaths before pumping up our board and jumping on the lake. The lake was even smaller than Sterling Pond, it took us minutes to paddle around. The water felt like it was just above freezing and the wind was whipping around us in circles. We tried out our new Oblio Double Bladed Paddle while cruising around the lake and quickly headed back to land before our feet went numb from the cold. We decided to try and avoid the nasty weather we faced coming down the chin and took Profanity trail back. We quickly discovered the reason behind this trail’s name. It was a steep trail. We were protected from the wind, but we had a long hike up the trail which was full of 2 foot tall steps and a few 4 foot leaps. We huffed, puffed and swore our way up the trail carrying 40 lb packs and a 10 foot paddle. Once at the top, we were out of the woods, literally. We felt the full force of the wind as we made our way back across the unprotected ridge line. In addition to the wind, it was now raining too. I even think there were some ice chunks flying through the air. The ice, rain and wind quickly stole all the heat we made on our way up Profanity and we were left scurrying across the ridge looking forward to the protection of our car. After what seemed like forever, we made it. We threw on dry clothes in record time and scarfed down our last PB &J. We battled wind, rain, steep cliffs, and zero visibility while totally sober to become the highest paddlers in Vermont. Would we do it again? No way. At least, not until they invent teleportation and/or the sun comes out!