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Take A Moonlight Hike

Dec 08, 2011 01:46PM ● By Erin Frisch

Rediscover Favorite Vermont Hikes Under A Winter Full Moon

At seven o’clock, the full January moon, sheathed in a fine haze, still holds its just-risen orange hue. A group of hikers who have gathered in the Mount Tom parking lot off Prosper Road use the moon’s glow to fasten their snowshoes. We switch on our headlamps to peer at each other while making introductions, shaking gloved hands as we await the hike leader, who has gone ahead to prepare our destination cabin for our arrival by starting a fire in the woodstove.

Full-moon, winter-night hikes are not a uniquely Vermont activity, but the very conditions that make some Vermonters dream of long summer days make these hikes ideal. The canopy of leaves that typically blocks out the moon has fallen away; it lies covered by a mantle of snow that reflects the moon’s silver light, illuminating the bare woods. The long nights mean that an after-dinner hike can end at a reasonable time. And there are no pesky biting insects.

Taking in Winter’s Beauty

All is quiet under the stars except for the dry snow that squeaks underfoot. In the woods, hikers have stashed headlamps to preserve night vision. With no clouds and new snow, we have enough natural light to see our shadows walking before us to the cabin on the other side of Mount Tom. With the temperature hovering in the lower 20s, we’ll appreciate the crackling fire in the cabin’s cast-iron stove when we arrive. The hikers are packing in snacks to share and hot drinks.

Most are wearing three layers of clothing to block the winter chill. By the time we reach the Pogue, a 14-acre pond perched near the summit that has frozen and looks like a large, smooth bed of snow ringed by bare trees, many hikers have loosened scarves and unzipped jackets.

With landmarks hidden beneath the snow, the winter night reveals an undiscovered path. The terrain is easy for this hike—tonight is about winter’s beauty, not the physical challenge of hiking. Full-moon hikes are also about the destination: a valley full of twinkling lights, a field awash with the stars and moon, and a cozy cabin.

A Warm Reward

At the cabin’s door, we shed our snowshoes and troop inside. We light a dozen candles to create a welcoming glow and throw a log on the fire. We move benches closer to the warmth, and gloves come off as we pass around cheese and crackers and start to chat. “I almost stayed home,” says one woman. The others nod, knowing they would usually be watching television, helping with homework, or already be in bed on such a frosty night.

The fire dies as quickly as our drinks cool. At nine o’clock, we blow out the candles and pack up everything we have brought. We pull on our gloves, step outside, and put our snowshoes back on. The cold feels doubled after the warmth of the cabin. The last person out shuts the door, and we head out under a half-dollar-sized moon.

As we retrace our steps under this clear Vermont night, I cannot help but appreciate the transformative powers of a full moon and a blanket of snow. Tonight’s hikers have gained a new experience that is offered only during winter nights of rare beauty.

Try a Night Hike

This winter on a full-moon night (December 10, January 9, and February 7) dress warmly and take to the trails.

Easy: Pick a trail up Mount Peg or to the top of Mount Tom.

Moderate: Follow the Appalachian Trail from the Route 4 parking lot to Kent Pond, or hike the Deer Leap Trail to the overview.

Expert: Ascend Ascutney Mountain via the Auto Road. Stop at the parking lot or continue to the summit tower. Another option is to hike Killington via the Bucklin Trail. Stop at the Coolidge Lodge or ascend carefully to the icy peak.

Written by Faren MacDonald

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