The alarm sounded at 4 am on New Year’s Day, and Adam and I hit the trail up Jay Peak, ready to catch the first sunrise of 2021.

Two days later, we summited Mount Hunger in Waterbury and witnessed a rare and wonderful undercast.

So far, the 2021 hiking season has started well! Last year, in August, Adam and I completed our NH 48, hiking all 48 4,000 foot peaks in New Hampshire.

We were two-thirds of the way through New York before Covid restrictions closed Vermont’s borders.

We hope to finish the NE115 (all 4,000-foot peaks in the Northeastern United States) in 2021, but in the meantime, we’ll be enjoying the wealth of beauty Vermont has to offer.

This summer, we hiked throughout New Hampshire, Maine, and New York, enjoying 20 mile days and lots of elevation. Hikes like that allow you to see so much terrain, and your mind moves into a very different mode.

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Adam Laroche looks up at the setting moon, his headlamp illuminating the snow-filled trees. 

The New Year’s hike up Jay Peak was a perfect example of how a short hike can produce gorgeous results.

We started our hike in the dark, walking through glistening trees and the light of the (mostly) full moon as we neared the summit.

It was hard to focus on walking when our eyes kept fixing on the purple sky and the moon’s brilliant disc as it peeked in and out of the clouds.

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Caleb Laroche in the trees on the ridge between White Rocks and Mount Hunger.

On Sunday, we hiked Mount Hunger from the Middlesex side. It was the only trail I’d never taken to the summit of the mountain.

I knew the higher summits had a good chance for a rare and beautiful undercast, but you never know if things will go as forecast.

We hit clouds at 2,400 feet; the woods were draped with fresh snow, the trail was grippy and fast, and our dog Yadi was reveling in the motion. He’s a very enthusiastic hiking companion!

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Ruthie and Yadi hike through the snow-laden trees in the CC Putnam State Forest. 

We caught a glimpse of low hanging clouds over the Waterbury valley on the ridge between White Rocks and Hunger. When we broke treeline, I could have cried with happiness. I’ve witnessed partial undercasts, which we saw on the west side of the summit, but the full undercast on the east side was new to me.

The Presidential Range, the Franconia Ridge, and Mount Moosilauke rose out of the clouds like islands in the sea as I looked toward New Hampshire.

It was surreal, except for the whining. Yadi hates to stop. He hadn’t been out hiking with us for a while, and he was not as interested in the breathtaking views!

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Yadi watches Mariah make her way through to the summit of Mount Hunger. 

To the west, Camel’s Hump, Mansfield, Abraham, and Ellen rose through the clouds, dark islands with striking white caps. Mount Marcy and Whiteface glittered above the clouds in New York.

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The summit of Mount Mansfield pokes through the clouds.

Mount Hunger provides a unique summit experience; at 3,500 feet, it’s smaller than Vermont’s highest peaks, but its location and ledgy summit provide breathtaking views of the highest peaks in three states.

After taking in the undercast, we turned to the east and descended into a bank of low-hanging clouds. We paused below the summit (to get out of the wind) to eat our lunch (Yadi even had his own peanut butter sandwich).

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Adam Laroche and Yadi, Caleb Laroche, and Mariah Savard prepare to drop below the summit of Mount Hunger and descend through the CC Putnam State Forest.

Winter descents in snowy conditions feel a lot like alpine skiing or snowboarding in gladed terrain, and it’s hard not to laugh and smile as you slip and slide your way down.

The hike we did was a loop, so we were in new terrain for most of the descent, and although clouds hid the views from the ledges, my mind’s eye was still full from the beauty we’d seen at the summit.

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Caleb Laroche, Mariah Savard, and Adam Laroche walk through the clouds below Mount Hunger.

By the time we reached the car (after Yadi took several drinks and a swim), we were hungry and happy.

I don’t know how long we’ll be in-state bound, but while we wait for the green light to travel and continue our quest for the NE115, we’ll be adventuring close to home.

Lists and goals are great, and they keep us pushing and exploring. I’m working to channel my disappointment at the loss of one adventure into the expansion of another, and so far, it’s been pretty amazing!

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