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Photo credit: Arminnius, from Wikimedia

It was hard to resist the call to hike this past Thursday because of the perfect convergence of sunny skies, temperatures in the 60’s and a light breeze that kept the black flies at bay. The Monroe Trail on the Duxbury side of Camel’s Hump mountain was my destination for a quick hike to the summit. But first a few words about the name of this trail.

Before 2000 the Monroe Trail was called the Forestry Trail, and on the Huntington side of the mountain is a trailed called Forest City. During the 1990’s I lived in Duxbury on Camel’s Hump Road which leads to the trail head, and two houses up from me were our neighbors, who lived about 1/2 mile from trail head. They told us several stories about getting a knock on their door after dark from hikers who were lost because they came up the Forest City Trail, but went down the Forestry Trail. When they were new residents, the neighbors were very accommodating to the lost hikers and gave them rides to the Forest City trail head, a considerable drive from Duxbury. After one-too-many deliveries of ungrateful hikers that wouldn’t share the gas bill or at least buy their chauffeurs a six-pack for the trouble, the neighbors instead offered their telephone to call a taxi cab. A name change from Forestry to the Monroe Trail keeps hikers from getting lost and neighbors from being disturbed.

The Monroe Trail is named after Will Monroe who lived from 1863 to 1939, and was a professor at the University of Vermont, a trail builder, dog lover and owner of the Couching Lion Farm. The farm was located in the vicinity of the ranger station, trail head, and on either side of the trail as it ascends through the lower forest. Stone wall remnants that marked out the fields are evident along the trail. Professor Monroe, his sister and several of their beloved pet dogs including a collie, Great Pyrennes and St. Bernard are buried in a cemetery behind the ranger station. The inscriptions on the grave stones for the pets are very telling of how much they loved and admired their dogs.

Camel’s Hump mountain has been called Tah-wak-be-dee-esso-wadso (Abenaki for resting place), Le Lion Couchant (resting lion, named by Samuel de Champlain), Couching Lion (English translation of French) and Camel’s Rump (on a map created by Ira Allen) because of the distinctive shape of the summit, created by glacial action thousands of years ago. Today it is one of the most popular places to hike in Vermont. A problem with being so popular is the fragile alpine vegetation on the summit, which covers approximately 10 acres. If stepped on by people and dogs, which could happen hundreds of times on a busy day, the vegetation would die, so summit caretakers from the Green Mountain Club are vigilant about telling people to “stay off the grass” and to leash dogs.

I heard several species of birds on my way up, at the summit and then down the mountain. My amateur knowledge of bird songs missed a few identifications, but the ones I did know were: Winter Wren, Troglodytes troglodytes, Red-Eyed Vireo, Vireo olivaceous, White Throated Sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis, and Brown Creeper, Certhia americana.

Except for the very loud guy drinking beer and gabbing on his cell phone, the summit was a great place to be on such a sunny and clear day. The panoramic view included Canada, New Hampshire and New York. As many times as I have seen this view, it will always take my breath away.

Although it is too early to observe any of the alpine plants on the summit in bloom, other organisms called lichens grow there and choose rocks as their substrate. Lichens are not plants but a combination of organisms, a fungus with either an algae or a cyanobacteria in a “symbiotic relationship”, but in some cases the relationship can be more parasitic.There are several species of lichen on the summit and one that I find interesting is Map Lichen, Rhizocarpon geographicum. This beautiful lichen is yellow-green in color, bordered with black spores, and is very sensitive to air pollution. Map lichen is a slow grower—about 1 millimeter a year, but knowing the growth rate is important to climatologists for determining the age of glacial deposits, and to understand glacial movement. Lichens were the first organisms to recolonize the land after the last glacier receded from Vermont approximately 12,000 years ago.

The return trip from the summit can be anti-climatic but what goes up must come down. It gave me time to think about the tiger swallowtail butterflies I saw along the Winooski River as I drove to the mountain. It reminded me of a sighting many years ago while traveling with friends on a country road, slowly driving through a cloud of hundreds of swallowtail butterflies. I was in the right place at the right time to experience the wonder, just like the view from the top of a mountain on a beautiful day.

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