Snow clouds hide Mount Pisgah’s peak as I approach the trailhead on route 5-A north. Located in Westmore, Vermont, Mt. Pisgah and Mt. Hor act as dramatic bookends on the East and West side, respectively, of Lake Willoughby, one of New England’s deepest lakes. Shear, icy cliff faces are the lake’s walls, providing an Alps like feel to the snow-covered lake. I am able to easily locate the well-marked trailhead and strap into my snowshoes.
I follow blue trail blazes and tracks through a swampy beaver pond, keeping a lookout for Moose in this ideal habitat. Unfortunately, I am not lucky enough to spot any wildlife on this hike. Snowy footbridges lead me from bog to base of mountain, and I began my ascent, climbing switchbacks and spying glimpses to uphill left of Mt. Hor’s famous icy face. As I gain elevation, there are numerous precipitous overlooks of Mt. Hor and Lake Willoughby, and I am able to see ice-fishermen and snowmobilers enjoying the frozen lake.
The trail leads me away from the lakeside cliff and towards Mt. Pisgah’s eastern shoulder. It is on this section of the trail that I gain the most elevation, trudging uphill through deeper snow, denser pines and darker skies. After numerous switchbacks and low-hanging branches, I reach an un-wooded area near the summit. On a clear day, hikers can view White Mountains and Burke Mountain to the south. I continue about two hundred yards further, and reach the wooded summit.
Farther past the summit is north overlook, and I am hoping a break in clouds provides a stunning view. Unfortunately, after a half-mile loss in elevation, I reach the highest cliff face and am unable to see further than thirty feet, no view of Lake Willoughby below or Mt. Hor to the west. As I am parked on the south side of the Mountain, I turn around and head back to the summit, down to the trailhead. The hike to the north overlook takes just under two hours at a medium pace, less than forty minutes from north overlook to parking lot, a total of roughly two miles and 1,500 feet.
Willoughby Gap is a geological marvel. Carved by glaciers over 13,000 years ago, this distinct landmark on the Northeast Kingdom’s horizon draws considerable snowshoers in search of an intimate view of Lake Willoughby’s cliffs. Whether hikers attempt this peak in a snowstorm or a bluebird day, the experience is worth the effort.
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