What’s up, Waterbury?

The view from the summit of Hunger Mountain in Waterbury.  (Kris Smith / photos)

The view from the summit of Hunger Mountain in Waterbury. (Kris Smith / photos)

By KRIS SMITH
12-HOUR TREKS

Waterbury

Washington County
Charterd: 1763
Population: 5,064

In brief

Located in the Winooski River Valley, Waterbury’s history is inextricably linked with the water and the land. The area has historically benefited from its plentiful timber, fertile soil and easy transportation, leading to strong agricultural, business and government sectors. Yet, the town has also seen its share of devastating flooding, including Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. Two years later, Waterbury is still recovering, though its independent businesses and resilient residents offer a promising future.

Who knew?

Many of Waterbury’s settlers came from Waterbury, Conn. — hence the name. After the Flood of 1927, residents in Waterbury, Conn., sent $10,000 to Vermont to replace all the lost library books. In 1955, the Waterbury, Vt., residents reciprocated by sending $5,000 to help rebuild a field house that had burnt down in Connecticut. Nothing like helping out your neighbors.

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Some say it’s the best view in Vermont. Others say it’s the hardest hike in the state. While I won’t add to the rampant hype (too much), I will say this: a trip to Waterbury and up Hunger Mountain is a must do, especially as we get closer to leaf season.

From the Waterbury side, the hike up Hunger Mountain is not technical. Roundtrip, it’s a misleadingly short four miles. What makes it challenging is the unexpectedness. Newbies expect to be up and down with the snap of a finger. However, the trail climbs approximately 2,000 vertical feet in two miles, meaning there are some serious climbs. To put that into perspective, the trail up Deer’s Leap is about 1.5 miles and only 600 feet of elevation gain. Hunger Mountain isn’t difficult, but if you’re expecting an easy hike only to discover a 2,000-foot elevation gain, then this trail will definitely feel like the hardest hike in the state.

The key is to start slow. The hike begins easy enough but quickly changes to a series of steep uphills, some with rock staircases and others without. Unfortunately, the trail has areas of heavy erosion due to its steepness and heavy use, so be sure to stay on the trail and step on rocks as much as possible.

About one-third of the way up, you’ll pass a beautiful waterfall — perfect for a rest and water break. As you approach the top, the trail is less steep but more rocky. A few spots have some tricky rock scrambles, though none are serious obstacles.

After all the effort, the top is definitely something to write home about. The summit is above the tree line and the mountain is set apart from other mountains, meaning you have a full view of the Green Mountains and, on a clear day, the White Mountains. After the sweat, the mud, the rock scrambles, peering out over the edge of the mountain into the Stowe valley definitely feels like the best view in Vermont.

The toughest decision? Where to eat.

After hiking up and down Hunger Mountain, you will definitely need some grub. Luckily, Waterbury has many options. In the mood for some North Carolina-style barbecue? Head over to Prohibition Pig.

Hankering for some smoked pork tacos with killer hot sauce? The Mad Taco in Blackback Pub is your place.
Want something more upscale and locally-sourced? Pack a change of outfits and check out Hen of the Wood. (Tip: Go on Monday for the specials.)

When it comes to food and Waterbury, you can’t go wrong.

Good food, yes, and good beer

Waterbury is also home to The Alchemist Brewery and the famous Heady Topper, a super hoppy double IPA. While we used to have a steady supply of cans in the Rutland region, Heady Topper can be hard to come by these days. Stop by The Alchemist Brewery to stock up with a case (or two). Warning: this beer is expensive but worth it.

If you go

The Alchemist Brewery
35 Crossroad, Waterbury
244-7744

Blackback Pub & Flyshop (home of The Mad Taco’s Waterbury branch)
1 Stowe St., Waterbury
244-0123

Prohibition Pig
23 South Main St., Waterbury
244-4120

Hen of the Wood
92 Stowe St., Waterbury
244-7300

Hunger Mountain (via Waterbury Trail)
4 miles roundtrip, Trailhead is off of Loomis Hill Road, north of Waterbury. The Green Mountain Club has detailed instructions to the trail head on their website.

12 hour Treks is a semi-frequent column by Kris Smith. Comments? Suggestions? Email kristin.kingsbury.smith@gmail.com.