I’d finished breaking myself in on Mount Monadnock, so it was finally time to go to Vermont and start the hectic schedule I’d prepared for myself. First on the list, my old home from my trail crew days: Stratton Pond. Of course, on the trail crew days I stayed almost entirely on the Long Trail itself, without moving out to any of the trails in the Lye Brook Wilderness, so now I was going to see everything I’d missed.
The drive to Kelley Stand Road took several hours, since there are no direct routes from central Massachusetts to Stratton, Vermont, but I only had one short hike for the evening. The Stratton Pond Trail, along with the entire plateau of the Lye Brook Wilderness, is bizarrely flat for such a mountainous region. The almost four miles from Kelley Stand Road to Stratton Pond usually only takes me an hour of very relaxed walking to cover. No different this day. I was at the pond early, then took some time to walk around it on the North Shore trail. By the time I went to the shelter, the largest and finest on the Long Trail, and possibly the entire Appalachian Trail, three LT through-hikers were camped out there. It was a quiet night, but this would be the last night I had company on the trail for quite a while.
In the morning all of my stuff was damp from the humidity. It was going to be a long day, I thought. Especially since the first part of the morning would include traversing the flooded stretch of the Lye Brook Trail, which had been demolished by beavers and storms several years ago. I’d heard horror stories about the flooded and cluttered bit of trail since my trail crew days, so I gave myself an extra hour or two to make it through the area. When I arrived at the boundary to the Wilderness , right where the flooding began, my feet were already damp from a boggy trail, but this was something else. I steeled my nerve for a few seconds before trying to cross the first set of beaver dams and fallen logs over a small but deep stream.
With some nimbleness and patience I managed to cross a bunch of semi-sturdy logs in only a few minutes. Not bad, I thought, but what’s next? I continued along the trail for a few minutes before realizing that what I’d just crossed was all there was. Really? That was what all the fuss was about? After the tricky crossing, I had more flat trail all the way to Bourn Pond, with some fine woods and scenery to offset the humidity and black flies.
Since I arrived at Bourn Pond so early, I decided to change my itinerary a bit. I had been planning on continuing along the Lye Brook Trail to the outskirts of Manchester, and meeting my friends Gary and Angela there, then hiking some more in a figure-eight loop with the Branch Pond Trail. But I was way too early. I cut back to my car via the Branch Pond Trail, another very flat and densely forested trail, and an easy walk on the Kelley Stand Road. I drove into Manchester, several hours earlier than Gary and Angela planned to arrive. Then it was time to wait.
The heat was unbelievable in town. I tried to find what shade I could, but still I was pouring sweat while just sitting and reading. Maybe a midday break was a good thing. And it was a long break. Angela couldn’t make it, since she was tying up all her loose ends before starting her summer job as a campsite caretaker in the White Mountains. Gary had left later than planned, so he didn’t make it to the trail head to join me until almost 4, at which point we still had eleven miles to hike. Once he arrived, we put my car at the bottom of the Rootville Road trail, then drove quickly to the Lye Brook Falls trail head. The Falls trail head was bustling with activity, since it leads a short way to several access points to the brook, with plenty of swimming opportunities not far from the town. No backpackers on this trail, though.
Gary and I started up the trail with haste, pouring sweat within a few minutes despite the easy grade of the trail. We passed at least a dozen people on their way up to the falls, many dressed more for an afternoon of golfing than for a few miles of walking in the woods, but as soon as we passed the spur to the falls, the Lye Brook Trail became completely deserted.
As with the other trails in the Lye Brook Wilderness, the trails we walked that night were almost completely flat, if sometimes boggy from beaver activity. That was lucky, since we cut the timing pretty tightly. We arrived at Bourn Pond pretty close to sunset, turned north on the Branch Pond Trail, and arrived at the William Douglas shelter just as it was getting too dark to hike without headlamps. For the last half hour of hiking I kept saying, “we should get our headlamps out, just in case.” Gary, ever the optimist, just said, “no, we’ve got to be almost there. Can’t stop for anything!” And he was right. The headlamps came out as soon as we dropped our packs in the shelter at 8:30. We had hiked over eleven miles after 4 PM. I had hiked about 9 miles before Gary had arrived, too. Long day.
Neither of us were in a huge hurry in the morning. Gary hadn’t spent a night in the woods since our New England Trail hike almost two years ago, but he wasn’t out of practice. We were just pooched from our long hike last night. Since we knew we’d have a very short walk to the cars, we had just a few small snacks for breakfast and hit the trail, walking down the Rootville Road to my car, then driving into town for a huge pile of pancakes. It was pretty good timing, too, since clouds were hovering low over town and sprinkling rain from time to time. Our view from Prospect Rock wasn’t great, but the breakfast was delightful.
Gary and I killed some time in town at the Mountain Goat, a fine little independent outdoor store in town with a great selection of hiking gear (and very friendly to AT hikers from what I remember). While we were wandering around the store, I saw a few of my friends that I’d stayed with the previous week in New Hampshire, so I had another little reunion.
The plan for the rest of the day, though, was to meet some friends in Portland for a Memorial Day barbecue and get-together, since we rarely get to see each other anymore with the ways our lives have been going. Hopefully that will change soon, but with me traveling and trying to find a life, my best friend going through his med-school rotations, and my other Portland friends being so busy with their lives, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to see them for a while, even if it meant taking a few days off from my busy hiking schedule and driving for several hours across New England yet again. So I was off to do some non-trail-related things for a bit. Stay tuned for the next part of the Long Trail Side-To-Side trip, the Griffith Lake and Little Rock Pond areas!