Gary and I parted ways in Manchester as I decided it was about time to meet my friends for the Memorial Day festivities. After driving all the way across the state, I checked my messages and found that my friends wouldn’t be able to meet me for another few hours. Whoops. Back into the car and back to Manchester. I started out toward Killington, thinking I would hike up one of the trails near there, but then I thought it over some more and realized I didn’t have that much time. So I changed course toward White Rocks to hike the Keewaydin and Ice Beds trails. And then I changed course again toward Griffith Lake, realizing I could hike a more useful trail by going up to Baker Peak. With all the driving across the state and then changing course so much, I ended up driving several hours with a finishing destination of only twenty miles or so from where I started. Whoops again.
Once I got to the Lake Trail, I had less time than I should have to hike up Baker Peak, but I threw my day pack on and started hustling up the trail anyway. It was already horrendously hot outside, about eighty-four degrees if I remember right. The trail itself was mostly an old, abandoned logging road that had been converted to a hiking trail. This meant relatively easy hiking most of the way, and then steep climbs at the end. Regardless, I was pouring sweat within a few minutes from the heat, and once I found my way to the peak I felt like someone had lit my pack on fire. With the heat and humidity, the views toward the Taconic Mountains were hazy and unclear, but I could tell it would have been a good view in better weather. I sat on the peak for a few minutes, hoping to cool off, but I just stewed in my sweat. When I realized I was now going to be late, I picked up my things and ran down the mountain. The trip down, while harder on the knees, was much cooler with a slight breeze from bounding down the trail.
After a day in Portland, eating tasty food and seeing friends whom I’d missed for many months, I was back to the trail at Griffith Lake. I packed my overnight pack, thinking I would do the loop through the Old Job area in the Big Branch Wilderness, maybe making it as far as the Lost Pond shelter before hunkering down for the night. I didn’t get on the trail until 11:30, so I doubted I would make a ton of miles without Gary there to push me on into the late hours of the day. I like to stop hiking around 6 or 7, rather than push my luck with evening hiking.
I started in on the Griffith Lake Trail, an old logging road (as so many of the side trails seem to be), and was at Griffith Lake in no time. From there, I took the Old Job Trail, another old woods road, all the way to its northern intersection with the Long Trail. The mosquitoes swarmed me like there was no tomorrow (and for many of them, there wasn’t), but my Railriders Bone Flats pants, Patagonia tee-shirt, and Sea-To-Summit head net, all treated with Permethrin, kept them mostly at bay. My arms got plenty of bites, but I’ve had worse.
Walking down by the Old Job and Big Branch shelters, I started to get more than a little nostalgic for my days at the Green Mountain Club. Toward the end of my time there, I had spent a week in this area, first directing a youth group in carrying in lumber for the new Lost Pond Shelter from near Big Branch, then doing some drainage work with the Volunteer Long Trail Patrol near Big Branch and Old Job. Now, two years later, the shelter at Lost Pond is brand new, the Old Job Shelter has been renovated, the bridges over Big Branch and Lake Brook have both been newly built, and much of the trail near Old Job has been cleared to make it easier to follow. Things have changed quite a bit. I had some good times with that VLTP. I had to wonder where the crew leaders were now, since I’d really liked to hang out with the two of them.
No time to worry about the past, though. I started up the Long Trail toward Baker Peak, but was at the Lost Pond Shelter early. Maybe I could finish the loop, then get back to my car and get a head start on the next set of trails. I hurried along, slowing down as the humidity and sweating started contributing to the enemy of hikers everywhere: butt chafe. That went away by the end of the day, but I slowed down enough that I didn’t make it back to my car. With the side trip down the Lake Trail to complete what I’d missed when I went up Baker Peak a few days earlier, I ended up back at Griffith Lake somewhat late in the evening. I made my way to the Peru Peak shelter, hoping that maybe the caretaker or some LT through-hikers would be in, but there was no one. I took my time in setting up my camp, and fell asleep early in the shelter, my only company the birds singing their echoing calls into the night.
I was up early at Peru Peak shelter and back to my car in no time. I wanted to be off to Little Rock Pond quickly so that I could finish the loop around it as a day hike and then work my way to other trails. So I got to my car, drove down toward Manchester, and then up Route 7 toward Little Rock Pond. I did take a slight detour to give a bunch of LT hikers a ride into town as they were bailing out of their through-hike, having miscalculated the heat and blackflies. Too bad. I hope they come back and try again in better conditions.
It was another wickedly humid day, so as I started up the Homer Stone Brook trail toward Little Rock Pond, I saturated my clothes within minutes despite the easy grade of the trail in the beginning. Oh well. I felt slow. Having to swim through the air does that to you.
After arriving at Little Rock Pond, I took the Green Mountain Trail over the forested mountain near the pond, and continued over it to the Long Trail crossing of USFS Road 10. I wasn’t far from Big Branch at this point, but I was hiking in the other direction now. And when I arrived at the big trail crossing, a rumble of thunder rolled through the air. Within a few minutes rain was dumping from the sky in bucketloads. I had left my rain gear in the car (with the windows cracked), so I had to hike and be wet, but after the initial soaking I found it was actually quite pleasant. I had been soaked by tepid sweat already, so some clean water from the sky felt pretty good. The rain stopped within fifteen minutes, and I continued along the Long Trail to Little Rock Pond, then back down to my car. Again, I didn’t feel very fast, but I made it to the car in good time, anyway.
My clothes had dried enough by the time I got to the trailhead that it seemed the rain had only been my imagination, but it did feel a little cooler. Still humid, though. I drove up to the White Rocks area to hike the Keewaydin Trail, a short connector trail from a parking area to access White Rocks Mountain. When I got there, I realized I’d led a volunteer work trip here, as well, and the water bars we had built seemed to be in perfect shape. I let my thoughts wander back to working at the Club again. What a time it had been.
The Keewaydin Trail done, it was time to head a little further north again, on to the Killington area.