Amazingly, I found myself ahead of schedule by just a few hours, a few miles. After finishing the White Rocks area, I realized I could get a head start on the Killington area, so I drove through Rutland and up toward Sherburne Pass. I would be back on the Appalachian Trail again for just a little while, and hopefully I would see some through-hikers. I hadn’t seen more than a small handful of hikers otherwise, and I was beginning to wish for some more company. After driving up through Rutland, I parked at the Appalachian Trail crossing on Route 4 and hiked the few miles into Churchill Scott shelter. Again, nobody there. Just me and the hermit thrushes singing their eerie songs. The humidity and temperatures were down to a reasonable level, at least. Finally.
In the morning I was up early and ready to run. The sky was lightly grey, a brisk wind blew through the trees, the air was cool and crisp. It was going to be a good day!
I rushed up the Long Trail to Jungle Junction, then turned north on the Sherburne Pass trail toward Pico. Since I was up there, I figured I might as well take the side trail to the peak, and finally check one more peak off my New England 100 Highest list. The views from Pico weren’t bad, either. The clouds were low, but not low enough to obscure the summit. The wind and chill, however, forced me off the summit relatively quickly. I later learned that the winds and cold weather were nothing compared to what was going on in the rest of New England at the time, though. Tornadoes had just struck Massachusetts and torn up a good chunk of the state. I saw the news on my iPhone later in the day, and started to feel like I was living in some weird Twilight Zone episode. 80+ degrees and humid one day, icy cold and windy the next, with insane weather patterns just to the south? Where was I?
I continued down the Sherburne Pass Trail to the Inn At The Long Trail, then up to Deer Leap Mountain for some views. Again, the wind and cold kept me from enjoying the view for very long, so I continued along the loop back to my car. I met four AT through-hikers along the way, and was happy to see that some folks were already this far ahead. By this time in 2007 I was just starting New Hampshire in my mad dash up the trail. Even though I don’t think I’d do it that way again, it was nice to see others were as crazy as I was.
Once back at my car, I took the long drive to Shrewsbury to hit a few obscure side trails. The drive took much longer than I’d expected it to, since the only route was on back roads over mountain passes, mostly unpaved, but eventually I arrived at the Black Swamp trail head and started hiking. The trail was barely marked, but it wasn’t the first time I’d started hiking without being one hundred percent certain of where I was. I passed a high school class on their way down from the peak, so I figured I was in the right place.
The trail seemed relatively lightly used compared to most of the other trails I’d been on recently, but it was nothing compared to the Shrewsbury Peak trail. Once I intersected that trail, I had to hike the two miles from the peak to the Long Trail, a stretch of trail that looked like it hadn’t been hiked in years. Trees were down all over the place, the tread was barely visible in places, and it seemed like there was just very little point to the trail being there. I got to the LT as quickly as I could, sat down for a snack, and then turned around and hiked back. I had already realized that this would be the hardest part of this trip– hiking out and back on a trail when the more scenic option was to hike elsewhere. I finished the loop by continuing down the Shrewsbury Peak trail to the road I had started at. This section of the trail was much more used and much nicer than the northern half of it.
Down at the car again, and feeling the effects of nineteen miles of hiking already, I tried to decide where to go next. I had a long drive, wherever I decided to go, so I didn’t want to hike too much. The New Boston trail seemed like a good choice– a bit of a long drive, but only a mile hike in to a shelter. I started that way, going from a major road to a minor road, then to a dirt road, and then to something that seemed like its main use was as a snowmobile trail in the winter. The further I got from main roads, the more I wondered who ever used this trail. At the trail head, there was a single car and nothing else. The trail led only to the shelter, and didn’t access any major peaks. I figured I would have company at the shelter tonight. I just hoped it wasn’t a drunken party or a bunch of yokels playing with guns.
The trail was not great, most of it an active logging road by the looks of it. I arrived at the shelter, which seemed fairly run down and not particularly attractive, but it was empty. Another night of camping alone. I was a little nervous, still, since the winds had picked up enough to threaten knocking trees down, and the temperature was supposed to dip into the thirties tonight. That’s a nearly fifty-degree drop from the day before. Unbelievable.
I got up early in the morning and got out of that shelter as quickly as I could. The heavy winds through the night had dried things out considerably, making the area around the shelter seem less dreary, but I wasn’t in a mood to hang out there very long. I got to my car, relieved that it hadn’t had any windows broken in or anything swiped from it (trail head vandalism had been on my mind more and more over the past few days), and drove out of there in a hurry. It was going to be another big day.
After getting somewhat lost on my way back to Route 4, I ended up driving through Rutland again, then on a few dirt roads to the Bucklin Trail. I didn’t start hiking until 9, which was much later than I’d intended, but the hiking conditions were great from the start. Sunny, breezy, cool, and clear. I hurried along the trail, making good time on the old logging road section for the first few miles.
I arrived on top of Killington Peak, which is the second to last of the five Vermont 4000-footers I needed to hit (for some reason I think I’ve missed Mount Ellen, even though I’ve hiked near there frequently), and had the best views on the trip so far. I had expected the ski resort to dominate much of the view, but despite the radio and cell towers up top there is a very nice rocky summit with views all around. I sat up top, enjoying a snack and the scenery, relaxing in the stiff breeze. A fine day, indeed.
Before heading back to my car, I stopped at Cooper Lodge to chat with a few AT hikers. Again, it was nice to talk to kindred spirits. I found myself wishing that the Green Mountain Club or local chapters would post warnings about Cooper in other shelters, since many of the hikers I’d met were surprised to find it full of broken glass and trash. This is what happens when you have an old stone cabin only a few hundred feet from the most popular ski resort trails in the Northeast. I’m used to seeing the lodge in some amount of disrepair (in fact, it was in better condition than I’d remembered), but most other hikers were shocked. Sad to see that kind of historic building turned into a den for delinquent skiers.
Anyway. I got back to my car, then drove for a while to the east side of the mountains, and up Route 100 to Pittsfield. During my trail crew days I had stopped at the Pittsfield Country Store frequently for relief from the wilderness. I had to relive that habit today. A sandwich and soda there were not as cheap as hikers tend to expect of small shops, but oh was it nice. I relaxed in the quiet atmosphere of the place for a while, checking my email and the news, almost forgetting that I had a schedule to keep. Eventually I had to get back to the trail.
There was lots of driving this day, and lots of hiking out and back on trails that didn’t have a lot of scenic character. The Chittenden Brook Trail took up several hours and had no views to speak of, although the brook itself was pleasant. Again, I just walked from the trailhead to the Long Trail, turned around and walked back. Next I rushed in and out of the Sucker Brook Trail, spending more time on the dirt road to the trailhead than on the trail itself. By the time I got back to my car, the sun was low in the sky, and I needed to get a move on to the next part of the state.
Back in the car, and on to a part of Vermont I had never hiked in before. This ought to be good!