It was getting pretty late by the time I found the Skylight Trail parking, and once again the trailhead was deserted. I packed my bag quickly and started up the trail, feeling entirely worn out and ready to sleep before I even shouldered my pack. This was getting exhausting. The two and a half miles up to Skyline Lodge took me much longer than they should have, but I was moving pretty slowly in order to keep myself from falling asleep on my feet. I arrived tired and sore, but in working order.
For the first time in several nights, I had company at the shelter. I had hoped a caretaker might be present, even if that meant I would have to pay to stay at the shelter, but instead there were two Long Trail through-hikers. They had met two of the others I’d stayed with at Stratton Pond several days earlier, too. The three of us had this splendid lodge to ourselves that night, so it was a nice, quiet night with just enough conversation and stories to while the time away until another chilly evening.
I fell asleep with thoughts of the past whirling through my head, though. In the past few days I’d thought back to my time living in Vermont a few years ago, and remembered all the things I’d loved about it, all the things I hadn’t loved about a lot of other places I’d lived in the time since. Lots of hiking in the previous years had been fun and adventurous, but the last time I’d been settled and had any kind of a home had been when I worked for the Green Mountain Club. I missed that kind of life. I also found myself missing the academic life, probably because I had driven past Middlebury College to get to the Breadloaf area. That had been my first choice for colleges when I was in high school, but I didn’t get in. I wonder if I would have liked that place more than where I did end up, or if my younger self would have rebelled against that as well. Who knows. Sometimes I imagine that if I’d stuck with the academic life, though, maybe life would have been easier. Again, there’s no way of knowing.
Another day, another trail. I awoke to the sun shining in the front windows of Skyline Lodge early in the morning. What a wonderful way to start the day. I can see why many GMC field staff like that lodge more than any Long Trail shelter. It may not be the newest, but it has a wonderful feel to it.
I left the lodge early, again, knowing I had a big day ahead of me. I went south on the Long Trail, stopping for a nice view of the Middlebury area near Battell Mountain, then down the Burnt Hill Trail to the road, and then a few miles along the dirt road back to my car. The walk on the road took the steam out of me a bit, as road walking will tend to do, but I pushed on. Once at the car, I drove entirely on dirt Forest Service roads for several miles to the Emily Proctor/Cooley Glen trail head. My car was coated in dust by the time I got there. Much of it had gotten into my trunk and coated most of my gear in a fine film. Still, not as bad as sand in the desert.
I was a little wary of trail head vandalism again, since the trail head was also a popular drive-in camping area, but there was nothing I could do about it now. I started up the Cooley Glen trail along a beautiful river. The trail eventually started to look like most others, but it went by relatively fast, and I found myself at the top for a lunch break at Cooley Glen shelter just as the two through-hikers from Skyline last night were there. They gave me some pointers on good views to the south, and soon enough I was on my way.
The trail through the Breadloaf Wilderness in that area was gorgeous, if a bit tricky. The grades were steep, and several blow downs cluttered parts of the trail, but the forest was lush and peaceful. There weren’t many views, so much of my time was lost in thought about the future, with my impending move to New Hampshire, the uncertainty of finding a job at the end of the summer, and that nostalgia for the academic life that seeing Middlebury had reignited in me. Sometimes I feel like I’m just wasting my time with all the hiking I do, but I felt pretty good about it today. Maybe I’m not being productive, but the trail provides, as they say. I’d rather continue adventuring until I find something I love to do than get stuck in a dead end like I’ve been close to doing on more than a few occasions.
Early in the afternoon, after a gorgeous view toward Killington and Ascutney from Mount Roosevelt, I had another extremely difficult obstacle to overcome. I was in the middle of a loop hike involving the Emily Proctor Trail, the Long Trail, and the Cooley Glen Trail, but on the eastern side of that loop was another side trail, the Clark Brook Trail, that led three miles down the mountain. I would have to hike down that trail, then right back up and continue the loop, with no reward other than to know I’d finished another side trail. I took a deep breath and started down the trail.
The Clark Brook Trail wasn’t bad after the initial steep drop from the ridge, and I continued to be lost in thought. The time went by quickly, despite a major bridge that had been washed out at the bottom, requiring a tricky rock hop (and another one on the way back). When I approached the trail head at a USFS campground, I heard gunshots popping with a frequency that suggested a weekend party with booze and guns. I hit the trail head and turned around right away. A snack break would wait until I got to a more peaceful spot.
After only a few hours on the side trail, I was back to the ridge and continuing the loop. There were some nice evening views from Mount Wilson, and then a surprisingly early arrival to Emily Proctor Shelter. Nobody there, yet again, so I spent another night alone in the woods. I probably had plenty of time to make a side trip up to Breadloaf Mountain for some more views, but my feet were tired. And so was I. I went to sleep early, listening to my favorite bird calls. Hermit thrushes really have a wonderful, ghostly song. Not much reminds me more of my time on the trail crew than their call, and it puts me right to sleep.
I woke up early and ate a quick breakfast, anticipating a big day. It was a little cloudy, but I went up to Breadloaf anyway to see if there were any views. There were some, but one of the ironies of better conservation in Vermont is that many of the mountains that were once open with views across the countryside are now filling up with trees that block many of the views. I guess I can live with that, though. I snapped a few pictures, marked another mountain off my NE Hundred Highest list, and headed down the Emily Proctor trail.
Back at my car, I had a hectic day planned. In a nutshell, I drove to the Battell Trail, hiked up and down, drove to the Jerusalem Trail, hiked up and down, drove to the Beane Trail, hiked up and down, then drove across the mountains again to the Monroe Trail on Camel’s Hump. Since the three trails of the day (Battell, Jerusalem, Beane) are all on dirt roads off of the main roads, it took me longer to find them than I had anticipated. Unlike earlier hikes in this trip, I didn’t bother with the views near any of those trails, instead just hiking right up to the Long Trail and back down. I was in a bit of a hurry. Sometimes that just happens.
The drives between trails meant that I had almost no time to relax, so even though I hiked only 18 miles today (only, ha!), I felt like I had been through much more. I had thought of hiking one more trail before heading to Camel’s Hump, but instead I sat in my car in Waitsfield and caught up on some phone calls and emails that I’d been too busy to deal with in the past few days. A light mist started falling from the sky. Damn, I was tired. Luckily, it looked like I had a short day tomorrow, despite climbing Camel’s Hump twice. But that’s for next week. Stay tuned!