With the forecast calling for up to a foot of snow in the lower elevations Saturday night, Yvonne and I decided to bump our hiking plans from Sunday to Saturday morning, and what a good decision that was. Our destination was a 12-mile loop over Stratton Mountain and past Stratton Pond in southern Vermont. The area is something of a spiritual home for me, since I led a trail crew there through the summer of 2008, the year after my Appalachian Trail through-hike, and I grew so attached to the section of trail from the pond to the mountain. Oddly, though I’d returned to the pond four or five times in the past several years, I’ve never hiked from the pond to the mountain to see my old handiwork, or to see the fine views from the mountain.
|This brings back memories of Sandwich Dome on the New England Trail two years ago.|
Yvonne and I arrived at the Long Trail crossing at Kelly Stand Road by 8:30, at which point I realized I’d forgotten my down puffy jacket. Normally, at the end of October, this wouldn’t be so much of a problem. But two days earlier, southern Vermont and New Hampshire had been hit with an early winter. A few inches of snow and frigid temperatures came about a month earlier than usual. Of course, all of my winter hiking equipment is in storage at my parents’ house in Maine, so I was geared for cool fall hiking, not sub-freezing winter stuff. The only thing to do was hike fast and hard to stay warm.
|One of Vermont’s highest peaks, Stratton Mountain has more character than most.|
The odd weather was on display as soon as we hit the trail. Snow coated everything, but the ground was still muddy and only barely frozen. Beech leaves littered the top surface of the snow. Keeping feet dry was impossible, since the temperature hovered right around freezing, making snow stick to my sneakers before it melted. Aside from the crazy weather, though, the hiking was glorious.
If not for the early date, I would have thought it was full-on winter. Mount Snow to the south had completely white ski trails, and the trail around us was coated thickly with snow. Add a grey overcast, and you’d never guess it it was still October.
|Monadnock, close to where we’d come from that morning.|
Up top, I was only able to run up the fire tower, snap three photos, and run down before being nearly frozen. I wish I could have stayed up there a little longer, but having no real insulation was not the best decision. At least I wasn’t the only one caught a little off guard, though. We ran into a couple from New York who had come up for the weekend to do the loop as an overnight, and they hadn’t expected quite so much snow. They seemed in good spirits, at least.
|Slippery stream crossings are even more fun when you might fall into freezing water.|
At the bottom of the mountain, I finally saw my old handiwork. In case you’re wondering, on the Long Trail heading north from Stratton Mountain, you cross the IP Road about a mile before Stratton Pond, then about half a mile later cross a bridged stream. Between the road and the stream is where my trail crew placed several stretches of massive stepping stones and bog bridges to fix a hellish, swampy stretch of trail. There were some stepping stones already in place there, but our stones are a thing of beauty. If only we’d had a few more weeks to fix up one last section of trail. Whatever. Seeing those stones set in the ground for the first time in over three years made me so happy. I got all giddy, knowing that something I’d done is, quite literally, set in stone for future generations.
|Yvonne testing a few of my rocks. Those things are solid!|
We stopped for a quick snack at Stratton Pond and the shelter there, one of my favorites on the Long Trail, and then it was a slog back to the Kelly Stand road. Snow just started to fall as we got back to the car, but we made it home just in time. The blizzard was in full swing by the time got home to Keene, and the roads were just nasty. We watched four cars spin off the road just outside of town, casualties of this bizarre early-season snow. Sunday would be a day for being cozy and warm inside, while watching the snow melt outside– one of the great joys in life. And the forecast was actually wrong. We didn’t get a foot of snow. We got 14 inches!
See a few more photos of the hike here.