Last weekend, I got together with my best friend, Aaron, and his brother, Ben, for a relaxed backpacking trip in Vermont. This wasn’t a trip for miles or gear-testing, or even one that I intended to write about. It was a trip to reconnect. Aaron just finished medical school, which has kept him excessively busy for the past several years, so it’s been a while since we’ve been able to hang out and ignore adult responsibilities. Of course things are quite different now than they were when Aaron and I were a pair of buffoons in college, but it’s always nice to get back to that feeling once in a while.
|A welcome sight– the Stratton Mountain fire tower.|
We hiked into the Stratton Pond shelter late Friday evening, finding the temperatures already well below freezing. The forecast for the weekend called for frigid cold– strange after the already brutal heat of the past several weeks. But that didn’t dim our enthusiasm for being out at this gorgeous location. Having the palatial shelter to ourselves for the evening was a luxury that you don’t get very often, since it’s one of the most popular campsites on the Long Trail. We cooked up a massive dinner of sausage stew, guzzled hot chocolate, and then retired to the loft for the evening, hoping the upper platform would shelter us a little from the gusting wind.
Not so much. The three of us spent the night barely sleeping, despite our best efforts to stay warm. In the morning we weren’t in any hurry to move out of camp, so we cooked up more hot food and cocoa, and relaxed at the shelter until we figured we might as well take a walk up the mountain. The Green Mountain Club has issued their “stay off the high elevations” warning for mud season, but it was pretty safe to go up the mountain on Saturday with the ground solidly frozen. So we set off for the mountain.
|Mount Snow is still holding on to the snow, but otherwise it looks like a normal spring day here.|
I had hiked the Stratton Mountain loop with Yvonne in October, but otherwise hadn’t been to Stratton in years. And with the snow on the ground in October, I hadn’t seen my handiwork on the trail since I’d worked on the trail crew there in 2008, so I was overjoyed to walk on those rocks on our way up the mountain. When my crew had finished working on the trail so many years ago, the place had looked like a mud bomb had gone off– vegetation had been trampled and crushed for a hundred feet on either side of the trail, and the ground had been churned and muddy from booted feet walking all over, but the undergrowth was now recovered to the point where you could never tell anything had happened. The moss on the step stones we’d laid made it seem as if they’d always been in the ground. I pointed out each rock that we’d put in the ground over about a half-mile’s distance, feeling a surge of pride that the work I’d done was still solid. A flood of memories from that summer came back to me– there were several moments that summer that will remain some of the happiest in my life (as well as a few that were pretty low).
|Looking over Stratton Pond to Mount Equinox.|
After a long and pleasant walk into the higher elevation spruce forest, I finally saw that still-familiar sight of the fire tower on the summit. A pair of guys and a friendly dog arrived just as we did, and the whole crowd stayed in the top of the fire tower for several minutes, enjoying the distant, clear views (and shelter from the chilling winds). What a beautiful view from that tower on Stratton.
Aaron, Ben and I had a huge lunch on the summit, sitting in the sun and sheltered from the wind by the dense forest. Then we took a little walk across the summit ridge to the ski resort area, and then back down to watch the sunset over Stratton Pond. There was plenty of company at the shelter on Saturday evening, but a good crowd– everybody was in bed at a reasonable hour, and happy to share the evening with complete strangers. We cooked up another huge dinner, consumed yet more hot cocoa, and then got ready for another frigid night.
|The shore of the pond held onto winter just a little longer.|
Though the temperature was similarly low, there was less wind, so the night passed much more easily. We were up and on the go by about 6:30, walking in the chilly morning air to the parking lot in order to meet some friends elsewhere. Though we hadn’t hiked far during the weekend, we were thoroughly exhausted at the end of it, probably because we hadn’t slept much with the colder-than-expected conditions. Regardless, I felt a slight tinge of sadness as we left, much like going back to work after visiting the family on holiday. Even though I haven’t been to Stratton very often in the past few years, it still feels like a sort of home for me– other mountains and campsites might be more striking in their views, or more remote, but Stratton is the place where I feel like I know every nook and cranny, where I can laze around all day with nothing to do and somehow not wish to be elsewhere.
|Sunset at Stratton Pond never fails.|
In a few days I’ll start living on the road and on the trail again, in a way. This time, though, I’ll still have my home in Keene, and that makes me very happy going forward. That home, though, doesn’t give me quite the same sense of tranquility and peace as another sort of home I’m just as happy to have– a pond and a mountain in the forest of Vermont.