Backpacking the Green Mountains

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010
Green Mountains trailhead

We spent most of the first week of August (six days, five nights, to be exact) on a backpacking trip through the Green Mountains of Vermont. We officially began our hike at the Lye Brook Wilderness Area and later joined up with Vermont’s famous Long Trail and the Appalachian Trail. We managed to arrange our trip so that we could make a total loop without backtracking, leaving our car at the end of Old Rootville Road, at the point where the dirt road finally petered out. It would be waiting for us there when we returned six days later, from the other direction. In order to make a loop, we first hiked back down the dirt road and then along another local road, to arrive at the trailhead for Lye Brook.

The guidebook said that there was a beautiful and tall waterfall farther up the trail. “Waterfall” and “tall” translate to mean one thing – you’re hiking up the mountain. And so we did, but the view was worth the effort. We saw a few day hikers going to the waterfall, but we were the only ones to continue on up the trail rising from the base of the waterfall. As we climbed in altitude, the dark clouds that typify a summer afternoon in the mountains continued to threaten us. It drizzled, but we kept going, and the rain stopped. It started again, and we kept going. Finally, instead of the rain stopping, it started to pour heavily. The downpour didn’t last long, but the damage was done. By being complacent and not stopping earlier to don full raingear and prepare our packs, we got ourselves (and more importantly, our packs) somewhat wet. We spent a damp night before we could dry our sleeping bags and other gear the next day. Every hike is a learning experience. The first night we found a beautiful little cubby nestled in the trees, barely large enough for our tent.  The next day we hiked to Bourn Pond and spent the night at a pleasant site there. We walked along the pond’s edge and explored the area, and particularly appreciated a gorgeous view of the overhead stars on a moonless night at 3 AM.

Green Mountains lakeside cooking

For our third day on the trail, we faced a choice. We had planned to hike around Bourn Pond to Stratton Pond and join the A.T. there. However, a notice posted at the Lye Brook trailhead warned us that due to recent tree blow downs and new beaver dams, that part of the trail was essentially impassible unless you chose to slog through a swamp. So we decided to modify the original plan. Instead, we shortened our total mileage by hiking along only the south side of Bourn Pond. This meant that we would hike very little distance on our third day, but we were rewarded by having a beautiful tent site directly by the pond. We relaxed in the sun and had plenty of time for a substantial evening meal. Maybe that’s what backpacking should be all about. Certainly our plan is to enjoy nature and to be a part of nature, and not to conquer/subdue nature or to be focused on simply achieving some particular mileage.

For our fourth day we continued along the south side of Stratton Pond to the William Douglas shelter. This was our first experience at a hikers’ shelter. We prefer to use our small tent and to camp in secluded places off-trail. It’s not that we are inherently anti-social.  We realize that for many backpackers, meeting fellow hikers and sharing in the sociability that takes place at these overnight shelters is a particularly appealing aspect of hiking. But we are comfortable with ourselves as a pair, or singly, and are seeking a somewhat different experience. With all that said, the shelter was an interesting experience, and we learned some things from our fellow travelers. And there was a convenience in having this facility. There was a substantial fireplace for cooking the mushrooms that we had harvested on our hike. It was interesting that our shelter-mates expressed real interest in our mushrooms, but declined our offers to share with them. Perhaps they were surprised to see us bright and cheery the next morning.

Green Mountains shelter

Because our decision not to hike through the swamp to Stratton Pond reduced our total mileage considerably, we had plenty of time for day hiking without our packs (leaving them behind at our campsite) along various trails, and had more time than usual to actually explore the area. For example, we found the remnants of an old logging rail line that had existed in these woods a century ago…now totally overgrown. Another time, we were hiking the A.T. section very late in the day, minus backpacks, when two through-hikers saw us and inquired if we needed water. We said we were fine, and they took our word for it. We had actually wandered unknowingly onto the wrong trail at that point (another story). We later recognized that their concern was because we were in the middle of nowhere without any apparent support or water, and were hiking away from likely campsites or water. We eventually figured out that something was wrong and backtracked considerably until we found a familiar landmark, and arrived back at our site only slightly before darkness set in. Yes, every hike is a learning experience.

For our fifth day, we continued along Lye Brook Trail and the overlapping section of the A.T. and the Long Trail. We spent some time at Prospect Rock, where we could see all the way to Manchester, Vermont, and also to Emerald Lake State Park, where we had camped before setting out on this backpacking adventure. The only possible spot that we could find for our tent was on a steep hill. But by pitching the tent in line with the slant and placing logs at the outside bottom of the tent, we could prop our feet against those logs and somewhat prevent ourselves from rolling down the mountain. On the morning of the sixth day, we arose early and had an easy hike down the mountain to Old Rootville Road, where our car awaited us. It was a short drive into the town of Manchester where we had a wonderful breakfast at the Happy Rooster Restaurant, and then we continued on our way back to civilization and my family at the beach in Connecticut.

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