Tripp has wanted to hit the Stratton Pond loop for a while now. I, on the other hand, was just there; or perhaps more accurately, just escaping from there with my broken water filter and bruised ego. In our haste Alex and I totally skipped the summit of Stratton and about 10 miles leading up to in favor of a short walk down a road. Allegedly, the Stratton Pond loop served as the inspiration for the construction of the entire AT. I hadn’t summited and Tripp needed to see what the hype was all about. These seemed like good enough reasons to return and take another stab at it.
We road out to Arlington, VT on a Saturday night and stayed at the Grout Pond Recreation Area. The rec area consists of a boat launch, a cabin and a number of tent and RV sites. Getting to the place involved a number side roads, each more obscure than the last, culminating in a winding dirt road which apparently was ‘unfit for winter travel’. Thankfully it was not winter. We rolled into the Rec Area at around 10 or 11 and pitched our tents. The skies are overcast but the weather is great otherwise – mid 50s, low humidity and wind. We killed a few beers and retired to our respective tents.
We got up at 6:50 AM, packed up the tents and headed down the road for the trail head – about 2 miles from the Rec Area. We were definitely the last people to arrive and the first people to wake up and leave. I note that sleeping within a mile of the trailhead is a way better strategy for getting an early start than our usual approach of setting some highly improbable wake-up goal and assuming that we won’t need to stop for gas, food, coffee, the bathroom, traffic or otherwise be any less than 100% efficient on the way to the hike.
We hit the trail at the unprecedented (for us anyhow) time of 8 AM. It’s still overcast but it’s also still pleasantly cool. The loop is just under 12 miles including a brief 1 mile stroll down the dirt road. We get this out of the way first for two reasons: A) It’ll get us off to a fast start, and B) We’ll be able to end the hike on a more pleasant trail.
View Stratton in a larger map
The first few miles of the trail are over gently upward sloping terrain. We manage a moving average of 4mph here. Before we know it we’re at the summit of Stratton. At the summit we run into an LT caretaker who directs us to the Stratton gondola. It’s well before noon we check it out. Unfortunately it’s totally socked in with fog so there’s really nothing to see. We skip the fire tower at the summit for the same reason. We decide to move on, in search of some more interesting place to eat and chill for a minute.
The way down Stratton is considerably steeper than the way up making it a lot more interesting. We cruise about half way down the mountain at which time we stop for some lunch, water and a pint. It’s noon-ish by now and we realize that it still hasn’t really warmed up past the mid 60s. It threatens to rain, but with the summit behind us, I almost don’t care if it does.
We make it to the pond at about 1 PM. The pond is outright beautiful but some better lighting wouldn’t have hurt. It’s still pretty dark out; in fact it’s threatening to rain somewhat more aggressively than before. Additionally we’re starting to realize that at our present rate we’ll be out of the woods in plenty of time to hunt around for some apres-hike delicacy. We roll out…
The final 4 miles is virtually flat and we waltz out of the woods around 2 PM. As we’re getting out of our boots and packing up the car, thunder rumbles a few miles away and it begins to rain. Perfect timing. We pile into the car, fire on some tunes, flip into 4wd (totally unnecessary but it’s been my first excuse to use it so far) and snake our way down the dirt road toward town and dinner. This dirt road, known as Stratton-Arlington Rd is dotted with makeshift riverside camp sites and a few hunting or fishing shacks. Every few hundred yards we come by another camp.
Eventually we show up in Manchester Center with the aim of hitting up the tavern where Alex and I hid out upon being defeated by the LT. The only two maps of the area that we have are an LT trail map and a US Atlas. The atlas has nowhere near the granularity that we need to navigate Vermont and the LT trail map, in the words of Tripp, is ‘totally incongruous with reality.’ I’m glad that he explained it in those terms because they were the exact words I needed to explain the source code that I was debugging to my coworker today. In any event Tripp eventually figures out which way to go. We feast and head home.
On the ride home I consider two things: A) The Manchester Tavern or whatever it’s called seemed way cooler after 5 days in the woods than after 6 hours in the woods, and B) some of the trees on the highway are starting to turn already! The fall hiking season draws near…