Carol's MA to VT AT Trip Report
Tom, Steve and Carol completed a 9-day, 97-mile section of the AT, 12 miles short of our original109-mile goal, due to logistical issues. The trail is excellent in this section, well marked and maintained, with no obstructions and gentle ascents but very few mountain-top views. This trip was a sort of luxury version of our normal AT adventures, since we stayed at motels or bunkrooms all but one night. We discovered the downside of this arrangement: the hour and a half spent most days dropping off and picking up cars at either end of our hike, and on several days we had so much trouble getting to the trailhead that we didn’t begin hiking until 11 AM! The weather was mostly glorious, cool and sunny, as we hiked through forests at the height of their autumn color, although we did have 2 days of rain. The advantage of the motel overnights was that we were able to wander around the various towns along our route (Bennington, Williamstown, and Manchester Center) where we spent many evenings at the local brewpub drinking kraft beers and watching the Nationals’ post-season hopes slip away. The mileages and ascents are estimates, due to Carol’s having lost some of her notes and Steve’s GPS not always being charged.
On 9/29 we met at a motel in Lee, MA, where before and after dinner we watched all 3 Jurassic Park movies, noticing that although nearly everyone in these films carried a high-powered rifle, none of the hordes fleeing from the dinosaurs ever fired a shot at them. What a bunch of dumbos! No wonder the dinosaurs won!
9/30 was our first day on the trail, a short 10 miles from Lee to Dalton. It was an uneventful stroll through the green tunnel, with only 1300 feet of ascent and overcast skies.
10/1 Dalton to Cheshire MA, 9.6 mi, 2800 ft ascent. Today’s weather was drizzly but still warm so that we used umbrellas rather than rain jackets. Steve, hiking some distance behind Tom and Carol, missed the turn-off at days’ end in Cheshire, adding another mile to his hike. Somewhat at loose ends on this day, he also had forgotten to bring any long-sleeved shirts, so after the hike we all went to the only open store, Dollar General. There he bought the only non-cotton long-sleeved shirt available - a Lady’s size XXL Bobbie Brooks pink and black patterned number, with false camisole straps. Tom kept his distance during the selection process, while Carol advised Steve on his fashion choices. This event follows a long tradition of someone in our group buying women’s clothing; we all remember Dave Green’s purchase of the orange bandanna, where the checkout person pointed out those were “only for women.” So now both Dave and Steve are in touch with their feminine side. Tom lost touch with his feminine side several years ago, after he returned the hiking kilt he bought. I say if a kilt is good enough for Liam Neeson, it’s good enough for any guy!
10/2 Cheshire to Mt. Graylock 8.2 mi, 3200 ft ascent. I bet readers are thinking that the mileage on this day was pathetic, but considering the nightmare scenario we had in placing our cars, it was lucky our day was short. We started out following Tom’s GPS, which took us over hill and dale but unfortunately nowhere near our trailhead. Finally (duh!) the guys decided to look at the map, which solved the problem. Back on track now, we were nearly at the trailhead on the accursed County Rd, where we would pick up our cars in 2 days’ time, but our way was blocked by road construction, so we had to meander around some more to finally reach our destination at 11 AM. We walked steadily upward in clear sunny weather through forests of maple and birch, then as we went higher, through small stands of balsam fir that we could smell before reaching them. Our destination was the summit of Mt. Graylock, MA’s high point, and Bascom Lodge, a stone and shingle hotel/bunkroom built in 1910. A tall narrow stone tower topped by a lovely leaded glass sphere sits at the summit. A monument to the soldiers killed in World War I, it was unfortunately closed for the season, so we weren’t able to climb the 89 (or 92) steps to the top. It is positioned in the center of a round flat area that looks out over the Hoosick Valley, nearby ridges topped with wind turbines, and the distant peaks of Mt Monadnock and the White Mountains. A panoramic photo labels all the geographic features in view, including the tiny Mt. Tom. When teased about the diminutive size of his namesake hill, Tom observed that the panorama included no Mt. Carol at all. Along with the panorama, the monument is ringed by a group of granite slabs carved with quotations from Thoreau and others attesting to the beauty of this spot. We checked into our bunkroom at the lodge, nearly deserted midweek at this time of year, and after a hot shower, repaired to the wide glassed-in porch overlooking the mountains aflame in red and yellow foliage, and the valley far below. Around Miller Time fog rolled in, obscuring the views, so we moved to the cozy if somewhat chilly living room (no fires on a Thursday night) with our very expensive beers. We finished the evening with an excellent 3-course meal in the dining room and then off to our soft bunkbeds. Ah the rigors of roughing it..
10/3 Mt. Graylock to County Road (past Seth Warner Shelter) 13.8 mi;, 2800 ft ascent. This was an apparently unremarkable day, since I can’t remember anything about it, other than the breakfast of muffins and coffee. I think it was sunny . . . and we stayed in Williamstown?
10/4 County Rd to Route 9 Bennington VT 11.2 mi; 2900 ft ascent. This day truly sucked, as we crossed into Vermont, leaving Massachusetts behind. It rained heavily and got steadily colder, rainier and windier as the day wore on. Planning to leave the first car of our shuttle at the trailhead, we tried to approach the benighted dirt and gravel County Rd from its southern end, closer to our overnight stop, and it looked fine on googlemaps. But this road became increasingly degraded as we drove along it. Why oh why did we disregard that small “No Outlet” sign? Soon we were driving (and this only loosely describes our lurching 3-mph pace) past sights not meant for suburban eyes: something called “The Kitchen,” which might have been a broken-down meth lab; red tape with the words “Danger” draped from trees; boarded up trailers with KEEP OUT spray-painted in scary “Nightmare on Elm St.” letters; and best of all, a roughly built red structure called “Son of a Bitchin’ Camp.” One run-down establishment, perhaps trying to present a cheerful front, was gaily decorated with Halloween skeletons, or maybe, come to think of it, this was some kind of warning on view all year round . . . . The road was in harmony with the architectural style of the structures bordering it - ranging from deeply rutted to very, very deeply rutted. Finally reaching a 14-inch drop-off in the roadbed only a mile from our destination, drivers Tom and Steve said “No Way”, and we were forced to retrace our steps, then drive around to the northern approach to County Rd, about an hour away. So we did not actually get out of our cars until 11 AM. Having started our hike in shorts, we were all soaking wet, cold, and close to shivering when we reached our lunch stop, a shelter 7.4 miles along our route. There we donned every article of clothing we had in our packs and immediately felt much better, although we were thoroughly drenched. At least we were warm! At the shelter we met four UMass guys out for a weekend backpack, and on the trail, two young women with painted faces. We later learned that these two were daredevils, putting in very long miles after only 2 hours’ sleep. Despite the rain they seemed quite happy when we encountered them on the trail. To say we were thrilled when this day’s hike ended at 4:30 is an understatement.
10/5 Route 9 Bennington to Goddard Shelter, 10.1 mi, 3300 ft ascent. This was the only night we stayed overnight at a shelter and therefore the only time we carried the big packs. The weather gods smiled on us, and we climbed to the shelter at elevation 3560 ft near the top of Glastonbury Mt in cool sunny weather. We passed several pretty viewpoints at Porcupine Lookout and Little Pond Lookout, but they were modest compared to what we have seen elsewhere. We also crossed a substantial bridge bearing a sign “Bridge out.” We walked over it anyway, but one at a time, just in case. When we reached the shelter it was cold and getting colder. The shelter did not have views down into the valley despite being so high up, but it was relatively new, watertight, slept 10, and was nicely situated. We slept in the shelter rather than tents and there met 3 middle-aged guys section-hiking; they had some connection to military aircraft, and Steve talked shop with them while Tom and Carol, after a bit of a struggle, got a fire going in the fire ring despite the preponderance of wet wood all around. It was in the low to mid-30s that night.
10/6 Goddard Shelter to Kelly Stand Rd, 13 mi. 1600 ft ascent. It was chilly when we awoke so we didn’t linger, packing up and hitting the trail before 9. Again the sun shone on brilliant fall foliage all around as we checked out the fire tower on the nearby peak of Glastonbury Mt.(elevation 3790). It seems that the only way to get views in the Green Mountains is to climb a fire tower. On this day we were mostly descending, as we walked past a series of ponds with beaver refugios. We passed an oddly kitted out older man whom we assumed was a trail bum. Carol was tempted to ask him if he knew the crazy guy at Rattle River Shelter but decided against it, not knowing where this could lead. We ended the day in Manchester Center, a charming town where we had fabulous Mexican food and noticed that every commercial business is in an old 19th century house.
10/7 Kelly Stand Rd to Old Rootsville Rd. 14.8 mi, 2500 ft ascent. We shortened the last two days of our hikes, because we realized there was no way we could hike over 17 miles each day, place cars at both ends and get back to town in time for a 6 PM dinner, which was Tom’s preference. Since the weather forecast was for rain, we felt this was just fine. As it turned out, the rain was only a light drizzle as we ascended Stratton Mountain, Carol lagging behind intentionally as Steve and Tom engaged in one of their more spirited political discussions. The sun came out intermittently as we descended to Stratton Pond, a surprisingly large body of water with campsites on its north shore and a seasonal caretaker set up under a large tarp canopy. The trail was easy as we crossed the Winhall River on one of the many sturdily constructed bridges on the Vermont stretch of the AT. We left the trail just after Prospect Rock. This scenic spot is accessed down a short side trail leading to a large rocky outcrop that juts out over the valley of the Wye Brook Wilderness, and this is one view that is as good as any we’ve seen on the AT, though perhaps not as grand as those in the White Mountains further north. Leaving the trail after visiting this viewpoint, we descended 1100 feet and 1.8 miles on the gravel Rootsville Rd to reach our car.
10/8 Mad Tom Notch to Old Rootsville Rd. about 12 mi., 2800-3000 ft ascent? We decided to do this stretch in reverse, since it avoided an initial 1100 ft. boring uphill on Old Rootsville Rd. The weather was overcast but pleasant. However once we got to the top of Bromley Mountain, we lost the trail where it topped out at a ski-lift drop-off point at the Bromley Ski Resort. It was cold and very windy up there. We knew the trail must follow one of the ski runs partway down the mountain but we weren’t sure which one. After wandering around and doing recon for about 20 minutes, we guessed at the correct route, which turned out to be poorly marked by a series of faded blazes on a few flat rocks partway down the run. It was the only place on this trip where the blazes were inadequate. Descending Bromley Mountain, we got back to town before the evening rains occurred. We spent our last evening browsing in the awesome Northshire Book Store, followed by a wonderful Mexican dinner and maple-ginger Vermont ice cream.Though this trip was less ambitious than most we have done in past years, it had its own charm due to the beautiful fall foliage and our ability to explore the trailside towns we stayed in overnight. However we all agreed that in future we would prefer less time placing cars, with more time spent camping and less in hotels. Only 392 miles left!