How many of us know Stratton Mountain was the spot where a man named James Taylor concieved the idea of a "long trail" spanning from Massachusets to Canada? Yes, the Long Trail came first. During the construction of the Long Trail, a man named Benton Mckaye Considered it might be a good idea to have a trail spanning the entire Appalachian Range while on the summit of Stratton, and thanks to him, the Appalachian Trail was born. I had no idea of this until recently researching a weekend backpacking trip. I wanted to get into the mountains and I had an itch for Vermont.
Coming across these interesting facts Gave this mountain an instant allure for me, but it takes a little more than some history to make me want to climb a mountain. So in researching I found that most of the trails to Stratton were too short with little elevation gain, this did not appeal to me, but one trail stood out, The Lye Brook Trail
. This Trail had one of Vermont's tallest waterfalls along the way and according to the guide I was reading, some Beaver activity also. Great I said, 13 miles to the summit with waterfalls, beavers, ponds, campsites and over 3000 feet of elevation gain! The guide also said "bring a compass and topo map, this is a primitavely maintained trail and trail markers will be few" My expectations were high.
Originally, I planned to leave Ct. on friday night and sleep at the trailhead so I could get an early start. But work stresses and a late finish made me reconsider.Saturday, 4 am, I was up, one hour before the alarm was supposed to sound, good start!. I jumped in the already loaded truck, and after some malted, blueberry topped waffles in Bennington, I was ready to go! I reached the trailhead at 8:15 and was off by 8:30. There was a good chill in the air, but I dressed light knowing that i would be trucking with a heavy pack for 9 miles, and it did warm up quickly! Reading the Trail register, I noticed alot of people, many from out of state, heading for the falls only. I did not see one person on the register that was heading to Stratton.
At the 2 mile mark, I buzzed right by the .4 mile trail to the falls, knowing, with my reletavely late start I would need to make some time if I wanted to get to camp, setup, and summit all in one day. After about 4 miles of hiking some moderate uphill grades, the trail leveled off and although there were some grasssy meadows with small ponds in them, Beaver activity, call it, I would not. Strike one.
What did surprise me was the amazing amount of fresh moose tracks right on the Trail! This gave me some solid hope, seeing a moose would be awesome, as I have only seen a momma & baby once before in Maine. I went on through the forest of pines, hardwoods, and large white birch, most of which had already lost their leaves, for what seemed like a very long while. The trail ended up being very easy to follow and to my dismay, no routefinding skills were needed.
At about seven miles I reached the junction with the Branch Pond Trail, and the Bourn Pond area. Looking through the trees, I was surprised by the size of Bourne pond. There was a middle aged couple that I spoke to for a while. These were the first people I had seen since near the falls. They didn't see any beaver or moose either. Boring I said to myself.
Continuing on, in the area between Bourn Pond and Stratton pond, the surroundings became more and more beautiful. I passed many a challenging mud bogs and stream crossings and even a very large area of blowdown, from a thunderstorm wind shear event.
large blowdown area
Finally, at 9 miles I reached Stratton Pond and the campsite where i would spend the night. I saw a few people there and one fellow, yielding a bottle of Jamesons, told me he had spoken to the campsite attendant and that it would be a busy night here tonight. Giving this no thought, I quickly set up my tent, threw my stuff inside, hung my food at the campsite cable system (which my food hung at a mere 10 feet) and was off, with some water and a camera. It was 3:30 and 4 miles to the summit with 1500 feet of elevation gain with three hours of daylight left.
Stratton from Stratton Pond
The guidebook said that some parts of the summit approach were rather steep, this I was looking forward to, as most of the trail so far was flat and flat is not something that gets me going.
I made quick work of the 8 mile jaunt, 1 1/2 hours up, 15 mins on the summit and 1.25 hours down, and this was probably, I'd say, the least steep mountain I can remember climbing. Strike two.
At the top I realized one must climb the firetower for any views whatsoever. And once at the top I wondered what it was about this mountain that made these men feel inspired to climb all the others? The views were okay. Thats one thing that sucks about high expectations, potential let down. Strike three.
What I consider to be the best view from the summit. Stratton Pond below, with Big Equinox Mtn. in the distance
Pondering all of this on the way down, I was pleased with my overall time as i reached the campsite at 6:30 only to find a very large group of boy scouts and leaders with a large fire (allowed at this site), cooking all kinds of hot dogs and such. Food was on my mind big time, so first thing was my asian kung pao noodles, nice and hot! It was becoming very chilly, which pleased me as I am not an experienced cold weather camper and needed to thicken my blood for my winter plans.
After some tea I hung my food, chatted with some neighbors, setup the rest of my stuff, and turned in a little after 7. The scout group was up and about until around 10:30 but I was able to sleep through most of it.
4 am and it wasn't too long before the stove was fired up and some hot cereal and tea were a brewin. The time spent at camp was soothing for me as I found great joy in cold weather camping, the crisp air and extra effort needed to survive consumed my mind, allowing me some zen.
I went over to the community bear hang to find a huge bag of food hanging nex to mine. Obviosly the boy scouts. The funny thing was that it was hanging at about my chest height (and I'm not tall). I grabbed my food and found no wonder why bear canisters are mandatory in the Adirondack high peaks and probably here to follow.
Complimented with an early start, with only 9 miles to go, I decided to take it easy on the return trip. This proved to be a wise choice as there were so many things that I had missed on the way in, trying to make my time. I am usually a fan of round trip backpacks vs. out & back, but this trip showed me something different. When i reached Bourn pond, i noticed some side trails that led to the pond and found some nice views.
Bourn Pond in the morning light.
Not too far from the pond was a fire pit with a tree next to it that had some fire damage on it. At a closer look I found something cool, a very colorful shroom! I didn't know they came in this color!
Bourn Pond was an excellent area, and if I had my choice I would have camped there. It is way less used, more remote, and very beautiful!
I continued into the remote and long span after Bourn Pond, continually noticing things I had not seen before.
Interesting features growing on this tree
. I enjoyed just taking some time to stop and notice the environment, this is an understated luxury.
A stream enriched by the morning sun
. I did notice some areas in the distance from the trail that may have been beaver areas but i didn't bother to take a closer look, and still no fricken moose! The trail started to make the descent for the final four miles and I felt much more satisfied with the simple things I had found on the trail, as I did not expect much because of the previous days haste.
A fallen tree with some moss and a shroom.
Finally I was back at the falls spur, I dumped my pack and sprinted for the Lye Brook Falls. They were taller than I thought they would be and it was a very nice area, a good finish to a great trip.
Lye Brook Falls
So, Stratton inspired the beginning of some of the most famous wilderness trails in the world. Who knows what status many of the places we enjoy would be in if it were not for these trails? Or how many of us would have had the blessing of discovering the mountains? A small mountain with a very large impact.
What I learned on this trip
-My guidebook is fairly innacurate
-Moose tracks do not mean moose sightings
-Cold weather camping is good
-Out and back trips can be as rewarding as round trips
-Scout leaders need to teach the young ones how to hang food correctly!