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Stratton Mountain

  • Start: Story Spring Shelter
  • End: Stratton Pond Shelter
  • Approx. Miles: 10.6

What a day! After another night of back pain-induced restless sleep, I set out early in the morning for Stratton Mountain hiking with Particle and Randy. It’s a little over seven miles from here to the peak.

The weather is crummy—this is my first real day of being rained on while hiking. It’s far from the thunderstorms that were forecasted though, just a steady rain and a bit chilly. I don’t even mind it too much, the feeling of being cooled by rain while exercising is nice sometimes. We hike along mostly in silence everyone alone with their thoughts as the trail becomes a small stream. Between the rain, the exhaustion of the hike, and my mind being left to its own devices, I have a powerful emotional experience on the way up. I feel that the rain is somehow “cleansing” me of the worry and negativity that characterized my mental state before I left on this trip. Almost like a baptism of sorts. I’m being reborn as hiker trash1! 😁

Our surroundings are striking for this section. All the high peaks in the Green Mountains have distinctly different vegetation than you’d find at the base. There are strange white wildflowers, funky mushrooms you don’t see lower down, and everything’s covered in moss so you feel like you’re in The Green Knight. I’m not enough of a naturalist to name the plants, and I don’t take many pictures because of the rain, but it is beautiful.

Hiker graffiti at Story Spring Shelter: "Be bear, be happy"
Scenery on the way up Stratton.

We mostly cruise up the mountain, only stopping for a couple breaks. It’s much easier than I had feared, and we reach the peak a little after noon. The view is pretty much totally socked in unfortunately. I’m prepared for it to a rain a lot on the hike, I just want one good view from a mountain peak before the end! This is was not to be it.

Stratton Mountain info sign
The "view" from the fire tower
Looking down on the surrounding trees

While we eat lunch we’re caught up by the aptly named Flash. Extremely skinny guy, with gear so ultralight his pack is basically a daypack—no belt. He’s more-or-less running up the mountain as he approaches. Very friendly though. He’s a serious hiker who’s done the AT and Arizona Trail already. He’s from Vermont originally (Particle is excited to finally meet another Vermonter on the trail), and is trying to finish the LT in 10 days (!!).

Alpine scenery
3.2 miles to Stratton Pond, our destination.
The trail heading north from the peak.

We set off down the trail and it’s an easy three miles to Stratton Pond, with the rain having cleared up to boot. Stratton Pond is a pretty popular spot for local backpackers and day hikers since it’s beautiful and easily accessible. We meet a local couple and two other long-distances hikers, Qubit and Bugbait, at the shelter. Qubit’s an older fellow hiking home to Maine on the AT. Bugbait’s an LT thru-hiker in his 20s, lives in Massachusetts and works at REI, so he knows a lot about gear.

We rest and chat briefly and Particle decides to push on to William Douglas Shelter, five more miles. I’m feeling energized by how much easier than expected the day has been, so I decide to join her. I head down the side-trail to the pond itself, just to check it out before I leave and, well, it changes my mind. It’s so beautiful that I decide to stay the night here. I’m hiking to enjoy stuff like this, not just chew up miles.

Stratton Pond

After heading back up briefly to set up my tent on a platform2, I jump in the pond, wash myself off, wash my clothes and hang them up to dry on the nearby fir trees…and then just sit and watch the sun and the clouds and the still water. The weather is spectacular, the sun’s really come out for the first time since the hike started. I’m glad to be briefly out of the “green tunnel”3 for a bit and in a place with some open sky. The feeling of just sitting by the pond waiting for the sun to go down, drying my clothes, with no obligation to be anywhere or do anything…amazing. It’s a magical few hours. The birds chirp. The wind blows. This one will stick with me. It’s moments like these you come out here for.

My first selfie of the trip.

The clouds finally roll in and rob me of the sunset, so I head back up to the shelter to cook dinner and sleep. Tomorrow I’ll go into Manchester Center for my first resupply.

Looking back on it, this was one of my most amazing days of the hike, and the first time I felt like “Wow, I’m really out here”.

I encountered two texts during the day that I’m including because I feel like they somehow reflect the experience. The privy4 at the shelter had a poem that someone wrote out and taped to the wall—The Ponds, by Mary Oliver. This part stuck with me:

Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled --
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.

I also re-read the Earthsea novels by Ursula LeGuin, my favorite author, during the first part of the trip. This passage from The Farthest Shore, which I was reading on this day, stuck with me:

“Do you see […] how an act is not, as young men think, like a rock that one picks up and throws, and it hits or misses, and that’s the end of it. When that rock is lifted, the earth is lighter; the hand that bears it heavier. When it is thrown, the circuits of the stars respond, and where it strikes or falls the universe is changed. […] The winds and seas, the powers of water and earth and light, all that these do, and all that the beasts and green things do, is well done, and rightly done […] From the hurricane and the great whale’s sounding to the fall of a dry leaf and the gnat’s flight […] But we, insofar as we have power over the world and over one another, we must learn to do what the leaf and the whale and the wind do of their own nature.”

  1. A self-effacing term thru-hikers use to describe their state of being after eating junk food, living in the woods, and barely showering for weeks or months on end. ↩︎

  2. Many backcountry camping areas in the White and Green Mountains have what’s called “tent platforms”, which are basically sturdy wooden pallets you pitch your tent on. They’re helpful in they enable tenting in terrain that’s too steep or rocky to have good natural tent sites, but annoying in that it’s harder to use stakes and guylines to set up or stabilize your tent. Some hikers love to complain about them. ↩︎

  3. They call the southern section of the LT the green tunnel because you’re mostly just walking through dense trees without a lot of open space or views, and it can get a bit monotonous. ↩︎

  4. All the LT shelters have privies to poop in, which really makes wilderness backpacking so much more pleasant than having to dig a cathole in the woods (which in the absence of a privy is your only option). ↩︎