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From Stratton Mountain, 100 miles of the Long Trail coincide with the Appalachian Trail. (Matt Larson for The Boston Globe)
By Aubin Tyler
Globe Correspondent / October 24, 2010
STRATTON MOUNTAIN, Vt. — On the south side of the mountain a mile from the ski area, low-lying clouds create a thick, chill fog around the old fire tower. A companion and I have just climbed up 3.8 miles, hoping for a glimpse of the summit’s famous 360-degree views. Instead, we’re wildly searching our daypacks for more clothes to put on.
“There can be a 10-degree difference from the bottom to the top,’’ said caretaker Hugh Joudry, who, after 25 years, knows well.
A century ago, another hiker waited for the weather to clear here on southern Vermont’s highest peak. In his tent, James P. Taylor, headmaster of a local boys’ academy, had an idea: Why not create a foot trail that would traverse the length of Vermont, linking the state’s highest peaks?
On March 11, 1910, Taylor’s dream took off with the founding of the Green Mountain Club (www.greenmountainclub.org), the group that built the Long Trail over the next 20 years and maintains it to this day. The trail is the oldest long-distance footpath in the country, extending 272 miles through Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest from the Massachusetts border to Canada.
While the Long Trail was being built, Benton MacKaye, a forester and conservationist, wrote that he experienced “a planetary feeling’’ atop Stratton Mountain that inspired the Appalachian Trail, the thousand-mile footpath that spans the entire Appalachian range from Georgia to Maine. The two trails coincide at the mountain and for the first 100 miles through Vermont.
An alternative to hiking up Stratton Mountain is to take a 12-minute ride on the gondola from the base of Stratton Mountain Ski Resort to the summit. From the gondola, it’s less than a mile to the historic fire tower.
Stratton Pond From the summit of the mountain, it’s 3.2 miles downhill to Stratton Pond, the largest body of water on the trail. To protect the pond, overnight camping is restricted to a nearby post-and-beam shelter with 20 wooden bunks (pads and sleeping bags advised), or a tent site about a mile farther around the pond. A caretaker lives onsite from May through mid-October. Camping fees are $5 per person per night.
Sadly, the old loop trail that went all the way around the pond is no more. “We no longer have a circular hike around the pond because the area’s been flooded by beaver activity,’’ said Dave Hardy, field director for the Green Mountain Club.
Stratton Pond Trail Leaving the white blazes of the Long Trail, this side trail offers a flat meander from the pond southward back to Kelly Stand Road (3.7 miles). It’s another nine-10ths mile east to the parking lot-trailhead for the Long Trail-Appalachian Trail, where the summit hike begins. The entire loop is 11.6 miles.
Prospect Rock to Old Rootville Road For a northerly route from Stratton Pond to Prospect Rock, a high promontory with breathtaking views of Manchester and Mount Equinox, leave a car at Old Rootville Road, just east of Manchester Center off state Routes 11 and 30.
From the pond, Prospect Rock is 5.5 miles. Be warned: The Long Trail is famous for its rocks, roots, and thick mud. “The trail never fully dries out. When it’s wet and rainy, pretty much all of Vermont gets muddy,’’ Hardy said. “Weather tends to be drier in the fall, so the best conditions are in September and October.’’
In August, it’s a humid forest primeval, teeming with life. We see plentiful flora, including red maples and sugar maples, beech, balsam fir, straight-backed birches with papery strips of peeling bark — silvery white on the outside, pale rust on the inside — plus bright-green ferns, mushroom caps in scarlet, orange, and yellow, wild raspberries, stinging nettles and big-leafed hobblebush, which produce a raisin-like edible fruit after the first frost, before the moose get to them, according to Carol Gregory, a Green Mountain Club volunteer.
Black bear, porcupine, snowshoe hare, fisher cat, mink, red fox, bobcat, whitetail deer, orange newts, and spring peeper frogs also live here, along with woodpeckers, nuthatches, thrush, warblers, ruffed grouse, and barred owl.
About 2 miles beyond the pond, a 53-foot bridge spans the Winhall River, a nice place for a rest stop or a snack. It’s just a few steps down to the river (more of a burbling brook, really) to stake out a broad flat rock for napping.
Crossing the bridge, this section of the Long Trail enters the Lye Brook Wilderness, where the whine of a snowmobile or a chainsaw is strictly prohibited. In fact, club maintenance crews use only hand tools here to build “turnpikes,’’ spruce logs spiked together and filled with crushed stone and topped with soil to dry and harden the trail, Hardy said. Volunteers also hike in with milled timber to build wooden “puncheons,’’ or boardwalks, sometimes called bog bridges.
Richard Windish, a Woodstock lawyer and past president of the club, said the name of the wilderness is linked to its history. In the late 18th and early 19th century, the area had been heavily mined and logged, with the ash from burned wood scraps used to produce lye for soap or potash.
The Long Trail crosses six wilderness areas, places designated by Congress in the 1964 Wilderness Act “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man.’’
Leaving the wilderness at a small brook crossing, it’s another mile to Prospect Rock, where we take in the view at the edge of a deep ravine. Here the Long Trail veers off northward to Spruce Peak. We wave goodbye and turn down Old Rootville Road for the final 1.8 miles. It’s a 4-wheel-drive dirt road pitted with extruding rocks and gaping fissures, tough on tender feet. But it’s all downhill from here.
© Copyright 2010 Globe Newspaper Company.
If You Go
Long Trail — Appalachian Trail at Stratton Mountain
The parking lot-trailhead to Stratton’s south summit can be reached from the east entrance of Kelly Stand Road (Stratton-Arlington Road) at West Wardsboro.
From Brattleboro, take state Route 30 north along the West River through the scenic towns of Newfane, Townshend, and West Townshend. At West Townshend, turn left onto Route 100 heading west. At West Wardsboro, continue west on Kelly Stand Road (Stratton-Arlington Road), past the tiny town of Stratton to the well-marked trailhead on the right. Bridge construction at West Wardsboro may require a detour: Take state Route 100 south for 2.5 miles and turn west onto Penny Avenue.
For an alternate route, take state Route 9 west from Brattleboro to Wilmington. At Wilmington, turn onto state Route 100 heading north. Stay on 100 to West Wardsboro and then continue as above.
Stratton Mountain Ski Resort Gondola
To catch the gondola up to the summit of Stratton Mountain, keep north on state Route 30 past Jamaica to Bondville, where the entrance to Stratton Mountain Resort is marked by a giant sign. Follow the access road past the golf course to the resort. The gondola runs 10 a.m.-5 p.m. continuously every weekend in summer. Adults $10, seniors age 65 and children 6-17 $6.
Prospect Rock and Old Rootville Road
From Brattleboro, continue north on state Route 30, past the resort toward Bromley Mountain and the intersection of state Route 11. Turn left onto state Routes 11 and 30 and head south toward Manchester Center. Past the ranger station, bear left at the fork onto East Manchester Road and then immediately turn left onto Rootville Road, or Old Rootville Road. Park by the water tower.