Long Trail Mileage: 47.3
Time: 10 hours
Day / Night Temp: 31 / 18 F
The alarms went off like the church bells of Notre Dame, painfully reminding us that the new day was here and we had more miles to hike. Our plan was ambitious, the longest day yet at fourteen miles, and neither of us wanted to wake up and begin the trek. Eventually rising a half hour after the last alarm rang, we packed slowly and made it on the trail by quarter to eight. In stark contrast to the grey and cloudy day before, a climb out of the Story Spring shelter gave us seemingly endless views of the mountain ranges ahead. We moved along watching the snow frosted trees glisten as the sun raced across the mountain, the sky shining a brilliantly saturated blue in the background. Mr. Blue Sky, please tell us why, you had to hide away for so long, sooooo long....
Our day was to be long, but our main focus was the 3,939' peak of Stratton Mountain, our highest peak and longest climb so far on our journey. Having fallen short of our intended destination the night before we were left with nearly four additional miles to hike before we could begin our march to the summit. Thankfully the mileage passed without a hitch, hiking over relatively moderate terrain before arriving at the Kelley Stand Road parking lot where Stratton's ascent began around 1015. We stretched our legs, gathered our thoughts, and hiked on. The first mile of the climb was kind, gradual, and already broken in by other hikers. Crossing a heavily used snowmobile road we then began the steeper ascent, breaking trail on our own. In the next 2.5 miles we would climb 1,400' to the mountain's summit in terrain that alternated between steep/rocky type and a more smooth/gradual kind. As we neared the top we both showed signs of fatigue, encouraged only by the fact that the trees had taken on the classic alpine New England look, barren of color and frosted by wind-blown snow, accented with the same blue sky behind them. Around 1230hrs we reached the summit of Stratton itself, setting up our stove for lunch at the base of the old steel fire tower that is perched atop the mountain.
As we ate our pasta lunches, layered in our different insulating articles of clothing, we were joined by a solo hiker and his gorgeous Labrador retriever named Blaze who were out for a day hike. We conversed for a while before he headed back down and Santa and I climbed up the fire tower itself. The wind was impressively strong as we slowly took each step onto the icy and snow covered stairs, holding the railing for dear life. I can't begin to describe the beauty of the scene we saw from those metal stairs, but hopefully the photo below will paint you a better idea of the snow capped mountains, frosted pine trees, and icy lakes that covered every mile our eyes could see. We could not possibly have asked for a better winter day to be on the summit of that mountain.
Packing up and changing our snowshoes to Microspikes, we flew down the north side of Stratton. Covering the 3 mile descent in just over an hour, it was as if we had returned to our Appalachian Trail pace of life, if even for a while. Arriving at the Stratton Pond shelter at 1500hrs with nearly 10 miles under our belts, we both knew we had signed up to hike another 5.1 miles to the next shelter before calling it a night. In the interest of our safety and willingness to continue, I borrowed a phrase heard on every airline flight "flight attendants: cross check and all call". For those of you who don't travel frequently or geek out on aviation stuff, it's heard over the intercom on commercial flights to ensure that flight attendants have double checked each other's work, emergency exit latches, drink cart locks, etc. before they take off. Once everything is checked, they get on the phone and confirm it once more. In the same sense, I wanted to make sure that Santa and I were both on board with carrying on.
Thankfully the remaining mileage was home to perfect terrain, rolling elevation that wound between mountains on either side. We stopped as the sun set and put on our headlamps and fleece layers in anticipation of the dark and cold to come, carrying on towards our destination. It was at some point that I checked my GPS to verify our location, realizing that the William Douglass shelter we were aiming for was a half mile off trail, way too far for us to go at the end of a day like that. We instead settled for a campsite next to a river, setting up the tent around 1745hrs by the light of our headlamps and two small Christmas decorations we each supplied.
Fourteen miles. I'm laughing at myself as I type this because fourteen miles is both amazing for this season, and pathetic given the fact that the last time I went over Stratton it was a 24 mile day and was hiked in two less hours. Ah, how things change.
Looking forward to town tomorrow, but sleep comes first.