Long Trail Mileage: 69.2
Time: 8 hours
Day / Night Temp: 30 / 2 F
Waking up on Christmas morning in a sleeping bag on the side of a mountain was a new one for me. Despite multiple alarms, I didn't actually get out of my warm cocoon until after 7, slowly packing up as Santa and I made calls to loved ones to wish them a happy holiday. My breakfast was a 'wild berry' PopTart, a far cry from the cheesy quiche, sausage, fruit salad, sugary monkey bread, and fresh OJ I'm used to with family. With the holiday as our excuse for tardiness, we stepped foot on the LT at shortly before 0830, possibly our latest start yet.
The trail was cold and got increasingly windy as we hiked the mile to the summit of Bromley ski mountain, gaining 600' of elevation in the process. Ducking under an orange caution ripe for skiers, we turned left out of the woods and began walking up the ski slope itself, following the trail from our Appalachian Trail memories, not from blazes. Seeing a few early skiers at the top, we waved, then approached the summit's ski patrol hut in hopes of finding fresh water; we realized late last night that our water options today were dangerously limited. The ski patrollers were welcoming and offered us both water and hot coffee as they sat down for a holiday breakfast of bagels and cream cheese. We left the warmth of the hut around 0915, wishing everyone a happy holiday and thanking them profusely for the hospitality and encouragement of our hike.
From the top of Bromley we turned north, beginning a descent of a few hundred feet through thick snow powder, feeling and looking like we were telemarking as we slid down and absorbed movement with our knees. The trail leveled off for a while before climbing up a bit, then making its final 800' descent tons small parking lot at Mad Tom Notch Road where we paused to shed layers in anticipation of the climb ahead. The next mile and a half would carry us up nearly a thousand feet to the very wooded summit ridge of Styles Peak. The climb itself was difficult and steep, but quick, and we welcomed the sunlight that bathed southern Vermont's landscape. Once we leveled off at the top of the mountain we found ourselves in snow up to our inseams, lifting each leg with an immense amount of effort before placing it down again in front of us. The ridge was exceptionally windy and cold, despite the sun above. Santa and I paused at a small rocky vista to gaze out at the world we stood above, then quickly carried on down the mountain where the trail went up and over a few PLUDS (remember this acronym from the Appalachian Trail? Pointless Little Ups and Downs). Our last climb brought us to just over 3,400' feet before we began a 1.2 mile descent to the Peru Peak shelter where we had lunch.
Our pit stop was quick but enjoyable as we each boiled water and ate a hot meal. Temperatures began dropping, my thermometer showing 19 degrees, so we packed up around 1445hrs and moved on the remaining 4.7 miles to the shelter where we would spend the night. The terrain was perfect for late afternoon hiking, rolling hills with some rocks and a surprisingly low amount of snow. We moved quickly up the trail, arriving at the small rocky summit of Baker Peak as the sun glowed orange and hung low on the horizon. Santa waited patiently for me as I set up my camera to snap a few photos, then we moved on at a quick pace with hopes of making it to the destination shelter before it was pitch black.
After a long descent through the dimly lit woods, we arrived at Lost Pond shelter just after 1730hrs, setting up our gear inside as the dusk gave way to darkness. Temperatures are expected to hit single digits tonight, so we cooked quickly and climbed into bed. Christmas Dinner was ramen noodle soup with pepperoni and peanut butter, followed by mac & cheese, and a few frozen gummy bears. Delightful, let me tell you.
It was a great day, and one that I think showed us we're getting our 'trail legs' strength back, even if just a little. Off to bed now, watching the North Star glisten between the trunks of two barren and dormant trees. I have two microfleece hats on and my balaclava covering my face so I can breathe tonight without my skin freezing. Again, delightful.