Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Quick Afternoon Hike up Stratton Mountain (VT) - June 7, 2014

Route: Long Trail
Peaks: Stratton Mountain (3940', NEHH)
Mileage: 7.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 1750'
Book Time: 4hr 40 min (actual 3 hours)

Entering this year, I had only 3 peaks on the New England 100-Highest List left in Vermont, all conveniently located within a short distance of each other in Southern Vermont. Knowing all 3 were relatively short hikes (all under 8 miles), I figured on spending a weekend to visit them all. Some other friends needed the same 3 peaks, but ultimately an AMC hiking weekend was set up without hitting Stratton. So, while the group went to Mendon Peak (on the ridge with Killington Peak), I decided to sleep in on Saturday, and hit Stratton on the way to the campground. The next day we were scheduled to hike the remaining 2 peaks I needed in Vermont.

There's only one direct way to hike Stratton Mountain, which is to use the Long Trail (also the Appalachian Trail in this part of the state) from Kelly Stand Road in Stratton, a hike which is 3.8 miles and a mere 1750 feet of elevation gain on a gradual ascent to an old fire tower. While a Northern knob of Stratton Mountain is home to a ski area, the main summit of Stratton is wooded and marred only by a 55-foot tall tower that allows terrific 360-degree views over the trees and a small cabin that houses the summit caretakers.

Starting yet another hike in the late morning (11:20 in this case) means tougher parking, though if folks could someday learn to park without leaving ALMOST but not quite enough room for another car next to them, another 6-8 cars could have easily fit in the lot. This seems to be a common issue these days, but there was plenty of roadside parking on the other side of the street on the grassy shoulder, so not a problem today.

I set off just barely ahead of a large group, and I walked quickly at the beginning to get a little semblance of solitude. I wasn't expecting to be alone on the trail, but being stuck admist a group of 15-20 people that you don't know wasn't something I wanted either. However, such groups tend to move slower than one person, and I was soon on my own in the woods on a beautiful afternoon. I passed a few afternoon climbers, and several more were on their way down on this beautiful afternoon. This trail has got to be the easiest trail to a high peak in New England. The trail had terrific footing the whole way, and there was not a single even brief steep section, I never really noticed the climb it was so gradual compared to what I normally hike. In less than 1.5 hours, I was at the top in fact!

Pink Lady's Slipper
There were maybe a dozen people milling around the top, but there are numerous nooks in the woods around the tower and cabin, and there was still plenty of room for more. The summit caretakers were also there, talking with some people. Me, I immediately headed to the top of the fire tower, as there wasn't much views-wise to be seen from the ground. I had heard great things about the Stratton summit views, and I was eager to see them. I was not disappointed. The views ranged far in all directions, with Mount Greylock in Massachusetts, Killington to the North, and even Mount Monadnock to the East visible. The enclosed top of the tower had some identification labels taped to the glass to give you an idea of what you were looking at, awesome!

Stratton Mountain Ski Area a little ways down the ridge to the North

Killington Peak (center) with Mendon on the left (Pico is directly behind Mendon)

Southward Pano from Stratton Mountain

Snow Mountain ski area just to the South

Mount Greylock, the Massachusetts State Highpoint, in the distance to the South (just right of center)

Westward Pano from Stratton Mountain

Mount Equinox to the West, on tomorrow's agenda

Dorset Peak (the right-hand mountain ridge), another New England 100 Highest peak

I took a 20-30 minute break at the summit (beer at the campsite was calling!), but eventually tore myself away and headed down. The descent took roughly the same time as the ascent, and was just as pleasant a walk through the Spring-time woods. I really enjoyed this hike, short as it may have been. Never needing to worry about the footing except on a couple damp bog bridges and a couple small muddy areas down low meant lots of time spent looking around and just listening to the birds. A highly recommended trek for a sunny day!

Some Stratton Mountain history

The Stratton Mountain tower

Summit survey marker

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