AT Section Hike: VT 30 to Bennington

40 mile section hike of the Appalachian Trail in Vermont.

Summer of 2017 J-Dub and I decided to hike a section of Vermont. I heard a lot about the state, from the wild, wet Vermud stories, to the gorgeous, iconic mountains. I was excited to get out on this section of the trail!

We choose this in part because of the accessibility to public transit, we were leaving from a family house in Pittsfield, MA and could take a series of buses to Manchester, VT to pick up the trail. In fact, we could have taken buses all the way up to Rutland, the junction of Appalachian Trail and Long Trail, but decided to reign in our four wheeled travel a bit.

Getting to Manchester proved to be it’s own little adventure! Leaving Pittsfield at 5:30am we caught the first of five buses. In total we would used three different regional, transit authorities, across two states, for a total of six hours. The total cost: $6.50! Affordability aside, it was much more pleasant travel than, say, a Greyhound or Peter Pan and riding along back roads and into town centers provided a wonderful peak into the life of rural New England.

Once in Manchester, we made a quick stop at the New Balance outlet for some camps shoes then caught a ride to the trail head with a volunteer firefighter named Todd. Ticks had been a serious concern of ours, going as far as to spray permetherin on our gear, and while Todd acknowledged that ticks were bad this year, he felt that we’d be in high enough altitude that ticks wouldn’t be too big a concern. This was nice reassurance coming from a first responder.

We hiked a short 2.8 miles to Spruce Peak Shelter. We considered hiking on, but this was a beautifully constructed, fully enclosed, cabin shelter with an amazing water source and after six hours of bus travel, it didn’t take much more than that to convince me to stay.

We settled in, gathered water, and made a nice little fire. Even though it was summer, there was a definite chill in the air, especially in the night and early morning, with all of the rain. J-Dub taught me some tricks to start fires with wet materials, my favorite being birch bark.

An AT thru-hiker named Joker came into the shelter right around the time we got the fire going. While Todd might have set our minds at ease a bit about the ticks, Joker confirmed something we had been reading about on AT forums, that there was a nuisance bear coming into shelters further up the trail. Joker told us that this bear came into the shelter where he was sleeping, and while he and his gear were fine, other hikers lost food, water, and even entire packs to the bear!

J-Dub wanted to learn the PCT bear bagging technique (supposed to be the most efficient hanging method) and now this hike now seemed like the ideal time to test it out! Joker, who knew and used the PCT method, took the time to help us practice it.

The night got very chilly and my summer sleeping bag wasn’t cutting it. All bundled up I woke up cold, so J-Dub and I got an early start to get our body heat going. We made it to Prospect Rock a little after sunrise and were rewarded with a gorgeous view of the valley below.

The trail then ran through Lye Brook Wilderness. This was my first introduction to Vermud. The rain made mucky puddles, small bogs, and little brooks out of every inch of the trail. We maneuvered through the muck for 7.7 miles then stopped early to camp at the Stratton Pond tent sites.

The tenting area is off the North Shore Trail, a 0.5 mile hike off trail, but was definitely well worth it! The view of Stratton Mountain overlooking the pond is something I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

The sites are on an island in the pond, only connected to the mainland by a series of planks. There were a series of afternoon thunderstorms rolling in about every hour or so. After the last, and most violent, of the storms the sky cleared up and we were able to go down to the pond to see an array of stars over and reflected in Stratton Pond. It was an unbelievable spot and one of the highlights of my section hiking career so far.

Another cold night. Morning forced me to test some different tricks to get my body heat up and make my bag the most effective. Ultimately, I found that sleeping naked kept me warmest, which, though something widely accepted, felt counter intuitive to me until I actually tried it. The summer sleeping bag was still not the best, but letting my body use it’s own heat made it tenable.

Getting another early start, we climbed a fogged in Stratton Mountain. I was excited to climb the fire tower, but I suppose I’ll have to come back to have another crack at it (and probably also stay at those tent sites).

Since meeting Joker at Spruce Peak Shelter we had been getting mixed reports of this rouge bear. However, the hikers who did have run-ins with it were usually staying at either Story Spring Shelter or Kid Gore Shelter, so this seemed to be it’s territory. Our plan for the day was to do a 15.1 mile day and end at Kid Gore Shelter, so it seemed like we might have to tangle with the bear.

About 10.5 miles in we stopped for a snack and water refill at Story Spring Shelter and were warned by a group of hikers that a bear had just crashed their lunch break at Kid Gore! Apparently they attempted to scare it away, but three hikers clanging trekking poles, standing tall, and yelling, didn’t even phase it. This put a wrench in our plans.

We debated pushing onto Goddard shelter, but this would add another 4.3 miles onto our biggest day yet and also send us up Glastenbury Mountain, our second biggest climb of the section. We decided not to push our bodies and still camp at Kid Gore.

I’m glad we did! Kid Gore and the Caughnawaga tent sites are an amazing location with view right through a mountain valley. As if that wasn’t enough beauty, the shelter and sites are east facing meaning you catch a sunrise when you wake up.

The night passed without incident and weather wise, it was the first mild night and morning of the trip. We woke up with our food supplies intact and took our time hiking 12.8 miles to the Melville Nauheim shelter.

We went over Glastenbury Mountain in the morning and while I might have missed Stratton’s tower, Glastenbury had an amazing, panoramic view of the surrounding mountains.

We got to Mevlille Nauheim in good time, but rather than pushing into town and finishing early we decided to camp for the night. The shelter is a nice, standard, bunk style shelter with a picnic table and there are plenty of good tenting sites around as well. Also, a great, little stream for the water source that’s only a short walk from the shelter.

Melville Nauheim put us a short 1.6 miles from the Route 9 parking lot, where we could get into Bennington, and getting an early start the next day would allow us to make a full travel day and account for wacky, regional bus schedules.

Another mild night passed and we were up and ready to catch the 8:35 MOOver bus (which is free from the parking lot!) to the Bennington bus terminal. The MOOver driver gave us a complimentary transfer pass (more freebies!) for the Williamstown, MA bus we needed. This bus didn’t leave until 2pm however, so we took some time to explore Bennington and eat some delicious fish and chips!

Despite the rain and mud, or perhaps because of all the rain and mud, Vermont was incredible and lived up to all the hiking hype I had heard about it. Vermont both challenged and inspired me. I’m excited to keep returning and exploring and next time I’ll be sure to bring a warmer sleeping bag!

-Babysteps (words) & J-Dub (images)

** All mileage in the post is based on Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Appalachian Trail Guide New Hampshire-Vermont 12th Edition

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