Stranded at Stratton Ski Resort
On the morning of July 9, I woke up at a dispersed camping spot a couple miles south of the summit of Stratton Mountain. I soon found out that the Stratton summit is a historic point of interest. It was the conceptual birthplace of long hiking trails.
My summit of Stratton was pleasant due to starting in the cooler morning hours. The summit was cloud covered, so there was no view and I didn’t bother climbing up the fire tower. But I was excited to take a 0.7-mile blue blaze to the top of a ski lift. The lift runs on certain days in the summer, and I knew it started running at 10 am. I arrived around 10:15 and rode the lift down to a large ski village with multiple restaurants, a small general store where I could resupply, and even an outfitter. I enjoyed the novelty of the lift ride which broke up my normal routine of hiking through the woods.
At the resort, I enjoyed a second breakfast of smoked salmon eggs benedict. After my treat, I was ready to get back on the trail. But I experienced a bit of a roadblock when I found that the lift wasn’t running because of thunder. A resort worker asked me if I was hiking the trail and I said yes. He informed me that there was 4 inches of rain in the forecast for the evening, and suggested that I stay at the resort a day or two.
I had made the mistake of not following the weather for the past few days. I had become frustrated with the daily forecast which always seemed to be the same: hot with chance of afternoon thunderstorms. It felt pointless to look, but at that moment I realized that it was really important to monitor the weather. There was a flood watch for the next day, and I didn’t want to be on trail while finding out if the flooding would happen or not.
I booked a room for the next two nights and hunkered down. I counted my blessings that I managed to get off trail seemingly in the nick of time. I enjoyed some creature comforts that have been harder to find since I started hiking the trail, like a poke bowl. I also found stove fuel at the outfitter, which was a great and unexpected find! It can be harder to find stove fuel along the northern portion of the trail.
I had recently separated from my friend Lotus, who wanted to hike lower mileage days. I checked in to make sure she wouldn’t be on trail that evening. I was relieved to find out she was resting comfortably at a nearby hostel.
The next day, July 10, I turned on the news to see footage of severe flooding in the low-lying surrounding areas of Londonderry and Ludlow. The area was hard-hit by this “1000-year” event that was similar in severity to Hurricane Irene, which happened in 2011. As I watched the governor’s press conference, I discovered that the final restoration project from Irene had just been completed this year or the year before. The community I found myself in would be rebuilding from this devastation for years to come.
I found myself feeling anxious about getting back on trail. My hike seemed like the lowest priority item I could imagine. I had no idea what the trail conditions were, and didn’t know when I’d receive a report about if it was safe to go out. The future of my hike was in question as I watched the more pressing issues on the news, like families and businesses that had lost everything.
Before long, there were more immediate concerns that distracted me from thinking about when and if I would hit the trail again. I found out that the hostel Lotus was at had lost power and water. I invited her to join me in my room at the resort, and she took me up immediately. Thankfully she was able to find a ride and the roads from the hostel to the resort were neither flooded nor washed out like so many others in the area.
When Lotus arrived, she explained that since there was no water at the hostel, there were no working toilets either. She was so grateful to escape what seemed to be a potential Hunger Games situation unfolding at the hostel. She didn’t know how they would manage without basic amenities, and she didn’t want to stay to find out. I didn’t blame her!
We both enjoyed the air conditioning at the resort, which was set to 64 degrees when I arrived, and seemed the right setting to me. In contrast, the hostel didn’t have AC even before the power went out. The weather had been extremely hot and humid, and I was glad we had such a comfortable place to stay put while figuring out what was next for us.
We rested, engaging in a favorite pastime that Lotus informed me is called “bed rotting.” I can’t think of a better way to recover from days of nonstop trekking than to do everything imaginable from the comfort of a bed!
Lotus filled me in on everything she observed at the hostel. Some hikers had arrived the day she left, and they seemed really scared. They had hiked out in knee-deep water. I was so glad we hadn’t been out there. We didn’t know it at the time, but a tragedy was unfolding. A hiker named Steady Eddie was out on trail and was swept away by a flooded stream. It was a couple of weeks before he was reported lost and his body was eventually found. This was a reminder to all of us to watch the weather and be cautious of hazardous trail conditions.
I told Lotus I would be taking another zero to wait for information about the trail. She decided to stay as well. The next day, I called a hostel to ask if they knew anything about the trail conditions in the area. I was informed that the section of trail we would be entering was muddy but safely passable. By that time, I was certainly used to the trail being muddy. Ever since I had entered Vermont, there was hardly a day I didn’t have wet socks and muddy shoes. I decided to hit the trail the next day, and Lotus would do the same.
Unfortunately, the day we returned to trail, the ski lift wasn’t running. That meant I had to summit Stratton a second time. I ascended the lift line, fully exposed to the hot sun. It wasn’t nearly as nice a climb as I had enjoyed the first time. I didn’t bring enough water, and it was steep and wet. It was the toughest climb of my entire AT trek to date, and it wasn’t even technically the AT! But I got it done.
A few days later, the Green Mountain Club (maintainers of the AT in Vermont) announced that most of the trail was in good condition with the exception of some bridge closures that had reroutes. I was glad to hear this report, and even though the weather continued to be difficult and wet, I was grateful that I could hike safely. I resolved to keep a much closer eye on the weather from then on. And after it all, I got to enjoy a view from the fire tower after summitting the mountain a second time.
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