Glastenbury Wilderness

I didn’t realize until I made it to Vermont how much I had missed the mountains.

Living on the coast has been a spectacular and fascinating change, but mountains have their own magic. So, to help my friend Jesse prepare for his 88k race coming up at the end of May, I decided we needed to do an overnight mountain run.

After touching base with the Green Mountain Club and reading up on different trail options for this time of year, I settled on the distance between route 9 and the Stratton Pond Trail Parking area, around 25 miles, through the Glastenbury Wilderness. At the end of those 25 miles, we would also have the option of adding a 10-mile loop if our time allowed. Jesse’s race is in Vermont, so I wanted similarly mountainous terrain. That is indeed what we got, and more.

Glastonbury Wilderness map
LT/AT through Glastenbury Wilderness and beyond.

We parked along the Appalachian Trail crossing on Rt. 9, packed our gear and got on trail at 8:00 p.m. The kiosk at the trailhead warned us that the bridge at Hell Hollow Brook was out and that we would have to ford it or turn back, but we figured with rain in the forecast all night, we were going to get wet anyway, so a ford would not bother us much.

Trail head at VT-9.

After crossing a bridge, the trail starts by climbing directly up Maple Hill (2690’). We headed out pretty quickly, hoping to make some good time before the rain started. It was warm (60 degrees) and muggy, but too early in the season and late in the day for the monstrous bugs we had heard about. The trail alternated between switchbacks and rock “stairs” leading straight up. Soon enough, the quiet twilight ended and we were navigating by headlamp.

Jesse and I have known each other for years, so we had a nice chat all the way up the hill, enjoying the weather and the trail. It crosses a wide open swath of cleared field for power lines and we could just see the lights of Bennington, VT in the distance to our left. We turned off our lights for a moment to enjoy the evening. It was too cloudy to see moon or stars, unfortunately, but the breeze and the chatter of blowing grasses made for an uplifting moment.

View from a rock in the middle of Hell Hollow Brook.

Back down the other side of Maple Hill, we encountered a number of small streams, rock hopping our way gingerly across. The trail grew wetter, muddier, and more slippery as we descended. Finally, we heard a much louder roar of water than the trickles we had navigated so far. We found Hell Hollow Brook and were a bit surprised by the depth and speed of the water. We were able to rock hop halfway across, but resigned ourselves to fording the rest. Rolling up my tights, I borrowed one of Jesse’s trekking poles, faced upstream, and shuffled my way across. The water reached just over my knees and was numbingly cold. Jesse changed into his running shorts, carried his hiking pants, and made it onto the bank next to me. We giggled a bit about the excitement of fording the stream and also about his tiny shorts!

Jesse proud of his teeny tiny shorts. Very practical for stream crossings!

While a bit cold, we felt pretty confident after successfully navigating our first obstacle and, after searching a moment for the next white blaze, we were back on the trail fairly quickly. We heard something moving in the woods off to our right, but we couldn’t locate the source of the sound. I suspect it was a deer, since we could hear individual footsteps, but everything in the woods sounds bigger than it is. We did see a large quantity of moose scat on the trail throughout the entire trek, though, so perhaps it actually was a moose.

This was where we first encountered the trail conditions we would see for almost the entire rest of the hike. The trails were completely flooded in most places. We were already soaked, so we generally just sloshed through, rock hopping when we could. We are very aware that it erodes the trail if people simply go around muddy areas, so we stuck to the trails as much as possible. We had averaged 3 miles per hour in the first section, with a couple jogs along flat parts of the trail, but it was absolutely impossible to run the flooded trails at this point.

And then it started to rain. We put our raincoats on just in time before the deluge began. It continued raining until a short respite from about 2:00 a.m. until 3:30 and then continued for the remainder of the night and next day.

In good spirits and raincoats.

As we ever so slowly approached Goddard Shelter and the summit of Glastenbury Mountain, we realized that our planned timing for this “run” was out the window. We would be hiking, sloshing, hopping, scrambling, and fording our way for the next 15 or so miles with very little opportunity to run and an average pace of 2 miles per hour. It was that treacherous.

At Goddard Shelter, we tried to be very quiet, but our lights woke one gentleman up. He asked if we wanted him to move his tent and make room for us in the shelter, but we explained that we were hiking through. He told us that he and the others in the shelter were actually the trail crew who had gone through before us removing downed trees and debris from the wind storm the week before. The next section of trail, however, was maintained by another group and had not yet been cleared. He warned us that the trail was passable, or so he had heard, but the the going would be slow.

We thanked him and apologized for waking him up and went on our way. We reached the summit and the fire tower shortly after and decided to stop for a snack and to stretch. The summit of Glastenbury Mountain rises to 3747’ and was much colder than any of the peaks we had visited so far. When we noticed a sheet of ice covering the rocks at the bottom of the fire tower’s stairs, we decided it was time to move on quickly.

The trails on the north side of the mountain were periodically covered by 5-inch piles of snow and were blocked by several large trees with branches reaching out toward us in the light of our headlamps. This was one of the slowest sections of trail. The steep downhill, snow, ice, deep puddles, and trail hazards really slowed us down. Luckily, as we descended, the air temperature increased gradually.

Snowy trail

We followed a fairly flat ridge for a while and were able to get in a little jogging, but mostly about an hour’s worth of power hiking. This ridgeline, during a short period without rain, was one of my favorite sections of the trail. The wind increased and we came to an overlook. It must be spectacular in the day, but with the clouds obscuring the stars, it just looked out into pitch blackness. Jesse’s headlamp batteries were running a little low, but he only had one spare set, so I went in front for a while to light the way. It’s a very different experience when you are constantly looking for blazes rather than just following the feet of the person in front of you.

Leaving the Glastenbury Wilderness, we returned to the Green Mountain National Forest, climbing and descending a few more hills, but mostly staying above 3000’. We encountered another unavoidable stream ford. This one was only about 6 inches deep, but consisted of an angled rock slab waterfall that we had to traverse to reach the continuation of the trail. With tired legs and minds, this one scared me more than the first ford. If either of us had slipped, we would have slid quite a ways down the hill on the slab of rock.

We did not even see Kid Gore Shelter, although we must have been right on top of it when we read the sign telling us Story Spring shelter was 4.7 miles ahead. The trail at this point became even more challenging. We found no more respite along dry, flat ridges; every inch of trail was mud or standing water, dotted with slippery rocks and dark roots. After several stumbles and one bruising fall sideways, I realized I needed some sustenance to get my muscles going again. I found a rock without algae or soaking, spongy moss and sat down shakily. Jesse shared his ibuprofen with me and I shared my Cliff Bar sweet potato and sea salt squeeze with him.

Slightly revived, we set off again. After what felt like hours of inching our way through streambed after streambed, the sky started to turn the most spectacular, pre-dawn glowing blue. Our eyes readjusted to looking beyond the small circles of light cast by our headlamps and our spirits rose incrementally with the sun. We traversed the side of the mountain, with a drop off to the left. It had become more and more foggy as the sun rose, so all we could see were shadowy trees peeking through the fog.

Story Spring shelter
Looking back down the trail. Hungry birds came to visit.

It was light enough to turn off our headlamps when we finally reached Story Spring shelter. A couple birds stopped by to see if we would leave any crumbs. Jesse signed the log, I took some photos of the wet, foggy dawn and we started out again before our muscles cooled off too much.

“trail”

The trail turned uphill just past the spring and took us straight up through a rockfall. We burst out laughing when we saw the white blaze on the tree in the middle of this rockfall. I made Jesse take a picture just to document how not trail-like this section is. We were getting a little goofy at this point (about 6:00 a.m.) and were trying to stave off any crankiness by joking about everything that was ridiculous about this whole adventure.

The trail continues…

The trail continued to resemble a creek and we had to cross two fairly deep, swift streams flowing from one large pond into another more swamp-like pond just below. There were rocks to hop, but they were treacherously slippery and I took a couple crossings using both hands and feet. We jokingly cursed the water, the trail, the rocks, everything that had slowed us down. Honestly, though, other than some significant pain in my knees from the endless downhill after the last shelter, I was thoroughly enjoying myself. I’m not sure I could have articulated it, since I had been awake for more than 24 hours and had been hiking for the last 11 hours at this point, but the foggy, raining morning in the wilderness was still uplifting.

Jesse and I consulted the time and the map again and decided that, first, there was no way we would have enough time to complete the extra ten mile loop based on the trail conditions we had seen so far. Next, we decided that we would drop off the trail and onto a dirt road that covered the same distance, but would be level and, hopefully, not flooded and would allow us to make up some time.

Oh, glorious road!

After one last interminable slog, we finally reached the road. We gained some speed, passed a runner with his dogs, and made it out to Kelley Stand Road quickly. Without knowing the distance to the parking lot, we keep anticipating it around each curve, and were constantly disappointed. Finally, we saw signs for the AT crossing and reached my car right around 9:00 a.m.

Jesse’s lost his mind and I’m wandering off in the wrong direction.

Turning on the heat, peeling off soaked layers of clothing and gulping down some egg and pesto sandwiches was as close to celebrating as our tired bodies would allow. Jesse navigated and kept me awake as I drove back to his car at the Rt. 9 trailhead. 13 hours on the trail, and it only took us 40 minutes to drive back to the start. Jesse’s watch showed a distance of 28 miles, plus two sections of undetermined distance that it did not record.

We collected our things, gave each other a relieved and exhausted hug, and Jesse headed home. I could barely keep my eyes open, so I took a nap right there in the parking lot. After 2 hours under a blanket, with my feet warm in dry wool socks, I hit the road.

On the way home, I stopped at Hogback Mountain Gift Shop to check out their famous “100-mile view” and because my boyfriend had asked for some maple candy from Vermont. I grabbed a coffee, some Cabot cheese, a maple moose, and finally went home.

100-mile view

Other than some soreness in my joints, I feel great. I’m ready to go for a run tomorrow, as long as it’s not raining!

 

GEAR

Nathan Vapor Airess 2L hydration pack (I can’t say enough good things about this pack!)

Nathan handheld squishy bottle
(I absolutely hate carrying things while I run, but the harness you slip your hand into makes this bottle more than tolerable to carry. I even forgot it was there a few times.)

Black Diamond Ion headlamp
(I clipped it to the chest strap of my pack because I had to wear a cap to keep the rain off my glasses and the brim prevented me from pointing the headlamp down at the trail. I think that’s more about the shape of my head and position of my hat than a complaint about the light. I changed the batteries out at about 2 a.m. and it kept going strong the rest of the night.)

Brooks Cascadia trail running shoes
(I love these shoes, but on this terrain, I wished for something with a more aggressive tread. The slippery rocks got me a couple times.)

FOOD AND DRINK

Cliff Bar sweet potato and sea salt squeeze

Honey Stinger waffles (Lemon, ginger, and caramel. The lemon one was a little too sweet.)

Picky Bars (Cookie Doughpness and Moroccan Your World)

Wegmans MVP fruit punch electrolyte drink in handheld bottle (I miss the raspberry lemonade flavor! Fruit punch is too sweet.)

Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwich on cinnamon raisin bread right before starting the hike

Water in my pack

I also brought honey stinger pink lemonade jellies, which I didn’t end up eating. I brought Cliff shot blocks Margarita with 3x salt for an emergency. When I get dehydrated and my muscles start cramping, these thing work like a miracle. They taste disgusting, but they do their job. Dehydration was, umm, not an issue on this occasion.

 

CLOTHING

Feetures running socks (largely disappointed with how much water they retained. For normal trail running, I live these, though.)

Champion running tights

Champion long sleeve v-neck shirt

REI Outdoor Gear raincoat (yesss)

Lightweight glove liners from Tractor Supply Co.

REI sports bra (love the wide straps and great fit)

Exofficio underwear (yes, they are as amazing as everyone says they are. A little expensive, though.)

 

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