Where are you (park, forest, etc.)- Green Mountain National Forest
Nearest town (s)- Bennington, VT
How long is this hike- 2 days
Miles- 23.3 Miles
On your toughness scale (1 easiest, 10 toughest)- 6. There were sections of good climbs and steep descents, but the toughest part was dealing with the weather.
Did you see any wildlife: Lots of footprints in the fresh morning snow. Coyotes, deer and foxes all shared the trail.
My anxiety about this trip was compounded when I finally sat down to research directions to the parking areas. We had planned to leave 1 vehicle at the Mount Greylock summit in MA and another on route 9 in VT. This would call for a 25 mile hike, but more significantly, I would have completed the Appalachian Trail in Massachusetts and it would be the first time I stepped foot on the Long Trail / AT in Vermont. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be.
I went to Mount Greylock’s official website only to learn the auto road to the summit was closed as of November 1st. I was frustrated! It was 10PM, I had no hike planned, I wasn’t feeling great about this hike to begin with and I was meeting Jordan at 4AM.
I quickly looked at the map for the next reasonable section we could do. That brought us to Bennington VT over Glastenbury Mountain to Stratton-Arlington Rd at the foot of Stratton Mountain. I try not to over plan hikes, because I like to be surprised, but it is nice to have a sense for what I’m getting into. I went to bed knowing nothing about this section, other than that the weather channel called for overnight temps in the mid 20’s.
The next morning I woke up late and didn’t pack my gear with my normal care. I was rushed, stressed out about work, feeling guilty for leaving my wife alone with the baby and I was dying for an excuse to call off the hike. We got off to a late start and after a 3 and half hour drive we compounded the problem by failing to find the parking lot on Stratton-Arlington Rd. After more than an hour of searching we finally found it (about 100 yards ahead of where we originally parked). We took off to the trail head on Route 9 in Bennington only to find the road our GPS was leading us down was closed because of flooding and we had to take a 25 minute detour to get there.
I said to Jordan half jokingly, “Do you want to go back to my house, get a pizza, a case of beer and just tell everyone we went hiking?” I was joking, but frankly if he said yes I would have jumped at the chance to call the hike off!
The Trail: When we finally got to the trail head it was well past 11AM. Our destination was Goddard shelter which was 9.8 miles north and nearly at the summit of Mount Glastenbury. With the long nights this time of year I was anxious to get on the trail and start hiking. Day 1 was going to be nearly all climbing while day 2 was going to be nearly all descending.
As we made our final preparations at the car we were greeted by a gentleman named Randy. He was a nice guy and also heading for Goddard Shelter. He introduced us to two other hikers who were also heading for Goddard Shelter. When an AT shelter is nearly 10 miles from the nearest road you almost always have it to yourself; but here, on a freezing night in November there were five of us heading to Goddard.
Just then, a woman came bouncing down the mountain asking for a ride to town. She looked like she had been on the trail for a long time. Trail etiquette would have been to give her a ride, but I was in a hurry to get walking and I told her no. Randy stepped up and I immediately felt guilty for refusing her. I assumed that would be the last we saw of Randy. With sun going down by 4:15PM, there was no way he could get her to town and hike 10 miles before sun down.
We finally started on the trail at nearly 11:30AM and I felt like a slug. I was two months removed from my last significant hike, my pack was heavier than normal and the elevation gain started right away and never stopped.
I kept hoping being in nature would somehow reinvigorate me, but the truth is I was miserable. I couldn’t shake the idea that by being in the woods I was letting people down. I envisioned my work inbox filling up with emails marked “urgent!”
After a few dragging miles we came to Hells Hollow Brook. The brook was small, but fast moving and of course the bridge was out. I felt like this was a microcosm for this entire trip - Closed roads, closed bridges, late starts, big climbs - Nothing was going to come easy for us. We looked around but there was no safe alternative so we opted to try our luck with the broken bridge. We could see a crack in the main support beam, but it looked sturdy and I felt like that was safer than stumbling over slippery rocks on a below freezing day.
When we finally arrived, I found there was only one other person at the Shelter. His name was Robert and he had apparently been talking to himself fairly loudly. The Shelters in VT weren’t like the ones in MA or CT. They were essentially 3 sided shacks with only a floor to sleep on. Robert had pitched his tent inside the shelter, which seemed like the thing to do on a night like this. He had his gear spread out and offered to make space for us but I declined. Truth be told, Robert gave me a strange “axe murderer” vibe and I didn’t like the idea of sharing a shelter with him. We decided to hike up the trail a few hundred yards and set up camp. I figured this would give us a running start if Robert suddenly went on a rampage.
As the night set in the temperature dropped dramatically. Jordan was freezing and it was only 5PM so neither of us we’re ready to turn in for the night. We decided to go help crazy Robert gather firewood and get to know him a little better.
Robert alternated between chain smoking cigarettes and chain smoking joints. As the night went on he got looser and looser and started to tell us ghost stories that took place on Mount Glastenbury. I thought to myself, “this is perfect, we have a long night, I’m already going to have a tough time sleeping cause of this guy and now I find out the mountain is haunted!” but before Robert could continue we saw two head lamps coming through the woods.
Andy and Trevor, the two guys from the parking lot had finally made it to the shelter! We hit it off with them right away. Trevor actually lives only a few miles from my house and Andy was from New Jersey. They took Robert’s offer and made room in the shelter, then joined us at the campfire.
Before long we saw another headlamp in the distance. Randy had finally made his way up the mountain. I was floored to see this many people at such a remote shelter. After chatting by the fire for a little longer, Jordan and I made our way back to our campsite.
I checked my thermometer around 8PM and it was already at 18 degrees. My sleeping bag was only rated for 20 degrees, but I brought a bag liner, thermals and a fleece jacket to sleep in. I had been worried that I wouldn’t be warm enough, but to my surprise I was roasting. Then the strangest thing happened. I closed my eyes and I slept!
Ghost Stories: I would be remiss if I didn’t go into more detail about Robert’s ghost stories. I’m not necessarily a believer in the supernatural, but I’m not a complete skeptic either. When I got home from the trip I searched online to see if there was any validity in anything Robert had to say and sure enough, there was.
This post is already long so I’ll spare you the details, but it turns out this mountain is a super natural hot bed known as the “Bennington Triangle.” The area has been featured on “Unsolved Mysteries” and there is even a documentary on Youtube.
There are two ghost towns on the mountain that were abandoned soon after the logging industry died off. There were at least two murders on the mountain around the turn of the century. Early settlers described seeing lights and orbs fly over the mountain and even the famous poet Robert Frost wrote about seeing orbs swirling around at night.
The strangest thing that happened and the focus of Unsolved Mysteries was the disappearance of 5 people in a 5 year span. Four of the people just vanished. Despite massive search parties that involved dogs, helicopters and thousands of volunteers their bodies were never recovered. They did find the body of the fifth and final person to vanish, however it was 7 months after she disappeared and her body was so badly decomposed they couldn’t determine a cause of death.
Some locals say there was a serial killer; others blame the “Bennington Monster”, which is a big foot type creature that hunts people. Others blame Aliens, and some say it was just a coincidence.
I personally don’t have a clue, but I do know if I had read any of this before the hike I would not have done this section on one of the longest nights of the year.
Below is a link to the documentary if anyone is interested. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdyysF0VC20
I was sure to make as much noise as possible to wake up Jordan and get the day going. Before long, the real snow moved in and it kicked off a day that would be filled with heavy snow, hail, and freezing rain. I loved it.
A half mile or so passed the shelter, Andy, Trevor, Randy, Jordan and I met at the Glastenbury fire tower.
The descent down Glastenbury Mountain was long and slippery. As we lost elevation the pounding flaky snow changed to a stinging fast moving snow. This made the trail very slick and caused us to move slower.
As the day warmed and we continued to lose elevation the snow changed to hail, then eventually to very cold rain. In all honesty, the rain was the most difficult to deal with it. It was cold and really brought our body temperatures down.
It took us a good 7 hours to hike the 12 miles to Stratton-Arlington road. When we finally got back to Jordan’s truck all three of us were cold, wet, tired and ready to go home. We celebrated with 7-11 Pizza and snack packs. The relentless weather really had me feeling alive and trying to figure out how to squeeze in a few more trips before shoulder season is over and mountaineering season begins.
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