With great, dry weather, sun, and clear, blue skies, I took off from camp early, a little after 7, and continued my quest for great views of something other than the trees surrounding me. Unfortunately, my quest would be continue to be thwarted until late in what would become an unexpectedly long day.
From Sucker Brook Shelter, the trail climbed up Worth Mountain, passing by a few used-to-be-views until the trees grew in. After not too long, the trail made it up to the mountain's ski slopes, where there was something resembling a view, if you could pretend the chairlifts were part of the scenery. The trail climbing Worth Mountain was fairly nice, though.
Rather than continue my recent trend of hiking shelter-to-shelter between snack breaks, I stopped at roughly five miles, to sit on a rock and take a short snack and foot-drying break, which probably turned out quite helpful later in the day.
The trail passed by a side trail to the "Silent Cliff", but without a mileage indication on the sign (and not remembering it was "only" a short 0.4 miles off-trail), I decided to pass by the view, not wanting to accidentally commit myself to an unexpectedly long out-and-back side trail. Naturally, this probably means the Silent Cliff had excellent views.
I stopped briefly at Boyce Shelter, not too far past the halfway point of the trail, to again let my feet air out and my boots dry a little, before moving on to Skyline Lodge. There wasn't much of a skyline view at the lodge (I blame those pesky trees again), but there was a nice view of a lake, Skylight Pond, visible from the lodge. While there, I met Faith, a local with fiery red hair, out on a weekend backpacking trip. Originally from the area, she lived in the Netherlands for two years, and picked up an European accent. She had been taking in the view perhaps a little to long, in her estimation, and left the shelter, heading south, shortly before I resumed my northward trek.
I continued on, and took a short side trail to the summit of Bread Loaf Mountain, only to find an incredible view of more trees. So, that's one more mountain on the New England Hundred Highest down, but I'm still quite short on my view quota for the day.
On the way to the summit, I passed by two tall, very muscular, women, with five large dogs. (I've been endeavoring to be a little more friendly to the dogs I pass on the trail, so I said something like, "Hi there! Oh! There's a whole pack of you!") They were quite helpful in pointing out the unmarked (save for blue blaze) side trail to the summit; it's possible I might have missed it if they hadn't told me what to look for. I also passed a family out on a day hike. (They were a bit far away from the road with the packs they had, but I didn't really think much of it at the time.)
Shortly after, I made it to my planned destination for the day, the Emily Proctor Shelter, to find something most unexpected: a tent in the shelter!
As any long-distance hiker knows, one does not set up a tent in the shelter, barring some significant emergency that warrants using a shelter as a glorified tent pad. Whoever was so inconsiderate to do this needed to be educated in proper hiking etiquette! Additionally, there were day packs lined up on one side of the tent, and a sleeping pad unrolled on the other side of the tent, so as to completely "fill" the shelter from anyone else considering attempting to sleep in a shelter with a tent. (I think I would have even done so, just to make a point.)
Now, to be fair, shelters are first-come first-serve, but they are also intended for individuals and "small groups", and whoever needs a shelter-sized tent is likely not a small group. Also, they're not really meant to be "reserved", as this individual was clearly intent on doing.
While I was trying to decide what to do, I looked around for tent spots, and found several that were unused. In fact, I think the only tent site in use was by a local hiker on a popular weekend circuit hike, who was setting up his hammock as I arrived. (One can make a 12 mile loop from a parking area by following either the Emily Proctor or Cooley Glen trails to their respective shelters, then taking the Long Trail to the other shelter, and then completing the loop with the second shelter's trail back to the parking lot.)
Not really wanting to tent, and deciding to push off that decision as long as possible (maybe hoping to talk some sense into whoever was hogging the shelter), I collected water for dinner. My feet were feeling good; maybe after an hour or so of rest and food, they'd be good to go to the next shelter, I wouldn't have to deal with whomever was in the shelter, and I'd be conveniently set up for a nero into Waitsfield in two days, rather than a regular day's hike.
After not too much time (long enough to collect water and start to filter it, but not enough time to do anything else), I heard a bit of commotion from just up the trail — it sounded like the hammocking hiker was giving someone an earful; probably whomever put the tent in the shelter.
A little bit "hangry", I hadn't really fully prepared my argument for why tenting in a shelter is a faux pax, and so I was slightly caught off-guard when the family I had passed earlier (husband, wife, and a boy and girl somewhere between 6 - 10) came across the stream before the shelter. The conversation started something like this:
Longstride: "Is this your tent?"
Him: "Are you going to criticize me too?"
And went downhill quickly. He cited first-come first-serve; I said something about that's not what the shelters are intended for. He said something about how his family's weekend was now ruined. I gave one of those "I'm sorry you feel that way" non-apologies, and suggested I might not even be staying there now. (But really: if your weekend is ruined because you put a tent in a shelter, rather than at a perfectly good tent site, you didn't start your weekend off in a good way at all.) At that point, I made up my mind: I could no longer stay in (or near) the shelter; it had become tainted to me.
It then became somewhat of a race; he was tearing down his tent, and I wanted to be gone before he finished. (I'm sure I intended that to be a statement, but a statement of what, I have no idea.) So I switched my filter to fill my pack, rather than my cooking water bag, scarfed down a snack in record time, and put my (now reasonably dry boots and socks) on. I think I finished and was hiking again at almost exactly the same time he was finished with his tent disassembly. But, I was on a mission: 5.7 miles to Cooley Glen Shelter, and the sooner I got there, the sooner I got to eat dinner. (And pamper my feet, who were sure to be quite unhappy with me once I arrived.)
The trail from Emily Proctor to Cooley Glen was mostly a gradual downhill, and somewhere during that section, I think my trail legs kicked back in, at least for a while; it was the unfortunate combination of being in a hurry, being annoyed by no views, being smacked in the face constantly by Christmas trees overgrowing into the trail, and a sense of righteous indignation as I went back over the encounter at Emily Proctor and worked out what I should have said. Fortunately, along the way, there was, finally, one view that made the day worthwhile: a look back at Killington, some 45 miles and 5 days behind me.
I knew I was close to Cooley Glen when I smelled a campfire. My first thought was, "nuts, this place is probably so full of bugs someone started a fire", but as I got closer, there was something else in the smell. Once I got to the shelter, I realized what it was: two locals, Brad and Carrie, were cooking corn, sausage, zucchini, and mushrooms, over the fire.
I think my first words were: "Awesome! A shelter that does not have a tent in it!" Zippy was also there, and she mentioned seeing the tent when she went past earlier in the day, and that Earbud (who I last saw a few days ago) saw the tent there even earlier, and may even have spoken with the guy about it.
Brad and Carrie were awesome, and shared some of their food with us: string beans, the mushrooms (which had been picked along the trail earlier in the day), and the zucchini.
After returning from collecting water, as I was removing my camp shoes from my pack, I made a sad realization: my Z-seat was missing. Most likely, the Christmas trees that had been smacking me in the face on the way to the shelter were not in a giving mood, and took my butt/feet/shoulder cushion in a coordinated effort to make me uncomfortable long after I hiked out of their territory.
A little while later, Goldfish and Fresh Pot arrived; they were the friends Zippy had been trying to catch up with. (They wound up behind Zippy since they had to unexpectedly get off the trail after a very short day yesterday.) We all chatted for awhile, but the hour was growing late, the air cold, and we all needed some sleep.