My plan to get moving early was thwarted by really nothing other than a general laziness (and dislike of the weather, which was a light rain this morning). While I woke up around 6:45, it took me almost two hours to leave Taft Lodge.
The morning's hike started off with a not terrible, but still rugged and slow, downhill into Smugglers Notch, in light rain. Nothing I hadn't done before, but still a lousy way to start the day. Especially once I realized, an hour into my descent, that I had left my belt back at the shelter. It was dark inside, and the added confusion from the ten Farm and Wilderness girls who were now milling about inside the Lodge caused me to miss it when I was packing up. (One of them knocking two water bottles off the top bunk, one hitting my pack and the other my knee, didn't help matters.)
After the roughly 1500 foot descent, I reached the trailhead at VT 108 to a pleasant surprise: a pavilion tent next to the parking lot. I guessed, and quickly confirmed, that this was the Green Mountain Club's yearly trail magic day, where each section sets up at a road crossing and gives out trail magic to hikers (and also serves to raise awareness of the group to other people accessing the trail). Climber and Sidewinder were already there, talking with Ted, the director of the Burlington chapter of the GMC. I joined in. Later, he was relieved by Nancy, who continued to host us. We were there, sitting in chairs underneath the tent for nearly three hours, waiting out the rain.
At one point, I had my pack on, and thought to myself, I better leave before the rain gets any worse. Naturally, the rain immediately doubled in intensity. I joked, half seriously, that the rain that fell while we were sitting under the tent was more rain than ever fell on me during my entire Appalachian Trail thru-hike last year.
Eventually, the rain did stop, and seizing the opportunity, I took off down the trail, hoping to make it to the next shelter before the rain resumed. This was yet another steep climb, up out of Smuggler's Notch and up towards Madonna Peak. A little under three hours later of steep, rocky, wet climbing, I reached the Sterling Pond Shelter, around 4 pm. I decided to stop there. Given the ruggedness of the terrain of late, it was too far and too late to make it to the next shelter.
I met the shelter's caretaker, Smurf, and her husband ("Mr. Smurf") and we had a nice chat as we were waiting for other people to show up. Apparently, the Farm and Wilderness group I met yesterday was somewhat more organized than other groups from that organization, and she shared a few horror stories that one would think wouldn't happen given F&W has been organizing Long Trail section hikes for 40 years.
The Sterling Pond Shelter had a bit of an unusual design. Facing away from the lake and its usual prevailing winds, the shelter had a large floor area in front of a raised sleeping platform — it was roughly twice as deep as a shelter of its capacity usually is. This is because the winds can blow rain three feet into the shelter, and the unusual design is required to keep hikers dry.
Over the course of the evening, Climber and Sidewinder showed up, as well as three other hikers who decided to stay and a few others who decided to push on. Shortly after two day-hikers arrived, it started pouring rain; they had been watching the rain clouds from a nearby view, and then made a break for the shelter when the clouds started moving towards them. They wound up hanging out with us in the shelter until the rain stopped. (Though, the rain on the roof was so loud that conversation was nearly impossible with anyone not sitting next to you.)
After the rain stopped, the rest of the evening passed largely uneventfully. The day hikers left. The Farm and Wilderness group from yesterday, arriving around 5 pm, on their scheduled day and three hours earlier than any other recent group, got put in a nearby ski warming hut, much to their delight. And the rest of us chatted until we hunkered down in our sleeping bags, ready for another night on the trail.
Tomorrow: more mountains, and an 11 mile day to VT 11 and Johnson, VT.