Thu Sept 24th, 2020, 0700-1630
Hazen’s Notch Camp to Spruce Ledge Camp, SOBO LT mile 30.6
4600 gain, 5100 loss
I don’t set my alarm and end up sleeping until 6 am. Usually I start packing by 5 or 5:30 am. Clearly I needed the rest. I’m very sore when I start moving about. Stellar suggests some endpoints for the day, the shortest of which is over 20 miles. I don’t think I’ll make it that far based on the time and distance we managed the day before. He’s also ready to go, yet I still have to pack my tent and belongings. I leave almost 30 minutes after him, already feeling pretty demoralized. But I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. This is the problem with having so many other thru-hikes under my belt…I set too high of expectations. My experience does allow me to hit the ground running but I can’t expect to pick up exactly where I left off.
The going is tough early on. A very steep and rocky trail leads up Haystack Mountain, gaining about 1600′ in 1.5 miles. The trail continues to be very technical, boggy, and up and down after that. I stop only once to get some water near Tillotson shelter, finding Stellar waiting for me. I feel bad that I’m going so slow, holding things up, though he assures me that’s not the case.
One of many beaver ponds we’ll encounter along the trail. Pretty impressive dams!
We take another break at a fire tower on top Mt Belvidere, 3333′. It’s partially cloudy and hazy but we can see north to Jay Peak, encased in clouds, just like the day before. We also see more big mountains to the south…most of which we’ll be climbing, no doubt.
A view north to Jay Peak, covered in clouds, and the many bumps along the way. At least the fall colors are really starting to pop!
We’ve only gone 8.5 miles by 1 pm. This trail is kicking my butt. There’s no way I’m getting over 20 miles today, much less 15 miles. There also doesn’t seem to be much water or tenting after the next shelter, so we decide to just aim for that. I feel like such a slacker but hey, it’s only the 2nd day. We had a big first day and the terrain is super hard. Thru-hiking is about learning to accept things the way they are.
It’s been a herpy day at least. I find 2 toads, a newt, and a creek full of frogs. What strikes me is how slow they’re all moving. Especially the toads…their ineffective hops are comical, causing me to laugh out loud. It’s like they side with how I’m feeling.
I go on auto mode on a long descent, cross a road, and suddenly the trail is super cruisey for a mile or so. I feel much better. We get to a lookout over Ritterbush Pond by 2:30 pm and I’m inspired to go for dunk. I feel gross after all the sweating & humping over mountains. I didn’t expect it to be so warm this late in the season and I certainly didn’t envision jumping into lakes and streams along the way. I check the map to see that there’s a short side trail to the pond. We already walked an extra half mile up to the fire tower, what’s another side trip? The miles aren’t coming today so might as well enjoy ourselves.
The fall colors surrounding the pond are brilliant. We find a cabin and boardwalk at the edge, perfect for some lounging. I’m so glad we detoured. The water is cold but not bone-chilling. I do a quick rinse with most of my clothes on, laying on the dock to dry afterwards. The sun plays games behind some clouds then mostly goes away. Oh well, at least it’s not raining.
We head on towards the shelter, reaching a place called Devil’s Gulch just before. It’s a stretch of about 400 yards through, over and under some big boulders. It’s not too hard and actually kind of fun. I’m feeling very rejuvenated after the pond, so I don’t mind this extra challenge. But if we were still trying to hike over 20 miles, I’d probably be in a less adventurous mood. We pick up our final water for the night at a very small trickle just before camp.
On this day, we passed about 20 people and there are perhaps 10 people at the shelter. I find a nice tentsite and go about my business, away from the crowd. The picnic table is also full so I have an excuse to be antisocial…social distancing. Plus, the bench at the overlook down to our swimhole makes for a most awesome dinner spot. I sneak into my tent at dusk, just as it starts to sprinkle. I’m grateful for an easier day and glad to get to sleep early.