Vermont is a verdant state. A mixture of mountains and fertile farmland, the landscape is straight from the pages of a tourist brochure, all red-timbered barns, trees and cows. The topography makes Vermont a mecca for skiing. We were based a few miles, outside the genteel town of Stowe which derives a lot of its income from the sport and is home to an interesting museum about the local ski industry and a Swiss fondue restaurant to provide that authentic après ski experience. For those not as keen as us on sleeping under canvas, the area boasts an array of alpine chalet style accommodation from small family run establishments to vast hotel complexes.
We were there in early June when skiing is replaced by hiking as the activity of choice and stayed at a campsite run by the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation within Smugglers’ Notch State Park close to a number of walking routes, including a section of the famous Long Trail which runs along the main ridge of the Green Mountains from the Massachusetts-Vermont state line to the Canadian border. The campsite is excellent and cheap ($20 a night) with each pitch separated from the next by mature screens of trees and furnished with a walled fire pit and BBQ.
Staring at flames, drink in hand, waiting for your sausages to cook, is a great way to relax after a few strenuous hours in the hills. And they are strenuous. The gradient in Smugglers’ Notch is steep in the extreme. We chose to follow a section of the Long Trail north from a roadside picnic spot (near number 3 on this map) to Sterling Pond. The climb was arduous, the ground soft, muddy and slippery from recent rain, and mostly under tree cover, making the one real view point (pictured below) at Elephant’s Head worth the detour from the main path. We passed no-one, heard no-one as we climbed and arrived at the Pond exhausted and surprised to be surrounded by families with dogs, teenagers in flip-flops and one man braving the mud in tight white jeans. It transpired that there is a significantly easier and shorter route to the Pond, though still steep, that leaves from the car park of the Smugglers’ Cave information booth. To justify our dishevelled state, and to save our pride, we talked loudly to each other as we passed the crowds about the rigours of our journey. I’m fairly sure no-one was listening. back at the tent our aching limbs and equally aching egos were suitably soothed by a long nap and an evening in front of the fire replenishing the calories we’d burnt with an American camping staple, s’mores.