Smugglers Notch Hikes: Sterling Pond Trail
Sterling Pond Trail to Long Trail via Smugglers Notch Pass.
If you fund yourself in the Stowe, VT area during the summer months, Smugglers Notch Resort has a great array of trails for hiking around it’s three different mountains, Morse mtn. Madonna mtn. and Steeling mtn. The trails range from moderate to hard and include x-country skiing and mtn bike trails as well. One thing to note is that the altitude range is from 1100′ and the base to 3640′ at the top of
Madonna mtn so it’s important to pace yourself at a pace slower than you might be used to if your not accustomed to higher altitude hiking.
Sterling Pond trail is a great late morning to early afternoon hike that will take about 3 hours or so including so resting time at the top for a beautiful view and some lunch. The trail starts across from the parking area at right in the middle of the Notch and has about a 880 foot vertical ascent. This is about 3 miles south of Smugglers Notch Resort on Rt 108. The start of the trail consists of old wood/rock steps that in some spots are better avoided. Since the trail is pretty popular, it well cared for and easy to navigate as long as you use general precaution on slippery rocks and such.
The climb is pretty intense, especially in the hot/humid summer months so I made sure to bring plenty of water to stay hydrated and focused. There are several spots where I really needed to pay attention, or I could have easily found myself tumbling down the side of the mountain. Along the way there are several relatively flat spaces where I was able to take a break and look out over the greater Burlington valley. I could tell I was getting close to the top of the trail when the trail started to become more and more narrow as the pine trees close in. It almost felt like the beginning of a journey into Narnia and I half expected so see a Satyr standing by a clock as I exited the green.
I now stumbled upon what seems to be a large access road (at 3000′?!?!), but would later realize was a cross-country trail that was part of the famous “Long Trail”, (no its not just a great beer). So I wondered down the trail in the direction of what seems to be the pinnacle of the Mt. Madonna. About a
1/4 mile down I cam to Sterling Pond. Its a beautifully peaceful lake perched at 2800′. There is a large boulder at the end of the lake that I sat on for some time and just looked out at the beauty of world. It really made me think about life and all that we miss in our busy lives.
Further around the lake there is another trail that leads to the top of one of Smuggs ski lifts. I was amazed are how strange these large human movers look when not running and when not surrounded by snow and winter wanderers. It almost seemed abandoned. There was a ski hut, which seemed to be for the medical team, that was empty with the door open. Naturally I decided I had to take a look around and see what was inside. When I entered I immediately felt like the door was going to slam behind me and the horror movie would begin…but it didn’t. It was a a very well planned space with sleeping quarters and a kitchen. I wanted to unpack my bag and move in…permanently…but figured I’d eventually get kicked out. The view out the large 10′x25′ window overlooking the entire valley was spectacular and I could hardly believe that such a prime piece of real estate could be abandoned.
I decided it was also completely necessary to climb up the ski lift and take a look around. When you ski you really only appreciate the structure for its delivery services, but in fact it really is amazing that these thousands of yards of cable and steel just emerge through the millions of acres of forest. I really was able to appreciate the amount of time, planning and resources that go into ski mountains.
It was now lunch time and what better place to sit and eat than atop a mountain overlooking miles and
miles of beautiful untouched forest. As I sat and enjoyed the beautiful, although humid, weather I started to really understand Thoreau and his desire to separate from society. There something empowering and enjoyable about knowing you only have to answer to yourself and the forest around you. If you respect the forest, it will respect you.
The remainder of my hike was slightly less satisfying having made it to the top, and it always seems the descent if less exciting then the ascent, but I guess that is due to the anticipation of the unknown.
Check out more photos from this hike on my flickr photostream.