Dog Days of Foliage Hikes

By Evan Johnson

Last Sunday poured rain, and I planned to stay in and sort through the detritus of a busy week that collects like driftwood on the seashore: the mountains of laundry, the clogged bathroom sink, and the 3 pounds of tomatoes from the garden that demanded a recipe. I planned to do all of these and set myself up for a productive and tidy Monday morning.

My dog had other plans.

We’d let him relax on the couch at home the previous day while we took advantage of the October downpour to run errands. He loves a good session on the couch and naps mightily, but now, fully rested on a Sunday morning, he wouldn’t let us get near the vacuum cleaner. He needed out, forecast be damned. The more we hemmed and hawed about the division of household chores, the antsier he got.

“All right,” I relented. “You win.” I pulled out the trusty gazetteer and poured a second cup of coffee. Laundry could wait; we had a 2-year old hound to tire out. We checked the weather radar and quickly admitted the prowling storm cells would track us down no matter how far we ventured. We settled on a remote portion of the Long Trail, far away from the humming tourist hubs of Waterbury and Stowe. We packed up thermoses of tea and soup, joined the conga line of leaf-peepers on Route 100, and headed north.

Close to an hour later, we arrived at the parking lot at Belvidere Pond and changed into our trail shoes. We pulled our hoods over our heads and gave in to the gusts of wet October wind. Our hike began on the Babcock Trail, which links with the Long Trail close to Ritterbush Pond. Our start followed the shore of Big Muddy Pond. Across the water, the foliage was muted by thick fog.  

At the intersection with the Long Trail, we turned south and entered the start of Devil’s Gulch, a narrow valley clogged with glacial erratics. Passing through tunnels and scrambling over boulders gave brief flashbacks to the human cheesegrater that is the Mahoosic Notch on the Appalachian Trail in Western Maine. The footing was dicey in the wet. In the quiet October rain, the gulch gave off powerful vibrations of Jurassic Park, with hungry velociraptors lurking around every turn.

As we climbed out of the rocks, our thoughts quickly turned to lunch. Just a quarter-mile later, we reached the turn to the Spruce Ledge Camp and shuffled up the stone steps to an empty shelter shrouded in thick mist. Inside, we put on cozy layers and poured cups of tomato soup, washed down with strong black tea. The pup had a lunch of his own while we listened to the rain on the roof. A peek over the nearby Devil’s Perch lookout gave views only to dense clouds. We shouldered our packs and headed off with full bellies.

The return retraced our steps through the gulch, back to the intersection with the Babcock Trail. This time, we continued north on the LT and saw our first sustained climb of the day to the top of Ritterbush Lookout, where we caught a glimpse of Ritterbush Pond below. We celebrated our new favorite loop with chocolate peanut butter cups and shuffled down the hill to the car. The dog was finally tired, and all those projects could wait.    

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