In November of 2019, I took a group of Hudson Valley Hikers on a backpacking trip from Bennington, VT to North Adams, MA. We covered only 18.7 miles, but bridged a gap between two longer sections. Weather in November can be tricky. We call it shoulder season. Fall is over, but winter hasn’t quite started yet. You can get an odd combination of conditions. Over the last couple of years, we’ve learned to expect snow when hiking in Vermont or Massachusetts between November and March.
One of the challenges of hiking in the bottom half of the year is that you get really short days. Sunrise on our trip was about 06:30 while sunset was at 16:30. That gave us only 10 hours of sunlight. I try not to arrive at camp or set up in the dark, so I keep hiking days short this time of year. I planned for just 7.2 hours on our first day. The next day would have just 4 hours of hiking so that we could get a late lunch out and head home.
The plan was to start hiking from the Trailhead Parking on Route 9 just east of Bennington, Vermont. We would camp at Seth Warner Shelter after hiking 11.6 miles the first day. We would hike 7.1 miles on day 2 to Massachusetts Route 2 in North Adams.
Most of our group stayed in Air B&B’s near North Adams the night before our hike. We met at the trail parking on Route 2 at 7:00 AM and left half our cars there. Then picked up coffee and breakfast together. We had some trouble choosing a place for breakfast, so we lost a little time. The drive from North Adams to Bennington took about a half hour.
Logistics got a little wonky for this trip. One of our hikers was running 30 minutes behind, but said he would meet us in North Adams. I don’t usually like this, because we always need enough cars at both ends to fit everybody. It ended up working out.
One of our hikers had also brought a dog. If you’re leading a hike with a carpool, make sure ahead of time that people are OK sharing a car with someone else’s dog. This also worked out just fine for us.
Day 1: Bennington to Seth Warner Shelter
There was no snow on the ground when we met in North Adams. On the way north and uphill into Vermont, we started noticing more and more snow on the ground. By the time we arrived at the trailhead, we found several inches. I had warned everyone to pack traction for their feet, and we were all prepared.
The trail south of Route 9 starts off very steep. It climbs 700 feet in 0.7 miles. That’s the equivalent to 1000 feet per mile, which is especially steep on loose snow over frozen leaves. It took some time to reach the top, but then the trail leveled out nicely. This was the only significant climb for the day, though we would accumulate another 2100 feet by the time we reached camp.
After 1.7 miles and another 300 feet of climbing, we reached Harmon Hill. From here we had a view of Bennington and beyond. We were looking south and you can see the Catskills on the Horizon. The Blackheads and Windham were clearly visible.
We passed by many streams and ponds. The beaver dam pictured above is one of the most remarkable I’ve ever seen. Exploring down stream, we could see remnants of past dams. The beavers in this area had clearly been at work for a long time, pushing this pond up the mountain just a few feet at a time.
At 4.2 miles, we took an early lunch break at Congdon Shelter. Its a cozy little shelter with bunks and an indoor picnic table. There is some place for camping nearby. There is a large rushing river providing plenty of water.
While stopped for lunch, I realized my gloves had gotten very sweaty. As I cooled off over the break, the sweat started to freeze and my hands got uncomfortably cold. Fortunately, I pack many changes of gloves with me whenever I expect these kinds of conditions.
As the day wore on, some of our hikers started to slow down. Walking on the wet snow and carrying heavy winter gear was tiring. We arrived at camp later than I wanted, but still had an hour of sunlight.
I made sure that everyone set up their shelters, changed into dry clothes, and helped build a fire before they started eating. People are tempted to get right to eating when they get into camp. Hot food can help warm you up, but the effort is wasted if you don’t change out of your damp clothing. A good fire is also essential for restoring body heat and getting you extra dry. It is hard to build a fire in these conditions, so make sure you practice!
Day 2: Seth Warner Shelter to North Adams
The next morning I woke up a little before sunrise and made coffee in my tent vestibule. It isn’t the best practice to store any food in your tent overnight, but I keep my little Starbucks Via packets with me. Running your stove in the tent can be hazardous. You could light your tent on fire or fill the space up with poison carbon monoxide gas. I just love sitting in my warm quilt in the morning and drinking a hot cup of coffee. Be really careful!
I had been up early and squeezed my feet into my frozen boots, hoping to get walking and thaw them out pretty quickly. Unfortunately, some of our group were slow getting out of camp and I ended up standing around until my toes were uncomfortably cold. This was the last time I wore non-insulated boots on a winter camping trip. Now I use a pair of Baffin Borealis Boots. These double insulated boots have removable liners. I wear the liners to bed with me to keep them from freezing. They’re great!
After a few miles of walking, we started to descend toward Massachusetts. It didn’t take long before we reached warmer weather and a dryer ground. Walking down hill felt like walking out of winter right into spring.
Eventually we arrived at Massachusetts Ave in North Adams. A few of us stopped and waited for the rest of the group to catch up. There was a nice stone wall to sit on and we had a great view of Mount Greylock, Massachusetts tallest mountain.
After our hike, we drove up to Wilmington, Vermont for lunch at Jezebel’s Eatery. I don’t always make dining suggestions in my posts, but Jezebel’s is the best. The combinations Vermonters decide to put on sandwhiches are just mind blowing. The beer is good to.