“A good boulder…not exquisite, but good” remarked Annie Janeway, one of the members of the GMC’s Ottauquechee section as we headed back towards the Hemlock Trail after taking a short detour to view a glacial erratic.
Another staff member and I recently had the opportunity to join Ottauquechee section members on a trek through the Windmill Hill Nature Preserve and Trail on an overcast November day in Athens, Vermont. Our hike was organized and led by Peter Hope, one of the O-section’s most dedicated volunteer hike leaders. The trip to Windmill Ridge was just one of the several free guided outings offered each week by the section.
After meeting at the Springfield Park-and-Ride, where Peter handed out maps and explained the trail ahead, the group of eight carpooled together to the trailhead along a series of roads that snaked through Windham County. At the trailhead we gathered our gear, checked the map, and munched on dark chocolate squares that were passed around.
Among our ranks, we had two Toms from White River Junction, both relatively new GMC members, and a handful of long-time O-section members and hikers. We are also joined by Skye Janeway, Annie’s golden retriever, who scouted the trail ahead and led our group at a trot.
We were spared the rain from overhead, but slushed through a thick mat of yellow of orange leaves as we made our way along the moderate trail. The day started out cold, but gradually reached an ideal fall hiking temperature. Hikers chatted to each other, asking about work, family, nearby hikes, and where we planned to stop and have our lunch. The peaceful reverie was interrupted only by a moose sighting, when we all stopped and craned our necks over a hill to see if we could catch a glimpse.
Section hikes play an important role in bringing community members together. They are an occasion to spend time with folks who share a common love of the outdoors and an opportunity to explore new trails and areas of Vermont. Indeed, Peter’s mission for himself is to plan hikes that will introduce hikers to trails and natural areas that are new to them. Section hikes are free and open to anyone, not just members. The hikes range from easy to difficult, with a wide range of moderate level hikes in between.
After we ate lunch on a hill overlooking a “pocket view” (a small glimpse of scenery through the trees), we headed up to Paul Ledge’s, the pinnacle of the hike. We hiked along through a dark hemlock forest which opened up to an (almost sunny) clearing with a picnic table and stellar view of Stratton Mountain and Mount Snow. Even well past peak foliage, the scenery was remarkable. Our hiking group rested and took photos, but mostly sat quietly and enjoyed the view together.
Walking back down to the trailhead, I had the feeling of an afternoon well spent. A day in the woods is invigorating for the body and mind. A day in the woods spent with friendly hikers, dark chocolate, and a golden retriever is not just good — it’s exquisite.