Lots of people come to Vermont “to get away from it all,” but few get away quite like Jeanne and Hugh Joudry, who’ve been spending summers atop Stratton Mountain for thirty-two years, first as fire wardens and then as caretakers for the Green Mountain Club. Between their stints as firewatchers from 1968 – 1979 and caretakers, starting in 1996, the Joudrys lived in what Jeanne refers to as “that other wilderness”—New York City.
Jeanne and Hugh live in the snug, caretaker’s cabin near the fire tower from May to October. The cabin, built in the early twentieth-century and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is only 120 square feet, and serves as their living quarters and office. There’s no electricity or plumbing, and all supplies have to be carried in.
Responsible for maintaining eleven miles of trails, the Joudrys start the day with trail work, pruning, clearing and maintaining this heavily used section of The Long Trail. In fact, the very idea for The Long Trail originated on top of Stratton in 1910. The 270-mile Footpath in the Wilderness, which follows the spine of the Green Mountains from Massachusetts to Canada, was completed in 1930. But it’s only since the 1970’s that backpacking has become increasingly popular.
When Hugh and Jeanne were fire wardens, the Long Trail didn’t cross the summit, but skirted Stratton Pond. Hugh says, “Back then, seeing four hikers a month was a lot.” In those days, he and Jeanne spent eight hours a day up in the fire tower, watching the landscape. It was quiet and remote—just the change the Joudrys wanted after tumultuous urban years. Hugh had been teaching math in inner-city schools in the nineteen-sixties, and Jeanne was a graphic artist.
It’s said that the idea for the Appalachian Trail (AT) was also born on top of Stratton, which is Vermont’s eighth highest peak, just shy of 4,000 feet. The AT, which runs from Georgia to Maine, follows the southern third of the Long Trail, until the AT turns east towards New Hampshire. It wasn’t until 1970 that Jeanne and Hugh met their first through hiker. “We didn’t believe them,” Jeanne recalls. “We had them in for dinner.”
By then, the trail had been relocated to climb Stratton’s summit, and the Joudrys entertained transient company during the day. But there’s no camping on top of the mountain, so Jeanne and Hugh still enjoyed their nighttime solitude until 1980, when the Forest Service switched to airplane fire surveillance, putting the Joudrys out of the job.
Sixteen years later, the Joudrys returned to Stratton, this time as caretakers for the Green Mountain Club. “It’s a different job,” Hugh says. “Still great.” Instead of spending eight hours a day watching for fires, he and Jeanne greet visitors and assist through-hikers in small ways. The cabin, however, remains their private sanctuary.
About 6,000 hikers visit Stratton’s summit during the months the Joudrys are in residence. Hugh estimates that about 60% of them arrive via the ski area’s gondola, which delivers them within an easy stroll from the fire tower. The rest climb the trail from the Stratton Arlington Road. Generally, Jeanne says, through hikers arrive in the morning, followed by day-hikers carrying their lunches. On fair-weather weekends, Hugh and Jeanne greet a steady stream of visitors. In addition to trail maintenance, they serve as ambassadors for The Green Mountain Club.
Initially formed to build the Long Trail, the Green Mountain Club now maintains the entire the Long Trail System. As the southernmost caretakers, Jeanne and Hugh are the first the northbound long-distance hikers encounter in Vermont. The Joudry’s extraordinary service has earned them Honorary Life Memberships, GMC’s highest form of volunteer recognition. Jeanne and Hugh have made a life perched on top of the mountain. As Jeanne says, “It’s not hard to live up here. It’s easy, because you don’t have the conveniences.”