[Five hikes and five journals]
Long Trail, Brandon Gap to Killington (Rte. 4) Southbound, 6/18-6/20/2012
Heck, what’s the date today? June 18? 19? All I know is it’s a Monday, and last Thursday was my last day at Holliston. So it’s time to do a bit of Long Trail.
I’m hanging out… alone… at Sunrise Shelter, a short walk (maybe 40 minutes) up, and south, from Brandon Gap, aka Vermont Rte. 73. It’s a bit after 6 PM. I got here around 5.
A LT thru-hiker (SOBO) name Hanna has just arrived. Yay. Company.
I’ve had a cuppa tea, a bowl, a smoke, a snort of brandy, and a few hunks of pepperjack.
Thermometer sez it’s 65. Sky is quite clear. There’s a bit of a breeze, but not bad at this site, it’s fairly well sheltered.
[That’s the end of my written notes from on the trail – what follows is written from memory on 6/20, back home.]
I should mention Monday’s events. Departed Bedford around 8 AM. Reached Brandon Gap around 11:30 or so to drop the pack at the trailhead – noting the stiff climb I’d have on my bike ride for the last eight or ten miles (after turning off Rte. 100). Pointed the car south again and arrived at the AT/LT Trailhead on Rte. 4 an hour or so later.
Back at the car I discovered a number of things I should have left with the pack: tent, hiking boots, poles, and a few other odds and ends. So I ended up carrying a very stuffed day pack on the bike’s carrier rack, along with the hydration pack on my back. No big deal, except for the extra weight I’d be carrying.
The bike ride was pleasant enough, at least the first 25 miles of it (it’s a total of 30.) North on Rte 100, and mostly flat or downhill. Destruction from hurricane Irene is everywhere. Every creek, stream and river has scraped its banks clean. Road crews at every turn. Many sections of road have clearly been rebuilt in recent months. Several temporary bridges along the way. In one town I rode past a house tilted at a crazy angle, torn free from its foundation. Nearby was a house trailer twisted into a bizarre shape.
Up near Rochester VT, at about the 20 mile mark, I turned off Rte. 100 and started the uphill climb on Rte. 73, the Brandon Gap road. It starts uphill right away, though gradually at first. After another five miles or so the road bears hard left and west, up over the mountain, and heads uphill in a serious way.
I almost made it back to the trailhead by pedal-power, but gave up a half mile or so short of the target, and began to walk the bike. By now the sun was out and the day had warmed up considerably. In any case… I made it back to the trailhead around 4 PM. It took another half hour to stash the bike (and associated non-hiking gear) and transition into hiking mode.
Around 7 PM or so another hiker, NOBO, named Brian appeared. Nice guy, late twenties, handsome and fit and outgoing. The three of us prepared our meals together and chatted. I had gathered wood for a fire, and as the light faded, I lit the fire with just a bit of birch bark for kindling. As darkness settled in (9 PM or so, it being almost the summer solstice) Brian and Hanna took to talking mostly to each other, in hushed tones. I didn’t feel like trying to keep up with the conversation so started laying out my mattress and sleeping bag. Hanna and Brian chatted and laughed by the fire as I slowly nodded off to sleep in the shelter.
Awoke the next morning around 6. It was cool, around 50 degrees and overcast, with a fine mist blowing. I was on the trail by 6:45, wearing the silk bottoms and my orange flannel shirt. I didn’t ditch the shirt until a couple of hours later.
I needed to make 14 or 15 miles that day, to Ralston Rest shelter. 15 miles per day has been my target on recent hikes. Should be no problem, what with the long days. The topo map showed no major peaks along the route, but lots of smaller climbs and descents.
So, I hafta say… it was a pretty boring and blah day in the woods. A classic green tunnel. Almost no views to speak of, save for an outlook over Chittenden Reservoir, mid-afternoon, which I shared with a couple of northbound hikers. The trail was hardly ever flat, constantly gaining and losing altitude by small amounts as it slabbed along the sides of one hill after another. There was almost no sun to speak of, except for a few brief moments of bright overcast, until that break at the outlook over Chittenden Reservoir. On the plus side, the air was cool and comfortable for hiking.
The Long Trail Guide warns that the section between Logan Shelter and Ralston Rest is dry. So when I arrived at Logan Shelter and saw that it was 0.2 miles downhill off the LT, I hemmed and hawed for a while, and then continued on. A couple of minutes later I thought better of it, and backtracked, and headed down to the shelter. It was empty and not particularly attractive, but there was a stream in front so water there shall be. If I’d planned better and filled the platy back at Sunrise before starting out, I might have been able to avoid that lengthy stop.
My water filter came apart while filling up the Platy bag. Wow. This filter has done nearly seven hundred miles of AT… and chose this moment to fail. I tried to patch it up with duct tape. Not too successful, but good enough to fill the Platy bag with water to carry me the remaining 7.7 miles to Ralston Rest. An older couple, without packs, ambled by and said hello as I was pumping water and wrestling with the wayward filter. The shelter was dark and gloomy so I didn’t feel like sitting inside it. I ate a protein bar while sitting on a rock beside the fire pit.
As for the rest of the day’s hike, the high point was that view of the reservoir, through the haze. The blazing on the trail is a uneven, and it took a fair amount of concentration to stay on the trail; it’s constantly twisting and turning, and the footpath is often hard to pick out through the layers of fallen leaves. The trail’s sole evidence, at times, is that the leaves are just a bit more tramped down on it than beside it. Here and there you’d get a sense of sky to either side or above, but mist and haze limited the views to a few hundred feet at best.
I found myself getting a bit claustrophobic with nothing but trees to look at for hours on end. Views of the sky were rare, the sky itself being mostly gray and featureless most of the day. The woods are what you’d expect from the 3000′ elevation; mostly hardwoods, mostly second and third-growth. Not too much balsam, pine, spruce or fir, as you’d see in the Whites. This is maple syrup country.
Arrived at Ralston Rest lean-to around six or so, considerably later than I expected. A hiker named David is here. He’s northbound, started from North Adams. A schoolteacher from Gainesville, Georgia. School ended a couple of weeks back; he’d started started on the LT exactly a week ago, so has been kicking butt at 15 miles per day from the get-go. He hooked up with an AT thru-hiker early on and kept up, all the way to Maine Junction (where the AT splits off from the LT, neark Killington.) Straight and reserved, we didn’t have a whole lot to talk about. Not the partying type, he’s been avoiding town layovers or restaurant meals along the way. Around 8 or so, David turned in. It was still an hour and a half ’till dark, so I lingered outside the shelter for a while and then did the same.
Monday morning, I awoke about the same time as David, around 6 AM. There was none of the coolness from yesterday, nor the overcast. It looked like the weather reports were about to pan out – they’d been calling for 90 degree temperatures for today. I was glad to be facing a short, easy hike out to the car.
Monday’s hike was no sweat, just a bit over two hours and maybe five miles or so, with a 500 foot ascent and final descent out to Rte. 4. Views were no better than yesterday, but the trail was easier to follow. Matter of fact, there was one very nice stretch of woods in that final mile or so, back on the AT, just above Rte. 4. Something about it – less closed in, a higher canopy, a bit of sky… or just a different texture to the trees and vegetation. But nice.
Back to the car a bit after nine. Tried to call Merry on the cell, but still no service. I drove north for a bit, stopped at a country store for some munchies. Then on to Brandon Gap to retrieve the bike. Up on the gap road, a bicyclist was wending his way uphill… with vigor. Back to the interstate via Rte. 100 and Rte. 107, over a back-road I remember from decades ago (many drives along this route to/from our various ski houses back in the 1980s.) One more stop for gasoline and munchies just before hitting the highway. Then a straight shot home, thankful for the air-conditioning in the Subaru. It was ninety degrees and humid when I stepped out of the car back home at 1:30 or so.
LT Journal, July 9-12 2012 – Brandon Gap to Appalachian Gap, Northbound
July 9 – A Monday, anyway. Out of the house at 7:30 AM, Zoomed up the highway and arrived at Richmond VT around 10:15. From there it got dicey for a while – Jonesville is easy to miss. But I was way early, so no problem yet. Eventually I found all 3 buildings in the town, and among these, the Post Office. So I parked. The kind lady inside said there was a rest room, so I used it to change into hiking gear. By now it’s 11:15 or so, still 45 minutes till Doug (the shuttler) is supposed to show.
I called his home. His wife told me he usually arrives 20 minutes early. But noon comes and goes, no sign of Doug. There’s a parade of antique people driving antique cars up and down the road – very slowly. The Post office shares a building with an antique store. 12:30 comes and goes. I’m starting to get concerned. It’s a gorgeous day. But I wanna get hiking.
Eventually a tallish guy comes strolling into view. I call to him, “Are you Doug?” and he grins. It turns out he had been waiting all this time for me to arrive – we never saw each other the whole time. OK, so we’re on, just a little late. We start driving around 12:45, and arrived a Brandon Gap trailhead at 2:15. He’s a really nice guy, thru-hiked Springer to New Hampshire in 1989.
The hike was a lot more pleasant than the last one (SOBO) from Brandon Gap. The weather was awesome – cool and clear. There was a view or two, but mostly the woods didn’t feel as closed in. The trail clings to the very top of the ridge so you’re in short trees with lots of sun and sky. I arrived at Sucker Brook shelter around 6 PM. There was nobody there. It seemed too early to quit. Map says it’s only another 2.4 miles to Middlebury ski area, where I’m sure I can camp in a meadow. So I continue on, after re-filling the Platy (it was about ¼ full, or less.) Arrived at Middlebury around 8, with lots of daylight left. It’s 10:30 now, about time to close up this diary entry. Good night!
WED 7/11 (Diary shows 6/11 crossed off and changed to 7/11) – 8:30 PM, ensconced here at Glen Ellen shelter, 13 miles for the day. And a fine day it was, for the most part – mostly sunny with occasional clouds passing. Phenomenal views all day long, and in both/all directions.
Since I missed a day I should add that the day’s hike began at Cooley Glen shelter, ie. the starting point of the Long Trail’s Division 8. Here at the shelter – an enclosed cabin – there a summer camp outing group consisting of six boys and two “adult” counselors. The boys are slabbing on the rocks in front of the shelter. I suspect at least some of them will end up in the cabin before the night is through, but for now I’m the only one planning to sleep inside.
It’s a log cabin that’s seen better days – big gaps between some of the logs, and the planking in the bunks is bendy and uneven.
There were two big climbs today. Mt. Abraham and Mt. Ellen. This is the Sugarbush/Mad River range. The trail cuts right past three of the Sugarbush lift stations, including the one at Upper FIS, at Sugarbush North. I don’t recall seeing any thru-hikers today, but plenty of folks day-hiking up to Mt. Abraham from Lincoln Gap. Very crowded trailhead parking lot at Lincoln Gap.
All in all this was the most scenic stretch of LT I’ve done, and that might just include the part that’s AT as well. The only downside (today) was a bit of weakness/minor nausea, brought on (I think) by some brackish water that I pumped up, on the way up Mt. Abe. Part of what helped chase that away (apart from better water, up near one of the lift stations) was one of those tiny bottles of “5 Hour Energy” that I picked up at Boyce shelter yesterday.
OK, so a bit about yesterday’s hike. A lot of shelters. Not much for views. Lots of ups and downs – it took me 11 hours to cover the 14 miles or so from Monday’s campsite (near the top of Worth Mtn.) to Cooley Glen shelter. Weather mostly OK – sun early and in late afternoon, overcast for most of the middle of the day.
Approaching Boyce shelter, I met a group of youngsters, probably headed SOBO. At Boyce, I found three large plastic bags full of food they’d left behind (including that small bottle of “5 Hour Energy.”) I helped myself to a few candy bars and such, and hung up the rest on a nail.
I took the side trail down to Skyline Lodge to get water, but didn’t hang out.
Oh – forgot to mention – it rained for about 15 minutes while I hung out at Boyce. I changed into Frog Togg bottoms there, but after 45 minutes or so, changed back into shorts – it was getting too hot and there was no more rain.
At Emily Proctor shelter I ran into an older fellow (my age) in Ed Garvey regalia, and LT Thru-Hiker insignia on his pack. He (Rough) and his wife (Tumble) thru-hiked the LT years ago, he currently lives in Waitsfield. It was only around 2 or 3 (maybe 4) but he was in for the night. Too early for me to quit. I continued on to Cooley Glen shelter.
Found the place, packed with a family outing – three adults and four or five kids. They’ve been taking the slow route from Middlebury Gap, stopping for the night at each shelter. This was their last night – presumably finishing at Lincoln Gap. A father-daughter duo – Matt and Nina – showed up a few minutes after I did. They’re thru-hiking from Canada, this is their 12th day on the trail.
POST SCRIPT: This hike was originally intended to finish in Jonesville, but ended instead at Appalachian Gap. Mostly because I was tired and bored, and it was hot, and I knew that my buddy Scott was renting a nice house on a lake that week. I thought, why am I slugging out on this hot trail when I could be hanging out lakeside with Scott? So I hitched back to Jonesville from Appalachian Gap, a small adventure in itself. The section from App Gap to Jonesville was completed in June 2013, and the section from Jonesville to Rte. 108 in August 2013.
Long Trail: Appalachian Gap to Jonesville, Northbound, 6/17-6/19/2013
The lead-up to this hike was nuts. I’d been wanting to do it for weeks now. I got a job offer on June 3, set my start date for the 17th, hoping to do the hike in that period – but never got a break from the rain and foul weather. I showed up for work on the appointed day, only to find that the background checks were incomplete and that I’d be starting on the 24th. Uhhh…. okay. And guess what…. the weather is fine! I went to the Concentra facility in Manchester to pee in a cup (for the drug screen.) Stopped by RC Buyers in Nashua for some CA glue on the way home. Once home I called Doug McKain – the shuttle guy. He could shuttle me this afternoon, but not tomorrow.
I could have saved 80 miles of driving if I’d known about the backgound-check screwup… but WTF. I get to hike, after all.
I quickly pulled the hiking gear together, did a quick stop at the bank and a quick stop back home for a bandana, gassed up, and up the highway again northbound, shortly after noon. The plan was to meet Doug at Jonesville at 4:30, have him shuttle me south to Appalachian Gap. Which is exactly how it went. Doug’s wife Ruth was with him, and we had a pleasant ride, arriving about 5:15 PM or so.
It had rained heavily, at times, on the way up to Vermont. By the time I arrived in Jonesville, the rain had stopped but the sky was still heavy and gray. I made it to Birch Glen Camp in about two hours, with plenty of daylight left. Though somewhere on that stretch I lost my new sunglasses, which had been lazily looped around the sternum strap of my pack. There was even a view or two on the way. At the lean-to was Mama Bear, a tall, fit lady who alas didn’t stay. She’d thru-hiked northbound, but this was her last night on the trail, due to a knee injury. And god knows she’s walked through a couple weeks of seriously crap weather.
Mama Bear moved on northbound, to be picked up by a friend with a car at a road crossing a mile or two north. The rain came down, but hard, shortly after she left. I was happy to be snug and dry at the lean to, but without company. (Not so unusual, alas.) For dinner I ate the sub sandwich I’d bought in Waterbury. No noodles, but I had a couple cups of tea as well.
Slept well enough and woke at around six. Amazingly the sky was blue (or seemed that way) for next half hour or so, but then reverted to steel gray. Maybe just an illusion. The woods were soaking wet from the previous night’s rain. I donned Frogg Togg bottoms and sil-nylon top and the Seattle Sombrero. Hit the trail around seven.
I made Cowles Cove shelter in a couple of hours and took a very short break there. I still wasn’t sure of my destination for the day. It was five miles to the next shelter (at Wind Gap, still south of Camel’s Hump) but ten miles to Bamforth ridge shelter, up over the top and halfway down the north side of the Hump. The first target was too easy, the second one maybe a bit too ambitious, considering the terrain and the weather.
So, onward. It may or may not have rained that morning, but it didn’t much matter. The sky was dark gray and ominous. Every breath of wind brought wetness down from the trees. The rock escarpments were slick, the trail was soaked. Slow going. Toward noon we got brief patches of bright overcast. Then over the next hour, a few patches of blue sky appeared. I arrived at Montclair Glen Lodge – the shelter at Wind Gap – around two. Nice shelter, a cabin actually (not a lean-to.) Recently renovated. Big expanse of rock escarpment in front, and a good view of Camel’s Hump to the North. I could have stayed here, but it just felt too early to call it a day, and the weather was turning quite gorgeous. I peeled off all my rain gear, down to my skivvies, and soaked in the sunshine. Shook off the chill from the previous seven hours of walking. Laid the rain gear over the rock to dry it off. By about 3 PM I’d decided to move on, knowing I’d have to hoof it. Shortly thereafter I was headed up to the summit of Camel’s Hump. Signs say it’s 1.9 miles and the profile map shows a vertical gain of about 1000 feet from Wind Gap. It ended up taking well over two hours. Tough climb, but phenomenal views from the top. All of Lake Champlain, Adirondacks, the Long Trail north and south, and the White Mountains off to the east. It was a bit chilly up there, and I was in a hurry, so I didn’t linger. I stopped briefly to chat with a southbound thru-hiker, then began my descent. Once off the summit, the temperature was quite agreeable and the blue sky and sun felt fine.
All told, the descent from Camel’s Hump was a very scenic and reasonably well-graded affair, with one startling exception, which involved a harrowing crawl over a tall vertical boulder, with a 15 foot sheer drop off to one side. From the very fresh blazes, I guessed this was a recent relocation done by someone with a warped sense of humor. Granted, the views were gorgeous, what with the trail following these vast rock escarpments rather than running through dark woods. But the transitions from rock escarpments to the woods (or vice versa) were usually steep and nasty.
I didn’t make it to the shelter. Darkness beat me. Terrain too nasty to hike by headlamp. I gave it a try, but gave up within minutes. Found a tiny spot of vaguely level ground to pitch the tent, got it set up and hauled in the pack just as darkness turned total. A bit disappointing, as I would have appreciated a good meal and some tea and company. As it turned out, it was a lumpy patch of ground. I went to sleep without dinner, and slept quite well considering. Woke once at 2 AM, then again at six.
Wednesday morning was quite cool, but this time the sky really was crystal clear. I broke camp and was on my way downhill by seven AM, dressed in shorts and t-shirt and flannel top. I passed the turnoff to the shelter after about five or ten minutes of walking. But that five minutes might have taken ten or twenty, hiking by headlamp in the dark. I had no way of knowing. Did I mention the magnificent weather this morning?
In another hour or so I ditched the flannel. Again, there were nice views and some very steep challenging sections, quite a variety of terrains for the rest of the descent. I reached the trailhead around 9:30, then turned left on the River Road toward Jonesville. The road walk took about an hour and a half. I spent twenty minutes or so switching back to civilian mode and was on my way home. Stopped at Waterbury for some grub, and for another grub refill in Lebanon. Home by around 3:30.
A good trip! At last! The LT is not to be trifled with. It gets treacherous. For most of day two (the long day) I really didn’t go much over 1 mile per hour. I walked from 7 AM till 8:45 PM, with just a few breaks, and covered about 13 miles. Went a little faster the first evening and the last morning. If the weather hadn’t cleared mid-day on Tuesday, and I’d stayed in Montclair Glen Lodge, it would have gone differently, with the big push coming on the final day. No regrets. I would have been bored silly hanging out at the empty shelter all afternoon, and I was a bit worried about the uphill climb early in the morning, with the rocks still slick from early morning dew.
No issues with gear, aside from losing the sunglasses. The pack was relatively light, and I really didn’t put much of a dent at all in my food supply. The New Balance (659) trekking shoes were comfy, even when my feet were mostly wet. One of the hiking poles is a bit bent. There were several occasions where I had to fold up and stow the poles so that I could have my hands free for steep ascents or descents. Overall, that happened only rarely on the AT.
Long Trail, August 15-18, 2013 – Jonesville to Rte. 108, Northbound (includes Mansfield)
So, what with the 15th being an “off” Friday and good weather predicted for the weekend, it was time to do the LT section from Jonesville (what, again?) to Rte. 108. Said section includes Mt. Mansfield. Vermont’s highest peak, with bits of it named ‘forehead’, ‘chin’ and so on. More worrisome – some treacherous sections that evoked strong reactions from nearly all of the LT thru-hikers I’d encountered, or whose journals I’d read.
I zoomed out of work at 3:30 on Thursday and found Doug (my trusty shuttle guy) waiting for me at the trailhead around 6:15 or so. A quick change into hiking gear, stuffed odds and ends into the pack, and we were headed southward, arriving at Jonesville a few minutes after seven. A farewell handshake with Doug and I was headed up the road to where the trail ducks back into the woods. It was a race against the sunset, and I managed to make it to the shelter on time, in spite of the official distance and the lack of daylight. The math says I did better than 1.7 mph on that stretch, which I don’t quite believe.
An older fellow named Ray, trailname Tennessee, was at the shelter. Thick southern drawl. Dressed like Ed Garvey. Not quite a soulmate. Our conversation was sparse. Between his drawl and my crappy ears, not much got through. I did get that Ray had hiked the AT, and had some remarks about the crazy scrambles on Mansfield. He was thru-hiking southbound, but somehow hadn’t heard about the three mile roadwalk he was up for in the morning.
On trail by 7:30 or eight the next morning. The day’s hike was neither great nor awful, the weather mostly quite nice, not at all hot but mostly sunny. There was a net elevation gain of 2000 feet over ten miles, but drop of 1000 feet in the middle of it. Some nice views, even. (Never a given on the LT.) Water was plentiful, and the trail was mucky and boggy in places. (Always a given on the LT.) Basically, it’s a long slog to the summit of Bolton Mtn, and then down the north side of Bolton a bit.
I arrived at Puffer shelter around five, sinfully early, but there was no point racing to the next shelter. I held to my usual 1 mph pace that day. Light rain had started to fall just as I arrived at the shelter. (Good timing, Rafe!) That was soon followed by a brief but intense downpour, and then clearing – all of which led to a gorgeous sunset and even a rainbow, with views of Mansfield to the northwest, and the Rte. 100 valley to the east.
The shelter itself is a bit beat up, but has a million dollar view. The stream just behind it was flowing well, but the water was dark brown even after filtering, so I just used what was left in my hydration bag. I’ve had bad luck with brown stream water on the LT, particular if it’s a rocky stream bed, which was the case here. It’s not germs or micro-organisms I’m concerned about, but whatever weirdness that acid rain is leaching from the rock.
A couple of young hikers, preceded by their hyperactive puppy arrived around six or seven, but didn’t stay. The puppy was not leashed, and startled the bejezus outta me when he leaped into the shelter from outta nowhere and started knocking my stuff about.
Saturday morning, more spectacular views, and an excellent sunrise, with the lowlands entirely covered in cloud, and mountaintops in clear blue sky. The sun was intense and it felt like it would be a scorcher of a day. Turned out the weather was somewhat variable for a while, I even worried it might rain, until about noon when the last of the clouds disappeared. It couldn’t have been more perfect for hiking.
Now I had a bit of a conundrum, the long and short of it being that I walked a mere seven miles that day, and was about to spend a long afternoon, evening and night at Butler Lodge, just below Mt. Mansfield’s “forehead”. The next shelter was on the far side of Mansfield, maybe a third of the way down. There was no need to hurry. It simply meant that Sunday’s hike would be six miles instead of two. I’m just not used to lazing about in broad daylight, with miles ahead of me.
Again, lots of bogs and muck. A bridge over a beaver pond had washed out, leading to a short but gnarly bushwhack through tall grass and shrubs, over the pond’s outlet creek, and back ’round the other side. Hope they get that fixed up soon. It was unnerving. Had to read the signs carefully – just footprints and disturbed vegetation giving any sense of where the detour was leading. The LT feels like a bushwack, at times.
I passed quite a few hikers that day, many of them with day packs or no packs at all. Apparently there are side trails leading into the LT, particularly around Taylor lodge. I was hoping to get water at Taylor, and ended up doing a long side trip, but I did get a good haul of cold, clear spring water, so that was good. Ran into a couple of fast southbound hikers, between Butler and Taylor lodges, who’d started at Rte. 108 that morning and planned to make it to Jonesville that day. I wished them well. 24 miles a day on the LT is epic. I wonder if they made it.
At Butler lodge, I whiled away the time writing in my journal, reading the register and sipping tea. Several groups of day hikers came and went. The caretaker, Camille, appeared an hour or so after I did. I paid my five bucks in cash. A family (mom, dad and teenage boy) were staying at the lodge. They’d hiked up a side trail, dropped their gear at the lodge, and spent the day on Mansfield. The kid performed card tricks for us after supper. Friendly bunch but mostly kept to themselves. Locals, from Jericho VT, just a few miles away. Camille’s friend (lover?) showed up with a bag of groceries and soon the lodge was filled with the awesome scent of their cooking… but they didn’t share. In fact their feast wasn’t ready for consumption till it was pitch dark, and they consumed it somewhere outdoors.
Sunday morning I was up at the crack o’ dawn and on my way up to the Forehead. It got real steep real fast, and pretty gnarly. The ladders didn’t bother me much. What bothered me was: was no room for error. A sheer cliff upwards to my right, and a sheer cliff down, to my left, and nothing much to step on or hold on to. At one point a large rock, sloping slightly downward, obstructed this path. I certainly wasn’t going to stand up on it. My chosen method was to slowly inch myself, flat on my belly, up, over and back down the other side, hoping that friction would keep me attached to this boulder and prevent me from sliding into the abyss.
I guess that was the worst of it. In no time at all I was up on the summit plateau, which is really quite mild. I had it all to myself, and didn’t meet another soul until I was descending the Chin about an hour later. This part of the hike was pretty mellow, and not unlike the Franconia ridge or some of the Presidential ridge walks in the White Mountains. A weak sun was trying to push through an overcast sky. I donned a flannel top for most of that walk. As you walk north along this ridge you begin climbing toward the Chin. The climb is neither difficult nor scary. Pretty nice, actually. A little gloomy in the cool dawn, but that was OK, it doesn’t always have to be clear blue sky.
So finally I’m at the Chin and then the descent begins with a bang. The first tenth of a mile off the Chin (northbound) is steep as get-out. There’s another one of those very scary moments, that happens within a few feet of the summit. What you see is a shiny rock chute, at a 45 degree angle and maybe six or eight feet long, which you must descend… but at the bottom of that chute, you see nothing but sky. You’re thinking, what will I hold on to? What’s at the end of that chute? What will stop me if I lose traction? Again, I somehow survived, but it rattled me. And fortunately, there was nothing quite as bad for the rest of the hike.
I encountered my first hikers of the day shortly thereafter, and then from that point on, I met more and more, all headed uphill. Organized groups, couples, extended familes, probably 100 or more all told. I mean hordes of people. Weather by now had settled into a comfortable bright overcast, just a bit muggy.
Several folks asked me, “How far to the top?” To the first few queries, I answered honestly and gave my best estimate. But after an hour or so heading downhill, I decided to get vague. Next guy that asked, I just shook my head. “I’m not sayin’.” To which he remarked, “Hmm, sounds like bad news, then.” Somewhere near the end of my hike a young girl asked, with a cross look on her face, “Just how high is this mountain?” I shook my head and said, “It’s very, very high,” and continued on my way.
I reached the Rte. 108 trailhead at 11:30, amazed that I’d walked those six tough miles in four and a half hours. Got home around three. The ride home was uneventful. I listened to a lot of rowdy hillbilly music (Steve Earle) and felt good about life. Glad to have this section behind me.
So bottom line? It was pretty awesome. My pack was feather light this time, and that sure helped. Didn’t carry tons of excess food like I often do. Weather was very cooperative. The trail was… classic Long Trail. Nobody said it would be easy, and it wouldn’t have been quite right if it was.
Long Trail, Smugglers Notch to Eden Crossing, Northbound, 8/18 to 8/21/2014
This was to be my final section hike on the LT. I was hoping to hike from Smugglers Notch (Rte. 108) to Journeys End (aka Canada) but Canada will have to wait. The intended distance was something like 63 miles, I ended up walking 36. The further north you go, the gnarlier it gets, so the worst is still ahead.
Monday (Day One, 8/18:) Left home a bit after 8 AM after breakfast with Merry and made pretty good time to Westfield, VT, where my shuttle guy, John Selmer lives with his wife Elaine in a pale blue double-wide set back from Loop Road. (#1784 to be precise.) There was a good deal of road work going on along Rte. 100 but even so, it was only about an hour from Rte. 89 to John’s place. Westfield is several miles from Journeys End, so I had my bike and bike gear in the car as well as the hiking gear. I wasn’t sure how the ending logistics were going to work out (ie., getting from Journey’s End back to John’s place in Westfield) but John said cell service was generally good, and he’d pick me up pretty much any time as long as he had some prior notice.
I did the usual changeover to hiking mode, then John and Elaine and I hopped into a small, well-worn, silver Honda sedan and did the drive back to Stowe and up Rte. 108 to Smugglers Notch. Along the way I asked John if I could stop somewhere and pick up a sub sandwich for that night’s dinner. John stopped at some place called Hoagies, up in Morristown I think – and I waited a good ten minutes for a roast beef sub. John and I chatted about windmills (there are a bunch of them on a ridge, near where he lives) and Vermont politics.
The weather’s decent. Unseasonably cool. It had been raining heavily in the Green Mountains for a couple of days (I pity the poor hikers who’ve been walking through it.) Driving up from Bedford, it started cool and clear, but along Rte. 89 I could seen lots of cloud cover to the west, over the mountains. So basically a mix of sun and clouds. At the Smuggler’s Notch picnic area, John and I wandered about for a few minutes before we found the LT trailhead. Then we shook hands and said our goodbyes and I was off, up the hill.
It turns out not to be the same trail Merry and I hiked a few years ago, which must have been Sterling Pond Trail. The LT meanders to the same destination, with a good deal of rough slabbing and occasional views back toward Mansfield. The trail is very, very wet. Much of it was in fact a shallow stream, particularly near the top. Extreme caution needed on pogue (“boardwalk”) because it’s slippery as hell. The trail seemed reasonably civilized, though. I made it to Sterling Pond shelter around five, plenty of daylight left, and time to socialize with Dennis, a SOBO section hiker, and Caitlin, the caretaker, whose tent platform is nearby. Caitlin had company, three young folks, but she also came by to chat up Dennis and myself and extract $5 from each of us. Dennis is hammocking (“hanging.”) It looks like a complicated get-up to me. I’m alone in this very large shelter – an open lean-to, but looks like it could hold 20 hikers or more. There’s no view from this shelter – it faces into the woods – and few if any tent sites. The edge of the pond is maybe 100 yards away and about fifty feet downhill. The shelter faces away from the pond.
That roast beef sub from Hoagies was delicious. I was full from eating just half of it so I wrapped up the rest and saved it for the next morning. It turned out to be a very chilly night, I wondered if I’d made a mistake taking my summer-weight bag with me. Then I got a bright idea, I put my down puffy jacket over the bottom end of the sleeping bag as a second layer, and finally got my feet warmed up nicely.
Tuesday (Day Two, 8/19:) Chilly and clear in the morning. I donned base layer and hit the trail at 7:30. It was insanely hard hiking from the get-go, up and down Madonna peak and some other small hump before arriving at Whiteface shelter for a long break. There I chatted with this sort of sad, nebbish character (trail name “Trailer Trash”) who, when I arrived at 10:30 or so, was sleeping or attempting to sleep, in his bag, alone in the shelter. TT just seemed out of it. Puffy face, slow putting thoughts into words. You wonder sometimes about the mental (or physical) health of the people you meet on the trail. So, TT warned of more tough hiking northbound; things weren’t about to get easier for several miles yet. This was the truth, it didn’t begin to get easy ’till somewhere near Bear Hollow Shelter, and then it was pretty much a cake walk (literally, a road walk) to VT 15 and thence to the Lamoille River. At Bear Hollow Shelter I’d decided to go for broke and try to make it to Round Top Shelter. I knew it was going to be a race against sunset, but it looked like easy terrain, certainly compared to the morning’s walk. By five I was at the river, by six or so I was at Prospect Rock (nice views, got some pictures) and then a final mad uphill sprint to reach Roundtop Shelter around seven. I hadn’t calculated or even much considered the distance, but for the record that’s 14.3 miles. (Trip total, 17.9 miles.) Some tricky turns down by the road and the river, I took one short useless side-trip when I misread a sign post (and some tracks through weeds) a few yards north of the VT 15 trailhead.
Roundtop shelter is quite nice, not very big, but has skylights (nice!), a picnic table, and a great view out back, from where we got nice pics of the sunset. There were two women, SOBO, and one guy, NOBO besides myself. One of the ladies was friendly, the other not so much. They were sacked out by eight. Due to my late arrival, I was the last one settled in. The NOBO hiker goes by the trail name “Side Trail.” He’d met up with his parents at the VT 15 trailhead, which is why I don’t recall running into him on the trail on Tuesday. Side Trail spent most of the evening working on his diary. At one point Side Trail asked me if I’d seen a fifth hiker go by… I replied that I had not. Seems this hiker asked for directions to the water source, was seen going down the blue blaze, but had not been seen coming back up. A bit of a mystery. Lost in the woods? Later on, when it had gotten quite dark and I was about ready to turn in, the mystery resolved itself when I saw the faint glow of a tent (or hammock/tarp rig) up the trail a ways. Our fifth hiker just wasn’t into the shelter scene.
So overall I’m feeling pretty good about day one, got well over my hoped-for 12 miles, feeling OK, weather near-perfect. Side Trail tells me tomorrow’s hiking should be relatively easy going, but watch out for Thursday. Shelter spacing could be an issue as well, Corliss is eight miles, but Spruce Ledge is 14.7 miles, almost twice the distance. I didn’t know if I had another 14+ mile day in me, in spite of it being “easy” by northern LT standards.
The day had two distinctly different phases. Or maybe three. The morning was extremely tough hiking, very slow going over wet, slippery rocks on some very steep grades. You had to watch every step. Madonna Peak is part of the Smugglers Notch ski area, so the summit (on the LT) is actually a lift station. I sat on the bench there and had the second half of my delicious roast beef sub. The tough hiking didn’t let up until Bear Hollow Shelter, at which point it became a super-fast walk down a gravel road and then a rail-trail. Then a fairly mellow (hah!) 1000 foot climb over 2.9 miles from VT 15 up to RoundTop.
Wednesday (Day Three, 8/20:) There was a mouse incident at the shelter overnight, my fault – I’d left a Ziploc bag of Wasabi peas in my white silnylon “office” bag, which was not on a proper mouse hanger. The mice chewed through both bags and apparently this all upset at least one the two girls sleeping on that side of me; there was a good deal of shuffling around of sleeping bags and mats, and at the time I had no clue what was going on… only figured it out in the morning.
Late start this morning, on trail at eight. In my mind I already know how this day is going to end up, most likely camped alone in the woods. Eight miles is too little, but 14.7 is too much. This I know. The morning’s hike takes me over two minor lumps and then, oh, around 1500 feet up Laraway Mountain. It’s all do-able, but the trail is never easy. It doesn’t have the steep rock scrambles of yesterday (yet) but there are new obstacles. Very gnarly roots to trip over. Boggy, muddy trail, drainage is a major issue here. Try as I might, I’d take a foot-sogging step into deep muck every now and then, and my feet and toes were pretty much wet all day. Lots of tough ankle work. The LT is raw and unkempt compared to the AT. I mean, it makes the AT look damned civilized, and I never thought I’d hear myself say that. There are a few interesting sights and challenges on the way up Laraway Mountain, so there’s that. You follow a cleft in the mountainside, walking along the base of a cliff, for several hundred feet of the ascent. It’s cool and wet and you’re scrambling up the slick rock ledges along the bottom of that cliff. Here I met a group of teenagers coming downhill, chatting up a storm. Freshman orienteering? I didn’t ask. Some fancy footwork was required. You could hurt yourself here if you’re not careful. There’s a nice viewpoint just below the summit. The summit is mostly closed in, you get open sky but no views outward. Then another couple of blah miles downhill to Corliss Camp. Some steep downhill bits just south of Corliss.
So there I took a good long break and considered my fate. I arrived at about 2:30, simultaneously with a group of teenage boys out on some four or five day camp expedition. It’s way too early to quit for the day, but probably not enough time to make the remaining 6+ miles to Spruce Ledge Camp. This means camping alone in the woods. I would not be hanging out with Side Trail (and whoever else) at Spruce Ledge Camp tonight. Oh hell, I know I’m gonna survive but I truly do prefer having some company in the woods.
So I left the boys at Corliss Camp and headed on up the trail, somewhat bummed. Mind filled with negativity. There are no views. The Long Trail is nasty that way. Boggy in many places. Overgrown with dense, verdant vegetation in other places. The footing is almost always rough in one way or another, rarely do you get to hit a stride for more than fifty yards at a time. The woods feel oppressive, closed in, gloomy. Even just a bit of sky is a relief. As the day wears on I can see that the sun has turned to haze and overcast. It’s not hot by any means but I’m sweating up a storm and am offended by my own odors, itches, and soreness. My pack is something under 30 lbs. but I’m carrying six pounds of food and my appetite is nil. Thinking of cutting the hike short, actually. These woods are bringing me down. Side Trail had warned that this was the “easy” day and tomorrow would be back to the rough stuff. Ugh. I’d done somewhere around 12 miles for the day and I was dragging.
Six o’clock rolls by and I’ve just passed Basin Brook, which means Spruce Ledge Camp is beyond reach for the day; I’d still have to get over the two peaks of Bowen mountain and then a good way down Bowen. I found myself a decent place to camp, right off the trail, but barely enough water for dinner and a cup of water with Metamucil. The platy bag was now empty. For the morning’s walk I’d have just the reserve in the two Coke bottles – about a pint, total – until the next water resupply. Cutting it a bit close. The evening and night were quite warm, probably never got below sixty. Had a simple meal of Liptons noodles, with cheese and sausage thrown in, and slept reasonably well. I chatted briefly with Merry on the phone around 10:30 (PM) and then drifted off to sleep.
Thursday (Day Four, 8/21:) Up early and on the trail at 7:20, it’s actually warm and overcast this morning so I didn’t bother with the base layer. Rain most likely imminent. Energy level is OK, but I’m feeling rank in mind and body. My mind’s made up that I’ll end the hike at the next road crossing, one way or another. I’ll try to call John and get a ride, but failing that I will walk or hitch down Rte. 118 to the town of Eden.
That resolved, I made the best of the morning. The next two summits (North and South Bowen) were no big deal, but the descent from there to Spruce Ledge Camp was back to the old LT nasty stuff, treacherous and slow going. Arrived at Spruce Ledge around 9 AM. I think I made the right decision not to attempt it last night – that descent would have been tough in the dark. The camp is 800 feet up a blue blaze trail, so I didn’t check it out. The camp’s water supply was right there at the blue blaze junction, so hurray! I can fill the platy bag. My water-supply situation was resolved. Checked out the maps, it’s three more miles to Rte. 118, how hard can that be? Tried to call John but got no signal. Will have to try again. Stuffed some munchies into my face (appetite still nonexistent) and continued on downhill around 9:30.
A few minutes later I encountered the section of trail called “Devil’s Gulch” and it really did spook me a bit. Sort of a mini or micro version of the AT’s Mahoosuc Notch, but somehow felt more menacing. In fact there was one short descent down a slippery, almost feature-less rock face – maybe a ten foot drop – that really had my adrenaline going. I actually backtracked a bit to be sure I was on the white blaze. There was no way around it. Sliding off this rock face could be injurious. Plus, it was starting to rain a bit. Not hard, but just one more element to the general gloom. (So glad to be getting off this mountain in a few hours!) I slid down that rock face on my butt. It was tense for a few dozen seconds, but I made it OK. The rest of “Devils Gulch” was no picnic either, but that was the worst of it.
There was one more small surprise in store; one more 500 foot climb and 400 foot descent between Devils Gulch and the road crossing. It would not have been a surprise had I looked at the profile map, but I missed that detail. It was a damned steep climb, with some amazing stonework up the north face, maybe a hundred or two hundred steps built of really big rocks. Most steps were well beyond the “regulation” seven-inch height. Not complaining really – but gawd, that little climb was really something.
Near the top of that last hump, I was able to reach John on the cell phone. It was 10:45, and I asked if he could meet me at Rte. 118 at noon. He was agreeable to that. The last mile or so was easy going (really!) and I made it to the highway with 45 minutes to spare. Some minor confusion at the “trailhead” of course; the parking area isn’t visible from where the trail meets the road on the south side. But John kinda knew the scene and came looking for me, right on time.
So. Back to John’s place at Westfield. He showed me some of his photo compositions, nice stuff though not “landscapes” of the sort I do. Fanciful stuff. By 1:30 or 2 PM I was on my way home, and in fact made it home shortly after six. It rained through most of the drive, starting about twenty minutes after leaving John’s place. John had pointed out a good eatery on Rte. 100 not far from his place. I stopped there but it was way crowded and there was no proper rest room in which to clean up. I was still foul and grungy from the hike, so sitting down to a proper meal didn’t feel right.
Aftermath: Some strange health/body issues. Numerous bright red welts on both feet, but mostly the left foot… not sure, could be chiggers. Located near where the top of the boot would be, under the tongue of the boot. Also: discolored toenails, could be fungus? I started treating them today (per Merry’s suggestion) by soaking my toes in diluted apple cider vinegar. Still a lingering cough from that cold I battled all last week.
Gear was mostly good. I brought that ugly brown puffy down jacket, rather than a synthetic flannel shirt as is my custom. It can’t really be worn while hiking, but it sure is warm at camp. Leki poles have new tips and that annoying double-click in one of the poles has been fixed. Yay. Could not have done this hike without proper pole tips, that part was 100% essential. Brought too much food. Granola sucks, don’t bother. But the Oreo cookies were excellent.