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Long Trail Trip Report: Clarendon Gorge to Bromley Mountain

I got back last night from a tough 32 mile section hike on the Long Trail in Vermont. I had originally planned to do this section in 3 easy days but ended up compressing it down to 2 days by hiking a long second day. Daytime temperatures were in the high 80’s and 90’s with rain and mist on day 1 and then sun and high humidity on day 2. The trail was very muddy and wet. But for all that, the Long Trail’s beauty is enhanced in rainy conditions. The colors are sharper, the rocks on the trail become much more slippery and the sound of the mountain streams and creaks is magnified. This is a rain forest and I was humbled by the mountains, the rain, and the lush green vegetation.

My daily mileages on this trip were:

Day 1: 12.6 miles from Rt 103/ Clarendon Gorge to Little Rock Pond tent site.

Day 2: 19.5 miles from Little Rock Pond to Rt 11/30, at the base of Bromley Mountain.

Big Branch River, Long Trail Vermont
Big Branch River, Long Trail Vermont

This trip started on Thursday, June 5th. I left work at 4 pm and arrived at the trail head at Rt 11/30, three hours later. I planned to leave my car at the big parking lot here, camp nearby, and meet a taxi for the shuttle up to Rt 103 and Clarendon Gorge in the morning. Rt 11/30 intersects the AT/LT at the base of Bromley Mountain, and I had ended my last section hike of the Long Trail here, two weeks prior.

I planned to camp at the old Bromley tenting area for the night, which is 3/4 mile up from the road. Bromley Mountain and I have some history. Last November, I failed to find this tenting area, which has been closed for a few years for re-vegetation. It was replaced by a new shelter, about 1  mile further up the mountain. Wouldn’t you know it, I failed to find the tenting area again, but in the process of searching for it:

I saw a MOOSE.

How cool is that? This is the first moose I’ve ever seen on a hike and she was close. I was walking down a snowmobile trail that intersects with the Long Trail looking for an alternative stealth camp site and there she was. She took off when she saw me, loping away in what passes for a Moose trot. After that, I concluded that the snowmobile trail was also a game trail, and decided to skip tenting on it. I backtracked to the Long Trail and hiked up to the new shelter.

The last time I stayed at the Bromley Shelter, it was early November and the sun went down at 5 pm. In June, sundown is somewhere between 8:30-8:40 pm, so I had an hour left to pitch my tarp tent, eat dinner, and hang a bear bag. I was scheduled to meet my taxi at 7:30 am so I set my alarm for 5:15 am and went to sleep after reading the introduction to the Peter Tremayne paperback I had brought along. It weighs 5 oz. If you are doing a solo, it’s worth bringing along something to do if there’s still light out before bed.

Day 1:

When I woke up the next morning, the exterior and interior of my tent were drenched, and the cover of my sleeping bag was wet. It had rained all night and there was still a light rain in the morning. I retrieved my bear bag and had a quick breakfast. I packed my sleeping bag and my tent after wiping down its surfaces with my pack towel, an old trick I learned from Russ Faller last year. I broke camp at 6:15 and made it to the trail head by 7:15 am.

My taxi showed up at exactly 7:30 am. It was driven by Leonard Sr., of Leonard’s Taxi: 802-362-7039  (Manchester-Center, VT.) Leonard does a lot of hiker shuttles in the summer and he knew exactly where I wanted to go. It was a 45 minute drive and we talked about the paradoxical separation of the ego from the now, while listening to Coltrane. Leonard moved to Vermont in the 70’s and had owned the Manchester-Center movie theater for 28 years. He’s a good resource if you are in the area and was recommended by a local outfitter called the Mountain Goat. The fare from Bromley to Clarendon Gorge was $50.

After being dropped off, I made it onto the trail by about 8:20 am. It was still raining and I was wearing full rain gear. I crossed a suspension bridge over the impressive Clarendon Gorge and immediately started hiking up Bear Mountain, a 1,400 ft ascent from the river.

Clarendon Gorge, Long Trail Vermont
Clarendon Gorge, Long Trail Vermont

I shed my rain gear after about 20 minutes, although it was still raining lightly, and met up with my first thru-hiker of the trip. About 2.7 miles into the section, I stopped for a snack, a poo, and 45 minute break at the Minerva Hinchey shelter, where I hung up my tent and sleeping bag to dry off. The privy at this shelter has a black toilet seat with a dancing pink poodle painted on both the top and bottom of the lid. It’s hilarious. The poodle is holding a star: a brown star. After my business, I sat in the shelter, out of the rain, and read the shelter log entries for a while. Several recent visitors had been chased down the trail to the shelter by an angry mother grouse with young chicks.

After my break, I continued on, summiting Bear Mountain and hiking down a very steep col crossing Rt 140 at 6.3 miles. During this last stretch I had been putting my rain jacket on and taking it off constantly for very microbust shower, but that soon became pointless as the day heated up into the high 80’s. I left my rain pants on over my underwear because the surrounding vegetation was very wet and they kept my socks from getting wet in the mud.

I learned a thing or two about mud on this trip and I’m convinced that Vermonters’ have 47 different ways of describing mud, including thigh-deep, knee-deep, ankle deep, boot-deep, etc. I managed pretty well on this hike despite an abundance of water and mud on the trail and my old boots managed to keep my socks dry throughout.

After the col, I began the ascent of White Rocks Mountain, a very steep climb of 1,500 ft. At the base, there was a gorgeous series of waterfalls and a huge roar of water.

White Rocks Cascades, Long Trail Vermont
White Rocks Cascades

This first mile of this ascent is very steep and I was hiking in a dense mist. I passed the Greenwall shelter about a mile up and kept going, meeting up with 4 more thru-hikers along the way. I came to a huge cluster of rock cairns at 2,400 ft. There are hundreds of rock cairns here, built up over time by passing backpackers. It was very misty, even at this elevation, as you can see in the picture below.

Rock Cairns on White Rocks Mountain, Long Trail Vermont
Rock Cairns on White Rocks Mountain

Hiking further, I summited White Rock Mountain, no doubt named for the abundant quartz of the local rock, and continued to Little Rock Pond at 1,885 ft, where I had planned to camp for the night. There is a tenting area located here with platforms. Beginning in July, there is a Green Mountain Club caretaker who polices the tent site and enforces the $5 camping fee, but I was the only person there and camped alone on this little lake.

Tent Platform at Little Rock Pond, Long Trail Vermont
Tent Platform at Little Rock Pond

I pitched my tent, which was still wet from the previous night, at around 4:30 pm, and the bugs began to get really bad. I was already wearing long pants and a long shirt and covered my head and neck with a permethrin soaked Buff bandana that I had brought along for just this purpose. My tent dried as I took care of camp chores and had a quick cold dinner consisting of a snickers bar, 2 hot sausages, and 3 slices of whole wheat bread (900 calories.) I hung my bear bag for the night and retreated into my tent as I watched as a frenzy of black flies, mosquitoes, and gnats hover outside.

Sheltered from the insects, I wrote in my journal and planned my hike for the next day. I could hike another 10 miles and stay at another shelter, or I could go for it, and see if I could get all the way back to the foot of Bromley before nightfall. This would be close to a 20 mile hike and I was interested to see if I could make it. I’m planning a 50 mile section hike in a few weeks and have been thinking about extending the 10 mile per day average that I use for planning purposes. I decided to get up at 5 am to stretch the daylight I would have available and promptly fell asleep at 8:30 pm.

Day 2:

I woke the next morning at 5 am and left camp by 6 am. I covered the next 2 miles in about an hour passing several beaver dams and hiking beside a stream through lots of mud until I came to Rt. 140 and the border of the Big Branch Wilderness. The Long Trail can be difficult to follow in this area because the maintainers do not clear blow-downs or paint blazes. I crossed USFR 10 and signed in at the trail register. A hiker from Somerville, MA, about 1 mile from my home outside of Boston, had signed in right before me on the previous day.

Big Branch Wilderness, Long Trail Vermont
Big Branch Wilderness

My goal was to climb 1,350 ft over Baker Peak (3,260 ft) and reach Griffith Lake by noon for a quick lunch. I quickly passed Big Branch Shelter and 3 more thru-hikers. They were headed to the Gov. Clement Shelter, at the foot of Killington Peak, about 20 miles north. As I climbed, the mist began to clear, the sun came out and it started to get very hot in the forest. I changed into a lighter set of hiking pants and a lighter shirt and continued climbing.  When I got to the summit of Baker, my Green Mountain Club trail map failed me again. I couldn’t figure out where to go and had to do a little exploring before I guessed that I had to climb over the rocky summit and down the other side, sliding on my butt to avoid plummeting into the woods below the peak. The GMC Long Trail map is not fine grained enough to show this level of detail and I need to switch it out before my next trip at Journey’s End near Canada.

Before arriving at Griffith Lake, I descended a slight col after Baker and then followed about a half-mile of wooden boardwalk. This area must get very wet in the spring and there are obvious attempts by the GMC to re-vegetate the area by keeping people on the path and away from the waters edge. I arrived at the Griffith Lake tenting area by 11:00 and had a quick, but heavy lunch because I knew I was going to need the calories later in the afternoon. Griffith Lake is a wonderfully secluded spot and the water looked very inviting for a quick dip, but the Long Trail Guide advises caution due to leeches in the water.

Griffith Lake Boardwalk, Long Trail Vermont
Griffith Lake Boardwalk

After lunch, I filtered 3 more liters of water and was on my way. I had a brief chat with another thru-hiker that I met 1/2 mile down the trail at Peru Peak Shelter. He warned me about very muddy conditions up to Peru Peak (3,429 ft), a climb of about 800 ft, which was my next destination. He was right, but I plowed through most of it in my waterproof leather boots.

After Peru there is a shallow col before Styles Peak (3,394 ft) and then the trail plunges 950 ft. to Mad Tom Notch, which was 14 miles from my starting point for the day at Little Rock Pond. It was 2:30 pm when I reached Mad Tom, where I met up with some GMC trail maintainers from the Manchester chapter who had just cleared 3 miles of blow-downs on the north face of Bromley Mountain. I dropped my pack and we chatted for a while, while I refilled my platypus bladder from a fresh water pump located there. They then headed off for ice-cream as I continued up Bromley Mountain (3,260 ft), a final ascent of 800 ft.

I was really hot at this point and couldn’t keep the sweat from my forehead out of my eyes. My shirt had become stiff with dried salt and I had already drunk 6 liters of water. However, I knew that I only had 5.4 miles to go before reaching my air conditioned car, so I hunkered down and kept hiking. The climb up Bromley was, thank god, quite gradual until the last 2/10 of a mile before the summit. The GMC trail maintainers had warned me about this, as well as the false summit before it, so I was mentally prepared for this last push.

Old Growth Tree on Bromley Mountain, Long Trail Vermont
Old Growth Tree on Bromley Mountain

You know when you’ve summited Bromley because you come out of the pristine wilderness at the top of a ski resort covered with these modern looking chair lifts. The summit was covered with grass and the wind was really roaring up there. The sky was clear but all of the surrounding peaks were shrouded in a humid mist so there were no views to be had. I plopped down where I was and lay in the grass letting the wind evaporate the sweat in my clothes.

From here, it was 3 more miles to the end of the hike and my car below. I passed 5 more thru-hikers as I descended Bromley and made it to my car at 5:30 pm. There was plenty of sunlight left in the day and I made it home just after dark where a cold Long Trail IPA awaited me at the door.

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14 comments

  1. Wow, great trip report and pictures. It sounds like there were quite a few other people on the trail, is that typical?

  2. I was sort of expecting it. This section of the Long Trail overlaps with the Appalachian Trail and the thru-hikers are due in Vermont around now on their way to New Hampshire. I also met 2 people who were just starting their Long Trail thru hikes (272 miles) which averages about 27 days. Other than that I only met up with 4 day hikers on the entire stretch. But this is southern Vermont, which is easily accessible to civilization. On my next section near the Canadian border, I'd be surprised if I met more than 6 people in 4 days. I assure you, I'll be making lots of noise with my hiking poles on that stretch.

  3. Enjoyed reading the trail report Philip. Was pleased to read the ascents you made were similar in size to the ascent, albeit single one, I made on Saturday, and albeit carrying less weight.

    Too bad no photo of the moose!

    What digital camera do you use? I checked your gear lists and just saw, "digital camera 5.8 ounces."

    Why did your tent and interior of your tent get wet?

    I'd like to see pictures of this famous Vermont mud too (I was born in Rhode Island, but lived most of my life in Florida, and past 5 years in Tokyo, Japan)

  4. That moose is the one that got away. I just switched to a new camera, a Canon Powershot SD850 IS and it's a big improvement weight wise (3oz) over my last camera. It has a rechargeable battery which I tend to avoid because it's easier to find batteries than carry a charger, but for section hikers it's passable and you can find a generic second battery as a spare for under $15 on the web.

    I'll be posting a new gear list for this section in a few days, I made quite a few changes, mostly to the sleep system switching out the hammock for the tarp tent. The exterior of the tent got soaked on night 1 by the all night rain, but more problematic was the high level of condensation on the interior of the tent. I'm attributing this to the fact that the humidity on this trip was simply extreme. On night 1, I had pitched the tent on a platform with visibility of less than 100 feet due to heavy mist. On night 2, I had much less condensation, but there was still some, even though I spent some extra time on tent setup to make sure that I had good airflow. I have been thinking of bringing my squall 2 on my next section because I feel that it has slightly better airflow than the lunar solo which should help keep me drier.

    I thought about taking pictures of the mud, but I had a fairly benign experience with it on this trip and gave it a pass. I plan on doing a detailed taxonomy of mud article in the future – in fact it could be it's own web site – but I'm putting that off for a future hike when I've done some more up front prep.

    You get to do a lot of thinking and observing when hiking solo instead of in a group. Don't you do solo hiking too?

  5. Thanks for the follow-up.

    Yes, a majority of my hiking has been solo. I do like how one can observe and "feel" more when hiking solo. I've never really hiked with a group larger than 6.

    But all my hikes have only been day hikes so far though! Once the rainy season passes here in Japan, I'll attempt my first true overnight hike.

    Need to get my pack weight way down though.

  6. Hey Philip! glad to hear your last trainign trip went well! We will be out doing this same section SOBO pretty soon ourselves!

    good luck with the rest of the LT!

  7. Hey Christy. I've been meaning to touch base with you both. My plans have changed a bit. Instead of hiking SOBO on the LT after the first two sections, I've decided to hike NOBO and keep all of the sections in sequence. It's easier to figure out the solo shuttles if they are contiguous. I've been doing much higher mileage than originally expected and expect to finish al of the AT miles north of Rt 9 on my next trip and start hiking LT miles only.

  8. Earlylite – I'm just blown away by those water photos of this hike in Vermont! I would not have imagined! By the way, I'm impressed by your site and am grateful you've "found" me and added me to your blogroll!

  9. Gambolin – Vermont is amazing: it is truly a rainforest and the rivers come alive when it rains. It's really special. I've done some Class 3/4 whitewater kayaking up here in the past, but I had no idea either, just how good the rivers are up there. Thanks for the feedback on my blog – I am really enjoying the writing process and learning a lot from other outdoor bloggers. I'm not sure how I found your site, but I really like the way you describe scenery and nature action. The way you write really makes me feel like I'm seeing what you're seeing, and I like your photos too. The one with the tree with knots that look like eyes is way cool. Cheers – Philip

  10. Nice to read your reports, they illicit a lot of nostalgia for me. I hiked the Long Trail in 1971 and had to end about 23 miles short of an end to end because of the weather. Our entire hike was plagued by Hurricane Doria and I remember the Mt. Mansfield crossing was at the peak with 70 mph winds. The constant rain for those two weeks ruined (rotted) the boots on our feet along with some serious issues with trench foot. Very tough at the time but the memories now are very cherished indeed by all who were there and although we all finished that last section none of us ever got or applied for the "end to end" they used to give out, I think we simply accept that we got beaten.

  11. It's not an easy trail and just gets harder and harder as go you north. I was amazed to see other hikers slog day after day through the rain on thru-hikes. I'm not sure I could do the same.

  12. Is there a reason you went north to south instead of south to north

  13. Nice summary Phil. Jane and I will be doing a VLT thru-hike in June/July, so your comments on mud are pertinent. I recall when I did my AT thru-hike that the Vermont mud was the worst I had seen on the whole AT. We’re planning on leaving our vehicle up at a friends in the VT Northeast Kingdom. We still have to figure out how to get from up there to the North Adams, MA area.

    Looking forward to being out in the wilderness again! Oh, and congrats on the Moose sighting, always a thrill.

    Dennis, “K1”

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