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Mud, Glorious Vermont Mud

Vermont’s Long Trail is famous for it’s mud. In fact, the mud is so bad in the spring from snow melt, that the Green Mountain Club asks hikers to stay off the Long Trail until Memorial Day each year to reduce erosion on the trail. However, despite this temporary respite, the mud continues to persist up until early November, when the Long Trail’s frequent rains turn back to wintertime ice and snow.

Having completed the Long Trail, I have become a student of mud, learning how to classify it, photograph it and unavoidably, wear it. It sticks to you.

Dry Sucking Mud, Long Trail, Vermont

Photo 1: Oatmeal Sucking Mud

To begin, there are three main families of mud: sucking mud, slick mud, and mystery mud.

Sucking mud grabs you when you step in it, and the energy required to escape it, is directly proportional to it’s level of saturation. For example, oatmeal mud (Photo 1) has the consistency of firm Irish Oatmeal. When you step in it, your foot will sink in about an inch but it is easy to pull it out and your boot is unlikely to even get wet.

 

Photo 2: Runny Eggs Sucking Mud

In contrast, runny eggs mud (Photo 2) is much more grabby than oatmeal mud. When you step in it, your boot will sink into it deeply, and when you pull it out, your boot print is likely to quickly fill with water.

 Photo 3: Molasses Sucking Mud

Finally, there is a third variant of sucking mud, called molasses mud, which is also highly saturated but less wet than runny eggs. This variety is closely related to the Tarzan quicksand that you saw in movies growing up. It will grab your boot when you step in it and hold on to you tighter, the longer you stay in it.

 

Photo 4: Cake Frosting Mud

The second major type of mud is slick mud. It adheres to surfaces and makes them very slippery, but does not grab your shoes or boots like sucking mud. Cake Frosting mud is a common form of slick mud that is typically found on downhill grades, often hidden under wet leaves. When you step on cake frosting and have a little downward momentum, the chances are good that you are going to land on a hip or your sleeping bag. Nasty stuff.

Photo 5: Mystery Mud, Bath tub size

The third and last variety of mud found on the Long Trail is mystery mud. Mystery mud is completely submerged and there’s no way you can tell how easy it will be to escape until it’s too late. Mystery mud comes in a variety of common sizes, the most frequent shown here. The bath tub size is often easily avoided by stepping around it’s periphery or through it, if there are rocks that you can step onto to get to the other side.

 Photo 6: Mystery Mud, Swim Lane Size

However, swim lane mud is much more difficult to avoid, particularly if it completely submerges the trail for a significant distance. When you encounter mud like this, you can use your hiking poles to locate submerged rocks or branches that you can step on to reduce the likelihood of complete submersion, but one wrong step and wammo, wet boots.

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8 comments

  1. This has to be one of the most in-depth examinations of trail mud I have ever read – a topic any Long Trail hiker is intimately familiar with. Last July, between Journeys End and Jay, we encountered a hole filled with sucking mud that was at least sixteen inches deep. Fortunately, that was found with a hiking pool and not a boot.

  2. Mud is surprisingly difficult to photograph, otherwise I would have published this sooner. My hiking buddy Garp, who I met on the LT section 2, helped me with the mud classification. In order to keep the types of mud respectable for online publication we decided to use the viscosities of different foods to describe the different types of mud.

  3. Where is Long Trail?

    I can't seem to find it in Google Maps.

  4. That's because Google Maps sucks. "The Long Trail" runs the length of Vermont from the VT/MA border to Canada, a distance of 270 miles. It is maintained by the Green Mountain Club.

  5. One more in Vermont: I call it diarreah-brownish-green, stinky, and deep. Only a few places on the Noethern end. Be careful!

  6. I'm glad to see that you survived the Long Trail! I bet you'll remember that hike for years to come. What was it like after Irene? Ryan was bummed he couldn't go this year.

  7. To see what post-Irene was like on the Long Trail go to my blog at http://tjamrog.wordpress.com/2011/09/05/day-25-lo

  8. So I find mention of the Long Trail all over the place, as being rainy. The one time I went (and the first time I ever hiked any trail for more than a day) … rain!. To make matters worst, I was not well educated on anything and ill-equipped. I was wearing cotton from top to bottom. 30 minutes after leaving the shelter, I was sweating my life underneath my absolutely non-breathable rain-jacket and my heavy cotton pants were soaked and weighed like what seemed to be 100 lbs! All that being said, it was a fun and humbling experience. But now my question is : just how much freakin’ rain comes down on that trail!? :) Are the weather patterns “predictable”?

    SInce then, the cotton has been replaced by more suitable, lighter fabrics ;)

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