I section-hiked Vermont’s 272 mile Long Trail in 2008. It was a transformative experience and turned me into a backpacker. This is my complete 10,000 word trail journal.
My Long Trail Journal below is listed from south to north, not chronologically. As a section hiker, I hoped around and hiked some sections north, and some sections south. It just worked out that way.
Long Trail End-to-End Trail Journal Summary (South to North)
- Long Trail Southern Terminus to Rt 9. Northbound: October 11-12, 2008. Solo.
- Rt 9 to Rt 11/30. Northbound: May 23-26, 2008, NY/NJ AMC Trip.
- Clarendon Gorge to Rt. 11/30. Southbound, June 6-7, 2008, Solo.
- Clarendon Gorge to Middlebury Gap: Northbound, June 26-29, 2008, Solo.
- Middlebury Gap to Appalachian Gap: Northbound, July 18-20, 2008, Solo.
- Jonesville to Appalachian Gap: Southbound, August 1-2, 2008, Solo.
- Jonesville to Johnson, Northbound, August 22-24, 2008, Solo.
- Journey’s End to Johnson: Southbound: September 11-14, 2008, Solo.
- Long Trail Terminus to Rt 9. Northbound: October 11, 2008-October 13,2008
Long Trail Southern Terminus to Rt 9. Northbound: October 11-12, 2008.
- 10/11/08: Mt. Greylock to Seth Warner Lean-to: (14.5 miles)
The walk from Eph’s Lookout to the state line and Seth Warner is a flat ridge. Along the way, I passed the Long Trail terminus sign at the border. Funny, as soon as I started hiking in Vermont, I began to encounter mud on the trail. It wasn’t that bad at this time of year, but I can easily imagine it being a lot worse in late spring. I continued on, making it to Seth Warner by about 4:30 pm where I pitched camp, had a big dinner, and crashed early.
- 10/12/08: Seth Warner Lean-to to Rt. 9, VT: (11.5 miles)
I broke camp by 8:00 am and was on my way. My destination for the day was the Rt. 9 trail head, where my car was parked. The biggest ascent of the day was about 750 feet up to a power line just north of the Lean-to. I hiked up that and descended to Roaring Branch.
The trail continued past a beaver pond with a large beaver lodge and up Consultation Peak, a small hill, where the early builders of the Long Trail would meet to plan trail construction and maintenance work. The grade up Consultation was so slight that I only realized that I had climbed it after I was much further down the trail.
From Consultation peak, the trail descends slowly to Congdon Shelter, another Lean-to situated on Stamford Stream, a significant watercourse. On the way, the trail passes Sucker Pond, another impressive beaver pond, and a partially submerged boardwalk parallels the wall of the beaver damn itself. This doesn’t seem like a good idea: I’ve heard stories of hikers being drowned when other beaver damns have given way and killed people down slope. Still it was neat to see the damn wall from arm’s length.
When I arrived at Congdan shelter it was about 12:30 pm and I had been making good time. I stopped and had lunch with two backpackers from Cleveland, Ohio who were doing a 7 day section hike up to Mad Tom Notch, just past Bromley Mountain. They were justifiably reveling in the fine weather.
I finished my lunch before them and took off, eager to get to Rt. 9 and drive the 3 hours back to Boston before dark. From the shelter, I had a short 400 ft. ascent on the way to Harmon Hill, a popular viewpoint frequented by locals from the Bennington, VT area. The transition from the AT/LT to the park-like old growth there was a little unnerving after roughing it for 3 days, and I started seeing lots of day hikers again.
From the summit I had to decend about 1,000 ft., 600 of which were knee grinding stone steps set into the hill face by some dedicated set of trail maintainers After finishing this decent, with my quads burning, I came to the most dangerous part of my trip, crossing Rt.9 to my car, parked at the trail head parking lot. I kid you not. Rt. 9 is an exceptionally scenic road, but people like to race their Harley’s and BMW’s on it, so take care when you cross the four lanes of traffic here.
Rt 9 to Rt 11/30: Northbound: May 23-May 26, 2008
- 5/23/08: Park at Rt. 9 trail head to Melville Nauheim shelter, (1.6 miles).
- 5/24/08: Melville Nauheim, over Glastenbury Mt. to Kid Gore shelter, (12.7 miles).
- 5/25/08: Kid Gore over Stratton Mt to Stratton Pond shelter, (15.4 miles).
- 5/26/08: Stratton Pond to Rt. 11/30, (10.4 miles).
There was very little mud on the trail but the black flies were out and they were biting, particularly at dinnertime. Last night, we all sat in the shelter eating dinner and wearing bug nets because they were so thick. But once the sun went down and the temperature dropped into the 50’s, the bugs vanished for the night. I was sleeping in a hammock on this trip with built-in no-seeum netting, but a few hikers in my party were sleeping in the shelters without bug protection.
DEET did not appear to have any deterrent effect against the black flies even though I was wearing Ben’s 100%. However, the permethrin I sprayed on my clothes last week did keep them from landing my shirt and pants, and my new Buzz-Off French Foreign Legion style hat with side and back drapes worked very well at keeping them off my ears and neck. This hat is a real fashion statement!
We hiked over 2 major peaks in this section: Glastenbury (3,748 ft.) and Stratton (3,936 ft.). Both have fire towers on top and we were treated to spectacular fifty mile views in the clear weather. Both summits were tough climbs, but Stratton was the harder of the two because we had to hike 9 miles to the base of the mountain, before hiking another 6 miles to summit and descend. I was so tired by the time I got into camp last night, that I had a cold dinner and went to bed before sundown. We were all zonked.
We saw some great beaver dams this trip. These animals are the most amazing civil engineers. The damn, near Story Spring Shelter, traps the water from several mountain streams creating a huge pond. The damn itself was about 4 ft high and at least 100 yards long.
Even though it is late May in Southern Vermont, the foliage is still not fully out. Many trees are still just budding and a lot of the surrounding peaks are still a slivery grey capped by evergreen trees with patches of snow still remaining. The forest contains silver beech, white birch and hemlock with lots of jewel weed, common in damp climates, which was flowering this weekend. Fiddle head ferns were everywhere, a goldmine for some enterprising shelter gourmet.
After hiking this section, I have started to re-evaluate my strategy for section hiking the rest of the Long Trail. Despite the Long Trail’s rainy reputation, water availability can be poor in stretches and there were times when we had to carry extra water. So, while I am still planning to do the same mileage in a few weeks, I am going to work out a water plan in advance instead of winging it. I think I am also going to drop my stove on the next section and bring heavier, less boring food instead.
I’m really getting sick of dehydrated food. Bring me a cheese.
Clarendon Gorge to Rt. 11/30, Southbound, June 6-7, 2008
- 6/6/08: Rt 103/ Clarendon Gorge to Little Rock Pond tent site (12.6 miles)
After being dropped off by my shuttle, 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.
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. The poodle is holding a brown star. After my business, I sat in the shelter 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.
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. 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
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. I was the only person there and camped alone on this little lake.
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.
- 6/7/08: Little Rock Pond to Rt 11/30 (19.5 miles)
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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. 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.
Clarendon Gorge to Middlebury Gap, Northbound, June 26-29, 2008
- 6/26/08: Clarendon Gorge to Coopers Lodge, Killington Peak (11.3 miles).
By 8:45 am, I was at the trail head. I crossed Rt 103, walked through a small meadow of wildflowers and started climbing a steep talus slope, just as it started to rain. Within a few minutes a young guy caught up to me and we started to chat. His name was Garp and he was thru-hiking the Long Trail. Garp and I hit it off immediately and we spent the next 15 miles loosely hiking together.
People always seem amazed that I hike solo. But the fact of the matter is that you are rarely alone completely. Within any given section of trail there is always a loosely-coupled stream of hikers keeping pace with you that provides companionship, conversation, and advice. You can be as alone as you want to be, but solo backpacking is often more social that it might seem.
Garp’s plan was to hike for another day, summit Killington Peak, and then take a zero day at the Inn on the Long Trail off US 4. We hiked together until the Governor Clement Shelter at the base of Killington and ate a late lunch. By then our clothes had completely dried out from the previous rainfall. We were joined shortly by Sally and Taylor, a mother and son, who were also thru-hiking the Long Trail.
The climb from Governor Clement up to Killington Peak is a killer with 2,000 feet of ascent over a 3 mile distance. The trail, which runs along the north side of the mountain, is narrow and choked with tree roots and blow downs. It’s an eerie, colorless grey path that was made stranger by dense mist which got thicker as I ascended to the summit.
After finishing the 3 mile ascent in 2 hours, I was pretty tired, so I filtered some water from a small spring and had two Chorizo sausages and some bread for dinner. Refreshed, I covered the remaining mile to Cooper Lodge on the summit. For some reason, the quadriceps muscle in my left leg had started to hurt pretty bad, so I decided to call it a day and pitch my tent for the evening. Unfortunately, Killington was socked in with dense fog, so there were no stars to see that evening. At about 7pm, Sally and Taylor made it to the top and decided to sleep in the summit shelter which turned out to be a cold damp experience due to the fog
- 6/27/08: Coopers Lodge to Rolston Rest Shelter, (11.2 miles.)
I slept in to about 7am the next morning and broke camp by 8am. As I was filtering water near the shelter, Garp snuck up on me and surprised me. He had left Governor Clement at 5:30am to summit Killington, and we set off together again for the hike to Pico Camp and then to US 4 through thick fog. I really liked having Garp as a hiking partner because he understood that I was willing to hike together with him for a while, but that I also wanted periods where I could hike completely alone.
Conversation takes attention away from the now and being present with all of the sensations of hiking, so it’s not something I want all the time.
When we reached US 4, Garp and I said our goodbyes again as he headed to the Inn for his zero day. I continued on toward the Maine Gap and the Tucker Johnson Shelter where I had decided to stop for lunch.
After crossing the road, the trail got a little swampy and buggy, so I beat feet for the next half mile and entered a beautiful forest whose tress towered over a sea of ferns and jewelweed. I quickly came to Maine Junction in Willard Gap, the point at which the Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail split: the AT heads east to New Hampshire and Maine and the Long Trail continues north to the Canadian Border north of Jay Peak. I stopped in the woods past Tucker Johnson shelter for a quiet lunch in the woods.
After lunch, I started the 4 mile leg to Rolston Shelter where I hoped to camp for the night. When I was about half way there, a huge lightning storm started flashing away overhead, thundering so frequently that it sounded like microwave popcorn. Then it started to rain in buckets, drenching me to the core. It was hopeless. The trail became extremely wet and muddy as I hurried for the next shelter, about 2 miles away.
After 45 minutes, I crossed a stream and could immediately see the bright green metal roof of the Rolston Rest Shelter. I climbed up some logs and dropped all of my wet gear in a heap on the shelter floor, stripping off my clothes and putting on my rain shells to warm up. The rain continued to cascade heavily in front of the shelter and I decided that there was simply no way that I was going to bother pitching a tent that night. I knew that Sally and Taylor were behind me and hoped that they would be able to make it before nightfall. They arrived a few hours later after the rain lightened up.
Sally and Taylor are a mother and her 16 year old son who live in Northern Vermont. Their plan was to hike 21 days from the Massachusetts border to Jay Peak, take a break, and then finish the Long Trail later in the summer. I was impressed at how well they got along and appreciated their company. They were both fun to talk to and were comfortable with conversation as well as silence. I was glad for their company because this was going to be my first time sleeping in a shelter. For years, I’d always maintained my independence and privacy in a tent and was nervous about whether I would get a good night’s sleep. We were all asleep before 7:30pm that night from exhaustion and in preparation for the long 13+ mile hike to Sunrise Shelter the next day.
- 6/28/08: Rolston Rest Shelter to Sunrise Shelter, (13.7 miles).
I got an early start the following morning but I had no idea just how hard and long the hike would actually be. It sure felt a lot longer than 13 miles. The lack of blazing in this area was also an issue: it is virtually non-existent and the area itself is pretty remote.
The next 8 miles or so to Bloodroot Mountain, named for the red roots of the evergreen trees in the area, were hard hiking, with lots of mud from the previous day’s rain. By now my boots and socks were hopelessly soaked through and felt as heavy as cinder blocks as I sloshed through the puddles and mud on the trail. After passing Farr Peak, the hiking became much easier and I picked up speed as I got closer to Sunrise Shelter.
But then it started to rain again, even harder than the day before. Since it was later in the day, I put on my rain shell to prevent myself from getting chilled. When I arrived at the sign for the shelter, it wasn’t clear where it was or how to get to it, so I hiked up a stream behind the shelter sign that was gushing with water. This turned out to be the shelter trail! What a laugh.
The rain was coming down so hard that a stream of water was flowing under the shelter itself. I took off my boots and socks to look at my feet and they were absolutely white and wrinkled like prunes. There were a few spots that had been rubbed raw on the tops of my toes but I didn’t have any blisters. In about 30 minutes they dried out and hardened back up again.
Unlike Rolston Shelter, Sunrise is a much older structure and in much poorer condition But it was dry, so once again I shed my wet gear and waited for Sally and Taylor to make their appearance. They followed a few hours after me and we called it an early evening.
- 6/29/08: Sunrise Shelter to Middlebury Gap: 10.8 miles.
When I woke the next morning, it was still raining heavily. This was the last day of my 4 day trip and I needed to hike about 11 miles to the Rt 125 trail head before 2:45pm to catch a local bus that would take me back to the B&B where I had parked my car. I packed up my gear, but Sally and Taylor were clearly thinking about staying in the shelter all day and taking a zero to avoid yet another day of rain.
I ate two probars, said my goodbyes, and took off by 7am. The rain stopped about 30 minutes later and the mist that had enveloped us for the past 3 days began to lift. I covered the mile to Brandon Gap quickly, crossed Rt 73, and began ascending the Great Cliffs of Mt. Horrid, known for its peregrine falcon nesting refuge.
Although the rain had stopped, the trail was covered with water streaming down the mountain. Hiking conditions were very slippery and muddy as I climbed the first of the 5 peaks that I would have to summit that day. When I got to the top of Horrid, I found that the worst mud was on the top of the mountain with puddles that were 20 feet long and 10 feed wide. I continued pushing on oblivious to the mud until I came to Romance Gap and the sun began to break through the clouds.
As soon as the sun came out, my rain pants were covered with dozens of black flies. Despite the heat, I wore my rain pants and jacket from Romance Gap to the Rt 125 trail head to avoid being eaten alive. By noon, I summited my final peak, Worth Mountain, and emerged at the clear-cut top of the Middlebury Snow Bowl, a ski resort associated with Middlebury College.
I finally got some views to the north as I descended the trail which meandered down ski slopes and through the woods. I can’t really explain how huge an impact a ski resort has on the trail or the surrounding vegetation, but people should be outraged. The woods and ground suddenly seemed unnatural and man-made with completely different contours. I had had the same experience hiking on Bromley Mountain on my last section hike. I’m not a downhill skier, so I guess I have little sympathy for the ski industry.
I passed some day hikers hiking up from Rt 125 on my way to Middlebury Gap who were out geocaching and made it to the trail head at about 1:45pm with plenty of time before my bus was scheduled to arrive. The problem was that it never showed up. I tired hitching for an hour but no one would pick me up. But as luck would have it, the geocaching couple I had passed earlier offered me a ride to my car when they came out of the woods and I got back to the Boston area before sunset.
After this section, I have to say that I really have a lot of respect for the Long Trail thru-hikers I met. They kept going day after day in very difficult, wet conditions. I also have become a convert to shelter-based camping and plan to adjust my gear a little to incorporate more shelter stays into future section hikes.
Middlebury Gap to Appalachian Gap, Northbound, July 18-20,2008
- 6/18/08: Middlebury Gap to Emily Proctor Shelter: (6.7 miles).
I normally drive up to Vermont the night before I do a section hike, but this time I drove up on the first day of my hike because I simply ran out of time the day before. I was met by Thomas from TheMadCab promptly at 10am and I was on the trail at Middlebury Gap by 10:45. This is a pretty late start by my standards, but I hadn’t had much sleep in the previous days, so I wanted to have an easy day one and get to a shelter far enough from the road where I could get a good night’s sleep. I had set my sights on the Emily Proctor shelter, which is located just below the summit of Bread Loaf Mt. (3,835 ft).
I hiked for about two hours, climbing Burnt Hill (3,080 ft.) and Kirby Peak (3,140 ft.) and took a break at Boyce Shelter, about 3 miles from the road. This is a pretty old beat up shelter, but it’s in a nice meadow. I had a snack and hiked another two miles to Skyline Lodge climbing Mt Boyce (3,323 ft) and Battell Mt. (3,482 ft). It was thundering up to the north so I sat on the shelter porch and had a snack hoping to kill some time and let the storm pass. On hindsight that was probably a bad decision.
I continued on and summited Bread Loaf Mountain (3,835 ft) and then started to descend the north face to the Emily Proctor Shelter 0.6 miles away. On the way down, I couldn’t help but think that I had made it through an entire day on the Long Trail with a dry pair of boot and dry socks! I made it about half way to the shelter before it started to drizzle, so I picked up my pace. Then the woods around me got very dark even though it was just past 3 pm. Then the rain started coming down in a torrent, despite the fact that I had plenty of tree cover above me. The thunder got much closer and much louder and the trail immediately filled with water, soaking my boots and socks. Hiking downhill with the trail awash in water quickly became treacherous.
I started to beat feet for the shelter, but there were suddenly a lot of lighting flashes all around me. I dropped to the ground and assumed the lightning position, squatting on a rock that was on a rock, out of the water that was cascading down the trail. I collapsed my hiking poles and scrunched down into a yoga child’s pose, huddling next to a dead tree and praying that the lightning would pass quickly, when it started to hail. Luckily the hail stones were only the size of peas.
About 15 minutes later, the storm blew past me and I hiked the remaining quarter mile to the shelter. I stripped off all of my wet clothes, changed into my sleeping set and had some dinner. I set up the rest of my gear for the night, hung my bear bag and crashed by about 7pm. I had the shelter all to myself that night.
- 6/19/08: Emily Proctor Shelter to Battelle Shelter: (12.1 miles).
I woke up at 5:30am and broke camp by 7am. My destination today was Battell Shelter about two-thirds of the way up Mt. Abraham (4,006 ft) from Lincoln Gap. Today’s hike would be a series of summits, one after another, all named after former presidents. The weather was hot and humid and it was still thundering out, so my strategy was to get past the exposed peaks as early in the day as possible before the sun had a chance to heat up the air. I was not looking forward to another encounter with lightning on a treeless summit.
The trail was very wet and my socks and boots were quickly saturated. My first scheduled rest stop was Cooley Glen shelter about 5 miles north. On the way I climbed Mt. Wilson (3,745 ft), Mt. Roosevelt (3,528 ft), and Mt Cleveland (3,842 ft). Just after Roosevelt, there is a viewpoint called Killington View that looks south over the series of peaks that I had climbed since Killington Peak. I could only make out the silhouettes of a few of the sixteen mountains I had summited since then due to the heavy mist. This must be a glorious view on a clear day.
On the way to Cooley Glen shelter, I stopped off at the Cooley Glen spring. The spring was very low but I managed to pump out 3 liters of water with my First Need. I hiked up to Cooley Glen, ate some lunch and set out for Lincoln Gap, just short of 5 miles north. Then it started to rain. I climbed Mt. Grant (3623 ft) and continued on to Sunset Ledge, a bald viewpoint about one mile south of Lincoln Gap.
The section of the Long Trail that I’d been hiking since Middlebury Gap is called the Bread Loaf Wilderness and there is a chronic lack of trail blazes in it that can become unnerving, particularly when it’s raining, you are tired and the day is waning. Somehow I managed to find my way through the maze of rock boulders and granite at Sunset Ledge and find the trail down to Lincoln Gap which was horribly steep, rocky and wet. In situations like this, I can’t stop thinking that the Long Trail trip is a test of my survival skills and not just a long distance hike.
When I emerged from the woods at Lincoln Gap, I was amazed to see about two dozen cars parked along the side of the road. It turns out that Mt Abraham, the next summit, is a popular weekend favorite with the locals, even when it is raining. I stopped in the parking lot, took off my boots and wrung out my socks before starting my next ascent up to Batelle Shelter, 1.8 miles north. When I finally made it to the shelter, I decided I had had enough for the day even though it was only 3:45 pm. I considered trying to make the next shelter, about 6.4 miles north, but it runs along exposed ridge and I was still concerned about lightning. I dried off, took care of my housekeeping, and fell asleep early again around 7pm. I was alone in a shelter for a second evening.
- 6/20/08: Battelle Shelter to Appalachian Gap: 10.5 miles
I woke up at 5:40 and broke camp an hour later. As I climbed Mt. Abraham, it started to drizzle making the ascent to the bald summit very slippery. I summited about 40 minutes later in a white out and couldn’t find where the Long Trail continued north from the summit. I eventually found an unmarked opening in the woods and decided to follow it. Eventually I saw a blaze and knew I was on the right path. I continued, past Little Abe (3,900 ft), Lincoln Peak (3,975 ft), Nancy Hanks Peak (3,812 ft.), and Cutts Peak, (4,022 ft.) to Mt Ellen (4,083 ft), the rain intensifying as I walked.
The section north of Mt Abraham to Mt Ellen is a nearly flat ridge walk that is exposed to the weather. The elevation dips between mountain peaks are only several hundred feet, making it easy to bag a lot of peaks in one day. The trail on top of the ridge was very wet. We’re talking beyond mud here. I was constantly dodging huge puddles the size of motel swimming pools or hopping from rock to rock through them. I couldn’t help but think that the really big flattish rocks in the puddles looked like crocodile heads.
I made it to Mt Ellen by 10am and took a break to ring out my socks and change into my rain pants. The temperature was in the low 60’s on the ridge and I had been feeling a little cold the past hour since my pants were so wet. I ate a hot sausage and some bread to get my core temperature fired up and decided to hike out to Appalachian Gap without taking a break at the next shelter, Glen Ellen Lodge.
The 6 mile section from Mt Ellen to Appalachian Gap has to be the hardest hiking I’ve done on the Long Trail so far. It has some very steep descents, including ladders, that would be difficult if it wasn’t also pouring rain. There were numerous instances where getting down a high consequence rock slab required creative footwork, root hand holds, and the occasional butt sliding.
In addition, I had to cross through two more ski areas. I really dread these sections of trail because they are often very poorly blazed. You come out of the forest into a field of weeds and the trail disappears. From there you need to guess whether to walk across the slope, up hill, or downhill, to find where the trail starts up again. It’s never obvious and the Long Trail Map never helps.
Once past the ski slopes, the final 1.8 miles of this section continued to be tough and for much of its length I was walking down a stream where the trail was. This eventually flattened out and I now found myself ascending again up to the level of the Appalachian Gap. Astonishingly, I saw no one on this entire 10 mile section until I was within 100 yards of the road, when I came across 4 hikers out in ponchos and tennis shoes. I finally emerged onto Rt 17 at about 1:30pm, directly across the road from my car, covering this 10 mile stretch in about 7 hours.
Jonesville to Appalachian Gap, Southbound: August 1-2, 2008
- 8/1/08: Jonesville to Montclair Glen Shelter: (11 miles)
I started this section at the Jonesville Post Office off Rt. 2 at the southern base of Mt Mansfield. From here, it was a 3.2 mile walk down Duxbury Road which runs parallel to the Winsooki River at an elevation of 326 ft, the lowest point of the Long Trail. From here, the ascent to Camels Hump requires a 3,700 foot climb over a distance of 6.3 miles.
The ascent from Duxbury Road gets steep immediately, but at least you’re still walking on dirt and mud where the footing is fairly good. This lasts up to the junction with Bamforth Ridge Shelter, at the base of Bamforth Ridge. From here to the summit, the trail is more of a rock scramble than a hike and I found myself using a lot of rock climbing moves to make headway. After the ridge, there is a steep one mile ascent to the summit of Camel’s Hump. On this stretch the rocks are extremely slick with water running over them, but I figured, I’d rather climb up here than down. I huffed and puffed my way up this part, and snapped a hiking pole, breaking a fall.
Although the weather was warm, the wind was really whipping on top of the summit, so I put on my rain shell to stay warm since I was soaking wet with sweat. I was still concerned about the weather so I didn’t linger on Camel’s Hump and started my descent. From the summit, the trail drops steeply as it winds down to tree line and I found myself hugging the talus on the mountain’s edge to avoid falling down some big drops. Scary staff, but perfectly safe if it’s not raining and you keep your cool.
By the time I made it to Montclair at 5:45 pm, I was exhausted. I clumped into the shelter (with dry boots!) and had a big meal of Gouda cheese and bread to elevate my brain function before filtering water and setting out my gear for the night. Montclair is a cozy cabin, obviously the worse for wear, that is scheduled to be rebuilt this month by the Green Mountain Club. It has a caretaker this summer named Geoff who maintains the composting privy, educates hikers, collects the $5 fee for staying the night. We chatted over breakfast the next morning as he read through the comments left by hikers in the shelter log. Someone had stolen his rain jacket, which he had left to dry in the shelter, and he was justifiably bummed out. I have an extra that I plan on sending to him if I can find a way to get him resupplied through the GMC.
- 8/2/08: Montclair Glen Shelter to Appalachian Gap: (10.8 miles)
I broke camp by 7:15am the next morning and started climbing the one mile/1,000 ft. ascent to Mt. Etan Allen (3,688 ft). The sky was blue and I was encouraged by the fact that I might have good weather the rest of the day. There was a good view from the summit back to Camel’s Hump and of the mountains to the south all the way to Appalachian Gap.
I continued hiking south, summiting Mt. Ira Allen (3,506 ft) and Burnt Rock Mountain (3,168 ft) when it became clear that the weather was changing for the worse again. The sky had become overcast and darker as I crossed the extended bare summit of Burnt Mountain before dipping again below tree line. I met another group of northbound hikers who planned on summiting Camel’s Hump that day: I hope they made it to a shelter before the thunderstorms hit at 5pm.This group told me that the next 3 miles of trail were actually trail (as in dirt) instead of the rocky, wet scramble I’d been hiking since Bamforth Ridge. What they didn’t tell me was that the trail was submerged, quite literally.
It rained along the way for about 30 minutes, but not enough to soak my pants so I only put on my rain jacket. However, it was clear that weather conditions were deteriorating and I could hear high altitude thunder booming away off to the north. I had a logan bar snack at Birch Glen and then decided to go for it and try to get over two more mountains, Molly Stark Mountain (2,967 ft) and Baby Stark Mountain (2,863 ft) before the storm hit.
The climbs over Molly Stark and Baby Stark were tough. The trail up to Molly Stark ascended 900 ft in 1.3 miles, but was far easier than the climb up Baby Stark, which was a near vertical climb up boulders, rock face and tree roots. I sighed a sense of relief when I got over these two summits and started the decent to my car at Appalachian Gap which plummets about 500 ft. in 0.4 miles.
Jonesville to Johnston, Northbound, August 22-24, 2008.
- 8/22/08: Jonesville to Taylor Lodge: (14.9 miles)
I started my hike at 7:45 am on Friday morning at the Jonesville, Post Office on Rt. 2, at the foot of Camel’s Hump, the previous northernmost point of my LT hike. From there, I walked up Stage Road to the trail head and made my way through mud and waist high shrubs, under some power lines, to a gently rolling forest path. I made it to Duck Pond Shelter in an hour, but could still hear traffic noise from Interstate 89 and was glad I hadn’t spent the previous night there.
Hiking on, I startled a flock of rock hens that must have been nesting close by the trail. Most of them flew off in panic except one which actually charged me, hissing as it ran towards me! I raised my holes in a defensive posture ready to fight off an attack, but the bird streaked across the trail about 3 yards in front of me. I read about this same kind of territorial display in the trail register at the Minerva Hinckley shelter a few months ago, but it amazing and a bit amusing to experience it first hand.
After crossing a series of roads, all well blazed, I came to the spur to Buchanan Shelter and had a bite to eat. I’d covered 7.3 miles in 4 hours, and told myself to relax and take a break. The hiking had been easy up to this point but that was about to change with my ascent of Bolton Mountain.
Bolton Mountain is overshadowed by its more famous neighbors Camel’s Hump and Mount Mansfield, but in certain respects it is just as hard a climb when you consider that it’s a 3,500 ft ascent from Jonesville, the lowest elevation on The Long Trail. But what makes Bolton so difficult are the false summits: just when you think you’ve reached the top and start to descend, you start climbing again. This happens over and over again, enough to discourage even the toughest suffer-freak.
After the Bolton summit, I descended to the Puffer Shelter at 3,200 ft. Originally built in 1954 and refurbished in 1975, Puffer is a basic lean-to, but with a fantastic view of Mount Mansfield in the distance (above). When I reached Puffer it was still pretty early in the afternoon, so I decided to try and make it to Taylor Lodge, about 3.4 miles north before sunset. This turned out to be harder than expected and it took me just under 4 hours to hike over Mount Mayo (3,159 ft) and skirt Mount Clark (2,979) descending steeply over wet ledge and down wooden ladders. When I finally arrived at Taylor Lodge, I was so exhausted that I literally staggered onto the shelter porch and it took me about 10 minutes before I could coherently converse with the other hikers staying there for the night
- 8/23/08: Taylor Lodge to Sterling Pond: (11.9 miles)
I was on the trail by 7:35 am. My goals for the day were to summit Mount Mansfield, descend Smuggler’s Notch, and then climb Elephant’s Head Trail to Sterling Pond Shelter for the evening. This would require a 3,000 foot ascent up Mansfield, a 3,000 foot descent to Smuggler’s Notch and a 2,000 foot ascent back up to Sterling Lake.
My first stop was Mount Mansfield, the highest peak in Vermont. It has several sub-peaks know as the Forehead (3,940 ft.), the Nose (4,062 ft.), and the Chin (4,393 ft.), purportedly named by Native Americans who thought the ridge line resembled a human face. Mansfield is a very exposed naked summit with precipitous, ladders assisted ascents and descents: not something you want to do in the rain or in a thunderstorm. I dreaded that possibility so much that I factored an extra day into my trip plan in case I needed to sit out a day in a shelter.
I made good time after leaving Taylor Lodge, and made it to Butler Lodge, a steep ascent of 1,250 ft. in just two hours. After a snack, I started the climb to the Mansfield Forehead which requires good rock scrambling skills. From here the ascent to the Forehead summit is about 850 ft in just under a mile.
Looking south from the Forehead, I had great view of all the peaks I’ve climbed since Appalachian Gap, some 50 miles south (below.) I’m always awestruck by the fact that I’ve covered this distance by foot. It’s incredible how a lot of individual footsteps can add up to something so grand.
Summiting the Chin was a certainly a highlight, but descending down its north face was far more exciting and less crowded. I was running low on water, so I stopped at Taft Lodge (3,600 ft.) and had a long lunch around 12 noon. I took my boots off, sat in a rocking chair on the porch and enjoyed the view.
After lunch, I continued the descent to Smuggler’s Notch, tookin the awesome view, crossed Rt 108, and started climbing up Spruce Peak on the Elephant Head Trail. This is a far harder climb than Mansfield and reminded me of the climb up Mount Killington. The trail is blasted out of rock on the side of a mountain and snakes up and down on narrow root congested ledges. It took me about 4 hours to hike the 3.5 miles up to Sterling Pond, the site of an incredibly beautiful shelter and trail section managed by a GMC caretaker named Cody Michaels.
Cody is a big hearted guy with a huge amount of backcountry experience. We had the shelter to ourselves that night and like so many of people I’ve met at Long Trail Shelters, Cody understood the balance between socializing and privacy that shelter visitors require even though they’re stuck in the same room together. My food was running low, because like an idiot, I left two wheels of cheese in my car, and unbidden he offered to share his dinner of curried seitan and couscous with me. It feels good when someone passes some of that Trail Magic your way.
- 8/24/08: Sterling Pond to Johnston, (12.0 miles)
It was cool when I woke at 5:15 am. A strong wind was blowing through the trees as I dozed, a sign of a cold front blowing in that threatened rain later in the day. Given my food situation, I hoped to complete the last 12 miles of my hike and get to my car by mid-afternoon or evening. The weather was also a concern because I had to hike over Whiteface Mountain, a peak that is notorious for its treacherous and often wet rock slabs. Hiking over this peak in the rain was something I wanted to avoid; I have friends who’ve done it and it scared the heck out of them.
I broke camp around 7:30 am and headed towards Madonna Peak, which like so many other mountains in Vermont, has been butchered by ski runs that disrupt the natural vegetation and cause destructive erosion. However, there were some challenging pitches and very pretty scenery in between the ski runs making this a rewarding and picturesque climb.
After Madonna Peak, I hiked along the eastern slope of Morse Mountain to Whiteface Shelter, 4 miles from my starting point in the morning. This shelter, just 0.4 miles from the Whiteface summit is a primitive lean-to great view of Madonna Peak and Mount Mansfield.
After a brief rest and a snack, I started the ascent up Whiteface, which was short and steep (400 ft. in four tenths of a mile). I made it to the top at about 12:00 noon and although there were some small clouds beginning to form overhead, it looked like I’d get to make the descent in dry weather. As it turns out, this descent was much easier than I feared. I’m sure that the lack of rain helped matters significantly. However, climbing southbound, opposite from the way I came down, has to be murder, rain or shine.
After I made it off Whiteface, I had a fairly flat hike 4-5 mile hike down to Rt 15 in Johnston where my car was parked.
Journey’s End to Johnson: Southbound, September 11-14, 2008
- 9/11/08: Journey’s End Camp to Jay Camp Tent site (12.6 miles)
I slept a bit late and only broke camp at about 8 am before hiking the eight tenths of a mile to the Canadian Border. This section of the trail follows a blue blaze. It had been relatively dry the previous week so there was little mud on the treadway, but I could easily imagine it being otherwise. After a short uphill walk, I came to this magnificent vista of the morning mist rising over Canada before me, with the famous Journey’s End border marker just below. I paused and took a few photos of my gear here – since I still haven’t figured out how to use the timer on my camera for self portraits, and then headed south. I had to summit monstrous Jay Peak before the day’s end.
The first part of my day’s hike required a climb up the foothills and guardian peaks surrounding Jay. These sounded easy on paper, but they turned out to be harder in reality and getting up Doll Peak (3,409) was taxing with a full pack. Bobcat had warned me about Doll but I really hadn’t paid it much attention in my planning efforts.
On my way up Doll and subsequently Jay, I passed two simple, but gorgeous shelters, Shooting Star and Laura Woodward. From Laura Woodward it is only 3.1 miles up and over Jay, so I rested here and had a long 30 minute lunch in the sun before making the final summit and descent. Both of these shelters are worth a return visit and stay.
The weather was quite clear on top of Jay. To the east, I could see Lake Champlain and the Adirondack peaks beyond it in New York State, and to the south, I could see Mount Mansfield and the Chin. Mansfield is about 50 miles south of where I was standing and my destination on this hike was about 5 miles north of it.
The descent down Jay reminded me of the descent down Camel’s Hump and Mansfield. Tough scrambling around and over Volkswagen sized boulders above tree line, then dropping steeply and steadily to the forest floor at Jay Pass, over a jumble of stone, tree roots and granite face.
When I finally arrived at Jay Camp, and headed toward the Jay Camp shelter 0.4 miles off the trail, I ran into John and Jen who were just completing a northbound Thru-hike. I also met Dave, who had just started a 14 day section hike and told us that Jay Camp was boarded-up for renovation. We were all tired and crushed by the news, but decided to camp near the shelter which has a great water supply.
I had only brought along my 9.9 oz. tarp as an emergency shelter and was finally forced to use it for real. I set it up in an A-frame configuration, with the sides closely staked to the ground to limit side airflow. After dinner, we crashed at 8 pm and I slept soundly through the night. All that tarp setup practice finally paid off.
- 9/12/08: Jay Camp Tent site to Tillotson Camp (12 miles)
When I started hiking on day 2, the skies were overcast and it looked like we might get rain later in the day. My objective was to reach Tillotson Camp, which required that I climb Buchanan Mountain (2,940 ft), descend about 1,200 ft. to Hazen’s Notch, and then climb another 1,400 ft up Haystack Mountain (3,223 ft), followed by another short 400 ft climb up Tillotson Mountain (3,040 ft). All this, over the course of a 12 mile ridge walk.
The hike up Buchanan went pretty quickly and required a number of lesser ascents over some minor peaks. There was some mud, but again trail conditions were good due to the recent dry spell. I descended to Hazen’s Notch and began the arduous slog up Haystack. This is a hard climb in under 2 miles (avg 700 ft/mile) with many tricky climbing problems to solve. But after 210+ miles on The Long Trail, I’ve gotten rather skilled at solving these little puzzles and have learned all kinds of foot placement tricks to get up these granite slabs, loose scree, and root congested slopes.
In the meantime, however, the weather around me grew more ominous with each passing hour. The remnants of Hurricane Ike were about to pass through the area, and the overcast sky got darker and darker throughout the day. In fact, the sky was so dark that I was unable to take any photos during the daylight hours due to a lack of light.
By 5 pm, I made it to Tillotson Camp after a short ascent up Tillotson Mountain. I was fetching water for the evening and for my next morning’s hike, when it started to rain in buckets. I had had a little warning and had donned my rain gear and covered my pack in time, but I was still pumping away on my First Need filter when it began to pour. I was quickly drenched as I walked the last few feet to the shelter, but couldn’t figure out how to get inside!
I raced around the building trying to figure out how to enter, but couldn’t find any way to open the front door. I searched the surrounding area to see if there was a newer shelter but couldn’t find any other structures nearby except the outhouse. I returned to the front door of the cabin, determined to break in if I had to, when I saw an small eye hook holding the door closed from entry by animals, some trail maintainers idea of a joke, given the numerous gaps in the shelter’s walls and window frames.
Once I gained entry, it turned out the shelter inside was actually quite nice with the usual bunk beds and table, but extremely dark inside. Despite the rain, I opened the front window to let in some light and sorted out my kit for the evening. By the time I fired up my stove for a hot dinner, Dave arrived, also soaked, and ready to share the shelter with me for the night.
- 9/13/08: Tillotson Camp to Corliss Camp. (15 miles)
I woke up at 5:15 am and broke camp by 6:15 am. It had continued to rain heavily throughout the night, but the rain had tapered off a bit just as I was ready to leave the shelter. I had experienced worse on the LT, beginning other days by leaving shelters in the pouring rain. Lying in my bag that morning, I had really wanted to just take a zero day and not get up, but hiking in the rain is just part of the Long Trail experience, and something you have to accept when it occurs.
Visibility when I left Tillotson camp was very poor, at about 25 yards, and continued to suck for the next 4 miles as I summited Belvidere and made my descent to tree line. There’s a famous fire tower on top of Belvidere, but there seemed little point in climbing it when I couldn’t even see the treetops around me from the ground.
The southbound descent down Belvidere to Eden Crossing is extremely steep and treacherous and I was thankful that I had avoided hiking it northbound. Near the summit, I had to descent through a dense jumble of huge boulders and slabs of granite, with rain water pouring over their surface. I had to laugh at how dangerous this was. If you break a leg up here, you might not be found for days. On the bottom, northern half of the mountain, the surface turns to steep, loose, heavily eroded scree and I had use my hiking poles like an ice axe to arrest my descent with each step. This section needs some heavy trail maintenance to address the erosion issues.
When I got to Eden Crossing, however, the trail changed rather dramatically to a forest walk for most of the remaining 25 miles, and what a beautiful forest it is. I made excellent time for the next 2 miles to Devil’s Gulch, a dramatic gap filled with car-sized boulders all jumbled together like a Giant’s workshop. Figuring a path through this mess of ankle and leg breakers took a while but I muscled my way over the hardest parts and continued south to Spruce Ledge Camp where I ran into 3 older guys from Grand Rapids, Michigan who were hiking the trail.
I took off at 12:30 pm and headed to Corliss Camp walking through a beautiful wooded area, making great time over easy forest trail. When I arrived at Corliss Camp 4 hours later, I thought I had gone to heaven. This is an incredibly nice shelter that has been recently refurbished with real glass windows and a sleeping loft. I swept the floor a bit and set out my kit for the night, only to find that I was the only one staying at the shelter for the evening. I crashed by 7:30 pm, exhausted from doing 15 miles, and slept until 7:00 am the next morning.
- 9/14/08: Corliss Camp to Johnson (Rt 15).
Once again it was raining when I left Corliss Camp to head up Laraway Mountain (2,790), the last peak of any significance before the end of the section. I was blown away by the beauty of Laraway, despite the fact that I was walking uphill in the pouring rain for most of it. As you climb, the trail takes you through beautiful fern choked areas blooming with wildflowers, until you come to the cliffs on the northern face of the mountain. These are magnificent rock faces that materialize from the mist after the Laraway summit. Streams and waterfalls work their way through these stone monoliths, and became one with trail treadway itself, as I found myself descending down a rushing stream which had taken over the trail. This is a classic Long trail experience: walking down an active stream bed, forcing you to walk through moving water for hundred of yards. The only thing missing were beaver damns on this section of the trail
I made great time over the 8.7 miles from Corliss, over Laraway and to Round Top lean-to, the last shelter on this section, before Rt 15 at the Johnson trail head, where I had parked my car 5 nights previously. The rain had finally stopped, but I kept on my rain gear because I was still concerned about hypothermia and because the bugs were out in force in this wooded area. Once past Round Top there are still a few miles of overused town trails called Prospect Rock that coincide with the Long Trail, before one comes to the Lamoille River and bridge crossing. After that, it was about about 0.5 miles to Rt 15 and the Johnson trail head where my car was parked.
This was a really difficult section for me on many levels. Physically, I had to push myself to my limits to finish in 4 days. My Illiotibial Band and left quadriceps were fine for 2 whole days, but began to ache after that and I had to put on my ITB wrap to support it the remainder of the trip. Mentally, there where times when I just wanted to quit and walk out, but thankfully this was impossible given the remoteness of my location: there is simply no place to walk out too up here. And finally emotionally, I had a hard time getting to the point where I could just focus on walking, without thinking and replaying all of little daily dramas of my life in my head. I eventually achieved my normal walking meditative nirvana but had a hard time coming down from recent life events.
Along this section I met about a dozen northbound hikers, many who said that they were ready to be done with their Long Trail end-to-end hikes. I think I’m also at the point, as well, where I want this journey over with, but at the same time I’m know I’m afraid what it will be like to not have it dominate my life, like it has since Memorial Day.
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