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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.