Vermont’s Long Trail is famous for its 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.
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.