Massachusetts to Rutland
September 29, 2018
START: Williamstown @ 1025
FINISH: Melville Nauheim Shelter @ 1910
DISTANCE: 4 + 16 mi
CUMULATIVE: 20 mi
I stayed with my dear friend, Sadie, last night, and she gave me a ride to the trailhead this morning. Thank you again, Sadie! We hit a few road blocks en route, most notably a downed tree that required a thirty minute detour and a four mile approach I hadn't accounted for. (Oops.) I was stoked to finally start walking around 1030 even given an uncertain destination. I still hoped to reach the Melville Shelter, but I was unsure whether I would be able to get there. I crossed the state line into Vermont by noon and kept on cruising from there. I always love reaching landmarks, especially borders, and this was no different despite only having been on the trail for a few hours.
The AT was its characteristic green tunnel pretty much all day, though I hope the colors will start to pop as I work my way north over the coming weeks. Saw a few teasers at various ponds along today's walk, but nothing too exciting. The humid air held a crisp coolness beneath an overcast sky, and the weather was generally quite moderate and pleasant today. I expect more moisture and lower temps as I work my way north. I hope the trade-off will be more fall colors.
I arrived at the Melville Shelter after dark, unfortunately, but that was no surprise given my later start. Definitely feeling some aches tonight and the old knee pain cropped up again just like I knew it would, but overall it feels great to be back on the trail! It's funny how all of the anxiety and uncertainty just falls away with the first step. Now that I've started, all I have to do is keep going until I finish. There is no more debate about holding off for better weather, or pushing the trail to next fall to accommodate this thing or that. The planning is done, and all I have to do now is keep walking. Things get very simple very quickly out here.
I arrived at the shelter to find two other guys here. I greeted them, but we didn't say too much otherwise. I set up alone in the shelter while Brandon and Steve camped outside. I was happy to have the place to myself. Made dinner, filtered water, and went to bed. Simple.
September 30, 2018
START: Melville Nauheim Shelter @ 0805
FINISH: Story Spring Shelter @ 1700
DISTANCE: 17.5 mi
CUMULATIVE: 37.5 mi
More of the classic green tunnel today, but I noticed that the climbs don't tend to be as steep or as long as I remember on the Hundred Mile Wilderness last fall (at least so far). Feeling the solitude out here too- more so than last year, I think. Not too many folks out, and most of those I see are either section hiking or heading SOBO. The bubble is likely further north. I wonder how many other hikers I'll see once the LT splits from the AT in about eighty miles.
Caught my first big view today. Many of the summits out here are tree-covered and don't offer unobstructed views. Glastenbary Mountain is one such peak. The thing that made it awesome today was the fire tower at the top. The weather was nice enough, and I'd been making great time, so I climbed it. Gorgeous views in all diretions out across the surrounding mountains. I expect that I'll have many opportunities for similar views as I get further north. I'm so freakin' happy to be out here!
I arrived at camp tonight around 1700 to find an empty shelter. It's funny that a part of me wished that the hiker I'd seen heading south about a mile before the shelter had chosen to stay here. She said she was tired. Guess she was on a schedule. Really I'm just feeling lonely because I wish my girlfriend was out here with me. We had a great little road trip before I came up to Vermont for this gem. Now I'm missing her like crazy. On a whim, I turned my phone on. I was sure I wouldn't get service out here, but of course I did, so I gave her a call to check in. Really enjoyed the pleasant surprise of talking with her tonight. I hope to be able to do that frequently during my hike, but northern Vermont gets pretty remote, so I imagine service will get spotty as I cover more miles.
October 1, 2018
START: Story Spring Shelter @ 0745
FINISH: Spruce Peak Shelter @ 1645
DISTANCE: 18.5 mi
CUMULATIVE: 56 mi
I met just two folks before lunch today. The first was a SOBO AT hiker who had flipped up from Roanoke. He was raging pissed when I happened upon him while descending from Stratton Mountain. He was yelling profanities into the woods, and I caught myself wondering whether I was about to encounter a genuine psycho. When our paths finally crossed, he railed for a few minutes about how poorly maintained the trail is, then ultimately softened after I reflected and validated that he was having a rough go of it. I ultimately found him to be a nice fella. We chatted for a while before each going our separate ways. I met the second guy as I neared the split to Stratton Pond Shelter. Backtrack was pleasant and kind. He offered me some of his fig newtons, which I was tempted to accept but ultimately declined because I wanna lighten my own load. He's heading NOBO on the AT, so I may see him a few more times before our paths split.
I stopped in at Stratton Pond Shelter to have lunch while the rain fell steadily against the tin roof. It began raining about an hour after I left this morning, and it hasn't really stopped since. If it wasn't raining, it was a dense, cold fog that engulfed the trail. There are supposed to be scattered thunderstorms tomorrow, so I'm bracing myself for even worse weather. Crossing my fingers that they don't go all day. Part of the peril of trekking during the shoulder seasons, though. I'll just take it as it comes.
I covered another 8 miles after lunch in spite of the cold rain because I wanted to make the Spruce Peak Shelter, which is fully enclosed and has a wood-burning stove! I didn't know whether there was dry wood stock piled - in fact, I assumed that there wasn't - but that didn't stop me from hoping. I arrived to find an empty shelter devoid of anything dry. I collected small, damp wood and tried in vain to build a fire from newspaper and small twigs. Fortunately another NOBO LT hiker, Donuts, arrived and was carrying some fire starter, which did the trick. Backtrack joined us, and the three of us are tucked in warm and snug tonight. They're both heading to town tomorrow, and I'd be awfully tempted to join them if I didn't have a flight to Nepal that I need to catch in a couple weeks. Gotta keep cruisin', nasty weather be dammed. (But really, I might stop early if it really, really sucks.)
My knee pain was in full force today. I felt great otherwise, ready to tackle the trail, but that throbbing pain - the pain that inexplicably jumped from my right knee to my left knee today - really stunted my speed. It was annoying, but I tried to hold myself to a slower, more intentional pace. No sense getting hurt out here when I've got the trip of a lifetime on the docket. Set an early alarm for 0530 tomorrow. Planning to get an early start to give myself more time for the long 22.5 mile day. We'll see if I can will myself up and out that early. (I have my doubts.)
October 2, 2018
START: Spruce Peak Shelter @ 0610
FINISH: Little Rock Pond @ 1610
DISTANCE: 22.5 mi
CUMULATIVE: 78.5 mi
I woke up periodically in the night to the sound of rain falling against the roof. At 0500 the rain was heavy, and I considered turning off my alarm. But when I checked the weather on my phone (yay, service!), I discovered that it wasn't supposed to keep raining past 0530 and that the heavy rain is projected to start around 1600. Looked like the earlier the start, the better off I'd be, so I got up. As I packed up in the cold darkness, I kept thinking about how nice it was to stay in an enclosed hut with a heat source last night.
It's been raining nearly continuously for two days now. And when it's not actively raining, the wet just hangs in the humid air and drips from the tree canopies. If it weren't for the shelters, I'd be in a real bad mood. Right now, missed views are the most frustrating part. I was totally socked in atop the Baker Summit. I climbed the summit tower anyways, but all I could see was white. I was totally in the clouds, which was a neat experience in itself, though you can imagine that it gets old. The rain also causes a lot of anxiety for me. Discomfort is one thing, but my real concern is ruining my camera or some other expensive accessory. (Again.)
Happy to have company again tonight. Blueline and Flo were napping when I arrived. This place is awesome. It's typical in the sense that it has three walls, but it seems newer and better-kept. It's clean and has wood bunks built into the structure. It's not just a platform; it's a little home. I expected that there would be more hikers trickling in tonight, but no such shenanigans. I barely saw anyone today, just two SOBO thru hikers and the two section hikers I'm with tnoight. Blueline said they've seen quite a few NOBO LT walkers. I wonder if/when I'll start catching folks.
October 3, 2018
START: Little Rock Pond @ 0725
FINISH: Governor Clement Shelter @ 1725
DISTANCE: 19.5 mi
CUMULATIVE: 98 mi
There was definitely a period of torrential downpour last night. It was loud enough and persistent enough to wake me up, but I didn't bother to check the time. All I know is that it was still pitch black outside. My companions last night said that the weather was supposed to be clear this morning. Despite raining most of the night, it seemed to be tapering off by the time we crawled out of our sleeping bags at 0600. Ugh, I hate being out in the rain. But then Blueline offered up a cup of SOCO to kick off the day, and that took the sting out of the wet morning. It looked to be a third consecutive cold, wet day, and I was reluctant to leave the relative comfort of the shelter.
Having a lot of difficulty finding a rhythm out here with all of the rocks and roots, which partly explains my slower pace. (The other major factor is a lack of training and a lot of office time this past summer.) Even when I'm busting tail and flying down the trail, it only translates to about 2 mph. And more often than not, I'm moving slower than that. My head is constantly down scanning the trail for hazards. Today I slammed my head into a downed tree that I didn't see, because I was so focused on my ever-changing footing. Rocks, roots, and mud, oh my! Tough, treacherous miles out here, y'all.
I know there were periods where the rain subsided, but you almost wouldn't know it because the canopy continues to drizzle long after the rain stops actively falling. More than anything today, I walked through the fog, which was objectively less miserable than the alternative, but still no cause for joy.
Psyched to be nestled on the spacious platform at the shelter tonight. There are eight other trekkers, but four of them are camping outside in their tents. We could've all fit on the platform, but it would've been a tight squeeze. I certainly don't mind having the extra space. It's hard to believe that I'm sleeping at mile 98 already; I'm over one third of the way to Canada. Many of the SOBO hikers have told me that the Long Trail only gets more difficult as you continue further north. The first third is supposed to be pretty easy, and it has been. The second third gets a little tougher, and it looks to start with a 2,000+ foot climb up and over Mt. Killington first thing tmw morning. Then the third stretch is apparently pretty burley as you work your way straight up and straight down relentless peaks, including Mt. Mansfield, the highest in Vermont. The elevation profile for that last third is reminiscent of the Hundred Mile Wilderness, which totally kicked my butt. Should be fun(ish).
October 4, 2018
START: Governor Clement Shelter @ 0500
RESUPPLY: Rutland @ 0915
DISTANCE: 10.5 mi
CUMULATIVE: 108.5 mi
My alarm blared well before dawn this morning and likely woke all eight of the hikers sleeping nearby. Oopsies. I packed up as quietly as I could under guidance of my trusty red light. I'm sure my compatriots hated me, but I had places to be: TOWN! First, though, Killington. I covered the nearly 4.5 mile, 2,300 foot climb in two hours flat. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself. Missed sunrise proper by just a few minutes. It was a brutally windy and absolutely gorgeous summit. Fitting of the second highest peak in Vermont.
I'd heard about a bus that would pick me up at US Route 4 and take me all the way into Rutland. I raced off of Killington hoping to make the highway in time to catch the 0915 bus. I had no idea whether the bus was real, or the times I'd heard were right, or anything about the general layout, but I was gonna give it my best shot anyways. I was crushing as hard as I could, so I wasn't surprised when my feet slipped right out from under me on a boardwalk. I ended up falling hard but landing surprisingly softly in the adjacent brush. I was in a big old hurry to catch the bus and could've easily gotten myself hurt. I slowed down some for the rest of the descent, but started running the flatter sections toward the bottom. I was surprised to reach the parking lot at 0915, but I didn't see a bus and couldn't tell where the stop was anyways, so I just started hitching. I was a little surprised when the second car picked me up. Before I knew it, I was in downtown Rutland.
I spent four hours in town resupplying, running errands, and grabbing lunch. I had hoped to shower, but with 13 miles still to hike and only three days until the next town, I decided to skip it. Hiker trash at its finest, right here.
Rutland to Burlington
October 4, 2018
START: Rutland @ 1335
FINISH: David Logan Shelter @ 1835
DISTANCE: 13 mi
CUMULATIVE: 121.5 mi
Rutland took longer than I'd anticipated, but I managed to catch the 1315 bus out of town and back up to the trail. (Rutland is small but sprawling, so I wasn't looking forward to trying to hitch out.) I was back on the trail by 1335. My early morning had caught up to me, so I accepted that the latter half of my day would be more difficult and that I might be in for a later night.
The Long Trail splits off of the Appalachian Trail about a mile north of US Route 4, and the former gets noticeably more difficult right away. The tread gets narrower, the corridor is more overgrown, and the path is generally tougher to follow. And that's the way most of the last 12 miles to the David Logan Shelter went.
As the forecast predicted, rain started promptly at 1400 and continued steadily for an hour before finally quitting. Props to the weather man for calling that one. Then the fog set in. I walked for hours through thick fog on narrow tread that sometimes hardly resembled a game trail, nevermind the bonafide Long Trail. Then the darkness set in. I turned my headlamp on, but the thick fog reflected its beam right back in my face. It was like an orb just hanging there in front of me, blocking my view. I could hardly see anything. I knew I was close to the turn off for the shelter, and I wondered constantly whether I'd already missed it. It was eerie to walk through such thick fog in the light of day, and downright creepy to walk through it in the darkness, especially with the corridor so overgrown. I felt claustrophobic. I stumbled through the woods barely able to see for nearly a half hour before finally arriving at the shelter. I was elated to find two other hikers preparing their dinner, and relieved to find that there was plenty of room for me. They were nearly ready for bed by the time I'd gotten set up, so I just ate a cliff bar and crawled into my sleeping bag satisfied after a long dang day.
Tomorrow is supposed to be a nice day, and I'm willing it to be so. Got nearly 23 miles to crush, and a full nice day feels overdue. Planning to get up around a quarter to five and be out by 0630. Stoked to stay at the Skylight Lodge!
October 5, 2018
START: David Logan Shelter @ 0715
FINISH: Skylight Lodge @ 1805
DISTANCE: 22.5 mi
CUMULATIVE: 144 mi
Cold. Morning. I seriously did not want to slip back into my still-wet gear. That's the worst part of the day. And today it was shoes, shorts, and shirt- all more than damp. It took a while to psych myself up, hence the later start. I was overjoyed to feel rays of sun on my cold body. It seemed an eternity since I'd felt warm. Clear skies yielded only glimpses of fiery mountainsides through the thick green forest. I never did get a big view; it was torture. Then I seemed to walk right into peak season. The color just started booming all around me and right down the corridor. Knowing that I have a week left reminded me that I'll likely finish among mostly barren trees. The colors will likely vanish as quickly as they came. Hoping they stay a few days before they fade.
I met a young couple heading SOBO this afternoon. They reiterated how difficult the trail ahead is. They told me that they only yesterday did a 17 mile day, which is their longest since starting at the Canadian border. They were wicked lightweight, carrying little more than daypacks. I wonder whether they were town hopping, which I've recently been thinking would be a cool way to do it- provided I could find the time and money. Maybe that'll be the only way I can do it one day when I'm old and still can't get enough, but not today.
I reached the Skylight Lodge to find seven others already set up inside. Plenty of space for little old me, though. Skylight is a fully enclosed structure with two teirs of long platforms for overnighters. Loads of space for everyone. Most of the others were older folks who were out for a section hike on the LT. One exception was a younger guy doing some trail maintenance, which I greatly appreciate. Apparently the LT operates on an adopt-a-section model. That explains the inconsistent, and sometimes downright absent, quality of the trail work. When I settle down, that's something I would like to do: adopt a section of the Colorado Trail and rally friends and family for work projects a few times per year. The trail has given me so much. Can't think of a better way to say thank you for the community and healing power than to help preserve it for future hikers.
To my great surprise, I made pretty good time today, which is sweet because the trail only gets tougher ahead. Skylight Lodge is nestled on the banks of a quaint pond a few hundred meters from the 140 mile mark of the LT. That means I'm currently over halfway done. Pretty nuts considering it feels like I only just started.
October 6, 2018
START: Skylight Lodge @ 0625
FINISH: Stark's Nest @ 1655
DISTANCE: 21.5 mi
CUMULATIVE: 165.5 mi
I hate packing up early in a full house. Quiet as I try to be, it's still quite the raucous compared to silent. I hate to disturb others, but early starts are my jam. I love hiking early and late. There are fewer people, more wildlife, and better light. The worst part is getting out of bed, but once I get going, I'm always so happy that the morning's difficulty just falls away with the miles.
This morning I met Kelly, an older gentleman, at the first shelter of the day just two miles from Skylight. He was out solo and seemed delighted to have some company, so I stayed a while. He told me about camping at that same shelter in the 80's when all the trees were just 10 feet tall and you could see all the way down to Lake Champlain. (No such view today.) He's thru hiked and has continued re-hiking bits and pieces of the trail since then. I told him about my goal to reach Stark's Nest, and he told me that I had quite a day ahead. As I left, he shouted after me that it only gets significantly harder the further north I get. "Sounds like fun!" I shouted back with a big grin. Why is everyone so keen to tell me how hard it's gonna get, anyways?
From Lincoln Gap, I totally shredded up to the summit of Abraham only to find it completely socked in. I'd heard from multiple hikers that the next few miles contain some of the best views on the whole Long Trail. Guess I'll have to take their word for it. I passed wide open overlook after wide open overlook and saw literally nothing but white. Weather in the northeast is especially notorious for being unpredictable. I'd heard from multiple sources that today was supposed to be sunny, but as I walked through the thick clouds, I met a woman who told me that from her house she could see a cloud stretched all across this range when she got up this morning. Guess it was sunny somewhere. I have to repeatedly remind myself that the 300+ sunny days per year that I've enjoyed in the southwest don't translate to the wet northeast region. I need to re-calibrate my expectations.
I noticed today that I didn't see very much color along the trail. It's mostly evergreens up high, and I'm betting that'll largely be the case going forward. I caught brief glimpses of painted lower slopes through thick trees as I climbed up from Lincoln Gap. Between the evergreens, the moody weather, and the cold temps, I'm beginning to wonder whether I should've hiked SOBO. No sense dwelling on that thought, though. I'm here now. Might as well keep walking.
I'm enjoying the relative comfort of the Stark's Nest tonight. Again I'm told that there is an epic view out over the ski slopes, but I can neither confirm nor deny that roomer. I will say that the Stark's Nest is a totally killer accommodation regardless! It's not an official LT hut, but rather a warming hut for ski patrol at the Mad River Glen Ski Area. Pretty incredible that they leave it open for hikers. And even cooler that I have the place to myself tonight. I'm kicking back in an adirondack chair enjoying three bars of LTE service as I compose this post and listen to the wind howling relentlessly outside. Bliss.
My knees took a true pounding today, and I'm assuming that it's only going to get worse. Tomorrow I tackle the Burnt Rock Summit, which is supposed to be one of the two most difficult obstacles between me and Canada, the other being Mansfield. I've heard multiple times about Burnt Rock, specifically. Guess we'll see what all the fuss is about tomorrow.
October 7, 2018
START: Stark's Nest @ 0710
FINISH: Burlington @ 1915
DISTANCE: 23 mi
CUMULATIVE: 188.5 mi
I found it especially difficult to get going this morning. That warming house was quite the respite from the fog and cold and rain. But I had to get going at some point, so I figured the sooner the better. After all, it's town day!
The first mile north of the Nest is the gnarliest trail I've seen so far, made especially so by the steady rain and slick conditions. The terrain is steep, and the rocks and roots were all soaked and slippery from days of off and on rain. Many spots had iron rungs anchored into rock faces reminiscent of the Via Ferrada over Telluride. The exposure wasn't nearly as extreme, but I didn't have any fall protection, so a slip could easily mean a serious injury. It was genuinely treacherous stuff. Then I had to tackle Burnt Rock Mountain itself, a spot that I've heard about a few times over the last few days. I went up and over on a soggy, drizzly day. And it was sketchy. I can't imagine trying to negotiate those ledges and cliffs in a downpour with a full pack. No, thank you. Still, I didn't find that Burnt Rock lived up to the hype. I agree that it's one of the biggest obstacles so far heading north, but much of the risk was due to the wet conditions. If it had been dry, I don't believe it would've been especially difficult. But then, it's all relative. I've climbed some seriously sketchy shit, so perhaps that's why this didn't seem so bad. Just take a breath and move intentionally.
The last obstacle between me and my zero in Burlington was Camel's Hump, the fourth of Vermont's five tallest peaks. (I'd already crossed Killington, Abraham, and Ellen. Just Mansfield remains ahead.) Once more, I'd been told of the epic views from its summit. As I climbed through fog and demoralizing drizzle, hope quickly faded of any kind of view today. I felt defeated as I topped out to pure whiteness. Not a shred of texture or color anywhere beyond the immediate area. More missed views. But as one guy said with a resigned shrug earlier today: "been a wet month." And a woman later exclaimed: "All part of the fun!" as she worked her way down some steep, wet rock. Guess they're both right.
The other part of the experience is Trail Magic. On my way down from Camel's Hump, I met a French couple who gifted me a juice box of red wine and a small piece of chocolate. They were heading SOBO, and he explained that they'd made some mistakes packing for the journey. They were looking to shed some weight, and I was happy to have a celebratory treat. That's a consolation prize if I've ever had one. It was a beautiful walk down through the clouds, and I saw a fair bit of color as I got lower in elevation. The scene was difficult to capture, but it was stunningly beautiful to witness- the yellows, reds, and dark greens all in contrast with one another and muted by the thick fog. It was classic New England putting on a show.
Today was another knee-basher. Relentless steep climbs and descents as well as wet conditions made today the toughest yet. Welcome to the final third, I suppose. But at least I have a zero here tomorrow. April, a friend I met in New Zealand earlier this year, is hosting me at her family's home. Got a ride, a shower, a home-cooked meal, some street clothes, and a comfortable bed. All of that for the first time in nine days. This is the good life.
October 8, 2018
CUMULATIVE: 188.5 mi
Self-care day, all the way. I cleaned and cared for my friction blister from earlier in the trip. Been difficult to take care of it on the trail, so it's been getting infected. Cleaned it up really well, soaked it in epsom salt intermittently, and generally let it breath to promote healing for the last leg. April took me into town to resupply and run some errands. And I got to meet up with Mischa and Claire, two good friends from Open Sky, for dinner. Burlington is a cute little town of just 40,000 but still the largest city in Vermont. I really loved my short visit. And a huge shoutout to the Hillman family for their incredible hospitality!
Burlington to Canada
October 9, 2018
START: Burlington @ 0635
FINISH: Taft Lodge @ 1815
DISTANCE: 20.5 mi
CUMULATIVE: 209 mi
April was gracious enough to drop me at the trailhead hella early before she had to be at work. Up at 0500, on the road by 0600, and hiking a little after 0630. Thanks again, April, for everything!
I got a great jump on today's climb, which is to say that I got a great jump on today's climbs. From the parking area at US highway 2, the Long Trail follows the road for a short ways before crossing beneath it via an underpass. It then follows a steep road up to where the trail finally splits off and climbs steadily up to the summit of Bolton Mountain after which came the fith and final of Vermont's 4,000 foot peaks: Mt. Mansfield. The morning forecast had called for partly cloudy conditions at the summit, so I was cautiously optimistic. I've been socked in on every major summit since Killington. It was sunny for the first few hours this morning, but as I climbed the clouds rolled in, and the trail began to look all too familiar...wet and dark.
As I climbed, I held out hope that I might eventually break through the clouds. Then I did, finally. I ate lunch at the Puffer Shelter and enjoyed one of my best views of the trip from the shelter steps. Bright colors painted the valley and distant mountainsides through an open (by LT standards) overlook. I wasn't there a half hour, which was apparently too long because the clouds rolled back in and beat me to the summit. Mansfield was one of my last chances at a big mountain view, and I'd allowed myself to get my hopes up. I was simultaniously defeated and amused when I reached the base of the Mansfield Forehead amidst a fog so thick that I couldn't see more than a few dozen meters ahead. My amusement quickly faded to something akin to rage as I topped out and continued down toward the Taft Lodge while the little bit of light that penetrated the clouds began to fade. The descent was wet, slick, and sometimes exposed. I was over it- couldn't get to the lodge fast enough.
Twice during the nasty conditions I could've taken (but didn't) a bypass route. Both are meant to allow climbers to avoid the sketchiest sections if there are gnarly conditions. The first would've avoided the climb starting from the Forehead. I was still hoping the clouds might thin out at that point, so I pressed on...just in case. The second was a chance to skip the final, more sketchy pitch to the Chin (ie, the summit). It was named the Profanity Trail, which I found fitting given that I'd been actively resisting the overwhelming urge to shout "F*CK!" repeatedly into the clouds. I was so angry. Angry at the mountain; angry at the trail; angry at the state. In the moment, I felt cheated somehow, like I was entitled to at least a few more epic views after spending the time, the money, and the effort to walk the length of this little state. Then I promptly reminded myself that the wilderness cares nothing for my ambitions, my hopes and fears. The wilderness is just out here doing her thing, and I can exist here if I choose to. She doesn't owe me anything for keeping her company. In fact, she might well prefer I leave her be.
It's been a long day, so you can imagine how elated I felt when I finally spotted the faint outine of the lodge through the fog. Relief and calm swept over me. I pushed the door open to find a handful of other trekkers and loads of space left for me. This is another lodge where there is a seasonal fee, but we're past fee season, so that's a win for today. I'll take it. I have a wicked short day tomorrow, so I'm gonna try to sleep in. Might even backtrack to the summit for a view if the weather cooperates, although it doesn't look very promising right now.
October 10, 2018
START: Taft Lodge @ 0825
FINISH: Bear Hollow Shelter @ 1645
DISTANCE: 13 mi
CUMULATIVE: 222 mi
I was annoyed but not surprised to wake up and find that we are once again in a thick fog. Seems it never ends. I packed up, ate some breakfast, and continued down the mountain. Ended up with some really great color along the trail corridor once I dropped below the clouds. I just wished I could get some clear big mountain views rather than all colorful corridors and teasing glimpses of mountainsides through the trees at lower elevations. Then- I got one. I was so psyched to have epic views from Elephant Head Cliff this afternoon. It joins Glastenbary Mountain, Great Cliff, and Mt. Killington as one of a handful of spots where I've had big views and great conditions at the same time. All were killer side hikes that were obviously worth the extra time and effort- except the former which was nothing more than a quick jaunt up a fire tower. Especially grateful for those experiences given the others.
I took lunch at Sterling Pond, which is pretty enough, but since it's surrounded by evergreens, it's not sporting the fall color that I'm partial to. That's been one of the big differences between my time on the Long Trail and my experience in the Hundred Mile Wilderness last year: I had some gorgeous lake reflections of stunning fall color last year in Maine. Those are such incredible scenes. Doesn't feel like as many of those here this year.
According to the rumors, I'm in for some easier terrain between here and Devil's Gulch at which point the trail will again (unsurprisingly) kick my butt. Then apparently it's all slick rocks and soggy conditions from there to Canada. Tales from the trail, so we'll see how reliable the reports are. I think I tend to remember experiences as more manageable and less intense than they may have actually been, but sometimes I wonder whether I'm an exception to the prevailing trend, which often seems to be that folks talk up their difficulties. Or maybe they don't. Maybe I just don't struggle as much. Hard to say, since each of us only knows our individual experience.
I'm tucked in tonight warm as a bug in a rug at the beautiful, spacious Bear Hollow Shelter. Laraway Mountain tomorrow - supposedly another big view - but the forecast is calling for rain literally from 0800-2000. Ugh, so annoying. I think Laraway is the last hyped view, so I'm pretty much ready to just be done with this trail. I took a gamble walking it in the fall, and I have no regrets. It's been awesome overall. Just not gonna be disappointed when I reach Canada. Tempted to put my head down and cruise the rest of the way, but who knows what beautiful scenes await ahead.
October 11, 2018
START: Bear Hollow Shelter @ 0720
FINISH: Corliss Camp @ 1435
DISTANCE: 16 mi
CUMULATIVE: 238 mi
I heard some brief howls very near the shelter last night. Coyotes, maybe. Pretty neat, and also a little freaky. Thankful to have had Rawhide and her pups in the shelter. Safety in numbers, y'all.
As expected, I left this morning amidst a steady cold rain and pretty much resigned myself to endure it for the duration of my walk. It just rained and rained. It was a "put my head down and bang out miles" kinda day. Stoked that I only had to go sixteen. Ended up taking an early hot lunch at Roundtop Shelter to see if it might at least let up some. I couldn't help but think that it would've been more prudent to walk the extra seven miles to Roundtop last night, then I only would've had a quick eight to Corliss in the rain today. Ah well, no do-overs. I arrived at Roundtop a little after 1000, my quickest miles of the trail so far. Pretty cruiser along logging roads to Lamoille River crossing, then a moderate climb up to Roundtop.
I packed away my rain gear before leaving the shelter. Figured it was soaked through, so I was gonna be soggy either way. May as well be agile and free. Conditions weren't fun but could've been far worse. The climbs and descents today were all mellow - very few sketchy rocky slabs - and it wasn't cold. Today could've totally sucked; instead it only mostly sucked. And tomorrow is a new day. Upon arriving at Corliss Camp, I found two other hikers already dry and happy. After discovering that the outside loft doesn't actually leak (contrary to the trip reports), I decided to take it despite the plentiful bunk space inside because I'll be getting up super early tomorrow for my 26 mile day and don't want to disturb anyone.
I noticed on the walk today that I've seen very little wildlife on this trip. I'm sure the woods are teeming with it, but I've been watching my footing all day everyday. I usually see so much that I can't help but wonder what I've walked right past and totally missed.
October 12, 2018
START: Corliss Camp @ 0505
FINISH: Jay Camp @ 1805
DISTANCE: 26 + 0.5 mi
CUMULATIVE: 264.5 mi
As you can imagine, I was reluctant to get out of bed at 0430. It was cold and will be for the next few days, but at least it's not supposed to rain from here to Canada- or so I thought as I put on my cold, damp clothes. I was really hoping it'd be true. I think I prefer the bitter cold even though my feet will be wet and freezing all day long regardless. The wind and rain started as I began my climb up Belvedere. I was so pissed when I got to the junction to find myself engulfed in yet another cloud. I'd seen it moving over the summit as I descended to the gap before the climb. I'd planned to hike the quarter mile summit trail and eat lunch in the fire tower, but I didn't even bother given the soggy, totally blind conditions. Instead I continued on toward Tillotson Camp for lunch, disappointed again. The weather finally broke to become partly sunny for a bit once I got well-beyond Belvidere. I saw a nice view north to Canada from the partially obscured Haystack Mountain overlook. It remained cold and windy with brief sunny spells for the rest of the day.
Took another nasty fall today, and this time I landed hard. My feet just slipped right out from under me on a very slick, highly angled rock slab. I swear my feet were up over my head for a second. It could've easily been a bad injury. That's all it takes out here- one relatively innocent misstep, and your thru-hike could be over...just like that. Instead I was all good, nothing bruised but my ego.
The climbs were steep following the Hazen Notch parking area. Three summits in rapid succession, and they were freakin' tough on the heels of a 26 mile day. The trail today was about 80% bog and running water. My feet have been perpetually wet and cold. I was so relieved to finally reach the shelter at Jay Camp and be able to stuff my hot hands packets in my dry sleep socks to warm my feet. I then made a hot dinner and let the stove burn to warm my fingers and face until the gas was gone. Since it's my last night on the trail, it's a win-win: warmth and less weight to carry tomorrow.
October 13, 2018
START: Jay Camp @ 0730
FINISH: Journey's End TH @ 1425
DISTANCE: 11 + 1.5 mi
CUMULATIVE: 277 mi
Had some trouble with a dang mouse last night. Heard an all too familiar scratching shortly after I cut my headlamp off. Turned it back on to find my pack spinning on the p-chord from which it was hanging. I watched as it turned until I saw the mouse hanging from my shoulder pouch and chewing right through it and into a clif bar. I was instantly livid and jumped out of my sleeping bag to run him off. He jumped from my pack to a nearby ledge, which explained how he got on it in the first place. I put all of my food in my suspended food bag and went back to sleep. A few short minutes later, I had to get up again because he was chewing through my other shoulder strap and gnawing on the handle of my toothbrush. Then I got up two more times because I thought I heard him when I suppose I didn't. Wouldn't have been so bad except that it was freezing, and I lost all of my trapped body heat everytime I got out of my bag to run him off. Man, I was so annoyed. His house, though, I guess.
I woke this morning after a fitful sleep and found that my breath hung thick in the air and that there was a light dusting of snow in the trees. Naturally there was more and more snow as I climbed up to Jay Peak where I found another totally socked in view. The famed snack bar atop Jay would've been a nice consolation prize had it been open. I was a few hours too early and unwilling to wait, so off I went. I'm not even mad. Just ready to be done. From there, it was fewer than 10 miles to Canada.
Got the full gamut of gross weather today: snow, sleet, and freezing rain. Misery. I just hope the conditions don't affect my ability to drive home safely to Atlanta. I did get a view and some flashes of sunlight at the border monument, and I was sooooooo grateful for that. Nice to finish with a view after so many missed ones. Thick, ominous clouds were looming, so I spent about 20 minutes snapping victory pics, then I zipped outta there pretty quick and raced down to the trailhead to meet Sadie. The last leg was windy and cold, but at least it wasn't raining! My spirits were noticeably higher now that I was officially done.
Sadie was waiting for me at the parking area when I arrived with a six pack of Long Trail beer and a smile. It's the best feeling ever to be down and heading back to the world. The drive back was beautiful, a subtlely stinging reminder of missed views over the last few weeks.
My sense now is that the Long Trail is not one that I would care to hike again. The trail itself can be exceptionally beautiful and the logistics are quite straightforward, but there is so much more to the thru-hiking experience. I found that while there are a multitude of views along the Long Trail, the majority of them were obstructed during my trip. It may be a petty observation to some, but the quality of the canvas is a third of what's important to me during a thru hike. The LT easily satisfies the challenge aspect, which is a mark in its favor. And given the season and conditions, the trail also met my need for solitude and reflection. I've noticed that longer trails allow opportunities to balance solitude and community. On the shorter thru hikes I've done, this one included, I've found that the community is often lacking. As an introvert, it's difficult to build community during such a short outing, especially where many of the hikers have already established their communities. I found this to also be true in the 100 Mile Wilderness last year as well as on my thru hike of Te Araroa's South Island earlier this year. I ultimately enjoyed my experience out there and have absolutely no regrets. I imagine it to be a worthwhile trail even in the most difficult conditions. I'm just saying that it wasn't an experience that blew my mind. There are so many trails out there. It's up to each of us to consider them and choose the ones that call most alluringly to us. Happiest of trails to you all, whichever ones you may choose!