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!