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.