110 Miles on the Long Trail

In my failed attempt to hike Vermont’s 270 mile Long Trail this fall I learned a couple important lessons.  First, you can’t plan around the weather.  I learned this hiking the AT, yet when Hurricane Joaquin was threatening to hit New England I decided to wait and see what would happen.  It never came, but the days got shorter and colder, and I caught a cold from my nieces.  Second, any kind of weather is possible in October in Vermont.  Third, a stove is a necessity if water sources are frozen.  Fourth, boots are much better than running shoes in snow, even with YakTrax.  Fifth, it’s bad luck not including my bicycle on an adventure.

Since it was already October 10 and I was hoping to hike the entire Long Trail, maybe even the additional 90 miles of the MA Appalachian Trail back to CT, I didn’t think I had time to do a hike/bike loop and figured hiking southbound was my best bet. My dad volunteered to drive me to North Troy, VT, the northern terminus of the LT.  When I started hiking up the 1.3 mile Journey’s End trail to the LT at 2PM on October 10, it was sunny and 46 degrees.  My nose was congested from my lingering cold.  I made it to 8.3 miles to the Laura Woodward Shelter that cold night, shared with another hiker finishing up the trail.

The northern terminus of the Long Trail. The swath of cut forest is the CA-US border. Is the US or Canada responsible for mowing the forest over steep rock terrain for thousands of miles? Perhaps they take turns.

Small icicles on a north facing rock not far from the start. A sure sign I started too late!

Cold and grey days to start.
10-11 I did 14.3 miles to Tillotson Camp on day 2. I arrived at about 3:30 with muddy shoes and decided I had enough for the day.  Making it to the next shelter before dark (6:30) would be difficult, especially with the mud and rugged terrain.  Another southbound hiker I met earlier in the day, Dennis, arrived at the shelter for the night and was good company, so taking the afternoon was fun.   More company arrived after dark, two northbound hikers, Squirrel and Caitlin, and they brought a friendly dog, Veda, and good hiking conversation.

Making fire at the Tillotson Shelter. Pic courtesy of Dennis, one of a few other hikers I met heading south on the trail.

 10-12 I started hiking early and got 22.8 miles in to Roundtop Shelter.  The temperature increased and I hiked the afternoon in shorts and a t-shirt.  I shared the shelter with a northbound thru-hiker completing the trail for his 10th time.  Nice guy, retired car mechanic from central MA.

Nice trail coming off Laraway Mt

10-13 Despite hoping to get another 20+ mile day in, I only made it 14 miles to Sterling Pond. I hitched into the town of Johnson to resupply and eat lunch, which took about 3 hours, a big junk of my hiking day light.  I arrived to Sterling Pond at 3:30 with a cold intermittent rain, and didn’t think I could make it to Taft Camp before dark.  I had the camp to myself and spent 13 hours in my sleeping bag.

The view from Prospect Rock before heading into Johnson and before the rain arrived.

Steep rugged terrain coming off of Whiteface Mt.

The view from Whiteface MT, looking at Smuggler’s Notch ski area (Madonna Peak) and Mt. Mansfield.

Cloudy, cool, and wet at Sterling Pond. I had the whole place to myself. Including a mattress in the shelter, which I’m guessing was left by the caretaker.

10-14 I made it a cold wet muddy 19.3 miles, plus a long end of the day .3 mile side trail, to Buchanan Lodge. I got no views from Mt Mansfield, as the day was cold, rainy and windy. Upon arriving at the Smugglers Notch picnic area, the rain became heavy and I took cover under the pit toilet overhang. A hiker that had pulled into the parking lot and decided to skip the hike due to the rain, came over and offered me words of encouragement, candy, and an apple.  She had hiked the LT earlier this year.  I got one little view at the end of the day, and had some company at the shelter that night.

No shortage of mud in VT. This was a particularly muddy section requiring careful consideration, and a picture.

All day I was in the clouds, wind and rain over Mt Mansfield, but got a little view near the end of the day from Harrington’s View, on the side of Bolton Mt., looking at Bolton Valley ski area.

10-15 I didn’t get a great night’s sleep at Buchanon and my cold made a comeback after the cold wet hiking conditions.   Despite feeling sick and tired I got a nice 23.3 mile day in to Cowel’s Cove Shelter, over Camel’s Hump and Burnt Rock. Temperatures were in the 40’s most of the day, but plentiful sunshine and I was fuelled by the kindness and treats of two nice couples that gave me food (banana, fig newtown, grapes, salami, cheese, and chocolate!) by the Winooski river and then just before the Camel’s Hump summit.

A beautiful day to be on Camel’s Hump. The view from the top, looking north at Mt. Mansfield.

Looking south from Camel’s Hump.

To end an awesome day over Camel’s Hump, I got some light rain showers as I came to Burnt Rock, which created a complete and spectacular rainbow near sunset. The rainbow was too close to get a full picture.

10-16 After hiking the 5.2 miles to Appalachian Gap, I hitched into Waitsfield.  My cold was worse, and once I checked the weather forecast, high temps in the 30s with mix of rain and snow in the valley,  I decided I was going to need a day off to reassess.  I sent two Warmshowers emails out and Laura, living up in Waterbury, got back to me within an hour, offering me a place to stay.  Turns out she hiked the LT earlier this year.

The next day was cold and wet, snowy in the mountains, and Laura and boyfriend, Ben, gave me the grand tour of Warren and Waitsfield, including a stop at the Mad Taco.  Sunday was even colder with snow showers in town,  so I stayed another day and they took me up to Burlington for the day, where I found a pair of warmer gloves and some Yak Trax at the Outdoor Gear Exchange.

Warmshowers hosts, Ben and Laura, sharing some poutine with me. Happy to be inside with warm food and good company!
The view from the base of Sugarbush on an outing with Laura and Ben. Looks like ski season is around the corner. I heard Killington was opening the next day.

10-19  Monday I hitched back up to Appalachian Gap and hiked the 2 miles up to Stark’s Nest at the top of Mad River Glen.  I was hiking through a winter wonderland.  It was beautiful, the Yak Trax worked great, but my feet were cold and wet, and my hands were numb.  By time I got to the top I was thirsty, and all water sources were in frozen form.  I may have been able to continue, but with the forecast calling for rain and temps in the 30s, a lack of appropriate winter condition footwear, or a stove, I felt unprepared and decided 110 miles of the Long Trail was all that was going to happen for this trip.  Laura was kind enough to have me another night, and conveniently lives just a 15 minute walk to the Amtrak station.   So the LT remains on my to do list.

Skiers already managed to get some earned turns in.

A little ice and snow made the hiking a bit more interesting.

Winter wonderland crossing Paradise ski run at Mad River Glen.

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