Last year I was shut down twice in attempts to hike the Long Trail in Vermont, both times by flooding and nasty weather. It was bad news for the state in general, and more than a little disheartening for me. But this year, the stars seem to be aligning just right. I’ve told NOLS that I’ll be available for work in the month of August if they need me, which leaves me a two-week window to get to Vermont and take care of some unfinished business.
The Long Trail has been on my to-do list for the past three years, especially during the year that I worked for the Green Mountain Club as an Americorps member. Ideas and plans have been whirling through my head during that entire time– which direction to go, which season, how light to pack, how much time, how and where to resupply, what kind of gear to pack. I’ve settled on a plan for now. I’d like to walk through the planning process in order to give any aspiring End-to-Enders a resource to use when planning their trip. Let’s start with the basics.
|Walking along the Mount Mansfield ridge to Vermont’s highest point is the LT’s oldest section|
What the heck is this Long Trail, anyway?
You don’t know the Long Trail? Well, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Many people who hike on it or live near it are oblivious also. The LT is America’s first long-distance hiking trail, created in 1910 along with the Green Mountain Club– the organization which, to this day, maintains and promotes the trail. It was the precursor and inspiration for the Appalachian Trail, which shares the Long Trail’s first hundred miles from Massachusetts to Killington. The full length of the LT from Massachusetts to the Canadian border is about 280 miles, packed with rugged mountain terrain and dense forests.
How long will it take?
Most End-to-Enders take three or four weeks to hike the Long Trail. This is a pretty comfortable pace, and allows for some rest days, some flexibility with planning, and time to get used to the through-hiking routine. From personal experience, I know that two weeks ought to be just right for me. In mid-summer conditions, I’ll be able to keep my pack very light and daylight will be plentiful. For me, a full day of hiking for me is about 20 miles, which calculates out to just two weeks. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that time frame for everyone– three weeks for an experienced backpacker seems good to me, but if you take a few weekend practice hikes, you should be able to estimate your comfortable hiking pace before you go.
How will you deal with food?
Food in Vermont is a wonderful thing. For most Long Trail hikers, grocery stores in towns near the trail are a perfect place to resupply. There are at least a dozen fine towns within a short hitch from the trail that are perfectly suited to hikers– small downtown areas with wonderful little restaurants, farmers markets, well-stocked grocery stores, and friendly people.
In order to minimize the time I spend dealing with resupply during my hike, I’ve decided to do mail drops for my food. This can be tricky, since it’s hard to guess how much food to send. I’ve done resupplies from grocery stores and by mail on my previous trips, and they each have pros and cons. The main reason for mail drops this time around is to avoid trips into town and time in a grocery store– if I want to maintain a pace of nearly 20 miles per day, I can’t waste any time. I’m also going to save time by mailing only two resupply packages, both of them to places very close to the trail. That means I’ll be traveling about a hundred miles between supply points.
I’ll write a much more detailed post soon about my food planning, and then another one after the hike to see how it went.
|Birch Glen, one of many fine shelters along the Long Trail.|
Which way are you going?
I’m planning on a southbound hike (a tip from through-hikers: it’s not “north to south” or “south to north.” It’s “southbound” and “northbound.”), which is not the way most Long Trail hikers go. The Long Trail’s northern end is notoriously difficult, so most hikers start in the south in order to get in shape on the easier terrain before hitting the hard stuff. I’ll head southbound for reasons more related to transportation than hiking. I’d rather leave my car with a trail angel in northern Vermont, and the drive up that way is more pleasant. Also, if I end up not finishing the trail in my allotted two weeks, it will be easier for me to drive to southern Vermont to finish up any missed sections of trail. I’ll just have to keep in mind for the first few days of the hike that I can’t push myself too hard right away.
What kind of gear are you packing?
I’ll post a very detailed gear list sometime in the next week or so, with more discussion of what equipment I’m taking. I haven’t finalized my list yet, but here are some things I’ll keep in mind. First and foremost, it’s summer. That means bugs, rain, mud, and just maybe some sunshine and warm weather. I’ll pack much less insulation for this trip than my spring or fall hikes, but more bug protection.
In the past, I’d considered not taking a tent on the Long Trail, since there are so many fine shelters out there (the longest distance between two shelters on the LT is nine miles, and the average is somewhere around 4.5). The end of July is not a time when I can count on free space in shelters, though. Summer hiking season is the busy time on the trail, so my trusty tarp shelter is coming with me.
I do plan on pushing the limits of my lightweight gear and going lighter than ever. Since my resupply periods will be spaced far apart, I’m trying to keep my pack base weight down around 7.5 pounds, while carrying up to 14 pounds of food and water at a time. The Long Trail is a great place to try out ultralight backpacking, with so many shelters and short distances between towns for possible resupply.
Are you doing anything differently from your normal routine?
Not much, really. This will be the first long-distance backpacking trip for me where I’m not exploring mostly new territory. I haven’t hiked all of the Long Trail yet, but I’ve been on most of it, either during my AT hike or during weekend trips while living in Vermont, so this trip will be less exploring and more revisiting the places I’ve come to love.
In the past I toyed with ideas for hiking the trail, like doing it in the dead of winter, or without any resupply stops. This time, the only extra challenge I’ve added is just not going into towns. Instead, my resupply packages will go to places on or very near the trail so I won’t feel the inevitable gravity of town stops pulling me off schedule. The food planning for the trip will be the most difficult thing, since I’m trying to send exactly enough food, and not an ounce more.
|Stratton Pond, one of my favorite places on the AT and LT.|
Will you stay connected?
In the past year or so, I feel like I’ve grown a bit too attached to my technology, so I’m not going to write blog posts from the trail, even though I possess the capability with my iPhone. Seems like a funny thing to say, since connecting the technology to the trail is now my business, but there’s a difference between using the technology and being used by the technology. I’ll carry my phone to keep in contact with family and to arrange rides when needed, and I may check in briefly via Facebook when picking up resupply packages, but I’ll try to keep all the trail news saved up for the end of the hike.
Last month on my NOLS course, I went 33 days without contacting the outside world– no phone, no music, no news– and it felt great. Getting away from technology and society isn’t the top priority for me on backpacking trips, but it doesn’t hurt. I haven’t had a solo backpacking trip in a while, which means I’ve had precious little time to meditate and reflect in my favorite environment. Really, when you think of it, taking yourself away from your email, Facebook, news, and social media isn’t what hurts. It’s plugging back in and getting that flood of what you’ve missed. That said, I can’t wait to get my feet on the Long Trail.