Even without the part of the Long Trail that I hiked on the Appalachian Trail, I’ve spent plenty of time on Vermont’s jewel of a hiking trail. Months at Stratton Pond on trail crew, visits to Mansfield and Camel’s Hump while living in Waterbury, the Side-to-side odyssey last year, all add up to a lot of time in the Green Mountains.
There’s a lot to love about those mountains. So when I returned east from my NOLS Instructor Course with some free time, I threw together plans to finally through-hike the Long Trail. I’ve outlined the planning process already, so now I’ll tell you how it went, splitting the report into four parts– one for each supply period, plus an analysis of my food and gear. I hope you enjoy what’s to come.
|My loaded pack at the Canadian border with a nice view of the mountains of Quebec.|
The planning for the trip was rushed into just over a week, mixed with visiting family and taking care of other business, but it felt natural. I’d gone over the planning stages of long hikes before, and I’d daydreamed about the Long Trail for years. When the time finally came, it went almost too smoothly. I arrived at the North Troy Inn with time enough to sit for several hours and relax, waiting for the next morning and the beginning of the hike.
|Late on day one, atop Jay Peak.|
I felt an immediate sense of peace with my first steps on trail. It had been far too long since I’d been alone in the forest with days of walking ahead of me, a clear goal and the simple life of a backpacker. My worries about finding work and balancing my life in Keene drifted out of my mind in the cold breeze that blew over the mountains.
|Vermont forests are dense, but I don’t see a problem with that.|
Northern Vermont is notorious for steep trails and constant ups and downs, but I found that my own energy levels were more of a challenge that first day. Though the climbs were relatively short, I was ready to revise my plan by halfway into the day’s mileage. My goal of averaging twenty miles per day would have to wait until later. I lay down in the Laura Woodward shelter for a nap, but it was still early afternoon when I awoke, mostly refreshed.
|Mount Belvidere, one of my favorites in Vermont.|
I reached the top of Jay Peak around 6 PM, the skies clear and the sun low. There are few better views in the east than from northern peaks in the early or late hours of the day. I sat atop the mountain until I was too chilled to stay any longer, then rushed down to the campsite below. This was the beginning of a pleasant trend– for the next two weeks, I arrived in camp later than 6 PM on more than half of the hiking days, spending about eleven hours on the trail each day, with plenty of long breaks.
A Vermont State Of Mind
|Looking back at Belvidere from Spruce Ledge Camp, the fire tower looks so small from here.|
Heading southbound on the Long Trail makes for a lonely hike– almost everyone hikes the LT northbound, so I crossed paths with most of the finishing end-to-enders in that first week, but only spent more than a few minutes with the handful with whom I camped. Three hikers at Jay Camp, four at Spruce Ledge, two at Roundtop, six at Taft, four at Puffer. For the peak of summer hiking season in New England, that’s pretty sparse.
|More lush undergrowth.|
While I had plenty of time to let my mind wander off into the far regions of the universe, bringing it back was always a good experience. Every single person I saw in that first week on trail was so happy. I don’t mean that they were just smiling and pleasant. They were excited, optimistic, joyful– clearly in love with life. And why not? They were on a dream vacation through one of the most gorgeous states in the US. And while AT through-hikers are notorious for their trail community, I’d argue it’s much harder to find an AT hiker nearing the end of a through-hike who is still having as much fun as an average LT end-to-ender.
|At only 1200 feet or so, Prospect Rock overlooks the Lamoille River nicely.|
By my third night on trail, I had been in a pretty constant state of bliss. My feet felt great, my belly was full and I wasn’t sick of my food. I’d camped three nights in a row with small groups of great people. I’d had clear skies with scenic views, and dense forests with lush and beautiful undergrowth. I couldn’t ask for more.
In that first ninety-mile section, I could have accessed no less than five wonderful towns. Due to time and money constraints, as well as just wanting to push the limits of my ultralight backpacking skills and comfort in the backcountry, I chose to avoid any side trips. This is almost a shame, since one of my two favorite things about Vermont is its small towns with compact downtowns and wonderful food. The other favorite thing is the natural beauty and mountains, so at least I had that.
|Madonna Peak at Smuggler’s Notch Ski Resort, looking toward the Worcester Range.|
Missing out on all that fresh Vermont food wasn’t as upsetting on this trip as it could have been, since my food planning went quite well for the backpacking. Carrying six days’ worth of food from the Canadian border was a gamble for me, since I have such changing appetites while hiking, but by the time I arrived at the Post Office in Jonesville to pick up my first mail drop, I was down to just a handful of nuts and not a bit underfed.
|Fine company at Taft Lodge.|
In fact, I’d had a bit more to eat than planned, due to some trail magic at Mount Mansfield. The small crowd at Taft Lodge on a weekend night included a few Quebecois, who shared their dinner of fresh baguette, French cheese, and paté with another end-to-ender and myself. It’s usually not hard to tell the Quebecois from the Americans on Mansfield– they eat so much better!
Hot and Dry
My experience in Vermont has been generally wet. The two summers I spent there both broke records for high rainfall, and last year I cancelled planned end-to-end hikes twice due to flooding rains. This year there was a drought. This wasn’t so good for Vermont in general (or much of the Northeast), but it worked out pretty well in my favor. I had six days in a row of clear skies, warm weather, and dry feet.
|Proceeding across the summit ridge of Vermont’s highest peak, Mount Mansfield.|
The drought meant easy walking for hikers used to the dreaded “Vermud,” but it did have one major drawback– drinking water was scarce. On four of the first five nights, I camped at shelters without running water sources. Luckily, I had good info about upcoming water (thanks to many passing northbounders), and used very little for cooking. Water was much easier to come by, despite the drought, than at most points on the Pacific Crest.
|Sunrise over Mt Elmore from Puffer Shelter.|
Soon enough, I walked beneath the interstate at Jonesville, ready to pick up my first food package and continue on my way to the next stage of the trip. The forecast called for thunderstorms and rain, but for now it was still brutally hot. No matter. I’d planned my food well, I’d met a few dozen wonderful people on the trail, and the scenery was consistently beautiful. I had everything I wanted from the hike already.
Stay tuned for part 2…