Clouds slowly gathered in the sky, but the lobby of the Post Office was relatively cool compared to the thick, oppressive air outside. I packed my food lazily, knowing I’d have the most painful part of the entire Long Trail ahead of me soon. From the crossing of the Winooski River in Jonesville, I had three and a half miles of paved road to walk in blistering heat, soon to be followed by a six-mile, 3,700 foot climb up Camel’s Hump. I would cut the climb into two days by camping at Bamforth Ridge shelter, but I still had a lot of hot walking to do before I got there.
|The Winooski River looks great, but walking on pavement is less fun.|
Wake Up Call
By the time I arrived at the trail again, feet aching from the road walk, I heard the beginnings of thunder far away in the distance. The sky looked pretty light, though, so I didn’t worry. I just put one foot in front of the other, and made my way through the hardwood forest at the base of Camel’s Hump– one of the most gorgeous forests I’ve ever walked through, and a fine way to forget the heat and discomfort of walking on roads.
|Descending the cliffs south of Camel’s Hump is challenging enough without drizzle and fog.|
The thunder became more frequent, but stayed nice and distant as I plodded along. When I arrived at the shelter, one of the nicest in Vermont, it seemed like it would be a peaceful evening with a couple of Long Trail hikers– more of the exceptionally happy hikers I’d seen over the past week. I put my pack inside, and casually walked to the spring to fill water bottles. Just as I capped the second bottle, a few fat drops of rain fell from the sky. I looked up into the sky that had been light until just a moment ago. Uh oh.
|Ladder Ravine, near Burnt Rock Mountain. Extra green after the rain.|
I dived into the lean-to just as the sky fell, pounding down on the roof and the trees with torrential rain, hail, and thunder that shook the ground like a war had just broken loose. The storm continued steadily through the night, interrupted a few times for brief respites. All of us in the lean-to happily thanked the Green Mountain Club for maintaining such fine shelters on the trail. A large, dry space with a solid roof overhead was a nice luxury in this kind of storm.
Slippery When Wet
The clear weather and drought of the earlier week on trail seemed to be over now. Though it didn’t rain much in the next few days, I awoke inside clouds every morning during this period of the hike. That’s to be expected, mostly, since I camped high up on some of Vermont’s tallest mountains– Camel’s Hump, Mount Ellen, and Breadloaf.
|Clear in the afternoon, looking at Camel’s Hump from Molly Stark’s Balcony.|
For hikers in the rest of New England, rain is an inconvenience, but little more. In Vermont, however, things can be quite different. Rather than the rough-surfaced granite in the Whites or Maine, most of the Green Mountains are comprised of schist, which has a smoother surface and a lot of slick moss. Even when dry, I’ve found Vermont’s rocks to be a bit slippery; when wet, they might as well be greased ice. My hiking speed decreased considerably during the few days of damp weather, and my legs acquired quite a few new scrapes and bruises.
|Clouds lifting over Mounts Ellen and Lincoln.|
Considering my past experiences in Vermont, I counted myself incredibly lucky those few days, though. I was inside the clouds for Camel’s Hump and Mount Ellen (tied for third highest mountain in Vermont), but in each case the clouds cleared by late morning, affording me some of the state’s finest views from lookouts on Mounts Lincoln, Abraham, Burnt Rock, and Molly Stark. By the third and fourth days after my resupply, when the clouds stayed all day, I was already into the section of trail between Middlebury Gap and Sherburne Pass, where views were few and far between. Instead, I got to focus on the dense forest undergrowth, with its thick beds of moss and ferns. I certainly didn’t have to worry about sparse water supplies anymore.
Splitting the State
Splitting the trip report up into resupply sections makes sense from a logistical point of view, but if you want to get a sense of Vermont, you’d more likely divide it this way: The section from Smuggler’s Notch to the Canadian border would be the far north, where the mountains are steep, but have fine views of the least inhabited part of the state. This area has little traffic on the trails, but some of the most pleasant hiking (if you don’t mind difficult trails with less maintenance). From Smuggler’s Notch to Lincoln Gap is the next division, with most of Vermont’s highest peaks, the most day hikers, and the most dramatic mountaintops. Mansfield, Camel’s Hump, Ellen, Abraham– four of the top five highest peaks, all of the state’s alpine zone, several large ski resorts. If you’re from Vermont, you’ve been on one of these mountains.
|Looking toward Waitsfield and Warren from Mount Abraham.|
The next section is shorter, from Lincoln Gap down to Sherburne Pass, and is what I ended this logistical section with. Here, I saw the least traffic on the entire trail, and the least stunning scenery. That’s not to say it was less worthwhile than the other sections– there were fine views from mountains like Breadloaf and Roosevelt, and nice scenery at ponds like Pleiad and Skylight. The charms of this section were more subtle and maybe less appreciated than other areas. The reward of hiking isn’t just a far view from a mountaintop– there’s more to it than that. Walking all day in the dense forest, seeing only a small handful of fellow travelers, and feeling removed from the modern world is reward enough. Dramatic views are just icing on the cake.
|Killington Lookout on Mount Roosevelt.|
By the time I arrived at Sherburne Pass, though, I had walked 170 miles in ten days with no significant breaks. I felt a particular need for some rest and town food. The original plan had been to avoid towns to cut expenditures, but with the Inn At Long Trail so easy to access and so friendly to hikers (I’d heard stories of their Irish Reuben and Guinness Stew all week), I gave in and decided to take a day off. Oh, what a fine decision. Plush beds, shower, laundry, and delicious food. That was just what I needed.
|The grave site for the recently burned Tucker Johnson lean-to.|
I stayed one night at the Inn, picked up my resupply package, and took care of general town chores. The next morning, my one zero day on this hike, I decided to stave off boredom by doing something productive. With all my chores finished, I set out on the road and stuck out my thumb. Five hours later, I arrived back in North Troy, where the journey had begun. I’d realized that hitchhiking from the southern end of the trail to Killington would be a lot quicker and easier than hitchhiking all the way to Troy, so I made plans to leave my car at the Inn for the last few days of the hike, and finished off my zero day with a trip to Burlington for good food and company with the Green Mountain Club trail crew. Just like old times!
|Hiker rates for a really nice, cushy bed. Heaven for a through-hiker.|
Well, that was exciting. Zero days are a wonderful thing, but they’re best for getting you ready for the next stretch of trail. Stay tuned for the next part of the trip report…