After a one-day break from hiking, it was time to get back to work. I returned to the trail at Sherburne Pass, right outside the Inn at Long Trail for a long climb up Pico and Killington Peaks, opting for the old LT route as many Long Trail hikers do. At this point, the Appalachian Trail joined the Long Trail. I entered a different world.
A Different Group
It became clear as soon as I passed Jungle Junction (the junction of the old and new LT near Killington Peak) that I was in for a very different experience than I’d had in the past ten days. There were a lot of people on the trail now. A Green Mountain Club caretaker told me, “the AT crowd is like a mullet. Business in front, party in the back. We’re right at the bald spot.” Indeed, there were about equal numbers of the party hikers and serious hikers in the crowds I met. I passed so many northbound hikers that I began to lose track. One day, there were more than fifty– more people than I’d seen in my first week on the trail.
|AT Through-hikers overlooking Manchester Center at Prospect Rock.|
There was a major difference in mentality between the AT hikers, near the end of their journey, and that of the LT hikers further north. The AT hikers, though in superior shape from hiking for several months already, had an air of weariness about them. I’ve seen this among all the long-distance hikers I’ve met on both coasts. For the first month or so, everything is new and exciting. After the weeks start to pile up, though, the hike becomes a routine, rather than the escape it had been in the beginning. Most LT hikers aren’t on the trail long enough for that to happen. Only a handful of the AT hikers I met were still in the blissful haze that they must have started with, but their joy was contagious.
Ponds and Peaks
South of Killington, the second highest peak in the state, the Long Trail continues through lowlands near the towns of Shrewsbury and Clarendon. A significant section of the trail in this area had sustained serious damage in the hurricane last year, resulting in washed out bridges and eroded land. The Forest Service had closed the trail around the damage, but most hikers went in anyway, ignoring the detour and just crossing streams on fallen trees (of which there were plenty). I did the same, and everything was just fine. Soon enough, I was climbing back up into higher elevations at White Rocks Mountain and Little Rock Pond.
|Where once there was a road bridge, now we have a hiker bridge.|
|Home of the forest gnomes.|
The Long Trail’s northern and central sections are full of steep ups and downs between rocky mountains, but the southern end is a very different trail. There are plenty of mountains, and they are quite massive when viewed from afar, but few have natural views from the top. Fire towers and ski resorts help with that, but the real natural beauty in southern Vermont comes more from things below the treetops, not above.
|One of the most reliable and serene sunsets in Vermont, at Stratton Pond.|
Griffith Lake, Little Rock Pond, Stratton Pond, and several beaver bogs provided fine scenery day after day. A reliably gorgeous sunset at Stratton Pond, an abundance of wildlife in various bogs, a cooling dip in the cold mountain water at Griffith– these were fine shows of natural beauty. The views from Stratton and Glastenbury mountains are two of my favorites in Vermont, and those from Bromley and Baker are delightful, but it’s just as nice to sit by the edge of a pond for an hour and see no traces of humanity anywhere around.
|The view at Bromley isn’t bad, and the seats are well-cushioned.|
Even walking through the dense forest in the Lye Brook Wilderness, or the ridge near White Rocks, the simple peace of the woods was enough. For every time I’ve heard someone criticize a section of trail for being a green tunnel, or a mountain without a view, I’ve walked through a dozen such places and seen nothing to complain about. A fine pond might not clobber you over the head with its grandeur, but there’s just as much to see as from a mountaintop.
Heading to Georgia? Or just section hiking?
With so many AT hikers passing by, most everyone assumed I was a southbound AT through-hiker. Maybe it was because I carry an ultralight pack, and most people assume solo UL hikers are always through-hikers. Or maybe because I had a beard and smelled funny. Or maybe just because AT hikers so outnumbered LT hikers at this point. Whatever the reason, it no longer felt like I was hiking the Long Trail. I was hiking the AT now.
|More lovely Vermont forest.|
It might have been different if I’d come through in a different season, or just any time when there weren’t so many AT hikers. But it was a good way to be done with the hike. On the last full day, I sat down in a clearing just before the evening’s campsite, and chatted with a couple of very nice through-hikers who were still riding the AT high, still enjoying every minute. One even recognized me from this blog (that’s a first for me). We talked about the joy of long-distance backpacking, and of the hiking that lay ahead for them. It’s a good feeling to be around people who are so happy to be doing what they’re doing.
|Beaver bogs would be a nice place to find moose in the morning, I think.|
The next morning, I made it to the Massachusetts border pretty early, and sat down to sign the register there. I realized that this had been the most satisfying long-distance hike I’ve done– things went more or less according to plan, I met good people, and I wasn’t burnt out at the end. And then I looked at the first page of the register, and found an entry from nine months earlier– “…Missed my chance to thru-hike this year. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for next year. –Guthook”.
|Ultralight nerd picture.|
Looks like that worked out perfectly.