long trail

All posts tagged long trail

A little over a week ago (January 5), I tramped up Stratton Mountain on a crystal-clear, chilly winter day, all excited to see my favorite southern Vermont peak in true winter conditions. I wasn’t going to write about it here, but I just realized it’s been a while since I’ve updated the blog (again– this is turning into the norm at this point). And with warmer temperatures bringing on the mid-January thaw this week, I need to look back at those snowy pictures to remind myself that it’s still a mighty fine winter this year.

I would guess two or three feet of snow, considering how easily I was brushing my head against the canopy.

I’ve been spending most of my time over the past few months diligently working away on my computer, getting ready to turn out next season’s version of my iPhone apps. Last year at this time, I was doing the same thing, but this year it’s more exciting than stressful. I feel more confident about what I’m doing, and the features I’m planning on adding should make the apps infinitely more useful and more fun to use. But there is still some stress involved. Quite a bit, in fact.

The other day I had a conversation with a well-known hiker about making a living as an outdoor adventurer, and it somewhat reaffirmed what I’d found out over the past few years– seasonal employment in outdoorsy jobs is not generally a sustainable career path. Something else is usually necessary to live that dream. That’s where my programming comes in, but even that seems like a gamble. More on this in a bit.

The walk up Stratton Mountain was much like the previous week’s hike on Okemo– chilly, with lovely, fluffy powder. The area near Kelley Stand Road, where the Long Trail crosses, is plowed with space for several cars to park, but it seemed more popular for snowmobiles than as a hiking destination. I guess that’s a good thing, considering how poor the winter sports were last year in general. I was happy to see so many snowmobilers, even if they’re kind of noisy.

Fluff balls!

As we trudged up the mountain, the trees became more heavily laden with snow, and the wind took on an icy bite. There really is nothing more beautiful to me than a New England mountain forest covered in thick snow– although wait until springtime and I’m sure I’ll say the same thing about early springtime forests, and then summer mountains, and… you get the idea. We arrived at the summit clearing to find several feet of snow and a peaceful winter wonderland. Oh, what beauty!

You might be able to see from the picture that the fire tower was a bit encrusted in rime ice. Climbing the tower was a little dicey, so my companions and I only went high enough to see over the trees before carefully making our way down to the ground. I doubt we could have made it all the way to the top– I had to kick holes into the crust on the stairs in order to have something to stand on– but it was a lovely view even from halfway up.

When I started the app programming thing, I had a modest goal of making enough money by selling apps that I could combine their income with a few NOLS courses, and otherwise just hike a lot through the summer and fall. That’s not exactly how it worked out. Let’s just say the programming is a labor of love at this point. If I were to calculate out the hourly wage I’ve made, it might be more than a dollar or two. But I still envision the programming turning into a real source of income– it’s just going to take a little more time than I initially thought.

Sometimes I think all the hiking I’ve done since college has ruined me for normal employment. After the taste of adventure that the Appalachian Trail provided (and then the Pacific Crest, the New England Trail, the few NOLS courses, and on and on), no career path has quite lived up to what I’d convinced myself I’m capable of. The best jobs have been enjoyable and provided another taste of greatness. The worst have felt like total dead ends. The Guthook’s Guides business may be the one that meets almost all the criteria of a dream job for me. Produces something that helps others? Check. Makes people happy? Check. Keeps me connected directly with the hiking community? Check. Makes me feel important? Check. Makes me rich? Well, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

What AT or PCT hiker doesn’t dream of finding a way to turn hiking and the outdoors into a steady living? I learned through several years of leading trips, working on trails, and caretaking at backcountry lodges that those jobs’s rewards are almost entirely spiritual and mental. Once the job is done, the money doesn’t go far, but the experiences and the mind set have stayed with me in a big way. So here I am with the crazy idea that I can make a sustainable business. It’s not certain at all, but it’s kind of exciting.

The view about halfway up the tower.

Sometimes, like in the case of climbing an ice-crusted fire tower, hitting your original goal isn’t even necessary to have a great time and make the whole endeavor worthwhile. Heck, if I hadn’t even set foot on the fire tower the other day, it still would have been a great walk in the woods. I’ll still keep my hopes up for the business to do well, though.

Yesterday, I sent my Long Trail journal and End-to-Ender certification paperwork to the Green Mountain Club to officially be included in this year’s list of Long Trail through hikers. I sent in the paperwork for the AT and PCT after I hiked them, but the Long Trail has the extra fun bonus of my journal being entered into the archives at the Vermont Historical Society. Along with all the other Long Trail journals, mine is now a historical document. I wish I had written something in it that actually made it worth reading generations down the line. Maybe next time.

Just add stamps, and it’s on its way!

Reading my old hiking journals always surprises me. Looking back at an AT through hike, you see yourself in an idealized past– badass hiker, endless appetite, constant freedom. Reading the journal, it’s all pain and complaining. There’s very little about the views (maybe because those are documented in the photos), or about the day to day routines that you will eventually forget. Looking at my Long Trail journal, I was surprised again, only four months later.

I remember the Long Trail being a most wonderful hike. Everything went remarkably well, I met dozens of really great people, and I had plenty of time to wander in the woods in the company of my thoughts. My journal tells me I was worried about the future with poor prospects for employment; I suffered from a handful of days of gastrointestinal distress; I tore up my feet at the end of the first week and had problem blisters for most of the last week; I got sick of the attitudes of the party crowd on the AT. But even then, I knew the complaints were minor in comparison to all the good that was going on. Every day that I hiked in meditative silence seemed like a gift. Even just two weeks of hiking had me totally addicted to the nomad lifestyle again. Coming home was hard.

I guess it wasn’t all sunshine and roses on the Long Trail.

Most long distance hikers can probably relate to that feeling. When you get home, all wearied and broken and sick of hiking, it takes about a day before the post-hike depression sets in. Two days ago you wanted nothing more than a normal life, a different path, a bed, a car, a kitchen. But today you have all that and instead of relief, you’re terrified of the new prospects of making money, paying rent, filling your gas tank, having to make more decisions than just where to camp for the night.

I’ve been in Keene for the past three and a half months, settled into a routine, and feeling better than after my other two big hikes, but things are still different. I have two jobs, one real one and one where I am my own boss, but there’s still lots of uncertainty ahead. I can’t just follow white blazes. I can’t even follow a herd path. I’m forging ahead on my own, hoping I end up where I want to go. It’s exciting, but it takes all of my time and all of my brainpower.

Sometimes I worry that devoting so much of my time to programming is taking away all of my will to write the blog, or to wander away into the woods and explore. In the past few months, my creative impulses for writing have been drained into the programming of iPhone apps, as has much of my time for hiking. I just promise myself (and Yvonne) that by working so frantically now, I’ll have more time for other things in the winter and summer.

So I take a bit of time now and then to go for a quick walk up Monadnock, or to write here. But mostly it’s work work work. The nice thing is, I still enjoy it. Just like any of those trails where my journals only tell of the pain, I still see plenty of good times.

It’s been real nice getting back to a routine and life in New Hampshire in the past few weeks, but I quickly became a little overwhelmed with how much I need to do in order to get back on track. Even though I mentioned I’d be cutting down on my schedule of blog posts, I managed to let it go a little further than planned– with all the work on other projects, and avoiding the Internet time, my plate is feeling quite full.

The trail to Ethan Pond, with the Bonds far away in the distance.

Last weekend, I forced myself out of Keene for a few days. First, I went back up to the White Mountains with my pal, Clint (who seems to be my newest victim, I mean hiking partner, since our meeting on a Backpackinglight hike last year). We punished ourselves on a very cold couple of days in the Zealand valley and the Willey Range. Saturday night we ended up hiking late into the evening to find a campsite, having forgotten just how early the light now dwindles. Sunday morning was bitter cold– below 40, easily– but a crystal clear reminder of the coming autumn.

Walking alongside the Pemigewasset River.

The next day, I brought Yvonne up to Mounts Abraham and Ellen in Vermont to introduce her to the area. It was a much hotter day, with thick haze, and the leaves are starting to look like they might skip “bright” and go straight to “dull”, but it was a lovely hike anyway. Driving up Route 100 is beautiful enough without even the exciting drive up Lincoln Gap and the walk along the ridge. And to top it all off, we finished the day with baked goods at Sandy’s in Rochester (this place is effing amazing, especially considering it’s in a town that’s tiny and out of the way even by Vermont standards), then had a post-hike dinner at Fritz’s in Keene (one of Yvonne’s and my favorite places in town, with really tasty burgers, fries, and big fat salads).

Looking up the Whitewall Brook valley to Zealand Falls Hut.
Looking into the Pemigewasset Wilderness on a cold morning from Mount Tom.

Rather than a blow-by-blow report, I’ll just load you up with pictures from the weekend. And then I’ll get back to working on my other stuff. These books aren’t reading themselves, and there are some big changes coming in the world of Guthook’s Hiking Guide apps….

Bretton Woods and Mount Washington from Mount Field.
Mt Abraham and smiles.
Lincoln Peak, and not smiles!
From Mount Ellen, into the haze toward Camel’s Hump

Last week, I spent yet more time in Vermont to finish up my summer hiking season. I dropped off my good hiking buddy, Kentucky Blue, at the southern end of the Long Trail so she could start her through-hike; I drove up and down the state to see some places I’d missed over the course of the summer; I hung out with some Appalachian Trail hikers, and got a taste of the through-hiking community again. Best of all, I finally got a chance to see the place everybody’s been raving about– The Green Mountain House in Manchester Center, VT.

Okay, not the best picture, but you get the idea.

The Green Mountain House opened in the summer of 2008, the year after I hiked the Appalachian Trail. Before 2008, Manchester Center was a great hiker town, but there were no options for inexpensive lodging in town. Since the town is a pretty high-end tourist destination, this was a problem for hikers. Now, though, the town has what I think may be the best hostel on the Appalachian Trail– certainly in the top five, and definitely the best on the Long Trail.

What’s so great?

Kentucky Blue showing off the awesomeness.

Jeff, the owner of the hostel, is a long-distance hiker himself, and basically took all the things he loved about other hostels to make his own hiker’s paradise. The entire building is newly renovated with the purpose of being a hiker hostel. There’s a nice hiker-kitchen (complete with dishwasher, and every utensil/pot/pan you could need), a large lounge room (several comfy couches, wifi, computer, TV, movies), multiple hiker bedrooms with comfy beds, fully stocked bathrooms, laundry room, loaner clothes, books and magazines– everything you might need.

Slow Goin’ and Piedmont chilling out in the kitchen.

But the little touches are what make the place so great. The living room with the TV and computer is separate from the dining room and kitchen, so if some people are watching movies and TV, you can still hang out in the other rooms without being disturbed. The bathrooms are fully stocked with soap, shampoo, razors, and other toiletries for the needy hiker. The bedrooms also have comfy couches to make the rooms nice to hang out in. Jeff keeps the kitchen stocked with eggs, pancake mix, cereal, milk, and Ben & Jerry’s (every guest gets a complimentary pint!). The place is immaculately clean, despite four years of hikers coming through.

How cool is that? Hiker backpacks ready to head to the trail in the morning.

Best of all, the rules are simple, and they keep things respectable. No drugs or alcohol. Quiet hours start at 9 PM. That’s pretty much all you need.

Yes, that’s a bomb by the fireplace.

The hostel is located a fair distance outside of town, so Jeff shuttles hikers in from town after they’ve taken care of whatever business is necessary. Since I had my car there, I helped out with driving people out to the trail, but Jeff goes far beyond the call of duty to get hikers to the trail in the morning, get them to the hostel in the afternoon, and to provide a heck of a nice place for hikers to stay. All this for $20 a night– and I got way more than my money’s worth if you count the ice cream and the leftover food in the fridge from someone’s birthday party the night before.

If you happen to be hiking in southern Vermont in the summer, check this place out. It’s a role model for all other hiker hostels out there.

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.

Clarendon Gorge

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.