Updated: Jun 26, 2021
Living life as a New Yorker, I don't have a car. While this is fine for city living, it makes getting to and from trail heads logistically difficult. Five buses kind of difficult.
Today J-Dub and I started our day at beautiful Port Authority in Midtown Manhattan. We took a 7:45am bus to Springfield making our first connection of the day on an Albany bound bus.
This all went surprisingly well. In fact, we were ahead of schedule on both buses which is something that doesn't normally happen on interstate bus rides. Perhaps I should have guessed that this would lead to trouble later (as all things must balance out), but delighted by the time we set off into Pittsfield.
Our first stop was to our old neighborhood ice cream shop, Dairy Cone. This was the place we'd go to after games, on lazy summer afternoons, or just for a quick treat. In my opinion, it's still the best soft serve there is, though admittedly all that sugar does have hints of nostalgia for me that makes it extra sweet.
We passed through our old neighborhood, Morningside, and made our way to a new fixture: the Berkshire Roots dispensary. Having been to some other dispensaries in the state, believe the hype! The staff were all friendly, helpful and kind and the store itself had some beautiful decor.
Our plan after these stops was to take a Lyft or Uber to the trailhead. Seemed simple enough. I've managed to find rides in locales much more rural than the city of Pittsfield, but when I checked there were no cars available. This was unexpected and threw a wrench in our timeline, but with nothing to do but press on we got on the Berkshire Regional Bus line the BBus, and made our way to Williamstown.
The first shelter on the Long Trail heading North is the Seth Warner Shelter. From the bus stop including the Pine Cobble Trail to access the LT, we'd be 6.8 miles away with about two hours of sunlight and no trail legs. It became apparent we needed a new plan.
We considered heading to the Sherman Brook campsite on the Appalachian Trail in Massachusetts, it'd be a bit closer to a bus stop and then give us a running start the next day. But even that would be a two mile hike and with the bubble of AT thru-hikers in the area there'd be no guarantee of tenting sites.
On the bus to North Adams, J-Dub remembered that a local art gallery in Williamstown The Mountain Goat Artisans allowed hikers to camp for free in their backyard. Or at least, they used to. He had stayed there a few years back when he hiked the Taconic Crest Trail.
A short phone call with the owner assured that they do, in fact, still allow hikers to stay! So our plan was set.
It took $10.00 each and three bus transfers (a total of five in eleven hours on the day), but we found ourselves in downtown Williamstown, a preppy, brick lined, New England college town.
After a quick walk to the gallery we set up in the backyard, able to get our tents up in between evening storms.The yard is really quite lovely and the situation turned out as well as possible. The Hoosic River runs behind it. We were also able to hit the town for some fish and chips at the Purple Pub! An added bonus before digging into our dehydrated food.
LT Mileage: 0
Slow soggy start out of Williamstown, MA. A surprise morning storm got most our gear wet as we were breaking camp. Since we were in the backyard at the Mountain Goat we didn't have any tree cover, so it really poured down on us.
We got coffee, breakfast, and a new trash bag for me at Tunnel City Coffee. I needed the trash bag for my sleeping bag. I usually always pack two: one to line my bag the other as added protection for my sleeping bag, but I made the mistake of only packing one as a liner. The barista was kind enough to give me one for free along with our meals!
Then up to the Pine Cobble Trail. From Williamstown Center it was a pretty straight shot about 8 miles. One tricky thing to note is that at the crossing of Cole Avenue and North Hoosac a sign seems to suggest walking down North Hoosac when in actuality you should: continue up Hill on Pine Cobble Road (obvious enough it would seem, but it's tricky) past a community gate, follow the veer right, and in a few yard you'll find the trail head on your left.
The Pine Cobble is teal blazed a local hiking trail maintained by the Williamstown Rural Land Foundation.
While the trail leads out to Ephs Outlook, a cool view of the valley below on a clear day, we continued to connect to the end of the Massachusetts AT and reach the Vermont border.
At the border we bumped into a Southbound AT thru-hiker named Teacher who was kind enough to pause and take the obligatory southern terminus picture of us.
The sky started to break which was nice and we made it pretty swiftly into the Seth Warner shelter where we decided to stop, dry our gear, our feet, and our... well everything.
At the shelter we met Jim, a Green Mountain Club trail maintainer who has been working this section of trail for 16 years.
We chatted as he packed up and we unpacked and he gave us some good local news and tips on upcoming towns and shelters.
He also told us about a plant that is, "the best natural toilet paper in the New England forest."
While I've since forgotten the name of it, I remember learning from him that it's a native plant which readily roots in the parts of trail often eroded by all the foot traffic and wet weather. Oh, and in terms of toilet paper: tested and approved.
Shortly after Jim left, we moved our operation and set up camp, wanting to get our tents up before any afternoon storms popped up and made things wet again.
As the afternoon and rain went on we met groups of AT thru-hikers, both southbound and northbound. The most curious of which was a couple with a hiking dog who were sponsored as light weight dog food ambassadors. In return for the food they had to post Instagram photos of their dog on the trail. The dog was, admittedly, very Instagramable.
It became clear from the amount of hikers in the tent site and shelter that for the first 100 miles we'd be hiking in a big AT bubble.
LT Mileage: 2.8
Slippery, misty start to day two, but with no rain I couldn't complain!
Out of Seth Warner we came upon what the GMC guide book calls an old beaver pond. While this is probably true, what it doesn't mention is that those generations of beavers engineered the Hoover Dams of beaver dams.
After passing this feat of engineering, we had a climb up to Consultation Peak then and some ups and downs around more ponds to complete the 7.2 miles to Congdon Shelter. We stopped for an early lunch there and noticed someone decided to add a homey touch with a small, Thomas Kinkade-esque cottage painting above the shelter's window.
After our break at Congdon we hiked up Harmon Hill, catching it light and bright at 1pm, a nice contrast to the rainy skies we started with. I also stopped here to take care of some blisters that all the soggy days had given me.
A nice, mountain breeze followed us the rest of the day and kept us cool as we walked down and up the steep climbs from VT 9. The trail often drops in elevation to a road crossing then immediately climbs back up after the road crossing and this was one such, very steep, occasion.
We ended the day at the Melville Nauheim shelter, which was at the top of our road climb. resting before climbing Mt. Glastonbury tomorrow.
LT Mileage: 15.9
Foggy climb up Glastonbury, our first real beast of a climb on the trail. While not our highest climb, we gained about 600 feet over 6 miles making it a long, sweaty climb.
We were joined for about half the ascent by a young hiker named Pec who had just finished a thru-hike of the PTC (so named because he tried carrying Pecorino cheese through the California desert). The funds for his PTC hike had been a college graduation gift from his parents, but now that he had a job on the East Coast he was trying to adjust and was taking a short weekend hike to see what the AT/LT was like.
Pausing at Goddard Shelter we watered up and met some day hikers and AT thru-hikers all making their way up the mountain. Fortunately the sky cleared up just long enough for us to get a view off the fire tower.
As we were descending the tower though it started sprinkling and a few miles back on trail that light sprinkle erupted into a cold down pour.
Soaked and cold we rolled into Kid Gore Shelter and changed into the dry, cold weather layers we packed.
This was probably my lowest point on the trail. Three days in and I now was as soaked and frozen as I was on day zero. To add insult to injury. I had just changed into dry socks in an effort to double-sock and help my blister situation... but now both my socks were soaked.
I was honestly doubting myself. What I was doing out on trail? Why was I letting my feet get ruined? Can I finish this?
In that state of mind, we had a duo of optimistic Nobo AT hikers come into the shelter to warm up and snack. Despite their Katahdin deadline this pair was focused and positive, "look, at this point I'm not just going to quit because I got a little too cold one night," one of them joked about their own predicament and this attitude brightened my own.
After this duo another LT end-to-ender named Gingersnap came in for the night. Like J-Dub, he had completed the LT before. Their conversation about favorite parts of the trail still ahead turned my mind forward rather than inward and I went to bed more excited than uncertain.
LT Mileage: 28.5
The sunrise at Kid Gore was spectacular. The shelter faces eastward into a valley and with the day starting on that beautiful note I set off in high spirits.
Our next mountain to climb was Stratton. Another large, long climb with switchbacks around the mountain that seemed to go on and on.
But the top was so worth it. On a previous section hike this top had been clouded in, but today it was clear and a climb up to the fire tower revealed the trail ahead and behind us.
This fire tower is famous on the trail, as it was from this vantage point that Benton McKaye looked out and conceptualized the Appalachian Trail, seeing the chain of mountains and believing that they could and should be linked.
Heading down the mountain, we considered staying at Stratton Pond Shelter, but were still technically a day behind our schedule after the bus travel day. Feeling good and with sunlight left, we ate dinner at the pond and pressed on into the Lye Brook Wilderness where we found a tranquil place to camp close to the Winhall River.
LT Mileage: 45.8
By our fifth day we were starting to run a bit low on snacks. We had plenty of meals so we weren't going to starve, but when you're craving a chocolate protein bar, instant mashed potatoes just aren't the same.
With this motivation driving us we pushed on into Manchester Center where we had our first mail drop sent. First we stopped at Up for Breakfast which we had heard about from a day hiker on top of Stratton. The pancakes didn't disappoint.
Along with pancakes and our mail drop, I also needed rain pants.
We checked the Mountain Goat (no relation) an outfitter in town, as well as some of the outlets. We struck out, either because of price or product, until Eddie Bauer. Now, I never really fancied myself an Eddie Bauer kind of guy, but as an outdoor brand they still carry some pretty good gear and at an outlet sale price, these pants were a screaming deal; just what the doctor ordered for cold for wet mornings.
Not wanting to stay in town we got a ride out of town and went up Bromley. It was a hard three miles up with our packs now completely refilled with food. At the very summit of Bromley, the ski patrol allows hikers to stay in their warming hut.
Not only was this incredibly convenient as an enclosed shelter, but it also offered panoramic views of sunset and sunrise.
LT Mileage: 57.9
Our sunrise however was dampened by thick rain clouds.
We got an early start and pushed hard, wanting to get over the steep, rocky cliff walk of Baker's Peak before any rain hit and made the rock slick.
Once up and over we stopped at Lost Pond Shelter and let a series of afternoon storms pass over. The shelter became hectic as other hikers came in and out to avoid the weather.
The sun started poking back out in the afternoon and we decided to push to Little Rock Pond. An amazing, amazing pond tucked between mountains where a lone loon called out throughout the night in that eerie, mesmerizing howl.
After doing a bit of math, I realized that this marked my 500 mile mark for Appalachian Trail section hiking. I couldn't have picked a more perfect location.
LT Mileage: 74.2
Slow start out of camp the next morning even though we woke up at our usual 5:00am time. We had done a couple big pushes to make up for the lost time riding buses and for whatever reason our bodies decided today would be the day we paid.
Unfortunately for our bodies we had two big climbs back to back. First a quick 500+ foot elevation gain up White Cliffs where we passed an expansive cairn garden.
Then down a switchbacked 1000 foot climb up Bear Mountain to the Minerva Hinchey shelter where we stopped to rest and let the afternoon heat pass.
A cup of coffee got us motivated and we made our way from Minerva Hinchey up the Claredon Gorge, a rocky, steep ascent that would be my first little taste of what the Northern Green Mountains had in store.
At the Claredon Shelter we bumped into out first big group of Long Trail hikers. There was Bill, who was ending his hike after Killington. Adam and Rachel, a couple from the Burlington Area and Meathands and Trail Brains from the Waitsfield area. Both couples seemed to be fairly new Vermonters who wanted to know or see more of the state. In many ways the Long Trail is a kind of Vermont clout, a rite of passage or perhaps pilgrimage for the Green Mountain State.
LT Mileage: 87.8
Killington today, all four thousand plus feet of it.
First came the final climb out of the Claredon Gorge, another little rocky up, though nowhere near as steep or tough as the initial climb.
Then some level road and river walking which led into pine forest. Really quite a lovely stretch. Finally the ascent. We had heard Cooper Lodge, the shelter on top, was dry so we got water at the Governor Clement shelter and chatted with two women hiking southbound on the LT. We were starting to hit our own little LT bubble of hikers as we neared the split with the At.
Chit-chat done, up Little Killington we went, the first of the two peaks.
It started relatively tame, but soon became a narrow climb. We balanced from pine root to pine root to stay on trail, all the while looking down the slope of the mountain between the wide canopy of the pine forest.
Once up Little Killington there was a ridge walk and fairly quick uphill to the Cooper Lodge, the trail's highest point on the mountain. We chatted with another LT hiking couple who came all the way from Austria for an end-to end hike!
We took the quick but incredibly steep 0.2 brought us to the true summit of Killington.
This was a pretty crowded point as tons of day hikers and guided tours were also summiting by following the AT/LT up.
On top of that traffic there's also a gondola which ferries people up to view the summit, mountain bike down, and visit the lodge. The lodge is a swanky cafeteria style restaurant with windows for walls to give diners a view of the whole valley.
The view was was beautiful, but the food was expensive, so after snacks and coffee we pressed on heading down Killngton to spend the night at the Inn on the Long Trail where a Guiness and Veggie Burger capped off the first 100 miles of the Long Trail for me.
At the bar we chatted more with Adam and Rachel, getting to know the hikers around us.
LT Mileage: 105.6
In the morning we went into Rutland, taking The Bus with Adam and Rachel. The Bus is part of the Marble Valley Regional Transit District. The big, bubbly, hippie lettering and the sound of The Clash as we entered set the tone.
In Rutland Adam and Rachel were staying at a hiker hostel run by the Twelve Tribes known as the Yellow Deli, we had some chores however. First we bounced our mail drops ahead to Stowe. We had a lot of food left over, so rather than pick up our mail drop we bounced it ahead to Stowe.
The post office will let you bounce priority boxes for free to another destination, which is convenient for any hikers in positions like ours. While we were initially just going to shop in Stowe for the last leg of the trip, now we could have our groceries covered.
We got some food at the Yellow Deli, said goodbye to Adam and Rachel and hiked a short 1.4 miles, past Maine Junction where the AT and LT officially split to the new Tucker Johnson shelter.
With bad weather in the forecast and a late start out of town we decided to stay put, make a fire, and take it easy. On the shelter we only had one other hiker, a SOBO LT hiker named Nemo. This was a welcome change from the shared AT section where shelters and campsites could get crowded.
LT Mileage: 107
Thick fog held up until about eleven for our first day on only the LT. I immediately noticed the trail was more rugged than the AT. It was narrower, steeper, and over grown. Not mention blazed less frequently.
We pushed past Bolston Rest where a family was just waking up for breakfast as we passed by camp.
Hiking through the mist was a bit mind numbing, as if the trail was playing a kind of trick. Not only were any vistas out of the question, but it was difficult to see the trail more then few feet out!
Moving as well as we could through the conditions, we stopped for lunch at the David Logan shelter where we chatted with an older, southbound LT hiker about the Benton McKaye Trail.
Leaving lunch, the mist finally started to lift around and we finished out at Sunrise Shelter, beating out a late afternoon storm which felt like a nice win.
However, a full shelter of LT hikers confirmed that we were in fact in a kind of bubble of summer LT hikers.
LT Mileage: 124.6
Waking early at sunrise we followed the gentle slope of an old ski trail down to Brandon Gap. Taking a .1 side trail to the vista at the Great Cliffs we got well rewarded for our morning efforts!
Then up and down steep mountains and gaps! Lots of blow downs in this section made it feel as much like a tough mudder as hiking. We lifted, bent, squeezed, and lunged our body over dozens of trees.
We passed the Middlebury snowball which was novel and also offered a nice view of the valley.
At the Sunrise Shelter a SOBO end-to-ender named Fun Sized mentioned female moose st Boyce shelter and on our way by the cow walked right across the trail in front of us!
Aside from the Moose we pretty much had the trail to ourselves. The bubble seemed either ahead or behind us by a few miles now and we ended our day at Skyline Lodge with the whole cabin to ourselves. Reaching our halfway(ish) point with a view of Skyline Pond at sunset.
LT Mileage: 140.5
Setting out from Skyline Lodge we were determined to make it out of the Breadloaf Wilderness.
The trail had been a muddy, rugged challenge with few vistas to reward us for battling back pine trees and scrambling around blow downs.
We managed to wait out an early morning storm at the Emily Proctor shelter, but after that simply put our heads down and climbed our way out of Breadloaf and halfway up Mt. Abraham to the Battell Shelter.
LT Mileage: 154.5
We left Battell a little earlier than usual. We'd been waking up at 5:00am every morning, breaking camp, and hiking. This early start time not only had us hiking for sunrise, but insured we could beat most afternoon storms or at least pause for them with some good miles covered.
J-Dub wanted to be on the summit of Mt. Abraham for sunrise and after a tough, rocky scramble to the top it was obvious why. This was my first view above treeline and it was awe-inspiring.
We stopped early at Stark's Nest, another ski patrol warming hut. This hut had a vast history of ski culture in the Mad River Valley which was cool to read through.
We thought about staying, but as the shelter grew more and more crowded, we hiked on. At first we thought about going into Waitsfield, where we needed to resupply the next day anyway, but found a spot to camp on lower ski trail/warming hut of Mad River Glen where we had an amazing eastward view.
To get water for the site though we had to go back up to the Theron Dean shelter. On our way back we took the Dean Cave bypass trail which was a fun bit of cave crawling and gap lunging.
The open canopy of the ski trail made the stars lovely and the streak of the Milky Way was faint, but present.
LT Mileage: 162.5
We woke up for a wonderful sunrise, then broke camp and headed down to the Appalachian Gap at VT 17. The descent was steep and my first introduction to rebar ladders!
Getting into Waitsfield from VT 17 was simple enough and as we went about our chores we were pleasantly surprised to come across Adam and Rachel at Mad Taco, a restaurant we had been hearing about for the past forty miles or so.
This was going to be their final day on trail so we passed the afternoon with them at the Lawson Liquids Brewery.
Saying our farewells (for now), J-Dub and I headed to our rooms at the Hyde Away Inn, ate dinner, organized our packs, and rested up before heading north.
LT Mileage: 164.3
After a delicious pancake breakfast at the Hyde Away Inn we took the Inn's shuttle back to the trail head.
As a courtesy to their hiking guests, a shuttle (along with breakfast and laundry) is included in the cost of the room stay. The owner was incredibly kind and we chatted about skiing, the economics of inn owning in Vermont, and other bits small talk until we reached Appalachian Gap and hit the trail again.
The climb right out of town was a rude awakening! Right off the bat there were rock scrambles, made slick from yesterday’s rain, and it seemed like we were only going straight up or straight down on the 5.5 mile hike to Cowless Cove Shelter.
The skies opened up for a quick cloud burst on our way to Cowless Cove and we encountered a southbound hiker who warned us that the scrambles up ahead for the next ten miles or so could have, “serious consequences” in all this wet weather.
Coupled with the fairly ominous warning from a stranger, a sign in Cowles Cove Shelter warned that Burnt Rock Mountain and the next stretch of trail to Montclair Glen Lodge could be extremely dangerous when wet and that even though it was only about five miles it could take five hours!
We sat in the shelter with Gogurt and Mudflap, a couple hiking end-to-end northbound we had briefly met at the grocery store in Waitsfield. As we snacked in the shelter the sun began to break through. This was a nice relief, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that at this point I was pretty damn scared.
We all waited a good amount of time for the sun to dry what it could then Gogurt and Mudflap hiked on, followed shortly by J-Dub and myself.
While being potentially dangerous and at times scary, yes, the hike through Burnt Rock was also incredibly fun; something the sign failed to mention. There were hard scrambles, a ladder, and one section where you had to quasi-repel using a knotted rope! This was a whole new kind of hiking style for me. We had hit some ladders coming down to Appalachian Gap, but those were more of an anomaly. It became clear to me that from now on these features would be an integral part of the trail and honestly, once I got used to them, they were exciting obstacles to overcome!
Along with these challenges, the views were panoramic. We weren’t as high up as other climbs we’d done or would do, but the “Burnt” aspect of Burnt Rock meant that the walk was relatively clear with the exception of small stretches in the forest.
We met back up with Gogurt and Mudflap at Montclair Glen and while we had previously tossed around the idea of just getting up and over Camel’s Hump, we reached Montclair tired and ready to rest. The sign had been right and it had taken us quite awhile to navigate the stretch of trail between the two shelters.
As the day passed at Montclair we met Mountain Goat and Hannah Bear, two fellow end-to-enders, as well as a slew of day hikers and section hikers using Montclair Glen as a base camp for Camels Hump, just the same as the rest of us.
LT Miles: 174.9
We woke up early with Mountain Goat and prepped for Camel’s Hump. While Mountain Goat might have been an early riser like J-Dub and I, he was also more of trail runner, with plans to do a twenty-four mile day! This difference aside, we enjoyed a hot cup of coffee with him before setting off to ascend the Hump in a brisk, cloudy morning.
This climb was one of, if not the, most exciting I’d ever done. It started off fairly standard, just difficult, rocky hiking, but as we neared the edge of the tree line we could feel the pull of the wind through the thinning pines. J-Dub made the call to jacket up so we quickly put our rain coats on and continued on toward the summit, which was entirely clouded in!
We followed the white blazes painted under our feet as best we could and right as we were rounding the summit we heard a loud, “WOOHOO!” shouted by Mountain Goat who was only a few steps behind us, so we replied with our own. It was an amazing moment of camaraderie, the kind that only comes from a group of people committed to climbing a mountain at six in the morning.
We all met at the summit and exchanged phones and cameras for photos then said farewell to Mountain Goat as he, literally, ran off into the cloud. J-Dub and I moved a bit slower, in fact we snacked and waited a bit on and around the summit hoping that the sun might burn off the cloud for a view.
We made our way down the mountain at a fairly slow clip, stopping for water at the Bamforth Ridge shelter, but pressing on since it was still a bit too early to stop for the day. On our way out of the shelter we bumped into Mudflap and Gogurt again. They had plans to head into Waterbury when we hit the road walk section. While J-Dub and I had contemplated heading into Waterbury (and more importantly the Ben & Jerry’s factory) we decided to take a pass on it having spent a good deal of time and money experiencing Waitsfield.
After a bit of steep downhill hiking we reached the road walk. While the terrain was flat, we hit it right at midday. Going from road, to farm fields, to the new Winooski River suspension bridge (which was very nice), back onto road, all under the sun proved incredibly exhausting and by the time we re-entered the forest at the base of Bolton Mountain we were pretty wiped out.
We took some time to recuperate, but with nothing to do but press on, we began the two-thousand foot climb up Bolton to Buchanan Shelter.
Compared to the scrambles and obstacles of our most recent days, the hike was fairly standard, just steep and steady. However, we had also summited Camel’s Hump that same morning, making this steep steady ascent a killer at the end of the day!
Buchanan Shelter itself was also a .3 off trail…downhill.
While this might not have been bad on a normal day, after pushing ourselves so hard to get up the damn mountain, it felt pretty defeating to know we’d have to start our morning walking up an extra .3 of it again to get to the summit, but that’s the way it goes.
The shelter itself was nice, sliding doors, a front porch, the whole shebang!
We opted to tent in some of the sites around though so that we could get good sleep after such a big day. We had Mansfield in front of us after all…
LT Miles: 192.1
Up early and out of Buchanan we finished off Bolton Mountain and made our way to Puffer Shelter. I was hoping to catch a view off of the shelter as I'd heard how amazing it was from passing southbounders.
However, when we got there the view was still clouded in for the morning.
One bright spot however was a hiker who was posted up in the shelter. He had gone out for a large section, but now decided he would just take his time and enjoy it all rather than try to rush through. His lollygagging attitude was refreshing after having a couple days of big, hard miles and, more subconsciously than anything, informed our decision.
Our decision was...Summit Mansfield today or not summit Mansfield today
There were pros and cons to both, as there always are:
Pros: We would be ahead of schedule, we'd have our hardest climb done, it was a cloudy but dry day so no worries about bad weather, we could have pizza for dinner in Stowe
Cons: We were tired, it was cloudy so we might not get views, and did I mention we were tired?
Weighing this and listening to our bodies we stopped at the Twin Brooks Tenting Area, getting in pretty early for the day and making camp on the tenting pads there.
While we could have pushed on to Butler Lodge, we preferred tenting. We also knew that a lot of college orientation groups were out for the week and figured they were more likely to stay at the lodges than a tent site, and we were right. Our only companions for the night were a couple and their dog on the other side of the tenting area who were out for the weekend.
LT Miles: 201.8
Up and over Mansfield today!
All trail I had heard about this climb. Its beauty, difficulty, terrifying gaps and drops. Now today was the day. Nothing to do but hike!
So hike we did, making our way slow and steady (three points of contact at all times!) through the challenges and up to the Forehead.
From the Forehead to the Chin it was a flat, quaint ridge walk in stark contrast to the obstacles it took to get us here. Often this walk will be filled with people who opted to take a gondola up to the top, but since we were early we had the entire, gorgeous walk to ourselves. It was an amazing reward and we spent our time enjoying, photographing, and taking it all in!
After stopping on the chin and chatting with the few day hikers who had come up various trail we started our descent. Along with the climb, we had been warned about the descent, especially if it was wet!
The warnings were warranted, even without any slickness the descent was pretty slow going, requiring sure footing and full body hiking.
Once we passed Taft Lodge the descent mellowed out a bit. It was still a steep hike, to be sure, but not as treacherous as earlier. As we got further and further down the mountain and passed into late morning we began seeing day hikers starting up toward the summit.
During our ascent we had come to the realization that today was Sunday. Which is usually a fairly unimportant detail when you’re out hiking. However we had a mail drop scheduled for pick-up in Stowe and our plan had been to get in and out of the town with our resupply. Given that the post office isn’t open on Sunday this was a problem.
Without any other options we decided we’d stay in Stowe, something we had initially wanted to avoid because of the town’s expensive reputation.
It took us a little while to find a ride into the Stowe, but we were eventually picked up by a day hiker who was picking up sections of the trail a day or two at a time. We had a great chat about the trail and she gave us a full tour of the town before letting us off downtown by the post office.
Since this wasn’t a planned stay, we didn’t have any prospects or reservations, but the GMC's End-to-Ender's Guide listed a place called The Green Mountain Inn where Green Mountain Club members could receive a fifty percent discount and, lo and behold, said in was right around the corner from the post office.
With nothing to lose we popped in, information book in hand, and asked if we could get any kind of discount since we’d be Green Mountain Club members, “In about sixty miles” as J-Dub explained. While they certainly didn’t have to help out two smelly hikers, they did anyway! Hooking us up with a discount and offering to store our packs so that we could explore the town while our room was finished being prepared.
This act of kindness was the first chip in the reputation of Stowe. I went in thinking that we wouldn’t be particularly welcome, but to our pleasant surprise Stowe was a very hiker friendly town and everywhere we went: Piecasso, Alchemist Brewing, PK Coffee, and Ranch Camp, a restaurant at the end of a mountain biking trail, were accommodating to us. There was also an amazing, very Vermont farmer’s market happening which we stopped through!
All in all the stay was great and re-energizing as we prepared for our last stretch of trail.
LT Miles: 208.5
Waking up we headed to the post office first thing. Well, that’s not entirely true. We actually got bagels first thing from The Bagel. The shop is owned by a couple who ex-patted from Long Island and they were delicious. Snobby New Yorker approved! Then to the post office for our mail drops. These boxes were the ones we bounced from Rutland because we had too much food and we still had too much!
All packed, we were carrying about seven or eight days worth of food instead of the four to five days we had initially planned for at each town. The extra weight was definitely noticeable, especially for my pack. I was already pushing the threshold of what it could support and with the added food weight I could feel the distribution wasn’t dispersing quite the way it should. I tried making some adjustments, but there was nothing to do except eat, donate, and shed weight.
Catching a ride out of Stowe from a German father and son, we learned quite a bit about European hiking and mountaineering. The father had worked in Vermont in the 80s as a logger and was excited to be back in the American mountains with his son to do a bit of hiking. The son was a pretty experienced mountaineer and ice climber, but due to the father’s age they’d be just be taking the gondola up and enjoying the view from Mansfield which, honestly, sounded pretty nice!
We started up from the new Barnes Camp wetland area and, as all out-of-town days seem to go, began our steep ascent back up to cruising altitude. Now that food weight was becoming a bit of bigger problem and I continued tweaking my pack a bit, to try to get the weight distribution better, but to no avail.
We stopped for lunch at Sterling Pond, along with a steady flow of day hikers. While it was a beautiful spot and we were tempted to just call it, we knew deep down that we had to press on and made our way up Madonna Peak and Sterling Mountain.
On the descent from Sterling (or Whiteface) Mountain I noticed the first pangs of serious pain in my knees and up into my quads. We were close to Bear Hollow Shelter and I just brushed it off as cramps from the heat, making a note to increase my water intake once we stopped at the shelter.
At Bear Hollow we were reunited with Mudflap and Gogurt, who we saw getting a ride of Stowe when we went to get bagels, and Hannah Bear who rolled in a bit later. Along with our small bubble of end-to-enders a college orientation group was out. While this group was polite on the whole, it definitely changed the energy as a gaggle of new college kids necessarily had a different mindset than three people on the same saunter as ourselves. Along with this influx of people, our bear bagging situation was a bit comical as J-Dub and I broke our first good branch trying to combine our weight and had to search around in the dark for new branches that would hold our over burdened food bags.
LT Miles: 219.4
Woke up early with the college kids, which was pretty surprising since J-Dub and I always woke up at 5:00am. We definitely expected them to sleep in and it was a bit cumbersome navigating the shelter and picnic space with so many people moving about. My legs felt fine though, so I categorized that as, "problem solved," in mind and pressed on.
The terrain was pretty smooth as we road walked past maple syrup farms, onto a rail trail, and through the field of the Lamoille River Valley.
We also found some amazing trail magic in the trail head parking lot off VT 15!
Our first climb of the day up to Prospect Rock was also pretty smooth and the rocky, river bed terrain made me feel like we were walking through Last of the Mohicans (the novel, not the film which was shot in NC). The view of the valley below from Prospect Rock was lovely and we sat for awhile at the overlook, snacking and taking in the idyllic view.
We climbed Roundtop and stopped at Roundtop Shelter for coffee, moving pretty slow, but enjoying the nice weather and beautiful terrain, including the view off the back of Roundtop. While it’s known as a sunset vista, it was a great spot to sip a late morning coffee too!
The rest of the hike was fairly uneventful until we started the climb down into Coddling Hollow Road. Around this point I started feeling those pangs of pain return and it became clear to me that these were not cramps. I tried some different wraps around my right knee for support as I was already wearing a store bought brace on my left, and pressed on up Laraway Mountain. Our goal was Corliss Camp and it seemed like there wasn’t much to do at this point but tough it out and re-access at Corliss
Laraway proved a pretty rugged climb, especially in pain! As we neared the cliffy opening of Laraway Lookout I paused, “Did you hear that?” I asked J-dub, having heard something high-pitched over the scrap of our poles. “Yeah,” he said, “was it a whistle?” Almost as soon as he asked we heard it again and it was undoubtedly a whistle. My pack has a top clip that forms a whistle (shout out to Osprey for building that in), so I replied with two short bursts of my whistle and J-Dub began to call out.
We heard a distant voice, but it was still just mumbles so J-Dub shouted to them to keep whistling. We followed the general direction of the sound back down trail a bit and J-Dub shouted out again, this time the voice was pretty clear and it was coming from a woman, off trail and at the tops of the cliffs. She said she was a Southbound hiker who lost the trail about fifteen minutes ago!
We whistled and shouted to guided her back to the trail. Once there J-Dub asked her some basic questions to ensure she was oriented: her name, her hiking direction, where she started, where she was planning to end, and after talking a few more minutes to ensure she was alright we all continued on our separate ways.
Thankfully it was nothing major, but hearing a whistle in that terrain was definitely a bit of an adrenaline rush! Using that to adrenaline to my advantage, I pushed through my knee and quad pain and we made our way to Corliss camp, where we set up tents for the night.
Corliss Camp itself is actually a really nice shelter, in the process of re-roofing when we were there. The crew of hikers there was also quite delightful. We had our small NOBO bubble: Mudflap, Gogurt, Hannahbear, plus Josie a NOBO hiker who we had been in the general area of, but usually a bit behind, according to the logs. We also had our first big group of SOBOs, many of whom were pretty tired and turned in early, but one Brain, stayed up with us while we had a fire and we chatted about the trail ahead and behind, as well as other hikes we all had done and hopped to do.
LT Miles: 234.7
The morning greeted me with a lot of aches in my legs. Not a good sign.
J-Dub and I had talked about just heading to Spruce Ledge Camp, especially because we heard it was quite nice, and now that seemed to definitely be the plan.
We climbed Butternut Mountain right out of Corliss Camp and I was holding my own until the descent. In every case with this ache it was going down the mountain that proved hardest. It seemed to be whatever muscles are responsible for planting and pushing that were most effected… but especially the planting part. I tried going down steep steps sideways and that was a little helpful, but the climb down from Bowden, whose twin summits were no fun in this shape, proved a special kind of torture and I gimped into Spruce Ledge, struggling just to sit down.
J-Dub and I had a very serious conversation here about finishing. We were thirty miles out, tantalizingly close! Along with that, there was no real, easy out until the road before Jay Peak, that was still a distance out and at that point we’d be even closer.
I wasn’t ready to pack it out yet though. While the injury was serious, it didn’t feel like a tear or anything hike ending, it felt like an intense form of muscle fatigue. This was a short 6.6 mile day to Spruce Ledge Camp and I wanted to see what would happen after a rest day.
So began operation: Get better and finish
Start one of get better and finish was a trip to the privy! What I’m about to write is important for anyone attempting a big hike like this, but if it’s too much information for you skip down to the [End of TMI] sub-heading
[Start of TMI]
My muscle fatigue was definitely muscle fatigue, imagine doing squats and lungs everyday for twenty days, and then shocking your body with extra weight on the last two days. That’s effectively what I’d done with all the excess food weight.
On top of the fatigue, I hadn’t pooped for a couple days, which is not the norm for me or hopefully anyone. The funny thing is, I didn’t feel constipated. I was putting my body through a bunch of duress so perhaps that had to do with it? I don’t know for sure.
I was, however, eating more protein than I needed. Especially to get the food weight down, I was eating two or three protein bars a day to try and burn through them. While I was certainly doing something seriously trying and athletic, that was a lot of protein intake and I think it bricked up in my digestive track.
Think, for a moment, about where your intestines are located. A big, protein-rich, build up would be pressing right against hip flexers, quads, hamstrings, and all the important hiking muscles that were already tired from backpacking.
This is apparently a thing that happens quite frequently to Marines and why chewing gum is standard issue for MREs. It acts as a kind of laxative to help them go and prevent any performance issues as a result of back-up from the MRE food.
I didn’t really believe it. Well, I believed it, but when j-Dub told me that I didn’t think it could really make a big difference, but willing to try anything to help myself heal I sat and drank coffee until I had to go.
Astonished after my privy trip, I felt much better. While I was still sore and hurting, my legs moved with a whole new ease. So, to any one planning a thru-hike, don’t let yourself get irregular!
[End of TMI]
Phase two was to take Ibuprofen. Up until this point of the trip I was avoiding taking it, mainly because it can make me a bit light headed, especially when hiking. But now I not only wanted the pain killing help, but the anti-inflammatory aide of it as well.
I popped some of that, sat myself down, and elevated my leg up on my food bag.
In the shelter there was a copy of George’s Marvelous Medicine that someone had left behind so I started reading that to pass the time.
Phase three, and in part because of the Ibuprofen, was to drink a lot of water. The source for Spruce Ledge was a bit far down the access the trail, but I still made sure to stay on top of that.
Oh, Spruce Ledge Camp also has an incredible view of Ritterbush Pond and Belvidere Mountain which I made sure to take in.
A little after lunch two older women came into camp. They were from the Adirondack area of New York and were out on a section hike of the Long Trail. I passed the rest of the afternoon and evening playing rummy with them and resting my leg. A little later Hannahbear came into the shelter, taking a short day herself and beating some rainy afternoon weather, as did a college group from Sterling College who were making pizza!
They were making it from scratch, letting the dough rise under their rain coats for half an hour from their body heat. Then baking it on a girdle of sorts that they carried up with fresh ingredients. J-Dub had a slice of it (I only passed because it had meat on it and as a vegetarian stomach aches were the last things I needed on top of my leg) and he said it was really good! I found the whole thing pretty ingenious and made a mental note to try something similar myself on a future camping trip.
At the end of the night, one of the women I played cards with offered me some Bio-Freeze, an icy-hot like product, for my leg. It was a really kind offer that I of course accepted and damn! I think a small tube of that is now going to be a must for me on long hikes.
LT Miles: 241.3
Waking up, we glimpsed a foggy sunrise view off look Devil’s Perch Lookout at Spruce Ledge Camp and then proceeded down into Devil’s Gulch itself!
The rest day worked wonders and I was glad! Not only because it meant I’d be able to finish the hike, but I wanted to be rested and ready for Devil’s Gulch, a part of the trail I had been looking forward to since the planning stages.
Devil’s Gulch is a boulder field in a narrow valley. It’s similar to the Ice Glen in the Berkshires and the Mahoosuc Notch along the Appalachian Trail in Maine. The boulders were a bit slick after yesterday’s rain, but we took our time, choosing our paths carefully, and taking plenty of photos along the way.
We stopped at a stream outside the Gulch to fill up on water before our climb up Belvidere Mountain, which turned out to be quite the beast! Parts of it were just steep hiking, then there were the occasional chunks of rock scrambles that were like Devil’s Gulch… but upwards!
Coming to the summit still fairly early in the morning, we took the .2 trail up to the fire tower and were rewarded with some amazing views! There was still a large cloud on the western half of the mountain, so we didn’t get a total 360, but were still able to look back on our progress the past couple of days.
Getting down the from the summit to Tillotson Camp was incredibly rugged! So much so that we spent the first half mile or so double checking that we were on trail and not just following a brook down the mountain side!
We passed by some beautiful ponds hidden deep in the forest though and those were nice rewards for our efforts. J-Dub pointed out that ponds are always so much nicer on a descent and I’m inclined to agree.
In Tillotson Camp we took a nice lunch-nap-coffee break! We were greeted there by Poptart, a Canadian hiker out for section hike who had hiked the AT a few years back. He was kind enough to carry out our trash for us since he was ending his section down at the road at the bottom of Belivedere. “Sometimes it’s not really the weight, so much as the mental weight of the space it takes up,” he commented as he packed up our bags, doing a wonderful bit of trail magic!
As we were preparing to leave HannahBear came into the shelter and we chatted with her. A while back we had made loose plans to get a ride out of the trail with her Grandparents when they were coming to pick her up, and now that we were actually hiking on the same timeline, we formalized those plans a bit more. There was still a lot of trail left, so nothing was set in stone, but we made the steep descent down Haystack Mountain together and pushed on into Hazen Notch Camp where we stopped for the night in striking distance of Jay.
At Hazen Notch we met Bumblebee, another NOBO out with her dog Benson and a hiker who we would come to call Muscle Roller because he carried a small muscle roller for his legs with him. He was working on a pretty tight deadline and came into the shelter having just done a Twenty-Eight mile day! No thank you!
He was kind enough to let me borrow said muscle roller for my leg though and after dealing with the climb down from Haystack, I have to admit, it seemed like a luxury totally worth the weight!
LT Miles: 255.8
Muscle Roller, like us, was an early riser and the three of us made a begrudging early riser out of HannahBear as well. We shared breakfast and coffee, then Muscle Roller set out with us following shortly behind.
There was rain in the forecast and we got some small sprinkles on us as we went up and over Buchanan Mountain, Domey’s Dome and Gilpin Mountain passing by some day hikers as well as southbounders who were only just starting on their adventures.
Passing the southbounders struck me with a strange sense of accomplishment and envy. On the one hand, it felt surreal to me that I had actually made it this far when all the way back at Kid Gore Shelter I was questioning if I could do it. On the other hand, with this journey nearing it’s finale, I felt the desire for that daunting sense of wonder that having two-hundred plus miles of hiking gives a person.
We broke for coffee at Jay Camp, but didn’t linger because of the brisk fall weather creeping in.
We got ready and then began our ascent up Jay. As we climbed that notion of “the trail provides" manifested in the form of cheery day hikers, all with good news. The first hiker passed along that the lodge was open, something we assumed but it was nice to confirm. The second, that the view had cleared up from the morning rain. Last time J-Dub climbed Jay he didn’t have a view, so as excited as I was by the prospect, I’m sure he was doubly so. The third hiker informed us that the lodge at the top sold beer!
After breaking out of the treeline we scrambled up and looking behind us saw the incredible views!
As we climbed there was an amazing bit of trail work, it was subtle, but a made a huge difference. Someone had placed pine needles over spots of slick rock on the scramble. At first, it just seemed a coincidence, but as we continued our ascent and saw larger patches of the work it became clear that this was purposeful, giving hikers a better footing after the brief morning showers.
Jay would be our last big climb and what an amazing, climatic final climb it proved it be. We could look back and see the entire range we all the way back to Camel’s Hump! Best of all, we had the summit pretty much to ourselves, with the exception of few employees and one or two groups of tourists. We shamelessly sat in front of the giant windows in the Sky Haus Deli (what we had previously just been calling the lodge) ordering food and coffee and passing the afternoon away.
We were joined by HannahBear, Bumblebee, and Benson (yes, the dog) a bit later. While the space stayed open until seven, they stopped serving food at four and with a wedding group now up on the summit to have a rehearsal, we took that as our cue to take the short hike down to Laura Woodward where we all stopped for the night with some goodies carried down from the Sky Haus.
J-Dub and I made a fire and we all passed the evening with two Southbounders who had just completed their first day. It was an odd kind of balance, one group one day away from finishing, the other one day into the trail. I hope seeing us all full of energy (and sugar and coffee and beer) gave them a good feeling about the trip ahead, much like hearing J-Dub and Gingersnap’s conversation in Kid Gore did for me early on.
LT Miles: 264.6
A slow, cold start out of Laura Woodward Shelter. It was an odd feeling, knowing today would be the last day out. The miles clicked away as our trail legs made quick work of Doll Peak and the smaller summits between us and Shooting Star. But there was also the feeling that, I didn’t really want these miles to click away. If we were in the middle of Breadloaf... I might have felt differently, but soon there’d be no shelter to get to. No goals for the day. It’d just be the end. An odd, bittersweet sensation.
We stopped at Shooting Star and dealt with the water situation, first trying to prime the pump to no avail, then J-Dub bushwhacked down to the stream by the shelter referenced in the guide and managed to water up there.
Still not quite ready to say goodbye, we lingered, making coffee and getting passed by Bumblebee and Benson who we said hello and goodbye to. Around midday Hannahbear came to camp and we knew it was time to get going. Both because we had killed about two and half hours and because we had coordinated the ride out. There was no more delaying it, onward to Canada!
Once we crossed VT 105 and the power lines, every step brought a new sense of excitement and adrenaline. I knew each step was taking me closer to the finish! And while I’ve been an athlete and competitor since I was in Middle School, I’ve never felt a feeling quite like this. We passed groups of hikers, some out for the day some starting their end-to-ends, who cheered us on.
Carleton Mountain proved a surprisingly steep last obstacle, but I was so focused and excited that we made short work of it and cruised to the Terminus and monument where I couldn’t suppress a shout for joy and big, goofy grin.
We took our photos there and celebrated a bit as we waited for HannahBear and began our final descent of the trail on Journey’s End, stopping in at the camp to sign off on the log, before catching a ride from a man who dropped off another hiker at the trail head; pretty good timing on the whole.
We took the ride over into the Jay Peak resort where we met HannahBear’s grandparents. From them we were fortunate enough to get a ride all the way Burlington!
It was Labor Day Weekend and Burlington was tourist central! With everything, both affordable and expensive booked, we reached out to our old friends Adam and Rachel who offered us their living room and futon for the night. We took them up on it and spent the evening with them at a show one of their friends was playing. Live music in Burlington seemed like a fitting to end to Vermont’s Long Trail.
The next morning we took a Lyft to the airport where J-Dub rented a car to begin the long drive down to North Carolina, dropping me off at the Metro-North in Beacon, NY along the way.
LT Miles: 273.3