The Long Trail, Vermont, September 7, 2016 to September 22, 2016 — The northern two-thirds of the Long Trail may include the most rugged hiking I have ever done. When the map elevation profile looks like sharks teeth or witches hats, you know you’re going to work that day. Let’s just say I’m glad I hiked a lot of miles this summer to get ready. The bad news is that I should have done more.
Expectations were modest. The nation’s oldest hiking trail is known to be exceptionally rugged. Vermont is in drought having received little snowfall last winter and was negative nine inches of rain on start day. Now Vermont, aka Vermud, is noted for its own original black, sticky, oozy goo. No rain, no goo right? Wrong!
On start day the temps were in the mid-80s. The heat persisted for the first five-day leg. I was raining sweat at a prodigious rate. Could hiker sweat produce this much mud, I asked myself? Not likely. We found sufficient water, but it was not always where we needed it. I got dehydrated the first day and didn’t catch up until our first trail break.
Here’s how the hike went down.
I hiked with my PATC colleague, Rush Williamson. Rush happens to have a friend who lives near the start point at the Canadian border called Journey’s End. Thus we could position a car on each end as save ourselves costly shuttles. He also had friends about five days apart which allowed us to break the hike into three five-day segments. Easy logistics are always welcome and his friends’ hospitality was marvelous.
We set out on September 7 hoping to make Jay Camp, 11 miles in. Experienced hikers ought to be able to do that, right? Not even. The terrain and heat conspired against us! Instead we logged a measly eight miles. We arrived at the Laura Woodward shelter around 4:15 pm with plenty of daylight remaining, but with legs not fresh enough to use it.
This miss dogged us. It took two days to realign with shelters. In the interim we tented. The second night it rained hard for what turned out to be the first of five times. Both of us suffered through leaky tent seams. Not good.
On September 8, the trail over Jay Peak was much more challenging that we anticipated confirming our decision not to press on the previous day. The ski area restaurant had closed two days earlier and the restrooms were locked so we did not linger. I took a 360 video on top and cursed the high angle slab rock where it was featured on the descent. Rain was in the forecast and I worried about safety when the rock was wet. I later learned that my concern was well founded.
And so this challenging little adventure unfolded. In Vermont shelters are three-sided traditional hiking shelters. “Camps” are rustic cabins with doors. We stayed at several of each.
The first five days were hot but otherwise uneventful. On day five we reached Johnson were we were picked up by Ira and Katie Marvin. They were kind enough to share their house and family with us. Rush had an ugly blister so we zeroed. Katie happens to be a physician, so she patched him up good as new.
We had fun with the Marvins. Ira owns a maple syrup factory that supplies Whole Foods, Target and many other stores with genuine Vermont maple syrup.
The next feature on our list was Mt. Mansfield, a very popular mountain featuring an alpine habitat and an auto road. It’s the state’s tallest mountain.
Contemplating hiking up Mansfield with my morning coffee.
We pointed our boots toward Mansfield at the usual hour of seven. By the time we reached the high angle slab rock that defines the Mansfield trail, it was cold and raining hard. The footing was precarious enough to slow us considerably. A Vermonter who used an expression that sounded more like it was from the deep south proclaimed that the rock was “Slicker than chicken shit in a greasy Teflon skillet.” He was accurate.
By noon we discovered Taft and called it a day with no rain in the forecast for the next couple of days. It’s Hobbit door can’t be more than five feet tall.
The next morning the clouds had stopped sobbing, but the trail was still wet and slick. We elected to use the aptly named Profanity Trail bad weather bypass trail up Mansfield because the feature known as the “nose” is notoriously difficult and dangerous when conditions aren’t ideal.
Mansfield is spectacular. One young hiker named “Skywalker” we encounter described it as the top of “Vermudarado.”
The full view from Puffer. Mansfield on the left.
The hump up Camel’s Hump is six mile climb. Great trail and not a terribly hard push save the lack of water. Fortunately we’d learned to carry extra. I made a quick 360 video on top and my partner admonished some day hikes for straying outside the roped-off area into the alpine habitat.
The day hikers have a two-mile long trail to reach the top in droves.
Trail features. Yes, that’s what you walk.
Too many ski areas to count.
The hike ended where the AT crosses U.S. 4 just south of Maine Junction. I hiked uphill to the Inn in 14 minutes. That’s 3 1/2 mph with a 30 lb. pack on my back. Beer is an incredible motivator.