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Short Thru-Hikes: How to Backpack and Keep your Desk Job

 

 

 

My good buddy Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail almost 20 years ago and worked as a ridgerunner with his dog for two years. Now, he has a job, a house, a dog, and a volunteer job as the President of the American Long Distance Hiking Association-West. Yet, Allgood still manages to thru-hike a long backpacking trail every year.

His secret? Short thru-hikes that offer 2,000 miles worth of challenge and adventure in a two-week vacation slot.

Looking for some shorter thrus that won’t require giving notice to your boss?

Read more…

Thanksgiving post: A Long Trail reflection

Trail angels are kind people who let long distance hikers into their hearts. Many are compassionate locals who offer food, showers, rides to town, or housing to wary travelers. Others are former hikers who have received kindness from trail angels in the past and are trying to do the same good to others. Some trail angels are vacationers and travelers themselves, and yet still find themselves in a place to offer something to dirty, smelly, hungry hikers.

Trail Magic at Brown Gap from the Rat Pack, a group of trail maintainers
Trail Magic at Brown Gap from the Rat Pack, a group of trail maintainers

This summer, I end-to-end hiker the Long Trail, which spans from the Massachusetts-Vermont border to the Canadian border. It the oldest long distance trail in the United States and is considered one of the hardest trails in the U.S. Although my journey on the Long Trail was solo and almost devoid of people, my experience with a couple of trail angels made me reflect on the meaning of a long distance journey. Here is an excerpt from a letter I wrote them:

Thank you for opening your home to smelly, dirt encrusted hikers like myself. The beauty and the majesty of the trail is made all that more magical with clean feet (couresty of your kindness and shower). This is one reason why I hike—to be reminded what it is to be human—and meeting kind strangers and building mutual trust with others is fundamental to the human experience.

Pie Town, NM is a hiker favorite along the CDT due to the kindness of Trail Angel Nita…oh, and pie.
Pie Town, NM is a hiker favorite along the CDT due to the kindness of Trail Angel Nita…oh, and pie.

This hike has been mind-changing, humbling, and refreshing. Before I started the Long Trail, my body ached to return to hiking and it tingles with delight to again hear the call of the “Poor Sam Peabody Peabody” sounding call of the white throated sparrow and suck in the sweet smell of the balsam fir. I marvel at lichen flowers and purple spores—and to be so far north, and as it says on Mansfield, revel in the last vestiges of the former ice age.

Trail Angel Dave in Etna, CA on the PCT
Trail Angel Dave in Etna, CA on the PCT

No kidding has it been hard, even in good weather, especially to my computer-worn body. Sometimes, the human experience requires being humbled. I learn to respect when stopping ceases to be a choice but a foot’s demand. As difficult as a lesson as it was to grapple with, I know I am stronger, physically and mentally for it.

No kidding has it been hard, even in good weather, especially to my computer-worn body. Sometimes, the human experience requires being humbled. I learn to respect when stopping ceases to be a choice but a foot’s demand. As difficult as a lesson as it was to grapple with, I know I am stronger, physically and mentally for it.

Journey’s End

Journey’s End of the Long Trail
Journey’s End of the Long Trail

Slider and I hiked together up to Jay Peak—the last big peak on the Long Trail. It was surprisingly not a difficult climb at all and was over much sooner than expected. I woke up thinking that once I had Jay down, that it’d be a smooth 9 miles to the border between Vermont and Canada. Not so much. The Long Trail continues to be a stout journey from finish to the end, or at least Maine junction where it breaks off from the AT. I kept thinking, ‘I don’t need to go .25 miles off trail for water because it is all downhill from here,’ but ended up making the journey at Shooting Star shelter (a sweet lean to on top of a giant boulder near the top of a mountain). I hoped to see a Mounty at the border, but Fun fact: unlike the PCT, the Long Trail ends at the Canadian border, but then the trail sharply turns back into the U.S. Unless you want to bushwhack across the border, there is no way to get into Canada. Oh well, makes the pick up and ending logistics easier. To my shock, the trail was a solid up and down until the very end, which snuck up on me. I turned a corner, and there it was in all its grandness-the end sign! My toes are jumping for joy and making me promise not to wear closed toed shoes for the rest of the summer. More foot photos to come… 3570′ gain

Like Mahoosuc Notch

A rare view from beneath the trees
A rare view from beneath the trees

 

My day started out with the Mahoosuc Notch-esque (the so-called hardest mile on the AT) rock scramble slippery wet jumble of Devil’s Gulch. Unlike yesterday, today was pretty toasty. The most notable part of my day was at the end. I crossed Highway 242 and saw a guy sitting in his truck. Call me slightly paranoid, but my guidebook warns that the shelter that I was planning to stay at is close to the road. Furthermore, I had read that a woman hiking the LT alone who had stayed at a shelter even farther along the trail had been threatened by a man. Considering I had spent so many days alone at shelters, I didn’t know what to think. When I got to Jay Camp, maybe .3 miles from the road, I saw there was another hiker. Hmm…that ends my streak of alone sheltering. These situations usually go well, but if the guy was sketchy, I didn’t want to be alone at a shelter with him. We introduced ourselves (his name is Slider), and ended up being really cool. I even offered him a ride in our car back to the civilization after the hike. Tomorrow is going to be the big day! 5815′ gain

Maple Syrup and the Great Wall of China

 

The view from Johnson
The view from Johnson

Made it to Johnson last night, but the woman who picked me up in the pouring rain as I was hitch-hiking into town was really curious where I came from and what had happened to me. It wasn’t until several hours later when I finally looked in the mirror that I understood: my entire face was smeared in mud like a television war solider! Got my first shower and laundry for a week.

View from the Awesome View hostel
View from the Awesome View hostel

As expected, I had a hard time dragging myself out of time and sometime around 11, (for the first time in 10,000 miles of hiking), I stuck my thumb out and IMMEDIATELY got a ride back to the trail. Cool trail today with maple syrup tap lines over the trail!

Maple Syrup lines! Too bad it isn’t tapping season…
Maple Syrup lines! Too bad it isn’t tapping season…

Also, went by this cool cave/long rock formation that reminded me of the Great Wall of China in the Bob Marshall Wilderness with waterfalls running off.

The Great Wall of China in Vermont
The Great Wall of China in Vermont

 

The weather wasn’t great so I didn’t get much of a view, but it cleared up for the end of the day at Spruce Camp. I was alone again at the shelter–its been like that since Sunrise Camp–6 days of being alone at shelters. This one felt a bit haunted and smelled funny, so I hammocked. I’ve been pushing so hard, its funny to think it will all be over in less than 2 days. 4605′ gain (similar to yesterday, but felt much easier today….being clean will do that to you).

Lost, Thirsty, Storms, and Loving It

Coming up over the Forehead of Mt. Mansfield
Coming up over the Forehead of Mt. Mansfield

Most epic day ever. Well, on this trail. So, thunderstorms are supposed to be rolling in this afternoon AND I have to go over the highest, most exposed peak on the whole trail today. This means getting up at 5AM and booking it. Going over Mt. Mansfield was awesome. It looks like a profile of a face from the side, so I climbed ladders and tight squeezes that were kinda sketchy for something that counts as a “hike” instead of a “climb” up to the Chin. The mile-long high alpine-tundra walk to the Forehead was ALL mine even though there is a parking lot near the top that usually leads to a crowded summit.

Not dog friendly exposed pitch of Mt. Mansfield
Not dog friendly exposed pitch of Mt. Mansfield

Then there was a sweet downclimb referred to as “an exposed pitch unsuitable for dogs.” Once out of lightening territory, I was on a major time crunch to make it 20 miles to the trail angel run hostel, that preferred me to check in before 6. All good and well except for that I got lost on the roadwalk in Smuggler’s Notch on Highway 108 near Stowe. I thought the trail would cross the street, but instead if was somewhere to my left or right along Highway 108. (This might be a good time to say that I bought the wrong guidebook, or at least needed a different one or a map for this trail). I was able to deduce from the sign at the roadside kiosk that the trail was to the left, but I kept walking, and walking. I found the Smuggler’s Notch picnic area, but no white blazes anywhere. So I kept going, and going, and going. This being my first thru-hike with a Smartphone, I figured I’d try my luck. Sure enough, half an hour of going completely out of my way, I found out that the white blazes continued back at the Smuggler’s notch picnic area to the left of/BEHIND the bathrooms (thank you to someone’s trailjournal where I read that!! May my entry help someone else in need as well!).

Dawn on Mt. Mansfield
Dawn on Mt. Mansfield

For the rest of the day, there was some super steep ski trail and between Sterling Pond shelter and Whiteface shelter, I really could have water which was impossible to find (note to other hikers: stock up! Made up some time on the downhill of a logging road walking in the rain. How’d my toes feel about the downhill….owwww! 4610′ gain

Jonesville to Johnson–not as bad as they say

The grand winterized shelter under Mansfield
The grand winterized shelter under Mansfield

So I figured that my 5:30 am 2-mile walk from Damforth shelter to the road would be a pleasant, easy, stroll. No such luck. It was so steeply downhill, that I really feel like the trail was designed to only travel over the hardest parts of any mountain.

First resupply in 5 days in Jonesville after a confusing roadwalk (note to self: next time, bring maps). Luckily, my new smartphone came in useful and I found the route OK. I mailed a box of food to myself but there was no place to eat in town, so I downed a can of chili I’d been clever enough to send myself in prep for what the guidebooks say is the hardest part of the trail–Jonesville to Johnson over Mt. Mansfield. It actually hasn’t been as bad as the slump over Camel’s Hump. There is more elevation gain, but waaay more water, so I can keep hydrated at least (although it is getting *hot*).

Some of the trail through this section is so vertical and rocky it reminds me of Mahoosuc Notch on the AT…full out boulder scrambling up only to have to go down on the otherside. But, I ended up at this beautiful lodge right under Mt. Mansfield’s chin and had it all to myself. Here’s to tomorrow—getting over the highest point in Vermont before the afternoon lightening sets in. 6025′ gain (the most elevation gain in one day for my hike of this trail, but still easier than yesterday)

Doin’ the ridgewalk

Long Trail feet are swollen feet
Long Trail feet are swollen feet

I knew today would be dry, but had no idea how dry it’d actually be. I filled up my Platypus completely with 2.5L of water at the Stark’s nest rainwater catchment and hoped that would do me over Burnt Rock (another exposed, fun, rock climbing type peak) and onto the next water…somewhere. I saw a lot of people today–some probably southbounders…but water…not so much.

I could see Camel’s Hump from Burnt Rock and it was an intimidating sight all day. I can’t believe how exposed the peaks are and how steep the rock is (seriously not a Western trail). Again, I’m glad the rock isn’t wet. The ups and downs were more serious today with far distances between tannin-red trickles of water.

Camel’s Hump from Burnt Rock
Camel’s Hump from Burnt Rock

The hard day’s work was rewarded though when I got to Camel’s Hump–a cool exposed granite peak with lots of sweet alpine veg. But the downhill–my knees feel like they did the first time I did the Appalachian Trail with Lyme disease–and my feet are begging for a stop. I had Damforth shelter all to myself and set up my hammock outside of it–hoping that by elevating my poor feet as I sleep, they may forgive me for abusing them. Stoked for my 1st resupply in 5 days tomorrow. 4255′ gain (the hardest day of the trail so far elevation wise, and, I daresay, even after finishing, I still think it was the hardest day)

Sunset over the Green Mountains
Sunset over the Green Mountains

Beautiful peak baggin’

Rare view in the Breadloaf wilderness
Rare view in the Breadloaf wilderness

Despite last night’s rain, today is hot and clear with lots of up and downs. I’m beginning to learn that even more so than the Appalachian Trail, every mountain I can see from a view will be a mountain I will need to climb up. Water situation is still a little less than ideal, but at least its not hot. Still relatively bugless…

I’ve seen people today and chatted with some section hikers. Coming up near Mt. Abraham, there were tons of cars in the parking lot. I passed lots of families and hearing the parents telling their kids that “this young lady is walking all the way to Canada” really made me feel encouraged. I always fancy myself somewhat of a lone-woods person, but I really do enjoy and thrive off of seeing and talking with other people. The magic of the trail really is getting to meet people from all over—people I might not run into or have a chance to chat with otherwise. I also like the idea that some kid I ran into may feel inspired to hike the LT some day.

Mt. Abraham was a fun mountain with lots of semi-rock climbing and scrambling and a little exposure, which is always fun. It was great to soar above treeline and walk on granite slabs–very pleased that they weren’t wet and that it wasn’t raining. On more than a few sections of this trail, I’ve thought how scary the rocky parts would be if they were wet. It reminds me of going down Bemis Mountain on the AT and how I kept slipping over and over again…

Vermont alpine plants
Vermont alpine plants

 

I’m not going so fast that I can’t enjoy the lichen and moss and other high altitude-tundra alpine species. The area near Mt. Abraham is on a beautiful ridgeline near Mad River Glen ski area. Today has been my most fun day of hiking the LT so far and I’m really enjoying “bagging” so many peaks on the ridgeline with relatively little effort.

View from Stark’s nest
View from Stark’s nest

The finish point at the Mad River Glen ski warming hut, Stark’s Nest, was a fantastic reward. It has a view out to the Whites and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the ridgeline of the Whites from afar–absolutely terrifyingly up and down. Hard to believe I’ve gone up that twice! Stark’s Nest also had a privy and rain water collection barrel–so all the services of a regular shelter. It was a grand place to sleep and I enjoyed eating my dinner as I read old newspaper clippings about the history of the place. 4080′ gain

 

Home sweet shelter–thanks Mad River Ski People
Home sweet shelter–thanks Mad River Ski People

Sweetest shelter known to trail

Free Vermont hospitality
Free Vermont hospitality

Crazy up and down journey through the Breadloaf Wilderness. The guidebook warns that water on the LT north of Maine junction is scarce and despite all the rain we’ve had, I’m finding it true. Walked past Middlebury’s ski slope and a whole mountain owned by the college. Also did a “run off trail and seek lower ground to avoid lightening” event which involved setting up my tarp and sitting the storm out while I made tea with the little water I had left (totally worth it).

I’m staying the night in Skyline Lodge which is the sweetest shelter known to a trail looking out at a lily covered pond—and I had it all to myself! Oh, also a night lightening storm that rocked the shelter’s roof and flash-boomed right above me. I took solace in the .2 miles I had walked off trail (and downhill) to get to the lodge. Maybe that was the .2 miles that spared me. 4140′ gain

The view from my private cabin
The view from my private cabin