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Off into the wild unknown

At Maine Junction, the AT and LT split, and I enter the unknown wild
At Maine Junction, the AT and LT split, and I enter the unknown wild

Stayed at the Yellow Deli Inn and they fed me well and seemed to appreciate what I thought of as thoughtful questions about their beliefs and lifestyle. They are good people and I was glad to visit them again. I took the bus back to the AT with 5 days worth of food and a heavy loaded pack, ready for the scary adventure that lies ahead.

After a relatively quick and painless journey from Route 4 to Maine Junction (actually, easier than I remember from the AT), I said goodbye to the spot that is the furthest north I’ve been in Vermont where the AT and LT split. I was worried about the trail north of Maine junction. It is well known to be infinitely harder, steeper, rockier, rootier, with more ups and downs. To my surprise, it wasn’t bad at first. I was enjoying a lack of rain and imminent thunder as I’d be experiencing, but then there was insane steep up and down without views. The LT did not fail to live up to its reputation.

The LT just got a lot more wild
The LT just got a lot more wild

The most exciting discovery was a part of the trail covered in moose hair–a moose must have died there and nothing was left but its fur. Finally saw some more LT hikers in the shelter tonight…northbounders who are clearly experiencing the joys of a long hike for the first time…tallboy beers,smokes, and battery powered radio included! 2880′ gain (which was REALLY hard and felt more like 4000′ gain)

Hurricane Irene’s damage on the Long Trail

Hurricane Irene takes out a metal bridge
Hurricane Irene takes out a metal bridge

This section of the AT was supposed to be pretty damaged by Hurricane Irene, but I wasn’t sure where the damage started. My internet research before I left didn’t show anything about closures, but, like always, one can never know what the trail will bring.

I woke up earlyish to attempt making it over Mt. Killington before afternoon thunderstorms set in. Crossing the Clarendon Gorge/Mill River Suspension bridge, I looked down at the rapids and thought: “On the PCT or CDT, there wouldn’t be a suspension bridge here. There would be a ‘hope I don’t die’ fording moment.”

Along Gould Brook, the trail usually follows the brook, but it must have swelled a lot during Hurricane Irene. There were some cairns up showing a higher route, which I ended up taking because the trail seemed to be washed away. it was hard to follow–another hiker said he could lost hiking it near dusk, which is totally understandable. None of the fords were more than ankle deep–it was crazy to think it could have swelled 20 feet high last fall.

The metal car bridge may be out, but hikers can still pass
The metal car bridge may be out, but hikers can still pass

The trail spit me out a road and as I looked to find the trail, I saw a large pieces of steel wrapped around a tree. It was the old car bridge the AT/LT goes over. The bridge was washed out. Luckily, the GMC built a little wooden ladder with a branch as a handrail for hikers to get across some debris still where the bridge was. The road 100 feet up was washed out with a hole the length of a big rig and 8 feet deep. Hikers could walk around it, but a car couldn’t.

Hail amongst the rocks and roots of the trail up Killington
Hail amongst the rocks and roots of the trail up Killington

It started raining and was a little cold up Killington. I saw some hail, and there was no way to get a view. It cleared up on the onr way down, but it took longer to get down that I expected! When I got to the road, I tried to hitch, but miraculously, the Rutland bus stopped by and gave me a ride to the Inn at the Long Trail. Owen, the same bartender I had last year on the AT, was working and it felt good to see a familiar face and eat the Irish stew I had been so dreaming of. I had a Long Trail-Guinnesss half and half and will catch a ride into Rutland to stay with the 12 Tribes at the Yellow deli and hostel…mmm…love their food. Last year,my hike was pretty streamlined, but I’m glad that this time around, I can see the Deli again. 3540′ gain

Bug free and not hard at all

Envision the impossible: Mosquito-free Vermont pond
Envision the impossible: Mosquito-free Vermont pond

One funny thing about hitting a trail after living in the flatlands for a while is how much trepidation I have about peaks. Maybe I’m usually not that worried, but yesterday’s bout with Styles and Peru Peaks gave me pause about Mt. Baker. I was pleasantly surprised when I got to the sign that said 0.1 miles to summit–it hadn’t been steep or tiring at all!

I had a great view at Lost Pond and was immensely fortunate not to have any bugs–has visiting Lost Pond bug free ever happened to a AT or LT hiker?

I was very excited about revisiting White Rocks cliff again. Its a beautiful cairn garden of white rocks (update: thanks Rockhound for letting me know the rock is schist!). I gave a talk about my AT talk last month at the National Conservation Training Center and the Superintendent of the AT and Assistant Superintendent of the AT was there and neither of them knew that the cairn garden existed! Although cairns aren’t exactly part of the natural environment and I wouldn’t want to see them everywhere on the AT, in this one place, they create an energy that seems to connect me in time and place with all the hikers who have come before me and all the hikers who will be there in the future.

The famous White Rocks cairns
The famous White Rocks cairns

Minerva Hinchey shelter was full of AT hikers and it was fun chatting with them. One guy, Awakening, was putting together an AT documentary and traveling with an older guy, Yellowstone Jack, who told us stories about wolves. Sundog was on the AT last year and got sick, so came back to finish it. It felt good to hear stories from other hikers and to be around other people–I felt a bit like I was on the AT again. 2425′ gain

Lucky Turkey

Rainy Vermont hiking…meh
Rainy Vermont hiking…meh

At the beginning of each hiking season, I spend my first few days trembling with anxiety over hitch hiking. I plan my long hikes in ways to minimize hitch hiking, but my plan included going into Manchester Center, 5 miles down the highway into town. I resisted getting out of my sleeping bag and headed out motivated only by hunger.

It was misting and kind of raining this morning and I stood by the side of the road around morning commute time in full rain gear, hoping that cars would see me despite the limited visibility. It was a harder hitch than I imagined—Vermonters are pretty good about picking up hikers, especially when its raining and the hitchhiker is a girl alone–but after a few minutes, I got a ride with a nice older woman (ok, this wasn’t Wyoming hitchhiking hard, but it was harder than I expected!)

I’ve been getting into shelters so early every night that I’ve been getting more and more bored. Its shameful going to sleep at 6 when it gets dark at 9. So, I decided to get a book and ended up grabbing a book about a man who walked across Spain in the 1930s. Looks cool!

The way back to the trailhead was a very easy hitch, yet going up Bromley Mtn. and Styles and Peru Peaks with five days worth of food was not so easy! Yet, it was all made worth it when I saw a wild turkey on the ski trail up to Bromley Mtn. I’m a big turkey fan and haven’t ever seen a turkey this far north on the AT, so it was a really special experience to see it hobbling around in the fog.

 

Although I’d gone to trouble to get $5 bills to pay the caretakers at Peru Peak shelter, the caretakers haven’t started working yet. I was at the shelter with another LT hiker, the Fox and Hound, a girl with her dog. Also, before I hit the trail, I checked 7 different stores for heet for my new alcohol stove (my first!). Luckily, I got some denatured alcohol at the Mountain Goat outfitter in town (great outfitter, nice people, and best hiker box I’ve seen anywhere). Hot food, new book, and another girl on trail with a cute dog–can’t be beat!

2550 feet of gain today

 

 

 

 

Return to Benton MacKaye’s special mountain

Stratton Mountain on the Long Trail
Stratton Mountain on the Long Trail

I feel very lucky to have had the experience to walk Vermont quickly, as I did last year, but also to walk it much more slowly this time. I woke up and did some stretching and yoga, but I had a hard time dawdling–I love Stratton Mountain and couldn’t wait for the beautiful climb up to the “birthplace of the AT.”

The climb was a little different than I remembered it and was over too quickly. I was so lucky to have a great view from the firetower on top–some clouds to add to the blue sky and fat, rolling green mountains in all directions with reflective lakes. What makes Stratton so fantastic is that its the tallest thing around for such a long time and its Long Trail hikers’ first peek at the amazing world of alpine-tundra vegetation–sand grain sized red lichen flowers and mushrooms the size of my pinky fingernail…Stratton Mountain is where Benton MacKaye dreamed up the idea for the Appalachian Trail and its view inspires adventure and kept me excited to keep walking to Canada.

Fire tower on Stratton mountain
Fire tower on Stratton mountain

Craziness–I saw a snake just a bit down from the summit! Who knew that such warmth loving reptiles could live at such a high elevation. Even crazier, I saw yet another porcupine (it was so slow that it patiently waited the minute for my camera to turn on) and a black bear! I couldn’t believe I got to see a black bear in Vermont! They are so sneaky and elusive here.

Vermont snakes live on top of mountains
Vermont snakes live on top of mountains

I spent a good while at the view from Prospect Rock looking out at the valley where Manchester Center is before heading to Spruce Peak shelter, perhaps the nicest shelter on the whole AT. I got there to learn that all 4 walls, all 2 levels of bunks, all of the wood burning stove, and indoor picnic bench, and porch were for me alone. I’d say I was lucky, but it was actually a bit creepy. A previous user had left 3 cans of food behind which I lustly looked it, but decided to save for an AT thru-hiker since they were likely to be hungrier than me. 2205 gain

 

The thru-hiker’s mantra: rain spotted from inside a shelter always looks worse than rain spotted from outside

Typical Vermont weather
Typical Vermont weather

Its taken thousands of miles of hiking to realize the thru-hiker’s mantra: rain spotted from inside a shelter always looks worse than rain spotted from outside. As soon as I stepped out of the shelter, rain geared and umbrellaed, I decided the rain was mild enough that my rain get-up was unnecessary.

My morning started with floating bog bridges not too far from the shelter. These are those trick bog bridges that look like you can step on them to serve as a bridge across a swamp only to realize that when you step on them, they sink under your weight and get your feet wet. When these sorts of things happen, you can only laugh at how our eyes can play tricks on us and how fortunate we are to have bog bridges to keep our feet dry when the water is not swelling.

I was slightly dreading the steep, rocky downhill to the VT 9 Bennington road–two trips on the AT reminded me that section is hard on the knees and is a potential place to slip. It turned out not being that bad. The memorial bridge across a river right by VT 9 seemed high enough that it wasn’t damaged by all the flooding in Vermont–I wonder when I will see damage or if the LT/AT was spared or, like many things, experienced the Miracle of Vermont and repaired quickly.

Supervisor keeps the rain out on the Long Trail
Supervisor keeps the rain out on the Long Trail

The big climb from VT 9 was also not as bad as I remembered. I’m certainly not doing the mileage I was doing before–and that isn’t my goal on this trip–but it bodes well for my enjoyment if the climbs are not bad.

I ran into some section hikers with two dogs. The cat-sized one had an adventurous last night—it got into a fight with a porcupine and had to be dequilled.

My snack at Goddard Shelter was postponed because it was quite cold up there. I was shivering.

I ended at Story Spring shelter with two AT hikers, which was fun to swap stories with them.

Starting the Long Trail!

Mass-Vermont border on the Long Trail
Mass-Vermont border on the Long Trail

Here I am again, excited and a little nervous about hitting another trail. I started at County Rd, a gnarly dirt path that crosses the Long Trail/Appalachian Trail about 3 miles north of the Mass-VT border/the southern termini. I opted this route to avoid the elevation gain required from taking the AT from US 2 also to postpone the start with a little more civilization time–it is surprising sometimes how hard it can be to start a trail even though I know I’ll have a great time. The hike to the border was pleasant with few up and downs, and a great surprise–a porcupine on trail! I’ve only ever seen a porcupine once on the Continental Divide Trail while walking in Colorado. They are timid creatures and mostly nocturnal–hence the great surprise in seeing it in the afternoon. Poor little guy must have been hungry. It feels great to be back on trail, if a little weird. I stayed in Congdon shelter with two section hikers and 3 kids starting the trail. I’ve been so fortunate to have had all these trail experiences, yet its always great to see enthusiastic new faces super excited about embarking on a new kind of adventure. 3040 gain