Tag Archives: Long Trail



View from Mt. Mansfield

On Mansfield

No sentences strung together that can fully pass along the simplest of life’s beauty that I experienced during my two months living and working on Mt. Mansfield. But I had to try.

On my last day, I met a couple in the snow covered Taft Lodge, a hiker’s shelter on the mountain. We exchanged our life stories, their lives being significantly longer than my own. “Follow your heart,” they told me and took off on a winter wonderland path.

But my heart is already here, I thought. Here among the spruce and the fir and the ravens. Here, I can cry among the clouds and sleep in the stars. Here, silence and snowflakes know what’s best for me. I don’t know what the weather will be like today or tomorrow or if the gray sky will ever lift. Here, I can tell what life will be like only right now, right now, not then.

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Looking Back


Last night, as I made my way to Butler Lodge, I experienced a sense of self and awe at the world around me like never before. After a sunny afternoon working on Mt. Mansfield, my shoulders and back already hurting from the day’s burn, I appreciated the black spruce and balsam fir shielding me from the powerful golden rays.

The scent of these alpine trees is my favorite. For me, it inspires and replenishes. The trail, cut through alpine territory, led me atop rocks and roots reminding me of the trees that once stood where the soles of my boots landed. Two snowshoe hares appeared, large and grayish brown, they stopped to investigate my presence then continued on. Birds called to one another, possibly announcing my arrival. Soon, more light emerged ahead of me. The clearing led me to a series of blazes painted on large boulders. Had it not been for my footsteps and the thousands of others, what life would be flourishing here? Would blue clintonia berries peek out between oval leaves? Maybe map lichen and rock tripe would paint the gray surface of these boulders. Perhaps red mountain cranberries would mingle with white sandwort and blue hedyotis flowers. Without a doubt, a symphony of color and life would arise here.

Unfortunately, I did not have a camera to capture the moment but took this shot the following week when the clouds mysteriously parted for several hours.

In the distance, I heard a jingling. As I moved toward the sound, I was unaware of the silence with which I moved. I greatly startled a man backpacking with his son and two dogs. One of the dogs wore a red collar with a golden bell. We converged at a breathtaking lookout. While still making sense of all that my eyes could reach, I offered to take a picture of the family as the father fumbled with his camera aimed at the son. After the photo I continued down to yet another beautiful expanse opening before my eyes.

Suddenly, I began to tremble, my heart beating fast and loud like a drum. I could hardly coordinate planting my foot firmly on the ground, drawn to the curves of the blue green mountains spreading across the horizon. I began to cry. Last year, as I made my way up this very trail, a hurricane took charge and I saw only far enough to move several feet ahead. Having completed the Long Tail, I marveled at the many beautiful vistas I was graced with along the way. Looking back, I was truly fortunate to have experienced so many cloudless lookouts and summits. But this one was a first. From deep within, my memories of the Trail were summoned to be reunited with this moment, to be completed with this view. The longer I gazed ahead, the more aware I grew of the startling beauty all around me, the more I trembled in its awe, the more I cried. A life without such moments would be hardly worth living.

Within the first few pages of Wilderness Ethics, I felt I found a friend who understands that feeling. As Laura and Guy Waterman talked about their experience of white out on top of Mt. Washington and the over blazing of trails, I recalled my frequent longing for a Long Trail blaze during my month long journey on the 272 mile path. There were times of frustration and once, a complete turnaround that resulted in dramatic loss of elevation only to be backtracked and descended again. Deep down, I was grateful it wasn’t always easy. Watermans’ ideas are some of the most radical I have come across when discussing backcountry ethics and while I did not nod at every chapter, I agree that difficulty and risk are an inherent characteristic of wilderness.

What if there were no blazes, no side trails, no roads, no resupply towns, no shelters and no caretakers? What if it was 1912? How heavy would my load be? Would I carry a rifle to feed myself? Who would I encounter? Who would encounter me?

I wrote all this contemplation of wilderness from a rocking chair at Taft Lodge overlooking the Worcester Range. Homes, lodges and red barns dotted the valley in the distance.

“Hello,” said the wind.

I turned my head.

Reminiscing On Little Rock Pond

On August 8, I celebrated the day I set out to hike the Long Trail in 2009. Nothing could have been more soul fitting than working on trails to Little Rock Pond, one of my favorite sanctuaries along the 272 mile path in the Green Mountains. Sam and Darcy of the Green Mountain Club led the group of volunteers who had committed a week or more to improving the Long Trail. Unfortunately, I was only able to stay on for four days and did my best to make the most of each one.

Little Rock Pond

While there, the crew focused on building turnpikes and resetting puncheon. Turnpikes are log frames filled with crushed rock and set on a path creating a mud free walkway that aids in preventing long term damage to the trail and erosion. All of our rock was crushed by hand, well, with a sledgehammer.


While some sledge, others worked to peel the bark of the log and chiseled notches that would keep the logs in frame to form a frame. The bark is removed in order to slow down the process of decay. It can be removed with an ax or a sledge hammer. The notches are made by sawing 4-6 sections abut half way down the log and then using a hammer and a chisel to remove the saw cuts.

Chiseling After the Bark Has Been Removed

The logs are moved with manpower of four, some netting a bar. But first, the ground where the puncheon will be set must be entirely free of rock which sometimes means using three rock bars to remove enormous boulders which appear as mere nothing on the surface. At last, the crew rests after a day’s work.

Almost Done

In between crushing rock and stripping logs, we swam and ate delicious food that we trekked in via fifty pound coolers on our backs. On my last day, I left while the crew was still working and headed out to spend some one on one with the pond. I took off all my clothes and swam across to the diving cliffs. I can still feel the water drying on my skin from the sun. As I swam back, I recalled how nervous I was the first time I left the shore a year ago. In fact, it was only because of the two brothers I met who were thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail that I even had the guts to swim across the first time. At last, I was swimming on my own.

Still Summer

“Still summer, still summer,”  I chant as my breath strains despite my effort to breathe into the wheel. There have been rumors of the fall, actually, the winter coming.

The wheel at Sterling Pond

No one even mentions fall, it’s like that fraction of a millisecond, like a 1,000 years from the perspective of billions in the planet’s history. No, here in Vermont it goes straight to winter the rumors seem to suggest. “But it’s still summer,” I smile back, still summer, now! The days are long and hot, the nights are cool with bright full moons hovering lower than ever. Yes, I realize is barely an optical illusion. The water in the lakes and rivers is reaching its ultimate end of the day swim feeling. Views at the top are clear and far flung.

View from Mt. Mansfield, facing south.

View from Mt. Mansfield, facing north.

View from Elephant’s Head

“Back Where It All Begins”

It’s hard to believe that I am here, back where it all began. I’m facing the window out to Church Street, my computer on top of a raised corner bar in Uncommon Grounds. It’s the first cup of coffee I’ve had in months. With milk and honey, it’s smooth and sweet but the bitterness still irritates my mouth. There, outside, are the bums that my boyfriend always talks about, smoking cigarettes, a few are sitting to my left, smelling like cigarettes. They always prefer to hang out in the front, by the window. I guess it’s cool that they only drink locally roasted, fair trade coffee, that’s one thing we’ve got in common.

What’s different today is that it’s May and I’m not shivering in my fleece from the chill air that creeps through the window seals. My first month here, in Vermont, was a forgiving November. Every morning my boyfriend would leave for work and I, without a car, knowledge of local transportation or anything else, would go with him. He would turn right, I knew I had to turn left towards the bus stop in front of Macy’s. The first time I made that right, I ran into Uncommon Grounds. I think there’s a sign outside that says “free wireless.” I came here nearly every day. The guys behind the counter noticed me frequenting the place. One guy with bangs cut just above his eyes would nod hello and give me a slight smile. He walked back between the counter and the kitchen a lot and couldn’t help but notice that I was in there nearly all day. Especially in December, when it got really cold.

I had a lot to do. I had to find a job, write about the Long Trail, sort photos from Russia, decide what was going to be next. As the temperatures dropped, I found myself frozen in time. I didn’t know anyone or anything. At Uncommon Grounds, I read the Seven Days classifieds, bus schedules, lists of non-profits, staff profiles, farm listings, checked flight prices to Chile, Peru, Nicaragua, California, Arizona, cropped and edited, deleted words and created sentences.

In January I started staying “home” more. I became familiar with the area and went grocery shopping, cooked, read, went on interviews, went to the Gap to buy trousers. Suddenly I had stuff to do and staying “home” felt nice. Multi-day trips to New York City became less frequent. Then it was time to go to Nicaragua.

On a Thursday in March I was back in San Jose, two years after that semester in Costa Rica. I saw Paul’s beard and blue rain jacket.  I was tired from the long border crossing the day before, tired from the year past but moments like that gave me enough adrenaline to keep going. Another long flight back to New York, a week later back in Vermont. I started on a farm, the wrong farm. So I started the cycle again. I stayed “home” and looked at classifieds, went on interviews. I got my permit, got my license and bought a car just shy of my twenty fourth birthday.

I found myself at another unmarked junction, two jobs leading in different directions, like on the Long Trail, both the signs and my own instincts were confusing. I chose a path and kept going.

Hiking over the weekend by myself, I realized I was on the portion of the trail that I hiked without Paul, the day he took off early in the morning. It felt like a mysterious coincidence. I drove to the trail head, hiked up and ran into someone I met at Skylight Pond while thru-hiking. I couldn’t remember his name – Sandy. I hiked back down and called Paul to confirm dinner plans. I picked dandelions to go with the green asparagus and golden beet I bought at the farmer’s market the day before.

I came here deliberately today, seven months since I first made my way through the list of daily roast. Most things were the same, the small white mug on a small plate, the mention of the free refill, day old goods for sale, honey, brown sugar and milk all lined up next to each other. I recognized only one person from the staff.  It’s so hard to grasp, to categorize, to pin point, to determine, to quantify, to explain everything that has happened in the past year. It’s even harder to predict anything that will happen. Yet there is something about this May spring in Vermont, the summer that is now in New York. Four days ago, one year ago, I boarded that plane to Washington. I thought I was going out west but I ended up full circle, back in the east in the state I fell in love with the first time I saw the rolling pastures and red barns out the car window.

Long Trail Highlights

In chronological order from start to finish, don’t miss these highlights from the trail.  Let me know what you think by leaving a comment!

The Long Trail, at Last!

Poem written at Skyline Lodge

Camel’s Hump!

Snortilla Side Note

Over Mt. Mansfield…In Hurricane Danny

The End is Near, Too Near

Journey’s End

Journey’s End

It is so hard to write about the last day. In many ways, writing about my experience on the Long Trail took so long because after each entry, I would relive so many of the emotions that it would seem impossible to write about this or that day. It’s almost a relief to be writing these last words. I mean really, all that happened was Paul and I woke up, took the gondola up the mountain and hiked 11.5 miles until I saw a sign that read “Norther Terminus of the Long Trail…” Paul walked right by it. That was it. It was over. I took a picture of the Canadian border marker. We walked to Journey’s End camp, the last shelter and read the entries in log book. It was hard to find any words to write. I just wrote, thank you.

The truth is, thru-hiking the Long Trail is an experience that is unique and intimate for each person that completes it.

For me, it reaffirmed some of my beliefs and brought to light new ones. It’s hard to explain how or why but even now, I wake up every day happier. At the top of Jay Peak, one hiker greeted Paul and I, after which I said to him, “nice day, huh?” It was a nice day. “Best one yet,” he replied. And so now, when I wake up and go to sleep, I know no matter what, it’s been the best one yet.

Northern Terminus

The End Is Near…Too Near

The end is so near! Too near! Too soon!

The day should have been a piece of cake, climb up Jay Peak, stay at Laura Woodward and walk out the following day – it wasn’t. The climb up Jay Peak was great. At this point and on days before, Paul and I would walk apart from one another and meet up at camp. At Jay Peak, I was able to soak it all in by myself, which was admittedly nice. There were several day-hikers and people coming up via the gondola, asking me if I was out for the night. I thought about it all. Here I am, sitting atop the final peak of the Long Trail. THE FINAL PEAK OF THE LONG TRAIL. And yet the end still seemed so far away, I still could not believe that in a matter of one day I would walk out. I thought about what it all meant to me. And in that moment I realized, the best feeling about it was knowing that I didn’t do it alone. I didn’t have any sherpas but there were so many people along the way that helped me get there. Those who led me on my first backpack, individuals that gave me advice whether locals or outfitters that helped me successfully get through all my solo hiking. But more so, it was my friends who supported me each step of the way and inspired me to believe in myself.

About a half hour later, Paul’s silhouette coming up the mountain came into view. In a bit we were happily skipping down the ski trail, watching for the turnoff that would take us back into the forest.  We missed it. And we ended up walking to the base of Jay Peak and camping out on the side of one of the trail, in a tree covered area. But before that, we ate dinner and two ice cream sandwiches and a cookie at the restaurant at the mountain’s base. We fit in pretty well with the golf crowd. Our check read, “Hiker’s at Bar.” Too bad the server took it back…

In the tent, I still could not believe that tomorrow the Long Trail would be over.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

View during climb

The morning’s climb was easy enough but again, we got a late start. I was not at all in my usual rhythm, waking up really early, hiking and stopping to take a closer look at things and getting into camp early. Instead, it had become waking up late, starting late, finishing late and rushing the entire time. I also realized that I had been hiking with Paul for quite some time and was wondering if I was doing the right thing by continuing to do so. By the afternoon, I felt a wave of confusion set it. I was hot and didn’t have enough water to drink. By the time we got to the midpoint shelter, it was still early in the day but I felt fatigued and really like the view and the shelter itself. I began to think. Was this the point where we had to split? Should I stay behind for the sake of my thru-hiking experience? What would it be like in a few days? Are we going to hike the rest of the trail together? On one hand, I really wanted to stay at Tillotson shelter but I didn’t want to stop so early in the day. I was frustrated with my inability to make up my mind about what I wanted – sound familiar, anyone? It would also really screw things up as far as miles and shelter and food over the next few days if I stayed. Finally, lunch was over and I turned to the measure I knew best, my gut feeling. It was also confused as hell. After all, I came here to thru-hike the Long Trail on my own, to experience solitude and to challenge myself, not be doing it alongside someone else. But for one reason or another, I didn’t want to stay at Tillotson shelter, so I decided to keep walking.

Tillotson Window