Tag Archives: thru-hiking

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

The Three Mile Day (Maybe Less)

With just eight miles planned for the day, neither Paul nor I were in a rush to pack up. After catching up on sleep, taking in the view one more time and refilling our water containers, we were back on the trail – at one in the afternoon. The day promised some gentle hills and one more strenuous climb but we would surely get to Tillotson camp by late afternoon. The day opened up with an interesting passage through Devil’s Glutch, slated rock that looked like it was thrown all over the place. Despite the name, there was nothing challenging about it and it was rather pretty with an ancestral cave feeling to it. Less than a half hour later we came across a man who was putting on his shirt and shaking a head full of long, curly, grey and wet hair.  He told us about a pond, just a few minutes away down a side trail. After some brief hesitation, Paul and I decided to check it out. After all, we had gotten a late start on the day and any further delays could have serious consequences. Although I must admit nothing serious can happen on a sunny day when you’re on the trail.

We were the only ones admiring the pond and the abandoned cabin with a dock and a raft. Two more cabins were across the pond. We decided to take the raft to get across. Neither Paul nor I knew how to operate a raft and we tried tirelessly to steer and get it moving until giving up and just laying in the sun while the wind did all the work. It took a while to get across, much longer than we expected. After checking out the cabin we tried some other ways to get the raft to move faster until Paul discovered something that kind of worked. Someone had to jump into the water, swim in front of the raft and use the rope tied to it to drag it while swimming. Genius, right? So we took turns and got across. It was nearly five at that point and also lunch time. Finally, we were ready to leave and after hiking for about an hour we set up camp off the trail.

Ritterbush Pond

Saying Goodbye at Spruce Ledge

Today marked the beginning of the most northern section of the trail. Unfortunately, while only 15 miles, the day was rather dizzying – literally. Cut right next to a logging operation, the morning’s trail miles resound, even now, with the sound of machines and buzzing of all sorts. Hours and miles later, there was no escape! The terrain had little to no variation and it was a world of green ferns and young trees which made me feel like I was lost in someone’s very large backyard. Higher elevation and some outlooks changed the course of the day.

Overlook view

Feeling ill, I lay down for a nap at the following shelter and when I awoke, Paul was already there. He is such a strong hiker! We continued on together and soon after I developed a horrible stomach ache reminiscent of my appendicitis days.. Paul offered to take my pack and hike out to Spruce Ledge, drop both of our packs, come back and have me piggy-back there. While extremely tempting, I declined but figured there must be something in my food bag left to express my gratitude at dinner.

The trail continued as seemingly never-ending until we arrived at Spruce Ledge. Victor, a south-bound Long Trail hiker told us about his experiences thus far and later in the night, Pinky and Lulu, Long Trail north-bounders walked in.  It was going to be our last night together as north-bounders and while casually spent, saying good bye was meaningful to all of us.

One More Beautiful Sunset

Another town day! Being so close to the road, I left Bear Hollow just a few minutes before 11AM. After hitching into town, I proceeded with the usual. Do you know it by now? Al and Alice are a couple who run a hiker’s hostel out of the basement of their beautiful home that overlooks the mountains. Al picked me up in the afternoon and took me to the hostel for the purpose of a shower. Realizing I left my headlamp at the last shelter, I bought what turned out to be a super-duper flashlight and ran up to Roundtop. The shelter was gorgeous! Only a three wall, it made up for the lack of insulation with clean skylights, benches and an unforgettable sunset view. Paul had already comfortably made use of one of the benches and was laying down and reading when I got in. I realized right then how I glad I was to be back on the trail. It is an experience that at that very moment I never wanted to end. Just to hike all day and watch these beautiful sunsets felt like the greatest way of life. Even Johnson, the tiny town of a handful of shops, seemed hectic in comparison to the green and tranquil mountains, once again, lulling me to sleep

Sunset at Roundtop

Reunions at Sterling Pond

It was hardly seven and the fog remained in power as I carefully began to make my way down Mansfield. The morning itself was glorious. A certain stillness and peace were present, the kind that could only exist after a storm. The descent took me all the way to the road and as always, right back up again. I was looking forward to Sterling Pond, hoping it would lead to an encounter with a moose. Instead I encountered Paul. Having gotten a late start, he was chatting with Dane, the Sterling Pond shelter caretaker. I was even more surprised then since Dane and I knew each other from a concert played by Phil Lesh and Friends several years ago. Paul and I continued on, hiking together, we had a similar schedule and pace, although I had a few more days allotted for the trip.

Sterling Pond

The day’s hiking was beautiful – again! The Long Trail is really a marvel of the natural world. As a trail used by dayhikers, backpackers, dog enthusiasts and with several roads leading right to it at some points and a number of side trails, it is nearly free of litter or any other sort of trail vandalism. Whiteface Mt. was our last peak of the day, enshrined in the high elevation forest I would surely miss.

Over Mt. Mansfield…During Hurricane Danny

I crawled over Mansfield in a hurricane.

Outside the lodge, fog and light rain falsely forecasted what awaited 1,500 feet above. The adrenaline of it all was sweet at first. There I was, making my way up over rocks and up ladders, avoiding looking down in some ravines, putting on all the layers I had on to keep hypothermia at bay, smiling with five foot visibility. And then the wind almost knocked me over. My pack, heavy after resupply, nearly toppled over with me when the gusts blew in. Suddenly I became apprehensive of the danger of the situation. The winds were practically knocking me off my feet as I stayed low to the already slippery ground, sprinting from one spot with some vegetation to the next. The low visibility contributed to the intimidation since I had no idea how much further I had to go or what the terrain would be like. The hurricane seemed to be gaining momentum as the hours went by and time was of the essence.

The Forehead

By mid-morning I was past the “forehead” and found my way to an unmarked road which after a few tries led me in the right direction. Emmet was already there with a few other caretakers. I spent a few hours with the Green Mountain Club crew trying to warm up, the temperatures were only in the 40’s midafternoon. I decided to continue to Taft Lodge as the rain slowed. The GMC staff did not return to their designated posts and instead went to a special employee hut located down the road – none wanted to brave the elements after getting a taste of the morning’s atmosphere. Just a few minutes after I set out, it began to hail. The “bad weather” trail, appropriately named the “Profanity Trail,” was a mess. More accurately it was a running stream. At this point, I was mentally worn out from the constant struggle to take a single step. I was soaked head to toe by the time I reached Taft Lodge. Once inside, I laid out my things to dry and ate dinner in my sleeping bag.

Solo Miles

Paul was leaving just as I opened my eyes. He was geared up for a 22 mile day and I was in no rush at all. The winding and steep ascent to Bolton Mt. was rewarded with a mountain top path of exposed roots, pine, and especially green moss. The entire sky appeared like a blue gem backdrop for the graceful forest. The day was quiet, as most days on the Long Trail had become.

View of Mt. Mansfield

I passed my initial destination, Puffer shelter, and continued on to Butler Lodge, totaling slightly over 17 miles – my knees were counting! The caretaker here was Emmet, a Vermonter who grew up on the family farm. His friends were visiting from the West coast and allowed me to join their reunion celebration. Warnings of a hurricane were in order for the following day and falling asleep in the warm, four wall cabin, I thought of Paul and his non-weather proof tent set up in the dark after his longest day yet.


Butler shelter

Camel’s Hump!

“Were you guys cold last night? ‘Cuz I was fuckin’ freezing!” Paul and I were the last two in the shelter when the caretaker flew in, making sure to shut the door behind him. The temperatures dropped into the low 30’s and everyone did their best to remain in their sleeping bags for as long as possible. Paul and I won. We started out hiking together but when we came across the first mass of rock to be climbed, I couldn’t help but allow my camera to hold me back. The climb up to Camel’s Hump, a signature peak of the Long Trail, blossomed into a most heart capturing trek with each step. There was no shortage of flat, vertical rock faces, fragrant pine and views of seemingly endless Green Mountains. Best of all, the approach angle allowed the grey, bald hump to remain sight for the entire duration of the hike.

Camel's Hump in the Distance

A sign for the summit appeared and I was overwhelmed with joy and sunshine. Everyone talks about Camel’s Hump. It’s a beautiful hike from any angle that leads to a 360° view of the Adirondacks and even New Hampshire’s mountain range. It also represents a new stage of the Trail. If you’ve made it this far, you should pat yourself on the back. For weeks, this summit seemed elusive at best and here I was, not a cloud in the sky!

At the Summit!