The Long Trail is a 275-mi trail running through the Green Mountains in Vermont, beginning at the Massachusetts state line and terminating on the Canadian border. The first hundred miles of the trail coincide with the Appalachian trail in Vermont; the AT then swings east and continues into New Hampshire and Maine for the final 500 miles. While most of the mountains on the LT are wooded, some have open and even alpine summits. Killington Mtn, Camel’s Hump, Mount Mansfield, and Jay Peak are the tallest mountains on the trail, all with rocky scrambles to the top.
The Green Mountain Club maintains the LT and other trails in Vermont. GMC sections have constructed shelters (cozy lean-tos with privies and water sources nearby) and cabins along the trail. Most shelters also have tentsites nearby. The more heavily used or fragile shelter locations have caretakers and a nominal fee to stay the night, but most are free. The trail crosses a road or highway nearly every day, so it’s not hard to hitchhike or get a taxi into town to resupply or spend a night off the trail.
I hiked the first five days with my dad. We set off on July 22nd from North Adams, MA after spending a day with family in western Mass. These five days were rather leisurely. While we have done a family backpacking trip since I was eight or nine (the longest being seven or eight days at four to eight miles a day), we hadn’t hiked together in two years. We weren’t really sure how fast we could go or even how much we’d enjoy it. On the first day we hit the trail at noon; at 3:30, we reached our first shelter after seven miles. This was typical: we often had hours in the afternoon which we didn’t quite know what to do with. After all, we were on a schedule to meet Mom on the road near Stratton Pond five days later. That night we slept with two AT thru-hikers – a northbounder and a southbounder – who gave us helpful advice.
On the second day, it rained. What began as a light drizzle turned to a downpour about two hours before we got to the day’s shelter. We didn’t wear raingear – it would have been one more heavy, wet thing to carry. When we got under cover we changed into dry clothes and made hot tea. We were wet: our packs, and everything in them, were dry under the waterproof raincovers. (In fact, I only used my raincoat once on the whole trip.) Our boots and clothes didn’t dry until the following afternoon; we got to that day’s shelter at about 2:30 and put our things out in the sun. Goddard Shelter up on Glastonbury Mtn didn’t have a view anymore (typical of about every former lookout on the trail now hidden by trees), but it was still open enough to have some sun.
On the fifth day we met Mom at the road near Stratton Mountain. Our first family backpacking trip was at Stratton Pond; this was also where Mom and Dad spent a few nights on their honeymoon. It was not only convenient but very fitting that we should have a family overnight here, and that this was where I set off solo the next day.
My family had been rather concerned about my hiking alone, but traveling with Dad for five days definitely assuaged them. Dad saw that I am indeed capable of hiking for many hours and of camping without any parental hand-holding. More importantly, he and I realized that no one is really alone on the trail. There are a ton of other hikers, and it’s not hard to hook up with someone and hike together for a few days. After I left Stratton, I traveled with Samwise, a guy around my age, for a few days. We usually didn’t walk together, but we ended up at the same campsites. Indeed, on my second day “alone,” Sam and I hooked up with some AT hikers and walked with them. Seeker, a woman in her 50s, and Marty McFly, a monster of a hiker in his 40s, taught me a lot. While most thru-hikers use trail names and keep some level of anonymity, Seeker and I talked about our lives and shared contact info when we split up. Although we weren’t fast compared to many young ATers, we still did 18-mile days – further than I’d ever walked in a day. I was glad to learn that I was capable of doing that, after years of family trips of four- to eight-mile days.
Seeker and I split up at Killington: she spent a night at the Inn at the Long Trail (extremely popular with hikers for their hiker discount, live music, pub, and general hiker-friendliness) while I went into Rutland to resupply and spend the night at a hostel. The Hikers Hostel at the Back Home Again Cafe provides supper, a bed, and breakfast for $20 or two hours’ work. I chose to work and cleaned tables and the floor in the cafe after they closed. The cafe and hostel are run by a Twelve Tribes community. Their community is around 40 strong, a gathering of several large families. They could perhaps be a called a Jewish hippie group, but they don’t associate with “organized” Judaism. Their community in Rutland (as well as their farms nearby and in South Carolina, and their communities in NY and Australia) are based on love and fellowship. Their Friday night dinner, which I attended) is a meal and celebration open to all.
In Rutland and later on in Jonesville I resupplied from mail drops I had packed, and which Mom and Dad sent to the post office. This was much easier than going to stores and hoping to find what I needed, especially as a vegan!
The following day – July 31 – I had a shorter hike, making it to David Logan shelter around 4 after a 9:30 bus out of Rutland. I lost a solid half-hour after losing the trail, wandering into stinging nettles, and having one of my contact lenses roll up in my eye as I battled gnats. This was my first night off the AT and I reflected on this and on what lay ahead with other thru-hikers spending the night at Logan.
August 1 ended surprisingly well. All morning I felt poorly and was rather depressed about my prospects for finishing the trail. In the afternoon coming down Worth Mountain en route to Hancock’s hiker hostel, I came across a lovely, shallow little lake. Lake Pleiad was the perfect spot to soak my feet and bask in the sun after so many days in the shade of the forest. A family bathing there told me about a secret shelter back up the mountain – Middlebury’s Worth Mountain Lodge. It’s very well hidden – about 20 min up the mountain and then 10 min down and around a ski trail – but is cozy and rustic, a great place to spend the night. It has bunks for eight, a wood stove, a loft, and a porch facing sunrise.
The next morning I took a quick side trip into Ripton for postcards for various family members. The day boosted my spirits even more. A solid 15 miles with 9 peaks along various ridges left me tired but feeling accomplished. The trail was certainly beginning to get harder, and I was feeling slightly intimidated but prepared. I made it to Cooley Glen shelter around 4:30 as grey clouds and thunder rolled in. A pair of SOBOs and a pair of NOBOs also spent the night, and we traded stories.
Taylor and Jim and I seemed to be on roughly the same schedule. We left Cooley Glen early in the mist, although we got rained on a few times that day. Around 10 AM as we passed a lookout we ran into a woman and her daughter who were in Vermont visiting colleges and decided to hike several minutes from the road for the view – or what would have been a view on a clearer day. They insisted on taking us out for brunch. We spent the rest of a very enjoyable day hiking along Abraham Ridge and getting to know each other. While one of my objectives for the trip was to enjoy the solitude, I found myself glad for the company. The dead trees and Spanish moss were gorgeous in the mist – the views might have been as well. We spent the evening and night at Stark’s Nest. The balcony wasn’t breezy enough to dry our socks and boots, but it turned out to be a great spot for handstands and other hijinks performed by the other thruhikers we met there, three guys around 20 spending a leisurely month on the LT.
The rain delayed us by about an hour in getting going the following morning. To my surprise, we ran into Samwise at the shelter about a mile and a half down the trail. I hadn’t expected to catch up with him at all, much less pass him out. The rest of the day wasn’t as enjoyable. It was the most difficult hiking day I’ve ever had – and one of the more difficult days of my life. The day one climbs Camel’s Hump and descends Bamforth Ridge is not the day to make 18. I didn’t get to camp until 8:30 and was almost too tired to eat.
The views the next night from Puffer Shelter almost made up for the way my feet were feeling. (The icy waterfall nearby helped a bit too.) After resupplying in Jonesville we had a long but mild ascent up Bolton Mountain. Although we didn’t get rewarded with a view, the placement of Puffer on an outlook over the valley (and a major highway in the distance) was certainly welcome.
August 6: Mount Mansfield. An “epic” day. We watched the sunrise from Puffer shelter. I got a head start and woke up a couple at 9 AM at Taylor Lodge, a “cute” lodge nestled under Mansfield at the edge of Lake Mansfield. For all the ominous warnings I’d gotten about Mansfield, it wasn’t a bad climb. I enjoy rocky scrambles a great deal, as did my companions, and the views were marvelous. However, the moment I broke out of the woods near the summit (the men were ahead at this point), an icy rainstorm broke out. After staggering around lost and frozen for a good half-hour I made my way to the ranger shelter and information house where Taylor and Jim waited. It was crowded, with lots of frozen day-hikers unprepared for a sudden change from what had been a beautiful day. One bedraggled family asked Taylor to take a picture of them – on their “first and last” hike. We had a quick lunch while we waited for the rain to clear, then headed out, suited up in raincoats and all our warm clothing, into the fierce wind. It must have been at least 40 MPH; I was physically blown over a few times as we made our way across Manfield’s “face.”
Once we finally made it over the Chin and onto the lee side of the mountain we had an easier time of things. Although the climb down was steep and slippery, it was very lovely. We could see all the way down the mountain to Taft Lodge. We broke there for some hot chocolate while the caretaker strummed his banjo. Jim called in to a B&B nearby. A hot meal, shower, and warm bed were very welcome after days in the rain.
We got a slow start the next day coming out of Smuggler’s Notch, crossing Smuggler’s Notch ski area at Madonna Peak and the lovely Sterling Pond and its shelter. It would have been nice to spend the night there had we not reached it at 2 PM. The following day was also fairly leisurely. I walked alone most of the day – a pleasant, quiet respite – meandering up and down a ridge on the wonderfully maintained trails of the Laraway section. This section is mostly wooded in and is reminiscent of the Catskills in the contours and stillness of the woods.
Although I’d been warned that the northern half of the trail is the hardest, the hike August 9 over the Belvidere/Tillotsen/Haystack Ridge wasn’t particularly difficult, although very wet. Nor was Jay Peak the next day. Jay Peak itself was just a one-hour climb up a steep, rocky slope. It’s a climb that I would have found very challenging three weeks earlier, but after 20 days on the trail I found it rather fun. The views were once again grand, but it was odd to be at such a highly developed mountaintop for the final peak. Taylor, Jim, and I took the tram down to the base area for a large celebratory lunch and had a leisurely 6 miles to Shooting Star. The shelter was on a giant glacial boulder with a dearth of tentsites. It was very crowded, with several SOBOs on their first night out. Although I was the youngest independent there, I felt older and wiser than they, who had no idea what lay ahead. I slept cowboy-style under the stars with someone’s dog that night – the perfect last night out.
The next day I walked alone for the last few miles of my journey to reflect. After 21 days, 275 miles, and countless mountains named and unnamed, I was done. I was sad to leave the woods, my home for the past three weeks, but I knew I’d return. I learned a lot about myself and nature as well. I learned the lesson of silence and solitude – to listen to the woods and be a part of the world I was moving through. There was so much life and energy around me; all of it exists in a state of interconnectedness. Nature is very powerful, forming and eroding mountains, dropping boulders, raising forests – yet humans have so much power to form and destroy. Leaving the woods, I felt a responsibility to preserve the wildness of this pocket of Nature for when I return and for the many others that will also come.
As much as my Long Trail thru-hike was about independence and being alone in nature, I couldn’t have completed this journey without support. My family helped with transport and supplies; friends on the trail like Seeker, Papa Smurf, Taylor and Jim provided knowledgeable companionship and inspiration. Strangers along the trail – the greater hiking community – are also invaluable for the rides and beds they provide. I’d like to think that I’d have been capable of doing it alone, but I was glad for the companionship at times. And even still, I’ve gained in personal strength and respect.
After some photos at the border I walked out to the trailhead and found my grandmother waiting for me. She had left home in Maine at 5 AM to get there just 15 min before me. We drove to Newport for a great lunch at a natural foods store there en route to Quebec, where we spent a wonderfully relaxing afternoon and evening at Lac Memphremagog, a giant glacial lake with fishing, yachting, and of course swimming in a surprisingly affluent pocket of Quebec. We had a great dinner and spent the night at Maison McGowan and drove back to Maine the next day – stopping, of course, in Franconia Notch to drop off some trail magic and give three thruhikers a lift to their hotel. I’d benefited from trail magic and the kindness of the greater hiking community and had to give back as I could.