Along the Long Trail

This is a copy of an essay submitted to the Green Mountain Club. It is one of the club’s requirements for anyone applying for an End-to-Enders certificate — an honor and acknowledgement for completing a thru-hike of Vermont’s Long Trail, whether it be done by sections or all-at-once the way we did. I undertook this hike, northbound, with my good friend, Bill Robichaud, from September 17 through October 6, 2015. This essay is meant to share just some of the highlights of our amazing journey. It was originally posted on my personal blog HERE.

Day One (9/17) – Instant Campfire

After a very long drive, undertaken by my dad (thanks), we arrive in Williamstown, Mass. and the start of the Pine Cobble Trail, our access to the LT. It’s hot, sunny, and we are at low elevation at mid-day with many miles ahead, loaded packs, and what we knew was going to be a race against the sun. We did it, though. We made it to the Congdon Shelter just as the need for headlamps became a requirement. In the fading light I note there are red-hot coals in the fire pit, kindling and wood at the ready, and not a soul in sight. We made a fire and had that first shelter to ourselves. A good omen? Yes. Mileage for the day was 12.7 (12.7 total), and so far 3 summits have been bagged.

Day Two (9/18) – Bill Gets a Trailname

We get a nice early start on our first full day on the Long Trail, and in our preferred element. We are rested and happy. We meet a south-bounder calling himself Transporter in our travels. He asks for our names. I tell him my nickname is Tramper, and I introduce Bill as, well, Bill. “Like Bill Nye, The Science Guy?!” he asks, enthusiastically. “Yes,” Bill replies. “You’re Science Guy,” Transporter adds. Bill loves it. Yeah, it’s that easy. We end our day at the lopsided but lovely Kid Gore Shelter and its famed sunrise. we made good miles this day: 18.1 (30.8 total), in fact, and we brought the summit count up to 6.

Day Three (9/19) – Stratton Mountain

The famed sunrise at Kid Gore was not a disappointment. It was breathtaking to say the least. Bill and I feel great, despite the big miles the day before. If anything, it gives me even more energy. Today is a special day. Not only it is that we are hiking the LT — making every day special — today we will bag Stratton Mountain. Not only will we be enjoying the views atop its fire tower, we will both be bagging a needed New England Hundred Highest (NEHH) peak. On the summit we meet another north-bounder (NoBo) named Mowgli, a Kiwi tramper from New Zealand. He is faster than us, but we heard reports from others as he progressed. We ended the day at the shelter at Stratton Pond after 14.8 miles (45.6 total), and we got the summit count up to 7.

Day Four (9/20) – Mail Call

It rained hard through the night, lulling us as we slept peacefully in the shelter. The rain stopped by morning so all was great. The day started foggy, but that was okay by us. Soon we were headed north in search of so-called view points. And today we had some: over Spruce Peak, the another called Prospect Rock. Thank you VT (View Tease). We made the highway, and as a prior Vermont hiking experience has shown me, we got a ride to town almost immediately. Soon we were in and out of the Mountain Goat in Manchester Center, fed at Cilantro, and back on the road and again, quickly back on trail. We got our first trail magic today, from another hiker named Whiskey Buffet. She gave us chocolate-covered espresso beans. Yum, the understatement. I sought more the entire trip, sadly finding none. We ended our day to a supreme sunset from the open are north of the Bromley warming hut. Awesome. Despite a town stop, we still got in 14.7 miles (60.3 total) and bagged two more summit for a total of 9.

Day Five (9/21) – Meeting Bromley

Second trail magic today. No Cokes in the river or anything like that, sigh, but we got a needed water resupply in a dry stretch in Mad Tom Notch from Tortoise and Family; they provide water jugs to thru-hikers. We had the opportunity to meet one of the kind people responsible. An older day hiker named Bob, and his wonderful dog Bromley, an also-older but very lively chocolate lab. We end the day at Little Rock Pond making a decent 17.1 miles this day (77.4 total) and bag three more summits for a total of 12.

Day Six (9/22) – First Day of Fall

It hasn’t felt like fall yet this trip. It’s been mostly warm. But we have noted the changes as we crept north. the leaves on the trees, and those on the ground. We loved it. We also kept meeting cool people, both AT and LT hikers. One AT-hiker, a late-arriving north-bounder, named Treehugger, seemed to be the AT Class of 2015 caboose, but he stated there was still another behind him. We wished him luck as he sped ahead. We discovered a possible reason why he was running so behind when we caught up with him the next day. It was mid-morning and while we had been at it for hours, he was just getting up. This was a shorter day for us ending at the Clarendon Lodge with only 13.5 miles (90.9 total). We only bagged one summit bringing the total to 13.

Day Seven (9/23) – Killington

After leaving the “lodge” and making our way to the next shelter, Governor Clement, to awaken Treehugger, we continued our journey north. Today was a big day: Bill was going to bag Killington peak for his NEHH and for his quest to bag all of the NE67 (New England’s 67, 4000-footers). I bagged all of these before my NE67, but he needed all of Vermont still. I really wanted to bushwhack over to Mendon Peak for my NEHH effort, but Bill wasn’t behind the idea so we moved on. We also passed on Pico, which I had but Bill didn’t, in an effort to stay on the “new” LT. On the way, we met Bionic, a south-bound AT hiker famed for doing all this on a prosthetic leg. Upon hitting the highway we walked to the Inn (formally) at Long Trail for a beer, meal, shower, and bed, and got our packages. Total miles for the day was a respectable 17.6 (108.5 total) and two more summits making the total 15.

Day Eight (9/24) – Goodbye AT

After a second shower, laundry, and an unbagged/unbottled breakfast, we went to town to forward some stuff and look for chocolate-covered espresso beans, of course, and quickly went back on trail headed north toward Main Junction. This is where the AT peels off to the east while the LT continues northward. We pressed on to the David Logan Shelter and had our first water scare. The source was bone dry, not even standing water, and a PVC pipe didn’t offer any help. Until, that is, I walked “downstream” a ways and solved the issue creating a nice flow with the help of the pipe. We shared this info in the register hopefully helping others. Miles for the day: 14.8 (123.3 total), and summits… well, today none. We stood at 15.

Day Nine (9/25) – Brandon Gap

After our work and peaceful stay at the David Logan Shelter, testing the limits on how full a privy could get,  we continued back on trail making our way through several named gaps: Telephone (the day before), Wetmore, and Bloodroot. These were not very pronounced and if not for signage, we would have walk right by without a thought. Brandon Gap, however, was unmistakable since it crosses Route 73 before climbing Mt Horrid and its Great Cliffs (which we did enjoy). We continued on over a series of peaks and through the unmarked Romance Gap, and ended the day at the Sucker Brook Shelter. Miles for the day: 13.1 (136.4 total), and to the summits we added three for a total of 18.

Day Ten (9/26) – Breadloaf and Wilson

After meeting a leaving behind a nice quiet kid named Nate, we continued onward hitting a peak and outlook before hitting Route 125 and Middlebury Gap. We passed on Silent Cliff — a .8 total detour — and headed north over several notable peaks and past many shelters. Just before edging off of Map 4 we would climb two more peaks: Breadloaf and Wilson. These are important as they are NEHH peaks that Bill and I both needed. We finally stopped at the Cooley Glen Shelter for the night. We are both having an amazing time and the weather is pleasant. We know we are lucky. We get in a tough 17.8 miles today (154.2 total) and snag an impressive ten peaks making our summit total 28.

Day Eleven (9/27) – Abraham and Ellen

We left Cooley Glen and started the day, as we’d find was typical, with a nice warm-up ascent. In this case it was Mt Grant. We liked these; they warmed us early on instead of beating us up with an early descent. We soon dropped into Lincoln Gap and made terrific time up Abraham. Last time I was up here it was foggy. Today we had views. I like. We proceeded along the lovely ridge stopping at all the ski area openings. We bagged Ellen then called the day a bit short, as planned, so as to stay at Stark’s Nest. Tonight we’d watch the lunar eclipse from our sleeping bags, sitting in Adirondack chairs, on the deck. The place was all ours. Last year I stayed at Theron Dean… this was better. Only 13.8 miles today (168 total), and 8 more peaks bring the count to 36.

Day Twelve (9/28) – Waitsfield, Burnt Rock Mtn, and the Allens

We woke to fog, but that’s okay. We had the clear skies when we needed them. Anyway, we love this area with its higher elevations and conifer forests. There is no need to see more. We made great time dropping into App Gap and hitchhiked to Waitsfield for our next mail drop. This time at the Post Office. This little town was bustling with locals for a late morning weekday. Wow. We had no difficulties making direct connections in and out of town (people are so nice) and soon we were back on trail. The extra weight of our packs was no issue. After entering Camel’s Hump State Park we climb the most impressive little mountain of our trip: Burnt Rock Mtn. Awesome! We then slayed the Allens, being a lot less challenging than we had expected, and made our way to Montclair Glen for the night. This was a 13.7 mile day (181.7 total) and we took out another 5 summits bringing the total to 41.

Day Thirteen (9/29) – Camel’s Hump

We were feeling it, now. While we were in awe much of the way, being from the Whites, hiking in the higher Vermont summits in conifer-rich forests pleased us most. Today, just like last time, I summited Camel’s Hump in the fog. Someday I may see that view. Fun scrambles though. After the Camel we meandered along the beautiful but seemingly never-ending Bamforth Ridge to the shelter bearing the same name. So far the weather has been great, but rain is expected this afternoon, possibly tapering by morning (this will change). As such, we decide on a short day with some hope of avoiding a mess. Our distance: a measly 6.1 miles (187.8 total) and only bag one more summit for a total of 42.

Day Fourteen (9/30) – Low Point

I awoke before anyone else in the shelter and made my way to the privy. It wasn’t raining. I was optimistic. Before breakfast was over, however, it was pouring. It was either take a boring zero day or hoof it in the rain and make up for yesterday’s loss. We hiked. We dropped and dropped until we were barely above sea level, a mere 300 feet and change. We were crossing I-89 and the Winooski River today. It sucked. Not only was it the literal low point of our journey, it was also figuratively so. (Bill actually had his low point the day before due to slipping and sliding, but I’ll let him tell his own story.) We took a break under an overpass but basically hiked all day. We went on the new route and made our way to Buchanan Lodge for the night. This, too, was a short day at only (approximately due to not knowing the new route’s distance) 12 miles (199.8 total). It was a summitless day so the number of peaks stands at 42.

Day Fifteen (10/1) – High Point

The rain was done — and that would be it for the rest of our journey. We awoke in high spirits. Buchanan was all ours so we had tons of room to lay stuff out, dry, and prepare. All set, we made our way over a few summits and headed to Mt Mansfield. This would be Bill’s NE67 (congrats buddy). We loved it. The Forehead was like a smaller Six Husbands Trail in the Great Gulf of NH. Fun, beautiful, challenging, interesting… it earned all those adjectives and more. The figurative high point. And Mansfield: nice. It was foggy on my last trip so I saw it for the first time this time. Love it. I’m bummed the Nose is off limits, but the Chin — the literal high point — served well enough as the winds cooled us considerably. It was colder now after the passing of the front. We went to the Adam’s Apple then dropped down to a busy Taft Lodge. We made 14.8 miles (214.6 total) and bagged two summits (looks like three on the map but one the trail didn’t actually go over) so our total was up to 44.

Day Sixteen (10/2) – Jeffersonville

We cruised to Elephant Head, Sterling Pond, and hiked the Sterling Range, then beyond and on a little road walk. Pretty easy all-in-all. We thought it’d be harder but it wasn’t bad. We made good time to the road and hitchhiked into quaint Jeffersonville for the night. Originally we were supposed to race here Saturday morning before the Post Office closed. Instead we arrived early as per our plan B, and got to enjoy a beer, food, more food, and a shower. It was needed. The affects of constant hiking for over two weeks was taking its toll. A short day or zero day in the sun would have been nice. But we sucked it up and pressed on. We know the drill. The day yielded a solid 16.3 miles (230.9 total) and gave us three more peaks making our total 47.

Day Seventeen (10/3) – The Final Section

No more mail drops. No more towns. No more hitchhiking. We begin our end-game. We’re both confident this will happen and we will soon, for the first time, proudly call ourselves thru-hikers (because you’re not thru-hiker until the hike is through — which was something we came up with on day one). We left Jeffersonville stocked and stoked. We hiked headed north after crossing the Lamolle River and eventually made our way to Laraway Mtn, met and helped some confused hikers along the way (four lost Canadians), and ended the day at Corliss Camp. Like most nights, we had the place to ourselves. We hiked 11.6 miles (242.5 total) and bagged one summit bringing the count to 48.

Day Eighteen (10/4) – Belvidere

We awoke the next day a little more sluggishly than those before it. The trail was wearing on me in particular. Bill’s younger… maybe that’s a factor. I could have definitely used a zero day in the sun at some point. It was also colder now. We pass within sight of Ritterbush Pond but never go to it. We realize it’s how things are along this trail. The views are almost views, and some of the ponds are almost ponds. We cross oddly-named Eden Crossing and ascend Belvidere Mtn and its nice observation deck, and marvel at an old asbestos mine and its tailings pile. That lifted our spirits. As did getting some crumb cake trail magic at the summit. We make our way to Tillotson Camp after a nice rest and spend the night there. For the day we get 15.2 miles done (257.7 total) and bag two peaks for a cool 50.

Day Nineteen (10/5) – Jay Peak

Division 11 was reported as being easy. It was. Division 12, on the other hand was reported as being tough. And it was. Up, down, up, down, up down. A fine, saw tooth elevation profile if there ever was one. Again, though, the stack of days was weighing on me. When Bill asks if I will watch his pack at the junction while he tags Haystack via a tiny .2 spur, I say okay. I regret that decision today. That’s unlike the normal me. I should have said, no, I’m coming with you. I know we made decent time but I felt as if I was dragging ass all day. We wanted to get over Jay Peak and down to the Laura Woodward shelter for our last night to make for an easy last day. It was hard, though. I sat at the upper end of the Jay Loop and ate some food looking for a boost. We toyed with the idea of having some hot food at the camp, but I couldn’t do it. I was afraid I wouldn’t want to leave. I got up and hiked instead. Then it happened. I came to life. It was an amazing trail and a super fun and easy hike. Up Jay we went, all smiles. Both of us. Go figure. I would have even gone over to Big Jay if we had time. It was uplifting to say the least. We left the summit for the shelter after a bit and again, for the last night, had the structure to ourselves. The total, for me since I hadn’t bagged Haystack, was 14.8 miles (272.5 total). I got four summits (Bill got five). One, Jay, was a NEHH peak for me making 4 for the trip (9 for Bill since he needed the 4000-footers).

Day Twenty (10/6) – Journey’s End

We awake as rested as we could be, smiling and ready. “Science Guy” forces himself to drink his “formula” one more time. We hike toward Shooting Star after breakfast and run into a north-bounder we know: no trail name as he rejected our all offerings, just James. He is heading south. A few days ago, when we met him, he told us he was considering being a yo-yo by turning around at the border and heading south. When we saw him we told him how cool it was he was actually doing it. He looked confused. Come to find out he had spent half the morning going the wrong way (I proposed a trail name, Wrong Way, at that moment — which he also rejected but did chuckle at it). He cursed himself a bit, thanked us a lot, took it on the chin and headed north quickly. He was going to be late for his ride. Doll Peak, Burnt Mtn, Rte 105 (the final road crossing), Carleton… well, it was a blur. One something-point-something bit added to another. The end was near. The light was at the end of the tunnel. Then we saw the sign. The swath in sight. Marker 592 gets a hug. We enjoy the moment for a while, then take the trail past Journey’s End Camp to the road and our ride. Bill’s dad — and we’re on time. Total for the trip is 282.5 miles, and the final three summits bringing the total for me to 57 (four of which I needed for the NEHH).

In Closing

We tried to sign the registers along the way so as to mark our progress. We got most, except those with longer spurs we didn’t stay at. We’re glad we did as we wanted record our progress of becoming one of those who have passed along this wonderful Footpath in the Wilderness: to be Long Trail Thru-Hikers. We were blessed with good weather which helped us make the very most of our days. There were many moments where either Bill or I would just stop. We’d take in some grand vista, or a cathedral-like hardwood forest, or some ferny birch glade, a dense conifer haven, a mossy carpet or cover, a talus spectacle, a gentle stream, stunning waterfall, a cooling wind, slabs in the sun, or… well, you get the idea. Within days we knew it was life changing. We both felt it was perhaps the coolest thing we had ever done. I will stand by that comment, today. I bet Bill will, too.

This post, I decided, was all about the words. If you desire images, please check out this public album on Facebook for IMAGES OF OUR LONG TRAIL THRU-HIKE. Please note: all images are copyright, Mike Cherim, Photographer, 2015.