For our big adventure this summer, Cameron and I are hiking the Long Trail in Vermont. Due to Cameron’s missions trip and summer camp, we will be splitting the 272 miles into two sections. The first section is about 104 miles from Williamstown, MA to Rt. 4 Rutland/Killington area. The second section is about 168 miles from Rt. 4 to the Canadian border which we will be starting in late July through whenever we finish in August.
Our adventure began on Cameron’s last day of school, which was a half day. We finished packing the gear, made one last minute gear purchase and headed over to Rutland, VT. Friends and fellow hikers, Zippy and Michelle, were kind enough to let us stay at their home that night and drive us down to the Pine Cobble trailhead in Williamstown, MA the next morning to start our hike. While all this worked out beautifully, the weather was not exactly hiking-perfect, having rained all day and with more rain in the forecast.
Saturday, Day 1, Williamstown, MA to Seth Warner Shelter, 6.1 miles.
We arrived at the trailhead around 9:00a and after saying thank-you and good-bye to our friends, we headed up the Pine Cobble Trail. The sun was trying to break through the clouds, but never did make it. Our first day was to be a bit shorter, only to Seth Warner Shelter since we had full packs with six days worth of food. The Pine Cobble Trail was easy enough, and we soon settled into our pack weight. The Long Trail does not officially start in Williamstown, but at the border of Massachuesetts and Vermont on the Appalachian Trail (AT). Soon enough we were at the junction with the AT, and after another hour of hiking, we came to the border with the official sign and first register. We also started to encounter the famous Vermont mud – of which there was plenty and would be plenty in the days to come. We took it easy and by mid-afternoon, we arrived at Seth Warner Shelter and set up camp for the evening. Eventually, another hiker arrived who was also hiking the Long Trail. He had a very large amount of food with him (he admitted later that his pack was very heavy, close to 70lbs.!), so we dubbed him “Food Dude”. (This trail name has stuck, as two weeks later we’ve seen him go by that name in the shelter registers.) The sun hadn’t come out all day and it even rained a little. Since most of the wood was all wet we didn’t have a fire, but later another hiker showed up and with a little luck, started a nice fire, making the evening complete.
Sunday, Day 2, Seth Warner Shelter to Melville Nauheim Shelter, 13.1 miles
Since the first day was an easy one, we decided to make the second day a long one so that we could then start to average about 9 to 12 miles per day after that. The shelters are oddly spaced in the first short section, so either the first few days are going to be short ones or there will be one longer day plus a shorter one. Because we knew we’d have a long day, we packed up and left the shelter just after 6:00a. We made good time, passing landmarks noted in the guidebook along the way, and enjoyed the beaver ponds and stream crossings. The trail was very muddy as it had been the day before, but when the sun came out later in the day, we hoped the weather would be improving. Later in the afternoon, we arrived at Harmon Hill, where we saw a deer and got a quick peek down to the town of Bennington. A short while later found us on a steep decent down rock steps to Rt. 9. The actual terrain and steepness wasn’t anything new to us, since almost all of our hiking experience is in New Hampshire. What was new to us was the type of rocks, which were slick wet or dry. They were mostly wet, so we took our time descending almost 1000 feet in less than a mile. What also didn’t surprise us was the exact same steepness on the other side of Rt. 9, which we had to climb up at the end of a long day. One motivating factor at that point was the knowledge that the shelter was only 1.6 miles from the road that the only the first mile or so was steep. While it was steep, we were pleasantly surprised to see switchbacks, which made the hike up a little easier. We happily arrived at Melville Nauheim shelter, which was pretty much full, so we decided to tent. We enjoyed the night in the tent, but it was also nice to have a camp fire and other hikers nearby to talk to.
Monday, Day3, Melville Nauheim Shelter to Goddard Shelter, 8.2 miles
Day 3 arrived with no sunshine and the forecast of rain. We planned a slightly shorter day after the longer one to balance out our hiking. We hiked along easily up and down the rolling terrain and while taking a break at Porcupine Lookout, we met Small Victories and Get It, two more Long Trail hikers, a woman and her dog. For the next few days we would be hiking roughly the same schedule, so we’d see them at the shelters at night and once or so during the day. The predicted rain did come in during the afternoon, so on went all the rain gear and we headed up to Goddard Shelter. Upon arrival, it was full, so as the late comers, we tented in the rain. It was windy and poured rain all night, but we stayed reasonably dry, except for some condensation on the inside of the tent. Some of our gear was damp, but that was to be expected.
Tuesday, Day 4, Goddard Shelter to Storey Spring Shelter, 8.6 miles
We actually didn’t sleep well, due to the wind and rain, so once the shelter started to empty on the morning of day 4, we moved ourselves in there to regroup. The tent was holding up pretty well, but we knew we couldn’t stay there too much longer, so it was time to get somewhere dry. We thought about just staying at the shelter and trying to dry out a bit, since the rain had not let up. Meanwhile, Cameron was getting restless, the shelter was getting cold and with the last persons leaving, it was also a bit lonely. We decided to pack up, get on the trail and get warmed up. There’s no better way to get warm than to get moving, so we planned to hike to Storey Spring Shelter. We passed the fire tower on Glastenbury Mountain, but we were too cold and it was too windy to climb it. We’ve already seen the inside of the clouds, so we moved on. Moving quickly, we covered the first four miles or so to Kid Gore Shelter in just a few hours. We stopped there to make some soup for lunch, and then moved on for the hike to Storey Spring Shelter. It was here that I got the last message from my husband for a few days: Build an ark! He had no idea of the irony of the situation. An ark might have helped our progress down the trail or river. Back on the trail, it seemed like a long afternoon, as we slowed the pace down a bit. Of course it didn’t help that in addition to mud pits, the trail itself became a stream of water, mostly ankle deep, but in some place almost knee deep. There just was no avoiding the water, and it didn’t help that it had not stopped raining at all and at times, was just pouring. Just when we thought it couldn’t rain any harder, it did. We kept track of the landmarks, and after seeing the beaver ponds, we knew were close. All we had to do was hike up a small hill and we’d find the shelter. Sure enough, around another corner and there it was, complete with the friends we had made on the trail the day before. It was nice to be somewhere dry for the night and not have to set up a wet tent. The shelter wasn’t too full, with only seven of us staying there, so we settled in for the evening.
Wednesday, Day 5, Storey Spring Shelter to Stratton Pond Shelter, 10.5 miles
We awoke to it still raining. Two of our shelter mates packed up early and headed out. Those of us that remained sat in our sleeping bags and just stared out at the rain, sort of daring one of the others to get started packing up. No one wanted to leave, but we really couldn’t stay, either. Eventually, it looked like the rain had stopped, since there weren’t too many drops on the puddles. We all packed up and headed out, thankful that although trail conditions were worse than ever, it wasn’t actively raining. By this point, of course, our shoes and socks had been wet for a few days and wouldn’t be dry any time soon, so we slogged on through the mud, puddles and river of water that was the trail. We figured it would be a good day if the water and mud was only ankle deep. We hiked from the shelter, crossed several roads and came to a parking area, where many people start their hikes of Stratton Mountain. Stratton Mountain was to be our big hike of the day, with a gain of 1700 feet. For us, this didn’t seem like a lot, since many of our hikes at home have an elevation gain of 3000 feet or more. We chose to think of it as “half of a regular hike”. The actual ascent really wasn’t that bad, with only one section in the middle that we thought was steep. By the time we reached the summit area, we were in the clouds and wind, and the temperature had dropped. We passed by the fire tower without climbing it, since we didn’t want to stop for too long and get chilled. We did find the metal summit marker. We were a little sad not have had any views yet, but it was more important to keep moving, stay warm and get to the next shelter. The descent was easy and trail was less wet on the descent. Partway down, the footing became nice and there wasn’t any standing or flowing water. The sun even came out and it was nice to shed some of the extra layers that we needed to stay dry and warm. We made it to Stratton Pond Shelter, met up with our friends and made two new friends. We met a young guy who was almost through with his Long Trail hike, heading southbound and finishing in about 3 days. We also met Tenderfoot, a 72 year old woman who has hiked the AT three times, and was almost done with an almost 1000 mile section. She is quite the hiker, and I only hope that I can hike like that when I get to be her age!
Thursday, Day 6, Stratton Pond Shelter, to Manchester Center, VT, 10.4 miles
The sun was not shining when we awoke and headed out for day 6 and we knew the rain would eventually come. Our friends were headed to Bromely Shelter, but Tenderfoot and we were headed to town. We needed to resupply our food and dry out. We hiked along until we got to something we hadn’t seen: a packed dirt road. Sure enough the white blazes led down it, so we went down it too. The packed dirt was hard to walk on. It wouldn’t seem like it, but after 50 miles on trail, well mostly mud and water, it was a tough one mile. About the time the blazes led us back into the woods, it started to rain. We knew the drill and were suited up quickly and wading our way toward Rt. 11/30. We stopped for a quick break at Spruce Peak shelter for lunch out of the rain, and then got back on the trail. The last section seemed like the longest, since we passed several power line clear cuts, and could see the road. We could hear the road, too, and after what seemed like a very long time, we finally came to the road. We called the hostel and he was open and able to keep us for two nights. All we needed now was a ride to Manchester Center, 5 miles away. We could have called a taxi, but while we were contemplating this, a truck pulled out of the hiker parking lot and we chatted with the driver, George from Georgia. He was supporting his wife and her friend on their AT thru-hike, and he had some extra time so he offered to drive us to town. What a kind soul! He was so wonderful to take two drenched, smelly hikers into his vehicle. He even took us to the post office where we found out that our drop box somehow made it to Greenville, SC, but not to Manchester Center, VT! He dropped us off at the grocery store and after buying more food, we walked out and lo and behold, Tenderfoot came out of the EMS next door and was on the phone already with the hostel owner who would pick us up. Absolutely perfect timing! We got a ride to the hostel, the Green Mountain House, and were thrilled to be somewhere clean, dry, and with hot running water. The hostel and owner, Jeff, was wonderful and his hostel is considered the best on the AT. This is one place not to miss if hiking through Vermont. Clean and dry, plus some dinner we all felt much, much better.
Friday, Day 7, Zero Day, Manchester Center, VT, 0 miles
We took a zero day in Manchester Center, to relax and regroup before getting back on the trail. We got up early to see Tenderfoot off as she returned to the trail, then we worked on organizing all our food and gear. We went into town for lunch and to pick up a few things we forgot. We were at the EMS waiting for our ride to arrive and who should walk up the sidewalk but our trail angel George, his wife and her hiking partner in town for a day off! We were very happy to finally meet them and once again thank George for rescuing us from the rain. On the way back, we found out another hiker will be at the hostel tonight, too, Skywatcher. He’s been about a day behind us, and had experienced the same weather conditions as we had. With our gear organized and packed we were ready to hit the trail again the next morning! We will be hiking for five days, from Rt. 11/30 to Rt. 4, which will end this section of our hike of the Long Trail.