Ready for another six days on the trail, we set out to hike from Rt. 17/Appalachian Gap to Rt. 15/Jeffersonville/Johnson, to continue in some of the most challenging terrain of the trail.
Tuesday, Day 20, Rt. 17/Appalachian Gap to Montclair Glen Lodge, 10.6 miles
The morning was sunny and clear and we were ready to hike! There were four of us hikers being shuttled to the trail, and we were all excited to be headed toward Camel’s Hump. Our packs were heavy, but we weren’t too concerned about the 10.6 miles to Montclair Glen Lodge. As the day wore on, it was apparent that we probably should have been. The terrain remained rougher and steep, and Burnt Rock Mt. seemed to be much harder than it might have been had it not been the first day after a town day. We then still needed to go over Mt. Ira and Ethan Allen! The day seemed to drag on, and as we passed and were passed by other hikers, we became concerned about shelter space. We could tent if needed, but after a long day, it is nice just to roll out the sleeping bag and be done. We pushed along and finally got to Montclair Glen, where we were greeted by a couple of groups of hikers we knew, and who let us know there was still space on the top loft. We were thrilled, and then started the process of the evening camp chores and dinner. Montclair Glen seemed to be a popular place, as there ended up being 13 hikers plus one dog in the lodge, with another group of four tenting. The whole camp seemed to be pretty focused on one thing: the hike up to Camel’s Hump in the morning.
Wednesday, Day 21, Montclair Glen Lodge to Duck Brook Shelter, 13 miles
While this wasn’t officially our longest day on the trail, it seemed like our longest day on the trail and one of the toughest. We started our day early, before 7:00a as we knew there were a lot of miles to be done. Our first objective: Camel’s Hump, with a big ascent between us and the top. We set to work and soon enough, the treeline came. We had seen the treeline from a distance, a distinct line between the green trees and the brown rocky cap of Camel’s Hump, and now we were there. It was familiar rock scrambling, and by following the cairns, we arrived at the top. One more four thousand footer was done. It was here that I finally had some decent cell signal and we made some very important calls. Cameron called home to dad, I called Zappos. After the past two days, it was very apparent that Cameron’s shoes would have to be replaced. The nice people at Zappos helped me with my order and even looked up the address of our next town stop so that the shoes would be there when we arrived. With that business done, we hung out and enjoyed the top of Camel’s Hump for a while before starting the descent. This descent was long and I do mean long, six miles and almost 4000 foot worth of long before we came out onto the road. There were also many ledgy humps to go over. We’d crest one, see the next one and think, surely we don’t have to go over there, and yet a few minutes later, we’d be hiking over there. Finally at the road, we took a break to play in the Winooski River for a while. We couldn’t stay for long as it was almost 3pm and we still had a 3 mile road walk, plus 1.7 miles to Duck Brook Shelter. Needless to say, it was a very long road walk. The GMC’s plans for a bridge over the Winooski River will be greatly appreciated by everyone who has done that road walk. Now, it was our choice to do the road walk as we had been offered a ride. Cameron is a purist, and I knew he wouldn’t be happy if he’d skipped any portion of official trail, even a road walk. I let him make the decision, and we found ourselves still walking. We finally crossed the river, went under I-89, and back into the woods. By this point, we were exhausted, but we knew the final objective of Duck Brook Shelter couldn’t be too far away. It finally came into sight and we arrived to an empty shelter. By the end of the evening seven more hikers had arrived, either staying in the shelter or tenting, so we weren’t the only one that had a long day over Camel’s Hump. The water source was down a pretty steep trail at Duck Brook Falls, but none of the hikers went there for water. We all decided that a small stream just a short way back on the trail would do.
Thursday, Day 22, Duck Brook Shelter to Puffer Shelter, 9.8 miles
If the previous day was tough, it seemed like this day was tougher. It wasn’t nearly as long of a distance, and only Bolton Mt. at the end seemed to be an unending ascent. Because our previous two days were either long or rough or both, I think we were just a bit tired. We made slow, but good progress, but really seemed to need some extra rest. It was here that I decided we needed a zero day in Jeffersonville, not just an overnight. This would put us home a day later that we’d planned, but I felt it was more important to get some rest and finish in good spirits than to be exhausted and not finish at all. This was a tough decision as we were trying to be home for Dakota’s 15th birthday, the same day we originally planned to finish the trail. We got in contact with home and the plan seemed to be ok. We got in contact with the place we were staying in Jeffersonville, Nye’s Green Valley Farm, and they were able to accommodate us one more night. It seemed like the right thing and we went on our way, a bit relieved, but happy to have a zero day to look forward to. We were in pretty good spirits until Bolton Mt., which for some reason seemed hard, but like most peaks, probably wasn’t but due to being tired, the footing being rough and that it came late in the day, it was. We struggled over the top, praying for a little extra strength and then all of the sudden we were headed down steep sections and slabs. Down? Down was good, that meant the shelter was only a half mile away! Then the prayers really started, as Puffer’s water source isn’t always the best. If we couldn’t find water, we’d have to hike on to find water. As we hiked down, I kept an eye on a small stream to the left, it seemed to be sufficient. Soon we saw a privy. Privies don’t exist in the woods by themselves, there’s always a shelter to go with them. Sure enough, further down the trail was the small Puffer Shelter, just big enough for six. There was a group of hikers that we knew already there, but they were just taking a break and moving on to Taylor Lodge. We were going to stay which meant we had the shelter to ourselves. Due to the recent rain, the water source was pretty good, too. Another reason to be thankful for the rain! Once set up and eating dinner, we realized we had a gorgeous view to Mt. Mansfield ahead, and once it was dark, out to the lights of Stowe below.
Friday, Day 23, Puffer Shelter to Taft Lodge, 10.5 miles
Overnight it rained. Not just rained, but poured along with thunder and lightning. I checked the shelter several times during the night to make the rain wasn’t blowing in, as this shelter had a reputation for rain being blown in. Thankfully, everything stayed dry, at least for the moment, because it was still raining when we woke up. It was hard to get packed up knowing that we’d have to head out into the rain and hike over Mt. Mansfield. We prayed that the rain would stop and for safety on all the steep, slick ledges and then out we went, heading for Taylor Lodge for our first break of the day and the first third of the day’s journey. Breaking the entire mileage roughly into thirds made setting and attaining goals easier. The terrain continued to be very rough and with the rain, very slick. We careful picked our way down to Nebraska Notch, where we encountered a bridge that was out. We’d read about it at Puffer Shelter and now saw the signs, which included the advice that it could be forded but was about 4 feet deep. With the current rain, I’m sure it was deeper, and since I am just a bit over 5 feet tall and Cameron is shorter, we opted for the herd path and subsequent easier water crossing. The herd path wasn’t easy, either, because it was just that, a small path through very dense undergrowth. We were happy that was over, and quickly got to Taylor Lodge for a snack and to catch up with fellow hikers. It wasn’t raining very hard now, so we set out for our next goal: Butler Lodge and lunch. By the time we arrived at Butler Lodge, the rain had stopped! We were very happy about that, and although everything was still wet, it at least would not get worse. We ate lunch inside the dry and quiet lodge and prepared for the next part of the journey, Mansfield itself. We were only 9/10 of mile from the forehead, and that distance had a high elevation gain including ladders and a few tricky moves. With another prayer, we were on our way. We started upward and soon came to the first of many ladders. Cameron stowed his poles and up he went. We took our time, scaling each ladder as we came to it, and carefully crossing any rock crevasses, making sure our footing was good and the other was safe before moving on. We finally came to the top and started to have views all around. These weren’t the 100-mile visibility views, but views between two cloud layers, with a beautiful undercast below, rolling over and around the surrounding mountains. Cameron had never seen anything like it. He had never been on a summit in such weather as I’m pretty careful to make sure that if we’re going to an exposed area the weather will be safe for both of us. He was fascinated and took many pictures. I reminded him that if we had not had the rain, we wouldn’t have the unique views around us. Not quite a silver lining, but many times there are better outcomes than what circumstances will lead you to believe. We then started across the ridge of Mt. Mansfield, and we could see quite a way ahead, but with the clouds rolling over the ridge, we knew the views wouldn’t last. We followed the white blazes across, and by the time we got to the chin, the highest point, the clouds had blown off once more and we had tremendous views to the surrounding area. We were in and out of the clouds for the rest of the short descent down to Taft Lodge, but didn’t mind as that was our final goal for the day and we had already been treated to some spectacular views. Taft Lodge and the caretakers were welcoming and soon we were eating dinner and marveling at such an amazing day that didn’t have such a great beginning, but was a great journey along the way.
Saturday, Day 24, Taft Lodge to Whiteface Shelter, 9.1 miles
We awoke to sunshine and headed out for the descent to Smuggler’s Notch. It was nice to start the day with a descent. We headed down to the Notch, and saw over 25 people and dogs before we got to the road. With such a nice day, we weren’t surprised. Across the road, we headed steeply uphill to Elephant Head Cliff for some views. After that, we headed toward Sterling Pond, which was also very busy on this lovely Saturday. We took a quick break at the shelter and then headed toward Madonna Peak. Heading down some ledges, Cameron slipped and hit his elbow very hard. He started to cry. I started to get very worried. Cameron is a pretty tough kid and doesn’t cry often, and has had his share of slips and trips on this hiking adventure. I really thought he’d broken his arm in some way. My mind started to go through how to get out of there and how to get back to civilization to get help. With a few minute’s rest, Cameron announced that he was fine. I was surprised. This could have ended our trip, but thank God, he just hit it hard and was surprised that he slipped at all. I questioned him to make sure he was fine and wanted to go on. He said he was sure, so off we went, hiking up toward Madonna. Some ascending and a few ski trails later, we were at the top, enjoying 360 degree views back to Mansfield, over to the Whites and ahead to our destination of the day, Whiteface Shelter. We could see the shelter among the trees on the next mountain over. With only 2.3 miles to go, we knew the end of another day wasn’t too far away. We arrived at the shelter to find no one there, so we settled in for a quiet night, with views over to Madonna and Mansfield to enjoy right from the shelter. We also knew that the next day would be a short one, with only a short climb up before a long down hill into town.
Sunday, Day 25, Whiteface Shelter to Rt. 15/Jeffersonville, 7.2 miles
We awoke to another beautiful, sunny morning, ready to go to town. We knew that the rest of our family would be possibly picking us up at the road and definitely joining us for dinner in town, so we were motivated to get moving. Up and over Whiteface Mt. we went, which continued the theme of the week of rocky, slabby, rough, rooty and damp footing. The further we descended, the nicer the trails got, and we were really grateful for improved footing, which made the hiking easier. We stopped at Bear Hollow Shelter for a snack and then faced another road walk. This road walk was a gravel road, which is much easier on the feet than asphalt. We weren’t sure what kind of road to expect, and this was a nice surprise. We were making such good time that as we started to pass landmarks mentioned in the guidebook, we couldn’t believe they were coming up so quickly. Somewhere in there, we seemed to have missed about 1.6 miles of trail, but we followed all the white blazes, so we were happy to be further along than we though. We followed a rail trail a bit, as blazed, went through a field, around a cemetery and sure enough, there was the road and parking area! After a snack and some time for our shoes to dry in the sun, we called Nye’s Green Valley Farm where we were staying and they picked us up – in a white convertible! It was a bit unusual, but we enjoyed the ride and got cleaned up and ready for our family to arrive. The timing was perfect, because we didn’t wait too long and they were there! We took a nice car ride back through Smuggler’s Notch, seeing the whole thing, rather than the slice we had seen while and ended up back in Jeffersonville for a great dinner at The Family Table. Our family had to go back home to NH, but it was a great evening. Our hosts asked us about breakfast the next day and if we’d planned to hike, which gave me an idea that I said we’d discuss with them in the morning. We had originally planned a full zero day, but a little hiking might not be a bad idea, either.
Monday, Day 26, Codding Hollow to Rt. 15/Jeffersonville, 6.8 miles
Yes that’s right, you didn’t misread our starting and endpoints. Since we had the opportunity, we decided to go ahead and slack pack some miles so that our first day after resupply (and the day our packs are the heaviest!) would not be an 11 mile hike. The nice folks at the place we were staying shuttled us further north up the trail to another road crossing, and then we hiked southward back toward Rt. 15. We were able to get a later start after a delicious breakfast of homemade blueberry pancakes (the blueberries were grown right the property and the maple syrup was locally made!), and not have to carry full packs. In fact, Cameron didn’t carry a pack at all. I carried all the food and water for the day, plus anything else we’d need, which wasn’t much. It was a great day and we happily discovered that all the trails were once again mainly dirt and mud, with very little slick slab or anything else worth raising an eyebrow over. The weather was perfect, too, sunny, yet cool enough to hike. We enjoyed hiking along and met a group of boyscouts out for their last section of the Long Trail. We’d see them again, closer to the Canadian border. We stopped at Roundtop Shelter for lunch and discovered one of the nicest shelters complete with skylights, which made the whole structure much less dark and dismal. The next stop was some great views from the top of Prospect Rock over the Lamoille River and floodplain. Then it was on to the suspension bridge over the Lamoille River. The water seemed low enough, and we didn’t have to ford the section without a bridge. Soon we were back at Rt. 15 and the place we were staying to clean up and relax until dinner. After another delicious dinner in town, we were ready to go back out and hike the remainder of the trail to Canada.
What a week! We were blessed to make it through the roughest terrain on the trail safely with no injuries and blessed to enjoy some fantastic views of Vermont. If the trail ahead was anything like what we slack packed, we were very happy to head out and finish the trail to Canada.