Welcome to my Blog

This is the first time I have ever blogged so mistakes will likely be the order of the day! This past winter I committed myself to hiking the Vermont Long Trail (LT) in a series of day and overnight hikes over the course of hopefully no more than two summers. I have decided to create a blog to document my adventures and to provide a chance for any photos I take to be viewed by anyone interested in hiking in general or the LT specifically. I am a novice hiker whose prior experience basically consists of earning the hiking merit badge as a 12 year old. My father and I took five 10-mile hikes and one 20-mile hike as a part of earning the badge in 1974. Since that time I have hiked occasionally but never seriously. I was a long distance runner for many years and am in better than typical shape though in recent years my focus has been on weight lifting more than on endurance activity. I expect the trek to be challenging but manageable.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Mad Tom Notch to Vt 140 - Stage Four

If asked prior to this hike I would have stated that there are four key elements that determine the difficulty of a Long Trail hike; roots, rocks, ascents, and descents. This hike added a fifth element to that list - MUD! Having rained each day for the past week, I postponed my fourth overnight hike on the trail until Tuesday the 24th of June. I arrive at my starting point (Mad Tom Notch, 2,446 ft) at 10:30 am. The sky is overcast and it looks as though some rain may move in today as well. As my wife helps me into my pack four women emerge from the brush heading in the same direction I will be going. They see me (I don't think they saw Kim) and immediately start calling out and saying hello. I turn to my wife and she gives me the evil eye - forget the rain - my trip came close to being canceled right there from "circumstances beyond my control". Luckily, Kim realizes the meeting must be circumstantial and I am released to begin my hike.

As I head north from the notch I enter the Peru Peak Wilderness and the White Rock National Recreation Area. I immediately begin a 1.6 mile steady climb to Styles Peak (3,394 ft.). I hit my first batch of mud as I climb. The roots and rocks are wet and slippery so it is not safe to step on them if I can avoid it. The mud is messy and, in parts, deep. This makes the hike more of a slog than a stroll and slows everything down. In continuously muddy spots the Trail caretakers often put eight foot long boards in place for hikers to walk on to protect the trail. I can usually bounce up on them and pick up my pace. When I hit my third length of planking, however, both feet slip out from under me and I land flat on my back. The planks are like walking on ice - wet and covered with slime. I work my way back to a standing position - my backpack cushions the fall but makes it a challenge to get up and make a mental note to walk very slowly on the planks. Over the course of this hike I will slip, but not fall, 8-10 times, and once I will slip on a plank and have to jump off it to avoid falling. In doing so I land in a bog that I sink in about 18 inches. Amazingly, my shoes, North Face hikers, do not leak at all and my feet stay dry.

From Styles Peak I drop down a couple of hundred feet and then climb to Peru Peak (3,429 ft). Both peaks are wooded and the view is limited. I begin the climb down Peru Peak and, at 4.0 miles, thunder begins to roll in, I pick up the pace in an effort to make it to Peru Peak Shelter (built 2005, sleeps about 10, 2,550 ft). The shelter is at 4.6 miles and I arrive just as the first raindrops hit. I stretch out in the shelter (the nicest one yet) and wait for the storm to move through. After 30 minutes another hiker arrives. He is an English teacher from MA. He says he passed the four women about a mile behind him so they are making slow progress and probably nervous about the storm. In another 30 minutes a hiker arrives from the north. He is also a teacher and has his hound dog, Charlie, with him. I'm not sure why I remember pet names better than people names...maybe they impress me more? Charlie has his own backpack that he carries on the trail.

I quickly decide that three is too many and that I am on the Trail, in part for the isolation of it, so I load up and push off. It is a good decision because the thunder abates within ten minutes and the sun comes out for a while.

The one hour rest has done wonders for my energy, complemented with a banana, and I push on feeling good.
I cross a nice unnamed Brook close enough to the shelter to hear it rippling as I rested.
Over the next half mile I cross two more bridges over brooks and arrive at the South end of Griffith Lake. This is the same lake that I hiked to last week when I hiked Old Job Trail.

I come to Old Job Trail at the north end of the lake and begin the climb up Baker Peak (2,850 ft.). Last day hike, I got turned around and hiked this section of trail from the north. This time, instead of scrambling up the rocks to the peak, I take the inclement weather route that is no less steep but avoids the slippery rocks. I miss the view but the weather isn't promising a good view anyway.

I descend from Baker Peak and, at 9.1 miles, come to the point where I intersected the LT on my last hike. From here it is a short 0.2 miles to where Lost Pond Shelter used to be. It burned down in November of 2006 (the second one at this sight in six years to burn???) and is now just a camping area. Shortly after leaving this sight I hear the magical sound of Big Branch, a large stream the flows wildly down the ravine. At 10.9 miles I cross the Big Branch Suspension Bridge (pictured at top of this entry). It is about 100 feet long and is suspended by cables. The entry sign warns that only one person should cross at a time, but I find it quite solid. At 11 miles I arrive at Big Branch Shelter (Built 1963, sleeps eight, 1,470 ft.). This was my original goal for the day and I stop to eat a great dinner consisting of a can of chunked white chicken, some crackers, and a second banana.
I also use this stop to pump some fresh water from the stream pictured here.

As I climb back up the rocks from the stream, Mr. MA English Teacher arrives and decides to stay there for the night. It is 7:00 pm and the next shelter is 3.0 miles ahead so I decide to push on in hopes of sleeping in a shelter by myself. I don't want to tent as thunderstorms seem quite possible tonight. At 12.1 miles I reach the junction with USFS Road 10 and continue north towards Little Rock Pond.

At 8:15 pm I arrive at Lula Tye Shelter (Built 1962, sleeps eight, 1,865 ft.).
Much of the past mile has been spent hiking alongside a babbling stream while dusk descend on the trail. I have hiked 14 miles today and take some liberty with a few lines from an old country music tune, "I never would of made it through the Vermont mud, if I hadn't been born and bred a Southern stud".

The shelter has one other occupant already there, a third teacher, this one from Virginia. He hikes 300-400 miles of Appalachian Trail each summer and this year started in Bennington, Vt with hopes of reaching Goshen, NH in short order. He has come 17 miles today, so he gets my respect as my 14.o was not a piece of cake. The night goes as well as can be expected in a open shelter, sleeping on wood floor with a thin pad, plenty of mosquitoes energized by the rains, and a shelter-mate who snores incessantly. In spite of this, I do sleep and get up at 5:45 am to cover the last eight or so miles of this hike. I break camp at 6:20 am and eat a bagel as I start today's hike.

In short order I arrive at Little Rock Pond, the prettiest pond I have seen on the trail so far, and work my way around its eastern edge. At 14.7 miles I arrive at Little Rock Pond Shelter spur and climb to the shelter
(built 1962, sleeps eight) to take a look. This shelter is empty so, had I pushed on another .8 miles, I would have at least avoided the snoring.
At 15.4 miles I pass the abandonded Aldrich Job Clearing and I take a shot of an old stone wall or foundation with various "discovered" tools displayed with it.

Back on the trail I cross Homer Stone Brook on a wooden bridge as I start to make my final ascent of the hike. I climb White Rocks Mountain (2,600 ft). As I work my way up the most beautiful pine forest unfolds in front of me. Other than the streams and brooks, this is the most refreshing spot I have seen on the trail. As I descend the other side I come to two areas where hikers have left cairns (statues of piled rocks). Even though they are not natural formations, they fit well in the landscape and remind me of something from a Lord of the Rings setting.

At 18.6 miles I reach the White Rocks Cliff Trail, a rather rugged .25 mile spur leading to a view of the valley below. I take the spur to see the view and therefore add another half mile to my hike. It was worth the extra steps, it always is. I also take this picture of a flowering plant to be named. I regret that the picture is a bit out of focus - like my lizard earlier.

At 19.6 miles I come to a .3 spur leading to Greenwall Shelter. The second day of my hikes is always a challenge, even if I only have to go a short distance and so I do not hike the extra .6 miles to see this shelter, rationalizing that, "If I've seen one shelter...".

At 20.5 miles I cross Bully Brook and leave the White Rocks National Recreation Area. I then drop beside a dramatic gulch harboring Roaring Brook and an impressive cascade. I stop their to soak my feet and pump fresh water to drink. The water is so cold I can only leave my feet submerged for about 20 seconds before they start to go numb. I do this a few times and decide to finish up the hike. I can feel leg cramps wanting to develop as I contort to put my socks and shoes back on.

At 11:00 am I reach VT 140 (1,160 ft.). I have hiked just over 21 miles, ascended about 2,700 feet, and descended about 4,000 ft. In my estimation the mud added an increased effort factor of about 20%. I do not feel as good about my stamina on this hike as I felt on the last overnighter, but I am hanging in there.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Old Job Trail

On Wednesday, June 18, I took a half day of vacation in order to hike one of the side trails. I chose Old Job Trail. I'm not sure if "Job" is pronounced like a chore you have to do or like a biblical prophet so I'm using the prophet's pronunciation. I started at 12:50 pm on an overcast and cool day with a high temperature of about 62 degrees. The trail is intersected by a parking area and you must choose whether to start north or south. I choose north as that is the longer section. Unfortunately, the north part is not well marked so I take off on a path that I think is the trail. The sign saying "Lake Brook" lures me into travelling this direction. The trail was lightly hiked and I must climb over, under, or through thirty fallen trees as I progress. In many spots the weeds have grown up to thigh height.
I am still able to make out the trail because a few people have hiked it in advance of me this year and there is a beaten-down path. The route follows and old woods road and is not that difficult. I realize I had made an error from the start when I intersect with the Long Trail after just one hour's worth of hiking. The Old Job Trail takes 3.4 miles to meet up with the LT and I knew I had only gone a little over two miles. My map has no indications of the trail I am on but I have a general idea of where I am so I turn south on the LT. Within 30 minutes I meet up with an AT hiker that is coming north and he tells me he had passed the Old Job intersection about 2 miles south of where I was. The Old Job Trail is a relatively flat trail but because I had deviated from it I now climb Baker Peak (3,260 feet) on the LT. The view is impressive and the climb down rugged as I have to work my way down for several hundred yards over steeply declining granite slides.

Near the base I find my first pile of fresh Moose droppings. Since I have mentioned them in earlier posts my father did some research and came up with a recipe that I will have to try soon. He tells me that I should:

"Get some litmus paper from the college and you can soon determine which droppings Kim should prepare as a side dish. They should be near dry but not crumble. Dip in bacon drippings before you roll them in corn meal. They are served like toast on a stick. They are cooked like hush puppies. If dry and crumbly due to age you should finish crumbling them and mix a whipped egg with them then shape them to fit on a stick . NOTE: Do not fry with the stick in place unless the bacon drippings are shallow in the pan. They should be refered to as "NATURE'S BOUNTY PUFFS"
PS:add some salt to the bacon drippings. Guests that have a strong reason to impress the president will usually eat the most, Kim should be prepared to supply copies of how to prepare these tidbits supplied from God's bounty. New England "Waste not want not"

I believe it is based on my Grandma Norwood's cooking style as it involves the use of bacon grease, a staple of her fine fare.

1.9 miles from the top of Baker's Peak I arrive at the LT/Old Job Juntion. It is within 150 feet of Griffith Lake, a very pleasant body of water.I'm not sure what the difference is between a lake and a pond in Vermont as Stratton Pond was a larger body of water than Griffith Lake. I turn Southwest at the junction in order to finish the 2.0 miles covered by the Giffith Lake Trail. This is a very pleasant hike with only slight changes in elevation. Off to my right is Griffith Lake and it's southern end is marked by a series of low-land swamps that I can barely discern through the trees. I hear many bullfrogs and birds as I move quietly along this route. I also see fresh Moose tracks in the mud, but, alas, no Moose. I reach the Southern end of the Trail where there is a parking area and trail signage. I now get to retrace my steps and hike 2.0 miles back to the LT. I make exceptionally good time and complete the 4.0 mile round trip in about 1 hour and 30 minutes. I am almost giddy about my pace and, in a moment of euphoria, take a bad step and twist my left ankle. This ankle routinely gives me trouble and I should be more careful. It only hurts for a few hundred yards though and then I can return to a reasonable pace.

Back at the LT I turn east on the Old Job Trail that I should have come in on to start. This trail is also relatively flat and follows a snowmobile trail. The map says it is 3.4 miles back to where I parked. After a short distance the trail begins to run alongside Lake Brook, a very pleasant stream with many small cascades. I am treated to the sound of running water all the way back to my car. At my car I look for the trail marking I should have seen when I started this hike and find a very small blue blaze located about 25 yards down the road I should have followed. No matter though, I have covered all that I set out to and then some. My estimate is that I have covered 12.7 miles with only one mountain climb. The hike took just over five hours so this is the best pace I have been able to set so far. Of course, the trail was flat and there were not many areas requiring me to watch for roots and rocks. It was a great hike today and I am pleased to head home. I'll come back and finish the northern part of the trail some other day.

The flower of the day is an unusal one. It was growing all by itself in the trail and I have not seen another one like it. Can anyone identify it for me. It almost looks like a flytrap sort of flower.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Shrewsbury Peak/BlackSwamp/Canty Side Trails

I was unable to get out for an overnight hike on the LT this weekend, so I took Sunday, June 3 as a chance to hike a few side trails. I start out at 11:00 am on the Black Swamp Trail (2,300 ft). For the first 0.8 mile this trail follows the woods road pictured above. The road is closed to vehicles until mid-July because this area is a favorite place for Black Bears. I keep my eyes peeled but do not see any. I do see a few tracks that were either bear or large dog. I'm not sure as my tracking skills have deteriorated ever since I stopped watching Fess Parker - TV's Daniel Boone - Now he could track a bear!
I do come across a number of piles of Moose droppings. I can't resist and take a picture of one of the piles. For those of you who have not seen it this is about the usual quantity although I have seen as much as twice this amout in one spot. After leaving the road I follow a traditional trail as it steadily climbs up the east side of Shrewsbury Peak. At 1.8 miles I came to Shrewsbury Peak Shelter, a log lean-to built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). It was not in very good shape on the inside - I wouldn't want to spend a night there.
I reached the peak (3,720 feet) at 2.1 miles where I am treated to a nice view. Also along the way I came across a frog sitting on a rock. He never moves as I get out my camera and take a picture from 2-3 feet away.It was my intention to come off of the Peak to the North side and hike 2.1 miles to the intersection with the LT. Unfortunately, the trail is not well marked on the Peak and I instead come down the west side on the Shrewsbury Peak Trail. Fortunately, there is a trail I still must do, the Bucklin Trail, that will put me in position to cover the missed ground. The trail down is steep and not nearly as well-developed as the other teails I have been on. On the way down I came across a shelter that is not on the map or the trail guide. It had a name plate calling it the Russell Hill Shelter. I could find out nothing more about its history. A bit further on I came to a break in the woods that was growing up with many ferns. This shot doesn't quite do justice to the beauty of the field.
As I near the trailhead I come across an old homestead with its chimney still in place. The floor of the house was slate rock and I can walk around it and get a good feel for its dimensions. I reach the trailhead after a 1.9 mile descent from the peak. I now have to walk 1.5 miles along a CCC road to get back to the Black Swamp trailhead and my car. Along the way I cross a babbling brook that I take a picture of from above. When I reach my car I have hiked 5.4 miles. It is only about 2:00 so I decide I can hike another trail that starts about a 30 minute drive away. I find the Canty Trail with only a little difficulty as the trailhead is not well marked. It is a 4.8 mile (round trip) trail that climbs to the Peak of Blue ridge Mountain (3,278 ft.). This trail is not an official side trail of the LT but it is on the map and I figure I should hike all of the trails on the map before I'm finished with this challenge. It is hot today and as I start out, I realize I have sweated a lot of water. I've been drinking a lot but not enough to keep up with the heat. After about 3/4ths of a mile the trail connects with an old woods road and begins to climb steeply up Blue Ridge Mountain. I pass a woman and her dog coming down and ask her if she went all the way to the top. She says, "No - just to the Waterfall - that's enough of a climb for me". Now I have something to look forward to...a climb and a waterfall.The waterfall turns out to be today's highlight. Perhaps it is better labeled a cascade. My guess is that it falls about 35-40 feet. I soak my bandana at its base and continue to climb. I leave the woods road and continue steeply upward on the trail. Several times I think about turning back but I'm determined to reach the top. When I do the view is impressive, and my picture doesn't do it justice. I sit on the ledge for 10 minutes and eat some trail mix and drink some water. My legs are sore and I'm feeling worn out. The climb down goes very quick although I have one problem. As I step up to go over a fallen log my right calf siezes up in a massive cramp that immediately takes me to the ground. I get up and try to walk it off, with some success, but it continues to pester me for the remaining 1.5 miles of the hike. I get back to my car by 6:00 pm and am ready to call it a day. I have covered 10.3 miles on a day when the temperature exceeds 90 degrees with high humidity. I have climbed two mountains totalling 2,900 ft of climbing and descending.