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.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
On Saturday, July 19, I took my first non-solo hike of the season. My oldest son Jon went with me. We planned a 12 mile day hike so that he could carry a pack and determine if it would work for him on an overnight hike. We went camping the night before on Kelley Stand Road with Kim and Beau, my wife and younger son.
At 8:00 am on Saturday, Beau dropped Jon and I off at the parking area where the trail head is. Unfortunately, Jon and I buzz off onto the first trail we see thinking it is the Stratton Pond Trail. After about 1/2 mile the trail narrows to where it is hardly discernable at all. We decide to push on. In another 15-20 minutes the trail is non-existant. During this early foray, we come across a pretty pond most likely created by a Beaver. The top photo captures this tranguil spot.
Consulting our map, we determined that the real trail had to be east of us so we set off cross country in that direction. Along the way we stumbled, fumbled, and mumbled through a number of patches of thick woods, marshland that we sunk into up to our ankles, and the occasional old game trail or forgotten woods road. We found the Stratton Pond Trail at about 10:30 am having spent over 90 minutes finding our way to the right route. My greatest concern was that Jon would not enjoy the hike and therefore would not want to do an overnighter later on. The woods crossing did nothing to help on that front.
The Stratton Pond Trail provides a relatively flat, low-land route to Stratton Pond that does not climb Stratton Mountain on the way. Once on the trail, the hiking was fast and smooth.
At 3.6 miles we come to the very nice Stratton Pond Shelter (Built 1999, sleeps 20), where we take pictures of each other. That's me and not Captain Morgan in case you can't tell the difference. after a quick break to wring the water out of my socks we cover the short .1 mile to Stratton Pond. At Stratton Pond, the largest body of water on the Long Trail, we meet a family that is taking a break. We stop to say hello and they ask us what route we came by. We tell them of our woods adventure and they say that two previous hikers had just come through that had the same experience we did. I think perhaps the Forest Service should put some warning signs up at the incorrect trailhead because it difinitely looks like the trail and we were not the only ones fooled by it.
We follow the LT on the east side of the pond and soon leave the LT to follow the North Shore Trail around Stratton Pond. It rained a bit last night so the trail is muddy in spots and somewhat difficult to navigate. in order to complete the side trails in this section we hike all the way around the pond back to our starting point. The circumference of the pond is 1.5 miles. Then we have to back track 6/10s of a mile to get to the Lye Brook Trail that takes us west to Bourn Pond.
At the Lye Brook Trail junction we turn west for what is supposed to be a flat 2.0 mile hike to Bourn Pond. A sign at the trailhead, however, warns us that the area is not well-marked and that we should be prepared to have fun and go wild. After a short .5 mile hike we come to what appears to be the end of the trail. We study our situation for a few moments, then reverse our direction and turn south on what turns out to be a cross-country ski trail. after a few minutes on this trail we return to the dead end.
It really isn't a dead end. It is simply that the trail leads straight into a forboding looking pond complete with numerous downed trees. We debate what should be done and ultimately decide that we must wade the pond. Jon leads off and, after about 10 steps must crouch down to where his torso almost touches the water in order to cross under a branch.
I chuckle at his effort, forgetting for a moment that the old man must do it too. Once under the tree, I take the lead and wade about 15 yards through dark water that winds up being just shy of waist deep. Jon, packing his $1,200 camera, follows with his back pack raised over his head. This picture shows a portion of what we waded. It is taken from the exit point of the water.
We stop for a few minutes to wring out our socks and drain our shoes. When we start again we know we still have about 7 miles to go and we worry about wet feet and blisters. Soon we realize, however, that our hiking shoes and hiking socks have done their job and our feet will be fine. We cover the one mile to Bourn Pond quickly, passing another father/son on the way east to Stratton Pond. We explain that they will have no choice but to wade the pool as we did, but I think they kept going without believing we where being serious.
Just south of Bourn Pond, which is barely visible through the trees, we come to the Lye Brook Trail Junction with Branch Pond Tail and we turn south to follow Branch Pond Trail about 4.5 miles back to Kelley Stand Road. We make good time on this section, even though we are tired from our day's efforts.
We arrive at Kelley Stand Road about 15 minutes before Beau is scheduled to pick us up (4:00 pm). Rather than sit and wait we turn west and start hiking the road toward our camp. If Beau doesn't come, it is a 4.5 mile hike back to camp. We've covered about 13 miles, waded on pond and hiked cross country though the woods for 1.5 hours. At precisely 4:00 pm, Beau rounds a curve in the car and picks us up. Overall, this was a challenging introduction to hiking Vermont for Jon and he held up very well.
Monday, July 14, 2008
On Friday, July 11, 2008, I began the fifth stage of the Long Trail Challenge, a 24 mile trek featuring the longest ascent to date - Killington. I begin at 8:45 am at VT Route 140 (1,300 ft above sea level)and head north. I immediately encounter a new site on the trail - stone walls. These walls are numerous and marked property boundaries when Vermont was mostly farm and field and not forest as it is today. The walls are simply piles of stone thrown in place. There is no "professional" fitting of the stones as you see along the state roads and byways of Kentucky. I soon begin my first ascent of the hike, Bear Mountain (2,262 ft). At the top there is a limited view but more striking than the view is the granite ledge on the crest of the hill. The climb has been a good warm up for the hike and I am already wondering how ready I am for this stage. I am carrying a different pack than I usually do and, even though it is newer and nicer, I soon discover that I have grown used to my older pack and wish I were carrying it instead. My older pack has an external frame and this one has an internal frame. So far on all of my hikes I have not come across anyone else using an external frame pack, but I like it.
I descend Bear Mountain a short way and arrive at Patch Hollow. This is a comfortable, rather flat area, where the trail is shared by cross country skiers whose winter trails frequently intersect the LT. It used to be the site of an old homestead in the early 1900's. At 3.6 miles I arrive at Minerva Hinchey Shelter (built in 1969, renovated 2006, sleeps eight, 1,530 ft). I pause long enough to take a picture and push on.
In fairly short order, at 5.5 miles, I arrive at a westerly view overlooking the Rutland Regional Airport. The airport looks out of place from the forest as the town of Rutland can't be seen from the trail. I begin a descent that drops me 600 feet over seven tenths of a mile to arrive at beautiful Clarendon George. There is a nice camping area here that I will try to come back to some other time with Kim. I have to cross a suspension bridge that is 40-50 feet above the Gorge and looks to be in sad shape. It is wobbly and I wonder how much longer it will last before it needs to be replaced. At the north end of the 30 yard bridge is a plaque commemorating a hiker who became lost here in the 1970's and was never found. Strange, because Vermont Route 103 is only a few hundred yards north of the bridge. He must have drowned in the Gorge.
I cross Vt. 103 and traverse a small pasture, climbing ladders to get over the barbed-wire fences. In the field I see an interesting flower that I continue to see for the next few miles. It appears to like sunlight. I reenter the woods and climb a boulder-filled ravine that is some of the most difficult climbing I have encountered on the trail. There are rock ledges on either side of the ravine and the ravine itself is about thirty feet wide. The climb is at about a 45 degree angle - for each step of horizontal movement I take one step of vertical climb. It takes about 30 minutes to make the climb and I stop numerous times along the way. I'm in pretty good shape however, because I drop my bandanna on the way up and, when I realize it, I look back and can see it about 50 feet down. Instead of leaving it, I still have the energy to climb down and get it, then haul myself back up.
At the top, I begin a short descent and, at 7.3 miles, I arrive at Clarendon Shelter (built 1952, sleeps 12, 1,350 ft). This is the nicest overall shelter I have seen, largely because it actually has a yard around it that someone maintains. There is even a flower basket with flowers in full bloom. A few hundred feet east of the shelter is a nice brook that I hike to in order to fill my water pack. At the shelter I meet three people, one is a volunteer who is out repainting the white trail blazes that mark the trail, one is a young man in his twenties who goes by the trail name "Bad Idea", and one is a young woman, also in her twenties, who is hiking the entire Appalachian Trail by herself. She is from Charlottesville, VA and her trail name is "Certain". She is the first female I have seen hiking on her own without a dog to protect her. I stay at the shelter long enough to eat a bagel and a banana and head back out.
From the shelter I climb up Beacon Hill, probably named for an airport beacon that is located on top of the hill and then drop down through a Maple sugar bush and through another private pasture. When I get to Kieffer Road I turn left on the road and follow it about 150 feet to where the trail re-enters the woods. I don't like hiking on roads because I always get concerned that I will miss where the trail turns back into the woods. No problem here, however. In short order I arrive at Cold River and cross a bridge over the brook at 10.4 miles.
At 11.0 miles I cross Gould Brook. The Volunteer at the last shelter warned me that this crossing is tough in high water and that I should expect to get wet, but the crossing is really no tougher than any other I've had so far.
At 12. 0 miles I'm starting to think that I will not make it as far today as I had planned as I'm feeling run down and low on energy. I round a curve in the trail and stumble upon some trail magic! The Trail Fairy, a person who goes by the name of The Mad Hatter, has set up a lawn chair, a cooler full of sodas, and a Tupperware full of packages of peanut butter crackers. A note says that I should have a seat a celebrate with a soda before I go on. I don't argue with the note and sit down for two cans of Mountain Dew and a package of crackers. This is just what I need to motivate me to push on until dusk! I hope the Trail Ferry crops up again sometime.
I soon pass through a wooded clearing with scattered pines and a number of stone walls. This is the site of the extinct Haley Farm that in 1920 was described in a Long Trail book as providing "good beds and board; telephone". At 13.1 miles I reach Governor Clement Shelter (built 1929, sleeps 10, 1,850 ft) where I pause to change out my shoes and leave, forgetting to take a picture. Upon leaving this shelter, I commit myself to climbing Killington tonight. The Mountain Dew and crackers help as I slab uphill for miles and miles. I hike continuously uphill from mile 12.0 until mile 17.5 when I reach Cooper Lodge. I pictured this lodge in my last post so instead I provide a picture of the famous composting toilet in the middle of the woods, the Cooper Pooper, and a shot of where I set up my tent for the night. There were three tent platforms at the lodge and I pitched my tent on the middle one. I thought sleeping on the wood would be uncomfortable but after 17.5 miles I found it just fine. There was no support beam in the center of the platform so the wood gave a bit under my weight, sort of like the mattress in my dorm when I was an undergraduate. The tent pictured is not mine as I broke camp before I took the shot.
For dinner I eat a Banana and decide to fore go the Tuna as I am tired but not terribly hungry. I cramp a bit as I try to get to sleep but the night is pleasant and I decide not to use my rain fly. Therefore, I see all the stars above me as I camp at the highest shelter on the LT (3,850 ft). The temperature drops down to about 50 degrees which I find to be perfect for my worn out body. The next morning the person in the tent next to me tells me I spent my first hour of sleep moaning in pain as my legs cramped. I apologize as I do not recall it happening. I break camp about 6:00 am, pump some fresh water from a nearby piped spring, and eat a bagel as I begin my descent of Killington. I only have about 6.5 miles to go today so I decide to take it easy and stroll. I descend Killington about 1,000 feet and cross over to Pico Mountain. Fortunately, the climb up Pico is not substantial as I work my way around the peak instead of to the top.
At about 21.5 miles I begin a steep descent along switchbacks that leads me down to a spur leading .1 mile to Churchill Scott Shelter (built 2002, sleeps eight, 2,560 ft). While the shelter itself is fine it is not in a very pleasant location, in my opinion, and I am glad I am not spending a night there. From the shelter I continue to drop down to Vt Route 4.
I cross a bridge over a brook and emerge from the woods at Route 4 at 10:00 am. I have hiked about 24.3 miles, ascended about 4,600 feet and descended about 4,000 feet. I continue to get stronger at hiking, but still find it very challenging, especially on my feet. As my Dad would say, "Them dogs were barking at the end of the hike". My final picture is of a berried bush I passed on Friday. It looked good enough to eat and I believe there were some blueberry and raspberry bushes growing in with this plant. Of course, I chose not to taste them - can anyone give the bush a name?
Monday, July 7, 2008
On Friday, July, 4th I decided to spend the day taking a long day hike.
I begin at the Bucklin Trailhead (1,786 ft above sea level) at 9:50 am on a beautiful day with a forecast high temperature of 72 degrees. The trail begins in a valley and stays level for about 2.1 miles before climbing sharply up Killington mountain.
Along the way I hike parallel to Brewers Brook, a mid-size stream. The guide book indicates I will have to wade the stream but when I arrive at the crossing I instead find a newer looking bridge designed for cross country skiers to cross. At several more points along the trail I come close to the waters edge and enjoy the sound of "water music" as I hike.
At 2.0 miles I come to a fork in the trail. Cross country skiers are to go left, while hikers are to go right. The trail is not marked for this so I am lucky to have a guide book with me or I would have chosen wrong. As soon as I make the turn I begin the long climb (1.4 miles of climbing) up Killington. I reach the Long Trail after about 45 minutes of climbing and the elevation at the intersection of Bucklin and the LT is 3,770 feet. This picture shows the Bucklin Trail as it comes up to the LT. I turn south on the LT and continue to climb up Killington. After just a few minutes I come to Cooper Lodge (built in 1939 by the CCC, sleeps 12). At 3,850 feet, it is the highest shelter on the LT. It is also the first one I've seen that had stone walls. I guess stone construction entitles one to be called a lodge rather than a shelter. From there I decide to climb two trails that lead to the top of Killington. The first ends up on a slightly lower mountain crest than the last. But I get a good laugh as I pass the composting toilet built for the Lodge as a name plate tells me I am staring at the infamous "Cooper Pooper". I spare you the picture. The view is a northern view from the first trail I climb. This trail was steep but not too difficult, lasting perhaps .1 miles each direction. The second trail is longer, about .25 miles each way, and gets me to the summit of Killington (4,235 feet, one of the highest in VT). I have to pull myself up some of the rock faces in front of me as I climb this steep ascent. The view is of forests all around. At the top I meet a young couple who have ridden the Gondola up to the top. They have me take their picture for them and politely decline when I suggest that they take my day pack and hike down the mountain while I use their gondola pass to ride down. After scrambling back down the mountain top, at times having to sit down on one rock and jump down to the next level, I return to Cooper Lodge. From there I must go 1.5 miles south on the Long Trail to intersect with the Shrewsbury Peak Trail. If you've followed my blog before, you may recall that when I hiked the Shrewsbury peak trail, I missed a turn and failed to cover about 2.2 miles of the trail. Today I will cover that section of the trail but it requires a 1.6 mile each way detour along the LT. I refer to this 3.2 mile trek as my punishment for missing a turn on an earlier hike. I descend to the Shrewsbury Peak Trail intersection (3,500 ft) and turn east to follow the side trail. The trail is less travelled than most of the trails I have hiked so far, but in no time I come to a group of five hikers who have stopped to refill their water bottles at an inviting location. Three of them are young boys and the other two seem like scout leaders. I say hello to the five but press on to finish my climb down Killington and up Shrewsbury. I drop 600 more feet to 2,900 feet before beginning my climb up the north side of Shrewsbury. At 3,700 ft, I connect with the Black Swamp Trail and now know the error I made on my earlier hike. The trail is hardly marked and I suspect that many make the same mistake I did.
At this point I realize I am now over half way finished with my hike. I've climbed Killington and Shrewsbury so far. Now I must retrace my steps and descend the Shrew, reclimb Mr. Kill, and then descend it once more on the Becklin Trail. Fun! Fun! On the way down I pass the five hikers. At this point the two leaders are wearing their packs on their backs and each one is carrying the pack of one of the 10-12 year-olds up the mountain. I get the impression that the one remaining pack is being traded off between the three young boys. I try to help the leaders by making a comment that "real men carry their own pack" but I see the boys are having none of my wit and move on.
I stop for water at the location where I saw the five refill their water supply and pump water for myself. The climb down Shrew and up Kill are actually pleasant. The descent down the Bucklin side of Killington, however, is hard on the feet and knees and I am glad when the trail levels off following the 1.4 mile descent. I reach the car at 5:50 pm. I have hiked 15.5 miles in just over 8 hours. Given that I have climbed, and descended, three mountains (Killington twice) with a total of about 4,200 feet of climbing and another 4,200 feet of descending, I feel very good about my 2 mile per hour pace.
On Saturday, June 28th I had the chance to take a sorter than usual day hike so I chose to knock off a couple of shorter side trails. I start out on the north branch of Old Job Trail. The trail is generally flat and for the first mile follows beside Lake Brook. Because of the rain the Brook is flowing fast and loud. A warning at the start of the hike indicates that the bridge across the brook is closed due to ice damage last winter.
After one mile, I come to Old Job Shelter (built 1935 by CCC, sleeps eight). Because of the closed bridge I suspect, the shelter is not being used much, has weeds growing up around it and is damp and musty. The guide book states that the village of Griffith once stood here. If so, it will take an archaeologist to find it.
The closed bridge is located just west of the shelter. I climb down to the Brook and see no way across but to wade in frigid water flowing fast. I return to the bridge and re-evaluate it. It is a suspension bridge and the east side (the one I'm on) has had it's supports bent by the pressure of ice on the bridge. The platform itself now rests on the east bank. It looks passable...in fact, it looks fine and will probably not sway as much since one-third of it rests on the bank. I lightly step out and find it is plenty strong. I even pause halfway to take a picture of the brook (see photo at start of this blog entry).
Once across the bridge I encounter waist high weeds I must wade through for about one quarter of a mile. This is due to limited trail use as a result of the bridge warning.
I see a flock of Turkeys as I advance and soon arrive at the northern Old Job intersection with the Long Trail. I have hiked 2.0 miles and now must return as this is an out-and-back trek. On the way back I take one more picture of the brook.
I am making good time so I decide to stop at a sign that announces Big Branch Overlook and hike down to Big Branch Brook. The hike is steep and is about .5 miles round-trip. The Brook is flowing wildly down the gulch and I enjoy sitting along the bank for a few minutes.
I also stop at a bridge near the town of Mt. Tabor on USFS Rt. 10 and hike a trail that I have passed several times before. It is not a side-trail but follows on the south side of the Big Branch Brook. I can't get close enough to the river for a picture, but I come upon a tall rock that looks like a good place for a rock climber to test his/her mettle.
I then decide to hike Keewaydin Trail, a one mile round-trip out-and back trail that links the White Rocks picnic area with the Long Trail. The hike is a 250 foot climb to the LT and, even though it is short, it has its moments. There are a few small streams that I enjoy crossing as they simply trickle down the mountain side and across the trail.
By the time the day is done I have hiked about six miles, most of it flat and easy.