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.
Monday, September 22, 2008
On Sunday, September 21, 2008 I have the chance to slip away for an afternoon hike. I arrive at Homer Stone Brook Trailhead (680 ft. above sea level) at 1:15 pm for a 4.8 mile hike to the Long Trail and Little Rock Pond (1,854 ft.) This will be the third time I have hiked to the Pond...each time by a different trail. The trail climbs steadily past an old stone wall and then runs along the north side of the very pretty Homer Stone Brook.
Most of the trail follows an old roadway known as the Old South Wallingford - Wallingford Pond Road. The roadway is in fair shape and my guess is that a 4-wheel drive vehicle could make it up the first 1.7 miles. I
t appears as though a few ATV vehicles have done so lately. At 1.7 miles the trail crosses Homer Stone Brook and the ascent steepens over the last 0.6 miles until I arrive at Little Rock Pond.
The descent goes fast as there are not as many loose stones and roots as on the LT. I arrive at the car at 3:25 having covered 4.8 miles in 2 hours and 10 minutes.
Given my fast pace I decide their is sufficient daylight left to hike the Bald Mountain Trail. This trail is a 3.5 mile loop trail that does not connect to the LT. Instead, it climbs Bald Mountain (2,747) in the Aiken State forest just outside of Rutland VT. I arrive at the trailhead at 4:15 pm to begin the hike. Shortly after starting I come upon a lone female hiking with her dog. She advises me to take the east side of the loop as that is the better climb up the mountain. I follow her advice. after about 1.2 miles I arrive at a poorly marked decision point. I can turn north and head up the mountain or turn east and head around it. The trail is supposed to be marked with blue blazes but, unfortunately, both directions have such blazes. I choose the east figuring I'll hike around and then up to the summit. I follow this trail for another 1.0 miles until I come to it's abrupt end. I've now gone over three miles, two of which are not the right trail. I arrive back at the junction and, even though it is dusk, decide to climb the mountain, figuring I can do this and complete the loop in about as much time as it will take to back track my steps. Besides, this will eliminate the need to come back and complete the trail some other day.
I climb steeply up the mountain and arrive at a vista looking out over the Rutland airport. The trail continues up a short distance to another vista. Upon reaching this vista the trail branches in two directions. One direction is simply labeled "Pico Vista" and the other is not labeled at all.
I figure the Pico Vista branch is simply a hike to another view that requires one to turn around and come back after getting there so I choose the unlabeled branch. The blue blazes lead me to another vista. It has now gotten dark enough that I pull out my halogen headlamp to light my way. This is the first time I have used it on a hike and it works well. After another 10 minutes of hiking I come to another Vista...Man this summit has lots of Vistas. Another ten minutes and, wait a minute! Didn't I climb over this same tree lying across the trail once before? I continue on a short way and come to another vista and it dawns n me that I'm going in circles. It is now dark and I can't tell one vista from another. I say a quick prayer that I will not have to spend the night on a mountain top in shorts and a sweaty t-shirt with the temperature in the mid-forties.
I climb over the downed tree for a third time and begin to resign myself to a long night. Perhaps I can keep walking all night and that will keep me from getting too cold. I'm not panicking but I do figure I'll be up her until daybreak. On my next loop, hiked very slowly, I come to a descent that looks new to me. 200 yards past the start of this branch I realize I'm heading down and not towards another vista again. Apparently, I'm on my way out. I decide to turn off my headlamp to see just how dark it is. Without the headlamp it is so dark that I realize I will simply have to sit down right where I am and wait morning out if it fails to work; it is that dark. I turn the headlamp back on. After about a mile of descending I come to an intersection I recognize and turn west to head back to my car. I arrive at the car at 7:41 pm having hiked the last 1 and 1/2 hours in the dark. I intended to go 3.5 miles and instead estimate that I have traveled 7.0 miles on this hike bringing my total for the day to about 12 miles. I'm not very sore as I get into the car, drive to cell phone service and let Kim know I'm on my way home.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
On Friday, September 12, I took a half day of vacation to get out on a couple of trails. This weekend is the Tunbridge World's Fair so I did not want to do an overnight hike as I am taking Kim and Jon to the Fair tomorrow.
I arrive at the Sunlight Pond trailhead (1,960 ft above sea level) at 1:00 pm and start my hike in a steady rain. The canopy of trees overhead helps to limit how much rain I get hit with, but every now and then the wind blows and the trees release a downpour. Combine that with my body brushing up against wet branches and ferns and it's going to be a wet hike. It is 58 degrees as I start the ascent up Breadloaf Mountain to a rendevous with the Long Trail. I cross several small streams on the way up, climbing a total of about 1,500 feet before I reach the LT. On the way up I pass a couple climbing down and the man tells me they gave up getting to the top as it was taking too long. He describes the point where they turned around. I come to that point in about 20 minutes and, wouldn't you know, another 100 yards past their turnraround I come to the end of the trail (3,420 ft). I've climbed for 2.5 miles and it has taken 70 minutes. The trip down is faster of course, and I arrive back at the car in 60 minutes for a total of 5.0 miles in 2 hours and 10 minutes.
I'm soaked but decide I should do another short trail before heading home. It takes less than 15 minutes to get to the Sucker Brook Trail, a 2.0 mile out and back trail that also climbs to the LT. This one has less of an incline and is muddier but I find I can manage.
The road to the trail has washed out in recent weeks because of flooding in the Middlebury Gap region so I have to park about 0.2 below the trail, cross a creek that has washed out the road, and hike up to the trailhead (2,020 ft.). I reach Sucker Brook Shelter (2,420 ft.) after a fairly short climb, take a photo and head back down. The rain picks up during my descent and I arrive at the car sopping wet.
On Saturday, September 13, I get up at 8:00 am and head out to tackle two more trails. As Hurricane Ike pounds Galveston, it looks like the day here may clear after a while and become sunny. I arrive at the Middlebury Gap intersection with the Long Trail (2,144 ft.) at 10:00 am and start to climb north. The first 0.4 tenths of a mile is on a section of previously covered Long Trail but near the top I branch off onto the 0.8 tenths out and back Silent Cliff Trail. The trail is not very steep and I arrive at the cliff (2,750 ft.) in short order. I can see 600 feet down to Hwy 125 and can even see my car parked off in the distance. My trip back is an easy descent. I've climbed 600 feet while covering a total of 1.6 miles. In my car I crack open a cold one - diet Brisk Iced Tea - that is - and head on to Burnt Hill Trail.
Burnt Hill Trail (Trailhead 1,640 ft) at is a 2.2 mile uphill hike to the Long Trail and to this I add a 0.5 mile hike north on the Trail to Bryce Shelter (3,020 ft). I slept here on my last hike but forgot to take a picture of it so I'm doing the extra mile to get a photo. The climb is steady but not too difficult.
The sunlight has started to dry out the trail making the hike even easier as I don't have to worry as much about slipping on roots and rocks. I take it easy and enjoy the hike. On the way up I startle a tribe of sleeping Turkeys and watch about 20 of them scramble off in flight. I arrive back at my car at 1:45 pm so I have covered 5.4 miles in 2 hours and 30 minutes.
So, in two days I've covered four trails and a total of 14.4 miles. This has been an enjoyable two days of hiking.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Well, I learned the limits to my endurance on this overnight hike and I had an epiphany along the way - no more hikes of this degree of challenge!!! I began the hike at 9:50 am on Saturday, August 31 at Brandon Gap (2,183 ft). The forecast was for occasional showers and the sky was totally overcast. This made it pleasant hiking weather but took away the opportunity for some great vistas along the Trail.
The first 0.8 mile climbs Mt. Horrid (3,216 ft.). The ascent is steep and long. I arrive at a side trail that takes me 0.1 mile to the Great Cliff of Mt. Horrid. From the Gap, on a clear day, you can see the cliff rising 600 feet above. From this spot, however, all I see is clouds. I then snake my way up to the wooded summit. You know when your first mile of a hike is a climb up something called Mt. Horrid, you're in for a rough time.
I then descend a short way and begin another climb up Cape Lookoff Mountain (3,320 ft). Following a third short descent I climb Gillespie Peak (aka, White Rocks Mountain, 3,336 ft). Along the way I encounter a flower I do not believe I have seen on the trail before. I also saw a pink version of this flower as well.
I soon leave the Green Mountain National Forest and enter private land owned by Middlebury College. The land was given to the college by Colonel Joseph Battell and is now known as the Battell Wilderness. After another short descent I climb to the East Summit of Romance Mountain (3,125 ft).
I'm not sure how it got its name, but I'm not feeling too romantic after all of the climbing. I hike a switchback down to Romance Gap (2,685) and move north until I come to Sucker Brook Trail and Sucker Brook Shelter (built 1963, sleeps 8, 2,440 ft). I assume it's called Sucker Brook because there is no water running in it - Sorry sucker! I've hiked 5.6 miles at this point and it feels closer to 8 because of the ups and downs.
From the shelter, and a brief five minute rest, I begin my second significant climb of the hike up Worth Mountain (3,234 ft). I pass a few vistas along the way, but only clouds do I see. I then descend moderately, and pass over a couple of unnamed summits as I work my way to the clearing for Middlebury College's Snow Bowl Ski slope. The clouds have lifted a bit and I actually have my first long range view to the northeast.
Worth Moutain Lodge is located 0.2 miles off of the trail but I decide it probably doesn't serve ice cold beer so I forego the 0.4 mile round trip excursion. I cross a number of ski trails and accidently step into a hole that trips me and takes me to the ground. I'm not hurt, but focus more on both the trail and the trail markers as I'm descending from the Snow Bowl. I soon come to a 0.2 side spur to Lake Gilead (2,128 ft) the lowest elevation I'll be on this hike. A lake strikes me as more worthy than a lodge and I take this detour. The lake is pleasant and deserted. I strip down to my Under Armour Boxers and wade in. The water is refreshing, even though I sink to my knees in organic mush. I paddle around for about five minutes. As soon as I get out of the pond I hear people coming down the trail towards me. No sooner do I have my shorts back on than a family of four, with two pre-teen girls show up to swim. Good timing!
Back on the trail I climb a low ridge and then cross Rt. 125 at Middlebury Gap. I've driven through here many times and its nice to hike across it. I now begin my third significant climb, this time up Mt. Boyce. I enter the Breadloaf Wilderness and begin to climb. After 0.4 mile, I come to Silent Cliff Trail, an 0.8 round-trip spur to a view. I decide that cloud cover will prevent much of a view and I press on. This spur, however, is one of the required side-trails for certification, so I know I will have to return and hike it some other day. I suspect I wimped out due more to my fatigue and less due to the cloudy view.
I continue to climb and come to Burnt Hill Trail, another side trail. I'm tired and at this point decide that I will stop at the next shelter I come to. I follow a rugged slope west to Boyce Shelter (built 1963, sleeps eight). I have hiked 13.6 miles and am exhausted. It feels like I have gone 17 or 18. It is 6:30 pm so I have hiked for over eight hours. I slip out of my shoes and into my flip flops and walk down to the water source which the trail guide describes as "unreliable". I'll say! I have to go down stream a bit in order to find a puddle big enough to pump water from. Back at the shelter I eat my canned Tuna and look forward to spending a night in a shelter by myself. This will be the first time I spend the night at one alone. The weather is cool, low 50's I'd guess, and I settle in. I spend the night fighting a massive right hamstring cramp that flairs up about every hour and takes much of the joy out of sleeping.
I awake feeling better than I probably should. I'm packed and on the trail at 6:50 am, bagel in hand. I'm so focused I forget to take a picture of the shelter. Today I get to make a choice. I can go 10.0 miles to Cooley Glen Shelter and stay a second night there, or I can push on to the end and cover 15 miles. I debate what to do most of the way. Generally speaking, whenever I am hiking uphill or steeply downhill, I mentally vote for the Glen. On flat areas, I feel like I can make it all the way.
I start out by finishing my climb to the summit of Mt. Boyce (3,323 ft). The day has dawned beautifully with hardly a cloud in the sky. There is a pleasant pre-fall breeze that comforts all day long. From Mt. Boyce I continue along a ridge and then climb Breadloaf Mountain. After 2.0 miles I come to Skyline Lodge (built 1987, sleeps 14). This was actually where I had planned to spend last night but didn't make it. It is the nicest shleter I've seen so far and overlooks a lilly-pad covered pond.
I have been sucking down the water so I refill my pack at the spring located near the Lodge. I continue a steep ascent to the top of Breadloaf (3,835 ft.). Along the way I pass a large slab of marble and I use it as an excuse to stop and rest while taking a picture. At the top of Breadloaf there is a 0.1 mile spur to a view looking east and the beautiful day makes for a great shot.
I follow the rugged path downhill crossing over or under numerous fallen trees. Getting under a tree with a backpack is challenging. I also have to negotiate my way bown several steep granite slabs without falling. After 4.0 miles today, I arrive at Emily Proctor Shelter (Built 1960, sleeps 5, 3,460 ft). At this shelter is a young man who has set his tent up inside the lean to. He says he started from the north at Mt. Mansfield 16 days ago. This means that he has covered about 50 miles in 16 days, a leisurly pace to say the least. As I leave. I'm thinking he isn't much of a hiker, but the further I go the more I realize that maybe he has this hiking stuff all figured out! Of course, once again I forget to take a photo of the shelter.
I now begin the climb up Mt. Wilson (3,745 ft.) At the top I meet a fellow who is taking a month off from his work in Hanover, NH to hike the trail. He has to average about 9 miles a day to finish it and says he is a bit ahead of schedule. I begin the descent down the other side and soon climb back up to Little Hans Peak (3,348 ft) and then up to summit Mt. Cleveland (3,482 ft.)
I start down the steep descent and after another mile that's when all hell breaks loose. I round a curve and there, staring at me is a large female moose. She stands about six feet tall and is not a happy camper at my arrival. She paws the ground and charges me. I jump off the trail behind a small sappling and bend it back as far as I can. When she gets close enough I snap it into her face. She pauses to recover as I believe it hit her in the eye. I move behind a large tree as she regains her anger and charges again. What follows is a chase around and around the tree that must have lasted for 20 circuits. Eventually, tired and dizzy, she slows to a wobble. I move back to the trail to continue on, picking up a sizable rock on the way. She just stares at me on shaking legs. I figure I am in the clear and turn to head down the trail. About 15 seconds later I hear her staggering up the trail towards me. She is walking at a gait - no longer charging. When she get to within about three feet of me I throw the rock with all my might, catching her right between the eyes. With all of the weightlifting I've been doing, I'm strong enough to deliver the rock with force. She drops to her front knees, swivels to her side and then, believe it or not, she has a heart attack. as Jimmy Buffett says, "That's my story and I'm sticking to it"!
I descend steeply to Cooley Glen Shelter (built 1965, sleeps 8, 3,130 ft.) Once again I'm too tired to think to take a photo. It is 1:40 pm and I have been hiking since 7:00 am and have covered 10 miles so I remove my pack and my shoes and lay down to rest. After 45 minutes I reassess my condition and decide I can make the final 5 miles to my car and do not need to spend a second night eating Tuna.
The first 0.9 miles is a steep ascent up Mt. Grant (3,623 ft.). At the top I realize only willpower will get me through this hike. My hands are cramping from gripping my hiking poles, my calves and hamstrings are cramping, my left quad is quivering and my feet are sore, sore, sore.
I descend steadily but slowly as I try to focus on not taking a misstep. Every fallen tree I have to over or under creates a new batch of cramps. These are the deep cramps that one can do nothing about. I climb toward Sunset Ledge (2,811 ft.) There are actually three climbs to get to the ledge. Each takes you up steeply about 150 feet over a sloping wall of granite. Half way up the second tier I give out, drop to my knees, remove my pack, and roll over onto my back. I lay on the granite for 15 minutes wondering if I could spend the night there if I had to. I decide I shouldn't and get up, put the pack on, and get moving.
I reach Sunset Ledge and, even though it is 5:30 pm and the sun is getting low in the sky, I snap a quick picture and get back on the trail.
The remainder of the hike is a steep descent down to Licoln Gap (2,424 ft.). I handle this with reasonable speed as I can smell my car and the big Mountain Dew I plan to buy on the drive home. Why I don't have one iced down in the car already I don't know. I pass a number of hikers heading up to the Ledge for Sunset.
All in all, I have hiked 28 miles climbed over 5,000 feet, descended over 4,000 making this the toughest hike to date. Today I have hiked 15 miles in 11 hours and 20 minutes. I am exhausted as I drive home. I keep praying that I won't get a massive cramp while driving. During the drive my hands cramp so severely that I can't straingten out my thumbs, my forearms cramp from holding on to the steering wheel, and each hamstring cramps several times. I drive about 40 miles per hour all the way home where Jon, my son, has gone to pick me up some Chinese food. I shower, eat, soak my feet, suffer a few more cramps, and decide that this is enough...I'm breaking the remainder of the trail into smaller, more managable treks. Perhaps if I was doing this sort of hiking daily it wouldn't be a problem. But hitting the trail every other weekend is not frequent enough to develop my muscle stamina to where it need to be. My next overnight hike will cover only 12 miles and I plan to enjoy that one.