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, August 21, 2009
On Wednesday, August 19, 2009 I took a day of vacation in order to hike what promises to be the toughest trail I'm required to complete - HELL BROOK Trail! I arrive at the trail head with some trepidation as several people have told me this is a tough one and the guide book talks about precipitous ledges and actually recommends that no one attempt to descend the trail. This is balanced by a web search I did where I found pictures of people climbing in the dead of winter so I figure I'll survive.
I arrive at the trailhead (1,803 ft) at 10:00 am and begin the 1.5 mile climb to the intersection with the long trail. At the trailhead is a warning sign - the first I have encountered in my hikes. The guide book says the trail should take 2 hours to complete, or .75 miles per hour, the slowest time in the whole book. The trail begins a ruggedly steep ascent from the very start and in no time my calves are screaming for a rest. There is practically no break in the climbing as I continue to work my way up. I find I use my hands to pull myself up by grabbing roots and rocks almost as much as I use my feet. Frequently, I must get an uncomfortable knee hold from which I pull myself up - my knees do not like this very much. On a couple of occasions I pause to consider how I am going to make a climb or traverse because one slip might mean a short fall or slide of 6-20 feet.
Frequently, I reach a brief opening in the woods that gives me a good look at the cliffs on the opposite side of VT 108. I believe this one may be Elephant's Head Cliff. After about one hour's worth of climbing wouldn't you know it starts to rain and the rocks become more slippery. Having said this, however, not once do I ever slip or come close to falling on the entire ascent. I reach the intersection with the long Trail in one hour and 59 minutes - besting the guidebook by one minute and find an interesting sign that I assume is an attempt at a warning for anyone wishing to descend the Hell Brook Trail.
From here I continue to climb on the Long Trail over an exposed and fairly technical ascent to the Chin of Mount Mansfield (4,393 ft), the highest point in Vermont. The guide book talks about the breathtaking views from up here but I am enshrouded by a mist and clouds block all views. All views that is, save for a young lady from Quebec that speaks French and looks like she just walked out of a Victoria's Secret catalog to greet me at the summit. I choose not to take a picture of her - that would be rude, wouldn't it - but I include this description just to see if my wife is really reading my blog. There are actually a lot of people up here - most of them coming up the Toll road or rinding up in a gondola.
I descend to the south from the Chin a short distance until i intersect with the Sunset Ridge Trail - a trail I hiked earlier this year (The trip that put me in the hospital). I pause at this intersection and eat a couple of cookies and drink some Gatorade. Across the way from this intersection I find the Profanity Trail - a good name for a trail located close to Hell Brook if I say so myself. It is really less of a trail and more of a gully that I descend steeply for 1/2 mile before reaching Taft Lodge.
Taft Lodge (built 1920, sleeps 24, 3,650 ft) is a great structure and just as I arrive and step inside it comes a gully washer, complete with thunder and lightning. I rest there, along with 8-10 other hikers for about 30 minutes while the storm passes through. I eat five or six Nutter Nutter Butter Peanut Butter Sandwich cookies for my lunch and drink some more Gatorade. It was my intention to hike another loop covering about 1.1 miles and completing all of the side trails on this end of the mountain, but the rain has made everything slick and wet and I decide I'll have to come back again to complete the side trails.
I head out before any of the others are ready to descend figuring that if I slip and fall on the wet trail down someone will find me quickly and offer assistance. although the 1.7 mile descent is steep, it is not as slick as feared and I make good time down the mountain on the Long Trail.
I arrive at the intersection of the Trail with VT 108 and turn north to hike 0.75 miles up smuggler's notch to reach the car. It is 3:30 pm so I've hiked for 5 1/2 hours and covered only 4 miles. No problems with cramps at all but after I get home I discover a number of scrapes and scratches I earned while climbing Hell Brook.
On Friday, August 14, 2009 I am able to slip away for another long day hike cover a portion of the Long Trail. Kim drives the second car and drops me of at the Nebraska Notch Trailhead (1,400 ft above sea level). This will be the third time I've traversed this pleasant 1.5 mile trail. I get started of a warm, sunny day at 10:00 am.
The hike up to the LT is just as I remember and I am able to move along at about a 2.0 mile per hour clip. At the LT Intersection I turn north and begin to cover new ground on my way up Mt.Mansfield.
The first part of the ascent is gentle and I make really good time as I cross a few small brooks and make my way 1.5 more miles to the Twin Brooks Tenting area. This area consists of multiple tent platforms and a nice central area for a fire. It is located about 50 yards down a spur of the main trail. After pausing briefly at the tent site I push on up Mt. Mansfield another 1.2 to the Wallace Cutoff Trail. This trail descends steeply one tenth of a mile to Butler Lodge - a very nice shelter.
Butler Lodge (built 1933, sleeps 14, 3,100 ft.) is located on the side of Mansfield with a pleasant westerly view shed. I stop here for 15 minutes and drink some Gatorade and eat a few crackers. I'm feeling well and decide to take the first of several optional side treks. This one is called the Rock Garden Trail and it is a short (1.4 miles out and back to the Lodge) but challenging hike. I follow the Wampahoofus Trail for one tenth of a mile to where the Rock Garden Trail begins - even this short section requires that I work myself around and over steep ledges. Once on the trail itself I find I have to descend into a steep rock gully and then crawl on all fours under a low pass that is only about two feet high. The crawl is only for six to ten feet but I wonder who will find me if the rocks shift while I am under them. Of course, I'm sure they been in this position for eons, but the thought still crosses my mind. After working my way up, down, around, under, and over five or six formations I arrive at the end of the trail where it intersects with the Maple Ridge Trail, a trail I hiked last year. I return the way I came and wind up at the Lodge after 70 minutes of hiking. thus I travelled 1.4 miles in 70 minutes, giving you some idea of how difficult this little trail was.
I spend another 15 minutes resting at the lodge and eat my lunch which consists of Nutter Nutter Butter Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies and Gatorade. At least the word sandwich is in the title so I count this as a healthy lunch.
Now I face the challenging part of today's climb - a 1.0 mile ascent to the Forehead of Mt. Mansfield that climbs 1,000 feet along the way. I take my time, stopping frequently to drink and lower my pulse rate and, aside from taking almost an hour to complete, arrive at the forehead in good shape. The Forehead, at 3,940 ft., is the highpoint of the southern peak of Mansfield. Here the trail intersects with the Wampahoofus Trail. The furthest visible peak in the picture above is Camel's Hump, I believe.
The Wampahoofus is optional hike number two on the days list and I am feeling good enough to do it. I descend steeply along the forehead ridge line for two tenths of a mile to where the Wampahoofus intersects with the Maple Ridge Trail. I did the rest of Wampahoofus last year so I am able to turn around and ascend back to the Forehead. At the turnaround point I get a good view of the TV towers that sit upon the ridge line of Mt. Mansfield north of the forehead. The most prominent tower sits on the Nose, with the Chin, and Adam's Apple visible off in the distance.
Back at the Forehead I turn North and descend and then climb towards the Nose. I arrive at the northern terminus of the Forehead by-pass, a side trail that is recommended in bad weather to keep hikers from being exposed along the ridge line. I turn south and begin the descent down Mt. Mansfield. After 3/10ths of a mile I come to the Intersection of this trail with the South Link Trail and I have a decision to make - I can follow the by-pass for another 0.9 miles and the return for an additional 1.8 miles on this hike, or I can take the South Link and return another time to finish this side-trail?
I'm growing weary so I choose to take the South Link 0.6 miles down the mountain to where it intersects with the Toll Road. Mt. Mansfield has a Toll Road that wimpy tourists take to get to the top without getting sweaty. It's rather expensive - on the order of $25 bucks per car plus a head charge for however many people are in the car, I believe. It makes for a crowded summit and lots of "hikers" walking around on exposed rocks in flip-flops. At the Toll Road I face my first real challenge of the day. The Haselton Trail is supposed to start in the vicinity of the south Link Trail and continue down the mountain but I can't find the trail as it is unmarked. I work my way over to the Octagon, a ski lift terminal located across the Toll Road and down the mountain about 100 yards but I can't find the trail. From the Octagon I get a nice picture of the valley that I'm supposed to climb down to if I can find the trail.
I return to the Toll Road and finally find the unmarked trail about 100 feet up the Toll Road. There a ski slope heads north and the gate blocking the slope shows faint signs of hikers circumventing to go up or down the slope. After walking about 100 yards on the slope I find a blue-blaze indicating I'm on a side-trail, hopefully Haselton. After descending steeply on the ski slope for about 0.3 miles the trail turns off into the woods and is marked with a sign. I continue down fairly steeply for another 1.3 miles until I come out of the woods at the edge of the Midway Lodge - a ski lodge.
My car is parked on the far side of the building so I get to it after just a few hundred more yards of hiking. It is 5:30 pm so I have covered about 11 miles in 7 1/2 hours - a fair pace given the climbing and descending I have done. As I take my shoes off I get my first and only cramp of the hike, a real doozey in left calf muscle that has me hopping around for a full 30 seconds.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
On Friday, August 7, 2009 I took a day of vacation to complete another section of the Long Trail. My youngest son, Beau, leaves for college on Sunday so I did not want to do an overnighter, but I knew I needed to get another section of the LT done so this will be a long day hike. I arrive at Bolton Notch Road (1,120 ft. above sea level) and set off at 9:34 am. The weather is cool (60s) and it is supposed to stay cool with a chance of occasional showers and thunderstorms. I set off in shorts and a short sleeve shirt and carrying both my water pack and a day pack holding 48 ounces of gatorade (no more dehydration for me).
The climb is steady to the top of Oxbow Ridge (@2,400 ft) and along the way I see several easterly lookouts. From the top of the ridge I descend steadily to the intersection with a spur leading south 0.3 miles and down to Buchanan Shelter (Built 1984, sleeps 16, 2,310 ft)
The total hike to the shelter from the notch is 2.6 miles, most of it a steady ascent and my legs are sore becuase I haven't hiked enough this summer to get them into shape. I also believe my dehydration problem last month has weakened my leg muscles because the hike is wearing them out much more quickly than I would usually expect. From the shelter I ascend steadily to the summitt of Bolton Mountain(3,725 ft) passing several nice views along the way. I have now covered 6.6 miles and have a short, but steep, 0.5 mile descent to Puffer Shelter.
Puffer Shelter (built 1975, sleeps six, 3,200 ft). is a small frame shelter built by over 100 volunteers who hiked all of the materials used in its construction up and over Bolton Mountain on the same path that I have traversed so far today. Any reasons I might think I have to complain about this hike pale in comparison to this feat. Of course, I forget to take a picture of the shelter.
I now take a 20 minute break to eat lunch, a roast beef sub sandwhich, and drink several cups of gatorade. While eating, another north-bound hiker arrives and it is clear he is serious about his trek and making great time. I leave him to enjoy his lunch and head down Bolton Mountain.
The trip down is not as steep as I had thought it would be, but I start to get the nagging feeling that I'm about to start cramping up - not from lack of fluid - but from weak leg muscles. I stop every time I feel a cramp start and, by resting for about 30 seconds each time, am able to ward off any full cramps. The descent is broken up by two short climbs, the first up Mount Mayo (3,160 ft) and the second up Mount Clark (2,800 ft). I follow a ridge around Mt. Clark and continue my descent.
On the trip down I come to the longest ladder I have had to use to date (picture at top of entry). About halfway down it I start to cramp so I pause for about 30 seconds while the cramp releases itself - no true risk of falling. I descend to the largest Beaver Pond I have seen to date and cross the pond on a very narrow system of planks. On the other side I climb gradually out of the pond area and soon come to the intersection of the LT with Taylor Lodge.
Taylor lodge (built 1978, sleeps 15, 1,850 ft)has been pictured in a previous hike I took on the Lake Mansfield Trail so I provide a shot looking out from the porch of the cabin. I have hiked 3.4 miles since leaving Puffer shelter so I stop long enough to drink some gatorade and then head 1.7 miles down the Lake Mansfield Trail to my car.
I arrive at my car (1,140 ft) at 5:45 pm after over 12.5 miles of hiking covering just over 1.5 miles an hour on this trip. My legs are sore but the cramping has not materialized and I have a comfortable drive home.