The Long Trail
Change of plan! I’m postponing my forthcoming guest entry by Dr. Kristiina Hurme’s. She’ll be bringing you an animated story about weird things she saw in Panamanian swamps at night. Her story is currently slotted for October! Make some popcorn and buckle your mental seatbelt because we’re traveling to a very different kind of forest. A temperate montane forest in Vermont…..
This past May, my botanist partner and I did a weekend warrior backpack trip on the Long Trail. Many people will be familiar with the Appalachian Trail (AT) and it’s thru-hiker stories. The best-selling book by Bill Bryson (later made into a film), “A Walk in the Woods,” contributed in recent years to the mainstream popularity of AT trail culture. However, I’m guessing that, outside of Vermont or New England, a much smaller contingent will know the Long Trail (LT). It’s a damn shame because the LT is the most ancient of long-distance trails in the United States. Its construction was completed by members of the Green Mountain Club over a twenty year period from 1910 to 1930. The LT has its own group of section and thru-hikers. Some of these are third generation Vermonters, while others have come from all over the map to experience the lush, green (and might I add wet and muddy) environment of the Green Mountains.
I belong in the latter category – I grew up in the mighty midwestern states of Michigan, Illinois, and Ohio, but I’ve spent the better part of my adulthood living in New York and Connecticut. Before this year’s excursion, I had day-hiked two peaks at the northern extent of the LT, Mount Mansfield and Camel’s Hump. They were both beautiful, although quite different from one another in their topography and plant ecology.
The LT stretches 272 miles from the southern end of the state to its northern border with Canada. We started our backpacking trip on Friday night at the southern most shelter, Seth Warner. This was close to the Massachusetts border, not far from North Adams and the Berkshires. We got water to filter and built a fire to cook our first trail meal, cheesy rice n beans with bell pepper and onion. We met some fine folks at Seth Warner – Ryan and Christian from Boston, on their first overnight backpacking trip; Jill and Faith from Chester, VT and the UP of Michigan, respectively; a dude from NJ attempting his first thru-hike on the LT; and ‘Tumbleweed’, a young female AT thru-hiker. We shared stories and whiskey around the camp fire. We even made PB&J ‘hobo pies’ for dessert. We returned the pie irons to our car as we passed by on the trail the next morning.
On Saturday, after a satisfying breakfast of cheesy grits with pepperoni, we backpacked along a nice stretch of trail with a significant climb in elevation. In total that day, we had to cover 7.2 miles to Congdon Shelter: our destination. All that climbing was worth it when we reached a beautiful clearing with a large beaver pond. We sat on a log at the edge of the pond to eat our sandwiches. We hiked during black fly season, which was a little annoying whenever you stopped to drink or eat a snack. But, I found that a long-sleeve collared shirt and long pants protected me from black fly bites pretty well. As we were relaxing on the log at mid-day, my partner spotted a beaver swimming in our general direction. The beaver approached closer and closer, as if (s)he was curious to get a better view of us. We snapped a pic, but without a telephoto lens it was hard to make it out.
We saw other animals along the trail and on the road:
- Gray fox; Red-tailed hawk; Barred owl (heard call); Squirrel
- Eastern newt; Blue jay; Large crane flies; Black flies (in May); Dragonflies (e.g. chalk-fronted corporal); Wild turkey; Garter snake
After lunch, we climbed a bit more and came to another beaver pond and a boardwalk that runs parallel with the dam. I was excited to see the infrastructure of the dam up close and personal. We also noticed that there was a beaver lodge at some length from the dam. My boyfriend pointed out that delicate white, yellow, and purple violets dotted the dam. Naturally, he dutifully recorded loads of spring wildflowers on iNaturalist throughout our route. I understood why they are called the Green Mountains. Of particular note were the spring beauties (Claytonia), starflower (Lysimachia), painted Trilium, and blue-bead lily (Clintonia).
Well in advance of dark, we reached a fast-moving stream with rapids. Congdon Shelter was only a mile away, perched along the stream. The water quality in the Green Mountains is excellent. We filtered, though we probably didn’t need to. We rolled into camp and set up our two-person tent. The black flies were really abundant at this shelter, which is why we didn’t want to sleep on the open-air bunks in the shelter. We built a fire and cooked a spicy mac n cheese dish with bell pepper. I’ve spotted a common theme. Um, can you tell we love cheese?!? We shared our meal with ‘Plant/Faceplant’, a young male AT thru-hiker who had like zero fat content. We swapped stories with ‘Johnny Walker,’ an experienced thru-hiker who always solo hikes and sleeps in a hammock. He likes to eat raw and has found dried seaweed to be a nutritious addition to any meal. Did I mention the hiker logs. Funny stuff. Really entertaining. There are all types out there hiking. Some are nuts. Some are meticulous. That’s the fun of the trail. The only not-so-fun part is trying to sling and secure a bear bag full of food over a limb at the proper height. But definitely necessary in the mountains.
On Sunday morning we awoke and ate instant oatmeal for breakfast. We were the last ones out of camp. I slept like a rock that night. Best sleep of my life. Walking all day with a pack on your back will do that. Also, the temperature was just perfect in my sleeping back. Not too hot, not too cold. Just right. Like baby bear. We retraced our 7.2-mile route on Sunday back to Seth Warner. The only difficult part of the trail was trying not to sink into mud or slip on the flooded rocks in the early section of the hike. We had a pleasant conversation with an old guy called ‘Gray ghost’ at a snack break. He said something that struck me. Something to the extent of how walking the trail and being immersed in nature is the ‘real world’. Not the world that we’ve constructed. Yea, trail names are kinda fun. There is a sort of anonymity to them, but also a lore, myth, or legend implied.
Once we reached the powerline cut, greeted by the plucky British soldier lichen (Claydonia), I knew we had a long downhill coming up. We really zoomed through that section. But, I should point out that going downhill is harder on the knees and requires greater concentration to avoid misteps and tumbles. I found and used a walking stick for the downhill portions of the hike. Definitely allowed me to redirect some of the force to the stick rather than my knees. I had hot spots on my heels by this time, that refused to be covered by duct tape, despite my best efforts. Sweat is a baddy. So is friction.
When we made it back to our car, we hadn’t showered since Friday morning and felt pretty ripe. We had a beautiful drive ahead of us through the Berkshires. We were tired but happy that we had spent the weekend experiencing the wild beauty of the Green Mountains. I’ll always remember my first time backpacking on the LT. I learned that I much prefer backpacking on a trail system with shelters, because you get to meet interesting people and share in a sense of community. I’m looking forward to doing this again on a different stretch of the LT or even on the AT.
CONCLUSION: BACKPACKING IS HARD WORK BUT ITS REWARDING. And sometimes, you’ll get lucky and see a red eft… or a beaver… or something you don’t often see in your every day life.
Did you enjoy this story? Be sure to check out my previous posts: