Butternut, Laraway, and Maple Syrup: Day Four on the Long Trail
We wake up at 7 a.m., cursing myself for not waking up to my 6 a.m. alarm. I want to get an early start today since we have almost fifteen miles to walk, the most miles I’ve ever walked in a day. I skip breakfast to save time, eating a protein bar while I walk. The sky threatens rain, but it holds off. I have my rain gear on anyway because even the slightest breeze through the trees sends droplets cascading down on us from the canopy above. The miles are not particularly strenuous but they are long.
This is the first day I really take in my surroundings, the first day I feel like I can enjoy instead of just endure. Even with the moody sky, the hike is gorgeous. We traverse leaf-coated trails and forest roads, skip across creeks and shallow rivers.
When you don’t have
any a lot of experience backpacking, like me, it can be difficult to make a plan for the day. I can look at the map and count miles and stare at the elevation profile, but I really don’t have a firm grasp on what I can handle and how many hours those jagged lines will take me to walk up and down. That kind of feel for your abilities only comes with time.
My plan for the day sounds something like this:
—The next camp is Corliss Camp, which is only seven miles from Spruce Ledge (where I stayed last night). I can do more than seven miles if the terrain isn’t too steep.
—The camp after that is Roundtop Shelter, almost 15 miles away. I don’t know if I can do that before dark.
—The Guthooks app shows me there is a possible stealth (unofficial) campsite at the top of Laraway Mountain. That would be between nine and ten miles. I can probably do that.
—If I make it to the top of Laraway Mountain before 3 p.m., I’ll keep walking the last five miles to Roundtop Shelter.
We cross Butternut Mountain easily, passing Corliss Camp at 1 p.m.
1 p.m. is too early to stop. I want to get farther to be within walking distance of Johnson tomorrow. Johnson is our first resupply, our chance to take a breather in town, and lick our wounds. A chance for clean clothes, fruit, maybe even a bed.
The climb up Laraway is short but steep. I use tree branches alongside the trail to pull myself up the smooth stone path. I am reminded just how different ecosystems can look based on elevation. The trail over the top of Laraway is a forest of spruce. The ferns and moss thickly cover every surface: the ground, the fallen trees, even the bridges. Everything is green and wet. I feel like I’ve stepped back in time, like I am entering an untouched place where I am merely a visitor. Dobby is having a ball. Without the weight of his pack he is running to and fro, head down, and taking in the scents, easily doubling any mileage I walk.
Some bog bridges are useful, others are breaking down. My feet are still wet from the downpour all day yesterday, so trudging through more mud and water doesn’t really phase me. Suddenly, in the stillness, I hear a guttural grunt. Bear, I immediately think, or moose? Neither are animals I want to run into. I start regaling Dobby with an exaggeratedly loud, animated account of what I want to eat for dinner in the hopes that my voice will alert any large animals in the vicinity to our presence. Fortunately, we see no mega-fauna.
Near the south end of the mountaintop, located near the actual summit, is a cliff overlook.
Again, visibility is minimal through the clouds. Since we reached the summit at 2:30, I decide we will keep going to Roundtop Shelter, another five miles away.
The climb down Laraway’s south side is much longer than the climb up. We cross over the slippery base of a waterfall cascading down a boulder the size of a large building.
The last few miles to Roundtop Shelter are relatively flat and travel through private land. You can see the tap lines running along the sugar maples that collect tree sap to make syrup, something I had never seen before.
Though I make fairly good time I have to hike the last 20 or 30 minutes in the dark. My feet ache, various points along their lengths giving complaints that I’m sure indicate blisters. I hobble into camp at 7:30 p.m., ten and a half hours after leaving Spruce Ledge. We did it, 15 miles, the most we’ve ever walked.
As I hobble into camp I notice several things simultaneously despite the darkness of the hour.
—There are a lot of people here.
—They are spread out between the shelter, which is full, and the established tent sites, which are also full.
–They are giggling.
You see, dear reader, this was a large group of middle-school children on a field trip. On a Tuesday. This is not what I wanted to face after 15 miles carrying more than 30 pounds on my back.
But it is what it is.
A resigned sigh escapes my lips as I remember that full shelters are why I devote two pounds of my pack weight to a two-person tent. I leash Dobby and we start blundering about in the dark for a spot to set up said tent. I find a spot a little way down the spur trail to the water source. It’s not far enough from the giggles for my liking but it will do. I set up my Nemo Hornet 2P and make dinner, proceeding to sleep even better than the night before. I sleep with my food in my vestibule, too lazy to hang it, because even bears fear hordes of children.
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