A Sad, Soggy End: Leaving the Long Trail
After hiking in rainy, blustering conditions for three days and leaving my hiking buddy Bartman behind, I decided to shlep into town at Lincoln Gap on Wednesday afternoon. Coming down out of the Breadloaf Wilderness, the trail was a swollen, ankle-deep stream and every curved rock face resembled a slip-and-slide straight to Hell. Sitting in my hotel room in Warren, I made the tough decision not to continue on with my thru-hike this year. But don’t worry, Long Trail: I’ll be back to hike the rest of ya!
Day 11: Sucker Brook Shelter to Cooley Glen Shelter (about 16.7 miles)
The calm before the storm, this day started the same way the previous one ended: wearing soaking wet clothes and dreading another downpour. Crawling out of my soggy tent, I realized it wasn’t yet raining (hooray!) and decided to get a move-on. I planned to hike 16.7 miles—my biggest day yet—to better position myself to roll on into Waitsfield Thursday afternoon for a resupply and long-awaited hotel stay.
After the events of the day before and feeling rundown (probably from conforming to my relentless pace—sorry!), Bartman decided he would end his hike in Waitsfield on Friday. That meant he could take his time and do fewer miles the rest of this rainy week, but it also meant that I would be leaving him behind. It was definitely emotional to part ways, but I am so grateful to have met him and hiked with him for most of my time out there! We already have tentative plans to reunite someday soon for a trip out west.
Despite that emotional low, I also witnessed the coolest thing I’d seen yet on trail. After a steep uphill, I stopped to grab a drink of water. As I turned back to look the way I’d come, a rabbit bolted up the trail—almost crashed right into my legs—and immediately retreated upon noticing me. I only had time to say, “Oh! Sorry, dude!” before a gray fox darted out from the trees after the rabbit, right on its tail. I’d never seen a gray fox in the wild, and I’d heard they’re pretty elusive, so this was an incredible experience for me! I do feel a little bad about essentially killing that rabbit, but hey, the fox got lunch.
Bolstered by that coolness factor, I kicked it into high gear to try to beat the worst of the rain. Dark clouds loomed overhead all day, but it mostly sprinkled and whipped me with cold, annoyingly moist wind. That is, until I got within a mile and a half of the shelter. It was almost 6 o’clock, which meant sundown was well on its way, and thunder boomed all around me. It got so dark in the trees that I considered putting my headlamp on, but ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the wasted minutes. Half-running (and slipping more than I’m proud to admit) I slid into Cooley Glen Shelter just before the skies opened up.
Even inside the shelter, there was barely any respite from the elements. Wind swept the rain inside, rendering my hasty clothesline useless as my wet hiking clothes only got wetter overnight. I put my earplugs in (better not to hear the gusts of wind and rain, because ignorance is bliss after all) and tried to get some sleep. I planned on a 14-mile day the next day, including summiting Mount Abraham and Mount Ellen.
Day 12: Cooley Glen Shelter to Lincoln Gap (about 5.2 miles)
In the morning, I met another NOBO hiker who’d set up his tent behind the shelter. We brainstormed what to do as the wind and rain continued to roar around us. He told me he was planning to hitch into town at Lincoln Gap and stay in a hotel in Warren to wait out the rain. I said I’d planned on making it to Appalachian Gap before heading into town, which meant climbing Mt. Abe that day (at least) if I was going to get to App Gap anytime soon.
But as I read the Guthook comments for Mt. Abraham—the last .25 miles to the top described as steep rocks that need to be climbed hands-on rather than using trekking poles—my confidence wavered. One comment literally said, “Glad we had dry rock as I can’t imagine trying to climb them in the rain or when wet.” Heading into Warren was sounding better and better…
I put on my wet clothes again (this time it was also cold, which only added to the ripping-off-a-bandaid feeling) and stepped out of the shelter. I remember wondering whether I should fill up on water at the shelter’s nearby stream, which later would make me chortle. By the time I made it a tenth of a mile from the shelter, the entire trail was a stream. I was trudging through shin-deep rapids for most of the climb up Mount Grant, which was a new and interesting experience. Going up was fine; coming down off the rocky ledges and steep stone steps into Lincoln Gap was another story.
After falling a few times and then straight up butt-sliding down rocks when I’d given up on my useless wet feet, I finally made it to Lincoln Gap. Sweet relief! Those 5.2 miles took me an exorbitant amount of time, energy, and angst. I’m not a fast hiker by any means, but I had to have been going barely one mile per hour, edging along the wet rocks and roots like a baby deer just learning to walk. As much as I tried to enjoy it despite less-than-stellar conditions, the joy wasn’t showing up to the party. On one of the scenic ledges (less scenic during a white-out of fog and rain) I jokingly posed with a stone that resembled the obelisk at Journey’s End. Little did I know that stone would turn out to be my obelisk this year.
A Bear of a Decision
Down at the Lincoln Gap trailhead, a lovely trail angel named Vaneasa gave me a ride into Warren. As I sat in the back seat with my drenched face mask on, I told her I was doubting my plans to hike north, solo, in these wet conditions. She said another solo female hiker had called 911 the day before after an accident atop one of the peaks. The hiker had to be helped down by first responders. Once I had cell service, I checked the weather forecast: rain—at least scattered showers—every day for the rest of the week.
I could have waited out the weather in town, but with my limited time off from work ending October 11, any number of zero days would make finishing the trail by then a pipe dream. I’d either have to continue pushing the miles in the rain, or declare my thru-hike attempt a bust like everything else in this godforsaken year. Safe and warm in my hotel room, I called my mom and my best friend to tell them I decided not to hike on. I cried on both of those calls.
I know some people are still out there hiking right now despite the weather. It’s possible that I could have done it, too. But at my current skill level, being inexperienced hiking up 4K peaks in these conditions, and as a solo hiker to boot, my gut told me it would be too risky to attempt it. I didn’t want my Long Trail experience to be tainted by my fear of falling and hurting myself; I want to love the miles and take selfies on the peaks! The trail will be there next year, and I plan to come back and finish what I started. 156 miles in just over 11 days ain’t too shabby for my first long-distance backpacking trip, and I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished despite a soggy, disappointing end.
Thanks to everyone who commented on my posts and encouraged me these past few weeks. I’ve learned a lot (stay tuned for a post on my lessons learned!) and met some incredible human beings on this hike. I saw so many gorgeous views and wildlife I’d never experienced before. I lived out of a backpack, drank from a mountain spring, and smelled that fresh evergreen scent of an alpine forest after the rain. And, maybe the best part: I get to come back to even more stunning views and mountain peaks when I return to the Long Trail to finish those remaining 117 miles.
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