AT Day 80 – A Game Of Spruce

Spruce Peak Shelter to White Rocks
Sunset Cabin Camp
to Bad Corn Nuts Camp
AT miles:
Total miles: 1686.6
Elevation change: 5495ft gain, 5174ft loss

My night in the Spruce Peak Shelter was restorative and peaceful. A good night. My breath billowed in a moist cloud when I poked my face from my quilt, but I was warm except for when I dipped my toes into the distant footbox. It was at this point that I wished that I had either closed the door or prepared some kindling in the ancient wood burning stove at my head last night. A modest fire would have the cabin toasty in just a few minutes, but there was zero chance of me building it from scratch now. No way. Instead, I wrapped my quilt more tightly around my body, and considered the rush of the wind in the treetops and the totally gray sky hanging above them. It would be warm eventually, just not right now.

Just me and the mice.

I packed up in between mouthfuls of granola and trail mix. I swigged some icy water out of duty to my body, not pleasure. As I put the finishing touches on my pack, rolling the top down tightly and clipping on my Crocs, I noticed that a spiteful mouse had chewed a small hole in one of my hip belt pockets. My food bag appeared untouched, though it had been hung where any reasonably atheltic rodent could get to it. I expected to find some nibbles on my Oreos this morning, a favorite of mice, but this random hole made no sense to me. Oh well, the damage was inconsequential, just confusing.

The trail actually didn’t go over those mountains. It went over a different one.

I moved out into the blustery world at my typical starting time of 8:30am. The sun had already done some good work at cutting the chill, but my hands were still a mottled mix of purple with orange splotches after tying my shoelaces. This was weather for moving, not hanging around. The flat continuation of yesterday’s trail did not make it easy to warm up, but by the time I met Joe a couple miles later, I had enough heat stocked up to chat for a few minutes. He was out with a trail crew for the day, and told me some snippets about his AT thru-hike 50 years ago. He was only the 80th person to have hiked the whole thing back then, and managed it in a sporty 105 days. Trail names hadn’t yet been invented, if you can believe it. After saying goodbye and thanking him for the hard work, I wandered on while wondering if the trail experience today was more similar or different than what he had known back then. Navigation apps and weather forecasts have made thru-hiking easier, without a doubt, and they increase access to the outdoors, which is a good thing. However, I couldn’t help thinking that my experience on the AT was a diluted version of Joe’s adventure. This wasn’t bad or good, just something to notice. As much as I gain by living out here, I bet that Joe had gained more, and worked harder for it.

Fresh baked and yummy.

I passed a neon power ranger hiking in with a chainsaw and axe, then soon found myself at a large trailhead parking lot with none other than Blackbird sitting in the first spot. SpiceRack must have spent the night there, and she released the hound when she saw me coming. My visit was brief, just long enough to recap our nights and for me to sample the freshly baked granola that Spice had made. It was oily and sweet, just the way I like it.

These things look so out of place without people and deep snow.

The trail from there was wide and well-trodden, and I passed a few weekend hikers returning from Bromley Mountain. It was windy up there, they warned. Loose switchbacks of stone and wooden boardwalks brought me from oak to spruce, and I soon found myself on a soggy ski slope next to a patch of dirty snow. I squelched up the final few hundred of feet to the summit. It was a little windy up there, but I paid it no mind as I tootled around, looking at the views in each direction, and checking out the ski patrol hut. I could see the white cuts of ski runs on Stratton to the south, and many other striped mountains to the north. They do like their skiing in Vermont. In some way, seeing the touch of the human hand on these mountains made them feel less intimidating and wild than they had looked from the fire towers on Stratton and Glastonbery. It was probably a mistake to feel this way, though. The mountains were still wild and steep, no matter how many beer cans accumulate at the fringes of the narrow ski runs. A gust whooshed the spruce, and scooted me back amongst them.

I made a long traverse of a connecting ridge amid blowing greenery, then dropped sharply to another trailhead. There, a laundry basket filled with jugs of water waited on a boulder, and I sat, chugged, and refilled before continuing on. Then it was up another busy trail to Styles Peak. Once again, the summit was capped in spruce with some patches of snow scattered in the shade. I didn’t even bother checking out the narrow view through the trees on the summit, self conscious of how my stinky clothes might diminish the enjoyment of the clean people already up there. Besides, what could I see from there that I hadn’t see from Bromley, I consoled myself.

The promise of a picnic bench and place out of the wind at the next shelter pulled me along, beyond my usual lunchtime. The ridge connecting Styles to Peru Peak was gentle and fast after an initial steep descent. Even though I wasn’t bored by the hiking, eventually the temptation to listen to another audiobook, which had been growing for weeks, became too great to ignore. I turned on A Game of Thrones while chuckling to myself, remembering how I had carried the first four books in the series during my inaugural trek in Nepal over ten years before. I’d also carried 26 Clif bars, one for each day around the Annapurna Circuit. Oh, how much I had learned since. I’d read every page, however.

The green tunnel runway.

Lunch at the shelter was just what I needed, restful and filling. Then the trail was mostly flat for the rest of the day. I circled half of Griffith Lake, large and cold, then pushed through a forest of dense evergreens on long boardwalks through narrow tunnels in the trees. When the forest opened up again, a thin carpet of tiny white flowers shimmered in the difuse sunlight atop green eruptions of delicate leaves. I was grateful for the trail because stepping anywhere else would have crushed a dozen.

Why not put the trail up here?

A short scramble up the jagged slabs of Baker Peak was the final hardship of the day. However, it was fun and short-lived, and the trail soon returned me to easy forest cruising along the rushing Big Branch. Another trailhead, another picturesque pond that was too cold for a dip, then a final water gather and filter to keep me hydrated through the night. I shrugged on my pack for the final time, and began the short climb up White Rocks, a low ridge stubbled with spruce.

Hike through the fire.

The deep burning orange of the sun peaked through the tall trunks, casting flickers of firelight across the trail and my peripheral vision as I walked. A porcupine waddled away from me as I passed, but I tried to keep my eyes on the glowing horizon, delighted to have my second sunshow in a row. Vermont was the sunset state, it seemed. The finale was just a few minutes away when I found a flat spot on the springy spruce duff in the dense forest on which to pitch my tent. It smelled nasty when I unrolled it, like I hadn’t used it since packing it up wet in Cheshire, which I hadn’t. My corn nuts were pretty nasty too, but that made sense when I checked the expiration date. These were leftovers from Spice’s and my 2019 CDT resupply boxes, and they were well beyond their prime. Inedible really. No matter, I moved onto my beans, and watched the color drain from the sky while scooping big mouthfuls of cold goo. These pleasures were ones that Joe would know well despite the difference in years. The satisfaction of a sunset and good meal will never be diluted.

This post was originally published on my blog Check it out for trip reports from my other hikes including the CDT and Sierra High Route.

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Comments 2

  • Bamboo Bob Sartini : May 15th

    Hi Owen;

    Spruce peak is my favorite shelter on the AT/LT. FYI , the “ancient stove” is new in the last few years. A rarity since so many shelters have burned because of inept stove operation. Glad you met Joe. he’s a real AT & Vermont character. I hope to do trail magic with him again this summer.

  • Jerry kenney : May 16th

    Nice report from the trail man…. I live in Virginia. The AT is literally a mile from my front door. I used to section hike as a kid. Did 30 miler one day on the Shenandoah National Park. Keep posting buddy


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