Mixed Up in Breadloaf: LT Legacy – Division VII
Long Trail Legacy, Division VII
This series chronicles a comparison of hiking experiences on the Long Trail from 1937 and 2023.
Notes from 1937, Long Trail Division VII
Wednesday, June 23 – 19 miles
Boy are the porkies thick here. We killed a lot of them during the night. We hit the pass after a mile walk. I got a ride down to and one back from Forest Dale. What a town. Couldn’t buy a pair of overalls. A bunch of C.C.C. fellows are working on the trail clearing it. We passed them and climbed Mt. Horrid. Stopped on top and talked with a young fellow taking readings for weather reports. Shot a porkie at Suckerbrook Lodge. We lost the trail here and had to plow through 4 miles of underbrush until we hit Middlebury Gap. We got mixed up in Breadloaf. We slept in a famer’s hay field all night.
Thursday, June 24 – 15.3 miles
Saw several partridges and young ones. The mosquitos and blackflies have practically eaten us alive. Went to bed about 8 but between bugs & porkies we spent a terrible night. Shot a couple porkies. Bulb in flashlight burned out. My boots are nearly worn out.
Wednesday July 5, 2023 – 9 miles
Last night I shared the shelter with Nutmeg and Snickers. All of us are going NOBO, headed for Canada. We tried to clarify the actual length of the whole trail, knowing that all three of us would hit the LT halfway point tomorrow somewhere before Boyce Shelter. In the Long Trail Guide, the total length is listed as 272 miles, in the FarOut digital app it’s 270.7, the Long Trail End-to-Ender’s Guide says it’s 272.6, Wikipedia lists 273, and AllTrails says it’s 245.6. We decided to go with 273, just to be sure. We agreed that if we were hiking close to each other, we’d try to get a group photo together near the halfway point of 136.5. Unlike the more heavily travelled AT, there usually aren’t markers for a milestone like this on the LT. Boyce Shelter would have to do.
Nutmeg set out first in the morning since she had a big mileage day planned, and I followed just a few minutes after her. Snickers soon caught and passed me. At the pace he was going, I doubted that he’d wait at the halfway point. He was cruising. But I kept a good pace just in case we could all meet for a photo. I was a little banged up (knee and shoulder) but overall felt good and my spirit was back. The weather was better, and I hoped things might dry out a little.
The Vermud continued to be relentless, and I found myself cracking up at the thought of the mud-run obstacle course races that are popular these days. This course I’m navigating right now would probably humble the most avid mud-run enthusiast. It was designed by mother nature with help from some sadists from the Green Mountain Club over a century ago! And after slogging through it, you have to get up the next day and run another one. And another one… with a pack on your back… for 273 miles! But at least now I’m starting to laugh at the challenges on this trail, rather than swear at them.
Just as I was editing this post for the Trek, an ad for a local mud-run popped up in my social feed. Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up! I probably typed the word “mud” too many times while writing this post, and “the algorithm” thought I wanted to sign up for one of these contrived races. The ad made it sound dramatic and included things like: “With the most obstacles per miles on the planet… jump into the world’s largest mudpit…” Upon hearing these dramatic claims, the Long Trail raises its hand and says, “Uh, I beg to differ…”
The sun poked out as I crested the ridge. Even though I was moving well, I soon realized I wouldn’t catch Nutmeg and Snickers for a group photo. The trail wound its way through an open conifer forest that looked great in the morning light. I stopped several times to take photos of the trees and the mossy forest floor.
Then came a stop for a much-needed swim at Pleiad Lake. It was a short walk down a blue blaze trail that was easy to miss. It felt great! So great that I didn’t feel bad at all about the missed photo opportunity at the halfway point. I was hiking my own hike – and really enjoying it. When I finally hit the midpoint of the LT, I took a screengrab of my GPS and a photo of the halfway landmark: a swampy mud pit of course!
It turned out to be an epic day that was capped off by my arrival at Skyline Lodge. It’s an incredible spot overlooking a beautiful pond! As I sat on the porch filtering water and organizing my dinner, the Devils began to filter into camp, in groups of two and three. Each time the new arrivals showed up, they’d drop their packs and marvel at the incredible view. There were more than a few OMGs and a couple of happy expletives as well!
After several days together on the trail, they seemed pretty comfortable with me and decided to join me in the lodge, since nearby tenting options weren’t great.
Thursday July 6, 2023 – 14.4 miles
The early morning light peeked through the lodge windows and woke me just in time to catch the sunrise over the pond. It was a spectacular moment as the frogs serenaded us – a good omen for the day!
But it was going to be a long day to Battell Shelter – over 14 miles ahead. Knowing that I needed to resupply at Appalachian Gap on Friday, I couldn’t overnight at Cooley Glen Shelter where my father had stayed. With only one day’s worth of food left, I needed to cover some miles today to set me up for the resupply tomorrow. I felt ready. The Devils were aiming for Battell too, so I’d likely have company on the trail again.
Several of them passed me when I was filtering water at a small spring a couple miles into the hike. Normally I’d just hang behind them for a bit when I’d catch back up. But this time, I asked to pass. The terrain was much more to my liking. Footing was firm and dry, the uphill grade was pitched just right, and I was cruising. When they commented on my pace as I passed, I said, “This is my jam” and grinned! Maybe I was regaining my trail legs.
When we ended up in the same spot for lunch, they included me in another of their group traditions – a “Summit Surprise.” It was an unexpected honor to be included, and the peanut butter cup tasted great!
Late in the afternoon they passed me again when I stopped a couple of times to make calls to arrange a shuttle and hotel in Waitsfield for my resupply. I couldn’t manage to hike and talk on the phone at the same time because I’d sometimes lose the cell signal and I needed to concentrate on where I was stepping. It took several calls and texts to get things booked and confirmed, because of a marathon in town that weekend. So, I rolled into camp just after 7:30 p.m. Tired but feeling great, with a good plan for tomorrow.
Once I got settled in the shelter and had dinner, I walked back to the tenting area to say goodbye to the Trail Devils. I would be up and out early in the morning in my push for Appalachian Gap and wouldn’t see them again. They were planning to spend one more night on the trail before finishing at App Gap the following day.
Then and Now
This was a difficult section for my father and his friend Loren Jones: mosquitos, blackflies, porkies, equipment malfunctions, and they got lost. It sounds like the porkies were a nuisance at the shelters almost every night, but they got a reprieve from them when they were forced to sleep in a hayfield after getting lost in Breadloaf. Nearby farms were more common in those days. In the Foreword to So Clear, So Cool, So Grand, Robert Northrop wrote, “…in the 1930s, Vermont was a more open and agrarian place than the heavily forested state of today.” Many farms offered meals and guest rooms to LT hikers, much like today’s hiker hostels.
At this point I was still slightly ahead of his pace, mostly because of his Breadloaf mixup. Based on what I can figure out from the maps, their 19-mile day covered about 8.1 miles of the actual LT. I believe they slept near Burnt Hill based on their mileage to Cooley Glen the following day. At least that’s where they probably got back on the trail on Thursday. I almost got mixed up in Breadloaf myself. I was cruising along the ridge and was about to step over some branches across the trail when I noticed they were arranged in a crude X. Looking up, I saw a blue blaze far down the trail. The Long Trail is blazed white. And there were no white blazes to be found nearby or double blazes to indicate that the sharp turn to the east was the actual LT. It turns out the X on the ground was placed by some of the Devils who had passed me when I was taking a swim at Pleiad Lake. They had briefly gone the wrong way down this blue blaze trail themselves and didn’t want the rest of their crew making the same mistake. Checking the map afterwards it showed that the blue blaze trail ended in a short distance at an overlook on Breadloaf. Getting lost in this section would have been a little too much of a coincidence with my father’s story, but at least I can say I was momentarily mixed up in Breadloaf.
When I crossed the road at Brandon Rochester Pass earlier, I didn’t feel the need to head into Forest Dale for any clothing or supplies like he did. Although another pair of dry socks and maybe a pair of briefs would be useful at the moment to mitigate the chafing that was plaguing me. Based on his description of the town, I might not have any luck finding either.
My father described multiple gear malfunctions (flashlight and boots). My only malfunction at this point was with the power bank I use for charging my phone and headlamp. It was acting wonky and wouldn’t always charge my phone when connected. And my water filter was running a little slow, but a back flush will fix that. The syringe for flushing it is in the resupply box that I’ll pick up next week. All-in-all, my gear was holding up pretty well.
In 1937, my father encountered a C.C.C. (Civilian Conservation Corps) crew doing trail maintenance, and another young man taking weather readings. Similarly, I ran into some GMC volunteers, each carrying a piece of lumber for the construction of the new Sunrise Shelter. Later, a Forest Service employee arrived at Cooley Glen Shelter where I was having lunch. He was there to do a little trail maintenance and take photos and measurements for possible repairs to the shelter. He mentioned that the Forest Service and GMC were addressing several deferred maintenance projects now that there was more federal funding from the Great American Outdoors Act. We chatted about shelter history, the Long Trail’s heritage, and porcupines. Maintenance of the LT and side trails is a massive job, and both the GMC and USFS do great work here. Wished I could’ve chatted longer but needed to keep moving.
Once again, there were no porkies at the shelters that I stayed at. But I was reminded why I sleep better in a tent. The noise from some inflatable sleeping pads is loud and annoying, especially in shelters with bunk platforms. That and snoring hikers disturbed my sleep several nights. But I didn’t have to get up and do battle with them!
Long Trail, Class of 22/23
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