One Mountain After Another: LT Legacy – Division VIII
Long Trail Legacy, Division VIII
This series chronicles a comparison of hiking experiences on the Long Trail from 1937 and 2023.
Notes from 1937, Long Trail Division VIII
Friday, June 25 – 14.6 miles
Got up at 4:30, left camp at 6. Reached the road, 4.8 miles at 8:10. Climbed one mountain after another today. Spent two hours on top of Mt Abraham for dinner and to rest our feet. If my boots last the rest of the trip, I’ll be lucky. Got first glimpse of Lake Champlain from Mt. Grant just after we left camp. On Mt. Abraham we could see the length of the state. The highest mountain we crossed was Mt. Ellen, 4136’. We had a four-mile hike over the mountains without water. The little bit that was left from dinner was luke warm. My feet are terribly sore. We passed a burned camp and an abandoned one. Saw the fire tower on Bear Mountain. The camp here is the best we have struck so far, near the top of the Stark Mountains. The packs weigh about 20 lbs each, 7 of which is bacon. I am so dirty and bug bitten that you probably won’t recognize me. I’m going to make Camel’s Hump tomorrow or die in the attempt. So far we just took our time and though the average mileage per hour is 1½, we have averaged nearly 2 miles per hour for the entire trip. This includes all our stopping time. Our stops are less numerous now. I was so sore and lame tonite that all I had for supper was a cup of cocoa.
Friday July 7, 2023 – 10 miles
My father nailed it in his diary, it really was one mountain after another in this Division. Today would be a race to get to App Gap by 2:30 to meet my prearranged shuttle to town for a needed resupply. And there were afternoon thunderstorms in the forecast. So I was up early, and on the trail just after 6:00, skipping coffee and breakfast. I planned to just snack while walking to save time.
My pack wasn’t too heavy since I had almost no food or fuel left. But this stretch of trail across the mountains is notoriously dry, so I made sure to “camel up” before leaving and was carrying more than two liters of water. When I summitted Mt. Abraham in the early morning light, the view was amazing and well worth the effort. And the climb really was fun – steep, rocky and straight up requiring the usual rock scrambling and crab walking! Mt Abraham is the fifth highest peak in Vermont and one of the 4K peaks on the Long Trail at 4010′. It’s also home to one of the three fragile alpine plant zones on the Long Trail.
After Mt. Abraham, I soon topped out on Lincoln Peak, Castlerock, and Mt Ellen at Sugarbush Ski Area. At 4083′ Mt Ellen is tied with Camel’s Hump as Vermont’s third highest peak. The view from Mt Ellen is great, but otherwise it doesn’t have the high alpine feel of other 4K peaks like Mt. Abraham. Then it was on to Mad River Glen Ski Area while keeping an eye on the unsettled sky. I’ve skied all these areas in the past and recognized each view from the top of the lifts, except that this time the mountains were green.
I stopped to snack at Stark’s Nest which is the summit hut for Mad River Glen Ski Area. Mad River Glen keeps it open in the summer as a bad weather shelter for hikers which is a cool thing. The rain barrel there was less than half full, but I was able to filter some water and top off my bottles for the descent to the gap. Even though I had carried over two liters, extra water from the barrel was helpful. The sky was starting to look a bit threatening, so I quickly moved on, descending into the forest where it wasn’t as exposed.
After Mad River Glen, the descent to Appalachian Gap and Rt 17 was downright crazy! There were ladders, caves, and jumbles of boulders everywhere, often requiring the skills of a gymnast or acrobat. At least it seemed that way to me.
The rain held off and I walked out of the woods at the gap at exactly 2:30. I greeted my driver John with a smirk, declaring that I believed in being punctual! He was used to hikers being late and seemed impressed. John was super helpful in getting me to my resupply locations. He recommended some great takeout food, and his favorite local brew. Once settled into my motel room, it was a much-needed shower followed by an early dinner of takeout tacos, a beer, a few phone calls to family & friends, and then early to bed (hiker midnight is 9:00 pm).
Saturday July 8, 2023 2.6 miles
John picked me up at the motel and drove me back to Appalachian Gap around 11:00 am. The sun was out in full force and for the first time on this hike I took out my sunglasses and applied a little sunscreen. That usually guarantees it will rain, but it held off all day.
Wearing dry clothes, I set off feeling clean and rested for the first time in over a week. I was riding a positive wave of well wishes and words of encouragement from friends and family that I spoke with last night before falling asleep. Even some tourists taking photos at App Gap stopped to wish me luck as I changed out of my Crocs and into my wet and muddy hiking shoes. But even that didn’t dampen my spirit.
The Long Trail tried to wipe that smile off my face by immediately throwing a few obstacles my way. Nice try, LT. I laughed and scampered uphill. Well, “scamper” might be a bit of a stretch. But I was moving well for an old man carrying a pack laden with a full five days of supply. I could feel that I had tweaked both shoulders and elbows yesterday grabbing roots and rocks on the descent into the gap, but otherwise felt great.
As expected, it was a steep rocky ascent out of the Gap. They don’t believe in switchbacks here on the Long Trail and that’s okay with me. I don’t mind climbing, it’s usually the downhills that give me trouble. The climb went over Baby Stark and then Molly Stark Mountain before dropping a bit to a rocky overlook called Molly Stark’s Balcony. The view to the Northeast was incredible. It was the kind of place that demanded a stop for photos, a drink, and some snacks. The rock was a great place to sit, and it was quite a while before I picked up the pack to move on.
The clouds appeared unsettled in the distance. The long-range forecast wasn’t promising, but as I’m fond of saying, “It’s only a forecast, not a guarantee”. For now though, it was perfect hiking weather. I didn’t want to overthink it, but the upcoming climb and crossing of Camel’s Hump is steep, above tree line, and exposed. Not something to attempt in bad weather. The distance from Montclair Glen Lodge to Bamforth Ridge was just over five miles – all of it notoriously difficult terrain.
There was nowhere to camp in between those locations, so once you start the climb, you’re pretty much committed. In the back of my mind, I was calculating the distance and time it would take to do that. My father’s uncharacteristically dramatic statement the day before his climb of Camel’s Hump added to my concern. Oh well, no guarantees on the weather and I can adapt tomorrow if necessary.
My plan for today was to stop at Birch Glen Shelter and spend some time there to look over the maps and read my father’s description of his journey again. If my goal was to try to match up with the places he camped, his description of this stretch made that difficult to figure out. The mileage didn’t exactly match his description. He didn’t name the shelter in his journal entry for this day, just stating that it was a nice camp near the top of the Stark Mountains.
Well, Birch Glen sure fit that verbal description. It’s also possible he might have stayed at Theron Dean Shelter which I passed yesterday on my hurried descent into App Gap. His mileage suggested that, but Birch Glen just felt right. I figured after spending some time here, I’d move on to Cowles Cove Shelter 2.9 miles closer to Camel’s Hump. The terrain between Birch Glen and Cowles Coves should make it a quick walk.
It was early afternoon, certainly enough time to make it to Cowles Cove in time to get there and have dinner without rushing. That would put me in striking distance to cross to Bamforth Ridge Shelter on the north side of Camel’s Hump tomorrow. But I took out my journal, started writing, and was able to fill in the gaps in some of my journal entries. To this point my writing had been a little sloppy, disjointed, and incomplete, because most nights I had been arriving late and exhausted to camp.
It had been a challenge to write by headlamp without falling asleep after settling in my sleeping bag. Even in the motel last night, I fell asleep while trying to write. It felt good to sit down at a rustic table in this vintage shelter and organize my thoughts. I had the place to myself and in fact, hadn’t seen another hiker since early yesterday. The solitude was a welcome change. I was alone with my thoughts and journaled my ass off for about an hour.
After writing for a bit and reviewing maps and my father’s diary at the shelter, it was time for a decision – hike on or stay. Assuming that this was likely where my father camped in the Stark Mountains, I decided to stay. It seemed like I was getting better at sensing when to ignore my inner drive to push for more miles and embrace the places that just felt right. I sensed a strong connection with my father here. I found myself thinking less about my hike and more about his.
Taking a page from the Trail Devil’s customs, I had stashed a summit surprise in the pocket of my pack. It was a local hazy IPA recommended by my shuttle driver John. I placed it in the cool spring next to the shelter to chill for a while and settle down after surviving some jumps, slips, and butt slides on the hike in. In what felt like a fitting moment, I cracked the beer after dinner to toast the memory of my father and celebrate our respective journeys.
Then and Now
My father hiked much of this Division in a single day which makes me question whether he stayed at Birch Glen or not. That would have been a very long day. It truly was one mountain after another as he described, but much has changed in these mountains since his hike. The ski areas weren’t here yet in 1937. Middlebury Snow Bowl was the first ski area developed in this part of the Green Mountains. They began cutting trails in the summer of 1937, just after his hike. Sugarbush and Mad River Glen wouldn’t open until decades later. Interestingly, Appalachian Gap is listed in the 1937 Guide Book as “An abandoned highway, badly overgrown.” That’s far different from the busy mountain road of today.
But scarcity of reliable water sources on the mountain tops remains unchanged. He described having very little water through the afternoon for a distance of over four miles. I was fortunate to get some water from the rain barrel at Stark’s Nest and then filled my bottles again when I stopped in Waitsfield. Neither of these sources were an option for him.
We both experienced the incredible view from Mt Abraham, seeing much of the state of Vermont. That hasn’t changed although my view was slightly compromised by haze from the distant Canadian wildfires.
He was pretty beat up in this section saying he was “sore and lame”, while I felt a bit better. Maybe I was starting to get my trail legs. Or it could’ve just been the reprieve from the mud that plagued me the first few days of this hike. But I was definitely feeling stronger. Their packs were down to about 20 pounds and their hiking speed clearly improved. I just resupplied in Waitsfield, so I was back close to 30 pounds. Maybe 31 pounds since I stashed a beer in my pack as a “summit surprise.”
I’ve fallen a day behind his pace at this point, some of it from my visit to Waitsfield for supplies. But that wasn’t the only reason. What impressed me the most in his description was his summary of their hiking speed. I had read it many times before, but it was just now that I understood it. He meant the stated average in the guidebook was 1.5 miles per hour, but that he and Loren were faster at two miles per hour, including stops. Having just covered the same terrain, I can say his pace was pretty Badass! Ah, to be eighteen and fearless. The best I could muster through some of this terrain was one mile per hour.
He complained about bugs, which isn’t surprising since he hiked in peak black fly season. But they had been almost non-existent for me. I had pretreated my clothes and shoes with permethrin, so that likely helped. I also wasn’t bothered sleeping in the open shelters at night. If the bugs had been bad, I could have slept in my tent to escape them. But I did run into an ambush by mosquitos in a spot where a blowdown across the trail blocked my way. It was too high to climb over, and too low to duck under with a pack. I took my pack off and crawled under. When I stood up to put my pack back on, there was a cloud of mosquitos waiting for me on the other side. They followed me for about a half hour.
The one thing in his account that really stood out however, was this dramatic statement: “I’m going to make Camel’s Hump tomorrow or die in the attempt.” To this point his diary had been rather matter of fact in its narrative. He was clearly feeling worn out and a bit worried about Camel’s Hump. Well, that challenging peak is on my agenda for tomorrow. Something tells me I’ll have something to say about it then.
Long Trail, Class of 22/23
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