Sweet Monkey on the Long Trail: Journey’s End to Route 15
Best Laid Plans…
We left Indiana armed with an Excel spreadsheet detailing mileage per day, shelters to visit, and resupply options along the way. Before arriving in Vermont, our plans had already changed.
One of the logistical difficulties when hiking a long trail instead of a loop trail is dealing with where to leave your vehicle and how to get back to it when you are done. Thankfully for me, Monk and Scar (two members of my amazing trail family from the AT) offered to not only let us park the car but also shuttle us up to Canada! Originally Scar and Monk were driving up with Michele and me together since Monk is very pregnant and an 11-hour car ride is very uncomfortable. But Scar is a busy New Yorker, so we decided to drive up, stay the night, and hike early on Sunday (a day later than we planned to start).
While driving up to Vermont I got a message from an awesome trail angel couple who slack packed my trail family over Stratton Mountain during my AT thru in 2017. Chaos and Chef were amazing in 2017 and said they were driving up to Jay Peak to see me when I crossed VT 242 just south of Jay. Unfortunately, Michele and I were going to end up starting a day late, which wouldn’t work with their schedule. Instead of staying the night and starting the next morning, we rented a cottage at Sheady Acres Resort for Monk to rest in and started south from Journey’s End at 1:11 p.m. on Saturday with 12.7 miles to hike.
Day One: Journey’s End to VT 242 (Slack Pack), 12.7 Miles
Setting off from the Journey’s End parking lot with a day pack full of water, snacks, and headlamps (because I always overprepare), Michele and I made quick work of the gradual uphill trail to the Canadian border. From the moment we stepped out of the car in the 92-degree humid Vermont day, our personal six to ten deer fly escort was always around. From my time in the 100-Mile Wilderness in Maine I was accustomed to the buzzing of mosquitoes and the occasional fly that buzzed around your head for a few miles, but these deer flies were something much more sinister. Michele and I both had our own escort that buzzed around us constantly, all day, and when they buzzing stopped it meant they were biting large chunks of flesh (like the black flies in Maine).
Despite the flies and the humidity, Michele and I breezed through the first seven miles. We stopped for a snack at Shooting Star Shelter and did a drive-by of the Laura Woodward Shelter. Several NOBO thru-hikers encouraged us on and wished us well on our ascent of Jay Peak, saying, “We hope you don’t get rained on up there!”
Ascending Jay after 16 hours in the car and 11 miles of trail wasn’t easy (even with a slack pack) but after we broke through the treeline and reached the summit, a pop-up thunderstorm came barreling up the mountain behind us. As lightning started crashing a few hundred yards away and thunder shook the mountain, we scrambled down below treeline into the relatively safer green tunnel once more. (We would later find out there was a shelter up on top of Jay for emergencies such as that.) We descended half way down Jay Peak before donning our headlamps (remember the Scouts’ motto…) and finished the day at VT 242, where Monk and Chaos were waiting with towels and a ride to our cabin.
Michele, Monk, Chaos, Chef and I headed into Montgomery Center, VT for a post trail feast and again the next morning for pre-trail breakfast before Monk deposited Michele and I at VT 242 to continue south with four days worth of food.
Day Two: VT 242 to Tillotson Shelter, 11.4 miles
Setting off at 1:06 p.m., we hugged Monk goodbye and began our ascent up Gilpin Mountain, over Domey’s Dome (the most mocked name yet). Photos and snacks on Chet’s Lookout and over Buchanan Mountain before arriving at Hazen’s Notch Camp for lunch at 5:30 p.m. Three NOBO hikers were set up ready for bed when we arrived so we quickly ate tortillas, tuna, cheese, and chili-cheese Fritos before wishing them well and heading out. With six miles to go to Tillotson’s and two hours before sunset we knew it was going to be another night hike into camp.
After a long and overgrown next six miles over Haystack Mountain, which included a 0.2 side trail up to the wooded summit at sunset, we descended into an overgrown valley and up a poorly marked dry stream bed before arriving at Tillotson Shelter for the night at 10:45 p.m. We set up the hammock for the night and ate protein bars and almond/cookie butter in lieu of cooking our first night on the trail.
At 10 a.m. we awoke as the last of the hikers staying in the shelter headed north past our little camp. We used the now-empty shelter to make coffee and discuss the 14.6-mile day we had ahead of us to Corliss Camp.
Day Three: Tillotson Shelter to Corliss Camp, 14.6 Miles
After coffee and a quick packing up of camp, Michele and I set off on our biggest planned day yet. From Tillotson Shelter we had a gradual hike up Mount Belvidere before a knee-crushing 2,000-foot descent to Eden Crossing. Michele and I are quickly discovering our limitations on speed in the downhill sections. Each step is a painful reminder that a few extra pounds and being in our late 30s are taking their toll.
After the slow and painful downhill, we reached Devil’s Gulch, which I likened to Mahoosuc Notch Light. We had fun with rock hopping, tunnels, and mossy boulders before a short climb up to Spruce Ledge Camp for lunch.
Following a hearty lunch at Spruce Camp and some nice views from a lookout by the shelter, we debated the plan, and after the thought of a third night hike, we decided to call it off early for the day and enjoy the nice evening and make the mileage up tomorrow.
Day Four: Spruce Ledge Camp to Round Top Shelter, 15.1 Miles
Day four was supposed to be an 11.8-mile hike into Johnson, where we planned to spend the evening at Mansfield Inn. Since we called day three early, we opted instead to hike longer today over easier terrain for a short three-mile day into town on day five.
After breakfast and coffee, we set out at 10:30 a.m. toward Butternut Mountain, which was a nice gradual climb. The summit was wooded and a light drizzle kept the temperature down in the 70s. We descended into Corliss Camp (where we originally planned to stay the night before) and had a nice lunch and called Nye’s Green Valley B&B to see if they had and space for two the next day. As we climbed up to Laraway Mountain, I confirmed lodging details and got our shower and bed set up for the next day. Laraway Mountain’s summit is mostly wooded, but just south there is an excellent lookout point that gives a glimpse of the mountains to come SOBO. We took some time to enjoy the view, eat a snack, catch up on hydration, and pose for photos before heading back down the mountain.
The next six miles went quickly. The trail was well maintained and the ascents and descents were gradual. Guthook’s description of Round Top Shelter said it had a great view at sunset, so we were determined to get there to see it. During the small uphill section between Codding Hollow Road and Plot Road, we saw our first black bear. I reached forward to stop Michele and motioned forward and pointed out the bear before she heard us and scurried off. A few moments later we heard (and luckily I saw) her cub about 20 feet from us scurry in the direction of its mother, so we stood still and made noise for about five minutes to allow plenty of time for them to move on. It was a wonderful experience and one of the many reasons I enjoy hiking.
We arrived at Round Top shelter at 8:30 p.m., just after the sun set but early enough to see the cotton candy Vermont sky lit up before us. We were the only ones in the shelter that night and while cooking dinner were greeted by several mice that were very interested in our dinner. Since the mice were so “friendly” we set up the hammock in the shelter and had an uneasy sleep (most likely because of the anticipation of a real bed and a shower the next day).
Day Five: Round Top Shelter to VT 15, 3.3 Miles
After an early 8 a.m. wake-up we made the morning coffee and found no evidence of mice helping themselves to our suspended food bag. After a quick packing up we headed off to a hot shower and nice bed at Nye’s Green Valley B&B. The trail from Round Top was nice and gradual, passing by peregrine falcon nesting areas and over a well-constructed suspension bridge. A small parking lot with some shade was our meeting point with David, who picked us up for some much needed rest and relaxation!
Up next: Nero day, Whitetop Mountain, and Mount Mansfield!
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