Days 14-21: Hiking the Long Trail Section of the Appalachian Trail in Southern Vermont
Hiking the 105 miles of the Vermont AT section that coincide with the Long Trail felt like coming home. We had previously hiked most of the LT back in 2020 and loved returning to the familiarity of the Green Mountains. Most importantly, we really hit our stride in Vermont. We loved the rooty and rocky trails, the forest floor covered in a green blanket, the sweet scent of ferns, and the conifer trees of the higher peaks. There were so many places where we felt transported back in time, as though we were in a prehistoric era. Through Vermont, we also figured out our camp routine and fell into a rhythm of dividing chores and supporting each other differently day to day whenever we noticed the other needing more help. This section was not easy, but we found a solid groove. We felt our bodies change, grow more accustomed to walking, and we noticed our mental fortitude strengthen. Of course there are challenges with hiking all day and living outside, but we are finding much more joy than discomfort.
- Our bodies know how to move through the mountains. They’ve been conditioned through hours upon hours of hiking over the years. With that, we are starting to hike bigger days when we feel it. We don’t totally have our trail legs yet, but we can feel them coming on.
- There is so much slowing down when thru-hiking. It feels much less important to “get somewhere” when you know you have all the time you want to get there. So we do not rush in the morning. We do not set alarms, nor do we rush out of camp. Almost always the last to leave, we make tea, coffee, stretch, and enjoy moments of solitude together. When hiking, we move at a very consistent pace regardless of heat, rain, bugs, or tough terrain. We take long breaks at pretty spots and are really savoring our time on trail.
- There are some huge benefits to thru-hiking with your partner. It’s so nice to hike this trail with a loved one to care for and be cared for by. We’re really trading off taking care of each other when needed. We know each other so well and do those little things to show care. That’s so important out here. Sure, we’re each self-sufficient as hikers, but that love and support is invaluable on tough days. We’ve always got each other and we always know that – no matter how alone we get out here.
- There are high highs and low lows, all of which can occur within minutes or hours. The climb up to a peak can feel never ending and exhausting, but as soon as you get there and feel the cool breeze and accomplishment, you can feel on top of the world! Hiking helps us notice the impermanence of everything.
Day 14, 7/1/22: Seth Warner Shelter to Melville Nauheim Shelter
13.1 mi, 3000 ft of elevation gain
Our first day back on the AT section that coincides with the LT could not have been nicer. The weather forecast predicted high heat, up to the mid-90s in town, but because we expected that, we were pleasantly surprised when it was only in the mid-80s with a nice breeze through most of the day. Also, for the first time in days, we were not the last ones out of camp! After chatting with Slice (flip flopper we met almost a week ago in Great Barrington) and Shepherd, we climbed a bit right out of the shelter area, crossed a couple of beaver ponds, and were mostly shaded by tree cover. Soon enough, we dropped elevation and stopped at a large stream to rest with our Swedish couple friends (they still need trail names!). It has been great rehiking sections we are so familiar with. After the stream, we knew it was just a few miles to a beautiful clearing at the top of Harmon Hill. Along the way, we passed a current trail work project with flagging to mark sites and piles of rocks and gravel. It’s clearly a ton of physical labor to keep the trail in good condition and we have all the gratitude for trail crews. Just before the summit, the ferns carpeted the entire forest floor. It was magical.
One of the best parts about thru-hiking is that you don’t have to really be anywhere at any time. Of course we have a plan and want to get to a shelter to sleep, but other than that? You can take as long as you want. So when we got to Harmon Hill and found a great spot to lay out our sleeping quilts to dry in the sun (everything stays damp no matter what you do in the Northeast), we ended up lounging there for two hours.
Finally, when the sun got too hot, we dragged ourselves away from our spot of rest and descended the extremely rocky and steep 1000 feet of elevation to get to the road, where a trail angel with cold drinks greeted us. After chugging down a Gatorade and taking a sweet soda and extra Gatorade to go, we started climbing the 1000 feet of elevation gain on the other side of the gap. We did this hike two years ago and remembered how grueling the climb was. It was not easy, but two years of preparing our bodies made this climb no more difficult than others. After reaching split rock, we knew that the rest of the ascent was more mild and we made it to the shelter by 5pm. Finding a nice secluded spot way behind the shelter, we stretched, put up our tent, then went to join the Swedish couple at the picnic table for dinner.
Day 15, 7/2/22: Melville Nauheim Shelter to Story Spring Shelter
17.4 mi, ft of elevation gain
Rain pounded the top of our tent when we opened our eyes around 7am. We checked the weather report and it looked like the rain would taper off around 10am. With just about 13 miles to hike today, we knew we could take our time and wait out the rain. Time waiting went by quickly as we chatted with a woman hiking the LT and Collector, an AT section hiker. Collector was full of thru-hiking knowledge after completing the PCT as a thru last year and almost all of the AT in sections.
At about 10:30am, the rain subsided. We got on a soggy trail, but didn’t need rain jackets. The air was thick and with every step we clawed through the damp fog. It was also incredibly peaceful, with the mist beginning to rise and burn up from the emerging sun. We felt really good moving today. The climb up Glastenbury was not easy, but felt so much easier than the last time we hiked it on the LT in 2020. We are such stronger hikers now, both physically and mentally. It’s really incredible seeing our transformation. Rewarded with the fresh spring at Goddard Shelter, we were nourished for the last 0.3 mile steep climb to Glastenbury Tower. At the summit, we ate lunch, fended off the black flies, and climbed to the top of the tower. It was super windy up there!
After chatting with Tracker and Pilgrim (the Swedish couple have trail names now), we headed down to Kid Gore Shelter. Initially, we planned to stay there, but feeling good in our bodies, we pressed on to Story Spring Shelter, adding about 4 more miles and 1000 feet of elevation gain for a 17.4 mile day. Surprised at how good we felt, we were happy to do more miles. Arriving around 7pm, almost everyone was already asleep in the shelter. Quietly, we made dinner and watched flecks of bright red hit the trees as the sun went down.
Southern VT initially nurtured our desire to thru-hike the AT and now it’s where we became thru-hikers, where we felt like we could do this, and where our physical and mental transformations made their first real evolution.
Day 16, 7/3/22: Story Spring Shelter to Prospect Rock
16.3 mi, 2600 ft of elevation gain
A little earlier to rise, we got out of camp around 8am. Because we decided to add more mileage and elevation to our hike yesterday, the first few miles of today were not too challenging. Another morning of undulating terrain under tree cover. Unfortunately, Kathy took a step off a root or a rock and strained her ankle. It swelled up a bit, but it was not catastrophic. She took some advil, elevated it when possible, and has continued to keep an eye on it.
We popped out onto a road and started the approximately 3-4 mile climb up Stratton Mountain. The first couple of miles were surprisingly gentle. Then, we began to climb. The trees changed from deciduous to conifers, and we always love that feeling. It got a little rockier and more crowded. We filled our water at a nice spring and continued to the summit where we were shocked to see a huge line of people waiting to climb the fire tower! We forgot it was the weekend and it was the day before a holiday. We also didn’t realize a gondola takes people to the summit just to go to the fire tower. Deciding to forgo waiting in the fire tower line (we had already climbed it a couple of years ago), we had a snack and left quickly.
The descent of Stratton Mountain is one of our favorites, and it ends at the gorgeous Stratton Pond! A GMC caretaker, Bookbag, greeted us and even gave us a chocolate bar for trail magic. After a refreshing dip, we chatted with other thru-hikers, Pi and Smokey and the Bandit, then moved on. Feeling good, we decided to hike a longer 16 mile day to try and camp at Prospect Rock, which we knew has a great view and is also a noted popular party spot for locals. Luckily, there was no one there so we set up camp just in the trees next to the view. It was absolutely perfect and made for a real highlight of the AT so far. We lounged at the overlook in the evening sun, played cribbage in the tent while waiting for sunset, and then took in the sunset together. We watched Fourth of July fireworks down in the valley from the rocky viewpoint. It was one of the best evenings of our trip so far.
Day 17, 7/4/22: Prospect Rock to Rest Motel in Manchester Center for resupply
4.8 mi, 750 ft of elevation gain
At 5:45am, we had a rude awakening when some trail runners who stopped at Prospect Rock decided to stay and chat, very loudly. As a result, we got an early start on our short and relatively easy 5 miles to Route 11. Less than a mile in, we saw our first bear on trail. A young black bear in a tree off trail heard us and immediately jumped down and ran down the slope.
We got a hitch within 5 minutes and were dropped off by a laundromat and Price Chopper in town. The laundromat was super hiker friendly and we were grateful to wash our clothes while we resupplied food. Then, we stopped at the Mountain Goat, a great outfitter in Manchester Center for Kathy to get a new sleeping pad (she gave in and decided to get a blow up Thermarest NeoAir XLite for comfort). After, we gorged ourselves on pizza, salad, and beer and got a ride from the owner of Rest Motel from the center of town to the motel. The best part? The ride was in an old school Volkswagen bus. Oh, and we also went to Dutton Farmstand to grab fresh produce, beer, and maple ice cream – Super Vermont day!
For the rest of the day, we caught up with friends and family, relaxed in our hot tub (yes, we sprang for the upgraded room), and watched tv. A great nero day indeed.
Day 18, 7/5/22: Rest Motel in Manchester Center to Lost Pond Shelter
15.4 mi, 3400 ft elevation gain
Sleeping in a comfy bed was nice! We both conked our hard, but still woke up around 7am. We took a lazy start to the day before getting on trail for rain, rain, and more rain. This was our first day of hiking through fairly consistent and really heavy rain. For the most part, it was fine! Kevin wore his little rain pogies to protect his hands. We both wore our rain jackets, but got totally soaked from head to toe regardless.
The rain was actually a pretty good motivator to move quickly. We climbed Bromley mountain first. Most of it was under tree cover, but the last 0.3 mile stretch was up the exposed ski slopes. The wildflowers and misty mountain views were gorgeous, but we didn’t stay at the summit long. The rain picked up on our way down to Mad Tom Notch. Soaked, we stood under the little awning of the welcome sign at the parking lot for a snack then started up the climb to Styles Peak and Peru Peak. It was cold, but movement kept us warm.
At the ridgeline, the forest was magical. The plants were even more vibrant and lush after the rain. We took refuge from the storm and had lunch at Peru Peak Shelter where we chatted with Stealth and Nona, then continued on. Most of the next four miles were relatively flat, with the exception of one steep rocky ascent to Baker Peak, where Kathy unfortunately slipped and bruised her ankle pretty badly. The last 2 miles in the rain to Lost Pond Shelter were pretty miserable. Kevin set up camp in the rain while Kathy nursed her ankle. We ate dinner under tree cover and changed our clothes, but were still pretty wet falling asleep. Somehow, water pooled at the bottom of Kathy’s bag and half of her sleeping bag was soaked. Quel nightmare. The only way to dry it is through body heat. Well, today was a rough one.
Day 19, 7/6/22: Lost Pond Shelter to Minerva Hinchey Shelter
14.9 mi, 2800 ft elevation gain
Wet and damp everything! It downpoured all night. Both of our sleeping bag foot boxes were moist from the splashes of rain that got into our tent. Our shoes were still sopping wet. The only good news is that at least Kathy’s ankle was not worse. It was even maybe a little bit better. She also had some dry socks to put on, which felt like a luxury. It was extremely foggy when we made our coffee and tea. We spent the morning in a thick mist that wrapped around us and clung to everything. Feeling a bit miserable, a lovely and chipper French Canadian couple hiking the Long Trail said good morning and asked us about the AT, which really lifted our spirits for the first few miles of walking.
With everything soaked stuffed into our packs, we headed off into a wet green tunnel for the day. A few flecks of sun sporadically peeked out, but it was mostly cloudy through the morning. Flowing water over mossy stones made for a gorgeous section of trail on the way up to Little Rock Pond. Also, the rain stopped! We took a nice break at the pond, which would be a beautiful place to camp on a nice day. Then, we started our first climb of the day that took us into an enchanted spruce forest with a few rock gardens along the trail. This was one of our favorite sections of Vermont so far. After a lunch break, a big group of middle school aged boys paused at the rock garden. After their chaperone asked us if we were doing the LT or AT and we responded, the boys were amazed and Kathy got a bro handshake from one of them. We were really legit now! We descended to the road crossing and knew we had one more big climb to end the day. Honestly, by this climb we were pretty exhausted, mentally and physically. Kevin’s feet were starting to feel pretty gross from the constant wet in his shoes and he just wanted to get to camp to get everything dry. We both put an earbud in to listen to books (Kevin was listening to North and Kathy was listening to Homegoing) and felt relieved that the climb followed long non-technical switchbacks. We zoned out for the ascent and descent and made it to Minerva Hinchey Shelter before 5pm. Once there, we exploded our gear everywhere, hoping our sleeping bags, shoes, and tent would dry just a bit in the late afternoon sun.
Day 20, 7/7/22: Minerva Hinchey Shelter to Cooper Lodge
14.1 mi, 4400 ft elevation gain
Today we hiked the first 4,000 footer of this trek and it felt like it! We hiked more elevation over the 14 miles than any day yet. We left camp a little before 9am and enjoyed some pleasant walking before getting to a small view. Then, we dropped down into Clarendon Gorge with its pretty little suspension bridge before a massive climb up the other side. There were some pretty remarkable forest sections along the ridgeline, though, once we got up there. Kathy was feeling a bit sluggish, but we still moved at our typical 2 mile an hour pace.
The 4 mile and 2000 ft elevation gain ascent to Killington came at the end of the day. There were some muddy switchbacks to begin, then steady climbing before we skirted the mountain, navigating slanted rocky and rooty trails. After doing most of the elevation, the trail flattened out for the last 1.5 miles or so. We could see Killington Peak in the distance, decorated with a metal tower on the top. This last stretch was magical. The ground was coated in Canadian bunchberries and ferns. We just felt so good being among the conifers again. We really love New England 4,000 footers!
When we got to Cooper Lodge, the area was already packed with a large youth group and thru-hikers. Grateful to find a little spot for our tent, we then took our food up the extremely steep 0.2 mile spur trail to Killington Peak where we made dinner and shared the most incredible sunset with fellow hikers. This was an absolute highlight of the trail so far! It felt like a wonderful reward after the torrential rains days ago. We took in the waves of mountains stretching out in front of us, their misty valleys catching the last rays of the day. We watched as the sun touched the distant ridges and dipped behind them, leaving behind streaks of orange, red, and pink on the remaining clouds across the sky. It’s moments like this that make this experience so incredibly special.
Day 21, 7/8/22: Cooper Lodge Killington to Inn at Long Trail
Both of us got a fitful rest. Perhaps it was because we were so wired from staying up to see the sunset, perhaps it was because our hiker hunger is starting to kick in (we both got some hunger pangs in the middle of the night), or perhaps we were just too excited to get to our cousin’s wedding! We started stirring early around 6am. When we finally emerged from our tent, we saw intense rays of sun bursting through the spaces between the trees. What a way to wake up.
The first couple of miles were just pine needle lined paths through the forest and very peaceful. The descent to route 4 was also pleasant, with long dirt path switchbacks between tall nettles. The descent was one of those classic AT descents – one that involves plenty of ascending also. We’ve started to expect climbs even when we just want flat or downhill.
After the road, we climbed for about a mile in a section that was completely carpeted with green. It looked prehistoric and untouched. When we got to Maine Junction, we continued on the AT for about a mile and then turned right onto the Shelburne Trail (old AT) to get to the Inn at Long Trail, an incredibly hiker friendly hotel with a pub, laundry facilities, and welcoming lounge. Just like that, we were done with the first 105 miles of Vermont and the LT section of the AT!