Saturday, November 28, 2009

1987 Appalachian Trail Journey--Vermont

For 98 miles in Vermont, the Appalachian Trail follows the footsteps of the Long Trail, the oldest hiking long distance hiking trail in American. Hikers jokingly refer to the Long Trail as the MRR (mud, rocks and roots), but I think it needs to be called the BMRR (briars, mud, rocks and roots). At Sherburne Pass (see photo to the left), the trail turns east, leaving the Green Mountains and heading toward New Hampshire and the White Mountains. Although I complained about the briars, mud, rocks and roots, the trail is actually wonderful and the State of Vermont beautiful. There are many shelters along the trail, making the hiking even easier and allowing for hikers to put in high mileage days. This is my account of my 1987 hike.

The photo below was taken early one the morning (I think on a ridge above Manchester Center)

I began my first full day in Vermont on July 19. Thanks to Scott, Denver Dash’s boyfriend, who’d driven out from Colorado to spend time with her, I along with a number of other hikers had taken the opportunity to slack-pack (hiking without a backpack) much of the trail in Northern Massachusetts along with the first few miles of trail in Vermont. A group of us had spent two nights at the hostel in Cheshire, capping off long days of hiking with nights of food and drink. On this morning, we all piled in the back of Scott’s truck and he drove us to a county road which we hike into the trail. It felt good to once again have a backpack. After hiking for so long with it (only two days), I find myself feeling a little naked when it’s not attached. I also found myself a little lazy. Raspberries are ripe and throughout the day, I stop and eat a few. From Harmon Hill, there is a great view of Bennington, Vermont with its tall monument commemorating the Revolutionary War battle which occurred there. Along the trail, I meet Edna Williams of Melrose, Florida. I’ve been reading about her in trail registers and am surprised to find that she’s 70 years old. I only cover a little over 12 ½ miles, stopping early at Melville Nauheim Shelter where I spend the afternoon and evening reading the Gospel of Mark and Steinbeck’s Travel’s with Charlie. I find myself pondering what Steinbeck meant when he writes that “maps are not reality, but they can become tyrants.” The shelter is crowded. Ben is here along with a man and his three son along with three of his son’s friends and a couple (she’s from Nashville and he’s from Ohio).

A beaver swimming with a branch in it's mouth.

With so many people in the shelter, things are noisy and I’m up early, leaving at 6:15 AM. I have my breakfast later, on the trail. By 10:15, I’ve clicked off nine miles and stop at the fire tower on Glastenbury Mountain. The mountain reminds me of a Christmas tree lot, with so many firs and spruce that the air has a fresh scent to it. A cloud are moving in and, as often seems to be the case when there is suppose to be a good viewpoint, I can see nothing. I hike another four miles to Caughnawga Shelter, where I stop for lunch. It begins to rain. I spend the afternoon putting in the miles in the rain, arriving at Bigelow Shelter on Stratton Pond at 7 PM. I’ve hiked a little over 23 miles, much of the last half in a downpour. Stu, who goes by the name of Stone Fish, is the caretaker at Stratton Pond. He welcomes me into camp and offers me a Pepsi, a welcomed gift. In the evening the clouds begin to break up and I go swimming in the pond with a beaver that’s not real happy with me being in his waters. The beaver is building a new hut just down from the shelter and he works the night shift, often waking me up. The mosquitoes are terrible here.
A porcupine crosses the trail.

Early the next morning I’m chased out of Stratton Pond by mosquitoes. It’s still cloudy at 7 A.M., but not so foggy. I make good time and have great views from Prospect Rock. I decide to make it an easy day and at Vermont 11, I hitch a ride into Manchester Center. There is a hostel at Zion Episcopal Church. Slim Jim and Daddy Longlegs are already there. In the afternoon I enjoy a long conversation with the rector, Father Jim. He’s from Virginia. When he hiked the Appalachian Trail in Maine, he was so taken with the beauty of the area that when he found a church in Rangeley Maine without a priest, he borrowed a typewriter at the town‘s drug store and sent a letter to the bishop. Three months later found himself in Maine and has been in New England ever since. More hikers come into the hostel throughout the afternoon, including Ben and Denver Dash (Jane) and a couple of south bounders. Most of us go out into a pub that evening, where I am introduced to a new beer, a “Samuel Adams.” It’s said to be an old beer from Boston, but when I read the label I learn that this bottle is actually brewed by Iron City Brewing Company in Pittsburgh. (Note: this was 20 years ago, when Sam Adams was just “reintroducing” itself.) I try another local beer, a Catamount, and then a bottle of “John Courage” from Britain. Before going back to the hostel, I call Debbie and we talk for a few minutes. I also try to call a few other friends, but no one is home.

I leave the hostel at 6 the next morning and after a few minutes, am given a ride back to the trail head. The skies looked clear in town, but back on the mountain, it’s cloudy. By 8 AM, I’ve climbed to the top of Bromley Mountain, where there is a tower and the tops of the local ski slope. According to a sign, you should be able to see five states from this peak (VT, NH, ME, NY and MA) but not today. Once again, clouds have ruined the view, although there are a few peaks that do rise above the clouds and stand like islands in a fluffy sea. To the north, I can make out Killington Peak. The air is already warm and there appears to be thunderclouds forming in the west.

The skies did clear off and I make good mileage in the morning, stopping at Lost Pond Shelter for lunch. Todd, who I’d met in Manchester Center, is the caretaker. I continued on hiking in the afternoon, stopping at Little Rock Pond where I fixed dinner on a rock by the lake. Teri, the caretaker for this section of the trail, stops by and I’m immediately in love. She’s beautiful. Petite, with long brown hair hanging down her back, skin well-tanned from spending a summer outdoors, I’m sure she’s an angel. She sits down on an adjacent rock and we talked about hiking and our experiences on the trail as I fixed dinner. We also talk about our interest in the environment and right before I decide to propose to Teri, she tells me she’s a practicing witch. I‘m thinking she‘s kidding and make a joke about her and her broom which doesn‘t go over well. She tries to explain and we talk late into the evening. The sun is going down and we both have to get down the trail. We write each others names in the other’s journal (but we never correspond) and head off in opposite directions. I have another four and a half miles I‘m hoping to cover. The sunset is beautiful, the fading rays striking the fir and spruce trees and lighting them up like Christmas trees. Then the light drains from the sky and stars can be seen through the clouds. I walk in the dark, my little flashlight off, but in my hand just in case. It‘s 9:15 when I finally arrive at the Greenwall Shelter. No one else is here, which is good since I‘d probably be waking them. I crash for the night after having hiked 24.5 miles.

The next morning I’m up at 5:45 AM. In the early morning light, I notice that the shelter is in good repair, for which I can thank Teri as this is her section of the trail. I fix my oatmeal and eat, but it doesn’t quite fill me up. I start out early, hoping to get some miles in before it gets too hot. Nettles line the trail and my legs are constantly burning. At 10:30, I stop at an overlook for the Rutland Airport. The hiker’s suspension bridge over the Mill River is a nice addition to the trail. The bridge is named for Bob Brugmann, who was 17 years old when he lost his life fording the river. Looking below at the boiling water, I’m glad we don’t have to wade it. It would be very dangerous in high water.

Twice today I take a wrong turn and both times take a mile or so detour. It’s hot. In the early afternoon, I stop at the Clarendon Shelter and sleep for two hours. When I wake, it is 92 degrees in the shelter. Not counting my detours, I’ve only made about 8 miles, so I push on to the Governor Clement Shelter, stopping at 6 PM. After taking a dip in a nearby pool in the creek, I spend the evening fixing dinner and reading Steinbeck. While reading, a “mini-bear” (Chipmunk) comes up next to me and eats peanuts out of my hand.
Sunset on Stratton Pond
I leave the shelter at 7 Am on July 24. A few miles down the trail, I come upon the top of the ski resort for Killington Peak. There is an alpine ride down the mountain and the operator at the tells me I can leave my pack with him and ride the sluice down to the bottom and could then return on the ski lift. It’s only a couple of dollars, but looks fun, so I take him up on his offer. Afterwards, I hike on to the Inn at Long Trail, where I enjoy the air conditioning and order a sandwich and salad. A radio in the inn says that the heat will continue and another record may be broken today. At Shelburne Pass, the Appalachian and Long Trail part directions. Interestingly, the familiar white blazes continue on north, on the Long Trail, which was the first trail to use such blazes. The Appalachian Trail breaks off to the east, and for the first bit is blue blazed, the normal color used for side trails. I hike off the ridge.

A few miles down the trail, I’m approached by a man who tells me about his bed and breakfast adjacent to the trail. In addition to the regular B&B, Mountain Meadows (as the place is known) also has bunkrooms for hikers, for which he charges $8 a night plus a few bucks for breakfast in the morning. He continues telling me about how he has a large group tonight and is doing dinner and needs help. If I would help him with dinner and clean up, he’ll let me stay and eat for free. I was hoping to make another five miles, but decide why not. I follow him to his place and, after taking a shower and wash out my clothes. My tasks are fairly easy. Fixing the drinks and helping man the grill. Afterwards, as we used paper plates, there isn’t much to clean up. I talk to the guests and to the few hikers who trickle in. As I want to be on the trail early the next morning, I’m shown where to get cereal and milk and fruit in the kitchen. I’m glad to be sleeping in the bunkhouse, as heavy thunderstorms move through the area during the night.

I’m up before dawn on the 25, ready to get back on the trail. I have breakfast with Marjorie, a south bounder, who is hiking the Vermont section of the trail. I eat 2 ½ bowls of cereal along with a banana and a couple of cups of coffee. The coffee was prepared the night before and we just have to turn it on. While we are taking a guy stops by and talks for a few moments, before heading back out. It’s still dark and he’s hiking with a headlamp. Later, when I pass the next shelter and read the register, I realize that it must have been the legendary Warren Doyle, who’s hiked the trail more times than anyone else. This time, he’s not backpacking, but day hiking between roads. Traveling light, he’s covering 40 miles or so a day.

Marjorie and I walk out to the trail and each takes off in our respective directions. The trail is wet, and as dawn breaks, I am hoping it’ll be a good day. I put in ten miles, stopping at “The Lookout,“ which should have a good view but there is still a lot of haze. In the west there are more thunderclouds building. I’m caught in a storm in the afternoon, hiking in the rain with lightning popping all around. There’s no place to stop, so I just keep walking. Between storms and along one of the road walks, I pass a house where a man is sitting on the porch. He doesn’t look like he wants to be bothered and as I get in front of his house, two dogs take off after me. I turn to face them, reaching down to pick up a stone. When they get closer, I point my stick at them, a technique that has always caused threatening dogs to back off. This time, the led dog which looks to be a Rottweiler, grabs the stick in his mouth and tries to twist it out of my hand. I twist back and he lets go. The one dog leaves, but the Rottweiler comes back growling and I whack him on the head. The dog grabs the stick again and I yell at the man on the porch to call off his dog. I keep backing up and after a bit, the dog lets go of the stick and remains standing in the road growling. I keep walking backwards, my stick ready as he continues snarling. I’ve covered some ground before I the dog heads home and I feel safe to turn around. In a trail register at the shelter that evening, I learn that several others have had similar problems with the dog.

I arrive at Cloudland Shelter about 7:30 PM and quickly fix a chicken noodle dinner and chocolate mint pudding for dinner. I’m camping with two fathers and their young sons, both around the age of five. One of the dads is an administrator for Temple University in Philadelphia and the other is a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journey. They have set a goal to hike the trail in sections with their sons by the time they’re in college. The unique thing about the Cloudland Shelter is the outhouse. This section of the trail is maintained by the Dartmouth Outdoor Club and built like a gazebo. There is a screen covering the top half and wood covers the bottom, so that one can sit on the pot and look out on the countryside. The outhouse also utilizes solar composting, allowing for the waste to be “cooked” and then used as fertilizer.
Church in Norwich, VT

I’m out early on July 27, hoping to make Hanover early enough in the day to take care of some business needs. At 7:45 AM, I take a break at the Bunker Hill Burying Grounds, which is filled with old graves. There are veterans from the Revolutionary and Civil War as well as both World Wars. And there are two recent graves, one without its permanent marker, but with plenty of fresh flowers. I poke around, reading gravestones, while swatting at the flies. For one on a journey, the quote on John Gibson‘s stone is sobering: “Stop traveler, as you pass by. As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, you soon must be. Prepare for death and follow me. He died in 1815.

I stop for lunch in Norwich, in the center of town that’s dominated by the Congregational Church. Although it is Sunday, church has already let out for the day. A couple on a bicycle, with a small child, joins me. They’re from Seattle and on the seventh week of an eight week journey that has taken them from Nova Scotia through New England. They child rides in a carrier behind one of their bikes and they explain how the one who isn’t pulling the carrier, rides behind and out far enough to keep cars from getting too closer to their son.

After lunch, I cross the river into Hanover, and find myself in an interesting world. The place is truly YUPPIE, with college students driving Saabs. I first stop at a laundry mat, put on my nylon running shorts and put everything else in a washing machine. While there, I strike up a conversation with a Jewish couple on vacation from New York City. The man tells me that he’d maintained the Appalachian Trail from Bear Mountain Bridge to Graymoor Monastery in New York State until recently, when he was forced to give it up due to health. After everything is clean, I head over to the hostel at the Episcopal Student Center. The couple on bikes is there as well as Slim Jim, Denver Dash (Jane) and her boyfriend Scott. Jim and I attend a 9 PM Eucharist service. Afterwards, the center treats us all with slices of cold watermelon. As I’ve not taken a full day off hiking since Delaware Water Gap, I decide to take a layover day and search for boots while giving my body a rest.

My posts of my 1987 hike on the Appalachian Trail.
Hiking the Berkshires (the hike before this one--I wrote this post in 2007)


  1. Check out the latest Backpacker which has a great "first-person" account of the LT. It's hilarious and worth the price of the magazine alone.


  2. you seem to have encountered more Catholic Priests on your travels than the average Bear.

  3. OK what's the register besides something to log people in, why were you reading about that woman and were surprised to find out her age?

  4. Sage: I admire what tremendous physical shape you must be in to navigate so many miles while being inspired by all the beauty around you. New Hampshire has to be wonderful with the White Mountains! :)

  5. Randall, thanks, I will.

    Vince, actually, this section involved most Episcopal priests--churches are often the site of hostels

    Pia, most shelters have trail registers which are nothing more than a notebook (sometimes in a plastic bag and other times in a waterproof box) where hikers sign in and tell about their experiences. When you have hiked behind someone for several weeks, you began to get perceived ideas about them--obviously I was thinking this woman was a lot younger.

    Michael, I was going through NH slides last night--there are a pic of me on the top of Mt. Washington and I'm as skinny as I've ever been!

  6. Another great blog post on your hike.

    How did you make your decision to hike from south to north?

    I always enjoy the lighter than air feeling when I take off my pack after several days of hiking. I feel like I could jump ten feet straight up in the air if I do desired.

  7. Talk about an irresponsible dog owner...

    Did I tell you my outdoor group hikes sections of the trail? I may have to join them next time.

  8. Ed, it was logical, I was in the south...

    Jen, you should hike the trail if you have a chance!

  9. I love your musings along with the detailed description of your adventures, thanks for always sharing. I look forward to getting back there one day for some backpacking

  10. Sage, I am increasingly amazed at the number of miles you have hiked!

  11. Great pictures! I like the one with the fog from the ridge above Manchester Center.