Tag Archive 'Long Trail'

Apr 27 2017

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Early Spring Overnighter

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Every once in a while I feel an overwhelming urge to spend a night alone in the woods. Either that or my wife orders me to do so when I become too grumpy. Yesterday the urge came hard and fast.

My dog Matika became very excited when the backpacking gear came out. She knows. She was all smiles during the ride to Johnson. There I left my car at the Long Trail parking lot and headed south.

I like to hike the LT south from Route 15 in early spring because there’s not much I can do to damage the trail. It crosses a meadow, tags a rail trail, follows a logging road, then becomes a skidder trail as it climbs into the mountains. By the time it’s a bona fide footpath, I’ve left it and am bushwhacking along a stream.

The loggers are taking a break during mud season so I had the woods all to myself. Just me and my dog, that is.

I travelled light, only taking with me what would fit in my old rucksack. A three-mile hike put me deep into the woods. I found a nice place along the stream to make camp. Afterwards I collected wood and made a small campfire. I can sit and feed sticks into a campfire for hours. Matika likes just looking around and chewing sticks.

An hour or so after dark, I slipped beneath the tarp to sleep. Matika was already there waiting for me. The sky broke open and the stars came out. You know what that means. Radiational cooling. I froze my ass off despite the fact that temps shot into the 60s yesterday and the 70s today. But it was worth it to crawl out this morning to a sun cresting the nearby ridge, deep in the woods. The mountain stream roared endlessly. And a breakfast campfire made it easy to shrug off last night’s chill.

Hiking out, I found a small patch of spring beauty, then a purple trillium in bloom – one that had still been closed the day before. Ah, spring! Matika crossed paths with a red fox that vanished in the blink of an eye. Something for both of us.

 

 

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Apr 19 2017

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Prospect Rock

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With all the rain in the forecast for this week, it seemed a crime to waste a fair day staying indoors. So I grabbed my rucksack and hike boots before heading to Hyde Park to do some book hunting yesterday. I worked the book sale for a couple hours, then drove to a trailhead for the Long Trail just west of Johnson.

My dog Matika was overjoyed at the prospect of hiking in the woods again. Finally! It’s been days! And a day without a hike is a day wasted as far as she’s concerned. Hmm… She might be on to something.

It’s a short hike from the road to Prospect Rock, but it feels longer due to the 500-foot ascent. Got me huffing and puffing, anyhow. One look from the cliffs made it all worthwhile. The Lamoille River Valley unfolded before me in all its springtime beauty. Not much green other than conifers, and still a little snow in the distant peaks, but beautiful all the same.

I settled into a depression in the rock to eat my lunch and enjoy the view. Matika sniffed around – a bit too close to the edge at times. I called her back. A pair of hawks rode the thermals overhead. The sun burned brightly in the mostly clear sky, warming both me and the rock. A few other hikers came and went, otherwise I had the place to myself.

Early spring. I find it difficult to be unhappy this time of year. The warm season is just beginning and the prospects for a lot of day hiking look good. I hiked out of the woods thinking that these combination work/play outings might be just the thing this year. Any way to get outdoors is a good way. Matika concurs.

 

 

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Feb 07 2016

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Midwinter Hike

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Feb LT with MatikaMy dog Matika was all excited when I pulled out my daypack the other day. She knew what it meant. I’ve been so busy working lately that I haven’t gotten outside much. She has been feeling as cooped up as I have.

I drove to Johnson, parked my car along a logging road, and hiked up the frozen mud track until it became a skidder trail. Then patches of ice transformed into a few inches of hard-packed snow. I passed one fellow checking maple sugar lines and another eating lunch in a pickup truck parked next to a skidder. Aside from them, I had the forest all to myself.

The rush of open streams and a solitary chickadee were the only sounds that broke the silence. Not until later, on the way out, did I hear a chainsaw in the distance. The running water and thin snowpack gave the surrounding landscape the look of early spring. A bone-chilling wind blowing through the woods told me otherwise.  A mild winter this year but, at 1800 feet, winter all the same.

When I left the skidder trail, following Long Trail blazes across the crusty snow, mine became the only human tracks. Matika found plenty of animal tracks, though. As empty as the woods seemed, we were not alone.

Reaching French Hill Brook, I stopped long enough to feed Matika lunch and scratch a few lines in my field journal. When I started to chill in my own sweat, I turned around and hiked out. No rush. The expression on my dog’s face mirrored my own mood: happy to be tramping through snowy woods and thinking about nothing but the elements and wildness for a while. The beautiful simplicity of these quiet, forested mountains keeps me coming back to them time and time again.

 

 

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Jun 03 2015

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A Good Hike

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lush forest2I awaken undaunted to the wet, overcast day. After being trapped indoors by two days of steady rain, I’m going out no matter what. A couple hours of work early in the morning then I grab my rucksack and go. My dog Matika is all for it, of course.

An hour later I am tramping a rare section of the Long Trail that passes through a farmer’s field. The wet grass completely soaks my pants. No matter. I press forward. Then the trail markers follow an old railway bed before reaching a logging road that goes deeper into the mountains. Better than staying home and staring at a computer screen, that’s for certain.

I am dressed more for early May than early June. That’s why I don’t mind the cool dampness of the forest. I break a sweat, in fact, while pressing uphill. That’s fine. Sometimes sweating is a good way to relax.

My thoughts are a jumble of memories of previous hikes mixed with the sights, sounds and smells of the lush forest all around me. It keeps me from thinking about all the work I do on a regular basis. I dig my hiking stick into the ground and keep going.

A mountain brook winds into the trail. After crossing the stream a couple times, I sit down next to it to groove on rushing water for a while. No bloodsucking insects, surprisingly enough. Foamflower blooms across the brook. It’s easy to miss. A waterthrush sings in the distance. A thin drizzle commences.

During the gradual descent back down to the trailhead, I veer off the LT, following a new snowmobile trail for a while. It winds through the kind of ultra-green forest that I dreamt about during the frigid days of February. Eventually I tag the LT again. Then back across the wet field, thus completing my hike to nowhere. A good hike, actually. Just what the doctor ordered.

 

 

 

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Jun 15 2014

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Bagging a Peak

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JayPeakViewEvery once in a while, I get the urge to climb a mountain. They aren’t hard to find in Vermont. One of my favorites is Jay Peak simply because it’s close to home. The trailhead for it is only an hour from my doorstep.

Jay Peak is also fairly easy as mountain climbs go. Only takes a couple hours to get up and down it. And there’s a great 360-degree view on top.

I set foot on the trail to Jay Peak a few days ago. Had my dog Matika with me, of course. She got up front right away and stayed there during most of the hike. I stopped several times along the way to catch my breath and admire wildflowers. Painted trillium was in abundance, and yellow clintonia was just coming out. I also found patches of Canada lily, false Solomon’s seal, and wild ginseng – all late spring wildflowers. Yeah, it’s that time of year in the mountains even though summer has already arrived in the Champlain Valley.

Jay Peak is the last mountain on the Long Trail headed north, just a few miles shy of the Canadian border. Every time I climb it, I recall my thru-hike along the LT back in the 90s. There are plenty of good views of the Green Mountains towards the top, with Mount Mansfield usually visible. Makes me realize how lucky I am to live in Vermont.

Since Jay Peak has ski trails on its eastern slope, there’s a lift going to the top of it. That killed any desire I might otherwise have had to linger on the summit. After consuming a granola bar and half a liter of water, I was ready to descend. I daydreamed all the way down – one of the nice things about hiking alone.

I felt rejuvenated when I got back to the car, having cleared the stinky thoughts from my head. Bagging peaks is good for that. And the rest of the day was gravy.

 

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Aug 26 2013

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With the Grandkids

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Walt and grandkidsEvery summer Judy and I have all six of our grandkids for four or five days. No parents allowed. We play, go fishing and swimming, do crafts, camp in the back yard, watch movies, and eat all the wrong food. It’s a lot of work, but there’s no better way to get to know them.

Now that the youngest ones are able to hike, we’ve started taking the kids into the woods. Now it feels like they’re getting to know me. The forest is my element. Walking with them in the tracks of wild animals, teaching them how to navigate trails while pointing out the wonders along the way, well, it doesn’t get any better than that. Not for me, anyhow.

This year we went for a short hike along the Long Trail – my old stomping ground. We split into two groups. The more restless ones speed-hiked with me to Prospect Rock, while Judy meandered along the trail with the rest. Judy’s group grooved on mushrooms and everything else they found along the way. My group enjoyed physical exertion and a good view from the ledge. We got back together for a picnic lunch beneath the footbridge spanning the Lamoille River. There the kids found crayfish and some interesting rocks. Yes, rocks: quartz, mica and the rest. Even in the digital age, kids find rocks fascinating.

After lunch, while finishing the hike at a much slower pace, we checked out a cave, collected hardened sap from a wounded tree, and gathered more rocks. Jewelweed growing in wet places caught their attention so I showed them how to capture the tiny, almond-like seeds that shoot out of their pods when they’re touched. It was a lot of fun. They were surprised by how good the seeds tasted. Then I showed them how to use the plant’s juices as a salve for mosquito bites and other itchy skin. They were impressed by that. And I couldn’t have been happier.

 

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Mar 06 2013

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Long Trail Book

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FUMF coverThe Long Trail book, Forest under my Fingernails, is back in print! Three years after buying up the last copies of the Heron Dance edition, I have reprinted this hiking narrative under my own small press, Wood Thrush Books. It is now available at Amazon.com as either a paperback or a kindle download. Rod’s illustrations are gone but the words are all there for any hiking enthusiast or nature lover to enjoy.

In the mid-90s, I had the distinct pleasure of backpacking Vermont’s Long Trail end-to-end. The rather elaborate cache system that I devised kept me on the trail for the entire month. The experience was transforming. I managed somehow to capture it in my journals, then later in this narrative.

I couldn’t be happier about having FUMF back in print. Its re-release is timely. My Adirondack hiking narrative, The Allure of Deep Woods, will soon be released. Those who enjoy that book will have something similar to read. Besides, the hiking season is right around the corner. What better way to prepare for it than to read something that elicits the sights, sounds and smells of the forest?

Those of you who have been following me through the years know that I have all sorts of books in print now: backcountry and travel narratives, poetry, philosophy, and assorted essays. I’ve edited several anthologies as well as the works of Emerson and Thoreau. But FUMF remains a favorite among readers. I’m sure that newcomers to my work will get a kick out of it.

 

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Aug 03 2010

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Keep Moving

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Recently my friend John Woodyard and I agreed to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail this coming September.  We’ll hike about four days together, then he’ll continue hiking by himself a few days more.  I figure I can’t keep up with John much longer than that.  John’s a strong hiker in good shape.  I’m not.

A few days ago, I grabbed my pack, put my dog in the car, then headed for the hills.  Short on time, I wanted to make the hike count.  So I headed for a peak in the Green Mountains called White Face.  I knew that a round trip to the summit was a bit more than I could handle, but I’d give it a shot anyway.  I figured the more of it I did, the better.

On the way to the trailhead, I picked up a pair of twenty-ish thru hikers on their way back to the Long Trail.  During our short drive together, we talked about long distance hiking, physical endurance and growing older.  They don’t expect to continue backpacking more than another fifteen years.  I told them they could easily go another thirty years if they want.  “Keep moving,” I said, “No matter what.”  Then they headed north to finish their end-to-end hike, while I headed south just to stretch my legs.

Blue sky day.  Sunlight filtered through the leafy canopy overhead, illuminating the forest floor in places.  The trail narrowed as Matika and I charged uphill, forcing us into single file.  She wanted to be up front, of course.  We took turns.  Soon enough we reached Bear Hollow Shelter, about two and a half miles back.  Then the trail grew steep.  We kept going another hour, until the trail kissed the last feeder stream before the summit.  There we stopped and ate lunch.  I was tempted to keep going, but thought it smarter to turn around.  Nearly four miles back; 1500 feet climbed.  About two-thirds of the way.  Good enough for an 85-degree day.

It’s humbling to grow older, especially when you’re still engaging in the same activities that you enjoyed decades earlier.  I’m not nearly as strong a hiker as I was thirty years ago, but I like hiking as much now as I did then.  I like it more, actually, since every hike feels like an extension of youth.  Oh sure, I keep the ibuprofen, walking sticks and Ace bandage close at hand, and I sweat a lot more than I used to, but it’s worth it.  It’s invigorating, joyful, life-affirming.  So I keep moving, no matter what.  And if I hike hard enough this year, then maybe, just maybe I’ll be able to keep up with my old buddy John next year.  It’s worth a shot, anyhow.

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Mar 12 2010

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Celebrating the Long Trail

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Last night I went to the DoubleTree Hotel in South Burlington to join 300 other people celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Long Trail.  The evening was full of laughs, tales of incredible dedication, and deep reverence for the mountains that so many of us hold dear.  300 people in a single room – it was enough of a crowd to scratch the itch of my agoraphobia.  But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

On March 11, 1910 a fellow named James P. Taylor gathered together two dozen Vermonters at a hotel in downtown Burlington to charter the Green Mountain Club.  They created the club in order to build a long-distance trail that would “make the mountains play a larger part in the life of the people.”  A couple months later, Clarence Cowles and Craig O. Burt cut a three-mile section of trail from Mt. Mansfield to Nebraska Notch, and the Long Trail was born.  It took twenty years and hundreds of volunteers, but eventually the Long Trail spanned the entire length of Vermont, from Massachusetts to the Canadian border.  That was no mean feat.

I was fortunate enough to hike the Long Trail end-to-end back in 1995.  To this day that experience remains one of the highlights of my life.  As anyone who has thru-hiked will tell you, several weeks on the trail does something to you that all the day-to-day aggravations of modern living can’t touch.  It’s a life-changing experience to say the least.  I wrote at length about it in a book that I first published back in ’99, and I still stand by those words.

“Mountain saints” is what Taylor called those who built the Long Trail and I feel much the same way about them.  Even if there were no LT, I would still wander through the Green Mountains, making them my own.  But it’s so much easier to do that because of those who cut the trail, those who have maintained it, and those who have worked so tirelessly to preserve it.  Thank you mountain saints!

The Green Mountain Club, now almost 10,000 strong, is still hard at work building shelters, improving trail, and securing the corridor through which the trail passes.  I’m no joiner – far from it – but the GMC is one of the few organizations to which I proudly belong.  Maybe someday I’ll do something that will help perpetuate the LT.  In the meantime, I will hike that trail keeping in mind all those who have made it possible.

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Dec 03 2009

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Muddy Trails

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I hiked around Indian Brook Reservoir yesterday just to exercise my dog and stretch my legs.  It seemed like the thing to do since I was in the area and had the time.  When I lived in Burlington, I went there frequently.  Back then the park was in the country.  Now it’s on the fringe of suburbia.  Burlington, like so many other cities, is growing.

As I was hiking, I noticed how muddy and worn the trail has become.  Essex Town now limits access to the park to town residents during the summer.  Can’t say I blame them.  The place has been overrun.

A friend forwarded me an email the other day about the sorry state of the Long Trail, as reported by some disgruntled hiker.  Yes, having hiked the LT end-to-end, I must concur that sections of it are a muddy, eroded mess.  But so are sections of the Appalachian Trail in central Maine, and parts of the Northville-Placid Trail in the Adirondacks – trails I’ve also hiked.  Here in the Northeast, it doesn’t take much impact to wear thin-soiled mountain trails down to roots and bare rock.  With fifty million people living within a day’s drive of these trails, I’m surprised that they aren’t in worse condition.

One can always find fault with those who are supposed to maintain trails:  Essex Town, the Green Mountain Club, or whomever.  But the fact remains that trail maintenance requires manpower and money.  Join a trail maintenance crew for a day and see how much you accomplish.  Meanwhile, anyone who’s in the mood can go for a hike.  And for the most part it’s free.

As I hiked around the reservoir, it occurred to me that someday this place will be regulated to the point where I won’t be able to come here any more, or won’t want to.  The Town of Essex will eventually clean up this trail and those using it will have to pay, one way or the other.  Regulations have recently been put in place in the High Peaks Region of the Adirondacks, effectively halving the trail traffic there.  Those concerned about trail erosion think that’s for the best.  Will the same thing happen to Vermont’s Long Trail?  Probably, in due time.

I feel like one of the fortunate few.  I can grab my pack and go for a hike whenever I want.  I don’t like turning my ankle on an eroded stretch of trail any more than the next guy, but in a world where a billion people don’t even have enough to eat, complaints about poor trail maintenance seem mean-spirited, small-minded and ungrateful.

We are lucky to have trail systems available to us, cars to reach their trailheads, and time and health enough to hike them.  If I had to spend all of my time in developed places, constantly interacting with others, I would go stark raving mad.  So excuse me for not complaining about trail conditions any more than I do.  I find merit in even the muddiest of trails.

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