The Great Outdoors: Life On The Long Trail

An outdoor hike can be a terrific experience. Whether it's for the exercise or to get reacquainted with the wilderness, hiking is an excellent activity for the mind and the body.
Vermont boasts dozens of great places to hike, but the undisputed king of the hiking trails is the Long Trail, the oldest long-distance trail in the nation. Built between 1910 and 1930, the Long Trail is a monster of a hike that stretches nearly 300 miles from the Massachusetts border to the Canadian border.
Blake Cote, AKA “Sluggo,” is native of South Burlington and a recent college graduate and a nickname enthusiast. Blake had some time on his hands before his job started in the fall, and he decided to tackle the longest hiking trail Vermont had to offer. Together with his twin brother and his brother's girlfriend, Blake hiked the Long Trail from start to finish, an epic journey of more than four weeks. He was very appreciative of the Green Mountain Club’s efforts in keeping up the trails and the many dry places to sleep along the way. Blake kept a journal of his time on the trail, and he shared his experiences with NextUp.
Sluggo's Long Trail Journal June 3rd, 2009 - July 1st, 2009
I decided to hike the Long Trail in November. I had secured a job for after college and knew that I would have a couple of months off before I started work. There was never another option of what to do over the summer once the thought of hiking the LT entered my head. I had grown up in Vermont, often heard about the Long Trail and done several day hikes up Mt. Mansfield, Camel's Hump, etc., but never done any backpacking before. I was still confident I could do it because I had an entire semester to prepare. Prepare I did: read all 800 pages of "The Complete Walker," spoke to other hikers, researched and bought equipment, ran and lifted weights, did multiple day hikes, planned and cached every meal for a month and finally did an overnight at Tillotson Camp to test the equipment. All the preparation served me well – a 30-pound pack (with food and water) and ending two days ahead of schedule (with an unplanned zero!).
6/3 – First day on trail. A friend from high school drove me, White Blaise, Swiss Miss and Sunshine to Williamstown. We arrived in the early afternoon, had sandwiches at a deli (the menu listed my sandwich as "The Sluggo" – turkey, swiss, celery and salt on whole wheat), then had a leisurely walk to Seth Warner. As you will read, Sunshine started with the intent to also go end-to-end, but a bad back and some bad weather ended her hike at the Whistle Stop.
6/4 – We saw a cow moose in a beaver pond! Spirits couldn't have been higher – it was a bright sunny day, but still cool enough to barely break a sweat. Met White Cap and Half Measure – an English father/son duo going from Harper's Ferry to Katadihn. They were boiling water with a great little invention called the Kelly Kettle at the Congdon shelter, where we stayed the night. We also met Turkey Toes, Jitterbug and Hambone who we would see off and on for the next week. Great people.
6/5 – Great view of Bennington from Harmon Hill. Called parents to let them know we survived the first two nights. Made a bit of a silly decision when we decided to primitive camp on the ridge between Hell Hollow Brook and Goddard – there was no water! Luckily our bottles were full enough to cook dinner with, but it was a good lesson to read the book more closely and fill up when we can.
6/6 – Fairly unremarkable day except for the Glastenbury Fire Tower. I couldn't spot a town. It was just wilderness for as far as the eye could see. I know Vermont is rural, but it could very well have been the 1600's for the amount of human impact I saw. Kid Gore shelter, where we stayed the night, also had a nice view. Beginning to get into the backpacking timetable – in bed by 8:00, up by 6:00.
6/7 – Eerie walk between a USFS road and Kelly Stand Road (picked up our second cache there. everyone was really surprised that we cached food at road crossings instead of going into towns, but it worked out great for us. The food was there every time and the paint buckets kept the critters out). Still great weather! Not a drop of rain yet!
6/8 – Got to the Summit of Stratton early (8:30) after a primitive night (our last for the rest of the trip). Another great fire tower view and great conversation with Jean and Hugh, the caretakers. The sun was blazing at Stratton Pond, so we took a dip and washed some clothes. They were dry by the time we left an hour later. A couple SOBO AT hikers from NC hung out with us at the pond. They were doing 25 miles a day so they could finish in time for one of them to get married! We also met a high school friend (Beaver) that night at William Douglas. He started two days after us and already caught us. Slow and steady wins the race, though – he stopped less than a week later and hasn't gotten back on the trail yet.
6/9 – First day of rain. And it rained. Hard. Met back up with Swiss Miss and White Blaise (they went into the EMS in Manchester the night before while Sunshine and I stayed at William Douglas). We decided to stay at Bromley even though it was only noon. Beaver moved on to the next shelter. We were serenaded all evening by Cornbred – an AT hiker with a banjo. Pretty eerie to hear the banjo through the fog when we were approaching the shelter.
6/10 – Up and out early (cabin fever sets in quick). I really liked Mount Baker with the bare rock summit. Plus, the sun helped dry us out after last night. Tented at the former site of Lost Pond shelter.
6/11 – Big 15-mile day. Why? WHISTLE STOOOOPP!
6/12 – Got up early and left the Minerva Hinchey shelter for a short (but slow because of the rain) hike to the Whistle Stop on Rt. 103. I got The Works, plus half of Sunshine's omelet. It was heaven. Unfortunately, though, this is where Sunshine decided to call it quits. Almost 100 miles on the LT is nothing to sneeze at. After some washing and sunning on the lawn of Clarendon shelter, we went on to Gov Clement (and skipped the secret shelter).
6/13 – We climbed Killington today, including the 0.2 mile climb to the summit. The views, and props from day hikers, were worth it. We had planned to stay at Pico Camp, and we did stop by, but the allure of soft beds and warm showers was too strong, so we continued to the Inn at the Long Trail. It had opened the night before. We had burgers and half & halfs at the pub, followed by 12 hours of sleep.
6/14 – Our hedonism continued the next morning when our mom and grandmother met us for a picnic lunch and loaded us up with fresh fruit. We decided to go only to Rolston Rest since we left so late. Was happy to split from the AT, although we did meet some great characters.
6/15 – Miserable rainy day on a miserable part of the trail. Only 7.5 to David Logan.
6/16 – Still pretty boring part of the trial, the except being Mt. Horrid. Stayed at Sucker Brook.
6/17 – Sunny day. I wanted to take a dip in Lake Pleiad since I heard about it from a Breadloaf student at Kid Gore, but it was still pretty chilly when we got there in the morning. We did pick up some food at Route 125 and took a halfway picture at Boyce shelter. Was there a sign somewhere? We didn't see it. Since we were going to get in early to Emily Proctor, we made sure to check out Skyline lodge. It was nice and empty, but we had more in our tanks. I am happy we went on – we met "Nature Girl" at Emily Proctor who had us listen to the Bicknell thrush with her (a rare bird, apparently).
6/18 – Another rainy day. Planned on staying at Battell, but Swiss Miss needed to get off the trail for a phone interview, so we all joined her.
6/19 – Zero day at home (our mom picked us up). I had to shield myself from luxuries.
6/20 – Back on the trail (which felt more like coming home than going home did). It was cloudy on Mt. Abe, but it cleared up for Lincoln Peak and Mt. Ellen, which was nice since I used to ski at Sugarbush. We planned on going past Mad River, but once we saw the Stark's Nest, we couldn't resist. It was a warm, dry, critter-free night. Thanks Mad River!
6/21 – I'm glad we did stop at Theron Dean this morning, particularly the cave. I didn't think it was much, but I decided to go inside anyway. There was ice! In late June! A foot thick! All day we thought about trying to see the sunset, but it never worked out. We did get Montclair Glen to ourselves, though, after rolling in at 8:00. It was a long day and we didn't expect Burnt Rock, Ira and Ethan Allen to be so difficult.
6/22 – Camel's Hump was cloudy. I really enjoyed the descent to Duxbury Road, though. The level surface and open forest was a nice change from the craggy ascent. Duxbury Road was a nice chance of pace, too, EXCEPT FOR THE PITBULL THAT CHARGED ME. The house with the white fence and trash all over the yard had a vicious dog. After that scare, we met our mom and Sunshine in Jonesville for another resupply, then slept at Duck Brook. Met Broadway, Sancho and Hambone at Duck Brook.
6/23 – Had some friends join up with us today. They are planning on hiking with us to Johnson. They came unprepared and unfit, though, so we will end up dropping them only one day into a four-day planned hike. Other than that, a decent day. A smooth trail up to Puffer.
6/24 – A view from Mansfield! There were clouds in the sky and we could actually see a storm headed our way, but we could still see Canada, the Whites and almost the whole length of Lake Champlain. It was nice to see some day hikers, too. Stayed at Taft with Broadway, Sancho, Hambone and a Canadian orthopedic surgeon.
6/25 – Took a dip in Sterling Pond today. The climb up from Route 108 was pretty brutal, as was Madonna. Made it to the Whiteface shelter in time to get spaces, though. A family ended up squeezing in with us. Wouldn't normally have minded, but they clearly didn't have tents, which was pretty irresponsible on the part of the father in case the shelter had been full.
6/26 – Resupply in Johnson, including pizza and beer at the Hub. We got rides back and forth very easily. Made it to Roundtop right before a huge storm. The storm cleared right before the sunset. The sunset was amazing. Still with Hambone, Broadway and Sancho.
6/27 – We had planned on doing a short day to Corliss Camp today, but a bunch of locals were shacked up there (apparently with a couple of guns, we later learned), so we moved on to Spruce Ledge. It turned out that Spruce was packed, too, but we managed to find space on the floor. The shelter was mostly filled by "Team Fukt," of Lowell, MA. Great people, but a lot of people (6, plus 2 dogs). We ended up being in sync with them for the rest of the way, but we always got space in shelters.
6/28 – Easy day to Tillotson. We did a practice run here, so it was good to be back.
6/29 – The rainiest day yet. It was non-stop all day and the trail was a roaring stream. My boots were submerged for most of the day. We just pounded it out without lunch, then got a bunk in Hazen's Notch Camp, put on dry clothes and just ate and read for the rest of the afternoon. It was hard to put wet stuff on again the next morning.
6/30 – Great view from Jay and we had Laura Woodward all to ourselves.
7/1 – Last day. We met a few groups of eager southbounders, which made us feel very sage. There was a couple that had hiked the whole AT (Appalachian Trail) to Maine, then couldn't do the last 100 miles because the trail was washed out from so much rain, so they decided to come do the rest of the LT. Then there was a SOBO who had waaaay too much stuff (first-timer). He had four pairs of pants, a four-person tent, and four knives (survival knife, Leatherman, pocket knife and backup pocket knife). Once again, we felt wise. Then, after some short hills, we finished. Our mom and uncle met us at the border and hiked back with us to the parking lot.
Two weeks later, I'm enjoying being back in civilization, but I also still think about the trail every hour. There were many things that made it so amazing (being with friends, meeting others, etc) but I think the biggest thing was its simplicity. I walked. That was all. No car repairs, doctors appointments or work. I just walked. Thanks, GMC, for making that possible.