Disclaimer: This trip report is very incomplete, not only because I didn't finish the trip. I didn't bring a camera, and my memory is not that clear after about 3 months. Most of what I remember are moments, flashbacks, but no timeline or reconstruction of the entire trip. I intended to take notes of what time I hit locations, and was very good about it for the first day, and then the notes begin to taper off....
The planting of the seed:
Since I was 8 I attended a sleep-away camp in Maine, going from spending three and a half weeks as a camper to wilderness trips of the same length and longer. As a 'tripper' I hiked part of the Maine AT, canoed in the Penobscot, Paddled the DePas and George Rivers in Quebec, and ultimately hiked the Long Trail in Vermont at the tender age of 15. One day while on the trail, I discussed the idea of trying to do the trail in 9 days with someone. It seemed straight forward. 30 miles per day, to us traditionalists, traveling light with nine days of food would equal a normal pack weight.
This past summer, now 16, I took a NOLS backpacking trip in the Yukon Territory. It was 30 days of heavy packs, low milage, amazing scenery, learning, and exploring. I was never really 'pushed' however, traveling with a group (grizzly country!) of people means traveling slower, even if they are all equally capable, which they were not….The trip was amazing, but not the escape from society that I was hoping for. It was an escape from my society at home, but also the creation of another society with the same issues and problems. On the return home I realized that I was not so much looking for nature, but looking for solitude. The destination mattered less than the act of leaving. I wanted to do something alone, push myself and discover a limit. I've never felt that I had truly discovered a personal limit, I always feel I could do better if I tried again, and I wanted to change that.
The planning stages:
I returned home mid-August with plans to seek permission to attempt to hike the Long Trail. Because of the not-short drive to Vermont, my desire to include my parents, and my lack of self-traveling capabilities, I worked out with them that my mother would drive up with me, we would hike in to the terminus, camp there, and I would start the next day, and she would return. My dad would meet me at the end and we would spend the night before driving home. Their schedules gave me an 8 day timeframe for my hike.
I was fairly confident of my physical and mental fitness after my NOLS trip, and my spirit was gnawing at its chains, so I felt that I was prepared, which for the most part was correct. Food and gear had to be thought out, as well as getting my parents behind the idea.
Food: I brought lots. tons. Way too much. It made my mother happy knowing I wouldn't stave though. I planned this extensively and made a google docs sheet to help me calculate things. for a look at the sheet, which may be confusing. it also has my planned milage for the trip and shelters for each night. here is the link:
To summarize food, I had granola with an interesting addition for a cold in camp breakfast, quite a lot of trail mix for hiking snacks and lunch, and a dinner of egg noodles, parm cheese, and pepperoni. I also packed a snickers or Kind bar for each day. I also packed a 100gram chocolate bar and bag of instant cheese cake for my birthday which would be happening while out. I had 4700 calories per day, plus the bar. About 2.25 or more pounds. I ate it all, but didn't need to.
Gear: I slept in a Nunatak 20* quilt on a z-lite. My pack was a heavy mammut 35L (2lb 14oz!) but it was comfortable with the weight I was carrying, and I didn't have time to buy anything. I cooked on a vargo triad with a 1 Liter pot. To make my pasta I had to use the whole liter. I think the instructions for that amount of pasta were to put it in one gallon. I don't have a complete list, but I'll try to rattle off as much as I remember:
favorite stuff sack for quilt, lost bear-baggin the first night
bear bag biner and cord
16lbs of food
two stuff sacks for hanging the food
sea to summit 35L dry sack as pack liner
35L mammut pack
overkill mora knife
vargo triad alky stove
pot from msr soloist kit
contact solution bottle for alky storage
a-sym tarp from my H
a film canister packed with:
inov-8 x-talon 212
track shorts with liner
Likely a few more things, but I think that should be the most interesting stuff. You already know I've got a lighter and toothbrush, etc.
Now for the story:
21st: Mother and I left home, fashionably late, with both our packs, mine for the next 9 nights and heres for just one. they weighted about the same, but to be fair she was carrying a tent for the two of us and our food for the night and morning. We made it to the terminus sign around dusk, set up camp and ate our dinner. In the dark i got my bear-bag line stuck, while i had been using my sleeping bag stuff sack with a rock for a weight. I ended up cutting the line as high as I could and we hung the food from the middle of the terminus sign. We hung our fresh breakfast and evenings trash in an easier location to tempt any critters. Sleep was sporadic, the woods were very alive, I was nervous, my mom likely also, and the dog a bit jittery.
22nd: I awoke at 4:00, according to plan, based off my sunrise/sunset times, but it was pitch dark. and hour later I got up and we broke camp quickly, ate, and walked over to the terminus sign. At 5:46 we parted ways, my mother with the dog heading south to the car, and me heading north to the unknown. I quickly took off my wind jacket and settled into a moderate pace. At 8:00 I made it to Roaring Branch, 5.8 miles for the day, hit Congdon Shelter at 9:15, which was the ten mile marker. These first few miles were incredible. It was cool, overcast, the world was asleep and I was feeling great. These were some of my favorite miles. The first time I had done the LT we spent our second night at Congdon, and now I had gotten there at 9:15. I felt elated. At 11:35 I rolled into Melville Nauheim at 15.9 miles in. i reached Goddard at 2:50. Throughout the morning the sky worsened and began to drizzle, turning into a heavy rain. by the time I reached goddard the air was a swamp, the shelter was full of people taking an impromptu zero day or stopping early. I chatted briefly and then headed out for the last 8.9 miles. the rain worsened, turning into sheets. I hadn't brought a rain jacket, and was just hiking in a soaked shirt and shorts, exertion and the mild temperature keeping me warm enough. I stopped at the spur leading towards Kid Gore shelter for a drink and snack, but didn't want to go the extra .2 round trip to reach the shelter. I continued on towards Story Spring, my final destination. I reached Story Spring around 6:00 and was lucky enough to have the last spot in the shelter all to myself. I was also lucky that the rain eased off, turning into a light mist. I cooked dinner but elected to leave out the pepperoni, I was too tired to deal with the hassle of cutting it up. I had agreed with my parents that each day I would send them a text message to let them know I was doing alright, and I had planned to do that once I reached the shelter and was done hiking, to give them the most peace of mind. The plan backfired when I couldn't get a message out. I had planned to use the count-down timer on my watch as an alarm, set it for the hours of sleep i wanted and it would wake me up. I purposely neglected to do this, feeling so wet and beaten that I needed my rest. I was already showing signs of surrender.
23rd: I was up at 9:15, still the first to leave the shelter. My only objective was to get off a message to my parents, and then evaluate what I was capable of doing. I had planned on a 40.6 mile day to Lula Tye shelter, but given the previous day's experience, I didn't think there were enough hours of daylight to get there. Especially if i woke up late. I got up Stratton mountain, doing the 3.8 miles and 1700 feet of gain in less than an hour. The weather was once again misty with occasional bursts of large, heavy raindrops. I remember the beginning of the hike as having relatively nice weather, but the second ha being relatively wet. I climbed the fire tower and took shelter in the small enclosed space, sent off a message to my parents, and got the heck out before the tower was blown off the mountain. I began to feel good as I started my decent, having about 12 miles of gentle decent before Bromley Mountain. I reached Stratton pond, a lovely and wet area at 1:11. By 5:40 I had made it to Bromley Shelter, 12.6 miles later and 23.1 miles into the day. here I met a large college group that was trying to build a fire and would be spending the night. I got water, had a snack, and was on my way, hoping to make the summit of Bromley, and the ridge walk to Styles Peak and Peru Peak before reaching Peru Peak Shelter, 7.1 miles away. The wind began to howl as I began the climb, and the darkness began to set in. The misting continued, with more frequent bouts of heavy rain. I donned my headlamp but it was more than useless, It illuminated a bright patch of fog right in front of my eyes, reducing my night vision, and making it very difficult to see the trail. I remember this ridge walk vividly, time slowed and ever few steps I feared I was wandering off the trail along a drainage. At one point I was spooked by a pair of large birds who were evidently spooked by my passage, and lit off their perch by the trail. It was the scariest thing that has ever happened to me. I was reduced to scouting for a blaze, rushing to it, and hanging on to it like an island as I scanned the sea aead for the next one. I made it to Peru Peak Shelter a hair before 9:00, there were three people fast asleep within, so I quietly finished my snacks from the day, neglected to cook dinner because I wasn't hungry. Again, no alarm set, the hope and liveliness I had felt before were gone. Aches were overtaking my legs, my feet were soaked and battered. 31.2 miles had been covered, or more accurately, 2 feet had been covered by 31.2 miles of mud.
24th: I awoke to a startled companion, trying to figure out how an extra body ended up in the shelter. He was a thru-hiker, very kind. the two others were our for a shorter time, section hiking and enjoying themselves. I waited until they all left, contemplating my next moves. I decided to call it quits, I still don't know if that was a good or bad decision, evidence points to the latter. The sky was mostly blue, I greeted my shadow like a relative rarely seen, and stiffly walked into the woods. There was a downed bridge of some sort, and a posted bypass for it, the bypass added about 3 miles and was on forest service roads. many hikes said they had no problem fording the river, but I didn't want to take the risk and took the bypass. What I realized as I went down the FS road was that I was also bypassing the closest peak where I might get reception; I was planning on calling home and seeing if I could get a ride back. Luckily, this meant I 'had' to stop avery half hour or so and check for reception, providing a much nicer hiking pace. I talked to my dad in the early afternoon at the trails junction with FS Road 10 and made plans for him to pick me up at noon the next day along Vt. 140, 8 miles away. Interestingly, i was passed here by the trio I had slept with before, taking their time and enjoying a conversation. I did another 2 miles and stopped at Lula Tye Shelter at 2:30, and decided to stay there for the night, leaving the additional 6 miles to the morning. There was another shelter five miles down, which would provide an easy hike out the next day, but I was traveling so slowly I wasn't sure I would cover the distance before nightfall. Two of the hikers that had been in Peru Peak were also stopping here for the night, and we had an enjoyable evening getting to know each other before retiring early. I had to cover six miles the next day in time to meet my dad, and I wanted to make sure I got off early.
25th: I got off early, no exact time, and started off down the trail. It was a dry morning and I walked quickly through the easy terrain. This section was one of my favorites from my previous trip. A short climb was followed be a beautiful old pine forest on the ridge, the ground was uniformly covered in needles, and young trees dotted the area. There is a beautiful collection of what I can best describe as rock art or sculpture in this area. hundreds of little cairns, towers, thin rocks wedged into the cracks of a larger boulder creating platforms for others. I stopped here for a break, just soaking up the scenery. Along with the first ten or so miles, this was my favorite part of the trip. I ran some parts of the downhill to the road crossing, and once I got there I spread out my ridgerest, took off my shoes, cringed when I looked at my toes, and relaxed.
Some various thoughts:
Had I been able to stick through the first few days on schedule, the weather seemed to be clearing up and I think I would have had a shot, however my feet were in horrid condition so they may have still been my downfall.
I brought way too much food. I would have been fine had I forgot to bring my dinners, and then I would have been able to go no-cook, saving even more weight.
In my lunch/snacks i had packed two or three chunks of dried papaya per day, these were great. whenever I stopped I snacked, but I had these at "big stops" they were good motivation, and it was good to have some sort of marker of time and distance.
shoes…still trying to figure this out. I think something with thicker, stiffer soles would have been better, as well as slightly larger. My x-talons fit well for running when I wear them without insoles, which is what I normally do. I added the insoles to these and that took up some volume, which my toes didn't like, but the additional support and cushioning was good. the trail is entirely mud, rocks, and roots in varying proportion. I have yet to be lucky enough to be there on a dry day. In order to avoid mud and puddles I ended up stepping on many rocks and roots. Something I'd like to try is getting a thinner insole and then coating the bottom of it with a layer of fiberglass resin to add stiffness to the shoe. Hopefully this will prevent or lessen the stabs from pointy rocks and roots.