Day Eight – Mount Mansfield

Well we made it up and over Mount Mansfield today and are now relaxing at Butler Lodge, which is like a small cabin compared to the shelters we have stayed in before.
Last night a big thunderstorm rolled through and dumped buckets of water on us. Fortunately the lightning was in the distance. This morning it was windy and we were in the clouds a good bit of the time. About 30 minutes before we reached the peak of Mansfield (known as the chin) the sky cleared and we had glorious views all around us. To the west Lake Champlain seemed very close and we could see the White Mountains to the east. Camel’s Hump, another big mountain that we’ll climb on Saturday, was visible to the south.
Mount Mansfield looks like a human face looking straight up to the sky. The highest point is the chin, which we reached first. We then walked to the visitor’s center which is just below the nose and took a break. Then we walked past the eyebrow and down to Butler Lodge.
Today the hiking was tough but the students did very well, even better than yesterday. The trail was wet from last night’s rain and there were some skips and falls but nothing serious.
Tomorrow we have a long day, about ten miles, and will cross Mount Mayo and Mount Bolton. Tonight we should have a great sunset since we have a clear view to the west from Butler Lodge.
Correction from yesterday’s post – the ski resort we passed yesterday was Smuggler’s Notch not Sugarbush as I reported.
Here are a few photos from the day.

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Day Seven – Whiteface Mountain

Today marks one full week on the trail for us and it was our most challenging day yet. We left the B&B after another great breakfast and were on the trail before 8:00. Whiteface Mountain was our first challenge – 3200 feet of climbing to the peak, which is at 3714′. It was hard work and we worked up quite a sweat, even with the pleasant temperature and frequent breaks. I was really proud of how the students stayed positive even though it was by far the longest climb they had ever done with a full pack. It’s good that they did so well because tomorrow we have an even bigger challenge with Mount Mansfield, the tallest mountain in Vermont at 4393′.
After descending from Whiteface we had to climb Madonna Peak which has a ski resort on it called Sugarbush. Some of us enjoyed eating wild blueberries and even paused for a photo on the ski lift (see photo below).
We made it to our destination, Sterling Pond Camp, by mid-afternoon and most of the students took a nap to recover from a strenuous day. Hopefully everyone can get a good night sleep and be ready for Mount Mansfield in the morning. Here are some photos from the day.

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Day Six – Labor Day

We enjoyed a nice campfire last night at Corliss Camp even though it had rained and everything was pretty wet. Jukebox had collected a baggie full of birch bark which was excellent tinder for starting the fire. She’s become quite skilled as a fire starter!
Everyone went to bed by about 8:00 p.m., which we call “hiker’s midnight”, and shortly after that we got a hard rain. It didn’t last long, though, and the trail conditions today were very good. We started hiking at 6:45, covered almost 12 miles and finished by about 12:30. Our overall hiking speed is improving and we can almost cover two miles per hour. It’s not important to try to hike fast but it’s good to know your speed so that you can estimate how long it will take you to cover a certain number of miles. For this trip we’ll average about ten miles per day, so an average hiking day will be about six hours, maybe a little less.
The next section, which will take us four days, will be challenging but I think we’re ready for it. We will be hiking over Whiteface Mountain and Mount Mansfield, two of the most challenging mountains that we will face. The students have already proven to be pretty tough and they have very positive attitudes, so I think we’ll do just fine.
We’re at the Green Valley Farm B&B again tonight so we’re guaranteed another great breakfast in the morning. We should be well rested and well fed for our next four days in the woods.
Here are some photos from the day.

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Day Five – Our First Rain Day

Everyone enjoyed a fine meal last night at Wild Wings restaurant (not Buffalo Wild Wings) in Johnson, Vermont. In addition to our group of backpackers we were joined by Toog’s mother Denise and her friend Martha and Jukebox’s parents Dave and Rhoda plus her younger brother Mark. Afterward we stopped at the grocery store for pints of Ben & Jerry’s which we took back to the B&B. The guys all piled into our room and did typical guy stuff including watching a bit of college football on TV. We were asleep by about 8:30 and slept well. In the morning we ate a big breakfast of blueberry pancakes with Vermont maple syrup (of course), eggs and sausage. Our hosts at the B&B were terrific and we’ll see them again tomorrow night when we make our second stop in town. I know it seems strange to stay out only two days between stops in town but because of the distance between places with access to roads we doing a two-day stretch followed by a four-day stretch rather than have to carry six days worth of food. A day’s worth of food weighs about two pounds and we don’t want to carry more than four days worth of food so that we can keep the weight of our packs reasonable.
Last night it rained hard and this morning it was wet and cloudy. We were lucky though and only got rained on once for about fifteen minutes. It was a light rain and the temperature was in the 70’s so we didn’t even bother putting on our rain jackets. It was really a very enjoyable day for hiking and the trail was excellent – it actually reminded me of our nice trails back home in Virginia. One big difference is that here in Vermont the trail is starting to be covered with bright yellow aspen leaves and red maple leaves.
The most interesting section of the trail today was Devil’s Gulch. Just the name Devil’s Gulch indicates a rocky and treacherous area. In Rockbridge County Virginia we have Devil’s Marbleyard and out in the Sierra foothills of California there is The Devil’s Playground. Devil’s Gulch in Vermont is just as much fun to hike. The students imagined that we were in Jurassic Park or deep in the rainforest.
Our pace was much quicker today, probably because our packs were a little lighter after leaving behind some unnecessary gear and clothing and also because the students are getting good at maneuvering around rocks, roots and other obstacles. We hiked nine miles and arrived at our destination, Corliss Camp at 1:30. Now everyone is journaling or reading poetry while I write this blog. Here are some photos from today.20140831-165204.jpg20140831-165307.jpg20140831-165335.jpg

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Day Four – Mt. Belvedere

Everyone must have been excited about getting to town today because by 6:00 a.m. we were all up and moving around. Tillotson Camp had a nice overlook with a terrific view and several of the students were waiting to see the sunrise. The sky was beautiful but the sun actually rose behind a neighboring mountain so we didn’t see it come up.
We were on the trail by 7:00 a.m., an hour before schedule, and began the long climb up Mt. Belvedere. There were great views through the trees as we climbed and at the peak we had a 360-degree panorama. Looking north we could see Jay Peak in the distance and visualize the general path that we had taken over the mountains. There was a fire tower on the peak and several of us climbed it for an even better view. I have to admit it was a bit scary up there with the wind howling and the clouds flying by. Most of us quickly headed back down but Ella stayed up there until we were ready to head back down to finish the hike.
I should give you an update on trail names. Ella is now ‘Toog’ which is short for ‘Two Glees’ – she admitted that she had actually watched two episodes of Glee on television and someone picked up on that. Bobby is ‘B3’ which stands for ‘Bobby the Third’. He has the same name as his father and grandfather, so he is a ‘third’.
Jukebox and Toog’s mothers picked us up at noon and drove us to Nye’s Green Valley Farm, a really nice B&B. the girls are staying with their mothers in their rooms and all of us boys are staying in a third floor bunkroom. It’s like a sleepover! We’re going in to town in a little while for dinner and to pick up a few items at the grocery store.
In the morning we’re having a breakfast of pancakes and sausage at 7:00 and then we’ll hit the trail. We have a nine mile day tomorrow and the weather forecast calls for rain, so we’re going to get our initiation into nasty weather on The Long Trail. Oh well, I guess it’s part of the deal. I just hope the young folks don’t mind it too much.
Here are some photos from Mt. Belvedere:

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Day Three – Tillotson Camp

Today was a challenging day! We hiked 11.7 miles over rugged trail with our longest climb of the trip up Haystack Mountain. To make it even tougher the water source at Hazen Shelter was dry so we were short of water for the second half of the day. But everyone stayed positive and accomplished our goal for the day. It was very rewarding.
My role when we hike is the ‘sweeper’ which means that I am always in back and if anyone slows down due to fatigue or because they’re just not felling good, I stick with them. I really like this role and feel like I must have been a shepherd in a previous life.
During the first part of the day one of the students just didn’t have her normal zip and we fell far behind the rest of the group. I didn’t want to say anything to hurt her feelings or discourage her so I talked to her about how I think about ‘hiking with a purpose’, keeping my forward momentum going, and thinking about three or four step combinations when you come to obstacles such as rocks, roots and mud holes. She really responded and was immediately hiking at a very good pace. Later in the day she moved up in the pack and finished well ahead of us in the back. At camp she thanked me for helping her. Of course it made me feel good that I was able to give her good advice and that she was able to put it to use so quickly.
We had another campfire tonight and as usual Whiskers asked everyone to share what was the most beautiful part of the day and what was the most challenging part of the day. The students openly shared some very insightful thoughts. They are a pretty impressive group and today they did what is probably the hardest physical activity that they have ever done.
Tomorrow we have a relatively easy 5.4 mile hike to a highway where two parents will pick us up and take us to a B&B for hikers. We’ll take showers, do laundry, eat a big meal and I’ll be sure to eat a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. Oh yeah, we get to sleep in beds – that will be a treat.
Here’s a photo of Whiskers and the boys at their tent site.
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Day Two – Jay Peak

We woke up early this morning but everyone was slow getting packed up so we didn’t start hiking until almost 8:00. The weather was cool and we were in the clouds so it seemed very foggy.
The trail was more challenging today with steeper terrain, more rocks and some boggy sections that we had to cross on logs that trail maintainers had laid across the bogs. At one point I heard a ruckus up ahead and when I arrived on the scene I saw Derek (who is now going by ‘Sinatra’ instead of ‘Ghost’) knee-deep in mud. One of the logs that he used to cross the bog sank when he stepped on it. Everyone enjoyed the humor in the situation.
We saw quite a few other hikers today, many more than I expected. We saw four thru-hikers, eleven day-hikers and a section hiker named Short Notice who is with us at the Jay Peak Camp shelter tonight.
The scenic highlight for the day was Jay Peak where we had a clear view of the 360-degree panorama. Jay Peak is a ski resort and part of the trail is one of the ski runs. The peak itself is a barren and rocky area above the tree line. It was cool and windy on the peak so most of us put on our jackets until we descended back into the trees. From the top we could see that the leaves are already starting to turn. It will be beautiful here in a couple of weeks.
We finished hiking early this afternoon, cooked and ate a hot dinner and had a campfire for the second night in a row.
I am really enjoying the slower pace and the more relaxed feel of this trip, as compared to my AT hike last year. Both fast and slow types of hiking have their place and I have no strong preference either way. But it is a pleasure to have the time to enjoy the views, listen to the wind blow in the trees, notice the colors of the leaves that have already fallen in the trail, and sit beside a campfire.
Here are photos of Sinatra after he climbed out of the bog and Ella (no trail name yet) on the top of Jay Peak.

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