Walken’

Powder River’s Appalachian Trail Journey from Georgia to Maine 2008

The Super Secret Shelter

Day 140

Location: Swan Song Shelter (Super Secret Shelter), VT

Miles hiked today: 14.5

Miles from Springer: 1,677.5

Miles to Katahdin: 498.7

Elevation: 1,800′

I started out this morning climbing Bear Mountain for the third time. Apparently someone who names these things has a sense of humor, as I have now climbed Bear Mountain in New York, Connecticut and Vermont. It really was easier the third time, although that is just because this is the shortest of the three. I still didn’t see a bear on Bear Mountain, so I am really considering asking for my money back.

The trail crosses a really impressive gorge with a swinging suspension bridge, with a sign warning that the bridge can only support one person at a time. The sign is only found on one side of the bridge, so I guess if you are a southbounder here is an added hazard for you. (Maybe they are trying to send a message to you, such as you are going the wrong way?) I found out much later that this entire bridge had just been rebuilt by some friends of mine on the trail participating in a Bob People’s Hard Core trail building project. My friend Bigglesworth actully hung from a harness under this bridge and put all the bolts in!! If I had known that maybe I would have found a different way across, and this also explains the sign about the weight!! (Oh, you know I’m kidding Bigglesworth. I trust your construction skills 100%.) The water below is a fast, angry river that looks like something only professional kayakers would attempt. Yet my guidebook says it is a favorite swimming hole for residents, and it also says to be careful of broken glass. Finally, it casually mentions that the bridge is named for someone who drowned there. This whole thing is fishy to me, and I’m starting to think they are trying to cut down on the number of us hikers!

I was hiking off and on with the “Triforce” today; three guys from Florida consisting of two brothers and a friend, plus the friend’s brother making four. We came upon some trail magic in the woods; a cooler that turned out to be empty. It is a hard fact of the trail that when you see a cooler in the woods, despite your soaring hopes for an ice cold Coke it could very well be empty. Instead you paw through empty cans and other trash, looking for that one unopened can that someone may have missed. Your hopes are dashed in the end, as the reality sinks in that the nearest 7-11 is 17 miles further up the trail.

While sitting there recovering from disappointment, a different kind of trail magic came along. A woman and an extremely elderly man came down the trail, and she asked us if we knew about the secret shelter. We did not, and so she showed us how to get to it. Now I had been comtemplating pushing on to the top of Killington Peak, which is another 4.5 miles on and is a big 2200′ climb. There was another shelter about a mile from here, but word was that it was really trashed and locals sometimes visit it to harrass the hikers. The book says not to stay there.

So, a secret shelter that is closeby definitely settled the matter, and we quickly found the side road that leads to it. The shelter is called the “Swan Song Shelter,” and was put up on private land by the people who own the house nearby to it. They built it at their own expense, and the guy who built it makes log cabins for a living, so the craftsmanship was really amazing. The shelter has hand-fitted joints to join the logs, and not a single nail is holding it together. It was fitted out with candles, a wiffle ball bat and even a big red button that read “push to activate hot tub.” (A prank, of course).

The most impressive part of the secret shelter was the privy. Made in the same high quality craftsmanship, the building is rounded, with a curved door that when closed perfectly fits the curved lines of the building. Inside is a very nice finished wood throne, and a huge skylight in the ceiling. The finishing touch was a coffee table book entitled “Outhouses of New England” that was a pictorial tour de force of great outhouse architecture in the northeast. It was so nice you just kind of wanted to hang out there for a while.

This place is definitely a jewel. Soon some more hikers showed up, and the shelter filled. It got very cold in the night, and for the first time since carrying my summer sleeping bag (since Damascus, Virginia) I was feeling a little chilly. It is almost time for the 20 degree sleeping bag.

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I’m going to race Karl Meltzer to the finish

Day 139

Location: Greenwall Shelter, VT

Miles hiked today: 21.6

Miles from Springer: 1,663

Miles to Katahdin: 513.2

Elevation: 2,025′

Somewhere this morning while climbing Peru Peak I passed Karl Meltzer, who is attempting to break the speed record on the Appalachian Trail. His target is 47 days for the whole thing, and he is running the trail and covering around 50 miles a day. He left Katahdin about 2 weeks ago. He is sponsered by Backpacker Magazine, has a support team in an RV with his name and web page plastered all over it that meets him at every road crossing, and he doesn’t carry a pack.  I did hear a story from someone who actually met Karl at his RV, and asked him what he thought of the trail. Karl leaned in close and said, “It’s easy.” I do believe I would have taken off my pack right there and handed it to him, and tell him to try it out for 20 miles.

I don’t really care how he hikes, -or runs- the trail. It would be nice however, if he didn’t beat me to the finish. I passed him with around 513 miles to go to Katahdin, while he has 1,663 to go to Springer.  Karl, you and I are in a race!

Today was another day of long miles. I went swimming at a place called lost pond, aware that swimming opportunities may get scarce as I head north and cold weather approaches. There is a camp site there at the pond, but I had a few more miles in me so I pushed on. The last four miles seemed to last forever. The trail climbs White Rocks Mountain, which at first does not seem like it would be a big deal, but a 650 foot climb at the end of a very long day can be tiring.

At the top of White Rocks, I believed I discovered the reason for the name. There was a formation of rocks on the left, and stacked on top of these were hundreds of loose white rocks, arranged almost as rock sculpture art. There were even little white rocks stacked on the branches of some of the trees. Someone has obviously spent a lot of time on this.

Finally arriving at the shelter, I discovered that there were quite a few people there already. Looking at the available tent sites, each of them had a looming dead tree above. After nearly dying in Connecticut from a falling tree, I didn’t like this much, but needed to choose a site anyways. I set up under the sturdiest looking one.

I had just finished cooking my dinner when the first peals of thunder crashed, and the rain opened up. I raced to my tent with my dinner in hand, and ate inside. My tent is gracious enough to let some of the water through its fabric, so I don’t miss out on all the rain. I was in for a damp night, as I kept needing to wake up periodically to kick the accumulating rainwater off the foot of my tent where it collects by the liter. It was a real nasty storm, and I’m pretty sure the rain fell all night, and the thunder was frequent. On the bright side of things, I did not wake up with a tree in my tent so I guess someone upstairs was looking out for me.

Bromley Mountain

Day: 138

Location: Bromley Mountain Ski Patrol Hut, VT

Miles hiked today: 13.6

Miles from Springer: 1,641.4

Miles to Katahdin: 534.8

Elevation: 3,260′

I managed to make a successful in-and-out visit to town today, which is virtually unheard of in the thru-hiking world. Each town has a gravitational vortex consisting of grocery stores, convenience stores with slurpies, cheeseburgers, and laundromats that usually combine to overcome any hiker’s best intentions of leaving town. On this occasion however, I was able to overcome all of these factors and claim victory over the yuppie shopping town of Manchester Center.

I did about 11 miles this morning to get to the road, making pretty good time. I got a ride very quickly, giving me great faith in Vermonters. The lady even took me all the way into town, even though she initially said she could only give me a ride part way. I soon had my clothes in the washer and was scarfing down 4 double cheeseburgers off the value menu before I had even been in town a half hour. There was an Eastern Mountain Sports store that had some socks I needed, but the local outfitter is way better. They replaced a bent section of my Leki pole for free, and the guy was pretty nice. This was really turning into a record town stop.

When I came out of the grocery store with my food, I was approached by an older gentleman named Joe who said he could take me back to the trail for $10. This sounded pretty good to me, since the trail was more than 5 miles away. A French Canadian hiker named Torch, who is hiking the Long Trail, decided to ride too, and we talked Joe down to $15 for both of us. Joe drives a very nice Cadillac, and he’s installed some very cheesy noises in his car, such as a beeping when the car backs up, and a train whistle when he blows the horn. We were definitely riding to the trail in style.

I was back at the trail by 5 p.m. or so, which made for an unheard-of 4-5 hour town stop. I had clean clothes, a full food bag and a stomach still hurting from my binge eating at McDonald’s and Ben and Jerry’s.

The shelter was only about a mile and a half up the mountain, but I had learned from a southbounder that there was a ski patrol hut on top of Bromley Mountain that hikers could stay in. Those southbounders may be walking the wrong direction, but they sure do turn out useful sometimes.

The weather was threatening, so I hurried on past the shelter to get to the top before it started raining. The trail goes right through a ski area, and even goes right up one of the ski runs to get to the top.

There was a ski lift at the top, the ski patrol hut and an observation tower. There was only one other hiker in the cabin, who was a southbounder. We had the place to ourselves, and the nice thing was the cabin was insulated very well for winter use. The place even had a working phone, and there was a note from the ski patrol asking the hikers to please stop pooping in their storage shed, as it is not a privy!

The best part about the place was the fact that it’s on top of a mountain, and there’s an observation tower. The sunset tonight was phenominal, even better than the one two nights ago! It was another stunning 360 degree view. I was starting to forget about Vermont’s muddy first impression, and I have to say, the Green Mountains are growing on me!

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Stratton Mountain

Day: 137

Location: Stratton Pond Shelter, VT

Miles hiked today: 19.4

Miles from Springer: 1,627.8

Miles to Katahdin: 548.4

Elevation: 2,565′

I intended to get up before sunrise this morning and climb the firetower for some pictures, but it was foggy and I decided my energy would be much better spent studying my eyelids some more. The fog had cleared by the time I had breakfast, packed and hiked up the mountain and I had another spectacular view. Mt. Stratton loomed to the north, which I would be climbing today.

Stratton Mountain occupies a special place in A.T. lore. Supposedly, it was on these slopes that Benton MacKaye first imagined a long-distance trail that would link the high peaks of the Appalachian Mountains. The Long Trail of Vermont had already been conceptualized, and was being built. Supposedly, Stratton inspired the Long Trail as well.

Stratton is a good size mountain, and I made it up there in the late afternoon. There was another fire tower at the top, so of course I went up. It was very cold at the top, with a good steady wind. It was as much a good view as before from the top, except it was not sunset and I had no intention of hanging around that long. There is usually a caretaker around here but he/she must have gone home for the day.

Making it down the mountain and another 3 miles, I arrived at the shelter. It had been a very long day, but it felt good to put in some decent miles. I have been making very slow time recently, and need to speed up a little bit. The shelter is nice, but it is the first shelter they charge you to stay at on the A.T. That being a foreign concept, a lot of hikers refuse to stay there. It would be easy to just set up my tent in the woods for free, but I decided to fork out 5 dollars and stay under a roof.

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Glastenbury Mountain

Day: 136

Location: Goddard Shelter, VT

Miles hiked today: 10.1

Miles fro Springer: 1,608.4

Miles to Katahdin: 567.8

elevation: 3,540′

The hostel wasn’t quite as close to the trail as I had thought, and it turned out I was in for a 3 mile road walk to get back to the trail. Thankfully, it was downhill. Having gotten up late, and stopped at a convenience store for a while, I didn’t really get started on the trail until about noon.

The trail conditions have been getting worse and worse with all the rain, but today, there was a break in the weather. There was still a lot of unavoidable mud on the trail, but significantly less so. I started to really enjoy Vermont, and even considered calling it by its proper name instead of “Ver-Mud.”

The highlight of the day came when I got to the shelter. It was beautifully situated facing south on the side of Glastenbury Mountain, and was a nicely built shelter. It had a really fantastic spring; ice cold, pure water that flowed from a pipe like a water fountain.

A southbounder at the shelter told me there was a great fire tower at the top of the mountain another .2 miles up the trail. It sounded like it would be worth the walk.

When I got to the tower, I was treated with one of the best 360 views I’ve had on the entire trail. The fire tower was about 80 feet tall, and from it I could see Stratton Mountain, Killingdon, Mt. Greylock and dozens of others. Far in the distance, the Adirondacks of New York were visible. I got some great pictures but decided to come back up after dinner for sunset.

After hiking another .8 miles round trip, and after dinner, I was back on the fire tower watching a spectacular sunset. Suddenly I was a big fan of Vermont, and was very glad for the good weather. Hopefully it will hold so I can enjoy the rest of the state.

Map

Green Mountain Boys

Day 135

Location: VT Route 9

Miles hiked today: 11.5

Miles from Springer: 1,598.3

Miles to Katahdin: 577.9

Elevation: 1,360′

It poured buckets last night, and as always the water came right through my tent. I have actually just ordered a new tent, for this and a few other reasons. It just seems that a tent should maybe be waterproof, but I am not an expert on this so maybe there is a hidden benefit to having the water leak straight through the fabric.

I had set out some socks to dry last night, which were now soaking wet. It took me a little while to get everything together and be on my way.

Seeing Vermont for the first time in the daylight, (at least on the A.T.), I was struck by how beautiful it was. It was not drastically different from Massachusetts, but subtly so. I went through a forest of silver birches, and saw my first set of moose tracks and droppings for the A.T.

I came to a set of power lines, which offered sun and a view to the west because the trees are cleared for the power lines. There was a stiff breeze, so I set up my tent to dry it in the sun, and sat down for lunch. Soon enough I had company, because several people I had just passed stopped for lunch too. There are lots of people just starting out on the Long Trail, as well as some A.T. thru-hikers. It was a very nice stop.

Vermont is beautiful, but I found myself unable to look around and enjoy it because the trail is in such a horrible condition. The mud was deep and unavoidable in places, which made progress really difficult. Again, it seems that some simple trail work techniques would help a lot.

When I got to the Congdon Shelter, I began thinking that I should go into town at the upcoming road because I needed to make a phone call. As I was hanging out at the shelter, a day hiker arrived, who happened to be from D.C. A little bit later Goose arrived, who I had just met this morning. I was talking to Goose about going into town when Ron, the day hiker offered to take me. His car was just at the bottom of the gap, where the highway is. Excited about my luck, I threw my stuff together and Ron and I were soon on our way off the mountain.

Ron is my age and he’s been a teacher for some time, so he had a lot of good career advice for me. When we got to his car, we decided to go into Bennington for a burger, and he knew of a hostel where he could drop me off at.

Bennington is one of the places where Ethan Allen lived for a time, as well as the home of many of the Green Mountain Boys. The Green Mountain Boys were a rough militia group who were notoriously undisciplined, tough, hard drinking and served their own interests. Yet under the leadership of Ethan Allen, they were extremely effective against the British and obtained a key victory at Ticonderoga, capturing the fort and its arsenal of canon. These were later hauled to Boston by Henry Knox. I was very excited that the trail goes near Bennington, as I was hoping to visit the battlefield there (called the Battle of Bennington). However, I was very disappointed to learn that the Battle of Bennington was not fought in Bennington at all, or even in Vermont. It was actually fought across the border in New York. However, the objective of the British Commander, John Burgoyne was the arsenal at Bennington. So, no battlefield in Bennington, which was really too bad. But it was still cool just to be in Ethan Allen’s home town.

After some high calorie food at the Irish Pub, Ron drove me back near the trail and dropped me off at a hostel. It was really nice to get into town and back out again, and be near the trail for the morning.

Map

Ver-Mud

Day 134

Location: Seth Warner Shelter, VT

Miles hiked today: 6.9

Miles from Springer: 1,586.8

Miles to Katahdin: 589.4

Elevation: 2,180′

I stayed in Williamstown last night, and needed to get to the city center to pick up a package at the outfitter there. It is a very nice town, and I like it a lot. Williamstown is the home of Williams College, which is a very expensive, very exclusive undergrad school. I ended up burning a lot of time walking around eating and doing internet at the library. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, and I was in no rush. I would cross into Vermont today, which was only a few miles up the trail, and then there is a shelter just beyond that.

At around 3 p.m., I went to catch the bus across Route 2 that would take me to the trailhead. The bus that stopped was driven by a guy named Mike, who is one very cool dude. I went to get my money out, but he said don’t worry about it, as long as I can guess both answers to his question. This sounded good, so I told him I was game.

Question: What do all thru-hikers, including the females, have in common?

This is where my 4 months on the trail came in handy. I knew the answers to this one. Answer is, 1. They all smell bad and 2. They all have leg hair. Mike was delighted that I got it right, and I won myself a free ride on the bus.

After stopping at the grocery store for some supplies, I was finally ready to hit the trail. It was past 4 p.m., but I had less than 7 miles to go and the weather was beautiful. I started up the hill. One thing that was interesting as the trail left town was that it crosses a stream and some railroad tracks on a footbridge, turns right to follow a city street for a bit, and then turns right up the driveway of a home. I was thinking that could not be right, but there the white blazes were, plain as day. The blazes go up the driveway, into the backyard and into the woods. The home owners were in their back yard, so I asked them about it. They said that because the A.T. is there, their driveway is actually federally owned land, and they are not allowed to park on it. They pull up it, and then turn into a carport, leaving the trail clear.

I noticed two things as I got ever closer to Vermont; one was that it was extremely muddy, and the second was that storm clouds were rolling in. I crossed the border at the top of the mountain, closing the mileage book on my 11th state. I was now actually following two long distance trails. One is the A.T., and the other is the Long Trail, which is actually older than the A.T., and started in 1910. The Long Trail is the first long distance trail in America, and goes from the Massachusetts border to Canada, some 270 miles. That sounds like a nice short distance to us A.T. folk. The A.T. follows the Long Trail (“LT”) for the first 105 miles, before turning east towards New Hampshire near Killington. So now there are four categories of thru-hikers: northbound A.T, southbound A.T., northbound L.T., and southbound L.T. Much more confusing than the good ole days when we were all just heading north.

It started to rain about the same time it got dark, which was not helping the progress I was trying to make. I whould have been there by then, but Vermont’s mud is actually the worst trail condidtions I have seen yet. Part of the problem is that they did not modify the trail to deal with mud, instead letting hikers wade through it. Simple stepping stones would do the trick, but instead there are huge pits of mud, some of it calf-deep. Of course, everyone tries to get around these on the edges, which only makes the mud pit wider, and destroys all the vegetation next to the trail.

But in such a situation I was not worried abut vegetation so much as just keeping my feet dry. However, I had no choice but to step in deep mud on several occasions, and soon I threw all caution to the wind and just waded through the stuff. My shoes and socks filled with mud, and I could feel the abrasive blisters it would cause if I had to hike like this over long distances. Finally I could understand why McClellan (General McClellan during the Civil War) got so bogged down on the penninsula. (But that is still no excuse for his failure.)

I was not impressed so far. Vermont, your new name is Ver-Mud. I’ll let you know if I change my mind on that, but you’re going to really have to work on some things to change my mind!

I got into camp much later than I had planned, and of course the shelter was full. There were a ton of people in tents, as it seems lots of people are just starting the Long Trail tonight. I set up in an unoccupied site, and had a pretty wet night. My tent is not actually waterproof, which I have decided would be a really nice feature to have someday. I fell asleep dreaming of giant puddles of mud.

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