Monday, October 14, 2013

Day 17: Hump Day!

Dscn6200September 20: Hump Day had arrived. I’d be summiting Camel’s Hump—tied as the third tallest peak in Vermont at 4,083 feet above sea level. I know, you folks out west may not think much of a measly 4,000-foot peak, but don’t let its short size fool you. Back east, they compensate for small mountains by making their trails especially difficult, and I’d been hearing horror stories from the southbound thru-hikers regarding Camel’s Hump for 17 days now. And today, I’d be tackling Camel’s Hump. Hump Day.

 

I knew it was going to be a long, challenging day of hiking today, so I woke up early to get going. In total miles, I intended to hike 13.4 miles—which doesn’t sound like much, but if the trail was anything like it had been from Stark’s Nest to my current location, it would likely be the most difficult 13.4 miles of the trail so far. Some material I had read suggested that hikers should plan to expect hiking at around 1 mph along this section. I thought I could do better than that, but still… what if I couldn’t?

 

So I started my hike at sunrise. I couldn’t start earlier than that since I needed to take photos for http://www.walking4fun.com so I did need daylight to work in, but there would be no lingering in camp early in the morning and I wasn’t planning on very many breaks or rests for the day.

 

The first few miles to Cowles Cove Shelter was pleasant and not too much trouble, but after that, the trail went to hell very quickly. The mud came in thick and furious, then turned into boulder hopping as it climbed Burnt Rock Mountain. The boulder hopping was fun at first but grows old quickly. I was grateful that the weather was clear and dry—in wet weather, the boulder walk would have been slick and slippery. The large boulders also provided a lot of views through the thick foliage and the views were pleasant and enjoyable, even if the boulder hopping was slow and tedious.

 

Coming down the boulders was more difficult than going up them. The steep slopes used a lot of handwork in scrambling, and it’s easier to use your hands scrambling up steeps slopes than waddling down them, and my progress slowed even more.

 

Ladder Ravine lived up to its name, where we had to scramble across a steep, exposed rock face to a ladder to descend. Someone had also installed a rope, tied securely to a tree with evenly spaced knots to get a better grip on the rope that could be used to help you safely get across the rock face to the ladder. I tested the rope by pulling it hard from a safe location, then slowly inched my way across the rock face to the ladder holding the rope tightly in case I slipped but not putting any weight on it. The rope, for me, was a safety device, and only to be used in case I slipped. I didn’t slip, though, and made it to and down the ladder.

 

Dscn6207The trail then started heading back uphill—up towards Mount Ethan Allen. The climb was steep and exhausting, but I kept pushing until I reached the viewpoint at the top where I took a lunch break.

 

This also marked about the halfway point of my day’s hike. Although I felt like I had made good time to this point, I was exhausted and knew I’d be slowing down on the second half of the day. I still thought I could make it to the shelter on the other side of Camel’s Hump before dark, but I didn’t have time for a long rest and pushed on after about a half hour.

 

The trail descended steeply from Mount Ethan Allen to the Montclair Glen Lodge where I could up with several hikers including Hill, Fire-Eye, Superchunk, and Shutterbug. I’d never met any of these people before, but I had been following their register entries in the shelters for quite awhile now and particularly enjoyed Hill’s entry in the previous shelter when she drew a camel with a tiny hiker on the hump shouting “Woo-who!” =)

 

But I didn’t stop long. I took a couple of photos of the shelter, signed the register, then pushed off to tackle the last and biggest summit of the day: Camel’s Hump.

 

I’d caught glimpses of Camel’s Hump throughout the afternoon at various viewpoints, and it looks seriously intimidating. The rocky top is completely devoid of trees—presumably because the terrain is too tough for trees to thrive. The trees stop suddenly just before the summit and the summit looks like a gigantic boulder dropped onto the earth. The exposed rock around the summit looked completely vertical and I looked up at it wondering how the heck they got not just one, but two trails to the top! Because where the Long Trail goes up the south side, it’ll have to go back down the north side.

 

The trail scrambled up more boulders and rocks, interspaced with mud, and I pushed myself onward beyond exhaustion. I didn’t want to stop until I reached the top because I worried if I did, I wouldn’t want to get going again. Nope, I wanted to get this climb done and over with, and I pushed myself hard up the mountain.

 

Dscn6216The trail switchbacked up the mountain, but it was still steep and followed boulders alongside even steeper cliffs that would be lethal if one were to slip and fall, but eventually I made it to the summit where it exploded into views that stretched a hundred miles in every direction. The autumn foliage was plainly evident, as were the several dozen of people loitering around the top. The place was positively packed with people—far more than I had seen anywhere else on the trail.

 

And I finally sat down for another rest. Time-wise, I was still doing well, and I figured I could stay up there for the better part of an hour before I had to go onward to the shelter. I would have been happy to have camped right there for the night except camping on Camel’s Hump was prohibited. So I sat around admiring the view and eating snacks. Such a lovely spot—except for the large number of people.

 

After nearly an hour, I grudgingly lifted my pack and started down the mountain. After such a long break, I was still tired and feeling a little cranky at the thought that I had to keep hiking. And the trail down wasn’t any better than the trail up. Steep with lots of boulder hopping. Slow going. The multitudes of people disappeared after about a quarter of a mile when they turned off to the parking lot nearby while I kept going north on the Long Trail, and getting away from the crowds cheered me up a bit.

 

But I was still feeling tired and cranky and just wanted to be done with the day at this point. I hiked as fast as conditions would allow and finally made it into the Bamforth Ridge Shelter by around 5:30 in the afternoon—a full hour before the sun set and things would have started getting dark. I was rather pleased with my early arrival since it gave me plenty of daylight to cook dinner and get settled into camp, and I would have time to relax and read a book before going to sleep. It was a small comfort on an otherwise exhausting day.

 

Hill, Fire-Eye, Superchunk, and Shutterbug arrived closer to sunset and they seemed even more exhausted than I felt. Shutterbug had suffered a badly sprained ankle on her way down from the summit and was talking about taking a day off the trail once they reached Jonesville a few more miles down the trail the next morning. Later, I would learn that she would get off the trail completely rather than take a zero day—Camels Hump had beaten her.

 

It was, without a doubt, the most difficult day of the trail so far. The worst, I thought, was behind me.

 

At least I hoped the worst was behind me…

 

Dscn6212
Last page of the Cowles Cove Shelter. I particularly
liked the camel drawing by Hill. =)

 

Dscn6219
First of the views from Burnt Rock Mountain.

 

Dscn6224
Burnt Rock Mountain

 

Dscn6226
I’m actually standing on the Long Trail—which overlooks
this cliff.

 

Dscn6229
I take a snack break on Burnt Rock Mountain
while enjoying the incredible views!
Just look at those handsome feet! =)

 

Dscn6230
Looking ahead… Mount Ira Allen, then Mount Ethan Allen,
and finally—far in the distance—Camel’s Hump.

 

Dscn6231
Ladder Ravine. The walk across the exposed rock on the edge
of the cliff was the most nerve wracking part here.
Going down the ladder was easy! But at least there was
a rope to help.

 

Dscn6238
Hiking over rock, big and small, becomes exhausting
when you do it all day long.

 

Dscn6240
Viewpoint from the top of Mount Ethan Allen.

 

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Dscn6253
It’s a little annoying when I get to places like this because
I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that the trail
will take the most direct, impossibly steep route
to the top of that hill on our way to Camels Hump.
Oh, it could go around the rocky point, and you pray and
hope it will, but you know in your heart that it won’t.
Oh, no… going around would be too easy.

 

Dscn6254
The rock climbing gym.

 

Dscn6257
Camels Hump—tied as the third highest peak in Vermont.
It looks like it would be impossible to even get a trail
to the top of it much less two trails!

 

Dscn6261
Looking back from where we started.

 

Dscn6265
Getting above tree line on Camel’s Hump—the end is near!

 

Dscn6268
View from Camel’s Hump.

 

Dscn6269
The people! The hoards of people at the top of Camel’s Hump!

 

Dscn6270
Northeast view from Camel’s Hump. That’s I-89
snaking through the middle of the photo—which
also happens to be the lowest point of the Long Trail.
From the third-highest peak in Vermont to the lowest
point of the Long Trail—a nearly 4,000-foot drop
(the biggest of the trail) in just six miles.

 

Dscn6275
Filling up with water at Gorham Spring.

 

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Dscn6286
This is one of the more interesting sections
of the trail where you can straddle this
giant crack as you descend from Camels Hump.

 

Dscn6288
This photo was taken from the same place, but looking ahead
instead of down at my feet. The trail comes down from the
cliff on the right side of the photo to my current position,
then follows the long slab of rock from the bottom-left corner
of the photo to the near the top, then moves over to the slab
of rock on the left where you can see the white blaze.
Ridiculous! And yet somehow amazing….

 

Dscn6291
The problem with this bog bridge on the right is that
it looks like it’ll sink into the mud if we step on it.
Hikers beware!

 

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Dscn6296
This photo looks like it’s tilted a little, but it’s not—it’s just
the boulders that the trail runs through that is tilted
(as well as the white blaze that’s also tilted).
It’s hard to walk through a tilted canyon.

 

Dscn6297
Looking back at Camel’s Hump late in the day.

3 comments:

tiggermama said...

"It’s a little annoying when I get to places like this because
I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that the trail
will take the most direct, impossibly steep route
to the top of that hill on our way to Camels Hump.
Oh, it could go around the rocky point, and you pray and
hope it will, but you know in your heart that it won’t.
Oh, no… going around would be too easy."

ya know, i keep hiking with Wolfie and saying, the trails down here really aren't that bad. And she keeps saying, you're kidding, right? And i keep saying, no, the trails in VT are a lot worse than this. . . and i wonder if i'm remembering it wrong. Then, i read this blog post: Camel's Hump/The Long Trail was where i learned to hike and backpack. Nope, i'm not remembering it wrong. If the Great Green One thinks, "then the day went to Hell. . ."
thanks for the memories of home.

lou p otter said...

Finally a good shot of your feet.
(you know how obsessed we get with your footwear)

Anonymous said...

Those don't look like Payless shoes to me! Are you upgrading????

DC Stones