Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Day 25: Another Day on the Long Trail

Dscn6911September 28: In the morning, Purgy and I woke up to fog. A thick layer of fog that seemed to fill the lake, and I was a little disappointed about this since I had hoped for a beautiful sunrise over Ritterbush Pond. I ate breakfast, at which point much of the fog had burned off and I could once again see across the lake. And the view! What a view!


I finished breakfast, then wandered over to the dock by the shelter to take photos. Immediately, I noticed dozens of beer cans littered around the shelter—beer cans that weren’t there the afternoon before. I wasn’t entirely sure if the drunken idiots from the night before had actually slept in the shelter or if they had left in the middle of the night after I fell asleep, but I saw a dog at the window of the shelter and I knew they were still in there. A part of me thought it would be hilarious to pound down the door and shout, “GOOD MORNING, EVERYONE!” all bright-eyed and perky, hoping to annoy these people as much as they annoyed us upon their arrival at the shelter last night, but good sense prevailed and I steered clear of the shelter going directly to the dock instead.


And the view! What a view! I eagerly took dozens of photos—I couldn’t stop myself. Even when I was taking the photos I thought that these were, hands-down, the best photos I’d taken on the entire hike so far. (Just ignore the beer cans around my feet! I thought.) There was still a hint of the morning fog, but the trees positively glowed in the morning light with their fall colors. I walked back to the campsite where I told Purgy that he really needed to check out the view from the dock because it was absolutely stunning, but now I wanted to walk down to the other shelter for yet additional photos from another perspective.


I took tons more photos, absolutely enthralled with the views. The fog drifted in and out, so sometimes the views were better than others, but it certainly kept me alert! Eventually, a thick layer of fog came back and stayed, and it was time to start hiking again. I left camp a little before Purgy.


Dscn6914The trail soon crossed Highway 118, at which point I almost immediately lost the trail. I was on a wide, clear path which led directly into a large mud puddle on the trail where I could see hundreds of ankle-deep prints left by hikers before me. Tree falls blocked the trail, though, and I tried to find a way around the left side of it, but I couldn’t find the trail in that direction. So I backtracked and tried going around the mud hole to the right, but was blocked by more trees and bushes before I could find the trail again. Where the heck did the trail go?


After about ten minutes of pondering this, I looked back up the trail—clear as day—and followed it down into the mud pit where the trail just seemed to dead end, and thought maybe I should back up even more to make a wider sweep around the dead end. I looked back and to the side of the trail when I noticed a small, white blaze on a tree that wasn’t at all where I expected to see one. It wasn’t in the direction I had come from, and it wasn’t in the direction I was trying to get. Did I somehow miss a turn?


I backtracked a bit until I noticed that the trail did, in fact, make a slight, barely perceptible turn, but so many people had missed it that the wrong turn actually looked like the main trail while the correct trail barely looked like a game path. I could totally see how I missed the turn, and I was frustrated at my loss of time but glad to finally be back on track again. The GMC really needs to mark that section better. Given all of the footprints in the mud hole, I knew I wasn’t the first (or the last) person to miss that turn!


The trail over Belvidere Mountain grew considerably more difficult than the last couple of days of hiking had been. Mud become the norm over flat ground, and steep, slick rocks became the norm on the unflat ground. The trail doesn’t lead to the very top of Belvidere Mountain, but a short 0.2 mile side trail leads to the top where there’s a fire tower. Of course, I had to go up in the fire tower, which meant I had to take the 0.2 mile side trail to the top. The views were absolutely fantastic! But I didn’t linger—I had left my pack down at the trail junction and I was leery about leaving it unattended for too long. Lord knows what kind of animals could be getting into my pack right now!


My pack was unscathed, though, and I continued hiking. The mud on the trail became epic. At one point, I slipped and fell directly into the mud making a mess of my pants, shoes, and the cuff of my shirt where my hand fell into the mud to catch myself. Another particularly muddy area had bog bridges built, which looked solid until I took a step on it at which point it promptly sank into the bog nearly up to my knees!


Dscn6916Eventually, however, I made it to Hazen’s Notch Camp just before sunset. When I arrived, two Canadians had a campfire going, and one American from Georgia named Mike was hiking southbound. The Canadians were just out for a night or two, but Mike was thru-hiking. Being from Georgia, he had a deep southern accent. He was a large man, built like a football player, with a wild beard—the kind you imagine someone growing if they were stranded on a deserted island without any razors. He seemed nice, but he looked kind of scary and I couldn’t help but think that he reminded me of photos of the Unibomber.


The Canadians decided to camp in their tent outside, and Mike, Purgy and I were chatting in the shelter when Mike left for a bit. As soon as I did, I turned to Purgy, “He’s going to kill us in our sleep!” I told him.


And Purgy didn’t seem at all surprised at this observation, but instead noted that I was sleeping closer to him so he’d have to kill me first and he’d make a run for it.


Well, I’m glad he had a plan, but I can’t say I liked it much. =)


All joking aside, though, we didn’t really expect that he’d murder us during the night, but you’ll have to wait until my next blog post to find out… =)


You can see Purgy standing on the dock in this photo.
After I told him it was worth the effort to check out the view
from there, he did so. Which is when I took this photo. =)


Purgy No More cooking breakfast!




The view from the Belvidere fire tower. It looks like there’s
a large quarry or something over here, but I’m not
sure what they’re doing here.


Another view from the Belvidere fire tower.


Belvidere fire tower


I took a fall—right into the mud! (The mud in the background
is the stuff where I fell.)


Beaver dam


View from inside of the Tillotson Camp.






The view ahead… The high peak in the background on the
left is Jay Peak—and the trail will go right to the top of it.
Tomorrow, though. Tomorrow. =)









Monday, October 28, 2013

Day 24: The Hunt for Secret Shelter #2

Dscn6777September 27: The next morning, Top Shelf told us about their trouble finding water in the dark of night. First they missed the pump completely since they were looking for a creek or spring or something, not a pump. Once they did find the pump, they couldn’t get any water out of it. Cheesy or Lucky, I’m not sure who, spent a great deal of effort pumping and pumping but no water would come out.


“Pump harder! Pump harder!”


I laughed, imagining the scene, knowing exactly why water wasn’t coming out—the pump hadn’t been primed. For some reason, the image of Scottie—you remember, from Star Trek?—trying to pump water. “I’m giving it all she’s got, captain!” But pumping harder wasn’t going to get water out of that pump.


Eventually, one of them noticed the directions for priming the pump nearby and they finally got their water and headed back to the shelter. I’m not sure how long they were gone getting water, though, because I had fallen asleep while they were gone.


I wasn’t in a big rush to hit the trail, but I didn’t want to linger too late either since I planned for an ambitious 14+ mile day—my longest so far. If the trail was particularly tough, I might not make the full distance, but from what I’ve heard and how my guidebook described the trail ahead, it didn’t look too bad.


I left the shelter shortly after Hill and Fire-Eye and we spent much of the next several hours passing each other back and forth. At one point, I stopped to take a photo of a log on the side of the trail covered with fallen leaves. It looked… pretty, but I thought I could make it better with a few minor alterations. The leaves were colorful yellows and reds, but the top of the leaves were decidedly brighter in color than their bottoms, so I took the time to flip over the leaves that were bottom-side up. Then I added a few more leaves to the log that I picked up from the ground. I spent only a minute or two adjusting the scene, just as the two girls passed me by and I explained what I was going.


They knew I was “working”—taking photos for, and Fire-Eye cried, “Fraud! Fraud! You’re a fraud and I’m going to tell everyone!” She clearly meant it jokingly, but I defended myself anyhow. “Hey, now! There are real, honest-to-goodness Vermont leaves. It’s not like I imported them from Michigan or anything!”


Hill walked past as I was taking photos, then I noticed her in the background of my photo which I liked even more than with nobody in the photo, and I quickly took another photo before Hill walked out of the frame. That wasn’t staged! Even if some of the leaves were. =)


Dscn6783Later, the trail briefly come out to a dirt road as a gust of wind blew through the trees causing a hundred leaves to float to the ground. It was very scenic, but it ended far too quickly for me to get a photo of it, so I waited for another gust of wind to blow through as Hill and Fire-Eye overtook me again. I waited for about five minutes, and the occasional leaf would fall, but not the blizzard of leaves that a gust would generate and while I didn’t mind waiting for a few minutes, I certainly had no intention of waiting around all day. The two joked that they’ll shake some trees for me to get some leaves falling, and one of them did pretend to shake a tree, but no leaves fell from it.


Eventually, I gave up. The photo probably wouldn’t have turned out well anyhow. The falling leaves are most beautiful when you can actually see them falling—static photos of leaves frozen in the air aren’t nearly as appealing. But I still really wanted to get a photo of leaves falling, but how?


I started up the trail again, passing Hill and Fire-Eye for the umpteenth time. I’d hike faster than them, but I stopped a lot more often for my photo ops. So I passed them again, and eventually reached a place where there was a leaf floating in the air by the side of the trail. It just hovered here, by itself, at about eye level.


The leaf wasn’t a magic leaf, of course, but it had got itself caught on a single strand from a spiderweb or something that was completely invisible to the naked eye. Ah-ha! A falling leaf, frozen in motion! I took another dozen or so photos of the leaf as it blew from side to side in the wind. The leaf was blurry in my photo due to that back and forth movement, but I was okay with that—it just made it look like I really did catch a leaf falling in mid-air! =)


As I was taking the photos, once again, Hill and Fire-Eye caught up with me and I told them about my new “fraud” photo. Perfect!


The trail turned out to be pretty easy the entire day. No steep climbs or drops, no mud or slippery rocks. It was, all-in-all, a pleasant walk through the woods painted with colors and plenty of leaves to kick and stomp throughout the day.


I last saw Hill and Fire-Eye at the Corliss Camp shelter. I couldn’t think of anything interesting for funny to write in the shelter register, so I left a puzzle instead for hikers to work out if they were bored in camp. What are the next two numbers in this sequence: 1, 11, 21, 1211, 111221, ____, ____. Then, cruelly, I wrote that I’d supply the answer in the next shelter register northbound on the trail. =) My note said that would probably be the Spruce Ledge Camp shelter, but in case the register there was full or missing, I’d put the answer in whatever the next northbound shelter I reached with a register.


As I was writing my puzzle, Hill said she wasn’t feeling particularly well and was thinking about stopping there for the day even though it was so early in the afternoon. Hill and Fire-Eye were still discussing what they’d do when I took off for the next shelter. I definitely didn’t intend to stop this early in the day!


Dscn6786For the rest of the day, I largely had the trail to myself. A couple of hours later, I saw a southbound hiker hiking alone, and I said, “Buenos dias, senor!” I was a little taken aback when he replied in flawless Spanish a lot more than I could understand. I didn’t realize it when I greeted him, but he grew up in El Salvador and Spanish is actually his first language!


Late in the day, I passed a couple of more hikers heading southbound who told me about a hidden shelter not far ahead on the trail. I’d almost forgotten about it since the woman from Bellingham first mentioned it, but if it was close, I figured I should certainly check it out. They told me it was by Ritterbush Pond, but off the top of my head, I didn’t know where that was. The lake was very scenic, they told me, and even had a dock.


I was already doing my longest day of walking so far on the trip and I figured I had maybe a little more than a half hour to reach the next shelter. “How far away is it?” I asked. I was a little tired already, but more importantly, I had largely taken my time to get here. I figured I’d get to the official shelter about an hour before sunset which didn’t really leave me much time to go looking for another secret shelter before dark.


They told me that they had been at it just 45 minutes earlier. I was a little surprised at that. I expected the official shelter was about that distance—maybe a little closer, but not by much.


“Is it before or after the next official shelter?” I asked. I might look for it if it was before the shelter. Past the shelter… I wasn’t sure. What if I couldn’t find it?


They thought for a moment, trying to remember, then concluded it was past the Spruce Ledge Camp for me.


We parted ways and I continued onward to Spruce Ledge Camp. If the secret shelter was beyond it, then I didn’t have to worry about this new secret shelter until then. If it was too late in the day or the pond looked too far away on my maps, I could just quit as Spruce Ledge Camp like I originally intended. If I reach the shelter and decide I have the time and energy to look for the shelter, then I would. But that decision could wait for now. =)


Dscn6788The rest of the trail to Spruce Ledge Camp was relatively non-eventful, although the shelter was a good quarter-mile off the trail. I hated going so far off trail if I intended to come back to look for the secret shelter, but I had already committed myself to writing the answer to the puzzle I left in the register of the last shelter in this shelter’s register! And anyhow, I still wanted a photo of the shelter to use on So I made the trek up to the shelter. From the shelter, a sign pointed to a lookout point not far away, so I followed that trail to a bench where I could see quite the view—including a large lake down below with what appeared be a dock in the water.


That’s where the secret shelter is! I realized. I pulled out my guidebook and looked at the maps. Yep, Ritterbush Pond was about a mile north on the trail, situated exactly where the lake was below. That’s so where the secret shelter is located! I could hear voices coming from down by the lake and noticed a small moving dot on the dock. There was a person on the dock. I couldn’t tell who it was from this distance—they were a dot at best. I couldn’t see the entire lake from the viewpoint—trees blocked the entire right half of the lake, but I tried to nose around as much as I could to see more of the lake when I saw a structure built onto the far side of the lake next to the shore. Was that the shelter? From this distance, I wasn’t sure. It might be a shelter. It might be anything.


If I had any doubts about whether or not I could find the secret shelter, though, seeing the lake and possible shelter not more than a mile away down the hillside put those fears to rest. I could totally find my second secret shelter of the trail!


I quickly wrote out the answer to the puzzle in the register (I might post an answer in a future post—just so you guys can work it on it if you want to!), ate a quick snack, then headed back to the trail where I found Purgy No More filtering water. I told him about the secret shelter and asked if he wanted to join me in the hunt for the mysterious shelter. He was hesitant about doing so, though, asking what would happen if I couldn’t find it?


Which is when I confessed that I was all but certain I could find it—because I could actually see it from this shelter! It was about a mile further down the trail, and we’d have to follow a short side-trail to the right. I had little doubt that I could find it—which was more than I could say about the first secret shelter I had looked for.


Dscn6789And that’s how I sucked Purgy into my hunt for the secret shelter. I promised it would be easy to find, and that it wasn’t far away.


Neither of us realized, however, that between the lake and our current location was Devils Gulch. Oh, it was on our maps—a name on a map that neither of us really paid much attention to. Just another landmark, or so we thought. We should have known better, though. Anything landmark with the name “Devil” in it ought to raise a red flag.


For perhaps a quarter mile, the trail became a regular jungle gym of house-sized boulders that required scrambling over and around. On one tight section, my Nalgene bottle fell out of my pack landing in a crack between one of two car-sized boulders that I stood on, and I scrambled down to retrieve it glad it didn’t fall into the much deeper crack just inches away where I’d have likely lost it forever.


I was annoyed at first with the unexpected obstacle. I had already hiked my longest day of the trail and was ready to call it quits, but after a few minutes, I started warming up to the challenge. It was different and even a little fun—if you’re in the right mood for it!


We made it through the obstacle course, though, at which point the trail leveled out again and within minutes, we reached a trail junction. The right almost certainly led towards Ritterbush Pond, and we followed it down leaving the Long Trail behind us.


The side trail only went about a tenth of a mile before reaching the scenic lake, coming out of the trees near the dock. An enclosed building stood nearby—the secret shelter. I walked out on the dock and took photos. I could see a few people on a raft or something playing in the lake, a rather loud and boisterous group of people breaking the tranquility.


Purgy and I entered the shelter and found ourselves shocked at its state. Trash littered the place and empty bottles of hard alcohol lined the shelves. The back of the shelter, away from the windows, was dark and more than a little creepy. The place was obviously used by locals for partying more than for getting close to nature, and the idea of camping in that filthy pigsty did not appeal to me at all. “We’re thru-hikers,” I told Purgy. “We have better standards than this!” I said, sweeping my hands around the room. And we both decided that we’d rather camp outside than inside that miserable excuse for a shelter.


We walked back outside to a dirt road that followed the edge of the lake and started walking down the road for a place to camp, settling on a nice location not far from the shelter. I set up camp, then left Purgy to keep an eye on things while I continued following the road around the lake to get a lay of the land. And I was still curious the other structure I saw from the lookout from Spruce Ledge which wasn’t the shelter we had found.


Dscn6796So I walked over there and found another shelter—two of them, in fact. One of them was an empty room while the other was a more traditional shelter with the lake side opened for a stunning view of the lake. It’s also where those four locals I saw before were now goofing around. The “raft,” they were using, I could now see, looked like it was part of a pallet, and their oars were branches pulled from trees with leaves and smaller branches tied to the ends. These people clearly weren’t thru-hikers and since I didn’t even see any gear, I figured they were probably out for the afternoon and not intending to spend the night.


This shelter, though, looked like a nice place to camp. If only it wasn’t infested with these loud and noisy locals. And if only I hadn’t already unpacked all of my gear earlier. Oh well. *shrug*


I walked back to camp and told Purgy about what I had found, and he asked if I was thinking about moving camp to that shelter. “Oh, heck no! It’s infested with locals and I’ve already unpacked here!” If neither of those were true, though, I’d have moved in a heartbeat because the view of the lake was better from there. =)


We started cooking dinner and eventually the locals left near sunset finally giving us a little peace and quiet. By dark, I was reading my Kindle by headlamp and Purgy was in his tent, probably sleeping since I didn’t see a light on.


It must have been 9:00 at night when we heard people in the distance—a loud, rowdy group of people. I looked across the lake and could see a few flashlights and headlamps on the far shore coming our way. Ah, crap. More local partiers. I turned off my own headlamp not want to draw attention to ourselves, then just sat up and watched them as they approached the shelter by the dock. They already sounded like they were drunk. I was beginning to regret that I ever looked for this secret shelter. The lake was gorgeous, but good grief, these locals know how to ruin a beautiful setting.


I’m not sure how long it took before Purgy noticed anything was up, but I finally heard some movement in his tent and I whispered that we had company coming our way. Although that should have been obvious with all the noise these people were making.


Dscn6800As they got closer, their muffled talk become more clear. “Here it is!” I heard one of them shout to the others. They had found the shelter. Flashlights went out to the dock and into the shelter, then back outside. I heard a dog bark. This went on for several minutes, then I noticed one of the lights heading away from the shelter and towards our direction. It would move slowly, the light probing the darkness on both sides of the trail, and I realized that we were about to be discovered. I really didn’t want to meet these people, but I couldn’t think of anything to get us out of it. Crap. What the hell was this guy doing?


As he got closer, it seemed to me like he was looking for something which is when I figured it out: He was probably looking for firewood. There was a fire pit in front of the shelter, and he was probably sent off to look for firewood.


He continued coming up the road, towards us, and then I saw him stop with the flashlight pointed directly at Purgy’s tent. We’d been spotted. He was dead still for several seconds, not moving or saying anything, perhaps not comprehending his discovery in his alcohol-slowed head. The flashlight then angled upwards sharply, catching me in the light, and I waved politely, but I’m not sure if he saw me or not since the flightlight didn’t stop on me but careened crazily around our campsite before he turned around shouting towards his friends. “Mike! Hey!”


He ran off, seemingly in a panic, and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. Was he going to come back with reinforcements to find out who we were and what we were doing there? Leave us alone? It was dreadfully impolite to be shouting at the top of his lungs in our campsite, though. If we had been asleep before, we certainly wouldn’t have been anymore.


“Well, Purgy,” I said to the tent, “I think you just scared the crap out of that guy.” And we laughed. Drunken idiots.


Nobody else ever came back to check us out, though, and the group stayed by the shelter for the rest of the night. And Purgy and I were sooo glad we hadn’t decided to stay at the shelter. What a nightmare that would have been having to share a shelter with these drunken idiots that partied for hours. It was annoying from our location in the woods, but at least we had a little distance from them.


Eventually, I managed to fall asleep and put the locals out of my mind.




Do you realize how difficult it is to get a photo of a
leaf falling in mid-air?!!! That’s why I took this
photo instead—of a leaf dangling from a web of some sort.


So far as I know, these impressive cliffs don’t actually have
a name! At least none of my maps or guidebooks show a name!


View from Laraway Lookout.




Can’t you just hear the leaves going CRUNCH! CRUNCH! CRUNCH!
with every step? On a related note, at times it was
growing more difficult to follow the trail under the thick
layer of leaves!


I totally hate when that happens!






The view from Spruce Ledge Lookout included a significant
body of water—which I was certain was Ritterbush Pond
and the location of Secret Shelter #2! You can’t
really see it well in wide-angle photo, but there’s
a dock on the far left side of the lake and a wooden
structure of some sort just behind the tree in the
foreground on the right that I suspected might be the shelter.


Devil’s Gulch was a jungle gym of boulders.


A jungle gym—with just one ladder. =)


Purgy No More poses at the end of the dock at Ritterbush Pond.


Scenes like this are a sign that the shelter
is often infested with drunken idiots.


Sunset at Ritterbush Pond.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Day 23: Blackholes and Whitefaces

Dscn6636September 26: Once again, I woke up to a chilly morning with low-hanging clouds that often times turned into fog on the higher peaks. At least it wasn’t raining, but I was craving a little sun by now and the part that frustrated me the most was that the weather forecast predicted sunny or partly cloudy skies for the entire week. What happened to the sun? Why was it not coming out to play?!


The trail traveled over Madonna Peak and another ski area, following one of the ski runs downhill. One of the ski signs was filled with a heck of a lot of black diamonds, double black diamonds, and even a triple black diamond ominously named “Black Hole.” Yeah, I bet… If it were me, I’d have named it the “You Will Die” run, but to each their own! The easiest way down was a blue square run called Upper Chilcoot and, somewhat surprisingly, that’s the direction the Long Trail headed. It seemed strange to think that the Long Trail would actually take the easiest of the route options available. So out of character! But the fact that the easiest route was the intermediate run should tell you something as well. =) Any beginner skiers that somehow inadvertently wind up at this sign—they’re just gonna die. There’s no easy easy down from here!


The trail soon headed back into the trees and the trail turned into a muddy mess, and for the second time on the trail, I was so focused on my footwork, I completely overlooked a tree leaning over the trail at head level. I smacked my head into it hard, but not quite as hard as last time since I didn’t wind up on my butt with aching teeth this time around. My forehead throbbed with pain, though, and I may have hurled a few cuss words towards the folks who maintain the trail.


I met a southbound hiker shortly thereafter. He was hiking alone, with a light pack and I was absolutely certain he was thru-hiking the Long Trail.


“Quit,” I told him. “Quit while you still can…”


He laughed and said that that was the funniest advice he’d ever gotten.


Dscn6643“It’s too late for me,” I told him. “I’m too close to Canada. I’m past the point of no return. But you… you just started. It’s not too late to quit! The worst is still ahead!”


He thought this was hilarious, though, and said he couldn’t quit so early in his hike. He needed to be out there for at least a couple of weeks just for appearances. “Then I’ll be so close to Massachusetts, I won’t be able to quit!”


I finally broke a smile, unable to keep a straight face anymore. “Yeah, just like what happened to me…”


We continued on our separate ways and I reached the Whiteface Shelter where I caught up with a whole group of people including Superchunk, Top Shelf, and Lucky and Cheesy.


The last three I hadn’t met before, but I was particularly glad to finally meet Lucky and Cheesy since it seemed like everyone on the trail had met them except for me. Everyone seemed to have Lucky and Cheesy stories. I’d seen their registry entries since the Massachusetts border. They’d been ahead of me, and behind me, but somehow we had never crossed paths and I wasn’t even sure how that was possible. So it was a little exciting to finally put some faces with their names.


They were all getting ready to leave, but I was ready for a break before that last push up Whiteface Mountain. And anyhow, I wasn’t big on the idea of hiking with a group of 4 other people. I like people, but I like them in moderation. =)


Superchunk seemed to think that I must have seen Hill and Fire-Eye on the trail, but I assured him that I hadn’t seen them since the day we went over Camels Hump. I knew they were ahead of me, though, because I had seen them sign the register at Smugglers Notch. I didn’t know how far ahead of me they were, but they were definitely ahead of me somewhere. Superchunk seemed to think that they were behind him, however, and he started growing concerned that maybe something bad had happened to them.


Dscn6649“No,” I insisted, “they’re still ahead of us somewhere.” What was really going through my head was that if they had met some foul fate, I’d have found their dead and rotting corpses along the trail. But I hadn’t found any corpses, so they obviously had to be ahead of me somewhere!


“They didn’t sign the register here,” Superchunk explained, “and they were behind us yesterday.”


Umm… okay, I wouldn’t give that a second thought. Most people don’t sign every register in every shelter on the trail. “They probably just didn’t sign it. There’s no reason they have to sign it. And they somehow got passed you when you weren’t paying attention.”


Superchunk still seemed worried about them, though, and there wasn’t much I could say to assure him that they were fine except that I hadn’t found their bodies on the trail which didn’t really sound very reassuring anyhow!


Eventually, though, the group left to conquer Whiteface Mountain.


I ate some snacks and started to get cold and went to grab for my buff… but it wasn’t there. I missed that thing and again wondered what happened to it.


About 20 minutes after arriving, I headed back out on the trail for the steep, treacherous climb to Whiteface Mountain. It actually wasn’t as bad as I imagined it. There had been a lot of stories on the trail that it’s one of the tougher climbs, and it is tough, but it was also relatively short which helps a lot. From the shelter to the summit it was only about half a mile, but nearly 600 feet straight up! There is absolutely no good reason for the trail to lead to the top except to annoy and anger hikers since there aren’t any views. There’s allegedly a lookout that I followed a side trail to, but the “view” was overgrown with trees.


Dscn6651The trail descended steeply down the other side, then leveled out onto a nice, dirt trail. Not steep, not muddy, not slippery. Positively wonderful tread, covered with a growing layer of fallen leaves. The leaves were even dry enough to crunch with every step. Crunch! Crunch! Crunch! I just love the sound of crunching leaves along a forest trail, and I may have deliberately kicked a few leaf drifts that were piling up. =)


I caught up with the group of six hikers ahead of me at the next shelter, Bear Hollow Shelter, but once again they were getting to leave just as I was arriving.


“Are you trying to avoid me?” I asked Superchunk. “Because it seems to me like you leave every time I show up!” He knew I was joking, though.


While sitting at the picnic table in front of the shelter, I heard several voices coming up from the direction of the privy, mixed in with people laughing down there. What the heck was going on at the toilet?! I had no idea who was down there—I couldn’t see them and the only people I had seen on the trail were either ahead of me or headed in the opposite direction.


I kept eating my snacks when I heard one of the people at the toilet shout, “I’m on FIRE!!!!” Not in a literal sense in a panicked shout, but rather in a “I’m the king of the world” tone. But I found the shout a little disturbing. People shouldn’t be shouting that they’re on fire when they’re at the toilet. I don’t need to know about that!


I was signing the register when I suddenly heard what sounded like a power tool ripping through the air. A drill, maybe? A reciprocating saw? What the heck was going on down there? I started to suspect that maybe they were building a new privy?


I didn’t go down there to find out, though. I kind of liked not knowing. Not knowing made the noises interesting and intriguing. If I knew what was happening, I’d probably find it boring. So I didn’t walk down to the privy to find out what was happening.


Instead, I continued down the trail which was wonderfully flat and easy. Then, as if that weren’t pleasant enough, the trail ended at a dirt road and continued to follow the dirt road for miles on end. I walked fast and enjoyed the easy walking while I could. The road didn’t have any traffic on it—at least none that went by while I was walking it—and I was absolutely thrilled to cover so much ground so quickly.


Dscn6657The road eventually reached a locked gate where a couple of vehicles were parked. So now I knew that traffic had been blocked off the road, but at this point I might see traffic. It still didn’t look like a heavily traveled road, though. Then I noticed that one of the vehicles had the front door wide open.


That looked very out of place. I looked around to see if anyone was nearby, but I saw nobody. I couldn’t think of any reasonable explanation for why someone would leave their car door wide open at a remote trailhead. To let thieves know that there was nothing of value worth stealing in the car? Or… maybe the car had already been broken into?! Or… maybe there was a dead body in the car?


Okay, now I was starting to get morbid, but what if there was some sort of foul play involved? I figured I should look in the car and walked around the car looking through the windows but not touching anything. Nope, no bodies or anything. No blood-soaked seats. Just a green Subaru. It looked a little on the older side and a bit beat up. The vehicle was practically empty—the only thing I saw inside were some hiking boots, trail map, and other miscellaneous hiking items.


Hmm… very strange. If I had to guess, I’d say the car belonged to a hiker who was hiking somewhere. Maybe even the group down at the privy of the last shelter? I still couldn’t think of a conceivable reason why the front door was wide open, though, except if someone had broke into the vehicle and left it that way. But since it didn’t appear that anyone was hurt or injured, I wasn’t going to worry about it anymore and continued my walk down the road.


Near Highway 15, the trail veered left on a rails-to-trails trail which was remarkably difficult to walk on. The chucks of rock they used for the railroad were still there and that stuff is hard to walk on! The railroad tracks were long gone so I couldn’t even walk on the old ties for relief from the rocks.


It didn’t last long, though, before heading through a meadow and eventually crossing Highway 15 near a cemetery. The cemetery was unexpected, and later I tried to convince hikers that that’s where they buried the Long Trail thru-hikers that “didn’t make it.” Nobody ever believed me, though. =)


The trail crossed the Lamoille River on a large suspension bridge, then headed back into the woods steadily climbing uphill. Back on solid trail, but the trail was still a pleasantly easy one without the rocks, mud and steep cliffs.


Dscn6658I turned a corner to Prospect Rock where I spotted Hill and Fire-Eye taking a break. Fire-Eye had just pulled off her shirt to change—I hadn’t expected to catch a cute girl changing clothes when I turned the corner—but she still wore a sports bra so it’s not like anything exciting was visible.


I startled her, though, that was for certain, and she quickly put on another shirt and exclaimed about my seeing her naked.


“I didn’t see you naked,” I told her. “I’d have been a lot more excited if I did!” Heck, I’ve seen more skin than that on network television. But I still found the situation rather amusing more than anything. =)


I told them that Superchunk was worried about them so they might want to sign the next shelter register to reassure him, but they had already heard about that. Superchunk (and friends) had caught up with Hill and Fire-Eye near Highway 15. Superchunk and friends had gotten off the trail to resupply in Johnson, but they had caught up to Hill and Fire-Eye before getting off the trail. Hill and Fire-Eye had passed Superchunk when he was in a warming hut in the ski area and thought that Superchuck and friends would reach Whiteface Shelter where they stayed the night, but Superchunnk and friends decided to stay at the warming hut instead, and when Superchunk didn’t see them at the warming hut, he assumed they must have stayed back at the Sterling Pond Shelter where I was not realizing that they were now ahead at the Whiteface Shelter.


Are you confused yet? Because I was just happy to actually understand the timeline and sequence of what happened myself. =)


Late in the day I met a woman hiking southbound by herself. She was older than me, although I wouldn’t describe her as ‘old,’ but she was a real chatterbox and seemed positively starved to talk to someone. I didn’t mind chatting—I wasn’t in any rush—but I was surprised when I learned that she was from Bellingham, WA. We were practically neighbors! Pretty much everyone I had met on the trail was either from Vermont (or very close to it) or a former AT thru-hiker who lived somewhere near the AT. But to meet another west-coaster? Wow! Not a lot of us out here! =)


She also warned us that the trail was bad up ahead, so bad that she had even dislocated her arm in a fall while getting over Belvidere Mountain. I made a mental note about that—Belvidere Mountain might be a tougher-than-normal section of the trail. She also told me of a hidden shelter further up the trail by a lake with a dock on it. That seemed far enough ahead that I didn’t really pay much attention to the details she provided.


Dscn6674Then she was off, and I continued onward to Roundtop Shelter. Purgy No More was already there when I arrived, who I think was starting to think he’d have the entire shelter to himself that night. “Fire-Eye and Hill are just behind me,” I warned. They had caught up with me while I was talking to the woman from Bellingham, which couldn’t have been more than 15 minutes earlier. I also warned him that Superchunk, Top Shelf, Lucky and Cheesy had also told me that they planned to camp at this shelter, but that we were suspicious if they’d make it since they had gotten off the trail to resupply in Johnson. We figured they’d either find a place to stay in Johnson or set up camp somewhere between shelters. It seemed very unlikely they’d make it to the shelter before dark.


So Purgy No More moved his stuff around to make room for Hill and Fire-Eye, and I followed the sign that led to water. The trail to the water was remarkably steep down to the water source—especially considering that the Long Trail wasn’t especially steep at all. And eventually, it led to a pump rather than surface water. The pump had directions posted on a nearby tree warning that it needed to be primed before it work, and to prime it you had to pour water over the top of it. It takes water to make water! A container filled with water was left next to the pump for priming purposes, though.


I primed the pump, got my water, and headed back to the shelter for the night. Fire-Eye and Hill had already arrived and were setting up camp.


The sunset behind the shelter was absolutely gorgeous, and we eventually settled in to sleep long after dark. The other hikers hadn’t shown up, but we didn’t really think they would.


But we were wrong… they did show up in the dead of night. I couldn’t read the time on my pedometer in the dark, but the saw the headlamps piercing through the blackness before I heard them. There were only three of them, but in the dark I couldn’t really see them well and assumed it was Cheesy, Lucky and Top Shelf. Superchunk didn’t appear to be there. They tried to be quiet and set up at the edge of the shelter where there was the most room near our feet.


Then I heard two of them whispering that they were going to get water and I watched their headlamps bobbing away down the trail. I couldn’t help but laugh. They were going to have trouble getting water in the dark. I just knew it! The trail to the water was a bit of a challenge even in daylight, and I wondered if they’d just walk right past the pump without even seeing it. And would they know that the pump needed to be primed before it would work? And would they notice the directions about priming the pump in the dark? I didn’t know, but I suspected it might be awhile before they came back with water. =)


This is the scene of my second head-cracking experiment.
I was so focused on jumping from the mostly-buried log,
then to the mostly-buried rock, then to the bog bridge,
I completely overlooked that giant tree leaning over
the trail and cracked my head on it pretty hard!


I’m always a little worried when I see water and outhouse
signage pointing the same direction, like here at the Whiteface Shelter.


The small view from the top of Whiteface Mountain.


After Whiteface Mountain, the trail got a lot easier!


Then the trail became a road! (See the white blaze on the tree
on the left side of the road?)




A lot of the trees were turning yellow at this point, but
here’s one of the few bright red trees I saw. I hoped
to see a lot more red trees before the end of the trail!


The trail was so easy and wonderful along this section!


I passed quite a bit of what looks like rubber tubing tied around
trees. It’s baffling to me. I have absolutely no idea what
this is supposed to be for. If any of you do know, please
leave a comment! =)


The mysterious car with the front door left wide open…


Now we’re on a road walk that’s passing civilization.


From left to right, Cheesy, Lucky and Top Shelf take a break.


This used to be an old railroad that’s been turned into a trail,
but the ballast was never covered or replaced which makes
it difficult to walk on!


I tried to convince other hikers that this is where they
buried the Long Trail thru-hikers that “didn’t make it.”
Probably died on Mount Mansfield or something… =)


Suspension bridge over the Lamoille River.


View of the Lamoille River from the middle of the suspension bridge.


View from Prospect Rock.


The little red pump that’s the water source for Roundtop Shelter.
Be sure to prime it first by pouring water into the top!
(That’s why it’s all wet on the top.)