Friday, November 1, 2013

Day 26: Jay Peak Wonders

Dscn7063September 29: Jay Peak would be the Last Great Peak. At least that’s the story I’d been hearing for quite some time now. It was strenuous, steep and some of the hardest hiking of the trail.


You might be wondering who tells me all this stuff about the trail ahead. Mostly, it’s people hiking southbound that have just completed it, and I’ll tell them about what they can expect from the trail ahead as they continue southbound. You can learn a lot about the trail from people hiking in the opposite direction as you.


Much of the morning was steep, muddy and slow going, but it was hardly the worst the trail had to offer. But that was just the lead up to Jay Peak, of which horror stories abounded. But I started having suspicions that maybe the southbounders got things wrong when I saw huge quantities of people at Highway 242—the last trailhead for people who wanted to hike up Jay Peak. Most people, I knew, took a gondola to the top, but for anyone who wanted to hike up, this was where they started. And it seemed like there were a hundred cars parked here! I saw people milling around all over the place. If the trail was really that hard, I had a difficult time believing that so many people would be hiking it.


A short ways past the road was the Jay Camp Shelter. It was about a quarter-mile off the Long Trail, but I stopped there anyhow since that’s what I do. I wanted a photo of it for =) I also filled up with water while I was there, but admittedly, if I didn’t want a photo of the shelter, I would have filled up with water earlier from somewhere else on the trail.


When I arrived at the shelter, though, I found a hiker resting there wearing nothing but a kilt. It was an unexpected sight, but not exactly shocking since I had seen hikers in kilts before. I asked him if he was hiking the Long Trail, and he was, headed southbound. And I asked if he had ever hiked a long distance trail before, and he said he had—the Appalachian Trail. Again, not a shocking revelation—there were a lot of former AT thru-hikers on the Long Trail. I wouldn’t be surprised if at least half the people hiking this trail had already thru-hiked the AT.


We chatted some more about the trail ahead, and I ate some snacks, refilled my water, signed the register, took photos, and generally rested myself before the final climb up Jay Peak.


Dscn7067Our conversation started to slow, though, and I came back to his AT thru-hike. “What year did you hike the AT?” I asked.


“2003,” he answered.


“Hey! That’s the year I hiked the trail!” I said. Then I asked, suspiciously, “What was your trail name?”


“Decent,” he told me.


I didn’t remember anyone from the trail named Decent, but I did remember a guy named “Nuthin’ Decent.” Specifically because he wore a kilt and never looked decent! =)


“Decent?” I asked, thinking. “As in Nuthin’ Decent?”


“Yes,” he confirmed.


“I totally remember you!” I exclaimed. Seriously, how can you forget a guy hiking in a kilt? I know why I didn’t recognize him—we never talked much and his kilt was much more memorable than his face. And, to be fair, I hadn’t seen him in ten years. “I’m Green Turtle!”


I remembered to use my told trail name—I didn’t use Green Tortuga on the AT, so he wouldn’t have known that name. But I was absolutely certain he’d remember “Green Turtle” if for no other reason than because of the green turtle stamp I stamped into all of the registers. People might not remember me from the trail, but they always remember that stamp.


I saw the recognition in his eyes before he even said, “I totally remember you!” in return.


So that was a fun and unexpected little reunion, and it cracks me up that we chatted for about 10 minutes before we realized we actually knew each other already. =) The small world syndrome strikes again!


Dscn7073I told him that I was still stamping into the registers with a green turtle stamp, so just in case he was missing that from the AT, he’d get that experience all over again. =) Although I had a new turtle stamp now, and it was a tortuga stamp rather than a turtle stamp, but still… same thing!


We reminisced about our AT hike for a bit before I continued onward to Jay Peak.


I passed at last a dozen people walking up the trail, and even more people who were heading down the mountain already. The trail was a bit steeper and more rugged than earlier, but compared to the toughest parts of the Long Trail, this was a cakewalk. The southbounders that spoke of its difficulty had way over-stated it.


But I took this as an excellent sign because I’m sure, to them, that Jay Peak was the toughest, meanest section of the Long Trail they had yet experienced. Having come through much worse, I didn’t think it was so bad. But if this was the toughest, meanest section of trail the southbounders had experienced, then that meant the rest of the trail all the way to Canada should be positively easy by comparison!


I wondered if the southbounders I met when I first started the Long Trail had the same experience—us northbounders claiming a section of trail was “really difficult” and then when they got to it, they thought it was easy by comparison. Had I been mis-informing southbounders early in my own hike? I couldn’t remember…


Many of the people I passed on the trail were speaking French. I was surprised at the sheer number of French-speaking people I was passing. I knew we were very close to the Quebec border, but I was in the United States so I was a little surprised when I realized that about half the people I passed were speaking French. After I passed a few of them, I was ready for it and started saying, “Bonjour!” to anyone speaking French rather than “Hello!” They all seemed to laugh whenever I did so, though, and wished me a hearty “Bonjour” in return. At least I learned something useful during my month in France, eh? =) (I put that “eh?” in because I started using it more and more as I got closer to the Canadian border. They expect me to!)


Near the top of the mountain, I followed the white blazes up a boulder a couple of people were sitting on when I saw another person taking a photo of them and thought, “Oh, crap. I just photobombed their photo.” I totally didn’t mean to do that! It must have looked rather amusing, though, like I was floating up from behind the rock out of the middle of nowhere.


Dscn7084I started talking with a woman named Joan who had asked where I came from, and I wasn’t sure if she meant what trailhead I used to get up Jay Peak or was asking if I was hiking the Long Trail and started at the Massachusetts border, so I told her Massachusetts and her eyes got all big and wide and she was absolutely amazed and started asking all sorts of questions my hike that I was perfectly happy to answer. =)


I gave her a business card, so maybe she’s reading this blog. (Hello, Joan, if you are still reading this!)


Eventually I continued onward heading into the snack bar by the gondola. The summit was crowded with what seemed like hundreds of people, but I wasn’t surprised. First, there was a gondola to take people up which made it very easy for people to get to the summit. Second, it was Sunday—a weekend—so a lot of people could make such a trip since it was their day off. And third, it was prime leaf-peeping season and everyone and their mother was out looking at leaves.


Consequently, the top of Jay Peak was positively packed with people. Somewhat surprisingly, however, the snack bar was almost completely empty of people. Inside, I found Purgy No More already there putting an order for lots of food and a beer. I set my pack down inside, by some large panoramic windows with absolutely wonderful views and looked at the food options. I was excited about not having to eat something dry or dehydrated out of my pack. =)


They had a “Seattle Dog,” which I was almost tempted to buy because hey, SEATTLE, right? But the toppings of the Seattle Dog just didn’t sound very good at all, so I ordered the Tijuana Dog instead which was a bacon-wrapped hot dog topped with jalapeno peppers, avocados, sour cream and I don’t remember what all else. That sounded appealing, though, so I ordered that, a giant macadamia nut cookie, and a bottomless fountain drink. =)


Purgy was jealous of my bottomless fountain drink—he didn’t get any refills on his beer, and said he might have reconsidered his options had he realized that he could drink all the soda he wanted. And we ate and chatted while overlooking the great view from indoors where it was warm and out of the wind. And I was still more than a little surprised that absolutely nobody seemed to be inside—it was actually more crowded with people outside than inside!


Dscn7090Purgy decided to camp at the top of Jay Peak for the night to watch the sunset and the sunrise the next morning. I rather liked that idea myself, except I wanted to be closer to the end of the trail to make sure I’d get out first thing in the morning on October 1st. So no, I’d continue on to the next shelter barely a mile away. Even then, it would still set me up for a short 8.7 miles of hiking today. I was definitely not in any rush!


So I spent the next few hours at my seat chatting with Purgy and admiring the view. We pulled out our maps and tried to identify exactly where the trail was heading. From Jay Peak, the Canadian border was a mere 10.2 miles away. As the crow flies, it would be even closer, so we knew that some of the mountains in the distance were in Quebec—but which ones? Where exactly did the border run? Neither of us could see a long, linear deforested area that would mark the border—not from this distance at least, so we mused, examined maps, and generally enjoyed the views.


I pulled out postcards to write. If you got a postcard from me where I said I was looking into Canada, this is where I wrote the postcard. =)


And I used the restrooms because—hey! Flush toilets!


It was a magical time. =) At 4:00, the snack bar started to close, though, and I figured that was my cue to leave. The dining area would be open a bit longer, I did want to get to the next shelter well before dark and it was still about 1.5 miles away. That should get me in by 5:00, which is a good time to get into a shelter. =)


So I parted ways with Purgy and continued down to the Laura Woodword Shelter alone. The trail wasn’t particularly bad, but I was surprised at how much it hurt for me to walk down the ski runs that the trail followed. My knees were hurting bad when I started down the ski run, but they had been completely fine until then. As soon as the trail turned off the ski run, my knees were fine again. Just going downhill on the ski runs were painful to walk, but going downhill on the non-ski runs weren’t a problem. It was a perplexing development, and the only thing I could think of was that my feet actually angled downhill on the ski runs which pushed out my knees a bit while on the downhill trail, I could usually get my feet on a flat surface—the top of a rock or log—so my knees didn’t buckle outward even though the trail might have been considerably more steep than the ski run.



I made it to the shelter without anymore problems than that, however, where I met Mike—a Canadian who decided to section-hike the Long Trail. He seemed surprised to see me, not thinking that anyone would show up at the shelter so late. Which I thought was amusing because I didn’t consider 5:00 late at all—that was the normal time I preferred to get into a shelter.


From the Laura Woodward shelter, I was a mere 8.7 miles away from the Canadian border. Without a doubt, I had every expectation that I’d be standing in Canada within 24 hours! =)


Decent—a hiker I first met on my AT hike of 2003!
He was kind enough to put on his shirt before I took this photo. ;o)


It was really prime leaf-peeping season at this point!


Overlooking one of the ski runs on Jay Peak.


View from near the top of Jay Peak.


The top of Jay Peak had tons of people on it!


Purgy No More is looking for Canada on his map.
It’s out those windows somewhere! =)


The gondola is about to arrive with another load of passengers
at the summit of Jay Peak.


Oh, Canada! Where art thou?! Those mountains in the foreground,
we determined, were definitely US territory, but beyond that,
we weren’t sure exactly where the US ended and Canada started.


Walking down ski runs like this one turned out to be remarkably
painful on my knees. Going down much steeper slopes that
weren’t ski runs didn’t cause me problems, though—just the ski runs!


Anonymous said...

Have you considered that when you ask about the trail ahead from south bound hikers, you are getting an account of them coming up a difficult climb, but the part they describe as difficult, you are going downhill so it might not seem as difficult. They are getting the same from you, a description of the wrong side of a mountain. You really needed to turn around at Canada and hike south to see if their descriptions were accurate.
Don't Panic!

Ryan said...

We do take that into consideration, but on the steepest sections, it's actually the downhill that's harder--not the uphill.

But it doesn't matter whether you're going up or down--steep is still steep either way you do it, so their descriptions are still inaccurate. =)

-- Ryan

Papercrafts by Cindyellen said...

"O Canada, where art thou?"
From where you are in that picture at the top of Jay? Just over the other side of that ridge, to the left, if i remember right.

and those rocks in front of the snack bar is where some Canadian woman told greenmountainhiker and i we couldn't *possibly* have walked all the way up the mountain; it was simply too far.