By: Marian Van Vlack, Lifetime Girl Scout from Whitesville, NY
Before I began my recount of the past few weeks, I want to do a brand gear review. As I have mentioned before, gear is extremely personal. There is no list of perfect items that will work for everyone. Footwear is a great example. Many people have started hiking in trail runners while others prefer to wear boots, and there are also those who are extreme and hike in Chackos or barefoot. I personally could not be more happy with my decision to wear my boots from L.L. Bean. They are extremely comfortable and very supportive. There have been several occasions when I have stepped at an odd angle and worried about twisting my ankle, but each time the support of my boots have held up against water. Hikers affectionately refer to Vermont as Vermud, but my boots kept my feet dry through the entire state. Even when there has been a lot of rain and the rivers are running over the nice rock crossings, I can walk through a few inches of water without worrying about having wet feet for the rest of my hike. For such an important piece of equipment, I am thankful to have found the right fit for me.
I can’t believe I’ve completed more than half of my hike! Tonight I write from the Mizpah Hut which is one of the huts operated by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) located in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. AT hikers can sometimes do a work for stay in the huts which means we help out with clean up in exchange for delicious leftovers and a spot to sleep for the night.
After leaving Manchester, VT, Fixxi and I decided we would hike together to Hanover where she would be finishing her section hike. The first day on the trail was fun because we hiked up a ski slope and got to see some great views. I almost ended up walking down the wrong side of the mountain, but luckily I walked up to the peak to take pictures and saw a sign pointing me in the opposite direction. That night I met back up with the group of Long Trail (LT) and AT hikers that I had been with.
The shelter we stayed in was right next to this beautiful stream with pretty waterfalls. The next morning though, the little stream turned into a raging torrent from the storm that hit during the night. Everyone took their time leaving the shelter because it was cold, wet, and rainy. Finally I made it out onto the trail. The wind was so powerful it was pulling trees up out of the ground. I didn’t see any actually fall, but one big gust of wind made the tree right in front of me lean so far I could see all the roots lift up out of the ground. I was welcomed to the next shelter with a loud round of applause from my trail family. I wasn’t planning to stay because Fizzi and I were supposed to push on to the next shelter about five miles away, but when I came up the stairs and saw Fizzi already cuddled up in her sleeping bag, we decided it was a good choice to just stay there at the Little Rock Pond shelter for the night. The pond was gorgeous and I figured it was time for my first skinny dip on the trail, something I knew my mother would be proud of.
The next day we got off to a much better start and got to see the pond as the fog was just rising off the water. The trailwent through a scenic pine forest and there were two spots with what looked like a whole village of cairns. Fizzi and I headed into Rutland, VT and stayed at the Yellow Deli hostel. We ended up deciding to stay an extra day to recover and avoid the rain. The food at the deli was absolutely delicious, especially the fresh baked bread. On our day off Scott Jurek passed us over Killington. Scott Jurek is a famous ultra marathoner who recently beat the record for fastest time to complete the AT with assistance. He completed the trail in 46 days 8 hours 8 minutes.
The next day the AT broke off from the LT and we were sad to be leaving our LT family. The next section of the trail was really nice. We passed this cabin called the Lookout, which is privately owned, but hikers are allowed to stay overnight. One of Fizzi’s friends named EJ met up with us and had some lunch and delicious pie at the On The Edge Farm. We tented in a trail angel’s yard with two guys named Red and Slingshot.
The next day was the perfect day. We slept in and I took my time all day. The weather was wonderful and the trail was beautiful. There was a nice variety in terrain and a good balance of ups, downs, and flats. The trail was wide and clear, which was a nice change. I found a few spots where I could pick wild raspberries and stopped at the Cloudland Farm market for lunch. That night we stayed in West Hartford with a wonderful family who welcomes hikers on a daily basis and make them breakfast and dinner. We were well rested and well fed for our hike into New Hampshire on the Fourth of July.
When we got to the road crossing there was a trail angel named Tumbles who thru-hiked last year waiting with hot dogs for all the hikers. He was incredibly nice and helpful. When I mentioned that I needed to buy a pair of trekking poles he actually gave me his old set. We met up with Fizzi’s parents finishing our hike over the border. We had a fun forth in Hanover, but the next day Fizzi headed home. It was hard to say goodbye, but we were both on to new adventures.
The same day Fizzi left, my friend from RIT came to hike with me for a week. She quickly received the trail name Joy, because she is such a happy person, and even when we were hiking tough miles, she always had a smile on. Our second day out we made a stop at the Ice Cream man’s house, another trail angel who offers hikers free ice cream and a place to stay. We just stopped for a snack, but we still had a long way to go. The hike was beautiful and we enjoyed some great views as well as wild blueberries. The hike was long and tough and we didn’t make it to the top of the mountain until pretty late, but we stayed in a cabin which was warm and dry.
The next day we had a few different options for stopping points. We decided to try out the Mt. Cuba Sugar House, which ended up being a great choice. We got to stay inside on a mattress and make pancakes with real maple syrup in the morning. The caretaker told us about when the first woman who solo hiked the AT stopped at his parents’ house and asked what was for supper. Apparently they’ve been taking in hikers ever since. The most exciting part of our hike was over Mt. Moosilauke. We only hiked about seven miles, but had an intense climb. This was our first day above tree line and it was gorgeous.
The next two days were pretty intense and we had to break up our mileage a little. Our last day we stopped at the Lonesome Lake Hut for lunch. It was a beautiful place and I want to go back some day. We made it to Lincoln and met Joy’s family. We spent the night in Lincoln and Joy’s dad was kind enough to let me stay with them and treat me to a wonderful dinner and breakfast.
It was tough heading out solo after spending the past two weeks hiking with friends. Luckily my first day was up the Franconia Ridge. It was a clear day and I got to spend most of my hike above tree line walking along the ridge. Having such a gorgeous view all day made being solo worthwhile. The next day I made a stop at the Zealand Falls Hut. It was too early for me to stay, but one of the crew members heated up some leftover for me before I headed to the next shelter.
The hike to Mizpah wasn’t too hard but I didn’t have a lot of motivation. Getting to the hut made me so happy. Tomorrow I will be headed to Mt. Washington!