Caitlin Thurrell was Girls Camp Trip Leader and Yurt Leader in the summer of 2011. An avid outdoorsperson, Caitlin took some time this fall to hike the Long Trail in Vermont. Starting in January she will work full time for Chewonki as an Intern on our Salt Marsh Farm in Wiscaset. The following are her writings from her journey on the Long Trail The Long Trail Early in the morning of September 28, 2011, my friend Phil Walter and I stood at the border between Vermont and Canada and looked south. In the coming weeks we would walk roughly 175 miles down the central ridgeline of the Green Mountains to Killington, where the Long Trail joins with the Appalachian Trail on its way south to Georgia, or north and east to Katahdin. Vermont’s high ridge is a complex and varied landscape, climbing and descending through boreal forest, hardwood glens, fragile alpine ecosystems, river floodplain, fields, and settled towns. Walking it last autumn offered a vivid intimacy with the changing New England season, the plant and animal residents of that place, the close, open community of hikers, and also the sometimes conflicting interests of Vermont’s citizens, conservationists, developers, tourists, and businessmen. What follows are several excerpts from the journals I kept on the trail. Monday, October 3 Today was a slow morning at Corliss Camp, skin dreading the moment of contact with wet clothing. It has rained every day since we began this walk, and both Phil and I stalled, a little, leaving the warm comfort of sleeping bags. Finally dressed, we set out towards Laraway Mountain under flat uncertain skies. The mountain was spectacular, a gradual three mile climb leading to a lookout over hills to the north and east. The mist at the peak thickened and dispersed, and crows flew through it, wingbeats loud. Continuing, the way became a steep run of rocks and water, and then for a short piece all moss-covered ledge. To the left, a solid slab of rock overhung the trail, dripping water like the fast flow from a rainspout. The sun was showing briefly as I walked behind the rim, and the world was light in yellow birches and shining water. We ate at the foot of Laraway in a small, grassy field at Codding’s Hollow. There was a crabapple tree growing by the water, the fruit sweetened by frost. Across the road and up we began to see the first scars of the hurricane, trees down and water running everywhere in broken channels. The trail continued for several miles through forest that was once an airy, open beech wood, tangled into thicket by Irene’s wind and flood. We met a man from Johnson out walking, who guessed that we were planning to make a resupply the next day in town. He told us that the Grand Union had been washed out, and offered to drive us right then to a grocery store in the next town over. When we declined, he recommended us to a bakery where perhaps we could buy eggs. The shelter at Roundtop had a fireplace and vista out behind, overlooking an agrarian patchwork of fields and woodlots and several bright red barns. The sun came bright and brief, the higher altitudes clear, while the fog expanded or receded up the drainages below. We lit a a small, smoky fire with damp wood and ate rice and lentils and popcorn, then retreated as it grew colder and dark to look at maps and plan tomorrow’s resupply. Tuesday, October 4 I woke early at Roundtop, already feeling hemmed in, the roads to either side a vivid presence in the woods there. Still, it was beautiful in the half-lit blue fog of the morning. Tree shadows all in black silhouette circled the outhouse, showing clear against the violet sky. The descent into town was pleasant, trails opening up to dirt roads with crabapples over the ditches. We picked yellow-green ones, surprisingly sweet under the sour, and soft red ones from a yard fenced with No Trespassing signs. We walked most of the way along the loud, fast Route 15, stopping at a farm stand for cider and kale. A man in a battered truck picked us up a little less than half a mile from the post office and drove us the rest of the way into Johnson. There were cardboard blueberry flats in the back of the half-cab where I was sitting, and he asked curiously about our cider. He had been pressing apples yesterday, he said. Before we left he offered us a loaf of Jewish Rye from a bag of day-old bread, which he was bringing home to his chickens. We picked up the package we had mailed to ourselves and sorted our resupply on a bench outside the post office. The postmistress offered to take home our recycling for us; all of the patrons who came in to the window asked her about her cold. The bookstore in town had once been the bank, and the building was old and well-made and shining. We found the next book we would read aloud together, having just finished the first. On the way back out of town we stopped at Edelweiss, the German bakery, and they sold us eggs and a pound of Cabot butter. Lord knows what we will find to do with all of it, but they were so kind! There were posters and photographs of the mountain castle Neuschwanstein on the walls; the man at the counter had been stationed in Germany for three years in the service. The way south from Johnson began upwards on rough woods roads, the climbing difficult with freshly heavy packs. But as the trail narrowed I found myself breathing more and more easily, returning to the quiet realities of leaves and rain. We arrived at Bear Hollow shelter in time to make tortillas and huevos rancheros for dinner, and shortbread with plumped raisins (there is so much butter) for dessert. Now it’s night, raining hard again, and the wind blowing in the open front of this shelter. We gathered wood for the hope of a fire, but have left it stacked under the porch for the next who come through. Thursday, October 6 Glory be. Last night I slept as cold as I have yet this autumn. I woke in the freezing hour before dawn, grateful for the warmth of other bodies to either side. The sun was rising just east of where I could see from my bed, and the light expanded brilliant around the thin, bared birch twigs. One of our sheltermates had already started a fire, and we boiled water for oatmeal as we dressed and packed. By a little after eight we were walking up the ridge toward Whiteface through a day already warming with sun. We had been warned that the walk up Whiteface was the longest unbroken steep we would come to, and we were prepared for it to be difficult– but the whole ascent was delight, three miles to the summit feeling like nothing, pack-weight suddenly easy, footing sure. October sixth, and there were icicles caught in the moss under the hanging rocks. At one turning a pool of thin, arching ice filaments had frozen in the mud on the trail, like ribbon candy or fountains. I can’t begin to guess how they formed there. From the top of the mountain we had a view clear back to Jay Peak, tracing out the whole line that we had walked. And from the other side, Mt. Mansfield, and everything coming. Shortly after the peak we came out on the Whiteface shelter and a clear, sunny patch of bright green grass high up on the mountain. We sat, and basked; Phil pumped water, and I felt myself warm through, face south, sheltered from the wind. Looking at the map and distances from the shelter, we began to think on the possibility of pushing past Sterling Pond where we had planned to camp, and on all the way up to the Taft Lodge on Mansfield. It would make our adventure a thirteen-mile day all told, but the walking had been sweet so far, and the sun was good. On over Morse Mountain, and up to the peak of Madonna, cut with ski trails, where we ate our lunch on the strange, grassy slopes. There was chicory blooming in the weeds; we feasted on the last of the rye, with apples and mustard and kale and muenster cheese. Then down again, up over Spruce Mtn, and down to Sterling Pond, a blue and glassy amazement high up on the ridge facing Mansfield. With rocky shores edged in spruce wood it reminded me of Bubble Pond on MDI, or of the Fifth Debsconeag Lake. A boulder out behind the shelter was grown with rowan and the twining roots of yellow birch; I stood there for a long time, looking. On the way down from the pond we met a man who told us that the sun was meant to hold for five more days. 5.5 miles more: the last was the hardest stretch, down into Smuggler’s Notch and up the other side. The trail was crossed and crossed by thin fallings of water, ground thick with dry and withering leaves. It was a long three miles down to the road; we rested and ate among picnic tables at the Smugglers’ Notch parking lot, already tired, two more miles to go. Crossing the strange paved highway, we began up the eastern flank of Mansfield at last, just as the sun hit the top of the ridge. For the next half mile I walked to hold that fine balance, rising in time with the sun’s descent, keeping the hard-slanting light. Phil walked ahead and I followed a good distance behind, slowly, trying hard to stay with every step. Several times we rested and drank, but mostly we climbed. At the beginnings of the dusk we came out at Taft, set at the foot of Mansfield’s final slope. It is large, log-built, with a beautiful low door as wide as tall. The porch faces east and the moon was rising in the translucent sky, waxing now to full. Phil set out our sleeping bags while I pumped water at the fast, cold stream. For dinner we made soup, garlic and red onion and kale and herbs from the farm, with one small can of tomato paste (black pepper and tamari for salt), hot and sweet and filling with crackers broken in. No butter, thank god. A lovely couple at the long table by the window made fondue and drank wine, speaking French, much in love. The hut caretaker, Chrissy, sat in a rocking char in blue flannel, reading. Now it is not yet nine and time for bed. We’ll sleep well, I think, in expectation of the dawn. Tuesday, October 11 Yesterday we hiked from Buchanan, the trail as rough as it ever is, and always is. Six miles down into the Winooski river valley, bottomlands marking the lowest elevation of the trail. The way came out of woods and onto a power line cut, descending the last slope through crabapple trees and climbing, blighted vines of Concord grapes. The apples were small and scabbed and delicious, each tree yielding a different combination of mellow sweetness and the wild, hard sour of feral orchards. As the afternoon grew later we reached the trailhead of Camel’s Hump, finally beginning the long ascent through tall, mixed woods of sugar maple, aspen, and birch. We crossed Gleason Brook on a neat wooden bridge half a mile in, and followed its way up as it grew wider and more spectacular, running white, pooling, falling over rocks. The trail branched away from the river’s course after another half mile, but we decided to camp by the water rather than continue up the slope to Bamforth shelter. We crossed and strung a hammock in the late afternoon light, the north slope of the mountain already in shadow, the sky still bright. Then returning to the river, we swam in freezing water. That night I cut Phil’s hair. Rising with the morning we packed camp, ate a breakfast of pumpernickel hardtack toasted with butter, and continued the long climb upwards. Through deciduous forest transitioning to spruce and occasionally the bright, bare rock of alpine clearing we went on, hiking slow, ever upward. A mile from the peak we stopped to rest and eat a little, watching the run of water through moss, balancing the weight of our packs on a fallen birch. I think that I have never seen such beautiful land. Mansfield might be Vermont’s highest mountain, but this long and varied ridge may be my favorite. In the early afternoon we came out at last on the rocky, exposed hump, peopled with day hikers out to see the expanse of the hills in October. The forest in every direction was a pattern of bright-turning trees, yellow and orange, darkened down to the reds and browns of persistent oaks in the higher elevations. We ate lunch in a cold, stiff breeze from the south and east. The sun is still strong as I write this, but the sky is changing. Today there are horse-tail clouds; the rains will come again soon. I can hear the loud, fast whirr of highway 89, and the train, but here in the high places at least the air is still. There are crows playing in the thermals. Tonight we’ll walk a mile down to sleep at Montclair Glen, and then in the morning over the next ridge, and the next. It is good to sit in this place: to see where we’re going, and where we’ve come. Friday, October 14 It is wet, and blowing; a proper autumn storm on this mountain. Today was our last short day before Warren, 6 1/2 miles from Glen Ellen, never gaining or losing more than a few hundred feet. But the mist was water held suspended like the thinnest ice, condensing as we climbed to cold, cold rain, and wind blowing hard up towards the treeline. Still, through-hikers that we met at Montclair told us they thought the trail began to get truly rugged only north of the Appalachian Gap, and I begin to hope they may be right? It was rocky and wet, but level well-graded walking through the boreal forest over the long Lincoln ridge, from Mt. Ellen to Mt. Abraham. So far the Long Trail has been a hard, strange story of sharp pitch and uneven footing, and we had grown used to harder walking there than anywhere. Today’s well cared-for path offered no small relief. Perhaps the only relief: rain came cold and hard and driving in the bare places, as we crossed cuts made for ski trails and gondolas over the peaks. The gusts on Lincoln Mountain caught my pack like a sail, pushing hard against my balance. For a stretch, maybe the rain was sleet. We walked fast, almost running through the long smooth saddles between peaks. Mt. Abraham had been the Texan fellows’ favorite point along their trip, before Camel’s Hump; it is a place I would like to return to sometime, the conditions being different. As it was we crossed the high, rarefied alpine zone through a thickness of fog textured only by the blowing, white rain. Descending the last mile we came to Battell Shelter, small and dark and open to the wind, which gusts unpredictably from any direction– but the roof is sound, and I am grateful not to be sleeping the night in a hammock or a tarp. We dried ourselves as well and quickly as we could and crawled into our sleeping bags, where we have remained, eating a hot, thick dinner of rice and pinto beans, with cheese and leftover tortillas toasted over the little stove. Sunday, October 23 Yesterday we woke and walked, and I learned more of the story of Amadeus– Greg– with whom we’d shared the shelter. He was carrying a violin (I hadn’t realized the nature of the case strapped to the outside of his pack) but his bow was, alas, somewhere north of Johnson. I wish we might have heard him play. We spent the morning skirting the Chittenden reservoir, high up on the hillsides to the east. It was sweet walking, sometimes talking, sometimes silent. Phil whistled, beautiful and wandering. He noticed a burl on a tree down across the path– far gone to rot, but with an amazing red heartwood. Perhaps it is all punk, but I broke it off, and carried it. We’ll see what comes. It was 7.7 miles to Rolston Rest, a lovely open-fronted lean-to, built post and beam. The joints were neat and solid and square, and I had a moment’s pride in Yankee craftsmanship. The log had a message from Matt and Jason, wishing us the best of luck in future travels. It also had an entry from a Northbounder in September: “Tucker Johnson still burned down.” We walked on three miles or so to find that it was true, a sign for the outhouse and a charred clearing standing where the shelter once was. We pushed on. After another two miles I stopped for water, and Phil went on to make camp. He left me an arrow of leaves, and a trail of subtle blazes to the clearing where he strung a hammock between two yellowed beeches. The day had started with the thinnest strip of clear sky showing away off to the north and west, broadening slowly until the patterns of light and shadows passed over the Adirondacks– until half the sky stood clear (the sun always remaining, though, behind the bank of clouds). We ate a haphazard dinner of everything remaining, and watched it change. The next morning we would walk the short mile out to the road, and the end of the journey. But that night we lay in the warm comfort of sleeping bags and talked through the arc of the trip, all the days and moments that lead up to that place.