Before I could consider returning to the Long Trail I had to get some hiking shoes better suited to stepping on piles of Schist and, oh yea, hike the John Muir Trail. While my existing trail runners scored high for traction in every review I found, I needed to find something significantly better before I would start planning my return. On the Vibram website I find a new (to me) option called Mega Grip.” the model is shown hiking upside down. The ad brags, “Megagrip: The new high performance rubber compound featuring unparalleled grip on wet and dry surfaces, rugged longevity and optimal ground adaptability.” On the Merrill website I saw their Capra hiking shoe has the Mega grip sole as well as a “stabilizing hoof-shaped outsole.” When was the last time you saw a mountain goat slip down a mountain? I bought a pair.
In the meantime, I had a date with the John Muir Trail and I wasn’t going to waste that hard to get permit. That’s right, part of the reason I had to leave the Long Trail was so I could get ready to hike the JMT. Well, instead of the LT serving as a training hike for the JMT, it had worn me out. Counterproductive to say the least. Now as the JMT is another story I’ll leave it at this. I was able to complete it and if it’s not already there, put the JMT on your bucket list. Here’s just a few visual reasons why.
The Merrills didn’t slip at all on California rocks and the stiffer sole even helped protect my feet from getting quite as beaten up. Once I returned home near the end of September and spent a week or so trying to regain lost weight I started watching the weather in Vermont. The hope was for a stretch of good days before the weather window closed for the season.
For several days things did not look good on the weather front. Hurricane Joaquin was churning in the Caribbean. The Category 4 storm was the biggest seen in the Atlantic in years and some of the forecast models had it drenching the northeast. If that were to happen, my assumption was I’d need to give up on the idea of hiking the entire trail in one year; the basic definition of a thru-hike. All I could do was gather what food I would need, make a tentative plan of how to resupply without using the mail and watch the weather.
It wasn’t until October 5 that I felt certain that the storm would stay far enough east to spare Vermont and the Long Trail. The forecast showed a few dry days in a row. While I was going to be flirting with winter weather before I could finish, I decided to take another shot. The next day I put my pack and a couple bags of food in the truck and started driving towards Stowe, Vermont.
A couple last minute calls got me a reservation at the Arbor House which turned out to be a great choice. The owner, Michael, allowed me to leave my truck on site for a couple days. He also did his best to make sure I wouldn’t be going hungry anytime soon. Breakfast was part of the room package; tasty and filling. When I turned down hash browns Michael told me I should eat them as I had a long hike ahead of me. He then handed me a fistful of energy bars to take along. As I was hiking “on the fly,” I decided to just use Stowe Cab for the shuttle back to the trail. The driver’s wife happened to be a bakery owner so the fare included a bag of freshly baked cookies. Sufficient calories would not be an issue on this stretch. And so on October 7th I was back on the Long Trail; hiking by about 9:30.
The trail had recently been rerouted in the area. After many years of effort, a specific trail bridge had been completed across the Winooski River, eliminating an extensive road walk. After the bridge, the new route was pretty smooth with, low and behold, switchbacks. Not like the 100 off Mount Whitney, but not straight up either. After a few miles, the new route rejoined the old and the tread was back to its rocky, rooty self. The going was a bit slow, but new shoes seem to grab better than the old ones. Vermont’s fall color was in full display, providing a beautiful diversion as I ground up Mt Bolton. It was quite a climb, but my legs and lungs felt good, especially since I was carrying a light pack to help speed my progress. I was going stoveless on this stretch. My camp shoes and some small items like a back up phone battery were also left behind. In a last minute decision, I did put the tent back in the pack. I was concerned I might need it if I had some bad luck and couldn’t make it to a shelter. Also, the pack looked empty and depressed without it.
A great day for hiking, cool and breezy all day with a bit of sun. Despite the light weight it took forever to peak out and the descent was steep including multiple ladders. I was feeling much more confident with the mega grip shoes compared to my previous (lackadaisical grip) shoes, but the drop was still slow. No switchbacks, but many steps taller than my inseam. Despite the shoes holding on rocks, I did slip and fall on some mud, but no dramatic issues.
As I was moving along I noticed it was getting darker. It was 6 pm, the sun was setting and a map check showed I still had over ½ mile to go. Luckily, by that point the trail was pretty well off the cliffs and so I could pick up the pace. After some nervous hiking I arrived at Taylor Lodge with about 5 minutes of light to spare. Despite the darkening sky the view from the Lodge was outstanding. This would have been a rough place to hike by headlamp. The shorter amount of daylight would need to be a consideration from here on out.
After getting some water from a nearby stream in the dark, I ended up sharing the shelter with Maggie and Anna, two local section hikers on their last night out of a five day trip covering 50 miles. Dinner was trail mix, summer sausage and a few ounces of cheese. It didn’t seem like much of a reward for hiking 16 miles. I missed the stove already.