I’d say what a difference a good night sleep can make, but that was not the case on this day. Woke up around 6 with my head spinning. Dizziness had bothered me some before on trails, but this was worse. I almost fell down stepping out of the shelter. Decided to get an early start to make the most of available daylight. After a quick granola breakfast I was hiking with a headlamp by 7. The trail stayed smooth and fairly level in the river valley which was a good thing as moving my head made the dizziness worse.
The balance problem had bothered me a bit on the JMT, but I just assumed it was altitude. The issue had disappeared when I was at home or even staying in a hotel. What was I missing on the trail? Besides Bud Light of course.
I began to think, Bud Light aside, that it might be dehydration so I forced down a couple extra liters of water thru the day and the problem faded considerably. Would have to see what the next morning would bring.
The weather was cool, partly cloudy and dry. There’s a bit of confusingly (to me) marked road walking down towards the Lamoille River. There’s a short section on a bike trail, a road crossing then dirt tread once again along the river. The guide mentioned a ladder down to the river channel, but it’s missing (washed away?) and I strolled right by my turn. After losing the trail for a bit and a short backtrack I found the good sized bridge across.
Once I crossed the river, there was a subtle, but significant difference in the geography of the area. The mountain was not as steep as recent ones have been and it even held some topsoil. This meant the trail was mostly dirt rather than rock/roots. The recent rain had been absorbed and footing was dry and smoother. The trail was still steep in places, Gravity was still working the same, but everything was walkable. No climbing required. There were spots that even followed old forest roads and climbed or dropped gradually. It began turning into a great day! The distance was adding up as I had traveled over 7 miles by 10:30. Lunch was at the unusually designed Roundtop Shelter.
The trail also passed through a section of forest crisscrossed with plastic tubing. The plugged stiles in the big maple trees were already set to start producing that famous Vermont maple syrup next spring.
The climb up to Laraway Lookout was 1,400 feet over less than two miles, but again all walkable with no “climbing” needed. The view from Laraway was fantastic, but the map indicated a steep decline off the peak. There were no issues though as the steep slope was still holding soil and I cruised into Curless Camp at about 4 pm. Corless is a very snazzy cabin that I would have to myself. In fact, other than an occasional day hiker near a road crossing, I had the entire trail pretty much to myself since Stowe.
I was trying Pack It Gourmet freeze dried food on this stretch and was pretty happy with the results. Hamburger tortillas were on tap for dinner, with an extra helping of water. As the sun set, the temperature began dropping, but it remained warm enough that there was no need to cuddle with the water filter like the previous night.
There was even a pretty strong cell signal there. Checking the weather, it looked good for one more day, then started degrading badly. My window of opportunity was beginning to close. Regardless, there was good sleep to be had as the enclosed shelter was quiet and dark.
I awoke in the morning to a shaky world. The dizziness was better than the day before, but a long way from cured. The hike up Butternut Mountain had some short climbs but nothing I couldn’t handle despite my poor balance. Once again, the issue seemed to improve through the day. There was no view to be had on Butternut. Just a climb to the peak and then straight back down.
During the descent off the mountain, I stopped to filter water near Spruce Lodge. Strolling the other way was a backpacker; the first I had seen in a while. Jason was attempting a southbound thru-hike. Discussing trail conditions he warned me about significant muck past Mt. Belvedere. I wished him luck though I was thinking his weather window didn’t look good. It looked like it might be snowing in a few days and he still had the big mountains to get over.
After some ups and downs, the trail dropped into Devil’s Gulch, a small, boulder strewn narrow canyon. It actually wasn’t bad to pick through and was a pretty interesting spot.
From there though, I faced an approximately 2,000 foot climb to top of Mt. Belvedere. My thighs began feeling really tired for first time since my return to the trail. The slope seemed to go on forever and then I just had to tack on a bit more distance to climb the fire tower at the peak. It was worth the effort since there was a clear sky and outrageous views.
Jason was right though. Dropping off Belvedere, the muck returned with a vengeance. It was hard to believe there was so much standing water and slop a full 3 days after the last rain. What is that stretch like when it’s been wet? Despite my attempts to keep to the higher ground, muck topped my shoes on several occasions. There would be fresh socks in the morning, need them or not.
Tollison Camp is a fully enclosed shelter that from the outside looks like a yard barn, but with an interesting drop down window that lets in some light and a great view. Despite being pretty high up at 2,500+ feet, there’s a nice brook nearby. I arrived there about 5:30 after a 15 mile day. The weather remained clear and warm through the evening. It had been warmer each night since needing to wear gloves and hat in the sleeping bag a couple nights before. Once again I had the place to myself. After the sun set, the wind picked up and howled all night. While this was partly due to the exposed location, I could also feel a change in the air.
In the morning I was greeted with continued dizziness. This was getting old. The wind continued blowing and low grey clouds were starting to blow in. I was hopeful the rain would hold off a while as I had 12 miles and five mountain peaks to cover before the trail returned me to Jay Peak. Throughout the morning the rain threatened as I traveled up and down Tillotson Peak, Haystack Mountain, Bruce Peak, Mt. Buchanan and Gilpin Mountain; not to mention Domey’s Dome.
In several spots it was back to pitching the hiking poles down the slope and down climbing the rocks. Despite the lowering clouds though, there were some nice views on some of the peaks. By early afternoon I was dropping down towards Jay Pass, Rt 242 and a road walk back to Jay Peak Resort. I met an older man hiking up. He said he wanted to get in one last hike before the weather turned miserable.
I was still dry as I began the 1 ¾ mile road walk to the resort. There was little traffic so I didn’t bother trying to hitch. With less than a mile to go it started to rain. With the resort in sight, one of the few cars on the road stopped and a former Long Trail thru-hiker asked if I needed a lift. Just as he asked, the rain picked up and I happily accepted a ride right to the door. The kindness of Vermonters near the trail was amazing. It was time for one last night at Jay Peak Resort.
Unfortunately the weather forecast for Jay was rain for the next 3 days with lows around or below freezing; then snow. The mountains, specifically Jay Peak at over 3,800 feet, would be significantly colder and likely covered in ice. It was looking bleak. There would be no waiting this out. The weather window had closed.
I parked my truck along the side of the road and started hiking into the woods toward Canada through a cold, driving rain. Jay Peak was completely enveloped in cloud. There would be no views. With my continued dizziness, the climb would be treacherous and I couldn’t expect any other hikers to be around if I needed assistance. I already felt like I had pushed my luck more on this hike than any I’d ever taken and didn’t see the point of pushing it any further. So what was I doing out in the storm? Hiking the Long Trail, of course.
While my minimal common sense dictated I not climb Jay Peak, the trail had another road crossing north of the mountain and that’s where I was. Even if I couldn’t walk every foot of the trail, I would walk as much as possible. And, unless I walked to the official “end” of the trail, I wouldn’t feel like I had completed my standard of a “thru-hike.”
The weather, if anything, worsened as I went. Even the toads and frogs I spotted looked like they wished they were inside. While not flat, the stretch crossed just one peak. Carleton Mountain was a 500 foot climb and from there it was generally downhill the final mile and a half.
After a brief stop at the sign indicating the northern terminus of the trail, I went looking for the nearby monument indicating the Canadian Border. There was no Mountie there to take my picture. In fact, the high wind and horizontal rain made even a “selfie” out of the question. There was nothing to do but turn around and head back to the truck.
As I walked the undulating trail back, I thought about what a challenge this trail had been. Did I actually “beat” the Long Trail? Just as that thought crossed my mind, I slipped and fell one final time, sliding down a slope of wet leaves and shist. No, I thought. What I had done was survive the Long Trail.