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Camel's Hump, VT

   

   

   

 

Killington Long Trail & AT

   

   

 

            Camel’s Hump

            Long Trail (Green Mountain Club)

 

Camel’s Hump and The Long Trail – Vermont

September 23 & 24, 2005

  We never cease to be amazed by the number of people who attempt to thru-hike the AT without doing any type of reading, research or training. What is more amazing is the number of these folks that actually make it; though they generally find it to be more of a struggle than it need be and proceed to repeatedly lambaste the trail in their journals regarding how they are being physically and mentally brutalized. Duh! By in large, though, the vast majority of these folks don’t make it and it is no wonder. Maybe this concept of hiking naivete is so foreign to my wife and I because of our type “A” personalities; detail and goal oriented, driven to the point where reaching the destination is vitally more important than the journey and a checklist of items to accomplish along the way is as important as an AT Data Book. In the span of six months and 2,160 miles, we will have more than our share of situations that we will not have control over so why not minimize the stress, both physical and psychological, by preparing for those things that we can have some modicum of control over?

 You have already read that we began preparing for our 2006 AT thru-hike in 2000. Gear testing, physical training, enormous amounts of reading and research, logistical preparation and, first and foremost, backpacking every chance we get in all types of weather and in every terrain we can find. Doesn’t this all seem logical?

 We have hiked the entire length of the C&O Towpath (168 miles) which is quite possibly the most brutal surface on feet that we have ever experienced. But this became a training-ground for foot-care techniques, first aid and learning how to listen to your feet before blisters actually appear. Speaking of first aid, we also took a Wilderness First Aid class and highly recommend it to anyone contemplating any type of long hike. Not only will you learn techniques that could save your life, or someone else’s, but we also had a number of first aid myths, holdovers from our scouting days, dispelled. (like you don’t try to suck the venom out of a snakebite).

 We have hiked in, set up and broke camp in the rain and learned that cotton clothes, though cheaper, are not the way to go in the heat and humidity of a Virginia summer. We have canoed to and hiked across the sands of Assateague Island and gained a deep affection for mosquito netting headwear and liberal amounts of DEET and also learned the finesse required to cook in a 30-mph offshore breeze. We have even tried our hand at hiking in the March snow and ice up Lamb’s Knoll, on the AT north of Harper’s Ferry, in preparation for the first leg of our AT adventure in Georgia. (Funny, it had never occurred to us that the water in our hydration pack tubes would freeze while we walked and we would have to come up with a solution to thaw them out. Now we know and are prepared.)

 Though we had hiked the infamous “Roller Coaster” in Virginia in the heat and humidity of July, we still felt we needed to experience the reality of hiking a “real” mountain in New England so we would know what to expect when we hit that section of the AT. Thus, in September of 2005, we made a trip to Vermont to hike the infamous “Camel’s Hump” on the Long Trail. At 4,083’, this is Vermont’s third highest peak. Trying to remain true to our desire to make each of our final training hikes be on a section of the AT, we also undertook a second hike on the Long Trail that is also part of the AT at Gifford Woods State Park near Killington, VT. To say that this weekend trip was an eye opener is an understatement.

 Hitting the Monroe Trail, near Waterbury, VT, on Friday morning in a steady drizzle and fog with temperatures in the mid-50s, it was an immediate uphill climb not unlike the trek up Weaverton Cliffs north of Harper’s Ferry. Not brutal but strenuous enough to work up quite a sweat due to the clothes we wore to keep dry and warm. It was shortly thereafter that we learned, what later turned out after some mutual reflection, a valuable lesson. Do not let people know you are a “stranger in a strange land” when you are hiking uncharted territory. The similarities to receiving directions around New York City from a native New Yorker aptly comes to mind.

 During a brief break, we met a couple from New Jersey who, when finding out this was our first trek up Camel’s Hump, graciously offered us instruction on which series of trails we should take in order to have the most memorable experience. Based on their obvious familiarity with the mountain, our trek would now lead us from the Monroe Trail onto the Dean Trail, then onto The Long Trail and back for what, we were told, would be a wonderful and picturesque trip. At first glance, this seemed like a very hospitable thing to share; one fellow hiker to another. In actuality, unbeknownst to us, where we were being directed up the most difficult and dangerous route we could have taken; the South approach.

 As we passed the notable “Beaver Pond”, and took in the sight of numerous moose tracks in the mud on its banks, we were still shrouded in a dense fog that ebbed and flowed out of the area like waves at Ocean City. In hindsight, this fog was a blessing in disguise because if we had been able to see the height and immensity of the boulders we were about to traverse, we may have altered our plans considerably. For one brief moment the fog did lift and as I looked up I saw what could be described as a miniature Mount Rushmore towering hundreds of feet over our heads. I immediately pointed out this massive rock outcropping to my wife and alluded to the fact that I believed that that was where we were headed. Either out of an innate sense of direction, which is generally better than mine is, or simply out of denial, she stated that she doubted that we were actually headed that way. Thus, we trudged on undaunted.

 Just below the summit we ran into our first real taste of the type of rock scrambling we knew we encounter all through the New England section of the AT. What an eye-opener this was to see blazes actually painted on the rocks as opposed to their normal location on tree trunks. Because of the mist on the rocks, footing was a bit dicey at times but we made it over this first set of geological hurdles and felt that possibly the worst was now behind us.

 Ah, but what was this? A sign indicating that there was a way out of climbing to the top of this monstrous mountain (monstrous to us anyway. Remember we are from “flatlanders” from Maryland). The sign said we only had 0.2 mile to the summit but it looked more like 2 miles with no crest in sight. We debated, though briefly, whether or not we should call it a day but then our type “A” personalities kicked in and we decided that there was no way we were not going to finish what we started. We had come this far and we weren’t quitting. The gauntlet had been laid down and so on we went.

 Before we had fully recovered from this next almost vertical section, we were spit out of the lush tree cover into the stark and visually grandiose area above the tree line affectionately known as the “Alpine Area”. To add to the psychological impact of emerging into this area, the fog had thinned out just enough where we could finally see the top of the mountain. Wow, it was really up there! And there was no easy way to get there!

 Now, neither Georgia or I have a fear of heights but when you are proceeding around the edge of a cliff, 3,000 or so feet in the air, with your butt hanging out in the wild blue yonder and you are concentrating on locating your next hand and foot hold, you begin to consider the wisdom of not looking anywhere but straight ahead. It was a bit nerve-wracking and the term “adrenaline rush” was given a whole new meaning. Obeying the rules of the alpine and giving nature the respect that was certainly due, we stayed off the areas of vegetation despite the fact that these were the very areas that appeared to offer the best footing to the top. We simply stayed bent over, head and shoulders to the wind, with our eyes fixed on those boulders, blazes and cairns just a few feet in front of us. We probably looked pretty silly to the veterans who were sitting at various spots along this section as we gingerly made our way up never once standing fully upright until we reached the summit.

 Silly-looking or not, as we came over the crest we offered them more than just comic relief for as we reached the summit the fog blew away, the sun came out and for more than 60 miles in every direction were the most magnificent views we had ever experienced. These folks had been huddled in 40 °F temperatures all morning waiting for this moment and it happened just as we arrived. Our decision to endure and not take the bypass below the summit was graciously rewarded by the very God that got us this far in the first place and has watched over us on every hike we have taken. We were faithful to our goal of reaching the summit and God was faithful to us by offering up to us breath-taking evidence of His presence.

 We completed our taking in of the landscape, a photo-op with a local trail ranger and congratulating each other on surviving “The Rock” (remember that TV commercial?) and then started down to find a spot for lunch. As we headed down the north side of The Long Trail, we then realized we had been duped by our “friends” earlier on the trail. Seems that most people come up the north side because it is noticeably easier with less scrambling skills required and less sense of elevation just over your shoulder. We came up the most difficult and considerably more dangerous side. But, having come up it, we would rather have done that than have to have gone down it!

 The beautiful weather continued for the remainder of the day and we returned to our motel to a relaxing session in the Jacuzzi, a glass or two of wine and a much-needed hearty, home- style dinner. And bed never felt so good!

 On Saturday we went on a noticeably less strenuous and lofty trek on the Long Trail/AT but were still offered spectacular views of Pico Peak and Killington Mountain from the Dear Leap Overlook. Weather-wise it was another awesome day and we could see for miles and miles. During this entire weekend, our only regret was that the turning of the leaves in New England was about 2 weeks late so we missed that added attraction. We did a 7-mile loop hike incorporating several different trails in this section, having left from the Gifford Woods State Park office parking lot. At around noon, we stopped at the Tucker Johnson Shelter, which is maintained by the Green Mountain Club. It was not one of the nicer shelters we had been in and, if we ever stop at this site again, we will probably stay in our tent. It was a beautiful “walk in the woods” and capped off a weekend that we will not soon forget.

 Now we could check off one more training goal in our quest to conquer the AT on our life’s greatest adventure. Now we need to do a bit more winter hiking and try out that new alcohol stove we just got. We’re more psyched than ever! Bring it on!

 

“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect”.   (Aldo Leopold)

 

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