Vermont is a new frontier to me. I don’t have a big relationship with it yet. It’s foreign. The mountains and the forests are strangers. We have yet to truly make our acquaintance. On a recent trip to Vermont with Stud, I sat in the passenger seat glued to my maps deciphering what each mountain was and trying to imagine what it might be like in those mountains.
Stud and I were on our annual Jay Peak ski trip where we always stay this little family owned rustic lodge just down the road from the mountain. All of this is located just 10 minutes from the Canadian Boarder and is very close to the Northern Terminus of the Long Trail.
Since this winter had been short of a lot of snow, we thought we would focus our trip towards scouting out the logistics for starting the Long Trail. Our first stop was Johnson, VT which is 54 miles south of the Northern Terminus and where we plan to stash Stud’s car. From here we will be figuring out some kind of ride 45 minutes north to Journey’s End Road.
Initially we were following a road map that led us to a very different spot then we were expecting. We parked on a windy road cut into a mountain along a deep river and found the trail. This was a spot called Ithiel Falls and there was a pretty big river crossing. We looked around trying to see where the trail crossed that river and discovered a new-looking suspension bridge which must have rerouted the trail from the road map I was following. We walked across the bridge trying to imagine our big packs on our backs and the brown landscape covered in green.
I started to feel so much excitement for hiking the trail. I pulled out my updated Long Trail map and we found the parking lot in Johnson. Then we drove into Johnson to see what the little town had to offer. We figure in August, once we get to this point on our hike we will have hiked south 54 miles and we may want to do our first load of laundry, grab a bite to eat, maybe a shower and say goodbye to Stud who will be at the end of her hike here.
From Johnson we headed north all the way to the border. We drove up Journey’s End Road as far as we could. Stud dodged the muddy ruts like a pro until the road got more narrow and so muddy and rocky that we thought we better not push our luck so we found a place to pull over and walk. We left a note on our windshield in case any locals had an issue with our car being there. We walked up the road about a mile until we reached the point where the road ends and the trail that leads to the Northern Terminus of the Long Trail begins. We thought we might try to walk to the Journey’s End Shelter Camp which is on the trail leading towards the trail but it was very muddy and even though mud season doesn’t start officially until April 15th, it was looking like mud season had started early so with respect to the trails we decided to turn around. It was so incredibly quiet on this road to the extent that I think my brain may have grown a new layer.
We got back to the car and headed to the Woodshed where we were greeted by their dog Maple who is Stud’s best friend. The owners are always so nice and remember us from the year before.
The next morning we got up early and headed to Jay Peak where there was a very thin layer of snow. It was a beautiful day to be outside on a mountain so we went ahead and cashed in our two for one lift ticket vouchers. Snowboarding on corduroy (groomed slopes) is fast and I often liken it to riding a motorcycle. I’m not into motorcycles but I can relate to the thrill of plummeting along with the wind whizzing by my face and that vulnerability of being exposed. Its pretty fun. Although I prefer snow and Stud and I have been so spoiled last year and earlier this year with fresh powder. After we scraped down a few runs and the ice started to wear us down, we decided to go look for the Long Trail which goes over the top of Jay Peak. We took the tram to the top and climbed to the summit (which was challenging in snowboard boots!) and found the white blazes for the Long Trail! We looked around, taking in the 360° views deciphering the range of mountains we would be walking on in August and letting the reality set in of how intense the ups and downs will be.
On our last morning we drove to this parking area on a mountain pass around the side of Jay Peak that crosses the Long Trail. I took my new micro spikes on their my maiden voyage. Its like magic walking on ice and snow with micro spikes! We headed into the woods on a snow-covered stretch of the Long Trail towards the Jay Camp Shelter which sat just a half mile in and it was lovely.
We signed the trail register.
I offered Stud the trail name Big Bird cause we kept seeing these hawk prints in the snow that were massive and Stud kept saying, “That’s a BIG BIRD!” haha. She is thinking it over.
Once back at the car we headed home meandering inefficiently on purpose enjoying some back roads. We attempted to drive over some mountains but realized the road was closed in winter so we drove around them taking in the brown rolling hills that will be lushy green the next time I see them. We made a detour to check out the Von Trappe Family Home. We learned that the original house since burned down and in its place are dozens of guest homes and a fancy resort for rich people run by Mary Von Trappe’s youngest son who is now in his 70’s. The land was set on the foothills of some mountains with incredible views and I channeled Mary as we drove up the road acknowledging just how alive those hills are. A fun fact is that the Von Trappe’s cross-country ski track is the oldest and the very first cross-country ski place in North America.
Next stop, Maple Syrup. We found a farm/sugar house where the sign read “closed” but the nice woman working there waved us in anyway and then gave us a sampling of four different shades of Maple Syrup. I brought home a half-gallon of dark amber.
Finally, we arrive at our last Vermont Destination for this trip; the Green Mountain Headquarters Visitor Center where I had planned to gather some resources and information for my Long Trail thru Hike. Lucky for me, there was this incredibly helpful and down-to earth thru-hiker who answered all of our questions in great detail. Not only have they hiked the Long Trail Southbound before, but they also have worked as a caretaker at some of the Green Mountain National Forest Camps along the trail as well as done some trail maintenance. They were able to tell me which shelters have been updated and which camps get really crowded and they printed out a list of shuttle information for me. I felt a shared enthusiasm for the trail and an overall sense of welcome to this foreign land called Vermont.
Vermont and I are slowly getting acquainted and I’m really enjoying the process. Planning to walk across a state is one heck of a way to get to know it.