Wed, Sept 23, 2020 , 0645-1800
Journey’s End Trailhead to Hazen’s Notch Camp, SOBO LT mile 17
7100 gain, 6400 loss
We have to be out the door and on our way to the Canadian border by 0530 am. An early start isn’t just for our benefit…our incredible hosts lead very busy and productive lives! Eric, Stellar’s cousin, has a work zoom meeting at 0830 am, so luckily the 1.5 hr drive to the border goes well. We’re ready to start at the trailhead before 7 am, even as it’s still a bit dark out! This is my earliest first day since 2017 on the Colorado Trail.
One of the best Trail Angels, Stellar’s cousin Eric
I didn’t get a good night’s sleep the past 2 nights and feel a bit weak setting off. This quickly passes as the familiarity of the whole thru-hiking lifestyle and rhythm sets in. Plus I’m elated, as always, to be starting a long trail…THE Long Trail. While the enormity and magic of my first day on the Te Araroa will never be matched by another, I’m still tremendously happy.
The day is bright and clear and the temperature already quite comfortable. The trail goes up but not punishingly so. Quickly we are at the first shelter, one of over 60 on the LT. Two tents sit outside and a sleepy face peers outward from the shelter. We greet Aspen and shortly find out that he was hiking the AZT exactly 1 year ago. Hmm, so were we. We think we ran into him briefly early in the trip but aren’t sure. Perhaps, day one, mile one, and we’ve run into someone familiar.
Technically we’re not even on the LT yet but rather the 1.6 mile approach trail. We go uphill some more and we’re suddenly at the border. The 10 foot swath of cleared trees on either side, mandated by an international treaty, leaves no doubt. We take our obligatory starter photos with the monument, plus pictures of all the signs around the area. With the typical northbound bias, the place is called Journey’s End. For us SOBOS, always going against the grain, it’s the start.
This is perhaps my favorite terminus picture yet!
The trail rolls along south up a ridge, gradually climbing with many shorter, steeper ups and downs mixed in. I’m on a high that lasts all morning. It’s so good to be on a trail again.
We come to a road crossing, the first of many every day. The eastern continental trails are just not as remote as what I’m used to on western trails. We meet a couple of guys on their way to finish the trail, getting resupplies from their parked car. They offer us food and inform us about donuts left ahead on the trail, opposite side of the road. We pass on the resupplies, having so much already, but can’t resist a pumpkin donut. Our first trail magic, only a few miles in.
We bump along, doing a pretty big climb to the double hump of Doll Peak, elevation 3,373′. What started as a really clear day has suddenly turned pretty cloudy, so there isn’t much for views. We have lunch at another shelter named after Laura Woodward, 10 miles into the day. Despite feeling pretty good, the miles are coming rather slowly.
Next we have a huge climb to Jay Peak, 3,835′ high and one of the tallest in the state. There’s a ski area building at the top, which is good since it’s the only thing I can see. Otherwise we’re inside a ping pong ball and it’s pretty chilly. We pass over an open rocky ridgeline, which must be pretty neat on a clear day. Supposedly one can see all the way to Mt Katahdin in Maine from here.
What happened to the beautiful sunny day that we started out in?
Down we go to the next gap, catching glimpses of 3 more hilltops to the south that we have to clear before the end of the day. None are near as tall as the last but together involve just as much climbing, maybe more. Several northbounders have reported a lack of water at our planned campsite so we grab some extra water to carry the last 5 miles. Oh how I loathe doing this, especially since my shoulders and back have started to hurt. The day is starting to become really hard.
The Long Trail is marked by white blazes, just like the AT. These can also function as water filter hangers.
Going over Gilpin Mountain, Domey’s Dome, and finally Buchanan Mountain, I’m constantly checking my GPS to see the miles barely move. The climbs are so steep and rocky, I finally begin to understand why people say this trail is so hard. I figured all the14ers would have prepared me better for this. They have in the sense that my breathing is easy and feet feel good, but man does my back hurt. Given the fall conditions and the need for extra thru-hiking essentials, I’m carrying more than I did over the summer…plus the extra water.
Creative naming protocol…brings to mind the name Boaty McBoatface
The last 2 miles go so slowly, I’m dying for the turn-off to camp. Upon arrival, Stellar informs me that the other hikers were full of shit. There’s good water down the hill from the shelter, meaning we just humped several pounds of water over all those hills needlessly. Never trust NOBOs is all I can say.
Camp set-up goes smoothly, like second nature at this point. I can’t wait to sleep but I’m so sore already, I have to stretch first. Another hiker named Bottles makes a small campfire nearby, so we join him for a bit. He tells us he’s a backpack instructor, which just sounds funny given our circumstances. I mean, aren’t we all? Or we want to be. Wait, you can get paid to do this stuff?
His buddy rolls into camp after dark, seeming all out of sorts and wasted from the tough trail. I do the figures and am surprised to see that our daily tally is the equivalent gain/loss of my 27 mile RT Barr trail hike to Pikes Peaks. Only we did as much in just 18 miles, so the day packed even more of a punch. No wonder I’m feeling so beaten up. Perhaps we’re going to have to lessen our expectations for mileage on this trail.