Mon Sept 28th, 2020, 0600-1530
Gleason Brook to Birch Glen Lodge, SOBO LT mile 104.4
6600 gain, 5100 loss
An early start is clutch this day. A huge climb of over 4,000 feet greets us. We begin in the dark and enjoy the transition into the world of colors. I’m shortly on a ridge, where the air’s fresh and the day bright. The trail follows solid rock ridges for long stretches, offering clear views among the stunted conifers. It can be hard to find the trail at times… a study in looking for the white hash marks painted directly on the rock. The colors of the surrounding deciduous forests are astounding.
Camel’s Hump looms prominently at 4,072′. At times clouds shroud the top but other times it’s clear. To the north, the clouds have moved in thick and nothing can be seen of the big mountains we moved through in days past. From the looks of it, I don’t envy the hikers negotiating the ladders and rock scrambles on Mt Mansfield.
All’s clear on top Camel’s Hump!Oops, not so clear! So close.
The last half mile to the top is crazy steep, forcing me to stop to catch my breath. Slowly it gets darker and I realize my luck has again run out…it’s going to be another view-less summit. Like Mt Mansfield, the top is mostly bald with rock and alpine tundra. Besides Stellar, I haven’t seen another person all day but a trail runner arrives just as we do. We take quick pictures and scurry down. The wind is howling on the exposed summit and the mist is beginning to accumulate on any surface, making the rock treacherously slick. Then it begins to rain. The forecast called for it to start in the afternoon but it’s only 0830 am…what luck, it’s early! At least we’ve gotten over the hump, enjoying a pleasant climb in the morning, thanks to our early start. There are a few more peaks to negotiate the rest of the day, but none so high and exposed.
More technical hiking on the LT…see the blazes on the rock just above and to my left? At least it hadn’t started raining yet. You can see how slick the rocks get in the next picture…
I scramble down the steep trail to a shelter and take a short break to reconfigure for the rain. I suspect my umbrella’s going to be a burden on this rough trail but I decide to give it a go anyway. It’s way too hot for a rain jacket but steady enough rain to need some sort of protection. I also put on my rain skirt to protect from the overgrown vegetation.
For the next few hours, I plod along a very technical, barely visible trail. It alternates between steep slabs of rock, bogs, tree roots, brush, and back to slippery rock slabs. It’s an absolute acrobatic feat, one laborious step at a time. I listen to a podcast recounting Fastest Known Time stories and athletes, which gives me a lot of inspiration as I deal with my own hardships. I’m actually quite happy traveling through the rain and difficult terrain…just a part of the experience.
The trail goes over Mount Ethan Allen (again no view) and then Burnt Rock Mountain. Days before, some NOBOs specifically mentioned how the latter would really suck in the rain. It has me worried.The umbrella is catching on a lot of branches, to the point that I have to briefly collapse it several times to fit between trees. But at least it’s working to keep me mostly dry. My feet are soaked, as always happens in the rain…there’s no helping that, ever.
This is the trail, going up and over this smooth, wet rock ridge. Add in leaves and moss and it’s very slippery! But also kind of fun.
I meet two NOBOs fully clad in rain ponchos/jackets, who look rather miserable. The ponchos make their packs look ginormous and I wonder how they even fit down the trail, given its many tight spots (I know because I have my own wide load in the form of my brella). They warn me of the tough conditions on Burnt Rock, including a slick metal ladder obstacle. By the time I make it there, the rain has stopped and I can put away my rain gear. This makes the ladder and subsequent rock climbs pretty manageable. Shortly I’m past the worst of it and take a break to chat with some day hiking ladies. I love that so many locals say “screw it” when it comes to bad weather, “we’re climbing that mountain anyway!” The ladies comment on my small pack, surprised I’m an End-to-Ender. Thank goodness… I can’t imagine all the ladders, ledges and class 2-3 scrambles with a big pack! And still, there are plenty of others doing it. Not to mention those with dogs, which have to be carried up/down the ladders. No thanks!
It begins to rain again, just as I make it to a shelter for lunch. Stellar is there along with Rachel, a trail runner from Waitsfield (our town stop for the next day). She gives us some good local advice while I stuff my face with calories. Rain is forecasted for the next few days so our game plan is to maximize town time. We’ll save money by doing a shorter day today, staying in or near a shelter, then go into town early the next day, staying a night, and probably hiking out late Wednesday (100% rain chance all day). Or maybe we’ll even stay 2 nights, we’ll see.
We continue to the next shelter, which is only another 3 miles. We arrive around 3 pm, finding 3 others already set up inside. It’s a large 4 sided lodge with a really nice porch and separate sleeping quarters. I also need water and luckily a large puddle has formed in the otherwise dry creekbed nearby…rain has its advantages. Best of all, one of the other hikers turns out to be Broken Toe! He was our first trail angel on the PCT in 2018. We’d heard he was hiking the trail north and now we’re fortunate to get to spend the night with him. What a wonderful coincidence.
Given the wet conditions, we decide to sleep in the shelter, though I’m still a little paranoid about being in close contact with others. Luckily the airflow’s good and there’s plenty of room. Broken Toe builds a fire (something he’s really good at, given all the wet fuel) and we hang out amongst its comforting glow. A barred owl lands on a branch just above us, inspecting our work. No doubt she’s attracted to the shelter by the prospect of dinner…these structures attract an ample supply of rodents. A warm, dry cabin in the woods with a campfire, surrounded by nature and in the company of old and new friends. It’s a great ending to a fun but challenging day.