About the Author, Leah LaRocco: “Hi there, I’m a Long Islander who lives in Franklin, Tennessee. My first love was the ocean, but growing up camping and hiking around Vermont also contributed to a deep appreciation for the mountains. Public lands are some of my favorite places to hike and Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a regular weekend getaway. I work full time, but believe dreams and passions can and should be pursued outside of the everyday 9-5. As a naturalist, I hope to convey how incredibly healing the woods, water, and wildlife can be when we make the choice to step outside.” Find her via her Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Website.

Click on Leah’s name above to read more about her adventures!

Day 18: Kid Gore Shelter to Stratton Pond Shelter, 15.7 miles

September 20. Today was so much fun and I was sad to see it end. I had a hiking buddy! Matt, who I met yesterday, ended up being so great to hike with today. We were the last ones to leave the shelter this morning after breakfast and chatted much of the way up Stratton Mountain. Sometimes you meet people out here who you just click with and he’s one of the good ones. The miles ticked by a lot faster.

We left the shelter and walked through some gorgeous beech forest today that eventually turned into papery birch forest before turning back to beech and then to spruce fir. I love the woods up here. During the day I found myself looking up to catch glimpses of crimson shining down above us.

The climb up Stratton was long, and I definitely took a lot of break on the way up, but it wasn’t a harsh mountain. Probably nothing compared to what awaits up north. I’ve decided I’m going to try the Long Trail. I probably wrote that last night, but I’m trying to pump myself up to do this. I know it’s going to be super challenging, and I’ve already met a couple of people who started up north and are bailing because it was too difficult. Especially being solo, I want to make sure I’m safe and careful in this attempt.

But back to Stratton. There were several more beaver ponds today, but no action around them. One had a gorgeous lodge with moose tracks along the edge. The colors from the trees were reflecting in the mirror glass water, creating a mesmerizing effect.

The climb took a while, but the view from the fire tower at the top was absolutely spectacular. Killington is looming in the distance, like looming, looming. I had such a reality check when I saw that mountain just towering above the rest, know it’s going to absolutely kick my ass. I’m going to try my darnedest to kick back. I really wish I could lighten my pack, but with the winter gear and colder temps, I’m going to be a solid 23-25 lbs with resupply and water. It doesn’t sound like a lot until you try to haul it a few thousand feet up a hill strewn with boulders and roots that want to grab your feet with every step. Oh, and mud. The mud is legit up here.

Matt and I said goodbye on top of Stratton so he could go to a wedding and I continued on to Stratton Pond. I was the third one to this huge shelter and was able to secure a bottom bunk for the 2 am pee run. See previous post.

I sat by the pond and made my dinner, soaking up the sun’s remaining warmth and playing with some lazily floating newts on the water’s surface. It’s a beautiful spot and I can’t wait to walk around it tomorrow on the way out.

Manchester awaits! Only about 11 miles to go into town and mom and dad are meeting me tomorrow. So much fun! It sounds like one of them might attempt Bromley with me, so that would be cool. It’s hard to imagine what this is like until you’re in the thick of it. Headed to an outfitter in town tomorrow to figure out some gear and pick up supplies.

Day 19: Stratton Pond Shelter to Manchester, VT, 10.9 miles

September 21. The Stratton Pond Shelter is the largest one on the Long Trail and it was actually really nice. I had my own little corner bunk to myself and I’m pretty sure I slept so hard that I might have actually died at one point. Everyone must have been worn out because it was quiet and still for most of the night.

When I headed out this morning, it was after most of the folks had left because I knew I could sleep in a bit. Plus, a warm sleeping bag is so cozy in the morning. I headed past the pond and went slowly. I only had 10.8 miles to go to the road crossing where mom and dad were meeting me.

The woods today were simply gorgeous. The birches were filtering the light in a way that made it dance and I kept stopping to just look and soak it all in. Allowing myself the pleasure of staring at trees is a perk of being out here. Along with the birches, the maples are starting to shine with their crimson glow, dotting the surrounding hillsides with candy apple sweetness.

Since there was no rush, I meandered, sat, noticed some enormous moose tracks in the mud along the trail, and just enjoyed the warmth of the day. Prospect Rock was a great place to stop that provided a bird’s eye vantage point of Manchester. Cookie Monster and Private Benjamin were hanging out there and we chatted for a bit. I hope I get to see them again at some point going north.

Spruce Peak was another little blue blaze that I took because one can never get enough scenery. Someone at the shelter this morning remarked that the views from all the fire towers looks the same. And yet each view is ever changing, evolving as we move northward. The 4Ks loom a little larger with each new mountaintop perspective.

As I made my way closer to town, the noise of the road sounded deafening. The woods aren’t necessarily quiet. There are always branches and leaves falling, rustlings of creatures, wind breathing, trees rubbing against each other, birds singing, brooks babbling. And yet, the sound of humanity feels like a harsh din in comparison.

The timing ended up being perfect at the road crossing. I walked out of the woods just as mom and dad were pulling in. It’s crazy to think they dropped me off over two weeks ago. Today I hit my 200th mile on trail for this section. It feels like a lot, but I know what lies ahead.

Speaking of what lies ahead, mom and dad have agreed to slackpack me over Killington. So they’ll drop me off when it starts and pick me up on the other side of the mountain. This will be my first 4K out here and I’m excited to not be carrying a fully resupplied pack. Hitting that one tomorrow since rain is in the forecast for Monday and Tuesday.

Day 20: Killington Peak, Route 103 to Route 4, 18.2 miles

September 22. Well, I felt like a dirty rotten cheater today because I slackpacked up and over Killington after sleeping on a couch last night. But, the feet were still on the trail so I’m not going to feel too guilty about it.

Mom and dad dropped me off this morning at Clarendon Gorge where there was a steep climb up to the shelter. And then the rest of the way to the peak was nothing but up with occasional stretches that felt really walkable. There were some gorgeous, clear flowing rivers, and several good water sources that weren’t even listed on Guthook.

I am still passing SOBOs, which I really love to see because it means I’m not the only late one out here doing something slightly unconventional at this point in the season. Everyone was nice, but I only stopped and chatted with a few of them because it felt like my job to just get to the top. The trail today was ever changing between ecosystems, and seeing the layers of forests that blanket these mountains makes me realize how much we miss from the road. It all looks like a clump of trees from the outside, but from within there are distinct forest types that one passes through during elevation changes.

Not far from Cooper Lodge, maybe a couple miles before, the trail goes along the side of the mountain and there is a steeply wooded drop off on one side and looking up to the other side, it’s nothing but steep hill above, as though the trail was carved in amongst the rocks and tree roots. I can’t emphasize enough how hard I am concentrating on my footing. Being out here doing this solo means extra care is taken with every step, and even then I slip occasionally and have to catch myself.

When I got up to Cooper Lodge, it looked like a creepy, dingy shelter and I’m so glad I’m not staying there. The .2 mile spur trail to the peak starts here as well. I knew the spur would be steep and rocky, but it’s difficult to describe how very steep it actually was and pictures never seem to show how dramatic an incline is. I gave up on my poles and was pulling myself up at points. It was scary and awesome and I did it in a skirt, thank you very much.

When I got to the top and turned around, the scene took my breath away. Literally, because it was so windy up there and I was worried I’d get blown right off the ledge my feet had landed on. Further up there is a large rock surface where you can stand below the radio tower and look out across Vermont. Pico resort looks so tiny and distant from this perspective, but it’s just down below. Killington is apparently the largest ski resort in the northeast, so being on top felt significant. Also, the first 4K mountain of the trail so far!

As I stood up there, the feeling was heady. Because the drop off was so steep, there was the sense of being able to see farther and wider than on any of the previous views I’ve had. With the wind howling and the trees shifting and digging in, the whole scene felt very dramatic. I looked up at the sky and noticed three peregrine falcons diving and soaring on the wind. I’ve seen them diving in Yosemite, but this was something else. The speed was like a shot. And how they had any control in the gusting wind is beyond me. They would circle around really high and then shoot by at eye level, so fast I couldn’t even get a good sight on them. It was the most incredible air show! I watched them until my eyes were tearing. I don’t think anyone else up there noticed them. At a couple of points I had the peak to myself and just couldn’t get enough. It was awesome.

The hike back down the spur was part ass sliding and part placing poles and securing footing before stepping. Once I headed down the other side of the mountain though, I felt like I was just flying without the weight of a heavy pack. Even my knee was bothering me less. Darned heavy winter gear!

I keep thinking about how at home I feel out here. I know the north is going to be another challenge entirely, and I’m going to have to just take it one day at a time. But right now, being on the trail is cleansing all the toxins out of my soul. Aside from posting on social media, I’ve been disconnected from the outside world, insulated by Mother Nature, tucked under her wing.

I can’t even tell you what being in this environment…the actual environment…what being so close to it, so enmeshed with it…the effect it has mentally, spiritually, emotionally is healing in so many ways. Even real human connection is easier out here. Anyone who knows me well knows that I am an introvert to the core. I have social anxiety and struggle talking to people I don’t know because of my own insecurities. For some reason that ceases to exist for me out here and I find myself getting in conversations with hikers I’ve just met about anything and everything. What is it about doing this that breaks down the walls and shells we surround ourselves with?? It makes me wish more of the people in my life could experience a deeper communion with the natural world.

Tomorrow my mom is going to hike Bromley with me! We’re going to make it a short 6 mile day so I can actually do laundry, pick up mail, and resupply, but I’m glad she’ll get to be on the trail for a bit. I’ve had several older folks tell me in passing that they wouldn’t want their daughters out here doing this alone, and while I get their concerns, I’m really thankful my family, including my parents and Rob, have been so supportive and didn’t try to deter me from attempting this. Sometimes the bird needs to fly.

Day 21: Bromley, Route 11/30 to Mad Tom Notch Rd, 5.5 miles

September 23. Today was a low mileage day so mom and I could hike up to Bromley and I could get town chores like laundry and resupply taken care of. It was so great to have my mom experience a bit of the AT/LT and make a memory. I think it felt really good for her to realize she can hike up a mountain too. I was planning to push further in this section, but sometimes making a memory is more important than making miles.

The trail was a gentle grade and the wind was blowing cool air the entire time. Leaves were turning golden amber and falling at our feet. Since rain was forecast for the afternoon, we had clouds and sun, which set the peaks in a moody light. Stopping at the Bromley Shelter was fun and we both signed the trail journal before heading up the last mile. The trail emerges from the woods onto one of the ski runs and we took that the rest of the way to the top. Behind us the view opened up as we tromped through fall daisies and asters before reaching the ski lifts. The entire peak was ours to enjoy! We walked all over the place to see the view from different angles before settling in on one of the lifts and eating lunch while swinging in the breeze. If this isn’t the life, I don’t know what is.

There was a clump of small trees where we noticed a lot of birds hanging out so we went closer to investigate. A whole group of migratory birds were diving in and out of the trees which had a cloud of bugs flying above them. There were cedar waxwings, and from what I could identify, black throated greens, blackburnian warblers, and several smaller ones that had yellow on them which I wasn’t able to find in Merlin. They didn’t seem bothered by us being there and we hung out for quite a while enjoying the show. Moments like these on the trail make the low mile days worth it. Being able to stand and watch birds without stressing about getting another 15 in before dark is a special treat.

As we prepared to head down the mountain on the north side, another hiker named Brian had just arrived and asked about water sources. I had almost a liter extra so I gave him some of mine while we chatted about the LT. He’s going northbound so I might end up seeing him again. Right now I’m planning to hit the Inn at Long Trail on Wednesday night since I finished Killington yesterday.

The walk down was really pleasant and dad met us at the end of the trail. We headed for maple creamies at Dutton’s, which were delicious and not large enough. Then we went to do laundry and got a lousy donut next door before going back to Northshire Bookstore and then to dinner. Eating is a big priority these days!

Tomorrow I’m heading back to the trail to do another 12.6 miles and spend one more night with mom and dad before they head home and I get serious about continuing on. The trees are getting redder and brighter by the day and I know I’m going to end up passing through peak foliage. Not sure at what point that will happen, but I hope the color lasts long this season.

Day 22: Mad Tom Notch Rd to USFS 10, Mt. Tabor Rd, 12.2 miles

September 24. The clouds were hanging heavy over Bromley and the surrounding peaks this morning, so I knew I was in for some rain at some point. I have a feeling going north that I won’t be able to avoid the rain the way I have these past few weeks. Styles peak was in a cloud so there were no views. The trail was a bit steeper than yesterday, but still really manageable.

Gifford Pond was a gorgeous stopping point with a mirror glass surface reflecting brilliant sugar maple reds on the opposite side. Fall is just showing off now, and every day means brighter, bolder shades that signal the end of the harvest season. Past Gifford Pond there is a really long stretch of bog boards through evergreens where reds and oranges could be seen peeking through the upper story.

On the map, Baker Peak looked like this little blip, but once I started climbing toward it, I realized it was going to be a great spot. The trail turns into a stretch of granite with blazes painted right on the rock. It’s steep and there isn’t a ton or grab onto so I was glad the rain hadn’t started yet. As I got closer to the top, the scene behind me became more dynamic with every step. Danby Mountain loomed large and a quarry could be seen, a white gash in the landscape. The weather was rolling in so the clouds created some drama over the palette of fall color splashing across the hillsides. This is one of my favorite views I’ve had to date. I don’t know what it was about that spot, but I felt so alive in that moment.

As I headed back into the woods, raindrops began to fall and I pulled out my umbrella and attached it to my pack. It wasn’t long before I ran into another hiker who said he’d always wondered how folks used an umbrella with hiking poles. We chatted for a second and then he asked me if I was Eagle Eye. Yes. We were talking about you in the shelter last night and I met your parents the other day! What?!

His name was Nighthawk and he’d stayed with Trevor and Alex, 2 more NOBO LT hikers. He’d met mom and dad after they dropped me off to do Killington the other day. Such a nice man. We chatted for a while and he asked about a place to buy fuel in Manchester, so I recommended The Mountain Goat.

After we said goodbye, I got into the zone and cruised as quickly as I could over the flatter portions of the trail. Since everything was wet, I was slipping all over the place and had to be so careful to avoid tree roots and mossy rocks which turn into slick patches that can take a hiker down in a split second. Not having my fully loaded pack made a big difference in my speed and agility today.

The Big Branch wilderness is a gorgeous stretch with pretty bridges and a rushing river that has little falls and swimming holes dotted throughout. I ended up meeting mom and dad right after they’d pulled into the parking area, which was great timing since we didn’t have service to be able to communicate.

Dad is sick, which is awful. Mom and I let him get some rest while we went to the Vermont Country Store and tried to enjoy the rest of the day before picking up some medicine and food later on. I’m packed and ready to hit the trail tomorrow and my pack feels SO HEAVY with 3 full days of food. I’m dying. Tomorrow I go over White Rocks, another area we used to go when I was a kid. I really hope that once I get on the trail, the pack just feels normal, but every ounce is making me question everything in there. Aside from my gear, the food is too heavy. I only needed a day and ended up with 3.5 days, so I won’t need to resupply when I hit the Inn at Long Trail tomorrow, but I will be carrying all this crap there. Also, I had Rob send the pills I’d need for the rest of this trip, so I have two bags of pills and random items meant to last me for 3 weeks. Those two ziplocks, plus my first aid kit must weigh half a pound at least. I added the bear bag back, which is also half a pound. It’s all so much!!

If it were summer I wouldn’t need the heavier cold gear, but as I’m watching the leaves change before my eyes day by day, I know the temps could do the same. I don’t regret bringing the warmer sleeping bag, but that thing takes up half my pack, which drives me crazy. Of all the folks I’ve met out here, I have one of the lightest packs, weighing in at 23-25 lbs. This still feels sooo heavy to me because this terrain is so much more strenuous than I’m used to. I’m still trying to figure out how to get down to a winter base weight of 12 lbs without sacrificing something major, like, I don’t know, warmth.

So over the next few days I’ll be eating a lot in hopes of getting the weight down. Still hoping I meet some new trail buddies up north.

Day 23: USFS Route 10 to Route 103, 15.4 miles

September 25. Today was another beautiful day, but I felt awful leaving mom and dad. Dad has come down with a nasty cold. Mom was nervous about driving all the way home (but she killed it). So she dropped me off at the trail this morning and I walked off feeling so bad about leaving them in a crappy situation. I called them from the top of White Rocks though and they were on their way and about to stop for ice cream, so it all worked out.

The walk to Little Rock Pond was really pleasant, and when I got there I had the still, reflective waters to myself. A mirror image of the hillside across the way looked back at me. The peace of these places cannot be overstated. There is a sacredness to this trail, a holy quiet that transforms everyone who passes through its tranquility.

Getting to the rock garden at White Rocks felt like such a special moment. Rob and I hiked up there 3 years ago, but I can’t count how many times mom, dad, and I came up to Wallingford and hiked the short trail to the lower overlook. The upper one is truly stunning if you bother to take the .2 mile spur trail down a rocky path, then up more rocks and through some fir trees. Most thru hikers balk at the extra .4 miles and skip this altogether, but I wanted my lunch moment to be at this spot. The clouds hung low above the peaks as the Taconic range spread before me.

On my way back down the trail I ran into a trail angel from Rutland who gave me the phone number of a shuttler she knew. I texted him and set up a ride from Rt 103 to the Inn at Long Trail since I’d already done Killington. I can’t tell you what a mental relief it was to know that one big mountain has already been checked off the list.

The rest of the hike today was fine. My knees were dying by the time I climbed down into Clarendon Gorge. It is so steep!!! My knees are going to hate me so much by the end of this.

The Inn at Long Trail has a good reputation with hikers for a reason. This place is awesome. The owners are a wealth of information. They are kind to the weary, there is a pub with good food right inside the inn, and this is hands down the best hiker box (it’s more of a hiker corner) that I’ve ever seen. I was able to swap out some food for the next few days, plus there was a syringe so I could backflush my water filter and clean it out.

When I went to eat at the bar, there was another hiker there named Slug who had a message for me from Turnaround who I met on top of Bromley. He, Skillet, and Alex are a day behind me. I’m hoping we catch up at some point! Slug and I got to talking and realized we have several friend connections, which is kind of cool. The hiking world is so similar to the music industry in that everyone seems to know someone you know. He’s an experienced hiker and I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep up with him, but I love his chill vibe and kind of hope we run into each other as we’re hiking north. He knows Jabba and I want to meet Jabba!

I had dinner and a beer and then came back later for dessert and a beer. Tomorrow there is breakfast. And rain. Dang it. I think I’m going to send my tent home and probably stay in shelters the rest of the way. I was considering doing a 20 tomorrow, but with the rain, I might just go to the shelter 13 miles from here instead. I’ll decide in the morning.

On a separate note, can we talk about the importance of the legacy of women on long trails?

I have been so encouraged by many of the kind, awesome men I’ve met on the trail so far. I haven’t had a disparaging remark from any of them aside from the occasional retiree saying he wouldn’t want his daughter doing this in one breath and then giving me credit and heartily wishing me the best in the next.

But seeing other women out here is what has been so inspiring to me. I just met two young women also going northbound on the LT today. I also got a shuttle ride because of a woman I met today who gave me a phone number. Then another woman offered to let me stay with her, but I already had plans tonight. Ladies are looking out for each other. Not to mention, the badass hikers I know who have proven time and time again that women are meant to be climbing up these mountains. The girlfriends who’ve checked in, and my God, they are fueling this journey with encouragement.

As of today I am transitioning from calling myself an AT section hiker to a Long Trail hiker. The thru hike attempt has begun! I am calling it an attempt because whether I’m able to finish will depend on my leg and my body’s ability to handle the rough terrain ahead.

Tonight I got to the Inn at Long Trail and the owner is so nice, like over the top helpful to hikers. He hung out with another hiker and I at the bar giving us trail info. Then, he asked me if I knew who the Three Musketeers were, and when I said no, pointed me toward a wall with old photographs of the first three women who hiked the Long Trail. Something must have told him I needed to see this, and I swear, a fire was lit under me when I read their story. The photos of the article are attached here.

I will be carrying their story with me, like a fire to keep me warm on these cold Vermont autumn nights. Their legacy is an encouragement to every woman with the desire to do this trail. There may be a ton of men out here in various stages of beard growth, but the ladies are crushing it right alongside them. Whether I’m able to make it to The Canadian border this year or not, I will never forget the strength, determination, and kindness I see exhibited out here on a daily basis by women walking hundreds, thousands of miles for the simple pleasure of doing so…because they can.

Day 24: Inn at the Long Trail to Sunrise Shelter, 20.4 miles

September 26. Today was an “embrace the suck” kind of day, but before I get ahead of myself, let me tell you about breakfast. Fresh blueberry pancakes with local bacon, fruit, hot coffee, and conversation with two lovely women doing a section of the LT.

I saw Slug and Turnaround too and we talked about sending tents home and whether it’s a good idea or not. Slug heard from Badger that this section we’re about to do is popular with weekenders, and we’re going to hit it on a weekend, so I kept the tent. Better to have a shelter just in case I need one.

I headed out at exactly 9 on the dot, knowing it was going to rain, but planning to do a 20 because I know today is the last “easy” stretch of trail on the rest of the LT. The first 5 miles melted away and truly were easy. Then at around 11 the rain began. The rain began and was relentless for the next 13 miles. Not to mention the howling wind that was blowing me to smithereens. Like, I will try to describe how hard this was, but I will fail, so you’ll have to really imagine.

The woods are extremely foggy, the ground is muddy and tree roots turn into greasy, slick surfaces that your feet can’t get a grip on. Rocks that have any kind of moss do the same. The entire trail is covered in roots, rocks, or sometimes ankle deep, shoe sucking mud. The more it rains, the more the trail becomes like a river. Today, the biggest change was that the trail became extremely narrow with beech saplings hanging all over it. So, it’s pouring, the wind is gusting, and you are on a narrow trail brushing through trees, evergreens, shrubs, all while trying not to slip off an embankment that descends sharply into the woods. At one point you step and the actual trail gives way beneath your foot and you catch yourself with a trekking pole to avoid sliding down the hill. As you continue, the rain skirt which has served you so reliably on every other rainy hike you’ve ever done is now whipping about your legs in a frenzy, leaving you soaked, getting caught on things. (The amount of swearing that happened today…ooh, did I curse up a storm) You text your husband a “mayday, this is not a drill, I need rain pants immediately” text. Go to REI, look for this brand, size, then send the replacement shoes, the pants, the blah blah blah to this inn that I may or may not get to by Sunday or Monday. I love you!!!!

The rain continues. You are going as fast as you possibly can, slipping all over the place, managing not to fall, knowing you have to make the shelter by dark. You stop at a shelter 13 miles in to get dry and to eat, the first food you’ve eaten since the pancakes that seem like they happened 4 days ago. You eat, you contemplate staying, but know you can go on because everyone says the next 7 miles are easy. Those dirty, rotten liars. Maybe if it wasn’t raining, and maybe if you’d hiked the PCT before, and maybe if you just came over Mansfield, and maybe if you’re some super athlete who eats these types of trails for breakfast. But for you?! Little old you who has no idea what she’s gotten herself into…it’s going to be a tough 7 miles, and you will talk to yourself and remind yourself that you’ve got this, that you will drink a cup of tea tonight and wear those nice fleece socks your mom bought you.

Somehow you will pull the strength from within yourself because you have to. You will climb over all the roots and wonder when the uphill will end. You will stop and have multiple moments where you are gobsmacked by how ethereal and beautiful everything looks in this gloomy, misty light. And then you will be surrounded by golden trees with leaves the color of sunshine on those last few miles. You will speed up, knowing you’re almost there, and how exciting to know you did a 20 in horrid weather, and maybe there will be someone to talk to at the shelter.

That is a small taste. There were some big blowdowns that I had to navigate over without killing myself. And today there was no dawdling because 20 miles is hard enough when the weather is decent. I had to haul ass to make it. There were a couple of special moments though…I saw a grouse through the fog. I’ve been scaring these birds on the daily and they fly away so fast I can never get a look at them. I also had a close encounter with a black throated blue warbler that was enchanting. Anyone can be Cinderella out here.

The rest of the time though was extreme concentration on not falling while moving at a good pace. You find out what you’re made of on days like this. From somewhere comes strength you didn’t know you had. And the thing is that I know harder days lie ahead. I know I’m going to have to constantly be tapping into this well of strength and I pray it doesn’t run dry.

I got to the shelter at 6:30, and Bookworm and Dirt Squirrel had been there since 2. They are SOBOs so they’re done with the hardest part. Dirt Squirrel has done the PCT and said this trail is so much harder, like way more difficult, than that was. Bookworm worked at Persephone in Jackson, WY where we just ate when we were in the Tetons! They’re headed back out there after this and DS is going to work for a wilderness therapy program. Cool folks.

I met another female solo hiker named Annalise today and Number 2, who also uses an umbrella! The next 3 days it’s not supposed to rain. I hope my shoes dry quickly. I might sleep a little later tomorrow. I can’t even think about how much harder it’s going to get from here.

Day 25: Sunrise Shelter to Skyline Lodge, 16 miles

September 27. My uphill legs are so tired. I don’t know how I pulled another 16 miles out of myself today, but it happened. The sunshine really helped. Sunny days would all be the same without the rain. Everything was still wet from last night, except the clothes I wore in my sleeping bag. Putting cold wet socks on my chilly feet before sticking them in my cold wet shoes was maybe the worst feeling ever. I knew I’d warm up when I got going, but eww.

The climb out of Brandon Gap was steep with lots of stone steps which I was very thankful for. When I got to the Great Cliff spur trail, I took it to the ledge, which looked across to the mountains I just slept on last night. Clouds were still covering the top and wisping over the trees as the wind blew the morning mist away. This cliff is a peregrine falcon nesting site through August 1, and I could imagine them diving through the gap. What views these creatures get to enjoy!

Once again, I feel at a loss for words to adequately describe what today was like. I traversed ridge lines all day. I could look on either side and see sky and peaks through the trees. The trail took me up through my favorite kind of forest, spruce fir. I’d say that for at least half of today, maybe more, I was among balsams, ferns, and forest floor covered with decadent moss. The first part of the morning, I was up in a cloud so the fog shrouded everything in a moody grey which made all the greens pop from the rusty needled ground. The sun was fighting to shine through and every time it broke the cloud, rays would shoot down all around me and I could feel the warmth as I passed through them. At one point I reached an open sunny spot and stood there turned up toward it with my eyes closed, like a contented cat.

The trail today was less of a trail and more of a muddy, boggy, river-like canal. Trying to avoid the mud was pointless. It was everywhere. There are strategically placed rocks and sticks and roots, and you can play that game for while, but eventually you slip in and feel the sickening slurp that means your feet will never be dry again. I slipped all day long. It was an exercise in slipping and not falling. With everything being wet, all surfaces were slick. My shoes are shot. They don’t grip anything anymore. I have new ones coming in two days. I can make it two more days…

The inclines today were so steep. I was still able to use my poles, but there were times I was holding onto trees for dear life as I tentatively made my way down huge slanted rocks that resembled death slides. And the blowdowns!! There are trees blown down all over this trail and maintainers haven’t removed them so hikers can pass. So I either had to go around them through the woods, try to climb over them, or crawl under with my pack on my back. I laughed out loud at one point when a small blowdown had the branches sawed off of it so it could be stepped over. Like, no! Just cut a pathway or move it off the trail!! Toward the end of the day I was climbing over a blowdown and hit my good knee against one of these sawed off branches and saw stars. I sat there for a minute on the tree, hanging over the trail, until the pain subsided. When I got moving again it thankfully felt fine.

Then there was what I like to refer to as the “bog boards of irony.” There were miles of mud today. Miles. And every now and then I’d come to some bog boards that were there for no apparent reason, just hanging out in non muddy areas, mocking all who passed with their uselessness.

I stopped at Sucker Brook Shelter today for lunch and aired out my white, pruny feet. I have such respect for my feet. They are carrying me all this way, taking the brunt of the weight and everything that passes beneath them. When I left the shelter I felt like a steam engine trying to push up a steep hill, sluggish, struggling with fits and starts. It took me forever to get my legs under me again and I felt like I’d hit an energy wall. Somehow though, a second wind came and propelled me the rest of the way today. Digging deep.

The last 2 miles before Skyline Lodge there were two large hills to go up. Again, steep, rocky, rooty, steep. There were moose droppings everywhere, all along the side of the trail, in the middle of the trail. I did not want to see a moose. I checked that box on my first day in VT with them safely on the other side of a pond, I don’t need to see one up close in these tight evergreen woods. I have no idea how these animals navigate through the dense trees. They are massive mammals, and just thinking about them up here is enough to send me sliding down the nearest granite death slide.

When I finally reached the lodge, I just flipped out because it’s this lovely little cabin overlooking a beaver pond with a mountain view behind it. I had the place all to myself!!! I set up house and went down to the pond where sits the biggest beaver lodge I’ve ever seen. A 7-8 foot high mound of sticks and mud, a Beverly Hills beaver mansion. No movement other than some ducks. I set up on the porch, cooked dinner, made a cup of tea, and called home. All of a sudden a beaver glides into view! So exciting!! I put my wet shoes back on and headed down to the pond where two of them were gliding back and forth, making the after dinner rounds. What a splendid thing to behold. I went back up to the porch and watched them some more as I inhaled my dinner. The sun sets on the other side of the mountain, but the sky turned a gorgeous shade of pink anyway.

The sunrise from here is supposed to be pretty so I might set an alarm tomorrow. I have fewer miles tomorrow but I go over 4 official peaks and then another 4 that don’t count I guess. These uphill legs need their rest.