This post was written by Elliot Cockayne about his 2016 Graduation Challenge.
Students at Champlain Valley High School in their senior year are required to do something they have never done before or something that they think would contribute to the community. This project is required for graduation and is thus appropriately named Graduation Challenge. So, at the end of my junior year, I was required to come up with an idea for my Grad Challenge. I have always enjoyed hiking in Vermont and the beautiful nature it contains. Knowing that I would leave the state in only a year for college, I decided to dedicate my Grad Challenge to hiking a section of the Long Trail. Before the trip, I hadn’t gone on a hike that lasted more than a day. It was with little experience that my trail buddy Marc Hoeppner and I began our week-long trip at the top of Massachusetts on August 15th, 2016.
Start of Pine Cobble Trail to Seth Warner Shelter
Our first day was an uneventful one that eased us into the trip. Starting off, we had much to talk about and the 7 miles we walked went quickly. We were introduced to the rigors of camping immediately as it was hot that day, and after the first hill, we had already blown through 3/4 of our water supply. We walked for a short while under the impression that we might not find a water source due to the recent heat. This made our discovery of a small puddle with running water very relieving. Ironically, 10 minutes past the murky puddle that we thought had saved us was a string of cool running streams. We walked on, continuing to talk until we arrived at Seth Warner around 3 o’clock. Here we met two men named Jim and Dave (whose trail names I regret to say I forget) smoking cigars and drinking Scotch out of flasks. They were awesome. From here, we were introduced to the nighttime process of setting up our tents, getting water, making food, cleaning everything up, and eventually hanging our bear bags.
Seth Warner to Congdon Shelter
Day 2 was not as relaxing as our first day was. We set out with the intention of spending the night at Melville Shelter, but the fact that we were unable to find the trail for nearly the entire day held us from our goal. That’s right, we got lost. We passed the Massachusetts/Vermont border after an hour or so and came to a beautiful summit. About two hours after this we recognized that we were walking on terrain that didn’t look like what we had been on the last day at all. We stayed this way for another two hours or so, passing what was identifiable as a set of bear tracks. We ate lunch beneath a string of telephone poles, both frustrated with ourselves for our inexperience and stupidity. At about 1 we started again and began walking on back roads that could only be described physically as “the middle of nowhere.” If we didn’t think we were lost before, we certainly did when we started walking through massive puddles in the middle of our path. We ended up coming out into a clearing that was on the left side of a big lake. Unfortunately, the trail was on the right side of the lake, and it started pouring rain. We remained on the back roads for another two hours until we found a main road that was supposed to intersect the long trail. At 6:30, night was closing fast and we hadn’t found the trail. We were both more tired than we had ever been before and we both wanted our parents. We both miraculously had service and we called them. We knew they wouldn’t be able to find us or tell us where we were, but their voices made us feel a little bit better. Marc’s dad told him to walk a little further down the road and as if in answer to our prayers, Marc saw two hikers. They were standing right beside the trail header. Rejuvenated, we used our remaining energy to make it to Congdon Shelter around 7, both tired as hell. Even though we thought we heard some bears when we hung our bags, we both slept like babies.
Congdon to Goddard Shelter
The third day was the most physically demanding, but still relaxed. This was our longest hike at 14 miles and it ended after about a steep mile of hiking. Even though we knew we were going to hurt at the end of the day, it felt amazing just to know that we were on the trail. We made sure that we wouldn’t get lost again by inventing a game in which we shouted whenever we identified the white blazes on the trees. The day went smoothly, until just before we arrived at the shelter. We thought that around every turn we would see the shelter, but it was never there. After about an hour of this, we arrived at the camp and collapsed on our tent site. Complications arose with dinner. We were in the standard routine of setting up our tent and getting dinner ready. Marc was boiling water on his mini stove, and in his fugue state of hunger and fatigue, he placed the stove on an uneven area of ground. The stove tipped over and the ground caught fire. For a second we both simply stared comically as we seemed too tired to move. Quickly my senses came back to me and I reached for my water bottle that had about an ounce of water left. Luckily it was enough to put out the small flame. Now I can say that I have successfully prevented a forest fire… sort of.
Goddard to Story Spring Shelter
Day 4 was an uneventful, easy hike. For that I was thankful. The morning started with a wide panoramic view of the mountains on top of the fire tower right near Goddard. The rest of the day was made up of Marc and I singing. After 4 days we had begun to run out of things to talk about. If it weren’t for the Beach Boys or the Beatles, I’m not sure we would’ve made it. We arrived at Story Spring around 4, looking forward to some free time. Free time was not the case, however, as minutes after we got there, it started pouring. We didn’t really care that much because sitting down under the shelter was basically what we had in mind. It stopped after about an hour and we carried on with our usual nighttime routine.
Story Spring to Stratton Pond Shelter
Day 5 was both our final and favorite day. We had officially gotten past the part of the hike where we were counting the days until we could return home and were beginning to appreciate the majesty of the nature we got to witness. The hike up Stratton was fun because it was much more visually appealing than the swampy trail that we had been on the last four days. The mud was deeper than it had been all week, thanks to the rainstorm the night before. Regardless, we made it up the mountain fast and got to look out from another watchtower. We got to Stratton Pond Shelter during the middle of the afternoon. We decided to sleep in the shelter that night because of how nice it was and the time it saved us that we usually had to spend setting up the tent, which had become disgusting and full of the smell from our unwashed bodies. Nothing from the entire week was more breathtaking than the sun going beneath the mountains and shining on the translucent water of the pond at Stratton. The view made the entire trip worthwhile, even though I believe the trip was wonderful regardless of whether the pond was there or not.
Stratton Pond Shelter to Home
Our hike was very short, but still tiring. We said goodbye to the new friends we had just spent the night with and went on our way. We came out to a parking area filled with cars right near a wide road. A woman got out of her car and offered us something she had grown in her garden that looked like heirloom tomatoes. Although I usually wouldn’t take food from a stranger, my week on the trail with such nice people had made me forget that somebody could do something as hateful as intentionally drugging another person without them knowing, so I took them. They were delicious. Marc and I both rested in the lot for about another hour looking at the blisters on our toes. As our parents drove into the lot, I smiled, thinking about how informative the trip was to me about myself, and how thankful I was for the chance to go on it.
Are you considering hiking the Long Trail for your Graduation Challenge? Contact GMC’s Visitor Center for help planning your hike, and make sure to check out our maps and guidebooks to bring with you on the trail.