This article was written by GMC Member Mary Lou Recor and previously appeared in the Winter 2017 Long Trail News.
How would you like to join an elite hiking group? A group that gives out no patches or certificates, keeps no records, and holds no induction ceremonies. A group so esoteric, no one except the members know who they are. And even they don’t know the other members.
I am talking about people who have hiked the Long Trail in winter. Before you scoff, think about this: the number of people who have climbed Mount Everest and returned to give a PowerPoint presentation: More than 5,000. The number who have day hiked the Long Trail in winter: A handful. The number of winter thru-hikers: A really teeny-tiny handful.
But before you set your alarm for 4:00 a.m., there are some things you should know. First, you will need to recruit about a dozen friends—twenty would be even better—because you will run through them like AAA batteries. Many will join you for only one hike because once they see first-hand how wonderfully frustrating it is to search for white blazes in a bleached landscape, they will take up other hobbies. Like tweeting or fashioning grapevine wreaths.
Warning: According to the Long Trail Guide: the Long Trail and its shelters are not designed for winter use. If they were, the paint blazes would be the color of traffic cones, and the shelter roofs would be covered in solar panels. GMC, are you listening? If you know anyone who can operate a GPS unit in cold weather, be inordinately kind to them.
Further, you need to think of this as a long-term goal, like say thirteen years, two months and sixteen days. If you are in your eighties and have bad knees, it may not be for you.
Then, there’s the 22.5-mile stretch over Glastenbury Mountain. The U.S. Forest Service won’t be much help. Their answer to most of your questions is “No.” Is there a way to break up that stretch into shorter hikes? “No.” Is there a convenient woods road that intersects the Long Trail? “No.” Do you know any snowmobilers who offer shuttle services? “No.” My advice: hold out for a low-snow winter; start early; bring a headlamp; eat plenty of chocolate. Not my advice: spend a frigid night shivering at Goddard Shelter wishing you were home fashioning grapevine wreaths.
Even with zealous precautions, you may still take a wrong turn. For example, imagine that you, four experienced hiker friends, and two dogs park at Middlebury Gap intending to climb Worth Mountain. When you reach the summit, you decide to continue south for a bit, and end up going all the way to Sucker Brook Shelter. After more consultation, you descend on the benign Sucker Brook Trail to Forest Road 67. Then it’s an easy 3.8-mile snowshoe north to Vermont Route 125, a half-mile east of your cars at Middlebury Gap. A perfect loop.
Only you miss the F.R. 67 junction and wind up on the trails at Blueberry Hill Ski Center. No problem, you think, you’ll find your way to the lodge, where you’ll hitch a ride with an end-of-the-day skier. Except that when you get there, the place is deserted, like the body snatchers have come and gone. With no obvious other option, you all start walking north on the Ripton-Goshen Road hoping to hitch a ride with the next passing vehicle. This being rural Vermont, someone is bound to stop.
Only the first car swerves to avoid you. The next one—a big hulking suburban that could accommodate all of you plus the Middlebury Nordic Team—barely slows as the driver grumbles something mercifully unintelligible. You pause in front of a house, and the residents turn out the lights when they see you coming up the drive. Did I mention that it is now nearly dark? You have no cell service, and it’s ten cold miles back to your cars. WWJD?
Sound farfetched? Believe me, it can happen.
And finally, there is no glory in this endeavor. Most people you tell of your quest will give you that how-can-I-top-this-story look. Then, with a certain smugness, they will relate the tale of the legendary lumberjack Joe Bleau who thru-hiked the entire Long Trail back in the winter of 1856—when we had real winters—before there was even a trail, and while wearing scratchy underwear.
So if anyone asks you what you are up to this winter, tell them you’re spending your free time watching cat videos. Then smile and set your alarm.
Special thanks to Bruce Bushey, Laurelae Oehler, Dan Fenn and the late Chris Hanna. Without them, I would have been lost.
Want to learn more? Mary Lou will be presenting a slide show about her winter End-to-End hike of the Long Trail as part of this winter’s Taylor Series! You can catch her on Thursday, March 21st, at the GMC Visitor Center in Waterbury Center, VT. Find out more about Mary Lou’s and other adventurers’ presentations here.