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The Tale of the Long Trail

words //  Lettie Stratton
photography // Ben Sarle

It’s not uncommon for modern-day folks to dream of escaping the confines of their everyday lives, whether chained to a desk, enduring family pressures or dealing with something else entirely. For some, that escape means going to see a movie, spending time with friends or cooking up luxurious vacation plans. For others, it means seeking the solace of the woods.

Instead of the click-clack of fingers stomping across keyboards and the constant ringing of telephones, imagine hearing nothing but the steady steps of your (hopefully broken-in) hiking boots and the rustlings of wildlife as you trek onward, upward and toward whatever it is you’re looking for on the trail—the summit of a peak, the next white blaze, that temporary escape or perhaps something within yourself.

mountain-7CMYKDerrek Eckhardt and Isaac Leslie were fresh off their first years of college in 2007 when they hatched the idea of hiking Vermont’s Long Trail—a 272-milelong footpath that runs the length of the state. The pair took a hiatus from their summer landscaping and gardening business to hike the trail end-to-end, walking through rugged backcountry forests and streams to reach above-tree-line views and unobstructed azure skies.

Often referred to as Vermont’s “footpath into the wilderness,” the Long Trail was built by the Green Mountain Club over a 20-year period between 1910 and 1930 after being conceived in Burlington by James P. Taylor at the inaugural meeting of the Green Mountain Club. Will Wiquist, executive director of the Green Mountain Club (which has been dubbed by the Vermont legislature as “the founder, sponsor, defender, and protector of the Long Trail system”), said a few hundred people hike the Long Trail end-to-end each year, although they don’t have an exact number of hikers who successfully completed the trek. “While we love for people to submit their trail journals to us and receive their End-to-Ender Patch, many people do not do that,” he explained, adding that the Vermont Historical Society maintains an archive of all the end-to-end reports they have received since they began tracking.

Beginning with packs just under 50 pounds, Eckhardt and Leslie mailed food and extra supplies to themselves at several post office stops along the trail. Eckhardt said his favorite sections to hike were between Camel’s Hump and Mt. Abraham, and Smuggler’s Notch. The boys passed time on the trail by pointing out when one of them heard the cry of the famed Wampahoofus—a legendary creature who reportedly lives on Mt. Mansfield. He has short legs on one side of his body so he can comfortably walk on the inclines of the mountain. Wiquist noted that the Green Mountain Club has a children’s book titled The Wampahoofus’ Favorite Place, written by their summit caretaker, Zoe Linton. Is the Wampahoofus’ existence lore or true? You’ll have to take a hike to find out.

Although the South-to-North route is more popular, Eckhardt and Leslie hiked North to South, beginning in May, because they wanted to be able to walk right to their homes in Shaftsbury when they finished. The duo averaged 15 miles a day, working up to a 23-mile day toward the end of their 19-day trek. The first thing they did upon return? Ate pizza, of course.

The average time it takes to hike end-to-end is between 26 to 30 days, and Eckhardt said if he were to do it again (which he would very much like to do), he would take more time—especially since the weather on his first trip was perpetually rainy. “Being wet all the time wasn’t good,” Eckhardt said, adding that he and Leslie often pushed on through the rain when they should have waited out the storm under shelter. “But you get used to being out in the woods and feel relaxed about it,” he noted.

mountain-10CMYK“Many people who have hiked other long-distance trails tell us they are surprised at how challenging the trail—especially the northern half—is,” Wiquist said. “People sometimes underestimate the challenge of the hike because our mountains are relatively short compared to those out west or elsewhere in the world.” He noted that the Long Trail is the oldest long-distance hiking trail in America and served as an inspiration for the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine. From the Massachusetts-Vermont line, over the main ridge of the Green Mountains and up to the Canadian border, the Long Trail crosses Vermont’s highest peaks—Mt. Mansfield, Killington, Camel’s Hump, Mt. Ellen and Mt. Abraham (among others). With over 70 shelters and 175 miles of side trails, the Trail holds mass appeal for the day hiker, weekender and extended backpacker.

“The availability of so many shelters and lodges on the trail and the architectural diversity of these structures is pretty unique,” Wiquist said. The presence of this extensive network of shelters and lodges is in large part due to the 10,000 members of the Green Mountain Club, 12 year-round and 50 seasonal staff members, and the 1,000 volunteers the club relies on annually. “We manage more than 500 miles of hiking trails in Vermont,” Wiquist said, “and have conserved and steward more than 25,000 acres of forest land.”

Whether you’re a day hiker, a seasoned backpacker or simply hoping to catch a glimpse of Mt. Mansfield’s Wampahoofus and absorb a breathtaking mountain vista, Vermont’s Long Trail can satisfy all of your outdoor needs. To learn more, visit www.greenmountainclub.org or simply lace up your boots, strap on your pack and set out for the woods!