It's another gray and damp day and I've decided to give my feet and the rest of my body another day to recuperate. My father, who maintains a ham radio installation on the top of Killington Peak, is heading down there tomorrow morning, which makes for the perfect ride to take up the hike where I left off on Route 4. In the meantime, I thought I'd share a few reflections.
I can't tell you how much I appreciate the men and women who built and maintain the Long Trail. Of course it's been the Green Mountain Club that has been the organization that provides oversight and vision, and I'm proud to be a supporting member. What really amazes me is the massive labor and effort that goes into making this trail functional and sustainable. The heavy lifting (literally) is done by trail crews, individual section chapters, and volunteers of all sorts. Here are just a few examples of what I'm talking about, and as I'm hiking I always try to remember and appreciate these things:
The Rolling of the Stones:
In so many places along the trail hikers will come to large rocks, stones, and boulders that have been carefluly placed to form a nice even walkway or stairway. The immediate reaction is to say, "Wow, how great that someone made these nice steps to help me get up this hill" or "How nice that I don't have to step in that mud." While this is sort of true -- trail crews were trying to make it a little easier -- the real reason is erosion control. These stone steps and other formations (such as water bars to channel drainage off the trail) are everywhere on the Long Trail. When I step from one perfectly placed large flat stone to another while crossing a swampy area I marvel at the effort to move and position just one of these stones. In many cases the big rocks were dragged from the surrounding woods before becoming stepping stones for thousands of hikers. Sometimes these walkways go on for fifty or a hundred feet. Then there are the stair steps. The valley where Route 9 crosses the trail outside Bennington was the first major example of this. Trail builders and maintenance crews probably learned long ago that repeated hiking on steep soils simply creates a path for water, which eventually makes a deepening channel that erodes the hillside. At Route 9, and many other places on the trail, crews have positioned thousands of massive rocks to form steps on the steep inclines. Again, the effort to move just one of these stones is worthy of high praise. When these steps go on for close to a half mile, it's just plain phenomenal. Sorry I don't have a good photo to show this, but I'll get one.
You Can't There From Here:
Another way to protect vulnerable vegetation and soils is the use of puncheon. "What's puncheon?" you ask? Well, I didn't know either. It's a term used for planks that are laid to form a path or trail. The planks are supported by short sills that rest on the ground, creating a slightly elevated walkway and minimizing the impact of hiker traffic. These planks are thick and heavy, often 2-3 inches thick by 6-8 inches wide and 6-8 feet long placed two-wide. Now remember, we're talking about being way the heck out in the middle of nowhere. How did this big planks get here? Well, in most cases trail crews carried them in one by one. And like the stone work, these puncheon often go on for great distances in many cases.
As you may know, I have not stayed in a shelter so far due to the generally good weather for tenting. But I did try to stop and see most of the shelters I passed. Some of them are very beautiful and demonstrate real artistry and craftsmanship. In most cases the tools and materials for these had to be carried for miles through the woods to construct these structures. Here's a photo of the Goddard Shelter near the top of Glastenbury Mountain, a terrific timber-frame shelter with space to sleep twelve people.
Every day I cross brooks, streams, and/or rivers. If worthy of a bridge, each crossing seems to get a unique treatment. Some bridges are very simple in design, consisting of a simple steel girder turned on it's side to form a foot-wide path across the water. In other locations, like Clarendon Gorge, elaborate suspension bridges span high above the rushing river below. Here's a photo of the Big Branch suspension bridge near Danby. Each of these bridges represents a big effort in engineering and labor. Quite amazing indeed!