Nasty Shasty (Mt. Shasta 05/2016)

I first put on skis when I was seven years old. My mom took me to a local Connecticut hill and since then it has been a persistent passion in my life. Learning how to ski on resorts, I progressed from mastering blues, diamonds and then in my teenage years double diamonds. Later I learned of the joy of tree skiing, first in Vermont and then in Colorado and then for more adventure with lift access hike-to terrain. Every year I find a desire to push myself and this has lead me to pursue the next logical conclusion in taking up a back-country ski mountaineering trip.

Life as a Philadelphia physician does not afford the time to put in fifty ski days a year. I am usually limited to one or two trips per winter. But I do my best to work with what I am given and have learned that you can extend the ski season until the spring if you search in the right places.

Last year, I skied Tuckerman’s Ravine, below the peak of Mount Washington in New Hampshire, at the end of April. This year I took my exploration of spring ski mountaineering West and set out to tackle Mount Shasta.

Mount Shasta is a a 14,180 foot active, glaciated volcano in the southern Cascade mountain range in Northern California. It holds the reputation as being one of the ultimate ski mountaineering destinations.

I flew to Sacramento, rented a car, a drove up interstate 5. The first 60 minutes of the drive  is a boring rural flat landscape until Shasta pierces the horizon and comes clearer and clearer view for the drive.

In Shasta, I stayed in a motel. The downtown was lonely and quiet and I was surprised to find everything closed by 6pm on a Friday night. It seemed that every other store sold crystals and other spiritual amulets. Dreadlocks grew freely from the heads of the townspeople like corn waving in the breeze in Iowa. There was certainly a strong vibe in the area.

On the day of preparing my car for the trek, I was parked next to a retired couple from Oklahoma. Friendly yes, the wife had a big smile on her face, as she wore a 1995 pink track suite and an Amish style hair bun, but I was trying to get my mind right and focused for the adventure. We talked for some minutes as I tried my hardest to be polite. At the end of the conversation she wished me best of luck and that she hoped I would run into the inter-dimensional beings. I looked at her confused. “Oh you didn’t know?” she explained, “the legends say a super human race lives in the center of the mountain of Shasta and spiritual seekers pilgrimage here year round as we try to learn how to live in harmony with them.”

I had signed up to for a three day, two night ski trip with Shasta Mountain Guides. The small group consisted of myself with two other clients and two guides. We had very personal service and we were a tight group and we were prepared to communicate with any mountain spirits if needed (unless they were white walkers).

We left the parking lot near Bunny Flat Trailhead (6940′)and with skis on our boots, we skinned up the tracks to establish our tent near Horse camp (7,900′). As a beginner into randonee skiing or ski touring, I had to learn quickly about walking with my heal released from the bindings like a cross country skier and use “skins” which is a friction surface at the base which enables me to walk up the mountain on skis.

It was actually quite easy. After establishing our base camp at 8000 feet elevation, we then would skin up to variousgetting ready portions of the mountain and then lock in our heals and alpine ski down in the soft warmed up corn snow. Turns just feel like you are spreading butter on a fresh baked bread.

Ski mountaineering is a challenge of terrain and weather. The snow is at the mercy of the course of the sun. It is icy and unforgiving at night and in cold cloud cover, then when baking in the blue skies the surface softens and promises pristine turns. The extremes of temperatures change in the matter of minutes. At one moment a gust of wind will blow clouds through and induce us to bundle up up to our ski parka, and in a short while, it will clear out and heat up forcing all mountaineers to shed layers quickly or fog your glacier glasses and soak your shirt from sweat (which will later on freeze when it gets cold again).

Self management is the key principle to enjoying mountaineering. That and physical fitness. At high elevation, you need to breathe right, eat thousands of calories and stay hydrated.

Hiking consists typically of 60 minutes of steady climbing followed by a short ten minute “rest” which is anything but relaxing. In the ten minutes you need to add jacket layers because it gets cold quick when you’re not moving and then force feed yourself a descent snack, drink at least 1/3-1/2 Liter of water, reapply sunscreen and make any equipment adjustments for the next 60 minute push.

We simulated this pace for the two warm up days as we took it easy skiing the lower slopes by day and slept through the 50 – 70 mph gusting wind in our tents at night. Our first night it dropped to a frigid -5 degrees F causing me to shiver in all my layers of clothes I brought with me. That night sucked.

Summit night fortunately was not so oppressive. It was a pleasant 20 degrees when we embarked for the summit at 3am. We skinned as far as we could until the slope became too steep. Then, we attached the skis to our bags and we walked up the mountain roped together with crampons and ice axe.

I felt we had perfect conditions. We were moving at a descent pace and were approaching the summit, until, 1000 feet from the top, the winds picked up. Roped together one of my co-clients kept slipping in the wind and we were preparing to self arrest to prevent a treacherous fall and slide down the face of Avalanche gulche.

We all moved quickly for cover under a boulder near a ridge but this provided us with little shelter. Unfortunately, this was the end of the line for us. It was determined too dangerous to continue when it was too difficult to hear each other shout at each other from 10 feet away.

We replaced our crampons with skis and proceed with down the icy scree on a power turn of shame.

My disappointment was fleeting. I was intently focused on not falling, because loosing my edge with any bit of speed will lead to a long painful slide down a 40 degree 2000 foot slope. My guide admitted it was one of the worst conditions he had ever experienced in 69 summit attempts.

It was a total shock to experience such extreme, windy, treacherous conditions in rapid moving cloud cover at 13,000 feet because at 10,000  feet, it was a spring skiing wonderland. Thigh burning razor sharp turns on crust, turned into ballet carving on the soft corn snow at the lower elevation.

Shasta does not go as one for the books as a summit, and I failed the Oklahoma couple and could not find the inter-dimensional beings.







Pemi Loop

selfieI used to be in great shape. I’ve completed several 50 mile ultra-marathons, Ironman triathalons and was constantly training for my next endurance event. For each race, I spent months rigorously adherent to a strict schedule. Races are easy if you train hard. My philosophy was on the competition day to just wake up to the alarm and respect my fitness.

After the birth of my daughter, all motivation to train disappeared. Living at the gym during the week, then spending several hours on Saturday AND Sunday going on long runs or bike rides seemed unimportant. I just wanted to be there for my daughter.

One day I wondered, what would it be like to pursue an endurance challenge when I was out of shape?

In September 2015, I set out to traverse the Pemi loop in New Hampshire. This is a  31.5 mile route linking Franconia notch, Garfield Ridge, and Bondcliff trails as it circles around the some of the highest mountains of the presidential white mountain range in New Hampshire. It involves 9000 feet in elevation climb (and 9000 feet of descent) and a 4 mile ridgeline cross Mt. Little Haystack (4760′), Mt. Lincoln (5089′) and Mt. Lafayette (5249′).

In 2005, Backpacker magazine listed the “Pemi loop” as the second hardest day hike in the United States. It takes an estimated 20+ hours to hike the rocky, unsteady trails through forest and mountain passes. I loved the challenge and set out to try it out.

With my daughter in mind, I toned down my ambition, and set out to finish it with  an overnight camp, which even though is not the true spirit of the day hike, I felt a reasonable challenge for my out of shape body, which had not run more than 4 miles continuously on flat ground.


Comprehensive trip reports that detail the trail can be found here and here.

My trip started with a 3am drive from my parent’s home in Connecticut. I reached the Lincoln Woods trail head at 7am and set out with my overnight pack. I packed light (no stove, calculated food rations, etc.) and tried to move fast.

The photos of the Franconia notch speak for themselves.  There are few places in the East coast that stand this awe-inspiring.

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My travel was steady, but slow. I had no tangible time table for the hike, but I crossed the highest peak, Mt. Lafayette at 2:30pm and trodded along the sketchy Garfield Ridge trail and my pace slowed even more.

By 5:30pm, I was exhausted and reached the Galehead hut. This was a fully staffed cabin in the middle of the wilderness 1100 feet bellow South Twin mountain. Rest could not come at the perfect time. I peeled off my pack slipped off my trail shoes for sandals, and sauntered into the cabin hoping to pay a nominal fee to occupy a bunk. The cabin host, seemed stressed. The caretakers were working hard to prepare a large meal, delicious for all the visitors and she was not expecting an extra. She looked at the cabin leger and said, there was one more bunk in the communal barracks.  The discounted rate is $175.

My jaw dropped. In hindsight, this was not the steepest cost for accommodation , but given the squalid conditions I could not justify staying there.

As I politely declined, I was then grimly informed that it was prohibited to camp within a quarter mile from the cabin and that outside of those boundaries, it was dense forest on a steep incline, which was poor camping conditions.

The guiding principal behind endurance challenges is the reinforcement that mind trumps matter. You may at one moment believe that your legs have no energy, that your muscles are too tired to go on. These thoughts must be challenged and the Will must be untethered.

I strapped on my pack, tightened my laces. I took a deep breath and convinced myself that I had no choice but to keep pushing, to fight and to step carefully. I started limping forward as set forth to summit of South Twin Mountain, the eighth 4000 foot peak of the day. Stepping over boulders, gripping the poles, I hiked for another three hours, covering five miles to reach the Guyot shelter and camping area. It was just before 9pm to find the tent platforms fully occupied. I was directed to  the overflow camping area, which was also saturated, but fortunately I was able to find a micro camping location between several tents and set up my one-person tent for the night.

Sleep was hardly restful, but for some reason, I felt energized when I woke up and left before sunrise. The morning fog was thick so I was not able to appreciate the beautiful Bond Cliffs, unfortunately. I hustled down the mountain and reached my car at 11am, completing the loop in 28 hours. It is nothing to brag about, but a personal achievement of grit.

Mt. Ranier June 2015

I give infinite gratitude to my wife for letting me leave her and my nine month old daughter for a week to pursue a peak on my bucket list. I flew out to Seattle and joined Alpine Ascents for a guided tour of Mt. Ranier. We took a three day organized climb to reach the 14,411 foot summit. By elevation, Ranier ranks as the fifth tallest mountain in the lower 48 states, eighty four feet less than the tallest, which is Mt. Whitney. It is important to note however that Ranier is the most prominent peak by three thousand feet. Prominence refers to the distance from the lowest contour of the mountain to the highest point of the summit. It is massive and towers over Seattle.Mount_Rainier_over_Tacoma

Ranier is an active, glaciated volcano which requires preparation for volatility in the weather and terrain. Just like the George Martin Game of Thrones inspired novel series The Song of Fire and Ice, travel on the mountain exposes one to the extremes of contrasting conditions as blazing radiating sun is as much of a menace as frigid cold windy weather. Glacier travel sets it’s own unique set of obstacles. The safest means of travel requires foot crampons, an ice axe and walking roped to a team with a harness so if one accidentally falls into a crevasse, the rope can be taught and the team can save the poor soul from an icy and probably painful plummet into depths of up to 100 feet.

My tour group was a crew of seven solo adventurers, coming to Washington state from different parts of the country and world, with a healthy range of ages, careers and experiences. We first met our lead guide in downtown Seattle for the gear check and to get ready for 6am bus ride awaiting us the next day.

PANO_20150601_151915It was raining on Day 1. We took no time putting our hard-shell rain clothes in the parking lot for our snow hike up the mountain to Camp Muir base camp. This was a six hour fitness test that started at 5,000 feet elevation and ended at 10,000 feet to rest our tired shoulders from carrying 45 pound packs.

7 clients, 4 Alpine Ascents guides ready to take on RAINier
Getting our fill in the cook tent. Tonight will feature fresh made burritos. (I ate two and a half)

Day 2 was relaxed in the morning. We took a crash course in winter mountaineering where our guides gave a quick tutorial about up and down hill climbing with snow crampons, self arrest with an ice axe and roped travel. The lesson was brief and even though we may have wanted more teaching time, it did not take too long to find our comfort zone during the the hour and half trek across Cowlitz glacier to our second base camp on Ingraham flat at 11,000 feet elevation.

The trick in roped travel is to keep good tension by staying 35 feet behind your partner at all times.
Roped travel intends to save you in the rare chance that you or your partner meet a deep glacier crevasse.
Our base camp overlooking Little Tahoma peak (third tallest in Washington)

After an early dinner, we tried in earnest to get some sleep before the 11pm wake-up call for the summit push. Our first test was a steep climb up snow and rock via Disappointment Cleaver (named because when the first team that ever used this route climbed to the top of the cleaver, they mistakenly thought that they had reached the summit). I should say this was really the second test, with the first being the process of packing and suiting up in the dark and cold.

A waning gibbous moon (almost full) and clear skies brightened our climb through the night.
Looking in the dark to start our trek on disappointment cleaver.




Walking in the night through Ingraham glacier is simply surreal. I imagined that I was walking on the moon, navigating around massive craters and feeling like a speck; an insignificant particle in the backdrop of an utterly expansive universe. The climb required several leaps of faith over narrow snow bridges that were slowly fading into a creavasse. We moved quietly below avalanche potential snow fields and precarious above-hanging seracs and boulders. Eventually we were greeted by sunrise.

Mt. Adams in the background (the second tallest mountain in Washington). Not pictured is an also visible Mt. Hood in Oregon from this view.
The crater rim on top of Rainer. It looks like an infinity pool to the ocean of clouds.

The summit came in sight right about the time I lost feeling in my fingers due to the 14,000 feet of elevation cold. I started having severe bi-frontal headaches. It was tough to tell if this was Acute Mountain sickness or caffeine withdrawal. I tried treating both by breathing techniques and downing caffeine filled gummy chomps. It was just one foot in front of the other at a steady pace until we reached the summit at 6:30am.

I was able to warm up in the sun in the cone shaped crater rim at the top. The true summit required trudging across the 1,000 foot diameter snow field to gain a dozen feet to reach the high point. Rushing to the top was the most anaerobic I got during the climb and I feared that I was running out of gas just before the descent. Nevertheless, we made it to the top on a stellar visibility day.

Framer Ranier
It’s good to be on top. You can see from Oregon to Canada. Including Mount St. Helens and Mount Baker.
As a group we all made it to the summit. Statistically there is only a 50% success rate.

We had a 100% group success rate. Erin, one the fellow climbers had severe nausea and was dry heaving before we started, and to make matters worse she was celebrating her birthday. It was unclear if she would make it and many guides would have sent her back to base camp, but the Alpine Ascent team took great care of her, partnered her solo on a rope and paced themselves perfectly to make the summit around the time we did.

The summit celebration was sweet, but short. Most mountaineering accidents occur during the descent. Our lead guide Brent brought us together and spoke firmly about focus and moving quickly because a slow descent meant more time in the sun and a greater likelihood of “the wheels falling off.”

Going up is harder than going down, but going down is way more dangerous .

We pulled together and hobbled to the Paradise parking lot at 2:10pm. Fourteen continuous hours of trekking left us thirsty for beer and we had our final little celebration at a spot in Ashton before taking the two hour drive back to Seattle.

Tuckerman’s Ravine (04/2015)

im readyTo help get in shape for my Mt. Ranier climb, I traveled on my weekend off to the Presidential Range in April to test out my newly purchased ice axe and crampons. Tuckerman’s is a classic East coast ski experience that I had never tried before. It is an easy-to-hike to ravine, several hundred feet bellow the highest summit in New Hampshire, Mt. Washington (6,289′).

Mt. Washington is home to the strongest winds in the United States ever recorded outside of a cyclone  (231mph). Storms at the summit can be wicked, but in the spring with beautiful weather, Tuckerman’s is a spring-skiing party.

On these perfect days, you will not find solitude on this mountain.

I booked on up there in 8.5 hours from Philadelphia (I dropped my daughter Ella off at my parent’s house in CT). After sleeping in the car, I hiked to the top of the ravine, skied down and back to the car. Hike- 4 hours, Ski 45 minutes. The drive home after picking up Ella, was 9.5 hours thanks to traffic. I got to bed for much needed rest before the 24-hour call-shift scheduled for the next day.

In the life of an anesthesiologist, ski enthusiast and masochist, sometimes you have to do what it takes to squeeze adventure into life.

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Find Your Inner Moses

This essay is inspired by my run into the desert:

Moses was herding sheep in the desert when, likely as a result of malnutrition and dehydration, he had a vision of a burning bush. This was a hallucination, but it speaks to a reality like any archetypal metaphor, symbol or myth. The burning bush was a proof of the sacred- the benevolent flame kindling on the inside- and acted as motivation to dedicate Self to this presence. When Moses survived and his story spread in the historical tradition, he was deemed a prophet, a chosen vessel to dictate divine lessons to the masses. The masses are now his flock, encouraged to take his vision and message as law, because it is assumed that the patriarch carries greater clarity than the discoveries derived from Self.

In various Native American traditions (Navajo, Hopi), there is a juxtaposition of this philosophy. There are many Moses figures and he is not a patriarch, but an example to take a personal desert journey. The crucial rite of passage into maturity is the self-guided vision quest.  This occurs when a young man or woman enters into the isolation of the wilderness and is forced into a period of self deprivation with the intent on bringing about a personalized epiphany. If a transformative moment is reached, the vision quest is a success. In this tradition everyone is Moses, not just the destined selected prophets. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the masses are Hebrews, followers of an unquestioned tract, just like the flock of sheep. We are encouraged to avoid the wilderness, engage in commerce and focus on civility.

For many, there is really not too much wrong with that.

Cultural traditions are based on cultural structures: a nomadic tribe will need strong individuals while a populated city requires a slightly diminished sense of Self to allow for an easier controlled community. Yet, we still have the biological make up of nomads. Even though we wear clothes, there are naked processes influencing our behavior and health. As a result, modern human holds the capacity to grow from the vision quest. This should not be a lost ritual in crowded times and it is important to find one’s inner Moses on the journey for self-actualization.

Desert Runner

I planned a 4 day running trip where I aimed to run 100 miles over five days in four different national parks, canyons and deserts.

While pushing my body in unforgiving, but inspiring landscapes, I learned to appreciate that deserts mean deprivation and in this state, the spirit learns freedom. The absence of the material necessities of life (WATER) provide nourishment for the imagination to go unfiltered. Yes, this may be a default mechanism of survival which is why mirages appear, but it brings appreciation for a sentiment that an influential circumcised carpenter held held when fasting in the wilderness. Jesus was tempted by the devil to use magical powers to satisfy his hunger and he responded, “Man shall not live on bread alone.” (Matthew 4:4). This famous biblical parable is a mythological archetype, one that faced Buddha and Moses as well. In the wilderness, when removed from the structures of survival, temptations for the temporal are easily blown away like winds pushing tumbleweeds along the eternal desert landscape.

Missy and I flew to Los Angeles to visit her brother, sister-in-law and their new baby. On the last day of the visit, I woke up early to start my adventure by running 10 miles in the city. I then dropped Missy at the airport, kissed her goodbye and started my 7-hour drive to Zion National park.  Arriving just before dark, I was able to find a free area to camp and set up tent on the side of the road right outside the park.

On top of Anels Landing (Zion Nat'l park)
On top of Anels Landing (Zion Nat’l park)

The next morning, I made arrangements with Zion Adventures company to get dropped off at Lava Point trailhead (in the middle of the park) and head off running on the 16 mile West rim trail. Even though I thought I was traveling on a relatively popular backcountry path, it took 9 miles before I saw my first human as I trotted along the canyon rim on undulating terrain. Eventually, I caught up with some crowds at Angels Landing, where I tested my patience while waiting on line to climb up the steep pathway to the top. Eventually, I ran back to the park entrance to my car totaling a 22 mile day.

From above the West Rim Trail (Zion National park)
The canyon seen from the West Rim Trail (Zion National park)
The Three Patriarchs (Zion natl park)
The Three Patriarchs (Zion natl park)
Bryce canyon at sunset
Bryce canyon at sunset

I then drove through the park and to Bryce Canyon and camped at the North Campground, setting up camp right next to the canyon edge. Before turning in for the night, I was able to catch the sun set over hoodoos shaped like melting golden hallucinations in a secluded spot just right off the Rim Trail.

The next morning, I first ran an 8 mile sunrise warm up on the Fairyland loop. I returned, packed up camp and eventually flagged down a free shuttle bus heading to furthest point south in the park at Rainbow point. I departed from the tour group (they must have thought I was a lunatic) and started jogging along the Under the Rim Trail. Prior to setting off, I talked to one of the Rangers and told him my intention to run this trail and he urged me to reconsider since it was hard treking and it typically took hikers several days to complete the back-country hike.  Despite his warning, I forged forward and was feeling great until 13 miles in, I lost track of the trail and found myself lost in the wilderness. It took me an hour of climbing around steep hillsides and shaky ground made more unstable by a recent forest fire, until I finally made my way on track. This really set me back in time and added a fair amount fatigue, but I finished the 22 mile trail by 4pm.  In total, I traveled 30 horizontal miles during the day, but I climbed a total of 7000 feet of ascent while running at 8000 feet altitude.

IMG_0302 IMG_0247

Feeling depleted and soar, I left Bryce and drove to the nearby town of Escalante where I somehow found Hole in the Rock Road and raced against the setting sun across the bumpy, unpaved road (in a small 2 wheel drive car) to find a camping spot.  A wind storm made very difficult the task of setting up my tent, but I was able to wrestle with the tarp despite my tired running legs, ate a hearty dinner and counted shooting stars before retiring to bed.

The next morning, I decided to try out a unique style of trail running. I packed my water, walked to the end of a nearby unmarked ATV trail and head 4 miles straight into the desert with GPS on hand. I was in the middle of nowhere, but I felt like I was everywhere.

Grand Staircase at Escalante national Monument
Peekaboo slot canyon

IMG_0437I returned to my car without danger and then followed signs to the Dry Fork trailhead and then on to Peekaboo, Spooky and Brimstone slot canyons. After a not so easy walk down, I climbed, squeezed and crawled through a jungle gym of smooth, narrow walls of cut out rock. My favorite climbing move had to be when I suspended myself between walls with my feet on one side and my hands on the other as I moved horizontally through parts impossible to walk. In total, I ran/hiked 13 miles during the day.

I then left the Escalante playground and eventually drove back to the highway and into California and arrived at the Mojave desert at night, where I set up camp right off of Cima road near the Teutonia peak trailhead.  At 2am, I was woken by coyotes howling at the full moon. When I opened my eyes, I could not believe how bright the desert appeared despite being dusk. The moon was a spotlight over the desert and I contemplated putting a sleep mask on in order to fall back to sleep.

top of Teutonia peak, first place Mojave Marathon 5/2013

The next morning, as luck had it, I needed to run 26 miles ( a marathon!) to complete 100 miles in 5 days. So began my Mojave Marathon of one, which I split into 3 sections- a sunrise trail running warm up, a fast paced dash on the lonely paved Cima road and then a grand finale climb of Teutonia peak.

Cima Road in Mojave desert

When I finished, I felt exhilarated! I also felt a little dirty. And by a little, I mean I was a walking cesspool of unwashed sweat and dust after five days of  desert running.  I needed a bath, but there was no water sources. So, I settled for the next best option: the ice in my Styrofoam cooler that chilled my nutrition and water was all melted. I took this out and dumped it on my head and with a little soap I was all clean, ready for my prom date.

That night I head back to LA (took a real shower) spent time with my niece Ava, sister-in-law Esther and then went out on a celebratory dinner with my brother-in-law Mike at 4 on 6, a legit sushi restaurant in Encino and we chowed  omakase style.

My End to End Long Trail Hike

The Long Trail is a 273 mile hiking trail stretching the entire length of Vermont. In my final year of med school I thru hiked the entire trail in 20 days. I have attached my trip report bellow.



Long Trail Journal

Sam Grodofsky

July 7, 2009 – July 26, 2009

I have previously hiked on sections of the Long Trail. I grew up visiting Smuggler’s Notch Ski Resort in summers and winters and the lore of the hiking trail traveling through Vermont has always impressed upon me. In 2002, I hiked on sections of the trail around Mt. Mansfield and from Vt. 9 to the Southern Terminus and during this time I wondered if I could find the time and muster the courage to take on an End-to-End thru hike of the 273 mile monster.

Now that I am entering my fourth year of medical school, with the ability to take a month long vacation, I set forth to meet the challenge. Why am I doing this? I want to push my body to the limit, test my inner strength, enhance my wilderness survival skills and enjoy the beauty of Vermont. In the 20 days that it took to hike from Massachusetts to Canada over the green mountain range, I certainly met these challenges, but what I did not except is how much fun and joy that I would sustain over the length of the trail.

Day 1                         Tue                             7/7

County Road -> the woods ~5.0 miles South of Cogden shelter

Miles hiked (today)/(total): unknown (estimate 9.0 mi)/5.0

Start: 11:30am           Finish: 6:30pm

My mom (in all her wonderfulness) drove me to County Road and dropped me off to begin my trek. After I kissed her goodbye, I set out onto the hiking trail- or at least so I thought. My excitement drove me forward ignoring the fact that I did not see any clearly marked white trail blazes or signs for about 45 minutes. Then, I heard what I hoped was a loud airplane echoing through the sky. This loud boom occurred again soon later, and I convinced myself that I was near an airport or air force base. Then a flash of light was visible in the horizon- maybe an airplane shooting a lazer beam? When the rain drops began and then picked up into a pour, I took a deep breath and set out into a heroic thunderstorm. I scrambled down the muddy trail, with little visibility feeling disoriented and wet. Lightening. Thunder. Mud. Mud Puddles. Loose footing. Disorientation. The rain died down, several hours later, and I began to feel relief. I took a deep breath of calm, turned a corner and noticed something oddly familiar. I returned to County Road! I walked in one long circle!

I scratched my head and decided to try it again, realizing that there were several forking trails veering off the one that I was on. After several hours (paying careful attention to go North), I reached a trail that just ended next to a pond with a large beaver dam. Then, raindrops. It was 6:30pm and another storm was about to hit. I set up my tent in a clearing (for the first time ever), placed all my food in a bear bag and hung it over a tree (for the first time ever) and tucked into my tiny one person tent as the raindrops beat down harder and harder. I later found out that during this storm, nearby there was significant hail damage and in upstate New York several tornadoes formed.

Day 2                         Wed                            7/8

The woods ~5.0 miles South of Cogden shelter -> the woods 2.0 miles South of Goddard shelter

Miles hiked (today)/(total): 17.0/22.4

Wake: 6:30am           Start: 7:30am             Finish: 6:45pm

When I awoke and placed on my soaking wet boots (a prominent occurrence for the next 20 days), after collecting my belongings, I looked around the pond. I consulted my Long Trail guide and map and became convinced that I was at Beaver pond. I decided to blaze through the overgrown ferns and brush, hiking shin deep in swampy mud and fording streams feeding the pond until I bushwacked up a hill and then I saw a wonderful site- a perfectly cut trail with white trail blazes. It became apparent that all day yesterday, I was never on the Long trail, but on ATV trails poaching the woods in a circuitous manner. I could not stop laughing at my stupidity.

I now faced the fact that I was 5.0 miles South from my intended starting place for the day (Cogden shelter) and became determined to hike 19 miles to Goddard shelter, near the peak of Glastonbury mountain to catch up to my itinerary. By mile 17, right before a significant climb to the top of the mountain, my legs could go no further, I set up tent again, with rain soon to come and spent another night in cramped conditions.

Day 3                         Thu                             7/9

The woods 2.0 miles South of Goddard shelter -> Black Brook (tent)

Miles hiked (today)/(total): 13.0/34.9

Wake: 7:30am           Start: 8:30am             Finish: 6:30pm

Well rested, but with a late start, I hiked up Glastonbury mountain and climbed a fire tower lookout providing an inspiring 360° view of Southern Vermont- my first scenic view of the trip so far. I trod through very muddy trails, crossed several extraordinary beaver dams (those rodents can really control water flow!). I knew I would not be able to hike Stratton mountain (my intended destination) so I decided to set up tent at a site next to the Black Brook bridge crossing. I was accompanied by a nice couple from Ashville, NC hiking with two dogs and we chatted the night away.

Day 4                         Fri                               7/10

Black Brook (tent) -> Spruce Peak Shelter

Miles hiked (today)/(total): 15.7/51.6

Wake: 5:30am           Start: 7:20am             Finish: 6:45pm

My left groin is killing me. I could not sleep last night because of the pain. After crawling out of the tent, I limped around setting up camp and made breakfast questioning how I was going to walk the anticipated 15.7 miles today and the over 220 miles left on the trail. I put on my heavy pack (which weighed about 50 pounds- a rookie error as I brought about 12 days of food) and started up Stratton mountain. I really lucked out as my groin loosened up and after the easy summit I was granted perfect bluebird skies and from the top of a fire lookout tower I was able to see the Adirondacks to the West, Berkshires to the South, White Mountains to the East and Killington to the North. The rest of the day was a 10 mile flat stroll across the woods, leading me to Prospect rock, exposed to the soothing sun and overlooking a deep cut valley. I made it to the shelter, for my first time avoiding my tent and slept soundly despite the frequent scattering of the resident mouse that thankfully did not take a rest on my face.

Day 5                         Sat                              7/11

Spruce Peak Shelter -> Peru Peak Shelter

Miles hiked (today)/(total): 12.9/64.5

Wake: 5:50am           Start: 7:00am             Finish: 3:30pm

I woke up dry as a bone, for the first time on the hike so far. I proceeded to hike Mt. Bromley, then Styles Peak and Peru peak before an easy descent to Peru Peak shelter at an early time. This was a well needed easy day on my groin, but as I returned to the shelter I focused my energies on nursing large blisters on both heels and both little toes. My early finish was extremely beneficial as around 7pm, a heavy rain and thunder storm started and the shelter quickly filled to capacity and we had to turn away a group of three hikers to suffer the night in the rain.

In the crowded lean-to, I met Mary Ellen, an extremely nice thru-hiker from Maine who would I would be an influential change in my trip down the trail.

Day 6                         Sun                             7/12

Peru Peak Shelter -> Greenwall Shelter

Miles hiked (today)/(total): 14.5 /79.0

Wake: 6:10am           Start: 7:45am             Finish: 5:30pm

I hiked past Little Rock Pond, which I wish I took a refreshing dip, but decided to progress on through the awful muddy trail and poor footing until the trail got nicer in the spruce forest of White Rock Mountain. On the mountain summit, before the scenic trail to an incredible view, many hikers over a 50 yard area created these elaborate, abstract sculptures by piling up the chalk colored rocks in an impressive manner. I then descended to Greenwall shelter to sleep in a comfortably populated shelter compared to the mess from the previous night.

I brought very interesting food to eat for the trip. Breakfast: oatmeal and goji berries, Lunch: trail mix, granola and clif bars, Dinner: quinoa, walnuts, almonds and curry powder.

Day  7                                    Mon                            7/13

Greenwall Shelter -> Cooper Lodge

Miles hiked (today)/(total): 19.2 /94.9

Wake: 5:30am           Start: 6:00am             Finish: 7:30pm

This was the longest day of the trip. I woke up early and left quite rapidly from the shelter making good progress past Minerva Hinchey shelter, passing a nice overlook of an airport, then after descending to sea level, I started up a steep 1200 foot climb which rewarded me with no view. At mile 15, the blisters on my feet were becoming so painful and my plantar fascia so soar, that I considered staying at the unsavory Governor Clermont shelter at the base of Killington. I got pumped up and convinced myself to fight through the pain and muddy trails and trekked up the 4 mile, 2500 foot climb to the top of Killington. It seemed like the trail would never end and as I reach the summit of Little Killington at 6:40pm, I peered across to the big Killington peak over a mile away which was certainly the most discouraging view of the trip. Running on fumes I hiked the ridgeline and finally arrived at the cold, empty, lonely Cooper Lodge and spent the night ignoring the plastic windows flapping in the wind and clutching my aching body in my sleeping bag to keep warm. What a day!

Day  8                                    Tue                             7/14

Cooper Lodge -> Inn at the Long Trail

Miles hiked (today)/(total): 7.3 /104.2

Wake: 5:20am           Start: 7:00am             Finish: 11:30am

Today was a great day. I woke up early to hike up the 0.2 mile trail to Killington summit to watch the sunrise. Unfortunately, the clouds restricted my view but at moments they would unveil the fertile Vermont green mountains. I descended 6 miles to route 4 near Pico Peak and then walked a mile on the road East to the Inn at Long Trail. This cozy, country, homey, warm, hokey inn was a hiker’s haven and the Irish pub connected to the inn provided a devastatingly tasty lunch (Guinness stew!!), dinner (Sheppard’s pie!!) and breakfast (buttermilk blueberry pancakes!!). Other than eating like a ravenous wolf chowing down a grizzly bear, I took the bus into downtown Rutland to mail some unnecessary items home and pick up some essential items that I neglected to bring. At the end of the day, showered, dry and well fed, I sunk into my soft Queen’s sized bed.

Day  9                                    Wed                            7/15

Inn at the Long Trail -> David Logan Shelter

Miles hiked (today)/(total): 12.9 /116.9

Wake: 6:50am           Start: 9:30am             Finish: 5:00pm

Refreshed, re-energized, with a smaller load to carry, a belly full of pancakes, a clean pair of clothes and bone dry boots I hit the trail for an easy up and down 13 mile hike to the David Logan Shelter. Who knew what one day of rest could do to embolden the trip.

Day  10                      Thu                             7/16

David Logan Shelter -> Mt. Worth Lodge

Miles hiked (today)/(total): 16.5 /133.0

Wake: 7:30am           Start: 8:20am             Finish: 6:00pm

I woke up to rain drops coming down on the shelter, so I made the most reasonable response- I went back to sleep. Getting a later start than I planned, I hiked up Mt. Carmel and ran along the muddy ridgeline to beat a quick rain storm with a little break in Sunrise shelter. The rain let up and I passed the Brandon gap, climbed Mt. Horrid and finally to the top of Mt. Worth Lodge in Middlebury’s private ski hill. I had the spacious cabin to myself. I tried building a fire, but the wood was too soggy, so instead I brought a chair from the shelter to a ski trail to watch the sun set on the horizon.  Time rarely stands this still and moments rarely glow as they do during a sunset.

Day  11                      Fri                               7/17

Mt. Worth Lodge -> Cooley Glen Shelter

Miles hiked (today)/(total): 13.6/146.0

Wake: 5:20am           Start: 6:15am             Finish: 3:50pm

I woke up early to watch the sun rise, quickly packed my bag and began walking on the ski trail trying to follow the trail. For the life of me, I could not figure out where to go. I decided to walk on a ski trail down the mountain which proved unwise. The waist high grass was soaking wet and made my boots completely drenched. Also on two large slippery boulders I lost my footing and slipped dramatically onto the rock face. I soon reached the bottom and looking at the map, I needed to follow VT 125 back to the trailhead and pushed onward- up Mt. Fordyce, the steep steps of Breadloaf Mountain and pleasantly along the ridge and settled in Cooley Glen shelter.


Day  12                      Sat                              7/18

Cooley Glen Shelter -> Stark’s Nest

Miles hiked (today)/(total): 13.8 /150.4

Wake: 9:00am           Start: 10:00am                       Finish: 6:00pm

The rain woke me up, but I refused to let it keep me up and I ended up snoozing to make a very late start to the day. The misty morning cleared, giving way to the most beautiful views of the entire trip. I passed Sunset ledge and Mt. Grant admiring the stretches of pristine farming pastures. Next a steep crawl over the tree line to the peak of Mt. Abraham allowed me to take pride in looking over the Green Mountain peaks that I conquered over the past couple of days. Then I head on to Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Ellen, which brought back memories of the excellent terrain of Sugarbush. Just when I thought the excitement was over, I reached Stark’s nest ski warming hut on top of the Mad River Glen ski resort. The clear skies allowed an epic view of the lake Champlain and the Adirondacks that was simply breathtaking and I was able to watch the sun set into a cloudbank. I shared this shelter with a group of four hikers- Mary Ellen (who I met earlier) and three hikers who were accompanying her for her trek- Mat, Frank and Charles. We joked around at night as the sky produced the clearest starlight I have seen in some time.

Day  13                      Sun                             7/19

Stark’s Nest -> Bamforth Ridge Shelter

Miles hiked (today)/(total): 18.5 /178.9

Wake: 5:45am           Start: 7:00am             Finish: 8:30pm

Today marks a turning point in the trip. I left earlier than the other group (Mary Ellen, Frank, Mats and Charles), but after slow going down the mountain, they quickly caught up to me after crossing the Appalachian gap and were accompanied by two other hikers- Sue and Arm. I asked to join them and they agreed- on the condition that I go at their pace, which was blistering. They zoomed up Molly Stark mountain, Burnt Rock mountain and Mt. Ethan Allen, all providing expansive views, but they paled into comparison to the summit view from Camel’s hump which required a suffocating and steep ascent up menacing rocks. It was 6:00pm, we had climbed over 9000 feet in 14 miles and to celebrate, we drank some Sierra Nevada beers and chocolate chip oatmeal cookies brought by Arm and after enjoying our view from ontop of the world, we said goodbye to Sue, Arm and Mats and raced the setting sun 4 miles to the Bamforth Ridge shelter, which could not come soon enough. This was by far the most challenging and rewarding day so far. The trail was tough and the climbs would never end. But, it marked the beginning of a great friendship as I would hike the rest of the trail with Frank and Mary Ellen as we were all Canada bound. My knees, legs, feet, back all hurt. I was so stiff. What a tough day, what a beautiful world, what a wonderful life. Joy. Joy. Joy.

Day  14                      Mon                            7/20

Bamforth Ridge Shelter -> Duck Brook Shelter

Miles hiked (today)/(total): 7.6 /186.5

Wake: 5:40am           Start: 7:15am (break 11am-3pm)   Finish: 4:30pm

After a tough day, Mary-Ellen, Frank, Charles and I hiked to the Jonesville post office (where they re-supplied) and then we flagged down a cab to ride to Richmond, VT to eat (feast?) at a restaurant called the Bakery where we scarfed down 3 large pizzas between the four of us and I had my fair share of beers as we soaked in the sun next to the garden and park adjacent to the wonderful restaurant/cafe/bakery. I re-supplied at a local store and mailed food North to Johnson, Vt. Eventually their friend Andy picked us up and returned us to the trail head where we walked to the Duck Brook shelter and we located a nice little streambed to wash off in the scrotum tightening but refreshing water. This was a needed day of ease, fun, food and beer. Charles left us and I was now with Mary Ellen and Frank, ready to march on North.

Day  15                      Tue                             7/21

Duck Brook Shelter -> Butler Shelter

Miles hiked (today)/(total): 16.5 /203.0

Wake: 5:30am           Start: 6:30am             Finish: 5:30pm

Today felt like a hangover. I felt sluggish from beginning to end and with the exception of a nice view of Bolton mountain and Bolton Valley ski resort there was little scenery or excitement. At the end of the day, the rain started and we came half way up Mount Mansfield to stay in Butler Shelter.

Day  16                      Wed                            7/22

Butler Shelter -> Bear Hollow Shelter

Miles hiked (today)/(total): 16.1 /219.1

Wake: 5:50am           Start: 7:30am             Finish: 7:15pm

We woke up to a misty mountain. The sky did not yield rain but a persistent cloudy condensation. While the summit of Mansfield did not offer the views that I had hope due to the clouds, these interesting conditions were just as nice. The scramble to the forehead of Mansfield was challenging at many parts, downright treacherous at others (I was forced to take off my pack and shimmy across a rock hanging over a plunge to certain death if I slipped). On the summit, we stopped into the visitor’s center for some chocolate and then climbed to the top of the forehead of Mansfield before taking a difficult descent down the adam’s apple before traversing down to the Notch. Growing up, I spent my summers and winters in Smuggler’s Notch, so heading up Spruce peak, passing Stratton Pond and up Madonna Mountain brought much nostalgia. By the end of the day, we were exhausted, and after sauntering up Whiteface mountain we struggled down to Bear hollow shelter. We shared the shelter with 10 campers from an overnight camp in upstate New York. While it was crowded, the kids were quite pleasant and respectful.

Day  17                      Thu                             7/23

Bear Hollow Shelter -> Corliss Camp

Miles hiked (today)/(total): 17.9 (15.3mi LT, 2.6 mi to Johnson) /234.4

Wake: 5:10am           Start: 6:00am             Finish: 4:50pm

We woke up early and quietly without waking the campers walked to Rt. 15 to make our way to Johnson. Unable to hitchhike, we walked 2.6 miles to downtown and re-supplied at the post office from food I shipped to myself from Jonesville. We then stopped at a supermarket to pick up some boxes of wine and found a nice man to drive us back to the trailhead in his truck. For the rest of the day, it was easy going and we arrived to the shelter that we had to ourselves quite early. We downed the wine, pigged out on chocolate, oreos and built a pretty hefty camp fire as we celebrating our close proximity to Canada.

Day  18                      Fri                               7/24

Corliss Camp -> Tillloston Camp

Miles hiked (today)/(total): 15.0 / 249.4

Wake: 6:15am           Start: 8:00am             Finish: 4:30pm

Today was a straightforward day. Starting out I felt sluggish from the previous night’s fun, but other than a tough maneuvering down Devil’s gulch, we made it to the shelter, waiting for Mats and Frank’s wife Jess to join us at the shelter. They got in very late and had to hike in the dark to meet us at 11:30pm. Mats carried in two large pizzas and a full Heineken mini keg to continue our celebration.

Day  19                      Sat                              7/25

Tillloston Camp -> Jay Camp

Miles hiked (today)/(total): 11.7 / 260.9

Wake: 8:10am           Start: 9:45am             Finish: 6:30pm

We had a late start after a late night. We sluggishly climbed Mt. Haystack and gradually picked up our pace over Bruce Peak and Buchanan mountain gaining nice views of Jay Peak before settling into the dingy shelter at Jay Camp. In the camp, during dinner, Mats brought out another surprise- a bottle of champagne. The bubbles were well welcome, but the dirt and grime was getting a little old and I slept that night happy that it would be my last night on the trail.

Day  20                      Sun                             7/26

Jay Camp -> Journey’s End (Northern terminus)!!!

Miles hiked (today)/(total): 13.3 / 273

Wake: 5:45am           Start: 7:15am             Finish: 3:30pm

Our last day began with rain- appropriate conditions for the soggy hike. We climbed the interesting, rocky summit of Jay Peak (no views) and then picked up the pace over several rolling summits as we reached the Northern Terminus and Canada. I made sure that I crossed the final marker with Mary Ellen culminating my 272 mile trek across Vermont. Massachusets to Canada. Complete!