Well, that didn't go very well.
On October 12th, 3 days after running a marathon, I started the Long Trail at the Canadian border with the intention of hiking the entire way to North Adams, MA in 18 days. I had never hiked for more than a weekend before so this was going to be quite a test. Still, I spent a solid year getting ready for this so I thought it would be OK. Boy was I wrong.
First it rained for 8 straight days. Neo was out there for much of this time so he knows what I'm talking about. Mud, wet rocks, terrible footing. Also, I was not prepared for just how difficult the northern LT terrain is really is. I'd been warned, but still it was worse than I expected it. The rain only complicated this.
The worst of this was probably the day I tried to go over Camel's Hump. I had no idea how long I would be spending exposed on the ridge. I kept thinking I was over the summit, only to find myself going upwards once more. Finally, near 5:00 PM, I came to within 20 feet of the summit but turned back. The trees, rocks, everything were covered with ice. I had already fallen 4 times that day on ground I thought I was ready for so I had zero confidence in my ability just to stay on my feet. I turned around, took the Alpine bypass trail, and crashed at Montclair Glen shelter.
I did have a few decent days without rain and even a hint of sunshine. Some friends came to join me for this past weekend. After a nice Saturday of hiking, we awoke at Rolston Rest Shelter (just north of Killington) on the morning of the 23rd to 6 inches of snow on the ground. Weather reports said there were 12 inches on the top of Killington. We couldnt' even follow the remaining 5 miles of trail to the Inn at Long Trail. Instead, we had to follow the abandoned Chittenden-Pittsfield road to VT 100 and then walk into Killington to the Inn.
I was ready for a lot of things, but not snow. At least, not that much. I couldn't even see the trail. I bailed and went home with my friends. So much for my "thru-hike" The guy who works the desk at the Inn at Long Trail told me my trail name should be "through hiker". that's "through" as in "done". I could live with the self deprecation but that's a little too subtle a play on words, I think. Anyway, that's how I signed the Inn's register.
I'll spare you the play-by-play of the hike and list what I think I've learned. First, my basic gear summary without too much detail:
Pack: Fanatic Fringe Thompson Peak Pack with belt
Shelter: Hennessey Ultralight Backpacker Asym with JRB Nest Quilt and MacCat Deluxe tarp
Bag: Western Mountaneering Alpinist 20°
Clothes: Ex-Oficio hiking pants, Integral Designs eVENT Rain Jacket, Integral Designs eVENT Gaiters, Craft Pro Long sleeve shirt, Lowa Renegade GTX II Low hiking shoes.
Cooking: EverNew Titanium 0.9L pot, alcohol pepsi-can stove, Orikaso folding bowl, lexan fork and spoon
Misc: REI Peak UL carbon fibre trekking poles (with builtin compass), PakLite 9 volt flashlight
Unfortunately, my biggest problem was not realizing that the Thompson peak pack is only rated for 20 pounds. My base weight started at 16 pounds. When some friends came up to hike with me for the first weekend, I bought a Coleman lantern and a book that took the base weight to 20. Then you add the food for 4 days + water and you get -- way too much weight for the poor Thompson Peak. It shifted around on me all the time. I could never keep it steady no matter how much I adjusted it
After a week, I noticed it had torn in 3 places. I was nowhere near an outdoor gear store so I used some needle and thread, duct tape, and very careful hiking to hold it together until the next weekend when other friends came up to hike with me. I had them bring my Granite Gear Vapor Trail and the difference was like night and day.
But then the snow came and that was that.
As far as gear goes, the winners were
1. MacCat Deluxe Tarp A+. Tough, light, never flapped even in the strongest winds.
2. Pak Lite 9 volt flashlight: A. Long after my headlamp batteries had burned out (twice) this thing kept going and going with a bright light. Why don't headlamps use 9 volts, I wonder
3. Integral Designs eVENT Rain Jacket: A. This was everything they claimed. Far more breathable than goretex and, of course, waterproof
4. JRB Nest Down Under Quilt: A. I am SO glad I listened to Jack and didn't go for the lighter Shenandoah quilt. My only regret is that I didn't also buy their Weathershield. Also I don't think I fully understand how to attach it to the hammock. I wish the instructions were clearer on this.
5. Hennessey Hammock: A-. Everyone already knows how good this is.
6. GG Vapor Trail. B+ I only got to use this for one day and it was a joy. No external pockets which is not good but still a great, great pack. If I could do it over again, I'd start with this.
Not so great:
1. REI Peak UL Poles: On the second day, the handle of one pole broke. It started sliding up and down the pole. On the 4th day, the compass on the other pole stopped working. Otherwise, structurally they were fine, but I returned them and won't buy them again. I'll stick with Lekis
2. Thompson Peak Pack. Let me stress, this was MY fault for not respecting the 20 pound weight limit, not the fault of the pack. But in retrospect I'm amazed that a pack with a limit that low would bother to have such a huge extension collar and packable volume. Short of packing an uncompressed quilt in there, I don't see how you could approach that volume and NOT exceed 20 pounds.
3. Alcohol stove/EverNew pot approach to cooking. This was OK and certainly better than most other stove options I've seen. But if I could do it again, I think I'd buy a JetBoil stove. The lower packing volume and simplicity would more than make up for the negligible extra weight, I think.
Aside from these equipment-related lessons, some other things I learned were
1. Shelters are great for storing your gear but for sleeping, they suck. I switched to the hammock after 3 nights and never went back. Bye bye mice
2. Forgetting your pack cover in the middle of the rainiest October in history is monumentally stupid.
3. The northern section of the Long Trail is very, very tough.
4. I'm not nearly as tough as I thought I was. The marathon I ran was in 2:41 and this hike still kicked my butt
5. I'm not nearly as tough as I thought I was: Being alone in the woods night after night scared the crap out of me. But I still loved it.