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The Inn at the Long Trail

  • Start: Cooper Lodge
  • End: Inn at the Long Trail
  • Approx Miles: 6.3

I sleep in late this morning, waiting for Alicia and Rob—they won’t make it up the gondola until around 11. Ace and Toe say their goodbyes and head on up the trail. Killing time feels strange. I’m almost always moving, setting up camp, taking down camp, etc.

While I’m just sitting here, I start to hear faintly the sound of voices from the direction of the peak. Who should I see coming down the summit trail but Mockingbird and Rock ‘N Roll! They’re accompanied by a Killington employee, one of the lift operators. They’re overjoyed to be reunited with their packs. As I had guessed, they got stuck at the mountain’s base last night after missing the last lift back up. They apparently had a grand old time though—drank some good beers, found a place to stay in town. The locals were so nice and sympathetic to their situation that they got half this stuff for free! Apparently both their wallets were in their packs and they only had Rock ‘N Roll’s phone to pay for things with.

They too set off up the trail towards Rutland. While I wait, thru-hikers of all stripes pass me heading north. A skinny younger-looking guy with long, messy blonde hair approaches. “Wait, are you James?” he asks. “Yep” I say. He yells “YES!!!” and throws his arms in the air. “I’ve been trying to catch up with you since day one!” His trail name is Mooch, apparently he started a day or two after me and has been seeing my name in the shelter logbooks ever since.

I meet two more hikers about my age named Foxtrot and Snowbunny as they pass by. Then Randy catches up! She got off trail to resupply back at VT-140 where Spineless Cougar had his trail magic setup. She’s staying on the AT after it splits from the LT up ahead so we say our goodbyes, and I wish her luck with the rest of the hike and her gap year. Fun to see all these people! I’ve been having a bit of a solo experience lately, so I hope I get to hike with some of them as we go on.

Eventually I head up to the peak to meet Alicia and Rob. It’s a perfect day—60 degrees, sunny, no wind. Sitting on a bench next to the gondola platform in my grungy hiking clothes and filthy mess of hair, I feel distinctly “other” than the put-together couples and families stepping out of the lifts. But in a good “I’m cool because I came up the mountain the hard way” sense rather than an alienating “I’m out of place” sense.

Eventually Rob and Alicia arrive. We exchange hugs and take in the view from the peak for a while before hiking down. Apparently they were already on a camping trip in upstate New York this weekend, so it wasn’t such a huge detour to come here and meet me before heading home to NYC.

This bad selfie is only image of the three of us I managed to get.

We have a really nice hike down the mountain while catching up. They’re doing well, both enjoying their new jobs and scheming about how to move into a bigger apartment in their building. I had been worried that hearing about the old neighborhood and goings on in my absence would make me sad and really miss New York, but it just felt easy and nice instead.

Alicia and Rob survey the scene from the slopes of Pico ski resort.

We veer from the official Long Trail and onto the Sherburne Pass Trail after a few miles, as the Sherburne Pass Trail goes directly to the Inn.

The trails surrounding Route 4. The AT and LT part ways at Maine Junction.

We make it down to Route 4 in the early afternoon. Alicia and Rob take the Rutland bus (which is free!) back to their car at the base of Killington to drive home while I go to check in. I’m pretty pleased with the plan I came up with for them and how well it worked!

In front of the Inn at the Long Trail, with Deer Leap Rock behind it.

I get a room for the night at the Inn and explore a little bit after cleaning myself up and doing laundry. Feels so good to take a shower and lay in a bed wearing clean clothes! My first real break from the trail. The Inn itself is every bit as charming as I expected.

I head down to the built-in pub to have dinner and encounter Ace and Toe there, as well as one of the owners, Murray McGrath, who’s working the bar. I order a Guinness and Shepard’s Pie. Delicious. Chatting with Murray sheds a bit of light on the history of the place. It was a traditional ski lodge for most of the 20th century (then known as the “Long Trail Lodge”) and was a popular stop for hikers and skiers alike. It changed hands a few times and ended up with owners who were a bit stuffy and not friendly to hikers. After going out of business for a couple years, it was bought by Murray’s parents in 1977 and reopened in its current form, combining the former ski lodge with a traditional Irish pub. An odd combination but it works. Apparently they had to work hard back then to get the word out that the place had re-opened, and that hikers were once again welcome. Today the vibe rings true to an old description on their website:

A place where the dressed up folk, travel worn motorist and roughly dressed hiker all might mingle with no apologies necessary.

Murray also explains that the trail I came down to get here, the Sherburne Pass Trail, used to be the official Long Trail route. “Technically” he says with a roll of the eyes, “we’re now the Inn near the Long Trail.” Apparently they re-routed the trail a few miles to the west some years back, because the AMC1 insists on having the AT on “forever wild” land whenever possible, and the previous route was owned by Pico ski resort. The resort was willing to give a 300-year easement (the maximum legally allowed), but that wasn’t good enough for the AMC! It sounds like there was a lot of contention about this at the time, the GMC being opposed to the re-route. It’s interesting to learn how complex and sometimes dramatic the behind-the-scenes management of these trails can be. There are so many stakeholders and competing needs to manage, it’s a lot of work. Anyway Murry calls coming up the Sherburne Pass trail like I did “retro-blazing”2. I get a laugh out of that.

I hang around for a while and have a few more beers while chatting with Murry, Ace, and Toe. Mooch also shows up with his mom. Apparently she drove up to meet him from Jersey where they live. Very cute.

The pub is decorated with 40 years worth of accumulated stuff—Irish nationalist memorabilia, Big East football pennants, Boston sports stuff, ski resort souvenirs, and god knows what else. Lot of history in these walls. And by virtue of being a thru-hiker, you automatically feel like a regular, or at least very welcome. Murray clearly knows a lot of the locals who stop in well, coming out from behind the bar to give them a hug.

The bar at McGrath's Irish Pub.

I go to bed early, happy and satiated, after watching a bit of Seinfeld on my phone.

  1. Appalachian Mountain Club, the organization that maintains the Appalachian Trail. ↩︎

  2. This is a play on “white-blazing” and “blue-blazing”. The official AT and LT routes are marked in white blazes, side trails in blue blazes. Sometimes a blue-blazed trail will provide a shortcut or avoid a strenuous obstacle, so thru-hikers will take it and skip part of the official route. This is called “blue-blazing” and is sometimes looked down on by purists who insist that you’re not a thru-hiker unless you hike the official, white-blazed route in its entirety. ↩︎