home email
Prev Wednesday, September 20 Next

Battell Wilderness

  • Start: David Logan Shelter
  • End: Middlebury Gap
  • Approx Miles: 17

My goal today is to go 17 miles to Middlebury Gap, where I’ll meet up with Tom, a family friend who lives nearby. He’s a friend of my parents who we used to visit a lot when I was growing up, but who I haven’t seen in years. It feels sort of funny to have another day off-trail so soon, but I wanted to stay at the Inn, and I want to visit with Tom, so that’s that!

The day dawns clear and bright. Beautiful hiking weather, mostly just through the “green tunnel” of the Battell Wilderness.

'Wetmore Gap.' It certainly was yesterday!
Ella takes a break.

We stop and take a break at Sunrise Shelter, the newest shelter on the trail. It was recently rebuilt and has only been open a month! It feels strange after all the decades-old shelters we’ve been staying in. All the corners are square, the wood bright and clean. It also has an ADA-compliant ramp, which is apparently required on newly constructed shelters, even if they’re only accessible via miles of rough trail. Whether this makes sense is another popular topic of hiker discussion.

Stiltz, Ella, and Mooch.

I leave ahead of everyone else, aware of the distance I have yet to cover. I hustle through the sunlit woods while being squawked at by a flock of jays I seem to have disturbed. After passing the No Name Backcountry Area I approach Brandon Gap and the Great Cliffs of Horrid1.

The Great Cliffs of Horrid from the south.

After a brief but steep climb up from the gap, I reach the overlook atop the cliffs. This is apparently nesting habitat for peregrine falcons, so it’s closed during their breeding season to protect the birds. Fortunately the season just ended, so I can take in the spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and the road below.

I eat my typical lunch of cheese, sausage, and GORP while listening to the wind and cars below. Stiltz arrives as I’m finishing up and kindly takes a picture of me.

I sit with Stiltz and Ella for a few minutes while she gets their lunch out, and then I press on.

Walking today, it occurrs to me that hiking makes me feel sort of “invulnerable,” because my fears mostly have to do with things like money and society, and none of that can touch you out in the woods. You’re “set apart” for a time. Incredible feeling.

Eventually Mooch, Stiltz and I all find each other again and arrive at Sucker Brook Shelter, where we meet John, who recently retired after a long career as a school principal, and is out for a section hike.

We all get a laugh out of an entry in the logbook which read something like “Saw a moose drinking from the stream right by the shelter. It didn’t seem aggressive but I don’t know a lot about moose intentions?” The phrase “moose intentions” just strikes us all as very funny somehow, and becomes the source of endless amusement and jokes throughout the rest of the hike2. I’m also very jealous of this person having seen a moose! I want to see a moose!!

I’m pretty tired by this point, but I rest for half an hour and then leave the others behind to get hiking again. I’m still over four miles from Middlebury Gap, and boy is it a tough four miles.

Getting there...

I hike out of the Battell Wilderness and up the Middlebury Snow Bowl. I round the corner to arrive at the ski lifts and see a dog in the distance. As I get closer, it looks more and more familiar… Karl Barx?!?

Sure enough, it’s Karl and his owner Ryan, who gave me my trail name several days back! I haven’t seen him since he passed me on top of Killington. It’s great to see a friendly face up here after some difficult solo miles. We catch up quickly. He has his tent set up in the clearing near the lifts and invites me to stay and camp with him. It’s tempting for the great views and the company, but I’ve already texted Tom and asked him to pick me up at the road. As I start the descent, Ryan is taking a photo for a group of local women out on a day hike, hamming it up in his charming, energetic way. The scene puts a smile on my face.

The last couple of miles I’m just plodding along with zero energy. I don’t even take the 0.1 mile side trail to see Lake Pleid. That’s a real cost to hiking with such speed and exertion—you sometimes don’t have the time or energy to appreciate the beauty around you.

Trying to convey how tired I am.
The ski lifts at Middlebury Snow Bowl.

Finally I arrive at VT-125, just as Tom is getting out of his car. It feels like such a huge victory just to see the road. This has been my most challenging day of hiking by far. We head back to his place, a few minutes drive away. It’s as tranquil and beautiful as I remember it from my youth. All the doors, fixtures, furniture, etc. are rustic yet tasteful and refined. A perfect place to take a break!

I take perhaps the greatest shower of my life, then we catch up over Heddy Topper, lasagna, and a sorely needed salad. It’s good to see Tom again after all the years. We talk about my hike and his thoughts on retirement—the pros and cons, when to do it, etc.

There’s an old book about the LT in their guest room—Footpath in the Wilderness. It’s a 1941 collection of essays about by people who were involved in the trail’s conception, construction, and early promotion. I read the chapter on packing for a hike. It’s fascinating to see how backpacking has changed so much in the nearly 100 years since then, and yet in some ways it hasn’t changed at all.

Much of the advice about shoes echos what you’d hear today as far as weight and toebox goes:

When the weight of your body and pack is placed on the foot see that there is room for your toes to spread apart a little room for you to wiggle them… As for the type of shoe itself, consider neither a pullman slipper nor the extreme of heavy-weights…shoes never to be much more than ankle height…

Or the advice about pack weight:

Unless you are traveling with a couple of sturdy burros… You had better begin with a pair of scales. Whenever you tip the beam above twenty pounds stop to consider; and when you hit thirty, consider the red light is on, and all the rest of the gadgets you have got out must either be left at home or wished on some other member.

They even suggest sawing off your toothbrush handle!3

Some consider a tooth-brush a first essential and this may be lightened by sawing off the handle…

"Footpath in the Wilderness"
My bed in Tom's guest room

I go to bed at “hiker midnight” (9:30pm) and sleep the sleep of the dead.

  1. Yes, that’s their actual name. ↩︎

  2. Whenever anything was dubious or uncertain we’d go “But what are it’s intentions???” or “I don’t know a lot about [thing] intentions”. ↩︎

  3. Toothbrush handle sawing is a bit of a meme in the hiking community; it’s often brought up as a sort of reductio ad absurdum to gently poke fun at overzealous ultralight hikers. ↩︎