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Bromley Mountain

  • Start: VFW Post 6471 in Manchester Center
  • End: Bromley Mountain Peak
  • Approx Miles: 3

I wake up at 3am again with terrible back pain. I’m pretty sure my foam sleeping pad is to blame. I resolve to shell out for a fancy inflatable one1, hopefully it helps! There’s a tricky calculus with a gear purchase like this. I have a problem and I think spending $$$ on this item will solve it. But what if it’s something else? Like maybe my pack is just too heavy. Now I’m out the money and still have the problem! I think it’s helpful to just look at the money as the cost of learning what you need and don’t.

In any case, after ibuprofen-ing myself back to sleep, I rise to start the day several hours later and find a steady rain falling outside. I pack up my wet tent, grab a bagel for breakfast from a nearby cafe, and walk back over to the Mountain Goat. I explain the situation with my boots having fallen apart and they’re very helpful, offering suggestions and letting me try on a variety of shoes. I decide to join the modern age and get trail runners2 and gaiters. What an adjustment, they’re so cushy and light! I also buy an inflatable pad and have them ship my old pad and boots home. RIP Lowas, you served me well.

I leave the shop, pockets several hundred dollars lighter, and find a little alcove to hide from the rain and blow up my new pad. I want to make sure it’s not a lemon and actually holds air. If there’s a problem I want to know now and not when I’m miles from here setting up camp! I feel like quite the sight laying down on my bright orange pad to test it in the middle of town. The life of a hiker.

It works great and I set off in the rain back towards the trailhead with my thumb out. Once again, I’m quickly picked up, this time by a chatty fellow named Doug who moved up here from Westchester, NY. He owns a tile and countertop design business in the area, which we actually pass by on the way to the trailhead. He points it out while telling me about local goings on, who lives in all the houses we pass, where there’ve been bear and moose sightings, etc.

Back at the trailhead, I pass a solitary SOBO eating a snack in the parking lot. We nod at each other and carry on our ways, both eager to get where we’re going and out of the ongoing rain. I don’t see another soul for the next few miles until I reach Bromley ski resort, on the peak of Bromley Mountain.

Almost all of the high peaks in the Green Mountains are developed with ski resorts. I’ve never been a downhill skier, so getting to see into that world a little bit is an interesting part of this hike. They all have some things in common. For example, they all have a painted map of their ski trails in a similar style (maybe even all by the same artist?) and the typography and design language of their signs is clearly shared. But they also all have distinct vibes and cultures that I could feel even just from passing through in the off-season. Killington is fancy and aimed at rich New Yorkers and Bostonians. Mad River Glen is more for locals and proudly idiosyncratic/anachronistic. Jay Peak has a French/European flair, etc.

The interaction between the hiking community and the ski resorts is also interesting. The resorts all have ski patrol warming huts on their highest peaks, and they often leave the huts unlocked in the summer for hikers to stay in. It’s great to be able to sleep in a four-walled, windproof shelter occasionally, and the sunrise and sunset views can’t be beat. You also get a sense of ski patrol culture from the graffiti and detritus in the huts. The vibe seems something like a team of paramedics, but if they were also a late 80s California stoner skate crew.

Anyway, I had heard about some of this before I left, so I’m excited to stay in one of the huts. I’ve only come three miles today, but I decide to take a nearo3 and stay on top of Bromley. I’m here a bit ahead of schedule, so I can afford to take my time a bit, and the weather’s supposed to clear up tomorrow (it’s already stopped raining, but still very foggy), and I’m hoping for a spectacular sunrise.

I head to the hut to find Bugbait and a NOBO I haven’t met before named Kieth inside. Apparently they all stayed last night—the two of them, Particle, Mythman, Qubit, Randy (who apparently passed me without stopping in town), Zen, Didgeridoo. I’m kind of bummed I missed it and didn’t get to hang out with them all4. Everyone else already headed on up the trail, the two of them are just getting a late start.

We chat for a bit. Keith is an ex-lawyer who hiked the AT years ago and tried to go back to the law afterwards but couldn’t do it. “You try hiking the Appalachian Trail then going back to a desk job!” he says. He’s still keeps up his law license just in case, but has done various things since then. Apparently he just got his massage therapy license. All the talk about work and the “real world” kind of bums me out. I find I’d rather stick to “trail talk” myself.

Eventually the two of them head out, leaving me alone atop Bromley. It’s kind of eerie up here with the ski lift terminal looming like some sort of alien car, and the fog covering everything. It feels peaceful to be by myself, but also a bit “meh” because of the dreary fog. Hopefully the better weather tomorrow will clear me right up. The trail is full of highs and lows, physically and metaphorically. Overall I’m in great shape: on schedule, healthy, stocked with food and supplies.

Bromley Mountain ski hut
Ski trail map
The trail north
The best the view ever got.

I settle in to relax for the afternoon and read a bit of a book that someone left in the hut (The Locals by Jonathan Dee). It has “trail register” written on the front cover, and the back and front pages are covered with trails names, dates, and musings from hikers who’ve passed through.

Just as it’s getting dark, a hiker comes hustling into the hut, huffing and puffing. He’s a bit discombobulated; wearing an Altra trail runner on his left foot and a Croc slide on his right. He sits down and introduces himself as Strap-On. Apparently he has really bad blisters on his right foot, so he’s trying out hiking with the Croc5 to see if it helps, hence to funky footgear setup.

He’s a character, true to his trail name, and great company. He hiked the AT a few years back, and is trying to do the LT SOBO in the two weeks he has off from his mechanical engineering job, so he’s moving fast. He had some great quips. At one point there was a regular looking older man (not a hiker) wandering around on the peak. “It’s never good when you’re out in the woods and there’s just a man. You’re wearing blue jeans sir? That means you’re here to murder.” I had a good laugh at that. Obviously an exaggeration, but it captures something real about the camaraderie that hikers feel being able to recognize each other by sight and vibe, and the slight mistrust we feel of “normies” out in the woods.

An AT SOBO named ZigZag who Strap-On is familiar with stops in briefly to eat a snack and then carries on, pushing for Spruce Peak Shelter. I think his goal was something like 28 miles that day and he was trying to finish the AT in four months!

Strap-On and I sit down to make dinner and he gets out an 8oz tub of butter and some packaged tortellini, waxing poetic about how this is the best trail dinner. He offers me some butter for my mac & cheese, and he is not kidding—it’s transformative. I resolve to buy butter the next time I resupply6.

It’s a companionable evening, really glad he showed up. I think it would have been a bit lonely and spooky to spend the night up there by myself. We turn in early, soon after dark. By this point I’m fully on the thru-hiker sleep schedule: go to bed shortly after it gets dark around 7:30-9, wake up soon after sunrise, say 6:30-7:30. It really shows you how artificial heat and light affect the way we sleep. Hoping I get my sunrise and mountain peak views tomorrow.

  1. There are two basic categories of sleeping pad for long distance backpacking, foam and inflatable. Foam pads are cheaper, more durable, and less hassle to set up and pack away. Inflatable are much more comfortable, but more expense and you have to deal with inflating and deflating them as you camp. So far I’ve been using a foam pad—the Nemo Switchback. I felt confident with a foam pad because I remembered sleeping on them fine when I backpacked in my teenage years. Clearly however, a 31 year old body is different than an 18 year old one, and I needed more comfort. I ended up buying a Nemo Tensor at the outfitter. I was kicking myself about this one; I certainly could have gotten a much better deal on an inflatable pad had I been able to shop around before I left, rather than buying it now under duress. ↩︎

  2. Hoka Speedgoats, which Particle was also using so I figured they couldn’t be too bad. The most popular show among thru-hikers is the Altra Lone Peak, but they didn’t carry Altra so that wasn’t an option. I don’t know that I would have wanted to in any case. Altras are popular in large part because they’re zero drop, which supposedly is great once you get used to it but requires some adjustment. I figured switching from heavy boots to lightweight trail runners was enough of an adjustment! ↩︎

  3. Hikerism meaning a low-mileage day where you make minimal progress along the trail. A zero day, or “zero” for short is a day you don’t hike at all—your total mileage is zero. Hikers will talk about “taking a zero” in town. A “nearo” is a play on this: you go a few miles, but close enough that’s “near zero”. ↩︎

  4. It’s not clear from the narrative because of how I’ve chosen to write this, but this is also the night Particle got her trail name. I still don’t know the story behind it! ↩︎

  5. Most thru-hikers have shoes they hike in, and then a second pair of lightweight “camp shoes” for wearing around camp, to rest their feet and let their hiking shoes dry out. Crocs are a popular choice. ↩︎

  6. And I would continue to do so for the rest of the hike. Adding butter or olive oil to your food is one of the best tips anyone gave me. Makes everything taste twice as good and helps you get enough fat and calories to keep going. ↩︎