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Clarendon Gorge

  • Start: Little Rock Pond Shelter
  • End: Clarendon Shelter
  • Approx Miles: 13.6

I set off in the morning, hoping to get as close to Killington (the next major mountain peak) as possible, to make the climb easier tomorrow. I would have loved to hang out more with Pyro and Anansi though! I know I won’t get quite so far today, since I’m tired from going 18+ miles yesterday, and the terrain is tougher, with two gorges to climb in and out of. I always find those tougher than the big mountains. There’s something about the extreme steepness, even if it’s brief. Fortunately I’m feeling good. My new sleeping pad seems to have resolved the back pain I was having earlier.

I suppose now is as good a time as any to give an account of what a “typical day” on the trail entails for me. I haven’t really described my daily routine and chores that I’ve settled into yet, and I want to have that written down somewhere. I typically wake up between 6:30 and 7am, just after the sun rises. I often struggle to get out of my sleeping bag due to warm inside cold outside. I’m generally up within 30 minutes. Take my puffy out of the dry bag where I keep my clothes (where it’s been stuffed to double as a pillow overnight) and put it on to warm up. I often eat breakfast (Pop Tarts) first thing after fetching my bear can from wherever I stashed it. Drink a little water. I start packing up camp: deflate and roll up my sleeping pad, stuff my sleeping bag away. Put on watch, put away my headlamp and electronics bag with phone charger and cables in my pack. Put away towel, which is often hung up to dry overnight. Put everything away in the main compartment of my pack: pad and stove on bottom, bear can on top, tent long-ways to the side. Switch to “trail mode” clothing: take off leggings and put on shorts (cold!), switch from dry camp socks to wet/sweaty trail socks. Take off puffy (cold!!). Clothes bag is the last thing to go into the pack. Get out trekking pole and start hiking! I’m usually on the trail by 7:30-8:30am. I tend to hike without taking too-too many breaks. Try to go at least an hour at a time, two between long sit down breaks. Unless climbing, then all bets are off. I generally take my first sit-down break around 10am and eat a snack: another bar and some crackers or pretzels. Stop again for lunch around 11:30 or noon, sometimes as early as 11. Lunch is usually cheese, hard sausage of some kind, and pita or crackers. Maybe some candy if I’m feeling accomplished. Set off again by 1pm, hike ’til anywhere from 4pm to 6:30 (getting dark!) depending on the day. I don’t like to stop before 3pm, somehow doesn’t feel like a full day of hiking to me. Setting up camp: set up tent if necessary, inflate pad, lay out sleeping bag. Hang up anything wet that needs to dry. Get water. Cook and eat dinner (usually mac and cheese or ramen). Clean out and rinse cook pot. Put away dinner set and trash/food in bear can. Put on puffy (getting cold!). Write in journal if energy. Get out headlamp. Use privy. Put bear can away. Plug in phone to power brick to charge, read for a while, sleep. Repeat!

The trail passes through the remains of Aldrichville Mill Village, abandoned in the 1890s.

Anyway, I set off and quickly reach White Rocks, where the trail passes through a tall pine forest with rock gardens.

There’s an overlook on a side trail that I head out to for a spectacular view, probably the best so far.

It’s totally still and silent; there’s no one else around for miles. I stay for a long while, listening to the wind and occasional cries of the circling birds. I watch the clouds moving, and the tiny cars and buildings of Wallingford in the valley far below. I eat some fruit snacks and download more music while I have service (It’s amazing how in a moment like this, even the little artist blurbs on a music app feel like a such a harsh intrusion from the world outside the trail).

I carry on down a steep descent to VT-140, where I encounter trail magic1 setup by Spineless Cougar. He’s got some funny signs and a “hiker cam” in the woods leading up to the parking lot, and a hell of a setup when you get there. Multiple folding tables with snacks, drinks, toiletries, gas canisters, on and on. Anything a hiker could need really. He also has a Coleman stove where he’s making blueberry pancakes. I have a couple pancakes and drink some Gatorade. Delicious. He likes to take pictures of the folks who pass through and post them on Instagram. Spineless Cougar lives in New York and has done a lot of section hiking on the AT, but never a thru-hike. “Thru-hikers are crazy” he says matter-of-factly. He has a scale and I weigh my pack for the first time. 37 pounds, and that’s with only a couple days of food and a half-liter of water. Yikes!

"Vortex ahead"
Hiker cam
Chowing down on pancakes. Photo credit Spineless Cougar.
The trail magic setup.

I keep hiking up out of the gorge and pass through Patch Hollow, where I get stung by a stinging nettle.

Patch hollow

I catch up with Keith, who I met at Bromley Peak, at an overlook shortly before Clarendon Gorge. We head down to the gorge and the suspension bridge crossing it, which are really cool. There’s an absolutely massive flat spot in a stand of pine trees near the river, you could fit hundreds of tents in there if you wanted. I don’t stay long though because there’s a woman hanging around who keeps making trying to make strange conversation with me and I’m getting off vibes from. You meet all types out here.

Clarendon Gorge and the suspension bridge across it.

Shortly after the gorge, I come out of the woods and cross VT-103 near some train tracks. The whole scene feels oddly familiar. I eventually realize that my friends and I rode up VT-103 past this very spot on our bike tour to Montreal earlier this summer! Pretty cool to have recognized it, and to have been through this same place on two different journeys this year. A bit further on and I arrive at Clarendon Shelter, where I’ll stop for the night.

Clarendon Shelter

There’s one person here already, an older fellow named Steve from Allentown PA, out for a two-week section hike on the AT. He’s friendly and we chat for a while about how I ended up here, his son’s career, etc. However, we’re soon joined by a gaggle of others. Bugbait shows up, then some hikers I haven’t met yet—Zack, Easy, Ryan and his dog Karl Barx. Ryan’s buddy Rob from church. Mockingbird and Rock ‘N Rock show up later after dark. It’s a full house tonight.

Easy is from North Carolina, works as a ridgerunner for the GMC, and true to his name, is laid back and easygoing. He hikes back and forth through the Killington section, talking to hikers, doing light trail maintenance, and least glamorously, maintaining and composting sewage from the privies. Seems like a great job aside from the privy bit! He thru-hiked the CDT last year.

Ryan lives up north near Bolton and is hiking home from here. Big, friendly boisterous guy with a hearty voice and laugh. His home abuts GMC land, and he’s actually on the GMC board. “The Long Trail is literally my neighbor” he says. He thru-hiked the trail with his wife a few years back, and the two of them now have a son on the way. Clearly deeply religious, but not a pushy way. Been a Vermonter all his life.

Mockingbird and Rock ‘N Roll are traveling together, but she’s thru-hiking the LT while he’s doing the AT. Both a little older than me; they seem like pretty serious hikers. Mockingbird is sleeping with a hammock, which I’ve heard a lot about but not seen anyone using until now. I would later learn that Rock ‘N Roll made a bunch of videos of his hike, you; can watch them on his YouTube channel.

Some photos of some of these folks and others I’ve hiked with so far, courtesy of Spineless Cougar:

Mockingbird and Rock 'N Roll

There’s a whole bundle of firewood and we get a nice campfire going and dry our clothes. Apparently a local named Big John likes to drive his ATV up the nearby forest road and leave wood for campers. It’s great to hang out and chat with such a big group and hear everyone’s stories amidst the good campfire vibes.

Everyone’s talking about the upcoming climb up Killington and our plans for Rutland afterwards. Rutland is the next major resupply point, and the two most popular lodging options are the Inn at the Long Trail and the Yellow Deli Hostel. The Inn is a cozy combination of ski lodge and Irish pub that has live music and reportedly great vibes. The Yellow Deli is popular with hikers because it’s free, but also somewhat dubious because it’s run by the Twelve Tribes, a controversial fundamentalist Christian sect (or cult depending who you ask), that actually runs several hostels in trail towns along the AT.

A sign along the trail advertising the Yellow Deli hostel.

The Yellow Deli and the ethics of staying there are popular topics of conversation throughout this section of trail. I remember someone remarking that hiker hostels must be a pretty good cult recruitment strategy, since many thru-hikers are just sort of lost in life and liable to latch on to anything they come across. Regardless, my plan is to stay at the Inn, since I’ve read it’s a not-to-be-missed experience, and the trail crosses almost directly past it. How cool is that?

I stay up later than I intended hanging out with everyone and go to sleep content. Killington tomorrow!

  1. “Trail magic” has two meanings. The first is a serendipitous “only on the trail” positive happening. For example, finding a pair of gloves lying on the ground shortly after losing your own. The second, and more common, meaning is when locals give hikers food and supplies at trail crossings. Hikers are perpetually undereating to save pack weight, so any calories you didn’t have to carry on your back are a blessing. ↩︎