This past weekend, I was doing an exploratory trip to Vermont to check out the terrain and some of the accessible crossings/points on the Long Trail for my thru-hike attempt in a month. My wife, son, and I stayed at the Inn at the Long Trail chatting up some hikers while eating the inn’s good food and then drove north on Saturday to check out the terrain since I’d been told it got harder in that section. Of course I needed to actually do a hike to check out the terrain so I looked for the hardest looking hike that was the easiest to get to and chose Camel’s Hump.
The elevation profile for Camel’s Hump in the Long Trail Guide looks pretty exciting. In terms of bottom to top without much interruption, it’s about as steep of a single ascent as it gets on the Long Trail, close to 4000 feet in a bit over 6 miles. While I’ll be doing more gain in a single day on every day than the Camel’s Hump ascent, it will always be more broken up and across many more miles. Hopefully this would also give me some gist of the terrain.
Distance: 13.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 3700 ft
Total time: 6 hours
Weight: 23 pounds, 11 pounds base
Peaks: Camel’s Hump
I got dropped off at the parking lot on Duxbury Road where the LT comes down at around 11am. I set off at a reasonably fast clip, partially because I started off nervous about time. I told my wife 5 hours for a pickup, but that was based on the rough estimate I had made of it being 5 miles to the summit. The first sign I saw said 6.7 miles, which made 5 hours quite a tough goal with that much elevation. It was a hazy day but the temperature was perfectly cool for a hike and the terrain was really pleasant for the first couple miles. I even snapped some really shaky pictures since I’ve been trying to make myself take more pictures on my hikes these days.
The last picture is the first place where the elevation/terrain actually started to pick up a bit. Before that it was all switchbacks through forest valleys. The root climb was steep and I had to stop and catch my breath several times.
The reward for this steepness is that you start to actually get nice views as the trees open up. Or you would have had nice views if it wasn’t so hazy :). After a while of some steeper but still very manageable terrain you get to the turnoff for Bamforth Ridge Shelter. I was still worried about time so I decided to check it out on the way down when I was more sure of my time.
South of the shelter spur, you crest a rocky bluff with some views and from there you can see a seemingly more gradual climb as you approach the hump part of Camel’s Hump. This terrain generally follows a ridgeline pattern which is a bunch of ups and downs with rocky bluffs at the prominences and muddy cool valleys between them. There are a bunch of places in the White Mountains like this so I was familiar with the annoyance of having these little downhills in my uphill summit.
As you get closer to the summit it gets a bit steeper and a bit rockier. Still not really White Mountain Wildcats rocky, but you have some slanted rocks to traverse. At this point in my hike I started despairing on time. I was coming to the conclusion that I had known all along, there was no way I was actually going to make it in 5 hours. I also felt exhausted, not in muscle soreness, but just in generally energy levels. So I was pretty grumpy. Eventually I realized that I was most likely just dehydrated. I had brought 2 liters of water with me and I had only been hiking a bit over 2 hours. However, I was exposed to the sun on the ridgeline so it was a bit hotter, and I had not hydrated very well at all in the morning before my hike. Unfortunately, I didn’t know of a water source until I got back to the shelter spur. Luckily right at this low point I stumbled on a tiny stream that was my savior:
I didn’t even stop to filter the water (which I would have if I didn’t know that I was returning to civilization shortly). I just chugged that .25 liters left in my bladder, another .5 liters on top of that, and refilled with 2 more. It also started raining which made me feel much cooler and all around better. A gentle rain is nice on the uphill, particularly if you’re not exposed and glancing around for lightning.
I hit the summit at about 2:15, which was only about fifteen minutes off my original plan. I didn’t really pause long, just snapped a couple of pictures to prove I was there in the awful haze. I think it would have been an awesome view if I could see something. There were 10-12 people in total in the summit area. I think most of them had gone up a different path because I only saw a couple small groups on the Long Trail up and down.
I started down quickly, hastened by the sounds of thunder that I heard in the distance. I was looking forward to at least getting off the summit, if not the ridgeline, before the worst of the storm hit. I made pretty good time going down though with the rain it had gotten a bit tough keeping my balance. My poles saved me a number of times but even so I took one bad spill right on to my hip. The type where you wiggle your toes to make sure you didn’t snap your leg. I wasn’t actually hurt that badly but I planted my poles a bit more carefully after that.
When I got to the shelter turnoff, I decided to go for it. Often those spur mileages are a bit overestimated, I’ve found. It was pretty fast to get to the shelter, where I found a single LT thru-hiker, Comfortably Numb, making the decision of whether to stay or go. I had trouble snapping a good picture of the shelter from close up. We talked a bit, I promised to have a Guinness for him that night back at the inn, and I took off to meet my wife. After the steep root climb that I mentioned above, I was able to half run/half walk the rest of the way down. The last mile or so I did a 16 minute mile, which is a nice pace with a full pack over trail. If only I could do that on any trail segment :).
I celebrated back at the car with a cold liter of Gatorade which is about the most amazing thing in the world at that moment.