Katie (Trailname "Crayon") and Oliver (trailname "Poncho") thru hiked Vermont's Long Trail northbound in July/Aug of 2018. Crayon had a successful thru with Poncho and agreed to share a few details. We hope it helps you in your planning! Poncho at the time of the hike was 1.5 yrs old, weighed 42 pounds, is a cattle dog mix and wore the size small Trekking Pack. Enjoy reading about their hike!
What kind of backpacking trips had you done either by yourself or with Oliver before the LT?
Honestly, we only did one multi-day trip before thru hiking. I adopted Oliver in October and decided to hike the Long Trail the following summer, so we haven’t been together very long! We have day-hiked together once or twice a week since I got him. At first it was very difficult. He had spent his entire young life in a cage and was not leash trained, had a high prey-drive, and zero recall. It was frustrating. I got the help of a professional trainer and was totally committed to getting him up to speed- I’m very active outdoors and it’s really important to me that Oliver be able to participate in all my adventures! But it’s also really important to me that he be well behaved, safe, and not a risk or annoyance to others. I live in southern New Hampshire and have really close access to some less populated hiking trails, so all winter we were out there training, training, training. I had always wanted to hike the LT but wouldn’t commit until I was certain that Oliver could handle it behavior and conditioning-wise.
Did you have any concerns with Poncho and the difficulty of the terrain (slab climbing etc) and or Poncho meeting a moose or other potentially dangerous animal encounter (snakes, porcupines etc).
By the spring I was feeling very confident in Poncho’s behavior and really proud of how far he’d come! I started taking him up into the White Mountains to see how he’d handle the terrain and some really populated trails. He is happiest when he’s hiking and he really impressed me with how trail-savvy he is. Part of that is breed, I think- he’s a cattle dog mix. The LT offered up some of the more rugged and technical hiking I’ve done. He needed a few boosts here and there. The handles on your pack were so useful! It was fun to watch him get more comfortable scrambling as we headed further North. By the end I was barely assisting him at all. Unless we were scrambling, I had him hike behind me so I could see what was coming- critters, people, etc. This worked really well for us. I leashed all through the Pico/Killington area because of the high porcupine population- there were warning signs on the shelters! I also leashed if we were hiking early in the morning or at dusk. We did the rest of the hike off leash! We saw 2 moose from a distance and he stood quietly and observed them with me. He chases the occasional chipmunk but when we’re long distance hiking and he’s wearing a pack he’s usually all business. I think he considers it to be his job, hahah!
What did he carry in his pack?
Just his food! I upped his calorie intake by 50% by adding a powdered, dehydrated dog food formula on top of his regular kibble. He was able to carry both comfortably. His pack never exceeded 10% of his body weight.
Did you decide to resupply in towns or do mail-drops, or a little of both?
I did mail-drops because I wanted to be sure that I’d have his food and in the correct amounts. It was a short enough thru-hike that this wasn’t really a big issue!
How many day sections between town days did you do?
We had 4 resupplies with about 5 days between each.
How did you do town days with Oliver?
I did end up hiking with some great people who were more than happy to help keep him entertained if I had to go somewhere, but there were a few instances where I had to tie him while I ran quickly into a store. I had to make advanced hostel or hotel reservations because of limited dog-friendly options, so I was held more to a set schedule than other hikers who could take zeroes, etc. if they wanted to on a whim. We had no zeroes, just a couple neroes. Hitching took a bit longer because on all the days we hitched it was pouring rain and I had a wet, muddy dog! The people who picked us up were of course big dog and hiker lovers and I was very grateful to them, hahah!
Did you need to do anything to help protect his paws?
I applied Mushers Wax every couple days and had a set of emergency booties, gauze, and vet wrap. Luckily we did not need them! His paws held up great!
What kind of sleep set-up do you have with him?
I have a 2-person tent (Big Agnes Copper Spur) and he sleeps on his own thermarest z-lite. I sort of committed to carrying more weight/extra gear once I decided he would join me on the thru. He’s doing big miles and long days like me so I felt that he deserved to be comfortable at night! He didn’t need any sort of blanket/sleeping bag, but on the 1 or 2 nights it got a bit chilly I covered him with my down puffy jacket. We did sleep in shelters through the northern portion because it was wet and rainy. He was really well behaved and handled this just fine.
What time is "doggie-midnight" ;)
As soon as he had dinner he would be down for the count! I put him “to bed” in the tent or in the shelter and he would sleep through the night. He also learned to grab a nap whenever we stopped for a quick break along the trail. I also gave him a longer 30-45 min rest in the middle of each day. He fell into a routine really fast!
What was your favorite day on Trail with Poncho?
It’s hard to choose one! He’s my buddy and such a loyal friend. I think the last day was my favorite. I was just so proud of him and so grateful for our friendship. I’m convinced he’d follow me just about anywhere. Dogs really are amazing creatures! I’m so lucky that Poncho and I found each other.
The Long Trail is America's oldest long distance hiking trail. It was the vision and dream of James P. Taylor in the early 1900s. He created the Green Mountain Club in 1910 and the first section of trail was cut in 1912. The final section of trail was cut in 1930. We visited the Club headquarters in Waterbury: it is very nice! Stop in when you visit VT!
Long before the creation of the Green Mountain Club, there were the Green Mountain Boys: a militia led by Ethan Allen. They, in a large part, are the reason Vermont is a state today and not part of NY. NY wanted those lush Green Mountains for themselves!
The GMBs' most famous feats include the capture of Fort Ticonderoga in 1775 from the British and they assisted in the Battle of Bennington which was also a victory over the Brits. Ironically, both locations are situated within the state of NY.
We were glad to visit all of these historical sites! We even made it up to Montreal for about 24 hours. The Green Mountain Boys also tried to take Montreal but failed. Our brief trip up there was also a bit of a failure as our Green Mountain Boy did not enjoy the busy streets!
Thank you for reading about our historical side trips and nerdom! We were pretty excited to meet some Vermonters who would recognize Cooper's special edition pack but only met 3 people who caught the pack's resemblance to the Green Mountain Boys' flag.
The Long Trail: Divisions 12 and 11: Canada Border to VT 15
Powder River and I planned to do a little more than one third of the Long Trail on this trip, from the border of Canada to Appalachian Gap, VT 17. We left our car at the Hyde Away Inn in Waitsfield (we highly recommend this Inn!) and paid for a shuttle to the Northern Terminus of the trail, about a 2 hour drive. Thank you Carlene for the great shuttle!
The Long Trail is 273 miles long from Canada to Massachusetts. It joins the Appalachian Trail at VT4 near Killington. It (as well as the AT) is marked with white blazes.
We arrived at the trailhead parking a couple hours before dark. The hike to the actual start of the LT to the Canadian border is 1.3 mile. We really enjoyed hanging out near the border! Our shuttle driver pointed out how the American border police SUV was parked nearby and we thought of what that job must be like. We camped about a half mile south of the terminus.
So Day One was brief but lovely! Day Two we hiked 8 miles to Laura Woodward Shelter (at the northern base of Jay Mountain). It was very difficult, as we expected! We remembered what Maine and New Hampshire were like on our respective thru hikes of the AT and knew that the Northern section of the Long Trail would be similar. The unknown for us on this trip was how Cooper would do. He is prey driven and we kept him on leash always, with the occasional brief spurt of "catch and release" to let him climb up or down major rock scrambles. I would release him and he would run to Powder River. No treat can ever trump his love of chasing animals and our caution was not too extreme (last summer he chased some moose that we had not seen fast enough to prevent him from chasing). What was extreme was Powder River's experience of being constantly bound to our Tuxedo Mutt on this incredibly rugged trail!
On Day Three we sat down on the side of the trail and thought maybe Cooper is just not ready for this kind of rugged trail and he needs more leash training. We also admitted that we were not in our old thru-hiker shape and this trail is really tough! I am sad to admit that we tried to bail on our hike and hitched down to Montgomery Center on Rt 242. God was good to not let us give up so easily and after a couple aimless hours in that tiny town with no cell signal, we hitched back to the trail and decided to hike to the road crossing for Eden. Good thing because our hike became much more enjoyable over the next several days!
The morning of Day three we had a great time on the fogged summit of Jay Peak. We hung out in the ski tram hut and ate amazing sandwiches from the cafe and drank Tram Ale, made especially for Jay Resort by Long Trail Brewing. Cooper was not a fan of the tram arriving and departing and kids coming and going. But he did receive some nice trail magic up there in the form of a bungee leash that was given to us by a day hiker!
When our hitch delivered us back to the trail, we hiked north of the road to camp and Jay Camp.
Day Four: We started working with Cooper to stay leashed and behind Powder on descents. It wasn't always perfect, and Powder had an active time preventing Cooper from passing him by planting his trekking poles in just the right spots so that Cooper could not squeeze through. It was possible though due to just how narrow the trail is and how incredibly dense the woods are! I'm actually amazed moose can travel through this mess of pines trees, each one tangled in it's neighbor. We saw moose tracks and fresh poop but never heard or saw one, probably for the better. (For those unfamiliar with moose: they are not to be taken lightly! They are very territorial and WILL chase you down to get you off their spot, as Powder can attest!)
You can probably guess by now that we were not on track to do our planned 100 mile section in our allotted 10 days. Possibly Powder and I could have done it without Cooper, but it still would have been very difficult and I know my legs would have been shot after the third 11 mile day and I'd be back on my ibuprofen regiment. We chose the pace we could handle comfortably which turned out to be about 8 miles a day. Day Four we did 7 miles and camped just before Rt 58 and the major climb up Haystack Mountain.
Cooper's trail running skills are only matched by his trail-side napping skills! He would lay down at every possible opportunity :)
Day Five: We climbed for hours over several false summits of Haystack Mountain. We made it to Tillosten Shelter around 4pm and a nice Canadian family with two young kids came in for the night. We walked on, past the pond and another 2.5 miles to Belvidere peak. A Nobo had told us there was a nice fire tower up there and that he had camped up there. And it was lovely!!!
Day Six we hiked out to VT 18 with a plan to hitch to Morristown, get a rental car and drive back to the Hyde Away Inn (reunite with our car and then return the rental car). We prayed for a hitch after trying to call around a get a shuttle but to no avail. Our prayer was answered in a big way: the second car that passed us picked us up and took us to Enterprise rental car! Our driver was really great and told us about his son who was "our age" and was a scientist but is currently a studio artist in Bennington. He gave us his son's business card and we were able to visit him at his studio at the end of our time in Vermont! What a pleasure to see your work in person, Aaron! Such an inspiration to see your work and know where it comes from! You can visit Aaron's studio in the 400 block of Pine St, Bennington, Vt behind Speedy and Earl's coffee.
Back on Trail and Finishing Divisions 12 and 11:
We got back on the trail a after a couple of days off and started where we left off: VT 118. We were excited to scramble through "Devil's Gulch." A Nobo we met on day one told us that it reminded her of Mahoosuc Notch on the AT in Maine. We were excited for that and also remembered that it took us 2.5 hours to do the one mile Mahoocuc Notch. So we figured it might take us a while to go through the gulch as well- but we also had no idea that it was so short in length, maybe 0.2 mile... It was fun but only took about 10 minutes and we only had to pick Cooper up by his harness handles one time.
We stayed at Spruce Ledge hut/camp directly after the gulch and met Anthony + Lisa; Kevin and dog Gibson: Sobo Long Trail thru-hikers. It was fun hiking with them for a day and they inspired us to do a big mileage day: 15 miles from Spruce Ledge to Roundtop Shelter. We had fun getting to know them and know that they must be having a great time journeying on the LT this month! Cooper enjoyed meeting Gibson! The next day we hiked out to the road where we completed this year's section hike, at VT15. We landed another God-sent hitch and made it all the way back to our car at the obscure trailhead parking of 118!
What we learned from this trip and some detail about Cooper's booties
We re-learned that we struggle to press on when we know our car is in the area and we again discussed what an admirable feat it is to be a section hiker! Powder and I both have this wonderful memory of our thru-hikes and what it was like to hike through pain and all sorts of trail and weather conditions to meet the end goal. We are not great section hikers however, and it's good to just remember that even though at one time we did 15-20 mile days, day after day for 6 months during our thru-hikes, we maybe need to set out with more gracious expectations for ourselves when we plan section hikes. Also we love to go to historical sites and we didn't exactly make time for that in our original plan to hike 110 miles, but when we decided to trim our section, we had more time to go to Montreal, Fort Ticonderoga, The Ben and Jerry's Factory, The Green Mountain Club, visit with our new friend Caitlin and her dog Vaida, go the the home of Ethan Allen, etc etc. It was a great trip and I'm glad we got to explore the area with our car as well as our feet on trail. The weather was also much hotter than we expected and we were glad that as section hikers we could bail and not press on over those rugged mountains with 90 degree temps!
We learned our own limits and Cooper's limits on a section hike on difficult trail in high temperatures. Cooper had to wear his booties (made by dogbooties.com) the first several days to protect his pads from the onslaught of granite. He became very good about us putting them on! This amazed us that he some how knew and allowed us to take care of his feet for him. At the end of our trip, his pads were more rough than when we started and his declaws were a bit irritated, but he had no cuts on his feet. We have seen from some hikers in New England that dogs can lose a whole toe pad and we were glad to prevent that from occurring!!
We carried a waterbottle just for Cooper and needed to offer him water about as often as we ourselves would drink. It was really hot and just as we would stop on an ascent to drink a swig, he would also want a drink (and a mini nap!). Whatever water he did not finish in his bowl would be poured back into his bottle so that we'd have as much water as possible for him between stream crossings. When we'd get to a stream crossing we would tell him to drink (this is a command he knows) and often he wouldn't drink for long or at all, but he would drink from his bowl on the ascents.
Thanks for reading about the first section of our Long Trail section hike!
Most of the photos in this post were taken by Powder River. You can visit his professional photography page here: www.jeffsellenrick.com
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