After work on the first Friday in June, my fiancée Tori and I put on our backpacks in Lincoln Gap hiked north toward Mount Abraham and, about 10 miles beyond, the Appalachian Gap.
We planned to hike to Battell Shelter, less than 2 miles up the Long Trail, and set up camp for the night, then wake up Saturday and hike north along the Monroe Skyline, summitting Mount Abraham and Mount Ellen — two of Vermont’s five 4,000-foot peaks — in the process. If all went according to plan, we’d arrive at Tori’s car in Appalachian Gap Saturday afternoon or early evening.
We planned June 1 for the trip because our wedding is June 15; with the planning and site prep and visiting friends and family, we knew this was probably our last chance at some calm time alone until our honeymoon. I knew we both needed it, but neither of us had ever backpacked — I’ve done plenty of car and canoe camping, but never attempted to be self-sustaining with only what I could carry.
The hike up was rocky, and we moved slowly under the weight of our packs. Tori was overwhelmed with the prospect of the trip, and not yet sure this was a good use of most of our weekend. There was still plenty of wedding stuff to do.
After a half-hour or so of steady, silent plodding I was drenched in sweat and Tori was asking how much further to the shelter with the kind of tone that suggests there’s only one right answer, whatever the facts are. My complete inability to guess at an answer didn’t help.
When we got to Battell Shelter, it was full of dudes. These were not peerdudes. These were middle-aged dudes gathered around the campfire they weren’t supposed to have drinking beer and spreading out on the shelter floor. It looked like a good time for them, but it wasn’t the solitude we were looking for. Lesson: First-come, first-serve shelters should never be a penned-in part of the plan.
Expecting the possibility that we wouldn’t get a spot in the shelter, we’d packed a tent and looked up the rules for backcountry camping in Green Mountain National Forest (it’s allowed, as long as you follow the rules). We hiked on for another quarter-mile or so until we found a useable clearing off the trail and set up the tent as dark fell.
After we zipped into the tent and got settled, Tori announced:
It was devastating to arrive at a point of no return — packing up camp, hiking out in the dark and driving home at that point would not have sucked less — and get confirmation that Tori was miserable. That was definitely not my plan for our last outing together before the wedding. There was nothing I could do, though, so I tried to stay positive and make the sleeping arrangements as comfortable as possible.
As we settled in to sleep, I discovered a tiny hole in my inflatable sleeping pad. My side of the tent was on a slope, so I packed clothes under the deflated pad to balance it out. It was not a comfortable night, and the silence of the forest was haunting. It was difficult to fall asleep because we could hear the slightest sound hundreds of feet away, and in a place so remote it was impossible not to wonder what might be lurking in the trees.
Eventually I rolled over and sun was shining through the tent’s rain fly. Tori hadn’t slept at all, but her mood lifted once we opened the tent to the postcard view of where we’d slept. It was so dark when we set up that we hadn’t realized how cool the spot was.
As I made oatmeal on the camp stove, we decided to abandon the 12-mile hike along Monroe Skyline to Appalachian Gap. On so little sleep, we were in no condition to do the longest hike either of us had ever done with the heaviest packs we’d ever carried.
As I packed up camp, Tori took some pictures of the scene then hiked off with our trowel and some toilet paper. I was so sure she’d return steaming mad and declare she was never camping again — having to poop in a hole in the ground isn’t exactly what draws people into nature — but instead she came back like it was no big deal. Somehow, Tori’s sleepless night in the dark, scary woods had improved her outlook about the whole outing. For the rest of the day, she was in a great mood and happy to be out there. Wedding stress felt miles away.
After we were packed up and fed, we stashed our bags for the half-mile hike to the summit of Mount Abraham. It was cloudy on top and started raining as soon as we arrived. We lingered in the chilled rain, laughing at the idea that this was our quiet escape before the wedding. It let up after about five minutes and we began our descent to the packs (Lesson: I should have brought a snack bar and water with me to the summit. The short hike made me complacent and we were up there without anything to eat or drink.).
The mood on hike out was infinitely lighter than on the way in. Despite having abandoned our ambitious goal, we were both feeling good about our first backpacking trip — we stayed dry the whole time, we hadn’t forgotten anything vital (like a trowel to dig a six-inch hole when nature calls, and TP to go along with it) and we didn’t let the bummer parts of the trip come between us and cause fights.
- First-come, first-serve shelters should never be a penned-in part of the plan. Always know what you’ll do if the shelter isn’t an option.
- Always bring at least a little bit of food and water – even on short outings.
Date: June 1-2, 2018
Objective: Monroe Skyline (abandoned + safely retreated)
Route: Long Trail