Maine Sportsman VT Column, August 2022
Updated: Aug 19
“Hiking the Long Trail”
Not every mile is the same. For my money, the miles I put on in August get me ready for hunting adventures in the fall. This time of year, I like winding trails of dirt and rock that head uphill. A scenic vista at the top is a bonus. Overnights can be great, but shorter hikes will do. I have some two-hour stomps when I have some time after work, as well as some all-day excursions for the weekends. A backpack adds to the challenge and is especially important from a training standpoint if you’re headed to the Rocky Mountain west to hunt. Unless you’ve got horses or mules, those bulls and bucks don’t pack themselves out.
If I’m headed west to hunt early in the fall, I recommend wearing the boots you’ll be hunting in to do your hikes. Trekking poles are a good addition as well, especially if 70-pound elk or moose quarters are in your future. A good pair of dedicated hiking boots is handy if you’re not headed west to hunt. I prefer leather boots that I keep well treated, with a decent Vibram sole for traction. I figure my rubber boots will be there for me in October to get ready for long November miles and I probably don’t need to wear them for a sweaty training hike.
In many respects, I consider Vermont over-trailed. Too many trails for every user group out there. It can be pretty hard to go more than two miles in any direction without crossing a road or a hiking, biking, or snowmachine trail. All of that makes a trip into a remote lake to fish a pretty rare and special adventure. I get it, there are lots of users out there, and I use those trails too, but enough might be enough. That’s above my pay grade to decide. But I do like them when I’m on them.
The Long Trail is the nation’s oldest continuous footpath and runs from Massachusetts to Canada. According to the Green Mountain Club, who manages the Long Trail, it stretches 272 miles of direct travel, within a system of trails that covers 438 miles total. The trail was started in 1910, with the last mile cut in 1930, predating the completion of the Appalachian Trail by seven years. All but 6.5 miles of its length have been permanently protected. In the southern half of the state, much of this footpath through the woods exists within the Green Mountain National Forest, making the trail and trailhead accesses a nice place to start for hunters and anglers getting into the woods at all times of the year.
Hiking as Training
I’m what is known as a section hiker, covering bits and pieces of the trail as time allows. Someday I might get the whole thing done. Until then, I’ll keep covering ground. Depending on the day, I enjoy a simple ramble through the woods. On other days, I seek out scenic vistas. If you’re new to hiking, there are a couple of things to remember. Many of these trails are on pretty rough ground with decent elevation, so be prepared for rugged country and weather changes. Water can be limited and of questionable cleanliness along the spine of the Green Mountains, so bring some with you or a quality filter. Give yourself plenty of time to complete your route because if you get caught out in the dark, there are no streetlights. Emergency equipment is good to carry. Take a space blanket, fire starting equipment, a light and an extra layer. Let someone know where you’re headed.
As I start out the year, I keep my ambitions low and pick short routes. I typically hike one day per week, perhaps twice if my schedule allows, with walks and runs filling in the other training days. I slowly build up distance and start to add weight to my pack to simulate a western hunt, increasing each by a max of 10% per week. Even if I’m not headed west, adding a pack to my hikes leads to strong legs in November. Close to home, I like hiking Jay Peak. It can be crowded at times, but if I get an early start, I’m usually done as the crowds show up. As I’ve mentioned, there is no shortage of trails out there.
Hiking is enjoyable as its own activity and as a good way to get legs trained up for fall hunting seasons. A lot of the demands of hiking, especially if you overnight out there, simulate a western hunt. This gives you a chance to test out gear, too, from clothes to packs and food to filters. August is not too late to get out hiking and get some benefit for fall hunting seasons, even if you’re headed to the Rocky Mountains in September or have a New England moose tag. Check out www.greenmountainclub.org/hiking/ for more info on the Long Trail and other associated hikes. Remember to practice Leave No Trace principles out there.
Training hikes lead to
Reprinted with permission, The Maine Sportsman