All in all, Vermont is a jewel state, small but precious.
Appalachian Gap Entrance
Anyone driving through any of the mountain states, Utah, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Colorado, has surely seen the unmistakable cut-outs of the ski lift. A slice in the forests of the hills where machine has won over nature, and people are air-lifted to their summits. As a backpacker, I always thought ski lifts were, in some ways, cheating. Half the fun of backpacking is the struggle to the top, the challenge and victory over elevation. Nevertheless, I was curious to see a lift from the top of a mountain during the summer months, and I was determined to hike it.
You'll find no better skiing in the north east than in Vermont. There are multiple ski resorts among the Green Mountains, and a few that that fall right in line with Vermont's famous Long Trail - a 272 mile trail that splits Vermont vertically. The Long Trail is also a section of the Appalachian Trail, so in one section hike, you can walk along a few notable paths. The Mad River Glen ski resort has allowed the Long Trail to cross through it's land, giving the trail scenic views above their lifts.
We started at the Appalachian Gap Trail Entrance and hiked south along the Long Trail towards Mt. Ellen. Cross the road and start the trail. You'll know you're heading the right when when you pass a self register, back county, kiosk. It's temping to walk along the well defined trail to the left, but the true trail is slightly obscured by rocks on the right.
Stark's Nest Via the Long Trail
About five miles of rugged Vermont terrain lays between you and the Stark's Nest - a warming cabin open to hikers during the summer. Although you may think you've parked at the top of the mountain, the trail begins with intense elevation. A sign will point you towards the Dean Shelter, a lean-to made for AT and Long Trail Thru hikers.
There are plenty of places to stay between the Appalachian Gap Entrance and Mt. Ellen. The area is popular, which means it can get crowded. If someone beats you to your dream spot, respect the first come first serve rules and continue onto the next spot. Dean Shelter is a great plan B if the huts are already claimed.
The trail will twist and turn upward, continuing until you reach the spine of the mountain. From there, you follow the white markers (the AT trail markers) across the ridge of the mountain to the first clearing. The first cabin is the Ski Shop - a privately owned ski warming hut that is fully operational during the winter months. Showing extreme generosity, the owners of Mad River Glen Skiing leave the huts open during the winter for backpackers.
Backpackers are allowed to use the hut as a shelter- you can stay the night and relax. Compared to normal wilderness backpacking, a nice warm cabin at the top of the mountain resembles more of a resort. On a long hike, I'll take the luxuries I can get. After being told Stark's Nest (further down the trail) was already full, I settled on staying at the Ski Shop for the night.
Remember, this is private land. Treat the Ski Shop with respect. Take care of the special place that provides a wonderful service to all backpackers. If you see trash someone left try to pack it out, and as always, leave it better than you found it!
Night came quickly across the Vermont mountains, and the warmth of the cabin was a bastion from the cool spring winds. Houselights and car headlights pooled in the forests below, and stars shone brightly and clearly above. The Ski Shop was comfortable, and a great change of pace from the tents and hammocks I had gotten used to while backpacking.
We laid our sleeping bags on the floor and stuffed sacks with our jackets for pillows. The morning sun came as quickly as the night sky had just a dozen hours before. The sun rose over the mountains directly in front of the cabin. It's rays filled the valley floor with an incandescent pink and orange glow. Certainly a great scene to wake up to.
Though we didn't get to stay at Stark's Nest, the Ski Shop acted as a perfect Plan B to our trips. Even so, there was a chance that the Ski Shop, Stark's Nest, and the Dean Shelter could have been claimed. Bring your normal camping supplies in case none of the shelters are available.
This is a special place. In today's world, we don't seem many private places, such as this, allowing backpackers to use it at their will. Give the owners a reason to be proud of this choice. Follow the rules of LNT as if it were its own protected natural spot, and take care of it for the next hiker that passes through.