Written by: Wayne Rock
1. You know switchbacks? Fuhgeddaboudem.
When I first applied for a job in the Green Mountains, I took myself to a place that had a highly drinkable amber on tap called Switchback Ale. I would later find out that this fine brew is the most-featured beer at bars throughout Vermont. Because of the name “Switchback Ale,” I assumed that hiking trails in the state would be a pleasant series of switchbacks gently raising hikers to the summit. Never have I been more wrong! Much like the stoic Yankee manner, New England hiking trails don’t beat around the bush. If you want to get to a summit, you’re going to have to work for it.
2. You have to be way more prepared.
If there’s one constant mantra for my Northeast-living saga, it’s “prepare yourself for success.” From having the right vehicle to take on nasty winter weather to preventive housekeeping to keep field mice from making your home their home, Vermonters are resolutely prepared for whatever the Green Mountain State can throw at them. So when it comes to hitting the trail in Vermont, one needs to be prepared. The ascents are definitely sharper, and there are many more passages through streams than are prevalent in hikes in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Items I’ve found helpful include breathable ankle-high waterproof boots, hiking poles, and bug repellant that fends off both ticks and black flies. More experienced hikers may think these are no-brainers, but I never had to think about these things before I started hiking here in the Northeast.
3. You have to do your research.
Most of the trailheads back home in Virginia are easy to get to and easy to follow. Hikes in Vermont may be easy to find, but mostly not so easy to follow, and oftentimes there is more than one way to reach the top. For example, there are four or five different approaches to reach the top of Camel’s Hump (the mountain featured on Vermont’s State Quarter). Some are easier than others, and some are easier to get to than others. I’ve done this hike two different ways and both times were a complete blast, but I can see how an unprepared hiker could get turned around if they didn’t know the trail system of Camel’s Hump State Park or how it could take them longer than anticipated to find the trailhead without a little investigation into the trails.
4. You can’t rely on cell service.
One of my favorite parts about hiking is how it takes you away from life’s distractions. A lot of the hikes I’ve been on, cell service is sparse or non-existent, regardless of the carrier. “Can you hear me now?” Nope. Out on the trails, smartphones don’t seem as smart if you can’t access trail maps or other information. Do your research, get your trail information, and take screenshots of the information you think you’ll need. Put your phone on airplane mode to save the battery. That way, you’ll still have enough juice left to get your keepsake “We made it” pic at the summit.
5. You better listen to the locals.
Somewhere in my upbringing, I remember a sagacious person telling me, “A fool doesn’t learn from his mistakes, a smart person does learn from his mistakes, and a wise person learns from the mistakes of others.” I tell you what, not making mistakes is a lot more fun than making them and dealing with the consequences. The first hike I took, I proudly told folks in the office where I was going, and the feedback I got was “That’s a pretty tough hike.” Filled to the gills with hubris, I brushed their comments off as mere grains of salt. That first hike was the most miserable outdoor adventure I have ever had. I didn’t have the appropriate footwear, no much-needed hiking poles, and nowhere near enough water. Be a wise person. Learn from my mistake and listen to folks when they say a hike is tough.
6. There is really good food to bring along.
Enough with the life lessons already. Back to something fun. Let’s talk about food. One of the things I love about Vermont are the country stores. Man oh man, do they offer some great food. And a lot of this food is highly portable. For example, the Wayside Country Store in Arlington makes an incredibly delicious sandwich called the Vermont Special with smoked turkey, apple butter, granny smith apples, and Vermont cheddar cheese on a hoagie role. Just talking about the Vermont Special makes me want to snag one on my lunch break. Anyway, with all these country stores around, they’re a great place to grab something to munch on the trail, at the summit, or on the ride home. One of the great rewards for burning all those calories climbing to the top is that you get to replenish them. Keep in mind, Vermont is the second-most rural state in the union—be sure to stock up on some grub on the way to your hike because it might be a while before you can refuel.
A good way to keep items cool is to pack them in a soft-sided cooler with freezer packs. If you’re hiking with someone else, have one person carry a pack that’s full of the essentials and have the other pack be an insulated one for keeping water and other perishables cool. I suggest the Ice Mule Pro Cooler from Orvis—in the ten years I’ve worked at Orvis, this is one of the products that I’m impressed by and use the most. I recently loaded it up with 7 pounds of ice, three one-liter bottles of water, sandwiches, and a few adult beverages for a hike up Stratton Mountain. Once we reached the top, everyone in our hiking party was surprised by how the ice had hardly melted, and the pups were happy at the opportunity to chew on some ice.
7. You have to appreciate each trail for what it is.
Most of the trails near my hometown in Virginia—McAfee’s Knob, Dragon’s Tooth, Andy Layne Trail, Tinker Cliffs, the Peaks of Otter, (and I could go on until the cows come home) —feature a scenic overlook at the end of the trail. Although most of the trails in Vermont have a summit view, there are also some hikes that don’t have great overlooks. One of the hikes near the Orvis Home Office is Lye Brook Falls. This hike is not particularly tough, doesn’t feature an overlook, and sometimes the waterfall at the end of the trail is merely a trickle. That said, this hike is also one of my favorites. It’s just a fun walk in the woods where you get to absorb the beauty of Green Mountain forests. Even on hikes where there is an overlook, you may not always get a picturesque view. New England weather can be famously fickle and, even if you start out with blue skies, you never know what you’ll get at the top. One thing is certain, no two hiking experiences will ever be the same and that’s one of the main reasons why we love to do it.
Wayne Rock is a Retail Allocation Analyst at Orvis.