Mountain Trips

When I was growing up, each summer my Mother would take my sister, brother, and me on a week long backpacking trip on the Long Trail. We called it a “Mountain Trip.” This began in 1953 when I was 8 years old. I'd completed the entire Long Trail by 1961 (I'm number 93, Mother  92), although my brother and sister, being 2 and 4 years older respectively found “better” things to do those last few years.

The first year we hiked from Brandon Gap south to Sherburne Pass, staying at Sunrise Camp, Carmel Camp and Noyes Pond Camp. We used Boy Scout knapsacks. My mother cut out shoulder pads from men’s old suit jackets and we'd put them under the canvas shoulder straps to ease the cutting drag on our shoulders. Needless to say, that didn't work too well.

Freeze dried food was yet to be available, so canned meat, vegetables, and fruit were the order of the day. (The canned fruit was our emergency water supply, although we never needed it for that.) Care was required when packing to make sure softer clothing was packed next to your back so the cans didn't dig into your back. Adjustments were needed during each day’s hike to reposition the cans away from your back. Camps (many, if not most shelters were enclosed camps with a wood burning stove) had dumps, and that’s where the empty cans would end up.

Because firewood was necessary fuel for cooking, we carried a hatchet. Hiking etiquette of the day was to always leave dry wood for the next hiker. Mother expanded on this and required us to always leave more wood than we found and always leave a camp in better shape then we found it. Six or seven kids with an afternoon on their hands always managed to leave piles and piles of dry wood for future hikers.

Wool socks and lightweight sneakers were our foot wear; wet feet and blisters were common.

Sleeping bags? Nope, blankets to be shared. I was the youngest, so I got to share with my Mother and didn't have to fight all night with a sibling.

We'd drink water right from the stream or spring. We'd just lie down and drink; always cold, always pure.

To get to the Trail from Connecticut we'd pile into our 1949 wood paneled Ford Station Wagon and set out at 5:00 a.m. The Interstate highway system was but a vision for the future. Routes 5, 103 and 100 were the only way to go. Parts of Route 100 had yet to be paved. We'd drive to where we wanted to finish our hike and ask someone there to drive us and our car to the starting point, and then drive the car back to where we'd finish up. We always found someone and our car was always there when we finished up. Being Vermont, I wouldn't be surprised if you could use the same approach today.

Backpacking was not nearly as popular in the 1950's as it is today. We'd often go days without seeing another soul. Log books in the shelters were the only clue that people had been there before us. One name in particular seemed to be ever-present: Ben Rolston. His entries were in all the log books, often several times. And, since we usually hiked only 5 or 6 miles each day, Ben’s 10-plus mile days turned him into our superhero. Today, there is a shelter named for him.

Our big treat was eating at a restaurant on the drive back home. Fast food didn't exist and eating at restaurants wasn't part of our family’s life style, so the Brattleboro Howard Johnson’s “fisherman’s platter” with all the rolls you could eat was about all we'd talk about on our last couple of days in the mountains.

During those summer hikes years ago, I always dreamed of working on the Long Trail and supporting the Green Mountain Club. Although a life member since 1959, living in Connecticut precluded my working on the Long Trail. Now, after retiring to Vermont several years ago, I am finally able to fulfill that dream.

- Doug McKain, New Haven, Vermont


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Longtrail 100

VPR is marking the 100th anniversary of The Long Trail with a month-long series of reports and essays. Through this series, we'll explore the history and future of The Long Trail and introduce listeners to the people who built, maintain and hike it today.