Trekking the NCT: The Low and High of It.

July 18, 2022

Trekking the NCT: The Low and High of It.

By Joan Young, MCP Contributing Writer.

On Dec. 1, 2021 Amber Township resident Joan Young began her journey to hike the entire North Country Trail continuously. She began her year-long trek at the Manistee National Forest’s Timber Creek Campground on US 10 in Lake County. The first half of the hike will take her to Middlebury, Vermont. She will then drive to Sakakawea State Park in central North Dakota to begin the hike back to Michigan. Young, 74, was the first woman to completely hike the NCT, completing 20 years of segmented hikes in 2010.

Vermont is quite a newcomer to the North Country National Scenic Trail. Although the original plan was for a connection with the Appalachian Trail, when the trail was authorized by Congress in 1980, the eastern terminus was set as Crown Point bridge on Lake Champlain in New York.

Almost 40 years later, in 2019, Congress finally approved adding Vermont to the NCT as the eighth state. And in the 60 miles from Crown Point to Maine Junction, there’s a lot to enjoy.

Probably the most surprising fact is that the lowest point on the entire North Country Trail is the surface of Lake Champlain, at a mere 100 feet above sea level. OK, so the bridge decking is a bit higher than the water, but you get the idea. Just 40 trail miles southeast, along the Green Mountain ridge, Gillespie Peak is the highest point on the NCT. It’s summit is 3366 feet. 

As the trail heads east, away from Lake Champlain, there are sweeping views of the Adirondack mountain range to the west. The Green Mountains rise to the east, a ridge that seems to have sprung from a level plain, as if someone squeezed the edges of a pan of Jello. That’s not a bad comparison, except that we are talking rock and global squeezing. The Greens are part of the Appalachian Mountains which run from Newfoundland to Alabama, and they were formed as a tectonic plate pushed against what is now the eastern edge of North America and forced the land upward.

Along the way from Lake Champlain to the top of the Greens, the North Country Trail now includes the eastern section of the TAM, the Trail Around Middlebury. This loop connects parks, preserves and farmland, providing moderately challenging miles with some good vistas.

Also hosting eleven miles of the NCT is the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area. This is where the serious climbing begins. The trail ascends nearly to the peak of Mt. Moosalamoo, then drops 1000 feet before climbing 1300 feet to the Long Trail and Gillespie Peak.

The Long Trail is a rugged, highly popular hiking trail which runs for 273 miles, the length of Vermont. The Appalachian Trail overlies the Long Trail for about a third of this distance before turning northeast to head toward its terminus in Maine. This corner in the woods, marked only by a modest weathered brown sign, is known as Maine Junction. 

This sign is now also the eastern terminus of the North Country Trail. It’s a real high to reach it after hiking for months! However, it’s also a bit anticlimactic for NCT hikers. Unless you want to spend the rest of your life in the woods, you have to walk one extra mile to a road where you can actually get to a vehicle.

As I stood by the Maine Junction sign, I celebrated reaching the approximate halfway point of my NCT hike. The anticlimax part is real. I still have to hike from North Dakota back to the Manistee National Forest in Michigan. 

In real time, I’m already walking east across the prairie. Such a change from the eastern forests and hills, but it has its own beauty.  

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This story is copyrighted © 2022, all rights reserved by Joan Young, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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