AT: Culver Gap to High Point State Park

It is the last weekend in September and we were excited at the prospect of hiking in sunny weather! Our trusty shuttle driver, George, dropped us off at Culver Gap early in the morning and we were able to make quick progress from Culver Gap to the fire tower, about two miles away. The view from the top was basically non-existent, given that it was very foggy. But it was beautiful nonetheless.

This section of the AT is flat but rocky. The biggest challenge was not the trail itself, but the incredible amount of water that turned the AT into a swamp. There were places where  we had to navigate way around the trail in order to avoid moats. The first day we had the pleasure of seeing the Sunrise Mountain pavilion, an enormous stone structure with beautiful wood beams and breathtaking views.

The highlight of the hike was an amazing encounter with “Maps.” We first met Maps at Guyot Shelter in New Hampshire, the day that Birch had terrible knee pain. As we turned the corner on the New Jersey trail, we saw him sitting on a rock taking a break. “Hey, I know you guys,” he said! What were the chances of us meeting up with him again? Maps had completed the northern part of the trail and had flip flopped in Connecticut. We wished him well and hope he makes a ton of progress this Fall.

We stayed overnight at Mashipacong Shelter. Built in the 1930s by the Conservation Corps, the shelter itself is kind of dark and low to the ground. It had a nice lawn in front of it and it is here that we decided to set up our tent (not realizing that we probably could have gone into the woods for more private tenting options.) This shelter does not have a water source, so Birch carried 6 liters of water with him so that we would be set. However, the shelter caretaker supplied the shelter with gallons of water, set in the bear box. We enjoyed a restful afternoon at our tent spot, reading and drinking coffee. We were amused to see many dogs, in all shapes and sizes. Two stayed at the shelter, including “Millie” (or Mildred when she was in trouble), an affectionate boxer with a bright blue coat that kept her warm.9-30_0742

It was a chilly night but we slept well and were up and out of camp before 8 am. The remaining part of the trail was just as wet but it offered some beautiful views. The mile just south of the High Point State Park office was about as muddy as it gets. All in all, it was a great fun and we look forward to completing New Jersey soon!

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AT: Millwood/Blairstown Road to Culver’s Gap

Day One: Millwood/Blairstown Road to Brink Road Shelter

Once again, Maple and I enjoyed the shuttle service provided by George Lightcap of Newton, NJ. He picked us up promptly at 8:30 at Culver’s Gap and transported us, together with a fellow hiker, Glenn, to Millwood/Blairstown Road. After a couple weeks of rain, it was fortuitous to have a day of sunshine, with clouds—even though the humidity was rather high.

There were a couple of places requiring scrambling and hiking over a rock field, but overall, I’d say that the 10.9 mile hike to Brink Road Shelter was easier than the average AT hike. What made it more difficult for Maple was that one of her hiking poles broke during the first mile. It snapped in two where the sections joined together. We tried using duct tape, but that solution failed miserably.

I saw several salamanders and frogs on the trail during this trip—perhaps, because of all the rain we’ve had recently.

Just before leaving on this trip, I purchased a second Helinox Chair Zero—an excellent chair to bring backpacking, weighing only 1 pound each. I carried both, and Maple and I were able to enjoy a nice lunch break at a place that had no convenient rocks or logs to sit on.

Just before climbing Rattlesnake Mountain, we came to a nicely constructed bridge over a brook, compliments of the Boy Scouts. Rattlesnake Mountain was, I think, the most precipitous and rocky ascent that we had this day, but the view to the north from the top was certainly worth it. There we stopped and took a short break.

9-15_1725When we got to Brink Road Shelter, we found that the ground in front of it was under water. The water stretched out over the road, and most of the way toward the spring—so it was no simple task to make our way to the spring to fill up our dromedary. Once we got there, we found that our water filter would not pump. Ultimately, we decided to take our chances, and take our water directly from the source of the spring, without filtering.

Day Two: Brink Road Shelter to Culver’s Gap

We awoke in our tent on day two to the sound of light rainfall. This was not in the forecast. In fact, the weather report said there was no chance of rain in Newton, just ten miles to the south. Even so, the sprinkling was not bad, and Maple and I got out of our tent and enjoyed a cup of coffee and oatmeal for breakfast.

We didn’t get far on our second day’s journey, without noticing the saturation of the forest with spider webs. Webs crossed the trail, and we both had to use our trekking poles to clear the way before us.9-16_0936

After about an hour, we were out of the spider infested forest. Soon we had to make our steep descent from Kittatinny Mountain to Culver’s Gap.

We had fun, and look forward to continuing our journey in two weeks.

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Birch, with Culver Lake in the background.

AT: Delaware Water Gap to Millbrook-Blairstown Rd.

Last weekend Birch and I resumed our northbound progress on the Appalachian Trail. After so much time going south to complete Virginia, we were happy to be back in New Jersey.

We dropped our car off at a parking area on Millbrook-Blairstown Rd. and were shuttled to the Dunnfield parking area by a shuttle driver named George Lightcap. George was a wealth of information, super helpful, and very encouraging.

8-25_1131The trail starts near a stream and then winds up a gradual incline for about 3 miles before reaching the top of a cliff and the Campground #2 tentsite. There are a ton of tent spots here, many with impressive views of the the Worthington State Forest, the river, and the New Jersey/Pennsylvania border. The site includes bear boxes and a couple of privys.

Birch and I set up our tent under a tree and had the entire afternoon to relax.  Each of us brought our Nooks so that we could read and we even brought a luxury item – a camp chair! As you can tell, this wasn’t a heavy hiking day. This was a day to just enjoy the trail and the outdoors.

The next morning we broke camp and continued north on the AT. It was flat and not too rocky. Before long, we reached the south side of Sunfish Pond. It was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1970. The trail around the pond was very rocky but it was fun to be by the lake and to see the frogs jumping into the water as we approached. About halfway around the lake there are sets of really cool rock sculptures.8-26_0826

After leaving the lake we hiked onto Raccoon Ridge. Here, we came to the Herb Hiller Overlook for hawk observation. Two men had binoculars glued to their faces. What were they looking at? A broad-winged hawk, we were told. This area is an ideal spot to watch the migration of hawks, we learned. This will happen mostly in September. One neat thing about this area is that it has an owl decoy perched on a long pole. Why? Who knows!8-26_0947

About 11 miles into our overall hike we passed the road to the Mohican Outdoor Center where there is a beautiful stream. Then, we ascended up to a ridge where we stopped for lunch and had some incredible views. After a few miles we reached the Catfish Outlook Tower. Here, the trail becomes more like a fire road. It wasn’t long before we were back to our car.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AT: Franconia Notch to Crawford Notch

Day 1: Franconia Notch to Liberty Springs Tentsite

Maple and I were picked up by our shuttle driver, Dan of Trail Angels, at 11:30 at the Rattle River parking area—just south of Gorham. (Our plan was to hike all the way from US-3 to US-2. We had a twelve-day itinerary, but this was not to be. Dan told us that many people that he shuttles don’t make it as far as their intentions, and that we should contact him if we bail. We didn’t think that would apply to us, but we kept it in mind.)

From Franconia Notch, we had to walk through the woods a ways, on the Pemi Trail, before we crossed the bridge that leads directly to the Liberty Springs Trail, part of the AT. From the commencement of this trail, one has 2.6 miles uphill to the tentsite; however, the uphill doesn’t begin in earnest until one has to cross a creek. Then, one has 2 miles still to go, and it is the most strenuous 2 miles I think that I have ever experienced on the AT. Hiking southward up the Priest was definitely easier. The Liberty Springs Trail completely exhausted me. By the time we arrived at the tentsite, I was in no condition to safely backpack much further.

Ryan, the caretaker at Liberty Springs Tentsite, got us situated at platform number 9—and, as I write this at 8:10 in the evening—we have the platform to ourselves. We’ve had to store our food in a bearbox and do all of our cooking—including making coffee—at the cooking area. We filtered our water at a slow-moving spring close to the cooking area.

Maple and I are a bit discouraged by the hard hiking conditions and the time that it took us to make it up the mountain today. It is humid, and I was completely drenched in sweat by the time we got to the top. I think the humidity helped to drain me of energy. We’re committed to giving this hiking trip our best shot, and—if we can’t keep up with our itinerary, then we’ll bail out at Crawford Notch, but that would be a shame.

Day 2: Liberty Springs Tentsite to Garfield Ridge Campsite and Shelter

Birch and I were up at 5:30 a.m. to begin our day. The weather was gorgeous. After eating and breaking camp, we were on the trail by 7:20. We had a serious .4 miles hike to get up to a ridge. After a good night’s sleep, the first 2 miles weren’t too bad, but I was surprised not to see the open ridge that I was expecting.  Pretty soon we had a serious ascent. Franconia Ridge was spectacular but the photos make it look easy. In fact, it was exhausting.  We had a ton of scrambling to do – both up and down. By the half way point I wondered if we would make it! It turned out that the 2nd half was just as difficult. This trail was kicking our patooties!

 

7-17_0556Birch and I were in rough shape when we reached the shelter.  The good news was that the shelter was beautiful! It was huge. Everyone who arrived seemed to stay at the shelter instead of tenting, since rain was forecast for the night and next day. There were a lot of thru-hikers there who were super nice and were also complaining about the difficult hike.  It was encouraging to know that this really WAS tough. We slept well that night.

Day 3: Garfield Ridge Campsite and Shelter to Guyot Campsite and Shelter

Despite a forecast of incoming rain, Maple and I awoke to a still-dry morning. We decided to get moving, so we prepared our coffee and oatmeal, packed up, and got on the trail by 7:00. Unfortunately, we were both under the impression that we had to go back up .2 miles (over steep boulders) to the top of Mt. Garfield to reconnect with the AT. Forty-five minutes later, we were back at the Garfield Ridge spring and ready to move forward.

Those first steps forward turned out to be down a waterfall. It’s strange what a person will become willing to do when the only alternative is an exhausting and humiliating retreat. Climbing down those wet boulders was precarious, to say the least.

Shortly, after the rain began to fall, we got into our raingear. Once again, I was to learn that I get just as soaked hiking in raingear than if I were to go without it—but for some reason, I find it so hard to forego putting it on when it begins to rain. Yet, not to pack it would be irresponsible.

After a difficult descent, followed by an exhausting ascent, we arrived at Galehead Hut, at about 11:30. The coffee (at $1 a cup) was cold and full of grinds, but the bean soup ($2 a bowl), which became available at noon, hit the spot. We bought Snickers for desert, then ventured back out into the rain.

Leaving Galehead Hut, we had a hard climb up South Twin Mountain. The remainder of the way to Mt. Guyot (pronounced Gee-oh) was not as rough, but was still exhausting. Mt. Guyot is in an alpine zone, covered with huge boulders, over which one must navigate, and it was eerily half-hidden with clouds.

At Mt. Guyot, we left the AT and travelled .8 miles on the Bondcliff Trail to Guyot Campsite and Shelter. Jacob, the caretaker, was happy to see us as we were, at 5:30, the first to arrive.

After setting up inside the shelter, which we were to share with “Mr. Maps” (who occupied the top level), we prepared our dinner, filtered our water, and prepared to settle in for the night. We were exhausted. It was then, as I went to retrieve our journal, to write my blog entry, that I got a muscle spasm in my left knee. I could not stand on my leg, bend it, or turn it without causing myself severe pain. Maple sought help for me and returned with Niko, a fellow hiker who was trained in first-aid. He counseled me on how to tend to it and advised that we wait till morning before making any decisions based on my condition. Maple applied a freezer-bag filled with spring water, and I took 1 gram of Ibuprofen to get me through the night.

(Miraculously, by morning, I was as good as new, and so we did not have to take the zero day that we had anticipated.)

Day 4: Guyot Campsite and Shelter to Ethan Pond Campsite and Shelter

Well, miracles do happen. Birch and I had planned to stay an extra day at Guyot for him to recuperate, but it turned out that it wasn’t necessary.  If you had seen the utter pain he was in the night before, you would have assumed that we were in big trouble. However, we were able to hike out of Guyot and we reached the boulder-covered peak in good time. Before long, the trail descended into the trees. Although rocky, it was our smoothest day yet.

 

We were at Zealand Hut in no time and had a chance to relax and have an amazing bowl of lentil soup, plus a Hershey bar. There were quite a few day hikers at the hut, which offers easy access to a waterfall and great views. We saw Mr. Maps again, too, who was pleasantly surprised to see that we had made it.

After an easy and short descent, the trail became amazingly flat.  The only downside in this section is that we had to go through a bog or swamp for the last few miles. We walked on plank upon plank to get to Ethan Pond.  Ethan “Pond” would be considered a lake in Minnesota. We set up our tent on a platform and enjoyed a long nap before having lasagna for dinner.

Overall, this hike was the easiest yet, even though it was 10 miles. We were exhausted, though.The Whites are beautiful but tough!

Day 5: Ethan Pond Campsite and Shelter to Crawford Notch

Lots of aches and pains this morning as we arose. But, after granola with peaches, we packed up and were off.

There were more puncheons at first, then the trail began a slow descent down hill. This is more like the AT that Maple and I knew before we experienced the Whites.

When we arrived at the parking area at Crawford Notch, the first thing I did was try my cell phone to call Garey’s Taxi Service of Littleton. I had talked to Garey in advance and had learned from him that we would have no trouble calling him from the notch, but—alas—no cell coverage, neither for us nor from any other people at the parking lot. Yet, to our good fortune, a fellow hiker that we had met at Ethan Pond offered us a lift into Littleton.

Littleton is a very nice little town, with great restaurants, a hiking store (Lahouts), and the Littleton Motel, “oldest motel in New Hampshire,” where we made plans to stay for two nights.

Here our trip ends. The trail has taken more of a toll on our bodies than we had anticipated. We’ll be saving the remainder of the Whites for another time.

AT: Harpers Ferry to Gathland State Park

It has been a very wet spring and summer in Maryland! Birch and I decided we couldn’t wait for nice weather to hit the trail so we planned a short hike from Harpers Ferry to Gathland State Park. We had done this hike before, only in the opposite direction.

Just as we got to the Harpers Ferry parking lot it began to rain. It was a gentle mist but we were ready with our full rain gear. As we crossed the bridge next to the railroad tracks, it was interesting to see just how fast the river was flowing. The heavy rainfall this spring definitely shows itself in the water below.

Before long we were on the smooth, wide C&O canal path that is also the AT. It was a very easy hike for the first couple of miles but the rain didn’t make it easy. It POURED! We heard thunder in the distance but never worried that it was dangerous. The real challenge was navigating all the huge puddles that formed. We zig-zagged along until we got to the point where we crossed the railroad tracks and began ascending the mountain.

I remembered this section of the trail as being very steep. I was really glad to see that our latest workouts seem to be paying off because Birch and I never even had to stop to catch our breath. We just scurried up the hill! Once on “top” we still had to contend with areas of puddles but it didn’t take long before we were at the Ed Garvey shelter – the only ones there!

Before long, folks started gathering at the shelter. By the end of the evening, there were probably 40 people staying either in the shelter or in a their tents or hammocks. Wow! I think we’re in the “bubble”.  We met many nice people, including Pac Man, a thru-hiker. When I mentioned to someone that we were going to have to go without coffee because we didn’t pack it, a nice young man immediately dug through his 55 pound pack and offered us some of his. (Not surprisingly, at 55 pounds he had a lot of extra stuff!) For dinner, we had kung pao chicken. (I was testing my recipes for our next long hiking trip.)

 

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Our tent, among a sea of others!

 

One feature of this location that is a real bummer is the water access. The guides put the spring at .4 or .5 miles away from the shelter. This is true. The tough part is that it is a very steep trek down to the water source. Many people decided that it was easier to wait until they got to Gathland than to load up with water here. The water source was really good, though.

The next day we packed up and quickly traversed the 4 miles back to our car at Gathland State Park. I really like this part of the AT. It may not be super strenuous, but it provides an excellent opportunity to get outside.

AT: I-70 to Pen Mar

We awoke at 5:00 on Saturday, May 5, expecting rain, but finding that the forecast had delayed rain until 1:00. We hustled out of our home with two cars, parked one at our destination at Pen Mar Park, and then retreated to our beginning point where the AT crosses I-70 near Greenbrier State Park.
The first flip-floppers that we met were Kool and Kats (pictured ahead of us on the trail), who had spent the night at Pine Knob Shelter, close to I-70. Having just begun their hike at Harper’s Ferry, they were full of determination. “Where are you hiking to tonight?” Maple asked. “Maine” was the answer. “I hope you are planning to spend the night a little closer than Maine,” Maple delicately responded. “Maine” was again the retort. “We have to keep our sights on our destination,” was their explanation.

We would leap-frog with them several times during the day, as we and they rested. When they shared with us that their destination was Raven Rock Shelter, my first response was, “That shelter was dismantled two years ago,” but then—upon checking AWOL’s guidebook, it confirmed that the shelter was still there. As it turned out, the old Raven Rock Shelter was, indeed, dismantled and moved to the new AT museum to be opened at Damascus, VA., but a new, two-level shelter has been erected in its place.

I should mention one other thru-hiker that we met at the creek a mile south of Ensign Cowall Shelter. “How are you doing?” Maple innocently asked. “That’s just one question that everybody asks out here: ‘What does your pack weigh? How much food are you carrying? How are you doing?’ Let me tell you, when you are on the CDT, there’s nobody to bother you for days on end.” I laughed, and Maple persevered, “Where are you headed to tonight?” “That’s another question that people ask. I’m going as far as I’m going.” “Fair enough,” Maple responded, “What’s your trail name?” “Well,” said this stranger, “I’m not going to tell you. What does it matter?”

Maple and I filled our dromedary at the creek, and proceeded to Ensign Cowall Shelter, 8.6 miles into our hike. We were eager to set up our tent before the rain began. And surely enough, once we were set up and had introduced ourselves to those at the shelter, the rain set in—not to stop until about 4 a.m. We moved our cooking equipment and food in order to prepare our dinner at the picnic table under the overhang of the shelter. There were a couple of other flip-floppers there, one extremely talkative older man who just loved to hang out at shelters, and—later—one father with his two children, aged eight and ten, who were hiking 20+ miles a day and deciding whether or not to hike the whole AT.

5-6_0853At 5:00 the following morning, it stopped raining. Maple and I got up as soon as there was daylight, packed up our wet tent, prepared oatmeal for breakfast, and were on our way two hours later. We had a couple of engorged streams to cross that posed a bit of a risk and got our boots wet, and two and a half hours later we arrived at the new Raven Rock Shelter. The wood was new and beautiful, but the interior had been irreparably scarred by someone with an alcohol-burning stove. What a shame!

Just before we got to Raven Rock Shelter we met the sullen man we had the privilege of meeting the day before. “Hi! How you doin’,” Maple asked. The mysterious stranger mumbled something under his breath, and we passed on by. I think that this man was the most unfriendly person we have ever met on the AT. The AT is an especially social trail. It intersects with towns at so many places that you cannot reasonably expect to hike an entire day without meeting people. This sometimes happens, but it is rare. Maple and I have met the most friendly people on this planet on the AT. They are people who not only expect to meet other people, but who look forward to it. There are even people on the trail who do not hike it, but who are on it with the sole purpose of offering “trail magic”—that is, food, drink, transportation into town, or some other kindness to those who are hiking the trail. For many people, hiking the AT has been a way of renewing their faith in humanity, because of all the many kindnesses that they receive upon their way. So, this unfriendly person was an anomaly, a rare species, and because he was so rare I thought I should mention him.

5-6_1042But, moving on, Maple and I came to High Rock, where we had to descend rock and boulder after rock and boulder for 650 feet. We had to be quite careful not to slip upon the wet rocks and tree roots along our path. When we got to the bottom and had 2 miles yet to go, the rain commenced again. Maple and I donned our rain gear. We could have complained, but we were grateful to have made it so far without it raining. Soon, we were in our car; we turned up the heat, got out of our wet clothes and into dry ones, and were on our way back home.

AT: Gathland State Park to US-40

Birch and I have been itching to get back on the AT so we decided to do a repeat of our very first backpacking trip, but in the opposite direction. This gave me a real opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come (both literally and figuratively) since I first put a backpack on less than four years ago.

4-28_1135We started our day visiting Harpers Ferry and the Flip Flop Festival. My cousin, Lynn, works for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and she was a great hostess. We were able to leave Gathland State Park and get on the trail by 11:30 am. The first part of the trail going north is a mild incline, but we haven’t been on the trail for a while so it felt pretty steep.

I had forgotten just how beautiful the Maryland section is. It is relatively flat, but with enough hills to keep things interesting. There are rocks, but the trail is usually wide and smooth. There are no leaves on the trees yet so we had a chance to enjoy the sunshine.

4-28_1625After about 7.5 miles we turned the corner to see Dahlgren Campground. For those who haven’t been there before but have spent time on the AT, this is a VERY unusual place. It has about 6 camp spots, each with its own picnic table and a tent platform. But the biggest deal is that there are regular bathrooms with running water and flush toilets. There is a large sink on the outside of the building to get water and wash dishes. I felt like we were cheating!

As with most of our hikes, the best part was meeting interesting people. Camping near us was a man named “Vinegar” who was retired and had section hiked the trail from Georgia to Maryland. His goal was to get to the Hudson River. Vinegar’s personality was anything but sour.  He might continue on the trail and there is a slight chance that we’ll meet him again along the way. I hope so.

Dahlgren had two sets of newly started flip floppers. Among them were a father-son team who had never backpacked before. This was their first night on the trail. I must say, it really reminded me of our first hike to Dahlgren. We had so many questions back then, and had so much to learn. Even little things, like figuring out how to use the bear pole.

After dinner it began to rain, as forecasted. However, we had one super power that made this all right.  A new tent! The REI Half Dome 2+ is huge. It has a big vestibule that made it possible to keep our backpack and other gear outside. It kept us nice and dry.

The temperatures dropped considerably overnight and we were thankful to have our down jacket to put on in the morning. After a delicious cup of coffee and a not-so-delicious bowl of oatmeal (I forgot the sugar) we packed up and were on our way. We passed the church and took a picture of Birch at the same spot we took a photo on our first backpack trip. We stopped by Washington Monument and then descended. On this trip, we noticed that there were a lot of freshly cut trees. Someone had done a lot of work to keep the trail clean.

Overall, we had a fabulous time. Being on the trail never gets old.

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Birch near Dahlgren Campground 2018

Tod near Dahlgren

Birch near Dahlgren Campground 2014

 

 

 

 

Grand Canyon: Hermit Trailhead to Bright Angel Trailhead via the Tonto Trail

Day One: Hermit Trailhead to Hermit Creek Campground

Karen and I awoke in our Bright Angel Lodge cabin at 6:45 this morning, packed up, ate a huge breakfast at the B.A. restaurant, and then took the shuttle out to Hermit’s Rest. By the time we got on the trail it was 9:10.

The weather turned out just right. Although Karen and I began our hike wearing down jackets, gloves, and knit hats, we soon grew too warm. Also, there was very little snow on the ground. We were told to leave our crampons with our luggage.

The trail was very rocky the entire way. It was just after 11:00 by the time we made it to the Santa Maria Spring resthouse, at 2.3 miles, and had our first break. It took us six hours to get to Hermit Creek Campground, at 8.2 miles.

I was unsuccessful at locating the place where I was rescued by helicopter back in December of 1979. I was working on the south rim at the time and had gone down to Phantom Ranch for Christmas. The following day, my plan was to hike up the B.A. Trail to Indian Garden, hike across the Tonto Trail, and then up the Hermit Trail. There is now a sign at the junction of the Tonto and Hermit Trails. It would have saved me a lot of grief were it there in ’79. Back then, I missed the turnoff, hiked all the way to Boucher Creek, and ended up spending a very cold night curled up against a rock. The next day, hypothermic, I discovered my mistake and made it partly up the Hermit before being rescued. I doubt I would have survived another night out in the cold.

Also new is a very decent privy at the campsite. It is to the Appalachian Trail privies what a house is to a shed.

Karen and I have already filtered water from the robust creek that runs close to our tentsite. We just had dinner: chicken with mashed potatoes and stuffing. The sun is quickly going down and the temperature is as quickly dropping. It’s going to be a cold night, but we are well prepared.

Day Two: Hermit Creek Campground to Monument Creek Campground

The Monument

Last night Tod and I got up to gaze at the millions of stars. It was very cold but we were toasty warm in our long underwear. Today, by design, was a very short hike. Thus, we took our time leaving camp. The panoramic views were fabulous. However, it wasn’t long before we encountered narrow, downward slanting trails that—with a wrong move—would have left us a thousand feet below. Soon, we saw the famous monument, an amazing work of nature. As we drew closer, we could have sworn that we saw a dry creek bed. No water!? I was convinced that we were in big trouble. Tod assured me that we could always walk down to the river, but I wasn’t looking forward to it. Luckily, we were mistaken; the creek was flowing just fine. We set up camp by 12:30, leaving us a lazy afternoon to relax and bake in the sun. We enjoyed lunch and a delicious dinner before hitting the sleeping bags early to get a good rest for our big hike tomorrow.

Day Three: Monument Creek Campground to Horn Creek Campground

This morning, after packing, Karen and I loaded up with six liters of extra water, adding a good ten pounds to the weight I’m carrying. Horn Creek has only patches of water, and what it has is radioactive.

We left Monument Creek at 8:45 and arrived at Horn Creek five hours later. I was a bit concerned about getting back onto the Tonto, as I had heard that finding the eastward path out of Monument Creek could be very difficult, but Karen and I had no problem following the cairns—although, I should add, the quarter mile ascent out of Monument Creek was not easy.

We got to Salt Creek in about three hours. The trail from there to Horn Creek passes by the edge of the plateau and provides excellent views of the Colorado River. During this section of hiking, the weather changed: the wind picked up, and it suddenly got fairly cold. But, despite the clouds and wind, we got no rain.

A party of five that we met at Monument Creek said they were heading to Bright Angel Campground. They finally came through Horn Creek at 3:00. Two of their number were, by this time, prepared to desert and attempt to get a site at Indian Garden. We wished them all the best.

We are all alone now at Horn Creek. There appears to be two other tent spots here, but—since it is getting late in the day—we expect to have this campground to ourselves tonight.

Day Four: Horn Creek Campground to Indian Garden Campground

Last night was rather cold, but Tod and I enjoyed hearing several different birds—owls? Our water was still plentiful and Tod brought me coffee in “bed” as a birthday present. We left Horn Creek by 8:40, and we were happy to experience the solitude and beauty of the plateau for the two miles to the turn off for Plateau Point. The green trees of Indian Garden were certainly inviting. By 10:15 we arrived at our campsite and set up. After a hot lunch, we hiked out to Plateau Point, minus our packs. It had warmed up to the 70s and was a beautiful day. The views from the Point were spectacular!

As the sun begins to set, I feel a little sad. This is our last night in the Canyon.

Day Five: Indian Garden Campground to Bright Angel Trailhead

After coffee and oatmeal this morning, Karen and I packed up and were on the trail by 7:50. We didn’t stop at all until we had arrived at the first resthouse, signifying that we had traveled 1.5 miles. We had good energy throughout the hike and, after stopping again at the second resthouse for a snack, we made it up, out of the canyon, at 10:35.

I was getting tired of being asked by folks coming down the trail, “Did you go all the way to the bottom?” — as if a Rim-to-River is the only significant hike in the canyon or the only hike that requires stamina and perseverance. I responded, “No, actually we went down the Hermit Trail and across the Tonto,” and they would always look at me with a blank stare or silently shake their heads as though it all made sense to them.

This will probably be the last hike in the canyon for Karen and me until we can get the requisite reservations for a Rim-to-Rim experience. Karen has come to love the Tonto Trail as I do, but she’s not ready for a hike west of the Hermit Trail.

Afterward

This is Karen. Boy, it doesn’t take long to miss the trail! We weren’t even out of Arizona before we were plotting our next visit. To those of you who haven’t visited Grand Canyon, go! Don’t just stay at the Rim, or saunter down the Bright Angel. The beauty of the Canyon is best seen in the more remote parts. Spring is an amazing time of year in the Canyon. I can’t wait to go back.

AT: Elk Garden (VA 600) to Damascus, VA

Day One: Elk Garden to Lost Mountain Shelter

2-10_1030Birch and I were shuttled to Elk Garden this morning, starting a three day backpack trip to Damascus. Throughout the week, the weather forecasts were dismal. Tons of rain! Thus, we were pleased to be able to start our ascent up White Mountain in dry weather. The trail leading up to White Mountain was very icy and – in some places – covered with snow. The crampons that we left in the car would have come in handy. Once on the top of the mountain we were quite pleased with ourselves because we assumed we had experienced the worst of the weather. Then….the wind! The area near Buzzard Rock was exposed to the elements and practically blew us over.

As we began the 200+ ft. descent we found the south side of the mountain to be warm and gorgeous. There were a few showers here and there but it wasn’t a challenge. The last mile before the shelter was not difficult but we have not hiked in 3 months so my body was complaining all the way.

Lost Mountain Shelter is huge. The water supply was great. It had a big overhang which sheltered us as the rain finally came.

Lost Mountain Shelter

Lost Mountain Shelter

Day Two: Lost Mountain Shelter to Saunders Shelter

Wow! It poured last night! By morning it was drizzling. Birch and I made quick work of the first part of the trail but, once again, I complained about all the ascents. At times it was pouring but it was fairly warm out (for February) and we were sweating in no time. I’m not sure if the inside or the outside of my rain gear was more wet!

Saunders Shelter is 1/4 mile off the trail. It is not as big as Lost Mountain but well built, with a nice large overhang to protect us from the rain. By late afternoon it stopped raining and we slowly dried out. But it took a while! By the way, we have not seen a single person on the trail so far.  I guess the weather isn’t for everyone.

Saunders Shelter

View from Saunders Shelter

Day Three: Saunders Shelter to Damascus, VA

By our third day, it was drizzling just enough to convince us to wear our rain gear. Fortunately, we really didn’t need it. it was a cloudy and foggy day but relatively dry. A two mile, 1000 ft descent brought us near Whitetop Laurel Creek and the Creeper Trail, a nice bike trail that paralleled much of AT in the area. This is a beautiful area worthy of a day hike. The creek is beautiful.

We were told that a brand new bridge opened near the Rt 58 crossing and so we were excited to be one of the first to use it. After crossing it and Rt 58 we were surprised to find a swollen creek that had water running well above the rocks. We were disappointed to realize that we were going to have to remove our boots, take off our rain pants, and hike up our pants in the cold weather. Birch crossed then realized that his boots were still on the other side. Thus, he had the joy of crossing three times.

We hiked up to Cuckoo Knob (about 700ft in 2.5 miles) then came down into Damascus. The Creeper Trail, the AT and Rt 58 all merged together for the last leg of our journey. How sweet it is, after 550+ miles in Virginia, to walk into the ultimate hiker town and the southern most part of Virginia!

Damascus2

 

 

 

AT: VA-650 (Dickey Gap) to VA-600 (Elk Garden)

Day One: VA-650 to Old Orchard Shelter

Maple and I spent the night in Demascus, VA, at The Hikers Inn, right off of the A.T. We had a beautiful bedroom, and the owners, Lee and Paul, were very hospitable and gracious, although, unfortunately, we only got to meet Paul. In the morning, we were up early and, after a five-minute walk from the inn, were at Mojos Trailside Cafe before it opened. We had a hearty breakfast, and were ready to get on the road.

Our shuttle driver, who would lead the way to the A.T. parking at VA-600 (Whitetop Road), was Matt, a local woodworking artist and avid bicyclist, who shuttles part-time for Mt. Rogers Outfitters. Matt’s a really nice man and well-informed about the local area.

We were on the trail, southbound, by 9:00. For the first several hours it rained—not too heavily, but just enough to keep us in our wet weather gear. In such weather, it is sometimes difficult to decide whether one gets wetter with the gear on, from perspiration, or with it off, from the rain.

Comers Falls

There was no shortage of water on the trail. We crossed over a dozen springs, creeks,and streams. Despite it being a Saturday, with temperatures in the 60s, there was a shortage of fellow hikers. We ran into only four in a ten-mile stretch, but at Old Orchard Shelter, we had the company of five other hikers, all northbound. We were all in tents, perhaps because the shelter is notorious for aggressive mice. One of the hikers that we met along our way this day told us that the mice had eaten more than half of his bandana.

Day Two: Old Orchard Shelter to Thomas Knob Shelter

Despite a little rain during the night, the second day of our journey was beautiful. No wet weather gear needed. After an oatmeal breakfast, we packed our gear, and were on our way. Originally, we had planned to make an easy day of it and hike only to Wise Shelter, 5.9 miles away, in Grayson Highlands State Park, but Maple persuaded me to make our third day the easy day and, instead, push on to Thomas Knob Shelter, 11 miles away.

At one point, perhaps it was at a place called The Scales, we came upon a fenced-in area, in which were two trailers and a couple of cars. It appeared to be a private lot. Around it were signs giving directions to various trails. No sign gave any direction to the southbound A.T. Maple and I spent a half hour going one way, then another, then another, trying to find a white blaze. Finally, we gave up and decided to enter the gate of the private lot. Only then did we notice a faded white patch on the gate and a more distinct white blaze on the other side of the lot.

This way led us up Stone Mountain and to our first encounter of wild ponies. We would see many before the day was over.

After over three hours of hiking, we began to wonder why we hadn’t yet reached Wise Shelter. Our pace seemed to be good, so we should have made it. (I should mention here that we didn’t have a map or any guide literature, since I had forgotten them at home.) We finally decided to take a break at Wilson Creek, at a nice tent spot. Afterwards, we discovered that we were less than 100 yards away from the shelter. Anyway, we took another, longer break at the shelter, had a nice hot lunch, and got back on the trail. By that time, we were behind schedule, so we refilled our water bottles at a nearby spring—just in case we didn’t make it to the next shelter before nightfall.

At Massie Gap, we encountered a northbound hiker who told us that Wilburn Ridge had taken a lot out of him. It was a fair warning, but hardly prepared us for just how difficult that climb would be. At one point, one has to squeeze oneself between two boulders to get through to the other side. This is also part of the trail up Mount Rogers. When we, finally, got over the ridge, we came to the Rhododendron Gap. Here were a number of fine looking tent spots. If there had been water here, Maple and I would have camped. Instead, we pressed on and soon arrived at our destination for the night, Thomas Knob Shelter.

Day Three: Thomas Knob Shelter to VA-600

When we awoke on day three, the wind was howling in the treetops, and the temperature had dropped significantly. “At least,” I said to Maple, “it’s not raining.” We started packing, and then it started raining. Soon, it was raining in earnest and would rain throughout the morning. Wet, windy, cold weather is not our favorite. We quickly donned our rain gear, completed packing up, and went over to the shelter to eat a fast breakfast.

While there, we met Steve, who had just summitted Mount Rogers and was on his way to Massie Gap. Steve told us of his mission to summit the highest points of every state, with the exception of Denali. He had completed a good number of them. Maple and I would come within half a mile of summitting Mount Rogers, but we decided, instead, to stay on the A.T. and to get back to our car as soon as possible—which we did within two hours.