A surprising opportunity to return to Connecticut came during the final week of December in 2021—surprising because we couldn’t have planned it, but the last few weeks of the year had been less cold than usual, and snow had not yet accumulated in the most southern of the New England states. Since Maple and I were both now working at American University, our vacation times coincided. So, we quickly made travel arrangements, purchased winter-rated sleeping bags, and on the day after Christmas headed up to the Days Inn in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Our plan was to hike as far as CN-41, near Salisbury. The AT crosses CN-41 less than a mile to the east of Salisbury, and a trail parking lot at this highway crossing is where we parked our car on the morning of Monday, the 27th.
“Big Lu” Young, the co-proprietor (along with Pat “Hudson”) of Bearded Woods B&D, picked us up promptly at 9:00 and dropped us off at the AT crossing at Old Sharon Road. Our previous venture in Connecticut ended at CN-4, and we were starting one-fifth of a mile from that position. The reason for this leap is that between CN-4 and Old Sharon Road runs Guinea Brook, which requires, at least, knee-deep fording, and Maple and I didn’t want to begin our hike by walking through winter’s water when the temperature outside was in the upper 20s. In fact, when Guinea Brook is running high, a blue-blazed trail guides hikers from CN-4 to Old Sharon Road. We simply opted not to do the road walk, but to let Lu drop us off where the AT dips back into the woods.
We were to rock-hop across many creeks and streams this day. Five miles into our hike, we crossed West Cornwall Road, and then had our lunch. Afterwards began the hike up to Rogers Ramp, two huge boulders between which the upward trail passes. We weren’t making great time; in fact, we were progressing at a much slower pace than we had made plans for. Our expectation was to stop and set up our tent at Sharon’s Mountain Campsite, 8.2 miles from our beginning point. But our last backpacking adventure had been in June, and although Maple and I, lately, had been regularly on the treadmill, our backpacking muscles had evidently gone soft on us. Plainly stated, we were out of shape. Six hours into our day we arrived exhausted at Pine Swamp Brook Shelter. We had hiked a measly 5.7 miles. Granted, the trail had been constantly up and down, and our path had not been smooth. Still, we were a bit stunned and embarrassed by our performance.
Since a winter’s advisory heralded sleet and snow during the night, Maple and I were already tempted to sleep in a shelter rather than in a tent, so we didn’t have to do much mutual arm-twisting to persuade ourselves to remain at Pine Swamp Brook. But we knew that, given our physical condition and average hiking speed, this meant that there was little hope of making it the following day to Limestone Spring Shelter. So, after we had coffee and talked it over, we decided that our best bet was to pull out of our hike at Falls Village. So, I texted our shuttle driver and successfully made plans for an afternoon pick-up at Falls Village Café.
Shortly after our arrival at Pine Swamp Brook Shelter, we were joined by “Tentpole,” a flip-flop thru-hiker, who was now southbound on her way to Harper’s Ferry. She was hiking with her canine companion, Beans. They were evidently used to unfavorable weather, since Tentpole declined our invitation to take half the shelter and set up her tent a couple hundred yards away. About half an hour later, we were joined by a man with his teen-aged daughter, Wayne and Althea. Althea was planning on doing a SoBo thru-hike in 2022, after graduating from high school, and this was her shakedown. They were pleasant company, but after finishing our dinner, Maple and I climbed into our new 15-degree sleeping bags and were quickly oblivious to the world around us.
When we awoke just before sunrise, we discovered a layer of ice covering everything outside the shelter. Surprisingly, Wayne had also decided to tent, leaving Althea with half of the shelter to herself. We all packed up together and left the shelter at about the same time. Knowing that they could not be as slow as ourselves, Maple and I bid them farewell, wished Althea the best, and hoped that our paths would cross again somewhere in New Hampshire or Maine the following summer.
During the day, when we came upon a brook crossing, where a blowdown obstructed the path, we discovered a directional note kindly left for us by Althea. Fortunately, when we finally arrived at the Falls Village Café, at 2:15, we found father and daughter there enjoying a lunch, and Maple and I were able to thank them for their thoughtfulness. Maple and I each grabbed a coffee and a BLT, while we awaited Lu, who arrived to pick us up right on time at 3:00. The trail had been hard, but we were thankful to have, once again, experienced a small part of it.
Sunday, June 13: Hanover to Moose Mountain Shelter.
Last night, Maple and I stayed at Hikers Welcome in Glencliff, where we finally, after two years of planning, met the owner, “Packrat.” This morning, the residential caretaker of the hostel, “Acadicus,” shuttled us to Hanover, dropping us off at the Circle K on Main Street. (Yesterday, Maple and I stopped at Hanover, and walked from the Vermont/New Hampshire border on the Connecticut River to the Circle K, so we weren’t missing any steps to complete the state of New Hampshire on the AT.) He took our photo and left, leaving us to begin our trip. We leaned our backpacks against the front of the store and entered to pick up breakfast sandwiches and coffee. On my way out, with my hands full, I propped open the door with my right elbow. The door swung open, I lost my balance, couldn’t regain it, flew off the concrete steps, and landed on the unforgiving asphalt. Fortunately, I suffered only bruises and abrasions. Maple assured me that I now had my big fall of the trip over with, but my confidence was shaken.
We had planned to go only as far as Mink Brook on our first day, but because of the forecast calling for rain all day tomorrow, we decided instead to push on up to Moose Mountain Shelter. We did, nevertheless, stop for nearly an hour at Mink Brook to procure several liters of water, since there is none at the shelter, and to cook our lunch—a bowl of Maple’s home-cooked trail chili.
Having left Hanover this morning at 6:30, we arrived at the shelter early, at 2:30, but we were exhausted. Maple and I both left Mink Brook carrying extra water, and thus the climb up Moose Mountain South was particularly tiring. At 3:45, as I wrote this, we still had the shelter to ourselves.
Monday, June 14: Moose Mountain Shelter to Trapper John Shelter.
Birch and I woke up by 5:00 and were on the trail an hour later. We were joined at the shelter last night by “Renegade” and “Faithful,” older hikers from Texas who had to stop their thru hike last year when Faithful suffered a bad break of her ankle in Vermont. They’re out to finish the trail this summer.
We managed to leave the shelter before it started to rain, but we soon experienced drops and got on our rain gear. The descent from the north peak of Moose Mountain was quite slippery.
After crossing Goose Pond Road we were excited to see a smooth and beautiful trail. This was not to last long. We navigated across a swampy area with bog boards in dire need of replacement. Then, we trudged up an unnamed mountain over 1,000 feet high, stopping to catch our breath along the way.
By the time we began down the mountain, the trail became easier and we were at Trapper John Shelter (.3 mile off trail) in no time.
The rain was intermittent all day, and at the shelter we wasted no time getting into dry clothes. Birch got soaked!
Tuesday, June 15: Trapper John Shelter to a stealth camp at South Jacobs Brook.
After Maple completed her blog entry last night, other hikers came into the shelter. First came “Saltlick,” an older flip-flop thru-hiker who began his journey at Harper’s Ferry. Then came a nice, young married couple, “Temper” and “Snacks,” who hail from the St. Paul area. Maple and I were glad to meet up with them again today at the top of Smarts Mountain.
From the Lyme-Dorchester Road, the hike up Smarts Mountain was 3.8 miles, with an elevation gain of 2,100 feet. What really made the climb difficult, however, was the wet granite slabs that we had to push ourselves up over.
South Jacobs Brook is at the very bottom of Smarts Mountain, on the north side. We were informed that there was a stealth campsite with a fire-ring across the bridge and to the left. Maple and I couldn’t find it, and it wasn’t until after we had set up our camp next to the trail that we discovered that, for NoBos, the stealth site is on the right, before you cross the bridge. Oh well!
After eating our Mountain House lasagna dinner, it began to rain for the second time this evening. So, we are now in the tent, listening to the sounds of the near brook and of rain hitting the leaves above us.
Wednesday, June 16: South Jacobs Brook to Ore Hill Campsite.
Birch and I got up a little later and moved a bit slower this morning. We had oatmeal for breakfast, then packed up the wet tent, since it had rained overnight.
After South Jacobs Brook, the trail ascends about 600 feet to Eastman Ledges, which afforded us some amazing views. We descended to Hexacuba Shelter and bypassed it to climb Mt. Cube. This was about 1,500 feet—a climbing over rocks, rock fields, and slabs of granite. The weather was perfect and the views were spectacular.
After summiting, the descent down the north side was more tedious than technical. We had a long break, with a hot lunch at Brackett Brook. There we first met “Aches” and “Pains,” a section-hiking couple from Vermont. We filled up with water, then hiked about four miles through lots of mud and muck to the Ore Hill campsite.
Well, we set up our tent and snuggled in for the night on a site that used to be the shelter area. We never saw the numbered tent sites, at which signs had urged us to set up our camp.
Thursday, June 17: Ore Hill Campsite to NH-25 (Glencliff).
The night passed without rain, and our tent had completely dried by the morning. Maple and I rose early, had our coffee and breakfast, and were on the trail by 6:15. We soon made it to the top of Ore Hill, descended, and then ascended Mist Mountain. The hill and the mountain were about equally difficult. The major obstacle for the day was mud. Bog boards and rocks helped. When coming down Mist Mountain, we were passed by thru-hiker “Gidget,” who was packing a fluffy white little dog trail-named “Sleeping Beauty.” Gidget had carried her dog ever since she was north of the Smoky Mountains.
Maple and I arrived at NH-25 at about 10:30 and from there walked to Hikers Welcome, where we checked in and picked up our car. We would be spending this and the following night in Plymouth, before tackling Mount Moosilauke.
Sunday, June 20: Kinsman Notch to NH-25.
After a couple of zero days, Birch and I were excited to get back on trail. We stayed overnight at Hikers Welcome, where we met up once again with Aches and Pains. In the morning, we had fun chatting with the early riser hikers (mostly on the 50-plus side!). We were then shuttled to Kinsman Notch so we could slack pack south to Glencliff, over Mount Moosilauke.
The first 1.5 miles were very steep, but steps and rebar made it very manageable. The Beaver Brook, with its tall waterfalls, gave us spectacular scenery as we hiked. In 3.9 miles we were at the summit. The views above the treeline were stunning! We stayed at or above treeline for about a mile, and then took a right turn and began a steep descent on a rocky trail. After a couple of miles the trail became more manageable, and the last two-to-three miles were more like a typical AT hike.
The adventure ended by crossing Oliverian Brook in our flip flops.
Tuesday, June 22: Kinsman Notch to Eliza Brook Shelter.
Acadicus picked up Maple and me at the Liberty Springs trailhead, where we had parked our car, at 6:00, and then shuttled us back to Kinsman Notch. About a half mile into our ascent, I realized that I didn’t have our car keys. Not knowing where I left or lost them, we had to have a spare key sent from our home to Hikers Welcome.
Maple and I were hardly able to keep up a mile-an-hour pace today. We had to very carefully select our footing, and we had to use our hands in climbing more often and more consistently than ever before. Maple tripped over a root this morning and had a good fall, but fortunately without notable injury.
As I write this, it is 4:30 p.m., and we are not alone at the shelter. There are three other hikers here, all residents of New Hampshire: “Crash,” situated to our left, has already thru-hiked the trail four times, and has section-hiked it twice. Situated to our right is an aunt and niece couple. The aunt has worked as a retail manager for Eastern Mountain Sports for a decade, while her niece has made her living as a veterinarian assistant and dog-sitter. They were not shy about sharing a pipe between them.
Wednesday, June 23: Eliza Brook Shelter to Lonesome Lake Hut.
Everyone was up early this morning, but it was tough to get out of our sleeping bags because it was so cold, in the 30s. Even so, by 6:45, Birch and I were finally ready to go.
Crash warned us that the Kinsmans were difficult, but I don’t think anything could have prepared us for the vertical climbs we did today. Lots of grabbing trees to pull ourselves up over sheer rock faces. At one point we had to pull ourselves up a vertical rock face, then swing our body around a tree, holding on for dear life, to get us to firm ground. And this type of “hiking” pretty much describes the day.
That said, the views from South Kinsman were stunning. We had bright blue skies and cold temperatures. As we approached North Kinsman peak we began to see some day hikers, who had come up an easier and more direct trail.
The descent down North Kinsman was tough, but made easier, by a few carefully placed stairs. Lonesome Lake Hut was a welcome sight!
It turns out that there are only two parties—five people total—staying here tonight. Covid has led to a very “soft” opening at the huts.
Thursday, June 24: Lonesome Lake Hut to Franconia Notch.
While Maple slept in till 6:00, I got up at 4:00, walked over to Lonesome Lake to watch the sunrise and take some photos, and anxiously awaited the brewing of the coffee. This took place just before six, so I brought a cup of steaming, fresh brew to Maple, hoping thereby to get her moving. We packed up as we drank our coffee, and then went to the hut to await breakfast–oatmeal with chocolate chips and craisins, scrambled eggs, sausage patties, and hot apple bread.
Immediately after breakfast, we took our leave of the “cru” and fellow guests, donned our packs, and walked over to the lake, looking for signs for the AT (or Cascade Brook Trail). We found our direction, and began our walk, waiting for the trail to become steep and technically difficult. It never did, although we did have to cross the Cascade Brook twice by rock hopping. We made excellent time, and soon arrived at the Pemi Trail, which took us under I-93 and, ultimately, to the Liberty Springs parking trail and lot.
I should preface what follows by saying that, on my way down on the Cascade Brook Trail, I got a message from Acadicus, saying that he had found our keys in the Hikers Welcome van. Good news! So, I expected to find our car still in the lot, and so it was. However, we found the trunk of our car completely empty—everything had been stolen: gear, clothing, electronics, . . . everything. We were devastated! We had nothing left but what was on our backs. Could we have continued our hike, if we were determined to do so? Yes. But our hearts were not in it. Our thoughts would have been with our loss, rather than with our gain. For, as I said, we were devastated. As a retail clerk, the loss amounted to a full year of savings. To the thieves, no doubt, little of what they stole was of value, but to Maple and me, it was very hurtful.
We stayed that night, as planned, in Gorham, but on the following day we began our drive home. During that drive, to revive our spirits, we discussed future hikes and our return to New Hampshire and Maine in the next June.
Birch and I began our day at our ultimate destination, Mountain Harbour B&B. We had the Isabel Room, but Mountain Harbour also has a very inexpensive hostel. Birch was up super early (nervous about the day?). The breakfast was a feast. The most amazing array of food I’ve ever seen. I ate a ton!
Dave, the General Manager, shuttled us from the B&B to our starting point in Damascus. The weather forecast was very bleak—rain all day with 3/4 of an inch of rain expected. As we started the hike it was sunny.
We went straight up, passing a spring that had a nice camp spot and soon passed the Virginia/Tennessee border. We made fast progress, mostly due to a very smooth trail. Once on the ridge, there were a few “ups” and “downs,” but nothing bad. Best of all, there was no rain!
We ate our Subway sandwich with about 5 miles to go. There may have been no rain but the humidity really got to us, so we stopped for water often and, with about a mile to go, took a break to have a protein bar.
Once at camp we met several super friendly section and thru hikers. The trek to get water was a pain because it was WAY down a steep trail. We ended up eating the other half of our Subway sandwich for dinner and called it a night by 7 pm. Our first day on the trail felt great.
Day Two: Abingdon Gap Shelter to Double Spring Shelter
I had some difficulty hanging the bear bag last night. It was so heavy, with five days of food for Maple and me, and the rope was so taut that I couldn’t make the loop in it to hang the bag PCT style. I ended up tying the rope to a tree. Anyway, we got all of our camp chores done just in time to climb into our tent before the rain began. Most of the night it rained, so we packed up a soaked tent this morning.
We were, once again, expecting rain today, but we made it to the shelter by 12:30 and the rain held off until 4:00. It certainly is nice getting into camp early in the day and having time to relax after finishing with chores. We set up our chairs, took out our Nook e-book readers, and enjoyed a little sunshine before the sky darkened with rain clouds.
Oh, I should note that we came across a good-sized turtle with an orange-speckled shell today on the trail and, later on, surprised a mama bear with her cub. The mama stood on her hind legs to get a look at who was making the noise, and then her cub came scurrying down the tree; then, they both took off running down the mountain.
We had the shelter to ourselves until the rain began, when a young day-hiking couple with a Giant Schnauzer hastily joined us under the tin roof. Just after dinner this evening, a fellow section-hiker joined us, and it appeared that he would stay, but ultimately, just before sunset, he decided to put in a couple more miles. So, it’s just Maple and me here tonight.
Maple and I debated whether to put up the tent to dry it out, but it’s probably a good thing that we decided against it. We’re sleeping in the shelter tonight. Also, we’re being brave and keeping our bear bag with us in the shelter, as there don’t appear to be any good hanging branches within view of us.
Day Three: Double Spring Shelter to Iron Mountain Shelter
By 8:30 pm last night we were zonked, but in came two hikers taking a dinner break. They were attempting a 40 mile day and still had another 20 to go. Just as they left, a torrential rain hit. We were in the shelter (instead of the tent), so we stayed dry.
Around midnight Birch and I were awakened by a loud howl, or was it a grunt? A bark? Clearly, it was a bear down near the water source! We turned on our headlamps and yelled at it to go away. I was nervous the rest of the night.
In the morning we left by 8:30 am. The first part of the trail is a descent, which was a nice way to start the day. Eventually, we reached a stile which took us into a cow pasture. At fist, there was plenty of evidence of cows but no cows. Then . . . we saw them! They looked very unimpressed with us but we were happy to see them.
Just as we left the pasture the rain came with gusto. We got our rain gear on and rushed to the forest where we would have some cover. About 45 minutes later the rain let up. The forest was so green—just beautiful! We soon went through a pathway of rhododendrons that reminded me a lot of Virginia. Eventually, the trail bottomed out and then we climbed until we got to the shelter. It was a chore to go uphill, but we made it in plenty of time to take out our tent and dry it before setting it up. Our only company was a group of women who stopped for lunch.
Day Four: Iron Mountain Shelter to Stealth Campsite
It rained hard yesterday evening for about fifteen minutes; then, it remained dry throughout the night. By morning light, our tent was mostly dry. We had beautiful blue sky today. Maple and I arose early and were on the trail by 7:40. We reached Vandenventer Shelter by 11;30, and since our gps (Guthook) told us there was a water source on the trail 1.7 miles further south, we decided to continue our hike after lunch. .2 mile before reaching the spring, we spotted an awesome tent site, so we dropped our gear, set up the tent, and went for the water—all downhill, but it beats the .3 mile down the mountainside required to reach the water source at Vandenventer Shelter.
Maple and I relaxed at camp, read from our Nooks, had coffee, took a nap, and made dinner—all before the sound of thunder warned us to get our gear situated for the night. We’re looking forward to getting in to Boots Off Hostel tomorrow.
Day Five: Stealth Campsite to Boots off Hostel
It rained a bit last night, but what else is new?!? The weather was looking good and we enjoyed coffee and granola before setting off sometime before 8 am. This part of the trail has plenty of ups and downs. I took a bit of a spill early on but bounced back and really enjoyed the views. We could see the lake from above and I was looking forward to getting a closer look.
It was a super muggy day. With about 5 miles to go we met a couple who were training for a difficult hike. They warned us of bear activity. This seems to be a big challenge for the area.
From here, the trail wrapped around Lake Watauga. Sometimes the trail was right at lake level (which would have been a problem if there was flooding) and sometimes it spiraled up a hill or mountain. Luckily, despite some warnings of high water, things worked out just fine. We had no problems and made it to Boots Off Hostel for lunch.
John checked us in and gave us a tour of the place. We drank coffee while waiting for our cabin to be ready. The cabin is super small but has everything a hiker would need. We had a full bed, a coffee pot, fridge, and AC.
The shower was glorious! John washed our clothes for us and at 6 pm we took the free shuttle into town for McDonald’s.
Day Six: Zero
Today has been a much-needed day of relaxation and reading. We packed Starbucks ground coffee into our resupply box, knowing that the cabins here come equipped with coffee makers—so, we have had plenty of coffee. It rained today from 2 to 3:30, and Maple and I slept much of that time.
Jim, the owner of Boots Off, introduced himself to us today and spoke at length with Maple. A very nice and hard working man.
I’ve called the Black Bear Resort on Dennis Cove Road and made a cabin reservation for tomorrow night, since Laurel Fork Shelter is reportedly rat and possum infested—but this means that Maple and I will have to hike an additional hour tomorrow. No big deal. I think that we are both ready to get back on the trail again.
Day Seven: Boots Off Hostel to Black Bear Resort
After coffee and breakfast this morning, Maple and I donned our backpacks and set off down the road to the trail. It took us only about one-and-a-half hours to get up Pond Mountain. We were refreshed from our day off yesterday. There were several campsites on the top of the mountain, more than suggested by the map.
It took us longer to get down the mountain, and longer still to get to Laurel Falls. The route along the river to the falls is a bit tricky. One has to use caution while scrambling over and around the rocks. The falls, however, were amazing and well worth the effort to see them. They were, perhaps, the best falls that we’ve seen on the AT.
We made it to Dennis Cove Road by around 1:30 and, then, walked the half mile east to Black Bear Resort. We are now situated in the Grandbob Cabin. Our first order of business was, of course, to take a shower. Then, lunch, coffee, and laundry—in that order. Our cabin is, probably, twice the size of the one we had at Boots Off, but it lacks a coffee maker and air conditioner. Even so, there’s a coffee maker in the common room and a fan in the cabin that does a great job of circulating the air.
It hasn’t rained at all today, and Maple and I sat outside our cabin for awhile, appreciating the blue sky. Still, she tells me that we’ll be getting wet tomorrow.
Day Eight: Black Bear Resort to Moreland Gap Shelter
We awoke early but the weather forecast was bleak for the morning. We had coffee and said goodbye to Fiddle, who is a UVA staff member going south, like us. She left in the rain so that she could make it 16 miles. We waited until 9:30 am when the rain let up. Our hosts drove us to the trailhead (thank you!) and we spent the next two hours going up, up the mountain, taking our raingear on and off as the weather changed. The salamanders, frogs and turtles all joined us on the trail.
At last the sun came out and we made it to the shelter before 1:30. We set up camp and got water. (The water is pretty far down the blue trail but the flow was outstanding!)
At the shelter we had a chance to meet lots of nice people. Sorry and Hops had been to Boots Off with us and were going south. PTL (who has a vlog called Be Still on the Trail) joined us for dinner. Wonder and his dog stayed the night at the shelter.
Day Nine: Moreland Gap Shelter to Mountaineer Shelter
I arose at 6 this morning and made coffee. Then, Maple got up and made us oatmeal. After cleaning the dishes, we packed up our dry gear. Fortunately, it didn’t rain last night.
Unfortunately, the trail today was, for the most part, through muddy, muggy, and buggy rhododendron groves. We crossed, I’d say, between fifteen and twenty streams, mostly over board bridges, although sometimes we were able to simply step over shallow currents or rock-hop across more robust creeks. We saw two cascades.
Mountaineer Shelter is at the top of a ridge, above the rhododendrons. We are set up now at the tenting area behind and above the shelter. The water source, which was flowing nicely, is about 100 yards in front of the shelter.
After lunch, Maple and I set up our chairs and prepared to do a little reading in the sunlight, but soon noticed ticks on us. We decided that it wasn’t safe to remain in the open, especially after seeing another half dozen ticks on our tent fly. So, we are resigned to remain, for the remainder of the evening and night, inside our tent—at least, as much as possible.
This will be our last night in the woods on this trip. We’ve enjoyed the adventure, but look forward to arriving back at Mountain Harbour B&B tomorrow.
Day Ten: Mountaineer Shelter to US-19E
Birch and I awoke early this morning, and Birch brought me coffee “in bed” by 6 am. Breakfast consisted of granola. It wasn’t very exciting but we really didn’t need much because we knew that we’d be at the B&B today.
The first part of the hike brought us past many water features. We continued to cross over planks and bridges and we were able to get above the rhododendrons. Mist was present throughout the morning and by 10 am it began to rain.
I was looking forward to getting to the meadow that Wonder had described as being like that place where “that lady” from the Sound of Music sang at the top of the mountain. Unfortunately, the meadow we crossed was nothing like it. The grasses were so high that there was no way anyone with a dress could twirl a skirt. Instead, it was windy, wet, muddy and miserable. This terrain lasted much longer than I would have liked.
The last two miles brought us back into the woods. It wasn’t long before we heard traffic and made it to 19E. One special treat we had upon arrival at the B&B is that we saw Sorry and Hops again. They had to take a zero because Sorry had not been feeling well. After dinner, we took them to Dollar General for supplies. We managed to pick up some ice cream, so the trip was well worth it.
For this stay we had the Jefferson Room. It was fantastic! It had a huge tub and the bed was enormous. Breakfast the next day didn’t disappoint! We look forward to coming back here again when we continue our southbound trip on the AT.
Maple and I had done this 19-mile hike once before, nearly five years ago. (See our earlier post on this site: https://weekendjots.com/2015/05/25/appalachian-trail-pen-mar-to-caledonia-state-park/.) We have been exercising at the gym six days a week, preparing for our big hike in New Hampshire this coming June and July. But the best preparation for backpacking is backpacking, so we decided to revisit southern Pennsylvania. We began at Pen Mar Park, in Maryland, just south of the Mason-Dixon line, and ended at PA-30, where the AT enters Caledonia State Park.
Saturday morning began below freezing, and it would warm up only about 15 degrees during the day. We both started our hike wearing our fleece jackets, wool hats, and gloves. The sky, however, would clear up to a bright blue. The whole weekend would really be quite beautiful. Yet, we would see very few people on the trail.
We started our hike at 9:00 and arrived at Deer Lick Shelters at 11:30. There we had our lunch and rested awhile before continuing. Soon we were at Old Forge, close to where Antietam Shelter used to be, and in another mile we arrived at our camping location, Tumbling Run Shelters. The hike was very easy, mostly flat, and hardest in our first mile, coming out of Pen Mar, where one has to ascend a hill.
After enjoying a cup of coffee, we were greeted by caretakers Curt Finney and his wife, Tawnya. We had a nice discussion with them about the AT in New Hampshire. Once the sun set, the temperature quickly dropped, so after dinner we retired for the night. In the morning, I would find my dromedary half filled with ice.
On Sunday, Maple’s birthday, our hike was somewhat more challenging, as we had several hills covered with boulders to make our way over. During this hike, we met Sean Sullivan, otherwise known as “Just Sean,” a thru-hiker who is attempting a calendar-year Triple Crown—that is, he is attempting to hike not only the AT, but also the PCT and CDT, in 2020.
With PA-30 (and the end of our hike) in view, Maple tripped over a tree stump on the trail and fell face first, breaking her glasses and blackening her right eye. It was an unfortunate ending to an otherwise wonderful trip.
On the last day of 2019, December 31st, Birch and I arrived in Shenandoah National Park for an overnight backpacking trip. Neither of us could imagine a better way to bring in the new year. It was cold and gloomy but the weather forecast said that there was a zero percent chance of precipitation and we were well prepared for winter weather.
After getting our backcountry permit at the entrance, we parked at the Hogback parking lot (near mile marker 20) and hiked .4 miles on the Appalachian Trail before heading northwest onto the Tuscarora Overall Run Trail. This trail goes down in elevation – gradually at first but then makes some pretty steep descents. It passes trails to Matthew Arms Campground and then arrives at a beautiful 93 ft. waterfall called Overall Run. We stopped for water and to enjoy the view. This spot was about 3 miles into our hike and we were pleased with our progress.
We continued along the trail and continued to descend. At this point the winds began to pick up and the clouds began to darken. But the weather forecast said no rain? I was a little panicked because neither of us brought rain gear. A rookie mistake! Fortunately, there was no rain. Instead we encountered rugged switchbacks, reminding me how out of shape I was.
Finally, we reached the valley floor and followed the stream, crossing it a couple of times before we came to the Thompson Hallow Trail. It was around here that we saw a group of young adults out on a day hike. After passing the trail, we began looking for a camp site and found one to the right, just off the trail and near another beautiful waterfall. What a perfect spot to spend New Years Eve! We spent the afternoon drinking coffee and reading. At 4:30 pm we decided we better make dinner before it got dark. We were tucked into our sleeping bags and asleep well before midnight.
The next morning was CHILLY! Birch brought me coffee in “bed” and, after making oatmeal, we packed up and began our ascent. I was NOT looking forward to this, but it was a beautiful day and we took plenty of snack breaks. In no time we were close to the falls. We ran into a couple and their dog who seemed surprised to see us. Then, as it became later in the morning, we saw lots of people out for a “first day” hike.
This is a beautiful hike, although a bit strenuous for us since we hadn’t been hiking in a while. It is a great reminder of how fortunate we are to live so close to this amazing park.
On Thursday night, October 3, 2019, Maple and I drove into New Milford, Connecticut, spent the night at the Rocky River Inn, and on the following morning drove north to Cornwall Bridge, where we hung out at the Country Store waiting for our taxi. The only shuttle we could find was the Pawling Taxi from New York. Our overworked driver got us to Hoyt Road, and we were on the trail by 9:20.
The rain of Thursday had been followed by a cold front, and the temperature had dropped a good twenty degrees. A chill was in the air, and it seemed that autumn had finally arrived. The leaves in Connecticut were changing color and were just beginning to fall from their trees. But we would have to watch out for the fallen acorns. Beware acorns! They are like marbles and will set your feet a-rolling out from underneath you. Karen and I were to slip numerous times during this trip, and Maple actually fell twice.
With just a few steps away from Hoyt Road, we were in Connecticut. We followed closely along the border until we got to Ten Mile River. Then, we followed the river north to its confluence with the much larger Housatonic. A bridge there allowed us to cross Ten Mile River and set us down on the southern bank of the Housatonic, which we walked along side of for about 1.5 miles, before coming to the border of Schaghticoke Reservation. This pushed us back toward and across the New York border, as we climbed our highest peak for this trip, Schaghticoke Mountain, a 1000-foot climb in three miles.
Maple and I hadn’t been exercising since our last AT outing, so by the time we reached Schaghticoke Mountain Campsite, at 8.3 miles, we were nearly exhausted. But it had been a particularly dry summer, and most of the water sources were dried up, including the source at the campsite. We pushed on. It was about this time that we ran into a flip-flop thru-hiker who was now SOBO, 140 miles from completing his trek. We wished him well, and inquired into the flow of Thayer Brook. One mile south of Mt. Algo Shelter, this brook was our last hope for water before making camp. We were assured that it was running, and indeed it was. Maple and I stopped there and filled up our dromedary.
It was 5:30 by the time we reached Mt. Algo Shelter. We were exhausted, but delighted to see that, although four tents were already up, there were still several tent sites available. By the time we set up camp and cooked our dinner, the light from the sky was quickly fading and the air was getting cold. During the night, the temperature would drop down into the mid-30s.
The reputation of St. John’s Ledges had preceded itself, and so, on Saturday, Maple and I measured our progress by how close we were getting to Caleb’s Peak and the beginning of this notoriously difficult descent. We arrived at about noon, and when we got there we found a group of day-hikers gathered at the top. They had just climbed up St. John’s Ledges, and part of the group had decided not to risk a descent. They were choosing rather to hike to the nearest road. The dubious consolation that the group included nurses and doctors was offered up as an incentive for them to make the descent, but they would have none of it. They were determined not to go back down.
Upon hearing this discussion, Maple and I both felt inclined to follow the cautious hikers to the road, two miles back. We walked up to what we presumed to be the beginning of the descent and looked down, and we could see neither path nor foothold. “How did you get up here?” I asked one of the group. “That’s the lookout, not the path. If you go that way, you are sure to hit hikers and climbers on your way down. The path is over this way.”
The path was, indeed, difficult, but at least it was not impossible. The key was to use hands and feet, and to keep three points of contact when descending step by step. It was more difficult than the Dragon’s Tooth, in Virginia, but not more so than certain parts of the White Mountains. Maple and I took our time, and before long we had completed the most treacherous section. Then, we came upon an REI-sponsored class of beginning mountain climbers, who were practicing on the sheer rock face of the mountain. One of them, a former thru-hiker, from back in the ’70s, talked with us briefly. It was clear that he had contracted a bit of nostalgia, for which there is no remedy but to get back on the trail.
When we got to the bottom of the mountain, we found ourselves, once again, on the bank of the Housatonic River. We would follow this level path for three miles, passing by dry Stewart Hollow Brook Shelter. We stopped, instead, at Stony Brook, which had a decent flow and, up on the mountainside, several designated tent sites. All were unoccupied, and so we set up camp nearest to the brook and rested awhile before collecting our water for the night and next day.
On our final day, as we again walked along the southern edge of the Housatonic, we came across five white-tailed deer standing in the river. Upon seeing us, they darted across to the other side. Shortly thereafter, we came upon a couple of fly fishermen. The AT directed us away from the river and through a couple of open fields. Then, we had an 800-ft. ascent up Silver Hill. As we approached the top, the trail became increasingly rocky and even required a bit of scrambling. Fortunately, the way down, to CN-4 and our car, wasn’t quite so challenging.
Autumn in New England is lovely, and we shall soon forget neither this adventure nor its setting.
Yesterday afternoon Maple and I participated in an L. L. Bean-sponsored, three-mile hike at Scott’s Run Nature Preserve— just off of Georgetown Pike, on the Virginia side of the Potomac River. As an employee of L. L. Bean and prospective hike leader, I was there, for the first time, not just to participate, but also to observe and take notes. David Manco, the Coordinator of Bean’s Outdoor Discovery School Program at Tyson’s Corner, in McLean, Virginia, was introducing and leading the hike. Maple had been here to hike once before, five years previously.
From the lower and larger parking area off of Georgetown Pike, we took the dark blue trail north to the Potomac River and to the modest falls, where Scott’s Run enters the Potomac. From there, we skirted the Potomac going east on the light blue trail finally climbing to an overlook. There we took a brief break, before getting onto the yellow trail that leads south through the center of the park, under the canopy of trees and terminates at the upper and smaller parking area. From there, we took the purple trail paralleling Georgetown Pike and ending back at the lower parking area. Looking at a map of the area, one can see that our path formed what might roughly be described as a square.
The participants in this hike were Maple and myself, a couple of middle-aged women friends, and an Asian husband and wife, with their thirteen-year-old son, along with our leader, David, and his wife, Linda.
There was an ankle-deep stream that we had to cross twice. Both times, concrete stepping stones were in place to facilitate a dry crossing. These stepping stones were close together, so that a child could cross. Perhaps they were too close together, for two of our participants fell while crossing and skinned their shins. Caution is evidently needed here.
Our small group judged this hike to be of intermediate difficulty, since the light blue trail involved a little scrambling. The highlight of the hike, at least for me, was the easy yellow trail, which passes directly through the middle of the park, under a canopy of trees.
Birch and I were excited to get back on the trail this Labor Day weekend. A trail volunteer named Donna picked us up at the Hoyt Rd. parking area and gave us a ride to the trailhead. While traveling, we learned that Donna is an amazing volunteer. She is someone who actually supervises volunteers and is active in the work of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. She also volunteers for Hike for Mental Health (https://www.hikeformentalhealth.org).
The weather couldn’t have been better. It was cool (in the 70s) with just a hint of a breeze. The beautiful weather was matched by a beautiful woodland. The lack of elevations made for quick hiking, but we immediately noticed that water was going to be an issue. Each of the water sources that were marked on our map as being “plentiful” were, in fact, bone dry. Thus, when we found a low water source we took advantage of it and filled our dromedary, even though we were only a couple of miles into our hike. This proved to be a very good decision.
Birch and I approached this hike as a casual one so we built in plenty of time to just enjoy camping. We stopped at the Telephone Pioneers Shelter, just four miles into our hike. The hike to the shelter was super easy and included views of Nuclear Lake (that thankfully ISN’T contaminated with nuclear waste!).
For most of the day we had the shelter all to ourselves. We set up our tent, had a delicious hot lunch, read, and took an afternoon nap. How relaxing! Around dinner time, a couple came into camp carrying a regular-sized “car camping” tent, a small cooler, a large bag filled with bedding, and other assorted items. They had hiked up from the road, about 1.5 miles. Even though we had only hiked 4 miles they seemed impressed. I think we were impressed too, or perhaps shocked would be a better description.
The next day we got up early, despite the plan to have a leisurely day. (Birch doesn’t really know how to sleep in!) After having coffee and oatmeal we soon hit the trail. About .5 miles from the shelter was another “reliable” source of water that was dry. Thank goodness we had enough water!
The hike to our car was 10 miles. Within an hour we came across the famous “Dover Oak”, supposedly the oldest oak on the AT. It didn’t seem any bigger than the Keefer Oak in Virginia, but it was definitely huge. Because it was right by a road, we had no trouble finding someone to take our picture together.
Just before the 3-mile mark we emerged from the woods to a nature preserve and wetlands area. The cottontails were huge! We walked long the boardwalk and were glad that we didn’t have to hike through the swamp. At the 3-mile mark we reached the Appalachian Trail RR station. Just as we got there, an elderly woman named Jane arrived. Jane was wearing a beautiful pink gingham outfit with an AT volunteer shirt and cap. She came to meet the 9:20 am train and was carrying AT maps just in case anyone needed assistance. It really made me marvel at how people of all ages can play an important role in helping on the trail. (The NYNJTC has done a great job maintaining the trail, by the way.)
After leaving the train crossing we proceeded to cross a huge field until finally turning into the woods again. About halfway up a hill Birch realized that his favorite AT buff had fallen out of his pants pocket. Bummer! But when we stopped for water and a snack a couple hiked along and asked, “Did either of you loose a head scarf?” Yes! She had found it! We enjoyed a long chat with the couple who was from Pennsylvania and section hiking, like us. They had a HUGE dog with them (think 4 ft tall) and were looking forward to doing some hiking in Virginia later in the fall.
As Birch says, sometimes hikes feel they’re taking forever and drain you of every once of energy, and sometimes they sail by. This hike, we sailed. In fact, we completed the 10 miles in much better time than we completed the 7 mile hike a few weeks ago. Weather and no elevation changes made a big difference. With the next hike not scheduled until October, I’m hoping that cool weather will continue!
This is the first time that Maple and I walked southbound north of Harper’s Ferry. The reason we chose to do this is the lack of parking at the trail junction on NY-55. We knew that there was plenty of parking by Conopus Lake, so that’s where we parked Saturday morning, August 17. From there we called an Uber, and we were picked up within 30 minutes. The driver, unfortunately, either had a terrible sense of direction or was unable to read his gps, so it took us an hour to get to our drop-off point in West Pawling. At 9:30, though, we were on the trail.
The first thing we noticed was the awful heat and humidity. Within 30 minutes we were soaked in our sweat, and we would remain soaking wet throughout the day. I suppose that thru-hikers can become somewhat acclimated to heat and humidity, but, together, they always take a heavy toll on Maple and me. As a result, these 12.4 miles to the RPH (Ralph’s Peak Hikers’) Cabin proved to be quite difficult—I think especially for me.
Three miles into our hike, we stopped at the Morgan Stewart Shelter to have a snack and to replenish our water at the hand-pumped well. Maple and I were carrying two liters each, but since we were sweating out every drop that we took in, there was no way that it was going to be sufficient to get us to the RPH Cabin.
One thing that certainly distinguished this section of trail is the prevalence of traffic noise. It seemed that we were almost always close to a major thoroughfare. In another 2 miles, we crossed over I-84, and for the next 3 miles, hiked parallel to it. Then, at Hosner Mountain, the trail turned so that it was adjacent to the Taconic State Parkway.
We stopped to eat our lunch on the trail steps off of Stormhill Mountain Road, just after crossing over I-84. The trail actually goes up this neighborhood road a little ways, and Maple and I wondered what the residents must think about all the hikers that walk down their road. It was so hot and humid that I lost most of my appetite, and could hardly manage half a sandwich. But, in another mile, at NY-52, we again stopped for a snack. Driving down NY-52 at the time was trail angel Bill, who stopped and offered to top off our water supply. Thank goodness! We needed every drop.
While hiking on top of the ridge of Hosner Mountain, we encountered several thru-hikers that were planning on getting to Katahdin before October. We wished them well, but privately wondered whether they would make it. Personally, I believe they should get to the Connecticut border, flip-flop, and then hike southward. However, I kept my opinions to myself.
Finally, we passed under the Taconic State Parkway and arrived at the RPH Cabin. We were utterly exhausted, and after setting up our tent, rested awhile. Then, we made dinner at the picnic table, pumped our water by the cabin, enjoyed a cup of coffee, and hit the sack. No sooner had we settled down, at about 9:00, than lightning and thunder announced the coming of a storm. Soon it hit, and it really poured. We felt a few drops pass through our tent, but no serious leaks.
In the morning, we awoke to a day that was even more humid than the day before. We were the first up in camp and, after preparing breakfast and coffee, were on the trail by 8:00.
Sweat was soon pouring off of us, and by the time that we reached Long Hill Road, we had drank half of our water supply. To our good fortune, some anonymous trail angel had left gallons of water just off the road. Once again, thank goodness for the kindness of strangers! We drank up, filled up, and were on our way.
After a couple more miles, we could hear people having fun at the beach of Canopus Lake. We had expected the trail to stretch out adjacent to the lake, but instead it remained on a very rocky ridge. The last two miles of our hike seemed to consist of a series of pointless ups and downs (or “puds”), but we finally arrived at a series of rock steps that brought us down from the ridge and, eventually, to our car. Maple cranked up the air conditioner, and in a few minutes we were on our way home.
This past weekend was a beautiful one for hiking! Bright blue skies without a hint of rain. Birch and I took an Uber from Canopus Lake to the Bear Mountain Inn and began hiking north by around 9 am. Unfortunately, the famous section of the AT through the zoo was not open, so we took the blue trail and crossed the bridge over the Hudson. After a short hike along NY-9D, we began our steepest ascent of the trip, up about 1000 ft to a peak known as “Anthony’s Nose” (supposedly named after a pre-revolutionary war sea captain).
Along the way, we ran into “Marmot”, a 70-year-old women who had thru hiked the AT about 30 years ago, and was now completing the north half of the trail, having done the south half last year. Marmot was enthusiastic and tenacious and was a great reminder that anything is possible.
Although the map shows many loop trails along the way, I really didn’t see them until we got to about 1 1/2 miles from the Graymoor Center. We crossed US 9 by a convenience store then quickly made our way to the Graymoor ballfield where we set up camp. The ballfield included plenty of picnic tables, water on tap, and even a shower. We settled in and relaxed, having the entire afternoon to read and enjoy the weather. Although we had heard that the center’s bells were loud, we actually enjoyed listening to them during the afternoon. We didn’t hear them at all at night.
In the morning, we awoke to quite a few more tents set up in the area. No one seemed particularly outgoing or friendly at 6 am so we quietly ate breakfast, broke camp, and got on the trail.
Our second day was much hotter than the first. Although there was not much elevation, we were sweating in no time.
The hike from the Graymoor to Canopus Lake felt like walking through a time machine. Old stone walls, the remnants of Revolutionary War era homesteads, seems to be everywhere. At one point we passed a plaque that marked where George Washington had inoculated troops against small pox. (Who knew that inoculations were possible then?!?)
It was at about this point that Birch and I hit a big milestone – our 1,000th mile on the AT! We were so excited! A hiker named “Digs” took our photo and gave us a fist bump, sending us on our way. We still needed to complete another 5 miles to get to our car.
We filled up with water at a pump station. The ascent to the Three Lakes Trail should have been super easy but the 90+ degree weather was a killer. We really had to take our time! The last two miles were very easy and we arrived at our car tired, but happy with our accomplishment.