About Birch

After much hiking in my youth (Boy Scouts, working at Grand Canyon, and Army Infantry) and a long hiatus from the trails, I picked up my trekking poles again in 2014 at the age of 53. I'm having a blast! . . . But, alas, so many trails, and so little time.

Hoyt Road to CN-4

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.

Scott’s Run Nature Preserve

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.

AT: NY-55 to Canopus Lake

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.

8-17_11558-17_1326

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.

8-18_0755

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.

8-18_0920

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.

8-18_09398-18_1040

AT: NY-17 to Bear Mountain Inn

Day One: NY-17 to William Brien Memorial Shelter

On Friday evening, June 14, Maple and I arrived at Bear Mountain Inn, on the west side of the Hudson River, New York. We were booked to stay in the Overlook Lodge. It’s a beautiful Inn, and our stay would have been perfect had it not been for a large group of boys who were loud until midnight. Still, the front desk clerk gave us a generous refund for the disturbance, so I really can’t complain.6-14_1553

Maple and I had a good breakfast at the 1915 Restaurant, and were, afterwards, picked up by Jossie’s Shuttle, and once again Richard, Jossie’s husband, was right on time. We were on the trail by 8:20 in the morning.

In about an hour we arrived at the “Lemon Squeezer,” where the AT passes through a narrow crevice between two boulders. Managing one’s backpack is the only real difficulty here. Almost anyone can skirt sideways and upward through the “Lemon Squeezer,” but if one has a large and heavy backpack, lifting it up sideways with one arm can prove challenging. The key is to get one’s backpack up onto the flat ledge above oneself as quickly as possible.

6-15_0924

The AT, as it traverses Harriman State Park, is not at all difficult. There is, however, a lot of flat rock, which may be slippery when wet. Maple and I saw a group of older ladies and a group of young girls hiking the path. Moreover, in mid-June, the Mountain Laurel is in bloom, and the fern is at its peak. It’s really quite a beautiful park.

6-15_0953

Our destination for the night, the William Brien Memorial Shelter, does not have a very appealing water source. The spring-fed well there is described by some as stagnant and covered with leaves. Therefore, Maple and I decided to fill up at the stream that is just before Seven Lakes Parkway, which feeds into Lake Nawahunta. There was a large rock in the middle of the stream, where we could sit and pump our water through the filter. We use the Katahdin Hiker Pro. Unfortunately, halfway through the process, the filter clogged, making the pump impossible to use. We spent an hour at the stream, attempting to unclog our filter. (This is the second or third time we’ve had this problem.) We were forced to accept the amount of water we had, though it required that we conserve.

We reached the shelter at about 3:00, set up camp, prepared ourselves a cup of coffee, and relaxed for awhile, prior to making dinner. The tent spaces at the shelter are nicely separated, and the area is quite beautiful. Maple and I enjoyed our stay here. We retired early, and slept well, but were awoken by the rain that fell at scattered intervals throughout the night.

Day Two: William Brien Memorial Shelter to Bear Mountain Inn.

Rain was forecast throughout the next day, but we were quite lucky. Although we had some sprinkles, it did not start raining in earnest until we were most of the way down Bear Mountain. Nevertheless, anticipating constant rain, but finding ourselves in a dry interval, Maple and I got up early and were on the trail by 6:45.

We had three mountains to traverse this day: Black Mountain, West Mountain, and Bear Mountain. It would be a day of significant ups and downs. The phenomenon that really made this day interesting was the rock stairs. I believe that these are created over billions of years, through processes of geological layering and erosion. Not only are they evidence of divine design, but they make hiking much easier. As Maple says, they are proof of God’s love for hikers and that he wants people to hike. We encountered rock stairs on all three mountains, but especially on Bear Mountain. Of course, I am aware of the argument that these stairs are of human design, but the incredible amount of physical exertion required to build such stairs is entirely foreign to human nature, which is fundamentally lazy; therefore, I stick to my belief.

6-16_0720

Maple and I got a good view of Perkins Memorial Tower from West Mountain. Maple said that it looked to be twenty miles away. Fortunately, it wasn’t. We arrived at the tower just before noon. This was Father’s Day, and the top of Bear Mountain, as well as the bottom (at Bear Mountain Inn) was crowded. From the top of Bear Mountain to the bottom the AT was graded and graveled, so it was really quite easy, though a little hard on the knees, going down.

6-16_1156

We arrived at the Inn soaking wet and thirsty, but after changing into dry clothes in the restrooms, Maple and I rehydrated ourselves at the Hiker’s Coffee Shop. We high-fived our backpacking success, and were soon on our way home.

AT: NY-17A to NY-17

After spending the night in a hotel in Secaucus, New Jersey, Maple and I made our way on Saturday morning, April 20, to the Elk Pen Hiker’s Lot on the outskirts of Harriman State Park, New York. The weather report had called for torrential rains, so we put on our rain gear and waited for Josie’s Shuttle. Soon, a man pulled up behind us, and announced that he was Josie. His voice didn’t match the Josie I had spoken with on the phone, but we got in anyway. His name turned out to be Richard, and he was a pleasant gentleman, who charged a very reasonable rate.

Richard dropped us off at NY-17A, and our hike began. Soon we reached the Pinnacles and, afterwards, Cat Rocks, both obstacles requiring scrambling over wet, slippery, and treacherous rocks. 4-20-1046Maple and I took our time, as we knew we had all day to make it to Wildcat Shelter. Still, I slipped and landed hard on my butt. We both crab walked more than once down moss-covered inclines. We could see the blue (safe) trail that skirted around the Pinnacles and Cat Rocks, but Maple and I are committed to the white blazes. Is that rational? Probably not, but it lets us say with pride that we are AT purists.

Soon after Cat Rocks, we made it to the shelter. After getting out of our wet clothes, we prepared our lunch, made ourselves coffee, and then, . . . when it looked like the rain would hold off a bit, we set up our tent and took a nap. When we arose, the tent was soaking wet, and several other hikers had showed up.

We introduced ourselves and found that one young man was a trail runner, who had covered over 40 miles that day northbound. That stretched my imagination to the breaking point, since the terrain he had covered was far from smooth. There were bogs to navigate, rocks to scramble over, and brooks to cross. Even so, I see that Jennifer Pharr Davis, according to her 2008 Itinerary, achieved the same mileage over this territory. I’m simply amazed!

We arose early the following morning, Easter Sunday, and were the first to depart from the shelter. Soon, we reached Fitzgerald Falls, paused to take photos of this beautiful area, and then proceeded, crossing the stream twice over rocks. During the first 5 miles we made great time, covering 2 miles per hour. But then we ran into a series of mountains, each requiring cautious scrambling.4-21_0841

To slow us down even further, biting gnats were out in force, not only biting, but flying into our mouths, our eyes, our noses, and our ears. When we needed most to concentrate on our footing, they seemed most bent on distracting us. It was maddening! Maple was attacked relentlessly, and after our hike needed medical attention for the swelling that ensued.

Just beyond East Mombasha Rd., there is a stream that runs into Little Dam Lake. When we reached it, I had a few choice words to express myself, for there was no bridge to cross or rocks to traverse. Maple and I had no choice but to ford it, and we could not see the bottom. Just then, it started raining again. I figured we would get soaked anyway, so we might as well go in with boots and pants. Maple practically dived in to the challenge. Before she was across, I followed. I’m 5’10”, and the water was just up a ways from my crotch. It was up to Maple’s waist. I forgot that I had our camera in my pants pocket. It was ruined, but fortunately the photo card was salvageable.4-21_1117

Just for the record, there is a beautiful camping area on the north side of this stream. Maple and I were exhausted at this point, but pressed on.

Our next obstacle was Arden Mountain, from the top of which we could clearly see NY-17 and the Elk Pen Hiker’s Lot. The descent from this mountain was more difficult and treacherous than the ascent. Still, we made it down safely and back to our car.

Altogether, this was one of the more difficult AT sections that we have hiked. It was quite an adventure!

AT: High Point State Park to NJ-94

After spending the night in Vernon, Maple and I dropped off our car at the AT crossing on NJ-94 and were picked up by our shuttle driver. Once again, we relied upon George Lightcap, and it has been our pleasure to get acquainted with him.

The morning was foggy, and the High Point monument was almost entirely shielded from view. But, despite the clouds and the chill in the air, it was going to turn into a beautiful autumn day, ideal for backpacking.
10-20_0842
Once we passed High Point Shelter, we ran into two fellow section hikers, Waldo, her dog, and friend, Chad, who were traveling in the same direction.

Six miles into our hike, we stopped at a footbridge over a stream and topped off our water, just to make certain that we had enough to cook a hot lunch of ramen noodles. But, before having lunch, we decided to go a bit further.

And, then, we had a little accident. While traveling over the puncheons through Vernie Swamp, Maple slipped and went feet first into the swamp. Unfortunately, she also, then, lost her balance, and went down onto her hands and knees. Only her backpack stayed above the water and muck. In a panic, I stepped onto the same wet spot on the plank and slipped off into the swamp. I stayed upright on my feet, in eight inches of mud and muck, and with water up to my knees. We both managed to quickly get ourselves back onto the puncheons, but the damage was done. I must say, though, that Maple handled the event marvelously: no screaming, no whining, no moaning.  I even heard her say, “It’s all good.”
10-20_1211
Both of us had soaking wet boots, but Maple was thoroughly drenched and, on top of that, smelling worse than a thru-hiker. So, when we stopped to cook our lunch, she changed her clothes.

Our original plan was to stop in Unionville, NY, and set up camp in the town’s park, which has been made available for that purpose to AT hikers. However, upon arriving at Lott Rd., we decided to press on and try to get to Pochuck Mountain Shelter before nightfall.

There’s a half-mile stretch where the AT runs parallel to NJ-284, and then makes a left turn to cross the road. Maple and I both missed the left turn, and consequently had to walk through a bog several inches deep. We cleared the bog and pressed on for another hundred yards or so before realizing our mistake. Not wanting to retrace our steps through the bog, we bushwacked our way through some thorny bushes until we spotted a couple of hikers and knew we had found our way back to the trail.

Just across NJ-284 there is a steam. We filled our dromedary there, and I carried our water for the next six miles, including the mile-and-a-half through the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. With the recent cold weather, most of the birds appear to have gone south, but Maple and I did see ducks and a crane.

We arrived at Pochuck Mountain Shelter just before nightfall, quickly set up our tent and made ourselves coffee. And then, after sunset, cooked our dinner. By the time we visited the shelter, it was too dark to see and Waldo and Chad had already retired for the night. It was time for Maple and I to retire, as well. We were exhausted.

It rained during the night, and the temperature dropped below freezing, so there was a layer of frost over everything when we awoke in the morning—twelve hours later. By 9:30 we were packed up and ready to get back on the trail.

The highlight of day two was definitely passing over the Pochuck Boardwalk, a remarkable accomplishment of engineering. It follows a circuitous route through Vernon Valley and, by means of a suspension bridge, crosses over Pochuck Creek. Beyond the boardwalk are more puncheons, eventually leading us to NJ-94 and the end of our trip.

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.

9-16_1025

Birch, with Culver Lake in the background.

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: 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.

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.