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.

AT: Pinkham Notch to ME-17

Sunday, June 19: Pinkham Notch to Carter Notch Hut

Maple and I got up at 4:30 and, an hour later, after having a Mountain House breakfast and packing up, we left Joe Dodge Lodge in Pinkham Notch. It was a cold morning, threatening freezing rain in the mountains. Since we weren’t at all sure how long our hike would take, we decided to get a very early start.

The Lost Pond Trail, which brought us to the Wildcat Ridge Trail, was only a mile long, but already it gave us the sense that this was going to be a very difficult hike. Later we would learn that there had been a decomposing moose at the pond, but fortunately for us the temperature was too low to allow for much of an aroma, and we passed the dead creature without ever realizing its presence.

Once we got onto the Wildcat Ridge Trail, the uphill scrambling began immediately. Soon we were climbing the steepest mile on the AT. It brought us to some precarious sections, which prompted no little anxiety. One section, called “The Chimney,” had me doubting my ability to climb for a moment. There were no easy stretches on the two-mile ascent to Wildcat Mountain, Peak D, where the ski resort’s gondolas rested. By the time we arrived there, four hours had passed. The temperature was now 34 degrees, not counting wind chill—and there were gusts up to 50 miles per hour. Maple and I found a spot protected from the wind and had a snack.

Two further miles of constant ascents and descents separated Peak D, at 4,050 feet, from Peak A, at 4422 feet. It took us another three hours to traverse the distance, although we did stop for lunch shortly before summitting Peak A. The Wildcats exhausted us. This was our first day out on our hiking adventure, and our muscles were feeling the old familiar strain.

From Wildcat Peak A there is a descent of over 1,100 feet in .9 mile. After a long day of hiking, we had to take our time and be extra careful on this descent. Finally, we arrived at Carter Notch Hut, after a strenuous hike of eight-and-a-half hours.

We were sent by Bailey, the hut manager, to our room, Number 3, in the lower bunkhouse. After having coffee and conversation with other guests, Maple and I retired to our bunkroom to await dinner time.

Monday, June 20: Carter Notch Hut to Imp Campsite and Shelter

Last night Birch and I had a marvelous time at dinner. We sat with three guys (“Tin Cup,” “Bush,” and “Stoolie”) who began hiking the AT together back in 2005 and are now this far north. The men had great stories about their adventures, and we shared a lot of laughs. The hut had a guest lecturer for the evening, a geologist from the University of Maine Farmington. But as much as we wanted to hear his talk, we just couldn’t do it. By 7:30 we hit the bed and were out—so tired!

Birch and I had the small cabin to ourselves. We awoke early and had a huge breakfast at 7:00. We were on the trail by 8:00. The ascent up to Carter Dome was very steep the first half mile, then became much more manageable. We were thrilled to get to the dome by 9:35.

The day was beautiful, with bright, sunny skies. However, it was very windy. The hike to Height Mountain was easy. The views from the summit were spectacular; however, gusts reached 50-70 mph, and it was tough to even stand! The descent was steep.

We saw a lot of day hikers. Many were trying to knock out some 4,000 footers.

The stretch of the Carters was a bit tougher than I expected. We were thrilled to complete North Carter, but the descent from the summit was extremely steep and very unsafe. I think we spent about a half mile of the descent on our butts! While we had heard so much about this section, I’m not sure anything could have prepared us.

Unfortunately, Imp Shelter was .3 mile off the trail. We decided to sleep in the shelter. It was large, with an upper and lower section and plenty of room for a dozen hikers. We were sore and tired but also thrilled to have successfully navigated our descent. Again, we saw the three guys that we met at Carter Notch Hut, and it was nice to affirm that we were all in one piece after a tough day of hiking. The views did not disappoint!

Tuesday, June 21: Imp Campsite and Shelter to US-2

Maple prepared, for our dinner last night, a wonderful, dehydrated meal of macaroni, beef, vegetables, and herbs, to which we added parmesan cheese. After cleaning up and finishing whatever other chores we had to do, we slid into our sleeping bags and were soon asleep.

I arose with the dawn and made us both coffee. Maple soon joined me and we had our oatmeal breakfast before packing up. We were on the trail at 6:45.

Mount Moriah gave us a rocky climb, with many slabs of granite to ascend. Along the way, at intervals, we were treated to views of the surrounding mountains. The sky was clear, and we could easily pick out Mount Washington. Near the top of Moriah we had a snack, enjoying the views all around us. When we reached the highest point of the AT on Moriah, we discovered that there was a side-trail of .1 mile to the summit. Maple and I both felt that we had already had summit views, and we did not want to add to our 8-mile day.

Our descent from Moriah was 6 miles long. We had to be careful of our footing, but there was nothing very precarious to make us pause on our way down.

When we reached the first crossing of Rattle River, we stopped for lunch. Maple had brought salami and cheese for the occasion. She rolled up several slices around the cheese, and on her first bite something went terribly wrong. The peppercorn in the salami cracked her tooth in several places, as we would later learn. Fortunately, she wasn’t in much pain, just discomfort.

Upon reaching the Rattle River Shelter, the trail evened out, and we had a smooth walk for the last two miles to our car, parked about 3 miles to the east from Gorham.

In Gorham we checked into the Rodeway Inn, and Maple got an appointment to see a dentist that afternoon.

It had been a beautiful, 80-degree day to finish the Whites. We both agreed that the Whites are one section of the AT that, while beautiful, we would never want to repeat.

Thursday, June 23: US-2 to Trident Col Campsite

Birch and I enjoyed a quiet day in Gorham yesterday. The town has a fantastic coffee shop called Dermody Road. We hung out there, reading and drinking coffee. We also went to a fun gift shop. Unfortunately, the dentist was not able to repair my tooth, so we’re hiking at some risk but hoping for the best.

Dan from Trail Angels Hiker Services met us at the Rodeway Inn at about 6:30 and we followed him so we could drop our car off at Grafton Notch. By 8:10 he had dropped us off at Rattle River on US-2 and we began our hike. After a short walk on a road, we began our ascent of Mount Hayes. This was pretty easy. We then descended and had lunch by a very unreliable water source. We ascended again up Cascade Mountain, and this was not as easy, with rock faces more like what we had seen in the Whites. As usual, we clung to tree roots and tree trunks and pulled ourselves up the trail. At least we had some nice views.

This area of the trail was not well maintained, and we found ourselves bushwhacking a bit!

At Trident Col Campground we found a spot in easy walking distance to the privy. After setting up the tent, we went about 100 yards down to the water source; it was weak, at best. We had gotten in early enough to have a bit of a nap before dinner, which was more of cheese with pulled barbeque pork. As we finished up our meal, a SoBo thru-hiker, “Bard,” came into camp. Bard is from Quebec and carries a disassembled guitar with him on the trail. He had fallen into a deep moat of mud and warned us to be careful as we navigated the upcoming bogs. By 6:45 we were ready for bed.

Friday, June 24: Trident Col Campsite to Gentian Pond Shelter

Maple and I were on the trail this morning by 7:00. Even though we had only 4.9 miles today on the AT, we knew that they were going to be rough miles. The forest was so dense that it overlapped the trail, and the branches and leaves that stretched across our path, soaked from the rain of the night before, got us totally drenched.

Our hike involved crossing over many bog boards and navigating around or through numerous mud pits. Maple and I both had falls in the mud, but no significant harm was done. Our clothes, on the other hand, were no longer clean enough to sleep in.

Along the way we met one other backpacker, an AT SoBo thru-hiker named “Re-run,” although, he said, his friends call him “Claus,” on account of his white beard. This is his third thru-hike of the AT.

We arrived at Gentian Pond Shelter at 12:30, glad to have the rest of the day to relax—especially having such an incredible view of the mountains from this shelter.

After eating lunch, we napped for ten minutes, dried out our tent, and went to fetch water from the pond. Afterwards, four NoBo thru-hikers stopped by—a group of three older hikers (about our age) named “Strawberry,” “Double-Time,” and “Fillin’-In,” and a solitary young hiker named “C.C.” (because she was hiking the trail for college credit). C.C. hiked in from Gorham this day, and she was on her way to Carlo Col Shelter. Oh, to be young and fit! The other three put up their tents on the wooden pads.

Saturday, June 25: Gentian Pond Shelter to Carlo Col Shelter

Birch and I were up by 5 a.m. having coffee. It was a beautiful evening, with a sky full of stars. The early morning view was wonderful. We were on the AT by 6:15, the first ones from the shelter on the trail. Our goal was Mount Success. After one miniature ascent—just to get us going—we started the big ascent. In many ways, it was like Mount Webster, with lots of long slabs of granite. We would strategize about what side to go up and what trees to hang onto.

The summit of Success was beautiful, with 360-degree views. We were so excited to make it to the top! Unfortunately, the descent was not easy. The hardest parts were in the gap right before the Maine border and along the .1 mile before the side-trail to the Carlo Col Shelter.  The gap before the border had serious boulders and a precarious descent. As you can probably imagine, we had eagerly anticipated reaching the New Hampshire/Maine border. To some extent, though, it was anticlimactic. It was hot, humid, and incredibly buggy. We took a quick photo and then moved on. Descending the ledges was the most precarious section of the day. At first, I wasn’t even sure that it was the trail.

Once in camp we were disappointed by the water source, which was barely flowing. The shelter itself was big, but it had no views. Perhaps we’d been a little spoiled by our New Hampshire campsites.

This night, there were a ton of people here, mostly SoBos. We got into camp about 2 p.m. and now, at 5:45, we’re ready for bed! Camp life makes us tired!

Sunday, June 26: Carlo Col Shelter to Full Goose Shelter

I got up this morning at 4:30 and made coffee for myself and Maple. As usual, Maple asked for another half hour of sleep, but the coffee got her up, and we were on the trail by 5:45.

We enjoyed the trail today, for the most part, but the going was still tough, and it took us six and a half hours to go the 4.4 miles between shelters. I ran out of energy before 11:00, and we had to stop for an early lunch.

Rebar and wooden ladders made impossible inclines and precipices manageable. The alpine bogs were difficult to traverse, without sinking into the deep mud pits.

As of 2:45, Maple and I were the only ones in the shelter. We filled up our water bottles and dromedary from the spring 100 yards downhill from the shelter. We were both so thirsty when we arrived, as we had to conserve our water while hiking.

At about 5:45 in the evening, as Maple and I were enjoying a dinner of loaded mashed potatoes with bacon, in strolled three backpackers our age, a married couple from Ohio named Karen and Ken, together with their friend Mark. Ken was on a mission to complete the last forty miles of his section hike of the A.T. We had very pleasant conversation, not entirely about the thunderstorm in the forecast for tomorrow.

Monday, June 27: Full Goose Shelter to Speck Pond Campsite and Shelter

Birch and I were up by 4 a.m., excited and nervous about the day ahead. The weather forecast kept changing all week. Now, it forecast showers from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The good news was that thunderstorms seemed out of the picture.

We left camp at around 5:45 a.m. and hiked for about 1.5 miles. There were a few stairs to help us along, and I was glad that, although the trail was rocky, we made good time.

At last we saw the sign for Mahoosic Notch. To our left was a jumble of downed trees. Then, I saw our first major obstacle, a large boulder about four feet high that we had to climb. I had no idea how to get up! Birch and I soon developed a system where he would either help push me up an obstacle from behind or give me a hand from ahead or above. That did the trick. After getting through one spot, we scanned the environment to determine our next move. The ”path” was rarely evident and required some strategizing.

It wasn’t long before we had to duck into a cave and crawl our way to the other side. Several times, Birch had to take his backpack off to squeeze through a crevice. At one point, his leg went right through a gap between rocks.

About halfway through, it started raining. We put on our raincoats and that helped. However, now we were dealing with wet, slippery terrain.

Finally, we saw what we knew (from watching videos) was the last cave. Birch was doubtful about going over a rockface since to fall from it would be catastrophic. He went around and down, then threw his pack up onto a ledge, and climbed up and into the cave. I took the rockface approach. Finally, we climbed up and out. Before long we were on a “normal” trail. In all, it took us four hours to go one mile.

Next was Mahoosic Arm. This was about a two-mile ascent of 2,000 feet. Most of the Arm consisted of long, smooth, slick slabs of granite that sloped sharply up. At one point I tried to switch over to a different side of the slab to avoid some moose poop, when I fell and slid down the granite. I got a bad gash right above my left eye. Birch got out the first-aid kit and tried to clean me up, then we continued. Eventually the rain stopped, and that helped brighten our mood.

At last, we saw Speck Pond below. We got to the shelter about 3:15 and set up our tent on a platform. The shelter had a dining area where we made coffee and dinner. Water was easily accessed just beyond the dining area.

Our friends Karen, Ken, and Mark arrived in camp while we were setting up our tent, and it was nice to catch up with them.

Tuesday, June 28: Speck Pond Campsite and Shelter to Grafton Notch

I slept like a rock after the exhausting day, and Maple and I awoke in our tent at about 5:15. We packed up our things, and then went to the cooking area to prepare our oatmeal breakfast. There we chatted for half an hour with Ken, Karen, and Mark, before returning to our camp to pack up our tent and depart.

Going up into the alpine zone on Old Speck Mountain was a unique and disconcerting experience. We rose into the clouds by grabbing hold of roots and branches and pulling ourselves upward. The clouds were so dense that we could not see more than ten feet around us, so it appeared that, if we fell, we would fall through the cloud, however far, to earth below. The gusts of wind made our ascent even harder and dropped the temperature into the thirties.

The descent was much more gradual and kinder to us, and soon the clouds dispersed, allowing the sun to brighten our day. We encountered several day-hikers on their way up to the summit, and after crossing a stream, we found a beautiful cascade.

Upon making it to Grafton Notch, we drove to a first-aid station at a ski resort in Newbury to have Maple’s injury treated. It was beyond the 24-hour window for stitches, but the ski patrol staff did a great job of cleaning the wound and applying butterfly stitches. Afterwards, we drove up to the Rangeley Inn, where we had a reservation for two nights.

Thursday, June 30: Grafton Notch to Frye Notch Lean-to

Birch and I had a great zero day at the Rangeley Inn. This inn is majestic, with huge rooms of various shapes and sizes. The bathrooms were luxurious. We enjoyed the common area and the large porch. The staff couldn’t have been nicer.

Rangeley is an interesting town. It caters to tourists, with lots of little gift shops. However, for some reason most restaurants were closed on Tuesdays! We were very excited to find a delicious ice cream shop that also sold hot dogs and fries.

Before 6:30 a.m., Birch and I were packed up and ready to hit the trail again. David, from Pine Ellis Lodge, picked us up at 7:00, and we had wonderful conversation on the one-and-a-half-hour drive to Grafton Notch. David was in the Army Special Forces, lived in the Yukon, and now lives in a small town (Andover) with only 600 people. You can hardly imagine the stories!

We were able to get on the trail by 9 a.m., but it was not well marked and, at 10 a.m., we found ourselves off the AT by about half a mile. We backtracked and marveled at how easy it was to miss the trail.

The ascent to Baldpate West Peak was steep but manageable, with steps to ease our way. We met a woman full of energy and enthusiasm for our hike. She told us that the Baldpates were “sticky” today, making it a bit easier to climb, but she cautioned us about the wind. In fact, several people coming down warned us!

West Baldpate was beautiful and very easy to navigate. We descended and came to the bottom of East Baldpate. It looked very intimidating! It was one large granite mountain. Cairns guided our way up and, although windy, it was much better than some other mountains.

The descent was time consuming. The top half of the mountain was steep, with ladders to help. Finally, the trail became easier. We arrived at the lean-to at 4:15 and decided to stay in the shelter. NoBo “MEGA” set up his tent, and we enjoyed chatting with him. Other thru-hikers soon arrived, the tenting areas filled, and before long we had company in the shelter.

Friday, July 1: Fry Notch Lean-to to East B Hill Road

Maple and I slept in a bit this morning, and we didn’t get onto the trail until 6:45. Our intent was to hike the 4.5 miles to the brook just below East B Hill Road, but the trail was so easily hiked that we arrived at the brook at around 11:30. So, instead, we called Pine Ellis Lodge and rented a private room. David, who had shuttled us from the Rangeley Inn to Grafton Notch, picked us up and drove us the six miles into Andover.

While crossing the wide brook, I stepped on a rock that shifted under my foot. I lost my balance and could see that I was going to end up in the brook, but I somehow managed to pivot, so that I fell, instead, on the rocks that I had just traversed. My right knee took a beating, and I expressed my pain with a choice word or two.

Saturday, July 2: East B Hill Road to Sawyer Brook

Birch and I had a nice “nero” yesterday at Pine Ellis Lodge in the town of Andover. The big hang-out spot was Mills Market. We had a private room and a nice sleep. At 5:30 a.m. we walked over to Mills Market for breakfast—breakfast burritos. It was quite the busy spot even early in the morning.

At 7 a.m. David drove us to the trailhead. We began with an ascent up Wyman Mountain in the rain. Fortunately, the trail was easy. By 9 a.m. the rain had stopped. We made good time up to the peak, then descended to Hall Mountain Lean-to. There me met Jeff, who had his things spread out to dry. We joined him in the lean-to and prepared lunch. Suddenly the sky darkened, and it began to pour! Birch changed into his fleece, and we had a cup of coffee while we waited out the rain.

The showers ended quickly, and as we packed up “Laps” came into camp. He informed us that a large group of NoBo thru-hikers was also going to be staying at Sawyer Brook.

Birch and I had a 1.4-mile steep descent into camp. We went as fast as we could safely go, so that we would arrive before the group. Although we each had a few slips, the trail was pretty tame. Once at the brook, we crossed, thinking that tent sites were on the other side. Nope! We had to cross over the rocks again to find a site near the water.

As we filtered water, Laps came to camp with “Juice Box.” We enjoyed sitting with them as we cooked dinner and learned that Juice Box (Jenny) went to American University! Soon a group of about eight other hikers arrived, and the noise level rose. Birch and I ducked into our tent for a quiet evening of sleep.

Sunday, July 3: Sawyer Brook to South Arm Road

I was the first one up this morning at Sawyer Brook and quickly had a couple cups of coffee prepared for Maple and myself. My big surprise was finding my Sea-to-Summit trash bag missing. I forgot to pack it inside the food bag before retiring and, instead, left it on top of my backpack. Apparently, some animal larger than a squirrel carried it off. I hated the thought of leaving it somewhere in the wilderness, but it was nowhere to be found.

The weather was beautiful but humid this morning, and Maple and I were on the trail by 6:15. We had Moody Mountain to climb, and I was soon drenched in my sweat. When we got to the summit, I called Pine Ellis Lodge to arrange for a shuttle into Andover. Maple and I arrived at South Arm Road at 9:30 and were picked up, as requested, at 10:15.

Monday, July 4: South Arm Road to Bemis Mountain Lean-to

Birch and I got up at 5 a.m. and walked over to the market for coffee. David shuttled us to the trailhead, and we began the hike at about 6:25. We had heard from SoBos that Old Blue Mountain was a “beast,” so I was apprehensive about the plan to go 8.7 miles. However, the difficult portion never really materialized. Yes, there were a few granite slabs and scrambles, but nothing we hadn’t seen before. We made it to the top in about three hours.

The trail this day was sometimes easy, sometimes taxing. For most of the day we were on a ridge. After talking with several SoBos, we learned that the water situation at the lean-to was pretty dire.

About three miles before the lean-to was a stagnant water source. We took it, loading up with two extra liters. The last three miles were tough, mostly because I was tired and because Birch was now carrying added weight. We arrived at the lean-to just before 4 p.m. and decided to tent for our last night out. The weather was beautiful this evening.

Tuesday, July 5: Bemis Mountain Lean-to to ME-17, “Height of Land”

Once again, Maple and I were the first up at the shelter and campsite. We arose just before the sun, and I made coffee, as usual, bringing Maple her cup to enjoy in the tent.

There’s a lot of granite slabs on top of Bemis Mountain, Second Peak, and the trail is often marked by cairns. We met at the summit a thru-hiker who had cowboy camped there, hoping to catch sight of some fireworks. Although disappointed, he had no regrets.

The trail down Bemis’s Second Peak was sometimes steep and rocky. At one point Maple lost her footing. “Maple!” I exclaimed. “No! Oh shit! Fuck!” I was sure I was witnessing a tragedy in the works. Even so, somehow, rather miraculously, she regained her balance, without ever having lost her composure. Apparently, I alone thought a fall was imminent.

I had carried my sandals with me, strapping them to the outside of my backpack, under the presumption that I would need to wear them when fording 100-foot-wide Bemis Stream. When we got there, though, we found the stream quite shallow and easily crossed it on rocks. Afterwards, we climbed to ME-17, walked over to the “Height of Land” overlook, and there awaited out shuttle driver, Kim Spats, from Rangeley.

Our original plan had been to spend this night at Sabbath Day Pond Lean-to and to get off trail at ME-4, a day later, but Maple was able to set up her dental appointment in Maryland, which necessitated that we get on the road one day earlier than planned. So, here at ME-17, at the spectacular “Height of Land” overlook, our section hike came to its end.

AT: CN-4 (Cornwall Bridge) to Falls Village

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.      

AT: Hanover, NH, to US-93, Franconia Notch.

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.

Hikers Welcome Hostel, Glencliff, New Hampshire

                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.

Filtering water at Mink Brook

                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.

Bog boards in a fern meadow

                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.

On the trail up Smarts Mountain

                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.

On Mount Cube

                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.

Beaver Brook beside the AT
At the summit of Mount Moosilauke

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.

Carefully evaluating my footing on a granite rock face.

                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.

Victorious on the summit of South Kinsman

                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.

AT: Damascus, VA, to US-19E, TN

Day One: Damascus to Abingdon Gap Shelter

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.

AT: Pen Mar to Caledonia State Park

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!