AT: Franconia Notch to Crawford Notch

Day 1: Franconia Notch to Liberty Springs Tentsite

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Day 5: Ethan Pond Campsite and Shelter to Crawford Notch

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

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

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

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

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

AT: Harpers Ferry to Gathland State Park

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

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

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

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

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

 

IMG_0014

Our tent, among a sea of others!

 

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

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

AT: Gathland State Park to US-40

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4-29_0815

Birch near Dahlgren Campground 2018

Tod near Dahlgren

Birch near Dahlgren Campground 2014

 

 

 

 

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

Day One: Hermit Trailhead to Hermit Creek Campground

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day Two: Hermit Creek Campground to Monument Creek Campground

The Monument

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

Day Three: Monument Creek Campground to Horn Creek Campground

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

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

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

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

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

Day Four: Horn Creek Campground to Indian Garden Campground

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

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

Day Five: Indian Garden Campground to Bright Angel Trailhead

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

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

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

Afterward

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

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

Day One: Elk Garden to Lost Mountain Shelter

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

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

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

Lost Mountain Shelter

Lost Mountain Shelter

Day Two: Lost Mountain Shelter to Saunders Shelter

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

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

Saunders Shelter

View from Saunders Shelter

Day Three: Saunders Shelter to Damascus, VA

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

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

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

Damascus2

 

 

 

AT: VA-16 to VA-650

October is a beautiful month for hiking. Birch and I met up with Sabrina from Eller Taxi Service early Saturday morning.  Sabrina is friendly and knowledgeable. She helped us to drop off our car at our destination (that had a very nice parking lot) and take us to Mt. Rogers Visitors Center for our start.

IMG_0440Birch and I breezed through the first four miles. The trail is level and easy. We stopped for a snack at VA-601 and continued on.  Both of us carried extra water. This area has been pretty dry and we were worried that the spring at Trimpi Shelter would be dry. There were promising signs along the way, however. A stream listed as “intermittent” in AWOL was running just fine.

About 3 miles before Trimpi Shelter we walked across a field. By now, the day had warmed up and Birch and I were soaked with sweat! Luckily, it was only another mile to the shelter. Up we climbed until we reached the turn off to Trimpi.

Trimpi is a solid stone shelter with a fireplace. We set up our tent and ended up having the place all to ourselves.  Although the day had started off cool, there was no need to make a fire so the beautiful shelter went unused.  One of the best things? The spring was running (yay!) so we didn’t need to worry about water. We relaxed, read (using our Nooks), drank coffee, and enjoyed watching the falling leaves.

The next day, we had a 4 mile hike back to our car. The first 2.5 of it was a steep 1,000+ ascent. It was a perfect day, with cool weather, a nice breeze, and plenty of sun. The leaves were dropping like crazy so I don’t expect us to see these beautiful colors again for another year.

 

 

 

 

VA-42 to US 11& I81

After a month off the trail, Birch and I were eager to get back on the AT. This time, because of the lack of shelters on our route, we decided to do a day trip. Be began our hike just off VA-42, which is a nice well-paved road with plenty of parking. Although the first mile of the hike is through farm land it wasn’t long before we turned into the woods and 9-30-1005began making our ascent to Big Walker Mountain.

It was a glorious day! Cool temps, bright blue sky, a pleasant breeze, and just a hint of leaves turning color. Although steep, getting to the peak was easy.  We stopped for coffee so that we could take in the beautiful view and enjoy the weather.

Before long, we got to a campsite and promptly marched ourselves off the trail. Although we were clearly on some path, it wasn’t the AT. Walking back to the campsite, we searched for the white blazes and got back on track. According to a sign, this spot marks the 1/4 point Northbound.

 

9-30-1426

Davis Path Campsite

We stopped for lunch at the former Davis Path Campsite. This area has a picnic table and a privy but the shelter is long gone. We then hiked the remaining three miles to where our car was parked.

 

On the last mile or so, we ran into a group of volunteers doing trail work. The group included a couple of high school students putting in their volunteer hours that are required for graduation. I don’t think they had ever been on the trail before but I hope they were inspired to hike!

Fall is my favorite time to hike. However, it isn’t without challenges. The water situation was pretty precarious. Anyone hiking this area should make sure to bring plenty of water. Otherwise, this is a wonderful 11+ mile day hike.

 

 

Cascade Canyon to South and North Forks, Grand Teton National Park

Birch and I woke up early on July 22 so that we would be on one of the first boats to cross Jenny Lake. This crossing was the best way to get to the Cascade Canyon trailhead and it had the added bonus of providng us with a beautiful view.

Cascade Canyon is one of the more popular day hikes in the park, but few people make it much past inspiration point, a spot that affords a nice view of Jenny Lake. We were on the trail by 8:15 am so it wasn’t crowded. The first mile or so was very steep, with a 1000 ft. ascent through a canopy of pines. The trail was wide and easy to navigate. Several times we had the chance to look down at Jenny Lake and we took our time going up the trail, stopping at spots to enjoy the cascading water and the river that roars through the canyon.

At the Jenny Lake boat dock.

I must say, Birch and I have finally found our trail legs. We are now used to the elevation and to carrying heavier packs. This made the ascent pretty easy and it wasn’t long before we were on a fairly flat trail. At one point we ran into a Park Ranger who warned us about the Marmots. Apparently, they like chewing trekking pole handles, backpack straps, and other things that taste salty.

At around 4.5 miles we reached the fork in the trail. We turned south to go on the “South Fork”. Finally, we were on the Teton Crest Trail! We began a steep incline and crossed several rapids/rivers. Luckily, the trail was in good shape. There was no snow and it was dry.

Immediately upon entering the camping zone we saw a great camp site. Without hesitation,we took it! We had amazing views of several peaks, including Grand Teton itself. The site was on a river that lived up to the “Cascade Canyon” name. As we looked out our tent, we could see a waterfall on one side, and the mountains on the other. We arrived pretty early (around 11:30 am) so there was plenty of time to relax.

At about 5 pm, a hiker named John and two of his friends joined us in camp. They had been on the trail many more days than us and John was carrying quite a load, including 40 ft. in rope, an ice axe and about 30 pounds of camera equipment. He told us that the rest of the South Fork was not to be missed. So, after dinner, Birch and I took a long hike (sans backpack!) up the trail. We took water and bear spray and went as far as we could while still being able to get back to camp before dark. The side trip was well worth it because we saw an enormous water fall that must have dropped thousands of feet down the side of a mountain.

Sunday morning was chilly! We had coffee and breakfast, then packed up and descended the South Fork until we came to the North Fork. This trail had many open expanses that enabled us to see for miles. The views were breath-taking! The trail is well maintained with stairs in many spots. Before long we encountered bolder fields. Then we saw snow! The snow was mostly off the trail until we got to within a mile of Lake Solitude. The last few yards up to the lake were snowy and icy.

We arrived at the lake just in time for lunch. What an amazing sight, to see so much snow and ice in July! The trail is not well marked so I can see why the park rangers were cautious about people backpacking in this area. Lake Solitude is at 9100 ft. in elevation and we would have had to go another 1300 ft or so in elevation to cross a pass under difficult conditions.

Fortunately, our plan was to camp on North Fork. We went back down the trail and found a spectacular site about halfway down the mountain. The camp had a nice stream for water. However, the best thing about it was that it had a large boulder/ledge with a fallen tree for seating. This had a view that was jaw-dropping. And we had it all to ourselves! Birch made coffee and be basked in the sun while enjoying our surroundings.Late that night we woke up to star gaze. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a night sky!

The view from our campsite.

The next morning was bitter sweet. This would be our last day on the mountain. As we descended, I took time to take enjoy my surroundings. Before long we were at the fork that brought us to the Cascade Canyon trail. The farther we descended, the more day hikers we saw. We were back at the boat before lunchtime. It was done all too soon!

AT: VA-606 to VA-52

Birch and I were eager to get back on the trail this Fourth of July weekend. We drove down from our home in Maryland – a 5 hour drive! Bubba shuttled us to our starting point at VA-606 and we were on the trail by 12:30 pm. This might be one of our latest starts but we had a very short 6+ mile hike to the shelter.

The hike began near Kimberling Creek, where we crossed a wobbly suspension bridge. At the other end we met a couple of backpackers who were hiking north. They were able to assure us that water was flowing at Jenny Knob Shelter. At this time of year you never know, so it was great news.

It was a hot, sticky day and it felt like we were in a rain forest. The trail winds around ravines and slowing ascends up to a ridge and Brushy Mountain. We hiked beside a stream that is listed as “unreliable” in the AWOL guide and that was a pretty good description. It was barely flowing.

Jenny Knob Shelter

It wasn’t long before we reached the shelter. We were a little surprised to find that we had it all to ourselves. Before long “Wolfgang”, a long section hiker from Germany, joined us. Wolfgang planned to hike from Georgia to New Jersey. He was about our age and was very philosophical about what hiking the trail really meant to him. We enjoyed his company.

By 7:30 am the next day we had completed breakfast, packed our tent, and were on the trail. Although the guide books make the hike look pretty flat it certainly didn’t feel that way. We seemed to be doing a lot more “up” than “down”! The ridge line was beautiful. As we approached Helveys Mill Shelter the woods switched from oaks and birch to pines. There were beautiful blooming rhododendrons too. The trail itself was very smooth and it was a pleasure to be able to look ahead and not have to watch our feet.

The only thing missing was…people. What a difference it makes to be out of the thru hiker bubble! Several miles into our hike a woman named “Maps” approached us going north and remarked that we were the only people she had seen all day. Likewise! “Maps” is a section hiker who has completed a lot of the trail. She was really impressive.

Once we got to Helveys Mill Shelter we had a choice. We could walk down to the shelter to camp and hike out the next day, or continue on another 2.2 miles to our car. It was just after noon and the shelter itself is .3 miles off the trail so the choice was easy. We continued on. After a quick descent we arrived at VA-612. We were really perplexed at our next move. Signage here is really needed! We walked about .8 miles along VA-612 until we came to our car at US-52, near Bland, VA. The big news is that we now have over 700 miles completed on the AT! Our next backpacking adventure will be very different. Look for our next blog to learn more! 🙂

 

 

AT: VA-632 to VA-606

Day One: John’s Creek Valley Road (VA-632) to Pine Swamp Branch Shelter.

The night before this hike, Maple and I stayed in the Motel 8 in Radford. We arranged to meet our shuttle driver, Don Raines, at 8:00 on the morning of Friday, June 2, at the AT parking spot off of VA-606. Although I saw the trail crossing, I could see no parking space. I pulled over to call Don, but we had no cell service. Upon carefully retracing the route, we spotted a little nook covered with foliage that was to serve as our parking space. Don was waiting for us. He suggested that, in the future, we meet with our shuttle driver at a place that has cell service and follow him from there. Good advice!

By 9:00 we were on the trail. Rather early on we made the acquaintance of the loquacious “Man of Many Words,” who took our photo for his Facebook page. He was doing a day-hike, trying to get in shape for a thru-hike to begin in March 2018. Good luck to him!

Shortly thereafter we passed a woman our age, a delightful section-hiker from Chicago, “Just Susan,” who, like us, was southbound and planning to hike to Pine Swamp Branch Shelter and, from there, to Rice Fields Shelter. We were glad to know that we would see her again.

6-2_1256At about 12:30 we stopped to have lunch, and “Just Susan” caught up with us and passed us by. It turned out that we stopped too soon, for shortly afterwards we reached Wind Rock. There we met “Barefoot,” who told us that his ex would have put a stop to his hiking, so he is thru-hiking with his divorce papers, I suppose to remind himself of his liberation. We also met “Furiosa,” who also took our photo.

After nine miles, we stopped at Baileys Gap Shelter, refilled our water supply, had conversation with the other hikers stopping there, and made coffee. Rejuvenated, we pressed onward, crossed over Stoney Creek, and continued onward. We had heard from “Roub” that we should stop at the “Captain’s” place to enjoy his renowned hospitality, but, unfortunately, the zip-line to the Captain’s place was shut down due to the fact that he had recently undergone mouth-cancer surgery. We pressed on and, in the growing darkness, after ten hours of hiking, found our tent spot just across the trail from Pine Swamp Branch Shelter.

At the shelter’s picnic table, where we always like to make our dinner, we met thru-hikers Dave, his adult son, Darren, and veterinarian student “Golden,” with her dog ironically named “Killer.” “Just Susan” never showed up, and we wondered where she had stopped and whether we would see her again.

Day Two: Pine Swap Branch Shelter to Rice Fields Shelter

thumbnail_6-3_0912 (1)Day Two started with a steep hike up to Pine Swamp Ridge and Peters Mountain. Birch and I followed a rocky ridge that had beautiful views and a nice breeze. This area is right on the Virginia-West Virginia state line. It is the season of mountain laurel blooming, one of my favorite plants!  One really fascinating aspect of the ridge is that there were many HUGE table rocks.

Before long we entered a meadow that was once an apple orchard. The direct sun was quite a shock after time in the woods. After entering the woods again we finally came to thumbnail_6-3_1306a spring that was 1.5 miles from Rice Field Shelter. This was our last water source before the shelter so we filled up and had  coffee while there. Springs are like any water hole. It attracts a ton of hikers! One thru hiker told us that he was desperately trying to get out of the “bubble” and away from some specific hikers. I can just imagine how unpleasant it would be to be stuck with the wrong crowd.

Once we approached Rice Shelter we were amazed by the breath-taking view. Wow! This is a shelter worth visiting. We set up our tent, made dinner, and enjoyed the beautiful vista. We knew that “Just Susan” was hoping to get to the shelter but we were not holding up much hope to see her, given the 16-mile trek. However, she made it!

6-3_1830

Day Three: Rice Fields Shelter to Doc’s Knob Shelter.

Our itinerary had called for us to make it only so far as the spring and campground on Pearis Mountain, a quarter of a mile south of Angel’s Rest, at the peak of Pearis Mountain. But if we decided to stay there, that would necessitate another 13.5 mile trek on the following day, Monday, and since the forecast for Sunday night and Monday was continual rain, Maple and I decided that we would re-evaluate, upon reaching the spring, whether we could press forward and, perhaps, commit to making it to the next shelter and water source.

The downhill trek, off of Peter’s Mountain, to the bridge over the New River on the outskirts of Pearisburg took us longer than we had expected. We paused and enjoyed a snack after crossing the bridge, near Pearisburg Cemetery. From this point on, we were a little confused about our path, for the AT had been relocated since our Data Book had been printed. For example, we never arrived at Layne Street, Pearisburg, but instead, almost immediately began our ascent up Pearis Mountain.

This two-mile ascent up Pearis Mountain exhausted all of our energy. Near the top, in a grove of rhododendrons, we spotted a doe with her newborn fawn. We passed by Angel’s Rest and soon reached the sign directing us a quarter of a mile off the trail to a spring and campsite. As our water was depleted, we followed the sign, and at the spring filtered our water and made a hot lunch. This helped to restore us, but the trail had taken its toll. We were tired. Even so, as we didn’t want to carry extra water, we committed to making it to the next water source and shelter, Doc’s Knob. This would be a 16.1 mile day—the farthest that we had ever backpacked in a day.

We passed by at least a dozen thru-hiking NOBOs, all intent on making it into Pearisburg to escape the rain. Were we foolish, hiking into the coming storm? Perhaps, but Maple and I were on a tight schedule, and we had already committed ourselves to the trail, despite the weather.

When we finally arrived at Doc’s Knob we found the shelter occupied by a very pleasant man, “Loon Seeker,” and his dog. As there was no place to set up a tent, and as we expected rain, we requested a place in the shelter, and he gladly made room for us. Afterwards, there showed up “Tent Pole,” named for having broken one, and “Loner,” who wasn’t too happy about sharing a shelter with a dog. Given his attitude, we figured he wasn’t too happy about sharing a shelter with anyone.

Doc’s Knob was situated in a very wet and muddy area. Fortunately, there were plenty of rocks around the shelter to step on. This was the first time that Maple and I shared a shelter, but we had little choice, and since we were so exhausted, we fell asleep early and slept soundly.

Day Four: Doc’s Knob Shelter to Wapiti Shelter.

6-5_0716

“Just Susan”

Overnight, it seemed we had dodged a bullet. The rain never came. Then, around 6:30 am, we began to hear the pitter patter of rain on the shelter roof. Birch suggested that we take off to avoid a swampy trail. As we were about to leave, who should come to the shelter but “Just Susan”. She had decided to slack pack going north from Woods Hole to Pearisburg. She was full of energy and that energized us. We wished her well and began our short 9 mile hike to Wapiti Shelter.

At first, I was quite pleased. Despite the rain, I was pretty dry. Much of the terrain was rocky and slippery. This made it slow going. By the time we passed Big Horse Gap and got to the sharp descent to the shelter it began to pour…a deluge! The trail turned into a river and all hope of staying dry was lost.

6-5_0909

By the time we reached Wapiti Shelter it was surrounded by a moat. Two hikers had just finished up lunch and were continuing on their way. All afternoon, hikers came in to get out of the rain. Each one took off their boots and rung out their socks. We met many wonderful folks, including “Radar” and her dad who were on a south-bound 5-day section hike, like us. Many hikers came in to have a bite to eat. It wasn’t long before the shelter smelled like a combination of smelly wet socks and Mountain House lasagna!

One of the best parts of the afternoon was spending time with “Red Bull”. “Red Bull” was dressed in a kilt with patriotic socks and a flag bandana. He had a serious speaker system that played music for us while we waited for the rain to stop. Despite playing “Hear Comes the Sun”, it didn’t work. We had fun anyway.

By 6 pm the rain stopped. We were joined by “Loon”, a women from Minnesota who hiked 24 miles in the rain. “Down Hill”, “White Sands” and “Paint Brush” joined us. “One Pole” was also at the shelter. He had broken a trekking pole on one of his first days on the trail and we couldn’t quite imagine how one could do that! It was a fun group.

Day Five: Wapiti Shelter to VA-606.

In the morning, Maple and I packed up our wet tent, prepared an oatmeal breakfast, to which we added dehydrated peaches, and said goodbye to “Downhill,” “White Sands,” “One Pole”, and “Paintbrush.” Our backpacks were still wet, and despite the threat of continued rain, we decided not to put on our wet rain gear.

How can I describe how wet and muddy the area was through which we hiked? Between Wapiti Shelter and VA-606 there were sixteen bridges, fourteen of which were within 2.5 miles south of Wapiti. There were also several small creeks, which we crossed over by the help of rocks and logs. The mud was pervasive, and there was no avoiding it, however hard to tried.

We decided not to go to Dismal Creek Falls, since we had heard that the Blue Trail leading to it got one only so far as the rear of the falls, and that one had to cross the deep and swift creek over a log in order to arrive at the front of the falls. Maple and I are not great risk takers, and we were anxious about the condition of our car and about getting home. So, we passed up the Blue Trail.

What we had accomplished on this trip was noteworthy: We had hiked several consecutive days more miles than we were accustomed to. We had hiked a 16.1 mile day, by several miles the farthest that we had ever backpacked. And, we had hiked five consecutive days, which we had done only once before—in the Grand Canyon. Moreover, we had hiked nine miles in the pouring rain and had learned what it means to hike when thoroughly soaked. This was a great trip for Maple and I, and has given us confidence for our upcoming hike in Grand Teton National Park, next month.