AT: I-70 to Pen Mar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AT: Gathland State Park to US-40

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Birch near Dahlgren Campground 2018

Tod near Dahlgren

Birch near Dahlgren Campground 2014

 

 

 

 

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

Day One: Elk Garden to Lost Mountain Shelter

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

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

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

Lost Mountain Shelter

Lost Mountain Shelter

Day Two: Lost Mountain Shelter to Saunders Shelter

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

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

Saunders Shelter

View from Saunders Shelter

Day Three: Saunders Shelter to Damascus, VA

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

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

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

Damascus2

 

 

 

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

Day One: VA-650 to Old Orchard Shelter

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

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

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

Comers Falls

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

Day Two: Old Orchard Shelter to Thomas Knob Shelter

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

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

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

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

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

Day Three: Thomas Knob Shelter to VA-600

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

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

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.

 

 

 

 

AT: US-11 & I-81 to VA-16

On this frosty October morning, Maple and I checked out of our hotel in Marion, parked one of our cars at our destination on VA-16, across from the Mount Rogers Recreational Visitor’s Center, and then drove to the Barn Restaurant, where we parked our other car and began our hike.

Soon we reached the Settlers’ Museum of Southwest Virginia, which was closed, but I took a photo of the 1894 Lindamood Schoolhouse. We pressed on and soon arrived at the Chatfield Memorial Shelter, which has a running piped spring. It would have been a nice place to spend the night, but Maple and I were on a day hike and had a tight schedule.

From the shelter it was uphill to the top of Glade Mountain, where there was nice overlook of Walker Mountain to the west. We could also see I-81 from this location and were surprised to see how far we had walked in less than three hours. Here, Maple and I took a short break to make ourselves a cup of pumpkin spice latte. Um, that hit the spot on this chilly morning!

A mile or so later, we arrived at FR-86, where we made ourselves a hot lunch of noodles with chicken. By this time, the outside temperature was comfortable. The sky was a rich hue of blue. And the trees were still green, for the most part. We took in the beauty around us and enjoyed ourselves.

On Locust Mountain we met the only fellow hikers we would see this day, a couple who had, over the years, section hiked from Springer Mountain to as far south as where we met them. Like us, they were hiking as their schedules permitted, a little at a time.

All to soon, our hike was over. But, as we had a 7-hour drive ahead of us, back to Maryland, we were glad to get back to our cars. Until next time.

 

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.

 

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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.

 

 

AT: VA-52 to VA-42

Day One: VA-52 to Jenkins Shelter

Maple and I drove six hours in the rain on Friday to get to Wytheville, Virginia. There, at a motel, we called our shuttle driver (Bubba’s Shuttles) and arranged to meet him at the Subway in Bland, to take us to our destination on VA-42, where we would drop off our car, and then to take us to our beginning point just outside of Bland, on VA-52. All went as planned, and by 10:30 Saturday morning we were on the trail.

Our first day was cold and rainy. It mostly drizzled, but the drizzle will soak you, eventually, just as well as a downpour, so Maple and I wore our rain gear all the way to the shelter. I suppose the weather kept most section hikers and day hikers from the trail, for we did not see a single soul during the whole hike.

The trail was, for the most part, relatively smooth, without any major uphill or downhill, so we made great time, hiking between two and two-and-a half miles an hour, and arriving at Jenkins Shelter around 5 p.m.

There, we encountered L.A., (his trail name is his initials), a triple-crown long-distance hiker. He was doing the A.T. for the second time, this time as a south-bound section hiker. Shortly after we arrived, Atilla showed up, a north-bound section hiker who had started just 4.5 miles south of the shelter and was headed to Pearisburg. L.A. dried off and moved on, but we shared the shelter with Atilla.

Day Two: Jenkins Shelter to Chestnut Knob Shelter

Throughout the night it rained off and on, but by the time we rose at 7:30 the rain had passed, leaving only a cloudy sky and cool weather. The temperature would stay within the 50s throughout the day, despite the fact that the sun sometimes made an appearance.

We filled up our water bottles at a creek at Jenkins Shelter and, since there was reportedly no water at Chestnut Knob, we planned to fill up our bottles and dromedary at a piped spring at Walker Gap.

The A.T. was not at all the smooth path of yesterday. Today, it was a rocky path, largely uphill, and much more difficult. It slowed Maple and I down to just over one mile an hour.

For the record: (1) “Davis Farm Campsite” is a field of rocks, just about the worst campsite that Maple and I have ever seen. (2) Most important for us, the spring at Walker Gap was completely dry.

Dry spring at Walker Gap

Maple and I had about a cup of water each left in our bottles. Much dejected after reaching Walker Gap, we decided to hike beyond Chestnut Knob to what the A.T. Guide identifies as a pond, 1.8 miles beyond the shelter, with a “spring at north end, best water source for Chestnut Knob Shelter.” We were on our way when, five minutes beyond the shelter we saw a small pond that looked fairly clear. We filtered our water from this source, but the water was still brown after filtering, and the process clogged our filter. Fortunately, we were able to return to the shelter and spend the night within its stone walls.

Three southbound hikers, all young men, joined us before nightfall. One had the trail name of Bruce Wayne. They were all hiking 20+-mile days and had begun together at Katahdin in June.

Day Three: Chestnut Knob Shelter to VA-42

In the morning, we found a hunting dog outside the door of our shelter, shivering. We let her in, gave her some cheese and water. She had a gps antenna on her, so we put her back out before we left and hoped for the best.

Our travels this day were, despite the constant uphills and downhills, easier than on the previous day. The trail was, simply, not as rocky. This reminded us of how much more difficult Pennsylvania had been.

We never saw the pond that the A.T. Guide listed. Our first decent water source since Jenkins Shelter was at Lick Creek. This means, essentially, that there is a 17.4 mile area that is virtually dry—unless, of course, you include the small pond of stagnant water that we had filtered from. After Lick Creek (going southbound), you go up and down a hill. At the bottom of that hill, there is a stream that appears to be constant. There was no other water source that we encountered on our way to VA-42.

Bridge over Lick Creek

With our clogged water filter, Maple and I were able to get a few extra ounces of water from Lick Creek, but by the time that we arrived at Knot Maul Shelter, we knew that we had to carefully ration our supply. We were already exhausted. But with two miles to go, we were also motivated to continue.

We arrived at our car before 4 p.m., and made it to Staunton, VA, where we spent the night. What a great trip it had been!

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!

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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.

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“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.

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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.