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.

AT: NY-55 to Hoyt Rd.

Birch and I were excited to get back on the trail this Labor Day weekend. A trail volunteer named Donna picked us up at the Hoyt Rd. parking area and gave us a ride to the trailhead. While traveling, we learned that Donna is an amazing volunteer. She is someone who actually supervises volunteers and is active in the work of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. She also volunteers for Hike for Mental Health (https://www.hikeformentalhealth.org).

The weather couldn’t have been better. It was cool (in the 70s) with just a hint of a breeze. The beautiful weather was matched by a beautiful woodland. The lack of elevations made for quick hiking, but we immediately noticed that water was going to be an issue. Each of the water sources that were marked on our map as being “plentiful” were, in fact, bone dry. Thus, when we found a low water source we took advantage of it and filled our dromedary, even though we were only a couple of miles into our hike. This proved to be a very good decision.

Birch and I approached this hike as a casual one so we built in plenty of time to just enjoy camping. We stopped at the Telephone Pioneers Shelter, just four miles into our hike. The hike to the shelter was super easy and included views of Nuclear Lake (that thankfully ISN’T contaminated with nuclear waste!).

For most of the day we had the shelter all to ourselves. We set up our tent, had a delicious hot lunch, read, and took an afternoon nap. How relaxing! Around dinner time, a couple came into camp carrying a regular-sized “car camping” tent, a small cooler, a large bag filled with bedding, and other assorted items. They had hiked up from the road, about 1.5 miles. Even though we had only hiked 4 miles they seemed impressed. I think we were impressed too, or perhaps shocked would be a better description.

The next day we got up early, despite the plan to have a leisurely day. (Birch doesn’t really know how to sleep in!) After having coffee and oatmeal we soon hit the trail. About .5 miles from the shelter was another “reliable” source of water that was dry. Thank goodness we had enough water!

The hike to our car was 10 miles. Within an hour we came across the famous “Dover Oak”, supposedly the oldest oak on the AT. It didn’t seem any bigger than the Keefer Oak in Virginia, but it was definitely huge. Because it was right by a road, we had no trouble finding someone to take our picture together.

Just before the 3-mile mark we emerged from the woods to a nature preserve and wetlands area. The cottontails were huge! We walked long the boardwalk and were glad that we didn’t have to hike through the swamp. At the 3-mile mark we reached the Appalachian Trail RR station. Just as we got there, an elderly woman named Jane arrived. Jane was wearing a beautiful pink gingham outfit with an AT volunteer shirt and cap. She came to meet the 9:20 am train and was carrying AT maps just in case anyone needed assistance. It really made me marvel at how people of all ages can play an important role in helping on the trail. (The NYNJTC has done a great job maintaining the trail, by the way.)

After leaving the train crossing we proceeded to cross a huge field until finally turning into the woods again. About halfway up a hill Birch realized that his favorite AT buff had fallen out of his pants pocket. Bummer! But when we stopped for water and a snack a couple hiked along and asked, “Did either of you loose a head scarf?” Yes! She had found it! We enjoyed a long chat with the couple who was from Pennsylvania and section hiking, like us. They had a HUGE dog with them (think 4 ft tall) and were looking forward to doing some hiking in Virginia later in the fall.

As Birch says, sometimes hikes feel they’re taking forever and drain you of every once of energy, and sometimes they sail by. This hike, we sailed. In fact, we completed the 10 miles in much better time than we completed the 7 mile hike a few weeks ago. Weather and no elevation changes made a big difference. With the next hike not scheduled until October, I’m hoping that cool weather will continue!

AT: Bear Mountain State Park to Fahnestock State Park

This past weekend was a beautiful one for hiking! Bright blue skies without a hint of rain. Birch and I took an Uber from Canopus Lake to the Bear Mountain Inn and began hiking north by around 9 am. Unfortunately, the famous section of the AT through the zoo was not open, so we took the blue trail and crossed the bridge over the Hudson. After a short hike along NY-9D, we began our steepest ascent of the trip, up about 1000 ft to a peak known as “Anthony’s Nose” (supposedly named after a pre-revolutionary war sea captain).

Along the way, we ran into “Marmot”, a 70-year-old women who had thru hiked the AT about 30 years ago, and was now completing the north half of the trail, having done the south half last year. Marmot was enthusiastic and tenacious and was a great reminder that anything is possible.

Although the map shows many loop trails along the way, I really didn’t see them until we got to about 1 1/2 miles from the Graymoor Center. We crossed US 9 by a convenience store then quickly made our way to the Graymoor ballfield where we set up camp. The ballfield included plenty of picnic tables, water on tap, and even a shower. We settled in and relaxed, having the entire afternoon to read and enjoy the weather. Although we had heard that the center’s bells were loud, we actually enjoyed listening to them during the afternoon. We didn’t hear them at all at night.

In the morning, we awoke to quite a few more tents set up in the area. No one seemed particularly outgoing or friendly at 6 am so we quietly ate breakfast, broke camp, and got on the trail.

Our second day was much hotter than the first. Although there was not much elevation, we were sweating in no time.

The hike from the Graymoor to Canopus Lake felt like walking through a time machine. Old stone walls, the remnants of Revolutionary War era homesteads, seems to be everywhere. At one point we passed a plaque that marked where George Washington had inoculated troops against small pox. (Who knew that inoculations were possible then?!?)

It was at about this point that Birch and I hit a big milestone – our 1,000th mile on the AT! We were so excited! A hiker named “Digs” took our photo and gave us a fist bump, sending us on our way. We still needed to complete another 5 miles to get to our car.

We filled up with water at a pump station. The ascent to the Three Lakes Trail should have been super easy but the 90+ degree weather was a killer. We really had to take our time! The last two miles were very easy and we arrived at our car tired, but happy with our accomplishment.

AT: Crawford Notch to Pinkham Notch

Day One: Crawford Notch to Mizpah Spring Hut

Birch and I awoke early in order to park our car near Pinkham Notch and catch a shuttle to Crawford Notch, US 301. It was a cloudy day, with rain and hail in the forecast, but as we began our hike no rain was in sight and it was a comfortable 55 degrees.

According to all maps, the 3 mile hike to Webster is brutal. It is about 3000 feet in elevation, practically straight up. But the first hour wasn’t too bad. I had the false hope that we were conquering it well. Within no time we were on the “top” of Webster – or so I thought. We took photos by the giant cairn and looked forward to the next few easy miles, which were supposed to be pretty flat.6-30_1035

Unfortunately, things only got more difficult. Time after time we were confronted with large slabs of rock that went straight up. Desperately, we clung to pine branches to pull us up, or we grasped for rocks, hoping to make it to the next ledge. We kept finding more steep ascents before us. Was this Mount Jackson? No! Eventually a forest ranger came up the trail just as precipitation and thunder began. She told us that the Mt. Webster summit was just ahead but that we better get below tree line because of the weather. She turned around to go down the mountain, leaving us thoroughly depressed.

Just as we got to the top of Mt. Webster it began to rain and hail. The wind picked up and thunder was in the distance. We wolfed down a sandwich and scurried to get below tree line. However, if we thought the hard part was over it wasn’t the case. The trail was now a virtual river and we still encountered steep rock ascents, only now we were doing it on wet, slick slabs of granite. Mount Jackson was super windy and we both ended up taking spills. We slogged through pools of water above our ankles but we still had miles to go to get to Mizpah Hut.6-30_1333

Then we arrived! Boy, that hut looked so good! The friendly staff assigned us to room #4. I took the top bunk and Birch took the lower one. We changed out of our sopping wet clothes and had a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Dinner was honey wheat bread, lentil soup, salad, pasta and broccoli. Chocolate cake was the dessert. We climbed into bed early, exhausted but pretty happy about our accomplishments.7-1_0806

Day Two: Mizpah Spring Hut to Lake of the Clouds Hut

This morning Maple and I were treated to a breakfast of oatmeal with peaches, pancakes with maple syrup, scrambled eggs, and bacon. Immediately after breakfast, we changed into our wet clothes and wet socks from yesterday, knowing that there would be plenty of puddles to wade through. We packed our backpacks and hit the trail, leaving Mizpah at 8:10.

The trail up Mt. Pierce was steep and required constant scrambling up rocks and boulders, but we soon reached the top. Once there, we had to deal with the water remaining on the trail, although the frequent bog boards helped somewhat. Still, putting on our wet socks seemed the right choice.7-1_0812

The trail got easier once we put Mt. Pierce behind us, although we still had plenty of large rocks to deal with. As we approached the cutoff trail to the peak of Mt. Eisenhower, we entered the alpine zone, above tree level. We were, however, immersed in clouds, so we had no distant views. In the alpine zone, there are no white blazes; we were really dependent upon the cairns to keep us on the trail.

As we approached Mt. Monroe, the wind really picked up, and Maple and I had to pull out our hooded fleeces. Just past the cutoff to Mt. Monroe, we found a place out of the wind where we paused for snacks and water.

Finally, at 12:30, we came around a bend and there it was—Lake of the Clouds Hut. We had made good time, and this reassured Maple that tomorrow we can make it to Madison Springs Hut.7-1_1220

The wet socks took a toll on my feet. They have been rubbed raw on every side. Fortunately, we have a first-aid kit stocked with “vitamin I”–that is, Ibuprofen.

Maple and I have been assigned bunk beds, once again, in Room 4. The bunks are three-tiered, and allow insufficient room to sit up in bed. Maple has the middle, allowing me the bottom. We have already taken a nap and are looking forward to a pot roast for dinner.

Day Three: Lake of the Clouds Hut to Madison Spring Hut.

Birch and I awoke before 5 a.m. in order to get moving early. I was super nervous about this hike, anticipating that it would be arduous. We quietly left all our bunkmates and packed up our gear, bringing it to the main hall so that we could organize it. Thru-hikers were tucked into their sleeping bags, scattered everywhere. (The Hut allows them to stay for free, in exchange for some work—but no bunks for them.)

We ate cereal that we brought, and a croo member kindly got up early to make us coffee!

We were out the door around 6 a.m., and as we began there was a bright yellow sign: “Stop! You are entering an area that has the worst weather in the world.” Okay. No need to ramp up my nerves was needed. The ascent to Mt. Washington was fairly easy. We were completely socked in by fog, so the hardest part was finding the next cairn. As we reached the top, the wind picked up.

Once at the top we hoped that we could, at least, stop inside for a minute, but it was before 8 a.m. and everything was closed. (I was kind of surprised that they don’t leave it open as a shelter from the weather.)7-2_0731

Once again, the rain started just as we reached the summit. Luckily, it was just spritzing. We took photos at a Mt. Washington sign, but not the summit sign—too windy!

Birch led us up and over. On the way down, it was super rocky, super windy, and super foggy. My glasses misted up so much that I just took them off.

Once down about a quarter-mile, visibility improved. We crossed the railroad tracks and began hiking the ridge. After another hour the skies cleared and we could see into the valley! Beautiful. We could even see a puff of smoke from the train. This was my favorite part of the day. A slow descent. It was rocky, but it reminded me of Pennsylvania. Not bad.

One of the nice things about this hike is that there are many intersecting trails—so signs, with mileage, are everywhere. We climbed towards Mt. Jefferson, then went around the mountain and descended a very rocky path to another trail junction.

As we ascended, a ton of young people (20-25?) were coming the other way. It was a busy trail, with lots of day hikers, people doing the Presidential Traverse. I think the weather encouraged a lot of hikers. 7-2_1102

The last mile gave us beautiful views and fairly easy terrain, except for the .3 miles down to the hut. The view of Madison looks daunting!7-2_1349

Birch and I secured some awesome bunks, then hurried out. We played Scrabble at one of the dinner tables, while drinking coffee. Dinner was enchiladas. In all, it was a very nice day, but I’m exhausted!

Day Four: Madison Spring Hut to Osgood Tentsite.

I awoke Maple at 5:30 this morning, with a cup of coffee. Breakfast was at 7:00, and we were on the trail by 8:00. It’s been a beautiful day, with bright blue sky and gentle breezes. The view of Mt. Washington from the peak of Mt. Madison was unobscured.7-3_0843

We had a half-mile ascent over the rocks up Mt. Madison, and then a two-and-a-half mile descent. The going was slow, but we tried to be as careful as we could over the precarious terrain. It took us two hours to traverse the first mile, and five hours to get to Osgood Tentsite.7-3_1035

There were several day hikers from Madison Spring Hut who were making the ascent along with us, but on our descent we were pretty much alone. We met up with four or five people going up from Pinkham Notch and only one thru-hiker, who passed us up on our descent.

Maple had a couple of easy falls, but we both somehow managed to make it to Osgood without injury.

We have taken the second tent platform, close to our water source. Maple put to use our new Sawyer Squeeze water-filtration system, and seems to have had a good experience with it. We’ve already had coffee and had a nice nap.

We are both looking forward to our arrival at Pinkham Notch tomorrow, but we are also enjoying our down time at Osgood. Were it not for the mosquitos, our camping experience here would be almost idyllic. 7-3_1558

Day Five: Osgood Tentsite to Pinkham Notch.

The sun comes up early this time of year, so we were up early as well. By 6:30 am we had packed up and had eaten breakfast.  This trail was so different than the others we had experienced this trip.  It was much easier to  navigate.  In many ways this hike could be called the trail of waterfalls. We saw so many beautiful water sources along the way.  A highlight of the hike was the opportunity to walk over a suspension bridge. It swayed a bit but was lots of fun.7-4_0709

The trail has a gradual ascent that is very mild by the standards of the Whites.  With about 2 miles to go we crossed the Mount Washington Auto Road, where a tour van had slowed to show the passengers where the AT was located.  I felt a little on display as I waved to the folks who were taking the easy way down the mountain!

The last mile was super easy and I couldn’t help but feel a little sad that our adventure was coming to an end. It was nice to see the Pinkham Notch Visitors Center and I’m so happy that we had such a successful, injury-free experience.

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: NJ 94 Vernon to NY 17a. Belvale, NY

This past weekend Birch and I went backpacking so that we could finish the New Jersey portion of the Appalachian Trail. Getting to NJ 94 wasn’t easy. There were very few shuttle options from our drop off point to the trail head. For this reason, we had to settle for a taxi service with a late pick up time.

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As we waited for the taxi the wind began to blow and the flurries began to fly. This was not going to be a warm weekend! The first part of the trail is known as the “stairway to heaven”. It is a short (1.4 mile) but steep ascent up Wawayanda Mountain that is fortunate to have many sets of stairs that make the hike interesting. There were a ton of day hikers who went up to enjoy the beautiful views. We, however, had mileage to make!

Unfortunately, our late start and the early sunset made it impossible to get to Wawayanda Shelter as we had hoped. Instead, we filled up with water at a stream just south of Barrett Road, crossed Barrett Road, made our way into the woods, and resigned ourselves to setting up camp. The sun was low, so we only had time for a cup of coffee and a cold sandwich before hitting the sack.

In the morning, we quickly made our way past Wawayanda Shelter and through a beautiful wooded area. After lunch, we began our climb up to the ridge. This included several places where I had to scramble and one area that had a very cool ladder that took us up to the ridge and across Prospect Rock to the highest point on the AT in New York. Again, we saw some day hikers who had come up to the area from a side trail. Once on the ridge we came to the New Jersey – New York state line. Another state complete!

This section of the New Jersey/ New York AT was surprisingly challenging. Although there is very little change in elevation, the ridge requires lots of short climbs, up and down, over a series of rocks. This slowed us down considerably! Another challenge was that the leaves had recently fallen on the trail, making following the trail very difficult at times. Thank goodness for the great job that the New York New Jersey Trail Conference did with its blazes. It saved us!

Instead of making up time from the previous day, we resigned ourselves to stopping short of the next shelter.  Given our time constraints, we agreed to end our hike at New York 17a the next day.  Weather throughout our trip was cold. After a warm dinner we tucked ourselves in for the night and when we awoke our water bottles were frozen. However, we had plenty of warm weather clothing, sleeping bag liners, and other gear that made us able to enjoy the trip despite the cool temps. The last day we had a very short hike to make it to our destination. Once off the ridge, the hike was very easy. We look forward to coming back when the weather warms up a bit.

AT: Culver Gap to High Point State Park

It is the last weekend in September and we were excited at the prospect of hiking in sunny weather! Our trusty shuttle driver, George, dropped us off at Culver Gap early in the morning and we were able to make quick progress from Culver Gap to the fire tower, about two miles away. The view from the top was basically non-existent, given that it was very foggy. But it was beautiful nonetheless.

This section of the AT is flat but rocky. The biggest challenge was not the trail itself, but the incredible amount of water that turned the AT into a swamp. There were places where  we had to navigate way around the trail in order to avoid moats. The first day we had the pleasure of seeing the Sunrise Mountain pavilion, an enormous stone structure with beautiful wood beams and breathtaking views.

The highlight of the hike was an amazing encounter with “Maps.” We first met Maps at Guyot Shelter in New Hampshire, the day that Birch had terrible knee pain. As we turned the corner on the New Jersey trail, we saw him sitting on a rock taking a break. “Hey, I know you guys,” he said! What were the chances of us meeting up with him again? Maps had completed the northern part of the trail and had flip flopped in Connecticut. We wished him well and hope he makes a ton of progress this Fall.

We stayed overnight at Mashipacong Shelter. Built in the 1930s by the Conservation Corps, the shelter itself is kind of dark and low to the ground. It had a nice lawn in front of it and it is here that we decided to set up our tent (not realizing that we probably could have gone into the woods for more private tenting options.) This shelter does not have a water source, so Birch carried 6 liters of water with him so that we would be set. However, the shelter caretaker supplied the shelter with gallons of water, set in the bear box. We enjoyed a restful afternoon at our tent spot, reading and drinking coffee. We were amused to see many dogs, in all shapes and sizes. Two stayed at the shelter, including “Millie” (or Mildred when she was in trouble), an affectionate boxer with a bright blue coat that kept her warm.9-30_0742

It was a chilly night but we slept well and were up and out of camp before 8 am. The remaining part of the trail was just as wet but it offered some beautiful views. The mile just south of the High Point State Park office was about as muddy as it gets. All in all, it was a great fun and we look forward to completing New Jersey soon!

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AT: Millwood/Blairstown Road to Culver’s Gap

Day One: Millwood/Blairstown Road to Brink Road Shelter

Once again, Maple and I enjoyed the shuttle service provided by George Lightcap of Newton, NJ. He picked us up promptly at 8:30 at Culver’s Gap and transported us, together with a fellow hiker, Glenn, to Millwood/Blairstown Road. After a couple weeks of rain, it was fortuitous to have a day of sunshine, with clouds—even though the humidity was rather high.

There were a couple of places requiring scrambling and hiking over a rock field, but overall, I’d say that the 10.9 mile hike to Brink Road Shelter was easier than the average AT hike. What made it more difficult for Maple was that one of her hiking poles broke during the first mile. It snapped in two where the sections joined together. We tried using duct tape, but that solution failed miserably.

I saw several salamanders and frogs on the trail during this trip—perhaps, because of all the rain we’ve had recently.

Just before leaving on this trip, I purchased a second Helinox Chair Zero—an excellent chair to bring backpacking, weighing only 1 pound each. I carried both, and Maple and I were able to enjoy a nice lunch break at a place that had no convenient rocks or logs to sit on.

Just before climbing Rattlesnake Mountain, we came to a nicely constructed bridge over a brook, compliments of the Boy Scouts. Rattlesnake Mountain was, I think, the most precipitous and rocky ascent that we had this day, but the view to the north from the top was certainly worth it. There we stopped and took a short break.

9-15_1725When we got to Brink Road Shelter, we found that the ground in front of it was under water. The water stretched out over the road, and most of the way toward the spring—so it was no simple task to make our way to the spring to fill up our dromedary. Once we got there, we found that our water filter would not pump. Ultimately, we decided to take our chances, and take our water directly from the source of the spring, without filtering.

Day Two: Brink Road Shelter to Culver’s Gap

We awoke in our tent on day two to the sound of light rainfall. This was not in the forecast. In fact, the weather report said there was no chance of rain in Newton, just ten miles to the south. Even so, the sprinkling was not bad, and Maple and I got out of our tent and enjoyed a cup of coffee and oatmeal for breakfast.

We didn’t get far on our second day’s journey, without noticing the saturation of the forest with spider webs. Webs crossed the trail, and we both had to use our trekking poles to clear the way before us.9-16_0936

After about an hour, we were out of the spider infested forest. Soon we had to make our steep descent from Kittatinny Mountain to Culver’s Gap.

We had fun, and look forward to continuing our journey in two weeks.

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Birch, with Culver Lake in the background.