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.

AT: Delaware Water Gap to Millbrook-Blairstown Rd.

Last weekend Birch and I resumed our northbound progress on the Appalachian Trail. After so much time going south to complete Virginia, we were happy to be back in New Jersey.

We dropped our car off at a parking area on Millbrook-Blairstown Rd. and were shuttled to the Dunnfield parking area by a shuttle driver named George Lightcap. George was a wealth of information, super helpful, and very encouraging.

8-25_1131The trail starts near a stream and then winds up a gradual incline for about 3 miles before reaching the top of a cliff and the Campground #2 tentsite. There are a ton of tent spots here, many with impressive views of the the Worthington State Forest, the river, and the New Jersey/Pennsylvania border. The site includes bear boxes and a couple of privys.

Birch and I set up our tent under a tree and had the entire afternoon to relax.  Each of us brought our Nooks so that we could read and we even brought a luxury item – a camp chair! As you can tell, this wasn’t a heavy hiking day. This was a day to just enjoy the trail and the outdoors.

The next morning we broke camp and continued north on the AT. It was flat and not too rocky. Before long, we reached the south side of Sunfish Pond. It was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1970. The trail around the pond was very rocky but it was fun to be by the lake and to see the frogs jumping into the water as we approached. About halfway around the lake there are sets of really cool rock sculptures.8-26_0826

After leaving the lake we hiked onto Raccoon Ridge. Here, we came to the Herb Hiller Overlook for hawk observation. Two men had binoculars glued to their faces. What were they looking at? A broad-winged hawk, we were told. This area is an ideal spot to watch the migration of hawks, we learned. This will happen mostly in September. One neat thing about this area is that it has an owl decoy perched on a long pole. Why? Who knows!8-26_0947

About 11 miles into our overall hike we passed the road to the Mohican Outdoor Center where there is a beautiful stream. Then, we ascended up to a ridge where we stopped for lunch and had some incredible views. After a few miles we reached the Catfish Outlook Tower. Here, the trail becomes more like a fire road. It wasn’t long before we were back to our car.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.)

 

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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: 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: 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.

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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!

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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!