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. A7-2_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 up 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: 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: High Point State Park to NJ-94

After spending the night in Vernon, Maple and I dropped off our car at the AT crossing on NJ-94 and were picked up by our shuttle driver. Once again, we relied upon George Lightcap, and it has been our pleasure to get acquainted with him.

The morning was foggy, and the High Point monument was almost entirely shielded from view. But, despite the clouds and the chill in the air, it was going to turn into a beautiful autumn day, ideal for backpacking.
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Once we passed High Point Shelter, we ran into two fellow section hikers, Waldo, her dog, and friend, Chad, who were traveling in the same direction.

Six miles into our hike, we stopped at a footbridge over a stream and topped off our water, just to make certain that we had enough to cook a hot lunch of ramen noodles. But, before having lunch, we decided to go a bit further.

And, then, we had a little accident. While traveling over the puncheons through Vernie Swamp, Maple slipped and went feet first into the swamp. Unfortunately, she also, then, lost her balance, and went down onto her hands and knees. Only her backpack stayed above the water and muck. In a panic, I stepped onto the same wet spot on the plank and slipped off into the swamp. I stayed upright on my feet, in eight inches of mud and muck, and with water up to my knees. We both managed to quickly get ourselves back onto the puncheons, but the damage was done. I must say, though, that Maple handled the event marvelously: no screaming, no whining, no moaning.  I even heard her say, “It’s all good.”
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Both of us had soaking wet boots, but Maple was thoroughly drenched and, on top of that, smelling worse than a thru-hiker. So, when we stopped to cook our lunch, she changed her clothes.

Our original plan was to stop in Unionville, NY, and set up camp in the town’s park, which has been made available for that purpose to AT hikers. However, upon arriving at Lott Rd., we decided to press on and try to get to Pochuck Mountain Shelter before nightfall.

There’s a half-mile stretch where the AT runs parallel to NJ-284, and then makes a left turn to cross the road. Maple and I both missed the left turn, and consequently had to walk through a bog several inches deep. We cleared the bog and pressed on for another hundred yards or so before realizing our mistake. Not wanting to retrace our steps through the bog, we bushwacked our way through some thorny bushes until we spotted a couple of hikers and knew we had found our way back to the trail.

Just across NJ-284 there is a steam. We filled our dromedary there, and I carried our water for the next six miles, including the mile-and-a-half through the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. With the recent cold weather, most of the birds appear to have gone south, but Maple and I did see ducks and a crane.

We arrived at Pochuck Mountain Shelter just before nightfall, quickly set up our tent and made ourselves coffee. And then, after sunset, cooked our dinner. By the time we visited the shelter, it was too dark to see and Waldo and Chad had already retired for the night. It was time for Maple and I to retire, as well. We were exhausted.

It rained during the night, and the temperature dropped below freezing, so there was a layer of frost over everything when we awoke in the morning—twelve hours later. By 9:30 we were packed up and ready to get back on the trail.

The highlight of day two was definitely passing over the Pochuck Boardwalk, a remarkable accomplishment of engineering. It follows a circuitous route through Vernon Valley and, by means of a suspension bridge, crosses over Pochuck Creek. Beyond the boardwalk are more puncheons, eventually leading us to NJ-94 and the end of our trip.

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: 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.

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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.