AT: VA-632 to VA-606

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day Two: Pine Swap Branch Shelter to Rice Fields Shelter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Just Susan”

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

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

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

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

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

Day Five: Wapiti Shelter to VA-606.

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

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

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

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

AT: Craig Creek Road (VA-621) to Johns Creek Valley Road (VA-632)

Birch and I are thrilled to be on the trail for a second weekend in a row! We dropped our car off at the AT crossing of VA-632, which is along a very narrow, unmaintained dirt road. At first, we weren’t even sure we would get there. We rolled down our window to ask a guy in a pick up truck and he assured us that we were going the right way. However, he pointed out that it would be much easier if we left the car at 601, at the top of the mountain.

Yeah….We know! Oh, the joys of trying to section hike as a purist!

We were fortunate to have Bennett Witcher shuttle us from the drop off point to our destination.

While last week was very warm and sunny, we had no such luck this week. We put on our rain gear and were surprised by how cold it was as we ascended the 1,500+ feet up Sinking Creek Mo5-6_1119untain. We took a picture at the Eastern Continental Divide sign (who wouldn’t?) and found that the next leg of the hike along the ridge was the hardest yet. The wind was fierce! The rocks were slippery. The rain only made things more miserable.

Luckily, this was a very short hike day for us. In no time we were at the turn off for Sarvor Hollow Shelter. We debated just moving forward for more miles and staying on the trail. However, the long descent to the water source, and the fact that the shelter had a cover over the picnic table, convinced us that staying was better than leaving.

Sarvor Hollow Shelter is really nice. It is set near the former homestead of Henry and thumbnail_5-6_1525Sarah Sarvor. In the 1870’s, this was farmland. The remnants of two buildings are still there today. We set up our tent, got water, explored the ruins of the old Sarvor homestead, and enjoyed watching a bird build her nest. Around dinner time, we were joined by two section hikers, one with a dog. “Monkey Crow” had done this section before, BUT…his dog had not. Needless to say, they both have to have the same trail miles, right? What better reason does one need to re-hike the same area? His buddy, “Gadget”, lived up to his name by bringing a very cool swivel chair with him.

The next day, the weather wasn’t much better. The rain had stopped but the clouds threatened and it wasn’t exactly warm out there. As we continued south, a thru hiker named “Camino” told us that it had snowed on the mountain the night before. We passed along farmland near Hwy 42 and I got to “hug” the biggest oak tree on the Appalachian Trail, the “Keffer Oak”.

Birch and I had the pleasure of crossing two major creeks, both of which required 5-7_1143navigating wet, slippery rocks and very robust water flows. We stopped at Laurel Creek Shelter for a delicious hot lunch and coffee before ascending up to Kelly Knob. After one mile of tough going, things got better. Then, we coasted until we had to do the significant descent past 601 and along a narrow, steep ridge.

By the time we completed the hike, the sky had cleared.  For those wondering, we saw a TON of thru hikers this trip. Many more than we could name or list. Many were bouncing along to loud music as they went. We’re looking forward to seeing the South-bounders in a few months!

 

AT: Troutville (US-11) to Catawba Mountain (VA-311)

Day One: Troutville (US-11) to Lamberts Meadow Shelter

Birch and I continued our AT adventure by starting in Troutville and going south. I should mention that we’ve hit a real milestone on the trail. We’ve shifted from hiking the Appl LAY chian trail to hiking the Apple LATCH ian trail. We’re in the land of “ya’ll’ and it feels great!

Both Birch and I have new backpacks and so during the first few miles I was making adjustments to my back. The first part of the hike is pretty easy, but before long we passed over Tinker Creek (with a new bridge) and ascended about 800 feet to Tinker Ridge. The ridge reminded me of Pennsylvania. Beautiful views of Daleville to the right, and views of Carvin Cove Reservoir to the left. It appears as if there may have been a fire in the area not long ago, but life always seems to spring up from the ashes.


For the most part, this isn’t a strenuous hike. It wasn’t long before we reached Lamberts Meadow Campsite, situated along Sawmill Run. This is a great spot. It even has a bear box and a picnic table. Just up the hill was Lamberts Meadow Shelter, where we set up camp for the night close to the stream.

Being a Friday, we figured we were likely to have company. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before “Sam” came along. Sam recently defended his dissertation, and a hike along the three ridges was just the thing to blow off a little steam. This was his first time on the trail, but you never would have guessed. Soon we were joined by 10 members of the Tidewater Appalachian Trail Club and a ton of other folks. About 20 people in all!

Day Two: Lamberts Meadow Shelter to Campbell Shelter

Today was a short hike, so Birch and I took our time getting up. With 20 people elbowing for room at the picnic table, why not wait? This day’s hike was more strenuous. It started with an immediate 1,000 ft ascent to Tinker Cliffs. Many say that Tinker Cliffs is better than McAfee Knob, and I can see why. It has amazing views and it isn’t very crowded. The trail is very close to the edge of the cliffs, though!

As we descended we noticed evidence of horse traffic. We think there is a trail near Brickey’s Gap that may give some horse owners access to the trail. Brickey’s Gap must have been more populated at one point. We saw farm equipment that once served a purpose, but was long past its prime.

Eventually, we made it to Campbell Shelter, named after some dedicated Roanoke Appalachian Trail members from the 80s. Two father/son pairs joined us and we even saw Sam again for a while!

Day Three: Campbell Shelter to Catawba Mountain (VA-311)

Birch and I were up early so that we could get to McAfee Knob before the crowds. We ate breakfast with “Found It”, a thru-hiker turned section-hiker. “Found it” got his name because he was always losing stuff – then finding it again. Sure enough, he lost his plastic baggies – then found them. It is always nice to see hikers who have earned their names. 🙂

As we neared McAfee Knob the anticipation was huge. I had seen so many pictures of this spot. Would it live up to its reputation? Sure enough, it was gorgeous. A few women were just about to leave, so we had someone there to take our picture. Then…the place was all ours! The sun was rising, the sky was bright blue, and we could see for miles. I’m so glad that we had a chance to experience this in peace.

The peace would not last long. As we descended we met tons of people – and dogs – coming the other way. One of the highlights of our trip was meeting up with Mr. Witcher again. He picked us up at 311 and dropped us off back at our starting point, where we left our car.

AT: Sunset Field (Blue Ridge Parkway) to VA-43

Oh, how hard it is to be off the trail for such a long time! This hike was a long time coming. We first attempted this stretch on December 30th, 2016. Unfortunately, a trace of early morning snow was enough to completely ice over VA-43, making the drive to our destination impossible. So close and yet so far! The hike would have to wait.

On February 11, 2017  Birch and I were shuttled from VA-43 to Sunset Field by Mr. Homer Witcher, an inspiring guy who thru hiked the AT with his family in 2002. Mr. Witcher is a model example of what makes the AT so special. He maintains large portions of the trail, is an expert privy builder, and is kind enough to shuttle folks to trailheads. He gives tons of his time to the AT. (Thank you!)

2-12_1329The hike from Sunset Field to Bryant Ridge Shelter was fairly easy. The bare trees gave us opportunities to view the mountains. After reaching Floyd mountain the next three miles were  steep and downhill. My legs were killing me!

We stayed the night at Bryant Ridge, an amazing shelter. It has three stories, with a very large, covered area to just hang out. Water is plentiful. The only downside is that we didn’t find any great spots to set up our tent. I guess with a large shelter, most wouldn’t use a tent anyway.

Lucky for us, we were not alone. Two guys, “Roub” and “Crackin” soon came into camp. Both are expert AT hikers. Roub completed a thru hike and Crackin thru hiked Virginia. We learned a lot of great tips from them. As important, they were just great company.

The next day Birch and I went about 7 miles to Cove Mountain Shelter. Roub and Crackin advised us against carrying water up Fork Mountain, and we were so glad that we took their advice. We loaded up with water at Jenny Creek, four miles into the hike, then went up, up, up until we reached the shelter. We were excited to read the trail log and see a note from our new trail friends. The trail magic was a special treat!

Sunday evening, we decided to skip the tent and stay in the shelter. Luckily, we were well prepared. We brought winter jackets, sleeping bag liners, and other cold weather gear. The temps went from the 70’s to 30 degrees by morning time. Boy, the wind howled and  roared! 2-12_1422

The hike out was beautiful, despite the cold temps. The ridge is lined with pretty green moss, making us ALMOST forget that it was still winter.

 

(Follow Roub’s adventures at: trailjournals.com/Roubaix)

Appalachian Trail: VA-56 (Wye River) to US-60

9-23-842Day One: VA-56 to The Priest Shelter

Maple and I stayed at the Amherst Inn on Wednesday night, so we could get off to an early start Thursday morning. The weather was perfect. In the upper 70s, with clear skies. What we were more concerned about was the availability of water on top of The Priest. Maple and I had both made inquiries, and what we were told left us thinking that, to be sure of water, we had to carry it with us. (Thanks Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club!) So I packed on an extra 4 liters, and Maple carried an extra 1.75. That, plus four days of food and clothing, made us feel that we were carrying the heaviest packs ever.

We had seen The Priest mountain before, when descending to VA-56 through the Three Ridges Wilderness one month ago. It was an imposing sight, with a peak stretching upwards through a canopy of clouds. “That is what we have to climb on our next outing?!” we said, with no little anxiety. Yet, we did it. One step at a time. Having experienced a rather calamitous fall during that former backpacking venture, I was especially careful to keep my eyes on the ground before me, so as not to get tripped up. Maple and I made a game of counting the switchbacks: roughly, 35. (What counts and does not count as a switchback is a consideration that will lead to varying results.)

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We stopped to have lunch on some rocks about two-thirds of the way up, at an overlook, and took pictures. A little snake seemed to take an interest in us, and came so close that it peeked up at us from under Maple’s backpack. She screamed and sent the critter scrambling under leaves. From here on the hike seemed to get more difficult. Ultimately, we were pausing every ten to twenty yards to catch our breath. Finally, we reached the top, where, over the rocks to our right, 9-22-1351was the last overlook. Maple insisted I check it out, and since it was level ground, I consented. But, I got careless, and my boot got caught on a root, sending me diving face-first into the dirt. In the presence of The Priest, I cursed. I confess I was pissed off at myself, since I had tried so hard to be careful before taking this short detour.

F9-22-1657inally, we arrived at The Priest Shelter. There, we found that we had carried the extra water unnecessarily, that the spring was flowing, however so gently. We set up our camp, made coffee, filtered water, and relaxed. After making dinner, we played a game of backgammon, retired, and day one was over.

 

Day Two: The Priest Shelter to Seeley-Woodsworth Shelter

Day two was expected to be an easy, 6.7 mile jaunt. This area was once a logging area, and much of the larger trees were wiped out in the 1930s or so. It did seem like there was more new growth than some areas we’ve hiked before. However, it was beautiful. It was far enough away from main roads to be very quiet and peaceful.

9-23-842The trail descended sharply going south from the Priest. Then, it offered a series of ascents and descents (overall going up about 1,000 ft.) before reading “Spy Rock”. Spy Rock is a very popular day hike. It was fun to see people ooh and aw over our “big” backs. “You are obviously professionals,” someone said. Yeah. Right.

We had lunch at Spy Rock but never did get to the top. I’m sure it must be possible but it required a bit too much effort for our liking. Apparently, this was once a great place for the Confederate troops to track the forces from the North. I’ll have to take others’ word for it.

In about 2 1/2 miles we reached Seeley-Woodsworth Shelter. It has a tremendous, well-running spring that enabled us to fill up to our heart’s content with water. There, we met “Star Man” and “Fire Starter”, two brothers who valued fellowship over tough hikes. They had skipped the Priest but had experienced other fun adventures on the trail. A surfer/massage therapist/Costa Rican named Todd joined us at the shelter and we had a blast sharing stories. Overall, it was a wonderful day.

Home Sweet Home at Seeley!

Home Sweet Home at Seeley!

Day Three: Seeley-Woodsworth Shelter to Cow Camp Gap Shelter

Day three was, potentially, our hardest venture, with 10.2 miles to hike to get to the blue trail leading to the shelter—another .5 miles. It was the furthest we had ever committed ourselves to hiking with full backpacks. Having been previously informed that the spring at Cow Camp Gap was dry, we stashed a water supply off the trail at a clearing two miles north of Cow Camp Gap. So, at least we didn’t have to carry extra water as far as this clearing.dscn0631

The hiking wasn’t too difficult, and we arrived at Hog Camp Gap at about noon. There we rested under apple trees, had an apple with our lunch, and were about to begin our descent up Cole Mountain when I suddenly realized that this was the place that I had stashed water. I hadn’t known exactly where I had stashed water, only that there was a sign indicating that it was two miles before Cow Camp Gap. When I saw the sign, I realized that Hog Camp Gap was the place. So, we retrieved our water, and with the added weight, climbed Cole Mountain.

On our ascent, we encountered a woman with a melodious southern ascent who assured 9-24-1326us that Cole Mountain rewarded its climbers—that it was like that hill that Julie Andrews climbed in The Sound of Music that inspired her to break out in song. Well, Cole Mountain did, indeed, have a wonderful panoramic view (not quite 360 degrees, but still rather impressive for a hill—not quite as majestic as The Priest). We did not sing, not that we did not want to—perhaps, we were out of breath. A little ways south, we encountered a father and son team who volunteered to take our picture.

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Finally, we arrived at Cow Camp Gap Shelter and discovered that the spring was flowing. Once again, we had carried extra water unnecessarily. The good thing about it was that we had no need to filter water. We had plenty of water to spare. As there was a small family inhabiting the shelter and playing their music, we decided to hike further down the creek. There we found good tent spots and quiet. Todd, the surfer dude that we had met at Seeley-Woodworth, had made it here before us, but there was ample space, and Todd hardly made his presence known.

Day Four: Cow Camp Gap Shelter to US-60

Our campsite.

Our campsite.

We awoke in the middle of the night to rain. By morning, everything was soaked, especially (for some reason) the inside of our tent. Birch was kind enough to get up and make coffee. After warming up with the cup ‘o Joe, we decided that the best thing to do was to eat a power bar and get moving. We packed up quickly and put on a bit of rain gear. However, by the time we went the 1/2 mile back up to the AT we decided that wearing the rain gear wasn’t worth it. We were too hot!

The fresh, cool, rainy weather was just what we needed to ascend the 2 miles to the top of Bald Knob. There are no overlooks here, which is just as well since we were fogged in. The descent is long (over two miles) and steep (a 2000 ft descent.) We made great time and were back to the car well before noon. US-60 has plenty of parking and the wayside was full of cars, many with AT bumper stickers. I guess it is a popular spot. I can’t wait to get back here for our next adventure, as we continue south on the trail.

Appalachian Trail: Dripping Rock to Route 56 ( and lessons in first aid!)

After finishing off the AT in Shenandoah National Park, Birch and I were able to jump back to our southern most point in the trail, at Dripping Rock. Our plan was for an uneventful two day backpacking trip with a stay at Maupin Shelter. This area is known as the Three Ridges.

On the map, this looks like a piece of cake. In fact, the first six miles are fairly flat. The heat was a bit of a challenge, and by the time we got to the shelter it was about 1:00 pm. DSCN0593We ate lunch, filled our bottles with water, and debated our next move. It seemed a bit early to stop hiking. Should we stay at the shelter or move on? Looming on the horizon was the threat of major thunderstorms the next day. The last thing I wanted to do was a 9 mile hike in bad weather (especially the upcoming 3 mile ascent to a mountain peak – possibly during a thunder storm.)  We continued our hike, thinking that if we can at least get over the next peak, we’ll be that much closer to completing our trip before the storms get the best of us.DSCN0588

Theoretically, this was a good idea. Practically, it was a huge mistake. The big ascent, after already backpacking six miles, got the best of us. Birch was definitely suffering from heat exhaustion. We ALMOST decided to camp on the peak. But after a rest, Birch was feeling better and we felt that getting to the next shelter was doable.

About a half mile into our descent, near the middle ridge, Birch slipped on loose rocks, lost his balance, and tumbled down an embankment for about 20 feet. He was stopped by his arm getting caught in a tree limb. He suffered significant gashes to his head, a gash on his nose bridge, black eye, a big cut on his leg, and abrasions everywhere. His glasses? Lost! Talk about scary! The first aid kit was not well supplied, but we did the best we could to stop the bleeding and clean the wounds. Getting off the mountain that night was not an option. We were tired and it was getting dark.

We camped on the side of the trail overnight and I kept watch for any signs of confusion, etc. The next morning, we slowly descended a very rocky, difficult section of the trail and came to the  shelter. We used the stream water (filtered) to further clean wounds. Then, we  ascended a small hill before descending down a very steep area for about another two miles.

A tough trail!

A tough trail!

In the end, Birch got to the emergency room and was stitched up. Did you know that there is only a 24 hour window before stitching is not an option? We barely made that window! He definitely had a concussion so we were very fortunate that things turned out ok. The lesson? Don’t skimp on the first aid kit! I’m going to add a small squirt bottle that makes it easier to clean wounds. In a really bad situation, those little alcohol swabs don’t cut it (no pun intended). Make sure you have phone numbers for emergency assistance – just in case.

 

Tod looking great at the beginning of the hike

Birch looking great at the beginning of the hike

On the mountain after the accident.

On the mountain after the accident.

 

Appalachian Trail: Lehigh Gap to Wind Gap

Tod and I are chomping at the bit to get the Pennsylvania sections of the AT completed. Thus, it may not surprise you to hear that we did three days of hiking in the middle of January. Weather was iffy and we agreed not to hike or backpack in dangerous conditions. However, the forecast brightened and we were off!

The first day was a 5+ mile hike from Lehigh Gap to Little Gap. If you’ve ever read a thru-hiker’s book, they almost always seem to have a picture from the top of Lehigh Gap to illustrate the beauty – and rigor – of the hike. The trail quickly comes to a vertical 1000 foot “hike” that is really rock climbing. As we approached the foot of the trail someone coming from the opposite direction said, “It’s windy up there!” Boy, was she right.IMG_0182

I’m a wimp when it comes to climbing. It helped to focus on putting one foot in front of the other, moving my hand to the next best rock. I didn’t spend much time looking down.  I was able to conquer fear and make it to the top. I would have jumped up and down with my hands in the air like Rocky Balboa had it not been for the fact that the top was just as rocky as the face of the cliff. Tod was very supportive as I growled and groaned. I have no idea how solo hikers do it.

The rest of the hike was through a section of the AT that is diverted onto a grassy trail designed to try to avoid a superfund clean up site. I know. It doesn’t sound pretty and it really wasn’t. One quirky thing about this area is that the blazes were, well, interesting. There were lots of double blazes in areas where there was no change in trail direction. IMG_0185Near the power lines we saw some huge, footlong, super wide blazes along the rocks. On a positive note, this part of the trail was really easy and it wasn’t long before we were at Little Gap.

We stayed overnight in a hotel and were back on the trail the next day by 8:15 am. The weather looked good and we were looking forward to a night camping at a shelter. The hike began in a pretty swampy area, but we quickly made it to the top of the ridge. Imagine what a surprise I had when I looked to my left, only to see people skiing a few yards away! (This isn’t something that most thru hikers would see.) I guess the Appalachian Trail goes right by Blue Mountain resort. I felt some kinship with the skiers since they also like to be outdoors in the winter.

We stopped to make lunch at 11:30 am and by 1 pm we had gone at least 8 miles. Then, it started to snow. This wasn’t expected and made things a bit slippery. Had we not been so tired, and had it not been winter, we probably would have gone the whole way to Wind Gap (about seven additional miles), avoiding a night outdoors. Instead, we tried to make the best of the situation by arriving at Leroy Smith Shelter and setting our tent up inside the shelter.IMG_0179

My favorite part of the trip was hanging out at the shelter, drinking coffee, and watching the snow. Everything was silent. Peaceful. It was really beautiful. Tod and I made dinner and were in the tent ready to sleep by 7:15 pm. Even though it was well below freezing I was warm. By the time we got up in the morning it was 11 degrees, not including windchill. Our stove/fuel had frozen, and making breakfast was not possible.

The rest of the trip was a bit like being in survival mode. Packing things up in the cold was not easy. Most importantly, Tod’s fingers were in a lot of pain. (Tod has lived in Alaska and his fingers have had frostbite.) Luckily, the hike to Wind Gap had several things going for it: beautiful views, bright sunny weather, few inclines and manageable rocks. In no time, we arrived at Hahn’s Lookout. We quickly made our way down to the Gap and to our car.

IMG_0180_2I’m pretty proud of us for doing so well hiking in adverse conditions. Part of the fun of hiking and backpacking is testing yourself and being successful. Certainly, proper clothing and equipment is key. I had five layers on and was toasty warm. In the future, we won’t forget to bring the cooking equipment into the tent with us when we  go to sleep so that it stays warm.

Next time? New Jersey, here we come!

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Appalachian Trail: PA Rt 309 to Lehigh River

Last year Tod and I ended our backpacking long before December. What a mistake! We are determined to stay in shape, be active, and complete the PA section of the AT. Even though the weather forecast predicted some chilly weather, we decided to do what seemed to be a pretty easy 13+ miles.

The parking lot at our starting point was full of pick up trucks. PA is still in the height of deer hunting season and we did not come prepared with our orange vests. We met a couple who was also planning to backpack overnight and we learned that they had more folks joining them. This sounded great. We would not be alone at the shelter! We took off while they waited for the rest of their party to arrive.

At first it was smooth and easy. I thought for sure we’d get into camp early. About two miles into the hike we came across our first boulder field. From here, it was rocky all the way. The highlight of the hike (if one can really call it that) was an unnerving section called “knife’s edge”. Up we went, to a pointed, jagged, mountain of rocks! This is not the best place for those who have vertigo or who need assurance of firm footing. At one point Tod said, “I can’t watch!” as I practiced my best balance beam approach to navigating the rocks.DSCN0209DSCN0211

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once at Bake Oven Knob Shelter (maintained by the Blue Mountain Eagle Climbing Club)  we were surprised to see the couple who we had left in the parking lot. How did that happen? The group (wisely!) decided to start from another, closer, location. The family, headed by Kevin and Linda, included 3 adult couples as well as an adorable dog. What a fun group! They made an enormous fire and generously invited us to warm up.

Tod and I were well prepared. We had a very comfortable night and kept warm. When we awoke we were a little surprised to see everything (including our tent and backpacks) covered in frost! I have to admit, I was a bit proud of myself for weathering the elements so well.

My frosty pack!

My frosty pack!

We had hoped that the next day of our hike would be less rocky but it didn’t really turn out that way. We still encountered boulder fields. However, the views were stunning and well worth the effort. There are plenty of fantastic places to camp should you decide that the shelter isn’t for you.

We kept expecting to run into the PA Turnpike but we didn’t do so. It turns out that the turnpike runs underneath the mountain! (I wish the map had mentioned that.) After a rocky, careful downhill trek, we arrived at the bridge over the Lehigh River. What a great way to spend a weekend!DSCN0228

 

Appalachian Trail: Swatara Gap to PA 183

Trying to NOT look like deer!

Trying to NOT look like deer!

Day One: Swatara Gap to PA 501.

Early Saturday morning Tod and I left home for the two and a half hour trip to Swatara Gap. The route is very familiar to us now. We know Route 15 like the back of our hand.

We arrived and dropped our second car off at 501 and arrived at Swatara Gap by 9:15 am. The good news? One parking spot left! The bad news? Hunters had gutted a deer and left the carcus right at the front of this spot.  The stench was horrible! We tried to get our gear ready and be on the trail in 30 seconds  — without breathing. It had to be a record!

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy website states “The A.T. passes through game lands managed for hunting, so fall is not the best time to go.”

Did we let the fact that hunters might confuse us for a deer bother us? Of course not! Off we went into the woods. In the two weeks since we were here, the leaves have really turned in color. The crisp fall day was perfect for a hike. As usual, we ascended onto a ridge, this time onto Blue Mountain. The ridge was very narrow and we were able to look down on both sides of the mountain. Very cool!

What wasn’t so cool was the rocky path before us. It is hard to follow white blazes when you have to constantly look down to watch your feet. At one point I marched us right off the trail. Thankfully, Tod was able to figure out how to get us back on track.

Eventually, the narrow ridge widens. The noise of the highway traffic ebbs, and the serenity

William Penn Shelter

William Penn Shelter

of the woods rules. We arrived at William Penn Shelter. It is a really amazing structure with a neat loft that is perfect for a stormy night. Tod turned on our stove to make “coffee” and I soon learned he had a surprise for me. Pumpkin spiced latte! Really?!?! How awesome!

As new hikers arrived they all marveled at the incredible smell of our drink. “Butter” and his son and others were there to stay the night but we pressed on. Oh, the joy! From here, the trail was REALLY easy. About a mile before 501 is a really nice camping spot with nice views. From there, it becomes rocky again. We encountered several families out for the day to take in the incredible views. 501 has quite a bit of parking but it fills up quickly and the place was quite busy when we arrived at our destination.

Beautiful views!

Beautiful views!

Day Two: PA 501 to PA 183.

Sunday morning, after a pleasant evening in our comfortable motel room, Karen and I set out to drop off our destination car at the Game Lands Commission gravel parking lot near the ridge on PA 183. Here, we found lots of room for parking. Then, we headed toward our starting point on PA 501, a gravel lot just off the road.

This autumn day was beautiful, the sky was deep blue, and the morning air was crisp. We were about a mile and a half into our hike when we met a southbound couple. They introduced themselves to us as “Chief” (a retired chief of police) and “Toad,” and told us that, at PA 501, they would be completing their flip-flop, thru hike of six months. I hardly knew what to say, other than “Congratulations!” How does one rightly acknowledge and participate in such a momentous occasion? Anyway, they seemed like a very nice couple, and we wish them many more happy trails.

According to the KTA map, we would reach the ominous sounding “Boulder Field” just before the Hartlein campsite. Karen and I tried to psychologically prepare ourselves for this challenge. Already the trail was extremely rocky, and before long it demanded carefully stepping from one huge rock to another. Our ankles certainly were getting a workout. What in the world, we wondered, would “Boulder Field” be like? Well, eventually the trail began to become more manageable, and then we suddenly found ourselves at the Hartlein campsite, where a sign notified us that we were leaving “Boulder Field.” It was only then that we realized that we had already put the notorious section behind us. Contrary to the map, “Boulder Field” is not just south of the campsite, but is about halfway between the campsite and PA 501.

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We rested at the Hartlein campsite, on a log before a fire pit, under the shade of tall trees, with a bubbling brook to our right and a meandering creek to our left. Here we had our lunch and coffee break, during which we had the good fortune to meet “El Sol,” a hiker from New Jersey not far into his journey to reach family in Georgia. “El Sol” had pledged himself to bring warmth and light to everyone he encounters on his way, and so we were pleased to make his acquaintance.

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The Hartlein campsite was both the high point and the turning point on our day’s journey. Before it, one could hardly find a few inches of flat earth to rest one’s foot upon, so covered it was with rocks. After it, it wasn’t unusual to find small stretches upon which one could take a half dozen consecutive steps on flat earth. In other words, the journey to our destination became much easier north of the campsite.

Karen and I felt that we had reached our destination when we came upon PA 183, but we still had another half mile to go, since we were headed toward the gravel road that would connect us to the Game Lands Commission parking lot. The extra half mile was worth the security of having our car further off the road.

Appalachian Trail: From PA-74 to Duncannon

This past weekend Karen and I continued our northward trek on the A.T., walking twenty-four miles in two days. Our hike the first day was very peculiar, in that we were in the woods only on the last three miles. Most of the hike was across a semi-rural landscape cut into tiny sections by many roads and highways. As often as we were among trees, we were also in farmlands, meadows, and on the side of roadways. And, during the first three miles, we could hear the noise of an active firing range, next to which the A.T. passes.

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At about eight miles into our hike, we crossed the Bernhisel Bridge and had our lunch break at the Scott Farm Trail Work Center. There is a pump here for water, which we were entirely depending on, since we didn’t want to have to carry extra water all the way from PA-74. At first we were both perplexed and not a little disconcerted, since pumping produced no water. We had almost decided to knock on someone’s door, when we discovered that one has to lift and hold the pump in an upward position in order to get water from it. Yeah, . . . I know: “Duh!” Well, you live and learn.

About two miles north of the Farm we began our ascent up Blue Mountain. Having already walked ten miles, this last stretch before reaching Darlington Shelter was tough. But, it was worth it. Darlington Shelter is a beautiful rest stop. Although we probably already had enough water, Karen checked out the spring and found it slowly productive. I should also note that Darlington Shelter has the Taj Mahaj of privies, an impressive two-seater about as large as the shelter itself. We found a smooth and flat spot to set up our tent, cooked dinner, and made it an early night.

View south from top of Blue Mountain

View south from top of Blue Mountain

Setting up at Darlington Shelter

Setting up at Darlington Shelter

Upon rising in the morning, we found that two other hikers, Megan and her younger sister, Ann Marie, with their German shepherd, had come into the shelter during the night. They are, like us, hiking the trail a little section at a time. Megan’s boots had fallen into pieces, so Karen gave her some duct tape. What a nightmare! What could be worse on a hike than losing the use of one’s boots! Megan, however, wasn’t anywhere near despair. She taped her soles onto her socks and, without so much as a whimper, prepared herself to hike out—which, we are informed, she did successfully.

Our hike the second day was, until we got to Duncannon, almost entirely in the woods. We did cross a couple of fields between Blue and Cove Mountains. Cove Mountain, they say, is where Rocksylvania begins for north-bound hikers. The rocks weren’t worse than we’d experienced elsewhere; the problem was that there was no end to them. Karen and I took a short break at the junction to Cove Mountain Shelter and, then, pressed onward to Hawk Rock, where we had our lunch. From here, the view of the Susquehanna River and Duncannon is fantastic.

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From Hawk Rock, down we went, steeply and treacherously. The larger rocks have been placed as steps, which makes the descent much easier, but one still must be very careful. When we got near to the bottom, the A.T. suddenly veers off and upward to the right. It’s counter-intuitive, and we had to look closely at our map to make certain that we weren’t foolishly following white blazes made by a self-amusing demon. To continue going straight and downward will probably take one to a parking lot, from which one could probably find one’s way into Duncannon—but, it’s not the A.T.

Twenty-four miles is a bit longer than Karen and I are accustomed to, and our legs were a little sorer than usual, but it’s a good soreness, one that we are proud to have earned. Having finally made it to Duncannon, we can’t wait to go further.