Last weekend we headed back to the Appalachian Trail just west of Pawling, New York to do section number 4 for Jiffy Pop’s first backpacking trip. JIffy Pop, in case this is your first read of our blog, is my son’s trail name. He has taken an affinity to the stuff, and makes it on every camping trip. On this first backpacking trip he had it attached to his pack on the hike up to our campsite. He did great on this adventure! He truly enjoyed the experience and told us multiple times that he was having fun, it was awesome, even addicting. Even in Sunday morning’s downpour (which you will hear about below), he was eager to get packed up and hiking as soon as we could. Not because he was wet, but because he liked backpacking.
Of course, there were some times when he, and we, were feeling tired and low energy but he got through those moments like we all do, and we pushed each other when necessary. I do think we need to take his pack in with him to the store to check the settings because it rode a bit high on him whereas his chest strap was up near his neck, even with shoulder straps and load lifters adjusted as much as possible. They probably just need to adjust the frame setting. As the backpack was a gift, we didn’t do that at the store at purchase.
We set off later than usual in the afternoon on day 1, as it was hot and we only needed to cover 3.6 miles, albeit all of it uphill. We knew we could make it to the shelter campsite by evening and it worked out that way. I of course also insisted we also cover the last .2 miles that we didn’t finish on the actual Appalachian Trail when doing the previous section. This is because the parking lot near the end of that section is on down a blue-blazed side trail a bit before that section actually ends. And I don’t like missing white blazes.So everyone agreed. However, this short little addition went through a powerline clearing and then up a rocky hill just about right away, so everyone was of course thrilled with me in no time at all.
Also, for the first time we ran into the issue of there not being a parking space at a trail parking lot. This is something I have always worried about on the drive up to a hike; it gives me a lot of anxiety. It finally happened. This is why I like getting shuttles. Besides the gas savings, a shuttle can be arranged beforehand to logistically simplify your trip. They take you to the beginning of your hike from the end point before you hit the trail, or pick you up at the end at an arranged time and drive you back to your car at the starting point. Many locals who are past hikers or friendly to hikers provide this service for just the cost of gas. It’s their way of giving back to the trial, and meeting the current season’s hikers. Another form of trail magic!
These are often listed in the trail guide booklets or on the popular web forums like Whiteblaze. Or, you can take a cab in certain towns that are also familiar with hikers. I knew the Pawling Taxi was, and they picked us UP here that time we did the previous section, but this one begins on the edge of town and I just wasn’t able to ensure they’d take us another 10 miles out of town to the other end. So we planned on two cars and dropped the first car off at the end before arriving at this lot to drop off the second, only to find no parking. The lot at route 55 was packed with cars of day hikers doing the Nuclear Lake loop. The fishing shop across the street was very nice and let us park there, but then just as we were parked there and getting ready to hit the trail, two groups of hikers came back to their cars in the hiker lot so I moved our car back over there.
I’ve gone on day hikes with groups at popular areas and know that on a nice day a small lot is no match for large groups even when they make the effort to carpool. Unfortunately just like with shelters its first-come, first-served. There’s no special privilege for backpackers over day hikers in the lot, or thru hikers vs section hikers in the trail shelters. That one’s not a problem for us because we tent. Their generosity at the shop was very much appreciated but I felt it was better to park where I was supposed to. So that cost us a few extra minutes before we started our hike.
Then it was a steady, long climb up Depot Hill to the Morgan Stewart Memorial Shelter. There were no real views on this part of the walk but it is a very nice shelter, built by the maintainer of the RPH shelter and other members of the Ralph’s Peak Hiker Cabin volunteer group. The story of its construction, and who Morgan Stewart was can be found here.
We scoped out a few tent site options and set up, and then went down to the shelter to meet the first of the thru-hikers who had already arrived, Micro and Bigfoot. The shelter has two main fire pits, one of which is a wonderfully large, concrete-lined affair where a large group could sit around the fire. There’s also a privy at the campsite and a picnic table, as well as a water pump about 450 ft downhill.
We got a fire going and Jiffy Pop made some Jiffy Pop and shared it with Bigfoot and Micro. He was also eager to have his first Mountain House dehydrated meal, so we then got our stove going and made our pseudo-gourmet lasagna and spaghetti meals with just a little boiled water! We also brought along some marshmallows, and he shared those with the thru-hikers as well, who were very happy for that treat. Several more had arrived now for the night and we shared stories with them before tucking in. The site is at about 1,285 ft and had great howling winds up sides of the ridge during the night. Still no owls, though.
We knew there was potential for rain, but as you know from reading this blog I’ve let too many bunk forecasts shorten or cancel a hike. Well this time they were right and it rained heavily from about 6:30 to 830am. Not a big deal, usually. We got some more sleep and waited it out as we always do. But when it stopped and we had gotten out and dressed and had just finished boiling water for our coffee and hot cocoa, it dumped on us again. We scrambled to get our rain gear on, and then huddled under the edge of the roof of the shelter and chatted with the thru-hikers a bit while having our hot drinks until it mostly stopped raining. We ditched the plans to make the breakfast skillet Mountain House meal, and decided on granola bars — much to Jiffy Pop’s disappointment. I went down to filter enough water to get us to the other end of the section, while Fielden Stream and Jiffy Pop packed the tent. A big puddle had formed around it, and everything was covered in mud. We packed it away the best we could and got on the trail after signing the register in the shelter. Jiffy Pop wrote his first entry. That was a special moment for both of us.
Not long after we departed, it stopped raining for good and we got some limited but decent views from the top of Mt. Egbert, even as far as the peaks of the Catskills in the hazy distance. Many blueberry bushes lined the rocky crags at the summit, but they were still very small and not all that tasty. It was about a mile of these rocky knolls and scrambles along the summit ridge to start the day until we descended gradually and leveled out to mostly flat paths. After a big descent, we crossed over Interstate 84 and did a little road walk until we headed back into the woods, and up, for one last time. Nearby in the bushes along the trail and road edge was an arrow, like the ones I used to use in summer camp as a teenager in archery. It was exciting to pick it up for a minute and reminisce, and then wonder what it was doing there. I hope no one was aiming at hikers!
Just before the end of this section we were treated to raspberry bushes everywhere along a bucolic meadow scene. There was also a massive maple tree the size of the Dover Oak alongside the trail edge, but we were too tired and hungry for a photo. There were also many beautiful wildflowers like Meadow Rue and Queen Anne’s lace, as well as a beautiful butterfly I tried to photograph but only caught mid-air.
We were definitely in what’s known as ‘the bubble.’ This refers to the point where the majority of thru-hikers headed from Georgia to Maine are coming through Connecticut and New York. We passed 3-4 thru-hikers an hour, and had a nice chat with a few of them, sharing information on water resources and trail conditions.
This exchange of valuable information is one of my favorite parts of trail culture. People are truly looking out for one another. As we are doing New York southbound, all the Nobo thru’s were eager to hear about conditions ahead, as were we as we headed where they had just come from. And I was glad that Jiffy Pop did get to meet them all and experience that as we had hoped. A tougher section than we anticipated, but a great first outing for Jiffy Pop. He wants to do it again.
This weekend we are off to Virginia and West Virginia for a wedding, and some more hikes in Harper’s Ferry, Skyline drive/Shenandoah National Park and New River Gorge on the way . Can’t wait.