A Day in the Life of a Trail Patroller: New Season, New Gear, New Friends

Kellogg Conservation Center

Kellogg Conservation Center

Last Thursday was a great day of networking for me. It started off that afternoon at the beautiful Kellogg Conservation Center in South Egremont, Massachusetts. I was there to meet the new seasonal ridge runners hired by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and along with our Connecticut Appalachian Mountain Club leaders, to teach them about how we manage our section of the trail.  Our state comprises 90% of the ground they will cover in their role, the other 10% being the southernmost section of Massachusetts. The new ridge runners should be out there on the trail as of this week to help should you need it. Say hello, and have a chat. They are a nice group and are out there to help hikers and take care of the trail, like me.

Caretaker tents

Caretaker tents

My  job and the ridge runners’ job is essentially the same with a few exceptions. They are paid to be on the trail all season, while I go out mostly on weekends and days off and volunteer my time whenever I can. And they also attend to the stuff inside the privies which I’m not going to complain about being exempt from having to do! But we are both out there for the same reason, doing pretty much the same thing. So It’s important to know each other, of course. We will see each other a lot.

When I arrived I got a nice tour of the building and grounds, which was cool because this is where the ATC oversees and coordinates everything for the trail in the area and I got to meet some of their management too. I really enjoyed seeing the canvas hut-style tents that the ridge runners were camping in for their training week. These are also the same kind of tents the campsite caretakers use. If you’ve been to Sages Ravine campsite you know the ones I mean. They are large white canvas tents and hold two cots in them with plenty of room to spare. They are obviously meant for longer, semi-permanent stays. Being a bit of a civil war history nut, they really remind me of civil war officers’ tents.

Race, Everett, and Bushnell

Race, Everett, and Bushnell

After the official business we had a BBQ and got to chat and get to know each other. I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone out on the trail and all that we will learn. We shared some stories about the abundance of nightmare fire rings we’ve already dismantled. Someone out there is a master builder. Nice skills… too bad it’s not allowed.

I’ll be staying at Race Brook Falls campsite next month on a hike with our friends from Sages Ravine to Shay’s Rebellion site, so I told the ridge runners to say hi if they see me as they pass through. Speaking of which I loved that you could see pretty much the whole of that hike from Mt. Race to here from the lawn of KCC. I snapped a few shots and sent them to our friends to get them more stoked. I am looking forward to coming up with their trail names and covering this beautiful section of trail for the first time, and for us to have our first backpacking trip with friends. I hope that’s a tradition we continue.

As the BBQ wrapped up I headed down to Salisbury to meet up with a hiker I met on Whiteblaze.net, Rainman. He was doing a section through Connecticut and Massachusetts and it just so happened he was in Salisbury that evening, just 15 miles south of the KCC. I drove down the beautiful Route 41 past all the trailheads for the Elbow Trail, Race Brook Falls trail and Under mountain trail as well as the A.T. crossing just east of town en route to Mizza’s Pizza where he and a few others he was hiking with were having dinner (photo to come when Rainman can download it from his phone). They were staying at trail angel Maria McCabe’s and she had dropped them off there to have dinner and do laundry at the laundromat behind the restaurant.

At Mizza's Pizza with Rainman

At Mizza’s Pizza with Rainman

We had some pizza, shared some stories and then I gave them a lift back to Maria’s before heading home. The sun was setting and casting amazing beams of light across the valley and the mountaintops. I wanted so badly to stay on the trail that night and hike the next few days but it was not in the cards. The pizza was tasty and they offer you free ice cream at the restaurant! Maria’s info is in the AWOL and other guides if you want to stay there. I was hoping to meet her but she was out herself at the time. Her house is just a short walk from the trail.

I also just took advantage of REI’s big Memorial Day sale and got the bucket of Mountain House meals and a new tent. Did I really need a new tent? Well, no but I am out there a lot. So that’s my excuse. And the lighter the load the happier the hiker. And this tent is nearly a full pound lighter than my current solo tent. It’s also the REI brand which I have been really happy with so far for their quality — not just the guarantee. I know the smaller manufacturer’s have great customer support too… not hating on them.

Bushnell to Jug End

Bushnell to Jug End

The reviews were also fantastic for this tent and at 20% off to boot I couldn’t resist. I set it up in the yard yesterday as they recommend doing so because the set up is a little odd. I think I am in love. Fielden Stream loved it too. What a great tent! It will get its first official use this weekend when I’m up on the trail in the Bear Mountain/Lion’s Head area. If you’re out there say hello! (As usual, rain seems to be in the forecast) Because of its unusual pole design, it’s very roomy and super light. I swapped out the stock stakes with some MSR mini groundhogs and some Vargo titanium sheep hooks. I am going to try it without a footprint to save space and weight.

I had been doing all kinds of research on the lightweight tents including the great cottage industry ones from Henry Shires (Tarptent) as well as the Zpacks Cuben Fiber tents and offerings from Lightheart Gear. Mind you I’m always researching since I’m inundated with sales and offers and reviews in my email inbox! Massdrop has a great offer on the Zpacks Duplex right now but while I can justify a new tent that will get lots of use and is significantly lighter, those tents are way above my budget. And while they are even lighter, I also feel most comfortable and familiar with a double-wall tent at the moment. I checked out a couple other new double-walled offerings from MSR and Big Agnes but ultimately I found the best deal and bang per buck was this REI Quarter Dome 1.

My new REI Quarter Dome 1

My new REI Quarter Dome 1

And while this is only semi-freestanding, you really just have to be sure to stake down the foot end to get it to full functionality. I suppose it would be annoying to set up on a platform or rocky area but I avoid those anyway as they just kill my back. I do really still like my Easton Rimrock 1p tent and it will make a great tent for when a friend wants to come along on the trail. I love the way you can open both sides of the vestibule on that tent and use trekking poles to make a roof. At 3.2 lbs its still a very viable solo tent and will remain in my gear quiver. I was going to sell it but I realized I can lend it to buddies who might join me for a hike I hope one of these days.

— Linus

 

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Lower Town Trail

Lower Town Trail

We went here in March for our 5th wedding anniversary to hike, relax, and enjoy the local wineries and the civil war history everywhere. We are also fascinated by that subject, and this is where the famous revolt of John Brown and his abolitionists occurred, eventually leading to the civil war. We didn’t backpack this time as we were staying in a lovely B&B to celebrate the anniversary right!

Loudoun Heights

Loudoun Heights

We were treated to snow one day, and late-spring/early summer temps the next day. It’s evident in the photos that the lower elevations were snow-free, while the mountaintops were not!

For this trail adventure, we decided to hike down the Lower Town Trail to the A.T. from the Park headquarters, across the Shenandoah up to a snowy Loudoun Heights on the West Virginia/Virginia border, and then back down to the other side of town and over the Potomac to the Maryland border. All in all, about 6 miles and change.

Crossing the Shenandoah

Crossing the Shenandoah

As you may or may not know, Harpers Ferry is also where the headquarters of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is located. Just about .2 miles from the trail in the upper town, it is also known as the ‘psychological halfway point’ of the trail, though the real halfway point is about 30 miles away, just north of the Pennsylvania border. It is here that all thru- and section-hikers can register with the ATC and get a photo in their book, with their trail names and start dates. We weren’t sure this was something we could do as we can only get out in small sections several times a year. However, they were more than accommodating and it was a thrill. It is also the site of ‘Jefferson Rock’ – a balanced stone along the Shenandoah with views of the confluence of both rivers where Thomas Jefferson exclaimed “This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”

Registering at ATC HQ

Registering at ATC HQ

At the headquarters, we also got to enjoy the hiker’s lounge, look through the hiker boxes (boxes where hikers leave things they don’t need for other hikers) and get some great new books, A.T. swag and rest our feet for a bit. There’s also a great topographic map of the whole trail I loved, since I am a map geek as well. I don’t mind spending a bunch here because it all goes to support the conservancy, who take care of the trail. To that end, I am a card carrying member of the ATC, as well as the AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club). We also got me a cool A.T. earring, which has gotten a very enthusiastic response from other thru and section-hikers on the trail.  And A.T. happens to be the first two initials of my name — convenient!

Jefferson Rock

Jefferson Rock

On a side-note we also made a nice donation to the ATC to have an engraved brick on the new walkway in Damascus, Virginia. The ribbon-cutting ceremony was just yesterday morning at the annual ‘Trail Days’ event, where thousands of past and current hikers come together in this trail community to meet other hikers and ‘trail angels’ and meet representatives of top gear companies who are educating everyone on their latest advances for hiker gear. A goal for all hikers, and manufacturers alike, is to get the lightest gear with the strongest most durable materials. Every ounce counts, especially to ‘gram weenies’, aka ‘ultralighters’. I don’t have the best back either, so this is worth the extra investment these products will cost, and to anyone hiking hundreds or thousands of miles with it all on their back. When I think back to how heavy my external frame scouting pack weighed when it was fully-loaded in the early 80’s, I’m amazed at what 20 years of tech has resulted in. I am much happier with my lighter gear, even if my wallet is empty.  Thank god too for my REI membership — my dividends pay me back in more of the light gear I want.

John Brown's Fort

John Brown’s Fort

Some terms here to explain for the non-savvy:

Trail angels are people who are either former thru-hikers or just hiker-friendly and will set up along the trail and provide free food, rides to the nearest town to resupply and catch a night off (a ‘zero’), or will leave it out along the trail like the cooler you saw in my first entry. And a Trail community is a town that is along the trail where the businesses are friendly and cater to hikers. These usually include shops and residents who run hostels or cabins or allow hikers to camp in their yard, use their showers and bathrooms, and will give you rides back and forth to the trail for minimal fees. We have really enjoyed those services so far in Kent, Falls Village, and Salisbury, Connecticut, as well as Pawling, NY. Damascus, Virginia, where they hold trail days is one of the most famous.