Appalachian Trail: N.C. Section 25

We had a fantastic 2.5-day backpacking trip in North Carolina last week while down there for a graduation. Here’s the notes right from my trail journal. Photos and a link to our video of that hike are below.

Day 1: August 11. Rock Gap to Long Branch Shelter

Spent the previous night at our friend’s family cabin in Otto, NC. Then he helped us on this morning to drop our car at Deep Gap and drive us up to our start at Rock Gap. As it’s a big loop here, it wasn’t far between trail heads. We met shuttle driver Jim there who gave us lucky stones and his card, just in case we needed a bailout as our friend was headed home to Charleston after dropping us off.  A beautiful short 3.8 mile hike up to Long Branch shelter – it was at 4,500 feet and had a great water source and brand new shelter. It’s on a steep slope but the shelter and tent pads were placed in flatter areas.  We made a fire in the legal fire ring to ward off bugs and since we had a lot of time there, and chatted a bit with Rusty Jane, who was hiking half the trail and only had 100 miles to go. Coincidentally, Jim had shuttled her this afternoon to her starting point at Winding stair gap so we knew about her before we met!

Day 2: August 12. Long Branch Shelter to Carter Gap Shelter

Some big climbs and bigger views. The descent off Albert Mountain was steep but we were glad to go down it. Our new knee sleeves really helped on these steep downhills. No view at the fire tower but got great views from a ledge on Big Butt and even better (including  Pickens Nose) from Little Ridgepole mountain. Sad to see all the trash in all the fire rings but its usually locals and not thru hikers.  Met a father and son out for a section hike at the shelter. Enjoyed their company and campfire.  Had an unexpected heavy downpour overnight but no biggie as its our last night out.

Day 3: August 13. Carter Gap Shelter to Deep Gap

Dried things out for a bit and then opted to hike to the next water source a few miles down trail rather than the one at the shelter as it was a trickle and down a steep hill.  When we got to the creek south of Beech Gap I also changed my socks and put on some band aids as the 2 days in the same socks was giving me hot spots despite my best efforts to clean my feet.  We also had another snack and filled up both our water supplies. The band aids and new socks worked but the trail up Standing Indian was completely overgrown and wet and swarming with bees, and the trail was eroded in many spots and I almost slipped off the trail. My left leg saved my right one which wanted to go off the edge of the eroded trail. And I didn’t see it because of the soaked, overgrown, shoulder-high plants. Going to email the trail club there.  So my shoes and eventually my socks and bandaids soaked too but they managed to hold on until we got to the car. At the  top of the long climb up Standing Indian we met a man named Erik who had taken the lower ridge trail up from Standing Indian Campground and he and I hiked to the view at the summit which was incredible. Sad to see the camping area up there also littered with trash. PLEASE, Leave it better than you found it! Then it was a steep descent of many switchbacks to Deep Gap and our car.

Watch the video here.

Miles day 1: 3.8

Miles day 2: 9.4

Miles day 3: 9.2

— Linus

About to hit the trail at Rock Gap

About to hit the trail at Rock Gap

At the Rock Gap trailhead

At the Rock Gap trailhead

Water at Long Branch

Water at Long Branch

Into the Gap

Into the Gap

Downy Rattlesnake Plantain

Downy Rattlesnake Plantain

Long Branch Shelter

Long Branch Shelter

Our tentsite at Long Branch Shelter

Our tentsite at Long Branch Shelter

What a bunch of fungis

What a bunch of fungis

No view today

No view today

Or from the tower

Or from the tower

The descent off Albert

The descent off Albert

Snails enjoying Carter Gap campsite mushrooms

Snails enjoying Carter Gap campsite mushrooms

Overgrown as can be

Overgrown as can be

Another Gap

Another Gap

The southerly summit view from Standing Indian

The southerly summit view from Standing Indian

Scarlet Beebalm

Scarlet Beebalm

Humans can be very disappointing

Humans can be very disappointing

Enough Said

Enough Said

Carter Gap Shelter

Carter Gap Shelter

Pickens Nose from Little Ridgepole Mountain

Pickens Nose from Little Ridgepole Mountain

Stunning view from the ledge

Stunning view from the ledge

Classic North Carolina Rhododendron Tunnel

Classic North Carolina Rhododendron Tunnel

Blue Swallowtail on Standing Indian summit

Blue Swallowtail on Standing Indian summit

FIelden just north of Deep Gap

FIelden just north of Deep Gap

The last mile

The last mile

End of hike feet!

End of hike feet!

A.T. Beer!

A.T. Beer!

Beer blazing at the Lazy Hiker in Franklin!

Beer blazing at the Lazy Hiker in Franklin!

A.T. Thru-Class banners at Lazy Hiker

A.T. Thru-Class banners at Lazy Hiker

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Appalachian Trail Ridgerunner Weekend #3 – Up and Down the Trail

Last weekend I saw a lot more of the Connecticut trail than one section. It started off by running into ridge runner Lizzie at the Cornwall Country Market. We hadn’t seen each other since the training days in late May, and I was stopping in to pick up some breakfast sandwiches for Brian and I. He was already out on the trail and planning to join me at the trailhead in Falls Village shortly after my stop here. Lizzie and I caught up for a bit and talked about our season so far. She was on day 6 of a 10 day stretch and was excited to be meeting friends at the market. She had met Brian on the trail earlier so she knew we were meeting up to hike later. She thanked me again for all the training I gave them, which felt nice of course. It was an honor, and a lot of fun!

I headed up to the trailhead lot in Falls Village. Set up there were a family doing trail magic out of their truck. With them they had both their daughters, and one was currently thru hiking the trail but had actually been in the Bear Mountain, New York area. They picked her up so she could join in providing the trail magic and see her family who were from Michigan. They were planning to drive her back to where she left off in New York on the way back.  They had coolers of water, gatorade, chips, sandwiches and some sugary treats. I spoke with them for a while about ridge running and then with a few other thru hikers who were arriving, and we’d see a bunch more of later on the trail.

Brian finally arrived (he got sidetracked by some other nice hikers we’d see several more times). Apparently he walked right past a large rattlesnake the other hikers saw right after their conversation by Belter’s Bump. I gave him the egg sandwich, which he had in addition to a fresh sandwich they made him. We enjoyed more conversation with hikers before finally setting off on the trail. It was getting hotter and I was ready to get into the shady covered woods.

There was a small issue here as an entry to the tracks was right next do a turn blaze on a pole. Only this wasn’t the entrance to the trail, it was about 50 ft farther. But the sign was covered by overgrown brush. Once I realized what was going on, I used some large sticks and branches to create a fence of sorts. Hopefully this will work for the time being while we can address it with the club for a more permanent solution. I’ve already raised it.

Once that was resolved it was a quick mostly flat few miles to the base of the Great Falls. We also made a stop to fill up our bottles at the power plant faucet. At the falls we ran into the trail magic family as we had recommended they come here to see the falls. They were surprised we were there already. Well, it was flat and we move at a good pace when hiking. We opted to enjoy the falls more properly and cool off on our return tomorrow. For now we wanted to get our miles down.

The long slow climb up Prospect Mountain is luckily almost all in the woods save for one short strip through a steamy meadow. We took a long break at the top and spoke with some day hikers and then two thru hikers we saw at the trail magic lot. He had left his phone in a shuttle driver’s car so Brian was helping him communicate with family who could help him make arrangements to get it back. It was a clear, bright, warm day and the view was long and clear from the summit.

We marched on, headed for the Giant’s Thumb on Rabbit Hill. I also wanted to take in Rand’s view, a glorious panorama of the Taconics and the trail ahead. There was indeed a stealth camping area here. A few of the thrus asked if they could camp in this area when at the trail magic and I said only at designated sites in Connecticut. They did comply and we saw them later at the campsite. But we had to address this stealth site. Once we made sure it was cleared of any fire evidence, I built another structure of sticks and vines to create a fence. Let’s hope it lasts. A more permanent solution is needed. But it seems people know about it and camping in the field from Guthook. Nevermind that it’s not allowed I guess a nice camp spot is more important to hikers these days than LNT.  Well, not all. And this IS one of the main reasons I’m out here. I’m hoping my fence solution sends the message without being offensive. I was certainly happy with it.

The Giant’s Thumb is a glacial erratic on Rabbit Hill that sticks straight up and resembles a thumb. It was only .3 farther up trail and mostly level so we decided it would be nice to visit it as our turn around point for the day. After nearly walking right by it, we stopped for photos and then headed back to the campsite. The big steep climb down to the campsite and shelter was next. I cut some branches hanging in the access trail and Brian taught me about how to cut tree branches so the tree keeps growing in a healthy way.

As steep as I’ve ever remembered it, we took our time getting down to camp. Once there, its a lovely campsite with a piped spring, a nice breeze, and a shelter and several platforms. We got set up and I answered questions and spoke to all the hikers as they streamed in, grumbling about the descent. I assured them we are working on a solution for that. Re-routes take a lot of meetings and surveys of the land and then approvals so once we get all that done, a re-route should be in place. At least that’s what I’ve been told.

The hikers from the trail magic that asked me about camping at the field were there, as were about 8 others, including 2 section overnight hikers. And one thru-hiking poodle. We enjoyed speaking with all of them at dinner at the picnic table and I helped the two overnighters arrange to get their little sportscar out the river road gate as their GPS took them down a very treacherous road to the other side of the gate and they were afraid the car wouldn’t make it back up. We met thru hikers from Australia, and one who’s waited his whole life to retire and do the trail. It was a dry, clear, moonlight quiet night, save for an owl and some fisher cats (I think they were mating?). Even the bugs eventually left.

In the morning we all seemed to be up and heading out at the same time so it was nice to not have to wait to see that the campsite was in order. We made quick time of the steep ascent and got back to the summit of Prospect Mountain. Those two climbs would be about all of it for the day except a few 50ft ups and downs along the train track section. We spoke with the hikers Brian had chatted with on Belter’s Bump as they were just making it to this section today. They are neighbors who have already done 1,500 miles of the trail but they do it all in day hikes and stay in hotels at night. We also saw a few members of another family who were taking their dogs up to the summit. We stopped at the falls and got to the edge of the water this time to cool off and splash a bunch of cold water on our heads. We spoke with a few thru hikers here and passed about 8 more on the way back to the car including Arrow and Nav, who I’ve been following on Instagram. Nav is a little miniature Collie. It was fun to run into them and was not sure I’d see them because the car show at Falls Village was drawing a lot of hikers because of the many food vendors.

I have also been followed and was following another hiker named Lightning McQueen. My friends at the Bulls Bridge informed me they’d be barbecuing and doing some trail magic, and to come over after we got off trail. So we planned on that in the morning and I told Lightning to meet us there if the timing was right. As I got on the road I was updated that she had already come by looking for me and had gone to the store. I reached out and she was still there and said she’d be back at the trail shortly. We really enjoyed meeting and talking and having lunch with her. I also met a National Park Ranger who is working with our chapter on educating locals on the trail and rules here, as well as addressing other issues along our section. So I was able to provide her with some information on the status of issues in the section of trail we just hiked.

It was perfect weather all weekend, and I got to make a lot of new friends, and meet up with some hikers I was hoping to meet, and as always, take care of the trail and the hikers the best I can. And my planks have paid off because it really minimized my knee pain and I had a long descent to test it out! I will be back out in a few weekends to do more ridge running. I am also planning a 3 day section in North Carolina to do with Fielden Stream as we will be in the area in a month for my son’s graduation. Can’t wait. Photos below.

Miles day 1: 7.5

Miles day 2: 5.9

— Linus

 

My fence to block a fake trail entry

My fence to block a fake trail entry

Almost 1500

Almost 1500

The one and only Rand's view

The one and only Rand’s view

Brian at Giant's Thumb

Brian at Giant’s Thumb

Camping at Limestone Spring

Camping at Limestone Spring

Lilly the hiking dog

Lilly the hiking dog

On top of Prospect Mountain

On top of Prospect Mountain

Spotted Wintergreen in Bloom

Spotted Wintergreen in Bloom

The Great falls, from the side

The Great falls, from the side

Below the Great Falls

Below the Great Falls

Solo Appalachian Trail Ridgerunner Weekend #1, Kent to Cornwall, CT

Last weekend was my first solo ridgerunner weekend of the season.  It was full of wildflowers and wildlife. This includes bald eagles, deer, frogs, mean-looking spiders (including one IN my tent!), hummingbirds, scarlet tanagers, robins (and robins’ eggs), fleabane, bamboo, violets, thistle, clover, the rare pink lady slipper, and buttercups. These are just a small fraction of what’s out there to see on the trail in June. I met lots of day, section and thru-hikers, boy scouts, paddlers on the river, and enjoyed a warm, beautiful weekend one of my favorite sections and favorite campsites on the Connecticut section. I was feeling a little under the weather from a cold, so I took it easy and picked this mostly easy section so I wouldn’t over exert myself when slightly compromised. But the fresh air and exercise did it’s magic.

I saw a few of the thru-hikers we’re following on YouTube in the trail register at one of the shelters which was cool, too bad I missed them. I cleared a fire ring and cut a blowdown with my new saw, the Silky Big Boy 2000, which made quick work of it.

I did a sketch at the campsite, and wrote two nature poems. I’m no Thoreau but I think they’re decent and it was fun. I composed them while walking and wrote them down in my journal when I took a break. I want to try and do at least one sketch and one poem each time I’m out there, besides just my usual trail reports and personal journals.

It was supposed to rain but other than a drop, it never came, which I can’t complain about. One of these days I’ll get to wear my rain kilt so I can do my best Outlander impression! I sat at a rock bench in front of an old Indian marker tree, which filled my heart and mind with history and reflection.

I heard owls chatter all night at the campsite, including one moment when I could swear they were laughing! As always, a great weekend. I will be out again in 6 days for weekend #2, as the thru-hiker bubble is moving in now, and I am eager to see the mountain laurels reaching full bloom — probably my favorite sight on the trail. Photos below.

Miles day 1: 6.2

Miles day 2: 6.2

— Linus

Misty morning along Liner's Farm-no filter

Misty morning along Liner’s Farm-no filter

Frog on the trail

Frog on the trail

The deck and porch swing at Pine Swamp Brook Shelter

The deck and porch swing at Silver Hill

Pink Lady Slipper

Pink Lady Slipper

Paddlers on the Housatonic

Paddlers on the Housatonic

Name that flower

Name that flower

Brook emptying into the Housatonic

Brook emptying into the Housatonic

Fleabane

Fleabane

Robins Egg

Robin Egg

New ridge runner and LNT training overnight

Last week I joined the new crew of seasonal summer ridge runners as well as the coordinators for a trail training overnight. We had four main goals: LNT (leave no trace training), set up the caretaker tent at Sages Ravine, replace the shelter registers, and learn the job. That’s why I was there, to show everyone the job. We worked hard and they learned a lot. We cleared a lot of water bars, over seven fire rings, cleaned shelters and privies (and filled the duff buckets) and packed out a lot of trash. As this was the real season kickoff for this role, a lot of these issues like the fire rings may have been left over from winter.

We had a great night at the campsite, and a lot of great hiker interactions. They were glad to have me along to show them the ropes, and I was glad to have a great crew who were eager to learn. I loved learning the LNT lessons too and getting certified.

I will be out again this weekend for my first official solo ridge runner outing. Photos below.

Miles day 1: 4

Miles day 2: 8

  • Linus
Mountain Azalea

Mountain Azalea

Bear Mountain, CT from the Paradise Lane Trail

Bear Mountain, CT from the Paradise Lane Trail

Entering Sages Ravine

Entering Sages Ravine

Setting up the caretaker tent

Setting up the caretaker tent

Sages Ravine

Sages Ravine

My campsite

My campsite

Red efts

Red efts

Trillium

Trillium

At the top of Bear looking north

At the top of Bear looking north

On the tower at the top of Bear

On the tower at the top of Bear

Looking south from Bear Mountain

Looking south from Bear Mountain

The famous Riga view

The famous Riga view

Appalachian Trail: New Jersey Section 1

I am going to be shortening the format on the blog entries for a while as my season is picking up and i won’t have as much time to blog every outing. Plus, for the section hikes I do with Fielden Stream, I’ve been making videos, which capture the experience easily as well if not better than words. So head on over to our youtube channel (under links) to see the latest installments. This hike should be up there by the weekend. I’ve also just spent the last two days out training and meeting with the new seasonal ridgerunner team, so that will be a coming blog entry too.

In short, last weekend we finally finished New Jersey! It was a fantastic section including the famous “Stairway to Heaven” in Vernon, and the Bearfort Ridge along Greenwood Lake as we came to the state line finale. We met some great section and thru hikers, and hiking dogs. We witnessed two marriage proposals (they both said yes!) and were treated to beautiful weather for a change. We wrapped it up with a shuttle ride from our favorite shuttle driver in the area (and former trail builder and maintainer) who as always recommended the best spot in the area for a post-hike meal.

We were so pleasantly surprised by our experience on the New Jersey section, I highly recommend it. Despite all the bears known for the area, we didn’t see one in all of our hikes through the 72 miles of New Jersey over the last few seasons.

The question remaining is where to next? We are thinking of starting Vermont, or trying to get out for a week to do all of Maryland sometime this summer.

I will have my hands full as always with at least 6 more weekends of ridge runner weekends, but we will definitely try and get in one or two sections elsewhere this season, and maybe a third in Pennsylvania with friends. Stay tuned. Photos below.

Miles day 1: 5.2

Miles day 2: 5.4

— Linus

Approaching the stairway to heaven

Approaching the stairway to heaven

Beginning the stairway

Beginning the stairway

Fielden going up the stairway

Fielden going up the stairway

Linus at Pinwheel's Vista

Linus at Pinwheel’s Vista

Linus and Fielden Stream at Pinwheel's Vista

Linus and Fielden Stream at Pinwheel’s Vista

Trail magic box at Wawayanda Mtn summit

Trail magic box at Wawayanda Mtn summit

New footbridge

New footbridge

Tree bench magic

Tree bench magic

Rita the backpacking dog

Rita the backpacking dog

Home for the night

Home for the night

A nice pond

A nice pond

Name that flower

Name that flower

Fielden stream climbing Bearfort Mtn

Fielden stream climbing Bearfort Mtn

Linus at the state line - NJ is done!

Linus at the state line – NJ is done!

 

Stewart Hollow shelter register replacement, Appalachian Trail, Kent, Connecticut

I painted this blaze!

I painted this blaze!

On Saturday I was back on the trail to swap out the last year’s shelter register at Stewart Hollow Brook shelter. Since I was in the area with my wife for another visit, I was pleased to have her come along with me. This is the first section we ever backpacked together, about 5 years ago, and a very easy pleasant walk along the Housatonic River. We spotted a lot of wildlife, including a bunch of turkey vultures, and one who flew right over our heads. So I got a very good in-air shot of that big bird!

Since we parked at the south gate on river road, it was only a 1.2 mile hike in to the shelter. I posed for a picture in front of a blaze that was one of many I re-painted along this stretch several years ago.

Stewart Hollow Brook

Stewart Hollow Brook

The water sources here are plentiful, with many brooks crossing the trail as they flowed into the Housatonic. Please note that the water in the Housatonic is not fit for drinking, even with a filter. Many years ago it was unfortunately polluted with PCBs from a GE plant upriver in Massachusetts. It is fine to swim in, but get your water from the brooks, a bit upstream from where they meet. And then always filter it, to be safest.

Signing in the new register

Signing in the new register

Even though it was a short walk today, we met several backpackers and day hikers. Because of the easy terrain and scenic beauty, this is a popular one for day hikers of all ages, and well-appreciated by the thru-hikers as this stretch provides a few miles of flat terrain before the climbs begin again. We met some women who were birding, six section-hiker backpackers, and one who looked like a thru-hiker, though we didn’t get a chance to speak with him.

We chatted with 3 of those section hikers as they arrived at the shelter shortly after us.  But first we had to dismantle a large bushcraft shelter someone made in the woods on the side of the trail. While that’s in impressive skill, these are not your woods to do with whatever you desire.

Fielden Stream at the shelter

Fielden Stream at the shelter

This has become an increasing problem lately, especially since many of these folks have actually been cutting young saplings with an axe for their timber. Luckily that was not the case here. I was glad to have Fielden Stream along to help with the task, and get her some volunteer hours.  I also refilled the duff bucket in the privy, and checked the campsite areas. I had to clear some kindling left in one site, but it doesn’t look like they were successful in ever starting a fire. Which is good, because its not allowed here. Please follow the rules so that we can still have the trail through here to enjoy. We have many campgrounds nearby where you can have a campfire.

Turkey Vulture Overhead

Turkey Vulture Overhead

I enjoyed reading last year’s register entries on the trip home and more when I got home, including my own entries from my overnight and drop-in visits to check on the shelter and campsite conditions. It immediately brought me back to those times and gave me some joy. And I got to be the first entry in the new register which I left for the upcoming year’s use.

Tomorrow we have our annual Give-A-Day to the Appalachian Trail volunteer work day, with many different work parties from shelter repairs, boundary maintenance, and trail improvement.  Details can be found here.

Miles: 3

  • Linus

Ridgerunner Weekend #5, Ten Mile River Area, South Kent, CT

Housatonic Overlook on Herrick Trail

Housatonic Overlook on Herrick Trail

My last summer seasonal ridge runner weekend was over the October 14th weekend. It ended up that I just went out on the Sunday for the day.  I met up with my buddy Ray from our Connecticut AMC chapter. We walked down to the Ten Mile River shelter and campsites from the Bulls Bridge trailhead and found plenty of issues. Both bear boxes were left open, one filled with bags of food trash.

Clearing illegal fire ring

Clearing illegal fire ring

At the shelter was left a whole onion, and a cast iron pot which was clearly used to cook in the night before. All of these things are an open invitation to wildlife, even in daylight. This then becomes a danger for humans, and a danger for the wildlife.

It is known that a boy scout troop was there the night before. I’d just like to reiterate that as scouts you and especially your leaders are responsible for following and teaching leave no trace. Had I had the chance to encounter them I would have gone through this in person but please, we all must follow these rules.  I also found 2 fire pits behind the shelter, with beer cans and tinfoil.

Moss and Nightcrawlers

Moss and Nightcrawlers

Ray packed out the trash and iron pot while I continued my walk up to Ten Mile Summit and the Housatonic Overlook. And I cleaned up the firepits on the way back and checked the privies for issues.

The more people break the rules and risk the delicate agreement between private landowners along the trail perimeter, the more the very trail is put at risk. Please follow the rules. As a former scout, it breaks my heart to think there might be leaders out there willingly breaking leave no trace rules but also teaching scouts that this is acceptable behavior. It’s not.

Me and Ray, CT AMC pals

Me and Ray, CT AMC pals

Enjoy nature. Take only pictures, leave only footprints.

Lecture over. Happy trails

Miles: 5