Ridgerunner weekend #4

The northern view from Lions Head

The northern view from Lions Head

My latest ridgerunner weekend was over the weekend of Sept 22nd. I went back to cover a favorite section, the Riga Plateau. It was an amazing weekend but turned out a bit differently than planned.

I invited my brother along as he was free and we wanted to do another hike together. I told him all about the amazing views up here, so he was willing to do the almost two-hour drive, like mine, to Salisbury.

Pointing out some views on Lions Head east view

Pointing out some views on Lions Head east view

The weather couldn’t have been better for it. I originally planned to leave my car at the Undermountain trail and then drive up to the Lion’s head trail lot in his car, so I could take him up to Lion’s head and Riga shelter and back to his car easily. And then I’d also have my car setup closer to where I was camping for the night. Well actually it was about the same distance, but this would allow me to go farther north and still make it back to my car when I needed to and not cover the same ground over and over.  When we got to Salisbury things changed a bit.

Rocky scramble up to Lion's Head

Rocky scramble up to Lion’s Head

Because it was family hiking day, and this being the most popular hiking trail in the state, that lot was a madhouse and there was only road parking available. While I have the necessary signage to probably not get towed If I parked overnight there, I don’t like to take advantage and so I left my car at the main A.T. lot 3 miles south in town on Rt 41 which was also beginning to fill up quickly. No problem, done the hike this way many times.

We headed up to the Lion’s Head lot on Bunker Hill road and got the last spot there. This trail passes a few homes before a brisk climb up to where it joins the A.T. From here it gets a bit more rugged in typical A.T. fashion, and then it’s a steep scramble up a rock face to the first viewpoint.

Me and my brother on Lion's Head

Me and my brother on Lion’s Head

There is a bad weather trail, and this was much appreciated when I recommended it to a group of older ladies from our own AMC chapter who were doing a hike up there this morning. My brother and I took in the views while I also pointed out a few landmarks to a section hiker we met there.  We then took in the glorious northern view which on this day included Mt Greylock, 50-plus miles north in Massachusetts near the Vermont border!

My brother enjoying Riga shelter view

My brother enjoying Riga shelter view

We proceeded to Riga shelter and had a snack while also taking in the fabulous view there.  Luckily the shelter and campsite were clean, and the brook was raging from recent rain. This was all good because I planned to stay here for the night.  Perhaps even in a shelter for the first time! I know, I know. I’m just not a fan of bugs and mice, and my tent protects me from both. From there as promised I took him back to the junction of the A.T. and Lion’s head trail.

The bog trail

The bog trail

As I hadn’t taken the bad weather trail before we went down that way, and I knew I’d be doing the scramble on the way back anyway. We got back to the junction quickly and said goodbyes. I took a quick snack break before heading on my way back to Riga to set up camp. On the way I met a few section hikers and a flip-flop thru hiker on Lion’s head. The thru asked about the next camping or town options and then told me the caretakers tent at Sages Ravine was blown far off the platform and almost off the hill entirely. We’ve had some recent large storms in this area lately. I called my supervisors and asked if they were going to be there for the night or if I should stay there instead. As phone coverage in some trail areas is spotty I knew it could take a while so I went to Riga to wait for a response. I took out my notebook to update my notes and have another snack. When word finally came in to head to Sages, I took off in a hurry, leaving my notebook behind!

One of the bog trail signs

One of the bog trail signs

By the time I realized I was 2 miles north and had 2 to go. I opted to take the Bear Mountain road and Bog trail past the Northwest cabin so I could get there in time to assess and repair the damage if possible. The Bear mountain road was completely flooded in several areas and I had to do some tricky negotiating around long deep puddles of trail. But it was nice to finally see the bog trail with its nature-center style signage identifying trees and plants and natural features, as well as the cabin up close. That’s a reservation-only property, and I have never seen it so up close and personal. There was at least one family tenting there so I got on my way quickly past it. The northwest road was also quite flooded but I made it quickly down to the campsite, covering the 4 miles from Riga in 1.5 hours! To be fair, this was mostly level trail and I went this way for a reason.

The caretaker tent in disarray!

The caretaker tent in disarray!

When I got there, the tent condition was quite accurate. It was off on the side of the hill, scrunched up, with the contents tossed about inside. It had a few tears, and was full of water.  Unfortunately this also meant the caretaker journal and many of the books were soaked through. I managed to get the tent and its contents back on the platform and stake it down until it could be packed up by the supervisors the following week.  I set out the contents to dry, especially the books and journal, and used a tarp that was dry to set up my sleeping bag on on the drier side of the tent. I had gotten most of the water out but it was still pooling on one side due to a very slight downhill slant of the platform.

After I restored the tent

After I restored the tent

At this point many people were coming in, some that I knew would be from meeting them earlier in the day.  One scout troop was already there when I arrived. When all was said and done we had almost 30 at the campsite. It’s a very popular one due to its beauty. So it’s a good thing I ended up here as only 4 ended up spending the night at Riga (I found out the next day).

It was a beautiful night at the campsite and I had nice conversations with several of the hiking groups and helped late arrivals find their party’s campsites as dark was setting in.  I fell asleep to the sound of the rushing brook. It got down to the mid 40s so it was a little cool but otherwise no complaints.

Morning at Sages Ravine

Morning at Sages Ravine

Morning in the ravine was a beautiful fairy tale forest as always, with the sun shining through the trees onto the shimmering brook. I packed up and after a quick meal of a protein bar (skipped the coffee) I went for the big strenuous climb up the rocky north side of Bear mtn. While I was quite cold at camp, by the time I reached the summit a mile later I was sweating and removing layers. I met several hikers at the top and took in the view from the summit tower.

The always exciting climb up Bear

The always exciting climb up Bear

I was above the clouds at this time, so the summits of Mts Race, Everett and Greylock in Massachusetts to the north, as well as Mts Prospect and Canaan Mt to the southeast in Connecticut, were all peaking above the clouds. It was magical. As I headed south, the peak of Lion’s head was doing the same. I ran into the section hikers from yesterday and said a quick hello. I pointed out to them where we met the day before on Lion’s Head and then made a dash for Riga, hoping to recover my notebook. As I passed Brassie Brook shelter, I stopped into sign the register and packed out some trash left behind by hikers. As I approached Riga I passed a group of 2 kids and 2 moms who mentioned they had stayed there when we stopped to chat.

Above the clouds on Bear summit

Above the clouds on Bear summit

I asked them about the notebook and they had found it and left it in the shelter for me! They thanked me for my work and I headed back to Riga to pick it up. They also reported that the shelter and campsite were clean and campfire-free which I appreciated and confirmed. I had one more snack with the famous view and headed back south towards Salisbury. I met a few more hikers along the way, both section and day hikers, enjoying another gorgeous day on the first weekend of fall. The leaves weren’t really changing yet but will be any day.

Looking south, Lion's Head summit above the clouds

Looking south, Lion’s Head summit above the clouds

The last few miles down to Rt 41 via the A.T. pass through some beautiful forest areas, with as many ups as downs. This bit I’ve decided is as much effort in either direction! I passed a few more backpackers struggling up the long climb from the road to Lion’s Head, and when I arrived at the parking lot I ran into one of the groups that were at Sages Ravine with me the night previous. We had a nice conversation and then I headed home, stopping at the hot dog stand in Kent for some nourishment!  It’s always a pleasure to hike the wild corner of Connecticut.

Miles day 1: 8.2

Miles day 2: 7

– Linus

 

 

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Appalachian Trail: New Jersey Section 5

Back to Jer-zThis past weekend we did another section in New Jersey.  We had skipped this section earlier this year because we were planning another hike with our friends and wanted to do one with more amenities and a shelter where there were guaranteed to be some thru hikers to interact with. Also the section we ultimately chose had the High Point monument and observation deck, so a lot of wow factor to impress them as well.

Above-trail pond

Above-trail pond

While this section we postponed does have a shelter, its about 3/4 of the way to one end, and would make for quite long and quite short mileage days instead of two balanced ones.  So the only other option was a primitive campsite halfway along.  So we opted to save this one for later.

That said, the primitive campsite was quite nice, and we are used to bare bones sites more than our friends.  Catholes, bear-bag hangs, and no water sources nearby are conditions we are accustomed to, but felt was not something that would be appealing to our friends who only go out on the trail with us once a year.

Fielden Stream at a rock cairn

Fielden Stream at a rock cairn

From regular weather checks, things were looking good for the weekend. The heatwave broke 2 days before we were to hit the trail. And despite a slight chance of rain Sunday afternoon, the highs would be in the low 70’s and the lows around 60. PERFECT backpacking conditions for late summer.  That would change. I must remember mother nature makes those rules, and not the internet.

We got to our end point at Culver’s Gap to meet our shuttle at noon. Our shuttle driver in New Jersey is awesome, and always has some murray beads for us when he picks us up. At this point, I noticed already that the temperature was a good 15 degrees cooler than forecast. I chalked it up to being in the mountains, and forgot about it for the moment. If it meant we wouldn’t be as sweaty and sticky, no problem there.

Fork Tree near Crater Lake

Fork Tree near Crater Lake

We arrived at the road crossing we left off at with our friends last year and began our 7 mile hike north to Buttermilk Falls campsite. Armed with lots of information on water sources on a mostly dry day’s stretch, we had loaded up on water.  Our shuttle driver confirmed there wouldn’t be much today in that regard. Though now the light precipitation had started and so he mentioned the spring that fed the falls might be running. Either way, we were well prepared.

After passing an entrance sign reminding us of the rules for the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (and the Appalachian Trail), the route followed a pond for a short while. What was interesting about the pond is the trail was actually about a foot below the level of the pond, and the grass and soil at the edge of the pond acted as a levy or dam and kept it above the trail level (except for one area where it flooded over a bit). It did drain off the side of the mountain via a small pipe which was under the trail a bit farther along. I thought this was really neat.

Flooded ground, not a pond

Flooded ground, not a pond

The path then climbed quickly up the ridge and through a powerline clearing with great views west to Pennsylvania – though quite a bit overgrown in areas.  From there we bounced up and down the ridge line, enjoying occasional views to the east. I did want to catch a glimpse of Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco and its’ Sand Pond, which is the location of Camp Crystal Lake from the Friday the 13th movie series. I did manage one from a short path to the ridge, but the ‘official’ view was down a side trail down the side of the ridge, and it was lined with grass which was now very wet. I didn’t want to slide off a mountain into a lake, especially THAT lake! Jason is in that lake…

Slippery scramble

Slippery scramble

Speaking of lakes, as we approached Crater lake there was a creek where there were water signs and that’s good to know should we have needed it. There were many cars parked at that trailhead lot. An old pump there is no longer in operation and I assume it’s because visitors using it didn’t realize you had to filter.  As the rain was picking up and the temperatures continued to drop, I joked that we should hitch a ride from one of them to Mohican Outdoor Center for the night, just a few miles away. We had a nice stay there with our friends on the hike here last year. At this point the rain showed on the forecast but was supposed to stop by the evening. We don’t mind rain. In fact, every backpacking trip we’ve done this year has had rain, two of them torrential all night and day affairs.

Fielden doing the scramble

Fielden doing the scramble

But on those hikes we were more prepared for it and knew about it ahead of time. The weather predicted was the weather that happened. And the temperatures were much warmer. Once the temperatures drop to a certain point, hypothermia becomes a real risk, and one that nearly happened to me a year ago. So I don’t mess around with cold and wet weather for fun. Nor bring my loved ones out in it for fun. Things were definitely starting to deteriorate enough for me to consider the lodge. But we didn’t have far to go and with the rain supposed to stop in a few hours we continued on. A unique fork-like tree held the white blazes that pointed us in the right direction.

The wet rocks went on for miles

The wet rocks went on for miles

We had the good fortune of about a 1.5 mile walk along an old road before this, so now it was back on to ‘real’ trail. After a short steep rocky descent we passed what we thought was Crater Lake but was just in fact a flooded meadow. A bit farther on we of course came to the part where we had to go back up, and it was a rocky ledge scramble that allowed us to test our limits of how far our legs could stretch to push up the edge of it safely.  A father and son were doing an out and back day hike in the area and when we made friendly somewhat complaining-about-the-weather comments, he felt it necessary to remind us it was “better than the couch.” Duh. We’re the ones out here backpacking that would not be sitting on the couch tonight when he was!  It was a bit rude.

Wet scramble up Rattlesnake Mtn

Wet scramble up Rattlesnake Mtn

Once on top of the scramble the trail followed some wet ledges around the real Crater lake and then made the final climb up to Buttermilk Falls campsite. The last mile of our hike to the campsite was again a mostly flat old road and we were grateful for it. I would find out later that this peak that the campsite and the top of the falls trail met at was called Mount Paradise. It would also be the highest elevation on this hike – around 1,600ft – and one of the highest spots on the trail in New Jersey. On this day I’d say that “Paradise” was pushing its description a little, but it was a nice campsite. The falls are the highest in New Jersey, and I would like to visit one day but its a steep 2-mile descent to the falls and the road below. So we will drive there to visit in the future. Despite doing a much tougher hike a few weeks earlier, for some reason our bodies were not feeling as strong on this day.

A brief respite through a young forest

A brief respite through a young forest

In a brief respite of rain we got the tent set up and all of our things in it that needed to stay dry. After a few bad throws and a stubborn branch I got the bear bag rope set up, and just as we sat to make dinner it started to rain again. A family of 6 was now entering the campsite but they were just looking for the Buttermilk Falls trail, their route back to their car.  We helped point them to the blue blazes and they were on their way. Hopefully they were able to get down before dark.

We ate quickly and hoisted the bear bag up the tree. This section is known for heavy bear activity and in fact the shelter 4 miles north has a bear trap! If anything I’m thinking the bears don’t like being out in the all day rain either so there was a positive. I was in a bit of a funk at this point because now the forecast had changed that it wouldn’t stop until almost 10. But I tried to keep it positive, made myself laugh and was thankful that it also said it wouldn’t start again until 1pm the next day and we’d possibly be done by then.

Cairn and rock monument on Blue Mtn

Cairn and rock monument on Blue Mtn

We got to bed around 8 and about 2 hours later I was woken by howling winds and heavy downpours. Now I was really confused. I looked at my app and now rain was predicted 100% from this point until about 4 days later! I looked at the satellite and sure enough, the hurricane had created a large disturbance overhead about 100 miles wide and about 50 miles from top to bottom. What was worse, we were only about 20 miles into it.

Florence causing trouble (we're the blue dot)

Florence causing trouble (we’re the blue dot)

Had we chosen a section north, we’d be dry as a bone at least until tomorrow. This really set me off. Lows would now hit about 45 tonight and a high of 55 tomorrow. With an even longer day tomorrow and much more difficult terrain, I was miffed to say the least. These were dangerous and at the very least quite uncomfortable temperatures in the rain. Grumpy again, at this point I had trouble sleeping, drifting in and out of sleep for the next few hours until daylight.

Forecast changed overnight, thanks Florence!

Forecast changed overnight, thanks Florence!

When we were both up we made the decision to skip breakfast and take advantage of the first break in heavy rain to pack up the wet tent and get moving to stay warm. I will reiterate that we have lots of experience and lots of fun hiking in the rain, but I think it was a combination of disappointment in the changing conditions, and the worry of hypothermia that had me in this bad place. I was also worried we’d have none of the great vies. I decided to hike in my long john bottoms and both shirts, with my raincoat. I felt warm and dry for the time being. Today we had 3 summits and a big descent to tackle. It took much longer than usual.

High Point in the distance

High Point in the distance

The trail became one rock garden after another, split up by long walks on wet angled rocky ledges on the mountaintops. The ascents up several peaks were boulder scrambles, and many of the descents were roots and twisted iceberg rocks. It was tough going. However, there were still some fantastic views on both sides of the ridge. Despite the constant rain, it wasn’t so socked in that we didn’t get those. We had views to the west from Rattlesnake Mountain and Blue Mountain that stretched for 50 miles and reminded us of the Shenandoahs. I even got a view of High Point monument 20 miles in the distance. I had at this point shed my raincoat. As long as I kept moving, my body heat kept me warm enough.

Lichen these

Lichen these

We saw a few backpackers and a couple with their baby out for a short hike. All the extra work negotiating rocks and roots did have us pretty tuckered out however. Only once or twice were we met with a flat walk like the previous day. Though the ones we did go through seemed to be very young forests, perhaps the result of a fire in the past. We saw a family of turkeys as well. Not many humans were out in this on purpose.

We made the most of it and made sure to stop for water, snacks, and rest as much as needed, and talked about which restaurant we would reward ourselves at. The last few miles were view after view of Lake Owassa, Culver Lake, and the gap below. The walk off the ridgeline and descent to the gap was much quicker than expected and soon we were at the most risky part of the hike – crossing route 206. Boy do people drive fast here. Once we cleared the road it was a short .3 to the parking lot. Just as we arrived at the car mother nature decided to throw one more heavy downpour at us. This time we were armed with a car to protect us and we were off to stuff our faces on mexican food and visit the farmer’s market on the way home.

Lonely orange mushroom

Lonely orange mushroom

This section reminded me a lot of New York. Doesn’t look like much on the map profile but it was challenging. It also rewarded us with views and self-confidence that we can get through almost anything together. Let’s hope we get one dry hike before the season is over. Unless the hurricane comes at us full force in the coming days, I will be out ridgerunning again next weekend. At the moment it looks clear but if I learned one lesson this weekend it was that that can change and change again very quickly. And the ATC is already putting out weather advisories all along the trail as the storm has now began to affect the entire east coast with heavy weather. Stay tuned.

Miles day 1: 7.1

Miles day 2: 7.9

– Linus

Appalachian Trail: Massachusetts Section 2, State Completion!

Off we go!

Off we go!

This past weekend we finally finished section hiking all of Massachusetts! We had skipped this section in May because it was supposed to be days of rain, but also much cooler, where being wet for days could make one sick or worse. That weekend we did spend one night out on the trail to do section 1 to the Vermont border.

While its funny that it was also raining for a large part of this trip when we came back on this rescheduled date, at least it was warm – so being wet was just a discomfort, not a danger.

Starting the tough climb

Starting the tough climb

The storm was supposed to happen earlier so while I’m glad we didn’t get poured on the whole climb up Mt Prospect, I wish it had cleared out by the time we got to the summits of Mt Williams and Mt Greylock. The view off Prospect to Williamstown and west to Berlin Mountain in New York and the Taconics was gorgeous though, and a great reward for the long climb up from North Adams. There were definitely some new switchbacks added here, which were appreciated. Its a straight shot up the side of the mountain otherwise

I arrived at the view point before Fielden Stream and spoke with a thru hiker for a bit till she arrived and he was kind enough to take our photo before we all headed onward. Here the A.T. drops off the side of this mountain before reaching the actual peak. The actual peak is only a tad higher though and is reached by this junction via the Mt. Prospect trail, which then drops steeply off the mountain’s south side to Money Brook far below.

Purple mushrooms

Purple mushrooms

Once we came off the ridge it was only .3 to the shelter side trail and .2 down the trail to the campsite. I was worried about water because none of the thrus could tell me for sure if water was running well at the campsite (though one lunched there!)  but as we took the side trail to the campsite, we saw Money Brook was running quite well as we crossed it on a log bridge.

The campsite was great and has had a lot of improvements recently including some new tent pads and platforms. We chose a platform as we knew rain was coming and it would drain through the wood slats better than the ground.

Bench on the steep climb helped!

Bench on the steep climb helped!

Also since the whole campsite was on a hill, we were worried water would pool in the dirt tent pads. We checked out the shelter quickly but felt the rain moving in finally so we headed up to our platform and set up our tent and our tarp over a nearby log where we could sit and eat dinner and enjoy the rain. Another family came in and got set up just in time before the downpour.  We had talked to them a bit before it really let loose. They had a new dog who was out with them on its first backpacking trip. What a sweet dog.

Linus and Fielden Stream on Prospect

Linus and Fielden Stream on Prospect

The kids were scouts – one was with his parents and grandfather and the other two boys were friends of his and fellow scouts. They had forgotten one of their hammocks and had asked us if we had a spare though we did not. Luckily they had a large tent so they squeezed all the boys in the tent for the night. There was also room in the shelter if it was an emergency as there were only 3 thru hikers at the shelter.

Muddy trail already

Muddy trail to campsite

We got in our tent after dinner and then the real storm hit. Torrential rain and thunder and lightning for a solid 12 hrs. It reminded us of the night on Pochuck mountain in New Jersey recently. Luckily we didn’t need to make a bathroom visit in the middle of the night, that would not have been fun. At least the worst of the rain and hopefully the whole storm will be gone by morning – we thought! The rain stopped around 8.

Our tarp saves the day again

Our tarp saves the day again

I was up at 7 because my back had had enough of sleeping on a hard platform (even with a sleeping pad you can notice the difference) so I had coffee on the ready for Fielden Stream. I enjoyed the sounds of the Money Brook falls in the distance as I sat on the log waiting for her. We took our time packing up and got on the trail around 9. We had to pack up everything wet as the storm didn’t end till just before we left. We hoped we could lay the tent parts out to dry on the lawn on top Greylock if the sun came up soon. That never happened.

More muddy trail after the storm

More muddy trail after the storm

The climb up to Williams was quick and rocky and nothin but mud. However we were happy that the water source was plentiful when we filled up before heading out and that it was cool and shady because of the storm so the temperature was more like fall which we liked.

I was hoping for a good view from Mt Williams as supposedly you could see Mount Snow, VT, where my family and I have skied since I was a child. Also I knew there was no view on the next peak, Mt. Fitch. So it wouldn’t be until Greylock that we had another chance to see anything. The view was pea soup. Well it could be worse… As we followed the ridge line along and over Fitch, the rain started again.

Fielden Stream on the muddy trail

Fielden Stream on the muddy trail

The forecast was maybe for 40% chance. This was building into a downpour. The trail became steep here as we climbed past the Thunderbolt trail and the last half mile to the Bascom Lodge. We did embrace the suck though. It was warm so while we did use our pack covers, we skipped the raincoats. We knew that soon we’d be in the lodge drying off and having a luxurious lunch. Rumors of a wedding at the lodge and an early closing from a thru hiker we passed made us push hard for the summit and luckily when we arrived everything was still open and we had burgers and chips and dried off a bit in the lodge.The wedding party and guests were milling about as it was nasty out and the lodge is quite small so we were all sharing the space … stinky wet filthy hikers with the bride and bridesmaids and some guests as well as the wedding planner and some also soaking wet day hikers.

We had caught up with the scouts and their family as we started the last climb up Greylock. We all spoke of burgers on the last climb and they enjoyed them as we did at the lodge, and then they had plans to meet a friend who was driving up their missing hammock. That was the last we’d see of them as they were staying at Sperry Road campground.

Viewless Mt Williams today

Viewless Mt Williams today

None of the wedding guests were dressed yet for the occasion yet, so I suspect it was in the evening or they were waiting out the weather which was supposed to stop soon. Some of the guests seemed truly confused and intrigued by the Appalachian Trail signs and all these wet dirty people smiling. We got some sandwiches and cookies to go for dinner and headed out into the mist to the next campsite, 3.4 miles ahead.

We crossed several more road crossings near the summit, as well as the beautiful pond on top which was clouded in mist. We then started the more gentle climb up to the ridge line of Saddle ball mountain. The Greylock range was once known as Saddleback Mountain, so this summit at the southern edge of the ridge was the saddle ball.

Bascom Ranger Burger!

Bascom Ranger Burger!

The trail was more mud and streams but here the moss, ferns, wide variety of colorful mushrooms and circles of Indian Pipe took on a mythical fairy-like forest right out of a C.S. Lewis or Tolkien book. The trail continued to climb gently to the summit where the Jones nose trail intersects. That trail is also a quick steep drop off the ridgeline to the trails below, and I’ve heard has some great views of its own, on a clear day. We were only half mile from the shelter site at this point and continued down the A.T. as the sun started to break through more and more. We saw one overlook of Adams, MA from a side trail near the summit and reached the shelter trail soon after a quick steepish descent. The shelter lies on the side of this descent about .3 to the north of the A.T.

Linus outside the lodge

Linus outside the lodge

We arrived at the shelter right around 4 and hung up our tent to dry. We also washed our socks and shoes off in the rushing stream and my pack towel which was not smelling good at all and I use that to wipe my face!  A few thrus had waited out the storm all day and were just packing up now to night hike the 10 miles into North Adams.

Another thru hiker, a SOBO named Hot Sauce, rolled in soon after. We had seen her on the trail with her hiking buddy who had just gotten off trail.

This sign explains it all to the tourists

This sign explains it all to the tourists

We had a nice chat with her and 3 other thrus who showed up later. We all tried to get a fire going but everything was still wet. We had dinner together and shared some stories and treats with each other before hitting the tent for bed. It remained dry, cool and breezy so we successfully dried out our tent like any experienced hardened long distance hikers and felt pretty cool about it. It was much cooler at night, also because our campsite was at about 2,700 ft up this time and on a steeper portion of terrain so the wind moved through freely.  We were glad to have our down bags this night as opposed to the night before where we pretty much slept on top of them! We were able to dry out our feet which was good too because another day of mud bogs and we’d have near trench-foot.

The memorial tower

The memorial tower

We had a better night sleep in those conditions and were up at the picnic table having coffee with Hot Sauce in short order. The other thru hikers had all left by then. I used a new windscreen I found online made by Optimus and fits all standard fuel canisters. I didn’t have as much luck with it on my last hike but this time I managed to figure out it was best to clip it on after you had the stove lit and the fuel output set to your liking. You just pull it apart and then clamp it around the canister mouth. Instantly the fuel efficiency was boosted and the flame protected from the wind. At only 3 oz and around $13 it was well worth it. I’ve also been using some new support legs for the canister that weigh about 2 oz and have really been pleased with the stability and reassurance they add when cooking on an uneven surface.

The pond on the summit

The pond on the summit

We then had the ‘real hiker’ task of putting on our wet shoes and socks again. I actually chose a dry pair since this was our last day but once they were in the shoes, they filled with water. And then of course there were more mud bogs and streams to traverse so the dry socks were futile.

We caught a nice view southwest from a lookout and then the trail here continued down steeply before leveling out.

My new windscreen

My new windscreen

We spotted here a giant glacial erratic that had a shape of a shelter complete with overhang and as we approached we thought there was another shelter that was out of use or something but it was just a rock! We pictured both modern hikers and past native Americans taking shelter under it in bad weather. After a while the trail dropped even more steeply along a significant drop off to the valley below. We had a snack just before so we’d be ready for that. We had chosen to go south because we felt getting the biggest climb overwith in less miles would be worth the effort,  as this direction was longer and had steep parts too. Though this direction also had a lot of level areas in between the climbs. At the end of the day, neither are easy.

Again it leveled out shortly before crossing Outlook avenue and dropping again through some meadows to Rt. 8.  Some thrus coming north had told us of trail magic at the community center, right where we were parked! What a great way to end the hike, and the state!

Shelter rock

Shelter rock

We traversed some corn fields in town and then stopped at the car and the trail magic. I went over to the rail trail .3 down the trail so I could pass every blaze. Some of us are silly like that. Town is town, I don’t blame FIelden Stream for not caring about a .3 road walk through the center of town. I re-joined her at the trail magic and enjoyed talking to the hosts and another thru hiker while we had hot dogs and drinks before throwing everything in the car and getting my flip flops on. Was that bliss!

View from Saddle Ball

View from Saddle Ball

We drove down route 7 to get home and as we stopped into our favorite antique shop in Great Barrington noticed some thrus having lunch out front. I offered them a ride to town but they were just about to get back on the trail.

Aside from the ‘true hiker experiences’ already mentioned, there were a few more I was excited we were being initiated in:

  • Dirt that didn’t wash off our feet the first or even the second time we tried.
  • Finally embracing walking right through the streams and mud piles on the trail.
  • Slogging it in the rain for miles without even putting on a raincoat, just to get to the lodge and get real food and out of the weather for an hour.
  • Thru hikers looking at how dirty we were and thinking we were thru hikers too, telling us about trail magic ahead, complaining about rude non-hikers at the lodge, and talking about our smells with them at the shelter!

I will be adding the link to the full Massachusetts video we made once I’m done editing it this week so check back!

Trail magic!

Trail magic!

Miles day 1: 2.4

Miles day 2: 7.4

Miles day 3: 5.5

Frogs encountered – about 100!

– Linus

 

Ridgerunner Weekend #2: Schaghticoke and Ten Mile Hill

For my second ridgerunner hike of the season, I decided to cover the trail between Schaghticoke campsite and the New York border at Hoyt Road. Weather predicted was dicey at best, but the heavy rain held off until hours after I was off trail Sunday (well except for one 5-minute drizzle Saturday).  Temperatures stayed cool in the 60s Saturday and through the night, and a light breeze kept it mostly bug-free. There were several familes out backpacking with their kids which is always great to see, many friendly trail dogs, and the usual day, section, and thru hikers we would pass on the trail.

I hiked and camped again with my friend Brian from the AMC Saturday, and then Sunday another friend and member of our AMC crew, Lisa, joined us for part of the morning’s hike.  We camped by the river at Ten Mile campground Saturday night and there met many great through hikers, one of which serenaded us at night with his backpacker guitar and was aptly named “tunes.”  It was a perfect overnight with the sound of the river lulling us all off to bed.  We also visited our gang at the Bull’s bridge and were treated to a little trail magic by them as we came to the end of our trip Sunday.

We saw deer up close and personal, red efts, and Brian spotted our local Blue Huron Jim at the river early in the morning. I guess I missed Jim by about 5 minutes this time…

I did another round of freezer-bag cooking with Knorr rice sides, and added a Lipton onion soup mix to soak up any remaining water and give more sodium… though it tasted and worked great my stomach wasn’t thrilled… so maybe won’t do that again. I also did a pepperoni and mustard wrap Saturday afternoon which was a perfect lunch to power me through the tough Scaghticoke section a second time. I am enjoying trying new meal options to avoid monotonous trail cuisine.

The only preaching I’ll do here today is please don’t leave trash in the bear box. We packed out a stinky bag of food from Schaghticoke campsite and it leaked all over Brian’s tent and pack cover which he was fortunate enough to have a rushing river to wash it off in and sun to then dry it out. The bear box is not a trash bin and in some areas they’ve all been locked up due to this abuse.

I pushed myself mileage-wise so I could get in good shape for the Shenandoah trip next week as I hope to get some big miles in – weather, and body-permitting… My knee was a little grouchy with me on this one but mostly because it was difficult terrain Saturday and I was moving fast… Shenandoah’s segments for the most part are much gentler, especially on the knees or so I’ve heard. Let’s hope that’s true. Either way it’s one of my favorite places to be and to hike so there’s no such thing as a bad time for me there.

Miles day 1: 10.2

Miles day 2: 7.8

– Linus

Hikin buddies

Hikin buddies’

Many state line crossings on this one

Many state line crossings on this one

View from Indian rocks

View from Indian rocks

Brian at Indian rocks

Brian at Indian rocks

Finally, mountain laurel!

Finally, mountain laurel!

Not a trash can

Not a trash can

Lunch perfection

Lunch perfection

My deer friend..

My deer friend

Cuisine fun

Cuisine fun

 

 

Appalachian Trail Massachusetts: Section 1

Over the weekend we did get back up to the trail in Massachusetts, but opted for the shorter section to the VT border from North Adams instead of south from there over the Greylock range. We did it as an out-and-back and did not venture further into Vermont as the Green mountain club requested people not hike the muddy trail until after Memorial day. Doing this section turned out to be a wise decision on many fronts. But most of all, the all-day heavy rain combined with cold temperatures predicted for Saturday did come, just minutes after we got off trail in the morning. We lucked out with nice weather Friday so the climb up the Pine Cobble wasn’t too sketchy and the view from the top was grand.  This was the longest and highest uphill we’ve done together, gaining about 1800’ from North Adams to the Vermont and Long Trail border.  We felt it the rest of the weekend in our legs.

We had a bit of excitement on the hike! One of the hikers at the campground called in for a midnight rescue as he was having abdominal pains, and so we met some EMT’s and firefighters who had to hike the 1.8 miles uphill to the campsite in the middle of the night and direct them to the bear box to get the hiker’s food. I was treated to a view of the bright starry night as I was out there chatting with them…  and many Barred owl calls… Also my fellow weekend ridgerunner from CT AMC came up to the campsite at 7am to meet us for coffee before his daughter’s lacrosse tournament in nearby Williamstown that day, so that was cool.  And I got 2 nasty black fly bites. Those little bastards got me at the end of the day when I was tired and filling up water and rolled up my sleeves where I had no bug juice on…. Duh!  They still itch and hurt so much I’m putting on cortisone regularly. I was warned about May in Massachusetts!

We saw only about 3 other hikers on the trip, including two girls staying at our campsite. It’s a really pretty walk along Sherman brook for the first few miles up out of North Adams. On a really hot day that would be paradise. I trekked it the extra mile south from Rt 2 on the way out Saturday morning to Pattison road. This way we could start there next time and not have to park in town and have a steamy concrete road walk before the long climb up the Greylock range.  After we got off the trail we spent the rest of the weekend exploring North Adams and Williamstown. We will come back to do the last 13 miles of the A.T. in Massachusetts in a month or two. It will still be there. Besides, then we get to enjoy the Bascom lodge….

I start ridgerunning in Connecticut this weekend over Memorial day, and then Fielden Stream and I are doing another New Jersey section in about 3 weeks with our Pennsylvania friends.

Trail miles: 5.1

Total miles hiked: About 11 (out and back, side trails)

  • Linus
Fielden Stream at the VT border

Fielden Stream at the VT border

The Massachusetts side

The Massachusetts side

Pine Cobble bad weather trail

Pine Cobble bad weather trail

View from Pine Cobble

View from Pine Cobble

CT AMC Ridge runners

CT AMC Ridge runners

Walking back into North Adams

Walking back into North Adams

Sunset over Bald mtn

Sunset over Bald mtn

The great view from the bad weather trail

The great view from the bad weather trail

Cairns on Pine Cobble

Cairns on Pine Cobble

Pine Cobble trail jct

Pine Cobble trail jct

My chipmunk friend and I had a nice chat

My chipmunk friend and I had a nice chat

Linus at the Long Trail

Linus at the Long Trail

First VT sign

First VT sign

Appalachian Trail Massachusetts: Section 3

Fielden Stream climbing up the gulf on North mtn

Fielden Stream climbing up the gulf on North mtn

Last weekend Fielden Stream and I finally got out for our first overnight backpacking trip of the year. What a long winter that was – the wait was tough. The few winter day hikes did not stoke my need for time in the woods enough, and I got quite out of shape. Well, we both did.

We picked up where we left off in Massachusetts, and did the section over North mountain from Dalton to Cheshire. We had already done 1 mile of it, and had to stop ½ mile short of the end due to parking areas. So overall it was about 8 miles. We stopped at the Shamrock Village Inn on the way to the trailhead so I could get a stamp in my A.T. passport. The lady who ran it, Laura, was very nice and let us also use the bathroom. She had cute dogs there that we enjoyed meeting. They get a lot of hikers there. I’ll get another stamp at St Mary’s church In Cheshire as we head out of town in 2 weeks.

Fielden Stream making a campfire

Fielden Stream making a campfire

We had a beautiful day on Saturday – perfect conditions to hike. Mid-60s during the day was mild enough to make the first climb of the year more manageable. It was about 1000’ up to the campsite but mercifully gradual. The woods were full of Trout Lilly and Trillium and there was a pleasant breeze as we reached elevation and walked along the ridge. Because the trees were just starting to leaf out there were nice westerly views of Savage Mtn and the range that extends north to Greylock. My new poles worked great on their maiden voyage. Though I did manage to lose one basket before I even used them so Fielden bought me a replacement set when getting her new trail runners – more on that later.

Sunset from Crystal Mtn Campsite

Sunset from Crystal Mtn Campsite

Of course when we reached the campsite trail it was UP .2 but it was a nice campsite, with a clean privy, a nice fire ring and a bear box. I had watered up before the campsite so didn’t need to do the hike downhill to the stream there. Fielden loved my Klymit X pillow so I let her use it and went back to my special clothing bag with the soft pillow side which works great for me. I tried using my neo air pump sack to inflate my sleeping pad but it wasn’t really working. Maybe I’m doing it wrong or maybe it was a great idea that needs more work.

Vesitbule cooking in the rain

Vesitbule cooking in the rain

After we were setup, we made a nice fire and chatted with some section hikers who arrived a bit later after a much longer day.  They retired to their tents early and we made dinner and enjoyed the fire before doing the same. We were treated to a nice sunset to the west and calls from a barred owl and another owl which I didn’t recognize. The day was complete.  We knew rain would come soon but were ok with it. This is part of the experience. And it wasn’t too cold.

The rain came later than expected – around 7 am. We were so happy to be out there we embraced the suck and did our first packing of our packs in our tent and my first cooking of the water for coffee at my vestibule.  We got packed up while remaining mostly dry and hit the trail by 815. I filled up at the first stream, to be safe.

Linus at Gore Pond

Linus at Gore Pond

Turns out there were about 5 more rushing streams between here and the Cheshire cobbles, not to mention the lovely Gore pond. Though with all its beaver activity I tend to avoid those sources. The extra weight was good training. The rain stopped for a while until we got to the Cobbles 3 miles north. We negotiated several blowdowns which I know the Mass crews will be up here in 2 weeks to address.

Beaver dams at Gore Pond

Beaver dams at Gore Pond

A slight mist of rain started as we reached the cobbles, a beautiful series of rock ledges on the northern end of the mountain, with commanding views west and south over Cheshire and Greylock and its sister mountains on the other side of the valley. The peaks were shrouded in mist, but it made the views all the more dramatic. We had a snack as we were getting hangry and then took a few photos and video for our Massachusetts video, which will be complete soon as we reach the end of the state. 19 miles to go!

Cheshire and Greylock from Cheshire Cobble

Cheshire and Greylock from Cheshire Cobble

It was a quick descent to Cheshire but with way more switchbacks than it appeared on the profile. So it was pleasant and easy. The cobbles hung over us for a bit of the descent and it really reminded me of Minnewaska State park and Sam’s point there. Once in Cheshire we got grand views of Greylock towering in the distance.  We were two and a half hours early for our shuttle. Our trail legs were alteady improving. We called her but could not reach her so we asked a friend who’s from the town where to eat and she recommended a spot half a mile down the rail trail. What’s another half mile on a flat surface?

Linus on Cheshire Cobble

Linus on Cheshire Cobble

The rain was starting again as was our hunger so we made for the restaurant and left a message for the shuttle to pick us up there at the original time. I completely demolished my plate and felt like a thru hiker! A beer or two made the meal complete (Fielden was driving!) and we got back to our car in a few minutes. We made plans for the shuttle for the next hike over the white whale, Greylock, and her sister mountains in a few weeks.

Greylock from Cheshire

Greylock from Cheshire

Fielden’s new trail runners were a tad too small so she got her first blisters in years. She will exchange them or return them and go back to her old shoes. I think she just needs to go up half a size and that should solve the issue.

I did not want to leave. I almost sulked as we drove home and I pretend-threatened-joked to Fielden Stream that I wanted her to turn around and go back with me and keep hiking after a nice stay in a hotel! Real life issues were suddenly coming back to me in force as they always do on the drive home and as I waited so long for this hike, I wasn’t letting go of it easily.

A great first adventure for the season. Luckily there’s much more ahead, and the next hike will push us to the highest peak and elevation gain we’ve done together, as well as the limits of our stamina. Can’t wait! It’s the best kind of hurt.

Hiker Hunger

Hiker Hunger is real

Miles day 1: 3.2

Miles Day 2: 4.6

Owls: 2

Cobwebs broken on trail: 6

-Linus

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pre-Season Newly Acquired Gear Testing- Part 1

Lightheart Gear solo quarter vented

Lightheart Gear solo quarter vented

As we get ready for the 2018 backpacking and my ridge-running season, I took advantage of the beautiful spring conditions on Easter Sunday to test some new gear I purchased over the winter. Of course it was snowing the next day and we ended up with half a foot of snow on the ground. April Fools a day late. (Easter was also April Fools day). As of this writing there were two more snowstorms followed by warm spring days since! Good old New England.

Lightheart Gear solo half vented

Lightheart Gear solo half vented

The first item is my new (used) Lightheart Gear solo tent. I bought it from a hiker on Whiteblaze.net. I am always researching gear, and especially great lightweight solo options for my ridge-running and volunteer weekends. Last year I bought a new REI Quarter-dome 1 for a great price on sale, and which at 39 ounces is a super-light option.  And I love the tent. They have since tweaked the design again. I guess my one issue with it was that the weird pole design always left me a little confused at set up time. And when you’re tired after a long day and setting up camp, you don’t wanna be fidgeting with the poles too long. Especially if its in the rain or the dark, or both. I did get used to it but there were still some times when I was doing it in a situation like those and did it backwards the first time. Plus its rather embarrassing when you’re fussing so much with your own tent when surrounded by other campers! The unusual design of that tent pole setup allows for a wider interior in the tent so it’s worth it but I just wanted something a little more of a no-brainer. And more room if I could get it.

Lightheart Gear solo fully vented

Lightheart Gear solo fully vented

On my many nights on the trail I see just about every tent design and model out there, and often ask the hikers about their tents. I then go about reading or watching reviews online and asking questions on hiking groups and forums as well. The Lightheart Gear solo is one of many ultralight options from cottage manufacturers on the market. They also make a slightly longer one for taller hikers called the solong.  I explored other options from Zpacks, Mountain Laurel Designs and more. When I saw the listing on whiteblaze I quickly did more research and found it to be not only a full 12 ounces lighter than my REI tent, but also more spacious and easier to setup. And it was at a great price so I jumped on it.

REI Passage Aluminum trekking poles

REI Passage Aluminum trekking poles

It uses trekking poles rather than included poles to pitch, but you can buy those if you don’t hike with trekking poles. This helps cut down on the weight. It’s also all one piece so you can set it up from the inside without the interior tent getting wet. While I know many 2- piece tents have a feature where you can first rig just the ground sheet and rainfly to avoid soaking your interior tent in the rain, I have to confess I’ve never tried that and it didn’t seem completely full-proof. I got this tent for about 45% off and it was in great shape. It has tons of room and is high enough to sit up in, as well as the ability to be quarter/half/three-quarter or fully vented. The manufacturer advised against spraying it with permethrin spray as did many on the online forums as this chemical doesn’t adhere to sil-nylon and voids the warranty. So I did not spray this tent like I do my others. Seam sealing is recommended for this tent, but the previous owner had the manufacturer do it at purchase. It costs a little extra ($35) but is worth it having a pro do it right the first time. The only negative feedback I’ve heard on this tent is that at 133″ long and 65″ wide, finding a camp spot can be tougher, as well as setting it up on a platform as it is also not fully free-standing. These things I will test in the field.

Stake-off (L to R): Zpacks, Vargo and MSR mini groundhog

Stake-off (L to R): Zpacks, Vargo and MSR mini groundhog

Regarding the trekking poles: As you know from my last hike, the handle broke off one of my poles on that hike so I had bought a new pair at REI the next day. So it was time to test them, and this tent together for the first time. Well I didn’t test them by hiking but I did expand them and compare all the features to other brand models at the store to make my decision. I know these REI poles last a long time and that the cork was the weak spot and so I replaced them with poles with hard plastic/rubber handles- the Passage model.  They are not super light but that’s the reason I bought them as well as price. I found the super light super expensive poles to not support my weight as well.

The only ding with the tent purchase was that the stakes I got from the seller were a bit heavy, and when the tent requires ten stakes to fully pitch it, you want lighter ones. I didn’t expect him to send me his best, lightest stakes at this price. He didn’t even charge me shipping. He just wanted to pass it on to another hiker who would enjoy it and make some of his investment back.

This Dove came to check out my tent

This Dove came to check out my tent

So I ordered a set of four more super light titanium stakes from Zpacks, with their microfleece beanie (which I will review later) to make my set of ten. I find these hook-shaped stakes more effective than my MSR groundhogs for guylines. Or at least, they are my preference. I still use the mini groundhogs for staking out the 4 corners of the tent. The other hook stakes I had previously purchased from Amazon — they are Vargo. They are close enough in size and this setup overall should take the stake weight down a bunch. In the process of deciding how many more stakes I needed,  I also spent a while in the garage gear closet to take inventory and make sure all my other tents have the right number of stakes in their bags.  I don’t want to loan one out and we realize later I had taken the stakes from it!

The Lightheart Gear Solo packed up

The Lightheart Gear Solo packed up

I love the Lightheart tent and everyone who saw it set up on Easter and then got to hold it in their hands and feel how light it was packed up were as impressed as I was. Fielden Stream laid down in it for a minute and tested it too. I enjoyed reading “Balancing On Blue” from thru-hiker Fozzie while lying in it and trying out another new purchase. That’s in part 2: Kylmit Massdrop Pillow and JetBoil JetGauge. A dove even came to visit me in my yard and checked out my new tent!  I will keep the QD-1 for a while and if the LHG solo pleases me as much on the trail as it did in my yard, I will return the karma and sell the QD-1 to another hiker. I have one other solo tent which I like because you can pitch the fly like an awning. So even though its less roomy on the inside and a little heavier, Its very convenient if you need to cook when its raining. So I will keep that one for now.

Lightheart Gear Solo Tent Specs

weight: 27oz (before seam sealing)

floor space: 30 sq ft.

head room: 43 in

width: 65in at center

length: 133 in

single/double wall: double

doors: 1

Full specs and more info from the website

— Linus