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

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Mattabessett Trail and Lamentation Mountain, Connecticut

Climbing up to the ridge

Climbing up to the ridge

Today I visited the Mattabessett (and by extension the New England National Scenic Trail) for the first time in many years. I’ve been obviously very focused on the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon. But I am privileged to have not only part of the A.T. so close by but also, over 800 more miles of hiking trails in my state including the Mattabessett and Metacomet trails, now part of the NET. The New England National Scenic Trail was officially established in 2009 and runs from Long Island Sound on the Connecticut coast all the way to the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border where it ends on Mount Monadnock. Since the trail is relatively new there’s still a good number of road walks and not many shelters or campsites. So while doing a proper thru is a little tricky right now, it’s in its early stages and more sections are being routed off roads as often as the land can be acquired.

On the ridge with view north to Hartford in distance

On the ridge with view north to Hartford in distance

Land management and acquistion and re-routing is a lot of work and I’m sure over time it will become more like the other national scenic trails in those ways. I was considering doing some backpacking yesterday and staying at one of them but it was .1 from a road and there was no water source that I could tell besides possibly the use of a spigot on the nearby house (who built the shelter and campsite on their land).  I’m also not sure if there was a privy not that that’s a game changer but is a little awkward when the latrine is someone’s property. I have to research it more maybe there is a porto-potty. I was also honestly still sore from the epic Massachusetts finale last weekend.

With Meriden's hanging hills in the distance

With Meriden’s hanging hills in the distance

I had planned to do this hike with my brother today either way so I decided it would be best to listen to my body yesterday and I did. I got all my log sheets out for these trails and for their Hike 50 Challenge. As it’s the 50th anniversary of the National Trails Act, there are many challenges this year on many long distance scenic trails to celebrate it.

I already completed the Connecticut AMC’s hike 50 challenge, which of course with my being a Connecticut AMC volunteer and summer ridgerunner, wasn’t really hard.

Victory pose looking west

Victory pose looking west

So I decided it would be fun to do the New England Trail challenge. I also have been meaning to hike with my brother again who lives outside Hartford. I knew he would like the amazing views and ridge walking, and it’s even closer to his house than mine! If possible we are going to try and complete the challenge together but either way we had a great time. You can earn points in many different ways, from by the mile, to trail work, trail events, social media shares, writing a hike-u, and more!

My Hike-U

My Hike-U

These all help to get the word out and draw attention to the trail.  It was a gorgeous day and the humidity was mitigated by the breezes along the ridge. We saw many others out enjoying it today, including one very large group who apparently each brought their own car and filled up almost the entire lot. Bad form, people. Car pool or limit your group size. No one should have to park illegally so you can do your group hike. But I held my tongue because after all a bunch of folks were out enjoying nature and excercise in my favorite way, and my only issue is with the leader.

My classic shot

My classic shot

Starting off we did about a mile road walk from Berlin Turnpike where the Mattabessett portion ends and then the trail turned and headed southbound into the woods for another half mile along the bottom of Lamentation Mountain. This is the mountain whose western ridge we’d be climbing and following all the way back to Guiffrida State park where we left our other car. The first 1/4 mile was littered with rusted out cars and a tire or two. It was a bit muddy and slightly overgrown as well but as it was an old road these things weren’t particularly an issue or totally out of character. The blazing could use a little bit of work here because there’s a few turns this way and that and not all were easy to decipher without walking down one way a bit. Anyway, I’m grateful to have the trail here. This whole northern end of Lamentation Mountain was closed for a few years by a property owner so the CFPA who manages this trail had to reroute it to get it back to completion.  I appreciate this effort and this new route, and I’m sure it will soon be much nicer.

Ledge Notch

Ledge Notch

There was a brisk little climb up to the ridgeline then the views began to open up one after the other. We could see the hanging hills of Meriden and Castle Craig, farther west to Southington and the Tunxis trail region and north to Hartford. I taught my brother about the basalt trap rock ledges and their unique geology and even almost rolled an ankle coming down from the ledge on one of the little pebble size ones! Up there we also saw hawks soaring overhead, and the new CT Rail train across the lake making its way north to Hartford and Springfield. (We later ate lunch at a brand new train station along the new line in Berlin). I love trains, so it was a treat watching a brand new train line chug along its brand new route, especially from a mountaintop!

At Guiffrida Park

At Guiffrida Park

The final portion of the hike was a walk along the Hubbard reservoir in the state park, which had a small entrance for wading in and views of Chauncey peak hovering above to the east. We will be back to do that one and the remainder of the section south to where I left off north of Mt. Higby. Then we will head south to Durham for the TriMountain section and then move on to complete the eastern spur, though I’ve done about 5 miles of that. I’m also working on completing the whole Mattabessett so these are the parts I’ve yet to do.

I’m looking forward to more hikes with my brother and this fun little challenge to help keep us at it. Stay tuned for more adventures on the New England National Scenic Trail.

Now to plan the next Appalachian Trail overnight. Hmmm, more Jersey?

Miles: 5.1

— 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

 

Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, DAY 6

July 5, 2018

We finished the last section of our A.T. hiking in Shenandoah National Park this morning. We had a few curveballs thrown at us along the way.  But we adapted and we endured and I think made a lot of prudent decisions that we had the luxury to make as section hikers. I wish we had done the overnight but seeing our third bear in the park on skyline drive near the hut we would have stayed at helped me feel a little better about not doing that! We also saw another bear right behind the lodge (photo below).

We did our biggest number of hikes in a single week so far and that’s another milestone.  This will help us prepare for 4-5 day overnights as well which is another reason we wanted to stay all week and do multiple hikes. 

After we got off trail and finished our A.T. section, we headed for the Lewis Spring falls lot so I could go back and finally see the real view of the falls (photo below). It was another 1,000ft descent and ascent but this route was only 1.8 miles round trip vs the 3.4 mile route I took from the lodge last time. It was a tough climb down and up but worth it. And now it won’t bother me for the next year. Fielden Stream and her dad were waiting for me at the lot with a blackberry milkshake from the wayside, which sure hit the spot and helped revive me after the climb. They saw more bears at the wayside while getting me the milkshake — a mom and her two cubs in a tree.

Rain has finally come and the heatwave is breaking. I thought about running back up to the park (we’re in Luray now) and hitting Mary’s rock from Thornton Gap as its so close. However if its raining on that steep trail, and there’s no view because of the rain, I’m not sure I’m going to do it. I’d like to visit the outfitter in Luray and explore the town a bit. I’m proud of what we’ve done this week.

A.T. miles with Fielden Stream: 3.2

Lewis Spring falls trail miles (out and back): 1.8

– Linus

More bears!

More bears!

Lewis Falls

 

Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, DAY 5

July 4, 2018

Happy Independence Day!

Yesterday we went up to Skyland for dinner with the family, and saw another bear, this time grazing on the side of skyline drive at dusk.

Today as planned, Fielden Stream and I did another A.T. section in Shenandoah National Park from South River Falls Picnic Area (with A.T. access .1 down the South River Falls trail) to the Lewis Mountain Campground Picnic Area where we left off on Sunday. This was a 6 mile section. We decided on splitting the 9 miles left that we planned to do due to the high temps and humidity.  We will do the last 3 tomorrow before we leave the park. While we haven’t done as many miles as we hoped, we feel taking these precautions was the right move. Bites and poison ivy can quickly become open infected wounds in the woods, especially if you’re scratching them a lot. Add the risk of dehydration and heat stroke in a week of solid 90+ temps and you’re looking at even more risk. The trail isn’t going anywhere. At the end of this trip we will have done about a quarter of the A.T in the park and that’s awesome!

We got an early start and while it was already heating up, we were in the green tunnel by 10am where the temps were much more bearable than anywhere exposed to the sun. Walking along the ridge lines we had many cool breezes and it was not a bad hike at all! We only had 2 climbs – one up Baldface mountain and one up Lewis mountain (I did the extra .3 mile spur up to the summit but the view was not much to write home about!). Neither were more than 700ft and both were the usual gradual nice climbs and descents we’ve experienced for the majority of the trail through here. Besides one steeper switchbacked descent, it was flat easy trail the rest of the way. We passed the Picosin cabin which is one of the ones you can rent from the PATC, and the Lewis Mountain campground as we reached the end of the hike.  We also had one bit where the A.T. and Skyline drive followed right next to each other.

We had a large raven swoop down over us at the campground, and also saw a large male and female deer as well as a family of turkeys crossing the trail. A small bit of rain moved in just after we got to our car at the end of the hike but it wasn’t long before the heat came back and burned everything dry. If we were still hiking I’m sure that dousing would have been welcome and refreshing.

I am considering a jaunt down to Dark Hollow falls or another walk down to Lewis Spring falls later to get that view finally, but we will see.

Miles: 6

Linus Miles (including out and back on summit spur trail): 6.6

– Linus

SNP Wayside blackberry milkshake

SNP Wayside blackberry milkshake

Black bear on Skyline drive

Black bear on Skyline drive

Wildflower #2

Wildflower #2

Wildflower #1

Wildflower #1

Nice trail work coming down a steep hillside

Nice trail work coming down a steep hillside

Fielden Stream descending Baldface mtn

Fielden Stream descending Baldface mtn

View from Lewis Mtn summit

View from Lewis Mtn summit

Shenandoah National Park – Days 3 and 4

July 2&3 2018

You’re probably worried I saw another bear and got eaten, and that’s why you haven’t heard from me for 2 days… Well not to worry! While some of the hiking plans were sidelined by poison ivy and insect attacks resulting in some fun swelling and a run to town for Benadryl and bandaids, we are alive and we have done some more hikes though a bit shorter these last two days. We took Fielden’s parents and sister up to the stunning view on Blackrock Summit (the one at Big Meadows not the mountain of that name farther south) yesterday and then had our postponed picnic at the Big Meadows picnic ground. We also visited the Byrd visitor center to get our A.T. passport stamped and do the museum exhibit, as well as doing all of our laundry at the campground. We stopped at the wayside to check out the shop and get some charcoal for the BBQ. How did I forget to get a blackberry milkshake there! Not to worry, that will happen before we leave.

Today Fielden and I made the painful choice to skip the backpacking overnight on this trip to let the wounds heal and stay as sterile as possible to avoid infection. However we will be doing two more A.T. section day hikes tomorrow and Thursday.  Today she went to a museum down in the valley with her family and I did the A.T./Lewis Spring Falls loop from the lodge as I was going stir crazy and came here to hike! This loop is right behind the lodge and had a 1,000ft descent and climb back up. It started and ended with the great views at Black Rock summit as that trail leads down to the A.T. From there I followed the A.T. about .3 miles north before the turnoff and a 1.2 mile descent along the ridgeline on the Lewis Spring trail.

There is a viewing area of part of the falls, but I am a little annoyed with myself because I missed the farther viewing trail that showed the falls cascading off the ledge and instead I was just at the top of the drop-off where they had a waterfall safety sign. I had thought this was the viewing area and wasn’t very impressed. Well I’m gonna blame the trail posts there as they were very hard to read and it was not at all clear I was supposed to continue along across the brook to see this view! I figured there had to be more to it than what I saw, and now that I’m looking it up, well, I feel pretty dumb. I was supposed to go further to a viewing platform, and I never did because I thought that was the end of the path. Bummer. After that it was a long tough 1.4-mile climb up including the last mile of the A.T section we did on Sunday,,,  

But it was a beautiful hike nonetheless… next time I will go the extra distance. Heck I might just have to go back and see it before I leave if there’s time. But just in case there’s not, Google it if you want to see what I was supposed to see.

Time for a beer and a snack. Tomorrow we will fill in the gap from Swift Run gap to Lewis Mountain Campground and Thursday morning we plan to do from the lodge up to Hawksbill Gap.

Miles: 3.4

– Linus

Hiker humor, Blackrock, Big Meadows

Hiker humor, Blackrock, Big Meadows

Lewis Spring Trail

Lewis Spring Trail

Wild rose

Wild rose

Lewis Spring upper falls (I missed the lower!)

Lewis Spring upper falls (I missed the lower!)

Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, DAY 2

Sunday, July 1, 2018

As the day ends with another perfect sunset from the lodge, we are nursing some new wounds and continuing to re-arrange a few things.  Yesterday we got a late start and so we skipped ahead to the next section from Swift Run Gap. We will fill that gap on Thursday morning.

Our shuttle got delayed by another client, so rather than a 1030 pickup it ended up being around noon. We had 8.3 miles approximately to do on each of those sections, so it wasn’t really about the miles but the terrain and the pickup / rendezvous later in the day.  We had a reservation at the campsite made months ago and we were all planning to go and have a picnic dinner there before Fielden Stream and I camped there for the night.  This wasn’t a backpacking overnight anymore, just a cookout and campout to keep logistics easy for the rest of the family who are non-hikers/campers.  This was still the plan for most of the day.  So we were trying to get back to Big Meadows by 5 so we could throw everything for the overnight in a car or our packs and head down to the campsite.

We’re pretty confident in our ability to cover around 2 miles an hour except in very difficult terrain so even though we got a late start, we figured if we did this section next we could also eliminate the time it would take for the pickup and shuttle back. There were two (and later we would discover -3- ) significant climbs on this hike but a long stretch of gentle downhill and flat in the middle.  We planned on a 5pm return to the lodge. During our hike the rest of the family would pick up food for the BBQ.

Our wonderful friend and shuttle driver Rhonda from Harpers Ferry got us down to Lewis Mountain campground quickly and told us about the many many bears she’d seen driving up her previous client from Front Royal. While some might have been repeats, she saw over 20 that morning. It was some kind of sign…

The climb up Bearfence was full of switchbacks, and a bunch of bell flowers. It was not a tough climb except for the fact that the sun was shining down on that southern slope so we got heated up quickly. Luckily there was some relief at the top, and while FIelden took a break at the summit loop trail, I ran up to bag the summit and take in the view from a rocky outcropping. This one was slightly blocked by foliage but it was still a great view. They do also have a half mile long rock scramble hike along the ridge up there, but as we were limited on time and it was very hot, rocky ridge walks with a lot of hand and foot negotiation wasn’t going to work.

From here the trail was gentle and green and followed Skyline drive for a few miles before reaching the climb up Hazeltop. This was a larger climb, about 700ft.  It was completely shaded which helped with the long switchbacked climb over a mile long. We were definitely trying to remain quiet so we might see some bears, though I admit I was my regular chatty self for the first few miles.

If not for the fact that I was concentrating on powering up this climb and had little breath to talk much, I probably would have startled the bear away much earlier! As I came around a switchback I heard a loud crash and saw a bear run up the hill about 100ft.  It was a very large male, about the size of a smart car. While this was my first bear encounter (finally!) I at least had many years to think about this moment and prepare. He stopped up the hill a bit and stared at me, curious – even posing a bit. I called down to Fielden Stream to let her know, and the bear and I stared at each other curiously while I took a photo (and a funny video with me clearly in a small panic). I put the phone away so I could keep alert and waited for Fielden to come up and have a good look at him, and so our combined presence would discourage him from any aggression.

We waited a few while he made up his mind to saunter off and we picked up our pace up that hill. It definitely helped us up the climb quicker! We told a group of hikers we saw at the next trail intersection about it and as we leapfrogged with them up to the summit and took a lunch break at a side trail to a rock outcropping view, they were ahead of us on the descent and had the next bear encounter. This was also a large male and he was sitting clear in the middle of the trail until one of the wives yelled “oh my god” in surprise, and off he went. When we caught up they told us all about it. Its possible it was the same bear but we don’t know.

The walk down Hazeltop to Milam gap was gentle, and following the gap was almost completely flat until we reached the Lewis Falls trail. It was shady and cool and easy hiking here, and we got used to it. We knew there was a good climb up to Big Meadows but we were unprepared for the hot climb of almost a mile. While there was a breeze by Lewis Spring, the western slope of the mountain we ascended to the lodge was being baked in the sun, and was rocky and relentless at the end of a long hike. We struggled up it, but there were some very rewarding views that we didn’t even know existed when at the lodge last time. We got lots of nasty bites along the way too. Not sure what kind of bugs they are but they are at least as big and painful as black flies and we have welts everywhere!

Still I was glad to have that section complete.  My GPS tracker decided to drop the first 3 miles of the hike data when we lost signal completely. This annoyed me heavily but its not like its hard to follow the trail here, especially with all the road crossings… you’re never really lost … maybe only until you come to the next road crossing!

By the time we all re-convened at the lodge, it was getting late and the picnic BBQ and campout was much less desirable.  It would have been very rushed, and we were all tired, and FIelden and I were sweaty and hot and covered in these bites. We decided to postpone the BBQ and skip the camping as we would be doing a backpacking overnight Tuesday night.

We showered, had a nice outdoor dinner at the lodge, and retired to bed by 10.

Day 3 will be a zero day where we can wash our stinky clothes, check out the visitor center, do some short walks with the family, have our picnic, and heal. Plus its going to be even hotter today… Day 4+5 will be an overnight from Big Meadows to Stony Man cliffs, with a stay at Rock Spring hut in between. Thursday morning (day 6) we will do our fill-in hike from Swift Run Gap to Lewis Mountain campground, and then we will be done with hiking for the trip, and going down to Luray for a day or two to enjoy the local scene there before heading home.

Animal encounters in short:

5 deer (2 at lodge – all very tame and used to humans)

1 bear ( our first one, just missed a second)

1 barred owl

2 mice (in our cabin again)

Linus’s Miles: 9.6

Linus and FIelden’s miles: 9.1

Temperature: 90’s

– Linus

With our trail shuttle/angel Rhonda

With our trail shuttle/angel Rhonda

Bell flower?

Bell flower?

View from Bearfence summit

View from Bearfence summit

Big bear! First sighting!

Big bear! First sighting!

View from Hazeltop Summit

View from Hazeltop Summit

View from Big Meadows Summit

View from Big Meadows Summit

Another incredible sunset from the lodge

Another incredible sunset from the lodge