Sunday, May 16, 2010
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Appalachian Trail Journal: September 2009
How I Spent My Labor Day Weekend
September 4-7, 2009
George and Bryan Jones
September 4, Friday
Start: 4:30 @ Humpback Rocks Parking Area, Blue-Ridge Parkway Mile 6
End: 5:35 @ Paul Wolfe Shelter
Stephanie dropped us off at the Humpback Rocks parking area. We were not %100 sure where the entrance was, but luckily, we were able to talk to people at the Humpback Rocks visitors center who put us “on the right path.” It was a fairly easy 2 mile hike, mostly downhill to the hut. It was starting to get darker when we got there, as it was in a valley on the east side of the ridge.
The hut was very nice, as the huts go. Right by a stream. Newer construction.
We had dinner....ham and cheese wraps, vegetables, apple and brownie carried in. We still had some of the carrots, brownie (mush brownies) 3 days later. We went to hang our bear bag and found a line that someone had left over one of the few low branches to be found.
We met a man named Aaron. He had been spending several days in the hut after finishing working at a children's nature camp down the valley during the summer. He said he was spending several days doing “cleansing”. He knew a lot about edible plants, etc. He showed us that spicebush produces good tinder for starting fires. Before we left, we talked some about views of nature and why we both appreciate it. He works at the Corn Maze in The Plains most years.
There was another family there from Norfolk with 5 kids. Two of them in Cub Scouts. We all talked around the campfire some. Aaron taught everyone “Big Blue Moon” game and the “if this is a stick, and this is a stick,” game.
I decided at the last minute to drop the tent and go without since we would have shelters each night. Good move. It was not a backpacking tent. That wound up being 10 useless pounds I did not carry for 34 miles.
September 5, Saturday
Started: 8:20 @ Paul Wolfe Shelter
End: 4:30 @ Calf Mountain Shelter
Miles: 12 miles
Saturday we hiked from the Paul Wolfe shelter into Shenandoah National Park. The first 5 miles or so were outside the park. At Rockfish Gap near Waynesboro we tried to top off our water, but the former HoJos and gas station were closed as was the visitors center. We passed a couple through hikers. I got bad leg cramps just as we got to the radio tower complex. Could have been bad. After waiting 20 minutes, I was able to go on with no further problems. There was a good view form the radio tower, but I wondered how much electromagnetic radiation we were absorbing and what the effects might be. We had cell phone signal :-)
There was a mini-amphitheater there made of 5 old tractor seats. We were getting pretty tired as we got close to the shelter & finally found it. .3 miles off the trail. Trudge, trudge, trudge.
At one point, we thought we were on the wrong trail. There were not many white blazes in that section. We were the first ones ones there. We collapsed for 30 minutes and then started to get water, make dinner, unpack for the night
A woman (trail name “Tinkerbell”) showed up a little later. She had come 27 miles, the last 10 without water. She was through-hiking south from Harpers Ferry. We talked to her about some of the logistics of through-hiking...how you get food, how you take care of your feet, how you get into town (there are “trail angels” who give rides to keep people from having to hitch-hike). Trailjournals.com is a site where long-term hikers blog. As with many people through-hiking, she had just finished college...it takes time (up to 6 months) and money. A couple other short term hikers showed up around dark.
We discovered that our UV water filter system was not working (new batteries and all). It had appeared to be working before we left home. We had to resort to iodine tablets to “purify” the spring water. Tinkerbell told us that none of the springs for the next 10 miles were working. The “pure” water was brown with a bad taste...but it would not have been possible (at least not very advisable) to go that distance with that amount of up and down without water. Moral to the story: always have a backup for important things (water, food, shelter, light)
September 6, Sunday
Started: 8:35 @ Calf Mountain Shelter
End: 4:50 @ Black Rock Hut
Another long day. Started downhill. Nice view under the power-lines, but the constant crackle always makes me nervous. Steady up of about 1000 feet over 4.5 miles. Nice level stretch. Lunch of trail snacks. Lots of breaks as we were going up big hills. Water. Iodine water. Bryan “hit the wall” at about 9 miles, right by the Riprap parking area. We stopped for a while. He felt a little better. We did our last big climb for the day. A few smaller “sawtooth” ups and downs and we came to Blackrock Gap parking area. At that point we had hiked the entire Appalachian Trail through the Shenandoah National Park.
We had heard along the way from southbound hikers (“SoBos” per Tinkerbell, not to be confused with “NoBos”) that there was some water at the Blackrock Hut spring.
We were beat, but we still had ¾ mile and about 300 feet up to go to get to the Blackrock shelter. There had been a fire in the area. Not many trees. We saw a big wild turkey on the trail. We got to the shelter and found a group of freshmen from Princeton University doing an orientation camping trip. Not stopping to talk long, we collapsed for a good 30 minutes. Next order of business: water. The spring (a pipe coming out of the ground) was running so slow that it took me 5 minutes to fill my teapot (about 32 oz). Next order of business: a feast. Stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy. Just add hot water (boiled on the backpacking stove). Eat mostly out of two plastic bags. No cleanup. Burn the bags (yes, I know), and nothing nice and smelly to attract bears.
Bears. Every hut/shelter in the park (spaced at 10-15 mile intervals) has a metal pole to hang your food and other things on (we hung our packs because we could). There were numerous bear droppings on the trail and close to camp. The shelter journal (all the shelters have log books where hikers can make guest entries) had many stories of bears and raccoons. No bears, or even the usual mouse/other critter scratchings. We did see one the next day on the trail near the top of Blackrock.
Another group of three hikers arrived a little after we did. All chemical engineers. Sitting around the campfire we all brainstormed to see if we could think of any truly linear processes in nature. It was asserted that springs are linear. This was keyed off the observation that “every SAT test mentions the correlation between crickets chirping and temperature an the fact that the relationship was probably non-linear”. Geeks are geeks, even in the woods.
We boiled enough water for the following day.
Before we went to bed, we stoked up the fire to keep the bugs, and hopefully bears, away.
In the morning (at 6:05 to be precise) I heard repeated loud clangings at the bear pole. It turned out to be a Princeton Panther (they could have at least talked or something).
September 7, Monday
Started: 7:55 @ Black Rock Hut
Ended: 11:00 @ Loft Mountain Camp Store
One more day. Back to the car, which we had dropped at the Loft Mountain campground. A quick no-cook breakfast (the last of the hard-boiled eggs, iodine water with Tang added to improve the favor, etc.). 500 feet up, then a nice long (5 mile) mostly level stretch and a mile and a half of gentle climb, another 500 feet. We had hiked this section before, so it was familiar. We were fresh. It went quickly. We found and ate 3 blackberries (the season is much later up there, down where we live they were done in July). At the top of Blackrock, shortly after we *did* see a bear on the trail. He looked at us, we looked at him and both went our separate ways.
The view from the top of Blackrock was so spectacular that Bryan and I broke into a chorus of one of our favorite hymns, “Our God, He is Alive” (aka “There is a God”). If you've ever heard that song ringing out in parts, you'd understand. If not, you're missing something.
We got back to the camp store at Loft Mountain. It had bathrooms with showers. We washed up, put on clean (or not so dirty) clothes and generally became human again. We had been living in a world where a nice log to sit on fallen across the trail seemed like a luxury. Now, running hot water seemed right out of this world. Simple pleasures. We had lunch at a small restaurant run by the park. And drove home “the back way” via the Shenandoah Valley (Harrisonburg, Luray).
We had 7 pounds of food left. Less next time. I lost 12 pounds. Water weight, I suspect. We'll see. Bryan lost 2. We have our list of wanted/needed gear for next time (water filters that work, a tent that weights < 10Lbs, etc).
All-in-all, a wonderful experience. Now, if I could only get 6 months to do the whole trail...