Posted by: Michael Carr | August 29, 2013

Back To Where The Hiking Began

I started the Appalachian Trail as a south-bound hiker so Maine, or Mt. Katahdin specifically, was my first experience on the trail. I don’t know how I made it through those first days but I’m so glad I stuck with it. Feel free to browse through some of my first posts and the beginning of my hike. Enjoy the finale for Dropbear and Dirty Rice. They pulled off a terrific feat by completing the trail in under five months.

August 24, 2013

I had arranged to meet Dropbear and Dirty Rice at Katahdin Ironworks Road in the “100 Mile Wilderness”. I arrived at the trailhead around noon after bouncing along the twenty mile gravel road into the Maine woods.

The weather was perfect so I set out southbound on the Appalachian Trail with my sights set on Chairback Mountain. The boulder scramble up to Chairback was one of the few landmarks I remember while passing through here last June. After waiting at the summit for awhile I pushed on to Chairback Gap Lean-to to wait on the northbounders. They didn’t show so at 5:00 pm I worked my way toward the road. I looked back to the summit a few times to see if any hikers were crossing. Finally, two silhouettes were weaving through the trees and boulders. I waited on the ridge for them and the three of us headed toward the West Branch of the Pleasant River. We made camp at a stealth site near a brook. Susquehanna Slim joined us for the evening as well. The evening air cooled quickly and it felt good to be nestled in the hammock once again.

August 25, 2013

The North-bounders moved on today and I explored the Gulf Hagas trail. The 9 mile loop connects with the Appalachian Trail for a few miles and takes hikers through an area known as the “Grand Canyon of the East”. I arrived back at the truck around noon and drove to Millinocket for the evening.

August 26, 2013

I left the truck at Abol Bridge this morning. The bridge spans the Penobscot River and separates the “100 Mile Wilderness” from Baxter State Park. I hiked south on the AT about fifteen miles to Rainbow Stream Lean-to. It was amazing to see this end of the wilderness in dry conditions. The walking was pleasant though the trail was still covered with rocks and roots. Last June, the trail was flooded in many places and made for very slow progress.

Several section hikers arrived as I set up camp. We visited over supper and some of women from Maine were tough enough to swim in the cold water. I told them I would rather stink than turn blue while taking a bath.

August 27, 2013

I had another night of deep sleep in the hammock. I think motels should charge by how many hours of sleep patrons get. The hammock has been a much better value.

The trail passed by Rainbow Lake and climbed up to the summit of Nesuntabunt Mountain. There were a couple of clearings which afforded views of Mt. Katahdin in the distance. I met the North-bounders just below the summit and then turned to retrace my steps back toward Abol.

We made camp along the shores of Rainbow Lake while listening to loons call in the fading summer light.

August 28, 2013

We broke camp by 7:00 am and arrived at Abol Store before noon. After lunch at the Restaurant we entered Baxter State Park and walked the final ten miles to “The Birches” camp area. A thunderstorm greeted us with heavy rain and hail about five miles into the park.

We arrived at Birches after checking in at the Ranger Cabin. A family of section hikers were staying in the lean-to next to ours. We talked until more rain drove us under cover.

August 29, 2013

The rain lasted through the night but finally ceased at daybreak. Rain still dripped from the trees as we packed up and walked back to the Ranger cabin.

We left our extra gear at the cabin and took only snacks and raingear for the strenuous climb up Mt. Katahdin. The Appalachian Trail follows the Hunt Trail to the summit at Baxter Peak. The elevation at Birches is 1,096 feet with Baxter Peak at 5,268 feet. The total distance to the summit is 5.2 miles with the steepest terrain in the middle three miles making this one seriously steep climb.

I didn’t take any pictures on my thru-hike last June. It was pouring rain and my iPhone was ticked safely in the pocket of my rain jacket. The waterproof phone case would prove useful on this summit attempt, however.

The rain softened to a light drizzle as we made our way passed Katahdin Stream Falls. The trail turns sharply upward passed the falls and soon you are climbing with your hands to moved through the boulders that line the path up the mountainside.

After an hour of climbing we reached the alpine zone and a treacherous boulder field that forces you to play twister as you calculate each foot placement and handhold. Rebar protrudes from several boulders to help you climb through some especially difficult sections. It is best not to look up at how far you have left to climb at this point. Looking down is not good either so it is best to concentrate on where to place your hands and feet.

Another hour and a half of climbing brought us to an area called “The Tablelands”. The trail levels out slightly so that you are walking up the mountain again and not climbing with both hands and feet. Soon, the summit was visible and the famous sign that all Appalachian Trail hikers want to see was within range.

The summit was quite busy as hikers from other trails on Katahdin gathered for pictures and to bask in the beauty of the highest point in Maine. We snapped several photos at the sign and several of the surrounding mountains before beginning the treacherous climb down. Dropbear the Australian and Dirty Rice the Minnesotan were now thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail.

As the park brochure states “Climbing is optional, going down is not”. We were now facing the 5.2 mile descent as the sun peaked through the clouds. The pace was slow and deliberate as we made our way down the mountain. We joined with several other hikers for comfort as the clouds that swirled below the peak precipitated moisture on the granite slabs that lead to the tree line below.

We arrived safely at the base with a few scrapes and a broken trekking pole tip. Not bad considering the terrain.

We hiked back to Abol with a little help from the Americorp Trail crew giving us a ride along the park road. We had supper at the Abol Store and watched a bobcat cross the road as we left the mountains behind and drove toward Millinocket.

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Posted by: Michael Carr | August 23, 2013

The Final Chapter

August 23, 2013

The last two months have been fulfilling, relaxing, and frustrating since completion of the Appalachian Trail. I have soaked in the brilliant Iowa Summer, worked on some carpentry projects, escorted a bicycle team across the state of Iowa, and worked on some wildlife habitat improvement projects on the family farm. I’ve enjoyed the family gatherings and time catching up with friends.

I grieved the end of the journey for a few days and soon the grief was replaced by a deep satisfaction. The physical discomforts of trail life are now gone. There is a mental weight that everyone attempting a thru-hike of the AT carries with them daily. The weight is gone. My burden was laid down step by step as each mile of the trail passed by.

The dream of nearly thirty years of my life has been fulfilled. I can remember a time when I felt ashamed about wanting to put a career on hold just to hike. Now, I would stand at the top of a mountain (or write a blog) and shout “Pay attention to your dreams!” Find a way to take your thoughts from dream to reality. Your dreams are as much a part of who you are as your elbow or forehead. I have been changed by the experience but time will tell if the changes last. Society may beat me into submission but for now I feel like I have strayed from the herd. I can elaborate on the changes in another blog post.

One change that I would like to talk about is people. When I talk to people about the AT many ask if I hiked alone. My expectation before stepping foot on the trail was to hike solo. There would be others hiking the trail but each of us would journey in isolation. I learned that taking on something this difficult requires the ability to accept help from others. I received much help along the way. Many friends and family members kept tabs on my progress through the blog or offered encouraging words on Facebook. Trail Angels offered food and rides. Complete strangers bought ice cream or just offered friendly conversation when the loneliness was crushing my spirit. I hope the feeling of gratitude comes through this writing because all of you helped in some way.

So this brings me to a possible final chapter in my Appalachian Trail experience. Two friends, Dropbear and Dirty Rice, are on the last section of their quest toward Mt. Katahdin. They walked with me into Harpers Ferry for my finish and I have driven to Maine to walk with them for their finish. I arrived in Monson yesterday evening, shuttled them to Greenville for resupply this morning, and left them at the trailhead to the “100 Mile Wilderness” at noon. I plan to intercept them at a road crossing tomorrow evening before driving to Abol Campground where I will leave the truck. I’ll hike southbound until we meet and then head back north with them.

They are both doing great and seem to be in good spirit. There isn’t any fat left on them and they admit to having slowed down as there “top gear” is gone but otherwise are in good shape.

An interesting encounter happened at the trailhead. A car pulled in to park and someone hollered “hey Iowa” out the window. After catching my attention I saw friends Southside and Squire in the car. We met on June 27th last summer while climbing Mt. Katahdin. Southside snapped my picture at the summit.20130823-155813.jpg20130823-155754.jpg

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Posted by: Michael Carr | June 21, 2013

The Trail Goes On

Dirty Rice and Dropbear took two days off from hiking after arriving at Harpers Ferry. They needed the rest and we also wanted to take the train to Washington D.C. for a day.

Dirty Rice had a surprise visit from his father on Wednesday night. Mr. Dirty Rice, as we called his Dad, drove his Honda Gold Wing from the Twin Cities. He paid for supper Wednesday night and was impressed with our ability to eat like teenagers as the special was all-you-can-eat boiled shrimp. We took the MARC train to DC on Thursday and spent time at the National Mall, Air & Space Museum, and Arlington National Cemetery.

My two friends are back on the trail today. I walked with them from the motel back to the trail and wished them luck on the rest of their journey. They promised to keep in touch.

I am currently riding Amtrak to Washington DC where I plan to spend a couple of days in the Smithsonian and enjoy the monuments at the National Mall. I will pull the trigger on a plane ticket soon but I’m not ready yet.

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Posted by: Michael Carr | June 19, 2013

The Finish

June 16, 2013

The late arrival forced us to do laundry and buy groceries this morning. We were still able to get back on the trail by 11:30 am.

The trail head for the Appalachian Trail at Shenandoah’s north end lead us down from the park’s high ridge, across highway 522 and into the forests of the Shenandoah River Valley. The air felt tropical and the dense undergrowth stifled any breeze that might have provided comfort on the open mountain ridges. The sounds of locusts and seventeen year cicadas added to the jungle-like environment.

We hiked nineteen miles under hazy skies and occasional rain showers. Dicks Dome Shelter was camp for the night. We arrived after 7:00 pm so the other hikers were already behind the safety of bug netting in their tents.

June 17, 2013

Twenty two miles, a roller coaster, 1,000 mile mark, and the end of Virginia were all in the plan for today. The “Roller Coaster” is a 13.5 mile section of trail that has many steep ascents and descents. There is a stream at the bottom of each gap and plenty of rocks are scattered about to make an amusement park half marathon.

I passed Steady on one of the last climbs and we talked for awhile. Steady is an ultra-marathoner and has completed a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail after retiring from work. He congratulated me on the pending finish of my hike. He also told me that I would appreciate this experience more than I can imagine in the future.

Thunder rolled in the distance as I pulled away from Steady. Rain poured for the next hour as I navigated the rocks and ridges of the “Roller Coaster”.

The sun made a reappearance just before the 1,000 mile mark. Dropbear was drying out and resting on a rock outcrop so I joined him and waited for Dirty Rice to catch up.

The 1,000 mile mark was soon behind us as well as the end of the “Roller Coaster”. We crossed the Virginia state line and camped with Faceplant and Nuge. All of the hikers around me have survived the “Virginia Blues” and are well on their way to the halfway point in Pennsylvania. I’m in good company.

June 18, 2013

I slept a little last night but thoughts from the 2,000 plus miles of trail began to invade the nighttime silence. Reality was hitting me like a ton of bricks, the reality of my last night on the trail. I waited for the birds to announce the rising of the sun. A whippoorwill started the chorus in the predawn just like always. The other familiar songs began one at a time until the forest was alive and the dark turned to light.

I waited for the others to stir and then began the ritual of changing clothes in the hammock, deflating the sleeping pad, stuffing the dry clothing into dry-sacks, swinging my feet out, and putting on the gaiters and shoes.

I wasn’t hungry but knew breakfast was necessary to hike the 16.3 miles to Harpers Ferry, WV. We left camp and began the walk toward the Shenandoah River. Rain began to fall after an hour of hiking but the tropical air made the rain jacket useless. My zipper had started to separate anyway so I stuffed it back in the pack.

All was well through the morning and early afternoon. The rain added detail and mood to every leaf, shrub, and blade of grass. Fog hid the tree canopy and brought the world in close as if I was the only person within miles. My hiking companions and friends were hiding in these same woods cut off from the outside world.

We reached the National Park boundary by early afternoon. A trail sign showing “Harpers Ferry ATC Headquarters 1.9 miles” marked a trail junction and the final descent to the Shenandoah. My eyes welled up and I fought to hold back the lump in my throat for the next half mile. I knew for the first time that the sacrifice has been worth every ounce of effort. I loved hiking the trail.

Dropbear was waiting for me at the bridge. We waited in the rain for Dirty Rice and then crossed the Shenandoah. They made me lead the way as the trail followed the contour of the bluff just below the houses and buildings of town. And just like that I saw the point on the trail where I turned to the right as a south bounder just a few months ago. Now I was turning to the left as a north bounder taking the last step to connect the entire 2,185 mile journey.

Dropbear and Dirty Rice had their pictures taken as north bound numbers 580 and 581. Dropbear was number 922 at Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia. I had my picture taken and placed on the wall with other “2,000 Milers” and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy staff gave me a bottle of sparkling cider to share with everyone.

I am not making any plans right now for the return home. I am staying with Dropbear and Dirty Rice as long as they are in town. I also want to see other friends as they celebrate 1,000 miles and prepare to reach the halfway point in Pennsylvania. For now, I still want to be immersed in the hiking community.

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Posted by: Michael Carr | June 15, 2013

Front Royal

June 14, 2013

Last night turned out to be a nice surprise with fine dining in the dining hall and live entertainment in the tap room. The thunderstorms that teased us yesterday moved out with the passing of the cold front. A glorious day of hiking awaited us with cold, windy, and dry conditions.

The dining room at Big Meadows Lodge proved too tempting for us to miss breakfast so Strawberry Donut and The Whistler joined Dropbear, Dirty Rice, and I for a leisurely meal before getting back to the trail.

The weather and gentle trail set us up for a twenty one
mile day even with a late start. Camp was at a spring just beyond the Pass Mountain Hut. Steady, Faceplant, and Nuge were camped before the spring and directed us to an open area beyond.

June 15, 2013

Camp was broken and a light breakfast finished before 8:00 am. It was five miles to Elk Wallow Wayside and we didn’t want to be late for second breakfast.

We made good time to the wayside and and enjoyed breakfast outside with several other hikers. The eggs, bacon, hash browns, toast, and two Pepsis carried me until 3:30 pm when we stopped at a spring for lunch. Steady was taking a break there as well.

Shenandoah National Park is known for the high concentration of black bears living within the park boundary. So far, I have not seen any bears on the trail in over 2,000 miles of hiking. My luck was about to change or so I thought.

A family of four hikers warned us about a sow with two cubs on the trail near Elk Wallow. The bears were gone by the time we arrived. Another couple of hikers warned us about a rather agitated sow with cubs as we were leaving the spring with Steady. The mother bear was popping her jaw at the hikers so they turned around and a abandoned their day hike. I made noise as I made my way up the mountain to warn momma but unfortunately the bears were gone again. I tried to get Dropbear to lead the way but he has grown wise to my American trickery on the trail.

I have been sleeping with my food pack attached to my hammock and still no action from the bruins.

We arrived at the Compton Gap trailhead around 4:00 pm on our way out of Shenandoah National Park. A group of people were assembling coolers and grills as we passed through the parked cars. The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club had been doing trail maintenance in the park and invited us to their club cookout at a nearby trail shelter. Burgers, hotdogs, salads, beer, soda, and desserts were provided by the club members. Nearly twenty thru-hikers were gathered for the feast by early evening. The club members were extremely friendly and made sure we had plenty to eat.

We left the cookout and made our way to the Terrapin Hostel near the park boundary. The hostel was full but the owner gave us a shuttle to Front Royal were we found a room at the Super 8.

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Posted by: Michael Carr | June 13, 2013

Shenandoah National Park

June 11, 2013

Trail Angel Betty picked us up at the Quality Inn this morning and waited for us at Rockfish Gap Outfitters while we purchased a few items for resupply. I replaced the tips on my trekking poles and picked up a canister of stove fuel. Betty then took us back to the trailhead at Rockfish Gap where the Appalachian Trail enters Shenandoah National Park from the south.

The sky was filled with fair weather clouds and a stiff breeze helped to dry the leaves and grasses lining the trail. Water was still gushing out of the trail in a few places as yesterday’s rain was making its way down the mountainside.

There were still a few steep pitches on the trail but you could almost feel the terrain beginning to mellow out. The rugged high peaks of central Virginia were giving way to the more gentle terrain of the ridges along the Shenandoah Valley.

Thru-hikers were beginning to spread out through most of Virginia. The trail was crowded up to Damascus but each day since I have noticed fewer hikers at the campsites and shelters. The crowd has bunched up again in the park. We made it Blackrock Hut after 20.5 miles of hiking and found a few remaining spots to camp.

June 12, 2013

Sunshine filtered through the forest canopy as I broke camp. It seems like each day that is rain free is truly a gift. Though the forest and mountains take on a wild and primitive character that is only present in stormy weather.

There are several waysides in Shenandoah along Skyline Drive that serve meals and sell souvenir items. Dropbear, Dirty Rice, and I took advantage of the opportunity for a hot meal and stopped for a hamburger. Several hikers from the Blackrock Hut were there as well.

Powered by beef and ice cream, the afternoon went by quickly and soon we rested at Hightop Hut. The tent sites were mostly full but we found some secluded areas several hundred yards from the shelter.

The air was warm and humid and a stiff wind raked across the tree tops. I fell asleep on top of my quilt with my book open and headlamp on.

June 13, 2013

The forecast for today called for strong storms and heavy rain. The wind last night and this morning further announced the coming weather event. I packed up, ate breakfast, and prepared for a wet hike.

Light rain fell throughout the morning as the wind battered the trees. It was warm enough to make rain gear uncomfortable so I hiked without. I had a difficult time telling the difference between gusts of wind and downpours so I kept stopping to put on the rain jacket only to discover it was the wind blasting rain drops from the trees.

The sun made an appearance by early afternoon. Thunder rolled of the mountains from the east as the storms seemed to be going around the higher ridges of Shenandoah National Park.

We hiked a speedy 20.5 miles and arrived at Big Meadows Lodge at 3:30 pm. The dining room didn’t open until 5:30 pm so we enjoyed the quiet atmosphere in the lodge’s great room. Several guests were enjoying the view over the Shenandoah River Valley far below the lodge balcony.

We ate supper in the dining room and planned to hike 3.5 miles to the next shelter. Hikers Strawberry Donut and The Whistler asked of we wanted to share a cabin with them and we obliged. We had first met the German couple near Waynesboro while hiking in the rain.

Big Meadows Lodge has made the cold and stormy evening quite civilized and comfortable.

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Posted by: Michael Carr | June 10, 2013

The Trail to Shenandoah

June 8, 2013

The Bluedogartcafe had an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet this morning so the three of us walked into town just before another round of rain showers began. Like all the other meals the buffet was excellent. Steady, Raven, Fossil Phoenix, Kobe, and several other hikers from the hostel were there as well. I had plenty of time to eat and relax as our ride back to the trailhead wasn’t available until 10:30 am.

The sun was shining by the time we reached the trail at 11:00 am. A two thousand foot climb to the ridge was in front of us but it went quickly with a breakfast buffet for fuel. The Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club was busy with trail maintenance as we climbed to the ridge. The all volunteer crew was trimming vegetation along the corridor. Deer tick season has arrived and the wide path helps keep them off of hikers.

The high ridge varied from 3,500 to 4,000 in elevation and yielded views of the Blue Ridge and lower valleys. Many day and weekend hikers were on the trail today enjoying the rare sunshine. Trail Magic greeted us about halfway through the day with coolers well stocked with soda and snacks. Our day ended at the Priest Shelter. We ended up hiking just over 20 miles with a late start.

June 9, 2013

Heavy and humid air returned this morning. The trail climbed over the Priest summit, descended 3,000 feet into the Tye River valley and climbed back nearly 3,000 feet on the other side. We crossed the footbridge over the Tye River and discovered more trail magic. Goman thru-hiked in 2011 and left the stocked coolers before beginning his weekend outing. We met him coming down to the river just as we were beginning our ascent.

We talked with Goman for awhile and then climbed up toward Three Ridges Mountain. I met a young couple on my way up. They offered an orange to me and I gladly accepted. The young man said, “I always bring extra in case I meet a thru-hiker.” Gifts on the trail are wonderful in any form but that orange was like a piece of fine gold to me.

The climb up to Three Ridges is the last continuous climb over 3,000 feet until Vermont for northbound hikers.

Rain began to fall after I crossed over the summit and made my way down the other side. It let up later in the afternoon but really hammered down about a mile before reaching camp near the top of Humpback Mountain.

I was exhausted after the long 23 mile day and set up the hammock to get out of the rain and eat supper. I didn’t feel like firing up the stove so I ate some canned chicken salad on a tortilla and finished off the remaining Star Crunches in my food bag.

Wind rocked the hammock all night and rain pelted the tarp off and on. It was relatively warm and I was comfortable in my wool long johns. I didn’t pull the quilt over me until early in the morning.

June 10, 2013

I awoke to more rain and a strong wind still rocking the hammock. I used some phone battery to check the radar and it didn’t look like improvement was on the way. So we packed up camp in the rain, ate a quick breakfast and waded toward Rockfish Gap and the southern entrance to Shenandoah National Park twelve miles away.

The trail was as much stream as it was footpath for most of the morning. I started really slowly as my achilles tendon and heels were unusually tight. They began to cooperate after a couple of miles. The rain let up just enough to tease me into taking my rain jacket hood down before the sky would open up again. Water was gushing out of every rock crevasse and bubbled up from the ground in places. The cool water felt good on my feet. The short day added a margin of safety as well knowing my feet would be in a dry motel room by early afternoon.

Mill Creek was nearly impassable at the Paul C. Wolfe shelter. Hikers are going to get stranded on the south side if it doesn’t stop raining soon. Dropbear, Dirty Rice, and Hot Foot were eating lunch at the shelter so I stopped to join them and air my feet.

The rain stopped after leaving the shelter and sun began peak through the forest canopy by the time we reached Rockfish Gap. Waynesboro has a group of Trail Angels listed at the trailhead. I called down to the second person on the list and Mister Gizmo picked us up within fifteen minutes at the gap and delivered us to the Quality Inn.

I have been hearing about the legendary Chinese buffet in Waynesboro ever since last summer as nearly every northbound hiker mentioned it in passing. Today I experienced Ming’s Garden and am typing this blog in the afterglow.

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Posted by: Michael Carr | June 7, 2013

Peaceful Rain

June 7, 2013

The forecast called for heavy rain along the Blue Ridge Mountains today so we as well as several other hikers planned a zero day (no hiking). It hasn’t rained so far but we are making the best of a day off. Our original plan was to arrive in Buena Vista this morning and get back on the trail tomorrow so we earned a zero by putting in longer days this week.

The Bluedogart Cafe has been our main hangout for supper last night and breakfast this morning. I ordered two suppers last night but was upstaged by Fossil Phoenix who ordered two suppers and dessert. I was able to match him this morning by ordering two breakfasts. I call truce for now.

Enjoy the video from yesterday morning at Punchbowl shelter.

Posted by: Michael Carr | June 6, 2013

Buena Vista and Rain

June 2, 2013

Dropbear, Dirty Rice, and I took the day off to rest, resupply, eat, and watch the storm clouds pass by. We spent most of the morning eating breakfast at the Super 8 and talking with Raven, Fossil Phoenix, and a few other hikers taking the day off as well.

June 3, 2013

Fog and the remnant clouds from the passing weather system greeted us as we left the motel and walked back to the trailhead. It was a short walk to the nearby town of Troutville, VA after which the trail made a gradual climb up to a low ridge line.

We stopped at Wilson Creek shelter for a quick break and met Shanks as he was packing up from his lunch break. He was trying out new boots and was planning a relatively short day to the next shelter. He is still battling some nagging foot pain but keeps pushing on.

We leapfrogged Raven and Fossil Phoenix throughout the day and eventually stopped to camp on Cove Mountain. We carried enough water for supper and breakfast as there were no springs or streams up on the ridge. We ended up with about 23 miles for the day.

June 4, 2013

The terrain was more challenging today as we climbed several short ascents over some small mountains. A long ascent over about five miles eventually reached the summit of Apple Orchard Mountain at 4225 feet in elevation. There is an FAA tower at the top which took away from the adventure but the view was still nice.

We stopped at Harrison Ground Spring for the night after 22 miles and camped with Raven, Fossil Phoenix, and Steady.

June 5, 2013

The humidity was back in the air today as we broke camp and worked our way down toward the James River. The longest foot bridge on the Appalachian Trail crosses the river at about 800 feet in elevation. The low valley makes Apple Orchard Mountain look impressive to the south of the river.

Trail Magic was waiting for us at the parking area near the footbridge. Red Bull, beer, and snacks filled two coolers placed there by a former thru-hiker. I chose the lesser of two evils and had a beer along with my Pop Tart. Raven and Fossil soon joined us as we fueled up for the climb out of the valley.

The last water source for the next nine miles was at Johns Hollow shelter. The trail magic beer was working its magic and I felt like taking a nap when I stopped for water. Maybe the Red Bull wouldn’t have been so bad.

I worked off the effects of the beer after the next mile and stopped for lunch at an overlook on the rocky cliff. Thick clouds were starting to form and surround the peak of Apple Orchard on the far side of the valley.

After a late lunch, we finished the day by ascending Bluff Mountain and stopped to take in the view. The afternoon sun was amplified by the humid air as thick dark clouds passed quietly by. The trail dropped down to Punchbowl Shelter where we stopped for the day. Another 22 mile effort set us up for a short day in to Buena Vista for resupply.

June 6, 2013

It was eleven miles to the trailhead on Highway 60 so we had planned to sleep in and take the leisurely walk to meet our shuttle at 3:30 pm.

A steady rain began to fall around 5:30 am. As usual I laid in my hammock half awake waiting for a break in the rain to jump out and pack up between showers. The break never came so at 8:00 I finally packed up everything inside, changed into my hiking clothes, reached out for my pack laying underneath the hammock, and stuffed the waterproof dry-bags into the pack. I donned the rain gear, put on my gaiters and shoes, and walked to the shelter for breakfast. The rain still hadn’t stopped so I grudgingly walked back to the hammock and stuffed it into the storage bag. Walking in the rain isn’t so difficult but camping in the rain is sometimes a chore.

It rained steadily for the entire eleven miles. Eventually, seven wet, cold, and hungry hikers stood at the trailhead for over an hour waiting for the shuttle to arrive. Fossil Phoenix took the initiative to call the hostel and I’m glad he did. They don’t pick up on a regular schedule as we were informed but only pickup at the trail by request.

Soon we were all whisked to town in a Dodge pickup. The hostel was full but Dirty Rice, Dropbear, and I shared a room at the motel.

I was thinking about Shanks as we were heading into town hoping he was out of the weather. He sent an email to tell us be was dry and safe. Unfortunately, stress fractures in both feet have ended his hike. Hiking the Appalachian Trail is extremely challenging when your body is at its best. Shanks covered nearly 800 miles and was hobbled by broken feet for most of it.

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Posted by: Michael Carr | June 1, 2013

Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee Knob, Heat

May 28, 2013

Reunited with Dropbear and Dirty Rice, I walked out of Pearisburg, VA sporting new shoes and a ridiculous amount of food. The increased pack weight wouldn’t have been so bad by itself but summer made an appearance today as well.

The three of us got a late start after waiting for the post office to open at 9:00 am. Dirty Rice was waiting on new shoes and I had to send my sleeping bag home. We left town at 10:00 am as the sun was shining brightly. There was a short walk downhill to the New River and a long walk across the bridge before the Appalachian Trail climbed back up to the ridge at about 3,300 feet in elevation.

I don’t think the trail was any more difficult than the previous 630 miles but I was stopping every 400 yards until I couldn’t hear my heartbeat in my head. Then I would make a slow grind up a few more switchbacks and stop again. I was a little woozy when I crested the ridge line but after walking a couple of hundred yards on the flatter terrain my composure came back.

I was glad to catch up with Dropbear and a few other hikers at a spring after the first nine miles of the day. I drank two quarts at the spring and loaded up another two for the remaining eleven miles of the day. Despite all of the recent rain there is little water available on some of the mountain ridges.

The rest of the day was relatively easy terrain but the heat and humidity made for a tough day. I was relieved to finally arrive at “The Captain’s” place to camp for the night. The Captain allows hikers to camp on his lawn but you have to make it across the river on a zip line he has rigged between trees on the opposing banks of the river.

I didn’t have much appetite due to the heat but I managed to force down a package of instant potatoes fortified with Parmesan cheese for supper.

May 29, 2013

We had a big day planned despite the persisting heat. Water was more plentiful along this 24 mile section so we wouldn’t need to carry as much.

The morning was still a struggle for me and I was exhausted when I arrived at the War Spur Shelter for lunch. Eleven and a half miles should have been much easier. My thoughts for most of the morning where focused on the fresh orange waiting in my pack. It was the first thing I ate and the sugar worked its magic. My appetite came back and after eating about a thousand calories worth of tortillas, peanut butter, tuna salad, and chocolate I was ready to hike again.

The next 1700 foot climb up to Kelly Knob went much better and the trail passed through some spectacular Virginia countryside for the rest of the day. An open pasture walk was followed by a stop at the Keiffer Oak (largest oak tree along the AT in the south) and then a final climb back to the ridge to catch the evening sun and a strong breeze.

A few whitetail deer were keeping a close watch on us as we made our way along the ridge. I haven’t seen much wildlife along the trail. Most of the time you can see into the forest about 100 yards or less. There are plenty of animals around but I suspect they hear or smell a hiker long before a hiker sees them.

The three of us arrived at Sarver Hollow Shelter just before dark. We each claimed a spot on the bunk platform but the only other hikers were a father and son duo who arrived after us.

There is an abandoned homestead located below the shelter near the spring. All that remains is the rock chimney and a partial log wall as the rest of the cabin has fallen down and rotted away. I can only imagine the difficult life that existed this high in the mountains.

May 30, 2013

Dropbear was up early and the rest of us followed. Another dry stretch of trail was in front of us so getting an early start would help beat the heat.

The day started easy enough with a ridge walk along Sinking Creek Mountain and on to Niday Shelter for water. A dry nine mile stretch over Brush Mountain was next. The highlight of this section was the Audie Murphy Memorial.

We traveled down the mountain and took a lunch break at Trout Creek. With temperatures in the low 90’s, I decided to drink at least two quarts of water at the creek, soak my feet, wet my shirt and bandana, and soak my feet again before moving on. Can you tell I was procrastinating?

The next section was another dry eight miles over the Dragon’s tooth. I didn’t care about seeing the tooth but I did care about scaling the treacherous rock wall on the way down from the rock monolith. The walk up to the ridge went better than expected. The trail was shaded most of the way with only a few moments spent in the scorching sun. Once I reached the ridge a stiff breeze gave some relief and it was actually quite enjoyable walking.

The climb down from the Dragon’s Tooth required some fancy maneuvering along the rock wall. I went slow because my balance wasn’t so good after walking in the heat all day. I made it through in fine shape though tired and slightly dehydrated. I met Dropbear at the next road crossing and Dirty Rice arrived a few minutes later.

Four Pines Hostel was about a quarter mile up the road and we all decided a shower sounded like a good idea. We walked to the hostel which is a three stall garage with a shower. Joe Mitchell owns the small acreage. He provides lodging and a shower, and also shuttles hikers to nearby services. All he asks in return is for visitors to sign his guest book and leave a small donation if you are able.

Joe pulled up the driveway in a pickup loaded with hikers. He greeted us and asked if we wanted a ride to nearby Catawba, VA and the Home Place Restaur. I didn’t have an appetite at the moment and almost declined. That would have been a big mistake on my part. The Home Place was the best meal I’ve eaten in a long time especially given the queasy feeling in my stomach from the 23 miles of hiking.

Joe picked us up after the meal and had us back to his house by dark. The garage was already full of hikers so we opted to sleep in the barn. It really felt like summer with the warm evening air, chirping crickets, and June bugs bouncing off of the walls in the barn. It was a great way to end a challenging day.

May 31, 2013

We planned to sleep in today since Dropbear was getting a ride to the Daleville post office from Joe at 9:00 am. Joe’s rooster seemed to think we should have been awake at dawn. I dreamed of fried chicken for awhile.

Dirty Rice and I took our time getting packed up. We planned to hike a shorter 16 mile day and spend some time on McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs. Dropbear would catch up with us later in the day.

The hike to McAfee Knob took us across more pasture and low ridges before crossing the parking area on VA 311. Then a gradual ascent to knob itself. The spring at Catawba Mountain Shelter was nearly dry but I managed to dip two quarts out of it hoping it would refill by the time Dirty Rice arrived. I stopped at the shelter for lunch, met Dirty Rice on the way out, and made sure he was able get enough water before continuing up to the knob.

McAfee Knob is probably the most photographed place on the Appalachian Trail. It is also a popular day hike for many people in the Roanoke area. The summit isn’t high compared to most other peaks on the AT but for 3200 feet it offers stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and valleys. Dropbear arrived after an hour or so and we took our photographs near the famous rock overhang.

We left the knob and moved on toward the Tinker Cliffs six miles away. The cliffs offer similar views of the mountains and a look back at McAfee Knob. Another long search for water and a slight detour at the base of Tinker Cliffs added some adventure to the afternoon jaunt. All three of us missed the trail switchback up to the cliffs and ended up at a dead end somewhere below the cliffs. Once we found the trail after a half mile of backtracking we enjoyed the evening atop Tinker Cliffs.

Lamberts Meadow Campsite was our resting place for the evening. Dropbear picked up his new hammock at the post office this morning so I helped him set it up before we all turned in for the night.

June 1, 2013

It was about ten miles to Daleville so we slept in as long as we could. We planned to get a motel room and take Sunday off so there was no need to hurry. It was still very warm and humid.

The trail still traveled along a dry and rocky ridge line. I have been keeping my eye out for poison ivy but it is more common in moist rich soil. I did see something poisonous though. My foot passed within twelve inches of what I think was a copperhead snake. The snake didn’t move so I took a photo of it before moving on. After researching the look-a-likes on the Internet I’m sure it was the pit viper suspected.

As we neared the highway I began to think about the past few days, the challenges, triumphs, and the fact that it hadn’t rained on us this section. Well the sky opened up just as we reached the Super 8 in Daleville so we are still batting a thousand.

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