AT: VA-606 to VA-52

Birch and I were eager to get back on the trail this Fourth of July weekend. We drove down from our home in Maryland – a 5 hour drive! Bubba shuttled us to our starting point at VA-606 and we were on the trail by 12:30 pm. This might be one of our latest starts but we had a very short 6+ mile hike to the shelter.

The hike began near Kimberling Creek, where we crossed a wobbly suspension bridge. At the other end we met a couple of backpackers who were hiking north. They were able to assure us that water was flowing at Jenny Knob Shelter. At this time of year you never know, so it was great news.

It was a hot, sticky day and it felt like we were in a rain forest. The trail winds around ravines and slowing ascends up to a ridge and Brushy Mountain. We hiked beside a stream that is listed as “unreliable” in the AWOL guide and that was a pretty good description. It was barely flowing.

Jenny Knob Shelter

It wasn’t long before we reached the shelter. We were a little surprised to find that we had it all to ourselves. Before long “Wolfgang”, a long section hiker from Germany, joined us. Wolfgang planned to hike from Georgia to New Jersey. He was about our age and was very philosophical about what hiking the trail really meant to him. We enjoyed his company.

By 7:30 am the next day we had completed breakfast, packed our tent, and were on the trail. Although the guide books make the hike look pretty flat it certainly didn’t feel that way. We seemed to be doing a lot more “up” than “down”! The ridge line was beautiful. As we approached Helveys Mill Shelter the woods switched from oaks and birch to pines. There were beautiful blooming rhododendrons too. The trail itself was very smooth and it was a pleasure to be able to look ahead and not have to watch our feet.

The only thing missing was…people. What a difference it makes to be out of the thru hiker bubble! Several miles into our hike a woman named “Maps” approached us going north and remarked that we were the only people she had seen all day. Likewise! “Maps” is a section hiker who has completed a lot of the trail. She was really impressive.

Once we got to Helveys Mill Shelter we had a choice. We could walk down to the shelter to camp and hike out the next day, or continue on another 2.2 miles to our car. It was just after noon and the shelter itself is .3 miles off the trail so the choice was easy. We continued on. After a quick descent we arrived at VA-612. We were really perplexed at our next move. Signage here is really needed! We walked about .8 miles along VA-612 until we came to our car at US-52, near Bland, VA. The big news is that we now have over 700 miles completed on the AT! Our next backpacking adventure will be very different. Look for our next blog to learn more! 🙂

 

 

Appalachian Trail: PA Rt 309 to Lehigh River

Last year Tod and I ended our backpacking long before December. What a mistake! We are determined to stay in shape, be active, and complete the PA section of the AT. Even though the weather forecast predicted some chilly weather, we decided to do what seemed to be a pretty easy 13+ miles.

The parking lot at our starting point was full of pick up trucks. PA is still in the height of deer hunting season and we did not come prepared with our orange vests. We met a couple who was also planning to backpack overnight and we learned that they had more folks joining them. This sounded great. We would not be alone at the shelter! We took off while they waited for the rest of their party to arrive.

At first it was smooth and easy. I thought for sure we’d get into camp early. About two miles into the hike we came across our first boulder field. From here, it was rocky all the way. The highlight of the hike (if one can really call it that) was an unnerving section called “knife’s edge”. Up we went, to a pointed, jagged, mountain of rocks! This is not the best place for those who have vertigo or who need assurance of firm footing. At one point Tod said, “I can’t watch!” as I practiced my best balance beam approach to navigating the rocks.DSCN0209DSCN0211

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once at Bake Oven Knob Shelter (maintained by the Blue Mountain Eagle Climbing Club)  we were surprised to see the couple who we had left in the parking lot. How did that happen? The group (wisely!) decided to start from another, closer, location. The family, headed by Kevin and Linda, included 3 adult couples as well as an adorable dog. What a fun group! They made an enormous fire and generously invited us to warm up.

Tod and I were well prepared. We had a very comfortable night and kept warm. When we awoke we were a little surprised to see everything (including our tent and backpacks) covered in frost! I have to admit, I was a bit proud of myself for weathering the elements so well.

My frosty pack!

My frosty pack!

We had hoped that the next day of our hike would be less rocky but it didn’t really turn out that way. We still encountered boulder fields. However, the views were stunning and well worth the effort. There are plenty of fantastic places to camp should you decide that the shelter isn’t for you.

We kept expecting to run into the PA Turnpike but we didn’t do so. It turns out that the turnpike runs underneath the mountain! (I wish the map had mentioned that.) After a rocky, careful downhill trek, we arrived at the bridge over the Lehigh River. What a great way to spend a weekend!DSCN0228

 

Appalachian Trail: RT 94 to RT 74

The Appalachian Trail is addictive. The more miles one completes, the more one wants to do. Tod and I are anxious to move our way farther and farther north in Pennsylvania. We decided to do a one day, 11-mile hike from a spot near Deer Run Campground to Rt. 74, just north of Boiling Springs. DSCN0082

It is amazing how quickly we felt a sense of serenity upon hitting the trail. The first mile was definitely an ascent, but very manageable. Switch backs help! We then came to an area that provided us the opportunity to do a bit of scrambling. The trail goes straight through several rock formations and we climbed up rocks, over and around rocks, through crevices, and between boulders. It was nothing unmanageable, just enough to add some variety to the hike. Isn’t it fun to feel like you’ve accomplished something even though, in reality, your 8-year-old niece DSCN0092could do it in half the time?!?

 

The first part of this hike is a series of ascents and descents. Very gentle, but enough of a variety to make it interesting. I was going on with a sense of determination. “Let’s get this done!” Fortunately, I was with a hiking partner (Tod!) who had a better understanding of what hiking is all about. He stopped walking at one point and said, “Look at the trees! The leaves are beginning to turn colors!” Sure enough, subtle hints of the coming Fall were throughout the forest. It was a great reminder to look up from the trail and bask in the beauty of one’s surroundings.DSCN0094
After stopping near Alec Kennedy Shelter for lunch, we reached Center Point Knob, where one has a great view of the valley below. This area is maintained by the Cumberland Valley Appalachian Trail Club. From here the trail descends to farm land. The trail actually goes through a corn field. After crossing a road, we got a bit tripped up. Well…lost! We missed a cairn that directed us left and instead went straight, continuing into a corn field until we were sufficiently puzzled that we pulled out the map.

OK. Where the heck are we?

OK. Where the heck are we?

Oops! This was frustrating but also humorous enough that we can laugh at ourselves now.

A highlight of the hike is that it goes straight through Boiling Springs, a beautiful town with a river that attracts a lot of fishing. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has an office there and their store is open and staffed by volunteers on the weekend. (Thanks!)

From Boiling Springs, we had less than two miles to go to get back to the car. All in all, it was a very satisfying hike, full of variety and adventure.cropped-dscn0095.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appalachian Trail: Snickers Gap to Ashby Gap

Tod and I decided to take a three day backpack trip on the AT by going to Snickers Gap to Manassas Gap. Why does the title suggest that we only got to Ashby Gap? Well, I suppose that is an important part of our story.

As we drove to Snickers Gap the sky started to blacken and rain began to fall. The hottest days of the season were forecast (close to 100 heat index) and we were weighed down with the heaviest packs ever due to the uncertainly of the water supply. To top it off, we were about to tackle the most difficult section of Virginia. What could possibly go wrong?!?!IMG_0128

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A peaceful, smooth part of the trail. Not quite like the rest. 🙂

This section is known as the “roller coaster”. About a decade ago, the AT moved West onto a route that goes up and down, with 400-600 ft ascents and descents, one right after the other, for about 12 miles. Appropriately, it is known as “the roller coaster”. The hike began with a quick 400 ft. climb to Bear Dens Hostel. “Not bad!,” I thought. However, by the time we got to the beautiful area near Sam Moore Shelter, 3.5 miles later, we were shocked to find that we were going at about half our usual pace. At this rate, getting to our intended destination of Rod Hollow Shelter was looking pretty dim. Still, we pressed on, hopeful that we could pick up the pace.

Along the way we ran into a group of hikers who were attending the AT Conservancy conference. They would stop and we passed. When we stopped, they passed. Back and forth, we had opportunities to chat. (The next day, they took a day hike in the opposite direction and we saw them again!)

We used our water filter for the first time in a beautiful stream about a mile north of Rt. 605. Still, it was clear that we would need to stop for the night soon. We looked for a campsite that was supposedly just past Morgan Mill stream. No luck! We were headed up and up.

We never found the campsite. Tired, fried, whipped and beat, we reluctantly set up camp just off the trail near the top of Piney Ridge. I was convinced we were sitting on a bed of poison ivy! Although we had a delicious meal of mac and cheese ready to go, we soon realized that we had no utensils. Ugh! Have you ever eaten mac and cheese (and oatmeal the next morning) with just your fingers!?

Our "campsite"!

Our “campsite”!

The next day we took off determined to make up time and get to Dick’s Dome. After descending to Bolden Hollow there is a sharp turn right, up a hill to continue onto the AT. We didn’t see it! In fact, there is a white dash of paint on a tree near the turn that sort of suggests that one should continue straight instead of turn. (This is only a problem Southbound. North bound folks have a nice sign pointing to where to go. Please add one for those going Southbound!) We went off trail for quite a while before we realized our mistake and backtracked to get going in the right direction again.

We loaded up with tons of water (about 8 liters) at Rod Hollow. Although we had technically completed the roller coaster, the tremendous heat took its toll. The mud from the previous rains combined with the heat made it tough going. We were soaked with sweat and drinking water at a rate that was not sustainable in order to get to the next water supply. Our pace was awful and safety concerns caused us to make the decision to save the rest of the trip for a cooler day.

Yay! No more roller coaster!

Yay! No more roller coaster!

Luckily, we met a couple as we approached Ashby Gap that was willing to drive us to our car. All said, we learned some valuable lessons. Look at the elevation changes when planning trips, bring tons of food for energy, keep in mind trail conditions, and don’t plan tough hikes for 90+ day heat. Most importantly, when it stops being fun or health concerns kick in, take a break!