Appalachian Trail – August 8, 2013
I HATE when I hike unnecessary miles. When the realization hits me, I feel my stomach sink, and the screech of frustration usually silences the woods around me. Today included about six “lost” miles on the “Hemlock” Trail. I still have no idea how it happened. Sometimes I get lost in my head as stories play out, and I look up startled to see it is an hour later. The same thing happens when I drive occasionally. I’ll surface to find myself 50 miles further down the road, and no memory of what was passed along the way. I expect in this case that the rain did not help.
I put my head down and hiked, just watching my feet, and the rocks and roots ahead of me. I never even noticed when the trails split apart. I only realized my mistake when I glanced up, searching for the white blazes. I stopped dead in my tracks as I approached a tree with a clear blue blaze, and lightly groaned. I was totally disgusted. I think I muttered the entire hour back to the AT.
The rain spit off and on all morning as I hiked through the Bigelows. I would glance at the viewpoint signs and keep climbing through the hazy, misty clouds. As I summited Avery Mountain, the clouds rapidly cleared, and I had the most amazing views from the sub-alpine peak. I looked across the rest of the range and down across the lakes below. It really was a breath taking sight, and a great place for lunch.
As I was finishing up lunch a group of six NOBO’s stopped to talk. They were young, so I really did not expect much conversation. At this point, most NOBO’s were on a mission. They could smell the finish line, and the intensity with which they hiked left little room for chit chat. This group was different though. They seemed relaxed, and enjoying the end of this long journey. They asked me about the trail ahead, and then asked me where I was from in the US. I told them the state, and one of the girls grinned at me, and asked where. I told her, and she started laughing. She was from the same small town. There are a lot of coincidences out here. It was fun to chat with them for a few minutes, but relatively quickly I began to see the expected restlessness spread through the group. Some had begun moving on, and the others were watching, wanting to go but also not wanting to be rude. I stood and said I needed to go, and they all smiled in relief as they said goodbye and moved quickly past me. It was amazing to watch them skim across rocks that I picked my way through like a small elderly gnome. I hoped I would be as a agile in a few hundred miles.
The day was a foot pounder and since I had given away six miles, I decided to stay at Horn Pond instead of pushing for town. It appeared it would continue raining into the evening, so I needed a good tent site. I reached the turn off for Horn Pond and headed slowly down the side trail looking for a campsite. There were typically plenty of sites near shelters. All the sites I passed looked like low lying mud holes. The cleared sites were muddy dirt, that I knew would fill with water at the first good down pour. I decided to spend my first night in a shelter.
There were two shelters at this location. The three side shelters probably got a lot of traffic during the summer, being close to town, and near such great views. I turned to the shelter on my left, and was greeted by two men, and a couple. They were all very friendly. The couple immediately told me they were staying in the other shelter, so I decided to stay where I was and let them have the other shelter to themselves. I began to unpack, and chatted trail with the two men as I set up everything for the night. We fell asleep at dark, for maybe thirty minutes.
It was a tough night. I am one of the lightest sleepers in the world, but even if borderline deaf, I probably would not have slept through the gurgling, intermittent bear snores coming from the man sleeping in the middle of the shelter. My earplugs were useless, so I began packing around 4:30AM, and by 5AM was headed out into the dark. This is the main reason I don’t stay in shelters. Not only are they uncomfortable, and often overrun with vermin, but the noises always keep me up, even with my foam earplugs shoved all the way down my ear canals.
The prior evening, I had asked the section hiker how the hike down to the road would be the next morning. He was obviously in good shape with a fairly driven personality, and said “There was a fairly moderate grade with a few rocky patches, but I kept up a good steady pace climbing up here.”
I had known how to translate this…I will rock pick straight down over rock slides, lowering myself with my hands and throwing down my poles as I drop a few feet to the next slippery, sharp pile of rocks. I will skooch across wet slimy rocks on my butt, and move about 1 mph. My translation proved to be accurate, but I was mentally prepared, so just skooched and grumbled only a little as I worked my way down the mountain.
I was headed for town, and visions of food blocked out most thoughts of immediate difficulties.