Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Day Three Ascent of the Priest

Day 3
Seeley Woodworth Shelter to the Priest Shelter
We have another day of moderate up and down climbing with about a 600 ft climb at the end as we begin our ascent of the Priest. The Priest is one of three peaks in the ‘religious range’; the Cardinal and Little Priest are the others. As is often the case along the trail there are various stories to explain the names of mountains. One says a pastor living up here named them another says a solitary priest lived on the mountain at one time and named them. It at first seems unlikely that a protestant pastor would have given these mountains such Catholic names. However to climb up the north east face of the priest is a steep 4000 ft climb. Definitely one of the hardest climbs in Virginia, perhaps he was climbing it on a hot day and thought it rather hellish and so named the mountains.
Today’s Hike includes a side trip to Spy Rock. Bo takes offense that the Appalachian Trail book says that this rock was ‘Allegedly Used’ by the confederates as an observation post to watch for invading Yankees. Bo is certain it was used as such. I think it would have taken a while to get the news down from here. There is no clear trail up the rock and at places it is hard to find a foothold and hand hold but the challenge is rewarded by an amazing 360 degree view from the top. We take a nice long break before climbing down.
As we begin our ascent of the Priest we cross into the Priest Wilderness area. We cannot help but be struck by the imagery of the priest lost in the wilderness and its spiritual parallels. As we make this final ascent of the day I point out to Bo there is a sermon in climbing the mountain. He of course asks me to elaborate. Well it is hard to ascend a mountain but there is great reward at the top in the way of a view and a fresh breeze and a feeling of accomplishment.  In contrast it is relatively easy to descend a mountain and at the bottom the air is hotter and still and the view is limited and the trail is crowded by brambles.
Even though the weather is pleasant for our hiking the sweat pours off each of us when we are in the ascending mode. I spent a little over $100 in preparing for this year’s hike. That included three new pairs of socks.   Bo only brings two pairs of socks on the hike and wears each pair twice. I also bought a water bottle with a built in filter. This year there has been no shortage of water but I have been carrying 3 liters of water which is about twice what I have carried previously. Water weighs about two pounds per liter. I also have sweat wicking T Shirts. These shirts are designed to draw the sweat away from your body and evaporate it more quickly. This is supposed to keep me cooler and dryer.   The other thing is a dry shirt is significantly lighter than a wet shirt. A regular cotton T shirt weighs one half pound dry but a wet one weighs three times that. Plus they don’t dry out overnight so the dirty laundry just increases the pack weight.  The wicking shirts seem to really work.
We have been doing such good time on today’s hike that we arrive at the shelter thirty minutes before we expect to. The shelter is vacant when we arrive, and we select a camp site some distance from the shelter but convenient to the privy. This is a great summer privy because it has a stainless steel toilet seat. However I fear in the winter it could be quite a shock. Our two previous camps have had piped springs. These are preferred because the pipe is set back into the earth and means animals have not been playing in the water prior to your arrival. They will have been drinking from the stream below the spring. It also means the water spills out at a height you can place your water bottle under and that there is no sediment. Tonight’s spring is an in ground spring, meaning the water bubbles up out of the ground and mister raccoon and I are drinking out of the same area. In this type of spring I dip my cup in the stream, which here is very shallow and hard to do without stirring up sediment, and pour the water in my water bottle. I then have an ultraviolet magic wand I hold in the bottle for a minute that kills all the microbes. That is very important here because we can see little tiny worms in the bottom of the spring. The shelter log book says they are anabolic worms. (I looked this up on line but could find nothing but the fact that there is some connection between anabolic steroids and worms.)
This evening it continuously threatens to rain so we sit up by the shelter so we can retreat into a dry space when it starts to sprinkle. No rain really materializes. About 8 two hikers show up. They hiked up the Priest in four hours. They are just out for one night and are hiking back to their car in the morning. One is from Michigan he is about 22 and the other is maybe 18 or 19 and from Vienna, Austria. We chat for awhile before heading off to our tents. When it comes to full darkness the sky is amazingly clear. I can see stars as I have not seen in years.

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