Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Day 4 Descent of the Priest

Day 4
Who put that boulder there?
The Descent of the Priest
Our co-campers leave before we do. We are in no hurry. We have the 4000 foot descent of the Priest and our wives are not due till noon to pick us up. I have planned well in terms of food and clothing. I have worn all my clothing and only once. By the time I am done with a morning snack I will have eaten all my food except for one serving of tuna fish and I have stayed hydrated.
If only there were time to climb every mountain.
We begin our walk with an ascent of a few hundred feet to the summit of the Priest. We are rewarded with a wonderful northern view and a strong wind that almost blows us off the rocks. We cross the summit and begin our descent and are soon rewarded with a southern view. For the next half hour we are walking a downward trail along a ridge of rocks that at places is less than 20 feet wide. Between the trees and boulders we can see both northern and southern views. We then begin the switch backs. The trail book says there are 38 but Bo, counting in Spanish, numbers off 43. (Someone might call that annoying and wrong. I wouldn’t.)
Bridge Over the River Tye
The fresh air and energy of the day starts my mind working on a new novel entitled The Descent of the Priest which will consist of 38 chapters that slowly, but graphically chart the fall of my main character the Rev. Mo into an ever greater and greater wilderness of depravity. His fall will be imaged through the book as he makes ever more frequent visits to the tattoo parlor increasing his body art. Beginning maybe with a simple heart then adding an angel to one side of the heart and then a fallen angel to the other side of the heart. The angels then begin amassing armies to battle for his soul. I share this rather brilliant idea with Bo who suggests I find a different name for my main character. Now I ask, do you think that was helpful critique.
View from the Bridge
For some reason I want to do our descent quickly and we do it in 2 and a half hours. About 30 minutes of that were spent on the two overlooks and in one ‘pack off’ break. We end at a gravel parking lot and route 56. It is 10 am we have two hours before our wives arrive. We cross the highway and a few yards on the other side we find the Tye River. It is about 100 feet across and 2 – 3 feet deep here. The Appalachian Trail crosses it on a beautiful suspension bridge which is of course the Bridge Over the River Tye. We take off our hiking boots, socks and shirts (ONLY) and go and sit in the river for about 45 minutes it feels great. We pass the time with a final snack and then our wives arrive at noon with cold sodas and fried chicken and stories of their own. We get to share our lunch with a fellow hiker from Australia who is on day 8 of a 20 day hike. He tells us this chicken is the first meat he has had in ten days because two days before he started hiking he had all four wisdom teeth out. And I think I’ll stop there.
Thanks Bo, for planning a great hike.

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.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Day Two No Great adventures just a Great Life

Appalachian Trail Day 2
Cow Camp Shelter to Seeley Woodworth Shelter
We leave camp about 8:30 the next morning. Our boots are damp but our socks are fresh and dry. This matters because of the risk of blisters. Today’s hike will take us up over Cold Mountain (Not the one in the book.) and through Hog Camp Gap and Tar Jacket Ridge. We begin with a 700 ft climb to the summit of Cold Mountain. The summit of Cold Mountain along with Hog Camp Gap and Tar Jacket ridge are one of the few places along the trail in Virginia that are mowed several time a year in order to maintain the pasture look they had at the time the trail first crossed them. In reality most of this area had been fully cleared by 1900 and the forest we currently see is new growth. It’s great to walk in the open and it means there is an abundance of black berries along the trail to provide second breakfast and then even a snack after lunch. I eat my berries as I pick them but Bo has this obnoxious habit of filling his hand with berries and walking on. It is called differed gratification. As he walks in front of me eating his berries I consider tripping him with my walking stick so I can take his berries but I manage to restrain myself. This area is called Hog Camp Gap because they used to bring the hogs up here in the early fall so they could fatten up on acorns and chestnuts.
There are lots of birds, butterflies and wild flowers in the meadows as well as a great breeze. We also cross the remnants of a stone wall several times. The guide book reports that this wall is a total of 12 miles long which indicates its owner and builder was probably a significant land owner. It is unclear exactly when in the early to mid 1800’s it was built.
This is the day of this year’s greatest adventure. About mid afternoon we come across a family of four out on a day hike, parents and two teenagers. They are paused for a rest when we come on them and we stop and exchange a few pleasantries before going on. I am in the lead at this point and we have moved back into the woods. I am brought up short by a snake sunning itself in the middle of the path. I stop about three feet from it. Bo comes up and immediately says it’s a rattler. Both its pattern and tail indicate so. I ask Bo if he will lay down beside it so you can have a perspective of its size. He refuses. I then suggest he stand by it with his shoe next to it. He won't do this either he is very uncooperative. (I estimate the snake is three to four feet long but we will never, know will we.)

We back off and Bo decides that if he rolls some rocks near it, it might decide to leave. After about five throws that land very near the snake but don’t hit it he gives up. At this point the family catches up to us. The mother who apparently usually takes the lead swears she would not have seen it and that we saved her life. (Isn’t that nice.) I decide to take a long branch and nudge it from the trail. I very gently point its head up hill and off the trail. Mr. Snake takes great offense to this suggestion and winds himself up into strike position and starts shaking away at his rattler. We withdraw and decide to leave him with the trail and we make a 25 foot arc off the trail into the woods. 

Later Bo reads from our Appalachian Trail map rules that we are not to bother the wild life. I contend that Bo throwing rocks at is far more bothersome that me just nudging it with a stick. To prove my point throw some things at the person next to you at work. Then just nudge somebody at work with a stick. Let us know who take the greater offense.
We take our afternoon break at this amazing tree that has grown on top of this rock.
Our hike today is just over seven miles and we arrive at the Seeley Woodworth shelter at 5 pm. This shelter area is great because it is very open allowing for more breeze and dryer air. We have made it through the day without blisters. We are alone in the camp tonight.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Day One


4 Days and 3 Nights on the Appalachian Trail
No Great Adventures Just a Great Life
Another chance out on the trail with my good friend Bo Milner. It doesn’t get much better than this. Our wives drop us off at route 60 and the Appalachian trail in Amherst County Virginia, about 40 miles south of Waynesboro. I am starting the hike 25 pounds lighter than I was last year when we were hiking so I am feeling pretty good. This will be our most remote hike. We will not see a paved road; a moving car or a trash can for the next four days.
 Its 2 pm when we start out but we have less than five miles to go to reach tonight’s shelter. However our first 2.5 miles climbs 2000 feet to the summit of Bald Knob. That is the same as climbing 3000 stair steps. This is a steep climb and we take it slow and easy. About five hundred feet from the summit we are over taken by a thunderstorm. We pull our rain gear from our packs and hunker down before the heavy rain hits. We are already soaked with sweat but the purpose of the raingear is to keep us warm and to try to keep our boots dry. Within minutes the trail in front of us becomes a raging stream a foot wide. We are certain our wives are terribly worried about us as the lightning and thunder breaks right over us. We learn later that our wives are west of the storm, see no rain and are delighted to be photographing the rainbow created by our thunder storm.
After an hour the storm has past and we continue our journey up the mountain in a light rain. The summit of Bald Knob is no longer bald and offers no views. We arrive at Cow Camp Shelter (Named for the fact that as late as the 70’s cows were grazed on upper pastures here in the summer.) at about 6 pm.
A typical shelter camp includes a shelter, which is a three sided building with a bare floor that sleeps about a dozen people and then numerous tent sites scattered around the shelter. There is also usually a picnic table, a water source and a privy. (Outhouse) This camp had both a stream and a spring.
Cow Camp Shelter is the most populated camp we will stay at. There was a couple on their honey moon. They were married in March and immediately after their wedding started hiking south from Maine on the Appalachian Trail. He reported that his pack weighed 175 pounds. We estimated he weighed about 150. She said her pack weighed 80 pounds and we guessed she might have weighed 125. Those are crazy weights for packs. Our full packs weigh in at 25 to 30 pounds and many distance hikers get their packs down to less than 20 pounds.  These two had a rather well set up camp site and were taking a break from hiking. The only explanation for his overweight pack that he gave was that he had been a marine and in training he could spend all day carrying that weight in the hot sun so he did not see any reason he could not do it on the Appalachian Trail. The two other hikers in camp that night were both guys who were about thirty. One was a golf course designer between contracts and the other was a laid off plastic extruder. The golf course designer had done the first third of the Appalachian Trail, Maine to Pennsylvania, last year and was doing about a thousand miles this year, having started in where he left off last year.
The out come of the rain is that our boots are fairly damp and my cell phone won't work so we will be without any communication for the rest of the hike.

Dinner at Cow Camp Shelter