Category Archives: Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail Journal; July 9, 2015.

July 9, just north of Wise Shelter

Maggie woke me with a wet nose and an eagerly wagging tail at 5:30 am this morning, and before long we were up and moving. We efficiently cooked and ate our oatmeal and broke camp, and soon began our hike through Elk Garden, over the hill where the cows had been he evening before. During the night they had moved up into a higher area. The watched us lazily as we passed.

The “highlands,” including Grayson Highlands State Park, are breathtaking in their beauty:  Green mountains covered in low grass and shrubs, dotted with evergreen trees now and then, and topped with rock outcroppings big enough for whole families…even groups of families…to climb. The mountains were covered in rhododendron, and, higher up, in grass, blackberry, and blueberry bushes. All the berries were green, much to our disappointment. I was strongly reminded Franconia Ridge in New Hampshire.

The really fun part of today was the wild ponies that inhabit the balds. The first one we saw was an older male that was standing perpendicular to the trail, completely blocking the way through the brushy growth that formed 3-foot walls on each side of the path. This pony was injured, and had a large gash on one hind leg, which he was favoring. Maggie was beside herself with this newly discovered kind of creature. Not wanting to risk a kick, we managed to bushwhack our way around him as he had no intention of moving for us. (The little guy pictured at the right was just a baby, and healthy-looking as could be).

All told, the girls counted 23 ponies today, including quite a few foals. The foals were SO precious. Some were tamer than others, and the girls did pet them a bit, but later we saw a sign asking us not to. The last group we saw was the most wary. One adult watched us as we passed, and that seemed to be his or her job in the herd. When we got a bit too close as the trail turned toward where they were grazing, they moved off, with the one sentry holding back and watching.

So much of today we were out in the sun. I joked that it was a good thing the scenery was so beautiful and the ponies so fun, because the relentless sun and rocky footing were proving pretty uncomfortable. Without the views and ponies, there would be no point.  Despite more than one liberal application of sunblock, some of us were sporting pink and tender skin by the end of the day.

At 11 AM we stopped for lunch at the Thomas Knob shelter after four miles of hiking. Lunch was cheese, crackers, and pepperoni. We (mostly I, as I am the worrier!) are now a tiny bit worried about having enough of the right kind of food for the second half of our hike. Half of the crackers (lunch food) are gone and we’ve broken into the aged Gouda (YUM!). Mostly it’s snacks we’re short on, as the GORP is nearly gone. We underestimated the amount of breakfast we’d want, and have ended up eating snacks to round out our breakfasts enough to feel satisfied when we leave camp. I think if we cook some of the extra dinner food for lunch we should be able to eat some of the lunch food for snacks?

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Maya showing how we hang our food to keep it away from bears.

The best parts about this trip so far include those obvious to backpacking – taking exercise in the mountain air and being surrounded by ferns, moss, trees, rocks, mountains, deer, and ponies. On a more personal note, Maggie has been an excellent hiking dog. And I’ve really had fun with our family together. We have laughed a LOT.

I have missed  conversation with Scott as the usual hiking order is Maya with Maggie (Maya has been so caring and responsible for her!), Scott, Azaria, and then me.  We all get up and go to bed at the same time so there’s no adult conversation to be had. Still, we’re doing great. Tonight is hump night…after tonight, 4 nights down and 3 to go. Hiking days are half done and we’re at about 34 miles, I think.

Appalachian Trail Journal; July 8, 2015

July 8, Camp just south of Elk Garden

Aside: Scott and I figured out today that this is our twelfth backpacking trip together if you count all the one-nighters: 1.) Silver Peak, near Portal, AZ, 1994. 2.) Dolly Sods, WV, 1996. 3.) New Hampshire, 1996 or 1997 near Franconia Notch. 4.) Yosemite National Park, CA, 1998. 5.) Canyonlands National Park, UT, 1998. 6.) Somewhere in Texas, Feb 1999. 7.)Weminuche Wilderness, CO, 1999. 8.) Oregon, 2002. 9.) White Mountains, NH, 2009. 10.) White Mountains, NH, 2013. 11.) Joyce Kilmer Wilderness, 2014.

Breakfast today was eggs and bacon. Rehydrated powdered eggs and a package of bacon bits seem gourmet on the Trail. We packed up from Lost Mountain Shelter and started hiking north, passing more hikers in the first 30 minutes of today than we did in the previous 1 1/2 days!

Today started with a lot of uphill hiking, and it felt like we were trudging along. Scott’s and my packs are nearly equally weighted, but he is carrying more actual gear than I as the pack I am carrying a very old Dana Designs daypack that Scott bought soon after college. It weighs pounds more than his lightweight pack. My pack, however, has a hipbelt and his homemade minimalist one doesn’t, so I can comfortably carry a larger percentage of my body-weight comfortably. The girls both have new Osprey packs, and both are carrying a good amount, but perhaps a better weight for their body sizes.

So far on this trek, we have hardly seemed to leave civilization, and that is one reason we chose this section for our first long family hike. Should we need to make an exit, there are multiple points of egress. This morning, after one mile of hiking, we crossed Highway 58 again. Soon after we found ourselves in a cow pasture right by another road. We passed day hikers here and there, including a group of 20-something guys at Buzzard Rock blasting “Ramblin’ Man” from their Bluetooth speaker. We started hearing the music at least 5 minutes away from the top. Buzzard Rock is supposed to have a beautiful view, but it was foggy this morning, which is just as well as I would not have wanted to stay there for long with the music blaring. They must have been debating among themselves whether they should be playing music so loud as I heard one of them protest, “But this is the soundtrack of life!” They were overly polite to us in a way that suggested sheepishness at their behavior, and bid us a good day as we quickly departed the scene. Note: Contrary to their belief, I would not consider “Ramblin’ Man” to be the soundtrack of my life.

Today was a wet day, but not terribly so. It just misted all day, as if we were walking in the clouds, which I guess we probably were. The wind would gust and drops of water off the treetops would make us think it was raining, but as soon as the wind died down the dripping would subside.

Indian Pipe

Indian Pipe – not found on the bald, but in the most forest today.

Today’s hike included a couple of balds, which are deforested mountaintops found in North Carolina and Virginia. Most have grasses and shrubs growing on them, and are often grazed as a method of maintaining them. I remember learning about balds in college from Dr. Peter Weigl, my Ecology professor in college. He took our class on an overnight trip to Roan Mountain and we discussed the ecology and origins of the balds. At the time, and perhaps still now, there is some debate about how they came to exist. Dr. Weigl’s theory is that they opened up during pre-history, and were maintained by large herbivores. They make a striking, breathtaking landscape. Many of the shrubs we saw on the balds today were blackberry and blueberry bushes. Alas, no berries were ripe yet; rather, they hung, hard and small and green, from the branches as we passed.

We are camped now just south of Elk Garden. We hiked out to where we hada good view of Elk Garden before retreating back into the woods to camp. It was 5 PM when we arrived here, and we’d passed a nice site near water. We hope that Elk Garden, a large bald with cows grazing now and a great view, would be a spectacular way to start our day tomorrow. We almost camped a couple of miles back, as Maya’s feet hurt and she’d had a run-in with a field of stinging nettle as she made her way to off trail to answer the call of nature. When everyone learned it was just 3:00, we all wanted to press on. So press on we did.

Wildlife sightings today included several deer, two junco nests, and we heard a screech owl. Maggie has been a great hiker and it’s entertaining to have a dog along. You just wonder what, if anything, she thinks about this serious diversion from her usual days napping on the sofa. Maya keeps pushing for finding a convenience store. We are not out of any supplies, but she is very interested in finding gas station snacks nonetheless. She might just be earning herself the trail name “7-Eleven.”

Now, all is quiet. We’ve read 3 chapters of Alice in Wonderland together, and it’s time for sleep.

Appalachian Trail Journal; July 6-7, 2015

July 7, Lunchtime. Saunders Shelter (~8 miles north of Damascus)

Yesterday we parked our car in Damascus, Virgina across the street from Mt. Roger’s Outfitters. A brief conversation with the shopkeeper informed us of where to put the car and how to get in touch with him when we were ready to be picked up in a week. It was all so very casual – no registering our car, no letting them know how long it would be there. Just park and go. And go we did, leaving our car about about 4 PM.

The AT went right through Damascus, past bed and breakfasts clearly designed for the weary thru-hiker, past hostels of a similar nature, past ice cream shops that surely are a welcome treat after days on the Trail. The AT joined with the Virginia Creeper Trail, followed the highway, and then soon cut left, up some wooden stairs, and into the woods. At this point, the hike through the woods was exactly what I would expect from a North Carolina/Virginia trail in the mountains. Ferns, mountain laurel, a mixture of hardwoods and evergreens, galax, roots, and rocks.

After a couple of hours, we took a break for dinner wiht plans to continue hiking to find a campsite after we ate. We had added water to our dehydrated mixture of peas and potatoes before we started hiking, and they had been soaking since. This, our first meal made from Harmony House dehydrated vegetables we had bought a huge box of from REI, took a while to cook through even after soaking for two hours. We were pleasantly surprised at how tasty itwas, but were a little disappointed at the volume. Maya’s (13) tummy was not feeling great, and she chose not to eat.  Scott, Azaria (10) and I were able to easily polish off the pot without feeling stuffed. We were heartened that we’d likely be eating yummy food during our trip if this was representative of dinners to come, but a little worried that we might be left unsatisfied after a full day’s hike.

We stopped to camp about 4 miles north of Damascus, finding a well-worn campsite just off the trail as it got dark. We were also closer to a stream that I felt it was good to camp, but a well-worn campsite is better than spreading out impact, it was getting late, and there were not a lot of flat options.

Tuesday morning Maggie the dog let us know it was time to get up, and when we started hiking we were very surprised to see how close to Highway 58 we had camped – it was less than a quarter mile up the trail.

At this point (I am writing at lunch on Tuesday), we’ve been surprised how few other hikers we’ve seen. The only folks we saw in our first eight miles of hiking were at Highway 58, where there was a parking area for the Virginia Creeper trail. Looking at how beautiful that trail is and watching the bicyclers out riding, I made a mental note to come back for a bike-riding adventure someday. We saw more bikers as the AT followed the Virginia Creeper trail, but then the Trail took off left and paralleled the Creeper Trail and the river as it climbed. Eventually, we veered off to the north.

Lunch, Day 2Just before stopping for lunch we started a series of switchbacks, and did not make it quite to the top of the mountain before finding a path to Saunders Shelter and choosing to stop here for lunch. The path to the shelter was really beautiful – all ferns, moss, and tall trees.  As I write, we’re enjoying a lunch of crackers, cheese, tuna salad, dried mango, and summer sausage. Maggie enjoyed cleaning out the last licks of tuna salad from the foil pack for us, and we appreciated not having to carry a trash with stinky tuna remnants! So far, everyone is holding up well, and in good spirits!


July 7, evening, Lost Mountain Shelter

We hiked 12 miles today! Now, my reasoning for planning a week-long trip with no distance goal was that we’d not feel compelled to hike far at all on any given day. While thru-hikers often log 25-mile days, they are not usually hiking as a family with an energetic yet still young 10-year-old.  Maya really wanted to have an end goal in mind for the day, so we picked this shelter and suddenly it became our goal, and turned out to be doable.

I hope that at least one day we find ourselves in a place where we might just relax and have a shorter hike. I envision finding a beautiful glade or spring and deciding to spend the afternoon there. Knowing myself (and I think Maya is much the same way), I do like to have goals and the idea of just hanging out is not one that seems to really makes sense. We’ll see if we can get into vacation mode enough to make that happen.

Scott and I managed to both have less than pleasant encounters with wasps today, during which the wasps had the last say. Actually, they had the only say during the encounters as they simply flew up, stung us, and flew away. I did have choice words and expressions I’ll not record here after my little friend flew off, but he was not around to hear them by that point. Maya and Maggie were in front, leading the way, and apparently also agitating the wasp nests they passed as they hiked. Scott got stung hiking past a log that housed a nest, and then warned Azaria and me to hike quickly past it as we were behind him. Later, I was in the rear and never saw it coming, or going. Nailed me behind the ear.

We saw six other hikers on the trail today…or maybe eight? I lost count. Two looked like day hikers. Several backpackers are sharing the Lost Mountain Shelter area with us, along with numerous wood thrushes singing us to sleep. The Lost Mountain shelter is really a beautiful setting, and the hike that approaches the shelter is flat, filled with hardwoods and rhododendron.