Monday, February 13, 2017

The importance of tent stakes (final)

Awakened last  night by a strong windstorm, the kind that my trail mentor once described as hearing jets coming up the hill and threatening to flatten one's tent as they pass.  My tent was thinking about a career change to kite, urging me to get out and pull those nasty tent stakes that were holding it back from its true calling.

I managed to stretch out the final descent into the Tye River valley by missing a turn and stumping down a forest road for a half mile before winding up at a locked fence. How can anyone get lost on a trail that resembles a freeway, and is carefully marked by volunteers with white blazes from end to end? Umm, well ...

Very clear -- go straight ahead (south, downhill). Do not turn across the creek.

Oh, well. Back up the hill, across the creek and down.

The Tye River footbridge and the Ion had my finish line staked out and waiting for me!

Three Ridges of views (final)

I was the earliest wakeup, but everyone else on the ridge was already out of the camp when I left. Pledge antics ran until about midnight, cheers, rap music singalongs, et cetera. Yawn.

Yesterday, as I was clearing out and moving my tent to the farthest point I could, one of them asked me if I was a Greek during my time at U. Va. "No," I replied, "I was a grad student."

All their expressions went flat -- easily read. "Egad, he's one of the Enemy!"

After I had gathered and moved all of my camping gear to the other side of the ridge and just before sundown, a small flock of women walked past and headed down toward the campground. Sister sorority? Hope they enjoyed all the male attention they must have received, at whatever level ... not good role models, I think, for guys or for girls.

Anyhow. Southbound and up this morning into the clouds wrapping the 3975 foot Three Ridges Summit (aka Bee Mountain).

On the way up I met another hiker moving at about my speed Classifying hikers is pretty easy when you know the signs: 30s/40s, tall, heavy in the middle, good gear, well fitted out pack. Classification: experienced hiker out for exercise/ recovery from health issue. Turned out to be dealing with diabetes, does his own checks and insulin shots on the trail -- I spoke admiringly of his efforts to fight the disease.

He acknowledged that it was a tough one, then grinned and said, "My trail name is Fuji Snail. You know Mount Fuji, in Japan?"

I allowed that I still have some plans for that hill someday.

"There's a Japanese philosopher's saying: a snail may climb Fuji slowly, but the snail still climbs."

We parted at the second vista, where he stopped to do the tests and injections needed to control his blood sugar while looking out over a hundred miles of tiny towns and farms and feeling the wind gusts trying to snatch your hat or handkerchief.

At the summit, deep into clouds. Great views of their insides! But, like humans, pretty much the same as everyone else´s.

Then, down through boulder river and rock scrambles.

While descending, I met a small group laboring up the slope. Classification keys: light athletic shoes, no packs, no warmth layers, maybe one in two carrying a small water bottle. Classification: rescue team customers.

The lead RTC greeted me by asking how long it had been since I left the summit. "About 45 minutes," I replied, "but that was going down. Going up took about two hours on the other side, and this is a lot harder."

After casting other aspersions of doubt and fear on their intent, I wished them a good day on the trail, and continued on. Hike your own hike, folks, I'm hiking mine.

Across  the valley, The 4000+ foot Priest towered over the lesser hills collected around its massive sides. Already climbed that trail last year, entered a ¨confession¨ in the shelter log at the summit to prove it.

Over a thousand feet below-- the Tye River Valley. The Ion is there, unmolested, ready to take me to an ice cream store tomorrow. Keys are in my pocket? Check.

I again had to argue myself out of trying to skip a planned stop and just trudge on to make sure that the Ion was all right. Stopping was a good choice! Harpers Creek is another hidden idyll, a cheerfully babbling stream running down a deeply forested valley, with the ridges I had just walked towering over the trees along an arc stretching from NNW to SSE.  

High winds, a burst of rain that had me racing to get the tent set up, and a sudden drop in temperature all herald a return to normal February weather. Time to fold the tent and get out of the mountains.

More photos

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Choices (final)

AT Humpback Rocks ice rocks

AT Humpback Rocks Trail ice spring

Cleaned up my bivouac site carefully -- Leave No Trace rules --  made do with trail bars, a tuna pack, and a sip of my remaining 6 ounces of water for breakfast. Back half a mile to water, or forward 2 and a half miles to the shelter I planned to reach by day's end? I chose the second option.

Bivouac Site

Looked like a good choice after I got there, and the climb was stiff enough that I was really ready for some oatmeal when I stumped downhill the last rise in the trail. Clean babbling stream, flat, clear, and soft tent sites ... large Dunkin Donuts bag filled with trash near the shelter firepit (unkind thoughts), but I can carry that out for the rangers. So I set up camp.

A quiet voice whispered that I was on the north end of a loop that many folk do as a day hike -- surely I could do another 7 miles before sunset? Common sense prevailed, even when a noisy crowd of UVA pledges showed up to camp for the night.

I moved my tent to the other side of the ridge with a half dozen others.

Tomorrow, the Three Ridges Wilderness, starting with a 1200' climb up Bee Mountain followed by a ridge walk with a net 1200' descent, to arrive at Harpers Creek shelter. No water supplies on the AT between here and there, regrettably.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Humpback Rocks (final)

What is missing from this photo?

A more difficult climb to Hunchback Rock than I recall it being 41 years ago this Valentines Day ...

- 30% more weight?
- 200% more mileage on legs?
- lack of attractive hiking partner?
- or another trail, possibly we went to the Overlook, rather than the peak. I was not paying too much attention to the trail at the time, had other concerns on my mind.

Still recall her excitement, the way she kept glancing at the ring, as if it might disappear.

Humpback Rocks Mtn Trail Vista
(yes, the trail leads right over the edge)

Humpback Rocks Mtn from below
Humpback Rocks Peak Vista

The Humpback Rock of Humpback Rocks Mtn

Humpback Rocks Mtn summit

Heading south, I missed the turn for the Hunchback Rock campground, forged on toward next shelter 6 miles away ... but sundown came first, so I bivouacked  on the AT trailside for the second time .. ran through days end rituals quickly, wrapped up in sleeping bag by 7 pm.

I am just southwest off the Wintergreen ski complex, where they are doubtless grousing about this unseasonable warm weather.

Wintergreen Ski Resort with artificial snow

More photos

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Moment Just Before

A Shenandoah snow flurry that slipped by the forecasters -- many of them do -- added to the pleasure I get from driving down Interstate 81 with all of the 18-wheelers and half-rational drivers. Given the unexpected precipitation, gusty winds, and forecast 20 °F morning temperature, I stopped off in Raphine to buy a cozy hotel room to keep me warm for the night.

The Devils Backbone Brewery is one of a number of "must" stops for hikers who care more about enjoying the Trail than finishing it, so I drove over to eat dinner there. Bit of a surprise! Instead of the usual brew hall and bar benches I was expecting, there was a large courtyard with a fire pit, filled with patios and tables, and surrounded by restaurant-like facilities -- all empty, possibly because it was Thursday evening and the thermometer had followed the sun going down.

The beer was well made (a dark pilsner, new to me), and the fresh pretzel was crusty and acceptable even if priced at $8, but the chicken bacon avocado salad was -- well -- late, uninspired, and would have tasted better without the rubbery chicken and the stale bacon chunks.  Would I have taken the brewery's free shuttle down from the nearest shelter on the AT, considering quality, cost, and the impact on my sleep when I was returned shivering uphill to bundle into my tent until dawn?  Pros and cons, I guess. It is good beer.

View from the Blue Ridge Parkway, looking down the valley I plan to descend into on Sunday, finishing this 20 mile nibble off the 1800+ miles yet to come. Those hills are getting pointier as I walk farther away from northern Virginia.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Impulsive Madness

There's a break in the winter weather this weekend, and I need a break from our so-called civilization.

Headed out for a weekend walk from Humpback Rocks (yes, I will take an hour to climb up there and reminisce), stumping south about 20 miles over the Three Ridges to the Tye River bridge.