Archive for the Trail Tales Category

Where is the Water?

Posted in Trail Tales on June 28, 2021 by A lo Hawk

Post pandemic pent-up possibilities >>> Three amigos past their prime meet to regain middle age prowess >>> Six days of hiking the rocky spine of North America >>> A Collegiate stretch of high altitude passes, basins and peaks

A Lo Hawk, a Lobo and a Honey Badger blend in with the wilderness >>> Facing a steady stream of northbound nomads with lean bodies, light packs and a relentless pace >>> Trailside bouquets of blue, yellow, crimson and white wildflowers >>> Unfiltered dirt, air, water and discourse

An adventure perfectly planned and executed by veteran outdoorsman >>> Lasting impressions of the magnificent Milky Way splitting the night sky >>> An energy sapping quicksand slurry at 12,000 feet >>> A gigantic boulder of quartz protruding from the hillside >>> Lingering cornices and snowfields >>> Well used poles and unused spikes >>> The daily afternoon siesta >>> Mt Yale bonus 14er >>> The Buena Vista brewery mixing river and mountain folk in a downpour >>> Witnessing the magic of Happy Trails on dedicated hiking companions


My Walk in the Woods, Ch 17

Posted in My Narcissisms, Trail Tales with tags on March 21, 2021 by A lo Hawk

This is the tale of A Lo Hawk’s 132 day, 2200 mile traverse of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in 2008.

Chapter Seventeen (August 10th-19th)

Day 125: (ME) 22+ miles to camp north of Shorley Blanchard Rd

Today I bust out big miles in my New Balance street runners (I had been wearing Montrail trail shoes). It is partly cloudy and the terrain is not difficult. I meet a tall southbound hiker who tells me about a treacherous, chest deep ford of the Piscataquis River a few miles ahead. He insists I can do it since he did it but I’m not so sure. He looks like a strong hiker and claims the current was in his favor.

I know there is an 8 mile dirt road detour and decide not to risk the high water crossing. The lonely road walk is easy/relaxing/boring. No regrets, I camp north of Shorley Blanchard road after getting back on the trail.

Day 126: (ME) 9 AT miles plus 4 round trip miles into Monson

Today I split my AT miles with a four mile round trip detour to Monson to pick up my last mail drop from Oregon. Before the Post Office, I head directly for hiker’s favorite Shaw’s B&B Hiker Hostel. I miss main breakfast but for twenty bucks get to chow down delicious leftover pancakes (butter! syrup!), biscuits, oatmeal, great coffee and OJ as well as a shower and laundry service.

There is a large number of hikers milling around the hostel. Everyone seems to be in a gloomy mood, people are discussing the flooding in the 100 mile Wilderness (which begins north of town). Nobody wants to venture out, some are debating skipping this section. I had spoken to a pair of southbounders early this morning who told me it was not bad at all. I don’t feel like sharing their opinion so I escape the gloom tomb instead.

I get mail, visit the small general store, and motor on down the country road back to the AT. A few miles later, I see the sign for the 100 mile Wilderness. Although there are a few logging roads, it is the most remote section of the trail. The sign warns hikers to carry 6 to 8 days worth of food. Ridiculous. I find a sweet camp next to North Pond.

Day 127: (ME) 18 or 19 miles to camp north side of Fourth Mtn

It is my first full day in the 100 mile Wilderness and I am eager to get started. The weather begins well but doesn’t end well. I watch a porcupine cross my path. The views are good on the Barren Mtn ledges. I do not see another human being. Since my little digital camera malfunctioned in the Whites, there is no reason to stop for photos. I become Mr Roboto (my PCT persona).

The rain begins on the climb to Fourth Mtn. I power over the summit and set up a wet camp, boiling water for dinner from inside the tent.

Day 128: (ME) Good 20 miles to Logan Brook Lean-to

The weather has cleared overnight, it is an enjoyable day of hiking. Good views of the state from Third Mtn and West Chairback Mtn. Pleasant walking along endless shorelines. Walking boards over bogs that sink to my shins when I step on them. Easy climbs to wooded high points overlooking large bodies of water. In the lower elevations, fording is becoming easier as the water drains. An intricate network of tree roots are exposed.

Near the end of the day I climb 3644 ft White Cap Mtn. When I crest the summit, I get my first glimpse of the broad silhouette of 5269 ft Mt Katahdin in the distance. Just as hiker lore predicts, my heart begins to race. Lying in an empty Lean-to tonight, it takes longer to fall asleep with the image in my head.

Day 129: (ME) 28 miles to camp near Nahmakanta Stream campsite

I wake up this morning with a very sore jaw, a symptom of the Lyme disease I’ve self diagnosed after finding the tick between my toes back in Virginia. The thought of getting off the trail to seek treatment never occurs to me. Now its motivation to finish.

The trail spirits seem to be with me because today’s miles are the easiest of the entire trek. I have two moose sightings: a passive cow and a bull with large scoops standing in a pond 10 feet from the trail. I watch in awe for a quarter of an hour, even dropping my pack, until it decides to saunter away.

I follow the blazes through a maze of creeks, brooks and ponds; finally reaching Nahmakanta Stream (fast flowing river). My legs have that familiar feeling after running a marathon.

Day 130: (ME) 25 miles to Hurd Brook Lean-to

I awake with tired legs but it is a beautiful day with clear blue skies and I do not have to walk through any water for a change. A leisurely stretch brings me to a broad beach opening to a large lake (Nahmakanta) extending to the horizon. It is so inviting I must stop for a swim.

Fully refreshed, I pound out another scenic marathon, mosquitoes providing extra incentive. I cross logging roads and see the first humans in days– a family out for a walk from a nearby fish camp.

I stop at the Hurd Brook Lean-to where I meet two former Rangers hiking SOBO. We exchange stories about falling asleep while walking (me on the PCT, they in the military).

Day 131: (ME) 13 miles to Katahdin Stream Campground then Birches Shelter

I leave the ex Rangers snoring the timbers off the Lean-to this morning. A minor climb to the Rainbow Ledges gives me amazing views of the Penobscot River, the Golden Road (to civilization), Abol Bridge and Campground, and the looming outline of Mt Katahdin. Abol Bridge marks the northern end of the 100 mile Wilderness and the end of my four and a half day march across it.

At the Campground store, I take a look around but the proprietor gives me the creeps. Later I hear stories of employees stealing from hikers. I continue on, crossing the boundary into Baxter State Park, Governor Percival P Baxter’s ‘Magnificent Obsession’ — “Man is born to die, his works are short-lived. Buildings crumble, monuments decay, wealth vanishes. But Katahdin, in all its glory, forever shall remain the mountain of the people of Maine.”

A few miles of pleasant walking along streams and old growth trees takes me to Katahdin Stream Campground and Ranger Station. At the Ranger Station, I spend a few minutes reading the inspiring messages written by hikers in the registry. There is a supply of daypacks that thru-hikers can use on the 9 mile round trip climb to the summit.

Not far away, hidden from sight, is Birches Shelter, reserved for thru-hikers only. It is early in the day and I am the only one here. I relax all afternoon, trying to comprehend what I have done. No other hikers show up.

Day 132: (ME) 10 miles round trip to Mt Katahdin Summit and Northern Terminus of the AT

I’m wide awake. The moon is full and I can’t wait. Using my headlamp, I pack quickly and return to the Ranger Station. The building is dark and silent but the porch door is unlocked. The clock reads 1:10 am. I load a daypack with food and water, reorient myself outside, find the summit trailhead.

I can hear large volumes of cascading water beyond the reach of my headlamp. Gradually, I can see the outline of boulders and trees. When I reach treeline, there is a pink line on the Eastern horizon. Fun parts of the steep route utilize iron rungs, handholds and railings. I feel so nimble without the big pack.

Closer to the summit, I watch the sunrise while navigating broad scree fields. The sky is crystal clear but fog covers the lowlands below. I ascend to the beat up summit sign without fanfare. I am alone taking in the spectacular view of the massive mountain lording over an expanse of green forest interwoven with sparkling silver lakes and streams connected by a patchwork of fog.

I sit and meditate, trying hard to live in the moment without letting emotion overwhelm me. As I sit here, I can see that the fog is rising quickly. The trail spirit is telling me its time to go. Aloha!

On the descent, the fog greets me before a hiker does. Suddenly, out of the mist appears Forest Gimp. She is leading a pack of mouth breathers, we exchange congratulations. Further down, the day hiking horde parades by. I don’t believe anyone else today gets the summit view I was given.

Back at the Ranger Station, I sign the registry and grab my backpack. The parking lot is packed, it is easy to find a kind gentleman willing to give me a ride to Millinocket, closest town to the state park. I check in at the Appalachian Trail Lodge then walk downtown to an internet cafe where I make plane reservations. The flight out of Bangor International Airport is in a couple of days.

Back at the lodge I run into Rhino, a man and his dog (name?) whom I first met in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and have been chasing ever since. I congratulate him but secretly am glad I beat him to Katahdin, Penobscot for ‘The Greatest Mountain’.

AT-1 day: Aug 18th, Bar Harbor

My body is in a state of confusion, its the first day I don’t have to put on a pack and hike. After breakfast at the cafe, I return to the lodge where I meet an elderly couple loading their car. They are willing to give me a ride to Bangor immediately. Although Millinocket is only an hour from the big city via I-95, they want to take the scenic/rural route. For two hours I entertain them with tales from the trail.

They deliver me to a car rental company near the airport (Mahalo!). I drive (first time in four months!) the auto to a nearby motel and rent a room. Later in the afternoon I make the 75 minute drive to Bar Harbor, popular tourist town on the coast at the main entrance to Acadia National Park.

I find a fancy seafood restaurant (white table cloth and napkins!) with outdoor seating overlooking the gorgeous harbor. I order the obligatory lobster dinner to celebrate my accomplishment. After I stuff my face, I find a bench to sit and people watch. I call Sue on the small flip phone with pre-paid minutes. Back at the room, I drink beer and watch TV like a lazy slug.

AT-2 days: Aug 19th, Acadia NP

One more day to play. The sun is out and I feel fine. Sit down for a quick breakfast next to the motel then hop in the rental for a second road trip to the coast, this time to explore Acadia National Park.

My body is in recovery mode but I drive directly to the trailhead for the Precipice Trail. The short, thrilling hike climbs straight up rock faces using iron rungs (like large staples) attached to the stone. The views of the Maine coast are incredible. A light rain passes over making the descent slow and focused. Other hikers arrive causing bottlenecks at the bars.

I drive the entire loop around Mt Desert Island, returning to Bar Harbor for a late lunch. I make a poor choice to eat crappy fish and chips at lame Route 66 restaurant then wander the shops looking at overpriced souvenirs. I return to the room, get dinner, call wife and watch TV.

Tomorrow I will return the car at the airport and fly back to Oregon. This adventure is at an end but the journey continues. Aloha and Happy Trails until we meet again. A Lo Hawk

Sidetrack August 22nd I enter Urgent Care in Eugene, take a blood test and pay $50 for a shot of Doxycycline antibiotic to treat Lyme Disease.

My Walk in the Woods, Ch 16

Posted in My Narcissisms, Trail Tales with tags on March 16, 2021 by A lo Hawk

This is the tale of A Lo Hawk’s 132 day, 2200 mile traverse of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in 2008.

Chapter Sixteen (July 27th-August 9th)

Day 111: (NH) 10 tough, roller coaster miles to camp at Mt Moriah

I get up early, pack quickly and move on before another hiker catches me lying in a ditch next to the trail. It is cloudy and cool, there are still great views of Washington and other presidents from massive, lumpy Wildcat Ridge. The roller coaster beat down continues with a drop to Carter Notch Hut then steeply up the side of 4833 ft Carter Dome and Carter Ridge. I end the day by climbing over 4049 ft Mt Moriah, camping near a trail junction.

Day 112: (NH) 5 easy, downhill miles to Rt 2, hitch to Gorham

Today is a much needed town/resupply day. I get it going with a short, easy downhill leg stretch to the blacktop of Route 2. Hitching into Gorham, NH is no problem, the friendly trail angel drops me off at Hiker’s Paradise Hostel located at the Colonial Fort Inn. A hiker named Cricket is the only other person staying at the hostel.

After a long shower and laundry interval I take a leisurely walk (without a pack!) along the main street of this pleasant little town dotted with pretty ponds. I pick up beer and food at the grocery and head back to the hostel for a quiet, restful evening indoors.

Day 113: 12 easy miles to camp between Gentian Pond and Mt Success

Today I will cross the stateline into Maine via the Mahoosuc mountain range. Sidetrack The southwest section of the AT in Maine summits rounded domes of granite polished by glaciers with names like Bald Cap and Baldpate then drops to skirt many lakes and marshes. Highpoints include seven 4000 ft peaks and thirteen 3000 footers.

I eat a hearty breakfast at the motel restaurant then wait for a shuttle ride to the trail. Back on the move, I cross the Androscoggin River Dam, head up Peabody Brook to begin the climb of the south end of the 30 mile Mahoosuc Range. The first summit to conquer is 2555 ft Mt Hayes followed by Cascade Mtn. A quick snack at aptly named Dream Lake. Just before Gentiam Pond there is a woody glen with a small wooden sign indicating the NH/ME border. Beside the sign sits Shiloh.

Shiloh is a New Englander a decade older than me who lost his wife last year and is hiking the trail to heal his grief. We get along well and decide to travel together. We hike past Gentiam Pond and find an agreeable campsite before the next climb.

Day 114: (ME) 8.5 tough, fun miles to camp on tent platform at Full Goose Shelter

It is a cloudy morning but the weather and views improve in the afternoon. Once Shiloh and I climb 3565 ft Mt Success, we spend an enjoyable day “walking the planks”, navigating the wide, open summits of mountains like Mt Carlo and Goose Eye Mtn. Seemingly miles of wooden boards link a route over the sub alpine bogs (they have to be airlifted in apparently).

We reach our goal, Full Goose Shelter, early in the day and are able to snag one of the tent platforms. The shelter itself holds 10-12 and is already full of geese. This is a popular site because of its proximity to notorious Mahoosuc Notch and dreaded Mahoosuc Arm.

Sidetrack Mahoosuc Notch (2461 ft) is a deep geologic cleft choked with huge boulders which have fallen from the unstable cliffs above. From 1918-1919, a one mile route was devised through the boulder field which requires scrambling over, under and through obstacles. It is known as the slowest mile on the AT and typically takes 1.5 to 2 hours to solve. Once through the Notch, northbound AT hikers must face the unrelenting 1500 ft (in 1.5 miles) slab climb of the Mahoosuc Arm.

Day 115: (ME) 12 big miles, stop at Bald Pate Lean-to

This is the day most AT thru-hikers await with nervous anticipation. As usual, I am the first to rise and pack. I have saved the last dregs of Hanover weed for my Wake and Bake Breakfast of Champions. There is a nice sunrise but a thunderstorm is forecast.

Shiloh and I summit minor Fulling Mtn then begin the thousand foot drop into the Mahoosuc Notch. The sky has darkened, the dim light creates a spooky atmosphere. A loud clap of thunder followed by light rain immediately heightens our senses.

When we arrive at the start of the scramble, I am jacked to the max. Conditions are intense and exciting. A sudden flash of lightning quickly followed by a deafening ‘CRACK!’ acts as our starting gun.

We trace the white blazes and arrows painted on the rock to show us the way. We must constantly remove our packs to squeeze under or toss over obstacles. We slide down 10 foot drops on slick granite. We must be extra careful where our feet land so we don’t twist an ankle. In the end, it is difficult but SO MUCH FUN!

In contrast, the slab climb out of the Notch on the Mahoosuc Arm is an exhausting challenge on a much larger scale. The rain has increased, sending cascades down the rock face. The rough slab looks like a steep uneven sidewalk below a hidden hydrant at full blast. Big leg moves and desperate hand holds of slick roots are required in an endless taxing variety.

After the Arm the weather improves. Upright climbing continues to 4180 ft Old Speck, tallest and northernmost mountain in the Mahoosuc Range. There is a fire tower on the summit. A crowd of day hikers have attracted a cloud of flies so we don’t linger.

A big descent brings us to Route 26 at Grafton Notch and State Park. We continue a bit further towards Bald Pate, stopping at last at Bald Pate Lean-to (in Maine, shelters are called Lean-tos).

Day 116: (ME) 8 easy miles to road with Shiloh, shuttle to Pine Ellis Hostel in Andover

After such an exhausting day yesterday, Shiloh and I need a break. A morning of relatively easy walking through the woods and around ponds brings us to a two lane road. Shiloh had called ahead so there is a shuttle van waiting to take us to the Pine Ellis Hostel in Andover (population 800+).

This small New England village is clean and tidy, full of old historic buildings. Once we shower, do laundry and shop at a small grocery store; its time to load up on calories. We have lunch at the diner, eat fried dough and ice cream from a street booth, then have dinner at the diner.

Day 117: (ME) 10 miles to South Arm Rd

We have breakfast at the diner then get the shuttle back to the trail. The calories are useful on the gigantic roller coaster of 2945 ft Mt Wyman, 3600 ft Old Blue Mtn, 3774 ft Elephant Mtn and 2923 ft Bemis Mtn. We drop finally to South Arm Rd where we find a group camp of thru-hikers. Piper, Forest Gimp, Memphis Tim and others become a new group of loose knit vagabonds that reunite at night.

Day 118: (ME) 14 miles to Maine 17, hitch to Riff Raff Friendly

Today is a mostly low elevation cruiser through woods, over creeks, around ponds. Several of us arrive together at Maine 17 where we miraculously get a group hitch to the infamous Riff Raff Friendly (NOT a hostel!). I call it the Delta House of the Appalachian Trail.

As we approach the bland two story apartment structure, the first thing we notice is the loud music. Once the front door is opened, the cacophony of chaos spills out like a wave of hiker audio trash. The pollution of the senses intensify inside. A large couch and chairs crammed with wiry men with beards stare at a large screen television. The kitchen is packed with people exchanging joints and beers. I don’t even bother going upstairs to see what depravity it contains.

I make a feeble attempt to join in the revelry but quickly tire. When the energy begins to wane, I stuff my sleeping pad, bag and myself between the couch and the wall and crash.

Day 119: (ME) 13 wet, sloppy miles to Maine 4, ride to Rangeley

Shiloh and I get a ride back to the trail to start a miserable day. It rains steadily, creating a flooded trail, body and soul. We arrive at Maine 4 completely soaked and dispirited early in the afternoon. Shiloh offers to pay for us to get separate rooms at the Rangeley Inn and I instantly accept.

Rangeley is the largest town I’ve seen in weeks. We have lunch at the Red Onion and shop at the IGA market. Forest Gimp and Memphis Tim arrive later and we have a picnic dinner in one of the rooms.

Day 120: (ME) 15 miles to camp along creek with Shiloh

Shiloh and I have breakfast at Mooseley Bagel then get a ride back to the trail with Shiloh’s connection. It’s my first day in Maine with clear blue skies. The views are beautiful along the massive Saddleback Mtn Ridge, especially lunch on The Horn. We find a pleasant place to camp along a bubbling brook at the end of this rejuvenating day.

Day 121: (ME) 17 wet, slippery miles to Stratton Motel Hostel

Today we pay for our good fortune yesterday. The rain returns with a vengeance. We get on the trail by 5:15 am to try to beat the weather but it is futile. A steady downpour all day. Shiloh and I keep pushing, not wanting to camp or shelter in this depressing weather.

After taking separate spills, we must pay closer attention to the murky puddles we are stepping in. We barely avoid hypothermia waiting for a hitch to the Stratton Motel Hostel where we eat, shower, resupply and do laundry in a sink.

Day 122: (ME) 15 miles to Little Bigelow Lean-to with Shiloh

Back at work early thanks to a ride from trail angel Sue at Stratton Hostel. We spend the day traversing Mt Bigelow, actually a long ridge of several peaks. It had rained all night; it is windy, cloudy and unsettled today. At the summit of each peak I pose for pictures with Shiloh, Forest Gimp and others. I tick them off in my mind but the poor visibility makes them indistinguishable — 4145 ft West Peak, 4088 ft Avery Peak, 3805 ft The Horns (Hook Em!), 3194 ft Cranberry Peak and 3070 ft Little Bigelow.

After a long, hard day Shiloh and I occupy space in the dry Lean-to.

Day 123: (ME) 17 miles to Harrison Camp Cabin with Shiloh

I don’t know if I am walking or swimming. It is the wettest day of hiking I’ve experienced. The trail is completely flooded, I can’t see where my feet touch the earth. Hidden roots are a constant danger, fording swollen rivers is a danger. The entire nerve-wracking trek is a traverse of this low elevation flood plain.

Shiloh and I stop for lunch at a lonely, empty Lean-to and try to dry out. Not succeeding, we keep pushing on, there is no other good option. Near the end of this excruciating day of water torture, we are stopped by the huge outlet of fast water coming from Pierce Pond. The waist high crossing above the falls is super sketchy and frightening.

Our reward is reaching a haven known as Harrison Fish Camp which has lovely log cabins for rent. The place appears empty except for us two drowned trail rats so the small staff gives us excellent service. In our cabin (generously paid for by Shiloh), we build a hot fire in the stove and hang all of our gear from drying cord stretched across the room, creating a steamy sauna.

Once we are dry and presentable, we head for a homey dining hall and take a table next to the large windows. We can look out at a wide deck ringed with hummingbird feeders. Waiting for our excellent meal, we watch hundreds of the darting birds in their feeding frenzy. When the food arrives the frenzy continues at our table.

Day 124: (ME) 8 miles from Caratunk to camp on rocks

Sidetrack The Kennebec River is the widest unbridged river crossing of the entire Appalachian Trail. Frequent dam release upstream makes it too dangerous to cross on foot so the Appalachian Trail Conservancy maintains a canoe ferry available to hikers during limited hours each day of the hiking season. It is considered one of the most iconic experiences of an AT thru-hike.

We had heard days ago that the Kennebec ferry was not running because of dangerously high water. Luckily, Shiloh has a solution. He had already planned to get off the trail at this point so he calls his son-in-law to come pick us up and take me to the other side of the river.

Before dropping me off, we make a detour to Skowhegan, a working class town, where we have lunch. They take me to a sporting goods store so I can purchase a new pair of shoes. I had been wearing the old pair since Harper’s Ferry (midpoint of the trip); they got completely destroyed by the rugged White Mountains.

They drop me off at the trail in tiny Caratunk and I break in my new shoes with a comfortable climb towards Moxie Bald. I cowboy camp on some flat rocks.

Mahalo Shiloh, for your comeraderie these eleven days in Maine. Aloha and Happy Trails

My Walk in the Woods, Ch 15

Posted in My Narcissisms, Trail Tales with tags on March 6, 2021 by A lo Hawk

This is the tale of A Lo Hawk’s 132 day, 2200 mile traverse of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in 2008.

Chapter Fifteen (July 20th-26th)

Day 104: (NH) 12 very technical miles into the White Mtns

It is here. The day I have dreamed of and anticipated for months has arrived. My body is tingling with elevated levels of caffeine and adrenaline. I eat all the perishable food in sight, take a few puffs from the pipe and get a last look at the clutter of buildings and junk scattered around the property of this cozy hostel. Heavy clouds threaten an imminent thunderstorm keeping the other hikers from venturing out but I can’t wait. Aloha Amigos!

Hiker’s Welcome is a critical rest stop for hikers because it is conveniently located at the foot of the daunting White Mountains which form a rugged spine across the state. The Whites were created over 100 million years ago by magma intrusions of granite polished by glaciers. Now they are intimidating peaks of steep slabs and ledges occasionally covered by a thin layer of timber and vegetation connected by immense boulder fields and deep notches. It is common trail knowledge that previous pace and mileage will be cut in half on this highly technical but very scenic stretch of trace.

Sidetrack GPS analysis of the big three National scenic trails (AT, PCT, CDT) conducted by the inimitable GUTHOOK proves the AT; shortest in miles and lowest in altitude, nevertheless has the greatest overall change in elevation (917,760 ft).

New Hampshire has the oldest maintained trail system in the U.S. (typically with far fewer switchbacks than trails out west). There are more AT miles above treeline (roughly 4500 ft here) in NH than in any other state and it reaches at or near 24 of the state’s 48 4,000+ ft summits. The four steepest sections of the entire trail will be negotiated this week.

For now I am blissfully ignorant of these facts as I march down the lonely country road under ominous skies looking for the turn into the wilderness. It isn’t long before the pity party begins. I slowly and methodically ascend 3100 feet into the clouds where 4802 ft Mt Moosilauke sits in a grey void. The exhausting descent is a precipitous drop, second steepest section on the AT, 2200 ft in 1.7 miles (including 930 feet in 0.5 miles). Wooden steps have been attached to the smooth rock face in some places making the down climb with a pack less death defying.

I eventually make it to Kinsman Notch, 10 miles from Glencliff, my quads feeling like they went through a meat grinder. Drained and stalled, the inevitable downpour demands action. With no place to hide or camp, movement is the only answer. The afternoon consists of a slow, slick two mile climb to a ‘minor’ peak, Mt Wolf (3500 ft). Somewhere between the wooded east and west high points I try to find a flat spot not covered by mossy rocks or ancient rotting timber. Drops of rain from the saturated trees drip on the tent all night. I am reminded of the rain forests of my home state of Oregon as I tumble into deep slumber.

Day 105: (NH) 11 extremely difficult miles to Lonesome Lake Hut

Day two in the Whites continue the misery with more rain and ankle biting terrain. A seemingly endless sequence of large step down and step ups jolt the entire body. There is as much scrambling as upright walking; my fingertips are raw and my knees are scraped. The unforgiving parkour course brings me to the summit of 4355 ft South Kinsman followed by a rocky roller coaster down and up to North Kinsman 1.5 miles later. A long ridge trail descends past Kinsman Pond Shelter to a junction with Fishin Jim Trail.

Here the wet conditions turn torrential. Gravity brings all the water pouring down steep granite slopes directly across the trail in a massive, frothing flood. Each careful, deliberate step is a test of faith. For once, I wish I had a pair of trekking poles for balance. My nerves are frayed, my stomach is in a knot. I lock my mind in the hurt locker and mechanically move forward. I finally reach an oasis named Lonesome Lake Hut.

Sidetrack There are eight high mountain huts in the White Mtns owned and maintained by AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club). Most are made of stone, some are log cabin style. They are full service in the summer, offering dinner, breakfast and usually bunkhouse lodging for a hefty fee. Thru-hikers can inquire about vacancies, if any are available they may be offered a bunk in exchange for work such as washing dishes or sweeping rooms.

From south to north they are: Lonesome Lake (a fishing camp of log cabins built in 1876), Greenleaf, Galehead, Zealand Falls, Mizpah Spring, Lakes of the Clouds (largest, highest at 5030 feet and most popular due to its proximity to the 6288 ft summit of Mt Washington, highest point in New England), Madison Spring (built in1888), and Carter Notch.

The picturesque old log buildings are swimming in mist and appear mysterious but the allure of dry shelter is overwhelming. I aim directly for the largest structure, woodsmoke billowing out of the stone chimney. I enter a room bustling with activity. I meet the bossy caretakers and am told I can bunk with two other thru-hikers. One turns out to be Rhino, a hiker I’ve been chasing since the Smoky Mountains. The other hiker’s name is Dr Zayus. I dry out my gear, we head for the dining room for some bad soup, then I am tasked with drying silverware. At the end of this memorable day I gratefully crash on a warm, dry bunkbed.

Day 106: (NH) 14 awesome miles from Lonesome Lake to camp past Mt Garfield

Overnight the weather improves. Dr Zayus, Rhino and I sweep out the bunkhouses while the paying customers have breakfast, then we carbo load on leftover oatmeal and pancakes. The day trippers are generous with their spare food but I decline to load my pack any further.

It is a nice day and I am ready to go. A quick toke in the shadows and I take the Cascade Brook trail to the Franconia Notch and parkway. I pass under US 3/I-93 along the Pemigewasset River and cross via the paved Franconia Notch bike path bridge. I begin the ascent of popular Franconia Ridge, reaching treeline at 4760 ft Little Haystack.

The next section above the trees is referred to as the Presidential Range and it is spectacular. I climb up and over 5089 ft Mt Lincoln and 5249 ft Mt Lafayette on the north end of Franconia Ridge. Next up is Garfield Ridge which leads to 4501 ft Mt Garfield. The trail drops off the north shoulder of the mountain 970 feet in 0.6 miles (fourth steepest section of AT). I stealth camp near the Garfield Ridge (fee) campsite.

Day 107: (NH) 17 miles to Crawford Notch

Today is a big mileage day but thankfully it is mostly downhill the last six miles and the destination is worth it. Past the Galehead Hut, the trail ascends sharply 1130 ft in 0.8 miles to the 4902 ft summit of S Twin peak. A more gentle down and up to 4580 ft Mt Guyot followed by a steep one mile drop and steep climb to a highpoint on 4265 ft Mt Zealand. Jaw dropping views of the Pemigewasset Wilderness from dramatic cliffs. Descend around cliffs to Zealand Falls Hut where I buy a yummy lemon bar. Across the Zealand Pond outlet to Ethan Pond trail which climbs through the stark terrain of Zealand Notch to the rugged slopes of Whitewall Mtn. Walk on an old railroad bed then climb to Crawford Notch State Park. Cross Saco River, climb Webster Cliff trail to 3911 ft Mt Webster then a series of ledges to 4052 ft Mt Jackson followed by 4311 ft Mt Pierce. After Mizpah Spring Hut, begin the big descent to Crawford Notch, major access portal to/from civilization.

From the congestion at the Notch, I walk down the road to the Crawford Notch General Store and Campground. I secure a spot in the bunkhouse and shop the well stocked shelves of the store. I am informed the shower and laundry area will close in 30 minutes so I take my six pack of beer and do some serious hiker trash multi-tasking before meeting new hikers in the bunkhouse in the evening.

Day 108: (NH) 11 windy miles to Lakes of the Clouds Hut

Sidetrack Built in 1819, the Crawford Path runs the length of the Presidential Range from Crawford Notch to Mt Washington and is the oldest maintained foot trail in America.

Up early, beat the crowds to the Notch. I am physically ready and mentally excited for this day. The weather is good but the wind is notorious above treeline in this area (Mt Washington holds the world record for wind speed at 231 mph). I warm up on a minor climb, drop to a col then make a big climb to the broad, open summit of Mt Eisenhower (4780 ft) where the wind begins to hinder my pace and stance.

Next is a minor peak, Mt Franklin, then a slow, halting climb to the east of the summit of 5371 ft Mt Monroe (4th tallest in NH). The wind is steady and brutal, causing me to bend forward to make progress and stop and brace during strong gusts. The only break is the occasional rock outcrop. It is clear any attempt to set up a tent and camp would be futile if not dangerous. I’ve got to keep moving.

Time appears to crawl along with my pace. I can only look to see where the next protective boulder is. I actually have to get down on my knees several times to avoid being blown away. At last I see the outline of a large two story stone building, Lakes of the Clouds Hut. If there was ever a situation for a thru-hiker to ask for shelter, this is it. I slowly inch my way to a set of stairs.

Once inside, I’m overwhelmed by the loud crowd milling around a big dining room filled with massive wooden tables. I see Rhino and another hiker I recognize. How does he keep getting ahead of me? He points out one of the staff and I am immediately welcomed. The Hut is booked to capacity but we are told we can sleep on the floor of the dining room this evening. Dinner is served, we take our plates to some benches near the coat room. On the wall is a chalkboard containing the weather report which claims the current wind speed is 72 mph.

After dinner, the staff put on a camp show with raucous singing and skits. I catch bits of it while washing and organizing hundreds of forks, knives and spoons in the kitchen. After the guests have left for their rooms, I spread my pad and sleeping bag under a table and go into deep sleep.

Day 109: 10 stunning miles to cowboy camp at Osgood tentsites

Today is the most glorious day of the trip. It is chilly this morning but the air is calm. I am anxious to go but we have to wait until breakfast is over to do our chores. Outside, I wander over to a group of shallow tarns (lakes) and enjoy the first of many tokes today. I decide to set a leisurely pace and take lots of breaks for a change.

At the summit of Mt Washington, I take a long break to explore the museum, observatory, gift shop and cafeteria. Non hikers arrive by car and cog railroad. On the descent, the AT parallels the tracks for some distance. It is hiker tradition to moon the train, one happens to pass by so I stop, drop my pack and pants, and deliver a hiker trash salute.

After traversing Sphinx Col, I climb 5712 ft Mt Jefferson (3rd highest), drop to Edmonds Col past Storm Lake. Next is 5793 ft Mt Adams (2nd highest) then descend to Madison Spring Hut. The Osgood Ridge trail initiates a major descent along the ridge. I arrive at the Osgood Campsite which has elevated wood decks to sleep on. I pick an empty deck, lay out my pad and sleeping bag, falling asleep under the stars with a happy grin on my face.

Day 110: 5 easy miles to Pinkham Notch visitor center then 4 challenging miles to Wildcat Ridge cowboy camp

I am looking forward to another memorable day so I leave the others snoring and quickly pack my gear. For a change its a pretty easy 5 mile walk down into the wide notch.

Pinkham Notch bisects the White Mtns providing major tourist access. A small town has built up at the mouth including the Visitor Center I am aiming for. There are essential hiker services here like showers and a free telephone. I call Kim Steward who works for the Forest Service and is a relative of my good friend from Oregon, retired Forest Service Ranger Zane Grey Smith. Her office is only a few blocks away and she arrives shortly to escort me around town.

First she takes me to a local sandwich shop where she introduces me to everyone. Then to the Post Office to pick up mail from Sue. After a quick stop at the local outdoor outfitters, we head back to Forest Service HQ. Mahalo Kim, you are a wonderful trail angel with a great job in a beautiful setting. I sit in the shade on the lawn transferring dehydrated food and supplies from the cardboard box to the nylon backpack.

Whump, there it is. Staring me in the face is the steepest climb I have attempted in my backpacking career. Four extremely challenging miles to the massive Wildcat Ridge; including a 2000 foot ascent in 1.5 miles with a 1000 foot stretch of exposed scrambling in a half mile. And I do it carrying a fully loaded pack!

It takes the rest of the day and uberhiker effort to reach the first of Wildcat Peaks A-D (4423 ft). Fortunately, along the route there are large ledges to stop and take in impressive views of Mt Washington. However, the terrain is so tough and unforgiving I see no place to camp or set up a tent anywhere. Finally I lay out my pad and sleeping bag in a drainage ditch beside the trail cowboy style. I eat a sandwich in the fading light and collapse from overwhelming exhaustion.

Four of a Kind

Posted in Trail Tales with tags , , , , , on August 16, 2018 by A lo Hawk

I am awakened not by my alarm but by my full bladder and colon. I slip on my crocs, crawl out of my tent and find the cat hole I dug last night to relieve my bowel pressure. It is only 1:30 in the morning but I have an itch to get the day’s adventure started.

For the past month of weekends I have traveled the state to climb 14,000 foot mountains. Yesterday I motored to tiny Alma, turned up Buckskin Creek and followed it towards Kite Lake. This alpine basin south of Breckenridge is surrounded by a high ridge containing four rounded rock piles: Mt Democrat (14,148), Mt Cameron (14,238), Mt Lincoln (14,286), Mt Bross (14,172). The moderate class 2 terrain and easy access makes it a popular pilgrimage for peakbaggers of every ability.

To avoid paying the $12 camping fee I had set up my tent along the creek outside of the fee area a few miles from the trailhead. To pass the evening I sat in the car drinking double IPA, reading “House of Rain” by Craig Childs, and watched the stream of clouds fly over the mountain tops and the late arriving caravan of cars crawl along the rough road to the campground.

Overnight the wind brought a passing storm which dropped a mixture of rain and snow over the area. When I emerged from my warm cocoon the sky was clear leaving a glistening frozen blanket on the ground illuminated by innumerable sparkling points of light overhead. The unmistakable collection of stars known as the Big Dipper sits perfectly framed on the horizon as if about to pour a ladle of stellar material over the earth.

I throw my wet tent into the Subaru and drive a short distance to the end of the road. The parking lot is full of silent metal hulks so I park along the side of the road facing the exit. Using my headlamp, I toss the Camelbak over my shoulders and find the metal cylinder to deposit the envelope containing the $3 day use fee. Making my way through the automobiles and multi-colored tents clustered around a black void of still water I swivel my head until I locate the sign marking the start of the hike. No other soul appears to be stirring as I stride forward on the wide gravel tread at 3 am.

Bundled up with layers of clothing, hat, gloves and hoodie pulled down to protect skin from the bitter wind chill, I follow the trail across the basin toward the lower slopes of Mt Democrat. As I ascend the rising switchbacks I begin to see headlamps blink on and form a slow-moving line below. Looking further down the valley I also see a steady parade of headlights moving up Buckskin Creek Road.

Just below the saddle between Mt Democrat and Mt Cameron I reach an altitude where the fresh layer of snow over the scree creates tricky footing and consequently requires sharp focus. The views expand beyond the Kite Lake basin as I carefully climb untracked switchbacks to a false summit. As the route levels off the view below disappears while the universe overhead commands attention. Moments later the final pitch leads me to the lonely cold summit at 4:40 am. A sharply defined quarter moon amplifies the night sky to a surreal intensity. As much as I want to prolong this rare moment I have been pacing to keep warm and I have other peaks to visit. I reluctantly retrace my solitary tracks over the apex.

Back at the saddle I greet a human shadow making halting steps to the trail junction. I continue ahead on the rocky ridge as it begins the climb to Mt Cameron. Looking across a huge granite bowl toward the dark mass of Mt Bross I see a necklace of lights advancing across a veiled face. There is a prominent sign at the trailhead warning that Mt Bross is closed to the public next to a well worn path which takes you there. A spectacular nine mile loop lures undaunted peakbaggers to tag all four in a day. My plan is to do the loop clockwise.

Mt Cameron is a gradual camel hump; no reason to slow down across its parabolic summit. The trail is a wide white and gray trough pointing the way to lofty Mt Lincoln which is backlit by an orange and blue tinted sky. I turn off my headlamp and hurriedly scramble to reach the top as a fiery red orb rises to announce the break of day.

A lean young man dressed in khaki clothes arrives minutes later. We can see hikers strung out on the ridges connecting Lincoln, Cameron and Bross like ants emerging from their underground nests. I head for the saddle leading to Mt Bross where I meet hikers who tell me how steep the trail is from Kite Lake. Since the trail will be in the shade for hours, the descent will be cold and slick. I have another idea.

Mt Bross is another featureless mound except for a curved wall of rock built to block the wind. There are a couple of lumps huddled inside as I pace a circle around the structure and return the way I came. I have decided to return by way of Mt Cameron to avoid the shady descent and to extend the sunny ridge walking as long as possible.

By now dozens of rubber soles have trampled the thin layer of white crust into dust. On my right is a queue weaving a thread of bodies up Mt Lincoln. I turn left and minutes later am standing on the flat top of Mt Cameron looking down at a total logjam of people and dogs swarming the wide saddle, clogging the switchbacks to Mt Democrat and outlining the entire route back to the lake.

Before I am absorbed by the madness I stop at a flat rock to finally strip off unneeded layers. The peace and serenity of the morning is shattered by a flying drone, the constant klickety-klak of metal tipped trekking poles, pop music coming out of someone’s pack, the general murmur of a festival crowd punctuated by canine yelps. Continuing the descent into the basin is a stop and go dance against the flow of mouth-breathers with their various burdens either carried on their backs or following behind.

Returning to the Kite Lake trailhead at 8:30 am, I am mildly concerned to see cars constricting both sides of the narrow lane as far as I can see. Luckily, I am able to safely negotiate the metal corridor through the late arriving hikers and autos until I arrive back at the campsite satisfied with the decision to go all in. Aloha and Happy Trails!

41 Colorado 14ers + 10 repeats + 3 West Coast peaks = 54 total summits

For details go to My Fourteeners

Inferno in the San Juan

Posted in CDT PTSD, Trail Tales with tags , , , on June 11, 2018 by A lo Hawk

The plan was to meet my friend George (aka Honey Badger) on the Continental Divide Trail in the middle of the Colorado wilderness on a specified weekend in June. Honey Badger had spent months planning an epic 90 mile traverse of the rockiest terrain to split the continent. He would begin hiking at the CDT trailhead at Wolf Creek Pass near Pagosa Springs and exit via the Colorado Trail at Molas Pass north of my hometown of Durango. I offered to backtrack from Molas, meet him on the trail and we would hike back to my car together.

The long awaited departure weekend arrived and Honey Badger loaded up his Mazda in Austin, Texas and began the long drive to Colorado. Meanwhile, a thousand miles away, the Durango to Silverton narrow gauge train threw sparks into dry grass along the tracks and ignited a blaze that would be named the 416 fire. On the eve of his trek I contacted George to update him on our 500 acre alarm and wished him Happy Trails until we meet in a week.

Five days later the 416 fire had grown to a 5,000 acre conflagration, forcing the evacuation of over 800 homes and the intermittent closure of scenic highway 550 between Durango and Purgatory ski resort. To reach Molas Pass, I waited in line for a police escort available only between the hours of 8 am and 6 pm. As our caravan passed below the burning Hermosa Cliffs, the massive bone white column of a pyrocumulus cloud billowed into the sky.

I arrived at the trailhead at noon surrounded by the imposing majesty of the Grenadier Range and Needle Mountains to the south and the solemn vigilance of 13ers Sultan, Grand Turk and Kendall Mountain to the north. I shouldered my pack, acrid scent of smoke stinging my nostrils, and followed the short connector to the Colorado Trail where I turned toward the Weminuche Wilderness.

The day was already warm with a dry south wind pushing the foul air deeper into the mountains and reducing visibility. The trail dove 1,440 feet to El Rio do Los Animas Perdidas or “The River of Lost Souls”. A field of lovely Columbine (the state flower of Colorado) greeted me after descending 33 switchbacks which led to a bridge spanning the churning emerald water of the Animas. I followed alongside the silent tracks of the culprit train for a quarter mile before continuing up a bank on the other side.

Here the trace initiated a nine mile, 3,542 foot climb up the Elk Creek drainage to finally top out on the continental divide at 12,682 ft. Moments after signing the Forest Service register, I met a fellow backpacker sitting on a log inhaling a package of cracker crumbs. Bonefish was a hungry CDT thru-hiker who had run out of food and was trying to get to Silverton to re-supply. I didn’t have the heart to tell him it would have been easier to reach Silverton if he would have stayed on the CDT a little longer instead of taking the CT to Molas and hoping for a hitch.

Continuing to ascend, I was awed by a magnificent cascading waterfall draining some unnamed and unseen high alpine basin. The route then meandered along the white bleached rocks of mineral infused Elk Creek as the drainage closed in on the headwaters. In the evening I reached treeline and found a sliver of smooth ground among the boulders of a large scree field to set up my tent. Later I discovered I had camped among a community of disturbed and vocal Pika varmints who squeaked incessantly while I boiled water for my tasteless and half eaten rehydrated meal. I watched the orange glow of sunset creep up the walls of rock towering over my head satisfied with my first day’s progress (11 miles in 7 hours).

I opened the vestibule of my tent onto a warm morning and set up my stove for coffee. The sky was clear blue and the air was alpine fresh as I broke down camp anxious to go on the hunt for the Honey Badger. After a mile of easy strolling up a grassy hill on meandering switchbacks I stood atop the divide separating two monumental water flows. If I pissed toward Elk Creek it would flow to the Animas, San Juan and Colorado Rivers ending up in the Gulf of California and eventually the Pacific Ocean. Spitting the other direction would feed a creek leading to the Rio Grande, Gulf of Mexico and finally the Atlantic.

Ahead I saw a wooden sign where this trail intersected with another forming a T in the tread. A left turn heads north with the CDT and CT overlapping for almost 200 miles. A right turn heads south toward a wave of CDT thru-hikers and a few section hikers like George. To the west I could see a haze of smoke from the 416 fire rising on the horizon.

It wasn’t long before I saw the head and torso of a hiker emerge above the foliage disguising the trail ahead. Lost Larry carried a sad sack full of woe but he also told me he had seen my friend three days ago. Knowing a thru-hiker would walk more miles per day than my mate, I got a clue he was likely behind schedule. An hour later I confirmed that assumption when I met two more thru-hikers who left Wolf Creek Pass after Honey Badger but did not recall meeting him. At this point I knew something was wrong but the day was glorious so I continued hiking up and down the roller coaster of single track between 11 and 12k ocassionally dropping into the trees. I stopped a few miles past Humpback Pass at a small saddle above Nebo Creek where I could see a distinctive landmark in the distance, a square notch called the Window on the flank of 13,821 ft Rio Grande Pyramid. This would be my turnaround, approximately 17 miles from the car.

When I returned to the trail junction, an impromptu confluence of hikers had formed under darkening skies. Besides the aforementioned CDT hikers, I saw a lone figure striding  confidently toward us from Elk Creek. We talked for several minutes before realizing we had met before. Freebird and I became acquainted on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2005 when we were resupplying at Kennedy Meadows before entering the southern Sierra. I remembered him as a quirky fellow who planned to hike the snow covered high country in sandals. Since then he has become something of a trail legend; not only completing the Triple Crown of North American Hiking (Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail) but completing each trail three times earning the absurd title Triple Triple Crowner!

As I reached the crest of the divide above Elk Creek, my phone alerted me of a tenuous signal so I was able to see texts from George indicating he had turned back but would meet me in Durango. Not having my glasses I was unaware the messages were from yesterday and the weak signal made it impossible to hear the voicemails that would have told me he had returned to Austin. All I knew was I was free to scoot home at my leisure.

Standing above the deep gouge in the earth under a blood red sun with white flakes of ash and blackened aspen leaves floating in the air, I thought of Dante’s Inferno, part of the Divine Comedy which depicts a journey through hell as 9 concentric circles of torment located within the earth. Instead of concentric circles I looked down on as many inviting switchbacks and stepped eagerly into the vulcan depths.

In fact it was a pleasant nine mile descent with evening temperatures cooling and shadows growing longer. The woods were so quiet I spooked a young moose who had been lying on the duff as I came around a corner. We stared intently at each other for a moment, ten yards apart, then slowly turned to go our separate ways.

Moments later I saw the unmistakable look of an experienced thru-hiker advancing quickly on long tanned legs. Birdfood informed me of the new Burro fire near Dolores which has forced the closing of the Colorado Trail from Molas Pass to Durango. Apparently the last hiker to get through until the fires are extinguished, he suspects more areas will be closed and is trying to haul ass out of here.

I bottomed out at the Animas River at dusk, thoughts of a cooler full of cold beer and soda motivating me forward to the start of the 33 switchbacks. Shadows became darkness but my eyes adjusted and my breathing recovered on the steady nocturnal climb. I finally pulled out the headlamp for the last mile; arriving at the Subaru before 10 pm, 23 miles covered in 15 hours (including unknown amount of time talking to all the trail folk). Knowing the road to Durango would be closed until 8 am tomorrow, I drove to Coal Bank Pass, beer in hand, where I knew I could get a signal to call my wife and settled into my sleeping bag for a restless car snooze until morning.

On the day I returned, the 416 fire had grown to 16,000 acres with 10% containment, the Burro fire was over 2,000 acres with 0% containment. Highway 550 was closed midday and has not reopened. Authorities later decided to close all 1.8 million acres of the San Juan National Forest.


My Walk in the Woods, Ch 6

Posted in My Narcissisms, Trail Tales with tags on March 28, 2018 by A lo Hawk

This is the tale of A Lo Hawk’s 132 day, 2200 mile traverse of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in 2008.

Chapter Six (May 15th-18th)

Day 38: (VA)  Hitch-hike to Damascus for Trail Days

I don’t sleep well, too amped about finding a way back to Damascus for the start of Trail Days. The four day annual festival attracts hundreds of AT hikers (past and present), hiker likers (a type of groupie) as well as vendors, entertainment and various silly events.

Pack, check out early, get juice and pre-packaged breakfast from the convenience store a dozen yards from the on ramp to the freeway. Sit on the guard rail with my sign for an hour before a retired big rig trucker rolls to a stop in his small rig. Get out at Rural Retreat, close to I-81. Choose a strategic spot where traffic slows and there is a large shoulder. Frantic young guy in a cramped Japanese hordemobile jams my pack into the overstuffed back seat and coaxes the engine to interstate speed. Rattling and whining makes conversation difficult. In Marion a rusty belching van pulls over and the side door slides open. A cloud of cigarette smoke stops me in my tracks but I forge ahead. Friendly hillbilly family of smokers with questions like What in hell you doin boy? At Glade Springs am released into fresh air; immediately get a ride from QUIET PAUL who is also going to Trail Days. He leaves me speechless on main street four rides and five hours after leaving Bland.

The excitement is palpable, groups of shaggy vagabonds (some in kilts) loiter on street corners and benches. A helpful person with a clipboard recommends I go to the large church ahead for a meal ticket to tonight’s potluck dinner Feed the Hikers.

I drift to the edge of town where a massive field has been fenced off to contain the unruly horde. At the gate I check in and receive an event bracelet I will continue to wear until it falls off in a couple of weeks. There are already a smattering of tents set up but by this weekend it will be a congested sea of colored nylon domes and coffins. I choose a random site to camp and dropped my load.

Feeling unencumbered I return to the church parking lot where organizers are preparing tables for a series of hilarious eating contests. Most memorable is the sheet cake contest dominated by CHEWBACA. The growing crowd is now ravenous and the line forms for the potluck dinner served in the basement of the church.

I buy a six pack and am drawn to the barbaric electricity being generated at the newborn Tent City. Among the throng I see my nemesis COOKIE MONSTER and I approach him to give my review of his product. All apologies and forgiveness when he invites me and several others into a dome tent designed for four and sparks up a fat doobie.

Good and stoned, we stumble several blocks to an auditorium showing a pre-screening of Grizzly Park, a new teen slasher flick filmed in the nearby woods. The movie has begun, the theater is full and we have to stand in the back. It is dark and I am sober when we exit for New Bohemia.

The first of the nightly bonfires illuminates our way; brave individuals approach to toss more fuel onto the towering inferno. Tables have been set up and leftovers from the generous dinner are gobbled up. I crash very late (midnight) tired but elated from this long day.

Day 39:  Trail Days in Damascus, VA

My body automatically wakes up early, ready to move, so I put my laundry in a sack and leave my camp crocs on thinking it will give my feet a break from the trail shoes.

It is about a mile and a half from tent city to the laundromat on the other side of town. While waiting for the washer and dryer to finish working, I meet FANNY PACK who is an AT veteran and is in town for the fun. He gives me a number to call and offers to give me a ride back to Bland when Trail Days is over.

I get breakfast then head back through town, stopping at the library to use a computer to send emails. By the time I return to tent city my feet are hurting from the crocs and I have to break out the first aid kit.

At lunchtime I make another trip (this time in shoes), first to the church parking lot where a huge disaster relief trailer is parked to provide shower facilities to the unwashed masses. Next I push through the crowd in the park where the vendors, food booths and stage are located. I sit in the shade with a big burrito watching my fellow riff raff go by.

Back at camp after sunset, the bonfire is blazing and the drum circles are thumping. I roam to the far recesses of Bohemia looking for the reputed debauchery and hedonism the hiker’s camp is known for. Exhausted and disappointed, I return to my tent regretting the half dozen miles walked today. My feet are dried out with painful cracks. Tomorrow I will need to buy superglue.

Day 40:  Trail Days in Damascus, VA

It is a sunny Saturday and the town is bursting with trail folk. I wait for a seat at a busy tiny diner Damascus Eats (the food is worth it).

The shower at the church trailer is not as soothing today since they are out of hot water. Thankfully, organizers have arranged for shuttle buses to stop at points of interest and I get a ride to the Food City for groceries.

It is time for one of the highlights of Trail Days: the Hiker Parade down main street. It is a poorly kept secret the townspeople have stocked 50,000 water balloons. Every water pistol and supersoaker in the area has been acquired by wary hikers. Showdown is at noon and I am wearing clothes that could (always) use a wash. The liquid fusillade through the gauntlet is an intense cathartic baptism.

Back at the park, people sit on the grass near the stage and enjoy a stand up routine by a hiker named PUNCHLINE. The rest of the Talent Show makes me wince and groan. At the final bonfire I wander around looking for people I know. There are rumors of cop busts for weed so paranoia is running wild.

Alcohol, however, is flowing freely and this party will not end before dawn. I on the other hand, am done with Trail Days and despite the party noise only yards from my head am asleep early.

Day 41: (VA)  Ride back to trail near Bland, 20 mile hike to Dismal Falls trail

I am more than ready to get back on the trail. I break down the tent and pack my gear as a few intoxicated zombies wander the sea of tents looking for a place to crash. Once more I navigate the streets of this hospitable town and have breakfast at the same In the Country restaurant I visited on my previous trip through Damascus. I meet FANNY PACK at the laundromat at 8:30 and we have a friendly drive back to the trail crossing near Bland. Mahalo brother!

Despite constant rain I crank out a big day. End up camping at the sidetrail to enigmatic Dismal Falls.

My Walk in the Woods, Ch 5

Posted in My Narcissisms, Trail Tales with tags on March 21, 2018 by A lo Hawk

This is the tale of A Lo Hawk’s 132 day, 2200 mile traverse of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in 2008.

Chapter Five (May 7th-14th)

Day 30: (VA)  10 miles from Abingdon Gap to Damascus, VA Hiker’s Inn

An unremarkable ten mile stroll brings me out of the woods and onto a sidewalk leading under an arch and into a small city park. I have just entered Damascus, VA “The friendliest town on the trail”. Damascus is a favorite stop for hikers and is best known for hosting an annual four day festival, Trail Days, which begins next week.

In the center of town is a quiet neighborhood containing lovely homes with big porches and neatly trimmed hedges. One in particular has a large guest house and a sign welcoming hikers to the Hiker’s Inn. After registering at the main house, I take my gear around back, passing several hikers lounging in the shade on lawn furniture. I drop my pack on an empty bed and assess my surroundings. The rooms are clean and there is a large sign on the wall of the common area emphasizing the strict No Alcohol, No Noise policy.

I spend the day exploring main street; especially the post office (to pick up mail), library (to use a computer), laundromat (duh!), outfitter store (to stock up on energy bars and gels), and ice cream shop (to consume creamy calories).

Back at the Inn I meet a bearded pirate from Portland, OR named COOKIE MONSTER. He makes no secret of the fact he is funding his hike by selling pot laced chocolate chip cookies. I spend $40 on a dozen brown blobs in a vacuum sealed package. Late in the evening my friend UPHILL arrives after hammering out a 33 mile day to get here.

Day 31: (VA)  16 miles from Hiker’s Inn to Lost Mtn Shelter

Get up, shower and out the door before anyone is stirring. At the edge of town I see lights on at a farmhouse style restaurant In the Country. I choose a table covered in red and white checkerboard and marvel at the brightly colored folk art on the walls. Locals chat me up while I stuff myself with the hearty Country Special breakfast.

Once out of town, the white blazes take me to a wide and level rail to trail conversion known as the Virginia Creeper Trail. Eventually the AT breaks away and begins to climb. After following a cascading creek, I stop to rest when I come upon a trail work crew taking their lunch break.

In the afternoon I find the Lost Mountain Shelter and decide to stop for the day to relax before the big climb tomorrow. Clouds gather and it begins to rain as I boil water for dinner rehydration.

Day 32: (VA)  17 miles from Lost Mtn to Wise Shelter

It is a struggle to get motivated in the fog and drizzle morning. Today I climb an ancient volcano, the highest point in VA, 5729 ft Mt Rogers. Afterwards I stop for lunch at Thomas Knob Shelter where I meet more hikers. During lunch the weather improves for a much anticipated walk across the jagged landscape of the Grayson Highlands. I see 8 feral ponies and one foal on this memorable traverse.

Easy hike down to Wise Shelter which I have to use since No Camping is allowed here. BTW: Cookie Monster’s pot laced cookies were a bust (caveat emptor!). I ate 6 yesterday and 6 today and got nothing more than yummy chocolate chip goodness.

Day 33: (VA)  20 miles from Wise Shelter to Trimpi Shelter (tent)

It rained last night so it is a foggy, drizzly morning. Not much in the way of scenery but the sun emerges later to dry gear out. An hour after lacing the shoes I am about to cross a rural road when I am called over to a roadside camp. Apparently three young men with their dogs have been sitting around a campfire all night drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon. They invite me to sit at the fire and have a breakfast PBR. By the time I get back to the trail I have a better buzz than I got from the cookies.

Day 34: (VA)  17 miles from Trimpi Shelter to Chatfield Memorial Shelter

As I am walking I notice the Rhodys and Magnolias are really blooming out creating a wonderful, aromatic tunnel of white and pink.

I meet an interesting fellow named SOJO. Before hiking the AT he was a serious runner who completed 219 marathons and 10 hundred mile ultramarathons. He has run a marathon in every state 3 times and run in every continent twice. He also happens to be a very fast hiker!

Thunderstorms are forming before I reach the shelter at 4 pm and there will be more showers tonight. It turns out I am the only one staying at this shelter. I believe all the other hikers stopped at the Partnership Shelter a few miles back because it has a shower and a phone to call for pizza delivery.

Day 35: (VA)  18 miles from Chatfield Shelter to Knot Maul Shelter

Cold and windy am but not much rain. Easy walking down to I-81 (Atkins exit) and a convenience store where I buy their entire stock of Little Debbie’s Cherry Pie. Across the street I order a cheap second breakfast at a big Red Barn Restaurant.

Later I catch up with NOAH JOHN and SOJO. We spend the day hiking across grassy green fields using an assortment of step stiles to cross barb wire fences between farms.

Day 36: (VA)  19 miles from Knot Maul to Jenkins Shelter (tent)

Finally a beautiful, sunny day with great views on Chestnut Ridge. At a road crossing I meet a khaki clothed “official trail supervisor” who reluctantly offers me a PBR from his private stock. However, it is not enough to get me through a tough afternoon of ridge walking and I BONK severely. When I check my feet at camp this evening I have open sores.

Day 37: (VA)  12 miles to I-77, 3 mile walk along freeway to Big Walker Motel in Bland, VA

Overcast and mild with gentle terrain for 12 miles to the crossing of I-77.

I have been thinking of the Trail Days celebration since leaving Damascus and realize it is a once in a lifetime experience not to be missed. But how do I get back? Step one is to get three miles down the interstate to find cheap lodging in Bland. From there I can regroup and plan my next step.

It is quite disturbing to walk the shoulder as cars whiz by at 70 mph. Stupidly I believe it is easier to walk backwards, watching them approach, and try hitchhiking. I end up back walking most of the distance before giving up and pounding the cruel asphalt until I reach the aptly named Big Walker Motel. I learn later that hitchhiking is illegal on the interstates but okay on the on ramps.

Across the street from Big Walker I’ve got a convenience store, a Dairy Queen and a Subway. I pick Dairy Queen for a late lunch which includes a tasty blizzard. Back in the room I shower, clean gear, call spouse, watch TV. For dinner its Subway and beers in the room. I borrow a sharpie from the front desk and get some cardboard from the trash dumpster. While watching TV I make my hitchhiking sign. It is hard to fall asleep because I am excited about tomorrow’s adventure.


My Walk in the Woods, Ch 4

Posted in My Narcissisms, Trail Tales with tags on July 13, 2017 by A lo Hawk

This is the tale of A Lo Hawk’s 132 day, 2200 mile traverse of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in 2008.

My Walk in the Woods, Ch 3

Chapter Four (April 30th-May 6th)

Day 23: (TN)  4 miles to Uncle Johnny’s Hostel in Erwin, TN

Easy am walk down to the road to Erwin, TN where the conveniently located Uncle Johnny’s Hostel sits on several rustic acres. There is a bunkhouse, cabins, washroom/laundry/showers and a tiny store/office. I see the Portland, OR couple PINENUT and POGO plus meet other hikers in the bunkhouse. I am just in time for the morning shuttle to town for breakfast and grocery.

We are dropped off at a convenience store and told to go to a counter in the back. Sweaty ladies are slinging hash in a tight, hot kitchen.  The prices are incredible: eggs, biscuit and gravy, hashbrowns, and coffee for $4.95. There is a steady stream of locals grabbing togo bags and chewing the gossip.

In the afternoon, hikers loiter around the picnic tables under the pavilion taking turns with the washing machines and space on the kinky clotheslines. In the evening, there is a shuttle to a bad mexican restaurant but good ice cream next door. With a taxing week behind me I crash hard and early.

Day 24: (TN)  16 miles from Uncle Johnny’s to Cherry Gap Shelter

I wake up refreshed and sneak out before sunrise to quietly pack my gear on a picnic table covered with crude engravings of AT history. The vending machine delivers mega ounces of Mtn Dewness; a toke of the Angleton Grind delivers a wake n bake slingshot breakfast of champions. Happy Trails!

Once I’ve climbed a bit, I scramble to a rock outcrop, find a good perch and call the wife. I stop and have lunch at Beauty Spot with a fun crew of pirates wearing paper hats from Long John Silvers. I end this pleasant day camping near the shelter with the pirate crew plus good old ‘bama’ boys RED and TC.

Day 25: (TN)  15 miles from Cherry Gap to Roan High Knob Shelter

It is already warm this morning as I sit and get high while keeping an eye on the sleeping lumps in the shelter. A nice day of hiking is interrupted by a tough climb to Roan High Knob. It is very windy on the high point but a nearby shelter is protected by a moat of wind swept trees. I pitch my tent between knarly tree trunks behind the shelter.

Day 26:  18 miles from Roan High Knob to camp near road

I listen to the wind batter the tenacious trees. The morning amble starts with a long lumbering downhill then across several balds. Weather is breezy with occasional light rain but visibility is good.

It dries out in the afternoon, I break out of the forest to a bucolic scene of rolling meadows anchored by the cavernous barn known as Overmountain Shelter.  As impressive as this sight is, it pales in comparison to the carnival under a big white vinyl tarp happening in my direct path.

Two hiking spouses are paying it forward with a weekend of trail magic they carried up the rutted tractor road from their car. There is a boisterous crowd of malingering hiker trash on the lounge chairs and around the beer/soda cooler.

I gratefully wolf down two grilled cheese sandwiches, two bowls of veggie chili and guzzle four ice cold beers. I chat with a hiker named SLIGHTLY, immobile and fully reclined, straw hat hiding his eyes. He seemed only Slightly interested in the AT. I volunteer to push the lumberjack sized hand cart two miles round trip to the car for more supplies — a joyful, bouncy trip down, a nearly sisyphousian ordeal back up.

I camp by a road on soft pine needles.

Day 27: (TN)  21 miles from camp to Kincora Hostel

A long boring day with no views. It is warm and sunny as I trudge through the infamous green tunnel.

Early in the evening I reach Kincora Hostel just as the shuttle leaves for dinner in Elizabethton. More poor mexican food then back to the hostel for a late shower. I am still doing laundry as others are off to bed.

Day 28: (TN)  16 miles from Kincora to Vandeventer Shelter

As usual I am up before anyone else and quickly on the trail in the cool of the day. What a beautiful amble along Laurel Fork River to an impressive waterfall. Then a climb over Pond Mtn to Watauga Lake & Dam. I pass many fishermen and boaters on my way to a nice shelter/campsite with a view of the lake. I smoke the last of my weed while watching the sunset.

Day 29: (TN)  23 miles from Vandeventer Shelter to Abingdon Gap Shelter

I see a bear (#4?) while I am shitting in the woods this morning (insert punchline here). I think this is a good omen but I am wrong.

My legs are feeling the miles today. The weather starts sunny then grows overcast as I grind out a brutal hike threading mountain ridges. 450 official AT miles covered in a month (approx 20 peripheral miles)

My Walk in the Woods, Ch 3

Posted in My Narcissisms, Trail Tales with tags on July 11, 2017 by A lo Hawk

This is the tale of A Lo Hawk’s 132 day, 2200 mile traverse of the Appalachian Trail fron Georgia to Maine in 2008.

My Walk in the Woods, Ch 2

Chapter Three (April 21st-29th)

Day 14: (TN)  5 miles from Mt Collins Shelter to Newfound Gap, ride to Gatlinburg, TN

UPHILL and I cruise downhill to the road crossing at Newfound Gap. He calls a friend who gives us a thrilling downhill curvy autobobsled run into Gatlinburg, TN. We stop at Flapjacks Pancake Cabin for breakfast then I say aloha to my new friends and step onto the main street of this kitchy tourist town.

I dial up dad’s number, he and Chris are staying here at a time share condo for the week. (I estimated when I would reach this point and coordinated with him earlier this year) The massive condo complex has an indoor water park surrounded by an MC Escher designed road system.

I relax with a long hot shower then meticulously clean all the gear. We make a trip to WalMart then enjoy a condo cooked meal.

Day 15: (TN/NC)  Ride to Newfound Gap, hike to Peck’s Corner Shelter

Kenton and I have breakfast at the same Flapjacks Pancake Cabin. I astound him with my insatiable appetite for biscuits, butter, eggs, sausage and stacks of fluffy cakes drenched in sticky syrup. He drives me to the post office then to the public library so I can use their computers. Chris makes spaghetti for lunch then we drive up to Clingman’s Dome (highest point on the AT and popular tourist attraction) so dad and I can revisit the overlook he brought me to as a child.

They take me back to Newfound Gap, mahalo and aloha to the helpful pair. Once again I am headed north. A beautiful evening of hiking rugged ridges until well after dark. Happy Earth Day!

Day 16: (TN)  20 miles from Peck’s Corner Shelter to Davenport Gap Shelter

It is a nice day so I make the 1.2 mile sidetrip to the beautiful stone fire tower on Mt Cammerer. More pleasing views around every corner. I end up at the last shelter inside the national park boundary.

Day 17:  17 miles from Davenport Gap to Max Patch summit

Today’s hike is a big climb to the summit of Max Patch which is a huge bald hundreds of yards across. The views of the Smoky Mtns is stunning and I have to camp at this incredible spot. There are several tents dotting the grand meadow but I easily find a nice site away from everyone. Still it is easy to hear conversation from people sitting on the soft grass watching the remarkable sunset. Aloha!

Day 18:  16 miles from Max Patch to Deer Park Mtn Shelter

Camping on the bald is windy but it is a warm night. I get up to watch the sunrise and see there are photographers nearby set up with their tripods.

During the middle of the day I keep running into slow hikers who are part of a large church men’s group. I prefer hikers who move like the devil is chasing them.

The beneficent trail spirit rewards me with trail magic at Gerronflo(sp?) Gap. A heavenly trail angel feeds me hot dog and homemade cookies washed down with Mtn Dew ambrosia.

Day 19: (TN)  3 miles to Hot Springs, 10 miles to camp

Out of curiosity I make a short detour in the morning to visit Standing Bear Farm. It has a reputation for being an interesting place to hang out with the bohemian trail riffraff. I arrive to see hung over and comatose bodies I recognize from Franklin and leave slightly disappointed.

Next the white blazes follow the two lane county road through the friendly hamlet of Hot Springs, North Carolina. Besides being a mail drop and resupply point, the town is having a street fair with colorful booths and the wonderful smell of meat cooking on a grill. I am extremely satisfied with a stacked buffalo burger and onion ring basket.

As I watch people go by I occasionally hear the term ‘hacker’ and ‘them hackers’. Was there some kind of computer hack in the news that I am totally unaware of? I’m not quite ready to get back on the trail so I get a seat out on the patio of the Paddler’s Tavern and put down cold beers in the warm afternoon until I have a good buzz. I finally ask the waitress, “What’s all this talk about hackers? Who are the hackers?” There is a long pause while she gives me a quizzical look. Then she says in an amused voice, “Well of course its you, honey, you’re the hacker!”

Its a long climb once the trail resumes but it gets cooler and I get sober. I camp nowhere near a shelter.

Day 20: (NC)  17 miles from camp to Jerry Cabin Shelter

What can I say? Today is a long rainy slog, menacing clouds darken my mood. I keep pushing the miles then am a late intruder at a crowded shelter. Room is made for me to squeeze in but the only place for my pack is a hook on the edge of the extended roof. Even with a pack cover it is getting soaked tonight.

Day 21:  17 miles from Jerry Cabin to a mile beyond I-26 at Sam’s Gap

It is raining when I wake up and continues as I leave the shelter. It takes all day but eventually the weather and my mood improve. About a mile after crossing under I-26 I camp at a tiny site at Sam’s Gap. Although out of sight of civilization, I still hear traffic noise from the freeway as I drift to sleep.

Day 22: (TN)  20 miles from Sam’s Gap to 2 miles past No Business Shelter

What a night! Apparently I camped in a wind tunnel and I wake up to below freezing wind chill temperatures. I have to drag my camp downhill to get out of the hypothermic wind and pack up. Once I get moving I notice the ground and leaves have a thin layer of snow dust.

It is by far the coldest morning of the trip, I maintain a quick pace to get the furnace going. Around a corner I am surprised by the most amazing trail magic. On the ground next to the trail I find a tupperware tub filled with fresh baked chocolate muffins, an industrial size thermos of coffee and a thick hardbound trail log. It is difficult for me to open these delightful items with frozen fingers but the effects are immediate and transformative. I can see whisps of smoke from a chimney over a small rise. I shout, “Haleakala, Aloha!” to the unknown trail angel extraordinaire.

Later in the morning, I arrive at a shelter where I meet a honeymooning couple about to leave their campfire burning. The dippy dude from Oregon warns me he just tossed a nearly empty gas canister in the fire. We move a safe distance and wait for the seriously stupid prank to deploy with an underwhelming THUD.

The breezy afternoon is spent climbing yet another big bald. I camp a few miles past the shelter to get a head start for Erwin tomorrow.