Appalachian Trail Journey
Start of the Journey (March 9) - Son of a Sierra Club member, Sleep Walker (trail name), is attempting a through hike on the Appalachian Trail (AT) this year. He left Amicalola Lodge in Amicalola State Park in GA to hike the 8 miles up Springer Mtn. to begin his AT hike on March 9, 2008. Beginning with a group of 30 40 people, he reached Miller Gap Rd. in Suches, GA on 3/11. Next day he was having lunch at the Gooch Mtn. Shelter, and on 3/14 he and his group of 4 had made it to Neels Gap and the Walasi-yi Hostel in Blairsville, GA. Sleep Walker began this hike after a year of training (10 18 mile day hikes 4-5 days a week, mostly in the Shenandoah), researching and buying the best, lightest weight gear. The hostel owner offers to do a pack shake-down for the through hikers, usually urging them to toss 10 20 lbs. of excess weight. He was so impressed with my sons 24-lb. pack that he took a picture of all his gear and food for the hostel wall. Next day they hit heavy storms, but his rain gear worked well. Below freezing that night. White, GA. 3/18 they reached the Cloud 9 Hostel in Hiawassee, GA after enjoying vistas from 4,000 ft. mountains and running the last 30 minutes to make the shuttle (he was out of food).
Heres his 1st person account on March 22, 2008
Left Dicks Creek Gap (Cloud 9 Hostel near Hiawassee, GA) at noon 3/19/08 and covered 16.2 miles in the rain with 6000 ft elevation gain by 8:00 PM (and crossed into NC). Set up the tent in the dark and the rain for the first time, then hung the bear bag in a heavy fog and drizzle, then woke up to snow and ice on the tent and frozen shoes and gloves! The next day, after a late start (1:30 PM) I covered another 12.9 miles and camped at around 5000 ft in freezing temperatures. I saw the Fire Tower on the top of Albert Mountain that Bill Bryson ("A Walk in the Woods") had once slept in. The next day, with 8.4 miles of hiking brought me to Winding Stairs Gap (US 64) where Ron Haven runs a shuttle to his hotel in Franklin. I'm doing laundry, shopping for supplies, and I'll be back on the mountain today 3/22/08 and I'll be heading to Wesser, NC and the home of the Nantahala Outdoor Center (the NOC). This is the last resupply before Fontana Dam (and the beginning of the Smokey Mountains). Temperatures have been very comfortable during the day (50's to 60's) and the views are great (very undeveloped vistas). Lots of Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel in the higher elevations.
By 3/25 hed made it to Fontana Dam, and entered Great Smoky Mtn. National Park on 3/26. His next email came on 3/29.
Heres his 1st person account on March 29
I've started hiking with some fast company ("Railroad King" and "Long Step" and "Handyman") and we've made it through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park (home of the most diverse forest in North America) in just four days (three nights) with several back to back 20 mile days hiking multiple 6,000 ft mountains including Clingmans Dome at 6,643 ft! The trees were bare and scraggly at 4,700 ft with only bushes for color but then above 5,000 ft the Evergreens thrive and moss covered all the fallen trees (which were many because of the shallow, rocky, moist, dark soil). I was hiking in the rain one day and then the sky cleared to reveal an awesome knife edged rock ridge heading down into this huge gorge that seemed to go down forever and then off into a distant valley -- it seemed like something out of the "lost world". We were also walking along a knife edged ridge ourselves later that day where you could reach your hands out over the edge on both sides at the same time. In the lower elevations I saw lots of light golden leaves that were still on the trees and lots of darker brown leaves were on the trail -- it looked almost like fall! I was very fortunate and we had nice warm weather (50's) through the park (which can have severe winter storms even two months later in the year. I'm feeling good so far (many minor aches and pains during the day that come and go and migrate around but I heal up overnight). I'm at Standing Bear Farm hostel tonight (2 miles past Davenport Gap -- the end of the Smokies) with the plan being to do two big days (one night) to get to Hot Springs, N.C.
Heres his 1st person account on April 4
Well, we made it from Hot Springs, N.C. to Erwin, TN (at the Nolichucky River and Uncle Johnnys hostel) in four days (three nights). We covered something like 16 the first day and stayed at a nice hostel 0.7 miles of the trail, then covered 25 miles, 20, then 7 on the last day. We stayed at shelters the other nights. The trail has been interesting in that we've been through a wide variety of environments, from dry looking woods, to Hawaii Island looking botanical garden mountain stream gorges with lots of green (including ferns) and even a white washed white sand and stone stream/waterfall area. The mountains are still much bigger than I expected (between towns/hostels we are staying above 4000 feet and sometimes still climbing over 5000 ft (like Big Bald). And speaking of Big Bald, another grassy bald, we encountered a short ridge with 40 mile per hour winds and sideways blowing wind -- for 5 minutes I thought I was in Ant-Artica. We were on a very rocky ridge a few days back and there was smog to the West and beautiful blue sky and Mountains to the East. Apparantly the mountains were tall enough to block the bad air. We are at about 348 mile into the trip (~15%) and we should be in another resupply hostel in another 4 days then on to Damascus, VA! Enjoying the trip -- so far so good. Onwards and upwards!
Heres his 1st person account on April 19
Well, since my last email I've covered the Damascus to Groseclose/Atkins section (~76 miles) and then the Groseclose/Atkins to Pearisburg, VA section (87 miles).
The first section was awesome -- the tallest mountains in VA including Mt. Rogers (5,729 feet) that was blowing near freezing mist across a combination of trees and rocky/grassy sections (spooky and cold), the Grayson Highlands section (we saw the ponies), and the Virginia Highlands section. The views offered more variety that we had seen with the grassy balds of TN/NC. I did not realize that VA offered such great hiking -- plus the Virginia Creeper Trail (mostly a bike trail) passed right through Damascus as well. The area was seeing record low temperatures while we were there -- very cold -- we saw (and slept in snow and ice that did not melt during the day and on the last day we hiked through four inch deep snow with the Rodedendrums hanging over the trail creating a very narrow and low tunnel to pass through -- we were definitely covered in snow but reached the warmth and safety of a hotel that night (after dark).
The next section was less dramatic but very enjoyable due to the pleasant views of green farm country on both sides of the ridge walking with decents/assents to swithc ridges occassionaly. We did a 4 mile day to start (to recover from the last 31 mile day) then a rough 24/24/30/8 to get to Pearisburg, VA before we ran out of food (that first day put us in a rough position to cover the rest of the distance). The slow day was to accomodate "Handyman" but he ended up dropping off the trail due to exhaustion (but it was his idea to do the 31 mile day) so it's just "Longstep" and I now (we previously lost "Railroad King due to a knee problem). Longstep will be getting off for one week at the next stop, Daleville, so I'll visit with Paul and then continue on at a slower pace (so Longstep can catch up) or if I need the rest I'll wait for Longstep's return before starting up again (if Paul will have me).
My good ankle is sore at this point but I've got the afternoon off here in Pearisburg so hopefully I'll be okay for the next stretch (~ five 20 mile days).
Mark called last night. He is in Lambert's Meadow Shelter. They hope to get up early and be able to have plenty of time to check-in to the Howard Johnson's Motel (A Hiker Friendly Motel) take showers, unload their back-packs and go to Kroger and the Outfitter's and have a large breakfast. Lisa and I are still picking Mark and his trail partner up at 6:00 P.M. and then dropping them by the motel after we eat in Catawba at the Homeplace restaurant. They will hit the trail Saturday morning and then I will pick them up when they call on Sunday morning, probably near the Peaks of Otter.
If you did not notice, Daleville is approximately 1/3 of the way to the end of the trail. They are moving fast. Mark said they should be at trails end in July (usually Sept. or Oct. for most hikers.)
We are now at 625 miles complete (I believe 544 was the 1/4 complete number).
Heres his 1st person account on May 12
Well, everything has gone according to plan. I was back on the trail on 4/30/08 (Apple Orchard Falls just past Peaks Of Otter on the Blue Ridge Parkway), stayed at the very relaxing and enjoyable Dutch Haus B&B on 5/2/08, and made it to Rockfish Gap (US 250, I-64, Waynesboro, VA and the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway) on 5/4/08 where my dad picked me up and brought me to Waynesboro for food/laundry/rest/resupply -- many thanks. This stretch was much more impressive from the trail than from what I remember seeing from the Blue Ridge Parkway by car. I would highly recommend Cold Mountain which is the only example of a near-bald mountain that I've seen in VA (most similar to the balds in NC/TN) -- it's just North of Bald Knob which is in fact not a bald! The Priest was another impressive mountain and there were many others that were challenging because of the elevation gain, the steepness, and the rocks.
I was back on the trail (from Waynesboro) the next day, 5/5/08, and started into the Shenandoah National Park reaching Big Meadows and my sister and her husband and their three girls [the Lannen's] on 5/7/08 (Wednesday) and Linden, VA (near Front Royal) on 5/10/08 (Saturday) around noon. The Shenandoah National Park is the first section of the Appalachian Trail that seemed easy so far mostly because the mountains are smaller, the grades were more gradual, and there were large sections of fairly smooth ground to walk on (although some sections did remain very rocky). I loved this section in particular because for the first time on the entire trip I had adequate food intake (eating my normal camp food plus eating an additional ten meals over 5.5 days from park restaurants plus and a cooler of food that my sister brought me plus supplementary trail magic food supplied by park visitors that I met). It was very enjoyable seeing the Lannen's at Big Meadows -- we saw lots of deer up close -- and did I mention -- they fed me LOTS OF FOOD (two restaurant meals at a time)!
I'm taking a few days to visit with family in the Northern VA area then I'll be back on the trail on Wednesday and I should reach Harpers Ferry, WV on Friday.
We are now at 963 miles complete.
Heres his 1st person account on May 18
I was back on the trail (Linden, VA) on 5/14/08, and hiked 22.2 miles that day (to Sam Moore Shelter) that included a very enjoyable section hiking with my PATC Wednesday Hikers group (from Dicks Dome Shelter to a nice lunch spot overlooking the valley past Sky Meadows State Park). At the Sam Moore Shelter I met two young hikers that I had passed back in the Blue Ridge Parkway section of the trail and also met the father of "Poncho" whom I had stayed with back at the Dutch Haus B&B! The next day was a relaxing hike to visit the Bears Den Hostel for a shower and lunch and I met up with "Hardbound" whom I had hiked with in the Shenandoah National Park. That afternoon Hardbound and I hiked to the very pleasant Blackburn Trail Center and slept on their screened in porch and ate a great lasagna dinner. The next morning (5/16/08) was a short hike into Harpers Ferry where my Mom and younger brother Jon met us for "resupply" -- Mom brought me trail food for the next days and fruits/snacks and Jon treated Mom and I to a great steak dinner! The hiking in this section was quite challenging at times because of the high water levels in most of the creek crossings (much rock hoping and even some sitting and scooting across fallen trees). The infamous roller coaster section didn't seem too bad to this seasoned thru-hiker. We stayed at the Comfort Inn in Harpers Ferry and Mom and Jon met one of the young hikers that I had stayed with at the Sam Moore Shelter (she was there nursing her hiking partner who had a fever - hopefully not from the ticks). Hardbound and I also ran into his old hiking partner "Traveler" from the Shenandoah National Park who was staying at the hotel with his wife.
As of today (5/18/08), we have put VA and WV behind us and we are staying at the Free State hostel off of MD17 (30 miles past Harpers Ferry and 10 miles short of the PA line). A hiker stopped in looking for me with a message from Longstep. Longstep had a infection under the skin and his ankle had been dangerously swollen so he has had more days off the trail so he will be starting tomorrow from Bears Den Hostel which means that he is now about three or four days behind instead of the one or two that I was expecting. I will most likely continue to hike this more relaxed (~15 miles per day pace) to give Longstep a chance to catch up (I also heard that "Railroad King" that I had hiked with back in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is in the vicinity of Longstep so I may see him again too. I see from the hostel log book that other folks that I know are only a day or to ahead ("Kirby" and "Cookie" as well as "Hit" and "Miss"). The MD hiking is very easy and pleasant as I expect a lot of the hiking to be between here and Vermont (with the exception of northern PA where I hear that the Trail Maintainers go out each year and sharpen the rocks instead of cutting fallen trees out of the trail -- joking of course). We are seeing lots of state parks (with wonderful potable water, porcelain toilets, and picnic tables), roads, people, hostels, and even a restaurant on the trail. The next major stop is Duncannon, PA that is supposed to be a great trail town but we will reach Pine Grove Furnace Park first which I believe to be the physical half way point of the Appalachian Trail.
We are now at 1,042 miles complete.
Heres his 1st person account on June 20
We made it over Stratton Mountain today and have reached Manchester, VT, where Longstep has some friends. We saw our fourth bear today near Stratton Pond (a beautiful place that I will have to go back to again).
They plan to hike until Wednesday, June 25, and then take a three- to four-day break before tackling "the Whites" and Maine. (I hadn't heard about bears #2 and #3!)
Heres his 1st person account on June 29
The last major AT progress email that I sent out was at 1042 miles (in MD). Since then Hardbound has dropped out (in early PA) but by then Railroad King had caught up to me (I hadn't seen him since Hot Springs, NC) and we hiked together through the 230 miles of PA (which ends at the Delaware Water Gap) where Longstep finally caught up to us (Longstep was hiking fast to catch us after Handyman dropped off the trail to heal a injured foot).
After crossing the Mason-Dixon line (MD-PA border) I noticed the AT signs changed from saying GA -> ME to saying ME -> GA. We passed through (at lunch time) Pine Grove Furnace state park that is known for the 1/2 gallon challenge (hikers often attempt to eat a full 1/2 gallon of ice cream in a single sitting) but it also had the very impressive Ironmasters Mansion (see Hostelling International). Twenty miles later we dropped into an interesting little town called Boiling Springs for a cafe breakfast. In general, accessibility of stores and restaurants has been an enjoyable part of hiking the North Eastern states along the AT. Another town of note in PA was Duncannon, home of the famous (infamous?) Doyle hotel. It's a grand old hotel that's run down now (just like the town) but it's great for hikers. In the early parts of PA we encountered a lot of pleasant, easy walking much like MD with easy rolling hills and an occasional valley crossing to another small ridge that you could see in the distance. The later half of PA became progressively more abusive as the rocks became more prevalent and unfriendly with fairly mundane hiking (lots of straight ridge walking with no elevation change). I should also mention the town of Palmerton since it provided a hostel for hikers in the basement of the town center building and the hike out of the town was across a mountain of barren rock devoid of life for the last twenty years since the zinc smelting gases killed the plant life then without the plants the rain washed the soil away and now nothing will grow -- but we were glad to have a hill to climb.
In NJ (after the Delaware Water Gap) the scenery improved slightly with some lakes on either side of the ridge and some increased variety of plant life. NJ has only 72 miles of the AT so this section went by quickly but we did stop by the town of Unionville NY (only 0.4 miles from the trail in NJ) and we met the Mayor who invited us to his house and provided a wonderful dinner, clean clothes, lodging (in bunk beds in his basement), good conversation, and a great breakfast. He also gave us contact information of an individual in Dalton, MA that we ended up staying with later in the trip (that actually saved us from a pretty violent thunder storm). Towards the end of NJ we (Longstep and I) lost Railroad King again (he drops back whenever he's tired without warning).
In NY, I really started enjoying the hiking again since we were heading straight east and crossing [smaller] ridges instead of following the ridge line. We were now hiking up and down and around and there was lots of lakes and ponds and huge tall trees in this old growth forest (NY set aside the first section of parks dedicated to the appalachian trail). We covered about 90 miles of trail through this state, encountered some great trail magic (a deli owner lent us his car so we could reach a far away grocery store to resupply and another individual gave us small bills so we could access a lakeside ice cream vending machine). I should mention that we saw our first bear just before crossing into NY and then two more after crossing into NY. It was very interesting to encounter section hikers that take public transportation from NY City to one section of the trail, hike for some number of days (2 - 7), then take public transportation back to the city from another section of the trail. The Bear Mountain area was great too. We crossed over the mountain, then around a lake by the same name, and then walked through a working zoo by the same name (no charge for thru-hikers following the Appalachian Trail).
In CN we turned North again to cover the 52 miles of trail in this state and had a blast visiting relatives/friends of the family in Kent (Carol and Brent Kallstrom) and inSalisbury (Art Eddy). We pulled into the Kallstrom's just before a devastating storm that knocked down lots of trees all the way to Salisbury. The storm had an upside in that it broke the heat wave that had been quite tough through NY. The Kallstroms and Art Eddy both got us clean and fed and back on the trail in good spirits and the towns they live in were very enjoyable.
In MA (still heading North) we covered the 30 miles of trail in this state while periodically fighting mosquitoes since the land has become swampy in places and Beaver dams and small ponds were becoming plentyful. One of the highlights of this stretch was when Longstep's wife met us at Upper Goose Pond Cabin (which looks like a lake to me) with a whole cooler full of food. We also met and hiked with two Triple Crown hikers (who had hiked the AT, PCT, and CDT trails). They said we were the first people they had met that had been able to keep up with them for the whole day (they carry 8 lb base weight packs where the empty pack weighs only 7 oz). We lost the triple crown hikers ("The Deli Twins") when we stopped to see the Unionville Mayor's friend in Dalton MA (where we dodged another big storm). I don't know why people help the hikers but I'm sure glad that they do!
In VT, as of this email, we have covered all but 10 miles of the 150 miles of trail in this state. We reached West Hartford, VT on 6/24/08 and we've taken a 5 day break at Longstep's house in Ballston Spa, NY. (We'll be back on the trail on Monday 6/30/08.) Along the way, we stopped by Manchester VT and visited with friends of Longstep's that live there (where we got fed and cleaned up and even got a tour of the town). His friends own the Mother Myrick's Confectionary and they gave us a tour of their store and of their factory -- interesting to see the behind the scenes action. Of interest to Jon is the Equinox Hotel and Spa that offers the Land-Rover Experience Driving Schoolacross the street. In Vermont, the Appalachian Trail follows the Long Trail half way up the state (passing over Stratton Mtn, Bromly Mtn, and Killington Mtn among others) and then the Applachian Trial splits off from the long trail (that continues to head north all the way to Canada) and heads straight East towards NH. The woods look like a rainforest and the trail is often muddy with wood plank walkways over some of the more swampy sections -- which reside even on the ridges! My impression is that VT is a very wet state and I certainly understand why they call Vermont the Green Mountain State. We have been seeing Moose droppings since MA but we still haven't seen a Moose.
Well, we have about 160 miles of NH to go and about 280 miles of ME to go and then we're done. I'm looking forward to these sections -- should be good.
Now at 1722 miles complete.
Heres his 1st person account on July 17
I've hiked 11 more days (the last 8 without visiting a town, having a shower, or washing clothes -- although I did pick up more food from a maildrop 2 days ago at Pinkham Notch). I've reached Gorham, NH and I've crossed over the Presidential range of the White Mountains -- some of the toughest hiking/rock climbing/rock hopping that I've had to do so far but also the most rewarding views so far -- very rugged terrain. I'm only covering 7 to 14 miles per day now. Some ridge walks feel like what I imagine Ireland to be like (moss and bolders) with clouds blowing across the ridge (we had 60 mile per hour winds one day) while you are hiking from one rock pile (cairn) to the next that you can barely make out through the mist -- spooky. Then the next day the sky clears and you can see all the surrounding mountains and valleys -- dramatic. The coolest thing that has happend recently is that I've spotted Mt. Katahdin from 300 miles away (the last mountain that I could see on the horizon). I could see 15 to 25 mountains off in the distance in every direction that day. The next stop in Andover, ME which should be 3 or 4 days away.
Now at 1878 miles complete.
July news from Jon
"Sleep Walker" called last night from Gorham. He's staying at a hostel that has two parts: one nicer set of rooms (more like a B&B) and then a less expensive option for hikers - a loft in a Barn.
Heres his 1st person account on July 23
I've made it to Andover, ME. The trail has been very tough with much sliding down wet rocky slopes on our buts and hanging on to tree limbs or roots by the edge of the trail to keep from gaining too much speed. We passed through Mahoosuc Notch that still had snow and ice trapped in the bottom of the bolder field. We had to crawl under and over boulders for a two hour stretch while pushing or pulling our packs along. We saw the remains of a moose that had fallen into the bolder field last year and gotten trapped there (people had hung Tibetan prayer flags for the moose). The current plan is to complete the trip by August 9th. I'm currently hiking with some folks that I had passed back in Harpers Ferry, WV.
Now at 1920 miles complete.
Heres his 1st person account on July 26
I've made it to Maine 4 (Rangeley, ME) where I'm staying for a day at the Gull Pond Hostel to wait for two impassable rivers to receed (the previous river I was able to cross by skinnying across a huge fallen tree). We had a tropical storm drop 3" to 5" of rain onto the already saturated terrain so I've been hiking up and down streams and across continuous flooded mud bogs where the rocks and roots and logs are underwater (and if you step in the mud you might just "posthole" into it). Unpleasant, but the sky has cleared so hopefully the land will start to dry out a little. The next stop is Stratton, ME which I should make on Tuesday.
Now at 1954 miles complete.
Heres his 1st person account on August 17
I summited Katahdin yesterday (August 16th -- the 101st person to hike the entire AT this year). Mt. Katahdin and Mt. Washington are two of the most dramatic and impressive mountains on the entire AT so I would definitely recommend visiting these mountains if you get the chance. The 100 mile wilderness was fairly easy where I covered 17, 18, 19, then 21 miles on the last four days there (I don't think I had any days over 15 miles in the White Mountains of New Hampshire or in the Mahoosuc Range of Maine). The lakes and streams along the way are a pleasure be around but the muddy roots and rocks are tedious to walk on (especially when you are trying to cover 280 miles through the state). (I heard Maine had 180" [15'] of snow last winter that, combined with the unusual amounts of rain this year, contributed to the soggy conditions that we encountered.) I saw Knuckles and her husband Ben hiking south through the 100 mile wilderness so she did not quit her thru-hike after all so I may still be able to catch a ride home with them (they live in Charlottesville, VA -- and I am a few days ahead of her completion [which will be in Monson and then they will shuttle back to Millinocket]). I'm staying at The Appalachian Trail Lodge in Millinocket right now. I started at 176 lbs, got down to 155 lbs by Daleville, VA, and now I'm back up to 163 lbs through a slower pace and more town food -- so I'm feeling good -- and I'm still in one piece!
Now 2176 miles complete (of 2176)
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