AT – NC Fontana Dam to NOC (part 1)

7/15/2018 – 7/17/2018 Stecoah Gap to Fontana Dam

Trail Dame Summit is history! So I rushed to Sylva, North Carolina to meet up with everyone at City Lights Cafe for lunch, then off to the mountains!  Highly recommend City Lights Cafe and may need to go back to check out the book store upstairs.  They had a few wonderful vegan options…which gives them 5 stars in my book! 😀

The weather forecast indicated possible thunderstorms that evening but we stayed dry until we hit Jacobs Ladder after Sweetwater Gap.

“Oh, hello, North Carolina, I see you waited up for me.”

Sweat soaked us as we laboriously lifted one foot over the other to make slow forward progress.  It was up, straight up, and boy, was I glad the rain held off as this was one of THOSE hills! Rain would have felt amazing, but it would have resulted in each step forward being followed by two steps sliding back.  Thankfully, it was a short hill, and we quickly finished our big 2.4 mile day to Brown Fork Shelter.

IMG_20180719_195145.jpg

Yes! Made it and no rain yet!

20180716_075349.jpg

Brown Fork Shelter…The site of the Mice Massacre

Brown Fork Shelter is a nice shelter. It is up off the ground, seems clean enough, sturdy.  In the early morning, I got up and walked toward the privy in the deep fog that had descended on the mountain, beautiful until I almost stepped on a mouse.  Then, *quick inhale*, I saw that it was dead. “Oh my gawd” I had glanced around and could not unsee the littering of dead mice as I arrived back at the shelter.  Creepier still was the trash bugs were crawling under them to make it appear they were still moving and a huge bullfrog sitting on the side of the shelter looking down on the massacre as if he had ordered it.  UGH.

So, I have a question.  Do trail maintainers ever put out mouse poison to cull the herd, so to speak?  We found the powdered stuff under the back of the shelter.  I was livid.  Mice eat the poison, bugs eat the mice, birds eat the bugs…you get it.  Yes, the mice are sometimes the most annoying opportunists, but humans made this problem.  Sloppy humans who left food around.  😦

I took my irritation down the trail with me that day and had to hike it out.

20180715_200935

Tallahassee Tom … did you kill those mice?

20180716_061230

Bully Bullfrog…did you order those mice killed? (oh, and please don’t eat the bugs)

The hike was pleasant as we rolled along the AT to Cable Gap Shelter.   Wildflowers lined the trail in places and after getting to the top of one hill we were blessed with a view of the peaks of distant mountains rising above a sea of valley fog.  With each breeze, spanish moss lifted and swayed, floating with the wind for just a few seconds before falling back to cling to the bark of its tree. And it was quiet, so quiet.  You can hear yourself think up here.

20180716_102854.jpg

There were some rocky spots 🙂

 

I was apparently fully recovered from the mice massacre when we arrived at Cable Gap since I decided to again sleep in the shelter.  The threat of rain was imminent…and I wanted to keep my tent dry for at least one more day.  I could feel the stillness, the humidity.  I could see the leaves tipping over.  Yes, it was only matter time.  I got my pad set up just in time to watch the skies open up and dump.  Time for a relaxing afternoon in the shelter!

IMG_20180719_200339.jpg

Uncle Charlie, brother of Uncle Charlie, and son of brother of Uncle Charlie came trooping into the shelter area from Fontana Dam about then.  These three were a comedy of errors and had us both shaking our heads and laughing.  Uncle Charlie had injured his leg early in the day leaving his nephew, son of brother of Uncle Charlie to carry two packs…his own and Uncle Charlie’s.  The son wore one on his back and one on his front…

Leave no trace was not part of their dinner plans, apparently.  Uncle Charlie dumped his left over stuff on his plate right in front of the shelter… I totally called them out on that!  OMG, dead mice and now this!  As they headed up the hill to their hammocks, the son asked if he could leave his pack at the shelter (he left it outside on the ground).  No problem as long as there is NO FOOD IN IT.  He came back in about 15 minutes, sheepishly, and took out a couple of trail bars to hike down to their “bear bag”.  Good Lord, still shaking my head!

During the night, something…maybe a possum, maybe a raccoon, or maybe an army of mice turned his pack over scaring the living bejeezus out of me.  I turned on my headlamp and shot it out to his pack.  The light met with a wall of fog…I saw nothing, but did not sleep particularly well the rest of the night!

I was one sleepy hiker the next morning! No matter, we were headed to Fontana Dam, then to the Hike Inn for a shower and real bed for tonight…I vowed to pop a benedryl.

20180717_080642.jpg

All the things that go bump in the night show in our eyes! *yawn*

It was a gorgeous hike into Fontana, but a little demoralizing after we got to the Marina and found we still had about a mile and a half to go.  It was hot as Hades down around Fontana Dam and that last mile *whew* the cool waters of Fontana Lake mocked me. I just wanted to jump in, but it was so far downhill!

20180717_143306.jpg

Lucky for me I had gotten a second wind at the Marina and was charging … well okay, I am not really capable of charging, but anyway, keeping a swift pace to Fontana Dam.  Then came the stairs, and the road walk, and it was hot…I got to the Dam and literally sunk to the ground to feel the cool grass.  I tore my boots off and let my feet go “ahhhhhh”!!!

I wanted to get a good look at the Smoky Mountains just on the other side of the dam.  They were intoxicating and pulled me in.  I got up from my shady spot and with my bare feet started across the parking lot.  In the middle of the sun blasted lot I broke out into a slight jog, then, dang it! a run for the grass on the other side as I felt the asphalt burning into the underside of my feet, hahaha, flashbacks to my wonder years growing up in Texas!

IMG_20180719_201543.jpg

Fontana Dam

Yeah, and after I gazed at those lovely Smoky Mountains I had to run back to the other side… 😀 ouch, ouch, ouch…Hike on!

 

AT-VA Loft Mountain to Turk Gap…completing Shenandoah!

I ended the AT through Shenandoah where I began it long ago. Several years back my sweetie and I backpacked the Moorman River Loop which traversed the AT from Turk Gap to Blackrock Gap…loved that trip!

Anyway, here I was with the Dames at Loft Mountain pulling out my gear for a quick overnight on the AT. It was going to be a hot one!

Shorts? Check!

Prehydrate with Gatorade? Check!

Backpack packed light? OMG OMG OMG OMG 21 POUNDS!!!!! WHAAAAAT?

That has never happened…are you kidding me? 21 pounds?!! I’m so proud of myself 😂

Okay, let me collect myself, whew…

The first day was sweet! Gorgeous trail, interesting rocks, and tremendous views from Blackrock Summit.

Pulling down into Blackrock Hut, we got set up quickly. I decided that I was going to have a lazy weekend and took advantage of a mostly empty shelter! The ridgerunner, Papa Bear, showed up, in addition to a slew of thruhikers and weekend warriors.

Papa Bear was a great conversationalist and I soon found out we knew some of the same trail folk. This type of encounter is what I truly love about the AT. The trail connects us in ways we cannot possibly understand or anticipate; it is almost magical. 😊

A few of the guys tenting down the hill spotted a mama bear and cub on the opposite side of the ravine! We all ran down to watch them until they ambled off. Then it was to bed for me! Next morning I heard that the bears came back…the guys down the hill had to come out of their tent, yell a bit, made a bunch of noise until the bears again left. 😲

I heard nothing from the bears, but oh! The whipporwills! A lovely serenade long into the night.

The following day I treated the dames to slackpacking the last 8.5 miles. I would say it was a treat for me too, but recall my pack was ONLY 21 POUNDS!! 😄😄😄

It was a great decision. Four good climbs, temps climbing into mid-80s, and a delightful mugginess moved in. Yummy.

It was one of those days. Climb up 100 yards, stop to rest, up, rest, up, rest…

The wildflowers along the way made it bearable!

Turk Gap was a welcome sight! A few of us capped off the weekend at Loft Wayside before dragging ourselves back to the real world. Here’s to good friends, the trail community, and whipperwills…hike on!

Making Lemonade Out of Lemons

Hiking weekend with some great trail gals looked like it was finished before it even began. 😦

A spring snowstorm had resulted in the closure of Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway. I gave Shenandoah National Park every opportunity to reopen Skyline Drive without success. It wouldn’t have mattered as much to me if we weren’t specifically aiming at hiking new Appalachian Trail miles. I seriously considered rescheduling the Air B&B. Lemons.

However, Lola, tried and true hiking friend, talked me down and so here we were at Starbucks in Staunton getting ready to embark on plan B!

Four of us headed out to find the Trimble Mountain Trail in George Washington National Forest. It was a beautiful crisp day with a fabulous blue sky and temps in the 40s. Snow covered the mountains giving them a soulful depth I was not used to seeing and it filled me with enormous joy!

We found the trailhead and set off into the woods breaking the smooth surface of snow. No other footprints preceded ours. It was a special feeling.

It was also exhausting! We climbed up for half the hike the around the ridge and back down steeply for a total of 4 moderately tough miles.

However, It was equally gorgeous! An exhilarating, way to kick off our hiking weekend! Lemonade for all! (Or maybe hot chocolate) Hike on!

A Force Play by Spring – Then the Mother Nature Smackdown

I’ve been out; I’ve been about; I’ve been in a tutu, in hiking boots, in trail runners, in wind gear, covered my face with the balaclava, and basked in the warm February sun.  However, I have not hiked in snow this winter…BECAUSE THERE WAS NO SNOW THIS WINTER!

See, no snow on March 9th at Gambrill State Park!

IMG_20180309_144927.jpg

TGIF Hike with the Maryland Trail Dames – Log Sittin at Gambrill State Park along the Catoctin Trail.

And look, practically Spring at the Celtic Canter 5k in Westminster, MD on March 10th!

IMG_20180310_131309_604.jpg

The Maryland Trail ‘Lassies’ rocked out this 5k!

The weekend of March 17th was even better!  Another TGIF hike with the Dames was windy and cold to start, but it warmed up.  And Sunday, March 18, was a glorious day on the trail…60 degrees, sunny, absolutely delicious hiking weather!

IMG_20180316_151628.jpg

TGIF with the Maryland Trail ‘Kitties’ at Cat Rock in Catoctin Mountain Park.

IMG_20180318_175220_976.jpg

Crossing the 340 bridge coming back into Harper’s Ferry on Sunday. JUST LOOK AT THAT SKY 🙂

Yeah, Mother Nature decided to wait until we were all so excited for Spring…teased us with warm temperatures, sunny days, and daffodils.  Yet, despite all times she could have done something great in November, December, January or February…she decided to let Winter have its day  … in March…and right now there are 6 inches of white crap on the ground with a call for 6 more inches today.

Thank you, Mother Nature, you know I have a hiking weekend coming up in three days.  An AT section hiking weekend, with a couple of gals, for which we rented a house in Staunton, Virginia.

So I would suggest that you, Mother Nature, direct your Sun to start shining its warmth in the direction of Beagle Gap, Humpback Rocks, and Reids Gap.  Okay?

Thoughts and prayers appreciated, and if you feel like shoveling snow let me know…HIKE ON!! 😀

How to Handle a Hot February Humpday

1. Leave office, which by the way, was one- hundred and fifty-seven degrees, to go home for lunch.

2. Change into cooler clothes… meaning scan closet, or rather dig into the deep, dark, spider-ridden corners for clothes not seen since last August.

3. Make decision to wear clothes that you can run to the mountains in after work.

4. Call your codependent hiking friend and tell her to meet you at the trail head at 5pm. (FYI she came from a funeral… No lie…*silently crossing myself* )

5. Get to trail, get rained on, smell the pines!

Hike on!

,

The Deep Freeze Delights of Winter

Well, happy new year and happy outdoor adventuring to everyone! Here is hoping your toes are warm, your furnace is cranking, and the pipes haven’t burst at your house.

I kicked off the new year with the Trail Dames, heading out on the best possible day last week…yay! Temps rising into the twenties!!  What an absolute delight.

I led the Dames on a 6 mile loop at Catoctin Mountain Park near Thurmont, Maryland.  This is one of my favorite hiking spots and home to Camp David for you political junkies.  Occasionally, the trails are shut down when the President is at Camp David.  This isn’t very often with the current administration.  So stomp on down the trails, no secret service to stop you!

Our route started at the Visitor Center.  We were all giddy with the blue skies and promise of increasing temperatures, despite it being 17 degrees as we pulled into the lot and greeted each other.  The Visitor Center opens at 9 am…important information if you like to hit the bathrooms before heading down the trail.  Dames LOVE bathrooms at the beginning of a hike!!! 😀 😀 😀

IMG_20180103_143049.jpg

Shedding Some Layers!

We started uphill first heading in the direction of Thurmont Vista.  This warmed us up!  We took our first break at the Vista, then continued around to Wolf Rocks.

IMG_20180103_143157.jpgIMG_20180103_143233.jpg

We made a half – ass effort to investigate the top of Wolf Rocks, but with ice and snow covering most of the rocks we retreated without argument and  stomped on to Chimney Rocks.  We took a longer break at Chimney Rocks.  It is a nice spot for a break since there are many rocks to sit upon.

IMG_20180103_143340.jpg

Retreat from Wolf Rocks

IMG_20180103_143500.jpg

Winter View from Chimney Rocks

Kudos to the park maintainers because they have now blazed the trails in a variety of happy colors and put in benches for restful contemplation of the universe in many spots along the trails.

Leaving Chimney Rocks, it was all downhill, steeply, to park headquarters, then a rolling mile back to our cars.  It was a beautiful way to kick off 2018!

May all your hiking goals be met this year (in spite of the frigid start).  Hike on!