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Hiking trip on the AT

Hi, all.

This baby is long, so you may not want to read it all.  It was originally 
written to post on AT-L, but I have decided to crosspost to OUTDOR-L.
It may not be as interesting to those on OUTDOR-L who do not have a specific
interest in the Appalachian Trail, but Read the first few paragraphs before you
decide.  Enjoy.  John Newman  GA->ME, '83-'89

Just want to get the juices flowing in all you thruhikers and hardcore trail
people.  Not that Download and Nexmo's reports haven't done that already, but
this is to add fuel to the fire.  

A co-worker, Joel, is section hiking the AT.  I don't think he knows how hooked 
he is as yet, but he has finished all the AT from Springer to Damascus in the 
past 4 or 5 years.  Now he says that he "probably ought to finish Virginia as
it is his home state".  One of these days he'll wake up on the AT somewhere
north of the Whites and say, "Well, its only one more state - maybe I ought to
go ahead and finish it".  

Saturday morning found us at Summit Cut on US 58, 16.9 trail miles north of 
Damascus, VA.  It was about 9:15am and 8 degrees Fahrenheit when Joel began 
his hike south in about 1.5 to 2 inches of fresh snow.  We had gone through 
several iterations of what we would do as far as meeting and spending the night 
out or not.  We originally decided on Joel hiking north and I would park at 
Elk Garden and hike south to meet him at the shelter about 8 miles south for 
me and 15 + miles north for him. We would each continue our respective
directions to complete about 24 miles of trail. Now, with an expected low of 
around zero for Saturday night, we opted to end up in Damascus for the night 
and probably stay at The Place.  It should be noted here that both of us had 
packed clothing, sleeping bags, tent, and food to survive 15 below readings.

I drove Joel's pickup into Damascus and proceeded to Mt Rogers Outfitters on
Main Street.  I went in and exchanged greetings with  Dave, the owner (AT '90).
Early in our conversation I asked if The Place was open yet.  "Nope.  Not until
March 23rd.  Need a place to stay?  I'm caretaking a house behind Dot's (local
watering hole) until it can be sold and I'm letting some hikers stay there for
the night for 10 bucks each.  Fully furnished, including stove and hot shower."
In one of those rare monents, I made an 'executive' decision and forked over
$20.00  for both of us.  I puttered around in the store for a while listening
to Dave's enthusiastic account of his climb of Mt. Rainier last year.  He
showed me a huge map of the mountain and surrounding trails.  I bought a couple
pairs of Duofolds' CoolMax briefs for my PCT trip.  Looked at other equipment
that I didn't need.  What was that I was supposed to be doing?  Oh,yeah, now I 
remember.  Better get on the trail to meet Joel.  After all, this was supposed 
to be a training hike for me as I'm gearing up to hit the PCT for 3 weeks near 
the end of April.
I followed Dave (aka Damascus Dave) to the house, parked the truck, and hit the
AT going north as originally planned.  Shortly, I was climbing from the valley
up the 2.5 miles towards the top of FeatherCamp Ridge.  There was a very light
snow falling as I ascended.  The air was clean and felt good way down in the
bottom of my lungs.  With 40 pounds on my back, I loved this climb.  It is
amazing that ten years after doing this part of the trail, with each step and
each little twist or turn, memories of that first time came flooding back..
This was familiar turf.  I don't know how to explain how it works, but those of
you who have gone back to hike parts of the AT (or any trail) know what I'm
saying is true.  You remember that dip in the trail, the gap where you go
around the other side of the mountain, or a particular stone that you stepped
on to cross a small stream, etc.  

When I first started, I was a bit chilly as I had removed a couple of layers
in anticipation of the warming effects of the climb.  Soon I was unbuttoning my
wool shirt top layer and removing my mittens and balaclava to adjust for the
rise in my core temperature from the exertion of hiking uphill.  The woods were
beautiful.  Quicker than I anticipated, I was sidehilling down toward Iron
Mountain Trail intersection.  Yep.  There it was coming in from the left on the
uphill side of the AT.  Continuing down, I buttoned my shirt, donned my mittens
and balaclava as my exertion level decreased and I became cooler.  Stepping
aross the small stream and down to the picnic tables beside US 58, I had come 
5.6 miles and my legs felt great.  Normally, at about this time, I would have
removed my pack and taken a quick 'Snickers break' and consumed some water, but
I planned to stop a bit farther for that.
I proceeded across the highway, down a short incline, and crossed Straight 
Branch on a bridge that wasn't there in '85.  The trail meandered through the
woods a bit before beginng its sidehill path toward Taylor's Valley Side
Trail 2 miles from the road I had just crossed.  Along this stretch, the 
Virginia Creeper Trail, a old railroad bed converted to trail, and Whitetop
Laurel Creek were seldom out of sight.  The AT parallels them both slightly
above the narrow valley floor, which is barely wide enough to accommodate them.

Ice around the rocks and in the deep green pools of Whitetop Laurel made this a
special walk.  In about 1.5 miles, I came to a small stream that cascades down
from the left, under a footlog which crosses it, and on down to join the much
larger Whitetop Laurel Creek, which could rightly be called a small river.
Time to take the pack off, get out the camera, and enjoy a candy bar.  I took
far too many pictures of the cascade and its accompanying ice formations. 
Globules of ice one to two inches in diameter had formed on that part of the
rockface where the spray from the cascade sent drops of water splattering out
onto it.  They formed a complete covering on the rock and had built up to a
thickness of six or eight inches.  They were as clear as crystal and the
occasional ray of sunshine that peaked through as the clouds thinned
momentarily lit the ice formation and fairly made it glow from within.  Taking
so many photos took long enough for me to cool down to the point of moving on
or layering up.  I moved on, munching my candy bar as I went.  Soon I was at
the junction of the sidetrail to Taylors Valley.  I decided that another candy
bar and some water were in order before beginning the steep climb that lay
ahead.  Besides, I was expecting to meet Joel along about here.  Sure enough,
when I looked up the steep mountainside, there through the trees was a figure
decscending the multitude of switchbacks.  It took Joel another 3 or 4 minutes
to reach me after I first spotted him higher up the slope.  I gave him the
word about our accommodations for the night.  He agreed with my 'zekative' 
decision.  He joined me in food and drink.  I checked the thermometer on his
pack - 22 F.  we split.  He following the AT the way I had come; I following
the Virginia Creeper Trail.  

The Creeper turned out to be just as picturesque as I suspected.  The trail
crosses the stream several times on old trestles which have been converted to
pedestrian bridges with the addition of a plank foor and siderails.  On my
leisurely stroll down this almost level path, I encountered three trout
fishermen.  I watched for a while and saw them catch 2 nice rainbows that had
been recently stocked.  Some comments were exchanged about folks who would be
out on a day like that must be missing a few brain cells in selected areas
where reasoning takes place.  You know?  They were just as happy to be out
there as I.  Given a rod and license for VA., I would have gladly joined them.
I arrived back in town and our 'shelter' for the night about an 3/4 hour before
Joel, as my trail was shorter and flatter.  I turn the thermostat to 64 and
busied myself with vacuuming all the ladybugs that had taken up winter
residence in the house.  I thought they were all dead, but that proved to be a
wrong assumption.  By then Joel had arrived.  As he was still steamy from the 
hike, I suggested he take a shower first.  After my shower, we consumed a malt
beverage that ealier hikers had left in the fridge.  What a great 'shelter'.
Pizza and a pitcher at Quincey's just down from The Place left us ready for bed
about 8:45pm.  We did sleep in our lighter-weight bags we had brought for some
unknown reason, so I guess technically we did 'camp out'.
Sunday morning, with the temperature somewhere above zero and below 5 F, I
dropped Jeol off again at Summit Cut.  He proceeded north on the AT.  I went
around to Elk Garden on VA 600 and started south.  Both of us had to go uphill
immediately.  The snow was about 4 inches deep here and I had to adjust my pace
so as to not slip with each step.  I still was able to make good progress.
While it was very windy in the gap where I started, as I proceeded up the
mountain (Whitetop Mtn) everything became very quiet except for the crunch of
my boots on the the snow and the sound of my breathing.

Rabbit, mouse, squirrel and grouse tracks every few yards diverted
my attention from the climb itself.  Life was good and I was in my element.
I had 'church' right there as I walked along.

When I came out into the open near the top, a wonderland of snow-covered forms
greeted me.  Low bushes, rocks, and the fir trees near the edge of the woods
were beautiful beyond words.  The wind-blown, snow covered grasses took on a
shape that was extremely lovely.  I did not want to step on it and thus destroy
the beauty I beheld, but I had to proceed on to the top.  There I met Jeol
coming from the other side.  He said that coming up through the open field from
Buzzard Rocks was very windy and he wanted to get on to the truck.  I persuaded 
him to stop for a while in a sheltered place we found.  The views were simply
magnificent from the top.  We could see Grandfather Mountain and the Roan way
down in NC, maybe 40 miles away.  everywhere we looked, we saw mountain ranges.
We ate a snack and drank our water.  As we had done on Saturday, we had to break the ice in our
bottles to drink.  I pulled the one from the innards of my pack and it was not
frozen.  Soon we moved back the way I had come.  Back into the woods, and down
the mountain 2.5 miles back to the truck.  Joel would have walked just over 7
miles and I just over 5 when we got back to Elk Garden parking area.  By the
time we were half way down, the sun had warmed things to the point that we were
comfortable taking off our mittens and balaclavas.  By noon, we two happy
campers were in the truck for the 4 hour drive home.  What a great weekend!

  John O. Newman, Jr.          		|
  Senior Analyst Technical Specialist	|   Internet: newman@wcu.edu  
  Western Carolina University		|     BITNET: newman@wcuvax1.bitnet
  B-10 Forsyth Building			|      Voice: (704) 227-7282       
  Cullowhee, NC  28723  (USA)		|  Facsimile: (704) 227-7700