Day 7 on the AT, Skyland to Pass Mountain Hut

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Friday, November 18, 2016

Mostly, it was a beautiful hike today. I ate an early lunch at Pinnacles Picnic Area. It’s a luxury to sit at a picnic table and eat. A couple of hours later, I stopped at Bird’s Nest 3, a day-use shelter. Just as I was getting ready to go, a truck drove up and a young ranger got out. A nice young man named Andrew with a quick smile, he had come to clean the shelter and the privy. He is from Chicago and seemed quite happy with his job and living in quarters by the horse barn. The park is lucky to have such a nice young man. I packed up, wished him well and headed down the trail. I didn’t go far before seeing a post saying there was a spring 500 yards to the right….straight down the mountain on the road Andrew had driven up. Now appreciating the value of every drop of water, I headed down the grassy road. It was a nice spring with great water flow. As I finished filling the bottles, Andrew drove past with a wave. Getting back up to the trail was steep, and I was sweating by the time I got there, but you just have to do it!

Another hour and I started the climb up Mary’s Rock, which is a very technical and difficult trail, mostly because of the steepness and all the rocks. You had to pick every step going up and going down. It was Friday and there were a lot of people on the trail all of a sudden. Weekend!  I wasn’t really prepared, or even thinking about it. I passed a few people at the top. Then coming down, there was a group of older women, who were tired and taking a rest. With tennis shoes, no backpacks, not enough water and no food, they were spent. I encouraged them as I passed, cautioning them to take it slowly. Then I cautioned myself. One bad step and game over! I slowed and shortened my stride, choosing ever step. It takes discipline and a bit of fear. I could make it home now. I could see the finish line ahead. The only thing that could stop me was an injury. Slowly, methodically, I made my way down Mary’s Rock. Close to the bottom, a couple was heading up at 2:30 with some kind of terrier dog that didn’t really want to go. He asked how far it is to the top. I told him a long way, and it’s difficult. Don’t get caught in the dark. They had nothing. No pack. No light. No food and no water. I don’t know why there aren’t more problems. 

As I got to Pass Mountain Hut, a couple was coming out. They had never come this way, but wanted to see the shelter. From Culpeper, they love this hike up Mary’s Rock,and do it quite often to see the sun set, especially on a Friday night. This time, they went the other direction to the hut, a more gentle hike. I was tired standing there with my pack on, but  they were very nice and I enjoyed the conversation. After a bit, we said our goodbyes and they headed back. I unloaded my pack and built a fire. I was startled by something coming down the trail. It was a young man named Nick. He was tired and soon put his pad against the front wall of the hut and sat on it. After exchanging pleasantries, he said he had left his map a mile back where he crossed the road. I let him look at mine, but soon enough he said he was going to run back and get his! “It’s only a mile. I’ll be back in an hour”, he said. I settled in, made my bed, filled the water bottles right behind the hut, and got something to eat. I hung my food up and put my pack in the locker. By then Nick returned, a bit tired and stressed. There had been bears along the way, and it was dark. I watched him fix his dinner with a gas stove. Cutting up garlic, onions, carrots and sautéing them, he added some spices from a small bottle. Then he added rice and dried chicken. It smelled divine. He is a plumber in northern Virginia, but also knows carpentry and other handy trades. He loves to climb, and would love to do some outdoor climbing. It’s his first trip on the trail, and he started Sunday where I started. He said we must be traveling the same speed. Well, I don’t think so, but we’re ending up at the same place at the end of the day. 

After some nice conversation, I climbed into bed to stretch out while he cleaned the dishes and put his stuff away. Then he settled into the upper left side. I was soon asleep, but was awakened by a strange thumping on the wall. I tried to imagine what could cause such a sound. Trees? No, Bears? No. Then Nick got up and walked around the hut. I thought he was looking for what caused such a noise, but he was looking for campsites. The next morning I would find out the mice drove him out. He said they were running all around the wall, and he saw big spiders as well, so he felt he would sleep better in his tent, and he did. He camped at a site along the creek fed by the spring. All night he heard footsteps in the leaves as animals came to the creek to get water. Bears, deer or both, and then maybe others, but that was OK. Didn’t bother him at all. 

We had a nice talk in the morning as I got ready. I told him to come right past me and don’t feel like you have to wait for me or walk with me. I’m too slow. He agreed, saying he would relax a bit before he got started. Nice guy, Nick. Rather like my Godson, Hunter. They would surely make good friends. 

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