Airstream Time

Exploring North America in an Airstream

Posts from the ‘US National Parks’ category

Big Meadows, Shenandoah National Park

August 7,8, 2018

Martha was having 12 ladies over for bridge. We have a small house, so I decided to retreat to the mountains in the Airstream. I am embarrassed to admit I have never been to Big Meadows, and why pack up all that stuff and only go for one night, so I signed up for two. It was 91 degrees, and I worked up a good sweat by the time I got everything packed up. It’s a beautiful drive from Stanardsville on 33, then north on the Skyline Drive. We have had great rains, and everything was so green and lush, with flowers blooming everywhere.

A very nice lady, Elizabeth, checked me into the campground. I chose a site that was a foot too short. They don’t like you to have a tire on the grass, so it took me a while to wiggle the truck into a reasonable spot. I was backed up to the forest with some tent sites, but no one was in them. This is a big campground and it was busy, especially for a Tuesday, but it was a good 10 degrees cooler at 3600 ft. I explored the campground and went to the Visitor’s Center. There is a good walk-through history of the making of Shenandoah National Park. On the other side is a huge picture window looking over the meadows across the parkway. I wandered out on the porch looking for what animals might be out there. I poked through the adjacent camp store, which was big and well-stocked.

I was tired by the time I got back to camp, so I built a fire in my new Solo Stove. It worked great, as advertised. All the holes around the top and bottom allow the fire to burn efficiently and hot. Sitting around a campfire is great on a perfect night. Looking into the fire is mesmerizing. However, the smoke is another thing altogether. It seems to chase me around the fire. Move my chair and it follows me. Often I have to close the Airstream windows so the smoke doesn’t go in.  Try to cook over or in it is a unique, smoke-filled challenge. The Solo Stove, as it is advertised, burns more efficiently, so there is less smoke, and it goes straight up. On this night, I am happy to report, it burned as advertised. By the time I finished dinner and the sun went down, the temperature dropped quickly. Somewhere in the night, I pulled the blanket up……in August……in Virginia!

By 6:00 in the morning, I was parking the truck next to the meadows and loaded my camera gear. I was late! There were already five people walking up the road, and two serious photographers setting out ahead of me. One was a lady with a nice Cannon camera and lens, the other a man with a tripod, big telephoto lens, long pants and rubber boots. I tried to follow him, but he was gone before I could get ready. A path led left into the field, and I followed it. There were deer everywhere. On the other side of the road, people were taking pictures of them. Soon there were 15 bucks grazing ahead of me. I approached slowly, but it was soon evident they were used to people, and hunting is not allowed in the park. I eased my way until I was within 50 feet of them and started shooting pictures. It seemed they were all 8-point bucks with fuzzy antlers, and they were all fat and healthy-looking. Trouble was they were so engrossed in eating, they rarely lifted their heads. I could see they were watching me out of the corner of their eye as they grazed along. Soon the two photographers joined me, then went ahead. The lady said she had been following them for an hour. She inched her way ahead of them until she was within 15 feet. They couldn’t care less.

In between shots, I looked down and around me. There was so much food, it was amazing – blackberries, blueberries, other berries, and a wide variety of flowers. Butterflies twitted around, sometimes zooming past for long distances. With all this food, I wondered why they were traveling so far. It was partly cloudy, which kept the light perfect for a long time. After several hundred deer shots, I continued up the trail until I saw the gentleman with his tripod set, obviously looking at something. As I approached, he pointed and whispered, “Bear.” I just caught a glimpse of his butt as he walked around a corner. The photographer and I talked for a while. He loves to come here. Living in DC, he got up at 4:00 to get here by 6:00. He said the young bear had walked around for a while, then stood up in front of him, probably checking him out. He spoke to the bear to let him know he was there, and the bear went on eating. As we were talking, the bear walked around a big bush and down the hill. The gentleman said he was going to look for birds along the trees. I followed the bear.

For about an hour and a half, I followed the bear. Same problem though – he was eating so much, he rarely lifted his head. Every couple of minutes, he would briefly check out the surroundings before resuming the buffet. He kept his eye on me, and I on him, but gaining courage, I crept closer. Then he went into some tall stuff, and I couldn’t see him. This made me a little nervous, but it must have made him nervous too because he soon stood up to look around. I clicked off 8 shots before he went back down. A doe walked down the hill before spotting the bear. She turned toward me, walking along the side of the hill, always checking the bear. I was standing still watching both. She walked within 5 feet of me as I clicked off shots. She had a big tag in her ear.

I picked up another trail heading toward the parking lot. Not concerned with wildlife now, I was amazed by the amount of berries and flowers. Then I was walking in water. The middle of the field was a wetland, obviously the headwaters of a stream, probably the Rose River. I went back to the trailer, fixed a cup of tea and downloaded pictures, too many pictures. Thinking I had downloaded all the pictures, I closed the program and reformatted the cards. An hour later I realized there was no standing bear! I had stopped the program too soon! Grrr!

That night while packing the truck, I saw a young bear right behind the trailer. I grabbed the camera and got off a few shots before a ranger came up with an air horn, quickly chasing him off. He said they had to cite two campsites for leaving food out. Brian was his name, and we chatted a bit. He told me the best places to look for bears.

I went to McLean, Virginia on Thursday to visit Sue and Jim Keith. I couldn’t help but stopping at the meadows for a brief walk. It was late in wildlife terms, 8:00. It was sunny, warm, and there were no deer, but butterflies were everywhere. I took a brief walk in the opposite direction of yesterday. I wanted to continue, but it was time to go. I hadn’t driven ½ mile before I saw a young bear cross the road. I stopped and put my emergency lights on. That little rascal scrambled right up a rock cliff and ate berries from a bush half way up. Three bears in two days! That’s pretty good, or were they all the same young bear?

Elizabeth, Brian and another nice gentleman make a great crew at the campground. They are so patient in a busy place with 200 campsites. Lots of Appalachian Trail hikers come to pitch their tents and get a good meal. I want to go back and explore those meadows a bunch more. Wonder when Martha is having bridge again.

Redwoods National Park


October 29, 2017

We stopped at Bakery by The Sea and got a muffin and some scones. Soon after we got there, a long line developed in this tiny shop. Then we headed south on 101 to the Redwoods National Park. A young ranger gave us suggestions of where to go. We drove the Howland Hill Road, a gravel road winding through the forest. We hiked “The Stout Grove” for an hour or so. Huge, beautiful trees standing along the Smith River were so impressive.


Somehow we chose the Hungry Clam for our last seafood dinner before heading home. We were early, so we disregarded the absence of cars in front. It was awful. As we drove away, we passed a pub and another restaurant packed with cars.

Hoh Rain Forest

October 25, 2017

We visited the Hoh Rain Forest on our way to Kalaloch Campground and walked the “Wall of Moss Trail”. It was spectacular. It had rained all morning, but we were very lucky to get a break for our walk. The Hoh River runs along the road leading to the Visitor’s Center. Despite chilly weather and a steady rain, we saw four drift boats fishing the river. As we stopped to watch, one guy raised a large, beautiful salmon.

We continued our drive to Kalaloch Campground that sits above a beautiful beach. We were lucky to get a campsite in this small campground. Those lucky enough to have a site next to the beach had great views and sunsets. We went down to Kalaloch Lodge and had dinner sitting beside a window as the sun set. A very nice couple sat beside us. I couldn’t help but overhear them talking about a trip to Alaska. They come here every year for a few days. It is no doubt a great spot with cabins sitting on the cliff’s edge.


View from Kalaloch Lodge restaurant

Sol Duc Falls, Salmon, Move, Beach, Second Beach

October 24, 2017

At 8:30 in the morning it was too early for the sun to reach across Olympic Mountain and into these dense forests, but it was just peeking through the trees in those cool, smoky beams of light. It’s a short hike to Sol Duc Falls, but the rain forest is beautiful. My pictures are inadequate for this beautiful spot. It is small, but a long, cascading decent over lush, green logs and rocks, moss and fern. Silently we walked up along the side of the stream and every stop was beautiful. On the way back we passed a serious photographer with his backpack and tripod. Surely he would get the right light, and it would be even more spectacular.

Yesterday we saw two salmon come into the tiny, shallow pool beside our campsite. Driving back into camp Martha said to stop by a pool a couple of sites down from us. Two ladies were gazing over the edge of the creek as we walked down. They said, “Come look. salmon are swimming into the pool”. Sure enough a salmon splashed its way up a shallow riffle, around a log and into the shallow pool. We watched a few more come in. The ladies then told us we MUST go to The Cascades down the road where the salmon are jumping through them. One said, “It’s National Geographic moment. You are going to love it”. I couldn’t wait! I have been looking for this the entire trip. We thanked them for showing us the fish and directing us to the falls

We hooked up the trailer and headed just 5 miles down the road. Lots of cars were there, but we found a place to park the truck and trailer. Crossing the street with two cameras in hand, we could see the falls. Martha yelled, “Look at them! One, two three all at once”. I was looking at the stream near me and saw nothing. She was looking 150 yards ahead at the falls. We hurried along the wet, slippery trail to the falls finding a spot to see. Sure enough salmon continuously launched themselves into the falls, and then I think were washed back down. Big ones, small ones, all leapt into the rushing waters. Two little pools along the side held many fish in the only resting places. You couldn’t see any at the top of the falls, but we know some got up, because they were in our campground.

Two photographers were in a great spot shooting away. The woman was sitting and was really focused on the fish. I was looking at the man’s hat that said something about fly fishing when he pointed to my hat from Misty Mountain Fly Shop. We struck up a conversation about the salmon running, and that these were wild Coho salmon that start their run in July and August. They can make 20 or 30 miles a day. Fishing has been banned this year as there weren’t so many running because of warm El Nino waters. He talked about the hatcheries that clip the adipose fin to distinguish them from wild salmon. All of these had adipose fins, which is a rare thing today, but happens a lot on this river. His accent didn’t sound local, and I asked where he was from – New Hampshire. He loves to fish and he loves this area. He and his wife shoot pictures for the park, but they donate them. They had just returned from Alaska shooting polar bears. That too was something they do for free. Always looking for a way I might pick up a buck or two in my travels, I asked point blank, “How do you make a living”? They own a family golf course in New Hampshire, which his brothers manage.


Then he mentioned something about artwork. Their names are Ken and Mary Campbell, and they do wood carvings and nature photography. He has a wildlife degree, his first job being as a marine biologist. We were getting an education on summer-run salmon, winter-run salmon and steelhead. He said you have to be tough for the winter steelhead run in February, but it’s something. He likes to fish the ocean and lakes. The locals say it isn’t like it used to be, but what is? You can catch a lot of big fish in the lakes. “If you come back, call me. I’ll take you fishing”. Sheez, what a nice and knowledgeable guy. He said if you like spring and fall, you will like it here. They don’t get much snow. Yes, it’s gray and rainy for five months, but you adapt. He heard there was a bobcat at these falls last week, but it hasn’t been spotted this week. Surely it would like a nice salmon meal. Now that the fish are getting to the campground, the bobcat probably has easier fishing spots. I could talk with Ken all day, but we had to get down the road. We exchanged cards. It would be great to come back and go fishing with him.

We didn’t have far to go to Mora Campground on the coastal part of Olympic National Park. This is unusual for Martha, Usually a 4-night planner, we were now on the 1-night schedule, but it’s working great. There was no one in Mora, so we could pick our spot. Then we went to James Pond, which is a marsh caused by beavers. We couldn’t find the trailhead, but a gentleman getting out of his car pointed us in the right direction. It’s a pretty spot where a fallen tree provides a walkway into the marsh. Perfect mirror reflections showed trees in better color than when looking directly at them. The gentleman and his lady came out onto the log, and we chatted a few minutes. He has lived here for 40 years and gave us tips on where to go.

We walked back, then drove to Rialto Beach. This is an impressive, beautiful rock beach with powerful Pacific waves pounding the rocks. With such a beautiful beach on a perfect, sunny day, lots of people were enjoying it. A couple brought chairs and sat reading their books. As we looked around, we saw our new friends and went up to say Hi. We talked for a bit, admiring the scenery, and we exchanged taking pictures of each other. As we left, I saw them sitting on a fallen tree, talking and relaxing in a gorgeous spot. He grew up in Falls Church, Virginia. Rialto Beach was Martha’s favorite beach of the trip.

The next stop was a hike to Second Beach. As we gazed from an overlook on the road, a man stopped on his bike. He is a surfer, but these waves were too big at about 12 feet, and one after another. He would wait for a better day. We walked down the trail to a beautiful, black sand beach with “sea stacks” in the cove. Fortunately Martha checked the tides, a very important thing when walking beaches. We have heard a harrowing tale of a couple getting caught on a beach when the pounding Pacific tide came in. They were lucky to be able to climb up a rocky cliff far enough to safety, but then had to wait for the tide to go out again. You could walk on this beach a long way. We walked a bit, then sat on a log and enjoyed the scenery. A hiker came by asking about a campsite on the beach. We hadn’t seen one, but the only likely place was around the corner in a deep cove. There was still no one in the campground when we returned. Sometimes that’s a little spooky, but we didn’t have any trouble sleeping.

Move to Olympic National Park

October 22, 2017

With a 7:30 start we got to the ferry terminal before 9:00. Fortunately we had a reservation, because it was full. We parked in the designated lane and waited till 10:00 when they came around to check passports and a few questions. It’s an hour and a half beautiful ferry ride across Juan de Fuca Straight to Port Angeles. A bit cold and windy on deck, I got used to it after a while. It’s fun to wander around checking the views and the people, but I had to go in a few times to warm up. We had a nice conversation with a gentleman from California who went to Victoria to look after the grandchildren while his daughter was in a conference. He had some good suggestions about the ways to travel south.

As we approached Port Angeles, Olympic loomed large, covered in clouds with sun trying to peek through. Snow covered many of the mountaintops. Several whales were spotted in the distance, Arriving at port, customs pulled all the campers over to search them. We were the last ones, but the guy was very nice. We found County Aire Natural Foods that had high ratings and ordered some a Hunter sandwich with turkey, pesto, pepperoni, onions and something else and some chili, Both were very good. One should not grocery shop while hungry.

Then up to the Visitor’s Center for some suggestions and information, and on to Heart of the Hills Campground. It was a beautiful day while we were in town, but by the time we settled in camp, the rains returned. We were happy to relax for the remainder of the afternoon. I was happy to have time to sit and read my book, “The River of Doubt”.

Loft Mountain Campground

May 30, 31, 2017

We spent two lovely days at Loft Mountain Campground in the Shenandoah National Park. The Appalachian Trail circles the campground along the edge of the mountain where the views are spectacular. On Tuesday we hiked to Doyles River Falls, which includes three beautiful falls. This is a popular trail, so it is wide. A 3.2 mile round trip, it is pretty steep coming back up. On Wednesday afternoon, we hiked with Ed Brownfield to Jones River Falls. Again, this is a series of falls, and with all the rains we have had, quite beautiful. The hike back up wasn’t nearly as bad. 

We topped it off with dinner at Blue Mountain Brewery with Roberta Brownfield joining us. Ed was the designated driver for the 45 minute trip back to the campground. We saw one bear quickly crossing the road. Our wildlife viewing for two days was quite good. We saw an abundance of deer, many of which were in the campground, reminding me of Whistler’s Campground in Jasper, BC, where Elk wander throughout the campground. We saw one bear eating right beside the road driving in. He didn’t like the diesel sound, so we couldn’t stop and get a picture, but as soon as we edged past, he came right back out to continue eating. The car behind us stopped for some good pictures. We also saw a young turkey right next to the road, and there were lots of birds in the campground. I hate snakes, but they were no bother. We saw four, a cute little ring neck in the trail, a dead rattlesnake next to the trail, a garter snake, killed by a lawn mower in the campsite and one unidentified crossing the road. The treat was a bobcat slowly crossing the road as we drove down to dinner. That is only the third one I have ever seen, and it was so nice to give us a good look. I saw lots if bobcat scat walking the AT, but never saw one. 

Ed is a frequent visitor to this campground, and I see why. We’ll be back!

Everglades National Park

March 23, 2017

It was only 36 miles to the next campground at the tip of Florida, Flamingo Campground, so we decided to go 12 miles back into town to get a few things. We hooked up and set out for Flamingo passing miles of dry prairie that looked like it should have lions, giraffes and zebras, but we saw nothing. There were strange little hills in the midst of the prairie. We passed a couple of trails, but with these mosquitoes, we weren’t walking any trails. I was unprepared, having left my bug suit and pants at home. They work great for this. 

We saw cars parked along the way, but couldn’t tell what they were doing. One fellow had obviously been for a big hike as he was soaking wet. I couldn’t imaging walking through The Everglades with all these mosquitoes, and I have seen too many shows on the Pythons and Anacondas that have escaped to the everglades and are now proliferating. Just in the news this week there was a story about a man losing a King Cobra. Crazy, just crazy! 

We stopped at a couple of places, but were convinced this was all a waste of time. It’s the Everglades. What did we expect? Then we turned on the road to Paurotis Pond. There were a couple of campers and several cars parked and a group of 6 were at a picnic table looking with binoculars at a bunch of white birds in the trees across the pond. I quickly grabbed the tripod and put my biggest lens on the camera. Actually it isn’t a very big lens. It’s a 70-200 that I put a 1.3 magnifier on. The resolution on the D800 Nikon is so great that I can crop and get pretty close. I lust for a 600mm lens, but probably would first choose the 200-400 that is just a great lens. The costs are prohibitive.

This pond was teeming with life. Fish were jumping everywhere. A red wing blackbird landed in a tree next to me. but the main attraction was the rookery, or nesting of storks, Roseate Spoonbills and a few others I was unfamiliar with. They were squawking and making a fuss while feeding their young or making nests. They would fly across the road to swampy marsh to feed and then come back. It took a while to figure out what was going on, but a nice man came up with his bird book, showing us what they were, but it was all a bit confusing with so much going on. A couple was there from Germany. Martha saw their RV with Germany written on it and asked how that worked. They shipped it over! Crazy you think? They said it cost about $4,000 to ship it on a cargo ship, but they flew over. The gentleman had investigated renting here, but that costs more then his shipping fee after a couple of weeks. They had been here since May and they were going home in May. I was so excited shooting pictures, I only got parts of the story. Martha had to fill me in later. They talked about the savings of staying in campgrounds vs. hotels. With our senior lifetime national park pass, two nights in this campground with electricity cost $30. You can cook all your meals just like you do at home, so this couple’s food costs were not great. They talked about being able to sleep in their own bed and not having to pack and unpack every day.

Soon enough Martha gave me the look and I knew it was time to go. Now we stopped at every place and at least looked, but we weren’t going to walk any trails. Too bad because one couple said one of the early hikes was amazing. I asked about mosquitoes, and they said they were terrible, but they lathered up with bug spray and went. Finally arriving at the campground, a very nice gentleman checked us in saying he and the mosquitoes welcomed us. As we set up, they weren’t bad, but we cooked and ate inside. Watching a young family set up a tent next door, we were happy to be in an Airstream. 

Finish Hiking AT in Shenandoah National Park

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Sunday, November 20, 2016

I had seven miles to walk to Compton Overlook to meet Martha. I was sore and tired, but it felt good to be finishing the hike. It was still blowing very hard when we got up, and it was cold. The water bottles weren’t frozen, but they had ice in them. Nick was nice enough to boil me some water for coffee. We didn’t know if Kelly got the messages through the InReach, so we didn’t know if Nick’s girlfriend or Martha would be on the way to pick us up. I figured at worst I would walk or hitch to Front Royal and get a room. 

I set out at 7:30 not knowing what kind of hike I had, but I knew by now that 7 miles is a 5-hour morning for me on this trail. I had a lot of layers on as I started up the steep hill form Gravel Springs Hut figuring I would take some off when I got to the top, but I didn’t. It was cold and that wind was really blowing. The first part was pretty level and the whole day was relatively easy with a couple of mountains to go over. I flushed a couple of grouse at the top of one. That was nice to see. I haven’t seen grouse in Virginia in a long time. Trying to take pictures at the top of the first mountain, the howling wind about knocked me over. It was dangerous, so I moved on, trying to stick to the business at hand – getting to the pick-up spot in reasonable time. I stopped for a breather at one point and a tree limb fell right in front of me. All it would take is for one of these trees to give up in this fierce wind and fall on you. Thank God that didn’t happen. 

The last mountain, Compton, wasn’t so big, but by the ninth day, everything was difficult. I knew it was the last one, so that helped a lot. I was surprised to see hikers at the top. It as Sunday, so I knew people would be out, but it was also cold and nasty with that wind. More hikers passed me on the way down the other side. Someone was bringing a group of community kids up the mountain for a hike, one having a Superman backpack. I shook his hand, congratulating him for hiking up this mountain. Cute kid!

It was difficult to control my pace as I got closer. I wanted to go faster, but you always know that one bad step and there goes a knee or an ankle of a pulled muscle. Every day I felt something sore. Of course the feet are always sore, one way or another, and I had plenty of blisters. Today I felt like I could pull a muscle behind my left knee, the top of the calf muscle. 

I got to the parking lot just after 12:00, but Martha wasn’t there. I had 3 bars on my phone, but couldn’t make a phone call. I could see that she got my message to pick me up, and she replied at 10:15 that she would soon be on the way. I knew that would take about three hours to get here. It was cold standing there in that wind. I drank more icy water in wind that kept wanting to blow my hat into Never Never Land. I took out my rain jacket and put it on for another layer. I didn’t want to take out my long john pants and put them on in the parking lot. People were coming and going, and there were probably 10 cars in the parking lot. I was impressed there were so many out on a tough day like this. It was 29 degrees and blowing gale-force winds. I didn’t see Nick anywhere, and hoped he had gotten through to his girlfriend. 

I walked down the side of the road a couple of hundred yards to keep moving and try to stay warm and also see if I could get cell reception, but that was no use. Even if I got through on mine, what were the odds that hers would have reception? I figured 1:30 was a good target, so I kept walking, once considering getting the sleeping bag out. It might look foolish, but it would be warm! Sure enough at 1:30 I saw that beautiful truck round the bend! It was so good to see Martha! She had a big thermos of hot tea that really hit the spot! 

I requested lunch at Skyland for lunch, although I wasn’t really hungry. I had eaten an energy bar while I waited, but I wanted to drink a lot of something and I wanted that split pea soup! I drank half of the tea on the way. Never having seen this part of the parkway,  we enjoyed spectacular views. It was interesting to drive back past all the places I had walked. It seemed like a long time ago as we went back. Nine days. It’s pretty amazing how far you can walk in nine days! 

When we got to Skyland, it was 28 degrees with a fierce wind. Martha scurried across the parking lot into the building. I didn’t have any scurry in me. No split pea soup so we ordered chicken and rice, which was the best ever, with big chunks of chicken. It was almost like a chicken pot pie without the shell, a meal all in itself. Martha ordered a wedge salad, which was great, and I had the fish and chips, stuffing myself. It’s worth the trip up here just for the soups!

Driving back along the parkway, I wound back the clock, seeing all the places I had crossed days before. It was a lot of mountains to slog over. I think Mary’s Rock was the most difficult, both going up and coming back down. It’s steep with a lot of rocks. On the other hand, I had met a couple from Culpeper who love this hike and come regularly. 

I’m glad I did it. I was sure tired and worn out. No doubt it would be a lot easier for a young person. 10 miles a day is an all-day job for me. I learned a lot, and saw places I have never seen. I feel more comfortable in the woods alone. I know more about how to get water and appreciate it a lot more. There are places I want to come back to with Martha, and I’d like to camp at the campgrounds. I have huge respect for through hikers who spend months on the trail. I can’t even comprehend spending four months hiking the whole thing! Then again, if I were 25 years old, I’d be very tempted. We have a great national park in our back yard. It needs our help. They are understaffed and underfunded, and it is tremendously porous. You can fish any stream with a fishing license on hundreds of miles of trout streams. You can hike hundreds of trails from the bottom and not pay a dime. The only way they get a fee is if you drive the parkway, and you can get a lifetime senior pass to ALL the national parks for $10. You can stay in these shelters for free!  Canada would not let you get away with this, and therefore their parks are in much better shape. 

Day 8 on the At, Pass Mountain to Gravel Springs Hut

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Saturday, November 19, 2016

It wasn’t as hard as some other days, but it was long – 13 miles. Sweating all morning, by the time I rested at the top of Hogback Mountain, a front was coming through. Nick had taken a long break at Elkwallow Wayside, and he caught up with me at the top. Neither of us liked the front coming, although people had told him it was just going to be wind. We met again at a spring, and you could feel the cold air coming over the top of the ridge, so we pressed on. Nick left me in the dust. By the time I got to Gravel Springs Hut, I was whupped again. It was a 13-mile day and I felt it. Two guys were getting water from the spring as I passed, but they said there was good water flow. As I got to the hut, two guys were sitting on the roof enjoying the sunset. Nick was building the fire and welcomed me to camp. “Well big time at Gravel Springs on Saturday night”, I said. 

The two guys, Matt and Phil were in their fourth year at the Naval Academy. Matt was from Maine and Phil was from Kentucky. They had just come for the weekend, hiking in about seven miles. Matt has hiked through the park a couple of times and likes to come back to this hut when he can. He asked us where we were getting picked up. Nick and I both thought we had one more day and a half, but Matt said we would be out of the park in seven miles, and then the trail went through boring private property from there. Otherwise, you walk the parkway to Front Royal. The wind was blowing up a gale now, and it was cold. I put on my long johns and ate some Thai chicken for dinner. Freezing, I crawled into my sleeping bag to keep warm and stretch out. 

Nice guys, Matt and Phil told stories of how the Academy sent them to some very interesting places during their summers. Matt was going to go on nuclear submarine duty after graduation, while Phil was going to be a marine. They were set up to sleep in Hennessy Hammocks, which they swore by. I am going to have to check that out. Thank God for guys like these to do tough jobs for our country. It was fun spending an evening with them. It was also very fun to think tomorrow would be our last day. The wind was howling and it was very cold. So much for the perfect weather week.

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.