Monday, September 30, 2013

Day 10: And into Rutland!

Dscn5523September 13: It rained overnight—no surprise there—and well into the morning. The weather forecast called for the rain to stop near sunrise so I figured I could wait it out. And that’s how I ended up sitting around in the shelter until 11:30—far later than I ever expected!


In the meantime, though, I pulled out my laptop computer and started working on blogs. I didn’t get wi-fi, of course, and obviously I couldn’t plug in anywhere, but it was fully charged when I carried it into the wilderness and it seemed like a good time to make use of that charge. Create a couple of blog posts so they’d be ready to post as soon as I got into town. At least I could get some use out of carrying a friggin’ laptop on the Long Trail for nearly a hundred miles!


Which is probably why when a southbound AT thru-hiker arrived, she didn’t pay much attention to me. “Obviously,” I was an idiot weekender that didn’t know better than to carry around a laptop. I did actually say that I had thru-hiked the AT, but I don’t think it really sunk in. Or maybe she thought I was lying.


But she was awfully excited to catch up with the other two hikers in the shelter and chatted away like I wasn’t even there. They started discussing the trail ahead—what the conditions were like, how steep it might be up Killington. Hello? I just came from that direction! I could be extremely useful in providing information! But they didn’t seem to care what I thought. Or that I was even there.


It was very annoying. So I mostly eavesdropped, occasionally adding a tidbit here and there. But really, I just wanted to slap the whole bunch of them for treating me like a second-class citizen. If anyone was to be treated like a second-class citizen, after all, it should have been them. They weren’t even thru-hikers. Not yet, at least. They were just trying to thru-hike the AT. My two shelter companions overnight I have severe doubts they’ll truly be thru-hikers. This woman might be, but she could hike all the way down to Georgia and back and I’d still have had more backpacking experience than she did. Wanna-be thru-hikers…


The three started discussing what shelters they planned to stay at later that night. They had originally wanted to get to Clarendon, but given the weather and their late start, they figured Governor Clement would be more likely.


And you know what I thought? I thought, Hmm… I bet they would just love to know about a certain shelter, a secret shelter, that happens to be located directly between those two shelters.


Dscn5524And you know what I then thought? I thought, I’m not going to tell them where the secret shelter is. Nope. I’m not even going to tell them that there even is a secret shelter!


It was a petty form of revenge, but if they felt that my experience and knowledge of the trail that they would soon be covering wasn’t worth asking about, I certainly wasn’t going to volunteer anything about the secret shelter. Let them stay in that old, moldy Governor Clement Shelter tonight. I didn’t exactly make their hike worse, but I wasn’t going to do anything to make it better either. It’s called karma, I thought ungraciously.


Eventually, though, the rain settled down and I packed up my bags and headed back onto the trail. The rain had stopped, but some tree snot continued to fall. I pulled out my umbrella, just in case, but never did end up using it.


I arrived at Highway 4 rather quickly, but that wasn’t a surprise since it was less than two miles away from where I camped for the night. I had told Amanda to meet me at the Inn at Long Trail, though, which was—technically speaking—about 0.8 miles to the east of the trail. The Long Trail used to go right by it but had been rerouted years ago and now just comes close to the inn, and I had told Amanda to just wait for me there if she arrived in the area before I did. I kind of thought I’d look for some letterboxes in the area then hike down the Sherburne Pass trail to the inn and wait for Amanda there, but given my very late start in the morning, I now expected she would have beat me to the inn.


So I started walking up Highway 4 grumbling a bit about the situation I put myself in. She was probably inside, drinking a beer, while I was doing this stupid road walk. And Amanda could have just driven and just picked me right up from where I got off the Long Trail. Darn that weather!


But when I arrived at the Inn at Long Trail, Amanda was nowhere to be found. Hmm… Maybe her flight got in late? Maybe… I don’t know what. I hadn’t been in contact with her since five days earlier when I was in Manchester. What to do? What to do?


Dscn5539I putzed around a bit, found a phone I could use and tried calling Amanda, but it went right to voice mail. I left a message letting her know where I was, then called my mom to let her know that I was okay and off the trail again.


Now what? Oh, heck, I should just go into Rutland and look for a hotel. I called Amanda again, leaving another message telling her such, then went back outside and waited for the hourly bus to pass by. It seemed easier than hitchhiking.


The bus drove up at the appointed time, and I got on and paid the $2. It whisked me away to Rutland, where I got off and proceeded to walk to the Roadway Inn. I had a coupon from one of those hotel booklets you find at rest areas for the place, but the desk clerk just shook his head and said no.


“Why not?” I asked. He just opened the book and pointed to the small print at the front of the book that talked about the coupons not being valid during special events and based on availability and such. Which is fine, I understand that—but I still wanted to know why he wouldn’t accept the coupon. If there’s a big convention going on in town, I wanted to know! It might mean all of the hotels might be full! But he just kept shaking his head no.


“Is it because you’re already full?” I asked.


He pointed to the small print again. Not helpful at all.


“Do you have any rooms at all?” I inquired. And again, he pointed to the small print.


Do you understand English? I thought to myself.


“Fine,” I finally told the man, “I’ll go somewhere that actually wants my business.”


Dscn5543And let me tell you—if I’m ever in Rutland again, I will never even try to book a room at the Rodeway Inn there again. Never. Even if they had the cheapest room in town and begged me to stay, I wouldn’t do it because the desk clerk couldn’t answer a simple question: WHY?! Not that he said no to the coupon, but that he wouldn’t tell me why he wouldn’t accept the coupon. Customer service, people! It matters!


So I ended up walking towards the other end of the town and wound up booking a room at the Comfort Inn. When I walked into the lobby, I asked if they had any rooms available, and the desk clerk told me they had exactly one room available. “That’s fine by me,” I replied. “I only need one!”


He checked me in quickly and efficiently and I was already happy with the unplanned change in hotels. =)


I called Amanda again to let her know what hotel I had checked into and I logged online where I finally got an email from her telling me that she didn’t get onto either of the first two flights she tried to fly out on but finally got onto the third flight which is why she was running so late.


She did show up about an hour later, though. I got caught up with a lot of email and such, took a shower, and then we headed out to dinner at a local establishment Amanda had noticed on her drive into town. The good life… I didn’t even have to walk there. I let Amanda drive me. =)


Not only is the Inn at Long Trail a famous landmark
for both Appalachian Trail and Long Trail hikers,
but—for all you letterboxers out there—it was
also the site of the very first letterboxing event
in the United States way back in 1999. =)


This peacock made of hay was across the street from
the Inn at Long Trail and appeared to be trying to
hitch a ride to Killington. (Which was the opposite
direction from which I wanted to go.)

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Day 9: Climbing Killington

Dscn5434September 12: The next morning, I took down my tarp from the front of the shelter to get a little more light coming in. The temperature was cool—the first time in two days I actually felt cool—but it wouldn’t last long. Leaves littered the shelter, blown in from the wind during the night.


I ate breakfast and packed up camp, and I wandered back to the trail, I bumped into a local walking her dogs who said the wind has pushed the rain water through their windows which had never happened before, and a friend of hers had their car destroyed when a tree fell on it during the night. It was a wild storm, indeed!


I wasn’t back on the Long Trail for more than 10 minutes before I saw the first blowdown crossing the trail. There is a lot of blowdowns on the trail, but this particular one was clearly recent and I’d have bet happened during the night. The leaves on the tree were still bright green, the crack in the trunk fresh.


At the Governor Clement Shelter, I caught up with Cackles who lingered in the shelter late in the morning—a pretty normal occurrence for her I’d been learning. I was surprised to discover that she was ahead of me at all, though. I thought she was behind me! We compared notes at which point I learned that she had taken the detour rather than the Long Trail which is probably when she passed me, and likely passed me before I had even found the secret shelter so never saw the notes I left pointing her in that direction. At least that mystery was cleared up, and I told her all about the shelter and where I had found it. =)


As the morning wore on, so the the heat and I started the steep climb up Killington Peak—the second highest peak in Vermont. Technically, I didn’t hike to the very top the year I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. It was a wet, miserable day and views seemed unlikely, so I skipped the short but steep climb to the very top. The weather was only slightly better this time. It wasn’t thick with wet fog, but clouds that looked like they could rain at any time lingered overhead.


Dscn5407I dropped my pack in Cooper Lodge—a shelter near the top of Killington—then climbed the rest of the way to the very top unencumbered, and the views were wonderful! Although clouds blocked out the blue skies, they were all well above the summit so they didn’t really limit visibility at all. The wind was gusty at the top, tough, and cool, so I didn’t linger long before heading back down to the lodge where I stopped for lunch #1.


I took a quick lunch, hoping to make it to the Churchill Scott Shelter before any rain started later in the afternoon—and I did make it. I got into the shelter at around 3:30, which was the earliest arrival so far at a shelter, and by 4:00, the rain had started coming down in earnest. I was quite happy having escaped the rain. =)


In related news, when I arrived at the shelter, I was more than a little surprised to find that two people had already set up a residence in it—a couple of southbound A.T. thru-hikers who had left Rutland earlier that morning. Which meant they had walked less than 2 miles that day. For some reason, this kind of annoyed me. Get a MOVE ON! Not that a thru-hike is a race, but sheesh—I’d be going stir crazy if I had walked only a mere two miles for the entire day. I did about 10 miles to get to the shelter and felt a little guilty about “taking it easy”—I simply can’t comprehend how someone would choose to go less than 2. I’d probably do more than that even if I had my leg amputated the day before!


But the part that annoyed me most about them—was that I felt like they wanted to completely shut me out. They hid out in their little corner of the shelter, whispering to each other about stuff that wasn’t even personal in nature like what to have for dinner or about the weather. Really? Why do you guys have to whisper to each other like it was a great secret that I wasn’t to be a part of? It was just plain annoying. Speak up or shut up! The constant whispering was driving me crazy. When I first walked in, I asked all about them—who they were, which direction they were hiking, where they started, etc. I wanted to know a little about these people I’d be sharing the shelter with all afternoon and night, but they asked me absolutely nothing which made me suspect that they really just didn’t want to talk to me at all.


Whatever… so I mostly just read my book and ignored them after that.


As the afternoon passed by, I figured that maybe one or two more people might show up and liven things up a bit, but nobody else ever did show up. It would just be the three of us in the shelter for the night.


Hurricane Irene washed out a footbridge that crossed
the creek here, but I didn’t have any trouble
getting over it!


The Governor Clement Shelter. I liked the secret shelter
as the better option, though! =) But this would
have been the shelter I stayed at if I hadn’t found the secret shelter.


Keep your dogs on a leash! It’s for their own protection!




Cooper Lodge sounds fancy, but it’s just this
run-down shelter.


View from Killington Peak.


Killington Peak



Thursday, September 26, 2013

Day 8: The Hunt for the Secret Shelter

Dscn5212September 11: The day started surprisingly warm and eventually I had to get out of my sleeping bag just because it was too dang hot. I knew it was only going to get worse, and it certainly did that! The humidity was so thick, daylight that cut through the tree cover lit up the water molecules like a disco ball. Hot and humid—it was a potent combination.


The trail dropped down to a small creek less than a mile out of the shelter where I filled up with water—I figured it would be easier to get water here than the water source for Greenwall Shelter. I filled up both my 1-liter bottles—I knew I’d be drinking a heck of a lot of it.


The trail continued downhill for another couple of miles before it crossed a little used highway then started a steady climb up to Bear Mountain. That’s when the heat and humidity really started their frontal attack on me. The sweat dripped off my eyebrows, off my nose, off my chin. Large fat drops that I couldn’t wipe away fast enough with my handkerchief. I, quite literally, rung my shirt and was able to squeeze a remarkable quantity of sweat out of it. Even holding the plastic handle of my trekking pole was a slippery task with all the water I was shedding and, so far as I could tell, absolutely none of it evaporated. It just kept soaking me and my shirt and dripping off every facial feature. It was utterly awful.


The views along the trail were bad. Although there weren’t any clouds to speak of, the humidity made everything hazy and visibility was actually worse than the clouds from yesterday.


I took a good, long break at the Clarendon Shelter and went ahead and shaved while I was there. Anything that threw lots of cool water on me seemed like a good idea. =)


Dscn5214Then I sat down and browsed through the register. This time, I was looking for hints about a secret shelter. What secret shelter, you ask? This one. That’s all the information I had on it. It was apparently between the Clarendon Shelter and the Governor Clement Shelter. The distance between those two shelters is just under six miles, but that’s a lot of places one could hide a shelter. If it’s a secret, it’s clearly not on the trail, but it should be somewhat near the trail. Probably less than half a mile—no hiker would likely want to hike more than that off trail for a shelter.


But where was it? I had asked a few southbound hikers if they knew anything about it, but invariably they would reply with, “There’s a secret shelter?” Obviously, they would be of no use to me… The only person I’d met who seemed to have even heard of the shelter was Cackles, and she seemed to think it was closer to the Governor Clement Shelter although she didn’t explain why and wasn’t even sure if that information was true or not. I half thought that maybe the secret shelter was an elaborate hoax—why would a shelter have to be secret?


But if it did exist, I really wanted to find it. My problem was that nobody seemed to know anything more about it than I did which was that it was located between these next two shelters, somewhere near (but not on!) that six miles of trail. I studied my maps and tried to imagine where the shelter would likely be and picked out some likely sites. One in particular really stood out at me. I didn’t know how many of the sites I would have time to check, or maybe there would be an unexpected trail junction that didn’t show up on my map at all. I kept an open mind, but I was going to definitely pay extra attention to any unexpected trail junctions and road crossings. If that shelter was really out there, I wanted to find it!


Another obstacle threw itself in my path for the hunt for the secret shelter: a trail detour. Hurricane Irene, it seems, washed out a footbridge or two along the Long Trail and large signs proclaimed the trail was closed over a few miles with a road-walk detour in place. The problem was—I was pretty sure that the secret shelter wasn’t going to be found on a road walk. It was going to be near the main trail before the trail had been temporarily rerouted due to the storm damage.


Dscn5227Not that I needed another reason to ignore the trail closure. I was never a big fan of road walking anyhow. But finding this shelter was going to be a lot more likely if I stayed on the main trail rather than followed the detour. How else would I find unmapped and secret trails intersecting with the Long Trail?


So I set off in my quest to find the Secret Shelter. The trail reroute, I’ll say, turned out not to be a big deal. I was able to cross the couple of washed out footbridges on rocks and logs crossing the rivers, and even if I couldn’t, the creeks weren’t so bad that they couldn’t be forded safely.


Another unexpected snag caught up with me when I realized that the trail appeared to have been recently rerouted. The white blazes I was so familiar with disappeared, replaced with orange tape tied to trees. The trail seemed fresh and new, and I found some trail intersections that were marked with white blazes—the old Long Trail before the reroute. Would this throw off my hunt for the secret shelter? It seemed less and less likely I’d be able to find it.


The day was getting late and I started worrying about getting into a shelter—secret or otherwise—before it got too dark so I skipped a few possible trail junctions without searching them as thoroughly as I might have. The heat and humidity took a piece out of my energy levels as well and I didn’t really “feel” like the shelter was near those intersections anyhow.


Ultimately, there was one spot on my map that really intrigued me that I decided I definitely had to check out. On my maps, at least, it looked like the perfect place to build a shelter. I won’t tell you why—that’s for you to figure out if you want to find this shelter—but it was my top candidate for a secret shelter site, and I walked right off the trail to see if the shelter was around.


I walked for probably five or ten minutes off the trail, wondering if this was just a huge waste of time, even a little mad at myself for this quest I started on that I felt was most likely to end in failure. I just didn’t know enough about where this shelter could be located to actually find the dang thing. There were just so many places to build a shelter! And a couple of good reasons why I thought the shelter wouldn’t be at this particular location—even though it was my #1 best guess.


Dscn5235But I knew I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t at least take a half hour out of my day to check it. It was, after all, my #1 best guess. =)


So you can imagine my delight when I actually found the darned thing! “YES!!!!” I screamed into the air. “I found YOU!”


Glad no one was around to see my own astonishment! =)


I set my pack down and did a quick walk through of the shelter. A big box that people could play tons of different games. A bottle cap nailed to the shelter with a label that said pressing it would start the hot tub going. (Hahaha!) The shelter was decorated with old cow skulls (at least that’s what I assumed they were!), and a scale hung in the entrance. The shelter wasn’t very big, but it had a lot more character than any of the others I’d seen. And I found it!!!!


I did a little jig in the shelter, proud of myself. And more than a little glad that I wouldn’t have to walk all the way out to the Governor Clement Shelter to spend the night. It was supposed to rain overnight so I definitely wanted to be in a shelter, but I didn’t actually want to walk as far as Governor Clement either—it was further than I wanted to walk for the day. I’d have done it if I had to, but I didn’t have to anymore. Awesome!


I thought of Cackles and her also wanting to find the shelter, so I wrote two notes for her that I backtracked to the Long Trail and left saying nothing more than to “follow me” off the trail. I didn’t want to write “Secret Shelter—this way!” But I figured if I left a couple of notes on the trail pointing her off trail, she’d figure out that it was because I had found the secret shelter.


Dscn5237It was also for a slightly selfish reason—I wanted someone else in the shelter to play some games with. The shelter had games to play, but they required 2+ players! =)


Back in the shelter, I changed into my camp clothes and made dinner. Shortly after I finished cleaning up dinner, a fellow introduced himself as Aaron and told me that he had built the shelter, so I had a good time chatting with him and learning more about the shelter. I don’t really want to say too much about what he told me—it might give some clues about the location of the shelter—but he seemed genuinely surprised that I managed to find it with only the knowledge that it was between the Clarendon and Governor Clement shelters. Apparently, most people who find it actually have gotten directions from people who know where it is.


Aaron left, and I finished cleaning up my dinner mess and started reading at the picnic table in front as a light rain started, so I moved inside the shelter and continued reading.


Cackles never showed up, and I assumed she must have stopped for the night at the Clarendon Shelter. I thought she was planning to look for the secret shelter today, but maybe she had changed her mind.


As darkness descended, I pulled out my headlamp and discovered a horrible thing—it was already on. I love this headlamp because it has a red light which I like because it helps preserve my night vision and doesn’t bother other people as much in the shelters, but it has a bad habit of turning on while crushed in my pack. So I always pop open the battery cover when I stow it away and remove one of the three batteries so it won’t turn on. But somehow, during the day, the battery slipped right into its place and the headlamp turned on. The batteries had drained to almost nothing. I couldn’t see much more than two feet in any direction through the darkness with the light. Barely enough to read by.


Dscn5243Then I saw flashes of light in the sky. Lightning, along with distant thunder and seemed to grow closer and closer.


A little after 10:00, the wind started picking up—a lot. I had hung my clothes on a line in the shelter to dry from all my sweat during the day, but I got up to move them fearing they might actually blow away if I didn’t. The thunder cracked louder than ever and I heard what sounded like a very large tree crashing down in the woods. The floor of the shelter shook like an earthquake and more trees started falling. And, despite being in the shelter, I could start feeling rain hitting me. The wind was blowing the rain into the shelter.


I moved my stuff from the side of the shelter where I originally set it up to the back of the shelter in the deepest corner I could find, but still some drops continued to hit me from the wind-blown rain. By now, the sky was completely black. The shelter was completely black, except for the occasional flash of lightning and a two-foot wide view from my badly dimmed headlamp. I really needed to keep this rain off me, so I hunted through the darkness for my tarp which I quickly found and pulled out, using it to cover the front of the shelter. Working the tarp into place and knotting the ropes in the necessary places was difficult in the darkness, wind and rain whipping around me. Another crack of lightning seemed like it struck just outside of the shelter and I heard another tree come crashing down. I hoped none would land on the shelter. And thank goodness I wasn’t in this storm with nothing more than a tarp for protection!


The severe wind, rain and lightning didn’t seem to last very long—in less than an hour, I could tell it was fading fast away and that I would likely survive the night. But wow—what an exciting night! I left the tarp covering the front of the shelter even though it didn’t seem necessary anymore—just in case another storm came roaring through. Anyhow, it was so dark, it would have been hard to unknot the mess. It could wait until morning.


And finally I fell asleep with a smile on my face. I survived quite the storm—and I actually found the secret shelter!!!! =)


The views weren’t actually all that good because of the
high humidity in the air. Very muggy!






Hot, muggy, and still muddy…


This viewpoint is called “Airport Lookout.” I wonder why?


Suspension bridges are fun! =)






The Clarendon Shelter had potted flowers out front.
A nice touch, I thought! =)


This grasshopper thought he could hike the trail.


Trail closures didn’t stop me from following the trail anyhow! =)


The secret shelter! I found it!


I love shelters with a sense of humor. =)


I’d have loved to played a game or two, but alas, I would
be alone in the shelter with no partners to play against. =(
That’s the problem with secret shelters—they don’t get
a whole lot of visitors!


Yep, this shelter is definitely nicer than most! =)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Day 7: Cairns! Cairns! Cairns!

Dscn5088September 10: It didn’t rain during the night, which surprised me. I was absolutely convinced it would rain overnight. My weather sense had failed me. By morning, the weather certainly looked like it could rain, but I couldn’t let that scare me off the trail. I had miles to do! So I packed up and hit the trail.

I only made it about a mile and half before I felt the first, light drops of rain. I heard it before I felt it, hitting the leaves in the trees that surrounded me, but then a couple of small drops made it through and hit me directly. Rain was starting. I hiked faster.

I reached the Big Branch Shelter several minutes later. It’s a little unusual to see two shelters so close to each other, but it worked out rather well for me since I was able to hide in the shelter as the rain increased from the lightest of sprinkles into a torrential downpour—complete with lightning and thunder roaring through.

I pulled out my Kindle and started reading. I had time to kill. I had hiked an extra five miles out of Manchester yesterday to “bank” the miles for a rainy day, and it was certainly rainy! Whatever the weather did outside, I didn’t really care from under the protection of the shelter.

Twice, a solo south-bound hiker reached the shelter. They both waved and said hello, then continued walking without even stopping to read the shelter register. “Stay dry!” I suggested—although that advice was clearly far too late as they both looked like drenched animals so had already resigned themselves to a soggy, miserable day.

After about two hours of waiting, I started getting a little antsy and felt like moving. I hadn’t even walked two miles before the rain storm trapped me under the shelter and I was ready to get out, rain or no rain. I decided to eat a first lunch before leaving. I didn’t know when the rain would stop, but I know I didn’t want to stop in the rain to eat lunch either. Better to eat it early while still in the shelter!

So I ate lunch, packed up my gear, pulled out my umbrella, opened it, and started walking.

A remarkable thing happened, though—it stopped raining! Oh, there was still some tree snot falling from the leaves with every gust of wind, but I used the umbrella for all of about five minutes to protect me from tree snot before that didn’t even seem necessary and put my umbrella away.

Dscn5092Later, in the afternoon, my trekking pole fell apart. Normally I would say it “broke,” which strictly speaking was absolutely true, but usually when it breaks it’s because I’d put an enormous amount of pressure onto it—usually when I’ve slipped or tripped and try to use the pole to catch my fall. But this time, I was walking on a relatively flat section of trail, took a regular step just like I normally do, swung my arm with the trekking pole up like I normally do, but when I went to plant it down on the ground, it just swung completely through and never hit the ground. I looked down at my pole, confused, and saw that the bottom half of the pole was completely gone. Vanished! I looked back behind me, and there was the rest of the pole, still stuck in the ground, right where it was with my previous step.

At first I thought that the lock on the pole had just come loose and the two pieces just came apart, so I stuffed the bottom half back in the top half of the pole and tried to tighten the joint, but it didn’t work. It was actually broken. A piece inside of the pole looked like it had cracked. I could still put pressure on the pole when it was together, but it wouldn’t stay together when I lifted the pole off the ground. The trekking pole had just fallen apart, and for no apparent reason that I could figure out. I’d certainly put severe pressure on it earlier in the hike when I had tripped or slipped, but not today. Why did it suddenly fail at that one step?

I decided to duct tape the two sections together, so I pulled off my pack and sat down on a nearby rock to do the necessary repairs. I wouldn’t be able to adjust the length of the pole, but at least the bottom half wouldn’t get left behind with every step. And really, the only time I ever needed to adjust the length of the pole was when I was traveling. I never adjusted it once I was on the trail, so that repair would do. For now, at least.

Late in the afternoon, I arrived at Cairn Town. It was a large area, largely cleared of trails, but seemed to support hundreds and hundreds of cairns. Some large, some small, some intricate—cairns, cairns, cairns! I actually remembered this from my AT hike, but I immediately noticed that this one was different. I remembered a large, flat clearing filled with cairns, but this area had giant boulders with cairns built up all around them. Some, technically speaking, I don’t even think can be called cairns, but I thought of them that way anyhow. Long streams of smaller rocks were built up against the side of the boulders making the heavy rocks seem almost airy and light. It’s a neat little trick! Larger rocks had been wedged between the largest boulders or between a boulder and tree on which more cairns were built. Another stretch of cairns followed along the ridge line of the boulder. These were really works of art! I took photos, probably a hundred of them, but looking through my camera, I realized that none of them really captured the magic of the place. I needed a video, so I tried taking a couple of those. I played them back and watched them and was again disappointed with the results. The camera’s narrow field of view just can’t seem to capture how expansive this amazing little place was—although the video did help in a lot of ways.

Dscn5115When I did all that I could do there, I continued on at which point I reached Cairn Town II—and this was the place I remembered from my AT hike. The clearing was completely flat and devoid of all large boulders. It was exactly like I remembered it, and I took another hundred photos and a couple of videos trying to document the place. Without the larger boulders to build off of, these cairns weren’t quite so elaborate, but they made up for it in their sheer numbers and regularity. It felt like a magical, special place. Cairn Town I (dubbed after the fact) hadn’t been there at all when I thru-hiked the AT. I would have remembered that. But Cairn Town II was definitely there.

Which is kind of funny to me, because the first time I remembered running into it, it felt a little creepy. Blair Witch kind of creepy. I guess since I expected it this time, it was just a wonderful special place with no sinister meaning behind it.

The rest of the day’s hike was uneventful and I ended the day at the Greenwall Shelter. When I arrived, one hiker was already there—Sandman, an AT hiker who had flip-flopped and was now headed southbound. We chatted a bit and I asked about the water. He said that there was supposedly a seasonal spring behind the shelter, but he hadn’t seen any signs pointing to it and hadn’t tried looking for it. A dry creek bed passed the front of the shelter, and if that was the water source, I was in trouble.

I definitely needed water. I had half a liter left, but I was ready to drink it all right then and there I was so thirsty. I certainly didn’t have enough to last me through the night and into the morning. Unless I could find water, I wasn’t going to be staying at this shelter for the night. It was supposed to rain overnight, however, so I really wanted to stay at the shelter.

I headed off to hunt down the water source. I followed a small trail behind the shelter, but it led to a dead-end where it looked like people had often tent camped. I followed another trail marked with a blue blaze—I figured surely the blue blazed led to water—but it too led to another tent site.

Then I noticed another blue blaze just past the tent site. It was very faint and, at first glance, didn’t appear to be near a trail at all, but it drew me deeper into the woods where I noticed the faintest of game trails. For a water source, I expected a trail that was well-traveled and beaten down—even if it wasn’t blazed very well. This trail looked like it hadn’t been used in years, though, and the blazes hadn’t been maintained for even longer. Surely the water wasn’t in that direction?

Dscn5119I walked deeper into the forest, losing track of the game trail through some old blowdowns, but I picked up another blue blaze about 40 feet away and bushwacked over to it where I picked up the game trail again. I followed it some more, taking another couple of wrong turns and wondering exactly where this was leading me because at this point, I was absolutely certain it couldn’t possibly be leading to water. The trail just hadn’t been used enough to be a water source. But maybe I was wrong? And in any case, I was still curious where these occasional blue blazes led. So I followed them deeper into the forest.

And, finally, it came out by a small creek bed with a couple of puddles of water. At first I thought it might have just been runoff from the rain earlier in the day that just puddled up, but then I noticed the PVC pipe sticking out of the ground and realized, this was the water source! This was an actual spring! It dripped painfully slow from the PVC pipe. Drip. Drip. Drip. Maybe one drop every two or three seconds. It would take forever to fill up a bottle with that drip, but it had pooled into a small puddle under the dripping. The water went down a short ways before being re-absorbed into the ground. This was the same stream that ran in front of the shelter but appeared dry.

Happy with my find, I rushed back to the shelter. I took a couple of wrong turns on the way back, but knowing that the dry creek bed was supposed to be on my left, I just made sure I didn’t get too far away from it and eventually found my way back to the shelter.

“You would not believe how difficult the water source is to find!” I told Sandman.

“I was about ready to send out a search party for you—you’d been gone for so long!” he told me.

Dscn5124So I told him about the water source. “You’ll want your hiking shoes on when go for it,” I told him. “Crocs or sandals aren’t suitable for the terrain you have to go through for it. And don’t even think of looking for it in the dark—not only won’t you find the water, but you’ll get lost and never make it back to the shelter either. I took a couple of wrong turns on my way back even with the help of daylight and knowing where I was supposed to be going!”

He decided he had enough water and didn’t need anymore for the night, though. I, however, definitely needed water. I hadn’t brought my water bottles along when I looked for the water, so I still didn’t have any. I picked up my water bottles and searched for the water yet again—at least this time having some idea of what to look for and where to look for it. I filled up with water and arrived back at the shelter about ten minutes later—after taking the obligatory wrong turn or two. =)

The water source still perplexed me, though. The trail didn’t look like it had been used for years, so where had people been getting their water from? Another blue-blazed trail led down from the shelter, one I hadn’t followed yet, and I decided to follow it anyhow. Maybe there was water that way and I was curious now.

I probably followed that trail for nearly a mile until it crossed a dry creek bed. Well, dry might not be an entirely accurate term. There were a couple of puddles of water in it, but they didn’t appear to have any movement at all in them and I suspected they were just small puddles from the rain earlier in the day—not an actual spring or reliable water source. It was far down the hill from the shelter and at that point, people might has well filled up at a genuine creek across the trail that my guidebook showed was less than a mile further north on the trail rather than these ugly puddles.

I never did find out where this trail eventually ended, but a viable water source it was not. I gave up the hunt and headed back to the shelter.

Dscn5144When I arrived back, Sheryl had arrived. “Sheryl!” I exclaimed, a little surprised. I knew she was behind me on the trail, but I hadn’t expected her to catch up to me today. She’d have had to have done 15 miles today to catch up, which is certainly possible, but she had no reason to break her back doing big miles and I knew 15 miles would have been a big day for her.

Then I warned her about the water. “Before you get too settled—there is water here, but you’ll want to keep your hiking shoes on for it and you’ll definitely want to get it before it gets dark. It’s not easy to find!”

I offered to walk her back to the water source, though. The fruitless hunt for water down from the shelter made me thirsty and I immediately drank half a liter of water upon my return. I could show her where the water source was and top off my bottle at the same time.

As I took Sheryl deeper into the forest, she joked about where I was really taking her because the trail was so overgrown and clearly unused. “Yeah, you spend a couple of days getting me to trust you, then trick me into the forest by ourselves…”

“You don’t get cell phone coverage out here, right?” I joked back. “Because that wouldn’t be good…” =)

But we made it to the water. I topped off my bottle and she filled up hers, then we headed back to the shelter.

I read the register where the previous occupants of the shelter complained about there being no water. I wrote an entire page that there was, in fact, water, but it was extremely difficult to find and with bad directions on where to find it. It’s hard to write accurate directions when there’s no real trail to follow or blazes to mark the way. I also included the warnings about using your hiking shoes instead of sandals or Crocs and to not look for the water at night.

I changed out of my hiking clothes and into my camp clothes and started working on dinner. Soon after, Cackles showed up and I gave her the same warning. “Need water? Don’t take off your hiking shoes yet. It’s here, but it’s hard to find.”

Dscn5152I wasn’t going to walk Cackles out to the water source—I was in my camp clothes now and was wearing Crocs—but I said I’d walk her as far as I could (which I think she thought sounded funny and ominous at the same time) and explain the directions the best I could. So I did that, then she headed off into the forest alone. She was a successful AT thru-hiker, though. She’d find the water. I had no doubt she’d be able to find it—probably with a couple of wrong turns along the way, but she’d get there eventually.

I returned to the shelter and told Sandman and Sheryl, “If she’s not back in a half hour, we’ll send out a search party.” It was mostly meant in jest, but I did look at the time. Just in case…

Cackles returned maybe 15 minutes later, though, with lots of water and the three of us talked for much of the rest of the night. Sandman mostly kept to himself in the back of the shelter, perhaps feeling like something of an outsider. The three of us were north-bound Long Trail thru-hikers. He was a south-bound AT hiker and might have felt like we didn’t have much in common. I’m not sure, except that he mostly stayed in his sleeping bag in the darkest corner of the shelter without a whole lot to add to the conversation.

Cairn World I

Cairn World I

Cairn World I: What I loved about these “cairns”
were how they made heavy rocks seem to look so light and airy! =)

Cairn World I: I was a little impressed that the “cairn” following
the ridgeline of this boulder all managed to stay in place on their own.

You’ll hear in this video what sounds like me knocking over a cairn. Don’t worry, though! No cairns were harmed in the filming of this video. I was wearing my pack and what you hear is my banging the empty water bottle on the side into a tree that I didn’t quite clear. =)

Cairn World II: Didn’t have the giant boulders to work off
of, but a few of the cairns managed to find themselves in
unusual locations.

These are the cairns I remember from my AT hike in 2003.

View from the White Rock Cliffs

Sandman had taken up residence at the Greenwall Shelter
when I first arrived.

I found this fawn while looking for water. =) Never
did see the mama deer, though.