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.


Unknown said...

Dangit! I thought this was gonna be about those delicious terriers!

Unknown said...