Saturday, October 26, 2013

Day 23: Blackholes and Whitefaces

Dscn6636September 26: Once again, I woke up to a chilly morning with low-hanging clouds that often times turned into fog on the higher peaks. At least it wasn’t raining, but I was craving a little sun by now and the part that frustrated me the most was that the weather forecast predicted sunny or partly cloudy skies for the entire week. What happened to the sun? Why was it not coming out to play?!


The trail traveled over Madonna Peak and another ski area, following one of the ski runs downhill. One of the ski signs was filled with a heck of a lot of black diamonds, double black diamonds, and even a triple black diamond ominously named “Black Hole.” Yeah, I bet… If it were me, I’d have named it the “You Will Die” run, but to each their own! The easiest way down was a blue square run called Upper Chilcoot and, somewhat surprisingly, that’s the direction the Long Trail headed. It seemed strange to think that the Long Trail would actually take the easiest of the route options available. So out of character! But the fact that the easiest route was the intermediate run should tell you something as well. =) Any beginner skiers that somehow inadvertently wind up at this sign—they’re just gonna die. There’s no easy easy down from here!


The trail soon headed back into the trees and the trail turned into a muddy mess, and for the second time on the trail, I was so focused on my footwork, I completely overlooked a tree leaning over the trail at head level. I smacked my head into it hard, but not quite as hard as last time since I didn’t wind up on my butt with aching teeth this time around. My forehead throbbed with pain, though, and I may have hurled a few cuss words towards the folks who maintain the trail.


I met a southbound hiker shortly thereafter. He was hiking alone, with a light pack and I was absolutely certain he was thru-hiking the Long Trail.


“Quit,” I told him. “Quit while you still can…”


He laughed and said that that was the funniest advice he’d ever gotten.


Dscn6643“It’s too late for me,” I told him. “I’m too close to Canada. I’m past the point of no return. But you… you just started. It’s not too late to quit! The worst is still ahead!”


He thought this was hilarious, though, and said he couldn’t quit so early in his hike. He needed to be out there for at least a couple of weeks just for appearances. “Then I’ll be so close to Massachusetts, I won’t be able to quit!”


I finally broke a smile, unable to keep a straight face anymore. “Yeah, just like what happened to me…”


We continued on our separate ways and I reached the Whiteface Shelter where I caught up with a whole group of people including Superchunk, Top Shelf, and Lucky and Cheesy.


The last three I hadn’t met before, but I was particularly glad to finally meet Lucky and Cheesy since it seemed like everyone on the trail had met them except for me. Everyone seemed to have Lucky and Cheesy stories. I’d seen their registry entries since the Massachusetts border. They’d been ahead of me, and behind me, but somehow we had never crossed paths and I wasn’t even sure how that was possible. So it was a little exciting to finally put some faces with their names.


They were all getting ready to leave, but I was ready for a break before that last push up Whiteface Mountain. And anyhow, I wasn’t big on the idea of hiking with a group of 4 other people. I like people, but I like them in moderation. =)


Superchunk seemed to think that I must have seen Hill and Fire-Eye on the trail, but I assured him that I hadn’t seen them since the day we went over Camels Hump. I knew they were ahead of me, though, because I had seen them sign the register at Smugglers Notch. I didn’t know how far ahead of me they were, but they were definitely ahead of me somewhere. Superchunk seemed to think that they were behind him, however, and he started growing concerned that maybe something bad had happened to them.


Dscn6649“No,” I insisted, “they’re still ahead of us somewhere.” What was really going through my head was that if they had met some foul fate, I’d have found their dead and rotting corpses along the trail. But I hadn’t found any corpses, so they obviously had to be ahead of me somewhere!


“They didn’t sign the register here,” Superchunk explained, “and they were behind us yesterday.”


Umm… okay, I wouldn’t give that a second thought. Most people don’t sign every register in every shelter on the trail. “They probably just didn’t sign it. There’s no reason they have to sign it. And they somehow got passed you when you weren’t paying attention.”


Superchunk still seemed worried about them, though, and there wasn’t much I could say to assure him that they were fine except that I hadn’t found their bodies on the trail which didn’t really sound very reassuring anyhow!


Eventually, though, the group left to conquer Whiteface Mountain.


I ate some snacks and started to get cold and went to grab for my buff… but it wasn’t there. I missed that thing and again wondered what happened to it.


About 20 minutes after arriving, I headed back out on the trail for the steep, treacherous climb to Whiteface Mountain. It actually wasn’t as bad as I imagined it. There had been a lot of stories on the trail that it’s one of the tougher climbs, and it is tough, but it was also relatively short which helps a lot. From the shelter to the summit it was only about half a mile, but nearly 600 feet straight up! There is absolutely no good reason for the trail to lead to the top except to annoy and anger hikers since there aren’t any views. There’s allegedly a lookout that I followed a side trail to, but the “view” was overgrown with trees.


Dscn6651The trail descended steeply down the other side, then leveled out onto a nice, dirt trail. Not steep, not muddy, not slippery. Positively wonderful tread, covered with a growing layer of fallen leaves. The leaves were even dry enough to crunch with every step. Crunch! Crunch! Crunch! I just love the sound of crunching leaves along a forest trail, and I may have deliberately kicked a few leaf drifts that were piling up. =)


I caught up with the group of six hikers ahead of me at the next shelter, Bear Hollow Shelter, but once again they were getting to leave just as I was arriving.


“Are you trying to avoid me?” I asked Superchunk. “Because it seems to me like you leave every time I show up!” He knew I was joking, though.


While sitting at the picnic table in front of the shelter, I heard several voices coming up from the direction of the privy, mixed in with people laughing down there. What the heck was going on at the toilet?! I had no idea who was down there—I couldn’t see them and the only people I had seen on the trail were either ahead of me or headed in the opposite direction.


I kept eating my snacks when I heard one of the people at the toilet shout, “I’m on FIRE!!!!” Not in a literal sense in a panicked shout, but rather in a “I’m the king of the world” tone. But I found the shout a little disturbing. People shouldn’t be shouting that they’re on fire when they’re at the toilet. I don’t need to know about that!


I was signing the register when I suddenly heard what sounded like a power tool ripping through the air. A drill, maybe? A reciprocating saw? What the heck was going on down there? I started to suspect that maybe they were building a new privy?


I didn’t go down there to find out, though. I kind of liked not knowing. Not knowing made the noises interesting and intriguing. If I knew what was happening, I’d probably find it boring. So I didn’t walk down to the privy to find out what was happening.


Instead, I continued down the trail which was wonderfully flat and easy. Then, as if that weren’t pleasant enough, the trail ended at a dirt road and continued to follow the dirt road for miles on end. I walked fast and enjoyed the easy walking while I could. The road didn’t have any traffic on it—at least none that went by while I was walking it—and I was absolutely thrilled to cover so much ground so quickly.


Dscn6657The road eventually reached a locked gate where a couple of vehicles were parked. So now I knew that traffic had been blocked off the road, but at this point I might see traffic. It still didn’t look like a heavily traveled road, though. Then I noticed that one of the vehicles had the front door wide open.


That looked very out of place. I looked around to see if anyone was nearby, but I saw nobody. I couldn’t think of any reasonable explanation for why someone would leave their car door wide open at a remote trailhead. To let thieves know that there was nothing of value worth stealing in the car? Or… maybe the car had already been broken into?! Or… maybe there was a dead body in the car?


Okay, now I was starting to get morbid, but what if there was some sort of foul play involved? I figured I should look in the car and walked around the car looking through the windows but not touching anything. Nope, no bodies or anything. No blood-soaked seats. Just a green Subaru. It looked a little on the older side and a bit beat up. The vehicle was practically empty—the only thing I saw inside were some hiking boots, trail map, and other miscellaneous hiking items.


Hmm… very strange. If I had to guess, I’d say the car belonged to a hiker who was hiking somewhere. Maybe even the group down at the privy of the last shelter? I still couldn’t think of a conceivable reason why the front door was wide open, though, except if someone had broke into the vehicle and left it that way. But since it didn’t appear that anyone was hurt or injured, I wasn’t going to worry about it anymore and continued my walk down the road.


Near Highway 15, the trail veered left on a rails-to-trails trail which was remarkably difficult to walk on. The chucks of rock they used for the railroad were still there and that stuff is hard to walk on! The railroad tracks were long gone so I couldn’t even walk on the old ties for relief from the rocks.


It didn’t last long, though, before heading through a meadow and eventually crossing Highway 15 near a cemetery. The cemetery was unexpected, and later I tried to convince hikers that that’s where they buried the Long Trail thru-hikers that “didn’t make it.” Nobody ever believed me, though. =)


The trail crossed the Lamoille River on a large suspension bridge, then headed back into the woods steadily climbing uphill. Back on solid trail, but the trail was still a pleasantly easy one without the rocks, mud and steep cliffs.


Dscn6658I turned a corner to Prospect Rock where I spotted Hill and Fire-Eye taking a break. Fire-Eye had just pulled off her shirt to change—I hadn’t expected to catch a cute girl changing clothes when I turned the corner—but she still wore a sports bra so it’s not like anything exciting was visible.


I startled her, though, that was for certain, and she quickly put on another shirt and exclaimed about my seeing her naked.


“I didn’t see you naked,” I told her. “I’d have been a lot more excited if I did!” Heck, I’ve seen more skin than that on network television. But I still found the situation rather amusing more than anything. =)


I told them that Superchunk was worried about them so they might want to sign the next shelter register to reassure him, but they had already heard about that. Superchunk (and friends) had caught up with Hill and Fire-Eye near Highway 15. Superchunk and friends had gotten off the trail to resupply in Johnson, but they had caught up to Hill and Fire-Eye before getting off the trail. Hill and Fire-Eye had passed Superchunk when he was in a warming hut in the ski area and thought that Superchuck and friends would reach Whiteface Shelter where they stayed the night, but Superchunnk and friends decided to stay at the warming hut instead, and when Superchunk didn’t see them at the warming hut, he assumed they must have stayed back at the Sterling Pond Shelter where I was not realizing that they were now ahead at the Whiteface Shelter.


Are you confused yet? Because I was just happy to actually understand the timeline and sequence of what happened myself. =)


Late in the day I met a woman hiking southbound by herself. She was older than me, although I wouldn’t describe her as ‘old,’ but she was a real chatterbox and seemed positively starved to talk to someone. I didn’t mind chatting—I wasn’t in any rush—but I was surprised when I learned that she was from Bellingham, WA. We were practically neighbors! Pretty much everyone I had met on the trail was either from Vermont (or very close to it) or a former AT thru-hiker who lived somewhere near the AT. But to meet another west-coaster? Wow! Not a lot of us out here! =)


She also warned us that the trail was bad up ahead, so bad that she had even dislocated her arm in a fall while getting over Belvidere Mountain. I made a mental note about that—Belvidere Mountain might be a tougher-than-normal section of the trail. She also told me of a hidden shelter further up the trail by a lake with a dock on it. That seemed far enough ahead that I didn’t really pay much attention to the details she provided.


Dscn6674Then she was off, and I continued onward to Roundtop Shelter. Purgy No More was already there when I arrived, who I think was starting to think he’d have the entire shelter to himself that night. “Fire-Eye and Hill are just behind me,” I warned. They had caught up with me while I was talking to the woman from Bellingham, which couldn’t have been more than 15 minutes earlier. I also warned him that Superchunk, Top Shelf, Lucky and Cheesy had also told me that they planned to camp at this shelter, but that we were suspicious if they’d make it since they had gotten off the trail to resupply in Johnson. We figured they’d either find a place to stay in Johnson or set up camp somewhere between shelters. It seemed very unlikely they’d make it to the shelter before dark.


So Purgy No More moved his stuff around to make room for Hill and Fire-Eye, and I followed the sign that led to water. The trail to the water was remarkably steep down to the water source—especially considering that the Long Trail wasn’t especially steep at all. And eventually, it led to a pump rather than surface water. The pump had directions posted on a nearby tree warning that it needed to be primed before it work, and to prime it you had to pour water over the top of it. It takes water to make water! A container filled with water was left next to the pump for priming purposes, though.


I primed the pump, got my water, and headed back to the shelter for the night. Fire-Eye and Hill had already arrived and were setting up camp.


The sunset behind the shelter was absolutely gorgeous, and we eventually settled in to sleep long after dark. The other hikers hadn’t shown up, but we didn’t really think they would.


But we were wrong… they did show up in the dead of night. I couldn’t read the time on my pedometer in the dark, but the saw the headlamps piercing through the blackness before I heard them. There were only three of them, but in the dark I couldn’t really see them well and assumed it was Cheesy, Lucky and Top Shelf. Superchunk didn’t appear to be there. They tried to be quiet and set up at the edge of the shelter where there was the most room near our feet.


Then I heard two of them whispering that they were going to get water and I watched their headlamps bobbing away down the trail. I couldn’t help but laugh. They were going to have trouble getting water in the dark. I just knew it! The trail to the water was a bit of a challenge even in daylight, and I wondered if they’d just walk right past the pump without even seeing it. And would they know that the pump needed to be primed before it would work? And would they notice the directions about priming the pump in the dark? I didn’t know, but I suspected it might be awhile before they came back with water. =)


This is the scene of my second head-cracking experiment.
I was so focused on jumping from the mostly-buried log,
then to the mostly-buried rock, then to the bog bridge,
I completely overlooked that giant tree leaning over
the trail and cracked my head on it pretty hard!


I’m always a little worried when I see water and outhouse
signage pointing the same direction, like here at the Whiteface Shelter.


The small view from the top of Whiteface Mountain.


After Whiteface Mountain, the trail got a lot easier!


Then the trail became a road! (See the white blaze on the tree
on the left side of the road?)




A lot of the trees were turning yellow at this point, but
here’s one of the few bright red trees I saw. I hoped
to see a lot more red trees before the end of the trail!


The trail was so easy and wonderful along this section!


I passed quite a bit of what looks like rubber tubing tied around
trees. It’s baffling to me. I have absolutely no idea what
this is supposed to be for. If any of you do know, please
leave a comment! =)


The mysterious car with the front door left wide open…


Now we’re on a road walk that’s passing civilization.


From left to right, Cheesy, Lucky and Top Shelf take a break.


This used to be an old railroad that’s been turned into a trail,
but the ballast was never covered or replaced which makes
it difficult to walk on!


I tried to convince other hikers that this is where they
buried the Long Trail thru-hikers that “didn’t make it.”
Probably died on Mount Mansfield or something… =)


Suspension bridge over the Lamoille River.


View of the Lamoille River from the middle of the suspension bridge.


View from Prospect Rock.


The little red pump that’s the water source for Roundtop Shelter.
Be sure to prime it first by pouring water into the top!
(That’s why it’s all wet on the top.)


Anonymous said...

The tubing is for maple sap collection, which later is boiled down to maple syrup. The old wooden collection buckets have been replaced by modern tubing is many areas.

Grumpy Grinch

Anonymous said...

I guess the person in the green car was so anxious to be on the long trail that they didn't even take time to close the car door..or put on their hiking boots or grab the trail map..the trail map might of been a nice thing to have though...

Only Dreaming

Papercrafts by Cindyellen said...

Well, Grumpy told you about the tubing. Much more efficient than taps, but not nearly as pretty - and it doesn't grow into the trees nearly as fast.