Monday, October 28, 2013

Day 24: The Hunt for Secret Shelter #2

Dscn6777September 27: The next morning, Top Shelf told us about their trouble finding water in the dark of night. First they missed the pump completely since they were looking for a creek or spring or something, not a pump. Once they did find the pump, they couldn’t get any water out of it. Cheesy or Lucky, I’m not sure who, spent a great deal of effort pumping and pumping but no water would come out.


“Pump harder! Pump harder!”


I laughed, imagining the scene, knowing exactly why water wasn’t coming out—the pump hadn’t been primed. For some reason, the image of Scottie—you remember, from Star Trek?—trying to pump water. “I’m giving it all she’s got, captain!” But pumping harder wasn’t going to get water out of that pump.


Eventually, one of them noticed the directions for priming the pump nearby and they finally got their water and headed back to the shelter. I’m not sure how long they were gone getting water, though, because I had fallen asleep while they were gone.


I wasn’t in a big rush to hit the trail, but I didn’t want to linger too late either since I planned for an ambitious 14+ mile day—my longest so far. If the trail was particularly tough, I might not make the full distance, but from what I’ve heard and how my guidebook described the trail ahead, it didn’t look too bad.


I left the shelter shortly after Hill and Fire-Eye and we spent much of the next several hours passing each other back and forth. At one point, I stopped to take a photo of a log on the side of the trail covered with fallen leaves. It looked… pretty, but I thought I could make it better with a few minor alterations. The leaves were colorful yellows and reds, but the top of the leaves were decidedly brighter in color than their bottoms, so I took the time to flip over the leaves that were bottom-side up. Then I added a few more leaves to the log that I picked up from the ground. I spent only a minute or two adjusting the scene, just as the two girls passed me by and I explained what I was going.


They knew I was “working”—taking photos for, and Fire-Eye cried, “Fraud! Fraud! You’re a fraud and I’m going to tell everyone!” She clearly meant it jokingly, but I defended myself anyhow. “Hey, now! There are real, honest-to-goodness Vermont leaves. It’s not like I imported them from Michigan or anything!”


Hill walked past as I was taking photos, then I noticed her in the background of my photo which I liked even more than with nobody in the photo, and I quickly took another photo before Hill walked out of the frame. That wasn’t staged! Even if some of the leaves were. =)


Dscn6783Later, the trail briefly come out to a dirt road as a gust of wind blew through the trees causing a hundred leaves to float to the ground. It was very scenic, but it ended far too quickly for me to get a photo of it, so I waited for another gust of wind to blow through as Hill and Fire-Eye overtook me again. I waited for about five minutes, and the occasional leaf would fall, but not the blizzard of leaves that a gust would generate and while I didn’t mind waiting for a few minutes, I certainly had no intention of waiting around all day. The two joked that they’ll shake some trees for me to get some leaves falling, and one of them did pretend to shake a tree, but no leaves fell from it.


Eventually, I gave up. The photo probably wouldn’t have turned out well anyhow. The falling leaves are most beautiful when you can actually see them falling—static photos of leaves frozen in the air aren’t nearly as appealing. But I still really wanted to get a photo of leaves falling, but how?


I started up the trail again, passing Hill and Fire-Eye for the umpteenth time. I’d hike faster than them, but I stopped a lot more often for my photo ops. So I passed them again, and eventually reached a place where there was a leaf floating in the air by the side of the trail. It just hovered here, by itself, at about eye level.


The leaf wasn’t a magic leaf, of course, but it had got itself caught on a single strand from a spiderweb or something that was completely invisible to the naked eye. Ah-ha! A falling leaf, frozen in motion! I took another dozen or so photos of the leaf as it blew from side to side in the wind. The leaf was blurry in my photo due to that back and forth movement, but I was okay with that—it just made it look like I really did catch a leaf falling in mid-air! =)


As I was taking the photos, once again, Hill and Fire-Eye caught up with me and I told them about my new “fraud” photo. Perfect!


The trail turned out to be pretty easy the entire day. No steep climbs or drops, no mud or slippery rocks. It was, all-in-all, a pleasant walk through the woods painted with colors and plenty of leaves to kick and stomp throughout the day.


I last saw Hill and Fire-Eye at the Corliss Camp shelter. I couldn’t think of anything interesting for funny to write in the shelter register, so I left a puzzle instead for hikers to work out if they were bored in camp. What are the next two numbers in this sequence: 1, 11, 21, 1211, 111221, ____, ____. Then, cruelly, I wrote that I’d supply the answer in the next shelter register northbound on the trail. =) My note said that would probably be the Spruce Ledge Camp shelter, but in case the register there was full or missing, I’d put the answer in whatever the next northbound shelter I reached with a register.


As I was writing my puzzle, Hill said she wasn’t feeling particularly well and was thinking about stopping there for the day even though it was so early in the afternoon. Hill and Fire-Eye were still discussing what they’d do when I took off for the next shelter. I definitely didn’t intend to stop this early in the day!


Dscn6786For the rest of the day, I largely had the trail to myself. A couple of hours later, I saw a southbound hiker hiking alone, and I said, “Buenos dias, senor!” I was a little taken aback when he replied in flawless Spanish a lot more than I could understand. I didn’t realize it when I greeted him, but he grew up in El Salvador and Spanish is actually his first language!


Late in the day, I passed a couple of more hikers heading southbound who told me about a hidden shelter not far ahead on the trail. I’d almost forgotten about it since the woman from Bellingham first mentioned it, but if it was close, I figured I should certainly check it out. They told me it was by Ritterbush Pond, but off the top of my head, I didn’t know where that was. The lake was very scenic, they told me, and even had a dock.


I was already doing my longest day of walking so far on the trip and I figured I had maybe a little more than a half hour to reach the next shelter. “How far away is it?” I asked. I was a little tired already, but more importantly, I had largely taken my time to get here. I figured I’d get to the official shelter about an hour before sunset which didn’t really leave me much time to go looking for another secret shelter before dark.


They told me that they had been at it just 45 minutes earlier. I was a little surprised at that. I expected the official shelter was about that distance—maybe a little closer, but not by much.


“Is it before or after the next official shelter?” I asked. I might look for it if it was before the shelter. Past the shelter… I wasn’t sure. What if I couldn’t find it?


They thought for a moment, trying to remember, then concluded it was past the Spruce Ledge Camp for me.


We parted ways and I continued onward to Spruce Ledge Camp. If the secret shelter was beyond it, then I didn’t have to worry about this new secret shelter until then. If it was too late in the day or the pond looked too far away on my maps, I could just quit as Spruce Ledge Camp like I originally intended. If I reach the shelter and decide I have the time and energy to look for the shelter, then I would. But that decision could wait for now. =)


Dscn6788The rest of the trail to Spruce Ledge Camp was relatively non-eventful, although the shelter was a good quarter-mile off the trail. I hated going so far off trail if I intended to come back to look for the secret shelter, but I had already committed myself to writing the answer to the puzzle I left in the register of the last shelter in this shelter’s register! And anyhow, I still wanted a photo of the shelter to use on So I made the trek up to the shelter. From the shelter, a sign pointed to a lookout point not far away, so I followed that trail to a bench where I could see quite the view—including a large lake down below with what appeared be a dock in the water.


That’s where the secret shelter is! I realized. I pulled out my guidebook and looked at the maps. Yep, Ritterbush Pond was about a mile north on the trail, situated exactly where the lake was below. That’s so where the secret shelter is located! I could hear voices coming from down by the lake and noticed a small moving dot on the dock. There was a person on the dock. I couldn’t tell who it was from this distance—they were a dot at best. I couldn’t see the entire lake from the viewpoint—trees blocked the entire right half of the lake, but I tried to nose around as much as I could to see more of the lake when I saw a structure built onto the far side of the lake next to the shore. Was that the shelter? From this distance, I wasn’t sure. It might be a shelter. It might be anything.


If I had any doubts about whether or not I could find the secret shelter, though, seeing the lake and possible shelter not more than a mile away down the hillside put those fears to rest. I could totally find my second secret shelter of the trail!


I quickly wrote out the answer to the puzzle in the register (I might post an answer in a future post—just so you guys can work it on it if you want to!), ate a quick snack, then headed back to the trail where I found Purgy No More filtering water. I told him about the secret shelter and asked if he wanted to join me in the hunt for the mysterious shelter. He was hesitant about doing so, though, asking what would happen if I couldn’t find it?


Which is when I confessed that I was all but certain I could find it—because I could actually see it from this shelter! It was about a mile further down the trail, and we’d have to follow a short side-trail to the right. I had little doubt that I could find it—which was more than I could say about the first secret shelter I had looked for.


Dscn6789And that’s how I sucked Purgy into my hunt for the secret shelter. I promised it would be easy to find, and that it wasn’t far away.


Neither of us realized, however, that between the lake and our current location was Devils Gulch. Oh, it was on our maps—a name on a map that neither of us really paid much attention to. Just another landmark, or so we thought. We should have known better, though. Anything landmark with the name “Devil” in it ought to raise a red flag.


For perhaps a quarter mile, the trail became a regular jungle gym of house-sized boulders that required scrambling over and around. On one tight section, my Nalgene bottle fell out of my pack landing in a crack between one of two car-sized boulders that I stood on, and I scrambled down to retrieve it glad it didn’t fall into the much deeper crack just inches away where I’d have likely lost it forever.


I was annoyed at first with the unexpected obstacle. I had already hiked my longest day of the trail and was ready to call it quits, but after a few minutes, I started warming up to the challenge. It was different and even a little fun—if you’re in the right mood for it!


We made it through the obstacle course, though, at which point the trail leveled out again and within minutes, we reached a trail junction. The right almost certainly led towards Ritterbush Pond, and we followed it down leaving the Long Trail behind us.


The side trail only went about a tenth of a mile before reaching the scenic lake, coming out of the trees near the dock. An enclosed building stood nearby—the secret shelter. I walked out on the dock and took photos. I could see a few people on a raft or something playing in the lake, a rather loud and boisterous group of people breaking the tranquility.


Purgy and I entered the shelter and found ourselves shocked at its state. Trash littered the place and empty bottles of hard alcohol lined the shelves. The back of the shelter, away from the windows, was dark and more than a little creepy. The place was obviously used by locals for partying more than for getting close to nature, and the idea of camping in that filthy pigsty did not appeal to me at all. “We’re thru-hikers,” I told Purgy. “We have better standards than this!” I said, sweeping my hands around the room. And we both decided that we’d rather camp outside than inside that miserable excuse for a shelter.


We walked back outside to a dirt road that followed the edge of the lake and started walking down the road for a place to camp, settling on a nice location not far from the shelter. I set up camp, then left Purgy to keep an eye on things while I continued following the road around the lake to get a lay of the land. And I was still curious the other structure I saw from the lookout from Spruce Ledge which wasn’t the shelter we had found.


Dscn6796So I walked over there and found another shelter—two of them, in fact. One of them was an empty room while the other was a more traditional shelter with the lake side opened for a stunning view of the lake. It’s also where those four locals I saw before were now goofing around. The “raft,” they were using, I could now see, looked like it was part of a pallet, and their oars were branches pulled from trees with leaves and smaller branches tied to the ends. These people clearly weren’t thru-hikers and since I didn’t even see any gear, I figured they were probably out for the afternoon and not intending to spend the night.


This shelter, though, looked like a nice place to camp. If only it wasn’t infested with these loud and noisy locals. And if only I hadn’t already unpacked all of my gear earlier. Oh well. *shrug*


I walked back to camp and told Purgy about what I had found, and he asked if I was thinking about moving camp to that shelter. “Oh, heck no! It’s infested with locals and I’ve already unpacked here!” If neither of those were true, though, I’d have moved in a heartbeat because the view of the lake was better from there. =)


We started cooking dinner and eventually the locals left near sunset finally giving us a little peace and quiet. By dark, I was reading my Kindle by headlamp and Purgy was in his tent, probably sleeping since I didn’t see a light on.


It must have been 9:00 at night when we heard people in the distance—a loud, rowdy group of people. I looked across the lake and could see a few flashlights and headlamps on the far shore coming our way. Ah, crap. More local partiers. I turned off my own headlamp not want to draw attention to ourselves, then just sat up and watched them as they approached the shelter by the dock. They already sounded like they were drunk. I was beginning to regret that I ever looked for this secret shelter. The lake was gorgeous, but good grief, these locals know how to ruin a beautiful setting.


I’m not sure how long it took before Purgy noticed anything was up, but I finally heard some movement in his tent and I whispered that we had company coming our way. Although that should have been obvious with all the noise these people were making.


Dscn6800As they got closer, their muffled talk become more clear. “Here it is!” I heard one of them shout to the others. They had found the shelter. Flashlights went out to the dock and into the shelter, then back outside. I heard a dog bark. This went on for several minutes, then I noticed one of the lights heading away from the shelter and towards our direction. It would move slowly, the light probing the darkness on both sides of the trail, and I realized that we were about to be discovered. I really didn’t want to meet these people, but I couldn’t think of anything to get us out of it. Crap. What the hell was this guy doing?


As he got closer, it seemed to me like he was looking for something which is when I figured it out: He was probably looking for firewood. There was a fire pit in front of the shelter, and he was probably sent off to look for firewood.


He continued coming up the road, towards us, and then I saw him stop with the flashlight pointed directly at Purgy’s tent. We’d been spotted. He was dead still for several seconds, not moving or saying anything, perhaps not comprehending his discovery in his alcohol-slowed head. The flashlight then angled upwards sharply, catching me in the light, and I waved politely, but I’m not sure if he saw me or not since the flightlight didn’t stop on me but careened crazily around our campsite before he turned around shouting towards his friends. “Mike! Hey!”


He ran off, seemingly in a panic, and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. Was he going to come back with reinforcements to find out who we were and what we were doing there? Leave us alone? It was dreadfully impolite to be shouting at the top of his lungs in our campsite, though. If we had been asleep before, we certainly wouldn’t have been anymore.


“Well, Purgy,” I said to the tent, “I think you just scared the crap out of that guy.” And we laughed. Drunken idiots.


Nobody else ever came back to check us out, though, and the group stayed by the shelter for the rest of the night. And Purgy and I were sooo glad we hadn’t decided to stay at the shelter. What a nightmare that would have been having to share a shelter with these drunken idiots that partied for hours. It was annoying from our location in the woods, but at least we had a little distance from them.


Eventually, I managed to fall asleep and put the locals out of my mind.




Do you realize how difficult it is to get a photo of a
leaf falling in mid-air?!!! That’s why I took this
photo instead—of a leaf dangling from a web of some sort.


So far as I know, these impressive cliffs don’t actually have
a name! At least none of my maps or guidebooks show a name!


View from Laraway Lookout.




Can’t you just hear the leaves going CRUNCH! CRUNCH! CRUNCH!
with every step? On a related note, at times it was
growing more difficult to follow the trail under the thick
layer of leaves!


I totally hate when that happens!






The view from Spruce Ledge Lookout included a significant
body of water—which I was certain was Ritterbush Pond
and the location of Secret Shelter #2! You can’t
really see it well in wide-angle photo, but there’s
a dock on the far left side of the lake and a wooden
structure of some sort just behind the tree in the
foreground on the right that I suspected might be the shelter.


Devil’s Gulch was a jungle gym of boulders.


A jungle gym—with just one ladder. =)


Purgy No More poses at the end of the dock at Ritterbush Pond.


Scenes like this are a sign that the shelter
is often infested with drunken idiots.


Sunset at Ritterbush Pond.


Anonymous said...

I seem to remember that the shelter on Ritterbush Pond was an official Long Trail shelter at one time but the trail was routed away from it and the pond. I have some old LT guidebooks at home. I'll have to see if I can find out if that is true.

PI Joe

Papercrafts by Cindyellen said...

Ritterbush was an official shelter at one point - too much trouble with locals. And yeah, Devil's Gulch. Try it in winter, on snowshoes. LOL. we turned around pretty quick. It is kinda fun, though. i love that section of trail. My fav view ever is Laraway, looking back at Mansfield.

Anonymous said...

Most "locals" at Ritterbush Pond are actually Johnson State Collage kids partying. I saw a real local leave that cuervo bottle this year. I probably passed you around Rutland on my Thru Hike