Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Day 33: There’s the easy way, or the hard way…

April 9: Despite forecasts for rain all day, the morning sun rose bright and clear. I had planned to do a short 9.1 mile jaunt to the next shelter but the weather was so cooperative, I’d wind up going 17.5 miles to the Roan High Knob Shelter which has the distinction of being the highest shelter on the Appalachian Trail at 6,194 feet above sea level.

At the first shelter, I caught up with an interesting character named Karaoke. I’d seen him a couple of times already, but today he’d finally do something that was interesting enough to make my blog. =) A large group of hikers had stopped at the shelter for lunch, and Karaoke left perhaps 10 or 15 minutes before I did so I knew he was a short ways ahead of me on the trail.

That’s a lot of sun shining through for a day that was supposed to rain the entire day!

I walked a couple of miles until I reached a viewpoint at Little Rock Knob—a gorgeous view that I took my pack off to just stand there for a few minutes and admire the view. For the time being, I had the viewpoint to myself, but I knew there was a whole mess of hikers hot on my heels who’d left the shelter after I did. So I was standing there, just admiring the view when I heard what sounded like footsteps in the bushes below me from a large animal of some sort.

My first thought—bear! But I dismissed that as being pretty unlikely. More likely, a deer. So I’m peering into the trees and brush to see if I could figure out what it was when out walks… Karaoke?! Even more interesting, he wasn’t even carrying his backpack anymore.

“Where the heck did you come from?” I asked him. I think I startled him a bit because he had the same question for me!

“Well, I walked up the Appalachian Trail,” I said, pointing to the trail a few feet behind me.


As it turns out, Karaoke found another way up to the viewpoint. A ways back, I had passed a point where it looked like an old trail split off from the Appalachian Trail up the mountain and it occurred to me that maybe there was a viewpoint up there. But I knew from my data book that there would be a viewpoint from the top of the mountain in a short ways, and the trail didn’t look at all official or maintained so I had decided to stick with the official trail. Karaoke, however, decided that he wanted to see the view real quick. He hid his pack nearby—no reason to carry it to the top just to carry it back down again, after all, then proceeded to bushwhack his way up to the viewpoint he imagined was at the top.

“You were right!”, I told him, “There is a viewpoint up here! But you could have followed the A.T. to get here, not that unmaintained trail.”

He cursed a bit—at least I think it was a curse. It was more of a grumble and I couldn’t hear him clearly, and I just laughed at his misfortune. Since he left his pack at the bottom of the hill, he’d have to backtrack to get it then hike back to the viewpoint a second time. That’s demoralizing for any thru-hiker! I admired the fact that he was willing to walk off trail just to get to a viewpoint—most thru-hikers don’t—but couldn’t help myself laughing. Especially since he had left the shelter ahead of me, took a shortcut and I had still beat him to the top!

Within a minute or two, additional hikers started showing up behind me and every time someone new showed up, Karaoke and I told them about his misfortune and why he was currently without his pack. Everyone got a good laugh out of it, including Karaoke who was pretty good-natured about it.

Some signs of spring are starting to show, even if most of the trees are still leafless!

But otherwise, it was a largely uneventful day. As I approached the Roan High Knob Shelter, I could hear thunder in the distance and dark clouds approaching, so it turned into something of a race for me to the shelter. Would I make it before the rain hit? Yes, I did make it! I wasn’t there for more than several minutes when a drenching 5-minute downpour hit. Seriously, it lasted for about 5 minutes then stopped as suddenly as it began.

I set up camp in the shelter, on the second level near the window to get extra light. Within the hour, the Four Horsemen arrived and joined me on the upper deck. I joked about not being able to shake them, and told other hikers that they were trying to make me their leader but I wasn’t having any of that.

True to their style, they spent about an hour trying to get a campfire started. They were having a particularly difficult time of it not the least because that 5-minute downpour got everything absolutely soaking wet. The fire struggled to grow, and just as it seemed about ready to take off, another downpour hit. We all fled the fire into the protection of the shelter and watched the fire peter out.

It was yet another 5-minute downpour that stopped as quickly as it started, but the fire was a bust. After spending about an hour trying to get it going, the Four Horsemen were done with it. We went about cooking dinners and preparing for the night and—to everyone’s shock and amazement—the fire took off completely on its own!

“That’s the trick to a good campfire,” Heavyweight explained. “Just add water!”

We huddled around the campfire again until darkness fell and everyone started wandering back to their sleeping bags for the night.

Karaoke, without a pack, admiring the view from Little Rock Knob. He chose the “hard way” to get up the hill, just to have to go back and do the “easy way” as well because he had mistakenly left his pack behind. =)

This is Quark, a section hiker from Germany. He’s pretty quiet and modest, but everyone just adores him—including myself. =) He calls himself the “slowest hiker on the trail,” but after crossing paths with him several times over nearly a week, I told him that I didn’t believe it. He had secret ninja powers to leap ahead and keep up with the rest of us. (Of course, my taking two zero days in Erwin probably contributed to his keeping up with me for much of the week. I’m pretty sure he didn’t take two zeros days!)

Slug on the trail!

The clouds continued looking more and more threatening as the afternoon progressed.

Some old ruins along the trail.

The Roan High Knob Shelter is one of the few shelters that actually is fully enclosed with four walls. The fact that it’s the highest shelter on the trail (and therefore among the coldest and most exposed) probably has a lot to do with that decision. I spent the night on the upper deck next to the window you see at the top.

The Four Horsemen spent about an hour trying to get this campfire started. Just as soon as it looked like it was about to get going, a 5-minute squall had all of us running back under the protection of the shelter, but the fire really took off after that squall ended much to everyone’s surprise.

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