Having packed the night before, I was on the road by 6:30am on Saturday; I was driving to an AT section trail head close to High Point State Park on the NJ 23 / CR 443 just south of Port Jervis, NY. Friends and fellow backpackers/hikers, Jeff and Erin, were joining me for this weekend trip and I was excited for the time on the Appalachian Trail again.
Since returning home in June I think about my time on the trail quite often, sometimes just bringing up my blog on my iPhone while on the train and reading from a random day or two. Good times indeed. But what’s really special to me is the actual trail: the blazes, the mountains, the sights and sounds. Unless you’ve spent [a considerable amount of] time on the AT it’s difficult to appreciate the gravity of how a life on the Appalachian Trail can change you.
As I arrive at the trail head parking lot I notice the temp has dropped to 27°F and the wind has picked up. Spotting Jeff’s car in the corner of the lot I parked up alongside.
Jumping out of my car and into the tundra was enough to send a jolt through my body: my god it’s freezing. After the cold meet and greet, we tied off our packs and slung them over our shoulders. There was a group of day hikers gathering near the start of the approach blue trail and I managed to finagle a group shot from one of them.
As we headed up the blue blazed trail our boots were sinking into the crunchy mud that had frozen during the night before. This made for challenging hiking as it was like we were walking through sand. After a few minutes we t-boned the AT and headed left, and southbound.
The wind had died down and we’d picked up a great starting pace so we warmed up pretty quickly. We were hoping the forecast was accurate and were looking forward to clear blue skies – no dice, cold and gray today.
The terrain became rocky underfoot as the trail headed south. We rounded and summited a section of rocky balds and stopped awhile to admire the view.
A few snaps and we were off again, southbound with a spring in our steps.
I always like hiking with Jeff and Erin, a young couple that I’ve been friends with for a few years. I’d met them for the first time during a Catskills weekender that another hiker friend, Anton, had organized. They’re both heavily into the outdoors, fit, and I enjoy the pace at which they hike – swift. They’re also a riot to hang with, and it’s not long before we’re onto the topic of food; Jeff and I discussed the many ways one could prepare a burger – multiple cheeses and fillings, always good trail banter.
Quickly we’re into our stride and we crossed Deckertown Turnpike — a winding country road that slices through the AT — and after a short climb beyond we hit Mashipacong Shelter and we had the whole place to ourselves. We dropped our packs and broke out our lunches and discussed what we’d do afterwards. We decided to continue southbound for at least an hour given we’d made such good time, but the remaining ~5.5 miles to Gren Anderson Shelter may run us into night hiking – which none of us really wanted to do. Plus, the temps started to drop. I reached for the trail journal hanging in a box in the far right corner of the shelter to see if I could find any names I’d know; sure enough, I found three: Acorn, Nimbles, and one of my besties, Rainbow Bright.
So with full bellies and an invigorated spirit we hoisted our packs and headed south. About a half hour in we came upon a pretty bleak looking stream which trickled from a stagnant pond – the water was orange, and none of us fancied using it to filter water for dinner tonight.
After some umming and ahhing we decided to head back to Mashipacong Shelter where we’d make camp, and hopefully, we’d still have the place to ourselves. Once we got back we felt a tad bummed as fires aren’t allowed here – damn. It was getting pretty chilly, too. The sun had come out but we could feel Jack Frost’s bite rolling in.
I pitched my hammock gear in the woods a ways to the right of the shelter as I was hoping to sell some of it on GearTrade, so I needed photographs. Once the shots were out of the way, I hoisted the hammock into the awning of the shelter — from left to right — while Jeff and Erin laid out their sleeping pads and bags inside on the platform.
We drank wine and shared stories, and we laughed into dusk. It was early when the sun hit the horizon, cold blue hues spreading out through the woodland. It was bedtime, aka “hiker midnight”. The second my head hit my pillow I was out, and the slight sway of the hammock was enough to rock me to sleep in minutes. It was 8:00pm.
I woke to the sound of an owl echoing through the frigid night. To my chagrin, I pressed the backlight button on my watch and found it to only be 11:00pm. Good lord, it was going to be a long night.
Coyotes are bloody loud, and when they’re in a pack that sounds ominously close, it’s quite disconcerting. Another glance of my watch and it’s 1:30am. Come on, man.
I started to feel the cold in my arms and torso a little which was strange as I was wearing literally all of my clothes and covered by my 30°F bag. Unbeknownst to me, the temps had dropped to a not-so-balmy 23°F. Without a 2nd thought I hoofed my tired self out of my cocoon and tossed my bag onto my own sleeping pad which I’d laid out on the shelter’s inner platform “just in case”. I threw down my pillow and climbed into my bag and off I drifted, a little warmer than I was earlier dangling in mid air. My watch said 3:00am.
It was about 6:30am when I woke, and I’d been tossing and turning all night; I get pressure points on my hips and knees as I’m a side sleeper when I go to ground. “This is why I sleep in a hammock”, I grumbled to myself.
Jeff and Erin stirred shortly after and we shared morning pleasantries. We’d all heard the howling and screaming last night. And some of us (read: me) had heard snoring all night, too (read: Jeff and/or Erin). Water was quickly on the boil and we enjoyed warm coffee; I enjoyed a couple of frosted raspberry Poptarts with mine – ooh look, it’s in one piece!
Warmed up, fed, and ready to go, we broke down camp and packed our gear. We were off my 9:00am and heading northbound in the cool wintery air. About a half hour in we stopped to enjoy the view at a pipeline clearing and snapped a few shots.
The trail seemed more rocky today than it did yesterday, but we still managed to get a good pace going; we hit the side trail for Rutherford Shelter in no time and calculated we’d been hiking at 3mph.
We stopped at a bubbling stream about half way back to the cars and filtered some more water; Erin had a crack at using my new Sawyer Squeeze Mini and I think I have a couple of converts!
Shortly after filling our water bottles we pressed on and it started to drizzle. Now I don’t normally mind the rain, but when it’s 30°F, it’s bloody uncomfortable. We double-timed and made it back to the parking lot in no time. Cold, wet, and shivering we decided to head for the Ranger station up the road to change into drier clothing.
Warm and dry, Jeff suggested we head on over to a local diner for breakfast – amen to that. We wolfed down an appetite-busting biscuits, gravy, and corned beef hash. Human food tastes so good after a good hike.
Great hike with great friends, and the weather played nice, well almost.