It was one of the first weekends that was forecast above 45°F and I was jonesing for a hike on the AT and a comfortable overnight in my hammock. Friday night and rain was forecast, so I went to bed sulking. It hadn’t rained all week, and here we were looking at rain all weekend.
Saturday morning and I’m bouncing out of bed at 6:00am and check the weather – it’s raining outside and it’s forecast most of the day to remain the same. Decisions, decisions…
I group text the boys around lunchtime (Jeff, Anton, and Matt) asking if anyone would be up for an impromptu hike into Wildcat Shelter that afternoon for a quick overnight. As always, Jeff answers first and it’s an knee-jerk “YES!”. Brilliant. He can’t make it until he finishes work, and I still have some packing/prep to take care of, so we schedule a meetup in a couple of hours. I headed out at around 3:00pm and arranged to meet at the trail head where the AT crosses Rte 17a just north of Glenwood Lake, NY. (Google map coords)
Arriving at the trail head it had started to pour; this is going to be a wet hike, but I was excited to get onto the trail and nothing — not even some rain — was going to dampen my spirits. Jeff rolled in about 20 minutes after me and we hoisted our packs and off we went, northbound on the Appalachian Trail.
As Jeff and I got caught up on life, thoughts of my time on the AT in 2013 came flooding in and I found myself grinning like the Cheshire Cat less than a few hundred feet in. I love just being on he trail – it’s tough to explain to a non-hiker, but my outdoor brethren know exactly what I mean.
Through the rain we hiked and talked up a storm about life, work, and how things were now he’s an engaged man. Jeff’s a typically happy guy on any given day, but he had an extra spring in his step for sure – ah, young love. I’m stoked for him and Erin.
It wasn’t long before we came across Cat Rocks and Jeff fancied a scramble up the side to the top of this rocky outcropping which carries the AT up and over it. The rocks were slippery given the downpour so I took the blue trail to the side and hiked around.
After rounding the rocks and hiking for another 20 minutes we arrived at the signpost nailed to a tree pointing us to go west for the shelter. As we walked around the rocky part of this blue trail, the shelter started to come into view and our excitement built for sole ownership tonight of Wildcat. As the shelter came into view, I noticed hiking gear inside.
Two other guys were already situated comfortably inside the shelter, one warming himself inside his sleeping bag atop his pad.
“Are you gone in the head?!”, the bearded guy on the right bellowed. “We thought we’d be the only idiots out in this today!”.
Ice breaker, these cats were cool.
Jeff and I threw our pack towards the back of the shelter and started unpacking our gear and changing out of our wet clothes. After some half-naked one-legged stumbling in and out of clothing, we sat our asses down and hung out with our new friends.
One of the guys had an air of experience about him: epic trail beard, lots of gear, and an actual trail name: Chief Daddy. Real name Joe Howell, Joe and his wife run an outdoor wilderness guide company called Wilderness Rocks that provides “immersive wilderness excursions”. He was out with a client, a Ukrainian fellow by the name of Anton (are all Ukrainian men called Anton?). As we made long introductions into who we were and where we were from, we broke open the libations: I’d brought a bladder from a box of wine (Malbec), Jeff, too, had brought some wine, and Chief and Anton sipped on some kind of whiskey. Chief is a Double Crowner: he’s thru-hiked the AT and the PCT, and he has that typical “coolness” about him. He’s calm, learned, enriched by the people he’s met while walking the miles.
The rain was still coming down well into the early evening, and I was undecided: shelter or hammock tonight. I’d driven all this way and hiked in the rain for an hour; I was putting that bloody hammock up tonight if it was the last thing I did.
I pitched the hammock and tarp right behind the shelter as the lower area of ground to the side of the shelter and beyond was positively swampy. As soon as I had gotten my gear set up, I went back to the shelter and continued to share stories and jokes with Jeff and our new friends.
I remember saying something about it being “hiker midnight” and I was out like a light. I woke up in the middle of the night (someone was snoring, and it could have very well been me), and realized that I’d fallen asleep in the shelter. I was having none of it, so I dragged myself up quietly, turned on the red light on my headlamp, and headed out to my hammock.
My head hit the pillow and I was gone – swaying in the air.
Morning broke and the rain had stopped. I love it when that happens. I hauled myself out of my hammock — very reluctantly — and saw that the other guy’s had woken and started to make coffee. To our surprise the fire was hot enough from the night before to roar again on this cold morning.
I made Jeff and myself a cup of Joe and I munched on two frosted raspberry Pop Tarts for breakfast – I’d brought oatmeal but I couldn’t be bothered to cook.
At about 8:30am we’d all packed up and said our farewells to Wildcat Shelter. Chief had Anton continue hiking north to the falls and then to the next road crossing where he’d pick him up. I’d agreed to drop Chief back at his minivan which was back towards Greenwood Lake. Jeff and I bade or goodbyes and I drove Chief to pick up his wheels.
I was back on the road by 10:00am and home by 11:00am. Rested, my AT/hammock desires satiated, and looking forward to the next time I can get on the trail with the lads.