The 2019 Ridgerunner Season Begins


Sabine and Mary at Annapolis Rock, Maryland with Greenbriar Lake in background.

Appalachian Trail, Maryland and Shenandoah National Park, April 1 – 14, 2019 — Dawn cracked to reveal a chilly drizzle like the warmth a Sunday school teacher might project showing a little leg through clouds of petticoats.  Right place.  Wrong idea.  Can’t see that much, so up the mountain we marched. 

Mary is a veteran ridgerunner some readers will recall from last year’s blog entries about her service in Shenandoah.  This season her Maryland tour is seven-months long.  She will be reinforced by another ridgerunner from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  She started on the auspicious First of April. No joke.

Sabine will be in Shenandoah National Park through early September.  She arrived a tad early to observe and get to know Mary before launching her own long march toward autumn on her 102 miles of the AT she’ll be patrolling some 55 miles southward.

20190401_1845221Earlier Mary had kicked down winter’s door, Hoovering up the off-season detritus like a caretaker opening a musty summer house long dormant.  That’s bags of trash to the uninitiated. 

On her first morning sweep of the Pine Knob shelter she found two backpacks apparently  abandoned on the floor.  No note.  That’s more common than one may imagine.  People get tired, wet, quit, and abandon their gear all the time.  Regardless, they were available for animals to rummage.  She decided to wait and see. 

On her evening swing they were still there, so she packed them out tandem style to the Greenbriar State Park visitor center. 

The knuckleheads called the park looking for them late in the evening.  They’d been day hiking from the Pennsylvania border.  Unfortunately the packs weren’t available til morning.  Sorry guys.


Off we marched to begin patrolling the area between Annapolis Rock and the Pogo campsite.  Trash picking was easy.


Pogo, where a tree fell atop one of the iconic fire pits.


Ridgerunning is like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you’re going to find – tent poles, plastic container and a rubber band slingshot.



Painted rocks have become a trend in the hiking world.  We found one at Black Rock that seems to advertise a lake front development in Maryland.  There will be follow up with the developer.


Drying out.  Caretaker tent graciously donated by REI.


Senseless vandalism.


Photo:  Mary Thurman.


Please pad your anchors and save the trees.


Somebody actually tried a bear hang instead of hooking their food bag on one of the tines.  This method actually makes it much easier for the bear to get the food. 🙁

Sabine’s OJT at Annapolis Rock was complete.  On to Shenandoah.


Shenandoah day one starts in the backcountry office for orientation, paperwork and equipment issue.  Then it’s a hike to check the north boundary kiosk.

We made a side trip to hike the cult-like Piney Memorial Trail and paid our respects to the fallen.  While there, the ridgerunner janitorial instinct kicked in.


The first overnight is at the luxurious Indian Run Maintenance Hut which is available to the ridgerunners when in the area.


First showdown with a hanging tangle.  She drew her clippers faster than Gary Cooper in “High Noon” and cut that sucker down.  Note the full trash bag.


Foundation of what was once intended to be a restroom for a “colored” picnic area that never was built.


Taking a break on a handy rock.


Second night at Gravel Spring.  Not sure if the tree is apple, cherry or otherwise.


Sabine’s trail name is “Foureyes.”  Not what you’d think for a hiker who’s done the Appalachian Trail, the Long Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail while in between earning a PhD in physics.


Some people come to the trail ignorant, thoughtless and unprepared.  Yes, it’s what it appears to be.  Digging cat holes to bury other people’s feces is one of the more unappealing aspects of the job.  You have to want to protect the trail with all of your heart to do this work.

Third night at Pass Mountain.  The tree blew down on a campsite before the camper was there.  It was a dark and stormy night.  Really!


Watching the hawks atop Mary’s Rock on a brilliant day.


Final night.  Rock Spring.


Final day.  Welcome to Jurassic Park. Come right in.  Ummm, I mean Shenandoah National Park …  May your hike toward autumn be a pleasant one.



The Great Winoosky


Resolved:  Never hike a trail without a beer named after it.

The Long Trail, Vermont, September 7, 2016 to September 22, 2016 — The northern two-thirds of the Long Trail may include the most rugged hiking I have ever done.  When the map elevation profile looks like sharks teeth or witches hats, you know you’re going to work that day.  Let’s just say I’m glad I hiked a lot of miles this summer to get ready. The bad news is that I should have done more.


Drought stressed ferns

Expectations were modest. The nation’s oldest hiking trail is known to be exceptionally rugged.  Vermont is in drought having received little snowfall last winter and was negative nine inches of rain on start day.  Now Vermont, aka Vermud, is noted for its own original black, sticky, oozy goo.  No rain, no goo right?  Wrong!


Pre-rain mud

On start day the temps were in the mid-80s.  The heat persisted for the first five-day leg.  I was raining sweat at a prodigious rate.  Could hiker sweat produce this much mud,  I asked myself?  Not likely.  We found sufficient water, but it was not always where we needed it.  I got dehydrated the first day and didn’t catch up until our first trail break.

Here’s how the hike went down.

I hiked with my PATC colleague, Rush Williamson.  Rush happens to have a friend who lives near the start point at the Canadian border called Journey’s End.  Thus we could position a car on each end as save ourselves costly shuttles.  He also had friends about five days apart which allowed us to break the hike into three five-day segments.  Easy logistics are always welcome and his friends’ hospitality was marvelous.


With Rush at Hal Gray’s home near the Canadian border.  We stayed with Hal the night we drove up.

We set out on September 7 hoping to make Jay Camp, 11 miles in. Experienced hikers ought to be able to do that, right?  Not even.  The terrain and heat conspired against us!  Instead we logged a measly eight miles.  We arrived at the Laura Woodward shelter around 4:15 pm with plenty of daylight remaining, but with legs not fresh enough to use it.

This miss dogged us.  It took two days to realign with shelters.  In the interim we tented.  The second night it rained hard for what turned out to be the first of five times. Both of us suffered through leaky tent seams.  Not good.


Stealth camping in the Vermont woods.

On September 8, the trail over Jay Peak was much more challenging that we anticipated confirming our decision not to press on the previous day. The ski area restaurant had closed two days earlier and the restrooms were locked so we did not linger. I took a 360 video on top and cursed the high angle slab rock where it was featured on the descent. Rain was in the forecast and I worried about safety when the rock was wet. I later learned that my concern was well founded.

Jay Peak

And so this challenging little adventure unfolded.  In Vermont shelters are three-sided traditional hiking shelters.  “Camps” are rustic cabins with doors.  We stayed at several of each.


Corliss Camp shared with a Middlebury College freshman orientation group.

The first five days were hot but otherwise uneventful.  On day five we reached Johnson were we were picked up by Ira and Katie Marvin. They were kind enough to share their house and family with us.  Rush had an ugly blister so we zeroed.  Katie happens to be a physician, so she patched him up good as new.

 We had fun with the Marvins.  Ira owns a maple syrup factory that supplies Whole Foods, Target and many other stores with genuine Vermont maple syrup.

The next feature on our list was Mt. Mansfield, a very popular mountain featuring an alpine habitat and an auto road.  It’s the state’s tallest mountain.

 Contemplating hiking up Mansfield with my morning coffee.

We pointed our boots toward Mansfield at the usual hour of seven. By the time we reached the high angle slab rock that defines the Mansfield trail, it was cold and raining hard. The footing was precarious enough to slow us considerably. A Vermonter who used an expression that sounded more like it was from the deep south proclaimed that the rock was “Slicker than chicken shit in a greasy Teflon skillet.”  He was accurate.


By noon we discovered Taft and called it a day with no rain in the forecast for the next couple of days. It’s Hobbit door can’t be more than five feet tall.


The next morning the clouds had stopped sobbing, but the trail was still wet and slick.  We elected to use the aptly named Profanity Trail bad weather bypass trail up Mansfield because the feature known as the “nose” is notoriously difficult and dangerous when conditions aren’t ideal.

Mansfield is spectacular.  One young hiker named “Skywalker” we encounter described it as the top of “Vermudarado.”


The sunrise from Puffer shelter was spectacular and worth the work required to see it.

The full view from Puffer.  Mansfield on the left.


Bridge across the Winoosky River and into Burlington for resupply. Next up Camels Hump.

The hump up Camel’s Hump is six mile climb.  Great trail and not a terribly hard push save the lack of water. Fortunately we’d learned to carry extra. I made a quick 360 video on top and my partner admonished some day hikes for straying outside the roped-off area into the alpine habitat.


Camel’s Hump

 The day hikers have a two-mile long trail to reach the top in droves.

Trail features.  Yes, that’s what you walk.


 Too many ski areas to count.


Old privy smashed by a blowdown.  Hope no one was in it.


Replacement privy.


Next to last day our amazing ridgerunners Robin Hobbs and Sara Leibold cross paths.  What a treat and a sight for sore eyes. 

The hike ended where the AT crosses U.S. 4 just south of Maine Junction. I hiked uphill to the Inn in 14 minutes. That’s 3  1/2 mph with a 30 lb. pack on my back.  Beer is an incredible motivator.


The Inn at Long Trail.


What a surprise to find Denise Benson!


Off to Maine where my friends donated day lily bulbs.


Clean up.  The end.


Ran into this.  Looks like the Long Trail to me.


Journey’s End.

Moonlight in Vermont



Coming attractions:  It’s time to get back in the saddle, so what’s next?  The oldest hiking trail in the United States beckons. Next up, the mountains of Vermont and The Long Trail.

We’ll be driving to the Canadian border just as soon as the Labor Day traffic clears.  Then we’ll hit the trail early the next morning for what is hoped to be a 16 day trek – more if mother nature proves our planning wrong. The objective is to collect the 172 Long Trail miles missed when hiking the Appalachian Trail.  (Note: Sources differ on the exact distances involved.)


The sign marking “Maine Junction.”

The AT and the Long Trail overlap for the 100 miles starting at the Vermont/Massachusetts border northward to “Maine Junction” just north of the Rutland and Killington area. At Maine Junction the trail hangs a sharp easterly right turn toward Hanover, NH and from there onward to central Maine.

The Long Trail was conceived in 1910 and stitches Canada to Massachusetts for 272 miles along the spine of Vermont’s rugged Green Mountains.  It’s rugged and last month’s 100-mile wilderness hike was good practice, but this adventure will be more strenuous.


Ironically, both the Long Trail and Appalachian Trail were conceived in the same place.


The fire tower on Stratton Mountain has been preserved and maintained so that hikers may see the same views that conceptualized the two hiking trails birthed there.

The hike has a happy ending.  Can’t wait!

My partner will be Rush Williamson, a fellow PATC member who also is highly involved in protecting and preserving the AT.  He’s also a retired Marine with whom I work closely on many trail-related projects.

For more on the Green Mountain Club and The Long Trail click on: Green Mountain Club and The Long Trail