Over the top

Madison Hut, NH, AT NOBO mile 1,858.1, Sunday June 22, 2014 — I hate rocks, but we’ll come back to that.

The cusp of the morning in tent city found me sipping coffee with a Dane who is working for IBM in Freeport, ME. Our conversation ranged from corporate leadership techniques to camping gear.

I soon scarfed some free leftover oatmeal, a thru hiker privilege, at Mizpah Hut before setting course for Lake of the Clouds Hut nestled upon Mt. Washington’s ample shoulders.

Bright sun lit the easy climb. The trail bed again was scree reminding me of Colorado above treeline, only in the Whites you’re not gasping for breath at 13,000 ft. It’s like a skip in the park I reasoned.

The gentle trail was appreciated. My knees have been taking a pounding on the rocks, especially on the 30 – 40 inch stepdowns. The pack weight really stretches the tendons. The up hills are a nonproblem until after a punishing down hill. Then everything hurts all the time. It goes with the territory, but it’s unpleasant nevertheless.

All that was about to change after Lake of the Clouds. The trail between Clouds and Madison was, in a word, ugly. Lots of rock hopping and big steps. Everything knees hate. I made it to Madison by dinner time, six o’clock, but I don’t know how.

While the trail conditions may have marred the afternoon, the scenery did not disappoint. Dramatic clouds draped the vast horizon with possible afternoon rain in the forecast.

The cog railway even made a special appearance. There’s an old hiker tradition of mooning the train. As a young couple made preparations for the act, they noticed me and reassessed. Damn! It would have made a great photo. They both smiled demurely as we passed.

Tomorrow the White Mountain Hostel in Gorham will pick us up when we reach Pinkham Notch. From there we’ll plot the 21-mile slack pack over the Wildcats. More to come.

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Mt. Washington with a tiny bit of snow remaining.

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3.14159 reasons to love Delaware Water Gap

Delaware Water Gap, Penn., AT NOBO mile 1,289.6, Wednesday May 7, 2014 — If I had been a character on Sesame Street, I would have been the Pie Moocher.

I love pie – pot pie, apple pie, cherry pie, punkin pie – any kind of pie, even the number pi. You can fill my pie hole morning, noon and night.

Well, this threadbare burg has its very own pie bakery. Talk about a hiker vortex. You can walk in, but you can’t walk out.

No sooner did I saunter in than a piece of apple pie a la mode jumped right out and landed right on my table. It was so yummy.

Not to be outdone, the second course consisted of a savory shepherd’s pie. Scrumpilicious!

For desert I tried waddling over to the strudel table but fortunately I couldn’t make it all the way. The button on my waist band was about to pop.

Did I forget to mention the homemade giant size cookies or the cupcakes? Oh mercy!!!

They open at 8 o’clock. A special breakfast awaits, I can tell.

The rest of the week will be much warmer and rainy. My quick trip home and back paralleled the AT. Spring is about a hundred miles south of us at the moment, and should catch up momentarily.

Of course the cats were delighted to see me. 🙂

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Blood Sacrifice

Bake Oven Knob Shelter, Penn., AT NOBO mile 1,245.9, Friday May 2, 2014 — One trail aphorism is that “the trail provides.” The corollary is that the trail also demands.

Me, I’ve been tempting rock fate, raiding lost shelters and walking on the knife edge (more on the last one later). Sooner or later I knew I’d have to pay. Today the bill came due.

Let’s set the stage. Eckville Shelter was a great place. There were four of us including a new personality trail named BUS – Big, Ugly and Slow. He’s a nice guy with whom I have a lot in common.

Following a convivial evening we rose this morning knowing we were facing some of Pennsylvania’s most challenging rocks including a feature known as the Knife Edge and the Bake Oven Knob. There also were plenty of “rock puddles” decorating the more common and otherwise brilliantly smooth stretches of super smooth pathway.

Early on we encountered a mean boulder field. While dancing through it I missed a step and slipped backward suffering a little rock burn on my elbow. It looks far worse than it is. I treated it with anticeptics and left it exposed to the air.

Sadly, the trail of trash continues. In PA the shelters tend to be close to roads which is the best explanation I can conjure .

All-in-all, a good day. The trail passes right by the Blue Mountain Summit restaurant. The portobello mushroom burger with Swiss cheese was yummy. So was the Coke.

So fortified, I managed to waddle over the Knife Edge and Bake Oven Knob without tossing my cookies — but barely.

Tonight’s accommodation is pretty rustic, even for the AT. We’ll correct that tomorrow.

Tomorrow is Palmerton where the city lets hikers stay and shower free in the “jail house hostel” located in the basement of city hall.

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Rock Taxonomy

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Tennessee Tripping Stone.

 

It’s ironic that, in comparison to one another, the Rocky Mountains aren’t and the Appalachians are. 

Put more directly, if the only rocks on the Appalachian Trail that hurt your feet were limited to Pennsylvania, then hiking the AT would be a piece of cake.  Unfortunately, ugly boot-eating rocks are everywhere throughout the length of the AT.  Even if you could run from them, you couldn’t hide.

On my recent 160-mile training hike, the southbounders regaled me with stories about under estimating Connecticut while bitching about New York, New Jersey and Maryland rocks, all  in the same breath.  Don’t even start them on New Hampshire and Maine.  Pennsylvania?  They described it as “average!”  Vermont seemed to be the only exception, but what kind of trade off is mud?

Late on day eight, a particularly rocky stretch on the steep down hill from Mary’s Rock (best view of the Shenandoah Valley) was eating my feet for lunch.  The trail was seriously rocky and my feet hurt like hell.  I still had four miles to go.

In the low angle light of the setting sun I glanced at my hiking poles and noticed a string of spider webs streaming from them like Tibetan prayer flags.  That would be serendipitous I thought. If my poles only had prayer wheels, I just might make it.  That’s when I began thinking about classifying the different kinds of rocks under my feet.

Rocks aren’t just rocks.  Each has a job and role to play as part of the trail.  The more benevolent among them are esthetic.  Usually covered in moss or lichens, they hang out like runway models along the sides of the tread.  Others tumble down talus fields or become giant boulders that frame the scenery.

As for the rest of them, well…  There are generic Pennsylvania grade rocks.  They primarily ensure that the trail surface is as uneven as possible with the idea of slowing down hikers.  Think of the as speed bumps. 

Among the most common are Tennessee Tripping Stones.  These are specially planted snaggle tooth rocks notable for their triangular shape resembling miniature Matterhorns.  They’re found randomly and with a surprising regularity.  When hidden among generic rocks or obscured by leaf litter, it’s easy for them to score stumbles and bruise toes.  The trail has teeth.

One of the least of my favorites are a certain kind of small loose rocks that cause very nasty falls.  When descending down hill, hikers have to put their weight on their lead foot.  If you happen to step on a round rock that acts much like a ball bearing, your downhill foot shoots out from under you, and you assume the telemark position in cross country skiing as your trailing knee dives into the trail.  Since I love compound German words, I made one up for these kind of rocks – kugellager steinen or ball bearing rocks – seems apropos. 

Along the way I found a few Shenandoah Stumbling Blocks.  This glorious style of coffee can-size stones appears randomly in hopes of hobbling, harassing and slowing.  They love to hide in leaf litter.

Then there are universal ankle rollers.  These you never see, but you know what happens. 

My least favorite is the Susquehanna Snot Slicker.  This type of stone is used almost exclusively for stream crossings.  Notable for their teflon-smooth convex surfaces, their dome shaped top ensures that hikers get a minimal grip on them.  Very slippery when dry, they’re slipperier than snot when wet.  Cross at your own risk.

But it doesn’t end there.  Terrible talus and pole benders are abundant too.  Get movin’ too fast when a pole bender traps your walking sticks, and Leki gets to gift you a new end segment ’cause the old one has just taken a 90 degree turn!

There must be more.  I heard about crazy capsizers – loose stones that turn over when you step on them, but I didn’t encounter any. 

BTW, it took my feet two full days to recover from the ride down Mary’s Rock.  Can’t wait to get back out there and make some tracks.  Sisu