Logistics or Long Trail Day 0

Living life as a New Yorker, I don’t have a car. While this is fine for city living, it makes getting to and from trail heads logistically difficult. Five buses kind of difficult.

Today J-Dub and I started our day at beautiful Port Authority in Midtown Manhattan. We took a 7:45am bus to Springfield making our first connection of the day on an Albany bound bus.

Mural of black historic figures from Springfield and greater New England. The figures are arranged as passengers on a train. The background is blue.

This all went surprisingly well. In fact, we were ahead of schedule on both buses which is something that doesn’t normally happen on interstate bus rides. Perhaps I should have guessed that this would lead to trouble later (as all things must balance out), but delighted by the time we set off into Pittsfield.

A hiker walks in the foreground of a brick building, small town downtown. The sky is blue and a church steeple can be seen in the background.

J-Dub on North Street in Pittsfield

Our first stop was to our old neighborhood ice cream shop, Dairy Cone. This was the place we’d go to after games, on lazy summer afternoons, or just for a quick treat. In my opinion, it’s still the best soft serve there is, though admittedly all that sugar does have hints of nostalgia for me that make it extra sweet.

Dairy Cone Ice Cream in Pittfield with white exterior and red roof.

Dairy Cone Ice Cream in Pittsfield

We passed through our old neighborhood, Morningside, and made our way to a new fixture: the Berkshire Roots dispensary. Having been to some other dispensaries in the state, believe the hype! The staff were all friendly, helpful and kind and the store itself had some beautiful decor.

Our plan after these stops was to take a Lyft or Uber to the trailhead. Seemed simple enough. I’ve managed to find rides in locales much more rural than the city of Pittsfield, but when I checked there were no cars available. This was unexpected and threw a wrench in our timeline, but with nothing to do but press on we got on the Berkshire Regional Bus line the BBus, and made our way to Williamstown.

The first shelter on the Long Trail heading North is the Seth Warner Shelter. From the bus stop including the Pine Cobble Trail to access the LT, we’d be 6.8 miles away with about two hours of sunlight and no trail legs. It became apparent we needed a new plan.

Two hiking backpacks fully loaded are taking up a wooden bus station bench.

Our packs resting on a bus station bench

We considered heading to the Sherman Brook campsite on the Appalachian Trail in Massachusetts, it’d be a bit closer to a bus stop and then give us a running start the next day. But even that would be a two mile hike and with the bubble of AT thru-hikers in the area there’d be no guarantee of tenting sites.

On the bus to North Adams, J-Dub remembered that a local art gallery in Williamstown The Mountain Goat Artisans allowed hikers to camp for free in their backyard. Or at least, they used to. He had stayed there a few years back when he hiked the Taconic Crest Trail.

A short phone call with the owner assured that they do, in fact, still allow hikers to stay! So our plan was set.

It took $10.00 each and three bus transfers (a total of five in eleven hours on the day), but we found ourselves in downtown Williamstown, a preppy, brick lined, New England college town.

After a quick walk to the gallery we set up in the backyard, able to get our tents up in between evening storms.

Two tents, one yellow and gray the other bright green, on a level lawn. Trees can be seen in the background and the ground is wet with rain.

Tenting in the Mountain Goat Backyard

The yard is really quite lovely and the situation turned out as well as possible. The Hoosic River runs behind it.

We were also able to hit the town for some fish and chips at the Purple Pub! An added bonus before digging into our dehydrated food.

Tomorrow we start off on the Long Trail, for real

A plate of fish and chips with two fried pieces of cod on top of a pile of french fries

A plate of fish and chips from the Purple Pub in Williamstown

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Mail Drop Pros & Woes

August 7th J-Dub and I set out for a Northbound thru-hike of the Long Trail.This thru-hike is my first time sending mail drops. While it’s a fairly simple task (pack boxes, address them to yourself, ship them, pick them up) there are a few things I would do differently next time.

Hiking bag hangs in the background with a rolled up sleeping bag and tent on top of three white USPS flat rate boxes. In front of the boxes are a Long Trail guide and map.

Mail Drops ready to be sent ahead for our Long Trail hike

One of our big focuses on this trip is nutrition. We want to eat right, not gourmet, but less candy bars (still some candy bars though because let’s be real) and more nutrient rich foods. You know, protein, fiber, vitamins, all those things you can pretty readily pull out of your fridge at home.Mail Drops were one way we could control our menu. We’ll shop at stores in towns for junk food, some snacks, and other in-between stuff, but the drops will have our breakfasts, lunches, trail mixes, protein, and dinners in them.Budget was another consideration, but I’d say this one is a toss up.While its nice to have a majority of the spending out of the way, shipping yourself food certainly has a price. We’re using three medium sized, flat-rate USPS boxes so we’ll pay about $45 to ship. There’s also the upfront cost of purchasing which, for me in NYC, might not necessarily even out in comparison to buying groceries in Vermont.The food for each box contain 5 dinners, 5 lunches, 15 bars (a mix of meal replacement for breakfast, energy, and protein) and a bag of homemade trail mix. In total each box weighs about ten pounds which might seem like a lot to some hikers, but I like to snack on the trail.

On a wooden table there is a full spread of hiking food including quick cooking meals, dried fruit, protein bars, tuna packets, wraps, and dollar bills

Full Spread of a Long Trail Mail Drop

In terms of logistics, a useful guide online for mail drops can be found on LongTrailVermont.com and there is also one in the End-to-Ender’s GuideEnd-to-Ender’s Guide published by the Green Mountain Club if you opt to purchase that book.I recommend calling ahead to double check post office hours and also calling or emailing ahead with businesses to double check their hours and shipping preferences, though many that cater to hikers already have that listed online.Addressing the boxes themselves write:

Your Name

General Delivery- Hold for Long Trail Hiker

Town Name, VT Zip Code

ETA: Date You Expect to Pick Up Package

A recommendation LongTrailVermont.com had was to personalize your box. You can get as wild or tame as you want with it, but I just simply put my initials in sharpie on the sides so it would be easy for me to spot in case there are a lot at some of the bigger resupply stops like Manchester Center and Rutland.

Three stacked USPS flat rate boxes to be sent as Long Trail mail drops. The boxes have initials in blue sharpie on their sides.

Initialed Long Trail mail drops

I put the boxes together in four layers:

Along with the food, you’ll notice I put some money in as well. Each box has $10 in various bill arrangements. I’ll have my debit and credit card on me, but have found it’s to have cash on hand when hiking, especially since some of the shelters and campgrounds along the Long Trail might require a small fee or donation. Other non-edible items that some later boxes have are body glide, tooth paste, and new sets of plastic forks and spoons.

We shipped ours out two weeks before leaving to start the hike on August 7th.

In terms of what I wish I’d done differently:

I wish I had been a bit more methodical. I bought a bunch of food first and then tried to fill the boxes. While it worked out with the major meals, I have a comical amount of protein bars, cliff/energy bars, and trail mix supplies left over. Those will still go to good use, but were an unnecessary expense.If I had packed a box at a time, I imagine I could have been more thoughtful with the process. I might have taken a more holistic approach to rationing the trip instead of trying to fill each box like a Christmas stocking.

A big pile of various protein bars spread across a wooden table.

Leftover protein bars

I also would have set a separate food budget ahead of time. It’s great have the grocery shopping and spending done upfront, but with free reign to buy any snacks I wanted I definitely gave myself room to splurge. If I had thought it through a bit, maybe using my weekly NYC grocery budget as a guide line, I probably could have saved some money, time, and excess.

Another thing J-Dub has pointed out to me, as the more experienced one with this situation, is that you can’t really pin-point what you’ll be bored of and what you’ll have an appetite for two weeks into a trail from the comfort of your couch. I tried the best I could to anticipate my cravings, but I’ll report back on how I did after the trip!

-Babysteps

Bear Mountain

I wanted to climb Bear Mountain again after the section hike with J-Dub. The views for us were all clouded in then and I knew the area was a popular spot because of it’s vistas.I recruited my friend Ranger Rick and we set out to on a crisp fall day from Manitou Station.

Rather than linking up to the AT at the small, Manitou Road crossing like we did for Anthony’s Nose, Rick and I decided to try the road walk down Route 9D. While this is what many people say to do, I wouldn’t recommend it. It was a busy road with narrow, and at points no, shoulder and many of the people driving the day we went out were leaf peepers zooming around the curvy mountain road.

I’d much rather navigate the back roads and spend some extra AT miles!

Bear Mountain bridge was a blustery, cold crossing though the views up and down the river made up for the chill a bit.

We followed the AT through the Bear Mountain Zoo and around Hessian Lake then took it up for our Bear Mountain climb.

It was nice doing this on a clear day! Even though the vistas on the way up were usually crowded with other hikers and tourists (Fall in the Hudson Valley afterall!) there were a lot of great quick views between tree breaks that made the whole trek up lovely.

Unlike when I tackled this in section-hiker mode with J-Dub, Ranger Rick and I took our time up making a snack stop and pausing to take photos at over looks.

The summit of Bear Mountain was really something, not only was clear enough to see the New York City skyline, but we had an unfettered view of much of the Hudson Valley up and down the river!

We took the Major Welch Trail down to switch it up and it wasn’t what I expected. While going down wasn’t too difficult, we just need to take our time, going up the Major Welch would be a real beast! There are some serious rock scrambles that had a lot of people turning around and heading back who weren’t prepared. So take the signs seriously!

Only head up this trail if you’re ready to do some hard hiking!

Major Welch ends at a tranquil side of Hessian Lake, away from the more touristy, picnic area.

Ranger Rick and I took a little lunch break here before heading back over Bear Mountain Bridge and up the Appalachian Trail to Manitou.

The day ending climb back up the AT to the Anthony’s Nose turn was difficult, especially after all the mileage we’d put in, but it was definitely worth it not to deal with the road walk again.

All in all, Ranger Rick’s phone tracked that it was a 12.5 mile day in and out for us! I definitely felt it as I was dozing in and out of sleep on the train ride back into the city.

-Babysteps

AT Section: Bear Mountain and Harriman

Jdub came into New York City for this section hike. While coming to the country’s largest city to get out into the wilderness sounds counter-intuitive, there are actually a couple of ways to access the Appalachian Trail right from New York City. We planned a 23.1 mile hike, starting at Manitou Rd and ending on Harriman State Park’s Sapphire Trail* which leads down to the Harriman train station.

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We set out on a Saturday morning, taking the Metro-North from Harlem to Manitou. While the weather report had said it would be a clear weekend, a light mist started in the morning and held up all day. After a fairly short, but very uphill, road walk to the trail head at Manitou Road we started on the trail.

We passed popular day hiking spots: Anthony’s Nose, Bear Mountain Bridge, Hessian Lake, Bear Mountain, and had a lot of foot traffic out with us. In fact, much of this first piece of the hike felt like an urban hike. It wasn’t really until Bear Mountain that we stayed consistently on park land. A lot of people also came out unprepared for the weather and the terrain and there was a good amount of stop and go as people asked us for advice or to double check that they were on the right trail.

 

Bear Mountain was a great climb! The new stairs and trail work that the New York New Jersey Trail Council finished were wonderful and we made our way up without a stop. Since the views were all clouded in on this hike, I fully intend on returning for a day hike up the peak to try and catch some of these clouded in vistas.

Though there weren’t views at the summit, there were vending machines (that took credit card!) and for our first long break of the day that felt pretty good!

From Bear Mountain we pushed on all the way to the Brian Williams Memorial shelter, getting in close to sunset. This made our first trail day a 12.6 mile day, not including the close to mile of road walking off the train.

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The shelter had a yellow blazed trail that apparently led “45 minutes” down to a parking lot. That ease of access made the shelter pretty crowded with over night campers, some of whom didn’t have the best trail manners.

They also didn’t know where the water source for the shelter was, which was something J-Dub and I needed when we first arrived. We eventually found it with the help of some campers who were hammocking near the source.

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This would prove a kind of perennial problem through our hike. There were a lot of great streams and sources throughout on trail in Harriman, but at the shelter sites them selves water seemed questionable or, at least, hard to access.

Got a fairly early start and made our way to Fingerboard shelter for a mid-morning rest. With the sky starting clear a bit we decided to layout our gear and try to dry it while we ate lunch.

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Pressing on from Fingerboard, we encountered the famous Lemon Squeezer. The access to it coming Southbound proved treacherous from the wet weather. We had a 4-5 foot drop, which wouldn’t have been bad if it wasn’t a drop from slick rock onto more slick rock with a rolling hillside we’d go down we you took a misstep.

 

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It took us a few slow tries but we made it down and then through the Squeezer! This is another popular day hike section with shuttles and buses that’ll take you to the trail head close to it so we once again encountered some foot traffic and a lot of day hikers out and about.

We pressed on and went up  the aptly named Agony Grind right around sunset. While the Lemon Squeezer stayed pretty slick, the clearing weather dried up much of the scramble on Agony Grind, which was a good thing because wet that climb would have felt near impossible, it was exhausting enough when dry. The climb gave us our first and only vista of the hike though and at sunset it was well worth it.

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We found a camp site near the Sapphire trail which was our way out and spent another night out in Harriman. In the morning we got up and made pretty quick work of the blue blazed Sapphire Trail.

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Sapphire trailhead photo by Babysteps

It was fairly pleasant terrain, a lot of rock hopping across streams and access road walking, that dropped us right at the parking lot of Harramin Station in time to catch the 10:30 train back to New York City.

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-Words by Babysteps, Photos (unless otherwise noted) by J-Dub

*Mileage and location notes based on AWOL’s Applachian Trail Northbound guide 2018

Anthony’s Nose

I had heard a lot about Anthony’s Nose from friend’s in the city who hike. Like Breakneck Ridge it’s a pretty popular day hike because it’s a short walk from a Metro-North Station. I went with my friend Ranger Rick on a Sunday day hike.

According to AWOL’s 2018 Northbound The A.T. Guide the hike from the Maintou Rd (Really South Mountain Road, I believe) to the Camp Smith Trail is one mile. Anthony’s Nose is a short hike down the blue blazed Camp Smith Trail. However, accessing the trail from the Metro-North involves a pretty steep road walk from Manitou Station.

To get to the trail head from the city, take the Metro-North towards Poughkeepsie and get off at Manitou. It’s a tiny stop with a station hut and a few houses right next to the Hudson River. You’ll need to be in the back car in order to get off, but most of the conductors are good at announcing reminders.

Follow Manitou Station road all the way up to route 9D. It’ll be your busiest crossing (everything else are side roads or private drive ways) and there will be a New York State historical marker for the chain across the Hudson during the Revolutionary War.

A lot of people recommend following 9D to a trailhead on the southside of the mountain, I do not.

Instead, cross 9D and stay on the gravel Manitou Road. Keep following it and make sure you don’t end up on some of the private drive ways that look a bit like roads. At your next intersection you’ll turn right onto South Mountain Pass. You’ll start walking uphill and go by Fern Hill Rd and High Ridge Rd following a brook all the way up.

You’ll start seeing some Appalachian Trail boundary markers and then your first blaze will be right at a little pull off about two cars wide.

Head onto the trail, past the car gate and follow the Appalachian Trail until you hit the junction with the blue blazed Camp Smith Trail.

Follow the Camp Smith Trail about 0.6 miles to the view, passing some smaller views and little pond along the way,

Anthony’s Nose gives you a cool vantage of Bear Mountain Bridge and Bear Mountain itself as well as views down the Hudson back toward New York City.

-Babysteps

Shorakapok Rock

Inwood Hill Park holds a tiny landmark of both local and national significance.

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As the plaque describes: According to legend, on this site… Peter Minult in 1626, purchased Manhattan island.

Inwood Hill Park, or the Shorakapok Preserve, was the summer fishing ground of the Lenape tribe with whom the Dutch traded. This is evidenced by the caves, still intact in the park today, which were seasonal homes for the Lenape people. While history might never know the exact spot of the transaction, it’s a good guess that it may have happened somewhere in this park.

Shorakapok Rock is short walk from the 207th street stop on the A train and a bit longer of a walk from the 207th stop on the 1. There are also a few bus options including the BX 12-SBS which runs through the Bronx to Inwood. The rock is also marked on the Inwood Hill Park Map, so if you can make your way to any park entrance, you’ll be able to navigate over to the site.

Next time you’re in NYC and want to find a tourist spot a little off the beaten path, head uptown and check out Shorakapok Rock!

-Babysteps

Sources

http://myinwood.net/the-indian-caves-of-inwood-hill-park/

https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/inwood-hill-park

Charles River Walk

Back in April my friend CJ and I took a 9.4 mile hike along the Charles River Reservation from Watertown, MA into downtown Boston. We followed the Charles River on both sides passing through Watertown, Brighton, Allston, Cambridge, and Back Bay in our route into and out of Boston.

The walk took us about three and half hours both ways, seven total, as we took our time enjoying the various sites and terrain along the way.

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-Babysteps

Flying with Hiking Gear

I often travel to do my hiking. For example, this summer I went to North Carolina to hike in Nantahala with J-Dub.

Even if you’re a seasoned flyer, traveling with hiking gear has a bit of a learning curve so I wanted to share what I’ve experienced along the way.

Most airlines have a page that l specifically break downs their carry-on requirements. For example, I fly Delta frequently, so here’s their special items page: https://www.delta.com/content/www/en_US/traveling-with-us/baggage/before-your-trip/special-items.html

The “Sports Equipment” page contains a lot of outdoor sports info, including the fact that folding kayaks are allowed as a carry-on.

What about trekking poles? The TSA clears that up fairly succinctly:

I also like to cover the tips of my poles with a little clump of medical tape. In this way my gear is protected and if I happen across a stickler of an agent when checking in, it shows I’ve given safety some forethought. Another thing some people use are tennis balls with little slits cut into them, but I think tape works fine and comes off easily after landing.

For a lot of gear needs, the TSA actually offers a couple useful guides including this “Travel Tips for Backpackers, Campers and Fishers”“Travel Tips for Backpackers, Campers and Fishers” and “Safely Packing Batteries for Your Trip” which explains what you can do with rechargeable batteries as well as extra batteries for your headlamp and other electric gear.

When it comes to my pack, I feel safest checking it in a larger piece of luggage with my other gear.

I like to take everything big out and use them to kind of cushion my actual pack. For example, I put my sleeping bag, tent, rain coat, etc. into my luggage first to make a little nest for my pack. Then on top of my pack I place my clothes, both hiking and casual to protect the top of the back.

In terms of little stuff: compass, water filter, croakies and a case for my glasses, and what have you, I’ll put those into the pack along with anything fragile (ish) so that they don’t get misplaced and moved around too much.

Ultimately, travel how you feel most comfortable. If you check with your airline and your pack can be carried on then by all means, do so! The fact that trekking poles have to be checked is a little tricky, but maybe you can borrow a pair wherever you’re venturing off to!

And if anyone reading this has any other helpful hints or even just fun TSA stories, feel free to share in the comments!

-Babysteps (Feature photo by J-Dub)

AT Section Hike: VT 30 to Bennington

Summer of 2017 J-Dub and I decided to hike a section of Vermont. I heard a lot about the state, from the wild, wet Vermud stories, to the gorgeous, iconic mountains. I was excited to get out on this section of the trail!

We choose this in part because of the accessibility to public transit, we were leaving from a family house in Pittsfield, MA and could take a series of buses to Manchester, VT to pick up the trail. In fact, we could have taken buses all the way up to Rutland, the junction of Appalachian Trail and Long Trail, but decided to reign in our four wheeled travel a bit.

Getting to Manchester proved to be it’s own little adventure! Leaving Pittsfield at 5:30am we caught the first of five buses. In total we would used three different regional, transit authorities, across two states, for a total of six hours. The total cost: $6.50! Affordability aside, it was much more pleasant travel than, say, a Greyhound or Peter Pan and riding along back roads and into town centers provided a wonderful peak into the life of rural New England.

Once in Manchester, we made a quick stop at the New Balance outlet for some camps shoes then caught a ride to the trail head with a volunteer firefighter named Todd. Ticks had been a serious concern of ours, going as far as to spray permetherin on our gear, and while Todd acknowledged that ticks were bad this year, he felt that we’d be in high enough altitude that ticks wouldn’t be too big a concern. This was nice reassurance coming from a first responder.

We hiked a short 2.8 miles to Spruce Peak Shelter. We considered hiking on, but this was a beautifully constructed, fully enclosed, cabin shelter with an amazing water source and after six hours of bus travel, it didn’t take much more than that to convince me to stay.

We settled in, gathered water, and made a nice little fire. Even though it was summer, there was a definite chill in the air, especially in the night and early morning, with all of the rain. J-Dub taught me some tricks to start fires with wet materials, my favorite being birch bark.

An AT thru-hiker named Joker came into the shelter right around the time we got the fire going. While Todd might have set our minds at ease a bit about the ticks, Joker confirmed something we had been reading about on AT forums, that there was a nuisance bear coming into shelters further up the trail. Joker told us that this bear came into the shelter where he was sleeping, and while he and his gear were fine, other hikers lost food, water, and even entire packs to the bear!

J-Dub wanted to learn the PCT bear bagging technique (supposed to be the most efficient hanging method) and now this hike now seemed like the ideal time to test it out! Joker, who knew and used the PCT method, took the time to help us practice it.

The night got very chilly and my summer sleeping bag wasn’t cutting it. All bundled up I woke up cold, so J-Dub and I got an early start to get our body heat going. We made it to Prospect Rock a little after sunrise and were rewarded with a gorgeous view of the valley below.

The trail then ran through Lye Brook Wilderness. This was my first introduction to Vermud. The rain made mucky puddles, small bogs, and little brooks out of every inch of the trail. We maneuvered through the muck for 7.7 miles then stopped early to camp at the Stratton Pond tent sites.

The tenting area is off the North Shore Trail, a 0.5 mile hike off trail, but was definitely well worth it! The view of Stratton Mountain overlooking the pond is something I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

The sites are on an island in the pond, only connected to the mainland by a series of planks. There were a series of afternoon thunderstorms rolling in about every hour or so. After the last, and most violent, of the storms the sky cleared up and we were able to go down to the pond to see an array of stars over and reflected in Stratton Pond. It was an unbelievable spot and one of the highlights of my section hiking career so far.

Another cold night. Morning forced me to test some different tricks to get my body heat up and make my bag the most effective. Ultimately, I found that sleeping naked kept me warmest, which, though something widely accepted, felt counter intuitive to me until I actually tried it. The summer sleeping bag was still not the best, but letting my body use it’s own heat made it tenable.

Getting another early start, we climbed a fogged in Stratton Mountain. I was excited to climb the fire tower, but I suppose I’ll have to come back to have another crack at it (and probably also stay at those tent sites).

Since meeting Joker at Spruce Peak Shelter we had been getting mixed reports of this rouge bear. However, the hikers who did have run-ins with it were usually staying at either Story Spring Shelter or Kid Gore Shelter, so this seemed to be it’s territory. Our plan for the day was to do a 15.1 mile day and end at Kid Gore Shelter, so it seemed like we might have to tangle with the bear.

About 10.5 miles in we stopped for a snack and water refill at Story Spring Shelter and were warned by a group of hikers that a bear had just crashed their lunch break at Kid Gore! Apparently they attempted to scare it away, but three hikers clanging trekking poles, standing tall, and yelling, didn’t even phase it. This put a wrench in our plans.

We debated pushing onto Goddard shelter, but this would add another 4.3 miles onto our biggest day yet and also send us up Glastenbury Mountain, our second biggest climb of the section. We decided not to push our bodies and still camp at Kid Gore.

I’m glad we did! Kid Gore and the Caughnawaga tent sites are an amazing location with view right through a mountain valley. As if that wasn’t enough beauty, the shelter and sites are east facing meaning you catch a sunrise when you wake up.

The night passed without incident and weather wise, it was the first mild night and morning of the trip. We woke up with our food supplies intact and took our time hiking 12.8 miles to the Melville Nauheim shelter.

We went over Glastenbury Mountain in the morning and while I might have missed Stratton’s tower, Glastenbury had an amazing, panoramic view of the surrounding mountains.

We got to Mevlille Nauheim in good time, but rather than pushing into town and finishing early we decided to camp for the night. The shelter is a nice, standard, bunk style shelter with a picnic table and there are plenty of good tenting sites around as well. Also, a great, little stream for the water source that’s only a short walk from the shelter.

Melville Nauheim put us a short 1.6 miles from the Route 9 parking lot, where we could get into Bennington, and getting an early start the next day would allow us to make a full travel day and account for wacky, regional bus schedules.

Another mild night passed and we were up and ready to catch the 8:35 MOOver bus (which is free from the parking lot!) to the Bennington bus terminal. The MOOver driver gave us a complimentary transfer pass (more freebies!) for the Williamstown, MA bus we needed. This bus didn’t leave until 2pm however, so we took some time to explore Bennington and eat some delicious fish and chips!

Despite the rain and mud, or perhaps because of all the rain and mud, Vermont was incredible and lived up to all the hiking hype I had heard about it. Vermont both challenged and inspired me. I’m excited to keep returning and exploring and next time I’ll be sure to bring a warmer sleeping bag!

-Babysteps (words) & J-Dub (images)

** All mileage in the post is based on Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Appalachian Trail Guide New Hampshire-Vermont 12th Edition

Appalachian Trail: NOC to Wayah Bald

This summer J-Dub and I set out on a 17.2 mile hike* in the Nantahala National Forest, going from the Nantahala Outdoor Center, or NOC, to the Summit of Wayah Bald.

We drove up to the NOC the morning of our first day out and parked in the “basecamp” parking lot. Not only was this a convenient spot, right in the heart of the outdoor center, but it didn’t have any parking or overnight fees!

By the time we parked and got ourselves set, the midday heat had set in. It was a slow and sweaty 5.7 miles from the Nantahala Outdoor Center to the Wesser Bald shelter. At Wesser Bald shelter we got the scoop from Weatherman (hiking with his son Rocko and two dogs) that the storm window for these mountains is between 2:00pm and 5:00pm. Given that he is an NOAA meteorologist, we took his word for it and picked back up around 5:00pm to climb up to the Wesser Bald fire tower. Debated staying, but pushed on to a nice little camping spot right off trail after stopping to admire the panoramic views the Wesser fire tower offers.

Woke up early and made good time getting down into Telico Gap. Met a shuttle driver named Ron in the Telico Gap parking lot who gave us a recommendation for a shuttle driver in the Wayah Bald area named Beverly. Shuttle drivers were a big part of the trail talk on this hike. Over the course of our hike we were regularly given recommendations and numbers of shuttle drivers from other hikers we encountered.The past few sections we’ve done have put us in thru-hiking bubbles, but being around a lot of section hikers meant that we were around people who needed rides back to their parked cars or public transit.

After meeting Ron, we began heading back up Telico Gap. We stopped for water in a campsite about halfway up then continued onto Cold Spring campgrounds. Along the way to Cold Spring we made a quick stop at the summit of Rocky Bald for the beautiful vista at the summit and chatted with some trail crews who were maintaining the area.

Cold Spring shelter was a small, older shelter. There was already a group of three hikers staying in it and they were waiting on a fourth. However, the shelter and the aptly named water source were right on trail which was nice. This was a trend I noticed about all the shelters, campgrounds, and water we encountered in this section, they were all right along the trail and didn’t have long access or side trails to them.

We ended up stopping for the day at the Cold Spring campsite a short walk from the shelter itself. The site had lovely views along a cliff face only a few feet away from the tenting sites. I spent all day admiring it, but especially loved the sunset. We also made time to call Beverly, recommended to us by Ron in Telico Gap, and schedule our pick-up on Wayah Bald.

Early start again out of Cold Spring camp. Made quick work of the 5 miles into Wayah Bald shelter. We stopped for the day, intending to catch the sunrise on top of Wayah Bald before our morning shuttle out. With time to kill, we tidied up the shelter with some brooms that were provided. A party of three came through the site in mid-afternoon and joined us in the shelter. They were a fun crew, two older gentlemen hiking from Springer through the Smokies and the daughter of one joining the pair for the Smokies.

A little later in the afternoon rain came and brought a chill with it, but also the relaxing sound of rain on a tin roof. Around sunset, two hikers came running through the rain! We had to shift our sleeping arrangements around so that all seven of us could fit into the shelter and stay dry.

5:30am wake up. About 1 mile uphill to the summit and fire tower of Wayah Bald. Made it with two minutes to spare! Amazing sunrise. Clouds filling the valley, red, hazy light marking the path of the sun. The mountains all around coming slowly into focus as cloud cover burnt off.

Beverly met us promptly at 8:30am and had a full shuttle and schedule. We got a small taste of what this business looked like, Beverly had her car set up with a Bluetooth so that she could seamlessly take new pick-ups while driving her current customers. On the day she was shuttling us she had another two, and not just in the area, but calls that would take her as far as Davenport and Fontana Dam in the same day.

Ended the trip with pizza and wings at the NOC, watching people white water down the Nantahala River from a shaded patio and enjoying the festivities before heading down the mountains back home.

-Babysteps (words) & J-Dub (Photos)

*distance measured using the ATC map Nantahala National Forest Bly Gap to Fontana Dam 2008 edition and cross referenced with AT Distance Calculator [http://www.atdist.com/atdist]