Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A finish in the rain in the dark

That's what I expected today.  The sun set at 7:35.  Headlamp on.  The rain began at 8PM.  I'll let my personal journal entry tell the story in its entirety ...

Monday, August 28, 2012:


I got up at 5:30 and did some hike preparations then made that drive, just three miles down to Elliottsville Rd and then 12 miles up that road and Bodfish Valley Road into the valley where the road becomes a private road open for public use. Right before it crosses Long Pond Stream I noted the tote road that crosses the AT. It was full of road-wide mud holes, so didn’t look very inviting to try to drive. I had instructions from the AT Parking and Access web site about a parking area on a side road that goes past Otter Pond. The instructions said this side road turns off 0.6 miles beyond the bridge over Long Pond Stream, so I headed on to look for that. Indeed there was a fairly minor looking but smooth side road at the 0.6 mile mark, and from it I did get glimpses of Otter Pond as I passed it. Well beyond the pond the road comes to an end at a turn-around loop just past a big grassy (not often used) parking area. I parked there, finished preparations, and was finally on the trail at 7:05AM.

I could have used that extra hour in which I slept, as it turns out, because the side trail (unmarked but clear and obvious, and reasonably well used and maintained) doesn’t go straight up along Long Pond Stream as I had (lacking any information) expected. Instead it veers more right and climbs 300 feet. There was also a fork in the trail, but that turned out to be right near the AT, so surely both forks lead there. I took the left fork because I wanted to get going left (southbound on the AT) as quickly as I could, since based on my elevation I had to be a mile farther north on the AT than I had planned for (making a long day even longer).

The trail information from the web site said that the access trail was 0.8 miles long, and that was accurate. I was finally headed south on the AT at 7:30 and almost immediately came upon the side trail to the Long Pond Stream Lean-To. It was good to know exactly where I was, but the news confirmed that I had a full extra mile to hike both ways today. And as I got into the hike it was clear that these miles were not going to go by fast. There was the usual mix of rough footing in boggy areas and rocky areas - some serious reminders of Pennsylvania and others of the Whites. There were three fords to accomplish, requiring changing into my Crocs each time, plus a couple of minor ridges to climb and descend from.

Walk along an exposed slate ridge

Little Wilson Falls
In all, it was pretty interesting hiking, though. The fords broke things up and the ridges provided some views. There were also three pretty decent waterfalls including Little Wilson Falls, with very angular slate over which it flows, and a sixty foot vertical drop, which the guide info says is one of the highest falls along the AT.

I met two pairs of thru-hikers whom I’d met before in previous days (hadn’t known that either of them were actually thru-hiking until today, though). One was a husband-wife team, fortyish. The husband didn’t admit it, but he was soaking wet when I met them above the ford of Big Wilson stream, which is very wide, and fairly deep, and I found required great care placing every footstep in order to avoid the big rounded very slippery rocks. I’m sure the man fell while making that ford, and on my return trip another guy was crossing with his dog and he also fell and got totally drenched. I was lucky enough to stay dry both ways there and on the other fords as well.

Big Wilson Stream ford
The other thru-hiking pair I met were two women who had told me on a previous encounter that they attended the AT anniversary dinner at Sugarloaf. They are ‘Rainbow’, age 52 and ‘Mammaw B’ from Tennessee, age 71. They met on the trail, having left Springer March 15th and March 5th respectively. Rainbow had pulled a groin muscle near Sugarloaf and was going very slowly, but determined to finish the rest of the trail – she is so close. I asked how they fared in Mahoosuc Notch. Rainbow said it took them about 4 hours to get through, but she loved it. I met her (separate from Mammaw B) right beside Mud Pond (my turn-around point) so had a chance to talk with her twice in quick succession.

I reached my specific turn-around point at 2:10PM – seven hours of hiking. Projecting that forward it would mean I would return to my van at 9:10PM, well after dark. Furthermore there was a cold front coming and I fully expected to be hiking in rain by sometime in the afternoon. But the weather held off longer than I expected and I hurried a bit to get back—mostly motivated by the desire to make my final ford of Long Pond Stream before it got dark.

I succeeded in that, reaching there at 7:05PM (sunset is now 7:25). The sky was finally starting to look a little threatening by then, but I considered myself blessed that it ‘waited’ that long.

It took me exactly an hour from then until I was finally back to my parking spot. And amazingly it just started raining as I reached the turn-around loop. This seems to happen to me more often than pure chance could account for—I literally pulled myself into my vehicle and shut the door as the rain got heavy. Another thirty seconds and I would have been good and wet. Exactly the same thing happened at Davenport Gap (Smoky Mountain Park) well after dark, and at Deep Gap as I came up from the south on April 1st. And in both of those cases, just as today, rain was expected much earlier.

Maybe I’m selectively looking for patterns – yesterday’s total downpour certainly didn’t come at any convenient point in my hike (such as reaching a shelter)—but it’s an interesting pattern to talk about nonetheless.


So yes, I finished in the rain and in the dark, just as expected, but still felt like I dodged a bullet.


Here's the map of today's route and a link to more photos:

AT Day 217 - Little Wilson Falls at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Maine

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