AT Prep Hike #2—Adding Elevation to the Mix

In my last post, I shared that my first solo overnight AT prep hike consisted of a four-mile out-and-back effort in early May.  Two weeks later I’d return to the Massachusetts Berkshires and add distance and elevation.  Since my initial effort had an elevation gain of about seven hundred feet, I wanted to see how I’d adapt to a more challenging climb of 2600-foot Mount Everett.

I’m on the trail … and Then Lost in the Woods (??!!)

The trail departed Jug End Road at an elevation of about 850 feet and leveled out after a brief initial rise.  By previewing the route on my Guthook app, I anticipated a flat first half mile before a steep climb to Jug End peak.  However, what I didn’t anticipate was completely losing the trail before getting to the steep terrain.  Was this really happening?  Over the years I’d hiked several thousands of miles of trails and could never remember heading more than 15 or 20 steps off-trail.  Yet here I was, hiking the most famous footpath in America, completely unable to find the route forward.

Finding My Way – and Meeting My First Thru-Hikers!

After ten minutes of retracements and different routes, I realized that Guthook could at least directionally point me toward the trail.  God bless the precision of that app – I got much more insight than that!  About 200 feet back the trail took a sharp right that I had missed.  Some of the blocking deadwood had been moved aside from the false route.  I rebuilt the barrier to keep future climbers on the trail.  Soon after I was thrilled to meet two solo thru-hikers in rapid succession:

  • A white-haired bearded male likely in his 60s, on day 45 of a flip-flop hike that started in Virginia
  • A twenty-something female also on a flip-flop hike starting from Harpers Ferry, WV on April 15th

This was a totally unexpected event for me, and I seized the opportunity to spend several minutes in conversation with each hiker.  How were they feeling?  Had the weather been OK?  What type of shelter were they packing? I shared that I was in “early testing” for my own flip-flop thru-hike.  It’s hard to state just how uplifting those chance first encounters turned out to be.  Each of the hikers projected the positivity of their hikes and heaped encouragement on my plans.  Thanks to both of these anonymous trekkers!

Insights at the Campsite

I ultimately handled the uphill climb to Mount Everett pretty much in stride.  From north to south, the trail is very straight, gradual, and wooded.  Reaching Race Brook Falls campsite in mid-afternoon, I struggled a bit to piece together the layout, which differed greatly from the neatly contained locale of my first overnight hike.  The site straddled both sides of a trail.  Without a shelter building, there was no “people center” to the space.  Tent platforms were scattered all around the sloping site, and there was no visible water source.  I find it intriguing that an incongruous space can disrupt one’s mental comfort (no surprise to you Feng Shui or Marie Kondo devotees, I guess) – and I certainly experienced it here:

  • My hammock didn’t fit a lot of the tree distances or settings.  I settled for a slightly cramped, subpar setup at the edge of some denser trees.
  • Race Brook Falls was not the roaring whitewater stream I’d pictured.  This water source (once I located it) moved painfully slowly.  I gained quality reps using my Sawyer Squeeze filter – which was a necessity here.
  • Is it even feasible to call a place with no level ground a “campsite”?  Not a flat spot anywhere to set my stove on!

Positive Points …

Let me clarify that all-in-all this prep hike was quite pleasant and positive.  The ridgeline trail from Jug End peak southbound offered a refreshing breeze on a warm mostly cloudy day.  Blooming native plants and shrubs abounded, as did beautiful birdcalls throughout the walk.  Physically I’d handled the six-mile trek to camp so well that I opted to slackpack to Mount Race prior to dinner.  I was rewarded with beautiful open views from the ledges (pictured above).  And I’d certainly cherish those encouraging chats with real thru-hikers!

… And Lessons Learned

Ultimately here’s what I took away as lessons from AT prep hike #2:

  • I needed a larger, secure hammock tarp.  As the sun set that night, disruptive winds blitzed the treetops.  No rain came (mercifully), but my standard-sized tarp got whipped around all night like one of those air dancing tube men at a car dealership.  Do you picture people sleeping well under one of those things?  No.  And you shouldn’t.
  • Time to hit Amazon for some camp shoes.  As I scurried about at camp I noted oodles of smiling people with Tevas and Crocs on their feet—while my cramped feet were sadly bootbound until bedtime.  I’d be purchasing some water shoes for the next hike.
  • Late May in the New England woods requires DEET.  Though I’ve never been big on using bug spray, the ferocity of bugs on this late May trip made me realize I’d need to pack plenty of DEET on the trail.
  • Don’t underestimate the challenge of any terrain.  My climb of Mount Race and the day 2 climb back over Mount Everett proved to be tough and rocky, despite being relatively short elevation gains.  I’d pledge not to take these short scrambles lightly again.

I now felt ready to handle an even tougher two-night AT prep hike.  You’ll find out in my next post that I was quite wrong about that.

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