Washed Out in Devil’s Gulch: Long Trail Day Three
I wake up to the sound of rain on the tin roof of the lodge.
A lot of rain. Normally this would have been a welcome sound, the sound that foreshadows snuggling down in bed and cups of tea and a good book. Not so when you’re a hiker. Not so when you live outside. Whatever Mother Nature decides to give you, you get up and you hike through it. Sometimes you enjoy your day, sometimes you endure it.
I do not want to drag my aching body out of bed, and Dobby seems to share my sentiment. The couple on their honeymoon have the same destination as me today, and I look forward to seeing them again this evening. Once again I am the last to leave camp.
We begin our day with a climb to the top of Belvidere Mountain.
Belvidere Mountain has a fire tower and what I imagine is a beautiful view. Not so today; with all the rain the top of the mountain is in a cloud. We call this “socked in,” though I have no idea from where that terminology originates. A quick Google search provides:
It is a term dating back to 1944. It’s basically derived from pilots and traffic control workers. The thought is, while looking across the airport runway to check out the “windsock” to see which way the wind is blowing, if you can not see the windsock, you are “socked in” with clouds and have no business flying.
I skip the fire tower, which is a 0.2 mile walk off the trail each way.
I am finding as I hike that sometimes the Long Trail is also a creek.
Or a river, stream, brook, etc. Today is no exception. Hours of rain have turned the trail into a rushing river, and as I round a corner I find myself facing a drop down off of a rock into rushing water up to my mid-thigh (I’m five and a half feet tall). There is nothing for it but to endure. This is the way the trail goes and so we will go. Once I am in the water, I turn to Dobby still up on the rock. He is taking turns glancing at the water and staring at me with a look I can only categorize as incredulity. His tail drooping, he seems to say, Mom, there’s no way I’m getting in that.
Dobby does not swim. He’s capable of swimming but he does not do so by choice; he’s more of a race-through-the-shallows-kicking-up-water kind of dog. It takes a serious amount of coaxing and quite a bit of pleading to convince him to take the plunge into the water. I hold onto the handle on Dobby’s Ruffwear pack to keep him from being swept back against the rock. We walk in the river for perhaps 50 yards, just long enough to get thoroughly soaked by the rushing water. Thanks to an Osprey pack cover, my pack is the only thing that is still dry.
When I reach a road crossing a few miles later, I find a note for me pinned above the logbook from the honeymoon couple. They decided to hitch into a nearby town and get out of the rain. Since their car is also located in the town, they left their phone numbers and offered me a ride should I need one.
After the road crossing, the Long Trail climbs up to the Ritterbush Lookout.
I know there will be nothing to see from the lookout but more clouds and Dobby is clearly not a happy camper. His tail and ears are drooped down and he walks right beside or behind me instead of his usual racing back and forth. With a glance at the map I decide to take the Babcock Trail, an alternate route around the lookout that seems flatter but is the same length. This decision actually leads to a view. The trail stays lower in elevation and winds around Big Muddy Pond, an area surrounded by colorful trees resplendent in fall foliage.
Overall, the trail is relatively easygoing until we reach Devil’s Gulch.
I would love to return to this place for a day hike; the area actually seems really neat. But not in the rain, not with a pack on. Today Devil’s Gulch is hell on earth for us. The gulch begins with a wood ladder Dobby has to find a way to climb around. I have to help him in one spot by grasping the handle on his pack and giving him a boost as he jumps. Dobby has proven himself very athletic these first few days on the trail and handles most terrain better than I could have hoped.
The poorly blazed Devil’s Gulch requires me to scale rocks to see if I am traveling in the right direction before I get Dobby to follow me. The rain is still coming down, making all the mossy rocks incredibly slippery. We walk through a tall cave formed by two rocks leaning against one another, then see a blaze at the top of the gulch. “Looks like we’re going up,” I tell Dobby. He looks concerned.
We scale slippery boulders, one after another, leaning against one another like increasingly tall dominoes. I would not call Devil’s Gulch dog-friendly; as we ascend to the lip of the gulch I have to carry Dobby in several places, cursing the rain and the cold all the while.
The last boulder is 12 feet of almost vertical smooth stone.
There are a few cracks for hand and footholds. I throw my trekking poles to the top, climb up with some difficulty, take off my pack, and climb two thirds of the way back down. I call Dobby up to me. After some prompting on my part, and hesitation on his, Dobby jumps. I grab the handle on his pack and push him up behind me, bracing him with my body. Dobby scrambles on the rock and I push upward until he finds purchase at the top.
I am wet, cold, and cranky, and Dobby shows signs of exhaustion. He accrues a few small scrapes on his legs from Devil’s Gulch. I have inevitably acquired a few gray hairs.
I almost miss the sign for Spruce Ledge Camp.
We climb the 830 feet up stone stairs, water cascading down them as it continues to rain. This deluge calls for a short day, only 8.2 miles. We arrive at the lodge at 4 p.m. to find two NOBO hikers—Kyle and Cora—napping. They also decided to take a short day due to the rain.
I discover Dobby has quite a bit of chafing under his front legs from his pack. I decide to carry his gear in addition to mine the following day. Even toweled off and in my sleeping bag, Dobby does not stop shivering for quite some time.
After talking with the NOBOs about their rain gear soaking through, I am thankful for the Outdoor Research Helium II jacket I chose for this trip, which kept me dry all day. The four of us situate ourselves in such a way that no one is getting wet from the leaking skylights and we spend a few hours drying clothes, talking, and trying not to eat all our food.
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