Saturday, June 11, 2011

Six Days on the AT

Our first day of hiking had a little bit of everything. We started by taking the bus from Rutland to Manchester. Then we had to find our way a couple of miles through and out of town to the start of the trail. I was glad to see the trail actually existed since all we had to go by was a line on on outdated topo map. The morning was already hot and humid with towering thunder clouds on the horizon. We were glad to get off the sunny streets and into the deep shade of the forest.

We didn't see any other people except a couple coming down the trail - a lucky meeting for us because they told us the trail we'd been planning to use to connect to the AT (Appalachian Trail) was impassable. (A windstorm had blown down an area of trees and the beavers had built damns that flooded it.) Luckily, there was another alternative trail we could take.

As the afternoon progressed, the distant rumbles of thunder gradually grew closer. When the rain finally arrived it was light and we were too hot to put on rain gear. But it turned into a downpour and we had no choice. Through the worst of it we huddled under the biggest tree we could find (not very big) as marble size hail fell. Once it slowed down we continued hiking. Needless to say we got pretty wet. But it turned out to be the only rain we'd get on the hike, so we can't complain.

We considered stopping at Bourne Pond but decided to continue on to Branch Pond. It had stopped raining by then and we found a good campsite by the pond. Unfortunately, the black flies liked the site (and us) too so we retreated inside the tent. It was still hot enough that we just hung out in wet clothes and gradually dried out.

Day two went smoother except for an annoyance that plagued me for the rest of the hike. Soon after we started hiking my left knee started to feel a little "funny". I thought it would be fine after warming up. But instead it started to give twinges of pain if I moved it the wrong way. It got steadily worse. Eventually I told Shelley I didn't think I wanted to walk on it any more that day.

Of course, I'd planned our hike to be away from roads and towns so at this point it was 20 miles to the next town and 20 miles back to where we started. Not a pleasant thought if my knee got much worse. On the positive side, I'd had a similar problem on my Lake Superior hike and it had improved after a few days. And it wasn't the joint - I could put my full weight on it - it just hurt to bend/lift the knee. It seemed like a tendon/ligament issue.

The next day I took some ibuprofen and borrowed one of Shelley's trekking poles and we started hiking. It still hurt but it didn't seem to be getting any worse so we kept going. As long as I could keep the leg straight it was fine. That was easy when the trail was smooth and level, but most of the time we were going up or down, over rocks and fallen logs. My good leg definitely got a workout compensating. Thankfully the knee gradually improved and by the end of the hike was much better. We went a little slower, but we still did the 20 km per day that we had planned.

A lush green forest overflowing with life is one of the most beautiful sights. And the green of new leaves with the sun filtering through is one of the most beautiful colors. I'm amazed at how much forest there is here (in the Appalachians). Above the populated valleys, the hills are totally covered with trees. Of course, it's all been logged before, multiple times, so the trees are relatively small - the big ones were 12 or 18 inches in diameter. In the towns you can find some older trees that are 3 feet or more in diameter. The original old growth forest must have been impressive.

Although you don't get many views hiking through the forest, we were glad of the cool shade since it was quite warm and humid. And the occasional views were all the same anyway - rolling hills covered in trees!

We saw a variety of wildlife - deer, beaver, porcupine, salamanders, garter snakes, tadpoles, frogs, and various birds (mostly heard but not seen). A porcupine visited our campsite the last evening just as it was getting dark. He approached with a rolling gait, stopped a couple of times to eye us, then continued on to a tree that grew at an angle. He climbed up the tree to where the leaves and branches were, about 50 feet off the ground and stayed there all night - munching away, judging by the sounds. He was gone by the time we got up in the morning. The salamanders were Eastern Newts. We saw a bright orange terrestrial juvenile "red eft" and several olive green aquatic adults.

The AT itself is well marked with white "blazes" (rectangular paint marks) on the trees. The trail is even marked when it goes through towns. We didn't run into many people on the trail, a handful each day, but there were usually people at the campsites and shelters. We tried to find campsites away from the standard spots but it was harder than expected in the thick forest.

Overall it was a great hike, definitely recommended if you're in the area.

(click to view photos)

* A lot of these photos are by Shelley

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