Thursday, August 23, 2012

Appalachian Dreams - Part I

15 years ago I became keenly interested in the Appalachian Trail. The Appalachian Trail (or the AT as it’s commonly known) is a hiking trail marked with white blazes in the eastern United States and it extends 2,184 miles between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine. I had only been hiking for a few months and had just recently begun running. But of course, like anything else I’m interested in, I became obsessed with it and devoured all the pertinent info about it I could find. In this case, that began with a trail map that I bought which extended from the floor to the ceiling of my dining room!

Every year thousands of thru-hikers (or people hiking the entire trail at one time) start from one end of the AT (usually Springer) and make their way to the other end. Only about 1 in 4 makes it the whole way on their first attempt. Some take as many as 8 months to complete the journey while others complete it in as little as 3. The un-official record for the fastest “supported thru-hike” (or, a hike with a little help from your friends) is 47 days by Andy Thompson in 2005. That’s more than 46 miles a day! The “unsupported” record is 60 days by Ward Leonard back in 1990. An equally impressive travel rate of 36 miles per day!

Appalachian Dreams - Part II

Cascade Brook
By the time my Lonesome Lake dinner ended so had the rain. I ambled down the Cascade Brook Trail on my way to the notch. I got mixed up a couple times on which way to go because everything along the river looked like a trail. It was stunning how much of this area still showed signs of the devastation from Hurricane Irene. Even one year later, the rocks and dirt lining the brook looked like they’d been scoured clean by a torrential flood. One section was missing a bridge that had simply been wiped out by the fast flowing wave of debris. Still amazed by the awesome power of nature I reached the base of Mt. Liberty - my final climb of the day.

The front that had moved through had brought noticeably cooler temps. I was grateful for this on my last, brutal, 2 1/2 mile climb out of Franconia Notch to the Liberty Springs tentsite. The seemingly never ending trail eventually did and I pulled into my final pit-stop at about 6:30 pm. 12 ½ hours after I started. Not bad for a 27 mile hike! I found an open tent platform, changed out of my wet hiking gear and set about putting up my hammock. It went up surprisingly fast and even more surprisingly didn’t come crashing down when I climbed into it. I ate a couple pumpkin cookies that I bought at the hut, drank my recovery shake and settled in for the night. A very LONG night!

Appalachian Dreams - Part III

Eisenhower, Monroe & Washington beyond laid themselves out before me like a promise. And, the 360 degree, 100+ mile visibility of the surrounding Valleys allowed me to see just how far I’d come in my quest to make that promise a reality. The trail stretched out across the ridge like only Able Crawford could have imagined. With some 12 miles to go, and countless views to devour, “before I sleep” I hopped, skipped & jumped back onto the trail and made my way to my next destination - Lake of the Clouds.

Lake of the Clouds
The excitement of being part of the Alpine Zone “playground” gave a real boost to my confidence (and my pace). As a result, I pulled into Lake of the Clouds Hut only about an hour after coming over the top of Pierce. I grabbed a Powerbar, some lemonade (as the day was starting to heat up) and re-filled my hydration pack before heading back out to tackle the “Ole Rockpile”. I’ve been to the top of Washington probably a dozen times, but this proved to be the best day yet for a summit attempt. Unfortunately about a thousand people, or so it seemed, had the same thoughts!