Friday, May 23, 2014

AT Project in VA - Dickey Gap to Partnership Shelter

Appalachian Trail Project in VA – 3/15/14 – Dickey Gap to Partnership Shelter – 14.5 Miles

Testing testing testing, one two, one two – this is a test of the Smoky Scout weight-bearing knee system. 

I’ve done a number of day hikes, short and long, but it was time to try out the knees with a loaded backpack.  What has changed since November?  Well, I’ve rested a lot, I’ve stretched my IT band a lot, and I’ve signed up for a four-day trek to Maccu Pichu in June. 

We decided on a one-night backpack trip with an easy bailout at the end of Day 1.  Who is we?  My AT-obsessed hiking friends Cathy and Chris and Chris’s college age daughter Amy.  This would be Amy’s longest day so far with a backpack.  (Cathy had hiked this section before but was game for a repeat just to be sociable.) 

Our planned overnight stop was Partnership Shelter, so close to civilization that hikers can phone in for pizza delivery (if you can get a cell signal from the parking lot, that is).  We’d be there on a Saturday night and the shelter sleeps 20 people.   How many will show up?  Carry a tent or not carry a tent?   I opted to take one, be a responsible backpacker and be prepared.  The forecast was for a clear day Saturday with cold rain coming in on Sunday.

We met Skip, our shuttle driver, at The Barn Restaurant on Highway 11 and he drove us south to our starting point at Dickey Gap.  Like all shuttle drivers I’ve met, Skip was gregarious and ready to share trail information and stories.  Most famous passenger:  last year he shuttled Robin Williams and his grandson to backpack on the AT.  We arrived at Dickey Gap in the blink of an eye.  Skip snapped a starting photo for us and we were on the trail by 11:15 a.m.

Amy helped set the pace with her 20-years-young long legs and as usual I moved to the back of the line.  Bringing up the rear by choice, I stayed just a few minutes behind the others and could usually see them up ahead.  I settled into a rhythm to concentrate on hauling an extra 25 pounds through the woods. 

Pretty winter view on our first climb up Bobby’s Ridge and continuing up Dickey Ridge.  We skipped the side trail to High Point.  Our first snack stop was at Trimpi Shelter, a little further off the trail than I would have normally been willing to detour, but it was a beautiful day and what else did we have to do besides be out in it?

Chris walking the moss green carpet
The first of several stiles passing through open meadows

Brambles in the meadow

Wide open space

At the next stile Chris and I speculated about the owner of this flurry of fur.  Looks like someone lost a fight.  No carcass in evidence, though.

The trail crossed the South Fork of the Holston River and VA 670 and the day was warming up.  I stopped to zip off my pant legs and remove my long-sleeved shirt in preparation for the gradual climb up yet another Brushy Mountain.  The other three women pulled ahead of me and I walked alone for a few miles, keeping a close eye on the white blazes as the AT frequently slipped onto old road beds and then off again into the woods.  A Taize meditation I hummed as I walked:

In the Lord I’ll be ever thankful
in the Lord I will rejoice
look to God, do not be afraid
lift up your voices, the Lord is near
lift up your voices, the Lord is near.

A creepy section of the trail near a high point (no notations on the map) where grapevines are taking over the vegetation.  Felt a little like a haunted house with big strands of cobwebs hanging from the ceiling.  

This section of the AT doesn’t feature big rocks, spectacular views or gushing waterfalls.  It does offer solitude for a nice walk in the woods, something I’ll take any day.  

We reached Partnership Shelter by 4:45 p.m., making very good time.  We got prime spaces on the bottom floor of the shelter.  The upper room is accessed by a straight-up vertical ladder that I wouldn’t want to use while wearing a backpack, but I’m sure it is a hospitable place to spend a rainy night.  

Note:  a sign on the approach to the shelter says no tent camping within .5 miles.  I wonder how often that is enforced?

A great composting privy is part the accommodations and the nearby Mount Rogers Visitor Center provides a water pump, so treating water is not necessary.  During operating hours (not while we were there) hikers make use of the real bathrooms and…yes, hot showers!   This is a prime stop for an AT backpacker looking for comfort.  Hikers who don’t care for crowds avoid it but to each his own…

Guess what?  No one else showed up and we had the place to ourselves.  We sat at the picnic table cooking and eating supper, watching the sunlight lessen and the feeling the cold increase.  A full moon rose through the tangle of still-bare branches.  Doesn’t look like rain, does it?

A great day, no knee issues (are you tired of hearing about that yet?) so no need to call for a taxi.  8:00 p.m., dark, time to get snuggled in.  And then the barred owl started up:  who-cooks-for-you?

“Every adventure is worthwhile.”  ~Amelia Earheart

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