Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Appalachian Trail--all about ounces, steps, and overcoming challenges!

Our first steps on the Appalachian Trail at Summit Cut in Virginia

Well, we actually DID it!  On Friday morning, June 24, 2011, we set out on a three day adventure hiking and fishing along the Appalachian Trail, Section 45 in Virginia.  We got plenty of "stuff" stuffed into those backpacks, probably too much "stuff".  By the time we added our water in Damascus, they probably tipped the scale at about 30 lbs. each.  I must say, I was worried about being able to carry that much weight on my back for a considerable distance.

We began our hike at Summit Cut, approximately 17 miles north of Damascus, VA where we had left our truck parked at Sun Dog Outfitters.  We rode the shuttle which carries folks and their bikes up to begin riding the Virginia Creeper.  The driver let us off at Summit Cut where Hwy. 58 crosses the AT.  We were fortunate enough that another hiker was standing there when we got there, and he took this picture for us.  He was only dayhiking, so he took out ahead of us and we never saw him again.  We began this trek a little timidly, taking our time to adjust to the weight and the challenge of balancing those 30 lb. packs on our backs as we traversed the rocky, somewhat muddy path that would lead us, hopefully to Saunder's Shelter by nightfall.  We had plenty of time.

Our first waypoint of interest was Lost Mountain Shelter which was approximately 1.1 miles into the hike.  I was pretty excited about how quickly we got there and how good I was feeling even considering the burden on my back.  I was also encouraged at the condition of the facilities at the shelter.  There was a picnic table and a beautiful area where tents could be pitched.  The privy was clean and well-maintained, so I figured Saunder's Shelter would be very much the same.  We stopped there briefly, but didn't disturb the thru-hikers staying in the shelter and ventured on our way.

The rhododendron were blooming along the trail, especially in these lower elevations, making our path encouragingly beautiful as we continued.  Other than the rhododendron, we saw very few wildflowers on this first day, but there were many different types of fungi proliferating in the dampness along the trail.  We did see Indian pipe and an interesting plant/fungus that looked like ears of corn growing up out of the ground in bunches.  Not sure what that was.  There was also some deep orange "fingerlike" projections growing up from the ground too.  Not sure what that was either. :)  Oh well, neither are in my fungus book which I didn't take with me because of the weight.  Maybe I'll get them identified eventually.  Anyway, on Day 1, the fungi were the stars of the show.  Many shapes and colors were prevalent all along the trail.
The White Blaze!

By about 11:30, we made our way to the first point in the trail where the AT comes in contact with the Virginia Creeper and Whitetop Laurel Creek.  There is an awesome campsite here complete with a fire pit and nice logs laid out to sit on.  The creek provides ample water, however, we did not pump any here.  We still had plenty to have to carry up to Saunder's Shelter.  This campsite is below the trestle which is the Creeper Trail crossing high above, so you are somewhat sheltered from the busyness above.

It was still quite early in the day, so we decided to fish!  I put on one of the flies Dad tied for me, learning to actually tie that knot for the first time with fishing line, switched into my Keen sandals which would serve as waders on this trip, and put my line in the water.  I got a strike on that first cast, and before Bunk could even get his line in the water, I had landed my first fish--a rainbow trout, on just the second cast!  He was small, only about 5-6 inches, and he went back in the water, but what a rush!  We continued to fish up and down this short section near where we had left our packs and caught a couple more small fish--enough to keep it fun!  I LOVE dry fly-fishing!  I love to watch the fish come up and snatch that fly off the top of the water!  However, about 1:30 we decided to pack it up and continue our hike.  Before we left that spot, though, we had our first meal on the trail.  I made tuna salad sandwiches on wraps and they were good!  Bunk says he's not overly crazy about the wraps, but I think they make a great alternative to bread on the trail.  We had some nuts to go along with our "sandwiches" and then decided not to filter any water before we left--probably a blessing as it turned out.  We shouldered our packs and headed out on the final leg of our journey for this day.  I thought we only had about 3.5 miles left to go, but I didn't realize the challenges those 3.5 miles would present for us.

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