Thursday, July 30, 2009
Sunday, July 26, 2009
The trip was conceived when my good friend Al decided he needed a respite from this year's soggy New England summer. We agreed: "Let's go to the Sierras!" We started off with Mt. Whitney, lucking out and procuring walk-up permits. With 6000 feet of vertical gain and 22 miles round trip, coupled with the fact that most people aren't acclimatized for the 14,494 foot summit, almost everyone starts at Whitney Portal well before dawn. Watching the train of bobbing lights snake its way up the mountain at 4 a.m. is kinda cool. Check out this geek!
We made it to the top under clear skies in about 5.5 hours--not blistering fast but respectable enough considering we came from sea level and Al underwent ACL reconstruction just four months ago! I decided to climb Keeler Needle and Mt. Muir on the way back to Trail Crest, the former because it looked really cool, the latter because it is a 14er. Scrambling up Muir's rocky pinnacle, I heard rumblings of thunder in the distance and knew it was time to descend. What was surprising was how many people continued to come up! (The attitude seemed to be "Dammit, we have our permits; we're climbing this sucker!" Yikes.) We were just below Trail Camp as the deluge of rain & hail, thunder & lightning hit, surely making the folks' day higher up very interesting.
Friday, July 3, 2009
Preface: Ever since thru-hiking the granddaddy of long-distance hiking trails, the AT, 15 years ago, I've been intrigued by some of the shorter trails and have been knocking off one or two per year of late (see sidebar). The ability to cover many miles combined with, more importantly, Chris's willingness to crew have allowed me to complete some of these trails my preferred method--to say, much faster and lighter than the average backpacker. Except for the JMT in 2007, rather than attempting to break records, my goal has been one of seeing, enjoying, and experiencing the entire trail with none of it being done in the dark.
The WHAT Trail? The Tuscarora Trail is a lightly used 250+ mile blue-blazed spur of the AT with both ends terminating at the AT--near Matthews Arm in Shenandoah National Park on the southern end, and at Darlington Shelter, near Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in the north, making a nice arc through sections of West Virginia and Maryland along the way. The TT is probably best known for its rocks--rocks that make all other "rocky" trails I've traversed, including the PA section of AT and the Massanutten 100 course, look like child's play. In the 1980s the PA section especially suffered from a terrible gypsy moth infestation which killed much of the surrounding trees, making way for a summertime onslaught of briars, brambles, and poison ivy, nearly closing the trail for good. Thanks to countless hours of volunteer labor, the trail was reopened in the mid 1990s. At least that's what I read.
Thwarted once: In April 2008 I attempted to traverse the entire TT but due to sickness bailed early on Day 2, making it only 60'ish miles to Route 55. Fast forward 14 months to June 27. Chris and I are once again at the Rt. 55 TT crossing, well rested after spending the night at the charmingly funky See's Motel in Wardensville, WV ($45/night, cash only please!). I cross the road and proceed north, promptly losing the trail within the first mile. Shortly the correct route--my lifeline of blue blazes--is discovered and I continue onward. This losing-regaining the trail will become a frequent occurrence. Being low-tech, I do not use a GPS; rather the Ziplocked guidebook directions and map for each particular day never leave my hands. Fortunately, I seem to be able to sniff out the trail pretty well so never get very far off course. I have to admit, however, that the TT was a rather special challenge in spots!
Happy thoughts: Encounters with the previously mentioned wildlife, beautiful songbirds, wildflowers, ferns, solitude (especially for an introvert who loves getting inside her head), pastoral farm scenes, wonderfully intense smells of a humid forest, and really nice local people produced happy thoughts. The nice people include the proprietors of See's, Pikeside, Jimmy's, and Kenmar motels, the 5 a.m. Sheetz employees, the WV dude in the beatup truck who advised Chris to "not let yer wife run alone in these parts," and State Forest worker "Ed" (below), with whom we spent 20 minutes chatting. (Note map & directions in hand.)
Final thoughts: The Tuscarora is one of the most difficult trails I've ever attempted, but most of the difficulty was due to the summertime overgrowth and apparent lack of maintenance on long stretches of trail. Perhaps because of a particularly wet spring the growth was excessive this year. If I knew then what I know now, I would attempt this trail only in the springtime, before the briars have taken over. Then it probably would be pretty nice. Am I glad I did it? Of course. Sections of the Tuscarora Trail were lovely, and with a s***load of TLC this trail could be a winner. The good outweighed the bad, and I never resorted to tears (did get close a couple of times!). Oh wait, Chris wants to say something...
Crew note: Sue is still delirious from her adventure. There IS no trail -- just a marginally progressive display of blue blazes strewn among trees requiring the hiker (not runner, as Sue's notes would allude to the absence of opportunity to do) to sustain constant mental acuity in order to get the sense of forward motion towards some long-distant end point. Still, the beasties were pretty cool...