Monday, January 24, 2011

Gerhard Shelter on Great North Mountain

Saturday 22, 2011
Tania's birthday

Tania asked a few days before the weekend if I was able to go backpacking this weekend, it was her birthday weekend and she wanted to get away. Jim worked, so it was just the two of us.

 The night before Tania Jim and I went to Medieval Times, and got to bed fairly late. I woke up at 7 something on Saturday to do some last minute planning and preparation, moving the refrigerated items to my pack, getting on some of my layers, moving everything down stairs. As I was up and moving, Jim and Tania came down and she began packing also. We drank some coffee, decided to take her car, and loaded up.

On our way out of the city we stopped for gas, and then headed west, stopping right off of 66 at a diner for some lunch (with a gluten-free menu). We continued west, Tania driving the entire way, down 66 to 81 S to 55 W up over a mountain, and then turning off right before Wardensville. We missed the faded blue blaze of the Tuscarora Trail and had to turn around for it, but we made it to the parking lot at around 1pm.

We climbed out of the car and suited up, we began walking up the fire road to where the trail cut off and ascended the mountain, we stopped briefly so Tania could shed a layer as the ascent began. The trail had very long switch backs up the mountain, making for a nice climb, but not killer strenuous. Views began opening behind us as we got up high enough. The leaves were deep and untrod in places, attesting to the solitude of the hike. Many of the blue blazes were faded to near obscurity, and some of the switch backs sneaked up on us. The trail, once higher, shared the path of old logging or forestry roads, being fairly level and wide. Patches of snow appeared, mainly in the trail, all pristine until we walked on them.
Leave Only Footprints

The views really opened up behind us allowing for very nice views up the undeveloped valley. In the summer the places to see would be greatly diminished because of the tree cover, but there were some rocky outcroppings and then at the end of the ridge walk, getting close to the shelter, a few mountain meadows claimed the peaks.

The ridge ended and we began to descend quickly from the narrow peak. Soon enough the empty shelter came into view. The red structure was a pleasure to see! We dropped our packs and began setting up camp, after looking at tent spots around the shelter and assuming the wind would be coming from the west, we decided to setup the tent inside the shelter for double protection. Her Coleman 2-person we were using is not free standing, but she had set it up before on a platform. She began that task and I started a fire and gathered fire wood.

For Tania to get the tent to stay up, she put a stick through the loop where the stakes typically go, then she used the sides of the building and several large rocks to hold it up. It turned out standing up just fine, and the double protection from the wind was definitely warranted. The wind hadn't been blowing all day and the temperature was in the teens to maybe around 20. As the sun went down the thermometer dipped down to nearly 10.

Just as the sun was setting I began putting together the hobo dinners. Halving the carrots, meat cubes, onions, green peppers, and potatoes drizzled with olive oil salt and pepper. While I was doing this Tania heated some water for coffee and hot chocolate. The temp dipped but the fire was warm, the rocks of the fire ring had a "winter extension" where some previous camper had moved a smaller ring from the main ring closer to the shelter. I built up rocks behind the pit to act as a heat reflector. The hobo meals, wrapped in foil and on a bed of coals, cooked for over 1/2 hour, I used two sticks to flip and turn and pull more coals down. After I finished my coffee I set the cup down and very quickly I noticed the residual liquid was frozen solid. My Platy hose was frozen, as I didn't take my own advice (or actually advise gotten from Ally the week before) to blow the remaining water back into the hydration bladder before closing it, Tania followed the advise, and it worked fine.We roasted our feet by the fire, and cracked open several hot-hands. I put one in my sleeping bag and two in my pockets.

The dinners were ready, I hoped. I pulled one out of the coals and opened the foil, it looked perfectly done and smelled awesome, the moisture billowing out laden with the scent of cooked vegis and beef. We ate quickly, while the food was still warm out of our respective food dishes. We both finished every last bit. After we were done I broke out the birthday cake and someone had left a candle in the shelter.

Not exactly an auspicious birthday cake, but appreciated all the same I hope! We sat and talked, passing the flasks back and forth, enjoying the warmth of the fire and waiting to be tired. We stood up occasionally and stepped away from the fire to enjoy the star lit sky, wondering which way the moon would rise. Both of us saw separate falling stars, and enjoyed the hints of the Milky Way. The moon rose to our east, cresting over the far mountain, across the dark valley, the valley to our west was developed and much more grand, stretching to the horizon and to the mountains closer to Dolly Sods. The hour finally got late enough that sleep would probably come, at some point clouds had quickly socked in, the stars and moon obscured. I banked the fire, with hopes the coals would be good for the morning. I had put a couple rocks by the fire and before bed, wrapped them in cotton handkerchief and each of us put one in the sleeping bags. My rock stayed warm long into the night, warming my feet, while the handwarmers added heat to my mid-section.

I slept well, falling quickly into dreamland. I did wake when the wind began stirring the tarp partially hung by the entrance of the shelter. I didn't know if it was an animal or the wind stirring it at first. Once I could tell it was just the wind, I fell back asleep - though I did contemplate getting out and taking it down, I just didn't want to get out of the cocoon of warmth.

Sunday 24

I awoke after dozing for awhile to Tania crawling out to go to the bathroom. I laid there for awhile, my own bladder full, not wanting to give up the warmth and face the chill. I heard her stirring the ashes of the fire and figured she was up and not getting back in the tent, so I should follow the example. I put my contacts back in, threw on the down vest and headed out. The sun was shining, and we double teamed the fire and got her blazing again. Neither of us in a hurry, we sat and enjoyed the fire, and then some coffee. Tania's hard boiled eggs had frozen overnight and she attempted to thaw them by the fire, first on the rocks and finally in her cook pot. She then warmed an Ensure over the stove, and unfortunately burnt some on the bottom. Note to self, burnt Ensure = unappetizing!! As we sat there it began to flurry and then snow, the far mountain and valley obscured. Very shortly it stopped snowing and the sun came back, some snow still blowing in the wind lit up like glitter, making for incredibly beautiful scenery.

We began packing slowly. Enjoying the sun and the fire between tasks. In short order we were packed up and ready to go, by around 11am. After looking at the directions, the second half of the loop trail would entail dropping off the mountain directly into the valley and using a series of unmarked trails and fire roads, between the chance for getting mixed up the mile road walk and the lack of view, we decided to go out the same way we came in, for the views and the knowledge of the trail. The first 1/4 mile of trail gaining the ridge top again got our blood flowing, the views gorgeous with the clouds giving the distant views a splotchy look.

As blood flowed back into Tania's feet she stopped to pull off her boot and look, as she said it felt like a burning ember or a stick stuck between her toes. There was nothing there, but ultra sensitive toes, awaking from having no feeling. The wind was coming from the west, sometimes blustery on the ridge. My face was numb from it, but my body warm from the layers of clothing. As we got off the ridge line and began descending into the valley the wind lost its bite, and the sun was quite warming. We made it back to the car in 2 hours. Making it 24 hours and not seeing another human besides each other. This is a very secluded hike, and so much closer than Seneca Creek or Dolly Sods or even Three Ridges. As we got back to the car we saw the the creek was marvelous looking, frozen as it was. We dropped our packs and went exploring. I only busted my ass once, which was totally expected. I only partially fell through the ice and didn't get wet, which was unexpected - I assumed I would've gotten soaked!

 Hard to see, that icy spike
is about 2ft above the water
 Ice skating Legolas
All in all it was a very good trip. We hiked right around 10 miles. Stayed out in very cold weather all night comfortably. And had great conversation and story telling with a wonderful friend around a blazing campfire. What more can anyone ask for?!

Triumphant Tania