Frozen food bag, missed signs, sputtering potatoes

March 25, 2018

Destination: Carver’s Gap Today's Miles: 21

Start Location: Cherry Gap Shelter Trip Miles: 381.90

Trail chimney on the way to Roan High Knob Shelter
The shelter stirred early, just before sunrise. Mornings at the shelters seem to have a cadence to them.

One person wakes up and starts fidgeting and slowly getting ready while trying to be quiet, and then another person begins to stir, and soon everyone is up, whether they wanted to be or not. I don’t think I’ve ever slept past 7 at a shelter. 

We all bustled about getting out gear ready, reluctantly stripping off layers or our night clothes for our less warm hiking clothes. My socks were still wet from the day before, as were my boots. I winced as I pulled the cold, wet socks on. This is one of my least favorite things in the morning. But, as the saying goes, I just have to “embrace the suck.” Once I hiking and my feet warm up, it isn’t too horrible that they are wet. They’re just wet stinky hiker feet.

Next I went to get my food bag. There were no cables so I had to hang it. I had heard a guy named Nate talking a few minutes ago about having issues getting his bear bag down. He said something about using the PCT hanging method caused him issues. I use the PCT method when I hang my bag. It is supposed to be safer than just hoisting the food bag over a branch and tying off the rope onto a nearby tree. Apparently some bears have gotten wise to that and will just claw at the tied off portion of rope until the rope breaks and the bag falls. With the PCT method, you use a carabiner, lock your bag into the rope end and then pass the loose hoisting end of the rope through the carabiner as well. Then you pull the rope until the bag rises to touch the branch, and you take a small stick and wrap the end of the rope around the middle of it a bunch of times. You then let the bag lower until the stick hits the carabiner. Your bag is now hanging, suspended, and if a bear hits the loose end of the rope, nothing will happen. Here’s what happened. As we were going to bed it started raining, and then while we were asleep it all froze. My food bag rope, carabiner, PCT hang setup all froze! When I pulled on the rope to release the stick from the contraption, nothing happened because it was all frozen together. Ugh! I thrashed about with it and finally went to get Nate, who is very tall, to see if he could help. I was able to pull the bag far enough down to where he grabbed a corner and shook it, and that dislodged everything. It was very nerve wracking - I needed that food! I learned an important lesson. Only PCT hang if it isn’t going to sleet or rain and then freeze overnight.

After all that, I checked my food and realized I could stretch it one more day. The following day I would be hungry, but then I would resupply. This would also keep my pack weight lighter to help me conserve energy. I had an option to resupply at a hostel at Greasy Creek Gap, but that would take me 1.2 miles out of my way, so I would skip that. I decided then that I would hike about 19 miles to Roan High Knob Shelter, the highest Shelter on the AT. 

The temperature quickly rose to hover right at about freezing. I hiked through a lot of misty fog, and as the temperature warmed a bit, snow and ice started melting. At one point I was in an area where ice was just cascading down all around from the trees. It sounded like broken glass and looked surreal. I was hungry but I pushed on, trying to stretch the two cliff bars and peanut butter packet I had for the rest of the day before dinner. I had heard from another hiker, a girl named Inside Out, that there might be trail magic at Hughes Gap. I knew I shouldn’t get too excited, but it was hard not to be hopeful. When I got to Hughes Gap, I saw a truck! I bounded down into the gap to see if it was trail magic. It was not. My heart did not sink though. Somehow I felt ok, so I just pressed on and ate a cliff bar. 

The rest of the day was largely a mix of snow, slush and mud. My feet were pretty wet. I started the climb up to Roan High Knob. At a point it leveled out and I was at Ash Gap, an absolutely beautiful little oasis in the snow desert, with places to tent and pretty scenery. It was green and not white! I passed a thru hiker named Hawk along the way, and then a guy named “Mizzman.” I am not sure on the spelling as he was on the phone when I passed by. He must have Verizon .... in Ash Gap I met a hiker named Derwood. He was also headed to the shelter. We talked about how nice Ash Gap was. He also said he was reading my journal, which was cool. Derwood, if you are reading this then it will explain a few things, namely why I didn’t show up at the shelter. That’s right -  I never made it to Roan High Knob.

I kept on trekking up and up and then the trail leveled off. My feet were pretty wet from stepping inches deep, over and over  in melted snow. I kept walking and walking and then the trail headed down at a gradual slope. This should have been a clue that I needed to check my map, but usually the shelters or signs to them are easy to see. The trail became a literal creek. All of the melting snow funneled together and water was just flowing down the trail. Kersplosh, kersplosh! Every step I took filled my boot with oh-so-warm-and-comfortable snow melt. Still no shelter. I moved faster. Finally I ran into a man and he asked where I was headed. He was another thru hiker. When I told him the shelter he said i had passed it! Noooooo! Apparently I had flown by it and gone about another two miles. I was only a tenth of a mile from Carver’s Gap. I knew I definitely wasn’t going back, not through the sloshy river again. I had three choices:

1 - I could push another 4 miles and change and stay at Stan Murray Shelter. 

2 - This gentleman was actually going to call Harbour Inn and have them pick him up at Carver’s Gap. I could go there a day early with him. 

3 - I could find a place to stealth camp at Carver’s Gap.

I chose 3. I really wanted to see if the weather tomorrow would cooperate so I could hike a side trail up Grassy Bald. If I pushed to the next shelter I would miss that. Going to the hostel early would not take advantage of the fact that I could waltz in off the trail tomorrow. I set about filtering some water at a nearby stream and thought about camping spots.

Gillian and I had been here once before for a section hike, so I walked around to where we parked in that parking lot. I then walked on a little trail back up behind the bathroom. Everything was so slanted. There was one level spot right by the parking lot. Surely this was my lowest moment in terms of tent site choices! I started to set up there but the ground was all gravel and I couldn’t sink any tent stakes. I had to move to a slightly snowy spot on an incline. It was definitely less than ideal. I had a nice view of the parking lot bathroom building. I pitched my tent as fast as possible; I was itching to get my cold boots and socks off and get warm. I put on warm clothes and then went back outside to cook. I moved to the parking lot at one point trying to dry stuff out in the sun, but it was late in the day and the sun spot was gone in about 5 minutes. The wind picked up so I lugged my boots and socks, and the cookware I had brought over, back by my tent. I boiled water and started a backpackers pantry Chana Masala cooking. I had a package of ramen, some instant mashed potatoes, and two oatmeal packets left. I decided I would eat the mashed potatoes too. I started heating water for those and my fuel canister emitted the last of its fuel. Hmmmmm.... I took my cold water and poured it into the mashed potato bag and started stirring. After it thickened, I hungrily started swallowing huge spoonfuls of it. I was ready to get into my sleeping bag and get warm, so in a way food was more of a means to an end at this point. I think I shoved the first few spoonfuls of mashed potatoes in my mouth too fast, and before they had properly mixed with water. All of a sudden I was doing some kind of uncomfortable acid reflux choking on them. I sputtered and gagged a little, and then I was ok. Yeah, I definitely ate the rest of those potatoes! A little gagging and choking never hurt anyone! By then my Chana Masala was ready. Man, backpackers pantry for the win again!! It was delicious and spicy. After I ate that, I hurriedly brushed my teeth and ran to get into bag. 

Today did not go as planned. I feel weird camping by this parking lot. BUT, I’m grateful that at least the weather was ok today, and that I am able to be warm, and that tomorrow I will have a warm place to sleep and hopefully dry out my feet a bit. I should have WiFi tomorrow as well so I can upload my journal entries. 

Derwood, sorry I missed getting to chat with you at the shelter! I’m playing hobo by the parking lot :-)

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