Sunday, September 27, 2015

Three Ridges Hike: Wet, Yet Wonderful

This past weekend we tackled the Three Ridges Hike; that's a 14 mile circuit including panoramic views, lovely mountain streams, demanding climbs and peaceful campsites. More than that, it proved that you simply can't will good weather to happen by ignoring the forecast.

As the day to leave for the hike approached, Shira kept telling me the forecast was getting rainier and colder. By the time we left, they promised 100% chance of rain on Saturday. I simply ignored these warnings, and told Shira we should go for it anyway. To her credit, she didn't believe me for a minute, yet still persevered and tackled the trip with me.

We arrived at the trail head at 4pm with heavy fog and a cold rain. These conditions, with varying amount of rain, would remain exactly the same for the next 24 hours. But we pressed. Thankfully, at the last moment I decided to take my Frogg Toggs jacket along with my wind-resistant Ghost Whisperer Anorack. I'm sure that lightweight windbreaker would have been soaked through and nearly useless in minutes. The Frogg Toggs held up great and was the perfect companion for this cold and rainy weather.

The hike starts with about a mile climb, and then a mile downhill, where you arrive at an AT shelter. That's where we spent our first night. Shira fully setup the tent and camp while I set to work trying to start a fire. This was tricky business, because (a) everything was wet and (b) the area was an established campsite so it was picked pretty clean of down wood. Ultimately, what saved the day was the somewhat random discovery of some punk wood that I kicked free from the underside of a dead tree. I'd only heard/seen YouTube videos discussing punk wood. I managed to get it lit using my lighter, and then it just slowly burned away, forming an ember that wouldn't go out. It was simply bushcraft magic at its best. Using other bits of wood I'd collected, I slowly coaxed a flame from the ember, and from there we had fire. On the surface, it was a pretty tame fire; but for myself, it was perhaps the ultimate outdoor accomplishment: fire from wet wood, started and kept alive through a gentle rain. Amazing.

Luckily, while I was playing with the fire, Shira managed to fully get our tent up and our gear inside and dry. It would rain all night, and her tent setup job worked perfectly. We were dry and warm the whole time.

Man those hotdogs we cooked the first night were tasty!

When we awoke on Saturday, the weather looked like it was going to continue to do what it had done all night: be cold and rainy. So we made the call: rather than do the 12 miles head of us over two days, we'd do it in one. We only had to tear down camp and get on our way.

Anyone who knows me, knows I'm pretty particular about my gear and always looking to optimize it. So it would probably come as a shock to know that I'm still using the same 4 Man Timberline Tent that I grew up with in Scouts. Surely there are far lighter alternatives out there? Indeed, there are. And every backpacking trip begins the same way, with me searching for alternatives and presenting them to Shira. Who always shoots them down. What can I say, she likes the spacious Timberline tent. And at just under 8lbs, it's only a couple pounds heavier than a 3 man, $300 tent. $300 for two pounds is a tough pill to swallow.

And then you have trips like this one where it sure is nice having a huge and sturdy shelter to retreat to in the cold and rain. And I learned a new trick I'd never attempted before: you can take down the tent while leaving the polls and fly up. This allowed me to pack up the mostly dry tent, while still having the soaking wet fly protect us. The Timberline poles + rainfly actually made for a pretty nifty shelter, and I could see using that in a context that called for quick sun protection.

Slowly but surely, I'm accepting the Timberline as my tent of choice for backpacking with the wife.

The 12 miles we tackled Saturday were supposed to contain quite a few grueling ups and downs. And it provided these in a big way. We found overlooks, but all we could see from them was a sheet of white. Much of the hike was done in fog, which was actually pretty surreal. Given all the ups and downs, the cool temperatures actually made hiking more enjoyable. I can't imagine how much work this hike would be in the hot, humid summer.

At about 5 miles into our hike we arrived at the shelter where we originally planned to spend the night. The scene was pretty idyllic, and if it hadn't been for the wet weather and promise of more wet weather, it would have been the ideal place to setup camp. We pushed on.

More, ups, more downs, some quick scrambles and beautiful waterfalls. There were a series of, what appeared to be, swimming holes which in 55°F weather looked pretty but far from tempting. In the summer, I bet they are perfect spot to take a cooling off dip.

And after a day of hiking, we arrived back at the AT shelter where we had spent the night. As we stopped to heat up some food for dinner, we got to talking with the hikers that were hunkered down in the shelter. Two of them were doing half-through hikes, going from Harper's Ferry to Georgia, and another hiker was tackling the full AT. After dinner, as we packed up our gear to head out, I asked if the thru-hikers wanted any of the extra food we had. We weren't staying the second night as planned, and there was no need for me to carry it out. They looked at me as though I had two heads and was offering them a winning lottery ticket. Uh yeah, we'll take whatever you got. And so between the 3 guys we divvied up our various odds and ends, including couscous, peanut butter and instant oatmeal. One guy was especially appreciative when he found the green tea in with the oatmeal. It was so classic, and was the least we could do to help these guys tackle their quest.

A little over an hour later we were back at our car. It was still raining. The fog still hadn't cleared. How nice of Mother-Nature to make it cold and wet to the end.

I kept telling Shira: see, if you can backpack in these conditions, you can backpack in any conditions. She didn't complain once the whole trip, even though it worked out exactly as she told me it would. Now that we've seen the terrain and what this hike has to offer, I can't wait to get back on a sunny day when we can actually see the vistas. But even in the cold and wet, it was still a top notch trip.

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