Saturday, February 9, 2013

Shuckstack, Lost Cove, Lakeshore Trail, and Winn-Dixie

It was a dismal morning as Gary, David, Owen and I got on the AT about 10:20am, Feb 5th We were all mentally prepared for the infamous climb up the Twentymile Ridge to reach Shuckstack Firetower - 3.5 miles and about 2100 feet elevation change.  The gray skies shrouded any views we might have enjoyed and the wintry chill matched the bleak naked trees around us. Joking about the climb and the lies the weathermen told kept us going as we neared Shuckstack and encountered snow on the ridge top. 
It was important for the Map Geeks to research our exact location before we started up the slippery tenth of a mile climb to the tower. Here we braced against the wind and had our lunch. Gary decided to climb the tower and made it near the top before the cold had him coming down.  As we had lunch, the skies finally began to clear and we could see a bit of blue off in the distance heading our way!

Getting back down to the AT trail from the Tower proved dicey as our previous footsteps were now packed and even more icy.  I sighed with relief when we made and but we took off in search of the right turn on Lost Cove Trail. Arriving at the junction of the Benton Mackaye Trail we were surprised at the depth of the snow, but took off in high spirits.
For a while, we hiked in silence, soaking up the beauty of the snow-laden branches against the blue sky, and that soft, expectancy that swells inside when you feel gifted by Mother Nature. Then, the descent became steeper and more slippery; slowing our pace as we all tried to make sure we stayed upright and uninjured. The snow hid the trail so we scanned the forest ahead, seeking clues to make sure we followed the trail. After a couple of miles, we found more level ground with patches of snow and encountered the first stream crossings of Lost Cove Creek. 
Then we reached creek crossing #9. This one was not a rock hop crossing- it was a foot or more deep, swift moving currents that promised danger if we didn’t take caution. Gary took off upstream and was gone for a while before reappearing on the other side.  With his advice in hand, Owen and I headed back and re-crossed #8 stream and then turned right and delved through rhododendron bush and vines to get to the better spot to cross. Once, in my mid-crouch, Owen pointed out a fungus covered tree that was amazing, but the timing to point it out was a bit off! We made to the creek edge, but again, it didn’t look like a great place. We could see David down from us, still on the same side, too. I saw an area that showed promise and told Owen I was going for it. I jumped in and got across without soaking my soaks, but then encountered even worse brush on the other side! Suddenly, Owen was coming up behind me, so I plunged in and began a slow push through the limbs and vines. First, I was crouched down, but then forced to my knees with my face almost shoved into the forest floor.  At one point, with every limb, plus my backpack entangled, I thought ‘why am I doing this? - I could be home watching soap operas'! I didn’t realize I had said it out loud until Gary laughed and said, ‘for the adventure!’  He had worked his way back to try and help us through. Owen referred to it as rhododendron hell. :-) We finally made it out and realized we had wasted a lot of time on this crossing, and knew there were more ahead. The next crossing, Owen and I took socks off and rebooted before crossing.
We kept them off for the next several crossings until we reached the Lakeshore Trail intersection. Here we stopped and put on our socks. David was the Boy Scout in the group. He brought a dry pair! By this time, we had 14 creek crossings under our belt.
It was now 5pm and 5.2 miles to get off the trail. We were faced with the realization it was going to get dark before reaching the end of the trail. Determined to make time, we booked it over the next mile or so, crossing more streams, but none was deep as before. Darkness began to descend, but we kept on without lights, trying to keep night vision as long as possible. We passed by several of the old cars abandoned back in time alongside the trail. Ultimately, David and Gary stopped to retrieve their headlamps. Mine was buried deep in my pack and I hoped to make it out without digging for it. At one point, David and I had gotten ahead and stopped to wait on Gary and Owen. When they arrived, we found out Owen had paused to get his lamp out. As he turned it on, it went out, but fortunately Gary had extra batteries to loan.
With a few more climbs we weren’t in the mood for, we finally spotted the car and made it off the trail about 7:20pm. At the car, Owen checked out his bad batteries to find they were bought from Winn-Dixie! I won’t even guess how old they were! With some relieved banter, we took off for Andrews where the guys couldn’t wait to eat at Hardees. Well, I’m not so much of a fan, but let me confess, I ate a burger with onion rings and it was some pretty good eatin’J With some of our meandering, the 11.6 hike turned in to 12.59 miles and 24 creek crossings- now that’s what I call a hike.