We interrupt this program for a brief, but important, message regarding poop (come on, you know you are curious). On the A.T., you have two choices. You either dig a cat hole and bury your business in the woods (it takes some practice to develop the accuracy to hit that hole) or use a privy at an established campsite. Privies can run the gamut from recently built palatial ADA compliant two-seaters to old privies that haven’t been cleaned for twenty years and are so small that you must open the door in order to pull up your pants (I’m looking at you, Carolina Mountain Club). Originally, all privies were pit privies, consisting of nothing more than a building set on top of a deep hole (think outhouse). When the hole gets full, you dig a new hole, move the building over it, and fill in the old hole with the fresh dirt. But with the increasing popularity of the A.T., some heavily used locations receive close to 1,000-pounds of waste per year making it increasingly difficult to find the space to dig a new hole.
In the modern era, especially in New England, most of the privies have been converted into what are called mouldering privies. In this type of privy, poop is collected in bins and subjected to a composting process that, over time, converts the waste to a product that can be safely returned to the environment. Multiple bins are used so when the active bin gets full, it is moved to a “resting” area where it is “stirred” once a week by the volunteer, and is replaced with an empty bin. For this process to effectively work, there are strict rules posted inside the privy that must be followed:
1. Pee in the woods. Moisture reduces the air circulation necessary for the composting process to work.
2. Add a handful of duff (leaves, wood chips, etc., provided in a plastic bucket) to the bin when you are finished. This bulking agent reduces compaction and improves airflow.
3. Leave nothing but poop, TP, and duff. Trash will not decompose and must be removed by a volunteer caretaker, which is a gross and icky job.
I bring this subject up now because when I went to the privy this morning for my usual morning constitutional, the camp caretaker had thoughtfully posted a decision flowchart in the privy to assist those imbeciles who are having difficulty understanding what is allowed in the privy. For your amusement, I present “Should I Drop It In?”
We now return to your regularly scheduled program.
For the first time in recent memory, my morning did not start with a climb. Instead, I started down the fourth steepest section of the entire A.T. where the trail drops 970-feet in 0.6-miles. I tend to refer to this type of hiking as “falling off the mountain,” and this particular descent was rocky and insanely steep. I honestly felt my ears pop on the way down. Exercising extreme care not to fall on the rocks, it took me over an hour to negotiate this short section.
A mile or so after reaching more reasonable terrain, I took a short side trail to visit the Galehead Hut. The AMC huts are stocked at the beginning of each season with food staples and huge propane tanks using helicopter drops. Throughout the busy summer season, however, they are self-sustaining and all the fresh food and other supplies are packed in and all the garbage is packed out by the Croos. During a Croo member’s 10-day shift, they make two trips off the mountain packing 70-80 pounds of material each way. Although they usually follow a trail that is easier than the A.T., it is still an impressive feat.
After taking a short break at the hut, I picked up the Twinway Trail and started climbing the third steepest section of the A.T. Between the Galehead Hut and the 4,902-foot summit of South Twin Mountain, the trail climbs 1,130-feet in 0.8-miles inclusive of a 900-foot climb in 0.5-miles. While it was a steep and rocky climb, I was much happier to be climbing this section than descending it. I was also happy that the A.T did not climb North Twin Mountain. At the summit of South Twin, there is a nice view back towards Mt Garfield as well as ahead to Mt Guyot and Zealand Mountain.
From South Twin Mountain, I was mercifully treated to downhill hiking for the remainder of the day. But downhill doesn’t always equate to easy. Near the treeless Zeacliff Ridge, the trail devolved into a boulder-strewn path that slowed my progress to a crawl, but it was a quite scenic and short-lived section. A mile or so later, I arrived at Zeacliff where there was an awesome view of a massive rockslide on the slope of Whitewall Mountain and what appeared to be a road below.
By the time I reached the bottom of the mountain, it was after 4:00 pm and I still had five miles to go before reaching my destination, the Ethan Pond Shelter/Campsite. After enjoying a brief photo opportunity at the lovely Zealand Falls, I turned down the Ethan Pond Trail and couldn’t believe my eyes. Before me was a flat, rock free, dirt trail the likes of which I hadn’t seen since . . . . . well, I can’t remember the last time. I might have wiped away a tear at this beautiful sight as I took off at a 3-mph pace. When the trail popped out of the woods into the middle of a rockslide, I realized that I was surprisingly walking along what had appeared to me to be a road when viewed from Zeacliff, but was actually an old railroad track bed.
Taking full advantage of my good fortune, I zoomed down the trail crossing the North Fork of the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River (say that fast three times) and continued along the flat trail through the forest. I soon arrived at the side trail to the Ethan Pond Shelter/Campsite where I arrived before 6:00 pm and checked in with the caretaker. After paying her my $5, I headed for the shelter where I found Shiver, Peanut, Sasquatch, and several other hikers already finishing their dinner. It has been another wonderful day on the trail, but the weather forecast is not looking great so there will be some hard decisions to make tomorrow.
Date: August 2, 2017
Starting Location: Garfield Ridge Shelter
Ending Location: Ethan Pond Shelter
AT Miles Today: 14.5
AT Miles To Date: 1,841.5