Hiking With Hunters
January 15, 2018 § Leave a comment
I don’t have any pictures of any of the hunters that we saw/met on the AT this past weekend. When you are unarmed, and miles from witnesses, it doesn’t seem like self-preservation to raise up your iPhone and start recording the dudes with the guns.
A month ago, my brother-in-law and I were texting
And that is how it began.
We had some further discussion about company, but for the time being we were simply planning on two brothers, from different mothers and fathers, spending a December weekend in the woods together. The Saturday after turkey day, Susan and I decided to have an impromptu pizza night, and we invited a few friends over, all of whom said “Hell yeah!”. One couple who said “yes” was Kal and Silvia. I know Kal from my cycling, and this summer past we hiked The Devil’s Path in the Catskills, and though we didn’t talk about Winter camping then, the subject had since come up with Kal expressing an interest in doing it, AND, going so far as to outfit himself a bit. He and another friend did do an alpine training class in New Hampshire last Spring, but other than that, Kal had not been “In the back country”, and while he had been hinting that he would go by himself, Silvia gave me a look one day like “Can you do something about this?”
During our pizza get together, I socialized my plans with Kal, and like a child with a giant lollipop waved in front of him, his eyes glazed over and he uttered almost trance-like monotone “I want to go”.
We were now three.
I am reasonably sure, that had we invited others, someone, would have asked the sane and appropriate question regarding the status of Hunting Season in PA, which could have been a deal breaker. Even if it wasn’t a deal breaker, we all would have showed up with the brightest of brighty-brite clothing that can be seen, and we all could have lied to ourselves and our spouses that being this visible, we would never have in any danger. However, we didn’t ask anyone else, and we didn’t prepare for being seen. It was purely chance that while packing what I hoped would be an adequate top hiking layer, that when presented with the Gray or Orange choice, I selected orange. Not that we look like deer, but there was that woman in Western NY who was shot while out walking her dog. So, it really does pay to prepare properly.
As the day approached, there was a call for a huge winter storm along the coast. The early weather radar predictions for central PA were clear, and so I went with that. At the worst, as the weekend neared, all snow was forecasted for the morning, and both Walt and I would be well on the road by then. So no problem.
There was another factor in this weekend. On Walt’s side, he was hosting a work party for his Iridium workmates there in the Leesburg area, while here in Jersey, Kal had a Friday party of his own. With a 2-3 hour drive ahead, car shuttle time, hike in time, getting to the shelter with enough light to gather firewood was pretty important. We had a pretty substantial buffer for error, but I wasn’t interested in pushing that. The more time we had at camp, the better.
The plan. I made arrangements with Kal to pick him up at his house at 6 in the AM. IF he was ready to go, we would stop for a breakfast sandwich, and we would have plenty of time to drive out and meet Walt by 10:30 at the agreed upon Route 147 commuter lot. For Walt, the drive was 2 hours plus, so he had a little more leeway than we did.
I awoke at 5:30, pretty well rested for a change. I was still sore from my bicycle accident, but that was normal, and I was good to go. The clothes I laid out, I donned, and with the rest of my stuff I was soon out the door. I pulled up to Kal’s house on the “No Parking Anywhere” side of the road, and said a quiet “Fug You” to Red Bank, where I found Kal’s house completely dark. Not a single light shone through the window shedding even a hint that anyone in the house was awake. I was NOT going to knock, or ring the doorbell, but I would send a text and hope that he would see it. I have my phone in “Do Not Disturb” mode from 11 to 7, and I certainly didn’t expect Kal’s phone to disturb him, but if he was awake, maybe he would see it. I gave him about 10 minutes to see it, and then I called him. He picked up and soon he had his things in hand descending his porch steps. While he hadn’t slept in, he was pretty tired from a restless night, and didn’t pre-order our breakfast sandwiches. We were still in good shape for time, so we stopped at The Red Bank Diner and pick up a couple of bacon and egg bagel sandwiches. The Red Bank Diner is Kal’s favorite breakfast destination in Red Bank.
On the road, traffic was virtually non-existent. I let the navigation app select which way to go, and so we were heading for 78 and 81. Along the way we kept passing snow removal equipment, parked and in position to act once the snow started to … collect? Better safe than sorry.
At some point the ridge that carries the AT pops up just North of 78 and stays with us until we meet up with 81 where the trail jumps to another ridge. Most of the AT in PA is a ridge hike, and most of it is along these two ridge corridors.
We arrived at the Clarks Ferry Park and Ride, and didn’t have to wait long before Marty joined us. He did some changing, we did some food selection, we all checked our water needs, and did a final gear check, and then with all the gear in my truck, we squeezed inside and shuttled to the trail parking on Valley Road. It felt like a really really long shuttle to get to the trail-head. The reason for this should be apparent from this topographic map segment.
The trail head is at the bottom “P” just left of center, and our destination is the “P” just over the river. The ridge is a giant Vee, and we had drive across the open end of that Vee, and most of the way along the southern arm. It is certainly an interesting formation geologically. To say the river cut through these two ridges is probably wrong. I don’t know the details, but perhaps similar to the Delaware Water Gap, draining water on the south side cut away North, and water draining North cut away south, until eventually the southern drainage under cut the northern drainage. I am sure that if I did enough googling research I may find accepted explanation. For our purposes here, I am done.
While hunting may be an all day affair, there really are only two times of day to hunt. Morning, and evening, or rather just after sun-up and just prior to sun-down. For this we were probably lucky that we started so late in the morning. Realistically most of the hunter’s we came across had exhausted any real chance of a catch, so I shouldn’t feel like we hindered their chances. That isn’t to say that once upon the ridge line we didn’t hear shots far off down in the valley. Unless someone or some a group moves through a bedding site, the deer aren’t going to be moving much during the day. So we only saw a small handful of hunters, most of whom were set off the trail. Technically they are allowed to use the trail to move along, but they can’t hunt on the trail, and they are supposed to hunt away from the trail. No taking shots across the trail corridor. Tell that to the guys with the guns. We met only one hunter on the trail. He was literally on the trail, carrying his rifle in the crook of his arm. The closer I got to him I could see that he was old school, old salt of the woods long in the tooth. He had a full beard similar to mine, and the wrinkles of time were etched deeply in his face. “Good afternoon” I offered up as I passed him. “Grunt!” was the only reply I received. I took that as “Get the fuck off the trail and out of my fuggin way you candy-assed backpackers!”, and kept my own pie hole shut. I did though listen intently when my charming brother in law repeated an offering of friendly banter. “And how are you this fine wonderful afternoon good sir?” was followed by a silence that I can only assume was the same grunt, with the same underlying meaning. I didn’t really like this old man, and I was happy to put trail distance between him and us.
By this time the snow was collecting enough that there was a covering on the forest floor, and we were about ready to start thinking about our destination for the day. We had met the “Grunt Hunter” about a mile SW of the shelter icon in the above picture, so 30 minutes after our encounter, we found ourselves at the junction with the side trail that would take us to our evening sleeping quarters. To tell the truth, I was a little relieved as I was pretty sure the shelter would be hunter free, and we could settle down to fire building and relaxing the rest of the day.
The shelter was no more than a couple of tenths of a mile off the main trail, but since the main trail is on the ridge, the shelter was a few hundred feet lower in elevation located in a small patch of level ground. A water trail descended further to a still operational source of water, and another privy trail went in a different direction. I had planned on there being no water available, but that was unnecessary. The spring was flowing nicely, and I could have saved weight. The shelter was a luxury shelter. Built in bunks (for people of shorter stature than I), a gear loft, and plenty of floor space for the taller folk. The edge of the floor had a metal wrap to courageous salt-hungry porcupines from gnawing away, and there actually wasn’t an easy way for those varmints to gain perch in the shelter to attempt to gnaw. A well positioned giant stone sat just far enough from the shelter that it was beyond the range of the pines. Go check the wildlife videos, and you won’t see leaping porcupines in any of them. There were a couple of tables outside the main shelter, but under the cantilevered overhang. Each table had 3 sheet metal cooking sections to protect the table from camp stoves.
Surrounding the shelter was a wealth of downed trees as excellent fuel source for a soon to be warm fire. Quickly we dispatched our gear and began the task of gathering wood. Lots of dry small stuff to get started, and then larger sections we were able to free up using my Sven Saw. I am on my second saw, and though I have seen other contraptions, I still like the Sven Saw a lot. Wally soon had the fire going, and we all took turns using the saw to reduce our large foraged fuel source into more manageable fuel sources. With a fire going, it was time to break out the scotch and have a ceremonial tribute to the fire gods, and soon we were relaxing. We had the whole of the rest of the late afternoon to relax, and well into the evening. We were hiking out the next day, so there was no reason to hike out with any of the scotch and beers that we hiked in. So we settled down into a routine of conversation heavy relaxing supported by ample amounts of IPAs.
Being this was just an overnight, we COULD have packed in some really good food to eat. The woods was a refrigerator, so we could have brought anything with us, however, I just wanted to keep it simple, so it was dehydrated camp meals. We had a curry, a chili (Black Bart) and I think pasta. In addition, Walt had a Norwegian company’s product of Couscous which we were all eager to sample. Once the sun went down, we boiled the necessary water, and prepared our respective dinners. What is the preparation? Well, all these meals come with a moisture insert which you want to dig out before you add the water. Many of the meals have a separate pouch that contains additional ingredients. That needs to be removed as well. Not much, but important details.
We staggered the preparations, and then we all ate from each bag as it was ready. The Couscous was actually quite tasty. Not only was the packaging light in weight, but it was also vacuum sealed so it occupied the least amount of space possible. That is a very nice feature. Wally and I were familiar with Black Bart, as we have had that on prior trips and while we knew that the input part of BB was tasty, we were also familiar with the output part. The curry was eaten with favorable reviews, and the pasta dish was “Meh!”. Somehow, as hard as it was to imagine how this happened, when it seemed like after the water had been added that the added water had permeated the entire interior of the bag, small amounts of dry cheese, and dry pasta managed to avoid water all together. We stir the fug out of those bags before we seal them, and then bury them in our coats to both keep the bag as warm as possible, as well as to transfer warmth from the bag to ourselves.
It was clear night sky that took over, and we say up the rest of the night until all the beer and all the scotch was gone. We did it!. The temperature dipped into the low 20’s but we were all warm in our separate bags.
Kal was the first to rise. While I had gotten out of bed at least twice for nature breaks, I wasn’t so anxious to get an early start. We didn’t have far to go, and what was the hurry really? I was warm. Kal harvested some spring water and made himself some tea, and then at some point actually went back to bed. I didn’t realize that when I decided to get up myself, but I donned my shoes, and took all of my empty water bottles to the spring. I filled them up and brought them back to the shelter to use my Steri-Pen, but I didn’t get through one bottle before the pen crapped out because I hadn’t changed the batteries. Oops! I also didn’t pack replacements, so now, to be safe, I could use the water in these bottles until I boiled some. No problem. I needed hot water anyway, but first I would get the fire going again. Wally was starting to stir, and Kal stuck his head out of his bag when he heard the sticks breaking. We wouldn’t need a large fire, like the night before, but only one large enough to warm hands and burn off our detritus. With a fire going, my two companions were soon out of bed and packing up. Coffees, oatmeal, granola, dried fruits and nuts and we were all pretty happy campers.
We packed our things to go, extinguished the fire, and made sure we had enough water to satisfy our thirst on the way out. Walt still had a bladder full of water he had hiked in, and with all my water bottle contaminated, I filled the empty scotch container with water. We paid our respects to the Shelter gods, and departed.
I won’t dwell too much on the rest of the day. We passed no hunters, though we did happen upon a few day hikers. The descent off the ridge had a couple of spectacular vistas, and soon we were walking through Duncannon. It was a long walk, and in hindsight I wished we had set the cars at the closer parking lot. Cest la vie!
Once across the river, we had a ceremonial beer, and were soon back in Duncannon looking for a place to get some lunch. By some lucky chance we wandered into a Steelers bar where they had the games on and we enjoyed another backpacking tradition of a post trip meal and beer. Afterwards we drove once again to the starting trail head to retrieve my truck. We said our fare-the-wells, hugged, and departed. Overall I would rate this trip pretty high. It was easy to get to, it offered good scenery, and as with any trip of this sort, it is the friends that make the trip, and my friends made this one a memorable one.
Until next time.