This weekend I took another section hike on the Appalachian Trail from Lee, MA to Dalton, MA, a distance of 20 miles. Unlike my last trip, this section was infinitely easier. The snow had all melted and the daytime temperatures were a lot higher. I was also joined by several friends who I had hooked up with from Whiteblaze.net, a large online community of Appalachian Trail enthusiasts.
Quoddy, is an ultralight backpacker and gram weenie who hiked the Long Trail in Vermont last year. Since I’m hoping to section hike it this year, I was looking forward to picking his brain about train conditions and shuttles. Quoddy is a retired meteorologist and parachute instructor, both skills, as I was to learn later, are very helpful for orienting your tarp to prevent rain and wind from blowing on you at night. His entire kit on this hike was under 10 lbs., including water. This included a Revelation backpack from Mountain Laurel Designs, shown below, that weighs under 4 oz. (Check with MLD for availability)
I was also joined by Wysteria and Sherpa, a husband and wife couple, who have section hiked a substantial part of the AT. I had met them before but we had not hiked together and I was looking forward to getting out on the trail with them. Wysteria and Sherpa were busy Saturday morning so the plan was for Quoddy and I to meet at the Lee trailhead and hike to the October Mt. Shelter on Saturday, and then meet Wysteria and Sherpa there in the afternoon. They would drive to a trail head about 2 miles from the shelter and hike in on Saturday afternoon with steaks, veggie kabobs and s’mores fixings and then hike with us to Dalton on Sunday.
Quoddy and I met on Saturday morning at the Lee trail head at 8:30am. It was raining lightly but we changed into rain gear because temperatures were still in the 40’s. Immediately after crossing Rt 20, we were faced with a 700 foot climb to Mt. Beckett. It was a long, 1.5 mile climb and we summited after about an hour. Quoddy signed the trail register while I shed my rain pants and put on a pair of convertible hikers.
After this point, the trail becomes incredibly easy with little elevation change over the next 15 miles. Our plan was to have a low mileage day on Saturday – only 7.2 miles, and then a higher mileage day on Sunday with just under 13 miles. After Beckett, we flew down the trail except for one boggy spot just passed Finery Pond that resembled Planet Dagobah. We had to do a little bushwhacking around the sections of trail that were underwater but we were at the shelter by 1pm.
If we hadn’t planned to meet Wysteria and Sherpa, we would have probably kept hiking to Kay Wood Lean to, another 8.5 miles. Instead, we pitched camp and hung out talking about the Long Trail for a while. At about 2:30 pm, I got into my tent for a nap and had a good snooze until Wysteria and Sherpa arrived around 3:30 pm. The past couple of weeks have been really rough at work and I have not been getting enough sleep, so it was a nice break from the routine to sack out for a while.
The shelter was quite crowded that evening and there were 4 groups staying there including one group that had moved in for the entire weekend and had brought beer, wine, meat, a chainsaw, gas, a radio, etc. They turned out to be very nice people and we hung out with them around the fire, but we pitched our tents well away from the shelter to get away from the noise. Sitting by the fire listening to a Yankees game on the radio is not my idea of the AT experience, but despite this, I actually had a good time that evening.
Wysteria is a foodie and she and Sherpa had hiked in 4 big rib-eye steaks for us. She seasoned these with sea salt and fresh ground pepper before grilling them on a hot bed of coals. They came out fantastic. Quoddy had the foresight to pack in some paper plates and we chowed down. I am normally a picky meat-eater, picking off the fatty bits, but these steaks tasked so good I just ate the entire thing without a thought. The steaks were followed by s’mores which we built from marshmallows, gram crackers and Hershey bars. This was the FIRST time I ever ate s’mores and they were great.
The next morning, we were all up by about 6:45am, had a quick breakfast, packed up and were back on the trail by 8:30am or so. It has apparently rained the previous evening a few times, but not heavily, and we were all dry. We hiked about 2 miles to the car where Wysteria and Sherpa had parked the night before, dumped our trash, and refilled our water from jugs that were in the car. Total luxury. We quickly got back on the trail and headed north.
We made great time over the next 5 miles over a flat ridge with very little elevation change. Wysteria is well versed in plant classification and we learned to spot watercress growing in boggy areas, trillium, and ramps. Unlike eastern Massachusetts which is in full springtime bloom, the trees and shrubs on the section that we were hiking had not sprouted leaves yet, so the woods remained silvery against an overcast sky, despite small clumps of greenery sprouting from the forest floor.
As we approached Warner Hill, we hiked through a tall stand of Pine and ascended about 300 feet to the summit, passing old stone walls and navigating through fields of blackberry bushes that must be heaven for the bears in summertime. At one time, Warner Hill must have been pasture land, due to the lack of trees and uniformity of vegetation on the summit. We all stopped at the top of the hill while Wysteria and I stalked small birds through the thicket trying to get a clear photo. However, the sky began to clear and black flies found us, so it was time to high tail it out of there.
After Warner Hill, the hiking became a bit more strenuous again and the black flies became bothersome. So I shared the Ben’s 30 DEET I had brought with my companions and the bugs left us alone after that. Soon we summited Tully Mtn. and began the descent to Kay Wood Lean to. At the next trail junction, we hiked up a 0.2 mile blue-blazed trail, past a new bear box, to the Kay Wood Shelter. This is obviously a newly rebuilt shelter with a composting privy. The shelter is positioned at the very edge of a 30 foot drop with a side path that leads down to a quiet stream about 150 yards east of the shelter. I filtered some water there and was tempted to hang out a while in the sun, but I knew Quoddy was anxious to get to Dalton and meet up with his wife.
We ate a quick lunch at Kay Wood and hiked back to the trail and down to Grange Hall Rd/Robinson Rd. From there we hiked beside a beautiful stream before ascending Day Mtn. By this time we had hiked about 10 miles and had 3.5 more to go to reach our car in Dalton, at the foot of the trail section leading to Mt. Greylock, the highest peak in Massachusetts. After another steep 500 ft. descent, we hiked another mile, crossed the railroad tracks and emerged from the woods onto Depot St. From here, we walked close to 2 miles through a residential area in Dalton, passing by many “House For Sale” signs, and fantasizing how great it would be to run a hiker hostel right on the Appalachian trail. Do these people know how close they are to a dream?
After running a shuttle to pick up a car, we all drove to Moe’s Tavern in Lee, Massachusetts which has become a favorite spot for Wysteria, Sherpa and I to recover from a section hike. Moe’s has a great selection of microbrewed beers and great hamburgers. They are on 10 Railroad St. in Lee, adjacent to the municipal parking lot. Go there and try the Young’s Double Chocolate Stout on tap.