Hiking the Appalachian Trail Part two #19
By David Christian
for the independent
The sunset atop Priest Mountain was breathtaking. A few of us hung around on the summit for about an hour before heading back to the Priest shelter. Over the years the log book located at the Priest shelter has become a book of confessions. Hikers and visitors alike jot notes of sin and redemption in its pages; making for interesting and often humorous entries. I confessed to not making the climb up the summit on the hardest side. Feeling wholly absolved of my transgression, I slept peacefully and soundly all night.
The next day was sunny and warm. My destination was the Steeley Woodworth Shelter, seven miles away. It would be over a very rocky, up and down, trail at about 4000 feet.
The first mile down was a steady descent to about 3300 feet. The remainder of the day was a series of five short, but rocky, climbs back up to 4000 feet that seemed to take forever to complete. Each climb was higher and longer than the last. The views of the valley and towns below were outstanding. Near the middle of the day, at a particularly rocky spot on the trail, I ran into an older woman who was section hiking the area. She asked me if this rocky trail had an end. I let her know that for her the next three miles would be fairly easy, mostly downhill with a few small climbs until just below the shelter. Then she would have a steady but slight climb for about 8 tenths of a mile. She told me that the next three miles towards the Steeley Woodworth Shelter were very rocky but not too bad. We thanked and wished each other well before heading our separate ways. At around 5pm the trail had flattened out a bit and the shelter came into view on my right. It had been a long and laborious day. The rocks and hills had taken their toll. I was tired and hungry and looking forward to a nice long rest.
Four other hikers were at the shelter when I had arrived. Dave, whom I had met a few days before at the Harpers Creek Shelter, was hiking the section and hoping to make it to Damascus on the VA / TN line. Another thru hiker, a woman on her way to Maine, was a minister of some sort on sabbatical from her mission in New York. There was also another couple hiking the whole trail from Georgia to Maine. Together we ate at the picnic table in front of the shelter. Shortly thereafter a young woman arrived and seeing that the shelter was pretty full, decided to head down the hill to camp at a pond below. Then as we were cleaning up a light rain began to fall and thunder could be heard in the distance. I headed down the trail a bit to a small spring to fill my water bottles for the night. Later while we were gathering up packs and sleeping bags a man ran into the tent area, away from the shelter, and hastily set his tent up and crawled inside. Almost immediately thunder, lightning, and rain was upon us. We hoped that the young hiker, heading to the pond, had time to set her tent up before the deluge.
The thunder, right overhead, rattled and shook the shelter. Every few minutes the lightning lit the whole area and the rains poured down in buckets. We all shifted to the back wall of the shelter, away from the front opening, and huddled in our sleeping bags.
The Steeley Woodworth Shelter, like most on the trail, was a three sided lean-to, opened in the front. Thankfully we had little wind and the rain was pouring straight down so little rain reached us at the back of the shelter.
The storm lasted throughout the night until about 4am. By the time we got up, at around 7am, everything was back to normal. The day ahead promised to be dry and fair. We were all happy to have made it warm and dry through the night. After breakfast everyone headed their separate ways. Dave thought he might stop at a nearby town, Buena Vista, for a re-supply. I said that I would probably see him somewhere soon down the line. I had decided to hike the next ten miles to the Cow Camp Gap Shelter. Little did I know that a great adventure lie in store for me a day or two down the trail.