Most of our group assembled at Grosvenor under ominous and sodden skies on Friday, with all reports indicating that we would be trudging through rain for the better part of the weekend. It had all the classic trappings of an Eeyore trip, but just as the AFT surprised me last year with all its different terrain features, so too did the weather have a few pleasant surprises for the group.
Twelve of us assembled at the trailhead a little after 10PM: myself, Karan, Jimmy, Mimi, Dan, Aileen, Jessie, Bryan, Hua, Gary, Denise, and Haley. My thoughts of a 6 AM wakeup call quickly dissipated when I realized just how late we'd be getting to camp. Luckily for us, though, Hua had arrived earlier in the day to scout out a campsite for us. There would be no stumbling through the dark to find the first convenient field: after a short 2 mile walk, we arrived at a nice, broad campsite complete with fire ring (and soon, fire), running water, and ample space for us to spread out. I got my tent up just as the rain started, and just as I started to congratulate myself for that bit of good fortune, the rain stopped. A few people lingered around the fire for a bit, but with it being past midnight, we all soon retired to our sleeping bags.
I had set the wake-up call for 7, but heard people moving around by 6. So once 7 AM did roll around, I enlisted the help of Denise, Aileen, Jessie, and Hua to help me get the rest of the group moving (it involved clapping and singing; I take after Evan's wake-up calls). Everyone packed up quickly, and we were on the trail by 7:45.
The nice thing about the AFT is that it meanders along, and we had already logged over 6 miles by a bit after 10. We stopped for a nice break at Benner Run (the other nice thing about the AFT is the surplus of good resting spots), where Jimmy and Hua decided to ford the stream rather than use the bridge. Karan and Dan were meandering along behind us, but I knew they'd catch up (as Karan in particular is good at silently sneaking up on me).
The air definitely grew a bit thicker as the day wore on, and just as we stopped for lunch, you could hear the rumble of thunder in the distance. This was it! The point where the rain would roll in and stick with us until we hit the cars. And once it hit, we were dumped on. But it finished in 20 minutes, and by the time we regained the last road crossing before 504, we were already drying out.
Jimmy commented at the end of the trip that the AFT was the hardest easy trip he'd ever done, and it definitely stuck with me. We put in 23 miles on Saturday, and for as fast as we covered the ground, we were exhausted by the time we got to camp. We gathered around the fire for a nice relaxing meal, but I was feeling ill at ease: neither Aileen nor Gary had made it into camp yet. We had seen them both just a few miles before, and while the group did spread out over the course of the day, it was never more than 15 or 20 minutes. Karan and I watched the trail while we ate, but with no sign of them and dusk quickly falling, we definitely started to worry.
I decided to backtrack to see if I could find them; after all, I had seen Aileen just a few miles before camp, and others reported seeing her along the trail en route to camp. Armed with only my head lamp and a chocolate bar (I'm still at a loss as to why I left camp carrying this), I hiked up trail for a bit, calling for them. After about 10 minutes, I decided to turn back, and bumped into Karan, who had also decided to look for our fellow hikers. Displaying more grit and endurance than I had, he hiked even further back, and managed to locate Gary and Aileen at another campsite. While they said they stopped there because they thought it was the site I had mentioned, I know that it was to save themselves from another one of my wake-up calls. They would catch up with us before we left in the morning, and, relieved, we were able to enjoy a restful night.
Sunday's wake-up call featured a tribute to the Shirelles (it was Mother's Day, after all), and we spent the morning hiking with blue skies and sunshine all around. But for as pleasant as all the vistas and sunshine were (even the Moss-Hanne trail wasn't too boggy this year), the AFT wouldn't let us conquer it easily. The last few miles after Ralph's Majestic Vista were brutal, and the sun quickly went from pleasant to punishing. But we prevailed, and Karan and Hua were on hand to take finisher photos as the rest of the group completed the trail. After that, we got the VIP treatment at Otto's, and headed on home (treated to more of Motown in my car courtesy Mimi's iPhone).
So thank you all for helping make this trip a memorable weekend! I was glad to dust my hiking legs off after a month away from the trail, and couldn't have asked for a nicer group or better time. And I owe a special thanks to Karan for looking out for everyone on the trail; it was a big help to have him on hand, so I'll forgive him for not bringing the beer this time :). See you all again soon!
Great report Mike!
Short and Sweet ! Thanks Mick!!!
"Jimmy commented at the end of the trip that the AFT was the hardest easy trip he'd ever done, and it definitely stuck with me. We put in 23 miles on Saturday, and for as fast as we covered the ground, we were exhausted by the time we got to camp."
I found it kind of crazy how doing the AFT with these splits starting from the east and going counterclockwise felt more tiring than starting from west in the same direction as we did last spring and doing pretty much the same splits. Especially as the last few miles of this itinerary can leave some impressions! [:p]
Great trip report Mike. Thanks for forgiving me :P I kind of agree with Jimmy - there was something about this trip which made it difficult. Overall, it did appear flat because there weren't many big climbs. It did feel otherwise though . Maybe it was the large number of ascends and descends. "Quantity, not Quality" seemed to have mattered. Starting from the western trailhead and going CCW should have made D-2 more challenging because of the big elevation gains near the vistas.
I am glad I got to do it. The jungle reminded me a lot of places I have hiked in the Southern part of India. Looking back, this trail certainly does seems to have its own identity to me - I found it quite different from my previous hikes here. And such great weather :)