The idea between the Improbable Thirty was to set up a route that was possible but would allow folks to push their limits. After all you don't know your limit until you fail. Of course, on the more material side we wanted our thirty mile bang (!). Four of us ended up going: me (EZBake), John (The Look), Karan (B.A.), and Hua (Wawa).
I departed early on Friday and drove to Hog Camp Gap, parked my car, and at 10:30 am started the 18-20 mile hike to our official "start" where they AT crosses Route 56 next to the Tye River. The section of trail along Tar Jacket Ridge was serene. Views along the ridge were blocked by all the leaves but the ample shade was welcome. The views from Spy Rock were mostly clouded in. My only delay was a minor thunderstorm while I was at the very tippy top of The Priest. I high tailed off the mountain as fast as I could. The upside was getting to see all the red efts that appeared with the rain. The overall route was generally downhill so I made good time, arriving at the parking lot on Route 56 at 6pm.
John (The Look) arrived promptly at 7pm and we strolled across the suspenion bridge to setup camp along the Tye river. I made myself dinner while we chatted. John shared a beer and carefully stowed a single, carefully selected can in his pack for the trip (that he would never drink). The skies darkened and a severe thunderstorm rolled in around 8:45pm. The wind was strong, rain heavy, and lightning close by. Despite pitching my hammock tarp low rain was blowing horizontally nearly all the way through. Fortunately only the ground got wet and I was quite dry hanging between the trees.
Karan (B.A.) and Hua (Wawa) arrived some time after 9pm after the worst had passed. Karan reported some impressively scary lightning displays as they drive down Route 56. I was already drifting off but muttered a hello and relayed my desire to start hiking at 6am. The group talked me down to 5:30am and I agreed.
The morning of summer solstice was dry but humid. The previously predicted "all day rain" never materialized. In fact the weather was better than we could have hoped for mid-late June. After a brief review of our route on the map we started the long climb up the Three Ridges. The water in Harpers Creek was noticeably lower than it was in April. There was a dozen or so tents near the Harpers Creek shelter and folks just rising. We reached the top of Three Ridges, wiped the ample sweat from our faces, and enjoyed views of awesome cloud filled valleys before descending to the Maupin Field Shelter. There were dozens of tents there as well and folks starting to pack up. Wawa and Karan continued on while John and I tanked up on water by the shelter.
The descent down the Mau-Har trail was slippery from the recent rain. Karan, as per usual, blazed through like it was nothing. I landed on my butt at least three times. After a brief stop to see the waterfall we continued on to the AT, sweating away most of the water we had consumed.
The descent back to the Route 56 was almost relaxing. We arrived around 11:45 and began the long climb up The Priest. Karan and John soon disappeared. I really struggled in this section. I noticed the signs of low blood sugar (fatigue, crankiness, etc) but was determined to reach the top before I took a break (another sign of low blood sugar: bad decision making). In the end one step at a time wins the day. We all gathered at the top of the Priest and enjoyed on and off views through the clouds from the overlook. Three naked thru-hikers with make-shift loin cloths joined us though were courteous enough to enjoy the view from a rock further along. (It _was_ officially naked hiker day.)
We made a stop at the Priest shelter where we tanked up on water and listened to the chatter of a troop of Boy Scouts. I wonder if they met the naked hikers. The trail would be dry along the ridge until we reached the Seely/Woodworth Shelter about 7 miles away. With the hard part of the trip over, and a bit more than half the miles under our belt, we departed the Priest shelter around 2:30 pm. Wawa tore off down the hill and the rest of us strolled after her.
Just as we crossed the gravel road to Crabtree Falls Wawa yelled that she saw a snake.
"What color?" we yelled back.
"Good!" I yelled. "There are no poisonous black snakes in Virginia!"
"It's not ALL black!" Uh oh.
By then we had arrived to see Wawa all together too close to a fully elongated black/brown rattle snake with a fair number of rattles laying alonside the trail. John made a note to compile a photo flip book of poisons critters for folks. Wawa moved safely on and the rest of us stomped about (at a safe distance) until the snake reluctantly moved off into the woods. I made a note to reassess my overly-generalized "black snake" policy.
The rest of the group hadn't seen Spy Rock yet and it's far too cool a place to pass up so we stopped and scrambled up to enjoy the 360 degree views. Fortunately it was mostly cloud free and sunny with a nice breeze (and distant thunder). We enjoyed a well earned snack and break before scrambling back down to continue on to the Seely/Woodworth Shelter for more water.
This section of trail is lovely and well graded and we were flying along. The piped spring at the shelter was running like a faucet and we tanked up quickly. Wawa, in typical fashion, moved on before us. I had tracked the distance to/from Hog Camp Gap at about 7.8 miles on Friday but was unsure of the accuracy. John and Karan felt the map indicated it was closer to 6 miles. (You should be sensing some foreshadowing here). I left with full water bottles as John and Karan finished up. It took a solid 45 minutes to catch Wawa and I was cruising at about 3 mph. John and Karan passed us shortly there after.
After about 4 miles, around 7:20pm, we passed a sign that said "Salt Log Gap" 1.7 miles. Hog Camp Gap is another 2 miles further on from that. It turns out my original 7.8 mile estimate was fairly accurate. I think that was a bit of a mental blow to everyone. We arrived at Salt Log Gap right at 8pm and took a short break to reassess. We just clicked to 30.0 miles by my conservative GPS. Karan's feet were a bit tender with a forming blister and he performed a bit of foot care. The group consensus was carry on the 2.2 miles to Hog Camp Gap and camp there for the night. We'd be too late to catch any views from Mount Pleasant anyway.
This section was a bit of a blur. John took off like a rocket and I tagged behind. We startled a turkey and a couple deer. Finally we were up and over the last rise and a quick descent to the large field, arriving at 8:55pm with enough light to bask in our glory. Wawa and Karan arrived before I could even drop my poles . To my amazement the entire camp was deserted. My car was still the only one in the lot. We were soon setting up camp in the after glow of the setting sun. The beer in my car was still cold and we each had a brew while we made dinner and listed to some coyotes in the distance. We were too tired to bake that night so we rescheduled Devil's Food cake for breakfast (never a bad idea). It rained a bit around midnight but I don't remember much else.
But the adventure wasn't over! The general plan was to sleep in and have bake the cake for breakfast before a 10am departure. John was up and eager to move at 6:30am. I was in one my more awake stages at the time and he ran his plan by me: a solo hike of the 5-6 mile Mount Pleasant loop. Excellent! Have fun! Karan snored his approval. Wawa was up by 7:15am and unfortunatley I was not as lucid. I thought she indicated she was going on a "use the facilities" type jaunt. I was wrong.
Karan and I were on our feet by 8am and a bit concerned about Wawa. We collected some firewood and got a fire going to bake breakfast cake. John rolled in at 9am reporting an enjoyable hike but limited views from Mount Pleasant. We sat about worrying about Wawa and figuring how far I'd get demoted. We recruited some south bound hikers to keep a lookout and direct her back our way if they saw her. Fortunately Wawa had her phone with her and responded to Karan's text message. It turns out she had told me she was going to hike the AT out to Cold Mountain for a morning view and then came back. I had misunderstood her declaration at 7am. She pulled into camp 5 minutes later at 9:35am wondering why "two guys and her husband" were asking about her. It's unclear to which one of the three of us was her husband.
She was just in time for breakfast Devil's Food cake (to go with her apple and open-all-night beer) which we all enjoyed. The drive back along the Blue Ridge Parkway was mostly clouded in but we got a few peeks. After getting everyone back to their car we headed to Devil's Backbone brew pub to enjoy an excellent lunch. The fellows had a beer and Wawa had a real bloody mary (no cream)with John's menu selection help - see photo in gallery. Karan declared the chicken wings so good he ordered a second meal to go.
Everyone earned their bang (!) this weekend. My GPS was tracking fewer miles than everyone elses and it claims 32 miles, 11K feet gain. Based on those numbers our average moving pace was 2.6mph; average pace overall 2.2mph. Wildlife talley: squirrels, chimpunks, turkey, deer, rattle snake, red efts, 4 naked thru-hikers, many clothed thru-hikers.
I wonder if I misnamed the Improbable Thirty. I suppose the only real failure was that nobody failed. No one exceeded their limits and most set new single-day distance records. The only thing that hit a limit this trip was my GPS. Apparently I exceeded the maximum data points for a single track log because I lost the first mile or two of Saturday. Fortunately that was within the out/back on the AT so I can recreate it.
It was a real pleasure sharing the trail with everyone this weekend. Well done for rising to the challenge and making it fun at the same time.
Dave...thanks a lot for well done the "friction story". It was a memorable improbable backpack experience. My sports track give me a total 34.27 miles for the Sat (O...I like the "Optimistic" reading), plus a 8.39 miles Sun mooring Cole mountain up and down. What a weekend Bless!!! When I was walking up the Priest, I saw a almost naked girl AT through hiker with only brae, and little cover down below, I must dropped my jaw, because she looked at me briefly, and said, "There are bunch of naked hikers behind me off there". [:O] The truth came out shortly, and I think I am going to post out the pic that they were on top of the Priest. If anyone thinks it was too much, let me know, and I can take it off the web.[:D]