Chilling by Sunfish Pond

But it was still nice to get outside. Of course it rained. Its become the big joke- is it pouring? Jen and Nicole must have gone backpacking. This year we were planning for an easy trip- up to Sunfish Pond, camp at Backpacker II for the night, tool around the pond, camp at Backpacker II again and head back in the morning. Somehow hiking through the rain to a new campsite is more appealing than hanging out getting soaked or sitting in a tent waiting for it to stop. So we bailed. We also had our first camping catastrophe.¬† When the rain first started we were just cleaning up dinner. We were rushing to get our food stuff together to throw into the bear box, Jen threw Dee Dee in the tent so we wouldn’t have to smell wet dog all night. I thought that was pretty smart. Until Dee Dee ripped her way out of the tent.

Bad Dee Dee!

Luckily some of the guys camping near us had duck tape (we were the most ill-prepared for this trip that we’ve ever been). The tape didn’t work 100%, but the thunderstorms all night kept the rest of the bugs to a minimum. I’m going to bring the tent to REI this week after work, I’m a member, so I’m pretty sure they will patch it or replace it or something. They have the best customer service. Also going to pick up a patch kit, should’ve incorporated that into my gear list way earlier for sure.

The group of guys near our camp site really had it figured out. Four friends- enough to carry all the fun things. Like a large tarp. So they could hang out outside while it was raining. Yeah, we need to get a bigger group together- you can bring way more stuff up with you that way! Those guys made pancakes for breakfast. We sat their drinking our tea and eating granola and I plotted ways to rope other people along for the trip. Perhaps next year we’ll actually break away from Sunfish Pond. It is lovely, but the hike is fairly familiar now, and I’d like a change of scenery. Hiking in the Shenandoahs next year has been tossed around… who’s coming with us???

Photo of doing something "Icelandic" for a contest to win a trip

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Sunfish Pond

Guard Dog DeeDee

Hikers for a weekend

JenO, DeeDee and I hit the trail again last weekend, with a new hiking buddy, Sarah. Sarah and Jen were girlscouts together back in the day- we didn’t sing any camp songs, but we did play a few healthy rounds of hangman and dots and boxes (play online here!) Of course, it poured. Always seems to whenever JenO and I plan a hike. But it held off while we cooked dinner and for us to stake the tent, so it all worked out. We’re referring to this trip as the “lazy loop” because we took it real easy. Last year we did 25 miles. This year we just hiked to the pond, spent some time at camp and hiked around the pond and back down. I don’t think we’ve ever set out this late in the year before- it was such a pleasure to be chilly!

new growth after the fire

Backpacker 2 was a welcome sight, but a bit changed. There was a fire up on the mountain at the beginning of August. The vegetation is growing back, but charred wood is everywhere, (the brown trees in the top photo are fire-damaged, not early autumnal changers) and the rain made it smell like a campfire, which was quite a tease, since open fires aren’t allowed. But that didn’t stop us from getting quite decadent. We made tiramisu! It was pretty awesome. We based it off this recipe, but used handysnack pudding instead of powdered milk and pudding mix and Stella D’Oro cookies instead of lady fingers.

Camp Tiramisu

It was AMAZING. And as an extra bonus- the instant espresso isn’t a terrible coffee-flavored-warm-drink for the morning! I don’t think its a totally practical treat for two people on the trail, but with an extra pack- its perfect. It makes enough for four, but the three of us managed to finish it off, too :-) I think it would be a really great thing to make on a long-ish day hike with a bunch of people. You do need to carry at least two pots, though. One big enough to build the dessert in, and one to heat up the coffee/Kahlua mixture. It is a bit tough to clean out, if you had more people I bet you could find someone to lick the pot, classic camp style.

my crew

So why has it taken me so long to post this, you might ask. Well, I started a new job on Monday. Skill wise its pretty similar to what I was doing before, but its a totally different environment. I went from a small production company that took 15 minutes to get to on my bike to a huge pharma company that takes an hour and 45 minutes (when all goes smoothly) via subway/regionalrail/shuttle. Its going to be an adjustment, but the job is good, the people are great and I’m looking forward to not being the new kid. I hate the awkward dancing that always happens as a new employee, I wish I could fast-forward to next month. But I have my menagerie keeping me company at my desk, and my edit notebook at my side, so I’m set for whatever will come down the line.

Ah backpacking. Each time I go, I question my sanity about the whole thing. This year was muggy, swampy and rainy, not exactly ideal weather. A constant stickiness on my skin, my sleeping bag nearly unbearable. And then when I make it to Sunfish pond, or something equally as breathtaking, I remember why I’ve gone every year for the past four or so.

Sunfish pond

Sunfish pond, one of my favorite places

J. and I chose August for what has become our annual hiking trip. A muggy morning, rain forecast for the weekend, a young dog and a tent that we weren’t quite sure was waterproof. Not exactly a recipe for success.

Kirkridge Shelter

at the Kirkridge Shelter

But a well placed shelter the first night kept us dry, as well as provided some nice interaction with other weekenders. I’m glad we went later this year, and avoided the through hikers. Over the years, I’ve gotten a little tired of how pretentious some of them can be, as if they own the trail, and we section hikers have no right to be in their way. Not everyone is like that, of course. But it was nice not to have our mileage for the day scoffed at. J.’s dog Dee Dee was rather protective of the camp site, and scared off some hikers in the middle of the night- her growl makes her sound like 6 times the dog she is. She was friendly to the other hikers at the shelter though, and I think everyone liked having her around as a bit of bear repellent.

This year we got dropped off at Wind Gap and left J.’s car at Water Gap. It was nice not to backtrack too much for once. Wind Gap is another major uphill right away, which is never fun. Apparently the section of trail we hike is one of the most difficult on the AT because of all the rocks. It really feels absurd at some points, as if all the rocks were put there just to turn your ankles. Major fog and cloud cover meant that most of our ‘scenic views’ were less than spectacular, and we hiked most of the second day under a constant drip from light rain and the tree leaves.

Campsite at Backpacker 2

Campsite at Backpacker 2

But by the time we got up to Backpacker 2 near Sunfish, the weather had cleared. Soaking our worn feet in the cool water was just perfect. It poured again that night, but turns out our little tent was quite waterproof and we emerged in the morning sticky from the humidity but otherwise unscathed. A quick hike down in the morning, and we completed close to 24 miles in a little over two days. Not bad for weekenders!

I’m already planning our next trip in my mind. Cooler weather, perhaps a September hike. I’ll have bought a good light two-man tent by then, and maybe we’ll venture onto a non-AT trail….. but if I haven’t found one when it comes down to time to head out, Sunfish pond is certainly a great fall back, as it is every year.

Heading out on the AT toward Sunfish Pond

Heading out on the AT toward Sunfish Pond

So, one bear sighting and two thunderstorms later, we all made it back safely. Sore and dirty, but it was fun.

We joked about bears the whole time. Our blueberry pancakes the morning we set out were ‘bear repellent discs‘. The park ranger told us a bear tried to break into the bear box at backpacker 2 (the campsite at Sunfish pond). We joked about how the slow hiking couple would get eaten before us. And then there we are, sitting around a camp stove, cooking our dinner, food all around us, and what should come over¬† the rocks, but a small bear.

Cooking dinner before the bear

Cooking dinner before the bear

Small bear means a mother bear somewhere. We all stood up, froze for a second and then started making as much noise as possible. The bear went away, right up the AT. Every twenty minutes or so we’d make more bear noises. No further sightings, though some noises at night.

I vote next trip is three days, two nights.

Psyched to head back to Jersey tonight… first backpacking trek with my own frame pack! I have a feeling that we all be far over prepared for a simple overnight hike, but still it will be grand. Hopefully the small tragedies that tend to plague my camping trips will be swept aside this time.