2nd Annual Winter AT Trip

In what will surely become The Event of the season, Dan and I headed out to the AT for a two day backpacking trip (March 5th and 6th). However, we didn’t pick up where our last trip left off. Instead, we started at Pittsfield Rd in MA, about twenty miles north of our last finish (Bear Mountain Rd in MA), and hiked the nearly ten miles south to MA I20.

Our first winter trip, last Febuary, was easily our most challenging trip ever. We weren’t prepared for the trail being one continuous sheet of ice, our food supply depending too much on having to stop for long periods of time to cook on a stove, and every river and stream that, in the summer, you could step over, became torrents of white water that were nearly impassible. Also, my mileage estimates were far too optimistic.

Learning from that experience, we came far more prepared. For one thing, we both used snowshoes. Even though Dan questioned whether we’d even need them during the drive north (despite several big snow storms last month, all the snow is gone in Connecticut) the snowshoes definitely earned their keep. The trail had several feet of snow over it and postholing ten miles would have gotten one of us hurt most likely.

For food I kept to the system that’s worked well the last couple of trips. Some hot drink mixes, one or two hot dinners, but the rest is easy and quick sandwiches that require almost no prep and can be eaten on the move. And this time around, we didn’t even bother with the hot stuff.

Third change involved mileage. For this trip, we went from North to South. I switched that because the shelter along this stretch was only a very flat two and a half miles from the Northern end. Since we always seem to get to the trail head in early to mid afternoon, having an easy hike to a shelter meant we’d have more time to relax and be fully rested for the second, more difficult day.

And that’s pretty much exactly what happened. We were hiking by 1:30 pm (2.5 hour drive, plus we had to stop and buy Dan snowshoes) and had reached the shelter by 3:30 pm. We started on a snow mobile trail at Pittsfield Road and missed the turn for the AT — apparently we got distracted by the used fireworks marking the turn off and kept walking another 50 feet or so before realizing something wasn’t right. Then Dan ran back to the car to get something (forget what) and while he was at the car, four or five snow mobilers came riding down the snowmobile track. This section of the trail went through October Mountain state forest and the AT crossed snow mobile trails 4 or 5 times. Also, the AT is apparently popular between that snow mobile track and the shelter; trail was heavily post holed and also showed snow shoe tracks. In addition, about 100 yards down the trail was a fire pit — in the middle of the trail.

But clearly the Gods were smiling on us, because when we got to the October Mountain shelter we found seven cans of Bud Light. So, after spreading out our gear, gathering firewood, and otherwise killing time waiting for night, we had ourselves a nice fire and pounded back a few cold ones. Easily one of the best shelter experiences I’ve had on any of these trips. Thanks to the person or persons that left the beer, much appreciated.

The temperature dropped big time during the night. Went from low forties to somewhere around 15 degrees. Even in my 0 degree bag, I got cold around 1:30am and couldn’t really get comfortable again. I think the biggest problem was the stupid inflatable pillow I decided to bring. Took me a while to realize the thing was like an ice cold brick under my head. And I also hadn’t tightened up the sleeping bag hood enough either. By that time it was too late, somewhere around 4:30 am, and Dan was also up due to the cold. We both decided, better to be warm hiking than cold sleeping and packed up and left.

The second day was the “big” mileage day — about 7 miles to I20. We stopped for breakfast around nine am after covering almost three miles. We stopped again at 11am after reaching Finerty Pond. By that time, the temperature felt like it was low to mid fifties, the sun was shining, and the sky was absolutely cloudless and a gorgeous blue. We spent an hour on the bank of that pond, just relaxing.

At 12 we started moving again, with only a couple miles left to cover. Unfortunately, the AT around Finerty is poorly blazed. Most of the blazes are extremely faded and far apart. We lost the trail a half dozen times in only thirty minutes or so.

The last leg of the trip was the most “difficult” — up Mount Walling and Mount Beckett, then a descent to I20. This was also the first significant elevation change of the entire trip. We were both winded going up (snowshoes and wet, slushy snow make for tiring hiking), but we got through just fine. Signed the register on the top of Beckett and then started the hike down to the road. Reading the register on Mount Beckett, it appeared we weren’t the only ones to lose the AT at Finerty, either.

An additional note — Google Earth just gets better and better for trip planning. I usually use the Trimble Trip reports in Google Earth to get track logs and waypoints that I can import into National Geographic TOPO! to make custom maps, but Google has also integrated Street View into Google Earth. While I’m not crazy about having pictures of my house on the internet, it was very nice to be able to use Street view to figure out where the trail head parking was and what it looked like. A lot easier than driving around having no idea what kind of parking will be there. Also, Backpacker Magazine’s web site (backpacker.com) also allows access to the Trimble Trip reports, including the ability to print out a map, elevation profile, and waypoint list directly from their site. I printed it out from backpacker.com to leave for the Wife, so she would know exactly where we were going.

One Response to “2nd Annual Winter AT Trip”

  1. Jkb says:

    Very nice campsite!