Thinking about “Night Hatchet” on the Appalachian Trail


Consider this the “Halloween” post for Write In Front of Me.  It’s not my intent to fuel undue anxiety or alarm but I would be less than upfront if this side of backpacking the Appalachian Trail wasn’t addressed.  Specifically, I’m talking about safety in dealing with other hikers and people you will meet.

First a tale…a true tale.

Cold Spring Shelter along the Appalachian Trail was home for the night for myself and a handful of other backpackers.  We’d left Springer Mountain mid-April and were among the rear guard bound for Katahdin.  Most of us were getting our “trail legs” and starting to feel we were managing the tests the trail set before us pretty well.

What we weren’t prepared for was “Night Hatchet.”

“Night Hatchet” was a young local man, about his early twenties, who was hitching from trailhead to trailhead, hiking in to shelters, staking a claim and mooching off backpackers.  He carried little provisions and gear, and would ask for food and bum cigarettes.  He was a “little off” to most of us, but we tolerated his presence, though it was clear he wasn’t a serious outdoorsman.

English: Hatchet Italiano: Accetta Deutsch: Beil

“Night Hatchet” had some…habits.  One was discovered when another backpacker fetched water from the spring only to find “NH” had washed his dinner dishes in it.  The water was fouled with pasta and goop and it took considerable effort to clear it to get decent water.

“NH” was drinking, too.  Though his rucksack held few genuinely useful items he did have substantial alcohol, which fueled his mood which soured as the night settled upon us.

English: Lag BaOmer bonfire

Then “Night Hatchet” tinkered with the fire.  Oh, yes, the fire…

Most shelters have a modest fire pit, used for cooking, warmth, and camaraderie.  “NH” thought it was his personal volcano, and by the time we had all retired into the shelter for the night, “Night Hatchet” had built it up so much that heat was blasting off the shelter walls.  Those of us lying in the shelter – which was all of us but him – could see his shadows on the ceiling as he capered and danced about the blaze and we tried to sleep.

Oh, I almost forgot.  Why he was known as “Night Hatchet.”  It seems he came prepared to hack on anything wood, for he retrieved a sizable hatchet from his pack and started to hew logs for his fire.

Imagine how we all felt, lying there and looking up at the ceiling of the shelter, our last waking images being those of “Night Hatchets” shadow as he raised and dropped his hatchet and muttered to himself?

Now the tale is done…next I’ll elaborate on the main topic.



Filed under The Appalachian Trail

4 responses to “Thinking about “Night Hatchet” on the Appalachian Trail

  1. Even in the woods, you never know who’ll you meet. Good cautionary tale.

  2. Pingback: The compass of your heart points North | Write in Front of Me

  3. Thank you for this tale. It is really frightening to me, since I will be hiking alone. My sons want me to carry a concealed weapon for protection, but I don’t want to. Now, I’m reconsidering. I’m going to show this blog to my sons. Again, thank you.

  4. Reblogged this on vintnerofgrapes and commented:
    “Night Hatchet” is the only example of an animal along the trail that frightens me.

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