Tag Archives: Vermont

AppalachianTrail — Track of the cat

The cry was piercing, raw, and close, echoing through the humid late spring air of the Stecoah Mountains.  I was in my tent, which was pitched in a glade.  I sat up quickly, my heart hammering.  A chill ran through me.  I stopped breathing and listened, fearing there might be another — nearer — dreadful encore.  Nothing.

I’d never heard the creature before, but had read a description of its cry — “the sound of a woman screaming.”

Bobcat

Bobcat (Photo credit: Len Blumin)

Bobcat.

I parted my lips, exhaling slowly as the adrenaline kick fizzled out.  My afternoon siesta over, I packed up my tent and continued to the next shelter.  There I shared my experience with other backpackers, but chalked it up as just another “A.T. Adventure Moment.”

Now, years later, I wonder — was it a bobcat?  Might it have been a larger, more controversial and formidable animal now reportedly being seen in some places along the Appalachian Trail — a mountain lion?

Some website research recently revealed a page where debate rages in Connecticut.  There are reported sightings of mountain lions (puma concolor) over a wide area around Farmington (www.ctmountainlion.org).  The map on the site is of particular interest.  Comments there show how contentious the issue has been.

When I backpacked the Long Trail in Vermont I would hear rumors of mountain lions in the Green Mountains.  Vermonters call them catamount.  I never saw evidence for them, but then I wasn’t looking.

Encounters with mountain lions (also called panthers, painters, catamount, and pumas) reach back to the early settlement of America.  Their habitat, once abundant in the eastern range, dwindled, and they were considered extinct due to the encroachment of the logging industry as well as having been hunted.  Still, reports that they survived persisted among some scientists and locals, though definitive evidence was lacking.

Today, wildlife officials at the local and state levels agree that cougars exist in the Appalachian range, at least to some degree.

Which leads to the obvious question: what should you do if you saw a cougar along the trail in the wild?

First, do not run.  Cougars, though shy and wary of people, may chase anything that flees from them, including people.

Cougar / Puma / Mountain Lion / Panther (Puma ...

Another technique, sometimes used when meeting with bears in the wild, is to make yourself look bigger than the animal confronting you.  Stand up tall, raise your open arms in the air.  Stay calm, backing away slowly while maintaining eye contact with the cat, and talk loudly.  If you are attacked, fight back furiously.  Use your fists, any available weapon, tree limbs, rocks.  Putting up a fight can deter or drive the cougar away.

In my estimation, I believe it would be unlikely that I would see a mountain lion when backpacking the Appalachian Trail, nor does current news and reported sightings deter me from venturing onto the trail.

Still, when I look at that map of Connecticut sightings it makes me wonder.  What if?

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Filed under Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Cougar, Hiking, Long distance backpacking, The Appalachian Trail, Timothy J. Hodges

Snow Foolin’ — Stranded in a snow storm – Part 1

English: Photographer: HanumanIX

As I mounted the North flank of Jay Peak in Vermont it became plain that I was going to be snowed in.  During my climb ponderous clouds unleashed snowfall.  The wind lashed ice pellets at my face with shotgun blast intensity.  My breathing was strained, my hands were losing sensitivity, and my field of vision was diminished to mere feet.

I knew the crest was within reach in about ten more minutes of hiking.  Even so, I knew that if conditions continued to worsen at the rate I observed them, the trail would become concealed in a torrent of white and I would be stumbling for direction in a blizzard.  Instantly I knew what it felt like to be apprehended by a blizzard without reference points.

I fished my compass from my pocket and formed my best calculation, slogging forward through drifts of snow which threatened to bury the way entirely.  I was unable to trace a clear path and was left with no recourse but to look at the trees to find reliable trail blazes.  The blazes were white.  White trail blazes, many on white paper birches, in a milky snowfall.  Things were getting crazy.

Windy Go!

I trudged upward, only partially confident that I was still on the blazed trail.  A specter of doubt settled into my thoughts, a suspicious “voice.”  “You could be anywhere!” the White Devil seemed to say.  “You might just waltz into the woods and freeze to death, never to be found!”  Was that a laugh I heard?

“Ridiculous!” I thought.  I’m walking the Long Trail in Vermont, not a rabbit trail in the arctic tundra.  Shelters are abundant.  There’s no chance I’ll get into trouble here.  Still, there was that “voice”…

The wind was howling.  The next shelter was over the cap of Jay Peak in Hazen’s Notch.  I wouldn’t be getting that far this day.  I moved on, leaning into the force of the mounting storm, struggling upward, at times losing my footing on ice bound ledges and slippery leaves.  Finally I stumbled into a clearing, an open ski slope.  I saw a grayish bulk rearing above me in the whiteout — the summit house.

Whiteout

It was a late Sunday in October and the tram had stopped operation, having made its final run of the day, so a ride down into the valley was out of the question.  I was left alone on the peak.   I dropped my backpack, leaning it against an outer wall, and scouted for options.  It was clear no one was around and all the entrances were shut tight.  I was about to despair when I discovered a door at the basement level of the building.  I was elated to see a sign indicating it was a refuge room for hikers.  I rapidly retrieved my pack and clambered inside, the keening wind slamming the door behind me.  The basement room featured numerous windows on two sides.  There were saw horses and some planks which made a makeshift platform for sleeping, and there was a tap with potable water.  Home; but for how long?

Realizing I had been fortunate, I set to making the platform my bed, fluffing my sleeping bag and unrolling my mat.  Outside, through the vertical windows, the vista was…white.  The wind ramped up, and a doleful howl began as the tram cables were rattled by the gale.  It sounded like the strings of the world’s largest and most sour violin.  That dissonance would scream at me the next few days.  (end of Part 1)

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Filed under The Appalachian Trail, Timothy J. Hodges, Writing

Thinking about…cooking on the Appalachian Trail

English: Svea 123R stove with windscreen and a...

Svea 123R stove with windscreen and adjusting key. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before the roarin’ Nineties of backpacking gear, the choices in backpacking stoves were few.  I now carry an MSR Firefly backpacking stove (bought around 1987), but I’ve kept my old Svea stove.  It’s stowed away in a hallway closet, along with that broken hiking staff.  Sentimentality reigns!  But, also, practicality.  I know that old warhorse would fire up on days when the more complex Firefly may not.  As I consider the inner workings of the Firefly, compared to the Svea, I think I could rely on it much more should I need a backup camping stove or one to use during a prolonged power outage.

I’m reminded of a young man who hiked the Appalachian Trail who was a chef by profession.  He was the only long distance backpacker I ever met who disdained a cooking stove.  Instead, come dinnertime, come gale, wind, or high water, he would manage to gather enough wood to kindle a fire and used that to cook.  I still marvel today at his resourcefulness and how he could take food contributions from a gang of hikers and prepare a four-star feast!  Learning from him, I later spent occasions building and using cooking fires, and while I still carried my stove for backup, I came to enjoy the ritual and results of open fire cooking along the trail.  I recall a particular trip along the Appalachian Trail in Massachusetts one early spring when I would tarry at camp long enough to cook up some Indian fry-bread and drizzle the golden brown delight with sourwood honey.  Now that’s eatin’!

Camp Cook

Camp Cook

Speaking of food and not just stoves, I found my trail diet developing as I hiked.  Though freeze-dried and prepackaged foods have their place in saving weight and providing good shelf-life, nothing will ever beat fresh produce.  If I’m out for a week, I will carry fresh garlic and onion, brussels sprouts, broccoli, red potatoes, carrots, green beans, and other trail worthy veggies to cook.  I eat these the first days out and save the dried goods for the last few days.  Nothing has lifted my spirits so much as fresh food for those first dinners on a trek.  The greatest validation I received doing this was when another hiker stumbled into camp on the Long Trail in Vermont.  I had just fired up the stove and was stir-frying onions and garlic in olive oil.  The fragrance wafted over to him.  Then I heard a low, curious voice saying, “Hey, man…whatcha’ cookin’ there?”  I went into defense mode even as I casually answered him.  “Oh, just some veggies I brought along…”  I though I was about to be mugged!  Fortunately for me that did not happen.  But it sealed the deal.  Other hikers, too, dreamt and drooled of fresh “real” food, and taking it with you is both practical and a tasty supplement to processed and packaged choices.  Bon appetit!

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Vertical space

English: Warren Wilson College's Ropes Course ...

The tower was a medieval-looking structure – a tripod constructed of massive timbers which looked like over-sized telephone poles.  Wrapped with ropes the thickness of my upper arm, the structure rose into the grey afternoon sky.  There were climbing holds stapled along the legs at various points, and climbing ropes draped from its height.  There was a platform on top where one could stand and look out over the Connecticut countryside.  My first impression was that it looked like a siege weapon from a Lord of the Rings movie, only missing a few attendant orcs.  It was at once challenging and forbidding.  And the closer I walked toward it the more uncomfortable I felt.

It was the afternoon break during a conference.  Participants could snooze, chat, read, play ball or –as was my case — check out the “ropes course.”  But this was unlike any challenge course I had seen.  Instead of cables strung between treetops there was this lone structure in a field, tended by a staff of three whose task it was to ensure the safety of climbers who would ascend belayed in harnesses.

I was the first to arrive, and wandered below the three-legged device.  I looked up and felt slightly dizzy.  No one had come to climb the tower yet, and I had no intention of trying to climb it.  My plan was to hang out and watch more valiant souls do it.

Being curious, I peppered the climbing safety team with questions, such as who made the tower, how it was used, and how safe it was.  Admittedly, deep down, I had always wanted to address my own long-standing fear of heights.  Sure, I’d had limited encounters with vertical space, such as clambering up the Forehead of Mount Mansfield in Vermont and scaling Katahin in Maine.  But those, while risky, never involved as much anxiety as the notion of climbing this tower seemed to.

After a few questions, one team members offered a candid comment.  “Even kids love climbing this thing,” she said.  OK, I could understand how fearless children, restrained with rope and safety harness, would not hesitate to tackle this over-sized Tinker Toy.  But then came the clincher.

“They even climb it blindfolded!”

Next:  Counter-intuition

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Filed under Achievements, Anxiety, Apprehension, Camp, Climbing, Climbing tower, Competitiveness, Courage, Fear of falling, Fear of heights, Outdoor safety, Outdoor skills, Outdoor sports, Rope climbing, Timothy J. Hodges