A warm, humid day over some easy trail brought me to Quarry Gap Shelter, one of my favorites on the Appalachian Trail.
I did not sleep well at all last night. I think this was largely a result of not having enough to eat at dinner yesterday. Dinner was very good, but I suspect, far fewer calories than I normally eat on the trail, so I woke up at 1:30 am ravenously hungry, and dug into some of the snacks that were easily accessible in my pack, meant for today’s hike. After that, it took me a long while to get back to sleep.
It didn’t help that the blankets provided were more geared for summer, and now that it was cooler, I found them to be a little insufficient. I’d unpacked my sleeping bag yesterday and hung it from the unused top bunk above me so that it might dry out a little, but I wound up grabbing it and using it as a (poor) second blanket. That helped a bit, but I still didn’t sleep well.
I finally rolled out of bed around 7:50, an hour after I’d intended to get up, and slowly repacked everything. Tired, I wasn’t really looking forward to today’s hike, though once I actually got started, I knew it would be fine. Though I was planning to hike 17.2 miles to Quarry Gap Shelter, the trail has a fantastic elevation profile between Pine Grove Furnace State Park and the shelter, with a long but gradual climb south from the park, and aside from a few small climbs, relatively flat or downhill to the shelter.
Starting just before 9 am, it was overcast and very humid. But no matter; the trail wasn't going to hike itself. Early on, the trail passed by the substantial halfway marker for 2011, and the “Halfway Spring“. I stopped for a snack break after about four and a half miles at a wider section of the trail with a nice rock to sit on. A pair of glasses with a broken stem sat on a small rock on the ground, looking for an owner that would probably never come back for them.
Early afternoon brought me through Dead Woman Hollow, which, in 2017, was the location of a controlled burn to help rejuvenate the forest. Not that I particularly remembered what this area used to look like in 2016 when I went through, but it was clear the nature of the forest had been dramatically altered, and it was a nice change of pace to have a forest that seemed a bit “aired out”.
Later, I passed the halfway marker for 2018. While I wasn’t surprised to see that there wasn’t a halfway marker for 2020, given the COVID-induced shutdowns, I was a little surprised to see that the marker hadn’t been updated for 2019.
After a brief stop at the nice Birch Run Shelter for a snack break, I continued on, with one last steep (but short) uphill of the day. This brought me through a pine forest, and with a soft pine needle trail. The gentle ground made for some fast hiking. I also passed by an 1100 mile marker (from Springer Mountain) made of pine cones on the trail.
Being not that far from civilization, the trail took me through several power line clearings. It’s probably due to the clearings being filled with smaller shrubs and grasses, rather than trees, that they seem to take on fall colors sooner than the rest of the trail, but it is nice to see more color, even if in small spots. It does make me kind of envious of the southbound thru-hikers, who are sure to get some beautiful fall color as they go further south.
I reached Quarry Gap Shelter about quarter after four, and found someone else already there. They weren't a long-distance hiker, which had me initially surprised, until I realized it was a Friday, a good day for weekend hikers to show up at a shelter only two miles from a parking lot. He, along with two of his friends, were out on a short weekend hike, which they try to do once a year. I was a little worried when I saw that the stream next to the shelter wasn’t flowing, but fortunately, the spring a short distance in front of the shelter had a large pool of water I could scoop from.
Quarry Gap Shelter is, I think, one of the nicest shelters on the Appalachian Trail. The shelter by itself isn’t anything spectacular, just two four-person sleeping areas and a covered picnic table between them. But the amount of work and care that has gone into the grounds around the shelter (including a short fence, benches, a swinging bench, and the manicured stream that normally flows in front of the shelter) make it something entirely special.
Due to the humidity, my clothes were somewhat soaked. The three guys started a large fire in the shelter’s fire pit, which went from nothing to big while my back was turned. Apparently, it hadn’t rained here recently, and the wood was very dry. The fire included a very large, thick log, which never properly caught, but instead was smoldering throughout the night. Everything else in the fire pit caught nicely, though, and the space under the shelter’s roof in front of the fire pit was warm. I first put my wet clothes on the stones that made up the fire pit, which didn’t really help much to dry them, since the stones were cold (and remained cold for most of the night, despite the fire); but when I hung them over the (new) maintainer signs hanging from the shelter’s roof, that helped considerably. They weren’t completely dry by the time I went to sleep, but they were dry enough. They did, though, have a weird combination of smells: laundry (just washed yesterday), sweat, and campfire.
Later on, Cinderfella arrived, easily having hiked the today’s section in an hour less time than I did, and I congratulated him on successfully making it past the halfway point of his thru-hike.
Shortly before sunset, two other groups of hikers arrived; a small group of three took up residence at one of the shelter’s tent pads; another went off to the group camping area a short distance from the shelter. After sunset, that second group headed south on the AT towards Caledonia State Park to find their friends, and rather a while after sunset, when it was completely dark out, six or eight people came back, having night-hiked over two miles from the park to the shelter.
The weather forecast is looking unfavorable tomorrow, with rain forecast for a significant portion of the day. So much for dry clothes…