We started hiking on July 5, 1995 with Sankey Blanton, Christopher Patterson, Reed Patterson, and Ernie Patterson all packed up and ready to go. We had planned to hike from Elk Park to Damascus along the AT trail. The following is the story of our trip, the first part was written by Sancho and I took up the tail after the other three had to leave the trip.

Listen folks, there has been a lot of suspect press about the AT over the past summer, so we are here to set the record straight. First of all, the trail isn't. The section that we started with - 19E, headed North - was obviously laid out by a sadistic SOB. If it went up to the ridge and down to the stream less than five times per map mile, I'll eat my Korean Army surplus hat. If you wanted to break in gradually, this was not the section. As a result, we immediately began falling behind, which was not entirely unexpected, since we had wasted an hour feeding breakfast to the two wayward boys at 10 AM. So, like a band of tinkers, we hit the trail with too full a belly and in the heat of the day.

Now, the trail wasn't exactly open sky, so the heat of the day didn't get through to burn the bald spots, however, it was more like a green tunnel in some places. There had been a week of solid rain before the 4th of July and there was absolutely no chance of a brush fire from anything less than a couple of canisters of napalm. Thus as the day heated up, the humidity immediately went to about 105% and hung in the air just waiting for any surface to condense upon. We were chosen by natural processes to become absolutely drenched from sweat which would not evaporate and dew that was only slightly too cool to be steam.

One good thing about that section was the real possibility of short cuts using the logging roads. We sliced at least two hours and maybe a dozen stream-to-ridge climbs at the first opportunity. This took us right past the scenic junk yard that the trail was designed to avoid. As you might expect, there was a small pack of junkyard dogs waiting around the bend. After some discussion of whom to send as point, Sankey started off because he could snarl and grind his teeth with the best of them. It may have been his earthy, low-tech smell that was the deciding factor.

We found the trail again, just past the local graveyard, and headed into the mist of time. Ridge to stream, stream to ridge, and not too accurate as far as the charted mileage goes either. By this time, the excess breakfast was seeking a way to pass go, and the primary question was the location of the toilet paper. One beautiful scene was the remains of an old farmstead which had been incorporated into the park, but was still kept as open pasture. There were plenty of cows, who had evidently trekked up and down the trail many times in the past week of downpours, and the trail was well marked with pies. Answering the call of the wild, we made our marks as well.

The first time we noticed that it was getting on into time was when it cooled off enough for the condensate to start dripping from the canopy. Surely the target trail hut was just a couple of ridge/stream switchbacks away. You can easily confuse yourself with city logic during the first couple of days on the trail. This tunnel through the laurel thicket looks just as long and bug infested as the last. The pace of two miles an hour that you practiced with on the streets back home means you have probably done a solid twenty miles by now, but the map says the shelter is at the 15 mile point. What could possibly be wrong?

We evidently reached the same point as multiple trail parties had before, and it was good enough. This was on a ridge, naturally. The breeze, if there is going to be any, is found on ridges, while the water, is somewhere in the gully which you just passed. The key to camping is to find good water first, and then go up to the next ridge and find a suitable spot. That way you won't wander around in the dark looking for water. The breeze is because of the topographic effect, while the stream is due to infiltration and the water table. If you've got time, look it up in a hydrology book. We knew that there would be plenty of water because of the monsoon of the previous week; it was breeze that was in short supply.

Did we mention that the trail was drying out? Although, being modern, low-impact campers, we were carrying enough stoves and fuel to support a platoon of marines, there is nothing in the world like the smell of good wood smoke to help you relax, enjoy, and tell true tales of glories of your by-gone years. While the set the youngsters to work in the kitchen, we put our experienced woodlore to work in gathering kin'lin' from the environmental storehouse. Now, don't go making a fuss about raping the trees, this stuff is going to rot back into carbon dioxide sooner or later, we were only going to change the timing somewhat. Well, that stuff was so wet, that we resorted to a little shot of white gas.

Did we tell you that the air was heavy with humidity, even in the mountains, and on the ridge top. Well, being slow with the match, we let the gas vapor demonstrate some of the laws of density driven flow. By the time the catalyst hit the mixture, there was an area of about two square meters of volatile fumes. The pop was quite an eye opener for the cook, who was not paying attention. The fire fizzled out anyway, and I had to resort to putting about an inch of candle in the center of it the next morning in order to be cheered. Checking our feet that night disclosed the expected amount of damage, but nothing too serious.


CONTINUED BY Ernie Patterson:

Well when we all arrived at the car at Tenn. 91, the next thing I decided to do was hike on by myself until I reached Damascus. I took inventory of all the food and stuff and repacked my pack with 3 days rations. I started hiking about 1:00 pm over a trail that mostly followed the ridge line, up and down. I had planned to camp at the shelter, but when I reached the shelter, someone had camped with horses and the flies were so bad, I decided to hike on. The next shelter was 10 more miles, but their were some camp sites according to the book along the way. A better name for this section of the trail is brier hell, because of all the stuff that was growing along the trail. I had to get my gaiters out and wear them to protect my legs. Since most of this section is through woods there is almost nothing to see but trees and more trees.

When I came to where the AT trail and 421 crossed, there were 5 guys on motorcycles just passing the time, they looked at me and all they could ask was I afraid of the "snakers" in the woods. Well I finally figured out they were talking about snakes and I told them about the 3 we had seen. They assured me that they would never walk in the woods until the snakes had all gone. I hiked on and about 5 PM started looking for a place to camp. I soon realized that I was only about 1 mile from the next shelter, so I just hiked on. When I got to the shelter I realized that I had hiked over 20 miles that day and still had about 2 hours of daylight left. The hardest part of camping at the shelter was that the water was 500 feet down hill and carrying the water back up took a long time.

Since I was alone, I cooked only enough for two people not 14 as the others cooked when we were together. As night came, I just laid back and watched the stars come out. The next morning was nice, hearing the birds and watching the sun come over the far mountain. After fixing my pack, I started hiking the last 10 miles to Damascus and arrived in town about noon. As I got to town there was a group of people videoing for a project to show tourism in Virginia and they took some pictures of me as the "typical AT hiker". I then drove back to the part of the trail we had skipped and hiked that 6 mile section. I am glad the rest of the hikers were able to skip that section, because part of it was along a road with the most unfriendly dogs and warning signs I have ever seen along the trail. An another was a long hike down to a steam and a 2 mile hike back up over Big Pine Mountain.

That night I calculated I need 12 more miles to hike 100 miles, so the next day I hiked from Carver's Gap to 19E which is about 14 miles. If you just want to day hike were there are lots of good views and fairly easy hiking, try this section of the trail. At about the half way point is an old barn, Over Mountain Shelter, that looks like it would be a nice place to spend the night, and further on the hike over the balds is spectacular. The trail has been rerouted and the final 5 miles are down through a forest and along some old mining roads. The nice thing about this part of the trail is that there was lots of water and being in the forest it was a lot cooler.

Next we are planning to start Hot Springs and hike to Roan Mountain.