Sardines And Killer Bees

8 JUL 14
VA Section 45 trip: Day 2
Saunders Shelter-Beech Mountain RD (VA 601)-Lost Mountain Shelter
Miles today: 11

The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.
– John Muir

Sometime during my hike today I decided that I wasn’t going to write anything down in my journal.

Maybe because there was entirely TOO MUCH going on for me to stop and write. There’s a lot of words piled up waiting to escape my head, so *deep breath* here goes:

Got packed up in the morning & was back on the side trail to the AT just before 9 a.m. (I need to work on breaking camp faster). Now, the blue-blazed side trail makes a loop to the AT, intersecting it at two points with the shelter in between. I could have turned left and hit the AT a little further up ahead (and taken a shorter route) , BUT I didn’t want to “miss” any white blazes, so I went right on the side trail, and picked up the AT exactly where I left it yesterday.

I guess you could call me a “purist” but since I’ve been doing the AT I haven’t skipped or bypassed a single white blaze, nor do I intend to, at least for now. It’s just a thing I have. When I went back up to Grayson Highlands in May and started up NOBO from Elk Garden, I made sure I went PAST the waypoint marking where I had stopped Easter weekend.

So anyway, I’m heading up toward Lost Mountain Shelter, stopping every so often to take pictures and mark waypoints of campsites along the way. At one point trail carried me over a very rocky, narrow ridge maybe no more than 12 feet wide. Shortly after I came to a small break in the treeline with a so-so view out to the mountains.

The rhododendrons in this area were still in bloom, albeit a little more sparsely than they must have been a week ago or so, and there was no shortage of places where they created a tunnel over the trail. I passed the intersection of the Beartree Gap Trail (mi 479.1, elev 3050’), coming up on a small area that resembled the boreal forest up on Roan Mountain. I absolutely love this type of scenery. The red spruce trees have branches that sometimes sprout just inches from the ground, growing straight out. It looks like some kind of enchanted, mysterious forest.

Transition zone.

Transition zone.

The AT intersected again with the Creeper Trail, joining it for a mile or so, crossing over a relatively long trestle. An older gentleman on a bike said there was a huge snake on one of them.

Around noon I stopped next to a bench (there are benches every so often on the Creeper Trail) to grab a quick snack when a couple of older people rode by on bikes. One lady asked if I was doing the entire Appalachian Trail and I responded “No, just a little section this go around”. She admired how I was able to carry everything I needed on my back & still going up hills. When I pointed up to the high ground and said “I’ll probably be going up there” she gasped.

Unfortunately for me, the AT diverged from the nice, flat Creeper trail, with its wide treadway and easy terrain, disappearing down into a dark, foreboding tunnel of rhododendrons. Does that sound descriptive enough? I’m trying to paint a picture here. My heart kinda sank when I saw the double white blazes, telling me it was time to go back into “the bush”.

AT branching off down towards  "the bush"

AT branching off down towards the creek

I trekked along the trail as it mirrored Whitetop Laurel Creek for a while, and then slowly started ascending uphill, deeper into the woods. You could still hear the sound of rushing water, but it was getting fainter and fainter by the minute. All along the way were little springs, tiny waterfalls and small brooks no more than 2 feet wide that were no doubt all feeding downhill into the creek. I made it a point to get some of this pristine water into my bottles, not knowing when this prime water source would dry up.

There are a lot of hikers who claim they don’t filter their water. I don’t doubt it, and I always come across natural springs where the water is coming out through the rocks on a hillside. I’m 99% positive the water is clean coming out of there, probably cleaner than my tap water. BUT, since I have a filter and purification tablets with me, I go ahead and use some method every time.

Fresh water

Fresh water

At 1 pm I came up on Lost Mountain Shelter (mi 483.2, elev 3360’). Signed the register, read a few entries, and started getting my lunch prepared. There was a bee or yellowjacket hovering over the fire ring, buzzing quite loudly. The only other creatures that I recall buzzing like that were bumblebees, but it wasn’t one.

The thing wasn’t moving away, just hovering from side to side, and then it would land on a log and start ramming its backside downwards as if it were trying desperately to sting it. I watched it for a while, just jamming its stinger into everything, then decided he needed to die, lest he realizes how much softer my skin is, and I become HIS lunch.

I grabbed my Repel spray and shot him a couple times. Why did I do that? Mr. Bee became quite enraged and started in on me. I quickly backpedaled away, shooting spurts of insect repellent in this direction. He would go away, I would walk back over to the shelter & start preparing my food, listening to him buzz around, and then the whole scenario would repeat itself. This happened about 4 times. If someone walks up here they’re going to wonder why some black woman is running around the shelter swatting the air like she’s insane.

Well, I tried to get my Jetboil out one more time when I heard his ass buzzing again. Frustrated, I got up and walked to the left of the shelter. The buzzing followed me- I could see him hovering 6 feet in front of me, sizing me up. Then, off to my right, I heard it. BUZZ. POW. OUCH! $#&!@*&^#*%!

The bastard must have called in reinforcements because something surely stung me on my neck.

Okay you assholes, you win. I put my tent up inside the shelter, that’s where I ate my lunch; sitting cross-legged inside my tent, inside the shelter.

Since it was still very early, I figured I’d log a few more miles north, then double back to the shelter before it gets dark. I tore a sheet of paper out of the register, and left a note on the picnic table under a rock for Jen & her family (that was still hiking up behind me) that said something to the effect of:

“I was attacked by bees that tried to kill me. Hiking north for a few miles, but like the Terminator said- I’ll be back”.

Checking the guide, I saw that US Route 58 was a mile up, and Beech Mtn Road (VA Route 601) was 1.3 miles from there. I figured I could do the 4.6 miles out and back no problem. Going straight up to Buzzard Rock wasn’t a consideration. Its summit is 5,080 feet, and no way was I going to do a 2 mile hike with a 1,500 foot elevation gain in the afternoon if I could help it. Stopping at 601 would set me up for a 5.7 mile day hike down to Elk Garden to finish that section. That would be too easy.

The scenery was pretty uninspiring until I got to the highway. I walked across, getting a few photos of the deserted blacktop, and climbed down some steps, crossed a small stream, and disappeared back into the woods. A quarter mile up there was a clearing in the pine trees that supported a decent sized campsite, but it was too close to the road.

US Route 58

US Route 58

A good rule of thumb is any shelter or established campsite within ¼ to ½ mile from a road increases the chance of running into “local yokels” and the party crowd (and possibly undesirable company).

The trail opened up to rocky terrain that crossed a rather open area, where some sunlight peeked through. I walked between some more rhodo thickets and skirted an open area on my right with thick brush to my left.

CRASH! My heart went into atrial fibrillation as a deer saw me & scampered off. I don’t care how many times I’ve been hunting, when you jump a deer like that it scares the s*** outta you.

I walked on, trying to will my heart to stop pounding in my chest, and saw a giant cow patty, right smack in the middle of path. It was fresh too. “Ahh, so cows are just roaming free around here?” I thought. I approached a stile, climbed over and passed through a cow pasture. When I got to the top of the meadow, 6 or 8 jet black cows were standing around & lying down. Just chillin’ out or whatever cows do with their time. I’m not afraid of cows (I guess), but it felt very strange to be traipsing right through the living room of a few half-ton behemoths. I was at least 40 feet away, but the thought of having to hightail it over the fence running away from a murderous stampede of cows made me chuckle out loud. I went through another stile, crossed Beech Mtn Road (mi 485.5, elev 3600’), high-fived the white blaze on the other side, and headed back down toward the shelter.

A few cows grunted but they seemed completely uninterested in killing me today.

When I came back down to the area where I spooked the deer, I banged my poles together several times, announcing my presence. No need in having another minor heart attack.

About to cross VA 601

About to cross VA 601

A soon as I crossed back over Route 58, it got a lot darker all of a sudden. A gentleman who was definitely NOT wearing hiker attire (he was in jeans and a polo shirt) passed me with his headlamp on. Is he a killer? The time was about 5:30 pm, but it was dark. Walking through the thickets of rhododendrons didn’t help either. Man it’s gonna rain. I picked up my pace a little, and every time I thought the shelter was “right around the corner”, it wasn’t. I didn’t want to stop to get my pack cover or rain jacket, so I kept hightailing it. I heard a couple voices, turned left and raised my poles over my head to greet the family that had made it up there. One of the kids yelled “hey it’s Cocoa Puffs!” That made me grin from ear to ear. Curt was tending to the fire, looked skyward, and said “Looks like you just made it in time”.

Two minutes later the heavens opened up.

Everyone dashed inside the shelter, tossing backpacks and stuff sacks in willy-nilly. No sooner did we do that when two other hikers, a guy about forty-ish and a younger one, showed up. Then another guy showed up, with curly blondish gray hair. Then two MORE guys showed up. “Wow, we’re gonna have a full house tonight” someone said. Indeed. 8 adults and 5 kids. Packed in like sardines.

The rain let up little, then it finally petered out. Curt decided he was going to set up a tent & stay in it with one of his girls. I was thinking of how to get my tent set up inside the shelter and leave ample room for everyone. If it didn’t fit, I was going to take it outside. We shuffled around and got everyone in there, except for “curly”, who had a hammock set up in front of the shelter. I felt bad about having the tent up, and started to pick it up & move it outside, but one of the kids said “No, we’re not going to let you leave, so you have to stay in here”. Aww. Everyone agreed & said it was cool, especially since the tent would block most of the shelter from any rain that would come in. Okay, fair enough.

We chatted a bit, and when Jen asked the tall guy (Paul) what his trail name was, he replied “Skink”. That made my ears perk up- I’ve heard or seen that name before. “Your name sounds familiar. Where have I heard it before?” He said, “probably in AWOL’s guide”. Yep, that was him. He did his thru in 2010 and runs the Hiker’s Inn B&B/hostel in town. He’s originally from Belgium, as I could tell he had a slight accent. I told him I was contemplating staying a night in Damascus instead of driving straight back to Charlotte, he invited me to stay.

The other gentleman that came by with a friend looked vaguely familiar. He asked me “Didn’t I run into you back on Roan Mountain last week?” Yes- it WAS him. He was the one I had chatted with coming down to Carver’s Gap.

Just as the sun slipped below the horizon, I saw that we were going to have “company” tonight. Ol’ Stuart Little came from underneath the shelter and was helping himself to a few Pop Tart crumbs. As much as I tried, I couldn’t get more than a blurry photo of it. I whispered to Jen about the mouse, not wanting to alarm the kids.

The mere thought of having a mouse run across my face made me glad I was in a tent. Shudder.

I took a Celebrex and Tramadol, and tried to keep my left leg elevated. My knee is swollen and I have a long day tomorrow. I’m going to try to hike all the way back to Damascus tomorrow. If I make it, it’ll be the longest hike/walk/ruckmarch I’ve done in a long time. 14 miles.

Sometimes, when you think you want nothing more than to be alone, you run into some awesome people who you are glad to have met.

Killer cows

Killer cows

Lost Mountain Shelter

Lost Mountain Shelter. Bees to the left.

shelter mouse

shelter mouse



Deep in the woods

Deep in the woods

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