The route I had set aside was similar to one I had hiked with other people some years back. My plan was to park at the fish hatchery near Looking Glass Rock and take the Cat Gap Trail to the Art Loeb Trail. Originally I had figured on taking an unmarked side trail to the summit of Cedar Rock Knob from Sand Gap and camp on the summit. But since I knew the weather could possibly suck mightily I had a backup plan to skip the summit and push on to the Butter Gap shelter where I would have a wooden roof over my head.
By the time I reached Sand Gap and began to climb the 300 or so vertical feet to the top of Cedar Rock the rain was coming down heavily and the atmosphere was like pea soup and the wind was gusting. I could hear the odd limbs crashing down to the forest floor here and there in the forest. So I decided that I should bypass the summit as my alternate plans indicated and instead I pushed on the couple of miles or so to Butter Gap where the shelter waited.
Once at the shelter the rain began to come down even harder. And by that time–despite my excellent rain gear–I was pretty much soaked. So I rigged some clothesline and changed into my long underwear (dry in my backpack) and hung my wet clothes on the lines inside the shelter. Then I set up my tent because there were a couple of small leaks in the roof and with the rain coming down as hard as it was I thought that some more leaks could develop and the tent would keep me dry. It was here that I saw the only person I encountered during the two days–a day-hiker doing essentially the same loop I was doing, but without a backpack and in one day instead of two.
After that I did the regular old backpacking deal. I got my tent comfortable, put the things I might need in the night close and handy (such as my headlamp), cooked supper, cleaned up, hung my food bag and then retired to the shelter to meditate. The rain was pouring down and the air was cool. Gusts of heavy wind would routinely blast through the forest. Limbs would hit the ground nearby, a couple of them actually just in front of the shelter. I meditated, thought about things, came close to doing some writing in the journal I’d carried along but ended up not even doing that. I just sat at the front of the structure, then lay in my tent and waited for it to get extraordinarily dark.
And it did. It got so dark that all I could sense was a sheet of purest black before my eyes. The world was essentially invisible to me. I had the sleeping pad under my back, my down bag around my body, the winds roaring outside the shelter, and the rain drumming incessantly on the roof.
It was cool.
As I sometimes do when backpacking I slept off and on, waking from time to time and then dozing off. Finally I was wide awake at a tad after 6:00 am. Even then I wasn’t quite ready to fix breakfast and break camp so I waited for the sun to paint the gray skies with some manner of dim light and then finally got my motor running.
After breakfast it only took a few minutes to pack up and be on my way. My pants and rain coat had dried in the night but not my cotton shirt (stupid of me to wear a cotton shirt, but there you go). So I just wore my long underwear top on the final leg of the trip.
As near as I could tell from my map it was somewhere between 3.5 and 4 miles back to the fish hatchery. And almost all downhill. So I knew the miles would vanish, even carrying my backpack. Just past the shelter the Cat Gap Trail intersects with the Butter Gap Trail and I took that back down, intersecting once more the Cat Gap Trail that took me the final half mile or so.
Since it was raining very heavily off and on I had opted to leave my camera stored safe and dry in my backpack. Thus, from the shelter and on to the truck all I had to record the journey was my GoPro camera which I had strapped to my chest.
Despite how steep and slick parts of the trail was on the way out, I made very good time. Even stopping occasionally to view and make video of waterfalls along the way (there are a lot of waterfalls on that stretch of trail) I made extremely good time. By 10:00 am I was back at my truck and storing my backpack and camera gear.
Since the fish hatchery was locked up tight–even the rest rooms–I drove to the single toilet that was unlocked in the entire area at the Sycamore Flats Picnic Area and washed up and changed into clean, dry clothes that I had brought with me. When you’ve been backpacking in heavy rain and are that wet, there’s nothing better than changing into clean, dry clothes and shoes.
After that I killed an hour just walking around, thinking, and then ate at a nearby restaurant that I like and drove back home.
It was a good trip.
|The first bridge near the fish hatchery parking lot.|
There are a LOT of stream crossings on the web of trails I took. Some have foot bridges. Some do not.
|This dead tree had recently fallen across this campsite. I was tired and used the dead tree as a seat to catch my breath after several miles of uninterrupted hiking.|
|The Butter Gap Shelter. It’s in poor repair and needs some fixing up. But it was still a hell of a lot better and drier than pitching my tent in heavy rain and howling winds on a mountaintop.|
|My tent and stuff inside the shelter.|
|My truck, waiting safely for me at the end of the trip.|