You would think that after hiking the Appalachian Trail for one hundred and ten days there would be some sort of wisdom or maturity to be found within the trail experience. For some that may be true, but for me I still can’t quite believe my decision making blunders in Vermont. I had started my day at mile marker 1672 of the AT (at Greenwall Shelter) with a goal of hiking about nineteen miles to the top of Killington Mountain and Cooper Lodge Shelter. The day started well as I climbed over Bear Mountain (without seeing a bear) and down into Clarendon Gorge and across the suspension bridge at the bottom.
Climbing out of the gorge, the rain began to fall and by 2:00 I was drenched. I arrived at Governor Clement Shelter about 4:00 and had a decision to make. Get out of the rain, dry off, get some dinner and call it a day… or truck on and push through the rain to Cooper. Governor C. Shelter was a small shelter, designed to sleep six while Cooper promised a dozen spots. Cooper was 4.3 miles beyond Governor involving a 1,950 foot climb up to Killington Peak.
When I arrived at Governor Clement Shelter, I found four other hikers spread out and trying to dry out their wet clothes. It was only 4:00, there were three good hours of daylight left, and I was already mostly wet. I took one look at the dark accommodations and decided to hike on. Within 100 yards north of the shelter, the heavens opened up with a down pour of liquid weather. The rain began to pelt the ground and the wind picked up, bending the sheets of precipitation right in my face. The cold rain whipped by the gusts of wind began to chill my shirt and pants.
I wasn’t doing too badly. I reminded myself of my motto, No Adversity…No Adventure. But then I heard the thunder and saw my first flash of lightning. I wondered if Davy Crockett was dumb enough to climb to the top of a mountain in a thunder storm? Then, I remembered the name of the peak that I was straining toward – Killing-ton Peak. What an appropriate place to be the end of my career as a thru-hiker wanna-be.
In addition to the windy and cold conditions and the ominous sounds of thunder, the elevation became steep and rooty and slick. I found myself becoming clumsy, even more than usual. I felt fatigued, more than I thought I should. I even became sleepy. When I started to shiver and my teeth began to chatter, I thought I might be in trouble. I knew hypothermia had interesting symptoms like this, but I kept moving trying to keep focused on the trail. I continued to laugh at my missteps and increased my prayers for safety as I suffered the consequences of my decision at the foot of the mountain.
When I finally arrived at Cooper, the shelter has packed. The hut was fantastic in that it had four walls (with large open windows on one side) and a haven against the driving storm of the trail. Fifteen of us shared the cabin and I was the last to arrive. I was not welcomed with high fives, but the thru-hiker philosophy of “there’s always room for one more” was embraced by the occupants.
Those who had arrived before me had covered all the windows to keep out the steady wind-whipped rain and they kept the door closed to maintain some warmth in the shelter so it was fairly dark inside. Wet clothes were hanging up on communal makeshift clotheslines and I knew mine needed to join the laundry as soon as possible. Getting out of my cold rain-soaked outfit and into my sleeping clothes and warm sleeping bag was the first and only order of business. I totally skipped dinner that night in preference for warmth and a good night’s sleep. The last climb of the day provided enough adventure for the day…and the week…, but I was safe and sound and warm.