Thursday, July 18, 2013

Donut Hole Trail - Take 2

Well, I definitely feel vindicated after this year's installment of the Donut Hole Trail (DHT).  Last year, I was absolutely miserable and really never wanted to show my face on that trail again.  Remember it with me by clicking this link - Donut Hole Trail #1.  That was a one day hike that should have taken about 6 hours but ended up being longer than planned and took 8.  What was I thinking when I agreed to go on a 2 DAY hike this year?  I must have been drunk or something. Poor Frank started planning this trip the day after we completed our hike last year.  He sent me maps and trail guides and a hundred emails about who was bringing what.  I kept replying things like "sure, that sounds great" and "uh-huh, whatever" not realizing that June  21st was fast approaching and that I was being counted as a definite participant.  Unbeknownst to Barbara, I started slowly roping her into this plan by forwarding the maps and emails.  She couldn't resist! She's a hiker from way back in the day and actually spent 2 weeks on the Appalachian Trail in her younger days.

I borrowed Di's backpack and Barbara brought a tent that they bought awhile ago.  We packed up what we thought we would need an headed up to Potter County on Thurs after work.  The hike was scheduled for 5:30 AM Friday morning.  We met Frank at his cabin for some tea and muffins, packed up the cars and headed to the trail head.  Connie drove one of the cars so that we could drop Frank's '84 Volvo station wagon at the end and she could shuttle the 3 of us and our gear to the start.  (The Volvo will come back into the picture later).  Off we went into the woods at about 9:30 AM! Notice the smiles.

Donut Hole Trail - Start


Our Packs

Frank planned the hike for June 21st - the Summer Solstice - which turned out to be absolutely perfect.  We had great weather and lots of sunshine which makes camping especially nice. As with all long hikes or excursions, the first part of the hike was filled with talk and hopes of seeing some wildlife or whatever.  The beginning of the hike was quite pleasant and not that strenuous which gave us all time to get used to the 30 pound backpacks (Frank's was much heavier for reasons that will be revealed later). Oh, and Roxy went along with us too. She quickly fell into step and understood that she should just keep up with us and stay on the trail - good dog.

Day 1 wore on. We heard a ton of birds including Black-throated Green warblers but didn't see many since we were mostly looking down at the trail. This part of the trail had a few nice sections that went along a pipeline cut out of the woods.  We made an effort to see a few birds there.  Barbara saw a Coyote but I was too far behind her at that point to see it before it skulked away.

Linda and Roxy birding the DHT

Barbara leading the pack

Frank listening for warblers

We took a few breaks and stopped for lunch which was quite nice - cheese and baguet, grapes, etc.  As we were leaving the lunch spot, I looked up into a nearby tree and spotted a metal coffee cup hanging from a rope. You know we weren't leaving without it, so Frank and I hoisted Barbara up and she was able to grab it.  It is now proudly displayed at Frank's cabin!

The Donut Hole Trail is not exactly what we called "maintained".  It's basically a deer trail that someone from the forest service walks maybe once a year with a chain saw and cuts through some (only some) of the logs that have fallen across the path. In some cases, he ( I am assuming it's a guy) doesn't even cut through the logs but rather reroutes the trail uphill and around the obstacle.  We had a heck of a time following the trail at the end of Day 1 when it zig zagged across a stream about 20 times instead of just staying on the same side but we eventually made it to the pre-determined campsite at about 7 PM.  Let's do the math here - we hiked 10 miles in 10 hours. How many miles per hour did we hike?  That's right kids - a whopping 1 mile per hour!

We were pretty tired, but not exhausted. Unfortunately, none of us remembered to take photos of our campsite or the food or the BEER, that's right BEER, Frank brought us 4 cans of Yuengling BEER.  That man is a hero! He lugged 4 cans of beer and a pint of Rye Whiskey along with all of the dehydrated pre-packaged dinner meals including Beef Stroganoff.  Did I mention the BEER?  We popped those cans into the stream to get them nice and cold.  Canned Yeungling never tasted better. Imagine how much lighter Frank's pack was on Day 2 after getting rid of the BEER and food.  My pack lightened up a bit too since I was carrying the breakfast muffins, trailmix, etc.  Frank also gained much admiration for bringing the water filter which allowed us to make drinking water as we went along rather than carrying it for 2 days. Here is a photo of me "making water".

Linda Making Water
Day 2 was supposed to be shorter and easier due to the long downhill to the finish.  HA.  You know darn right well that didn't happen.  We took our time at the camp having a leisurely breakfast, packing up the tents and headed out on the trail at 9 AM ( a whole 30 minutes earlier than Day 1).  About 30 minutes into the hike we met a person on the trail - our first and only person that we encountered on the actual trail. Then, we hit the Stinging Nettle. It was everywhere.  If you don't know what this is - you can probably guess by the name that it isn't good.  Nettle is a plant that grows in moist areas - mostly along streams. The plant is covered in little prickers that stick into your skin and sting like a jellyfish. The stinging doesn't stop either. It keeps stinging for hours. You can see by the photos that we all wore long pants but that doesn't stop the nettle from penetrating.  That is only the beginning of our troubles with this plant.  The other (and more annoying) problem with the Nettle is that it grows to about thigh high and obscures the trail which makes placing your foot down without twisting your ankle on the slippery rocks impossible. 

Stinging Nettle
Our short easy hike on Day 2 ended up being longer and more difficult than we anticipated.  At about 6 PM we were nowhere near the end point.  We met our second human being of the trip when the trail combined with a dirt road. This guy has a cabin along the trail. He asked if we were hiking the DHT and told us that the next end point was about 3 1/2 miles away.  Remember our math from earlier?  1 mile of trail = 1 hour of hiking which meant that we weren't going to see the end of the trail until after 9 PM - almost dark, through Stinging Nettle.  I admit it.  I lost my shit when I heard that!  Another 3 1/2 miles swatting my way through Stinging Nettle so I didn't fall down with a 30 pound backpack? I didn't know if I could make it.  Frank suggested a break. I refused . . .

"I see a cabin" Barbara exclaimed after about 2 hours of grueling downhill hiking through slippery rocks and up around detoured trail.  "I see it too".  And then, the most wonderful words in the English language - "Is that the Volvo?"  Yes, yes, it was the Volvo. We were actually happy to see an '84 Volvo sitting across the street from the cabin.  Can you imagine the looks we got from the people at the cabin as we staggered out of the woods dripping with sweat.

Exhausted at the DHT sign

Poor Roxy!
I don't think I have to tell you this, but Frank is already planning next year's hike.  Feel free to join us . . .



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