Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sunrise Mtn/Culvers Gap A.T. Backpacking Trip

I've just returned home from my second backpacking adventure!  This time I (along with 6 other members of the Outdoors Club of South Jersey) did a section of the Appalachian Trail in NJ from Sunrise Mountain to Culvers Gap--specifically we went So-Bo (southbound) from the Deckertown Tpk. parking area to the Sunrise Mtn Road parking area (a total of 8.7 miles hiked).

We all met up at the Sunrise Mtn Rd. parking area (where we would actually end our hike), and right there in the parking area we met an AT section hiker--"Lovely Day" informed us that he'd hoped to be in Boston by the 4th of July.  He said he usually takes a month off each year to spend time on the AT, hiking about 300 miles each year (he's now done about 1,300 miles according to his site).  Sometimes I think that's how I'd want to do it--long stretches at a time but not straight through from Georgia to Main.  I don't think I could deal with the depression that would be sure to follow after 5 months (2,100 miles) trekking through the wilderness.  And then sometimes I think I would end a section feeling as though I wanted something more.

We then took three cars up to the northern trail head at the Deckertown Tpk. parking area--about a half hour away.  I rode in the car with our hike leader, Kevin, and a married couple.  Although I'd never hiked with OCSJ, I could tell we had a good group of like-minded people. Nonetheless--now that it's all said and done--I prefer the camaraderie of Adventures for Women, but I'm certainly bias since that's the group that has raised me from a timid and fearful novice to a budding (yet still somewhat amateur) outdoors-woman.  All-in-all OCSJ is definitely a group I will adventure with again.

Our Group (minus one who's taking the photo) at the Trail Head
Our Leader, Kevin, is on the right.
Once at the start of our adventure, we strapped on our gear and headed south.  We passed the Mashipacong Shelter near Crigger Road.  There were a few steep inclines toward the summit of Sunrise Mountain, but it was mostly rather flat.  The trail, as is usually the case for the AT, is extremely well marked.  This particular stretch is a bit rocky at times, nothing like the boot-killer section of the AT in Pennsylvania, but let's just say my ankles are pretty sore right now from a few twists and turns on the rocks.  After about 3 miles we came to the Sunrise Mtn Road parking area, where I took advantage of the privy.  I am happy to say (and ladies, you'll appreciate this) I did not have to "go" in the woods even once throughout the trip thanks to the plentiful and considerably well-maintained privies at the parking areas and shelters along this stretch.  

We then reached the summit of Sunrise Mountain (the second highest point in NJ) where we ate lunch in the pavilion, rested our feet and backs, and soaked in the views.  Speaking of soaked--the sky was overcast, and at times there were drizzles throughout the entire day.  I did not have rain gear or long hiking pants (only my long underwear for sleeping in) because the forecast said it would be sunny and warm.  Fortunately, this did not turn out to be a problem, but I won't make that mistake again--especially since on my first backpacking trip it rained almost the entire weekend, and I know how soaked everything got WITH rain gear, so I can't imagine how heavy it all would be (and how embarrassed I'd be) without it.  Fortunately, we didn't get more than a few light drizzles and the majority of this stretch is so dense we didn't even feel the rain beneath the canopy of trees along the trail.

Me, atop Sunrise Mtn.

Some of our group
Sunrise Mtn Pavillion
After lunch we hiked another 2.5 miles or so and took the Tinsley Side Trail to the Gren Anderson Shelter, which is thankfully complete with a compost privy, bear box, and spring.  I have to discuss the privy because a) I really hate peeing in the woods and b) it was actually kind of neat.  It's this elevated outhouse type thing, and underneath the outhouse is an enclosed, well-ventilated area where the waste falls from the toilet above.  After you "go" you grab a handful of wood chips (supplied in bins) and you throw it down below and the waste is naturally decomposed by the wood chips and parasites living below.  There was literally no scent (other than that of woodchips... okay, in the morning it was just a little ripe).  I did notice that people were throwing toilet paper down there, which really annoyed me since a sign clearly says not to and it defies the ethics of LNT.  If there wasn't a privy, you'd have to carry out your TP anyway, so what's the big deal?  A duct-tape-covered ziploc bag houses used TP just fine with or without a privy.  But I'm somewhat of an LNT purist.  In a sense, these woods have altered my life as I know it today; I don't want to lose them.

Our tents (that's part of mine on the nearby left)
The Gren Anderson Shelter
Once at the shelter I set up my tent--close enough to the privy that I could find it in the dark; however, after a boy scout troop showed up, I realized it would probably be too close.  Fortunately, I didn't wake up to the sounds of the door closing all night.  It was hard finding a spot that didn't have a lot of rocks in the ground, but I had a nice clear spot.  The only problem was that it was on somewhat of an incline and I kept sliding all night.  One fellow hiker had a hammock tent, and I have to say not only did it look much more comfortable, it would also be much more lightweight and solve a lot of other issues as well.  The only drawbacks I could see are that you can't bring all you gear inside it, you can't sleep on your stomach, you have be sure there are appropriately spaced trees where you're going, and you better hope you tie the ropes good and tight.  I think it could get a little cold too because you don't have the insulation from the ground.  I'm in need of a new sleeping system, though.  My Coleman backpacking tent works great for my current needs, but my crappy sleeping bag and cut-up piece of egg carton foam really aren't comfortable in the least.  C'est la woods.

Hotel de Woods
At around 5:00pm we ate dinner.  This was where I really took a chance this time.  I used this recipe for Italian-ish Double Cheese Taters from, and it was a delicious!  I also brought some Stove Top instant stuffing with powdered butter in case it turned out bad or I was still hungry, but I really didn't need it (although I ate it anyway because I just didn't feel like wasting it when I got home or carrying out the extra weight).  Freezer bag cooking, in my opinion, is the way to go.  No pots to clean up, and if you do what I did--put the bag in a wool cap as a cozy--it stays warm and you don't burn your hands.  I use a cheap Sterno stove that's lightweight and takes a while to boil water, but it suits my needs and works well.  I don't know that it would do too well in the cold or strong winds.

At some point two men and their sons showed up as well as a boy scout troop.  The men mixed in with our group nicely (and up until then, us women actually outnumbered the men 5 to 3) and the boy scouts provided some humorous entertainment, such as one who forgot a bowl, cup and spoon and had to borrow an MRE bag to make something to eat out of.

Some more section hikers showed up and said they'd seen a bear on the other side of the privy where they'd hoped to camp (remember where I said I put my tent...), so they went back to camp near the fire tower that we'd pass the next morning.  One lone section hiker camped nearby but he didn't chat much and was zipped up in his tent by 6:00pm, undoubtedly tired as he did mention he'd started in Harper's Ferry in Maryland.

The nearby spring was nice and cold and the water was more or less clear, yet we filtered it nonetheless.  I use a Katadyn bottle filter that's fine for one-night backpacking trips, but I think I'd like to get a Steripen eventually.  Although some people will say you can use cooking water without filtering it, I don't think I'll take the risk, yet cooking with water from the Katadyn is almost impossible because you can't pour it through the spout (you can only suck it out), plus it doesn't hold a lot.  I bring an extra bottle, fill it with unfiltered spring water and then transfer it to the Katadyn if need be--I also use a piece of pantyhose to filter out an leaves or solids because I don't want it clogging up the filter.

Unfortunately, campfires are not allowed at parks in North Jersey (except for designated campsites), so as soon as it got dark we broke loose from our little conversation circle, which was filled with laughs and camaraderie, and zipped ourselves in for the night.  I always bring along Earl Shaeffer's Walking with Spring, which documents the very first thru-hike of the AT, but to be honest its kind of boring.  I eventually put it down and tried to get comfortable.  Although this shelter is near a road (Sunrise Mtn. Rd.), no traffic is allowed after dusk, so it was mostly a very quiet, peaceful night other than some snores and a few boyscout giggles.

I woke up around 5:00am and once I heard people moving about, I came out to cook oatmeal in my freezer bag.  Once we broke down camp, we were back on the trail about 7:40.  Although it was actually lighter after eating most of my food, my pack felt heavier--probably because I was stiff from sleeping on the hard ground.  My feet ached and I noticed that my right ankle was really sore, probably from twisting it on the rocks at some point.  So I went a little slower than my usual pace, because this stretch is mostly down hill and very, very rocky.  I was thankful that we went So-Bo once I saw how steep and rocky it was.  We caught a few views of Culvers Lake and what we think was NY state, stopped briefly at Normanook (Culver) Fire Tower, and soon we were back to our cars (only about 2.7 miles today).  Once we took everyone back to their cars at the other lot, we chatted briefly and parted ways.

Something about Mountain Laurels on an actual mountain that makes them prettier... 
Near Normanook (Culver) Fire Tower

The fire tower...

And as soon as I got home to my apartment, the sun came out.

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