The Crazy Hiker – Part 2

The woman who showed up at our Appalachian Trail shelter just before sundown was dead serious about leaving right away and hiking 10.6 miles, in the dark, back to Clingmans Dome.

She and her family –husband, father, and three young children– had unwittingly hiked the wrong way, south from Clingmans Dome when they meant to go north.

They were day hikers so they weren’t carrying tents or sleeping bags. Except for water bottles, which we had refilled, they weren’t carrying anything, including flashlights.

Looks like time at Derrick Knob Shelter.
Looks like nap time at Derrick Knob Shelter.

While her husband and her father stood there with their mouths shut, she decided the family would retrace its steps and walk back to Clingman’s Dome.  Think about that for a second: three tired, out-of-shape, adults [including a grandfather], attempting a 10-mile hike on the Appalachian Trial at night without flashlights, with three tired children in tow.

She couldn’t be serious. But she was.

When my three friends [Lynn Muchmore, Mark Ogden and Tony Goldman] and I realized that she had made up her mind we gave her two headlamps and a lot of trail mix.   But we continued to urge her to leave the kids at the shelter, a girl about 12 and two slightly younger boys.  Let them walk out tomorrow, when it was light. She finally agreed. Her husband would stay with children, she said, and she and her Dad would hike back to Clingman’s Dome.

When she said she would leave her husband with the children, he went berserk, and that’s the right word, berserk.  He took off running up the trail, north toward Clingman’s Dome, yelling, “No, I’m going! I’m going!” I had never seen a man act like that. She should have fired him on the spot.

But his bizzarre reaction didn’t seem to upset her. She just told her father to stay with the children and then she left to catch up with her husband.

That night a good time was had by all, all of us, at least. We built a fire. The kids played until dark, ate a good supper, and slept warm in borrowed sleeping bags. After breakfast, the old man, he was in his 60’s, and the children started walking north. My friends and I continued our hike, south toward Fontana Dam.

We didn’t hike far that day, just 9.2 miles, and that night a fellow caught up with us who knew the rest of the story.  He had sheltered the night before at Silers Bald, 5.8 miles north of Derrick Knob Shelter, where we had met the lost family.

About midnight, he said, the woman and her husband stumbled into Silers Bald Shelter almost hysterical. They had been terrified by noises in the woods, hidden from their their small beams of light. Bears? Boars?  Or just their imagination?

Backpackers at Silers Bald Shelter fed them and put them up for the night and, after breakfast the next morning, the woman and her husband left.

My question for you is this: Did they hike south, to make sure their children were OK, or north, the shortest route back to Clingmans Dome.

You know the answer, don’t you.

Coming Monday: The “Good Guy” Debt Collector

Trail Lessons

Mickelson Trail, South Dakota: My first hike.

Lynn Muchmore: He tried to save me from myself.

Day One: Lynn Muchmore and I planned to start in Edgemont, S.D., and hike north through the Black Hills to Deadwood. The 109-mile Mickelson Trail, an old railroad bed, was wide and smooth, a walk in the park compared to the Appalachian Trail, and a lot more scenic.

I didn’t know it but I was carrying way too much weight –43 pounds –double the weight I usually carry now.

[Pack weight, pack weight and pack weight are the three most important things about back packing.]

That first afternoon we hiked out of town, into the hills, about six miles, and camped in a clump of trees beside the trail.   My feet blistered a little but I ignored them.  Gotta be tough, I thought.

[If and when your feet begin to heat up you have to do something about it immediately.]

Day Two  — The scenery was stunning and Lynn said the northern end of the Mickelson Trail would be even better. It was hot, sunny, my ears and neck got a little red.  We did 21 miles before I yelled “Uncle!” Lynn could have done 25 or 30 but I was having a hard time.  My left heel was a bloody mess with a patch of missing skin the size of a silver dollar; the blister hadn’t broken yet on the other heel.

Late that day, to lighten my load by two pounds, I poured out a liter of water.  What was I thinking?!   I was thinking I could get more water when we camped. I was wrong. 

[Food you can do without. Water is everything, especially when you don’t have it.]

I skipped supper –I had no water to rehydrate my food– pitched my tent near a highway bridge and crawled into my sleeping bag, hurting and so thirsty.

Day three —  It was 17 miles to Custer, S.D., which was looking like the end of the trail for me. My feet were ruined but all I could think about was water. We hiked six more miles that morning before we came to a tiny town with a restaurant that served the best water I ever tasted. Breakfast was good, too.

Eleven miles to go.

Pat Stith: Learning to hike, the hard way.
Pat Stith: Learning to hike, the hard way.

Lucky for me, I guess, the weather had turned real bad north of Custer. Lynn didn’t want to hike in crappy weather and I couldn’t. All I had to do was make it to Custer.

With six miles to go the bad weather reached us and it began to snow. What a state, a blistering hot sun one day and snow the next. Lynn offered to walk to Custer alone and come back for me in a cab. It was good of him, really. But I would rather have rubbed my heels with salt and crawled to Custer than ride there in a cab.  

Postscript: I made it.  For the next few days I wore socks but no shoes and Lynn and I went sight seeing. There’s lots to see in that part of the country, including Devil’s Tower and the Badlands. One day we went underground, down into a decommissioned U.S. Air Force silo that had once held a nuclear-tipped Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile. On the steel door leading to the missile silo someone had drawn a pizza box lid and written these words: “Delivered hot anywhere in the world in 15 minutes.”

Coming Monday: Blame It On Youth