Day 2 of our backpacking trip is a little short (aka – more readable!) at 13 miles. While it was short to read, it was definitely long and tough to hike, but it was a beautiful day and we were outside, so I consider it worth it!
We slept in a bit Saturday morning and took our time eating breakfast and getting ready for the tough day ahead. We’d been prepping for Jenkins Ridge all summer, which was going to be TOUGH. It climbs 3,000 feet in about 9 miles, which doesn’t sound like a lot. When you look at your brown book or your topo map, you’ll see that the large climbs come in bursts of 600-800 feet in less than a mile, which makes for tough climbing with a 24-pound backpack!
We left out of campsite 83 and quickly made our way the 0.8 miles to the Jenkins Ridge Trailhead. We saw someone was camping at 84, but didn’t see any people. We quickly made our way up Jenkins, knowing the first 2.4 miles would be easy as this was an old road. This trail used to be called Sugar Fork and was separate from Jenkins until about 20 years ago. I don’t know why they joined them because the trails are definitely distinct. About 1.5 miles in we could hear, but not see, some guys fishing on the creek and these would be the only other voices we’d hear until 7 p.m. that night. After reaching the end of Sugar Fork we came to an illegal campsite with a jacket, fleece blanket, and a tarp left behind. We could also see down the old Pinnacle Creek Manway, which was still marked with an “unmaintained trail” sign. It looked to be in decent shape up by this sign though. At 10:15, we started our ascent of Jenkins Ridge. Until this point, the climb had been easy. When turning and looking at the sign that said “Appalachian Trail 6.5” and seeing the trail in front of us, it got very real. The trail at this point went STRAIGHT UP the side of the hill without any switchbacks.
We began to make our first ascent up to Woodward Knob, which was about 1000 feet in about 0.75 miles. It was amazing how quickly everything started to change. The climb was hard, but never TOO hard. I was hoping we’d have some good views, but there were none to be had. We could, however, look down the hill and see how high and how fast we’d climbed and I think that was a great motivator. The best thing, in my opinion of this trail, was the fact that there were no switchbacks. The trail was laid out in front of us and you could see pretty much at all times what you were facing. It really helped when it came down to the “how much higher can this possibly go” moments. After reaching the top of Woodward Knob, we took a short break and then a very quick descent followed by a steep ascent up to Cherry Knob. This climb was about 800 feet in about 0.75 miles. After we reached the top, we knew we had one more really big climb before we’d get a good break. We collected our thoughts and made the big climb to Haw Gap. This climb was close to 900 feet in about 1 mile, but still relentless. When we reached the top, we were at DeArnold Bald. We stopped here for a break at about 1:15.
Not only were were tired and thirsty, but the bald was so overgrown we’d lost the trail. We sat down for 15 minutes or so, looked at the map and determined where we thought the trail went. At 1:30 we set out and we had found the trail almost immediately. Following it, however, was another story. The blackberries and serviceberry were thorny and pulled at us and cut us up. It didn’t take long to get through, but when blackberry thorns pull at your cuticles, you can believe it makes it seem a lot longer! We went across two pretty dried up seeps and the trail here was pretty level for about 1 mile. We reached Gunna Creek and decided to stock up on water for the night, as we’d heard the AT was pretty dry right now. We took a short snack break, restocked, and headed on our way. We only had about 400 feet more to climb to the AT in about 1.8 miles, so it was a cake walk. This entire portion of the trail from Haw Gap to the AT was overgrown with blackberries and had some small blowdown. About 0.2 miles from the top of Jenkins, the trail turns into a bald area and the grasses take over. When we reached the top and I saw the trailhead, I felt so accomplished. I also knew we still had about 3 miles to go until we could rest.
We had reservations for Spence Field that night, but we had to be moved to Russell Field due to an agressive bear. It was only about 0.5 mile to Spence Field and I wished we would have been able to stay there, as it was about 3:00 and my energy was nearly spent. The sun was shining and the views on the AT were amazing once again. We made it to the Eagle Creek junction with Spence Field and knew we needed to get our reserved energy going to make it the 2.9 miles to Russell Field. Until this point, I’d been feeling pretty good and confident about my hiking skills. We’d hiked Jenkins slowly, but I was still happy to have done it. These last 2.9 miles had a short uphill bit and I had a blister that was slowly making my day miserable. We took a short break after passing some day hikers, who didn’t greet us after we’d said hello, at about 4 p.m. We knew at this point we’d be to the shelter about 4:30 if we’d just get a move on.
The last 30 minutes of the hike I spent motivating myself. It had started to get darker in the sky and some dark clouds were looming. I kept telling myself it could rain all it wanted as long as I made it to the shelter first. At 4:35, I saw the double blaze on the tree and I knew I was there. The shelter was AWESOME! Sky lights, new trail signs, nice bear cables, a horse area far away from the shelter… AMAZING! Elise came rolling in about 5 minutes later and we were the only people there. We took our time settling down and had to shoo away a bear that was a little too close for comfort. Sure enough, there was no water. Well, no water you’d want to drink anyway. It was pretty stagnant and muddy. At about 6:45 an older man came in and was almost completely out of water. He decided to stay here for the night as well.
The night at the shelter was uneventful other than torrential downpours all night, every 2 hours. Starting at 11:15 p.m., I ran out and put my poncho on my pack and then, like clockwork, it would torrentially downpour for about half an hour. It continued to do it all night, but it kept the critters away. I had worried the rain would create an issue with the mice in the shelter, but I only saw one all night and that was before we’d gone to bed. We’d done 13 miles, but it was a tough day.