I wasn’t expecting snow, but I was pleasantly surprised by the dusting of snow that covered the trail as we started along the AT from Caledonia. This route is, more or less, a classic one for DC UL and one that is enjoyable in any season. I especially enjoy it in the winter since the Birch Run Shelter and nearby campsites offer plenty of room to spread out–plus, the opportunity to enjoy a nice fire and good company.
From Caledonia, you start with a climb to gain the ridge and then enter a rhododendron-covered path–typically, a lovely part of the trail. An ice storm must have swept through earlier in the week as the leaves and branches were covered in a thick layer of ice. It was magical at first, and then I quickly remembered how much I despise rhododendron in the winter as I battled my way through the ice-covered thicket.
We regrouped at the Quarry Gap Shelter, festively decorated for the holidays, and then made our way along the AT to the intersection with the Hosack Trail and then down to the lake. It’s rare to have a trail that wraps around the lake, and the sun came out just as we started to make our way around it. Even with a good break at the lake, we were making good time — it was 1:30 p.m. and we only had about four miles left for the day.
We took our time, enjoying the lakeside views, and then making the long steady climb back up to the AT and then to the shelter. Julio commented how the sunlight hitting the ice on the trails was refracting and creating rainbows–it truly was a beautiful walk. Camp Yetiman was available so we settled in and got to work gathering wood. It was cold enough for our water to start freezing so we were eager to get a fire started.
We found ourselves in the unique position of having a number of dry logs but our smaller pieces were mostly covered in ice–we could not manage to keep the fire alive since those smaller pieces were wet. And we tried — firestarters, Esbit tabs, paper, and more were offered to see if we could keep it going. It was a good effort, and we passed the time by sampling the beers and cocktails that Maria carried and the camp tiramisu that I made. But soon the cold settled in, and a few of us–including me–started to dart to our shelters to stay warm. I’ll admit to not making it to even 7 p.m. before getting into my sleeping bag.
Ben and Julio headed out early the next morning, while the rest of us packed up and were on the trail. Despite it being a cold night (we guess in the teens), the morning warmed up quickly. The ice that we admired the day before was now melting and falling off the trees. Chunks of ice were falling all around us, making the walk… well… interesting. We tried to move quickly, and fortunately no one was hit by an especially large piece of ice.
Then, it was back to the car and back home. Thanks to everyone for joining this weekend — and a welcome and congratulations to Dorit, Joe, and Julio for their first trip with the group and for becoming members.