I find myself bedding down in my hammock for the first time of the season, at Brink Road shelter on the Appalachian Trail. With the trip being so early in the season the hammock may not have been the best choice for the trip. Although weather reports had stated we should have been looking at nights in the low 40′s its just before midnight and temps are already dropping down close to freezing temps and its still dropping. Hammocks are a great option for backpacking but being raised off the ground allows air to travel under the hammock resulting in a lack of insulation. Hennesy does make an insulator unit to avoid this problem but I of course left it at home. I suspect tonight will be a sleepless night due to the cold.
The course is progressing well we set off on the trail head around 10am, and made quick work of the 3.7 miles to the shelter, at least while we were moving that is. With it being a course we had a number of stops along the trail to take advantage of teachable moments and for me to give my presentation.
After hiking in on the trail about a mile we stopped for me to do my presentation on traveling on durable surfaces. I took advantage of a trail junction point where a lightly used trail and a moderately used trail came together. After a short discussion on durable surfaces I split the group into three smaller groups, and assigned each group to a 5′ radius section to discover what could be found in there small area. One group did there investigation in a non-trail space, another on the lightly used trail and the third on the heavier used trail. This activity is very similar to the one found in the book “101 Ways to teach Leave No Trace” on page number 58. After everyone had a chance to explore there assigned spaces we got back together to talk about the life found in the different areas that our travels on the trail impact.
With my presentation completed we continued along the trail, we encountered a few teachable moments during our travel on the trail and the instructors provided with us insight about different impacts that others have had on the trail. After about an hour of trail travel we stopped for our first lunch on the trail. We found a nice relaxing spot just off the trail to enjoy our meal. After a about a half hour break and conversation about our day we headed back on the trail and completed the 1/4 mile of trail travel to our first campsite of the trip.
We would be spending our first night at Brink Road Shelter, this would be our established campsite night. Established Campsites are one which have been setup for planned campsite usage. Brink Road shelter is just one of hundreds of shelters that have been constructed along the Appalachian Trail. These shelters vary in designed but the Brink Road Shelter is very much a traditional AT Trail Shelter and is simply a 3 walled lean to that allows through hikers to have some shelter while traveling on the trail. The area features a moldering privy for doing your backcountry business and a good water source both in close proximity to the shelter.
After our arrival to the shelter I selected a pair of trees to setup my hammock, after establishing were we would all be setting up our shelters for the night we moved on to setting up our kitchen area. Based on area regulations and being in a Leave No Trace course we would be spending the night with out a camp fire. Shortly after our arrival we were joined at the shelter by four guys who were out for there first backcountry experience. They of course immediately proceeded to gather firewood for a camp fire. Although we informed them of the regulations for the area regarding no fires, they of course proceeded to collect firewire for the fire. Personally I couldn’t help but be a bit happy about this as it would allow me to warm up a bit before heading to bed at the end of the night.
The presence of the other hikers and there refusal to follow area guidelines pertaining to campfires did create a bit of tension between our group and the new additions to the shelter. Personally I found this to be a bit disappointing as the group could have easily taken advantage of the situation to educate those new to the backcountry about how they can enjoy the backcountry with a lower impact. In later conservation the instructors pointed out that although it was a great opportunity, if the conversation did not go well it could have easily distracted from our ability to get what we needed to done during the course of the evening. As an educator this made perfect since as it could have easily resulted in a very unpleasant evening. Our group spent much of the evening in the cooking area we had setup and the other travelers around the campfire 50 yards or so away, each doing our own thing.
In the kitchen area we prepared our meal for the evening (pasta and sauce w/ fresh onions & garlic). After dinner we had did some activities based around morals and our own personal ethics. A few of the students in the course seemed stuck on the fact that the others had a fire going and how wrong that was. Personally I couldn’t help but think how much warmer they must be. After our activities we gathered around a candle for a chat about environmental ethics. Around 10pm we all dispersed to our individual campsite. Not being ready to turn in yet and a bit cold, I decided to join the new arrivals around the camp fire. This decision may well have contributed to a ever growing tension between myself and another one of the course participants, who made it very clear to me they did not approve of my decision to partake in the camp fire.
Over the course of the next hour I sat enjoying the warmth and the ambiance of the campfire. During which time I talked with the four guys who were taking advantage of the shelter for the evening. They had come from New York City to enjoy a guys weekend out in nature, it was there first backpacking trip ever. Much of the things they were doing that others in my group disapproved of were simply a matter of ignorance on being in the woods. After almost two hours of chatting we parted ways with two of the four being very excited to have learned about how to properly deal with a campfire in backcountry and proper activities around a water source. Before we parted ways they took a few extra moments to ensure the fire was put out properly and the trash they had created was collected to be packed out with them in the morning. Right or wrong I feel the time spent with the others hikers allowed them to gain some information on how they can better protect our environment while backpacking.
With the day and evening behind me I headed to my Hammock and have turned in for what was likely to be a very cold night.