Our final destination for my volunteer all women trail maintenance crew was the Kinsman Pond Shelter, where we would stay until Friday. We picked up a couple more tools from the volunteers at AMC’s Lonesome Lake Hut (you can read about that hike here), and started up again on the trail. We had only around another mile and a half left, maybe two.
The last leg of the hike was the hardest of all for me. Never before had I hiked anything that had ladders with large spaced rungs, or large boulders you had to scramble up to wooden rungs drilled into the stone, or (worse yet) no rungs at all.
It was more challenging mentally, than it was physically. The weight of the pack was making me doubt every step, unnervingly aware of the odd balance my body still was growing accustomed to. My muscles couldn’t compensate for the constant pull of the pack. I would judge steps incorrectly, fall back down. I’d eye rungs of wooden beams that seemed so very far away in my eyes, wondering if my balance would hold from one to the other. Eventually, I realized keeping my back down towards the ground so that the weight wouldn’t pull me off helped–but it only helped, not solved my lack of experience.
Lesson 3: Lean in, and keep pack weight towards ground–especially on rock scrambles.
And yes, that was when the rain hit.
I should have known better. It had drizzled before a tiny bit, and we had already known the forecast called for rain.When it arrived again in full blast, I wondered if anyone else would put their jacket on. No one seemed to want to bother to stop, put their pack down, put on the jacket, and get their pack back up again. We were certainly close to the shelter by now, so why put in the effort, right?
Lesson 4: When hiking or backpacking, forget about being polite. It is more important to be safe.
I didn’t want to force every other person in our group to stop just for me alone, so I held my tongue again. Looking back as I write now after months of experience hiking, I know now that is not a safe way to hike. The rain and the higher altitude soon made us very cold. Gradually what had been summer turned into a crisp 40 degree temperature–with wet clothes to boot. Speaking up when you need something keeps you safe. Although we were about to have access to a shelter, there are times when that doesn’t happen.
We were all freezing when we finally reached Kinsman Pond. I quickly threw my pack down and grabbed clean clothes. One through-hiker was already in the shelter there, short blond hair peeking out with pale blue eyes, though most of his body was tucked smartly in a sleeping bag. The bag lay on a board going across the middle of the shelter, almost like a shelf built for people instead of things. Even with so little exposed, I registered how young he looked.
Normally, I’m the shy girl. I am the girl who goes into the bathroom at a gym and changes in a stall. But I am also the girl that once I decide I want to do something, I do whatever I have to do. The cold also helped make that more pressing, because there is nothing that works better in sorting out your priorities than the demanding power of a need. And right at that moment, I needed to be warm.
Turning around, we all ripped off our freezing wet clothes and put fresh, dry ones on. I’m sure the kid in the sleeping bag, who we would later learn his trail name was “Pretty Boy”, must have been quite amused and shocked to find a sudden large group of women about double his age overtaking his shelter and getting half naked. Or who knows? Maybe that is the usual experience for through-hikers.
Lesson 5: Bring a pack towel that is almost your body size so you can use it to help you change if you need to (as well as dry yourself off if you’re soaked to the bone.)
The shelter was big, shaped like a log cabin style with no doors. A small path with a 3 foot wooden ladder lead up away towards the pond and pit toilet, which you couldn’t go number one in. It was surrounded on all sides by trees, with no other marked paths near it. On the opposite direction on the path where we had come from to get to the shelter, bog bridges led to a community bear box and dish cleaning area.
Dinner started almost directly after everyone settled in their packs and changed. Two people volunteered to help make it. Although we had chopped up fresh vegetables, and brought food normal backpacking doesn’t have room for, the cold air and rain made me most look forward to going to bed.
With one of my two sports bras down, I wore almost all my clothes at this point. I had on a t-shirt, an L.L. Bean wool midweight long sleeve, thin wool hoodie, and my EMS rain jacket (finally). Even then, I could still feel the cold. Nothing compared to when I sank into my bright orange sleeping bag, eternally grateful I had bought a winter bag and actually taken it on the trip.
Still, we had finally arrived at Kinsman Pond shelter. I was here, and for a week. I couldn’t believe that in less than a month, I had decided to take my first backpacking trip and I was actually on it. This was what I have been wanting to do for so many years now. To not only dream about things I wanted to do in my life, but determine a way to do them and just go for it.