Dear Friends and Family,
Today, my fellow students and I returned from our last full expedition at FMA (i.e. 6 days with pack, tent, sleeping bag, and food.) It was an arduous journey of many miles: 34 miles for some (approximately 71,808 steps) and 44 miles for others (approximately 92,928 steps.
DAY ONE: Saturday, April 5
Day one began with cloudy skies and imminent rain. We embarked from FMA, hiking out along the FMA Creek Trail to Winters Lane, turning on to East Ridge Road, which we followed up to Deer Run. From there, we hiked into the Flathead area, where we began our ascent up to the Iron Mountain Trail (IMT) via the Academy Trail Bypass, a steep hillside climb marked by mud, and fallen trees. Upon reaching the IMT, we turned westward, hiking a total of 8 miles to Camp Coughlin. After setting up camp, and getting our fires started and our meals cooking, we gathered for evening SMEAC, where we were treated to Snickers bars courtesy of Miss Patricia, back at FMA. It was a wonderful treat, which we were especially grateful for, as a few minutes later, Mother Nature made her presence felt with a steadily increasing rain storm. After the long hike, most of us slept very well that night, drifting off to the sound of rain on our tent flies.
DAY TWO: Sunday, April 6.
We awoke to cloudy skies and a camp almost obscured by fog. Being inside this dense cloud made fire starting difficult for some of us, but our training kicked in and we all had our breakfasts cooked and our campsites cleared in time for the morning rally. The day’s journey began with a short and slightly steep ascent up P.O.H., or Poop Out Hill as Mr. Mike calls it. We hiked approximately 5 ½ miles under clearing skies, to our next camp at Mile Post One on the IMT. Getting to camp involved an intense final push up an exhaustingly steep section of the IMT, but upon arriving we were rewarded with beautiful weather, and spectacular views overlooking Doe Valley in North East Tennessee. Upon making camp, we were instructed to go get water from the spring below camp. After a period of enjoying the beautiful views, and cooking our meals, we bedded down for the night. Some of my classmates, along with the instructors, thought sleeping outside under the stars would be nice, but much to our chagrin, a cloud full of moisture rolled in just after midnight, blanketing our mountaintop with a moisture, and chasing us into our tents.
DAY THREE: Monday, April 7.
We awoke to a bright and beautiful day that would see us hiking 8 long miles, crossing from the IMT onto the Appalachian Trail (AT) through a scenic pasture bright and green with the new growth of spring. Our hike took us along the AT, through a series of ups and downs, to Double Springs Shelter, where we stopped for lunch and had a chance to meet some AT through-hikers. Continuing on, we reached Camp Onion, so called because of the abundance of wild onions growing there. Most of the students decided to incorporate the onions into their evening meals. Some were good, some not so good, but all in all, we felt this was a nice place to stop for the evening. 21 miles have been completed on this expedition, with many more to follow.
DAY FOUR: Tuesday, April 8.
We awoke at 7:30 to see sunlight streaming through the trees, still barren of leaves at this time of year. Today’s journey will take us Northward on the AT, approximately 5 miles to the Abingdon Gap Shelter, where we will make camp on the West side of the ridge. Along the way, we stopped for a moment at the Holiday Inn shelter, one of the original shelters built along the AT back in the 1930s. It is no longer used as an official shelter, but it stands sturdy and proud as a monument to the history of the AT. Mr. Mike read to us from the shelter log book, particularly the sections regarding the history of this shelter. We continued on from there, for another mile to Abingdon Gap. After our sites were selected, wood was gathered, and water was hauled up from the spring below camp, we had a relaxing afternoon of reading, improving our shelters from the last time we camped at Abingdon Gap, exploring, and napping. Trey even made a bow and drill for starting fires. Before our evening meal, Mr. Mike called us over to the rally point for an almost two hour student Pow-Wow to reflect on the past months we have been at FMA, and how little time we have left. After we were done, we made our way back to our camps and ate our yummy evening meal of lentils and rice cooked in our own individual styles, engaged in a little inter-camp trading, and turned in for the evening, more than a little tired from the past four days of travel.
DAY FIVE: Wednesday, April 9.
Bright sunshine was streaming down on us as we began our day’s journey of approximately 5 miles to the AT Saddle Camp. We set up camp, trekked down to the spring for water, and re-convened for the evening SMEAC at 4 p.m. While we were gathered there, we were treated to the arrival of a Northbound AT Section Hiker, whose trail name was Nugget. For the small price of a quart and half of water, Nugget shared some of his stories from the trail. Although he was only hiking the Clayton, GA to Damascus, VA section this year, he had twice completed the entire Georgia to Maine trek. He talked to us about the sections up North, where the trail is comprised of vertical steel ladders that have to be climbed, and he also shared some of his tips on long distance hiking. After breaking from SMEAC, we returned to our evening camps and began to prepare our meals. At approximately 6 p.m., Mr. Dan and Mr. Mike were urgently summoned to a student’s camp who was suffering a sudden and extremely painful headache, and nosebleed. After careful consideration and consultation with medical professionals via cel phone, the instructors had us build a stretcher with which to carry the student down the mountain. The stretcher was made of two sturdy branches measuring over six feet in length, crossed with additional branches and even some of our hiking sticks, and tied securely with web strapping, bandannas, and items of clothing. It was padded with pine bows and two sleeping bags, and had a reclining attachment at the head, as we had been told to keep the student’s head upright during the evacuation. The students were divided into two groups, some remaining in camp, and others including Mr. Dan and Mr. Mike, heading down the mountain as stretcher bearers. The stretcher team began the approximately five mile hike down a particularly steep and narrow section of the AT at approximately 7:30 p.m. The hike was challenging, to say the least, particularly in those sections of the trail too narrow to accommodate side carriers. The stretcher bearers rotated in shifts, with those not carrying moving ahead on the trail with lights, and others clearing the trail of any obstructions. At 10:30 we met up with Mr. Kevin who had hiked up the trail to assist, and Mr. Dan hiked back up the trail to spend the night with the student body who had remained in camp. The evacuation ended at 1:30 in the morning, when the team reached Damascus, VA, where they handed over the student for transportation to an Abingdon, VA hospital. The students who had participated in the evacuation returned to the FMA campus to spend the night. Meanwhile, back up at Abingdon Gap, the students who remained behind, broke down all the tents and packed the packs of those students who were participating in the evacuation. When Mr. Dan made it back to camp, at around 11:30 p.m., all was quiet, and each of the campsites was packed, and cleared, and the backpacks were neatly stacked and covered for the night.
DAY SIX: Thursday, April 10
For those us of us still on the mountain, we awoke to clear skies and a bright and beautiful day. After packing up our own camps, and clearing our camp sites, we hauled all the packs for the whole class, up to the AT to await the return of our classmates. Upon their arrival at around 10:30 p.m., Mr. Dan and two of the student AI’s departed early for Damascus. When the rest of us walked off the hill, into the charming mountain town that afternoon, we found out why. Miss Margaret had brought an ice chest full of unbelievably refreshing cold sodas, and Mr. Dan and the AI’s had ventured into town for pizza. We gathered in the park alongside the AT upon which we had hiked so many miles over the past months, ate pizza, drank sodas, and basked in the sunshine. What a wonderful way to end our last, and most challenging expedition. We then packed into the vehicles and returned to FMA. The expedition was over, perhaps with a bit of sadness for some of us, knowing that we would never again shoulder our packs as members of the FMA class of 2008. The hiking part of our year is now over.