We have just returned from our 6th expedition here at FMA. At some times during this expedition it was trying, both physically and mentally. We took what Mother Nature threw at us, and overcame it.
Mother Nature gave us sunshine, wind, rain, and even snow, but we were grateful for it all.
Day One began with business as usual: class followed by a hearty breakfast, followed by morning work chores. We then set about preparing ourselves and out packs, before loading the bus which would take us to the trailhead at the Flatwood area. A six-minute bus ride saved us two miles of uphill hiking along Eastridge Road.
After unloading the bus, we began our hike along Flatwood Canyon, until we began our ascent up Academy Trail. It was a grueling and challenging hike, until reaching the big rock just below the Iron Mountain Trail. Upon seeing the rock, I knew I was almost to the top.
Day two began with my partner and I starting a fire and cooking breakfast. After eating we took down our tent, cleared our camp spot, hid our fire sites and joined the rest of the students at the rally point at 9 a.m. Mr. Mike took some of the students down the trail, and Mr. Dan took some of us up the trail, to do some trail maintenance for about a half an hour.
We then shouldered our packs and began a nice easy hike down and along Birch Branch to our next campsite. After arrival in camp, we had an hour and thirty minutes to gather wood, set up tents etc., before reconvening for another hour of trail improvements. Mr. Dan’s group cleared a large section of rhododendrons along the creek that made it a very treacherous corner to hike through.
We awoke at 7:30 a.m., prepared our meals, cleared our campsites, and prepared for the day’s hike which we knew would be long and tiring. We started hiking at 9 a.m. and a short time later we arrived at Highway 133, which runs up the middle of Shady Valley.
At 10:03 a.m. we began our ascent up Rutter Creek to the Appalachian Trail. Upon reaching the AT at Abingdon Gap, we made camp on the Northwest side, 100 yards below the trail. Campsites were selected, and camp improvements began, followed by a short introduction to shelter building. Some students began building shelters before turning in for the night under clear skies with mild temperatures.
We awoke at 7 a.m., and began cooking our breakfasts while making careful plans for our shelters. For the remainder of the day, we built our shelters and improved them, and then walked around the camp checking out other people’s shelters. Almost a day off.
Day five began with low clouds hanging over us, along with cold temperatures. Not ideal hiking weather. We began our hike along the A.T. towards Damascus through heavy fog, with occasional snow, sleet and wind.
We made camp at AT Saddle Camp after a three hour hike. Mr. Mike set the pace a little faster than usual due to the inclement weather. Upon reaching camp, we immediately set up our tents and began gathering wood and starting fires. Within thirty minutes of our arrival, the weather turned truly nasty, with cold winds, freezing rain and snow, but we were ready for it. Mr. Dan checked to make sure everyone was O.K. and we settled in for the night, which was bitter cold with winds coming from the North bringing still colder weather, and little more snow. Tent time was supposed to be 8 p.m., but we pretty much turned in around 5.
We were up at 7 a.m., and starting our morning cooking fires, knowing this was the last day of expedition. Mr. Mike said we had about a four and a half, to five mile hike ahead of us, at the end of which there would be a surprise.
At 11:30 a.m. we began our hike down to Damascus. It took about three hours to reach Damascus, where we hiked through town to meet Mr. Kevin who was waiting with the bus at Cowboys filling station. We took a short ride to Sundog Outfitters where Mr. Mike was waiting with cold sodas for all of us. What a treat after six days of nothing but yucky water and coffee. They tasted exceptional.
We then reboarded the bus for a 6 mile drive back to FMA, where we unpacked, hung stuff out to dry, and stepped into a warm shower. Mission accomplished!