Day 56 – Wednesday, April 4: Keffer Oak to Stealth Camp, 20.5 miles, 696.8 total AT miles.

I woke at 6:00am and quickly ran outside to find a rock or a log – I needed to go to the bathroom bad. I hoped I was being quiet, my plan was to slip back into my tent and sleep for another half hour.

No dice – I could hear Savage and Black Santa packing as soon as I got back into my sleeping bag. I sat up and drank a cup of cold instant coffee from inside my tent. It was actually really enjoyable.

I put on nice, dry clothes and started throwing things out of my tent. By the time I finally hopped out to start packing in earnest, I saw Savage sitting on a log ready to go. I packed up my tent and ate a quick breakfast before heading out.

Savage headed off first – Black Santa, Monster and I followed suit after a few photos with the Keffer Oak. The AT immediately exits the valley and heads straight up to the ridge. I took this first ascent of the day slowly. I was full of energy, but sweating hard halfway up. I didn’t push it – I wanted to keep a slow, steady pace to the top of Bruisers Knob.

I was pleased to find Black Santa waiting only a few minutes for me at the top. He’s a much faster hiker than I am and he’s only been on the trail since Damascus. We passed Sarver Hollow Shelter and starting making our way along the ridge line.

In about an hour, we caught up with Savage and enjoyed our first proper view in two days. I took a few pictures of the green mountains – I still can’t believe how quickly spring has come to 3,000 feet. I ate a quick snack and pushed on.

We had some easy hiking ahead. The AT leaves the ridge and begins a gradual six-mile descent to Niday Shelter and Craig Creek. We planned to hike along the ridge and down the mountain as fast as possible to gain time. The trail cooperated and we soon found ourselves passing the shelter and nearing Craig Creek.

A lone car was parked next to the creek – a older guy in a shirt and tie was standing by the car, looking up trail at us as we approached. As I got closer, I saw a bag of apples sitting on the hood. He offered us apples and cold drinks as we sat down to cook lunch.

This particular trail angel is a defense attorney taking a break between cases he has today in Pearisburg. He was a fun guy to talk to and really brightened up our lunch. I even gave him a gallon ziplock full of trash to toss out for me.

After lunch, the three of us began our second ascent toward Brush Mountain – also the home of the Audie Murphy monument. I tried the whole “slow, steady” approach that was so successful this morning. I had to stop halfway up. I was sweating and still a little full from lunch.

That hike was a pretty difficult 2.5 miles. You know, there’s this rumor among hikers that Virginia is “flat”. It may lack the high elevations of North Carolina, but I can’t tell much of a difference during these 1,500 foot ascents. It’s still pretty hard work.

I (again) found Black Santa at the top. Savage wasn’t far behind and we hiked just off-trail to take a break by the monument. Audie Murphy was the most-decorated soldier during WWII – his plane crashed in the early 70’s near to where we were taking a break.

I ate a quick snack and changed socks. While we were relaxing, I saw Monster flying up the hill towards us. For the past week, he’s expressed a need to hike 20 plus miles per day – he doesn’t want his Visa to expire before he reaches Katahdin. Juan, Sweet Potato and Oriole hike at a slightly slower pace (we’re talking maybe three or four miles a day slower) and it all adds up in the end.

It’s been a tough saying good bye to trail friends this past week as I’ve decided to hike a little longer each day – Monster’s been hiking with his group since day one. He decided to hike with us – at least for a few days until we reach Daleville so he can then see how far he is ahead.

We began the descent to Trout Creek, all keeping behind Savage at a fairly rapid pace. We were making good time on the day as we approached the creek. It was 4:00 and we were only a few miles shy of Pickle Branch Shelter and the ridge leading up to the Dragon’s Tooth.

We quickly passed the shelter, and an awesome grassy field, for a potential tentspace higher up by ascent. Things quickly got steep and rocky. I didn’t even try to keep up – I trusted that we’d stop at the first place available as soon as we hit the ridge. I hiked on.

There wasn’t anything for quite a while. I was getting frustrated – I wanted nothing more than to sit down and eat dinner. Things still weren’t looking good – to many jagged rocks and steep slopes. But, as luck would have it, I soon found the three of them mulling about on the AT. It wasn’t much – but there was enough space to pitch four tents.

I cleared my tiny area of debris and quickly set up my tent. After a nice hot meal, I joked around with Savage, Black Santa and Monster before going to bed.

I’m tired, but honestly much less than I expected I’d be. Everything is dry – including my tent when I climbed into it this evening. And my feet are finally doing noticeably better.

Another day with zero cell coverage – it’s the second day I’ve been checking whenever I take a break.

Tomorrow promises to be a long day. There’s numerous views starting with the Dragon’s Tooth and ending with the iconic shot from McAfee Knob. At some point, Savage has to quickly hop off-trail to grab a package from a hostel.

I’d like to get as close as I can to Daleville before tenting tomorrow night. I’d like to get into town around mid-morning on Friday and find a coffee shop or restaurant that his wifi so I can finally upload these journals. I’ll also need to charge my external battery as much as I can.

After stopping at the outfitters for new socks, at the post office to pick up my new camera lens, and at Kroger for a food resupply, I’d like to be back on the trail that same night. I just spent two days in town – I’m not quite ready to go back in.

Author: Chris Kummer

Hey y'all - Cool Dad here. Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to thru-hike the AT. It remained a nagging thought for nearly a decade - then it got loud enough to warrant my attention. So I quit my unfulfilling job(s) in Seattle and commenced hiking north from Springer in the spring of 2016. And I'm exceedingly thankful I did. The people I met, the things I saw, the gross foods I ate - not a day goes by without fondly remembering life on the trail. If you've already thru-hiked a long trail, you know exactly what I'm talking about. If you're thinking about tackling a long-distance hike, do it. Do it now. I'm probably gonna do it again...

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