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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
 
Previous          Journal Topics by Date            Next
 
 
PHOTOS 19: GIMME SHELTER, PART 1:
THE VARIETY OF SHELTERS ON THE A.T.

 
FEBRUARY 9, 2006
 
 
"Oh, a storm is threat'ning
My very life today
If I don't get some shelter
Oh yeah, I'm gonna fade away."
 
- lyrics from the 1969 song, "Gimme Shelter,"
by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones
 
 


Hikers at the Lambert Meadows Shelter in Virginia, summer of 2004 (on part of the AT where we train).

No, this essay has nothing to do with war, which is the "storm" reference in the Stones' song.

I call the next three essays "Gimme Shelter" for the simple reason that the song title popped into my head when I was working with my shelter and hut photos. The first stanza illustrates one big reason why these structures on the AT are A Very Good Thing for hikers - as shelter from storms. (Always keep in mind that it is so green along most of the Appalachian mountain chain because it rains a lot there.)

Shelters are a big part of the AT experience for most section- and thru-hikers. Although I didn't stay overnight in shelters during my adventure run last summer, I took refuge in them a couple times during thunderstorms. And I absolutely loved spending one night in a hut in the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

THE SHELTER CONCEPT

There have been backcountry shelters, sometimes called "lean-to's,"  along the Appalachian Trail corridor nearly as long as there has been a Trail. More than 250 of these structures are located an average of eight or nine miles apart, about a day's hike for many backpackers. Intervals between the shelters vary from a couple miles to about twelve miles.

And several more were being relocated or built from scratch when I ran the AT last year, such as the one below being constructed by the Carolina Mountain Club near Max Patch on Day 18:

I can't pretend to be an expert on shelters but I've read a lot about them in hikers' journals and the ATC guides and publications and I visited probably 40% of them to read and sign the Trail registers - almost all the ones that were close enough to the Trail that I didn't have to do much "bonus mileage" to reach them.

Shelter, hut, and campsite locations are noted in the ATC maps, data books, and guide books, as well as publications by other organizations. You can find basic shelter and campsite protocol on the ATC link to the left. Click on "hike the trail," then "camping and shelters."

In this essay I'll show you about twenty shelters I photographed so you can see the wide variety along the Trail. Some are quite interesting because of their design, location, amenities, history, etc. I'll include my daily journal links so you can locate the shelters and huts more easily on a Trail map (by seeing what trail heads I used that day).

I'll cover shelter privies in Photos 20 and the hut systems in Shenandoah National Park and the White Mountains in Photos 21.

SHELTER TYPES

Like bridges, fences, and other structures on the AT, shelters come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, materials, and degrees of primitive-ness (primitivity??).

Most are very basic, simply "shelters from the storm," such as the small log Antietam Shelter shown above (Pennsylvania, Day 62). At the other extreme are the comparatively luxurious huts in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the subject of Photos 21.

A typical shelter has a shingled or metal roof, a raised wooden floor, three walls, and is open to the elements on one side. This type is the most common along the Trail.

The majority are made of wooden boards or logs. Some are primarily rock, and some are hybrids using both wood and stone, like the Lambert Meadow shelter shown at the top of this page.

The attractive Muskrat Creek Shelter, below, is in North Carolina just a few miles from the Georgia border. This shelter illustrates flat-board construction. It was built in 1996 and accommodates eight sleeping hikers. I like the style of this one, with the covered table. (Day 5)

Shelters made from wooden logs are more common than flat boards along the AT.

I like the small log shelter, below, on Moose Mountain in New Hampshire (Day 114). It was moved a quarter mile in 2002 by the Dartmouth Outing Club to its present location. I'll mention more about its features later in this essay:

I saw the attractive stone shelter below on Mollie's Ridge in the Smokies on Day 14:

The construction appears to be flat stones laid on top of each other.

 This shelter is nice because it has a fireplace, a covered eating area, and a loft, also called "built-in bunks." It is also bigger than most because of the number of folks who hike in the national park. The AT Guide to North-Carolina-Georgia says it accommodates twelve hikers, but it looked like it would hold more.

The Blood Mountain Shelter in northern Georgia, below, is built with rocks in a different manner. It has some windows for light and the opening is smaller than most shelters have because it is exposed to more wind and cold on top of the mountain at 4,461 feet.

See how the wind makes it lean? Oops, that's my camera angle!! (Day 2

The photo below shows a third type of rock construction occasionally used on AT shelters. This is the Chestnut Ridge Shelter, which sits at 4,400 feet elevation in southwestern Virginia:

The Chestnut Ridge Shelter is doubly cool - it's not only on an exposed bald with nice breezes and views, it's also got a cathedral ceiling and spacious interior with a swing for the hikers' entertainment! Meet "Tony Danza," who I introduced to readers on Day 35:

Other amenities at the Chestnut Ridge Shelter include bunk-type sleeping quarters (no mattresses), windows, a picnic table inside, and a door that can be closed.

All these features are unusual but much appreciated by the hikers lucky enough to get there early enough to find a place to lay their sleeping bag.

JOCKEYING FOR SPACE

You see, hikers usually occupy shelters on a first-come, first-served basis until they are full.

An average shelter accommodates six or eight hikers in sleeping bags, more if everyone agrees to fit more snugly. A few are smaller, and some are quite a bit larger or have lofts that accommodate more hikers.

The shelter in Virginia pictured below is probably the smallest one on the entire AT. This cute little "log cabin" on McQueen's Knob is an old shelter "suitable as an emergency shelter," per the AT guidebook.

One hiker wrote in the Trail register, "This place is only big enough for 1 people or 3 hobbits." (Day 30)

I realize that the photo makes the little shelter look as large as some of the others, but it's really small. You have to duck low to enter and if you're more than four feet tall, you can't lie front-to-back like everyone usually does in the shelters. I call it the "hobbit house."

Contrast that with the double shelter below at Fontana Dam, which can accommodate twenty hikers. Built in 1980, it has two lofts, open "doors" on opposite sides of the structure, outside benches, a water fountain, and a picnic area.

Best of all, perhaps, hikers can take a shower nearby at the visitor center. That's rare!

The Fontana Dam shelter is dubbed the "Fontana Hilton" because it is more luxurious than most AT shelters.

It's in a popular location at the southern end of the Trail through the Smokies, so it fills up quickly. (Day 11)

Some of the stories I've read/heard about hikers vying for space in shelters are pretty funny.

So are the ones about "problem" campers, like the ones who snore, fart, sleep walk, etc. Since I'm sometimes guilty of doing two of those things (I won't say which!), it's just as well that I slept in our camper every night but one. Jim has the same habits I do, so he can't complain about me!

Hikers sometimes stop early in the afternoon to ensure getting a space at a shelter if they think it will fill up quickly. This often happens when folks are in the "bubble" of thru-hikers traveling north, and on weekends, and during the summer in popular areas like the Smokies, Shenandoahs, and Whites.

Although shelter use is on a "first come, first served" basis, Trail etiquette dictates that there is always room for one more, especially in bad weather.

Could get pretty cozy in there!

Shelters are intended for individual hikers, not groups. Sometimes groups of weekend or novice hikers will arrive first and may not know the proper protocol, so peace-loving section- and thru-hikers may have to be flexible and pitch a tent instead of sleeping inside a shelter. Fortunately, many shelters are near good campsites for tenting.

I showed you the Moose Mountain, NH, log shelter above. It is part of a camping complex, and this is the cute sign for it:

 

It's a large area with several different tent areas - more than are shown on the diagram above. I nearly got lost on the long loop, and forgot the other end came out on the Trail. I ended up back-tracking to the southern end where I entered the loop instead of continuing north.

Anyway, it appears to be a great place to tent or sleep in the shelter. (Day 114)

Some hikers prefer to sleep in their tents, a bit away from shelters, for more privacy and quiet, especially if the weather is decent and there are good sites available. If they want, they can enjoy socializing around the campfire at the shelter, use the privy, gather water, and then go sleep in peace.

A few hardy souls even like to sleep in hammocks strung between two trees on warm, dry nights.

I saw numerous spots along the Trail that looked to me (a non-backpacker) to be fine tent sites and some of the shelters have very nice tent pads on platforms (Old Speck in New Hampshire comes to mind first). Tent pads are most prevalent in the New England states because of the more fragile eco-zones there. I don't think I have any photos of them.

FREE VS FEE

Hikers can stay in most of the shelters without paying a fee. However, some shelters in heavy-use areas require a permit, registration, and/or fees.

For example, hikers must register to stay in shelters or huts in the Smokies (NC/TN), Shenandoahs in Virginia, and Baxter State Park in Maine. I'm not sure which shelters require fees other than the huts in the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

There are various cabins, such as those in the Shenandoahs and the state of Pennsylvania, that require both reservations and fees. The AT guides and web site have information about these sites.

The beautiful Partnership Shelter, below, is one that required  registration when I passed by on Day 33 (June 1, 2005). The AT Guide to Southwest Virginia doesn't mention registrationWhile I was eating lunch I got that information from a Forest Service employee who is a member of the Konnarock trail-building crew. Perhaps it requires registration in the busy summer months.

The shelter was built in 1997 by a large volunteer group from six Trail clubs, the Baldwin family, hikers, and employees of ATC and USFS. It is located in southern Virginia behind the equally attractive Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area office building and visitor center on US 16. The shelter holds sixteen people.

Some of the shelters in fragile sub-alpine and alpine zones have high-season caretakers to educate hikers and protect the environment. I visited several of these. Two examples are Stratton Mountain in Vermont and the Horn's Pond lean-to's in the Bigelow Mountains in Maine. Most shelter and camping areas with caretakers are in New England.

I've read about a few other caretaker shelters on the AT that resemble hostels more than backcountry shelters, but I didn't go to any of those.

One that comes to mind is located in Maine's Hundred-Mile Wilderness and requires a boat ride across a lake (pond, in Maine-speak). How cool is that? I think that's where the blueberry pancakes are famous. Doubly cool!!

WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE

There are a number of factors to consider when locating a shelter in a certain area.

One very important consideration is a nearby water source. Most shelters are close to a creek or spring. Not only is this handy for the hikers but it also creates some very beautiful, peaceful settings such as the one below in Virgnia:

Although it's hard to see in the photo above, there is a little creek in the foreground.

This is the unique Bryant Ridge Shelter, located between Bearwallow Gap and Apple Orchard Mountain. I was fascinated with this appealing building that was obviously designed by an architect (as opposed to the usual three-sided rectangular shelters). The photos above and below don't do it justice. It's an open L-shaped loft design with a ladder, peaked roof, and porches on two sides. It holds sixteen campers.

Here's another view, with our friend, Graham Zollman, sitting on the porch on Day 47 when he accompanied me on part of my run:

This is one of the most beautiful shelters I saw on the entire Appalachian Trail - we're lucky it is fairly close to our home near Roanoke.

It was built in 1992 in memory of Nelson Garnett, Jr. from a plan selected from submissions by Nelson's fellow Catholic University architecture students after his death. Construction was a collaborative affair, similar to the Partnership Shelter mentioned earlier. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Natural Bridge AT Club, USFS, the Garnett family, and several area firms contributed funds, time, and effort.

What a nice tribute to Nelson, and a great spot for hikers to camp out. Even though I didn't sleep in shelters like this, I appreciate the effort that goes into them and I often enjoyed spending a little time resting and reading trail journals. There was a large group of young people at this site when Graham and I were there, so we didn't stay very long.

I loved the setting of this little shelter, also in Virginia, four days later:

Does that look cool and inviting, or what? It's the Harper's Creek Shelter, built in 1961 by the USFS. It holds only six hikers but has several tent sites.

Note the creek: it's one of the few south of New England that has high-water warnings. (Day 51)

2 x 2

Double shelters are common in Pennsylvania and points north.

One of the first I saw was this pair at Tumbling Run, named after a nearby creek (Day 62):

I also visited the twin Horns Pond Lean-To's in the Bigelow Mountain Range in Maine on Day 135. They have a nice view, a spring, and a nearby lake:

The two sets of shelters above are separate buildings.

The photo below shows a double shelter at Quarry Gap in Pennsylvania that is connected by a roof in a manner similar to the "Fontana Hilton." I was impressed by this shelter and have mentioned it several times in this journal.

This shelter doesn't look so grand in my photo but I was captivated by its pretty setting next to a creek and spring. There are huge old rhododendrons nearby (not blooming on Day 63 when I was there), beautiful rock work, and a wooden bench that I featured in Photos 12. It looks like a professional landscaper designed the grounds.

Other features I liked were the covered breezeway connecting the shelters, several hanging baskets of flowers in bloom, a thermometer on the wall, a picnic table, and several tent pads nearby.

A wooden sign above the picnic table in the breezeway said, "Jim Stauch, Innkeeper." He doesn't live there like a caretaker but the shelter was so clean it looked like he does! Jim is the Potomac AT Club member who oversees the shelter and the pride he takes in a job well done is obvious. Thanks, Jim.

SHELTER FROM THE STORM

There are several reasons why shelters are A Very Good Thing for hikers. I mentioned at the beginning of this essay that one of the prime benefits of shelters is that they are a place of refuge from the storms that are so frequent along the AT. They are the best places to stay dry in wet weather, even during the daytime, and they fill up fast when it rains.

The Jim and Molly Denton Shelter in northern Virginia, below, looks like it'd be a good place to escape from the rain. I lucked out and had a clear day when I visited on Day 57, but doesn't that separate roofed picnic area look like a good place to stay dry when the weather is lousy? It's the only shelter area I remember with a separate gazebo-type structure.

The Denton Shelter also has a large "porch" with wooden benches built in. It accommodates seven people under the roof and has tent platforms nearby for more campers. Other facilities include a privy, spring, shower, fireplace, and protected wood supply.

I enjoyed stopping to read the trail register and I think this would be a great spot for backpackers to camp.

A second "need" that shelters provide is a good place to meet and talk with other hikers. The Denton Shelter fulfills that criteria, as do many other shelters I saw on the AT.

The LL Bean-inspired (and funded) Piazza Rock Shelter in Maine is another popular hiker retreat. It has bright "skylights" and is located near the cantilevered Piazza Rock and a series of boulder caves to explore. There is also a brook nearby. MATC built the shelter in 1993; it sleeps eight people and has a caretaker in the summer.

The hikers above, most of whom I already knew, were getting ready to leave the shelter after breakfast on Day 133 when I visited and agreed to a group shot. (You'll see why I chose to visit this shelter in the next essay.)

Another very important function of shelters is their role in reducing hiker impact on the Trail environment.

Shelters help hikers practice good "Leave No Trace" principles. They concentrate use in a relatively small area. A shelter site may seem trampled and overused but, since the vegetation is already gone, the site will not deteriorate much more, no matter how many people use it. Meanwhile, nearby areas stay pristine. This is important all along the Appalachian Trail, not just in high alpine zones.

SHELTER CREATURES

I can't talk about shelters without discussing some critters that hikers must beware inside or nearby.

Although spiders, bugs, snakes, squirrels, raccoons, and other insects and mammals can be a problem, mice and bears are probably the most dangerous "pests" at shelters.

Mice love shelters because there are often bits of food to scavenge. They are able to bite through food bags and packs, leaving hikers with hole-y packs and food that's been chewed on. Yuck! You see all kinds of methods for keeping rodents (and squirrels) away from food in shelters.

Even more serious, however, is hantavirus, a potentially deadly virus caused by breathing in particles from dry mouse droppings. Fortunately, it is rare and difficult to "catch" if hikers keep shelters clean, watch where they put their sleeping bags and tents, and don't play with the mice.

When I was passing below the summit of Mt. Rogers in southern Virginia on the morning of Day 32 I came up on two young men at the Thomas Knob Shelter, below:

I had met "GQ" the day before. He and a friend were busy trying to capture a mouse inside the shelter. By the time I signed the shelter register, they had him trapped and "GQ" proudly showed the mouse to me:

As I recall, that is the only mouse I saw the whole trek!

By the way, this shelter has to have one of the best views of any on the whole Trail. Because of its exposed location above 5,000 feet, it does get pretty cold and windy there. The shelter was built in 1991 by the Mt. Rogers AT Club and the Konnarock crew. It accommodates ten or more hikers and has a loft.

I don't remember where it was (North Carolina? Tennessee? Virginia?), but I thought the perfect solution to the mouse problem was the shelter with its own CAT. Two hikers who were staying at the shelter told me the cat apparently lives there.

Maybe the AT clubs should employ more feline mousers . . .

Bears are another Trail hazard. They like shelters for the same reason as mice: the availability of food! So where bears are prevalent in the Smokies, Shenandoahs, New Jersey, and elsewhere, various methods are employed to discourage their presence, or at least reduce hiker harassment and potential injuries.

Many of the shelters in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park have chain link fences protecting them, such as the Russell Field Shelter below, as seen on Day 14:

The whole area isn't fenced in, just the front opening of the shelters.

Bear cables are also used in these areas, strong wire and pulley systems designed to keep food bags strung up about twenty feet high (and not near a tree!) so bears can't reach them.

The photo below shows a cable system but it isn't very clear. The round discs strung between the trees are part of the system.

You can see that the bear cables are 'way up there. I never did see anyone's food bag strung up because hikers were already on the Trail when I went by the shelters that had cables.

I showed you the Maschipacong Shelter in New Jersey below, wrapped in crime scene tape, in the last essay re: warning signs. Rangers had already closed the shelter before I arrived on Day 90 because of recent bear activity. A trap was set to catch the offender.

There were also prominent notices of recent black bear activity at sites between Salisbury and Jug End in Connecticut on Day 100. The shelters weren't closed there but hikers were advised to hang their food and not leave packs unattended. 

One other predator/nuisance has only two legs: humans.

The reason I bring this up here is that I was frightened away from the Governor Clement Shelter in Vermont, below, on Day 110 because of the presence of a man inside who made me very nervous. I couldn't see him until I got right up next to the entrance. You can see how it is in shadow:

He looked like a vagabond and appeared to be stoned or drunk when he asked me in a slurred voice, "Are you hikin' or somethin'?"

No, I'm looking for the Neiman Marcus store, you dolt!

There are so many problems with "non-hikers" at this location that the ATC cautions hikers to not stay there overnight. I didn't even stick around to sign the register!

Fortunately, rapes and murders along the AT are very rare. It is much safer for a solo female to hike or run the Trail than it is to walk or run in urban areas. But I had my antennae out the whole way and quickly moved past the three or four men who gave me the creeps last summer.

*******************************

I hope these photos make you eager to return to the Trail - or to get out there for the first time! The shelters really add to its ambience, whether you sleep in them or just use them as way stations. Bless the groups who built all of them and the volunteers who maintain them for us to use!

Next up: Potty Humor, a look at some of the more interesting privies along the Appalachian Trail.

Happy trekking,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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