June 28, 2016
“We haven’t stayed at a trail shelter yet on this walk, but this would be a good one,” I said to John, as we heard the approaching thunder. We had been waiting at the fancy-dancy 501 Shelter at the junction of the AT and PA 501 for the last few hours, heeding the thunderstorm watch.
So far, we have bypassed all the shelters since our walk began on June 3rd. Here are my reasons:
*I’m not a social sleeper!
*They can be dirty and mouse-ridden!
*People leave things in them.
*They remind me of work as a ridgerunner when I cleaned them out.
*I love sleeping in my own tarp space out in the quiet woods.
There are over 300 shelters on the Appalachian Trail. Each one is unique. Many are simple three-sided wood sided lean-to type structures with a smooth plank floor. Some are stone. A few are elaborate, multi-level buildings, with covered picnic table, loft, and bunk platforms. They have room for 6-8 people layed out in their bags. When there’s a storm, they accommodate any number of hikers! More than I once, I have squeezed in with about twenty others in a trail shelter to wait for a storm to pass.
Shelters are good landmarks. Their location is marked in my guidebook, so when I get to a shelter, I know exactly where I am.
Shelters usually are near a reliable water source. Not always, but usually, so they are good stops for water, lunch, and meeting other hikers.
Shelters are a location for trail registers, notebooks provided by the local trail club, for hikers to make note of their passing through. This year, hikers seem to be writing simple one-line messages, “Trailslug passin’ through” whereas when I hiked in 2007, people would write long passages, notes to upcoming hikers, stories. Perhaps smartphones and blogs are filling the communication gap.
The 501 Shelter is big and fully enclosed, more like a hostel. It has 12 wide bunks and two picnic tables inside. A six-foot wide octagonal skylight lets in a flood of daylight. A solar shower, porta-potty, and adjacent tenting provide luxury. What really sets this shelter apart are a caretaker living in the house next to it, and pizza delivery service from Do’s Pizza in Pine Furnace.
We stayed the night, amazed at how quiet 17 people could be. No one spoke after 8 p.m. and the only lights were red headlamps of late readers. Hikers love their sleep!
The storm was mild, or at least that’s how it seemed from inside the 501 Shelter. We had made a good choice, and can now say we stayed in a shelter on this walk!
The Octagonal Skylight