Photographer Jonathan Welch takes on the Appalachian Trail — UPDATED

Many readers will remember Jonathan Welch as the former staff photographer here at Mountain Xpress: He is off on new adventures — one of a lifetime — and we wish him the best of luck and will follow his progress here.

The read more link will be reset to his latest blog post as we update.

From his most recent entry:

“Good thing chipmunks aren’t the size of bears -slingshot”

A week until the Autumn Equinox, the woods are changing daily. Brown squirrels, mice, and chipmunks are on the move forging for food and being little nuisances by stalking hikers, eating through unguarded packs, food bags and tents. Streams and river that would usually have bridges in other states, require fording. Mud, water crossings, rock hops and broken bog bridges are a big part of the terrain. Changing into my crocs every hour is pointless, my feet are bound to get wet anyway. I romp through the water and muck in my boots, stop periodically to ring out my socks, my feet look like prunes at the end of the day. Damn it Maine! Even the “easy” sections are a filled with uncomfortable obstacles.

The summit of Moxie Bald in Maine.

Waking up daily to the dreamy cry of the loon has been surreal. I’m sitting at Shaw’s a trail famous and awesome hostel in Monson Maine. The town is packed with excited hikers preparing mentally and stocking up on supplies for the next and for most final section of trail ” The Wilderness”. The Hundred Mile Wilderness requires delicate planning, food and supply restock, plus the awareness that there are no easily accessible roads or towns for a hundred miles. The Wilderness is the home stretch for most northbound thru hikers leading into Baxter State Park, home of Mt. Katahdin the Northern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

“Love and hate”

I have a love, hate relationship with Maine.
The state is gorgeous when it’s not trying to kill me! I love a good challenge but I’m becoming worn down physically and mentally. The terrain is consistently exhausting and worse when weather adds a whole new set of obstacles. While climbing up Saddleback to the The Horn, rain clouds started to move in. I set up camp before it got bad but woke up freezing cold with a puddle in my tent. Everything was wet, I put on my wet hiking clothes and quickly broke down camp, shivering in the morning downpour.

A trail sign in Maine

I hiked on to get blood flowing and warm up a little, the trail was a rushing river from all the rain. After tromping through ankle deep water on slick rocks over Saddleback Junior I’d had enough and decided to stop at Popular Ridge Shelter to put on my dry clothes and get shelter from the elements. I was very worried about hypothermia but there was no fast direct way out of the forrest to town so I stayed at the shelter all day in my sleeping bag waiting the rain out. Times like that are when I hate Maine. For all the negative emotions I have towards Southern Maine, it has been filled with some of the most exciting moments of my life and as many highs as lows.

“The Whites”

The White Mountain National Forest of New Hampshire is absolutely amazing! The past week has been the most physically demanding hiking terrain I have ever encountered. One minute the mountains mesmerize with the beauty of 360 scenic vistas, the next moment life is on the line trying conquer vertical rock scrambles with a 35 pound pack. The rush and reward are both

Welch in New Hampshire with the Presidential Range behind him.

breathtaking. Deep concentration on foot and hand placement is mandatory while navigating these powerful mountains. Summit weather can change at the drop of a dime, making the long steep miles above tree line as nerve racking as they are beautiful.

“The Green Mountains”

Bennington, VT to Manchester Center, VT.
Vermont has been awesome so far! Back to climbing big mountains every day, the weather is much cooler and the scenery has been great. It feels like being in the wilderness again. South bound hikers are merging with north bounders at this point and it’s an interesting exchange of trail experiences, stories and trail conditions.

Huge areas of bogs fill southern and central Vermont.

“Skipped ahead to Massachusetts”

I traveled up to Pittsfield, MA to attend my friends Jill and Josh’s wedding. I decided to jump ahead on the trail starting at Dalton, MA and head north from there. I’ll make up the section I skip after summiting Mt. Katahdin in ME.

Cut to northern forest lands. The AT can be done in any order you desire.

Jill and Josh’s wedding was beautiful, couldn’t ask for a better day or location. It was a good decision to come up here, I had a great visit back to my hometown, hung out with my two grandmothers, had good talks and beer with my uncles Danny and Michael, saw friends and cousins and had a great visit with my cousin Erin, her husband Chris and their children Preston and Josephine! The time off was awesome! I’m now, sitting in Bascom Lodge on the Summit of Mt. Greylock the highest peak in MA, watching severe weather come up the mountain top.

“Ticks, rattlesnakes, bears and wildfires.”

Waynesboro, VA to Front Royal, VA.
The Shenandoah National Park was beautiful, with nice terrain and a very well maintained section of the trail. Along the way, there were waysides and camp stores to stop at and get milkshakes, food, beer and a resupply of junk food. The Skyline Drive is the parkway road traveled by park visitors. The Appalachian Trail follows The Skyline Drive but instead of going

A rattlesnake along the Appalchian Trail in Shenandoah National Park.

around all the mountains from overlook to overlook, the trail goes up and down the ridge line with less overlooks. One major problem encountered was the amount of ticks, I had about five or six on me each day. I hate ticks! I also saw a few rattlesnakes and my first bear sighting yet since being on the trail. On Sunday night a cold front moved through creating thunderstorm with intense lightning. The next day smoke was in the air, and from views you could see a fire in the distance. We all thought it was a controlled Forrest Service fire, but when we got into Front Royal, VA, National Park Service fire fighters were at the hotel and said there are two wildfires in the area from lightning strikes.

“Wisdom behind my ears”

Buena Vista, VA to Waynesboro, VA.

Central Virginia has been tough! From now on I’m not believing anyone when they describe the upcoming trail terrain as easy and instead trusting the “wisdom behind my ears”! The long stretch of ridge line became progressively rockier and rockier with a few long climbs. My brother Donnie “Baby Steps” has been out hiking with me for last two weeks. We are taking a zero day and resting in Waynesboro VA, the southern entrance of the Shenandoah National Park.

Welch in Virginia, where even trees have to deal with rocks.

“Don’t let the sound of your wheels drive you crazy”

Pearisburg VA to Daleville VA

I’ve been hiking solo lately and deep in thoughts sometimes good and sometimes intense. The trail has been very rocky as well, making concentration on each foot placement important. I went to a hiker feed at “The Captains” house just outside of Pearisburg. The Captain allows hikers to camp in his yard for free and throws an annual hiker feed party, two weeks after Trail Days. During the hiker feed an Eagles album was playing on the stereo. The song “Take it Easy” came on and the line ” don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy” really resonated with me. The line was stuck in my head and I repeated it over and over and over through out this section of the trail.

Jonathan up in the sky, on the AT in Virgina

I started out of Pearisburg mid day after taking a zero and hitting the Hardees and Dairy Queen. Hiked about 10 miles to a campsite on the ridge.

“A Quarter of the way”

Damascus, VA was a nice little trail town, my camera died right before I got into town, so unfortunately I do not have any photos of Damascus. A replacement camera was overnighted to me during my stay. I got back on the trail mid day with Hips, Emilyn and Chameleon. Hiked about 6 miles to a campsite near Laurel Creek.

Wild ponies in Grayson Highlands State Park.
April snow in the highlands of Tennessee on the Appalachian Trail

Woke up freezing and it was still snowing out. The group I was hiking with decided to head back down to town instead of risking worse conditions or chancing hypothermia on the higher elevations. Chameleon rented a car and we went to see the movie The Lorax in Johnson City, TN.

Had an awesome three day visit with friends in Asheville, NC. My friends Jon and Jen gave Chef, Ranger Bill and I a ride back to the trail at Hot Springs, NC and also did a mile long hike up to Lovers Leap. It was tough getting back into the hiking frame of mind. Hiked a short day up to a campsite near a pond and it was very loud with the night time symphony of peepers and birds.

Jonathan has passed into NC from GA, and should be nearing the Asheville Area in the next few days.

Applesauce 2010 thru hiker from The Nantahala Outdoor Center. He shared some trail wisdom with us “It’s all about the smiles, not the miles”!

From Welch’s first blogs:

Day 1
A tough day on the approach trail. I was dropped off at Amicalola Falls State Park in GA by my parents around 11am. Right off the bat I struggled with the mile hike straight up the falls on metal stairs. The rest of the 8 mile trail was just as hard with a steady up hill 2000 elevation change. I finally reached Black Gap shelter before dark. the campers at the shelter were very nice and that boosted my moral back up again. Met thru hiker Candace.


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4 thoughts on “Photographer Jonathan Welch takes on the Appalachian Trail — UPDATED

  1. Doug Sahm

    Great blog. Makes me want to jump out of my office window and hit the Trail.

  2. leslie

    following this adventure has brought me back to the trail, and has welled some pretty heavy memories. the photography is stellar.
    nice work, and hike on!

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