Day 121: Zealand Falls Hut / Highland Center

Day 121. These nephews of mine, wow. Wow wow wow wow. If ever there were 3 children under 12 that are better outdoorsman, wilderness explorers, and good sport hikers … I wouldn’t believe it. It is insane to describe what we did today. It would be a grueling and difficult day if I was alone, but it is near impossible to describe what this Berman family did with me today with children. This is a day we will all never forget, this is a day wills were tested, and this was a day of physical and mental accomplishment worthy of the greatest trophy!

After yesterday’s stormy rain day, we were optimistically hopeful for clear skies today. But at breakfast, a member of the hut croo came out to share today’s weather report and, unfortunately, thunderstorms were on the horizon again for the afternoon. Looking outside, it was cloudy and dry … but we knew it was now a race against time.

We quickly got everyone packed up and hiked out around 8:30. Today’s plan had the whole family hiking 7 tough ridgeline miles to Zealand Falls Hut, and then Jonah, Keven and me hiking 5.5 more back to the Highland Center (non-AT side trail). Our first path was a treacherous 0.8 miles straight up 1,200 feet of elevation to the top of South Twin Mountain. It was very slow going as we scrambled up rocks and slippery eroded trails through the clouds to the summit an hour later. But, just as we reached the top … the sun poked out and began quickly burning the clouds away! As clouds shifted and evaporated, stunning views slowly appeared all around us. It was a magical and breathtaking moment! But I’m no sure who appreciates it more, the boys, or their mother (tasked with mental motivation for the day).

We continued along a ridgeline to a couple more small peaks (Mount Guyot and Zealand Mountain) in gorgeous sunny blue skies. We had a great snack break at Mt. Guyot where we rested and chatted with another family hiking through. They took some family photos for us (above) and we continued on further. The pace was slow, as rocks and wet boulders lined most of this section of the path. Zachary needed some assistance/motivation at times, though was mostly great and keeping up well with the others. And Caleb’s feet and positive attitude weren’t deterred by anything!

But then, about 1 mile from the hut … and after a near perfect day with high spirits, great storytelling, and pleasant hiking … doom came in the form of thunder off in the distance. We tried to ignore it, hoping it would go away, and hurried our pace down the final steep stretch as safely and swiftly as we could. With every few steps, another crack of thunder came, just s little bit louder than before.

We were so close. So close!

With 0.5 miles to go, the temperature instantly dropped 10 degrees and a strong gust of wind rushed through the trees. We dropped our packs and threw on our rain gear as quickly as we could (and just in time). Seconds later the skies dumped a waterfall of rain on us as thunder crashed around us. We were right in the eye of the storm. My sister, to her credit, became Supermom and guided the boys quickly down the final stretch in a way that made it a fun challenge instead of a miserable dilemma (“Guys look! A flash flood!”) They laughed and cheered when we finally jumped into the dry safety of the Zealand Falls Hut a few minutes later.

That 7 mile stretch took us 7.5 hours, and although it was finally over for half the group … we unfortunate others could only rest for a few minutes before heading out again. The worst of the storm had now passed, with only light rain now remaining. I hugged my sister and her two youngest goodbye (perhaps forever?) then guided her husband and first born son out into the rain for our what-I-hoped-to-be a quick descent.

Wrong again, as usual. I thought the trail from Zealand Falls to the Highland Center would be a popular trail and well groomed for all the dayhikers that likely use it. Nope, it was pretty barren and in rough shape This yellow-blazed side trail crossed over Mount Tom, through a trail-river of 8″ puddles, and over 7 DEEP river crossings before we were spit out on the road 3.5 hours later. Jonah was an incredible hiker, staying stride for stride with me as we submerged our soaking feet underwater more times than I can count. It was an extremely technical hike, with dangerous water currents and rough bushwhacking through the overgrown trail surroundings.

Finally, with 11 miles under his belt, Jonah saw our last trail sign, marking us 1.3 miles from the parking lot. We hurried down, hoping to make it to the Highland Center before 8pm, to score dinner before it was put away. We got off the trail at 8:00 on the dot, and rushed to the dining room at 8:05. We pleaded with the amazingly nice staff to please wait to finish clearing, and let us dish up 3 plates of food. They were happy to oblige, and we devoured a massive dinner of the hot leftover scraps happily. It was heavenly!

Then wet boots and garments were stripped off in exchange for a hot shower and dry clothes. Jonah was a trooper, as both Kevin and I were completely exhausted! He was tired too, but in a great “Look what I accomplished!” kind of way.

What a day, what a day.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)

  • Start Mile: 1830.8
  • Start Time: 8:20
  • End Mile: 1837.7
  • End Time: 8:05
  • Miles Hiked: 6.9 (+5.5)
  • Miles to Go: 353.2
  • Lodging: Zealand Falls / Highland Center

8 thoughts on “Day 121: Zealand Falls Hut / Highland Center

  1. Love this! Sounds like you had a fantastic day with the intrepid Berman fam, and even the storm at end of day made for a truly memorable experience. You’re training the next generation of thru-hikers!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. It’s called….”Bloodline” What you’ve taught & they learned these guys will be able to share future hiking/wilderness trips together. I’ll bet those growing minds are planning their next adventure right now! Well done Sharkbait.

    Liked by 2 people

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