It poured down rain in buckets for most of the night, so we were incredibly grateful for the shelter! Another late start waiting for the rain to clear, but it wasn't too bad since we had time and space to dry out our soaked tent in the shelter. We began our day with a wet hike, both of us wearing gaiters since the trail description warned of stinging nettles and briars. The trail was incredibly wet and we even ended up fording a stream by accident looking for the trail - this trail is not well-marked for westbound hikers! After seeing some beautiful small cascades on Beaverkill Creek and walking some old roadbed we came to our first trailhead, which indicated our big climb of the day.
The trail started out fairly gradual but then took a turn straight up the mountain to the highest point on the Finger Lakes Trail - Balsam Lake Mountain, at just over 3500 feet. We didn't go up to the fire tower because it was heavily overcast and we just wanted to get the next 3.9 miles done and hopefully avoid the rain. This section of trail had lots of new growth so the small trees were very thick. Thankfully it was free growth and not a lot of briars like the BMT was. Just as we were about to reach the high point of the ridge again, the sky turned very dark and a thunderstorm rolled in. We met a large group of young guys who said the shelter wasn't close, and we all ran down the mountain in the coldest rain I've experienced in a long time!
About 30 minutes of rain was followed by a short period of sunshine, just in time for us to get to the shelter for our lunch break. We were freezing cold, but we discovered that it was only 2 pm so we were pretty happy about that as we still had about 4.5 miles left to hike and it felt much later. We had some fairly flat walking to Alder Lake and then is when it got bad.
Remember when I mentioned this trail isn't well-marked for westbound hikers? Well, we made an epic mistake. See, our guide is only written eastbound and uses words like right and left, so you always have to read a word and think opposite. We had a short road walk from Alder Lake to our next trailhead and we saw a split in the road with a red disc marker (the trail we were following). Our trail went up and this red marker went up, so we did too. HUGE MISTAKE. I started feeling like something was wrong. I got out the compass and discovered we were going northeast and we are clearly westbound hikers! The road we were on turned west so we kept going. Then we started going downhill very steeply. I stopped. We were definitely going the wrong way!
After I had a mini meltdown and cried a little we had to backtrack. We had easily walked 2.5 miles in the wrong direction, but we kept thinking we were okay because the guidebook was pretty vague : see large rocks on your left, see stone wall on the right. After we backtracked we had lost nearly 3 hours and it was 6 pm. We decided to just go back and camp at Alder Lake and see if those kids who got caught in the rain with us were still there.
This is when we met Richard and Amy. They were just out for a drive and killing time. I told them I'd give them some gas money if they would drive us to the campsite we were supposed to be at and they said no problem. They saved our day in a huge way since we were going to have to do huge miles to make it to our Dropbox after my mistake. We got set up at Big Pond campground and the rain moved in AGAIN while I was filling our water. We ate quickly and jumped in the tent for a late bedtime. Tomorrow we have some big miles to pull if we are going to make it to our drop in Downsville on Thursday. We are an entire day behind schedule due to having such a hard time getting to the trail on our first day and the rain.
Thanks again Amy and Richard for getting us to our trailhead! Always follow your compass, hikers! If something feels wrong, don't keep hiking!