A Night in the Mouse Palace

I walked the 8.8-mile trail from Amicalola Falls State Park for much of the afternoon of November 5th in the rain. Most of the day the rain was light, but there were periods of hard “Forrest Gump” style rain that seemed to come from every angle and even up from the ground.

The Approach Trail was easier and harder than I thought. This sounds strange, but it is very true. The walk and climbs were easier than I expected maybe because of the adrenaline from actually being on the trail after months of planning and practice hikes. The hills were steep but the trail was, for the most, part gradual and wound its way around through beautiful scenery. The rain and the wet feet that ensued from tromping through ankle-deep mud and water made the hike harder than I expected.

Springer Mountain Shelter the next morning as I emerged from the fog, rain, and the battle to control the mountain.

I arrived at Springer Mountain Shelter after dark and settled in for the evening. Time- 7:15 p.m.

Now I was not blind to the dangers that lurked in the cracks and crevices of these trail shelters. I have heard stories, read descriptions, and watched YouTube video blogs of various hikers’ adventures in the shelters along the Appalachian Trail.

I knew fully that there was a menace far more threatening than any I might normally encounter on the trial, but I chose to stay in a shelter because of the wet ground. My tarp tent did not have a “bathtub” or floor in the bottom and choosing not to “shelter stay” would have meant a wet soggy night sleeping in the water. Wet nights lead to wet weeks of damp sleeping bags and tents. I chose the risk of the Springer Mountain Shelter not knowing that the National Association of Freelance Field Mice was having its annual convention there that night.

A foggy and rainy Springer Mountain Shelter is hidden behind a misty vale.

Upon my arrival, I searched the area over for other hikers, but I could not locate anyone but me that was crazy enough to hike the mountain in that rainstorm or crazy enough to hike in the area around the shelter.  When I arrived at the trailhead, I noticed white pages stapled to trees in the area warning hikers not to stay at the summit of Springer. The signs advised that the shelter area a quarter-mile away was a safer place to camp due to the increase in “bear incidents” on Springer Mountain. After my look around, I decided to stay at the shelter. I made my way there and took off my pack.

I reached into my pack and took out a few tortillas that I was going to eat for dinner. My plan was to eat early, go to bed about 8:00 p.m., and then rise early in the morning after a long night of sleep. I had hoped to make it to Gooch Mountain Shelter or some area near there to stay the second night. I laid my dinner on the table outside the shelter and walked about 75 yards back up the trail to hang my bear bag containing my food and mouse attracting items out of the reach of animals on the cables provided for that purpose. I was gone from the shelter less than 5 minutes and returned to find four healthy mice trying to drag the container my food was in away. I ate my dinner after recovering the undamaged pack of tortillas.

A photo about 8:30 p.m. in the Springer Mountain Shelter loft just before I tried to get some sleep.  I did not see it until I got home, but there is a set of little beady eyes looking out of the third rafter above my head.

The Springer Mountain shelter is a very nice three-level structure built by the local trail club and maintained for hikers. The first floor is a small section of dirt impounded by a stone frame approximately two feet off the ground. An iron fire ring and a picnic table sit on the ground in front of the shelter but a few feet away. The second level is a wooden floored area about 12 x 12 that is about three feet higher than the dirt floor. The final area is about 12 feet higher in the loft of the building and is accessible by a five-rung wooden ladder. The front of the building is open allowing a constant breeze and two small doors in the loft can be opened to improve air circulation. This was to be my shelter from the rain and home for the night.

I climbed up into the loft and rolled out my ground cloth and placed my sleeping bag. I should have taken the hint, but I did not think about it as an ominous sign at the time. As I fixed my bed, a large mouse strolled out of a small hole in the corner of the loft, and, well the best way I can describe it is, he glared at me. Maybe I took his spot or maybe he did not like the way I looked, I am not sure. What I am sure about was that he was not one bit afraid of me and he knew that at some point, I would go to sleep and he and his friends would then have the upper hand. And they did.

I plugged in my battery charger for my phone and placed it down inside my sleeping bag to charge. I opened my pockets and every opening on my pack, as I had read that they would not chew through any open pockets but would explore and then ignore the pack if they did not find anything to eat. I had seen them running around the shelter all night so I knew they were there and that they were waiting.

At about 8:30, I took off my wet shoes and socks and slid down into the sleeping bag to get my rest. It would have been much easier if I had sounded a bell and said in my best ring announcer’s voice- “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble.” I had been asleep about 10 minutes when it started. I felt something move in the sleeping bag down by my left leg. I woke up but lay perfectly still listening in the darkness as the wind blew leaves and acorns onto the tin roof of the shelter. Once I realized what it was, I sat up unzipped my sleeping bag, flipped on my headlamp, and watched as three of my furry friends decide to run since the sleeping bag was too crowded with them and me in it.

My little friends were annoying that night but they can be dangerous if not controlled.  I did not get a photo of them that night, but here is what I saw in this photo by Merlyn Seeley.  Read more here.

I flashed the light around and saw no less than 20 of my friends running in every direction. We repeated this dance all night. I was up and down, letting them out and feeling them crawl back in. I heard them in my pack. I watched them run in every direction and climb every wall. I saw them in my shoes from time to time. One tried to carry off a sock that was wet and too heavy to move. They ran across me, climbed on my chest, and one even tried to take a few hairs back to the nest when he woke me up pulling at my hair.

A nice camper had left a newspaper on the first floor that I intended to read in the morning, but they found it first. I listened to them chew and tear the newspaper all night long. They carried bits of it all over the shelter to line their nests, I suppose. By morning, only parts of the paper remained in the classifieds and a beautiful wedding announcement that featured a picture of a one-legged and one-armed bride thanks to the handy work of the teeth of the mouse brigade.

In all, the night was pretty much shot by midnight from all of the ups and downs and activity of the mice. By that time, I had had enough. Tired, wet, cold, and annoyed, I vowed to kill the next mouse I saw with my hiking stick. I sat silently like a tiger ready to pounce and a large brown one started his dance across the rafters. He ducked into one and ran across the next. He was very rhythmic in his travels and I timed it just right.

I hit him hard enough to stun him for a few seconds with the flat end of my hiking stick. He fell out of the rafters to the floor of the loft and lay there motionless.  Sadly, I smiled a little.  After a few minutes, I saw him kick and then roll over onto his side. I did not have the heart to hit him again and finish him off. After a few minutes, he sat up looked straight at me, and ran away as if to call in reinforcements. About 15 minutes later, the cavalry arrived and changed the entire game.

Through it all- I was still having the time of my life.  Next week—the larger reinforcements arrive.

Other hikers have had a similar experience at these shelters.  Here is a photo from one hiker’s experience and his kills in one night.  Read more of Mark’s experience here.

About sdbowling

Director of the Breathitt County Public Library and Heritage Center in Jackson, Kentucky.
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2 Responses to A Night in the Mouse Palace

  1. Carolyn Robinson Green says:

    Oh my goodness!! I hate mice. I remember one house that we moved into. We had our 4 kids and they came running saying Mommy, Mommy come look at the mice! When I went in and looked in the utility room. I had never seen so many mice in all of my life. I screamed and hurried the kids out of the room. So we went and got some mouse traps. We put peanut butter on them and it seemed like no sooner than we got the peanut butter on the traps they would set off the traps. Of course the kids thought it was a game and they would laugh every time a trap would go off! I am so glad that my hubby was home because there was NO Way that I was going to take a dead mouse off that trap. Our oldest son who was and still is very adventureous would go and get rid of the mouse too. We stayed up all night watching for the mice to come and listening to that horrible sound of the trap spring and knowing that there was another dead mouse! Our youngest son who is now a Firefighter just sat and giggled every time a trap would go off! I don’t see how you took those little critters crawling on you. That night we caught 84 mice! BUT we were mice free. Our 2 daughters just screamed out and told their brother to go get another mouse. One time I awoke to mouse on me and I took my arm and hit that little creature and knocked him into the wall with an instant death. My dear hubby cleaned up the mess that, that mouse’s body made. I couldn’t imagine more than one being on me at a time! This adventure of yours really gave me the willies!! I see those little beedie eyes in the picture. It is awful when they stare at you because they do not have eyelids that close so it is an awful stare.


  2. Denver Gibson says:

    Very good read. Makes me excited to do battle with these beasts lol.


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