Extrordinary Extremes: 3/4-3/6 on the AT

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3/4

Camped on the trailside last night.  Windy & down to the 30 degrees.  Tylenol PM & snoozing by 1am.  Firewalker, Renee, Grace and I start @ 8.  Met Easy Hiker and Ole Grey Wolf @ next mountain top to chat & rest (pic).  Easy hiker has base pk Wt 12, 20 w everything!  Cool guy.  Drizzling all morning.  Fairly wet all day.  Blood Mtn shelter (4450ft) seemed like it would be a great place to hike to in better weather, but as we were in a cloud there was about fifty feet of visibility.  The boulders just outside the shelter harbor some excellent bouldering routes! In talking to other hikers it sounded like the hostel would be full at Neals Gap and Blood Mnt shelter was dark & dank… not a place to stay.  I hurried to the hostel…full.  Found a cabin was open and all four of us plus Eric (cool guy I met on the trail today) lapped in the luxuries of a warm shower, four hot pizzas… extreme comfort.

3/5/12

Today I realized I had to leave Firewalker, Renee, and Grace to start a higher pace.  Hard to say goodbye to tem.  I stopped by the store before leaving and picked up some Leki Malaku Kumbu trekking poles.  Relly glad I did, the trails were slick with muddy leafy but the poles offered secure footing.  Eric and I set a goal to  18 miles to Blue Mtn Selter.  It’s been miserably cold and wet.  While walking it ok.  Stop for more than ten minutes and 40 degrees wet is really cold.  We reached Low Gap Shelter (11 mi?) and it was stacked full of people.  Hardly anyone on the trail hiking.  News from those at the Low Gap was Blue Mtn Shelter full too.  We found a good campsite ~2 miles down the trail and decided to set up camp.  It’s 9ish now, I’m under my tarp and am finding point along the top ridgeline that are leaking, so I’ve arranged myself to minimize getting my down sleeping bag wet draping my raincoat over the bag.  Condensation inside also sprinkles back down when rain drops hit the tarp.  It’s frustrating and I expect I’ll be wet in the morning.  We’ll see.

It’s been a couple hours now and my sleeping bag is still warm even though damp.  I can definitely see some improvements to make when I make my next tarp!

3/6/12

It’s 2am and and checking about every hour on my bag wetness.  I call to Eric’s tent next to me and turns out his rain fly failed.  His bag is wet and he’s really cold.  I shuffled stuff around and he parked in the right half of the tarp.  At 3:30 we get shut eye slept soundly till 6:30 sunrise.  Putting on the wet clothes to hike was pretty miserable.  Eric and I just dropped down and started doing push-ups laughing at how ridiculous is it.  Once we got moving and warm it felt great.  Two other hiker’s we passed were also soaked.  Grasshopper is heading 11 miles back to Neals Gap disgusted with the conditions and hoping to find a better tent.  The rain water rushing down the mountains was spectacular (video!!). Eric and I both immediately agreed seeing this was worth the miserable night and we were in good spirits looking forward to the day.  The sun peaked through the clouds and we saw blue sky for the fist time in two days.  I found a creek overflowing into a cascade of waterfalls and sat back in it.  Wow, cold (but fun, video). The views along the mountains are amazing (pic) and walls of moss, galax and mountain laurel were all over. Along the trek today we found a former thru hiker left trail magic.

Yet another example of the generosity everywhere in the people associated with this trail.  Seems almost unreal.  We made it to Trey Mountain Shelter at 4233ft at an exposed area neat the top and clods have moved in.  It’s strange watching them pass by the front of the shelter.  An hour ago it was sunny 40; now there is about 100 ft visibility and there is front on the grass!!  I’m tucked in my sleeping bag with a warm water bottle at my feet.  Eric and I are in our bags toasty and enjoying nature’s weather show with good humor.  Should be a good night.  Tomorrow we have a reservation in town at the Hiawassi In to refuel and clean up.  The tendon at my right knee cap is really sore, so it’s time for a zero miles day.  My precious hiking schedule is not on schedule, but it better to be healthy and enjoy the trail with all the amazing people here!

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First & Second Day

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3/2


We hiked Springer Mnt. to Hawk Mtn. (7.8 miles plus an extra 0.9 miles on side trip). Not much sleep last night at the Hostel. Too excited. Breakfast @ Hiker Hostel and then to trail by 9:30. Army Ranger training in area. Marnix, grace, Avery, Renee, Luke “Firewalker” were together at start, then the group mostly split up. I decided to walk w Renee and Firewalker. Took it easy. Saw cool waterfall. Stomach really bugging me.
Arrived @ Hawk Shelter 3:45, ~6 people there, >14 by nightfall. One guy >90 years old. Spicy Tuna/ramen for dinner & good talk @ table w other hiker’s. Temps dropped quickly to 40’s. Montbell UL Down Inner Jacket + Driclime windshirt perfect. Also my DIY invention i call a warm panel did great!! I’ll post pic of it later. Tarp set up perfect between trees & WM bag w silk liner perfect, though not sure 2mil ground cloth thick enough. 8:30 & everyone in camp asleep. Great day! Hmm, spoke too soon. The Airborne Rangers are training w fake machine gun fire and helicopter flew overhead w spotlight. Hopefully it’ll be a bit more peaceful…wait, there’s another two helicopters. Awesome. Maybe they’ll shine there spotlight on us again. Sheesh.

Gear of the day: DIY foam butt pad & Gorillapod!

3/3
7:30 wake up. Slept great! 35 degrees & UL down inner + Driclime + balaclava perfect. Oh and warm panel under wind pants! Awesome! Destination just before Suches, GA w Renee & Luke “Firewalker”. Stopped for bouldering (video). Lots of elevation change today. Passed “Narly & One Step”, met “Fineprint”. Cool guys. Stopped @ Justice Creek, washed & massage feet (so nice, crystal clear cold water). ~9 others stop & snack w Renee and I. No question they were upwind, wow. Funky smelling. Renee me & Firewalker as well as Ryan and Mark enjoyed tortilla+nutella wraps (thanks for recipe Jenica!!). Grace met up and camp w us (pic). Set up camp on mountain top and wind thru trees sounds like ocean waves lulling me to sleep. 30% rain, so I set the tarp sides low. Seems to be working well against wind, but I’ll be glad if no rain tonight. Idahoan Mash Potatoes w Bacos tonight along w Honey-Peanut butter for dinner (freezer bag cooking). Now I’m toasty warm in sleeping bag. Tomorrow: 12mi to Neals Gap for laundry & shower.

I’ll post up pics/videos when I have better reception. On mountain top now. Two bars w AT&T.

Hiker Hostel in Georgia

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Tomorrow i hit the trail and tonight I’m staying at the Hiker Hostel. Can’t say enough good things about it. It’s hard enough planning all the details for the trip. They shuttle from the airport, drop by Walmart for last minute supplies, give you a bunk “home” for the night, breakfast @ 7:30, then shuttle you to either Amicola Falls or Springer Mnt. $75. The best part is meeting a group of hiker’s before you hit the trail.
Liz & Christian from Massachusetts, “Firewalker” & Renee from Norhern Cali, a couple from Ohio, another guy from Netherlands … yet we all immediately clicked. I think most will try to the approach trail, but I’ll head out with Rene & “Firewalker” from Springer. Well, had my 4 wallyworld microwaved Hot Pockets and it’s time to hit the sack. Pic is dark, but its of “Firewalker” disgruntled as he views the scale for his final pack weight.

Lightweight Backpacking Gear List

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Choosing hiking gear was much more difficult and expensive than I anticipated. On weekend trips, it’s ok to get the game face on and hulk that 50lb pack filled with luxury items, because the point is to set up camp in a secluded, pristine area of nature before returning home. However, gear for long distance hiking is focused on the walking (not camping), and the walking comfort depends directly on the pack weight. So, it only goes to say the people obsessed with long hikes are even more obsessed with lightweight gear. The extreme “ultralighters” reduce the pack weight including all gear/food/water/fuel to 15-20 lbs, a weight usually seen for day hiking! Go to http://www.backpackinglight.com or read the gear lists of http://www.whiteblaze.com forums.  In the past month and a half, I’ve found it’s a world of counting weight to the tenth of an ounce using a postal scale and posting data on spreadsheets and charts. It’s cutting off half of a toothbrush handle to save an ounce. It’s choosing a lighter weight down jacket with less warmth for twice the price, or making an alcohol stove out of a Dr Pepper can and a stove stand from an aluminum roasting pan because they weigh almost nothing. It’s even buying a sewing machine to invent ways to cut weight and stay warm when it’s cold and cussing at a malfunctioning bobbin at 2:30am. It’s obsession and madness…  …and I believe when my feet hit that trail and I enjoy nature rather than lean forward under an unbearable pack, every ounce shaved will be worth it.

Here’s my Gear List:
Clothing worn: (not part of “pack weight”)

  • Cascadia Brooks 5 Trail Running Shoes
  • Smartwool hiker socks
  • Smartwool t-shirt
  • BCG sport compression shorts (anti-chafing underwear)
  • SFA Lacrosse running shorts
  • Nike wind pants (ripped out liner)
  • baseball hat & bandana
  • **Smartwool (warm, wicking & very low odor)

Extra Clothing in Bag

  • Terramar lightweight thermal silk upper (3.1oz)
  • Terramar lightweight thermal silk bottom (3.4oz)
  • extra BCG compressions shorts (2.3oz)
  • 2pr Smartwool hiker socks (6.2oz)
  • Smartwool midweight NTS longsleeve Tee (9.7oz) *rain jacket will replace this for warmth
  • Montbell UL Inner Down Jacket (7.4oz) *switched to Marmot DriClime Jacket (down get’s wet/cold) (9.6oz)
  • O2 Rain Jacket (6.4oz) *wore down at shoulders from pack straps rubbing, will bring Marmot Aegis Jacket and leave Smartwool NTS at home
  • fleece balaclava (1.6oz)
  • fleece scarf (2.4oz)
  • ear bags (0.4oz) *didn’t use them
  • DIY Warm Panel (1.5oz)
  • Polypropylene glove liners (1.3oz)
  • Fleece Thinsulate convertible mittens (4.7oz)
  • DIY Wind Shirt (3.4oz)*didn’t use it
  • Granite Gear Dry Bag (2.1oz)

Gear:

  • ULA Circuit Backpack (39.2oz)
  • WM Alpine Light 20 degree sleeping bag (35oz)
  • Trash compactor bag (keep sleeping bag dry) (2.2oz)
  • Thermarest Neoair sleeping pad (regular) (13.9oz)
  • 1/8″ GG thinlight pads x2 (one over, one under neoair) (5.7oz)
  • Silk sleeping bag liner (6.3oz)
  • Cacoon ultralight pillow (3.9oz)
  • Tyvek ground cloth (cut to fit bag & gear) (6.2oz)
  • DIY Ray Jardine Tarp (from Kit rdered online) (17.6oz)
  • 14 UL Titanium tent stakes + 1 Ti “V” stake (that is also a trowel) (6oz)
  • Backcountry 700ml Ti Pot/Mug (4.1oz)
    Ti Spork (0.6oz)
  • Alcohol stove (0.4oz)
  • Aluminum stand/windscreen (0.6oz)
  • Bic lighter (0.6oz)
  • 10 Freezer Bags (quart size) (2oz)
  • 16L Granite Gear Dry Bag (for food) (2.2oz)
  • 2 Walmart Bags (to hoist food bag up in tree) (0.1oz)
  • 50 ft cord (1oz)
  • “Esquire” Swiss Army knife (0.7oz)
  • Compass/thermometer (0.7oz)
  • 4-5 Days TP in ziplock (0.2oz)
  • Canon Proshot S95 Camera (6.9oz)
  • camera charger (3oz)
  • iPhone (5.4oz)
  • iPhone charger (1.5oz)
  • AT Thru hiker book (2oz)
  • Dr. Bonner soap (1oz)
  • Bleach (water treatment) (1oz)
  • Purell Hand Sanitizer (0.9oz)
  • Fuel bottle (will carry 8oz fuel) (0.7oz)
  • nail clippers (0.8oz)
  • ear plugs (0.1oz)
  • sun screen (0.2oz)
  • toothbrush (0.3oz)
  • toothpaste (1oz)
  • 1L Plastic water bottles x2 (3oz)
  • First aid ziplock:(1.5oz)–Sudafed, Tylenol, Tylenol PM, Immodium, Benadryl,New Skin, medical tape, needle, thread, dental floss

Base Pack Weight: 234.4oz or 14.7lbs

I expect food/feul/water will add a max of around 13lbs, so I expect my total pack weight will max at 28lbs and low end 18lbs, or average around 23lbs.

Hiking Schedule

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Ok, here’s the itinerary for the Hiking trip showing where I’ll be each day.  Unless an unavoidable crisis happens: break a leg, duke it out with a bear, break the handle on my pooper scooper… I’ll stick to this plan. Distances are total miles from starting point. Some small trail towns are more of an outcropping servicing hikers than an actual town, so these are located by road crossings (ex. Neels Gap is not an official town, but is at US 19 & 129 crossing). I’ve read there is cell phone service at many shelters, so I’ll turn my phone on/off real quick to check voicemail or texts each day. Hope you see a opportunity to join me! I recommend getting the Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker’s Companion 2010 published by the Appalachain Trail Conservancy.  Each year volunteers work hard to keep this up to date and chocked full of info about the trail/shelters/water sources as well as a bit of history about each place.  This is what I’ll carry with me.
(Day)  (Mi.)  ( Location:Shelter/City)

3/1       Flight into Atlanta & onto Hiker Hostel @ 7693 Hwy. 19N, Dahlonega, GA 30533, (770) 312-7342

3/2       HIKE BEGINS!! Springer Mtn –> Gooch Mtn. Shelter (15.1 mi)

3/3     31    Neels Gap/US 19 & 129 (lodging/food  & Navy check-in)

3/4     42    Low Gap Shelter

3/5     57    Tray Mtn Shelter

3/6     68     Dicks Creek Gap/Hiawassee, GA (food  & Navy check-in)

3/7     84     Standing Indian Shelter

3/8     99     Big Spring Shelter

3/9     108   Winding Stair Gap/Franklin, NC (food & Navy check-in)

3/10  124   Cold Spring Shelter

3/11   142   Sassafras Gap Shelter

3/12   157   Cable Gap Shelter

3/13   163   Fontana Dam, NC (food & Navy check-in)

3/14   178   Russell Field Shelter

3/15   194   Double Spring Gap Shelter

3/16   215   Peck’s Corner Shelter

3/17   228   Cosby Knob Shelter

3/18   235   Davenport Gap Shelter/Davenport Gap, TN (food & Navy check-in)

3/19   254   Roaring Fork Shelter

3/20   272   Hot Springs, NC (food, lodging & Navy check-in)

3/21 –Day OFF — *Bluff Mountain Outfitters — get permit for Smokey Mtn Park

3/22   291   Little Laurel Shelter

3/23   313   Hogback Ridge Shelter

3/24   323   Bald Mtn Shelter

3/25   340   Erwin, TN (food & Navy check-in)

3/26   357   Cherry Gap Shelter

3/27   373   Roan High Knob Shelter

3/28   388   Apple House Shelter/Roan Mtn, TN (food & Navy check-in)

3/29   407   Moreland Gap Shelter

3/30   412   Dennis Cove/USFS 50 (food & Navy check-in)

3/31   424   Watauga Lake Shelter

4/1     437   Iron Mtn Shelter

4/2     464   Damascus, VA (food & Navy check-in)

4/3 –Day OFF —

4/4    479    Lost Mtn Shelter

4/5     492   Thomas Knob Shelter

4/6     508   Hurricane Mtn Shelter

4/7     513   Troutdale, VA (food & Navy check-in)

4/8     527   Partnership Shelter

4/9     542   Davis Path Campsite

4/10   562   Chestnut Knob Shelter

4/11   584   Bland, VA (food & Navy check-in)

4/12   602   VA 606 campground

4/13   618   Doc’s Knob Shelter

4/14   626   Pearisburg, VA (food & Navy check-in)

4/15   646   Pine Swamp Branch Shelter

4/16   664   Laurel Creek Shelter

4/17   687   Pickel Branch Shelter

4/18   700   Catawba, VA (food & Navy check-in)

4/19   719   Cloverdale, VA (lodging & shuttle to Roanoke Navy Recruiting Sta.)

4/20 –Day OFF —

4/21   730   Wilson Creek Shelter

4/22   741   Buchanan, VA (food & Navy check-in) *stay at Cove Mtn Shelter

4/23   761   Thunder Hell Shelter

4/24   774   Matts Creek SHelter

4/25   786   Punchbowl Shelter

4/26   798   Buena Vista, VA (food & Navy check-in)

4/27   812   Seely Woodworth Shelter

4/28   832   Maupin Field Shelter

4/29   853   Waynesboro, VA (food & Navy check-in)

4/30  872   Blackrock Hut Shelter

5/1     894   Hightop Hut Shelter

5/2    914    Big Meadows Lodge & Campground (food & Navy check-in)

5/3    933   Pass Mtn. Hut Shelter

5/4    946   Gravel Springs Hut Shelter

5/5    959   Front Royal, VA (food & Navy check-in)

5/6   975   Dick’s Dome Shelter

5/7   994   Bluemont, VA (food & Navy check-in)

5/8  1013  HARPER’S FERRY, VA!

Ray Jardine’s “Beyond Backpacking”

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This is a “must read” for anyone who loves to hike, and especially for the gadget person who likes to modify/rig their own gear.

The Beyond Backpacking, Ray Jardine’s Guide to Lighweight Backpacking book is mentioned so often in distance-hiking forums as “essential reading” I figured it’d be worth reading before hitting the trail.  After devouring it in three days, I consider it a textbook for my future hiking aspirations.  Yes, it’s that good.
Outside of his other accomplishments in rock climbing, sea kayaking, sailing, etc…Ray Jardine and his wife Penny have hiked 12,000+ on thru-hikes of the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide and Appalachian Trail. With a background in aeronautical and astronautical engineering, he took his knowledge of materials to figure out a simple system to lighten the load for long-distance hiking. The result is a book that not only describes a complete backpack with a 8-9lb baseweight (light enough to sling over one shoulder), but goes into almost every facet of the backpacking experience.
His book talks about what the body needs to excel in hiking including nutrition, dealing with hot/cold, dangers of animals/insects, getting potable water… even making your own gear!!  More than that, he explains it so simply it seems like common sense, yet I kept saying “aha! now that makes sense” throught the entire book. He never comes across as trying to “sell” an idea, rather he’s simply stating what works and what he’s passionate about.
I wish I’d read this earlier before spending $$bank on some of my equipment.  I can see now that expensive is not always better. Afer explaining his system, he has a “sewing” chapter in the back with complete designs for how to make your own tarp/tent, backpack and clothing! I’m really thinking about ditching my tent and backpack and just making my own now! Great book.

Finding Gear to Start the New Year

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Well, it’s a new year and 2 months till I hit the trail. I’m feeling anxious and excited to get started! I’ve been pouring over the internet resources reading gear reviews, trail logs, watching Appalachain Trail videos on YouTube, scanning trip planners and buying extra gear I’ll need. The unanimous theme behind all the research is to just plan for one section of the trail at a time and adapt as you go. An article on Trailquest.net summed it up with “The gear won’t get you there, you will”. So, I’m now collecting gear for the first cold, hard section in Georgia expecting temps down in the teens with possible mountain top snow hiking. #1 item on the list… a good sleeping bag.
After reading a zillion reviews online of the “best sleeping bags” from Outside and Backpacker Magazines, I ran into a craigslist add for a Western Mountaineering bag and mentioned to the seller I’m hitting the AT soon via email. Turns out he just finished hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and not only will he help me out with selling me the bag, he’s going to help get me outfitted with gear/advice for the trip! He explained that distance hikers help each other out paying-it-forward. Before he started, others helped him with gear/advice and now he’ll help me out with my word that when I’m done with the gear he pays forward, I’ll leave it for another person on the AT that needs it. I’m not sure what the odds are of running into a person like this in Dallas, TX, but I’m guessing it’s pretty low. If trail life will mean randomly running into good people like this, I’m not sure I’ll ever want to leave it.

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