Archives April 2013

Conversion on the road to Damascus (VA)

Leave no trace hiking/camping has evolved from a concept originally called low impact camping.  It became possible after lightweight camp stoves made it possible to cook without building a fire.  Once camp fires are eliminated, coupled with some simple personal hygiene, it’s possible to walk to town without smelling like a Boy Scout as my mother used to say.

Just as there are ultralight enthusiasts, there are leave no trace militants.  To them no trace not only means no physical trace – not disturbing the ground or vegetation, packing out all garbage, burying human waste, no fires – but also very minimal visual impact.  This translates to dark earth tone colors – backpacks, tents and clothing.  The idea is to blend in so nobody even has to know you’re there.

This idea has merit.  Once, in Colorado, I was waiting for the golden hour at day’s end to photograph a stunning valley.  Just as the light began to glow its reddish blush, a group of 30 rubber duck-yellow dots waddled across the valley floor destroying my shot.  The next day I caught up with them to learn that Outward Bound dresses its students in yellow rain gear.  At that point I decided to be invisible out of courtesy to others.

Yesterday all that changed.  Tye Dye, a ’13 hiker I’ve been following posted an amazing photo of herself on where she blogs about her hike.


The colors jumped joyously into my head.  Epiphany!  Why hide in a trail civilization featuring shelters, zillions of people, picnic tables and enthusiastic folks like Tie Dye.  Why not have some fun and broadcast happiness with bright, upbeat and positive colors.  The bears don’t care.  I wrote her a message crediting her with a saved soul.

The back story is that Tye Dye’s daughter,  a college senior, thought her base layer was dull.  So, this artsy kid took matters into her own hands and generated a whole new brand and visual identity for dear mom.  Bingo!  My daughter, two years out of college, has a distinctively creative streak … maybe?

Unfortunately I’ve already acquired a black and gray pack, but that’s where it ends.  The sun will come up tomorrow, and when it does, I intend for me and it to be indistinguishable on the trail next year.

Trail makeover

It’s been a hard winter on the AT this year.  Powerful storms have pounded the Appalachian mountains and the eastern states.  Living conditions on the trail are hard.  Ice, snow, rain, and low low temperatures have taken their toll.  At times, the trail itself morphed into torrential white water rapids.  One hiker froze to death in the Smoky Mountain National Park.  Only the iron-willed, the properly equipped and those with savvy survived to hike on. And so they have.

As the lead hikers enter Virginia, the trail maintenance crews are out in force to clear the way ahead to improve their safety and trail experience.  It’s time to repair the erosion, whack away the blowdown, and clear the safety hazards.

Yesterday about 30 members of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club -Hoodlums trail crew – attacked the middle section of the AT in Shenandoah National Park.  It’s a motley group composed of a representative distribution of age, gender, occupations, former though-hikers, hiking and outdoor enthusiasts, and altruistic folks who love hard work.  As one quipped, “At home, I’d pay someone to do this, but out here I love it!”

I worked on a blue blaze trail starting outside the park and extending into a wilderness area.  Outside the park we could use a chain saw to literally vaporize blowdown.  Inside, it was definitely muscle-powered low tech.


Here’s Song – an ’05 through-hiker and special ed teacher – playing a chainsaw rhapsody.  It was a complicated job due to the position, size and slope on which the  tree crashed.  Still, it was no match for Song Sawyer.


All-in-all, we cleared nine tree trunks on the trail.

Here are links to two short videos of the crosscut sawing and rolling rocks to make a water bar.  That’s Song moving the rock into place like it’s a marshmallow.  Watch ’em at:  and





Giving back before I start

It’s never too soon to give back, so I joined the “Hoodlums” trail maintenance crew.  The Hoodlums are part of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and maintain the trail  in what is essentially northern half of the Shenandoah National Park and beyond into Maryland.  My first expedition is Saturday, April 20.  I’ll post pix and a description of our work.

The hiker journals clearly demonstrate how critical tail maintenance is, so we’re going to find out how it’s done and who does it.  I’m sincerely looking forward to new friends and some hard physical work.  Stay tuned and to all hikers this year, hike on with heads high.

Danger Will Robinson … and everybody else.

If you’ve been following the AT class of ’13, you know that the weather has been record-breaking cold and wickedly brutal.  It’s also extremely dangerous to be out in those conditions, especially if you’re a rookie.   Otto von Bismark’s aphorism seems to apply (with a twist).  God protects drunks, fools and AT hikers. 

As I’ve been doing my homework in preparation for next year’s hike, I’ve been stunned by how many profoundly unprepared people attempt to hike the AT – in winter!  Whoa!!  Winter hiking requires specialized skills and gear.  Of particular concern is the number of people who worry about the weight of their pack in fear of being rediculed.  It’s an AT cultural artifact that should be exterminated.  Sure, knot heads show up carrying 50 lbs. and wonder why it’s hard and they fail.  Conversely, account after account describes how the gram Nazis have intimidated people into carrying light weight but inadequately warm jackets and bags, or insufficiently insulated hammocks and bull-shit rain gear.  Some have compounded this with zero winter camping experience, or in several cases, not hiking or camping experience whatsoever!  Hello.  Dead person walking.  Too many zombie shows…

I hold two people from this year’s class in especially high regard for being candid, for their honesty, and for trying to educate others.  They are Hobo and the misnamed Stupid.   The latter definitely isn’t.

Stupid described how he got caught out in the ice when tree limbs began falling all around him like shrapnel from air-burst artillery.  He recognized the immediate danger to his life and sought shelter under a fur tree with a low-slung and big wing span.  He was safe for the duration.

Hobo put it in the larger context, and I’m going to paste in this entire post.  It’s worth reading.  I wrote back to him that even experts are but one bad decision from death in killing weather.  The danger of hypothermia, frostbite and dehydration represented by conditions represented by driving rain at 34*F rapidly changing to single digit temps just after the sun sets is profound.  I’ve experienced all of the aforementioned, so this is experience talking.

Here’s Hobo’s tutorial.  Read and heed:

Hobo’s post Trail April 5, 2013

 “If you are a worrier (Mille) I would suggest you not read today’s journal entry . . . or you may just want to skip to the last paragraph.

I awoke at 5:00 and checked my shirts to see if dry, but they were still damp.    I put them in my sleeping bag because its better to put on warm and damp clothes than cold and damp clothes.

The shelter had the usual snoring last night that Mallet has dubbed the Sore’chestra.

One person decided to return to Gatlinburg. Everything he had was wet and and he’s concerned about hypothermia . . . wise decision

It is still bitter cold and all the trees are covered with ice. It’s harsh but beautiful – a crystal forrest.

We got a late start because there were so many people trying to take down wet clothes from the lines we had strung in the shelter and packing up. Eventually Quaker, Trouble, Son Driven, and I hit the trail.

So, let me just say, this is very serious business out here and I don’t think it would be overly dramatic to say it is a matter of life and death. I didn’t want to post this until I talked to Anita so she would know that I’m ok.

When we were coming off Clingman’s Dome we met 2 guys who were just getting back on the trail after taking a hypothermic hiker down to where the park rangers could get to him. One of the guys had cuts next to his eye from his own fall.

Two days before I hiked Clingmans Dome there were two groups of hikers that had to be rescued and another who was having chest pain.

Several months ago they found a hiker in his early 50’s frozen to death at the shelter where I will stay tonight. The sad thing is he had all the right gear but became hypothermic and disoriented. They found him in shorts and a t-shirt beside his sleeping bag and warm gear. On March 22nd they had to airlift out a 23 yo with hypothermia from the same shelter.

Within the last week they rescued a hypothermic hiker with frostbite who will probably lose some of his fingers. They also brought horses up to carry out a hiker who fell and injured his leg.

So far, I have made wise decisions (like stopping after only 3 miles in the freezing rain), I have the right gear, and I always sleep in dry clothing. I have one set of clothing that I wear during the day, even if I have to put it on damp. I have long underwear top and bottom and a spare pair of socks that I NEVER wear during the day so that I always sleep dry. Nonetheless, I am constantly evaluating the conditions and my capabilities.

The trail conditions are still icy but somewhat better than yesterday. By 1:00 the sun began to peek thru the clouds and we were frequently showered with falling ice from the trees.

I hope you enjoy the picture with this entry because it nearly cost me my life. I told the group to go ahead while I took a picture. I also decided to pee since I was alone. I began to walk down the trail while I was putting my gloves back on and I was looking around (proof that I can’t do 3 things at once) when I tripped over something and went face first off the side of the mountain. I was on a narrow ridge that had a steep drop off and plunged about 10 ft before I could grab a tree. I heard a loud crack and my first thought was I had broken something. I did a quick inventory and all bones reported in as being intact. Then I thought I must have broken my poles but I found them lying beside me in one piece. As it turns out I feel on a limb that broke when it hit it.

Now I’m lying face down a mountain and my mind is racing. Should I take off my pack so I can face up hill? No, I quickly decided – I don’t want to lose my pack down the mountain unless I have no other choice. Eventually I was able to maneuver myself around and crawl back up to the trail. The beauty of this story is that I stood up and hadn’t walked more than 10 ft when Quaker appeared. My buddies were concerned about what was taking me so long and Quaker was designated to come back and check on me.

Thankfully the rest of the day was less eventful. We found a wonderful sunny spot for lunch on top of a mountain (see pic section).

Most of the day was spent hiking ridges above 5,000 ft. The most significant climbs were an unnamed mountain at 5,728 ft, Mt Sequoyah (5,941 ft), and Mt Chapman (6,249 ft).

I started to get cold and restless after lunch so I decided to strike out on my own knowing that I had a safety net behind me. After awhile Sun Driver caught up with me and we hiked the rest of the day near each other.

We reached Peck’ a Corner Shelter but decided to push on even though it was getting late. We wrote a note for Quaker and Trouble telling them we had pushed on and left it on the shelter sign post. We arrived about 6:30 at Tri-Corner Knob shelter. I was really happy when Quaker and Trouble rolled in about an hour later. Trouble said she had never see Quaker hike so fast.

Billy, a ridge runner, was in the shelter and I enjoyed talking to him.

This is a nice shelter with a new privy. Finding water sources is something you are constantly aware of and sometimes you have to hike down a steep trail to get it. This shelter had a water source about 20 ft from the shelter – yeah!

I went to bed excited about tomorrow. I will we going to lower elevations and the lowland forecast is for son with temperatures in the 70’s. I’m sooo ready!!!”

Not all those who wander are lost ~ J.R.R. Tolkien