The Great Northern Ruck

IMG_1931Experienced hikers helping another hiker decrease the weight of her pack.

Bears Den Hostel, Bluefield, VA, January 23 – 24, 2015 — What’s a ruck?

According to Webster, it’s 1a :  the usual run of persons or things ;  1b :  an indistinguishable gathering.  That’s what it was.

Each year the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association (ALDHA) hosts a southern and a northern ruck with the hopes of helping prospective thru and section hikers improve their chances of success.  Think of it as a seminar for hiking nerds.

Around 30 – 40 folks gathered for the northern ruck this past weekend.  Fifteen of them were prospective thru hikers who came complete with all the common anxieties – Will I make it?  Is my pack too heavy?  What happens if it snows?  Will I run out of food?  Will I be able to get to town when needed?  What if I get hurt?  Bears?  Snakes? Lyme Disease? Ticks?  What if I meet a psychopath?  How will I navigate?  And all the rest.  I can only hope we were useful to them.

The two-day program featured a raffle and presentations on past hikes, the Grand Canyon, pack weight reduction, a bull session where folks could raise questions; all of which was capped off by loads of pot luck fixin’s.



Bears Den is one of the best hostels on the trail.  Dana and her husband John do a marvelous job of welcoming hikers and helping them get ready to press on.  Believe me, they’ve seen it all.

IMG_1939Bears Den in winter.

Bears Den and its surrounding acres was once a summer home for a wealthy doctor and his wife who was an opera soprano.  Ultimately the Appalachian Trail Conservancy bought it and contracted its operation to the Potomac Appalachian Tail club.  It’s ideally located following a strenuous section of trail known as the “Roller coaster,” a day-and-a-half south of Harpers Ferry.

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Several hostels post photos of past thru hikers.  These are several people I know from the class of 2013.


Each year thru hikers sign a poster.  Several years’ worth are hanging in one of the bunk rooms.


Lots of help in the kitchen.


This guy reminds me of my cat Mustache.

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Bears Den as few thru hikers see it.


Did I mention ice storm?

Let’s go hiking

A few folks have asked me to continue hiking adventure stories.  There are a few real adventures in the work, but in the meantime, here’s what a friend and I were up to this weekend as posted on “Life at two miles per hour.”

Winter Test Drive


Shenandoah National Park, Appalachian Trail NOBO miles 917.2 to 937.2 (20 miles), January 19, 2015 —  Just like a new car, it’s best to test drive hiking and camping in the winter before buying in completely.  So it was with my friend and trail crew colleague.  She knows her trail craft and is quite comfortable in the woods, but she wanted winter experience.  She’s hoping to thru hike the AT in the future and knows that partying in the cold and snow is almost an automatic on an AT thru hike.  Unlike most guys who would not admit it, she embraces her desire to learn with gusto.



So, off we went this weekend on a 20-mile, three day/two overnight, trip along Shenandoah’s most scenic vistas and popular places including Hawksbill (the highest peak in the park), Big Meadows, Rock Springs, Skyland, Stony Man, the Pinacles and Mary’s Rock.

Though the sun smiled upon us most of the time, the temps averaged in the 20s with a biting wind entering stage right and left at cheek chapping intervals. The objective was not to cover ground.  It was to live in the winter weather for the better part of three days and two nights and see what we could learn.


So off we went… Enjoying the winter wonderland.


The first day’s walk terminated at Rock Springs Hut.  I stayed there on my thru hike last year.  It’s setting features a gorgeous view through the trees in front of a nearby cabin owned by the Potomac Appalachian Trail club.


Rock Springs Cabin

Four adult Scout leaders were using it – getting away from the boys for a weekend.

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After camp chores at the shelter, we went down to the cabin to snap some pics.

On the Appalachian Trail, shelters are called “huts” in Shenandoah and “lean-toos” in Maine.

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Would you believe it was cold outside?

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The view from the cabin.


Sunset behind the privy.

Overnight the wind snarled with gusto, but the dawn air was so still you could hear yourself change your mind!  We popped up, packed up, and after a quick meal of coffee and oatmeal, made a quick giddy up.  No sense wasting time when it’s temperature is singing bass notes toward the low end of the register.  Movement = warmth!

The scenery during the second day was worthy of being memorialized by the likes of Winslow Homer.

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Same scene.  Different vantage points.

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Winter is nature stripped down to its birthday suit.  Not much to hide.


Birds Nest 3, our final shelter is a party spot and not the most hospitable place.  The fireplace doesn’t do much good in a three sided enclosure.  The wind howled all night and occasionally spit enough granular snow to remind us who was boss.


The morning made for a quick get-away back to our cars.

All in all, a weekend marked by challenge and success.