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?

2 thoughts on “The Great Northern Ruck

  1. PATC purchased the property through its Land Acquisition program (begun by Bill Oliphant) for the A.T. corridor. That purchase, along with all the lands on which The Rollercoaster sits, allowed PATC to move the A.T. off of Route 600. After the 1974 amendment to the 1968 National Trails System Act, the A.T. Project Office had funding to purchase A.T. corridor lands and purchased the portion of the Bears Den property over which the A.T. had been relocated from PATC. The club leaders set strict conservation easements over the rest and were offering the remaining portion, including the house, pool, and outbuildings for sale. Ed Garvey and others wanted the club to turn that property into a hiker hostel, but the club leaders (rightly) saw that as a money pit when the PATC had little money. After a huge internal embroglio, PATC agreed to sell that property to ATC (the club retains right of first refusal in case ATC wishes to sell it later). For 20 or so years, ATC contracted with AYH to operate Bears Den as a Youth Hostel. That arrangement ended and ATC had financial trouble maintaining the property on its own. PATC now, at ATC’s invitation, acts as the vendor to manage and maintain the facility.
    The former swimming pool is long, long gone. It was buried soon after ATC purchased the property.

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