A little trail town…

Things are looking up for Denise.

The Other Road

So there are not much that hikers look forward to during their hike. It is pretty simple really. A hot shower, clean clothes, and food that hasn’t been dehydrated and smashed in a bag. However, many of us were looking forward to Hot Springs, NC. It is the first town you come to after leaving the Smokies and it is the first real “trail town” we hit. It’s called a trail town because the trail literally goes right through the town.

View of Hot Springs from Lovers Leap.
I was so excited to get to this little trail town because I was excited to see some of my hiking friends who I hadn’t seen in a while, and I was looking forward to making some new friends. I pushed 44 miles in 3 days and made it there just in time to receive free food.

Hot Springs becomes a vortex…

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Day 2. Wait, really!

My friend Linda “Karma” Daly is hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. She’s an excellent story teller and hardcore hiker. Consider following her blog. You won’t be disappointed.

Karma on the PCT

It’s only day 2? Jeez. Time has slipped back into trail time, wherein every day lasfs a week.

Well… mile 22 and change. I got to Lake Morena at about 2, drank about 2 liters of blissfully chill water, and tore the crap out of my pack. Meaning I dumped about two pounds of stuff. Flipflops? Gone! Pretty green bandana? Trash! It’s fire sale time, just like at Neels Gap. At least I packed my stuff out. Other hikers are just dumping crap willy-nilly. Today I saw a pair of zip-off pants, a pair of boxer briefs, two pairs of Smartwool socks, a double egg foam mattress, and a five-pound jar of peanut butter. That first massive water carry is no joke. This is the desert, baby! Hot, hot heat.

I’m not the slowest nor the most out of shape hiker out here.

The heat continues to be brutal. It’s…

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Wild Fire!

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Courtesy NPS

Waynesboro, Virginia, April 20-21, 2016 — Shenandoah is burning.  At least an 8,000 acre chunk in the south district is alight.

Lauralee “Blissful” Bliss, our ridgerunner stationed herself between the fire and the ever increasing northbound flow of Appalachian Trail thru hikers.  They are entering the park now at a rate of 10 – 15 per day.  As time passes, that trickle will evolve into a torrent by late June.

Since Wednesday and Thursdays are Blissful’s days off, I drove three hours to the park’s southern entrance at Rockfish Gap, just outside Waynesboro, VA.  There intercepted hikers could be briefed on the situation and their options for bypassing the fire.

Hal Evans, another veteran ridgerunner, not yet on duty, volunteered to station himself at the north end of the fire to inform southbound hikers.

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Popeye and Olive Oyl are thru hikers from Florida.  Here waiting for their shuttle to town.

Waynesboro is a standard resupply stop and zero (no miles hiked) town.  It’s five days from the last resupply point and the home of Ming’s, a famous (on the trail) all you can eat restaurant.

 

Waysnesboro features a city park with a pavilion built by ALDHA, the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association.  The pavilion features solar power for recharging electronics.  Hikers can both tent and hang their hammocks in the park.

IMG_4055I camped at the Pavilion which is located near an closed factory complex.  Waynesboro is another one of the many towns along the trail that have suffered economically from globalization and digital disruption.

The fire, known as the Rocky Mnt. Fire, started Saturday and the National Park Service estimates it won’t be under control until April 30. After that it will take about 10 days for hot spots to cool.  Then trail crews will have to clear the trees that have fallen across the hiking trails to make them passable.

To date the conflagration has closed 18 miles of the Appalachian Trail.  Hikers are being shuttled in the park by the park service around the closed area.  For those who don’t want to hike near the fire area, a cadre of trail angels is offering free shuttles to the Swift Run Gap entrance which is north of and far away from the burning.

Officials assume the fire was human caused, but an investigation will determine the true cause.

You can follow the fire’s progress at this link: InciWeb

Fire is actually a healthy part of the forest ecosystem.  Most animals can avoid the flames and the land quickly rejuvenates into healthy forest land again.

Flip Flops – the New Hiking Boot?

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Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, April 16 -17, 2016 — Flip flops are not going to be the recommended hiking boot anytime soon.  Certainly they have merit.  After all they’d tread lightly on the environment – with no cleats to rearrange the dirt.  They’re cool and airy which might help limit athletes foot.  Certainly they’d dry quickly.  Alas, they’re just not practical.

Flip flops are a type of Appalachian Trail thru hike.  Rather than hike in a single straight line direction from one terminus to the other, flip floppers are hiker jazz artists, jumping ahead or starting somewhere between the two ends and working outward.  They still hike all 2,200 miles within 12 consecutive months, they just don’t book a linear itinerary.

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The ATC is trying to encourage flip flop hiking in an attempt to alleviate some of the spring season overcrowding on the southern 500 miles of the trail.

Enter the flip flop Festival, an attempt to increase awareness of and participation in nontraditional AT thru hikes.

More than a hundred aspiring thru hikers and hundreds of hikers attended the many seminars on hiking-related subjects including trail etiquette, hygiene, basic hiking, trail issues and long distance backpacking.  I offered the latter.  My slides are here:  Eating the Elephant

The festival featured vendors, displays and even a food truck.  The cannon is located in the exact same spot as one that appears in a civil war era photograph.

Sunday morning we sent those starting their hikes off in style following a tasty pancake breakfast hosted by the Harpers Ferry Odd Fellows Club which was chartered in 1833!  It’s building is graced with (rather poorly) repaired cannonball holes from the civil war.  Talk about history!

Later that afternoon we were hiking up the southern shoulder of South Mountain (Maryland), just outside Harpers Ferry, leading the second of Sunday’s day hikes up to a nice viewpoint overlooking the Potomac River called Weverton Cliff.

The conga line of hikers winding up the switchbacks reminded me of a big city rush hour traffic jam. People were stepping all over each other.

Why would anyone do this, I thought.  I like to share scenery and the outdoor experience with a few friends or people that I like in small doses.  That’s when I realized that above all, one word describes why I like to be on the trail where ever that trail may be.  Solitude… and that’s no flip flop on my part.

To bear or not to bear a Bear Canister

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The Appalachian Trail in Georgia, March 2016 –The bear canister debate can get intense.  A lot of people like to troll this subject. My intent is not to rip the scab off that wound or relitigate the question here.  I’m only reporting observations I made last month as the hiking season started in Georgia.

The fact is, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), U.S. Forest Service and other agencies, that human interaction with bears is increasing on the southern 500 miles of the AT and the ATC is recommending that hikers use bear canisters from Springer Mountain to Damascus, VA.

Last year I had the occasion to be a ridgerunner in Georgia during late February and March. This year fortune granted me the opportunity to hike the state again with a friend as she launched her thru hike. Comparing bear canister use between these two years is interesting.

The conversation on the trail about protecting food from bears also changed some over the course of the past year.  This is what I heard and observed.

As a ridgerunner I was issued a Bear Vault BV 500 (there are other brands) because my duties required camping within the bear canister-required zone in the Blood Mountain area.

I hate to say it but most hikers who showed up at Woods Hole shelter were ignoring this U.S. Forest Service requirement. They were unaware that the local bears had learned to shake food bags off the cable there.

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In total, during my time in Georgia last year, I saw a very small number of bear canisters over the five week period I was on the trail.  This one was at the shelter on Springer Mountain.

After conversations with hundreds of hikers over the past couple of years, my guess is the majority of thru hikers don’t take bears all that seriously thinking that what ever happens, it won’t happen to them.  Moreover, most hikers don’t understand bear behavior well enough to recognize the many different ways bears might be attracted and habituated to human food.

With the number of hikers rapidly increasing, especially the large numbers starting in the south, this is unhelpful – mostly to the bears.

So, last year the ATC initiated a Leave No Trace-inspired effort to promote the use of bear canisters.  Remember what the rangers say:  A fed bear becomes a dead bear.  Progress?

I arrived on Springer March 8 and spent the night talking to hikers and waiting for my friend to toe the starting line the next day.  The first thing I noticed was three bear canisters.  As we hiked north, I noted about a dozen or more or so.  These were carried by older hikers – certainly they were over 30.  They’d heard about and taken the ATC’s advice seriously.

Bears are always a topic at the beginning of a thru hike.  For most, the question more about whether bears are a legitimate threat to them, not whether their habits can be a threat to bears.

A lot of hikers said they had considered food protection but had decided that the canisters were too heavy (mine weighs 2 lbs. 9 oz.), or that they would occupy too much space in their packs to make hauling one worthwhile. At around $80 retail, they are expensive too.  Several implied they would rent them if that were an option.

Beyond canisters, people were debating whether or not the Ursack – made out of Kevlar, the material that bulletproofs bulletproof vests – was a better bet.

Ursacks are lined with a thick plastic bag that functions much like a Zip Lock.  This helps protect the contents from moisture and reduces the aroma signature.  Depending on size, their costs range from $55 – $90, so they’re not cheap either.

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The white bag is an Ursack.  It must be tied to a tree to be effective.  My Bear Vault is in the far background.

Ursack’s are approved in certain areas but not in others, including the AT.  It seems that even though bears can’t chew through them, they can still crunch up the contents and get a small taste – and that does not solve the problem.  There’s some argument about how varmint proof they are, though their website says tests show they stand up.  No doubt supporters would offer supportive arguments.

The attraction of Ursacks lies both in reduced weight and the amount of space they take up inside a pack.  Being pliable, unless you’re using their aluminum shield, they are much easier to pack around.  In other words, you can jam more stuff in your pack.

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Bear canisters are designed to be left on the ground, yet some people still use the bear cables, poles or boxes when they are available.

The Bear Vaults have grooves in the sides designed to aid strapping to the outside of a pack.  This doesn’t work so well with most internal frame packs. They easily strap on top of some Granite Gear packs.  I saw one in Georgia and liked it.  Unfortunately I was too dim witted to get a photo.

Although we’re not going to see the masses rush to embrace bear canisters or Ursacks in the near future, it appears the conversation about not habituating bears to human food is growing and more positive. That direction, in my view, ultimately helps serve the coexistence of both magnificent bears and intrepid people. I’m cautiously optimistic over time.

Full disclosure.  I bought a Bear Vault BV 500 this year and hiked with it in Georgia.  I also have a sow with cubs resident and often seen on the AT section I maintain in Shenandoah National Park.  I frequently hang my hammock and camp over night on my section when there’s a lot of work to be done. In that context alone, using a bear canister makes sense for me and my momma bear.  Sisu

Busy Week

ameShenandoah National Park and Antietam National Battlefield, first week of April, 2016 — It’s about time I complained about the weather.  It’s been totally schizoid for the past several days – hot then cold with a dash of sun, rain and wind, frosted on occasion with powdered snow.   There’s snow dusting in this weekend’s forecast.

Why weather?  Last Saturday Shenandoah was ripped by strong winds.  A sleeping hiker was pinned under a tree that blew over about two days hike south of the park at a place called Spy Rock.  Trees and branches were down everywhere in our region.

I was supposed to spend Sat. night at Indian Run with a friend I was going to help Sunday clear blown down trees on one of Shenandoah’s 400 miles of side trail called Jeremy’s Run.

After spending a cold night at Annapolis Rock, I chickened out.  The wind and cold were distinctly unwelcoming.  Instead I showed up bright and early Sunday morning to a greeting by an icy windchill with teeth and a dusting of snow still on the ground.

Jeremy’s Run is located in a designated wilderness area.  That means all work must be done with hand tools.  No motors allowed.

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So off we marched with a junior sized version of the famous crosscut saw you see in antique logging photos.  It sports a traditional carpenter saw handle on one end and a moveable vertical handle on the other.  If the vertical handle is on the far end, it’s a two person saw.  If it’s just forward of the fixed handle, it’s a one person saw.  Very versatile.

Blowdowns are a pain in the butt for hikers.  Step-overs like this one are not so bad.

It’s the chest high or ones with a ton of protruding branches that are a real pain.  You can’t go up or down.

We whacked six and 1/4 blowdowns.  One quarter?

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This big fella came at the end of the day.  It requires two cuts to get it on the ground and two more to cut out the section obstructing the trail.  Its height and the adjacent slope make cutting out the center section too difficult and dangerous.  Better to lay it down.

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Lots of work here, especially coming as it did at the end of the day.  At least we were out of the wind.   The wedges keep the cut open as the tree’s weight and gravity wants to close the top of the cut and bind the saw.

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This guy was too large for our little saw to be fully efficient. It took 45 minutes for two tired sawyers to make this slice.  Hence one quarter. A crew with a longer crosscut will finish the job next weekend during the Hoodlums regularly scheduled monthly work trip.  At least hikers have a relatively passable step over until then.

Wednesday I joined a group of nine PATC members at the Antietam National Battlefield to disassemble a section of worm row fencing. We got ‘er done in three hours!  In the process we dubbed ourselves the Hole-in-the-Ground crew because of the dozens of ground hog dens we occasionally stepped in.

We celebrated a local ice cream parlor in Sharpsburg – no work without play is our motto.

The National Park Service is working on a multi-year project to restore civil war battlefields to the sight lines and condition they were in when the battles actually happened.  This fence was not present on Sept. 17, 1862 when 23,000 soldiers became casualties on this ground.  It was and remains the bloodiest day in U.S. military history.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antietam_National_Battlefield

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The week ended with a short trip to Shenandoah so our ridgerunners could meet with the back country office before Lauralee’s first patrol starting today.  Both Lauralee and Hal are returning from last year and need no introduction.  Chris Zigler is the new back country manager and we wanted to make sure we were all on the same page.

Of note, the park’s trail crews will be beefed up.  Better yet, up to six back country rangers will be on the trail and at the huts this year – helping people do the right thing and coaching Leave No Trace outdoor ethics.

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On the way home this little guy on my AT section got chopped up with a pruning saw. Did I ever mention that I love retirement.  The work is not work.  It’s fun!