Don’t practice being miserable!

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Forty liter pack. 

Appalachian Trail, January 5, 2016 — By now the 2016 thru hikers are deep into preparation.  A very small number have actually launched.  You go guys and gals!

Two years ago on this date I was thru hiking north of Damascus, VA.  The following day I was leaving the trail because one of my parents was going into hospice care.

That was cold hard news, but the weather was colder.

If you recall, the winter of 2013-14 was the year of the infamous polar vortex. When I woke up at dawn the morning of my departure, my thermometer read -15 F.  I had 21 miles to make for pickup.  That’s cause for pause for everyone planning to hike this or any year.

It had rained the entire previous day. Fortunately my rain kit kept my body and the contents of my pack bone dry.  That was a life saver under those circumstances, but my pack harness and pole straps were frozen hard as rock.  Pounding them into a pliable state generated much wanted body heat!

That icy morning I also took my all time thru hike favorite photo of a gorgeous white blaze framed in plump Virginia snow.

This year, as the seasons have switched from Indian summer to true winter, I’ve been following social media discussions on what gear thru hikers should carry.

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This March the temp on the AT in north Georgia fell to 4 F.

On the one extreme are the ultra light gram Nazis. Some of them won’t even carry a Bandaid for fear it will add too much weight.  On the other are extreme the Wally World folks who contemplate hauling camp chairs and elaborate cooking utensils.  Each of these approaches carries existential risks that aren’t for me. I can tell you stories …

Most everyone else is somewhere in the middle on pack weight. As I’ve followed the discussions and debate, I’ve contemplated what constructive information I might be able to add.  Afterall, I hiked 1,000 miles on the AT in winter conditions and was a ridgerunner in Georgia this past spring.  I saw and learned a lot of value from those experiences.

In that context I follow a blogger named Paul Magnanti (www.PMags.com).  Paul writes a very useful and entertaining hiker/backpacker blog from his home base in Colorado. His most recent is entitled “Snivel Gear.” Continue reading

The Easy State

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Max Mishkin and Dan Smith are the AT ridgerunners in Maryland

Maryland Appalachian Trail, August 28 – 29, 2015 — Many hiking guides list Maryland as the easiest state on the Appalachian Trail.  Here the AT is a relatively flat ridgewalk, mostly on South Mountain.  It has its share of rocks, but nothing compared to those to be experienced north and south of here.  In that sense, Maryland is fortunate.

In contrast, Maryland has the misfortune of being easy and close to the millions who live in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore metro areas.  That’s a lot of people, many of whom take the shortest path to the AT section nearest home.  It’s a recipe for over use and abuse.  That may be why the state funds two ridgerunners for just 38 miles. One starts early and the other stays through October.

On Saturday Dan Smith and I hiked from Weverton Cliffs to Gathland State Park.  These gentle miles unfold quickly.  Even the hump to the top of the cliffs isn’t an outrageous challenge.  Pretty much any able bodied person can make it.  Come at it from Gathland and the physical challenge is even easier.

Relative to the work Lauralee and I did last week in Shenandoah National Park, this southern chunk of Maryland was a piece of cake.  Still, I was surprised at the amount of trash we policed up – ranging from micro trash like mylar snack wrappers to discarded/forgotten clothing.  Dan said it was a light weekend. Note to self: Remember this for next year.

We also broke up a couple of illegal fire rings too.  Fires, except at designated fire pits at the shelters, are illegal in Maryland, but some people just don’t seem to care.

Dan is an amiable Pennsylvanian and mechanical engineer who appreciates being outdoors.  He’s thru hiked both the Appalachian Trail (AT, 2,200 miles) and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT, 2,600 miles from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington, featured in “Wild.”)

Next year Dan’s off to hike the Continental Divide Trail (CDT, 3,100 miles from Mexico to Canada via New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana.) It’s the last leg of his triple crown and I have no doubt he’ll nail it.  The ridgerunner community will miss him.

After repositioning Dan’s car, I left him to rush northward to spend the night at Annapolis Rocks with Max Mishkin.  I made camp about two minutes before I needed to turn on my headlamp.

The two Maryland ridgerunners rotate so that there’s always a caretaker on site at the Rocks.  It didn’t take long to figure out why.

Caretaker's tent at Annapolis Rocks. I hung my hammock nearby.

Caretaker’s tent at Annapolis Rocks. I hung my hammock nearby.

Annapolis rocks is the Grand Central Station of Maryland’s AT section.  On a nice weekend, several hundred people per day have been known to visit.  Most are neophyte day trippers who are unaware of the Leave No Trace principles.  Consequently trash and cigarette butts figuratively snow from their presence.

Outdoor organizations also frequent the Rocks.  Scouts and Outward Bound groups are common.  Camping is restricted to a limited number of designated sites and no fires are allowed.

As I was walking in, a disgruntled father with a couple of sons was moving out with the speed of the approaching darkness.  It seems that the father brought the boys to one of the most sensitive and protected places in Maryland to show his boys how to build a fire and make a lean-to.  Max caught them hacking live trees and starting a fire.

Rather than camp the right way, they packed up when Max didn’t allow them to continue their activities.  The damage they caused was sadly obvious when we cleaned up the site the following morning.  As some of my military friends put it, “You can’t fix stupid.”

The upside to caretaking at Annapolis Rocks is obvious. People seem to love a guy with patches on his shirt.

The upside to caretaking at Annapolis Rocks is obvious. People seem to love a guy with patches on his shirt. I think we found Max at central casting.

Max is a jovial extrovert from Connecticut who graduated from William and Mary.  Since then, he’s knocked about in political campaigns and paralegal work.  On his days off, he volunteers like I do at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Visitor Center.  In early November he plans to hike Vermont’s Long Trail.  I’m planning to be on that trip too if circumstances permit.  I love the challenges of winter hiking.

Two Outward Bound groups came in turn to climb the rocks. This is a climbing favorite in Maryland. The highest rated climb, Black Crack, is 5.9 because it has an overhang. The others are non-technical but do require rope protection.

Two Outward Bound groups came in turn to climb the rocks. This is a climbing favorite in Maryland. The highest rated climb, Black Crack, is 5.9 on the Yosemite decimal system because it has an overhang. The others are non-technical but do require rope protection.  It’s a long drop to terra firma.

I love to see young folks learning how to climb. The rock is a hard sandstone infused with calcite. The cracks and fissures make excellent and safe handholds.

I love to see young folks learning how to climb. The rock is a hard sandstone infused with calcite. The cracks and fissures make excellent and safe handholds.

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The youngster on the right did an excellent job.

Say it ain't so! The seasonal transition has begun.

Say it ain’t so! Buckle up your overshoes. The seasonal transition is beginning.