Road Scholar Closeout

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Last “Hike the Appalachian Trail in Four States” Road Scholar group for 2019.

Maryland and Virginia, October 26 – 27, 2019 — The Appalachian Trail year has a rhythm.  It’s base line begins to pulse the first week in April.  It’s then that our ridgerunners in Maryland and Shenandoah National Park take the field.

Then comes third week in April when the Hoodlums trail crew, like brass and strings, liberates its tools from cold storage to repair the minor chords of winter.

By Memorial Day, we’re in full swing with all the elements – ridgerunners, trail work, and leading hikes – in motion.

Halloween week is the coda that signals the off ramp from our three season journey.  The last ridgerunner on the entire trail completes their season then, and the Road Scholars close out their final hike with us.

After that, it’s not necessarily silent.  The Hoodlums might have a November encore, or not.  We might do some winter hikes, the Gang of Four continues to march, but it’s improvisational.  Everything else after that is meetings and budget-related stuff designed to make it all possible again next spring.

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Washington Monument State Park, MD, the starting line in Maryland.

The start of Road Scholar hike on Tuesday was crisp with a little knife edge to the wind.  Mary Thurman was all smiles.  At 5 p.m. her season would conclude.

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Fox Gap battlefield site where a docent explains civil war ammunition.

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Picking and eating wild grapes along the edge of the battlefield.

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Trick or treat?  The Maryland trail crew was working just ahead.  They left plastic Halloween bones to fool Mary.  Didn’t work, but everyone enjoyed a good laugh.

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Lunch at Rocky Run Shelter.

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We always inspect the shelter for trash and discarded gear.  Size 38 waist trousers anyone?  We deduced that the guy got soaked in the rain and didn’t want to carry heavy wet pants out, so we did it for him.  They’ll be washed and tossed into the hiker box at the Conservancy HQ in Harpers Ferry.  The synonym for ridgerunner is janitor.

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White Rock viewpoint.

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Season over.  Mary hightailed it to a mutual friend’s house in Virginia Beach.  Safe travels my friend.

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Lunch the following day at Sam Moore Shelter in Virginia.

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Mother Nature is signaling that it is time to turn the page.

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The AT in Washington Monument State Park, MD

Adios.

Sisu

 

Annual Trail Maintainers Workshop

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Some tools of the trade.

Shenandoah National Park, October 18 – 20, 2019 — If you want to learn how to dig holes in the dirt, who ya gonna call?  The Hoodlums, that’s who.

Each September the North District Hoodlums trail crew hosts a workshop for trail maintainers, beginners through experts.  Last weekend we did it again. For me it was number seven.

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The canopy is for the kitchen where Dave Nebut’s brothers prepare our scrumptious meals.

The format is simple.  The content gets adjusted periodically.  It goes like this.  The official start time is 0900 Saturday morning.  The safety talk is followed by work party assignments commensurate with each person’s experience level.

On Saturday we generally work until around four o’clock when we return to clean up.  Dinner is a six followed by a campfire.

Sunday is a repeat with coffee and breakfast at 7 a.m.  We close at noon for lunch and cleanup.

A few of us usually arrive early on Friday to help with set up, gathering of tools, hauling firewood, and the like.  The early birds also get the most level tent sites!

A full campground on a clear Friday night doesn’t always go the way you plan.  Some group partied until 3:30 a.m.  I was shocked the campground host didn’t intervene.  Moreover, the city slicker dogs just had to announce each bear that wondered through in hopes some ignorant knucklehead left out food.  Between bears and loud drunken laughter, nobody got much sleep.

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Saturday dawned like the shiny jewel of a day it was.  The park trail crew arrived to work with the advanced group.

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Phone addicts everywhere.  Mine gets NO Service in this spot, a blessing.

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Dave and I led some fine folks on an encore trip near the junction of the Thompson Hollow and Tuscarora Trails to finish the work we abandoned last month when one of our work party members suffered from heat exhaustion.  The day was warm, but not that warm.  It’s officially designated wilderness, so traditional tools only may be used.

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In total we removed seven blowdowns.

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Some of the blowdowns were high while others were low.

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Using a hatchet to chop away the rot.  On a log spanning a gap, gravity draws the wood downward causing compression (bind) at the top.  Once the cut gets deep enough, the resulting bind will slowly make it harder to saw.

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We use wedges to hold open the “kerf” so the sawing can continue.

We also built some drainage dips where waterbars were needed to prevent erosion.

The dirt was proof of a hard day’s work, so let’s get the party started.

Good news.  Just as darkness blanketed the park, our odds changed.  We learned that 30 percent chance of rain sometimes means you get wet.  Why good news?  The rain doused the campfires and the partying.  Silence reigned even as dark rain poured from the inky sky.  Everyone got a good night’s sleep.  Amen!

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Sunday was another beauty contest winner made extra special by the hot coffee.

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We split into three groups.  Rebecca Unruh, backcountry ranger and dear friend of the Hoodlums, gave a talk on environmental hazards from poison ivy to heat stroke.

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We also offered sessions on string trimmer use and maintenance, and on grade dip construction.

We called it at noon for a delicious lunch.

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A sign of happiness.

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Boots usually last 500 miles or about a year for me.  These are two-year-old miracle boots.  The rain last year was easy on the soles.  The rocks finally got the uppers.

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Straining for a selfie.

Until next year.

Sisu

 

 

A tale of two hikes on the Appalachian Trail

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Me, Mary and Joanne at Nutter’s Ice Cream, Sharpsburg, MD for a pre-hike treat.

Appalachian Trail, Maryland. June 27 – 28, 2019 — The Appalachian Trail is not all work.  Sometimes it’s a truckload of fun.  So it was this week with two different gravel-crunching adventures.

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Making a last gear check in the Penn-Mar Park parking lot.

My ridgerunner friend Mary decided to hike the 47-mile four-state challenge to celebrate her 45th birthday.

Her plan:  Ridgerunner colleague Joanne would support her by car.  Roughly speaking she would hike the first quarter alone.  I would join her for the second quarter, and  her colleague Witt, the current speed record holder at 9 hours and change, would trot the last half with her.

The adventure begins on the AT in PA at the Mason-Dixon line, then passes through MD and a corner of WV at Harpers Ferry.  It terminates where the trail breaks into Virginia territory.  To be official, the hikers have 24 hours to git ‘er done.  The average successful hiker uses close to the entire time.

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It doesn’t count without the predawn selfie.

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Crack of dawn start.

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She’s a blur at Pen-Mar Park.

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She’s off!

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Joanne met Mary at road crossings along the way.  Staying hydrated on a hot day was paramount.

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Blister repair at the I-70 footbridge.  “Dr.” Joanne officiating.

Unfortunately, this is the last known photo.  After handing off Mary to Witt at Washington Monument State Park, about 8 miles later they encountered unforecast thunder, lightning and hail.  The tenderizing effects of head-banging hail caused Mary to call the game at 32 miles.

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Flash forward one day to the long-planned first hike of the season for the Gang of Four (minus one).  Our plan:  Annapolis Rock where Mary was on duty as ridgerunner/caretaker.

Green Briar Lake in the background.  Catherine with a Ninja pose and Tina photographing a camera-shy copperhead wedged in a crack in the rock.

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Mary, none the worse for wear, warns hikers of the copperhead.

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Best part of the day at Dan’s Tap House.  We missed you Alexis.

Sisu

 

Serendipity!

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Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, June 5, 2019 — My friend Karma is hiking the AT again this year and I have been following her blog.  In the past some of her blogs from previous hikes have been cross posted here to share her adventures.

Her blazing speed this time around is impressive.  You can do that when it’s your second rodeo.  On a repeat performance the B.S. is reduced to noise and the anxieties are taken in stride.  You can actually enjoy the experience.  That she’s having a good time was obvious at lunch.

The truth is that she’s a week ahead of schedule, not because she’s faster but because she’s hiking smarter by spending less time in town.  It just so happens I was in Harpers Ferry upstairs at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy when a friend there told me Karma was downstairs, fresh off the trail, wringing wet with sweat.  Serendipity!

I bounded down the stairs into the hiker lounge and gave my friend a soppy hug.  After finding out that it was too early to check into the motel where she could have showered, we decided to go to lunch anyway.  After all, it is a hiker town and we’re hikers.

Our plan always had been to meet for lunch in Harpers Ferry where Karma planned to take a day off known as a zero for zero miles hiked.  Now as it is, I always buy lunch when a friend hikes in from Georgia.  It doesn’t happen that often, so it’s a bet that won’t break the piggy bank. When it does happen, it’s special.

My first question was “Why are you doing this a second time”?  The answer was simple and complicated.  In the end, her reason is universal. She likes being out there.

Karma first hiked the AT in 2013.  Her blog “Karma on the Trail” is the most entertaining AT blog I’ve ever read.  You can find it here:  https://thumperwalk.wordpress.com/

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Karma’s half way photos from this 2013 and 2019.

You go girl!

Sisu

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Ten Glorious Days

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Hiking and Working on the Appalachian Trail and Shenandoah National Park, October 4 – 10, 2018 — Being busy beats boredom more often than not. It’s the same when work is pleasure and pleasure is work.

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Hike across Maryland hikers resting at the Ed Garvey shelter.

Road Scholars offers several hikes in our region.  The one in which we are normally involved is hiking legs of the Appalachian Trail (AT) in four states – Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia – in that order.  We have one more of these on schedule for this season.

The other offering is four days hiking the AT across Maryland’s 42 miles.  This is a gentle hike compared to rest of the AT with most of the miles spent running a ridgeline on an old logging road converted to trail.

We were asked to fill in for leaders who could not make it.  Good weather graced our participation and the hikers marched into Harpers Ferry in good spirits.

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The next day, my friend and colleague Mary Thurman, currently Blackburn Trail Center caretaker, offered to help with some trail maintenance on the AT in Shenandoah National Park.

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On a grossly muggy day, we weeded a couple of miles worth of trail on two sections in the North District and removed seven blowdowns, two by handsaw; the rest with a chainsaw.

The long sleeves, gloves, face shield, and buff are to protect from poison ivy which is atomized by the string trimmer.  You can feel the spray as you go.

Soon Mary will be headed for her next gig at the Grand Canyon.  I’m going to miss her. This spring my wife and I are going to celebrate my 70th birthday in Colorado with my siblings and cousins.  Mary and I plan to hike the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim on the way.

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Twelve hours later.  Here we go again.  Time for the White House Hiking Group’s planned hike up Old Rag, Shenandoah’s most popular hike – so popular that it was on Thomas Jefferson’s bucket list back in his day.

We rendezvoused literally at Zero-dark-thirty in order to get a jump on the crowds.  On a rare dry day in a rain soaked summer, you just knew people were gonna come, and they did.

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Dawn cracked with an unexpected overcast.  Since you hike Old Rag for the views we prepared for disappointment.  Imagine our delight, popping out of the gloomy clouds  into happy sunshine.

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Obligatory horsing around photos.

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We made it!

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Brick oven pizza and a brew in nearby Sperryville capped the day.

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No rest for the wicked.  Tuesday and Wednesday brought the Road Scholars again, this time hiking the AT in four states.

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This bunch was unique – a running group from Grand Rapids, MI.  They’ve been together for decades and were a hoot!

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Meanwhile Sophie endured surgery to remove a cancerous cyst. The bounce is returning to her step and the prognosis is good.

Not until the heavy exercise was over, did the weather turn toward autumn.  The humidity and temps are mercifully down just in time for the Hoodlums trail crew next weekend.  See you there.

Sisu

Hilton Hotels Community Service Project

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Harpers Ferry, WV.  September 28, 2018 — Many corporations have programs which allow employees to perform community service on company time.  Younger employees especially like this idea.  For them it’s a habit.  They’ve been performing community service since they were young students.

Allowing employees to do good in the company name offers excellent brand recognition while employees get to enhance morale, build camaraderie, and recharge their batteries.

Yesterday, as a representative of the PATC Trail Patrol, I led a group from the Hilton Hotel corporate headquarters on the portion of the Appalachian Trail that is co-located on the historic C&O Canal tow path. Though they didn’t know it before starting, the volunteers would visit three national parks that day – C&O Canal, the Appalachian Trail and Harpers Ferry National Park.

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In ninety short minutes, these volunteers collected approximately 40 gallons of refuse from either side of the tow path and from the canal itself.

Another group covered the six miles on the AT between Gathland State Park and Weverton Cliff parking.

Thank you@hiltonhotels.

Image may contain: Mary E Thurman, smiling, sitting, tree, outdoor and nature

Thanks also to my friend Mary Thurman, caretaker at the Blackburn Trail Center. Mary acted as the sweep, ensuring that the entire group arrived together.

Sisu

Last Ridgerunner Hike of the Season

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Appalachian Trail in Maryland, August 24 – 26, 2018 — In spite of the horrible heat, smothering humidity and the drenching rains we’ve enjoyed all summer, autumn is skulking on the next calendar page and that signals the time when the clock expires for all but one of our ridgerunners.

The last man standing remains on duty in Maryland until Halloween hoarfrost beards the pumpkin patch.

Still, the season’s not over until it’s over.  We made time to celebrate the season’s finale with a final jaunt across Maryland’s 42 AT miles.

Kiki and I cinched up our hip belts and headed southward from the Mason-Dixon line, to Harpers Ferry.  I always forget this route is a little more challenging than hiking the other way around.  People say the trail in Maryland isn’t rocky.  Not so, as my blistered boots will gladly attest.  Best of all, hiking southbound front loads the best of the abrasive boulder fields.

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Kiki carried a hoe to clear clogged waterbars (drains) on what proved to be a waterlogged trail.

Initially we didn’t set a goal for the day because we got a late start which was the result of stashing my car in Harpers Ferry. We decided to see how the day would unfold.

Of note, Maryland is one of the most hiked portions of the AT with millions of people from the greater metro areas between Philadelphia and Washington living within a two-hour drive.  Consequently,  no dispersed camping is allowed to help protect the environment.  To compensate, there are shelters and campgrounds conveniently spaced along the way. We suffered no worries about finding a place to camp.

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We made excellent time in spite of finding several gallons of trash.  We measure trash by estimated volume rather rather than estimated weight for closer accuracy.  Occasionally, we stopped to enjoy the views after breaking up an illegal fire ring or two.

Penultimately we thought we’d drop anchor at Pogo campground.  (Yes, it’s that “the enemy is us” Pogo.)  But, long before we reached Pogo, we remembered Annapolis Rock is just a couple of miles further, and there our colleague Harry would be in residence as caretaker.

At our pace, we’d arrive slightly at the end of evening nautical twilight, but having the company and hanging out at the caretaker’s picnic table was worth the energy expenditure.

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Caretaker’s tent.

As it happened, we literally stumbled in, tripping over stones because we weren’t using our headlamps with the intent of pranking Harry.  In the gloom, Harry didn’t recognize us as we pretended to be thoughtless hikers intent on breaking all the Annapolis Rock rules like building a fire and camping on the overlook.  Ya had to have been there to appreciate the dialog before we ended the charade.

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Two years ago, in a one in a million tragedy, a dead tree fell and killed a camper at Maryland’s Ed Garvey shelter.  Since then trees of concern are quickly removed.  Recently, we traded safety for aesthetics in the caretaker’s area.

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Insects had invaded the wounded area and hollowing was present in the trunk.

From Annapolis Rock, a reasonably strong hiker can comfortably reach Harper’s Ferry the next day.  However there was a risk of arriving too late to catch the shuttle to the National Park Service’s remote lot and my car.

So, expecting unusually good weather for this sopping wet year, and therefore a busy Saturday, we decided to hike to the Crampton Gap shelter.  That would leave an easy 10 miles for Sunday morning.  It proved to be a solid decision when we coached a large group of young men on how to party without ruining the evening for everyone else.

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On the way to Crampton, we stopped to inspect and clean up the shelter at Rocky
Run.  We found a supermarket bag with a week’s worth of hiker food hanging on the bear pole.

Why would someone leave that much food where it was?  We checked with some campers.  It wasn’t theirs.  It was there when they came.

The food could have been leftover from an individual hiker or one of the many college freshman orientation groups currently on the trail.  It also might have been a misguided attempt by a trail angel.  Regardless, it’s irresponsible behavior to leave food anywhere in the woods.  The good news:  Kiki didn’t have to buy supplies for his final week on trail.

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Speaking of college freshman orientation groups, we met students from Loyola University of Maryland (Baltimore) on the trail and stopped briefly to chat.  They seemed like an agreeable group.  Only at Ed Garvey, where they’d camped the previous evening, did we discover the present they’d left for us in the privy’s wood chip barrel.

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Thanks Loyola for more trash then we could pack out.  Then we wonder why the number of problem bears is increasing.  I’ll be sending a letter to the university with an offer of free Leave No Trace education this spring when they train rising seniors to be student leaders.

But, there’s more …

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Survivalists and preppers are among the many subcultures on the trail.  They are sometimes called camosexuals, a label that is a twist on the Hipster lumbersexual subculture. Unfortunately, if everyone strip mined live vegetation like this, the shelter and camping areas would look like moonscapes.  This was within sight of the shelter.

This makeshift shelter would have been worthless in wet weather.  Moreover, nowhere on the Appalachian trail is this appropriate.  If you really want to do this, the national forests and some state forests are happy to oblige.

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We found this fire ring and grill half way between Ed Garvey and Harpers Ferry.  Not a bad field expedient attempt at making a grill from green wood and wire. Again, fires and dispersed camping are verboten in Maryland. But if you are willing to risk an expensive ticket, why not clean up your mess?  Please!  Leave No Trace.

Sisu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter is a Good Time to Prep for a Thru Hike

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This article  was prepared for the Appalachian Trail:  Expert Advice Facebook page to which I am a contributor.

Backpacking experience is a sure bet if you’re attempting a thru hike. Informal surveys suggest that for the vast majority of thru hikers, this 2,200-mile adventure will be their first serious backpacking trip.

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There’s art in the frost.

Especially with hikers starting earlier to avoid crowds, the winter months are an ideal time to develop hiking, camping and cooking skills. The trails and shelters see little traffic. The light angles are brilliant for photography. Best of all, if you make a mistake and have to bail, you’re generally close to home or your car.

If you follow social media, you learn many hikers hibernate during the cold and desolate winter months when they could be out on the trails honing their skills.

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In many places winter isn’t totally glacial. There are warm spells. After all, even black bears don’t truly hibernate. When it warms up a bit, they get out and about. So can you. You can also test nature’s most challenging elements if you want to.

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AT at New Found Gap in Nov.  Temperature 0F.

Winter experience is also valuable knowledge that might save someone’s hike. Nearly all NOBOs and many SOBOs endure harsh winter conditions in the Smokies , the Roan Highlands, and or on the Mt. Rogers massif. On the northern end, the 100-mile Wilderness can become a deepfreeze in late fall.

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Rain-soaked poles were hung on a peg and froze solid overnight on Mt. Rogers.

Here’s why it matters. While ridgerunning in a heavy March snowstorm, I met two couples from Florida on Blood Mountain who said they were overwhelmed by the snow and cold. Three and a half days into their hike, it was over.

These hikers were headed home with smashed dreams, casualties of not knowing how. Since it snowed, sleeted and/or rained on 18 of the first 20 days that March, they were destined to be toast no matter what, but they did not have to be.

Georgia in March.

Ready to try winter backpacking and improve your edge?

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Four layers you can see and two you can’t.  With my friend Denise Benson on a cold weather trip preparing for her thru hike.

The general concepts are simple. Wear loose and layered clothing. Keep your clothing, socks and sleeping bag as dry as possible. Keep your head and hands warm. Learn how to block the wind and manage body heat generated by heavy exercise. Learn how to stay warm at night. Know the techniques needed to avoid misery.

Here are some things to know before you go about clothing, layering, gloves and mittens, staying dry, treating water and keeping your water from freezing, dehydration and hypothermia, frostbite, staying warm at night, camp routine, cooking and electronics, and more. Let’s tackle them one at a time.

Clothing:

In dead winter you’ll need to pack more clothing than normal, at least a complete change or more depending on conditions. The keys are to stay dry and have enough layers to keep warm.

Extra layers may be needed depending on expected temperatures. During my thru hike, I experienced -15 degrees F on Mt. Rogers following a day of hard near-freezing rain. These were ultra high-risk conditions. But, that night and the next day were special in a good way. I was warm and dry. It wasn’t luck. It was know-how.

Everybody says wear layers. Exactly what does that mean?

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Wind layer over base layer.

Layers trap air that acts as insulation. Usually a snug wicking base layer is complimented by a loose, windproof, baggy outer layer. The wicking property keeps your skin dry and warmer. Rain gear, pants and jacket, can serve as a wind-proof outer layer, but so can other forms of technical clothing available from outfitters. In a word, two thin fleeces will be warmer than one heavy one. In camp wearing a rain jacket over a puffy is much warmer than the puffy alone, especially if it is windy.

For example, even at temperatures around -35 F in Alaska, Colorado and northern Minnesota, a tight fitting wicking base layer surrounded by a baggy windproof layer on the bottom has been enough during exertion. On top a base layer and a second loose layer, say a light fleece under the wind layer is usually sufficient while hiking, snow shoeing or skiing in the extreme cold. It doesn’t take that much to stay warm while you are moving.

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Most serious winter backpackers don’t use multipurpose clothing such as fleece-lined outer shells. Their outer layers are separate to ease building the right number of layers. If using a rain jacket, it should be designed like a mountain parka with a high hooded collar, pit zips to reduce heat build up, and an inside pocket to carry water bottles.

The key when moving is just enough clothing to keep warm to reduce sweating. Add or subtract light, lose layers as needed.

In cold weather, everything changes the minute you stop. Your body generates far less heat and the moisture in damp clothing quickens the transfer of heat away from your body. Keep your warm jacket handy so you can put it on right away when you stop.

In camp you can add down pants to help keep your legs warm during chores, and to sleep in as well. Wearing down pants and puffies to bed adds insulation that increases the temperature range on sleeping bags. Down booties keep cold feet warm. High quality down garments offer outstanding warmth at a light weight.

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The down jackets, pants and booties extend the range of the 20-degree bag to 0F.

Bonus. Think about it. If nature calls on a freezing night, popping out of your sleeping bag wearing down pants and a jacket make the experience much more tolerable.

Gloves, Mittens and Socks:

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Mittens are always warmer than gloves. They are handy to have for those prone to colder extremities – older hikers, women, or someone with Renaud’s disease.

Mittens with a waterproof shell helps keep hands dry and block the wind. On my thru, a cold snap (0 degrees F) drove me into Gatlinburg to buy mittens because my gloves were woefully insufficient. The outfitter didn’t carry them, so I waited in town two days for warmer temperatures. That was two town days not in the budget because my winter gear was waiting for me in Hot Springs.

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Gloves, and especially mittens, make performing tasks much more difficult such as manipulating snaps, buckles, zippers and any task requiring fine motor skills. Wearing thin glove liners adds an inner layer and improves motor skills and reduces frostbite risk when gloves or mittens must be removed.

Dry wool socks/warm feet are a necessity, not a luxury. Some carry up to five pair of socks, including their sleeping socks. At night I put my socks between my sleeping bag and air mattress. Usually they dry out.

Water:

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Water sources can freeze solid.

In subfreezing temperatures, having drinkable water is challenging. Water sources can freeze solid requiring hikers to expend precious fuel melting ice or snow. Filters easily freeze. To prevent freezing, they can be packed deep within one’s pack during the day and reside inside your sleeping bag at night. That’s a pain.

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In freezing weather, chemical purification generally is more convenient, either Aqua Mira or iodine tabs. Fortunately iodine now comes with a neutralizer that removes its peculiar color and unpleasant taste.

Treated water must be kept liquid. During a bitterly cold day, carry water containers in an insulated sleeve and inside your outer layer where body heat helps prevent freezing. Extra water can be insulated inside your pack using extra clothing.

Wide mouth bottles are almost impossible to open if the water at the opening freezes due to the extra friction caused by their large surface area.

Narrow mouth bottles, carried upside down, fare better. The reason for carrying bottles upside down is that no bottle is completely full and the water near the air bubble at the top freezes first.

Know the forecast before relying on a water bladder. Even insulated hoses freeze at relatively high temperatures.

At night water goes inside your sleeping bag if you don’t want a block of ice in the morning that might not thaw out. Put the bottle in a sock or at the end of your bag if you’re worried about it making you cold. Heating the water first acts like a hot water bottle and adds comfort, but it comes with the cost of burning extra fuel.

Above all, make certain the container lid is on tight. Do not use flip lids unless you want to chance flooding your sleeping bag. It happens more than you think.

Dehydration:

Fake fact: When it’s cold outside and you don’t sweat as much, so you don’t need to drink as much.

In winter the colder air is generally dryer, sweat evaporates more efficiently, and you exhale a lot of water vapor. Thirst is not as intense, yet your body eliminates nearly the same amount of water as it does in other seasons.

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Monitor how much you are drinking to ensure you get enough. You should urinate about once every hour or two and the color of your urine should match lemonade. If it looks dark yellow or like weak tea, you’re headed for trouble. If the color darkens to the color of cola, you are at risk.

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

This condition occurs when your body’s core temperature drops below 95 degrees. That’s only 3.6 degrees below normal. Symptoms include shivering, rapid hear rate, rapid breathing, lose of coordination and confusion. Dehydration can be a factor, as can wet clothing.

Wear clothes made of artificial fiber that retain insulating ability when wet. Cotton loses its insulating properties when wet. Hence the aphorism: Cotton kills.

Staying as dry as possible is the Holy Grail in hypothermia prevention. Moisture reduces the insulating value of your clothes, hats, gloves and socks. You have to get out of damp or wet garments as soon as you get to camp. You might need to change earlier if you get soaked in a cold rain or slip and fall into a creek. Regardless, heat can dissipate rapidly leading to hypothermia or frostbite.

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Tricorner Knob Shelter where a hiker died of hypothermia.

An experienced hiker, who was properly equipped, died at a shelter in the Smokies just a few years ago. He was found dead next to his sleeping bag having been robbed of his judgment by the cold. https://appalachiantrailnoir.wordpress.com/2015/01/04/hiker-succumbs-to-hypothermia-in-the-smokies/

If you start to shiver, it may be time to add layers, especially a windproof outer layer.

Frostbite:

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Frostbite happens when your skin freezes. The vulnerable parts of your body are toes, feet, hands, face and ears. For AT purposes, the likely danger lies mostly in wet feet and hands. Wind chill can endanger noses, cheeks and ears. Properly fitting boots, gaiters, and dry socks are your friends. Also mittens protect the hands much more than gloves. Knit and fleece hats protect ears. In extreme conditions balaclavas cover cheeks and noses.

In Camp:

When you role into camp the sun will probably be dropping like a stone along with the temperature. At a minimum, your back and socks will be damp, requiring a change. You’ll need water and to eat, and a place to sleep. What do you do first?

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Camp routine is personal preference. The key is to be organized and prioritized both in the way your gear is packed (say clothes on top) and the order of your camp chores.

Since I treat my winter water with iodine, which takes 30 minutes to work, that’s the first thing I do. Pitching my tent or preparing my bedroll follows; then changing clothes. When the water is purified, I cook and clean up. Then I dive into bed and listen to pod casts rather than lose more valuable body heat.

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These tents belong to ill-prepared spring break hikers.  I slept in between.  Had one more hiker arrived, the tents would have had to come down.

Sleeping in a tent is warmer than a shelter. It’s bad form to pitch tents in shelters, but hikers do it if they need to keep warm. It becomes a problem if too many hikers show up.

When pitching tents, scrape away the snow from under the area of your tent. During the night body heat melts the snow turning it into ice after you get up. If you don’t act quickly, the ice freezes tents to the ground like super glue. Striking tents immediately after waking helps prevent this. Using a footprint either from the manufacturer or homemade from Tyvek might just save your tent floor.

While sleeping, the majority of heat is lost through the bottom, transferring to the colder ground underneath. Thus, bottom insulation is far more important than on top. If you’re cold and have an extra blanket, put it underneath you, not over you, and you’ll be warmer. My preference is an insulated air mattress over closed cell foam sleeping pads because these air mattresses offer higher insulation values.

As a general rule, plan to sleep in your dry spare set of clothes. Don’t expect your damp sweaty hiking outfit to dry out overnight. You put that back on in the morning and quickly get moving to warm up.

In much colder temperatures, putting on damp clothing in the morning may not be practical or safe, depending. On a good day, I don’t change anything but socks when I get to camp. My back is usually only slightly damp. I add layers and am usually dry before bedtime.

Cooking:

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Cooking in cold weather requires much more fuel.

What’s on the menu is a matter of personal preference. Most people don’t like to eat cold meals in the winter. Preparing a warm meal in winter is a function the laws of physics. Needless to say, there’s a lot of misinformation floating around within the hiking community.

Warm meal(s) and or hot chocolate are comforting to say the least. The choices for creating heat are basically two: fire and stoves. Fire is dirty and difficult for some. Alcohol stoves sometimes don’t generate enough heat to boil water in very cold temperatures. If you use iso butane, you need special winter mix fuel canisters. Pressurized stoves such as the MSR Wisperlite are heavy in comparison to other choices. Experience can help you pick your poison.

Electronics:

Cold is the enemy of all batteries, especially the lithium-ion batteries used in phones and iPods. Whip out your phone in winter to take a photo and it may die before you can even turn the camera on. If a lithium-ion battery freezes, nano wires inside may break, severely degrading its life and capacity.

Keeping your phone in your pocket helps keep the battery warm. Electronics including storage batteries also follow your water bottle into your sleeping bag at night. Electronics including your headlamp, unneeded during the day, can be packed inside sleeping bags to insulate them from the severe cold.

One more thing:

snow goggles

Snow blindness is rare at the lower altitude in the lower 48, but it’s a risk nevertheless. Sun reflecting off white snow plays hell with your eyesight. The Eskimos invented slitted eye covers to protect them from the glare. Always bring sunglasses or wear polychromatic lenses in prescription glasses.

 

Of note:

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My shoulder-season pack, set up for five days, weighs about 32 lbs., all included. That’s a tent, 20-degree sleeping bag, a down puffy, down pants and booties, a complete change of clothing, rain gear, wind jacket, two hats, and gloves plus stove, food and water.

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My thru hike pack at the Harpers Ferry Visitor Center.  The month is March.

In contrast, my summer pack weighs around 18 lbs. – far fewer clothes, lighter sleeping bag, and modified rain gear if it’s there at all.

My full on winter pack weighs around 40 lbs. with all the basics plus gaiters, extra hats, mittens, zero-degree sleeping bag, and extra clothing. My boots change from high-top trail runners to an insulated and waterproof boot. Sometimes I bring micro spikes and/or show shoes.

Summary:

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The hiker is from Vermont and knew how to take good care of his dog in harsh conditions.  Many hikers do not and their dogs suffer.

Winter is time you can use to your advantage. Mostly it’s an enchanting environment where the animal tracks tell remarkable stories and nature’s awesome beauty is visible in a way few seldom see. Occasionally it’s an adventure. Check it out!

Two excellent sources:

MOUNTAINEERING, The Freedom of the Hills. Edited by Ronald C. Eng. Part 1, Outdoor Fundamentals, eighth edition, 2015. The Mountaineers Books.

98.6 Degrees, The art of keeping YOUR ASS ALIVE, Cody Lundin. 2003. Gibbs Smith Publisher.

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Gaiters help keep feet dry.

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Pearisburg, VA is where the AT’s altitude drops below 5,000 ft. and it’s normally safe to send winter gear home.

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Central Virginia in March.

 

A Remarkable Blowdown

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Shenandoah National Park, October 20 – 21, 2017 — Imagine finding a 50-year-old locust tree prostrate on your favorite picnic table like a drunk passed out in a dark alley.  Most of us didn’t know this stately friend had a problem.  Regardless, there it was.

The Hoodlum’s crew weekend was off to an exciting start.

We suspect the last gasp of one of the recent hurricanes was responsible for doing a number on this poor tree that used to live at the Hoodlums trail crew hangout at Indian Run.  The tree’s lush leaves fooled us.  Termites had found its heart.  It was weakened and didn’t need much to do it in.

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The dead picnic table wasn’t the locust’s only victim.  Our recently repaired reflector fire took a glancing blow significant enough to pop a few rocks loose.

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On its way down or on a bounce, the dearly departed tree crunched our backup picnic table too. To add to the misfortune, we replaced the wood in each of the picnic tables only a year ago.  Damn!

The good news is that the Indian Run maintenance hut suffered no damage. Amen!

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Hasty clean up cleared usable space.

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The fire was built on schedule.

The Hoodlums worked Saturday as scheduled on various trail repair projects with a small work party assigned to clean up this tree.  Bottom line:  We’ll have enough firewood for a next year.

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I was in the park earlier on Friday to work on the AT section I maintain and to get ready for a large work party assigned to help me finish rehabbing its erosion control structures and remove two blowdowns.  After all of the leaves are down, I’ll make a trip to rake them out of the waterbar drains and put this puppy to bed for the winter.

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A dirt waterbar called a grade dip.  We’re getting away from using logs and stone whenever possible.

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A downed apple tree in an old orchard through which the AT passes.

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My guess is that a bear was climbing the tree an broke off a large limb.

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There were dozens of apples on the ground.  This is unusual because the bears and deer love them and normally by this time, they are no longer on the market.  The mast (food) has been excellent this year.  The immediate area is full of oak and hickory trees and the nuts, apples and berries have been overstocked in contrast to two years ago when there was virtually nothing because of drought.

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The potluck theme was Oktober Fest.  IMG_1726

The kraut and brats were yummy.

 

 

AT Expert Advice.

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The 80-mile mark is not the optimal time to be studying this subject.

Kensington, Maryland, September 11, 2017 — Within the culture of the Appalachian Trail there are various camps with strong views on how the trail should be hiked.  In some cases one way is as good as another.  But advice from the ignorant and uninformed can be detrimental to both hikers and the trail itself.

Given the plethora of good and bad advice along with rumors and the need to get factual information to hikers quickly, a group of experts associated with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy created a Facebook page that would provide unbiased, rock-solid, informed advice, and accurate information to the AT community.

Appalachian Trail Expert Advice Facebook Page

This is my latest addition, written in hopes of helping aspiring hikers improve their odds of successfully thru hiking a trail where between three of four or four of five thru hiking attempts fail in any given year.

IT’S SHAKEDOWN SEASON

In the beginning there is Georgia for NOBOs. Unfortunately, the relatively easy hills of Georgia are also the ending for far too many aspiring thru hikers. A few thoughts follow on what you could be doing now to improve your odds of success next season no matter how you’re planning to hike the AT.

If you’re planning to thru hike next season, the year prior can be an anxious and exciting time. You read the blogs and memoirs. You vicariously hitch rides with the class ahead of you by following hikers to see what you can learn from their experience. You obsess over gear. Above all, you plan, plan, plan.

The trail register is in the metal box on the side of the southern terminus monument.

Now that NOBO season is winding down, what’s left to do until it’s your turn to toe the starting line? You could obsess all the more, or you could get out in the woods and test your gear, work on organizing your pack, and learn if your boots cause blisters.

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This guy is the definition of poorly prepared.

Experience suggests this is a good idea. Ridgerunners report poorly prepared hikers year after year. Many have never used their equipment in the field. A few show up with a pack full of gear still in it’s original packaging (yes they do). Nearly nine out of 10 report that they are on their first backcountry experience. Remember the joke, How to get to Carnegie Hall/Katahdin? “Practice, practice, practice.” Small wonder the drop out rate is so high.

Why let Springer be your first time in the primitive backcountry? Why let Georgia kick your butt?  Fall is an ideal time for a few shakedown hikes. The weather is generally good. The humidity low. Fewer people are on the trails and the leaves are turning.

Most importantly you don’t have to hike on the AT. Any trail near where you live will do. In fact the idea for this blog was born while hiking the 70-mile Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail in western Pennsylvania. There are great trails just about everywhere.

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Resupplying at the Ingles supermarket in Hiawassee, GA.

The amount of free time you have doesn’t matter either. Since most thru hikers resupply every five days on average, practicing five-day hikes would seem to be ideal. But, if you are busy working hard to save up for your adventure and don’t have five days, even a few overnight trips can improve your skills and your odds.

Shakedown hikes allow you to experiment, answer questions, challenge your fears, and test the keys to your success. You also can challenge yourself in different scenarios including rain, cold, snow, strenuous terrain or any thing else you’re worried about. Most importantly, you have time to make corrections before it gets real down south where adjustments can be expensive.

Think about it. An overnighter in rainy weather is where you learn your rain gear doesn’t work right or your pack isn’t water tight or whether your footwear is going to generate blisters. It is far better making that discovery now rather than half way through Georgia at a time when the wrong mistake could send you home with smashed dreams.

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Georgia mid-March 2015.

The weather record in Georgia is instructive. Three years ago, it snowed, rained and/or sleeted 18 of the first 20 days in March. The next year March was mild and sunny, but the weather in the Smokies was atrocious. Last year split the difference.

Staying organized help keep your gear from becoming mixed up with others or losing it along the trail.

Here are a few things practice hikes could tell you:

  1. Does your gear fit properly and work the way you want it to work?
  2. Are you in adequate physical condition?
  3. Do your boots/trail runners fit and grip the right way?
  4. Got the right socks?
  5. What clothing combos work best?
  6. Is your sleep system adequate and comfortable?
  7. How much food do you need to carry?
  8. What do you like to eat – and not like?
  9. What’s the ideal weight of your pack?
  10. How to organize your pack so that your gear fits; and you can find what you need when you need it. Hint: When you need rain gear, you’ll need it pronto.
  11. Develop a routine in camp that works for you. What do you habitually do first, second and third both in the evening and morning?
  12. Can you deal with bad weather? Plan to practice hike when it’s unpleasant – cold, rain and snow.
  13. Does your water treatment method work for you?
  14. Practice your Leave No Trace principles. Pooping properly is paramount. So is protecting your food from bears, raccoons, mice and other critters.
  15. Maybe more importantly, what didn’t you think of?

The choices are endless – old or hot meals, types of stoves, pots, hanging food or using a bar canister.  Canisters are recommended for the southern half of the trail.

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Bear damage in Shenandoah National Park 2017.  The hiker did nothing wrong.  Someone who came before him taught the bear a bad habit.

Knowing to use a plastic bag to get water from a nearly dry spring can be a life saver.

Hygiene – cleanliness, pooping properly and keeping wounds clean prevents disease.

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Being in good physical condition helps on rugged terrain.

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Wearing gaiters in the mud and rain helps keep footware and socks dry – preventing blisters.

For example, on this author’s shakedown, 160 miles over 13 days on the AT, I learned my boots were wrong, I like an air mattress more than a foam pad, my pack didn’t fit right, I wasn’t going to cook or for that matter even eat three full meals a day, and was packing a bunch of stuff I did not need. I also learned that I was in better shape than I thought, and my pack was properly and functionally organized. Good to know. Changes made.

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Please follow Leave No Trace outdoor ethics and leave the trail pristine for those yet to come.

A successful thru hike requires a combination of will, mental and physical toughness, trail knowledge, gear, and luck. Some hikers prefer the school of hard knocks. On the other hand, why leave anything to chance if you don’t have to?

Good luck and good hiking. Sisu