Saturday, July 27, 2013

My Summer 2013 Section

I got home just in time for Mary's family reunion. She picked me up at Glasgow, VA 94 days after I started at Rock Gap, NC - 672 miles away.

If that sounds like a long time to go that distance, it was.  I rolled my ankle 3 hrs into this hike, and that slowed me down for a long time - An average of 7 miles per day when I should have averaged around 12. It's a bit ironic that after limping for several hundred miles, I was finally hiking strong and banging out some relatively big 15-18 mile days just as it was time to go home.

This was my third section of the Appalachian Trail. Last spring I started a thru hike attempt at Springer Mountain, and made it 106 miles to Rock Gap, NC before a bursitis in my knee sent me home.  I got that fixed and started south from Katahdin, Maine later last summer.  Made it 538 miles to Manchester Center where I found I had a Hernia that needed to be repaired.  I did the math and I've done 1316 miles out of 2184. That's 60% with 868 miles to go.

If at this point you're about to suggest that I can't seem to hike without injury, well, you wouldn't be the first. In my defense I did go home on my own volition this time!

In the next few weeks, I'll backfill some details of the hike, post some pics, and we'll discuss my gear choices. (Spoiler alert - I picked up a hammock at Trail Days).

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Eleven Days of Healing

I was hiking along the ridge between Mt Sequoia and Mt Chapman when I heard footsteps behind me. I turned to look, and it was Loopy! One of my hiking partners from last spring. She was hiking from Springer to Damascus for Trail Days, "and maybe further."

It was great to hike with her and to catch up on old times. My ankle was feeling better, so I felt good about pushing my mileage up to 13 to get to the next shelter ...

You see, it's a function of policy that hikers have to stay in shelter areas while hiking thru the Smokies. That often means choosing between a 5 or 7 mile day, or maybe a 14 miler. One might be too short, the other too long, but there's no legitimate option in between ...

And one has eight days ...

The next morning, the tendons around my knee on the opposite leg were inflamed. Must have been over-compensating for my ankle ... Decided to take a zero day and rest it.

Then I decided to take another.

That second zero was the charm. I felt better and decided to take a slow day. Seven miles would get me to the last shelter in the Smokies. That'd put me within just 3.5 miles of Standing Bear Farm Hostel. There I'd take stock, and either get a shuttle towards home, or, I'd hike on towards Hot Springs.

Standing Bear is a magical place. An old tobacco farm converted into a Hostel. It has a bunkroom, a store, a kitchen and dining area, and a laundry room. And cheap bunks. All very primitive. The laundry is a washboard,  tub and hand-cranked wringer. Gator, Hawk and Trout looked after me. I spent two zeros there. My knee felt better every morning. I limped in and walked out, heading for Hot Springs...

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Shelter Zero

I twisted my ankle my first day out, and I wanted to give it a rest. I had climbed out of the NOC, and camped at Sassafras Gap Shelter. The forecast was for rain all that next day, with dangerous thunder storms starting in the early evening, and continuing thruout the night. As much as I hate the shelters, I didn't want to be in a tent for that. I decided to take that zero at Sassafras Gap.

And so, I spent my day off cleaning up the shelter area, tweaking my gear, and consuming the contents of my food bag.

Hikers started coming in. Mad Tom and Pam, a couple my age, spent most of the afternoon deciding whether to hike on or stay. Eventually, the were comfortably ensconced in the shelter. Acorn, a young lady I knew from the 2013 AT hikers forum on Facebook, showed up. Pinoit Airman, a retired Air Force hiker from the Philippines came in along with Jeff, Clutch, Chris, and BG (Belgium Guy). The shelter was filling up, but thankfully it wasn't the young party crowd of the night before.

Grumbling about the weather guessers became a consistent topic of discussion. It didn't rain all day, and the storm didn't start till late into the evening. It wasn't as intense as predicted, but I was glad I wasn't in a tent...

I got out early the next morning. I had a reservation at Hiker's Inn, and I had to be at Fontana Dam by 3:00 on the day after next. So I was gonna push a 12 mile day and camp at Cody Gap. That'd put me within a fairly easy 8 miles of Fontana Dam.

It was foggy at the top of Cheoah Bald, and it made for some great shots of Chris and Clutch. From there, a long step descent into Stecoah Gap, a brutal climb up Jacob's Ladder, and a nice long hike along a ridge line got me to Cody gap. BG was setting up as I got there. I droped down towards the water source, found a flat spot, and set up camp.

The next morning I got on the trail as Jeff (now "The Saint") was passing by. We ended up running into each other most of the day. Had lunch with him and NG at Cable Gap Shelter which was built by the CCC in the 30's. A long, easy afternoon descent got me into Fontana Dam with time to spare.

The folks from Hikers Inn picked me up, got me into a room, took my dirty clothes to launder 'em. I got a shower, put my batteries on charge and then they shuttled Newton and I into town for resupply and dinner.

Great people and great service.

Tomorrow I head into the Smokies.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The NOC, Onward and Upward

The 2500' descent to the Nantahala River from Wesser Bald Shelter was tough on my old knee bones. But the promise of a shower, laundry, two hots and a cot was motivating.

The Nantahala Outdoor Center is a big commercial enterprise catering to rafting, kayaking and to hikers. It straddles the AT, and provides all the services mentioned above, plus short term resupply and a well stocked outfitter. A bunk was $19 and change, and they offer spendier options for those who crave more privacy. And the staff is great.

I availed myself of most of the amenities, picked up a box of food I had mailed there, and turned in early. The next morning, I bought a T-shirt and a visor, packed a box with a few things, and mailed it from their stone admin building.

Then headed up...

2960' in 6.7 miles, with a fully replenished pack makes for a tough day. Beautiful lookouts, walks across ridges with views on both sides, hot sun on the south facing slopes, deep shade going thru rhododendron thickets, rocky patches, and a final steep ascent to Swim Bald kept it interesting. I ran into Wheels, Mailman Dan, Gracie, Re-Run and Tu-Tu, and we leap frogged each other all the way to the top. I was never so happy to see a shelter come into view.

Till I got there...

Sassafras Gap Shelter is a two deck structure with a great fire ring, a piped spring in front, and about a billion black flies.

So, the conundrum. A big, nasty thunderstorm is forecasted for the following day. My plan was to stay here through the storm and head out the following day. But these flies. They're maddening. And I managed to sprout a couple of blisters. The others cameled-up and headed out to find a less buggy camp site. I decided to set up my tent and escape the plague, and patch my feet.

Tomorrow I'll reassess the sichiashun...

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Heading In To The NOC

Predawn breakfast in bed ...

After three hiking days, I'm at Wesser Bald, and heading into Nantahala Outdoor Center for a minor resupply, a hot shower and a warm bunk.

I've been hiking through the Nantahala Forest in North Carolina. The AT has taken me over several balds - Mountain summits that tho are not truly above the treeline in the sense that they aren't an alpine environment, they are grassy mountain tops with 360 degree views.

Weather has been outstanding. Got a little sunburn yesterday. Been plenty warm at night ... There's thunderstorms in the forecast for Thursday, so I might hole up in a shelter if it's bad.

Been averaging 8.4 miles per day, which is right on target with, my planned slow start. A few aches and pains, but nothing to fret about.

Been camping with a group that has similar pace. Crocatopia and Camel thru hiked last year and are hiking into Damascus, VA for Trail Days. Turtle and Blackjack are on their northbound thrus.

After the NOC,  three or four more days and I'll be ready to hike into the Smokies.

Wikipedia article on Balds:

Sunday, April 7, 2013

L.Dog's Back On The Trail

It's almost like I took a couple of zeros in Franklin. I went into town on April 3Rd and was back on the trail on the 6th. Except it was a year later ...

I went into town last spring, hoping to treat a tendonitis, and went home 6 days later still unable to walk with what turned out to be a bursitis. Got that fixed and started again in July hiking south from Maine. That attempt was foiled by a hernia that needed surgery.


With 644 miles under my belt, I'm starting again where I left off in spring, and hiking till it's time to go home for a family reunion in July.

So I started in Rock Gap, NC.  A couple of hours later, as I was descending into Winding Stair Gap, I rolled my ankle pretty bad.  Still managed to do the 8 miles to Siler Bald, where I met up with Head Butt, Firefly, Vexatious, and Blackjack. Sat around a fire eating and telling lies till hiker midnight,  and crawled into my tent.

It was a cold night, but not as cold as it had been just last week. Forecast is for sunny days and reasonable nights for the next several days...

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cocked, Locked, Ready to Walk ... Again

A week from today I'll hop into a rental car, drive to Asheville, NC, and take a shuttle to Franklin, NC. The next morning I'll be at Rock Gap where I'll continue my AT hike.

Ok so, I started in Georgia last year, intending of hiking a traditional northbound thru-hike.  I got into NC, woke up one morning with intense pain in my knee.  I hung out for several days, treating it for tendonitis, but it turned out I had a bursitis, and I came home to have it treated.  In July I hiked southbound from Maine.  I got 540 miles down the trail when I discovered I had an inguinal hernia that the doc said needed surgery ...

With those 644 miles under my feet, I'm going to hike from Rock Gap, NC and finish my AT hike where the trail crosses VT 11/30 in the green Mountains of Vermont.

More after the break:

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Rethinking My Pack - Clothing

I started up the approach trail on March 19 last year, packed for cold nights and snowy days. Instead it was unseasonably hot with highs in the 80s and lows on the 60s. Between carrying too much food, a 15 degree bag, extra layers, and an ill-fitting pack, I was grumbling.

I'll soon be starting where I got off last spring at Rock Gap, NC, and heading into the Smokies. It looks like it could be a cold/snowey one this year, offering me a different reason to grumble.

What I'm Packing - The photo shows what's going to be in my pack when not worn. From the upper right and going clockwise, I've got a mid-weight merino base layer that will be my dry, sleeping clothes. On top of the bottoms are my spare Icebreaker merino briefs. Below them is a Smartwool microweight merino tee for warm/laundry days. My spare pair of Vermont Darn Tough hiking socks, and a pair of Dirty Girl gaiters.

More after the break ...

Friday, March 22, 2013

Rethinking my Pack - Bear Baggin'

Fifty feet of parachute shroud and a biner weighed 104 grams in my pack. I played with thiner line, but it seemed it was cutting right into branches. I had a lighter biner, but lost it on the trail, and could only find this 37g beast in a trail town. Clearly this was an area rife with opportunity!

More after the jump ...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Rethinking My Pack - Sleep System

In a previous post, I was rethinking my "Big Four." In a seemingly never-ending quest to reduce weight, I was contemplating using a backpacking quilt instead of my summer bag. During the summer I've been carring a Mountain Hardwear Phantom +32 Long mummy bag. It's 23 ozs, and packs up pretty small.

I found I was generally using it like a quilt - Sleeping directly on my pad with the bag unzipped over me. Of course it's not designed for that, and when it's cold I have a hard time sleeping on my side with it tucked in well.

What I decided on and why after the jump ...

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Rethinking My Pack - "Camp Shoes"

Been 'round and 'round on the idea of camp shoes. For my northbound AT section from Springer to Franklin, I carried a pair of VivoBarefoot Ultras. At 8 ozs, they were quite a bit lighter than the ubiquitous crocs. You can read my thoughts on them here. They're bulky, but I could strap them on the side of my pack such that they didn't flop around.

When I went home, I got more serious about reducing weight, and I left them at home for my sobo section from Katahdin. With all those river fords in Maine, they would have been useful. But I went without, taking my socks off and pulling the insoles out at each ford. The shoes dried out eventually. In camp I tied them loosely for comfort, and so that I could slip them on easily for a midnight call of nature.

What I wasn't prepared for was comunal showers in some of the less than pristine hostels ... My feet survived it, but I wished I had some flip-flops... More after the break

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Photos From The Trail

I'm in the process of uploading photographs I made while hiking the Appalachian Trail last year. You can check them out at

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Rethinking My Pack - The Big Four

Lightening my load seems to be a continual process. Leading up to my hike last year, I was evaluating options, deciding what to leave in, what to leave out ... When I limped home from my nobo attempt, I tore thru my pack, took some stuff out, and replaced other stuff with lighter stuff. After all that, I still sent stuff home from the trail.

Spring is coming, and I'm looking forward to getting back on the trail. I've been going through my systems, and have cut an additional half pound of stuff out of my first aid kit and my charging system.

Of course it didn't cost me anything to take stuff out of my pack, but what could I achieve by looking at the heaviest, big ticket items?

What I looked at, what the weight savings are, and what'd cost me after the break!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

L.Dog's SP2 Formula

Hikers use a variety of simplified formulas to determine how much food one needs to pack for a given time or distance to meet 4500-6500 calories per day requirements, depending on age, gender, level of effort, temperature ...

NOLS developed their PPPPD (Pounds per person per day) formula for expedition planning. Their experience showed that backpackers need 1.4 to 2.0 PPPPD depending on all those variables.

Garlic08 on figures 1 lb per 10 miles. If the next resupply point is 50 miles away, pack out 5 lbs. Whether you bang out the distance in 3 days, or stretch it out to 6 days you'd theoretically have the food to support the level of effort. Ymmv.

But that's not really what this post is about. What it's really about after the break.

GSMNP Permit Process for Thru-Hikers

NOTICE - In 2013, Great Smoky Mountains National Park will implement a new system for obtaining backcountry permits and will also begin charging fees for permits. Backpackers and equestrians will need to plan in advance to obtain a backcountry permit for any overnight stays in the backcountry. At this time, the new process for obtaining permits has not been finalized. Updated information will be added to this page as it becomes available.

As of this writing, this is all the information made available on the GSMNP Backcountry Camping web page about a new online reservation system that is scheduled to go into effect on 13 February. Lots of often conflicting bits and pieces of info and conjecture about how this is expected to affect thru hikers is surfacing in online forums - and lots of phone calls being made to park officials, but there still isn't an official policy published. And with hikers already heading for the Smokies, this isn't good.

What I found after the break ...

Monday, January 28, 2013

Rethinking My Pack - Charging System

Since I started thinking about the AT, I've been struggling between wanting electronics with me on the trail, and the weight penalty for packin' em. With an Android smart phone, a battery-hungary camera, and an iPod Nano, I need a charging system to keep all that going. In previous articles I wrote about why I wanted those devices, how I planned to keep them charged, and how I lightened the charging system by 5 ozs by swapping out a few items.

The system currently weighs 12.4 ozs. It includes chargers, cables, extra battery capacity, and the bag I put it all in. It's what I carried during my southbound section, and with judicious use of the electronics, it kept everything going for the 12 days I took to climb Katahdin, and transit the 100 Mile Wilderness. That suggests excess capacity considering I'm probably not going to do another 12 day transit on the AT, and that means opportunity for further weight reduction ...

What I'm packing, and what I'm thinking about changing after the break.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Rethinking My Pack - First Aid Kit

Back when I was first thinking about a backpacking first aid kit, I wrote about my background in first aid, what I assessed to be the risks, what I thought I'd need to deal with those risks, whether I'd be happy with a pre-built kit, and what I put together. See that post [here].

Back then I was packing for two and my kit weighed 13 ozs. Since then I've hiked 644 miles of the trail, and used the kit to deal with blisters, cuts, aches and pains. I swapped out tools for lighter ones, added stuff to better prevent and deal with blisters, but I never really tossed anything out. I figured I could find weight savings without impacting my ability to care for myself or others. When I pulled it out of my pack and put it on the scale, it weighed 12 ozs. So I dumped the contents on the counter, and broke out the scale. What I found after the break...

Friday, January 18, 2013

Rethinking My Pack - Sawyer Squeeze v Aquamira

I hiked 644 miles last year. I left my old, heavy MSR filter at home and used Aquamira to treat water. It weighed a lot less than my filter, and had no moving parts to fail. It adds a slight flavor to the water which I did not find disagreeable. A few times I was running low, and had a hard time finding it in town, but I never ran out and it never failed me. - On the other hand, it seemed a shame to bespoil pure mountain spring water with it, and treating nasty tasting, tannin-stained water out of slow-moving streams made me pine for a filter.

Later in the season, I started seeing these Sawyer Squeeze filters. Folks used different bags and bottles to feed them. They squeezed into water bottles, they placed them in-line with their pack's bladder system, and they set up gravity systems to work while they ate. With an advertised 3 oz field weight, I was pretty excited about them, and I vowed to look into them when I got home.

Sawyer Squeeze vs Aquamira after the break ...

Friday, January 11, 2013

Lessons Learned - Water Treatment

When I started thinking seriously about long distance hiking, one area that concerned me was how best to keep myself hydrated - Collecting, filtering, treating and carrying it, how much to carry, and other questions I didn't know to ask. I had an MSR Sweetwater Microfilter, Nalgene bottles, a Camelback bladder system, a folding bucket - It all added up to a lot of weight ...

I delved into the resources of the intertubes to see what people were packing, and spent way too much time on Backpackinglight and WhiteBlaze. I found the Ultralighter, gram-weenies lurking therein to be invaluable resources.

To a person, they advocated leaving the filter behind, and using Aquamira drops as a 3 oz solution to the issue of treatment ... (More after the jump ...)