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10 Hacks for Winter Backpacking

So you’ve decided that your love of backpacking is so great that not even Old Man Winter himself can keep you cooped up when the temperatures drop. Good. Welcome to the club, fellow maniac. Whether it’s the beautiful, snowy vistas, the refreshing chill of the air, or the solitude of the trail during the winter that draws you out, here are a few things that you can do to make your excursion into the cold even more enjoyable (and safe!)

1. Flip your water bottle upside down.

Water at the top of a bottle freezes first (due to the fact that ice is less dense than liquid water) effectively shutting off your access to the water below. If you flip your bottle, the ice will then form at the top of the upside down bottle, meaning that when you go to drink it, and flip it right side up, you are still able to access the liquid, drinkable part of your water.

2. Keep snacks in a warm pocket

There’s not much liquid in most snack bars, but what little there is will freeze and become tooth-shatteringly hard to eat. Figure out your snacks before hand and keep anything that you plan on eating on the trail that day in a jacket/pant pocket. Your body heat will do the rest.

3. Less is more when it comes to  sleep wearDSC_0495

The best thing to wear to bed inside of your bag in the winter is a dry base layer. And that’s it. Wearing too much clothing is counter-effective in that the extra clothes can compress the insulation of your bag and cut off circulation to your extremities. A sleeping bag is designed to work as a single unit, the warm parts of your body heat up the cold parts of your body. If you wear your warmest coat then there is no passage of warm air to travel to your toes. Also, if you’re wearing damp clothes inside of your bag, this moisture will get trapped in your bag and make you colder.

4. Warm your clothes before getting out of your sleeping bag

If your hiking clothes are moist, take them off before bed and change into something dry. In the morning, your moist clothes will be cold if not frozen. You can avoid a chilly start to your morning by placing your hiking clothes in a plastic bag (to keep moisture out of your sleeping bag) and warming them up inside your bag before putting them on.

5. Don’t hold it all night

I won’t go too far into this, but having a full bladder impedes kidney function which is important in keeping your organs (and thus your whole body warm.) Added to this, if you can’t sleep because you have to go, then just go and get it over with! Being well rested is important on any hike. We won’t talk about the other option, but let’s just say that a wet bag is a cold bag.

6. Warm up before crawling into your bag

Right before you get into your bag, its good to have your blood flowing. This will help in creating heat for your bag to trap, which will make you warmer more quickly once inside. So go for a short walk or do some jumping jacks before turning in. Don’t get sweaty, of course, but get the heart pumping and the heater going.

7. Calories = Energy = Warmth

Most hikers don’t need the encouragement, but: don’t forget to eat! Keep in mind that you’re not just replacing lost calories from the hike, but that you are also adding fuel to your inner furnace. Bring extra snacks for the hike and make sure to eat something filling and warm in the evening (preferably not too long before lying down for the night.) Carbs and fat work best to keep the fire going. Plan on an extra 500 calories at least when the weather gets cold.

8. Bring an insulated buDSCN1601tt pad

Cutting a piece off of an old insulated foam pad to use as a seat in the winter will save you from a wet, cold bottom when you stop for a pack break halfway up the mountain, not to mention keeping you warm as you eat around camp in the evening. It can also double as extra insulation under your mat, pillow, or even as a sleeve to keep dehydrated meals warm as they cook inside of their bag.

 

9. Layer, layer, layer (and pack your layers intelligently)

If you’ve been backpacking in the cold before then you know that layering is the only way to go: a base layer under a mid fleece layer under an insulating layer under a wind/waterproof shell layer (or some combination that works for you.) As you warm up, you ditch layers. When you stop or when the weather turns, you put them back on. Just remember to pack your layers in a way that they are easily accessible while on the move . This includes, of course, hats and gloves.

10. Add traction to your shoes

You won’t always need full crampons, but on slippery, steep surfaces, some sort of after-market traction added to your boots can keep you moving vertically without ending up horizontal, face down in the snow (or, worse, creating a giant snowball by rolling down the side of a mountain.) This is obviously terrain dependent, but on any winter hike where the elevation changes, you can bet that the amount of ice and snow on the trail is also going to change.

So don’t let the weather keep you down! With proper gear and smart planning, you too can be pointed at by folks from the comfort of their cars as you head out on the trail into the beauty and serenity of the winter landscape.

 

 

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The Sleeping Bag Breakdown

by Goatman

So you want to sleep in the wide open world of nature without freezing to death over night. This is a rather typical human concern.

Based on my experience, folks gearing up for outdoor adventure often think of a sleeping bag before they think of anything else, even their footwear or their backpack. Quite understandable. I can walk a few miles in any shoe with some snacks and a water bottle in an old school bag and head out into the woods for the night. When I get to my camp, however, if I plan on sleeping, I am going to need something to keep me warm if I want to get any shut eye at all. Shivering and snoozing do not go hand in hand.

The sleeping bag, unlike much of backpacking’s more esoteric gear, is a common item to have lying around whether or not it has ever been used in the open air. You may have one sitting around from your childhood or have placed one in the trunk of your car for emergencies. But now you’ve gotten the itch for adventure and you’re wondering about wandering a bit. Is your old Batman sleeping bag going to cut it when the winds start whistling through the pines? To tell you the truth, probably not. If you want to get out and stay out, a good sleeping bag can be the difference between an enjoyable morning sunrise hike and a sleep-deprived slog back to car.

That being said, there are a lot of sleeping bags out there, made for different purposes, and at a variety of price levels. This blog will serve as a map to guide you to the correct bag for your situation.

EN Temperature Ratings

First off, let’s talk about ratings and standards. Understanding the modern method of rating sleeping bags for warmth will be important while choosing your new bag. You may have been in this situation before: you’ve borrowed a friend’s bag and the tag claims that it is a 0 degree bag, so you take it out when the temperature drops down to 20 degrees and end up clacking your teeth all night. Such a situation would leave a sour taste in anyone’s mouth concerning so called “ratings”. When it comes to survival, you need to know the capabilities of your gear. If companies are labeling their products with misleading information, how are you supposed to know what you are actually getting?

Enter the EN Rating, more accurately known as the European Norm 13537 Standardized Ratien_tested_templateng for Insulation. In 2005, a standard testing and rating system was established in Europe and, soon after, reputable sleeping bag companies across the world began to follow suite. Utilizing a standardized, third-party system to test the insulation of sleeping bags (involving metal dummies and such. Read more), the EN rating tests how a sleeping bag retains warmth while keeping in mind that different human bodies will produce different levels of heat while sleeping. Instead of a bag being rated with a simple number, such as 0 degrees, an EN rated bag will have a range of temperatures: Upper Limit, Comfort, Lower Limit, and Extreme.

Upper Limit refers to the temperature at which a standard man* can sleep without sweating.

Comfort refers to the temperature that a standard woman* can sleep comfortably, in a relaxed position, all night.

Lower Limit refers to the temperature that a standard man* can sleep for 8 hours without waking because of the cold.

Extreme is the minimum temperature that a standard woman* can remain at for 6 hours in the bag without incurring hypothermia.

*A standard man is described as 25 years old, 5’7″, and 160 lbs. A standard woman is described as 25 years old, 5’2″, and 130 lbs. Obviously, this does not describe everyone. The EN rating should be used as a guide more than a guarantee. If you sleep hotter or colder than others, adjust accordingly. As a general rule, the larger you are, the more heat you produce. They are assuming in these ratings that a standard man is larger than a standard woman and thus produces more heat as they sleep.

For example, my sleeping bag has an EN rating of 41 degree Comfort, 32 degree Lower Limit, and 5 degree Extreme (note: many bags do not include the Upper Limit. I guess they assume that you know when you are too hot and can unzip the bag and cool off in that case). I am a fairly hot sleeper, being 6′ and 215 lbs with huge muscles and a grizzly beard. The 32 degree Lower Limit is rather on the money for me, though I can stretch it a few degrees below freezing without suffering much sleep loss. The 0 degree bag mentioned before could have been marketed that way to advertise its extreme rating only, meaning its lower limit was probably more around the 25 degree range.

Keep in mind that this rating takes into account the user’s sleeping clothes, a ground mat, hydration levels, food intake, and even the few degrees of warmth a tent may provide.

Heat Flow and Bag Shape

While we are on the subject of insulation, let’s step back for a moment and consider how sleeping bags work in the first place. When you are out in the woods, away from your furnace and fireplace, you are your own heater. More specifically, the calories you eat metabolize into energy which is given off as heat.  Your body can’t help but heat the air around you. The nature of heat is to move. Without insulation, the heat you are giving off will move away from you to a colder place and will continue to do so as long as the air outside remains colder than your body. The goal of insulation like your sleeping bag is to trap this heat and form a buffer around you from the cold air. You produce heat, the bag catches it, and you feel like the air around you is warm.

talusDifferent bag shapes allow you to customize how efficient you are at capturing this warmth. In cold temperatures, you want as much of your body ensconced in your bag as possible. Enter the Mummy bag. The most efficient of the bags at retaining heat, many modern backpacking bags use this shape. With a mummy bag, you are able to cover all of your body except for your mouth and nose (which you don’t want covered. Breathing is nice. Not filling your bag with the liter of water you breathe out at night is even nicer). The Mummy Bag is a tight fit. This is a part of its design. The less air between your body and the bag, the less air you have to warm before it gets caught in the insulation. This can be uncomfortable for some. It takes some practice for most to sleep in a fetal position with little room to move inside of a bag. Despite this drawback, the Mummy Bag remains popular and this is why: unmatched heat retention.

You don’t see as many Rectangular bags in backpacking these days. The heat you loose from hamityliteving such a free, open style is enormous. That being said, when the nights aren’t so chilly and you simply need something to cover up with, a lightweight rectangular bag can be just the thing. Rectangular bags can also open up into a convenient blanket. Little to no restriction of movement is the big seller here. Some companies have begun the manufacture of insulated quilts that serve a similar function. If the Mummy style is so uncomfortable to you that you are not able to sleep, the loss of a bit of warmth may be worth it depending on the weather.

Luckily, people cSea-to-Summit-Trek-TkIIan be smart and inventive. There is a compromise between the two styles and it is called the Semi-Rectangular bag. With this style, the user can customize the bag depending on the temperature. The body of the bag is looser fitting than a mummy, allowing more room for movement within the bag. The top is open like a rectangular bag, but with a hood and drawstring, letting you “mummy up” in the middle of the night if the temperature drops. The ability to unzip the entire bag is also present for warm weather conditions. The Semi-Rectangular bag is the best of both worlds in many ways, though not as much a bag of extremes. A Mummy bag will be capable of greater warmth. A Rectangular bag will be looser and allow more movement. The Semi-Rectangular bag is a great compromise, however.

Big Agnes has bags that contain a sleeping mat sheath on the bottom, meaning that instead of the insulation on the bottom of the bag being compressed while you roll around on your mat at night, the mat fits down the back of the bag. They contain a hood like a mummy bag, but are more roomy in the middle to allow for movement. With this style, rolling off of your mat at night is not an option. However, this requires that you always use your sleeping mat (which is a good idea anyway).

Down v. Synthetic

The great argument rages: do you want a down insulated bag or synthetic? I have no answer for you, only information. Behold:

DOWNSYN comp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you might expect, people are divided on this subject and for good reason: both types of insulation are useful in certain situation. Guaranteed to be soaking wet? Synthetic might be a better choice. Going for fast and light? Go Down.

These days, a few companies are also utilizing Hydrophobic Down, which resists being saturated with water, retains its loft even when wet, and remains lighter and more compressible than synthetic. For more information on Hydrophobic Down, click here. To read more about down in general, including info on different fill weight, click here.

Liners

Say that you have a 30 degree bag which will be great for the first few days of your hike, but on your third day, you’ll be sleeping at elevation and are afraid that your bag won’t cut it when the temperature drops. Do you have to take two bags rated for different temperatures? No! Enter the sleeping bag liner. These are micro-fleece liners for your bag which come in a variety of weights. Liners can drop the temperature rating of your bag up to ~20 degrees and also help to keep your bag clean (which helps with the durability of the insulation and saves you a lot of effort). Read all about it.

Choosing the Right Bag

Now that you’re familiar with the way sleeping bags work, how they’re shaped, what they’re stuffed with, and how they’re rated, it’s time to choose your bag. When making your choice, consider the following: price, weight, packability, durability, comfort, and appropriate temperature range. Know what adventures you’re planning, what weather you can expect, how long you want your bag to last and how light and compressed you need the bag to be. There is no right bag for every adventure, unfortunately. If you are into winter camping in Alaska, your bag probably won’t do for an Appalachian Trail thru-hike and vice versa. At RRT, we carry a variety of different sleeping bags for a variety of purposes. To read more about the different styles of bags we offer, click on any of the links to the brand websites below. The best thing to do, of course, is to stop in the shop, talk to one of our knowledgeable staff members, and actually crawl into a few bags to see which one is right for you.

Big Agnes                   Sea to Summit                        Western Mountaineering                       Mountain Hardwear

 

 

RRT’s Live Inventory now on Locally.com

 

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Pisgah National Forest: Mt. Mitchell

 

Trip Report

Pisgah National Forest: Mt. Mitchell

By Kayla “Clover” McKinney

 

 

 

Trip Length: 3 days, 2 nights (includes driving time)

Total Mileage: ~23 miles

Date: Late September 2015

Conditions: Mix of cloudy and sunny during the day, foggy in the morning, highs in the mid-60s to low 70s and lows in the high 40s – low 50s at night. I hiked in a long sleeve synthetic shirt and pants mostly. I was warm and snug in my ~30 degree bag at night.

Highlights: Tallest summit in North Carolina and the tallest summit east of the Mississippi, stunning scenery, challenging trails, diverse forests, wildlife, Mountain to Sea Trail.

Distance from Cincinnati: Approximately 6.5 hours by vehicle. GPS directions to the Black Mountain Campground, Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina. The directions are straight forward.

Permits: There is a fee for camping at Black Mountain Campground and is first come, first serve. There is no permit required for camping at Deep Gap (also first come, first serve).

Description: The Black Mountains are the highest mountain chain east of the Mississippi river with Mt. Mitchell being the tallest summit at 6,684 feet above sea level. The entire ridge is mtmitchellapproximately 10 miles long and contains 14 peaks, all over 6,000 feet, and is known as the Black Mountain Crest.* A large portion of the hike coincides with the Mountain to Sea Trail. For our hike, we did not explore the entire Black Mountain Crest, but instead started from the Black Mountain Campground at the base of Mt. Mitchell and hiked to Deep Gap, a large established campground in Pisgah National Forest. Do not underestimate the Black Mountains! The hike from Black Mountain Campground along the Long Arm Ridge to the Mt. Mitchell summit gains approximately 3,700 feet in elevation over 5.6 miles and is steep and technical in many areas. For most of the hike, you are on an exposed, narrow ridge above the clouds. Once you’ve gained the majority of elevation, the elevation change between the 5 additional peaks is relatively small. The lowest elevation is Deep Gap, which is at approximately 5,800 feet. On this hike, you summit Mt. Mitchell (6,684ft), Mount Craig (6,647ft), Big Tom (6,580ft), Cattail Peak (6,584ft) and Potato Hill (6,475ft), all in one day.

Trip Breakdown:

Day One: Drive from Cincinnati to the Black Mountain Campground and stay there for the night. There are flush toilets and showers. Note: the trail head for Mt. Mitchell is located inside the Black Mountain Campground. There is a large Pisgah National Forest trail head across the street but it is NOT the correct way to go (trust me, because I ended up admitchellsignding ~3 miles to my trip by starting out at the wrong trail head).

Day Two: Start at the Black Mountain Campground and follow signs for Mt. Mitchell and immediately begin ascending for 5.6 miles. You will pass two junctions along the way, one for Higgin’s Bald, which is an alternative trail that will take you to the same place, and one for Commissary Ridge. Follow the signs for the Mt. Mitchell summit. You will eventually reach the paved and suddenly civilized summit of Mt. Mitchell.The summit was crowded and full of people who drove up for the view. Take the opportunity to fill up on water at the Mitchell summit area and enjoy the panoramic views. Continue from the summit to the Deep Gap trail head and to Mount Craig. From Mount Craig, follow the trail to Big Tom and down along the trail. At some point, you will transition from the Mt. Mitchell State Park to the Pisgah National Forest, right around Cattail Peak. At a few points in this area, there are a series of fixed ropes to assist in navigating down the steep terrain. The last peak of the day is Potato Hill (I still have no idea why this steep mountain was called a hill). You are exposed on a narrow ridge and high above the clouds. Continue downhill until you reach a large clearing with an established fire ring and set up camp for the night at Deep Gap. Be sure to hang your food for the night because you are in a bear sanctuary*.

Day Three: Start climbing up the way you came from Deep Gap, back up Potato Hill and Cattail Peak. You will re-enter Mt. Mitchell State Park (there will be signs posted on the trees) and shortly after you will arrive at a junction. Turn onto the trail marked 191A and continue on down. This part of the trail is very steep and rocky, but beautiful and exposed. You will come to another junction, and you’ll want to turn right onto Maple Camp Ridge. This trail is flat, open and easy. You’ll be able to move quickly along it until you meet up with the Long Arm Ridge once more. From here it will be a steep and steady descent. We refilled our water once more along the Long Arm Ridge. Consider doing the Higgin’s Bald side trail to add different scenery along your way back to Black Mountain Campground. The side trail only adds about .25 miles.

Water: I carried 3.5 L of water (a 2.5L reservoir and 1L Nalgene.) We filled up at the Black Mountain Campground, the Mt. Mitchell Summit, and at a stream located along the Long Arm Ridge Trail. There is a water source near Deep Gap, but it is a .5 mile hike away from the campsite.

Options: To save mileage on the second day, consider hiking up the Long Arm Ridge and staying the first night at the Commissary Ridge campsite approximately 4 miles up. Another option is to drive to the top of Mt. Mitchell and hike to Deep Gap from there. There is camping near the Mt. Mitchell summit as well, though you will need a permit for these spots.

*Additional Notes: As mentioned, part of the hike to Deep Gap is through a bear sanctuary. Please practice proper bear awareness through these areas such as properly hanging all of your food, food packaging, cooking equipment, and other scented items. Also, make a note to be somewhat loud when hiking, so as to potentially warn any nearby bears of your presence; simply raising your tone higher when talking should work. The occasional “HEY BEAR!” is a good idea, too. Additionally, these trails are steep and rocky and I highly encourage the use of trekking poles and boots with ankle support.

https://cloudman23.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/more-contrast5l1.jpg

*An image of the entire Black Mountain Crest.

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A Brief Glimpse of Australia

I went and flew to the other side of the planet. All the way over there. Really far from Kentucky. I went for a wedding, but stayed for almost a month of running around. Stationed in the Gold Coast, Queensland (with a section of town literally called Surfer’s Paradise), the Goatman felt a bit out of his element, I must admit. Hooves aren’t very sticky on a surfboard and the salty ocean air tastes like the bottom of a bag of chips. It was beautiful, of course. Sunrise over the Pacific in the morning. 75 degrees in the middle of the winter. Great seafood everywhere. But I didn’t go to Australia to laze around and pick sand from my beard. Not entirely anyway. You can take the Goatman out of the hills, but you can’t take the goat out of the hill man as the saying goes. I needed to get out there and climb something, see some of the wildest wildlife on the planet, and take in the legendary terrain of Australia. And that I did.

Girraween National ParkDSCN7223

Our first trip out from the Gold Coast was  a 3 hour drive inland through wine country to Girraween National Park on the border between Queensland and New South Wales. (On a side note, Australia has over 500 National Parks. The USA has 58. Australia’s national parks are much smaller than those of the USA, however, and more specific.) After lunch at a vineyard, and a wrong turn involving a 7 foot tall alpha-male kangaroo and a family of wild boar scaring the bejeezus out of me, we found a camp near the trail head of Bald Rock Creek. In the distance looming we could see the Pyramids, granite outcroppings of over 3,000 feet and our goal for the next morning. Up and at ’em with the laughter of the maniac kookaburras, we took a leisurely warm-up hike around the Bald Creek area. The creek flows through the granite landscape, carving out interesting gorges in the rock and gathering in deep holes lending a surreal atmosphere in which to the hike. Back on the trail to the Pyramids, we stopped by the Granite Arch on the way, a natural formation that looks as if neolithic hippie giants were balancing boulders for fun.

DSCN7260Then came the climb. The ascent to the summit of First Pyramid reminded me of the Mahoosuc Arm in southern Maine: a steep granite face with few handholds that seems to go on forever until you crest the summit and realize that all of the huffing and puffing was worth the beautiful 360 degree view. From the top, you can see the entirety of Girraween NP as well as across the state line into Bald Rock NP. A boulder the size of a truck is upended, balanced like an egg on a spoon, right next to the view of Second Pyramid, another impressive mass of granite. Golden wattle,  fig and gum trees dot the landscape, as well as flora unknown to the humble Goatman but equally strange and impressive. We left Girraween after the hike, having business back in the Gold Coast, but never once did I stop looking behind me in case the 7 foot tall kangaroo was following, looking to put me in his pouch.

Hat Head National Park

After a bit of beach laying, we were back on the road. This time, Jubilee and I were acting as couriers, delivering a car to Sydney about 12 hours south of the Gold Coast. Fortunately, we had 4 days to accomplish this so we were able to check out some more National Parks along the way. This meant that I had to learn to driDSCN7378ve on the left side of the road, on the right side of the car, to navigate round-a-bouts, and to remember that the levers for the turn signal and windshield wipers were switched. I never got the hang of that last one, but the rest fell into place rather quickly.  First stop was Hat Head NP on New South Wales’ Central Coast for some ocean side camping. The Smoky Cape Lighthouse stands on a ridge above the Pacific, small islands in the distance. Our campsite was 100 meters from a secluded beach where the sunset led into a view of the Milky Way visible to the naked eye. Some freaky cute possums attempted to raid our camp as we cooked dinner, but we were car camping, huzzah! Have fun opening locked doors with your tiny brains and hands, critters!

Oh, the sunrise at Hat Head. Up before 6 AM for a tinkle and the sky is on fire. I could have sat there forever, but the sunrise, like all things, must pass and we had some miles to cover to get to Sydney in time for our flight back up the coast.

The Blue Mountains and Sydney’s Royal Botanical Gardens

DSCN7502The road trip continued south, into the Blue Mountains for a night before heading back into the crushing embrace of the city. Short on time (a common theme while traveling cross-country with a deadline), we decided on Mount York, a short drive along a ~3000 foot ridge overlooking the Blue Mountains and the picturesque valleys below that also boasted free campsites. It was a cold night. We had left the sea-level, coastal breeze of Queensland for the windy winter winds of the southern mountains. And, as these things happened, it began to rain. Unfortunately, we were working with borrowed gear, gear that was also used to the northern sunshine. After a night of tossing and turning for the sake of warmth, we were up at dawn and into a nearby Blue Mountain town for coffee and Eggs Norwegian. Really roughing it, I know.

The time had come to retreat into the city. And what a city! Sydney has around 4 million people and is one of the most beautiful cities I have had the opportunity to visit. The Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, King’s Wharf, the New South Wales State Library: we ran around and saw it all (not to mentioDSCN7536n gorging ourselves on delicious food at every corner). What blew my brain out of my eyes, however, was the Royal Botanical Gardens. Located on the bay and spread out over 74 acres, the Royal Botanical Gardens are free and open to the public daily. Built in 1816, they are the oldest scientific institution in all of Australia. But forget all that: the trees are huge, numerous, rare, and other worldly at times. Species from all over Australia live here, not to mention species from all over the world. Statues, engravings, beautiful paths, and a view that takes in the best of Sydney rounds out the experience. Jubilee and I spent almost 5 hours just walking around this space and I’m not certain we saw everything as hard as we tried.

Wollumbin National Park

DSCN7827We flew back to the Gold Coast from Sydney and the wedding fever was in full motion. I feared this might spell doom for my running around of the countryside, but I was wrong! Quite wrong, actually. A few days later, we woke at 3:30 AM, drove an hour into the Tweed Valley, and by 5 AM were on the moonlit trail to the summit of Mt. Warning in Wollumbin NP. Mt. Warning was named as such by Captain James Cook and, standing high above the most eastern point of the Australian coast, receives the first rays of the sun’s light in the country on its summit. We climbed by the light of headlamps, the jungle’s canopy blotting out the moon, drop bears creaking in the trees above, until dawn’s light began to creep from behind the surrounding hills. By the time we reached the last few hundred feet of the climb (and I do mean climb at this point. The final section of trDSCN7834ail required both hands and feet to scramble up the rocky face of the mountain), the sun was on its way to showing its face. We reached the summit just in time to see it in its full glory. On a trip full of mind-bending beauty, the summit view from Mt. Warning will stick in my mind for a long time to come. Below, the valley ran with rivers of mist as the air warmed and in the distance, the ocean shined.

This was to be my last back country adventure in Australia. I could not have asked for a better closer to an amazing trip. Thanks to all of my friends that made it possible in the first place.

 

 

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Mt. Rogers Loop

 

Trip Report

Mt. Rogers Loop – Virginia

Trip report by Kayla “Clover” McKinney.

 

Date: Mid-May 2015

Conditions: Warm, sunny, breezy, mid-70sF during day, mid-50’s at night, some rain at night.

Trip Length: 3 days, 2 nights

Mileage: 18.1 miles

Highlights: Wild ponies, tallest point in Virginia, beautiful mountain vistas, Appalachian Trail, rhododendron forests.

Distance from Cincinnati: ~6 hours by vehicle

Directions: I-81 S, exit 45 in Marion, head south on VA 16, passing by the Mount Rogers National Recreational Area Visitor Center in 6.1 miles. Continue for another 11.2 miles to Troutdale, then turn right onto VA 603. The Trail Head parking is identified by a small brown sign on the right 5.7 miles down (pictured below.) This sign is easy to miss, so watch your odometer.

sign

Description: The beauty of southern Virginia cannot be easily summarized in words and on this hike, you get not only that, but views into the ridges of North Carolina as well. This hike begins with almost immediate elevation gain as you follow the Mt. Rogers Trail up to the ridge line where it meets up with the AT. Keep trucking! It will be worth it, believe me. As you crest the ridge, the world below opens up and the rest of the hike is stunning view after stunning view of the sparsely populated, rolling landscape. Summit Mt. Rogers and you’ve reached Virginia’s highest point at 5,729 feet. You will run into groups of wild ponies along the trail. Please do not feed the horses, but they are very friendly and will pose for pictures. Stay the night at the Thomas Knob Shelter about 8 miles in for an amazing sunset or keep hiking and camp at any of the great campsites off the trail further on. As you hike, your view will be the legendary Grayson Highlands before dropping down from the ridge, down through the Fairwood Valley, and finally looping back to your car.

The trails: Parking Lot -> Mt. Rogers trail -> Appalachian Trail -> Side Trail to Mt. Rogers Summit -> Appalachian Trail -> Pine Mountain Trail  -> Lewis Fork Trail -> Mt. Rogers Trail  Parking Lot.

Water: Water was somewhat scarce on this trip. I packed in about 3.5L of water: a 2.5L reservoir and a 1L Nalgene water bottle. There is a stream off the Lewis Fork Trail, approximately 1.5 miles off the Mt. Rogers Trail in case of emergencies. The next water source is at the Thomas Knobb Shelter, 7.6 miles from the Trail Head, and the location of the first night. There is also a small stream approximately 10 miles from the Trail Head along the Appalachian Trail.

summit

trail

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map 11393446_10204460564379108_8829693825679438220_o    11393709_10204460564659115_1294967089291071055_o 11221970_10204460588259705_5477594585256936411_o

 

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Hiking in the Heat: 10 Tips for the Summer

Seasonal Safety Series #1

by Craig “Goatman” Buckley

                 The heat is coming! Or it’s already here for some (I don’t pretend to know the weather across time and space). Either way, as summer sets in with its long, hot and sometimes brutally humid days, getting out for a hike can become an obstacle for some…but not for the Goatman! All seasons come with their challenges and all challenges can be met with knowledge, preparation, and some good old-fashioned human willpower. We’ll go ahead and take care of the knowledge part here with ten tips for keeping safe in the heat. The rest is up to you. So read up and get out there!

  1. Hydrate

Nothing fancy about this one. Drink water. Drink extra water the day before you are going out. Drink water on the way to the trail. Drink water as you hike, when you eat, and before settling in for the night. On a hot day, you will sweat between 1/2 and 1 quart of water while moving. You also lose water breathing out when you sleep at night. With proper hydration, there’s no reason to feel thirsty. Keep in mind that water sources can be unreliable in the summer. Make sure to check with the rangers to see how the water is flowing and where.

  1. Refuel

So you’re drinking a lot of water, enough to replace what you’ve sweated out. summersunSweat, however, isn’t just water. Lick your arm. Does that taste like water? Nope. Tastes like sweat. Sweat is water, yes, but it is also salt, salt that needs to be replaced. Don’t believe me? Look up the term “hyponatremia”. Never thought you could drink too much water? Take time for proper nutrition and you won’t. Companies advertise electrolytes in their sports drinks. This is what they are talking about. The best way to replace these is to eat salty foods: trail mix, peanuts, pretzels, etc. You can also drink sports drinks, but if you do so, make sure that you aren’t only drinking sports drinks. Replace your salt and while you’re doing that, replace some of those calories that you’re burning out in the sun.

  1. Dress for the Heat

You may have heard about the 3 L’s of summertime clothing: lightweight, loose fitting, and light-colored. This is great advice, for obvious reasons. Depending on your destination, you should also remember to wear clothes that are wicking and quick dry. There’s nothing worse than sweating out your cotton undies and having your shirt stick and rub on you as you hike. Quick dry and wicking can prevent chaffing. That being said, if you are going to a dry and hot environment such as the Grand Canyon, the moisture that cotton retains won’t be sticking around for very long and can help cool you off as it evaporates in the dry climate. Keep in mind that light-colored clothing reflects the sun’s heat and loose fitting clothing will help with breathability and is less restrictive. I will go ahead and add sunscreen as a clothing item. Treat it as such and you’ll save yourself a nasty burn.

  1. Wet Your Clothing

But my clothes are all sweaty! Why would I wet them further? I don’t know about you, but my sweat on a hot summer day isn’t coming out as cool as a mountain stream.summerfalls The easiest way to benefit from this advice is to simply dip your Buff or bandana in a cool stream and wear it around your neck (the site of some major blood flow between your heart and brain. All of it, to be exact). This will cool you off for a bit. If you want a bigger dose, get on the quick dry clothing and jump right in (leave your socks and shoes off, naturally). Your cool, wet clothes will dissipate the heat you’re building up while hiking and the sun working with your own body heat will have you nice and dry by the time you reach camp.

 

  1. Go Swimming

You don’t have to tell me twice on this one. If it’s hot and there’s a pool big enough to dip my hooves in, I’m all over it. A nice, cool dip in the heat of the day can definitely put some bounce back in your gallop. I like to combine a few of these tips at the swimming hole: hydrating, eating a snack, swimming, and wetting my clothes all at the same time. That leads me to my next tip.

  1. Slow down

For some of you, this doesn’t seem like a tip at all. This one goes out to my laser-blazing GoBos, my long-distance hiking buddies who are out there to make miles, smiles or not. I’m not just suggesting this one because the Goatman likes to take it nice and easy (which is no secret). This is important. When the heat is blasting, slowing down your pace can be the difference between spending time on the trail and time in the hospital. Taking rest stops in the shade by water isn’t a decadent luxury in this case. If you are hiking through the heat of the day, you need these stops so that you don’t overheat. Hot days aren’t the time to push those big miles.

  1. Get Up Early, Finish Up Late

If you do plan on covering some ground, adjust accordingly. As much as we all adore the sun, in this case we are looking to avoid its beautiful face and the sun gets up pretty early in the summer and stays out a bit late. To beat the heat, avoid exerting yourself in the middle of the day. The danger zone is going to be between 12 pm and 2 pm. On really hot days or in desert climates, this extends to 10 am and 4 pm. So get up early and get hiking, but when you stop for lunch, do it somewhere with some shade and water and take a few hours off to catch up on some lounging time. Finish those last miles in the evening when the sun starts to dip back down. Remember your headlamp in case your hike takes you into the dark hours.

  1. Camp in the Shade

summerdesertThis one is pretty self-explanatory. Staying out of the direct sunlight is a good idea anytime of the day, even while on the move. I only mention this in relation to camping to remind you to plan out your site in relation not only to where the shade is when you stop, but where it will be in the morning. Try camping low, by water (but not too close in case of flash flooding), and in a good patch of shade that doesn’t move about all willy-nilly. This means not camping above tree line, or on ridges, or by overlooks. Boohoo. You shouldn’t be camping there anyway, but that’s a different article. Stay in the shade!

  1. Beat Bugs and Watch Your Step

Summer is the most active time for creepy crawlers and buzzing menaces. Make sure to pack out some bug spray, a bug net, and possibly light-weight long sleeves and long pants, if not to hike in, at least to sit around camp in. While you’re hiking, watch your step. This is a good idea in general, but this time of the year you need to watch for snakes out sun-bathing the morning away. They are sluggish when they’re in this state and might not get out of your way, so get out of theirs’ instead.

  1. Keep an Eye Out for Your Buddy

It’s never a good idea to hike alone. This goes double in times of extreme heat. Heat exhaustion is hard to diagnose on your own, seeing that the symptoms include becoming disoriented. Other signs include a pale face, clammy skin, nausea, headaches and cramps. If you see these signs in your buddy (or yourself) take a rest in the shade, put a cool cloth to the head, drink some water, and eat a little bit. If symptoms get worse, time to get off the trail and to some medical care. It takes a team to stay safe and have fun, so don’t forget that friend of yours!

Tent Review: Mountain Hardwear Optic 2.5

Behold the the Optic 2.5 from Mountain Hardwear! Check out the video below for a preview.

 

 

 

 

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Hiking the Dolly Sods

Written by: Craig “Goatman” Buckley

The Dolly Sods Wilderness Area is an anomaly. If I were dropped there from a flying saucer, disoriented and bewildered, my first thought would be that I was dropped somewhere up north in Canada, Maine, or possibly Alaska. When the wind picked up over the sphagnum bogs, rattling the blueberries and putting a chill in my bones, my first thought would not be, “Feels like a nice West Virginia wind!” although that is exactly what I would be feeling. When I hiked and hiked over the sub-alpine meadows (or “sods” as they’re known around these parts) without gaining or losing much elevation at all, I would question everything I knew about mountains and their incessant ups and downs. If I wasn’t completely insane at this point, I’m sure I would find one of the many beautiful campsites along the rocky creeks of the plateau and lay myself down in pine needles for a much needed nap and hope that someone might happen my way, perhaps with food or a map or an explanation of exactly what was going on in this crazy world. And perhaps they would, but I wouldn’t count on it.

You see, the Dolly SoDSCN6622ds is a 17,371 acre wilderness area located in the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia in the middle of the Allegheny Mountains. It’s not exactly the middle of nowhere, but it’s not far off. The area consists of a number of rocky, high altitude plateaus (around 4000 ft. at the highest points) cut through with creeks, which in turn become beautiful waterfalls as they descend. When you enter the Dolly Sods from the trail head, you will be fording streams and climbing a few thousand feet along switchbacks and ridges before reaching the meadows at the top. In years of back country travel, I haven’t seen much like it. The forest disappears as you hike and you enter an area of tall grass, stunted trees, gnarled brush, wildflowers, boulders and bogs. Wildlife teems. In one afternoon, I spotted deer, mice, chipmunks, turtles, garter snakes, innumerable birds, and even a black bear traipsing about the tree line. The views are wide open and there’s a lot to see.

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The Dolly Sods, however,  is not for everyone, as the park sign says. Orienteering skills are a must. The trails here are marked only by footprints in most areas and the few signs that exist are mostly at trail junctions. The creek crossing are serious. Visiting in the spring, we were required at various times to ford cold water that hit above the knee. The bogs are muddy and the boards over them, where they exist at all, are slippery and broken. At times, the trail enters boulder fields that require balance, stamina, and a keen eye for trail finding. During World War II, after the area had been logged and burnt to the rock in the years before, the army used the sods as an artillery and mortar range. That’s right: there could very well be live bombs (though we saw none, fortunately). Bears, bombs, and bogs equals, simply: know what you’re getting into when planning a trip through the Dolly Sods.

DSCN6649Now that you’re scared that bears with bombs in their mouths are coming to trade you explosions for food, I will assure that backpacking in the Dolly Sods is great, every bend and turn. The campsites are numerous and idyllic, water is plentiful, and the views are worth the route finding. Lion’s Head Rock on Breathed Mountain is a spectacular rock formation with a vista of the rolling hills of the Monongahela. Getting there is the best part. I can say truthfully that I haven’t had as much fun hiking as I did in the Dolly Sods since south-bounding through Maine on the AT. It is that good of a hike, as beautiful as it is challenging. Stop reading this. Go hike.

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21 Things I Wish I Knew on My First Backpacking Trip

By Kayla McKinney

We all remember our first time out there. The first time we strapped up, laced up those boots, and set off for what was supposed to be a rewarding, life-changing event. Only…the pack was so heavy, you smelled for days, and you just felt so unprepared. Someone told you what to expect, but you didn’t really know. It’s only after we experience mistakes that we learn from them and this is especially true for backpacking. But that doesn’t mean you can’t look for advice from those who have been there before.

Below is a list compiled by some friends and me as a memento of what we wish we knew before our very first backpacking trip.

  1. You don’t need 4 pairs of pants.
    1. If you have the right pants, you should be able to wear the same pair for several days in a row. You might not even need two pairs of pants, realistically. The idea is to lighten your pack by only bringing what is necessary.
  2. Cotton is Rotten/Cotton Kills.
    1. Cotton will pull heat from your body if it’s wet. It will smell horribly and won’t dry very quickly. It will chafe and you will be uncomfortable. This includes your favorite pair of jeans and your snuggly soft hoodie. Save them for the city.
  3. There’s no point in bringing razors. You’re not going to shave out there.
    1. Backpacking is not a beauty pageant. Who are you trying to impress? To tell the truth, you can leave the deodorant in the car as well (but don’t forget your toothpaste!)DSC_0194
  4. “There’s no such thing as bad weather! Your discontent is due to improper gear!” – John Ferree
    1. Good gear is important. You don’t have to go overboard, but you want gear that holds up to the elements. Different gear is appropriate in different situations. Gear can be the difference between staying and leaving, a good time and a bad time, or sometimes even life and death.
  5. Footwear is the most important piece of gear you have.
    1. When backpacking, keeping your feet happy is rule number one. A good pair of hiking shoes or boots coupled with merino wool socks will make a world of difference. The soles on these shoes are designed to protect you from rock bruising and support the muscles in your feet differently than other shoes. Merino wool wicks sweat, prevents blisters, and is anti-microbial. If there is one piece of gear that will make all of the difference, it is proper footwear.
  6. “They’ve started making lighter weight tents since 1994 when I bought mine.”– Aaron Boyd
    1. They’ve started making lighter weight versions of nearly everything. Sometimes it’s really worth it to upgrade your gear. These days, you can turn your 50 lb. pack into a 25 lb. pack without sacrificing much of anything.
  7. Modern backpacks come in various sizes and are adjustable to fit the contours of your body.
    1. Everyone is shaped differently, whether it is torso length, hip width, or shoulder girth. Backpacks can and should be customized to fit your body appropriately. Look to someone who knows what they are doing to help you be as comfortable as possible with your bag on. If you borrowed a bag, make sure it is the right size and ask your friend or local outfitter to help you to adjust it to fit you specifically.
  8. “Bring food you like! 7 days of oatmeal for breakfast is better when you end the night with a tasty dinner.” – Todd Cline
    1. Vary your snacks as well. Save something special for a hard day to reward your accomplishments.
  9. You’re going to eat everything you have. Bring more food than you think you’ll need.
    1. Once again, hiking takes a lot of energy, so be mindful and put in the fuel you need so that you’re not running on fumes all day. A long distance hiker can burn up to 5,000 calories a day. Skip low-cal, low-fat foods. Calories and fat are code words for energy.
  10. There’s no bathroom.
    1. No bathroom for days.
  11. If you’re going to use leaves as TP, plan ahead. Make sure there are appropriate leaves where you’re going.
    1. Sometimes I grab nice leaves as I walk past them knowing that they will be useful later. You want large, smooth, and abundant leaves.
  12. Bring sunscreen.
    1. If you are outside all day, the sun will burn you. This goes especially for times when you’re above tree line, right up in the sun’s business. Sleeping in a sleeping bag is terrible if you are sunburnt.
  13. “…it’s good to hike early in the morning, but not to be first on the trail. Spider web clearing is a creepy job.”– TJStatt
    1. If you do have the job of being first in line, first thing in the morning, consider waving a stick in front of you as you walk to clear the spider webs. Trekking poles work great. If you’re afraid of spiders, perhaps let someone else lead.
  14. Marmots are cute, but can be evil. Same goes for mice, raccoons, porcupines and chipmunks.
    1. If you let them, they’ll eat everything. Your food, socks, hip belts, etc.
  15. Snakes, bears and other dangerous animals rarely want anything to do with you.DSC_0610
    1. You are a bear’s only predator. They want to be far away from you. Let them be and obey proper bear country safety tips.
    2. Most snake bites occur when the animal is handled. Give them space and they’ll give you space.
  16. Waking up to watch the sunrise is always worth it no matter how cold and tired you are.
    1. The sun will warm your body and getting an early start will ensure that you enjoy all that nature has to offer. Every day starts with a sunrise. Enjoy them.
  17. Never try to cross an exposed ridge or summit after noon if possible.
    1. Afternoon storms are the real deal and should not be taken lightly. Never underestimate a big cloud. Things can escalate quickly and there’s little to no protection up above tree line.
  18. It is worth it to climb out of your tent and urinate in the middle of the night.
    1. You will sleep better. You will be warmer not having to keep waste fluid at body temperature all night. Plus, you will get the chance to appreciate the night sky in all of its glory.
  19. “Carrying firewood into the forest is unnecessary weight.” – KurtGaerther
    1. Surprisingly not as obvious as it should be: there’s usually a lot of dead wood in the forest (and only use dead wood! Live, green wood doesn’t burn well). Pay attention to the regulations in place if you plan on building a fire. Also note that bringing in firewood from another area can spread parasites and is forbidden in many states.
  20. Duct tape is extremely useful.
    1. You can repair gear, prevent blisters, make a belt, and find a hundred other uses. Wrap it around your water bottle or trekking poles to save room. It is a multifunctional tool.
  21. Cameras will never do it justice.
    1. If you really want someone to see the place, take them there.

Nobody knows it all. Even the most experienced backpacker makes mistakes now and then. Despite all the things it seems like you need to know before you go, go anyway without knowing it all. Take chances and learn from your mistakes. The only thing you really need to know is that it’s always worth it.

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Road Trippin’

Road Trippin’
Written by: Louie Knolle

If there is one thing in my life that I am proud of, it is that I’ve stood with my toes in the Atlantic in Maine, danced in the splashing, roaring waves of the Pacific in Washington, endured arctic gusts atop some of Colorado’s tallest peaks, and never once have I ridden on an airplane.

Whether it is by necessity or by choice, the road is still the supreme way of travel.  Painted with pictures of gridlocked bumper to bumper traffic, seemingly endless fields of corn, and the ever feared seldom cleaned gas station bathrooms, driving does not have a positive image when it comes to traveling long distances.  But nothing compares to witnessing first hand literally every mile of your journey.  You aren’t plugged into your laptop or smartphone using airplane supplied wifi, there’s no in-flight movie, no attendants to assist at the first signs of discomfort.  In just the past four years alone, I have logged over 28,000 miles of road time driving to the many adventures I have been fortunate to experience.Roadtrip pic 2

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to invoke some anti-air travel movement and inspire a horde of tramping cross-country traveling troubadours armed to the teeth with road maps and mix CDs (as awesome as that would be), but simply making the recommendation to take the opportunity to travel via road if you are given the chance. You will not regret it. The people you meet, the time spent with friends and family, the spur of the moment road side attractions, witnessing people of other cultures out living the same dream, even the discovery of just how resilient you can be when you feel that urge to go in the middle of nowhere and the closest rest stop is still over 50 miles away. I am in no way a doctor, expert, professional travel guide, or anything of the like, I just know what I love. And I love the road.

Few realize these days simply how large our country is. In this “golden” age of near instantaneous communication from anywhere across the globe, it is easy to underestimate just how much country lies in a 3,000 mile span. Sure you can send a text to a friend in California asking how he is and he receives it a mere few seconds later, but to physically arrive there in person? In a modern automotive vehicle, you’re looking at a solid 36 hour drive from our neck of the woods depending on where in Cali they are located. It is in travelling with friends from Europe that I have realized just how alien a concept it is to them that one can drive for 2 straight days and remain in the same country. In their homelands, usually it would take less than half a day to traverse their nations’ borders. I remember in particular the reaction my French friend had when after arriving to Glacier National Park from a 27 hour drive, he was in disbelief having learned it was still another 12 hours or so until we would have actually been on the Pacific Coast. On my last trip in particular, while journeying more than 8,500 miles with 2 friends we encountered expansive grasslands, alpine tundra, arid desert, alpine forest, coastal bluffs, high plains desert, rain forest (yeah you heard me, go to Washington and see for yourself), and whatever you want to call the awesome scenery of the Badlands in South Dakota. All in all, the United States is huge and you should see as much of it as humanly possible while you are able.

Roadtrip pic 3One thing that remains is, how does one prepare for a road trip? The two polar opposite ends of the spectrum are ruthless planning and scrupulously following your itinerary to the “T”, and choosing to go the Bohemian route and go wherever your heart leads you. I usually shoot for a place in the middle with emphasis on freelancing as we go. For example with my most recent trip out west, the plan was easy: Drive to Washington by whatsoever routes we chose each day and arrive back in Cincinnati three weeks later.  By means of car camping and crashing on friends and families’ couches along the way, we spent no more than $5 per person for a night’s rest.  It doesn’t get much better than that if you ask me. We frequented ranger stations, local outfitters, even people we ran out to out on the trails, asking the best sights and hikes in the area, local food suggestions, and on a few occasions the best driving routes from point A to point B. That was actually how we ended up driving one of the most scenic routes of our lives through central Utah when traveling from Arches to Zion. Ask me about it next time you drop by the shop!

Roadtrip pic 4Therefore hence hither thusly in conclusion, drive. The road is and always will be my favorite way to travel. Some have even called it “king”. One of my favorite Jack Kerouac quotes about listless wandering is, “There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.” I have so much appreciation for the time I spent traveling, both for all of the things I have seen and experienced, as well as the bits of myself I would have not seen otherwise had I not been traveling for long periods of time. I owe a large part of who I have become to the many opportunities I have been blessed with to be able to go out and experience so many different places in our country. Simply by writing this piece, so many positive emotions and memories have been brought back and I would not have changed a thing. I know my feet are certainly starting to get that familiar itchy feeling, and the only way to cure that is to stretch them out on a path to everywhere.

 

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