Roads Rivers and Trails

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Monthly Archives: January 2014


Rab Strata Hoodie

Alpha test alpha
Written by: Bryan Wolf

If you have been to Roads Rivers and Trails then you know that we are big fans of Rab technical wear. To date there has not been a piece of gear that left us disappointed or that failed to out-perform our expectations.  While this gear test is on the Rab Strata Hoodie, the real test is on the new technology that is Polartec Alpha.

If you visit the Polartec web site as it is linked above you’ll find scientific proof along with reviews, backing, and support of our military forces that this technology works. This all has great substance and while hand selecting the gear that we use and sell in our store we find that the better gear has that substance. I want to know ratings for breath-ability and warmth, that is how you compare things. How do I know one piece of gear is better than another if not for the credibility of testing and user performance reviews.

That being said I am more skeptical than most when it comes to reading reviews on a website that is self promoting. We have personally found that certain pieces, while maintaining their claims, fail to be the most practical piece for our applications. For example, a high alpine piece created for ski may not be the best for an Eastern United States Appalachian hiker. With this exact issue in mind I wanted to get a little use of the Strata and the new Polartec Alpha technology before bringing it in to the store.

Off to my favorite gear testing stomping grounds; the Appalachian Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The plan as it is now is for a few nights atop Mt. LeConte via the Boulevard Trail. Recent nights have been as low as -9 degrees with about 10 inches of snow on trail. The weekend forecast will most likely add to the snow and it doesn’t look to get warmer than highs of mid twenties. I plan on having proper layers on and will wear the jacket both in motion and while still. I’m a pretty fast hiker so I hope to mostly test the breath-ability of this piece. Since I previously have reviewed a competing technology with a Primaloft jacket (Generator) I feel I’ll be well suited to compare the leading brands and discuss the differences.

I can’t wait, I’ve been needing some mountain time!!  Review coming soon:

Rab GeneratorThe Mountain didn’t disappoint. Upon arriving at the Sugarlands visitor center we were immediately detoured in our plans. The roads were closed at 441  so there was no hope for the Alum or Boulevard Trails, furthermore it meant that we had to make alternative plans for that night. We grabbed a tent site at Cades Cove Campground and enjoyed the solitude of being absolutely the only people staying at the typically bustling site.  The next morning we checked again for changes in road conditions and things had only gotten worse. Cherokee Orchard was now closed half way to the Bull Head Trail. The rangers questioned if packing up the mountain was something we wanted to do with the nights forecast, we of course assured them that we would be just fine.Strata Hoodie

We had to hike up 1.5 miles of road before hitting the 7.1 mile trail to the shelter. Road walking was too easy of course and my pace up the mountain wasted no time in building up some heat. I started with the Strata jacket and some wool base layers. When we got to the trail head it was time to remove a layer and the jacket got packed away. I didn’t ever expect the jacket to last during a 3+ mile pace uphill.  Temperatures were under 20 degrees all day and as you may know they can change rapidly as you hike higher in elevation, or in and out of different ridgelines.winter trekking

It was around mile 4 (including the road) that we stopped for a short break and lunch. The pack comes down and before anything else the jacket hat and gloves go on to retain what heat I had built up. The break was only 20 minutes, but it was very comfortable. When we started hiking again enough heat had escaped that I wasn’t willing to lose the Strata yet. As the trail steepened and our feet slowed, I realized I was not going to take the jacket off for the rest of the hike. At this point I had on Ibex Woolies 150 base, Patagonia R1 Base and the Strata Hoodie. I can tell you that without a doubt the Generator would have been way too hot after even a half mile in this scenario. If you read my Generator Review, that is not a knock on its performance at all; it is a top layer piece for breaks and at camp. The Strata however had a very noticeable difference, it is built as more of an in action piece. Other then the occasional unzipping of the jacket for a quick vent, I had the perfect layer system for what was soon nearing 0 degree hiking.Mt LeConte view

You could assume that changing my layers, say excluding the Patagonia piece would have made this jacket comfortable for backpacking at temperatures closer to 15-20 without incident.  As a stand alone piece there are plenty of puffy jackets to retain more heat, however this is the first that I have comfortably hiked in. The test of the Polartec Alpha in my opinion passed and stood out for all the reasons that they claim. At the shelter that night we would reach -7 degrees while cooking dinner and melting snow. Overnight we would see -12 as a low. While moving around camp I sure was glad that I had my generator, was layered appropriately and had my shell for protection. There is no way the Strata was up for that test.  My suggestion would be to use the Strata as more as a mid layer in extreme cold of negative temperatures to the teens. From mid twenties and up you could probably use the Strata as a camp puffy.Frozen Rainbow Falls Ice Cone

*There are always other factors to consider when picking appropriate layers for your trips conditions, please feel free to comment or call for advice.

You can expect to find the Rab Strata Hoodie and other “approved” cold weather gear here at Roads Rivers and Trails

 

Southbound: episode 18

  January 23rd 2007
Written by: Bryan Wolf and Joe White

Our first day out of Pearisburg wasn’t too bad. We started going through the “green tunnel”, which is where the trail passes through dense rhododendron thickets. I love it when the stream flows next to the tunnel and its all misty. It makes me feel like we are in the rain forest at the zoo. The tunnel continued the following day, which led us down a side trail to Dismal Falls. They were so sweet, but we couldn’t stay there forever. We were pushing out 26 miles to meet up with my friend Marc. We only had to hike 30 minutes into the night, but we were worn out. The last mile was along the road, and as we were hiking, two hound dogs came out of the woods and stayed by our side until we met with Marc. It was fun, but we had to keep yelling at them to get out of traffic.

We stayed in town with Marc that night and we went over the plans for while he was here. He brought us our mail drop and some new trekking poles to try out. It was tough to switch out our sticks for the trekking poles, but they ended up working really well. The hitch out of town the next day took forever. It wasn’t until we just started walking back to the trail, when someone picked us up. The first half of the day went smooth, a good break in for “sky watcher”. It didn’t last though. We had problems crossing rivers and bush whacking back to the trail. The second half of the day was miserable. To top it off, I had a mouse run across my face that night. It was gross.

We took a lunch break on the edge of some cliffs on top of Garden Mountain. The views were great, but it was a little windy. When I started to get cold, I reached for my jacket and it had been blown off the cliff. I couldn’t believe it. Luckily, it didn’t land in a tree because I was able to find a way to climb down. The weather started to turn that afternoon and night. We stayed in a sweet fully enclosed shelter on top of Chestnut Ridge. The following morning there was snow on the ground and ice on all the grass in the fields. It was cold, but a pretty sight. That night was a long one. It got down to 15 degrees. We had to sleep with everything. It was colder than what we were expecting to get.

We stayed in Atkins the next night to get warm and dry out. On the way in, we watched the sunset over the fields. The shelter was the most exciting part of the following day. It sat behind the Mt. Rogers Visitors Center and we could have pizza delivered to the parking lot and buy sodas for the vending machine. It was suppose to be in the 20s overnight, but the enclosed loft of the shelter kept us above freezing. It makes such a difference. In the morning, we were sad to see sky watcher calling for a ride to get back to his car. We completely understand his reasons and know now the weather didn’t get any better.

The hike to the next shelter was nothing to scream about, but we were in for a treat. It was a stone shelter with a fireplace between the bunks and someone had stocked up the shelter with dry firewood. We hung a tarp over the front of the shelter to block the wind and built a fire. We kept it going all night and it kept us really warm. Even though it was 17 outside, it was 40 inside, perfect. We pushed 25 miles over Pine Mountain and the Highlands around Mt. Rogers. We were mostly exposed above 5000ft for most of the hike, so the views were incredible. We got to see lots of wild ponies on the Highlands. Its amazing they can withstand the winters up there. The night hike took forever, but that’s mostly because I couldn’t stop looking at the moon and stars.

We woke up to a dusting of snow and freezing rain. Within a few minutes crossing the open fields, we were covered in ice and so was the trail. Luckily, those silly trekking poles have a removable boot with a spike underneath to help in icy conditions. Once we were below tree line, the winds weren’t so bad, but the trail kept going out into open fields. For the first 8 miles we were fighting 60 mph winds, freezing rain and an icy trail. With windchill, it was below zero easy in those exposed areas. We just kept pushing for treeline and lower elevations. We finally climbed down to 3000ft and the trail improved, but ice chunks kept raining from tree branches. We were able to remove the sheets of ice from our packs and clothing. We cut the day short when we made it to the shelter.

Yesterday morning wasn’t so bad getting into town. Most of it was hiking along on old railroad bed that followed a stream all the way into town. The trail goes right through town. Subway was only a few hundred feet away. We stayed at the Lazy Fox Inn last night, and gorged on some pizza. Mrs. Adams, an 82 yr old woman takes care of the place, and she made us a humongous breakfast this morning. There was eggs, grits, hash browns, apple turnovers, pancakes, bacon, sausage, cinnamon apple slices, and fruit plate. We had to lay down for 2 hours afterwards. Now were are finishing up here at the library and in a little while, we will be crossing over into Tennessee, the 12th state. We are getting so close.

This exert was originally published on atwishhikers.com. It’s content has not been edited from the original post.

 

Epilogue:
by: Bryan Wolf

Between some severe weather and blistered feet Marc had to take a break but we’ll meet up with him later on again. This section is my absolute favorite section of the southern half. I’ve been back to Mt. Rogers area now several times to hike with the ponies. Marc’s surprise gift of trekking poles was an awesome one and our wood sticks had convinced us enough of their purpose. That was the real moment when we realized the difference and appreciated how much a trekking pole helps, especially on with a handle, metal tip, sized height, and durable build.

Leaving the shelter on Mt. Rogers and backpacking some of the balds in the area was probably the closest we had come to white out conditions. as always this made things exciting for us but challenging as well. The snow covered trail and blazes meant that we really needed to have that second sense about where we were going.  There was but one mistake, and of course Joe didn’t mention it in the above post. Along one of the balds we had lost the path and it seemed nearly any direction could work.  We begin to descend and Joe pointed me down a steeper trench. He didn’t follow too close and I noticed that when I was about 20 feet down the mountain side he was staying up top. I turned back and had him help pull me back up concluding that that was for sure not the trail we were looking for. I’m not convinced that he wasn’t trying to kill me…

We revisit Damascus, one of the more notorious trail towns, often for trail days; an AT celebration. The town is fantastic and of course hiker friendly. That was to date still the largest and best breakfast ever!

Travel Sports and Boat Show Fox 19 Interview with Kelly Rippin

So we love the publicity that the TSB brings us every year, but that doesn’t make 5am camera calls any easier. In this interview Bryan talks with Fox 19’s Kelly Rippin. Kelly does a fantastic job increasing the energy in the room and leading me with questions. I’m not going to say I wasn’t nervous but I am happy with how it went.  Big thanks to Kelly, Hart Productions, and the TSB for a little time in the spotlight.

Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

http://www.fox19.com/video?clipId=9740190&autostart=true

 

Southbound: episode 17

January 11th 2007
Written by: Bryan Wolf and Joe White

We made it to Pearisburg, VA, about 100 miles farther. The weather has been all over the place. Its been hot, cold, rainy, snowy, and windy. The first day out of Daleville wasn’t much to scream about. The rain wasn’t too bad, it was the dense fog that gave us problems. We spent more than a half hour going back and forth on the trail trying to find the shelter. When we finally found it, we were surprised to find Early Bird all snug in his sleeping bag. You may remember us writing about hiking with him back in Connecticut and New York around veteran’s day. Well, he caught up to us and now he is actually a day in front of us. I’m sure we’ll meet again.

The following day was absolutely gorgeous and we took advantage of it. When we came across Tinker Cliffs and McAfee Knob, we took our time to soak in the views. The numerous mountains and ridges just fill the landscape, its amazing. Next, was a climb up to Dragon’s Tooth. It was a tough climb with little room for error, but I sure am glad we didn’t have to climb down it or in the rain. The rain hit us that night, but no bother really. We stayed dry, but it did start cooling down.

The day before last, we were hit with wind and snow storm. It wasn’t bad in the valley, but when we climbed up on the ridge, it was bitter. There was probably 3 or 4 inches of snow, just enough to completely hide the trail. We had to push on 3 hours into the night to make it to the shelter and what an experience that was. Most of the white blazes on the trees were disguised by a dusting of snow, so we had to pay close attention to everything. The wind was terrible and it kept blowing snow into the shelter. We ate our dinner and drank our hot cider and didn’t get out of the sleeping bags until the next morning. So, yesterday, we pushed out 24 miles into town, so we could dry out the gear overnight. It was rough, but much of the snow was starting to melt along the trail and the wind died off. We made it in sometime around 8 or so last night, just in time to hear the presidential address and all of the critics. Its nice not to have to always hear about the news while on the trail, but then again, we have to remember that we can’t always block out what’s happening in the world.

We are heading out in a few hours, and moving south towards Tennessee. It looks like it is going to warm up a little the next couple days, but after that who knows. We will work with what we get and hope for the best. In just a few days, Marc, a former scout leader and friend of mine, will be joining us on the trail for 2 weeks. We are very excited to have him join us.

This exert was originally published on atwishhikers.com. It’s content has not been edited from the original post.

Epilogue:
by: Bryan Wolf

Planning mileage and days around the weather started to come all too natural, suddenly it seemed as if things just didn’t bother us as much. This section had me feeling in good health, including my foot that had the previous pains while hiking. I was still feeling energized by the duo getting back together too. We had a second sense on the trail now more than ever. That kinda of thing happens gradually I suppose. Same as starting a new job; you pick up some skills as you go, but mostly confidence for that which you already knew.  This section has plenty of highlights and postcard picture moments.  The one I’m surprised we did not mention is the Audie Murphy Memorial, the most decorated war veteran has a memorial along the trail.

 

Southbound: episode 16

January 4th 2007
Written by: Bryan Wolf and Joe White

   Its been 2 weeks since we left Waynesboro and we have been having an awesome time. It so nice to be back in the mountains. The views have been absolutely amazing. The day after leaving Waynesboro , we spent an entire day hanging out in the shelter because it rained for like 30 hours straight. During the cold rainstorm, we entertained ourselves with Yahtzee and Uno. The following day wasn’t much to scream about, it was a clear and cold day. However, we did share the shelter/camp with an older couple and two goats that packed her gear, it made for an interesting conversation.

In the morning, we hiked over the Three Ridges, the sun was out and it was near sixty degrees! It was all too grand, the continuous views captured our attention and we all agreed to go about half the distance planned. We hiked over to “Chimney Rocks” where we sat for the rest of the afternoon admiring the view, watching vultures fly over their domain.

So then it was Christmas. It could of been better to be honest. We hiked up and over “The Priest”, our first 4000 foot mountain since New Hampshire ! The cold rain kept us from enjoying it though. We cut the day short to avoid getting sick, as we were all drenched and shivering. We built a Christmas tree out of water bottles and just enjoyed getting warm and dry. The following day we decided to treat each other to a Christmas present. We hiked a few miles to a old dirt road, and just another mile and a half down to Montebello and the Dutch Haus Bed and Breakfast. We were pampered with great meals, showers, a warm fire, and The Chipmunks Great Adventure on VHS.

Our weather improved for a few days, and we sure did enjoy it! Great view from the grassy top of Cold Mountain , Bluff Mountain , and on down to the James River . We hitched into the small town of Glasgow for resupply, it took a while to get in, but the town was friendly and it was quick getting out. Then we crossed the James River footbridge, the longest on the AT, at 642 feet. From there it was just a quick creek side walk to the shelter. Most of the shelters in Virginia have had mice, some an army of mice. This shelter however had a rat, he lived in the privy (outhouse).

Happy New Years! Like every other holiday, it rained New Years Eve. It was not as cold so we still pushed out our planned thirteen miles. At the shelter that night we finally enjoyed the two heavy bottles of wine Ice Man was carrying. It was only Arbor Mist, but the celebration was priceless! The next morning we played Uno until the rain stopped, and the most beautiful blue skies followed. We crossed Apple Orchard Mountain , a gorgeous grassy bald, the way down kept our attention with cliff side views and short trails to overlooks.

The next few days would have us following and crossing the Blueridge Parkway . It was nice cause they had the trail cross at overlooks. We went later into the night a few times, but enjoyed the sunsets, and the light of the full moon. We stopped at one point to admire the moon framed between the forest limbs and the mountain horizon behind. We feel so fortunate to capture whats “behind the scenes”. The night before last, our shelter was perched above the city lights of Roanoke , magnificent.

We hiked into Daleville yesterday morning, where we met Ginger Snap’s brother and close friend. They spent the night with us at a hotel just off the trail. They were nice enough to shuttle us around for food and resupply. We shared many laughs and we decided Chinese buffets should have microwaves too. Oh, and coconut ice cream is disgusting. The three of them are leaving today to road trip down along the Gulf Coast and Texas . We wish we could tag along, but that just wouldn’t be right.

This exert was originally published on atwishhikers.com. It’s content has not been edited from the original post.

 

Epilogue:
by: Bryan Wolf

This section brings back some great trail hiking and remains one of my favorite areas.  Between the ridge walking and the balds we had some incredible views.  If we had been on this section with bad weather it may be a different story seeing as we were exposed quite often. The bad weather did come back around but in the worst way. The temperatures dropped to high 30s while we dropped to the valley and then started climbing the Priest.  I think all together I went up the mountain relativity fast but it didn’t seem that way. I found my self stopping often trying to keep with the group a little more. At one point I stopped for what seemed like a half hour and still didn’t see anyone coming up the trail.

This was only bad because I consequently lost most of my heat. for the rest of the day I struggled to feel good about the hiking and was constantly cold. Now i really wanted to meet up with TW and Ginger so we can make a group decision to maybe stop at the next shelter.  By the time I got to the top my body and mentality was shot and I wanted nothing more than to jump in my sleeping bag. After a few false summits I made it to the side trail. I made a little arrow on the ground using sticks to mark my detour for the rest of the group. Not long after getting in the shelter I stripped off my wet clothes and hurried into my bag. The constant rain had soaked through most everything and it took a good hour of shivering in my zero degree bag until I felt normal again. At that point the rain turned to ice and seemed to come down pretty hard making me concerned for TW and Ginger. If I was trucking up the mountain and didn’t stay warm how were they doing?

They arrived soon after and were definitely happy to stop for the night.  Merry Christmas to us! This was for sure the closest I’ve come to having  hypothermia.  Our New Years was also the most effort I’ve ever put into having a midnight toast.  By the end of it all it was back to just TW and I, which I think we were both ready for.  It was time to get back to our old pace.

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