Bull Head Trail to Mt. Le Conte & Rainbow Falls Trail to Roaring Fork

Posted in 900 Mile Challenge with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 4, 2014 by J.K.o

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New Miles: 13

Actual Miles Hiked: 13

Overall Progress: 100.9 out of 900 miles

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Today I sought out to conquer the Bull Head Trail, but all I got was the horns. This trail kinda sucked! Okay, it really sucked! In all fairness, it wasn’t just the trail that sucked–today was just one of those 0ff-days that everybody has while hiking. It was the kind of day when your mind and your feet don’t quite sync up and you find yourself slipping and stumbling all over the trail. I found myself thinking  feet! what is wrong with you? Why aren’t you working? Nonetheless, we, myself and my clumsy feet, made it the entirety of journey…. it just took a little longer than I had hoped.

Bull Head Trail can be accessed off the Roaring Fork motor trail near Gatlinburg, TN. I parked at the Rainbow Falls trail head with the intention of completing the 13 mile loop and getting all “new miles” for today (there aren’t many natural loops within the park, so much of the 900 Mile Challenge is spent backtracking over previous trails). I decided it would be best to hike up Bull Head trail as most folks would be hiking the other way to see the falls. It was a good decision; I only encountered 2 hikers on the way up to Le Conte. The trail starts on the side of the mountain–there’s no switchbacks, just straight up the side of the mountain. The trail was abnormally wide, so I figured it must have been an old logging road or wagon trail. Off to the side, an old stone fence stands guard–keeping in the ghosts of old cattle. It reminds me of the old Robert Frost poem, The Mending Wall.

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Onward and upward it went; did I mention straight up? This trail gained 4,000 ft of elevation over 6 miles; it was a constant uphill battle with no reprieves! To top it all off, the weather was hot and humid. I was drenched in sweat just 15 minutes into the hike. Eventually the trail started carving switchbacks into the edge of the mountain, tracing it’s circumference. About 4 miles of the trail follow under these huge rock bluffs, boasting boulders the size of bulldozers and houses.

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Views of Gatlinburg peaked through the trees on occasion. At one break in the foliage, I realized that I was hiking above the clouds–how is that for perspective?

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Eventually the trail wraps around the side of the mountain, leading to inward cove that reveals the true height of Mt. Le Conte; seeing the summit of the mountain looming before me was quite intimidating–my legs groaned in pain! It felt like I was getting nowhere. It didn’t help that this trail didn’t offer much on the side of natural features, like overlooks and caves. There were just a few gaps in between some trees offering a glimpse of the scenery. The trail leveled off for a whole 5 minutes…flat land! And then, just as quickly as the trail crossed over this level spine on the mountain, it started marching upward again…through a dark tunnel of Rhododendron trees.

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The farther up the mountain I climbed, the more apparent it became that this trail was the original route, by which, guests of the historic Le Conte Lodge must has first traveled. At many places, neatly placed stones lined the trail, looking as if they were placed there by the hands of a skilled mason. The trail maintained it width and wagon ruts could be seen from time-to-time.

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By this time, I was getting really tired and really hungry! The heat was oppressive and was I consuming water like crazy. I kept waiting for the trees to change, but they didn’t. When I hike, I pay careful attention to the trees and plants that line the trail. Seeing Balsams and Christmas trees lets me know that I am making upward progress–I’m getting really close to the top. As the Christmas tress get shorter, I know I am about to cross into the Alpine Zone. These are always helpful indicators as to my progress. Still, no Christmas trees–just big rhododendrons and Mountain Laurels. They mocked me!  It felt like I was hiking at a snail’s pace. Then I saw this little guy; what perfect timing!

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Finally, the trail made its way up in elevation. I could smell the sweet scent of Christmas Trees in the air. Not much longer after that, I had reached the top of Mt. Le Conte and the junction of the Rainbow Falls trail. By this time, the weather was beginning to change and a thick shroud of fog blanketed the trail. I hiked downward for several miles and started to see more tourists…big surprise. They were all hiking up to Le Conte Lodge and all were ill prepared. It never ceases to amaze me what people will wear on a rainy, muggy day in the woods. Blue jeans and cotton shirts were the mainstay of today’s trail fashion. I bet they didn’t even pack rain jackets with them! Nonetheless, I just kept hiking downward through the drizzling rain.

The trail finally made it to the famous Rainbow Falls. It was a beautiful site, but there was no rainbow today–no sunshine to refract off the waterfall. I sat down and took in the scenery. It was a welcome reprieve for my sore feet and burning legs. My body just wasn’t enjoying this hike! 20140903_140809

One more stop on-the-way down…Lesser Falls. I lingered for a while here, as there were no tourists. It was quite wonderful and I basked in the moment.  20140903_141622

All-in-all, I was disappointed with today’s hike. I guess I was so impressed by all the features and scenic overlooks that Alum Trail had to offer that this trail just didn’t compare. At least there were far less tourists! However, straight up the side of the mountain with no switchbacks or changes in grade is not my idea of a fun hike. Regardless, I must keep hiking…I only have 800 more miles left! Stay tuned!

Alum Cave Trail to LeConte Lodge

Posted in 900 Mile Challenge with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 28, 2014 by J.K.o

New Miles: 5.5

Total Miles Hiked: 11

Overall Progress: 87.9 out of 900 miles

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August 27, 2014

What an amazing day! I didn’t realize that so much of the Smokies paralleled that of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. Of course, I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I was shocked and amazed as this trail rolled on and upward towards the summit of Mt. LeConte. I had no idea that the Smokies held so much beauty, beyond what is seen out of the car window on 441. I didn’t really have any expectations for the day, but what I got was far more than I could have imagined.

It was great that today’s hike went as well as it did because I had to alter my plans drastically. I had intended on completing 2 trails on this trip–the Smokemont Loop and Alum Cave, but it  became quite obvious that this goal just wasn’t going to happen! I came straight from working 4 nights on the ambulance and they were brutal! Needless to say, I was spent before I even began. No worries–a good night’s rest was achieved and I was refreshed the next morning.

I decided to catch the sunrise on Newfound Gap; I sat there on the vista while heating up some water for hot oatmeal and a steamy cup of coffee. It was something of beauty to be atop such a busy place while no one else was there.  Once I had finished breakfast I commenced my trip. The trail starts from a parking lot located off 441. Large rhododendrons and an eerie white mist call the hiker into the dark forest.  The tree branches seemed to weave themselves together forming an endless green tunnel. The trail crosses a wide creek and begins to make a slow, but constant upward march. The first mile or so follows the sounds of the creek; it is loud and constant, but soothing all the same.

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The path zig-zags across the creek over a series of footbridges. Large pine trees skirt the trail as it meanders over large rocks and old downed trees. The air was cooled from the stream and the sun shone through the leaves faintly.

I continued pushing forward at a steady pace; I was trying to walk efficiently to keep time, but slow enough to appreciate the scenery. I arrived at Alum Cave shortly after I began the hike. The cave is a naturally occurring cleft in the rock face. It sits at the base of the mountain located adjacent to the stream. Fog rose up from the creek and mist poured out of the mouth of the tunnel to create a foreboding scene. Outside it looked dark and damp, but the neatly placed stairs invited me inside. Up, up, up I climbed within in the cleft, until I saw the sunlight on the other side.

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I was hit by a wall of heat and humidity. No longer did the trail parallel the creek, but lead up into the hot clouds. It was a steep climb for a while, but suddenly the trail opened up to the sky above. The trail followed a long and gnarled vein of granite through some short shrubbery. It paused at a beautiful vista overlooking the backside of Newfound Gap. I kept thinking how much it reminded me of the Whites in New Hampshire.

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I paused for a moment and talked with another hiker. He too, thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. We exchanged trail names and stories for a little while. Then it was time to move up the trail.

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Shorty thereafter, the path arrived at Alum bluffs. It was a spectacular site reminiscent to Mesa Verde National Park. Under the cliff walls of this great mountain was a huge void, hollowed out by wind and time. Although, there weren’t any cliff dwellings like Balcony House or Cliff Palace there, one could imagine all sorts of images of natives or settlers camped underneath the bluff. I stopped to take some photos and watched some tourists come in; it was quite amusing to see them hiking in blue jeans and cotton. One woman decided that being in the woods was no reason to look bad; she drenched herself in perfume and caked her face with makeup.

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Onward and upward I continued. From Alum Bluffs, it’s another 2.7 miles to Boulevard Trail on Mt. LeConte. I have to say that the scenery just kept getting prettier. At times the trail followed more of these long veins of granite. As I ascended, the flora and trees of the forest changed. About hour-and-a-half into the hike, I started to smell the familiar scent of Christmas trees filling the air. The trail sunk into the mountainside like a big rut and the sun speckled through the trees.

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I encountered several tourists along the journey, most of which, had no idea what they were doing. I came upon one burly man; he was wearing all cotton clothing and noise-reduction head phones. He had a tripod with a camcorder affixed and his tripod was set up across the entirety of the trail. There was no room to pass, of course, as he picked a narrow section of trail atop a precipice. I had to laugh at how ridiculous he looked and how disrespectful he was to the other hikers. If I could complain about anything today, which there really isn’t anything to complain about, it would be the tourists. That’s the one thing I miss about the AT–way less tourists and way more thru-hikers with a healthy respect for mother nature.

After several breathtaking views, the trails arrives at the top of Mt. LeConte. I thought I was back on the Appalachian Trail again, hiking over Mt. Washington or Mt. Mousilake in the Whites. The trail was surrounded by medium-sized Christmas trees and the sky above was a deep azure. The air was cold and crisp and the breeze unwavering. It really had all the character of the Whites–being almost above tree line…and of course LeConte Lodge stood amidst the trees like Zealand Falls Hut in NH.

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I lingered for a moment at LeConte Lodge. It amazed me how similar this was to the AMC huts in New Hampshire. I stood at the top of the stairs, taking in the view and reliving memories of my time on the AT. It was an amazing journey to the top and I was grateful to have made it. I didn’t stay long at the lodge before starting my descent. I kept moving downward. After 45 minutes of hiking I caught a glimpse of where I had just been and it was pretty awesome to realize that I had just climbed to that distant point. See the knob in the middle?

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All-in-all, I was greatly impressed by this hike. It was so nice to hike a trail that I had never trodden before. It was so wonderful to hike in place that filled me with so many memories of New Hampshire. And now I must succumb to the desire for much-needed sleep! Good night!

Anything and Everything: Trail Foods

Posted in Appalachian Trail Thru-hike Planning, Gear & Methodology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2014 by J.K.o

Here’s a list of foods that I really enjoyed (at one point or another) while hiking the trail. I tried to break them down between breakfast, snacks, lunch, and dinner. Remember, when in doubt, think high calories and high fat!

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My favorite breakfast items:

  • instant coffee
  • peanut M&M’s
  • cake frosting (my favorite breakfast/snack on the trail!)
  • Reese’s Cups
  • Pop Tarts

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Some lunchtime deliciousness:

  • pepperoni (pre-sliced in the pizza prep section)
  • peanut butter, Nutella, and butter sandwiches… yum!
  • summer sausage
  • Parmesan cheese wedge
  • Triscuits with cream cheese
  • Tahini sandwiches (straight-up sesame tahini on a flat bread…yes!)

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Snacks:

  • homemade trail mix including Gold Fish crackers, dried sour cherries, honey roasted peanuts, and butterscotch chips
  • Combos snack crackers saved the day!
  • Sour Patch Kids
  • Sunbelt granola bars (available at Dollar General stores near the Little Debbies) like coconut fudge and chocolate chip!
  • peanut butter
  • Nutella
  • Little Debbie snack cakes (taste great, lots of fat, be careful how you pack them)
  • sandwich flat bread (available on the bread isle; they keep nicely inside the pack)

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Favorite dinners:

  • Pasta Sides from Knorr (all of them were delicious and they cooked really easily)
  • Ramen Noodles
  • Kraft Mac’n’Cheese
  • Bear Creek Soup–these are dried soups; potato is the best!
  • Old El Paso Tortilla Stuffers– SO AMAZING, HEARTY, and DELICIOUS! Who doesn’t want to eat steak on the trail?
  • Idahoan Instant Mashed Potatoes
  • Stove Top Stuffing (mix it together with mashed potatoes, so good!)

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Miscellaneous:

  • Gatorade G2 Single Serve powder mix
  • hot chocolate packets
  • Mio drink mix, really any powdered drink mix is a blessing!
  • McFlurry spoon from McDonald’s…yes a McFlurry spoon. Don’t waste money on stupid trail spoons–they all break and are expensive!
  • butter- yes, sticks of it! (This is dependent upon the weather–use caution in summer months)
  • cream cheese-                               ”                    ”                   “

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Just Plain Desperate (Foods I started to carry towards the end of my hike…just because I could!):

  • McDonald’s McDoubles keep nicely for up to 3 days.. a nice hamburger on the top of a mountain summit is amazing.
  • frozen pizzas cooked in town or leftover pizza from dinner; these keep very nicely for a few days.

What other hikers were eating:

  • Lilly, my hiking buddy, carried a wheel of Vermont white cheddar. Lilly is a vegetarian and this was a major source of protein for her.
  • Tuna; the stuff in the aluminum packets (I just hate tune!).
  • Quinoa was very common on the trail to be mixed into lots of different meals.
  • Hummus mix, just add water!
  • oatmeal; I never really craved this though
  • Jelly for PB&J sandwiches

A Long Distance Eating Contest: Food Logistics on the Appalachian Trail

Posted in Appalachian Trail Thru-hike Planning with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 22, 2014 by J.K.o

Logistics & Resupply

Planning food for my AT thru-hike was quite overwhelming. It was probably the most challenging thing I had to deal with in the planning phase. So many questions arose. What food should I take? How do I pack it? Where do I get food from? Should I dehydrate meals? Should I live off mail drops? Yeah…overwhelming was the word that ran through my mind most.

My approach to food on the trail evolved quite a bit throughout the entire process. Trail food was dependent on many factors like the weather, the distance between towns, the hours of the local post office, and what resources were in the town.

Initially, I planned to rely on mail drops with dehydrated meals that I had made before the hike. In Georgia and the the first sections of North Carolina, there aren’t a lot of trail towns. It actually worked out quite well to package food and send it ahead to post offices and outposts located along the trail. The dehydrated food was okay, but it sure took a lot of effort. I bought quite a few frozen meals (the ones in bags; stir fry and pastas) and dehydrated and sealed them. They tasted just fine, but each morning I had to place the contents of my dinner in a Nalgene bottle with water. The dehydrated foods had to be reconstituted all day long if you didn’t want to eat leathery, hard foods.

We also carried some perishable items in the beginning. I liked to carry butter as it was a great source of calories and fat and it just tasted SO good. Cream cheese was another great addition to the food sack. The cream cheese traveled well until the temperatures started to climb, then it just began to sweat. It was not uncommon for us to carry pizza as well; we often bought pizza or cooked the frozen ones in town. We gladly carried the leftovers in our pack to break up the monotony of trail food. Yum!

Still, I relied on the mail drops and always had an abundant source of food. However, another problem arose. We started arriving at towns on days when the post office was closed. It was really frustrating to roll in on a Sunday and not be able to get your food. This trend continued on and eventually I decided it was best to put an end to the mail drops. Starting in Virginia, there are a plethora of grocery stores, Dollar Generals, and Wal-Marts available. The whole concept of resupplying at the grocery store was great! You could pick and choose the foods that appealed to you at that time and didn’t have to rely on eating the same foods  you packed at the beginning.

The grocery store resupply was our mainstay for food resources and it never failed us. There were some places in Pennsylvania that did prove difficult to resupply. In quite a few towns there were only gas stations–no grocery stores for miles! Gas station resupply was so annoying! Sure, they had all the candy and soda a kid could want, but they lacked the high calorie, high fat foods we could obtain at a market. I hated the gas station resupply with a passion! It always meant slim eatings for a few days.

Fortunately, New England was the land of delis! Every street crossing had a deli available. There were many days where we would feast on delicious sandwiches and subs. New England really had the best selection of quick foods available. We were never starved for options!

By the time I arrived in Vermont I was so over the trail! I was so sick of the food I had been eating. There were times when we’d come to a town with a McDonald’s or Burger King; I would go in and purchase 10 hamburgers and pack them out for a few days….They were SO awesome! I remember chowing down on a McDouble after I summitted Mt. Lafayette. We continued to pack out pizzas and a host of other fast foods; they always kept well for 2-3 days.

The Whites also provided a new source of food four us. The AMC runs Huts throughout the whites; huts are large lodges with bunk rooms that people pay good money to stay in for a night. The staff at the huts prepare a large dinner feast each night and a hearty breakfast for all those who stay till morning. It is customary that the huts will not only provide lodging to a few (3-4) select thru-hikers, as well as, 2 free meals. This means they will let you set your sleeping pad up in the dining room and give you some food in exchange for a simple task like sweeping, cleaning the bunk rooms, or just talking to the guests after dinner about your journey. Even when we were just passing by a shelter at lunch time, they would provide us with the leftover soup or pancakes from breakfast. The huts were really a nice treat in the midst of the treacherous, exhausting, and fog-laden whites.

Storage & Protection

So as you can see, trail appetites are constantly changing. The best thing is to stay open-minded on what you carry and don’t be afraid to try carrying a little fast food from time-to-time. As for carrying food, I used a Sea-to-Summit dry bag. This was the standard method of carrying food among most hikers. Some used stuff sacks or Kevlar mesh bags, but all that really matters is that your food sack is waterproof.

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When I first arrived on the trail, it was very clear that I had overlooked or not anticipated some crucial things. For instance, keeping your food in a safe place so that mice and other critters can’t get to it. What I tell every person that is planning any kind of overnight backpacking trip is that you need to plan for the practice of hanging your food bag every night. At many of the shelters there were pre-installed bear cables and bear boxes. However, there were a few occasions when we had to hang our own bags and needed a decent amount of line to accomplish this. Always be ready to hang a bear bag!

For detailed information on how to hang a bear bag and what items you should place in said bag, please check out my entry: Let’s Hang a Bear Bag!

On a side note, it’s always good practice to remember to hang up your hiking pack in the evenings while staying at a shelter. The shelters are inundated with mice and they will stop at nothing to sneak  into your pack in search of tasty treats. Most shelters have lines with mouse baffles to hang items on. Use them! I had my pack raided on 2 occasions and I was less than thrilled.

Let’s Hang a Bear Bag!

Posted in Gear & Methodology with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 21, 2014 by J.K.o

In most developed and maintained camping areas there are bear cables, bear poles, and bear boxes available for the storage of food overnight. However, we can’t always rely on these conveniences and it really sucks when any creature (mouse or bear) gets into your food sack! It’s pretty easy to hang a bag. A good bit of cordage, 2 trees 12-15 feet apart, and a medium-sized rock is you need!

Hang that food bag!

  1. Scout out your perfect trees. Ideally, the tree holding the food should be at least 20 feet tall. Make sure there is another tree close by, roughly 12-15 feet apart.
  2. Locate a nice sturdy tree branch that can bare the weight of the food sack; the branch should extend at least 5 feet from the tree.
  3. Tie a medium sized rock around the end of your cordage.
  4. Make sure the area is clear of people…throw your rock over the desired tree. Don’t let go of the end of the rope!
  5. Once the rock has made it over the tree, untie it and clip your food bag in its place.
  6. Hoist the bag up by pulling on the non-bag end of cordage.
  7. Once the bag is at the appropriate height, tie the rope end off to the secondary tree. I like to use a friction wrap and finish it off with a nice Bowline.
  8. Voila!

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By the way….food is not the only thing that should go in a bear bag! Anything that has a scent can attract a bear from miles away, not to mention pesky mice! Chap stick, deodorant (who carries that in the woods anyway?), tooth paste/brush, sunscreen, used feminine items (yes, unfortunately these will attract bears like no other!), empty food wrappers, and your cook set/camp stove are just some examples of smelly things that will attract the creatures.

A Long Distance Eating Contest: Hiker Hunger

Posted in Appalachian Trail Thru-hike Journal with tags , , , , , on August 21, 2014 by J.K.o

Hiking appetites are like pregnancy appetites….they are constantly evolving, craving new and weird things, and what once was your favorite you now detest.

Recently, I have had several folks write to me requesting information on trail food. In fact, one of the first questions people always ask as soon as they learn that I have thru-hiked is “What did you eat?” I always have to laugh at that question. The truth is that food was a sore subject for me and for reasons some may not understand. So for now, I will ask you to think of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail as a long distance eating contest.

An eating contest? Yes! And one that I lost on a daily basis. I remember it like it was yesterday (I hate to sound cliche, but it’s true!). We had just crossed into Virginia; we were feeling so triumphant. Damascus was in our sites and we had a zero day planned for resupply, bathing, beer, and much needed laundry. Our little stay in Damascus was quite profitable and the next day we left just as quickly as we had ushered in. What followed in the days after we came into VA was to become a problem of monstrous proportions. Slowly, but surely, my appetite started to slip away.

At first it was unnoticeable. I figured that I had just gotten used to burning so many calories all at once. 6,000 calories each day to be exact. It started at dinner time; one pack of Ramen was just too much and I would quickly pass my leftovers off to Spoon (he was always happy to eat leftovers!). Of course, I was never big on breakfast. Ever since I was a child, I hated to eat breakfast. The trail was no different–I would just start walking until several hours had passed. Okay, so lunch would arrive and I would be sort of hungry. Nothing a few spoonfulls of peanut butter couldn’t cure. It never occurred to me at the time, but I had started to consume less and less calories each day. My body never said “I’m hungry” quite the way it used to, so I never responded with food.

This habit went on for quite some time, but eventually, all bad habits reveal themselves as the true monster they are. I was almost to the Shenandoahs when it really started to hit. I was consuming less than 1,000 calories a day and getting slower and slower by the minute. Every step, every hill became more and more difficult. I was losing energy by the second. Tiger Lilly was growing more concerned; “I’m just not hungry” I would tell her. My appetite was gone. I had no desire to eat. Eating was horrible.I’m told that some people experience this same lack of appetite after performing athletically for sustained amounts of time; I just figured it was normal. But it wasn’t. I watched my fellow hikers partake in every food contest along the trail like the half-gallon ice cream challenge and the Mahoosuc monster 8lb pizza. Why wasn’t interested in eating? It got to the point where I was in such desperate need of calories and fat that I would buy cans of sesame tahini and eat spoonfulls of it for dinner; two tablespoons contains 15g of fat and 170 calories.

So here’s a little statistical info for you:

  • Hikers burn 7,000 calories per day (an average of 20 miles)
  • Hikers should try to consume as much as 6,000 calories per day to maintain a healthy body weight
  • I am 5’9″ and weighed 160lbs at the start of my thru-hike.
  • I weighed 115lbs at the end of my thru-hike and had roughly 6% body fat (not okay for a woman!)

My body was suffering and so was my will to continue on the journey. Lilly would force me to eat cheeseburgers and ice cream whenever we would come to towns. Gross! I’m not hungry! To get slightly graphic (sorry men folk), my percentage of body fat had dropped so much that I experienced amenorrhoea–the absence of periods. Of course, I never really complained about that! I experienced dangerous weight loss, not the cool 10-20 lbs that ever hiker loses. I can’t remember when it happened, but sometime around the New England mark I started feeling more hungry. By the time I summitted Katahdin, my appetite had come back some, but I still wasn’t eating the way the other hikers were. I never could.

When I was partly through the Shenandoahs, I met a hiker named “Will.” He had just finished up a 36 miler and came strolling in like it was no big deal. He told me that he had previously thru-hiked the PCT and, he too, struggled to maintain a healthy weight. He offered me some of the best advice I ever got on the trail. He said

 

“Don’t think of the AT as a long distance hike; think of the AT as a long distance eating contest. Take your time and eat as much as you can, when you can.”

 

 

 

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A New Challenge

Posted in 900 Mile Challenge with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2014 by J.K.o

Not 10 days ago, marked the 3rd anniversary of the completion of my 2011 Appalachian Trail thru hike. In the last 3 years I have accomplished a lot; I had officially moved out of Florida and settled down in Asheville, completed a 3rd college degree, and slated myself into a new full time career as a paramedic. It’s been a busy 3 years! Although, I must admit…that I have been closely watching my fellow hikers from the AT class of 2011 going out and accomplishing some amazing things! I have watched several hikers complete the coveted Triple Crown (AT, PCT, CDT), go on to hike the Florida Trail, and just for kicks–get another PCT thru hike in. It’s been agonizing to say the least, watching enviously as my friends continue in their adventures while I have sat at home studying for countless hours. I am grateful for the new direction my life is going in and very excited to have found my calling in paramedicine, but the call of the long-distance hike is making me ravenous! I have been longing for the day when I quit my apartment lease and put my few prized possessions in a hiking pack just to embark on another multi-month-long journey through the wilderness.

Fortunately, my moving to Asheville has helped in staving off some of this “wander lust.” Living in Asheville puts me within distance of several amazing trails, national forests, and of course, the Appalachian Trail. Come weekend, you can ask any of my friends or coworkers where I am…not at home they’ll tell you, but out in the woods! I am very fortunate to have so many great trails so close to home. I am even lucky enough to get in a few mulit-day hikes every now-and-then. Still, my desire to throw it all away and leave the complexities of the real world haunts me! And…I’m running out of new trails to explore! It gets a little tiring to hike the same stretch of trail over and over again. That being said, I have been looking for new ways to fulfill this desire to get into the woods and spend a little time in the solitude of the wilderness. Just when I thought I had reached the end of my creativity and local tails to hike, I discovered something interesting!

Just this week, my family and I went on vacation to Townsend, TN; it’s a favorite spot of ours just outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We have been going to Townsend for years now and exploring the National Park with great interest. On this particular vacation, we would drive to-and-fro throughout the park and I was amazed at how many trails there are. Everywhere you go there are trails leading all over. Even on the side of the road, a driver must pass 30-40 trails. I was blown away by the amount of footage one could explore. It occurred to me that I had only just scratched the surface on exploring the true depth and beauty of the park. Even my thru hike on the AT showed me a side of the national park that most people will never see, but there was so much more waiting beyond that. My curiosity grew each day as we passed all the different trails; some of them almost looked abandoned and forgotten. Each trail was a gateway to a mysterious place just calling for exploration. One day, I asked my parents to stop at the Sugarlands Center so I could find out just how many trails existed inside the park. I was amazed when the ranger replied “too many to count!” He did, however, give me a detailed map with every, single trail in the park. Oh man!!! That map was incredible and just enough to give me some new ideas. hiking-trails

Later that night we were relaxing in the hotel. A quick Google search of “how many trails are in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?” revealed something very interesting. The first link to pop up was for the Great Smoky Mountains 900 Miler Club. Intriguing! A little exploration revealed a group of individuals that had made it their goal to hike all 900 miles of designated trail located within the park. 900 miles of trail you say? Wow! That’s a lot of unexplored territory for a girl who really likes to hike! I think this is something I might have to take on!

That was it–my new goal! I am excited to announce that I will now be working away at the 900 Miler Club. With the aid of my sweet MSR tent and the ability to sleep in the back of my truck, I will be spending my free time at the GSMNP chiseling away at this great goal. Each stretch of days-off, I will head towards the park, setup camp at one of the designated camps, and take-off and up the trail. I’m not sure how long this will take, but I am looking forward to every moment of it. I’m excited to truly understand that beauty of the GSMNP, beyond what the average tourist sees each day. There’s also that whole weight-loss and getting back into shape thing…that’s not so bad either!

It occurred to me that I had already polished off several miles of trail on the list when I thru hiked…71 miles to be exact! So for now, I have exactly 829 miles left to go!

So come back and visit my journal for updates and stories of my next long-distance, somewhat segmented endeavor into the wilderness.

Regards,
Fuzzy Navel

 

Dreams Furloughed

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2013 by J.K.o

Still no change on our government’s situation–which means hundreds of thru-hikers, like our government employees, will have to furlough their dreams of completing an Appalachian Trail thru-hike.

Here is an excellent, updated write-up of the shut-down’s impact on thru-hikers from October 5th.:

http://thomasgounley.tumblr.com/post/63087023290/updated-what-appalachian-trail-thru-hikers-are-writing

Check it out!

Feeling the Affects

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 2, 2013 by J.K.o

For several years, I dreamed of the day that I would leave to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. I remember plotting and planning, waiting in excitement for the moment that I would begin walking north from Springer Mountain, GA. My hopes and dreams  for this tremendous journey did not stop there, but continued to grow and evolve as I journeyed north for 4.5 months towards Maine.

I encountered many things, some good, some bad, but never did I come to the point when I could go no further–when some outside force would step-in to say “Sorry! Proceed no further! The Appalachian Trail is CLOSED.” Well folks, as of yesterday,  sections of the the Appalachian Trail (as well as, CDT and PCT) will be closed because of the government shut-down.

One of my favorite aspects of hiking the AT was the utter solitude and obliviousness from the world around me. I have never been a fan of watching the news or reading the papers, so the AT only provided me with an even greater blanket of security from the shambles of the political world. But, today I realized that the impact of this governmental shutdown affected me in more ways than I had first thought. It taught me that even the government and politics could impact the area of my life that I thought was free and secluded–my place in the wilderness. I remember a time when I was very early on in the trail. I was resupplying in Helen, GA. When a friend came to pick me up from Dick’s Creek Gap, she told me of the horrors of the tidal wave in Japan and the subsequent nuclear meltdown; she told me about the capture of Osama bin Laden. I listened in horror as she detailed all the chaotic events that had taken place during my first week in the woods. I remember thinking how grateful I was that I could hike and be oblivious to all those crazy events.

I share all of that to say this– Imagine that you, like me, have been waiting and planning to thru-hike one our nation’s beautiful long-distance trails. Imagine that you are weeks and months into your amazing journey and you arrive to a place that is barred, closed, off-limits. Right now, hundreds of South Bounders are making their way to GA from ME. Many of them will never get to experience the beauty of Shenandoah National Park or The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They won’t get to see the beauty atop Clingman’s Dome in the Smokies or see families of black bear rolling around the countryside in the Shenandoas. Instead, they will be forced to find alternate routes, arrange shuttles, and spend exorbitant amounts of money trying to navigate their way around these massive sections of the AT.

We cannot forget the nation’s other long-distance trails: Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail–they too meander through many of our nation’s spectacular national parks. Yellowstone, Glacier, and Yosemite are just a few of the parks that will affect these other trails.

People hike these long-distance trails for many different reasons, but the one thing that unites us is sought in the solitude and quiet of the wilderness. There is a freedom that one experiences when they roam about on no-man’s land with few possessions on their back and no worries about paying bills, keeping the gas-tank full, or running to appointments.

However, in the next days, hikers will be moving about the trail and will at some point reach one of these pivotal “road blocks” that will impact them in more ways than they realize. The government shut-down will have then reached the farthest, most remote corners of the wilderness. Even without internet, electricity, radios, or mass communication channels–the shut-down will have made its case all-the-way out in the deep, quiet of the woods.

Appalachian Trail: Sam’s Gap to Hog Back Shelter (2.5 miles)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on September 29, 2013 by J.K.o

Looking for a sweet day hike just outside Asheville? Ditch the Blue Ridge Parkway…you know everyone and their mom is out there on the weekends.

The Appalachian Trail makes many sweeps and crossings within an hour of Asheville. Of course, it can be a little overwhelming to pick a section–not knowing what the terrain is going to be like. Well here’s a nice start…

If you’re looking for moderate terrain to hike and don’t mind the trademark roller coaster up-and-downs, check out the AT where it intersects Sam’s Gap on the NC/TN border! From the parking area, hikers can choose to head north or south. North will take you to Big Bald, Spivey Gap, and ultimately…Maine. However, making a left out of the parking area and heading south on the AT will take you to a quieter and more remote stretch of trail that leads to Hog Back Shelter, Devil’s Gap, and Hot Springs, NC.

When I only have a few hours to kill, but am in need of getting away from society–I often head to this stretch of the AT. I hike 2.5 miles out to Hog Back Shelter, stop and have a snack, and then head back another 2.5 miles to the trail head. I takes me about 2 hours and the terrain provides me we enough challenge to feel like I am accomplishing something (calorie-wise)!!

This section starts by crossing under the I-26 bridge, then quickly turns up the hills and starts climbing into the treeline. The trail is completely shaded in this area, so no need for sun screen! It starts out with a moderate climb that sweeps around the side of the mountain. The trail quickly ushers you into a hidden meadow with large, ancient Oaks.

Eventually it meets up with an old logging road cut through the forest. Keep trekking and the trail begins to follow an old fence, no doubt built there around the turn of the century. One can imagine all sorts of cattle grazing the hillside.

Just around the time your legs have warmed up for the hike, the trail takes on a more challenging terrain. Steady up-and-over hills make the way. The climbs are more short, abrupt, and steep, rather than long and sustained. But it is the number of them that make them a great workout for the legs…don’t worry–there’s always the downhill side to rest on.

About 40 minutes into the hike, you will arrive at High Rocks. This is a beautiful, sweeping vista overlooking TN. The outcropping is approximately 200ft. off the trail and well worth the climb!

Keep walking south and you’ll climb up-and-over three more hills. Once you begin making a big descent, you are just about to the shelter. Hog Back Shelter is about 0.1mi. off the trail. The shelter will house about 5 hikers. The shelter also has a privy for your comfort and convenience (a privy with a pretty awesome view too!) and a water source. Unfortunately, the water source is 0.25mi. away from the shelter…a bit further than I want to walk off trail to source water. Nonetheless, it’s a great place to kick your shoes off and have a snack.

Hog Back Shelter, AT

The hike back to the parking area is generally a bit easier as you are gradually losing elevation toward Sam’s Gap.  All-in-all, this a great day hike if you’re up for some moderate strain. It takes me about 35 minutes to beam out there from Asheville so it’s not too bad for distance. Plus, you won’t have the droves of people that the parkway attracts.

Just take I-26 west from Asheville and then take the exit for Wolf Laurel. From the exit ramp, make a right. At the end of the bridge, make a left. Go about 3 miles and the road will wind back toward I-26. The parking area is on the left…enjoy!

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