Archive for backpacking

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!

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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

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.