Monday, 25 February 2013

Appalachian Trail Update #1

Location: Hiawassee GA
Total Miles Hiked: 69.6
Total Days: 6
Miles Since Last Update: N/A
Days Since Last Update: N/A
Beard Status: Barely Peach Fuzz
Pain Status: My body was not ready

Hello friends, family, coworkers, and stalkers.  This is the first of what I hope will be many updates of my trip on the Appalachian Trail.  Not all of the updates will be this long, but since I have quite a bit of free time right now, I can write a bit more than I normally would.  I don't have the capacity to upload photos right now, but I will do a proper photographic write up of my trip when I get home

My trip started on February 19 with a long drive to the Vancouver Airport.  I had a 4 hour flight to Chicago, and then a 2 hour flight to Atlanta (I got lost in both airports; luckily I have no pride and am okay with asking for directions).  I took the MARTA Rail to the North Springs Station in Atlanta, and then got driven to Amicalola Falls State Park by Survivor Dave.  He was incredibly helpful and answered all of my questions in great detail.  I spent the night at the Max Efferson Shelter behind the visitor center.

The next day I hiked the 8.8 mile Approach Trail up to the top of Springer Mountain.  The trail starts out with over 600 stairs to the top of Amicalola Falls.  Needless to say I wasn't feeling so great by the end of it.  There was a light bit of snow on the ground, but the trail was very easy to follow.  It was incredibly windy on Springer Mountain, so I didn't have a lot of time to appreciate the view.  I hiked another 2.8 miles to the Stover Creek Shelter where I spent the night with 5 other hikers.

On day 2 I had it pretty easy until I hit Sassafras Mountain.  It's the first big climb on the trail, and the locals have nicknamed it "Yardsale Mountain" because of all the gear hikers ditch as they are climbing.  When I got to Gooch Mountain Chelter (Mile 15.8) it started to rain.  There was a pretty bad thunderstorm that night, and it kept raining for another 3 days.

Despite the rain, I left camp on day 3.  I encountered a lot of muddy sections, but overall it wasn't too bad.  I was going to stay at the shelter at the base of Blood Mountain (the highest mountain in the Georgia section of the trail), but I decided to climb the extra mile and stay at the shelter on top of the mountain.  This was easily the worst mistake I've ever made.  The shelter was like an old dungeon.  It is literally the last place you ever want to sleep in.  The cold concrete floor was crawling with bugs and spiders, and there were mice everywhere.  They came in through gaps in the walls, through the windows, and even scurried around the rafters on the ceiling.  I had them crawling all over me throughout the whole night (I had my headlamp on the whole night and they still wouldn't leave me alone).  Worse still, the shelter was about as water proof as a block of swiss cheese.  Every piece of gear I had got soaked.  The storm was so bad that I had no way of making it down the mountain, so I had to stay in the shelter.  Fortunately the people at Ursack make a very fine mouse proof food bag, so at least not everything went wrong.

The next day I left very early to descend Blood Mountain.  It was incredibly rocky and slippery, and the rain made sections of the trail literally like streams.  I got lost a couple of times, but I eventually made it to Neel Gap.  The hostel was closed which was a let down, but I was still able to buy some more food.  I decided to get a less bulky tent since the one I had kept shifting around and throwing off my balance.  I was also able to use the drier there to dry my sleeping bad a bit which was a huge relief.  From Neel Gap I hiked to Whitley Gap Shelter (mile 38.4) where I fired up my stove for the first time and made some much needed hot chocolate.  That night was better as the rain cleared up, but everytime I heard leaves rustling I got paranoid that there was a mouse somewhere.

The next day I took the wrong turn out of camp, but once again my lack of pride paid off as I was willing to ask for directions.  Most of the day I was doing the long steady climb up Blue Mountain.  It was all pretty easy until the 1000 foot descent to Unicoi Gap, followed by a 1000 foot ascent up Rocky Mountain, followed by a 1000 foot descent to Indian Grave Gap, followed by a 1300 foot ascent up Tray Mountain.  Oh, and I was in the dark from Rocky Mountain on.  Luckily my headlamp hadn't died yet.  I could see the lights of a nearby city which was really neat.  I stopped at Tray Mountain shelter (mile 58.6) having done a 20.2 mile day, the longest I've ever hiked.  Unfortunately the shelter was full so I had to pitch my tent, but I was okay with that.  At least it guaranteed no mice.

Today was pretty rough as my body was quite sore from the big 20 mile day.  I got to climb something called "Young Lick Knob" which is easily the best name ever.  I had a pretty tough climb up Kelly Knob and Powel Mountain before the long descent to Dick's Creek Gap.  I got a ride into Hiawassee and got a room at the Budget Inn for 2 nights.  Between the jet lag, the night on Blood Mountain, and the 20 mile day, I desperately need a day off.  It was nice to get a proper meal though.  I absolutely destroyed the local Dairy Queen (I had about 5 meals worth of food).

So far the Georgia section of the trail is quite hard, but my understanding is it is the hardest part of the southern AT.  Most of the time it stays just under ridges so there aren't a lot of great views, but it is still pretty nice.  The trail always goes straight over things; there is no such thing as a switchback here.  The temperature has been between 0 and 5 C most of the time, though it has gotten quite windy at times.

I think I have one more day of hiking in Georgia and then I am on to North Carolina.  I'll try to do another update either in Franklin or Fontana Dam, but I can't guarantee anything.

Hope all is well for the people I like.  I hope things are absolutely terrible for everyone else.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Packing

Today I began the incredibly painful process of packing all of my gear and food.  I needed to pack twice, since I need to know how everything will be packed when I'm hiking, but everything will be in a duffel bag while I'm flying.  I was a little disappointed that my weight ended up being 38 lbs (including food), though I'll be able to shave a lot off once I can get rid of some of my winter gear.  There have already been quite a few casualties with my gear, though it has been more in the name of saving weight than saving space.

I am pretty sure I have way too much stuff, and as usual I think I packed too much food.  I guess I save a bit of weight by having almost no muscles (muscles weigh more than fat).

I spent a considerable amount of time figuring out where to put things, though I'm fairly certain that I'll forget where everything is (I'm not looking forward to spending 20 minutes looking for my duct tape).  If I can save a little bit more space I'll be pretty happy (I can barely close my pack right now).  Still, I'm sure lots of people have started their thru-hikes with more weight than me, so hopefully it'll work out.




Monday, 4 February 2013

Appalachian Trail Expectations

I have spent several years reading about the Appalachian Trail and various thru-hikes of the trail, so I have developed some ideas of what I might face.  I want to have a record of my expectations, so that when I complete the trail I can see what what I was right about, and what I was completely wrong about.

I expect to develop hiker hunger (being able to eat and eat and never feel full).  Actually, I'm kind of looking forward to decimating every restaurant I stop at.

I expect to get rained on.  A lot.  I've gotten pretty lucky with weather in the past, so I'm guessing karma is going to catch up with me and I'll face pretty bad weather.  This is one thing I would like to be wrong about.

I expect to have some miserable days.  I'm certain there will be more good days than bad days, but I would be a fool if I didn't think I would have one or two spirit crushing days.

I expect to lighten my pack weight.  This is pretty common with thru-hikers so it isn't really a bold expectation, but I still expect to get lighter alternatives at some point.

I expect to be in pain (not quite as bad as watching my hockey team lose in the finals, but still close).  If survive the trail, I'm guessing I'll be hobbling around like a 90 year old man for a while.

I expect to fall down.  Lots of people have better drunk balance than I have sober balance, so my hike isn't going to be pretty.

I expect to completely stop caring how dirty and smelly I get (though I'm a guy, so I've ever really cared in the first place).

I expect my hike to be one of the best experiences of my life.  Maybe not as good as getting an extra Chicken McNugget at McDonalds, but still really good.  I'm sure I'll develop a higher appreciation for nature than I already have, and hopefully I'll meet lots of terrific people.

Also, as a final note, I completely expect to get screwed over at the airport in some fashion.  I'm not quite sure how, but I'm sure I'll be complaining about airports on this blog at some point.

Training (Or Lack Thereof)

Before the West Coast Trail I maintained a pretty good training routine.  I ended up getting in the best shape of my life which made the trail a lot less difficult than it would have been.  I got out nearly every day and worked up to carrying over 50 lbs in my backpack.  After the West Coast Trail I hoped I could maintain my routine and stay in shape for the Appalachian Trail.  Unfortunately I live in Canada and it is a lot harder to get motivated to go for 2+ hour walks when it is cold and snowing.  Needless to say I lost a lot of the endurance and strength I had built up, though I am making an effort to do more training before I start my thru-hike.

I typically use abandoned logging roads for training, since there are several close to my house.  I've found that they simulate PUDS (pointless ups and downs) pretty well, since logging roads aren't designed to provide a view.

My favourite route follows a river and leads to a small meadow.  At the meadow I go up a fairly steep hill and go off road.  I work my way into the woods and connect with another set of roads, which takes me back to the beginning.  I've posted some pictures because we all know the internet needs more mediocre nature shots.


The water in this swamp is dark green in the summer


Approaching the meadow
The beginning of the hill I climb up






Sunday, 3 February 2013

Gear Overview

Since my start date for my thru-hike is getting closer, I thought I would take a look at some of the gear I'll be bringing with me.  This isn't a full gear list (I'll try to post one before I leave), just an overview.  From some of my choices I'm sure you can tell that I'm not going to have the lightest pack on the trail, though I have had good experiences with all of them.

MEC Ibex 80 Backpack:

This is the pack that I used on Bowron Lakes and the West Coast Trail.  I am incredibly satisfied with it.  It is definitely on the heavy side and is larger than I probably need, but I find that it carries any load fairly comfortably, whether it is 20 lbs or 50 lbs.  The pack has a number of different pouches and pockets which makes organization pretty easy.  So far the pack seems pretty durable (and I've taken it on some rough trips) though there does seem to be a design flaw with the sternum strap (both my Dad's pack and mine have had the strap break).  This might not be the most ideal pack for a short trip, but it is a pack that I'm very comfortable hiking with for several months.

MEC Tarn 2 Tent:

Like my backpack, this is definitely larger and heavier than I need.  However, I feel like I could camp in pretty much any weather with this tent.  It is fairly easy to set up, is well ventilated, and seems very sturdy and durable.  I like the idea of having a large tent with me, since I will probably be less tempted to spend every night in a shelter or hostel.  I could take a zero day comfortably in this tent.  I haven't really camped with an ultra-light shelter like a tarp before, and I don't want to leave my comfort zone right away on such a big trip.  However, I wouldn't be surprised if I end up getting a different tent at some point on my trip.

MEC Aquila -12 C Sleeping Bag:

Again this might seem like overkill, but I tend to sleep pretty cold.  I have not used this bag in weather below -7 C, but at that temperature I was very comfortable with no layers on.  I am confident that I could make it through some very cold nights with this bag.  I am comfortable in this bag in warm weather (I sleep pretty cold) and would much rather have a sleeping bag that's too warm than one that is too cold.

Therm-A-Rest Prolite Plus Sleeping Pad:

This pad provides excellent insulation and is relatively comfortable.  I've slept very soundly on it, even when the ground had been frozen.  It's kind of difficult to get it back in its sack, but otherwise I have no complaints.

Saloman Quest 4D GTX Day Hiking Boots:

These boots are easily the best hiking boots I've ever had.  In my opinion, they are the perfect trade off betweem support and comfort.  I wore them on the West Coast Trail and did not develop any blisters.  They provided decent traction on all of the slippery boardwalks and log bridges.  However, what has impressed me the most with them is how water-proof they are.  I hiked through a lot of mud and water on that trip and the insides stayed completely dry.  I am definitely very satisfied with them.

Trangia Mini Stove and Cookset:

This is the only gear I'm bringing with me that I have not actually used yet (I want to make sure it doesn't get confiscated at the airport).  I bought it more for the pot and pan than for the stove itself.  The entire set is pretty light and space efficient.  I was thinking of making a pop can stove, but this seems a lot more durable.  I chose an alcohol stove since it seems like one of the more readily available fuels on the trail.

The A.T. Guide:

I have the A.T. Guide, the Thru-Hiker's Companion, and the A.T. Data Book.  After going through all 3 I've decided the A.T. Guide is the one I'll bring with me.  I appreciate that it has more landmarks and town maps, but the deal maker for me is the elevation profiles.  For me, knowing the elevations changes I'm facing is as important for planning as knowing where the road crossings and towns are.  I can't speak from experience as to how accurate this guide is, but from what I've read online, the consensus seems to be that this is the best guide for the AT.

I won't go into too many details about the clothing I'll be bringing.  What I'm planning on bringing is:
  • 2 Non-Cotton T-Shirts
  • 1 Fleece Hoodie
  • 1 Balaclava
  • 1 Baseball Cap
  • 1 Pair of Leather Mitts
  • 1 Pair of Gloves and Glove Liners
  • An Upper and Lower Body Base Layer
  • 1 Waterproof Jacket and 1 Breathable Jacket (both take up almost no space and have minimal weight, so I'm bringing both)
  • 1 Pair of Fleece Pants
  • 1 Pair of Water Proof Pants
  • 1 Pair of Zip-Off Hiking Pants
  • 2 Pairs of Wool Socks
  • 2 Pairs of Athletic Socks
  • 2 Pairs of Sock Liners
A good deal of this will get sent home once it warms up.  From my experience on the West Coast Trail, I know that I want a back up of every clothing item in the event that I get wet.  I am certainly not a true minimalist, but I don't notice a big difference between 25 and 35 lbs, so the extra weight is worth it to me.