Thursday, September 18, 2014

Observations on Thru Hiking the Foothills Trail


I have just come off an interesting adventure thru hiking the Foothills Trail. This unique 77 mile long trail straddles the North Carolina / South Carolina border in what could be called the foothills of mountains that extend into the Nantahala region and the Smokies. The trail runs from Table Rock State Park to Oconee State Park, both in South Carolina, with other spur trails off this trail. It also
traverses the highest peak in South Carolina – Sassafras Mountain. And for those looking for an even greater adventure, you could begin at Table Rock on this trail, hike to the Chatooga Trail and from there to the Bartram Trail all the way to the AT just north of NOC.

First off, in planning, etc., I highly recommend the guidebook put out by the Foothills Trail Conference. They also have a map, but I found it hard to read and rather useless. The guidebook, however is a handy piece to have while you’re hiking. It is very thorough, contains maps and mini maps of each section, and will guide you from point A to point B (though it is only written in one direction – Table Rock to Oconee. I saw no advantage one way or the other with starting at either point. But I liked starting at Table Rock as I got the uphill climbs on bare rock out of the way and did not have to read the guidebook backwards, which to me is bothersome). I carried the guidebook the whole way and referred to it many times.

The Foothills Trail is abundant in water, waterfalls, established, campsites, bridges, and steps. I was amazed at the trail work that has gone into this. The trail leading uphill often had wooden steps built in. The intricate bridges crossing the waterways were amazing. The trail is easy to follow using the
Stairs and Railings
white blazes and signage, and coupled with the guidebook, you can’t get lost.

I hiked this trail in early September and with that, it was humid and warm. I was constantly wet. Probably the best time to hike this trail would be spring, with the abundance of rhododendron and with better temperatures. I did not see one person hiking this trail when I was out. In all I saw maybe six people. A family on Sassafras, and two kids swimming near Toxaway. Other than that, I was alone. I managed to dodge most of the thunderstorm activity though I did have one all night rain. What I could not dodge was the thousand upon thousands of spider webs, stretching even over vast logging roads (!). Since no one had likely been on the trail for weeks, the spider webs were everywhere! One cannot get squeamish then picking webs and spiders off glasses, gear, and clothes. It came with the territory. I did end up with a hornet bite on day four. It became infected when I got off, so be sure you do First Aid out there and carry an adequate kit.

Bridges galore

There is no resupply on this trail, so I carried food for six days. It was pretty heavy, but I figured out where to put the food in my pack so it worked out good. There is one place on the trail where you can dump your garbage – at Whitewater Falls area (which the falls is seen by a side trail). Since the weather was warm though I went with summer gear. Some stuff I could have left home, like any kind of jacket, and rain gear. I just let the rain cool me as I was constantly hot, sweaty, and yeah, smelly.

The great beauty and tame terrain of this trail make it a nice adventure. Yes there are some steep areas, but not too bad. The campsites are everywhere as is water. It makes for a simple but rewarding thru hike. 


Friday, September 12, 2014

Guest Blog - A First Timer Observation of an AT Section Hike

Our First Section Hike on the Appalachian Trail...what did we learn?

My husband and I just returned from our first section hike on the AT. We've hiked before but not for this amount of time. Our initial plan had us starting at the NH/VT line in Hanover and ending at the VT-103. We would hike for 5 days then take one overnight at the Inn at Long Trail then hike another 4 days. Our actual hike included a 4 day hike, 2 nights stay at the Inn at Long Trail another 2 day hike and another 2 nights stay at the Inn at Long Trail. I researched and planned (and had two back up plans) for this section hike for a year. We spent more money than I want to mention on gear,


travel, etc. I read and re-read advice on this site and others and we only followed some of that advice. So what happened? Here is what we learned...

1. We are slower than everyone else on the trail. See #2 for pack weight. But even when we lightened our packs we were a lot slower than everyone else. Once we remembered the phrase Hike your own Hike we were able to relax and enjoy. You will see everyone from runners, day hikers, thru hikers, section hikers etc. on the trail. Some will be faster than you, most will go farther per day than you but none will be slower than my husband and I !!


2. Pack Weight: Okay everyone said it was the most important thing...I am here to say it is the absolutely most important thing to enjoying your hike. It's not easy. I looked at everything (*which I considered the bare minimum that I would need) and thought okay 38 pounds (after adding all food and clothes) for me shouldn't be bad...46 for my husband...not ideal but we could do it. We were dead wrong. We were carrying 9 days of food, 2 changes of clothes and other items (do a search for my name on this page and you will see my gear list and pics) it was just too much. Within 4 days we were laying out everything in our packs to find stuff to ship home. 


3. Food: If you are going for multiple days find a place to ship part of your food for pick up. I was worried I would run out of food...I thought I would be starving every day. I was wrong. There was even a stormy day/night that we didn't even eat dinner we were just too exhausted and passed out. I could not wait to get to the Inn and get rid of some of our food. We dropped about 5 pounds of food total as soon as we got to the Inn. 


4. Gear: We bought ENO hammocks and brought a tarp to cover us both. My ENO had a built in bug net and my husband got the doublenest. We tried them out before we left and loved them. 2 days into the trail we both started pointing out the negatives. I'm cloustrophobic so if my bug net line wasn't raised high enough part of the net would fall into my face causing me to have an "episode" . We never could get our hammocks perfectly set up. Our feet or head would be too high, distances between trees is huge. When raining we needed the perfect set of trees to allow us to both lay under the tarp (which worked great when we needed it). I would use the ENO again as a hang out chair at camp or maybe a one night sleeping need...I would personally want a tent for longer trips.


5. Even with Two people it can get lonely: We both said we don't know how the thru hikers do it. We didn't go shelter to shelter each day sometimes we were just in the woods beside the trail. We only had one shelter that we stayed at with other hikers overnight. The Cooper Lodge shelter on top of Killington was empty, spooky and very lonely. We slept near the tent platforms and had an extremely windy and cold night so maybe that is part of the spooky/lonely review. 


6. Trail Angels are AMAZING and made our trip: When we decided to get off the trail for a day or



two we were able to catch rides with some of the most interesting and amazing people. Some even gave us tours and told us the history of the areas we were visiting. I can talk to just about anyone (much to my husband's dismay at times) so I couldn't wait to hear more and more from each. Young and old, trucks and small cars, everyone that picked us up was either a hiker or a former hiker with many stories to tell from their experiences. 

7. The Inn at Long Trail is a must stop even if it is just for a minute. You won't regret it. My review of this amazing home is too long to include but we loved it. Every minute, every person, every story and every drink/meal we had there. 


8. We cannot wait to return. Even though I was most likely the driving force for why we got off the trail earlier than expected I cannot wait to return. My husband laughed at me last night (just 3 days after returning home) as I said I think the next section we should hike is....He said you are missing the trail already? I said...it's all I can think about. 



~K-Bar and Loops~




Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Fall Hiking Tips


There’s nothing better than a backpacking trip in the woods at the peak of leaf change. The air is crisp, the colors of the changing leaves brilliant, and the expectation is there for adventure and recreation. With that in mind, here are a few tips that will help your trip go smoother and more enjoyable. 
Max Patch in NC
Changing Weather – Fall can be a time of changing weather patterns. From warm to cold, bright sunshine to rain, make sure you are prepared for your trip. Check the weather before you venture out. Make sure your sleeping bag is of an adequate rating and you have enough warm layers. Include a good hat. Check out this blog too for ways to stay warm when the temperatures dip and what to bring when it rains. Carry the food you will need with a day extra to spare, just in case. Bring maps and a guidebook for the area in which you will be hiking.

Wear blaze orange
Bears and Wildlife – This is the time of year when wildlife is foraging for food to keep them during the long winter months. They tend to be more aggressive and are on the hunt for food. Make sure you are using bear-proof techniques to hang your food. The PCT method works well for bears accustomed to hiker food. Check ahead of time to see if there are any bear warnings for the area where you plan to hike. Check out the Bear facts of Life blog for tips on handling black bear encounters. 


Leaves and Acorns – No one would think acorns and leaves can disrupt a trip. But wet leaves makes the trail slippery which can cause injury. Piles of leaves can hide rocks and other impediments on the trail.



Acorns rolling under your feet act like marbles to trip you up. Take extra care on the trail when encountering this minor obstacles to prevent ankle twists or other injuries.


Hunting season - Fall means hunters will be out, and wearing blaze orange is a must. Know the hunting regulations where you will be hiking. Check out the blog on hunting tips to keep you safe on the trail.

Some top Fall Hikes - 

In the Smokies
New York and New Jersey
New England
Washington State
Colorado
New Hampshire
CNN's take Includes Virginia

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Gear Product Review - Dorcy Headlamps

I sent out one of my staff to try the Dorcy headlamps for use in backpacking and regular camping, and this is what he had to say about the products.


(From Dorcy) The new 41-2096 lightweight headlight is loaded with features and brightness. The small headlight produces 120 lumen of light output in a broad beam. With 12 hours of run time and 3 brightness modes makes this headlight the perfect light. Weighing in at only 2.9 ounces with batteries this light will not feel heavy after wearing it for hours. The LED panel has a 50 degree adjustment to allow for pin point focusing. 3 brightness modes. Full power, half power and strobe mode will allow this light will meet all of your needs.

Product Specifications
Lumens: 120
Run Time: 12 Hours
Beam Distance: 48 Meters / 157 feet
Bulb Type: LED
Batteries: 3 AAA Included
Product Material: Plastic
Product Dimensions: 2.75" W X 1.50" depth
Bezel Diameter: 1"
Product Weight: 2.9 ounces
Available Color(s): Black / Silver bezel Ring
Switch: Push button top

Additional Features: Lightweight weather resistant, 3 light modes
full power, half power, strobe

Our Review - The broad beam headlamp was a simple on & off model that is good for around the house use but the brighter light and hence shorter battery life (12 hours on 3 AAA's ) do not lend it to backpacking especially on extended trips. At 120 lumens, this is great for looking around a dark engine or seeing  and being seen when  walking  the dogs around the neighborhood at night. I'd use it for backyard or car camping. It seems a good, sturdy-made, reasonably priced headlamp.


Dorcy 20 Lumen Headlamp

Product Specifications
Lumens: 2 Run Time: 18 Hours Beam Distance: 28 Meters
Bulb Type: LED Batteries: 3 AAA Included Product Material: Plastic Product Dimensions: 2.75" W X 1.50" depth Bezel Diameter: 1" Product Weight: 2.9 ounces Available Color(s): Black
Switch: Push button top
Additional Features: Lightweight weather resistant, light modes
full power, half power, strobe, Red On, Red Flash Green On Green Flash Red green on Red/green flash - 

Review - I used the Dorsey headlamp on a few backpacking trip and found it work well.  I love the green reading and the ease of battery installation.  It has a nice solid battery door and sturdy construction over all.  A Few things did not like was that there were to many multiple settings. There was way too many buttons to push to go from on and off especially with the colored lamps. You go from on green to blinking green, then on red then blinking red and then both colors. From on to off it took about 7 button hits. The diffuser lens was interesting in that it took the beam and would light up the tent area like a lantern light but I don't think it was that useful. The weight on this headlamp was around 3 oz., seems similar to other ones I use. It seemed reasonably made and a decent headlamp.

NOTE - This headlamp is only $10 via the Dorcy website!

Related Websites

That Beacon of Light - review of other headlamps

Product Reviews







Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Creature of Comfort – What is Your Luxury Item Backpacking?




I like the rigors of a good hike. Meeting a goal. Seeing the awesome scenery. Catching a sunset or sunrise. The great friends I meet, some for life even after just a day on the trail. I've seen hikers carry musical instruments, a stuffed animal. One even had these huge butterfly wings strapped to her backpack! Some carry special food items in from town. I must admit I also like some comfort by way of carrying a few luxury items in my backpack. So these are a couple of the items that I tuck away.


A Seat Cushion 

The picture shows an old Thermarest orange seat cushion I actually picked up at a yard sale for fifty cents. Talk about a stellar buy! I used it for my entire northbound hike of the AT. Then suddenly, part way through my southbound venture, the seat cushion sprang a leak. We were unable to repair it. I ordered another Thermarest seat cushion  to be delivered to New York while on the Appalachian Trail.

A Thermarest Lite Seat Cushion


Just the idea I have something to sit on when resting my sore legs or after a full day's hike gave me a sense of being at home in the wilderness.
Thermarest Z Lite











I never left home without it. The seat also helped cushion sore knees when arranging the inside of my tent at night or packing up in the morning. I've used it to elevate my air mattress under my head, r for your feet, too. You can also get one like the Z rest pads, only it’s a seat cushion. Or make one yourself from an old foam sleeping pad like the blue ones. And get this, I saw a thru hiker this year write on it - Hiker to Town - and the reverse - Hiker to Trail - as a sign for hitchhiking! Talk about multi purpose!

A Pillow to Sleep on

No, not the gargantuan ones we use at home. I never have been able to get comfy stuffing some stuff sack with clothes as a makeshift pillow. To be honest, I usually never have enough clothes to use for a pillow, or if I do, they are my stinky hiking clothes. And who wants to put that under your head and smell the aroma all night? Not me. At first I opt for Cocoon’s fluffy pillows, and used them on both my north and south hikes. But they were fairly bulky and a little weighty. Just recently a hiker introduced me to the Exped inflatable pillow. What a fantastic invention! Boy, do I love this thing. It’s lightweight, collapses flat, and has two ports for inflation and deflation. It works like charm and satisfies my need for a place to rest my head.

The Exped Air Pillow
 
So what are your luxury items that you take on a backpacking trip? Who knows, your idea may end up in my pack like the Exped pillow did! 
 

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Speaking Engagements!

Check out my List of Speaking Engagements for the latter part of 2014 into 2015. Some great programs at Shenandoah National Park, at the Gathering, and other places! Learn about ridgerunning, trails in Shenandoah and 4000 miles on the Appalachian Trail!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Guest Blog - Dehydration

A follow up on the previous blog about heat related illnesses is a guest blog on dehydration from a medical standpoint and what it means in your body.


Don’t Get Dehydrated This Summer! 



With summer temperatures rising high, it is critical to keep in mind what may be causing you to feel dehydrated and also how you can spot dehydration before it becomes a serious hazard.

The first tip is to know the signs and symptoms of dehydration. Usually, the first signs are neurological; headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, increased thirst, and dry mouth. After that, if dehydration has not been treated, the signs may progress on to GI symptoms such as nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, and cramps. Medical signs physicians look for include tachycardia, fever, tachypnea (increased breathing), decreased urine output, and hypotension. On rare occasions with severe dehydration coma, seizures, and death can occur.

In order to avoid dehydration, prevention is key. Especially in preparing for any long outdoor physical activity, you should decrease alcohol, coffee, and tea, intake. The common factor in many sports drinks and sodas is caffeine, which is also a big contributor to dehydration. They are diuretics and diuretics will cause inhibition of ADH (antidiuretic hormones) made in the pituitary gland, which is needed for the sodium active transport system in your kidneys. When the transport system is blocked, water does not get reabsorbed by the kidneys and is lost through urine. This is the reason for the frequent urination when drinking these products.

Even more important than knowing what can make you feel dehydrated, is knowing ways to help you stay
properly and fully hydrated. When choosing a beverage that will keep you hydrated, the two main ingredients to look for are Salt (NACl) and Water(H2O). Plain water will be absorbed via the GI Tract but is very inefficient. Have you ever drank plain water and still felt dehydrated? It is the active transport system, specifically, the sodium (Na) active transport system in the kidneys that is the most efficient system in the human body in reabsorbing water. When we drink a high sodium drink in the form of NaCl (salt) and H2O (water) during dehydration, the kidneys will actively transport the sodium (Na). When this occurs, the H2O will follow passively into our body. This is why when a patient comes to the ER (emergecny room) for dehydration issues, they are given a Normal Saline IV. 1 Liter normal saline has 9000mg of Salt (NaCl) and Water (H20). The only ingredients found in a normal saline is Salt and Water.

Don’t short yourself of fluids you need to stay hydrated. While this is difficult to measure, generally for non-active consumers, 2-4 BANa’s per day will keep the doctor away. 4 bottles of adult BANa is similar in salt content as a normal saline IV bag. When hydrated, your body will naturally filter out out the excess salt and water. Doctors also tell non-active patients in clinic the 8x8 rule. Eight - 8 oz glasses of plain water per day. Have fun this summer, but stay safe by staying hydrated!


For more than a decade, Benjamin Yoo, MD has treated patients in the emergency room for dehydration. Dr. Yoo is the founder of BANa Bottling Co., an industry-leading rehydration beverage company. Born in South Korea, Yoo moved to the U.S. at the age of six and was raised on his parent’s farm in western Kentucky. Dr. Yoo earned his medical degree from the University of Louisville in 2001, then began working in emergency rooms across Georgia and South Carolina. He moved to Charleston, S.C. in 2004 to work at HealthFirst Rapid Care in North Charleston. It was there that Yoo had the idea for BANa a rehydration drink inspired by saline IVs given to patients in the ER or urgent care for dehydration

Related Blogs

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Heat-Related Ilnesses while Backpacking and Hiking


It’s the height of summer and time for great hikes. But it’s also time that heat-related illness can affect you while exerting yourself in hot temperatures.



The two heat-related illnesses one needs to look out for are heat exhaustion and sunstroke. Heat exhaustion can be managed on the trail, but sunstroke is a life-threatening emergency where the hiker must get to a hospital.

Heat Exhaustion can occur in hot, humid temperatures when the body becomes depleted of fluids necessary to cool itself - (severe dehydration). There may be heat cramps involved. The skin may be pale, cool, clammy, the hiker slightly anxious, pulse and breathing are basically normal. However, if the hiker is not cooled down, it can advance to the life threatening sunstroke as the core body temperature begins to rise.
Seek rest in a shady, cool spot. Sometimes resting on rocks that are in the shade or beside stream beds are cool. Or find an area next to water or in a wet environment. Breezes can also help you cool down by allowing convection to happen. Drink! – Especially replace lost salt and water. Having an electrolyte type mix in your hiker bag is crucial to helping replace sodium and potassium lost during sweating. Gatorade is also a favorite choice. When you get to town, eating a banana helps with cramping.

Sunstroke occurs when the mechanism to keep yourself cool begins to fail and your internal body temperature rises. Your skin becomes red, hot and dry. You can become disoriented, confused, and irritable. Pulse is rapid and there may be a seizure. Cool immediately by immersing into a cold stream or river or pouring water over the body. Give fluids if still awake and you can massage limbs to draw out the heat. Call for help.

How to prevent these illnesses from happening on a hike: 

  • Take frequent rest breaks in cool, shady areas
  • Drink plenty fluids and eat salty foods. Carry electrolyte replacement granules to add to water. Be sure to carry plenty of water in desert environments
  • Wear lightweight clothing and bright colors. Wear a lightweight hat
  • If you feel hot, dry, your urine output is low, that means dehydration is setting in. Stop and rehydrate.