Monday, July 13, 2015

Getting Along with Family While Long Distance Hiking

This is some good advice when hiking with family  - taken from the Orr Family Journal as they hike the Appalachian Trail this year (2015). I met them as they hiked through Shenandoah National Park and was impressed with how they worked together to accomplish their dream of a thru hike.  

"Several people have told us if they traveled with their family they would kill each other. So I thought I'd mention 3 things we use to keep family harmony.

1. Forgiveness: Irritations come up and get larger when you have plenty of time to think about them while hiking. If there is an issue we try to ask forgiveness quickly and always before the sun goes down.

2. Selfishness: we succeed or fail together. If someone needs precious food or water that you have carried many miles, give it to them without conditions.

3. Spend money when Morale is low: I try to save money but things such as sore shoulders or feet, falls, rain, and steep trails tend to lower morale. That is the time to pay for a hotel, eat at a nice restaurant,or replace some equipment.

The biggest threat to an extended family trip are unresolved accumulated irritations with low morale. I already had to ask forgiveness for my attitude this morning and we are eating at a restaurant, improving morale, drying out, watching the rain today."

On our thru hike in 2007

The above makes some good points about planning ahead of time when long distance hiking with family members. Keep your goals fluid and not set in stone, or it adds to the stress of the hike. Have the finances available so if you need a morale booster, like a warm bed or a good meal, you have the money to do that. Realize that some in the family might be having a bad day, so go with the flow and adapt to it, whether mileage or otherwise. I've hiked the whole trail with my son and as a family unit on sections. Above all, patience is the key. Take it one day at a time. And allow the experience to mold and shape you all into better people that can relate better to each other and the world around you.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Oh, My Aching Knees

 One of a hiker's chief complaints is knee issues that can spring up on the trail. A knee is a rather intricate joint with many ligaments and tendons interspersed through it to make it work as a "hinge" joint. It carries quite a load, and combined with a backpack, on uneven or steep terrain, with long miles, the load on this joint can be incredible. The knee offers a variety of complaints, so much so that is can force a hiker off the trail. 

But there are tricks to keep the knee joint functioning if a hiker treats the joint with the respect it deserves.  


Before a backpacking trip, get into a regimen of strengthening this joint. Do knee bends with a pack on your back. Do stretches for your hamstrings and quads. Knee pain often results from these muscle groups that are too tight. Learn the stretch too for ITB (illiotibial band syndrome). Runners World give a nice article on good knee stretches for the athlete.


Nutrition is a key element to healthy joints. A balanced diet is best, especially on long backpacking trips. Don't skimp in this area. Up your protein which assists in muscle healing after a hard work-out (and hiking is hard on your muscles). When you stop to rest, don't reach for a candy bar. Eat some cheese or nuts instead. Keep an adequate, consistent intake of water on your hike which helps the body lubricate the joints and brings blood to the area. Consider glucosomine, chondroitin, and msm
supplements. A product I found that is working wonders on my knee is eggstraflex that contains eggshell membrane. I have used this in place of glucsomine with good results.

Use good hiking poles. They take the strain off knees, especially on downhills.

Make sure you are wearing adequate footwear and insoles. It's best to get fitted by a professional shop that knows foot types.

Watch your pack weight. An overweight pack can add more stress load to the knees. Try to cut down on any unnecessary weight.

Watch your daily trail mileage. Forget keeping up with others. Take the hike at your pace, even if that means a 6 mile day. If other hikers run past you down the hill, let 'em.

If you have done bicycling and switch to hiking, it will take time for your muscles to adapt. Give them that consideration.

For pain, an ice pack can help as well as NSAIDS (non steroidal, anti inflammatories such as Aleve or Advil).  I found the cho pat duo knee brace works well. But I try hard to limit its use. Once your knee adapts to it, it's hard to go without it. Prevention is best.  

If you find after a hike your knee is quite swollen, or you have crippling pain or the pain persists, be sure to get checked out by a sports MD. There may be other issues involved, such as strained or sprained ligaments or even Lyme Disease (which can affect joint health). 

Related Blogs:

Ankle Injuries
When Injury Sidelines You
First Aid Kit and Wilderenss Medicine
Sore and Achy

Thursday, June 25, 2015

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. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Hiking Vermont's Long Trail

I'm seeing some hikers planning a Long Trail adventure and decided to go ahead and share this blog back from 2012 when I did my southbound hike of it. I found the End to Ender's Guide and the map sufficed. I did not carry the Long Trail Guide as it only has descriptions for a northbound hike and I was hiking southbound. I also took a GPS device as well that really did come in handy on a few of the situations I found myself in. 

On September 23, 2012, I completed a southward trek of Vermont’s Long Trail. What began back in 2010 with the completion of the trail from Maine Junction (where the Appalachian Trail and Long Trail part) to Rt 2 in Massachusetts, I hiked from the Canadian border to the Maine Junction this fall. 
Looking into Quebec, Canada at the start of the Long Trail
So what is the Long Trail? As taken from the Green Mountain Club's web site – “Built by the Green Mountain Club between 1910 and 1930, the Long Trail is the oldest long-distance trail in the United States. The Long Trail follows the main ridge of the Green Mountains from the Massachusetts-Vermont line to the Canadian border as it crosses Vermont's highest peaks. It was the inspiration for the Appalachian Trail, which coincides with it for one hundred miles in the southern third of the state.

Although the Long Trail is known as Vermont's "footpath in the wilderness," its character may more accurately be described as backcountry. As it winds its way to Canada, the Trail climbs rugged peaks and passes pristine ponds, alpine bogs, hardwood forests and swift streams. The Long Trail is steep in some places, muddy in others, and rugged in most. Novice and expert alike will enjoy the varied terrain of the trail as it passes through the heart of Vermont's backwoods.
With its 273-mile footpath, 175 miles of side trails, and nearly 70 primitive shelters, the Long Trail offers endless hiking opportunities for the day hiker, weekend overnighter, and extended backpacker.”

Some noted observations made while on my hike –

Atop Mt Mansfield looking toward the Adirondoacks of NY and Lake Champlain
Best part of the trail – Except for a bit of a nerve wracking ascent up the chin and then the calamity with my backpack on the forehead, Mt Mansfield was one of the trip's highlights for stunning scenery.

The Presidential Range of NH from the Lincolns
I also liked very much a lone mountain called Laraway Perch. I had a beautiful view of Mansfield that day. The trail also meandered below huge rock formations.

Another favorite was Mt Abraham in the Lincoln region. My last views above tree line as I headed south.
Worse part of the trail – I attempted to climb Camel’s Hump in sixty mile an hour winds and heavy rain. It got so bad that I was obliged to take a side trail to avoid the exposed summit. On a clear day, this would have been a great mountain. But on adverse weather, it made for a treacherous and rather frightening experience.

What I’m glad I took – I accepted a fellow hiker's generous offer to carry his GPS with me. This served me many times when the trail became a bit confusing in ski areas such as Jay Peak (and the trail crosses many ski areas). It also helped me navigate back to the trail when my backpack fell out of the “Needle” portion of the forehead on Mt Mansfield and careened down 100 feet into a ravine. After retrieving my pack, I was able to bushwhack back using the GPS. I'm also glad I did take a 15 degree bag and outerwear for my September travels. Many hikers out there were pretty cold in their 30 plus degree bags in September.

Regrets – I didn’t need the mail drop at all in Jonesville, even though the post office is directly trailside. Between Jeffersonville (which has a nice general store) and Waitsfield, there is good resupply for the northern hiker. I ended up ditching some food at the inn at Waitsfield.

Speaking of which, the B&B's I stayed at (Nyes Green Valley and the Waitsfield Inn) were first class, friendly to hikers, did up laundry for free, and provided shuttles. Great breakfasts too. Worth the hefty price.  

Favorite place to stay on the trail – I had a great time at the ski lift hut on Spruce Peak. And I had wet gear that dried quickly that night inside the hut. The view overlooking Stowe was lovely. Stark’s Nest is another great place to stay, with views from the porch extending toward the Presidential Range of New Hampshire.

The Finish at Maine Junction. I did the southern part on my 2010 hike of the AT southbound

What I Learned – When the going gets rough, listening to the still small voice telling me where to go and what to do (like trying to negotiate the rocky traverse of the Camel's Hump ascent) really saved my hike.   

My Long Trail Journal on Trail Journals.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

The Bear Facts of Life

I photographed this bear in a tree in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
And this bear up a tree in Shenandoah
Bears can be a hot topic in the hiker forums. After the recent events in the Smokies where a bear was reported to have taken a hiker out of his hammock, it makes good sense to go ahead and share the facts when encountering these animals in the woods.

Most bears are skiddish when encountered on the trail, but a mother with her cubs can and will attack to defend her young if she detects a threat. It's prudent, therefore, to know the basics of bear safety when out hiking. And it's wise also to be aware of their scent to let you know they are nearby. I was taught the scent of a bear from a hiker/former ranger, and she said it smells like a wet dog. Once you recognize a bear's scent, it will alert you to their presence and avoid surprise encounters.   

Below are some general bear safety tips taken from the Shenandoah National Park website. If you are out west in grizzly country, that's a more dangerous area, and bear spray, bear bells, and other protection are needed, as well as bear canisters in many places (such as Yosemite National park which requires it).

Avoiding Bears While Hiking
  • Stay alert to your surroundings and the presence of wildlife while hiking.
  • Make your presence known by keeping the wind to your back (your scent will alert bears), if possible hike in groups, and make noise.
  • When you spot a bear, stay 300 feet or more away and never linger or take photographs for long periods.
  • Slowly back away and leave the area or take a detour. Making noise during your retreat is appropriate. Keep children close to the group. Do not turn your back on a bear. Do not make eye contact.
  • Do not pursue and NEVER surround a bear. Give it room to escape.
  • DO NOT run from a bear. Bears will pursue prey and flight is a signal to them to start pursuit.
Encountering a Black Bear
If an encounter occurs …
Remain calm and don’t run. Like dogs, bears will often chase fleeing animals. You can't outrun a bear. They have been clocked at speeds up to 35 mph! Climbing a tree is futile since black bears excel at climbing trees. Jaw popping by the bear is a signal to you that it is uncomfortable.
Let the bear know you are human. Talk to it in a normal voice and wave your arms. If a bear cannot tell what you are, it may come closer or stand on its hind legs to get a better look or smell. A standing bear is usually curious – not threatening.
Move away slowly, but don’t turn your back. If the bear follows, stop and hold your ground. Black bears may approach at a measured pace and attack the human as prey. The calm appearance of the black bear may have lure some of their victims into a false sense of security.  If leaving the area is not an option or if the bear gets too close you should make yourself appear as large as possible. Lifting your arms and a pack over head, moving to higher ground or, if in a group, huddling together will help discourage the bear. Make louder noise by banging pots and pans or using other noisemakers, but never imitate bear sounds or make a high-pitched squeal. Throwing objects at the bear may be appropriate but only when you are “cornered”. A black bear calmly and steadily approaching who is not bothered by yelling or thrown objects should be considered extremely dangerous.
Avoid eye contact with the animal.
If a bear charges…
Don’t run! Bears often make bluff charges, sometimes to within 10 feet of their adversary, without making contact. Usually if you hold your ground they will back off.

If a bear actually makes contact…
Fight back! In rare instances black bears perceive humans as prey – if you are attacked by a black bear fight back. Try to focus your attack on the bear’s eyes and nose.

In camp...

Eat away from your sleeping area. Never store food in a tent or vestibule. Use bear poles or bear cables or hoist your food in a tree ten feet off the ground and four feet out in a bear bag. Cookware and trash should be similarly secured as well as anything scented such as toothpaste, toothbrush, medications, bug repellent, soap, etc.
In some places where bears are known to be aggressive on the Appalachian Trail, especially with food in areas such as Georgia near the Blood Mountain region or in New Jersey, carry a bear canister to store your food. Canisters are also required in the Adirondack region of New York State. Check your local areas for updates on aggressive bear activity.

Feel free to share your trailside bear stories and what you learned.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Warranties, Repairs, and Not Cheating the Gear Manufacturer

Inevitably after you have been hiking for a good while you will be saddled with gear issues. Some could be gear defects. Or wear and tear. Or gear that needs repair.

I had the unfortunate incident of tearing a hole in my new Big Agnes UL tent. I plastered it with duct tape which seems the cure-all for some gear repair in the field. It did fine until I got home and called the manufacturer.

Pillow with a defect, handled well by the mfct
Which brings me to this. When in doubt on your gear, call the manufacturer directly to get their opinion. Just last week I had a pillow that suffered a defect – (see the photo). You can tell when a
piece of gear has an obvious defect. I called Exped, talked to a helpful rep who then immediately sent a replacement upon receiving a photo of the gear issue. No fuss, no issue.

For the tent issue, I talked to a Big Agnes rep. The tear was my fault. It was not a defect or anything else. I caused it. They helped me figure out how to repair it, suggesting Tear Aid, a special kind of patch. I gently removed the duct tape (the manufacturers are not keen on duct tape as it leaves a sticky residue where repair patches like Tear Aid do not). I cleaned off any lingering residue with some rubbing alcohol, then made the repair.

Tear in the the tent fabric

Applying Tear Aid to patch the tear

I had also broken a buckle on my ULA Catalyst pack. ULA immediately got a new buckle out to me, no questions.

Then comes the gray areas of gear and clothing. Just last week, in my job as a ridgerunner, I was talking to a young thru hiker who was upset that an outfitter would not take back his socks and exchange them en route. He had hiked in these socks nearly 1000 miles since Springer MT in GA (he was now in upper Virginia) and since he had holes in this one pair and they had a lifetime guarantee, he should get new socks. I disagreed with this. There are going to be issues with gear or clothing under normal things like wear and tear. Manufacture guarantees usually do not guaranty against constant use, especially thru hiker use and abuse. In the past manufacturers and companies' policies have been abused by people who think they deserve their clothes or shoes to make it through 2000 miles. REI had that issue with their lifetime guarantee where hikers would bring back used gear, ages old, in an attempt to get new gear. Thus the company was obliged to change its policy to one year. In this case, getting a 1000 miles out of a pair of socks before you see a hole is excellent wear in my humble opinion. And time to buy another pair of socks rather than abuse the good graces of the manufacturer and their supposed lifetime guarantee to get freebies. But in this case the manufacturer, Darn Tough Socks, agreed to send him a pair. I read their guarantee, and they seem to dare folks to wear out their socks. I guess this guy decided to prove the issue. He lucked out by a great company. I am curious how long their policy will remain. 

Gear manufacturers are most willing to work with hikers on gear issues. But a hiker needs to realize too when their gear simply needs to be replaced because it has been used and loved to death.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Why "A Walk in the Woods" will be A Nightmare in the Woods

Today I am seeing all over the clip for the movie coming on Labor Day. "A Walk in the Woods" with Hollywood’s Robert Redford. I see it and shudder.


I work out on the AT as a ridgerunner in Shenandoah National Park. I am already witnessing the increased usage on the trail and what that means. Overflowing huts (shelters in Shenandoah), full privies, toilet paper flowers, burnt out cans and cigarette butts, gallons of garbage. 

Please don’t mistake me. I am thrilled when newcomers come take their first walk on the AT. When people post pictures and experiences of their times. I do all I can through education and this blog to get them ready.  If I could count on hikers who followed the Leave No Trace principle, who were courteous, who carried out their garbage, who did what they could do to protect the trail and the environment, themselves and each other, I’d rest a bit easier.

But that isn’t the case. Already I am seeing such increased usage that areas are being stretched beyond capacity, and the movie hasn’t even been released. And the usage by hikers who don’t know and don’t care. Garbage is overflowing. Tents are stacked on top of each other as hikers wrestle for space.
One of the AT huts, May, 2015, and tents everywhere. Pre-movie.
When there is no space, they ignore camping regulations and camp wherever they want, even with their dogs by the springs. It’s already a nightmare out there and it hasn’t even begun.

I shudder also that trail organizations seem woefully unprepared for the coming onslaught and coming damage. They don’t seem to understand what is going to happen. Nothing has been planned. No action has been taken to cope with the masses that will flock to the AT after this movie comes out. I’ve had some higher-ups ask me as ridgerunner what will happen. I say it, but that’s it. Nothing has been done. 

Now it is too late. The masses are coming. There will be unprepared hikers (and more rescues), garbage galore, campfire pits and campsites scarring the land. Shelter areas strewn with trash,
15 gallons of trash found in a privy, May 2015 - pre-movie
with overflowing privies, and worn-out volunteer maintainers that can’t keep up and get burned out.

Thanks a bunch, Hollywood. "A Walk in the Woods" will become the AT and the maintainers' Nightmare in the Woods. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Campfire Talk

Okay, let's talk campfire lingo. Snap. Spark. Heat. Glow. Entertainment. S'mores. People-pleaser.

Fires seem to be the mainstay of an evening sojourn in the woods. Done properly and with care, they can add to an evening. Who doesn't like to share tales around the embers? Or roast marshmellows? Or take the chill out of a cool evening?

Unfortunately, more often than not, campfires are tools of abuse. There are an overabundance of campfire pits and rings built in the woods. Sometimes they scar the beauty of rocks at an overlook or are scattered all over the forest floor. They surround a single tent platform at such close proximity, I often wonder why the occupants' tent hasn't burned. I've seen woods totally devoid of downed limbs used to replenish the soil of the woods because it's used to feed the hungry flames of a large fire.

But more often than not, campfire rings are used as garbage containers in the wild. As a ridgerunner, I have cleaned out burnt cans, paper, numerous "hobo" meal wrappers - IE foil, from the pits. Some just leave whole garbage bags in them. Some have tried to burn their trash, only to have the burnt remains littering the pit and sinking in ash. I see lots of tn cans left in there. Why do folks think a tin can burns? Others toss used toilet paper and other unsavory items into the ring. And fire pits consistently used as an ashtray where hikers leave their cigarette butts.

So if we are to salvage anything good out of having a campfire - please do the following:

- Do NOT burn any garbage!! Not a scrap. Pack it all out. If you can carry in the food wrappers, you can pack out the empty ones!! That includes the foil from the "hobo" campfire meals. Pack it ALL out.  

- Do not build new campfire rings. There are plenty to be found in preexisting campfire rings out there. Share a ring with a neighbor. Or gather around the principle campfire ring at the shelters or established campsites. Who knows - you may develop friendships for life and save the woods from another scarred campfire ring.

- When you have a campfire, keep it small. Huge bonfires risk the vegetation, can cause a forest fire if they get out of hand, sterilize and damage the surrounding soil, and eat more of the wood in the area needed to replenish the soil. Huge fires also cast annoying light and smoke on other fellow hikers and campers who may want to sleep or who don't care to light a fire. Respect your neighbors.

- Some like campfire cooking. I'm not sure I like the idea of a blackened pot to stow away in my pack. I find a canister stove works very well. I've used a pocket rocket for 4,000 miles of hiking. But if it works for you, go for it.

- The flames of a fire can be entertaining but I've seen hikers use other methods. Like a candle lantern. I saw two hikers do it and were perfectly content.

If you choose a campfire, please be responsible so others can enjoy the beauty of our woods. And be sure to put out the fire completely. DO not leave it smoldering when you go to bed at night or leave in the AM.

With care and consideration campfires can be an enjoyable part of the hiking experience.    

Related Blogs:

Plan and Prepare for that Trip

Town Etiquette for Hikers