Thursday, October 01, 2015

Safety Tips for Fording Streams and Rivers


Reposting this with the water hazards from recent heavy rainfall. The above is a river I forded yesterday. I wore my shoes in it didn't worry about getting my footwear completely soaked (a plus for quick drying footwear like trail runners), and used my hiking poles for leverage. The water current can get very swift though and can knock you off your feet. Be careful. If in doubt, don't cross.

With all the rain be have been receiving, I discovered this valuable article via the Appalachian Trail Conservancy on how to safely cross streams and rivers. Be sure to check out the ATC for other valuable articles on planning your hike and become a member!

Safety Tips for Fording Streams and Rivers

Fording streams and rivers may be the most dangerous challenge hikers confront. River crossings can be deceptively hazardous. Even a very shallow, swiftly flowing body of water can pack enough force to knock you off your feet. Use caution and common sense. Carry a map and compass and know how to use them. If a section of the Appalachian Trail is closed or presents a serious safety hazard, hikers may take an alternate route or skip those sections entirely and still be eligible to receive 2,000-miler status.

Do not attempt to wade or swim across Maine’s Kennebec River. Dam releases upstream may cause sudden and rapid changes in water depth and current. One hiker is known to have drowned and others have had near misses fording the river. The official route of the Trail across the Kennebec is the ferry service for A.T. hikers, provided at no charge during peak hiking season. Current information on the Kennebec ferry schedule.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

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 strung up the usual way. Check ahead of time to see if there are any bear warnings for the area where you plan to hike (such as in the Smokies that routinely closes shelters for bear activity. Check out the Bear facts of Life blog for tips on handling black bear encounters. Don't be afraid to be aggressive though if bears are sighted near shelter and tenting areas. Shout, bang pots, throw rocks, bark loudly  like a dog (which works very well. I've heard there's even an APP for it for your phone!). Bears should NOT be there in those areas.

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.

Now some top Fall Hikes of previous years (still great!) 

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

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Caring for the Wilderness

I have just completed my third season as the ridgerunner for Shenandoah National Park. Inevitably I
encounter hikers who ask me then – what is a ridgerunner?

Basically I hike the Appalachian Trail within the park boundary (some 100 miles worth), greeting hikers (I greeted over 500 thru hikers – those hiking the entire AT in one year – this season), serving as a roving information board, checking trail conditions and inspecting the huts (or shelters) where hikers stay. As this is my third year in the park and I have done all the trails within the park on the off season, I am fairly well able to handle the different questions hikers have, which are many. It’s my job to try and know all I can.

The role of a ridgerunner is also important to both the trail maintainers and the National Park Service. I serve as their eyes and ears. I work closely with each agency partner. I let them know when there are issues that need to be dealt with.

For instance, I let them know about garbage issues in the park that can lead to wildlife encounters.

This garbage was left in the same area where the bear attacked. PACK IT OUT

 I tell maintainers about unsightly graffiti inside huts or other things that need taken care of.

Graffiti of any kind in a shelter is not only unsightly but also criminal

And I let maintainers know where the big blowdowns are on the trail.

This season was not without incident for me, however. While camped at Pass Mountain Hut a few short weeks ago, a young bear inexplicably attacked my completely empty tent. The bear broke a pole and did some other damage. 

The park then came to inspect and try to ensnare the bear. Earlier that day I had found half eaten food inside the privy area. Adequate food storage and carrying out ALL trash (including not leaving any trash in the fire pit) helps alleviate a bear’s interest in humans and food. As well as chasing away any bears that are spotted near these structures or places where hikers are camping. My role in being an educator in Leave No Trace principles helps protect both the hiker and the park.

Of course I also enjoyed a nice view. 

Who can’t help but enjoy a place of immense beauty and natural wonder? I help the hiker have an enjoyable time outdoors while helping maintain and protect a park busy with the many visitors that come seeking fellowship with the wilderness that Shenandoah provides.  

Saturday, September 05, 2015

The Meaning of Life and a Trail - A Walk in the Woods Review

A Walk in the Woods will certainly generate AT interest. But not in the way some might think.

This movie is essentially about two older people looking for the meaning of the rest of their life by taking a walk on the Appalachian Trail. One battles alcohol. The other is a washed-up author who is seeing friends die. It is a scenario those over 50 see very much in their lives. Which is why I believe the film will MEAN more to the older generation. Young folks will likely find it boring, uninteresting, or upset the way young people are portrayed in it as either hip studs ready to rescue the old codgers or obnoxious and mean. This is not a movie for young people in that sense. The movie examines the thoughts of older people. But in this, young might learn something valuable about life as they see parents and grandparents go through these struggles. Which is a good thing as these days people seem to be very “me centered.”

As for the hiker, ones that have done the AT won’t like a few mishaps with the trail or mistaken scenery placement. But this is not a documentary. Tons of those out there. It shows a few of life’s lessons and also lessons you can learn on the trail. Like what happens when one doesn’t follow Leave No Trace with food and the bears come (although grizzlies are NOT on the AT). I was also happy to see that twice the hikers showed ethics with waste disposal. There was a small 5 second clip of maintainers taking care of the trail. It did show some beautiful spots and how the trail can invigorate you and cause life changes. That will be its draw, as well as the draw of simply seeing a Hollywood flick with AT written all over it that then extends to people buying the book. Which led to the initial surge of hikers after the book’s release.

I am still concerned about the impact of the trail by those that don’t know what to do. And I feel the movie could certainly spur others to try and do it without being adequately prepared. It did not show so much the rigors but in many cases, interesting trail life. That the trail has lots of pit stops and comraderie and social aspects. That will draw folks. But preparation is the key. As well as preservation in observing Leave No Trace.

But do find a mean to life by a hike, whether in yourself are in others. A walk fills the soul in ways this modern world can never do.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Lightening that Backpacking Load

One of the things I love to do as a hiker advocate, educator and ridgerunner is helping hikers eliminate unnecessary weight from their packs in shakedowns. I had the opportunity to do this the other day with a young hiker who was dead tired after four miles and ready to quit. Not only was the hiker carrying heavy items like a seven pound tent and a chair, but the backpack did not fit correctly either, and the hiker carried all the weight on the shoulders.
Make the right choices to lighten the load

Not cool and definitely a painful ordeal.

So what do you take out of your pack? Most hikers tend to do overkill with food, toiletries, first aid,
etc. They take every part of a cook set rather than just the tools they need. Sometimes half the medicine chest is in the first aid kit. This hiker I helped had two 8 oz. fuel canisters for three days. Also many lightweight times can quickly add up to pounds. Eliminating these in rapid fashion decreases the weight and make a hike more comfortable.

So let’s take a few of the above.

Food. A good rule of thumb is approx. 1 ½ lbs. of food per day. No need for cans. Check my blog on hiker food ideas to give you nutritious meals without the weight.

Toiletries. No need for a deodorant, brush, shampoo. Ladies – you don't need make up. If you are hiking long distance, chances are great hostels and motels have shampoo and soap. A few baby wipes can make you feel refreshed in camp (but pack them out!!). I have never felt the need to take a brush or comb. Take only what you need for trail first aid.

Cooking. Many hikers take an overabundance of cooking gear to make simple meals. Honestly, all one needs for most meals is one pot and one Spork. No need for a plate, frying pan, or extra pots. And don’t forget a simple stove, like a pocket rocket version (there’s a cheap one on Amazon some have said works good) and a canister to cook. I’ve seen hikers struggle to cook meals over a fire with wet wood and go hungry. Bring a lightweight stove. Substitute a Smartwater bottle for a Nalgene bottle saves some good ounces.  

Lots of heavy bags, stuff sacks etc. Simple, good quality Ziplocs make organization easy and you can see through the bags to help determine what you have. But do carry a good waterproof food bag for bear bagging. And make sure your clothing and sleeping bag are in good waterproof bags.
Electronics can get heavy. Bring only what you need. A phone in many instances can serve as a camera, music player, etc.

Check your pack. Do you REALLY need that huge book? That chair (try cutting an old blue foam pad or ridgerest and plop it next to a tree)? Leave out the heavy knife and egg container. If you don’t think you will use it, don’t bring it.

Lastly, make sure your pack fits you right. Make sure also you are using the waist belt correctly.

Just few ideas to lighten the load and make it a happy trip.  

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Top Five Worries About Thru-Hiking the AT

Blissful Hiking is republishing this excellent guest blog by thru hiker "Datto" with some good commentary on the worries hikers have concerning a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail and applicable in many ways to any long distance trail or hike.

Okay, so you're looking to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail and have some worries and concerns. Let's go through the Top Five Worries About Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail -- if others want to contribute and add their list of AT thru-hiking worries and remedies, by all means jump right in:

Worry Five: My [girlfriend, boyfriend, spouse, parents, friends, resident alien, mother-in-law] think the idea of leaving work and your good life back home just to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail is nuts.

It's unsafe. It's irresponsible. It's useless. It's impossible. I could go on and on describing all the reasons I've heard before, during and after my AT thru-hike. The best one was the utterance said right to my face when I had been thinking of thru-hiking the AT: "Why would you ever want to doing something like that?" and I'd responded, "Why did they climb Everest?" and the response back to me was, "That was almost as crazy!" It's still makes me smile to think about that day. Look, the vast majority of people don't like change and society doesn't like things off the curve. But you'll find those experiences are the specific things that make life memorable, that make life worth living, that allow you to live life fully. Taking on great challenges -- and succeeding. I honestly can't thing of many things more enlightening, enjoyable, just-plain-fun, exciting, frustrating or memorable that I've done in my short life than my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. For extra credit, look at the link to view my listing of the Top Ten Likely Benefits From Completing Your AT Thru-hike that I'd composed previously. And you'd want to give up the things on that list of likely benefits just so you could go to work every day and come home at night to watch Wheel Of Fortune? Maybe your mother-in-law was right about you. Wapner. Wapner at 4:30.

Worry Four: I'll run out of money.

That's a big concern since running out of money is in the top five reasons AT thru-hikes end prematurely. It's pretty simple -- if you haven't saved $5,000 cash to spend on your AT thru-hike, it's likely you'll run out of money or may go into considerable debt just to complete your AT thru-hike. That $5,000 cash includes the money you spend from the time you get on the plane/train/bus in your home town to when you arrive back in your home town after you complete your AT thru-hike. It includes gear you would replenish or replace on the Trail but not gear you start the Trail with at Springer Mountain for northbounders or Katahdin for southbounders. Even if you have $5,000 saved up, here's an important part of the utilization of that $5,000 -- if you're a northbounder you need to have one-half of that amount still available to you when you reach the southern Connecticut border. Reason: the New England states are very eye-opening expensive and you've been spoiled by the cheaper costs of the southern Appalachian Trail states.

Worry Three: I don't know if I'm physically capable of carrying a backpack 2,186 miles.

You would not believe the number of people I know who had started their AT thru-hikes in the absolutely worst physical shape you can imagine. Way overweight, all kinds of medications they had to take that made them [choose your side-effect here], all kinds of physical disabilities. I know people who were seventy pounds overweight who made it from Springer Mountain, GA to Katahdin in Maine. Heck, a blind guy started his AT thru-hike with his white cane and went over all those rocks in North Carolina moving the cane back and forth. Earl Shaffer was just ahead of me on his third AT thru-hike when I was on my AT thru-hike -- and he was 80 years old. That's right -- 80 years old. So, are you telling me you can't do what an 80 year old guy could do, a blind guy could do and someone who starts their AT thru-hike being 70 lbs overweight could do? As some sage thru-hikers before me have said, "It's just walkin'". You get used to it, relish it, begin to enjoy it, begin to enjoy the life on the Trail. And you know what? When you have completed your thru-hike you'll likely think it was the best time of your life.

Worry Two: What if I get bored -- I've never been in the woods for that long of a period of time and I've never been away from my family for that long of a time -- maybe I should arrange to start my AT thru-hike with someone?

Ha, if you're a northbounder you have no worries at all. The Trail will be crawling with people who are starting their own AT thru-hikes. You don't need to find someone to start an AT thru-hike with -- there will be loads of people hiking along with you. Interesting people from all walks of life -- hairdressers, history teachers, recent college graduates, retirees, Army generals, furniture salespeople, people just back from the Peace Corps or similar, computer professionals, divorcees, happily married folks, rich executives, people who've been out of work for a long time, foreigners, domestics, conservatives, liberals, people with alternative lifestyles back in "society", FBI agents, journalists and cab drivers. Those are just some of the individuals who I'd hiked with during my AT thru-hike. On the Trail it's a microcosm of the world. It's not just crazy outdoorsy people -- in fact, outdoorsy people are pretty much few and far between. I would say it's more about people from all walks of life wanting an adventure, wanting a challenge, wanting to do something interesting with themselves. The outdoorsy part you learn on the Trail if you don't already have it when you start. You'll probably meet people for the first time right on the top of Springer Mountain, who've also climbed up the side of the mountain to start their AT thru-hike just like you, that you'll also go up Katahdin with when you finish your thru-hike in Maine. I know it is hard to believe -- I was told that it would be that way by past thru-hikers when I was preparing for my AT thru-hike and I'd been skeptical of it. But you know what? I met up with several of the people I'd first met on Springer Mountain, GA when I went up Katahdin six months later. You develop friendships along the Trail -- sometimes life-long friends, sometimes romances, most of the time it's people you'd never met before you'd started your AT thru-hike. Some of those people are not going to be at all like you -- but you'll still enjoy each others company. I can tell you I met up with introverts, extraverts, groups of hikers, people who liked to hike and camp alone, devoutly religious folks and atheists, Moms and Dads. It's takes all kinds to show up one day by chance and start north from Springer Mountain or south from Katahdin. There isn't necessarily a "type" per se but since you are reading this I can expressly say that you are the type and you'll meet up with many of your type right on the Trail during the first few weeks of your AT thru-hike. So don't worry about it at all.

Worry One: What will I do afterwards?

Now there is something to think about while you're hiking. Not every day, just occasionally -- once a month or so. There's a chance when you get to about, oh, mile 2,000, you're going to think to yourself, "I can't go back to how it was before. Not after having experienced this." The "this" meaning your life on the Trail. One suggestion I can give you -- if you have the ability, plan ahead of time to take 30 days after you complete your AT thru-hike to put a plan together before you start moving in any direction with your life. It will give you time for perspective as well as time to get yourself back to experiencing that amazing colossal spigot in the kitchen that has clean flowing water coming out of it that doesn't need to be treated. Take a walk through your local Wal-mart after your thru-hike and gaze upon the people who never had the chance, nor will have the chance, to experience what you've had over the course of several recent months. Watch how other people lead their lives. What you currently think is normal, before your AT thru-hike, may seem so odd when you return from completing your AT thru-hike. When you first watch the Nightly News upon return from the AT, remember about all the kindness that you'd experienced on the Trail, about the happiness you saw first-hand for yourself. That is how the world truly is -- not the way it is presented on a nineteen inch diagonal view of the world. Whatever you decide to do with yourself after you return from your AT thru-hike, I know you are going to be thankful.

Best of adventures to you!


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