Monthly Archives: October 2011

Three Ridges After action report – part 2

When everyone (Chupacabra, Trailsurfer, Crash) was picked up, we decided not to stop at the Everyday Café in Charlottesville but stopped at a Burger King and ate.  We then drove on up to the trail head off the Blue Ridge Parkway at Reed’s Gap, arriving about 10PM.

At the trailhead we loaded up, switched on our headlamps and took off.  ‘Crash’ got a burst of energy and trotted up the trail ahead of ‘Trailsurfer’ and myself.  That lasted about 15 minutes.  We caught up and ‘Crash’ dutifully took his place in line with the rest of us slowpokes (did I mention it was dark?)

I have 2 RULES for the mountains:

Number 1 – What goes down, must come up, and

Number 2 – There is NO SUCH THING as a SMALL accident in the mountains.

Watching someone run on the trail carrying a pack makes me a little nervous, watching someone do the same thing – in the dark – makes me more than a little nervous.  That is a great way to get injured.  I’m lazy; I don’t want to worry about evacuations on the trail!  Lord have mercy, practice a little common sense, please don’t take such risky actions!  Think before you act.  Something else I see from time to time, young guys with heavy packs ‘tight-roping’ across a slippery tree to cross over a creek or gorge.

Where was I, oh yes.  So we walked in the moonlight in the forest, up and over a small hill, passed a tent on the left, and headed down to the Maupin AT shelter.  We pitched camp in the small clearing on the left, the moon was exceedingly bright and the stars were shining, no need for rain flies.  Or so I thought.  The moon was so bright it was like having a light on.  The wind was howling and the trees were swaying, it seemed like someone was swinging a flashlight back and forth on your tent.

Trailsurfer noticed 2 large dead trees right over his and my tents (widowmakers), so it was move or try to rationalize staying in place (we stayed).  Same thing with hanging bear bags, (we didn’t.)

It got kind of cold that night, low 40’s, so sleeping was excellent!

That morning, I cooked 3 large Pillsbury grande biscuits in my pot, then fried the pre-cooked sausages in the pot, being careful not to burn my lexan knife this time. 

While kicking back enjoying sausage biscuits and coffee, a funny thing happened.  Four cars pulled into the campsite.  We look at each other and said WTF!  Well, the TATC was up there doing trail maintenance and apparently they have a secret road which gets them up to the hut.  We exchanged pleasantries, loaded up on water at the hut, and then hit the trail about 10AM.

For the next 6 hrs we trudged up and over the 3 ridges stopping for a lunch break on the 3rd ridge , looking northeast and again on the flat rock outcrop just down from chimney rock, looking  southwest, arriving at the Harper Creek shelter area around 4PM.  Amazingly no one was totally exhausted so we wasted no time setting up tents.  A shout-out to ‘Crash’ for being the only one motivated to scrounge up fire wood and work on the fire.  I provided the fire-starter.

Around this time I cooked my dinner, made a banana nut muffin for everyone, and then ran out of fuel (see earlier post for rant on that).

Next morning (Sunday) we got an earlier start, around 9PM, and headed off.  When we linked up with Campbell creek, we got to walk alongside the water and enjoyed dozens of small waterfalls and pools.  We took a small break at the large (maybe 5 tents capable) campsite then headed out for the last stretch of trail.  We arrived at the Maupin shelter around 1 and back to the car about 1:30 or 2PM.

We stopped at the Everyday Café, off Rt 250, in Charlottesville for snacks, and that was that.

In Summary:  Nice trip, weather was great, conversation was excellent, and the time on the trail passed fairly quickly.

For pictures go to \\meetup.com\ocbackpackers\

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Water Water Everywhere, and Oh the Boards Did Shrink….

I was very young, and I was enlisted and stationed at Ft Hood.  The Army had taught us in basic training and Infantry school a simple technique one could use to ‘examine’ water prior to drinking.  This was around the time I had to filter water from a dried river bed thru a sweat sock at Big Bend NP while on a backpacking trip, before I had ever heard of backpacking water purifiers.

The method was this; 1.  Look at the water to make sure it was clear 2.  Smell the water to detect any odors 3.  Slightly taste the water to detect any odd or bad tastes.  It’s not a bad common sense, last resort type of thing.

But then came my trip to Mexico.  Drove to Laredo, took the overnight train to Mexico City, stayed for 2 weeks, and then took a bus, via Guadalajara, to Puerto Vallarta.  Stayed in a cheap hotel for $3 a night.  When it rained, the river turned brown, and so did the water in my room.

Long story short, Montezuma caught me and I had it bad, at both ends, for 3 full days, until I hopped a plane for San Antonio and some fresh water.

Hence my obsession with clean water and purifiers.

If you canoe or raft down the Shenandoah river up from Luray, you see cows standing in the water doing their ‘business’ – (yum! pass the canteen!)

When hiking with folks who don’t bother to purify their water, I think about mexico.  I KNOW that there are springs and creeks from springs where the water is probably clean, and I will drink from those myself, but I for one will always recommend that hikers beware and be prepared to clean their water.

One of the disturbing trends is in the manufacturing world of purifiers.  It is getting harder and harder to finds filters for older model purifiers which necessitates upgrading.

So over the years I’ve gone from a Sniff test, to a sweatsock, to boiling, to iodine tablets(YUK!!) to a Pur, to a First Need (lack of filters for both), to a Katahdin  model (nice but heavy), to a Steripen, expensive but VERY light, and the wand is glass, so its fragile and needs batteries. 

Let’s hope the Steripen stays around for a while..I’ll drink to that!

A SNP Old Rag Mountain Story…

One gallon of water weighs about 8.4 pounds and Shenandoah National Park can be a tough place to backpack.  Sometimes it is hard to find a nice loop, a nice loop being one with a flat, open place to set up a tent, with water,

I’m pretty obsessed by water.  If you can camp near water or can anticipate water on the trail, that’s a lot of weight you don’t have to carry.

For me, normally, Breakfast = 4 cups of water for 2 cups of coffee; 1 cup of water for a 2 packets of oatmeal (or grits); dinner needs about 2 cups for a meal, another 2 cups for hot cider or cocoa; not to mention what I need on the trail.

One of the problems with SNP is that the trails wind thru steep valleys, following creeks or old creeks, and usually, where there’s water, you have to fight thru the bushes, up hill, to find flat spot to put your tent.  The ridges are also problematic, and there’s the issue of water, you have to carry a lot of it, and you really have to have a good place in mind for camping, it is extremely haphazard if you don’t have a specific spot in mind.

Not too too long ago I hiked down white oak canyon to the valley floor and crossed the rather large creek, not stopping to get water because my map showed a spring next to one of the birds nest shelters on the trail coming down from Old Rag.  Well, the spring wasn’t there and I couldn’t find a stream that still had water (it was October), but I found a very nice place to camp, although it was at an intersection of a popular trail and an old gravel road.  I was down to about 1.5 liters so I had to suck it up.  I camped about 200 feet away from the trail and shelter on a very nice flat spot, at least that’s what I told the nice ranger who drove up the gravel road, unlocked the gate and proceeded up to the shelter to check my permit.  The extremely nice ranger gave me 2 liters of water and I proceeded back up towards skyline drive on the forest road that wound its way up the mountain.

That spring I returned to the same spot, the spring was flowing this time and the very same ranger once again drove up and checked my permit.  She didn’t recognize me, but I reminded her of her act of kindness and gave her many thanks.

She told me how to avoid the massive crowds, expected to be in the hundreds, hiking old rag.  I wasn’t sure I believed her.  The next morning, I packed up and started up old rag, starting at the opposite end away from the parking lots.  I was carrying a 35 lb pack.  Jesus Christ that was messed up, class 3 rock scrambles with a heavy pack.  The ‘jump’ over the 3 foot gap, about 9 or so feet above the ground, was a true moment of truth.  I think it would have been much easier going the opposite direction, going up. 

Then I met the crowds; hundreds of people and boy scout troops, at one critical bottle neck, there is no way I could have easily climbed up one flat section over my head, but due to the crowds, I merely lifted my pack to a person on the lip and climbed up after it.  At several points, before the crowds, I had to lower my pack on a cord, drop it, then down climb, my brand new fucking pack being dropped and scraped up!

The walk back was 3 or 4 miles, I think about 7 round trip. (I’m not refreshing my memory with a map), anyway, the friendly ranger came back and I asked her, ”why didn’t you warn me about the difficulty I would have with all that weight, it was very unsafe”, she said, “you never told my you going take your pack!  I thought you were going to leave all you stuff here”!  OMG! Duh, I’m going to just leave my tent up in sight of the trail with 200 day hikers walking by.

Makes for a good story.  I know I got off the water topic, but I’ll come back to it.  Later

 

Back from three ridges, Vic Reed’s Gap & AT/Blue Ridge Parkway, Va

Back, alive, feet a little sore due to the rocky parts of day 3.

Leaves changing color, temps perfect, no incidents to report   ….except…for….the….hiker….who…..showed…..up…..knowing  he was missing

1.  boots 2. stove  3.  bowl   4. cup  5.  sleeping pad 6.  bag for the season 7. canteen/water bottle 8. water purifier 9. matches/firestarter

So….being a great guy I offer my stove up to boil water on the condition he brings an extra fuel bottle, so when my fuel is gone*, he pulls out his fuel canister – and the fucking thing is so rusted we can’t clean it to attach my stove!!! AAARHGGGG!!!

* Ok, just a little my fault for running out of fuel, I used 25 minutes for my coffee+sausage+ biscuits on saturday (yum), and then I warmed up burito mix, then cooked a giant banana muffin for everyone Sat night (double yum) but I had to put it back on for 10 additional minutes for 20+10 min cooking time, then my poor small canister was done!  Now at least I know for sure I can get 60 minutes out of that size canister, but needed 70! 

Anyway, ‘trailsurfer’ , the third member of our party, had an alcohol stove and boiled me some water for coffee sunday morning.  A valuable lesson, sigh.

About 30 scouts whooping it up at Harper creek shelter area, but we found a great site along the creek up from the hut.  The sound of the water falling masked the little kiddies noise.

Rant – Who goes on a hike knowing they’re missing all that stuff?  I will say there was no complaining – at -all, so kudo’s to Mr Forgetfull for that, who also worked for at least an hour, but in the end got the fire started (with my firestarter).  But that was one-and-done for me; I kept thinking about the guide “nothing is provide for you”.  Let me be clear, this stuff was not forgotten, It was declared (via several phone calls to me in route the the pick up) that this stuff was ‘missing’ or couldn’t be located, but ‘what the heck’, will go anyway, lord.

I guess I doth protest too much, ’cause it all worked out and everybody had a great time.

What makes a great hike?

What distinguishes a good hike from a great hike?  Which hikes do you bring up around the campfire?  Or on the drive to the trail head?  Trips in common with other people, common places?

A ‘great’ trip is one where something memorable happened, not necessarily pleasant.  Getting lost, epic climb, great food, great laughs, frightful weather, crazy ass hard trail, survival of some situation – these, I posit, are what we remember and the stories we tell, and water and grow over time:-);

There I was, on the side of the mountain, when…..

I’ve got about a million of them…

Many many years ago, Cliff and I went backpacking in Big Bend National Park, no tents, no pads, canteens like gold miners, old boy scout and K Mark packs. We hiked for a few days, our last campsite was unfortunately at a dry stream bed.  We had to dig down about a foot, water was very mirky and dirty, and then….wait for it……strained the water thru an old cotton gym sweat sock…oooh!  yummy!  But it worked, and it’s a great story, although the hole seems to get deeper and the water dirtier with each retelling.

Like this one, While I was climbing the Matterhorn, Zermatt, Switzerland, my crampon came off my boot while on a particularly narly class 5 rock section.  I had to climb about 20′ with the damn thing dangling from my leg before getting to a section where I could re clamp it…..this was classic (for me!), don’t you know I was thinking about this at the very exposed ice field/ledge just below the summit.  Great story, now that it’s over!

A footnote to the Big Bend story; we picked up a hitch hiker on our way home driving along the texas-mexico border, on a whim we drove into mexico, del rio, I think, not sure, anyway, coming back across the border, our hitch-hiker was on a watch list, So Cliff and I wound up getting stripped searched!  True story – now keep in mind we had been backpacking and hadn’t showered for a week or so!!  Made for a great laugh (after they released us)

Countdown to ‘three ridges’ hike (phil-osophy -it’s always countdown to the next hike)

You may think I’m kidding.  It seems I’m always planning for my next hike.  Ok, here’s a phil-osophy for everyone, and I’ve shared this many times. 

Everyone should have two events on the horizon to look forward to. 

One giant event – the big hike to Colorado, or family trip to Rome, or Orlando, this is needed to keep you looking forward to a huge HAPPY life event;

BUT!  you also need smaller closer-in event goals to keep you going in the near term, a next week or next month goal – or you go crazy waiting for the large goal next summer. 

My long term goal this year?  Another Colorado hike in August and a Orlando trip in May (go see Universals’ Harry Potter stuff); short term goals;  a hike this weekend and maybe the week after that, a college football game perhaps.  Starting to obsess over planning several winter/snow hikes.

OK, enough of that crap;  My REI order came it (getting ready for the next hike…), so I now have to return the steripen (because I got a 20% off coupon for the columbus day weekend, so I had to (and did reorder, but saved $20).  Also got a inflatable seat pad (it’s always something isn’t it?) (yes, I saw this on others and coveted it), not sure if the next steripen will be in before friday, that sucks.

Bought some pepperoni and mild cheddar cheese, sliced it up, ziplocked it, for lunch on the trail, oh, and some fritos, I give in to all my baser urges for salt and fat on the trail.  That probably explains my obsession with perfecting sausage biscuits cooked in a camp pot!

Maps are ready, but I forgot where I put it, I forget something almost every trip.

fingers are tired, out here.

Hiking Phil-osophy: Scotch, Altimeters, etc.

1.  I recommend Glen Levit (& altimeters?  there’s a pun about getting high in there somewhere..)

2.  There were about 5 different (at least) bottles being shared at the ‘apple orchard’ hike.  Megan Sherpa introduced the hilarious “hole-to-hole” game brought back from Tibet.  A good time was had by all (of what little I remember).  Man, what a headache the next morning – never again!  I cooked my first trail biscuits (in about 20 years – I can’t believe it’s been that long, jeeezus!), but I sure didn’t feel like doing it…;  The main thing is we all laughed our asses off for a few hours.

3.  I have a compass in my pack, but haven’t used it for 20yrs.  I take that back, I had to use it on the Kondordia platz glacier system in Switzerland, when engulfed in a white out on the way from the konkordia hut to the Hollandia hut – I think my genius saved our lives (Geardog Rich & yours truly) (ha ha) or at least saved us from a very cold night sleeping on the April snow.  We were making for the hollandia hutte over the  grosser aletchfirn glacier and didn’t carry sleeping bags, only long johns and sweaters in the packs.  PS we were ski-touring, mountaineering skis with climbing skis (sounds a lot sexier than it is)

Anyway..I’m off my point… I carry a good topo map and a good altimeter.  I primarily (almost always) stay on established trails so when I need to take a position check, I first check my altimeter, then find the corresponding contour line (altitude) on the map for the trail I’m on – it’s that simple.  There are two keys – know what trail you’re on, and re-set your altimeter everytime you’re at a known bench mark, since the weather can affect the altimeter readings.

When all else fails, use your GPS, but this only works if you have a good topo map with the grid lines drawn on the map – this is how you find your location on a map with a GPS.  If your GPS doesn’t work, the next fall back is to use your compass to ‘resection’ your location from 2 visible landmarks that you can also pin point on your map.  This almost never works in a forest like we have in VA.  If you are off the trail and lost, with out GPS, even with a map, you are pretty much fucked and will have to employ some tried and true “I’m lost” techniques.

4.  The main point is, don’t let yourself get lost, carry a topo map, know how to use it, check it often to confirm your location, don’t follow strangers into a bushwacking situation blindly, I certainly wouldn’t do that.  I have several dumbass friends who’ve had to sleep out on the trail because they went on a simple day hike, a lot of trails criss-crossed, and with no map, got lost.

5.  Reminds me of story of the only time Rich and I got really lost, but I’ll save that for the next entry.