Category Archives: Socials Skills in the woods

Phil-Osophy on UL hikers, Bridger Wilderness Wind River Range, Maroon Bells

Howdy all!

Like I’ve said many times, you really need to have something to say on these blogs.  They (the blogs) take a lot of time to do right and to make half way interesting.  I thought I’d be writing more than I have, heaven knows I’ve been backpacking at least once a month for the past 2 years or so.

Buff sent me a link to a rant some guy posted on youtube the other day, the rant was about UL hikers; that’s ultra-lite hikers.  Here’s the link

And here’s my rant.

This guy kind of nailed what I couldn’t put my finger on.  For whatever reasons, these people, the UL’ers, sort of make themselves out to be socially dysfunctional in a setting among other backpackers.  They do this with an arrogance deriving from their quest to lower their pack weight to almost, well, not almost, unsafe levels.  They come up to you and ask how much one’s pack weighs, say 30lbs, then brag that theirs only weighs in at 12 lbs and insinuate that anyone who needs food/shelter/first aid stuff/stoves/fuel/extra clothing/maps/camera, etc etc etc is somehow a loser.  Their main goal in the backpacking universe seems to be how low they can go, not about having fun with friends, enjoying the beauty of the natural world, creating great memories among new friends.

The reason this irritates me, is that it could make a person who is trying to get into backpacking and all the wonderful doors to nature that it opens, feel somehow inferior, or embarrassed, inadequate, and then they drop the whole backpacking thing. Backpacking is hard enough and expensive enough without this bullshit!

Another common link that this vid nails is that these people seem to lack normal social skills, keeping a distance from the group – especially in camp, lacking basic conversational skills, hiking alone, and maintaining an unfathomable air of superiority.

Anyone who has hiked with me for anytime has heard my observation on this; at almost any social venue, there are a group who have bonded together to be the ‘experts’ or upper clique of the venue; it seems every bowling ally, skating rink, hiking club, climbing club, golf club, you name it, have a clique of regulars who want you to know that they are the social elite of that venue; this is no less true for the day hiking/backpacking/rock climbing/mountaineering communities.

Here’s another of my observations; an off shoot of the UL are the fast-hikers.  These idiots pride themselves on literally (I think I’m using that correctly here) racing down the trails, and brag about that they hiked 20 miles or so, while you only hiked 8, and they do this every trip, all the time.  Hiking with people, making conversation is not their goal, and in my opinion, within their ability.

It seems that people who lack social skills, in the backpacking universe, who find their niche in having a strength in UL or long mileage, something or anything they can excel at, then exploit that ‘strength?’ to a point of conceit and use it as a subtle hammer whenever possible.

I for one enjoy the camaraderie and companionship, although I don’t deny that I can hold my own on being quite the ass.  The camp, the camp chores, fishing, making a fire, telling stories around the fire, just a wee bit of the fire-water, the navigation skills, first aid skills, cooking skills, fine meals, and meals not so fine, swimming in the creek, taking pictures of fantastic vistas are a huge part of total experience and shouldn’t take a back seat to how much ones pack weighs or how many miles and how fast you walked that day.’

whew! take a breath!

just saying

I’ll talk about what happened in the Winds & Bells later, I promise!

4 Days On The A.T. And Virginia Creeper Trail In The Blue Ridge Mountains

This is about our six days and five nights backpacking and camping in the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains, where Virginia meets North Carolina and Tennessee.

We hiked the Appalachian Trail to the Virginia Creeper trail, starting from the Fox Creek Trail Head near Grayson Highlands State Park, to Damascus, Va.

Nine of us from our meet-up group Obsessive Compulsive Backpackers ( from Hampton, Williamsburg, Richmond, Chesapeake, and VA Beach, did this 4-7 May 2012.

The trip included Chupa, Biscuit, Sherpa, Trail Surfer, Crockett, Condor, Mark, Tim, and Paul.

Day 1, Thursday 3 May:

We rendezvoused in Newport News Va and drove the 8 hrs to Damascus so we could check out the area, eat dinner, and allow Condor to get a new canteen.  When we were in the Mt. Rogers Outfitters (MRO) store, I noticed a hiking “kilt” for sale and remember thinking, I bet that would be pretty cool, as is ventilation, to walk in, but I would need to carry a broadsword to keep myself, um, gender appropriate 😉 .   We then drove the 30 miles back to Grayson Highlands State Park to camp for the night.  There are showers and additional trail head parking.  Theoretically, you could sneak into the showers even if you’re only using the area to park.

Day 2, Friday 4 May:

Next morning at Grayson, we pack up the tents, load up and drive back to Damascus to link up with MRO, for the shuttle to the TH.  We piled into their van and they drove us to where the AT crosses S.R. 603 (Fox Creek TH – I guess).

At the trail head, I noticed a tall woman wearing the same ‘kilt’ or skirt over a pair of leggings I had noticed at the MRO store.  I thought that was neat until the women greeted us with a deep husky voice and we noticed the huge muscles, the only things missing were a Viking helmet with large horns and an axe…time to sit on the jokes and hit the trail!

At the point where the AT crosses Pine Mountain Trail, we had a long lunch and watched the small herd of ponies fight amongst themselves – and – there was a small herd of  (and I’m not making this up) Texas Longhorn cattle.  After lunch we voted to cut off the AT loop which takes you south into the trees of Grayson Highlands, opting instead to turn west on the Pine Mountain Trail, before rejoining the AT.

We camped about 1/4 Mi E of the Thomas Knob shelter in one of the most beautiful campsites you will ever see, with views deep into Tennessee and North Carolina.  The spring was barely flowing behind the shelter.  I had to use a cup to fill my water bottle to use a steri-pen.  A purifier with a hose intake could be dropped into the very shallow stream.

Day 3, Saturday 5 May:

We then hiked to the Mt. Rogers side trail and by the time we got to Elk Garden Ridge, the rain had started.  So from here to around Whitetop to Buzzard Rock and on to Beech Mountain, we had a pattern of rain-sun, then rain-sun, and so on.  It finally stopped raining on the long haul around and down Beech Mtn but it was hot, humid and muggy as we walked down and across Hwy 58 and up to Lost Mountain Shelter.  This is an extremely long haul, over 12 miles.  Next time I’ll break it up and stay an extra night somewhere between Beech Mtn and Buzzard Rocks. It had been raining off and on all week and the spring was from a pipe over a huge mud hole. When I got to the campsite there was a large crowd at the shelter but we found a great clearing to pitch our 9 tents.  I put up my tent and made a dash to the mud hole/spring, without my parka, and just as I was leaving the spring, – you guessed it – it started to pour, shit.  End of day 3.

Day 4, Sunday 6 May:

That morning it started raining as we’re all getting up for breakfast and I ate in my tent under my awning.  We got lucky as the rain soon stopped and the sun came out in full strength!

After Lost Mountain, the trail eases up quite a bit and we chose to get on the Virginia Creeper trail and follow the very large trout stream to Taylors Valley for lunch.  Extremely beautiful walking!  If you’re coming from this direction there are several ‘pretender’ food stops before you get to the main attraction, the Creeper Trail Restaurant which is in the main section of town, with a picnic deck on the water, full menus and service to a gazillion day bikers.

Departing Taylors Valley, we camped in a lovely sight on the water about 4 miles from Damascus.  Some of us fished for trout, others, went swimming.  Water shoes recommended for the rocks in the stream.  The Creeper and AT run literally side by side, The Creeper has the fantastic water views, the AT is literally a rhododendron tunnel.


Biscuit started fishing and caught a trout, but released it.  He had promised us fish cooked over a fire, so when asked about it, he said he thought Sherpa had turned vegetarian on us, so he didn’t want to offend her (don’t worry about offending the rest of us ! ), anyway, this was just a misunderstanding, but we didn’t get any more fish :-(.

Day 5, Monday 7 May:

This day was a leisurely walk getting us into Damascus and MRO around noon.  Plenty of sunshine, only very brief showers.   MRO has a shower you can use at their hostel, directly across the street from their store, which you can use for $2.00 and they give you a bath-towel (bonus!).

We hung around the MRO hostel, drinking a powerful Ale Sherpa had purchased, feeling no pain until we decided to take a side trip to Tennessee to see Rock Hole, or something like that, a large hole blasted into a narrow natural rock wall to make the shortest railroad tunnel ever!

We ate a great meal at the Old Mill Restaurant in Damascus, which didn’t open till 5PM.

After dinner, we drove back out to Graysons State Park and set up camp in the same spot as on Thursday night.

As we hung around MRO hostel, drinking lots of beer and waiting for the restaurant to open, we got to see quite a few AT thru hikers, coming in for showers or just a break.  There was one tall tattooed covered dude actually wearing the hiking skirt I had seen in the store and again at the trail head several days before.  Although he had tattoos, he was more like an accountant than a biker dude.  We had a chuckle about a dude wearing a hiking dress, but I couldn’t help but wonder if it was cooler and suitable for walking.  Sherpa did point out that his skirt was too short and should have gone over the knee.  I don’t know, something about kneeling or stooping.  I’ve seen plenty of women hiking in both the US and Europe, but nobody in skirts, just saying.

Day 6, Tuesday 8 May:

As luck would have it, it started pouring rain as the sun started to come up.  So we had to take down the tents and load the pickups in a driving rain.  We didn’t stop for breakfast until we got to I81.  The rain finally stopped and the sun was hot as we got to Williamsburg to drop off Sherpa and see her take off in her vintage WWII motorcycle with sidecar.  How perfect!

End of book.

Our 365 (and growing) photos can be viewed at

Told To Sleep Naked In The Woods? Turn The Other Cheek!

Phil Reed’s Hikes Photo Albums

Let me try to get this started with some Phil-osophy, this is the way I think.

I have a mantra I bore people with every hike. #1.  What goes down must come up, and #2.  There’s no such thing as a small accident in the wilderness.

Backpacking is training for the main event, Mountaineering.  You have to learn to pay attention to every bit of minutiae, every little detail of your route, your equipment, objective and subjective dangers.

Your sleeping bag could be your last line of defense in an emergency, your last refuge;  Keep your bag dry at all costs, especially a down bag.

Don’t get into your bag with wet clothing – unless you don’t have any choice;  You may get away with this if your bag is fiber filled.  The only time you get into your bag nude is when you know it’s going to be warm enough or your bag is down and your all your clothes are soaking wet.

Here’s the problem, and there’s a couple of issues here.  If you get into you down bag and you have wet clothing, you risk getting the down wet, losing loft, losing the ability of the down to trap and warm air, losing the insulation down provides to keep you warm.  Further, wet clothing against you skin prevents any possibility of trapping and warming air against you skin, which is the definition of keeping warm in the first place.

You stay warm when dead air is trapped and warmed against you skin.  Wind can blow this warm air away from your skin, (wind chill), and cool you down.  This is when you put on a parka to trap the air and keep you warm.

If the outside air temperature is too cold, wind or no wind, you need insulation to trap – and warm – the air next to your skin.  The colder the outside air the more layers of insulation you need.

Let’s say Squirrel is standing naked in the snow (could happen 🙂 ), somebody hands her some thermals, she starts to warm up, but is still cold.  You throw her a shirt and some pants to put on over the thermals, a little warmer, but still cold.  Now you throw her a sweater, some rain pants, then a parka, a hat, some gloves, a down vest, – get the picture?  At some point, hopefully, she’s finally warm and cozy, still standing in the snow.  Now you throw her a giant down comforter – wow! Finally toasty!  No wait, somebody told her all you needed was the giant down comforter (sleeping bag), so you need to strip all the clothing off and just wear the bag?  WTF?

Kind of depends on the rating of the bag, how cold the outside temperature is, whether you sleep warm or cold.  You probably need some combination, but there’s no rule that you need to sleep in the nude, unless your bag is too hot, or you’re with your sweetie(?).  Note:  If my bag is rated 30F (comfort) that means it will not keep me warm below 45F.  My zero bag works for me in the upper teens, then the sweater and hat go on, possibly a hot water bottle inside my bag.

Ok, let’s sum up.

1.  Keep your bag dry, at all costs.

2.  Don’t get into your bag with wet clothing, unless in a survival situation, and then only in a fiber bag.

3.  It’s ok to wear clothes/coat/sweater/hat/gloves/thermals – or nothing in your bag, to stay comfortable.

4.  Remember to take the 10 essentials, what? you don’t know about the 10 essentials?

5.  And finally, there’s no such thing as a small accident in the woods and that backpacking is training for mountaineering, so stop relying on other people to read the map, ok that’s 3 things.

6.  And don’t trust the temperature rating on the bag. (final point)

good bye

please comment, thanks, adios


New Rant coming soon…

I’m sick and tired of people telling others ” you need to strip down” in your sleeping bag to stay warm.  This makes me absolutely crazy!!!  Common sense, logic, and science are completely ignored, resulting in total shit advice.

I’ll lay it all out for debate very soon!

comments appreciated.

ps.  the blog people say the best blogs are deliberately confrontational, posting definite views, not being wishy washy


encouraging comments!



Trip Report

Geardog and I linked up on Monday at the Denver International Airport around noon and caught the shuttle over to Hetz car rentals.  We waited in line for over 30 minutes and didn’t get to the actual car until after 1.  As we were driving out the security gate the check engine light came on so we were turned around and had to go back to the line to get a different car.  Around 2:30 we’re finally on our way.  We get on I70 headed west.  I started getting a splitting headache so we had to stop at a small gas station along the way so I could buy a bottle of Tylenol at rip off prices.

Once we got to Glenwood Springs we turned south on HWY 82 towards Aspen.  We stopped at the Glenwood Springs Walmart and picked up fuel and some snacks.  Geardog spotted a liquer store and picked up one of those cardboard wine dispensers that looked like it weighed at least 5 or 6 lbs.  (He could carry it, not me, but I’ll be glad to drink it!)

On the way to Aspen we had some light rain showers and spots of sunshine arriving at the group parking lot around 6-6:30 pm.  I can’t remember whether or not we stopped to eat.  The ranger gate was open and unmanned, but we stopped to fill out some sort of registration form and put $5 or $10 into some sort of envelope, it was all very confusing.  Supposedly, only backpackers are allowed entry and long term parking at the Maroon Lake trailhead parking lot, else everyone must take a bus shuttle.

Leaving the parking lot

It was overcast and looked like rain so we hurried  to repack our stuff and transition from getting up at 4 am, to air travel, to renting cars, to driving across Colorado,  into hiking clothes, for a 4-5 day hike into the “unknown.”  If I remember correctly we actually hit the trail about 7:30 (geardog says it was closer to 8:30) and it was already looking dark due to the cloud cover.  When we reached Maroon Lake, (about 2 minutes) we had to spend some time ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ and taking pictures while there was still enough daylight.

The trail skirts around the edge of the lake and a series of meadows, then winds gently in

Maroon Lake before dark


and out of patches of trees before going into the forest.  We kept an eye out for potential camping spots, but not being familiar with the area, didn’t see anything where we wouldn’t get busted by the rangers the next morning.

We wound up heading up the trail towards Crater Lake as it started getting darker and darker.  After a while it started raining, so it was break-out the parkas & headlamps.  We trudged on for over an hour and didn’t get to Crater Lake.  It’s only 2 miles between Maroon and Crater Lakes, but in the dark and rain, after a long long day, it seemed farther.  We started looking for any spot to pitch tents and set up camp at the first decent looking site, a gap among the trees really, I think around 11pm.  It mercifully stopped raining as

Camp 1, below Crater Lake

 we pitched our tents. Next morning was cool and sunshine.  We were only just off the trail and hikers were already going by, staring at us.  After a quick breakfast we headed up the trail only to find we were about 5 minutes short of the lake and its designated campsites.  

This was just like when geardog and I were winter

Geardog captures a great photo of the valley

 backpacking in the Bavarian Alps behind Garmisch Germany very long ago; we hiked up through the Partnach Klam into the Rhinetal valley and towards the Boch Hutte, where we turned up and left, up the mountain towards the


On the 'path' to the Saschen Hutte

 Saschen Hutte.  The path was snowed under, and we kept losing the trail and wound up scrambling in the snow in many places.  It got dark, flashlights gave out (this was before either one of us had a headlamp), I was sweating plunging through the snow, this was on the night before New Year’s Eve, it started snowing and we weren’t sure how much further we had to go, so we gave in and tried to set up camp on the path,

Saschen Hutte from above

in the snow, on the side of a steep mountain, in the forest. (I have pix).  I literally pounded a trough in the path and set up my tent over the ‘depression’ and tried to get in my bag in a semi-sitting  position.  Geardog, bless his heart, found a slight overhang under a sloping rock wall just off the trail and set up his pad and bag in the little crevice, you can’t make this shit up.  I was jealous that at least he could stretch out, but the snow was dripping inside the crack and I had a down bag to keep dry (that bag is still rocking almost 27 years later).  The next morning we get up and find we were only about 20 minutes from the freaking hut!  Anyway, that wasn’t the end of that epic trip, but that’s another story!  I will say the bivy bags and water proof flashlights were immediately on the next shopping list!

Crater Lake

Back to the story.  At Crater Lake we take a bunch of pictures and start really absorbing our surroundings.  The goal for Day 2 was to only reach a spot about 10,500′, set up camp and acclimatize.  We sign the register at the trailhead then headed up Maroon basin. 

We had our first stream crossing (jumped rock to rock) and were lucky to find a pretty good campsite. 

Camp 2

We spent the day checking gear and looking for a spot where we cross the stream again further up trail.  We had to work it out without packs, but it paid off the next morning. 

That night, I heard geardog up and moving around so I think it’s time to get up and get going, so I pack up my bag and pad, and get out of my tent, well it’s pitch dark, full moon and geardog is taking pictures with his tripod.  After a few minutes I realize my watch is still on east coast time, so I go back in the tent and sleep for 2 more hours!

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 \\\ocbackpackers\