Day 3: Pine Mountain Trail thru hike, 4/6/14

I’m a thru hiker again, yea!! Fingers crossed I’ll be able to say in September that I’ve thru hiked 2 trails in 2014 ;). Though maybe I better stop upping the ante, what will 2015 look like?? Besides finally going back to work again, of course.

We had ~2 miles of the Pine Mountain Trail to finish up this morning amidst a steady spring rain that made me once again very happy I converted to the umbrella cult. The colors were just popping everywhere, and while chilly (compared to the last 2 days) it was a great way to end the weekend. I’m happy to report that the new tent came through the rain with flying colors, and I immediately learned how NOT to pack it up when wet. So happy I learned this where it was easy to clean up and dry out at Susan’s house, and not on the PCT. FYI, wet cuben fiber seems to be a magnet for leaves and dirt, but it dries fast :).

Some last gear minutiae like adding shock cord to water bladders, reinforcing old sewing on my hiking skirt, obsessing over food for the first section, and doing badly needed laundry has me pretty much set for the PCT. Which is this week. In fact, I’ll be in San Diego in less than 48 hours. Wow. I hope I sleep between now and then!

The lovely ladies from the Trail Dames Pine Mtn thru hike, and 1 side clean/1 side not so much….

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A week in Atlanta (or almost!): 3/28/14 – 4/3/14

I’m lying in my tent happy how well I pitched it tonight, reviewing and grinning at pictures of Joan practicing her “going to ground” setup – I predict she will hang her hammock as often as humanly possible on the PCT! She and I are leading a Trail
Dames backpacking trip starting tomorrow, at FD Roosevelt State Park here in Georgia – we billed it as doing a thru hike of the Pine Mountain Trail, all 20-some miles of it :). We came down a day early to avoid driving during rush hour, plus we both needed a break from the last minute angst and frantic PCT prep of the past few days. I’ve enjoyed a gear sewing party this week which initiated me into the DIY gear tribe! I made gaiter legs out of an old pair of hiking pants, and an elastic headband for my new Zebralight headlamp – I’ve always disliked the thick headbands that come with most lights. I feel so crafty. Both are working great so far.

This week I crashed (well, not really, I was technically invited) a going away party for Joan on Sunday and then another one for Susan on Tuesday! It was so nice to meet their friends and get to share that with them, they were both so touched.

Sunday was a stellar day all around – Joan and I gave a presentation on our individual journeys that led us to thru hiking, and I also shared my most breath taking moment in each state along the AT. It was very hard to just pick one photo, but when I had more I talked for 1 1/2 hours. Poor Joan, who had the “privilege” of practicing with me on Saturday. Even then, I cheated and picked 2 photos for Maine – I couldn’t not do my Katahdin summit photo, but I also adored my best animal spot on the entire trail – the moose I saw on the second to last day when entering Baxter State Park. It was so rewarding to give that presentation to the Trail Dames, who have been so instrumental in my backpacking journey, despite the fact that I’ve never lived in a state with a chapter.

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the spring flowers, hiking every day, and spending time with Susan and Joan. Granted, we’ll be spending lots of time together in the next few weeks on the PCT, but it’s been so much fun to do the final prep with them in person, rather than the many many MANY emails that I’m sure would have taken place if I’d been in Ohio still. We’re just feeding on each others’ excitement (and anxiety).

The week has flown by, as I’m sure the next few days will as well. Last year at this time I was gearing up to enter the Smokies after an ice storm across Cheoah Bald, and today I’m enjoying a warm night after an 80+ degree day in central Georgia complete with gnats, ticks, and…a fire fly. I had no idea they could come out this early in the year! So amazing for me to think that this time next week I will be at the end of Day 2 of my PCT thru hike. 🙂

Some fun times today:
1. Purchasing my new BRIGHT green (neon green of course) visor – it totally matches the neon green in the clown shoes, thus tying the entire outfit together. I never dreamed something could actually outdo the glowy-bright of the shoes!
2. Realizing we were doing an out and back – and then leaving the majority of the food in the car
3. Making up the “A New Cookie” mnemonic for the stages of dawn…new knowledge of the day! Who could forget wanting a new cookie?!

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Day 1: Pine Mountain Trail thru hike, 4/4/14

Weather is such a fickle thing. Maybe the universe decided that I’d had enough rain on the AT last year and decided to spare us today! With an 80% chance of rain and potential severe storms after 5pm, we all thought we’d spend a good portion of the day wet. While hiking, we put on rain jackets and up went the umbrellas….for all of 10 mins. Until we had set up and were in the middle of dinner, no rain at all, just lots of clouds but a surprising amount of sunshine too! Enough humidity to sink a ship….ahhh, I love hiking on the east coast but I will NOT miss humidity in the southern CA desert on the PCT.

Joan and I decided on the indulgent way of thru hiking today when we got up and promptly decided to quickly hike back to the car and go to a Subway we’d seen the day before for breakfast. With more than enough time to spare before we were to meet the other 3 ladies joining us today (Monica, Jean, and Dusty), we were glad we drove into the town of Pine Mountain, which didn’t take long at all. Once the ladies arrived, we discussed options for bailing if the weather really got bad, and left several of the cars at a trailhead 6 miles in. This turned out to be a great decision, as it allowed us to move a car to 11 miles out, and we then drove to the access point for the campsite we’re staying at tonight – Dead Pine, which is much prettier than the name would suggest! Tomorrow we plan to go to the other end of he trail, and hike backwards towards where we left off today – that way we’ll maximize seeing the really pretty waterfalls in good weather, as Sunday AM is still supposed to be rainy. Many thanks to the flexible folks in the park office who allowed us to change our reservation for tonight’s site, and hopefully we’ll have the same luck tomorrow! Pine Mtn (in FD Roosevelt State Park here in GA) is a great location as far as access to the trail is concerned. You don’t feel that you are out in wilderness, per se, but it’s a great location to bring a group.

It was wonderful getting to know the ladies today, and despite my “brisk” pace in the lead, which I think I need to tone down tomorrow, I utterly enjoyed the hike today. Great conversations, and comfortable silence when we were all just enjoying nature and the walk (or at least I was!).

After dinner, I picked Dusty’s brain about both learning to downhill ski and becoming a teacher from another career. I admit, despite never having taught before, the thought of summers off is very appealing. Over the winter is been trying to give some thought to what I want to do “after”, and teaching or working in a local school system administration has been high on the list, very cool to meet someone who had done the same type of career switch. Further food for thought!

All in all, a wonderful first day on my first official Trail Dames hike! I do hope, however, that my already ravenous appetite is the result of hiking >10 miles for the first time in a few weeks….this doesn’t bode well for my food bag!

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3/11/2014- 3/14/2014: Canyonlands and reminiscences 1 year post AT start

The Southwest Tour continues, the penultimate installment and the last backpacking piece. This time in Canyonlands, the Needles. Our permit had Joan and I at campsite EC3 on Night 1. We have a gorgeous view of Elephant Canyon, but the ground is certainly not conducive for stakes. How I wish I had my trusty freestanding Big Agnes tent. However, I’m getting the hang of the Zpacks tent, and the low weight is certainly lovely, esp when I’m carrying a bear canister, like on this trip! While the weather has 0% chance of rain, the temps are supposed to get below freezing tonight. I’m bundled up in 2 layers including my Patagonia R1 fleece, and am hoping not to have to put on my down puffy or wrap my tent around myself. The moon is amazingly bright and is overpowering the stars….it’s incredible to me that I’m laying here cowboy camping right now!

After a stunningly lovely drive culminating in our Grand Marquis chariot on a single lane dirt road, Joan and I said goodbye to Neil and Nancy and hiked out from the popular Elephant Hill Trailhead at 12:30. We oohed and ahhed, taking many pictures of the gorgeous scenery. Our Southwest Tour truly continues – this is again unlike any other place we have hiked the past 2 weeks. After arriving at our designated campsite, I felt paranoid about leaving camping gear and food to do a day hike to Druid Arch. We had seen several day hikers, all of whom were very friendly, but it was hard to forget this is a popular national park during spring break season. Regardless, nothing happened to our belongings, and I was very happy not to have to haul the weight on the 5 mile round trip! Some rock scrambling and one very graceful, if I do say so myself, glissade down a slickrock face, brought back memories of hiking in Maine, though the rock here is so different. I definitely love the Altras shoes – clearly made for this environment, they grip the rock faces great! I did choose to forgo the last 5 minutes up to see the arch from the side – ladders and rebar are still not appealing. Joan went up and I took the opportunity to do some foot care as one of the blisters my winter boots gave me on Saturday was hurting again.

Another first for Day 1: using a “Biffy Bag”! It’s a contraption to pack out human waste – but I wish I had a poop tube, which was introduced to me several days ago. Ahh, the things you learn as a professional hiker….Right now, the triple bag is next to the bear canister – I can’t quite bring myself to put it next to my sleeping bag, too much coziness is not a good thing where that is concerned. 😉

A year ago today I was nervously pacing and doing last minute packing and re packing my pack – the last day at home before traveling to Georgia to start the AT. I look back on that day with a nostalgic grin – so excited but wondering anxiously if I had made the right decisions.

Special kudos to the awesome ranger at the Needles Visitor Center, who patiently answered all of our questions (No, there’s not any ice on the trails; yes, you should find water without a problem) and hooked us up with an alternate area to camp on Thursday since the road to the previous trailhead exit point is NOT sedan friendly right now!

Day 2: campsite LC1. After a leisurely morning in camp, we began our trek to Lost Canyon. From the trail descriptions, it was hard to know where the expected sketchy points would be, but we had possible alternate routes. The first ladder freaked me out, primarily at the top, since it had long skinny arms, not conducive to getting along with my wide pack. Joan was great – she talked me through it, and was so calm and reassuring I had no time to panic. Yea for great hiking partners! On our way towards Big Spring and Squaw Canyons, we also navigated a tight slot (the AT’s lemon squeezer is a joke compared to that place), and a few gnarly sections which required packs off and handing across, down, or up. As soon as we descended into Squaw Canyon the scenery and terrain changed abruptly – so lovely and lush, amazingly enough for the desert. We had some more slickrock fun traversing to Lost Canyon, including another ladder. For some reason, I’m so much more confident going down ladders than up.

Once we arrived at LC1, a very pretty and protected campsite, which is actually on the Peekaboo Trail, not the Lost Canyon Trail, we once again dropped heavy gear and did the rest of the day as a day hike, wandering up Lost Canyon, which has a character all of its own – so odd that canyons right next to each other are so different!

Today we saw a grand total of 3 people. 2 other girl backpackers (yea!!), and a guy day hiker. Umm, didn’t the ranger tell us yesterday that the backcounty was “full”, it being spring break season?? Wow, if this is full, I *really* love hiking in the West!

A year ago today I flew to Atlanta, navigated MARTA, and was picked up by the great Hiker Hostel. I remember most waiting around the train station for Leigh to arrive, and it was so cold in the shade, but so warm in the sun. That night, I met several hikers, most of whom I only saw sporadically in the next few weeks. I wonder what became of them all….

Day 3: Peekaboo, I see….me!
Ode to fallen hiking pants – you were with me through good times. A sad end that sandstone and butt scooting down a fantastic slickrock should tear you apart, but at least we had one last truly glorious trip together. Face it, you knew I would take another skirt on the PCT.

Today, the mantra “Come on, NPS (national park service), don’t let us down now!” was uttered several times. The Canyonlands website and map descriptions aren’t lying when they state the slickrock traverses on the Peekaboo Trail would be dangerous when icy or wet! Thankfully, we had dry weather even after a frosty start, and our biggest adversity was our own fears. It took Joan and I over 2 1/2 hours to go….2.4 miles. Yowza. After failing to open a frozen shut bear canister, breakfast consisted of Joan’s non-soy based, and non frozen, PB and an apple. Happily, an hour or so later break saw both breakfast and some snacks being rapidly consumed. If it wasn’t glaringly obvious already, today was a prime example why I am such a creature of habit. After not sleeping well for 2 nights, and the bfast fiasco, my energy was really dragging this morning. Adrenaline at the sketchy bits got me going, but I nearly boinked at lunch. Thankfully we were in no big hurry, since we were already in Salt Canyon, where our permit has us “at large” camping tonight. Joan scouted out some nearby campsites, while I took it easy for half an hour, pouring sand out of my shoes (I swear it’s in the linings and my shoes weigh a pound heavier) and treating some lovely water. I was all prepared for some nasty puddle water sources, and while we certainly saw some, have been extremely lucky in finding great sources each day! Late winter is a great time to visit here, that’s for sure.

A year ago today I started up the Approach Trail on the AT, and spent a wonderful night at the Hike Inn while fellow hikers had an extremely cold night which convinced some of them to leave the trail before ever stepping foot on Springer Mtn and the official beginning of the Appalachian Trail. Bring on the cold tonight, I’ll soon be sleeping comfy. Let’s just hope I don’t bring in too much sand when I inevitably have to get out (and back in) to pee.

Day 4: Oh what a beautiful morning – a slightly frosty tent reminded me sharply of the very frosty and cold morning 1 year ago, when I awoke at the Hike Inn, and a few short hours later had Springer Mtn to myself for a few glorious minutes. Teamwork had us wrestling the bear canister open and eating a final trail breakfast in the midst of a beautiful sunrise. As it hadn’t rained, back we went the same way we came, and boy was I happy the scary ladder was first. At each point that one or the other of us had feared, and the been conquered again, our confidence soared. A truly wonderful way to leave the desert, at least for a few weeks. The closer we came to the trailhead, the more folks we saw, including a pair of ladies, one or whom had our shoes! Yea for clown shoes in the wilderness :). Joking aside, the grip on these rocks has made all the difference in my ability to really trust my shoes. At the trailhead, we happily disposed of Biffy bags and trash, and my old lamented pants. This trip certainly has been hard on my lower layers of clothing, but I can’t regret it, the happiness being out here again has wrought far more than mere rending cloth could cause a momentary sulk. Kudos again to our favorite ranger – she not only remembered us, but was easily able to answer all of our questions just bursting to be asked before we left the park, and southeast Utah.

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2/24/14: Sublime under the Ponderosa Pines

I lay tonight in my new Zpacks Hexamid Solo Plus tent, and am thoroughly enjoying several facts:

1. I saw Ponderosa Pine trees again today, which I madly adore, and am actually sleeping ringed by them
2. It was relatively easy to pitch the new tent, heaven knows I hate fiddling, and it has TONS of space
3. I am warm and toasty with considerably less wind tonight

Ahhhhh……

Today began with both a lovely sunrise and chasing my belongings being blown all over by high winds. Eh, gotta take the good with the bad! The descent off of Guadalupe Peak was stunning, and we soon arrived back at the trailhead to resupply water (no natural sources here), use indoor plumbing, and generally snack like we hadn’t eaten breakfast. Nancy and Neal happened to be there, about to set off on a day hike, and so we totally lucked out with fresh oranges and various salty snacks, truly appreciated since sweat and the unrelenting sun tend to go together here! Awesome trail magic indeed. 🙂

On the climb out of the valley (another near 3000 ft climb) I couldn’t keep from repeating how well the trail was constructed – truly remarkable. Still definitely acclimating as at about 7000 feet I did the same game as yesterday of stopping quite often. It did seem to be better today though. Topping out on the ridge, I was astounded to find myself in a different world of pine and other trees instead of cacti, and gently rolling hills instead of steady switchbacks. Joan and I are camping at the Tejas campsite tonight in a lovely valley between ridges. We arrived mid afternoon and had a restful remainder of the day. What a life. We saw a total of 2 other hikers after the trailhead, a lovely couple from Vancouver who grinned at our umbrellas and chatted with us for a few minutes. Tomorrow we will head back to the Visitors Center and meet back up with Joan’s parents – and off to the next stop on the Southwest Tour!

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2/23/14: Cowboy camping on Guadalupe Peak!

Laying (without a tent, gasp!) at 8000 ft, awestruck by the scenery and stars…. Yes, despite the long water carries, I do believe I love hiking in the west! My first time cowboy camping came about from sheer laziness – the tent pads at the established campsite up here is very rocky, and stakes were a no-go. Instead of gathering up tons of rocks to pile on the guy lines, I decided to simply lay out my ground cloth and sleep under the stars as the weather forecast didn’t call for any rain. Definitely an adjustment, getting used to the fact I don’t need to assume rain and bugs in this environment.

The first hiking day of Joan and my much anticipated “Southwest Tour” of the next 3 weeks commenced joyously. Nancy and Neal (Joan’s lovely parents who so wonderfully invited me along to Muleshoe and to be our ground support for this adventure) sent us off from the trailhead with many smiles and pictures. Our goal for our 3 days and 2 nights in Guadalupe are to help get adjusted to higher elevation and hiking in hot dry conditions that we’ll encounter from Day 1 on the PCT in SoCal. Both of which were accomplished today, despite noticeable slowing down for me above 7000 feet. We were going slowly anyway, gawking at the views (and me catching my breath in a fond return to “shade to shade” hiking) but the last mile to the campsite was particularly frustrating for me. I finally got into a better rhythm of belly breathing, slowing down my pace, and stopping as often as I needed. Nowhere close to wheezing, so I count the day as a success! We only hiked a total of 5 1/2 miles, but that was enough for our late start and the elevation gain. Dinner on Guadalupe Peak’s summit was a particular treat! From the clouds there wasn’t a sunset, but the light was amazing.

Trying out new sun protection gear made our day silly at times – adjusting the umbrella (though definitely a no-go in high wind), pulling on the sun legs which now have a hiker-acceptable amount of dirt on them, and using the hand shades made for an even more ridiculous outfit than normal. But effective, no obvious sunburn here! I was pretty hot in the hat though, not breezy at all. Well, I’ll try out my visor in Muleshoe, maybe a bandana combo will work when needed and keep my head cooler. It was awesome to wear my sunglasses all day long – definitely needed with how bright it is. A new pair that doesn’t pinch my ears may be needed though – perhaps the last item to purchase before the ice axe!

How I love returning to my chosen lifestyle of living simply and enjoying being small in the midst of grandeur……

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1/3/14 – Day 4: GA shake down hike

10.5 miles, 29633 steps, Section 2 of the Chattooga River Trail/Bartram Trail, camping near Dick’s Creek Gap Falls

I love exploring new trails! Joan suggested a favorite hike of hers for our next segment of gear shake down / bear canister heavy food carry trip. My word, the Chattooga River, bordering SC and GA, is just a lovely area and we didn’t see anyone else on the trail. At a lower elevation than the AT, a warmer choice, though warmer is relative at this time of year, it didn’t break freezing today. It’s also easy, nice rolling hills and a few very manageable climbs and descents. The miles slipped by, and we had enough time after setting up camp to go see the waterfall and explore some before dinner, so fun, though odd to walk without my pack! On these long cold winter nights, it’s a success to stay out of your shelter until 7pm, mission accomplished. Today was exactly what I needed – great trail, lovely sunny with a bright blue sky, while still being more challenging than what I can find at home, with Joan, who so understands all the obsessions of planning for the PCT – gear minutiae indeed!!

Gear comments:
1. I don’t know how I hiked for so long without a hood on my fleece – amazingly wonderful!
2. Tent pitch was much better tonight – maybe I’m getting over the learning curve?
3. I love my water bladder – so easy to stay hydrated!

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