Must Haves for a Backpack Trip

backpackingNothing like the great outdoors to strengthen bonds and build character. Think about it, the Boy Scouts do it all the time! Now, thinking like a scout should conjure up a phrase – Be Prepared. Well, when you are on a backpack trip, those two words are as true as ever. Below is a list of some essential and recommended items for your adventure.

Backpack – really, this goes without saying, but it seemed appropriate to start with the basics

Tent – Unless you plan on sleeping in whatever weather may come (remember that the weather man is never 100% accurate) then you should bring a reliable tent. Keep it small enough to carry, but big enough for you and your stuff. If this is a joint adventure, share the tent pieces with your partner. If there is a chance of rain, your tent should also have a rain cover. Make sure the tent can handle both the weather and the chill for the region you’ll be trekking.

Sleeping Bag – Having something to keep you insulated at night is critical. You’ll especially need it to keep warm if you are sleeping anytime other than the hottest part of summer. Even then, nights are always colder than days and you’ll want to keep yourself from getting frostbite. Check to make sure your sleeping bag is rated for the temperatures you’ll be encountering.

Water – It is heavy, awkward, and sometimes bothersome in flavor, but this addition will save your life. You can’t function without water and after three days of moderate movement and no water, you crash. So imagine a vigorous hike. Anyway, pack enough water to take care of you and if there is a water source, get some water purification tablets so you can restock on the trial.

Food – Yep, this is an important one. Unless you’re on some crazy fasting diet with exercise too, this is key. Your body and muscles require the energy supplied by carbohydrates, vitamins, and proteins. Keep your belly full enough to keep the rest of you moving.

Clothing – You’ll need at least one backup pair to wear in case what you are wearing gets soaked or soiled. That way you won’t have to stand and shiver while your clothes dry off. Plus, wearing the same clothes for days on end is stinky (in more ways than one).

Toiletries – This is an “optional” one, but you might want to give it the benefit of the doubt. Having a trowel to dig a hole for going the bathroom, shaving equipment for those who dislike scruff (that will include razor, shaving soap, maybe after shave), combination body soap and shampoo (carry one thing instead of two), and a toothbrush with toothpaste.

Other things can be thrown in as weight, space, and need arises, but these things should keep you going on almost any backpack adventure.

Trip Report: West Rim Trail; Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon

Location: North Central PA

State: Pennsylvania

Miles: 30

Days: 3

Type: Shuttle

Day 1

I woke up at 3:48 am, ten minutes before the alarm. That’s pretty damn early if you ask me, but sometimes you have to suffer if you want a good piece of trail. I shut off the alarm and got out of bed, feeling pretty good despite the fact that I had already covered 72 miles of trail in the previous five days and thinking how nice it was to sleep in a bed, at home even, for two whole nights in a row; yet, I was itching to get out again, consumed by wanderlust . . . . I dressed quickly and bounded down the stairs only to find that Neville lying on the couch, awake but not yet up. I rousted him out, we jammed our packs in the car and before you could say, “HolycraptasticfastBatman!” we were on our way to the trailhead.

The 3+ hour drive passed quickly and we nearly arrived at the Northern Terminus on time. Patrick and spindle were already there, standing in the snow-covered parking lot, all bundled up and shuffling about to stay warm. We waited around for about an hour for HikingFF77, but he didn’t show up and we really couldn’t wait much longer so we packed ourselves into spindle’s Saturn, a small troop of backpacking sardines, and headed for the trailhead at the Southern end of the WRT. When we got there I saw two cars in the lot, and as we started out I hoped that one of them belonged to Steve (HikingFF77), as there was a single set of footprints in the snow and they looked pretty fresh.

The trail started out on a very gentle slope for the first hundred yards or so. We got to the trail register I opened the box with every intention of signing in. Unfortunately it was frozen solid. There was no way were signing that thing and I felt compelled to prove it to the rest of the group by pounding the little ice-bricked notebook against a tree; thus, rendering the evidence indisputable. Oh well . . .

We continued onward and upward, following Lloyd’s Run, but the stream dropped away quickly as the trail ascended steeply up to the ridgeline, climbing nearly a thousand feet in the first mile. Pretty soon I found myself leading the pack, making brief and frequent stops in order to allow the others to catch up and get their breath.

Finally we reached the top and the trail leveled out. We stopped to take pictures of the dynamite shack, hoping beyond hope that no one would really store dynamite in there since it was rather dilapidated and the small lock on the door could easily have been compromised. Then set to putting down some miles.

This was no easy task as the views of the Pine Creek Gorge are not only spectacular but numerous. On top of that it was a gorgeous, sun-warmed, blue-sky day and I found myself stopping frequently to take pictures. Eventually we made it to the first real vista, meaning it was marked on the map, and the tracks we had been following from the start clearly showed that our mystery hiker had rested here. Since we had taken a lunch break about 15 minutes earlier we did not stop for long, and as we started out again I continued to hold out hope that the tracks belonged to Steve.

The snow was not deep, maybe three inches at best, and the footing was pretty good, and as the trail leveled off it headed away from the lip of the canyon. As a result we started making pretty good time, closing in on the mystery hiker ahead and finally, at about 5 miles, just as the trail cut back out to the canyon rim, I turned a corner and saw the the mystery man standing there, waiting. “Are you Steve?, I asked. “Are you John?” was the reply. And so we’d found our man. We waited a minute for everyone to catch up. Introductions were made and then we were off down the trail again.

Somehow I ended up out in front again and I picked up the pace a bit. We had gotten a late start and it was already 1:00. We still had 7-9 miles left if were going to hit one of the targeted campsites, and now that we had everyone together I was eager to make up some time in order to get in at a decent hour. So I trucked along trough the snowy blueberry bushes that crowded the trail, making a mental not to do this trail in the rainy season as wet blueberry bushes are a 100% guarantee that nothing below the knee will remember what dry feels like. Even now the snow brushing off as I passed made me very aware of the vulnerability that comes with wet feet. I grumbled spastically at the blueberry bushes for a moment and set myself to the task at hand: making up time.

But no matter how hard I tried it seemed like we weren’t getting anywhere. I was setting a pretty good pace but the rest of the crew wasn’t keeping up so I did a lot of stopping and waiting. Then again, my legs were in pretty good shape after hiking the New Jersey section of the AT earlier in the week. Not surprisingly spindle, who did the New jersey trek with me, had moved up to the second slot and she was staying pretty close behind me. At around 3:00pm it became pretty apparent that we were not going to make either of the targeted campsites. Fortunately there are a LOT of campsites on this trail so which allowed for a good deal of flexibility.

spindle and I stopped to wait for everyone else to catch up and we discussed our options and formulate a plan. Here’s what we came up with: no_granola and spindle go scout ahead and stop at the first good-looking campsite. And that’s exactly what we did.

The first likely spot was about a mile and a half away in a nice stand of pines, just off the lip of the gorge. We dropped our packs and quickly set up the tent. I went about collecting firewood while Michele worked on getting the fire started. The rest of the crew rolled in just as we were getting started on the latter tasks, and thanks to NJ Packer’s secret fire starter recipe, we had a blaze going in no time.

Having accomplished the main tasks I stopped and took a moment to look around. The site was relatively flat, sheltered, with plenty of fire wood and an almost-view across the canyon. In fact, it was perfect in every way except one: there was no water. Patrick and spindle volunteered to hike down the hill and look for a stream. Bless them I say. I was prepared to set 5 pots of snow by the fire and let them melt down, but they came back with gallons of filtered water: crazy!

Then spindle started passing around the Trailgaritas and it was dinner time. Being the swell guy that I am, I had carried in package of bus, some secret sauce and a stack of the best f***ing hotdogs ever, figuring I’d be the camp hero, which I was for about 15 minutes until Patrick reached into his magic 80 pound bag of food and started making fresh and tasty pizzas. He’d carried in a giant zip lock bag of pizza dough and warmed it up in his jacket to let it rise a bit. Then he fried it on both sides, slapped some tomato paste on it, sprinkled it with garlic powder and oregano and smothered it in cheese. That was definitely the best pizza I ever had while backpacking!

Needless to say we all ate well that night. Dinner was followed in short order by a healthy batch of Trailgaritas and over all we had a pretty damn good time before we went to bed . . .

Day 2

We were up early, but not too early. Over the past week I had quickly developed a morning ritual of waking up and snuggling down all nice and toasty in my bag for a while before getting up. This day was no exception. I heard some movement of in the general direction of the fire pit and listened quietly as wood was broken to feed the hungry flames. Finally I got up.

Opening the vestibule zipper I was confronted with the obnoxious discovery that it had snowed during the night: not obnoxious in and of itself but for the shudder that wracked my frame as I cringed under the sheet of chilly powder that had fallen on my head and the back of my neck and melted into a collection of cool slithering tributaries to the chilly rivulet that weaved its way along my spine. Of course I was thrilled once I got over the initial shock. The morning was calm and some flakes were still falling, making their way silently to the ground.

Patrick and Neville were awake and starting in on breakfast so I joined them. spindle came rolling out a few minutes later, a look of wonderment on her face. From what I could gather she was confused by the fact that she was actually enjoying herself in the cold weather and the snow, which she had previously thought impossible based on er previous experiences. But I think her nice down jacket and cozy down sleeping bag and snuggly down booties went a long way toward making her comfortable. For those of you who are vehemently opposed to cold weather/winter backpacking I say this: the secret is in being prepared to deal with the conditions. If you dress right you’ll stay warm and dry and you’ll find that the madness does not have to stop in October. Backpacking fever can easily be a year round affliction. In fact, deep winter is the best time of year to go since there are no insects, no snakes and no bears and no one is afraid of bunnies and deer.

Anyway, we hung out and had breakfast and after a while I started making some loud comments aimed at Steve. I let him sleep in as long as possible but we really needed to get an earlier start then we had the day before so it was time. After a small piece of prodding and needling he finally emerged from the tent and set about trying to warm up his boots by the fire. The rest of us began to slowly break camp and I was not the last one done for once. In fact, I think I had my pack loaded and ready even before spindle, which NEVER happens when I hike with her.

We got under way shortly after 9:00. The plan was to try to make up a couple of extra miles since we had come up a bit short of our goal for the previous day, and we started off down the hill at a pretty good clip. But once we crossed Good Springs run, about a quarter of a mile from our campsite, the trail turned back upward toward the ridge top.

At this point spindle and I quickly put some distance between us and the others. It was our seventh day on the trail in the past eight, and our legs had grown accustomed to the effort. We quickly hit level ground atop the ridge and kept going for a few minutes before we stopped to wait, giving everyone a chance to catch up and take a break before we continued.

We passed a few pretty easy miles and then dropped down into the Bradley-Wales Picnic Area, just shy of the half way point of our trek, where we stopped for lunch and squeezed some rusty water from a well pump. An old timer came down the road in his truck, heading up to the overlook. I stopped him to ask if he’d heard a recent weather report and he proceeded to chat at me for about ten minutes. Then he went on his way and we sat down to finish our lunch. Steve was feeling a bit out of sorts and decided that if the old fellow came back he would ask for a ride out. Sure enough the truck pulled back into view shortly. Steve hailed him and ran over to place his request. But the old man wasn’t having it; gave some excuse about bad roads and a recent accident and not wanting to drive back down the mountain, so Steve was stuck with us.

After checking the maps we headed out again. There were a couple of quick overlooks so we had to stop but we were soon on our way again and it was more of the same: rolling along the ridge, sterile blueberry patches and all of those terrible views of the gorge . . .

After a few miles we dropped down to a small stream bed and took a break. Since I was making good time and my legs were feeling pretty good I decided to hang back and take it in while the rest of the group went on ahead. I was quite taken with the spot. There were thick icicles dripping off the overhanging logs, just above the chilly, gurgling churn, and the silence of the woods blended seamlessly with the water’s snow-muffled voice. For a moment I forgot everything as I stood there, awash in a wave of solitude, lost in a distant reverie . . . Unfortunately I woke up from my little dream. About ten minutes had passed and it was time for me to catch up, so off I went.

I put my legs to work and after about 15 minutes of hard hiking I saw Steve trudging up the hill in the distance. I judged that it was not prudent to run by and leave him to fend for himself so I decided to hang back, knowing that Steve was tired and that he hadn’t had a lot of experience in cold weather hiking. That’s not to say that I’m a cold weather expert, but I’ve done a few trips and a lot of reading and probably had more experience than the rest of the group, and I didn’t want to leave him struggling by himself if anything should happen: safety first and all.

We went slowly. At one point while were descending the bank of Slate Run we saw Patrick and spindle heading up opposite bank. They were clipping along pretty good and that was the last we saw of them for another hour and a half. Eventually we caught up to Neville as we were moving into mid afternoon. Stopping to look at the map and get our bearings I judged that we were about 3 miles from our destination and that spindle and Patrick would have a roaring fire going by the time we got in to camp just after dark. So we hit again, hoping to pick up the miles while the light held . . .

Boy was I ever wrong. We strolled in to camp about 20 minutes later. The fire was not started yet, but Patrick had pulled together a pretty impressive pile of wood. spindle had cleared the pit and was about breaking out the firestarter.

So we pitched our tents and sawed up some of the wood that Patrick had collected. Before we knew it the fire was going pretty good and out came the Trailgaritas and Patrick’s magic bag of Edibility. Much to our delight, he cut fat discs of raw cookie dough off of a Tollhouse log and passed them around. Now that’s a good idea and a half right there. He tried to bake a few slabs wrapped tinfoil and set by the fire, which was a burnt failure and really couldn’t compare to the raw fleshy goodness the dough itself. Needless to say, I will be sporting a raw cookie log on my next cold-weather adventure.

The night wore on and the tequila went down. And I lost my Moon Pie virginity, but not until after I lost a Moon Pie! Neville gave me a Moon Pie and I had placed it inside my jacket to warm it up, then wandered off to hang the food on the bear line across the creek, promptly forgetting about the hidden chocolate-covered marshmallow delicacy in my tequila induced stupor. We searched and searched but the mischievous Moon Pie was nowhere to be found. Neville, despite his disgust at my obvious mistreatment and lack of respect where reverence was due, offered me the last Moon Pie, presumably in the hope that I would learn the value of the Moon Pie. I accepted his offer humbly, my head hanging low with shame, and quickly unwrapped the proffered morsel, determined not to have a repeat performance. I waved the chocolate disc back and forth before the fire, occasionally flipping it around to warm both sides, so close that I could barely stand the heat. As the smooth surface began to melt and glisten, the sticky sweetness gripped my fingertips in warm ooze and I realized that this was no trifling thing I was doing. I stood back from the flames, spindle and Neville watching me earnestly as I paused a moment on the brink. And then I placed the Moon Pie in my mouth, plunged my taste buds into the open maw of the awaiting chasm, the gulf of culinary ecstasy. I was converted instantly. I am now a proud member of the Order of the Moon Pie, still a novice, but a brother nonetheless . . . And sweet dreams ensued . . .

Day 3

Sunday morning. The stoves and pots and cups and packets of instant oatmeal had become a familiar scene over the past week. But this was a special day as Patrick continued to pull trick out his bag of magical culinary delights. The treat of the day was fresh baked cinnamon rolls smothered in frosty icing. We licked our chops, tossed down the cinnamon rolls and licked our fingers. Then went about our morning business of eating and slowly packing up. In the packing process spindle let out a little yelp of glee from the tent, and we all looked to see what was the matter as she emerged from the tent with the previous evening’s errant Moon Pie. Apparently she had moved my windshirt to get at some gear and heard the unmistakable crinkle of a Moon Pie wrapper. She came over and presented it me and I heated it up and greedily gulped it down! I now owe Neville two Moon Pies and my undying gratitude for introducing me to The New Church of the Moon Pie Nazarene . . .

Despite our slow progress the first two days, the last day promised to be shortest mileage day in the trip plan. After a brief discussion we determined that the group would break into two and take different routes out. Patrick, Steve and Neville were going to cut out at mile marker number four and take the road back down to the Northern Terminus parking area, effectively cutting off about a mile, while spindle and I would follow the trail all the way out in order to insure that we hit our 100+ mile goal for the week. We also didn’t want to miss out on the open views between miles 3 and 4 where the map showed that trail cut right along the lip of the canyon for about a half-mile. Knowing that we had to make up some time the two of us set off and left the others. We also determined that we should really push ourselves since we wanted to beat them back to the cars.

So we were off again and we moved along a good clip. The views along this stretch were impressive to say the least. There were a lot of hunters out scouting, since the next day was the opening of rifle season in PA (statewide holiday), but we trudged on, not paying them much mind. It was a good hike and we churned out the miles with reckless abandon, stopping only briefly to snap a few pictures when we came to exceptional overlooks, then headed back down into the valley for the dreaded last mile. We both slowed our pace here, seemingly unconsciously. 8 days of trail, while anxiously anticipated in the planning stages, is also somewhat intimidating. Now the realization that we had nearly completed the trips and reached our goal was bitter sweet to say the least. We were proud of ourselves for having done it and we felt good. But neither one of us wanted the adventure to end . . . and of course it did.

We got back to my car, dropped our packs and waited for the others. When they arrived about 30 minutes later we all headed out to the Antlers Inn for the ‘morgasboar’ [SIC: according to an old toothless guy that told us about the feasting facilities while also insisting that The Bible says I should be married because I’m 37 years old . . . a whole other story . . .). We ate like hungry backpackers, shuttled back to the Southern Terminus and got the hell out of there.

What I Learned

1) It’s f***ing cold out there at the end of November.
2) Cookie dough rocks!
3) You can make pizza in a pan and it’s yummy.
4) There’s nothing like roasting the best f***ing hotdogs ever over an open fire at the end of the day
5) Melted Moon Pies are mighty tasty.
6) I really do need a white gas stove.
7) I know more about cold weather camping than I thought I did.
8) I planned a flexible itinerary, but my trip plans are more flexible than I thought.
9) In certain elite linguistic circles a buffet is referred to as a ‘morgasboard

Trip Report: Dolly Sods Wilderness – A Series of Unfortunate Events

Location: Dolly Sods Wilderness

State: West Virginia

Miles: 9

Days: 2

Type: Loop

Last weekend I went on a backpack trip with another group. It was a trip we had been planning for a few months and was supposed to consist of 3 days of backpacking. Our plan was to do a 15 mile loop in the northern section of the Dolly Sods Widlerness.

So, we meet up at Seven’s house at the butt crack of dawn (5am to you leiman) and head on down the road. Our destination would be the Dolly Sods Wilderness of WV in the heart of the Monongahela National Forest. This was all of our first time’s there with the exception of Steve that had gone on 2 other occassions. This would be his first time in the northern section of the wilderness area, however. We were playing phone tag with Eric from Cinci who had gotten a late start. I told him we’d leave an estimate of where we would be setting up camp the first night on Seven’s vehicle.

Now, let me just say, we were all aware that it had snowed about 6 or 7 inches earlier in the week, but figured a majority of it would’ve melted by the time we got there. As we get into the higher elevations of WV, we soon realize that that isn’t the case. Houses still have a good 5 inches of snow on their roofs and the snow hadn’t melted off the ground yet. Plus, we started to run into intermittant snow showers. This is going to make things very interesting…

We arrive at the trail head of Bear Rocks at around 1pm and it was just as we suspected. It was pretty darn cold, windy and snowy. We all can’t wait to get out on the trail and start getting warmed up.

Somehow…I end up at the head of the pack breaking trail in areas. About 10 minutes into the hike, the cluts in me breaks free, I lose my footing and just miss a pretty jagged rock. Thankfully, the snow was soft… After that, I relinquished my powers at the head of the pack and fell somewhere in the middle.

The scenery was spectacular with the snow covered pines and plains. The clouds looked extremely ominous and took on a life of their own. We knew we’d be hiking in flying snow soon.

I noted how extremely wet this place was and mentioned it to a friend when we returned. She said that it’s always wet, but the cold would definitely play a huge factor in this story.

At our first stream crossing of Red Creek, Cathy decided she would go first. She’d never done a stream crossing before and made a mistake of trying to do it quickly. She lost her footing and balance and fell in. The rest of us made our way across and quickly got up into tree cover to get her changed into dry clothing. Thankfully, nothing inside her pack had gotten wet. After she was changed, we headed on up the trail.

Everyone was starting to get a bit tired. The cold and wind really does a number on you. But, the views were unsurmountable…

We get to the sign stating we had come to Blackbird Knob trail and decide which was to go. If we went East, there was a campsite about a 1/4 mile up. West and we’d hike another mile and a half. We decided to go east and got to our campsite about 10 minutes later.

We started setting up camp and then attempting to collect firewood. Surprisingly, we found an ample supply. About an hour after arriving at camp, our 6th member of the group arrived. He had hiked in an easy 1 1/2 miles to camp to find us busy making home and starting the fire to dry out our boots and such.

Oddly, I didn’t have much of an appetite that evening and only ate about 3 handfulls of trail mix. Seven mentioned he was hungry, just not for any of the food he had brought. So, we sat around the warm fire and chatted and Eric had brougth a little Elmer T. Lee to share.

Around 9:30, Steve decided to go to bed. Our first thought was, “but the firewood isn’t gone yet!” About an hour later, the rest of us followed suit leaving quite a bit of wood for the morning.

I fell asleep with my hot water bottle at the foot of my sleeping bag keeping my feet nice and toasty. At about 12am I was awakend by a ‘crunch’ ‘crunch’ crunch’ in the snow and heavy breathing. My first thought was, “is that a bear?” and then, “what the heck am I gonna do?” The next thing I know, I hear someone cry out “Can somebody help me?” “I’m lost!” “I fell in the creek about 4 hours ago, I’m wet and I need some dry clothes!” Again, I thought to myself, “What the heck am I gonna do?” He went over to Cathy’s tent and tried to unzip it at which she left a near blood curdling scream. We yelled for Steve and Bill to get up and check out the situation.

They got up and walked out to check the guy out. Bill searched his daypack and found he only had food, a flashlight and a soaked map with him. They guy was completely drenched. When they asked him what he was doing, he explained that he had gone for a day hike that morning at 5am. He was about 1.5 miles from his car when he made a mistake and fell into the creek just before the sun went down. He got disoriented and lost the trail so decided to start walking up river to the next trail crossing. When he missed that, he kept going. Somehow he ended up on the trail that took him to our camp.

We scrounged up dry clothes, made some hot cocoa for him and draped him in a couple of space blankets. We got the campfire going again and start drying out his clothes. The plan was for Bill and Steve to take shifts so the guy could get some rest. The guys told us girls to go back to bad, that we had done all we could do. We were all reluctant.

The next part of the story I didn’t find out about until the next morning. At around 2:30 am, our midnight visitor said he was going to get more firewood. Bill told him not to worry about it, that there was enough there to get them through till the morning with a small fire. He insisted and left camp in search of more wood. Bill waited up for an hour and he never came back. At around 4:30am I heard ‘crunch’ ‘crunch’ ‘crunch’ again, then the rustle of the space blankets. I figured he had just gone to the restroom.

So, at around 7:30am I wake up. I’m the first one up and I decided to go out and tell our visitor to craw into my tent and attempt to get warmed up. By now, I’m scared to death to walk out and find what I might find. I shook him and he woke up. He went and layed down in my tent and sleeping bag until I woke him up about 2 hours later to start tearing down camp.

Based on everything that had happened and the fact noone got a very good night’s rest, we all decided to bail out and hike out with our visitor and Eric (who was only there for the night anyway).

It’s a story I don’t think any of us will soon forget. The most surreal thing I think I’ve ever experienced. The guys completely kept their heads which in turn helped me. Hypothermia had already started to set in on our visitor when he found us. He was very disoriented and stumbling around. Thankfully there was a happy ending and we got him back to his car which was parked at the Picnic area at the very southern section of the wilderness area.

I left our visitor’s name out in case he lurks here as he mentioned that he does backpack. I’m just glad he made it out safely.

Backpacking Trip Report: White Rocks Trail

State:

Virginia

Location: Shenandoah National Park
Type: In and Out

Mileage: 6
Days: 2

On a weekend late in June, a few other Shenandoah National Park Student Conservation Association volunteers and I decided to go for an overnight trip in the park. I had previously done a circuit hike on Hazel Mtn Trail to Hazel River Trail to White Rocks Trail and suggested this location. The circuit hike was about 9 miles with a bunch of elevation change, but for our overnight trip we decided to just head in on White Rocks Trail and find a campsite between the waterfalls and the White Rocks.

This overnight trip was a spur of the moment thing as we didn’t start hiking until 45 minutes before sunset. Each of us also had about 5-10 pounds of liquid weight to make sure we had a good time… The hike to our campsite was downhill the entire way and we made it to the waterfall spur trail without needing a headlamp.

The challenge now was to find a preexisting campsite to spend the night at. This area was significantly changed by the huge fire in 2000 and the understory was thick with brush and mountain laurel. Luckily we found a campsite just as we put our headlamps on. The campsite we found was tucked away in the mountain laurel 150 yards past the White Rocks – Waterfall trail intersection.

Shenandoah National Park’s camping regulations differ from many other parks since you can for the most part camp anywhere as long as you are 20 yards from a trail or 10 yards from water. However, fires are not allowed, which for a leisurely overnight trip is really a bummer. We made the best of it though using my whisperlite stove as a heat source and light. We sat up drinking beer around the stove for hours and finally made it into our bags at about 12.

I slept great during the night even though the winds picked up. I bet we had wind gusts up to 40 mph, but the beer probably helped out quite a bit.

The next morning we hiked down to the white rocks, which is basically a bunch of large boulders to climb up on. The views were fantastic as we almost had a 360 degree view. We sat up there for a good hour until the wind chilled us enough to make us want to move again. We then hiked the 3 miles back to the car and took the 20 minute drive back to the house to catch some World Cup Soccer action.

Spur of the moment trips like these really make me appreciate working in a National Park and living so close to a great resource. I’ll have to start posting some of my dayhikes now!

Trip Report: Appalachian Trail Across NJ

Location: New Jersey

State: New Jersey

Miles: 72

Days: 5

Type: Shuttle

Pre-Trip Bar Night

I busted out of work like a bird from cage at 4:12 pm—a whole 18 minutes early. The week had been an agonized dripping of seconds, all 432000 of them. Finally freed, I hopped on the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike (that I-76 for those of you who aren’t from these parts) and drove like a solitary snail in a herd of snails until I got to Bethlehem, PA.

Arriving early, I decided to drive around town and check it out. Bad move. I got lost pretty quickly and ended up driving aimlessly around town. It’s a burnt out steel town and I was reminded very much of Lackawanna, NY, where Bethlehem Steel pulled out 30-40 years ago and left the hulking shells of useless buildings, the blackened-rust coke ovens and thousands of unemployed families, lots of run down houses and a whole bunch of bars, the last item a stark reminder of why I was there in the first place!

So I finally got unlost and made my way to the Bethlehem Brew Works. The lovely spindle was sitting at the restaurant’s waiting station with one of those flashy-buzzy thingies, all dressed up and ready to hit the trail. She’s confused, that one. Last time I saw her she was wearing a short kilt, leather jacket and little black boots at the campground. . . So I sat down and we chatted for a few minutes and CrazyPace showed up with Mrs. CrazyPace. We were promptly seated and just after our drinks were delivered Pennsy came in followed shortly by ENS.

We parked a bunch of pub grub and couple of beers, compliments of CrazyPace and the magic gift certificate, and then me and spindle hit the road. We drove about an hour to Delaware Water Gap, dropped my car and then headed up to Waywayanda Sate Park, loaded up our gear and hiked about a half mile in to the Wayawayanda Shelter: arriving at home for the night shortly after midnight. We quickly set up the tent and discovered that the bear box was broken, so we hung a bag and called it a night.

Day 1

We were up early, but it was cold as hell so we hunkered down in our sleeping bag for a while. There was no hurry since ENS and Cap’nBobo were supposed to meet us at the shelter around 9:00 so breakfast and coffee was a pretty lazy affair. After everything was packed and ready I ran back to the car to refill my water and swap out a few gear items while spindle lazed about and read the trail journal at the shelter. I came back and we hung out a bit. ENS and Bobo were running late, but they finally showed up at 9:45, just as we were getting ready to start without them. Introductions were made as neither Michele nor I had hiked with Cap’nBobo. In fact the only thing I really knew about Bobo was this little tidbit of hiker hearsay wisdom: Cap’nBobo packs in the fun! And judging by the size of his pack I was not inclined to count myself amongst the disbelievers.

So we hiked. I was more than a little surprised at the beauty of the landscape and the feeling of remoteness. We were in New Jersey after all, the Armpit of America; yet, the air was serene and pure. It was a perfect day: sunny and cool with very little wind, and even with the late start I was confident that we would make our target before dusk since it was the second shortest day of the trip, coming in at right around 13 miles, and the elevation profile was fairly level, with one big drop followed by gradual climbing for a few miles on the other side of the valley and another descent to the shelter at the end of the day.

The miles passed easily under my feet and before I knew it noon was upon us. We had covered a little over four miles and stopped to lunch in the sun on a rock with a view. The break was short, but fuel is always good, and we started out again, only to find a side trail to a Vista about ten minutes away. When we got to the vista there were some day hikers there, one guy had two toddlers with him. One of the kids was in awe of us as his father explained that we were backpackers and spindle was tickled pink when the lad said, “You mean they sleep outside? Where are their sleeping bags?”

The rest of the day was spent crossing over farms and swamps. I picked a good time of year to do this stretch of trail since I imagine that hikers coming in at the height of thru traffic—late June to early August—must suffer greatly from a constant aerial assault by midges and mosquitoes. On the other hand, we did see two pairs of hunters. I believe it was junior day since they both pairings appeared to be father and son and only the youngsters were armed. Fortunately we had plenty of blaze orange going on, and so we were able to avoid being mistaken for deer . . .

Moving toward evening we topped the last hill and were rewarded with an amazing view as the horizon began to slowly swallow the sun like a snake working on the hindquarters of a frog. (Ok, maybe it wasn’t quite so violent but it was certainly just as natural.) A quick break allowed us to take in the view and snap a few pictures, but with the sun going down and more than a mile to go it wasn’t very long before we were on our way again.

We moved pretty quickly after that and got into the Pochuck shelter just before the last light of day dropped faded into darkness. Camp was set up quickly and dinner was just starting when a headlamp came bouncing toward us from the trail and in no time at all CrazyPace appeared. He had hiked in about four miles from a road crossing since he’d had other obligations during the day. After CP arrived and everyone had eaten, spindle busted out the Trailgaritas and Cap’nBobo treated us to a potable delight known as TurkeyTea™®: 12 parts wild turkey, 1 part tea and a sprinkle of sugar. Nice! The rest of the evening passed inside the shelter, with some entertaining conversation, including harassment phone calls to Pennsy (who couldn’t make it because of homeowner issues) and PhantomSoul (who couldn’t make it because of hang over issues), as well as the industrious log sawing of ENS who dosed a bit in between servings of TurkeyTea™® . . .

Day 2

I woke up with the first light. There’s something special about watching the light slide over the world with slow increase, and I probably would have gotten up to watch the sunrise had we not been half way down the Western slope of Pochuck Mountain. As it was, I spent a good hour snuggled up in my sleeping bag (is there a common theme developing here?) and listened to the wind and the scuffling as the rest of the crew gradually came alive. I finally got up and CrazyPace was on the move. He had retrieved the food bags from the bear box and I quickly set about making oatmeal, hot cocoa and coffee. ENS was up too, and he was hell-bent on providing some entertainment as he fired up his new white gas stove. The ensuing fireball treated us to a magically dazzling display of light and heat disbursement, and offered a good lesson in priming techniques.

We finally got under way around 9:00: not as early as I had hoped. CrazyPace was only heading back out to the road. ENS and Bobo were staying with us for about 13 miles, but spindle and I were looking to haul our carcasses nearly 17 miles to the Rutherford Shelter. I’m not saying that 17 miles is a monstrous hike, but we were hoping to get in while the lights were still on and avoid hiking in the dark . . .

Anyhow, we hoofed it down the hill and followed the trail into a wildlife refuge area, skirting the edge of a small marsh until we turned onto a brief road walk. The sun was up and the day was warming and we made pretty good time since the trail covered mostly the same rolling farmland/swamp terrain that we had seen the previous day. We were back to CrazyPace’s car in a little bit under two hours. We waited around for a few minutes and PhantomSoul showed up. He had arranged to meet us so that he could pick up some tires that CrazyPace was holding for him, and he brought us a dozen doughnuts and a box of coffee. Second breakfast!! For his efforts, I have dubbed him PhantomSoul, minor god of Food Delivery. (Thanks George, I owe you one.)

Second breakfast complete, CP and PS parted and the four remaining hikers were back at it: more hills and a farms and swamps. At a road crossing we met a couple of dayhikers, one of whom was wearing a suit and tie. He told how he likes to dress up for hikes and has worn Star Wars costumes and such. “Strange guy, I thought. But then again I once hiked in a grass skirt and coconut bra so I guess I’m not one to talk . . .

All day long we had been catching glimpses of the High Point Monument on the ridge in the distance, and now I tried to pick up my pace to match ENS as the looming phallus grew ever nearer, but that boy can really move and there was no way my stumpy little legs could keep up with his long stride. spindle was keeping pretty close behind me, but Cap’nBobo had started to fall back. He’d been out of action for a while, and the big mileage combined with the pack-O-fun was starting to get the best of him.

Stopping at Gemmer Road we waited for him to catch up. We rested up for about twenty minutes and as we started out again, Bobo gave ENS his car keys and told us not to wait anymore because he didn’t want to hold up our progress. I said farewell, since I wouldn’t be seeing him again on this trip, and started the long slow ascent up Kittatiny Mountain.

The terrain began a significant shift at this point, the rolling hills and soft trail turned rocky and hard. The mean-spirited, ankle-biting rocks of Northern Pennsylvania have quite a reputation in AT Lore, but we quickly discovered that the foot-grinding madness begins in New Jersey. The next 56 miles of trail were prepared to bear witness to this simple fact, and neither spindle nor I will contest it.

We climbed on, reaching the confluence with the side trail to the High Point Shelter around 3:30. About a half mile further on there was an intersecting trail that led up to the High Point Monument. A brief discussion over whether or not to take the side trip ensued, and ENS decided that he would run up the hill for a look, while me and spindle planned to skip it in the interest of covering some miles while the light was still good so we said good-bye to ENS . . . and then there were two . . .

Reaching the top of the hill we found a flat clearing and both of us called home to check in. Shortly after that we came to a raised wooden platform so we went up for a view, which we shared with a couple of tourons, just a quick stop to look around and then back under way. About a half-an-hour later we reached NJ Rt 23, which was where Cap’nBobo had parked his truck. We stopped to look around, wondering which truck was his and considering breaking into it since we knew that Bobo had a case of beer inside. We decided against the break-in plan and took a moment to look at the map instead. Three-and-a-half miles to go and the sun already threatening to set, we started out again. But just as we were about to head back into the woods we heard ENS calling us as he came running down the hill . . . WITH THE KEYS!!

Ah, sweetness! ENS opened the truck and as the three of us stood around drinking beer, a little old couple pulled into the parking lot and drove right up to us. And what to my wondering eyes should appear but a Backseat Bobo!! Everyone’s favorite clown came bounding out of the car and we were all reunited long enough to say cheers, take a couple of celebratory photos and part at the trailhead as originally intended.

Then I grabbed a couple of beers for the road as spindle and I turned tail and headed for the hills. The daylight died quickly and we were soon hiking in the dark. I haven’t done any night-hiking previously, but be could see Lake Rutherford down the hill to our left, sleeping peacefully, and the AT was pretty easy to follow; albeit, the going was slow. But when we got to the side trail leading to the shelter it was an entirely different story. The blue blazes were nearly impossible to see. We threaded our way down the hill slowly, navigating by instinct, a cut log here or there indicating that we were still on course. And after what seemed like an eternity we emerged into a clearing with a picknick table, a bear box and a shelter: 17 more miles down, dinner and goodnight.

Day 3

A thru-hiker had come in during the wee hours. He slogged into the shelter for a nap. He was up before dawn and I chatted with him for a few moments before he was off again. Spindle rolled out of bed and we watched the sun rise over lake Rutherford as we prepared breakfast. We got started pretty early for a change, and that was a good thing since I had planned another big mileage day at about 15 and –a-half.

We took the first four miles rather quickly and stopped at the next Shelter for a mid-morning snack. Ever-curious, spindle went poking around in the bear box and voila! BIG SCORE!! Someone had left a container of lemonade mix behind. We dumped some sugary sweetness into our water bottles and enjoyed cold lemonade for the next few hours.

By now I’d gotten my trail legs on. I had developed a nasty blister and my feet were killing me, but my legs had forgotten their soreness early in the day and I was making pretty good time. spindle was going a bit slower, trying to take it easy on her foot, having just gotten out of her cast the week before, so I broke out my MP3 player and let the Beastie Boys carry me up hill.

The rocky terrain continued as we made our way along the roller coaster ridgeline. We passed a solo hiker going the other way and continued on, the stunted rhythm of occasional gun blasts in the distance reminding us that it was the opening day of black bear season in NJ.

Around mid-day we climbed up the top of Sunrise Mountain and stopped for lunch at the rest area there. While we were there I learned a valuable lesson: do not pack in little plastic jelly tubs stolen from diners. The two that I had left had exploded in my food bag, making a sticky mess of the items that shared zip-lock space with them. L While we were finishing up our lunch another hiker came by, she was playing pass the keys with the hiker we had passed earlier and apparently heading for the road-crossing at Rt 206. She babbled crazily for a bit but eventually she got far enough ahead of us that we didn’t have to deal with her any more.

More hiking and distant gunshot ensued until around 4:00. I stepped out onto Rt 206 and stopped dead in my tracks, struck dumb with awe and wonderment. A single beam of light shot down from the heavens, spotlighting a small, plain-looking building. I heard the chorus of angels singing Hosannas as I read the sign:
Jo-To-Go
coffee, breakfast sandwiches and hot subs

spindle came walking up behind me a few minutes later and stood there as well. After a moment she asked, “Do you want to stop or do you want to keep going?” Hell yeah I wanted to stop. There was no way I was going to pass up a hot sub and a bottle of Gatorade at this juncture. Daylight be damned! Our hot ham subs were amazing, Gatorade is always good and we picked up a couple of bagels for breakfast. Fed and refreshed we started up the steepest climb of the day with the sun going down and four miles to go before we hit the Brink Road Shelter.

It got dark quickly and this was our longest stint of night hiking, probably about three miles in total darkness. The trail was also infrequently blazed in this area, so we were flying on instinct again, looking for sawed off blow downs and open lanes. Our progress was slow but we stayed on the trail and eventually strolled into the shelter just before the rain began to fall. Perfect timing! We snacked and drank trailgaritas and I drank a beer that I had left over from the previous day and fell asleep listening to the rain on the roof of the shelter.

Day 4

We breakfasted on the previous night’s intended dinner and bagels since Jo-To-Go had precluded the need to cook the night before. The rain had all but stopped by morning; although, the wind was strong and there was some occasional drizzle. We packed up and broke out the rain gear just be on the safe side, heading up the mountain with our earliest start yet. We hit the top of the ridge quickly and the wind came at us like the wind. The exposed rock face left us completely unprotected and at times the gusts knocked us off balance as the water continued to blow around, but we could see the lightening edge of the storm to the West and the strong winds promised to carry off the threat of rain if nothing else.

Overall the day was uneventful: a good piece of fire road walking with the big wind keeping us company. The original plan had been to hike nearly 19 miles on Day 4, stopping at a backpacker campsite in Worthington State Forest, but some last minute research before the trip revealed a hostel at Camp Mohican. There were some nice overlooks on this section, and at one point some a hint of snow filtered around us as we crossed a very narrow shelf.

All in all we made excellent time, arriving at Camp Mohican around 3:00. We went to check in and there was a big vat of vegetarian chili on, so we sat down to a second lunch, complete with sodas. Then we trucked up to the hostel building where we took hot showers and laughed at the ‘lightweight’ gear ads in an old copy of Backpacker Magazine from April of 1980. They were also making a big stink about those newfangled internal frame packs. The article brought a smile to my face a few minutes later as I was rummaging through my (virtually frameless) Granite Gear Vapor Trail. After that we ordered a monstrous Sicilian Pizza, drank Trailgaritas and discovered the miracle of the hot Nalgene massage. Now THAT was sweet!

Day 5

We were up early again and had reheated pizza for breakfast along with coffee and hot cocoa. This was the shortest day of the trip and we wanted to get out early in order to complete our shuttle and try to get home before the holiday rush hour traffic settled in. It was also by far the coldest day. As we turned off the road at the trail crossing there were icicles forming on some of the twigs that brushed against a small bridged stream.

The miles passed easily. My legs felt great and I ignored the sore soles of my feet. Once we hit the ridgeline we had fairly constant views of the Delaware River. At one point we climbed a small peak where a pair of photographers had their equipment set up. They were all bundled up in parkas and facemasks and big honkin’ gloves. We stopped long enough to take a couple of pictures and say hello but that was it. The wind was whipping through there like nobody’s business and it was cold as hell. I had no intention of standing around and catching hypothermia. Yet despite the chill it was an absolutely gorgeous day, and once we got out of the wind it wasn’t so bad.

So we hiked on down the other side of the hill to Sunfish Pond: a small glacial lake, picture perfect in every way, and a very popular destination in fair weather. On this occasion we had the whole lake to ourselves, and I stopped to take pictures as we scrambled amongst the rocks along the water’s edge.

Beyond the pond we stopped for an early lunch just past the backpacker campsite, which had been our previous day’s destination in the original trip plan, and then followed waterfall-laden Dunnfield Creek out the rest of the way until we hit I-80. As we crossed the Delaware on the I-80 bridge I found myself wishing we had taken a hint from General George Washington and found a canoe to ferry us across. This bridge walking business is for the birds.

That’s all folks!

What I learned:

Cap’nBobo packs in the fun!!
New Jersey isn’t so bad after all . . . if you can get past the F***ing jug-handles.
Little plastic jelly tubs explode under pack strap pressure.
My new hand spun wool hats kicks some major ass. (Thanks spindle)
It really is the little things that count, like a ham sub or doughnuts or a hot shower.
You’ll never get cold with 11 pounds of high quality goose down in an REI Quarterdome.
Night hiking sucks when you forget to change the batteries in your headlamp.
New Jersey has its fair share of rocks.
ENS is ALL leg.
All the AT shelters in NJ have bear boxes.
Cap’nBobo packs in the fun!!