Backpacking Trip Report: Lake2Lake

Area: Upper Penninsula of Michigan

State: Michigan

Mileage: 53

Days: 1

Type: Shuttle

Over the last several years I’ve burned through many hiking partners This has left me tempted to file the following ad in some outdoor publications:

Married, 34 year old adventurous and nature loving prosecutor seeks hiking partner with the following qualities: Must enjoy a challenge and exemplify the saying “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Must be able to keep a positive attitude in all situations and not complain excessively. Must, at least on some level, enjoy suffering. Must be willing to hike by headlamp at the beginning and end of the same hike.

Oh yeah, and must be able to hike fast, all day long.

For the last two years, Mark Kowalczyk thought that he fit the bill. So, when I was planning this year’s challenge, the Lake2Lake, the goal of which was to hike from Lake Michigan to Lake Superior in one day, Mark told me he was in.

On a day in early August, we camped near Rapid River. When the alarm went off at 2 a.m., we got ready and headed to the beginning of our hike. After a few ceremonial photos of us dipping our feet into Lake Michigan, Mark and I walked to the start of the Bay De Noc Trail. Hundreds of years ago, Native Americans used this same trail to portage their canoes and supplies between Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. Suffering from sleep deprivation, we felt weak from the start. In the first two hours we were startled by a six foot long Western Fox snake, ‘Indiana Jones’ed our way through the unavoidable webs spiders spun across the trail, and dodged lightning strikes that lit the surrounding blackness.

Dennis, our support person, planned to meet us along the way to provided water and food. When we got to where we expected the first scheduled checkpoint to be, Dennis was nowhere to be found. Had we somehow missed him? We were over 20 miles into the hike, low on food and water and in serious need of a break. To push too far past would be a disaster. Just as panic started to creep in, Dennis appeared on the trail. We were crushed to hear that the checkpoint was four miles ahead.

 

When we finally got there, we peeled off our hiking boots, sat on coolers, guzzled Gatorade, and ate lunch. After a while, Mark noticed a bunch ticks attached to our legs. We quickly went to work trying to remove them with a Swiss Army knife. Once we got them all scraped off we figured it was time to push on. Our feet, legs, and attitudes felt better after the break.

 

Several hours later, we hit our toughest physical obstacle along the trail. A huge section of trees had blown down during a powerful storm and lay strewn across the trail. Being too far in to backtrack, our only option was to climb over and crawl under the fallen trees. Branch stubs hidden by leaves stabbed our shins as we negotiated what looked like a randomly thrown piles of over-sized pickup sticks. We tiptoed over and along the now horizontal tree trunks like gymnasts on a balance beam.

At 43 miles in, we stumbled out of the woods and into our last checkpoint at 9 p.m. in serious need of a break. Since stopping meant picking up some more tick companions, we kept moving up until then. With more than nine miles to go, we weren’t feeling particularly motivated to leave the comforts of tick-free parking lot to continue hiking into the impending darkness.

 

However, we had come too far to give up now. As we got back into the woods, we quickly learned that the trail went up and down more during the next 4 miles of trail than in the previous 43 combined. It became brutally comical how there was virtually no flat sections despite the guidebook’s claim that it was: 0 percent steep, 15 percent hilly, and 85 percent moderate or flat.

 

When we finally hit the forest service road, our “home stretch” excitement dwindled quickly as we realized the road was gravel instead of flat, hard-packed dirt. Every step on the unavoidable rocks that covered the road was painful. Our bodies rebelled and wouldn’t accept any food and only an occasional sip of water. As our headlamp batteries died, our spirits dimmed too. Our eyes played tricks on us and we had trouble keeping the ground in front of our feet in focus. Mark and I had not spoken a word to each other in hours. Suddenly in the distance I saw light. Was I hallucinating? Thinking it was the end or our journey, I turned to Mark and said “Look! The light at the end of the tunnel.” Depression set in when we realized it was just Dennis’ car and heard that it was another mile and a half to the end. Thankfully, Dennis turned around and inched along behind us with his lights on illuminating the trail ahead of us and motivating us to pick up the pace and finish.

 

When we finally stuck our feet in Lake Superior near Au Train, it was almost 1 a.m. on Sunday. We had hiked 53 miles in 21½ hours. Too tired to celebrate, we took a couple of photos and headed for the motel. On the drive there, Mark blurted out, “Pull over.” We did, and he promptly threw up four times. He was so out of it that the next morning he didn’t remember doing it. A couple days later Mark ended up in the doctor’s office with several infected tick bites.

 

Driving home the day after the hike, we saw a Chevy Suburban next to us with a bumper sticker that said: “Don’t move firewood, it bugs me.” Inside the rear windows we could see the vehicle was packed to the ceiling with firewood. The driver even had firewood piled to the ceiling in the front passenger seat. We all started cracking up at the same time. Despite not being the sharpest tool in the shed and obviously having no idea what kind of hike we had slogged through the day before, the guy pretty much hit the nail on the head when he saw us laughing at him and shouted in a perturbed voice: “Bunch a goofballs!”

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: NOLS Wind River

Location: Wind River Range

State: Wyoming

Miles: 120

Days: 29

Type: Shuttle

Trip Background: I first heard about the National Outdoor Leadership School in early March 2005. One of my economics professors simply sent out an email to students in her class recommending NOLS as a outdoor recreation opportunity. She really didn’t say anything about her own experiences with NOLS, but I checked the NOLS website out and decided that it was something I wanted to do. At first, I signed up for a semester long course in the Rockies, but changed to a month long backpacking trip in the Wind River Mountain Range instead.

Route Summary: We started our trip June 9th on the middle fork of the Popo Agie just past Sinks Canyon. I think the trailhead was called Bruce’s Bridge. We had several layover days in the first two weeks of our trip and spent a good deal of time in class. We covered everything from baking, to LNT, to first aid. I think we only went about 35 miles in the first two weeks. Some of us did become frustrated with this but it was probably a good think looking back at it, some people needed the extra time for their body to adjust to the pack weight and elevation, not to mention basic survival skills.

It was about a week and a half into the trip when we first hit snow with our 40-70lb packs. Its funny looking back how we reacted to the snow throughout the trip. At first, it was fun being in shorts and having snow fights, however we quickly became frustrated with actually having to posthole through it. Just as quickly as our fun turned to frustration, we started to laugh and have fun again when we fell past our waist into the snow.

After a couple weeks of travel, we began to near the Cirque of Towers. The cirque was simply awesome. We made a dayhike up to Lonesome Lake through the snow and I think I burnt a full roll of film there. Definitely a highlight of the trip.

After staying east of the cirque a few miles we started what was probably our hardest day. We went north over Lizard Head trail for about 10 miles postholing the entire way at 11000 -12000 feet. I broke trail for the first group and I think we were on the actual trail for about 5 minutes. I probably worked the hardest that morning as almost everyone else simply followed in my tracks. Later in the afternoon, we hit a a lake forming as the snow melted from beneath and ended up postholing through a foot of snow with 2-3 feet of water below. The only other option was to go around and up another 500 feet so we just plowed through. Although we really didn’t have time to think about how cold and wet our feet were as an approaching thunderstorm forced us to quickly climb the last ridge near Cathedral Peak and run down the ridge to Bears Ears Trail.

A couple days later we crossed Washakie pass over the Continental Divide. At that point we were accustomed to the snow as we had been forced to camp on it a couple times already and were hiking in it every day. One of the guys walked the pass blindfolded because one of the girls lost her sunglasses somehow.

After crossing the Continental Divide we went south of Mt. Geikie a couple miles and took a 3 day layover where we were rerationed for the last time. While at this camp, we had a few classes on rock climbing and setup a couple top ropes nearby.

Soon after we began to hike NW to Raid Creek and started making preparations for our independent student groups at Rainbow Lake. I was chosen as one of the three leaders and would lead a group of 3 other students for four days to a final destination about 25 miles away near Meadow Lake in the Boulder Lake area. Overall, my independent student travel group had few, if any problems. However, we definitely were a bit frustrated with the mosquitoes and the lack of water. I remember almost running down the trail near Lake George and Horseshoe Lake because of them. That was an extremely long afternoon as it took another two hours to find a suitable camp with a decent water supply and a stiff breeze to limit the mosquitoes. That night we were in our tents at about 6pm and put rain gear on to cook even though it was about 80 degrees and sunny.

We then continued to our final camp to finish up student, course and instructor evaluations. Most importantly, we made a plan for food and candy the following day in town.

Overall, i think the final count for mileage was 113 over 30 days. That doesn’t include most of the day hikes though.

Food: I know how to cook a lot more food now. We had 2 rerations in the trip and for the most part had basic food ingredients with prepared trail food. We also had an extensive spice bag combined with cheese and sausage to make (almost)everything taste great. Later in the ration period, we definitely had some strange combinations…

Leadership: Everyday we would hike in groups of 4 with one person as the leader of the day. Earlier in the trip we would also hike with an instructor just following us. The leader would write a travel plan the day prior and be responsible for any decision making that came up on the trail. After each day, we would have a debrief on what the leader did well and what he or she could improve upon. We also had several evaluation periods with the instructors to discuss our development as leaders and other skills.

Independent Student Groups: The last week of the trip we had our independent student travel groups where one leader was chosen to lead three other students. The leaders were picked by the students and would make all necessary decisions for the next 5 days including routes and campsite selection. I was one of the three chosen for the independent group leader and was given the additional responsibilities. I kept a course log, monitored group moral/health, changed routes if necessary, and just made sure everyone kept having fun. We had no contact with the instructors during this period unless it was an emergency. Although they were always within 24 hours hiking time and we knew their route and camping locations each day.

Fishing: We brought 5 collapsible fly rods. Some of us caught a lot of brook trout early on, but I had the most fun near North Fork Lake with some large Cutthroats. I stood in the cold river for hours and loved every minute of it.

Instructors: Three instructors accompanied the group of twelve students for the duration of the trip. All three of them were knowledgeable and fun to hike with.

Friendship: The NOLS course was a great opportunity to meet new people from all over the country. We had many hours of laughter simply from hearing each other’s regional accents. My Wisconsin accent and pronunciation of “bag” brought laughter to every meal.

The long length of this trip also created tension between some members and strong bonds between others. Being with a group of people everyday for a month amplifies every little annoyance while bringing those most similar closer together.

Trip Report: Glacier National Park

Location: Highline Trail-GNP

State: Montana

Miles: 52

Days: 6

Type: Shuttle

The whole trip to Glacier was planned by Bison and I didn’t even really get beyond glancing at my guide book – I wanted to be completely surprised when I got there – I knew that the route he’d planned had come from a guide book of some sort, and well – it IS Glacier National Park, so I knew the trip would be incredible. Now that I’ve been home and back at work reflecting on the trip every night and daydreaming about the mountains during the day, I’ve come to appreciate the experience more and more. This trip, for me at least, will stand to define what a backpacking trip should be.

We left my apartment about 8:30 and drove all the way to Conrad, Montana that day, about 14 hours. The next morning was sunny with a little haze to the west, but the closer we got to the Park, the more mountain range we could see. Since none of us had been to the Park before, we had planned on being tourists that day and driving around seeing all that we could see from a car and shopping in the visitor centers, along with collecting our backcountry permit.

Being backpackers, we rather laughed at ourselves playing the role of tourists, but since none of us had been to Glacier before we rather wanted to see the whole park, at least from the roads. First we drove to Many Glacier and up the road past Sherburne Lake to the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn that sits under Grinnell Peak. From there we drove back south to St. Mary and took the obligatory group photo at the entrance to the Park. At St. Mary visitor center we found out about the bear and cub that has moved into Hole in the Wall campsite causing us to alter our plans (dang bears). Probably for the best though due to PhantomSoul’s flight plans on the way home. After finding out about the campsite closure, Bison immediately begins to study the large scale relief map at the visitor center and announces that he has planned another trip for 2007 that will traverse the Northern Section of the Park from East to West and utilize Hole in the Wall campsite on THAT trip! Apparantly, Hole in the Wall is one of the most spectacular campsites in the entire Park – no wonder the bear moved in I guess.

It’s worth noting that even though we had only seen glimpses of the park and the glaciers, we had gained enough appreciation of the beauty and grandeur that it holds to understand that it is indeed a unique place and worth revisiting.

Before the Park Service will issue the permit, they require you to watch the little 15 minute video that talks about how not to get eaten by the grizzly bears, how to handle food and cooking and such – nothing really new in the video, but it was good to see a little about what to expect in the campsite setup and such. After (finally) getting the “OFFICIAL PERMIT” we drove on up the Going to the Sun Road stopping at all the pullouts and views along the way just like proper tourons!

Arriving at Logan Pass we got our first look at the area we’d be hiking the next day and the view was totally incredible – Huge walls and unbelievably deep valleys lay to the west and north as far as we could see – WOW.

From there we drove on down towards West Glacier amongst ever impressive views on the West side of the Park. Finally arriving in West Glacier around 5 or 6 PM, we realized that we had been traveling for two entire days and still had not really started the trip. After dinner at the only restaurant in town, we drove up the road headed for Polebridge, Montana, at the NW corner of the Park. The road changed to gravel/dirt and we eventually arrived in Polebridge greeted by a sign that warns the drive to slow down because people are breathing and view the “Mercantile” and the Saloon, both situated amongst half a dozen cabins that apparently make up the whole town. Note to dog owners: if you take your pooch to Polebridge, be warned that they do not allow ‘non-local’ dogs on the porch of the store! I immediately fell in love with the place and this is the town I’ll move to if I ever decide to just check out of conventional society. After browsing the Mercantile, we continue on up the gravel road the last six miles bound for the final destination of the day – Bowman Lake Campground.

After making camp in the car campground, we make our way to the lakeshore and are dumbstruck by the view east across the lake where mountains tower above the still surface. We spend an hour or so, just sitting, skipping rocks and taking pictures as the sun sets behind us and lights up the mountains to the east.

Day 1 – Sunday, August 7

After traveling for the better part of two days, we were ready to begin the actual trip – the reason we came in the first place. We laughed at the fact that we were finally ready to “start” the trip now that we had been gone from home for as long as most trips actually last in total! We woke up and quickly broke camp for the long shuttle back to Logan Pass. Leaving my car parked at Bowman Lake we drove back into West Glacier for breakfast and then started up to Logan Pass. Going to the Sun Road is an incredible drive, but not a quick one. By the time we got to Logan Pass it was 11:00 and almost noon before we were able to get parked and start up the trail. But, we only had 8 miles to cover this day and the scenery was just incredible. So, a group picture with assistance from touron guy and we cross the road and take the first steps on the trail that we’ll follow for the next six days.

Right off, we encounter a mountain goat walking the trail that borders cliffs going up on the right and down to the left. We back off to let the goat move on, but quickly realize that a youngster goat is on the rocks as well. This should have given us a clue as to the quantity of wildlife in this park; we just counted ourselves fortunate to have seen a goat up close. Finally we are able to proceed and we can’t quick taking pictures of the Garden Wall which rises abruptly to our right and the valley to the left. Heavens Peak lies across the valley and once we pass Haystack Butte, we have incredible views of the Glacier Wall. Further up the valley to the North West are Longfellow Peak, Anaconda Peak, Mt. Geduhn, and Trapper Peak – all prominent peaks in the Livingston Range. We didn’t know it yet, but Heavens Peak would dominate the western skyline for two solid days.

Stopping at Haystack – dayhike destination for several people (with good reason) we soak up the view and the sun and get to photo another mountain goat before making our way along the Garden Wall to eventually come in view of the Granite Park Chalet. We laugh a little at the name of the place as there doesn’t seem to be much granite around anywhere. Most of the mountains in Glacier are sedimentary, at least on their higher portions and we are in the neighborhood of 7,000 feet. Apparently this is due to the “Lewis Overthrust” that pushed the older seabed of sedimentary stuff up and over the top of the younger granite. This action is also directly responsible for the dramatic steepness of the mountainsides.

Reaching the campsite, just below the chalet, we meet our neighbors, a group of flight nurses on their last night out – and obviously having a GREAT time. Soon, we are joined by a group of doctors from Minneapolis (so at least we’re good if anyone gets hurt tonight) and then later some guys also come into camp. We cook the food, hang out, discuss the bear situation and watch the sunset before eventually settling into camp as the wind picks up and the temperature starts to fall with the darkness.

We found out that the docs had all done their residency together and that this was their first backpacking trip – EVER. When I heard this, my first thought was that its too bad – because after experiencing the majesty and grandeur of Glacier, everything else will seem just ‘ok’.

I recall that I found myself feeling rather naked without the bear spray in my pocket – even just walking around camp and remember noticing that all my senses seemed so much more aware than normal. Being in grizzly country was exhilarating.

Day 2 – Monday, August 8,

Woke up in Granite Park and was thankful that a bear didn’t drag me out of the tent. Wandered down to the privy and was really hoping that no-one would be sitting there (there are no walls and most of the campground was female that night). Anyway after waiting around for a minute for the rest of my gang to wake up and getting most of my gear packed we made our breakfasts and loaded packs for the biggest day of our trip – 12 miles and a big climb (moderately big at least) up and over the Divide into 50 Mountain campsite. Today was also the day we began hiking along the route of the Continental Divide Trail.

Along the way we passed by Ahern Pass with continuous views to the West of the Livingston Range. Heaven’s Peak and Longfellow continue to dominate the view, but now views of Nahsukin are also showing up as we moved further north. Beyond Ahern Pass we stopped at Cattle Queen creek and rested our feet in the creek, at a snack and replenished our water as well. The doctor ladies caught up with us here and took a break also as they were headed to 50 Mountain as well. Coming out of the draw that holds Cattle Queen we began the long four mile climb up to the Divide. Three miles later we could finally see the pass that would take us from West to East and the steep push up to it. Panting and sweating we finally made the pass and took a group shot and collected the view in our personal memory banks.

This section of the hike traversed the western flank of the Garden Wall for the majority of its distance on the Highline Trail. The Highline Trail is one of those classic mountain trails that anyone who calls themselves a backpacker really MUST do at least once in their life. The views are simply gigantic. The scale of everything in Glacier is simply just BIGGER than anywhere else I’ve been.

A side trail up to Sue Lake Overlook goes up another 300 feet or so to the ridge, but none of us opted to go take a peek. Looking back now I rather regret that I didn’t suck it up and make the climb – one of the doctor gals did and we were all duly impressed. We finished the last brutal mile or so into our campsite – a foot beating, knee jarring descent that really just finished off the legs. The campsite sits in a grove of fir trees that suffered fire damage in 19___ and left little or no shade. The cooking area here is serviced by a food box – by far the superior method of safe storage, but the only facility like that we encountered – probably due to the fire destroying the trees. The creek just below camp is dry, but we’d been told that we should just follow the creek upstream to find pools of good water. I surmised that the creek flow was dropping into the ground and below the rocks by the time it reached the camp area.

We were joined in camp by two solo hikers, from Maryland and Indiana, a couple from Los Angeles, the doctors, and two guys from Florida. We were tired this night and the storms on the other side of Cathedral Peak and the rest of that range kept swirling around the ridges, winds picked up and howled thru camp pelting us all with dust and chilling us pretty well too. We spent a lot of time chatting and just watching the clouds. It was rather strange, the clouds up high were moving one direction, the wind in camp was moving the other. This one big cloud was falling over the ridge of Cathedral, but never seemed to make any progress towards our valley – it kept just coming over the ridge but getting caught in the swirl and rolling back around the side of the ridge. We hit the tents a tad earlier than we might have in better weather, but it did not rain.

Day 3 – Tuesday, August 9

We woke up to a clear morning with a large cloud settled in the valley just below camp. The night before we had watched the cloud flow over the ridge of Cathedral Peak and overnight it apparently finally made it over the ridge and settled below camp giving the impression of a lake in the valley below us. Since we only had about 7 miles to hike this day we lounged lazily around camp and took our time cooking and packing up. Since I had not used my rope to store the food, I absent mindedly failed to pack it thus donating the cord to the Glacier gods of gear. We also had visits of mule deer in the camp this morning – looking for an easy salt lick. At one point in the morning, I had gone back up to my tent and caught the deer inspecting the pack of one of our campsite mates, which after I photographed the deer, I ran her out of camp.

Hiking out of the campsite across the meadow of wildflowers was really nice as we climbed out of the camp towards the pass between Kootenai Peak and Cathedral. Now we had changed trails and left the Highline Trail to continue on the Waterton Valley Trail (which doubles as the Continental Divide Trail). At the crest of the ridge we encountered a collapsed rock cabin style shelter and then a backcountry ranger. After chatting with the ranger we began the big descent down to Waterton Valley. This is where we left the high meadows and profusion of wildflowers behind in exchange for thick valley vegetation.

The trail here crosses the side of the mountain and thus also crosses over several avalanche chutes. As a result we were crossing areas of thick, shoulder high at times overgrowth intermixed with area of fir forest and shaded rather open trail. You could feel how the weather and conditions sculpt the landscape.

This descent would cover about 4 miles and drop over 2,000 feet. Once we finally reached the valley floor we were walking thru thick brush and shade – quite a change from the open meadows up on the ridges. We stopped at a patrol cabin and met another ranger pulling a pack string of supplies. We ate our lunch there and again met the doctor ladies who were headed up to Stoney Indian Pass. After filling our water bottles we moved on up the trail and set a good pace to the campsite at Kootenai Lake.

When we emerged from the woods at the lake we quickly claimed a sheltered site right on the water and watched a guy fishing pull two or three trout from the lake. Unfortunately, clouds formed overhead and a sprinkling rain started to fall – but not before I took a long awaited swim in the lake! Man, that swim did wonders for my mindset and completely refreshed me. The rain stopped though and we got our dinner cooked and camp set up and spent a long time skipping rocks and taking pictures of the clouds as they swirled around Kootenai Peak and Porcupine Ridge. We also saw the moose with her two calves eating vegetation from the lake bottom that night.

Kootenai Lake is within dayhike range of Goat Haunt Ranger Station which is served by a water shuttle from Waterton, Canada. There were a few dayhikers at the lake, namely the fisherman and a family group that came looking for the moose. The family group was disappointed that the moose seemed to be keeping a different schedule than their boat shuttle home was on.

Rain started and stopped a couple of times before we called it a night. This campsite was also full, people from Ohio, Alberta and Washington DC shared the lakeshore with us.

Day 4 – Wednesday, August 10

Woke up to a damp morning on the shores of Kootenai Lake. Other campers were milling around the cooking area and the family of swan was on the lake. This was my first experience with swan and they stayed away from all the people down the lake. But we could clearly see the parents and the six or seven smaller white figures floating on the water in between them – just incredible.

Our campsite was well protected and there was still a nice floor of dust on the ground despite the persistent rain overnight. After trying best we could to dry the tents we broke camp and headed up the Waterton Valley towards the Goat Haunt ranger station and Waterton Lake. Luckily, the sun came out and dried up the forest by lunch time. We had spent the morning hiking in rain gear to keep from getting ‘painted’ by the undergrowth which was rather thick in places on the valley floor.

As we neared the ranger station the trail widened – indicating that we were approaching touron zone. Rangers greeted us at the lake and checked our permit. This lake is HUGE and spans the border between the US and Canada. Mt Cleavland rises to the east and just north of that is Goat Haunt Ridge – both are massive rises of over 2,000 feet from the valley floor – par for scenery of Glacier.

While we were relaxing and snacking, the boat from Canada arrived depositing the international travelers for their dayhikes where the rangers checked passports and such. We took the opportunity afforded by the sunshine and lounged in the grass while a Bald Eagle flew overhead and attempted to pluck a fish from the cold water of the lake. After a short nap we woke up, stretched and loaded up for the three miles or so up to Lake Francis. Now that I’m home and looking back, that nap may have been the best moment of the whole trip. We simply just laid down in the grass and fell asleep in the midday sun. The epitome of carefree, slow-paced life. No schedule to keep, to messages to return – just living life in its simplest form.

After crossing the suspension bridge over the Waterton River, we began to climb towards Brown’s Pass going past Lake Janet and beginning to view the north side of the distinctive Porcupine Ridge. As we approached Lake Francis we could see the Sentinal standing guard over the lake and the tremendous cascade on its side falling over 1,600 feet to the water below and draining the Dixon Glacier. This waterfall and grand wall would be our spectacular backdrop for the next several hours.

Our campsite sat about 20 feet above the turquoise water of Lake Francis and was small in comparison to the camps we had been in before. A man and his son were leaving the lake as we arrived and pointed out the osprey that had been fishing in the lake. Clouds were forming so we quickly set up camp and cooked dinner finishing our chores just as the downpour started forcing us under the siltarp I had wisely brought with me. The rain was doing nothing but getting heavier so we dove into tents earlier than normal tonight to write our journal entries and fall asleep to the combined music of rain and waterfall.

Day 5, August 11
We awoke today to breaking clouds and sun burning off the storm from the night before. As the sun came out we all warmed and took our gear to the lake shore to dry out. We also took this opportunity to rinse off in the cold water of Lake Francis and of course continue the odyssey of rock skipping that had by now become a theme of the trip. There is something innately satisfying about bathing in a wilderness lake. Standing there on the lakeshore, deep inside the Park with no-one around a feeling just overtakes you that you are at that moment truly free. It’s a shame that more people don’t get the chance to experience it, or maybe they do in their own ways. But I now realize that I need that wilderness experience on a regular basis to maintain my connection to myself and who I am on the inside.

After loading up the packs we headed out for Thunderbird Pond and then onto Browns Pass.

At Browns Pass we found the sign telling us that Hole in the Wall was closed, as was the spur trail due to the bear that had moved in. Just beyond this sign is the campground where we stopped for a break and I made yet another gear donation to the park – my sunglasses. Somehow, I didn’t even realize that I walked off into the bright sun without my sunglasses. My apologies to the park and to whomever picked them up, I hope you enjoy them.

At the lip of the gorge we could finally see our destination – Bowman Lake where we’d been 5 nights prior and the colossal cliff that we would descend to the valley below.

Making our way down the cliff we could eventually see the Hole in the Wall sight and the waterfalls that make it so spectacular – the hype is well deserved – it would be spectacular to spend the night there.

On down the valley as we tired we could finally see the lake and the site of our last night in the park. We were all glad to be arriving in camp, but none of us really were ready for the trip to end. We shared the site that night with a large group of extended family that had been in the park for several days on the Northern Traverse and two couples – one from Indiana and another that we shared the campfire with from Seattle. The couple from Seattle was very pleasant and we really enjoyed sharing their company that night.

As the fire died down (this was the first night we’d had a fire) we reflected on the trip and looked forward to the meal that we planned to feast on in Great Falls.

Day 6 – August 12,

Just before morning the rain again fell on us thoroughly wetting the tents, but as this was the last day and we only had a seven mile hike over flat terrain we didn’t really care. In fact, looking up to the ridges east of the lake, it had snowed at higher elevations. How amazing it would have been to wake up in mid August to a blanket of snow in your campsite! Setting a blistering pace we covered the 7 miles in just over two hours and caught up with the Seattle people about a mile from the parking lot at the foot of Bowman Lake. Yes, we wanted to get a beer!

Once we reached the beach at the campground the wind was howling – at least 50 mph gusts. After taking the obligatory group photos we made our way to the car and the end of our journey. We were all smiles as we could taste coca cola and real food, the Seattle people walked up and asked for a ride to Kintla Lake, which of course we obliged with, thus earning some hitch-hiking trailhead karma for a future trip.

On the way out to Kintla Lake we stopped in Polebridge and sampled the baked goods at the mercantile – Huckleberry Bearclaw – one of the finest things on earth based on the collective opinion of the group. After dropping Meghan off at Kintla Lake, we again stopped for a second bearclaw and headed for Logan Pass and Bison’s car, and then onto St. Mary and our exit from the park.

Postscripts

Best steak in Montana – Eddie’s Supper Club in Great Falls. The 40 oz. Campfire T-Bone.
Best beer after a big hike: Moose Drool – from the Big Sky Brewing Company in Belt, Mt.

On the way home we stopped at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. That was an interesting visit. We all learned about Custer as kids, but seeing the cemetery and the mass grave and actually being in the place where that all happened was a rather moving experience. I’m still not real sure how I feel about the whole thing.

Overall, this trip was spectacular. The scenery was better than I could have imagined and my hiking partners were terrific. We all noticed that we fell into the camp routine really quickly and that our bodies held up remarkably well. We were tired at the end of each day, but well recovered each morning. As the trip wore on, we had become accustomed to the slow pace of trail life, and I believe that I actually prefer it to ‘real’ life. The minor inconveniences of no running water and dehydrated food, are greatly overcome by the simplicity and basic quality of sitting on a lakeshore watching the sun light up the opposite ridge and seeing a Bald Eagle soar to a tree top perch.

I am a backpacker.

This is what I do.

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!!

Trip Report: Ely, Minn Dog Sledding Trip

Location: Boundary Waters

State: Minnesota

Miles: 30

Days: 4

Type: Shuttle

The WinterCampers.com crew of Uncle Jim, Matt and Mark were joined by Jason and new comers Aunt Kathy and Paul for a dog sledding trip in Ely, Minnesota.
The group arrived in Ely, MN after a very long drive and settled into the Wintergreen lodge Monday afternoon. After meeting the 57 Canadian Inuit Dogs and our two guides Rob and Steve, we checked over our gear one last time and settled in for bed.
We awoke Tuesday morning bright and early to feed the dogs and load our sleds. We ate breakfast in the lodge, got some last minute instructions from Paul Schurke and we were off! Each sled carried 2 “mushers” who rode on a small platform on the back of the sled plus each sled carried gear. 2 of the sleds were pulled by 6 dogs and the other smaller sled was pulled by 5. Steve and Rob wore XC skis and skied the entire time with a map always in hand.
The dogs that Wintergreen uses are Canadain Inuit Dogs. In a word they are amazing. They have a kennel of about 57 dogs….no 65 as 8 puppies were born while we were there. Each dog weighs about 80lbs and can pull at least twice their weight in payload for hours on end at a steady pace of 6-8mph. The dogs are fed a high energy powder food mixed with a bit of water each morning and a chunk of lard each night but never seemed hungry or ran out of energy. For water the dogs eat snow so you would see the dogs grabbing bites of snow as they plodded their way along the trail. Although the dogs exhibit a pack like mentality amongst themselves they love people and were extremely affectionate. They each had a very distinct personality and did not take us long at all to learn all their names. Once on the move though these dogs are all business and just love to pull. They seem to have a one track mind….”Pull, Pull, Pull….” then when we would reach a hill or get stuck it was…”Pull Harder, Pull Harder…” You actually feel bad to stop them and take a break as they just want to keep going and get very anxious when we did stop. They follow a few simple commands. To launch the sled you would first give the command “Ready” which would get all the dogs up…then “Hike” and the dogs were off. “Whoa” to slow and stop the team, “Gee” to turn right and “Haw” to turn left. Mushing was not just riding on the back of the sled and shouting out commands however and proved to be very challenging. It takes a lot of strength and balance to not only balance on the back of the sled but also to shift your weight and help steer the sled around turns, trees etc. When climbing hills you had to get off and help push the sled up the hill and if you didn’t the dogs would all stop, turn around and look at you as if to say “What the hell?!” The same was also true when going through deep snow, slush, over logs etc. The dogs depended on us almost as much as we depended on them.
We also had our fair share of collisions with trees and falling off the sleds. I believe everyone fell off at least once and some much more then that. Once you fell off of the sled…or performed a controlled dismount….you were very motivated to get back on the sled….first so that you don’t have a run away sled and secondly since usually you had a team of dogs hot on your heels ready to run you over if you did not get out of the path! We had several very close calls and a couple of major collisions due to the terrain and the “staff only” or “double black diamond” trials that we went on.. All in all we covered 24 miles on the trip
The weather on the trip was nearly perfect for the humans on the trip. 30 degrees and perfect blue sky most of the time until our final day when it was a bit breezy and overcast. The dogs were a little warm as they prefer single digit type temps but it was great for us. The Minnesota landscape was beautiful as well….they don’t call it the “Land of a Thousand Lakes” for nothing! 4 of us slept in the Tipi. Jason and Paul built a snow shelter for night one then slept out under the stars with the guides the next night after Paul got a little claustrophobic. Sitting around the campfire one night we heard a pack of wolves out in the distance. The howling wolves was quickly drowned out by the chorus of our dogs joining in.
Our guides Rob and Steve were taking their first trip in a very long time which actually made it a lot of fun as it was something new for them just as it was for us. Although we did not always end up on the trail that we thought we would they still did an excellent job. “Hey Rob…where are we?” “Right here!” Being that some of us were former tour guides ourselves at a tourist attraction here in NY we can definitely appreciate the work that they do. They were extremely helpful and a lot of fun.
The food was cooked over a fire and we had a lot of it. Breakfast was eggs, sausage and bagels cooked in sausage grease…sounds tasty ehh?:) Lunch was trail mix type things, energy bars, dried fruit etc. Dinners were pasta based….beef-a-roo pasta one night and chicken-a-roo pasta the next along with unwrapped wraps for appetizer. One interesting little tid bit is that famed explorer Paul Schurke plans on a stick of butter per person per day! Apparently Wintergreen has some deal worked out with Land O’Lakes Butter:) jk
All in all it was an incredible experience and one that we would recommend to anyone. To book your own trip or to find out more visit www.dogsledding.com and tell them you saw them on WinterCampers.com