Tag Archives: Appalachian Trail

Bunny on Easter …

… I began the morning by having breakfast with 3 other lovely hiker friends, AYCE Sunday brunch at Shoney’s. Biscuits & sausage gravy … yum! Our waitress kept razzing us in the friendliest ways and we threatened to kidnap her and haul her off on the trail. I took with me 2 colored hard boiled eggs from the buffet.
Leah was driving Renee and Buttercup to Winding Staircase Gap and me to Deep Gap so everyone could resume the trail where they’d left off. As Renee and Buttercup were unloading, I realized I’d left my maps and guide book at the hotel. No fears … I simply photographed the needed pages from Renee’s book. 😉
I thoroughly enjoyed the ride with Leah. We were FB friends but hadn’t really gotten to know each other before this so as we took the windy twisty forest service road back to Deep Gap, we got to talk. Arriving at the parking lot, we were surprised and delighted to see to
Trail Magic happening! The “Omelet Angels” had 3 E-Z ups and 2 kitchens going! This was their 22nd year of doing this on Easter morning! I’d just finished a hefty breakfast so declined an omelet but gladly accepted the offer of a hearty sandwich on home made bread to go. Mmmmmm!
Leah and I said our goodbyes and I was on my way. My immediate goal was Standing Indian Shelter where I would eat my sandwich and then head on to the summit of Standing Indian Mountain (ele 5498′!) where I would reward myself with Easter chocolates sent to me by Karen L. The shelter was an easy reach and several hikers and I shared stories as we ate lunches and snacks. I continued on.
The misty drizzly fog slowly turned to a steady soft rain as I eased into switchback after switchback. 741′ ele more in 1.5 mi. Eventually I realized it really was only going to rain harder and denial was not going to keep me dry. I had to pee. Perfect opportunity to put on my DriDucks rain pants, yes? There was no one coming from either way, so I dropped pants and peed right there in the middle of the trail which was quickly becoming a running stream. As fast as i could, I hoisted my britches, grabbed my rain pants, and leaned against a tree struggling to get each wet muddy hiking shoe into the pant legs without filling the pants with said mud. And here come 2 men hiking down hill toward me. From the switchback *above* me. “Oh hi!” LOL
I continued on plugging away, now quite a bit more protected from the elements. The trail climbed, climbed, climbed. I hike a whole lot faster in the rain! Ohhhh….. my belly rumbled! Something from the AYCE buffet was not sitting well. I was at the summit of Standing Indian Mountain! And it was pouring! My guts declared a sudden emergency! Now, dearest readers … Try to imagine wearing full heavy pack with pack cover, the toilet paper is inside the pack under the cover; you’re wearing rain pants, shorts, AND tights …. and it’s raining so hard you’re nearly breathing water.
And the situation is URGENT!
I’ll spare you the nitty gritty details other than to say that it was a moment I’ll never forget!
I sat on a wet rock and ate the head off a chocolate bunnie.
And hiked on.
I don’t see another soul on the trail; the rain never once let up. Three miles later, I was loosing light as I came into the Beech Gap tenting area. Not a soul was there, but I wasn’t sure I’d make it another 3.5 to the next shelter before dark. I camped completely alone for the first time. The rain let up ever so slightly as I set up the tent as quickly as possible, making good use of the awning feature to pile my soaked gear under. It was a challenge to keep wet and dry stuff from touching. I would need to bear bag. this would be extra heard in pitch dark so wandered in search of an acceptable tree branch. I tossed and set it ready to haul up my food bag when I would be ready later. Sitting cross legged in the doorway of my tent, I cooked curry noodles with chicken for dinner and washed it down with hot spiced cider. For dessert, I ate the butt off the chocolate bunnie. Yum! It was time to hang my food bag so I slipped on my camp crocs (lovely little red ballet style Crocs) and headed out into the rainy fog to locate the already hung bear bag. And could not find it! Anywhere! I wandered back and forth and back and forth for what had to be a good 20 min, finally giving up. I slept with my food by my head figuring if a bear was so hungry that he’d come around a human in this deluge, I’d just give him the bag!
It’s important to note that throughout this entire day, not once was I angry or discouraged. I was excited to camp 100% solo in the pouring rain!
That night was my best nights’ sleep so far 🙂 At one point, I woke to see a glimpse of moonlight coming through my tent and I knew the morning would bring sunny skies. I drifted back to sleep so very happy!

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Redefining brutal …

… sometimes feels like an almost daily thing. March 29 for sure felt brutal.
I spent the night camped with about 25 or 30 others at Bly Gap. It was a really nice bunch bunch of folks and we had a huge toasty fire with lots of hiker talk and off-color jokes. The night was clear and cold. When I woke up at about 11 to pee, I wondered why the person in the tent behind mine had their headlamp shining my direction. When I woke up a little more fully, I realized it was a gorgeous bright moon. Stepping outside my tent to take care of business, the night was magical… a stunning sky lit by a glorious moon and, off in the distance, I could hear a pair of owls calling to each other through the dark. I got to experience this magic again at about 4 AM but the moon was mostly gone by then, taken over by clouds.
As beautiful as the night was, I did not sleep well. I had been tired and cold all day and my body just could not seem to relax and get comfortable. I was warm enough but my calves kept cramping and waking me. Adding to that, I had camped on the flattest space available but I still was on a slope and kept slowly sliding sliding sliding towards the door of my tent. The night before, I barely slept in a shelter where it had gotten down to 15° and this night was probably about 20° there in Bly Gap.
I woke in the morning determined this time to make myself a hot breakfast to start my day right! After a breakfast of coffee, cocoa, oatmeal, and salami, I prepared my pouch of lunch and snacks (including a high protein orange yogurt smoothie in a small Nalgene bottle for later that morning), got everything packed up and headed out of camp at the late hour of 9:45 AM.
The rest of my campmates were heading to Standing Indian Shelter 7.7 mi away, a distance I felt was probably beyond my ability, given my lack of good sleep for the previous two nights. My goal was to hit Muskrat Creek Shelter (2.8 mi) for a late lunch and decide at that point how much farther I would want to go.

And right after the gnarled tree, I hit knee high log-bermed steps taking me up about 500′ ele in maybe 1/4 mi. OOF! Wow, that made the old glutes burn, let me tell you!!!! At the top, I found a lovely log to sit on and have my little orange smoothie. I unscrewed the lid, put the bottle to my mouth … and my taste buds were shocked! This is not an orange yogurt smoothie! No … I had grabbed the wrong baggie of orange powder and made myself cold tomato soup!!! I consoled myself with half of a Big Sur Bar and could only laugh at myself. 🙂
Everything kept going up and I asked myself at one point does North Carolina only go up? Will there be any down at all in this state?
Courthouse Bald (summit 4666′) was beautiful with it’s craigy rocks and rhododendron forests.
Have I mentioned before how enamored I am with the rhododendron forests? I absolutely love the wide glossy dark green leaves and the twisty, slightly shaggy branches that arch over the trail to create an inviting shadowy tunnel of green. At this elevation however, that shadowy tunnel enabled the snow to remain and get packed down into near ice by the footsteps of previous hikers. You had to watch where you placed every step so carefully. Where there was no snow-turned-to-ice, there was often thick deep black mud. Several times a foot would start to slide and it was very slow going for me but with the footsteps and slide marks of the previous hikers, I had a bit of warning where the slipperiest spots where.
It was getting later and later; I was getting tired and beginning to consider that I might actually stay the night at the shelter coming up. Finally I made it to Muskrat Creek Shelter. It was 3 PM. 😦 The floor of the shelter had somehow flooded and turned to ice or perhaps it had simply filled with snow and been packed down but stepping into the shelter felt like stepping into a refrigerator; it was immediately and obviously colder inside the shelter than outside. No way was I going to spend the night there! I heated up my tomato soup for a late lunch and discussed options with a few other thru-hikers who stopped in for the same purpose. We pretty much all came to the conclusion that nobody wanted to spend the night in the icebox masquerading as a shelter so, one by one we used the privy (ice on the floor!), finished our lunches/snacks, and headed on down the trail with the idea of stealth camping at Deep Gap 4 mi away.
I was already getting tired and the idea of four more miles … 😦
That’s when the snow started to get deep. My first warnings were the 2′ deep drifts of snow alongside the trail which eventually became 2′ of snow everywhere with the trail cutting through, packed down again like ice. It was slippery enough when level but on a long long downhill, it was downright treacherous. I lengthened my hiking poles and proceeded slowly and cautiously as I was able. It was evident that hikers before me had slid, slipped, and fallen. I wasn’t surprised… It would’ve been far easier to go down that one long hill on skis or a toboggan! I was so close to losing my footing many many times. Still not sure how I managed to stay upright through that entire thing. There was one point where I slid about 3′ down the trail without losing my balance as if snowboarding.
Then the snow started coming down. I’d had a few flakes falling here and there but now the snow began in earnest… big fat clumpy chunks of snow. It was sticking this time, piling up and eventually obscuring the footprints of those who had gone before me. With the heavy cloud cover, I was starting to lose light and I really really wanted to get down off that mountain. Though I was hungry and there was rehydrated beef stew sitting in my pack, I did not want to take the time to stop and eat. The footing was getting more and more tricky as I had to pick my way across rock fields with 1-2″ of snow obscuring the difference between rock and ice. There were trees fallen across the trail that I had to climb over much like mounting a horse on one side and then dismounting on the other. What’s up with that North Carolina? Have you not heard of these amazing inventions called chainsaws?
Trying to hurry… trying to be careful… Somehow I put my right foot down and it slid to the left and I did some incredible aerial acrobatic and rolled/slid about 7– 10 feet downhill off the trail. Fortunately there was a 2′ deep snowbank to cushion my eventual landing. I laid there for a moment… mentally checking out all my parts… am I okay? My right wrist, back, and right knee all felt twisted …. but nothing was terrible; nothing was screaming. Nothing was broken! I had landed head downhill, on my back, with my pack on. Those lovely fat flakes of snow were falling in my face and the trees and sky looked really cool from that position but …. I had to get up and out of there and nobody was there to help me out. I was on own. THAT process would probably have been worthy of America’s Funniest Home Videos. Shift, roll, grab, use the hiking poles … it was a process! Think of what a turtle would go through if you put it on its back … with its head downhill … in the snow.
As much as I wanted to get off the mountain, I was that much more careful with my every step. There was no hurrying. If I have to do this in the dark, I have a headlamp. That would not have been my first choice but I would rather hike safely with a headlamp than recklessly in faltering daylight.
Three times I thought surely Deep Gap and the parking lot was around the curve and each time when I came around that bend in the trail, there was more trail. I had to stop thinking/expecting because the disappointment was just too much. I wondered if I had somehow passed the gap and was on my way to Standing Indian Shelter? I couldn’t possibly of passed the gap which was a forest service road, but… I felt like I had been hiking forever! Indeed I had been hiking for many hours, albeit slowly. I had to set all expectations aside because standing there feeling helpless and disappointed was not going to get me out of what could be turning into a dangerous situation. I had no choice but to hike on. So I did.
The trail curved and I suddenly saw way below me the road and I cheered! I still had to pick my way through the icy mud and rocks carefully and came into the parking lot unsure of my next step. Okay… To be perfectly honest my next step was to pee! There was an old fire ring and places to put up tents and it was nearly dark so didn’t have a lot of options. My first choice was to catch a ride into town, get a hot shower, dry bed, and buy Micro Spikes for my shoes before tackling the next mountain. I walked through the parking area holding my phone up to the sky, trying to get a good Verizon signal when a minivan pulled in (nearly ran me over), parked and disgorged a bunch of Boy Scouts and troop leaders. “Hey, are you going into town?” I boldly asked the strangers.
So here I am… safe, warm, and dry … a few odd deep bruises and a little sore but okay.
Yeah …. kinda brutal!

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There was this moment …

… or maybe two where I doubted myself, my skills, my gear, and my strength to continue on.

Once, I woke to a chilly morning and found everybody else in my little hiking group had already packed up and left. Everything felt so hard and beyond my abilities. I was miserable; if I had had cell phone service, I would have made a call to G asking her to please drop everything and come get me. The next afternoon, I stopped in the middle of the trail, exhausted, and just stood there on the side of the mountain. I could not find any beauty around me. None. I was tired and cold and felt so alone. The chill wind cut through my clothes and through the balaklava pulled up over my mouth and nose … I felt utterly sorry for myself … and I cried.

Someone told me there’s no crying in the mountains. Bullshit.

There really are no other options. Nobody’s going to come and scoop you up off the side of the mountain. There’s no magic wand or magic carpet and certainly no elevator around. The only thing I could do was get done crying … and keep walking.

That’s just how life is sometimes; you just have to keep on keeping on.

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What I wear …

… when I hike? Several of you’ve asked me what I’ve chosen for clothing.
I have 3 categories of clothing. There’s the clothes I wear for actual hiking, the clothes that I add for particularly cold or rainy weather, and then there are my camp/sleeping clothes.
Let’s start from the bottom up with my every day hiking clothes. I start with in Injinji toe socks. I had wanted to go originally with all wool but i liked the idea of toes not rubbing together and I have not had one single blister or hotspot!
My hiking pants are by Eastern Mountain Sports. Lightweight, rain resistant (not rain-proof), I chose men’s designs because of the looser waist and more pockets.
Choosing the right bra was a challenge for this larger gal! Eventually I settled on a satin soft cup, wireless bra from Cacique. It has padded straps, wide mesh all across the back, and 4 hooks. And they come in pretty colors too!
I love the comfort and fit of Minus 33100% Merino wool shirts and start out the day with either my grey 1/4 zip long sleeved shirt or the pink short sleeve T shirt.
Over that, I generally slip on a loose synthetic Nike dri-fit T shirt.
I wear a cotton bandanna on my head.
It it’s really cold, I will wear lightweight silk longjohns under the pants. I could add my Smart Wool glove liners. Depending on wind or rain I might add my Outdoor Research hooded rain jacket and/or my Marmot insulated waterproof mittens over the glove liners. I might switch out the bandanna for my warm Mich Fest cap.
When I get into camp and I’m no longer hiking is when my body cools down. I change into my camp clothes which consist of a super lightweight diwn jacket, midweight Minus 33 1/4 zip wool top, Eastern Mountain Sports heavy weight TechWick tights, heavy warm socks, and my Crocs. These are the clothes I sleep in as well. 🙂

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A few of my favorite things …

Here I am at Wolf Pen Gap Hostel with some extra time on my hands. A bunch of you have asked me privately about my gear so I decided to show you few of my favorite things.
Dirty Girl Gaiters
Like their website says “Anyone can wear black gaiters! But a dirtXy girl’s gotta do what a dirtXy girl’s gotta do! Accessorize!” These do a bang up job of keeping rain, mud, and debris out of your hiking or running shoes and they look snazzy as heck.

Ultra light Cuben fiber stuff sacks from zPacks
I have the sleeping bag sized stuff sack, the roll/lock food hanging bag, and the AWESOME fleece lined Velcro close bag that flips inside out to make a great pillow!

A sit/kneel pad that’s part of a ThermaRest Z lite sleeping pad. I just cut a regular size sleeping pad into a couple of sections and only kept one. This is come in so handy, so many times!! I keep it strapped to the side of my pack so it’s always handy for me to sit on a damp log or cold rock. It also serves as a nice space to kneel getting in and out of my tent. And it can act as additional cushioning/insulation under my sleeping pad.

The Jet Boil Sol. There are several versions of jet boil out now. I got this one a couple of years ago and it is serving me well. It still doesn’t simmer as low as I would like but it does what I need to do.

AquaMira tablets. So long this water is not murky and full of gunk, these simple to use tablets are taking care of my need for clean water.

Cho-pat knee braces. I took the advice of other long distance hikers who are my age and older and I don’t regret buying these. If I feel a little twinge in one knee, the brace goes on immediately and saves me. If I wake up feeling stiff in the morning, the knee braces go on and stay there for an hour or two until my body warms up. Love them!

Minus 33 100% merino wool clothing wow! I am totally sold on merino wool shirts now. I have two of the quarter zip long sleeve shirts, one midweight and one light weight. I have a lightweight short sleeve T-shirt and tank top. They are all incredibly comfortable and machine washable/dryable. They are a bit on the delicate side however, so be careful of snags. Minus 33 carries women’s sizes up to 3x, though I think they run a tiny bit snug.

So those are a few of my favorite things for now.

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What happened?

Hawk Mountain Shelter to part way up Justus Mountain

How did I manage to hike 9 miles pn day one and totally crap out on day two?
Waking was interesting. In an effort to not freeze to death the night before, I had used my emergency blanket underneath me and then up over me but somehow in the middle of the night it had slipped up over my face causing a serious gathering of condensation. I became aware of this in middle of the night when icy water dripped on my face. Yes. It had been a fairly miserable night punctuated by that stunning display of nature when nature called.
Morning was interesting. I warmed myself front and back at the bonfire some others had built and tried to take my mind off the fact that whichever side was not actively being warmed was freezing. Honestly breakfast was the farthest thing from my mind but I knew I had to eat Something. Two chocolate Carnation instant breakfasts, Starbucks instant via coffee, and some protein powder in hot water topped off with a normally chewy but at that moment hard crunchy breakfast bar. It was food.
The only way to get warm was going to be to hike so I packed everything up and I hiked. It quickly became apparent that I was not moving as fast as I did on day one. How did I manage to cover 9 miles that previous day??? Was it adrenaline on day one that kept me going? Was that the lack of serious sleep that was now causing me to slow down? It quickly became apparent that I was going to be much much slower than day one and Leah went on ahead. That was cool. No problem. We had agreed in the beginning to hike our own hikes.
Did I mention that on day one I got my first injury on the trail? Yes indeed! I slipped on an icy rock while crossing a stream and banged up my left shin really good. I’m quite proud of the bruising! Well that left knee was bothering me a little bit on day two but as soon as I put on my Cho-pat knee brace, all was good.
The weather for day two was terrific! It was exactly the kind of weather I had hoped for. The trail was muddy in some areas, other areas were dry and rocky. Still other areas had frozen mud. I was enthralled with the stark beauty around every bend and stopped at one point on the side of a mountain to shout into the wilderness “YOU ARE SO BEAUTIFUL!” Part of the trail was that rich red Georgia clay and other areas were scattered with iron pyrite, mica, and marble. I really wanted to pick up samples to take home for grand daughter Evalyn.
I hiked slowly and took whatever breaks I needed. Eventually at the bottom of Cooper’s Gap I realized that was no way I was going to make it to the next shelter 3.5 miles away up a mountain. (and did I mention that everything is up?) Three very nice folks from Paducah, Kentucky all around my age said they had just been told about a campsite under a rocky overhang about a quarter-mile up the mountain and invited me to camp with them. I quickly accepted their offer and we slowly trudged up that last quarter mile.
What utter delight to have warmer temperatures and be out of the wind for the night! We got to see the sun set from our rocky perch and, after a dinner of potato soup with spinach and chicken, I turned in at about 7 PM.
Again nature called in the middle of the night and this time I was able to crawl out my tent and move three steps to the left. I could see below me lights of a small town and a million stars above and then … I peed off the side of the mountain. <~ Amazon Moment

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Day 1

… I woke at the hiker hostel excited and nervous … one of the last ones up. Mad dash to pack my pack, use an actual flush toilet for time for the last time for who knows how long, and eat a hearty breakfast.
I was being picked up by my Facebook friend Leah and her parents for the ride to the parking lot .9 miles from the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. To say that we were excited is an extreme understatement.
The road up there was crazy steep, narrow, twisty, and snow-covered. It only added to our ever increasing adrenaline rush!
Getting out of the car that last-minute adjusting gloves, jackets, packs we kept looking at each other and saying “oh my god! we’re here! oh my god, we’re here!”
The .9 mile trail from the parking lot to the trailhead was icy slippery rock key and we didn’t care… We flew! That adrenaline and our excitement carried us all the way to the top of Springer where the icy winds whipped us. This was no genteel southern welcome! Oh no! This was Mother Nature daring us… challenging us … already demanding our best.
We made great time that day, hoofing 9 miles to Hawk Mountain Shelter at a reasonable time. But it was cold… I can’t even describe how cold. But apparently got down to 19° that night and the wind was about 40 miles an hour with occasional gusts higher. My boots and water bottles were wrapped in a plastic bag stuffed into the foot of my down sleeping bag so they would not freeze overnight. Put on every article of clothing I had except for my muddy damp hiking pants. And I was still cold. I was already wearing my hooted down jacket but not until I pulled my wind/rain jacket into my sleeping bag and tucked it around my thighs and butt was I able to get to sleep. I slept what felt like all night, waking at what I thought must surely be close to dawn. Pulling out my phone to check the time, I was dismayed to see it was only 10 PM. Ugh 😦
I rearranged repositioned myself, forcing myself to sleep for the rest that I would need the next day. I actually was fairly warm… Except for my nose. My nose was freezing.
And the inevitable happened. I had to pee. I was afraid this would happen. But knowing myself and my bladder very well, I knew was very likely. I held off as long as I could, trying to get a little more sleep in each time, my bladder woke me a little more urgency. Eventually, it had to have its way and I oh so very very reluctantly disengaged myself from my little cocoon of warmth to emerge to a midnight wonderland of sparkling frozen delight. The wind had died some and the sky was clearing enough for me to see thousands of stars scattered across the sky and a million glittering ice crystals coating every branch and pine needle. It was magnificent! My p-style helped me take care of business quickly with minimum skin exposure.
I crawled back into my warm cocoon grateful for the opportunity to have night.