Category: General
Posted by: barley
Here are some practical tricks for thruhiking or backpacking I have listed on my Modern Caveman website.

Mental preparation was more important to our overall success, but those handy tips were really helpful to some day-to-day enjoyment.

Category: General
Posted by: rain
Barley and I presented a talk about medical issues on the AT last week to a group of doctors and medical students interested in rural practice. It went great! Everyone had a good time and had lots of questions. We were even joined by Riverdance who hiked in '99. Many thanks to all my fellow hikers who helped out with stories and photos! If you don't see your photos included it's because the day before the presentation a computer glitch deleted a number of them, so I apologize for that.

The PPT presentation is posted here:

Category: General
Posted by: rain
Barley and I just returned from a terrific hiking/camping trip in Utah with some of our best friends. We spent a couple of days car-camping and exploring the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park followed by a 4-day backpacking trip down Coyote Gulch to the Escalante River. Matt “Limecat” 's parents live in Aurora, Utah and were nice enough to open their home to the stinky hikers for showers, beds and excellent homemade meals. Along with Limecat, we were joined by Ariel “Peregrine” and Colin “Contrary” from sunny CA for a great college reunion.

Check out the 3 posts below for details!
Category: General
Posted by: rain
Bryce Canyon was really just opening for the season, which meant that (A) it wasn't too crowded yet and (B) the weather was kind of iffy. We had a nice day in the upper 50's, with enough sun and wind that our skin was burned by the end of it, followed by a howling blizzard that night. Luckily Limecat's parents had provided us with plenty of extra blankets and it was a short walk to a heated bathroom so we all survived the night. Although I was invited by a nice European couple to join them in their RV. (?).

Bryce is a really unique area. The roads and campsites are on a high plateau, above 8000 feet, on the rim of a precipitous drop to the “main amphitheater” filled with hoodoos. These are sandstone spires topped with a harder type of rock, sculpted by wind and water over centuries as the softer stone around them eroded. “Hoodoo” is derived from the word “voodoo”, and early native peoples saw them as the faces of spirits with malevolent intentions toward humans. We followed the popular Rim Trail along the precipice and the Queen's Garden/Navajo Loop trails down among the hoodoos for a pleasant day hike, about 6 miles total. Wall Street was a very narrow section with steep walls on both sides. The area is mainly desert but in some areas is densely forested with Douglas firs, the same trees that are being destroyed by acid rain on Clingman's Dome in the Smokies.

For stargazing you'll never find a better spot. The sky is enormous there, with very little light pollution. I've never seen so many stars. The view is so wide and unobstructed that you can see satellites passing overhead every 10 minutes or so. The rangers often run astronomy programs with a telescope on weekends. Other highlights included a beautiful sunset and sunrise from the Rim Trail near our campsite, Jiffy Pop in the party tent, and gratuitous amounts of bacon.

After a night of R&R at the Prospector's Motel in Escalante we headed out for backpacking down Coyote Gulch. The outfitter in town is worth mentioning as it was reasonably well-supplied (I got my first hiking skirt), made good pizza and sandwiches, and was also the State Liquor Agency. The only other thing in town worth mentioning is my favorite souvenir shot glass ever, which reads: “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may be in Utah.”
Category: General
Posted by: rain
We drove about 30 miles down Hole-in-the-Rock road, the bumpiest washboard dirt road I've ever had the pleasure to ride on. An hour or so later we hiked out into the desert from Redwell Trailhead toward Coyote Gulch. Initially we walked down a broad wash surrounded by low sandstone hills and rock formations, with scattered cacti and spiny-looking bushes. No wildlife to speak of, although we saw more than enough cow pies. We found ourselves following cow footprints in the sand more often than human ones; ranchers are permitted to graze their cows through the upper portion of the canyon. Soon we found a small, dirty-looking stream that we followed for the remainder of the trip.

The wash became a canyon, anywhere from 3 to 300 feet wide with 200-foot sheer sandstone walls on either side. A swath of green trees and bushes cut through the desert along the course of the stream we followed. In the upper canyon the trees were still mostly bare, but as we hiked further south and the elevation dropped we walked into spring. The cottonwoods grew buds and then full leaves, berries were forming on the trees, and small flowers peeked out of cracks in the sandstone. Where the stream turned, the canyon wall on the outside of the bend would become concave forming incredible echo chambers. “Springs” occasionally seeped through the canyon walls, sometimes a drip and sometimes a gush, always surrounded by mossy growth deep in the shadows.

We camped the first night on high ground just past the Jacob Hamblin arch, about 8 miles in. Flash floods can be a real danger in these narrow canyons at any time, although the rainy season is late summer and early fall, so you always want to camp on high ground if possible. We were in our own private echo chamber (interesting with a notorious snorer as part of our group!) and the sandstone formed convenient waist-high “tables” for cooking and eating from. In the winds our homemade penny stove continued to outperform the other stoves: a Jetboil and an MSR pocket rocket which seemed finicky in what had turned into a wind tunnel. The bottom of the canyon was mainly fine sand, though, which made it a little tricky to stake down our tarp tent in the gale.

Astonishingly, we woke to snow flurries. Fortunately they were short-lived and the day turned sunny and warm, although still quite windy. Overall a very enjoyable walk, although there was a tense hour or so when our group lost the path and became separated. We were on opposite banks of the stream and the trail (which was not marked or blazed at all) became unclear. The banks of the stream diverged around some high cliffs and waterfalls and both groups had a difficult time getting back to the river. Barley, Limecat and I found ourselves sliding feet-first down a steep sandstone cliff while Peregrine and Contrary ended up bouldering on the other side.

We came to 2 more waterfalls soon after which required a little more technical climbing. We tossed our packs over the side, one by one walked along a narrow and sloping ledge for about 100 feet and were then able to slide down a steep wall to retrieve our packs. I thought it was fun, although it's a little hard to do modestly in a hiking skirt. We made camp soon after in a little oasis just short of the Escalante River, having walked about another 8 miles, on a little plateau about 20 feet above the canyon floor. The only problem was the strong scent of skunk in the area, so we were very careful to hang our foodbags that night. It's less important in that region, generally, since there are no bears or other large predators. Peregrine made the mistake of sitting on some brush that turned out to be half-cactus, with no lasting injury. More beautiful stargazing that night; Barley and I saw Leo for the first time.

The next morning the guys left their packs behind and went on to the Escalante River, while Peregrine and I enjoyed a relaxing morning in camp. I found a little beach on the other side of the stream backing up against a sheer cliff and did a little reading and sunbathing, much like the many lizards who had finally decided to come out. When the guys returned, Barley made a heroic attempt to divert the stream with partial success. It was the most beautiful day we'd had yet, in the low 70's with little wind, very warm in the sun. We headed back up the canyon and camped again near the Jacob Hamblin Arch. Climbing up the waterfalls proved easier than climbing down them, and the only bump in the road came when Barley decided to try eating a cactus. The flesh was pleasant and mildly sweet, but Limecat's bite was not adequately de-spined and we spent some time trying to extract it from his tongue.

That night was the windiest we'd yet experienced, and the soil was really too sandy to hold our tent stakes. We were forced to reconfigure it in the middle of the night, dropping it down about 2 feet to give it a lower profile. We had less trouble after that, although the wind whipped up the sand and we woke up covered in it. There were even a few showers overnight but not enough to keep down the sand.

The next day was our last, hiking back out to the car, and was uneventful except for the rain that threatened during the second half of the day conjuring up unwelcome visions of flash floods. I continually kept an eye out for my best route to high ground. Fortunately the rain didn't start until we were out of the narrow canyon and nearly back to the car. The rain in the valley turned out to be blizzards in the mountains, making the roads impassable and preventing us from heading over to Capitol Reef National Park in the next valley. We spent the night at the Purple Sage Motel in Panguitch instead and enjoyed some well-earned mesquite steaks at the Cowboy Cafe before heading back to Limecat's parents' house the next day. We saw more wildlife from the car than during the hike: antelope and mule deer crossing the road.
Category: General
Posted by: rain
This was the longest trip we'd been on since returning from the AT; I hadn't realized how much I missed hiking. It felt so natural, so freeing, to put on that pack and start walking. I was amazed at how the pack still felt comfortable, not a burden at all. Barley and I had few aches and no blisters, no real fatigue at the end of the day. Our setting-up-camp and morning routines were as automatic and efficient as they were in Maine last fall. My only concern was to get over the next hill, around the next bend, through the next stream crossing (there were dozens each day). Everything I needed was on my back, I was totally self-sufficient, I could stop or go or camp as I pleased. No real goal, just to walk, to experience the moment fully, to be in touch with the rocks and bushes and sand around me. The simplicity. Walking into spring, like the AT in fast-forward.

It was different hiking with a group. Nice to have the company and be together at the end of the day, but I also felt more responsibility to make sure everyone was okay and having a good time. More to worry about than hiking alone with Barley. Hiking in sand was very different – tiring on the foot and ankle. Other than that, though, it was much easier than the AT. From the top of the canyon to the Escalante River was only about a 500 foot net drop, and the up-and-down in between was pretty minimal. It was also strange to be in such a (relatively) barren landscape, made up more by sand and stone than trees and bushes. It was an austere beauty that was a little hard to get used to.

Our next hike will probably be a southbound trip on the AT into Damascus for Trail Days (May 14-16). We can't wait!
Category: Trail Journal
Posted by: barley
Decided to go hike a stretch of the AT around Race Mtn in Western Mass. It was
one of the prettiest stretches we did. Planned on taking a side trail up and then
south bounding into Sages Ravine, then take the Undermountain trail around
Bear Mtn in Connecticut and skip the steep climb there.

We started late (after 3PM), but were only going a short distance to camp
and then have a couple of full days hikes.

We knew we'd be doing some hiking in the snow, but it looked like there
was a lot of ice as well. Ascending was *very* slow and slippery.

Rain really appreciated the new Leki's she got for christmas. My hiking
stick was semi-useful.

On the way up passed a beautifully frozen waterfall.

Race Brook Falls.  Suitably cold looking.

We were going way slower than anticipated (less than 1mph) and with it getting dark we
looked for a good place to set up camp.

Since we didn't get to the campsite with water we planned on, we melted snow to
cook with.

They look like snow meatballs.

The alcohol stove used more fuel than normal, and kept melting and tipping
sideways in the snow, otherwise worked like a champ. I solved the tipping
problem by laying 2 sticks on the snow and putting the base on that. It would
melt down but then remain stable.

During the night it started raining, then got colder, and started sleeting.

The tent worked great as usual. I thought the z-lite sleeping pads would
keep us pretty warm...never had any issue on our thru-hike, but sleeping
on top of 6 inches of snow got us really cold during the night. Just sucked
away the heat.

I guess the ground will eventually heat up under you, but snow will just
keep melting and using up any body heat you have.

be it ever so humble

We were pretty glad for the morning light so we could get up and
get moving. The rain melted a lot of the snow and then iced it

Then we started hiking and went about 100 feet.

That was about as far as we got. The trail was just ice and pretty
treacherous. We understood what crampons and ice-axes were
made for, and we didn't have any of that.

The trip back down was very tense. The trail kind of edge of a cliff,
with water below...very beautiful, but crazy to try and navigate on
ice. After the 2nd time we stopped a fall over the edge with a tree
branch, we left the trail and bushwhacked more than a mile back to
the bottom. Still had to butt-slide for stretches on the way down.

Looks like we've got crampons, and mountaineering gear in our
future. Next winter anyhow.

good to be down

Category: Trail Journal
Posted by: barley
So it has been almost a week since we summited. What has it been like?...

I am a cleaner and neater person. I have no idea why, but I am picking up little bits of trash, putting books back on the shelf, and keeping my home area tidy. I don't know why...I wasn't a *messy* person before, but I had a good tolerance for clutter that I no longer have. Rain is VERY happy about this unexpected change. It could be that because if I didn't put things back in my pack in the same place they
would get lost. The few times gear has been lost (and thanks to the hiker code we got almost all of it back), it was due to cluttering up a shelter or town place and not quickly putting it back in the same place.

When I need to pee the need becomes urgent very quickly. Guess I got used to stepping off trail and going any moment I wanted. I've almost used bushes in the yard a few times, not because I couldn't wait to get inside, but because it felt just as natural. I think I'll get over this one fairly soon.

I want to throw out a lot of our "stuff". I just look at things that I've been holding around forever and think "I'm never gonna use that". This one I totally understand, going from having a lean gear list where our rule was if you haven't used it in a week...get rid of it. Anything else would be a luxurey item. I'm pretty sure 70% of everything I own doesn't get used each week, so there may be a heck of a garage sale.

I have zero urge to change my clothes the next day. Didn't hike, sweat, or exert myself...still look clean and smell good...just put them back on! Its like the clean camp-clothes that don't get washed as frequently. Don't know how long this one will last...maybe when I get new clothes that fit.

I prefer wool to cotton. Haven't worn a cotton pair of socks yet. They are just nicer. Jeans are the exception.

Being on the highway on the ride home with Limecat was somewhat terrifying. Not necessarily the
speed, although Limecat IS a fastlane driver, but the amount of variables everyone was processing so quickly. Lane changes, break lights, road signs. It truly boggled my mind. I could not understand how everyone moved down the highway, at great speeds, without crashing into eachother. The first time we drove our car it was a tense moment when Rain took the cell phone out of her pocket while driving.
Doing too many things at the same time! I'm talking about the act of taking the cell phone out of a pocket. We had to check the time to reset the clock in the car. There was no way we were ready
for talking and driving. We would have burst into flames!

The internet is boring. I didn't touch a computer until I had hiked 1000 miles, and after that maybe once every 2 weeks when we'd hit a place with it in town. I used to be a totally net news junkie, and I'll admit it now because I'm probably cured, but I think the hours per day may have exceeded Pinky's. And guess what? It is all the same crap I already read about 8 months ago. And even the new stuff is totally fucking boring. I have gone back into checking my 4 meta news sites and clicking on a dozen links to read about them...but it is boring the shit out of me. I'd rather clean up my house and throw out useless posessions. Pretty surprised about this. I still love the internet, but I'll ask Pinky (the meta of meta filters) to clue me in on the good stuff.

Stressing about problems...much easier to deal with. It has been like being smacked in the face coming
back home and being reaquianted with fianances and beuracracy like getting a car insuraned, registered, inspected, and back on the road, but...when I picture how hard/annoying a task will be, they seem really insignificant. I guess this is the "I just walked 2000 miles, everything else is easy" thing. Things aren't easy, but if I feel like I'm starting to let it bother me I give myself a mental smack in the head "Hey! This IS small potatoes. Get it taken care of and move on." If it contiunes to bother me, I figure out how to rid
my life of it completely. And my definition of things I *need* in my life is REALLY small at this point.

No food schedule. I'll eat when I'm hungry, but that hasn't been often. We became so in-touch with our
body's needs while hiking that having lunch around noon just seems silly. I'm not hungry, why eat?

I am forcing myself to not treat being home like a town day. Yes, there is good food everywhere and I can
gorge myself on it, but I don't need to save up calories and fat for the next week. The first few days were a gastronomic celebration, but I'm getting over it pretty quick.

I don't yet have a problem walking to the supermarket (1.5 miles away). Yes, it is a bit far off trail (as we would call it in hiker lingo), but I'm not trying to make miles...

Miss being on the trail and being part of something special. No surprise here.
Category: General
Posted by: barley

We did it!

We climbed Mt. Katahdin and completed our Appalachian Trail thru-hike on October 21st.

We are elated, excited, surprised, hungry, tired, exhausted, happy, and sad. All at the same time.
And done. Woo-hoo!

I wasn't sure we'd actually get to summit. Once our schedule went past the 15th of October we knew it would totally be up to luck to get an open day to climb the mountain. So for the past couple of weeks my mindset was always to keep hiking and have a good time and if it worked out...get to summit.

Our forecast when entering the 100-mile wilderness looked ok, but going on a forecast 8 days out doesn't mean anything...just that we had a chance and that we didn't have a week of rain ahead of us.

Got a weather update a 40 miles into the wilderness which more or less said rain and snow was moving in, so if we wanted a chance we would have to start doing some big miles. A lot of them.

So we started getting up at 5am and hiking until dark to get three 20+ mile days and get us to Abol Bridge and out of the 100 mile wilderness. Did the 100-mile wilderness in 6 days, which we were really psyched about.

At Abol Bridge we were still 15 miles from Katahdin peak, and if you are going to climb after October 1st you need to leave the Ranger station at the base by 9am to have enough daylight. So after 4 hours of sleep (calling it a long nap sounds better than a short sleep) we got up at 1am to night hike the 10 miles to the base of Katahdin and then do the 5 miles up and 5 miles back down.

And we did it. We think it was probably the last day the mountain would be climbable this year. More snow and colder weather was coming in. Today (22nd) is already a class IV day, so I think we were the absolute last NOBOs to climb Katahdin. Our numbers were 474 & 475.

This set many personal best records for us. 84 miles in 4 days, 33 miles in 24 hours, first night hike.

In the end it was a class II day, but the weather was actually pretty good. It didn't start to precipitate until we had 3 miles to the peak, and since it was cold it was snow instead of rain. So we had views, snow, whistled christmas tunes on the way up and had a great time.

The absolute best part was getting to see THE SIGN for the first time in the distance. Wow. I don't think any thru-hiker actually cares about getting to the top of Katahdin, but they know it is the only way to get to THE SIGN.

We practically ran to it and touched it at the same time.

It was awesome.

Thank you everyone. We could not have made the journey without all the help from friends and family.

I'll write more later, as there are a lot of good time and things I'd like to write about that haven't been on the website yet. I'll also let you know what being back in civilization is like after a week. So far I'm excited about the flush toilet and electric torches. The moving picture box looks neat, too. And indoor heating. I'm turning up every thermostat to 85.

Love you all,

10/10/08: Day ???

Category: Trail Journal
Posted by: barley
Wow, we have crossed the Kennebec River–not too many of those major milestones left. Sitting in front of the Caratunk PO as I write this, eating a brownie from Mom's mail drop. Soon I'll be having SPAM for lunch... another milestone, as I've never tried ti before, but anything new sounds good right now.

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