Climbing Mountains

I am frequently reminded on this current backpacking adventure of a saying I heard this summer: 

“Stairs are just organized mountains”

Mountains are beautiful, but can be intimidating to hike up and down. 

(Can you find “Andowen” starting up this mountain?)


Sheer rock faces or slippery steep dirt are intimidating. It sometimes feels like we will fall off the side of the mountain! 

It is always easier if there is at least rock jumble or tree roots to help us keep our footing. 

And, of course, rock steps or log steps are a huge help. (Thanks, volunteer trail maintainers!) 

 

So next time you see a set of stairs,  whether rustic or fancy, remember to say thanks for those “organized mountains” that make life easier! 

 

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Trying a Rain Skirt

Andowen prefers to hike in a skirt–with shorts or leggings underneath. Unfortunately, the pretty skirt she used to hike in fell apart–so many mended tears it can’t be fixed any further! We talked about it, and decided to design our own skirt–wanting a a knee-high length and water-repellent material. Hopefully, this skirt will be more sturdy when sitting on rocks and climbing over fallen tree trunks. Ideally, it will also help keep her legs and butt dry when we hike in the rain.

We bought rip stop nylon and copied a wrap skirt she already wears at home.

We chose contrasting colors of thread to make it more fun. I even figured out how to make buttonholes with my sewing machine–followed by snipping the hole open with scissors. (The ribbon waistband pushes through the buttonhole to complete the wrap of the skirt and allow both ends of the ribbon to be tied.) Andowen tried the skirt under the hip-belt of her pack. At first, it kept sliding up–just like the old skirt did. Pulling her t-shirt over the skirt waistband took care of that problem. 

After a few weeks of hiking, we can report she is highly satisfied with this skirt. In drizzling rain and when sitting on wet logs or mossy rocks, it has kept her dry as hoped. It shows some scuffing, but has not ripped like the previous town-wear skirt kept doing. Plus she appreciates the ease of movement this skirt provides. She can even practice “sword”-fighting with full freedom when we are in camp for the night! 

She likes it well enough that I’m planning to make my own wrap skirt when we get home–ready for our next hiking adventure in the summer.

Hiker Hostel

Every week we take an overnight in town to resupply before heading back into the woods. This always includes buying (and repackaging) food for the next section. It usually includes doing a load of laundry to get rid of hiker-stench.

We devour calorie-rich town food–burgers, pizza, ice cream. 

We appreciate faucets and flush toilets. We soak in hot showers. We savor soft beds with pillows. 

Sometimes we stay in cheap hotels. Other times we discover wonderful hiker hostels in trail towns. Last week we enjoyed an extra few days at Angels Rest Hiker’s Haven in Virginia while we waited out the remnants of Hurricane Irma. I highly recommend this hostel to any hiker in the area! 

Of course this place has the usual hostel amenities: loaner clothes so we can do all of our laundry at once; a hiker box to leave our leftovers and to dig for things we might need; and a bunkroom.

(Jeans never worn while hiking–too heavy and cotton wicks body heat when wet)

This place also has a nice bathhouse plus a mobile home with 2 private bedrooms and a shared living room with a comfy couch and real books; a huge fully equipped kitchen; and a large front porch. There are pretty gardens and a yard with a camping area and firepit. Shuttles are available to various points along the trail, and within town. 

Angel’s Rest Hiker Hostel really is a “zerolicious” place to stay when we needed to be in town. (Days off trail are called “zero days” in hiker lingo.) 

But it’s always good to get back to the woods…no matter how nice the accommodations are in town. See you down the trail! 

 

WATER…we need water…

Hikers have to think about water all day long. Out in the woods there is no magic tap to turn for water to come pouring out whenever we want it. We have to find a water source, filter the water, carry water back to camp, and carry water in our packs for while we are hiking. (Read more about this process HERE.)

It felt weird at first, but we have gotten comfortable with using a “bite-valve” to have water at the ready the moment we are thirsty. We have been happy with the water reservoirs we have carried in the past. BUT…sometimes they leak when we don’t get them tightly closed. This means we run short of water when we need it…and it means the stuff in our packs get wet. Blergh! There is a nifty interior pocket for a water reservoir in our packs. BUT…the full bladder must be put in the pack before our other stuff and it is impossible to refill the reservoir without pulling it back out of the pack. That’s hard to do when the pack is filled to the top! And carrying a full day’s supply of water gets heavy. 2-4 pounds may not sound like much but it’s HEAVY to a backpacker! So…this trip we are trying a new method of carrying water. We bought a “Blue Desert Smartube” kit for each of us. This has an adapter to connect with any water bottle.

This solves the above problems with a reservoir: Bottles are easier to tightly close. They fit in exterior pockets, so no leaking inside the pack. In addition, we can carry less water and stop to filter more at water sources we pass during the day. This lessens the weight we have to carry–which always makes us happy! 

Now that we are a few weeks down the trail, we can report that we LOVE our new system! We have made only one change to it which is to carry an extra bottle cap to use (rather than the tubing) when carrying both bottles back to the shelter from a water source. 

Bear Food…

When we are in the woods, it is important to protect our food from bears…and protect bears from our people food!

The most common way to do this is by hanging a “bear bag.” This involves putting all food (and other smelly things such as ointments or wipes) in a bag, slinging a rope over a tree branch, and hauling the bag high enough in the air that a bear can’t reach it. (I’ve written about the challenges of this process HERE.)

This can be a very frustrating process. There might be no appropriate branches (trees too tall or branches broken off from overuse by so many hikers near shelters). The rope might get stuck in the tree. Last time we tried, we had to cut off the rope and leave part of it dangling (bad for the woods and worse for my temper)! Enough is enough! Bears are getting bolder in some areas. And we are getting tired of hanging a bear bag.

We considered a “bear canister” — a plastic bin that supposedly prevents bears from getting to the food inside. This sounded like a great idea–and I was willing to carry the extra weight for the convenience of not hanging a bear bag each night. BUT…it took up most of the room in my pack. And I wasn’t about to figure out how to strap it on the outside of the pack. So back to the store that canister went… This trip we are trying out an “ursack.” It is made of kevlar–claw and fang resistant. There have been cases of a bear slobbering all over the sack and pulverizing the food inside, but by morning the bear will still be hungry and there will still be at least crumbly food for us to eat!

Because it protects the bear from getting to the food, it does not need to be hung from a branch. It can be tied to a tree trunk. 

A few weeks into our trip, I have only one regret about switching to Ursacks to protect our food. I only wish we had done so sooner!

Coral of the Forest?

This backpacking trip we have seen amazing variety in the fungi found along the Appalachian Trail. Every imaginable color, shape, and type is represented.

When we noticed this one, Daughter made an interesting observation: what if they aren’t really fungi but are the Corals of the Forest? Or perhaps, scientists have it wrong, and the colorful collections in the oceans should be called Fungi of the Sea… 

Sometimes the “Coral” are standing tall and proud, in plain sight beside the trail. 

Other times, they are shyly hidden under leaves or in the crevices of tree trunks. 

Here are some of the most interesting we have found so far. What do you think they should be called–Coral or Fungi?

These look like budding plants…but they are slimy.

This tree wears a skirt full of ruffles!

This one must be related to jellyfish…it’s translucent!

According to Mario, this is a mushroom. But perhaps that is just another type of “Coral”?

We still aren’t sure what classification these things should be given. We found Sponge Bob’s pet snail the other day.  If his Pineapple appears in these woods, we will all know that these should properly be called the CORAL of the FOREST! 

UPDATE: by the time we finishe’d our hike, we found two more connections to the sea: suckers from octopus tentacles, and another jellyfish wanna-be. AT_fungus_octopus suckers

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Meet Our New (tiny) Hiking Pals!

We have new companions who are joining us on this backpacking trip. Andowen and I had fun at the Lego Store, each choosing the pieces to make individual “Tiny-Me”s. Andowen is named after an elf from a Lord-of-the-Rings role-play game. Tiny-A is an elven character who carries a wizard-y looking staff and wears cool sunglasses. We aren’t sure what magical things the staff might be able to do–and Tiny-A isn’t talking right now. Story Seeker (that’s me) loves to meet new people and hear their stories. Tiny-S does the same. She also carries a mug–always wishing for more caffeine. Besides, she claims stories flow more easily over a shared drink!

Our tiny hiking pals took time to study the guide books and get familiar with the planned itinerary. They paid close attention to the elevation maps, confident they can handle the steep climbs and descents, but wondering how we will fare.  They checked out our backpacks, making sure we have all the clothing, food, and gear that we need for our first week back in the woods. This morning, they joined us in saying Goodbyes–goodbye house, goodbye friends, goodbye park, goodbye books. We won’t say goodbye to daddy/hubby yet. He’s driving us to the trail-head to start our adventure.  By this evening, Tiny-A and Tiny-S will celebrate heading into the woods with us. All of us are excited about the opportunity for adventures over the next six weeks. We promise to tell you all about it!

(ps…thanks to British friend, Jill Playfair, who gave us the idea to add hiking pals to our outdoor fun!)

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