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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Bridge(s) Over Troubled Water

The Appalachian Trail wanders beside many beautiful creeks.  I could sit for hours in the cool air near a fast-flowing stream and relax to the sound of water splish-splash-burbling as it hurries down the mountainside.

The AT, however, rarely stays sedately beside the waterway. For some reason, the trail-builders move the trail from one side to the other of far too many streams. If shallow, the hiker just splashes through the water, hoping to keep boots dry. No stress…just one more trail experience. fording, stream crossingWhen the stream is deep, there may be stepping stones. It can be challenging to hop from rock to rock or to carefully navigate teetery, tippy stones. This adds an element of uncertainty to a hike. (Will I fall in? Will I get wet today?!) However, after days of heavy rain, those wobbly rocks are submerged. With rushing, roaring water, fording a flooded stream can be a dangerous adventure. ford, flooded streamIn my opinion, it doesn’t happen often enough, but it’s a relief to find a sturdy bridge over tumbling water. bridge over rapids, mountain streamWhile hiking this spring, with 23 straight days of rain in May, we often had to slog our way through swampy, boot-sucking mud. Sometimes this was on the trail itself. Other times the trail crossed areas that collect  run-off without becoming flowing streams. In locations that frequently have muck, the trail-builders sometimes erect a simple bridge which is greatly appreciated. bridge over swampThe volunteer trail-maintainers do amazing work. However, some structures are low priority and gradually fall apart. In this particular swampy area, it was hard to choose between getting wet, muddy boots, balancing across a big log or risking a rickety bridge. (I tried the bridge, daughter braved the muck. It all ended well…) obstacles_rickety bridge_log_swampFortunately, wonderful sturdy bridges have been built to safely take hikers across major streams and rivers. (I loved the irony of this: the James River Foot Bridge, designed only for foot traffic, was actually named in honor of long-time AT hiker/maintainer Bill Foot.) James River Foot BridgeEven the sickening sway of a suspension bridge is better than swimming with the fish while juggling a heavy pack overhead. (And let’s not talk about the probably poisonous snake we saw in this river when we walked to the banks to refill our water reservoirs, okay?!) suspension bridge_river crossingMountain streams are beautiful to walk beside…but it certainly eases a hiker’s mind when there is a bridge over any troubled water! ford_flooded stream

Walk in the Woods?

Of course, “everyone” knows that hiking the Appalachian Trail is a Walk in the Woods. Mention backpacking on the AT and folks can picture the dirt path wandering through forest glades. path in woodsSometimes the dirt path climbs up (or down) a steep hill. dirt path up the hillOther times it leads to an overlook with beautiful views of valleys below or mountain ranges to the horizon. dirt path to overlookBut the Appalachian Trail is much more than a mere walk in the woods. Finding a section of path with (relatively) smooth dirt is a relief. Far more often, footing is precarious, filled with tree roots, root filled pathpropped up with logs or rock retaining walls on steep hillsides, path with log supportszigzagging with switchbacks or climbing man-made steps. (Thanks, trail maintenance crews!) steps on the pathNow you might point out all of the above are still variations of a dirt path wandering in the woods, which is true. However, sometimes the path is hardly visible. Underlying dirt is covered with dead leaves or with fallen pine needles. pine needle pathAt times the path continues through woods, but is a difficult clamber through jumbled boulders and tippy loose rocks. (Keep an eye out for blazes to stay on the path!) path through rock jumbleThere are many miles of the Appalachian Trail that are not in the woods at all. The path may be a steep walk over tilted bedrock. (I can’t imagine crossing this when it’s wet and slippery…) path over tilted bedrockOr the path may cross meadows–on top of mountains or across farmers’ fields. (There were cows on the other side of this hill, laying in the shade and chewing their cud.) meadow walkIt would be boring to wander a dirt trail under trees for mile after mile after mile. We are happy that backpacking the Appalachian Trail is much more than merely a walk in the woods!

 

 

Hide and Seek

Everyone expects the beautiful views enjoyed while traveling in the mountains. But how many of us discipline ourselves to focus on the tiny details along the trail? Daughter and I were challenged to search for Nature’s Hearts on our recent backpacking adventure on the Appalachian Trail. (You can see a blog post with photos of our finds HERE.) In that quest for small treasures, we discovered many other camouflaged creatures. Here are a few of our best tips for playing hide and seek with nature:

Look for Movement. The shapes and colors of critters often blend in with the background. Flutters and flickers are an invitation to look closer. More than once we found groups of butterflies gathered in a heap on the ground. butterfliesSometimes there will be a burst of movement, then the creature freezes. Patience will pay off when the critter eventually moves again. Or perhaps you will notice the tiny quiver of a lizard breathing. lizard

Listen for Sounds. Trills and songs might help you find a bird in the underbrush or in the treetops. (These are usually hard to photograph…unless you are carrying a heavy telephoto lens.) Dry leaves crackling or rustling might eventually reveal a snake, or a chipmunk, or a BUG! centipede

Look for the Wrong Shape or a Different Color. Snails are the same color as the leaves or rocks they hide among. However, their rounded shells stand out against angular backgrounds.  snailsThere were many times we noticed bright colored fungus or lichen on trees and rocks. Often, if we looked closer, we would find drab slugs. lichen, fungi, slugThis is one of my favorite photos from the entire trip. We actually saw a group of deer wandering across the campsite, nibbling at bits of grass. When I walked closer to get a better photo, this young deer put the trees between us, and then froze, hoping I wouldn’t notice him… deer in trees

Walk in Silence.  I’m sure some of you wonder if we encountered bears. Not this time, although other hikers had problems with Yogi trying to steal food sacks at some of the shelters we had stayed at earlier in our trip. We tend to make noise when we hike: laughing, singing, talking, telling stories. Most animals, including bears, will move away if they realize a human is nearby. So, if you WANT to encounter more critters, move silently through the woods.

I’m curious. What’s your favorite critter sighting? We would love to hear your hints for finding more tiny treasures in Nature’s game of Hide and Seek.

It’s Raining! It’s Pouring!

What’s a gal to do when the forecast calls for rain while hiking in the woods? Whine a little, moan a little, and reassess one’s plans, of course!

Others happily camp in the rain. But I am horribly afraid of my sleeping bag getting wet. So whenever possible, we make sure to be at a shelter early in the afternoon to make sure we have a dry space on rainy nights. Everyone piles in for the evening, at least until they head to their tents to sleep. Rainy evenings, at shelter

And if it’s still raining in the morning, we often choose to take a “zero” day (2 nights in the same place, no hiking). There’s something delightfully cozy about watching the storm through the open side of the shelter.  We sit propped up against our backpacks, legs in our sleeping bags, listening to rain on the sturdy roof, happy to be warm and dry!Rainy day, AT shelter

Somehow, I never mind getting caught in a shower in the middle of the day. After all, my sleeping bag will stay dry, wrapped in multiple layers of protection from the elements. (It’s in a dry bag, inside a large trash bag, inside my pack, inside the rain cover…yes, I’m paranoid!) The trail might turn into a stream, but I’ll be fine… Trail or stream

I choose not to put on rain gear, which just makes me soaked with sweat. As long as I keep walking I don’t get chilled. Sometimes I laugh at myself, as I’m bouncing down the trail, singing in the rain. Yes, hikers ARE a crazy breed, why do you ask?!Singing in the rain, hiker style

Time to head back on the trail. The weatherman is calling for sun. But if he’s wrong, and we see a storm headed toward us across the valley, I guess we’ll just pick out our favorite silly songs and keep on walking… Storms across the valley

It’s raining! It’s pouring! …

Spring in the Mountains

It is spring in the mountains. There is only a mist of green on the trees at higher elevations. We miss the bright glowing colors of fall leaves…but are enjoying the treasure hunt to find wildflowers blooming on the forest floor.

We know the first three: buttercup, lily of the valley, and lady slipper. We will look up the rest when we get home.

Spring Flowers_buttercups

Spring flowers_lily of the valley

Spring flowers_lady slipper

Spring flowers_red

Spring flowers_white

Spring flowers_pale purple

Spring flowers_purple flowers

Spring flowers_pink