Saturday, February 18, 2017

Trail Maps – Why Bother?

Being a frequent contributor to hiker forums, I have seen the Appalachian Trail map debate time and time again. And time and time again I see the same reasons crop up as to why hikers choose not to carry maps or even find them an essential part of their gear list -  

Common arguments against taking maps on the Appalachian Trail - 

-          The trail is blazed white and easy to follow. You can’t possibly get lost
-          I know the trail cold, so I don’t need them
-          I never plan to get hurt, face a drought, need a road to bail a friend out or meet a friend, avoid storm damage or any such calamity because my hikes go perfectly every time
-          My guidebook is good enough
-          Maps are too heavy
-          Maps are too expensive
-          Some maps cover such a small portion of the trail, they’re a waste
-          I don’t want to have to rely on a mail drop for a map
-          I can always look at someone else’s map
-          Maps are for whimps
-          Maps are only for those who like looking at something else besides the woods
-          Maps are only good for TP (toilet paper...)
-          Your own special reason…..

Now the Reasons Why you Need a Map – based on the above

-          Yes, the Appalachian Trail is blazed white. But did you know there are places where other areas are blazed white? State Game Lands of PA are. I have seen dirt roads with obscure white or other areas. Just because white blazes often signify the AT doesn’t mean other areas won't also use the same markings. And that can mean you veering into other areas with the potential of – uh – getting lost. Also, many designated wilderness areas have infrequent trail blazing. Or blazes are obscured due to rerouting or lost over time. It’s easy to miss them at road junctions. Or pranksters could have obliterated them. In different seasons trails can be hard to follow and blazes spaced far part or gone by blowdowns or chipped bark. Or fresh snow obliterates them. 
-          So you never plan to get hurt or encounter adverse weather which may necessitate your need to bail out or emergency camp at a place that has water? A map will show you areas that may suffice for an emergency campsite. Maps help point out road crossings or alternate trails that can lead to bail-outs and safety if you or a friend need them. Or if you run low on supplies. Maps help show detour routes if the trail is blocked by severe storm damage (i.e. hurricane damage in season or fire season when trails close) or high water from a t-storm. Maps also help locate adequate, uncontaminated water sources where reliable ones in a guidebook may not be flowing. Essentially, maps could save your hike and maybe even your life
-          Guidebooks are giving elevation profiles of the trail but don't have the other features a map contains. They do not have contour lines. You don't know for sure where that trail is really going from a guidebook. There are no side trails outlined on it except in verbage. They don't always point out all upcoming road crossings and trails, nor do they tell you where they lead. They cannot pinpoint obscure water sources you may need, esp in drought conditions or in beaver fever areas. Guidebooks provide words not visual illustrations of the trail and its surrounding areas
-          If you think a tool that could help you or save a life is too heavy, then maybe your aren’t cut out for the rigors of hiking
-          Ditto for $$. You’ll spend it on other things, maybe even brew or tobacco, but not on a map. Priorities - ?
-          Maps are never a waste if they are needed. OK – you may have been fine on a section without them. But no doubt the one time you need it, you won’t have it. 
-          Mail drops are fine for forwarding paper maps  lots of places besides the PO will take them. Another option is a trail map phone app. I have used this successfully on the Florida Trail. They are excellent resources and with lots of info about waypoints, water sources, towns, etc. 
-          Sure you can look at someone else’s map, but why not have your own? This is your hike. Carry
your own stuff and be self reliant. If you ask me, the whimp factor in the next response can also apply to the one who refuses to carry a map then must rely on another to provide it for him / her.
-          I believe the other answers are addressed above when one see the value in a map. Also, maps are part of Leave No Trace, that is, planning for your hike. Maps can be life savers. I have never known a hiker having to quit a hike because of carrying a map. But for sure some have had to quit because they did not have one – i.e., they got lost, they got hurt and didn’t get medical attention in time to help the injury, had to take an unintentional detour or other reasons.

Bottom line is, be prepared and take some form of a map.

Google clubs for the trails you wish to hike to look for maps

Guthooks Map App   

Thursday, February 16, 2017

10th Anniversary of a Thru Hike - 2 weeks and counting

- 10th Anniversary of our Northbound AT Hike 
Blissful and Paul Bunyan - 

During the next two weeks I will be reposting blogs and other excerpts written at the time of our AT hike in 2007 from Georgia to Maine with my sixteen year old son. 

Read all about our 2007 adventure in our book - Mountains, Madness, and Miracles available on Amazon from WhiteFire Publishing.

(Reposted from Feb 15, 2007 )

In two weeks we will be doing the Approach Trail to Springer Mtn. Hard to even comprehend. Even harder when I think how long a journey it has been to get me here and then what awaits me. I wonder if I will just be in a state of shock during it, like this is not reality. I mean, I will certainly have the reality and the pain of the hike. But the idea I am really doing this, from Georgia all the way to Maine. Five and a half months. Amazing.

I like to think of the old Michael Card song when it comes to this adventure. "There is a joy in the journey." And that is really what I want to have. Joy in the journey.

Getting gear and maildrops in order

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Backpacking Over Fifty

Life does not end when one reaches the half century milestone and beyond. In fact the adventure is just beginning. I’ve had several ask in forums if it’s possible to do a long distance hike in the older years. Of course! It’s never too late to enjoy an adventure and make the most out of every outdoor
opportunity. So the answer to - can I do it - is YES. Take a look at “Drag’n Fly” who became the oldest female thru hiker on the Appalachian Trail. Or “Nimblewill Nomad” who continues to meander on trails (actually hiking every one of the major trails in the US). Backpacking over fifty can have interesting challenges, but none are so insurmountable that you can’t enjoy a weekend, a week long or even a long distance trek. But it does take planning.

To begin with, getting cleared by the doctor to begin your new trekking adventure is important.
Make sure any current medical issues you are dealing with are either resolved or stabilized. One hiker had a transplant a while back and wanted to head out backpacking. Great for him but important to know when you are ready for such arduous activity. A doctor is your best source for this information and not other hikers. So too if you’ve had joint replacements, if you are diabetic, etc. All these things should be discussed with your doctor as well as any medication you may need to take. If you’ve had knee issues in the past or ankle issues, get them resolved ahead of time. It does no harm to begin your adventure by taking care of yourself at home, like doing exercises to help stretch out muscle groups and walking as much as you can (walking is less hard on the joints than running). Prepare yourself and your body for what is to come, and the hike will go much smoother.

Gear. It’s doubly important that you are carrying the least amount for a safe venture, especially as we age. While many of us can no longer just sleep on one of those simple pads, thankfully gear manufacturers are coming out with lightweight gear that helps reduce the pack load. Consider one of the 3 inch inflatable pads for instance. Or maybe even hammocking. Older bodies tend to get colder too, so make sure you have proper layers for hiking. Get checked by a good shoe professional when it comes to footwear. Poor footwear will quickly cause issues in the knees and hips—both major flair-ups for older hikers. A pair of trekking poles goes a long way to helping manage those hills and give balance. I have been known to carry more for comfort’s sake than a thirty year old. I have inflatable pillows for instance (Exped and Klymit make good ones). I carry more in my first aid kit than many. For instance, aspirin tabs are a good idea to help against heart attacks. I have discovered Penetrex and carry this on my hike for joint aches and pans. Watch taking lots of NSAIDS (like Advil) that have been known to cause ulcers and even other side effects in older people. Once you have all the essentials together, then check out backpacks. Get the one that is comfortable for you, not the one that is necessarily ultralight.

Food and Fluids. It’s most important that you drink lots of water on hikes. Water lubricates joints which can ache more often and become stiff. Carry a good water filtration system (I use the Sawyer Squeeze). I also am doing things differently with food. Much of the typical backpacking food contains way too much salt and sugar. For an older hiker, this can effect blood pressure and diabetes. Be sure to read the labels. Prepackaged foods also contain additives that cause issues – like MSG. Create your own meals and ship them out in mail drops (see food prep ideas). Use a guidebook to help you plan. Buying on the trail, unless it’s a big food store, limits you to more of the high salt and sugar products.   

Goals. We are not 20 anymore. I happen to be fiercely competitive and always want to do what everyone else is doing or what I have done ten years ago—in miles and goals. I’ve learned the hard

way it’s not a good idea. It can lead to overuse injuries that can wreck your hike. What you may have been able to do long ago is not the same now. Maybe twenty mile days were easy, but now fourteen is the max. Great! It’s your hike, your adventure, take it at your pace. Be kind to yourself. Take in the moment, rest by a stream, meet new friends, enjoy the scenery.

Make the most of the time you have in the great wilderness with the realization that you can do it at any age. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Don't Forget Your Permits for Your 2017 Hikes!

Don't Forget!

The Wonderland Trail circles Mt Rainier
In several places in the western states permits are required for popular backpacking ventures and are done by lottery or are first come, first served. And some backcountry use / camping reservations in the east are also required. Other trails, usually within national parks, require backcountry camping permits and are obtainable when you arrive at the park. Always abide by park regulations and have your backcountry permit.

There are several permits required to either camp /hike the Appalachian Trail in certain areas. Be sure to take advantage of the Appalachian Trail thru hiker registry. Also you will need permits to camp in the Great Smoky Mountains. NEW in 2017 there will be a capped amount of hiker permits to climb Katahdin in Baxter State Park. The permit for Shenandoah Nat'l Park can be obtained when you arrive.

Be sure to check your timetable for your hike and when you need to submit for certain hiking permits. Some are also by lottery and close by certain dates. Don't miss out!

Western Trails

Wonderland Trail Permit - begins March 15th

Mt Whitney Permit - By lottery. Applications accepted Feb 1 until March 15th.

PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) - different permits depending on whether you are doing a short section or a thru hike, begin early Feb.

John Muir Trail Permit (via Yosemite National Park) - up to 24 weeks in advance

The Cables of Half Dome - Yosemite National Park (day hike) - Preseason lottery in March 1st to the 31st. Advance 2 day lotteries begin in May.

Zion National Park - The Narrows, three months in advance

Enchantment Permit Area - In the Cascades of Washington State, lottery opens Feb. 15th to march 2.

Na Pali Coast - Hawaii

Eastern Trails

Appalachian Trail

AT Thru Hiker Registry - a volunteer registry to spread out hikers

Paid reservations for backcountry sites in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (online only, within thirty days of your planned stay, need a printed permit. Includes thru hikers of the Appalachian Trail. **Also if you plan to do the BMT - Benton MacKaye Trail - through the park or on other trails you need a permit.

Shenandoah National Park Free Backcountry Permits - you must have a permit to backcountry camp in the park

NEW Climbing Katahdin in Baxter State Park. If you are hiking Katahdin in Maine via the Appalachian Trail, you must have a permit. There is a capped amount that will be given out for Northbound, Southbound, Section hikers, and Flip Floppers.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Observations of a Florida Trail Hike – The Beginning

The Florida Trail is quickly becoming an interesting trail to traverse during the winter months when other trails are besieged by frigid temps and snowy conditions. One is transported to a land of plentiful sunshine and warm temps reminiscent of summer wanders. Prime time to begin the Florida Trail is December and January. But despite the seemingly flat terrain on elevation profiles, there are multiple challenges one endures.

The Beginning

The southern terminus for the trail is the Oasis Visitor Center in the Big Cypress National Preserve.
Overseen by the National Park Service, it has a visitor center complex with friendly rangers (unfortunately the one we spoke to did NOT have up to day info for us on trail conditions and claimed the tent sites had tables and fire pits which none do in the swamp area), restrooms, a little walkway that shows off their alligator, a nice big plaque to get the proverbial first day picture taken, and a log book to sign in with excitement for that first day. They also allow you to park there.

The first two days in the swamp area were fairly dry and interesting. We saw vast prairies that reminded me of Africa. Of course
there was the issue of trying to get used to overloaded backpacks that still made the going rather slow.

Another thing one has to learn how to do is find water in the swamp. Especially when the area where you are walking is dry (and there are no streams). We quickly became acquainted with what is known as a Cypress Dome – a curved stand of tall like trees that jut out above the land. In the middle of that configuration of trees is usually a water source. We found one such source for our first night after trudging through muddy cypress stands to find the water in the middle of the dome. On the second day water become even scarcer and for the first time I used the directions for the dome in my guidebook and managed to stumble upon the water (and wow, did I thank God for that find!). Swamp water unfortunately does not taste good at all (despite what the ranger told us). It has a distinctly weird
Water Source in a Cypress Dome
vegetative taste that I quickly hated. All water, of course, should be treated.

We did not end up doing our projected miles as the terrain slowed us down, and slowed us even further once we actually reached water. After a particular fenceline, you are then wading in water for miles on end with only small areas to rest or camp. It is a slow, arduous process, and in this area mud quickly fills your shoes, hides obstacles (like Cypress roots and limestone holes) so that it is hard to keep your footing. I was forever stopping and scraping mud out of my shoes that accumulated inside and made the bottoms of my feet hurt. On the small blotches of land

The Black Lagoon
where you can camp, you have until the sun sets (by 5:45) to get everything done camp wise before mosquitoes come to visit. One night, surrounded by water all on sides, we were on our own island in the middle of nowhere it seemed. It was like being in a foreign world, to say the least. I took stock of my shoes to find the unending mud and water was breaking my shoes apart. Thankfully I was using an older pair which I planned to get rid of once I reached civilization, and it’s a good thing to plan on.

In the water the best we could do was 7/10 mile an hour. It was a slow achingly long process. But at last we cleared the swamp to rest at a literal rest area on Alligator Alley before continuing on.

What I learned:

Know how to get your water in those interesting Cypress Domes! It’s the only place out there until
Swamp Camping
you reach the deep water.

Do not plan any high miles. Take your time sloshing your way through. If you are in a wet year, monitor the swamp depths and come prepared with dry bags for your gear. (I happened to hike it in a dry year – Dec 2016, so the deepest part at the Black Lagoon was only knee deep. But it can get waist deep or higher sometimes).

Know your shoe will get destroyed there, so plan to have shoes waiting for you farther up the trail

Use hiking poles in the swamp

Try to dry out your feet as much as you can. I found blister blockers from Band-Aid to stay on even when wet. Try to get the mud out of your shoes to prevent strain on your foot muscles. Take plenty of socks. I also washed the mud out my shoes when I could (as the mud can make them weigh a lot).

Yes there are sand fleas out there as well as mosquitoes. Protect yourself with Deet or the equivalent. 
We did not see gators or snakes on this section, but we did see other wildlife like deer and a bobcat.

I found the Guthook Florida Trail app to be very useful. But the trail is also fairly well blazed or one can simply follow the track of water.

If you are in hunting season, wear blaze orange for the first part of the trail. Hunters are out there, believe it or not, and ride around in swamp vehicles.

Know that the swamp WILL end and you will have plenty of interesting memories and pictures to share!


Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Some Gear Favs from Blissful Hiking

Tis the Season for Gear - and Gear giving, whether for yourself or for a hiking buddy on your list.

Here are some of Blissful Hiking's favorite gear picks.

Socks are a hiker's best friend, and it might as well be a pair that works great and lasts forever. Hence our fav pick is Darn Tough. They are a pricey but a high quality sock with an unlimited guarantee to boot. In fact, they dare you to wear out their socks! Pretty cool.

Assorted cuben fiber stuff sacks. Waterproof, durable, great for adding protection in your backpack or for keeping sleeping bags and clothes dry. We have used them in all shapes and sizes (they make a good hiker wallet too). The thicker the material, the more durable, Z Packs has a great selection. Cuben fiber (now referred to as Dyneema) has also been used in ultralight tents and backpacks as well (but they are pricey).  
Other gear websites: Mountain Laurel Designs, Hyperlite Mountain Gear

Basic rain gear is a must in a hiker's backpack. If only out for short jaunts, Frogg Toggs makes a ultralight and cheap means to stay dry with a jacket and pants for around $30 bucks (though be warned, they are NOT durable for lengthy ventures). We find the jacket also provides good warmth in windy weather. Another fav is the rain kilt or rain wrap that does a great job of protecting without the need for cumbersome and hot rain pants.
Some gear shops for a rain kilt:
Lightheart Gear,  ULA

The Sawyer Filter -  a fav for Appalachian Trail adventures. We use the bigger model that filters water much quicker than its smaller mini model for a mere ounce or two more (though some like to have the smaller Sawyer mini filter attached to a Smartwater bottle for quick drinking).

Of all the eating utensils, the simple titanium spoon is our fav. Unlike the Light My Fire sporks that seem to break on a whim (and we've gone through many), This has been on dozens of trips and remains tried and true (gets out gooey stuff like PB from a jar without breaking), and good also for scraping away food while cleaning the pot, too.

Feel free to share your fav gear in the comments!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Hiking Safety During Hunting Season from the ATC

 (This is reposted from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy web site. Please consider supporting the ATC by becoming a member or making a donation today! These are good reminders as we  are now in the main hunting season. Be extra vigilant. I did a good portion of my southbound hike during hunting season and on the Tuscarora Trail. Many times you are sharing the trail with hunters carrying rifles and with their dogs. Several times I heard rifle shots quite close to me. Pretty unnerving. So take these tips to heart as you enjoy your hike.)


From ATC website


Know local hunting seasons — Specific dates for hunting seasons vary year to year and also by type of game hunted and weapon used. Small-game seasons (turkey, rabbit) stretch from fall through the end of May; large-game seasons (deer, bear, moose) generally occur October through January. Learn the regulations and hunting seasons for the areas where you will be hiking before you go. 

Wear blaze orange
—Wear a blaze orange hat and vest (and pack cover if backpacking), or hooded outerwear when hiking in fall, winter and spring. All fourteen states that the A.T. traverses require hunter education classes prior to issuance of licenses, which has led to a significant decrease in hunting-related accidents. Even though these safeguards have been put in place, both hikers and hunters need to do their part to prevent accidents. In late 2002 and early 2003, two A.T. hikers were shot and seriously injured in separate incidents by hunters who mistook them for deer. Neither hiker was wearing blaze orange, and neither hunter properly identified his target.

If you hike with a dog, it should also wear blaze orange visible from all sides. The ATC recommends that pets be leashed at all times while hiking.

On state game lands in Pennsylvania, all hunters and non-hunters are required to wear at least 250 square inches of fluorescent orange material on the head, chest and back combined, or a fluorescent orange hat, from Nov. 15–Dec.15 (except on Sundays). The orange material must be visible from all angles (360 degrees).

Avoid wearing colors that could be mistaken for game animals. Avoid white or brown during deer seasons; red or blue during turkey seasons.

Use extra caution at dawn and dusk. Hunting activity may increase at dawn and dusk, when animals are feeding and visibility is poor. Wear reflective vests or use a headlamp or flashlight for extra visibility.

Use extra caution near roads and in valleys—Be especially cautious within 1/2-mile of road crossings (both approaching and leaving) and in valley areas.

Be heard—Make sure you are heard before you are seen by whistling, singing, talking, etc., while you hike.

Avoid hunter interference—Hikers should be aware that interference or harassment of hunters in the lawful pursuit of game is a violation of law in all fourteen A.T. states. This includes interference or tampering with dogs used in the pursuit of game where allowed by law. Sportsmen are our partners in conservation—encounters between hunters and hikers are opportunities to raise the awareness of both groups.

Avoid deer firearm season
—Avoid areas where hunting is legal during deer firearm season, which varies by state, but typically occurs during parts of the months of October, November, December, and January. During those months, you may want to hike in one of the five national parks crossed by the A.T. (note that hunting is allowed in Delaware Gap National Recreation Area, another NPS unit). Do a search for the specific state in which you will be hiking.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Those Witnessing the North Carolina Wildfires, I Understand. A New Appalachian Trail is being Created

Right now the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina and Georgia is being inundated with huge wildfires. This past spring saw at least seven fires sprout up on the trail, causing major issues not only for hikers but also for residents. 2016 has been a severe year for fires.
Fire burns in Shenandoah National Park, Spring 2016

I am seeing many posts of scared, exhausted, and concerned hikers who fear what the trail will look like after such devastation. A revered tower that many hikers used to view the grandeur of the Great Smoky Mountains has also burned down (Wesser Tower). Lots of things are changing.

I totally understand the pain and anguish. I saw 10,000 acres in Shenandoah National Park burn this past spring.  I was similarly devastated. I had to inhale smoke, I watched the trails I loved to hike overrun by flames (caused by an illegal campfire) and hikers having to be rerouted. For several agonizing weeks I endured it. It was very stressful. 
Brow Mtn Overlook, Shenandoah National Park

Eventually the rains came. The fires were put out. A smoldering black landscape was revealed.

The AT in Shenandoah shortly after the fire was put out

But not for long.

Creation has a way of healing. And fast.

In six weeks I saw this happen -

In a few months I saw this. I was so pleased and happy. I knew everything was going to be ok.

A changed landscape but new vegetation and a great new view. 

Nature does come back. Yes, there will be changes to the landscape. There will likely be less of a tree canopy so summers will be hotter on the trail. BUT there will be views galore. Wildflowers in abundance will come in the spring. The birds will return and merrily chirp. The trees too, whose roots survive, will put out new shoots. Blueberries and rhododendron and mountain laurel that love acidic soil will flourish, and their showy flowers will line the trail and delight hikers. And all of this happens so quickly, it’s amazing.

Nature will return, though it brings little consolation now. But I like the Scripture in Psalm 30:5 that says: ...Weeping may stay the night but rejoicing comes in the morning. 

And a new morn will dawn on the new Appalachian Trail.