Sunday, August 20, 2017

Guest Blog - A Change of Plans? Focus on the Positive

A Change of Plans? Focus on the Positive

By Dallas Gallmann

After 4 long weeks I finally got my cast off and have gone into a walking boot for another 3 weeks before I start physical therapy.
I set off on the trail last month in order to do some soul searching but God had a different plan for me. My trip ended early after a fall and it may sound cliche but I went to the trail to learn about myself, to test myself physically and mentally and I came out of this experience with doing just that. (Just not in the way I thought I would)
As soon as I fell I knew something was seriously wrong but without cell phone signal I had to continue hiking up to Hawk Mountain shelter. The next few hours were hard. Mentally and physically I knew what I had to do but my mind immediately deemed everything up to that point as a failure. I was beating myself up for something I could no longer control. I was a failure because I wasn't going to be able to finish what I had set out to do and as I continued up the mountain I realized I was so focused on my pain and the idea of failing that everything had become a blur. I stopped to collect my thoughts. I told myself from here on out nothing negative, you have to pick yourself up, you are doing this, worry about everything else tomorrow. You see it is so easy for my mind to immediately think of the negative and I was no longer going to feed into what others would say or view my trip. I made it up that damn mountain and as I passed the sign for hawk mountain shelter I stopped for a moment to cry and reflect. I accomplished that mountain, that hurdle. I could be proud of that!
The next morning trail angels hiked up to the shelter and hiked me out. Later I learned that I had fractured my ankle, torn multiple ligaments and strained my calf muscle as a result of my fall but as I told my story to everyone who asked what had happened, I didn't get the reaction my head told me I would get! They didn't see my story as a failure! They congratulated me on being brave enough to solo hike. They were inspired by my resilience and most of all they were curious if I was going to let my injury keep me from going back to the trail. I told them I only got 24 hrs on the trail and 22 of them were spent in pain but I have dreamed of being back out there ever since!
I encourage / challenge each one of you when things go wrong in life or on the trail to focus on the positive! Don't beat yourself up when things don't work out the way you want! The trail will still be there, life will continue & when I am healed up and my ankle is strong again I will finish my hike! I hope to see some of you on the trail!

Related Blogs

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Preparing for a Long Distance Hike on the Colorado Trail

This year I am embarking on a new long distance venture that will take me into high altitude for multiple days and away from the typical eastern US hiking trips I have enjoyed in the past.

My plan is to hike the 486 mile Colorado Trail (CT) that extends from Denver to Durango in the beautiful and wild Rocky Mountains.

Most hikers plan their trip to leave from Waterton Canyon south of Denver and hike southbound, arriving some four to five weeks later at Durango. Typically the main season begins sometime in July and ends in August. For me, since I am starting later in the season and because of possible snow in September at the higher elevations close to Durango, I am hiking northbound to Denver. This necessitates me to do more planning, such as acclimating, watching pack weight for long stretches of resupply in areas, and planning for shorter days at the onset to help me adapt to the high altitude and the stretches of tough climbing.

My planning for this trip began several months ago by joining a Colorado Thru Hiker Facebook Group. This place on social media has been an invaluable tool for the beginning steps needed to do the trail. Much information is shared—from resupply options, to acclimating (of which there is a special Facebook group specifically for that), gear, travel options, and yes, I have even met great trail angels willing to help me out on the trail. The  Colorado Trail Foundation will also email on request a list of shuttlers willing to transport you to towns or trailheads.
A Map App helps with navigation

Once the plans are made, important trail resources are needed. I downloaded the trail app from Atlas Guides (formerly Guthook). I am quite familiar with the map app on my phone, having used it successfully on the Florida Trail. Hikers have also left notes on the app for water resources and waypoints, which allows me to check on water availability late in the season. I also purchased the Colorado Trail Foundation’s data book for the trail. Both resources have proved invaluable for planning purposes. A Trail Foundation can be a wealth of information as to trail conditions – be sure to see if they have a social media group online as well, along with guidebooks and print maps. I have even called the foundation office to ask questions.

Mail Drop Prep
I then spent time gathering gear and also food and supplies for some mail drops. While the scene to the left looks a mess, maildrops give me the option to eat the foods I want while not spending valuable time trying to figure out options at a grocery store. The End to End Colorado Trail guide assists in this kind of planning.   

All these resources together, coupled with information shared from other hikers’ experiences, helps one plan the best they can for a journey into the wilds of the Rockies.

(Note – the above information can be used toward any long distance hiking trail as far as planning such as the use of social media outlets, trail foundations, guidebooks and maps)

Summary of Resources:

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Don’t You Love Getting Trail Magic?

I did. 

Seeing those coolers, sitting by their lonesome, brimming with goodies just for a hard hiker like me.

But things have changed….

I have changed.


Because of this.

Bear wrecks a thru hiker tent. 2017.
And this.

I have seen gear damaged and hikers lose money by animals that have received food rewards in one form or another. Including my own tent that had nothing in it.

I have seen magic left and remnants scattered around the cooler and a half mile beyond, with cans thrown into the woods. I have seen food tied to trees, soda cans propped on the ground and cans pierced by bears’ teeth and a sign on a tree afterwards that says – Bears are active in these woods and have destroyed property.

I have seen folks think they are doing right with all the food feeds, especially down south in the early AT hiker season, but are instead contributing to a massive mentality issue currently affecting long distance hikers. The “I deserve it” mentality. The entitlement mentality. After all – “I am hiking the whole trail, I need it.” They expect people to do for them. They are of a higher class. And that mentality carries into towns and places with regulations, where ill behavior can run rampant and thankfulness and doing good to others instead of yourself is absent. Selfishness abounds. The yellow blazer class is also born with those not interested in hiking but hitchhiking from party to party or feed.  

I have worked now as a ridgerunner on the Appalachian Trail and seen a lot to turn me off to food magic. This past season I had a thru hiker actually ask me – “Hey where is the trail magic around here? I haven’t had food or drink in a long time.”

I was flabbergasted.

I say to him – “There are others ways of trail magic in these woods besides food and drink.”

A sunny sky.
A pretty flower.
A trail kept free of blowdowns by a maintainer. Or a shelter that keeps out rain.
A flowing spring that is not dry.
Encouragement to a weary hiker with a kind word.
Picking up trash along the way. Even some gum wrappers will do.
Offering a ride to a weary hiker. I’ve had some even invite me into their homes. Wow
Thanking a maintainer and offering to help.

(To the trail angels that helped me so much on my treks – who offered rides and their homes and a friendly smile and encouragement – thanks)

To those that leave trail magic unattended - with coolers and bags and boxes of food sitting at a road or by the trail -

PLEASE don’t. Stay with your offerings and give them out. Meet and greet. Then remove it all when you are done. But really, consider other ways of magic instead of food. There is so much food along the AT these days – it is like a carnival from one food stop to another. The wilderness is gone. 

Instead, do other things. 

And do it expecting no thanks or rewards. The thanks is the satisfaction that you helped others and the trail. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Campfire Talk

Okay, let's talk campfire lingo. Snap. Spark. Heat. Glow. Entertainment. S'mores. People-pleaser.

Fires seem to be the mainstay of an evening sojourn in the woods. Done properly and with care, they can add to an evening. Who doesn't like to share tales around the embers? Or roast marshmellows? Or take the chill out of a cool evening?

Unfortunately, more often than not, campfires are tools of abuse. There are an overabundance of campfire pits and rings built in the woods. Sometimes they scar the beauty of rocks at an overlook or are scattered all over the forest floor. They surround a single tent platform at such close proximity, I often wonder why the occupants' tent hasn't burned. I've seen woods totally devoid of downed limbs used to replenish the soil of the woods because it's used to feed the hungry flames of a large fire.

But more often than not, campfire rings are used as garbage containers in the wild. As a ridgerunner, I have cleaned out burnt cans, paper, numerous "hobo" meal wrappers - IE foil, from the pits. Some just leave whole garbage bags in them. Some have tried to burn their trash, only to have the burnt remains littering the pit and sinking in ash. I see lots of tn cans left in there. Why do folks think a tin can burns? Others toss used toilet paper and other unsavory items into the ring. And fire pits consistently used as an ashtray where hikers leave their cigarette butts.

So if we are to salvage anything good out of having a campfire - please do the following:

- Do NOT burn any garbage!! Not a scrap. Pack it all out. If you can carry in the food wrappers, you can pack out the empty ones!! That includes the foil from the "hobo" campfire meals. Pack it ALL out.  

- Don't build new campfire rings. There are plenty to be found in preexisting campfire rings out there. Share a ring with a neighbor. Or gather around the principle campfire ring at the shelters or established campsites. Who knows - you may develop friendships for life and save the woods from another scarred campfire ring.

- When you have a campfire, keep it small. Huge bonfires risk the vegetation, can cause a forest fire if they get out of hand, sterilize and damage the surrounding soil, and eat more of the wood in the area needed to replenish the soil. Huge fires also cast annoying light and smoke on other fellow hikers and campers who may want to sleep or who don't care to light a fire. Respect your neighbors.

- Some like campfire cooking. I'm not sure I like the idea of a blackened pot to stow away in my pack. I find a canister stove works very well. I've used a pocket rocket for 7,000 miles of hiking. But if it works for you, go for it.

- The flames of a fire can be entertaining but I've seen hikers use other methods. Like a candle lantern. I saw two hikers do it and were perfectly content.

If you choose a campfire, please be responsible so others can enjoy the beauty of our woods. And be sure to put out the fire completely. DO not leave it smoldering when you go to bed at night or leave in the AM.

With care and consideration campfires can be an enjoyable part of the hiking experience.    

Related Blogs:

Plan and Prepare for that Trip

Town Etiquette for Hikers

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Preventing Heat-Related Ilnesses while Backpacking and Hiking

Reposting this after seeing an article about a hiker with failing organs due to sunstroke. Be careful out there, esp with the humidity also!!

It’s the height of summer and time for great hikes. But it’s also time that heat-related illness can affect you while exerting yourself in hot temperatures.

The two heat-related illnesses one needs to look out for are heat exhaustion and sunstroke. Heat exhaustion can be managed on the trail, but sunstroke is a life-threatening emergency where the hiker must get to a hospital.

Heat Exhaustion can occur in hot, humid temperatures when the body becomes depleted of fluids necessary to cool itself - (severe dehydration). There may be heat cramps involved. The skin may be pale, cool, clammy, the hiker slightly anxious, pulse and breathing are basically normal. However, if the hiker is not cooled down, it can advance to the life threatening sunstroke as the core body temperature begins to rise. Seek rest in a shady, cool spot. Sometimes resting on rocks that are in the shade or beside stream beds are cool. Or find an area next to water or in a wet environment. Breezes can also help you cool down by allowing convection to happen. Drink! – Especially replace lost salt and water. Having an electrolyte type mix in your hiker bag is crucial to helping replace sodium and potassium lost during sweating. When you get to town, eating a banana helps with heat and muscle cramping due to imbalances.

Sunstroke occurs when the mechanism to keep yourself cool begins to fail and your internal body temperature rises. Your skin becomes red, hot and dry. You can become disoriented, confused, and irritable. Your heart rate is rapid and there may be a seizure. Cool immediately by immersing into a cold stream or river or pouring water over the body. Give fluids if still awake and you can massage limbs to draw out the heat. Call for help. Sunstroke can kill!

How to prevent heat-related illnesses from happening on a hike: 

  • Take frequent rest breaks in cool, shady areas
  • Drink plenty of water and eat salty foods. Carry electrolyte replacement (like Nuun)  to add to water. Be sure to carry plenty of water in desert environments. You can also over-drink and deplete your sodium levels, leading to other potentially harmful conditions. When you drink, don't overdo it either! Do NOT drink Alcohol which can lead to quicker dehydration as it pulls water from your body.
  • Wear lightweight clothing and light colors. Wear a lightweight hat. Use sunscreen to prevent sunburn. 
  • Carry maps and guidebooks so you know where the water sources are. If you pass a source, no matter what, fill up. You can also collect water off your tent, etc. during storms. Check for areas too where you can take a dip and cool off. 
  • Never go off on a hike, no matter how short it is, without water.
  • Use common sense, if you are prone to heat related illness, choose a different location or wait for a better time to hike (such as early AM or late PM)
  • Carry a phone for emergencies and hike with a buddy.
  • If you feel hot, dry, your urine output is low, that means you are severely dehydrated and your core body temp is rising. Especially if you STOP sweating when you should be. That means DANGER. Stop immediately, rest, and rehydrate.  

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Bear Facts of the Trail

I photographed this bear in a tree in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
And this bear up a tree in Shenandoah
Bears can be a hot topic in the hiker forums. After the recent events where a bear tore up a hiker's tent at a hut in Shenandoah National Park, it makes good sense to learn the facts when encountering these
Bear damage to a tent
animals in the woods.

Most bears are skiddish when encountered on the trail, but a mother with her cubs can and will attack to defend her young if she detects a threat. It's prudent, therefore, to know the basics of bear safety when out hiking. And it's wise also to be aware of their scent to let you know they are nearby. I was taught the scent of a bear from a hiker/former ranger, and she said it smells like a wet dog. Once you recognize a bear's scent, it will alert you to their presence and avoid surprise encounters.   

Below are some general bear safety tips taken from the Shenandoah National Park website. If you are out west in grizzly country, that's a more dangerous area, and bear spray, bear bells, and other protection are needed, as well as bear canisters in many places (such as Yosemite National park which requires it). Check your local areas for updates on aggressive bear activity.

Avoiding Bears While Hiking
  • Stay alert to your surroundings and the presence of wildlife while hiking.
  • Make your presence known by keeping the wind to your back (your scent will alert bears), if possible hike in groups, and make noise.
  • When you spot a bear, stay 300 feet or more away and never linger or take photographs for long periods.
  • Slowly back away and leave the area or take a detour. Making noise during your retreat is appropriate. Keep children close to the group. Do not turn your back on a bear. Do not make eye contact.
  • Do not pursue and NEVER surround a bear. Give it room to escape.
  • DO NOT run from a bear. Bears will pursue prey and flight is a signal to them to start pursuit.
Encountering a Black Bear
If an encounter occurs …
Remain calm and don’t run. Like dogs, bears will often chase fleeing animals. You can't outrun a bear. They have been clocked at speeds up to 35 mph! Climbing a tree is futile since black bears excel at climbing trees. Jaw popping by the bear is a signal to you that it is uncomfortable.
Let the bear know you are human. Talk to it in a normal voice and wave your arms. If a bear cannot tell what you are, it may come closer or stand on its hind legs to get a better look or smell. A standing bear is usually curious – not threatening.
Move away slowly, but don’t turn your back.
Avoid eye contact with the animal.  If the bear follows, stop and hold your ground. Black bears may approach at a measured pace and attack the human as prey. The calm appearance of the black bear may have lure some of their victims into a false sense of security.  If leaving the area is not an option or if the bear gets too close you should make yourself appear as large as possible. Lifting your arms and a pack over head, moving to higher ground or, if in a group, huddling together will help discourage the bear. Make louder noise by banging pots and pans or using other noisemakers, but never imitate bear sounds or make a high-pitched squeal. If need be, throw rocks. A black bear calmly and steadily approaching who is not bothered by yelling or thrown objects should be considered extremely dangerous.

If a bear charges…
Don’t run! Bears often make bluff charges, sometimes to within 10 feet of their adversary, without making contact. Usually if you hold your ground they will back off.

If a bear actually makes contact…
Fight back! In rare instances black bears perceive humans as prey – if you are attacked by a black bear fight back. Try to focus your attack on the bear’s eyes and nose.
Carry bear spray and know how to use it.
In camp...

Eat away from your sleeping area. Never store food in a tent or vestibule. Use bear poles or bear cables or hoist your food in a tree ten feet off the ground and four feet out in a bear bag. Better yet, learn the PCT method of hanging food.  Cookware and trash should be similarly secured as well as anything scented such as toothpaste, toothbrush, medications, bug repellent, soap, etc.

In some places where bears are known to be aggressive on the Appalachian Trail, carry a bear canister to store your food. Canisters are also required in the Adirondack region of New York State. A Ursack may be used but also use an odor proof barrier with it and hang it.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Rain... Part of a Hiker's Life

Blissful in the fog of PA before descending down to Palmerton

I felt like tonight I should blog about rain, since many hikers out this year are going to encounter rain. And not just any rain, but sometimes major events or even tropical systems later in the summer. There can be downpours and strong winds. Heavy stuff. There isn't much weather protection that can keep you and your gear dry in that kind of extreme weather, except a good ol' warm hostel or other place of refuge.

But rain is a fact of life on the trail. And you must protect your gear and yourself. In some conditions it can be a life saver, especially if you hit the 50 degree temperatures with a wind that can actually cause hypothermia to set in rapidly. Hypothermia is a condition where your core body temperature begins to drop. Symptoms include shivering, clumsiness, poor decision making, weakness, drowsiness - if it progresses further you are in serious trouble. In the case where the temperatures warrant it, I always don my full gear - rain jacket, rain hat, and my rainpants. In the summer I don't bring rain pants as its warm enough that a good shower can actually feel good. But in colder conditions they can help prevent you from getting soaked to the skin and having real issues.

This is a picture that a fellow hiker took of me atop Springer Mountain during my southbound hike a few years back. It shows me with full rain gear in action as it is November. Because of my glasses issue, I prefer wearing a rain hat. I have tried both the Marmot and Outdoor Research brands and has served me well. I am wearing a Marmot precip rain jacket (the orange color here came in handy when I hiked through the states of TN and NC in the fall and full hunting season with hunters out actually carrying their rifles - slightly unnerving). I did switch to DriDucks for a light weight option in the summer and it served me well on the Long Trail, but note - it is NOT durable if pine branches snag it! You can purchase rain gear made of simple silnylon or cuben fiber but remember they do not vent well and you may find yourself wetter on the inside than the outside. My son disliked rain gear and carried a lite umbrella for the summer rains on our thru hike of the AT.

In the above photo I am also wearing Marmot precip pants. On warmer days, a rain kilt such as the ones sold on Lightheart Gear has done well to keep the upper part of me dry. I only have regular trail runners on, not waterproof, but on a nice sunny day afterwards, I find they dry out amazingly well. But I did use a pair of the Gore Tex waterproof trail runners to test them out in the spring snow-like conditions. And I must say, having dry feet at night sure felt good.

As for pack protection, in this photo my husband sewed for me a sil nylon pack cover (we also made our own stuff sacks). You can get kits to make your own covers like this at Thru-hiker Gear which sells kits and materials for that creative person. I have met hikers that have made many of their own gear items, including a backpack, a sleeping bag, a vest, etc. Just recently I purchased a Sea to Summit pack cover and it has worked out well. But in heavy downpours, no pack cover keeps a pack dry, so it behooves you to keep the contents dry.  On the inside I have lined my pack with a trash compactor bag. The thicker the bag (in milliliters), the better. After a heavy storm though, I found the Z packs cuben fiber pack liner a must-have, esp as I still got water inside the trashbag line.  Nothing gets by this - it's bombproof. They also make a variety of stuff sacks for clothing and sleeping bag (which must stay dry no matter what). Worth the $$. I tend to go overboard and double bag my camp and clothes and sleeping bag. if all else fails and you are wet and cold, these can really save you and make you comfortable. Be sure also to have a working stove to heat up water for hot soups and drinks, and carry a good tent to protect you at night.

These are a few ways I have coped with rain while hiking. Sometimes its hard to see the fog rolling in and know you are missing some good views. But there is also good to be found on a rainy, foggy day. Clean fresh air. Plenty of water at the springs and streams when you need it. And knowing the sun will eventually come out.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Be Inspired to Overcome Challenges and Hike!

I am reposting this great blog on hiking, even when facing physical challenges. It's good to reflect on others and their amazing ability to enjoy life with determination, inspiration, and grit. 

My name is Brandi and I am a hiker. I am visually impaired. First I will explain my vision acuity. I was born with a rare eye condition that doesn’t have a name. Only about one hundred people have my condition in the United States. The condition is incurable. The eye condition I have closely resembles Cone Dystrophy. For the longest time I was diagnosed with Cone Dystrophy. I will not be able to drive. My vision is very blurry. It is hard to make out objects. If I am sitting in the front row of any show or lecture I still can’t see what is on the projector. I also am color blind, although I can see colors I just can’t tell the difference. If someone were to line up a yellow and green pen together I wouldn’t be able to point out the green one because they would all look the same to me. Even though I cannot see well, I do not let it stop me from doing the activities I enjoy. I love to hike and camp. I’ve been hiking ever since I was able to walk, way before anyone knew I had a vision disability. 

I love to hike because it helps me to relax. I enjoy being outdoors with the beautiful foliage and animals. I also get a chance to experience and go places I have never been before. I love to travel to new places. When I was fifteen I hiked Mount Mitchell in North Carolina. That was a tiring hike for me but I did it! I hiked Mount Jefferson in New Hampshire when I was eighteen. Last year I hiked up to McAfee Knob in Virginia. I can climb rock scrambles. I can hike any trail with little assistance. The only assistance I use is a hiking stick which basically takes the place of my sight cane. I use that to poke around for roots and loose rocks.

 I have hiked around Europe for a month with my student ambassador delegation. Well, not really hiked, but I was on my feet more then I was sitting. The only time I had to sit was when I was on the bus which was almost never. It was difficult traveling on my own in the enormous city of Paris France. I had to navigate the busy streets of Seville Spain in the dark, never fearing the worst. I am not afraid to do anything on my own. 

While on the trail I face many difficulties. I have fallen. The worst that has happened was when I was hiking with my dad on Mount Jefferson and there was a crevice that was hidden by vegetation. I stepped in it and banged up my knee. On that same trail I got temporary disorientated. I couldn’t figure out where the trail was.  As I hike I face a lot of challenges. When I hike I cannot see the roots or the trail. Everything camouflages. The sun is a challenge for me too. I am sensitive to light. I will sometimes wear sunglasses when I hike. Sometimes I will just have them off to marvel at the trees. I haven’t hiked in the dark, but I would like to try. Flashlights don’t help me much. When it shines on an area I just see blurry images. If a flashlight is shone on a root I wouldn’t be able to make out details such as length or depth.  

Although I can’t see well, most people who meet me will never have guessed. On the trail I show no signs that I have vision impairment. Over the years I have acquired special adaptations that help with hiking. Having great balance is the key for me. When I trip over something I act quickly. However, sometimes I do stumble over, but I recover quickly by regaining my balance. I have adapted to being quick on my feet. I often memorize my natural surroundings, much like a human GPS. Having been on a trail once, I have an innate ability of remembering where it goes and how long it is. As I mentioned earlier I carry a hiking stick, one which is the length of my sight cane. 

Hiking has helped me develop patience for myself and others. I regret that I don’t do it enough. Unfortunately, I do not yet have a trail name; certainly it will come with time. I would like to start hiking again more frequently once this college semester is finished. In the future I would like to hike Katahdin in Maine and feel the exhilaration of yet another accomplishment. In the near future I plan to go hiking with my dad in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Feel free to contact me and ask me questions. If you see me on the trail make sure you give me a holler.

 Hope to see you on the trail soon.