Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Why "A Walk in the Woods" will be A Nightmare in the Woods

Today I am seeing all over the clip for the movie coming on Labor Day. "A Walk in the Woods" with Hollywood’s Robert Redford. I see it and shudder.


I work out on the AT as a ridgerunner in Shenandoah National Park. I am already witnessing the increased usage on the trail and what that means. Overflowing huts (shelters in Shenandoah), full privies, toilet paper flowers, burnt out cans and cigarette butts, gallons of garbage. 

Please don’t mistake me. I am thrilled when newcomers come take their first walk on the AT. When people post pictures and experiences of their times. I do all I can through education and this blog to get them ready.  If I could count on hikers who followed the Leave No Trace principle, who were courteous, who carried out their garbage, who did what they could do to protect the trail and the environment, themselves and each other, I’d rest a bit easier.

But that isn’t the case. Already I am seeing such increased usage that areas are being stretched beyond capacity, and the movie hasn’t even been released. And the usage by hikers who don’t know and don’t care. Garbage is overflowing. Tents are stacked on top of each other as hikers wrestle for space.
One of the AT huts, May, 2015, and tents everywhere. Pre-movie.
When there is no space, they ignore camping regulations and camp wherever they want, even with their dogs by the springs. It’s already a nightmare out there and it hasn’t even begun.

I shudder also that trail organizations seem woefully unprepared for the coming onslaught and coming damage. They don’t seem to understand what is going to happen. Nothing has been planned. No action has been taken to cope with the masses that will flock to the AT after this movie comes out. I’ve had some higher-ups ask me as ridgerunner what will happen. I say it, but that’s it. Nothing has been done. 

Now it is too late. The masses are coming. There will be unprepared hikers (and more rescues), garbage galore, campfire pits and campsites scarring the land. Shelter areas strewn with trash,
15 gallons of trash found in a privy, May 2015 - pre-movie
with overflowing privies, and worn-out volunteer maintainers that can’t keep up and get burned out.

Thanks a bunch, Hollywood. "A Walk in the Woods" will become the AT and the maintainers' Nightmare in the Woods. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

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.  

- Do not 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 4,000 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

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

A Colorado Trail Adventure

Review: Shades of Gray, Splashes of Color - A Thru Hike of the Colorado Trail by Bill Cooke

I was eager to read this account as I had not yet read a thru hiking book on this famed 486 mile trail that spans the length of wild and beautiful Colorado, from north in the San Juan National Forest to Durango. To me, an easterner, the Rockies seem like wild mountains in need of special skills. I had visions of plowing through big snowfields and other major obstacles. But Bill Cooke’s book put to rest a good many fears.

It was great having some intro to the trail, mileage, facts, etc. to start off. Once the hike began, it grabbed my attention and held it throughout.  I liked it too that Bill was honest about how he felt (sometimes he wasn’t well either) and what gear he brought. He didn’t gloss it over but you felt as if you were on the journey, struggling with him, even as his partner obviously had better strength on the trip. But it didn’t bother Bill or get to him. He hiked along anyway and they had a good time despite their different hiking speeds. The account also gave good ideas on trip planning, like the summer thunderstorm issue and resupply points.

 I always like to read accounts of trail magic and trail angels, and they both had their share with folks giving them rides to town or helping out with slackpacking. This gives me assurance that there are people eager and ready to help out in more remote areas. But beyond that, the descriptions of sheer Colorado beauty is enough to send a hiker like me packing up my backpack and heading for the far reaches of the Rockies.

I was also eager to hear about the mountain bikers as I had heard conflicting reports on them. I liked it how Bill worked with the bikers on the trail and not against them. He made friends, and they found themselves equals, sharing the trail rather than getting on each other’s nerves. It made for a better experience.

On the downside, I only wish the map of the trail was bigger so I could see where they were at different places in the book (I’m visual that way). Also the pictures of the flowers in black and white didn’t do them any justice. Color photos would have been great, to be honest.

If you are thinking of doing this trail or just want a good read on a hiking adventure in the Rockies, be sure to pick up this book. It will make you believe you can do it!

More information on the Colorado Trail:

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Flip Flops - or Going Against the Norm

On May 2nd and 3rd the Appalachian Trail Conservancy will be hosting what will be an annual event each year. A Flip Flop Hiker Kick-Off Festival in Harper's Ferry, WV. When I mention flipflop this is what people assume -

But in hiking circles, a flip flop actually refers to an alternate method of completing a long distance trail. That is - not going from end to end but rather hiking the trail by alternate starting and end points.

The trails are getting busier. Already there are rumors of over 3000 starting the Appalachian Trail down in Georgia this year. And that number will likely increase as Hollywood makes known the trial
I finished my southbound hike at Harper's Ferry. It was great.
in the media and word spreads. Thus it's important to get out the word about other ways to enjoy and accomplish the trail. Like a Flip Flop.

For most AT hikers, the flip flop normally consists of jumping off at Harper's Ferry, WV for the trip north. The hiker hikes to Katahdin, returns to Harper's Ferry and heads south during the fall season for a finish at Springer Mnt, usually round early November. A flip flop has the advantage of not only missing the huge masses of thru hikers flowing from GA but also the enjoyment of seeing the trail in good weather, usually without the snows, cold, and other issues. And great fall colors in the south if you end there.

Some other alternate ways for a flip flop hike are as follows (from the ATC website)


Harpers Ferry, W.Va., north to Katahdin; Harpers Ferry, W.Va., south to Springer Mountain.
Summary: For a two-part flip-flop, this version hits the sweet spot between crowds and loneliness. It begins with the easiest part of the entire A.T., reduces exposure to extremes of weather, and starts in one of the prettiest and easiest-to-get-to spots on the Trail.

Sample itinerary:
 Start in Harpers Ferry late April or first half of May, reach Katahdin second half of August; return to Harpers Ferry after Labor Day; finish at Springer Mountain the second half of November.
  • Start in easiest part of the Trail that very gradually gets more difficult.
  • Start in mild, pleasant weather.
  • Start amid spring wildflowers and walk north with spring.
  • Do not expect to keep pace right away with thru-hikers who started in Georgia.
  • Encounter rocky but mostly flat terrain in Pennsylvania 
  • Hike through the mid-Atlantic before it gets hot, humid and water sources become scarce.
  • If you start earlier than May, make sure you do not reach Vermont before mud season ends (Saturday of Memorial Day weekend). 
  • Reach the White Mountains in July, before the peak crowds; less competition for work-for-stay in huts
  • Reach Maine in August, when black flies are gone (but expect crowds the last hundred miles of Maine).
  • Plenty of time to reach Katahdin before it closes.
  • No advance reservations required for Baxter State Park  (eligible to use The Birches long-distance hiker's site)
  • Wait until after Labor Day to start southbound from Harpers Ferry to give the earliest southbounders time to catch up with you.
  • Walk south with fall colors on the second half of your hike.
  • Companionship with early northbounders the first half, then finish the Trail with early southbounders.
  • Be prepared for hunting season in the South.
  • Be prepared for cold weather and the possibility of snow starting at the end of October, especially in The Smokies.


Damascus, Va., north to Katahdin; Damascus, Va., south to Springer Mountain. 

Summary:Allows you to start earlier than some options, but you can expect cold weather much of he first month, and a solitary hike on the final leg southbound from Damascus.

Recommended Itinerary: Start in Damascus mid-April, hike north to climb Katahdin mid-September; resume hiking south third week of September, finish on Springer Mountain beginning of November. 
  • Start ahead of biggest crowds of thru-hikers, but be assured of companionship from early hikers.
  • Be prepared for snow and frigid temperatures across the 5000-foot-plus Mt. Rogers highlands (a 26-mile high-elevation stretch that starts about 17 miles north of Damascus).
  • Be prepared for the possibility of below-freezing temperatures anytime in April since you'll be in higher mountains
  • Do not expect to keep up with the pace of thru-hikers who started in Georgia; allow yourself 3-6 weeks to get in optimal shape.
  • Start out in terrain of moderate difficulty.
  • Plenty of time to reach Katahdin before it closes.
  • Enjoy fall colors in the deep South, but expect no fellow travelers (you'll be ahead of the southbound thru-hikers) 


Southern New England north to Katahdin; southern New England south to Springer Mountain.
Case study: “Scatman” started on the NY/CT line mid-June and hiked northbound, climbing Katahdin mid-August. He returned to starting point in NY and headed south with the southbound thru-hikers, finishing the end of November.
His comments: “I believe that beginning in Connecticut in early June was beneficial. By hiking southbound for most of the trip, we also avoided the crowded shelters and the 'spring break' atmosphere of the early part of a northbound hike. It also allowed me to 'follow autumn' for much of the southbound portion of my hike. We did experience some cold weather at higher elevations and some snow in the Smokies … Doing New England northbound also afforded me the opportunity to approach Katahdin head-on, one of the most exciting sights on the A.T.”

Transportation note: Public transportation is available weekends to the Appalachian Trail Stop in New York near the Connecticut border via the Metro North railroad line (between Pawling and Wingdale). More information is available on ATC' shuttle and public transportation list at


Springer Mountain north to Harpers Ferry, W.Va.; Katahdin south to Harpers Ferry.
Sample itinerary: Start at Springer Mountain second half of April and hike north, reaching Harpers Ferry, W.Va., middle of July; then flip to Katahdin. Hike south to Harpers Ferry and end first half of November.
  • Start at Springer Mountain, but without the crowds.
  • Minimal chance of snow or severe cold the entire hike.
  • Avoid heat in most of mid-Atlantic.
  • Reduced (but not eliminated) exposure to Lyme disease and tick-borne diseases.
  • Avoid crowds of other thru-hikers.
  • Advance campground reservations required at Baxter State Park (not eligible to uses The Birches Long-Distance Hikers site)
  • No worries about reaching Katahdin in Baxter before it closes.
  • Hike with late northbounders first half; hike with southbounders the second half and meet northbounders a second time.
  • Hike south with fall colors.

More Information on the Hiker Festival:
Appalachian Trail Conservancy Flip Flop Kick-Off Weekend

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

That Dreaded Giardia

As a ridgerunner, I've dealt with several cases of hikers unknowingly infected with giardia while on their long distance hike of the Appalachian Trail. You can bet it did not add to their experience to be waylaid by constant "runs". Below is an interesting scientific summary of this illness and its cause and treatment, written by SOLO Wilderness Medicine. SOLO is a terrific resource for all manner of health issues that can affect outdoor enthusiasts. I encourage you to receive their monthly e-mail newsletter and even consider taking a course sponsored by them. Check out also my previous blog on water purification methods when in the wilderness.

Even pristine water sources can still contain harmful microbes that cause illness


Double-trouble for the gut
Giardia lamblia (Giardia lamblia) is a flagellated protozoan parasite that infects the small intestine causing diarrhea, bloating, and bad gas. People contract giardia when they consume contaminated food or water.

Giardia has a very simple life cycle. The dormant giardia cyst, ingested along with contaminated food or water, makes its home in the small intestine where the cyst hatches and changes into a trophozoite. (The trophozoites cause the illness-the un-hatched cysts do not.) The trophozoites then reproduce by binary fission (cell division) and the population grows. 

Utilizing a suction disk, the trophozoites anchor themselves onto the wall of the small intestine. They absorb nutrients from within the lumen of the small intestine. Interestingly, they do not feed on, or harm, the cells lining the small intestine. However, as the population increases, the trophozoites spread out across the surface of the small intestine and effectively block the absorption of nutrients out of the intestine. When this occurs, the body tries to rid itself of the parasite by rinsing it out, thus causing the primary symptom of giardiasis-diarrhea.

Giardia is the most common protozoal infection of the human intestine
         It is the most common cause of epidemic and endemic diarrheal illness in the world.
         It is estimated that one out of six people have giardiasis worldwide.
         It is estimated that 50 percent of individuals with giardiasis are asymptomatic.
         The most common symptom of giardiasis is acute, watery diarrhea.
         It is usually a self-limiting disease.
         Death is extremely rare, usually occurring only in malnourished children.
         Consumption of contaminated food or water is the main way that giardiasis is spread.

Etiology (cause) of giardiasis
Giardiasis is caused by consuming food or water that has been contaminated with the giardia cyst. Once the cyst is ingested, it changes into the infectious trophozoite form that begins to reproduce and populate the lumen of the small intestine. This process of reproduction delays the onset of symptoms by 14 - 21 days.

The symptoms of giardiasis are caused by the proliferation and colonization of the lumen of the small intestine by trophozoites. As their population increases, the body's primary protective mechanism to rid itself of the parasite is a mechanical attempt to flush the parasite out via diarrhea. Symptoms include (in order of frequency):

                          Excessive gas (often a foul-tasting and smelly sulfuric flatulence, or belching)
                          Steatorrhea (pale, foul-smelling, greasy stools)
                          Epigastric pain
                          Anorexia (loss of appetite)
                          Vomiting (rare)

Diagnosis of giardiasis
Diagnosis can by made by taking a patient history, determining potential exposure, and observing the clinical symptoms of acute, watery diarrhea and smelly gas.
Diagnosis is confirmed when microscopic examination of the patient's stool reveals cysts or trophozoites.
Diagnosis is also confirmed when an antigen test of the stool detects giardiasis. 

Treatment of giardiasis
metronidazole (Flagyl) 250mg po tid for 5 days, or
tinidazole (Tindamax) 2g po once with food, or
furazolidone (Furoxone) 100mg po qid for 7 days. (This is typically used for treating children, as it is available in a liquid suspension.) The pediatric dose is 25 - 50mg po qid for 7 days, or
nitazoxanide (Alinia) 500mg po bid for 3 days

This Medical Tidbits article was first published as part of a larger article from the Wilderness Medicine Newsletter Volume 21 Number 5, September/October 2008

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Plan Ahead and Prepare for that Trip!

The spring and summer hiking season is gearing up and with that comes the excitement of a backpacking trip. But every year hikers go out having failed to plan and prepare for their trip They end up miserable, possibly in danger, or having to end the journey prematurely. Because of it, they lacked what was needed to help ensure a timely and safe hike.

With that in mind, I have taken principles from the Leave No Trace web site to help illustrate some good ideas when deciding on a hiking trip. Plus I add a few of my own.  

"Adequate trip planning and preparation helps backcountry travelers accomplish trip goals safely and enjoyably, while simultaneously minimizing damage to the land.

Poor planning often results in miserable campers and damage to natural and cultural resources. Rangers often tell stories of campers they have encountered who, because of poor planning and unexpected conditions, degrade backcountry resources and put themselves at risk.

You may want to create additional answers for this list:
  • It helps ensure the safety of groups and individuals.
  • It prepares you to Leave No Trace and minimizes resource damage.
  • It contributes to accomplishing trip goals safely and enjoyably.
  • It increases self-confidence and opportunities for learning more about nature.


  • Identify the goals (expectations) of your trip.
  • Identify the skill and ability of trip participants.
  • Select destinations that match your goals, skills, and abilities.
  • Gain knowledge of the area you plan to visit from land managers, maps, literature and online resources.
  • Choose equipment and clothing for comfort, safety, and Leave No Trace qualities.
  • Plan trip activities to match your goals, skills, and abilities.
  • Evaluate your trip upon return note changes you will make next time.
  • Weather
  • Terrain
  • Regulations/restrictions (permits, camping areas, fires)
  • Private land boundaries
  • Average hiking speed of group and anticipated food consumption
  • Group size (does it meet regulations, trip purpose and Leave No Trace criteria?)
Meals are another element to trip planning that can have a profound effect on the impact a group has on a backcountry area.

Benefits of Good Meal Planning:

  • Reduced trash.
  • Reduced pack weight, resulting in faster hiking times and less fatigue.
  • Reduced dependence upon campfires for cooking.
  • One-Pot Meals and Food Repackaging

Planning for one-pot meals and light weight snacks requires a minimum of packing and preparation time, lightens loads and decreases garbage. One-pot meals require minimal cooking utensils and eliminate the need for a campfire. Two backpack stoves can be used to cook all meals for large groups if you have two large pots (one large pot can be balanced on two stoves when quick heating is desired). Don't rely on campfire cooking (and please, do not make aluminum foil HOBO meals. I have seen too much foil left in campfire rings). Most food should be removed from its commercial packing and placed in sealable bags before packing your backpacks. Sealable bags (like ziploc bags) secure food and reduce bulk and garbage. Empty bags can be placed inside each other and packed out. This method can reduce the amount of garbage you must pack out at the end of the trip and eliminate the undesirable need of burying unwanted trash or burning it in a campfire (NEVER burn your trash!)"

Other things to consider. It's important to know before you go. Know where you are going. Know your physical limits, especially as you are carrying a backpack over uneven terrain. Bring maps, compass, guidebooks of the area you plan to hike. There are map apps for your phone. In some areas it's good to have a GPS device. Familiarize yourself with the area. Bring a cell phone for emergencies. Know first aid and what to do in an emergency, for unplanned weather, or if you are injured. Bring adequate clothing and equipment like a good tent (don't rely on trail shelters) and water purification. Always pack an extra day of food in case you must stay for an extra  day because of bad weather. Don't rely on fires to keep you warm but have a good sleeping bag and warm weather clothing like merino wool underwear, an insulated jacket, a hat, and rain gear. Be sure to keep your sleeping bag and clothing dry at all costs.

Don't let poor planning and preparation ruin your dream.  

Monday, March 30, 2015

First Aid Tips for Your Dog on a Hike

Dogs, like people, can have issues on the trail requring some canine "first aid". Check out these great tips offered by the makers of Kriser for keeping your pet happy and healthy trailside. Above all, the best remedy to avoid many of these issues is to keep your pet on a leash at all times (and trails through many areas require this, so check ahead of time).

Our Australian Shepherd "Katie" enjoys Shenandoah National Park

To ensure you and your dog have a safe trek on the trails, Brad Kriser, healthy pet expert and owner of Kriser’s, a multi-unit retailer specializing in all-natural pet food and supplies, offers the following advice on what to do—and what to bring— in case your dog does one of the following:

·         Ingests harmful water – Lake, pond or stream water can be toxic to your dog if ingested. In some cases, it creates Giardia—an infection in the small intestines. If your dog drinks contaminated water, give him treated, fresh water to try to flush his system. If symptoms occur, such as diarrhea, abdominal pain or fatigue, visit a vet for additional treatment.

·         Injures a paw – If you discover a cut on your dog’s paws, soak the paw in sea-salt water, remove any debris and use a disinfectant to clean the wound. Bandage the wound with three layers of rolled gauze in a taught manner. Use an anti-inflammatory spray, such as Dr. Rose’s Remedies Skin Treatment Spray, to help the irritation.

·         Is stung by a bee – The first thing you should do is look for the pest/stinger to remove it. Be sure not to break it or more poison might go into your dog’s blood stream. Clean the area with a baking soda and water paste. If the irritation continues, consult your vet about giving your dog an over-the-counter antihistamine, like Benadryl, to counteract reactions.

·         Walks through a poisonous plant – If your dog comes in contact with poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac, do not touch his coat until you are wearing protective gloves. Even though a dog’s coat adds a great layer of protection, vulnerable spots with less hair, like the ears and stomach, can react to poisonous plants. To help prevent infection, bathe your dog in warm water, using a mild shampoo and rinse thoroughly to remove the plant’s oil. If your dog continues to itch, consult a vet about an antihistamine.

·         Gets bit by a venomous snake – The best way to react is to stay calm and immediately find a veterinarian. Restrict movement in your pet as much as possible, even if it means carrying your dog. Do not try to treat the bite yourself by applying ice, removing the venom or applying a tourniquet. If you are nowhere near a vet, a snakebite kit can also be used.  Other preventative options include snake aversion training or vaccinating your dog against snakebites.

If your dog is in the appropriate shape, have him hike with his own pack, carrying a first-aid kit with supplies. This is especially important if you plan on hiking or camping in a location that’s not close to medical help.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Foot Care

Caring for your feet while hiking is a vital part of the trail experience. Take it from one who had to abandon a hike for a small irritated blister under one toe – issues with feet can wreak havoc on your
plans. Proper care of feet ahead of time can help avoid a lot of misery on the trail and also avoid injury.

Hiking shoes are really a personal preference in many instances. I have worn both boots and trail runners and am now a convert when it comes to using trail runners for East Coast trails. The lightweight ability of these shoes, the quick drying capacity in wet, soggy conditions, and the ability to navigate rocky terrain have all helped me remain with this type of footwear. But I also made sure I got checked by a professional when buying shoes. I went to a professional running shop and had them evaluate my foot type for the type of shoe I needed. I ended up with what is called a motion control shoe because I pronate. Different shoe types, based on construction, can make your foot, then your leg and hip, move differently. Ill-fitting footwear can affect not only your foot but can cause knee and hip issues and even injuries. Hence the need for a foot professional to make sure you are wearing the right type of shoe for your foot. I also go with a size larger shoe than my foot size as well.
Trail Runners dry ultra quick after being in slush

I am a big believer in proper insoles. This can take some doing as there are so many to choose from. A professional can help you determine what type will work. I actually worked with a physical therapist after having some nerve issues in my calf, and he recommended the blue Superfeet. I have worn them ever since. Get a professional opinion on the right insole to match your foot type. It adds to the support of your foot and makes for a better journey and less injury.

Socks are very important to help minimize pressure points and blister formation. Going with a good merino wool blend helps to wick moisture way from your foot which can cause blisters. DO NOT wear cotton “gym” type socks. As your foot sweats, they get wet, stay wet, and the moisture will make you suffer with blisters that will pop up after only a few miles of walking. In a follow-up blog I will rate a few socks I have tried.

Foot Care
Make sure you are doing proper foot care on your journey. Whenever you stop, take off your shoes, remove the insoles, and take off your socks. Let them all dry in the sun if possible and air out your feet. You will find instant relief if they are feeling hot and tired. Also, be sure you are carrying a proper first aid kit (with duct tape, band aids, etc) should there be issues with hot spots and blister formation. Check out the blog on blister care should they happen.

Your feet will take you wherever you need to go on your hiking journey with some proper care and TLC