Trip Report: 2 Days on the Allegheny Front Trail

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The Ox crosses Benner Run on a foot bridge.

The Allegheny Front Trail (AFT) is one of Pennsylvania’s many backpacking trails. For 42 miles, it wanders through the Moshannon State Forest while circumnavigating the Black Moshannon State Park. The AFT follows diverse, but mostly gentle, terrain as it follows streams, plunges into hollows, sneaks through red pine plantations, and boardwalks through swamps. I had done this trail twice previously as a 3-day trip, but this time I’d attempt to do it in two.

As usual, my trusty dog Pickle came along for the hike. We met Aaron (AKA “The Ox”), whom I hadn’t hiked with since our Presidential Traverse in June, at the eastern trailhead on Route 504 just after 9AM. I’d always hiked the AFT clockwise from here, so Aaron agreed to indulge me and hike counter-clockwise this time.

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Pickle hikes on a bed of freshly fallen leaves.

It was 9:30 when I finally had my gear out of the car, and we stepped onto the trail. We ambled along discussing everything from our favorite craft brews to my utter disdain for DIY home improvement projects. The gentle terrain lent itself quite well to conversation. We took a lunch break just afternoon and were pleasantly surprised to discover that we had already covered almost 10 miles of trail.

Soon after lunch, we made a short, but steep climb up to a Forest road, passing a trail register about three-quarters of the way up. After passing a hunting camp and a DCNR (Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) job site, we had our first wildlife sighting of the day: a fat porcupine lumbering down the trail. The Ox held Pickle so I could make sure it was safe to bring the dog through. With Pickle on his leash, we made our way around Porky, who had retreated up a tree. I kept the dog leashed for a while afterwards, just to be safe.

Upon reaching the end of the grassy road (the highest point on the AFT), we started descending directly to the trail’s low point on the shores of the Moshannon Creek (AKA the “Red Mo”). The Red Mo’s water has a distinctive rust color, which comes from the acid runoff of an old coal mining incident. Every rock touched by the creek is now stained orange. This water is, of course, unsuitable for drinking.

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The Red Mo stains this boulder a rusty red.

After following the Red Mo for a few miles, we climbed up over a steep spit of land and then descended to one of the Red Mo’s tributaries: Six Mile Run.

Six Mile Run is a nice little trout stream, with several nice campsites along the way. The Ox and I decided to press on a bit further and cross Rt. 504 before camping along the run. This would get us exactly to the halfway point of our hike. About a mile after the road crossing, we found our spot and settled in.

I was toasty warm in my hammock, and slept far better than normal. When I woke up and poked my eyes out from under my quilt, I was shocked to see that it was already bright and sunny. It was 7:30 and much later than I planned being up. I rushed through breakfast and packed up in a hurry.

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Snug as a bug in a… hammock.

The first few morning miles went a little slow. We lingered in a red pine plantation (planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps after the area had been clear cut by loggers) to take care of our morning “business” because our camp had been a bit too close to water. The trees in this region were replanted in perfectly straight rows, giving it a very unnatural feel.

After wrapping up our business, the miles went quickly for me. I felt good, so I started cruising along at over 3mph, stopping once an hour to let The Ox catch up. He was never too far behind.

As we entered Black Moshannon State Park, the trail became very swampy. We had almost no choice but to suck it up and power through the wet muddy mess. Once our feet were good and wet, we reached a long stretch of boardwalk, which traversed the swampiest sections of trail. After 3.5 miles, we left the park as unceremoniously as we had entered it.

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Pickle standing guard over my Gossamer Gear LT4 poles.

Before too long, we were crossing Underwood Road. With less than 4 miles to go in our hike, we were FINALLY making the gentle climb up to the Allegheny Front, an east-facing escarpment in the Allegheny Mountains that forms the border between the Piedmont and Ridge-and-Valley regions. The AFT, which had previously been smooth and pleasant, suddenly became rocky and angry.

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All the rocks came out to play during the last 4 miles.

Sliding around on the loose rocks was no fun, and this area also had the only challenging climbs of the whole trail. The combination of the two factors slowed our pace. On top of that, my feet started sprouting blisters like it was going out if style. The Ox took off ahead of me for the first time in 2 days. The AFT had a few small vistas in this area, but not enough to make up for the pain in my feet.

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“Ralph’s Pretty Good View”

We eventually emerged at our cars. In standard fashion, I stripped naked by the side of the road and changed into a clean set of “driving clothes”. The Ox and I shook hands and parted ways.

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Less than a half-mile to go!

Trip Report: Backpacking the Black Forest Trail

Let me open with a piece of advice to all the hammockers out there. This should go without saying, but here it is anyway… When you wake up in the morning and begin to break camp, always make sure you take your tree-straps off the tree and pack them away properly. Having a panic attack 15 miles down the trail and tearing your entire pack apart isn’t good for morale, and it’s tough to hang your hammock at the next site without those pesky straps. I’m a relatively new hanger, and succumbed to a rookie mistake. Lesson learned. 

I reached the trailhead of the Black Forest Trail (BFT) shortly after 6PM on Wednesday. Surprisingly, Amy’s car was absent from the trailhead. She was going to drive up and get an earlier start with Bob and Jerry. Since cell phone signal was nonexistent, I chalked it up to some minor change in plans and assumed everything was still OK. Pickle (my trusty trail dog) and I would have to hustle to hike 6.6 miles before dark. 

MY group had decided to hike the trail in the reverse of the typical direction in order to avoid a wet crossing of Slate Run on the first day. The trail started out with two smooth miles of hiking parallel to Slate Run before making a small climb up to Slate Run Rd. As I crossed the road, I spotted Amy’s car pulled off to the side. That question being answered, I hiked on. On the other side of the road, I was treated to a killer climb (1000′ in a mile), which is pretty rare for a Pennsylvania trail. Before reaching camp, the BFT would drop me into a few dark hollows, which definitely helped explain how it got it’s name. Even though I should have had plenty of sunlight left, the topography and tree cover made these areas very dark. Once you climbed back to the ridge, it was light again. 

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My first vista on the BFT

I arrived at our rendezvous point along Little Slate Run, relieved to see that my 3 comrades had already arrived and set up camp. With the last remaining natural light, I managed to get my hammock hung. We all ate dinner by headlamp-light, agreed to get an early start in the morning, and were in bed shortly after Hiker Midnight. With the temps dropping to around 48, I got a little cold without bottom insulation on the hammock, so I shoved a small bit of closed cell foam pad under my butt and lower back. It worked well enough, and I managed to get some sleep.

We woke up Thursday, ate breakfast, packed up, and hit the trail around 7:30AM. (This is where that whole hammock strap fiasco began.) We had a short steep climb out of camp, but were immediately rewarded with a stunning vista of the Pine Creek Gorge. The early morning sun lit up the foggy valley, and it was truly energizing. From there, we almost immediately started a steep, switchbacked descent into a deep hollow along Naval Run. I filled an empty water jug, waited for the others to catch up, and then started another one of the BFT’s signature steep 1000′ climbs. We were all tired, but were revitalized by another vista at the top. 

A view of the Pine Creek Gorge.

A view of the Pine Creek Gorge.

 

A few miles later: Callahan run and another 1000′ climb. This climb was different. It wasn’t a gut-busting steep climb up the side of the gorge, but rather a long, drawn out hump that followed the run upstream. The climb wasn’t as steep, but I think it actually ended up taking a lot more out of me. Luckily, the trail leveled out after this. 

About 12 miles into this 20-mile day, I had a sinking feeling in my gut. I immediately stopped and tore my pack apart. As I suspected, my hammock tree straps were nowhere to be found. I began calculating the logistics of finishing the trail that day. A 36-mile day would be tough, but not impossible. As I was running the numbers, the other members of my group started to catch up. We decided that we had enough utility cord between us to make me some temporary straps and still hang proper bear bags. Feeling a bit relieved, we continued our walk. 

We rolled into a huge campsite around 6PM. There were four college-age kids already there, but the site was big enough that we all had plenty of space. Turns out those kids were scouting campsites for a freshman excursion for Bucknell University, and we were lucky they were there. Amy was pretty beat up after our 20 mile day, and Friday morning she decided it would be in her best interest to bail. She hiked a mile with those kids, and they gave her a lift back to her car. 

I overslept a bit on Friday morning, so Bob and Jerry hiked out while I was still eating my breakfast. Since I was the faster hiker, we all just assumed that I would eventually catch up. 20 minutes later, Pickle and I were on the trail. After a while, I started noticing that the blazes were very worn out and difficult to see in the morning light, and then I hit a wall of wineberry and thorn bushes. After tearing my legs to shreds, I finally found a landmark clear enough to find my position on the map. I was nearly a mile and a half off trail. I turned around, grumbling to myself about those blazes. As I came up to one, I walked over to it. It was very faded, but I quickly realized my mistake. This blaze was red. The BFT is blazed orange. In the morning light, I couldn’t tell the difference and followed the wrong trail (which wasn’t even on my map). 

After losing an hour, I was back on course. Luckily, I had smooth trail ahead of me. Except for a steep rocky climb halfway through the day, I was able to average between 3 and 3.5mph for a pretty long time. By lunch time, I still hadn’t caught up to Bob and Jerry. With less than two miles to go in my 16(now 19)-mile day, I finally heard voices. There were my partners. We descended down into the valley together, forded Slate Run, and walked back to my car. Amy was there waiting for us. Mission accomplished!

The BFT seemed to be a bit bi-polar. When it is hard, it is VERY hard. Those 1000-foot climbs were no joke and were almost as tough as some that I have done in the Whites of New Hampshire. The easy sections of the BFT were also VERY easy. I ran parts of them, and I’m not much of a runner. All-in-all, I liked this trail and will probably hike it again sometime in the future. 

Hike Prep: The Black Forest Trail

I’ll soon be hiking the Black Forest Trail. This 42-mile loop is considered to be one of the most challenging and rewarding trails in the state of Pennsylvania. Named for its dense hemlock groves, the BFT includes several steep, rocky climbs that are paid off with beautiful vistas. I plan on completing this in 2.5 days. 

Rather than carrying my usual backpacking pack, the Gossamer Gear Murmur, I’ve decided to attempt to fit all of my gear into what is essentially a day pack. As this pack is still in the prototype stage, I will not divulge any details beyond the weight, and will henceforth refer to it as “Mystery Pack” (I will reveal the mystery and provide a full review if/when this pack ever goes into full production). This pack is actually a little heavier than my Murmur but offers a few luxuries that my Murmur does not.

Another change from my recent gear lists will be my choice of trekking poles. I’ll be leaving my Black Diamond Distance Z-Poles behind and testing my brand new pair of Gossamer Gear LT4 poles. The LT4’s are over 4oz lighter (per pair) than my Z-Poles. I haven’t been using my poles as much lately, and I felt a lighter pair was in order because they were spending so much time strapped to my pack.

After several years of hiking in La Sportiva Wildcat trail runners, I just wasn’t happy with my last pair. They were relatively new going into my New Hampshire vacation and completely shredded after. I decided to try something new. I went into East Ridge Outfitters (my favorite local shop), and the manager Amberly pointed me toward La Sportiva Ultra Raptors. They felt good on a 100 yard hike around the store (the girl always knows what shoes I’ll like), so I figured I’d give them a whirl. They are a bit heavier than a lot of trail runners on the market (29.9oz for the pair), but they are almost a full ounce lighter than my Wildcats were. 

August in Pennsylvania is usually hot and sticky humid, so I’m hoping to be able to leave my puffy jacket, hammock underquilt, and most of my rain gear at home. My 40-degree Enlightened Equipment ProdigyX top quilt will be in the mix instead of my 10-degree Enlightened Equipment RevelationX quilt. Since it’s doubtful that I’ll be in the mood for hot food, I plan on going “No Cook”, which means no stove, fuel, or cook pot. These changes alone will shave over 2 pounds off my base weight. There will also be a significant reduction in pack volume, which will allow me to squeeze everything into this slightly smaller pack.

My food selections for this trip don’t exactly add up to a well-rounded diet, but they are calorie dense and will keep me fueled for my hike. The bulk of my calories will come from Power Butter (a fortified peanut butter intended for body builders). I got this for free as a promotion, so I figured I should use it for something. I packed a few tortillas to act as a Power Butter delivery system. I also packed some Justin’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, almonds, Back to Nature Bar Harbor Blend, and Chex Mix Muddy Buddies. When I go no cook, I’m always on a lookout for fun new ways to get my caffeine fix. This time I decided to try Awake Caffeinated Chocolate. Each square contains the same caffeine as a half-cup of coffee. Like I said: Not exactly nutritious, but it will get the job done.

My complete gear list for this hike is available HERE!

Trip Report: Backpacking the Pemi Loop

OK OK OK… I know I’ve posted like four of these this week, and I promise this is the last one. The final hike of my New Hampshire vacation was a 3-day backpack along the route known as the Pemi Loop. “Pemi” is short for “Pemigewasset”, which is the name of the wilderness area that this hike takes us in and around. This loop isn’t a single trail, but rather a route made up of several different trails. At my best estimation, I hiked about 36 miles with an elevation gain around 10,500 feet (please correct me if i’m wrong) and summited eleven 4000-footers.

Day 1

The “other” Dan and I began our hike at Lincoln Woods Visitor Center along the Kancamagus Highway near Lincoln, NH. After making final adjustments to our gear, we headed out along the Lincoln Woods trail. This trail appears to have been constructed on former railroad grade. It is perfectly flat and straight as an arrow, which was kind of nice for a little warm-up. After about a mile and a half, we hung a left onto the Osseo Trail. The first few miles of this trail was a fairly gentle ascent towards the Franconia Ridge. Eventually, this trail became very steep and actually had wooden steps built into it at one point.

After 4 miles on the Osseo Trail, Pickle and I were standing on the summit of Mt. Flume. This rocky, cliff-like peak had some great views, but was exposed to a cold wind. I pulled my wind jacket on while I waited for Dan to catch up. After a half-hour of waiting, I decided to go back to look for him. It turns out that he was very near the summit at that point, but was moving a little slow because of the rocks and steep grade. We agreed that there was no need to stick completely together for the entire hike, as long as we caught up every now and then. We agreed to head towards Liberty Springs Tentsite, so that we could replenish our water supply.

Pickle and I continued onto the Franconia Ridge Trail. We reach Mt. Liberty in short order and scrambled up to the rocky summit. After snapping a few pictures, we continued on our way. Before long, we had reached the Liberty Spring Trail and diverted downhill a bit to the spring near the tent site. I filled up my two 1-Liter Smartwater bottles and then filled my 2L Platy bottle for Dan. I figured I would save him the trip down the rocky trail, if I could. It turns out that Dan wasn’t too far behind me, and met me on my way up from the spring. He took the water, and we hiked back up to the Franconia Ridge trail, getting separated along the way.

The dog and I continued on our way, climbing the alpine ridge over Little Haystack to Mt. Lincoln. When you combine the 5089′ elevation with with crystal clear, sunny weather, the views from Lincoln were pretty outstanding. The cold wind left a little to be desired, but that’s all part of the experience, I suppose. I once again donned my wind jacket and continued hiking along the Franconia Ridge towards Mt. Lafayette.

Lafayette is taller than Lincoln and has similar beautiful views. I waited for Dan on the summit, but eventually I got too cold to sit there anymore. Pickle and I hiked on.

Our route took us down off of the Franconia Ridge and onto the Garfield Ridge Trail. This was the most demoralizing three miles of the entire weekend. The entire time we hiked through the woods, we’d get glimpses of the summit. It didn’t seem that far, but the trail never seemed to start climbing. Finally, when we reached Garfield Pond, the trail started a steep climb up to the summit of Mt. Garfield. The summit had the remnants of some sort of concrete structure. Since it was getting close to dinner time, Pickle and I headed towards the Garfield Ridge Campsite.

At the site, I got water and paid a fee to the caretaker. I had just finished hanging my hammock, when Dan arrived. I ate my dinner and hit the sack.

 

Day 2

We left camp fairly early, grabbed some water, and hopped back on the Garfield Ridge Trail towards Galehead. When Pickle and I reached the hut, I secured him outside with a leash and went inside to top off my water. Dan caught up shortly thereafter. Pickle and I left our packs with Dan on the porch of the hut and made a quick run up to the summit of Galehead (Dan decided that morning that he was only going to summit the mountains that were directly on our path). We were back at the hut within 20 minutes, grabbed our packs, and began the single hardest mile on the entire loop.

The Twinway climbs from 3780′ at Galehead Hut to the summit of South Twin (4902′) in a short, rocky 0.8 miles. From the top of South Twin, I made a 2.6-mile out-and-back side trip to North Twin (Dan decided to skip this portion as well). Upon returning to South Twin, Pickle and I continued south towards Guyot Campsite.

We arrived fairly early in the day (maybe around 2PM), and saw Dan already stringing up his hammock. The caretaker collected my fee and pointed me towards a very unfortunate looking slope behind the shelter to set up camp. I could barely stand on the angled ground, so getting my hammock set up was a challenge. The ground was also to soft to stake out my tarp, so I had to tie my guy lines off to some nearby debris. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.

Pickle and I went down to Dan’s area to hang out, since our spot kind of sucked. We got a little chummy with a pair of hikers from Connecticut, who eventually came up and ate dinner with us. The campsite was starting to get pretty full, so Pickle and I retreated back to our slanted campsite for the night.

Day 3 

As I was packing up, Dan came up to me. He was ready to leave uncharacteristically early and laid out a plan that he had for the day. He was going to leave camp ahead of me and skip the side trail to West Bond (knowing that I was definitely going to take it). Since he assumed that I would inevitably catch up to him at some point, we agreed to say our goodbyes at that time and just text each other when we were safely back to the car. I agreed.

I left camp about 15 minutes after Dan, catching him a tenth of a mile before the West Bond side trail. I made the quick 1-mile out and back to West Bond, which had spectacular 360-degree views and gave me a good look at Mt. Bond and Bondcliff. I turned around and headed back toward the main trail, hitting the summit of Mt. Bond pretty quickly.

After Bond, I had a nice alpine ridge walk over to Bondcliff. I could see people on the summit, so I was hoping that someone would still be there when I arrived (to take one of those famous Bondcliff summit photos that we have all seen online). Unfortunately, I was all alone when I reached the summit. I took my obligatory selfie and started my descent on the Bondcliff Trail. I bumped into Dan after a mile or two. We hiked together for a short bit, and then we said our goodbyes and I ran off ahead (I still had an 8 hour drive ahead of me).

I kept a very fast pace for the last few miles. The trail was flat railroad grade, and I was on a mission to get out of there at a decent hour. I passed quite a few trail runners and day hikers as  cruised down the home stretch on the Lincoln Woods Trail, and I arrived back at the parking lot around 11:15.

This trip kicked my ass in many ways, especially the elevation gain. We are just not used to that kind of thing in Pennsylvania. That being said, it was an absolute blast. The Franconia Ridge and the Bonds are two areas that I wish I would have discovered much, much sooner in life. It’s an area that every hiker should check out at some point. Don’t miss it!

Trip Report: 2-Day Presidential Traverse

The second outing of my New Hampshire trip was a 2-day hike across the Presidential Range. Many fit individuals will hike this in a single day, but I still wasn’t so sure I was in shape to pull that off. As it turns out, I probably would have had a more enjoyable trip if I just knocked it out in one day…

Tuesday started out great, and we couldn’t have asked for better weather. The sun was shining and there was nary a cloud in the sky. Aaron (from Berks-Lehigh Hiking and Backpacking) and I took the AMC Hiker Shuttle from Appalachia Trailhead to the AMC Highland Center at Crawford Notch. We poked around in their store and used the bathrooms before beginning a short road walk to the head of the Webster-Jackson Trail.

The first mile(ish) of the Webster-Jackson Trail was a relatively gentle climb up towards the ridge. The further we went, the steeper and rockier it became, but it was never all “that” bad. As we neared the end of its 2.5 miles, the trail became a rocky scramble up to the summit of Mt. Jackson.

Pierce, Eisenhower, Monroe and Washington seen from Mt. Jackson Summit

Pierce, Eisenhower, Monroe and Washington seen from Mt. Jackson Summit

From Mt. Jackson, we followed the Webster Cliff Trail north. After descending into the col between Mts. Jackson and Pierce, we reached Mizpah Spring Hut. At the hut, we took a short break to refill water bottles, eat a snack, and consult the map. Aaron and I left the hut and began the climb up to Mt. Pierce.

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From Mt. Pierce, Aaron and I took the Crawford Path over towards Mt. Eisenhower. Aaron wasn’t feeling too confident in his mountain climbing endurance and had little interest in peakbagging, so he decided to stay on the Crawford Path, while I took the Mt. Eisenhower Loop to the summit. I reached the top pretty easily and snapped a few pictures before heading down the other side. Aaron was waiting for me, enjoying a snack at the trail intersection. We started walking towards Mt. Monroe, and discussed the appeal of hiking in the “green tunnel” versus alpine hiking. Aaron preferred the former, while I have a growing love of the latter. After some spirited debate, we had reached the Loop to Mt. Monroe Summit.

As we climbed the Mt. Monroe Loop to the summit, we met some researchers. They were setting up a station that will be used to monitor changes in alpine plant life over long periods of time. Apparently there are stations like this in alpine environments all over the world. We left them to their work and moved on towards Mt. Monroe’s summit, which we reached minutes later. At the top, we had great views of Mt. Washington and Lakes of the Clouds Hut (our final destination for the day).

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We reached the hut with plenty of time to spare, so we used the time before dinner to enjoy the sunny weather. Shoes and socks were set out to dry, blisters were treated, and a few hundred milligrams of Vitamin I were taken. The Hutmaster and Assistant Hutmaster were also outside enjoying the sun, so we chatted with them for a bit, until they got busy checking guests in and working on dinner. I went in to get things set up in my bunk. As I came back outside, four NoBo Thru-Hikers came striding up to the hut. They had hiked a 27-mile day from Galehead hut, and were excited at the prospect of doing a little work to earn a shot at the dinner leftovers and an overnight stay at the hut. One of them (at least) keeps a blog, so check it out!

Aaron and I both hit the rack when the hut’s lights went out around 9:30. I slept like a baby until about 4AM, when I was awoken by a disconcerting noise. It was a howling wind, the likes of which I had never heard before. I laid there (fingers crossed), hoping that it would die down before we had to hike out. I got out of bed around 5:30 and went out into the hut’s common area, where Achilles, Biscuit, Outlet and The Mechanic (the four thru-hikers) were also awake and starting to get their things together. Aaron and I chatted with them a bit, until it was time to sit down for breakfast.

After breakfast, Aaron and I decided to get on the trail ASAP. It seemed the thru-hikers had the same idea, as they had left 15 minutes before us. The wind was gusting up to 85MPH, the rain was coming in sideways, and visibility was practically zero. The climb up to the summit was actually pretty easy. I think the low visibility and bad weather took away some of the mental obstacles because we couldn’t actually see the summit. We didn’t have to keep looking up and thinking, “It’s still so far!” I didn’t even know I was near the top until I practically ran into one of the Observatory buildings. Once on top, I felt my way through the pea soup fog and climbed the last few feet up to the summit. Once Aaron caught up (only a few minutes later), we went inside the snack bar building for a little reprieve from the weather. The thru-hikers were in there, too.

Before starting this hike, I had bought my girlfriend and her mom tickets to take the Auto Road’s guided tour and meet us on the summit. Almost immediately upon entering the building, we found out the the Auto Road had been closed due to the weather. I had cell signal up there, so I used the time to call my kids and text my girlfriend a bit. She was worried that I was going to die up there. Eventually the Auto Road was reopened and she got to come up and see me.

After 3 or 4 hours in the snack bar, Aaron and I decided we should get our butts in gear. The weather wasn’t really improving, and sitting around wasn’t getting us anywhere. We bid the thru-hikers adieu and headed back out into the storm.

I practically had to get a running start to overcome the winds that were blasting up the slopes of the mountain. We worked our way down the mountain, and started slowly making our way along the Gulfside Trail towards Mt. Jefferson. Jefferson gave us a bit of protection from the winds, and I decided I was going to attempt to get to the summit. Aaron was smart and went around. The climb on the Loop Trail was tricky because the cairns were much smaller and harder to see than the ones on Gulfside. I got turned around a few times in the fog, but finally made it. As soon as I poked my head up over the summit, Mother Nature smacked me in the face with a gust of wind. I decided then and there that I would forego any more summit attempts today.

We finally reached Madison Spring Hut relatively unscathed. I walked in right behind a Croo member, who had packed a load of bacon and a rocking chair up the mountain via Valley Way Trail. Aaron got a bowl of hot soup, and I pulled some snacks out of my pack. As we ate, Achilles, the Mechanic, Biscuit, and Outlet arrived at the hut. They had apparently left Mt. Washington about an hour after us. They decided to stay at Madison hut, rather than hiking the 20-mile day they had planned.

Aaron and I only had 3.5 more miles to go, so we took off. The Croo informed us that the weather below treeline was infinitely better, and they were right. After only a quarter-mile on Valley Way, the wind was barely even noticeable anymore. After 1.5 miles, the clouds were gone. Since things had improved, I took a small detour past a few small waterfalls. About a quarter mile before Appalachia Trailhead, I bumped into a pair of SoBo thru-hikers, who had gotten turned around trying to find Valley Way Campsite. I pointed them in the right direction, then headed for the car.

Hike Prep: Backpacking the Pemi-Loop

As a part of my 1-week vacation in New Hampshire, I’ll be backpacking the Pemi Loop with the “other” Dan from Berks-Lehigh Hiking and Backpacking. This is often done by the more hardcore day hikers and trail runners as a one-day event. Even though I’m capable of doing the mileage (~32), this is a lot more elevation gain than my Pennsylvanian body is used to.  That being said, we will be hiking this as a 3-day/2-night backpacking trip.

Our route is comprised of several different trails and circumnavigates the western half of the Pemigewasset Wilderness and travels over the summits of nine of the New Hampshire 4000-footers (Mts. Flume, Liberty, Lincoln, Lafayette, Garfield, South Twin, West Bond, Bond, and Bondcliff). Depending on how much progress we make each day and how tired we are, we may add the summits of Galehead, North Twin, and/or Zealand.

There are several camping options along the way including tent sites, shelters, “stealth” camping, and huts. My partner and I are going to err on the side of caution and stay at the AMC operated tent sites and shelters. We are both hammock-ers, so it shouldn’t be an issue if the tent platforms are all full when we arrive. Camping in these areas may be a bit crowded, but using established campsites like this lessens the overall impact of campers on the forest.

MY COMPLETE GEAR LIST!

Hammock Tarp Modification

In an attempt to save a bit of weight, I made a few minor modifications to my MLD UL Hammock Tarp. I swapped out all the guy lines with some leftover ZPacks 1.25mm Z-Line. This cord is much thinner and lighter than the manufacturer-supplied guy lines, but it’s still pretty strong (rated over 200lbs). I will probably upgrade to the 1.5mm version at some point (for a little extra strength), but the 1.25mm was all I had on hand. The tarp came with a piece of elastic cord, which I will continue to use for one of the guy out points. I think it adds a bit of shock absorption and seems to somehow quiet down the spinnaker fabric of the tarp.

Since I am using thinner line, the attached LineLoc 3’s are now pretty much useless. I cut off 3 of them to save an amazing 0.1 ounces! I left the fourth LineLoc 3 in place for use with the elastic cord.  These two slight modifications saved me 1.8 ounces. It may not sound like a lot, but the old UL cliché is true: EVERY OUNCE COUNTS!

Clothing

My layering system will be my pretty standard 3-season set-up, but I’ll be adding my The North Face Verto Jacket. This jacket weighs in at a measly 3.5 ounces and is well worth the weight. It has a full zipper and hood, and it does a great job as a wind barrier. Above tree-line, the wind can take your body heat away pretty quickly, but a thin barrier, such as the Verto jacket, can go a long way towards keeping you warm. I’ll also be carrying a rain jacket and down jacket. My hiking clothes will be running tights, athletic shorts, a long-sleeved Capilene 2 Crew top, and a sun visor. My shoes, as usual, will be La Sportiva Wildcat trail runners.

Kitchen and Food

My gear list for this hike may look eerily similar to the one from my John P. Saylor Trail hike in April. There will, however, be one key difference: I won’t be carrying any cooking gear on the Pemi Loop. Going “No Cook” will allow me to save about 8 ounces in gear and fuel.

I’ve been focusing on packing very calorie dense foods, so that I can keep my body fueled and my pack as light as possible. My current menu contains 6480 calories and weighs in at 46.9oz. That gives me a caloric density of 138.2 calories per ounce.  Since this is a 3-day hike, I am budgeting the largest amount of calories for the second day (approximately 3500). On days 1 and 3, I’ll be able to eat something in civilization before starting/after finishing my hike, so I won’t need to carry as much food for those days.  My food list can be seen by visiting my COMPLETE GEAR LIST.

UPDATE 6/5/14: I corrected a cut/paste error on my gear list. I had 3 different water containers listed, but I only actually use 2.

 

 

Hike Prep: 2-Day Presidential Traverse w/Hut Stay

DSCN0461Last June was my first ever hike in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and I absolutely loved it. I spent two and a half days hiking across the Presidential Range. Many intrepid individuals will complete this as a single-day hike, known as a Presidential Traverse. I’d never been on that type of terrain before, so I took it easy. I only hiked the “minimum” 7 peaks (Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, and Pierce) and stretched the trip into 3 days with two overnight hut stays at Madison Spring and Lakes of the Clouds. My pack was very light because I didn’t have to carry a shelter or full days’ worth of food, but at the same time I was a little wasteful. I carried a big camera, which weighed over a pound by itself, and I also packed my giant heavy (~5oz) headlamp. I didn’t really need these items, but I had room in my pack, so I filled it.

My confidence is a bit higher this time around. I’m still not feeling quite studly enough to conquer the traverse in one day, but I have whittled one night off of my itinerary. I’m also adding Mt. Jackson to my list of peaks, which will add a bit of distance and elevation. I’ve changed my outlook on gear selection quite a bit, and will be targeting a Base Pack Weight of 4lbs or less by leaving all non-essential items at home.

MY COMPLETE GEAR LIST – I may tinker with this list a bit as I start packing. It will be final on 6/15/14

Pack
I’ve chosen to carry my Gossamer Gear Quiksak pack. With approximately 25 liters of total volume, this pack is much smaller than the Gossamer Gear Murmur (36L) I carried last time around. The Quiksak weighs in at 8.1oz, which makes it almost 2 ounces lighter than the Murmur. I’m hoping that carrying a smaller volume pack will keep me from filling it with anything more than the bare necessities. If you’re looking for more detailed information on the Quiksak, check out the review I wrote about it!

UPDATE 6/10: Instead of my Quiksak, I’ll be testing a different pack from Gossamer Gear. I’m not at liberty to divulge any details, but I will add the weight to my gear list in order to keep things accurate. I will carry the Quiksak on my day hike to Mt. Osceola and East Osceola next week, and I will let you know how it works in my trip report.

Sleeping
I’ll be overnighting at Lakes of the Clouds Hut, so I won’t need to carry much in terms of sleeping gear. The hut provides guests with a bunk, which includes a plastic-covered mattress (no sheet), a pillow, and two wool blankets. I only plan on bringing two pieces of sleeping gear: a rectangular Sea To Summit Silk Travel Liner (4.9oz) and some sort of light pillow case. These items are only really meant to provide a barrier between my body and the communal bedding. I used a similar setup last year and slept cold, but it didn’t bother me for just a night or two. I can always sleep in all my layers to minimize the chill.

Clothes
Weather is a pretty big variable in the Presidential Range and especially on Mt. Washington (actually all around the Whites). The average temperature in June is only 45 degrees, and the 27.6MPH average wind speed makes it feel much colder. Last year, the wind chill was 29 degrees on the day we summited Washington, and that was a pretty beautiful day. That being said, I’ll be packing a more comprehensive layering system than would normally be required for a June trip back home in Pennsylvania. For hiking, I’ll be wearing full-length running tights, running shorts, a Patagonia Capilene 2 Lightweight Crew top, and my Gossamer Gear/Headsweats sun visor. In some of the colder, windier sections, I can wear my The North Face Verto Jacket, which only weighs about 3.5 ounces but does a great job at breaking the wind (insert fart joke here). I’ll also have my Outdoor Research Helium II jacket for rain and my Stoic Hadron Down Cardigan for insulation. My famous pink beanie will be in my pack in case my ears get cold.

Food
The hut will provide me with good-sized meals at dinner and breakfast, so I’ll mostly just be bringing snacks for this trip. Fritos, chocolate, nuts, and jerky will make up the bulk of my food selection. I mainly just need a few calorie-rich snacks to keep my energy up while hiking. I can also buy snack items from the huts or the snack bar on Mt. Washington, if the mood strikes me. Since nothing I’m carrying requires cooking, I’ll be leaving my stove and pot at home.