backpacking

The All Who Wander Last Minute Christmas Gift Guide 2011

Last minute shopper?  Never fear. All Who Wander has 10 great ideas for every budget.

Last year for Father’s Dad I posted a “Hiker Dad’s Wish List”, in the hopes of providing some gift-giving inspiration for wives, family and friends of my fellow trail-loving dads. Well, Christmas is barreling down on us like Jen Davis headed toward Springer. Since, as of this writing, it’s “Black Friday” and I’ve elected not to participate in this particular holiday madness I figured I scratch out an updated list for Christmas 2011. You’ll probably notice that a couple of the items from “Hiker Dad” made it to this list as well. Well, they’re that good! Don’t feel limited by what I’ve suggested; I’d love for you to contribute your ideas as well.  Just post your suggestions in the comment section of this blog.  Can’t wait to see what you come up with!
 

1. A box of  the new Clif Mojo  Chocolate Almond Coconut bars ($14.99)


 Love Almond Joy? I do. While browsing at my local outfitter I discovered  that Clif Mojo had created their own version of this trifecta of flavors.  Toasted coconut, chunks of chocolate and whole roasted almonds. I scooped up a handful and hoofed it to the register. They are so much  more crunchy and delicious than their Peter Paul predecessor ever  dreamed of being and obviously a much healthier choice. A case might  last the winter hiking season!

2.  Amazon.com gift card. ($50 and up)
 
 Did you realize Amazon isn’t just about books? They have everything!
 When All Who Wander became an Amazon affiliate I was shocked to  discover the ridiculous range of products from books to music to outdoor  gear,  to (yes) even kilts, available for online purchase!  Try this  experiment:  Drop by www.allwhowander.us and type something…anything into  the search window. You’re gonna be surprised! Did you also realize that  by connecting to Amazon.com via the search window or product links at  allwhowander.us you help support AWW?  Just by doing what you would  normally do! 

3. Starbucks Via ($3.99)

 My MSR coffee filter has, sadly, been relegated to spending the remainder of  it’s days in the Land of Misfit Hiking Toys. The reason?   Blame it on the evil Starbucks enterprise. Once I had my first sip of this  micro-ground coffee I was sold.  I never dreamed so much flavor could  come from such a tiny foil sleeve of coffee. I won’t hike without it.  A three- pack sells for around 4 bucks.  Great stocking stuffer! (And yes, available  through our Amazon link!)  Sorry, MSR…we did have some good times,  though, huh?

 4.     Adventure Camera ($349.00)

For Father’s Day I mentioned how much I’d love to find an Olympus Stylus Tough- TG 810 wrapped up in a box in lieu of the Father’s Day standard of necktie, socks or underwear. Well, there’s still a spot underneath the Christmas tree just waiting for said box. The 14 mega-pixel, shock-proof to 6.6 feet, freeze-proof to 16 degrees, waterproof to 33 feet and crush-proof up to 220 lbf is every hiker dad’s answer to the dilemma of balancing weight versus features, quality and endurance. I love the integrated GPS which allows you to “record landmark data in your image and then enjoy the photo surfing feature which lets you see exactly where your photos were taken by using a map display!” This beauty has dropped nearly $50 to $349.99,  The good news is that Olympus no longer corners the market and recently several other manufacturers have followed their lead. Still hoping the healthy competition will lead to even better features and more affordability in adventure cameras. The competitors? I thought you’d never ask! Two of the contenders are Fuji’s Finepix XP20 and the Pentax Optio WG-With any of the three I could save my zip-lock bag for tp and trailmix…I’d be happy!

5.  4 Season Cuben Fiber Hammock Tarp ($299.00)

On my previous list, the #2 position was held by the Warbonnet Blackbird Hammock (available at www.warbonnetoutdoors.com).  I’m thrilled to say that due to the generosity of some amazing friends, not to mention Kenneth Waddy, I am now the proud owner of a Blackbird. If for no other reason, the suspension system places this hammock high on my list of favorites.  The only thing missing at this point is a  tarp.  The one I have my eye on right now is the 4 Season Cat Cut Cuben Fiber Tarp (#4 on the previous list) from www.HammockGear.com.  This 8’6″ x 10′ 10″ beauty weighs a ridiculously light 6.5 ounces! Consider that a sil-nylon tarp of the same approximate dimensions weighs 19 ounces; still light but nearly triple the weight of the cuben fiber version. Yes, the price-tag is nearly triple that of the sil-nylon as well but I can tell you from personal experience that Adam (Stormcrow) and Jen’s exceptional craftsmanship and customer service make it worth every penny. How do I know this?  I just unpacked my beautiful new Incubator underquilt (#3 on the previous list) and reveled in their exquisite handiwork. They even re-arranged their schedule to get it to me in time for a hike up Cold Mountain. These guys rock! Watch for an upcoming podcast that’ll include a discussion of hammocks, tarps and underquilts with Stormcrow and thru-hiker, Bat at the Hiker Fool’s Bash in Franklin, TN. Great stuff!

6. E-reader  ($75 and up)

I love books. I mean real books. Ink and paper. Hardback, paperback, leather-bound…I love books. In fact, a friend of mine sent me the manuscript to a fantastic novel he had recently completed and I struggled to finish it because I had to read it on my lap-top via MS Word. So when another friend suggested I buy an e-reader for hiking because I could “carry a thousand books” I wasn’t even remotely interested….that is until I picked one up. I was shocked at how light it was.  In fact, I broke out my digital scale and started weighing my books. It was lighter than 90 percent of what I’d been carrying in my pack. I love simplicity. Hence I love low-tech. The last thing I want is one more piece of technology to maintain but I’ve gotta admit…maybe I need to give E-readers another look.

The list of features available on these babies reads like a NASA manual.  Most weigh in at less than 8 ounces. Looking for books to pre-load?  Here are a few on my list:

 – 46 Days by Brew Davis

 – Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

 – Lost In Wonder. Rediscovering The Spiritual Art Of Attentiveness.
  by Esther  DeWaal

 – Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge

– A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

7. The Winter Tilley ($99.00)

  Every time I see this hat in an outfitter, I try it on. Due to it’s $100 price tag I’ll probably never buy it but I gotta tell you, I love this hat! This handsome wool noggin-topper sports tuck-away ear warmers, is crushable, packable, snow and rain repellent and dry-cleanable.  Not to mention it makes me look cool…and let’s be honest…I need all the help I can get.

8. Casio Pro Trek PRW2500-1   ($300.00)

Dana’s pick for the list features: solar power, digital compass, altimeter; barometer; thermometer; tide and moon data, backlight with afterglow, power saving function, water-resistant to 660 feet…oh yeah, and it tells time too!  (Need I say more?) Certainly a watch with this toolbox could help even the most navigationally challenged outdoorsman (namely me) get his (or her) bearings. Price tag? About $300.

 9. Sleeping Pad  ($120)

 I’m a hammocker and prefer not to sleep on the ground if it can be avoided. However, there’s a 70 mile section of the AT that travels through the Smokies in which it’s “strongly suggested” that you sleep in a shelter. Assuming one day I get to do my thru-hike, I’m gonna need a pad. Choosing a sleeping pad, as with all gear, is a dance between pack-weight and comfort. For comfort?  There’s no contest.  It’s the Cosmo Nemo with pillow-top.  (Yes, I just said “pillow-top.”) Even I could get a good nights sleep on the ground with this luxurious sleep system. And hey, it’s only 70 miles, right?  Not buying it?  Still too much weight? No problem.  Thermarest has a pad for you .  The  Therma-rest Neo Air packs to the size of your Nalgene and weighs a mere 14 ounces in the regular size. One warning:  Buy a set of ear-plugs for your gift recipient.  Surprisingly comfortable but crinkly-noisy.

 – Sleep comfort? Cosmo Nemo with pillow-top

 -Low-packweight      Therma-rest Neo Air
 
10. A Better Story (priceless)

 After the publication of his best-selling memoir, Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller found himself glued to his couch with nary an ambition, aspiration or even an idea what to do next. When two movie producers show up on his doorstep and approach him about making a movie based on his book he realizes that his life falls somewhat short of an engaging read. Thus begins his journey to edit his real life into a better story. A Trans-American bike ride, a hiking trip to Machu Picchu and the foundation of a mentoring organization all contribute to his “living a better story.” “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” chronicles this journey. This scintillating and inspiring read stoked my own imagination. What about my life is book-worthy? Was there anything about my own story that would make a narrative you “couldn’t put down”?  By now most of you are aware of my obsession with doing a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Yes, I’m still obsessed.  If I have a book in me, I think it would emerge during that pilgrimage.  What about you? Maybe a “better story” would begin with something smaller. Here are a few suggestions:

 –  A week-long thru-hike such as the Foothills Trail or the Art Loeb     Trail or if you’re nearer to Maine, how ’bout the 100- Mile Wilderness?

 –  Find a way to brighten someone else’s holiday…secretly help provide
                Christmas for a family in need.

 – A charitable donation made in the name of the giftee:  One of our   favorites?  New Jerusalem Missions. (www.newjerusalemmissions.com)

Here’s hoping you and yours have a Merry Christmas from all of us at All Who Wander.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Hiker-dad’s Wish List for Father’s Day (No underwear, socks or neck-ties! But maybe…just maybe…a kilt!)

 

Our recent “Hiker-mom Wish-list” was one of our most popular blogs to date so here’s the companion blog for Father’s Day. Enjoy! 

 

 

1.  Adventure Camera

Just before our hike through Grayson Highlands, VA last year, Dana and I clambered to find an affordable high-res “point and click” to preserve the memories.  The process went something like this:

 
1.  Spend hours online researching cameras with the features we wanted.
2.  Find a store that carries said camera.
3.  Either ignore pesky, omni-present, high-pressure salesperson or stand around looking frustrated while being smartly ignored ourselves.
4.  Settle for a model similar to what we were looking for because our choice isn’t available at said store.
5.  Take it home, try it out, experience profound disappointment.
6.  Return to store, go through the laborious process of getting a refund.
7.  Start over with step one and repeat until lithium is necessary.

Days before leaving we decided we had to have something and that something happened to be a Samsung SL605. Until this week (one year later) I couldn’t figure out how to pull off a decent close-up.  That and the fact that it didn’t use disposable batteries were the biggest reasons for my discontent. 2 days into our hike, the battery indicator revealed a fully charged battery.  I was impressed.  Then I shot a couple of short videos of the wild ponies and the camera was down for the count. No more pics for the rest of the trip.  Months later I discovered that there’s some weird issue with the battery contacts.  If I had known, I could’ve popped out the battery,  popped it back in and quite possibly been “good to go.”  Oh well.

The camera I’d had my eye on is the Olympus Stylus Tough-6020.  They’ve recently released an even sexier version, the TG 810 which is 14 mega-pixel, shock-proof to 6.6 feet, freeze-proof to 16 degrees, waterproof to 33 feet and crush-proof up to 220 lbf.  I love the integrated GPS which allows you to “record landmark data in your image and then enjoy the photo surfing feature which lets you see exactly where your photos were taken by using a map display!” That’s freaking cool!  Since this beauty retails for $399.99, it looks like I’ll be sticking with “Sam.”  The good news is that Olympus no longer corners the market and recently several other manufacturers have followed their lead.  Hopefully this healthy competition will lead to even better features and more affordability in adventure cameras. The competitors?  I thought you’d never ask!  Two of the contenders are Fuji’s Finepix XP20 and the Pentax Optio WG-1. With any of the three I could save my zip-lock bag for tp and trailmix…I’d be happy!

2.  Warbonnet Blackbird

A couple of years ago for Father’s Day, Dana suffered from an episode of temporary insanity and bought me (what then was) the Hummer of hammocks, the Clark North American. I love it. The Clark enabled me to do what I’d never been able to do, sleep in the woods. I could rave about it’s many features but suffice it to say I bought one for Dana shortly after.  Several weeks ago I lost my mind and bought us each a new Deep Jungle hammock by Hennesy. We love these as well. We don’t need 4 hammocks but I can’t bear to part with any of them. Well, let’s take the insanity to an entirely new level: One of my goals for Trail Days was to try out and possibly purchase a Warbonnet Blackbird. I’ve heard so much about the Blackbird and have even been approved by the owner, Kenneth Waddy, to sell this amazing hammock…but I’ve yet to even see one in real life!  Sooo, not something I need but certainly something I’d love to check out! In case you’d like to check it out, go to www.warbonnetoutdoors.com.

3.  3 – Season Incubator Underquilt by Hammock Gear.

The one negative of hammocking is winter sleeping.  It’s very difficult to stay warm. The solution? An under-quilt.  An underquilt is just what you’d think.  It’s a quilt that attaches to the underside of the hammock where the fill maintains it’s loft and provides a barrier of insulation against the cold. Months of research led us to a near decision.  Over Thanksgiving I popped Adam (Stormcrow) at Hammock Gear an e-mail and he responded by calling me personally.  An educational 45 minute phone-call convinced me that when we were ready to buy, we would buy from Adam.  He says it better than I so check this out: 

The ULTIMATE underquilt for freezing weather… A full 12 oz of high quality goose down, the Winter Incubator provides unrivalled insulation to keep your back-side toasty all night long. Winter Protection to 20* (12* below freezing!) and only 22.5 oz packed!

For serious protection on chilly nights, trust your tail to the Incubator… it’s the full-length big-brother to the CrowsNest. This UQ will keep you warm and cozy, with 12 oz of Hungarian Goose down, and 9 differential baffles that run the length of the quilt. The differential baffles help keep down from shifting, providing more consistent warmth throughout the night.

The Incubator has a tapered cut, which not only reduces weight, but provides a more secure wrap around the hammock, eliminating drafts.The quilt is designed to mimic the natural position of the body as it lies in the hammock. Choose the Incubator for the ultimate in luxurious protection and comfort against the harshest cold, and keep yourself warm and cozy all night long! Comes complete with shock-cord suspension and stuff sack.   $239.00 from www.HammockGear.com.

4.   4 Season (4 Doors) Cat Cut Cuben Fiber Tarp by Hammock Gear

 Yeah, hammocking can get expensive.  Both our Clark’s and our Hennesy’s have sufficient tarps to keep out the rain, but…this tarp…this tarp…is the junk.  Dana and I were in Franklin, NC for the Hiker Fool’s Bash this year (basically a bunch of thru-hikers, past, present and future hanging out in a parking lot and swapping stories) when we were immediately approached and befriended by a hiker named Bat.  Bat introduced us to his friend Storm-crow who just happened to be Adam from Hammock Gear!  We sat and talked hiking, hammocks, under-quilts and tarps until the sun went down. (Watch for an upcoming podcast) Bat uses this particular tarp and brought this 8′ 6″ x 10′ 10″ tarp out in it’s ridiculously small stuff sack and I was shocked at how light it was (6.5 ozs!).
$309.00  from www.HammockGear.com.

5.  New Backpack

I picked up my present external-frame Jansport Ranier for $20 at Nanty-fest a few years back and despite a steady stream of mild-mannered-ribbing from more “progressive” hikers it’s been a great, dependable pack.  The only downside as far as I’m concerned is it’s annoying habit of snagging low-hanging tree branches.  My son Josiah finds this hilarious and nearly every time he has to duck, he stops, turns, waits and watches for the inevitable tangle.  Always good for a laugh. Oh, I should mention that I nicknamed my pack Squeaky. I guess that’s pretty much self-explanatory.  Usually a little soap gently applied to the strap connections quiets that right down.  Soooo, having said that I have been flirting with the idea of stepping into the 21st century by exploring the world of internal frame packs. I tried out the ULA Catalyst while at Mountain Crossings but after walking around the store with 30 lbs in the pack I decided it wasn’t for me.  I was carrying nearly all of the weight on my shoulders.  I prefer to have 75% of the weight distributed to my hips.  (I don’t have much in the way of shoulders.) A few weeks ago Josiah and I were hiking north on the AT into Damascus, VA when we encountered some thru-hikers.  One of these guys had a Catalyst.  I told him of my qualms.  He said he had the same problem but when he called ULA, they explained how to adjust and bend the stays to conform to his back so that the weight was carried on his hips.  He said it made all the difference and he loves his Catalyst.  So, maybe I should give the Catalyst a shot. This 47 oz pack has an overall capacity of 4.600 cubic inches…plenty!  You can buy it from www.ula-equipment.com for $250.  These are also available at a select few local retailers including Mountain Crossings at Wa-las-i-yi, Neels Gap, GA.

6.  Books

I’m a voracious reader. On any given week, I’m usually reading 4 or 5 books simultaneously.  When hiking I struggle to narrow it down to one lightweight paperback. Usually it’s my tattered, stained, patinated paperback of The Hobbit.

Here are just a few I can’t wait to get my hands on:

Auralia’s Colors by Jeffery Overstreet.  The third and final book in the Auralia’s Colors Trilogy.

The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard.  I’ve heard this book quoted by many of my favorite writers.  I think it’s time I scored my own copy.

Anything and everything by Frederick Buechner.  No, that’s not the name of a book.  I mean anything and everything.  I love Buechner and the local library’s patience with me is probably wearing thin.

Our Southern Highlanders by Horace Kephart. This classic account of life among the people of the Southern Appalachians comes highly recommended from my friend and hiking partner, Henry “Graybeard” Mitchell.

Some more Annie Dillard.  I recently picked up Pilgrim At Tinker Creek from a used bookstore but I wouldn’t mind having everything she’s written.

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  I subscribe to Ann’s blog. Her writing moves me like nearly no one else’s.  Raw, poignant, relentlessly beautiful, lyrical and oozing with grace. I read an excerpt from this book on Amazon.com and was humbled to have glimpsed so deeply into another’s soul. She’s…amazing.
 

7.  Mountain Hardwear Elkommando Kilt

Damn right, I’m serious! I’m 44 years old, Anglo-Scot-Irish-Cherokee and I don’t give a crap! It’s light-weight, cool and incredibly…convenient, shall we say.  My frustration with pockets too small for a map or Appalachian Pages has soured my taste for hiking pants.  At Trail Days I spoke to a rep about my issue and he agreed but said that it wasn’t hikers who drive the market for hiking pants, it was ordinary consumers…consumers who apparently are more concerned about fashion than practicality.  I actually like the Utilikilt (www.utilikilts.com) a lot. Looks like something a Spartan might wear and can literally hold a 6-pack of your beverage of choice.  Gotta respect that!  Problem is the $400 price tag, not to mention the fabric.  Even the light-weight version is too heavy and contains 40% cotton, not apt to dry as quickly as synthetics.  So I’m looking at the Elkommando and the possibility of talking someone into adding some big ole pockets for my maps and guides…and maybe a stud or two just for effect! You can order yourself one through the REI affiliate link on this site for a much more reasonable, $75…and you’ll be supporting your favorite podcast!

8.  Puffy Down Jacket
     I know, I know.  sounds like something a 9 year old girl would want. I can hear it now, “That should go nicely with the skirt (#7)!” Yeah, yeah, yeah.  The Puffy Down Jacket has all but replaced the old fleece stand-by as the jacket of choice.  On average they weigh around half a pound, pack down to near nothing and have become the new standard of warmth for thru-hikers.  At the Hiker Fools Bash in Franklin this year nearly every hiker I saw was wearing and swearing…by their puffy down jacket.  So, I’m weighing my options.  The obvious choice would be Western Mountaineering’s Hooded Flash Jacket sporting 850+ fill goose down and weighing in at a whopping 9 ounces!  You can pick one up from www.westernmountaineering.com for around $260.00. 

9.  Back-country Boiler

I’ve known about chimney kettles for several years but due to weight, size and price they’ve always seemed impractical to me.  The pack-weight saved by using found fuel, didn’t seem to justify the loss in pack-space and the gain in stove-weight…until now.  The Backcountry Boiler from www.theboilerwerks.com is about the same size and weight as that Nalgene Baltimore Jack told you to get rid of. It can “depending on fuel and operator skill, boil 2 cups of water in under 5 minutes” using the stuff you’re clearing off the ground to make a spot for your tent.  That’s a big boast from a small kettle. I’d like to find out if it’s true. They range in price from $80 to $160, depending on the features.

10.  AT Thru-hike

Kinda hard to pick this one up at your local REI…but this is a wish-list, right?  If there were any method to my madness this would be number one on my list. If it were even a financial possibility I’d be happy to trade everything I’ve just rambled on about for an opportunity to “hike with spring” from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Katahdin in Maine. It’s my dream to make this 5 or 6 month pilgrimage with all of the joys and pains, thrills and monotony…and live to tell about it. This past spring I nearly threw caution to the wind, quit my job and left for Dahlonega. I had it bad. Until that day I’ll continue to dream and spend every moment on the Trail that I can.  Average cost?  6 months wages + $4,000.00…give or take.

Hope this little list was inspiring and informative.  (If nothing else…entertaining!) What say next year we get started a little earlier and you let me know what your Hiker-dad wish list looks like? I can’t wait!  Happy Father’s Day to my Abba, to my dad, Deyerle Ray Longley, the greatest earthly dad a guy could ever wish for and to all of the other dads and hiker dad’s out there. Be blessed and Happy Trails!

006 All Who Wander – Cimarron: A Tenacious 88 Year Old AT Thru-hiker on Life, Love, Trail Magic and the Curse of Hiawassee. Part 2

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Join Cimarron and I for Part 2 of this “Zero Day” conversation in Hiawassee, Georgia. Music provided by Under the Appletree

A Hiker-Mom’s Wish-List for Mother’s Day (And none of it has an electrical cord!)

It’s that time of year again!  For those boyfriends, husbands or offspring of Moms happier on the trail than in the kitchen, here’s a quick list of gift ideas straight from a hiker-mom-extraordinaire…my hiking partner (and wife) Dana. Most of these can be purchased through one of our hand-picked affiliates and you can support All Who Wander by shopping (Isn’t that cool?) Just click on the affiliate links on our site…and thanks!

1.    A Fork In the Trail by Laurie Ann March.  This practical how-to book on creative hiking cuisine through dehydrating is the quintessential reference manual for those who love to eat well on the trail with out a pack weight from hell.  (Clever, huh?) Now, I know I said maybe Hiker-mom wanted out of the kitchen but a girl’s gotta eat, right? Available at Amazon.com.

2.    Footwear that doesn’t turn my feet to hamburger.  Dana’s feet issues are a recurring problem.  We’ve tried so many different styles and brands; even had a custom fitting by a “professional” and she always ends up with blistered, oozing feet. One of her latest ideas is to try the SmartWool Light Hiking Socks for Women available at REI.  Maybe these in conjunction with her fitted boots will ease her pain.

3.    SmartWool Micro-Weight Long Underwear for Women.  Dana has transitioned from traditional zip-off hiking pants to a much cooler, hipper and more (shall we say?) convenient hiking skirt. (Heck, I’m thinking of doing it myself…I mean…a, uh, hiking KILT.) She still likes to wear summer base layer beneath for it’s wicking properties as well as the protection (albeit it minimal) it provides. As you can tell, we’re big SmartWool fans.  This item also available from your friendly REI store…via All Who Wander. :)

4.    Leki Khumbo Aerogon Anti-Shock Speed-Lock Trekking Poles.  Dang, that’s a mouthful!  This past summer, moments prior to our 4 day AT hike through Virginia, Dana’s twist-lock pole failed.  My duct-tape-fix got her through the trip but she’s (and, by neccessity, I am) plagued by issues. Leki is renowned for their durability, reliability and availability in outfitters all along the AT. A damaged or broken pole is generally repaired by the outfitter at no cost to the hiker.  Great company! Great product! These particular poles feature a simple “speed-lock” locking mechanism. I’m guessing my hiker-bride isn’t alone in her wish for these beauties. Yup, REI again!

5.    Nemo Cosmo Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad and Pillow-Top from Modular-Air Technology.  Dana and I are hammockers.  That probably won’t change.  However, our dream is to do a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.  In the Smoky’s thru-hikers are, ahem, “strongly encouraged” to sleep in the shelters rather than tents or hammocks. This presents a problem for we who can’t sleep on the ground or wooden planks, as is the case here. This pad…oh, this pad…is amazing. Though it’s too heavy (With the pillow top it’s still less than 4 lbs) to use regularly it’s actually rather light for the comfort level it delivers. An extra pound or two to get us through the Smoky’s is a small price to pay to sleep in the lap of luxury. Just copy and paste the bolded words into the Amazon search engine on the All Who Wander site and be the hero of Mother’s Day!

I hope this short-list gives you some inspiration. It certainly gave me an excuse to get some ideas out of my wife! Hey, I’ve got an idea:  In the comment section of this blog, give me some of your ideas! You can tell the “Hiker-mom” in your life that you’ve just GOT to put some ideas up on the All Who Wander site! Sneaky, yes but it’s win/ win the way I see it!  Hope you and yours have an amazing Mother’s Day and if you’re a Mom (hiker or otherwise) we love you and are so grateful for what you bring to our lives, the world…and the woods!

005 All Who Wander – Cimarron: A Tenacious 88 Year Old AT Thru-hiker talks about Life, Love, Trail Magic and the Curse of Hiawassee. A River Runs Through It

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Join 88 year old, veteran thru-hiker Cimarron and I for this “Zero Day” conversation in Hiawassee Georgia. 

Music provided by Under the Appletree:

 also on facebook!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

004 All Who Wander – Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs! Post-hike musings on snow, gear & trail markings.

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Join River (Dana), Scat (Chester), Ma Fred (Ma Fread) and myself for a lively lunch-time conversation about our overnight hike from Dicks Creek Gap to Deep Gap on the Appalachian Trail.

The Launch of a Dream: Life, Love, Mystics, Adventure and the Road Less Traveled in a podcast?

  

 

 

“A journey of 2,000 miles begins with an episode of insanity.”
I read this pithy proverb somewhere recently and whole-heartedly concur. There are few things I want more in life right now than to do a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Unfortunately, for all my love of spontaneity, I’m also a realist. It’s a mortgage that’s keeping me from that dream and it truly would require an episode of insanity to ignore that fact. I can’t deny, however, that it’s perfectionism keeping me from a dream of another kind.
Perfectionism is a terrible, terrible trait. I battle it daily. It’s latest manifestation is in my “failure to launch.” No, I left home years ago. Another kind of launch. A year or so ago a seed of an idea formed, gestated and grew until I knew had to do something about it. The idea was for a pod-cast; a sort of audio journal that would invite others along as I explored this path that has lead me beyond the walls of the institutional church and into the wilderness…literally…into the woods.As I dreamed, I discovered fellow travelers on my journey. Topping a long list are Thoreau, Muir and Annie Dillard. Their writing served to encourage me along the way. I’ve also discovered a company of others who are even now walking the same trail. Maybe you’re one of those.
I quickly found that creating a pod-cast was not nearly so simple as I’d imagined. I was constantly realizing that I needed to teach myself to use yet another piece of software and never quite content with the end product. Even now I’m dissatisfied with my Word-press site and struggle to make even minor changes. I tell you this as a sort of disclaimer. If I continue to tweek until it’s “perfect” it’ll never launch.
I often hear seasoned AT thru-hikers give aspiring thru-hikers a piece of advice: Don’t put your hike off until you’re ready…or you’ll never go. Just go for it. Nothing wrong with preparation but the little things you haven’t worked out will work themselves out along the way. Good advice. Here’s my episode of insanity! I’m going for it! I invite you into my mess, flaws and all, and hope you’ll enjoy the journey as this thing grows and evolves. It is most certainly not yet what I hope it will become but I think it’ll be fun to watch the transformation. Disclaimer out of the way, who should subscribe (It’s free, by the way!) to All Who Wander?
You!

If:

– You have a hankering for adventure

– You hike, backpack or want to

– You enjoy discussing the finer points of noodles vs. trail-bars

– You enjoy (or have at least heard of) Thoreau, Muir, or Annie Dillard

– You find something dark and squishy in your sleeping bag and test it to see if it is edible. (Thanks to http://outontheat.blogspot.com for this one!)

– You’re disillusioned with the institutional church

– You’ve discovered what appears to be bear poop containing small

bells and smelling of pepper and wonder if you should be concerned.

– You have a long commute.

– You stand in long lines

– You enjoy making fun of my goofy, white-trash southern accent

– You want to help a 44 year old man leave his day-job and thru-hike the 2, 175 mile Appalachian Trail!*

 

 

*Most websites feature ads. On our site you’ll find “ads” that are actually affiliate links. We make a little money every time you link to one of our hand-picked affiliates such as Amazon, REI, or Mountain Life. We make even more if you buy something from them! We chose these because we love, trust and buy from them regularly ourselves.

 

 

What’ll it be like?

My hope is that the pod-cast will become a mixed bag of “audio-hike” field recordings, discussions about gear, conversations with artists, writers, musicians and everyday people like you and I who are discovering what it is to walk with God outside the box of institutional religion…exploring the “thin places”, dreaming of what could be, and talking about people, books, films and music that have helped us along this path.

What can I do?

Listen. Enjoy. Tell someone. Give us a review in the I-Tunes store. Patronize our affiliates. Post a link to an All Who Wander pod-cast or blog by clicking on the facebook button at the bottom of each post. Become a fan of All Who Wander on facebook. Join the conversation by posting a comment at www.allwhowander.us. Let us know what you think or what you might find helpful. Tell us if you know of someone who’d make an interesting guest on the show. (Maybe that’s you!) We really, really look forward to hearing from you!

 

 

Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.                                        -Jeremiah 6:16.
 
“Not all those who wander are lost.”                                                                  -JRR Tolkien
 
 
 
 

 

It was just a dream…



It was just a dream. No, not even a dream. Just a spark of a notion. I’m not sure where it came from. I guess, in part, it was a longing born of desperation. Josiah was now in high school. Graduation, with whatever that entailed, loomed ominously on the horizon. I’d become acutely and painfully aware of the passage of time and like a lot of dads, I imagine, wanted to carpe’ the remaining diems we would share together before he launched out in pursuit of his own dreams.

The idea was insane, really. Though, as a family, we’d spent many a night on the banks of the Chattooga and Chauga rivers, the idea of strapping 30 pounds of gear on my back and taking a walk had never even entered my mind as something remotely appealing. But that niggling spark wouldn’t leave me alone. So when Dana, Jo and I happened across the old stone building in Blairsville, Georgia I was unprepared for the way the tinder would ignite as wind blew across that spark of a notion.

Swinging aside the old wooden door, (not unlike Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy) my senses were awakened by air rife with the smell of leather and gear, the frenetic motion of an outfitter in peak season and the almost tangible excitement that swirled like an enchantment in the electrified atmosphere populated by that rare breed of creature, the Thru-hiker. It was magic. I was under it’s spell. I wandered, dream-like, through the old store and ended up, somehow, at the back counter. A voice, “Hey man, can I help you?” The eyes of the forty-ish, unshaven, slightly rotund guy behind the counter sparkled behind John Lennon spectacles with the light and wonder of a little boy. If there were such things as “old souls” I’d encountered a young one. I struggled to push out the words but the spark wouldn’t be ignored, “I…it’s kinda crazy but…my boy is graduating in a couple of years and I…I wanna hike the Appalachian Trail with him.” This really was crazy as I had somehow, for all of my 42 years, remained oblivious to the trails 2,175 mile existence. After a whisper of a silence he looked directly at me, smiling, seemingly at the spark within me and said something like, “That’s not crazy at all. I’ve thru-hiked it seven times myself.” I imagine my jaw became unhinged as he introduced himself as “Sunshine” (at least that’s the way I remember it). He spent the next half-hour or so encouraging me to “Just get out there and start walking.” He scribbled down several websites he thought would be of help and as I walked out the door I knew that his impish grin and infectious passion had ignited that spark into a flame. The chill October air swept across my face and I turned to see a mischievous smile plastered on Dana’s. “Guess where I just was.” I shrugged. “On the Appalachian Trail.” “Uh-uh!” Jo and I took off up the stairs, ran up the hill behind the building and saw for ourselves the white blazes marking the old footpath. We ran ahead, kicking up in our wake the red and yellow, orange and brown leaves that blanketed the trail. After traveling maybe a half mile or so we stopped to catch our breath, imbibing the brisk, earthy, intoxicating mountain air. “Dad?” “Yeah, buddy?” “Let’s keep going.” God, I wish we had.

We didn’t leave the mortgage for the bank to contend with. We didn’t walk away from our jobs, commitments, obligations and responsibilities (though my heart screamed that was the only reasonable thing to do). We did, however, start to walk and to dream. The forest became, for me, a sanctuary; the AT an obsession. I read everything I could get my hands on…especially narratives. I read of real-life characters like Earl Schaffer, AWOL, Jennifer Pharr Davis, Warren Doyle (who’s hiked it 16 times!), Granny Gatewood, Bill Bryson and Katz, Future-man and Apple-Jack. Nearly mythical creatures such as Bombadil and Baltimore Jack, a hard-nosed, hard-drinking veteran of the AT infamous in his distaste for Bill Bryson, evidenced by his t-shirt that reads “Bill Bryson is a pansy.” Honestly, how much of what is told of Jack is true and how much is legend may never be known. But we didn’t just read, we grabbed every available moment to actually walk the AT, overnighting when we could, day-hiking when we couldn’t. Every time we passed by that outfitter, which we learned was called Mountain Crossings we’d stop in and say hi to the proprietor, Winton Porter and his crew. Never again did I see “Sunshine”. I guess it never occurred to ask what had happened to him.

One day last winter, Chester (aka Scat, aka Forest Dump) and I spent a frigid night on Blood Mountain after trekking through snow drifts nearly three feet deep in places. We rose early and began our slippery, ice-covered descent into Neel’s Gap. Despite my lack of sleep I felt like a kid at Christmas. I’d watched the sun set from Blood and was about to introduce one of my best friends to Mountain Crossings, the catalyst for my obsession. Once again, as I had dozens of times since that fateful day, I swung open the old wooden door. Always we’re greeted by the smiling faces of the staff, often Winton himself. Today, however, was different.

There, standing before me was…Sunshine?! What was his name? My mouth fell open. I stammered, “It’s you!” “You did this!” Grinning, he struggled to make sense of my jabbering. “I mean, you’re the one that started all this…this hiking thing.” Funny thing is, he looked at me as if he knew me as well. With both my hands clasped around his in gratitude, I just asked, “What is your name?” He answered, “Jack.” I looked at him quizzically, “Jack?” He elaborated, “Baltimore Jack.” “Whuh?! You…you’re…THE Baltimore Jack?” “Pretty sure. Yeah.” At this point he removed a well-worn Zippo from his pocket as ID. He held it up for me to see. I was a little too dumbfounded to focus but I did read the words, “Baltimore Jack.” I hugged him. (I don’t think anyone had ever done that to him before. He handled it pretty well, considering.) I reminded him of how we’d met and thanked him for fanning that spark into flame. We talked like old friends for a half an hour or so when Dana walked up. I introduced him, to her surprise, as the guy who’d started all of this and the legendary Baltimore Jack. Her jaw dropped. “No way!” He went for his lighter again. We ended up exchanging mutual invitations, him to South Carolina (Other than Florida, the only state he’s never visited) and us to Vermont. Dana said to him, “Don’t tease me. We’ll come.” He assured her the invitation was genuine. Maybe we’ll just take him up on that one day. As we headed back down the mountain towards home, I started laughing hysterically as I recalled that on our first meeting I had reached for a copy of Bryson’s “Walk In the Woods” and Jack had taken it away from me and put it back on the shelf saying, “You don’t want that.” He really does hate that guy!

Just over 2 hours south of The Shire (The foothills of South Carolina) lies this gateway to a land of myth and magic, mystery and adventure where tales abound and many more are waiting to be written. How it is that I grew to be in my 40’s before discovering this land is a mystery in itself. Perhaps I was not so different from the Hobbit himself, grown fat and content with my pipe-weed, seed-cakes and tea. For adventures are “nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable things. Make you late for dinner.” But thankfully, not long ago, as it happens, a mysterious bearded man placed a queer mark on the door of my hobbit hole and Adventure was unleashed upon my mundane little life. I’ve yet to walk The Trail from end to end, but that niggling spark became a flame, the flame burns stronger still, and like Bilbo I’ve tasted of adventures…nasty things. Unlike Bilbo, I’ve been swept up in their enchantment and one day soon I’ll leave Springer Mountain for Neel’s Gap. I’ll swing open that old wooden door once again, step back into the woods and walk till I see Katahdin. Because, you know…it was just a dream, really. No, not even a dream. Just a spark…

“Not all those who wander are lost.”
–J. R. R. Tolkien

AT Hike (Fox Creek to Damascus, VA) Day 6




Day 6 (June 30)

Only 6 miles left of our adventure. With an odd mixture of sadness and exhilaration we broke camp and joined the families of cyclists moving down the trail to Damascus. Dana had switched to flip-flops by this point, which were rubbing brand new blisters in brand new places but she trudged along like a champ. We took our time, stopping occasionally to play in creeks, set up cairns and take pictures. Around 10:00am the white blazes led us out of the woods, onto US 58 and into the city limits. At this lower elevation, we found the flora ablaze in color: Snow white blooms, rimmed in threads of red trim, vivid pink and deep orange flowers and yellow golden-rod looking plants that stood nearly 4 feet high. Best of all? Blackberries. Growing wild by the side of the road were patches of juicy, ripe blackberries. With just a little effort we were able to find handfuls of ripened, delicious blackberries which we ate right off of the vine, er…bush. Trail magic of the highest order!
Walking into Damascus felt fantastic. It wasn’t a stretch to imagine this thrill as part of a thru-hike. I got lost for a moment as I was swept up into my daydream. I was stirred from my reverie by shouts of “We made it!” We saw the first “Welcome to Damascus” sign. Fred collapsed in the grass and we took turns recording the moment, photographically, for posterity. We laughed and played our way into town, feeling, looking, and I’m sure, smelling like real hikers. We had an early lunch at a local restaurant, stuffing ourselves on giant cheeseburgers (No wonder I put on weight when I’m hiking, huh?), french-fries and ice cream for desert. We donned our packs, once again, and savored the remainder of our walk to Mt. Rogers Outfitters. I brought in my water filter and the owner happily repaired it free of charge while I watched. Good as new. More trail magic. We hesitantly loaded our packs into the van and navigated twisting, turning mountain roads to find our way to the cabin where we’d enjoy several days of lazy, restful, recuperation. Like our walk in the woods these blissful, laughter-filled days became blurred and soft around the edges…kind of like stepping unexpectedly into the mist-muted morning light of a grassy, mountaintop meadow. Maybe this was one of those thin places as well.

“Heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller.” – Celtic saying

Ghosts in the Wind (Art Loeb Trail)

“DAVID!” Pause. “DA-VID!!” Pause. “DAAAAA-VIIIIIID!!!”

“Huh? Whuh-what’s wrong?! Whuzzzmatter?!”

I had been asleep. With earplugs in.

Now? I was not.

I fumbled with my earplugs and my sleeping bag zipper. Why don’t those things ever work right?

“THERE’S SOMEBODY IN MY HAMMOCK!”

“Did you say in your hammock?!”

“YES! THERE’S SOMEBODY IN MY !@#$ HAMMOCK!”

I struggled to wrap my mind around the situation while working clumsily and feverishly to extricate myself from my cocoon. It had been a cold night and I had used everything in my arsenal to create a cozy environment. That happened to include velcro-ing my tarp around my weather-shielded hammock.

“Aren’t you in your hammock?”

Pause.

“YES!”

Obviously we have a problem here…

It had all started with a late night decision (Why can’t we ever decide on a trail a week…or for that matter a day in advance?) to hike toward Black Balsam Knob via the Art Loeb (pronounced “Leeb”, I think.) Trail just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC. Since we had no idea how exactly to do this we stopped at an outfitter on the way, purchased a guidebook and a map for the area and then confirmed the practicality of our plans with a very helpful, albeit distracted ranger. While affirming our choice of route he suggested (as he pointed to his map) that we use the Mountains to Sea Trail to form a loop hike. It made perfect sense…until we got there and looked at our own map. So we decided to just take Art Loeb from where it crossed Farm Road 816 to the first patch of trees (3 miles away according to all we’d read) camp, then return by the same route the next day.

Of course, there were cars crowding the parkway and myriad “leaf-peekers” out for day-hikes. Don’t blame them a bit. Growing up, I was among those crowds. My family would join the rest of the Southeast in filling their tank with gas, packing a picnic lunch and pointing their station wagon toward those beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains to see the autumn leaves at their peak of 3-D techni-color. ‘Tis one thing to look at a beautiful work of art, ’tis another to step into said creation and walk around. We planned to do the latter.

Despite my awful map-reading skills we traversed multiple hills, knobs, balds and even a 6,040 foot high mountain (that Dana couldn’t seem to stop calling Tannenbaum. “Tennent. Tennent.” “Tannenbaum.” “Okay. Tannenbaum.”) From the summit of…Tannenbaum we spotted a grove of, what I believe were, Black Balsam Pines. Mostly dead and dying but trees nonetheless. While stumbling down through a washed-out, ankle-breaking, rhododendron-walled descent Dana’s love of hiking had, well…waxed cold. I walked in near silence as she shared her contempt for this narrow channel of doom, while dodging an ascending boy scout troop. The grove was perched about a hundred feet from the top of a knob and, I hoped, would provide a shelter from the wind. We entered the site on a winding path through scrub-brush, weeds and half-dead trees and a beautiful, almost hidden, campsite opened before us. A solo-hiker who was just packing up shared with us all the hidden amenities: a clear, pure mountain spring a mere ten minutes away, a source of firewood and most importantly a rock overlook with a view of the valley just through the rhododendron forest to the rear. We bid him thanks and good-travel, hung our hammocks, ate our potatoes and built a roaring fire. Interesting to note: The reason we ate potatoes? You know those ridiculously expensive dehydrated meals found in all outfitters? Yep, we bought one. Mac and cheese with bits of crunchy ham. We left it in the car…along with a Luna bar, a peanut-butter crunch Clif bar and the one thing I was most excited about…my Loksak, a tactical-grade, odor-proof zip-lock bag that would enable me to keep my grits and bacon in my hammock so I could have “breakfast-in-bed. All in the car. Potatoes…again.

So after dinner, we nearly ran to the top of the rock to watch the most spectacular sunset we’d ever, ever seen. We ooooo-ed, we ahhhhhh-ed; we held each other and let the beauty of that sunset wash away any residual from the “channel of doom.” We reluctantly picked our way back down to our little grove and hung the bear bag maybe 30 feet away from out hammocks. Not a good plan but this area suffers from a serious tree shortage. I stoked up the fire and we sat and talked until our exhaustion lulled us into a comfortable silence. We zipped ourselves into our hammocks, then our bags, then planned to drift off to sleep. That’s when the wind started picking up. Before sleep could come the wind became enraged and tore through the gap and into our little grove, whipping our tarps against our hammocks. It actually, all night long, would lift the tarp and by default our occupied hammocks into the air and drop us. The movement itself was unsettling but with the accompanying whipping tarp sounds…well, sleep seemed unlikely. I found and used a set of earplugs I had brought along and somehow entered dreamland. I’m not sure what time it was but I awoke to the sound of a man’s voice, “Hello? Hello,” and the beam of a flashlight shining through the fabric of my hammock. I managed to unzip my mosquito netting and weather-shield and poke my head out. As I was responding with, “What?! What the…?!” I pried my sleepy eyes open for a look at this invader…and there was no one there…but the wind…the accursed wind. Surprisingly enough, I fell back to sleep…until, “DAVID!”

As I said earlier, “Obviously we have a problem here.” When I finally wriggled free of my cocoon…for the second time that night, I stepped into what was very nearly daylight. The harvest moon was full and bright in the October sky and lit up our grove as if it were morning. I observed with panic a set of boots just visible beneath Dana’s hammock. I jerked completely awake, leaving behind the 9″ hunting knife I sleep with when hiking, and ran to Dana’s “rescue”. What was I going to do, half-asleep, scared out of my wits and no knife? Hug the attacker? I got to the other side of her hammock and realized what I had seen were actually Dana’s boots. She’d left them sitting right where she’d taken them off. “What’s out there?!!” she yelled in a panic. “The wind. It’s just the wind.” “But I heard scratching!” Her tarp had torn loose and was scraping against the fabric of her hammock. “It’s just the wind.” This lovely fiasco took place at 3:38 in the morning. We spent the rest of the “night” being wrestled, jostled and tossed by our invisible attacker…the Wind.

We both awoke, surprisingly refreshed, just in time to watch a gorgeous sunrise. We braved the freezing wind with tears in our eyes while scarfing down a quick breakfast of grits, oatmeal and Starbucks Via Caramel coffee. Mmmmmm. As we broke camp and packed up our gear, we gut-laughed while filling in details for each other of the night’s adventure. We had discovered from the guy who camped here before us that the trail the ranger had told us about actually existed, though it wasn’t the Mountains to Sea Trail…hence the confusion. We enjoyed a gentle, hour long, easy hike on a farm service road with breath-stealing vistas almost all the way back to the car. The last 1/2 mile on the Art Loeb Spur Trail went nearly straight up the side of a knob but brought us to a fantastic summit before plunging us back down into the shaded, balsam forest that smelled occasionally of cinnamon and hazelnut, where we’d begun our journey. We found the Montero. The Montero found Brevard. We three found the Sagebrush Steakhouse where we more than made up for leaving the mac and cheese in the car. With a final stop at the Leopard Forest Coffee Company we found our way home…or at least to our house, pleasantly exhausted, sated on beauty, and deliciously content.

I told Dana, through chuckles, “I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that our little grove had a reputation for being haunted.” It was nearly Halloween.

Wanna see more pictures from this trip? Find me on facebook.

david longley (alive adventure gear)

Foothills Trail (Oconee to Burrells Ford



With the exception of a really short day-hike, it’s been months since I’ve been in the woods. Work, sick parents, my own issues and a thousand other distractions all kept me from the thing that brings me life. That’s just wrong. Out of desperation, more than anything really, I made the decision to get in the woods somehow, someway. Dana’s mom was in the hospital so I ended up going this one alone. Though I miss Dana terribly when she can’t come along, I still really long for extended times of solitude. So by 4 pm Friday, I’d thrown my pack in my truck and pointed it south on 85. At 3:45 pm I’d decided to hike a section of the Foothills Trail I’d walked several times before. The biggest reason I chose this hike was so that Dana would have an excuse to meet me Sunday. She needed this as bad as I. At least she’d get a couple hours by the river.

So, at 6:30 pm I hoisted my overloaded pack onto my back and trucked off down the trail to make some miles before dark. Miles might be an exaggeration. I made it 1 3/4 miles before finding a nice clearing with 2 trees created for hammock hanging. It was a little cooler than I thought but still warm enough that my 15 degree bag did the trick. Sleep came in spurts due to the constant barrage of dropping acorns. Not sure if they were falling off naturally or if the squirrels were pelting me with them as some sort of vendetta because of my invasion of their territory. I must’ve drifted off eventually because I was awakened with a start at 2 am by the shrill, mournful wail of a coyote, not more than 20 feet away. With a semi-restless night behind me I finally woke to a rich red sunrise, broke camp, retrieved my bear bag and munched on a trail bar while blazing some trail.

By 8:30 I’d made it to Jumping Branch with a growling belly so I plopped down right in the middle of the trail, fried up some bacon and whipped up some cheese grits. Fuel for the journey! Back on my feet and to Nicholson Ford by 10:30 am. Just pass the parking lot, I met a family on the trail: Grandparents, parents, and their kids, Kate and Nick. I wish we had talked more. They seemed really cool. Nick is a Clemson student and rafting guide. They were all out for a day hike….3 generations. Made me think how incredible it would be to be able to share this with my own mom and dad.

Up to this point this trail had been gravy; it was either downhill or softly undulating terrain which made for a nice stroll. But Nicholson Ford signaled change. Knobs, hills and ascent were to come. “Bring it on!” I muttered in faith, and my wobbly, couch-weakened legs rose to the challenge.

I topped the ridge and was startled by a brownish blur that darted onto the trail about 20 yards ahead of me. I seriously wondered if I had just seen a sheep. It quickly occurred to me that it was highly unlikely that I’d encounter a sheep in the woods. (Cut me a break! I said “quickly.”) Then I questioned my interpretation of what I’d seen. Had I just seen a bear cub? If so, where’s Moma? (the bears, not mine) Moments later I heard a voice call out, “Luca!” Around the bend came two exceptionally cool ladies, Ashlie and Wendy (I think. Sorry if I’m wrong. I stink at names.) We talked for about half an hour while Luca displayed his remarkable speed and agility, darting in and out of the woods and occasionally signaling the approach of other hikers with a bark or two. Ashlie and Wendy are from Tampa, Florida and come up every year to hike along the Chattooga. I think they and Dana would’ve hit it off due to their mutual love of the river. They struck me as seasoned, passionate hikers and the conversation never lulled as we talked about other places we’d walked. Here’s where I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: I’m working on starting an audio pod-cast. I brought my digital recorder along on this trip and recorded sections of my hike. What I really wanted to do was to record some of my conversations with people I meet along the trail. Some of the most genuine people I know, I met in the woods. I want to be able to share that with potential listeners. I couldn’t do it. I guess one reason is that I’m usually so caught up in meeting them that I forget and the other is that it’s well…awkward. How do I broach the subject? I couldn’t do it. Next time, huh? Well, we realized we were “burning daylight” and Luca was obviously ready to continue his adventure so we resolved to continue our conversation on facebook.

Lunch came late (3:30) and was barely edible (my soup didn’t fully hydrate)…but the view was gorgeous. I stopped at this little beach on a bend in the river, just past Simms Field. Several years back, on our first visit, we camped here and pulled trophy rainbows from the deep pool just past the little falls. After choking down my “less-than-hydrated” vegetable beef soup, I left my haven to a fly-fisherman and started the switch-back ascent of Round Knob.

Our first encounter with Round Knob was not a pleasant one. It was our very first overnight hike, Halloween weekend, and we’d been told by a “local” that we had an easy one hour stroll to Burrell’s Ford. (The same guy told us he’d just discovered an exhausted hunter, recovering from open-heart surgery, who had outrun a bear. I’m guessing that should’ve been a clue.) Nearly 2 miles of switchbacks later we reached the top and began our descent through the gorge as night began to fall and into Burrell’s Ford…around 5 miles total…not an hour. . Dana melted down several times, swore she’d smelled a bear and ended up panicked, moving at a snail’s pace and nearly hypothermic as we completed our hike in the dark. This time Round Knob was much less daunting. Having said that, by the time I had gotten within 3 miles of my destination I was exhausted, aching and sick of walking. It happens.

Dana wouldn’t meet me until 10am Sunday morning so I could’ve very easily hung my hammock right there by the river and finished off the 3 miles in the morning without any problem. My motivation in arriving tonight was two-fold: First, Dana had shown, shall we say, concern that due to my recent inactivity maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew. I wanted to put any concern to rest and prove to myself, as well, that I could (even in my atrophied state) pull off a 15 or 16 mile day. That’s motivation #1. Motivation #2? Have you ever had a smell, or a taste for a food pop up in your imagination completely unprovoked? It happens to me regularly and it happened at just that moment. There’s a little steakhouse about 10 miles down the mountain that has a really tasty flame-seared marinated sirloin and an eclectic salad bar with a delicious in-house-made buttermilk ranch dressing. I figured if I made it to Burrell’s Ford I could beg a ride to my truck at Oconee State Park, drive to the restaurant, put my craving to rest and then make it back to my hammock by nightfall. So with steak dangling before me, I shrugged on my pack and put one foot in front of the other until I made it to the parking lot. Unfortunately, no amount of looking pitiful, dropping hints or outright asking got me a ride to my truck so the steak was out, Idahoans were in and 7pm found me nestled in my hammock by the river in the Ellicott Rock Wilderness. What had been a mild night before was followed by one of the more frigid nights I’d spent outdoors. I donned every item of clothing I had brought with me, zipped shut my weather shield and still spent the night chilled. Seemed like winter had arrived early.

I woke early, packed up and sat on the edge of the woods till Dana arrived, thankfully, early. Using the excuse of retrieving my fly-rod from my truck I quickly hopped into the Montero, cut the heat on wide-open and thawed my aching bones as I drove down the mountain. I made it back and never even took my rod out of it’s case. We hung out by the river for a while before heading back down the mountain once more, to Mellow Mushroom for my traditional celebratory meal: The Brutus Caesar salad with jerk chicken and meatball appetizer. Ahhhhhh. What’s next weekend hold in store?

Wanna see more pics? Find me on facebook!

Raven Cliff Falls Hike January 2010



Titles I’d considered for this story:

Wish I’d brought my ice-axe.
I’ve never been so afraid.
The dumbest thing I’ve ever done.
Why did I leave the rope in the truck?

What is it about a group of men tossing their gear into an old pick-up and heading off in the twilight hours to the mountains? Since Josiah was a wee young thing he was thrilled to be awakened before dawn for whatever adventure might await. “Hey buddy, time to wake up.” His sleepy eyes would slowly part then widen. Recognition of what awaited would stir the anticipation in his eyes and a big, beautiful grin would transform his tiny face. A love for wildness and adventure must be encoded in our masculine DNA.
This morning, my boy (now 17) opted to sleep in. Nonetheless a band of brothers, old friends…3 generations of the Garrett clan: Chester, Josh, Taylor and I would find our way to the Mountain Bridge Wilderness to see what adventure awaited us.
When I was invited along on this hike I first checked the weather (high of 32 degrees with a chance of snow) then I called the ranger to make sure the trail hadn’t been closed (It hadn’t been but apparently a particularly treacherous section made it a close call) and then finally and most importantly I confirmed the existence of an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet (Doris’ Kitchen) in Marietta.
Upon wheeling my truck into Doris’ parking lot, I hopped from the cab and very nearly ran into the restaurant. (The benefits of a pre-hike-southern-cooking-romanesque-food-orgy can not be over-estimated) We were greeted by a friendly young waitress who seemed more than accustomed to seeing a bunch of unshaven, unkempt, backwoods looking characters at 7 am. That could only be a good sign. A restaurant that draws rugged, working-class men typically could be counted on for the kind of high-fat, cholesterol laden fare I was hoping for. I was not disappointed. Moist, tasty, scrambled eggs were accompanied by buttery grits (of course) along with some tasty, well-browned milk gravy, cat-head biscuits and an assortment of delicious meats including bacon, country ham, thick-sliced slabs of fried bologna (or baloney as it is correctly pronounced) and an assortment of other items that never made their way to my plate. After shoveling in an over-sized helping of these breakfast delicacies I was disturbed to discover that a vat of what so obviously was syrup (it was with the pancakes) was not. It was red-eye gravy. Not to wax philosophical, but deep within the heart of every true-blooded southern boy is a hole that can only be filled with red-eye gravy. So I returned with an empty plate for a second helping of grits and a watershed helping of some pretty decent red-eye. Gorged and wired from too many cups of black coffee, we set out for the last stretch of asphalt that would lead us to the mountains we had come for. Thanks for breakfast, by the way, Chester.
We arrived in the Raven Cliff Falls parking area right at 8 am. After completing the requisite hiking forms we donned our coats, shouldered our packs and made our way down the red-blazed trail with even more enthusiasm than we’d shown earlier for Doris. It was cold. As cold as I’ve ever been. Fortunately, our bodies are designed with an internal heater which is switched on by getting your butt in gear. So we did. Buggy and I were both intrigued that our bodies seemed to warm in stages, core first, then legs and arms, one foot then the other then toes and finger-tips.
It was a cold (have I mentioned that?), crisp morning and due to the season there was no foliage to block the beautiful views of the Mountain Bridge Wilderness. Guess it was the pay-off for braving the temps. Chester wondered out loud what the temperature was and I remembered that my Dad had just given me a whistle equipped with both a compass and thermometer. When we reached the over-look for the falls I pulled it from my pack and hung it outside. It read 25 degrees. It read 25 degrees for much of the hike. After some cheesy-poser shots, trading cameras and photographers we headed back to the trail to enter the Dismal. Our trek through this old hardwood forest would involve a descent of over 2,000 feet in a mile and a half. The purple-blazed Dismal Trail dumps you, with quivering legs of Jello at a juncture with the pink blazed Naturaland Trust Trail which leads to an exceptionally fun cable-crossing over beautiful Matthew’s Creek. We stopped and spent about a half an hour doing some rock-hopping, boulder-climbing and junk-food munching before crossing the creek and beginning our equally steep climb up the deceptively pink-blazed Naturaland Trust Trail. Pink is apparently not for sissies.
It was in the midst of this difficult climb that I realized the water in my bottles had frozen…solid. I managed to abate my thirst by licking a little moisture from the opening but more than anything was taken aback that my water could actually freeze. It was really cold.
Our trail led us to a high-pass that wormed it’s way around the base of a huge granite out-cropping. I’d walked this trail a year or so ago in the summer but the ice and snow of winter had transformed the landscape so that what we were hiking now was really a different trail. Spectacular vistas and ice formations became visible throughout the entire hike but nothing could have prepared us for what was around the next bend. We made our way up a series of steps cut into the earth and crudely fashioned with wood and slabs of stone, to enter “The Cathedral.”

Even a brief study of architecture reveals that ancient (and sometimes modern) man-made cathedrals are engineered with high-vaulted ceilings and open, ethereal spaces so as to make the congregant aware of his own smallness in relation to the building. Some say this was done to emphasize the vastness of God but history has often proved otherwise. In many cases the motivation was that the congregant be reminded of his own insignificance and subsequent need for the institutional church…de-emphasizing the love and grace of an Abba who moved heaven and earth to rescue us. Having said that, the magnificent view of the 150 foot high granite face covered in enormous ice formations not only spoke of the vastness of God but also his un-explainable infatuation with his creatures, the object of his affection. It seemed as though he had set this otherworldly setting up just for us…just for me.
As I began to awaken from my reverie it slowly dawned on me that we had to cross this. Our path to the other side was a 6 foot wide slab of solid ice probably 50 ft across. Josh wasted no time. He dropped to his knees and began to crawl across the icy slab. A third of the way in he called for Taylor who crossed in the same fashion…reaching out for a hiking pole his dad extended to him. Chester decided that, caution being the better part of valor, he’d explore other options. Against my better judgment and for reasons un-explained I went with Chester. He reasoned that rather than cross at the top where the ice was level he’d cross down lower where the ice formed what can only be described as a 15′ foot wide, 75 foot long giant-ice-slab-sliding board. His first step was to be placed on a piece of bark about the size of a credit-card, his second a rock about the size of a hamburger bun, his third on a loose rock Josh had just tossed onto the ice and finally a rock protruding from the ice that was about the size and shape of a nalgene bottle. Each of these “footholds” were a full stride apart. Now understand, one slip, one mis-step would send him rocketing 50-75 feet down this uneven, solid-ice-slip-and-slide to what (if God was merciful) would be death, if not, a long, cold, painful wait for Mountain Rescue to arrive and drag his broken body to a hospital. He yelled, “Get out of my way!” and ran across. I swear to you he ran. When he reached the other side I realized I had been holding my breath. I exhaled and it immediately occurred to me that all 3 of the Garrett boys were on the other side of this icy slip-and-slide-of-death. Probably ranks as the all-time dumbest thing I’d ever done…I followed him. I did not run. I hesitantly and awkwardly twisted and stretched, legs trembling, palms sweating and tried not to think of what the bone-crunching impact would be like when I smashed into the bottom. Well, I made it. Thank God I made it. Stupid, stupid, stupid…but I made it.

We found the trail and continued our ascent which grew more difficult (though not as treacherous) with every step. It was time for lunch. The bitter, winter winds had made their appearance and drove us to find shelter for our meal. Chester pointed out what appeared to be a three and a half foot high open cave beneath a boulder. I thought he was kidding. He worked his way around the massive monolith and discovered a much bigger area than I’d first imagined. A perfect place for lunch. (Bear Grylls would be proud) Taylor fired up his new Snow-peak iso-butane stove and minutes later was enjoying a hot-steaming plate of Ramen noodles. I had chosen to go low-tech. A half bottle of denatured alcohol and an entire box of esbit tablets later I sat down for a tasty meal of Lipton Alfredo Noodles. Next time I’ll bring a wind-screen or fall back on my trusty iso-butane stove. By the time I was done cramming down my noodles, the rest of the boys had shared a cup of coffee, were packed and ready to go. “On the trail again,” Josh “willied-out” as we worked our way up and around the mountain.
Moments later we arrived at the suspension bridge spanning Raven Cliff Falls. People standing on the overlook we’d just left a coupla hours ago would (with binoculars) be able to see us shivering in the freezing mist on this bridge. More phenomenal ice formations were visible just beneath us. We snapped some pics and continued to follow the pink blazes. Eventually our trail connected us with the blue-blazed Gum Gap, basically a Jeep trail, that led us back to the familiar red-blazes we’d started with early this morning. As often does, excited banter and playful ribbing gave way to a contemplative, natural silence comfortable only among old friends. Occasionally I’d chuckle to myself at the ridiculous chance we took crossing that icy section of the Cathedral, amazed that we were alive and un-scathed. We walked, ran and played our way back to the truck, where we un-burdened ourselves from our packs and rode back down the mountain, basking in the afterglow of a rugged hike, grateful for friendship, grateful for the warmth of the truck heater, grateful for mountains, rivers and waterfalls and grateful to be returning to our families. Chester said, “Hey, let’s do this again tomorrow!” Soon, old friend. Soon.