Shutting Down

Well, I had good intentions for this site, but after trying it out for a while I have come to the realization that I much prefer to be on the trail than writing about being on the trail. Guess I should have figured that out sooner!

I am shutting down the site this year and will probably not be posting any more. I only have time on the weekends and spend each of them either backpacking or day hiking. Some of my trip reports and all my gear reviews will continue to be posted on Trailspace. Hope to see you on the trail sometime!

TGO Challenge – Training Plan

Obviously, I want to be in peak shape when I attempt to cross Scotland for two weeks. While I get out under pack on a regular basis – at least once a month – that doesn’t compare to 13 days of hiking in a row with minimal rest stops. Based on previous experience, this is as much a mental exercise as physical, but I want to make the physical aspect as easy as I can, given the fact that I won’t have time to take a week off and train before setting forth on the adventure.

My plan is to maintain and increase my usual weekly exercise regime (6 days out of 7) as follows:
– Workout 1 hour on the elliptical on days with limited time
– 6 mile round trip walk on the local greenway at least 2/week
– One long day hike – 10+ miles and 2000′ elev. 1/week
– Monthly weekend backpacking trips of 30+ miles

On the greenway walks I am going to start carrying a pack to help train. I already carry a pack on day hikes, but will increase the weight on that gradually to mimic my projected 20-25 pound full pack weight with food.  My local state park (map above) has a good 10 mile loop with 2000 ft in elevation gain, and there are other options around within an hour or so – I think weekly visits to these areas will be key.  I can’t simulate Scottish Highland terrain, but can come close within a couple of hours, and the weather is impossible to plan but I won’t cancel unless extreme weather (road conditions etc) prevent a trip.

I have set up a plan to increase from 25 to hopefully 50 miles per week by April and then maybe back off for the last couple of weeks to rest. Available time might make this impractical and things might change, but I need a plan and goals to keep me motivated rather than show up out of trail shape and reduce my enjoyment during a shake down period.

Regardless of how successful this training plan is, I will be in the best shape I can in May!

TGO Challenge – Planning Checklist

I am trying to get organized now that I am in the 2018 TGO Challenge. Here is a brief outline of my planning checklist along with rough schedules:

Hotel reservations – November: COMPLETED!

I wanted to tie down my start and end points quickly and any planned stops along the way as I am sure the smaller hotels and villages may fill up quickly with 400 footsore travelers out there wandering around!

Route planning – November to February: IN THE WORKS

This is where my winter evening fun will be!  I am trying to gather enough information without delving into too many details so there are surprises along the way.

Plane tickets – January to March:

I have started watching prices to get an idea but the real work will be in 2018 so I can get the best price hopefully.

Packing list – January to March:

While I have a general gear list for TGO-like conditions, I will hone it with monthly trips at least in harsher weather.

Training – November to April: IN THE WORKS

This includes monthly 2-4 day trips filled in between with long day hikes with elevation and nightly walks or elliptical.

Local Transport – April:

I want to tie down plans for bus or train routes from the airport to the start well in advance of arriving.  This will include the ferry across Loch Ness if that is my route.

Shipping supplies/equipment – early May:

Call me paranoid, but I am loathe to leave the success of my trip up to the airline baggage system.  I am seriously considering shipping my main gear and supplies over to my first night hotel and doing only a carry-on for the flight over.

I am sure there is something missing from this list, so I will come back and add to it as things progress.  Hope this helps others this year or in the future.

Scottish Homecoming!

I received an email this week letting me know I was one of the lucky ones to be accepted into the TGO Challenge!  As an ex-pat like John Muir (see above photo of us hanging out together the other weekend), I can’t wait to go home!

I can’t find the words that match my anticipation…it’s been an obsession of mine for over a year now. Something about going back to where I was born and walking across the Highlands for 2 weeks enthralls me. I’ll also get to visit my mom’s resting place near Glasgow on the way in…a real pilgrimage for me in my 50th year.

Now let the planning really begin…plotting a route over hill and glen will take up many of my winter evenings when I’m not under pack.

Trip Report – John Muir Trail TN

My wife and I were visiting my dad in-law the other week in Kentucky, and I had the opportunity to throw a pack on and visit the Big South Fork National Recreation Area on the TN and KY border for a couple of nights.

It turned out that Patman (a fellow Trailspace Review Corps member) was able to do the same, and we took the opportunity to meet in person. My wonderful wife shuttled us up the Divide Road so we could walk south on the John Muir Trail, Tennessee style.

The trail was relatively flat as it ran along the plateau above the Cumberland River, so I had a pleasant Friday afternoon walk with great company.  Patman mentioned a meteor shower that weekend so we tried to hunt for the best campsite view, but settled for a nice flat spot with sparse canopy. We didn’t see any meteors that night, but had a good evening of backpacking/gear testing talk and found many similarities in our approach and attitudes toward our favorite pastime.

Saturday started cool in the 50s. A pleasant walk along interesting geology…

And a very pretty section of trail. I was glad we had the chance to meet and also allow Patman to hike sections of trail in his local area that he hadn’t seen before.

The views began to open up quickly down to No Business Creek and the Cumberland River.

Two Trailspacers at the John Muir Overlook.

The overlook itself.

Patman on one of several bridges on the well maintained trail.

No Business Creek.

More interesting geology…it just kept cropping up!

We stopped for a late lunch at the Cumberland River and enjoyed watching a deer and later two backpackers (father and son) cross Stations Camp ford.

And then parted ways as Patman had plans to camp in an open field on the way to his car and meteor watch, while I was planning on an early exit so my wife and I could start the long drive home.  With his multiple trips per month, I am sure he pulled off another ten miles after lunch without me holding him back!

I think Mr. Muir and myself were probably the only two Scottish-Americans on the trail that day, and I enjoyed seeing his profile as I hiked that afternoon.  The fact that he and I moved here from Scotland around the same age has given me a connection that is difficult to explain.

I could include a bunch of rock photos, each one slightly different from the last, but since this is not a geology website (and I am no geologist) I’ll refrain.

Not sure if this is on purpose, as there is a Big Clifty Wilderness a few hours north.

The JMT here may not compare to the High Sierra version, but views of the Cumberland River Gorge were frequent.

After a solid 15 mile day with temperatures in the upper 70’s (but not much climbing), I enjoyed a great campsite (thanks for the advice Patman!) on the rim of the gorge.

View out my bedroom window.

Dusk view…followed by glimpses of a few meteors that morning before…

a beautiful sunrise!

Looking back from the south, maybe with spellcheck?

A sobering memorial along the trail to a child who died in infancy.

Views of the Gorge were frequent and it was constantly filled with rolling fog which I really liked – I stood at several outcrops for a number of minutes despite the time constraint that morning and just watched the fog roll by in silence.

Looking north along the Cumberland River from Angel Falls Overlook…I could only hear the falls that morning.

I love trees rooted in rock.

After my last view from the rim of the gorge, I dropped down through more interesting geologic features.

And some slightly confusing ones…man-made?

Then down to the river itself and a pleasant stroll to the pickup point…this last hour reminded me of the walk back to Lincoln Woods parking lot from the White Mountains trip this summer, just drier and without the railroad ties.

The low water crossing at Leatherwood Ford was out and the reroute took me across the road but gave a nice view of the original crossing.

Overall, a really enjoyable trip with good company. I’ll be back in colder weather as a nice local option when in the area.

Merrell Moab Ventilator Mid Boot Review

I finished up another review after about 6 months of testing: the Merrell Moab Mid Ventilator boot review is posted on Trailspace.  These boots have been discontinued but are still floating around the internet and available at a discount if you are lucky.  If you are looking for a good entrance into the idea of quick drying ventilated footwear without plunging into trail runners this might be a good option.  I like these boots but do question the durability/ construction quality.   I have several more in the works to clear out my backlog this fall/winter and make room for some neat testing opportunities from Trailspace.

TGO Challenge – Application and Initial Plans

Well, the application for the TGO Challenge came out on September 15. If you are not familiar with the Challenge see this post.

I was on the trail last weekend but immediately filled out the online application Sunday night when I got back. I didn’t think I could get more obsessed with this idea than I already was…but I was mistaken.  Since I got a (very prompt) response from the organizers letting me know I passed the qualifications screening, I can’t seem to get the idea out of my head for more than a few hours.

The last time I spent more than a week in Scotland was when I was growing up there…I am on the left on the shore of Loch Lomond. Now I am hoping to spend two weeks walking across the country of my birth!

Now that my hat is in the ring, so to speak, for the potential lottery in November, I am spending a lot of free time poring over maps in more detail. I already had a couple of potential routes picked out but as it gets more real, I am revisiting my initial thoughts.  So far I know that I want to approach this as three consecutive approximate 4-5 day trips, which is my typical routine now.  These are my tentative sections and each location includes a hotel stay to dry off and rest (one each at the start and end, and two in the middle).

  • Dornie to Drumnadrochit
  • Drumnadrochit to Braemar
  • Braemar to Stonehaven (stay in Montrose)

There may be an optional added campground or hotel at Newtonmore or Aviemore if I need it or want a longer break for equipment issues, resupply etc.  Otherwise, my current plan is to wild camp the rest of the days.  Each of the four locations also has a castle I would like to see (Eilean Donan, Urquhart, Braemar, and Dunnottar) and be major landmarks on which I can focus – something that always helps my progress.  There are many other landmarks on the way but there is something about seeing these spots that really inspires me.

I won’t know until early November if I get in, but there is a silver lining…those qualified folks that don’t get picked are guaranteed a place the next year. So it’s just a matter of time before I attempt to walk across my homeland! In the meantime, I’ll be training by seeking out the boggiest areas, steep rocky trails, and windiest, wettest weekends I can find!

Trip Report – Shining Rock Wilderness NC

On what is becoming an annual tradition, I decided to get out of the heat of the late summer around Raleigh and head to high elevation for a few days.  Shining Rock Wilderness in western NC has a series of peaks running between 5 and 6,000 feet which generally means cooler nights and some wind – perfect escape this time of year.

Heading upstream to the highlands!

Although I was heading in late on a Thursday afternoon, I knew it would be crowded at the more popular high elevation access points on the weekend, so decided to climb up from the Big East Fork trail head where I was unlikely to see anyone.  Being only a week after the remnants of Hurricane Irma passed through the area, the Blue Ridge Parkway was closed near Asheville for maintenance, so I had a slight delay and detour getting to Highway 276 and the trail.

No lions and tigers though!

It was late afternoon when I finally had that comfortable feeling of slipping a pack on my back and beginning to walk.  The bear canister requirement and camping area restrictions were still in place but I was prepared (although the pack was a couple pounds heavier than usual).

A stream in spate!

A beautiful and easy climb along the banks of the East Fork Pigeon River was a great start to the trip.  I got a preview of how much rain Irma had dumped here during the first couple of stream crossings – both were knee high or above and roaring downstream.

In addition to the high creek crossings, Irma had left a number of blow downs to negotiate…

The trail is there somewhere…

and also covered the trail in many areas with a carpet of green leaves…

I think folks heading to the western NC mountains next month for leaf watching may be disappointed!

The last part of my afternoon involved a climb up to Grassy Cove Ridge for a camp in the highlands.  This was a relatively steep 1,000 ft climb away from the stream, made worse by my loading up on water at the last stream crossing to allow for a dry camp if needed.  The turn onto the Grassy Cove trail is hard to find – have to cross the stream through a campsite and head up the hill to the right.  However it was not hard for me as a couple of folks were in the campsite – a local guide and a gentleman from my home country of the UK (never got his name but he was from Wolverhampton).  If you need a guide in the mountains, I would check out Wildland Trekking – didn’t get the guide’s name but he seemed like a good guy during our little chat.

This would look great with the rhodos in bloom.

The climb was at a faster pace than I usually go due to encroaching darkness and wanting to set up my relatively new tent in the light for better practice.  I was pretty beat by the top so camped in the first decent spot with a good view after a slight respite along a relatively flat and beautiful section of trail.

Bedroom view…

It turned out to be a great little spot, although next to the trail which I don’t usually like.  Being the quiet side of the wilderness and a Thursday night, I was mercifully left alone.

Mist filled valley in the morning

It took a little while to dial in the pitch of my TarpTent Stratospire 1 on the slight slope (my bed area was flat but the coverage of the SS1 is so large it included a rise in terrain.  Nights like this really help me to get more familiar with the shelter and its nuances.

Theme of the trip…wet and muddy

The next morning I got moving after coffee and grits along what turned out to be the theme of the weekend – a wet and muddy trail.  My boots (although non-Goretex and easily draining) were continually soaked in the up to 4 inches of water standing or flowing over a lot of the trails. While this sounds nasty to some, it thrilled me as my weekend was going to conclude with applying for the TGO Challenge to walk across Scotland next year…no better time to make sure I am happy with continuously wet feet!

Looking north to Tennent Mtn

I followed a trail running south under Tennent Mountain and wrapping around Graveyard Fields and after just one minor dead end, wandering down a false trail when the real one turned on a rock outcrop with a nice view…

Looking south across the BRP

I arrived at the approach road to the Black Balsam parking lot and immediately hopped north along the Art Loeb Trail.  There I finally encountered a few folks and decided to stay on the ALT rather than sidetrack to the top of Black Balsam where I saw quite a few people hanging out.

Instead I continued along the side slope of Balsam until the trail turned up Tennent Mtn, where I stopped briefly to take a few photos and enjoy the scenery, but didn’t dawdle as I was not alone and really wanted to wander in peace and quiet.

Looking north to the Shining Rock

A short hop down the ALT north toward the Shining Rock occupied me until my stomach informed me that snacks would no longer suffice and it was time for lunch!  Since I woke in a heavy dew and the outer tarp of my tent was pretty wet, I decided to lounge in the sun at Ivestor Gap and dry things out.

Quick lunch pitch

The last couple of years I have been bringing fresh stuff for the first 24 hours or so, and enjoyed a wrap with cheese and fresh tomato (along with some bacon bits and hot sauce!).  I helped a group of three young men figure out which peak was Grassy Cove Top…they were looking for an old mine shaft!  I will have to check the papers and see if they struck it rich…I would think helping identify the right peak would be worth a cut!

Dried out, and satisfied, I headed for the Shining Rock with no real itinerary in mind.  After a brief stop for water at a reliable seep, I was approaching the Rock when I began to hear quite a few loud people enjoying a beautiful Friday afternoon.  That was not what I was looking for this afternoon, and I decided to circle back south and do some side trail exploring.  After darting down a mile or so on a side trail toward Daniel Boone scout camp just to check for camping areas, I decided to stay on Ivestor Trail and head for either the top of Black Balsam or a lower gap site with great views.

Clouds closing in on the high ground

As I passed back through Ivestor Gap the balds looked like they were about to be clouded in so I opted for a lower elevation gap on the trail to Birdstand Mtn with great views both north and south.

Shining Rock Ledge

The extra mile of walking was well worth the effort for a beautiful camp with the aforementioned great views of Shining Rock Ledge to the north and Black Balsam and Sams Knob to the south.

Sun rising on Sams Knob

I don’t know if it was more practice or a flatter site, but the SS1 was perfectly pitched first time tonight – very satisfying! I considered not putting up the inner bug net, but there were some seriously large beetles flying around – didn’t worry me but they would wake me up!

A peaceful camp!

I enjoyed Packit Gourmet Texas State Fair Chili and a dram (or so) of Highland Park 12, along with some leftover PIG Mexican Chocolate Mousse – an extravagant meal!  I tried to conserve dishes and clean up by boiling water and hydrating the chili in the bag, but as usual didn’t like it and popped it into the pot for a little simmer to make everything just a little more like home cooked food.

Supposed to be a crescent with halo…

The night was incredible – full stars and a crescent moon.  After midnight the clouds rolled in but stayed high – I am sure Black Balsam and the other balds were low visibility.  The cloud layer sat just above the Shining Rock ledge and with the moisture in the air created a double ringed halo around the crescent moon!  My camera phone couldn’t capture it though…

Saturday morning arrived with another damp tent so I hung around camp letting it dry out a bit (the inner bug nest was dry as a bone).  Then it was back to Ivestor Gap, up the Art Loeb (with a water stop just south), and onto Cold Mountain.

West from the Narrows

The Narrows north of Shining Rock and Stairs Mountain are one of my favorite sections of the Art Loeb Trail – a knife edge ridge with great (although intermittent) views west (above) and east, as well as occasional glimpses of Cold Mountain.

Cold Mtn over the shoulder

On bad weather days this can be a tough hike as there isn’t much shelter and there are a lot of scrambles up and down rock formations on the ridge.  I met one hiker coming the other way – trying to do the entire 30 mile Art Loeb trail in a day!!! I hope he fared well.

It took longer than anticipated to get to Deep Gap at the base of Cold Mountain and I decided to stop for lunch and fully dry the rest of my gear.  After another fresh tomato and cheese wrap or two, and a casual semi-nap, I realized it was later than I thought.  I decided to skip the summit of Cold Mountain (save it for next year!) and get going back to the Rock then head east for an early departure to the car the next day.  A couple more shots along the Narrows…

I watered up south of the Shining Rock again then headed onto the trail to Old Butt Knob, which is the trail that actually passes by the Shining Rock.  I was not in a big rush to get to my last camp so lingered at the Rock for a while fueling up with a snack, grabbing the obligatory photos, soaking in the view, and chatting with a nice couple from Asheville who were doing a day hike loop from the same trail head on 276.

Me on the Rock

The Shining Rock

After the break I hopped east past Old Butt and onto Chestnut Ridge to find a good campsite.  I passed the Asheville couple and then confused them thoroughly by passing back again in the opposite direction…a habit of mine to find a campsite then walk about ten minutes further before turning back around…I really don’t like waking up and hitting the trail only to find a better campsite 5 minutes down the trail!

Last night’s camp

My last camp was a well used site right beside the trail but it was peaceful and allowed an early exit so I could get home with time to spare on Sunday.  No-one passed by until dinner time when a couple with 2 large dogs arrived after the killer climb up from the Hwy 276 parking area and asked if there was a bald nearby…once I told them I had hiked another hour downhill (so their trip would be at least an hour and a half) they smartly turned around – nice to see folks make good decisions rather than push on without water and under prepared.

The views weren’t as good from this site, but I enjoyed a home-made pasta soup dinner and the last of the Mexican Mousse followed by the last of the Highland Park 12 – that’s my favorite daily dram when I can’t decide from which part of Scotland I want my whisky.

The next morning I decided to get a quick start so breakfast was a pre-dawn coffee followed by the last of my snacks (3 mini Snickers bars).

The drop down to the stream and parking area was short – about an hour – but steep (the picture above doesn’t do the drop justice).  However the views kept cropping up most of the way down…

My knees were thankful for my trekking poles and the larger flat trail along Shining Rock Creek was a welcome relief for the last stroll out.

Overall, I had a great trip – got to test my legs with some good climbs and drops, as well as pull 34 miles over a little more than two days hiking, and really test out my wet and muddy trail feet.  Feeling great after that little test I hopped home and promptly threw my hat in the ring for the TGO Challenge to cross Scotland next May.  I hope the November lottery is good to me and I get that chance!

Sidewinder Ti-Tri Stove – updated gear review

Just a quick note as I just completely revamped my original Trail Designs Sidewinder Ti-Tri stove with wood-burning Inferno insert. This stove is still my favorite piece of gear after three full years of use. I can’t recommend it more highly unless you just want to boil water and add it to a bag of food (if that’s your style then there are cheaper options). If you want versatile fuel options, the ability to simmer food, and one of the best wood burning stoves out there all weighing in under 5 ounces, then check it out.

New Gear Reviews – Vargo Triad Stove & 2 Sporks

I am starting to catch up on some of my incomplete gear reviews, and recently posted new reviews on Trailspace (with links on my Gear Review page) for the new 2017 model of the Vargo Triad Multi-Fuel stove and two utensils: the Humangear Gobites Duo spoon-fork combo and the Vargo Titanium Folding Spork. All are solid pieces of gear and good ideas, but may not work for every type of backpacker – see the details of each review to determine if its something of interest.  I have added two of these to my regular backpacking kit, but you’ll have to read the reviews to find out which one got left out!

Stay tuned for a few more in the next month as I clean out my gear review backlog to make room for some new gear tests.

Backpacking reviews, trips, and random thoughts