All posts by FlipNC

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.

Trip Report – Dolly Sods Wilderness WV

My wife and I had a couple of days free between family events in Pennsylvania.  We decided to take a short overnight backpacking trip in West Virginia, as we wouldn’t have time to do a 16 hour round trip to see the total eclipse.  So it was off to the Dolly Sods Wilderness…

For those not familiar with the area, the Dolly Sods are basically a plateau of rolling hills bisected by a couple of large streams.  Around 4000 ft elevation and relatively undeveloped, the area was once used as a bombing practice range for D-Day…

There are warnings about un-exploded ordinance still present in the area, although from what I understand the last find was in 2014.  It did make me limit the amount of bushwacking and stick to the trail at least for this trip with the missus!  The parking areas were busy with campers and day hikers, but we soon lost most of the people as it was a Monday.  I imagine this area is very busy on weekends.

After starting at the Blackbird Knob Trailhead, we had a short hike in and diverted north on the Red Creek Trail. We set up a luxury shaded lunch area in an open spot with great views to the south so we could enjoy the partial solar eclipse.

My wonderful wife had packed a couple of pairs of eclipse glasses that we bought back in the mid-2000’s.  She never forgets stuff like this – each of the kids and the neighbors were distributed pairs before we left town.  After a relaxing first-day lunch of fresh tomato and cheese in tortillas with hot sauce we chilled out and watched the eclipse develop.

Our lunch tarp was folded back and we enjoyed the first half of the eclipse…no great photos unfortunately as camera equipment is too heavy for my old knees!  This camera phone photo through the eclipse glasses is the best we got…and doesn’t really show the 90% eclipse coverage that was present at the time!

After we reached the maximum partial eclipse, the temps for an August afternoon were a fantastic 70 degrees so we decided to hit the trail again and take advantage of the cool down, and pause every once in a while to check on the back half of the progress of the moon over the sun.

Backtracking to the Blackbird Knob Trail we traversed the wilderness from east to west.  We had a beautiful afternoon walk along rolling hills and across pretty streams…

After a last check on the waning eclipse…

We then descended along the rocky and muddy Big Stonecoal Trail.  The amount of mud reminded me a lot of the White Mountain boggy areas – the Dolly Sods is well named!

Although planning to hike into the evening after the long eclipse/lunch stop, we found a fantastic campsite that couldn’t be passed up…I usually don’t use established camps if I can avoid it but how can you walk past the Camp of Thrones?

The large campsite allowed my wife to test out her first hammock as we have had trouble finding a comfortable tent system for her back issues…a future gear review is in the works.  This also enabled me to continue testing my Tarptent Stratospire 1 that I plan to use as my shelter in the Scottish highlands next year.

Dinner consisted of a couple of Packit Gourmet meals (Texas State Fair Chili for me and Trailside Pinto Bean and Cheese Burrito for my wife) before they expired…both were delicious but I have a bias toward their chili!

A peaceful starry night and relatively cool morning allowed for a nice hike down to the Rocky Point Trail through many of the varied natural communities in the Dolly Sods.  It seemed like we changed communities every time we blinked…the next few photos were taken within 45 minutes of each other…

grassy slow-moving stream valleys,

open bogs,

partially shady evergreen forest,

fern covered pine forest,

scrubby bog areas,

large rocky streams,

and rocky outcrops.

My wife and I really enjoyed the morning hike as it wasn’t too wearing except for sections with small shifting rocks, and the temperatures stayed relatively cool.

After a very steep but short climb up to the Lion’s Head, we arrived at a really great view and lunch spot.  Be sure you wander all the way out to the scenic spot on the rocks – a little hard to find but just use one of the unmarked trails until you get to the edge and then follow it to the open views.

I searched for a while but found no man-made features in the viewscape.  We enjoyed another lunch of our tomato and cheese tortillas.

You are not likely to fall off the edge unless you are silly…this is as close as I was allowed to go to the edge!

but watch your step as the cracks and crevasses between the rocks are deep…

The afternoon hike was much warmer than the previous day and we were wishing for another eclipse to cool it down!  Fortunately the open high country was broken by forest copses and pretty stream valleys to camel up and take breaks.

Due to our family commitments we had to cut our trip to one night, and missed out on the northern section but we really enjoyed this beautiful wilderness.

I’ll be back to further explore this fantastic area and all the trails!

Camp Site Selection

Selection of a good spot to camp is one of the most important aspects of a backpacking trip for me…I tend to spend at least 12 hours in camp so it directly affects over half my trip!  Note that this doesn’t apply so much to use of existing campsite locations, although even then you should be very careful of pitch location within the site.  Even at an old faithful campsite, conditions can change (i.e. weaker limbs on trees than the last time you were there).

I have a 3-level approach to selection of a camp site:

  • Pre-Trip Site Selection
  • General Site Selection
  • Pitch Site Selection

I thought it might be useful to go through each of these steps one by one in case folks are interested, and use both a good and marginal site result as two case studies.

Pre-trip Site Selection:

When planning a trip, I tend to avoid established camps and prefer Leave-No-Trace (LNT) campsites off-trail.  The first thing I do is establish my general mileage and route for the day.  This determines roughly where I will end up, which leads to the general camp location.  I look for an area on a topographic map with relatively flat contours and proximity to water.  This does not mean I camp by a stream…in fact over 2/3 of my camps are dry.  What it does mean is that I have the ability to “camel” up on water for the night and next morning within about an hour or so of the potential camp.

Here are two general areas I picked out for different trips…first in the White Mountains in NH and the second an unnamed quiet spot in an overused wilderness area close to me.

In the White’s, my wife and I wanted to have a quiet camp one of the two nights (the second was pretty much constrained to a tent platform site) and also shave off some of our second day climb up to the peaks.  An area on the USGS 1:24,000 topographic map looked like it had some potential off the Twin Brook Trail.  I was pretty confident we could find something for our 3-person tent, but since it was new territory I had a backup plan of dropping back down to the 13 Falls tent site below it….although that would mean re-climbing the next morning.

Here are several potential sites I picked out year’s ago at one of my favorite backyard wilderness playgrounds.  This area is mostly wooded and lower elevation so I wanted a fair weather site that got a lot of breeze and also some winter views after the leaf fall.  Several potential knobs not too far from water sources below are circled on the map.

General Site Selection:

Once I arrive in the general area, I will spend a good bit of time hunting around for the right site.  This may include wandering an area of several acres or heading further up the trail to see what’s around the next bend then backtracking if it doesn’t look as good.  I think that is the hardest part – going backward at the end of the day and feeling like you are losing ground.  However a good camp site is well worth it and most of the time I don’t regret that versus settling for a less ideal campsite.  This process can often take me 30 minutes or more.

In the White Mountains, this general selection took about 45 minutes. I first had to ensure that we were 200 feet from the trail (Forest Service rule) which wound around the area…a couple of sites were 200 feet from where I left the trail, but less from the trail ahead or behind due to the curve.  The ground was also extremely hummocky with few spots large enough for a 3-person tent that I was carrying since it was a couple’s trip with my wife.  This micro-topography is not something that you can pick out on topo maps, and unless familiar with an area it is a wild card.  I passed up a couple of  spots that seemed to have historically been disturbed. 

They were flat but had too much vegetation that I didn’t want to damage (especially the ferns).

We finally settled on the slightly higher area at the edge of a flat saddle that seemed to have potential to be a little boggy but was not wet this time of year.  You can see the lack of hummocks and relative lack of slope in this photo.  The site wasn’t ideal but dry enough based on the season and weather patterns.

In the other wilderness area with the three potential knobs, the site selection was easier.  The first (northernmost) one I hit was exactly what I wanted…flat topped and enough soil to get some of my variety of tent stakes to hold.

Pitch Site Selection

With both general sites selected, it’s down to the tent pitch selection.  First and foremost is safety…looking out for widowmakers and other loose branches that might damage the tent if the wind picked up.  This factors in with my preference for at least a decent chance of seeing stars so gaps in the canopy at forested sites are important.  Here is an extreme example of where you don’t want to camp!

Once I have a suitable pitch site for safety, it’s all about a good night’s sleep.  If the weather is good, I’ll lay down on the ground for a few minutes (usually on a ground cloth) and make little adjustments in the orientation of the pitch site to account for minor slope, roots, etc.  I try to avoid doing any site improvements so I can leave no trace in the end.

Finally, its the orientation of the tent – which way will the doors open and where will the pack go?  There is rarely a perfect campsite, but there are a lot that come close.

The White Mountain site turned out better than expected,

and the no-name wilderness camp has become a frequent peaceful stop for me on short winter trips when I can’t wander farther from home.

The research and field search for camping spots has become one of the most satisfying and rewarding aspects of my backpacking over the last decades.  Happy hunting for campsites!

 

Gear for the Aging (or Experienced!) Hiker

I have been backpacking since the mid 1980’s and although a bit older, it is still just as enjoyable to strap a pack on my shoulders and head into the forest or down the trail.  Not only enjoyable, but not that much more difficult since I can still do similar miles and climbs. I think this can be attributed to two things:

  1. My better attention to between trip fitness and training.
  2. Acquisition of better and lighter gear.

It’s the second one I have been thinking about the last couple of days.  My pack weight is now in the mid teens most (3 season) trips, which makes the miles go easier but also allows for some addition of items to make the trip more comfortable (and fitting into my “comfortably light” approach).  Several items help buffer my aging body from aches and pains including:

NEMO Astro Air Insulated Lite (19.5 oz) – a full size 3+ inch thick air mattress that provides the most comfortable sleep I have had in over 30 years of backpacking.

REI Trail Chair (20 oz) – a camp chair for my back that lets me relax on the ground or even inside the tent since it doesn’t have legs.  My lower back issues make multiple night trips without this a real pain!

Coccoon Ultralight Pillow (3.6 oz) or NEMO Fillo (9.2 oz) – an air or foam/air pillow for the night and chair lumbar support during camp hours.  I trade these out depending on the length of trip, preferring the Fillo for short trips but the lighter Coccoon for longer ones.  Trailspace reviews are coming soon on both.

Garmin Inreach (6.9 oz) – I compromised with my wonderful wife to allow her to keep track of my wanderings and not worry that I might have twisted an ankle or worse.  At first reserved about electronics in the backcountry (I am a traditional map and compass guy), now I enjoy the mapping capabilities of it through my phone. Review is in the works.

Trail Designs Ultralight Glasses (0.1 oz) – doesn’t aid my comfort but these small reading glasses for the trail that help my old eyes see maps and GPS units better without digging out my reading glasses from the pack.

These are the primary items I would never have carried in the past (or carried lighter versions like a mattress), but add so much comfort and enjoyment to my trips that I never leave them behind now.

The additional weight of these items is around 34 ounces (if you assume the air mattress replaces a simple foam pad).  This may seem like a lot of excess weight, but I still come in around 17-19 pounds of base weight for 3 season backpacking.  Getting a good nights sleep and comfortably lounging around camp are worth way more than the additional weight to me.

One other piece of gear I’ll add often is a bear canister (BV 450 – 31 oz).  I bought a couple of different sizes over the years as they are required in a couple of spots I spend a good bit of time.  Although close to 2 lbs, I carry it in more places than I would expect as it eliminates the need to hassle with hanging a bear bag, which I used to enjoy but now try to avoid.  Lots of people hang bear bags, but I rarely see one hung correctly at wild camp sites without bear bag lines etc already installed.  The difficulty of getting it just right (distance from a tree and height on a strong enough limb) is just not worth it to me. Plus, when I get up to make coffee at zero dark thirty, I don’t have to fuss with getting it down.  The BV series make handy camp stools as well. I used to not bring the trail chair when I had a canister, but I really need the lumbar support so now use both as a stool and backrest.

Top it off with my conversion to trekking pole use that has made the most difference to my bad knees and increased my mileage by a factor of 1.5 since I started using them.  Never mind the number of times they have saved me from a fall!

You can’t stop aging but sure can make it easier in the back country with a little additional weight!

Trip Report – Acadia NP and White Mountains

We are just getting back from a wonderful celebration of our 23rd wedding anniversary and a whirlwind trip through Maine and New Hampshire. It combined the best of everything…a couple of nice bed and breakfasts along with hearty dinners, camping and day hiking in Acadia National Park on the rocky coast of Maine, and backpacking along the legendary trails of the White Mountains in New Hampshire.  I’ll break this one into sections so you can scroll to the areas of interest…

MAINE & ACADIA NATIONAL PARK

The trip started off perfectly on our anniversary…we had a reservation in Camden, Maine (a quaint fishing village) for a night in a bed and breakfast as well as a great dinner at the B&B restaurant.  However, on arriving we found a Scottish pub right across the street.  My wonderful wife immediately cancelled our dinner reservations to allow me to partake of pretty authentic Scottish fare from my homeland at The Drouthy Bear (it means thirsty)!

We enjoyed an excellent Bacon Butty, an above average Sausage Roll, and the best Fish and Chips I have had in several years, washed down with traditional Scottish (Belhaven Wee Heavy) and local Maine beer (unfortunately I forgot which IPA but it was good!). I finished up with a decent dram of Scotch as well.  A perfect evening!

The next day it was off to Acadia National Park for our long awaited visit to this scenic spot.  We have learned over the years to maximize our enjoyment of an area by sacrificing convenience and highlights for quieter spots, so while planning the trip we were immediately drawn to the Schoodic Woods portion of the park and the hike-in campsites there.

The area did not disappoint…from the initial drive when we left everyone else turning right to go into Ellsworth and onto Mount Desert Island (main part of Acadia) and enjoyed a quiet drive up through Winter Harbor to Schoodic Woods.  Make sure to stop in at the JM Gerrish restaurant for some really good food (and great blueberry pie!) before camp!

The campsite we chose was the furthest walk (only about 5 minutes) from the parking area of those available, on a little knob of a hill.  We really enjoyed the peace and quiet, couldn’t see any neighbors, and just occasionally heard someone.  For those planning to hike-in camp here, I would recommend sites 2, 5, and 8.  Site 2 was booked but had a great view of Mt Desert Island, although it was a 10 minute hike up the hill.

After settling in, we went for a tour around the Schoodic peninsula and enjoyed the cold rocky coast and great views.

After dinner at camp we decided to head back to Schoodic Point and enjoyed sunset there with a few other folks.

Our next two days, we had planned to head over to Mt Desert Island by the ferry, and then go to a local wildlife reserve area for quieter hikes, but those plans changed as we settled into Schoodic.

Falling in love with this area and its peace and quiet, we immediately knew we would be coming back here and therefore didn’t feel the need to discover every corner or face the crowds in the main portion of the National Park in the summer, which we heard was pretty busy and would likely lessen our enjoyment.  We look forward to enjoying that in the off-season in the future and opted for a quiet couple of days.

Instead, we thoroughly explored Schoodic peninsula including taking the almost empty shuttle down to Anvil trailhead and hiking back to the camp, through the rocky hills with great views of Mt Desert Island…

and the Maine coast…

from The Anvil and Schoodic Head.  We then dropped into the beautiful woods and found bogs…

more hilltop rock outcrops…

and then more bogs with pitcher plants.

After that, we relaxed at camp for lunch and then spent the afternoon exploring the rocky coast areas and investigating the tidal pools.

This area really reminds me of Scotland and England where I spent my first decade…the life in the pools is dramatic and colorful.

We had a wonderful and relaxing day followed by dinner at The Pickled Wrinkle (decent food and a good beer selection) and still don’t regret skipping the main National Park area and saving it for next time.

NEW HAMPSHIRE & WHITE MOUNTAINS

Knowing we would be back freed us up to head out to New Hampshire a little earlier and do some last minute equipment shopping in Conway before heading into the White Mountains.  After picking up a couple of supplies and a (discounted) pair of hiking shorts with a mild/hot forecast, we enjoyed another night in a B&B and a hearty dinner and breakfast before heading to the Lincoln Woods trail head.

With her new ULA Ohm pack loaded up, my wife was ready for the trail!

An easy hike along the river on an old rail bed (Lincoln Woods Trail) was followed by a beautiful hike up the Franconia Brook Trail, past ponds and views of the hills we would be climbing. Our route led us to the 13 Falls and its tent site, which was an option for night one.

There were several groups at the campsite already.  As mentioned earlier, we are folks who like peace and quiet, so the idea of camping with a bunch of other hikers was not really ideal.  We gathered up water for the evening and headed up the Twin Brook Trail to look for a campsite off the trail in what looked like some flat areas on the topographic map.

After much searching to get a legal site (below tree line and 200 ft from trail or stream), we settled on a flat area a little elevated from a relatively spongy saddle.  While initially I was worried about the amount of bugs in the area, it turned out to be a nice little site that we left relatively untouched except for the usual dry patch of ground after some overnight rainfall.

We enjoyed a dinner of chicken and dumplings then a good night’s rest knowing that we had already shaved a bit of the next day’s climb from the itinerary.   The bugs weren’t bad and respectfully retired at sunset.

Day two in the Whites found us climbing for an hour to the Galehead Hut…

in time to buy a piece of fresh baked Mocha Cake that fueled my wife for the climb up to South Twin.

The trail lived up to expectations – a straight line rocky hop…

that led to some wonderful views…

Since this was our first experience in the Whites and my wife, while in great shape, was not as used to mountain trails like this, we decided to skip the out and back hike to North Twin and make for the Guyot campsite early enough to get a good spot.  We passed through some more great views on Guyot…

and a pretty fern forest…

before reaching the newly rearranged campsite (the site numbers below don’t match the wooden camp signs and several new platforms seem to have been built).

This turned out to be a great plan as we were the first to arrive as rain started coming down.  As  usual, we chose the tent platform furthest from everyone and holed up there for the next 15 hours as the rain pretty much fell continuously.  We socialized a bit in the cooking area with a late afternoon snack, but generally kept to our private platform while the camp filled up with tired hikers.

The camp host came by and recognized the Trailspace logo on my hat.  I think this bought us instant trail-cred and she OK’d us LNT cooking at the platform in the rainstorm (no crumbs – just boiling water for tea and coffee and a boil in the bag meal) since we had a bear canister along for the wild camp nights.

An evening in a tent in the rain talking and playing cards with your best friend is hard to beat! (No photos of camp as it rained consistently from mid-afternoon to the next morning.)

Our last day, we got a decent start and had a few views on the climb to Mount Bond…

although the mosquito squadrons were out in force well up to the heights…

and the top of Mount Bond was shrouded in mist.  My wife is pretty convinced that I wasn’t the first person to come up with “Bond, Mount Bond” upon reaching the peak, but I am going with that theory until proven otherwise!

I really enjoy walking through the clouds and fog, but we also wanted to take in some views.  Luckily the wind picked up and we got the best of both worlds along the Bondcliff Trail with periods of white out…

followed by breaks with incredible views.  I would put this section of trail up against any other for scenery and pure enjoyment of the terrain.  Walking along Bondcliff with the clouds rolling in and out added to the atmosphere…

and even the valley views were impressive.  I didn’t have the camera out enough for the peak views but we got a good share of those as well.

Bondcliff itself was shrouded most of the time with occasional views of Franconia Ridge, but we had little company as we traversed this incredibly striking rocky terrain.

Then we began to meet the weekend crowds as we descended along Bond Brook down to the valley below.

After a steep (knee aching) drop down Bondcliff to the Wilderness and Lincoln Woods trails, we hiked out with a couple of snack breaks.

The trip totaled 25.5 miles with some decent climbs, and my wonderful better half handled it all and really enjoyed the trip.  We dried out in a hotel in Concord before heading back into the warm south.

Like I said earlier, we will be back in the off-season some time to spend about 5 days in Acadia, and I know I will be back in the shoulder seasons to really explore the White Mountains in more depth, but we couldn’t have asked for a better anniversary celebration!

Tarptent Stratospire I – First Field Test

After my much documented 2-month layoff (see my whining in the previous couple of posts!) I managed to get 2 good nights out with the new Tarptent Stratospire I.

Quick summary: I have never like a tent this much on first use!

The Stratospire pitch on the first night was relatively easy (I had practiced at home 3 or 4 times while stuck around the house). While I didn’t have monster winds or any storms or rain to truly test, there was a steady breeze the first night and it barely ruffled the open flaps.

I used a combination of tent stakes for this trip with relatively rocky open ground:

  • Aluminum 6 inch Easton stakes (2) – 1 at each pitch-lock end
  • Titanium UL nails (4) – at the door/vestibule corners
  • Titanium ascent stakes (2) – at the main guy line locations

I carried 4 Y stakes (MSR Groundhog knockoffs) as well but didn’t need them – they usually replace the nails in softer ground. The taughtness of the pitch first time with little adjustment is what impresses me the most. I did have to make sure I set the pitch-lock ends up vertically.

I found it even a little easier the second night in a steady breeze to stake out the rectangle firsts then insert the trekking pole supports through the roof vents. This allowed me less hassle with getting it right and required only one adjustment to a stake once the tarptent was up.

I had ample room for my gear in each vestibule and my essentials inside the inner netting portion alongside my full size sleeping pad.  The only thing lacking for me personally in my organizational camp habits was a small door pocket to keep my headlamp and glasses (a long habit of mine).  I am planning to add that myself.  Having my entry/exit on one side and my cooking area on the other (I was not in bear country) was ideal.

The vestibule space and two doors are one of the key features I like the most, and the flexibility of this was apparent at a hot and sunny campsite on the second night out.  I rotated the closure of one half of the vestibule doors around to keep the tent shaded while still allowing critical air flow through the shelter.

Overnight, there was no visible sag, but obviously that is dependent on weather, be it rain, temperature change, or humidity.  The Stratospire was so sturdy that I had no concerns running a laundry line from one of the corners.

Breaking down the tent was easy as well – I prefer just for wet weather practice to unhook the inner netting first and pack that away then take down the tarp portion.  This goes quickly – the clips on the inner are a little finicky at first but it gets easy with practice.

Condensation was not an issue on this trip as I slept with both doors wide open both nights and left the netting open on the second night as well since the bugs weren’t bad.

I’ll keep testing this summer and into the fall/winter season and provide a post or two once the Stratospire has ridden out some severe weather.  And of course I’ll eventually post a complete gear review on Trailspace as usual.

TGO Challenge Planning Help

I thought I would pass on/distribute a few useful sites for folks like me who are planning on applying for the TGO Challenge for the first time. Several excellent information sources I have found include:

  • TGO Challenge (http://www.tgochallenge.co.uk/) – The official website chock full of excellent information from the general guidelines to specific information. The Message Board has a wealth of info from the old timers to excellent questions and worries of those starting out. Also, since the 2017 event concluded a month ago there are some fantastic links to blogs, videos, and photo galleries sharing many of the experiences.
  • Section Hiker (https://sectionhiker.com/category/trip-report/scotland/) – Philip Werner has consolidated an excellent page of information for those planning to hike in Scotland (TGO Challenge or otherwise). From trip reports to advice on planning and equipment, his experience and perspective coming from the US is invaluable for someone like me planning hopefully for the first time next year. Plus he spells his name right with one L!
  • On Historic Routes (http://on-historic-routes.com/2015/08/11/planning-the-tgo-challenge-from-abroad/) – Another great site with experience planning the TGO Challenge from outside the UK. Excellent suggestions to make things easier.

I hope these help fellow first time international hopefuls for the TGO Challenge – maybe I’ll see you in the Highlands!

Trip Report – Back to Mt Rogers, June 2017

Thrilled to be back on the trail!

FINALLY!  See my previous post for the frustration of being kept off the trail…

My work schedule had me in Winston-Salem on a Friday afternoon and the better half had a busy weekend, so I threw the pack in the car and took off for the closest high ground to get out of the early summer heat…Grayson Highlands and Mt Rogers again.

Brier Ridge
AT – The Green Tunnel is coming back!
First pony sightings.

I expected a ton of people at the outset and planned to spend little time on the Appalachian Trail in order to avoid the crowds.  Turned out that it wasn’t really busy at the Elk Garden Trailhead (I am sure Massie Gap was packed!).  I trotted in about 4 miles or so starting with some nice views and then the green tunnel of the AT (a lot different from my last trip here). Around 5:30 I diverted off the AT to Brier Ridge and a wonderful first night campsite…

Brier Ridge Campsite

The new Tarptent Stratospire 1 was a breeze to set up and allowed for wonderful views.  I didn’t bring a ground sheet on this trip so was very careful in campsite selection and despite my adherence to LNT principles I removed a couple of small briers from under the inner tent footprint.I could post the 10 or more photos I took of the Stratospire, but will save most of those for a future gear review.

The  evening was not too warm and I even slipped on a wind shirt while enjoying a wee dram of scotch after a filling pasta dinner (Knorr pasta mix with fresh supplemental ingredients from home).

Slainte mhath!

A great night’s rest in the high country, followed by waking in the pre-dawn to watch the sunrise.  Can’t beat this!

Sunrise over Wilburn Ridge

After a breakfast of instant coffee and Packit Gourmet West Memphis Grits Souffle (delicious!), I packed up camp and took my usual photo of the site to see how little “impression” I left.

Just a trace of camp left

I headed back along Brier Ridge and around the west side of Mt Rogers onto the spur trail down to the Lewis Fork Trail. This is a muddy horse track but a good test to see how fast my new boots would dry out!

Brier Ridge pony
Mt Rogers trail forest
Blooming rhodos on Pine Mountain
Reaching the crest again

I took the high route (there are two choices on the Lewis Fork Trail as it does a big U) to avoid the killer climb of Cliffside Trail since I hadn’t been out in a while. I quickly found myself back on top of Pine Mountain…one of my favorite areas. After watering up at the reliable spring near the Crest Trail, I headed east and found a shady spot with a good view south to Stone Mtn for a lunch break.

Pine Mtn looking southwest
More rhodos and views

After lunch, I had no real plan so headed through Scales, which had a large group of campers and some backpackers resting up, and up onto Stone Mtn. My planned campsite that night was going to be near the Bear Pen Trail with a view back to Wilburn Ridge, but I got there really quickly and decided to hoof it along the rest of the trails in the area and spiral back toward camp. I have done much off trail diversion in this area, so kept it easy on the AT, Scales, and Bear Pen trails just to add some miles and see if I cold find water down slope of the campsite.

AT and ponies on Stone Mtn
Flame azaleas on Stone Mtn

The campsite I had picked out on a previous trip lived up to my expectations…a nice flat area for the Stratospire and a great view of Wilburn Ridge and sunset. The only down side was unexpected heat…it got to over 90 in the tent that afternoon. I addressed that by sitting in the shade of the rocks where it was about 70 and watching a few of the ponies grazing for a couple of hours. Very peaceful!

Bear Pen Trail camp looking at Wilburn Ridge

Camp at sunset

I lugged a couple of liters of water up from a spring near the Bear Pen Trail -more than enough for dinner and breakfast. Dinner was my new staple on trips….Packit Gourmet Texas State Fair Chili!

Texas State Fair Chili with toppings!
TSFC – it tastes even better than it looks!

In my opinion, there isn’t a better way to a spend a couple of hours than sitting on a rock in the wilderness and watching the sunset while sipping on single malt whisky. This trip it was Lagavulin 16 to celebrate getting over my health issues and back on the trail!

Selfie with the Stratospire I

After a very restful night I packed up camp and headed back over Stone Mtn and along the Pine Mtn Trail. The rhododendron were in full bloom all weekend along with the flame azaleas.

Post camp photo
Grayson longhorn
Pine Mtn rhodo tunnel

Overall it was a fantastic trip…I put 26 miles under my belt from Friday at 4 to Sunday at 12. This gives me confidence that my back and leg are doing well and future fun is ready to be had!

I’ll leave you with a few more photos…

Looking south from AT near Thomas Knob Shelter
Cloud shadows!
A look back at Wilburn Ridge and Rhododendron Gap
Trees and rocks along the slope of Mt Rogers
Still feeling good after 26 miles
Crest trail and Whitetop in the distance
View after view!
More cloud shadows!
A last short walk to Elk Garden

Off the Trail…and back ON!

Sometimes life gets in the way of trail time…either family obligations or health issues. In my case for the last two months a combination of both. While it can be frustrating not to get that regular break from the rat race, I fill the time with gear analysis and trip planning. Right now its a late June trip to the White Mountains of NH and long-term planning for the TGO Challenge across Scotland.  I have also been tracking the progress of the current Challengers the last two weeks.

Since early April I have been sidelined with back and leg issues…but FINALLY things are in good shape and it looks like there is a chance for a quick trip the first weekend in June.  This is one of the longer breaks from backpacking I have taken in the last few years, and my excitement to get back on the trail even for a couple of nights is hard to describe.  When my schedule gets in the way its one thing, but when I know I physically can’t get out, that really wore me down.  Now I am back on the elliptical an hour a day (although it can’t simulate a 2000 ft climb!) and feel ready for the woods again.  Trip report to follow in a couple of weeks…