Tag Archives: backpacking

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 if hours. Very peaceful!

Bear Pen Trail camp looking at Wilburn Ridge

Camp at sunset

I lugged a couple if 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

Tarptent Stratospire I – First Impressions

So after much more research and a chat online with Henry from Tarptent, I decided my new tent would be the Stratospire I for several reasons:

  • Suitable for folks of my height (6 ft) – although its a little tight compared to my Solong 6 the carbon fiber rods create head room and if I brush against the netting, it’s a double-wall tent so no condensation issues like the Solong single wall section.

  • Double walled with removable inner.  This is a big advantage over my Solong 6 for trips with multiple days of rain and no time to dry out the tent.  I can set up the Stratospire in the rain and then get underneath and set up the inner, as well as pack everything up in the rain and keep it dry before getting out into the weather to take down the wet tent.
  • Two doors – I really have got used to having an entrance/exit on my solo tent, and having a second door/vestibule for gear and tent cooking.  It’s a luxury that is worth some extra weight to me.
  • Large vestibules allow lots of room to dump wet gear outside the inner tent and have at least some drying out in long rainy days.
  • MLD Trailstar and Duomid look like great tents as well, but I personally went to the Stratospire so I could have two doors and less bending of my lower back getting in and out compared to the Trailstar (I have constant back issues so this was a major item).
  • I liked the weight savings over the Scarp, and Henry said the Stratospire has been used a good bit in Scotland.  Therefore, it should suffice for high wind situations assuming I guy it out properly.

The initial back yard setup was a breeze.  I got it almost perfectly pitched the first time with minor adjustment in two stakes.  The ends with the carbon fiber poles make the setup and adjustment very easy and give a little more head room inside when laying down.

The last week I have played around with different stake types at the different corners to see what works best, and also worked with the trekking pole adapters to see if I prefer the pole handle up or down. The pole adapters work fine, but are a little more finicky during setup so I decided to ditch them and deal with dirty handle tops if that occurs. You have to be careful to make sure the pole tips get in the grommets but the one time I allowed that to slip out the reinforced tent suffered no damage – well constructed!

As far as tent stakes go, I decided to carry two of the long Easton stakes that come with the tent for the ends with the carbon fiber poles, 4 Y stakes and 4 titanium nail stakes for the other corners depending on the rockiness of the ground, and a couple of larger ascent stakes and really light shepherd hook stakes for guying out the lines in different terrain.

On top of that I have seam sealed it twice -once all over, and again on the upper pole grommet stress points.  This worked for the most part but not 100% as I still got a drip or two and could see moisture built up in the reinforced area (photo above).  I queried Tarptent and Henry suggested that I use the two week old thicker sealant solution without wiping it off after application.  I did this and it seemed to work.  You can see below that the sealant is inside the seam (dark areas), and this did the trick under another soaking from the hose.

Overall I am very happy with the Stratospire I, in theory, as a balance of weatherproof, room, accessibility, and weight, but have not been able to real-world test it yet…a combination of work deadlines and lower back issues have made me cancel my monthly wilderness trips for now…stay tuned for a full review and update once I get back on the trail!

New Gear Reviews: Marmot Ether Driclime Jacket and Sawyer Picaridin & Permethrin

Just a quick note that three new gear reviews are available on that page…I have time on my hands while stuck in the house with a bad back/sciatica along with a busy work load.  New gear reviewed is:

TGO Challenge Obsession

The Great Outdoors Challenge

In the last few months, I have become infatuated, maybe even obsessed, with the idea of walking across Scotland – either on my own or hopefully, if accepted, in the TGO (The Great Outdoors) Challenge.  This annual event in May organizes a two-week crossing of the Scottish Highlands for around 300 folks.  They keep the entrants to a mixture of about half new and half returning walkers.

I can’t pin down one reason this event has captured my interest, but realistically it is a combination of multiple factors:

  • Interest in going back and hiking some of the areas I walked with my grandfather in distant memories growing up in Scotland.
  • The passing of my Scottish mother last year, leaving me as the last Scottish-born member of the immediate family.
  • My love for high, open country and walking in all sorts of weather.
  • The descriptions of the hiking including bog and stream crossings, that I have “trained” for all my professional career slogging through all types of wetlands.
  • Vague memories of towns and vacations in the highlands coming back stronger when I look at maps of Scotland.
  • My enjoyment of single malt Scotch whisky and good Scottish food (especially breakfasts and pies!).
  • Turning 50 in 2018 and hoping to celebrate with the walk through my birthplace in the highlands.

I’ll try to document my progress in researching, planning, applying, and (hopefully) going on the TGO Challenge from the start.  There are many excellent blogs associated with the Challenge, including some from newcomers.  I’ll add those to the links page as well over time as I read through more of them.  I am looking forward to this journey in a way I have never felt about any other backpacking trip!

Backpacking and Alcohol

I rarely strap a backpack on for an overnight or longer trip without a flask of my favorite single malt scotch tucked in a side pocket. For this week’s trip, I have decided on The Glenlivet 12 Year.

This is a habit I got into in the 90s and don’t mind the extra weight. Having a daily dram after dinner while watching the stars is a perfect ending to a day in the wilderness.

Some say it’s dangerous to drink in the back country, and I don’t disagree if you over indulge. Excessive alcohol can impair judgement during critical situations and can lower your body temperature and contribute to dehydration. However, a small amount like I enjoy doesn’t seem to make a significant difference even after a long day and in sub freezing temps has not made me noticeably colder (in fact seems to warm me up a bit!). Note that at high altitudes alcohol has a larger effect, so reduce or eliminate it for high mountain trips.

If you are going to carry something to sip on, check out my review of the GSI flask on my Gear Review page and drink responsibly.

Slainte mhath!

A couple of winter adjustments…

As I adjust my gear list for the current and upcoming cold weather season, I thought I would post a couple of the adjustments that I make besides adding cold weather clothes etc…

 

First off, for my alcohol stove I carry an extra little fuel container – actually an old camp soap container.  This 2 ounce bottle stays in my pocket and keeps relatively warm.  I find that the fuel lights better when it is not freezing cold.  It also has a handy dispenser cap that makes filling the stove much easier.  I will probably consider carrying it next year as well regardless of temperature.

The other adjustment that comes immediately to mind is going back to my trusty Nalgene bottles.  This has multiple benefits over Smartwater and other disposable bottles that are lighter.  First, they don’t freeze very quickly and once they do, the wide mouth allows you to chip away at the ice if needed.  Even better, they are tough enough to lay near the stove and help thaw out….in the photo above I am cooking bannock and also thawing my water bottle.

This is not all you must do to “winterize” your kit, but its a start.  See the links section for several sites with excellent winter backpacking advice.

Fresh Backpacking Bread

OK.  It doesn’t look pretty, but there is absolutely nothing I like better on the trail than fresh bread.  My standard recipe is “bannock” – a Scottish word for a type of flat bread.  Despite being born in Scotland, and moving to the US at age 10, I didn’t hear of bannock bread until the early 1980s as I started backpacking.  An old 1960’s book by Bradford Angier, “Home in Your Pack”.

Within this little book, with much outdated information, is almost a whole chapter on bannock including the simple recipe:

A little oil in a pan/pot, the right amount of water mixed in the ziploc with the ingredients, and about 5 minutes later you have fresh hot bread.  I eat it sometimes on a long lunch break with some cheese and bacon bits or other protein.  Most often, I cook it fresh for breakfast and eat it with a bit of string cheese or just on its own – breaking off nice warm pieces between sips of coffee on a frosty morning.

Variations that I seldom use but are excellent

  • add some berries picked along the trail
  • add less water and make more of a biscuit
  • drop it on top of cooked fruit like apples and it will quickly cook into a cobbler

This is not an ultralight meal, but it hits the spot on cold days.  There are few things better to satisfy hunger and warm your insides than this!

Solo Backpacking Safety – Decision Time

A couple of recent trips and non-trips got me thinking about my favorite way to travel in the backcountry – solo – and how that may affect decision making on, or off, the trail.  A couple of examples:

A few weeks ago I went on a trip to Shining Rock Wilderness in western NC while my wife was at a four-day event mid state.  I planned to drop her off on the way and pick up on the way back and have three nights in the woods.  Starting on day two, I began to feel excessively tired and also began to get a constant heart burn.  By night two, it was difficult to eat and I had no energy.  A decade or so ago (I am quickly approaching 50 now), I would have soldiered through and toughed it out.  However, since I was on my own and in a relatively untraveled part of the wilderness, I decided to leave a day early at a slow pace.  Turns out that I was definitely feeling sick and got a little worse, but luckily the heartburn was just that (and coincidental with trying a new dish in the field rather than at home like I usually do).  I don’t regret leaving a day early – better safe than sorry when solo at my age, and I have always promised my lovely wife that I would be careful to ease her worries.

Here we are a few weeks later, and due to bad luck I cancelled a weekend trip to VA to another wilderness area.  I was going to leave on Friday after work and have a short two-night exploration of an area I hadn’t been to in a couple of decades.  Woke up Friday morning feeling awful and stayed home from work.  It was difficult, with my trusty pack already to go and in mid-afternoon feeling a bit better, but I held with the initial decision to postpone a week.  Good decision as I slipped back on Friday night and am still feeling kind of puny on Saturday – not the fitness level you need to tackle several steep climbs and waterless ridges.  The pack is staying by the door ready for next weekend!

I guess the moral of the story is when going solo, and especially as you advance in “experience” (age), playing it safer is probably the best option for you and your significant others.

Backpacking Lights – Extra batteries or backup light?

While packing for a weekend trip, I realized I have been packing extra batteries for my headlamp (or previously flashlight) as a standard item in my “Repair Kit” for a long time.  This approach has a couple of flaws:

  • On a short trip, there is no need for additional batteries unless the ones in the light are already worn down or you expect to do a lot of night time activity.
  • The extra batteries don’t address a failure in the light except for dead batteries

So I decided to alter my gear list, and take just the headlamp with fresh batteries.  At the last minute while at the outdoor store, I saw a clip light for baseball caps.  On a whim I bought one and threw it in my pocket for the weekend.  Turns out, I like this little light – the Amphipod Swift Clip Cap Light – for a short trip.  I am working on a full review for Trailspace, but in short this thing weights a half ounce, takes up almost no room, and is a serviceable light for around camp.  I threw it on my ball cap in the evening to try it out and it worked fine for camp chores and walking around a bit.  It was also nice to have in my pocket when I arrived at camp in dusk and didn’t want to dig out my headlamp.  I would not hike with it at night as it isn’t super bright and has only one setting except for strobe.  You can’t pack it tightly as it doesn’t have a lockout, and it also has to cycle through the annoying strobe before turning off.  But for short trips with no need for extra batteries, the Swift Clip might be worth the half ounce in the event of a headlamp failure.

Don’t take my negatives above to be a detractor of the Swift Clip for its primary purpose. Amphipod does not market this as a backpacking headlamp.  It is probably much better suited for running and other activities for which it is designed.  However, I am always looking for items that have additional uses for hiking, and this is a great little backup light with no real weight penalty.