Upper Loop Trail at Fall Creek Falls

A few weekends ago I got the opportunity for an overnight adventure, and I decided to check out the Upper Loop Trail at Fall Creek Falls. The Upper Loop is about 15.5 miles with the current detour, it’s lightly trafficked and rated as moderate on Alltrails.

As far as Tennessee trails go, this is less than extraordinary during the summer. There really aren’t any noteworthy views, it is very overgrown, spiders and webs are a constant battle along the whole trail, the bugs are much worse than other similar trails I’ve been on in the state and there are a TON of downed trees that require you to squeeze under or make wide detours off the trail. With that being said, the back country camping area was the one redeeming quality from my short weekend trip. The established fire rings and ample space close to filterable water made camping alone, since all the other camp sites were vacant on a Friday night, very enjoyable. I would recommend this trail in Spring, Fall or Winter when there is more to look at. But if you’re looking for a quick 15 miles or a manageable overnight trip. The trail camp sites here make it worth the trip, just make sure to pack a lot of extra bug spray if you go during the summer months. The chiggers are out in force.

You can find directions and more information on the Upper Loop Trail by following the following link. https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/tennessee/fall-creek-falls-upper-loop

As always, I’ve posted attached some of my favorite pictures from this hike below.

 

Easy and Valuable Hammock Modifications

I really can’t praise Clark Hammocks enough for the NX-270. This Cadillac of the hammock camping world has kept me dry and comfortable in torrential downpours on the Lone Star Hiking Trail near Houston Texas, kept me warm on some of my favorite Indiana trails during the spring and fall and more recently gave me a much needed reprieve from the bugs on the Knobstone Trail in southern Indiana. It’s roomy with plenty of storage space for gear, and very comfortable to sleep in even for bigger gentlemen like myself. But if you’ve ever spent an entire day walking through the wilderness you know the last thing you want to do when you stop for the day is spend 45 minutes setting up camp. This was one of the many reasons I switched to hammock camping in the first place. But some of the adjustments I’ve made to my hammock setup in the last year might help you save some precious time when you stop for the day to make camp after a long day on the trail.

(Below is my setup BEFORE modification. You can see the closest rope hanging close to the tree. Total setup time here was approximately 35 minutes due to the conditions.)

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While my Clark NX-270 was pretty incredible right out of the box, I found that it was sometimes taking me upwards of 30 minutes to make camp at the end of the day because of issues with the nylon ropes tangling or my knots coming loose. Additionally, almost everywhere that I went hiking down south required tree straps to be used for anyone that was out hammock camping. So after dealing with tying and untying wet nylon rope in the rain on the Lone Star Trail I decided that I needed to make a change.

I started by getting a nice set of “atlas straps” and researching lightweight / high quality carabiners. Once I had done my research I purchased the gear and “cut the cord” with my Clark’s nylon ropes. By using atlas tree straps that give you a lot of leeway when choosing hammocking trees and sturdy lightweight climbing carabiners with screw locks I was able to cut my camp setup time down from around 30 minutes to about 5 minutes. Meaning that I can stay on the trail longer if I need to without having to plan for such a big window to setup camp before dark. It’s now as easy as looping the straps around a tree and clipping in my hammock. This also lets me make quick adjustments if I need to, without untying, adjusting and retying any rope. The carabiners also serve as drip rings to prevent rain from wetting the hammock during heavy rain storms. So far these modifications have made a world of difference for me, and I hope the idea can help you.

(Below is my setup after modification, very hard to tell at first look. But setup time is reduced significantly without impacting functionality)

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For me, that extra time at the end of the day means getting to eat dinner in the remaining sunlight and, getting a nice fire going if the trail allows it. I’ve provided links below to the basic gear I’ve used for my setup.

Clark NX-270 ($389) – https://junglehammock.com/product/nx-270-tent-hammock-4-season-backpacking/

Domum 25KN Super Lightweight Carabiner Clip ($8.99 each) – https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01LVY1L1I/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

HangTight Hammock Straps ($16.95) – https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00YFH8498/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o06_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Hiking the Knobstone: Day 2

Little did we know when we began planning this trip at the end of August, that Indiana would be hit with an unseasonably warm spell at the end of September. As it turns out, the weekend we decided to hit the trail. We spent our time on this iconic Indiana trail alone due to the high heat and humidity. Temps were in the 90s and humidity was nearly as high.


Even being a hammock camper where you’re usually afforded the luxury of a gentle breeze throughout the night. Our first and what would turn out to be our only night on the Knobstone Trail was devoid of any breeze, while the temps never dipped below 78 and the humidity made for a very sticky attempt at sleep.

When morning came we broke camp with first light, I know I slept about 2 hours in total because I absolutely could not stop sweating the entire night, and I had somehow become covered with black ants during the time I set up camp. I don’t think Dad slept much more than I did. After breaking down camp and eating a quick breakfast I downed close to a liter of water  because I could already feel the dehydration setting in.


Once we started out in the trail it was immediately evident that I had no idea what I was getting into when I stepped foot on this trail.  The Knobstone is a relentless rollercoaster of steep climbs and fast descents. During the first hour and a half on the trail we progressed about 2 miles and finished nearly all of the remaining water we had on us while having to constantly swat down large spiderwebs that were strewn across the path as it seemed that we had been the only hikers on this portion of the trail in a few days. Luckily, a local trail club had anticipated a few hapless adventures taking on the trail in the current conditions and had stashed a few gallons of water at nearly every road crossing we came upon. 

We gladly refilled our water every chance we got  and continued on at a breathtakingly slow pace (my pace), taking every opportunity we had to drink water and attempt to cool down. Eventually stopping at a creek that I promptly dove into after stripping down to compression shorts. The temps were already into the high 80s and the humidity was stifling by a quarter after 10 and after slowly making our way another 2 miles we came to a road crossing that was stocked with more water gifted by trail angels. It was at this point, with sweat soaked through all of my clothing and my pack, having downed nearly 2 gallons of water in 8 miles on the trail and still feeling the effects of severe dehydration. Sitting on a log on the side of the road with my dad, I decided to end my trip on the Knobstone. At least this time around.

After getting a ride from a local thru hiker and retiree, getting some food and more water in our bellies and catching up on sleep that I’d missed in the sweatiest night that I’ve ever hammocked through. I saw the full scale of what happens when you sweat through your bug spray in prime chigger weather in Indiana.


All in all my first experience on the Knobstone was nothing close to what I was expecting it to be. But I had a good time hiking with my father and made some more memories that we can add to our future campfire stories. The Knobstone beat me down this time and left me with the worst case of chiggers that I’ve ever seen. But I’m not deterred, next time we set out to tackle this trail I’ll be better prepared for the hills, hopefully it won’t be this hot, I’ll overapply my bug spray and we’ll complete the whole thing.

We did get some cool pictures while we were out that I’ll post below.

If you’re interested in hiking the Knobstone trail, further information is available below.  https://www.in.gov/dnr/forestry/4275.htm

Happy Trails!

Hiking the Knobstone: Day 1

Well, more like day 1/4. After a morning of prep (and work for my Dad) and an hour and a half drive from Peru, Indiana to Bloomington, Indiana to meet up with Dad before rushing another hour down to Corydon to cache water and start our hike. We FINALLY hit the trail at a little after 6pm. We managed to make it a little past the 5 mike mark after hiking by headlamp for the greater part of an hour.


The first 4 miles of the trail are gently rolling hills, not too much of a bother. But once you get past the 4 mike marker the trail starts going up, and doesn’t stop for what seems like an eternity to an out of shape hiker that’s gotten used to the flat trails in Texas. So we have 1 “hill” down and so much more to go. Elevation profile added for dramatic effect.


Looking at the 40+ miles to go, and knowing what lays in store definitely gives me one of those “what the hell did I get myself into” frames of mind. But I’m determined to finish this hike while I’m back. I don’t know the next time I’ll get to hike with my father, and I want this trip to go successfully in the record books. We just happened to pick the hottest, most humid weekend of the year to accomplish it. But I guess the unforeseen challenges are what make it that much more memorable.
Anyway, after managing to set our hammocks up  by headlamp (kudos to Atlas Straps and aluminum carabiners) and sitting around a small fire to dry off and get the bugs off of us. We’re both ready to snooze in our hammocks. I know tomorrow will be challenging, but I hope I have the fortitude to overcome.

If you’re interested in hiking the Knobstone trail, further information is available below.  https://www.in.gov/dnr/forestry/4275.htm

Happy Trails!

Back on the Low Gap: 2017 Edition

2017 has been full of excitement so far, but much of it has been away from hiking trails. I’ve found that South Texas gets pretty hot during the summer, and that heat isn’t great for hiking or backpacking like I’m used to. So most of this summer was dedicated to overtime at work and catching up on Game of Thrones so that I could be just as disappointed as everyone else that the last season won’t start for another 18 months. However, the end of August brought with it a month long trip back home to Indiana to visit family. Just after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in our area. Luckily where we live in New Braunfels, TX was relatively mild, getting much less rain than areas further east like Houston. We’re thankful that our area didn’t get hit worse and that we were still able to make the 18 hour road trip home without having to drive through much of the storm.

Once back in Indiana where the temperature is about 20 degrees cooler than back home in New Braunfels, I didn’t waste any time getting back on my favorite Indiana trail: the Low Gap. This particular trip was special because in addition to getting back on trail with my Dad (the other half of Free Range Hiking), I had the opportunity to take my Brother in Law on his first backpacking trip as well as introducing him to hammock camping. The Low Gap trail was a great starting point for him and a good reintroduction to less than flat trails for me. Texas has some great hiking, but most of the trails close to where I live are flat and rocky, a very stark contrast to central Indiana’s heavily wooded dirt paths.

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This hike was great, we got to Morgan Monroe State Forest at about 3, while it was still sunny and in the 70’s. It was forecasted to rain so we intended to make camp early, get a fire going and call it an early night. We managed to put in about 4 miles before the rain hit and the wind started to pick up. But we were still able to put up our hammocks and get the fire started with plenty of daylight left. So I introduced Jt, my Brother in Law, to JetBoil stoves and expensive Mountain House dinners. He wasn’t overly impressed with the food. But I think that had more to do with the fact that his clothes had gotten wet in the rain and less about the quality of the food. Regardless, he opted to forgo the mountain house meal and eat a quick, cold dinner while he got more acquainted with the fire.

 

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Before long we were all snug in our hammocks, lulling to sleep as we listened to the rain pattering on our rain fly’s. This was the 5th night I’ve spent in rainy/cold conditions in my Clark NX-270 hammock and each time I’ve slept more comfortably than I do in bed at my own home. I can’t speak highly enough of these hammocks and how they perform in all 4 seasons. Unfortunately, the Hennessey classic that JT was in didn’t stand up to the temps quite as well as my hammock and he spent most of his first night on the trail shivering from the cold. We’ve all been there, we know how much it sucks. I was hoping for a better experience from his first hammock camping experience, but we live and we learn. The next morning we were up with the sun, warming up around the fire, cooking and eating breakfast (MH Breakfast Skillets and instant coffee), showing Jt how to break down camp and readjust the straps on his pack before hitting the trail to knock out the remaining 6 miles.

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Overall this was a great first trip, the Low Gap was the first trail that I stepped foot on as an adult and it is the trail that made me fall in love with hiking/backpacking. On this trip it was a great reminder that even small hills suck when you’re fat and out of shape, and that being out in nature with great company is the best motivator to keep you coming back.

Directions and further information on this trail are available in the link below.  https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/indiana/low-gap-trail

Happy Trails!

More pictures below.

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Five Reasons You Should Be Hammock Camping

Hammock camping has been quickly gaining popularity in recent years. Owing its increased success and visibility to updated designs, increased affordability and a few books like Lost on the Appalachian Trail by author and AT/PCT Thru Hiker Kyle Rohrig (highly recommended) who rave about their successes hammock camping on famous long trails. For a lot of people hammock camping is simply something that they have never been introduced to, let alone tried for themselves. But in my personal experience it’s something that you try a few times before realizing you’ll never go back to tents. So here are 5 reasons that you should be hammock camping.

  1. Leave no trace. If you’re the outdoor adventure type you’ve probably read and follow the “leave no trace” principals. Those of us that love the outdoors want to continue loving the outdoors and share than love with others for as long as possible. In a lot of cases people take “leave no trace” as simply packing out what you pack in and picking up trash here and there. But there is a lot more to it than that. Our forest ecosystems are fragile and every plant serves a multitude of functions and purposes that are invaluable to the ecosystem. When we set up tents, the first order of business is usually clearing away weeds, twigs and other undergrowth so that we have a relatively flat, even place to sleep. But on top of further altering the environment the clearing and smashed undergrowth is a spotlight to other hikers that someone slept there recently. Using a hammock, especially with the use of tree straps, completely eliminates this problem because the straps won’t harm the trees and the only thing that the hammock compresses is air. I especially enjoy this because it allows me to camp in areas that just wouldn’t work with a tent due to undergrowth or slope of the ground. It also allows you to remain better hidden from others in the forest or along the trail. Since we all crave that “alone with nature” feeling, staying hidden to other hikers outside of your group is a must. It also keeps you safer, since strangers can’t find you easily.
  2. Hammocks are light weight and don’t take up much room. Tents inevitably come with tent poles, and even the lightest tent poles still take up more room and weigh more than fabric. They’re also rigid and difficult to compact past a certain point. Hammocks on the other hand, are either mostly or all fabric. Even the higher end hammocks like the Clark Jungle Hammocks (pictured above) that come with small poles to eliminate the need for a ridge line are still easy to compact and store. When you’re planning an overnight backpacking trip anywhere space is critical, and the three biggest demands for space in your pack come from shelter, food and warmth (sleeping bag, clothing). These are also staple items that you always need to carry, so anytime you can cut weight or space taken up by these items you’re doing yourself a favor. If you intend to hike ultralight, meaning you base back weight is at or below 20 pounds, a hammock is probably for you. Even the heaviest 4 season hammocks weigh about 2 and a half to 3 and a half pounds and most are substantially lighter than this and if you’re not into cowboy camping or sleeping on the ground under an open tarp, then hammocks are your best friend.
  1. Setup time, especially with the use of tree straps, is a fraction of the time it takes to set up a tent. After the third or fourth time you set up your hammock, when you start to get comfortable with it. The process takes about 3-5 minutes. If you use carabiners and tree straps the time is cut down to less than 2 minutes. Once you’ve been out on a few trips, setting the ropes becomes second nature and it takes even less time. A tent on the other hand takes 5-7 minutes even when you’re practiced and sometimes upwards of 15 minutes when you’re new to wilderness camping. If you’ve ever hiked a 20 mile day in the winter, you know that fighting dusk to get camp set up and a fire going is never fun. You want to have a shelter system that you can set up quickly without cutting corners. The last thing you want to do in the middle of the night after a 15 or 20 mile day is have to get up and fix your tent in the cold darkness because you set it up too quickly and had it fall apart at 2am.
  1. Great sleep. Have you ever slept on a cloud? I have, and so has anyone else that has gone through a blissful night in a hammock. I tent camped for the first 25 years of my life, and I can’t tell you how many times I searched and searched for the perfect, flat, grassy area to set up my tent, just to crawl in at night and be right on top of a hidden root or jagged rock that I didn’t see when I set the tent up. Even if you manage to find that perfect rock and root free spot, you still have 8-10 hours of sleeping on thousands of feet of compacted rock and dirt. My lower back hurts just thinking about it. You never have that problem when you sleep in a hammock. No roots can touch you,  not rocks can prod you awake and no unpleasant pressure points to stiffen your joints and dampen your spirits. There is also the added benefit of not being on the ground when the rain comes, because it always does. A properly setup hammock and rain fly combo will keep you tucked away, dry and warm even in the most torrential downpours.
  1. No critters or bugs. One of the biggest turn offs to hammock camping in the past was the bug aspect, and the fear of waking up with a raccoon or possum sitting on your chest wanting to know where the food is at. Fortunately, I recent years the hammock camping professionals have wised up and added integrated bug nets as a standard feature on almost all dedicated camping hammocks. Even if you want to go the budget route you can buy a few yards of noseeum netting and attach it to an ENO hammock with a quick and dirty ridgeline for pennies on the dollar compared to what you pay for a dedicated overnight hammock. Nothing feels as good as laying in your hammock at the end of a long day hiking and seeing the mosquitos on the other end of your bug net, cursing you for outsmarting them.

 If you’re still not convinced that hammock camping is the way of the future, find someone who is doing it already (we call ourselves hangmen, we’re everywhere) and ask if you can take their hammock for a spin on your next overnight adventure. They can probably show you some cool knots to use to make the experience a lot less painful too.

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The Lone Star Hiking Trail: Day 3

My third day on the LSHT ended up being my last on this particular trip. From the minute I woke up to the heavy tapping of rain pouring from the forest canopy onto my rain fly I knew that this day would be different than the past two. The ground at my feet was soaked, the temperature had dropped during the night and my gear and clothing was still damp from the day before. The worst of it all was the fact that I no longer had dry shoes or socks to wear, and my feet were worse for wear now. On the previous day’s pursuit of the 20 mile day I had neglected my feet for the entire second half of my day and I now had several large, painful blisters on each foot. I spent most of the first hour of daylight doctoring my feet with moleskin while I boiled water and cooked the mountain house meal that I had skipped the night before. Once I got my hammock broken down and stowed, cleared as much of the standing water off of my rain fly as possible and stowed it, I was on my way. After another 4 miles on the sandy, flooded trails that had swollen to a full blown creek with all the rain of the past 2 days the trail came out of the woods and followed a forest road for most of the next 4 miles.

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Walking on the forest road was much quicker than navigating through the underbrush and around dead fall blocking the trail in the forest, in a futile attempt to keep my already soaked feet as dry as possible. The down side to walking on the forest road was that with the absence of mental stimulus that comes with trying to find a dry, clear footpath in a rainstorm. I was now painfully aware of each and every blister on my feet, I was also becoming painfully aware of how hard it was raining on this day. That terrible, heavy rain that makes you think “I’ll wait this out, it can’t last forever”. The truth is that it doesn’t last forever, but sometimes it lasts all day. This was one of those days. I decided to listen to an audible book to help pass the time and keep my mind occupied. After a little over an hour and a few road changes I came back to a forest path that was mostly dry, but my feet were still wet, I was cold and wet and my spirits were in the tank. But  I kept on the path, a little while into the path I passed the 30 mile marker. That was a small victory for my morning. I tapped it with my hand as I passed, like I’d done with all of the others and thought “only 16 more for the day”, as I continued down the path.

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There were many stretches of trail over the next 5 miles that switched between dry pine needle strewn forest path and deep pools of water that required you to soak your feet up past your ankles or walk a good distance off the trail through the underbrush in order to keep your feet dry. At this point I was painfully aware of how badly I’d neglected my feet up to this point so I opted for the latter option. I had done a decent job of keeping all new water sources out of my shoes for most of the morning. That was until I got to the spillway. Out of the blue there is a portion of the trail where you come to a paved road and several houses. There are no tree markings at this point, just a T in the road. So after pulling out my trail map and finding where I was, I saw that I needed to go left about 200 yards to the pump house that sits on the “lake”. The trail map says that there is a hose behind the pump house where you can fill your water without having to filter. This was great news to me since I had been out of water for the last couple of miles. After a quick refill my spirits rose, for all of about 2 minutes, until I got to the path that crosses the spillway. At this point just a moss covered concrete slab with water rushing quickly over it. The moss made the path slippery so I had to move slowly to avoid being swept away in the current of water that was leading off into the forest to my right. The water was already ankle deep and fast moving. The combination of the two quickly soaked my shoes and socks once again.

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After this my spirits were at an all time low. But I continued on into the forest until coming to parking lot 8 where the trail forks, one path leading to the highway and the other leading down into the forest. I took the path into the forest for about a mile before realizing that I couldn’t remember seeing a trail marker since leaving parking lot 8. As I was telling myself I would follow the path for a little longer to see if I could find a trail marker I came face to face with one of the only other hikers that I encountered on this trip. We exchanged “afternoon” before he let me know that I was indeed off of the LSHT and was currently on an ORV path. “Its a big loop I like to hike to add miles to my day hike” he told me before asking how far I was going today. After I told him that I was planning on thru hiking the trail he came back with “You know they’re calling for tornadoes tonight don’t you? I wouldn’t want to be out in the woods if one of them comes through”. After this I agreed that I, in fact, did not want to be in the forest if a tornado came through. Especially given my already miserable conditions. At this point I made the decision to hike the mile or so back to parking lot 8 and call for a taxi ride back to my truck, about 35 highway miles away. After fighting waterlogged fingers and a wet phone screen for about 10 minutes, I managed to get a  hold of a taxi company that knew where I was at, and managed to snap a crappy quality picture of what the trail looked like at this point in the afternoon, after over 24 hours of continuous heavy rain.

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In the end, the trail got the best of me on this trip. Both physically (feet) and mentally (rain). But I left trail head 8 happy that I had spent the time that I did on the trail and looking forward to coming back at a time when I can walk ON the trails instead of next to them because of all the rain, and without the fear of windstorms blowing over the tree that I’m attached to while I sleep. I’m looking forward to getting back out and finishing the rest of the trail, but next time I’ll take a few more pairs of socks just in case.

If you’re interested in hiking the Lone Star Trail, additional information and directions are available in the link below.                                                                                                      http://lonestartrail.org/

Happy Trails!

The Lone Star Hiking Trail: Day 2

 


Day two of my trip started out rainy, and the weather stayed that way. I woke up around 6 in the morning to the same sound I fell asleep to. The patter of rain on my rain fly (video above). I’ve camped in the rain dozens of times in my life, and I never get tired of it. Hiking in the rain on the other hand can be a real pain in the ass. Or pain in the feet as myself and so many others have found out the hard way. Once daylight hit I broke down my hammock and put it away, boiled water for coffee and a mountain house breakfast. I took advantage of the time my food was cooking to collect some rain water for later on the trail, since it was coming down pretty hard. I also grabbed my “lunch” of two nutrigrain bars and a few cups of GORP and put them in the waist strap of my pack. I don’t always feel like stopping to have lunch, depending on how hard the trail has been and how I’m feeling that day. So I like to keep my lunch in an easily accessible area, so I don’t have to dig into my food bag to find it. Once lunch was prepped and coffee and breakfast were devoured I took down my rain fly, shook as much of the rain droplets off of it as possible and packed it up.

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By this time, the trail has taken on so much rain that about 40 percent of the trail that I came across on this day looked very similar to the picture above. I spent most of my time finding flat, clear places to hike adjacent to the actual trail in a futile attempt to keep my shoes and socks dry. In the end they only stayed dry for about the first 5 miles. At around mile 4 I started to feel the morning coffee doing what morning coffee does, and just as I was lamenting the fact that I was going to have to dig a hole in the mud and try to answer natures call. I came around the corner of the trail to an empty parking lot and the glowing blue glory of a port-a-john. “Salvation!” was all I could think as I barrelled across the parking lot, stripping my pack off and grabbing my bio degradable wet wipes. Once back on the trail I took off across more sandy trail that was an absolute creek. About half way through the video below, as I was dreading the fact that the rest of the trail might look exactly like this, I realized that I had left my hat on a wooden pole next to the port-a-john when I had stopped.

 

So after a quick double back, I was back on the trail and making good progress. Eventually, I made it to dryer ground and saw some cool tunnels in the undergrowth and a steady, fast moving, if silty, stream that I could filter water at along the way. It kept raining consistently until around 1:30 in the afternoon when it finally let up and the sun peeked out for about an hour. By this time I had already put in 12 miles and was ready for a small break. After finding a nicely sized downed tree, I stopped for lunch, stripped my sock and shoes off, took the insoles out of my shoes to help them dry faster and began assessing my feet. If you’ve hiked any amount of distance, especially in the rain or in otherwise wet conditions. You know that taking care of your feet and paying attention to hot spots is an absolute must. At this point in my trip I’d been hiking in wet shoes and socks for about 5 hours. To my relief I only had a few hot spots, no true blisters yet. I let my feet dry out for about 30 minutes, threw some mole skin on my hot spots and put my semi dry socks and shoes back on.

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About a mile down the trail from where I stopped for lunch I came up on a decent size lake. Well, really a big pond. But where I’m from we call most stagnant bodies of water bigger than something that you’d have in your back yard a lake. This particular body of water was lined with people fishing and had two or three watercraft on it when I went by. The trail skirted the water for most of the next two miles before meandering back into the woods until it came out into an established camp ground. It was pretty barren on this particular rainy Monday in January, but there were still 3 or 4 older couples with campers that were out and about. I was a little disappointed to find a water spout in the middle of the camp site. I’d spent nearly a half hour filtering 4 liters of water earlier that morning. I hadn’t been checking my trail guide since I got to the trail and found how well marked it was, so I had forgotten that it mentioned running water this early in the trail. Once out of the campground the trail followed a paved road for about the next mile. It was great to be on dry level ground again, but about the time I’d hit the campground it had started sprinkling and clouding up again.

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Once I got back into the woods I found myself on trail that was between 1-2 inches of standing water. My shoes didn’t stay dry for very long and my mood started to dampen a bit with them. I knew coming into this trip that the weather was going to be an issue, but being drenched from head to toe and walking all day has a way of bringing you down to a low spot, especially when you’re on the trip by yourself. By 3:30 in the afternoon I’d gone 15 miles, even through the rain and the soggy trails I was still close to putting in my first 20 mile day. So I buckled down, started my war chant in my head and started knocking out the miles. By mile 18 I was aching everywhere, my feet felt like they were worn down to blister covered bone. But putting in 20 miles in a day was something I knew I had to do if I was going to finish the trail in my allotted time, so I kept my war chant going in my head and kept plugging away until I found myself staring down mile marker 26, letting me know that I could, in fact, walk 20 miles in a day while carrying a (probably 40 pound when soaked with rain) pack and battling wet feet.

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It was around 5:45 when I finally found a suitable place to set up my hammock, the area around mile marker 26 is rife with standing dead trees and I knew that strong thunderstorms were incoming. So I wanted to be as far away from any potential widow makers as possible. There was quite a bit of undergrowth that I had to clear from the space before I could get the hammock up comfortably and set the rain fly. Doing this in the rain isn’t the most fun thing in the world when you’re racing quickly fading light. I set up the rain fly first so that I could get my hammock up without getting pelted by rain. I ended up setting up the hammock by head lamp. At this point I was so exhausted that I skipped dinner, stripped out of my soaking clothes and climbed into my hammock to call my wife before calling it a night. I promised myself a nice big breakfast after my phone call as I laid up in the hammock, listening to an audio book as the wind rocked me into a trance before more heavy storms rolled in. This day was miserable for the most part, but I proved to myself that I can do 20 miles in one go, and that meant the world to me at that moment.

If you’re interested in hiking the Lone Star Trail, additional information and directions are available in the link below.                                                                                                      http://lonestartrail.org/

Happy Trails!

The Lone Star Hiking Trail: Day 1

What had originally been planned as a thru hike of Lone Star Hiking Trail this past week ended up being cut short by almost half, due to my own “series of unfortunate events”, though not quite as intense as the Lemony Snicket story. I knew going into the hike that I’d be fighting the weather for most of the trip. I would like to have scheduled the attempt at a thru hike here for another time. But because of work, birthdays, an anniversary and having our house built this was the only time until late spring that I would be able to take that kind of time off for a hike.

96 miles in 5 days was my goal, a lofty one for sure. One that would mean hiking 20 miles a day for the duration of the trip. Something that I had yet to accomplish on previous hikes. But the Lone Star Trail is notoriously flat and 20 miles is not an out of reach goal for someone who had been hiking frequently for the past year. So I set out. After a 3 and a half hour drive to drop my truck off at the eastern terminus of the trail, my friend and work colleague “honey badger” and his wonderful lady drove me the additional hour to the start of the trail. By the time we got to trail head 1 it was 3pm and with the sun setting at 5:30 at this time of year I needed to get a move on. 16114364_396976823974494_6081444669369267212_n

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After a quick goodbye and thank you to my friends I set off down the trail. Full of anticipation and excitement, I covered the first miles quickly. Much of the first 3 miles was through area that had seen a substantial wildfire in the last 2 years, based on the charring of the trees and the level of undergrowth in the area. It clearly hadn’t happened this past summer, but possibly the summer of 2015.

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One of the first things I noticed was that this trail seemed over marked. As my trip went on through the first 38 miles I would find portions of the trail that went several hundred yards without any marking and other that had 4 t0 5 trail markers on a single straight of the path. On day 1 I was excited to be back in an area that has an abundance of tall piney trees. The trail was a blanket of pine needles from prior seasons that cushioned each step and spurred my forward. After finishing 6 miles by 5pm I decided to find a suitable place to put up my hammock and make dinner before the forecasted storms rolled in and drenched me. I’ve been hammock camping for long enough now that it didn’t take long to find two suitable trees and get my Clark NX-270 and my rain fly up. The most difficult part is finding a space that is free from dead wood and widow makers in case the storms produce strong wind. Nothing gets your blood pumping more than hearing a massive old growth fall close to you in the middle of the night.

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As it turned out, I got my rain fly up in perfect time. Not long after I fastened the last rope the first sprinkles started falling. In areas like this that allow off trail camping in other than specific designated camping spaces I like to get far enough off trail to ensure that I have my privacy and that no one will wander across my camp site while I’m in it. After a quickly prepared mountain house dinner I was in my hammock enjoying a slight rock from the wind that had picked up as storms rolled into the region and the rhythmic tapping of rain on my rain fly lulled me to sleep.  My first day, and my only dry day on the LSHT during this trip, quickly came to an end.

If you’re interested in hiking the Lone Star Trail, additional information and directions are available in the link below.                                                                                                      http://lonestartrail.org/

Happy Trails!

Winter Hiking: How to Stay Warm

Happy New Year! People always seem to choose the beginning of the year as a time to commit themselves to be more active. Over the last few years I’ve really gotten to enjoy nature during the winter months, specifically winter hiking. If you live in an area that gets snow, hiking in the winter can make your favorite trail seem like a brand new adventure. Hiking in the snow and cold also burns more calories than hiking in temperate weather so it can help you keep off those holiday pounds that tend to creep up on us.

One of the big reasons that people tend to take a hiatus from hiking during the winter months is that they don’t want to be cold, cold is uncomfortable, who wants to be cold? But what people fail to understand is that with just a little knowledge and planning, you can beat the cold and have great day hikes, or even overnight trips. So here are a few tips on how to stay warm that I learned during my years in Alaska and during winter hikes in the Midwest.

 

  1. Stay Hydrated: When you’re dehydrated your body doesn’t work as efficiently. In a cold environment this leads to headaches and cold extremities. Just because its cold doesn’t mean you’re not losing water. In fact, because the air is less humid during the winter you’re actually losing a little bit more water through respiration and evaporation. Take enough water to get through your trip or be familiar with fast running water sources along the route that will not freeze all the way through. DO NOT attempt to eat snow if you run out of water. This will lower your body temperature and does not provide you with enough water to benefit you. In a pinch you can fill a bottle full of snow and place it in an interior pocket of your jacket until it melts. When this happens, repeat the process until your bottle is full of water.
  2. Layer your clothing: One of the biggest mistakes people make in this specific area is attempting to put on every layer of clothing that they have. But over layering actually makes you feel colder. The air between the layers of clothing is what keeps you feeling warm, so if you condense that air pocket by adding too many layers of clothing you will actually be colder than if you had layered correctly. In most cases a poly blend base layer (long tops and bottoms) with hiking pants, a long sleeve midweight top layer and a microdown jacket will be more than enough to keep you warm in all but the northernmost states.
  3. Layer on, Layer off: Only use what you really need in that moment. If you start to sweat while hiking, take off your hat, gloves and outer (or middle) top layer. The big tip here is to avoid excess sweating. Wearing too much and sweating through your clothing will destroy the insulating properties. So when you stop to take a break you will get cold. Instead of doing this, take off the excess layers and put them in the top of your bag before you start sweating. Then put them on when you stop. Your body heat will be retained by the dry layers and you’ll stay toasty warm even when you stop. Improper layering and use is the biggest reason that people have unpleasant winter hiking trips.
  4. Know your feet: Cold feet tend to be a pretty consistent problem in cold weather hiking. But there are a few tricks of the trade that you can use to beat this nuisance. 1. Bring extra socks on long trips. Dirty clothing loses its insulating properties. Bringing a change of socks for each day of trail time, plus a spare, is always a good idea. Loosen your laces. We’re back to the insulating layer of warm air again. When your shoes are tied too tight it hurts you in two ways. The first is that it compromises blood flow to the area, making your feel work less efficiently and allowing them to get cold quicker. The second is that it compresses the fabric in your shoes. When you compress the fabric too much there is no room for the air warmed by your feet to get caught in the fabric of the shoe. It’s the same reason your butt gets cold when you sit in the snow, the compressed fabric doesn’t trap heat as well as it would if it were not compressed.
  5. Clear snow from sleeping areas and bring a sleeping pad: You can sleep comfortably in the snow if you remember to clear away the snow under your sleeping area. Additionally, you’ll want to use a sleeping pad since the sleeping bag that is compressed under your body weight will not insulate you as efficiently. When you go to bed, strip down to your base layer. This will be cold at first, but when you wear too much clothing to bed it doesn’t allow your body heat to reach the sleeping bag and insulate you the way it was designed to. You will always sleep warmer in fewer clothes. To avoid that morning shiver when you get up, pull your clothes into your sleeping bag with you in the morning and allow them to warm up passively before you get dressed. If you plan on warming your tent with a fire source, always remember to open one side of the tent for ventilation. Once the tent is warm, removed the fire source before sealing the tent. If you hammock camp, a sleeping pad, sleeping bag and an underquilt will get you through even the coldest nights in relative comfort.
  6. Always bring tools for a fire: Know the area that you will be hiking in and what you will need to make a fire. In the event of an emergency this is an absolute must. I recommend taking waterproof matches or a ferro fire starter, some quick tinder like dryer lint or dry moss and a tea light candle. Before you attempt to start a fire scavenge for your firewood and arrange it next to you from smallest to largest. The biggest being about the circumference of your wrist. Build a teepee with your smallest twigs and keep finger size twigs nearby to add once it’s going. Light your tinder in the open air. Fire needs a lot of oxygen to burn and placing the tinder in the teepee cuts off precious oxygen that the fire needs to start. Once you have an adequate flame place the tinder under the teepee. Slowly add twigs of increasing size until your fire is established. *If you are attempting to start a fire in the snow, you MUST dig down until you are on soil before attempting to start a fire. Placing a fire on top of the snow will put your fire out when the snow melts from the heat.* **In areas that receive a lot of precipitation it will be easier to scavenge firewood and tinder from standing deadwood in the area. Firewood on the ground will likely be wet and will be difficult to light. In a pinch you can use a knife to cut away the outer layers of wet wood in order to get a fire started. But always look for standing dead wood first.**

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It only takes a little bit of knowledge and preparation to keep you warm and happy in nature, even in the cold.  I hope these tips help you get out and stay warm on your own winter adventure.

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Happy Trails,

Aaron