I got an incredible night sleep and woke up around 5 with no alarm. First fantastic night’s sleep of the trip, likely because of the overwhelming exhaustion setting in. I was on the slopes of Little Bigelow Mountain, essentially the start of the famed grueling but beautiful section of south Maine Appalachian Trail. I started the morning working my way up the Bigelow ridge. The skies were completely clear, the air was warm, and no rain was forecast for the entire day. Time to knock out some terrific miles. Up on Avery Peak, I was reminded on the easy access for day hikers by a large man in khakis and suspenders up on the summit. We exchanged pictures and I got working down to the next peak. I was thrilled to be up above tree line and not have to worry about the weather.
I woke up before it was light, a first for me on this trip with the super long days of Maine just before the solstice. The other guy who had been asleep in the shelter when I arrived didn’t even budge as I packed up. I imagine he was exhausted because he hadn’t risen to say hello last night when I showed up after dark. I envied his ability to sleep through the torrential rain and me unpacking and packing but imagined it may come back to haunt him with some late night wildlife encounters. Continue reading Little Bigelow Lean-to, Day 5, 36.4 miles
Today I had to make the tough decision of whether to resupply in Monson or try to make it another 35 miles to Caratunk to pick up my mail drop where I originally planned to resupply. I was running low on food but Monson was a 2 mile walk into town which would add 4 miles to my day while Caratunk was only .9 miles off the trail. It may seem like a minor difference but adding 4 miles onto my day would be a pretty big impact this early on.
I was up early and decided I wouldn’t decide until I reassessed my food situation at the trail that led into Monson. Early in the morning I startled a young moose which bolted off on the trail ahead of me. Fortunately they’re usually the most skittish animals in the woods because otherwise they’d end up being quite the obstacle. Continue reading Bald Mountain Brook Lean-to, Day 4, 32.4 miles
I woke up at 430am, realizing that the sky was bright and I’d rather have a full day of light ahead of me. By 5am I was hiking and the trail kicked up quickly. I soon learned that I needed to eat a bigger dinner and have some semblance of glycogen stores for the following morning if I was going to hit a big climb so early on. My legs felt weak and I struggled with low energy. I ate several bars and got some candy into my system, hoping the sugar would give me the boost I needed to continue hiking up the mountain. But I essentially was bonking in the first mile. Continue reading Wilson Valley Lean-to, Day 3, 32.7 miles
“Drop completely the term “fastpack.” You are backpacking, so call it that. There is a very well developed community of backpackers who take an endurance athlete’s approach to the activity, myself included. I’d encourage you to join it rather than try to create a new niche in the ultra niche. Don’t create distinctions where there are none. I’ll add that I find “fastpacking” to sound very elitist — it’s as if runners can’t admit that they are “backpacking” and it implies that the rest of us are just “slowpacking.”
Skurka left that comment on an article written about fastpacking a few months ago. To be perfectly honest, to me it was nonsensical. I dropped a quote on one of my previous posts from a climber demoting mountaineering to “hiking and camping”. As absurd as it sounds, it’s absolutely accurate. Whether hiking in Shenandoah National Park or climbing Everest, you’re mostly walking and sleeping. But if we didn’t have the term mountaineering, we may not know whether our friend just climbed Everest or went on a stroll in Nepal. His argument is synonymous to saying we don’t need the term whale because it’s just a mammal or we don’t need to term hiking because it’s just walking.
But it brings up an interesting question, what exactly is fastpacking? Continue reading Should we abandon the term fastpacking?
“I’m not happy but I guess if you climb enough offwidths, one of these days you’re gonna get your knee stuck and then shit your pants. It’s just an odds thing really.”
With a solid training week coming to a close and preparations reaching a lull, I wanted to take a moment to review a piece of gear that is going to be invaluable to me on my upcoming Appalachian Trail self-supported record thru-hike attempt, my Enlightened Equipment 50 degree Enigma quilt.
To give some background, a quilt is similar to a sleeping bag, except sports a simpler, more efficient, and lighter design. While a sleeping bag wraps all the way around you, a quilt maximizes the insulation by only covering above you and letting the sleeping pad take care below. They usually come without a hood or with a detachable one. To most new backpackers they’re daunting for their simplicity in the same way that new hikers flock to tents over tarps. Unfortunately this kind of misunderstanding really halted the quilt’s progression as an innovative piece of backpacking gear. For years quilt companies simply didn’t have access to the top fabrics and were way behind the field in design. The fully enclosed counterparts were often lighter despite being fundamentally inefficient.
When I started checking out the market for new, lighter gear to replace my battered gear from my previous trips, I was elated to find Enlightened Equipment leading the way in lightweight sleep systems. Their 10 denier nylon fabric matched that of the outdoor gear giants and the option for 800+ fill down showed their dedication to using the highest quality materials for their quilts. I continued my search for competitors to make sure EE was truly the best and nothing came close. There was no getting around it, I needed an Enlightened Equipment quilt for my hike and to carry anything else would put me at a disadvantage from the gun. Continue reading Review: Enlightened Equipment Enigma quilt
There have been a lot of questions about my diet on my 40 mile/day fastpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail. I choose to not cook, saving me the weight of cooking supplies, the headache of a less versatile food bag, and the time spent cooking. But there’s a huge misconception that the food I carry is somehow heavier than dehydrated meals. So I want to share my method of creating a food list for a trip, address some common misconceptions, and list some methods that can be used at quick resupplies along the way. The list is tailored to a fastpacking trip on the AT with ample opportunities for healthy meals but the method of analysis can be applied to any backpacking diet.
Update: Explanation for these food choices and the purpose they serve posted here: http://graysoncobb.com/2015/04/26/explaining-the-backpackers-diet/
I am in the process of compiling a google doc listing most potential foods for any given trip. I list cal/gram, then protein, fat, carbs, and sodium by fraction. Unfortunately this list does not include harder to calculate homemade items and dried fruits because of inaccurate nutrition data. What mostly creates a high caloric density food is fat content. With fat dishing out 9 cal/g and protein and carbs lagging behind at 4 cal/g, a high fat snack is going to be higher than a sugary one. With that said, surviving on swigs of oil simply isn’t practical or healthy so we need carbs and protein in our diet. The primary benefit of this spreadsheet then is to tease out the foods that have significant amounts of water or undigestible nutrients hidden in them. Anything that sits below 4 cal/g has something in it that isn’t providing energy and probably has a denser alternative.
This is my updated gear list, still a work in progress but getting more refined. My base weight is 3.9 pounds and with 1 liter of water and 5 pounds of food (2.5 days worth) it brings it up to 11.1 pounds.
Pack: Salomon 10+3 (15oz)
I tried the 14+3 first and simply couldn’t fill it. Even with the most food I plan to carry, the expandable compartment was unnecessary and with the minimum amount, the pack was soft and flimsy. Everything fits comfortably in the 10+3. The pack feels incredibly comfortable and I am excited to try it out. I’ll likely have some modifications to fix the shoulder strap in place (they are adjustable) and remove some extra inessentials to drop another ounce or two. Continue reading Updated: Summer pack list
A couple weeks ago I visited Blacksburg, Virginia for a couple days to clean up where I had been living. I had stayed at my parents’ place for the last three and a half years and it showed. Some of their friends were going to be using the place so I had to touch it up before they got there. But I didn’t want to just drive there and back, I wanted an adventure, I wanted an escape. So I shoved some gear into my backpack and planned for a trip in the woods.
I made it to Blacksburg around two in the morning and crashed. The next day I quickly cleaned and called a couple of my friends who were still there. I told them what I wanted to do. I had ants in my pants and there was only one sure fix. My friend Daniel and I went over to our friend Scott’s place to talk plans. Daniel had no intentions of coming with us but after hours of discussion, we convinced him to meet us out there after buying some gear from Blue Ridge Mountain Sports. Scott and I made it to hiking just before seven pm. It’s not unusual for us to get a late start but this was a little crazy even for us considering we had sixteen miles to our destination. We headed towards Dragon’s tooth in Catawaba, Virginia, a beautiful mountaintop rock formation with incredible views, possible star-gazing, and good enough shelter from the wind. Continue reading Summer backpacking adventure