Tag Archives: thru-hike

Yosemite National Park, Day 0

We were two miles from the end, practically prancing down the trail with excitement heading for Whitney Portal, nearly done with a 220 mile thru-hike of the John Muir Trail, having started in Yosemite National Park eight days earlier. We turned around for a last look at the towering summit behind us, now with a cap of deep ominous black clouds settling on its summit. It was a Saturday on one of the most popular hikes on the west coast and I hoped the crowds we had seen on the way up had good enough judgement to be off that summit and be racing to get back below tree line at this point. I imagined them hiding under boulders, the masses of them doing anything they could to escape the storm. Continue reading Yosemite National Park, Day 0

Updated: Summer pack list

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.

Big Four:

Pack: Salomon 10+3 (15oz)

10+3

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

Winter Camping: Searching for limits and the limit was found

A few have said I look like Chris McCandless, Alexander Supertramp. My trip almost ended like his. That is nothing to be proud of. A few have said, “what a character building experience”. Perseverance, determination build character.

I never, ever want to go through what I went through Thursday night in Shenandoah National Park.

I lay in my sleeping bag for almost eighteen hours, violently shivering, interrupted by efforts to evacuate to a road.

Showing up at camp after dark did not help. It sure was not the first of my mistakes that led to my suffering that night.

The layers went on as my body cooled off after a racing hike to get to camp. But it was not enough. My matted fleece gave me little warmth and my exhausted body pumped out little heat. After hours, and hundreds of push ups, finally I gave in to the emergency blanket. I had promised myself that if I were unprepared enough to need to use this then I may not be prepared for what the next night may have to offer. This was a commitment to leave the woods the next day.

The wind infiltrated every layer and the bitter cold, dry air circulating in my lungs, sucked every spare degree of warmth I had. It was down to surviving the night. Park rangers would have looked for desperate hikers along Skyline drive earlier in the night but it was too late. And as I would later learn, I was the only visitor in the park.

Earlier they intercepted my friend Nat and me, declaring the weather was too bad for us to continue. They put their foot down for him and drove him back to his car. But how can I abandon my thru-hike before I find my limit? How could I have just gone home?

So I gave it a shot. I gave it my best effort, 110%. All that glorious bull that sounds good on a sports field and in a classroom. But out here, winter camping alone on the Appalachian Trail, it is natural selection. There is no insurance. If I screw up, I clean up the mess. If I lose out here, I die.

I’m the last of a group of five that hiked together three states back and I’m the only one that is wondering about seeing another sunrise. My toes and fingertips are stiff and I hesitate to press them to an artery and lose my core body heat. I’ll take the potential frostbite to ensure I see tomorrow.

I took a trip to the privy in the early pre-dawn hours, not for the typical reason. The privy is four sided, unlike the three-sided lean-tos, and the decomposing waste gives off a significant amount of heat. And likely because of this decision, I made it till morning and watched the light pierce through the cracked walls of the outhouse.

I tried to run down the mountain and get water out of the spring, carrying the heat and odor of human waste along with me. My near frozen hands could not keep me from spilling water all over my gloves. I shook my hands off quickly, looked down and my gloves were already frozen, just a few seconds later. I know I did something right to have made it through the night at this point.

It was back to the sleeping bag, core heat stable, but the temperature was testing my fingers. When finally I managed to get feeling back, I reached out of my sleeping bag, turned my phone on to call for help.

Battery too low for radio use.

Damn it.

It was back to my ice-covered sleeping bag to rethink the situation. I thought, its Friday, there will be people on the road. But the last thing I want is to get out to the road, find I am waiting so long that I need to build a fire.

I looked down at a stack of living and wet wood in the corner of the shelter. I gathered all of my trash, bundled it up, and tried to get a fire started as I ran around in circles, did jumping jacks, everything I could to stay warm. The wood caught. I bent over and blew. I ran to the pile and gathered some more of the wet wood. I stacked and stacked to dry the wood as the fire built and soon I had a warm blaze.

But it was time to get out of there, get off this trail. I stripped my mylar bivy sack from the top of my sleeping bag to find huge amounts of frozen condensation. I shook out the bivy sack and mounds and mounds of this “snow” came out.

With extra pack space due to wearing every single article of clothing in my pack, I easily packed my empty pack, threw snow on the fire, and quickly hiked toward Skyline Drive. I reached the road and began looking around for small wood.

My plan was to wait as long as necessary, stop any car that came by, ranger or tourist. They would understand after I explained. But as I began preparations for a long wait, a maintenance worker drove up.

“Too cold, huh?”

He knew exactly why I was out on the road with my thumb held high and drove me to the ranger station and dropped the “desperate hiker” off in the warmth of their building and companionship.

I’m home now, warm, but I cannot sleep. I had not slept that entire night and with the heat and comfort of a bed surrounded by four walls, I still cannot sleep.

My limit was found last night. But my trip is not done. I am back to enhance my preparation and gear. I am rereading my book on winter camping and searching for the warmest gear I can find. I am not going to mess this up again. I am fine with letting Georgia wait two more weeks to ensure that I will see Georgia.

But Georgia still remains ‘always on my mind’.

Port Clinton Pavillion 11/18, 971.1

I walked to Burger King on a busy highway, constantly pushed by the wind of passing semi’s, constantly smacked by the debris thrown by the massive tires.

An older couple offered to buy me a burger. They were amazed at the trip I am enduring.

I walked into the nation’s largest outfitter, Cabela’s, to buy an article of orange to avoid being mistaken for a deer. An electronic buck call advertisement made the noise, much similar to flatulance, as I walked by. A man looked over at me when the noise went off. I smiled, nodded, and kept walking.

I then proceeded to Cracker Barrel where I rested my pack in the opposing seat, my date for the evening. A couple next to me, ignorant of the existence of a 2000 mile footpath in the woods, asked me about my trip. When they stood up to leave, the lady asked me what my name was. Typically I’ll say thirst because that is my name out here. But instead I told her my given name, Grayson.

“No way!” She looks over at her husband. I look at him. He looks at me. I look back at her and she looks back at me. “That’s our daughter’s name!”

When they left, the hostess came by and told me they had paid for my meal and the tip.

A family at the table had waited patiently (I am a very slow eater) for me to finish.

“Can we drive you anywhere? Get you anything?”

“Actually, do you know if there is a grocery store nearby?”

“Definitely. There’s one in Hamburg. We can give you a lift.”

When leaving the supermarket, I fashioned a sign out of a Little Debbie’s oatmeal cream pie box saying “PORT CLINTON”.

On my way to the street, walking in the parking lot, a car was heading out. I figured try my luck and put my thumb out.

“What’s your sign say? Oh, Port Clinton. Hop in!”

Southern hospitality really should be expanded to “human hospitality.”

It’s midnight, turn the page.

Will I make it to Georgia? I don’t know. Will you live to be 100? The chances are similar and the ability to predict the answer is equally impossible. I am in New York right now, or at least close, and I like it here. It is a beautiful state and I am enjoying it.

Sure Connecticut has its ups and downs, literally. But none of the ups are too high and none of the downs are too low.

The leaves are in full change, the world is in full change, and my life and my attitude are both following close behind.

Will I get to Georgia? I don’t care.

A man approached me, discovered I was a thru-hiker and told me “Man, you may not live long, but you are living hard, and you are doing it right.”

He was over sixty, breaking down, and realizing that he had never been on an adventure. Essentially his life had never been an adventure. It was plain.

So I may mess up. I may find sometimes the lows are too low and the highs get me a court date of April 10, 2009.

Clear skies, Connecticut countryside, my two feet, and everything I need to survive is on my back. No I am not bored. No I am not lonely. And no, I do not envy you. I am content and I am alive.

Leave no trace

I have never considered myself much of an environmentalist. I don’t own a hybrid car. In fact, I enjoy using gasoline to get me somewhere to save the calories in my legs for when I really need them. I don’t recycle everything I should. Actually looking over at my trash can now, it contains a power bar box, a blue ridge mountain sports paper bag, and chemistry test papers and note that I finally got around to throwing away. I used to respond simply with the word “entropy” to my brother when he would pick environmental preservation fights with me. Entropy is generally speaking the tendency of the universe to attain a lower state of order. Ice melts, tree’s fall, wood burns, people die. And while I fight entropy with my body, I never have really worried too much about the ground I stand on.

In actuality, I guess I enjoy civilization. But my urge to leave it all for the back country is there. And while I am not very environmentally conscious within city limits, I cannot carry that attitude to the woods.

On my first solo camping adventure, I slept on the banks of a stream one night, then on a bed of fragile plants another night. I defecated a mere yard or so from the stream. I had never heard of the word cathole, or of the philosophy of leave no trace. I was uneducated, ignorant, and leaving the forest a lot nastier than when I came. I had no hesitation pulling up a tiny tree to give me the perfect campsite or dropping a load in smelling distance of a campsite. My steps were hard and my footprints deep.

When I began doing my research for my trip, the only commonality every book had was a page or more on the principles of Leave No Trace. Even some of my maps have a section on this teaching on the back. My initial reaction to this philosophy was that I was reading books by a bunch of pansy hypocrites that don’t mind cutting down thousands of trees to publish their books but can’t stand to just drop a dump in the woods the way we’ve done it forever.

Finally after skimming through these sections quickly and lightly, I decided to actually study the argument in one of my books behind Leave No Trace. The first thing I read is that since 1982, the number of backpackers in the back country has nearly doubled. Secondly, the number of national parks visits each year exceeds 300 million. So I pulled the mental cob webs off my brain, revved it up and did some mental calculations. Back county + a lot of people + practices we bring from civilization = not so back country anymore. I don’t really want to go looking for that great wilderness experience and find that everywhere I go it looks like a school bus pulled up and let kids run rampant. And I definitely don’t want to have to pick my campsite around dump and T.P. scattered everywhere.

Then after learning about the effect of human waste on local water sources and how the parasite giardia fuels on our fecal matter, I realized that relieving myself next to that stream probably wasn’t such a good idea. Actually, that was extremely dumb of me. Really it is dumb to defecate anywhere but into a six inch deep “cathole”. Burying waste is the only safe way to leave it in the back country and be confident in the sanity of your drinking water. And water better way for nature to kick back than to give the offender giardia and ensure the next few days he’ll be digging quite a few catholes.

But other things I did on that trip were equally destructive. That tree that I pulled up could have grown to a giant. The banks of the stream were covered in sensitive plants, at least before I showed up, that fuel off and in turn, filter the water. Additionally, people would have no trouble finding my campsite. The problem is not necessarily that I left it different from when I came. The problem comes in full force when other people see my perfect campsite and pitch their tent in the same spot. Soon the place becomes a full blown clearing with a fire ring and other amenities. What would the forest be if there were a clearing every corner you turn and every valley and ridge you reach?

And while this may sound foreign to you, just as it did me, a fire has become an outdated method for warmth and cooking. While this may excessively progressive if not downright picky, it shocked me just as much as it may you. The truth is, that downed wood that we burn is what bring nutrients to the soil for other trees and plants to grow. It is a cycle with dead trees helping other plants, bugs and trees grow. This is not to detract from the ugly fact that fire rings and charcoal make a pristine forest disgusting. Once again my incredibly rusty but still existent analytical skills can still recognize that a lot of people plus a lot of fires equals no wood, lots of fire rings and charcoal, and trees with no lower branches. The alternative to heat is simple, just use your own. That’s what clothes and sleeping bags are for. The alternative to cooking is something everyone is using, a simple stove.

There is more to the Leave No Trace philosophy than I have described. But mostly it means just being able to turn around at any point of your trip and not see any evidence you were ever there. While my first reaction towards Leave No Trace was excessively negative and harsh, I am a true follower now. I am still a skeptic about some of the methods but I realize that I don’t want to go on my Appalachian trail hike only to discover that I have not strayed very far from civilization at all. It is my responsibility to leave no trace to ensure that the next guy can “get away from it all” too.

The trailhead awaits me

Chris McCandless showed the world a way of embracing life that most of us did not understand. On his journeys he  helped people love and feel and live the way humans were meant to. So many things blind us from those three fundamental elements but Chris taught the world to open our eyes. But Chris taught without preaching. He enlightened us by doing it himself. And although he made some mistakes, his goal was righteous and the following is true.

Chris lived for 24 years. That is more than most people can say at their deaths even after eighty years of so-called living. We fall into a pattern and although that routine and schedule might lead us from our dream, we keep following it because its easy.

My senior year of high school I declared that I was going to take a year away from a classroom. I was going to break that routine and follow my overwhelming deep desire. But all my friends were going to college. Everyone was following that path and while watching the ease of their way, I was reeled into the routine again. Birth, day care, elementary school, middle school, high school, college, job, retirement, death. That routine was so easy and so enticing for me.

Many of my teachers thought that I had cracked my senior year. I had become utterly sick of school and I was ready to do something different. People who thought they knew me said that it was just senioritis. People who knew me knew it was much different. My idea of life was adventure and unexpected, exciting challenges and struggle, not routine. People who thought they knew me said I should go to college for a year and then decide. Maybe I would like college.

So I thought, maybe I would like college. Turns out I don’t and didn’t, but understand the necessity of such an evil. I thought, what’s another year? But that extra year in school pushed me over the edge.

I will set out on my great adventure to on August 22. Instead of Alaska, I will struggle alongside nature in Maine. Chris died because of a technical mistake, not because his ideals were whack. I hope to not make any technical mistakes, but life has a way of making even the most detailed plans and preparation near worthless.

Only a handful of people have hiked the entire 2,178 trail from the North to the South. Much, much less have hiked the trail in the winter. I prepare myself with reading, experimenting, and conversing with more knowledgeable hikers, but nothing can prepare me physically, mentally, and emotionally for the struggle I am about to endure.

On August 22nd, 2009 I will began my attempt at a southbound winter thru-hike of the Appalachian trail.