Tag Archives: Great Smoky Mountains

5 Anchors for the Appalachian Trail

Photo courtesy talksrealfast at Flickr

Photo courtesy talksrealfast at FlickrWill you anchor hold in the storms of life,

An anchor is defined as “a person or thing on which something else is based that can be relied upon for chief support, stability, or security; a mainstay.

The greatest anchor is Katahdin, whose looming summit entices when you first see it.  If the spirit of this summit doesn’t burn within you from the time you leave Springer Mountain your chances of becoming a thru-hiker diminish.  This is the “grail anchor,” and its majesty is compelling.  But Katahdin is many footfalls distant.  One needs other anchors — other goals — to guarantee a successful hike.  Let’s look at other anchors you can use to propel you to Maine

Towns.  Whether it’s to resupply for the next stretch of trail, or to find that all-you-can-eat restaurant you’ve been reading about in the trail registers, towns are significant anchors along your journey.  Town post offices also offer another drawing power as effective anchors.  Once I hiked 7 miles before noon to reach one in Stratton, Maine.

States.  The wonderful, bucolic hills of Virginia.  The rugged character of Pennsylvania.  Entering the magnificent Green Mountains of Vermont.  The remote north woods of the great state of Maine with its 100-mile wilderness.  Looking forward to hiking the trail through the wonderful terrain and characteristics of specific states is something to anticipate.

Peaks or mountain ranges.  I was passionately looking forward to climbing into the Great Smokies and standing atop Clingman’s Dome.  Being a native North Carolinian was one reason, plus I spent some memorable childhood summers vacationing there.  Mount Washington in rugged New Hampshire was also appealing for its volatile weather, grand views, and legendary history.

Parks and national forests.  Beside the Great Smoky Mountains, Shenandoah National Park in Virginia can be a great anchor.  Thru-hikers often simply cruise through the park  due to the agreeable grade of the trail, but Shenandoah offers great views, Civil War history, and abundant wildlife.  I enjoyed the Green Mountains of Vermont so much I later went back and hiked the Long Trail through to the Canadian border.

Geographic features.  Rivers and stream crossings, like the mighty Kennebec in Maine, were things I looked forward to.  The waters of the Kennebec were low enough for me to ford on foot early one morning.  I’ve never forgotten that experience.

You get the idea — so look at the map and guidebook and considering drawing up a list of “anchors” to galvanize your journey to Katahdin!

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Chipmunk brazenly nabs “honey bear” on Appalachian Trail

Honey Bears

Honey Bears (Photo credit: Coco Mault)

There was nothing I could do.  It was a lost cause.  Though the peril was not my own, my heart went out to my fellow hiker, who watched in anguish as his morning breakfast was disrupted.

We were enjoying breakfast in a shelter in the Great Smoky Mountains along the Appalachian Trail; one which had chain-link fencing on the front.  Rangers say it’s to keep the bears out and protect hikers.  My view has long been that the shelters along the A.T. in the Smokies are the only place where they put the people in cages and the animals roam free.  In this case, an ambitious chipmunk had just stalked between the links of chain and glommed onto the plastic “honey bear” my backpacking friend was about to use to drizzle his morning pancakes.

Siberian Chipmunk photographed on the mountain...

Too late!  The critter swiftly embraced the bottle with his tiny paws and dragged it through the gap in the chain-link.  I laughed.  My friend bolted out the door.  The chipmunk dropped his lucre and scattered.  Still too late; the chipmunk had gnawed the container top and my friend feared it was contaminated.  Since there was only a little honey in the battered bottle  he opted to put peanut butter and jelly on his pancakes instead.  Likely a wise decision.

This was an isolated incident, fortunately.  My companion said he did not like the idea of a “chipmunk apocalypse” one bit!

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Appalachian Trail – Romancing the flowers in the Great Smoky Mountains

The delicate bluets caught my eye first.  I bent down to rake my hand through the delicate, sensual crop.  The incredible four-petaled flower was painted an almost painful pale blue.  It was breath-taking.  Something so ephemeral had never looked so glorious.

Bluets

Bluets (Photo credit: Seuss.)

Early May along the Appalachian Trail.  The wildflowers were in bloom.  As I climbed above the village of Fontana Dam I was first taken with the sheer unfolding grandeur of the range as it unfolded.  Later, on reaching the main ridgeline, I would marvel at the views which embraced miles, and the mornings in which the “smoky” in Great Smoky Mountains illustrated itself in a tapestry of wispy clouds which wove among the stoic peaks that reflected the morning light while keeping the secrets of their coves in blue-gray shadows.

Everything was seemingly at once eerie and mystic in its calmness.  Hawks threaded the updrafts; beyond that was a Carolina blue sky whose vault is not replicated anywhere else.  I’d be lying if I said James Taylor’s familiar tune wasn’t playing inside my soul.  I was both humbled by the edenic world I trod through, and proud to claim this state as that where my roots lay.  In my mind — and heart — I was in Carolina.

I felt sad for those whose scheduled demanded they pass through this treasure weeks earlier.  Had they missed the flowers?  I understood why April 1 was the favored day to start the trail; that would put the average hiker within admiring distance of some of the most glorious and magnificent floral beauty to be found anywhere.

The accompanying video offers but a glimpse of the phenomenal floral display which occurs each year in the Southern Highlands.

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Reasons hikers and backpackers leave the Appalachian Trail

Photo courtesy asafantman at Flickr

Photo courtesy asafantman at Flickr

The initial magnetic draw and appeal of an Appalachian Trail thru-hike can dissolve into a decision to leave the trail altogether for some backpackers.  Here’s a few reasons why:

The money runs out.

Some realize that they simply don’t enjoy walking long distances with a heavy pack.

Physical injury (stress fractures, tendonitis, falls, etc.).

An emergency on the home front necessitates ending the trip.

Boredom.

Getting homesick.

Conflicts with a hiking partner.

Hiking in cold, wet weather.

Hiking in hot, humid conditions.

Simply getting tired of walking.

Time constraints.

Emotional stress: depression, loneliness, anxiety.

The romance of hiking the trail wears off.

Hope for an epiphany or spiritual awakening has not materialized.

Expecting a hike along the A.T. would be a “cure” bad relationships, job loss, aimlessness in life, etc.

Poor planning.

Inadequate gear.

Carrying too much weight in the pack.

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The Appalachian Trail New Year’s Questionnaire

Rather than offer you a set of resolutions for the New Year, here’s a list of questions I hope will prove useful to you as a hiker and backpacker.  Happy New Year!

Aircrew Survival Course - May 2010

Aircrew Survival Course – May 2010 (Photo credit: WSDOT)

What one item would most to increase the enjoyment of your hikes this year?  (New knife, candle lantern, whistle, etc.)

What new outdoor skill would be the most useful to learn this year?  (How to build a fire without matches, wilderness first aid, what to do if you’re caught in a snow or lightning storm, etc.)

What familiar trail would you like to explore further?  (Side trails off the Appalachian Trail: see my earlier post.)

What are the biggest hurdles you come across when hiking the trail (slow pace, too much pack weight, etc.) and what can you do to surmount them?

How can you improve your physical condition and stamina for better hiking?  (Increasing muscle mass, strengthening the legs or body core, cardio workouts.)

What pack items can you leave behind and still enjoy your trips?  (Do you need the extra pair of heavy socks, the spare bandana, etc.)

Are you ready for assisting someone should they need help on the trail?  (Offering tips and advice for better hiking, giving information about trail conditions, etc.)

What trail, or section of trail, would you like to hike this year that you haven’t hiked before?

Appalachian Trail approaching the summit of Th...

Appalachian Trail approaching the summit of Thunderhead Mountain (el. 5,527 feet/1,684 meters) in the Great Smoky Mountains. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are your first-aid skills up-to-date?  If not, consider a Red Cross refresher course.  Medical expertise in the field benefits not just you but others who might need assistance in a medical emergency.

Is there someone you would like to have as a backpacking partner this year?  Invite them on trip to your favorite trail?

Do you need to consider “going solo” on a trip.  This will boost your confidence as a backpacker and test your self-reliance.

Do you want to consider joining a hiking or backpacking club to hike with a group of others?

How about joining an organization devoted to the welfare of trails, such as the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, American Hiking Society, Green Mountain Club, Appalachian Mountain Club, or Sierra Club?

Memories fade after a hike, even if you have taken great photos.  Consider keeping a hiking journal while on the trail, soon after you return home, or start an online blog about your hiking and backpacking adventures.

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Will you hike The Appalachian Trail in 2013?

View From Clingman's Dome

View From Clingman’s Dome (Photo credit: Ken Rowland)

Will you hike the Appalachian Trail this year?

When most hikers and backpackers consider hiking the Appalachian Trail, they usually take the “thru-hike” perspective, thinking a legitimate hike must begin in Georgia and end in the state of Maine on Katahdin.  This not so, of course.  The Appalachian Trail is there to hike as you wish.  An overnight

Shenandoah National Park Skyline Drive

Shenandoah National Park Skyline Drive (Photo credit: numbphoto)

hike or weekend might be ideal for someone just warming up the idea, and should your outing be in the high season spring and summer months, you’ll likely meet thru-hikers you can pepper with questions (don’t say I said to!) about their experiences.  This might be the decision point, where you glean enough information to decide whether you want to stretch your legs a bit further.  Maybe a week-long trip or two-week walk along the famous footpath comes next.  Should time allow, a month-long expedition might be next.  The important thing to remember is that you do not need to walk the entire trail end-to-end in one season to spend worthwhile time there.

blue blaze

blue blaze (Photo credit: happy via)

For example, the journey might be enriched by using the Appalachian Trail as an “axis-trail” for further exploration.  Pick one of the famed national parks, like Shenandoah or the Great Smoky Mountains.  Plan your trip to include taking time to explore the wonderful side trails (usually blue-blazed) off the high ridge line of the Smokies or rolling Shenandoah National Park slopes.  There’s a lot of history and natural wonder to see once you venture from the white blazes of the Appalachian Trail to adventure.

Whatever your backpacking plans for the new year, allow yourself the flexibility to chart your exploration and experience of the Appalachian Trail in a way that fits your abilities, time schedule, and desires.  As for the long-haul end-to-end hike?  Relax!  The Appalachian Trail’s not going anywhere.

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“Nature Don’t Care Who You Are!” The wisdom of Ricky Ruiz for the Appalachian Trail.

A Walk in the Woods

Forget what Bill Bryson said in his book “A Walk in the Woods” about hiking and backpacking the Appalachian Trail.  Abandon the notion that your hike will be a thrill packed adventure.  Get the thought out of your head that the journey will unfold a certain way.  That’s a guarantee of disappointment.  When you leave your expectations at liberty, you’ll be prepared to experience the trail on its terms.

Despite its popularity, frequent foot traffic, and common road crossings make no mistake — most of the Appalachian Trail runs through remote land.  In some places, such as the Great Smoky Mountains, and upper reaches of Maine, you’ll be hiking some of the last genuine wilderness east of the Mississippi.  This is unbroken nature and, as trail philosopher Ricky Ruiz has said, “Nature don’t care who you are!”

Considered Long-Distance Hiking at Half Price ...

Ricky is right.  To sign on the hike the Appalachian Trail is to enlist for hardship.  Weather and trail conditions will be unpredictable and at times bring you blessings or take a toll on you.  Springs will gush with abundance or be near waterless.  Backpackers who are flexible and adaptable will thrive the challenges; those lacking self-reliance had best stay home.  Because it will get hot and cold.  The sun will shine and warm you, then wind will rip your body heat from you with shocking speed.  Lightning will thread the skies with warning.  Those who are mindful of risks and take them into account when making decisions will prevail.  The reckless will pay for it.  Solitude will teach you life-lessons.  Loneliness will cause your soul turmoil.  You’ll be happy and you’ll grieve.  You’ll experience uncertainty and be tempted to turn around, and you’ll be emboldened to take chances.  Inconveniences will plague you.  You’ll be fed up with food, feel miserable due to days without a decent bath.  You’ll get blisters and suffer stinging nettles and bugs will drive you mad.

English: Looking up from the Hunt Spur towards...

But, if you persevere, if you commit, if you begin again each new day, you’ll one day find yourself standing in the shadow of Katahdin, looking up at the final goal of your voyage.  You’ll be a new person; someone different.  And you won’t have to worry about what comes next, because in undertaking this journey to completion, you’ll find everything else will fall into place.

 

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