Tag Archives: New England

How to know you’ve arrived…on the Appalachian Trail


Hiking in the Rain

When the first blister forms.

When cold rain storms soak you to the bone.

When the lightning sends adrenaline surging through your body.

When a buzzing rattler alarms you.

When the drumming of a ruffled grouse surprises you, sending your heart into your throat.

When the black bulk of a bear rears before you.

When you slip and fall on wet leaves or rock.

When the pestering bugs will not go away.

When the snoring keeps you awake.

When your trail mates gripe and grouse around you.

Finding the Trail

When you keep getting passed by for a hitchhike into town.

When the sun burns you.

When you’re throat-parched and the spring you struggled to reach is dry.

When it’s too hot to sleep.

When your shoulders hurt from the weight of your pack.

When you can’t seem to arrive at the top of a challenging peak.

When you can’t see the cairn through the fog.


When you realize you’ve not seen a trail blaze for twenty minutes and you discover you have to backtrack.

It is then — you’ve earned your stripes

It’s important to remember — this, too, shall pass.

Keep going!


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Snow Foolin’ – Stranded in a snow storm – Part 2


Photo courtesy of Raymond Shobe at Flickr

Since nothing betters the disposition like hot soup, I put some on the stove in quick order.  I mulled my state of affairs over as the brew simmered. I was grounded on the summit in a snowstorm, the extent of which I could only speculate.  I had checked the weather forecast before setting out and no storms were imminent.  Yet, I harbored no illusions.  I realized New England mountain conditions could wax volatile and cruel abruptly.  I was in for a doubtful spell of waiting.  As this was my first day on a week-long trip, I was provisioned with ample food.  I reckoned if the situation turned dire I would break into the summit house, set off the alarm, and precipitate a rescue.  Hopefully that would summon help.

The tram cables screeched long into the night and into a foggy Monday morning. The winds wailed and raged but did not diminish.  I did a full inventory of my gear, read a book, and ate an early lunch while being entertained by the violin from hell that the White Devil played outside the windows.  By late afternoon I became bored and anxious.  The storm had not lessened.  How long would it last? Having never been stranded on a mountain in a blizzard I realized my options were limited. Was this a brief accumulation of snow or the beginning of a more furious, longer storm?  At what point should I send for help?

Monday night the cantata of rattling and sing-song cable screeches moaned on, backed by pounding winds which begged to get in at me.  I tossed in my sleeping bag, wishing I had earplugs, and finally resorted to wads of tissue to block out the merciless racket.

Morning came.  Silence.  Visibility out the windows was mere feet.  But sunrise had come.  The snow had lessened, but I could not judge its depth by looking out the windows.  At least the battering wind was over.

I set to making hot oatmeal and put coffee on.  After breakfast, around midmorning, I observed a stirring in the clouds outside.  Moments later I was thrilled to see them dissipate enough to show patches of blue sky above.  I reined in my elation.  This might be the end of the storm — or only a reprieve.

Within the hour the cloud cover dissolved completely, revealing the most lavish sky blue I had ever seen.  Elation changed to euphoria.  I ventured to the door, elbowing against the door hesitantly.  It opened with little effort, revealing a half-foot of snow on the ground.  I was relieved the exit was unblocked.  Tromping out the door, I basked in the rays of sun that blessed Jay Peak.  I waded through a knee-deep drift to reach the upper level, which allowed me a more distant view.  The area around Jay Peak was mantled in snow for about a mile, but the lowlands seemed snow free.

Vermont trail cabin

Vermont “lodge” style cabin.  Picture courtesy Flickr

My journey down the other side of Jay Peak consisted of slippery and slow going through pockets of blown snow, and the repeated need to scout for blazes on tree trunks to confirm I was still on the trail.  After a long and anxious hour I emerged from the snowbound region and walked onto bare ground.  Hazen’s Notch camp was my glorious reward, a fully enclosed cabin with wood stove.  A local caretaker had kindly laid in nearly a half cord of firewood.  I was giddy.  That night, I enjoyed the company of a young married couple hiking to Canada on the Long Trail from Johnson, Vermont.  Over hot coffee and tea we traded stories about the trail, the mercurial weather, and our adventures during our journeys.

Past hiking expeditions have had me doing a dance with lightning on Mount Moosilauke on the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire, grappling in a heart-stopping rock climb eighty feet above the ground on Vermont’s Mount Mansfield in cold, saturating rain, and dealing with the incapacitating pain of a torn Achilles heel while trekking in remote Maine wilderness.  My unplanned delay on Jay Peak may be another chapter to add to my adventure journal, but it’s also an important reminder to habitually manage outdoor challenges with practiced knowledge, flexibility, and a good dose of humility.


Filed under Adventure, Adversity, Anxiety, Backpacking, Decision making, Fear, Hiking in snow, The Appalachian Trail, Timothy J. Hodges, Winter storm

Appalachian Trail winter skill…building a quinzee snow shelter

Exterior of a quinzhee facing the entrance.

Exterior of a quinzhee facing the entrance. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m a three-season hiker and backpacker when on the Appalachian Trail.  That said, I’m always conscious that during any season at high elevations weather conditions may reshape into a survival situation with alarming rapidity.

As the first snowfall blankets New England, I’m reminded of a useful winter wilderness skill I learned some years ago: building a “quinzee” (also, “quinzhee” – from the Athabaskan) or snow-hut.  In constructing this emergency shelter I found it to be easier than any other type I’ve tried.

When you’re out with the kids making snowmen, consider adding this to your skill set.  Even if you never need to make one in under emergency conditions, you will find it fun for backyard overnight camping forays or winter weekend getaways in the woods.

The following link gives clear directions on how to build one.

Quinzee Shelter.

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Thinking about wind, snow, sleet, rain, and cold on the Appalachian Trail (in early spring)

View from Springer Mountain

View from Springer Mountain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s late February or early March.  You’ve been packing and planning your Appalachian Trail thru-hike for months.  Everything is ready and you’re itching to tackle the footpath.  Looking at the weather forecast, you see fair conditions and mild temperatures have enveloped the South.  Now, you think, it’s time to go.  But, before you shoulder your pack and head for Springer Mountain, consider these facts.

While the low elevations of Georgia and North Carolina bask in sunshine, the Appalachian summits are still subject to radical changes in weather and temperature.  Blasts of rain, fierce winds, paralyzing sleet and cold, and significant snow are as common as would be found in the loftier New England mountains, and it’s wise to prepare for severe weather, or delay your departure at least until mid-April.  Even then nights can be cold in the mountains and low temperatures, rain, and wind combine to create ideal hypothermia conditions.

When I set out mid-April I carried wool gloves, a wool sweater and knit cap, and a rain and windproof jacket.  I needed them all.  You will also want reliable, warm clothing for a safe journey on the trail.



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Glory in an August summer

Pulled pork is a form of barbecue. It is a met...

Pulled pork is a form of barbecue. It is a method of preparation in which pork is cooked using a low-heat, long-cook method. The meat becomes tender enough that its weakened connective tissue allows the meat to be “pulled”, or easily broken into individual pieces. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Southern pulled-pork barbecue.  As simple as that!  When the heat goes up here in metro Boston, I begin to crave two things – iced tea (which I make at home using a special recipe) and a pulled-pork sandwich.  The sandwich necessitates a road trip to Blue Ribbon Barbecue in Arlington, MA.  When I moved to New England from North Carolina in 1985 I despaired of leaving bluegrass music, grits and biscuits, and barbecue.  I was beyond ecstatic to discover that these delicacies could be found in the Northeast, and I could not remain here without them.  As for that iced tea?  Maybe I’ll share my recipe one day…

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