Monday, December 14, 2015

Ridgeline of Big Basin Run. Winter backpacking?

This past weekend I planned a return trip with DCUL to explore the Ridgeline of Big Basin Run in Shenandoah National Park. Luckily this time Skyline Drive was open, and I was able to avoid the detour in via Austin Mountain Trail. The weather report stood in stark contrast to the historical average temps for mid-December in Shenandoah - so we left behind our heavy winter gear and set out from Vienna Metro in 3-season conditions. We found Trisha wandering the Park n’ Ride, having missed her connection for the Old Rag trip. She climbed aboard with GQ, Radiance, Keith, Hannah, Rene, Melissa, Emilie, Marika, and myself. We headed west. After the requisite stop at Sheetz, we picked up a permit at Swift Mountain Gap, then completed the curvy mountain drive up to Loft Mountain Wayside. We were geared up and headed east along the Frazier Discovery Trail in short order. After a short but steep climb, we reached the ridgeline and headed south on the AT. We had a nice view immediately to the west of the Big Run gorge.

The AT was all soft pine needles, and made for fast walking. But we took a few snack breaks and just enjoyed the absurdly nice weather. It must have been above 70 already, and we all had a slight sweat going on. Everyone who wasn’t already in shorts had converted to them by this point, or was wishing they could. Many pant legs were rolled up.

After crossing Skyline drive a little after noon, we turned off the AT and headed northwest on Rockytop Trail. The trail is aptly named, as we were soon rolling our ankles on rocks hidden under the carpet of leaves. But the rock strewn ridge did have one advantage, an almost constant view to the west of the open valley and the Massanuttens through the leaf-free trees.

We passed the turn for Lewis Peak, and I completely forgot to suggest people make the short out and back jaunt to the top. Sorry guys!

Before long it was time to descend down to Big Run itself, and the very large metal bridge across it. Jimmy already had camp well in hand when the last of us arrived, with shelters scattered about in any available space. The consensus was about 13.5 miles for the day.

We congregated near the bridge at the trail intersection with Brown Mountain Run which had the only open flat space that wasn’t full of mud. Bear lines were hung, though it took me several embarrassing minutes to nail the throw. After Roan Highlands I prefer my food hang well out of bear-arm reach!

Sadly, in Shenandoah fires are verboten, so I produced a tiny LED lantern for some dinner ambiance. The conversation that night was full of hilarious exchanges and the usual swapping of war-stories The stars came out in a crystal clear sky as we discussed the merits of isobutane and alcohol stoves.

With no fire to enjoy, we retired very early - settling in for a solid 10 hours of sleep. So we at least still experienced that part of winter backpacking.

The next morning, we were up and moving just a little before 8am south on Big Run Portal Trail. We had the joy of several stream crossings in 40 degree water. If we weren’t awake before, we certainly were after!

Radiance was the only one brave (or crazy) enough to follow me through the deepest stream crossings! Never follow the tall people!

Eventually we turned away from Big Run and made our climb up and out on Patterson Ridge Trail, another ridgeline walk that in spring would offer no views at all! We were once again warm in no time as we climbed, taking down one false summit after another. Before long the trail deposited us on Skyline Drive within throwing distance of our cars.

The last remnants of Fall!
Hannah and Rene made an early departure with Melissa in her car, while the rest of us made a beeline for Blue Ridge Cafe and hot juicy burgers. The traditional overeating post-trip was completed with gusto.

Another great DCUL group and a great weekend! You can check out the trip details over at

Thursday, December 3, 2015


So I'm about a decade late, but I've been looking for a place to show off some of my favorite photos that was free of all the clutter of nonsense of Facebook or Google Plus.  I decided to give Instagram a try while in Europe, despite it's "phone app only" interface.  I have slowly started dropping my pics there.  Check it out:

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Mr. & Mrs. Savage go to Europe

Last month Joan and I snuck off to Europe on holiday to visit our scattered families.  It was a whirlwind of planes, airports, and cars.  After a connection through Keflavik in Iceland (where we just briefly got to taste the air on the tarmac), we landed in Schipol, Holland.  Jet lag hit hard, but we rallied for a great dinner in Amsterdam with Joan's family for her birthday.  The next day, we hopped back on another plane for Denmark, then Norway.

My distant cousins Inger Lises and Siri picked us up from Stavanger airport, and we had a reunion dinner with a bunch of my distant family.  Some time was spent puzzling out the complex family tree!

The next day we got a tour of the Fjords of Jorpeland after a short ferry ride.  Norway is comprised of incredible looking landscapes!  I'm already plotting a return trip, possibly when the country is snow covered.

We made a trek up to Preikstolen (Pulpit Rock) - a prime tourist attraction but well worth it.  We were lucky to have an ice and snow free walk.

Several passerby clomping uphill in heavy boots asked if my sandal clad feet were cold.  Cold?  It was a balmy 11 degrees Celsius!  Why is everyone so bundled up!?  :)


The following day we hopped a connection through Copenhagen to Barcelona where we were retrieved by Joan's Uncle Martin and Aunt Ria.  We drove to Begur in Catalonia where he has a house overlooking the Mediterranean.  We really slummed for the four days we had here, let me tell you.

I instantly fell in love with Begur.  It was quiet, it had the sea, and mountains, and hiking/biking trails!  What else does one need?

We hiked a short section of the GR92 which followed the coast.  It was all gorgeous, and Joan and I worked up a sweat in the toasty 27 degrees C (~80F) temps and sunshine.  Really, the first sunlight we had seen on the trip so far!  The trail rolled over hilltops and descended into sheltered, pebbled beach coves.

We toured a few 9th rough 12th century settlements that are still active with residents today.  The laid back atmosphere was infectious.

The last day, we made the roughly 1 mile walk (and about 1000 feet of elevation loss) down to the sea for a very short and chilly swim.  The beach was deserted for some odd reason!

Begur was very walker friendly, with sidewalks and stairs weaving in and around all the closely packed terrace houses.  A good thing too, because everyone whips and speeds through the twisting, winding roads like there is no tomorrow!

On the 13th we were on yet another plane back to Uithoorn to stay with Joan's cousin Mignon and Jos.  We spent an entire day wandering Amsterdam, eating poffertjes, cheese, bread, chocolate, everything that makes life worth living :)

I gained a couple of kilos despite the amount of walking we did.

That night as we went to bed, we caught the news of the attacks in Paris.  It was quite surreal.  And we were glad that we had opted not to drive through France as originally planned.  On the last full day, Jos took me on a 50k bike tour around Uithoorn in driving rain and wind.  I couldn't think of a better way to see the Dutch countryside!  I marveled at the houses below sea level mere meters away from huge bodies of water.  Their doom seemed imminent, but Jos told me floods never happen due to the complex array of canals and pump stations.

We had our last dinner abroad at Tanta Ria's house.  The goodbyes were very sad that night and the next morning.  But eventually we boarded our WOW flight back for the states.

It was a jam-packed 11 days!  Looking forward to a return trip.  Huge thanks to our families for their incredible graciousness and hospitality.  Hopefully we can return the favor someday.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Winter Backpacking: Food, Water, Stoves.

Here is a followup to Part 1 of my winter backpacking tips, covering some other critical areas you should consider before traipsing off into the glory of a snow covered landscape.  Here are some basic tips for food, water and stoves:

Winter food plan!
You definitely don't want to skimp on the calorie intake in winter.  Your body will be working overtime keeping you warm, and if you spend the day slogging uphill in snowshoes, you will develop a raging hunger without equal.  More work = more food needed.  But lets say you are just out for a normal hike (no snow or ice to worry about), but it's just really cold.  Even if your exertion level isn't burning extra calories, just being out in frigid temperatures will.

Luckily, you don't have to change a whole lot with your foods, but you probably want to make a few tweaks (besides maybe bring a little extra).  You want fatty foods!  I'll add olive oil to any hot meals I make (and sometimes cold ones).  1 ounce of olive oil is roughly 100 calories, so you can get some bonus energy in measurable amounts easily.  But also, fatty foods (besides helping you feel more full longer) keep you warmer as they digest.  This is especially important to think about before burrowing into your sleeping bag.

Sitting still in your bag, you no longer have the advantage of creating heat from moving.  But you can give yourself a boost by eating plenty of fat right before bed.  Dark chocolate is great (Ritter makes my favorite backpacking chocolate).  As it burns and digests while you sleep, you will keep cranking out the BTUs throughout the night.  I'll also keep a few chunks handy for when the temperature drops more (usually between 2 and 3am), or I just wake up feeling cold in the middle of night.  Also, just having a hot meal (and drinks) in your belly is a huge moral boost.  Winter isn't a time I would recommend trying to go stove-less!

You also should consider keeping your snack foods (the stuff you want to munch on while hiking) close to your body.  Nothing worse than trying to bite into your favorite food bar only to find it frozen solid.


Speaking of stoves - do you need to buy a fancy stove, just for winter?  I'll give an ambiguous maybe.  It all depends on the temperature, and also on what conditions you are in for.  Will you be able to access liquid water, or will you have to melt snow and ice?

Let's start with the affects of freezing cold on stoves.  You will encounter a wide range of opinions and experiences with various fuel types in winter.  The two most common types you'll see on the trail (in 3 season backpacking) are of course isobutane and alcohol.  How do they fare in winter?

I read a very comprehensive article on iso-butane canister stove tests at various altitudes and temperatures, but alas, I can't seem to find it now.  I'll just summarize the highlights here.

Quite simply, those canisters are filled with a mix of butane and propane in liquid form.  Your canister stove works by burning the gaseous form of those fuels.  So in order for your stove to work, the temperature of the fuel inside has to be at or above the boiling point for each (which is a little under freezing for butane, and about -40F for propane).

So essentially, if you take your canister stove out and fire it up in temps well below freezing, you will be burning more propane fuel, and little or none of the butane.  It will be harder to light, burn less efficiently, and you'll also end up with a half used canister that you can't burn anymore and have to carry around the rest of your trip.  Plus, as the canister fuel is consumed, it will cool off even more, compounding the problem - the rate of butane fuel being used will go down steadily.

So, do you abandon your beloved canister stove for the duration of winter?  Not necessarily.  You just need to keep your fuel above freezing!  Burying it deep down in your pack with your down helps keep the chill at bay, or you can stuff it inside your jacket to warm it up before dinner.  You can also submerge it in water if you are really desperate (at worst that will keep the canister above the freezing point).  I've even read about people heating up the canisters with another stove or other means.  Not sure I can recommend that!

Long story short for canister stoves, you can still use them, but you might need to do a little more work.  Also, a good wind-screen is critical to try and regain some efficiency in winter.

The glory of frosted beards.
The story is similar with alcohol.  Probably the most preferred stove setup for ultra-light backpackers due to it's simplicity and cheapness.  But it suffers from the same issue as canister stoves.  When alcohol is below freezing, it is hard to light, and won't heat efficiently at all.

But luckily, you can overcome this even more easily.  As soon as I stop and start setting up camp, I'll throw my fuel bottle in my jacket.  A small bottle of alcohol is much easier to warm this way then a large fuel canister.  Usually by the time I'm ready to make dinner, it's good to go - and I can light it with my striker just like normal.  Assuming my finger dexterity is intact anyway.

If that won't work (or I just forgot to keep my fuel warm, or I can't feel my fingers) - I cheat.  I fill my can-stove like normal then pull out my storm-proof matches, light it and drop it right in.  That ignites it every time, and usually gets the fuel immediately boiling as a bonus.  Despite the numerous myths out there, I've used my Caldera Cone setup with alcohol stove well below zero.  A good windscreen, again, is a must.  A piece of foil or thin metal sheet under the stove also helps tremendously, especially on snow.

So, typically, I would say you are fine with whatever stove you have, assuming you go in prepared and ready to overcome the chill.  But besides just boiling water for your meal-in-a-bag (and making hot drinks!), if you want to go into deep winter, sooner or later you may need to melt snow.

What's awesome is, the winter sometimes opens up territories that might otherwise be bone dry any other time of the year by providing an abundance of water everywhere you look.  You just need to make it liquid again.

Turning hail into breakfast at a dry camp in the Tetons.
Either alcohol or canister stoves can be used for snow-melting just fine.  Though canisters have the obvious advantage of working with larger pots for mass-production.  This is something to think about if you are generating water for more than just yourself.  Snow is something like 80% air, so you need to burn through a lot of it!

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention two other types of stoves that are meant for deep winter.  Both liquid burning - so they need priming and a bit more care.  But they will be stable regardless of temperatures.  Personally, I think you'd have to be in for a lot of winter backpacking to make the investment worth it (I still don't own either type below).

Inverted canister stoves, like the Jetboil Helios, are handy in that they use the same isobutane canisters as most other backpacking stoves.  The differences being this one is configured to burn liquid fuel, and uses the canisters upside down.  Just like that, the cold isn't a problem!

The other popular type of stove is white gas - like the Whisperlite.  The great advantage of these is just how much burn time you can get from one canister - they last a LONG time.  You will see reviews and comments are both sides for these stoves.  Many love them, but most will agree they need more work and maintenance to keep them working properly.  Make sure you are versed in troubleshooting and that it's running smoothly before heading out!

UPDATE: MSR also makes an inverted canister stove that is a bit more affordable, and simple then the Jetboil version: MSR Wind Pro II

Obviously, both these setups are way bulkier and heavier than you would ever consider on a 3 season backpack.  But sometimes in winter, heavy loads are the only choice.  Of course, you can always build a nice fire (a fantastic treat in winter!), but that isn't always an option.  Wood could be scarce, or just hard to find - or fires could be outright banned as it is in most National Parks.


Frozen lake walking.
Don't let it freeze!  It's a lot harder to drink!  Seriously though, having your water bottle freeze up is a real pain.  Thawing it out can sometimes be impossible, as the only way to do it is to press it against your core and keep it there for a very long time (sometimes overnight).  That makes you cold, no good.

Most people will abandon their water bladder hydration systems for winter.  While you can use them, it takes some extra work.  You have to remember to blow out your hydro-tube every single time you finishing taking a drink.  Forget once, and it freezes up.  You are done.  You'll also need to keep the bladder against your back.  Depending on your pack, that might not be possible.

I switch to winter specific bottles when temperatures plummet, or use home-made bottle insulators (out of Reflectix).  By far, I would most recommend the 40oz HydroFlask for winter.  It has a vacuum sealed chamber to insulated the inner container, and works wonders for keeping your water from freezing.  It can also keep a hot drink hot!

But before you worry too much about buying more stuff, the number one simple way to keep your water liquid is just to keep it next to your body.  With your pack hip-belt clipped, there is a natural pouch formed right at your belly that makes a great place to stash your water bottle inside your layers.  Heavy winter parkas will usually come with inner pockets designed for just this purpose as well.

In winter, I tend not to carry a whole lot of water at one time (ok, I don't really carry a lot in 3 seasons either!).  If you really don't want your water to freeze, well, just carry it in your body!  Stay well hydrated at all times.  This is especially important in frigid climates, as you will be burning through fluids faster than you realize.  If you start - and stay - hydrated, you can probably get away with just 1 liter or so carried at a time.  And that's a lot easier to manage then trying to keep several liters from freezing.

This of course assumes you can readily access unfrozen water to refill when you need it.  Melting on the go will really slow you down.  Plan ahead, always!

Until next time!  Be safe out there.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Teton Crest Trail Video

A short video from this summer's trip to Grand Teton National Park where we hiked the TCT.  Enjoy!

Be sure to check out more pictures here.  Also, be sure to check out Jimmy Jin's photos at

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Winter Backpacking, on a budget!

Summer in the Teton's - Photo by Joe Mountain F$%#er Pranio
Over at DCUL Backpacking, we recently started a trial run of a mentor-ship program with the intent of introducing backpackers to the magic of the 4th season.  Those of us with strong winter experience have been slinging info, tips, and safety warnings like mad.  And generally just getting excited for winter!  My xc-skis are already itching for the first snowfall.

I thought it would be fun to write up some of the tidbits I have learned in the last few years (usually through painful experience).  But more specifically, here are some ideas for breaking into winter backpacking without blowing $1,000 on new gear.

I love winter backpacking, and if you catch the bug, you probably will too!

My first winter experience was in Death Canyon, Grand Teton National Park.  While I went in pretty well prepared, I had much to learn.  So I did, rapidly!  My next winter trips were classic Mid-Atlantic.  Cold, but not lots of snow.  Then there were even colder trips, with lots of snow!  Finally, I had my first taste of the Adirondacks in deep winter.  I was hooked.

Coming up is the perfect time of year to try out colder weather.  Warmer days, with cool nights.  No snow yet - but you'll find with time you prefer the temperature to stay consistently below freezing so you don't have to worry about rain!

So, where to start?


Invariably the first thing thing I usually get asked by the winter curious, "Do I need an expensive 4 season shelter?"  Nope.  I mean, there are certainly trips where having a bomb proof double-walled shelter is nice - but if you are just trying winter backpacking for the first time, that's not the weather you should be going into.

What do I use?  The same tarp I use for 3 season backpacking.  I think all but one winter trip last year I hammocked with my regular cuben tarp.  I'm not recommending you go out and try to hang in the depth of winter (most hangers won't take their hammocks out in the 4th season), but I want to illustrated what you really need your shelter to do: it needs to keep you dry, and it needs to keep you more or less out of the wind.

So whatever tent (or tarp) you have, go with that first.  Shelters are one of the most expensive backpacking items, so don't spend more money on a new one just for winter.  That is, at least until you have some more experience under your belt and you know exactly what you want (and need).

Bivy sacks are another shelter option that some adopt in the winter.  Letting you just plop down anywhere and go to sleep.  They keep your bag dry, and add some insulation value by blocking air transfer.  But they have there drawbacks - you have to manage potential condensation carefully.  Also, I wouldn't rely on just a bivy sack if there is potential for rain.  Makes sure the temps will stay well below freezing.  They make great options for use in lean-to shelters!

Sleeping Bags

Easily the second most asked question! Do you need to rush out and buy a minus 10F bag?  Again, no.  You shouldn't have to mortgage the house for this one either.  Plus, why spend all that money until you figure out if you even like this winter nonsense?

Chances are, you probably have two sleeping bags (or quilts) now.  Most of us have that super light "summer" - 40 or 50 degree - bag.  And then we have our deep 3 season Fall bag.  Well, you can use them together!

Now, there is a lot of variability here.  I might take a 20 degree bag down to -5F, but most people won't.  Literally, every body is different.  You should have an idea of your tolerances already.  DON'T TAKE CHANCES.  Leave some room for error until you know what works for you.  But, if you add your summer bag on top of your heavier bag, you can usually buy 10-15 degrees of warmth.

The method I recommend:  first crawl into your main (warmer) bag.  Then use your second bag as an over-quilt.  Trying to get inside both bags at the same time is a pain, and you lose some efficiency because one or both bags will probably become compressed.  If they don't loft fully, you are wasting insulation value.

Instead, once you are in your first bag, just put your feet in the footbox of your lighter bag (this helps keep it in place) and drape the rest over top of you.  This has the added benefit of moving the dew point (the point at which water vapor will condense) out into your lighter bag, protecting your more crucial bag's insulation.  Wet down is useless.

No second bag?  No problem.  Add layers!  Experienced backpackers plan out their sleep system to include every stitch of clothing they are carrying anyway.  Put everything on, and crawl into your bag.  But don't get too constricted!  Trapping air between each layer is what makes it work.  See layering below.

Sleeping Pad

Most winter backpackers go with the Xtherm.  But it's not cheap.  You might find you are fine with whatever pad you have, but if you are using an inflatable that is sans any insulation, you will definitely feel the hard winter ground sucking at you in the night.  But luckily all you need is a cheapo foam pad to put under your blow up, like the Z-Lite.  Once again, doubling up saves the day!


First off, lets dispel the myth that some materials out there are better at keeping you warm when soaking wet.  Absolutely anything that is wet, regardless of what it is made of, is going to suck the heat out of your body at a rapid rate.  Number one, if you get your insulation wet, you screwed up.  Number two, if your insulation is sopping wet in the winter, get it away from your body!

Don't crawl into your sleeping bag with soaking wet layers.  You will just wreck your bag, and really find yourself in a fix.  Take off the wet stuff, stuff it in a dry bag and into your footbox so it doesn't freeze, and worry about drying it the next day.  Hopefully when the sun is out.  At worst, you'll have to put on cold, wet clothes in the morning and start hiking.  But that is a lot more tolerable then trying to sleep while shivering.  And it's incentive to hike faster!

Back to that Number One point - your downy goodness should never get wet.  Ever.  Down is for stopping, not for moving.  That nice puffy jacket should only come out when you are taking a break, or you are at camp.  The rest of the time, it should stay safely nestled down in your pack away from rain, snow, and sweat.  Your puffy jacket, sleeping bag, and quilts are your luxury, and sometimes your life line.  Don't mess with 'em.

Now that we have that all clear :) ...what DO you wear while hiking?  You need to think in layers.  You have your base, a mid, maybe a top layer, and then a shell.  You might not wear them all at the same time, it all depends on the weather, how your body is feeling, if you are climbing, or descending, etc., etc.  It takes experimentation, and experience to get it dialed in just right.

 Here's where you raid your gear closet again, and hopefully avoid rushing out and spending a bunch of cash.  You probably don't need to spend $200 on a fancy heavy-weight mid layer.  Do you have a base layer?  Check, some kind of synthetic mid-layer top? Sure.  A light weight fleece?  Perfect.  A nice shell jacket?  Warm hat?  Gloves? Done.

Avoid cotton, it might feel nice on your skin - but as a hydrophilic material, it holds moisture like nobody's business.  Moisture against your skin in winter is always bad news.

You really don't need much while hiking.  If fact, you don't really want to wear that much.  You will be surprised how warm you'll stay just by moving, even when temps are in the teens.  What you desperately don't want to do, is sweat.  If you sweat in the winter, not only are you wasting energy and fluids (and overworking yourself), but you are getting your layers wet!  See above - that's bad!

What do I wear in winter?  A merino wool top baselayer, like this.  If I'm climbing, it's probably just going to be that, plus my shell.  I'll wear thin, softshell type pants (no thermal long underwear, no way!).  If it's really cold, or I'm mostly on flat or descending terrain, I'll put on a mid-layer synthetic top, or a light (100 weight) fleece top.  If I'm climbing into alpine territory (i.e., into heavy wind), I'll put on my shell pants.

One caveat for all of the above, I'm a polar bear!  I run hot, all the time.  Probably why I love winter so much :)

It's common to think you have to layer up, and stay that way at all times - but eventually as you get accustomed to winter hiking, you realize you don't need as much clothing as you thought while moving.

So if you have that stuff listed above, and a puffy down jacket, you are golden!  When it's time to stop, put all that on.  If you are still cold, it's time to get in your bag.  Really, when winter camping, you are generally either moving, or in your shelter and bag.  Of course, you should also have that thick pair of luxuriously warm socks to change into before hitting the sack.  Also have an extra "emergency" warm layer just in case while you are figuring things out.

If you really miscalculated, boil water and put it in a bottle.  Wrap it in something so it won't burn you, then into your sleeping bag it goes.  You will be amazed how warm you will be!

Some things you definitely should buy: Mittens.  Like these.  Nothing will keep your fingers warm like mittens will.  They should have an outer shell that is weatherproof.  Having a pair of thin liners is a good ideas as well. Basically think about layering your hands just like the rest of your body.  It's nice to have something covering your fingers when you have to pull off your cumbersome mitts for cooking and such.

Some other items that are nice, balaclavas, and puffy (down or synthetic) ski pants, gaiters, goggles for alpine expeditions.  Booties for camp.  But for light winter, you can probably do without all that for your first trip.  Add them a bit at a time as you feel the need, and have the cash to spend.


You can (and probably should) start with whatever footwear you already have.  Hopefully your trail-runners or boots have enough room for thicker socks.  You want to avoid constricting your feet if possible, that just leads to blisters and other discomfort, as well as restricting blood flow.  Which will just make you feel cold.

I'll stick with my trail runners until I'm into consistent snow, or I know getting wet feet is a possibility.  At that point, I'll switch to waterproof boots.  It's it's getting really cold, I'll get out insulated boots like these.  I'll also typically switch from my standard Wright Socks to a smart wool variety for winter.

This is another case where you need to know your body.  My feet just never seem to get cold (but my hands do, easily).  Follow some basic advice though, until you find the combo that works for you.  Keep your feet dry as much as possible.  Have some backup dry socks.

If your toes (or any other extremities) are getting painfully cold - STOP, and do something about it.  Add layers, not just to the body parts in question, but your core as well.  If you are getting dangerously cold, get bundled up in your down, eat, and drink warm fluids until you feel toasty again.  Don't carry on trying to "tough it out".  It is very easy to get past the point where you are capable of taking care of yourself.  If your hands go numb, you will quickly run out of options.

Advanced Winter Stuff

There are any number of advanced gadgets you might eventually need, but I think I'll keep this first winter post simple and end it here.  I'll follow up with a more tips in another post.  There are any number of cold-weather subjects to touch on - water (and keeping it in it's liquid form), food, stoves, traction devices, snow shoes, and so on.

But I want to stress again, don't just rush out and spend a lot of money.  Wait until you get a little experience under your belt.  You can, quite easily, spend thousands of dollars on gear that is only useful in one season.

On the other hand, once you do accumulate all that fancy winter gear (and the experience that goes with it), you suddenly have the tools to travel into places where winter persists much longer than it does in the Mid-Atlantic.  Many of our National Parks are spectacular in the "off-season" - less crowded, and wildly transformed.  Suddenly the calendar, as well as new territories, will be open to you!

When embarking on your first winter expedition, try to keep it simple.  Plan on just one night, or have relatively easy to reach bailout points so that you aren't stuck in the backcountry multiple nights freezing if you mess up.  That's just not fun.  Set yourself up for success as much as possible.  Carefully watch the average temps for long term planning, and then live forecasts as your trip draws nigh.

If temps are close to freezing, and rain is likely - just don't go (or go somewhere else).  Rain, when temps are between 32F and 40F, not only sucks - it's dangerous.  You've probably had a rainy trip in the summer when everything you have is soaking wet.  Now imagine being that wet in winter.  Yeah.

Always plan for temps to be 15 degrees below the forecast for safety.  Remember as you climb in elevation, temps will drop.  Wind chill is also a factor.  When making camp, you don't want to be up high exposed on a ridgeline.  You also don't want to be at the lowest point in a valley, such as down by a river or creek.  Move up 30 feet or so in elevation, it can make several degrees difference.

Bottom line, if you play it smart, there is no reason not to enjoy winter backpacking!  It just takes more thought and preparation.  Eventually it will become second nature, and you'll be itching to hit the trails whenever you see snow coming down!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Foot Hills Trail, South Carolina

I never got around to writing up my thoughts from the Foot Hills Trail (South Carolina) which I hiked in the summer of 2014, but here is a link to the trip report on DCUL by trip leader "EZ Bake" - check it out!

A great trail, with a few awesome views, and tons of waterfalls to enjoy over it's 90 mile length.