17 June 2018

Backpacking Shenandoah National Park & What is a Derecho

My buddy G- Money had set the date and had put the plan in motion to section hike the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park. His plan was to cover those 106 miles over a 8 day period. 

John a hiking friend of G-Money was also committed to the 8 day trek. Due to other events (Mother's Day) I was only good for three days. G-Money and John would start two days before me and they would start the trail in Front Royal Virginia for a south bound route. I would meet up with them at Thornton Gap.

Since I only had three days to give to this trip I figured I needed to plan my part of the trek as my own backpacking trip. I would either hike with them 1 1/2 days and have to solo back 1 1/2 days to get back to my car or backpack three days and have to use a shuttle service to get back to the car. I used a shuttle service.
Shenandoah National Park planning
Basically our route would follow the Appalachian Trail with a few side hikes to some of the amazing view points in the park. Pictured above is the Central District section #10 map produced by the PATC. The PATC is the trail organization that maintains the Appalachian Trail, AT huts and backcountry cabins in the park. For paper maps their section maps are the go to map for the park.

Along with the map I also made myself route cards for each day. With a detailed route card there is almost no need to get the map out. I build my route card from a template I made in Google docs.  I am able to share this with others so they also have a copy of my plan. I just email my plan to them. Always leave a plan with someone and the time of your return.

It seems like two things happen when I get on the road to the park. I loose any good radio station and cell phone coverage. I didn't want to print off driving directions because it would be to hard to read on the back roads of Virginia. So what I did was something we do in the military and that is write on the windshield. Yep, wrote my driving directions in shorthand on the windshield with a Staedtler marker. Works like a champ!  I would like to use off-line maps on my tablet next time for driving directions but writing on the windshield is so simple.

Our plan came together when I walked out the back of the parking lot and G-Money was waiting for me on the trail. John was up the trail aways setting his pace. The first view point we get to is Mary's Rocks.This view point is on the western side of the mountains and gives you a fantastic view of Thornton Gap.
Entrance Station Thornton Gap Shenandoah National Park
From Mary's Rocks we hike for awhile until we get to Byrds Nest #3. This is a overnight AT hut. There are other Byrds Nest huts in the park but some are day use only.  The huts are very simple and  are invaluable to hikers and backpackers that need to seek shelter from the weather. 
Byrd's Nest #3
Byrd's Nest #3 . Picture taken from the Appalachian Trail . From of hut faces west. To the rear left is a old water fountain that does not work.

It's just amazing how well these huts have stood the test of time. I guess at sometime that water fountain to the rear left of the hut worked. Just up the hill was a spring box that would have been the source for the fountain. This would not be the first fountain that we did not see working. I don't know if it's part of the maintenance backlog or something in the water but I would like to see it working again.

At another outlook we run into a couple who are from Chesapeake VA and they are section hiking. They go by the trail names of Ice cream and cake. Interesting and fun trail names for a couple.
Fast forward to the afternoon. G-Money has a Garmin Inreach and he gets a late afternoon text from his wife. She text that they are calling for a Derecho storm. What the hell is a Derecho storm? Never heard of a Derecho before. A little bit later we start to see some clouds and we get some light rain before we get to Rock Springs Hut. There are already 3 people at the Hut when we get there. So we head up the hill a bit to the tent site area around the hut to find our tent sites. Well G-Money has to find a site that is good for his hammock set-up. John has been backpacking at his pace and has not reached the hut area at this point.

With tent and hammock up. We head down to the spring for water. We must not have been there long. I might have filled one bottle at this point.  It was just like someone turned off the lights and it just went dark and the wind picked up and clouds rolled in on top of us.

We grab our stuff and start running up the mountain to get back to our tent and hammock. Just as quick as it got dark a pouring rain hit and the wind picked up even more. I have been out in my fair share of storms in a tent but nothing like this. The wind must have been 50-60 mph and that made the rain drive into the tent. At this point, I was not sure if tent was going to hold up!

About an hour later the Derecho has past. G-Money had to fall back to the Rock Springs Hut. John happens to show up about 20 mins later. He had lucked up and had been in the right spot on the trail and was able to seek shelter at a rock over-hang. By the end of the night the Rock Springs Hut area is full of through hikers.

Just a note about the weather. I had done a weather check before starting my part of the hike. It was calling for rain with some thunderstorms all week. The weather report was not calling for a Derecho.  The conditions just happen to form and the Derecho developed.  While I am all about cutting the digital cord while being in the backcountry, having the Garmin Inreach to receive the text of the impending Derecho storm was a great resource. Only if we had understood how bad that storm would be.
Stay tune for day two. More rain in the forecast....

23 May 2018

Backpacking Trip Planning

Shenandoah National Park planning
 Planning for a three day backpacking trek.

 I was not able to get this posted before my trip. I was able to take off a few days to enjoy a trek in Shenandoah National Park. I will have my trip report posted over the holiday weekend so come back and check the post out

25 April 2018

Goruck Constellation 12 Richmond VA

It happen to be St. Patrick's day when I did the Goruck Constellation 12 in Richmond VA and I wanted to take sometime to reflect on the event before I did a blog post.
For those that might not know about Goruck this is one one of their survival events. The Constellation comes in two favors 6 hours and 12 hours and is the urban survival event out of the survival series of events.
Just like other Goruck events you sign up for a city only to get the link up point just a few days before the event.  Also there is a packing list which I will get to later in the post.
One thing I have learned as an instructor is that people give feedback based a lot of times on what their expectations for the course/class are, before they get to the course/class. Either you meet or don’t meet those expectations. So the only thing you as an instructor can do is control expectations. This was why I wanted time to reflect on the event and not post on my expectations. 
So did the Constellation meet my expectations? Yes, but not the way I had thought it would.
A few weeks before this event I had ordered some Goruck GR1 rucks for work. We used some of the packs to make some kits to carry some of the equipment that we use. Since I had not used one of our kits at this point I took one of the GR1s to see how well it worked with packing all the gear from the packing list . I am happy to report that the GR1 works great!
I have the Goruck Bullet that I use every day and I love it. The GR1 is just bigger and has a lot of the same features as the Bullet. The GR1 will run you about $300 which is a lot for what is a day pack or in Army terms is a patrol pack.
What I like about the Goruck packs is that it is simple, and simple is more. It's hard to understand that simple is more until you use the pack. In general I believe it also makes you think differently on what you carry and how pack it. The GR1 is also a great carry-on travel pack. I had to go on a work related travel the following day after my event and the pack was a real joy to travel with.
The Packing List:
There are two parts to the list. Required and team gear.
Required :
Water bladder ( I use Source military bladders)
Photo ID & $20
PT belt/bands
Smartphone with battery pack
1 contractor bag (did not use)
Metal can min size 12oz (find something a little bigger )
1 dust mask
1 2L plastic bottle- empty
1 pad steel wool
2 9v batteries
1 car cell phone charger and cable (did not use)
1 paper clip (did not use )
1 canteen cup (GI or Nalgene cup size)
1 multi-touch
1 long lighter
1 ball point pen (plastic stick pen with cap)
1 free tourist map
1 selfie stick (did not use )
1 personal key fob
1 digital camera (in most cases this will not work again)
IR Flashlight
Small screwdriver set
1 roll duct tape
You might already have most of the required items around your house. If you have to purchase items like the small screwdriver set, long lighter, ball point pen, and 9v batteries. Just go to the dollar store to pick those items up.
The empty 2L needs to be clear. Soda water is 89 cents so it's like paying for the bottle...
I believe the gear list will change over time. The more they conduct the course the more the list will change to get the right mix of gear needed for the events in the course.
I did carry a empty Nalgene bottle in addition to the required and team gear. That was a personal choice .  If you have not had it happen to you a bladder can and will fail on you. A Nalgene bottle is there when the bladder fails. As I noted above I use Source brand military bladders. They are my go to bladders. Easy to use, easy to keep clean. They hold up for a long time but they will fail at some point. Your mileage my vary.
It does not seem like a lot of gear but you will fill up a 21L ruck. Communication with others on the Facebook page would help in the cross-leveling of team gear.
Back to expectations... What caught my eye about this course was a austere medical  and defensive weapons block of instruction. While the course did not meet my expectation that I had in my head. I did gain a knowledge bomb or two that was worth it's weight in gold.
Most of the other blocks of instruction were things that I had learned in the Boy Scouts and it was fun to knock the rust off of those skills.
Couple of things I took away from this event. One, is work as a team. In a survival situation it's working with your neighbors or members in your community. You cannot do this on your own (well not for long). Second, always practice your skills. Just because you did it 20 years ago does not mean you still have the skill set. Building a fire, navigation, first aid are just a few examples of things you should practice and develop your skills. Third, problem solving. Just understand how things work. How can you take some junk and make something work.
If this sounds like something you would like to do the grab a friend or two to do the course with you. The hardest part is signing up!

12 March 2018

Banff Mountain World Tour 2018

It's that time of the year when the Banff Mountain World Tour makes its way to my neck of the woods. This year I was only able to get a ticket for the 1st night.

That night did not disappoint and like always the movies covered different subjects.

Imagination : Featured Tom Wallisch and was a urban skiing film. The concept was a kid sitting in the backseat  of the family vehicle gazing out the window imagining skiing and using his fingers to make jumps.

While his parents are in the front talking about who knows what, Tom Wallisch skis into the day dream making it reality for the kid and the viewer.  The parents do not see the skier because it is only in the imagination of the kid.

The Last Honey Hunter of Nepal ' s Kulunge people. This was an amazing film around 40 minutes long. The Kulunge people climb handmade ladders to climb the cliffs to gather hallucinogenic honey.  These guys climbed what seem like hundreds of feet to get the honeycomb of the largest bees in Nepal. The honeycomb were huge and covered with thousands of bees.

Armed with a smokey fire at the bottom of the cliffs and a cheese cloth head cover for protection.  They climbed bear foot and bear handed. 

Banff brings out the reminder to me that there are amazing people doing amazing things, but also there are millions of people in this world that live a life in very remote and simple ways.

If you have the chance you need to do yourself a favor and see a night of great films with friends.

11 March 2018


Another weekend of orienteering!  This meet was held at Albright ' s  Scout Reservation. ABSR is a place that I hold near and dear. Albright 's was the first campout I did as a Scout. It was also during a camporee that I was tapped out for the Order of the Arrow.

CVOC had a 1200 start and I selected to do the green course. I didn't take a picture of the hold map because I wanted to focus on control number 3. I made a map reading error at this control.  I saw a small foot bridge and thought I was at the right creek and I found the fence that is in the woods.  After making a quick search for the control I figured I was in the wrong place and I was fitting the terrain to the map.

Working to controls 4,5 and 6 I used the compass to get my heading because those controls were between 375-425 meters. While that is not that far the terrain is more flat and harder to read. This method worked out will for me. I was either dead on the control or I found the control with limited searching.

Last week I was challenged with international control descriptions and this week it was a control description of "vernal pond". Control number 13 was the vernal pond. As you can see it is a small body of water compared to the other ponds. I heard one Scout ask were's the water?  The vernal pond was the size of a hole you would get from were a large tree has fallen over and you are left with a big hole at the rootstock. I thought it was another control from another course at first.

17 Scouts worked on their orienteering merit badge over the weekend

04 March 2018

FUMA 2018 Orienteering Meet.

Fork Union Military Academy normally host an Orienteering Meet each year around February.  The years event kept getting pushed to the right because of all the rain we have been having. The meet was located on the schools campus which is a huge piece of property.

Fork Union Military Academy is a premier college preparatory boarding military schools for boys in grades 7-12 and postgraduate located in Fork Union, Virginia since 1898.

The school has a junior orienteering team and this meet helps the team raise funds to off set some of their cost.

This was the first time that I have been able to make it out to a FUMA meet. I don't know what it was, but I enjoyed this meet. I did both the 2.9km Sprint course and the 5.3km Score-O course.

The sprint course was set on the campus proper which gave me chance to see the campus which looks like VMI. This was the first meet/map that I have done that used the international control descriptions. This was not an issue for me because most controls were at steps or something around a building.

I guess, it was a 100 meters past the first control I felt the back of my pants getting wet. Had a big old fail of my water bladder. This cost me some time. I also learned that my time at the control and departure from the control cost me time.

By the time I got back my friend Eric had arrived to the meet. We decided that we would go out on the course together but be recorded and time as individuals. Thank goodness Eric had a control description sheet so we could figure out the features located at the controls. We planned our route and the order we would pick the controls up. The 5.3km had a total of 15 controls and in our plan we would not pickup controls 6 and 7.

I am a faster runner, so it worked out that I would go to the controls and punch the cards while Eric was reading the map. We figured this was how some of the two person teams are doing it at other events and it's hard to beat their times working as a individual.

The two person method worked great for us and we were spot on finding the controls. Once we got to control 9 we had a decision to make. Do we try to pick up control 6 or stay with our plan. While control 6 shows that area is open with no underbrush it happen to be a cutover area that was logged last year. We figured that it might take us 20 minutes to cover this terrain and would not be worth our time and effort.

We ended up with a time around 1:14 and got 13 of 15 controls.  I am pleased with that.

I just need to study up on the international control descriptions.  I am not sure of the scale of the map for the Score-O but I need to pay attention to the terrain details.

I wish there was more attendance at orienteering events here in the  United States.

07 January 2018

CVOC 2018 1st Day Orienteering Meet

CVOC held its 1st Day Orienteering Meet in conjunction with the 1st Day Hike event held at Pocahontas State Park.

I needed to do well on this course since I did a horrible job on the last meet I was at before Christmas. I pulled the trigger for the Green (advanced ) long course 5.4km. Below is my course map.

Right or wrong I mark my map up. I use a yellow highlighter to mark the controls and the legs between each control. I also used a red marker to make a couple on notes for reference for myself. The green lines and arrows marks the route that I took and this has been done as a review for myself and so you can see the route I took. You might have asked yourself why I might have taken the long road route vs the shorter route in the woods. The answer is I think it's faster for me. Pocahontas has a lot of fallen trees in areas because of storms over the years. This can make off-trail travel a little hard. I was please with my route choices and I was spot on my controls except for control 8 which is in a old dump site and I just happen to be on the wrong side of the junk pile. Control 4 was my only in and back out control. I was surprised when I got there that the control was a post and not a control flag. From control 6 to 7 I took a little longer route to use the intersection of the forest road to get a bearing before heading into the mountain bike trails. When I did the night course in the same area it was easy to fit the terrain to the map and be in the wrong area. That plan seem to work well for me.

One area that I need to work on is my cross-country running. I think I have the   same level of navigation skills as the adventure racers but they are kicking my  buttons with the riding. There’s always room for improvement! Well I have a month to work on that before the next meet.