01 July 2018

Backpacking Shenandoah National Park Day 3

Day three my last day on the trail and G-Money and John's day five. Breaking down camp and packing up took a little while. Gear was still wet from the night before. I ended up taking a lost on my ground cloth. It was covered with  what seem like two pounds of mud and was just a waste of time to try and clean up. 

Today's mileage was about 10 miles and I had a plan pick-up time with the shuttle service between 4-5 pm.  This section of the AT from our camp to Swift Run Gap is a fast section to hike. More so than the last two days. Which lead me to thinking I would get to my pickup point way before my pickup time..

G-Money, John and I hit the trail together and it was not long before G-Money and I had our pace going. As I thought we hit the road at the entrance station around 1030ish. I took some of G-Money's gear that he did not need and gave him my Big Agnes sleeping pad. He would need the pad if it started raining again and he would need to sleep in a AT hut. We said our good bye's and I headed over to the entrance station to make my call for my early pickup.

National Park Service

This was the first time that I have used a shuttle service and I had found the guy on one of the AT forum sites. Out of the two people I contacted he was the only one to reply back and my price was at the higher than normal range, but what are you going to do right? I normally do not use any type of guide or shuttle service on any of my adventures. But in this case I had too. 

I made a call to my shuttle driver to see if I could get and earlier pickup. Luck had it that he could do that. So I sat down to get some food and drink in me and it started to rain once again. I spent the next hour and a half seeking shelter from the rain until my shuttle driver arrived.  

My driver came and he was a retired gentleman that had thru-hike the AT in his younger years. While I paid more per mile than G-Money and John did , the value added was getting picked up earlier in a new truck and some of the local history of the Shenandoah Valley. Hard to put a price on that.

G-Money and John sent another two days on the trail to finish all of the AT in Shenandoah National Park. Let's just say the G-Money had to use my sleeping pad!

24 June 2018

Backpacking Shenandoah National Park Day 2

My day two and G-Money  and John's day four started like any other day in the backcountry after a Derecho storm... No shit there we were...No thats how my military war stories would start off. 
We talked about how bad the storm was and what damage could be on the trail ahead of us. Surprisingly there was not much.

Our goal for the morning was to get to the Wayside at Big Meadows where we could get some real food and resupply. While cutting through the picnic area and passing the campground everything seemed to be okay and normal.  But it was not until we got to the wayside that we learned that storm had knocked out power to the Big Meadows area.

We did find out the the lodge was running off of a generator and they were open. Anytime you have to backtrack your steps, it's a long way.. I ended up talking with a Danish couple to would give us a ride back to the top of the mountain. 

The Danish couple saved us two miles backtracking  to Big Meadows Lodge. While we did not get to eat in the lodge we did get some food and drinks from the gift shop. Took the time to sit outside in the sun to let things dry out a bit.

Just a note on the impact of the Derecho storm. While storm damage on the the trail was little, it did knock out power to Big Meadows for a week I later found out. The wayside at Big Meadows is a important stop for users of the park and a highlight for any hiker looking for a real meal and supplies.
Now we are on our way to Lewis Mountain Campground where we will stay the night in the campground and not in the backcountry. I don't know why but I felt like this part of the trail took forever. It just could have been that my feet took a pounding the day before and my feet were not happy with me. While I have had my boots for a long time, I had them re-soled in the last year and I believe I am still breaking the new sole in.

Another thing I want to bring up is our trek put us in the park during a time which is called the "through hikers bubble". Its a time period that most through hikers are making their way through the park. Most everyone we meet on the trail are through hikers. We mostly get to know them as their trail names and the names are just as interesting and different as the people themselves. But one thing we keep hearing about is a group of 30 through hikers known as the "herd". Most older hikers described the group as a big party. We think we missed that group by about a day.

At Lewis Mountain we heard about another group of hikers. It was a family of 7 with the youngest kid being 2 and the oldest being 17 years old. I later found out they go by the trail name of the "Crawford Family" and if they finish the AT they will set the record as the biggest family to complete the trail. I don't know what they do about school, but I am sure this adventure will teach them more that will last a lifetime than what they would learn in the classroom in 6 months.

At Lewis Mountain we were treated with a couple of things like beer, junk food and a thunderstorm. This thunderstorm sucked as much as the Derecho and for me it was worst. The rain ran between my ground cloth and tent floor and the rain blew in the side wall of the tent just like when you turn your AC on in the car when it is humid. Never seen anything like that before.
The Flood

Stick with me for part three which will be posted in a few days

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