A Wildly Successful 200-Mile Hike:Lessons Learned on the Appalachian Trail


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Myths about hydration
Operation Northbound. Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike 2018

Amazingly, I found a good tree and hung a bear bag line with just one throw while wearing a head lamp. Obviously my lucky day. I bolted down a cold dinner of cookies and trail bars and went to sleep, waking during the night to discover that my tarp was leaking rain into the unsealed threads of my bivy sack.

I repositioned myself to prevent my sleeping bag from getting wet and made a note to reapply seal seal to the tarp when I got home. The next morning, I got a late start out of Hurd and headed south climbing a stubby pair of hills called the Rainbow Ledges.


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It was drizzling most of the day but warm enough outside that I could hike without rain gear and still stay warm. Still there was plenty of water and mud on the trail and I was glad that I was wearing Inov-8 trail runners on this trip and not leather boots like in The southern half of the mile wilderness is very hard hiking over mountains, so I was curious to see if the northern half was any easier.

Still, the high peaks give way to lakes and there are ample opportunities to skinny dip in waterholes alongside the trail or lie on sandy beaches. It took me 6 hours of hiking to get to the Rainbow Stream Lean-to which is situated at the end of Rainbow Lake. Pitching it requires so much more skill than setting up a boring old A-frame. We had heavy rainfall that night, but I slept high and dry I put duct tape over the leaking seam from the previous evening.

On shorter trips like this I have a staple dinner I usually eat and enjoy: Ramen noodles, miso soup, and olive oil. I find it very satisfying, easy to make, and easy to clean up. After dinner, I washed up and hung my bear bag before retiring shortly before sun down.

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It felt good to be back on hiker time again, rising with the dawn and sleeping when the sun set at night. I broke camp early the next morning with hopes of finding it later in the day at the southern end of Nahmakanta Lake. As I continued south The trail got easier to hike and the weather cleared up. This stretch of trail is exceptionally beautiful, running past beautiful Crescent Pond, up and over Nesuntabunt Mountain and alongside several excellent swimming beaches on Nahmakanta Lake.

About a mile south, I met another pair of section hikers, a couple, with the trail names Down and Out.

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I was hiking much faster than them, but stopping a lot to take in the views, and they kept catching up to me. They were both wearing Golite Gust backpacks that were over 15 years old and in excellent condition, made in the days when Golite made still made UL packs with mesh back pockets. The Gust is a classic UL pack and was favored by mountaineers and alpinists as a high capacity gear hauler.

Nesunabunt Mountain was literally the high point of the day, with incredible views of distant Katahdin in clear conditions. The mountain is only about feet high, but towers above the blue waters of Nahmankanta Lake below. It looked exactly like it did then: a gravel logging road and the wood bridge spanning Nahmankanta Stream.

I snapped a few photos and did an about-face, hiking a few miles back to the Wadleigh Shelter to camp for the night. Wadleigh Shelter is probably one of the most underused shelters on the AT. Rather than stay in the shelter, I pitched my tarp again, this time as an Adirondack Wind Shed. I was joined by another camper that night, a thru-hiker named Moosehead from Florida, who I was to see repeatedly over the next couple of days as we both hiked north to Abol Bridge, he for the first time, and me back to my car.

But on this trip, I had a little more time flexibility than normal and decided to take my time hiking out. The weather was fine and I wanted to spend some time swimming in the lakes and camping rather than pushing myself to hike extra long days to finish sooner. I broke camp the next morning and hiked leisurely up Nesuntabunt Mountain again to take in the view of Katadhin. There I met another thru-hiker named Captain Planet who is from Georgia. He was smoking a cigarette at the viewpoint, having stealth camped there to photograph the sunrise on Katadhin.

We chatted for a while and I took off leaving him contemplating the view. My hike had definitely taken an unusual social turn for me, as I continued north. I took a water stop there and ate some nuts and dried fruit while we got talking. Captain Planet ambled in shortly afterwards, as well as a hiker named Nimblefoot, who was just starting a southbound thru-hike to Georgia.

Captain Planet and Moosehead were set on doing a long day to get to Hurd Lean-to that night. After that they planned to hike into Baxter and stay at the Birches for the night which is reserved for hikers who complete the mile wilderness. Vegan and I decided to take it easy that afternoon and only hike a few more miles to the Rainbow Spring Campsite so we could go swimming in Rainbow Lake.

Vegan needed to kill a couple of days in Millinocket to wait for his family to show up and climb Katadhin with him, and I offered to drive him into town, about 20 miles east, on my way back to Boston. Vegan and I hiked separately to the Rainbow Spring Campsite which has an excellent swimming lake and fresh water spring.

When I arrived he was already swimming in the cool clear water. I set up camp and joined him at the lake where we swam and hung out, talking along the rocky shore. That turned to be a good move because he escaped all of the depression that goes with a marriage breaking up, instead waking up every day surrounded by good friends and ready to hike onward. Hiking heals the heart. The next morning we got an early start breaking camp around 7 a.

I had a drink and some chips and hung out with them for a while, before taking Vegan into town and driving back to Boston.

Great photos and report! I hope you're getting well soon, and are able to take off from where you dropped out. Thanks Hendrik!

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Now that I understand more about where you can get shuttles into the Wilderness, I'm sure I can restart from where I left off. But I may wait for a drier year this time. The good news is that I got all of really hard mountains out of the way and that the last 25 miles should be cake. Really excellent write-up Philip, very nice work. Much like you, I section hike and would have a difficult time doing much more than that solo.

Physical ability is one thing, but my mind has a tendency to eat me up. My wife always says I come home a little nicer after a few days out by myself. Now if I could only find a good hiking buddy here in Virginia, well then I could yell at my wife all day long! They are light, breathe well, and do wonders against moisture. They make the different of preserving your down loft and having a great trip or spending all your free time drying out your bag and being cold.

I'm still processing the emotional stuff that came up after being alone for 6 days. It was a very different experience that on a day trip. I've read good things about it on BPL and it is astonishingly breathable.

It would have been too hot to sleep in on this trip, but with a quilt, it could have been a great combo. Do you have any quilt preferences? Hard conditions to walk in.

Day – 8 Life Lessons from Hiking Tough Trails - Wisdom-Trek ©

The big river crossings and mud underfoot could all have contributed to your injury. You'll be back and you did a great section anyway. It looks real wild and I would love to hike there. Kit wise the tall guy has a good point with a bivy bag. I would suggest trail shoes and Gore-Tex socks. Working a treat for me in the damp old UK. Quilt preferences, well probably like everyone I'd go with a Nunatak. I took out the zipper and the other frills and use it as a quilt because the removal of the zipper still left a footbox.

How did you get your trail name?

I then sewed in two removable elastic straps to go around my pad and I essentially have a highly functional, less expensive, and lighter quilt that what Nunatak offers. I usually pair it up with a Pertex bivy from BPL and I've never had a problem with rain, condensation, etc. I think it is roughly 20 ounces quilt alone and I've had it in the 30's without a feeling chilled. The warmth down creates is really amazing to me. Often I actually sit in camp and start wondering if I'm delusional, if it is from a big meal, if I'm going to wake up in the middle of the night freezing, etc.

And yet each day comes and goes and it has yet to disappoint me. Really amazing stuff. Don't be discouraged about your trip. You handled more miles and conditions which would have made many turn around much earlier than you did. I'm a big supporter of the "hike your own hike" theory as backpacking is all about enjoying yourself and nature. If the goal was to be miserable, heck I could find endless ways to make that happen. As long as you're having fun, being safe, and returning home with good stories, then consider it a good life.

I meant to ask you if you would mind publishing or sending me your food list, assuming you wrote it down. My biggest gripe is never gear. It is either food issues or physical issues which usually affect my knee and calves much like you described. I'm not sure what is more humbling, leaving the trail early or being unable to walk for several days. People can't believe it is merely from hiking alone and assume it was either a sports injury or auto accident. I may ultimately end up doing that, but I really use my boots on the mountains for braking on wet rock and to prevent ankle twists.

A Wildly Successful 200-Mile Hike:Lessons Learned on the Appalachian Trail A Wildly Successful 200-Mile Hike:Lessons Learned on the Appalachian Trail
A Wildly Successful 200-Mile Hike:Lessons Learned on the Appalachian Trail A Wildly Successful 200-Mile Hike:Lessons Learned on the Appalachian Trail
A Wildly Successful 200-Mile Hike:Lessons Learned on the Appalachian Trail A Wildly Successful 200-Mile Hike:Lessons Learned on the Appalachian Trail
A Wildly Successful 200-Mile Hike:Lessons Learned on the Appalachian Trail A Wildly Successful 200-Mile Hike:Lessons Learned on the Appalachian Trail
A Wildly Successful 200-Mile Hike:Lessons Learned on the Appalachian Trail A Wildly Successful 200-Mile Hike:Lessons Learned on the Appalachian Trail
A Wildly Successful 200-Mile Hike:Lessons Learned on the Appalachian Trail A Wildly Successful 200-Mile Hike:Lessons Learned on the Appalachian Trail
A Wildly Successful 200-Mile Hike:Lessons Learned on the Appalachian Trail A Wildly Successful 200-Mile Hike:Lessons Learned on the Appalachian Trail

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