Supermoons, Wild Azaleas and Sentient Fog

We should have gone yesterday. The whole purpose of the hike was to see the supermoon from atop Silers Bald. Yesterday would have been perfect, but not tonight.

We watched the forecast. It was calling for partly cloudy skies and only a 20% chance of rain in the evening. That was at 8 AM.

You know what they say about the weather.

This isn't what we saw - this is what we were hoping to see.

This isn’t what we saw – this is what we were hoping to see.

By noon the percentage of rain for the evening went up to 40%. By 2 PM it had gone up to 60%. That seemed kind of high to me, but my daughter was excited to go.

She’s always looking on the bright side of things and was happy to point out that a 60% chance of rain also meant there was a 40% chance of no rain.

We packed rain gear just in case.

As we drove to the trailhead off 64 West you could see the clouds, dark and brooding, low and full of moisture, creeping in over the mountains.

We were in a 12 passenger van with 10 other people. Not a soul wanted to turn back. In fact, we talked about everything but the weather and not like we were ignoring it, but rather like we were all excited for the chance to hike together. It doesn’t happen often.

I’ve never seen such a happy group of hikers.

By now I’m sure you can see where this is going, so let’s cut to the chase. It rained on us. It started about 50 feet from the summit and lasted the rest of the hike.

There was no supermoon for us tonight, but the rain didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits. It was still an amazing hike.

“How can that be?” you might be wondering. Fair question.

First, you’ve got to understand this was no ordinary group of fair weather hikers. Nope! We’ve all seen our share of inclement weather and a little rain didn’t bother us.

Hikers, in the true sense of the word, will find enjoyment in almost any type of weather – not just fair weather.

Instead of complaining, we joked about the rain. We donned our rain gear – those of us who had it. We reminisced about past foul weather hiking. We sang songs. We opened our eyes to the beauty of a rainy walk.

It helped that the trail was ablaze with wild Flame Azaleas at the peak of their bloom – a month later than everywhere else around the area. And Mountain Laurel was surprisingly still in bloom too.wildazaleas

But the best part of the hike was seeing the fog rise up from the southern side of Silers Bald, crest the top as if being shot out of a fog cannon and then settling quickly in the valley on the north side of the bald.

I’ve never seen anything like it before. It was as if the fog was alive, breathing, thinking, scheming; blanketing the valley in soft, puffy silence.

When it comes down to it, it was the best hike ever (so far).

I got to do two of my favorite things tonight; walk in the rain and go for a night hike. Having my daughter with me made the trip that much better.

There will be other supermoons, other clear nights and other chances. Besides, my philosophy is a rainy day – or night – on the trail is better than a good day in the office.

See ya’ on the trail

Seven Hiking Lessons I Learned From Watching Doctor Who

First of all, I am NOT a Doctor Who fanatic. No! Really, I’m not.

I only started watching it on DVD a month ago, so it hasn’t been long enough for me to become one of those, you know…crazy fans. I haven’t even gotten to the Matt Smith episodes yet.

But I do like the show…a lot. Ok, maybe I even love the show – for entertainment educational purposes only. I mean it’s not like I want to marry the Doctor, or something. Meh.

Ok, fair enough. Maybe I have a crush on one, or two, of his companions, but I’ll never meet them in real life. So, my marriage is perfectly safe.

I don’t own a Dalek. I don’t wear red Converse high tops. I don’t arrange my plans around the Doctor Who Christmas special. I don’t even have a scale model of the TARDIS sitting in my living room…yet.

Now that that’s cleared up, I want to talk about the educational value of watching Doctor Who.

Seriously! Don’t laugh.

It dawned on me – somewhere between Rose and Donna – that you can learn a lot from the Doctor. And, you can apply what you’ve learn from Doctor Who to, of all things…hiking.

The Seven Hiking Lessons

1. Remain cheerful and maintain a good sense of humor – The good news is you’ll never have to face the sort of difficult decisions the Doctor does, but if you do…be cheerful (or as cheerful as you can be).

2. Fight the good fight – Don’t go looking for trouble, but handle it when trouble finds you.

3. Always carry your special tool – The Doctor has his sonic screwdriver. You should have a good multi tool.

4. Always have a travel companion – But not necessarily one that’s half your age and from the opposite sex…unless that’s your thing.

5. Never give up – It’s not an option for the Doctor…and it should never be an option for you.

6. When all else fails…regenerate – You can’t create a new body, like the Doctor, but a good night’s sleep will go a long way towards regenerating your body; mind and spirit.

7. Have a safe place you can go at the end of the day – The Doctor has his TARDIS. You always have your tent, hammock or trail shelter.

Follow these lessons, adapt to change and all of your hiking episodes will end as well as the Doctor’s.

Any more Whovians out there? Got a hiking lesson you’ve learned from the Doctor? Let us know in the comments section.

See ya’ on the trail,

Gimme Shelter

“A storm is threatening my very life today. If I don’t get some shelter, oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away.”

Maybe it’s just me, but how many of you have played this Rolling Stones’ song in your mind – or even sang it out loud – when you’re out on the trail and in need of immediate shelter?

I know I have – every time I hear distant thunder. Or, when the blazing sun just won’t let up.

Trail shelters might not look like “home-sweet-home” or the Ritz-Carlton at Laguna Niguel.

They’re a little rough around the edges, a little breezy, a little musty…and maybe a little cold at times. They might not give you the privacy you’re accustomed to enjoying and they don’t have indoor plumbing.

BUT, they’re a blessing in disguise to a weary hiker, looking for a place to rest, a place to cook a hot meal, a little company, a shelter from a storm.

It might not be apropos to use the song Gimme Shelter when we’re talking about hiking. After all, Mick and the boys were singing about the Sixties and a different kind of storm altogether, but you can’t help it when a song pops into your head.

And, a storm is a storm whether we’re talking literally or metaphorically. Who wouldn’t shout “Gimme shelter” under the circumstances?

By my count, there are ten trail shelters along the 60 miles of Appalachian Trail our local hiking club is responsible for – from Bly Gap at the GA/NC state line to the Nantahala Outdoor Center on US 19.

Our oldest shelter is the newly refurbished Cold Springs Shelter and the newest one is the two story Long Branch Shelter.

I haven’t been to all of them…yet, but here are the ones, in no particular order, I’ve had the chance to visit. It’ll give you some idea of our local trail accommodations. Sorry, no concierge or maid service provided.

This is Cold Spring Shelter:

Cold Spring Shelter

Here is Rock Gap Shelter:

Rock Gap ShelterSilers Bald Shelter:

Siler Bald ShelterStanding Indian Shelter

The nicely situated shelter along the Appalachian Trail at Standing Indian.

And this is the new Long Branch Shelter:

Long Branch Shelter Warm, cozy, dry and cheerful places. You can rest assured there will always be shelter for you when you’re in our neck of the woods.

Do you have a favorite shelter? A great shelter story? Let us know in the comments section.

See ya’ on the trail,

Sleeping In The Trees…Or How I Learned To Love A Hammock

Thank you, SlowMo! You have no idea how you changed my life.

If it weren’t for you, I’d still be sleeping uncomfortably on the ground.

I’m certain you’ll never see this, but hopefully just putting it out there in the world you’ll come to know how much I appreciate your willingness to share your knowledge of hammocking.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Creature Comforts

I’ve loved camping and backpacking ever since I was a wee boy. The smell of a campfire, the scary stories about “hoodoos” (told to us by grownups who wanted us to stay in our sleeping bags) and the brisk morning air – what’s not to love, right?

OK, there is that; sleeping on the hard, lumpy ground. That’s not to love.

Not to worry, I thought to myself. A lot has changed in gear technology since I was a kid. All the light weight materials and new designs looked very promising to me, but there was still a little nagging feeling in the back of my mind.

Although backpacking and camping equipment has improved in comfort, the ground is still as hard as ever.

Coming up with a new and improved sleep system (tent/bag/pad) after all these years became overwhelming. My gear list was getting heavier and, with all the choices available, my frustration and confusion was increasing. I needed help.

And that’s when SlowMo appeared on the trail, like a wise old sage in a folk tale.

Photo courtesy of Jacks ‘R’ Better LLC

Photo courtesy of Jacks ‘R’ Better LLC

Walk The Talk

It was on a fine spring day a couple of years ago. I was out for a day hike on the Appalachian Trail with my youngest son. We were heading up the “Jump Up” out of the Nantahala Outdoor Center when we came upon a solo hiker. It was SlowMo.

He was four weeks out from Springer Mountain and he was walking very slowly, hence the trail name, SlowMo.

He was happy for the company, having fallen behind his faster buddies nearly two weeks earlier. We got to talking and, as things generally go with hikers, our conversation eventually turned to gear.

I brought up the subject of tents. At the time I was considering either the Hubba from MSR or one of Henry Shire’s Tarp Tents – both of which hikers seem to love. I was eager to know what SlowMo was using and how he liked it.

Was I in for a surprise!

He didn’t use a tent in the traditional sense of the word. For the next mile or so, SlowMo told me about his sleeping hammock. I don’t remember the exact words, but this is what I came away with and it completely revolutionized my idea of backpacking forever:

  • Best night’s sleep ever – Seriously! Every hammocker I’ve met has told me this
  • Quick and easy set up and breakdown (even in the wind and rain)
  • No fuss campsite selection – No need for level, smooth ground
  • Lightweight – No poles, no stakes makes for a lighter load
  • Leave no trace camping – You don’t have to worry about destroying the fragile ecosystem of the forest floor.
  • Multi-use – It doubles as a chair, making a nice place to sit when you’re done hiking.
  • Bottom stays dry when it rains – Even with the best campsites, heavy rains can cause water to collect in the bottom of a tent.
  • Fly can be adjusted to maximize warmth, ventilation, shade and privacy
Photo courtesy of Warbonnet Outdoors

Photo courtesy of Warbonnet Outdoors

You Sold Me!

I went home and immediately started researching hammocks. The more I learned, the more excited I got. I couldn’t wait to get one. And, fortunately, there are many great brands of hammocks to choose from today; like ENO, Hennessy Hammocks, Warbonnet and JacksRBetter to name a few.

Like any hiking gear, they all have their advantages – and they’ve all attracted thousands of devotees. Hikers LOVE their hammocks – including this happy hammocker!

No more ground dwelling for me. I sleep in the trees now.

I suggest you investigate hammocks yourself. Check out several brands, talk to fellow hikers who use hammocks and, if you can, try out a few to see what works best for you and your hiking style and sleeping comfort.

A great place to start is to read “The Ultimate Hang: An Illustrated Guide to Hammock Camping” by Derek Hansen.

And, if you see SlowMo out on the trail – chances are he’s still walking…slowly – be sure to tell him I said thank you.

Already have a hammock? What brand do you have and what do you like about it? Let us know in the comments below.

See ya’ on the trail,

A Sprinter On The Appalachian Trail

I know what you’re thinking. “Why would you want to sprint the AT? You’d miss the whole point of hiking?”

Yes, of course you would.

Personally, I’ve always imagined taking my time on the trail; following a blue blaze to a scenic view, exploring a trail town along the way or even taking a couple of days off from hiking and camping in a beauty spot.

But that’s not the sort of Sprinter I’m referring to. In fact, the Sprinter I’m talking about has more to do with moving too slow than too fast.

What do you mean?

I’m glad you asked.

Spring SnowHere it is April 5th. Spring officially started over two weeks ago and yet some of the north facing mountain slopes still have ice and snow on them. Winter is not letting go and Spring is taking too long to get started.

That’s the Sprinter I’m talking about! It’s as if we suddenly have to contend with a fifth season between Winter and Spring – or Sprinter, if you like.

I can only imagine how this weather is affecting this year’s crop of AT thru-hikers. Spring in the mountains is generally pleasant, with cool nights and comfortably warm days.

But this year? Ha! Not this year. We’ve had more than our fair share of bitter cold nights, cold rainy days and heavy snow at the higher elevations.

Living in an official Appalachian Trail town, we’re used to seeing hikers this time of year, but rather than being a place to “zero” or resupply, Franklin has been more like a refuge for cold, wet, tired hikers trying to get out of the wicked winter weather.

Here are some local stats to give you an idea of what this year’s thru-hikers have been dealing with. In the last 35 days we’ve had…

  • 16 days of snow and rain
  • 23 nights below freezing
  • 2 nights below 20 degrees
  • 13 days with highs below 45 degrees
  • 5 days with highs in the 30s

And – this is the recorded temperatures in the valley. It doesn’t factor in the higher elevations, which can be anywhere from 5 to 15 degrees cooler, or the wind chill factor you will experience on the ridge lines and mountain tops.Dogwood Blooms

But don’t despair hikers! There’s good news coming your way! Sprinter seems to be on its last legs and Spring should be in full bloom any day now.

The forecast for the rest of April is looking good. They’re predicting daytime highs over 60 degrees and night time lows over 40 degrees for the rest of the month.

A welcome relief, I’m sure.

So, what are some of your tips and tricks for staying warm on the trail? Let us know in the comments below.

See ya’ on the trail,

A Day Hike With My Son

Phyto and Forest at Siler's Bald

Phyto and Forest at Siler’s Bald

I imagine you would have done the same thing – dropped everything and headed for the trail. After all, it’s not everyday you get an invitation like this.

I adore my kids, and I’ve come to realize they are incredibly unpredictable. Just when I think I have them all figured out, they do something that completely baffles me.

When it happens, I imagine I look as silly as a dog that just heard a strange noise; my head cocked to one side and a blank look on my face.

You know how it is being a busy parent. We have to prioritize our time. We can’t fulfill every request. But there are some invitations you can’t ignore. Not because you feel obligated – because it’s the right thing to do. Damn the priorities.

So, when my oldest son asked me to go hiking with him, I put on my shoes, grabbed my day pack and headed out the door.

We used to hike a lot together, but, like most kids, the older he got the busier he got. And, there’s always the possibility that hiking with Dad isn’t as “cool” as it used to be.

I don’t push it, but I’m happy when he wants to go.

Since he’s never been to the top of Silers Bald, I thought it would be the perfect hike for him. It’s challenging enough to hold his interest, but not too hard to make him want to turn around.

And, thankfully, the hike couldn’t have started off on a better foot. There was a car load of University of Michigan students on spring break putting on packs as we got to the trailhead. They were friendly and excited to be there.

There were three couples and a single young woman. She was the friendliest of the bunch and more than interested in chatting up my son. I could see in his face backpacking was getting cooler by the minute.

All the way up the trail we kept running into other hikers; section hikers and thru-hikers. Every one of them was the same age or slightly older than my son. This must have been new for him.

He’s accustomed to seeing only hikers my age.

AT Thru-Hikers: Dovetail and Caribou

AT Thru-Hikers: Dovetail and Caribou

The coup d’état of his perception of hikers came at the summit of Silers Bald. We bumped into two northbound thru-hikers, Caribou and Dovetail; a couple of young men from Pennsylvania, taking a year off after graduating before they start college. (Wish I did that.)

My son was very impressed by them. He was impressed they would take on such a journey at their age – his age. I don’t know if it was their independence, their courage or their freedom that most inspired him – it doesn’t really matter. What matters is it opened up a new world of possibility for him.

Hiking suddenly looked like the coolest thing in the world.

I don’t know if it will get him out on the trail more often. I hope it does. Only time will tell. I’m just thrilled he came with me today. I’m tickled that everyone we ran into was his age. And I know hiking has gotten much cooler than it was before the trip.

He asked if we could do it again soon.

You never know, do you! There I go again, looking like a dog who just heard a strange noise.

See ya’ on the trail,


Take Nothing But Pictures – Unless It’s Someone Else’s Trash

I always have a grocery sack or two in my backpack. They take up no space at all and weigh practically nothing.

Like duct tape and Ziploc bags, they come in handy whenever you have to MacGyver your way out of a tight spot – rain hat, moisture barrier, things like that.

They’re also useful for packing out what you – or someone else – packed in. Most of us don’t want to see garbage when we go for a hike. And most of us pack out our own garbage.

But there are a few people who don’t.

It’s not like we’re ever going to change them. They didn’t listen to their mothers about cleaning their room so why should they listen to us.

Instead of getting indignant about it, I just clean it up and pack it out myself. It’s not fun, but it makes me feel better.

Look what I found along the trail today. It’s a good thing I had two bags with me.
Trail TrashJust a reminder – here are the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace Ethics*:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find [This doesn’t include garbage.]
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

You can learn more details about these Seven Principles and The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics at

There’s a reason we enjoy the great outdoors. Together we can keep it that way.

See ya’ on the trail,


*The member-driven Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics teaches people how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly. This copyrighted information has been reprinted with permission from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics:

My Favorite Lunch

Here’s something a little different; a secret recipe. Who doesn’t like secret recipes? I’ve been doing this for years and can’t get enough of it. Thought it might be time to share it.

I know it’s not a typical trail post, but we do have to eat once in a while, right? Give this a try sometime and tell me what you think. It’s tasty! It’s healthy! And it’s packed with omega 3s, which will keep your knees strong for hiking up and down mountains.

Here ya go – a recipe in photos…

Your ingredients. Ingredients

Mash up sardines.sardines

Add some diced onions.onions

Add some diced sundried tomatoes.sundried tomatoes

Add some diced olives (whatever kind you like).Olives

Add some pesto.pesto

Mix well.mixing

Spread on crackers (I like to use thin rye crisps called Finn Crisp).cracker

Add some grated cheese – your choice (Gorgonzola goes best, but I didn’t have any).cheese

Heat in oven until the cheese melts.oven

Serve and enjoy!serve

See ya’ on the trail!


More Rime Than A Rapper

You know that feeling you get; the one after being shut in for days due to the cold, bad weather and suddenly the sun comes out and the sky is blue and there’s not a cloud to be seen and the temperatures are inching up to the point of being comfortable and your dog brings his leash over to you and…. ice rime1

You get the picture, right?

The other day was one of those days. There was no way I could drown out the call of the wild. It was too loud and I had to go for a walk in the woods.

I asked my most trusted hiking companion, my faithful dog, Phyto, if he wanted to come. He must have been feeling the same cabin fever and nearly jumped out of his skin with excitement.

So, the two of us set out for the trail. That would be the Appalachian Trail, in case you were wondering.

We went to one of our closest AT trail heads, Winding Stair Gap, and headed southbound. We had nowhere particular we were going. We were just going.

Deep in the shadows of the mountains, snow was still covering the ground. Not much snow considering the temps at that elevation were around 42 degrees, but enough snow to cause you to pay attention to your footing on the steep grades.

By the time we got to the top of the ridge the temperature had dropped to around 35 degrees, but you wouldn’t have noticed. It was very comfortable. The sun was shining brightly and I was beginning to break a sweat from the exertion.

ice rime3So I removed my top layer, rounded the switchback and, lo and behold, stepped into the “Crystal Forest.” Now, that’s not its official name, but it sure could have been that afternoon.

It was almost as if I was suddenly transported into a JRR Tolkien or C.S. Lewis novel and one of their magically enchanted settings.

The trees were covered in a light coating of ice, making the smaller branches appear to be made of blown crystal glass. It was amazing.

Fortunately the rime wasn’t so thick that branches were dropping on our heads. That would be dangerous! The only thing we had to worry about was the water droplets, by the millions, falling from the branches as the sun warmed things up on the western slope.

It was like a steady rain was falling; rain falling under a clear blue sky – it was a first for me.

Occasionally a small piece of ice would hit the leaf litter, sounding like a tiny animal scurrying, sending Phyto on a wild chase deep into the woods.

He always looked so disappointed when he discovered there was nothing to chase, but was quickly fooled again when the next chunk of ice fell. Instincts, I guess.

But I hardly paid attention to Phyto. I was enthralled by the scenery, soaking as much of it in as I rime2

This day reminded me how important it is to heed the call of the mountains. They call for a reason.

Like us, they are a living, breathing sentient being, eager to show off, longing to be appreciated and wanting to interact with us.

I pay attention when the mountains are calling me. I’ve learned that when I do they reward me with big surprises, their changing face of beauty and grandeur and often their revelations of a deep connection to my own primal spirit.

This time it was the crystalline trees. Who knows what it will be next time, but I will go. I will go when they call.

You should too.

See ya’ on the trail


Get Your Asana On The Trail

Crane PoseI was tricked. I had no idea what I was in for. She said it was an exercise class. How was I supposed to know we were going to yoga?

I remember how shocked I was that day. Yoga was hard, sweaty and uncomfortable. There I was lying face down on a yoga mat, waiting for the end of class, thinking it shouldn’t have been so hard.

I mean, I’ve always been physically fit and active. I’ve worked out regularly for years and I’m proud of my level of fitness for a guy approaching fifty.

It was almost as if the yoga instructor that day knew every single weakness in my body. He knew exactly where I was inflexible. And he knew just how to throw me off balance. I didn’t stand a chance.

And it upset me!

I always thought yoga was for giiirrrls – and yes, you must draw this word out to get the full disdain I had for yoga. Real men didn’t do yoga. Real men worked out with weights, pumped iron and ran until their knees gave out. No pain, no gain, right?

Ha! That yoga class was an eye-opener. There was a definite shift in my thinking that day. It was a tough class, but I wasn’t going to let it get the best of me.

Halfway through that class, when I could have been thinking I was in the wrong place at theHamstring stretch wrong time, I actually woke up and realized I was approaching my fitness from the wrong perspective. It was time for a change. It was time to man up and give yoga a try.

And, you know, I’m so glad I did. What a change I’ve seen in my body and my fitness level. Big improvements and I’m not done yet. Nope, far from it. There’s still room for more.

Fortunately, in the past three years, my flexibility has greatly increased, especially in my hamstrings and low back. When I started yoga I could barely reach my knees in a forward bend. Seriously!

I’ve also noticed I’ve gotten significantly stronger throughout my body without the typical joint pain and strain I used to experience with weight lifting.

This is all well and good, but, honestly, and I didn’t see this coming when I started doing yoga regularly, I’ve experienced the biggest improvements in my hiking and backpacking activities.

Going up and down mountains is much easier on my knees than it used to be. My hips are stronger and more flexible, making my stride longer, faster and stronger. And my spine, from my neck to my low back, no longer feels compressed. Hiking is a pleasure again.

Bound Side Angle PoseYou should try yoga. Seriously! I’m sure you’ll get equally fantastic benefits – on and off the trail.

And don’t worry. I wouldn’t trick you.

After all, when I stop and think about it now, I wasn’t tricked either. I truly believe I was in the right place at the right time. You will be too when you go to a yoga class.

See ya’ on the trail