- Don't think popular trails like the AT are "easy". I had heard from a number of people that the AT was pretty easy compared to the PCT due to the lack of significant elevation gain. It isn't true. While there aren't huge mountains to conquer, the terrain is quite challenging in its own right (lots of rocks, lots of boulders, lots of partially buried roots on the trail, climbing over and under downed trees, and sections deemed "pretty rugged" in journals kept at many shelters.
- Break in your boots (and improve your physical fitness) ahead of time. Blisters suck and so does the big purple toenail that I will probably lose due to wearing lightweight trail runners over a particularly difficult patch of trail that would have been better done with heavier boots (although trail runners work on most trails I hike on but live and learn I guess...). Darn Tough socks, however, have my everlasting appreciation.
- Use trekking poles! I would probably be waiting in line for an orthopedic surgeon to replace both knees if I hadn't used good quality trekking poles.
- There's bears. We could smell them at various places along the trail and hear them occasionally as well but no actual sightings. Not being the chattery sort of hiker, I am assuming the constant clicking of my trekking poles gave them enough warning of my eventual presence. Bear spray is a good idea, bear bagging your food and toiletries is imperative.
- High heat and high humidity can lead to dehydration and exhaustion just as easily as hiking in dry desert environs. Drink copious amounts of water, travel in the early morning or early evening, keep some re-hydration salts in your pack, use sunscreen, and wear cotton.
- Pack light. The Mountain Crossing store at Neels Gap had a suitably impressive collection of ultra lightweight hiking gear seemingly in the middle of nowhere (similar to well stocked REI stores that you would find in urban areas). When I asked about this, the guy working the desk said it was at about this point in the trail that hikers were paring gear down from what they thought they would need (read ultra heavy packs full of all kinds of crap) to the very basics of lightweight gear. Start light and both your back and your legs will thank you.
- Pace yourself. I was pretty shocked that while I can easily walk 20+ miles over even terrain in a day, the difficult and at times steep trail slowed me down considerably. And then I saw this blog post from a guy I know who is in ultra-fit condition and didn't feel so bad about my abilities or lack thereof.
- Be aware of the weather. Cell reception was pretty good on many parts of the trail and while it is only considerate to turn the volume off on your cell to keep from annoying everyone else on the trail, having (and using) some weather apps is a very good idea as the combination of high heat and high humidity often leads to storms in the afternoon (and thus the necessity to take cover).
- Know the danger signs of heat illness and what to do about them. When it is really hot and really humid, your body will have a difficult time keeping itself cool often resulting in dehydration, heat stroke, and other heat-related illnesses (even death!) so learn how to cure/prevent these problems before you head out and, if possible, hike with others who can help gauge each others symptoms which may not be readily apparent to the victim.
- Finally, knowing basic hiking skills is a necessity. Have first aid skills, map and compass skills (even though the trail is blazed pretty well), water purification skills, fire starting skills, etc.
Monday, September 8, 2014
Backpacking in the Summer Heat AND Humidity
Well I think my travels are finished for a while and with a busy summer of hiking and outdoor activities behind me, I offer these tips gleaned from a stint on the Appalachian Trail (as well as the promise of more regular blogging in the future):