Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Shaving Six Ounces

I blogged before about my weight problem (my loaded pack, not my body weight so much).  My pack on a backpacking trip is so heavy, and I hope to have a couple of trips coming up this late summer and fall, one of them a fairly long one.  So I would love to find a way to take off some weight, and I recently found a way to shave six ounces.

One is by replacing my standard hiking trowel with a new digging device, the Deuce of Spades.  Why do back packers need a trowel, you ask?  Are we doing gardening in the deep woods?  No, gentle reader, not quite!  A trowel is used to dig what is, euphemistically, known as a "cat hole," which is an essential part of backwoods sanitation.

This photo shows my old trowel on the left and the Deuce of Spades on the right.  The latter is very light and tough, and weighs 4.5 ounces less than the former.  You can dig with either end, and can use the small end to put more pressure to bear when digging in compacted soil.


The other way that I shaved a tiny bit of weight is by replacing my standard fork - spoon - knife kit with a plastic "spork." It saves about an ounce, although I could - and may - just carry the metal spoon instead, depending on what is on the menu.

My pack will still weigh too much, but every little bit helps.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Some Hills, But No Alligators!

I was in Michigan last week for a family visit, and although I never have quite enough time in the great outdoors while I am there, I did get in some lake kayaking, tried some sailing on a little sunfish type of boat (which I capsized), and got in one hike in beautiful Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake Shore.

Early in the week, a bunch of us were swimming in lovely North Bar Lake, just a stones throw from much colder Lake Michigan, and I was asking a ranger about places to hike.  He suggested trying the Alligator Hill Trail.  So last Friday, I got up before dawn and did the 35 minute drive to the trail head, and was hiking by 7:00!

So where is it?  Well, it is in Northern Michigan, as you can see from this location map.  The purple circle shows the area I hiked in, the Mackinaw Straights (which connect Lakes Michigan and Huron) are to the top right of the map, and the purple arrow points to North Manitou Island in Lake Michigan.  I hope to do a three day backpacking trip on that island someday.

By the way, Sleeping Bear Dunes NLS was one of the 50 wilderness areas suggested recently by the Wilderness Society as worthy of a visit.  I have been many times now, and have enjoyed each and every visit.

What trails did I hike?  Here is the track that I followed.  It was about a six and a half mile hike, making my trail miles for the year higher than all of last year.  The purple star marks the trailhead, the blue star marks the overlook of Lake Michigan, the Manitou Islands (which are the bear cubs in the story of the sleeping bear), and the Fox Islands, and the red star in the overlook of Big Glen Lake.  That part of the trail was a nice, level 0.8 mile out and back.

What was the trail like?  The trail system there has three connected loops - easy, intermediate and advanced.  For hiking with a light day pack, all of them were easy.  The rating pertains to cross country skiing.  I hiked on the easy and advanced loops.  The trails where wide and smooth and made for a pleasant walk in the woods.  There are some minor hills, as you can see from the elevation profile.  I climbed and lost about 900 feet over 6.6 miles.

Other than two robins and a black squirrel (a color phase, common in that part of Michigan, of the gray squirrel), I didn't see any wildlife.  I did see a deer and three turkeys during the drive.  And I heard some birds, notably wood peewees, although most of the time, my walk was strangely silent.  I saw only two other people during my hike, although a large group apparently started a trail run some time after I began hiking.

Here are a few photos from the hike.  These are the remains of charcoal kilns built some 60 years ago by a local entrepreneur to provide charcoal to campers and picnickers.


This typical of the trail along the Alligator Hill Trail - nice and wide, nice grades, very well maintained, and soft and sandy.

This is Sleeping Bear Point on Lake Michigan.  Most of the hike had views only of woodlands, but two spots, including this one, had very nice vistas.

South Manitou Island, the smaller and closer of the two Manitou Islands, is seen nearby.  This island allows for day hikes and backpacking in season.

Lake Michigan with the Manitou Islands.

Here is the other viewpoint on the hike - Big Glen Lake.

Does this look like a pleasant spot to take a walk?  Well, it was!


Friday, August 1, 2014

My Top 12 Hiking Memories in 12 Years!

A few days ago, I closed out - at least for now - my Racing for a Cure blog with a post about my top 12 memories while racing for a cure.  As I said there, why just 12?  Well, because this past April marked my 12 year survival anniversary since discovering that I had Hodgkin's lymphoma.  If you learn you have cancer, it is best to think of yourself as a cancer survivor from day one, and that is what I did.  And I have been fortunate enough to have 12 more pretty amazing years, for the most part. These mostly happy years have been sprinkled and sometimes liberally dosed with times of sadness and grief, but that is life.  I am grateful to still be here, and healthy and strong.  And still hiking!

So I thought it would be fun - and challenging - to come up my top 12 hiking memories as well.  With all of the hiking I have done since 2002, this was a tall order, and I had to make many cuts at the last moment to restrict things to 12, among them some hikes in the Everglades, Yellowstone, and Mount Rainier National Parks.  Here, in reverse order, are my top 12 hiking memories as a cancer survivor.

12. My Last Hike Before Beginning Chemo.
When? June 2, 2002
Where? Shenandoah National Park
Why is it memorable? Because this was the day before I started chemotherapy, it was a gorgeous day, I knew I would not be hiking any time soon, and I felt quite alive and grateful to be up in the mountains.

I'd had surgery a few days before to get a portocath put in, and I was still sore from that, but I wanted to have one last hike before beginning chemo.  So we drove to Shenandoah National Park on a picture-perfect day, and drove along Skyline Drive.  The hike was short - about a mile total to the Black Rocks.  I didn't get a lot of photos on my chemical film camera - how much things change in a decade! - but you can go to this post from a backpacking trip nine years later to see the area.  Or you can go here for more details on my return to the Black Rocks nine years later.

The mountain laurel was in bloom that day, as seen in this scanned photo from that outing.
I felt really wistful when we left the park that afternoon.  I felt like I would survive cancer, but no one really knows how things like this will turn out.  Would I ever see the mountains again?  Would I ever hike again?

The answer was a resounding "YES!"  Here are 11 more great hiking memories since that June day.

11. Mount Judah.
When? July, 2013
Where? Sierra Nevada area, California
Why is it memorable? Because I made the hike with family - both of my brothers and a sister-in-law - during a trip to celebrate my surviving sister Clare's 70th birthday and to have a family reunion.  Plus, the scenery was killer, and I got to hike a bit on the fabled Pacific Crest Trail.

It was a gorgeous day, and we started out early.  This was not a long hike, just about six miles, but it was long enough and pretty much a 9 out of 10 for scenery.  Plus, it was great to do this with family members who live far apart and can never easily get together.  Here is a representative photo, and if you want to see more, just go to my Mount Judah post.

10. Backpacking to The Priest.
When? November, 2010
Where? Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia
Why is it memorable? It was my first backpacking trip in nearly 20 years, and even though the weather should have been crisp but not bitter in early November, the mercury dropped to about 12-15 degrees - my coldest night every sleeping in the great outdoors.  Plus, I have never seen such amazing stars as on that cold, crystal clear night.

Sure, I'd done lots of day hiking, but I'd not backpacked in a long, long time.  When a friend suggested we hike the Priest together - taking in Spy Rock and Crabtree Falls along the way, it sounded like a great idea.  And despite the cold weather, at least 15-20 degrees below average, it was a great idea and a great trip.  It got me back out to backpacking again.

Here's a photo from the top of The Priest.  If you want to read more, start with my account of this great trip by going here.

9. Hike up to the Kennecott Bonanza Mine.
When? September, 2010
Where? Wrangell - St. Elias National Park, Alaska
Why is it memorable? It was as remote a spot as I ever hiked to, it was amazingly steep, and despite the lack of views because of rain and fog, I did see willow ptarmigan up close, which was quite cool.  Plus, it was in Alaska!

We were staying at the Kennecott Glacier Lodge in the park, an amazing place in itself, and I did a nine mile day hike 3,800 feet up to the abandoned mine site.  The views would have been amazing without the rain and fog, the guide kept reminding me.  Here are a couple of photos, but for more about the hike, you can go here.  Or to learn more about the ptarmigans, go here.  To learn about the historic Kennecott ruins, go here.


8. Bald Mountain Nature Preserve.
When? August, 2008
Where? near Antrim, New Hampshire
Why is it memorable? It was simply a beautiful place, I heard loons call again, and there was both lakeside hiking and mountain views, plus I saw the most amazing mushrooms!  And I hiked it with my brother and sister-in-law, on her birthday.

This was just a perfect day in the outdoors with family in a beautiful spot.  If you have ever heard the call of a loon, you know that this in itself is amazing and memorable.  You can read more about this hike here, just weeks into the start of this blog.  Here is a photo from the day.

7. Logan Pass.
When? September, 2005
Where? Glacier National park, Montana
Why is it memorable? Here I was, hiking on a trip to see some of the trips of the western national parks, a trip that we had to cancel in 2002 because of my cancer treatments.  So I felt blessed to be alive to have a second chance at this trip.  It was so beautiful, and we saw several mountain goats up close after seeing them from a distance for several days.

You could spend all summer just hiking in this National Park, but you would be hard pressed to find a more lovely or easier trail.  The scenery is amazing, as is the wildlife.  Here are a few photos from that hike.

Bearhat Mountain

Alpine views at the turnaround point in Logan Pass

It was pretty cool to have a mountain goat walk past us just 30-40 feet away.

Mother and child - a nanny mountain goat (left) and her kid (right) graze just above the trail.

6. Bullhead Lake and Ptarmigan Falls Hikes.
When? September, 2005
Where? Glacier National park, Montana
Why is it memorable? This was a pair of two hikes on the same day starting and ending at the same place - a five miler to Bullhead Lake and a seven miler to Ptarmigan Falls.  Both were out and back hikes.  They were memorable not just because of the scenery in a spectacular park, but because we were hiking in grizzly territory, and that makes one feel really alive!  Plus, I saw the biggest moose that I have ever seen - at least at that point in my life - on the second hike of the day.  When I heard a branch snap, I froze, thinking it was a grizzly!  Yeah, memorable!

On the hike to Bullhead Lake, we were in prime grizzly territory and on full alert.  A man and his daughter had been attacked and badly hurt by a grizzly just a couple of weeks before a few miles from where we were.  And a man we met on a short morning hike that day before starting out on this hike later told us how he had done this hike the day before and had been "mock charged" by a large grizzly three times!  We kept making noise as we hiked along, but saw nary a bear.  Here are couple of photos from that hike.


I was solo for the afternoon hike to Ptarmigan Falls, a steady but not steep climb along the side of mountain through a large valley.  I remember it being beautiful, and I especially remember the moose and feeling certain it was a grizzly.  I just knew for sure that it was a large animal, because when the branch snapped, it sounded like a rifle shot!  Here are a few photos from that hike.



5. Backpacking on Shackleford Banks.
When? June, 2013
Where? Cape Lookout National Seashore, North Carolina
Why is it memorable? Not since 1973 have I backpacked on a barrier beach, sleeping among the dunes and carrying drinking water.  I went with two friends, and we each carried about 25-28 pounds of water for our two night trip to Shackleford Banks.  We enjoyed the beach, found great shelling, and enjoying seeing wild horses.  I strongly recommend this as a destination if you are up for it.

There is something about being on a remote island.  We saw people every day but I don't think a single other person was camping out that weekend.  The horses were a special treat.  I would love to go back here in the fall when it is cooler.  The seashells that we found were amazing!  You can go to this post to read more about my three day trip to Shackleford Banks.

4. Mount Washington.
When? July, 2007
Where? White Mountains, New Hampshire
Why is it memorable? Forty years before, as kids, my father took my younger brother and I up into the Whites, and we hiked to the top of Mount Washington, the highest mountain in the northeastern USA.  Now, my brother and I were coming back there together, and it just felt special.  I've always wanted to stay in the AMC huts and eat the amazing meals cooked by the "Cru," and that also is very memorable.  Plus, my friend Dick, something like 82 at the time, accompanied us, and it was great to hike for three days with him as well.  (read more about Dick here).  And as the frosting on the cake, my brother and I hiked to the top of Mount Monroe the second evening and witnessed one of the best sunsets I've ever seen.

The scenery was fabulous, the weather in the somewhat fickle and sometimes deadly Whites was great, the company was a lot of fun, and the meals were delicious.  Plus, we were backpacking, but with light packs, as we did not have to carry tents, sleeping bags, cookware, or much food.  I plan to go back, and have belonged to the Appalachian Mountain Club ever since.  Here are a few photos.

Day 1 - Mount Eisenhower (left) and a distant Mount Washington (center)

Day 2 - final approach towards Mount Washington's summit.

Day 2 - from Mount Monroe summit looking back from where we had hiked that day.

Day 3 - My brother and I on the steep hike out

3. Grayson Highlands Backpacking.
When? October, 2012
Where? The high country of Southwest Virginia
Why is it memorable? This may have been the most fun backpacking trip I've ever done.  We were out four days and three nights, and the weather was really nice - no rain, and not nearly as cold as the prior two trips I had done.  The scenery was spectacular through much of the hike, and although we didn't see wildlife, and one camping area was crowded and loud, our last night on the trail was at a perfect campsite.  As a bonus, I hiked to Mount Rogers, Virginia's highest point.

I wrote a lot of accounts of this trip so I won't repeat much here.  Suffice to say, it would be hard to beat this one for pure backpacking fun!  Here are few photos from the four day excursion.

Lunch on the trail.

Mother Nature got out her paint brush.

A good part of this trip had beautiful open views.


2. Riprap Hollow.
When? July, 2003
Where? Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Why is it memorable? Eight months before taking this hike in the backcountry of this beautiful park, I was on chemotherapy and feeling so weak and ill.  Now, I was finally hiking again!  I felt incredible joy at my good fortune.  I was a month away from doing my long-planned for Tumbledown Mountain hike in Maine, and this hike was my chance to see what hiking a tough trail would be like for my still not full strength body.  As a bonus, I saw two bear cubs on this hike, but got no pictures.  For some reason, the film in my camera was damaged and could not be processed.  I also took a dip in the cold, clear pool in Riprap Hollow - always a refreshing shock on a hot day.

I've returned here most years since then, most recent recently a couple of weeks ago, and wrote a post which fully documents the hike here.  The jewel of the hike is the swimming hole - if you dare to take the plunge!


And my number one memorable hike of the past 12 years is...

1. Tumbledown Mountain.
When? August, 2003
Where? Weld, Maine, near Mount Blue State Park
Why is it memorable? The year before, my wife Mary and I planned to hike up Tumbledown with some good friends, but my cancer diagnosis put the kibosh on those plans.  But being well enough to do it the following year was my statement to cancer: "You may have slowed me down for a while, but you didn't beat me!  I'm back!"  To hike to this wonderful place a year after I had been in the hospital, and to hike it with my wife and good friends (one who was celebrating her big Big 5-0!) was simply incredible!  Barring dementia, I will never forget it!

I wrote about this hike in this blog five years after I did it as a stroll down memory lane.  In the photo below, I still had a little way to go to the top (in the background), but wanted a photo of myself near Tumbledown Lake.

What kind of adventures and hikes will the next 12 years bring?  I hope to find out soon enough.  I know that I have some plans coming up in the next few months that should be fabulous!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Just a Number

Although 60 is not the new 30 - no matter who says what - it is true that age is just a number.  Exhibit A: look at the photo below.  It probably does not look remarkable - two men on a trail in the mountains.

Now, look again - the mountain in the back is Mount Washington in New Hampshire, the highest mountain east of the Mississippi and north of North Carolina.  It is a tough slog up there - trust me!  Look at the men - the guy in the orange hat is my friend Dick.  He is 89 and a half, and at the end of the second day of a three day hike up there last week with his grandson.  He goes every year, and plans on doing it when he is 100.  I plan on joining him on that one!

Exhibit B.  Well, I think Exhibit A is enough.  No matter your age, enjoy life and do things while you can, because some day, there is a guarantee for every single one of us that we will no longer be able to do the same things, or anything for that matter.  So get out there and enjoy the beautiful things in nature every chance you get.

Seven years ago, by the way, it was my younger brother and I that made this trip with Dick.  Strolling down memory lane, here are a few photos from July 2007.




Sunday, July 13, 2014

Riprap Hollow Hike

So, you say it's too hot to go for a hike in the summer?  Well, what if I told you of a place that was so cold, it will literally take your breath away for a few seconds?  All you need to do is get there over nearly 10 miles of mountain trails (and, yes, you will be hot for a good bit of it).

Riprap Hollow in Shenandoah National Park is one of my all-time favorite hikes.  I have been many times, and never tire of it.  In July 2003, it was my first post-cancer hike.  I was finished with chemotherapy for about 8 months at that point.  I was still feeling some of the effects of my six months on chemo, and it was really hard at times to do that hike that year.  But no matter - I was healthy and out hiking again.  I will always remember the feeling of joy for being able to do this again after being so ill, and I will always remember the two bear cubs that I encountered deep into the hike.  One raced up a steep slope, and the other zipped up a tree.  I resolved to hike to Riprap Hollow every year as a celebration of being healthy once more, and as a reminder that we need to seize the day whenever we can.  And for seven more years, I did this hike every year.

Then 2011 arrived.  I was dealing with very painful plantar fasciitis while trying to prepare for the 60 mile long 3-day breast cancer walk.  I skipped the hike.  2012 arrived, and I was trying to reach a goal of hiking 10 new places.  I skipped the hike.  Ditto 2013, 10 more new places, hike to Riprap Hollow skipped.  This year, I resolved to hike to Riprap Hollow again, and the perfect opportunity arrived when the Old Dominion Appalachian Trail Club announced a hike to this magical place for yesterday.  How could I not go?

I had not been involved with the ODATC for a number of years, but joined once more this past March, and this was my first hike with them.  It was billed as the "Larry Murtaugh Memorial Hike and Swim."  I didn't know Larry, but while on the hike, I learned about him and his untimely and unexpected death four years ago.  Many of my fellow hikers knew Larry from outings, and his widow was along for the hike in her husband's memory.

Eleven of us made the hike, and two more joined us for part of it on their own schedule.  Here is a photo of the group, sans the hike leader, Randy, who was taking the photo, and the two latecomers about three miles in on the trail.

It has been a while since I hiked with a group.  Usually, my party size is one, two, or three.  So I had forgotten what fun it is to hike with a group of people who share this interest of being on foot in the great out of doors.  I'll be joining in again.

Here is a map of the hike's track.  We started out and ended at the lower right, at the Wildcat Ridge Parking Area on the Skyline Drive.  The elevation at that point is 2,980 feet.  And we hiked the circuit counter-clockwise, heading north on the Appalachian Trail for about three miles, then heading west and south on the Riprap Hollow Trail, before the long slog up the Wildcat Ridge Trail back to the car.

Here is an elevation profile of the 9.6 or so mile hike.  The total elevation loss and gain is about 2,800 feet, so you get a great cardio-vascular workout.  It is too much for some people.  One guy on our trip, "Mountain Goat," was a good Samaritan and shuttled two separate groups back to their cars at the Riptap Hollow Trail head.  They were too worn out to complete the hike, and he saved them 2.7 miles of hiking.

I have plenty of photos of this hike in past blog posts, including my most recent 2010 hike to Riprap Hollow.  So I won't go crazy with additional photos from yesterday, but am posting some of them.

Here are a few of the group hiking early in the day along the "Green Tunnel" of the Appalachian Trail.  Compared to my hike just a week before in the White Rock Falls area, the weather was about 10 degrees warmer and much more humid, so the shade for much of the Riprap hike felt pretty good.

When I come to this section of the Riprap Hollow Trail, I always expect to find a timber rattlesnake, but never do.  I did see a nice rattler on this hike about 10 years ago, which was really great!

There are a couple of viewpoints on this hike, but with the haze, the views were not great yesterday.  This one is at the Cavalry Rocks on the Riprap Hollow Trail.

Some of group relax and enjoy the view at Chimney Rocks.  This is right across a deep valley from where I camped a few years ago on the second night of my Trayfoot Mountain trip.

Once we reached Cold Spring Hollow, a nice stream was flowing along with some small cascades.  It is always cooler down in this area.  The terrain is very rugged, with steep slopes on each side of the trail.  I have seen black bear in this area of the hike twice, but not yesterday.

Remember when I said that there is a spot that will take your breath away?  Here it is!  No matter how hot the day is, when you plunge in this deep pool at Riprap Hollow, you will hyperventilate for a few seconds.  At least I always do!  I have hiked here at least 10 times.  Sometimes I have had the pool to myself, but usually there are at least a few others here.  Sometimes, like yesterday, there are lots of people.  But the water is cold enough that most don't stay in for long.  When I took this photo, there were at least 20 other people here, but no one was in at this moment.  It is such a beautiful spot!


If you were here, would you take the plunge?  As our trip leader said in his pre-trip email, "the highlight of the day will be taking a dip in its classic swim hole - just as Larry would have done. Bring your water shoes and towel, and to keep in the spirit of this event, total submersion will be required."  I complied fully with this directive!

I don't know enough about mushrooms to know what this is, but I saw several of them.  Perhaps they are tasty, perhaps they are deadly.  If I had to guess, and bet my life on the guess, I would go with the latter.

If you go back to the elevation profile, you can see that from Riprap Hollow and that refreshing swim, the rest of the hike is pretty much uphill back to the car.  On a hot day, that cold water dip is quickly forgotten as you hike uphill and sweat everything you are wearing to the soaking point.  It is always a reminder that my level of conditioning needs to improve.  But unless you could find someone to carry you back up - no one in my group volunteered - you need to put one foot after the other continually until you get to the top.

We ended this fun day in Larry's memory with cold beers and Mexican food at Guadalajara Restaurant in Charlottesville, Virginia.  It sure was a great day with a great group of folks!