Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How Did My New Gear Do?

On my recent three day backpacking trip, I used three pieces of brand new gear. Well, in a way, it was four. Or maybe five, depending on your point of view. Anyhow, did the gear perform well and hold up? Here is my report.

What is the most important piece of gear for hiking and back packing? Pack? Tent? Sleeping bag? Well, I maintain it is your boots, although with temperatures in the teens, I'd accept a very warm sleeping bag for an answer, too. But if your feet are miserable on a long walk, no other piece of gear is going to make up for that. I have the hardest time finding hiking boots that work for me. They never seem comfortable. Sometimes they are too tight and sometimes they are too loose. I've given up on or returned many a pair of boots. I once got a pair that Backpacker Magazine raved about as instantly comfortable with no break-in needed, and they felt great in the store. But once I started hiking in them, they rubbed and I got blisters every time I wore them, despite trying to break them in. After several months, I returned them (and got a full refund from LL Bean). So it was with trepidation that I recently got yet one more pair of boots, realizing that my current pair that I have had for years never really was very comfortable. I spent hours going through issues of Backpacker looking for highly rated boots, and finally selected several pairs to try. As luck would have it, neither REI or Blue Ridge Mountain Sports had any of the boots I had targeted. So I tried about five or six other pairs. One of them, Keen Targhee mid-height, seemed pretty comfortable, and after much walking around and hemming and hawing, I bought them from REI. I also bought a pair of Sole inserts that Backpacker strongly recommended, since the insoles that come with most hiking boots are minimal. I wore them a lot around town and even on a few hikes, and they still felt pretty good with a little rubbing. So I was really pleased how comfortable they were on this 22 mile hike with two pairs of socks. They felt great - good support, no blisters, and comfortable. We will see what the future holds, but I optimistic that these boots and I will hike happy trails together.
Second on my major gear list was my new tent, the Eastern Mountain Sport Velocity 1. I was very pleased with it, even though it took me a little while to remember how to set up as the darkness rolled in that first night. It was comfortable with good ventilation, although I did try to get the fly closer to the tent on that first very cold night. I had plenty of room - side, head, and foot. My only complaint was that the footprint was too small for the tent, and as I remember when I set it up at the house, it fit perfectly. I could remember wrong, of course. I could sit up to change clothing, and it was easy to get in and out of. Here is my tent, sans fly, the first morning we camped out near Madison Run. My sleeping bag and the tent fly are hanging on a line and airing out behind the tent.
Third on my list of major new gear was my Jetboil SOL stove. I didn't actually cook with it, and have heard mixed reviews about cooking in its little pot with such a concentrated flame. But I did boil water for tea, hot chocolate, and cleaning up, and the stove did this very quickly. Within about 2 minutes of firing it up, I had two or more cups of boiling water.
Now, although not new gear, I used a pair of borrowed Leki trekking poles for the first time on a hike. So they were new to me. I loved them! They especially made steep downhills and stream crossings less difficult, as well as really steep uphills like climbing out of our two campsites up very steep banks. I'll be getting a pair for sure, and may have to (mostly) retire my gnome hiking staff that a friend made for me from a piece of beaver wood.

Finally, although technically my feet are not gear, and are definitely not new even if they were considered to be gear, in a way, I had a new left foot. Because of a bunch of things, especially six months of plantar fasciitis, I have not done a lot of hiking this year. At the end of January, I had surgery to remove a neuroma that had plagued me for years with hiking, running, and long walks. This was my first really long, tough hike since having that surgery - and wearing a 40 pound pack to boot. I am pleased to report that the neuroma surgery seems to have accomplished the goal - no pain in that left forefoot! I still have some numbness, but the pain is finally gone. I was excited by that. Now, if I can only get the heel to get rid of the last plantar fasciitis pain, I'd be really excited! Here I am January 25, the day after my surgery, looking forward to walking normally again someday.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Poll - What is Your Favorite Thing About Hiking?

I've set up a new poll on my blog. I don't usually get a lot of response from these, but I am nothing if not persistent, so here we go again. I'll leave the poll open until December 10. So vote for what your favorite thing is about hiking. Hopefully, I've covered most of the bases with the choices I put out there, but if not, you can always vote for "other."

As always, comments are welcome.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Austin / Trayfoot Mountains Backpacking

A week ago, November 18 to 20, I went backpacking for two nights in Shenandoah National Park, hiking about 22 miles over Austin, Furnace, and Trayfoot Mountains, and having a great trip. It took me a while to write my posts about the trip, and have set them up in the reverse order that things usually get posted in Blogger: i.e. oldest posts first instead of newest posts first. In that way, you can read about my trip in a chronological order. Here are my accounts of the trip to this remote part of Virginia: no showers, no bathrooms or toilets or outhouses, no beds, no TV or electricity, no campfires (not allowed) - but lots of fun!

Planning my trip - how did I decide to do this trip and get it planned out?
Preparing to hike for three days - How did I prepare for my trip, and would it be adequate to the task?
Packing my gear - it looked like an REI store and a grocery store exploded in my guest bedroom, but somehow, I got it all crammed into my Millet 60 pack
Trip Overview - where exactly are Austin and Trayfoot Mountain?
Day 1 of the trip - we cut out of work early, and hit the trail by 1PM, but would we find a decent place to camp before dark?
Day 2 of the trip - We climbed, climbed, and climbed some more. Then suddenly, it was all downhill from there.
Day 3 of the trip - It was an uphill hike to the spectacular Black Rocks, then an easy couple of miles back to car and civilization.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Planning a Trip

We don't get pay raises where I work - at least not for the last four years. We all feel lucky to have a job and benefits. But now and then, they throw us a bone. This past summer, we were each given four hours of extra leave. A month or so ago, I got the idea to use said leave by taking off Friday afternoon and getting in a three day back packing trip. The idea germinated, and I asked a co-worker if he wanted to go. I would go by myself if need be, but much prefer hiking with someone else.

But where should we go? I'd thought of Ramsey Draft Wilderness, but that is popular with hunters. So we will leave that to them, deciding on Shenandoah National Park. There are hundreds of miles of trail. Over the weekend, I started to look at one of my trail guides and maps, and a great sounding trip kind of jumped out at me - a 21 mile circuit in the Southern part of the park that goes by Austin, Furnace, and Trayfoot Mountains, and up past Black Rocks. Chris agreed, and so we are good to go.

At 10AM Friday, we'll cut out of work (starting early that day) and will hit the road. Given time for a lunch break, we should be hiking by 1PM and reach a camping spot four miles later by 4PM - just enough time to put up tents and pick a spot in daylight. The next two days, we will hike about 8.5 miles each day. We are each bringing three meals - breakfast, lunch, and dinner - for two people. I went shopping Wednesday night, came home, and started putting my gear out. Thursday night, I'll see what does and does not fit in my pack. Then Friday, we will hit the trail! Can't wait! The weather looks clear and kind of cold, but not as cold as our trip to The Priest last year.

Preparing for My Three Day Hike

I've done three marathons, two half marathons, and a half dozen 10K's, all in the last six years. I finished the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure just about two months ago - a three day walk of nearly 60 miles to combat breast cancer. For every one of these - well, not the latest 10K maybe - I have trained and trained hard. So what have I done to prepare for this backpacking trip that starts tomorrow (as I write this on Thursday, November 17)? After all, we are talking hiking in the mountains for 21 miles, carrying a fairly heavy pack with everything I will need to not freeze to death for three days.

Short answer - not much. Obviously, if I can walk 60 miles (carrying no pack) and run much of a 10K (walking the rest) a few days after that with no preparation for a run, I am at a decent level of fitness. It is not like I have not left the couch for 2 years and eat potato chips all day. I am in pretty good shape, even for a younger man, much less one of my advancing years. But I should have been doing some things to prepare for this tough upcoming hike, more than I have done. Plus no matter what else, I just cannot shake this painful plantar fasciitis after more than six months. It is no where near as bad as it was in May and June, but it still hurts.

So what have I done? Well, you can read about some of it in this blog - several recent hikes, including two in the mountains. And I have tried to break in my new boots, both on hikes and just wearing them.

What else should I have done? Well, lots, actually. I should have been doing a series of strengthening exercises that were in one of my recent backpacker magazines. I should have loaded a pack with 35 pounds of junk - jugs of cat litter, water, whatever - and walked on trails or at least on a treadmill on an incline. But I have been having some back pain, and that made keeping up with some of the exercises painful. And then there is the time factor - there is never enough time to do everything. This working for a living sure takes away from other aspects of life. And then some of that is just making excuses - we all do that.

Bottom line - while I know I am fit enough to do this hike, I could be better prepared physically. Hopefully, I won't pay a high price for my lack of preparation. I will learn soon enough.

Getting Packed Up

I stared at the pile of gear, clothing, and food with dismay. It looked like a REI Warehouse and a grocery store had exploded in my guest bedroom. I stared at my impossibly small pack. a Millet 60, meaning it has a 60 liter capacity.It is a nice pack, good for a weekend or even a bit longer in mild weather. The problem is, it is not mild weather where I am heading. Lows will be in the 20's, highs in the 40's or maybe even up to the mid-50's by Sunday. That means I have to bring a bulky sleeping bag that will not fit in the pack's sleeping bag compartment, so I have to put it in the pack itself. It seems to take up nearly a third of the pack's main compartment capacity. There is no room for a winter coat. I've crammed my tent, some layers and spare clothing, gloves, rain gear, camping gear, and emergency gear in there. With three liters of water and food, it weighs 41 pounds. I crammed everything in there, but it is top heavy, so I will try to rearrange things tomorrow (Friday) at the trailhead. But for now, I am ready to go. All I have to remember is to get my dinner packet out of the fridge - it includes cheeses and butter so I don't want to leave it sitting out at room temperature all night - and load the pack in the car.

Then, Friday morning, it is in to work from seven to ten, then heading for the mountains for three chilly days. Should be fun!

Austin and Trayfoot Mountain Trip Overview

Over the next few days as time permits, I'll be writing detailed accounts of my three day backpacking trip over Austin, Furnace and Trayfoot Mountains in Shenandoah National Park, and posting bunches of photos, but I will start with an overview of my trip. It was a 22 mile loop, as measured by my GPS (including a bit of backtracking to find camp sites). We started and ended at Browns Gap, and traveled on a number of connecting trails. Here is an overall map of the route. Brown's Gap is on the upper right hand side of the map where the first day's route, colored in magenta begins. The day ended 5.7 miles later as we camped by Madison Run after crossing Austin Mountain. The second day's route, marked in orange, was 9.8 miles and climbed steeply over Furnace and Trayfoot Mountains before dropping sharply down to Paine Run where we camped for a second night. The third day, a 6.8 mile trek marked in red, ascended steadily up the Paine Run trail, then continued on the Appalachian Trail for a steep climb to Black Rocks and thence back to Browns Gap.

We had dry weather, but very cold Friday night into Saturday morning, with a low of 18 F. It was a chilly night camping out by the stream. We saw hardly any wildlife, and nothing notable (other than a pileated woodpecker as we drove out of the park). The trip was a lot of fun. Stay tuned for detailed accounts.

Here is a summary of the miles and elevation gains:

Day 1 -
Distance 5.7 miles
Minimum Elevation 1,382 feet
Maximum Elevation 2,839 feet
Climbing Elevation 1,269 feet
Descending Elevation 2,441 feet
Trip account here

Day 2 -
Distance 9.8 miles
Minimum Elevation 1,359 feet
Maximum Elevation 3,340 feet
Climbing Elevation 3,238 feet
Descending Elevation 3,155 feet
Trip account here

Day 3 -
Distance 6.8 miles
Minimum Elevation 1,495 feet
Maximum Elevation 3,094 feet
Climbing Elevation 2,117 feet
Descending Elevation 1,026 feet
Trip account here

Trip Total -
Distance 22.3 miles
Minimum Elevation 1,359 feet
Maximum Elevation 3,340 feet
Climbing Elevation 6,624 feet
Descending Elevation 6,622 feet

Austin and Trayfoot Mountain Trip: Day 1

My friend Chris and I left work at 10AM Friday November 18, right as planned. And right as planned, we started our hike just after 1PM from Brown's Gap on the Skyline Drive. Plans were to reach our first day destination, Madison Run, about three hours later, which would give us plenty of time to find a great camping site along the stream. My guide book hinted that great camping sites would probably be leaping out at us. So we headed out, starting on the Appalachian Trail for a short distance, then heading west on the Big Run Loop Trail. I had hiked on this trail on my last mountain hike around Big Run. From there, we would stay west on the Rockytop Trail for a little ways, then finish the day with a few miles on the Austin Mountain Trail. We would cross near the summit of Austin Mountain, and then descend steeply into the valley. It would be our shortest and easiest hike of our three day trip. Topo maps and a three day representation of the hike are shown here in magenta (we started on the southeast point of this map at Brown's Gap):
We would start at an elevation of about 2,530 feet, climb to a high of 2,829 feet, and then descend to our camping spot at 1,382 feet. Along the way, we would gain 1,269 feet and descend 2,441 feet. My DeLorme PN-60w GPS captured the track, and DeLorme Topo USA later showed the elevation profile of the day's hike:
At the start of the hike, I tried to adjust my 40 pound pack, and ended up making more adjustments along with way with Chris's help. He has much more recent backpacking experience than do I, and offered many helpful suggestions along the way.
Here is Chris, climbing along the Appalachian Trail near the start of the hike. We had very nice afternoon weather, and soon removed our outer layers.
The first several miles had minimal views, as we hiked through mostly second growth hardwood forests. Even with the lack of leaves, it was hard to get open views. But as we moved on to the Austin Mountain Trail, the views opened up and we had tremendous views for several miles, such as this:
We also got a good look at Furnace Mountain, which we would climb the next day, looming across the Madison Run Valley:
Along the steep slopes of Austin Mountain, we encountered four or five rock slides, like this one. It made for slow and cautious going:
It is hard to tell from this photo how steep the rock slides were, but they were extensive and very steep.We looked for wildlife, especially snakes, but saw none, although I caught a quick glimpse of legs and a tail disappearing under a rock. I think it was a large lizard.

Chris took this great photo of lichens on a rock. Maybe it is the Mickey Mouse formation?
We also got a final glimpse of fall as the trail descended, and I also saw this beautiful orange bracket fungus on a log at around the same point.
Not too much past 4PM, more or less on schedule, we arrived at the gravel fire road along Madison Run. It would be light for about an hour, but the temperature was dropping rapidly and I added a layer. My guide said that there were great campsites along the stream, so we started looking. And looking. And looking. Chris saw a potential campsite in the woods across the stream, but there was no clear way to cross without wading, so we kept looking. We finally crossed the stream and headed back through the woods. Every spot was covered with small or large trees, or rocks, or brush, or was too wet. It started to get semi-dark. Then Chris, who's trail name is "Hawkeye," spotted the site we had seen earlier from the road. It was far from great but adequate, and just a stone's throw from the stream. We set up our tents just before the darkness enfolded us. I took this picture of our campsite in the morning. My tent is the one on the left:
Chris, after some searching, located a "bear bag" tree in near darkness - one with a branch close enough to the ground to throw a rope over to haul bags of food up there, but not so close to the ground for a bear to reach up. We heated water for dinner in the dark: prepackaged commercial freeze-dried meals - just add boiling water, filtered from Madison Run - to the pouch and let it sit for 10 minutes.

By now, it was below freezing and the temperature continued to drop. Snow flurries came and went. We sat out by the stream for a while, giving us a great view of the starry night sky. Chris saw several meteorites, but I was always looking the wrong way. At 7:00, completely cold from the air and from sitting on cold rocks, we went to bed. I didn't sleep that well, since my thin sleeping pad kept getting cold from the ground. But I was fairly warm, despite the 18 degree F temperature in the morning. I slept in long underwear, my heavy hiking socks, two shirts, and my winter hat. I also kept my water bottle, camera, GPS, and Spot in my sleeping back, and kept banging into them. When I wasn't sleeping, I enjoyed listening to the stream as it babbled along. I also got to listen to Chris snoring about 8 feet away. The steam sounded better than his snores. Trust me! And there were plenty of times when I was sleeping and heard neither one. I came outside for a few bathroom breaks - although of course, there are no bathrooms in the woods, as a female co-worker was amazed to learn this week when we told her about our hike - and about froze for 30 seconds each time. But then I would quickly warm up in my warm sleeping bag. All in all, it was a great start to our adventure!

With my Spot and my GPS, I sent a message with the exact location of our campsite here.

Austin and Trayfoot Mountain Trip: Day 2

Saturday morning, November 19, it was 18 degrees around first light, and I couldn't force myself out of my warm sleeping bag at first. Finally, I got up and crawled outside, putting on all my barely adequate layers, gloves, and hat. We'd heard a screech owl call the night before as we sat in the cold watching the stars, the only real evidence of wildlife in our area. I could hear gunshots booming outside the park, as deer season was in full swing. While hunting is not as big here as in the hunter-mad states of Pennsylvania and Maine, it is still fairly popular. So I decided to explore a bit while Chris still slept to see if I could find anything, and also to try to (unsuccessfully) warm up. Eventually, finding nothing, I returned to camp and ate some trail mix. When Chris got up, we decided it was too cold to eat the powdered eggs he brought, and each had a bagel for breakfast. We packed up, got some water - not enough as it turned out - and started the day's hike at 10AM. Here is a map of the route - we started from the campsite waypoint at the top of the map, and ended the day at the campsite waypoint at the bottom (the waypoint near Furnace Mountain is a mistake): We had a minimum elevation of 1,359 feet, climbed most of the first half plus of the hike to a high of 3,340 feet, and then descended to our camping spot at around 1,470 feet. Along the way, we would gain a total of 3,238 feet and descend 3,155 feet. Here is the elevation profile of the day's 9.8 mile hike. Furnace Mountain is the summit about 2.5 miles in, and Trayfoot Mountain is the summit about 5 miles along:We clambered back up to the fire road, and walked a short distance to the Furnace Mountain trail head, then started ascending. Much of the hike up was steep, and it didn't take long for me to stop and remove my fleece. As we climbed, Trayfoot Mountain loomed high above us in the distance.
As we hiked upward, three men passed us - the first people we had seen since starting the trip the day before. They were part of a meet-up hiking group from the Washington - Baltimore area, and they had started from Brown's Gap early that morning to do a circuit day hike. There were a total of a dozen of them, and they joined us on the rocky summit of Furnace Mountain (click here to see my Spot check-in point) for lunch. There were great views there, and we had good conversation, plus a meal of peanut butter and orange marmalade on bagels, homemade oatmeal - raisin - chocolate chip cookies, apples, and Hershey bars. My pack lost a good two pounds of weight from the lunch break. Here are some of the views, the first being Austin Mountain, where we had hiked the day before:
Chris relaxes on the edge of the Furnace Mountain summit,
and here I stand on the same edge:
Our new found friends had left by now, and soon we did as well. After leaving our great lunch spot on Furnace Mountain, we descended the half mile back to the trail to Trayfoot and resumed climbing. It was a fairly continuous climb, and along the way, I stopped getting water out of my camel-back. When I unpacked my pack to take a look at it, I was shocked to learn that I had consumed both liters of my water already. Because I had so much water left from yesterday's hike, I had assumed that I would not need more than two liters today and had not replenished my water store.. But the steep climbing had made me drink more than the day before. My separate water bottle had only about a cup and a half in it. Chris had about the same. It was going to be a long, dry hike the rest of the day. We continued the climb, steep at times, to the Trayfoot summit - with a great view of Black Rocks, tomorrow's main destination, just before reaching the summit. Then, we started the descent.

After all the climbing we had done that day, much of it with very little water, it felt good to go mostly downhill along the ridgeline and then the steep descending trail. I got more and more thirsty. We each had less than a pint of water each for the last 6 miles of the hike. We knew we could get water at Paine Run, though. We got partial views from the ridge, but I thought this rocky area on Trayfoot's ridgeline was pretty neat:Every now and then, we got some clear views from the ridgeline, like this one of the Shenandoah Valley two thousand feet below about an hour before sunset:
The last four and a half miles of the hike was a steady descent along the Trayfoot Mountain ridgeline and down into Lefthand Hollow and the Paine Run area. Here is Chris booking it down the trail not too long before sunset:
We reached Paine Run, where my guide book promised many great campsites. Again, the land was so steep or heavily wooded or rocky that we just couldn't find any. We crossed Paine Run on rocks, looking for a campsite that couple we met along the way told us about, right by a little waterfall on the stream. We found the falls, but no good campsite. We kept walking, and started to climb, leaving the stream behind, and we knew that we would have to turn around and find a spot. It was nearly dark now as we retraced our steps. "There!" said "Hawkeye", pointing down a steep slope through the forest. It looked like a little spot of flat land, and when we checked it out, it looked just big enough for two tents. (Click here for my Spot check-in location of our campsite). So we immediately started putting up our tents as the last light faded.

Tents up, Chris pumped us enough water to slake our increasing thirst and for dinner, while I searched for a suitable tree to hand our food bags. Then I made our meal for the night, a delicious - if I say so myself - pasta and cheese dish called Debsconeag Easy 'Roni that I got from a Backpacker Magazine. We ate quickly before the food cooled too much, and split a big chunky bar for desert. We put the dirty dishes in ziplock bags and then into our food bags and hung the bags high in the tree. We walked downstream in the dark and found the spot where we had crossed and sat there for about 30 minutes, listening for owls - none tonight - and looking at the stars. Then, about 8PM or so, we returned to our tents and hit the sack. We were both tired and I slept great that night. It was at least 20 degrees F warmer and a much more comfortable night.

Here are some photos of our camping area. Our tiny campsite was on a little patch of flat ground about 20 feet below, and down a very steep slope from, the trail. There was barely enough room for two tents, and we sat between them to cook and eat:
Paine Run, a beautiful stream, ran about eight feet below our camping spot in elevation and maybe 20 feet away in straight-line distance. I loved listening to it babble along while we camped there:
Before we started our hike the next morning, Chris used his filter to get water for breakfast and for the day's hike ahead from Paine Run. We didn't repeat the mistake of the day before, and got plenty of water, even though our hike would be much shorter today:
This photo gives a good indication of the terrain in the area - very little flat land. This is the start of Horsehead Mountain rising just across from Paine Run where we camped.

Austin and Trayfoot Mountain Trip: Day 3

I woke up about 6AM on Sunday, November 20. It was still dark, so I decided to just lie peacefully in my comfortable sleeping bag and listen to Paine Run gurgling along just below our tents. When it got lighter, I boiled water with my Jetboil stove and cleaned out my bowl from the previous night with the hot water. Then I brewed a mug of Irish Breakfast tea, - yes, I am a tea fiend - added some honey, and sat on the ground enjoying the tea. When Chris got up, I made some Glade oats and pecans for breakfast, using another recipe out of Backpacker Magazine. I also mixed up a cup of instant milk for our oatmeal. Then, we struck our tents, packed up our gear, and were ready to hit the trail by 9:15.

Here, marked in red, is our route for the day, leaving our campsite in the southwest part of the map and reaching Brown's Gap in the northeast part of the map:
We had a minimum elevation of 1,495 feet, climbed most of the first two thirds of the hike to a high of 3,094 feet at Black Rocks, and then descended to my car at Brown's Gap. Along the way, we would gain a total of 2,117 feet and descend 1,026 feet. Here is the elevation profile of the day's 6.8 mile hike. Black Rocks is the high point about four miles in.
The first mile or so of the day's hike was easy and pleasant, but we could see where we were heading looming above us:
A piliated woodpecker did quite a job on this snag:
Here I am, crossing Paine Run again as the trail crosses it:
From this point, the trail began to climb steadily out of the Paine Run Valley, reaching Black Rock Gap on the Skyline Drive after a total of about three miles. After leaving Black Rocks Gap, the hike up the Appalachian Trail to Black Rocks is continuous uphill and often steep. It gains about 800 feet in about 1.3 miles.
As you climb higher and higher up the AT, some nice views of the Blue Ridge start coming into sight:
Black Rocks is a pretty cool area, one that I had not been to in nine years. I think it formed when a cliff collapsed eons ago. I arrived about a half hour ahead of Chris, who had a painful calf cramp during the steep hike up. I explored a bit and ate some trail mix, took photos, and climbed over the rocks, hoping in vain to find a snake on the cool, windy summit. Here are some of the photos:

Black Rocks:
Trayfoot Mountain is only a mile or so away by direct trail from Black Rocks, but the way we took was nearly 10 miles:
Deep down in this valley, behind the low mountain just right of center and to the left of the mountain (Horsehead Mountain) tucked behind that mountain, is where we camped last night:
Mountains in the distance beyond Black Rocks:
I asked a couple of women to snap this photo of me on top of Black Rocks:
A cave I found in the rocks:
Chris at the bottom of Black Rocks:
After Black Rocks, our hike ended with a gradual descent for about 2.5 miles along the Appalachian Trail back to my car at Brown's Gap. It had been a great trip, despite the lack of wildlife sightings, but now it was time to get home and get a hot shower!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

What Am I?

I saw an animal on my marsh and beach walk on Veterans' Day. See if you can figure out what it is from the clues...

I have a backbone, making me a vertebrate.

I am warm blooded.

I can fly very well, but am often seen walking very quickly.

I have feathers.

You already know that I am found either in the marsh or along the beach. It is the latter - the beach.

I am just a few (5 to 8) inches tall.

I hunt randomly for small animals, mostly crustaceans, that are buried in the sand.

As I hunt, I walk so fast that my little legs are almost a blur. If you humans could move your legs as fast, you could run 100 meters in just a few seconds.

I catch prey by stabbing my bill into the sand over and over. I usually hunt at the edge of the sand, since the wet sand is easier to get my bill into.

Figure it out yet?

Scroll down....

I am a sanderling, often called a sandpiper.