Monday, April 6, 2015

Grit and wonder: 2015’s thru-hikers reflect on trail hardships and thrills

The stack of boxes piling up on the counter of the outfitter store at Nantahala Outdoor Center is any indication, thru-hiker season is coming fast. The parcels of food, reminders of home and creature comforts are welcome diversions from the travel-light lifestyle on the Appalachian Trail, where miles are many and luxuries are few.

“A lot of people ask about what you’re thinking about [on the trail],” said Youngblood, an 18-year-old hiker whose off-trail name is P.J. Coleman, as he sorted through his just-opened box of mail drop goodies. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, you’re thinking about food.”

His buddy Gadget, 20, who’s also known as Robert Smith, holds up a hard-candy caramel in shiny gold wrapping. Those individually wrapped sugar rushes are the key to making it up the hard hills, he says. For his part, Youngblood has a stash of Now-and-Laters and Sour Punch Straws.

Don’t forget the coffee, peanut butter and trail mix, chimed in Jessica “Lemon” Romain, who was taking a zero day to recover from a rolled ankle. And also, those reminders of home. Mom’s cookies, a handwritten note, anything with a personal touch.

“A mail drop just reminds me I have people at home who support me,” said Youngblood, who chose to do the trail rather than going straight to college. “That’s what keeps me going.”

Shane Shelley, who works at the outfitter shop, has seen that sentiment play out again and again. He recently handed a package to a girl who opened it to find, in addition to the food she herself had packed, some postcards from her mom. The find made her teary.

“Something to get in their stomach but also to get in their heart,” Shelley said of the boxes. That day alone, they’d gotten 14 boxes delivered and will probably work up to 40 by the time thru-hiker season peaks.

Full Story....

Hiking safety tips as the season is upon us

Don't hike alone. You are safest with a group; neither a single partner nor a dog is a guarantee of safety. Be creative. If in doubt, move on. Always trust your instincts about other people.

Leave your hiking plans with someone at home and check in frequently. Establish a time you will check in upon completion of your trip, as well as a procedure to follow if you fail to check in. On longer hikes or thru-hikes, provide ATC's number, 304-535-6331.

Be wary of strangers. Be friendly, but cautious. Don't tell strangers your plans. Avoid people who act suspiciously, seem hostile, or are intoxicated.

Don't camp near roads. Be aware that anywhere people congregate — including shelters and designated campsites — may have greater risk. When tenting, find a location not easily seen from the trail.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy discourages the carrying of firearms.

Eliminate opportunities for theft. Don't bring jewelry. Hide your money. If you must leave your pack, hide it, or leave it with someone trustworthy.

Use the Trail registers (the notebooks stored at most shelters). If someone needs to locate you, or if a serious crime has been committed along the trail, the first place authorities will look is in the registers.

In an emergency, note where you are and call 911. Report emergencies or incidents to ATC at or by calling 304-535-6331. Suspicious or illegal behavior should be reported to the local rangers or local law enforcement (911 usually works, but other phone numbers are on official AT maps) as well as ATC.

Be mentally prepared for the risks you may encounter. If you encounter trouble, chances are a law-enforcement officer or ranger will not be nearby and a cellphone may not work.

Always carry current trail maps and know how to use them.

Stay alert. Pay attention to details of your surroundings and people you encounter, and look for anything that does not fit or sends a red flag. It is easier to avoid getting into a dangerous situation than to get out of one. Trust your instincts about strangers.

Avoid hitchhiking or accepting rides: Hikers needing to get into town should make arrangements beforehand and budget for shuttles or a taxi.

Weather-related hiking safety tips:

Pay attention to the changing skies. Sudden spells of "off-season" cold weather, hail, and even snow are common along many parts of the Appalachian Trail. Winter-like weather often occurs in late spring or early fall in the Southern Appalachians, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

Hypothermia: A cold rain can be the most dangerous weather for hikers, because it can cause hypothermia, a dangerous lowering of the body's core temperature due to exposure to cold, wind and rain chill. Dress in layers of synthetic clothing, eat well, stay hydrated, and know when to take refuge in a warm sleeping bag and tent or shelter.

Lightning: The odds of being struck by lightning are low, but if a thunderstorm is coming, immediately leave exposed areas. Boulders, rocky overhangs, and shallow caves offer no protection from lightning. Sheltering in hard-roofed automobiles or large buildings is best. Avoid tall structures, such as ski lifts, flagpoles, power line towers, and the tallest trees, solitary rocks, or open hilltops and clearings. If caught in the open, crouch down on a pad, or roll into a ball.

Heat: Dry hot summers are surprisingly common along the trail. Water may be scarce on humid days, sweat does not evaporate well, and many hikers face the danger of heat stroke and heat exhaustion if they haven't taken proper precautions. Wear a hat and sunscreen and stay well hydrated.

Source: Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Appalachian Trail Fest

The Appalachian TrailFest is April 17-19 in Hot Springs to celebrate the arrival of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers with bike riding, river rafting, music, outdoor crafts, hiking and more. For more information, call 828-622-9575 or email

Sunday, April 5, 2015

In wake of death, Appalachian Trail experts highlight need for safety

ASHEVILLE, NC – Considering the enormity of the 2,189-mile long Appalachian Trail, which sweeps across 14 states and through some of the most remote and rugged country in the Eastern United States, hiker deaths, such as the recent one in Maryland, are surprisingly rare.

So say veteran Appalachian Trail hikers and officials with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the nonprofit that oversees maintenance and management of the trail.

Jason Parish, 36, of Philadelphia, died March 15 when a tree felled by strong winds crashed on top of him near the Ed Garvey Shelter near the southern end of the Maryland trail section. A hiking companion, Michael Sparks, said the tree was dead and had been marked with a pink ribbon, apparently meant to identify it for cutting.

Full Story: Citizen-Times....