Today the Maryland Trail Dames did a short day hike in Gambrill State Park. It was previously scheduled for last week but a big rain storm canceled that so I rescheduled it for today. Not so many could come but nonetheless we had such a wonderful day. Gambrill State Park is very close to our house. We are very fortunate. I'm sorry for the blurry spot on the pics. Apparently I need to clean the lens.
The hike was meant to be 7.9 miles but a wrong turn (well...we were chatting and laughing and hiking....and I (yes, I take full responsibility) missed a turn, so we did a 6 mile hike. Truth be told, no one was terribly disappointed. Before we had set off, while gathered in the parking lot, it seems that we'd all had some very stressful days and sleepless nights for a variety of reasons. We all agreed that we didn't just want to do this hike, we needed to do this hike. We were all stretched taut, twisted hard and tight, and like a string on a violin, we needed this hike to loosen the tension before we snapped. It worked. It always does.
The weather simply could not have been better. After yesterday's windy cold spell, today was glorious. It was still, warm, clear. We've lived in 10 states and 2 other countries and in none of those places is the air as clean and clear and sweet as it is here. In spite of the heavy rains we've had, the ground and trail bed were well drained. The air was sweet scented with pine needles, new leaves, watered soil. We had decided at the start that we were in no hurry....a pace of 1 1/2 - 2 miles per hour was enough. We passed wild mountain azaleas in full bloom, dogwood still adorned in floating white blossoms, newly sprouted ferns so green they are almost painful to look upon, and mountain laurels exploding with new growth and the promise of showers of pink and white blossoms in another month. There were tiny exquisite bright purple wild violets. Our Spring may come a little later than in milder climates, but it lasts longer and is an heavenly joy to behold. When it turns green here it stays green well into Fall.
We found a spread of flat rocks and sat down for lunch. It was at least 70 degrees, sunny, still, so beautiful. We moved on and in 3 1/2 hours we completed the 6 miles. We had taken short breaks to just catch our breath, drink water, chat. When we returned to the Middletown Valley Overlook, where we had set out from, we took some time to just soak in the views and take more photos. Then we all turned to one another and in almost the same breath said "We live in such a beautiful place." Yes, we do. We are well and truly blessed to be here. And ladies, you are the best.
Linda, aka Mrs. Baggins
This is a guest post from the Delaware Valley Trail Dames new blog! Link to them here so you can follow their adventures!!
After 2 years enjoying fabulous day hikes, our DelVal Dames have decided to take our hiking to the next level. We're planning for a backpacking trip later this year. We have a small but enthusiastic group of ladies who want to give this a try. They have little to no experience, but that's not stopping anyone. I'm so proud of them! And I'm amazed that they have fath in me to teach them how to do this.
Our little core of committed hikers assembled recently to hear me talk about backpacking. I had to come clean to them, though. I told them that I have an ulterior motive. I'm building a cult. Yes, that's right. I love to hike for days at a time. I really do. But I'm no longer the foolish 18-year-old who heads out alone. Now, I'm nearly 50, wiser, and more mature. For me, the best part of hiking is sharing the experience with friends. So, these clinics are just part of my campaign to get people to go backpacking with me.
Consider yourselves warned. But also be warned, that we will have fun. Above all, though, I want us to be safe which means, just like all good scouts, we must be prepared. What follows are our first preparations for what I hope will be a wonderful backpacking adventure in the near future.
Gear! Gear! Gear!
Backpacking sure is a lot of fun. It seems to be quite simple fun, too. We have romantic visions of sleeping under the stars on a soft bed of pine needles, watching shooting stars darting overhead, listening to loons calling across still lakes. It's true that sometimes those moments of zen can be found in the wilderness. But, it's not necessarily as simple as that. Just as likely, you may find yourself huddled at the bottom of a tree, soaked to the skin by a penetrating rain, cold and shivering as temperatures drop. And the loons? You couldn't hear them over the thunder anyway! So what is the difference between these two scenarios? Simple. Preparation. And Preparation means Gear to our first-time Trail Dames backpackers.
Gear includes all that stuff that makes your life comfortable and safe in the outdoors. In some cases, your gear may be what keeps you alive. What do you need? A pack, tent, sleeping bag, compass, map, flashlight, a really cool multi-tool, the ice axe the guy at the outfitter said you'd need at elevation (has he ever been to the Poconos in winter?). And what about the solar-powered microwave, wicking wrist warmers, heart rate monitor, and climbing ropes? Whoa! How did this get so out of control? I can't carry all that stuff, and neither can you. We could take some really cute sherpas along, or perhaps rent some pack mules, but that's probably too much work, too.
Think about how our lives become simplified by living on the trail. We have three tasks every day that we are on the trail. We walk, we eat, we sleep. That's it. Life is simple. So, as we consider gear, we need to think about what we need to walk, eat and sleep. This clinic was a basic orientation. So, we didn't go into painful detail about each piece of gear we'll need. But we did cover the walk, eat, sleep tasks. So, let's start there.
Walking: This is the meat and potatoes of your hiking experience. Well, you could also have meat and potatoes for dinner, but let's save that for another clinic. When walking, we need to think most about our feet and our backs. We need good fitting shoes or boots, good socks dedicated to hiking (not cotton athletic socks), and we need a VERY well fitted backpack. An ill-fitting pack, one that is not adjusted and strapped on properly, will suck the energy out of you and recruit your spine to the dark side so that it becomes a construct of pain rather than support. We'll save the footwear discussion for another clinic and go straight to the backpack.
FITTING A BACKPACK: Backpacks come in sizes. Features such as capacity, access points, water bottle holders, etc., are great, but if the size does not match your torso length, you will struggle. And torso length has nothing to do with your dress size or height. Short people may have long torsos and tall people can have short torsos. The only way to know your torso length is to measure your torso length. Armed with this measurement, you can make a good pack choice.
It helps to have a second person assist you when measuring your torso. Use a tape measure and stand up straight, feet together and shoulders back. Now, drop your chin to your chest. At the base of your neck on your back you should easily feel a bump. This is your C7 vertebra. This is the start of the measurement. Now, find your iliac crest by putting your hands on your hips, thumbs pointing towards each other across your back. The imaginary line connecting your thumbs marks your iliac crest. The length measured from the C7 vertebra to the iliac crest is your torso length. Backpack manufacturers have different guidelines, but generally, 15" to 17" is a small pack, 17" to 19" is a medium, and 19" to 21" is a large pack. Some manufacturers also make XS and XL packs, and many are adjustable for an inch or two. If you get this measurement right, you will be well on your way to a comfortable carry on the trail.
When considering a pack, volume is also important. For our Trail Dames purposes, we will be doing mostly weekend trips. Buying a very expensive lightweight or ultralightweight pack may not be so important for short trips. And, the high end fabrics that go into making such packs makes them more expensive. Considering that we will be sharing some gear and carrying less food on weekend trips, a less expensive, heavier, more basic pack should be just fine for our basic beginning trips. Go to an outfitter or sporting good store and try on packs that suit your torso length. Get some weight into the packs when you try them. Outfitters usually have sandbags available. But if nothing is available, put some merchandise in the pack and weight it down with 20 or so pounds. An outfitter will be pleased to show you how to adjust the straps, but if you are on your own, remember to fasten your straps from the bottom up.
Here are the steps to putting on a backpack properly:
1. Loosen all straps. Slip your arms through the straps and lean forward, bending from the waist. Center the pack and balance the weight. Now tighten the hip straps. Many guides say that the hip belt should fall just at your belly button, but I've found that most women like it slightly lower than this. Each person is different, though. Start out by tightening the hip belt at the level where the waist of your favorite jeans falls.
2. Now stand up straight. Pull down on the shoulder strap adjustments until they are snug.
3. Reach up above the shoulders and pull the load lifter straps forward. This should form an approximately 45 degree angle from the pack to the top of your shoulders.
4. Adjust the sternum strap across your chest.
These are the basic steps. Depending on the pack, there may be other adjustment options. And, no adjustment is permanent. No one ever puts on a pack after breakfast and doesn't make adjustments several times throughout the day. Strap placement and features, and your particular body shape will impact the comfort level of your backpack. The only way to know if the pack is right for you is to try it on.
Now that you have an idea of what to look for when purchasing a pack, I'm sure you are wondering where to buy a pack. REI and Eastern Mountain Sports are major outfitters in the Delaware Valley. You can also find backpacks at places like Dick's Sporting Goods and Cabelas, too. Salespeople may or may not have expertise to help you at any of these stores. I think REI is usually pretty good when it comes to knowledgeable staff, but there is no substitute for your own knowledge. If you go in there with a basic understanding, you will be able to make a better purchase.
You can also check for deals on eBay, but of course, you will not be able to try on a pack before purchasing. If you go this route, be very careful, do your research, and know the seller's return policy. This is not my recommended route for obtaining a first-time backpack, but I know that it's possible (if not necessarily probable) to get an amazing deal on a wonderful pack through an online auction.
I hope you found this summary of our first clinic helpful. If you missed our first meeting, no problem! Come on out and join us at another clinic soon. Members of the Delaware Valley Trail Dames can visit our Meetup site to see a full schedule of events. I look forward to seeing you on the trail!
First, a corner, expanding quickly to the corner chair and creeping over the end of our bedroom. The spreadsheet has been printed with the highlighter nearby. A near obsessive affair with the weather channel begins. Backpack has been emptied and slowly expands as things are added and checked off the list. Ethel, my zero degree Big Agnes sleeping bag, goes in first, followed by my tent and footprint.
My new treasure, the Exped 9 down mat sleeping pad is next. (Homage to the eternal challenge for adapting my sleeping system to my old bones and cold nature.)
Next, a stove and fuel are tucked in the crevices. My tiny personal kit, face wipes, Vaseline, contacts case, toothbrush and paste are slipped in the mix. (A far cry from the usual menagerie of items needed to put this 52 year old together!) Meals are packed in individual bags carefully labeled with a sharpie, needing only boiling water to turn them into delicious treats on the trail.
gear is wedged in a front pouch. Two days of clothes and layers, extra socks, (always pack extra socks!)
and a zip lock crammed with mittens, a hat, and jacket in the event of cold finds its way into the pack. The top pockets share the ten essentials and snacks along with my beloved Freshy Freshette and trusty trowel. My tervis mug, (keeps hot things hot and cold things cold!) hangs off the outside of the pack next to my super long spoon and a pink bandana.
When it is all said and done, a pack weighing about 30-35 pounds will take the place of the spread. My life for three days will depend on its contents… I think that is what I love the most.
The simplicity. The challenge to strip off the
needs, desires and distractions
of the day to day. Down to 35 pounds of basic survival. To go where many choose not to go and see what many never see. I consider it all blessing to strip down and walk off and enjoy the peace and closeness of beautiful creation. Did I mention I leave Friday?
“In wisdom gathered over time I have found that every experience is a form of exploration. “
I am hermetically sealed in rain pants, rain jacket over two layers of breathable clothing, a gore-tex hat, and am carrying a pack covered with its own little rain jacket. I meet fellow Trail Dame, Denise and off we go higher and higher into the North Georgia mountains, slowly disappearing into the fog.
We arrive off Ga 60 at Woody Gap and meet Joan, Monica, Kellye and Melissa aka SHOE. Visibility is at 0 percent and it is blowing rain in every direction.
No one flinches when the decision is made for SHOE to shuttle us down forest service road 42 to Cooper Gap where we will then travel by foot to Gooch Gap 4.7 miles and then continue on to Woody Gap another 3.8.
After several miles down a muddy bumpy road, we make adjustments to our rain gear and take off up the mountain laughing, talking and trying to catch our breath as we find our trail rhythm.
Our first wonder of nature is pointed out by Joan, aka Hemlock. TREE FOAM…. Tree Foam? Also known as ”stem flow” when rain water drips down the trunks of trees and forms bubble bath looking foam at the base. This makes her very happy. (Later she also spots a patch of false puffball in aspic which nearly sends us all over the edge…)
We squish and slide along the rugged path of the AT enjoying the sounds of the day, the cool rain, the eery mist and each others company. A quick stop at the Gooch Gap AT shelter for a brief respite from a downpour, finds three through hikers, barely beginning their journey. I wondered how I would feel if I was starting out a hike measuring 2,181 miles in such weather. After hurriedly eating a snack, we left them in various states of preparation and head off to Woody Gap.
There were a few water crossings made even more exciting by the rising water, wonderful rocky outcroppings with views to nowhere and one of the fastest lunch breaks ever under a dripping hemlock tree with a cold wind whipping around us.
Not once during this day did anyone complain or whine. In fact the mood of these crazy women was upbeat and positive, punctuated by lively conversation and laughter.
The hike on Saturday went very well! 28 of the 35 RSVPs braved the cold and snow, and there were many first timers with the group.
Temperature was around 26 when we stepped off at 9:30 am and the sun was shining. We found the snow on the trail to be pretty tramped down by other hikers with some areas still around 6" deep and fluffy, but not difficult to get through. There were slick areas, mostly on the rocks, but otherwise the trail was not treacherous. It was, as another person noted, a bit like hiking in sand - - it was harder to pick up your feet and really move along and that made for a good workout. Everyone quickly found their own best pace and the group spread out up and down the trail. It's pretty much impossible to hold a group that size together, to one pace. I realize it makes it harder for everyone to get a chance to meet and talk with everyone else, but I won't put a leash on the fast hikers and I won't push the ones that need to move slower.
Along the way we ran into at least a dozen backpackers and at least that many day hikers. I heard that one young man, upon finding out that we were an all-female group, said "Oh! Cougars!" ;) We also had one young man approach us in the parking lot and ask to join the hike. Turned out he was looking for another group that was going to meet there. Whew!
We were all at the shelter by around noon and my goodness the food! The picnic table was covered in a feast of homemade cookies, bars, breads, baklava, muffins. There was chocolates, granola mixes, nuts, berries and cheese. We fired up the stoves and soon had everyone sipping their hot drinks. After our tea time, we started back to the parking lot.
I want to let you know that we have two ladies who are going to start their thru-hikes of the AT on the same day, March 16th! Rose Clack and Rebecca Berbert, we are so proud of you! We must keep up with their progress along the trail so that we can be there for them with lots of trail magic when they get into our area.
Speaking of trail magic....the Georgia Dames will be doing their annual trail magic at Mountain Crossings in GA the last weekend of March. They rent cabins for the weekend for themselves and spend the weekend providing burgers, hot dogs, and other treats to the hikers that are coming thru Neels Gap at Mountain Crossings. That is the 32 mile mark where many hikers decided a thru-hike is not for them and something like 10% drop off the trail. A hot meal and friendly faces could make all the difference in getting them to keep going. I'm hoping to have the time to go down there and help out. If you think you'd like to go along let me know and I'll get the accommodations worked out with Anna.
The link is to the photos I took of the hike. I wish I had taken so many more! There are more than 40 of them posted by other members on the Meetup.com website and probably more to come.
Wow, what a wonderful hike! I am an admitted fair weather hiker and hadn't hiked in the snow and ice (other than to hike up Fox Glacier in New Zealand 7 years ago), and I loved this. There was 13 of us and many first timers. Brave souls all to make this their first time out with us. It was about 27 degrees when we set out at 10 am, but not at all windy or even breezy. It actually felt just fine. It took 2 hours to cover the 3.3 miles as some of it was treacherous and slow going with icy slippery rocks and leaves, especially the descents.
The sun came out, more or less, after the first hour and started melting off the snow. The woods were beautiful - the white sugar dusting of snow, the brown of the ground, the green ferns still peaking out, the fallen leaves.....just breathtaking. And so calm and quiet. We will definitely do another winter hike. More snow would actually be better - a thicker, packed base to walk on rather than the thin coating of snow and ice on everything. I've asked my hubby for snowshoes for my birthday, so I'll have them by January and our next winter wonderland hike!
|Down the Wagon Train Trail.|
|The tower on Brasstown Bald appears tiny.|
|Milkweed along the AT (May 2009)|
|Milkweed pod and seeds in fall|
More of Karen's Waterfall adventures!!!
The waterfall project continues. This weekend I finally "captured" a
waterfall I've been trying to find for weeks. It's on the 'net, but never
with any directions. I found clues here and there and finally put them
altogether and got to the right place and found it!
Then today my sister and I went up to Cloudland Canyon State Park. I had
wanted to get there several weeks ago, but when I called them they said the
falls were dry. So after all the rain we've had lately, I called yesterday
and they said the falls had lots of water...so we went!
We only did the waterfall trail, which is probably less than 2 miles total
out and back, but it's tough. In fact it's a lot like doing Tallulah
Gorge...lots of steps right down the side of the canyon and then side trails
to the falls. The first 2 are the "show pieces" of the park. They are each
fall over a sheer cliff into a small pool, but then below them are lots of
smaller falls with 2 forming together a falls of may 5 or 6 feet, then
there's a bridge over the creek that takes you to another trail, and the
bridge is right over the top of another falls - maybe 10 or 12 feet high.
Then there's ANOTHER one a little further down that's may 6 feet high. And
finally, back at the top of the gorge, there's a viewpoint where you can see
a long, cascading waterfall coming over the side of the gorge. Altogether
that's 6 falls. There may actually be more along that trail at the bottom
of the gorge, but we just didn't have time to go any further.
The trail down has, I think, 600 steps - so that 600 down and then 600 back
up. But even going as slowly as I usually go, we did the whole thing - all
of the falls, in just over 2 hours. Not bad!
So I've been working on putting together a slide show of my pictures and I'm
pleased to be able to say that I've done 98 waterfalls this year! That's
counting "double" falls as 2 falls - which, of course, they really are
anyway. I didn't set out to get to see so many in just my first year of
hunting waterfalls, so I was quite surprised that it came out to so many!
|Winter wonderland. Photo by S. Adams.|
|Draped in my under-quilt, huddled around the campfire. Photo by S. Adams.|
Five of us went and we left my home at 7 am. Many thanks to my son Adam for riding along so that he could drive the van back home. We were at the trail head by 8 am and on the trail at 8:10 am. The day was windy and cool but once we got moving we all warmed up. The wind in the trees made them seem to be speaking to us as we passed - the creaking, groaning, sighing sounds that trees make when brushing against one another made the forest come quite alive around us. The trail was carpeted in multi-colored leaves. We hiked along chatting, laughing, and feeling wonderful. At one point the wind drove a cloud up over the mountain and into the woods around us, surrounding us in a faint swirling mist. We were hiking on the last 3.5 miles of the 13 mile long "roller coaster" on that northbound stretch of the AT, a long stretch of constant ups and downs - more ups than downs - so it took us about 2 1/2 hours to make our first goal - the gorgeous vista from Raven Rocks. We took that chance to drop our packs, have some snacks, and take lots of photos. We were feeling great! A gentleman came up the trail behind us with just a fanny pack. He was on his way to the Blackburn Trail Center (7 miles from Snickers Gap). We chatted and he went on his way.
I really wanted to make the David Lesser shelter by 4 pm so that there would be ample time to set up camp, change clothes, get water, cook dinner and relax before going to sleep. We were making excellent time. We hiked at our own paces, so more often than not the two Sues and Mylynh were several minutes ahead while Audrey and I brought up the rear. We'd all catch up now and then for lunch and rest breaks. At Blackburn Trail Center Sue V. went down the side trail to see the center while the rest of us waiting on the trail and rested. We all moved out when we were ready to go and we all were at the shelter by 4 pm - the two Sues arriving ahead of us. What a fabulous feeling to know you're done for the day! We had done 10.5 miles in about 8 hours. Some of the ups were pretty steep, there were rocks, rocks, and more rocks often making it hard to distinguish the trail bed from the woods.
We were the first ones into the shelter (a hiker was tented below in the campground) and made the decision to just spend the night in it rather than in our tents. Two middle-aged men came in a short while after us. By the time the sun had set there were 14 hikers stopped for the night. We laid out our places on the upper platform, changed clothes, grabbed our water filters and fetch bags and headed down the steep 1/4 mile trail to the spring. Ugh! So far away! It wasn't the trip down so much - - it was hauling all of that extra water back up! Once we were back we set about cooking our dinners, chatting about the day, and watching the other hikers arrive. The two men who had come in after us decided to sleep in the shelter as well, on the deck just below the platform. They cooked their dinners at the picnic table near the shelter and started up a nice fire. We all went to sit by the fire as the sun went down. Very peaceful. By 7:30 pm I'd had enough, having been up since 4 am and being somewhat beaten down by the "ups" of the day, so I went off to bed. I never heard the others come in to sleep but I gather everyone was in bed by 9:30 pm. Fortunately, I had brought my ear plugs along......one of the men had laid out his mat and bag on the deck right up against the sleeping platform. His head was about two feet from mine....and he snored..and snored...and snored!! I could dampen it well enough with the plugs, but the others weren't so lucky and had to listen to that horrid noise all night! He truly had no idea how close he came to being whapped upside the head with a hiking boot! It was the general consensus that he surely must have been aware that he snored like that (he said he was married, so his wife must have told him!) and therefore should have been considerate enough to set up a tent in the campground area! We were clearly there first and had our mats and bags laid out long before he did.
Everyone was up by sunup and fixing breakfast at the picnic table. We were somewhat sore and stiff but nothing terrible, and we were packed up and back on the trail by 8:20 am, with 10 miles to go to Harpers Ferry. Sunday's miles would be easier in terms of the ups and downs as it was mostly flat and down but the trail bed was far rockier than the stretch we'd already covered. I'd done this stretch before and lost my big toenails because of the beating my feet took on the rocks. It wasn't any different this time.
We were at Keys Gap before 10 am - a good place to drop the packs and sit at the picnic table there for a rest. Just 3/10s of a mile down the road west of there is a mini-mart, so Sue and I walked down for a snack and a cold soda. When we got back to the others a small car had pulled into the parking area and a man got out wearing a fanny packed that I recognized. It was the guy from the vista point that we'd met the day before! He came over to chat a moment. He was going to hike from Keys Gap to Blackburn Trail Center and back to finish up the last bit of trail that he needed to complete everything from Georgia to Pennsylvania. We wished him well and off he went, and so did we. From there to the border of Harpers Ferry National Park the rocks once again beat me up both physically and mentally. I find that I can't relax for a second because every step has to be thought out in advance - step here, step there, go around that rock, step on top of that one, etc. Soon I was left in the dust by the others but that was okay. I could feel my toes getting chewed up in my boots and the bottoms of my feet getting bruised. I caught up with everyone now and then for a rest break. By noon or a little after, we were at the sign pointing the way down down down to the Hwy 340 Bridge and the end of the hike! We made our way down, some of us with legs of jello and sore joints, slowly. It's a very steep down, and long, switch back trail and in some places it quite narrowly hugs one side of the mountain, with a long drop down on the other side, with rocks for stairs now and then. Once on the bridge, we marched along happy and proud. There was a long line of slow traffic going the other way and the looks on the faces of some of the people as they watched 5 women stride along with loaded packs......priceless! We decided to end it at the parking lot at the end of the bridge, and Sue V's husband was kind enough to come pick us up. We had made it across the bridge and to the lot by 1:20 pm.
I admit to being quite sore and stiff but I was also very happy. It's a grand feeling of accomplishment. I hope that everyone else felt the same way. I am quite eager to do it again! Well, not that section again! I've done it twice now - that's enough. Today, Wednesday, I am completely recovered physically (though my big toe nails have darkened so I'll have to wait and see how that goes), unpacked, and everything is put away until the next adventure!
What a great hike we had yesterday! Many thanks to Sue Guynn of the Frederick News Post for coming along to interview the Dames and take photos and video.
We met in the Harpers Ferry Visitors Center parking lot and took the shuttle bus down into town. We were early to be almost the only people on the bus...the one other person was a lone male, or as one Dame put it "a thistle in a bed of roses." It was chilly to start off, only in the upper 30's, but brilliantly clear out. We made our way to the trail head (a trek that probably adds another full mile to the hike, round trip), and took our group photos. I took a moment to dedicate the hike to a dear friend, Lola Williamson, who died suddenly this past week. She was always a great encouragement to me in every thing I did and will be sorely missed on this earth.
This trail is the road bed that Union troops made to haul up cannon, ammunition, powder, water, tents and other supplies to the summit of the mountain, where they set up to defend the rivers and town. It is long and steep, 3 miles to the summit. If we find it hard in our high tech boots/shoes, light clothing, and using hiking poles then just imagine doing it in July, in wool uniforms, broken down boots and shoes, dragging cannon capable of firing 100 lb cannon balls plus all of the supplies the troops would need - and having to go all the way back down to the rivers once a week to haul up enough water for everyone. At the 2 mile point we took the side trail, another 1 mile round trip, down to the overlook - a rocky cliff that has a full view of both rivers and the town. Spent some time enjoying the view, taking photos and having snacks. Then it was time to do the last mile ascent to the summit.
Once there we spread out, relaxed and had lunch. Again, stunning views and by then a gorgeous warm day. Off came the layers and we soaked up the sunshine. I should note as well that there are many historic markers and sites on this trail - the ammo dumps and powder magazines, the ruins of the stone fort the troops built, the site of the 100 lb cannon at the summit (that's the weight of the cannonball - not the much much heavier cannon itself), troop tent sites, and even a sad sign remarking on the death of a soldier who was blown to bits when an ammo dump blew up. I suppose he's still there watching the hikers pass by.......
The hike back is all downhill, as much steep down to the bottom as it is up to the top. It is a loop hike, so the way down offers different scenery til we hit the main road again. It took us about 4 1/2 hours start to finish, for a total of about 8 miles with the walk back to town.
Once in town some went on home, many headed to the Secret Six Tavern, and five of us went on up High Street (another long steep climb!) to the PATC HQ (Potomac Appalachian Trail Conference). We had been invited to stop by by a new Dames member, Terri, as she's a volunteer there. They were so excited to meet us! Lots of handshaking and a 1000 questions! I'd never been there and it is absolutely worth visiting. So much information on the AT, books and things to buy, a hiker's "lounge", photo albums of thru-hikers that have stopped on the way, a huge relief map of the AT, and more. I will definitely be going back when I'm not so tired and sweat soaked! The five of us went back down the street to the tavern for some refreshment. We couldn't get seated with everyone else, but we still had a great time just sitting and chatting and it was a perfect way to end a perfect hike.
This is a guest post by our own Joan aka Hemlock-- originally posted on her blog http://ramblinghemlock.blogspot.com/
This weekend I went on a caving trip with the Trail Dames. We were fortunate to have several experienced guides and the Dames, as usual, were incredibly helpful and supportive. Even though we went to a so-called "horizontal, easy" cave in northwest Georgia, it offered plenty of challenges for us nervous first-timers.
Caving was a fantastic experience, both for the physical challenge and because being within the earth proved utterly peaceful. After getting the hang of it (thank goodness for the kneepads and helmet!), I enjoyed squeezing though the tight spots on my belly while pushing my pack in front of me, and rolling down the passageway, which turned out to be easier than crawling. My arms, shoulders, core, and legs all received a satisfying workout. I went through holes that I couldn't believe I'd fit through and went down inclines that scared me, and felt such a sense of accomplishment after I realized I could do it! Also, the cave was such a different, simplified environment-- constant weather, fewer sounds, darkness. Instead of being scary and claustrophobic, I found this environment enhanced and focused all my senses: I could really smell the cave, listen to the sound of the drops from the ceiling, and see the glint of rocks. I felt utterly alive and fully present.
A few times on the return trip, there was no one ahead of me and I tested my route-finding skills. It took my brain a while to adjust to reading the cave. Where was the easiest route? Should I crouch, crawl, or roll? Which way had I gone before? Trying to remember the route, I visualized not just a two dimensional trail, but the series of interconnecting tubes that branched in three dimensions. Using rocks and mud as landmarks was challenging for me because I am normally use plants and trees for navigation because for me they are so easy to remember. I began to develop a better eye for subtle differences in rocks and formations, like how in winter, tree shapes and shades of brown become totally fascinating. Mud in some places was dryer like clay for pottery and resisted pressure, while in other places it melted beneath your feet and stuck and slurped. Caving was thus totally mentally engaging in addition to providing a full-body workout.
During rest breaks, our trip leader instructed us to lay down on the rocks and let our body heat radiate into the ground. This had such a calming effect. Much more so than just sitting down or standing during breaks. The physical connection to the ground is so peaceful, and it reminds me to practice my yoga relaxation and breathing techniques. I would love to take this practice back with me to the trail. I normally stand during resting moments, but I think I will experiment with reclining against a tree or even laying down and being aware of my connection to the earth.
-Joan aka Hemlock
Falls on West Fork of Montgomery Creek
I saved the best for last! Actually, I just did it today - after failing to
find it yesterday. Mr. Anthony's directions are accurate, except that when
you get to the area he describes as "an area large enough to park and turn
around" he doesn't make it clear that you are at an area that looks like 5
or 6 old roads come together. So, yesterday following what I *thought* were
the directions I, naturally, went completely the wrong way and ended up
going down an eroded trail that looks like it might be a mountain bike
trail. I crossed a branch, as he describes and came to a T-junction with
another trail which he does NOT mention. Since he said the trail "ascends"
after crossing a branch, I took the uphill direction. Actually, this was a
very nice trail - but I have NO idea what trail it is! I only know it
wasn't the right one!
So I went back today and looked around a little more carefully. Actually,
where Mr. Anthony says to take the "right fork" it's easier to just keep to
the left, but either one brings you out at the same place - where it looks
like several roads come together. There's a nice parking spot and the REAL
trail is just to the left of this area, over a couple of small mounds
designed to keep care from driving down the old road. This was an easy hike
down and then back up a little way to a very nice, big water fall. I didn't
climb down to the base, though it's possible down a steep trail. Maybe some
But the BEST part I've save for last! If you go on the right day, and get
lucky - as I did today - you'll get to see about 100 good-looking young Army
Rangers out on maneuvers! The beginning of this trail is actually on the
Ranger camp grounds, though not inside the manned gate...but there is a gate
across the road, so it's possible that sometimes it might not be possible to
drive up the road. Luckily for me, that gate was open both days. BTW, when
Mr. Anthony says the road gets very narrow after the first fork, he is NOT
kidding! It's JUST barely wide enough for a pick-up truck - you PRAY you
don't meet anyone coming the other way. If you decide to park at the first
fork (as he suggests) it would still be a nice, easy hike to the falls and
back - maybe just under 2 miles total.
Over the last few weekends, I've done a lot of driving on forest service
roads and I am happy to report that a lot of them are in MUCH better
condition than they were last spring, especially FS 42. A LOT of work has
been done on them, grading and graveling, and they are much improved. They
aren't superhighways, but still much, much better than they were after last
I'm still working on my "waterfalls project" and have been to quite a few
more since Labor Day weekend. As usual, these all came from J.J.Anthony's
High Shoals Falls on Walden Creek
This small falls is very pretty, and a nice hike...if you don't mind hiking
on forest service roads. The directions on Mr. Anthony's site are quite
accurate, and the road - considering that it is blocked to traffic - was in
pretty good shape. In fact, if it hadn't actually been blocked, I probably
could have driven almost to the falls...except there was one big blow-down
that completely blocked the road. This hike sticks in my mind as a bit
"odd." All the way in, I saw no footprints, no tire marks and I heard
nothing but the usual forest sounds. But when I actually got to the falls
there were two big family size tents, and an open-air kitchen area. Sound
really travels in the mountains...but I heard no voices, or engine sounds.
Nothing at all. I've NO idea where all those people went! I'm guessing
they had ATV's or something and had driven out the other way from the way I
hiked in. The road does keep going, but I don't know where it comes out at
the other end.
Falls on Ward Creek (near Justus Gap)
You can drive right up to this falls on FS 42 (the same forest service road
that goes to the parking area for Springer Mtn.) and this time of the year
it's JUST visible. But you can walk down a very short drop from the road to
get a complete view of it. It's not very big, but is very pretty.
Cane Creek Falls
This falls is on the grounds of Camp Glisson, a Methodist campground.
There's no charge, but you do need to sign in at the Visitor's Center. The
camp will not be open to visitors, though, if they are having a camp
session. This one was funny. It's quite easy to get to the falls, you just
drive through the gate and there is a sign that points to the parking for
the falls. Never having been there before, I made the turn, saw the parking
area...but NO falls! So I kept driving and ended up in the middle of a
bunch of cabins. Obviously not the right direction! So to keep from
getting totally lost, I turned around and retraced my steps and lo and
behold - when I got back to the parking, THERE was the falls! It is BEHIND
you as you come down the curve to the parking!
This falls is BARELY in Georgia. In fact, you have to go through
Chattanooga to Lookout Mtn to get to them. Mr. Anthony has a picture of a
sign on his website that shows "Glen Falls Trail .4 mi" but I never saw that
sign. The trail is quite nice, short and at one point almost looks as if it
just stops, but you keep going and so does the trail. This falls is quite
high up the mountain and is therefore VERY rain dependent...which means,
don't do like *I* did and try to see it when it's been dry for a while. The
"falls" were BONE DRY! I took a picture anyway, because the rock formation
is interesting...it's just a huge jumble of huge rocks flowing down the
These falls are on land held by the Lula Lake Land Trust - as indicated by
Mr. Anthony, so you can't just drive up and expect to see the falls. You
need to check the website to find out when they will be open. The road in
was in VERY bad shape the day I was there. Very deep ruts that I had to be
careful to straddle, as they were too deep for my small car to drive in...I
would have ended up "high centered" if I'd tried. Fortunately, it's only
bad for a couple hundred feet, once you are down in the valley, it's much
better. The parking area, the day I was there anyway, was a good mile+ from
the lake and the falls. It wouldn't be a bad idea to take a bike if you
have one and don't feel like a long walk. The road is gravel, but only has
some small ups and downs, and I saw several people on bikes. The falls were
very small (I went the same day I went to Glen Falls) but the rock formation
are just fantastic, even in low water.
Stonewall Creek Falls
This falls is a couple/three miles above the town of Tallulah Falls and is
pretty easy to get to. The entrance to the gravel road is marked by signs
pointing to a bike trail, they don't mention the falls. The road was not
too bad, except just before you start down into the creek valley it was
pretty rough, so we chose to park at the top and not drive down. And, of
course, once we walked down in there, we saw LOTS of cars that DID manage
the drive. There is a parking area before that point where you can park and
walk down the road into the valley.
Falls on Branch of Jones Creek
This was another funny day. The directions on Mr. Anthony's site are
detailed and complicated, and at one point he says "Turn right on Siloam and
continue another 6 miles to the Etowah River. Turn left after crossing the
bridge and proceed another 1.5 miles to Forest Service Road 28-1. " but this
is not accurate. Actually, Siloam Rd. is listed on my map program as Siloam
Church Road, and at some point it changes to Hightower Church Road. AND you
don't "turn left after crossing the bridge" - the road ENDS at a T-junction
and you turn left TO cross the bridge. But it's easier to drive past Siloam
(Church) Rd. and, if driving from Dahlonega (as Mr. Anthony instructs) turn
right on the 2nd Nimblewill Church Road and follow this to FS 28-1 and then
on to FS 77. Then follow Mr. Anthony's directions from there.
The last 1.8 mile road is rough and the day we did it was barely passable in
my little station wagon. It would be easier in an SUV or jeep-type vehicle.
What made it a funny day is that Mr. Anthony advises parking between the two
concrete fords and then going up the right side of the creek. Well, we did
that and at one place ended up LITERALLY hanging onto the trees to keep from
dropping into the creek. It was only a couple/three feet down - but we
didn't want to get our feet wet! We found the falls and on the way out, my
sister followed a nice, easy old logging road that went RIGHT back to the
ford! So it's much easier to cross both fords, find a place to park and
follow the old road. This will bring you out above the first falls, but
there is a bridge and you can then hike a bit downstream to where it's easy
to get down the hill to the base of the falls. The second falls are harder
to find and I didn't actually get a picture, will have to go back one day!
To be continued.....