Roads Rivers and Trails

Dream. Plan. Live.

Monthly Archives: January 2022


Tips and Tricks for Thru Hike Resupplies

As many of you know, fellow RRT staffer Will Babb and I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2021.  A year ago, I was buying food, gathering supplies, and packing boxes.  I spent years planning my resupply strategy because I obsess over these things, and ultimately only partially stuck to it. I’ll break down what I learned into two parts: general tips and tricks for thru hike resupplies and the optimal PCT resupply strategy. If a thru hike other than the PCT is on your radar, Part One will help as you navigate food logistics.

Part One: Tips and Tricks for Thru Hike Resupplies

Thru-hiking has a few big challenges. Gear, travel logistics, and food are the top three concerns for most hikers starting out. When it comes to food, I met hikers who didn’t send themselves any boxes. They often had to go out of the way to get things and be less picky about what they ate. I also met people who sent all their food in prepackaged boxes because they bought in bulk, had dietary restrictions, or had concerns about food availability. In either situation, or anywhere in between, it can work. Here are my suggestions to consider when thinking about your resupply strategy:

  1. Have someone you trust send your boxes.
  2. Pack foods you absolutely love and won’t get tired of.
  3. When you pack your boxes, set aside extra food.
  4. Use every cubic inch of the box.
  5. Establish a system for when and how to send resupply boxes.

 

First, if you’re going to send yourself boxes you need someone you trust to effectively communicate, mail stuff on time, and re-organize your boxes as your situation changes. You’ll also need to focus on packing food you really enjoy into your boxes. Fruit snacks, Clif Bars, and cookies were stashed in all my boxes. I bought everything in bulk so I could add extra food to boxes I thought would be a little light or as my appetite increased (like when it got cold). I used large USPS boxes for most of my drops. A four-day resupply left extra space in large boxes, so I’d throw an Ale8 and other treats from home in to enjoy in town. These goodies always left me excited to get boxes.

 

The first and last suggestions on the list go hand in hand. You need to trust your at-home support, but you also need to have contingency plans for when to send boxes, what to do if that person can’t send a box one week, or what to do if there’s a fire and your box is already sent. It’s important to think through these things beforehand. Emma sent most of our boxes and got us what we needed, but when she was traveling we had someone fill in for her. When there were fires, some people had to frantically call USPS and forward boxes further up the trail. Understand your options when sending yourself things. The PCT was a lesson in logistics and how two-day shipping isn’t really two-day shipping when you’re in the mountains.

 

Part Two: The Optimal PCT Resupply Strategy

For those of you looking to hike the PCT, I give you what I would do if I hiked the PCT all over again.

 

This is my best shot at the optimal PCT resupply strategy. Some of the stores might get picked over during peak season, but if you want to limit boxes and maximize flexibility, this is the way to go. I’m not sure what my savings would come to if I compared what I spent on mailing boxes to just resupplying at stores along the trail, but if you choose to shop on trail you have the satisfaction of bringing money into small mountain towns that rely on hikers.

 

My journey along the PCT was amazing, but it was my own. What worked for me might not work for you. I hope these breakdowns give you a better idea of how to plan your next big adventure, and as always, if you’re prepping for a long trail, swing by RRT to ask for advice.

by: Ben Shaw

Exploring the Krummholz

The alpine zone is a magical place. The region above the treeline, whether by latitude or altitude, is a delicate dance of life spurred by abundant sunshine and haunted by howling winds. Known as the krummholz zone, the alpine is its own ecosystem, clawing and fighting for a firm hold of survival. It’s impossible not to be impressed, awed, and enamored by the organisms that eke out a living across the steep expanse of barren, loose rock, pummeled by never-ceasing winds, battered by afternoon storms, thriving where the hardiest of trees cannot, and surviving in what should be a lifeless zone. It is ironic, then, that in this region of dedication and toughness, where plants grow out of rock and not soil, a single human footstep can destroy the same plant that weathered each of nature’s assaults.Stunted trees growing on rocky, snow-covered slopes define the krummholz.

Among the lofty, celebrated peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park the alpine begins above 10,000 feet. Here, the few trees that survive are stunted and windblown, hanging on to life by a thread. Trees grow so slowly up here that a century-old tree might be barely taller than you or I, its rings packed tightly together. These beacons of strength fade at 11,000 feet, growing sparser and smaller until with a frightening suddenness the climber is left alone with the wind and rock. Here is where the true magic happens, that tiny web of life that is so easily overlooked but deserves far more admiration than the stately pines of the lower slopes.

As with any food web, life begins with the sun. It is this celestial energy which feeds the alpine plants that thrust their roots into rock. From afar, the upper reaches of the mountain are devoid of greenery and color, a gray mat of rock. But upon closer inspection these rocks are home to life, where alpine lawns emerge from boulder fields.

The foundation here is lichen, part fungus and part plant, but wholly living and important. From the dull greens and faded colors of the lichen arise the tiniest of plants. Among the plants are a variety of wildflowers too proud to give up their existence. These flowers coat the mountains in splendid hues of yellow, purple, and blue to match the skies at dusk and dawn. Here grow the petals of alpine sunflower, the pistils of dwarf clover, and the anthers of my personal favorite, and Colorado’s too, the columbine.

Rocky Mountain Columbine

 

The complex web of life continues up the food chain to the pollinators that rely on these flowers. Upon closer inspection, these flowers sustain insects of every variety. Ants and beetles crawl across the lichen-coated rocks. An astounding diversity of bees buzz in and around the petals, and delicate, intricately decorated butterflies like the American Lady rest on them too. These winged beauties somehow navigate the biting winds that chill bipedal visitors and threaten to blow hikers off the peak, floating gracefully where one would never think it possible.

 

Alpine Sunflowers thrive in the krummholz zone.

Alpine Sunflower

 

Dwarfing the butterflies, but still a tiny pollinator, a mountain classic hovers above alpine gardens. The Broad-tailed Hummingbird calls the harsh krummholz region home. Given the abundance of them and the frequency of their high-pitched chatter, I wouldn’t hesitate to claim they are thriving in this fragile ecosystem. If one has sharp eyes they might notice a White-tailed Ptarmigan, the only ptarmigan endemic to North America. The changing plumage of this incredible bird mirrors the landscape around them. This bird prefers high elevations and northern latitudes, being well-adapted to the cold. Equally fascinating is the songbird adapted for life on rocky alpine slopes, rosy finches. Rocky Mountain National Park is home to the Brown-capped Rosy Finch, a small passerine tinged in pink often seen skylarking above the slopes.

 

White-tailed Ptarmigans blend into the background of the krummholz.

White-tailed Ptarmigan

Brown-capped Rosy Finches are restricted to krummholz habitats in the central Rocky Mountains.

Brown-capped Rosy Finch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On another strand of the food web, the energetic Rocky Mountain Pika exudes positivity despite the harsh environment where it scurries around, beneath, and over rocks, daintily collecting alpine sunflowers in its mouth. The shrieks of the pika drift across the slopes as this tiny, mouse-like mammal cheerfully works to thrive where few species can. Pikas are well-adapted to the krummholz, and their sensitivity to changing environments makes them an indicator species of climate change. Alongside the friendly pika is the much larger marmot, more commonly seen lazily lounging on boulders than scurrying like the pika. The daily delight of visitors, Yellow-bellied Marmots take life at a slow pace with quizzical expressions, but they too have a place in the ecosystem.

Hoary Marmot

It frightens me to think of the crowds of passerby that traverse the alpine zone to summit and back without a second thought for the life beneath their feet. In the krummholz, a careless footstep has a cost, but there is reward for those that tread slowly and take note of the rhythm of life tucked between rocks. There is more to these peaks than tagging summits, a whole ecosystem more. Whether it’s the sheer peaks of the Rockies, the staggering High Sierra, or the remote Chic-Chocs, the krummholz offers ample exploration and infinite learning for those that greet the rocks, lichens, butterflies, and birds with slow footsteps and thoughtful gaze.

 

by: Will Babb

Redemption on the Black Mountain Crest Trail

Previewing the Black Mountain Crest Trail

If you’ve been following RRT for the past few years, you have probably heard about the Black Mountain Crest Trail (BMCT).  My good friend Will wrote about his attempt in 2019, and I talked about it during one of our Campfire Story segments in 2020. If you heard the campfire story, then you know my first attempt on the Black Mountain Crest Trail did not end successfully but as a slow trudge with a heavy heart.

The Trail

Since my first attempt, few days have passed where that trail did not hike across my mind. I never mustered up the time or courage to go back, and for what? To fail again? Two years passed, and while looking for training hikes my dear friend and co-worker Emma and I decided the BMCT was a must-do. As the weekend of the trip drew near, the weather looked pretty good.  About an inch of rain was predicted through all of Saturday, but we thought it was nothing crazy.

The plan was to hike eight miles to Deep Gap, set up camp, and then hike four miles to the summit of Mt. Mitchell and back. My hopes were high; I was excited to get back on this trail. Learning from my last attempt, I brought better bear deterrents (a friend to feed to the bears) and improved rain gear. This time I was not turning back, especially with Emma there to keep me going.

 

We arrived at the trailhead around 1 a.m. and slept restlessly in the car. The sun came up and we donned our packs to begin the steep four-mile climb to the ridge, soon passing a beautiful stream with a series of waterfalls. My spirits were high as we climbed, and my mind flashed back to my last attempt. A lot had changed from the Dalton who was last here; I’ve learned a lot more about the outdoors and myself, and I now have a mustache.

The initial up was peaceful and serene. Both of us were huffing and puffing in silence. Soon it began to drizzle. We added rain jackets and continued upwards. The drizzle became heavier, and I began to realize what an inch of rain truly meant. My freshly waterproofed jacket was no protection. It could not withstand the increasing pressure as the rain and wind picked up. These four miles seemed to go on forever. The tree line was close. I could feel it, and I made sure Emma knew, too. With the final bit of elevation gain ahead, we trudged more energetically. Then Emma pointed out that the tree line was, in fact, not close at all. Our spirits fell, as did the air temperature as my body chilled beneath a no-longer-waterproof jacket.

After what seemed like an eternity, we made it to the ridgeline. Remembering how breathtaking this scene was last time, I was thrilled to view it again. I was quickly let down. The entire ridge was covered with a heavy fog. I could not see more than two fully-extended trekking pole lengths in any direction. Up here, without the cover of trees, the wind and rain intensified and added a bonus element, hail. I tried to push forward, but every second on the ridge felt like a session with a drunk acupuncturist. After a handful of steps, I returned to the cover of trees to talk with Emma and hear her thoughts.

Emma was surprisingly optimistic about the horrendous scenario. Her optimism gave me hope. We pushed on. After no more than five steps on the ridge, she expressed the same concerns I had.

We had another discussion and decided to push on. We trudged another five steps, then turned around and were forced below tree line. This was a tough call. Turning around once was hard enough, but turning around twice? To me it was painful.

Turning around should be a group decision, not the decision of one person. This is always the toughest part. I did not want to let Emma down, and she did not want to let me down. My hands stung from the cold, so I gave in and suggested we turn back. Emma agreed, much to my relief. We began our descent without second thought.

While the way up was full of hope, the way down was dreary. We passed a group headed up in high spirits. I wished them the best but was secretly envious. I thought about how far they would make it. “If they made it further than us, had we turned back too soon? How much further could we have made it?” I worked to push these thoughts out of my mind because they led down dangerous rabbit holes. Emma and I continued to rationalize our decision. “We were too cold.” “Our clothes were soaked.” “We did not have the proper gear.” Even with this knowledge, I had a tough time believing we made the right decision.

In the moment, you could be facing the toughest challenge in the world, but once you turn away and look back it seems doable. There was a little voice in my head telling me I was overreacting and that I gave up at the slightest sign of challenge. This voice stayed with me the rest of the way back and lingered through the coming days.

Redemption on the Black Mountain Crest

Fast forward to the end of June, the Sunday before July Fourth weekend. I was still mentally recovering from my last trek on the BMCT, but I had a free weekend and was considering a quick jaunt to North Carolina for another attempt. As fate would have it, while working at RRT a regular customer, David, came in asking about the Black Mountain Crest Trail, with plans to attempt it that weekend. I mentioned my desire to do the same, and soon enough we had plans to hike together. This time, we planned it as a long day hike, which was significantly more ambitious than my previous attempts.

We drove to the trailhead Friday night and arrived late, quickly finding spots to set up hammocks but not before sharing lukewarm PBRs with people living nearby. Unexpected interactions like these make me fall more in love with the outdoors and its community.

Waking up in Pisgah National Forest was like waking up in a rainforest. The ground was damp as the morning dew dripped from the trees and the sunlight worked past the thick canopy. We ate breakfast and headed up the trail. We maintained a good pace through the first four-mile push and aimed to hit the summit by noon, averaging two miles per hour. At the ridge, the trail became less maintained, and rather than enjoying the scenery we had to keep our eyes on the ground for roots or holes waiting to twist our ankles. As I stumbled to Mt. Mitchell, I could not help but think that if I was already this tired on the way up, then I was horrified for my legs on the way down.

We cruised into mile eight of 24 and stopped for lunch at Deep Gap. After refueling, we pushed onward.  We stayed quiet and kept to our own thoughts and miseries. A few miles later, we crossed the border into Mt. Mitchell State Park and its well-maintained trails. We picked up our pace, only to be slowed by crowds of people. After being stuck in my head for the past several hours, the small talk with strangers was a welcome distraction.

The maintained trails gave way to a paved parking lot, a staircase, and a ramp that took us to the highest point on this side of the Mississippi. The juxtaposition between the rugged trail we had spent the past six hours on and the summit parking lot was jarring. Fortunately, with great amounts of concrete come great amounts of aspirin from the summit giftshop, a key factor in our success. Without that, we would not have made it very far on the return.

Making it to the top was incredibly rewarding. We could see from the Roan Highlands all the way to Clingman’s Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  An accomplishment I had been trying to complete for several years was done. Except, of course, we were really only halfway done. We still had to go all the way back down.

After resting for a bit, we began pushing down the mountain. Pushing sounds like an odd way to describe hiking downhill, but it truly was a push because the hike back to the car was not just downhill, we still had roughly 2,500’ of gain before the final four-mile descent. David had trouble going downhill and I had trouble going uphill. With our strengths and weaknesses balancing out, we leapfrogged past one another on our six-hour return journey. Many people passed us on their way up, and although I was excited for them I was glad David and I had put those miles behind us.

Throughout the trip, as happens on any backcountry excursion, we had dreamed up the perfect post-hike meal: iced-coffee for David and a big Gatorade for me, then digging into $5 Hot and Ready pizzas from Little Caesar’s. Bellies full and thirst quenched, we drove home silently, taking turns napping and driving. A bucket list item that had haunted me for two years was over just like that in a whirlwind 30 hours.

Reflection

Early in my outdoor career, I was fortunate to avoid making the tough call to turn back. I have since found this is not how things will always be. The past few years have been filled with failed adventures. I still valued these experiences and learned a great deal from them, but it will never be easy to make that call. Turning back on something you value is tough and something I am still learning and growing from. As I’ve taken on bigger endeavors, I’ve looked for this quality in the people I travel and climb with. I want to know they will not push me into prickly situations but will push me to be a stronger person, and I will do the same for them.

 

by: Dalton Spurlin

X
X
X