Roads Rivers and Trails

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Monthly Archives: May 2022


A Shelter on the Appalachian Trail

My Idea to Thru-Hike the Appalachian Trail

The idea to establish the Appalachian Trail was formulated in 1921. My idea to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail was in 2018, a brief 97 years later. 

The Appalachian Trail, often referred to as the “AT,” is a nearly 2,200 mile (2,194 miles as of 2022) footpath stretching from Springer Mountain in Georgia all the way north to Mt. Katahdin in Baxter State Park, Maine. A trail this long sees many visitors. There have been more than three million hikers setting foot on this trail in a single year, yet only around 3,000 of them attempt a thru-hike. Out of those 3,000 thru-hikers, about 1 in 4 are successful. 

My idea to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail began with a short backpacking trip on the AT.

One of my first backpacking trips was in the Roan Highlands, hiking along the AT. It was early November 2018 and the higher elevations of the balds led to many cold, sleety drizzles. It was a tough hike for me. The weather was bad, my boots were frozen, and the mileage was more than I was used to. On the second night of the trip, while sitting in a shelter with my friends, a very tired backpacker strolled into camp. I was surprised because he did not seem to be carrying much at all. In fact, with the weather, he seemed to be carrying an unsafely little amount of stuff.  He was heading south, with just under 400 miles until he was done with his five-month-long journey.

Being new to the hiking/backpacking/outdoor community, the idea of thru-hiking was incredibly foreign to me. I thought this man was insane. However, my friend Ben seemed to know what was going on. He offered the hiker a beer and chatted with him for the evening. In the morning the hiker was gone. The following day while summiting various balds along the trail we ran into several more thru-hikers. By the end of this four-day trip, my mind was pretty much made up. I was going to hike the AT one day. 

 

 

When I set off for the AT this summer I will be heading south. I will start at the northern terminus at Katahdin mid-July and plan to get to Georgia in mid- to late-November. Ideally, I will finish just before Thanksgiving. Starting in the North with notoriously more difficult terrain, I suspect it will take longer to get my trail legs and I will move slower with less miles per day. 

 

The views on the Appalachian Trail are part of what draws me to thru-hike it.

Learning and planning for any long trail poses many challenges, such as food, water, and shelter. Luckily, the AT simplifies the shelter situation with over 250 three-walled shelters between Georgia and Maine. There is also an abundance of water throughout the trail. Theoretically, I may never have to carry more than two liters of water at once, but that can always change. 

For food on the trail, I will be resupplying in towns rather than having food boxes shipped out to me. I figure this gives me more flexibility with how much food I have to carry, and if I do not like a meal I can swap it for something else at the next town I resupply in. 

 

 

I think the biggest challenge I will personally face on the AT is not a physical one but a mental one. This will be my first ever solo backpacking trip, and while the AT is a popular hiking destination, I will do all the decision-making myself. This will be tricky as I have always had someone hiking with me to bounce ideas off of. 

As I near my departure date, I am filled with excitement to set out on this grand adventure. I look forward to being able to push myself mentally and physically each and every day.

The Roan Highlands are one of the highlights of the Appalachian Trail.

 

by: Dalton Spurlin

 

Follow along for more updates and information as Dalton’s start date approaches! Look for additional blog content, interviews, and social media updates.

The right gear care can keep your rain jacket working properly for endless adventures.

Demystifying the Rain Shell: Hydrostatic Head and MVTR

You may ask yourself, “What is that beautiful house?”

You may ask yourself, “Where does that highway go to?”

And you may ask yourself, “Am I right? Am I wrong?”

And you may say to yourself, “if the water gets through, is it not waterproof?”

 

We’ve all experienced that sinking feeling when cold raindrops start to seep through our rain jacket. I thought this was waterproof? Why am I getting wet? What does waterproof even mean? Aren’t all rain jackets waterproof? If that’s the case, why are some ten times as expensive as others? The answer to each of those questions may be the same: hydrostatic head.

Hydrostatic Head is the industry-standard measure of waterproofing. Abbreviated as HH, hydrostatic head is how companies in the outdoor industry measure just how waterproof a material is. Hypothetically, if you piled a pillar of water on top of a rain jacket, how tall would that pillar be (in millimeters) before the water seeps through the fabric? Logically, a higher column of water equates to greater pressure on that fabric. Every fabric has a point of failure where the pressure becomes too great and that column begins to seep through.

The hydrostatic head is measured at the moment the water crosses to the other side of the material. Again, it is measured in millimeters (mm). So, a jacket that has a hydrostatic head of 20,000 can withstand a column of water 20,000 mm, or 20 meters, tall. 

Rain jacket brands historically tested this quite literally with a pillar of water. Since then, technology improvements have meant it is now measured with a machine that mimics water pressure. Apparently, creating a 30-meter tall water column was getting tedious.

So, what does “waterproof” mean? The industry standard is that a material can be waterproof with a HH as low as 1,500 mm. Many tent rain flys have a hydrostatic head between 1,500-3,000mm. Tent flys are typically exposed to much less pressure than a rain shell, which often requires a HH of at least 10,000 but more likely 20,000. This is because rain shells have to endure pressure from climbing harnesses, backpack straps, or someone leaning against a tree. For reference, sitting on the ground creates roughly 2,000 mm of pressure, while kneeling with the weight centered can create upwards of 10,000 mm. This is why rain jackets often first begin leaking near the shoulders, where the pressure of a backpack compromises the hydrostatic head of the material. 

It’s that easy! All you have to do is look at one number to determine the quality of a rain jacket. The bigger the hydrostatic head, the better the piece! 

Just kidding… 

 

While that is true, you have to consider what a rain shell is doing. If it prevents water from entering from the exterior, it is most likely preventing water vapor from leaving the interior, too. This means sweat builds up within your layers and you may not cool off since the sweat is not transferred to the exterior of your jacket. This is the next consideration for a rain jacket: breathability, or transferring water vapor from inside your jacket to out. 

A common measure of breathability is the Moisture Vapor Transfer Rate, or MVTR. This is an industry standard that measures how much evaporation happens within a square meter of material over the course of 24 hours. A higher number means more moisture evaporates, which corresponds to a more breathable material. This number can range from 10,000 to over 30,000 MVTR.

The trick now is to find a jacket with an adequate HH for your needs while still offering a high-enough MVTR for the activity you are doing. Let’s put these lessons into practice and evaluate a few of the rain jackets you’ll find at RRT:

 

*MVTR not available

As you can see, the Kinetic 2.0 has the lowest waterproof rating. However, it has the highest breathability, which is why the Kinetic is an excellent piece for active summertime use climbing, cycling, or running when breathability is more important than long-term waterproofing. On the other hand, the Arc Eco and Downpour are more waterproof, with the Downpour being more breathable than the Arc Eco. Compare those to the Meridian or Kangri jackets, which are better suited for multi-day storms and extreme conditions with top-notch HH ratings but likely aren’t as breathable. 

Armed with this understanding, you’ll be prepared to buy the rain jacket that best suits your needs, whether you’re looking for a highly-breathable active jacket or long-lasting shell. Stop by Roads Rivers and Trails to meet the rain jacket that fits your next trip and have an expert answer your follow-up questions. 

 

by: Dalton Spurlin

Outdoor sport climbing opens up the opportunity to explore beautiful places.

6 Tips for Beginner Outdoor Sport Climbers (5/8)

With warm weather upon us, you’re bound to want to take your climbing from the gym to the crag. Here are 6 tips for the beginner outdoor sport climber as you expand your horizons.

 

1. Learn to Lead Climb Indoors

Lead climbing involves bringing the rope up with you while climbing instead of climbing with the rope already attached at the top (toprope climbing). Lead climbing can be dangerous; you should learn from experienced climbers before attempting to lead on your own. When you lead climb inside, you clip the rope to preset carabiners as you make your way up the route. Taking a lead clinic in a gym or practicing indoors is a great way to familiarize yourself with the clipping motion and proper technique in a controlled environment.

 

2. Know What Not to Do

When learning to lead, you need to understand the dangers of back clipping and Z-clipping. When done correctly, the climber’s side of the rope should be on the outside of a quickdraw. Dangerous back clips occur when you clip the climber’s side of the rope on the inside, creating potential for the rope to unclip itself if you fell. Z-clipping happens if you clip rope from under a previously clipped draw, creating a “Z” with the rope which can amplify the length of a fall and increase rope drag.

Kentucky's Red River Gorge has excellent outdoor sport climing.

3. Catch a Fall

An inevitable part of lead climbing is falling. Lead falls can be longer and more dangerous due to factors such as rope stretch, distance above a bolt, amount of slack present, and comparative weight of climber and belayer. With that in mind, catching a lead fall is paramount. As you learn to lead, you’ll also need to learn the ins and outs of lead belaying. Rather than taking in slack, you’ll be feeding out slack, managing the rope, and checking your climber’s clips. Communication and trust with a partner are key. With practice, you’ll soon be comfortable catching a lead fall and learn the quickest ways to take out slack.

 

4. Understand Safety Protocols

As you learn to lead, you’ll come to understand methods for properly placing quickdraws. You don’t need to worry about placing the anchors when leading inside since draws are pre-placed. Climbing outdoors, however, you’ll need to set up your own anchors that are Opposite and Opposed. Make sure the gates of your quickdraws are facing opposite directions when you set the anchors. Check that both gates face out and away from the route and the gates form an “x” when opened, which ensures the rope can’t come unclipped from the anchors. A final tip is to ensure the draws are Equalized. This means that the bottom of the carabiners should be at the same height so that the two draws bear the weight of your rope equally. You may need to adjust where one draw is placed on the chains to accomplish this.

Clipping is an essential skill in outdoor sport climbing.

5. Clean Routes Effectively

Cleaning after climbing consists of taking all your equipment off the climb and getting back to the ground safely. Cleaning is the most dangerous part of climbing. At the top of the route, you’ll transfer your rope to a new safety system and remove your gear as you descend. To clean properly, you’ll need two slings and two locking carabiners to create a Redundant system. I personally like 120 cm Dyneema slings because they can be used in many variations. I also prefer auto-locking carabiners like Petzl’s Sm’d Twistlock because they’re easier to take off than screwlock ‘biners.  There are a number of methods for safe and effective cleaning, and you’ll need to learn one from an expert and practice extensively before doing it on your own. Regardless of the method, any safety system should be opposite and opposed, equalized, and redundant. Always perform every safety check while cleaning and don’t rush the process.

 

6. Assemble Your Gear

Now you know all the basics of leading and cleaning a route and you’re prepared to climb sport routes outside! But first, it’s time to buy all your gear. Assuming you already own a harness and shoes, the next steps are to buy quickdraws, rope, and a helmet. You can always split your purchases with a consistent climbing partner to break up the cost. A great rope is the Tommy Caldwell 60-meter by Edelrid. You’ll also need quickdraws. There are endless options to choose from, but I recommend Petzl’s Djinn Axess Quickdraws. Twelve quickdraws is desirable for most routes near Cincinnati. Finally, safety is always a priority, so a climbing helmet is a necessity. This will protect your noggin from a fall when climbing or from loose rock while belaying.

 

These tips should help you transfer your skills to sandstone, granite, or limestone sport routes outside. The next blog in this series will open your eyes to crack climbing through tips for traditional climbers.

 

by: Sean Masterson

 

Definitions

Opposite: The gates of carabiners face different directions. Even if one gate is unintentionally opened, the rope cannot come unclipped from both carabiners.

Opposed: Carabiners are oriented in the same direction (Top to top, bottom to bottom). In this way, if both gates are open and overlapping they form an “X.” In this manner, even if one carabiner were to rotate so that both gates faced the same direction, the gates would still open differently (up versus down), reducing the chance that the rope comes unclipped from both.

Redundant: Every weight-bearing system- ropes, carabiners, slings- need to be redundant. If one fails, there should be a backup. This means setting anchors with two carabiners, building an anchor from multiple points, and cleaning with two slings. Even if the extra piece of gear isn’t absolutely necessary, it could save your life.

Equalized: In an equalized system, both points of protection should be bearing your weight evenly. If one were to fail, this prevents shock-loading the system and causing system failure. Both slings when cleaning should be taut under your weight, and both carabiners should hang at the same level to cradle the rope.

 

*Climbing is inherently dangerous, even in a gym. All techniques should be learned from an expert. This blog is not meant to be a how-to guide, but rather a source of clarifying information and advice.

 

The trails that make up the National Trails System, including these moderately long walks, provide ample thru-hike opportunities for adventurers.

Six Moderately Long Walks

The long trails of America catch our imaginations: the Appalachian Trail with its steep rolling mountains, the Pacific Crest Trail with its alpine beauty, and the Continental Divide Trail’s rugged wilderness. These trails are serious undertakings that require money, equipment, and most of all, time. What if you’re short on one or even all of these? There are other routes in America’s National Trail System, and a few outside of it, that can be accomplished without tackling the Triple Crown. Here are six moderately long walks where you can wander off for a month or two without being gone for a whole season.

Trail #1 – Arizona Trail (AZT)

State: Arizona

Length: 800 miles

Duration: 45-50 days

Northern Terminus: Arizona-Utah Border

Southern Terminus: Coronado National Memorial at the US-Mexico Border

Best months: Late March – Late May

The Arizona Trail traverses 800 miles through some of the most spectacular scenery in the state, reaching a high point of 9,600’ and skirting the state’s highest point, Mt. Humphreys. The trail wanders through rolling sagebrush foothills, deep canyons, and wide-open plains. The AZT is also one of the newest trails in the US, officially designated a National Scenic Trail in 2009 but not completed until 2011. One of the unique features of this long trail is that all areas other than designated wilderness can be cycled. If you’re looking for a desert getaway and a short walk, this is the trail for you. A strong community encircles the trail as it ranges across the Sonoran Desert, through the sky islands of the Superstition Mountains, and finishes on the Kaibab Plateau outside Grand Canyon National Park.

At 800, the Arizona Trail is a long walk through the state's most scenic landscapes.

Trail #2 – Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST)

State: North Carolina

Length: 1,175 miles

Duration: 55-75 days

Western Terminus: Clingman’s Dome

Eastern Terminus: Pamlico Sound

Best Months: May – October

The Mountains-to-Sea Trail has been on my radar for some time. Most people start the trail among the high peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains on 6,643’ Clingman’s Dome in Tennessee and work their way east through the Black Mountains, over Mt. Mitchell, and down to the foothills of North Carolina. As the trail wanders its way toward the Atlantic, you share the path with 8 different trail systems, including the Art Loeb Trail and the Appalachian Trail. The MST is one of the few thru-hikes that has an alternate paddle route to avoid a long road walk between Smithfield and Jacksonville. You have the opportunity to paddle 169 miles on the Neuse River and give weary legs a break as you near your finish at the Atlantic Ocean.

North Carolina's Mountains to Sea Trail is a long walk worth exploring.

Trail #3 – Ice Age Trail

State: Wisconsin

Length: 1,200 miles

Duration: 55-75 days

Eastern Terminus: Potawatomi State Park

Western Terminus: Interstate Park near St. Croix Falls

Best Months: May – Late October

The Ice Age Trail is one of the lesser-known trails in the US. It begins near Wisconsin’s westernmost border at St. Croix Falls and jaggedly traverses east, diving south from Antigo to Jonesville, near the Illinois border, before turning north toward its Eastern Terminus at Sturgeon Bay. The Ice Age Trail, largely still a “route,” has only 675 miles of completed trail, with 400 miles of interconnecting trail and large portions still based on road networks. It can be done year ‘round, but the best times to complete the trail are in the summer and fall to make the most of Wisconsin’s fall colors and cooler weather. This trail roughly follows the glacial moraine from the last Ice Age 12,000 years ago, showing you signs of the forgotten past along the way.

Take a long walk on Wisconsin's Ice Age Trail to explore the state's geologic and natural history.

Trail #4 – Buckeye Trail

State: Ohio

Length: 1,444 miles

Duration: 65-85 days

Northern Terminus: Headlands Beach State Park near Mentor, Ohio

Southern Terminus: Eden Park in Cincinnati, Ohio

Best Months: May – Late October

We have a long trail right here in Ohio, the only trail on this list that isn’t a National Scenic Trail. You can start and end from Cincinnati’s Eden Park as the trail loops around the state. Attractions include Hocking Hills, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and Wayne National Forest. Starting from Cincinnati, the trail wanders north to Toledo and then parallels I-80 toward Cleveland before reaching its Northern Terminus at Headlands Beach State Park. It turns south again and finds its way to southeast Ohio’s scenic foothills, following the Ohio River back to the start. If you want to get away but need to be close to home, this might be the trail for you. The trail largely sticks to woodland areas and wanders through small towns like Milford, but beware that you can find yourself walking through cornfields for a day or two.

Among others, Milford, Ohio is home to the Buckeye Trail, which forms a moderately long loop around the state.

Trail #5 – Florida Trail

State: Florida

Length: 1,300 miles

Duration: 50-60 days

Southern Terminus: Oasis Visitor Center in Big Cypress National Preserve

Northern Terminus: Fort Pickens in Gulf Island National Seashore

Best Months: Late January – Late May

The Florida Trail is another long trail still under construction, with 300 miles of the 1,300 still to be built and large road walks. Starting in the panhandle near Pensacola, the trail meanders down the backbone of Florida toward Everglades National Park. The trail can be dangerous, with the chance of encountering alligators, venomous snakes, mosquitoes, hurricanes, and 20-mile trudges through knee-deep swamps. Although you might hope the trail would work its way along beaches for a thousand miles, most of the trail is inland, skirting west of Orlando and wandering by other vacation hotspots. The trail is known for dense jungle-like forests, inland swamps, and grassy plains that are surprisingly scenic. It is best to avoid this trail in the summer when humidity and high temperatures make this trail downright disgusting, but a winter or spring thru-hike is the perfect cure for cabin fever.

Florida isn't a popular backpacking destination, but this mid-length thru hike offers endless opportunity.

Trail #6 – Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT)

States: Montana, Idaho & Washington

Length: 1,200 miles

Duration: 75 – 100 days

Eastern Terminus: Glacier National Park

Western Terminus: Cape Alava, WA

Best Months: Late June – Late September

I’m not going to offer much on the PNT other than to say it exists and it’s intriguing. I’ve run into numerous PNT thru-hikers in recent years as well as old-timers who did it in years past. Everyone said it was remote, beautiful, and one of the greatest challenges they’d undertaken. The trail can be overgrown, incredibly steep, and covered in scree and talus. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it captures the imagination as it traverses some of the best parts of the Rocky Mountains and the Cascade Range. At times more of a bushwhack than a trail, the route runs from Montana’s Glacier National Park, through Idaho, and across Washington to the Olympic Mountains on the coast.

The glamorous views of the PNT make this a walk worth taking.

by: Ben Shaw

Staff Gear Favorites: Part 3

Your favorite piece of gear can be like a good friend. You might only see it a few times each year, but it can feel like no time has passed. RRT’s staff has many gear favorites; here are some pieces in particular that have won our affection year after year.

Liquidlogic's Braaap is a staff gear favorite, perfect for running whitewater.

Courtesy of Bart Steen

Sam – Liquidlogic – Braaap

Since the summer of 2016, the Liquidlogic Braaap has been my go-to boat of choice for all things whitewater. Whether you are learning to roll or running your favorite Class V, the Braaap is the right choice. I have run the hardest rapids on my resume and made my happiest memories on the river while paddling this boat. The whitewater boat design and innovation has dramatically changed since the Braaap first came out, however I still find myself wanting another.

The outfitting Liquidlogic uses inside the boat makes for a comfortable ride sunup to sundown and provides comfort walking to and from the river with a boat resting on your shoulder. The design of the Braaap feels sporty, fast, and nimble but provides the volume to manage steep creeks. My favorite rivers for the Braaap are ones with high volumes of water; notably, the Kern River when snow is melting or the Gauley River when the dam is releasing. While living in Asheville, NC I found myself buying boats from Liquidlogic, as they’re designed by paddlers that ran the same rivers as me. If you see me at RRT, please ask about the Braaap and its more playful counterpart, the Party Braaap. 

*Although not a stock item, RRT is happy to order the Braaap or other whitewater kayaks for you given advance notice. Contact a staff member for details.

Karoline's gear favorite is Rab's Electron Pro down jacket.

 

Karoline – Rab – Electron Pro

A love letter to my Electron:

Dear Electron, Thank you for keeping me warm. Through cold bonfires, brisk hikes, and cold days at the crag, you are always there for me. You are truly a cozy little cocoon of happiness. XOXO

 

Karoline's favorite gear is Rab's ultra-packable Electron Pro down jacket.

Rab’s Electron Pro down jacket packs down to the size of a small house cat.

Perry – Rab – Microlight Alpine

On the streets or on the trail, the Rab Microlight Alpine is the first piece out of my closet. Its 700-fill down keeps me toasty when needed, and compacts down small when not. With a wind-resistant and ripstop outer material, this is the only layer I need until the rain starts.

 

Joe C – Rab – Ascendor Light Pants

What if I told you there are men’s pants that feel like yoga pants but look like normal hiking pants? Well, there are: the Ascendor Light pants by Rab. They are so lightweight, it hardly feels like you’re wearing any pants at all! They also come in some fantastic colors. I love using these pants for hiking or climbing because they are lightweight and breathable. It is so easy to move in them you can land the heel hook that makes no sense at all but definitely looks badass. These pants are worth the money and you definitely won’t regret buying them.

Joe's favorite gear are his Ascendor Light pants from Rab.

Rab’s Ascendor Light pants offer the breathability, flexibility, and comfort needed for the gnarliest heel hooks.

All Around Pick – Nemo- Tensor

Incredibly, our staff each selected a different item for their favorite piece of gear. Their favorites covered everything from boats to a poop shovel, but surprisingly enough, a sleeping pad wasn’t listed. That isn’t because we don’t enjoy comfort or because we don’t love what we use. It might just be because we can pretty much all agree on one favorite: Nemo’s Tensor. Fully inflatable, lightweight, and above-average comfortable, the Tensor has been an all-around staff favorite for years.

Perfect for backpacking trips with its small pack size and minimal weight, it’s also been a favorite on packrafting and canoeing excursions. It’s held up to the rigors of the Pacific Crest Trail and was the pad of choice for a staff trip to Alaska. Whether you choose a long or wide version for extra comfort or the insulated pad for frigid nights, the Tensor series will surely meet your demands just as it’s pleased our staff.

 

 

These gear favorites have pleased our staff for years of adventures. Odds are, they’ll soon become your favorite too.

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