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Pisgah National Forest: Mt. Mitchell


Trip Report

Pisgah National Forest: Mt. Mitchell

By Kayla “Clover” McKinney




Trip Length: 3 days, 2 nights (includes driving time)

Total Mileage: ~23 miles

Date: Late September 2015

Conditions: Mix of cloudy and sunny during the day, foggy in the morning, highs in the mid-60s to low 70s and lows in the high 40s – low 50s at night. I hiked in a long sleeve synthetic shirt and pants mostly. I was warm and snug in my ~30 degree bag at night.

Highlights: Tallest summit in North Carolina and the tallest summit east of the Mississippi, stunning scenery, challenging trails, diverse forests, wildlife, Mountain to Sea Trail.

Distance from Cincinnati: Approximately 6.5 hours by vehicle. GPS directions to the Black Mountain Campground, Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina. The directions are straight forward.

Permits: There is a fee for camping at Black Mountain Campground and is first come, first serve. There is no permit required for camping at Deep Gap (also first come, first serve).

Description: The Black Mountains are the highest mountain chain east of the Mississippi river with Mt. Mitchell being the tallest summit at 6,684 feet above sea level. The entire ridge is mtmitchellapproximately 10 miles long and contains 14 peaks, all over 6,000 feet, and is known as the Black Mountain Crest.* A large portion of the hike coincides with the Mountain to Sea Trail. For our hike, we did not explore the entire Black Mountain Crest, but instead started from the Black Mountain Campground at the base of Mt. Mitchell and hiked to Deep Gap, a large established campground in Pisgah National Forest. Do not underestimate the Black Mountains! The hike from Black Mountain Campground along the Long Arm Ridge to the Mt. Mitchell summit gains approximately 3,700 feet in elevation over 5.6 miles and is steep and technical in many areas. For most of the hike, you are on an exposed, narrow ridge above the clouds. Once you’ve gained the majority of elevation, the elevation change between the 5 additional peaks is relatively small. The lowest elevation is Deep Gap, which is at approximately 5,800 feet. On this hike, you summit Mt. Mitchell (6,684ft), Mount Craig (6,647ft), Big Tom (6,580ft), Cattail Peak (6,584ft) and Potato Hill (6,475ft), all in one day.

Trip Breakdown:

Day One: Drive from Cincinnati to the Black Mountain Campground and stay there for the night. There are flush toilets and showers. Note: the trail head for Mt. Mitchell is located inside the Black Mountain Campground. There is a large Pisgah National Forest trail head across the street but it is NOT the correct way to go (trust me, because I ended up admitchellsignding ~3 miles to my trip by starting out at the wrong trail head).

Day Two: Start at the Black Mountain Campground and follow signs for Mt. Mitchell and immediately begin ascending for 5.6 miles. You will pass two junctions along the way, one for Higgin’s Bald, which is an alternative trail that will take you to the same place, and one for Commissary Ridge. Follow the signs for the Mt. Mitchell summit. You will eventually reach the paved and suddenly civilized summit of Mt. Mitchell.The summit was crowded and full of people who drove up for the view. Take the opportunity to fill up on water at the Mitchell summit area and enjoy the panoramic views. Continue from the summit to the Deep Gap trail head and to Mount Craig. From Mount Craig, follow the trail to Big Tom and down along the trail. At some point, you will transition from the Mt. Mitchell State Park to the Pisgah National Forest, right around Cattail Peak. At a few points in this area, there are a series of fixed ropes to assist in navigating down the steep terrain. The last peak of the day is Potato Hill (I still have no idea why this steep mountain was called a hill). You are exposed on a narrow ridge and high above the clouds. Continue downhill until you reach a large clearing with an established fire ring and set up camp for the night at Deep Gap. Be sure to hang your food for the night because you are in a bear sanctuary*.

Day Three: Start climbing up the way you came from Deep Gap, back up Potato Hill and Cattail Peak. You will re-enter Mt. Mitchell State Park (there will be signs posted on the trees) and shortly after you will arrive at a junction. Turn onto the trail marked 191A and continue on down. This part of the trail is very steep and rocky, but beautiful and exposed. You will come to another junction, and you’ll want to turn right onto Maple Camp Ridge. This trail is flat, open and easy. You’ll be able to move quickly along it until you meet up with the Long Arm Ridge once more. From here it will be a steep and steady descent. We refilled our water once more along the Long Arm Ridge. Consider doing the Higgin’s Bald side trail to add different scenery along your way back to Black Mountain Campground. The side trail only adds about .25 miles.

Water: I carried 3.5 L of water (a 2.5L reservoir and 1L Nalgene.) We filled up at the Black Mountain Campground, the Mt. Mitchell Summit, and at a stream located along the Long Arm Ridge Trail. There is a water source near Deep Gap, but it is a .5 mile hike away from the campsite.

Options: To save mileage on the second day, consider hiking up the Long Arm Ridge and staying the first night at the Commissary Ridge campsite approximately 4 miles up. Another option is to drive to the top of Mt. Mitchell and hike to Deep Gap from there. There is camping near the Mt. Mitchell summit as well, though you will need a permit for these spots.

*Additional Notes: As mentioned, part of the hike to Deep Gap is through a bear sanctuary. Please practice proper bear awareness through these areas such as properly hanging all of your food, food packaging, cooking equipment, and other scented items. Also, make a note to be somewhat loud when hiking, so as to potentially warn any nearby bears of your presence; simply raising your tone higher when talking should work. The occasional “HEY BEAR!” is a good idea, too. Additionally, these trails are steep and rocky and I highly encourage the use of trekking poles and boots with ankle support.

*An image of the entire Black Mountain Crest.

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A Brief Glimpse of Australia

I went and flew to the other side of the planet. All the way over there. Really far from Kentucky. I went for a wedding, but stayed for almost a month of running around. Stationed in the Gold Coast, Queensland (with a section of town literally called Surfer’s Paradise), the Goatman felt a bit out of his element, I must admit. Hooves aren’t very sticky on a surfboard and the salty ocean air tastes like the bottom of a bag of chips. It was beautiful, of course. Sunrise over the Pacific in the morning. 75 degrees in the middle of the winter. Great seafood everywhere. But I didn’t go to Australia to laze around and pick sand from my beard. Not entirely anyway. You can take the Goatman out of the hills, but you can’t take the goat out of the hill man as the saying goes. I needed to get out there and climb something, see some of the wildest wildlife on the planet, and take in the legendary terrain of Australia. And that I did.

Girraween National ParkDSCN7223

Our first trip out from the Gold Coast was  a 3 hour drive inland through wine country to Girraween National Park on the border between Queensland and New South Wales. (On a side note, Australia has over 500 National Parks. The USA has 58. Australia’s national parks are much smaller than those of the USA, however, and more specific.) After lunch at a vineyard, and a wrong turn involving a 7 foot tall alpha-male kangaroo and a family of wild boar scaring the bejeezus out of me, we found a camp near the trail head of Bald Rock Creek. In the distance looming we could see the Pyramids, granite outcroppings of over 3,000 feet and our goal for the next morning. Up and at ’em with the laughter of the maniac kookaburras, we took a leisurely warm-up hike around the Bald Creek area. The creek flows through the granite landscape, carving out interesting gorges in the rock and gathering in deep holes lending a surreal atmosphere in which to the hike. Back on the trail to the Pyramids, we stopped by the Granite Arch on the way, a natural formation that looks as if neolithic hippie giants were balancing boulders for fun.

DSCN7260Then came the climb. The ascent to the summit of First Pyramid reminded me of the Mahoosuc Arm in southern Maine: a steep granite face with few handholds that seems to go on forever until you crest the summit and realize that all of the huffing and puffing was worth the beautiful 360 degree view. From the top, you can see the entirety of Girraween NP as well as across the state line into Bald Rock NP. A boulder the size of a truck is upended, balanced like an egg on a spoon, right next to the view of Second Pyramid, another impressive mass of granite. Golden wattle,  fig and gum trees dot the landscape, as well as flora unknown to the humble Goatman but equally strange and impressive. We left Girraween after the hike, having business back in the Gold Coast, but never once did I stop looking behind me in case the 7 foot tall kangaroo was following, looking to put me in his pouch.

Hat Head National Park

After a bit of beach laying, we were back on the road. This time, Jubilee and I were acting as couriers, delivering a car to Sydney about 12 hours south of the Gold Coast. Fortunately, we had 4 days to accomplish this so we were able to check out some more National Parks along the way. This meant that I had to learn to driDSCN7378ve on the left side of the road, on the right side of the car, to navigate round-a-bouts, and to remember that the levers for the turn signal and windshield wipers were switched. I never got the hang of that last one, but the rest fell into place rather quickly.  First stop was Hat Head NP on New South Wales’ Central Coast for some ocean side camping. The Smoky Cape Lighthouse stands on a ridge above the Pacific, small islands in the distance. Our campsite was 100 meters from a secluded beach where the sunset led into a view of the Milky Way visible to the naked eye. Some freaky cute possums attempted to raid our camp as we cooked dinner, but we were car camping, huzzah! Have fun opening locked doors with your tiny brains and hands, critters!

Oh, the sunrise at Hat Head. Up before 6 AM for a tinkle and the sky is on fire. I could have sat there forever, but the sunrise, like all things, must pass and we had some miles to cover to get to Sydney in time for our flight back up the coast.

The Blue Mountains and Sydney’s Royal Botanical Gardens

DSCN7502The road trip continued south, into the Blue Mountains for a night before heading back into the crushing embrace of the city. Short on time (a common theme while traveling cross-country with a deadline), we decided on Mount York, a short drive along a ~3000 foot ridge overlooking the Blue Mountains and the picturesque valleys below that also boasted free campsites. It was a cold night. We had left the sea-level, coastal breeze of Queensland for the windy winter winds of the southern mountains. And, as these things happened, it began to rain. Unfortunately, we were working with borrowed gear, gear that was also used to the northern sunshine. After a night of tossing and turning for the sake of warmth, we were up at dawn and into a nearby Blue Mountain town for coffee and Eggs Norwegian. Really roughing it, I know.

The time had come to retreat into the city. And what a city! Sydney has around 4 million people and is one of the most beautiful cities I have had the opportunity to visit. The Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, King’s Wharf, the New South Wales State Library: we ran around and saw it all (not to mentioDSCN7536n gorging ourselves on delicious food at every corner). What blew my brain out of my eyes, however, was the Royal Botanical Gardens. Located on the bay and spread out over 74 acres, the Royal Botanical Gardens are free and open to the public daily. Built in 1816, they are the oldest scientific institution in all of Australia. But forget all that: the trees are huge, numerous, rare, and other worldly at times. Species from all over Australia live here, not to mention species from all over the world. Statues, engravings, beautiful paths, and a view that takes in the best of Sydney rounds out the experience. Jubilee and I spent almost 5 hours just walking around this space and I’m not certain we saw everything as hard as we tried.

Wollumbin National Park

DSCN7827We flew back to the Gold Coast from Sydney and the wedding fever was in full motion. I feared this might spell doom for my running around of the countryside, but I was wrong! Quite wrong, actually. A few days later, we woke at 3:30 AM, drove an hour into the Tweed Valley, and by 5 AM were on the moonlit trail to the summit of Mt. Warning in Wollumbin NP. Mt. Warning was named as such by Captain James Cook and, standing high above the most eastern point of the Australian coast, receives the first rays of the sun’s light in the country on its summit. We climbed by the light of headlamps, the jungle’s canopy blotting out the moon, drop bears creaking in the trees above, until dawn’s light began to creep from behind the surrounding hills. By the time we reached the last few hundred feet of the climb (and I do mean climb at this point. The final section of trDSCN7834ail required both hands and feet to scramble up the rocky face of the mountain), the sun was on its way to showing its face. We reached the summit just in time to see it in its full glory. On a trip full of mind-bending beauty, the summit view from Mt. Warning will stick in my mind for a long time to come. Below, the valley ran with rivers of mist as the air warmed and in the distance, the ocean shined.

This was to be my last back country adventure in Australia. I could not have asked for a better closer to an amazing trip. Thanks to all of my friends that made it possible in the first place.



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Reconnecting Children with Nature

In today’s technologically driven world, children are spending more and more of their time in front of screens and less time in nature. Children’s pastimes are spent more with video games, TV, laptops, iPads, iPhones, etc. This means less time kicking the ball, running around, climbing trees, and less time spent in what many consider a quintessential childhood experience.

“We’ve gradually allowed exploratory experiences outdoors to be traded for indoor, largely sedentary experiences that depend on learning tools imagined and manufactured by humans.” Evan McGown, author of Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature.

The term Nature Deficit Disorder, coined by Richard Louv (author of The Last Child in the Woods), describes the physical and mental consequences of a lack of exposure to nature, particularly in developing children. These consequences include obesity, anxiety, depression, ADD, and ADHD, among other mental and physical disorders. Exposure to and the understanding of nature is vital to a child’s developing mind. Nature is a source of primary learning, and there are many skills and character building attributes that one acquires through exposure to the outdoors.

Children learn both self-reliance and teamwork, stillness and a sense of adventure, self-awareness and compassion from unstructured play in nature. It bolsters their imagination, confidence, resourcefulness, sense of scale, mental and physical strength, and respect for the world around them.

These are not skills that children typically learn hunched over on a couch, staring into a screen. Yet it is these attributes that create well-rounded, happy people.

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that, “Play, especially free play, is essential to development, as it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being of children and youth.” Yet free play hardly exists in a child’s day to day life. Nature is the best place to allow a child to play freely, and unstructured in a way that inspires their imagination and growth.

But what if you’re unmotivated, scared or just unaware of being outside? This is the reality for many children nowadays. Going outside can be foreign, uncomfortable, and scary. It’s not air conditioned and there are too many bugs. They need strong role models to push them to turn off the screen and go outside. It is best to expose children to the great outdoors early and often. But if it’s too late for you to do this, then consider other options. First, be excited yourself. Plan family trips. Go for walks. It doesn’t have to be a grandiose backpacking expedition; any outside time is valuable. Let your kids bring their friends, so that they can run off with them and have fun.

Encourage them to explore and to have unstructured play. Try to relax and let them explore and be rambunctious.

Consider changing your blogphoto2routines. Could you do what you’re already doing outside? Homework, dinner, reading, relaxation: all of these things can be done comfortably outside in decent weather. Start small. Incorporating nature into your daily life requires a fundamental switch in how you prioritize your time.

“You should sit outside for 20 minutes a day… unless you’re busy, then you should sit for an hour.” – Zen Proverb

Many children, and their parents, teachers, family members and other adult figures, no longer know how to delegate and spend time in nature. It is essential to prioritize time outside every day. It’s as if it is wired in our brains that we do not have time for nature in our routines. In reality, you probably have more time than you think. If you have time to watch Netflix for an hour, then you have time to go for a walk through the local woods. You don’t have to sign your child up for a wilderness summer camp or Scouts if you’re not ready for these commitments. There are plenty of local, more convenient options.

 There is no shortage of activities to do and places to go outside. There are many programs, activities, places and things to do with your children outside in Cincinnati, as well as within a several hour radius of the area. Southwest Ohio is rich in parks and green spaces, as well as miles upon miles of rivers and lakes to explore. Go somewhere new, find places you love to return to over and over again.

Places to Go:

The Cincinnati Nature Center in Milford is a great place to start. 1,025 acres of Eastern deciduous forests with fields, streams and ponds in Rowe woods is an excellent place to hike and spend the day with family. They also have events, a playscape, and a Nature Preschool. The CNC Nature Preschool is for children ages 3-5 years old, where “direct experience in nature is the foundation for our curriculum that is based on Early Learning Content Standards and developmentally appropriate practices.” For more information and rates, visit

There are many great parks around Cincinnati as well, and to find an unexplored park near you, visit

The Little Miami River is a great, calm river to explore with children. There are many liveries in the area which rent out canoes and kayaks as well as providing shuttle services. Check out Mariemont Livery, Loveland Canoe and Kayak, Scenic River Canoe, Morgan’s Canoe or many others for information and rates.

For longer trips, check out Hocking Hills State Park in Logan, Ohio, Red River Gorge in Kentucky, Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee/North Carolina, sections of the Appalachian Trail, and countless other options just a short drive away. If you ever need help with trip dreaming and planning, visit the shop and any of us would be more than willing to help you out.

Book Recommendations: 

For more information on local trails, check out the book 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Cincinnati, by Tamara York, which we always have in stock in the shop.

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv is the inspiration for this blog and is a great book for understanding the fundamentals and importance of nature to a child’s development.

Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature by Jon Young, Ellen Haas and Evan McGown is an excellent resource which features specific nature activities and games to inspire connection with nature through free play and sense-oriented activities. Richard Louv said, “this is good medicine for nature-deficit disorder. Coyote’s Guide should become an essential resource for anyone who wants to revive their sense of kinship with nature but needs some help.”

The Best Tent Camping in Ohio by Robert Loewndick and The Best Tent Camping in Kentucky by Johhny Molloy have many good examples of good tent camping for the whole family.

Resource Guides:

There are several comprehensive outdoor guides for the Cincinnati Area. Check out Green Umbrella, a National Sustainability Alliance that seeks to organize events in one comprehensive place.   They promote many outdoor events that are fun for the whole family. For more information, visit

Meet Me Outdoors is a place to find year-round outdoor recreation and nature activities in the tri-state area. They publish an annual magazine which features local activities including places to hike, fish, swim, paddle and backpack. We also always have this in stock (it’s free) at the shop!

Ohio Leave No Child Inside,, is a movement dedicated to getting children outdoors every day.

For a list of local day camps for children, visit for a list of summer camp opportunities created this year by Sherry Hang.

Resource Link List:

These resources are just the start. They are meant more to inspire and help start you upon a connection with nature and outdoor play. There are many more opportunities left unlisted, places to explore and things to do out there. It’s time to turn off the screens, step outside and explore!

“We don’t intend to simply provide more ‘recipes’ for nature connection – instead we want to help you learn how to cook.” – Evan McGown, from Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature.


Eli “Shinbone” Staggs as a youngin’ with his father.

Hiking in the Heat: 10 Tips for the Summer

Seasonal Safety Series #1

by Craig “Goatman” Buckley

                 The heat is coming! Or it’s already here for some (I don’t pretend to know the weather across time and space). Either way, as summer sets in with its long, hot and sometimes brutally humid days, getting out for a hike can become an obstacle for some…but not for the Goatman! All seasons come with their challenges and all challenges can be met with knowledge, preparation, and some good old-fashioned human willpower. We’ll go ahead and take care of the knowledge part here with ten tips for keeping safe in the heat. The rest is up to you. So read up and get out there!

  1. Hydrate

Nothing fancy about this one. Drink water. Drink extra water the day before you are going out. Drink water on the way to the trail. Drink water as you hike, when you eat, and before settling in for the night. On a hot day, you will sweat between 1/2 and 1 quart of water while moving. You also lose water breathing out when you sleep at night. With proper hydration, there’s no reason to feel thirsty. Keep in mind that water sources can be unreliable in the summer. Make sure to check with the rangers to see how the water is flowing and where.

  1. Refuel

So you’re drinking a lot of water, enough to replace what you’ve sweated out. summersunSweat, however, isn’t just water. Lick your arm. Does that taste like water? Nope. Tastes like sweat. Sweat is water, yes, but it is also salt, salt that needs to be replaced. Don’t believe me? Look up the term “hyponatremia”. Never thought you could drink too much water? Take time for proper nutrition and you won’t. Companies advertise electrolytes in their sports drinks. This is what they are talking about. The best way to replace these is to eat salty foods: trail mix, peanuts, pretzels, etc. You can also drink sports drinks, but if you do so, make sure that you aren’t only drinking sports drinks. Replace your salt and while you’re doing that, replace some of those calories that you’re burning out in the sun.

  1. Dress for the Heat

You may have heard about the 3 L’s of summertime clothing: lightweight, loose fitting, and light-colored. This is great advice, for obvious reasons. Depending on your destination, you should also remember to wear clothes that are wicking and quick dry. There’s nothing worse than sweating out your cotton undies and having your shirt stick and rub on you as you hike. Quick dry and wicking can prevent chaffing. That being said, if you are going to a dry and hot environment such as the Grand Canyon, the moisture that cotton retains won’t be sticking around for very long and can help cool you off as it evaporates in the dry climate. Keep in mind that light-colored clothing reflects the sun’s heat and loose fitting clothing will help with breathability and is less restrictive. I will go ahead and add sunscreen as a clothing item. Treat it as such and you’ll save yourself a nasty burn.

  1. Wet Your Clothing

But my clothes are all sweaty! Why would I wet them further? I don’t know about you, but my sweat on a hot summer day isn’t coming out as cool as a mountain stream.summerfalls The easiest way to benefit from this advice is to simply dip your Buff or bandana in a cool stream and wear it around your neck (the site of some major blood flow between your heart and brain. All of it, to be exact). This will cool you off for a bit. If you want a bigger dose, get on the quick dry clothing and jump right in (leave your socks and shoes off, naturally). Your cool, wet clothes will dissipate the heat you’re building up while hiking and the sun working with your own body heat will have you nice and dry by the time you reach camp.


  1. Go Swimming

You don’t have to tell me twice on this one. If it’s hot and there’s a pool big enough to dip my hooves in, I’m all over it. A nice, cool dip in the heat of the day can definitely put some bounce back in your gallop. I like to combine a few of these tips at the swimming hole: hydrating, eating a snack, swimming, and wetting my clothes all at the same time. That leads me to my next tip.

  1. Slow down

For some of you, this doesn’t seem like a tip at all. This one goes out to my laser-blazing GoBos, my long-distance hiking buddies who are out there to make miles, smiles or not. I’m not just suggesting this one because the Goatman likes to take it nice and easy (which is no secret). This is important. When the heat is blasting, slowing down your pace can be the difference between spending time on the trail and time in the hospital. Taking rest stops in the shade by water isn’t a decadent luxury in this case. If you are hiking through the heat of the day, you need these stops so that you don’t overheat. Hot days aren’t the time to push those big miles.

  1. Get Up Early, Finish Up Late

If you do plan on covering some ground, adjust accordingly. As much as we all adore the sun, in this case we are looking to avoid its beautiful face and the sun gets up pretty early in the summer and stays out a bit late. To beat the heat, avoid exerting yourself in the middle of the day. The danger zone is going to be between 12 pm and 2 pm. On really hot days or in desert climates, this extends to 10 am and 4 pm. So get up early and get hiking, but when you stop for lunch, do it somewhere with some shade and water and take a few hours off to catch up on some lounging time. Finish those last miles in the evening when the sun starts to dip back down. Remember your headlamp in case your hike takes you into the dark hours.

  1. Camp in the Shade

summerdesertThis one is pretty self-explanatory. Staying out of the direct sunlight is a good idea anytime of the day, even while on the move. I only mention this in relation to camping to remind you to plan out your site in relation not only to where the shade is when you stop, but where it will be in the morning. Try camping low, by water (but not too close in case of flash flooding), and in a good patch of shade that doesn’t move about all willy-nilly. This means not camping above tree line, or on ridges, or by overlooks. Boohoo. You shouldn’t be camping there anyway, but that’s a different article. Stay in the shade!

  1. Beat Bugs and Watch Your Step

Summer is the most active time for creepy crawlers and buzzing menaces. Make sure to pack out some bug spray, a bug net, and possibly light-weight long sleeves and long pants, if not to hike in, at least to sit around camp in. While you’re hiking, watch your step. This is a good idea in general, but this time of the year you need to watch for snakes out sun-bathing the morning away. They are sluggish when they’re in this state and might not get out of your way, so get out of theirs’ instead.

  1. Keep an Eye Out for Your Buddy

It’s never a good idea to hike alone. This goes double in times of extreme heat. Heat exhaustion is hard to diagnose on your own, seeing that the symptoms include becoming disoriented. Other signs include a pale face, clammy skin, nausea, headaches and cramps. If you see these signs in your buddy (or yourself) take a rest in the shade, put a cool cloth to the head, drink some water, and eat a little bit. If symptoms get worse, time to get off the trail and to some medical care. It takes a team to stay safe and have fun, so don’t forget that friend of yours!

ENO DoubleNest and Atlas Straps Review

Eno Hammock Review


There is a very small market for very large individuals who love the outdoors. You’re going to be hard pressed to find anything technical in clothing if you’ re a big guy, and let’s all just agree that hip belts are not designed for the wide-inclined. All is not lost though! We have a product that does two of the most awesome things a backpacker can hope for at the same time: decrease pack weight and increase comfort. Ladies and gentlemen, I offer you the ENO DoubleNest and Atlas Straps.



as seen in Meet Me Outdoors: The Outdoor Guide to the Tri-State; Fifth Edition

April 25th,  2014
Written by: Eric Hagen

Small nuances like the sound of running water from a stream a quarter-mile east of where I stand now. The songs of birds nestled in among the swaying branches of an old Carolina pine under which I had slept. I had made a nest of my own from their discarded needles the night before, and the smell of their sap still lingers on my now three-day unwashed skin.

I have heated some water in a small backpack stove, mixing in small amounts of pine needles from my temporary shelter and loose chai tea from a small ziploc bag I keep in my hip pocket. The feel of silky warm water does wonders to chase the cold of the night away. I had not built a fire last night, pine sap is notorious for quick combustion and the last thing I needed to do was repay the forest by burning it down.

I pulled my socks out from within my thermal pants where I had placed them the night prior in an attempt to dry them. The moisture doesn’t really dissipate as much as diffuse, but it is always better to have drier feet than thighs. My legs were sore, according to my map and measurement I had covered just shy of 14 miles yesterday before the sun began to dip below the horizon and I was forced to make camp. Smears and flecks of mud dotted my stained shirt everywhere except for where the straps of my pack had ridden across the shoulders and along my waist.

Time loses meaning in the woods. When the day is determined by the amount of sunlight left, ideas such as “two o’clock” are arbitrary. Do the trees care how many years they have been growing?

These are the things I think about as I sip my morning brew, contemplating the day as I will, planning distances, charting, feeling important.

My face itches from having not shaved, I swear the beard grows faster in the wild. Having left behind all of my comforts to come here now: razor, cell phone, indoor plumbing.

I see a doe grazing a few yards off with her two fawns. She is keenly aware of my position under the pine as no doubt the smell of my tea has betrayed my position. Were the time different I would have found this awe inspiring to be so close to Nature. Now, however, I feel simply at home; as if that doe has always been there and I have always been here, our neighborly bond no more than a quick hello while grabbing the newspaper. Wild Kingdom Suburbia.

I inhale the aroma of pine and chai, having thoroughly shaken the cold off with the help of the newly risen sun. I wonder how life could honestly be considered lived without knowing this type of freedom. No textbooks, no papers to grade, no conferences to attend or professional developmentto make me a better teacher. I find peace in the simplicity of knowing that social trappings are finite.

I spread my weathered map of the area out across the dew-ridden grass and mark where I am in regards to where I hope to be by nightfall. As my food supplies shrink I am able to move faster, so judging by the terrain, I should be able to cover 8 to 10 miles before breaking for lunch, there is a small river tributary I will need to cross there, a good place to cool down and refill my water bottles.

The logic behind packing food for a long duration is to keep your rations low, dry, and compact. Eat your heavier foods first thing in the morning, this will give your stomach more to work with through the day, and it will reduce weight on your shoulders early in the day, meaning you go further with a lighter load. Foods such as almonds, nuts, items with high fat content digest slower and leave the hiker feeling fuller for longer. Water is the main culprit of excessive weight, but it is also the universal agent in survival. Always plan water stops.

I eat a handful of raw almonds and pemmican while swallowing my remaining tea. As I clean the pot, I notice how blackened it has become over the years of use. Countless oatmeal packets, freeze-dried meals, bannock bread, all of which has left my little titanium vessel yellowed and blued. It never fails, every time I step out of society for a time, it is as if it is for the first time.

I run a quick check: Two water bottles, one filter, sleeping pad, rain jacket, etc. I place the frayed National Geographic topography map into the top hatch, zip it shut and hoist it all once again onto my back. My shoulders scream in dull ache as I pull the slack out from the waist belt, each day a little more, and I head west.

From the Beginning

At The Core
Written by: Bryan Wolf

While business sense is the only thing that can keep the doors open, there is another reason that the doors were ever opened at all.  Getting those thoughts on paper ended up being extremely difficult.  I wanted to write about myself which is hard enough, but I also wanted to make it a piece that describes RRT. I wanted to share how our fates were intertwined this whole time. What I came up with is this:

In 2000, I had little interest in going outside, and less in extreme adventures. I don’t believe I had a grasp even on what it meant to go out in nature. It took just one instance; however, before I would blossom quickly into an adventure junkie. Looking back I think it was that limited exposure and poor understanding that made me thirst for more.  A direct exposure to something so beautiful, like tasting something so sweet for the first time, and forever craving it thereafter.  It goes to show that if you can just open someones eyes, they may be inspired to take it to all new levels.

A post high school graduation road trip would of never happened without trying to live up to my brother Rick’s wild side, in fact that mentality still gets me in trouble. My brother was in college at the time, and he was good at it.  I don’t just mean the grades,  I mean the experience. I realized I had never experienced anything quite the same way he does; to the fullest. I don’t remember hesitating when he black canyoninvited me to cross the country with him, because at that crossroads, there was no real choice. With Rick and three perfect strangers we crossed the entire American landscape on our way to San Francisco.

Do you remember the first time that you took a deep breathe of fresh air and felt adventure filling your lungs? The people I was with, and those we would meet, allowed me to open up and pierce the shell I was hiding in all those years.  What I found when I came out of that shell was the most nurturing and addictive substance ever to be consumed by man, it was naturecrack (leezie 2011). It wasn’t the sights, the sights can be captured on high-definition television. You can try and witness all the beautiful sights of endless blue skies, deep red canyons, or towering white peaks though a TV. These are not just sights however, they are more a sense or emotion, and therefore can never be expressed or experienced on 72 inch plasma. Sharing the experience; that is the only way to understand or help anyone else understand what it feels like. The power of nature lies in every sense of your being.

I wanted to see the country’s wonders, I wanted my feet dangling from its deepest canyons, so I traveled on with old friends and with new. Each year I crossed parks, states, cities, and landmarks off my list.  It was early 2006 when I first realized for all the experience and check marks I still needed more.  It was my friend Joe that opened my eyes this time. Joe’s introduction to our wonderful world was much different than mine.  Through the scouts, Joe was brought up to always look for the longest lasting trip, the biggest craziest trip! I had been across the country with Joe already, so what was this big crazy trip?

Yellowstone FallsShooting pool and making life lists was a regular occurrence for the two of us, and it was one of those fateful nights that a new idea was born. What if instead of a dozen places in a dozen days we had but just one goal in mind……for six months.  The plan was to be completely consumed in nature and to completely consume it, to have an experience that was not in passing but challenged our commitment and understanding of everything. A feeling came over me much like it did years earlier: I don’t remember hesitating when he invited me to hike the Appalachian Trail with him because once again, I don’t feel life gives us the luxury of hesitation. Hesitation can be associated with disappointment, at least with all decisions regarding stoplights and the Appalachian Trail.

Nature would be defined differently from that moment on and yet undefinable.  Adventure would hold new meaning but with it be as contradicting as the previous statement. Adventure is of course synonymous with high adrenaline activities, but this time I found it to equally stand for the peace and tranquility found in truly knowing the wilderness. Stillness and silence was an adventure like no other.  The store (RRT) was born on one of our very first days on Appalachian Trail in late 2006.  It started with a dream and a passion, the way all good things come to be. In the midst of one adventure we were constantly planning the next.  We thought about having our own place to call home, a hub for adventurous spirits with the goods and advice to create those adventures.  We couldn’t turn and open up shop then, but that idea would never fade.

2178This experience we wanted shared on every platform that we could reach. We created a web site (the same one that hosts the store page now) and with it a blog and link to our photo journals while on the AT.  Beyond sharing with family and friends we wanted to reach a wider audience so we sought out media and were published in the Cincinnati Enquirer. Still, we wanted this trip to be big, and we wanted this thirst for adventure to spread so we decided to hike for a cause. On our 2,175 mile winter-journey we would raise $10,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southwest Ohio. What I saw was an opportunity; this was our opportunity to turn what we were doing into something bigger than ourselves. As each of us make our way in life we fight to be and to do the best we can.  When we find our moment(s) however, we need to ask ourselves if we are making the very best of the situation? Don’t be satisfied with “good for one” if you can use that moment and turn it into something that is “great for all”.  This is a lesson that I hope to carry with me for life.

I would spend 170 days out on the Appalachian Trail, my first backpacking trip ever.  This trip showed me a million things about myself, but even more of the generosity and compassion that is in this world.  The trail is much like a fairy tale, many of stories seemingly impossible or at least unlikely this day in age.  It was all real, and like I promised myself, to the fullest.  While I expected answers to very specific questions, I received almost the exact opposite; I would learn answers to questions I hadn’t even thought to ask.  You don’t always need to solve a problem, you just need a better perspective on the situation.

That entire experience was rewarding in a million ways, and as addiction goes, I wanted more. Our next trip we tried a new charity “Hike for Haiti” as I attempted a barefoot hike through Vermont’s Green Mountains. Barefoot through nature teaches humility as well, as that trip ended prematurely. When we came home my feet had no time to soften from the sharp rocky trails before more sour news came; our adventure hub had closed its doors. Nature Outfitters, a base of not just gear but support that had been a Milford staple for 20 years, was gone!  There was only one logical thing to do at this point, open our own shop.  It was a phone call after one of my evening classes at UC from my cousin Emily that set things in motion.  Confidently Emily and Joe asked if I was in for another adventure, and being that we are all very optimistically stubborn the next chapter soon began.  In a haste of 20-hour workdays Joe, Emily, and myself , opened the doors of RRT, not 2 months after deciding to do so.  That dream we had on the AT several years back was going to be real!

Not a moment passes that we don’t feel blessed to be in the environment we are and doing what-it-is we’re doing here at RRT.  There are too few people in life that truly get to do what they are passionate about. It was late 2010 when we opened our doors, but I couldn’t help but to feel like there was 10 years leading-up to this day. My personal growth and never ending love for the outdoors needed a home base.  With like minded friends we had the opportunity to create just that. The original idea for RRT was actually a story telling, trip planning cafe, but Roads Rivers and Trails would become much more.

CEFEveryday I look for new adventures but also new ways to share them.  RRT was never created to be a retail giant, nor was it purchased as a retirement hobby: It was created from scratch and is an adventure unto itself.  For me, adventure exists year-in and year-out through Alaska back country trips and AT visits, but adventure is also in creating running groups, educating today’s youth, organizing presentations, and preparing people young-and-old for adventures of a lifetime. One of the very first lessons I learned, and the backbone of RRT, is that it’s about sharing the experience. Through this adventure I’ve been part of more adventures than one could dream, and although I’ve had my own summits and trails completions I can honestly say my greatest satisfaction is having been there when new friends have experienced their own.  Twice now I have reached the summit of Katahdin (plus two times on my own) and shared in the pure explosion of emotions from thru-hikers, acting as more of a spectator as they finish their crowning achievement. Teaching and then leading inner city kids from classroom to trail, I have seen strangers from different schools cooperate and explore together, often for the first time.  With each day the definition of adventure changes and grows to be more than I ever expected.

Camping and Education FoundationRRT is a tool that we created: A tool that fuels adventure and drives passion. That is our business at it’s core; Our business is us. As the little guy in the market we don’t have command of supply chains, nor do we have extensive capital or corporate support, but what we found is that we don’t need those things to succeed.   In life and in business it seems it is never about the advantages that you have but the disadvantages that you overcome.  These lessons are often taught in nature, where self discovery and personal awareness last a lifetime. I challenge you all to escape to nature, even if right now you find yourself sitting at a desk.  Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and remember the first time that you let that adventurous spirit in. Let it fill your lungs once again.

Dream big, and share often.



Written by: Eric Hagen

We’re all guilty of it. Part of the comfort of the civilized world is our adherence to routines. I wake up when the alarm goes off, hit snooze, lay there waiting for the alarm again, hit snooze again, spend a few minutes thinking about what I need to do that day, finally getting out of bed before it goes off a third time. I’d hate to be accused of being lazy, after all. Shave, shower, dress, breakfast, wake the kids up for school, brush my teeth, wake them up two more times because they’ve learned my routine.

When I leave for work, it is clockwork. There is the line of drivers twenty minutes late from wherever they’re going, weaving like NASCAR through our two-lane highway. There is the guy falling asleep at the wheel because two hours of sleep sounded like a good idea the night before. The woman yelling at her kids to stop fighting in the back seat, the young twenty-somethings prepping makeup in their mirrors, the texters.

We come home eight to ten hours later, drained and disheveled, waiting for the time we must repeat our cycles. Family dinner, for those who still have it, is spent processing and decompressing. Our brief moments of reprieve inching closer one day at a time as Monday turns to Tuesday and so on. We pay a cost for our civilized lives, but rarely ever do we know how much. Not until we become so spread thin, so openly hostile to our own routines that we begin to find means to escape them.

I will be the first to admit I love central air. I love the fact that I can turn my office into the Arctic Circle in mid-July. Indoor plumbing, hot showers on a whim, cold water filtered from the fridge, my $2,500 memory foam mattress with the cooling gel and the Gore-tex liner. I worked for it, saved up and bought them for no other reason than I love being comfortable. Still, I often trade it all for cold ground and hard nights in places far removed from anything remotely automated or electric. Why?

We are creatures of Nature. No matter how many times we may forget it, our bodies never do. You can feel it in the release of tension when you roll the windows down and take the long way home over rolling hills and green fields and forests. The smell of decaying leaves in Autumn and the warmth of bonfires, the soft prickling of Spruce trees at Christmas. Something inside of us in indelibly drawn toward the natural world. Even the most routine-driven among us feels release in sitting around a backyard fire with friends.

To unplug from the emails, cell phone and comforts of “Civilized” is something we all need, whether we accept it or not. When I am miles away from  my car, somewhere distant in the tree-line where no sound of traffic can reach, there is peace. When all the bars have vanished from my kids’ I-products, and it wouldn’t matter anyway because they are so transfixed on the swaying canopy or the random critter on the path ahead, there is peace. Nature gives us back our wonder, it makes us young again. The loss of comfort gives us back our understanding that our responsibility to ourselves precedes our responsibilities to the world. It makes us whole again.

We owe it to ourselves to unplug so that we can really connect.