Roads Rivers and Trails

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Tag Archives: Smoky Mountains

Southbound: episode 20

  February 17th 2007
Written by: Bryan Wolf and Joe White

This journal entry is going to be a little different than usual. I am short on computer time, and this will be our last entry until we make it back to Cincinnati in a week. We will post another from Cincinnati to sum up the trip from here to Springer. We also hope that you will follow post-hike entries that will follow the Make-A-Wish events.

Since leaving Erwin, we have had a lot of different weather, good and bad. However, the most consistent part of it all is that we have so many spectacular views. The Smokey Mountains were amazing. We hit Clingman’s Dome just after sunset, still a beautiful sight. Clingman’s Dome is the highest point on the A.T. at 6,643 feet! It’s the second highest peak of the East. We stayed with 3 North-bounders while in the park, great group of guys. They even led us in prayer before setting out in the morning. I have faith in these guys. The trail presented challenges as usual, cold nights and iceberg-covered trails. The Smokys were one of the big milestones for us and we’re glad to have them at our backs.

After leaving the Smokys we dropped down onto Fontana Dam. The visitor center was closed, but we still roamed the Dam grounds waiting for our shuttle to town. We stayed at the Hiker Inn, the nice people there took us to town to resupply and get dinner. We went to town with a northbounder, Tom. He’s a great guy and it was fun to get to know him and help him with any uncertainties. We are on the other end of things now.

We have stuck to a pretty hard schedule, eager to get home, we have averaged about 20 miles a day recently. It all feels good though, we set our final day at the 23rd, and even more specifically, reaching the end by noon! Our minds race with all the people we’ll see at home and the life that awaits. We are in Franklin NC now, our last town! We got lucky at the road; a police officer gave us a ride to town after just a few minutes. In town we caught another break meeting “Just Jim”, a veteran thru-hiker. The Inn was all filled up, but he offered to share his room. The trail continues to share its magic and we continue to count our blessings. At this point we have 6 days and 6 nights left to go, it’s hard to imagine. Also, a congratulations to our friend “Early Bird”, who finished his thru-hike just a few days ago.

This exert was originally published on It’s content has not been edited from the original post.

by: Bryan Wolf

It is amazing that the trail goes from “endless” to “over too quick” and you don’t even see the transition coming.  I really feel that we were fighting everyday to get through and make this trail happen, to experience the whole thing, and to complete all 2,175 miles. Then, all of a sudden a few big days and the miles start dropping. 500 turns to 200 and 200 to 100. From Franklin we have less than 110 miles remaining at this point!  I can tell you the next 6 days went even faster.  The final two weeks I guess is when it really seemed to be ending. The final states, miles, weeks, and towns just passed us by. I can say that no other two weeks went by even half as fast. If we compare it all to the first two weeks it would seem like another lifetime all together.

 We are also at the point where there is a transition of confidence and power from being the veterans on the trail. We are starting to pass Northbounders and now we are the ones that can help guide them and answer questions. It was weird to switch positions, but nice to feel like you could help someone on their hike.

The miles all seem pretty easy at this point. I wouldn’t typically say the Smoky Mountains are easy but when you are hiking strong for over 5 months you get conditioned to it. The Park has some of the more strenuous hiking on the trail, at least in the southern section. Being close to Cincinnati it warrants semi-frequent visits.

Rab Strata Hoodie

Alpha test alpha
Written by: Bryan Wolf

If you have been to Roads Rivers and Trails then you know that we are big fans of Rab technical wear. To date there has not been a piece of gear that left us disappointed or that failed to out-perform our expectations.  While this gear test is on the Rab Strata Hoodie, the real test is on the new technology that is Polartec Alpha.

If you visit the Polartec web site as it is linked above you’ll find scientific proof along with reviews, backing, and support of our military forces that this technology works. This all has great substance and while hand selecting the gear that we use and sell in our store we find that the better gear has that substance. I want to know ratings for breath-ability and warmth, that is how you compare things. How do I know one piece of gear is better than another if not for the credibility of testing and user performance reviews.

That being said I am more skeptical than most when it comes to reading reviews on a website that is self promoting. We have personally found that certain pieces, while maintaining their claims, fail to be the most practical piece for our applications. For example, a high alpine piece created for ski may not be the best for an Eastern United States Appalachian hiker. With this exact issue in mind I wanted to get a little use of the Strata and the new Polartec Alpha technology before bringing it in to the store.

Off to my favorite gear testing stomping grounds; the Appalachian Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The plan as it is now is for a few nights atop Mt. LeConte via the Boulevard Trail. Recent nights have been as low as -9 degrees with about 10 inches of snow on trail. The weekend forecast will most likely add to the snow and it doesn’t look to get warmer than highs of mid twenties. I plan on having proper layers on and will wear the jacket both in motion and while still. I’m a pretty fast hiker so I hope to mostly test the breath-ability of this piece. Since I previously have reviewed a competing technology with a Primaloft jacket (Generator) I feel I’ll be well suited to compare the leading brands and discuss the differences.

I can’t wait, I’ve been needing some mountain time!!  Review coming soon:

Rab GeneratorThe Mountain didn’t disappoint. Upon arriving at the Sugarlands visitor center we were immediately detoured in our plans. The roads were closed at 441  so there was no hope for the Alum or Boulevard Trails, furthermore it meant that we had to make alternative plans for that night. We grabbed a tent site at Cades Cove Campground and enjoyed the solitude of being absolutely the only people staying at the typically bustling site.  The next morning we checked again for changes in road conditions and things had only gotten worse. Cherokee Orchard was now closed half way to the Bull Head Trail. The rangers questioned if packing up the mountain was something we wanted to do with the nights forecast, we of course assured them that we would be just fine.Strata Hoodie

We had to hike up 1.5 miles of road before hitting the 7.1 mile trail to the shelter. Road walking was too easy of course and my pace up the mountain wasted no time in building up some heat. I started with the Strata jacket and some wool base layers. When we got to the trail head it was time to remove a layer and the jacket got packed away. I didn’t ever expect the jacket to last during a 3+ mile pace uphill.  Temperatures were under 20 degrees all day and as you may know they can change rapidly as you hike higher in elevation, or in and out of different ridgelines.winter trekking

It was around mile 4 (including the road) that we stopped for a short break and lunch. The pack comes down and before anything else the jacket hat and gloves go on to retain what heat I had built up. The break was only 20 minutes, but it was very comfortable. When we started hiking again enough heat had escaped that I wasn’t willing to lose the Strata yet. As the trail steepened and our feet slowed, I realized I was not going to take the jacket off for the rest of the hike. At this point I had on Ibex Woolies 150 base, Patagonia R1 Base and the Strata Hoodie. I can tell you that without a doubt the Generator would have been way too hot after even a half mile in this scenario. If you read my Generator Review, that is not a knock on its performance at all; it is a top layer piece for breaks and at camp. The Strata however had a very noticeable difference, it is built as more of an in action piece. Other then the occasional unzipping of the jacket for a quick vent, I had the perfect layer system for what was soon nearing 0 degree hiking.Mt LeConte view

You could assume that changing my layers, say excluding the Patagonia piece would have made this jacket comfortable for backpacking at temperatures closer to 15-20 without incident.  As a stand alone piece there are plenty of puffy jackets to retain more heat, however this is the first that I have comfortably hiked in. The test of the Polartec Alpha in my opinion passed and stood out for all the reasons that they claim. At the shelter that night we would reach -7 degrees while cooking dinner and melting snow. Overnight we would see -12 as a low. While moving around camp I sure was glad that I had my generator, was layered appropriately and had my shell for protection. There is no way the Strata was up for that test.  My suggestion would be to use the Strata as more as a mid layer in extreme cold of negative temperatures to the teens. From mid twenties and up you could probably use the Strata as a camp puffy.Frozen Rainbow Falls Ice Cone

*There are always other factors to consider when picking appropriate layers for your trips conditions, please feel free to comment or call for advice.

You can expect to find the Rab Strata Hoodie and other “approved” cold weather gear here at Roads Rivers and Trails