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Guns and Hiking

Backpacker magazine discusses guns and hiking.

If you’re a responsible gun owner with proper training and permits, and if carrying a weapon enhances your backcountry experience, and if you respect other hikers who might be uncomfortable around firearms, then by all means, carry them where they are legal.

My thoughts here.

Hiking Solo

A reflection.

Mammut T Advanced Men’s GTX Boots

Perhaps I didn’t look as pitiful as I felt, but when I stumbled, wet and limping, into Base Camp Outfitters in Killington Vermont, pity seemed to be the farthest thing from the proprietor’s mind.  Scorn was closer.

I decided once I reached Killington on my Long Trail through hike to replace my Salmon Synapse Mid boots.  What had once been a promising love affair with these comfy and lightweight boots had turned into a bitter feud leaving my feet blistered and infected, as if they’d spent a wild weekend in Singapore.  The proprietor took one look at my Salmon boots and for a moment I think considered whether or not I was even worthy of his assistance.   I feebly defended myself, citing that they were Backpacker Magazine’s 2012 Editor’s Choice!  I was the only customer there, so he had no one else to tend to,  and he weighed ignoring me and the resulting boredom vs helping me, which he clearly didn’t think I deserved.   Fortunately helping me won out, although I’m guessing just barely.

He led me to Mammut T Advanced Men’s GTX boots.  He proceeded to tell me how they were the best boot in the store for hiking the Long Trail, citing their durability, waterproofness and their relative light weight.    I don’t really believe claims of waterproof shoes, especially on the wet Long Trail.    I tried on the Mammuts.  They did feel good, even on my abused feet.  Grudgingly the shopkeeper allowed me to try other brands.   But whether from his brow beating or the comfortable fit of the boots I went with the Mammuts.  I have not regretted it for a single step.

The Mammut boots (in my size 11.5) weigh 1 pound 10 ounces each, which, although heavier than the Salmon Synapse boots were still relatively light.  And they felt good on my feet when I slipped them on in the store – and still do.  My feet, while feeling more protected in a slightly heavier boot and with more water protection,  didn’t sweat while hiking like they tend to do and did a lot in the Salmon Synapse boots.  In fact, for the rest of the hike my feet did not get wet once…quite a change from my feet being wet all the time up until then.  And this remains true, even after hiking and snowshoeing  in wet snow.  I’ve no doubt my feet could get wet in them in the right conditions, but I’ve yet to find out what those conditions are short of immersing them over the boot tops.  I was a bit apprehensive about just launching off down the trail in a brand new pair of boots in feet already stressed without a break-in period.  But my fears proved groundless out on the, um, ground.  In fact, my first day in them was up and over the summit of Mt. Killington.  No sweat.

Manufacturer’s Description:

Based on the successful T Aenergy GTX® hiking boot, this model features a high proportion of velours leather and a slightly softer design. The very comfortable fit remains the same and is supported by high-quality Hybrid Shell, liquid rubber protection, EVA wedge with integrated Mammut® Rolling Concept® and the patented Base Fit® lacing system. It also features individually cushioning memo foam, the vibram® Scale sole with its scale-like design, rubber protection at the tips and the functional GORE-TEX® Performance Comfort Footwear membrane.

My one complaint — which I’ve seen echoed in at least one other review — is that the balls of my feet hurt a bit in them after hiking for several hours.  I intend to try an insert to see if that helps, but so far it hasn’t bothered me enough to do it.

I intend to keep hiking in my Mammut boots until they wear out.  And when they do, I will buy another pair.  I may even go back to Base Camp Outfitters in Killington to do it, to give the cranky son of a bitch who sold me my first pair his due.

Read some awesome lacing techniques from Philip Werner on his Section Hiker blog.

On Father’s Day

Answering the question about how I came to love the outdoors always leads me to my father.

Dad loved being outside.  And like many men of his time and place he experienced the outdoors though the practical art of hunting and fishing.  I was never much for either but he would often drag me along.  I liked being outdoors but the hunting and fishing seemed boring distractions.  Both involved large amounts of time waiting.  And waiting was not — is not — something I’m good at.

But Dad could wait.  Whether in a tree stand or a boat, in some frosty woods or on a misty lake, Dad would wait for those rare chances to hook or shoot.   He went to the water or woods to kill game but mostly he had to kill time.  My intentions when getting into nature are less murderous but I wonder if he had more opportunity for reflection and solitude during his time waiting in the quiet woods or on the still waters.

With a shotgun my Grandpa gave my Dad when he was nine; I inherited it when I reached that age.  This picture was taken right after Dad started chemo; we went target shooting in the woods for the last time together this day.

With a shotgun my Grandpa gave my Dad when he was nine; I inherited it when I reached that age. This picture was taken right after Dad started chemo; we went target shooting in the woods for the last time together this day.

Looking back, I envy his time there.  I wonder what he thought about.  What resolutions he came to or what problems he worked out.  He would never have spoken about any revelations he had.  Dad was not a vocal man.  But his answers would have played out through his actions.  And, I think, looking back at his life, that his actions always showed a man with selfless love at his core.  I can’t help but to think he stayed grounded to that core owing in part to his time in the woods and on the water, hunting and fishing.  And waiting.

Dad gave me many gifts, including a love for being outside.  I used to focus on the differences between my Dad and me — and the differences are there.  But there is a lot we share and I appreciate those things more as I get older and time and space provides a better perspective.  The differences don’t seem that great now.  Perhaps we sang the same tune, just in different keys.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.  And thank you.

Thought for Friday

From Anthony De Mello’s book, “The Way to Love:

“It will help too if you return to Nature:  Send the crowds away and go up into the mountain and silently commune with trees and flowers and animals and birds, with sea and sky and clouds and stars.  Then you will know your heart has brought you into the vast desert of solitude.  There is no one there by your side, absolutely no one.  At first it will seem unbearable, but that is only because you are unaccustomed to aloneness.  But if you manage to stay there for a while the desert will suddenly blossom into Love.  Your heart will burst into song.  And it will be springtime forever.”

Have Memories for Company on Long Distance Solo Hikes

A friend of mine who is preparing to swim the English Channel recently posted this on his Facebook page:

If you would like to help on my upcoming English Channel swim here is one way you can: you can help keep my mind occupied by sending me a letter with a story you remember about a time we shared or some interaction we had. it can be funny or whatever you want. provide as much detail as you can remember. I will read your letter before I depart. I will also ask my support crew to remind me about your stories as they are giving me instructions during my quick feeding stops.

I think this is a great idea and it reminded me of my own reminiscing during my Long Trail through hike.  Although I didn’t have the benefit of letters, I pulled from my memories during long stretches of trail when loneliness threatened to come calling.   Although I was mostly alone I ended up feeling very connected to absent friends and family.

My friend’s idea takes that technique one further.  One thing I might do is have friends and family email their recollections and stories, which I would save in a special folder and download on my smartphone.  That way I could access them each during the hike (at night, or breaks, as needed) and read them anew and carry those memories with me fresh each day.

The most difficult challenge on a tough hike (or channel swim) happens between your ears.  This is a technique worth adopting.

National Trail Day

Tomorrow, June 1st is National Trail Day.  Here are a few links to help you find a trail event, get the most from your trip and how to respect nature and your fellow outdoor enthusiasts.

Find a Trail Event near you

Wilderness Press has some good trail tips.

And it’s always important to know your Leave No Trace principles.

Overcoming the Challenges of Hiking Alone

There are many benefits to solo hiking but the solitude it provides is both a blessing and a challenge.  Being alone in the woods is rewarding, being lonely there requires emotional stamina.    I found these techniques to be helpful to me before and during my solo 272 mile through hike of The Long Trail in Vermont.  Some of these tips apply to group hikes, of course, but are even more important when striking out on your own.

Practice Hiking Alone

If you’ve never hiked alone, or camped in the woods by yourself, don’t wait until you’re on your first overnight hike to try it for the first time.  Take  solo practice day hikes first.  You’ll learn quickly about what it’s like to be completely alone for a time in nature.  It’s the only way to discover what might or might not freak you out so you can be prepared for it.

Work Up to Overnighting Alone

If camping overnight by yourself intimidates you, try it for the first time in a campground by yourself.  This will help you practice with the knowledge that others are nearby (and undoubtedly they will be making too much noise, so camping in the wilderness will quickly become more enticing).  This will help give you the confidence to venture into wilderness backpack camping by yourself.

Plan for the Low Points

When hiking alone, it’s harder to distract yourself from low points.  No matter how much you love hiking, low points will occur, whether you’re wet, tired, hungry or just lonely.

Strategies for overcoming low points can range from eating a special snack, listening to music on your mp3 player to praying or even talking to yourself.  From my practice solo day hikes, I knew that my spirits tend to sink around 3 to 4 p.m.  I saved a special snack for that time and that’s when I’d pop in my earplugs to listen to some upbeat or kick-ass music on playlists I created for that specific occasion.  Low points are natural.  Discover what triggers them and think about how you can move past them before you set out.

Visualize the Goal

If you’re by yourself at some point you’ll realize that no one is making you do this but you.  Make sure you have a clear-cut goal in mind and keep visualizing it throughout your hike.  AT through-hiker Zach Davis, in his book, Appalachian Trials, writes that creating lists of goals and benefits can help you power past low emotional moments that may lead you to want to quit.  He has templates for these tools on his website.

Stay Focused with a Plan

For me it helped to have a detailed plan for where I wanted to be each day.  I mapped that out before my Long Trail through hike.  That plan helped me keep tangible daily goals, although I had to seriously revise and re-plan within days of starting out.  That’s okay – the act of re-planning against the benchmarks I had set for myself helped keep me grounded and focused.

Talk to Yourself

If you talk to yourself in the wilderness and no one is there to hear, does it make you crazy?  Of course not.  I carried on conversations in my head after hours of being alone – with God, with my deceased father.  I used those conversations to help me get more in touch with the spiritual aspect of being alone in nature.  Thinking conversationally helped me focus my thoughts and mitigated any momentary loneliness.  Just remember to stop doing it aloud when others are present if you don’t want to be locked up when you reach the trail head or you don’t want people to avoid you in the shelters along the way.

Recall Happy Memories with Friends and Family

Think of all the positive things in your life or that have happened to you.  Call up happy memories with family and friends.  I did this on my through hike and even though I was in complete solitude, I felt strongly connected to absent friends and family.  And they kept me excellent company throughout my trek.

Hike Alone and Still Find Community

Christopher Long, assistant professor at Ouachita Baptist University, says the duration of solitude is less a determining factor for realizing its benefits than the mere act of choosing to seek solitude.  You don’t need to be all-alone all the time to get something from a solo hike.   And achieving something like total privacy would be impossible on some of the more popular and scenic trails near population centers.  Don’t be frustrated if during your planned solo hike you encounter and interact with others at times.  You may even want to plan hiking solo during the day but camping with a group at night if you want to get the benefits of being alone without camping totally by yourself.

Shelters – like those found on the Appalachian Trail or the Long Trail — are a source of community on the trail and you can’t help meeting others there.  Spending time in solitude during the day may even make you more receptive to making new friends from a diverse walk of life in camp or in a shelter and give you the best of both worlds – the benefits of solitude while meeting new friends who share your passion for the outdoors.


Don’t keep your hike a secret.  Let someone else know where you’re going and establish a plan to check in periodically.  Make sure the person you check in with has the appropriate numbers for law enforcement should you fail to check in on time.  Many trails have registers at their trail heads and shelters so be sure to sign in when you pass them.  Each register provides a way for search parties (God forbid!) to better pinpoint your location should you become overdue.

You should also of course carry standard First Aid supplies and items that will help you make your whereabouts known, like a mirror to reflect sunlight and a whistle.  Understand what steps to take if you get lost (which sometimes means taking no steps at all, staying put and not getting more lost may make sense).  Check the weather and be sure you have appropriate weather gear for all possible weather contingencies.

Know when to quit too – if conditions in weather or terrain go beyond what you or your equipment can safely handle, stop.  Go home and plan for another day.

Know the Territory

Studying a topo map and reputable trail guide of the trail you will hike is good advice for any hike but is even more important when hiking alone.  When you are on the trail, you won’t have a buddy to double-check your decisions.  It’s best to know the lay of the land before you set foot on the trail to minimize doubt about conditions.  But no matter how well you prepare you will have to make decisions in the field on your own.  If you are alone, you won’t have a sounding board to check your thinking, so minimize as much guess-work as possible beforehand by learning the territory.

At one point on The Long Trail, having encountered a confusing junction, I began to second-guess myself.  I thought the choice I had made was correct, or was I just talking myself into believing it?  But I knew my map and the terrain and guidebook well before I set foot on the trail, which helped me make better objective decisions when faced with directional challenges once there.

Hike Your Own Hike

Ultimately it comes down to experiencing the type of freedom you want to achieve with your hike.  As with any outdoor adventure, a solo hike can offer unique benefits and challenges.  Preparing for it can help you make it rewarding and memorable.

These are some of the tools and techniques I used for my through-hike.

What have I missed?

Western Mountains vs. Eastern Mountains

Westerners are extremely proud of their mountains.  And understandably so – views of and from the Cascades and Olympics are stunning beyond words, as is true of the Rockies.

But if westerners love to look at and climb these mountains, sneering at the mountains of the east seems, for some, to be their second favorite sport.    As if looking down on the Appalachians for their lesser elevations makes western mountains higher, and therefore, better.

A few weeks ago I hiked up to a the ridgeline of a 7,000 footer in the Cascades.  Our starting elevation at the trailhead was around 3,000 feet and the round trip was about 11 miles.  A very respectable hike.   And while the ridgeline elevation was higher than anything you’d encounter back east, The 4,000 feet elevation gain and loss on a day hike is something you can experience in the Appalachians.  And anyone even section hiking parts of the AT can experience twice that in a single day of repeated ups and downs only to rise the next morning and do it all over again.  In other words, just because Eastern mountains are lower doesn’t necessarily mean the hiking challenges there can’t be tough.  As Triple-Crown thru-hiker and author Karen Berger related in a post on Section Hiker:

“A friend of mine who joked that in her Colorado home she’d “have to dig a well to get to 5,000 feet” got her butt royally whupped in (relatively) gentle Virginia”

Although I am new to hiking here in Washington state, I’ve yet to encounter at trail as consistently as gnarly, hardscrabble and slick as The Long Trail in Vermont.  Which isn’t to say such a trail doesn’t exist here – I’m just saying it does exist in the East – and I’d like to see some of those who I have heard sneering at the eastern mountains have a go at the Northern section of The Long Trail for a few days.  

Let me add that when I’m talking about difficulty I’m referring to hiking as opposed to alpine mountaineering.  To me that’s a different, specialized activity that commands respect for the required skills and practitioners.  Saying so shouldn’t denigrate the skills required for non-technical climbs or hiking and my purpose here isn’t to say one sport or mountain range is better or harder than another.  Each has its own challenges, rewards, pleasures and beauties.  And each can be appreciated on its own merits without recourse to mountain chauvinism.