Sunday, April 28, 2013

Fork Mountain Trail

I had a very rainy backpacking trip this weekend on the Fork Mountain Trail (and a few other trails) in the Ellicott Rock Wilderness at the NC-SC border.  Wildflowers were spectacular, the salamanders were out roaming around, and I tried out my new hammock.

Fork Mountain Trail
From the Sloan Bridge Picnic Area, the start of the Fork Mountain Trail is found by walking north along SC107 for a short distance.
Well-marked trail.
Tangled rhododendron and doghobble.
This easily walked trail has several good campsites and connects to lots of other trails.  I enjoyed the solitude, soft gentle footing, and abundant, diverse wildflowers.
Sessile bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) in the lily family.
Explosion of ferns.
  Huge clump of dwarf iris.

Gigantic yellow poplar.
Showy orchis, a type of orchid.
Bad Creek Trail
I also took an out and back detour up the Bad Creek Trail (2.3 miles each way) to Bull Pen Road (not to be confused with the Bad Creek Spur access trail).  This trail was flat and mostly followed an old roadbed.  At the end, I sought refuge out of the cold rain under the narrow covered map and trail sign board.  It was a good opportunity to warm up after my poncho, overmittens, and rainpants all wet through.  I got lunch and dried off a bit.  Simple pleasures. 

All the kinds of rain
It rained the entire trip.  And there were all the kinds of rain, with different intensities.

First, there was light mist.  Which barely gets you wet at all.  I took lots of photos since I didn't have to worry about my camera getting soaked.
Catesby's trillium.
Then there was the steady rain.  This is the rain that smells like my childhood in Oregon.  I could hike forever in this rain.
Fog forms during the steady rain.
Then there were the heavy downpours.  Sloshing feet.  Rainpants sticking to my legs.  Swollen streams.  Squishy mud.  My camera got soaked when I dared to take it out of my pocket, and my photos came out dark and blurry.  There was a ton of tree foam during the heaviest rain-- looking like mounds of bubblebath, forming at the bases of the large trees as water flowed down the trunks.  Most people haven't seen it.  But most people don't hike in heavy downpours.  Seeing treefoam makes me happy because it reminds me of the rewards of hiking in all seasons, under all conditions.
Tons of tree foam at the bases of trees.
Testing the new hammock
I brought along my new hammock, the Darien UL, to test for the first night in the field.  I'd set it up in my backyard, but I hadn't tried it with narrowly spaced trees.  My old hammock, the Warbonnet Blackbird, has adjustable webbing suspension which I can set up effortlessly.  But the tree straps with whoopie hook suspension were new to me.  So I started setting up camp early. 

And good thing I did because let me tell you-- problem solving is a different story in the cold rain, stooping under a tarp, with coolish hands, wet-through rain pants, and soaked feet, after hiking for 8 hours than it is in the backyard testing grounds.  It took me a while to figure how to adjust everything  to get a good lay and get it perfectly centered under my tarp.  But I finally did get it right to my satisfaction.  I fell asleep listening to the sweet sound of rain on the tarp, slept soundly, and woke warm and dry. 
After a good night's sleep, breakfast under the tarp.
Backpacking in the rain is always more challenging, especially with new gear, but the rewards and simple pleasures make it all worthwhile.

Friday, April 26, 2013

2nd Generation DIY Hiking Skirt

My old DIY hiking skirts have been getting heavy use, and this latest design has been in the works for a few months.  I sewed up a prototype with some inexpensive navy ripstop material and tested it on a few trips before making this latest version out of Durastretch camoflague fabric.  I'm thrilled with the result!  The main improvements over my first DIY hiking skirts are the zippered side pocket and more minimal, drawstring waistband. 
Introducing... my 2nd Generation Hiking Skirt in ACU camo.
A skirt as part of my clothing system:
Like any piece of backpacking gear, I use a skirt in conjunction with other items and it's important how it fits in with the rest of my clothing system.  I find skirts more versatile than pants and they make changing fast and efficient.  In colder weather, my long underwear goes under my skirt, and I can layer my rainpants over the skirt, tucking the extra material down into the pant legs.  So I didn't want it too long or too bulky.  But I also wanted a drawstring so I could adjust it when I'm wearing long underwear.  I wear tall DIY gaiters with the skirt in cooler weather or in brush/briars/buggy areas, so the skirt only needed to protect to the top of my knees.

Designed for function:
The design of my skirt was all about how it functions for backpacking.  My priorities were as follows:
    -Lightweight.  The total weight was 4.6 oz, which is lighter than my old 6 oz skirt.
    -Cut to allow freedom of movement.  Plenty of material in front, with a flare at the bottom so it doesn't restrict my legs climbing hills or taking large steps.  It's got less material in the back where I don't need it. 
    -Minimal wasteband so I can't feel it under my pack hipbelt.   No buttons, elastic, or zippers to be lumpy.  Rolled hem top is simple and the drawstring allows easy adjustment.
   -Large pockets on the sides where they don't interfere with movement.  The right quick-draw pocket holds a camera and map within easy reach.  The left zippered pocket holds chapstick and my tiny pocket knife.  A second layer of fabric gives the pockets added stability. 
I like securing a few key items in a zippered pocket for the things I always want on me even when I put down my pack.
I was also looking for material that would be stretchy, abrasion resistant, and wouldn't chafe even when soaked.  While my other DIY skirts have been made out of old clothes, I've been running out of material.  So I splurged and ordered a yard of Durastretch in ACU camo, with DWR finish, for $19 a yard from Rockywood.  Turns out it's not as stretchy as I'd like, but hoping it'll make up for it by being more durable.

I made the pattern myself, and have modified it slightly from the previous design to add more flare to the bottom.
Cutting the fabric for the prototype, using my homemade pattern.
One pocket was a simple slip pocket following this design.  The other pocket has a zipper that I made like this.  The zipper was salvaged off an old pair of zip-off hiking pants. 
Attaching the pockets to the side panels.
Next, I made a button hole in the front center for the drawstring.
I use any excuse I can to use my Magic Key button hole maker attachement for my sewing machine.  It's so much fun!
Showing off my buttonhole maker.  On the prototype skirt, I got carried away and put a buttonhole on the other pocket too.
Then, I used my serger to attach the side panels to the front and back.  My serger has differential feed which prevents puckering on stretchy fabric.
My serger cuts and wraps the edges of the fabric in thread at the same time.  Here I'm making the prototype.
Finally, I did a rolled hem to make a drawstring channel at the top.  I then threaded the drawstring through and add stopper knots to the drawstring.  For the bottom hem, I used this small handkercheif hem- basically making a narrow hem twice. 

Now that I've got the design down, these skirts are really fast to sew up.  I'll be on the lookout for new materials to test out.  Especially if I can find something even lighterweight.
Up on Pinnacle Knob off the Bartram Trail.  Photo by Sandy.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Beginner Backpacking Trip to Warwoman Dell

Seven women, including three hike leaders, met at Warwoman Dell near Clayton, GA for another beginning backpacking trip with the Trail Dames.  After introductions and adjusting packs, we set out on the Bartram Trail for a 2 mile hike to Martin Creek Falls. 
 Spring is one of my favorite times of year for beginner backpacking trips.  The weather is more comfortable for hiking.  Plus, I love to share the splendor of spring flowers, and it's rewarding when women become connected and engaged with the natural world.
No matter how many times I visit this area, each time, I see something new.  There were at least three blooming trees-- silverbell and dogwoods in the slopes, and serviceberry on the top of Pinnacle Knob.  Around Becky Branch Falls, jack-in-the-pulpet, bellwort, sweetshrub, pink wild azalea, vasey's trillium, solomon's seal, and foamflower were all stunning.
When we got to camp, we spent extra time talking about campsite selection.  Several of the women were interested in hammocking, and so we did a tour of different setups.  Even though it's mid-April, temperatures dipped into the 40's overnight, so we talked about various techniques to stay warm.

Tree straps for the hammocks.
We show off our hammock setups.
After getting settled, one of the women and I did an extra afternoon hike up to Pinnacle Knob while the others took naps or relaxed in camp.  She was a big fan of William Bartram, the eighteenth century naturalist and explorer for whom the trail is named.  She shared some wild adventure stories she'd read about him, and I will definitely have to pick up a copy of his Travels for myself.
Fraser magnolia leafing out.
Of the many plants described by Bartram during his extensive travels in the southeast is fraser magnolia.  His journals show that he first saw this plant in 1775 right here near Martin Creek Falls.  We saw this tree just leafing out, the bright green leaves were especially striking.   How cool!
Once again, this was another great trip with the Trail Dames and we all had fun and learned a lot!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The things that were not lost

This week my house was broken into.  Our door was kicked down while we weren't home, and my roommate's electronics (computer, TV etc) were stolen, as was my jewelry box which held my important documents and all my jewelry.
You learn what you truly need when you loose stuff.
It really sucks.  As much as I clean my house, it still feels violated.  I can't get the image of my drawers hanging open and things in disarray out of my mind.  But like all the other sucky things I've experienced, including recently getting my tire slashed, I find in the days that followed that there are several good things.  And I always focus on the positive things, the things that were not lost.  Plus the things I've gained.  Here are six of them:

1.  The very first things I checked to see if they were still safe in my closet were my hammock and sleeping bags.  In that moment, I learned what possessions have the most value to me.

2.  My passport was gone. But I realized that no one can take away the memories I have of seeing wild orchids in Ecuador, visiting Guatemala and Nicaragua with my folks, wading through stromatolite-filled lakes in the Bahamas, collecting aphids for my thesis research at the white horse of Uffington, or any of the other adventures I'm had in foreign lands.

3.  Of all the family jewelry that I lost, I cried the hardest about loosing my great-grandmother's ring.  I treasured the elegant antique design that to me symbolized her grace and beauty.  I always felt incredibly loved by her when I was growing up.  I try to tell myself that the memories of those who gave me these things lie in my heart, not in the things themselves. 

4.  I never understood why I still kept my wedding ring even though we split up in 2005.  Now I don't have to figure out what to do with it, and maybe someone else will enjoy wearing it.  Sometimes, not having some things makes you feel more free.

5.  Ironically, I found out about the robbery when I was coming home from self defense class.  The next evening in class, my punches and yells were more raw with emotion.  But I felt lucky to be in the class doing something that makes me feel more safe and prepared, surrounded by powerful women.

6.  Going to trapeze class never fails to make me feel better.  My trapeze classmates and teachers are like a family.  I am grateful to have them in my life.
Hugs in the air.  Photo by April, taken in class this week.

Self Defense Class

I just finished taking a RAD (Rape Aggression Defense) Self Defense Class that was taught by Michele (AKA Certain) for the Trail Dames of Georgia.  Michele is the head of the Central Virginia Chapter of Trail Dames, and she came down to do a beginner backpacking trip with our chapter and stayed on a few extra days to teach this awesome course.

I solo backpack and hike often, and haven't had a self defense class since college.  While someday I'd like to study martial arts to become more proficient in self defense, this class was great because in three, 3-hour long classes, we learned realistic tactics, and got hands-on experience.  We practiced techniques that took advantage of our inherent strengths, and saw how our bodies are powerful just as they are.  The biggest thing though was the attitude change-- tapping into that fierceness we have inside us already and realizing we can fight back in the event of an assault.
Don't mess with these fierce women!
While not specifically designed for hikers and backpackers, this program included the techniques that would be effective anywhere.  Our conversations ranged from safety on the trail and while driving to trailheads, to the messages in our culture about women and all the things we've been taught about gender roles.  We talked about not be afraid to set boundaries or to make a scene when we are uncomfortable, and to trust our intuition.  It is incredible to take away from this class the powerful image of all of us fierce, strong women punching and kicking and our collective voices rising up together in a powerful yell.

Michele is an incredible, enthusiastic instructor and I highly recommend checking out her website to take her course if you are in the southeast, or visiting the website for the RAD program to find a local self-defense course in your area.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Beginner Backpacking Trip to Stover Creek Shelter

I had so much fun this weekend helping out with a Trail Dames beginning backpacking trip on the AT in Georgia.  We had several first time backpackers and even a women joining the Dames for the first time.  And as happens so quickly when we backpack together, we soon were all laughing and having some great conversations.
We were fortunate to have a few hike leaders including Michele (AKA Certain) from the Central Virginia Chapter of Trail Dames.  The last time we'd seen Michele was on the Trail Dames hike leader training last summer, but it was so much fun to do a trip with her and hear some of her stories of hiking the AT and starting her new business.

After visiting Long Creek Falls, we hiked to Stover Creek Shelter and helped everyone set up camp and get water.
Practicing throwing the rope for the bear bag.
Even though we hung our food on the bear cables, we still taught everyone both the PCT and Certain's method for hanging bear bags.  Everyone caught on quickly and soon there were bags hanging high up in the trees.
In the evening we sat around and told stories.   It wasn't too cold, and I don't think people even missed having a fire.  We had a hilarious, and hopefully informative, discussion of peeing, pooping and periods on the trail.  Always one of my favorite parts of a beginner trips because it helps women feel more comfortable outdoors when they get all the questions answered about this stuff.  I think the guys a the shelter probably overheard more than they wanted to hear.  Hahaha!

We fell asleep to the sound of coyotes howling across the mountains.  In the morning, the hike to Springer Mountain was gorgeous with spring flowers including bloodroot, troutlilies, and yellow violets.  All in all a great trip and I hope to see all these wonderful women out on the trail again soon!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Yellow Branch Falls

I never feel like going back home after being in the mountains.  Spring wildflower season only makes it worse.  Which is why I go on post-hike hikes.  Those short little rambles on the way home delay the inevitable return to civilization.

On the drive back from backpacking this weekend, I stopped at Yellow Branch Falls near Walhalla, SC for a quick 3 mile round trip hike to the falls.
A clear spring day.  The time of year when the buds of trees are only faintly glowing green, so the bright sun light shines unobstructed all the way to the forest floor, reflecting off the white leaves of tiny spring ephemerals.
Delicate rue-anemone.
Dwarf iris.
50-foot Yellow Branch Falls.
Turning around to head back still wasn't easy, but I was happy to have found another little hike on the way home to visit. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Hang along the Chattooga River

I went on backpacking with group from Hammock Forums to the Chattooga River near Burrell's Ford in South Carolina.  It was fun seeing some of the people from my first hang with the group, as well as meeting new folks.  Hiked in with one of the organizers and his 6 year old daughter who was going on her first backpacking trip, which was really sweet.
Yellowroot along the banks of the Chattooga.
We camped at a large site on the Chattooga River Trail directly south of the East Fork Branch.  I prefer hanging off by myself where it's quiet so I ended up with my hammock sort of far away from everything.  Which made for very peaceful sleeping and I didn't feel like I was bothering anyone as much when I got up early.  But it was so funny because I kept loosing my hammock and felt totally silly wandering around in dark (and a few times during the day) looking for it.  I must have looked ridiculous.  Oh well.
Delicious breakfast.
It got down to freezing during the night, but got up to a cozy fire already blazing.  One of the guys cooked up an incredible dutch oven breakfast casserole of eggs, sausage, potatoes, and cheese for everyone.  Can you imagine bringing in all that food and a iron cast oven to share with everyone.  That's just the sort of people these are!
You know how I always say that I can never find anyone that hikes my pace?  Well, while most people stayed back in camp or went on shorter hikes, three of the guys and I went on a gorgeous 9 mile loop and tore up all the hills.  It was refreshing to hike with other people at pace that felt good (and even pushed me a little)!!!   In the past few years since I started backpacking more often, the only time that happens is when I'm solo.  Made it back to camp just in time for the raffle (raising money for Children's Cancer Research-- huge thanks to all the vendors that donated items).  And to top it all off, we even went for a second, 4-mile hike in the evening up to look for Ellicott's Rock.  Hiking bliss.
Trillium just starting to open on the East Fork Trail.
In addition to the awesome hiking and delicious food, I also loved the great conversations.  I got high-quality answers to numerous hammocking questions-- and the way people answered questions was never condescending.  You know how with some groups, if you are new they won't talk to you?  Well not this group. 

It was also fascinating touring of everyone's setups and hearing how people solved various problems and the reasoning behind various gear choices and modifications.  I could really geek-out examining the construction details of tarps and TQs, and took home lots of ideas for future projects. 
Another highlight were the stories around the campfire at night.  We were really lucky to have some excellent storytellers that were totally hilarious.  And also fortunate to have folks that seemed to like building campfires.  Makes me think I got to figure out what I can do to contribute next time.
King's Creek Falls.
On Sunday, I hiked out the long way so I could visit two waterfalls.  Heading south of the CRT, I took the short, marked side trail to visit Spoonauger Falls.  Then continued on the CRT, crossed over the road and picked up a trail that followed the river past the campground, and finally cut up on the Foothills Trail.  The short side trail to King's Creek Falls ran through a botanically rich cove forest with several species of trillium.  From there, it was just a short distance to my car at Burrell's Ford Road parking area.