START: Stealth site on the slopes of Cold Mt, VA
FINISH: Stealth site near Blackhorse Gap, VA
DISTANCE: 71 miles (114.2 km)
DAILY AVERAGE: 35.5 miles (57.1 km)
TOTAL DISTANCE: 1447.5 (2329 km)
Crazy Chester followed me and he caught me in the fog
He said, “I will fix your rack if you’ll take Jack, my dog”
I said, “Wait a minute, Chester, you know I’m a peaceful man”
He said, “That’s okay, boy, won’t you feed him when you can”
– “The Weight”
Chester: On December 3, I was accompanied during a six hour stretch by a lost hunting dog that I named Chester (see photo below), after a character in The Band’s classic song The Weight, which I happened to be singing at our first meeting. Friendly and indefatigable, but not overly chatty, he was the ideal hiking companion. Alas all good things come to an end, and eventually Chester’s owner tracked him down at a road crossing thanks to his GPS collar. Thanks for your company, Chester!
Waynesboro to Dalesville: I decided to do this 134 mile stretch without resupplying in Buena Vista, Buchanan or Glasgow. During thru hikes, more often than not I will prefer to carry an extra day or two of food in order to limit the amount of town stops I need to make. The reason? Anyone who has ever hiked with me over an extended period will tell you that although I can move along pretty swiftly whilst in the woods, put me in a town with all it’s associated temptations (supermarkets, restaurants, cafes, bars, television, internet, bathtubs, jacuzzis, etc), and I can pfaff about with the best of them. In the words of my good mate, Mike Towne (a.k.a. The Gambler), who has hiked more than 1200 miles with me over the years: “Swami can hike like a #!!%@!, but in every other aspect of his life he is slower than molasses
.” That line cracks me up to this day.
CHOOSING A CAMPSITE
After recently coming across a number of ill-used and inappropriately selected campsites on the AT, I decided to copy/paste the following tips and advice from the Skills section of The Hiking Life website:
“Camping is nature’s way of promoting the motel business.”
– Dave Barry
Choosing a suitable campsite is an integral part of your everyday backcountry routine. More importantly, by adhering to no trace camping principles, it can play a significant role in minimizing your wilderness footprint.
If camping at established sites, stick to the designated area so as to not expand the already impacted surface. Leave no rubbish; improve your karma by picking up a few pieces of other people’s rubbish. Make this a habit. If other hikers see you doing it, it may just catch on.
If camping away from established sites, often referred to as ‘wild’ or ‘stealth’ camping, the hiker’s responsibility to practice no trace principles is even greater. Avoid making fires (except in emergencies), uprooting plants and breaking off branches in order to make space for your shelter. When it is time to leave, if your shelter has left any imprint, be sure to remove it before setting off.
Where to Camp?
Factors to look for in a good campsite include:
Well Drained: Not a great feeling waking up in a puddle at 2am.
Sheltered: Camping under trees with relatively low-lying branches means less dew and more warmth. Just make sure that there are no dead branches hanging overhead.
“Relatively” Flat and Even: Personally, I prefer to camp on a slight slope. Sleeping with my feet on top of my pack and my head pointing downhill, helps to reduce any swelling which may have accumulated in the lower extremities after a long day on the trail.
Breezy: If you are camping during bug season, particularly if you are using a bivy or tarp, look for a place that is at least somewhat exposed to the wind.
View: There are times when you may need to throw all the other factors out the window and just go for the most beautiful spot.
Places to Avoid
Depressions & Gullies are likely to be waterlogged or flooded during heavy rains.
Gorges: If you are camping in a gorge, pay particular attention to any changes in weather patterns. Always try and make camp above flood debris levels (ie. the highest point reached during floods). Flash floods move incredibly quickly. If there is a chance of heavy rain, it is best to keep walking and make camp elsewhere.
Exposed Ridges: Avoid camping on exposed ridges or hilltops, especially in areas subject to frequent storms. If conditions are bad, it is usually better to descend and seek shelter in the bush or in lee of rocks.
Lone Trees: Avoid camping under lone trees that may attract lightning strikes.
Fragile Vegetation: Always look for places where your impact can be minimized.
Next to Water Sources: Camping next to water sources can often mean more bugs, condensation and the possibility of unwelcome nocturnal visitors. That being said, there are definitely times when it is nigh on impossible to resist a gorgeous lake or riverside campsite. My advice – weigh the pro’s and con’s and take each situation on its own merits.
Valley Floors: Another way to minimise condensation is to avoid camping on valley floors, where katabatic air will sit of a morning.