On a hike several years ago on the Bartram Trail in western North Carolina, I did a quick hiker count and realized one was missing. Despite having handed out customized maps of the hike, despite having gone over the trail could be tricky to follow, and despite our best efforts to herd, one hiker had indeed disappeared from the flock. And I had a pretty good idea where she’d gone wrong. A half mile earlier the Bartram and Appalachian Trail, which had buddied up for a mile, split, the Bartram sticking to the ridge, the AT following a draw down Wayah Mountain. I backtracked and headed down the AT, eventually running down the errant hiker two miles down the trail.
We’re ready for spring, so we can get outside even more often. We bet you’re ready, too.
What say we get together and do a little exploring? Here are some of the adventures we have planned for spring.
Winter Wild Off-Trail Adventures
This series of off-trail adventures started in winter but it’s trickling over into spring — in part, because weather caused a postponement or two. It’s also because we’ve had such a blast on these hikes — a portion of which are on official trail, most of which aren’t — that we decided to extend the program through March. Still to come:
When we launched our GetHiking! program three years ago, the goal was to offer fledgling hikers a supportive hiking environment and to expose more experienced hikers to new trails. Those remaining our overriding goals; we love hiking with you, and while we hope you love hiking with us, we realize that sometimes you’d rather hike alone, or perhaps expose less-experienced friends and family to the joys of hiking. That’s why we’ve moved into a second phase of GetHiking!
Sure, you pick up a thing or two on our hikes. But sometimes you want to know more. Which is why we’ve created a series of classes designed to make you more confident in the woods.
Here’s our lineup so far for fall:
BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina / GetHiking! Fall Hiking Series. This new program is aimed at the beginner hiker, those of you who have been intrigued by the idea of hiking, but intimidated by the prospect of going alone. We will be launching a 10-week series of weekly hikes in six North Carolina metro areas — Asheville, Charlotte, Durham, Raleigh, Wilmington, Winston-Salem — starting Sept. 18. Stay tuned for details.
GetBackpacking! Intro to Backpacking program. Backpacking is a bit like space travel: in both cases, you’re headed into a foreign environment with a life-support system on your back. Thus, since astronauts don’t learn space travel from their buddies, you shouldn’t learn backpacking from acquaintances, either. In three local training sessions, you will learn about the necessary equipment and develop the skills necessary to venture into the woods. The class culminates with a three-day, two-night graduation trip to South Mountains State Park. From beginner to bonafide backpacker in three weeks. Fee: $85 for Triangle, $75 for Triad (introductory offer), includes $35 gift card to Great Outdoor Provision Co. and 10 percent GOPC discount during the course of the session. Class size limited to 12.
You love your trails. You can’t imagine what life would be like without them.
For starters, life might be a little more adventurous.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my trails as well. The Sycamore Trail at Umstead (especially during a rain, when its namesake creek is roiling). The trail network at Horton Grove Nature Preserve, which seems perpetually bathed in ethereal light. The 14-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail north of Carvers Gap, which is one stunning 360-degree view after another.
But sometimes, the terrain beyond the confines of the well-maintained, blazed path beckons. The hollow where the distant sound of crashing water suggests a cataract. The distant rocky summit promising great views. The woods that call for no apparent reason other than you’ve never paid a visit.
The lure of the unknown.
Trails exist for good reason. To keep you from getting lost tops the list. They also help minimize our impact as visitors, keeping us from trampling sensitive ecosystems and basically letting the land, for the most part, be. Yet every once in a while … .
Yesterday, we shared a recent … wilderness wander at one of our favorite local haunts. We feel comfortable making an occasional trail departure, in large part because we follow a few simple rules that all but assure we will make our way back to civilization. The best testament to these rules: we’re here to talk about them (rather than still in the woods, wandering, looking for the way out).
Before we share those simple rules: exploring off trail is something you should ease into. It’s best to head out your first few times with someone experienced, someone such as Rod Broadbelt, who this Saturday leads his annual Ruins Hike at Umstead State Park. Nearly all of this 10-mile hike, which visits 20 historic sites in the park, is off-trail. Rod’s done this hike for more than 20 years and knows the park well; hang with him (if you can) and learn his approach to off-trail exploring.
That hike meets at 8 a.m. Saturday morning in the Umstead lot at the end Harrison Avenue in Cary, off I-40 (exit 287). Questions? Contact Rod at email@example.com.
Now, some tips for off-trail exploring on your own.
* Take a map. This is mandatory every time you strap on a pack, even if you’re hiking a trail you know well. (What if there’s a blowdown or a landslide and you need to take evasive action?) A good topo map is preferred; a park-issued map, which often lacks topo lines and isn’t to scale is better than nothing.
* Take a compass. A map is of minimal help if you don’t know which way is up. Or north. Together, a map and compass are invaluable hiking companions.
* Check sunset. Venturing off trail isn’t something you want to do if you’re running out of daylight. An especially important step this time of year.
* Know your blazes. Likely, you’ll start out on an established trail. Familiarize yourself with the blaze for that trail and for adjoining trails. Odds are you’ll eventually want to return to the trail you departed from.
* Landmarks. When you reach the point where you plan to head off trail take careful note of what’s around you: an especially identifiable tree, a creek, a rock outcrop, whatever. Sighting a familiar object could be key for your return.
* Take a bearing on where you’re headed. Get out your map, get out your compass. Get your orientation (where’s north?) set. Pick an object in the distance, in the direction you want to explore. Take a compass reading, follow that compass reading.
* Confirm your bearing. Stop periodically, every 30 yards or so, to confirm your bearing. Are you still headed in the direction you set off in? If not, correct and continue.
* Landmarks. Again, keep an eye out for familiar landmarks that can help you navigate upon your return.
* Reverse course. Once you reach what it was you wanted to check out, return to the point where you left the trail by simply following your compass in the opposite direction. For instance, if you reached your objective by heading due north, return by heading due south.
* Shinny thing. Or maybe you see something else in the distance you want to investigate. Take specific note of where you are, get out your map, get your compass and set a new bearing to your new objective. Continue in the manner described above, stopping every 30 yards or so to make sure you remain on course.
* Reverse course (again). To return after reaching your second objective, simply head in the opposite compass direction you followed to your second objective until you get back to your first objective. From there, continue in the direction opposite you used when you left the trail.
Tens of thousands of tundra swans make their way south from Canada to the North Carolina coast every year, never once stopping to ask directions. Yet we got lost between the parking lot and the trailhead. Check out those navigationally gifted tundra swans at the coast this weekend, or learn how to successfully find the trailhead in the Piedmont. Or, go to the mountains and climb a high bald you’ve likely never heard.
We typically think of the North Carolina coast as being deserted during the non-touristed months of late fall and winter. Truth be told, all along the coast the population skyrockets with visitors — a true snowbirds — from the north.
Come to Goose Creek State Park near Washington Sunday and discover just who these visitors are, at Waterfowl of the Pamlico. Check out the mounts (of past visitors), then “learn about the many different kinds of waterfowl that visit the area each winter. We’ll discuss migration, waterfowl biology and life cycles.”
Afterward, explore the 7 miles of trail at Goose Creek and test your newfound knowledge with a little birding.
Logistics: Sunday, Nov. 15, 2 p.m., Visitor Center at Goose Creek State Park, Washington. More info here.
Sunday forecast: Sunny, high of 58.
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Wouldn’t you feel better venturing into the woods if you could at least read a map? And imagine the euphoria over being able to use a map and a compass to figure your way out of a jam!
That confident explorer could be you if you attend Saturday’s Basic Land Navigation at Umstead State Park in Raleigh. A short discussion will be followed by a “field exercise.” Dress for exploring off trail.
Logistics: Saturday, Nov. 14, 2 a.m., Umstead State Park, Raleigh. Learn more and secure a spot by dialing 919.571.4170.
Saturday forecast: Sunny, high of 59.
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Looking ahead: Camp Craggy Walk-A-Bout, a walk into history at Umstead State Park on Dec. 19. More here.
The majority of places we explore in the mountains are on public lands, in the Nantahala National Forest, the Pisgah National Forest, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or along the Blue Ridge Parkway. But there are private and quasi-public lands that offer great exploring as well.
Saturday, you’ll have a chance to explore one of these lesser-known treasures with the Southern Appalachians Highlands Conservancy. Starting at 9 a.m., the conservancy will lead a “strenuous guided hike” up Little Sandy Mush Bald, at 5,152 feet the highest point in Madison County and is owned by the Long Branch Environmental Education Center. Learn more about the area at SummitPost.org.
The hike will be followed by a good ol’-fashioned storytelling at the Addison Farms Family Vineyard.
Logistics: Saturday, Nov. 14, 9 a.m., Long Branch Environmental Education Center, Madison County. $10, free for members of the Southern Appalachians Highlands Conservancy. More info here.
Saturday forecast: Sunny, high of 52.
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Looking ahead: Wintergreen Hike, every Saturday in December, South Mountains State Park. Info here.
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Those are our thoughts on the weekend. Find more options at the sources listed below.
Comprehensive calendar for the Cape Fear/Wilmington/southern N.C. coast searchable by date and event name.
Comprehensive calendar including nature programs from a variety of coastal conservation and research agencies that offer nature programs. Covers the entire coast.
Crystal Cost Tourism Authority
Comprehensive calendar focusing on the Crystal Coast. Good source for programs offered by N.C. Coastal Federation, Cape Lookout National Park, N.C. National Estuarine Research Reserve and other costal conservation and research agencies that offer nature programs.
Comprehensive calendar including programs for the Outer Banks and Crystal Coast.
North Carolina Coast Host