Our plan for the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend was to take a group of backpackers to the mountains for three days on the AT between Max Patch and Hot Springs. The goal was to give three-season backpackers a taste of winter. But when the forecast suddenly shifted and called for temperatures near zero and more than just an inch or two of snow, it was time to rethink our plan. Since that wasn’t what this group had signed up for or was properly geared up to do, we postponed the trip.
On Saturday morning’s GetHiking! hike at Umstead State Park, half the number of hikers who signed up showed up. No mystery there: it was cold.
What is a mystery is why so many hikers let a little thing like freezing temperatures keep them off the trail. As we may have mentioned (just last week, in fact), we love a winter hike: among other things, there are fewer people, fewer bugs, and it’s blissfully quiet. Yet too many people miss out because they don’t know how to dress. Let’s solve that problem here and now.
Ready to up your backpacking game in 2019? Or get a backpacking game going, period? We’re ready to help!
First, if you’re curious about backpacking but don’t have any experience, we have two courses designed to get you started.
- GetBackpacking! Intro to Backpacking. More than 200 backpackers have come through this comprehensive intro course since it launched in 2013. We start with a two-hour gear session, going over the gear you’ll need, the gear options available, and how to get that gear into your pack. Next we have a five-hour, in-the-field training session in which we hike two miles in full pack, scout campsites, set up camp, cook a meal, break camp and hike out. Finally, we take a weekend trip to South Mountains State Park. Loaner gear available.
- GetBackpacking! Overnight Sampler. Intrigued by backpacking but not ready to commit to our Intro class? This overnight session gives you a taste of hiking with a full pack and of spending the night in the woods. Backpacking gear and food provided.
Now, let’s get into our trips! Unless otherwise indicated, our backpack trips accommodate folks with a range of experience, from recent graduates of Intro to Backpacking through experienced backpackers. Newer backpackers learn from experienced backpackers. And, since we do all the planning, experienced backpackers will be able to get in more than a trip or two a year. Here’s where we’re headed the first half of 2019:
- Appalachian Trail: Max Patch to Hot Springs, January 19-21. Get a taste of winter camping on one of the more winter-friendly 20-mile stretches of the AT in the state. Trip includes shuttle, and for folks with minimal winter camping experience, we will have a pre-hike winter-preparedness training session.
- Croatan National Forest: Neusiok Trail, February 8-10. If it’s too cold for you to backpack the mountains in February, you’ll love the milder weather on this trip in the coastal Croatan. This 20-miler isn’t entirely flat: the northern six miles has some mildly rolling terrain, including a patch or two hinting of the mountains. The Neusiok Trail in winter is our most popular backpack trip.
- Uwharrie National Forest: Dutchman’s Creek Loop, March 30-31. This is a good opportunity for warm-weather backpackers to shake off the winter cobwebs and get ready for the backpacking season. We’ll hike in 5.5 miles on Saturday, camp, then complete the loop Sunday with a 6.5-mile hike out. This trip is for women only.
- Appalachian Trail: Carvers Gap to US 19E, April 5-7. Mile-for-mile, trail doesn’t get much more scenic than this 21-mile run that starts with three balds in the first couple miles, encounters two more about 8 miles in, and throws in additional great views along the way. We’ll be on the cusp of the spring wildflower bloom as well.
- Intro to Linville Gorge, May 17-19. Full immersion into Linville Gorge can be overwhelming for the first-time backpacker: the trails are steep, rocky, rugged. On top of that, the gorge has a way of generating its own weather. In this introduction, we establish base camp on the east rim, atop Shortoff Mountain, then don daypacks to drop into the gorge itself.
- Going Solo in Wilson Creek, May 31-June 2. In this weekend class, we hike in and spend the first night together. The second night, backpackers spread over a mile-long stretch of trail for their first overnight solo (with the trip leader not far away).
Make 2019 your year of backpacking.
For more info
We love the idea of exploring the wild places out there. But actually doing it can be daunting.
The wildest place we know of in the Southeast is Linville Gorge. Most of the 11,651 acres is wilderness. The gorge is just three-quarters of a mile across, from rim to rim, and is as deep as 1,500 feet in spots. On its 13-mile run through the gorge, the Linville River drops 2,000 vertical feet. So inaccessible is much of the gorge that it contains virgin timber, a rarity in this part of the world. Trail descriptions are peppered with such phrases as “very strenuous,” “very primitive,” and “notoriously steep.” There is no “easy” in Linville Gorge.
That makes its spectacular scenery all the more desirable.
One of my most memorable views of the past couple years was from a spot along the Linville River not far from Pinch-In Trail. I glanced across the river and up, up about 1,900 vertical feet to The Chimneys, a prominent rock outcrop that loomed like the prow of an ocean liner over a row boat. To earn this view, I had descended, in full pack, the ridiculously steep, roughly defined Leadmine Trail, then hiked up the boulder-choked Linville Gorge Trail. It was laughingly slow going. But then this view.
Explore, don’t expire
Not every backpacker, I realized as the eight in my group wrestled with the trail, is ready for this level of adventure—at least in full pack.
So we came up with a trip, scheduled the weekend of Oct. 5-7, that includes the best of backpacking—spending the night in the wild—and the best of day-hiking—exploring with a light daypack that keeps you nimble enough to climb over downed hemlocks and hills of house-size boulders. The trip works like this:
Friday afternoon, we’ll hike in from the Wolf Pit Road access at the southeast end of the gorge. It’s a steady climb, but at just 1.7 miles, it’s doable even for a backpacking novice. We establish basecamp on Shortoff Mountain, in the vicinity of “Camp Shortoff,” where a run of rock outcrops affords some of the best views of the gorge and some of the best sunsets imaginable.
Saturday, we don our day packs and hike about 3 miles north on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, the flattest 3 miles of trail in Linville, brushing the rim, with more great views of the gorge.
At the 3-mile mark we descend on the Cambric Ridge Trail, which drops, quickly, a little more than a mile down to the river. You won’t see this trail on most maps; it’s one of the primitive trails that are all but hidden in the gorge. We’ll take it down to the river; if the water level is low, we may cross and head downstream and loop back up to basecamp. If the river is up, we’ll hang out, have lunch, maybe take a dip, before heading back to camp. We’ll be in the heart of the gorge, in an area that’s infrequently visited.
Like taking a test drive
Saturday’s hike, about 9-10 miles in all, is a good way for a person to get a feel for experiencing challenging terrain before tackling it in full pack. Even for someone who’s day-hiked rugged areas, doing it as part of backpacking expedition helps put such terrain in a backpacking perspective and thus prepare better for venturing out in full pack. Downed hemlocks—and there are a goodly number of them—are fairly easy to scramble over in a day pack, but what about in a 60-liter pack carrying 30 pounds? Perhaps pare down the load. How about those steep descents? Maybe you don’t use trekking poles on day hikes, but think about all that weight and its impact on your knees dropping down a trail with a 45-degree descent.
We backpack so we can spend as much time as possible on the trail, not because we’re into being punished. A basecamp approach is the ideal marriage of backcountry camping and hiking, especially well-suited to our wildest places.
See you on the trail!
Find out more
Learn more and sign up for our =&0=&, here.
We also have a somewhat similar GetBackpacking! trip planned to the =&1=& for Oct. 25-28. Learn more about it and sign up here.