It was cold and dark, and we were occasionally plunked with raindrops. But not a one of us moved from our spot by the fire.
“What is it about a campfire?” someone asks.
We’re drawn to fire for its light and heat, of course. But for us, on a three-day backpack trip on the Neusiok Trail in the Croatan National Forest, it was less about survival and more about pondering, as Guy Noir might say, life’s persistent questions. Like whether one would survive a freeze-dried meal with an expiration date of 1997. (Answer: yes, surprisingly.)read more
Usually, backpackers show up at the trailhead, packs on their backs, with maybe a pound of food stowed among their weekend necessities.
On this morning, 14 backpackers showed up with no packs at all. All each had was a little bag with enough clothes and whatnot for an overnight trip. In their defense, they hadn’t been told to bring a pack; they were simply told where to meet.read more
Before I head down the trail with a batch of hikers, I do a bit of scouting. Even if I’ve hiked the trail before, the nature of things might have changed. If it’s a trail I hiked just last week, I might just scout the website to see if there’s been any flooding or tree falls. But if it’s been a while, and maybe in a different season, I’ll head on over to the trail and see for myself what’s new. Because, although it’s true that part of the delight of hiking is discovering new things, we don’t want to discover that a trail is impassable or there’s not enough space for overnight camping or there’s no water source for miles.read more
“We’ve only done five miles?” one of the backpackers asked with a mix of disbelief and despair.
“Yes,” I said, “but they’re likely the hardest five miles you’ve ever done.” Until tomorrow. I kept that last part to myself.
Our nine-person GetBackpacking! group had started that morning at 9 from our campsite atop Shortoff Mountain on the east rim of Linville Gorge. We followed the MST on a steep descent to the Linville River, crossed a 60-yard-wide stretch of water, then made the long descent back up the rugged west rim. Challenging, but nothing like the rollercoaster Leadmine Trail we would take back down to the river. By the time we saw water again, it was 5 o’clock and our legs were done. We took the first suitable campsite.read more