For some places that we love to explore, if a leaf falls, you’ll find out about it. Linville Gorge, for instance. For years, we’ve had linvillegorge.net, which has been the go-to source for any kind of trip planning information, from when you need a camping permit to where you can camp, to the best option for a three-day trip (find all of that here, btw). For breaking news, closures, and what the gorge looks like right now, the Linville Gorge Facebook Group is at least one reason to stick with Facebook.
I got into the business of leading hikes about a decade ago for one reason: Hiking did a lot for me, I thought it might do the same for others. Since I got the most mental benefit from a hike when I was alone, I assumed others would as well.
So rather than just leading hikes, I hoped to empower those with me to feel comfortable hiking on their own. Expose people to a variety of trails, on varying terrain, in a variety of conditions, both day and night, and it wouldn’t be long before I might see them just once or twice a year because otherwise they’d be exploring on their own. I even created a class, GetOriented! Finding Your Way in the Woods, to teach basic map and compass skills and how to read a topo map and the terrain. All the tools.
At a trip planning meeting for our backpacking trip on the AT this weekend, we were about to wrap up when one last thought occurred.
“Oh, and be prepared for the nights,” I added. “They can be long.”
Really, really long.
This weekend, for instance, sunset is at 5:44 p.m. where we’re headed. However, both nights of our stay we’ll be camped low on the mountain, meaning we’ll lose sunlight a good half hour earlier. Sunrise the next morning is at 7:39 a.m. — again, because we’ll be well below the ridge, let’s make that 8. That’s nearly 15 hours of dark — cold dark. If there’s enough dry wood and we can get a fire going, we can shave 2-3 hours off the front end of that. Still, that’s more than half of a 24-hour day confined to a space not much longer or wider than you are, and that you can barely sit up in. That’s why adding be-prepared-for-the-long-nights as an afterthought is more than a small oversight.
We’re taking some time the last two weeks of the year to get our head together, to regroup, to not have to think too much for a few days. So today, we bring you our year in backpacking condensed down to 165 seconds.
These aren’t all the places we went, but they are a good cross-section: the Appalachian Trail from Max Patch to Hot Springs and also from Carvers Gap to US 19E, Wilson Creek, the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness, Rock Castle Gorge in Virginia and the Birkhead Mountain Wilderness.
We hiked in in the cold (about 40 degrees), the rain (roughly two inches would fall over a 36-hour period), the dark. The one consolation? The frozen rain that had been in the forecast failed to materialize.
In the end, our trip to the Birkhead Mountain Wilderness was the best trip in a year full of pretty great trips.