We take a slightly different approach this week, inspired by what seems to be a greater-than-usual offering of intriguing critter programs this weekend in our state parks system. Today, we simply list the program title, the park hosting it, when it is, and a link. You have no reason not to learn a thing or two this weekend.
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.