In mid-October I did an overnight backpacking trip on the AT to check out some of my gear, especially my new MSR Hubba tent. My wife dropped me off on VA Route 56 east of Montebello at about 10:30 am and I hiked south to Route 60 where she picked me up the next day. It was a challenging hike beginning with a 3000 foot climb up The Priest. The overall distance was 25 miles and I split it roughly into two 12.5 mile days.
The hiking was fine since I’m used to being on this part of the AT and frequently carry a full pack for training. What was less fine was the overnight camp at a place shown on the map as Greasy Spring. At about 5:00 pm I set up camp near the spring, thinking that it would be convenient to be close to the water source. What I did not anticipate was the great amount of animal activity near the spring during the night. The leaves had recently fallen which amplified the sound of the squirrels and chipmunks. The most anxiety-inducing sounds were the steady steps of a much larger animal which spent a good bit of time in the area during the hours after sunset. I’m sure I would have been more comfortable if I had not been alone out in the middle of nowhere and it’s reassuring to know that on the AT there will be plenty of other hikers with me.
Even though I spent a lot of time listening to animals walking around that night but managed to get a few hours sleep. I felt fine in the morning and after a breakfast of Pop Tarts and coffee I finished the hike by 1:00 pm. My sweet wife was at the pick-up point, Long Mountain wayside, working on a knitting project when I arrived.
Here are the important things I learned on the trip:
1. The MSR Hubba tent is perfect for me – light, roomy enough and easy to set up/take down. Based on this one night in the tent, condensation may not be too much of a problem. I’ll need to evaluate it further in different weather situations but this first test was very successful.
2. My water system needs adjusting because…
a. I learned that in a shallow spring a collapsible water bottle cannot be pushed down far enough to get filled up with water. Fortunately I had an empty Gatorade bottle with me which worked perfectly. So I will ditch the collapsible bottle and use a Gatorade bottle or some other hard plastic bottle.
b. I learned that using water bottles instead of a hydration bladder (Camelbak style) is an inefficient way to hydrate while walking. To drink out of a bottle requires getting the bottle out of the side pocket of my back, unscrewing the top and then stopping to drink. No matter how I tried I could not drink from the bottle while walking without spilling a good bit of water. A hydration bladder is simple to use and requires nothing more that putting the drinking tube in your lips to drink.
3. Making coffee in the morning is really a waste of time. I think I will be better off on the AT if I do a caffeine detox a couple of months before I begin so that when I’m on the trail I can simple wake up, eat a cold breakfast, break camp, and start hiking. The morning is my best time of day and it will be good to get early starts so that I can put in miles early.
4. I don’t need to take sunglasses on the AT but can get by simply by taking two hats – a ball cap for nice weather days or to wear in the rain under my rain shell’s hood and a warm stocking cap to wear when it’s cold.
5. I need to develop a good bagging system for a 3-4 day supply of food.
So overall it was a good test and gave me a few things to work on in terms of equipment. I will continue to do long day hikes through the winter and if we have some warm spells I will try to do some more overnights. Then in early March I should be able to get in at least one 3-4 day trip for a final checkout before starting the AT April 1st.