On a backpacking trip we like to be just as comfortable hiking as we are in camp. Lightening our pack weight has been key. Carrying less weight means less physical strain, more energy to focus on the beautiful subtleties of nature, and ultimately more fun. At the same time, we also like to sleep comfortably and cook a hearty meal. When choosing gear, we aim for the sweet spot which perfectly balances comfort on the trail and in camp.
We had a great setup on the PCT, but we are always refining our gear, learning what items aren’t necessary, researching new products, and finding things which serve multiple purposes. Simple durable items are a favorite of ours. In addition we make changes based upon the terrain and weather in the area where we’re hiking.
We recently updated our Appalachian Trail gear list to reflect the changes we made while hiking the AT:
Hope you find it helpful.
We also wanted to let everyone know that North Star is continuing to recover. Her shingles rash is gone. The pain only flares up occasionally. The remaining issue is her energy level. She gets very tired after walking a few blocks. The discussion forums we’ve read concur that it usually takes between 1-3 months to return to full health after a shingles outbreak. We’ll continue to be patient.
North Star is slowly recovering from shingles. The first four days after she began taking medications were rough. The painful lesions grew and she felt terrible. On the fifth day her symptoms finally lessened slightly. She is still low on energy, but we are happy to report that she is now improving a little each day.
Our family, friends, and this online community have been amazing throughout this tough time. Thank you so very much for your supportive comments, suggestions, and good wishes. We’ve read your notes many times. They lifted our spirits and put smiles on our faces. Thank you.
While North Star was out of commission, the Annual Day Zero PCT Kick-Off (ADZPCTKO) event occurred. This Southern California gathering marks the beginning of many thru hikers’ journeys. It’s also a reunion of past PCT hikers. We obviously couldn’t make it, but Gossamer Gear kindly shared our PCT photography book in their booth. Hopefully some of you got to flip through the pages. We wish all the 2013 PCT hikers a wonderful and exciting adventure. Have fun and remember to HYOH (hike your own hike).
North Star probably won’t regain her full health for a while so our plan remains to keep things low key. We’ll be writing essays for two magazines(!), acquainting ourselves with Fort Collins, Colorado, and researching backpacking options in the Rockies. The dramatic mountains here are already beckoning us to come out and adventure…when we’re healthy.
Good memories from Rocky Mountain National Park, February 2011
Day 36: Birch Spring Gap (Mile 171.5)-Spence Field Shelter (Mile 182.5); 11 miles
The crazy hail storm had passed and a variety of birds were greeting the new day. Take a listen to a minute of what we heard:
Unfortunately North Star’s painful headache still hounded her. The dizziness she’d been experiencing for the past week intruded as well. Bending over to pack gear made her head spin, forcing her to take several sitting breaks. We were dismayed that her symptoms were not improving.
The trail followed the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, taking us past beautiful old trees. All the recent rainfall nourished the wildflowers, known as “spring beauties,” which carpeted the ground. Shutterbug enjoyed the views, but North Star’s mold headache was so powerful that it made walking very difficult for her. The pain meant she couldn’t enjoy any of the beauty around her.
We kept walking. Fog blew in, at times condensing into rain.
We reached the Spence Field shelter where we cooked up a hearty dinner of couscous and pinto bean flakes. From our tent we heard rumbles of distant thunder. Though North Star was tuckered out she had trouble sleeping because of her headache.
Day 32: Nantahala Outdoor Center (Mile 137.5)-North of Simp Gap (Mile 149); 11.5 miles
The Nantahala River flows through the bottom of a deep gorge. In the morning we began a 3000 foot climb up and out of that gorge.
We passed lizards sunning themselves beside the trail.
Much of the climb was forested, but a break in the trees allowed us see the river and Nantahala Outdoor Center below. We had already gained some serious altitude.
Day 29: Near Wayah Bald (Mile 120)-Wesser Bald (Mile 130.5); 10.5 miles
Our alarm rang extra early so we could beat the sunrise. We climbed the nearby stone tower at the top of Wayah Bald and watched the first light fall on distant peaks.
From the tower we could see Standing Indian and Deep Gap where we had been days ago. It’s always very satisfying to look back on our progress like this.
We enjoyed a relaxed morning, then began walking down off the bald. We encountered some trail workers from Natahala Hiking Club and chatted with them. Thanks for all your excellent trail work!
Farther down the trail, Boot Scoot and his friend David Bradford Donovan were providing trail magic. We had been planning to stop for lunch anyway and hungrily devoured their tasty snack packets. In addition, to North Star’s delight, they had portioned a variety of spices into small plastic bags. We looked forward to the extra kick these would add to some of our meals. David and Boot Scoot have just launched Yeti Food Outfitters which provides food and resupply logistics for hikers. They’re good guys with a cool small business.
Continuing uphill, the bright sun and temperatures in the upper 70s made for hot, sweaty climbing. We couldn’t complain, though – the warmth was most welcome!
The climb ended at the top of Wesser Bald where we found another fire tower. This tower rose above even the tallest trees.
Day 26: Near Beech Gap (Mile 91)-Big Butt (Mile 98.5); 7.5 miles
We started the day off with a full set of stretches. This is a new addition for us and we hope it will ward off any future injuries. We also walked more slowly and took more frequent breaks than usual to gradually transition Shutterbug’s knee back into thru hiking shape.
The morning was chilly, but not nearly as frigid as our first morning on the trail in March. As we walked, we saw lovely details in the forest.
Day 16-24: Zero Days in Concord, NC
North Star’s aunt Cindy was an awesome trail angel for us as we waited for Shutterbug’s knee to heal. Her daughter Caryn helped out too.
Cindy housed us, fed us well, loaned us clothing, and let us borrow a laptop. Shutterbug’s favorite spot this past week was the couch, with a laptop on his belly and his knee elevated on pillows.
Day 12: South of Powell Mountain on Blue-blaze Trail (Mile 67)-Dicks Creek Gap (Mile 69.5); 2.5 miles
It rained cats and dogs overnight. The rain was so violent that raindrops splashed mud a few inches up the tent walls. We stayed cuddled in our sleeping bags longer than usual and eventually the rain began to slow. While packing up we managed to stay mostly dry.
The trail didn’t fare so well. The downpour overnight had turned the trail into a sloppy and slippery muddy mess.
Day 9: Swaim Gap (Mile 34.5)-North of Low Gap (Mile 44); 9.5 miles
The temperature plummeted well below freezing and a cold wind blew intensely all night. We tossed and turned in our sleeping bags. Sleep was fleeting. When sunlight reached our tent, we peeped out to find that the ground was covered in snow!
Though the sun shone brightly, the entire day proved very cold. Frigid wind stung our hands and faces. Our water bottle remained a solid brick of ice. (We had prevented our water bladders from freezing by keeping them inside our sleeping bags overnight.) At least the white carpet of snow covering every surface was beautiful to see.