Thalita "Wolf Mama" and German Shepherd Nala thru hiked the Long Trail this summer. In the following interview you'll read about specific difficulties of the rugged Long Trail, how Nala got all the calories she needed and some general planning tips if you are a prospective long distance hiker with your dog.
Here's how Wolf Mama summed up her experience:
"My magical journey through the wilderness ended the same way it began, with tears in my eyes and my heart overflowing with emotions. I can officially call myself a Long Trail Thru-Hiker / End-To-Ender!!! I am so happy to have reached my goal of thru-hiking the LT this year but I’m also very sad to see this amazing adventure come to an end. I’ve grown so much and learned a lot about myself and how strong I really am in the past month, physically and mentally. This was the hardest challenge I’ve ever set myself up for, but it was also the most empowering, freeing, and meditative thing I’ve ever done. I’ll never be the same!"
You can find them on Instagram @thalitaaax
The Long Trail is known to be very rugged. There are sections with aluminum ladders to descend and steep ledges, etc. Were any of these sections particularly difficult for Nala, if so- how did you get through them?
I found blog and forum posts talking about these sections all around the internet, but I found myself coming back to bringfido.com and hikewithyourdog.com. However, the most reliable source of warnings was the hikers coming from the opposite direction. The key was having communication with home base so they could advise me on how to negotiate these obstacles. I used a satellite text messenger, but in a pinch, a cell phone with a battery pack could work.
The simplest solution, which we took on the Forehead and the Cliff House of Mount Mansfield, was to simply avoid the areas with ladders. For the Forehead there was a bypass trail called Forehead Bypass and for the Cliff House, we just didn’t go. However, there was one section called Ladder Ravine near Camels Hump, about 1.5 miles north of Cowles Cove shelter where there was a 12 ft aluminum painters ladder we had to descend. Based on everything I had heard, there was no reasonable way to bypass it nor was the ladder short enough to assist Nala down the ladder. So in my resupply earlier that week, I had a crevasse-rescue pulley system delivered, and intended to lower Nala down by her harness. When I arrived at Cowles Cove shelter and had rain predicted the next day, I erred on the side of caution and took a zero day, waiting for the rain to pass before trying to pass any dubious obstacle. The following day, when we reached the ladder we found that by going maybe 100 m off the trail, the cliff that the ladder descended decreased to maybe 4 ft, which Nala just jumped down.
How did you keep her calorie intake up?
Being such a big dog, she consumed something like 5 cups of food per day, which is why her robust pack was so essential. Nala’s food was kept in gallon-sized ziplocs, with each day being a separate bag. It helped with rationing and watching for healthy consumption. On a resupply day, I would pick up ziplocs full of food and critically, make adjustments to how much should be in the next food drop.
If not for my support crew, intake of food, particularly nutritious food, would have been difficult. As a German Shephard, she’s prone to joint problems, which is why I make sure she has food that’s loaded with glucosamine and chondroitin. But getting that food at every little town along the trail seemed impossible, unless I shipped it to the post office, which would have been expensive. What’s more, even just finding any dog food or treats is hard if your resupply stop is a one-horse-town with a single gas station. And if you find the food, nutritious or not, it comes in a bag too big for Nala to carry. So in the lead-up to the hike, before I knew I was going to have support, I was considering all kinds of solutions involving the mail and bump boxes and maybe cutting her good food with whatever I could find in each town, etc.
The bigger challenge I found was getting her to eat all her food. She tended to be torn between the option of sleeping and eating. So to combat this, I served her food as often as possible (which she tended to eat while in sleep-position) and I would sometimes mix some kind of treat into her food to motivate to choose to eat over sleep.
Did you have any routines for your dog for town days and resupplies, paw care, and bedtime?
We actually only had one town day, per se, and it was at the Inn at Long Trail. We didn’t make trips into town because I had a support crew who was either delivering supplies and picking up waste in-person.
Regarding paw care, I used Musher’s Secret. I bought the 200-gram container, which is this cylinder roughly 4 inches across and 4 inches tall. This worked well because I could just stick it on Nala’s paw while she laid on her side, and twist it back and forth to apply the wax. In hindsight, I probably could have bought a few 60g containers and had the same effect, and not had Nala carrying a half pound of wax.
Bedtime was never really an issue for her, whether we were on the trail or in the Inn. The trail made her so tired that she would nap at any opportunity, and her breed is so well equipped for the outdoors that the heat or cold or rain or bugs never really bothered her. That being said, I bought a vestibule for my tent, and on nights when it was rainy or particularly buggy, she would sleep in the vestibule.
What's your best advice for prospective long distance hikers with their dog?
Make sure your dog comes back when you call them. Nala was off-leash for the entire hike except when we were crossing roads. Having good verbal recall is very important because sometimes you may come across another hiker that’s uncomfortable with dogs or even another dog that’s not friendly. (Please note: Nala does not have a prey-drive)
Train your dog before you thru-hike. I very frequently took Nala day-hiking and weekend-hiking before we thru-hiked so she was physically in shape to be climbing mountains all day. Also, I also made her wear a pack on her back with some weight to make sure she was used to having it on her as she walked/climbed.
Trust. Trust between you and your dog is essential. Nala likes to wander around and explore but she never goes where she can’t see me. When we were at camp, she just wandered around and patrolled the campsite. On the nights that we tented, Nala slept outside the tent. Every morning she was always right outside my tent waiting for me. If you are uncomfortable with your dog being outside the tent while you are sleeping, train them to sleep inside the tent with you.
Do your research. Make sure with the trail or forest association that you’re planning on hiking that dogs are allowed on the trail. Also, plan out what gear you will need for your dog. It’s important to keep in mind that your dog will need gear for its safety, health and comfort. I spent a lot of time debating over what type of gear was best for Nala. I’d have to say I made the greatest choice when I went with the GBG pack for dogs! I also added Benadryl to my first aid kit and actually had to use it with Nala on one occasion.
Follow trail etiquette. When your dog poops, push it off away from the trail or dig it up. No one wants to see that, smell that or risk stepping on it. Be aware of other hikers or dogs on trail and at camp. When you are on a summit in an alpine zone, make sure your dog doesn’t walk on the fragile plants. Vegetation in those environments is very delicate and can be easily destroyed with trampling. If your dog likes to wander into the grass, just keep them on a leash.
When you complete your thru-hike, don’t forget to apply for certifications and patches for yourself as well as your dog! Most associations now grant them for dogs as well, and I believe dogs should be recognized for their grand achievement just like us. Nala is officially a Long Trail End-to-Ender just like me!
And finally, what trail do you have your eyes on next?
I really want to do the PCT. I’m not sure I’ll have the time for a whole PCT hike, so I’ve been more intently scoping out the John Muir Trail. It’s shorter and goes through some of the more noteworthy areas of the PCT, and is coincident with the PCT for much of its length. In essence, the JMT is to the PCT what the LT is to the AT.
Big congrats to Nav and her Sheltie Arrow for a successful Northbound thru hike of the Appalachian Trail! It takes a very special dog to hike the entire (dog) AT and we want to know how Arrow did it! Here's our interview with Nav!
Nav's video blog is here: www.youtube.com/c/HikingWithArrow
And her Instagram is: @hikingwitharrow
What was your approach to bringing Arrow on the thru hike with you- did you think she'd do the entire trail or were you playing it by ear based on her energy level?
The very first time I ever backpacked was 3 years ago, and Arrow went with me (she was only 6 months at the time). On that trip, I saw a different side I had never seen — she just seemed so happy and free! She really came alive out there, and she behaved so well. When I decided to thru-hike, I felt like I just couldn’t do it without her. She is her absolute happiest and best self on trail. I did plan to take her for the entire hike, but I obviously had to keep in mind that her happiness came first, and if it ever seemed like she wasn’t enjoying it, she would go home.
Did Arrow do every section except for the off limits sections in the Smokys, Bear Mtn and Baxter S.P.?
For the most part, yes! There were a couple random days where we were staying with friends and I was slack-packing that I decided to give her the days off to rest. She also, unfortunately, got Lyme disease during our hike, so she did have to take a couple days off while I continued on. She joined me two days later, though!
What were the main factors that contributed to Arrow's success on the hike?
Well, for one, her breed. She is a Shetland Sheepdog, and this breed was literally created to run all day. Arrow is very much a working dog, so when we would be hiking every day, I really think that she thought she was working and it was her job to get my tramily and I down the trail every day! (So cute.) Our longest day was 32 miles, and I swear it didn’t even phase her. She is extremely athletic and motivated. I think another thing that really helped her was her attitude. This kind of feels silly to say, but I feel like Arrow is a very positive dog and is always ready for whatever. I could tell when we were going up long uphills that it would start to tire her out, but she’s smart and would slow down or take breaks to keep her going. Oh, and I can’t forget, the abundant amount of sticks she chewed on! I think that definitely kept her spirits high and kept her going.
What type of logistical and physical support did you get from folks at home?
Obviously hiking with a dog can be a little complicated, and my husband was so great with helping me. As you know, dogs aren’t allowed in the Smoky Mountains, so Arrow couldn’t do that section with me. My husband, Parker, came and met me before the Smokies to pick up Arrow, and then he also brought her back to me after I finished them! That was pretty much the only help I needed with her from home, as I was always able to get her dog food in towns and such. One other instance, when Arrow got Lyme she was able to stay with the parents of one of the guys I hiked with. The trail provides!
What are some things that came up during your hike bc you were hiking with a dog that maybe you hadn't thought of before-hand?
I’m not gonna lie, the whole Lyme disease thing really freaked me out. I was SO diligent about tick-checking her every single night, but I guess sometimes you just can’t help it. Thankfully, Lyme is much easier to treat in dogs than humans, so she just had to take a couple days off and she was back. Luckily we were staying at one of my tramily members’ houses during this time, so she was able to hang out with his parents while we were hiking.
Would you mind sharing about any particularly difficult days you and Arrow had?
The day we were supposed to hike into Harper’s Ferry, WV, Arrow started puking profusely that morning during our hike. We had about 11 miles to go that day, and she started doing that around mile 4. My hiking partner and I just kept stopping with her every time she would start to throw up, and then eventually we took turns carrying her. Thankfully there was a road 1 mile away when she started throwing up, so we very slowly got there and I got a hitch into town to a vet. After running tests and everything, the vet said she was totally healthy and that she probably just got into something or drank some weird water. That was a scary day, but everything turned out great!
What were some of your favorite things about having Arrow with you and/or what was your favorite memory from your hike?
Oh, man. I couldn’t imagine having hiked without her. She is such a loyal, fun little companion that always brought a smile to anyone’s face. Every morning she would cuddle with me, and then she would make her way around camp and snuggle with anyone else who wanted it. I always had people tell me what a mood lifter she was! There were times that I’d be on a tough uphill or just was feeling tired, and seeing her happy little face encouraged me so much and gave me the will power to keep going. One reason I love backpacking so much and got into it so heavily was because I knew how happy it made Arrow. It makes me happy to see her so happy!
What other advice would you like to give to prospective long distance hikers who would like to take their dog?
I could go on and on about this, but my biggest thing I always preach is just make sure it’s the right dog. The breed of your dog, what its intended purpose is, is so vitally important. Also, does your dog enjoy long hikes? Not just 5 or 10 miles, but 20 miles over tough terrain. It’s important to assess your dog’s ability to handle that kind of exertion and if they actually enjoy it. The physical safety and all around well-being of your dog is your number one priority! Another thing that is so important to think about is how well behaved is your dog, really? We all like to think our dogs are the best, but having a dog that runs up on other people, other dogs, gets into people’s stuff, etc., can be a real nuisance. You must consider the people you’re around and how your dog will come across to them. Also, having a dog that listens to you and minds is vital. There are so many exciting smells, sights, animals and other things that your dog may want to check out, but for your safety and theirs, it’s important that they listen when you tell them what to do. Some other things to think about are: When in town, you have to be sure to find dog-friendly places. Not all are! Also, not everyone is a dog person, so sometimes you may not be able to hang out with certain people if they have issues with dogs.
What's next for you and Arrow?
Well, we are about to move to Pittsburgh, PA, and we’ve got some future hiking plans in the works. :)
It's been 3 years since we've driven to Wyoming with Cooper to hike in the Bighorns. This was also our first backpacking trip in the past 2 years without our toddler Wes. He's good for about a mile on his own feet and is now too heavy to carry in the pack so sadly he's gonna miss out on the longer trips til he can build up his mileage. Powder River's dad Gary joined us once again on this trip. At 72 he's still going strong with backpacking at high elevation! Powder's folks live in Sheridan, WY at the base of the Bighorns, an impressive but often overlooked range for travelers. This is in our favor: we love hiking with no other people around and having such beautiful country to ourselves!
This trip we tried a new trailhead for us, Lower Paint Rock Lake. It was the longest drive we've done for a trailhead out from Sheridan- long mainly because we were on gravel road of variable conditions for 25miles. The total drive was 4 hours, the gravel section took us 1.5 hours.
From Lower Paint Rock Lake, we took trail no. 59 to Teepee Pole Flats. We made a base camp in the North Paint Rock Creek Valley, a bit beyond Teepee Pole Flats. We spent two nights camped there and day hiked on the second day to Cliff Lake using trail no. 38 and no. 60.
We initially thought we'd base camp at Cliff Lake and then day hike the trail no. 60 and 38 loop. After the long drive and a decent 5 mile uphill hike to Paint Rock Creek (breathing heavily and taking lots of rest stops since we were up at 9000ft but left town at 3700ft), we decided to pull up short and make camp. This made for a nice hike out on our third day to the closest cheeseburger. We started missing Wes pretty bad too so it was nice to catch him for a few hours before bedtime on our final hike day. Compared to other sections we've done in Cloud Peak, we really enjoyed the variety this trail had to offer. The first leg sadly meanders through a vast blow-down section of pines. The best we could figure is maybe a squall swept through- the trees here were not diseased at all, so maybe a fierce wind alone took them down in a somewhat straight swath. The trail maintenance was superb- the blow-downs were chainsawed through, making a nice wide path. Once we crossed into the wilderness area, we climbed through pristine pine forests dotted with wildflowers which then opened up to a vast park ("park" means meadow) called Sheep Creek Park. Compared to any meadow on the AT- for example, Grayson Highlands- this Sheep Creek Park is enormous. It's immense size is hard to fully take in- like looking out on a sea of grass. Cooper enjoyed rolling rolling rolling and we were happy to have clear skies on both the in and out traverse of this high alpine meadow. You surely would not want to cross it in a thunderstorm!
For parts of this hike we felt like we were in the Lord of the Rings when the fellowship is running from Orcs right before they take the shortcut to Rivendell. My favorite terrain in the Bighorns are the meadows around the high alpine lakes. Cliff Lake did not disappoint and we took note of how this was probably one of the best days of Cooper's life hiking and swimming!
We figured Cooper might be pretty stiff after this hike but he really surprised us and didn't act tired at all when we got back to Sheridan! He's almost 8 now and since he's got a toddler, his walks are limited to what Wes can do. We're so glad we made the drive so Cooper could come too. He is at his happiest in the wilderness and he was such a good boy on the hike. It helped that we didn't encounter many chipmunks, marmots or pika- actually we didn't see any marmots or pika, though we heard them from a distance. We also didn't see any elk or moose- but of course saw lots of poop. We leashed Cooper on large sections of our walk, especially in moosey looking spots like river marshes. We did encounter a pack of 4 horses with 2 riders, on their way to "pack out some kids." Not sure we met the kids or quite understood why they needed "packing out" but we suppose some folks go-heavy in the backcountry. The Bighorns aren't very well known to the ultralight backpacking community and the couple of hikers we did encounter all had huge external frame packs.
Cooper enjoyed wearing his Turtle Top Quilt on this trip- it did feel pretty chilly at night, probably in the upper 40s and we had rain the second night. I enjoyed not having to check on him in the middle of the night, to make sure his blanket was still on, because our Turtle TQ doesn't slide off- it stays on and fully drapes your dog all through the night, even when they get up to circle! We used a piece of a Thermarest Z-rest for his ground insulation.
The only downside of our trip was the bugs! Poor Cooper got eaten alive with black flies and had blood welts on his belly. We tried using Picardin on ourselves, but when it didn't cut-it after about an hour, we switched to our old standby, 100% deet. We were glad we had pre-treated our clothes with Permethrin. I sure regretted not bringing a pair of pants. I was going light with only my hiking dress and my wool long underwear. Man I missed the rainpants- they work great when there's biting flies around. Biting flies could care less if your legs are covered in 100% deet.
The best view of the hike was when we were on our way back to the truck and found this overlook. We had a view up a large canyon. Cooper was quite done with biting insects at this point and we realized the quilt helps protect him from getting bitten when we lays down while wearing it.
Thanks for reading! Please let your friends know about our Turtle TQ!
Katie (Trailname "Crayon") and Oliver (trailname "Poncho") thru hiked Vermont's Long Trail northbound in July/Aug of 2018. Crayon had a successful thru with Poncho and agreed to share a few details. We hope it helps you in your planning! Poncho at the time of the hike was 1.5 yrs old, weighed 42 pounds, is a cattle dog mix and wore the size small Trekking Pack. Enjoy reading about their hike!
What kind of backpacking trips had you done either by yourself or with Oliver before the LT?
Honestly, we only did one multi-day trip before thru hiking. I adopted Oliver in October and decided to hike the Long Trail the following summer, so we haven’t been together very long! We have day-hiked together once or twice a week since I got him. At first it was very difficult. He had spent his entire young life in a cage and was not leash trained, had a high prey-drive, and zero recall. It was frustrating. I got the help of a professional trainer and was totally committed to getting him up to speed- I’m very active outdoors and it’s really important to me that Oliver be able to participate in all my adventures! But it’s also really important to me that he be well behaved, safe, and not a risk or annoyance to others. I live in southern New Hampshire and have really close access to some less populated hiking trails, so all winter we were out there training, training, training. I had always wanted to hike the LT but wouldn’t commit until I was certain that Oliver could handle it behavior and conditioning-wise.
Did you have any concerns with Poncho and the difficulty of the terrain (slab climbing etc) and or Poncho meeting a moose or other potentially dangerous animal encounter (snakes, porcupines etc).
By the spring I was feeling very confident in Poncho’s behavior and really proud of how far he’d come! I started taking him up into the White Mountains to see how he’d handle the terrain and some really populated trails. He is happiest when he’s hiking and he really impressed me with how trail-savvy he is. Part of that is breed, I think- he’s a cattle dog mix. The LT offered up some of the more rugged and technical hiking I’ve done. He needed a few boosts here and there. The handles on your pack were so useful! It was fun to watch him get more comfortable scrambling as we headed further North. By the end I was barely assisting him at all. Unless we were scrambling, I had him hike behind me so I could see what was coming- critters, people, etc. This worked really well for us. I leashed all through the Pico/Killington area because of the high porcupine population- there were warning signs on the shelters! I also leashed if we were hiking early in the morning or at dusk. We did the rest of the hike off leash! We saw 2 moose from a distance and he stood quietly and observed them with me. He chases the occasional chipmunk but when we’re long distance hiking and he’s wearing a pack he’s usually all business. I think he considers it to be his job, hahah!
What did he carry in his pack?
Just his food! I upped his calorie intake by 50% by adding a powdered, dehydrated dog food formula on top of his regular kibble. He was able to carry both comfortably. His pack never exceeded 10% of his body weight.
Did you decide to resupply in towns or do mail-drops, or a little of both?
I did mail-drops because I wanted to be sure that I’d have his food and in the correct amounts. It was a short enough thru-hike that this wasn’t really a big issue!
How many day sections between town days did you do?
We had 4 resupplies with about 5 days between each.
How did you do town days with Oliver?
I did end up hiking with some great people who were more than happy to help keep him entertained if I had to go somewhere, but there were a few instances where I had to tie him while I ran quickly into a store. I had to make advanced hostel or hotel reservations because of limited dog-friendly options, so I was held more to a set schedule than other hikers who could take zeroes, etc. if they wanted to on a whim. We had no zeroes, just a couple neroes. Hitching took a bit longer because on all the days we hitched it was pouring rain and I had a wet, muddy dog! The people who picked us up were of course big dog and hiker lovers and I was very grateful to them, hahah!
Did you need to do anything to help protect his paws?
I applied Mushers Wax every couple days and had a set of emergency booties, gauze, and vet wrap. Luckily we did not need them! His paws held up great!
What kind of sleep set-up do you have with him?
I have a 2-person tent (Big Agnes Copper Spur) and he sleeps on his own thermarest z-lite. I sort of committed to carrying more weight/extra gear once I decided he would join me on the thru. He’s doing big miles and long days like me so I felt that he deserved to be comfortable at night! He didn’t need any sort of blanket/sleeping bag, but on the 1 or 2 nights it got a bit chilly I covered him with my down puffy jacket. We did sleep in shelters through the northern portion because it was wet and rainy. He was really well behaved and handled this just fine.
What time is "doggie-midnight" ;)
As soon as he had dinner he would be down for the count! I put him “to bed” in the tent or in the shelter and he would sleep through the night. He also learned to grab a nap whenever we stopped for a quick break along the trail. I also gave him a longer 30-45 min rest in the middle of each day. He fell into a routine really fast!
What was your favorite day on Trail with Poncho?
It’s hard to choose one! He’s my buddy and such a loyal friend. I think the last day was my favorite. I was just so proud of him and so grateful for our friendship. I’m convinced he’d follow me just about anywhere. Dogs really are amazing creatures! I’m so lucky that Poncho and I found each other.
The Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming
My first hiking trip "Out West" with Powder River was in 2012 in the Bighorn Mountains. And it was the most incredible scenery I think I've ever seen- untouched high alpine lakes, waterfalls, open meadows of wild flowers with nearby marmots chirping "this is my home." He took me to the Cloud Peak Wilderness. And as he says, (Wyoming-raised as he is), there are very few real wilderness areas on the East Coast. He often points out that when we enter a wilderness area on the Appalachian Trail, there are typically paved roads running through. Not so in the Cloud Peak Wilderness. The dirt road just to get to the trailhead is a very bouncy, hour long drive in a high-clearance, preferably 4 wheel drive vehicle. No ATVs are allowed onto the trails in the most serene areas which lead to Cloud Peak, a 13,000+ foot mammoth of grey rock.
Our hike this year, once again with Powder's dad, was to Emerald Lake. This was Cooper's second time in Cloud Peak, and boy did he enjoy it! The constant chirping of picas and marmots really kept him busy and gave us some fun photo opportunities! (No picas or marmots were harmed in the creation of these photos, or during the hike.)
From Coffeen Park trailhead, the hike to Emerald Lake is relatively easy - a gradual uphill hike over fairly smooth, somewhat root and rock free trail. It is only 6 miles to the lake and the hike could be a day trip, but we enjoy camping out. We had great weather and enjoyed the peak of the wild flower bloom.
There were several stream crossings. On about the second one, my foot slipped into the water on a deceivingly slippery rock. For the next stream, I just decided to walk through with submerged feet. Mesh trail running shoes are great for this reason. By the next morning, my shoes and socks were completely dry, just in time to walk through the same streams again as we neared the truck.
It's great to hike with Gary, Powder's dad. He is always positive, even through some of the less fun parts. And we did have some mishaps on our trip! A flat tire on the way up, killer mosquitos, he fell on a rock and had some stomach issues. Yet he constantly smiled. God's joy is so present in his spirit. This has also helped him to run the Sheridan hospital lab for the past 40 years! Keep smiling, Gary!
Once we broke tree line, after about 4.5 miles, we were greeted by some majestic meadows surrounded by rises of granite all around and a stream running through. We climbed the last 250 feet up and over Edelman Pass and were meet with this heavenly scene: the sinking sun was drenching the rock speckled grass all around Emerald Lake. The mountains around the lake make it seem as if you are on the top of the world, and just over the edge would be only air and clouds. It is the kind of "room" I want to live in! We walked a bit around the lake and found a perfect spot to pitch the tents, complete with a flat boulder the height of a table to make dinner on. Dehydrated teriyaki chicken and rice never tasted so good!
Sophie, a 90 pound Great Dane, is one of my product testers this summer. I am happy to work with Sophie, because I can actually visit her in person and see how the big dog pattern is working! She is also the reason I love dogs. Several years ago her parents asked me to take care of her for 3 weeks while they traveled to Greece. Before living with Sophie for almost a month, I was a "cat person." Thank you Sophie for showing me how great dogs can be! Years later, here I am, a proud dog parent. Powder River, the Ulrichs and I like to joke about how Cooper is Sophie's mini me. It's true, maybe Cooper does have a little Great Dane in him. He would love to chase a bore, if given opportunity. I would also like to thank Sophie's dad, Jacob. I worked with him for 4.5 years making custom concrete countertops. He has been in manufacturing for ten years. I worked under him, and he constantly refined my craft and kept us both striving for the best. Jacob's blood is German and he loves good construction... I know he and his wife Liz will do a great job contributing to Groundbird Gear's design!
My Mom and I went out for a second time, this time her neighbor Mic joined us, and it was Mic's first backpacking trip! My Mom so wanted Mic to have a good time, enough so, so that she might consider becoming my Mom's hiking partner. We had such a good time that we actually added a 1000' foot drop (and climb back up) down the blue blaze Jones Waterfall/Doyles River trail. At around 2:30 when we came to this side trail, we realized we'd be very early into camp (Black Rock Hut) and we might as well get some more hiking in. Adding this blue section was a good experience for everyone to see what climbing mountains is all about, because the A.T. through this section (Loft Mountain Campground to Black Rock Gap) is very very flat. And highly recommended to beginner backpackers. This section also has a great reward at the end, if you hike South from Loft Mountain, Black Rock is one of the best views in the Shenandoahs, next to Mary's Rock! ***Dogs must be on leash in the Park, and this is no joke. There are seriously bears everywhere and Mamma Bear will easily be able to kill a dog to protect her cubs. Cooper would surely die if he was off leash in the Park.
Night One: Car camped at Loft Mountain Campground (the campground was fully reserved, but we took one of the walk-in sites)
The Next Morning: We set up our car shuttle, with one vehicle at Loft Wayside and the other in Black Rock Gap (0.7mi hike South from Black Rock Hut). Mic's husband kindly dropped us off in Loft Mtn campground so we didn't have to hike up to the Trail from the Wayside. From here to Black Rock Hut is about 7 mi. Our blue blaze added about 3.5mi.
Night Two: pitched tents at Black Rock Hut. A few good tents sites here, great piped spring and decent shelter.
The Next Morning: very short walk out to the car in Black Rock Gap
We hiked through the boulder field at Black Rock from the back side of the overlook. Mom and Mic were not too happy with me for making them go the "long way." Oops. Made for a nice little workout before the view though! Cooper loves navigating the rocks and does a pretty good job. If he comes to a part and needs some help, the Groundbird Gear harness double handles make it easy to pick him up.
Since my 2011 AT sobo thru-hike, my mom has been inspired to get involved in Trail life. She started with trail magic to me and my friends during my hike and since has joined her local chapter AT club, the Tidewater Appalachian Trail Club, which maintains one of my favorite sections on the entire trail, Reids (Reeds) Gap to the Tye River, including Three Ridges Mountain and the Mau Har Trail. I chose this hike for her first backpacking trip in the mountains for it's minimal elevation gain and fantastic final overlook at Spy Rock. Cooper fully enjoyed himself, as always!
We did not camp here, but this is a very nice campsite North of Seely Woodsworth, called Porters Gap.
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