Last summer we hiked with Powder River's uncle Dean near Independence Pass in CO. This summer we convinced Dean once again to strap 25 pounds on his back and hoof it over some mountains. Dean and Beth (Powder River's cousin), like to hike the 14,000 footers of CO but they do so with small day packs. Our short trip in the Weminiche Wilderness was Beth's first time backpacking. We found her a pack on Craigslist for $30 and she borrowed one of our down bags. Hopefully Beth will keep backpacking in her native CO mountains so we can live vicariously through her experiences :)
We drove on the infamous Million Dollar Highway to Cunningham Gulch trailhead near Silverton, CO. Powder River was excited for me to experience this highway. He drove on it at the end of his Colorado Trail thru-hike in 2010 (much to his mother's shagrin- she was forced to ride over it as a passenger). If you have a fear of heights or visions of plummeting to your death inside a rolling car down a steep slope, we cannot recommend this road. If you however, like living on the edge- you will really enjoy this ride. The trailhead is a hub for ATVs. In fact, on our drive back down to Silverton at the end of our hike, we joined the ATV rush hour, and filed in to a stream of them heading down the mountain. Silverton is a really neat tiny mountain town. We wondered what it's like for the community in the winter, the town must be very hard to access! Then again, maybe everyone drives snowmobiles! We enjoyed watching the old narrow track steam train pull into the middle of town. You can ride it to Durango and back for $100.
Back to the Weminuche Wilderness Hike: We hiked to the Highland Mary Lakes from the Cunningham Gulch Trailhead. Here's a great website that covers some of the hikes in the area, if you are planning your own trip: http://www.coloradoswildareas.com/weminuche-wilderness/. We gave our Nat Geo trail map to Dean at the end of the hik (with hopes he would continue to use it) so my memory is a little shakey as I write about specific place names.
Powder River was most excited to show me a view of the Grenadier Range, his favorite part of his thru-hike of the Colorado Trail in 2010. Check out his blog about this area here. Yes... it was truly amazing. Now that I am back in Baltimore, looking at these photos, I can hardly believe that we were up there in that heaven.
We ran into a couple of thru-hikers (one on the C.T. and one on the C.D.T.). They are easy to spot, one because we used to be them, and two; they typically have smallish backpacks and don't want to stop and talk for very long. Thru-hikers on these trails need to make 20+ miles everyday if they are to finish in one season. Amazing feat at such high elevation. I suppose their lungs have adjusted- mine certainly hadn't! Which sadly cut our trip a bit short. We were both feeling the nausea and headaches. This feeling made me want to cry: it was such a stunning place and I felt really crappy. So it is in God's country. You must take the time to walk in this place so that you can adjust to being there to cover more ground. His ways truly are mysterious, as is His AWEsome nature.
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!
Teton Crest Trail, WY
Please note: dogs are NOT allowed in the backcountry of Teton National Park. Sadly, Cooper did not join us for this hike. Instead, he enjoyed the joys of life as a suburban dog in Sheridan, WY with his Grandma and Grandpa.
The Teton Crest Trail is a very popular small 40 mile thru-hike. It is considered to be on a par with the John Muir Trail in AWEsomeness and since it is a 6th of the length of the JMT, we can consider it to be the most spectacular hike for its length in the US. The Grand Teton National Park regulates how many backpackers can be on the trail by requiring that you reserve a specific campsite for each night you will be out. Only one third of the limited campsites can be reserved in advanced through their website. We chose to get up at 5:30am and stand in line for two hours the day before our trip to get our permits. We were first in the ever growing line. It is probable that some of the folks who also got to the Visitors' Center before the doors opened at 8am, did not get the campsites they wanted. The ranger advised us to not finish out through Paintbrush Canyon because the snowy trail in that section would require crampons and ice axes. So instead, our thru-hike was cut short by 8 miles and we exited via Cascade Canyon at Jenny Lake. We claimed the following campsites "by a hair:" night one- Middle/South Fork of Granite Canyon; night two- Death Canyon Shelf; night three- South Fork Cascade. It is possible to backpack this trail without permits because there are two National Forest sections that you can camp in that do not require reservations. It is best to hike North, so that you can see the majestic Grand popping up over the smaller mountains as you progress.
We hiked with our friends "Teeny" and Dana. I met Teeny on our A.T. sobo thru-hike in 2011. She and I were hiking partners for the last 800 miles of the South on our way to Springer Mountain. Her boyfriend is working at the Old Faithful clinic in Yellowstone this summer and was able to take a few days off to meet us. Teeny is an incredible athlete. I owe part of my success in completing the A.T. to her. Her constant, powerful drive also helped to keep me driven- through the snow, bitter cold and pain we experienced off and on during the last stretch of the 2,181 mile hike.
We began our Teton Crest Trail hike from highway 22, west of Jackson Hole Resort. Some hikers choose to use the resort's tram for $30 per person. We're cheap and like the extra sweat factor of climbing up from the parking lot :).
When we arrived at our first night's campsite, we were somewhat surprised to find several groups already set-up, as if they had already been there for hours (they probably had). We found a bare dirt spot on the other side of the stream from everyone, later to be challenged by some tired, grumpy boy scouts who claimed we were "in their group site." That didn't go over great because they were accusatory and we knew the "group site" was a mile back, according to the map. It's a wonder the scouts didn't scout out a site, but instead just followed our tip on walking a few paces up the hill from us to find another flat spot we had seen. Turns out there was a post 15o yards away from our spot that vaguely referenced a "group site" in our vicinity. It would help everyone if the Park Service made this crystal clear, for the sake of keeping grumpy boy scouts at bay.
We ended up changing our plan and only spent two nights in the woods. We arrived at Death Canyon Shelf camping area around 2pm and decided to continue hiking to camp in Alaska Basin instead. No permits are needed there, so besides taking our reserved sites from someone else in the permit line, we did not break any rules. We were so glad we camped there, it was just incredible. The next day, we hoofed it up and over Hurricane Pass and all the way down Cascade Canyon to Jenny Lake. We saw many groups of people around the Teton Crest Trail/Cascade Canyon Trail junction. Pretty impressive to find so many people about 7 miles from the parking lot! They all would have walked 14 miles that day, whereas we did about 12 and saw more incredible views by a factor of 10. Our final day was filled with ice-melt waterfalls, lovely flora and shade by the Grand. Once we got to Inspiration Point at the far end of Jenny Lake, we decided to take the shuttle boat (!) across for a one way price of $8/per person. There were so many people on the two mile stretch of trail to the parking lot. We didn't want to dodge them with our poles and heavy packs and didn't want our stench to interfere with their "serenity," so the shuttle boat ride with 70's mustache dude Captain Dave was perfect. We finished off our caloric-depleting day with a really delicious dinner at the Q Roadhouse in Moose.
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!
A Handmade gift from a friend
The great thing about living in Baltimore City is all the houses are row houses. You actually see and talk to your neighbors every single day. We live on a great block. Joe lives two houses down with his dog Henry. Henry is a Frisbee Dog Champion. Although Henry probably won't need a hiking pack, I asked Joe to check out the website to let me know what he thought. Today when he saw me out back on my way to take Cooper to the park, he said "wait a minute, I have something for you." And he handed me this hand stitched handkerchief, he said for Jeff. I was so impressed, I wasn't sure if he made this after being inspired by the products I've been making. But nope, Joe has made these for friends for some time I suppose. He said he tried to make some for ladies, but ran out of pink thread. He told me the "GT" stands for Gentlemen. And it is made from a plain white cotton T-shirt. A couple weeks ago, Joe handed me a CD by his old polka band. He was featured in the first three tracks playing the snare drum. Well, yes, things are always interesting here on Falls Road. Glad to have like-minded, creative neighbors like Joe! (Little does Joe know, between me and Jeff, I am the one who uses handkerchiefs!)
Trail Magic for the Kallin Family
The Kallin Family is an inspiration. More than just the fact that they are thru-hiking the A.T. as a family (a family which includes Robin Hood, age 9 and Cartwheel, she just turned 8 and they have reached the half way point to Maine); I am in awe of their love for each other and radiant joy and youthfulness, all five of them. The fifth family member is Orion, a 6 year old Springer/Lab mix. Mr. and Mrs. Kallin: Dave "All In" and Emily "Mama Bear" said they had not seen Orion play the entire hike as they saw him play with Cooper. (Cooper will bring the puppy out in any boy dog about his size!) I mistook Mama Bear for being 10 years younger than her age and we laughed as she reminded me that Robin Hood is almost 10 and she couldn't possibly be in her early 20s (see her pic below!).
Follow the Kallin Family on their journey from Georgia to Maine at: http://kallinfamily.com/
I met up with the Kallins as they were just finishing their half gallon challenge at the Pine Grove Furnace General Store. Needless to say, everyone was sprawled out on the picnic tables. Robin Hood ate 3/4 of the half gallon, which is better than what I could put down back in 2011! Cooper and I hiked with them over to the lake and waited while the whole family (except Orion, he was content laying on the grass) jumped in the lake. It started raining and we decided to eat under the covered porch of the bath house. I brought them some trail magic in the form of lettuce, tomatoes, feta, watermelon and kielbasa. (Mama Bear grows all of her family's food in her garden and the salad was a hit.) Ginger and Gilligan were also with us. They are a thru-hiking newly-weds on a mission out of a backpack to spread the love of God. I was impressed as everyone ate the food I brought, and their own pasta side concoctions, only about a half hour after the ice cream challenge.
Follow Ginger and Gilligan's nobo thru hike at: http://missionoutofabackpack.blogspot.com/
I spent the night with the gang at a tent site a bit north of the lake. We hiked up the hill in the dark, Cartwheel's first night hike. Everyone set up their tents and the kids played with some sparklers. For hikers we got to bed very late, 10pm. The Kallins let the kids sleep in til about 7am and we were on the Trail by about 7:30. They needed to get the show on the road because today they are hiking 18 miles to Boiling Springs to pick up a box before the post office closes. Sound crazy? An 8 and 9 year old hoofing it over mountains on a rocky 2,200 mile long trail...day after day, most days around 18 miles? Nope, it's really not that crazy when you spend some time with the Kallins. It is their normal. The kids are doing such a great job and are genuine thru-hikers in manner and speech. Their ongoing accomplishment carries a message for us all: if we walk as joyous children, free of jaded thoughts, free of judgement, filled with curiosity towards the things we discover and new people we meet, we too can accomplish our goals. As a lover of God I will add- when we walk through life as children who know who our Father is and trust that He will take care of our needs, just as Emily and Dave so lovingly care for their kids and dog, we too can accomplish great things that make our Father proud and further the goodness He pours into the world.
Now on to building Orion's pack. I will mail it to them a bit down the Trail.
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.
During our annual snowshoe trip to Lake Placid, NY, we didn't get to even use our snowshoes -- but Cooper did! We bought him some Muttluks for the adventure, after reading about how famous little Atticus in the book Following Atticus by Tom Ryan wore them in the Whites. They worked pretty good, but we'll probably try wrapping the cuffs with athletic wrap to keep them solid on his feet and keep snow from entering the cuff. It always takes him a few minutes to get used to them, then he's off, running around like normal. He also sported his Groundbird Gear jacket.
We've met up with our trail friend Bigglesworth three different winters for snowshoeing. She's the one to go with! She lives west of Albany and has no power or running water in her little cabin. So when she finished her AT thru-hike in 2008, she ended up carrying on the lifestyle to some degree! Now she is on a quest to hike the 46 4,000 footers of the Adirondacks.
We stayed at T-Max and Topo's hostel in Lake Placid. David and Terri run the hostel. Terri was out of town but it was good to meet David. He has quite a resume of high peaks and trail miles. He certainly loves to entertain and host avid Adirondacks hikers. The hostel has a great industrial kitchen, dining area and living room. Each bed is named for one of the ADK high peaks. The resident old lady cat, Nervina, wears a "bikini" (diaper) and is still scooting around. Cooper was admitted because we had one of the 2 private rooms, but he was not allowed in to common area-- probably best for Nervina!
The night we arrived in Lake Placid it started to rain. Big unhappy face :( Most all of the snow covering the ground outside the hostel melted. And then directly following the warm spell was the infamous "polar vortex." So all the little streams running down the trails turned to shear ice. We only went out for a few short walks and rented MICROspikes from the High Peaks Information Center near the ADK Loj. It was zero degrees when we hiked from the HPICenter. Here's Biggles with her hair frozen from her breath:
Our favorite spots in the town of Lake Placid:
Liquids and Solids (weird name we know, but has a very creative and tasty menu!)
Big Mountain Deli and Creperie (they have 46 crepes, all amazing!!)
Lake Placid Pub and Brewery
EMS (we've found some great gear on clearance!)
Henry's Woods and a great dog-friendly local trail. There is a nice overlook of Mirror Lake.
The John Brown Farm Nat. Historical site has a nice field with view of the Olympic high ski jump tower-- locals take their dogs here to run around.
We drove through Harriman State Park on our way back to Baltimore and enjoyed a quick walk beside Lake Skannatati. Cooper tried out ice dancing.
The prayer I prayed the most when preparing for my thru-hike in 2011 was that I would have great friends, for the whole journey. God answered. I met Bogart, Tag and Coach at the Rainbow Springs shelter, 30 miles into the hike and finished with them on our very last day, 5 1/2 months later. I also met Twisted Turtle and Teeny in Maine. Teeny rejoined us South of Waynesboro, VA later in the hike and walked nearly every day with me for the last 800 miles (she did a flip-flop hike). For great stories and photos of my thru-hike, visit mainetogeorgia.wordpress.com.
We had a really great couple of days hanging out at the Mountain Harbor Hostel (in the town of Roan Mountain, TN) and a couple of nights on the Trail, one of the nights out was New Year's Eve! I made Teeny and Dana's little 30lb pitbull Donut a turtle neck jacket for the hike. Donut and Cooper did a great job modeling! For our first night out, we hiked 9 miles from the hostel to the Overmountain Shelter (photo above). It was an incredibly cold and windy hike over Hump Mountain. Cooper did not even seem to notice! He was rolling in the snowy grass and running back and forth. My Wyoming raised husband did not seem to mind much either. But I'll admit, that was one of the coldest experiences I've had backpacking. There was an added discomfort for me because my glasses kept frosting over! Our last 2 or 3 miles to the shelter were in the dark with Coach and Savannah. Savannah's first backpacking trip and first night hike!
The next day we went back to the hostel from Carvers Gap. On New Year's Eve we did a short 4mi. hike from Erwin, TN to the Curley Maple Gap Shelter (photo below). Teeny packed in a bottle of champagne for everyone to share. We all had a great time hanging out around the fire and stuffing our faces with kielbasa, mac and cheese and lots of candy.
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