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Monday, July 16, 2012

A Trial Run

...and a trail run too...

This weekend I was able to test out some new gear on the AT, headed NOBO (trail direction "northbound", but in this case mostly compass east...and sometimes south!) from PA 225 on Peter's Mountain to PA 443 near Swatara Gap.  This was the final section of Pennsylvania Appalachian Trail between the MD line and Hamburg that I hadn't yet hiked; now I only have the 70 miles north of Hamburg to the NJ line left to complete my personal goal of the entire AT in PA by the end of 2012.

This weekend's section of trail was mostly through PA State Gamelands 211, also known as St. Anthony's Wilderness: one of the largest wilderness areas in the state.  This was highly appropriate for a trial run of some new gear and techniques, since my opportunities to "bail out" at a road crossing were few and far between.  Also, with the weekend's forecast highly favoring rain, my chances were good for a real field test of some of my gear's waterproofing.

The main goals of this short trip were to try out:
1) Some new lightweight gear, primarily:
 a) Golite PonchoTarp - freshly seam-sealed around the hood with Coleman Seam Sealer
 b) Golite Rush 20 pack
 c) Montrail Mountain Masochist GTX trail running shoes (picked up at the Columbia Outlet this spring for less than 40 bucks!) with Injinji toe socks
2) Fastpacking (i.e. a fusion of backpacking and trail running)

After working a full day on Friday, my wife provided the shuttle and I was on the trail by 6:30pm with a fully loaded pack: just under 20 lbs, which included 2 pounds of food and 3 liters of water.  I would have carried less water, but I was pretty sure I wasn't going to have a convenient chance to refill until sometime the next day, I figured I better play it safe in this humidity.

After a brief stop at Peter's Mountain Shelter, I arrived at an unnamed campsite before Kinter View around 8:15pm, around 5 miles into the hike.  I didn't want my first time setting up this shelter in the field to be with a headlamp, so I got right to business and it only took about 20 minutes to have camp fully set up and ready for the constant rain that was to follow that night.

My biggest problem sleeping wasn't the bugs, or the rain, but actually the lack of a pillow.  I normally stuff my sleeping bag stuff sack with extra clothing and anything soft, but with temps not expected to go below 60F overnight, I didn't pack much other than what I had on my body.  I ended up using a combination of my stuffed stuff sack (only about the size of a baseball) and a few extra accordion folds of my Thermarest Z-lite at the base of my neck to provide the comfort necessary for some sleep.  After a somewhat restless night, I awoke around 6am to the rain subsiding and a dry sleeping area.  The tarp performed flawlessly, and I was extremely happy to be able to break camp without rain coming down too!

I arrived at Kinter view after about a quarter mile, offering a unique scene of Clark's Valley this morning:

The next few miles were a descent to PA 325 at Clark's Creek for a breakfast and water stop, then up the mountain to the northern terminus of the 140 mile Horseshoe Trail, after crossing paths with two trail runners on their way down the mountain.

I ended up taking a little detour at this point to try and find some geocaches, but didn't have a whole lot of luck searching around the slippery rocks from the previous night's rain.

The detour brought me back down to an area where I visited on two wheels a few weeks ago, the Stony Valley Rail Trail, and then I made it back up to the AT on the blue-blazed Yellow Springs trail, bursting with rocks under every step taking a rather ambitious route straight up the mountain.

Rail Trail

Yellow Springs Trail along a rocky gorge

Yellow Springs Trail - straight up the mountain!

The next stop after a few miles on the AT was a side trip to "The General", which I'm not sure you'd find unless you had a guide of some sort (like a GPSr).  There's a sign at the intersection of the AT indicating the direction to the General, but nothing else.  The actual route requires one more turn, which isn't marked.'s the General in all its glory:

At this point, I was ready to make some quick miles on the flat trail and ran the entire way to Rausch Gap shelter, where a trail maintenance crew was hard at work finding rocks, cleaning rocks, and transporting concrete mix to get this shelter back in business with what looks to be stone walls.  This appeared to be quite an undertaking and I'm grateful for their hard work and dedication - thanks trail maintainers!!!

Just down from the shelter, I ran across a fitting sight on the AT, but I can't say that I expected it way out here in the "middle of nowhere":

The remaining 5 miles of trail were fairly uneventful, with the exception of occasional army helicopters buzzing by right above the treetops, heading to and from Ft Indiantown Gap, barely a couple miles away.  Just a few hundred feet before I reached my car however, I came across a gorgeous trail portrait among wildflowers that is definitely worth posting:

So how did my gear work out?  Overall, I was very pleased.

- While I didn't get to use the Ponchotarp as a poncho, it worked extremely well as a shelter, keeping me dry and comfortable through the night.  I see myself using this shelter system for most backpacking trips in the future.  It's light, and provides all that I need given the climate in PA.
- The 20L pack size is perfect for a weekend trip, to ensure against overpacking, and only taking the essentials.  I only have two concerns with the pack.  The first is the zippered main compartment, which could potentially break or slowly creep open over the course of a hike, the latter of which I solved by tying the zipper pull cords together at the top of the pack.  The second is the shoulder strap fit, which is probably my own fault for ordering the S/M size pack rather than the M/L size.  The right strap rides up toward my neck and I found myself constantly readjusting it throughout the course of the day.  Loosening the sternum strap helped, but ultimately, I think I just made a mistake in not ordering the correct size for my torso.
- I liked the shoes, they provided great stability (I didn't twist either ankle in 27ish miles), but I found they are lacking in grip on wet surfaces.  I've found I get better grip from other rubber (like on my Vasque boots) than the "gryptonite" from Montrail.  Even with this point, they were still a steal at 40 bucks and I'll continue to use them.
- The socks however, I'm not sure if I'll ever use again.  Don't get me wrong, I actually loved the "toe socks" design, which kept me from getting blisters between my toes, and I really didn't end up with other blisters either.  The main problem with my pair is that the fabric holds foot odor like a magnet...and then amplifies it!  My socks were stinking rotten after this trip.  I think I'll use the wool blend version to see how they stack up on the smell test.

As far as "fastpacking" goes, I liked the idea of going minimal to "enjoy more" hiking/running.  I ended up splitting the running and walking about 50/50 through the course of 2 days, which I felt comfortable with and definitely do again.  Next time I'll probably try to challenge myself more with fewer side trips and a stronger focus on attaining maximum miles per day to see what I can really do...the final 70 miles of the AT in PA in one weekend?  Maybe, we'll see.

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