Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Adventures of the Trail Blazers

Hello fellow explorers,


Items we stuffed into our backpacks


Kat and I have returned from our jaunt in the wilderness.  To recap, we set out to backpack from Amicalola Falls State Park to Springer Mountain.  According to the sign, it is a mere 8.5 mile hop, skip and a jump.

Such an inviting entrance


Now, we have had plenty of experience at hiking pretty lengthy trails.  But this was our first time carrying any substantial gear (for camping, eating, etc.)  To be fair, there are plenty of signs warning that it was a very strenuous effort level.  But, we figured, no worries.  How hard can it be?  We have run 10K's, biked for many, many miles.  What's a little hike.




Surprisingly, no kitchen sink in the pack, but everything else ...
So, we departed, carrying way!!!! to much weight.  Did I mention that this was our first time doing this?

When we arrived, we realized that we had left one of our water bottles at the camper.  No big deal, we had 2 full 3 litre bladders and 2 more bottles, we could easily refill them along the way (right?).

Then, about a half mile into the hike, Kat tripped and fell, striking her knee pretty hard.  It bruised and swelled right up.  So, we used common sense and headed home.  NOPE.  Kat insisted on pushing forward.  I understand her feelings.  She has Lupus and does not like to have physical limitations hold her back.

Thus, we pressed on.  Our pace was slow and steady.  Kat favored that injured knee considerably and ended up twisting her ankle over and over again.  But, still we pressed on.  (Please do not confuse our stubbornness with wisdom).

This trail consists of climbing and descending at least 3 sizeable mountains, more than 2000 feet ascension.  This was where, taking our dogs was a big advantage.  Zorro, our very loyal 70 pounds of pure muscle was more than happy to use his strength to pull Kat up the inclines.  She attached his leash to her belt loop and he showed boundless energy.  Nova, at 38 pounds seemed intent on pulling me up too.  Amazing the power and stamina that they have.

Water ended up being a rare, precious commodity
Our slow pace and extra demand on our dogs meant that we used more water than we intended.  We had to make sure the dogs stayed hydrated, even before our own needs.  So, we noticed that we were getting low in a very treacherous area aptly named Nimblewood Gap.

My pack was much too heavy and not well balanced.  Fortunately, 2 experienced lady hikers (Mary Lou and Patty) helped me to resolve that issue and re-arranged the items hanging on my pack for better balance.  It was a major difference as I did not have to stop so often to remove the pack.  They also told us that water was about an hour ahead.  Thanks Ladies.

After hiking, what seemed about 80 miles, we saw a sign that said it was still 3.4 miles to Springer Mountain.  That was quite discouraging.

 Finally, we saw the sign pointing in the direction of the water.  I was expecting a babbling brook or stream, but was surprised to find the smallest trickle of water coming from a rock.  The water barely pooled.  I would not even be able to fill a normal water bottle with this.  Fortunately, I had packed a small plastic flask and was able to lay it flat and fill it about a quarter full and transfer water to the bottles a little at a time.  We were so tired and thirsty, that we drank the water, not waiting for purification.  (A big risk, but we lucked out and did not have any symptoms of Giardia or other microbial ailments).

Again, we marched on, not really enjoying the landscape, just wanting to get to our destination.  Finally, after a couple more hours, we reached our shelter.  Looking at the horizon, we had about 1/2 hour of light and we needed more water.  So, Kat set up camp and I followed the sign the water.  This time, the hike was a half mile and down a very steep incline.  Any steeper and it would have required a repel.  At the bottom was another spring, but this one made the other spring look like a roaring river.  I filled up as many containers as I could with the little light I had, huffed my way back up the incline and reached camp as it was getting dark.

After getting a fire going and boiling some water to make dinner, we actually started to feel better.  I hung our food to prevent it from bear pilfering and we made our way to laying out under the stars.  Then I remembered why I don't like to sleep on the hard ground.  I don't sleep very well.  We both took some OTC pain medicine and finally passed out from exhaustion about 3:30 AM.  Fortunately, I had brought a small propane heater as it got quite windy and cold over night.

Part of what had kept me awake was worrying about Kat's knee and ankle.  If she swelled up even more over night and was unable to hobble back, we would be in a world of hurt.  There is not a hint of cell service in those mountains.  Also, it was Monday and we seemed to be the only hikers in the area, so getting help would not be so easy.

But, after a terrible night's sleep, we both actually awoke refreshed and committed to getting back home.  The anti-inflammatory worked wonders for us both, over night.

 So, I ventured down the hellish hillside and topped off our water containers, we had breakfast and put one foot in front of the other all the way back.  What took us 8 hours the prior day only took us 5 to return (lighter packs, more organized and sheer determination).

Once again, our dogs were invaluable.  Zorro would stay right near us, when not assisting Kat up the hills (between squirrel chases that is).  Then when a large incline was coming up, he would just walk back to her to see if she wanted help.  He was very heroic.  I had to keep Nova on the leash at all times.  She has the worst dog ADHD that I have seen, she would chase squirrels and possibly bears, raccoons or whatever and not come back in a timely manner.  But she was still more than happy to walk and walk and walk on the leash.  As we got back to the car, and dead on our feet, they both were still in full squirrel hunt mode.  Amazing energy.

Exhausted, but happy Nova sleeping on Zorro at end of trip

 So, we survived our first backpacking trip.  It almost turned into a survival story due to lack of preparation and underestimating the terrain.

It seems so silly now.  We didn't just decide to run a 10K one day, we started off small and worked our way up.  We should have approach backpacking the same way.  And so we shall going forward.

 Kat and I are still recovering from our aches, pain and blisters, and she is starting to edit the pictures that she did take.  Although, they are not as many as we thought due to her knee bruise.

But, we hope to learn from our mistakes.

Happy Trails -- Kit