A Cold Shakedown Hike in VA
There are all kinds of theories on whether you should do any kind of shake down hike prior to entering the world of long distance hiking. I will save my detailed analysis of why I think it’s a solid idea for another blog post but for now just know my opinion is do as many as you can. To be honest even if you do not obtain any crucial information for a thru hike, you will, in the end you get to go on a hike and we all want to hike.
I have spent the better part of five years in the deep south. And by deep south I mean I am only a few hours away from the Gulf of Mexico. I think the temperature gets under 40F maybe three days a year. With this information and previous cold, wet, and somewhat miserable winter backing packing trips I have had the pleasure of going on in the mountains of TN I knew that I needed to be prepared for cold weather. I also visit my family for Thanksgiving every year in VA. In order to bundle my family visiting and winter weather shakedown hike I decided to search the internet for short day hikes in VA where I could test a lot of my colder weather gear.
After a few searches on my lunch break I came across a the AT-Mau-Har Trail Loop (https://midatlantichikes.com/at-mauhar.htm). It offered 14.4 miles and 6800 feet of elevation change split between the AT and the Mau-Har Trail. There were a few betas of hiking the trial that I read prior to heading out to the Blue Ridge parkway. My favorite was a gentleman who said it was the hardest day hike he had ever done. After hearing this, and looking forward to the challenge, I packed my backpack and headed out. The weather forecast was 35F and clear. Driving north from my parents house I drove through Amherst VA which a the time had several brush fires and had air that was so thick with smoke it came in through the vents in my truck. I pushed on hoping I’d get to an area where the brush fire wasn’t present. Luckily I was right. As soon as I arrived at Reeds Gap and exited my truck I realized one that it was closer to 25F with the wind chill and two I needed to put on every piece of clothing I had with me to stay marginally comfortable. This is a time when I’m glad I had done a little research on the equipment I brought with me. I had two base layer shirts on as well as a Montbell jacket(App trials and other recommendation), and a Patagonia Nano Air jacket, also recommended on Appalachian trials. After getting all my gear on I set out on what was going to be my cold hike. The first thing I ran into was my hands were freezing. This was on top of me having not only mountain hardware gloves on but also glove liners. Personally I’d recommend packing gloves and glove liners anytime you go on a cold weather hike and they will definitely be in my pack when I set out from Spring mountain. Eventually after my numb hands came back to life in that deal where it feels like your hands are full of pins I ran into my next learning. After hiking a few miles I was hot and knew a jacket had to come off. I stopped and stripped the Montbell jacket off and then tried to get a drink of water. This is when I realized there was no water coming out. This was strange considering I filled my 3L bladder all the way to the brim prior to setting out for the day. Turns out the hose was frozen, it eventually thawed out as I reached the first good view of the day. The trail was a pretty good mix of climbs that went down into to creek beds and then back on top of the ridge in true AT fashion in George Washington National Forrest. There was a trail to a waterfall that I may have checked out if I wasn’t staring down 14.4 miles after daylights savings time. I was really happy with the gear choices that I picked up that were recommended by Appalachian Trials as well others.
Lessons from the Shakedown hike
Using Trail Runners in Winter Conditions
Even though I thought my feet would be cold in trail runners as opposed to the boots I normally use for cold weather back packing they did not. After I got moving and my feet warmed up I actually thought they sweated quite a bit but luckily the trial runners breathed well and in conjunction with my Darn tough socks they provided a comfortable blister free 14.4 miles.
The bags that come with sawyer water filters are not easy to use confirmed
In both of my two shakedown hikes I have had issues filling the bags that come with the sawyer water filter. Reading around others recommend just taking a smart water bottle with you and using it to fill the bag or just directly attaching it to your filter.
Trekking Poles will be going to Springer with me
I hiked for years without trekking poles or even thoughts to use them. I had went on one hike before with them and had mixed feelings on whether or not the weight was worth it. On this hike especially on the down hill sections the trekking poles kept me from falling several times in the slick leaves. If the poles save me from one fall that could possibly end my hike they are worth it to me. Also I can use the to set up my tent so win-win. I really like the adjustable ones from gossamer gear but I have only tried one other pair.
If you decide to do this section of the trail Id suggest hiking it with time by taking the AT south and then taking the Mau-Har Trail back North. If you do it in the other direction you will encounter a very steep climb that could add hours onto your day.
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Chris – after taking a drink blow the water in the tube back into the blatter