Monday, April 13, 2015

Loop Hikes, Part 2: The Big Southeastern Appalachian Loop

For hikers who enjoy a true challenge, the Big Southeastern Appalachian Loop (please, internet, find a better name) would be by far the most challenging of the "small" loops.

This is a tough loop because it has the most incomplete trails, meaning there are some significant roadwalks.  On the plus side, resupply is overall fairly easy.  With so many miles, it might be hard to find the perfect time of year to hike this loop. 

The map here shows the majority of the loop with the exception of the Benton MacKaye Trail (pictured below) and the Georgia Pinhoti (which I can't find a decent map of -- anyone??)

This loop incorporates the following trails: 

  • Georgia Pinhoti Trail
  • Benton MacKaye Trail
  • Appalachian Trail
And the following Great Eastern Trail components:

  • Southern West Virginia (Mary Draper Ingalls, TuGuNu)
  • Kentucky's Pine Mountain Trail
  • Tennessee's Cumberland Trail
  • Lookout Mountain Section of the GET

The miles breakdown is something like this:

  • From the GET/Georgia Pinhoti Trail divergence near Taliaferro Creek, a counterclockwise hiker would stay on the Georgia Pinhoti, following it roughly 120 miles to its intersection with the Benton MacKaye Trail (pictured on right).  
  • The hiker would turn south along the BMT for 70 miles to Springer Mountain.  (You could also head north on the BMT and intersect with the AT at the southern or northern end of the Smokies.  Choose your own adventure!)
  • At Springer, the loop would follow the Appalachian Trail north to Pearisburg, Virginia.  This portion of trail is about 630 miles long.

    (At Pearisburg, the loop becomes trickier and mileages become fuzzy - the numbers I quote below may easily be off by 10-20% depending upon certain routes chosen, particularly in regards to roadwalk links.)
  • From Pearisburg, the hiker then navigates the most challenging section of Great Eastern Trail: southern West Virginia's roughly 150 miles.
  • Kentucky's Pine Mountain Trail and connecting roadwalks on either end add up to about 170 miles.
  • The Cumberland Trail will be roughly 260 miles, depending on roadwalks and trail closures. It may be slightly more or less than that, but 260 is a good estimate.
  • Lookout Mountain Section is about 100 miles (if following newer route through Little River Canyon) to meet up with the Georgia Pinhoti/GET divergence at Taliaferro Creek.

That equals a whopping 1,500-mile loop.

Why should I hike this?: No other GET loop will give hikers such a wide variety of trail experiences.  From the popular, perhaps over-loved Appalachian Trail to the wilderness Benton MacKaye Trail to the unfinished choose-your-own-adventure style of the GET in West Virginia, this loop has everything.

Highlights of this loop include:
  • Experiencing a wilderness trail (Benton MacKaye)
  • Summitting Springer Mountain
  • Neels Gap and potential AT thru-hiker culture
  • Southern balds and firetowers
  • The Smokies
  • Hot Springs, NC
  • Roan and Grayson Highlands
  • Damascus, VA
  • Bluestone Turnpike Trail
  • Pipestem State Park
  • An adventurous route through West Virginia requiring map and compass skills
  • The whole Pine Mountain Trail feels like a highlight
  • Cumberland Gap National Historic Park
  • Waterfalls and wildlife of the Cumberland Trail
  • Chattanooga, the GET's largest trail town
  • Cloudland Canyon State Park
  • Little River Canyon
    Where should I begin?:
     Because this is the most challenging section of the GET, I'd recommend starting anywhere else: The Georgia Pinhoti would be a great place or Springer Mountain/Pearisburg would be ideal depending upon direction hiked.

What guides are needed?: Hikers will need an AT guide, the BMT guide, a GA Pinhoti guide, and all the GET resources for WV, KY, TN, and GA listed under our Guides Page.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Loop Hikes, Part I: The 300-mile GET Loop

For a loop that is entirely Great Eastern Trail, hikers can explore the GET Bifurcation Loop (someone will come up with a much more alluring name for this). 

The breakdown of miles is something like this, beginning in Hancock, MD and hiking counter-clockwise:
41 miles of Tuscarora Trail
82 miles on the Standing Stone Trail
122 miles of the Mid State Trail
53 miles of Green Ridge State Forest and the C&O Canal to return to Hancock.

Some highlights of the GET Loop Include:
  • Tuscarora Mountain
  • Big Pond Shelter on the Tuscarora Trail
  • Cowans Gap State Park
  • The landslide bench
  • A standing stone
  • The Thousand Steps
  • Butler Knob Shelter
  • Hall of the Mountain King
  • Detweiler Run Natural Area
  • Rothrock State Forest
  • Trail towns including Hancock, MD; Williamsburg, PA; and Everett, PA
  • Jo Hays Vista
  • Mailbox registers
  • Maple Run Valley
  • Martin Hill
  • The absolutely stunningly amazing C&O Towpath

Why begin and end in Hancock?: C&O Bicycle Hostel: showers, bunks, a super-friendly owner, shuttles, mail drops accepted.  Hancock is accessible by bus and there is pizza in town.  I rest my case.

Why hike counter-clockwise?: The southern Mid State Trail was the most challenging section of this loop for me and might be better saved for almost-last.

What guides are needed?: The Tuscarora Trail guide/maps, Standing Stone Trail maps/guide, Mid State Trail maps/guide and resupply PDF, and Green Ridge State Forest Map.  See the Guides and Maps Page for links.

Are there rocks?: Hahaha.  No.  Not one.*

How bad are the rocks?: Well, the rocks felt different than the AT’s rocks - easier to navigate.  (Or maybe I just got used to pain as I've hiked...)  There are a few sections of the Mid State Trail that were very rocky (and some that aren't at all!), but they provided overall better views than the AT did and so the rocks felt much more worth it. There is also a sense of wildness on the Mid State Trail that I didn't feel on the Pennsylvania AT, which made mentally dealing with rocky segments much easier for some reason.  Your mileage may vary.

Why should I hike this?: Green Ridge State Forest is gorgeous and has a rich history.  And who doesn't love the C&O?  But the most important reason is this: the Mid State and Standing Stone Trails showcase the beauty and wilderness in Pennsylvania.

 “The really beautiful Appalachian ranges in Pennsylvania – Nittany and Jacks and Tussey – stand to the north and west.  For various practical and historical reasons, the AT goes nowhere near them.” – Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Trail Overlove

It happened in 2009 on Mount Moosilauke as I hiked southbound on the Appalachian Trail.

I’d heard stories, read Bryson, understood in a very cloudy way how popular the AT was.  But I didn't understand – truly understand – until my hiking partner Hungry Creepster and I reached Beaver Brook Shelter on the north side of Moosilauke in New Hampshire.  It was there I UNDERSTOOD.

Not really a joke.
We arrived in the late afternoon – certainly no later than we usually pulled over – and there was nowhere to sleep.  I don’t mean that the shelter was full.  I mean, it was.  But there was Nowhere. To. Sleep.  Every inch of the area was covered in tents and people.

It was too late to continue up Moosilauke – besides, thunder rumbled.  There was no chance of flat land up ahead anyway. Retracing our steps down wet ladders was absolutely not an option.  So we set up the tent on roots and rocks, surrendering ourselves to an awfully uncomfortable night.

It would have been okay if not for the constant noise.  Zipping, unzipping.  Privy door squeaking.  The crumple of ziploc bags.  A backpacker symphony that I could almost sleep through.  And all night long – well past “hiker midnight” – some rowdy thru-hikers were partying.  By “partying,” I mean “lighting their farts on fire.”  I am serious.  This actually happened.

(I’m not bringing this up to contribute to any northbound/southbound squabble on the AT.  There were some real winners in the southbound class that year too.  I know the average northbounder does not stay up all night farting into flames - thanks, by the way.)

This is the privy at Beaver Brook.
I like it.
That's all.

That night, I understood.  So many people love the AT: the leave-no-trace purists, the fart-lighters, and the vast majority of us in the middle who try to be decent stewards.  The AT is epic, legendary -  it deserves the attention.  But on Moosilauke I understood the perils of its popularity: people can flatten a wilderness with their feet and with their love.  

The backpackers - all of us - did not mean to trample the Beaver Brook Shelter area.  But with so many people in one place (even ignoring extracurricular fire activities and the cacophonous night) it was grossly impacted by humans: vegetation visibly crushed, trails widened, mud holes deepened . . . and this was the effect on an area after most aspiring thru-hikers (both northbound and southbound) had quit the trail.

With such popularity, the hiking community needs to continue to be proactive before our trails get loved to death.  There are so many ways to help the AT: it needs volunteers to maintain it.  It needs hikers who know how to leave no trace (such as not tenting directly on tree roots, as I did that night).  It needs financial support.

The Great Eastern Trail: happy sigh.
And I believe it needs the Great Eastern Trail. 

The GET is growing into a trail that can and will relieve some pressure from the Appalachian Trail.  The GET isn't the whole solution for the overcrowded AT, but it's a big part.  When I volunteer on the GET, I feel like I am helping both trails. (FYI: We need more help to complete the GET and to maintain it.)

In the past week I've responded to more Great Eastern Trail inquiries than I have in the last year.  I am grateful to the hiking community for embracing this trail - both for its own, well-deserving sake and for the sake of the Appalachian Trail. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Best Trails for 2015

Outside Online just posted a list of the 5 best trails to thruhike in 2015 . . . guess which trail was at the top of the list?

Check it out:

We're super excited that the GET is getting some much-deserved attention!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Help Preserve Pennsylvania Hiking!

The Pennsylvania Game Commission has recently announced proposals affecting their State Game Lands: one would require hikers to carry permits and another would ban non-hunters during some of the best times of the year: the end of September through mid-January and mid-April through the end of May.  During these periods, the trails would only be open to hikers on Sundays, eliminating any chance for a long-distance hike.  The proposal is located here at this link

This would affect 95 miles of the Great Eastern Trail and would limit the season for both northbound and southbound thru-hikers, in addition to severely restricting the opportunity for people to hike sections of it during pleasant times of the year.

Please take five minutes of your day today to write to the Pennsylvania Game Commission to let them know your thoughts.  The next meeting will be on the 25th, so please send in your comments as soon as possible!  The Keystone Trails Association sums up the situation nicely and provides contact information at this link.  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A beautiful, wonderful, and fitting week

 This morning I woke up at 5:02AM to drive Bart to the airport.  After a brief yet scenic tour of the wrong terminal, we got him to where he needed to be.  This ends one of the busiest, most productive, and funny weeks of my life.

For the last week we've toiled away at the book. We've hacked it apart, chopping out huge sections and adding new chapters.  We've discovered certain words that we overuse: we had a beautiful, wonderful, and fitting time obliterating the words beautiful, wonderful, and fitting from the manuscript.
It was fun to host Bart at my apartment.  He cooked chili and walked on a frozen lake.  Other than that, it was all work.  Even working was beautiful, wonderful, and fitting because we got to relive the trail.  During every chapter we worked on, we could scarcely breathe from laughter at something we remembered.

I was sad to see Bart go.  As J.K. Rowling wrote, "There are some things you can't share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them."  The Great Eastern Trail was our mountain troll - a beautiful, wonderful, and fitting mountain troll.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Serious editing

Although Bart and I have not talked about it much online, we are in the middle of a journey more arduous than the Great Eastern Trail: writing about it.  

Our rough draft has been done for a long time, but the process of turning a rough draft into something less painful has been long and tedious. Finally, we concluded that it needs to happen in "real life" as opposed to over the internet.  (Pro tip: Don't write your first book with someone who lives over a thousand miles away.)

Happily, Bart is able to fly to Minnesota next week for Round 1 of Serious Editing. 

Today I finished my edits on over 200 pages.  I can't wait to share them with him.  
This has been my office for the last couple of weeks.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Tom Thwaites

Trails don't just happen; they need people to nurture them into existence. Tom Thwaites, Father of the Mid State Trail, died on Christmas. The Mid State Trail is the wildest trail in Pennsylvania and is an integral part of the Great Eastern Trail.

I never met Tom Thwaites in real life, but hiking the Mid State Trail felt a little bit like meeting him.  Trail creators, builders, and maintainers leave their fingerprints on their trails; they weave their hearts into the trails they love.  No, I never met him, but nevertheless, maybe I knew him.

Hike his Mid State Trail.  Better yet, volunteer on the trail to help maintain his legacy. Best still, volunteer and join the organization for just $12/year.  And if you live nowhere near Pennsylvania, find your local trail and spend a day improving it. Please give back to the trails you love so that others may discover them too.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Shenandoah Mountain news

New Plan Offers Protection for Shenandoah Mountain is an article about a great example of compromise and synergy between user groups who enjoy their trails in different ways and want to protect the land that they love. Check it out.
 Some portions of the GET are open to bikes and the Shenandoah Mountain Trail is one of them.  (There are other portions of the GET where I’d love to eat popcorn and watch people try to bike it.)

Bikers have done a lot of maintenance on trail, and those we met ranged from courteous to ultra-friendly, offering us water (we didn't need it, but it was a very sweet gesture).  I was not offended to share trail with them – I felt like they were the ones sharing it with me.  I was grateful to be there.

The Shenandoah Mountain Trail would make one of the best section-hikes along the entire GET and I highly recommend it, whether you have a few days to thoroughly enjoy it or whether you have a day to hit some of the highlights.  This trail has far-reaching views, a sweet tower, a hidden spring, flowing streams, easy grades, and is well-maintained.  It also hosts the high point of the GET: a small field with seasonal views called Bother Knob.

This is a spectacular area.  Sometime in the next decade I'll be deciding between re-hiking the GET or revisiting another trail, and this section is huge plus for the GET.  No one who has visited Shenandoah Mountain would question why it needs protection.   I hope this plan will become reality. 
You can check out the Friends of Shenandoah Mountain page for more information.

For right now, a guide to the area can be found online.  Soon it will be in book form!  Woohoo!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Great Eastern Trail vs. Ice Age Trail

The Differences             
Great Eastern Trail

  • 1,600-ish miles, Alabama to New York

  • Generally painted blazes of every color: red, orange, yellow, gold, green, blue, purple, white

  • High point 4,300 ft

  • Months of prep recommended to gather together the needed resources

  • About 20 shelters

  • A few outfitters on or near the trail

  • Locals generally unaware of the GET

  • 3-4 months needed to thruhike
Ice Age Trail

  • 1,100-ish miles, Wisconsin to . . . Wisconsin!

  • Yellow blazes that may be painted or plastic markers on trees, on stakes, may be different shapes

  • High point 1,920 ft

  • Thorough map and guidebook available for purchase, free updates and hiker notes from volunteers

  • A few shelters

  • I don't know of an outfitter along the trail; REI accessible by a long shuttle

  • Locals more generally familiar with the IAT

  • 2-3 months needed to thruhike

The Similarities

  • The Ice Age Trail and the GET have much more in common than I would have guessed.  Most importantly, with both trails, were the people.  I feel like each trail I hike brings wonderful lifelong friends into my life, and the IAT was no exception.  
  • These trails are also both lonely.  While Devils Lake (IAT) may always be comparatively crowded and the Thousand Steps (GET) is a popular dayhike, neither of these trails boast many long-distance hikers.  I met 4 on the Ice Age Trail.
  • Easy resupply due to frequent town visits - just one section on each trail that is dicey for resupply
  • Challenging camping situations at times due to private land or public land where camping is not allowed
  • Maps are a necessity - neither the GET nor the IAT is fully blazed (this mostly applies to connecting roadwalks but there are wooded sections that are unblazed or underblazed
  • Both trails have an element of choose-your-own-adventure, as the connecting roadwalks are often unofficial and you can link the trail together by foot as you like.
  • Both trails have a bifurcation!  East or west, which will you choose?
  • They have similar ideal seasons for hiking: spring or autumn are your best bets to avoid ticks, heat, and mosquitoes.
  • Both are routed through a large city (Chattanooga for the GET, Janesville & Madison for the IAT)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ice Age Trail video

Hi all.  Just a quick update to say that I've been out of the woods for a month now after finishing the Ice Age Trail.  I have to say, the Ice Age Trail got a little rough at the 800-mile mark when I realized that I had walked the equivalent of Alabama to Mullens, West Virginia . . .  but I was still in the same state.  But overall it was a perfect adventure.  If anyone's interested I made a video about the experience:


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Jo's next adventure

Hi GET friends!  I'll be hiking the Ice Age Trail this fall.

You can follow along at my blog: Someday on the Ice Age Trail.

Have a great autumn and happy hiking!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Cheaha State Park Visit

Daniel, Ben, Sarah, and Jon
The economic impact of a trail is not just in the hikers themselves; it is in the promotion of these locations as destinations.  Today my sister's family visited Cheaha State Park.  The Alabama Pinhoti Trail goes through the park and they're visiting because they heard about it from the GET hike last year.  If the GET didn't exist, I doubt they would have ended up here today. This is pretty cool. I'd love to be there too!

Ben surveys the beautiful beginnings of the Appalachians

Thursday, July 17, 2014

GET website

The Great Eastern Trail's official website has been redesigned, and it is fantastic!  Check it out: