Saturday, August 1, 2015

10 Awesome Things about the Mid State Trail

I got to revisit the southern terminus of the Mid State Trail a couple of weeks ago and found myself very homesick for the MST.  I thought I would share my top 10 favorite things about hiking this section of the Great Eastern Trail.

1. Remoteness.  Sure, the trail occasionally goes through towns, but the vast majority of the MST felt wild and untamed.  

2. Wildlife.  Hillbilly Bart and I had more bear encounters on the Mid State Trail than any other host trail along the Great Eastern Trail.  We saw porcupines, deer, turtles, snakes, frogs, and countless birds.

3. Solitude.  This is a trail that deserves more traffic than it sees, but it was incredible to go days without seeing another person.

4. Sense of humor.  Those responsible for the guidebook and resupply guide slip in little nuggets of humor that you might miss on first read.  But even on-trail you'll see the MST's sense of humor, with signs that refer to it as the "Metric System Trail" along with signed landmarks such as "Crocodile Spring."

5.  Overlooks.  They're phenomenal.  Enough said.

6. Variety.  Lakes, streams, valleys, ridgetops, fields, forests of all varieties . . . the Mid State Trail is one of the most diverse trails I've hiked.

7. Range of difficulty.  Want an easy hike?  The trail around Cowansque Lake or on the Lower Trail section are good bets.  Want a good workout?  Try climbing up to Gillespie Peak.  Whatever your ambition level, the Mid State Trail has a section that's what you're looking for.

8. Water.  Particularly on the northern half of the Mid State Trail, the springs are works of art.  On the southern half, Maple Run Valley has one of the prettiest streams I've ever seen

9. Trail towns.  What town could be more welcoming than Everett?  And how many towns provide a shelter in their city park like Woolrich?  The trail towns along the Mid State Trail are some of the best along any trail.

10. People.  The people behind the trail, that is.  The blazes are bright and easy to follow and trail volunteers work tirelessly to make the MST a great hiking experience.  It's a huge job, and they tackle it valiantly.  Thanks to the Mid State Trail Association for all you do!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Friday, July 17, 2015

Purple blazes

The only purple blazes on the Great Eastern Trail are on the western route of the bifurcation in Green Ridge State Forest.

Mid State Terminus

I visited the southern terminus of the Mid State Trail today. Why? Because I was 3 miles from it and it's there.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Biennial Trip

It wouldn't be fair to drive through Wisconsin without visiting the Ice Age Trail at Devils Lake State Park. I convinced my Mom to roadtrip to the Appalachian Trail Biennial in Virginia where I will present about the GET and geek out. We're well on our way! Hope to see some of you there!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Botanical Hiker Blog

I've been enjoying following along as the Botanical Hiker thru-hikes the Finger Lakes Trail and all its side trails.  She recently wrote up a great post about the Crystal Hills Trail, which is the northernmost section of the Great Eastern Trail.

Check out her blog and follow along!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Flagg Mountain, Alabama

 Flagg Mountain, Alabama is where Bart and I began our Great Eastern Trail adventure.

It now has its own Facebook page: Flagg Mountain.

From their site: "A new interest group is being formed, "The Friends of Flagg Mountain", to provide valuable input and assistance in restoring the cabins and fire tower on Flagg Mountain to their original conditions, and to also plan the future use of this historic site.
We need your help. We need your ideas on how to best restore the buildings and tower on Flagg Mountain, and how to use the property in the future."

The tower and the mountain are both much prettier than they looked when fogged-in on a mid-January day.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Steuben County, NY

The escaped prisoners from New York have possibly been spotted in Steuben County.

Fun fact: the northern terminus of the Great Eastern Trail is also in Steuben County!

CNY Hiking has a whole page about hiking opportunities in Steuben County, including South Bradford State Forest where Moss Hill Lean-To is.  It's a gorgeous county that probably rarely has escaped killers lurking around.

The second sighting was closer to Pennsylvania's Cowanesque Lake on the Mid State Trail than Moss Hill Lean-To.

Exciting times near the GET.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

2 years later . . .

Two years ago today, Bart and I made it to Moss Hill Lean-To and the northern terminus of the Great Eastern Trail.  
It amazes me how the experience continues to enrich and influence my life, from the friends I made to big life decisions that the trail shines light on from afar.  To say that I'm grateful for the trail does not even begin to describe it.

Thank you to all who were part of the journey!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Recent SAR near the Great Eastern Trail

When a short hike goes wrong is a news story about a recent successful rescue mission in the Ramsey Draft Wilderness in Virginia, which the Great Eastern Trail passes through, hosted on the Shenandoah Mountain Trail.

The Mountain House trailhead where the hikers got lost is just down the mountain from a GET trailhead at Confederate Breastworks.

Coincidentally, Confederate Breastworks is where a man went missing in November 2012.  No trace has been found.

Remember to be prepared even for dayhikes.

View from Confederate Breastworks trailhead

Friday, June 5, 2015

Shepherd and Star Left's GET adventure

The GET will finally have a southbound attempt this year: Shepherd and Star Left will be leaving soon.  It'll take them awhile to reach the Great Eastern Trail; they are beginning at Niagara Falls! When they reach Moss Hill Lean-To and the official northern terminus, they'll already be hiking machines.

Shepherd's Trail Journal can be found here.  Star Left's Trail Journal is here.

I will so enjoy following their journey and I hope you will too!

Godspeed, Shepherd and Star Left, and don't forget to carry a rock out of Pennsylvania and bring it to Maryland. ;)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Get to know the GET at the AT Biennial

For hikers planning to attend the 2015 Appalachian Trail Conservancy Biennial Conference this July, consider taking some time to meet the GET.

The following hikes are on the Great Eastern Trail:

  • Hike #9, Basore's Ridge
  • Hike #17, Big Schloss GWNF
  • Hike #19, Paw Paw Tunnel C&O CNHP
  • Hike #25, Devils Nose SCWMA SPHP
  • Hike #29, Shockeys Knob SCWMA
  • Hike #37, Big Schloss and Tibbet Knob GWNF
The following presentations may be of interest:
  • W1944 - Great Eastern Trail (that's with me)
  • W2067 - Tuscarora Trail
Hope to see many of you there!  Early registration ends on May 31!

Tibbet Knob

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

What is the GET season?

One question I get asked a lot by prospective GET thru-hikers is, "What time of the year should I start a GET thru-hike?"

My answer: Great question.

There are dozens of considerations when choosing between a northbound and southbound hike, but the biggest consideration of all, the weather window, is still untested.

Bart and I began the hike on January 10th, 2013. We had no idea how lucky we were.  We had three or four snowstorms for a couple weeks total of snow-hiking.  We had only five days of what I would consider dangerous weather conditions.  We also had five zero days (at least) due to snow/dangerous conditions.  All in all, that wasn't too bad -- but only because 2013's winter wasn't like 2015's.  If 2013's winter had been like 2015's, I don't think we would have made it.  Despite our dedication, I really think we would have had to bail.

Stuart and Taylor started February 1, 2014 and still ran into rough conditions - Kentucky in particular.  Kentucky seems to be the Smokies of the GET - with high elevations and being relatively far north, you can't hit Kentucky too early or it will be miserable.  (Will this assessment hold true, or was it just the four of us who ran into extreme weather in Kentucky?  Time will tell.)  Their start date was way smarter than ours, but still might be too early for most hikers.

The danger of waiting too long to start a northbound hike is that you're in the south for a longer time than, for example, on the AT, so it might become hard to out-hike the heat and stay in spring.

I was not amused with 102 degrees.
Mainly because it wasn't using Celsius.
There has been no southbound attempt so far, but this should be the year.  It will be interesting to see how the weather is!

When Bart and I hiked the western route of the GET (PA - MD) in June-July 2014, it was ridiculously hot, so an early summer southbound attempt is not for those skittish of heat.

I'd recommend a fall southbound attempt.  Assuming a four-month thruhike (your mileage may vary), it likely means an August start.  August in New York and Pennsylvania might be pretty hot.  So what's the magic date?  What date strikes a good balance?

Great question.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Map maildrops

There are far too many pounds of GET maps for thruhikers to carry all of them at once, so a few maildrops will be necessary.

Here are some post offices that might be good bets if you are just interested in sending yourself maps.  (If you are resupplying via post, you'll need to figure out more maildrops.)

Because many of these post offices are in small towns, they might be closed by now or have limited hours.  Most of this is from my memory, which may not be correct.  Don't trust me.  This list is just a starting point for your own research. :)

Cave Spring, GA: Very friendly post office, on route into town.

Chattanooga, TN: Be careful.  There are multiple post offices.  I'm not sure where general delivery packages go and it might be far out of your way.  

Wartburg, TN: The route into (or out of, for sobos) runs by or near the post office.

Cumberland Gap, TN: This is an ideal place to pick up Kentucky (nobo) or Tennessee (sobo) maps.   You might call The Cumberland Gap Inn and plead your case and send it there.  Plan to stay overnight or offer to pay for the service if you do get permission to use them as a maildrop.

Harlan, KY: The post office is not far off the route, but is 2 miles from the motel where most hikers are likely to stay.  (Harlan almost demands a night in a motel due to its location along an urban roadwalk - no stealth camping is possible.) Sobos can pick up their package on the way in, nobos will have to get it as they leave town.  Hikers might consider calling Mount Aire Motel and asking if they will hold a package.  Same etiquette protocol as Cumberland Gap, though you'd likely only need one or the other as they are relatively close.

Elkhorn City, KY: The post office is close to the route (and near a dollar store).  Would be a good idea to pick up West Virginia maps here if nobo.

Pineville, WV: The post office is just a couple of blocks off-trail.

Mullens, WV: The post office is on the route through town and is always decorated.

Hinton, WV: Whatever you do, don't mail a package here.  The post office is very far from the trail.

Narrows, VA: Post office is near the trail route.

White Sulphur Springs, WV: Post office is near the trail route.

Bergton, VA: The grocery/grill is also a post office.  Pretty tiny, not sure if they'd be down with holding a package or not. Definitely call ahead.  About 3/4 mile off-trail, but you might end up going there anyway because, you know, food.

Gore, VA: Post office on the trail route.  The little store has also held packages in the past, but you would have to call ahead and okay it.

Hancock, MD: The post office is several blocks from the trail, but the local hostel has accepted mail drops for me twice.  Contact the C&O Bike shop/hostel to get permission ahead of time. 

Everett, PA (west route): Easily-accessible post office.

Williamsburg, PA (west route): Pretty sure we walked right past the post office on our way out of town (sobo).

Three Springs, PA (east route): Post office close to route.

Woolrich, PA: Post office on route.  From here, it's probably not worth it to schedule a maildrop farther north.  The New York maps are so minimal.

Again, I want to stress that these are post offices I remember, some from over two years ago. I have no idea if they're all still open or if they're where I remember them.
AT boxes.  But the GET's were similar.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

GETA meeting

It was a productive Great Eastern Trail Association board meeting at Woodmont in Maryland last weekend.  GETA meets in person once per year (although many GET supporters end up visiting at other hiker gatherings during the year).  It was my fourth year in attendance.

 The lodge was gorgeous and had more bizarre taxidermy than I'd ever seen before. Many important people (besides GETA) have stayed at Woodmont.  We got to see a chair that six presidents sat in.  I was more interested in the views!
view from Woodmont
Of course no board meeting would be complete without making a break for it at the end of the day.  Woodmont is located just above the Great Eastern Trail's western route.
Hiking down to visit...

...the western route of the GET!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


Maryland Line on the eastern route
Western route
I'm excited to be heading to the Great Eastern Trail Association Board Meeting later this week.

. . . I'm less excited to be taking a bus there from Minnesota.

However, the prospect of being in Green Ridge State Forest makes it worth it!  I can't wait to be in my mountains again!

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.