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: http://www.outsideonline.com/adventure-travel/escapes/go-list/The-Best-Thru-Hikes-for-2015.html.

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