jasonalford.com

Posts tagged hammock

2 notes

New personal low of 19.6 F in a hammock

I received a torso length UQ shell from www.underquilts.com and finally got a chance to work on it. I finished it to 52 inches and 9 ounces of 850+ down from WildernessLogics.

I was finishing it off when I noticed the weather report for the night.

As soon as I mentioned that the night’s low was projected to be in the lower 20’s, Braden (my 10 year old son) knew exactly what he wanted to do; he wanted to camp. I pulled out the tent and that’s when he let me know he would be sleeping in the tent alone. Pretty adventurous for a 10 year old to want to brave such low temps alone, even if it is just in the backyard.

Since I wouldn’t be staying in the tent, it was up to him to set it up (he’s learned from Cub Scouts that’s he’s old enough to not need an adult to set up camp). With daylight fading and temps already down to 28, he grabbed the tent and headed out to set it up.

I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try out the new UQ. I grabbed the Warbonnet Traveler and a tarp and headed to the yard. Not knowing how the UQ would do, I also grabbed my DIY summer underquilt. I put the summer UQ on first, then the new UQ from underquilts.com. For a TQ, I used my Jacks ‘R Better Nest.

My previous low in a hammock was in the 30’s. Not knowing what to expect in the low 20’s, I boiled some water and put it in a Nalgene and threw it in the hammock before hopping in for the night. It wasn’t long before I was sweating. First my jacket came off. Next was my hat, then the top quilt. It was 26 degrees and I was in a long sleeve shirt and pants with just the UQ’s and the Nalgene hot water bottle.

About 1:30 AM, I started adding items back. With the TQ and hat back I was toasty warm all night. In the morning I was surprised to see that the temp got down to 19.6 degrees F. A new personal low. I never once felt a cold spot under the UQs. I don’t know how the new UQ would have done by itself, but I’m looking forward to another cold night to try it out.

Tarp tensioners were made for nights like this.

For the price and ease of finishing it off, I’m very happy with the new underquilts.com torso length UQ. It fills a gap in my gear nicely.

As for Braden, he was like a little heater in the tent. Despite the low temps, he was sound asleep when I got up in the morning to check on him. He was so warm he didn’t want to get up.

Ice on tent.

Down goodness.

A backyard hang? Yes. A new personal low for both me (in a hammock) and my son (in a tent)? Yes. Another shared adventure added to our memory banks. That’s what it’s all about.

More Pics

Filed under hammock camping cold

3 notes

Weekend at the start of the AT

I’ve been slacking with writing trip reports (missed 49 over the last couple of years), so there’s only one way to get started again. Here goes…

What: Springer Mountain & the first few miles of the AT
When: April 6th & 7th

I’ve been up Springer Mountain many times. It’s a special place that I look forward to visiting many more times.

This weekend, a co-worker had a weekend free and had never been to Springer. I don’t need much of an excuse to head to the mountains.

After Chris (Yoti) got off work at 4PM, we drove up to the parking lot on Forest Service Road 42. The parking lot was full, with the exception of one spot that had just become available. Perfect.

We grabbed our packs and started the gradual 0.9 mile climb up Springer Mountain. We headed straight for the camping area near the shelter. The shelter was full, but that was of no concern since neither of us stay in the shelter. We both are tree dwellers; we both sleep in hammocks.

We found a couple of spots and quickly set up our hammocks and tarps. I used my Warbonnet Traveler hammock with my new Hammock Gear Cuben Fiber tarp. The tarp is only 6.5 ounces! For insulation, I used my Jacks ‘R Better Nest underquilt and an opened sleeping bag as a top quilt.

6.5 ounces of cuben fiber goodness
6.5 ounces of cuben fiber goodness

Chris was riding in his Hennessy Hammock with the Super Shelter as insulation along with my DIY tarp.

Through the trees, we noticed another hammock. It wasn’t long before we met Ashman. He was in a Hennessy with a Jacks ‘R Better tarp and insulation. It’s always fun meeting other hammock hangers to talk gear.

The sunset on Springer was amazing. We could see the sun going down through the trees and decided to run up to the summit to watch it. As we were running up the trail, we watched through the trees as the sun slowly disappeared over the mountains. We made it to the clearing at the summit about 30 seconds too late. Still, the light show was spectacular.

Back at the hammocks, I realized we would be in for a surprise. I had set my jacket out and within a few minutes it was damp. Condensation! I felt the tarp. Wet. I felt the underside of the tarp. Wet. At that point, I figured it would be an interesting night. With so much condensation, I had concerns about whether my down underquilt would be rendered useless. There was only one way to find out.

After hanging our bear bags, it was time for bed. Well, that was our plans. A family who had come in late had other plans. They talked and laughed until almost midnight. Ugh!

The sunset was just a warm up for what we were about to see. We watched the most amazing full moon rise as the sun went down. I’ve never seen the moon so bright. I never used my headlamp during the night. It was as if there was a warm glow of a nightlight on the whole night. I kept thinking to myself that it would be amazing to night hike without a headlamp under this moon.


the moon shining through my tarp during the night

The moon wasn’t our only companion overnight. The owls were out in force. It started in the distance with a gentle “WHO”. Before long, there were several all saying “who cooks for you”. They were loud and they were awesome. At one point, a Screech Owl just north of us joined in the conversation.

The temperature dropped to the mid 30’s overnight. Although our tarps were soaked inside and out, the condensation wasn’t a problem for us. We did see some people in tents who had a different experience. There were quite a few people around the shelter who got wet in their tents and endured a cold wet night.


good morning, Springer Mountain


coffee & breakfast from the hammock


Springer Mountain shelter

After packing up, we talked to a few hopeful thru-hikers. They were already dumping gear. One of them offered us his air mattress, but we declined. They were carrying such things as a guitar and buckets of GNC powder. Talk about unprepared for a thru-hike. They’re going to learn the hard way: on the trail.

After a brief detour to the summit, we headed north with no agenda except to hike until we felt like turning around. After pulling a muscle in my leg last weekend at mile 8 of an 18 mile day, I knew I had better take it easy.


Stover Creek shelter


Noontootla Creek at Three Forks

In no time, we made it to Long Creek falls where we set up hammocks and ate lunch. Lunch turned to lounging around. After about an hour, we had to force ourselves to pack up the hammocks and head back to the truck. It wasn’t easy leaving the comfort of the hammock.


I’ve had lunch in worse places before!


Long Creek Falls


bridge near Stover Creek shelter

On the hike back to the truck, we stopped to find a couple of geocaches and I ran into a couple of friends from NC & TN that I haven’t seen in quite a while. We had a nice mini-reunion right there on the trail near Stover Creek. They were continuing on to Hawk Mountain Shelter for the night. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous that they were out for another night. I can’t complain, though. It was a quick trip, but it was a fun trip.

Just before reaching the truck, we met a guy who was hiking north for a few weeks. His pack had to have weighed at least 80 lbs. It was amazingly huge. The pack itself probably weighed 10 lbs. It was bulging at the seams, and he had lots of “gear” hanging on the outside. Between the sound of his bear bell and the cup, two pots, and skillet banging together hanging on the outside of the pack, there was no way for him to sneak up on you. We wished him luck, and just shook our heads in amazement as he slowly forced one foot in front of the other. I was hurting just watching him.

Back at the trucks, there was one thing on my mind: Sonic! We made our way down the mountain and made a quick stop at the outfitters in Ellijay. I always enjoy stopping there and supporting such nice people. And then it was time: chicken strip dinner with tator tots and a cherry slush. That was the best meal I’ve ever had from Sonic.

Even though it was a short trip (1 night and only 12 miles), I got to test out new gear and tweak old gear. This was the first trip I used the JRB Nest on the Traveler hammock. It worked fine, but I want to tweak how it connects to the hammock. I’ve used the Nest on several different hammocks, and it’s just a matter of dialing it in on each one. All that means is more time in the woods. No complaints here!

I also worked on lightening my load. For last weekend’s trip, my pack weighed 23 lbs (with food and water). This weekend, I got it under 17 lbs (with food and water), and had to bring extra clothes due to the colder weather. By summer, I’ll be at around 14 lbs (with food and water). If I’m able to do 18-20 mile days easily with a 23 lb pack, I can’t wait to see how much trail I can see this summer.

Always dreaming of the next trip…

Filed under hiking backpacking appalachian trail at hammock

5 notes

AT Approach Trail - solo overnight turned long day hike

What: Long day hike
When: March 30, 2012
Where: AT Approach Trail
Who: Just me

I’ve spent a lot of time recently out in the woods hiking, but not backpacking. Not sleeping in a hammock in the woods. Not enjoying everything about being in the woods at night.

It was time. I needed to get out there and refill my adventure reserves. With no one else available, there were just one thing to do: a solo trip.

I left early and headed to Amicalola Falls State Park. I arrived just as the visitor center was opening. Since I was going to leave my truck overnight, I needed to check in and leave my information and itenerary. I was out the door by 8:35AM and on the trail by 8:45AM.

This was it. My time to be alone in the woods. Don’t get me wrong. I do enjoy hiking and backpacking with others. However, there’s just something special about being by yourself on the trail.

My plan was to hike the approach trail and stay on top of Springer Mountain for the night, then hike down via the Len Foote Hike Inn trail.

For the first few hours on the approach trail, I didn’t see anyone. It was nice.

As expected, I ran across some “junk” along the side of the trail that some previous hikers had left. Let me back up and explain the AT Approach Trail. The start of the AT is on Springer Mountain. There’s no road access to Springer Mountain. The closest forest service road is 0.9 miles north of Springer. Most thru-hikers backtrack from the road up Springer, then turn around and begin their hike north. Purist, however, start at Amicalola Falls State Park and hike the 8.8 mile approach trail. The approach trail is no joke, especially to those who have no clue what they’re doing. On the AT, you either learn quickly, or fail quickly.

There’s been reports of all kinds of junk thrown to the side of the approach trail as people realize what they’re getting into. I’ve heard reports of large stoves, BBQ grills and even a propane tank. I have no clue who would think they could carry a propane tank up the approach trail, much less all the way to Maine.

I didn’t find a BBQ grill or propane tank, but I did see plenty of trail trash (and I’m not talking about people). One guy alone left a pair of sweat pants, a thick canvas jacket, blue jeans, two blankets, a towel, a travel mug, a skillet and 12 cans of Kibbles & Bits. TWELVE cans! I don’t feel sorry for that ill-prepared hiker. I feel sorry for his dog.


junk a hiker ditched along the trail

I stopped to find a couple of geocaches along the trail, but other than that had no agenda for the day. I was just out enjoying being on the trail.

I was making great time and reached Black Gap Shelter (roughly 1.3 miles from Springer) by noon. I stopped and fixed lunch and talked to a couple of hikers from Florida out for a section hike and a guy out doing trail maintenance. Lunch was a peanut butter and jelly tortilla sandwich.

I wasn’t back on the trail for 5 minutes before the rain started. I got out my pack cover and put it on, but didn’t bother with my rain coat. It was so hot that I would have got soaked from sweat, so I chose to just enjoy the rain shower. I laughed when the rain stopped just as I finished putting my pack cover on. That may have been the shortest rain shower ever.

Onward and upward to Springer Mountain. It wasn’t long until I reached the summit, and the first blaze on the AT (or last if you’re a Southbounder). I’ve been here many times, but it’s always a special place to visit. There’s so much history on that slab of rock.

Just before Springer, I felt something give in my right knee. My right knee was supposed to be my strong one, but not today. From the point I first felt it, every step felt like a knife stabbing me in the knee. Thankfully, I was approaching Springer where I could relax.


AT plaque and the first AT blaze

I had made such good time that I got to Springer around 1PM. I wasn’t expecting to be there so early. I sat around a while, then started thinking. This was my turn-around spot and there was still about 7 hours of daylight left. When I’m out with a group, I don’t mind hanging out in camp. When I’m by myself, I enjoy hiking and seeing as much as I can. I also noticed that there was a thunderstorm in the distance heading my way. The weather forecast called for scattered thunderstorms throughout the afternoon and night.

Most would say it would have been smart to set up my tarp and enjoy a nice thunderstorm while dry in my hammock. There was another option to do something I love to do, but haven’t done in a while: hike through an afternoon thunderstorm. I love hiking in a thunderstorm. What’s even better is hiking after an afternoon thunderstorm. Right after a thunderstorm finishes, the woods are quiet. Eerily quiet. There’s just something magical about hiking through the woods when they’re like that.

The decision was made. I would start hiking back, hurt knee and all. I made it back to where the Len Foote Hike Inn trail split and headed that way. I’ve heard about the Hike Inn for years, but never been by there myself. On the way, I ran into Jonathan, the caretaker who is living in a tent on Springer Mountain during the months of March & April. Since that’s the busy season for thru-hikers, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy employs people such as Jonathan throughout the trail to help and educate as needed. Jonathan was making the several mile trip back up to his tent on Springer Mountain from the Hike Inn where he had hiked to take a shower. We talked a few minutes, then parted ways as the thunder joined our conversation.

I made it to the Hike Inn and stopped to check it out. The guy behind the counter was very nice. I enjoyed looking around at the pictures and books. He seemed shocked that I knew more about the Inn and the trail than most people who visit. Before leaving, he offered to fill up my water bladder…with lemonade! That was the best lemonade I’ve ever had.

I left the Hike Inn just as the thunderstorm hit. It was a good one too. On the way down, I passed quite a few people unprepared. They were all making the hike up to stay at the Inn. Finally, the caravan of hikers ended and I was alone again.

After the rain stopped, it was quiet. Quiet and peaceful. I was alone on the trail and it was great. Before I knew it, I realized that I was getting close to being back at the truck. I hadn’t planned on hiking so far. My original plan was to stay the night on Springer. Then I altered the plan and was going to stay somewhere along the approach trail. Then before I knew it, I was back at the truck. Hmmm…

I was enjoying the trail so much that I just kept walking. It was never my intention to just do an 18 mile day hike, but that’s what it turned into. Rather than hiking back up the approach trail to just find a spot to say for the night just outside the park, I decided to head home. I got to have a great adventure, even if I didn’t spend the night on Springer.

Eighteen miles. Excruciating pain from hiking 10 miles with a hurt knee. Soaking wet from walking through a thunderstorm. Starving. Was it worth it? You bet! Sure, I wish I had stopped somewhere to stay the night. However, I was enjoying the trail so much that my adventure changed and I’m ok with that. That’s the beauty of the trail. There’s no speed limits, no fashion police and no one to tell me how to hike. As they say, hike your own hike. I did and had a blast.

Filed under hiking backpacking appalachian trail at hammock

5 notes

Appalachian Trail - Yellow Creek Gap to Nantahala Outdoor Center

This weekend I hit the A.T. with 5 other guys (Chris, Joey, John, Brian & Kevin.) just south of Fontana Dam. We headed to Brown Fork Gap Shelter for the night. We arrived around 2PM, so we had lots of time to sit around and do nothing. I took the opportunity to play around with my hammock setup.

I was using whoopie slings and dutch clips as my hammock suspension for the first time. Both worked great. This was also the maiden voyage for my DIY Black Cat tarp. I had tested it in the back yard with the water hose, but this trip would be the first time to field test it. It didn’t take long for that test to come.

hammock setup with DIY tarp set up

After supper (chicken burritos), a thunderstorm rolled in just north of us. The rain slowly moved our way and we started hearing thunder rolling in from the East. I pulled in the ends of my tarp that were facing the wind to try to stop any blowing rain. I was going to add some tie-outs on the bottom of the sides of my tarp, but decided to wait until after this trip. I will be adding those soon, so the tarp will stay taught with the ends pulled in.

tarp ends pulled in for approaching thunderstorm

I got in my hammock and pulled out my phone to check the weather. It didn’t look good. The weather for Robbinsville, NC (just below us in the valley) was calling for severe thunderstorms and large hail. Yikes! I wasn’t too worried about the thunderstorms, but really didn’t want to be under a silnylon tarp with large hail falling. I apparently wasn’t too worried, because the next thing I remember was waking up a couple of hours later listening to thunder and rain. I was high and dry, and quite comfortable.

The thunderstorms rolled through in just a couple of hours, then it got calm. It rained a little during the night, proving a nice soundtrack to sleep to.

The next morning, we got up early and after breakfast headed south. We all met for lunch at Locust Cove Gap before making the climb up Cheoah Bald. When we reached Cheoah Bald, we were greeted by biting gnats. Lots of them. Chris built a small fire to try to deter the gnats. Cheoah Bald would have been a really cool place to watch the sunset, but we didn’t get that luxury. We had planned on staying up on the bald, or just south at Sassafras Gap Shelter, but while we were on Cheoah Bald, we could see a thunderstorm quickly coming our way. We decided to turn our short day into a longer hike and head on down to the Nantahala Outdoor Center.

We dropped 3,339 feet in 8 miles from Cheoah Bald to the NOC. On the way down, Chris spotted a Garter Snake crossing the trail. Farther down the trail, I was about 30 minutes ahead of the others when I walked up on a huge Black Rat Snake just off the trail. It was about 6 feet long, just hanging out on a log. It didn’t care that I was there and stopped to take pictures. It was a cool sight to see. Shortly after seeing the large snake, I rounded a corner and spooked a bear. Having just seen two snakes and startled a bear, I was extra alert for the next 15 minutes or so.

second snake of the trip (MUCH larger...around 6 feet long)

Walking on the ridges with lightning popping on either side of me was quite the experience. There was nothing to do but keep moving downhill. Just when I thought the thunderstorms had passed me, and as I entered a section of the trail without much of a canopy above me, the heavens opened up. It poured. It rained hard for the last 4-5 miles down to the NOC. We all got soaked. It wasn’t worth it to put on rain gear, because it was so hot that I would get wet from sweat, so I just keep moving. It was actually fun to be hiking in such a downpour (knowing my gear was all dry in my pack with pack cover on).

John had caught up with me and we hiked the last few miles together. We reached the NOC just before 5PM and the others arrived shortly after. Before heading our separate ways, we hit the river-side restaurant for burgers that we had been craving all day. It wasn’t the best burger I’ve ever had, but it tasted like it that day.

Even though we cut the trip short to avoid riding out another thunderstorm on top of a mountain, it was a fun trip. I always enjoy hiking, and enjoyed the chance to experiment with new gear. The new tarp worked great, and it’ll be even better with some tie-outs added soon. Whoopie slings and dutch clips are so much easier that what I was using for my suspension (descender rings). It’s always fun to test new gear. Throw in a nice hike and good hiking companions and it made for a great trip.

Group shot on Cheoah Bald: Chris, Joey, John, Jason, Brian, Kevin

I’ve posted pictures on Flickr and a video on YouTube.

Filed under hiking backpacking appalachian trail hammock