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Monthly Archives: May 2015

12 Biggest Impacts Outdoor Enthusiasts May Not Realize They’re Making

By: Kayla “Clover” McKinney.

Any outdoor enthusiast, whether you’re a extreme high alpine climber or simply love hiking through your local trails, acquires a set of ethics in the way they behave and experience the outdoors. It is important to be a steward of the environment for the health of the wilderness, yourself and for the future of the flora, fauna and natural features. As outdoor enthusiasts, we have the responsibility to be stewards of the wilderness by not making a negative impact.

While this all sounds nice and obvious, it can be somewhat idealist. The thing is, you may consider yourself a conscious steward of the environment, but may be making negative impacts in ways you did not realize.

You’ve likely heard the Center for Outdoor Ethics’ Leave No Trace Seven Principles. You likely even consider yourself pretty versed on how to be a conscious outdoor enthusiast. Perhaps not the best, but you’re certainly not the worst. However, there are many elaborations of the seven principles that, in my opinion, are too often overlooked. Here’s a list of what I consider the 12 biggest impacts that outdoor enthusiasts may not be aware that they’re making:


Is this rock more beautiful here or in a shoe box in your room? Seriously, please leave what you find. Part of what makes that rock/flower/leaf/whatever so alluring is the fact that you found it in a beautiful place. You should allow for others to enjoy whatever it is that you found. And if you would like to take a memento for sentimental purposes, please just take a photograph instead.


Part of planning ahead and preparing is to find pre-established camping sites for the night. Avoid creating (destroying) a new campsite when there’s a pre-established one a few miles ahead. Also, the site is probably better anyway. However, if you are in a bind and cannot find an established campsite, then CHOOSE A PRISTINE CAMPSITE OVER A SEMI-IMPACTED SITE. This seems counter-intuitive to many people. However, it is better to camp at a pristine (untouched) site than one that is more eroded (semi-impacted) because the pristine campsite has a better chance of maintaining its condition as an unaltered site. A semi-impacted site that is used will quickly transition into an impacted site.


This goes for any animal.I know they’re cute and want your attention, but it is really harmful for the animal if you feed it people food. It also encourages wildlife to interact more with humans, which can cause more problems and potentially domesticate the animals in a way that makes their lives in the wild more dependent on humans.cathole


Human poop is a lot different from wild animal poop. Consider the differences in our diets. Our poop can be toxic to wildlife, in addition it is unsightly and gross. If you’re in rocky terrain then either pack out your poop or use the hole created by a large rock and place the rock over top of it.


Social trails are trails created by repeatedly walking the same path over and over again, particularly with multiple people. Scatter yourselves and go different paths to your tent, kitchen, etc. to avoid eroding the land.


Fire pits aren’t trash cans. Too often have we walked by a fire pit littered with beer cans and food wrappers. Also, create a fire that suits your needs for the night. It is really not necessary to burn an entire tree just to hang out by the fire for the evening. It is also essential to make sure the fire is completely out before you leave it. This means throwing dirt over it and water, and making sure all embers are put out.

KNOTS or Not Scout Cartoon - Leave No Trace Bonfire


If you hold your thumb between you and the animal and it completely disappears, then you’re at a good distance. If your thumb is not obscuring the animal, then you’re too close. Consider it a rule of thumb (…ha.)


Pack it in, pack it out – all of it. You are supposed to pack out your toilet paper (you can leave the rest in the cat-hole). Ladies, please pack out all of your feminine products. Natural TP (such as leaves) is okay to leave behind, of course.


Micro-trash is eawrappersily overlooked. This consists of the tiny plastic corner of your granola bar, a pop-tab, or small piece of trash that might not catch your eye immediately.. The best way to avoid these small pieces of trash is to create “one-piece trash.” Instead of ripping off the corner of your granola bar wrapper, open it in a way that keeps the packaging all together. Also, please don’t ever throw your cigarette butts on the trail.


Switch backs are there to make your incline more gradual and less steep.This gradual progression protects the hill slope. It is important not to cut the corners of switch backs because doing this increases erosion of the hill slope and surrounding vegetation.


Grey water includes water left over from washing your pots and pans, and food remnants leftover. Many people use the popular Campsuds brand, or Dr. Bronner’s castille soaps. These soaps are advertised as biodegradable, but this does not mean that you can pour them directly into streams or onto the trail. It is stated directly on the bottle that you must dig a hole 6-8 inches deep for your grey water. This allows the bacteria in the soil to completely and safely biodegrade your soap. As far as food grey water, or any leftover food waste, either eat all of it or pack it out. Additionally, be conscious when brushing your teeth. Please do not spit toothpaste directly onto the ground. The best method is to spray your toothpaste/water mixture in order to disperse it as much as possible.


As an outdoor enthusiast, you have the responsibility to set a good example for others. At times, this might mean speaking up and calling out unethical behavior of others. Often times they may not realize that what they’re doing is wrong and will remedy their actions accordingly.

For reference, here’s the 7 Center for Outdoor Ethics Principles :

  1. Plan Ahead & Prepare.
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces.
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly.
  4. Leave What You Find.
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts.
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors.

For more information: Visit the Center for Outdoor Ethics – Leave No Trace website:

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Light Weight Backpacking Series: The Big Four

Defining a light weight backpack varies from hiker to hiker. Some weigh their pack to the gram, often sacrificing the comforts of a heavier pack, while others carry lighter versions of all the gear they like to have in the backcountry. Remember that no approach to backpacking is better than another as long as you achieve your goal while enjoying the experience. This means that options for reducing the weight of your pack may not suit your needs. Most of my suggestions apply to a hiker who desires to cover ground more comfortably and is not focused on a camp oriented experience.

With that in mind I would like to introduce this as part 1 of the lightweight backpacking series. I will cover my own path towards a lighter pack, “The Big 4”, and list a few companies that make excellent gear for backpacking.

After the first 100 miles of my Appalachian Trail thru-hike, my pack went through a rapid evolution. Many of the items I carried did not Over packing.contribute to my comfort or ability to stay moving. For example, spare clothes, kitchen equipment, extra layers, an extensive first aid kit, books, and unnecessary food. Realizing that maintaining a comfort level similar to being back home was costing me comfort while moving led me to go lighter.

The fastest and most effective way of reducing the weight of your pack without sacrificing comfort is through the Big 4. Of all the items in your pack, the heaviest tend to be the following:
1. Shelter
2. Sleep System
3. Cook System
4. Pack

There are a couple options when choosing to reduce the weight of your shelter. Tarps are the lightest choice, but often not the most comfortable when one is used to the feeling of security a tent offers. Tents, on the other hand, provide absolute coverage from weather, wildlife, and insects at the cost of weight from extra fabric. That’s not to say a single walled tarp cannot provide protection, its just a bit harder IMG_3384to pitch and may require some adjustments throughout the night. Check out companies like Big Agnes, Six Moons Designs, and Tarptent for some incredibly light and incredibly awesome shelters. I choose not to mention hammocks because they are very limiting shelters. Tents can be pitched practically anywhere, but a hammock can only be set up around trees. A hammock that provides all around protection often weighs more than the traditional tent or tarp. Remember, there is no perfect shelter. There are always trade offs between comfort, weight, and weather protection.

The sleep system has one of the widest ranges in choices. With so many bag styles and temperature ranges, it’s often tricky choosing the right one. Knowing all of the features of a bag and why they are there will help you decide. What’s the benefit of a mummy bag over a square bag or the full length zip versus the half zip? Should I get a bag with continuous baffles or not? Read through Outdoor Gear labs article for an in depth look at sleeping bags. burrowtop2 I recommend quilts for 3 season use because of their higher fill power, lower denier fabrics, fewer zippers, and trimmer fit. While sleeping, the bottom of your bag becomes compressed and does not provide much insulation. A quilt removes fabric from the bottom to shed weight while still providing warmth. Most quilts do not feature a hood because wearing a hat provides the same warmth. Quilts are also the most versatile bags. You can open them up on warm summer nights or cinch them tight for colder temperatures. But just like a tarp, using a quilt requires a bit more attention to maintenance. If your goal is to have a hassle free evening at camp, don’t sweat the weight and enjoy the comfort of a mummy bag!

CookingIncluding the cook system as one of the main ways to reduce pack weight may seem a bit odd. I choose to include this because it is one of the cheapest ways to shed a few ounces or even a full pound. While on the AT, I saw many hikers carrying Whisperlites or Jetboils that weigh 11 or more ounces. With fuel added, they may weigh over a pound. An alcohol stove that you make yourself can weigh just one third of an ounce. The fuel also weighs much less and can be found anywhere there is a gas station or super market.The downside of the alcohol stove is that it does take longer to bring water to a boil. The stove I use takes up to 10 minutes to boil water, but if you’re already at camp, 10 minutes isn’t  such a big deal. Andrew Skurka has a great video on how to make your own alcohol stove.

Of all the items you choose to purchase, make your pack the last. How much weight you’re carrying and how much volume you need will determine the pack you choose. A roll top is the most versatile option. When the amount of food/gear is minimal the pack can roll down or roll out to fit more. backpackAlthough a frameless pack is lighter than any internal frame pack, they are not the most comfortable or suitable for many hikers. Any load above 25 pounds in a frameless pack will be unbearable for an extended period of time. Check out ULA packs or the Osprey Exos 58/48 for an internal frame pack that does not have many bells and whistles.

For great lightweight equipment, check out these companies: Mountain Laurel Designs, ULA, Tarptent, Enlightened Equipment, Montbell, Outdoor Research, Gossamer Gear, YAMA Mountain Gear, Platypus, Zpacks, Six Moons Designs, Big Agnes, Sea to Summit, and Western Mountaineering.

With the concept of going lighter introduced, I am left with going further in depth about how to go lighter in an efficient and safe manner. Stay tuned for future posts on moisture management, determining camp sites, diet, foot care, first aid, hypothermia, hydration, and Leave No Trace ethics.

Please reply with any suggestions, comments, or questions!


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Tent Review: Mountain Hardwear Optic 2.5

Behold the the Optic 2.5 from Mountain Hardwear! Check out the video below for a preview.





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Hiking the Dolly Sods

Written by: Craig “Goatman” Buckley

The Dolly Sods Wilderness Area is an anomaly. If I were dropped there from a flying saucer, disoriented and bewildered, my first thought would be that I was dropped somewhere up north in Canada, Maine, or possibly Alaska. When the wind picked up over the sphagnum bogs, rattling the blueberries and putting a chill in my bones, my first thought would not be, “Feels like a nice West Virginia wind!” although that is exactly what I would be feeling. When I hiked and hiked over the sub-alpine meadows (or “sods” as they’re known around these parts) without gaining or losing much elevation at all, I would question everything I knew about mountains and their incessant ups and downs. If I wasn’t completely insane at this point, I’m sure I would find one of the many beautiful campsites along the rocky creeks of the plateau and lay myself down in pine needles for a much needed nap and hope that someone might happen my way, perhaps with food or a map or an explanation of exactly what was going on in this crazy world. And perhaps they would, but I wouldn’t count on it.

You see, the Dolly SoDSCN6622ds is a 17,371 acre wilderness area located in the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia in the middle of the Allegheny Mountains. It’s not exactly the middle of nowhere, but it’s not far off. The area consists of a number of rocky, high altitude plateaus (around 4000 ft. at the highest points) cut through with creeks, which in turn become beautiful waterfalls as they descend. When you enter the Dolly Sods from the trail head, you will be fording streams and climbing a few thousand feet along switchbacks and ridges before reaching the meadows at the top. In years of back country travel, I haven’t seen much like it. The forest disappears as you hike and you enter an area of tall grass, stunted trees, gnarled brush, wildflowers, boulders and bogs. Wildlife teems. In one afternoon, I spotted deer, mice, chipmunks, turtles, garter snakes, innumerable birds, and even a black bear traipsing about the tree line. The views are wide open and there’s a lot to see.


The Dolly Sods, however,  is not for everyone, as the park sign says. Orienteering skills are a must. The trails here are marked only by footprints in most areas and the few signs that exist are mostly at trail junctions. The creek crossing are serious. Visiting in the spring, we were required at various times to ford cold water that hit above the knee. The bogs are muddy and the boards over them, where they exist at all, are slippery and broken. At times, the trail enters boulder fields that require balance, stamina, and a keen eye for trail finding. During World War II, after the area had been logged and burnt to the rock in the years before, the army used the sods as an artillery and mortar range. That’s right: there could very well be live bombs (though we saw none, fortunately). Bears, bombs, and bogs equals, simply: know what you’re getting into when planning a trip through the Dolly Sods.

DSCN6649Now that you’re scared that bears with bombs in their mouths are coming to trade you explosions for food, I will assure that backpacking in the Dolly Sods is great, every bend and turn. The campsites are numerous and idyllic, water is plentiful, and the views are worth the route finding. Lion’s Head Rock on Breathed Mountain is a spectacular rock formation with a vista of the rolling hills of the Monongahela. Getting there is the best part. I can say truthfully that I haven’t had as much fun hiking as I did in the Dolly Sods since south-bounding through Maine on the AT. It is that good of a hike, as beautiful as it is challenging. Stop reading this. Go hike.









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An Introduction to the AT

An Introduction to the AT

By: Bryan “Ice Man” Wolf

SOBO 06’/07’

I’ve heard it spoken of as romantic, miserable, magical, adventurous, life changing, and testing. I’ve spoken to those who have dreamt of the experience forever and those that have experienced it with little to no previous knowledge of its existence at all. In journals and books it is a place of community as much as it is a physical journey. Now it is even portrayed as a place of great comic relief on the big screen. In my personal opinion, the Appalachian Trail is all of these things and more.

How did you first hear about the Appalachian Trail? Were you raised with a great awareness of the outdoors and knowledge of its possibilities? Many were turned on to it by a book or happened to be channel surfing while National Geographic was playing a documentary on the trail. Not one of these things can ever explain what the AT is or what it could be to you. The truth is, to sum up a 14 state trail that is about 90 years old takes much more than any one story, including my own.

And who am I to know the AT so well? I’ve backpacked close to 2,500 miles on the AT, including my 2,175 mile winter thru hike in ’06/’07. For me the trail has become like a close relative, one that I visit often, that I know well, and that has seen me grow while traversing life’s ups and downs. Because of the AT I have memories that live in my mind stronger than a lot of other moments in my life. I can still replay many of these instances vividly in my head.

On Mt. Success in New Hampshire, I would fall waist deep into a bog. Then, on Mt. Greylock, the wind would push us backwards over the icy mountain top. Later still, while in the Shenandoah, I would fight through the stinging pain on the top of my foot that sent a shock through me with every step. The worst of the moments may have been at the Overmountain Shelter where the wind blew the snow and negative temperatures through the cracks in the shelter walls while I tried to shiver myself to sleep.

Then, of course, there were the good times. We ended our day earlier than planned after the Mt. Success catastrophe, which led to the most stunning of shelter views on the entire trail at Gentian Pond Shelter. Our departure from Greylock led us to Dalton, MA, and to one of the most gracious of trail angels. The next day after that night at Overmountain, my best friend and hiking partner would meet his future wife. What of the Shenandoah pain you ask? No good came of that. Sometimes the trail is just cruel.

Today I spend more time with the AT than ever. As part of a local outfitter, I’ve prepared dozens of people for a thru-hike and hundreds for overnights. I’ve mailed them care packages, written meal plans, answered late night calls after worrisome days, hiked with them, dropped them off and picked them up from the trail. I give what advice or help I can, to help tip the scales that send over 75% of hikers home from their journey earlier than expected.

If by chance this article is your first impression of the AT, what is it you should take away? Thus far, I’ve more or less described an existential experience between each person that interacts with the AT and the AT itself. Should I describe trail conditions or trail logistics? Or should I fill your head with the beautiful and magical encounters that I have experienced out there? If you could, would you brave entering into this fairy-tale-like world to see it for yourself?

Perhaps my generalizing is intentional. Perhaps this horrible ankle twisting trail is already overcrowded. To be honest, I enjoy the solitude of sitting atop a mountain peak alone, knowing that the soft breeze is all my own. My instincts suggest that I sway you from the trail. Find your own trail, your own family, and your own fairy tale. But I can’t honestly in good conscience say these things, because the trail is to be shared. I know that generations will enjoy the exploration of setting out for a journey in the woods. Both the young and old will learn more about themselves in a few miles than in the past few years, and I also know that the trail will provide so many with the most imperfect, perfect experience.

So if your heart pulls you to a quiet place in the woods, if your feet just want to move, and if you are ready to listens to nature’s lessons, perhaps you can find what you are looking for on the AT. If so, maybe our paths will cross on that long line from Georgia to Maine, or perhaps before your trip we can sit and I can help prepare you for that next great adventure!

Published in the 2015 Tri-State guide to the Outdoors


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Overnight Loops on the Appalachian Trail (A Cincinnati Guide)

Overnight on the AT

Top 3 Hikes Less Than 8 hours from Cincinnati

By: Craig “Goatman” Buckley

 Interested in getting a taste of the iconic Appalachian Trail without the time commitment required for a long section hike? Behold! Three hikes that will get you out on the AT for an overnight backpacking trip that you can do on a long weekend. All three trails are less than an 8 hour drive from Cincinnati, are loop hikes that require only one car and no shuttles, and aim to highlight a beautiful portion of the AT. No excuses: Get out there and hike!


South and North Marshall Loopshenandoah


Where:                                 Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

From Cincy:        424 miles (about 7 hours driving)

Trail Mileage:     13.1 mile loop

Trailhead:            Jenkins Gap Parking Lot (mile marker 12.3 on Skyline Dr.)

Fee/Permit:       $15 (7 day) $30 (Annual) Permit required for overnight camping

Shenandoah National Park in Northern Virginia is a beautiful introduction to the Appalachian Trail. This 13.1 hike is easy when broken up over two days, gaining only 2100 feet of elevation throughout. You will follow the Mount Marshall Trail across three streams abundant with wildlife, from white-tail deer to black bear and up to the Bluff Trail which, as its name portends, leads along the bluffs below the summits of South and North Marshall. Along the way, take a side trail to Big Devil Stairs for an amazing vista of the rolling hills of Virginia. Camping is available around this junction (ask a ranger for details!) and, in the morning, climb up to the AT itself. Stop by Gravel Springs Hut on your way to chat with any thru-hikers taking a break and fill up your water at the spring. From there, climb up to the summits of both South (3,212 ft.) and North Marshall (3,368 ft.). Rock outcroppings and distinct cliffs afford a view of the vast Shenandoah Valley below. Continue on the AT as it weaves up and down the ridge until it pops you right back out at Jenkins Gap and your waiting car.



Mt. Cammerer Loopcammerer loop


Where:                 Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN/NC

From Cincy:        315 miles (about 5 hours driving)

Trail Mileage:     18 mile loop

Trailhead:            Big Creek Ranger Station, Cataloochee, NC

Fee/Permit:       $4 per night, per person for a backcountry permit


Talk about a hike with a little bit of everything! The Mt. Cammerer Loop is an amazing way to see the best of the Great Smoky Mountains in the vicinity of the AT. From the Big Creek Ranger Station, you’ll climb steadily up the Chestnut Branch Trail and meet up with the AT on top of the ridge after a couple of strenuous miles. Hiking southwest along the ridge will bring you to Mt. Cammerer Trail, a 0.6 blue blaze off the AT that leads to a rocky scramble to the summit where a beautiful stone fire tower lies nestled in huge boulders. From here, take in 360 degree views of the entire park, mountains as far as the eye can see. When you’re done drooling over the scenery, hike back to the AT and continue hiking. You’ll cross Rocky Face Mountain before coming to the Cosby Knob Shelter, a great halfway point at which to stay the night (don’t forget your permit!). The next morning will take you down off the ridge onto the Low Gap Trail. You’ll lose elevation here as you drop into gorgeous forest scenery. Keep an eye out for wildlife. After a few miles, you’ll begin following Big Creek, a wide, boulder-strewn stream that leads past such thing as Mouse Hole Falls and a great wooden bridge, and then back to the ranger station and your ride home.



Fairwood Valley and Mt. Rogers LoopFairwood Valley and Mt. Rogers Loop


Where:                 Troutdale, VA

From Cincy:        362 miles (about 6 hours driving)

Trail Mileage:     18.3 miles loop

Trailhead:            VA Rt. 603, 5.7 miles west of Troutdale

Fee/Permit:       None


The beauty of southern Virginia cannot be easily summarized in words and on this hike, you get not only that, but views into the ridges of North Carolina as well. The most strenuous of the three hikes, this hike begins with almost immediate elevation gain as you follow the Mt. Rogers Trail up to the ridgeline where it meets up with the AT. Keep trucking! It will be worth it, believe me. As you crest the ridge, the world below opens up and the rest of the hike is stunning view after stunning view of the sparsely populated, rolling landscape. Summit Mt. Rogers and you’ve reached Virginia’s highest point. Stay the night at the Thomas Knob Shelter about 8 miles in for an amazing sunset or keep hiking and camp at any of the great campsites off the trail further on. As you hike, your view will be the legendary Grayson Highlands before dropping down from the ridge, down through the Fairwood Valley, and finally looping back to your car.


Published in the 2015 Tri-State guide to the Outdoors

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