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Neon, Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail – (Segment 6)

Every year Appalachian Trail thru hikers, gear heads and dreamers flock to Damascus, Virginia for the annual “Trail Days” festival.  This year, Trail Days was held from May 17-19 and attracted thousands of outdoor enthusiasts from all over the globe. Hyperlite Mountain Gear attends Trail Days every year to meet fellow enthusiasts and show off some of its innovative ultralight gear and accessories. One of the people HMG met at this year’s festival was a thru-hiker named Brenna (trail name “Neon”).  Unfortunately, Brenna had all of her gear stolen from her tent while she was exploring the festival.  When HMG founder Mike St. Pierre heard what had happened to Neon, he decided to hook her up with a free HMG Windrider 2400 pack as well as a some other free HMG products. Mike also spread her story among other equipment vendors at the festival.  By the end of the day, Neon had an entirely brand new setup of equipment free of charge.With the ultralight and rain-proof HMG Windrider 2400 HMG trimmed Neon’s pack weight significantly which should make the next 1,700 miles to Maine even more fun. As a way of saying “Thank You” to Mike and the rest of the HMG team, Neon has been keeping us all up to date with periodic posts and pictures from the AT. We hope that you’ll check in regularly to follow Neon along the trail!  Here’s Neon’s sixth post from the trail . . .
I had been looking forward to my time after Trail Days because I figured I could relax and not worry about getting anywhere by a certain date- my only deadline was the cold weather in Maine. The first day out of Damascus we walked through the Grayson Highlands, one of the sections that I had heard so much about. As soon as we walked through the gate into the highlands, a wild pony started trying to bite Turbo’s backpack. We had heard the ponies can get aggressive and when he came after me, I put my hand on his head to hold him off and wielded my trekking pole like a weapon. Once we got farther into the highlands, we saw more and more ponies grazing in the fields. They brought these ponies in specifically for this reason- the highlands is a large open area devoid of trees and with large rock formations. They want the ponies to graze there in order to maintain the grassy areas. The rest of them were friendlier than the first and let us pet them without trying to bite us.
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Since so many people had either slowed down or sped up to make it Damascus for the festival, there was a huge bubble of people leaving at the same time. There was also a lot of rain in the week following the festival and so everyone wanted to stay in the shelters to avoid getting wet. Every night the shelters were full and there were sometimes up to 20 tents set up around them as well. The rain was starting to get frustrating- wet boots and clothing for days on end was getting old. Every time I started to complain in my head, I started to think about Jennifer Pharr Davis. I was reading her book about the endurance record and she is a badass. She got hypothermia, had shin splints for 1000 miles, and overcame a bunch of other problems to finish the trail in record time. Every time I felt down, I reminded myself that if she could deal with all that, I could deal with a little rain.
I was also starting to make up for my lack of trail magic before Damascus. In Troutdale, VA there was a hiker feed put on by a local church. They put up flyers at each road crossing telling hikers about it and about 35 people showed up. All the churchgoers brought in food and there was enough so that everyone could stuff themselves. There was some intense preaching after the meal and I’m not sure the preacher realized that the hikers were a different audience than he was used to, but it was worth it.
The next night we made it to Partnership Shelter, one of the shelters on the trail that you can order pizza from. There was a big group of people and it was this girl Smokey’s birthday so we ordered a bunch of food, ignored the no alcohol signs, and went into town to get some beer.
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Turbo and I were settling into a new kind of hiking- one that involved a lot more drinking. The next day we were walking along the trail when we came upon two hikers, Twoper and Bait, who were handing out beers on the side of the trail. We hung out with them and then walked along into Atkins, VA. Turbo and I were planning on doing a few more miles but decided to hang out in town for a bit. We were being classy as usual and decided to sit behind the gas station with a couple tall boys. The longer we sat, the less we wanted to keep hiking. Luckily, Lumber came by and said he had gotten a hotel room and had extra room if we were interested. We definitely were. Also staying in the hotel were Red Velvet, Predator, Hagrid, E.T., Promise, and Gigs. We hung out and I ate an insane amount of candy- 1 snickers ice cream bar, 1 bag of Doritos, 1 bag of cheese puffs, 1 package of Twizzlers pull n peel, 1 bag of Snyder’s honey mustard and onion pretzels, 1 sleeve of double stuff oreos, and probably more that I’m forgetting.
We got breakfast in the morning and then started hiking. Before we could get very far though, we came upon some more trail magic. The mom of someone hiking had a cooler full of soda and beer and a table full of fruit salad, hot dogs, chips, candy, taco salad, and more. I had ordered two breakfasts at the diner that morning and then ate a lot at the trail magic so I had to lounge around until noon before I could walk again. I was walking with Hagrid and we were planning on doing about 20 miles, but we got to a camp spot with a bunch of people that we knew and decided to stay there. Squirrel had packed in some whiskey to celebrate us getting 1/3 of the way and passed it around while someone else cooked up hot dogs for the group. I was excited to have gotten that far, but there was still a long way to go. I was also starting to get the “Virginia Blues”. Virginia is over 500 miles and much of it is just green tunnel; hiking in the trees with no views. It is easy to start thinking about how far you still have to go and get overwhelmed by the length of the trail.
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While the hiking might have been boring, the bubble was still together and we were having a lot of fun. There were about 30 of us who had been seeing each other consistently since Damascus. We would get split up, but then a hiker feed or stop in town would bring us back together. In Bland, VA there was another hiker feed that we all went to and then we planned a birthday party for Fresh Step at Dismal Falls in two days. Dismal Falls was supposed to be an awesome campsite and swimming hole and it was also just a few miles past a road crossing with a grocery store that sold beer. We all packed in food and beer, swam, and hung out by the fire. Before I had started the trail, I had a vision in my mind of what the trail would be like. I had underestimated the social aspect of the hike, but Dismal Falls was the kind of picturesque camp spot that I had envisioned beforehand. Simply put, the trail was even better than I had imagined it.
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Neon
The AT
Summer 2013

Spruce Green is the new White

HMG’s ultralight, cuben fiber shelter systems, tarps and pyramid tents are now available in Spruce Green in addition to our classic white.

HMG UltaMid pyramid  tent on the coast of Maine

HMG UltaMid pyramid tent on the coast of Maine

For the past four years Hyperlite Mountain Gear has been making some of the best lightweight shelters, tarps and mids available anywhere.  But we were only able to offer then in white.  We love the white, but we know that a lot of our customers would like a little more choice in the color department.  Well, we’ve finally done it.  We’re now able to offer our full line of shelter systems, tarps and pyramid tents in Spruce Green.  The material used is the same as the white — ripstop, waterproof and ultralight cuben fiber.  And unlike other manufacturers who have offered colored cuben fiber, our products are absolutely color-fast — no bleeding, no staining of your other gear.

HMG Flat Tarp in the Maine Woods

HMG Flat Tarp in the Maine Woods

Here’s HMG’s current line-up of Spruce Green shelters, tarps and mids:

The Echo Shelter System — a tarp based system featuring a removable bug mesh insert/tub and “beak” (vestibule).  The system is available one and two-man sizes and can be purchased as set or as separate pieces.

The UltaMid — two and four-man pyramid tents.

Tarps — a line of flat tarps, catenary tarps and a hammock tarp.

All of our shelters, tarps and mids feature taped seams.  With the taped seams and 100% waterproof cuben fiber, there’s no need to seam seal or coat these products, ever.

HMG Flat Tarp in a perfect spot to make camp

HMG Flat Tarp in a perfect spot to make camp

Like all of our gear, our shelters, tarps and mids are proudly designed and manufactured in Maine, USA.

Check ‘em out and get your green on!

HMG
Biddeford, Maine

 

 

The Simplicity of Tarps – Fatbiking / Bikepacking with a Tarp Shelter

HMG Ambassador Glenn Charles one of a rapidly growing group of outdoor enthusiasts using ultralight gear and fatbikes to take them to new places in the outdoors.  Read on for Glenn’s thoughts on why a ultralight tarp makes the perfect shelter for these multisport adventures.
Glenn Tarps 2
Just back from another spectacular bikepacking trip on my Salsa Mukluk, I can honestly say that for 90% of my trip needs, a Tarp is the perfect shelter. For the last 5 years I have experimented with tents, bivies, and a number of different Tarps, so I believe that for me, I have acquired a fair bit of experience through a multitude of conditions.With the exception of some very specific situations and scenarios, the Tarp has ruled the roost.  With a bike, I can string a tarp anywhere I want, including the middle of nowhere.  Using my technigue for anchoring the bike with line and stakes, it serves as the perfect highpoint for one end of the tarp.  The other end can be anchored to some other fixed object, or with the aid of your helmet or stick, stood on end, you have enough lift to comfortably sleep without and contact between your bag and the tarp.
Glenn Tarps 4

Add in an UL bivy and you have bug and splash protection at your disposal.  Thus carrying a Cuben Fiber tarp, a set of UL stakes and a UL bivy, you are set to string up protection no matter where you travel.  With some larger fixed structures to anchor to, you can easily create a very comfortable living space that protects you, your bag and your gear from the elements.

My current Tarp of choice is the Cuben Fiber tarp made by Hyperlite Mountain Gear.  I have been traveling with this tarp for almost two years now and it has proven itself as completely reliable.  The attention to detail is amazing and the Cuben Fiber is not only light but absolutely waterproof.  One very nice feature of Cuben is that it does not wet out.  What this means is that after a night of rain, simply shake the tarp and the vast majority of the moisture is displaced, thus keeping your UL tarp in a UL state.  I have found that Silnylon has a tendency to wet out and thus your super light tarp is no longer super light and you are stuck packing an item that is soaked through and through.

Glenn Tarps 1

For those that are serious about traveling light, the combination of a Cuben Tarp, UL Bivy, a Neo Air pad, and a set of UL stakes is the ultimate combination for light weight, flexible shelter.  Simple to setup; flexible in how you use it; and a multitude of useable configurations with very few things that can break!

Glenn Charles
October 2013

For more on Glenn, his photography and adventures in the outdoors, see his blog:  The Traveling Vagabond

 

 

Neon, Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail (Segment 5)

Every year Appalachian Trail thru hikers, gear heads and dreamers flock to Damascus, Virginia for the annual “Trail Days” festival.  This year, Trail Days was held from May 17-19 and attracted thousands of outdoor enthusiasts from all over the globe. Hyperlite Mountain Gear attends Trail Days every year to meet fellow enthusiasts and show off some of its innovative ultralight gear and accessories. One of the people HMG met at this year’s festival was a thru-hiker named Brenna (trail name “Neon”).  Unfortunately, Brenna had all of her gear stolen from her tent while she was exploring the festival.  When HMG founder Mike St. Pierre heard what had happened to Neon, he decided to hook her up with a free HMG Windrider 2400 pack as well as a some other free HMG products. Mike also spread her story among other equipment vendors at the festival.  By the end of the day, Neon had an entirely brand new setup of equipment free of charge.With the ultralight and rain-proof HMG Windrider 2400 HMG trimmed Neon’s pack weight significantly which should make the next 1,700 miles to Maine even more fun. As a way of saying “Thank You” to Mike and the rest of the HMG team, Neon has been keeping us all up to date with periodic posts and pictures from the AT. We hope that you’ll check in regularly to follow Neon along the trail!  Here’s Neon’s fifth post from the trail . . .

 

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After the Smokies, I was looking to get away from Ramon and hike on my own. I enjoyed spending time with him and having a hiking buddy but I also wanted to hang out with other people. He was also very slow getting ready in the morning and I was sick of waiting up to an hour each day for him. He was planning on going about 13 miles that day with Briton, so I decided to keep moving. That day I passed over Max Patch; the first of many balds along the trail. I have never experienced winds like that in my life and I can only guess their speed. 150 mph is my guess. A more realistic person might say 60 mph; either way they were insane. I had to walk at an angle, my body leaning into the wind so that I didn’t fall over. Then a gust would come and I would get blown sideways and have to dig my trekking poles into the ground to regain my position. It was awesome.

That same day day I got to talking with a section hiker about my experience and she asked me if I was still enjoying myself. I answered with great conviction that I still got up each day and was excited to hike. The trail was continually changing and each day still brought me something new.

At the shelter that night I had my first encounter with yellow blazers (people who skip part of the trail by hitching a ride). Two of the hikers there had skipped the Smokies. It was early in the trip and most everyone was still committed to walking to Katahdin so there was an awkward moment when they said they had hitched ahead and skipped the Smokies. I didn’t know how to react, this time anyway. The farther north I got, the more people I met that had skipped at least one section. Instead of getting off the trail when people got tired of hiking, they hitch to meet their friends so they can still get some of the experience. Many people don’t have the time, money, or desire for a full thru-hike, but for me yellow-blazing did not mesh my motivation for doing the trail.

The next night I was discussing my lack of a trail name with Stealth. At this point, he was still just Matt and I was still Brenna and we were both feeling left out since most everyone else already had names. I suggested Stealth for him because he wore all black and had a habit of walking quietly and sneaking up on people on the trail. We decided, based on my bright orange Crocs and yellow rain jacket, that Neon might be good for me. I hadn’t met anyone else by that name and it was short and easy to remember. That next day I started signing Neon in the shelter logs and introducing myself as such. There was a strange transition period where I had to get used to going by a different name but after a while it started to seem alright.

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“Neon” rocking her trademark bright orange Crocs and a yellow jacket

After a couple days of cold, rain, and wind, I did a 3 mile “nero” (nearly zero miles) to Hot Springs, NC. Hot Springs is the first town through which the trail passes directly. Stealth and I somehow got lost going into town, despite the fact that the sidewalks were engraved with the AT symbol in order to show the way. In typical thru-hiker style, if there wasn’t a blaze every five feet then we were lost. We stopped at the first restaurant we came to, Smoke Mountain Diner, and got some excellent food- including the best cinnamon roll I have ever had in my life. There were a bunch of hikers there, most of whom I knew and we all hung out while we gorged ourselves.

My oldest sister, Sarah, was flying in that day to do the next 70 miles to Erwin, TN. Seven of us decided to split a room at a local hotel, the Iron Horse Station, and bummed around all day and watched TV. When Sarah got there that afternoon we got a few beers at the Spring Creek Tavern where they had live music. Sarah had talked about doing a thru-hike at some point and I wanted her to get a the full experience; crowded hotel room, trail town, and the trail.

The next day, we set off early for the trail but before we could even get started someone told us that the trail was flooded. It wad been raining like crazy for days and they said the water was waist deep and we would have to hitch around. Sarah and I decided to go see for ourselves and the trail was flooded, but not up our waists. I bushwhacked around while Sarah took off her boots and walked through the water. Eventually though, we got to a point with an overhang where the water was deeper and the current stronger. Instead of wading out and possibly getting swept away, we took a blue blaze trail up the side of the overhang and came down the other side about 50 feet beyond where we had left the trail. Where we returned to the trail we could see a tent floating in the river. It was tied down and there was a bunch of stuff strewn about. I took off my boots and stepped into the water to look into the tent just to make sure there was no body floating inside. It seemed like someone left in a hurry; there was ramen and all sorts of gear floating inside, but no body. The trail was still flooded there, but we walked just to the side of it, knowing that soon the trail would climb up and out of the valley.

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We did 11 miles that day and Sarah seemed to be hurting a bit. I had told everyone that she was going to come and visit and they all told me she wouldn’t be able to handle the miles. Eight to ten, they all said. I thought she would be fine doing more and we had to average 14 per day in order to make it to Erwin on time. Watching her that first day made it seem like it wouldn’t end up being as easy I thought, but I knew she would suck it up and do the miles either way.
The next few miles were uneventful as far as hiking goes, but it was really nice to spend some time with Sarah. The first few days I hiked ahead, but I realized I was wasting our time together. For the past four years I had been at school in Missouri and since she is seven years older than me, we hadn’t lived together in about 12 years. While we saw each other reasonably often, it was usually in the presence of other family members and so it was unusual to have time together just the two of us.It turned out that Sarah had no problem turning on the miles and did a couple 15 miles days and a 16.5 to finish off her trip. We got into Erwin on time and went to Uncle Johnny’s Hostel which is is right on the trail. It is overpriced and dirty, but known to be a good time. The group renting the nice cabin with the kitchen invited us over for a feast with steak, garlic bread, ice cream, salad, beer, mashed potatoes and a fritatta. A bunch of people were also having a bonfire outside and everyone seemed to be making the most of their night in town. Ramon and Briton had gotten in earlier that day and had tried to hitch into town for a resupply. The guy who picked them up asked if they wanted to go rafting on the very swollen Nolichucky River and so they went down the river all afternoon. Ramon got his trail name that day, Turbo, because the guy kept yelling at them that they were his turbo on the river. While I had previously been looking to get away from him, now I was looking forward to hiking with Turbo again. We planned to leave the next morning with another friend, Quinoa, and begin the race to Damascus for Trail Days.

Neon on the AT
August 2013

To Hell and Back — Across North America’s Deepest Canyon with Steve Graepel

Two hours from Boise, but a world away from the daily grind, the Snake River cuts through the narrows bordering Oregon, Idaho and Washington. Its here where over 60,000 CFS has carved the deepest gorge in North America. Yes, Hells Canyon cuts deeper than the Grand, plunging 8,000 feet inside the 10-mile gap. Yet as best the record showed, this plumb-line remained un-run as an out and back inside a single push. Mike James and HMG Ambassador Steve Graepel ventured out on a whim to set the first known Rim-Rim-Rim.  Read on for Steve’s report.

 

The Snake serves as the lifeline for southern Idaho, bridling fertile ground and power where there would otherwise be neither. The canyon is no different, only here its always taken more than it provided. Dry and inhospitable, traces of man’s eagerness to eek out a living has been preserved in an arid time capsule scattered along the route to the canyon floor. At 8,000′, the Seven Devils reference back to Nez Perce Indian lore, where the “devils” traveled West yearly to feast on the tribes newborn. At 6,000′, the McGaffee summer cow camp decayed under the conifer canopy. A trophy elk was entangled in the remnants of wire fencing at 4,000′. Fruit orchards grew ferial and tangled at 2,000′. A prehistoric rock shelter and ancient pictographs etched the canyon walls at its low point at 1,400′.

©2013 AllTrails ©2013 National Geographic

©2013 AllTrails ©2013 National Geographic

While cleaning debris out of our shoes on the McGaffee winter cabin’s porch, a cackle of voices broke the din of wind and water. The most common way to see the canyon is by water; rafters float downstream from the dam while jet boats hurdle upstream over the rapids from Pittsburgh Landing. We strapped our shoes and stumbled out of the hackberry thickets and out onto the pebble beach to see a flotilla of rafts pulling out for lunch. A Wilderness with no bridge for miles, we eagerly thumbed a ride into Oregon with their scout boat. Our captain asked about our itinerary; we shared our plans, pointing fingers and arching necks to describe our progress and intent. “You boys have a good time”, he shook as we eddied into Oregon.
On the West side of the Snake parallels the manicured and historical Nee-Me-Poo trail—the same route Chief Joseph led his people into Montana while fleeing General Howard in 1877. We followed it south until we saw the sun-weathered Hat Point trail sign, marking our route to the Oregon rim. We stocked up on water and began to negotiate the heat of the day with the pain of the climb. The trail quickly turned to game trail quickly turned to runnels between bunchgrass and brought us up a stringer canyon, rotten with volcanic choss. The canyon took back half of every step we made. The angle eased and we picked up the pace as we ducked under Ponderosa pine for the final climb.
6 miles, 5 hours and 5 liters of water later, we eventually broke the rim’s crest and climbed out onto the fire tower’s observation deck to review our day’s progress. With thunderheads on the horizon, we anxiously retreated towards the river with a shuffle, slipping down a series of grassy fells and into darkness.
We cautiously navigated the route mostly by braille. The angle of the slopes, the shadow of adjacent slopes, the crossing of a stream indicated by the map. We were actually making reasonable progress until I heard the friction of rubber skid over gravel. Mike slide maybe 5 feet, righted himself and gingerly walked down to my perch. He flashed his headlamp, revealing probably 200+ cactus spines studded down his right side. We spent the next 45 minutes extracting the barbed quills … some buried deep past fascia and into muscle.
Photo by Steve Graepel

Photo by Steve Graepel

After pulling most the of the damage, I pulled my sleeves over my calves, draped the map over my torso and drifted into sleep as the glow of the Sheep Fire illuminated the sky behind the Idaho ridge.
I awoke to find Mike still pulling barbs from his ass. He stuffed a glove between his shorts and leg and snorted, “you ready to go?” Mike James—toughest man in America.
We strolled lazily down to the river, knowing that we would likely not get the same luck as the day before. We carefully chose a placid stretch of water, well above the next rapid set, stripped down to our shorts and shoved everything into our packs and dove into the current. Taller and stronger, Mike held a line into Idaho. I found myself washing out downstream a few hundred feet below. I pulled myself out over the river rock, collected myself and resumed the climb out of Hell.
With a day behind us and the steepest portion ahead, there was no racing out of the canyon. We each slowly picked a line and wrestled our own devils to the Idaho rim. Once on the plateau at Dry Diggens, we still had 8 miles and 3 hours to the trailhead—plenty of time to temper any celebration of success in snagging one of the North America’s greatest trail running challenges.
For more from Steve Grapel, check out his contributions to the National Geographic Adventure Blog.
Steve Graepel
Idaho 2012

Hike Fast. Paddle Hard. Dance All Night. — The First Annual AK Packrafting Festival.

This past July HMG Ambassador Luc Mehl and friends participated in the first annual McCarthy Creek Packraft Race and Whitewater Festival in Wrangel Mountains of Alaska.  We’re hoping this event, organized by Kennicott Wilderness Guides and McCarthy River Tours and Outfitters, will become and annual happening.  HMG is psyched to support the rapidly growing packrafting community by making some of the best packrafting packs available. 

Read on for the report on the inaugual 2013, festival.

McCarthy Packrafting Festival Poster

The McCarthy Creek runs through the Wrangel Mountains outside the quirky/charming outpost town of McCarthy, Alaska at the edge of Wrangell St. Elias National Park.  The creek runs fast and strong with rapids up to rated by American Whitewater as a class III+(V+). 

Racers in action on the lower creek.  Photo by Kennecott Wilderness Guides

Racers in action on the lower creek. Photo by Kennicott Wilderness Guides

Packrafting, and the access it allows to remote whitewater, is catching on fast in this corner of Alaska.  The locals, like HMG Ambassador Luc Mehl, have been pushing the sport since the beginning and outfitters like Kennicott Wilderness Guides are making it accessible to locals and tourists alike with guided trips to some spectacular locations.  It makes sense that this would be the chosen spot for a packrafting race and festival!

The festival motto is Hike Fast. Paddle Hard. Dance All Night.  Beleive it.

The “Up-and-Over” course was 17 miles, a 6 mile hike up old mining trails (2700 ft elev gain), over National Pass, down a rocky glacier.  Then 11 miles of class II, III+ water.  The 11-mile “Z-Rock Down” course began on Main Street in McCarthy.  The hiking leg of this route was a  5.5 mile of brush and loose rock up McCarthy Creek to the Z Rock. From there participants rafted the creek back to town.

Racers in action on the hike in.  Photo by Robin Child.

Racers in action on the hike in. Photo by Robin Child.

30 racers entered this year’s race.  The results:

“Up & Over”
1st: Luc Mehl 4 hours 1 minute (go Luc!)
2nd: Erik Mundahl 4:28
3rd: Russell Nyberg 5:03

“Z Rock Down”
1st: Dale Meck 2 hours 3 minutes
2nd: Anderson Gibbons 2:09
3rd: Chris Cronick 2:22

HMG Ambassador on the trail. Photo by Robin Child.

HMG Ambassador on the trail. Photo by Robin Child.

We hear the after-party was as good as the paddling.

For more on HMG Ambassador Luc Mehl and some spectacular photos of his adventures, check out Luc’s blog, ThingToLucAt.

To be part of next year’s McCarthy Creek Packrafting Race and Festival, check in with Kennicott Wilderness Guides in spring 2014.

To learn more about packrafting, check out the American Packrafting Association.

Alaska
September 2013

 

 

Neon, Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail (Segment 4)

Every year Appalachian Trail thru hikers, gear heads and dreamers flock to Damascus, Virginia for the annual “Trail Days” festival.  This year, Trail Days was held from May 17-19 and attracted thousands of outdoor enthusiasts from all over the globe. Hyperlite Mountain Gear attends Trail Days every year to meet fellow enthusiasts and show off some of its innovative ultralight gear and accessories. One of the people HMG met at this year’s festival was a thru-hiker named Brenna (trail name “Neon”).  Unfortunately, Brenna had all of her gear stolen from her tent while she was exploring the festival.  When HMG founder Mike St. Pierre heard what had happened to Neon, he decided to hook her up with a free HMG Windrider 2400 pack as well as a some other free HMG products. Mike also spread her story among other equipment vendors at the festival.  By the end of the day, Neon had an entirely brand new setup of equipment free of charge.With the ultralight and rain-proof HMG Windrider 2400 HMG trimmed Neon’s pack weight significantly which should make the next 1,700 miles to Maine even more fun. As a way of saying “Thank You” to Mike and the rest of the HMG team, Neon has been keeping us all up to date with periodic posts and pictures from the AT. We hope that you’ll check in regularly to follow Neon along the trail!  Here’s Neon’s fourth post from the trail . . .

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“Neon” continues her AT trek with a visit to the Great Smoky Mountains

My first day in the Smokies, Ramon, Briton, and I hiked 23 miles out of Fontana. Within the first 3 hours, we came upon our first bear. It was a cub that weighed about 100 lbs and seemed completely unbothered by our presence. We walked closer to get a better view and stood about 30 feet away and snapped a few pictures. For the next couple hours, we all walked in silence and constantly glanced left and right, hoping to see another. The Smokies were unlike any forest I had ever seen before. We walked through wildflower-filled meadows where the moss grew up trees and deer danced around us. That last part never really happened, but it seemed plausible given how magical everything was. The nice part about the Smokies is that after the initial 3000 foot climb, it’s basically a ridge walk with small(er) ups and downs. Staying up on the ridge also means there are almost constant views of the surrounding valleys and mountains.

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“Neon” has her first bear sighting while on the AT! This little cub seems to be unbothered by thru-hikers

The shelters in the Smokies are also very large and many have built-in fireplaces. This is especially nice because all people are required to stay in them, rather than set up tents. There was much to-do before we got into the park about a new $20 charge for permits. Previously, thru-hikers weren’t charged while section hikers were. Now, thru-hikers were being charged but were also expected to give up their spots in shelters if there wasn’t enough room (if that was the case then they could tent right next to the shelter). I heard many people say that they weren’t going to pay or were just going to stealth camp (illegal camping). There was a general agreement that no one was going to leave the shelter if it was cold and rainy in order to give up their spot. I can’t say what people actually would have done if the situation had arisen because there was always enough room.

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Shelters located on the AT bring thru-hikers together to rest and share their stories from the trail

The next day, we climbed to the highest point on the trail, Clingmans Dome, at 6643 ft. I had been looking forward to this for days an thought I would feel satisfied upon getting to the top. Instead, I just felt tired. We had taken a wrong turn on the way up and I was frustrated about walking off the trail and having to double back. I didn’t feel like hiking- at all. I was learning that hiking the trail was a lot like life in general: there are good days and bad days, and sometimes you just have to keep your head up and push through.

That day we got to Newfound Gap and hitched into Gatlinburg- the most disgustingly awesome town I have ever seen. It was a small town Vegas; tacky and filled with such attractions such as Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. A group of 5 of us, Ramon, Briton, Stealth, Kobe and I, got a cheap motel room with continental breakfast included then hit the town. We checked out the brewery and ended up meeting up with about 10 other thru-hikers for dinner. “TBNY” was there along with part of the group which called themselves “The Barking Spiders”. There are tons of thru-hikers around and usually even if you haven’t personally met someone, you have at least heard of them. We chatted about the usual subjects; the trail, gear, and weather and then hit the free moonshine tasting for dessert.

Although the lady at the front desk assured us there would be plenty of food at the continental breakfast, the five of us ate their supply of fruit loops, orange juice, oatmeal, hot chocolate, donuts, and pancakes. We caught a ride back to Newfound Gap with another hiker, Blair, and it was there that I had my first celebrity hiker experience.

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Clingmans Dome is the highest point in Smoky Mountains National Park standing at 6643 ft.

It’s not unusual to be gawked at by people who aren’t familiar with the trail; we’re dirty and smelly and often people are curious about our experience. At Newfound Gap, a parking lot with a ton of tourists, this was taken to a whole new level. I walked out of the bathroom and found Ramon and Briton talking to a man about the trail and for the next 40 minutes we couldn’t go ten feet without someone asking us if we were “real” hikers. At one point, there was a crowd of about ten people in a circle around us, all of them peppering us with questions about the trail. Although we were standing directly on it, half of them had never heard of it.

“Where are you going?” one person asked.

“Maine” I said.

“How far is that?” she asked. I pointed to the sign listing the distance to Katahdin and told them about 1900 miles.

“Miles? You mean meters,” another guy said.

When I confirmed that I meant miles, the floodgates opened. People asked us where we slept, what we carried and ate, how far we walked each day, as well as everything else they could think of. I played into it a bit and showed them a picture I had taken of the bear cub the day before. A few asked to take pictures with us and eventually we satisfied their curiosity and got back to walking.

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“There are good days and bad days, and sometimes you just have to keep your head up and push through” – “Neon”

We were only planning on doing 10 miles from Newfound Gap since we had gotten a late start, but we figured we might try and do a little night hiking to the next shelter. We cooked dinner at a nice spot on the trail, watched the sun go down, and had an awesome time hiking just by the light of our headlamps. I’m not sure why, but the sheer act of hiking always seems exhilarating in the dark. Sometimes I feel bored during the day or anxious to just do the miles, but at night it is just the act itself that is enjoyable.

By the next day we had hit Davenport Gap and were out of the Smokies.

NeonOn the AT
August 2013

 

 

Mike St. Pierre’s Gear Check

Mike St. Pierre is the founder and CEO of Hyperlite Mountain Gear.  His passion for the outdoors and specifically for the ultralight approach to the outdoors drove him to found HMG and now drives HMG to continue its mission to create the most innovative, efficient, durable, ultralight outdoor gear on the market.

Read on for Mike’s tried and true advice on how he selects his own gear.

HMG's ultralight Windrider Pack on the approach in the Weminuche Wilderness of Colorado.

HMG’s ultralight Windrider Pack on the approach in the Weminuche Wilderness of Colorado.

The lightweight and ultra-lightweight approaches to hiking and backpacking focus on efficiency in terms of distance covered and wear and tear on the body.  Done right, this approach to your gear will benefit any level of outdoor enthusiast, from the novice to the experienced guide.  Lighter is simply more efficient, more comfortable and as a result, more fun.

But getting into the light approach to the outdoors can sometimes be challenging – especially when you’re up against old habits and the continuous stream of heavy old fashioned gear coming from the major gear brands.  To help you think about your gear list, here’s some information on what I carry when I’m in the outdoors.

HMG's UltaMid pyramid shelter at camp in the Weminuche Wilderness in Southwest Colorado.

HMG’s UltaMid pyramid tent at camp in the Weminuche Wilderness in Southwest Colorado.

“The Three Heavies” (heaviest essential items) in the world of hiking and backpacking are your pack, shelter, and sleeping system. Reductions in weight made to these three pieces of equipment yield the most significant changes in overall weight being carried. The following items are ones that I always have with me on my hikes:

Sleeping System

  • HMG Reversible Pillow I fill it with a puffy jacket and then at night turn it inside out. During the day it doubles as a stuff sack.  At night I flip it inside out and the soft fleece liner gives me a great spot to rest my head.  These pillows now come in two sizes.

Pack

  • HMG Windrider Pack  If you were to go with all the gear I’m recommending, you should be able to fit into a 2400 cu/in pack (our next size up is a 3400 cu/in)
  • A pair of HMG Cuben Fiber Jumbo Stuff Sacks One Jumbo for your sleeping bag  and one for food.
  • HMG Large Stuff Sack  For a clothes bag.
  • One additional large and one small HMG Stuff Sack for other odds and ends

Shelter

  • HMG Echo II Ultralight Shelter System  Your shelter need not weigh any more than 2lbs.   The Echo II comes equipped with a detachable mesh tent insert for complete water and bug protection and gets your there at just 1.84lbs (with guy lines).  We also recently added the HMG UltaMid to our shelter line. The UltaMid comes in both two person (16.6oz) and four person (20.8oz) sizes.

And then there’s the rest.  The “heavies” will be most of your load, but some careful planning is also important for the rest of your gear.  Here are the key components of the other gear that I almost always carry with me:

  • Optimus Crux Stove  An ultra-lightweight stove weighing in at just 3.3oz and capable of boiling water in just three minutes! The amount of uses that a simple stove has on the trail makes it an invaluable item in any hikers pack.
  • MSR Titan Titanium Kettle  A kettle or pot is very important to bring on a hiking trip. Being this is an all in one bowl, water boiler, and cooking pot, it is usually the only cookware item I bring with me. This model weighs a mere 4.2 ounces and holds up to 28 fluid ounces.
  • Spoon.  Long ones work better if you are going to eat dehydrated meals directly out of the package. Spoons at ems.com
  • GravityWorks H2O Filter  Comes with dirty and clean water bladders.  4 liters of potable water in 2.5 minutes.  Weighs 10.6 oz.
  • Rain Gear (jacket at least).  I look for one that is about 8-10 oz in weight.  A company called RAB makes some really nice jackets that fit into this weight range. RAB Jackets at backcountry.com
  • Clothes.  I will usually only bring two shirts (one to wear and one to sleep in). One pair of shorts, three pairs of socks, and a thin insulating jacket.  If you get cold,you can always wear your rain gear.
  • Footwear.  I prefer to hike in trail runners such as the inov-8 Roclite 295. They are much lighter and dry much faster than any kind of boot.  I don’t bother taking off my shoes when I come to a stream crossing.  I do not recommend getting  Goretex for footwear as they tend to take a long time to dry once water has gotten inside them.
  • Trekking Poles.  Telescoping trekking poles are also a good idea.  I always carry two as they are the supports for my tent, but I usually only hike with one and stash the other on my pack.
HMG's Mike St. Pierre and a friend on the trail in the Colorado backcountry.

HMG’s Mike St. Pierre and a friend on the trail in the Colorado backcountry.

Remember, you should never sacrifice safety for lighter pack weight. And keep in mind that the above is my basic set up.  You’ll definitely need to add a little weight (4-5 oz.) for small personal and safety items such as a lightweight compass, utility knife, toothbrush, etc.  Also, if you’re going into specialized conditions (winter, alpine, etc.) or will be out for an extended expedition, you will definitely want to carefully consider what additional equipment you might need and build that into planning your gear list.

When you’re planning your next gear purchase or your next expedition, come check out what’s new at HMG.  We’re there because I want to get our customers outdoors faster, lighter, higher and in greater comfort.  See you on the trail!

Mike St. Pierre
Biddeford, Maine
September 2013

 

Quinn Brett: Raddest tour of the Bugaboos, Lake Louis, and Canmore

Quinn Brett joined our team of HMG Ambassadors in Spring 2013.  Since then she’s been putting our backpacks and shelters through their paces in some of the world’s great outdoor playgrounds.  In July, HMG sponsored Quinn (along with Lizzy Scully, Prairie Kearney and John Dickey) as “Team Glitterbomb” on an expedition to climb unclaimed big walls in Greenland. Team Glitterbomb did three new routes in Greenland. “Plenty for Everyone” (5.10+/11-, 1800ft) on The Barnes Wall; “Morning Luxury” (5.11a/b, 1400ft) on The Breakfast Spire; and “Four Quickies” (5.9, 500ft on The Submarine Wall).  HMG is psyched that our gear help get Quinn and friends there in Greenland.

Read on for a post from Quinn on her recent climbing trip in the backcountry of the Canadian Rockies.

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Quinn and her HMG Windrider pack negotiating the slippery stuff.

“When you type in your Google search bar “genuine, good-spirited, ego-less hard mutherF#^&ing crankers,” I am positive the search will mention or show photos of a Canadian rock climber.  For years I have fallen for their niceness. This trip sealed the deal. I basically had the raddest 3 week tour in the Bugaboos, Lake Louis, and Canmore.

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For a trip into the Bugaboos, a large and waterproof pack is needed.  The hike isn’t too long, but the 4000 feet in elevation gain is a butt buster.  You can do it a few ways: carry a giant load first go saving yourself multiple trips, even the loads and hike it twice, or take the bare essentials to get you through the first few days then hike down for more food later.  I chose option 1–but I was lucky that my climbing partner had much of the gear already up at base camp. 

The Windrider 3400 from Hyperlite Mountain Gear proved to be the perfect pack for this destination–regardless of the above options.  Its roomy, comfortable, waterproof, durable, and I enjoy how it can be a HUGE pack or fold down into a medium sized pack. 

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HMG Windrider at our spectacular basecamp.

I left the pack up at base camp for 5 days as I toured other locations in Canada, stuffed with my climbing shoes and other gear.  Upon return I found my gear dry as a bone, despite huge rainstorms–and thankfully critters were not drawn to nibble the straps!!

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After our first day’s first ascent, local hard man Chris Brazeau proceeded to shuffle me around the best new free lines in the Bugaboos.  Many of these climbs were old aid lines that Chris and his buddies, Jon Walsh, Jon Simms, Simon Meis, Cody Lank and others opened up with much effort over the last six or seven years.

Sendero Norte was the tour opener.  This 13 pitch route is stacked with pitch after pitch of 5.11 and 5.12 climbing.  For topos and a photo of the route line check out  Jon Walsh’s blog.

Both Chris and I fell on the lower thin seam crux pitch and both had a fall or two on the upper roof crux pitch.  The rest of the route we both climbed clean.  Rappelling down I kept saying, “this was my favorite pitch, no wait THIS was…” 

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Sendero is one of the highest quality routes I have climbed! 
 
I was lucky to spend almost 3 weeks in Canada.  I can’t believe I haven’t visited this amazing climbing locations before–next summer I hope to spend a bit more time!”

Quinn Brett, September 2013

Neon, Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail – (Segment 3)

Every year Appalachian Trail thru hikers, gear heads and dreamers flock to Damascus, Virginia for the annual “Trail Days” festival.  This year, Trail Days was held from May 17-19 and attracted thousands of outdoor enthusiasts from all over the globe. Hyperlite Mountain Gear attends Trail Days every year to meet fellow enthusiasts and show off some of its innovative ultralight gear and accessories. One of the people HMG met at this year’s festival was a thru-hiker named Brenna (trail name “Neon”).  Unfortunately, Brenna had all of her gear stolen from her tent while she was exploring the festival.  When HMG founder Mike St. Pierre heard what had happened to Neon, he decided to hook her up with a free HMG Windrider 2400 pack as well as a some other free HMG products. Mike also spread her story among other equipment vendors at the festival.  By the end of the day, Neon had an entirely brand new setup of equipment free of charge.With the ultralight and rain-proof HMG Windrider 2400 HMG trimmed Neon’s pack weight significantly which should make the next 1,700 miles to Maine even more fun. As a way of saying “Thank You” to Mike and the rest of the HMG team, Neon has been keeping us all up to date with periodic posts and pictures from the AT. We hope that you’ll check in regularly to follow Neon along the trail!  Here’s Neon’s third post from the trail . . .

 

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After our stay at Blueberry Patch, Ramon and I felt we were ready to start doing some bigger miles. Everything I had read online before the trip said to take it easy starting out. People said that pushing yourself in the beginning would lead to an injury, but the past six days we had been averaging about 12 miles and it was boring me. We would get to our destination at 2 pm and sit around until dark. In some ways it was nice to relax, but I also wanted to see what I was capable of.

The day we left Hiawassee, Ramon and I set out to do 18 miles to Standing Indian Mountain. The miles felt surprisingly doable. My feet were sore by the end and I was so hungry that I didn’t even wait for my broccoli and cheddar pasta to finish cooking before scarfing it down, but I was satisfied. We were the only people camped at the top of the mountain and so had the best view on the trail thus far and an awesome sunset all to ourselves. We kept up that pace, crossed into North Carolina, and three days later walked down to the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC). After being in the woods for a few days, it was a welcome relief. From miles away I could smell fried food and catch glimpses of brightly colored objects. I couldn’t wait to eat good food, drink beer, take a shower, and sleep in a bed. It turned out that that weekend was the US Freestyke Kayaking Team Trials and there were a bunch of kayakers milling about and practicing in the water. Upon arrival, Ramon and I rented a couple bunks and took showers. I was learning that as a small form of trail magic, someone always left behind shampoo in the showers. I checked myself out in the mirror for the first time on the trail and realized I had lost close to 10 pounds. Eating becomes part of the trail experience for thru hikers. On the trail everyone eats processed, high calorie foods because they are light. People eat trail mix, honey buns and snickers bars as snacks and usually Ramen, Knorr pasta sides, or some other easy meal for dinner. Then in town it is time to pack in the calories. All you can eat buffets, ice cream, and often a large pizza. I couldn’t wait to eat like a hiker and started off by buying a bag of chips and an ice cream.

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Neon stumbles upon an “all you can eat buffet” on the AT

I sat in the laundry room in just my rain gear (no other options) and shared a six pack with Ramon. Later we hung out with a couple other hikers (Hangnail and Law Dog), ate some barbecue, drank some more beer, and called it a night around 9:30 (way past my bedtime these days). The climb out of the Nantahala Outdoor Center is known for being tough. It is 7.5 miles long, 3000 vertical feet, and the first good climb of the trail. Climbing out when hungover made it feel like 15 miles and 6000 vertical feet, but eventually we made it. The next day we walked to Fontana Dam, NC; the town before the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. It was raining all day long and the trail was filled with water up to my ankles. I was starting to notice a pattern with the weather- it rained all the time. We got a shuttle into town for resupply and the driver said they were already 9 inches over the average precipitation for the year. I wasn’t surprised. We got all the food we needed and hiked to the Fontana Hilton; a shelter right on the lake which fits about 20 people and has showers and a real bathroom. There were a number of people already there and I lounged around with Titty Bar Naked Yoga (TBNY for short), Tank Tank, Briton, Ramon, Runaway, and Candyman while the rain pounded the tin roof.

After walking in the rain all day, the idea of getting up the next day and doing it again seemed horrible. So we took our first zero day. Most other people had already taken their first and so I didn’t feel too guilty. We bummed around town, went to the gas station bar, and watched the rain outside. That night at about 11:30 pm, Candyman got up, started grumbling about something and left the shelter in the rain. We found out later that the mice had been crawling all over him and  chewing at his sleeping bag. It was no surprise to the rest of us since he had been keeping candy in his pockets to munch on throughout the night. It is generally expected that there will be mice in the shelters and you can hear (and sometimes feel) them scampering around most nights. For this reason, people hang their food bags on strings in the shelters (or from trees/bear cables like you should do). He had previously been known as ‘Sharkbait’, but Candyman seemed much more fitting after that.

Neon, Somewhere on the AT, August 2013