Pictured from top to bottom, left to right: cuben fiber poncho/tent/bivy (polycyro footprint and extra cording on top); ziploc with data pages, sil-nylon wallet/camera/phone pouch; mesh backpack (w/ two 24 fl. oz. water bottles and assortment of containers for water treatment, salt tablets, foot care, hygiene, gear repair etc.), cuben fiber food bag, “heiny pot” (w/ 5 days of fuel tablets and kitchen kit); synthetic insulated poncho/blanket (w/ cuben fiber stuff sack, wool shirt, arm warmers, balaclava, socks, wind shirt and pants)
Gear weight (including fuel tablets): 5 pounds. Food weight (11,000+ calories/ 3 days): 5 pounds. Water weight (~48 fl. oz. water): 3 pounds. Total starting pack weight for MST: 13 pounds.
When I first started preparing for the MST this past winter, I thought I had it made. After all, I still had the 2009 BMT fastpack gear to tap into. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how differences between these two journeys would require special tweaking of the equipment. Before I knew it, I’d spent another spring in the sweatshop logging a ridiculous number of hours tinkering with all this stuff. Now the time is nearly here to roll with what I’ve got…
Come Saturday we joined a small crew for Adam’s May Mountain Marathon AKA Assault on Mt. Pisgah. This would be my last real opportunity to test how everything felt prior to June 1st. We had a beautiful day to play in Pisgah. The full pack weight rode well at a ludicrous 5 mph pace for this round. All systems go with only a few days left…
The Ropers provided great aid at the summit parking area and back at the North Mills start/finish. It was great to hang out and visit with everyone. Many thanks to the Hills for their hospitality and the Ropers for their support.
Saturday: Uwharrie and I mooch a ride with Lily and Brooke who are travelling up to Damascus to camp and bike 50+ miles along the Virginia Creeper Trail. The plan involves a 50+++ mile adventure of our own: a two day, one night fastpack shakedown hike along the Iron Mtn., Appalachian and Virginia Creeper Trails.
We get started from Beartree Recreation Area by 11 AM. It’s a beautiful sunny day. Although many wildflowers are spotted along the Iron Mtn. Trail, the flame azaleas steal the show.
Uwharrie and I are thrilled to explore this path for the first time. Often overshadowed by nearby Grayson Highlands, the Iron Mtn. Trail still holds many treasures of its own.
Everything in my sub-10 lb. pack is under close scrutiny, including my fuel. The items on my daily menu: fig newtons, sandwich crackers, string cheese, ramen noodles etc. Hardly gourmet, what these snacks have in their favor is wide availability.
Joining up with the AT by 4 PM, we continue to move at a comfortable 3+ mph pace up into the Highlands. We feast on trailside teaberries and spot a spider that has set up shop in a Mayapple bloom. We also pass many groups of thru-hikers along this stretch.
Soon we enter into the expansive world of Grayson Highlands. A short ways past Scales, we stop for dinner and enjoy the peace and quiet that a secluded campsite has to offer. But it’s not yet time to stop for the night. Past the crowded Wise Shelter, we reach a rocky ridge in time for sunset. I carefully set up prototype #3 under a hawthorn tree.
The sun sets from our high perch. Lenticular clouds over Wilburn Ridge put on quite a show in the lingering twilight. After some peaceful stargazing, it’s time to crawl in to the tent and get some sleep.
A quick note on tent design: this is essentially an amalgamation of many previous ideas. The main push away from polycryo (for now) is to experiment with the added side ventilation to reduce condensation. The result is a tent (w/integrated bivy) that can actually be worn as rain gear.
Morning brings a new light. Packed up in twenty minutes, we hike over Wilburn Ridge in a chilly mountain wind.
Lou, an ultra light DIYer extraordinaire from High Point, NC calls out to me near Rhododendron Gap. He recognizes me and we stop to chat and geek out on our respective homemade loads for a bit. I’m very impressed with the craftsmanship of all his gear!
It’s time to keep cranking for Damascus still 30 miles away. Near Elk Park, I try to capture the beautiful fertility of both forest and field in photography. Words simply can’t describe how much of a pure delight it is to hike through the Appalachians this time of year. You’ll just have to go out and do it!
A brief rain catches us on Whitetop, but is gone as soon as it starts. Once over Buzzard Rock, we settle into an easy trot downhill for several miles. After one last refill past Lost Mountain Shelter, we hit the Creeper.
The miles accelerate in the hot afternoon sun along this bustling rail trail. Uwharrie and I bump into Brooke and Lily riding up to Whitetop. We agree to meet back up in Damascus. Along the way, we stop for a lunch break (baked beans, corn bread and ice cream) at a trailside restaurant in Taylors Valley.
After refueling, we continue along on our final push to town, pausing to beat the heat with a head dip in the gushing creeks. By 3:30 PM, we arrive to town and hang out for a couple hours waiting for the girls to return from their ride.
By all accounts, this was a great weekend of adventure.
My name is Matt Kirk, my wife’s name is Lily and my dog's name is Uwharrie. I'm keeping this online journal for friends, family and anyone else interested. This is a way to share our experiences through writing and artwork as we travel around the Southern Appalachians living out of our 2010 honda fit, tube tent, or what have you.
This summer, we are thinking globally and adventuring locally. We hope to get a better sense of this region in which we have been living in for many years. I look forward to living simply and packing lightly. More to come!
Saturday, 12:30 PM: Lily and Uwharrie dropped me off at the MST Woodlawn trailhead. The plan: hike 24 miles to meet them at a campsite along the South Toe above Black Mountain Campground. I carried the latest revision of my MST fastpack gear and traveled comfortably at a preordained 4 mph pace.
The humidity was thicker than the stress I carried with me from the week past. So it was a rapturous moment when the heavens opened up and unleashed a cool, clean and refreshing rain. Rejuvenated and cresting out on Woods, the trail worked its magic and I was soon in the zone.
Lady slippers, laurels and rhododendrons were a few of the more memorable blooms spotted along the trek. I had to constantly watch my footing for the newts all over the trail as well. Along one stretch of section 9, I spooked two yearling bear cubs up a tree. Simply for the celebration of life, it’s hard to beat this time of year in the southern Appalachians.
Lily and Uwharrie found a great campsite and had a fire started as I wandered in to join them by 6:30 PM. We enjoyed a delicious dinner and some G’Knight beside the fire as evening sprinkles added additional moisture to a lush twilight. Soon it was time to bed down and test out the latest revision of the polycryo tube tent.
Come morning, my mind was up before the sun, churning with ideas for further revisions. I decided on the luxury of a morning fire and got to work preparing breakfast. Lily soon awoke and we figured out how we wanted to get back to the car (parked near Ridge Junction).
We were packed up and hiking by 8:30 AM. We climbed to the summit of Mitchell on the MST and entered into a “whole new world” as Lily puts it. The weather on the summit was cloudy and cold, so we made a quick decision to try for the restaurant. Upon our lunchtime arrival, we eagerly sat down to enjoy a warm meal. This will definitely be a must-stop in three weeks. Powered up, we easily made it the rest of the way to the car and back to Marion.
Random MST thoughts during trek:
-Silk not cutting it, will definitely carry the wool to start the trek.
-Condensation a factor in tube tent, but still manageable?
-Lily’s offer to make this a supported effort is tempting
-Go self-supported through the mountains and reconsider…
-Revise BMT/MST wikis to keep them current.
Photos in this post from the Sony-Ericsson camera phone that Lily is letting me use for the MST:
Upon our return from last week’s spring break trip to FL, Lily and I have witnessed how quickly spring has sprung in the southern Appalachians. At this rate, it will be summer before we know it. We are in our final month of the school year, and it couldn’t have come sooner. Each week seems to be getting tougher.
The MST fastpack looms, so yesterday Uwharrie and I set out on a counterclockwise Woods Mtn. marathon loop six miles from town. Rather than a normal run, I carried MST fastpack gear and purposely moved at a slower “slogging” pace to get a feel for it. Truth be told: my energy level was a bit low at the beginning of this trek, so I’m not sure how much faster I could’ve moved.
Uwharrie and I enjoyed spotting the flox, violets, irises, trillium, lady slippers, laurels and ferns celebrating springtime. It was getting hot along the FS road section in the afternoon sun, so we cooled off in Armstrong Creek before ascending out of this pristine mountain cove. Soon we joined up with the MST and enjoyed ridge top views for the remaining nine miles back to Toms Creek.
With this warmer weather, I’ve got to work on maintaining my electrolyte levels better. Besides stress from work, I think this is the main culprit for getting so beat up on what was to be a fairly routine workout. Like last year, I plan to ramp up daily training in the final month before this summer challenge, so I’ll be sure to post how that’s going when I can.
Meanwhile here’s a video I put together about something else I've been working on recently: a streamlined ‘polycro’ tube tent (prototype #2). Enjoy: