Winter Camping For Beginners

Just because the days and nights are getting colder doesn’t mean that you have to pack up your camping gear for the winter. In fact, camping in the cold can be even more enjoyable than warm-weather camping, as the forests fall into a peaceful winter silence.

But before you hit the trail to go on your next chilling adventure, here’s a checklist to go by for your first time enjoying the beautiful world of winter wonderland camping.

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Location and Preparation:

If this is your first time cold weather camping, you’ll want to make sure to pick a destination that isn’t too far off the beaten path. Think something scenic, but still easily accessible. That way if things don’t go right, you can always bail out.

Some other things to consider when you’re picking your campsite is to make sure that location has firewood and a water source available. You may not want to build a fire, but it’s good to have the option, especially when the temperature starts to drop. With winter camping, it’s all about being prepared for the worst.

And speaking of the worst, make sure to check the weather forecast prior to leaving. You’ll want to know if it’s going to rain, snow, sleet, or ice so that you an plan accordingly.

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Gear: 

First and foremost, wear layers. Even if you’re just going to be lounging around the campsite, with lower temps you’re going to want something to keep you warm, including hats and handwear. And if you’re planning on doing any additional activities, such as skiing, you’ll want to pack additional gear for that as well.

Footwear is especially important to consider. You’ll want something that’s warm and waterproof, and that fits comfortably. Make sure that they’re durable, and fit well with plenty of room for thick socks. Packing on multiple layers of socks and cramming them into your boot is going to be the instinct, but try to make sure to give your feet room to breathe. A tight fitting  boot will cut off circulation instead of allowing for the foot to stay warm.

When you’re gathering your tent and sleeping bag, make sure that your bag will get you through the dropping temperatures at night.The same goes for your tent, however, any quality three-season tent should get you through the night, unless you’r expecting a lot of winter weather. In such cases you’ll need to plan according.

Don’t forget to pack a headlamp, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Even though you’re not going to be sitting out for a tan, if there’s any snow on the ground the reflection will still burn you.

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Setting up Camp:

Before you start setting anything up, make sure to pack on your warm clothes. That’s going to lock in all the heat you generated while hiking into your campsite, and make setting up camp a whole lot easier.

If you’re not going to be camping in the snow, then you can go about your normal set-up routine. However, if there’s going to be snow on the ground, then you’ll want to take a different approach. First, you’ll want to pack the snow down until you’ve a platform of sorts. You can use your boots or a shovel to do this. Let it set up and get hard before you start pitching your tent.

Depending on how cold it is will determine where you’ll want to set up your cooking situation. Many people like to set up their cookware where it’s easily accessible from their sleeping bag so they don’t have to worry about leaving the warmth of their bag to make a cup of coffee in the morning. But this is based on personal preference more than anything else. Just keep in mind that if you do decide to go this route that your stove is outside of your tent and that you’ve allowed for plenty of ventilation. Nothing ruins a good camping experience than a burnt tent.

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Once you’ve set everything up, go for a hike and enjoy the serenity that comes with the forests in the winter.

And, more than anything else, have fun!

 

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Top Places to Leaf Peep This Fall

If you aren’t already familiar with the term “leaf peeping,” it’s a phrase coined for people who hit the road looking at leaves during the fall season. Basically, everyone on the roads during the month of October and early November.  The golden yellows, bright oranges, and deep reds of fall are too beautiful to resist finding a long, winding road to drive down or a peaceful path to walk on.

Don’t worry, we GET IT. So, if you’re looking for a good excuse to come up to the North Georgia Mountains, look no further because the leaf peeping season is upon us! The leaves have begun to change and will be at their peak just before Halloween. Here’s a quick list of some of the top places in Northeast Georgia to go out and see the best of what a southern Autumn has to offer.

Vogel State Park

Located just 2 miles north of Mountain Crossings, Vogel State Park has a wide variety of options for those wanting to camp, hike, or simply take a stroll around the lake loop. For those who want a little more strenuous of a walk, the 4-mile Bear Hair Gap Trail at the park is perfect for experienced hikers and offers an aerial view of the lake and all of the  gorgeous colors of the park. And, if you don’t want to go into the park and prefer driving, Wolf Pen Gap Road near the park provides a beautiful twisting tour of some of the best colors in Northeast Georgia.

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Vogel State Park/ Georgia State Park Service

Richard Russell Scenic Highway

Starting near Helen, in White County, and winding its way through the mountains all the way to Union County, just below Brasstown Bald, the Richard Russel Scenic Highway is the place to be during the peak leaf peeping seasons in Georgia. While the changing colors may take their sweet time, when the brilliant yellows and reds and oranges finally  make their appearance, a drive down Richard Russel is the best way to get your yearly dose of fall foliage. And the best part about it? This scenic highway is biker-friendly and motorcycle-friendly as well!

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Richard Russell Scenic Highway / Explore Georgia

Unicoi State Park and Lodge

While Unicoi State Park is beautiful all on its own, especially during the fall season, the park offers some unique experiences to make it even better. If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous than usual, check out the park’s zip line course that will take you up above the canopy, allowing for premium leaf views. And for the avid hiker, the park boasts the steep 4.8 mile Smith Creek Trail that winds up to Anna Ruby Falls.

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Unicoi State Park/ Trip Advisor

 

Brasstown Bald 

If you’re wanting to see a vast expanse of fall colors, what better place than the tallest peak in Georgia. Standing at 4,783 ft., visitors can see all the way to Atlanta on a clear day. So can you imagine the 360 degree view of the treeline? To say that it’s breathtaking would be an understatement. Visitors have the choice of taking a shuttle up to the top or hiking the 1 mile trail to the top, where an observation tower promises gorgeous views. While clear skies are the hope, seeing the fog floating through the mountains is equally as beautiful. Just make sure to check the weather before you head up!

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Brasstown Bald/ Explore GA

 

Of course, there are plenty more places, roads, and parks to visit during the fall season to catch leaves, but these are just some of our favorites. And, while you’re out, make sure to stop by the shop! We’d love to see ya.

 

Celebrating Trail Stewards, Volunteerism, and 50 years of National Scenic Trails System

Being able to experience all that the mountains have to offer is an honor and privilege, but sometimes it can be easy to take for granted the forests that we walk through and the trails that we use to enjoy them. Trail cleanliness doesn’t happen all on its own. Sure, double checking to make certain to pack out what you pack in goes a long way, but there are other trail-related maintenance needs that require just a little extra help. And that’s where volunteers come into play.

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Since the inception of the Appalachian Trail, it was always a known fact that someone would need to take on the responsibility of maintaining and caring for the Trail regularly. It didn’t take long before a group of hikers decided to accept the challenge, tasking themselves with being the official caregivers of the Appalachian Trail. Now, there are thousands of volunteers — often referred to as Trail Stewards — who devote more than 200,000 hours of labor and love each year to taking care of the Trail so that future generations can continue to enjoy all of its wonder.

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Thanks to those who continuously donate their time, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is celebrating its 50th Anniversary of being one of the country’s first National Scenic Trails. Spurred by the National Trails System Act of 1968, the National Scenic Trails and National Recreation Trails were formed. And just a decade later, in 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a law that would create and protect National Historic Trails as well. Now, there are 11 National Scenic Trails within the National Trails System, the Appalachian Trail being the most iconic of them all.

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To celebrate this great success and quarter of a century long effort of preservation and conservation, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, along with the Pacific Crest Trail Association, will be hosting a virtual celebration that will be broadcast live on Oct. 2, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. EST. The broadcast will feature the author of the best-selling memoir “Wild,” Cheryl Strayed, as the headlining speaker and adventurer Jennifer Pharr-Davis will be hosting the event, along with guest talks from ATC President and CEO Suzanne Dixon, PCTA Executive Director and CEO Liz Bergeron, and Astronomer Dr. Tyler Nordgern. It’s promised to be an incredible event you won’t want to miss.

For more information about the celebration and the National Trails System Act, visit www.atpct50.org. 

And if you’re wanting to do more than just hear about conservation efforts and became an active participant in preserving the beauty of the Appalachian Trail, check out the ATC’s website   to find volunteer opportunities near you. Whether it’s removing trash from the trail by yourself, meeting up with a local trail club to keep tabs on area sections of the trail , or hopping on with a Trail Crew working on the barebones of the trail, every effort big or small is one step in the right direction toward preserving our public lands.

Shout out to all you already lending a helping hand out on the trails. We can never thank you enough. Keep on, keeping on!

Happy Trekking, Happy Maintaining!

 

 

 

Basics of Safe On Trail Foraging

Being able to live off the land is something that everyone would love to be able to do, but very few people truly know how to do it. However, just like with everything else, there are dos and don’ts that you need to learn before taking on the task, full steam ahead. If you’re wanting to get into the art of foraging for your own food, whether as a hobby and as a supplemental food source, we’ve taken the time to outline some of the basics for you.

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On trail foraging 

First things first, stick with what you know. If you’ve never foraged a day in your life, and aren’t very familiar with anything beyond picking wild blackberries and blueberries, then maybe you shouldn’t go picking other wild berries to mix into your salad for supper. It’s important to know what’s edible and what isn’t. Never consume plants that you have to question whether it’s poisonous or not.

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Wild Mushrooms on the AT in Georgia

If you’re new to an area, or simply aren’t familiar with the types of plants you should be looking for, it would be wise to read up on basic edible plants in the areas you plan to forage in. For example, you wouldn’t want to be looking for ramps (an infamous cross between an onion and garlic found in the wild) anywhere but in specific mountainous areas.

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Red Currants

Along with knowing what grows where, you should be aware of plant look-a-likes. A lot of times edible plants and mushrooms will have nearly identical inedible twins that grow alongside them. Or, in other cases, there are simply non-poisonous but inedible plants, known as companion plants, that will grow in the same area as the edible ones. So, it’s very important to make sure that you know what you’re picking before you bring it home. It would definitely be a shock if you came home thinking you’re going to be whipping up some wild ramps and morel mushrooms, only to find that you instead foraged Lily-of-the-Valley and false morels.

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Morel Mushroom

Last, and certainly not least, is arguably one of the most important things to know when you start foraging. Only take what you’re going to use. Just like with anything else out in the wild, it’s important to be respectful. You aren’t going to be the only person out there looking for edible plants, so you need to make sure to leave some behind for the next person who comes along. Even if the population of the plant you’re harvesting seems to be abundant, remain mindful of how much you’re taking (and how much of it you’re actually going to be able to use).

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Fiddleheads

 

If you want to get into foraging, but aren’t sure where to start, check to see if there are any local foraging groups, or classes even, to help you get started. There’s always someone out there willing and ready to teach the ways of identifying wild eats. You just have to find them! Of course, these are just a few of the basics to get you off  your feet and out on the foraging trail.

Happy hiking and happy foraging, y’all!

Linda Strader: Interview With A 1970s Wildland Firefighter

It’s no secret that a lot of the outdoor industry has historically been a male dominated field, the U.S. Forest Service fire crews included. And while women have been fighting fires for longer than most people realize (since 1815 to be exact, but these women were not recognized until the 1920s), it wasn’t until the early 1970s that women began making their breakthrough into the business of wildland firefighting.

Enter Linda Strader: one of the first women to be hired by the U.S. Forest  in the mid 1970s.

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Linda Strader

When asked why drew her to work on a fire crew, and how she got her break as a wildland firefighter, Strader shared this story with us:

I’m often asked if I always wanted to be a firefighter ever since I was a kid. Maybe that would make sense, but it never, ever crossed my mind. In fact, I never gave wildfires any thought until my family moved to Prescott, Arizona, from New York in 1972. When we drove through a charred forest one Sunday afternoon, I remember feeling sad about the destruction, but didn’t think about a job that entailed putting them out.

The year: 1976. Early March. About ten p.m. I walked in the door to find my mom waiting up for me, reading the paper. She let it drop to her lap. “How was the trip?”

“Fun!” I tossed my purse on the chair, removed my coat, and headed toward the closet.

“Oh, the Forest Service called while you were gone,” she said, lifting the paper back up to read.

I froze. My heart leapt into my throat. Every ounce of my soul danced. Please let this be a job offer. “They did? What’d they say?”

The newspaper again dropped to her lap. “It was the Nogales Ranger District. They said they would call back tomorrow to discuss a job offer.”

I’d been looking for work since I graduated from Prescott High School three years earlier, but in this small Arizona town, jobs were scarce, especially for a young woman who did not want to work in an office typing letters or answering phones, or schlepping food trays in a diner. What did I want? I didn’t know. But I did love the outdoors, and spent a considerable amount of time hiking among the pines of the Prescott National Forest. However, my job search had proved fruitless. Reluctantly, in ’74 I tried Tucson. There, an acquaintance connected me with the Fire Control Officer on Mt. Lemmon, who offered me a fire timekeeper position at Palisades Ranger Station. Okay, it was an office job, but it was an office job in a ranger station, in the middle of the Coronado National Forest, deep in ponderosa pines. I worked two summers up there, where I met the Catalina Hot Shots. They introduced me to the world of firefighting. I decided to give it a shot. A very big deal for a twenty-year-old me.

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Linda Strader, 1980

Because I now had a taste of working in a national forest, the “forest” aspect was quite important to me. I loved having nature right outside the back door. But, were there pine trees on the Nogales District? I had no clue. When the Nogales District official called the next day, it’s embarrassing to admit that I boldly quizzed him about whether there were any pine trees. Would I have turned the job down if there weren’t any? I’m not sure, but fortunately, the man assured me that pines did indeed grow there.

What I didn’t know at the time was how determined the Forest Service had been in keeping their agency male-dominated. Although the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Act had passed in 1972, the agency had resisted compliance, especially toward the hiring of women, until they were forced to in 1976—the year I applied.

I’ve never forgotten my first day at work on the fire crew. After introductions, my supervisor inspected my palm for calluses, and squeezed my upper arm for strength. At the time, I figured he was teasing me, and just smiled. Maybe you couldn’t call me Ms. Muscle-builder, but I wasn’t afraid of hard work, and, although I wasn’t positive I could handle the job (self-doubts and all of that), I knew I would do my best.

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Alaska, 1980

And there I was—the only female on a suppression crew of ten. I don’t think I even noticed. Unfazed, my determination to excel at this job grew with each challenge. I fought small fires, medium fires, up to huge, monster fires. I maintained trails and helispots, built fences. Whenever a guy gave me a hard time, either because he considered me as someone belonging barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen, grabbing my tool out of my hand, or because I’d said ‘no’ when propositioned after we’d just met…I laughed off the silly men with silly attitudes. I’ve got this.

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What I learned is that when you love what you do, it’s not called ‘work’. And, unfortunately, what I learned while researching for my memoir about my times as a firefighter, is that the struggle for women on fire crews is still that—a struggle—to be accepted, respected, and treated fairly. When will changes happen? That’s hard to predict. I can only trust that eventually things will change. And for the women like me who loved (love) this career, this change can’t come too soon.

If you would like to learn more about my Arizona to Alaska challenges and adventures, you might be interested in my book, Summers of Fire: A Memoir of Adventure, Love, and Courage, available on Amazon.com, and in select Barnes and Noble stores as well as their website.

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Thanks for sharing your story with us, Linda!

 

Dog Days of Summer

We’ve officially ended the “dog days of summer,” those hottest days of the year that test the limits of even the most enthusiastic warm weather fanatics. And while we’ve all heard about the “dog days”  (especially here in the south), we can’t help but ask: what exactly are the dog days of summer?

Big surprise here, the dog days have absolutely nothing to do with dogs, not really. Historically speaking, the dog days of summer are the days that fall between in the dead of summer when the dog star Sirius falls in a specific alignment in relation to the sun. A term coined by the Ancient Greeks and Romans, the “dog days” are when Sirius can be spotted just before the sun, which happens through mid-August.

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Night sky during the dog days of summer

According to the Farmers Almanac, the “dog days” begin around July 3 and come to a close around August 11, just after the Summer Solstice. This period can vary from year to year, and differs depending on the location’s latitude in relation to when the dog star rises. In the Northern Hemisphere, the dog days are typically in July and August, which are considered to be the hottest months of the year.

The original meaning of the “dog days” has been lost in translation over time. In fact, the translation from Latin to English was over 500 years ago. Since then, the term has taken on a completely different meaning, referencing the warmest, laziest days of the year when all you want to do is float down a nice, cold stream.

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Beautiful summer day by the lake

Thankfully (and hopefully), this year’s dog days are behind us, and the promise of cooler weather is in the air. We hope you made the most of those days, though, spending some quality time surrounded by plenty of cool rivers, streams, and waterfalls!

Hiking with your Dog!

Our furry friends can be great companions on the trail. Many people struggle whether or not they should take their dog on a hike with them. Here are a few tips for taking your dog hiking with you.

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Tired pup on a long hike

First things first
The first important piece of information for taking your dog hiking with you, is make sure they are on a leash. Even if they are very obedient and love everyone, not everyone loves them. Other people may get scared if they see a dog not on a leash, and they would prefer not to get near the dog. There are also other dogs and animals you could run into. Sometimes a dog that’s friendly with other dogs can be spooked when approached by a dog bumbling off leash down the trail. Not all other dogs are friendly, and wild animals can send your dog running into the woods. Keeping your dog on a leash can make all the difference in your dog’s safety when out on the trail.

When deciding to take your pal out with you for the first time, be sure to choose a shorter, less popular hike to start out with your dog. If a dog is only used to walking around in a neighborhood, they could behave totally different on the trail because it is unfamiliar to them. Limiting the amount of people you might see, and just going out for an hour will be a good way to start out. You can build up from there and work your way up to overnight hikes as well!

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Hiking with your best friend can be great!

Overnight hiking
The next step after day hikes, is overnight hikes. It can be a good idea to camp in the backyard, or car camp for the first night out with your dog. Again, the dog may not be used to sleeping outside, or in a tent, so it’s good to do a few test runs before you go backpacking with them.

Once you decide to go backpacking, make sure your dog has all the right equipment to spend the night in the woods. In colder weather, you will want a small pad, and sleeping bag for your dog. They get cold too! Dogs can carry their supplies too so don’t get worried about the extra weight. A small pack for your dog is great for their food, water, and sleeping items. You can also just snuggle up with your dog if you are used to that.

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Hiking dog with his own pack!

Another not so pleasant thing you need to do with dogs is leave no trace. Just as humans need to dig a cathole to go to the bathroom in, dogs need to have their business in a cathole as well. Dogs are our pets. We feed them dog food and they live with us. They do not live in the woods or mountains and they do not eat wild plants. Their feces do not belong in the wilderness just like humans. You may not be able to control where the dog goes to the bathroom, but wherever it is, it’s best to dig a cathole next to it and just shove it in the hole with a stick. I know it may sound gross but it really isn’t so bad! And you are keeping the wilderness more wild.

Be sure to listen to your dog. If the dog is getting too tired, be sure to take plenty of breaks, or even stop early for the day. Some dogs get more worn out on long hikes than the people do. Depending on the terrain and the time of year, check your dog everyday. Their feet might get more worn out and maybe even cut up if you are walking on rocks. The dog will likely pick up some ticks or other insects during the summer in the Appalachians. Just be aware of where you are, and your surroundings because dogs can get injured too just as people can.

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Watch your surroundings to protect your dog

Lastly, if you go on a few trial hikes and things aren’t working out for you or your dog, then don’t bring them! It is ok to leave a dog with a friend or board them while you take a few days to hike. A dog is a big responsibility on the trail so it is understandable to not want to take them sometimes.

I hope this post helps! Be sure to leave no trace and enjoy hiking with your dog!

Snakes in North Georgia

Snakes are a common concern for hikers on the trail. We wanted to tell you a little bit about the snakes you might see while hiking in North Georgia and what you should prepare for.

There are six venomous snake species found in Georgia and thirty-nine non-venomous snake species. Both venomous and non-venomous snakes do not see you as prey. They know they can’t eat you, and they just want to get away from you, or at least not be noticed by you. If they bite you it’s because they think they are being attacked, because biting something as big as you is sheer suicide for them.

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Non Venomous Snakes
These are the most common you will see. While snakes aren’t everyone’s favorite creature, the non venomous ones are mostly harmless. In fact, they are great for eating small rodents such as those shelter mice we all hate. Some common snakes include the Black Rat Snake, the Garter Snake, Eastern Kingsnake, Worm Snake, and Rough Green Snake. Studying pictures and descriptions of snakes can be your best friend. Deciphering between the good and the bad can calm your nerves and make you aware of the wildlife around you.

 

Venomous Snakes
According to this article written by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, in North Georgia, there are really only two venomous snakes you need to keep in mind. Be sure to read the article and the map if you live in a different region of Georgia to determine what venomous snakes you might see in your backyard. The first snake is the Copperhead. They are medium-sized snakes reaching a maximum length of about 4.5 feet, but most are less than 3 feet. The background coloration is usually light brown or gray, but individuals range from rusty orange to pinkish to nearly black. This species is easily identifiable by a pattern of 10-21 dark-brown, hourglass or saddle-shaped crossbands, which are wider at the sides of the body and become narrower along the back. They occur in most forested habitats but are particularly common on rocky wooded hillsides in the mountains and swamp and river edges in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain. Habitats with abundant logs, leaf litter, and rocks for cover are favored, while open habitats such as old fields and agricultural areas are generally avoided.

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Copperhead

The next snake you might see up in the mountains is the Timber Rattlesnake. Large, heavy-bodied from 3-5 feet in length. The background color ranges through various shades of pink, yellow, tan, gray, brown and olive to velvety black. A series of brown to black chevron-shaped crossbands (15-34) typically cross the body. The tail is black and tipped by a segmented rattle. Very dark or solid black individuals are common in higher mountains of the northeastern part of the state but are rare elsewhere. Common in much of the heavily wooded country of the Coastal Plain, but in more open areas these snakes are primarily limited to wooded stream corridors. In the Piedmont, distribution is highly fragmented due to habitat loss and Timber Rattlesnakes are primarily associated
with heavily wooded stream corridors and small, isolated mountains. In the Georgia mountains, the distribution is somewhat localized around suitable denning sites (including root and stump holes, mammal burrows, old home sites and debris piles, and – especially in upland regions – rock crevices).

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Timber Rattlesnake

The Reality
The truth is, only about five people die from a snake bite in the entire United States each year. When you look at homicides in the city of Atlanta, or deaths from a car accident, those numbers are significantly higher. There is a homicide in Atlanta every other day! Most of the deaths from a venomous snake are actually situations where these snakes are kept as pets and the handler becomes careless. So if you are going on a hike, be aware but don’t let snakes deter you from going on an adventure.

Some would say that there is an increase in snake bites each year. This could be a result from warmer winters which bring the snakes out earlier. It could also be that hiking and getting outside is becoming more of a desired activity for people, so with more people on the trail, more will be at risk of encountering a snake. According to a wildlife biologist for the Department o f Natural Resources in Georgia, he believes the snake population is actually declining because of the growing suburbs and human population.The increase in people seeking outdoor adventures however is why there might be an increase in snake bites.

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Harmless snake right on the trail!

Don’t get confused!
Any snakes can have similar markings, so people get afraid they are seeing a venomous snake when really, it is a harmless snake. One of the most commonly confused snake species is the water moccasin, also known as cottonmouths. Why? Probably because there is no uniquely distinctive pattern or markings. Also, people assume any snake in the water is a water moccasin, because that’s the species we hear about most often. If you’re in the water, especially in the North Georgia Mountains, and you see a snake – it’s probably a non-venomous water snake.

If you do get bit by a snake, most likely, it is not venomous. If it is, you will know. A venomous bite will feel like a sting and you can even feel the venom starting to spread. You will see the markings from the fangs. A non venomous snake will just feel like a normal bite. The non venomous snakes have hundreds of tiny teeth and do not have fangs. If you do get bit by a venomous snake, just head to the hospital! Don’t take any painkillers, or apply pressure or ice to the bite. Try to keep it elevated above your heart and leave the rest to the professionals.

We hope this article clears a few things up about snakes in North Georgia! Please don’t hesitate to go out for a hike or swim this summer because of snakes. They are mostly harmless. Enjoy the rest of summer! Continue reading

July Adventures

We love the summer here at Mountain Crossings. We have been getting outside whether we are on a trail, river, or in town! We wanted to share with you a few of our favorite adventures we recommend in the area.

Hiking and camping
If you are travelling with your family, or are just a beginner hiker, I recommend camping at Vogel State Park. It is right down the road from us and is a great place to hang out. The camping there is nestled in the woods and feels rustic. You can enjoy a morning stroll around the lake there and maybe swim in it in the afternoon. You can walk to the Bear Hair trail, Coosa Backcountry trail, and a short nature trail. The Coosa is for experienced hikers as it is the most difficult, but the Bear Hair Loop is around 6 miles and you get stunning views of the lake from a viewpoint. You aren’t a far drive from Helton Creek Falls, Blood  Mountain,  and Desoto Falls if those are also on your list. Take one of our Mountain Crossings Nalgenes with you to stay hydrated while you are on the trail!

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Vogel State Park

If you are looking for more of a backpacking adventure, get on the Benton Mackaye Trail! This trail is less travelled by far than the Appalachian Trail, yet you will still get stunning views and rivers. This trail  is around 300 miles and starts at Springer  Mountain and ends at the Northern end of the Smoky Mountains. It takes a different route than the AT so you will see different sites. Check out more information on their page here to find a section you might like to hike.

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Benton Mackaye Trail overview map

Rafting
We have had several employees at the shop who are also raft guides on the Ocoee during the summer. They absolutely love rafting and meeting all the different people who seek adventure on the river. The Ocoee is located just North of the Georgia border in Tennessee. The middle section is the most popular and exciting.  There is also the upper section you can raft to make it a full day trip. Rafting just one section is only a couple of hours but can be relatively cheap starting around $35. This is one o f the most popular rivers in the Southeast because it is fun and easily accessible. There are over twenty companies that guide on the Ocoee so I’m sure you will be able to go rafting! Check out Whitewater Express and go rafting with our employee Holly!

The Chattooga is another great river located on the Georgia and South Carolina border near Clayton, GA. This is a Wild and Scenic River so you will not see any structures or other trips as you are rafting. There are two different sections III and IV. Section IV is definitely the scarier of the two as there are a series of rapids called the “Five Falls” that are pretty much little waterfalls. Each section is very fun and lasts all day. The trips are definitely pricier but the guides pack lunch for you and it is worth it for these full day trips. There are only three companies that guide on the Chattooga so you are sure to have more of a wilderness experience. Check out the NOC to learn more about trips on the Chattooga!

If you want to carry a few things with you on the river, get one of our Granite Gear Drysacks to keep your belongings dry on the raft!

Rafting on the Chattooga

Festivals
Blairsville is the closest town to us on the mountain. They have a few summer festivals usually held at Meeks Park in town. One coming up that we are excited about is the Butternut Creek Festival. The Butternut Creek Festival is one of the finest juried arts and crafts shows in the southeast. The two day festival showcases the work of 80 to 85 artists and craftsman in categories from basketry, candles & soap, fine art, fabric art, and decorative painting, to glass, jewelry, metal working, photography, pottery, scrimshaw, and woodturning. Held annually at Meeks Park in Blairsville, Georgia, Saturday 10AM to 5PM & Sunday 10AM to 4PM.  Free admission and free parking with shuttle service from the parking lots to the show site.

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Glass art at the Butternut Creek Festival

Dahlonega is South of us heading back towards Atlanta. The town is super cute and has a lot of great shops and restaurants. One activity we are looking forward to in Dahlonega this summer is their Movies Under the Stars. This event occurs in Hancock park near the square. Before settling down to enjoy the film at dusk, kick off your Friday evenings at 6 p.m. with activities the kids will love, like coloring and free giveaways. A Food Truck will be parked onsite for concessions. Guests are encouraged to bring blankets and low-back lawn chairs. The next movie they will be showing is Star Wars The Last  Jedi on July 20th.

If you can’t attend one of these festivals, at least stop by town and grab something to eat at one of the many restaurants and maybe look around at some shops!

We hope you come visit us and maybe do one of the activities we’ve recommended whether it be a hike, a paddle, or a walk around town!

 

Blisters!

Who hasn’t had at least one blister in their life? Blisters are definitely no fun, especially when you are trying to hike all day every day and you’ve got one on your foot! We get a lot of hikers in the shop that have problems with blisters so we know a little bit about how to treat and prevent them. This blog post is going to talk all about blisters so I hope you stomach isn’t too full because there are going to be some interesting pictures of blisters.

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Take care of your feet to prevent blisters!

What are blisters?
A blister may form when the skin has been damaged by friction or rubbing, heat, cold or chemical exposure. Fluid collects between the epidermis—the upper layer of the skin—and the layers below. This fluid cushions the tissue underneath, protecting it from further damage and allowing it to heal. Friction is the most common cause for blisters while backpacking and is what we see in the shop. This kind of blister happens after walking long distances or by wearing old or poorly fitting shoes. Blisters form more easily on moist skin than on dry or soaked skin, and are more common in warm conditions.

In the shop, we help people with blisters all the time. There are a number of reasons hikers have blisters. The most common I would say is hikers wearing big stiff boots. Sure they may have “broken them in” a little bit, but to really break in shoes you need to have your full pack and hike in the mountains with them. If you just wear them around your flat neighborhood for a couple of days that won’t do the trick. Even if you’ve had them for a while, just the bulkiness and age of the shoe can cause friction and blisters. Another common reason is poorly fitting shoes. We have a lot of people that come in the shop with shoes that are too small and their toenails are already turning black, and also a good amount of people who buy shoes that are too big to anticipate foot swelling. This causes a lot of foot slippage in the shoe which in turn, causes blisters. Sometimes blisters can be inevitable if you’ve never done any hiking and your feet are just tender. You got to get out and hike more and build up some calluses to prevent blisters!

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Ouch!

Prevention
First off, you need to find shoes that fit you. Having a professional help you and show you how a shoe should fit is important. You need to find that sweet spot between too big and too small to prevent blisters. There are also a lot of different brands of shoes. Depending on what kind of foot you have, some brands will fit you better than others. Trail runners are becoming a more popular type of shoe on the trail. They are light weight and really don’t need much break in compared to boots. Boots will definitely be better though if you are hiking in the winter or have ankle issues. Again, just go try on a few pairs and see what feels right!

Choosing the right socks is the next step to prevent blisters. You want a sock that is going to keep your feet from getting too sweaty and a sock that will dry fast. Wool is the most popular material hiking socks are made from because it regulates temperature to keep your feet from getting sweaty and it provides cushioning. Be sure to get a sock with an appropriate amount of cushioning. A thick sock is not going to be good in the summer because it will make your feet sweat more. Try to keep your socks relatively clean on the trail. Have two pairs of socks to hike in so one can hang on the back of your pack and dry out while you wear the other pair. Try to wash your socks when you get to towns. Even if you just have a sink, rinsing them out and drying them in the sun or in front of a fan will make them so much better.

Even before a “hot” or irritated area on the foot is felt, taping a protective layer of padding or a friction-reducing interface between the affected area and the footwear can prevent the formation of a blister. Bandages, moleskin, and tapes generally must be applied to the foot daily on those hot spots. Other good tapes include Leukotape and KT tape. You can also use a lubricant such as Body Glide or Vaseline on the affected area to prevent more rubbing. Some people use powders suck as Gold Bond before they leave camp for the day and this helps soak up the moisture from your feet and help prevent friction.

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 A lot of taped up blisters!

Treatment
If somehow you have failed to prevent a blister and end up getting one, there are a few tips for treating the blister. It can be personal preference on what action to take while on the trail. I prefer to go ahead and pop the blister after I’m done hiking for the day. I make sure to get all the fluid out, then I apply an antibiotic ointment on it and keep it exposed to let it dry out and hopefully scab. If in the morning it is still sore, I’ll put some moleskin over it and duct tape the moleskin to my foot to make sure it stays in place. I remove the bandages that night and repeat the process. I have found that usually the skin reattaches to itself after one or two nights and then forms more of a callus.

Some other advice is to not pop the blister at all. When you do pop a blisters, you ricks infection if it gets dirty, so keeping it in its original form is a safe move. You can put a donut-shaped piece of moleskin on the blister to prevent further friction. If the blister gets worse or irritated, go ahead and pop it. Waiting till you get to a town is best so you can have soap and water and maybe stay off of it for a day or two.

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I would definitely get off trail for a while if I had these blisters

Conclusion
Blisters are no fun! Definitely come see us at Mountain Crossings, or go to your local outfitter to get expert advice on a pair of shoes for your hike. Be sure to go hiking in your new shoes on short day hikes and build your way up to bigger miles while carrying a pack. Have a small first aid kit with some moleskin, antibiotic ointment, and duct tape and that is all you need to treat a blister. And lastly, don’t be afraid to get off trail for a day or two if the blister really hurts. Hiking with really sore blisters puts a huge damper on the hike!