What in the World is a Lasher?!

Each year thousands of NoBo thru hikers set out for Katahdin from Springer Mountain and hundreds of SoBo thru hikers set out for Springer Mountain from Katahdin. We all know that these descriptions, NoBo and SoBo, tell us which direction a hiker travels, whether it be North Bound or South Bound. We all have also heard of section hikers who tackle the trail in smaller, more manageable chunks. But there is another kind of hiker out there that has just in the recent years past come to have a name of their very own.

Lasher is a relative new term in the culture of long distance hiking. Lashers are essentially the perfect mix between a full blow thru hiker and a section hiker. The term  is actually an acronym that captures the good humor of hikers everywhere: L.A.S.H-er stands for Long Ass Section Hiker.

As where section hikers take a week or two of vacation to knock out the trail in small pieces, a Lasher is out for months at a time and falls into the long term habits, customs and mentalities of traditional thru hikers. They are indistinguishable from thru hikers besides their itinerary.

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This is Rain. He is from Texas and has been hiking south from Harpers Ferry. Next summer he will begin to hike northward to Katahdin. He is the very definition of a Lasher!

Lashers are a fairly new breed of hikers who may not be able to commit to the full six or so months to thru hike, but they get out a use up every moment of what time they do have! As the popularity of long distance backpacking grows, more and more folks are falling into this new style of hiking. If you are one of the many out there who dream of hiking the AT in full but can’t find the time, take a look into this unique way of hiking!

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Benton MacKaye Trail

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The Benton MacKaye Trail is a 288 mile foot path sharing its southern terminus with the Appalachian Trail at Springer Mountain in Georgia. It traverses through North Carolina as well and ends at Davenport Gap in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park in Tennessee. For those who are keen on AT history, you may recognize the name Benton MacKaye as the Massachusetts born forester who first envisioned the idea of a foot path stretching from Georgia to Maine. He is also the namesake of the trail that serves as an excellent AT alternative or add-on.

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The iconic image of Benton MacKaye gazing out into the Appalachian mountains he would help connect via the AT.

Following the white diamond blazes of the BMT, you will cover similar territory as the AT but take a more northerly route after crossing paths with the AT a few times close to Springer Mountain. The two trails meet back together again at the northern end of the Smokey Mountains. If the 288 miles of the BMT just aren’t enough, you can head right back to Springer Mountain via the AT, adding another 234 miles to the hike.

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Known as the AT-BMT Loop (or figure 8), this 521 mile hike takes you through a full sampling of the best the Southern Appalachians have to offer.

For those of you interested in day hiking, the BMT is an excellent scenic alternative if you have explored much of the AT already. It crosses over beautiful rivers like the Taccoa, Ocoee, and Hiawasee. It also takes you along a lesser utilized stretch of trail in the Smokey Mountains as well. For more specifics about accessing the BMT, check out the Benton MacKaye Trail Association‘s page.

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A tree in which the BMT and AT both have a blaze.

Bear Bagging Methods

Over the last few years, backpacking has grown greatly in popularity. As a result of Hollywood blockbuster films, long distance trails like the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail have been highlighted as the place to be to experience the outdoors in a real way. Unfortunately, the more people there are coming out into the wilderness, the less wild it gets. It is important to treat our wilderness areas and the rightful inhabitants of those areas with the respect we would give a stranger’s well kept home. One way to do this is by bear bagging.

Benefits Include:

  1. Bears do not learn to associate human presence with food
  2. Your expensive gear doesn’t get ripped up
  3. You don’t soil yourself in the midst of an up close bear encounter and smell truly wretched for the rest of your hike
  4. The bear is left to be a bear out in the wild like it was intended to be
  5. Mice, Squirrels and Racoons (the real terrorists of the forest) are unable to get your food

Down Sides Are:

  1. You have to exercise a tiny amount of consciousness and care for the beautiful land you are standing on and offer up 10 minutes of your day to ensure that you and anyone else who may want to can keep coming back

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Here are several ways to hang a food bag. (Skip to the third one if you don’t want to waste your time. Continue reading if you’re trying to kill time or want to know what not to do.)

The Traditional Method

The traditional method of bear bagging calls for tying your food bag to a length of cordage about 50ft long. Then, using a rock or stick tied to the other end of the cord, hurl the cord up and over a study branch, approximately 6 ft away from the trunk of a tree. Hoist the food bag into the air and tie off the excess cordage around the trunk of a nearby tree. If you are lucky, only the rodents will have gotten to your food by morning. If you are camped in the prowling grounds of a smart bear, it will likely chew through your cord and eat all your food. You can blame your laziness for this one.

The Counterbalance Method

In the event that there are two  of you on your hiking trip, you can use the counterbalance method. Once again, tie your food bag to your cord, throw your cord over a high branch using a stone or stick, hoist the food bag to the very top of the branch. Now, tie the second food bag has high up onto the cord hanging from the branch as you can. Use a large stick or trekking pole to push the lower of the two bags up and let the high bag fall until the two are even. Make sure that your bags are well over 6ft away from the tree and at least 15ft off the ground. Sleep soundly knowing that no bear will get them but that you will spend a hour the next morning batting around your food bag like a piñata trying to untwist the two lines and off set the counterbalanced bags.

The PCT Bear Bagging Method

The PCT Method is the most commonly used because it is the most successful. It’s success has to do with the quality of the method. It is a more complex way to hang that requires a bit more time and even a bit of practice but because you are not cutting corners and being lazy, you are granted the mental security of it working very well. This method begins with securely tying a small carabiner to the end of your cordage (it can be one you carry just for this purpose or something that you use as dual purpose, switching out its day and night functions). Clip the carabiner to your food bag and proceed to throw your cordage up and over the highest and strongest looking branch within your throwing capabilities. Find a study little stick near by that is about 6″ long and hoist the food bag up to the branch. Securely tie the sturdy stick as high up on to the cord as possible. As you ease your food bag down, the stick will catch the carabiner, suspending your food bag in mid air.

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Derek Hansen of theultimatehang.com has a great illustration of the PCT Method. Click to enlarge.

Bear Bagging Tips

  • Always choose a strong branch that can hold the weight of your food bag
  • Choose a tree that is far enough away from camp as to no attract any bear who may try to get to your food
  • Always hang your food about 15ft above the ground
  • Always hang your food at least 6ft away from the trunk of the tree
  • 50ft of cordage is typically an amount that will be enough in any bear bagging situation
  • 550 Paracord is both light and strong making great for bear bagging

Perserving Local Forests

Some long term blog readers will remember a post we made a while back about the Old Growth Timber Hike in Cooper Creek Wildlife Management Area, just a stones throw from the shop. It is a beautiful section of land that is being threatened by a proposal looking to cut nearly 3,500 acres of timer in the area. The Cooper Creek Watershed Project was proposed in May of 2014, and aimed to manage the forest through commercial logging in hopes of protecting native plants, rebuilding wildlife habitats and keeping the forest healthy. Unfortunately, the action that would be taken if the proposal were to continue forward would result in the mass deterioration of the lands around Cooper Creek, Coosa Creek and Young Cane Creek. This already healthy forest would end up suffering not only from the mass cutting of tress and possible loss of old growth timber, but new gravel road development and irreversible erosion along the steep creek banks, affecting the streams in the watershed areas.

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A MTX Staff picture from a hike among the old growth timbers.

As of right now, the forward movement of the Cooper Creek Watershed Project has been put on hold due to a lawsuit from the Sierra Club and the Georgia Forest Watch against the actions of the Forest Service. Still, these institutions are in need of supporters to carry on with their work of protecting this wonderful swath of land in the Chattahoochee National Forest. One way to support them is to sign this petition. Though the work of the Forest Service is very important in our area, the threat of loosing one of the most special forests in our state is more than we can gamble with.

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Images from the Sierra Club of logging

Below we have highlighted the affects of the proposed plan as outlined by the Sierra Club. The Cooper Creek Watershed Project will:

  • cause irreversible damage to the watershed because the project includes cutting on steep slopes
  • cause Increased sedimentation from road construction impairing its fish habitat
  • disrupt wildlife and threaten human health with the application of dangerous herbicides

Once again, to learn more about the threats against the Cooper Creek Wildlife Management Area, visit the Sierra Club’s page about the proposal. To help stop the removal of trees in the area, visit their petition site.