Trekking Poles

Trekking poles are becoming an essential piece of equipment on the trail. They enhance your stability and provide support on all types of terrain. The Appalachian Mountains can be rugged and severe. Having the trekking poles can help prevent injuries and give you support while hiking. It can protect your knees, ankles, feet, just generally, they help take stress off your body. Trekking poles will not decrease your overall energy expenditure since you’ll be using your arms more than you would when walking without poles. They do help distribute your energy usage in a way that can help your hiking endurance. This post will go over some of the features of trekking poles to help you decide which ones you should get.

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You can do anything with trekking poles!

Trekking pole features
Most trekking poles can adjust in length to enhance stability on different terrain. Generally, there should be a 90-degree angle in your elbow while holding your trekking poles. If you are going up a steep hill, you can shorten the poles a little more to help as you are climbing. If you are going down a steep hill, lengthen the poles a little more to provide more stabilization when you are stepping down. There are four types of locking mechanisms for trekking poles so you can adjust them.

-External lever lock – this is a clamp-like mechanism that is easy to adjust.
-Twist lock – This uses an expander and screw setup that is strong and durable
-Push-button lock – Poles with this locking mechanism snap into place and lock with a single pull. Press the push button to release the lock and collapse the poles.
-Combination – some poles are a combination of these listed mechanisms.

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Various locking mechanisms

Trekking pole materials
Trekking poles can come in two different materials, either aluminum or carbon fiber. The aluminum poles are the most standard. They are more durable but tend to weigh a little more. They weigh between 18 and 22 ounces per pair but they can withstand rougher terrain without bending or breaking. Carbon fiber poles are for lightweight backpackers that are trying to cut corners. They weigh between 12 and 18 ounces but they can bend and break easier if you are not careful. Look at the terrain you will be hiking in to help determine which poles will suit your needs.

Another aspect of poles to consider are the grips, where you hold the poles. They can come in three different materials; cork, foam, and rubber. The rubber is best for winter hiking because it can insulate your hands and still absorb shock and vibration. If you are not wearing gloves and you are sweating, the rubber grips can cause chaffing. If you plan to hike in warmer climates, the cork and foam grips will be best. The cork will resist moisture while the foam absorbs it. The foam is softer to the touch but the cork can decrease vibrations and conforms to the shape of your hands.

Other key features
One great feature is the wrist straps. Most poles come with these but some do not. They go around your wrists so if you need to take out a snack, you can just let them dangle from your wrists. Carbide or steel tips are commonly used to provide traction, even on ice. Rubber tip protectors extend the life of the tips and protect your gear when poles are stowed in your pack. They are also good for use in sensitive areas to reduce impact to the ground. Angled rubber walking tips (usually sold separately) are for use on asphalt or other hard surfaces. Shock absorbing poles have internal springs that absorb shock when walking downhill. This feature can help protect weak knees and ankles. The shock absorption feature can be turned off.

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Various trekking pole features

Recommendations
Black Diamond Alpine Ergo
These poles are made of both aluminum and carbon. The top of the pole shaft is aluminum and the bottom part is carbon. The grip is made of cork. The design of this pole makes it fairly lightweight but also durable. The cork grips are comfortable and the angled, ergonomic shape allows your hands to fall naturally into place. The poles weigh 20 oz for the pair and cost $150.

Helinox Ridgeline
These aluminum alloy trekking poles are manufactured by DAC, the
leading maker of lightweight tentpoles and tent stakes. The three
sections of this pair of trekking poles collapses down using a flip
lock mechanism. They have carbide tips and comfortable foam grips,
weighing in at a total of 16 oz and cost $169.

Leki Corklite
This aluminum pole has the best cork grip. Leki is known for their comfortable grips and the confidence-inspiring setup will be well worth the extra bucks for folks that really rely on their poles for downhill assistance. The lever lock is easy to use and adjust. These poles weigh 17.6 oz and cost $140.

The best thing to do when it comes to trekking poles is go check them out. You want to pick the right pair for you so feeling, and holding the poles helps with your decision making. Here at Mountain Crossings, we have a bunch of test drive poles you can borrow to hike up Blood Mountain. Come check them out and see how you like them!

 

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Bears!

One common fear among hikers is encountering a bear. I can’t tell you how many bear sprays I’ve pulled out of people’s packs during a pack shakedown. On the Appalachian Trail, bears are not threatening. This post will tell you a little bit about the bears that reside in these mountains and how you can protect yourself, and the bears while on the trail.

Black-Bear

Black Bears
The Black Bear is the only bear found in the Appalachian Mountains. The American black bear is the smallest of the three bears species found in North America, and are found only in North America. Black bears have short, non-retractable claws that give them an excellent tree-climbing ability. They are omnivorous: plants, fruits, nuts, insects, honey, salmon, small mammals and carrion. They are extremely adaptable and show a great variation in habitat types, though they are primarily found in forested areas with thick ground vegetation and an abundance of fruits, nuts, and vegetation. Black bears tend to be solitary animals, with the exception of mothers and cubs. The bears usually forage alone, but will tolerate each other and forage in groups if there is an abundance of food in one area. Black bears are not aggressive. If you see them approaching, it is merely out of curiosity or to see if you have food. Another common fear is getting between a mother and her cubs. There is no record of anyone being killed by a mother black bear defending her cubs, and attacks are very rare. Startled black bears run away, often to a tree. By contrast, a startled Grizzly may charge and occasionally attack, making grizzlies over 20 times more dangerous than black bears.

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Human interaction on the trail
I have personally seen around twenty bears while on the trail. For the  majority of these sightings I was by myself and saw them from a distance. Most would run off when they heard me. There were a few that were engrossed in their eating, or they were by their cubs, and would not run off right away. To let them know you are nearby, clap your hands and call out, “Hey bear!” or just talk loudly to them. When they hear you, they will then run off. If they start to approach you, stand your ground and make yourself look large. You can even throw rocks or sticks towards them. Do not run away from the bear or turn your back
on it, but maybe change your direction. Some bears have become more accustomed to people because they know they have food. This is where the issues lie. There are some areas on the trail where bears are becoming more frequent, and sometimes even aggressive. This is the direct result of improper food storage, and carelessness by hikers. Eating in shelters and other camping areas causes bears to approach those areas searching for crumbs and bigger scraps. While sleeping, food storage is super important. If you have even a granola bar wrapper, or scented lotion in your tent or pack, the bear can smell it. A bear’s sense of smell is 7 times better than a blood hound’s or 2,100 times better than a human. So yeah, they can smell whatever you have. There have been incidents with bears throughout the trail. The most common examples are the bears in the Smoky Mountains. The Smokies have a high concentration of bears, but also a large amount of humans in the park each year. Shelters have been closed down at times because a bear was frequenting the area and dragging hikers packs from the walls in search for food. Even when the humans tried to shoo it away, it just came back later. One bear bit a man through his tent because it could smell scented lotion he was keeping in his tent. The man had a big wound but was ok. The bear responsible for this was euthanized.

This is threatening to the bears. Rules are put in place in certain areas to avoid these incidents from occurring. In the Smokies, hikers must have a permit and stay in the shelter or at least really close. The man who was bit, was not close to the shelter despite the rules. He could have had help from fellow hikers to get the bear away if he was by the shelter. Bears are not trying to harm humans they just want to eat! Respecting the rules in certain areas will help regulate the bear encounters. There is a five-mile section South of Mountain Crossings from Jarrard Gap, to Neel Gap where a bear canister is required for camping. This is not meant to be an inconvenience to hikers, but to protect them, and the bears from more encounters.

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Proper food storage
I talked a little bit about food storage in the last blog post, but it is super important not only to protect you and your food, but the animals that could get a hold of it. Once an animal tastes human food, they want more. It is the official recommendation of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to carry a bear canister from Springer Mountain to Damascus, Virginia. I have personally used a bear canister while I was Ridge Running and I will say it is pretty convenient. I didn’t have to worry about hanging my food I just had to stick the canister away from my camping area. A bear got to my canister once and rolled it down the hill a bit, but the canister was not penetrated and both my food, and the bear were safe. I understand that bear canisters are heavier and bulky, so hanging your food is another great option. Hang food from tree limbs 12 feet off the ground, 6 feet from the tree’s trunk, and 6 feet below the supporting limb. It does take practice to hang the line, but it is an important skill and you know your food, and the animals will be safe. Some people have a small bag at the end of their line that they put a rock or handful of heavier material in so they can throw the line with ease. I tie a rock to the end to throw it over the limb. Don’t be embarrassed if it takes you a few tries because it is tricky! Not only food goes in the food bag. Hang your toiletries and any smelly items such as hand sanitizer and lotion.

Let’s do our best to protect the Black Bear so we can continue to enjoy them in the wild!

What’s in my food bag?

The item you will find the most in any hiker box is food! People tend to pack their fears and a fear most people have is not having enough food. This process of figuring out food gets easier as you keep hiking because you can see what you have been eating and what you like. There are so many different delicious options out there you just need to figure out which ones you like! This post has food recommendations that can help you decide what food to put in your food bag.

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Food bag!

Breakfast

  • Pop tarts
  • Oatmeal
  • Cold cereal with powdered milk
  • Clif Bars or other power bars
  • Add dehydrated fruit to cereal
  • Tortilla with almond butter, honey, raisins and date (one I discovered while on the trail and loved it)

Snacks

  • Trail Mix!
  • Mixed nuts
  • Fritos
  • Snyders pretzel bits – honey mustard and onion or hot buffalo wing were my favorite flavors
  • Any chips or crackers, just don;t expect them to hold together very well.
  • Clif bars or other power bars
  • Dried fruit
  • Candy bars
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Trail mix is a common backpacker snack

Lunch

  • Packaged tuna
  • Tortillas
  • Peanut butter
  • Nutella
  • Cheese and summer sausage
  • Crackers
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Tuna Tuna Tuna

Dinner

  • Ramen
  • Knorr rice or pasta sides
  • Packaged tuna
  • Dehydrated meals (Mountain House, Alpine, etc.)
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Knorr Sides

Dehydrated vs making your own
The prepackaged dehydrated meals are popular, and easy on the trail. All you do is add boiling water to the pouch, wait around 10 minutes, then eat straight out of the bag! There are many interesting meals such as lasagna, chicken teriyaki, and beef stroganoff and they are all pretty yummy. The downsides is the weight, and cost of the meals. They can be between 6-12 dollars per meal and they are bulky and weight a little more than say Ramen. They are fairly caloric but you can get your calories in other ways than these meals.

Making your own meals can be simple as well. You can add packaged tuna to Knorr sides or Ramen as well as some extra spices to make them delicious. To add more calories you can always carry some olive or coconut oil to add to your meals. A small spice kit can be beneficial to flavoring meals and making them interesting. Repackaging spices in smaller bags or bottles can help save weight in your pack.

Another way people make their own meals, is dehydrating all the food and assembling the meals ahead of time. This process is tedious and time consuming but if you have special diets, or like making your own food, then it is awesome. Everything you dehydrate needs to be cooked beforehand, and chopped up fairly small. If certain fruits, veggies, or meats aren’t dehydrated fully, they can come out chewy. There are many online resources for tips on dehydrating your own food, and assembling tasty recipes for backpacking. Make a few and test them out to discover your favorites. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not so bad and it can be much healthier than other store bought items!

Nutrition
Eating healthy while on the trail is difficult, but not impossible. One great way to get some fruits and veggies on the trail is to bring some! If you’ve just left town, bring a banana and an apple to eat as snacks that day. You can always bring some veggies to throw in whatever meal you want to make that night. Of course, all the scraps will need to be packed out, but at least you got something wholesome in your diet. If this seems too cumbersome, get dried fruits and veggies. Make sure to get the ones not coated in sugar.

Try not to worry about eating healthy. You will need those carbs and fats and you won’t be eating like you’re on the trail forever so embrace it while you can.

Having a special diet can also be tough. This is not my area of expertise as I will eat anything! Do some research to figure out how you can accommodate your diet while on the trail.

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Bring dried veggies on the trail

Food bag vs. can
Storing food is very important because you don’t want critters getting in your food! Hanging your food on a tree limb at least 10 ft up and 6 ft from the tree trunk is the most popular method. A waterproof sack such as the ones here are great for staying out in the rain all night. They are cheaper and lighter than the other option which is a bear canister. Canisters are usually 2 – 3 pounds but they are foolproof. They just need to sit on the ground 200 yards from your tent. They are indestructible so you know your food will be safe. Most people don’t like to carry the extra weight if it’s not necessary. There are areas of the country that require bear canisters. One area here is from Jarrard Gap to Neels Gap and that area requires a bear canister from March 1 – June 1. This is a five mile section right before our store over Blood Mountain and it is easy to hike in a day so you don’t need the canister. Incidents in the past with bears is what caused this regulation to be put in place. Be careful along the trail so more of these rules won’t have to be enforced.

Check out our YouTube video that shows what one of our employees, Carlie, would have in her food bag!

 

Baxter State Park

If you are thru hiking this year, you probably heard about the new regulations at Baxter State Park in Maine. There is a limited amount of permits for thru hikers this year. I have gotten several questions about why there are permits and what can be done if you don’t get a permit in time. This post is hopefully going to help answer some of your questions about what is going on up in Maine.

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Baxter State Park

History of Baxter State Park
Percival Baxter is the man responsible for the creation of the park. He first gazed upon Katahdin on a fishing trip with his father in 1903. In 1909 he began a political career and started advocating for the creation of Mountain Katahdin State Park and also summited the mountain for the first time with a group of politicians. When his father passed in 1921 it really spurred Percival’s intentions of creating the park. In a speech he gave he said,

“Mountain Katahdin Park will be the state’s crowning glory, a worthy
memorial to commemorate the end of the first and the beginning of the
second century of Maine’s statehood.”

The state did not decide to purchase the area surrounding Katahdin so Percival took it in to his own hands and decided to purchase the area himself. The Great Northern Paper Company owned the land, and after the economic crash in 1929 they were willing to sell the land for cheap. Percival bought 6,000 acres for $25,000 and immediately gifted the park to the people of Maine. In 1931, the park was created and named Baxter State Park. Baxter did not trust the federal government so he put many provisions on the park to prevent it from becoming a national park. The Baxter State Park Authority is a separate governing body that oversees the administration and maintenance of the park. When Baxter died in 1969 his ashes were scattered in the park and he donated 28 deeds and $7 million dollars to the park.

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Percival Baxter

Baxter State Park Today
Baxter State Park is over 200,000 acres of wilderness and public forest. The park remains in a rustic state to preserve the forest. There are a few campgrounds but the roads are unpaved, there are a few outhouses, and no running water. Many people come here to enjoy the wilderness and get away from society. Vacationers mainly visit this park but there is a fair amount of thru hikers. What we know the park for is Mount Katahdin. Mount Katahdin serves as the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Just two years after the park was made, Myron Avery established the summit of Katahdin to be the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Each day, there is a limited amount of day hiking permits for Mount Katahdin. While this can be regulated, the thru hikers have not been regulated. The increasing amount of thru hikers has caused more people to climb Katahdin every day. Baxter State Park decided to regulated this by making a thru hiker permit for the park.

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Mount Katahdin

Thru hiker permits in Baxter
Use of the Park by AT long-distance hikers has increased an average of 9% annually over the past 25 years. In 1991, the total number of recorded AT long-distance hikers in Baxter State Park was 359. In 2016, 2,733 AT long-distance hikers registered in the Park, an increase of more than 700% from 1991. Even in the last year (2016), 23% more AT hikers registered in the Park than in 2015. Since there have been no limitations placed on thru hikers in the past, the Baxter State Authority decided it was time to include the thru hikers in the same model respected by all Katahdin hikers. The permits will need to be acquired at Katahdin Steam Campground in person when they arrive to climb Katahdin. The permits are free and they have arranged numbers of permits for each thru hikers category as follows:

1. NOBO – 1,350
2. SOBO – 610
3. Section – 840
4. Flip Flop – 350

This is a total of 3,150 permits total, this is 417 more permits than were issued last year for expected increase of hikers.

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Thru hikers on Katahdin

What do I do if I don’t get a permit?
Do not fret! It is still possible to hike the mountain without a thru hiker permit. The numbers were inflated by over 20% to hopefully ensure that all thru hikers can obtain a permit. If there are more hikers than expected this year and you do not get there in time to get a permit of your own, you can still hike the mountain. The Long Distance Hiking Campsite will be closed, but you can go to town and follow the same protocols as a day hiker would.

Katahdin is a strenuous hike and Baxter State Park has done an excellent job providing Rangers to monitor who is on the trail. I would not suggest trying to hike the mountain without a permit as there will be fines and you will likely get caught by one of these rangers.

These rules were not made to punish thru hikers, but to help protect the park and the visitor experience. Please respect these rules and do not worry, there should be plenty of permits and if not, you can still hike Katahdin!

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Summit of Katahdin