Help the ATC Fight the Mountain Valley Pipeline

DISCLAIMER: All hikers know that talking politics is one of the best ways to ruin a beautiful day of hiking. So lets make one thing clear; we write and post information related to the Appalachian Trail, not politics. Sometimes, those two things over lap. We are not here to sway anyone in any political direction or another, only to help spread the word and bolster support for the protection and preservation of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail now and in the future. 

If you have flipped on the TV or radio in the past few weeks, you are well aware that American leadership has chosen to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, an agreement between 195 nations to work towards sustainable development goals and slow the emission of green house gases causing climate change across the world. Whether this seems to you to be a good move or a bad move, it has staggering direct affects on the Appalachian Trail.

The alternative to diving headlong into sustainable and renewable energy is to continue on with mining coal and drilling for and transporting natural gas. Since the recent turn back towards these tactics, several states that the AT runs through have found themselves once again in danger. If you’ve hiked the AT, you know these states well. You’ve loved them, hated them, walked through the rain in them, ate the hardest earned burger in them, been parched under the summer sun in them and learned incredible life lessons in them. That’s all in a days work on the AT.

Sadly, there is currently a major threat to the Appalachian Trail leading through West Virginia and southwest Virginia, the Mountain Valley Pipeline. This pipeline travels south from Mobley, West Virginia to meet up with the Transcontinental Pipeline and will cross right over the Appalachian Trail, carving through the ancient landscape.

As many AT hikers know, the trail roughly follows parallel to I-81 heading north through Virginia. The pipeline will cross the AT just east of Roanoke.

For over a year, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy has been trying to work the builders of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. They know that they can not slay the beast, so they have been focusing on working along side the builders as much as possible to find ways to lessen the environmental impact on the communities near the AT, on the trail itself and to help preserve the beauty of the trail for future hikers.

This superimposed image following the pipeline map shows what a view from the AT is likely to turn into once the pipeline has been finished.

The job of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is to protect and preserve the trail since its creation in 1925. Yes, thats 12 years before the trail was completed! These guys take their job seriously and we love them for it! As you can imagine, with a threat like this to their way of life, they aren’t too happy.

Directly from Conservancy: “The ATC does not take this position lightly — for months, we have attempted to find ways to minimize environmental and visual impacts through collaboration with Mountain Valley Pipeline officials and the project’s various partners, including the U.S. Forest Service. However, due to the massive impact the proposed project would have on the Appalachian Trail, the surrounding environment, and multiple communities and small businesses, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy strongly opposes the construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and we urge our members, the A.T. hiking community, outdoor lovers, and the citizens of Virginia and West Virginia to stand with us.”

Again, we aren’t starting a political debate here, but we can’t help but to agree with the ATC. We don’t like this because it is a threat to the things we love most: the Appalachian Trail, the beautiful natural landscape around us, and America’s most popular way to drop it all, re-learn to rely on ourselves and those around us, and reconnect us to nature all while whipping us into the best shape of our lives. We value the environment, protecting natural landscapes, the mental and physical health the trail offers, and mostly, the beautiful people that make up the AT Community.

The Mountain Vally Pipeline will cut right through the Appalachian mountains, crossings over the Appalachian Trail, scaring the landscape and immediately surrounding environment from its construction onward into the future.

We pity our nations complacency with reliance on fossil fuels when there is such a wash of negative effects on the surrounding community and landscape and feel a need to raise awareness and fight back when that reliance begins to rear is ugly head in our backyard.

So we ask, if you love the Appalachian Trail, (If you have thru hiked or section hiked, we don’t see how you could be in love with all 2,180+ miles of it! If you plan to thru hike or section hike, you should want it to be a beautiful of an experience as it has been in the past! And if you haven’t walked it all, that shouldn’t lessen the love in your heart!) please, please, please, help us and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in spreading the word and working as hard as we can to save the Appalachian Trail as we know it and to keep it as wild as we can. We know that every employee at Mountain Crossings has had their life transformed because of hiking the AT and we meet customers every day who feel the same. Please, let’s work together to allow that to keep happening for hikers for years to come.



Get Off The Grid Festival

Mark your calendars for August 18th, 19th, and 20th for an incredibly fun weekend full of music, during which you will be exposed to all sorts of wonderful and important ways of sustainable living in the mountains, as well as experience a total solar eclipse that you can tell others about for years to come!

Blairsville is very proud to be the host of a music, arts and culture festival called the Get Off The Grid Festival, a solar expo and fair centered around sustainability. This three day festival, powered entirely by renewable energy, is preceding a solar eclipse that passes through North Georgia on August 21st. Come up Friday, stay for the weekend for the music festival and stick around on Monday for a prime view of the eclipse of the sun from one of several events happening throughout the area.

This festival isn’t only your typical music fest, it is a declaration of a lifestyle that is growing across our country and will help shape a secure and healthy future here in America. The North Georgia News says, “The goal of Get Off The Grid Fest is to collaborate with renewable energy and sustainable living businesses and enthusiasts, performers, organizations and vendors by providing a gathering space where people share tools, ideas, workshops and stories about getting off the grid. Get Off The Grid Fest especially wants to highlight Union and surrounding counties’ organizations, businesses and vendors that incorporate renewable energy and aspects of sustainable living and environmental awareness into their daily interactions.”

As an outfitter situated along the Appalachian Trail, particularly in Georgia where the trail gets some of its heaviest use, we see the need for sustainable practices in relation to our environment in our everyday lives. We are elated to hear that our community is seeing the value in that as well! Please come out and enjoy Get Off The Grid Fest, support the movement towards renewable energy and sustainable methods of living in our North Georgia community!

Get Off The Grid Fest boasts great music like Donna the Buffalo, Copious Jones and so many more! There will be solar demonstrations by several different solar companies, talks by bee keepers, an individual who helped write some of Americas first renewable energy policies for presidents, presentations by local organizations working in various fields of environmentalism and sustainability.

Tickets for the festival at the Union County Arena are only $30 for the weekend and they include a CD! Come join us for an awesome weekend!

Introducing Mystery Ranch

At the beginning of 2017, Mountain Crossings brought in a “new” pack brand called Mystery Ranch. We put quotations around the word new because they are neither new to the pack making game nor newly on the market. Mystery Ranch packs are the brain child of famed pack builders Dana Gleason and Renee Sippel-Baker, creators of Dana Design packs. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Dana Design’s packs were the hottest packs on the market in the 1990’s! These quality made packs were the first to carry heavy loads comfortably. They were the pack to have at the time and even today you will hear folks talk lovingly of their old Dana Design packs. In fact, we still see a few of them pass through the shop every now and then! How’s that for long lasting quality.

Mystery Ranch pack vs. Dana Design pack

Mystery Ranch was born in 2000. This was only 5 years after Dana Gleason and Renee Sippel-Baker sold Dana Designs, with thoughts of retirement, to a corporation. But as it always seems to go with ambitious, outdoorsmen and women, they missed being in the pack game and jumped on the opportunity to build something new. Mystery Ranch packs and products soon caught the eye of Navy SEALS, who swayed Mystery Ranch into doing direct sales to only US Military and Special Force. This gave Mystery Ranch a unique clientele who used and abused their packs to their fullest extent and then return to the company with great insight to make an even better pack.  As time went on, Mystery Ranch soon began to sell to firefighter crews too, their packs being a favorite of hot shot crews on wild land fire fighting teams.

With a basis in rugged and extreme use, Mystery Ranch just recently has come back around to offering their packs to the civilian population via direct to customer sales and through select retailers, Mountain Crossings being one. We carry their “Mountain” line of packs for backpacking and several of their “Everyday” packs and bags. We understand that not all backpackers are ready for or even interested in going ultralight. Bringing in Mystery Ranch products rounds out our pack selection nicely by offering customers a heavier duty, more built out pack with all the bells and whistles. Just like the other pack brands we carry, Mystery Ranch makes packs that are up to our standards as backpackers ourselves.

Check out this impressive line up below. It is but a simply of what we currently have in store at Mountain Crossings. For greater detail on these packs and to check on our inventory status, call the shop at 706-745-6095 or email us at Come in and check out these awesome packs for yourself!


Stein 62

Liters: 62
Weight: 4.7 lbs
Price: $299.00
Use: Long Distance Backpacking


Liters: 32
Weight: 3.1 lbs
Use: Weekend Backpacking, Day Hiking, Climbing


Liters: 22
Weight: 2.3 lbs
Price: $125.00
Use: Day Hiking, Climbing


Liters: 16
Weight: 2.6 lbs
Price: $149.00
Use: Day Hiking, Everyday Carry



Liters: 7
Weight: .8 lbs
Price: $55.00
Use: Short Day Hike, Everyday Carry

Mountain Crossings Employee’s Off on Adventures!

The large majority of Northbound thru hikers have passed by us here at Neel Gap and it is the time of year that a Mountain Crossings Employee or two jumps into a new adventure. During the thick of hiker season, we are heavily staffed and yet still all of our employees are working long hours to help serve the hikers as they begin their hike. We wait all year for hiker season and it is by far the most fun time of the year for us, but it is always nice to get a chance to get outside and go play after watching thousands of folks pass through the shop beginning their own epic adventures!

This year, Leigh, aka Star Crunch, is headed west to thru hike the Pacific Crest Trail! She thru hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2014 and was a Ridge Runner in Georgia for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy during 2015. Even after jumping on staff here at Mountain Crossings in the summer of 2016, Leigh continued to work as a Trail Ambassador, helping educate hikers about the local area and Leave No Trace practices.

At the beginning of this week, Leigh set foot on the PCT at the border of Mexico and the United States! She is taking on this new adventure with her boyfriend, Andrew, who is the Resident Naturalist for our good neighbors down at the Hike Inn. Together they have spent the last few months paring down gear and making selections for their thru hike. Now they are making their way north through the desert!

Be sure to keep up with occasional blog posts and newsletter updates to follow along with Leigh and Andrew as they hike the PCT.

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Leigh, known on trail as Star Crunch, at the southern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail!

After hiker season slowed down, Matt, aka Pretzel, also left for a fun new adventure. He recently landed a seasonal wildland firefighter position in Boise National Forest in Idaho. Pretzel is not new to physically demanding jobs that help protect or promote beautiful wild places. He has spent time working on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s S.W.E.A.T. Crew in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park building and maintaining remote trails, as well as helping do the same in Big Bend National Park in Texas.

Moving into the realm of a wildland firefighter is a step up in terms of specialized skill and training.  Matt is used to living in the field and having to work with hand tools packed in on his own back, but the ante has been up-ed. His job will be to work on a small crew to help create fire lines around wildfires in an effort to keep them from spreading. The location of his crew changes with the needs of the National Forest.

Matt will be working on the crew during the prime time of wildfire season, at which time he will (we hope!) return to Mountain Crossing in the fall to help us with second busiest time of the year!


Matt, aka Pretzel, on his first trail run in his new home in Boise National Forest.

At Mountain Crossings, we are lucky to have such incredible employees who’s lives reflect their love of the outdoors!

What Do You Do While You Hike?

Hiking all day, every day, can get pretty monotonous. I have had people ask me if I get bored, and the answer is actually, not really. Here are some things you can do while you hike to prevent yourself from getting bored.

Appreciate nature
I hike alone a lot and I mostly just appreciate my surroundings and let my mind wander. I think this is the best pastime while hiking. You can hear things rustling in the trees, you can focus on the trail ahead of you, and just think about whatever pops in your head. There are so many exciting things on the trail from plants, animals, and people, that I feel I don’t need anything else usually. When I start to feel tired or weary, I take a break and refuel to continue on the next stretch. There are many forms of technology now and we always seem to have something we are listening to, or watching, that taking a break from it is nice. That being said, I do occasionally appreciate technology.

I do have a tiny little Nano iPod that I carry and there are a few things I like to listen to if I am just really needing a boost. Music is always nice. I only have a few of my favorite albums that I play and I listen to them while I’m hiking to town. I am usually anxious to get a nice meal and shower so having some tunes helps me not think about town too much.

Audiobooks are great to make the time fly by. I listened to a few on the trail and the day just seemed to disappear. It really distracted me from the monotony of hiking and I enjoyed the books. Be careful though because I know there was at least one good view I missed out on because I was enthralled in my book. Only have a few on your device so you don’t get carried away just focusing on books while hiking. Audiobooks can be expensive, so downloading an App like Audible can cut down on price of audiobooks with a subscription.

I recently discovered Podcasts and find them very interesting. They are shorter than an Audiobook so you can listen to them if you are waiting for a shuttle, or just need a quick 30 minute break. Podcasts are free if you have an iTunes account so you can download a bunch ahead of time and just have them on hand if you want them. I recommend Serial, S-Town, This American Life, and Up and Vanished. These are the ones I have listened to and I think anyone would enjoy them.


Hiking with headphones

Grab a friend and hike with them! Even if you plan to be alone, hiking with someone for just a few hours can be really fun. You can meet so many interesting people on the trail and everyone becomes an instant friend. Sometimes you like people so much you decide to just keep hiking together and you become a little family. It is hard to find someone that hikes your exact pace, but slowing down to talk with someone for a bit can be nice. You can also just plan to meet up for lunch and snacks throughout the day.

If you run out of things to talk about, there are other activities you can do. On trail trivia is fun. If you know more about say State Capitals, you can quiz everyone else. You can hum music tunes and have everyone else guess that song. I like playing “Who Am I?” where you think of a person, and everyone has to figure out who it is by asking yes or no questions. There are a zillion games out there! You can make up your own!


Hiking with friends

Everybody is different. Do what you like the most while hiking whether it’s alone, with music, or with people. Enjoy the trail in whatever way you like!


This is my final week at Mountain Crossings before I head out to California to start the Pacific Crest Trail! This post is going to tell you about some differences between the AT and the PCT. I will also give you my gear list so you can see how it compares to what you might take on the AT.

Appalachian Trail vs. Pacific Crest Trail
Mileage is the first big difference. The AT is close to 2200 miles, whereas the PCT is 2650 miles. The AT travels through 14 states but the PCT only goes through three, California, Oregon, and Washington. Another big difference is the terrain. The AT is deciduous forest pretty much the whole way. “The green tunnel” is how some people refer to the trail. Rolling mountains and covered in trees, there aren’t too many changes along the way. Once you get up into Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, there are more extreme mountains and exposed ridges, but the forest is similar. Out West, you start in the desert, with cacti, little water, and heat! After around 700 miles of desert, you ascend into the Sierra Mountain Range, where there is usually snow. Snow melt also means larger stream crossings, which can be tricky especially for a big snow year like this year. Once you  hit Oregon and Washington you enter into the Cascade Mountains, which are considered a temperate rainforest. This change in the landscape also contributes to the change in the temperature and weather. The AT has very little climate change. Of course it depends on when you start and finish, and there can be crazy cold days, but for the most part, you have similar gear and clothing the whole time. It does rain more and will be more humid, but in the warmer months, rain will be welcomed. On the PCT, you definitely start off with less, but you  need more sent to you at Kennedy Meadows before the Sierras.


PCT in Oregon

Even though the PCT is longer, and the mountains are taller, it takes about the same time as a thru hike on the AT. The trails on he PCT are graded for horses and pack mules, so even though you are climbing a tall mountain, the trail gradually ascends the mountain rather than going straight up and down like it would on the AT.

The AT doesn’t have many permit requirements. There is voluntary thru hiker registrations on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s website, but you do not legally need a permit for the trail. You will need to acquire a Smoky Mountain National Park permit before you enter the Smokies. You can do this at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. You will also need to fill out a form right as you enter the Shenandoah National Park, but this is free and easy to do. New this year is a the Katahdin permit. They have plenty of permits set aside for thru hikers and again, they are free.

The PCT has a few more requirements. You need to apply for a thru hiker permit. They only issue 40 a day and the registration date opened in January. When I applied for mine, the website kept going down and it would show the date I chose had filled up. After refreshing the page over and over, it finally worked. It seemed a lot of people wanted to secure their permit so everyone was trying at the same time. You will also need a permit for entering Canada. There is an application online for you to fill out and carry with you. There are several other areas where you will need a permit such as a side trip to climb Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the continental US. These areas you can get permits on the trail a little ahead of time. As long as you have your thru hiker permit, you will be fine going through the John Muir Trail and other areas.

Town stops
The AT and the PCT have great communities that want to help hikers and provide trail magic or hiker feeds. That community might be slightly larger on the AT just because the trail is so accessible. There are also more towns along the AT than on the PCT. You can pretty much go the whole way on the AT without any mail drops. On the PCT you will definitely need to look ahead and send yourself a few along the way because some stops won’t have any sort of store or a very limited selection.

Hitchhiking is popular on the AT but sometimes you walk straight through a town, or within a few miles where you could just walk to town. You will definitely need to hitchhike on the PCT to go to town. Towns will be more spread out and farther away from the trail. Calling a shuttle service might work if you aren’t able to get a hitch.

I will have Halfmile Maps on my phone. It’s an app that has all the points of interest on the trail. This will help me determine when to go to town.



Gear list
I’ll just give a brief overview of my gear list for the PCT so you can get an idea of what to expect out there. I will be carrying the ULA Circuit pack.

Sleep system – ThermaRest Z-Lite pad, Western Mountaineering Alpinlite sleeping bag, ZPacks Duplex tarp.

I prefer the foam sleeping pads because they are easier to set up and they are light weight. I’m taking a 20 degree bag because the desert can still get chilly at night, and I can have a liner sent to me before the Sierras in case it gets colder. I will be hiking the trail with my boyfriend so we will share the tarp.

Clothing – I will hike in shorts, t-shirt, injinji socks, and one sports bra. I will be wearing Altra Lone Peak trail runners with small gaiters to keep the dirt out. I will sleep in MontBell merino wool long underwear pants and shirt, and one pair of sleep socks. Other clothes will be a rain jacket (windbreaker), and a fleece. My camp shoes will be Teva sandals and I will have two bandanas, one as an all purpose rag, the other as a pee rag.

Cook system – Pocket Rocket 2, 900 ml Toaks pot, 4 oz fuel canister, titanium spork.

My boyfriend and I will share the actual stove but will each have our own pots so we can keep our meals to ourselves.

Hydration – Sawyer Squeeze, two 1-liter Smartwater bottles, one 2-liter Platypus with a hose, one 2-liter Platypus.

This is six liters total. Hopefully, I won’t have to carry that much at once but it’s precautionary for the desert. I will likely send the 2-liter bladder home at Kennedy Meadows.

Toiletries – toothbrush, paste, floss, retainer (I know), sunscreen, hand sanitizer, baby wipes, trowel and small hairbrush (I have very long hair).

First Aid – moleskin, Advil, Benadryl, duct tape, tweezers, Neosporin, athletic tape, gauze.

Miscellaneous – Umbrella, headlamp, external battery charger with cord, phone charger, phone, pocket knife, trash compactor bag (to line my pack), ThermaRest seat pad, notepad and pen, sunglasses.

Kennedy Meadows Box – I will have my winter hiking boots, tall gaiters, thicker hiking pants, thicker socks, Microspikes, ice axe, hat, gloves (two pair), puffy jacket, trekking poles, and bear canister.

Hopefully this gives you an idea of the differences between the two trails! I know the AT is awesome from experience, but now I can be a part of the PCT. I can’t wait! Thank you to Mountain Crossings for being so awesome this past year.




Wildflower Season

Each day I go out for a hike, I find more and more wildflowers blooming. I love this time of year when everything starts to sprout and turn green. This blog post is going to tell you about some of the wildflowers you can see on the trail, and some of the best spots to see them. These are just a few of the main ones on the trail, but there are so many different wildflowers. Get out there and see them for yourself!

Early Bloomers
Bloodroot – This flower seems to be one of the first that pops out of the ground. You can find it almost anywhere on the trail in Georgia. Bloodroot is named for its popular red natural dye used by Native American artists. A break in the surface of the plant, especially the roots, reveals a reddish sap which can be used as a dye.

Violets – The Common Violet is the most popular. It is usually purple and has more of a round leaf. There is also the Halberd Leaf Violet, which has more of a heart shaped leaf, and yellow flowers.

Dwarf Crested Iris – These beautiful purple flowers like to grow in moist areas, maybe near a creek or stream. The sepals of the its blue-violet flowers are distinctly marked with a central yellow or white, purple striped band. Go on a hike from Three Forks to Long Creek Falls on the Appalachian Trail. It follows the stream and you are sure to see this flower.

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Dwarf Crested Iris

Trout Lily – These flowers are known for their “trout like” leaves. They are speckled like a trout and grow in moist areas. The flower is small and yellow. Petals and sepals are bent backwards exposing six brown stamens inside. There are a ton by the Springer Mountain shelter water source. Go for a hike up to the start of the Appalachian Trail and check them out. Or find another wet area, they will likely be there.

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Trout Lily

Star Chickweed – These tiny white flowers bloom in a star like shape and they have brownish-red stamens that come out from the center. I saw some of these just beginning up Blood Mountain and there are more all along the trail.


Star Chickweed

Mid-Season Bloomers
Mayapple – You will likely see these leaves early in the season, but the flowers don’t bloom till later on. People like to refer to them as “Gnome Umbrellas” because of the leaves. The females have two leaves with a single flower growing in the axil of the leaves. A great spot to see fields of these flowers is on the Approach Trail from Woody Knob to the base of Springer Mountain. They grow mostly in damp, open woods, and along lower ridges.

Foam Flower – Long, slender stamens give spikes of white flowers a frothy appearance. They grow in shady, moist areas. They can be found in many areas along the trail. I’ve noticed them on the section from Neel’s Gap to Tesnatee Gap, as well as going down into Low Gap.

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Foam Flower

Trillium – Trillium is the most well-known flower on the trail. There are many kinds of Trillium. The characteristics of these flowers include three leaves, and three flower petals. These flowers are found everywhere. The pictures below will show you the different kinds so you can properly identify the flowers.

Bluets – These tiny blue flowers grow at higher elevations, usually on the tops of mountains or ridges.

Pink and Yellow Lady Slipper – the Pink Lady Slipper is one of the largest native Orchids and is found both in low, sandy woods and in higher, rocky woods of mountains. A great area to find a bunch is on the Hike Inn Trail in Amicalola Falls State Park. About one mile from the Inn are clusters of them near the creek. The Yellow Lady Slipper is less common in the Appalachians. I saw one close to Chattahoochee Gap on the AT, but they are considered rare. They are beautiful orchids and look like little slippers!

Late Bloomers
Fire Pink – This flower blooms in May or even June down here in Georgia. A common name for members of this genus is Catchfly, which refers to the sticky hairs or exudates which trap insects. It is bright red and has five petals. I saw a bunch hiking from Gooch Gap to Woody Gap.

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Fire Pink

Eastern Red Columbine – This beautiful woodland wildflower has showy, drooping, bell-like flowers equipped with distinctly backward-pointing tubes, similar to the garden Columbines. These tubes, or spurs, contain nectar that attracts long-tongued insects and hummingbirds especially adapted for reaching the sweet secretion. It is reported that Native Americans rubbed the crushed seeds on the hands of men as a love charm. Just two weeks ago, I saw the leaves of these all along Sassafras Mountain, just south of Cooper Gap. They will likely bloom in May and June.

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Eastern Red Columbine

Spiderwort – Spiderwort is a large but dainty perennial with long, bright-green, narrow leaves. The thick clump of slender, branched stalks are topped by groups of blue or purplish, three-petaled flowers. Spiderworts are so named because the angular leaf arrangement suggests a squatting spider. Again, hiking from Gooch Gap to Woody Gap is a great place to find this flower.

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Jack in the Pulpit – One to two large, glossy leaves, divided into three leaflets, rise on their own stems 1-3 ft. The intriguing blossom of this woodland perennial occurs on a separate stalk at the same height as the leaves. It is a large, cylindrical, hooded flower, green in color with brown stripes. Distinctive Jack-in-the-pulpit formation grows beneath large leaves. I only saw one of these last season on the stretch of trail from Low Gap, to Chattahoochee Gap. The Smoky Mountains have more in abundance.

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Jack in the Pulpit

Galax – You have likely seen this evergreen plant along the side of the trail before. The leaves are round and they turn brown in the winter. The plant is said to have a pungent smell. The flower blooms in early – late summer and is a tall stalk of little white flowers.

Honorable mentions
These flowers are also all around the trail, but I did not have any personal pictures of these. Here is a collage of the flowers. Be sure to look for them on trail!

Rhododendron vs. Mountain Laurel 
Often mistaken for one another, Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron are flowering, evergreen shrubs that share more similarities than differences. These plants are often found growing side-by-side in wooded, mountainous areas throughout the eastern United State. To tell them apart without their flowers, look at the leaves. Rhododendron’s dark bluish-green leaves are thick and leathery and range in size from 4 to 14 inches long. Its oblong-shaped leaves are narrow at the base, wide in the middle and rounded at the end. In cold weather or times of drought, rhododendron’s leaves roll up into tight cylinders. The underside of the leaf is pale green or rusty brown. Mountain laurel has elliptical-shaped leaves with pointed tips. Leaves are glossy yellow-green to dark green and generally smaller than rhododendron’s, about 2 to 5 inches long.

Mountain Laurel flowers are either white or pink flowers, with a red stripe encircling the center. The flower petals are fused together to form small cups. Rhododendron flowers can range from pink, to purple, to white, but in Georgia they will usually be pink. Check out the pictures below to see the differences between the two.


Rhododendron leaves on the left, Mountain Laurel on the right

There are many other flowers, these are just some of the main ones I’ve seen along the trail in Georgia. If you want to learn more, you should check out the “National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to Wildflowers,” which we have in the store. We have several other wildflower guides you can take on your wildflower walk. is a great resource for checking out wildflowers. Take a lot of pictures while you’re out there, then do the research when you’re off trail. Be sure to look at the flower, leaves, and any other characteristics that can help you identify the flower. Stop by the store to show us your wildflowers pictures, we are always happy to talk about nature!




First Aid Kit

One item people tend to either pack too much of, or not enough, is the first aid kit. You tend to pack your fears, so if you are afraid of getting injured, you will have a bigger first aid kit. Other people have no worries at all and just want to be lightweight so they cut out the kit completely. Having some sort of first aid in your pack is a must. Not only for you, but to help others in need as well. This post will go over some items you most definitely want, some you might want, and the others that you should probably take out. Of course, these are just our recommendations but if you have more specific medical needs then by all means pack what you must!


Blister Kit
These are the most common items you will find in a first aid kit. Most people will get some sort of a blister at some point during their hike. There are many different bandages made specifically for blisters that usually have some type of gel that prevents further rubbing and helps treat the blister. Most claim to be waterproof but when they are in a shoe or boot all day, they tend to come off. Moleskin is the more popular solution. You can cut it to whatever size you need and stick it right on the blister. These can also come off while hiking all day. The simple solution for both of these bandages is duct tape! Duct tape has many uses on the trail and is a necessity. Whenever I stick moleskin on a blister, I put duct tape around my whole foot and it keeps the moleskin in place and prevents further rubbing. Duct tape is also great for repairing gear and ripped clothing.


Tape up those blisters!

Here is my method for treating blisters and it hasn’t failed me yet.
-Try to tape up a hot spot once you feel it rubbing. If it is too late and a blister has already formed, go ahead and put moleskin and duct tape on it.
-After arriving at camp, take off the bandage. Use whatever you can to pop the blister and drain the fluid (safety pin, needle, pocket knife, fingernails).
-Once the fluid is drained, use some sort of disinfectant to clean the open sore (neosporin, alcohol wipe, Iodine).
-Keep the wound open and let it dry out and possibly scab overnight.
-The next morning, you will want to bandage up the wound again for the day. Instead of using moleskin because it sticks right to your skin and could cause another wound when ripped off, try using a small piece of gauze or a bandaid if you carry them. Continue to use duct tape around the entire foot to keep the bandage in place.
-Take off bandages and repeat. Usually a new blister could have formed so cleaning the scab should suffice.

You should really only carry one type of disinfectant. I had a small tube of Neosporin that lasted me a long time and I used on all of my wounds. You also only need a few moleskin pads and gauze. Keep in mind you can stop in town every 4-5 days so if you need more supplies, you can get them. Duct tape can be wrapped around trekking poles, trowel, pencil, whatever you have! You definitely don’t need the big cardboard tube or that much duct tape.

There are only two medications I brought on the trail but again, if you have specific prescriptions, or use other medication regularly then by all means bring it! I would recommend just one kind of Antihistamine, and one pain reliever.  You may not know your own, or others allergies. I got stung by a wasp on the trail and my hand swelled up to twice its size! Luckily, my friend had a Benadryl that helped with the swelling. Now I always carry at least two small Benadryl tablets just in case. Pain relievers can help with aches and pains and can also be good for your body. Taking some at night before bed will help with swelling and other pains overnight. Be careful to listen to your body and do not try to mask serious pain with pills.

Other medicines that people take on the trail are Antacid tablets, sting and burn relief, eye drops, prescribed Antibiotics, etc. I personally wouldn’t carry any of these as they add weight. If any sickness were bad enough I would just take care of it in town.

Bandages, wraps, wound treatment
A few band aids can be ok for minor cuts, or for open blisters on your feet as long as they are duct taped. Other bandages you should carry are things like gauze for bloody wounds, athletic tape to wrap a sprained ankle or wound, and an elastic wrap. The elastic wrap helped me when I was having shin splints. Wrapping my shins every night helped with some of the swelling. You can use them on feet, legs, knees, etc. Of course you will need alcohol wipes, maybe just a couple, and a pair of rubber gloves is not a bad idea either just in case you need to help a friend with a bloody wound.

If you are afraid of larger cuts, the butterfly closures can be a good thing to carry.They go across a cut so that it forces the skin to come together. Another item people sometimes carry is an irrigation syringe. If you fall and get a big cut with small debris and dirt stuck in it, using the syringe filled with water can help clean out the wound. If you are carrying a Sawyer water filter then you should already be carrying one of the syringes for back flushing your filter. Dual purpose!

Of course there are many items you can bring in your first aid kit. Other items include; tweezers, splints, more assorted bandages, liquid bandage, blood-stopping gauze, glucose tabs, q-tips, thermometer, and CPR mask. I will say the tweezers are necessary for the Appalachian Trail because they will help you remove ticks. Everything else is up to you. Hopefully, you won’t ever have to use anything in your first aid kit, I know I rarely did. It is important though because even though it’s not something you will need everyday, it can make a difference in a dangerous situation.

Here is my total final list for my first aid kit.

  • Moleskin
  • Duct Tape
  • Neosporin
  • Small gauze roll
  • A few alcohol pads
  • Elastic wrap
  • Tweezers
  • Benadryl
  • Advil
  • A few butterfly closures
  • Iodine (I use this as a water treatment backup as well)

Hope this post has helped! Remember, it is easy to get to town so don’t get freaked out if you get an injury while on the trail.

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.


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.


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.


Various trekking pole features

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!



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 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.


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.

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!