Interview with a Wildland Firefighter

We are beyond happy to welcome Matt, aka “Pretzel”, back to Mountain Crossings after his first season as Wildland Firefighter out in Idaho. He was on a US Forest Service hand crew from May to October doing the incredibly hard work of keeping wildfires under control and contained. Here is what Pretzel had to say after his first season the fire lines.

What gave you the idea to become a Wilderness Firefighter?
I had always thought it sounded like a cool way to spend the summer. It wasn’t until I met a hiker here at Mountain Crossings who had worked on a fire crew, and got me thinking a little more seriously about the job. The following summer I hiked the PCT and met a woman that was a burn boss for the State of Florida. Thanks Dirty Harry, and Blazing Star for inspiring me to become a Wildland Firefighter!

Can you tell us your official title and what your job included?
The entry level firefighting position is called a Forestry Aid. I was on a Type 2 Initial Attack Hand Crew. Initial attack means we had the training to be at a fire as the first resource on scene. My first and foremost duty, was to suppress wildfire. I am a sawyer, which means I am certified to run chainsaws. This was important to work on the fireline. The fireline consists of removing all brush and material in a 20 foot swath with chainsaws, then digging a 2 foot wide trench down to mineral soil. This prevents the fire from crossing the line. My saw partner and I spent most of our 16 hour days on the fireline within a couple feet of each other. My partner and I would truly work together. When he was running the saw I would swamp for him, meaning I helped remove the material he would cut. At times I’d hold back material so he could cut it and move to the next cut faster. Efficiency is very important.

When we weren’t fighting fire we spend a lot of time cutting out forest service roads in our district. We lived in a remote duty station 17 miles from a paved road. The duty station was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, so we spent a lot of the summer replacing historic fences around the station. We would also spend a good hour or two of physical training, or PT. This could be everything from push ups, sit ups, to running a few miles wearing a weighted vest. Being in peak physical condition at all times is crucial. We had a saying on our crew, “There is safety in fitness.”

How did you feel the first time you were walking up against a wildfire?
My first experience on a fire was nothing short of exhilarating. There’s nothing like seeing the smoke column build from miles away, and driving toward it knowing soon you’ll have your pack, chaps, and saw slung over your shoulder hiking toward it!

What sort of training proceeded your first fire event?
There are federal standards everyone must meet to be on the fireline, regardless of their role. Everyone must go through basic fire school. This even includes the reporters that cover fires in the news. I sat next to a local celebrity from a Boise news station during fire school. In addition to the basic fire school, the crews need to go through additional training. I had to pass the S212 – Wildland firefighting chainsaw certification. I had a fair amount of time running saw for fire food and leading and working on trail crews, so this helped me obtain my certification. There were other great sawyers on my crew that didn’t pass the certification because they couldn’t hike in the saw and the gear that comes with it. Being a sawyer requires you to carry the saw , fuel, saw kit, and an extra tool which was around 40 lbs — in addition to 45 lbs of firefighting gear. So being a sawyer isn’t just about who can cut the best — you have to be able to hike the best. My captain said, we can teach people to run a saw, we can’t teach people how to hike. Thanks thru-hiking!

What was the most rewarding part of your job?
The product at the end of the day was extremely rewarding. We would finish the assignment and leave feeling as though we performed quality work for our Division Captain.  The camaraderie, and group suffering is another rewarding part of the job. I spent the entire summer working and living with the same 20 people. In a lot of ways thru-hiking and being on a fire crew are very similar!

What advice would you give someone thinking of taking up a career in wilderness firefighting?
It can be hard to break into the wildland firefighting world. My captain told me my background in thru-hiking, trail running, and trail maintenance was what got me the job. All federal fire jobs can be found at usajobs.gov. Jobs are usually posted October to March for the following summer fire season.

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Congratulations 2017 Thru-Hikers!

At Mountain Crossings, we wanted to dedicate a blog post to congratulate all the 2017 thru-hikers! About a week ago, we asked ya’ll to send us your finishing pictures so we could post them on our blog. Here they are and enjoy!

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“Amazon” March 20 – September 5, NOBO

Banana Split Club

The Banana Split Fan Club
Calories, Brave, Banana Split and Pickles
Started on various dates between March and May but all finished on September 25, 2017, NOBO

 

 

“Bangles” Flip-Flop, summited Katahdin August 29, and Springer November 12

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“BC” July 14, 2001 – June 29, 2017, Section Hike – sections every year for 17 consecutive years!

 

 

“Burning Man” and “Peach”, March 4 – August 21, NOBO
Bonus picture: Them crushing pizza on a cold day at Mountain Crossings!

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“Fresh” March 1 – July 7, NOBO

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“Lumberjack” March 8 – September 16, NOBO

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“Lunatic” February 8 – July 11, NOBO – third AT thru-hike

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“Nope” February 18 – June 28, NOBO

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“Puddin,” “Waterboy,” and “Peaches” also known as “Dem Teepee Boys” – They all met at Mountain Crossings and hiked the trail together.

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“Rolling Thunder” June 4 – November 11, SOBO

Seth Rogen

“Seth Rogen” March 31 – October 14, NOBO

 

 

“Lost” May 16 – October 18, Flip-Flop

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“Alpine” January 1 – June 13, NOBO

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“Pretzel” October 22-27 Tahoe Rim Trail

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“Starcrunch” and “Pano” May 1 – September 23, NOBO PCT

Congratulations again to these thru hikers and every other 2017 thru hiker! You should check out the AT medal for yourself, or a friend who recently finished the trail. If anyone is interested in thru-hiking in the future, please do not hesitate to call, email, or stop by the store! We love talking about thru-hiking and helping others achieve their goals. We are also hosting an AT Prep Class that’s taught by TheBackpacker.tv this January and February. Find out more information on their website here. Happy Holidays!

Holiday Gift Guide

It is that time of year again, Christmas time! While we enjoy all the splendors that this season brings, we also have that chore on our list, buying Christmas presents. The great thing about buying gifts for hikers is there are so many different items to choose from! Hiking gear is always evolving, and whether you have the big bucks, or just want something small, we’ve got it at Mountain Crossings. Even if your loved one isn’t into hiking, we have all kinds of trinkets and clothes for everyone. Here is this years top picks for Christmas presents at Mountain Crossings!

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Souvenir Items – Under $50
These little gifts are perfect for the hiking friend in your life. Whether you have done a thru-hike, section-hike, or day hike, these gifts are a great way to remind a loved one of their time on the trail! We have pins, stickers, magnets, koozies, mugs, frames, jewelry, and more. Check it out on our website here.

Hiking Equipment – Under $50
An item that won’t break the bank, but is something every hiker should have, is a water filter. The Sawyer Squeeze is one of the best out there. I personally used the same one for 2500 miles of hiking with no issues! Any backpacker will appreciate a Sawyer. Another inexpensive item that all backpackers can use, is a drysack. The Granite Gear eVent Sil drysack is perfect to use as a food bag, clothes bag, etc. Stuff it with candy and set it under the Christmas tree. The last more affordable item I recommend, is a Toaks Titanium Cup. This is perfect for making hot chocolate, coffee, or even just gatorade on the trail. It’s lightweight and easy to carry.

Hiking Equipment – $50 or more
The bigger ticket items that can make great gifts include sleeping bags, tents, and sleeping pads. My favorite sleeping bag is the Western Mountaineering 20 degree Alpinlite. It is so warm and cozy and you have some wiggle room because it is wider than the other 20 degree Western Mountaineering bag. The Big Agnes UL Fly Creek is an all time favorite. It is super lightweight and comfortable. The most popular sleeping pad on the trail is the Thermarest NeoAir Xlite. It’s a blow up pad but it doesn’t take too much to blow it up, and it’s worth it for the comfort. Check out all these items in store and online!

Clothing – Under $50
A pair of base layers is a perfect gift for anyone that sees some colder weather. You can wear them just lounging around the house, or for a day of hiking and camping. Since they are stretchy, sizing isn’t as difficult to predict. The lightweight Patagonia Capilene base layers are on sale and under $50.

When you were a kid, socks may not have been the most exciting thing under the tree. As an adult, socks are great! Especially a pair of Darn Toughs, they are perfect for hiking, or just everyday life. You can never have too many socks.

A hat is another great gift. We have an assortment of hats, whether it says Mountain Crossings, Appalachian Trail, or Blood Mountain, anyone will love the fit and feel of our hats.

 

Clothing – $50 or more
We have a lot of great men’s and women’s outerwear in the store and online. The Women’s Patagonia Re-Tool Snap Pullover is one of my favorites because it is so comfortable. The Los Gatos Jacket or vest is an overall popular item because it is soft and comfortable, but also fashionable. The men’s North Face Campshire jacket or hoody are super soft and great for hiking or a night on the town.

Shoes can be a difficult thing to buy for someone else, unless they’ve told you their size and kind of shoe they want. If you don’t want to risk it, a pair of camp shoes is a great gift. We have the Xero Sandals that are super lightweight and easy to pack away in your pack. They can also be used as a casual sandal to wear in the Spring and Summer. You can always come by the store and get fitted for some hiking shoes. We have all the best brands in our store.

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Xero Amuri-Trek Sandal

T-Shirts!
We have so many different t-shirts for everyone on your list. “May the forest be with you” shirt is great for that witty friend of yours. We have another popular shirt of a bearded guy with a bird in his beard. Your fellow hiking friends have probably felt this way about their beard at one point in their life. It grows so big you don’t know if there is a bird living in it! The synthetic Appalachian Trail topo map t-shirt features maps of Katahdin and Springer mountain. It’s great for your active friends and family. We also have the cutest little baby onsie. It says “Future AT hiker” and is great for friends who have started a family.

This completes our 2017 holiday gift guide! We have more items in the store than online, so you can always come on by and get all your Christmas shopping done in one go. We still have our Salomon shoes for 50% off, La Sportiva shoes for 30% off, scarves for 20% off, and other sale racks in the store for 30% off select items. Come on by and happy holidays!

 

Medicine Bow: The Importance of Keeping with the Ways of Old

Every now and then you come across a person who is truly fascinating! They make you wonder how someone can come to learn and excel at such a wide variety of skills in life. Mark Warren is one of those people! Currently he is the director of Medicine Bow Wilderness School, a primitive school of earthlore located just outside Dahlonega, Ga in the Chattahoochee National Forest, but his skills are far reaching. He is a U.S. National Champion whitewater canoeist; he has composed music for the Atalanta Symphony; he is a world champion of longbow; he has authored many books on his work as a naturalist, and designed environmental education workshops for Georgia schools; he was named Georgia’s Conservation Educator of the Year by the National Wildlife Federation; he spent 10 years as the naturalist and environmental educator for The Georgia Conservancy and 17 years he was the wilderness director for High Meadows Camp. Needless to day, he’s been a busy guy in his lifetime!

Being the director of any school is impressive enough, but particularly when that school, by default of what it teaches, requires both very refined knowledge and physical ability. You can read all the books you want about identifying wild plants and proper tomahawk throwing technique, but to be proficient, there is nothing but time in the field that will make you successful!

We caught up with Mark and had him answer a few questions about the beginnings of Medicine Bow and more. Check it out!

Mountain Crossings: Can you briefly tell me about the beginnings of Medicine Bow? When was the idea sparked? When did you first start hosting classes?

Mark Warren: “When I began this work back in the 1970’s, I had no property on which to teach. I floated around as a teacher, using either national forest or private land where I was invited. I enjoyed a pretty large clientele from my work as naturalist/environmental educator for The Georgia Conservancy, and this kept me busy with school classes as well as providing me with students who were ready for lessons outside the classroom. When I finally leased a large tract of land on the Etowah in Lumpkin County, I established a more permanent camp for students. There I lived in an old farm house and hosted students for weekend classes. When that house burned down (along with virtually everything I owned), I chose a life in a tipi. I chronicled these two years in my first published book, Two Winters in a Tipi.

I purchased land at the north end of the county and have continued here up to this day, nearly half a century after my teaching began.”

Mountain Crossings: Can you speak on the importance of these ideas, techniques and skills as we move further into a technological lifestyle as a whole? 

Mark Warren: “Survival skills represent to me the ultimate adventure, and yet these same skills were the norm once. It was the original way we were probably intended to live. And then along came the Evolution of Comfort, a most natural course of action. But as tasks were made easier, we lost our identity as autonomous humans, trading it for something more intellectual. There’s nothing wrong with that except that loss of autonomy erodes the human esteem. And worse, we lose our direct connection with Nature. These are the two driving principles that fuel my work. I like serving as a guide to self-esteem and then seeing a person find his/her true worth on the planet. I also want to bridge that human-Nature connection, because without it no one has reason to respect and become a steward for the Earth.

To my way of thinking, the greatest masterpiece is Nature. For us to taint it seems the ultimate insult.

I am actually more interested in self-esteem development and Earth conservation than survival skills per se. But the skills are a wonderful vehicle for my teaching.”

Mountain Crossings: Do you feel there is a particular skill you teach that would most beneficial to backpackers? If so, why? 

Mark Warren: “No, not one in particular. But I would like to emphasize that using just ONE skill on a backpack trip could change the experience entirely. To eat a wild food … or to spin a stick for fire … or to resolve an upset stomach with yellowroot … or to solve a gear problem by using natural material (like pine sap glue) … elevates the hiker from visitor to participant.

If I had one jewel to share with backpackers, it would be this: Take time to integrate with the place you walk. You’re already healthier than most due to your sylvan milieu and your physical trek. Let the experience expand now by using this and that from the woods around you. That’s a major step. Of course, this means learning about those “this and that” items first. Welcome to the unending classroom.”

Medicine Bow offers a plethora of classes and courses for those interested in local ecology, Native American techniques and primitive survival. Classes include tracking, medicine, botany, wildlife, conservation, archery, wild foods and many more. You can check out the Fall 2017/Winter 2018 class schedule for a full listing and the dates on which Mark will be hosting classes at Medicine Bow.

Mark has also authored many books on the topics on which he teaches. Mountain Crossings’ favorite is the Secrets of the Forest Series. This four volume series covers nearly everything this Mark will teach you if you took all his courses, but it lacks the advantage of the hands on knowledge of learning visually and having a master help you trouble shoot as your learn. Regardless, the books are an incredible resource to get your started or help you keep your skills honed!

Muddy Moses’ Soap Dishes

Did you know that many decades ago, Walasi-yi was the home of a little local arts shop called the Georgia Mountain Arts Center?! Mountain Crossings is proud to continue the tradition of selling the work of local artisans and Muddy Moses and Mom Soap Dishes are one of our best sellers! Miss Jenny, the Mom of the pair, has been selling homemade soaps in the area for years and years. As each of her children got older, the soap business has turned into a family affair and they also picked up trades of their own. Now Moses, who is only 8 years old, makes soap dishes in a very unique way.

soap dishes

Each of the leaf imprinted soap dishes that Moses makes is a one of a kind. He uses a different leaf to imprint its’ shape onto the moist clay that will become a soap dish. These leaves are collected from right here in the North Georgia Mountains! Each soap dish goes through the firing process twice. The first one burns the leaf off of the soap dish, leaving the imprinted leaf shape on the hardened clay. Then Moses and Miss Jenny select a glaze for each soap dish and when they come out of the kiln from their second firing, they are are ready for use!

sopa dish

We love how you will never see a soap dish made by Muddy Moses and Mom that is exactly like another. For a full explanation of how these soap dishes are made, check out the Muddy Moses and Mom website.

Get your very own Leaf Soap Dish HERE!

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Appalachian Trail Weekend Prep Class taught by TheBackpacker.TV

Being situated 3 days into the Appalachian Trail, we at Mountain Crossings see a lot of folks from all walks of life coming through the shop. Some are so prepared and do so well that they don’t even need us. Others skip parts of the trail to come seek help before that have even hiked the first 30 miles. As thru hikers ourselves, we know very well that the prepared man is no safer than the unprepared man when it comes to the treats of a failed thru hike. Something could still happen at home that pulls either of them off trail and both are still susceptible to injury or sickness. What we do know, is that the prepared man is having a WAY more enjoyable time than his unprepared counter part! Doing everything possible to be ready mentally, physically, and with your gear won’t put you on Katahdin, but it will make your experience way more incredible and give you every leg up possible! 

That is why Mountain Crossings is excited to host a weekend long Appalachian Trail preparedness class taught by Scott and Ariane of TheBackpacker.TV. When Scott and Ariane came to us with this idea, we were instantly behind it. They have years of experience leading backpacking trips in the Southern Appalachian mountains and they equally understand the benefits of seeking first hand experience from fellow hikers who can help you tune into your ideal hiking and gear style before you hit the trail. Most importantly, Scott and Ariane know the importance of getting out on trail with your own gear and giving it a go BEFORE you take your first step on your thru hike or section hike. This class will offer you all of that! Information on lightweight gear, the ability to talk with former thru hikers and a chance to get out on trail and test your gear for a night, if you so wish.

Ariane and Scott of TheBackpacker.TV have YEARS of experience in outdoor education!

The class starts on Friday afternoon at 3pm and includes a meal and a stay in the hostel at Mountain Crossings. A class will be taught that night by Scott and Ariane inside the outfitter at Mountain Crossings so that you can see first hand what lightweight gear looks like as your learn about it. The next morning, a light breakfast will be served and the class will continue, along with a gear fitting session with outfitter employees. Enjoy personalized expertise as you select gear that works for you, whether you are starting at zero or just filling in a few little items into your gear setup. Later in the afternoon, individuals in the group have the choice to head out onto trail to test out their gear if they choose. Scott and Ariane will lead the group and teach a segment on Leave No Trace practices.

On Sunday morning, the group will return to Mountain Crossings to make any gear adjustments that may be needed. Often times, by getting out and using your gear, you learn a lot about what you like and don’t like about particular types of gear. This last session in the outfitter help you dial into your exact preferences while on trail! The class will terminate at 3pm on Sunday afternoon.

Click here for the Facebook event giving more details. 

Click here to see an Official Class Itinerary on TheBackpacker.TV website. 

The Youngest Thru Hiker Finishes AT

In an age where FTKs are taking over thru hiking culture, here is a story that you would think was fabricated for the glory of breaking the bounds of what most think is possible. In reality, it was as simple as keeping a dream alive. Bekah and Derrick Quirin had long since decided to hike the Appalachian Trail together by the time their daughter Ellie was born. But instead of putting that dream to the wayside and waiting until she was fully grown and on her own, they decided to envelope their daughter into the dream.

With Bekah carrying a pack full of the family’s belongs and Derrick hauling precious cargo consisting of one year old Ellie in a child carrier, the family set out to thru hike the Appalachian Trail on March 20th, starting southbound from their hometown of Roanoke, Virginia. Just before the family hiked their last few days on the southern portion of their journey, they passed through Mountain Crossings on May 11th.

I remember the sunny afternoon they passed by. Ellie was fussy until the moment she laid eyes on a banana but then lit up like a firework in the night!  Derrick began ripping off chucks for her to snack on and she hummed pleasantly as she smashed them into her mouth one after another. By the time Bekah and Derrick had finished shopping for their resupply, Ellie was smiling and giggling. As a former thru hiker myself, I laughed, recognizing the hanger that had over come Ellie and then quickly dissipated as soon as she had eaten.

The family continued south and upon reaching Springer Mountain, flipped up to Mount Katahdin to continue walking south to McAffees Knob outside of Roanoke, VA. On Setptember 30th, the reached their final summit!

They had completed not only the incredible feat of walking all 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail, but they had done it together as a family. Ellie learned to walk and said her first words while on the thru hike. She also became the youngest known person to have ever traveled the full length of the Appalachian Trail. Bekah and Derrick followed their long time dream to thru hike the Appalachian Trail and ushered their daughter into a lifetime of outdoor experiences! Congratulations to the Quirin Family and their awesomely inspiring story!

In honor of the completion of the thru hike by a one year old, we’ve put several of our baby and toddler items online! Click on either of the images below to see more information about these super cute “Future AT Hiker” shirts and onesies.

“Future AT Hiker” Onesie Sizes 3 months to 18 months $19.99

“Future AT Hiker” Shirt Sizes 3 months to 18 months $19.99

 

Have You Met Bill?

Because, if you haven’t, you’ve been missing out!

Bill Harris, or “Just Bill” as he will say if asked, came to be a Mountain Crossings employee at the beginning of the 2016 thru hiker season. It was an organic relationship. He had recently moved to the area, was an avid hiker and was used to hanging out in outfitters. To read further into that statement, he had recently moved just 7 miles down the road from Mountain Crossings from Damascus, Virginia, where he spent many years living along side the Creeper Trail, picking up trash, riding his bike, and working for Mt. Roger Outfitters. (Check out the video link below about that time in his life.) If you’ve hiked through Damascus, you know it is the most hiker centered town on the entire Appalachian Trail and you’ve probably been inside Mount Rogers Outfitters. You just may very well have talked to or walked past Bill, particularly if you’ve ever gotten a shuttle in the area!

When Bill moved to Blairsville, he came up to hike on the AT often and we got to know him well. It didn’t take long for Bill to start jumping in and helping customers when staff were busy. This became a habit. Bill would sell gear by simply talking to people about his experiences, telling them how he thinks something may or may not benefit them and then showing them something different that he thought may suit their needs better. All just because he’s a super friendly guy who wants to hear folk’s stories and loves gear, maybe a little bit too much! Eventually, it just made sense to put him on the payroll! Bill became the face of the Mountain Crossings Satellite store when it first opened up in March of 2016. The Mountain Crossings Satellite store is a temporary outfitter in Hiawassee, GA at Ron Haven’s Budget Inn that only opens in March and April while the Northbound thru hikers are coming through. Every year Bill mans the Satellite store and the rest of the year he is up at the shop at Neel Gap being the most helpful guy you have ever met in an outfitter.

Bill will fix your trekking poles if they are broken, he will sew your pack back together, he will fit you for the right size shoe (not the size you think you are!) and even teach you to properly tie your shoes depending on what is ailing your feet. If you are hurting, Bill will doctor you up with all natural remedies. No matter what it is that is needed, Bill can help!  He is actually the only employee at Mountain Crossings that has not thru hiked the Appalachian Trial, but we are pretty sure Bill has more miles on his feet than any of us and we know for a fact that he knows just as much, if not more, than the rest of us!

Sometimes in life you meet people, and you know it pretty quickly, that they’re are something special. Bill isn’t just a good friend, a helpful employee, a fun person. He is an experience. Just as hiking on the AT is an experience that shapes people and leaves an impression on them, so is Bill. I personally believe that is because he is a product of his environment. He has lived so simply, so completely, so well, for so long, that he emanates the serenity one finds from communing with the outdoors and holding it close to you heart.

Click the image above or this link to check out a beautiful video that delves further into the life and mind of Bill!

(Sorry ladies, Bill is NOT available! He is happily married to an awesome woman who is so great that he moved 436 miles down the Appalachian Trail and we are so happy about it!) 

 

Family Hiking Day 2017!!

Most of my favorite childhood memories have to do with the great outdoors and family trips spent hiking and camping. There is something magical about being exposed to the wild world of Mother Nature as a small child. It broadens your comfort zone, exposes you to the unfamiliar and emboldens your imagination and your sense of adventure. Best of all, maybe, it builds a platform at a young age on which a healthy lifestyle of physical activity and mental health can be lived out!

On Saturday, September 30th, join the Blairsville community for Family Hike Day, brought to our community by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the Blairsville-Union County Chamber of Commerce, the Mountain High Hikers, Georgia Appalachian Trail Club, and the Benton MacKaye Trail Association. Wether you and your family are avid hikers, or just getting out together for the first time, come along for a great hike at the TVA Trail at Nottely Reservoir Trail Parking #2 off of Hwy 325, just 1.5 miles past the Nottely Lake Dam.

The hike will begin at 8:30am and will be led by George Owen. George, who is a father to two children and grandfather of four grandchildren, has in the past led hikes in Switzerland as a guide for ten years and also in parts of the USA. He is involved in several hiking clubs in the Southeast, two of them as both maintenance director and constructions director and two as president. He is a wealth of information about the local area and particularly these mountains!

We understand that sometimes it can be hard to wrangle the whole family together to meet at a specific place, at a specific time, on a specific day! If you are unable to join an official Family Hike Day event, you can still participate by hiking on the A.T. with your family on Saturday, September 30th or Sunday, October 1st and sharing a photo or video via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #ATFamilyHike. Doing so will automatically enter you into a contest for a chance to win one of five Osprey Packs! Entires can also be emailed to soro@appalachiantrails.org and all winners will be announced on October 1st.

For more information on planning a family hike throughout the year and suggestions of family-friendly day hikes on the A.T., visit appalachiantrail.org/FamilyHike.

This awesome event is brought to you by these incredible groups:

Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Blairsville-Union County Chamber of Commerce

Mountain High Hikers

Georgia Appalachian Trail Club

Benton MacKaye Trail Association

Hurricane Irma on the AT

While we love the cool air and color change that comes as summer fades into fall, it also means Hurricane Season. As many of your know, Hurricane Irma made landfall late Sunday/early Monday in Florida as a category 3 hurricane. By the time the leftovers hit the Appalachian Mountains, it had dropped down to the level of a Tropical Storm. The mountains and its inhabitants are no strangers to harsh weather and even high winds, but Tropical Storm Irma was enough to put a damper on some things for hikers and wilderness enthusiasts.

Over the weekend we had many people pull off trail to hunker down in the hostel and take refuge. Getting off trail and staying in town or in a hostel is always the smartest plan of action when are large and potentially dangerous storm is forecasted. Late Monday night and into Tuesday morning, the brunt of the storm hit the North Georgia area and the Chatahoochee National Forest with high winds and heavy rains.

Since then, we have received many calls about the conditions of the roads and the trails in the area. The paved roads and main highways and byways in the area are very well maintained and were cleared immediately upon the storm passing. The trails and the forest service roads and other dirt roads are sadly another story. Because of their remote location, it is very difficult to clear these areas and though there are many people working very diligently, time and patience is requires.

We have heard from many hikers who have come and gone from just north or south of us and they all have one resounding report: There are LOTS of trees down! Felled trees are a constant sight in the backcountry and after a huge storm as this, it is always expected that there will be many of them. If you are not prepared to walk around, under, through or over a felled tree, it is best to avoid the trails. If you are hiking and come across a tree laying across the trail, always proceed with absolute caution and make sure you assess the situation before you climb into a rickety tree waiting to collapse. When setting up camp or taking a break, avoid hanging out under leaning trees. We recommending staying off trail if you are not absolutely certain an area has been cleared.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy also has a report and recommendation for hikers in our area. It and others can be found on their Trail Updates webpage.

We have heard reports that USFS 42, the road used to get to Springer Mountain, has been shut down until it can be cleared. Amicalola Falls State Park has been without phones for quite some time and we have not been able to contact they yet, still. On their Facebook page, they announced that they shut down all of the trails in the area until the damage can be assessed and fallen trees can be cleared. This includes the Approach Trail up to Springer Mountain. Amicalola has yet to update their page, but you can follow along as see when the trails open back up on their facebook page.

We were very lucky not to sustain any damage here at Mountain Crossings, but we know this was a powerful storm. We had many visitors from Florida and south Georgia who were escaping the storm. We wish them the best as they travel back home and hope that find things in good order.