More trail, new friends and broken gear… (It’s all good though!)

group

L to R: Craig “Free Home” Smith, Charles “Hiking Shoes” Nichols, “Chicken Feathers,” Ben (From GooseFeet Gear) Smith, “Gizmo Joe,” & me, Stick

Last Friday morning, Joe and I met up with Craig, Charles and Ben at Hofers (in Helen, GA) for a quick meet & greet and then some breakfast. After stuffing our bellies we drove through the rain and fog to stage our cars at the beginning (Unicoi Gap) and end (Dicks Creek Gap) of the section of AT that we intended to hike over the next 2.5 days. After dropping 2 cars off at Dick’s Creek Gap and returning back to Unicoi Gap, we met up with “Chicken Feathers” (who just completed his last big section of the AT!), our last hiking partner for this trip.

Of course it was still raining (just as it would for pretty much the rest of the entire day, and on throughout the night, and even well into the early morning) so we quickly got suited up and ready to begin the hike. As we began the immediate 1,000+ ft climb heading up to Rocky Mountain, I quickly did my usual beginning of the hike introduction video with my camera and then stuffed it in the ZPacks cuben fiber hip belt pocket that I borrowed from Gizmo Joe before heading out. Due to the constant rain throughout the rest of the day, I did not even pull the camera back out until I got to camp that afternoon.

The first day we only hiked 5.6 miles, starting at Unicoi Gap and finishing up at Tray Mountain shelter, which was not a hard hike, but it was all up and down. We started out with just over 1,000 ft of elevation in the first 1.3 miles, and then down 900 ft in the next 1.3 miles. Then we immediately headed back up 1,300+ ft in the next 2.6 miles, and then a measly 0.3 miles farther and 130 ft lower was our destination for the night.

We hiked throughout the day mostly as a group, all talking amongst ourselves, kind of getting to know each other. A few of us have hiked together in the past, however, not all of us had hiked with one another at the same time, not to mention, this was the first time that I had met both “Chicken Feathers” as well as Ben (from GooseFeet Gear). So, I have got to admit, it was definitely a fun and interesting group of people to hike with, and despite the pretty much constant rain, I enjoyed every bit of it!

It didn’t take us long to reach the top of Tray Mountain, which is where I experienced my first mishap… the dreaded broken trekking pole! And not just any trekking pole, my beloved LT4’s! It happened in slow motion… Ben got to the top first and I was just behind him (picking his brain about all the different, lightweight materials and what-nots). I noticed a marker set in stone. As I moved a little farther up the stoney ground, I noticed another marker. As I tried to get just a little closer to read the marker, I slipped on the wet rocks (have I mentioned it had been raining, a lot?). It just so happened that the tip of one of my poles set against the side of my planted foot. As I slowly fell towards the ground, I couldn’t get the pole out of my hand before catching myself, so the handle end of the pole went to the ground with me. What made it bad is that the bottom shaft hit a slightly elevated bit of rock, and when the tip wouldn’t budge, or the handle, then the shaft decided to snap…

This bummed me out pretty good, however, the break did happen where the pole is wrapped at the bottom, which turned out to be a good thing since the wrap actually held it together somewhat. I was able to loosen the bottom shaft, and then push it farther up inside the top shaft so that the break was actually inside the top shaft, and then tightened it back down. This actually held together for the next half a mile or so while making our way to the shelter. Once we got to the shelter I did need to use the poles to set up my sweet new cuben fiber tarp, so I put a small wrap of duct tape at the junction of the top and bottom shaft. This managed to make do for the rest of the trip, even allowing me to still put my full weight on the poles when hopping over puddles or rocks.

Once we were all at the shelter, we started doing our normal “at camp” routines, despite the slight rain. “Gizmo Joe” and “Hiking Shoes” decided that they would spend the night inside the Tray Mtn. Shelter, while the rest of us set up our shelters. “Chicken Feathers” set up his trusty Rainbow TarpTent that he had used throughout his section hike, Ben set up his custom cuben fiber tarp (which was pretty dang sweet!) and his DIY bivy, Craig set up his hammock set-up which consisted of a bridge hammock and a pretty large tarp, and I set up my new ZPacks tarp and my polycro ground sheet. (Also, I must add here that I had a pretty terrible pitch with my tarp. I went with the A-Frame and attached my kilt to the back, which was also the end from which the wind would terrorize me from later that night. I used one of “Hiking Shoes” trekking poles to pull out one of the side pull outs on the tarp, which was also the side that I (correctly) anticipated the wind coming from.)

After setting everything up for the night, we all retreated back into the shelter, finished unpacking our packs and getting ready to cook our dinners. This is also when I happened upon the second “tragic” occurrence of the trip. As I was unpacking the rest of my pack, I pulled my camera from the hip belt pocket I had stowed it in at the beginning of the hike. I then realized that I should have stored it inside a Ziploc inside the pocket since when I pulled it out, water was pouring from the camera… hence, the lack of photos and no video from this hike in this report… sorry everyone…

Later, as we were all hanging out inside the shelter, eating and enjoying the rainy weather, a few other hikers showed up and then set up their tent in a site behind the shelter. Then, even later in the night, another hiker showed up with 2 large huskies (which I might add were not on leashes, and I watched in horror as the first one that ran up happened to run right into one of my guylines from my tarp… not cool, although nothing was damaged.) Anyway, not long after this we all started retreating to our “beds” to begin making it through the rainy, foggy and quite windy night…

As I crawled under my little tarp, I noticed that the entire top of my Prodigy quilt was covered in a fine mist, which was due more in part to the heavy fog that was blowing through rather than the rain that was still falling. Once I got settled (centered) under my tarp and made sure that my quilt was not hanging over my ground sheet and onto the wet ground, I began trying to dry out/off. It seemed like my hands stayed wet for quite a while, and it didn’t make it any better that every time I began to dry out, I had to get up to go and pee again…

Once I finally began to dry out somewhat, I decided to make use of my Kindle that I carried with me on the trip (inside a Ziploc). The rain was still falling, making random pattering noises on my cuben tarp, and the wind was blowing, swaying my poorly pitched walls in and out, creating a rustling noise. So, I drowned it out by becoming lost in a good book. Finally, I shut the Kindle down, got up and pee’d again, then crawled back in and rolled over in the fetal position to try to get some sleep.

Throughout the night, I awoke a number of times. Some of them to pee again, but others due to the wind that had picked up considerably throughout the night. There were a few times that the wind made me really wonder if the side panel on my tarp was going to pull out. The wind was pretty constant for the most part, however, there were a number of times that a sudden, strong gust would come over the mountain and really hammer on my tarp, but when it’s all said and done, the tarp held up like a champ (despite the poor pitch).

By the time we all got up the next morning, the rain had finally stopped and the fog had begun to move out. There was still the occasional drippings from the trees, but due to the heavy winds the night before, much of the water was already blown down. We all cooked our breakfast and then slowly started to pack up, hoping that our shelters would dry off before packing them up. Thankfully everything of mine had dried out except for my tarp, and of course my camera…

If I remember correctly, we hit the trail around 9 am that morning for another easy day with only 7.5 miles to go, ending at Deep Gap Shelter. The only climb worth mentioning this day was the near 1,000 ft climb in 1 mile up Kelly Knob (which was pretty much straight up, with no switch-backs).

The day went much like the one before, minus the rain, which was a blessing (it was nice to see a little bit of daylight!) Throughout the day the fog continued to clear away, finally opening up a few views so that we were finally able to see a few of the mountains which surrounded us along our hike!

Once we got to Addis Gap we decided to stop and have some lunch. It was at this point that some of us had to split up. Gizmo Joe was only able to say out one night on the trail, so he had made prior arrangements to meet up with a ride at Dicks Creek Gap later on this day rather than stay at Deep Gap Shelter with the rest of us. As well, Craig had decided to hike on out as well since his insulation had gotten so wet from all the fog the night before. So, at this point, we said our goodbyes as Craig and Gizmo Joe hiked on. “Chicken Feathers,” “Hiking Shoes,” Ben and I sat a while at Addis Gap and had some lunch before heading up our last climb of the day, Kelly Knob.

Once we finished lunch, we marched up and over Kelly Knob and into the shelter at Deep Gap. Once there, we immediately began unpacking our gear and setting up our shelters to let it all dry out some more, and then kicked back and relaxed. The day had turned out to be pretty nice, and actually a little warm. The Deep Gap shelter was a nice place, with a huge picnic table to unpack and relax on, plenty of flat spots to set up our shelters, and dry ground to lay out all our down & synthetic items.

Here are a few pics of our shelters at Deep Gap Shelter that I did manage to click off with my phone:

Just chillin'

Just chillin’

SAMSUNG

The Camp

"Hiking Shoes" TarpTent Contrail

“Hiking Shoes” TarpTent Contrail

"Chicken Feathers" TarpTent Rainbow

“Chicken Feathers” TarpTent Rainbow

Ben's Custom Cuben Tarp

Ben’s Custom Cuben Tarp

My set-up

My set-up

As the day was coming to an end, we finished up cooking and eating, and making final arrangements with our gear. Then, 3 other hikers showed up, 2 of which were just stopping in for a snack and then heading out to Dicks Creek Gap, the other of which was staying behind to spend the night in the shelter. As night came we finally got “Hiking Shoes” to start a fire, however, Ben and I soon took it over and got it really going, at least for a while. After about 45 minutes, the fire had burned down and soon after everyone started retreating to their tents. Ben and I stayed up a while longer talking about gear, hikes, and just life in general. A while later we also retreated to our own tarps.

The wind did pick up a good bit that night too, however, not quite as hard as the night before, but better yet, without all the rain and fog! Again, I laid there and read some more on my Kindle until sleep started to seep in. Once this happened, I laid my Kindle aside, got up to pee one more time, and then crawled back into my dry bed. I curled up and was soon asleep.

I woke up a couple of times throughout the night, but nothing like the night before. Finally when I woke up around 7 am, I did notice some water on the outside of my tarp, which I later learned that it did indeed rain on us slightly around 5:30 that morning. Needless to say though, I stayed quite dry (both nights).

Once we all got up the next morning and got our stuff packed up, we headed out. The hike was almost over. We knew that some real food, as well as a warm shower was waiting for us later that day, so we made pretty quick work of the last 3.5 miles that day. All of which was pretty much all down hill and relatively easy.

Once we got to Dicks Creek Gap, we piled into our cars and headed back to Unicoi to pick up the other cars. Then we headed back on into Helen to have some lunch together before we all went our separate ways. After realizing that not much is open this time of year on a Sunday morning around 11 am, we ended up back at Hofer’s, right where we all started.

And that was it…

Since returning, I got all of my gear cleaned back up, am looking to get another bottom shaft for my trekking pole, and even dried out my camera for the most part. The back display still has some water in it, but I think that it will still take photos/videos. I haven’t messed with it too much, but I plan on messing with it some more in a few days. If it still works out I plan to do a post hike gear review video… so be on the look out for that… maybe…

Until then, thanks for reading!

~Stick~

About Stick

My blog is essentially a record of my hiking career. Through it, I, and others, can see how I have evolved from a heavy weight backpacker, to a smarter, more efficient, lightweight backpacker. Through the use of video, still photos, and of course writing, one can see my progression, as well as check out some of the places I hike, and not to mention some cool, lightweight gear options. For me, my blog is a journal, but for others, I hope that it is an interactive learning tool to aid them in their own progression towards lightweight backpacking.
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29 Responses to More trail, new friends and broken gear… (It’s all good though!)

  1. anwar says:

    it looks like a great trip, sorry for your broken pole. im waiting for your video about how to attach bottles to pack shoulder strap. usually i just tied a cord around the bottle and use carabiner to attach the cord and bottle to the pack. thx

    Like

    • Stick says:

      anwar,

      I have another bottom shaft so it’s all good now with the trekking pole, but that snapping sound was a bit of a bummer. Thankfully though, it still worked as needed for the rest of the trip, quite well actually considering it was broken…

      As far as the water bottle holders, wait no longer! I posted a write up, complete with a video on them about a week ago! Check it out here:

      DIY Shoulder Strap Water Bottle Holders

      Thanks for stopping by!

      ~Stick~

      Like

  2. jdrower says:

    Stick
    I looked at the photos of your ZPacks tarp with the kilt end-wall and your friend Ben’s custom cuben-fiber tarp with end walls attached apparently at the time the tarp was constructed.

    With the benefit of hindsight, and assuming you weren’t planning on using your tarp for future hammocking, do you feel reducing the length from 10-feet to 9-feet and using that material savings as end walls similar to Ben’s tarp would serve good purpose?

    Happy Trails
    JD
    PS My ex-wife is from the Mississippi Delta and I cherish my memories of the Magnolia State
    PPS Didn’t you have another situation with an LT4 whose locking mechanism stopped working?

    Like

    • Stick says:

      JD,

      Hi. In my opinion, if you are not planning to use the tarp with a hammock, I think that a 9 foot ridgeline, especially with some doors on each end would be a great option. I would really like to get one of the old Gossamer Gear Spinnshelter’s which is very similar to the tarp that Ben was using.

      As far as the LT4’s, yes, I did have an issue with the locking mechanism on one of the poles earlier this year. I am not sure what happened with it considering my other pole never had any issues. Anyway, I sent it in to them and they replaced the rubber washers and they work great now. Super tight. So far I only have around 250 miles or so on them, so I need to put a lot more on them before I make any long term decisions, but I have got to say that I am still quite happy with them, despite the mishaps…

      Thanks for stopping by,

      ~Stick~

      Like

  3. Danta Seagroves says:

    Hi Stick, Thanks for sharing your hike. I am planning a 2 week on the AT in May. Could you tell me how the water bottles are attached to the pack straps? Also, how cold was it, and what sleeping bag and pad worked for you? Thank you! Carolina Girl.

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    • Stick says:

      Carolina Girl,

      The bottom is simply a piece of shock cord. I ran it through one of the daisy chain loops on my shoulder straps and then tied it together, trimmed the excess, and melted the ends. The top is just a short piece of cord with a loop on one end and a mitten hook on the other. I put it around the lip of my bottle and thread the end with the mitten hook through the loop. The weight of the bottle will keep tension on the cord and keep it tight so that it does not fall out, and the shock cord on the bottom stabilizes it so that it does not flop around. I just attach the mitten hook through another loop nearer the top of the shoulder straps. It is quite easy for me to remove/replace the mitten hook and it just works for me.

      Hope this helps. If you have any more questions, feel free to ask me and I will try to answer it better. Maybe I should do a video on it since a few people have asked me about this… maybe this weekend…

      Also, this trip was not cold at all. For this trip I used my large NeoAir XLite pad and my 35 F enLIGHTened equipment Prodigy quilt. It worked well for me. If the temps are colder I will use my Marmot Helium sleeping bag and layer a 1/8″ ccf pad over the top of the NeoAir pad. This will easily take me to 10F, especially inside a tent. However, this is for me, and not necessarily for everyone else…

      Thanks for stopping by,

      ~Stick~

      Like

  4. milligan308 says:

    Sticks,

    Sounds like you had a really great time over all, I hope your camera dries out and works fine or maybe it’s time for another upgrade. I was following the comments here with much interest regarding your LT4’s as I check GG almost every day to see if they have them in stock, I have never used poles and don’t want to make the same mistake I have made with much of my gear by purchasing heavier than I will be happy with, it would be great of you have the time to get some close up pics and the repair that you made duct tape and all.

    great blog 😀

    Don

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Don,

      The camera has done well actually! I actually shot a post hike gear video this afternoon, although, it may be another day or 2 before I get it up… But, in the video I do talk about the pole a little more and show the pole, and actually finish breaking it in half… As far as the poles, I love that they are so light though, and is the reason I want to continue to use them, despite the few problems that I have experienced with them…

      ~Stick~

      Like

  5. Joe Perez says:

    Sorry about the LT4and your camera I look forward to your videos in joy watching them a lot. I hope to get out this weekend and go up this Kern river canyon to find a good spot to hike around and spend one or two nights. The weather in Central California has been a a little cold due to a cold front and there is snow on the upper mountains about12 degrees.
    Joe P

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    • Stick says:

      Thanks Joe for the kind words! I do enjoy making the videos (even though they can be a long bit of me blabbing…) Anyway, I hope that you find a great spot to spend a couple of nights away…

      ~Stick~

      Like

  6. Wesley W. says:

    Stick

    Hate to hear about the broken LT4. I was wondering how you like hiking with no wrist straps? I noticed 2 of your fellow hikers had straps on their poles. I’m new to using trekking poles and was just looking for your input on the matter. Thanks

    Wesley

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Wesley,

      To be honest, I haven’t asked them if they like their straps, or noticed to see if or how they use them. I know that the poles that Joe and Charles are using come stock with straps. As far as me, I intentionally bought my LT4’s without the straps. The poles I have had in the past all had straps on them, and I did use them, but never felt like I needed them really. The LT4’s are just so light, I don’t think that I need any straps, and that they would instead be in my way.

      Also, there is the issue of using the straps the correct way. I know the methods that people say are the best, and have tried them a few different ways. I gotta say that with my current pack weights, and the weight of the poles themselves, I am way less fatigued and worn out using my poles without straps than I was when carrying heavier packs and using straps on heavier poles. (Not to mention, boots will wear me out much faster than trail runners…)

      Anyway, if you haven’t tried them yet, I would suggest picking up a cheap set of the Outdoor Product flick lock poles at Wal-Mart, or even better the carbon fiber flick lock poles at Costco to see how you like them before investing in a more expensive pair.

      ~Stick~

      Like

  7. Joslyn says:

    Sounds like it was a fun trip despite the gear troubles. I’m sorry I’m having to miss hikes like these!

    Like

  8. Gerry Brucia says:

    I too broke one of my LT4’s a few years ago. Fortunately I did not need it to rig my hammock tarp. Since then I have switched to alloy Pacer Poles which I have tested quite severely with no issues. As a regular hammocker, I was just wondering how Craig got his sleeping bag so wet since you said he was in a bridge hammock and a “pretty large tarp”.

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Gerry,

      I am going to get another bottom shaft, so I still plan to stick with the LT4’s for a while. The weight (or lack of) is just awesome and I love them for that!

      As far as the hammock, I think it was the heavy fog that came through that really just got everything wet. His tarp was large, but it didn’t have doors either. I believe that he was expecting to get something else in the mail the day he left out for the hike, but didn’t get it in time (although, I think this would have warranted a whole ‘nother hammock set-up- he has a few of them…) Anyway, the fog made everything wet… as I mentioned, the top of my quilt was covered in a layer of mist, however, as the night went on, the wind came through and blew away most of the fog, and of course my body heat helped to get rid of some of it too I think…

      Thanks for stopping by!

      ~Stick~

      Like

  9. RIP to the GG LT-4’s. The only time I use trekking poles is for Snowshoeing. Happy to give you tips on how to improve your balance while walking. Your friend – Jake

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Jake,

      I am actually still pretty happy with my poles… however, I would be happy to hear any tips that you have! Although, I am more of a visual learner, so you may just have to teach me on the Wonderland trail, later THIS year! 🙂

      ~Stick~

      Like

  10. JERMM says:

    Nice report Stick! Sorry to hear about the LT-4’s, I’ve been there more than once. I was out last weekend too, hiked with buddies a little north of you in the Standing Indian area. Heavy, heavy fog.

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Jermm,

      I have another bottom section coming, but I hope that I am not there a second time…at least for a loooonnnnggg time! Anyway, that is cool to hear that we were just right down the trail from each other! Someday maybe we will cross paths…

      Thanks for stopping!

      ~Stick~

      Like

  11. Patrick says:

    I’ve often wondered about hiking poles.. especially in lightweight set-ups like your own. You experienced one of my biggest hesitations -a broken pole for walking and for tent/tarping.. now you’re stuck with a broken piece of equipment and camp system. Also, I’ve always felt I had better balance without any kind of walking stick, have you tried leaving the poles at home?

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Patrick,

      You are correct about the trekking pole being a very important piece of kit, especially when serving more than one purpose. However, I have got to admit, even with the broken bottom shaft, with an adjustment and a little duct tape, the pole held up just fine for the rest of the trip (even with me puddle hopping with them) and it still worked for my shelter, in rainy weather. The only down side was that I was not able to readjust this one, but thankfully it broke in a good spot so that I was still able to use it.

      As far as why I use them, it is not really for balance (except for maybe in stream crossings where they are very helpful), as much as helping me to trek up and down the mountains, puddle/rock hopping and of course for my shelter. I have often thought of leaving them behind, but for me, at the moment, there is more reason for me to have them than to not have them.

      ~Stick~

      Like

  12. Chris Major says:

    Thank you for sharing your adventure, it sounds like you had an eventful first trip of the year!
    If your camera is still wet, I often place mine in a bag of dry rice for a few days and it seems to draw all the moisture out.
    I Look forward to reading about your future trips!

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Chris,

      I had all intentions of putting my camera in a bag of rice when I got back, but it has dried out pretty well. There is still a little moisture on the back display, but I think that it will still do pics/videos ok. I will check it out some more this weekend.

      Thanks again for stopping by!

      ~Stick~

      Like

  13. Greg Hardwicke says:

    Oops I just realized you were at a different Kelly’s Knob ! Too early ! Thanks for the hike report!

    Like

  14. Greg Hardwicke says:

    Funny thing we were on the range across from you ! My hiking group and myself hiked section 33 thru the Rice Fields ! Although we had no gear failure or loss , we did experience the wind ! It was funny how the next morning like someone flicked a switch the wind just stopped !
    I’ll have a trip report up on the HF page and the FB Virginia Hangs page.
    Maybe next time our paths will cross?
    Moondoggy

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Greg,

      It is crazy at how many names are commonly found along the trail huh? That was actually the topic of conversation for a bit on this recent trip… And yea, the wind was crazy in our area too…and the rain and the fog. It was all good though!

      Thanks for stopping by!

      ~Stick~

      Like

  15. Steve says:

    Hey Stick…what a wonderful adventure for your first hike of the year. I lived in Atlanta for 10 years and went to Helen many a weekend. On a hot day I would lay down in a trout stream and cool off immediately. Bummer about your trekking pole. I have a trekking pole but prefer my handmade Poplar hiking stick…very lightweight and strong and it does not collapse. Even without a video, well written account of the trip. I am getting excited for my first hike this year but freezing rain tonight.

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Steve,

      Helen is an interesting little town. I ended up there last year when I unexpectedly finished up a hike at Unicoi Gap (the road walk from Unicoi to Helen is not very fun…) Anyway, I have enjoyed myself both times I have been there.

      As far as my trekking pole, I am getting a replacement bottom shaft (thankfully, they offer each section separately as replacements). I like this pole simply due to it’s light weight, as well as it’s ability to adjust since I use them to set up all of my shelters.

      Anyway, thanks for stopping by and commenting, and good luck on your own upcoming trip!

      ~Stick~

      Like

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