Monday, August 31, 2009

Appalachian Trail: Annapolis Rocks to Pen Mar Park - Route, Food and Gear

Here are some notes from our relatively short trip up the Appalachian Trail.

The Route

View Annapolis Rocks to Pen Mar Park Hike in a larger map

We found the section of Appalachian Trail from Annapolis Rocks to Pen Mar to make for an excellent 3 day adventure. We got the idea from the book The Best of the Appalachian Trail Overnight Hikes, 2nd (see page 96).

The trail was very well marked and offered some sweeping views. The route gives you access to 3 AT shelters to use in an emergency and enough water sources we never felt (too) worried about finding our next drink.

The route was quite rocky in some areas, which made for a challenge at times. Though, I actually enjoyed the change of terrain and thought it spiced things up a bit. Definitely plan for some slow going during parts of the route.

We camped the first night at Pogo Memorial campground which made for a first easy day to start things off (about 5 miles of hiking). Then, we did about 10 miles the next day and camped near the Devils Racecourse shelter. Both sites had water and offered fire pits - which we made excellent use of, if I do say so myself.

It had been years since I had done any real backpacking, and this was an excellent route to get back into the swing of things.

You can view a map of the route, and grab key waypoints from our trip here, including a KML file to load into your GPS.

The Food

Food is one of those aspects of backpacking that I find both tricky and easy to ignore (till its too late). The big question I find is, how do you bring enough to not be hungry, but not so much that you'll be weighed down unnecessarily. All the lightweight packing in world won't help you if you throw in excessive amounts of food and water.

Surprisingly, we did exceedingly well this trip. Here are a few items that really worked:

  • The first night we did hot dogs cooked over an open fire on sticks. Hot dogs are heavy, but our first hike in was short and they were a huge treat. One package (7 hot dogs?) fed the three of us, with no left overs. Oh, and don't do what I did and forget the packets of mustard.
  • The second night's dinner consisted of a variety of instant rice noodle bowl meals (like: Thai Kitchen). These were great: when removed from the bowl, they took up almost no space and weighed nothing. They've got reasonable taste, and need nothing but hot water to cook. It was like buying fancy dehydrated meals, minus the cost.
  • Gorp: I found about a 1 quart ziplock bag filled with nuts and various dried fruit items purchased from Trader Joe's worked well for me. David was convinced I brought too little gorp, because I was done with my bag when I completed the hike. But for me, no left overs means it was dead on perfect.
  • Energy Bars: I found setting aside 2 energy bars per day worked well without getting tired of eating food in bar-form. Lara and Pure bars were my favorite as they are both very dense (physically and calorically), satisfying and don't melt in the heat.
  • Packages of cheddar and wheat crackers are a favorite of mine. Though, they are fairly fragile. One package during lunch mixed things up a bit.
  • Jiff makes small cups of peanut butter that worked great. 1 small cup fed all three of us for lunch. Given how many calories one cup has, extra one of these throw into the mix made for a nice emergency food source.
  • For water, we found that iodine tablets worked well to purify it. What made this method work so well are the extra neutralizing tablets you add to the water after it's purified. They worked like magic, with the water going from clear to nasty-yellow with the iodine tablet, back to clear with the neutralizing tablets. We even tried a water filter that a neighboring scout troop had, and found the exhaustion of pumping water to be way more trouble than just waiting 30 minutes for the iodine to do its job.

The Gear

I used every item I packed, with the exception of: the sheet of tin foil, safety pins, the band aid, the compass (like I said, it was a clearly marked route!), the whistle and the emergency blanket. Considering the emergency nature of many of these items, and how lightweight they are, I was quite pleased. On the flip side, I never felt wanting for anything.

My pack had a base weight of about 11 (ok, maybe 12 pounds) without food, and 17~18 pounds with food and water. How or Why I used to backpack in scouts with a 40 or 50 pounds pack is beyond me. What the heck was I thinking?!

Here are some notes on specific gear that did or didn't work. I've already updated my gear list, so I'm ready for the next trip.

Note: if an item is on the gear list, and not mentioned below, it means I liked it and will continue to carry it in the future.

Foam PadReplace ItMaybe I'm getting old, or something, but I found sleeping on this basic foam pad to be really uncomfortable. Time to upgrade to something more luxurious.
Pack - Osprey Exos 46Love It!This pack rocks. Not only is lightweight, and manages to fit all my gear with room to spare, but I found the pockets, straps and other features totally worked for me. For example, the waist belt pocket fit my camera perfectly, and the shoulder strap pocket held my GPS like it was custom built for it.
BlanketBring ItShira and I shared a queen sized, lightweight blanket I picked up at Target a while back. This worked out better than I expected - we were both warm, and only one of us had to carry an extra 2lbs (maybe less) to account for it.
Photon Microlite IILove It!This light is amazing - it's tiny, cheap and works better than my heavy mini-maglight I used to carry. Buy one today.
Emergency BlanketBring ItThis is an item I've always carried and almost never used. But this trip, I realized just how silly this is. There's a million uses around camp for it: cover wood to keep it from getting soaked in the rain, cover rocks after the rain to provide you with a dry place to sit, wrap your pad up in it to provide a way to keep it dry when dangling from the outside of your pack, etc. But, the thing is - it's so perfectly folded, and becomes a big mess when unpacked, that I leave it untouched as to not have a hassle on my hands. But no more. Next trip, I'm unpacking the blanket ahead of time, and then stuffing it into the tiniest ditty bag I can find. I'm going to finally get some use out of this handy item.
Painter's Drop ClothBring It I picked up a 9x12 foot, plastic painter's drop cloth to bring as a ground cloth, and it worked remarkably well. Besides being cheap and lightweight, it's something we can discard at the end of the trip and replace with a new one easily.
MSR PocketRocket StoveLove It!This stove is amazing. It's lightweight (3oz!) and cost only $40.00. But the amazing thing is just how much heat it puts off. We had water boiled in just a few minutes. Bonus: the thing sounds like a jet engine taking off.
Garmin Geko 210Bring ItThe Geko can be a bit of mixed bag to hike with. On the pro side, I'm able to preload waypoints to serve as a fallback navigation method and capture new waypoints to use in documenting our trip after the fact. It also gives me some basic trip functions like tracking how many miles we've walked, distance to a future waypoint and items like sunset and sunrise. On the con side, it does a cruddy job of keeping satellite reception. The result is that I found myself taking the GPS out of the pocket it was in and waiting for anywhere between 20 seconds and 5 minutes to have it rediscover satellites. Still, given its size, and the benefits it provides (especially from an emergency perspective), it stays. Maybe it's time to look at a forerunner?

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