Spring Newsletter 2022

In our spring newsletter, we meet two Veteran Members: David and Alexander. We also share some of our favorite spring backpacking tips.

Veteran Member Spotlights

If you’ve been out with DC UL recently, maybe you’ve met David or Alexander. And if you haven’t, you can meet them now! Read about their experiences and future plans.

(Photo Credit: David O from our recent trip to Assateague)

David O

I remember feeling very, very awkward showing up at a Metro stop to get into a stranger’s car, to go backpacking with other strangers, in another state, on a trail on which I had no experience. That, alone, was an adventure for me!

How did you get involved with DC UL?

I had done all my prior backpacking with the Scouts. After my time with the Scouts, I had a hard time getting others to backpack with me. Friends would commit but then drop out shortly before departure day. So, I started doing solo trips. They were fun, but I much prefer companions. On my last solo trip, in 2017, I deliberately trekked out into a cold snap up the Shenandoahs. Overnight temperatures went down to 1 degree Fahrenheit when I happened to check — it probably got colder while I was sleeping. Hiking through the untracked snow was magical. It would have been more fun (and much less reckless) to have had company, though. I never felt uncomfortably cold under the circumstances, but I did nevertheless suffer medical-grade frostbite on the tips of my fingers. (I recovered with my fingers intact. Whew!) With the combination of wanting companions for fellowship, and safety, I started Googling backpacking clubs. I stumbled onto DC UL and have been backpacking with the group regularly. 

What was your first trip?

My first trip was in 2017 on a trip led by Jen (“Shuttle”). She was missing less than 20 miles of a segment of the Pennsylvania Mid State Trail and posted a LM trip to fill her gap. I had never heard of that trail and had a great time. I remember feeling very, very awkward showing up at a Metro stop to get into a stranger’s car, to go backpacking with other strangers, in another state, on a trail on which I had no experience. That, alone, was an adventure for me! Of course, in retrospect, my concerns seem ridiculous. Anyone willing to sign up for a backpacking trip covering more than just a few miles will generally have a commonality with everyone else who signs up.

What has been your favorite trip so far?

I spent Thanksgiving night 2020 on a mountain off the Iron Mountain Trail (“IMT”), just off Mt. Rodgers, eating a miniature pumpkin pie Steve made for each of us using the campfire. The pandemic had canceled family Thanksgiving plans for most Americans—my family being no exception. So, without customary plans, I took advantage of a backpacking trip over a weekend usually booked. It was a blast! We hiked from Damascus up into Grayson Highlands, up to Mt. Rodgers, across the balds, and then over to the parallel mountain range to return to Damascus on the IMT. This is the prettiest part of Virginia, and it was fun taking a vacation from COVID. I’ve also really enjoyed the “Redemption” and “Heaven & Hell” trips. I still feel pride at completing the Donut Hole trek, the 4-State-Challenge, and the Death March. I still can’t believe my body can do all this!

What’s a trip – anywhere in the world – that you’d like to do someday?

I really want to hike the Israel National Trail. All I need is two months . . .

Any “lessons learned the hard way” that you’d like to share?

When posting a trip I’ve learned to engage, engage, engage. The first trip I posted turned out to be fun, but it was a minor disaster. I had posted an early Spring trip to the Allegheny Front Trail following the identical itinerary that Karan used—and on which I backpacked with him—the preceding Fall. Karan’s trip proceeded without a hitch. It involved a Friday night “headlamp” hike 3 miles to the campsite. On my trip, unlike Karan’s, the Winter snows had not cleared. So, the hike in was more difficult—both to navigate and physically. As with Karan’s trip, hikers arrived solo (we were still avoiding carpools due to COVID), and people hiked to the designated campsite on their own schedule. The first problem was that Google routed drivers up an obviously impassible, snow and ice-covered fire road rather than the cleared, paved secondary road that led directly to the trailhead. I noticed this problem when I arrived at the fire road and posted a “drive around” option onto the Meetup site. Then, because of the snow, the designated campsite was unsuitable and Sophie and Dmitri hiked further for a more agreeable site. When I woke early Saturday morning I saw we were missing two people. I was afraid someone may have had trouble hiking in from the trailhead and needed help, so I sent the others onward while I backtracked to the trailhead. I didn’t find the MIAs. I subsequently learned that one hiker tried to drive up the fire road and got stuck in a ditch. The other “ghosted.” He said he “forgot” he signed up! Grrrr. The first hiker secured a tow, the other apologized, and I completed my trip with a second DC UL crew doing the identical trip that weekend with a different starting location.

My lesson: engage with those coming on my trips. If I have not previously hiked with a person, I need to make sure they are up to the trip, physically and technically. I also need to get direct confirmation of their commitment to coming. We are going into the backcountry with bears and allergy-inducing bees, not on a Clarendon beer crawl! I’ve done more in depth vetting of hikers on subsequent trips I led and they all proceeded without incident.

Separately, I’ve learned to lighten my load! I started with DC UL wearing heavy, over-the-ankle hiking boots, and much more stuff than I needed. I’m still not fully UL yet, but I’m much, much lighter on my feet and much, much happier!


Paradise comes in many forms and in unexpected places

How did you get involved in DC UL?

Sometime around June 2021 I starting coming to DC UL trips.  Things just started to snowball. From luxurious mountain swimming holes through Paris to the feet of a Priest and up a Chimney and down Halfmoon and then up a Reddish Knob… So many great trips with great people its hard to recount them all.  

What was your first trip?

First trip was in Massanutten being lead by David. David promised paradise on the trip description like some sort of snake oil salesman. But paradise comes in many forms and in unexpected places. Read his report “Trip Report – Paradise Found” for more.

What has been your favorite trip so far?

Favorite trip has to be the “Little River Wilderness” trip. To ascend Reddish Knob and finish the loop was remarkably eventful. I aptly drew a comparison to the Mines of Moria – my favorite chapter from the Lord of the Rings. This trip had it all and had some great pictures. See “Trip Report – Through the Mines” for more.

What’s a trip — anywhere in the world — that you’d like to do someday?

I’ve been planning a route through Japan for a while. The notion of thru hiking is not well defined in Japan so to carve a thru hike would be amazing. I believe that it is possible to go from the northern most point to the southern most point of the main island in about 2000 miles of walking. I’ve got some other big plans but for now you’ll see me improving my skillset and knowledge here in the Eastern woodlands and on the PCT 2022.

Any “lessons learned the hard way” that you’d like to share?

You have no control if nature decides to turn for the worst. I’ve experienced freak cold flashes. I’ve been in a flash flood while on top of a mountain. I’ve had lightning strike way too close for comfort. You are a person and the weather is a giant who can squash you, No skills can save you from being at the wrong place at the wrong time. So practice caution and keep an eye on the sky.

Spring Backpacking Tips

This is a photo of the Allegheny Front Trail in March, 2021. (Credit: David O)

  1. Don’t get rid of your layers! It’s tempting to stop bringing some layers when the days are so warm, but remember that there are often more extreme weather conditions in the mountains.
  2. Beware of cold, wet feet! Bring those extra socks. It’s one thing to have wet feet, but another for them to stay cold! Spring means MUD in many places.
  3. Consider cold rains. Spring seasons can still bring some icy rains.
  4. Remember that nights are still going to be chilly. It never hurts to keep some of your cold weather gear in your pack for spring backpacking.

Do you have a spring backpacking tip to share?

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