Hiking Forney Creek to the Appalachian Trail: A Complete Guide

Parking: There is plenty of parking near the visitor’s center, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to be parking right next to the trailhead. Clingman’s Dome is a popular destination, even for those who don’t plan on hiking. It can get pretty crowded, particularly on summer weekends. My advice is to arrive early.

Distance: This loop begins and ends at Clingman’s Dome and is a total of just under 23 miles. There is an elevation gain of nearly 4000 feet, and the trail is rated as strenuous. Before embarking on this trek make sure you’re physically fit enough to manage the climb.

img_8160-1Terrain: When we hiked this route there were a lot of obstacles on the trail. From rocks and roots that tripped us up, to overturned trees we had to climb over, to the multitude of river crossings, this trail will test your physical limits as well as the integrity of your gear.

River Crossings: This trail crosses the river more than a dozen times. You are going to be very wet by the time you’re through. Be sure to pack a good pair of water shoes and your trekking poles. The rivers swell in heavy rains, so be sure you pay close attention to the weather leading up to your hike, and adjust your dates or your expectations accordingly.

Water: As long as you have a water filter, you’re not going to have a hard time finding water on this trip. The trail follows Forney Creek, and all the campsites have sources of fresh water. Just don’t drink it until it’s been filtered or treated!

img_7960Campsites: There are several campsites along this route, all of which require a reservation, which you can obtain online through their backcountry permit system. Permits are $4 per person, per night, with a maximum charge of $20 per person. Some of the campsites are actually shelters, so make sure you have some kind of mosquito netting if you plan on sleeping in one!

Wildlife: As with a great many wilderness locations, there’s a lot of wildlife in the area. This includes, but is not limited to, bears, snakes, and a whole lotta bugs. Bring a lot of bug spray, and always be mindful of your surroundings. Click the link here to learn how to stay safe in bear country.

Bathrooms: Aside from the shelter on the Appalachian Trail, there are not pit toilets on this trail. You will need to pack your trowel for when nature calls, and be sure to adhere to the rules of Leave No Trace: keep your bathroom visits 200 feet from all trails, campsites, and water sources.

Climate: The temperature will vary depending on when you make this trip. Always check the weather before your hike, and be sure you pack layers in case the temperature drops. And regardless of what the weather report says, pack your rain gear! The Great Smoky Mountains are not known for their dry climate, so even if the weatherman is calling for sunshine, a shower can come seemingly out of nowhere. Be prepared.

5 Keys to Successful Backpacking

A lot of people ask me how I can trek into the wilderness for days at a time. They can’t fathom a vacation that involves that much work, and so few amenities. Some of them surely think I’m crazy. And while there’s certainly more work involved than a luxury vacation with pools and room service, the reward more than matches the effort. Here are 5 key things you can do to help ensure a successful backcountry backpacking trip.

IMG_3369Drink a Shit Ton of Water: If there’s one thing that can ruin a backpacking trip faster than you can say, “I’m thirsty,” it’s dehydration. Headaches, dizziness, lack of energy, muscle cramps, rapid heart rate, even confusion, fevers, or fainting; these can all be caused by dehydration, and prevented by drinking plenty of fluids. Remember that you need to drink considerably more water than you normally would, your body needs it. Take breaks, remind each other if you’re hiking with friends.

And make sure you’re replenishing your electrolytes, too. Fruits high in potassium like bananas and avocados, or coconut milk are great, but to save on weight and space, you can always take packets of Gatorade powder to put in your water bottle. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate, people!

img_7992Stretch Like Crazy: In addition to dehydration, not stretching can cause muscle aches, along with stiffness, and potential injury. You’re working the hell out of your body, trekking all over the backcountry, carrying all your gear. Getting a good warmup before your hike can help prepare your muscles, and help prevent injury. But make sure you stretch afterwards as well, to help lengthen your muscles and relieve the tension that builds up throughout the day. Few things feel better after a day of hiking than a nice, deep stretch.

img_8132Learn About, and Be Prepared for the Terrain and Wildlife: Every area is different. Whether you’re hiking in the mountains, the desert, the ocean, or the forest, do some research. Never hike in a new area blindly. Do you need to bring a tide chart? Special gear? What kind of predatory animals are in the area, should you bring bear spray? What about poisonous snakes and spiders? How much elevation change is there? Will you need rain gear? I could go on and on, but the best thing to do is just research the hell out of wherever you’re going, and prepare accordingly.

When Lindsey and I hiked in Washington we knew we’d be in bear and cougar country. In Arizona, Mary and I were watchful for rattlesnakes and scorpions. Washington required warm layers, and rain gear. Arizona required a shitload of sunscreen, shorts, and a bathing suit. That’s the fun of backpacking! You get a whole new adventure every single time!

IMG_3853Get Really Good Hiking Boots and Socks: Don’t skimp on this. Your feet are invaluable. Do yourself a favor, treat yo’self. I’m not a name-brand girl. You’ll never see me carrying a Coach purse, or wearing Jimmy Choos. I choose to spend my money on experiences as opposed to stuff. But those experiences can go to hell really quick when a hot spot on your foot turns into a gnarly, painful, oozing ulcer.

Lindsey didn’t break her boots in before our trip to Washington. After one day of hiking she had small blisters on her heels, and sore spots on the balls of her feet. By our last night her heels were giant, open wounds, and the blisters on the balls of her feet went between her toes, and were filled with goo. It was horrific, and it kept her from climbing the final couple miles to the fire lookout tower at Mt. Rainier. Trust me. Buy the best damn boots you can find, and quality socks with plenty of padding, and moisture wicking, and BREAK THEM IN! You’ll regret it if you don’t!

img_5727Embrace the Simplicity, Let Go of Your Pride: You’re in Mother Nature’s house, now. Respect it. Admire it. Enjoy it. Don’t get wrapped up in things like how bad you smell, how dirty you are, what your hair looks like, not having internet access, the fact that you may have to bury your poop. . . The biggest benefit of backpacking is that you can let go of your ego and just embrace being surrounded by the beauty and majesty of nature. It’s humbling, to be sure. But we could all use a little humbling every now and then.

Luxury vacations may be relaxing, but backpacking, when done right, can free you of all the mental clutter that accumulates in the everyday grind, and give a sense of both mental and physical strength that simply cannot be matched by laying around a pool for a week. Best of all, a night or two in a luxurious establishment is the perfect way to recover from your badass, wilderness adventure. And you appreciate it even more, cause you know you earnedthat shit.

If you follow these 5 simple steps you’re well on your way to a successful and amazing journey! Be sure to check out my other posts for more tips and stories of our Ladycation adventures. Thanks for stopping by!

~Steph

Visiting Supai: A Complete Guide

If you’re a backpacker and you’ve never seen the waterfalls of Supai, it’s time to start planning your first visit! The trip to Havasupai is gorgeous, and can be made February through November, and should be planned well in advance, as reservations are limited and sell out quickly. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting one of the most spectacular places in Arizona!

Reservations: Advanced reservations are required, can be made on their website, and are not easy to get (2018 has been sold out for months). The entire year is open for booking on February 1st at 8am, Arizona time. Day hiking is NOT permitted. There is a 4 day / 3 night maximum for all reservations.

Prices: This isn’t a cheap hike, but it’s well worth the price. Camping prices per person are as follows:

  • 2 days / 1 night = $140.56
  • 3 days / 2 nights = $171.12
  • 4 days / 3 nights = $201.67

If you’re not up to camping, The Lodge may be the option for you. All reservations for the Lodge must be made via phone by calling (928) 448-2111 or (928) 448-2201. Rooms can accommodate up to 4 people and are $175 / night. An additional entrance fee of $90 / person will be collected upon arrival.

Getting There: There are three ways to get to Supai: horseback, helicopter, or on your own two feet.

  • Horseback: Reservations for a saddle horse must be made in advance by calling (928) 448-2180 or (928) 448-2237. The cost is $175 one way, or $250 round-trip. The horses will drop you off at either the Lodge or the campground, and can accommodate up to 250 pounds.
  • Helicopter: Helicopter rides between the Hualapai Hilltop and Supai are available on a first come-first served basis, with tribal members taking priority, for $85 / person. It is recommended that you arrive as early as possible to secure your spot in line. Keep in mind that the helicopter drops you off in the village, the hike from there to Mooney Falls is two miles. Their schedule is as follows: March 15 — October 15, 10am to 1pm on Sunday, Monday, Thursday and Friday. October 16 — March 14: 10am to 1pm on Sunday and Friday.
  • Hiking: The Havasupai Trail begins at the Hualapai Hilltop. It’s eight miles to Supai, and an additional 2 miles from Supai to the campground. Since there is little protection from the sun and temperatures are known to hit triple digits, it’s recommended that you begin your hike as early as possible to avoid the midday heat (though it can get pretty chilly at the hilltop, so be sure to bring the appropriate layers). Make sure you pack plenty of water and sunscreen!

Pack mules are available for your gear at $132 each way. Each mule can carry up to 4 bags / 130 pounds. They must be reserved in advance by calling (928) 448-2180 or (928) 448-2237. Also, when hiking, remember that the mules have the right of way. When a mule train is approaching, move to the canyon side of the trail and wait for them to pass before continuing on.

Water: Ready to drink spring water is available at the campground and in the village. If you are taking water directly from the creeks make sure you bring your filtration system of choice!

Footwear: Since the terrain can be pretty rocky and uneven at times, you’re going to want to make sure you have good ankle support. You’re also going to want a pair of water shoes. Swimming and walking through the river is one of the highlights of this trip, but the rocks under the water are razor sharp. Make sure you have good water shoes that protect your feet and won’t slip off in the current. Tevas or Keens are both excellent choices.

Bathrooms: There are pit toilets at the campground. Please be respectful of the land and use them whenever possible.

Wildlife: There are many critters and furry friends that call Havasupai home. Always respect the living creatures you come across, and make sure you check your shoes and bags for snakes and scorpions before putting them on.

Rules: Please remember that this is tribal land, and respect their rules. Absolutely no alcohol, drugs, drones, or weapons are allowed on the reservation. All trash must be packed out; please leave the land as beautiful when you leave as it was when you arrived. There are some wonderful people who call Supai home and we should all be immensely grateful to them for sharing their beautiful land with us.

Thanks for stopping by! Since you’re here, why not have a look around? For more detailed information on preparing for your trip to Supai, please visit the official Havasupai website, and most of all: HAVE FUN!

Curing My Nature Withdrawal

It’s been over 7 months since my last nature trip and I’m in full blown withdrawal. I need to be surrounded by trees and falling asleep in a tent under the stars. I flew to Vegas with two of my fellow ladycationers in March, and we were supposed to camp in Zion National Park for two nights before two nights of Vegasing, but our flight was cancelled and we ended up missing the first two days of our trip. Ever since then I’ve been a hot mess of a tightly wound woman, who desperately needs to escape reality and get her hike on.

Great Smoky Mountains

Funds are tight, a far away adventure is out of the question. I always want to go west when I travel. I love the West! The mountains, the ocean, the weather, the people; I love it all. But living in Ohio, getting to the western USA is no easy or inexpensive feat. So, I started looking for more reasonable, accessible options.

The Great Smoky Mountains are only a half day’s drive from Cleveland, and I’ve always wanted to hike on the Appalachian Trail, which runs through the Smokies. I started looking at a trail map and researching various trails in the National Park, and when I’d picked the perfect route I called my ladycationers.

Locked and Loaded

While you’re reading this (thank you, by the way), Lindsey and I are somewhere in the Great Smoky Mountains, probably getting rained on, if the forecast is correct, and loving every minute of it.

We’ll be hiking the Forney Creek Loop that begins and ends at Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the National Park. We’ll hike down the Forney Creek Trail, then up the Jonas Creek Trail, before joining the Welch Ridge Trail, and finally turning up the AT for the final leg of our journey. It’s only about 20 miles, but from what I’ve read, it’s a pretty strenuous and challenging hike. There are multiple creek crossings that are said to get fairly treacherous;fFrequent rain causes the creeks to swell, making them difficult to get across. There’s also almost 4000ft of elevation loss and then gain, so this hike will test our limits.

Gatlinburg Great Smoky Mountains Tennessee

I can’t even begin to describe how excited I am about this trip. I’ve seen The Smokies before, but I’ve never hiked them. A group of girlfriends and I spent a long weekend in a cabin near Gatlinburg, Tennessee a few years ago. We had every intention of hiking, but ended up losing an entire day in the tourist-hell that is Pigeon Forge, never making it into the wilderness. So I’m pretty stoked about finally getting to explore the mountains, instead of the gift shops and chain restaurants in town, this time. We’ll be surrounded by green, passing waterfalls, climbing mountains, crossing rivers. . . It’s just what the doctor ordered (technically a lie. I’ll be having a bone scan the day before we leave to confirm that I have another stress fracture in my leg. I’ve been advised to cease all high impact activities, but I will NOT miss this trip, so it could be a very interesting hike).094.JPG

We’ll finish our hiking trip the way Lindsey and I always do: an AirBnb with a hot tub. Once we hike out of the mountains we’ll head to Asheville, North Caorolina, where we’ll clean up, check out the town, eat dinner, and retreat to the hot tub with a bottle of wine. No work, no kids, no responsibility; just me and my bestie on a long awaited ladycation.

I hope you’re all having a fantastic week and are planning a nature fix of your own. I can’t wait to see what stories and shenanigans this trip will produce, and share them with whoever is inclined to read them. For a sneak peak, follow Ladycations on Instagram where I’ll be posting a few photos from our adventure! Stay chill and keep hiking, my friends!

~Steph

A Hiker’s Guide to Lake George and Gobbler’s Knob (yes, Gobbler’s Knob)

Mount Rainier National Park is a must-see for any hiker. With over 370 square miles of pristine wilderness, breathtaking mountain views, alpine lakes, glaciers, and valleys to explore, it’s hard to decide where to begin. The good news is, you really can’t make a bad choice; it’s all spectacular.

If you’re looking for a long day hike, or weekend trip, Lake George and Gobbler’s Knob should be on your short list. As if being able to say you went to a place called Gobbler’s Knob isn’t enough, the views and the quiet solitude make this hike truly spectacular. Here’s what you need to know.

Mount Rainier National Park
The view from Gobbler’s Knob fire lookout tower

Reservations and Permits: While day hiking in Mount Rainier National Park does not require a permit, you will need to get a wilderness permit to do any overnight camping. Demand can be high, so it is recommended that you make a permit reservation in advance. The permits cost $20 per party and are good for up to 14 consecutive days. If your request is granted, you (the person requesting the permit) will need to pick it up at any Ranger Station or Wilderness Information Center before 10:00am on the day of your hike.

trail to lake george

Distance: The hike to Lake George is about 9 miles round trip. If you plan to continue on to Gobbler’s Knob (which you absolutely must because the view is out of this world) you can add an extra 3 miles, mostly switchbacks, to that. This hike can be done in a day, but I highly recommend taking the time to spend the night at Lake George to fully enjoy the this incredible piece of the Mount Rainier National Park.

Terrain: The first 3.5 miles of the trail is an old, gravel road that winds up the mountain. It is all uphill, so prepare your body in advance, as this is a rather strenuous hike for those who aren’t in shape. The last stretch is just under a mile, and begins at a poorly marked (at least while we were there) trailhead that leads through the forest to Lake George. It’s a steeper, but exponentially more beautiful climb, with views of Rainier through the trees.IMG_3624

Campsites: There are multiple campsites at Lake George, and a shelter, most of which overlook the peak of Mt. Rainier! They’re spread out fairly well, so unless the campground is full, you’ll have some privacy.

Campfires: Campfires are NOT allowed at such high elevations in Mt. Rainier National Park. Please don’t be the dick who ignores the rule and burns down the forest. Let’s keep our parks beautiful for everyone to enjoy.

Toilets: There are pit toilets in the campground. They’re exactly what you’d expect a National Park backcountry outhouse would be. Unpleasant, but not Sleepaway Camp unpleasant. If you’re planning on camping, I assume you’ve already accepted outhouses as a part of the experience.

Lake George

Water: Since the campground is located on the shore of a pristine alpine lake, water is easily accessible. Just make sure you have a water filter and/or purification tablets to make it safe to drink. Unless you want to spend a lot of time in the a-fore mentioned outhouse.

Food Storage: Bear canisters are required for overnight campers, and there are bear poles to hang food and scented items out of reach. Canisters can be borrowed at the Wilderness Information Center in Ashford for an optional, but much appreciated, and well deserved donation. Support our parks!

gobbler's knob fire lookout tower

Weather: Due to the elevation at Lake George the temperature is going to drop as you ascend the trail. When we left the parking area it was in the low-mid 80’s, but by the time we’d reached the campground, and were surrounded by trees providing abundant shade from the setting sun, the temperature was about 20 degrees cooler. At night, even in summer, it can dip into the low 30’s. Make sure you pack accordingly!

Lake George and Gobbler’s Knob are spectacular. I hope you add it to your list the next time you’re thinking of an outdoor adventure in the Pacific Northwest!

 

 

Hiking to the Enchanted Valley: A Complete Guide

Reservations: Advanced reservations are not required!

Permits: A Wilderness Permit is required for all overnight trips, and can be purchased at the South Shore Quinault River Ranger Station in Quinault. $8/person/night

Distance: The maps all say it’s about 13 miles from the Graves Creek Trailhead to Enchanted Valley. But we clocked it closer to 14 miles. This is a minimum 28 mile round trip hike.

Campsites: There are several options for camping on the trail: Pony Bridge, O’Neil Creek, Pyrites Creek and Enchanted Valley. Though reservations are not required, you will need to designate which site you’ll be camping at each night when you obtain your permit.

Food Storage: Hiking to Enchanted Valley means hiking in bear country. Bear activity is extremely high in this area, so using bear canisters is required. All your scented items should be stored in the bear canister—including your trash. Don’t be the jerk that leaves their stuff out. If bears are reported to have gotten into human food or trash, the entire area has to be shut down. They do this for our safety, because if the bears get used to their dinner coming from humans, they’ll become less cautious, and more aggressive in trying to get it. Bear wire is provided at most of the campsites, so bring a bag large enough hold the canister that you can hang from the wire. Bear canisters are available for loan at the same Ranger Station, and there is no charge, however donations are appreciated.

The Night Before You Hike: Lake Quinault Lodge and Rain Forest Village Lodge are both good options for lodging the night before your hike. Depending on when you hike, the passes could sell out. Staying in Quinault allows you to be at the Ranger Station bright and early to ensure you get your permit.

Toilets: Enchanted Valley is the only campground on this trail with an outhouse. If you have to poo while you’re anywhere else, you’ll need to dig a hole, and bury it, so bring a trowel and prepare to lose a little bit of your dignity.

Water: Everywhere! This trail follows the path of the river, so there are plenty of places to stop and refill your hydration pack and water bottle. Just make sure you have a way to filter the water before you drink it.

Weather: The trail is open year-round, and winter weather conditions can occur during all but the summer season, so make sure you pack the appropriate gear when hiking during the colder months. In the summer the temperatures can get as high as the 80’s, but it can also dip pretty low at night, so make sure you pack several layers of clothing, and a rain jacket.

Terrain: The trail goes up and down hills as it follows the path of the river. It is well marked and maintained (during the summer months), there’s virtually zero chance of getting lost unless you’re a complete idiot, or something unexpected takes you off the trail. The bridge at Pyrites Creek was washed out when we were there, and from what I’ve read, that’s a common occurrence, so be sure to pack your water shoes in case you need to do some river forging.

Be sure to check out the NPS website for more information, and always check weather and trail conditions before your hike!

10 Essentials for the Newbie Backpacker

There are a ton of websites out there with lists of all the backpacking essentials. This is a supplement, not a replacement, for those lists. These are suggestions you may not find on the other lists, and things I feel need reiterating.  Being properly equipped is the first step to a successful and stress-free outdoor adventure.

  1. Baby Wipes: There’s not always a water source near your campsite. The simple act of washing your hands becomes a distant memory, but a baby wipe will go a long way. Also, staying “fresh” while trekking through the wilderness is, shall we say, challenging. Take baby wipes with you for your more sweat prone and intimate areas. Your tent mate will thank you.
  2. Hardcore First Aid Kit: Blisters, cuts, scrapes, splinters, insect bites, poison ivy, sunburn, sprains, broken bones; anything can happen out there. Make sure you’re prepared with a bitchin’ first aid kit that covers all your bases. Bandaids, gauze, tape, an ace wrap, a splint, waterproof bandages, tweezers, antiseptic, pain medication, antihistamine; don’t skimp. You won’t need it until you do, but you’ll be really glad you have it when the unexpected happens.IMG_3564
  3. Trekking Poles: When you’re first starting out as a backpacker, you may not want to invest in too much fancy gear. Trekking poles may seem like an unnecessary accessory, or you might not want something extra to carry. Get the trekking poles. For one thing, they add stability; they can help catch you when you stumble. They also absorb some of the impact that would otherwise be absorbed by your knees and hips. Take it from a medical secretary for a group of orthopedic surgeons, you want to protect your joints. Treat them kindly or they will give up on you sooner than you think. Business is booming, I’m tellin’ ya.
  4. Mole Skin: This kind of goes with your first aid kit, but I feel it needs to be emphasized. Blisters can ruin an otherwise amazing experience. Mole skin has saved both me and my friends on a number of occasions, preventing an uncomfortable situation from becoming an unbearable one. Friction burn is another common backpacking injury, and once again, mole skin for the win.IMG_3369
  5. A Good Water Filter: This is one of those “you get what you pay for” scenarios. Don’t buy the cheapest filter you can find on Amazon and expect it to last. Believe me, having a broken water filter sucks. Invest in a good filter, and always have a Plan B: either a repair kit and/or purifying tablets.
  6. Fire Starters: Regardless of whether you’re a fire starting MacGyver, or a city girl who’s being dragged into the woods by her one outdoorsy friend, you can’t control the elements. If you’re trying to start a fire after a couple days of rain, it’s not going to be easy. Pick up some kind of fire starter to help get your fire going. You can even make you own (save your dryer lint)! sitting on an emergency blanket
  7. Emergency Blanket: You know the ones. You see them draped on the shoulders of marathon runners when they cross the finish line. In addition to their obvious purpose, they come in handy when backpacking for a totally different reason: you’re going to want something dry to sit on. Although an emergency blanket doesn’t offer any comfort, it does provide a barrier between the earth and your butt. It keeps you clean and dry, is inexpensive, small and super lightweight; it’s an easy add-on to throw in your pack.
  8. Hand Warmers: The self heating hand warmers you can buy at any drug store saved me on a cold, windy night on Mt. Rainier; where fires weren’t allowed, and the temperature dipped down into the thirties. A couple of strategically placed hand warmers can be the difference between a good night’s sleep, and a night of uncontrollable shivering and misery. Stick one in your pocket to warm your hands, one in the waistband of your pants, a couple in your socks–I’m tellin’ ya, it’ll change your life, or at least your backpacking experience.
  9. Garbage Bags: This is something that can be easy to overlook (I always forget them at the grocery store, in part because I reject the idea of spending money on literal garbage, so I subconsciously avoid the aisle, I think), but you’ll need a way to pack out your trash. There are no garbage cans in the back country. Take a few small, plastic bags to contain all your garbage, and help eliminate animal-attracting odors. Also, bear in mind that you may not want others to see your garbage (ever gone camping on your period?). Consider lining the outside of the bags with a layer of duct tape.dirty socks after backpacking all day
  10. Extra Socks and Shoes: Your hiking boots will be your primary footwear, but take a pair of water shoes or sandals to wear around the campsite, and in any bodies of water you step into. Taking off your clunky boots, and sweaty, dirty socks, after hiking all day, feels so good. You’re not going to relish the idea of putting your boots back on once your feet are enjoying the fresh air. Bring an extra pair of shoes, and allow your feet to breathe when you’re not hiking. As previously stated, your socks will be filthy. Be sure to pack extra pairs of clean, dry, moisture wicking, socks to keep your feet protected.

Backpacking can be the most incredible experience of your life as long as you’re prepared. It’s become one of the great loves of my life, and I can’t recommend giving it a try enough. Even if you’re a girly-girl, step out of your comfort zone and give it a shot. You just might surprise yourself!

Be sure to check out my other blog posts for more helpful hints, and stories from my travels. Thanks for stopping by!!

~Steph