Earlier this year I had the opportunity to participate in the 2019 TGO Challenge over in Scotland. But before I left out for the trip, Zpacks contacted me to see if I’d be interested in testing out a prototype of a new design of their sleeping bag. Of course I said YES!! But I wasn’t the first time I’ve tested gear out for Zpacks. Back in 2018 I tested out a prototype of the Vertice rain kilt while I was on my JMT thru-hike and in the Uinta Mountains of Utah as we filmed Highline. That rain kilt made it to production and has been a great option for those who don’t want to wear rain pains, but need more privacy than what the traditional DCF (Dyneema Composite Fabric) rain kilt provides.
When I received the 20 degree sleeping bag for the trip I visually inspected it. I noticed immediately they had introduced a new color, orange. The shade of orange resembles the same shade of orange that the University of Tennessee uses. It’s bright, but not too crazy like a fluorescent orange. Zpacks also told me they are introducing a Azure Blue and a Black. They still offer the Green, but no longer offer Slate Blue.
The next thing about the sleeping bag that captured my eye was the foot box. It looked enormous compared to the flat foot boxes on there older sleeping bags. And when I climbed in it I could definitely tell an obvious difference between the older models and this bag. The new design has more of a rectangular style foot box.
As I continued to research and talk with Zpacks about the sleeping bag I found out about the changes I couldn’t see. And they were big changes as well. They now use DownTek water resistant 950 fill power premium goose down. This is the same goose down that Ben Smith of Goosefeet Gear uses on all his custom down clothing.
Zpacks also fills each baffle with 30% more goose down. Between the extra down and vertical baffles. This helps keep the down from shifting and keeps it where you need it most and help keeps the loft of the down over time.
Now I used this bag on the TGO Challenge as I hiked from the west coast to the east coast of Scotland. Roughly 225 miles over a 14 night period. In addition to the TGO. I also used it in the Smokies a couple of times since. And every time I’ve used the sleeping bag it’s kept me very warm. So warm in fact that I haven’t even had to zip it up yet. I’ve just been using it in quilt mode. Even though we experienced a few night in Scotland that were in the mid to low 20s.
Another thing I noticed while using the sleeping bag was my feet weren’t getting cold like in my older Zpacks sleeping bags. I didn’t need my down socks or had to stuff my down jacket in the foot box just to give my feet extra warmth. It was so nice to have that extra room in the foot box as I flipped side to side as I slept at night.
So what are the specifications on this new design sleeping bag? Well, here you go:
MATERIALS, CONSTRUCTION & FEATURES
• The inner and outer shells are constructed from .59 oz/sqyd 7 denier Ventum Ripstop Nylon.
• There are 4 colors to choose from now. Azure Blue, Orange, Green and Black.
• DownTek 950 fill power premium goose down with a “C6” water repellent to help the down to stay dry 90% longer than untreated down.
• Each compartment is overstuffed with 30% more premium goose down than necessary.
• Vertical baffles keep the down from shifting to the sides. Which keeps the down in place. And they don’t use sewn through seams.
• NEW rectangular foot box has more room, and fits your feet more comfortably when your lying on your side, your stomach, or on your back.
• 3/4 Length Zipper extends to your calves.
• No draft tube is necessary since the zipper is located on the back (underneath you).
• Elastic cord is located around the opening of the bag. It can be cinched tight around your neck to help keep out drafts, or it can be pull the bag up around your ears.
• A flat clip located at the top of the zipper keeps the zipper securely closed.
• A Roll Top Dry Bag is included with the sleeping bag and adds .9 ounces (25.5 grams) to the total listed weight.
• All Zpacks gear has a two year limited warranty against defects in materials or workmanship.
This NEW design is a HUGE improvement to Zpacks line of Sleeping Bags and Quilts. Having more room in the foot box along with a better quality of goose down including more down in each compartment makes this design more comfortable all the way around.
I could move around in my bag without my feet pressing up against the outer walls of the sleeping bag and getting cold. This was my biggest complaint about the older design. In the older design bag there were many times I’d put my down jacket or other clothing in the foot box to give me a little more loft around my feet. I’d also wear my Goosefeet Gear down socks to help keep my feet warm.
But I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this New design sleeping bag that Zpacks has come out with. In my opinion it’s a game changer for them. I honestly feel like they can be competitive with other companies like Enlightened Equipment. And weighing in less than their old design, but still giving you a larger foot box and more down is a HUGE PLUS.
I really don’t have anything negative to say about the bag itself, but I would like to see Zpacks offer up more colors in the future. Having 4 colors is great especially since we use to only have 2 colors to choose from. But adding a few more would be a good idea in my opinion. Maybe add Burgundy, Gray and Yellow to the list of color options. I’d also like to see the Slate Blue be brought back. I really loved that color.
Here’s a link to my video experience/review. If you don’t already follow my YouTube channel be sure to subscribe and click the notification bell so you don’t miss out on any new content.
Zpacks Sleeping Bag – NEW 2019 DESIGN – Gear Review
This past May, I had the opportunity to do my very first international hike. I was completely excited and honored to participate in the 40th annual running of The Great Outdoor Challenge aka TGO Challenge in Scotland. It’s a self-supported, Scottish west coast to east coast backpacking adventure taking you through some of the most remote parts of the Scottish backcountry. Challengers are not allowed to get any assistance such as motor vehicles once they begin the challenge. Camping in the backcountry is a large part of the experience, but if you plan your route out right you can stay in hostels, B&Bs or hotels along the way.
Speaking of routes. Each challenger designs his or hers own route. The route can consist of road walks, established trails and off trail crossing private properties. You can also hike as a team, but no more than 4 members per team. Also challengers have two weeks to complete the challenge and must check in with mission control (TGO Challenge coordinators) as the reach certain points along their routes. This is to insure the safety of all challengers.
This year I was apart of a four person team that involved some names you probably recognize from YouTube, Darwin and Bigfoot. If you don’t already follow these guys then you should. They have a wealth of knowledge and are a huge asset to the backpacking community. The Blackalachian also joined for a good part of the hike.
Our friends over at Zpacks and a couple of their guests were also there and we spent most of the time hiking together in some sort of fashion. Even though we were two groups of four, we all only camped together one night. We all had different hiking speeds and styles so it was a treat to get us all together in one location for any length of time.
Our hike began on the banks of the Atlantic Ocean in the coastal village of Mallaig. A small fishing port on the west coast of the Highlands of Scotland. We had typical Scottish weather for our start, cold and wet. But by the end of the first day that would change for a while.
The weather during the first week was unseasonably warm and dry. At times it felt like I was hiking out west like in Arizona or California. This type of weather definitely made hiking through the peat bogs a little easier. And our route coupled with the great weather gave us a lot of opportunities for great views.
As for our route, we began in Mallaig after we signed the official registry at the West Highland Hotel. We all dropped back down to the banks of the ocean, touched the water and began our journey east.
Our route then took us by Tarbet and along the banks of 310 m (1,017 ft) deep Loch Morar, the deepest Loch in Scotland. The first night a few of us stayed at the Oban Bothy while the others wild camped. Bothys are old abandoned houses that folks can camp in while they are out in the wilderness. Some are maintained while others are not.
The next day we all continued east through a valley as we followed the River Pean. This gave us an opportunity to stop at Glenpean Bothy for a break. We finished our day with a 13 mile road walk along Loch Arkaig and we made camp on a lot along the banks of the Loch. This was the only night that both groups would all be in the same place for camp.
The next day we continued east as we made our way through Achnacarry, Gairlochy and traveled along part of the Great Glen Way on our way towards Fort William. We took a break at Neptune’s Staircase, a series of locks that boats must travel through in order to get into Loch Lochy. Neptune’s Staircwase is located in Banavie which is just outside of Caol. We did our first resupply at a Co-op (a small grocery store chain) in Caol. They had everything we needed to continue our journey east.
We ended our day at the Ben Nevis Inn, located just outside of Fort William. It was more like a hostel type setting with a very nice restaurant and bar. Plus the inn was nestled at the foot of Ben Nevis, the tallest Munro (mountain) in the whole United Kingdom (1,345 metres (4,413 ft) above sea level. That would be on our agenda for the next morning.. Munros are mountains in Scotland with a height over 3,000 feet, and are listed on the Scottish Mountaineering Club official list of Munros.
The next morning we made our climb up Ben Nevis. It was cold, windy and still had plenty snow on top. What an epic summit! On top there was a small structure used to house personnel who would observe the weather on the mountain back in the day. Ben Nevis is a very popular mountain. Once an active volcano that collapsed in on itself. Nearly 125,000 walkers hike up to the summit every year.
After summiting Ben Nevis we continued our journey east through Allt Criche. Along our route were several concrete faced tunnels going back underneath the mountain. ADIT No9,10 and so on are carved in the concrete on the face of each tunnel. Each tunnel had a 24″ pipe coming out of them and the tunnel openings were gated off by iron rod gates. These tunnels were used for drainage and ventilation for a main mining shaft. There’s a gold mine near Fort William that these may or may not be connected to. Either way, very cool find.
Our route then took us through Fersit, along side Allt Cam, Loch Pattack and Loch Ericht. We took a break at the Snack Shack in Dalwhinnie. The food there was absolutely amazing. It was nice to sit down for a while and get a warm good meal.
After our break, it was time to push for a few more miles. We hiked along a river for a bit till we made it to Loch Cuaich. We were planning to camp there and had even set up our tents, but we began experiencing extreme wind gusts which were blowing the tents down. So a few of us decided to push on to a lower elevation just outside Kingussie.
The next morning we pushed on into Kingussie and had breakfast at a little coffee shop called the Sugar Bowl as we waited for the others to catch up. The food was amazing and the owners of the coffee shop were super friendly. While in town we also resupplied at the local Co-op.
Kingussie was the last town we would hit before entering the Cairngorms National Park. It would be one of the most remote areas we would be in during our whole trip. Both Matt Favero aka Details and myself stayed at the Ruigh Aiteachain Bothy. Recently restored it was by far the nicest Bothy we stay at while in Scotland. But the next morning we would make our push through the Cairngorms. The forecast was for weather to move in. So we weren’t sure what to expect.
The next morning as we got up on the plateau we were met with fierce winds and much colder temps. Our plan was to hit the 4 tallest peaks in the Cairngorms, but we could see rain in the distance and chose to take the bad weather route and make our way out of the mountains. But by the time we got back down to the valley the skies were clear and sunny…. go figure.. So we decided to go ahead and push our way in to Braemar and take and extra zero as we waited for the others to catch up.
Braemar was absolutely the most beautiful town we went in. The locals were very friendly and there were plenty of places to eat and grab a few souvenirs. The Princess Royal and Duke of Fife Memorial Park in Braemar is the home of the oldest running of the Highlands Games. Even the Queen has been know to attend these games.
After the rest of the crew caught up and a few days of R&R in Braemar. We all continued our trek east to Ballater. Another town with opportunities to resupply and get local lodging. But before we made it to Ballater we had one more Munro to summit, Lochnagar. Ranking only 20th tallest Munro, Lochnagar stands at 1,155 meters (3,789′) above sea level.
Our route took us up the western side of the Munro which was steep and treacherous. As we approached the summit, a light rain and low cloud ceiling had moved in which made our visibility very limited. In fact there were several moments I couldn’t see the other guys who were less than 50 yards from me. But once we got to the summit it was time to celebrate. We had earned this one……
After a very brief celebration, we all began a quick descent off Lochnagar and continued our journey to Ballater. Once there we got a room at the Glenaden Hotel and resupplied at the local Co-op. The next morning was gonna be a gonna be a special treat as we would begin our next leg of our route on the DeeSide Way.
The next morning, before leaving town. I purchased a couple pastries to have for breakfast and to carry with me to eat later that day. But these just weren’t any pastries. There were made by Chalmers Bakery which has a Coat of Arms displayed at the business. This means the monarch (Queen Elizabeth II) grants the business to supply the Royal Household with goods or services. This also entitles the business to display the Royal Arms on their packaging and stationery by way of advertising. In short, Chalmers Brakery makes pastries for the Queen and the Royal Family. Now that’s cool!…….. While I was in the shop I also met Pamela Chalmer, the owner of the bakery.
If that wasn’t cool enough we left the beautiful little town of Ballater via the DeeSide Way. It’s a “Rails To Trail” path which runs around 41 miles from Ballater to Aberdeen. We would find ourselves hiking the full length of this trail for the next couple of days. But this day was gonna end on a very wet note. Before we could make it to Banchory. It began to rain very heavily. It would be the only time we would hike in heavy rain though.
Banchory was a nice town with plenty of options for lodging and resupplying. The locals were friendly and inviting. A few of us stayed at a The Stag. A small hostel positioned above a bar much like the Glenaden Hotel that we stayed at in Ballater. We were looking forward to the next morning. It was going to be a little dryer and it would be our last day on trail. But I had no idea what this next section had in store for me. In fact it would change everything for me for the next couple of months.
The next morning we all got back on the DeeSide Way and headed east. Early on that day everything was good. It was just another day on trail. But as we approached the little town of Peterculter I began getting a cramping sensation in my left tibialis anterior muscle. I simply thought I was dehydrated and needed to drink something. We still had eight miles to go to the coast and our final destination.
So after a short break we pushed on. I noticed immediately that something wasn’t right. It hurt with intense pain with every step I made. So I backed way off my speed and limped the rest of the way. The guys noticed something was up and hung back to finish the walk with me so we could all finish together. I can’t even begin to tell you what that meant to me. Details, Bigfoot and Darwin made the decision that they were not gonna finish this epic hike without me and we’re there when it mattered most. Now that is true character.
But after those eight painful miles we all made it to the Lighthouse Girdle Ness. We all walked down to the banks of the North Sea and took our pictures and videos. What a feeling of accomplishment. This felt so different than any other thru-hike. I just walked coast to coast across Scotland, completing my first TGO Challenge and my first ever international hike. Oh, and to add to that I just completed the DeeSide Way as well. Wow!!! Even in immense pain, I was filled with so much joy.
Now since the other guys wouldn’t get there till the next day. We went into Aberdeen and got a hotel room for the night and rejoined the others at the light house the next day for the official group photo and make our way to Montrose to sign the official completion registry. It was great seeing some of the other challengers that we met along the way there and knowing they had a successful completion too. And hanging out for the banquet and hearing all the stories was certainly a treat.
I’d like to thank all the folks who put this amazing event on. From the veters and mission control to all the other volunteers. It was nice knowing if something went wrong, they had my back. So thank you!!!!!! I’ll certainly be back to participate in another challenge again someday.
What an incredible hike.
LET’S BE TOURISTS
Getting to tour all the villages, towns and cities along the way was as much fun as the hike itself. We traveled my plane, trains, buses and automobiles on this trip. Seen amazing sights and architecture. Scotland is stunningly beautiful from coast to coast. Every town and city had something to offer. I made sure to eat local foods like Haggis and drink local beers. We made stops at Dunnottar Castle, The National Wallace Monument, Stirling Castle and more. Every location was filled with beauty and tons on history.
The videos for the TGO Challenge Series are at these links:
To update everyone about the pain I had in my left leg. It ended up being shin splints. I feel there were several elements that contributed to this. 1st- I took my insole out of my left Brooks Caldera due to it floating and bunching up in the shoe when I would cross a stream. 2nd – the DeeSide Way is a very flat and hard surface. And 3rd- I was pushing as hard as I could go without actually running. Those three things combined contributed to my shin splints.
Now since I’ve been back home I’ve made a big change in my footwear, switching to the Altra TIMP 1.5. I’ll go into that detail in another blog post. Ive also started treating my shin splints with some Astym Therapy at my physical therapist Cora Physical Therapy. So far we’ve made great progress and feel I’ll be back to hiking by late July.
I’m starting out this series with the oldest piece of gear that I have…. the ZpacksDuplex tent. In fact I’ve owned 3 of them. I still have my first one that I bought in 2015 that has over 3,000 miles and over 200 nights. It’s still going strong with no rips, tears or holes. In fact I still use it a lot. I also had a 2018 version that I sold to a friend and a 2019 version that I took on my recent TGO Challenge in Scotland.
In 2015 I was getting back into backpacking. Until then my pack weight was on average 45 lbs per hike. All of my gear choices were NOT on the light side, but I began watching a lot of YouTube and found guys like Will “Redbeard” Wood and Chad “Stick” Poindexter. They were at the forefront of the ultralight backpacking gear phenomenon. Or at least they were on my radar then. That’s when I learned about Zpacks. A upcoming ultralight backpacking gear company based out of Melbourne Florida.
I began my research on them and began buying their gear. By 2016 nearly 95% of my gear was made by Zpacks. Tent, sleeping bag, backpack, dry bags and stuff sacks, rain gear and more. I began using this gear in every condition I could think of; sunny, rainy, windy, summer, winter, blizzard like conditions and even in tropical storms. I wanted to know if gear this light could actually hold up. And I wanted to gear I could depend on.
But the gear that took the most pounding by the elements was the Duplex tent. Now what attracted me to the Duplex was the ease of set up and break down, the weight and the amount of room it provides. I also love the adjustability it has. I could set it up higher or lower depending on the conditions present and the desired pitch.
The standard Duplex is made from .51 oz/sqyd Dyneema Composite Fabric other wiser known as DCF. It has a high strength to weight ratio, chemical free & PFC free, waterproof, stretch free, taped seams and easily repaired.
The standard Duplex weights in at 19. 4 ozs (550 grams). With walls and doors built out of the .51 ozs/sqyd for the standard, the .67 oz/sqyd for the camouflage and the .74 ozs/sqrd is used for the Spruce Green models. All floors are made from the 1.0 ozs/sqyd DCF. It’s more puncture resistant and can handle the abuse.
•Vestibule space: 20.75″ (53 cm) depth on each side
•Length: 100″ (254 cm)
•Peak height: 48″ (122 cm)
•Floor width: 45″ (114 cm)
•Floor length: 7.5 feet (2.3 meters)
•Zipper entry height: 36″ (91 cm)
•7″ diameter by 13″ tall (18 cm x 33 cm) / 520 cubic inches (8.5L)
THE LIKES & DISLIKES
LET’S START WITH THE DISLIKES
To be honest there’s a lot of things that I love about this tent, but only two things that I don’t. So let’s talk about the “DISLIKES” first.
For starts I guess my first dislike is the same criticism that everyone else has with a single wall tent….. the condensation. You simply can’t get away from it if you’re using a single wall tent like the Duplex. But the levels of condensation will vary depending on the location, temperature and weather conditions you’re camping in. I typically try to camp under trees, away from balds or meadows, away from streams and I leave two of the four doors open at night so I get a little cross breeze action. Doing all these things can help lessen the amount of condensation inside the tent. Sometimes eliminating it all together.
The other thing I don’t like about this tent is the length. Even with the tent being 100″ (254 cm) and me being 5’9″ (175.26 cm). Once I climb into my sleeping bag the top of the foot box sometimes rubs the end on the Duplex. Now this doesn’t happen all the time, but as I toss and turn in my sleep, I sometimes slide towards on end or the other. Now to be fair, this probably isn’t the tents fault. I use the Thermarest Neo Air and Uberlight. These two sleeping pads are known to slide around a bit…… especially the new Uberlite. But it would be nice if there was just a little more room on each end.
Now you can pitch the Duplex a little higher which can raise the end wall of the tent some. But that also narrows your width some too.
But that’s it. The only two things that I don’t like about the Duplex.
Now there are certainly more likes than dislikes with this tent. After all I have own 3 different versions of the Duplex. Here’s what all I like about the Duplex.
•Lightweight: My camo Duplex weighs in at 20.4 ozs (578.44 grams). Having a two person tent that weighs this little has its huge advantages.
•Material: The DCF Material is easy to repair in the field. Having this ability can save a backpacking trip from becoming a nightmare.
•Waterproof: The DCF is naturally waterproof so you don’t ever have to worry about the material went out like you do with Silnylon.
•Easy To Setup: The Duplex sets up easier than any other tent I’ve ever owned. I can set it up and break it down within a minute. That’s pretty good in situations where you’re have to set up or break down in the rain.
•Durability: Even though the DCF material feels delicate, it can withstand a little abuse. I’ve had my Duplex in extremely high winds, hail storms with falling limbs and debris, I’ve had hickory nuts fall on it and still no damage. But I will also say that I do my very best to not expose it to that kind of stuff if I can help it.
I’ll summarize this article by saying this. I’ve never once regretted purchasing any of my Duplex tents. They have out performed and exceeded my expectations. For me personally I absolutely love the camouflage version. It gives a little more privacy and blends in with the environment really well. And that is a huge plus in my book.
So if you’re consider the Zpacks Duplex, I honestly don’t think you’ll be disappointed… And you back will absolutely love you for it…
It’s no secret that the John Muir Trail in California is one of the most scenic trails in the US. It runs 211 miles from Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states to Happy Isles in the Yosemite National Park. It’s so popular that sometimes it’s a challenge to even get a permit for it. Many try each year, but come up empty handed. So when me and my buddy Chad “Stick” Poindexter over at Stick’s Blog started talking about attempting a thru-hike of the JMT I was beyond stoked, but understood the challenge of getting the permits.
During the planning stage of our hike I was pretty busy hiking other trails. So Stick took the lead on all the planning and he did a phenomenal job. He also did an article on his blog about the process of abstaining the permits. Here’s a link to the article, JMT Summer 2018 Permits & Plans.
Getting there was almost as much fun as the hike itself. Stick and I decided to make the nearly 2000 mile drive out there. But this gave us some flexibility and allowed us to do a little sightseeing along the way. We caught a sunrise at the Hoover Dam, went to the Badwater Basin the lowest point in the northern hemisphere. It’s located in Death Valley National Park, we spent the night in Mammoth Lakes and Onion Valley Campground so we could acclimate a bit. We were able to park the car in Lone Pine for a fee and we shared a shuttle with a family from Canada up to Horseshoe Meadow where we spent our final night before we officially began our hike.
The Thru-Hike Begins
We began our thru-hike on July 4th 2018 around 7:30 AM PST at the Cottonwoods Lakes Trailhead at Horseshoe Meadows campground. After only hiking 100 yards and trying to shoot introductory video. I could tell I was already getting short of breath. My East Tennessee lungs weren’t use to the 10,000′ elevation yet.
The trail was like nothing I had ever hiked before. I was captivated by all the beauty around me…… well minus Stick of course.. The rugged granite mountains, the clear blue lakes full of golden trout and the tall redwoods were absolutely amazing. I kept thinking this must be what heaven is like… or at least I hope so.
The weather was great. It was in the mid 50s at night and 70s during the day. We had mostly sunny weather the whole time with the daily obligatory passing thunderstorm. The thunderstorms we pretty fierce though. Lots of cloud to ground lightning and lots of pea size hail. Usually I would set my Zpacks Camo Duplex up when it would start raining. I would eat a little snack then take a short nap. Once the storm passed, I’d pack up and push for a few more miles. This was my daily routine that I’d sometimes repeat several times a day. Lightning is a real danger on the JMT.
Special Locations on the JMT
There are locations along the JMT that are more special than other. Locations that make you not ever want to leave them. I came across a few of those on my thru-hike. They were so beautiful and so majestic that I was in complete amazement that those place existed. Here are the locations along the John Muir Trail that were the most beautiful places in my opinion.
I shot video every single day of my thru-hike. I wanted to capture every thing I could. After all this was my “dream hike”.
I used my GoPro Hero 5 Session to shoot video and my iPhon 8 Plus to shoot stills. The GoPro stability wasn’t great and I destroyed my iPhone just after MTR. So in the end it turned out ok, but next time I go I’ll be using my new Hero 7 and iPhone XS Max.
Here is the link to the JMT NOBO Series on my YouTube channel.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
A truth I will learn through heartache, perseverance, and healing.
Written By: Ashley Braden
I’m standing in front of him, blocking the door, trying to keep him from leaving…again. He’s yelling at me to move. Cursing me for standing in his way. All I want is a hug, a kiss, and a simple “I love you” before he leaves. I beg. I’m crying harder than ever. He looks at me and it appears that he feels zero sympathy. It feels as though he doesn’t love me or our kids, even though I know he really and truly does. A scenario that we’d played out before and would continue to play out off and on for months to come.
I’d never had to “deal” with anyone suffering from PTS before. We didn’t even realize that’s what was going on. All I knew was that my new husband acted like he hated me every single time we would disagree over anything, even the small stuff or when the kids would get too loud or argue or make a mistake. “That’s it, GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!” were words I heard too many times… my response? “No. We are married, this is my house now too and we have 3 kids. I’m not leaving.” So he left. Every. Single. Time. I would text and call over and over. Each and every time he left, I would go to the safe and count our handguns to make sure they were all there. I prayed he would not be found somewhere in his truck with a self inflicted gunshot. I worried myself sick sometimes and cried myself to sleep most times. He would leave and stay gone until the next day and when he would come home it would be as if nothing had ever happened. I would try to talk to him but he would not discuss anything. It was during this time that I really learned to pray.. when I learned how to spill my heart to God, trust him, and wait… wait very patiently.
One time when we were arguing, most likely over something small and unimportant, he decided to throw a bunch of my belongings outside… this included the wedding dress that I married him in. I picked my things up as he once again told me to get out and that he wanted a divorce. I left this time. I drove approximately 10 minutes away to my aunt and uncles. I pulled up and after my uncle made sure that the children or I had not been physically hurt, I asked him to please go check on Benny. I knew something was not right. He was dealing with a demon much bigger than I had ever had to face. I had some trouble with depression a couple of times as a younger adult and I knew this was not depression. I had also dealt with anxiety and this was like an anxiety attack on the largest dose of steroids you could imagine. After my uncle left I contacted a couple of our friends, Mike and Jonathan. They also headed towards our house. Benny was still there, in the back yard, digging. Digging. Digging. We were in the middle of a major addition project on our house. More stress for him. They talked to him, calmed him down. But it did not end the fits he had.
The fits continued…like a toddler version of the Hulk who hadn’t slept in days and all they wanted was for you to buy them a new toy…having a major meltdown with every toy you passed in the toy aisle at Walmart. And every time he left, I got stronger. I started praying like never before. I started loving Benny harder and loving God more. Each time he’d leave, I’d write a note and leave it on his pillow. Or I’d write down my prayers and leave them out for him to read. I prayed and I prayed and I prayed. And when I thought I couldn’t pray anymore, I prayed again. I KNEW God would fix him. I praised God for answering my prayers before he ever answered them.
He kept saying he was broken. And I kept reminding him that God mends all things. I knew this because God had mended me. Many many times. He healed me of depression and anxiety when I was 18 and had lost my great-grandmother. He healed me of depression, anxiety, and self harm when I was going through separation and divorce with my ex-husband. I KNEW God could heal him. And that’s when he started backpacking.
With every backpacking trip, he had fewer meltdowns. With every backpacking trip, we grew closer. With every backpacking trip, I saw sparkle come back into his eyes. He would share with me the beauty of Gods creation that he saw. He would explain how close he felt to God while he was hiking.
My husband was being mended. God was answering my prayers just as I knew he would. We both grew closer to God and as we grew closer to God, we grew closer to each other. Our family was happier. Less stressed. Over time it got better and better and we all no longer felt like we had to walk on eggshells around him. There came a point where I could no longer remember the last time he left in anger. I could no longer remember when we’d had our last argument. We could disagree and it not turn into an atomic bomb exploding in our house. Our kids could argue like siblings do or be loud like kids are and it would not send him into hysterics. He finally figured out what was causing the anxiety attacks and the outbursts.. Post Traumatic Stress.
Before we met, Benny had been an EMT worker, a rescue diver, a rescue squad member, etc. He’d seen too many things in this life that stuck with him long after the job was over. It took a toll on him and led to PTS. Finally we could put a name to what had caused his explosions. It made perfect sense now. My husband had suffered from Post Traumatic Stress. He still gets anxious occasionally but that’s when I say, “Honey..it’s time for a hike.” And even if he just takes a few hours on the trail…he doesn’t explode. He has left home since the hard times in moments of anxiety and frustration.. But I understand now that sometimes he just needs space. I don’t stop him if he needs to go and he has not stayed gone all night in years. He comes home and climbs in bed beside me and wakes up feeling refreshed again. He wakes up to face another day. To hike another hike. To live another moment. To be free.
This past summer (2018) I had the incredible opportunity to join my buddies over at Zpacks (an ultralight outdoor gear company) and my good friend Chris Smead of Outmersive Films on a backpacking trip out in Utah. The plan was to not only hike the Uinta Highline Trail in the Uinta Mountains, but to also film it for a documentary.
This wasn’t going to be your normal everyday type of hiking documentary. We were going to take you on a journey. A journey of five friends as they take a 10 day human journey, sharing the stories of each hiker as they explore a historic path with a history that none of them ever really realize. Some of their stories are tragic and some are triumphant. You’ll hear stories that are not only shocking, but also stories of redemption.
Not only did we learn about each other, but also the unique history of the Uinta Mountains and the Uinta Highline Trail. You’ll watch as the ancient history of this fabulously beautiful trail is woven together with the personal stories of each of us hikers as we get back in touch with the world around us and each other.
Tons of planning and preparation went in to making this hike happen. Outmersive shot film over 18 days in later July and early August 2018. Each of us hikers helped carry extra batteries, cameras, lens and other gear. This extra gear added up to about 2 to 3 extra lbs each hiker would have to carry. I guess it’s a good thing we were all carrying ultralight gear……
With great anticipation the trailer is finally completed and ready to be viewed. Here it is, the official trailer for the documentary Highline. Give it a watch and tell us what you think.
It’s now in post production and is targeted to release Summer of 2019. But we need your help. Professional coloring, audio finishing in 5.1 surround sound, and mastering including a digital cinema package for theaters is not cheap. Not to mention distribution fees for online platforms like iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play. Join us, and help bring this film to life.
YOU CAN HELP
You can help us bring this film to life by joining a Kickstarter campaign to help with funding. This funding is needed in order to bring this film to market. If you enjoyed the trailer, we ask that you consider joining. You can do so HERE.
You can stay up to date on this Films progress by following Outmersive Films. Here is a link to all of their social media platforms including their website and the website for Highline.
Five friends embark on a ten day journey on the incredible Uinta Highline Trail in northern Utah. Together they discover adventure, and explore the history of the area. Along the way you learn more about these hikers, and how they succeeded in life even when the odds were stacked against them.
STAFF & CAST
Produced & directed by outdoor film maker Chris Smead of Outmersive Films and co-directed by experienced cinematographer Gordon Gurley. Armed with cameras and backpacks, they followed 5 experienced long distance hikers to tell their stories:
Joe Valesko (aka Samurai Joe)- Inventor and founder of a well known outdoor gear company.
Matt Favero (aka Details) – Brand manager of a well known outdoor gear company.
Will Wood (aka Redbeard) – Well known Youtuber and blogger
Benny Braden (aka Plug-it-in) – Outdoor blogger that holds the record for hiking all 924 miles in the Smokies in only 43 days.
Steve Kaiser (aka Cannonball)- Larger than life experienced thru hiker.
To help tell the stories behind this amazing place we teamed up with local experts:
Tom Flanigan – Archeologist
Ryan Buerkle – Of the Ashley National Forest
Gordon Hirschi – Of the Uinta Basin Backcountry Horsemen
Experienced hikers have called the Uinta Highline Trail superior to the John Muir Trail. Yet few people know about it. The John Muir Trail started with a single vision and was well marketed. It was also located near heavily populated areas in California. Utah’s Uinta Highline Trail has a very different history. It snuck on to the map piece by piece. Even local experts could not pinpoint the exact year the trail was completed. Furthermore, the trail is distanced from heavily populated areas. The result is a beautiful and pristine 104 mile trail with no crowds.
In America, we’re great at concentrating ourselves into well known national parks. Overcrowding is a problem. We hope this film encourages responsible hikers to venture off the beaten path and to experience the Uinta Highline Trail and feel a connection to it. That connection can create a sense of stewardship that is vital to preserving our wild lands.
When my buddy Will “Red Beard” Wood asked me to come up with a route in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP)(also known as the Smokies) that would have epic views and be challenging. I knew just the route I wanted to make. Having hiked over 2,500 miles and all the trails at least twice in the past year and a half, some of which I’ve hiked too many to count. I guess you can say I’m very familiar with all the trails in the Smokies.
So I sat down with my notes and my maps and created a route that would be a great representation of what our Smokies are all about. The route takes you to some historical sights that predate the parks establishment along with some of the parks most popular waterfalls and views. The route also has some built in flexibility allowing the hiker to make it longer or shorter and a few bailout points if needed.
Once the route was set I talked it over with Will. He felt like the route was truly gonna be an epic hike that others would want to do as well. He suggested we name the route the “Plug-it In Circuit “. Naming the route after my trail name “Plug-it In” and calling it a “Circuit” as they call routes in other countries. Plus it’s kind of a play on words. But in the end I sincerely appreciate Will’s suggestion. It’s pretty cool having a Circuit named after me.
We began planning how we would document this circuit. Will has an incredible YouTube channel and planned to video the hole trip. This would give the potential hiked a visual of what the circuit will look like. He does an outstanding job capturing the trail and the emotions that a hiker feels when you are seeing everything for the first time. I decided to document the circuit in a detailed written account of the hike along with a few photos.
So, how tough is this route? Will and I attempted to do this hike a few weeks prier, but due to the high mileage (20 Miles) and the extreme elevation change (over 10,000’), we had to leave the trail due to Will injuring his leg. Weather was extremely bad then with heavy rain and remnants of a hurricane predicted to come through the area. If that wasn’t crazy enough, when we attempted it a second time. We had 2 other people attempt it with us. Both of those individuals had to quit on the first day due to various reasons. The combination of high miles paired with a large elevation change and unpredictable weather makes this hike a strong challenge to even the most seasoned of hiker.
Thing to know before you start….
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited National Park is the United States. It does not require a entry fee to enter the park, but it does require you to purchase a backcountry permit if you plan to camp in the backcountry. You will want to reserve your backcountry permits early, but the system does not allow you to make your reservations no more than 30 days out. You can go to the Smokies Permit website to see all RULES AND REGULATIONS regarding purchase your BACKCOUNTRY PERMITS. You call also call the Backcountry Office at 865-436-1297. If you have to reschedule your campsites then you will need to call the Backcountry Office to do so.
If you plan to stay at Cosby Campground then you’ll need to go to the Parks Frontcountry website HERE to reserve a campsite. Be aware that Cosby Campground as well as all the front country campgrounds are seasonal and most are closed during late fall to early spring.
The elevations in the park can range from 875’ to 6,643’ and the topography does affect the local weather. The temperatures can vary from 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit from the base of the mountains to the summits, and weather conditions equally vary at higher and lower elevations. Rainfall averages will also vary between the base and high elevations. Average rain totals range from 55” to 85”. So plan appropriately and prepare for the worse conditions. More info on the season weather information can be found HERE. You can check current weather forecasts for the park by phone at (865) 436-1200 extension 630.
GSMNP does not have any cellular towers located inside the park boundaries, but depending on your provider and location, you may receive some level of service in some areas.
As for the Plug-it In Circuit, I use AT&T and I did have service in a few locations. These are the particular locations that I know I had service;
•Top of Brush Mt
•Portions of Old Settlers Trail (between CS 33 and Maddron Bald Trail)
•Snake Den Ridge at Maddron Bald Trail intersection
•Appalachian Trail (between Low Gap and Mt Cammerer Trail)
GSMNP posts all temporary, seasonal and weather related closures HERE. These closures also include trails, roads and facilities. Bear warnings and trail cautions are also posted on this site.
GSMNP does offer a PDF file of their official TRAIL MAP for the park. This will be very useful to have in the backcountry or when planning your trip. You can also pick up a paper map at any of the parks Visitor Centers.
Here is the video that Will “Redbeard” Wood shot the Plug-it In Circuit. He did an outstanding job capturing the essence of this circuit. He also has an incredible YouTube channel that you should also checkout.
Here is the GPX FILE for this circuit. This can be a handy assets to have to ensure to stay on the route. Special thanks to Scott K. aka @x_hiker (on Instagram) for collecting this data and sharing it with us.
DAY 1: (Trillium Gap Trail to Campsite 33 on the OST)
The official start and finish location of the Plug-it In Circuit is at the Trillium Gap / Rainbow Falls Trailhead. This is located on Cherokee Orchard Rd inside GSMNP just outside of Gatlinburg,TN. This road is open all year long, but is subject to temporary closure due to winter weather. There is a parking lot near the trailheads where you can leave your vehicle. This is typically a safe location as the Park Rangers patrol it regularly.
When you leave the parking lot, you’ll take a short 40 yard approach trail to your official starting location. Trillium Gap Trail will start out with very little elevation change for the first mile or so. Keep your eyes open and on the lookout for black bears, eastern wild turkeys and whitetail deer. You will typically see bears either on the ground foraging for berries and grubs or hanging out in the tops of the many oak and popular trees in the area. Black Bears are typically nonaggressive, but you should never approach them and give them plenty of space. You will also probably see a few Eastern Wild Turkey in this area too. They usually will travel in flocks from 3 up to 30 or more, depending on the season. Whitetail Deer are also very common in this area. They love to feed on the low vegetation along the trails edge. You can see more of the parks wildlife rules and regulations HERE.
As you continue along Trillium Gap Trail, you’ll notice that a road travels along in the same direction just to your left. This is Roaring Fork Road. It is a seasonal road and is usually closed between November and March. This is a very touristy traveled road and section of trail. During Spring through Fall, this trail can get very congested so be patient. This congestion will end just after Grotto Falls.
Around mile 3.5 miles into your hike. You’ll come to your first major point of interest, Grotto Falls. It’s the only waterfalls in the park the the trail actually goes underneath and behind the 25’ waterfalls. This area will more than likely be full of tourist and day hikers. Grotto Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in the park. But once you pass this location you will see less people.
Once you’re past Grotto Falls, you’ll notice the trail gets more narrow and more steep. The trail will continue to climb another 1.75 miles up to the junction with Brushy Mt Trail. This is Trillium Gap, 5.25 miles into your hike. Here Trillium Gap Trail turns right and travels own up the the LeConte Lodge on Mt LeConte, Brushy Mt will turn left to an overlook and the official end to the trail and also goes straight ahead rom the junction and down the other side of the mountain.
At the Junction, make a left on Brushy Mt and go .4 miles up to the end of the trail. On your way up, you’ll go through one of the best Rhododendron tunnels in the park and It will open up to expose a unique view of LeConte along with the western facing ridge of the Smokies. There is also a USGS Benchmark here. During the summer this area has a lot of wild blueberries growing along this trail.
Once your return back to the Trillium/Brushy junction, you’ll take a left onto Brushy and go down the mountain. There is a spring or two to get fresh water right on the trail about 100 yards from the junction. After this location you won’t have water available till you’re near the bottom of Brushy Mt Trail. Brushy Mt Trail is 4.9 miles long and connects to Porters Creek Trail.
When you’re at the Brushy / Porters Creek junction, you’ll notice a trail that goes back up on the left. This will lead you to the old Messer Cabin and barn. The park service restored these structures and maintains them. Once again you’ll notice more people. This area can get a little congested with day hikers and tourists. But if you turn left onto Porters Creek from Brushy Mt it will take you out to the Porters Creek Trailhead about 1 mile. There will be a gate across the trail that also serves as a service road for the park. This will be your first opportunity at a “bailout point”. You can get a hitch into town or arrange for someone to pick you up.
Here is where you start your first short road walk. Follow the gravel road roughly .8 miles to a bridge. This is Greenbrier Cove. It’s another “bailout point” if you choose to use it. If not, turn right and cross the first bridge. About .1 miles you will cross a second bridge, the Old Settlers Trailhead (OST) is to your left in the parking after the bridge. Take this trail. You will cross several small streams and the trail will seem more like a roller coaster than anything. You will also start to see a few stone walls and stone chimneys that were built by some of the first settlers in this area. These walls predate the GSMNP. From the Trailhead you will travel roughly 6 miles to your first campsite on this Circuit. Campsite 33 will be on both sides of the trail. The sight on the left has 3 spots for tents, the sight on the right is up the trail a few yards with many tent spots nestled in a hemlock forest. This campsite also has bear cables. You can hang your food from these cables at night. There is a dependable stream here for drinking water. Campsite 33 is definitely one of my favorite campsites in the whole Park.
•Day 1 Total Mileage: 18.4
•Circuit Total Mileage: 18.4
•Bailout Points: Porters Creek Trailhead or Greenbrier Cove.
Day 2: (Campsite 33 to Campsite 29)
From campsite 33 you’ll continue northeast on Old Settlers. You will cross many small streams and do a steady 1000’ climb. After the climb it will be more like a roller coaster with many small ups and downs. But in this section of the OST, you see more stone walls and chimneys along with a few cemeteries. This area was one of the more populated areas of the OST.
Roughly 9 miles from campsite 33, you’ll come to the Maddron Bald / Gabe’s Mt / OST trail junction. You will have a few options here. If you need a bailout point, then you can turn left at the junction on the Maddron Bald Trail and walk roughly 1 mile to the Trailhead. There will be a gate across the trail that also serves as the service road. There are several residents in the area as well as you are just a short walk from the main highway.
If you want to shorten your hike just a bit, then you can continue straight at the trail junction onto Gabe’s Mountain Trail. This will bring you out in Cosby Campground. You can also use this location at a bailout point or continue on to Low Gap Trail to proceed with your hike.
If you want to proceed with the original circuit, then make a right at the trail junction onto Maddron Bald Trail. The trail will start out wide with not much elevation change. This section of trail also serves as a service road for the park service. After about a mile or so the trail narrows and you begin to see large tulip poplars and hemlocks. This area is known for these large trees. You may see more day hikers in this area because of that. You’ll also come across the only log footbridge on this trail. It’s very large, but blends in with the environment quite well.
Once you cross this footbridge, you will hike roughly 50 yards and come to the Albright Grove Loop junction. I would highly recommend taking the loop. It only adds .4 miles to your hike and takes you through some of the largest tulip populars in the park. Albright Loop Trail will bring you back on to Maddron Bald Trail .3 miles up the trail. Once your back on Maddron Bald Trail, you will have a few small stream crossings before you get to campsite 29. It is located roughly 4 miles from the OST/ Maddron Bald trail junction. This will be your second campsite on this circuit. I did have cellular service at this campsite. I use AT&T for my provider.
Campsite 29 has 5 good tent spots, 2 sets of bear cables for hanging your food at night and a good flowing stream for drinking water. I would highly recommend treating your water here. There was evidence of people using the bathroom within 50 feet of the stream above the campsite.
•Day 2 Total Mileage: 13
•Circuit Total Mileage: 31.4
•Bailout Points: Maddron Bald Trailhead
Day 3: (Campsite 29 to Cosby Knob Shelter)
Today will be the day of many options. You’ll have the option to make the circuit longer or shorter as well as the option to bailout if you so desire. You’ll start your morning out with a 1.5 mile climb. During this climb you’ll go through a very impressive rhododendron tunnel as well as a very nice ridge walk. There will even be a clearing to give you a view of the main ridge line of Mount Guyot.
Once you’ve made it to the Snake Den Ridge / Maddron Bald junction, you have an option to shorten the circuit. By turning right onto Snake Den Ridge, you’ll hike .7 miles up the mountain to connect with the Appalachian Trail (AT). Doing this will cut 17.4 miles off your circuit. This will also eliminate Mount Cammerer and Cosby Knob Shelter from your itinerary. Otherwise turn left at the Snake Den Ridge / Maddron Bald junction and head down the mountain 4.6 miles to Cosby Campground.
On your way down the mountain, about half way, you’ll come to a stream. This is a great location to get drinking water. The next spot for water will be about .5 miles from the campground. There will be a very large log footbridge at this stream. Shortly after crossing the footbridge, you will come to Cosby Horse Trail/Snake Den Ridge junction. You can take the Cosby Horse Trail if you choose to bypass the campground. Or you can continue on to the campground via Snake Den Ridge.
Once you’re at the campground you will make a right onto the road. If you have any trash, there should be dumpsters here to do so. Also there will be a restroom to your left (behind the dumpster) if you need to us it.
Important for I know about Cosby Campground. This is a seasonal campground. It is usually closed from Oct 31 Thru April 1st. But there is a “Hiker Parking Lot” on the other side of the campground. It is open year round unless the park service closes the roads due to winter weather.
Another set of options are available to you here in the campground. You have a bailout point here if you need it and if you choose you want to make the circuit longer, you can take Lower Mount Cammerer Trail which will take you to the AT just north of Mount Cammerer. Once on the AT head south 2.3 miles to Mount Cammerer Trail and you will rejoin the original circuit. This will add 10 miles to your circuit. Otherwise take Low Gap Trail from the campground 2.5 miles to the junction with the AT.
Low Gap is very steep, but is the most direct route to the AT from the campground. Expect to see day hikes on this trail as they make their way to and from Mount Cammerer. There is a stream to get drinking water near the bottom and 3/4 of the way up trail. Once you’ve made it to the Low Gap/AT junction you have another set of options .
You can turn left onto the AT and go 2.1 miles to Mount Cammerer Trail. There you will find a USGS Benchmark. Continue onto Mount Cammerer Trail .6 miles to the tower. This location is one of the most popular spots in the park. With its unique history and its incredible 360 views, it’s no wonder everyone wants to hike to this place. It is the only stone lookout tower in the park. Built in the mid 1930s it once served as a fire tower. From here you can see I-40, Max Patch, Mount Sterling Fire Tower, Foothills Parkway, Newport, Dandridge and Cosby Tennessee. There is also a USGS Benchmark here as well.
Once done at Mount Cammerer, you will back track south on the AT till you get to Low Gap once again. From here you will continue .8 miles to Cosby Shelter, your 3rd campsite of the circuit. If you chose to bypass Cammerer, then you could simply take a right onto the AT from Low Gap and go .8 miles to the Cosby Knob Shelter. On your way to the shelter is a great spring to get fresh drinking water. It’s roughly .5 miles south of Low Gap Trail on the AT.
•Day 3 Total Mileage: 15
•Circuit Total Mileage: 46.4
•Bailout Points: Cosby Campground
Day 4: (Cosby Knob Shelter to Pecks Corner Shelter)
Today you will be hiking south bound on the AT from Cosby Knob Shelter. This will be mostly an uphill climb nearly all the way to Mount Guyot. But you’ll come to the Snake Den Ridge/AT junction 3.9 miles into your day. This is your last chance to bailout till you get to the Boulevard Trail, roughly 16.7 miles away. Choose to continue 1.9 miles you’ll reach Mount Guyot. There is a spring right on trail that you can get fresh drinking water from. Mount Guyot is the 2nd tallest mountain in the GSMNP standing at 6,621’ above sea level. Continue on the circuit 1.8 miles you’ll get to Tri-Corner Knob Shelter. This is a great place to take break. You can get fresh drinking water or use the privy here.
Once your break is over, you will continue south on the AT, here you will go near the summit 6,417’ Mount Chapman and actually go over the summit of 6,003’ Mount Sequoyah. On this section of the AT you will be crossing the Tennessee / North Carolina border back and forth many times. As you head south, views of the Tennessee Valley will be to your right and the North Carolina mountains will be to your left.
I have to say that there’s not a trail with more incredible views in the Smokies than the Appalachian Trail. Especially the section between Newfound Gap and Davenport Gap. This 32 mile stretch of the AT has one epic view after another. And the fact that you’re up around 6,000’ above sea level for a good part of the time makes it even better. It’s definitely one of my favorite parts of the Smokies.
Around 5.3 miles from Tri-Corner Knob Shelter, to come to Hugh’s Ridge Trail. This is the trail that Pecks Corner Shelter is on. You will hike .4 miles down the trail to the shelter. This shelter has a water source and a privy.
•Day 4 Total Mileage: 13.5
•Circuit Total Mileage: 59.9
•Bailout Points: Snake Den Ridge to Cosby Campground, Low Gap to Cosby Campground
Day 5: (Pecks Corner Shelter to Rainbow Falls Trailhead)
This was our last day on trail and we got a early start. We planned to push the final 20.1 miles out and get back to our vehicles. But you will have more options for this circuit a little later into the hike.
The only thing bad about Pecks Corner Shelter is you have to hike back up the mountain .4 miles to the AT, but once you’re there your legs should be nice and warmed up. Once back to the AT you’ll turn left and continue south bound. In this section of trail, you will be mostly ridge walking as you continue to follow the main ridge line of the Smokies. As before this is also the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. There will be the typical ups and downs as with most ridge walks, but with this one you’ll have opportunities for some beautiful views.
Your best opportunity for views will be at Laurel Top and Bradly View. Those two locations are hands down some of the best views in the park, giving you a breathtaking view of both North Carolina and Tennessee. You can expect the winds to be pretty fierce as the wind blows against the steep mountain side. Also on the Tennessee side you can start getting a pretty good look at Mount LeConte.
Before you know it you’ve made it to the side trail to Charlie’s Bunion. This is another must see location here in the GSMNP. The trail to Charlie’s Bunion is narrow and drops hundreds of feet to the left as it opens up to an incredible view down into the Tennessee Valley. The rugged rocky exposed ridge reveals an impressive rock face that is known as Charlie’s Bunion. Expect to see lots of day hikers and tourists here. It’s one of the most visited spots in the park. And from here you have a clear view of Mount LeConte, which is where you’ll be going next. You can take the trail on around the edge of the mountain at Charlie’s Bunion. This will bring you back out to the AT.
Continue south on the AT about another mile. You will get to a piped spring just before you get to Ice Water Shelter. This is a great water source. You will want to get fresh drinking water here. There won’t be another water source till you get on the Boulevard Trail.
Once you’ve made it to the Boulevard/ AT junction, take the right onto the Boulevard Trail. Your next point of interest is just 40 yards ahead. You’ll see the Jump Off trail sign to your right. Take this trail which is steep and washed out. This is not an official trail, but it will take you .4 mile to a breathtaking view that gives you a unique perspective of Charlie’s Bunion and the main ridge line through the park. At the Jump Off, the bluff drops hundreds of feet so watch your step..
Back on the Boulevard Trail you will continue on 5.4 miles to Mount LeConte. This will take you along several ridge walks and will eventually skirt you along the northeastern edge of the mountain. When you come to a huge slide area known as the “Scar”, you are less than a mile from the top of Mount LeConte.
Once near the top, you come to the junction of Myrtle Point and Boulevard. Myrtle Point is hands down the best location to witness a sunrise on Mount LeConte. It is just a short .2 miles off the Boulevard Trail. Don’t expect to be there alone though. Between Lodge guests, Shelter campers and Day hikers, this spot gets a little crowded at times. Back on the Boulevard, about 40 yards ahead is the summit of Mount LeConte. You’ll know it by the huge pile of rocks that people have piled on top of one another.
Now the rest of your hike is all down hill. You only have 7 miles back to the Trailhead / the official end of the circuit from here. Just 40 yards down the trail you have another view point called Apolo Point. This will give you a clear view of Newfound Gap and the side of Myrtle Point. As you continue another 50 yards you get to LeConte Shelter. This is gonna be another opportunity for you to stay here for the night. Just make sure you have your backcountry permit for this location if you choose to do so. This shelter does not have a fireplace. Fires are not allowed at this shelter. It does have a privy and bear cables.
Continuing on another .2 miles you come to the LeConte Lodge. You will begin to see more people than you have in a week. This is the most popular destination in the GSMNP. The LeConte Lodge is for guest only, but you can purchase coffee, Hot Chocolate, Cookies, etc.. You can also sign the guest registry in the office and get warm by the stove. Hikers are welcome to hang out there. There is also a water spicket near the office as well as a privy. Something to keep in mind though, the Lodge closes between Nov 1st and April 1st. Also the weather can get well below 0 degrees on Mount LeConte in the winter so plan accordingly.
Before you leave LeConte you have one last must see destination. There is a trail directly across from the Lodge. This will take you .1 mile up to the Cliff Tops. This is hands down the best view in the entire park, especially when it comes to a sunset. Cliff Tops is known as the best place to go watch a sunset here in the GSMNP. But you better prepare yourself cause there will be plenty of people there with you.
The Boulevard Trail/Alum Cave/Rainbow Falls trails junction near the Lodge. Take Rainbow Falls Trail. It is 6.5 miles from that junction to the Trailhead, the official finish of the Plug-it In Circuit. On your way down the mountain you will once again run into more people as you get closer to Rainbow Falls. It’s a pretty popular destination with day hikers and tourists. It’s a beautiful cascading waterfall nestled in the side of the mountain. But just a few more miles and you are finished. After traversing a few small stream crossings and seemingly a few hundred steps, you’ve made it to the finish of the Plug-it In Circuit. Congratulations!
•Day 5 Total Mileage: 20.1
•Circuit Total Mileage: 80
•Bailout Points: Appalachian Trail to Newfound Gap
The Plug-it In Circuit is designed as a 5 day/4 night 79.2 mile circuit covering some of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s best views and most popular areas. With day 1 and day 5 being 20 mile days, this Circuit will test you physically and mentally. But with built in bailout points and options to lengthen or shorten the circuit. It can be adjusted to fit most backpackers varying skill levels.
If you choose to give this Circuit a try, don’t forget to share your experience on social media by using the hashtag #plugitincircuit and tagging both @redbeardhikes and @plugitinhikes.
Back on May 30th I kicked off a summer packed full of some of the best hiking the United States has to offer. And what better way to kick this adventure off than a thru-hike on the oldest long distance trail in the US, the 273 mile Long Trail in Vermont. Built between 1910 and 1930, the Long Trail follows the main ridge of the Green Mountains from the Massachusetts-Vermont line to the Canadian border as it crosses Vermont’s highest peaks. This trail was the inspiration for Benton MacKaye’s Appalachian Trail.
My journey began with a flight out of Knoxville, TN with a connector flight out of Charlotte, NC then on to Hartford, CT. Shortly after touching down Matt & Will from ZPacks and our friend Trystans flight arrived. We all picked up our packs and met up with our ride who generously took us to Walmart to get our food for the next 7 days.
The next morning we got a ride to the Appalachian Trail in North Adams, MA. where we geared up and began hiking the four miles in to the southern terminus of the Long Trail. Of course we signed the register and officially began our thru-hike.
It was great to be on the trail again with the guys. We mesh well and honestly it’s good to hike with others that you are in sync with, same speed and mind set. Compatible hiking partners are hard to come by. And people change too. Someone you use to hike with my not match up we now. The more we hike, the more we evolve.
Over all our weather wasn’t bad. It was in the 40s to 50s at night and 60s to 70s in the day. We had quite a bit of rain a few days but we also had a good dry spell. Water was pretty easy to find on the trail. There seemed to be a beaver pond or stream every few miles.
One of the things I remember most about this trip was our resupply stops in Rutland and Waterbury. Those were two incredibly beautiful towns. The people were super friendly and it wasn’t too hard getting a hitch in and out of town.
We stayed at the Yellow Deli in downtown Rutland. It was centrally located to the grocery stores and post office. In Waterbury we stayed at the Best Western. It was close to the grocery store, restaurants and of course Ben & Jerry’s. It was the first time I had eaten any of their ice cream. It was pretty dang awesome. I would later have some in Burlington, VT.
I also remember the summits we made. Glastonbury, Stratton, Bromley, Mt Abraham, Burnt Rock, Camels Hump, Mt Mansfield and Jay Peak. Now don’t get me wrong, Glastonbury was cool, but Stratton to me meant more simply because of it’s history. Stratton Mountain was the sight where Benton McKaye envisioned the Appalachian Trail. So to stand on the same ground as Benton was very inspiring. Mt Abraham was our first alpine zone (above tree line). It was cool being able to see the Adirondacks in New York to our west and the Whites in New Hampshire to our east. We did Burnt Rock and Camels hump (both alpine zones) in perfect sunny weather. 360 degree views were amazing.
But my favorite summits came on Mansfield and Jay Peak (also alpine zones). We did both of those during storms. They were completely socked in the clouds with rain and winds blowing in sideways. The most sketchy ascent was Mansfield. The rocks were wet and the wind was blowing us around. A Long Trail thru-hiker from Canada we met named Bulletproof nearly slid off the side of a boulder on the ascent. But in the end we all made it to the top completely soaked and exhausted, but safe. As if that wasn’t enough, it was time to descend off Vermont’s tallest peak and that’s were it got really sketchy….. There were some areas that you had to climb or in our case slide down the face of boulders with only a 2’ ledge to stand on near its bottom. Then traverse to the side just to drop another 20’ or 30’ between other boulders.
After this exhausting ascent and descent of Mt Mansfield, we all decided to go stay at Stowe Mountain Resort. We all needed to dry off, warm up, rest up and fill our bellies. It was at Stowe where the biggest impression was made on me. Us four dirty-smelly hikers showed up at a very high end resort. There were people pulling up in Porches, Lamborghinis, BMWs, Mercedes, etc. at the resort as the valet attendants would go and park their cars. At no time did the resort employees treat us less than the other guest. They were all polite and eager to help. In fact the next day the resort gave us a ride back to the trail in a Mercedes SUV. That is text book how you should run a business. Very impressive, some day I will have to take my beautiful bride there.
Near the end of our hike was the last summit, Jays Peak. When we got to the base of the mountain a pretty bad storm moved in. We found refuge in the emergency shelter that still standing. We were wet and cold once again, but we were determined to summit JP that day. Watching the weather closely on an app, we could see an opening about 2 hours long. That’s when we made a decision to make a run for it. Matt and my beardedself took off as fast as we could up the mountain. The trail was like a stream over flowing its banks, but we kept pushing forward. Before we knew it we were in the clouds and we started experiencing some of the highest winds we had ever hiked in. Once at the summit, the clouds were whipping by has if they were cars on a freeway. The visibility was down to about 40’to 50’ and the wind was so loud we couldn’t hardly hear ourselves yell at each other. After a few photos and videos, we began our descent off of Jay Peak. A short while after reaching our last shelter on this thru-hike, the storm quickly moved in for the night.
The next morning we were full of anticipation since we only had 8 miles to go to the northern terminus of the LT which was at the Canadian border. The trail was full of standing water and moose poop. Churned up by us walking through it creating a not so please soupy mix. But as the day went on it began to dry out and the sun actually came out to more less help us celebrate the completion of our thru-hike.
And just like that, the forest opened up into a clear cut area which looked like power lines would be there, but there were no power lines. It was the border. It was cut in a straight line as far as the eye could see. And then I noticed the monument, signifying the official borders of the United States and Canada. What a cool feeling knowing I just hiked 273 miles to the Canadian border. And to do this hike with my close friends made it even more awesome. I really appreciate Matt inviting me on this hike. It was absolutely awesome to hike the “oldest” long distance trail in the US. These are truly special friends that share the same passion for long distance hiking as I do and these guys get it done.
Once we were done at the border, we took the “Journeys End Trail”, a shuttle took us to Burlington where we stayed one night. Then it was off to Montreal, Quebec the next morning for a very quick tour of the city before heading home.
I honestly have to say that this was the toughest hike I’ve ever done. The LT is as rough as the Green Mountains are beautiful. This trip was filled with so many moments that I will never forget.
The subject of PTS (Post Traumatic Stress) in the emergency service field is something I’ve felt like I’ve needed to write about for a while now, but never knew what exactly to say. And to be honest, I’ve actually been running from it like the plague. Why?… Because it hits a little too close to home for me. And well let’s face it. By writing about it requires me to possibly have to revisit some memories that are painful and horrifying.
You see I was in the fire, emergency and rescue fields combined for a little over a decade. I’ve been a first responder, EMT, volunteer firefighter, rescue diver, swiftwater rescue instructor, water rescue team leader, vehicle extrication and EVOC instructor, first lieutenant and more.
If the alarm went off, I went. No matter where I was or what I was doing. One year I served over 2000 volunteer hours. That was on top of my normal day job. I sacrificed my time, my family’s time and my body. But little did I know then I was sacrificing my mental health too.
Some days we wouldn’t have many calls, but on other days it was nonstop. I will spare you of the details because I don’t want to put images in your head. But I will say I’ve see a person die nearly every way someone can. Those images stay with me day and night, 24 hours a day.
When I did that work I tried to block it out after the call. And initially it worked, but there comes a time that you see too much. So much that attempting to block it out no longer works. And back then we didn’t routinely practice debriefings. When the call was over, we would go home or go do the next call. It was never discussed of talked about.
I didn’t start noticing something was wrong till three years after I left the emergency services. I started battling depression that grew pretty severe. I was put on medication to help with the depression, but it still didn’t hit me that something was wrong. All the warning signs were there, but I wasn’t paying attention.
After a couple failed marriages and relationships. Four years later I married my beautiful bride. She and her two beautiful daughters moved in. We began remodeling on our house. Adding more space for everyone. At the same time my brother passed away due to long term use of narcotics. And it wasn’t long then that we adopted my two nieces. Making my family of two (me and my son) into a family of seven.
It wasn’t till then that I became a monster. The high stresses of remodeling a house mixed with getting to know new people that were not only living with me, but also depending on me was overwhelming. It was triggering anxiety attacks. It seemed as if we were fighting all the time and it was getting worse by the day. Put all of that on top of the hidden wounds from the years of emergency service. It was then that I started experiencing the severe anxiety attacks.
After a few years of dealing with depression and anxiety attacks which made life an absolute living hell. I rediscovered hiking again. I use to hike a lot when I was younger, but slowly gravitated away from it. But this time I was backpacking. Loading everything on my back and going into the woods for days.
I began to do longer hikes. Instead of being out for days, I was staying out longer. It was then that I began to notice something. I was starting to feel different afterwards. I was less stressed. I could handle the high stress without becoming a monster. The anxiety attacks and depression seemed to lessen. My beautiful bride began see the results which opened up opportunities for us to talk about what was going on.
The best way I can describe it is this way. It’s like I have a huge desk in my head and it’s a complete mess with piles of images of things I’ve seen and done. When I’m out on the trail it’s like I can pull one of the images out of the pile, pray about it, make some sense of it and then file it way where it belongs. This requires lots of pray and sometimes painfully revisiting those moments or events, but the end result is that I’m able to finally have peace from a memory that has haunted me for over a decade.
Honestly, that is why I hike so much. It brings me peace and helps me come to terms with my past. It also gives me that one on one time with my Creator. I give God all the glory for revealing this to me and helping me slowly overcome this. Now my battle with PTS is far from over, but I now have a coping mechanism to help me deal with it. The down side to being gone so much is the loss of time with my beautiful bride and kids. But the time we now have together is quality time. More time is spent laughing, loving and enjoying each other’s company. Instead of everyone having to walk on egg shells, worried about setting me off and sending me into another anxiety attack.
This is the first in a series of blog posts that will be ran monthly here on Plug-it In Hikes blog. I will have guest bloggers who were once or currently in the EMS, fire, rescue or law enforcement field sharing their story about their battle with PTS and how they are coping with it. My hope is that these posts will help someone who is also dealing with PTS. As you can see I refuse to call it PTSD. Let’s drop the D (disorder). No one wants to be labled with having a disorder. In the meantime keep my beardedself and the other future bloggers in your prayers.
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah 6:8 NIV