Category Archives: US

Pacific Crest Trail Southern Terminus – Campo, CA 6/1/17


Thursday, June 1, 2017


Pacific Crest Trail Southern Terminus – Campo, CA

Mile 0 – Mile 3.0 (6 miles round trip)

Ian solo

Clear, sunny, mid 70s



Today was a big day and I’m betting this blog entry will be pretty long.  Courtney had a conference in San Diego and I tagged along, as neither of us had been to San Diego before.  I rented a car one morning while she was at the conference and drove the hour or so down to Campo and the Southern Terminus of the PCT.

One day I hope to thru-hike this entire trail.  For today, I had to be content with the first three miles.  I have been looking forward to this for several years now and the experience, as short as it was, did not disappoint.


I got out to the monument at about 10am.  It wasn’t hot, which was nice, considering it’s the desert in June.  There’s not much to Campo, as you would expect, and it was strange driving through town to the border.  At first I drove up to the border wall and to the back of the monument, but there is now a chicken wire fence between the wall and the monument, so you have to approach on foot from down the hill.  There’s no real parking area, just a bunch of intersecting dirt roads, so I improvised and it turned out fine.

Parking spot

Monument is at the top of the hill


There was a man parked right next to the monument when I got there and I thought at first he was part of the Border Patrol, but it turns out his name was Dave and he had driven down just to see the monument.  He is in his mid-60s and lives somewhere about 400 miles north of the border in California and just loves the trail.  He said he plans to do some trail angel-ing later on in the season up around Walker Pass, Seiad Valley, and several other places.  Trail angels are people who go out of their way to help out hikers on the trail, whether that means stocking water caches, leaving coolers full of food and drinks at strategic places, or sometimes so much more.  Some take hikers into their homes, provide meals, showers, laundry, and rest.  Trail angels are amazing people.

I signed the trail register and Dave took my picture at the monument.  I was pretty starstruck at the beginning and the whole situation was pretty surreal for a while.  According to the register, there was actually one other person who had started the trail that morning, who I believe was a thru-hiker.  June 1st is generally a pretty late start date for a North-bound thru hike, but there is record snow this year in the Sierra, so I think some people may be trying to let it thaw out a bit, hence the later start.  The first hikers in the register were from April 16th, which is usually right at the peak of when the majority of hikers start.  Usually there are a lot that start during the first two weeks of April as well, but not this year.

Trail register


I also got to use the demo version of Guthook’s PCT app, which worked fantastically.  It is super easy and essentially shows where you are in relation to the trail as well as elevation profiles and also has tons of points of interest (water sources, road crossings, campsites, etc) that are very helpful when hiking a 2,655 mile long trail.


The trail starts a bit ambiguously.  Many hikers apparently start out going the wrong direction (more on that later), but I had researched the path and knew where to go.  Another thing I was not expecting was that the monument actually is at the top of a big hill at the border and the first quarter mile of the trail is going down that hill.  I had always assumed it was just kinda flat, but that’s not the case.

There are two orange cones about 100 yards in that serve as the first official trail markers, kind of like a starting line.  The trail was sandy and dry with multitudes of rabbits, ground squirrels, and lizards constantly darting hither and thither.

Start of the trail

These remind me of Dr. Seuss plants


As you enter Campo, the trail goes right alongside the road and actually joins the road for a stretch, so you are immediately hiking through town next to people’s houses.  It then turns off and starts to go up into the desert hills.

Trail sign in town

More traditional trail sign


The Mile 1 sign is a PCT hiker tradition as well and is strategically placed just on the other side of a boulder at a turn in the trail, so it catches you by surprise.


Again,  I expected the beginning of the trail to be a lot flatter than it turned out to be and it actually is somewhat tough right off the bat.  There are some decent elevation changes and you get into the wilderness pretty quickly.  The first road crossing is at Highway 94, about 2.3 miles in.

Thru hikers try to get close to Lake Morena on Day 1

After the road crossing the first water source is at a wooden bridge in a slightly wooded section.  It’s not great, but I suppose if you somehow have gone through a ton of water in the first couple of miles, it would be useful.


The trail winds up through the hills where it reaches a railroad and this marked the farthest I would go today.  I hung out for a couple of minutes contemplating what it would be like to just keep going to the end.  One day.

I turned around and headed back the way I came.  I averaged about 3 mph, which is a relatively quick pace, so I was actually somewhat tired when I got back to the monument.  On the way back I ran into the only other hiker I would see.  I asked where he was headed and when his reply came “Canada” I wished him good luck.  He seemed a bit green, but there’s a steep learning curve out there.  I hope he does well and reaches the border.

Back at the monument, Dave was still there, hanging out in his truck just enjoying the day.  He told me that the hiker had initially started off in the wrong direction (walking parallel to the border wall) and when he got to the top of a hill, a Border Patrolman picked him up, explained his error, and drove the hiker back down to the monument to try again.  This apparently happens a lot.  We both had a bit of a chuckle at this, but to be fair, the monument is oriented in a way that it gives the impression that’s the way the trail goes.

I talked with Dave a bit more and then walked back down the hill to where I had parked my car and ate a sandwich I packed in for lunch.  This was quite the experience for me, despite being so short in length, and I can’t wait to do other sections of the trail and eventually, hopefully, the entire length, border to border.

Border wall


A couple of different map angles:



Cub Lake Loop – Rocky Mountain National Park 5/7/17


Sunday, May 7, 2017


Hike: Cub Lake Loop – Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Weather: cool, mid 60s, overcast

Hikers: Ian, Court

Length: 6.2 miles


This was my first time to Rocky Mountain National Park, though Court had gone when she was a kid.  I obviously expected mountains and beauty, but the amount of wildlife far exceeded expectations.  We were there early in the season, so the higher elevation trails were still snowed in, but that also means the animals are still at lower elevations.

I also spent a lot more time than normal on this entry, playing with photo editors and map tools a lot more, as I’m trying to up the quality of the blog a bit.  It will be a work in progress, but it has actually been a lot of fun.  I’ve tried to edit the length and number of photos, but it’s tough on beautiful hikes like this.  I had over 100 photos to start.

We only had one day (really a half day because of incoming weather), so we did a relatively short loop around Cub Lake and linked up with the Fern Lake trail to head back to the car at the end.  This was a great choice because of the multitude of different terrain which included meadows, forests, creekside trails, waterfalls, and sandy washes.  Not to mention the ever-present Aspen trees.


Starting at the Cub Lake trail head, we followed the edge of a huge meadow called Moraine Park.  There were a couple of fly fisherman angling for trout in the small creeks near the beginning of the trail.  We saw lot of elk lounging in the meadow as we followed the path and eventually turned and started to climb towards Cub Lake.  A quick rabbit as well.

Car at the trail head

Didn’t see any of these, unfortunately

Fly fishing


Courtney spotted some geese and some tiny fuzzy goslings just off the trail near the Beaver Ponds.  The mother goose watched us closely, but we kept moving.


As we continued we started to get into the burn zone from the 2012 Fern Lake fire, which lasted 2 months and consumed nearly 3,500 acres.

Burn zone

Mallard in Beaver Ponds


Just before Cub Lake we came upon a group of four elk that were within 50 yards of the trail.  We were very quiet and they definitely saw and smelled us, but didn’t seem to mind.  There were several other hikers around as well and the elk seemed like they were used to seeing people on the trail.  It was windy and I had to talk quietly, so audio is not the best.


Cub Lake was beautiful and stark.  Snow was still present on the upper hillside and in small patches of shade on the ground, but none on the trail.  There was a moose on the other side of the lake wallowing in the water and I tried to get a good photo, but it was far away and still.  Luckily, when we got to the other end of the lake it decided to get up and wander back into the woods, giving me a better shot.  I’ve always thought the plural should be meese, by the way.

Cub Lake



Just past Cub Lake at the junction with the Mill Creek Trail was the high point of the hike, around 8700 feet.  From here we descended down with great views to The Pool.


Mount…I don’t know

A friendly hiker took this shot of us


We headed back towards the car on the Fern Lake trail which followed the Big Thompson River all the way.  We saw plenty of chipmunks and birds (several Rocky Mountain Magpies), along with one little snake that Court spotted alongside the trail.

The Pool

Big Thompson River

Artsy rock pic

Rocky Mountain Magpies


We ended at the Fern Lake trail head, which meant we had about a one mile road walk back to the car, but it was more dirt than road.  We also saw a few more elk grazing near the road.

End of trail

Elk in the meadow with people probably getting too close


We got in the car and drove over to Bear Lake, but it was pretty crowded and we decided just to enjoy the views from the car.  On the way out of the park the weather started to turn and when we got to Estes Park it started to hail on us.  Luckily we were in the car and it was kind of a slushy hail, but it just showed how quick the mountain weather can turn.

I wish we had more time to explore, but we knew this was going to be a really short trip.  Next time we will stay in Boulder, Estes Park, or Grand Lake, but we wanted to check out Denver on this trip as well.  This was a very enjoyable day and we hope to catch a quick flight up to Colorado again sometime in the near future.  Click the maps to enlarge.


Neel’s Gap and Mountain Crossings Store – Georgia AT 10/23/16


Sunday, October 23, 2016


Hike: Neel’s Gap (Neel Gap?) – Southern AT – near Dahlonega, GA

Weather: cool, sunny, mid 60s

Hikers: Ian, Court, Isaac, MB, Baby Grace

Length: 1 mile


The main highlight here was actually the Mountain Crossings Store which is where a lot of thru-hikers re-supply as well as drop gear they’ve realized they don’t need  once they’ve been on the trail for a couple days.  We bought several pieces of gear and AT paraphernalia and I could have stayed in that store all day.

After the store we hiked just a bit up the AT heading northbound and then needed to get back because Isaac and MB’s new baby Grace was ready for nap.  She went on her first official hike though!  Not bad to start on the AT.  Got some pretty pics even on a short hike.



Blood Mountain is a few miles south on the AT – we went the other way


Note all the hiking boots hanging from the ceiling that hikers have thrown out due to not fitting or being too heavy

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The trail goes through the building

The trail goes through the building


Green dot is the store

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AT Southern Terminus and Benton MacKaye Trail 10/21/16


Friday, October 21, 2016


Hike: Appalachian Trail Southern Terminus and Benton MacKaye Trail, near Dahlonega, GA

Weather: windy, misty, cold, mid 50s

Hikers: Ian, Court, Isaac

Length: 5.13 miles


This was my second hike on the AT in the last couple of months. Last time was in Massachusetts, just a few hundred miles from Kathadin, and this time we were at the beginning of the Trail in Georgia. Quite the change of scenery.

We were staying with Isaac’s in-laws at their house in Dahlonega for his birthday, which is only about an hour drive to Springer Mountain and the Southern Terminus. We woke up early and made the drive, which would be a relatively short trip except the second half is straight up the mountain on a bumpy Forest Service road.

When we got to the Springer Mountain parking lot the clouds were starting to gather. We knew there was a small cold front blowing in, but the front was looking a little more than small at the top of the mountain. Luckily the rain stayed away and it was mostly just a cold wind and some fog, which made for an interesting hiking environment. Court donned my Patagonia Houdini and we set off down the trail…the wrong way.

I realized we were heading north on the AT, when we should have been going south about one mile to the Terminus. We flipped around and headed back the correct way. There were three section hikers heading the same way that we passed who said they were starting a 10 day hike. Good luck to them.

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The AT is rocky in this first section, but well maintained, as it was in Massachusetts as well. We quickly reached the Southern Terminus and took photos. There was no view because the clouds had socked us in and the wind was getting stronger, so we didn’t linger. It was very cool to have been at the monument though.

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cold and foggy at the Southern Terminus

cold and foggy at the Southern Terminus

We headed back north, made a quick pit stop to check out the Springer Mountain shelter (we actually just saw the campsites, not the shelter), and then jumped onto the Benton MacKaye Trail to make a loop back to the parking lot. This trail was fantastic. It was really well groomed and actually was grassy in parts, making for a very pleasant tread. The autumn leaves coating the forest floor wove a colorful tapestry of yellows, reds, browns, oranges, and purples.

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well groomed trail

well groomed trail

Benton MacKaye Trail blaze

Benton MacKaye Trail blaze


Court wearing my Patagonia Houdini

Court wearing my Patagonia Houdini

We almost missed the best (and only) view of the Trail because the sign at the junction is barely legible. Luckily we figured it out and found the viewpoint looking south off of Ball Mountain. The sun had started to peek through and the views were spectacular. Of course the photos can’t capture the depth.

We continued on down the Benton MacKaye Trail, crossed the Forest Service road we came in on and wound down into a ravine where it almost started to feel jungle-like instead of forest-like.  We decided the bugs here in the summer would likely be intense.  The trail climbed back up and intersected the AT where we headed back southbound for a short distance back to the car.

Great hike and glad Ike got to join.


Green dots at upper left are trail head

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Wuksachi Lodge Trail/Twin Lakes Trail Overnight – Sequoia NP – California 9/3/16 – 9/4/16


Saturday and Sunday, September 3-4, 2016


Wuksachi Lodge Trail/Twin Lakes Trail Overnight – Sequoia NP – California

~18 miles



This was the big hike for this trip.  I sent in my wilderness permit application on the first day I was able, back in March, to make sure we got one.  This was probably overkill, but I didn’t want to take any chances, and as Court will tell you, I love to plan.

We had arrived in the park the day before the hike and picked up our wilderness permit at the Lodgepole Visitor Center.  The line was long and I found out that a lot of people were trying to get walk-up permits.  In my opinion, there should be two lines: one for walk-ups and one for people who have had reserved permits for FIVE MONTHS.  Anyway, after about an hour, we got our permit.  I was prepared to rent a bear canister, but the ranger told us the bear boxes at the campsite at Twin Lakes would work fine.

We woke up early and had breakfast in the lodge and then hit the Wuksachi Trailhead nearby, which met up with the Twin Lakes Trail after about 1.5 miles.


Court and the Wuksachi Bear



Court with the grunge look


Bridge over Silliman Creek


The morning was chilly, but nice, probably in the low 50s to start.  Watching the sun come up through the trees as we hiked along was great and it was nice to have a dirt trail with relatively few rocks, unlike most of the Texas trails we are used to.  You can actually look around instead of down at your feet!

At the junction with the Twin Lakes Trail we turned north and started to climb.  We crossed Silliman Creek several times, which provides Lodgepole with all of its water.  It was too late in the year for a raging river, so we were able to rock hop across easily.



starting to climb



impressive skies all day


We would pass Cahoon Meadow and later have a great view of it from above.


Looking down on Cahoon Meadow


Late summer wildflowers


We stopped for lunch and to filter water at a creek just after Cahoon Gap.  We packed in a chicken pita that we got from Lodgepole the day before and it was great.


After filling up we hiked on and quickly heard a strange sound that turned out to be a young deer sneezing!  He was apparently not happy with our intrusion, as he actually charged me for a second when I tried to take a picture.  His brother was there too, but didn’t seem to mind us as much.  We continued and the trail began to switchback up for the steepest part of the hike up to Twin Lakes.



We came to a granite outcropping that looked like it would have a good view slightly off trail and as we approached the edge two marmots were there to greet us.  One scampered off, but the other looked at us, contemplated for a moment, and then lay down to take a nap.  This was one of my favorite wildlife sightings of the trip.



Continuing to climb up the steep switchbacks, the altitude started to make breathing a bit more difficult and we slowed our pace.  We came to a granite “staircase” that would have been an amazing cascade of water if we were here earlier in the year, but it was still beautiful, even if dry.


Imagine the water flowing down in spring


Finally we reached the top, after passing a couple of hikers who were taking an extended break to rest before attempting the rest of the climb up.  They did eventually make it I think.  There were two bear boxes to choose from and an open air pit toilet that we decided not to investigate.  The lakes were gorgeous and surrounded by towering granite walls.


After exploring for a bit we chose a campsite near Big Lake and settled in and washed our feet in the water.  Even with long pants and gaiters, the dirt still found a way in and our toes were filthy.  I filtered water while Court put the finishing touches on the tent and then we went up to the bear box to cook dinner on the new Jetboil Minimo.  Beef Pho was the freeze-dried choice of the night (Backpacker’s Pantry) and it wasn’t my favorite, but it did the job.

After a slight tent mesh mishap by Courtney (now I need to order some Tenacious Tape), we got snug under our quilt and read until we fell asleep.  We didn’t even make it til 9pm.  It got COLD overnight, but for the most part we were comfy.  We woke up at 6:30am to a pretty sunrise and decided to hit the trail and eat bars for breakfast on the way back down the trail.

We descended down 2500 feet to the trailhead in about 3.5 hours, as opposed to the 5 hours it took to come up.  Court had a blister on one of her toes, but other than being dirty, we were in good shape.

We ventured back down to Lodgepole in the car to get some food and drinks for dinner in the room, but the chaos and crowds in the prime of Labor Day Weekend were insane.  After over an hour of parking and standing in line for groceries with screaming kids and their bedraggled parents, we gratefully retired to our room, showered, and watched Texas beat Notre Dame for our football season opener.  It was a beautiful hike and an amazing experience for our first Sierra backpacking adventure.


End of trail


Gaia GPS map


Google Earth map

General Sherman Tree Trail – Sequoia National Park – California 9/2/16

Friday, September 2, 2016


General Sherman Tree Trail – Sequoia National Park – California

Length: .5 mile



Court and I flew out to California for Labor Day Weekend and stopped for a night in Monterey to check out the coast and the aquarium (both awesome) before driving across the state to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

We stayed at the Wuksachi Lodge for two nights near Lodgepole Village and it was fantastic.  We knew we were going on a busy holiday weekend, but we went early enough on Friday that the crowds weren’t too bad.  The first day we went to see the General Sherman Tree.



The sequoias really are just enormous and the pictures don’t do them justice.  To stand there and look up and just be completely dwarfed by this living thing and know that it has been here over 2000 years is just stunning.


Obligatory cross section pic

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General Sherman is the largest living tree on earth by volume.


Other trees are taller or wider, but none has the combined weight and width of this leviathan. The General Sherman Tree measures 103/31-metres around, and soars 275 feet/84 metres into the blue Sierra sky—and it’s still growing. Every year it adds enough wood to make another 60-foot/18-metre-tall tree. Still can’t grasp the size? One branch of the General Sherman is so big—almost 7 feet/2 metres in diameter—that it’s larger than most trees east of the Mississippi River. Considering the giant sequoia’s size, you might think it’s the world’s oldest tree, but it’s not. Admittedly, at roughly 2,200 years old (no one knows for sure), the General Sherman is no spring chicken. But giant sequoias are only the second oldest living trees: ancient bristlecone pines, found in the White Mountains to the east.

General Sherman

General Sherman





So big!

So big!

The trail was paved and not long, but it was a nice walk.  Coming back up we saw our first (and only) bear of the trip!  He was literally about 15 feet off the trail just sniffing around.  Of course, dumb tourists were trying to get selfies with him and I secretly hoped he would get angry with them, but he did not seem to care.  He scampered off before I could get a pic (not a selfie).

We headed back to the lodge after General Sherman to eat dinner and rest up for the big hike the next day.


Wuksachi Lodge main building

Wuksachi Lodge main building

Race Brook Falls Trail to Summit of Mt. Everett via The AT – 7/28/16


Wednesday, July 28, 2016


Hike: Race Brook Falls Trail to Summit of Mt. Everett via The Appalachian Trail – near Sheffield, MA

Weather: partly cloudy, warm, but comfortable

Hikers: Ian, Court, Doc, PJ

Length: 7.1 miles


This was the main hike I was looking forward to on this trip, mostly because it would mark my first official hike on the AT, which would also be my first hike on one of the Big 3 long distance trails (AT, PCT, and CDT).  I tried to edit myself, but there are a lot of photos on this one.

After spending the prior day in the various towns of the Berkshires (Great Barrington, Stockbridge, and Lenox) we woke up really early and got to the trail head just after 7am.  The trail was marked with blue blazes and started off in the deep woods and gradually started to gain elevation.

Hitting the trail early

Hitting the trail early

Blue blazes marked the trail

Blue blazes marked the trail

We crossed Race Brook once and then took the left trail to the Upper Falls, bypassing the Lower Falls.   As we climbed higher and higher, we could start to see more distant hills in the Berkshires through the trees.  It was beautiful.  Unfortunately the Falls were not flowing very much at all so we would have to rely on other water sources later.

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Looking through the trees at the hills of the Berkshires

Looking through the trees at the hills of the Berkshires

Boo, no Falls

Boo, no Falls

Some water flowing at least

Some water flowing at least

As we neared the AT we ran into a couple of young guys filtering water with a large gravity filter hanging on a tree.  They explained that they were with a group called the Greenagers which is a youth organization out of Great Barrington that, among other things, puts kids to work on the trail during the summer.  They told us today they were working on putting in some wooden stairs on a steep section of the AT.  We ran into the rest of their camp a little further up the trail at Race Brook Falls Campsite.  There were probably 7 or 8 tents set up and most of the kids were just getting up and running.

Only wildlife I got a photo of for the day

Only wildlife photo of the day

Log crossing

Log crossing

Greenagers camp

Greenagers camp


Continuing on towards the AT

Continuing on towards the AT

We continued on past the camp and hit the junction with the AT just .2 miles later.  I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal, but I ended up being super happy and excited once we got to the first white blaze and headed north on the AT.  The trail was a lot rockier and ultimately tougher than Race Brook.


First white blaze

First white blaze

Court and Doc saw a porcupine off trail, but it got away into the brush before the rest of us could catch a glimpse.  We continued up the rocky trail and then started the ascent to the summit of Mt. Everett.  We ran into several thru-hikers which was also really cool for me.  I asked most of them their names and when they started.

The first was Goodtalk, though he said today wasn’t a good example, as he was tired and just trying to make it up the steep trail.  He started on March 20th.

We also ran into Crash who started April 14th and incidentally is currently living in Austin.  I told him to come to the Crown and Anchor sometime and I’ll buy him a beer.

About halfway up was where we again ran into the Greenagers and their stair project.  It was looking good, but the stairs weren’t quite ready for use yet, so we continued up the slick, steep rock that hikers have been using for years.

Heading up the AT

Heading up the AT

Looking down from whence we came

Looking down from whence we came

Greenager stairs

Greenager stairs

Finally we reached the summit and the views were great.  The top of Mt. Everett has the remaining foundation of an old fire tower that was decommissioned in 2002.  There were a couple of other thru-hikers here as well.  Morel and Backseat Driver started on April 1st and are living in Abilene right now.  Lots of Texas hikers!  We talked to them for quite a while up top while they had their lunch.  I wonder if thru-hikers get tired of answering the same questions I’m sure they get all the time from day hikers?

First views

First views



USGS Summit marker

USGS Summit marker

Thru-hiker lunch

Thru-hiker lunch

Heading back down

Heading back down



We headed back down, which would prove to take a bit longer than the way up because the descent was pretty hard on Mom’s knees, but it was good to take our time.  We ran into one more thru-hiker by the name of Throne who started mid-May, so he was moving quick.

We left the AT and headed back down Race Brook Falls Trail and the Greenager’s tents had vanished from the campsite.  We stopped to filter water out of Race Brook and it was cold and delicious.

Just after the non-flowing Upper Falls, Doc called out for me to check the GPS, as the trail was gone.  Surely not.  But oh yes, while we were up top, a huge tree had fallen across the trail and wiped out the well manicured trail we had come up.  It wasn’t hard to get around and we were all glad we weren’t there when it fell.



There used to be a trail there

There used to be a trail there

We got back to the trail head and were all tired, but happy.  We drove straight into Great Barrington to meet Jack and Suz for lunch.  I had a great burger and afterwards we went to SoCo Creamery, recently voted one of the best ice cream joints in the country.

There were three more thru-hikers eating ice cream in the shop and they actually asked if I was on the trail, I guess because they spied my shoes.  I told them I was just day hiking, but had my sights on the PCT sometime in the next few years.  Their names were Karate Kid, Stretch, and Box.  We wished them good luck and I hope every one of the hikers we met makes it to Maine and finishes their journey.

L to R: Karate Kid, Stretch, and Box

L to R: Karate Kid, Stretch, and Box

Thru-hiker backpack bottom right

Thru-hiker backpack bottom right

I was very happy to have done this hike and add it to my list.  Having never been on the AT before this, it was honestly my least favorite of the Big 3, but I came away with a new respect for the Trail and the people who take care of it.



We went back to the cabin for our last night in Massachusetts and are now back in the heat of Texas for a month and then Court and I are heading to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks over Labor Day Weekend.  That will be epic.

Last sunset over Copake Lake

Last sunset over Copake Lake

Google Earth map

AT is the trail with the red dots

AT is the trail with the red dots