Search This Blog

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Winter Training

The Frozen Narrows of Henry Coe State Park, photo courtesy of John Abela

January 24-26: GGG at Henry Coe State Park

Since my C&O Canal thru-hike in January, I have been out on some fun hikes closer to home in California. The first of these hikes came during the Gathering of Gear Geeks (GGG) at Henry Coe State Park. On the first night of the gathering I made some wonderful friends; Scott "Shroomer" Williams and Jack "Found" Haskel (PCTA Trail Specialist). I had heard great things about both of these hikers and was glad to finally connect with them in person. Shroomer is an enormous positive presence with a wealth of wisdom. Jack and I had so much to discuss and I absolutely loved our conversations. I learned an incredible amount from our discussions concerning the PCT.

The next morning I met Triple Crowner Nancy "WhyNot" Huber. Once again, so much to be learned from her immense experience and inspiring stories. After breakfast, WhyNot, Shroomer, a delightful woman named Melanie and I headed down to the Narrows. Shroomer reported that they would be frozen and I was excited to see them in this state. On the way out of camp we ran into John Abela, a hiker whose incredible gear blog I had been following for quite some time. John joined us as we descended into the canyon.

Upon arrival in The Narrows, we found the conditions just as Shroomer had reported; a gorgeous frozen creek that was thick enough to walk on. 4-6 inches deep in parts, The Narrows were a shadowy sliver of winter air.

The rest of the GGG was just as fun. I got to check out a bunch of new gear, some in its prototype stage and nerded out with dozens of hikers. However, it wasn't the futuristic splendor of the new gear that I loved the most, it was the new friends I made that weekend. My conversations with Found, Shroomer, WhyNot and others left me inspired and connected to a community of tremendous people.

February 9th: Loma Mar to the Sea

My friends, Bullfrog, Tule, Bay, Spark and I hiked from our home in Loma Mar along a network of familiar trails connecting to the Skyline to Sea Trail. The trip was 30 miles and the rain was pretty steady most of the day. We only stopped when there was some kind of natural shelter; overhanging rock, burned out redwood etc. California Newts covered the trail in the thousands and it was a challenge to avoid crushing the little guys. The highlight of the trip had to be the gushing waterfalls in Big Basin. Silver Falls,  Golden Cascade and Berry Creek Falls were flowing with enormous volume.

Here's a link to our route.

February 16th: Mt. Diablo

I've wanted to hike here for about a year and didn't get around to it until last weekend. Now I'm wishing it hadn't taken me so long to make it to this training wonderland. I'll do a full report on this 21 mile day hike with over 7,350 ft. of elevation gain in the next post.

Mt. Ellen (Throughout the Winter)

This mountain stands right next to my house and is the perfect quick workout. 800 ft of elevation gain and nice descent through Pomponio Canyon over 5 miles makes this a fantastic run and nice hill training.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

C&O Canal Thru-Hike

Lock and Lockhouse
I had a premonition before I left for my C&O Canal thru-hike that this trip was going to be tough. 184.5 miles of flat terrain seems like a cake walk but the cold temperatures caused by the strengthening "polar vortex," chilly damp riparian campsites, a lack of clean water sources and the repetitive strain of flat land walking led to an interesting challenge.
Mule Monument at the Cumberland Terminus

The knowledge that we could "bail" to a warm cafe or motel led to an interesting strategy when planing for this hike. I found myself much more willing to experiment and take chances with a minimalist setup. This was a great opportunity to see just how far into the single digits my ultralight setup would take me. 
Part of traveling smart and light is using your surroundings to their fullest. It helps to know that you can pull big miles to make it to the next set of amenities. I started to look at some of the heated restrooms with a whole new appreciation. My hiking partner Jerry Freedenberg (Not Bad) and I joked that we finally understood why the were called "restrooms" and fondly referred to them as "sleeping huts."

My friend Rocks helped us out in a huge way on the coldest night of our journey. He connected us with his friend Johnny who lives along our route. Johnny and his beautiful family reside in an old 1750's farm house. What an amazing gift and enhancement of our already historically rich adventure.

Paw Paw Tunnel

On the snowiest night, Jerry and I were gifted a motel room by Jerry's father. Not exactly "roughing it" but I didn't complain. That same day, Mike Nardolilli, president of the C&O Canal Trust bought us lunch at The Desert Rose Cafe. Mike read about about my 60th Anniversary Hike and was very supportive of the adventure. He shared some wonderful stories and added to our historical perspective.

On the second to last day, we experienced freezing rain that formed dome shaped sheets of ice on top of my umbrella. I was very grateful to have the chrome dome along.

The water along the towpath is not very appetizing. The Potomac River is heavily polluted and the water in the canal is stagnant. Much of our water came from small towns but I did find a couple side streams that seemed to have decent water.

This trip was a good experiment in the world of winter camping. I discovered that I need to hydrate a lot better in the future. Dehydration was very likely the cause of some intense hip flexor/ IT band pain. I used ibuprofen for the the first time in years to alleviate some of the strain and inflammation. I hadn't used a single mg of pain killers on either of the my thru-hikes the last two years and here I was, resorting to medication on a flat walk.

Walking into Harpers Ferry was like going to see an old friend and we had a very nice visit at the the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters. I just love that town so much.

The Great Falls section of the towpath was the most scenic and is definitely a stretch of trail I would like to return to on a day hike.

Overall, this adventure was very beautiful. The views of the river and the small towns were quite nice and the wildlife sighting were certainly a highlight. Foxes, possums, 5 species of woodpeckers, and bald eagles were among the creatures seen. I also really enjoyed reading all the interpretive signs describing life on the canal, westward expansion and stories of the Civil War.

When Jerry and I arrived in Georgetown, we paid our respects to William O. Douglas and took the obligatory finishing photo by The Watergtate Hotel. Who knew that the hotel was named after the first canal lock?

Heading into Georgetown

Canal Barge

From the canal, we walked over to The Whitehouse, across the mall and over to Union Station. It was fun to imagine, Justice Douglas, barges, mules, naturalists and boat captains all making this journey.
Justice William O. Douglas

Mile Post 0

Not Bad and I finished our thru-hike in 6.5 days (December 31- January 6). Slower than expected, but considering the weather conditions, we were very satisfied with our performance. We were especially happy to have finished before the temperatures plummeted even further. Another rewarding and challenging adventure.