SkunkApe and I hooked up for a weekend hike on the AT. Was supposed to be a 24m loop beginning at the Standing Indian Campground area, but ended up being the same loop beginning and ending at Deep Gap instead (much higher elevation than intended). Loop was down the Long Branch trail and up the Kimsey Creek trail. Probably better that way as it made the cold beer at the car taste better ending the hike going uphill. Anyway, here's my report. Pictures to follow at some point in order to verify that it happened!
After a bit of a cell phone communication snafu Friday evening, we ended up meeting at Deep Gap and setting up camp there a little after 9pm. It was a cold night, car said 43 when I got in it to warm up the next morning, and that was at 8:30, so was probably down around 40 and with a gusty wind that didn't help matters. Was a rough night for me in terms of getting cold, but I must say that for as well as I did the next day, the hammock must have saved me even though my setup was subpar for conditions - I would have been warmer on the ground, but less effective hiking the next day. Lesson learned, when you allow yourself to get cold, you make hasty and bad decisions, and in my case, some non-decisions that cost me some sleep that first night.
So, the first night was essentially car camping. The plan was for 2m Friday, 13m Sat., and 9m Sunday. Having a zero Friday night meant adding 2m somewhere, and the plan on Saturday was to push on past Mt Albert to Big Spring shelter which would be 15m - very ambitious for me, but I had read that it was a relatively mild section, save for the ridiculous, but short, climb up Mt Albert. What I learned about that little climb is that short is relative, but ridiculous is still ridiculous, no matter how short! Anyway, aside from a little ridiculousness, it was really good hiking the whole way. Stopped at Mooney Gap for a little self-made trail magic (I drove past there getting to trailhead), which helped I think for the push up to Albert. Views were wonderful on the Albert firetower, but was hard to enjoy since we were so sweaty and getting chilled from the temp drop and winds at the higher elevation.
Made it to Big Spring shelter by a little after 6:30 and spent a little time there trying to decide if we wanted to stay. Still felt cold and blustery there and we had not hiked far enough to warm up much from getting chilled on top of Albert. Having had a chilly experience the previous night, we felt it would be better to push on to lower elevation and a more sheltered site. I knew it would be mostly downhill, so off we went putting even more miles on our already weary legs. I knew there was a site on the Long Branch Trail just down from the AT, but that was 3m away, so I thought we'd end up along the AT somewhere a mile or so down. And there was a site about a mile down that felt better in terms of wind and temps. But we felt OK, so we pushed on. Wasn't much of a site after that including Glassmine Gap, which I was so relieved to see the sign for it and the Long Branch trail, knowing that a good site should be not too far away.
It wasn't far, but it was a relatively steep 0.2m downhill that didn't feel all that great at that point in the hike. We made it there a little before 8 and had plenty of daylight to get camp and accommodations setup and lounge back in the hammock - which felt awfully good. We had noticed the temps rising pretty dramatically about a mile down from Big Spring and the site itself was very sheltered, so we were very, very happy with our decision to push on.
Had a wonderfully mild night, great sleep to make up for the night before, and a laid-back morning in mid-50s temps that was just perfect. And, we had shortened our Sunday mileage to 6 instead of 9. Was a pleasant downhill hike on the Long Branch trail to the Backcountry Info Center. After a little misdirection trying to continue on the Kimsey Creek trail, we finally found it and continued on it for the 4m pleasant uphill hike to the cars. I would say this about the Kimsey Creek trail... it is a beautiful streamside walk for most of it, but its also very rocky, and in parts, the trail is literally a shallow rocky stream itself. Its not a trail to makeup some time coming down, and while the going up wasn't terrible, my legs being weary from the day before didn't appreciate the extra work to be done on the rocks.
OK, now the part you've all been waiting for.... gear review!!!!! This was my first time out with the BB, a DL 1.1 I picked up used (1 use previously) the week before. My immediate impression of the BB was "comfort". I think I like a bigger hammock - my first was a HH Explorer, which the BB felt similar to, but a little flatter lay. The one I had been using recently was a Claytor NoNet, which I believe is not as wide as I think I will prefer going forward. I took a BA Insulated pad and tried to use it the first night in the double layer with poor results. I initially didn't have enough air in the pad, and then when it was inflated more, it tended to move around between the layers - probably would have been better not in the layers but just laying on top of hit where I could grab it and move around as necessary. But the real "duh" here was that I have an underquilt that should have been enough in terms of temp rating to keep me warm by itsself. I rigged it, too, but not very well on the new hammock, so that I had space below and therefore, CBS. Figured it out a bit in the early morning hours, but still used the pad and I think in doing so, trumped the benefit of the UQ. Lesson learned - have some faith in the gear you have and don't go running back to ground-dwelling techniques when it gets cold. Remember what I said about decision-making when cold?
I believe my Mt Washington shorty with the foot pad would have been plenty warm by itself, but the initial site selection - windy, high elevation - that first night meant that I really needed to have my setup down - and I didn't. Only used my Maccat std tarp the first night thinking it would help with the wind, but unfortunately, I setup in a direction that made for more of a wind tunnel so that the tarp really didn't block any. The Golite Ultra was fine as usual, even a little overkill. Was originally going to bring just the JRB fleece TQ liner, but glad I brought the ultra. Lesson learned, though, bring a freaking beanie to sleep in. Just didn't think I'd need it, but I lost a lot of heat that way the first night.
I'm not convinced the BB will be the one for me, but I'm not going to give up on it after one trip (although I'm thankful the person that sold it to me did). I zipped up the net the first night, but found the UQ didn't wrap well, so left it unzipped even though I staked out that side. Did not stake out the shelf side as I was afraid of not getting a good wrap from the UQ. So, not liking the net zipped up (and not needing it), not using the shelf, and not using the double layer, then I think I might be better in a single traveler. We'll see, I need to get out again when I'm more prepared. I did love the suspension, very nice and easy. (triangle buckles w/webbing)
This was a lighter hike for me, coming in at just under 20 lbs with 1 litre of water. My Golite Quest was pleasantly floppy, but I really need to get one of those Jams I've had my eye on.
Great hike, great company, too. SkunkApe was a real pleasure to be around and to hike with. Not many hikers I know would've been crazy enough to do 18m with me. Looking forward to doing something like that again!!