Training for the Big Hike

Monday, June 30, 2008

1 comment
So, you have a big hike lined up in a couple of weeks. You’ve done your research, you know how many miles you’ll be hiking, and you know how much elevation you’ll be climbing that day, but are really ready? There’s nothing worse than getting half-way through a hike and feeling like you’ve already gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson.

You can avoid that feeling by doing a little training beforehand.

Whether your long distance hike is 5 miles, 10 miles, or an extreme day hike of 15 or more miles, being properly conditioned will make your hike a lot more enjoyable.

Although what’s considered to be a long hike for any individual is purely relative, we’ll use the 11 mile hike up to Gregory Bald as our example of a long distance hike for purposes of this article.

The best way to train for any sporting event is to train specifically for that event. In other words, if you want to hike a long distance trail, it’s best to get out on a trail to simulate the conditions of the big day. However, for many people, finding a trail to train on may not be convenient. Walking in your local neighborhood or in a park is an excellent alternative. I’ve trained for a handful of hikes up 14K foot peaks in Colorado by walking in my neighborhood here in Louisville, Ky. With peaks slightly higher than your average ant hill here in Louisville, I obviously wasn’t able to simulate the type of climbing I experienced in Colorado, but I was still able to sufficiently train my walking muscles.

Roughly six weeks prior to each of these hikes I created a schedule and began training in which my walking miles slowly increased.

Using the example of preparing for the 11 mile hike up to Gregory Bald, you should probably start training roughly 4 weeks before the actual hike. This assumes you already have a minimal amount of conditioning. Obviously if you have no conditioning, or a lot, then this schedule would need to be altered accordingly.

During the first two weeks of training you could probably get away with walking just three days a week. During the first week, two of those walks should be at least 2-3 miles long, and the third walk should be in the 4 to 5 mile range. During the second week, you should ratchet up your long walk day to around 6 or 7 miles. The other two days should consist of walks of at least 3 miles per day. If you’re going to be climbing any significant elevation on your hike, you should try to include as many hills into your routine as possible. The Gregory Bald trail climbs roughly 3000 feet. This is a strenuous hike for almost anyone.

During week 3, you’ll probably want to add a fourth day of walking into your schedule. Your long walk day, which preferably should be 7 days from your big hike, should now be in the 8 to 9 mile range.

During the final week before your hike, you should still be walking on at least 2 or 3 days. Each of those walks should be in the 4 to 6 mile range. If you’re already on vacation, use the days leading up to your big hike to train on some shorter trails. Make sure you’re well rested though. At a minimum, the day before your hike should be a rest day, meaning, no training on that day. You might even consider taking two days off prior to your hike. This way, your leg muscles will be well rested and you’ll be ready to conquer your goal.

If this training schedule seems a little aggressive, add another week or two up front and make the increase in miles a little more gradual.

If you don’t like the idea of walking as often as I’m recommending, throw a little cross training in. Of course running provides an excellent alternative. Cycling, treadmills and stair climbers also provide great cross-training/cardio workouts as well. However, you don’t want to rely solely on these exercises. You’ll still need to do a long walk at least once a week.

On the day of your hike, make sure you take enough food and water with you to keep your fuel and hydration levels up. See my article about staying properly hydrated and beating the heat while hiking in the summer.

A little preparation beforehand will go a long way on the day of your big hike. Your training will give you the confidence to persevere and you’ll feel much better when you arrive back at the trailhead. You may even have a little energy left in the reserve tank to celebrate your accomplishment after you return.

Read More

New Trail additions: Rocky Top and Gregory Bald

Thursday, June 26, 2008

2 comments announces the launch of four additional trails today, including Gregory Bald and Rocky Top. Detailed trip information was added to the new trails as a result of our hikes last week. We were able to visit Gregory Bald right as the flame azaleas blooms were just beginning to peak and have several pictures showing the beauty and wide variety of hybrids that grow at the summit.

We also benefited from a frontal system that passed through the Smokies earlier in the week which blew most of the haze out of the area for a couple of days. We had outstanding views from the summits of Rocky Top and Thunderhead Mountain. Visibility was more than 30 miles as we could see the outskirts of Knoxville on that day.

Below are a few pictures showing some of the key highlights from these hikes. Please visit the individual Gregory Bald and Rocky Top trail pages for more pictures, detailed trail information as well as video highlights.

Read More

Attack of the Woollys

Sunday, June 22, 2008

No comments
There was a recent article in the Louisville newspaper announcing that eastern Kentucky’s hemlock forest is now being threatened by a tiny insect called the hemlock woolly adelgid.

This reddish-purple insect, a non-native species originating out of Asia, kills giant hemlocks by depriving them of nutrients. The insect was first detected on the eastern seaboard in the 1950s before spreading to the Blue Ridge Mountains and then up through the northern Appalachians to Maine. In Shenandoah National Park alone, up to 90% of all hemlocks have already died due to the infestation.

Frequent travelers to Great Smoky Mountains National Park may already be aware of the presence of this tiny killer. Visitors may have noticed a fluffy white “wool” on the needles of the mighty hemlocks. As young nymphs, adelgids wraps themselves in a protective “wool” as they attach to the base of the needles in order to suck the sap out of the hemlock.

Infestations in the Smokies were originally discovered in 2002 and have spread throughout most of the park’s hemlock forest. Will Blozan, an arborist and expert on eastern hemlocks in the Smokies, was quoted in the spring issue of Smokies Life Magazine as saying that more than 95% of the hemlocks in the park already have adelgids. To give you an idea on the extent of the looming devastation, the Smokies has about 800 acres of old-growth hemlock trees and 90,000 acres of younger hemlocks. In some areas infested trees have already begun to die. It usually takes 4-10 years for the adelgids to kill a tree.

Known as the “redwood of the east,” eastern hemlocks can grow more than 170 feet tall and can have trunks measuring more than 16 feet in circumference. The tallest hemlock in the Smokies, located in the Cataloochee Valley, is listed at 173 feet in height. Hemlocks are known to live up to 800 years or more. The oldest in the Smokies is more than 500 years old.

Hemlocks play an important ecological role as well. They help maintain moisture and moderate temperatures on the forest floor. By providing deep shade, hemlocks keep streams cool which is critical for the survival of trout, crawfish, salamanders and other cold water species. The thick boughs of the hemlock also provide shelter and nesting for birds. Widespread loss of hemlocks will undoubtedly bring about significant changes to the Smoky Mountains.

What is the Park Service doing to combat the infestation?

Unfortunately there are no easy solutions. Insecticides sprayed from the air don’t work. Foliar treatments sprayed from truck-mounted trucks and pesticides injected into the tree are impractical for trees in the backcountry. One treatment with some promise is with the use of predator beetles which voraciously feed on the adelgids. The national park web site states that early results from the use of these beetles is encouraging, however, it will take several years before populations of beetles increase enough to control the widespread infestations.

Visit the Friends of the Smokies web site to find out how you can help save the eastern hemlock.

Read More

Smokies Life Magazine Review

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

No comments
I’m not into fishing, nor do I care for snakes, so why would I want to read anything about two subjects I really have no interest in? Those were my thoughts as I was handed the spring issue of Smokies Life Magazine after joining the Great Smoky Mountains Association (GSMA) in the Cades Cove parking lot last month.

Sure, I was eager to read the cover story about Wiley Oakley, but some of the other subjects just didn’t provide me with any excitement.

When I finally got around to reading the new magazine several days later, I started with the first article: Fishing the Horseshoe, by David Brill. Normally when I read a magazine I start from the beginning and read it book style – from page to page. If something doesn’t interest me, I skip through it. This didn’t happen with Mr. Brill’s article.

In fact, he almost inspired me to jump onto the Cabela’s web site that evening and purchase a fly-fishing rod. Okay, maybe I’m over-exaggerating a little, but the article was not only very well written, but was very captivating. You might be asking yourself right now how a story about fly-fishing can be captivating. “The Horseshoe”, also known as the Smokies toughest mile, is almost a complete circle formed by Abrams Creek. The unique topography of this area makes it difficult for anglers to escape the “Horseshoe” without completing the entire loop before the sun sets. Unless the fishermen who venture into the Horseshoe are in excellent shape, they stand the chance of having to make an emergency bivouac. Many hikers have apparently stumbled into this area and have gotten lost as well. At this point I’ll let the author finish the story for himself.

Proceeding through the rest of the magazine, I found each of the seven articles in this 59 page issue to be compelling articles in their own right. I also liked that the subject matter of the magazine was well diversified. In addition to the fly-fishing article, there were articles about snakes, bark baskets, trilliums, fire towers, old growth trees, and, of course, the Wiley Oakley story.

For the GSMA to call Smokies Life Magazine, “a magazine,” might be selling itself short. First off, the paper quality of the cover and the pages is far superior to any magazine you’ll find in a book store or grocery. I also found the writing to be superior to most magazines as well. Smokies Life Magazine is more in line with the quality you find from a journal publication from a historical society.

You can purchase individual issues of Smokies Life Magazine at the GSMA web site, but it probably makes more sense to just become a member. Not only is the quarterly magazine free to members, but you’re helping a great cause. Through sales, labor, donations, and volunteer efforts, the Great Smoky Mountains Association provides funds that help with certain Park expenses. Since its creation in 1953, GSMA has contributed more than $18 million to the Park.

Read More

Bobcat on the Appalachian Trail

Thursday, June 12, 2008

No comments
I’ve always admired and looked up to people who have accomplished great physical feats. Whether it’s Shackleton’s epic journey across the southern oceans, Hillary’s first summit of Mt. Everest, a Tour De France competitor finishing first in an epic mountain stage, crossing the country on a bike, or hiking one of the great long distance trails, adventurists and super athletes have always been heroes of some sort to me.

Of course the granddaddy of all long distance trails has had a special place in my heart ever since I began hiking in my late teens. Having lived my entire life in the Midwest, the Appalachian Trail was always the quintessential trail; the trail every hiker aspires to hike one day. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, I haven’t had the opportunity to hike the big one yet.

Sometimes the best a person can do is to live vicariously through people who actually accomplish these heroic feats. I recently had the opportunity to have a discussion with someone who was able to follow through on her dream.

Angela, also known by her trail name as Bobcat, hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT) last year. She started from Springer Mountain in Georgia on April 1st. It took her 5 months and 5 days to complete the entire 2160 mile trail, which is slightly faster than the average of five-and-a-half months. Not bad for someone hiking her first long distance trail, especially for someone who was forced off the trail for two weeks after tearing a ligament in her foot.

Here’s my Q and A with Bobcat:

HikingintheSmokys: What inspired you to undertake the AT? How long did it take before you were able to realize your dream?

Bobcat: Hiking the AT is something that I've always wanted to do but didn't realize it until about 6 months before I left for the trail.

HITS: What did you do to prepare/train for the hike?

Bobcat: Drank a lot (just kidding!). I've always enjoyed day hiking and skiing so I just stayed as active as I could through the winter until I was ready to hit the trail in the spring.

HITS: In A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson's hiking partner clearly packed way too much and almost immediately began chucking stuff out of his pack on their first day on the trail. He eventually gave-up the quest somewhere in the Shenandoah Park area. Did you ever have any moments like this, where you realized that you packed too much or where you felt like quitting?

Bobcat: I never felt like I packed more than I needed but there were definitely times where I felt like I was carrying more than I needed at that time (i.e. winter clothing such as hat and gloves when it was 80 degrees) Everyone who has ever undertaken a trek of any magnitude has felt like quitting at one time or another. I felt like quitting about once a day during the first month and after a while I realized that I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. I still feel like that today. I can't imagine wanting to be anywhere but on a trail of some sort.

HITS: What was the most challenging aspect of hiking the trail: the physical, mental or emotional toll? Why was it the most challenging?

Bobcat: For the first 6 weeks it was physical, nobody has a body that is ready for the rigors of daily long distance hiking unless it's something they have done recently. For the next 2-3 months it was entirely mental. It's very discouraging to know you've come such a long way but still realize that you are still more than half way from the end.

HITS: You saw a lot of backcountry as you traversed the more than 2100 miles of trail, in terms of scenery, how do the Smokies compare with the rest of the AT?

Bobcat: The Smokeys were beautiful and unique. Every part of the trail is different.

HITS: 71 miles of the AT run through the Smokies, how many days did you spend there?

Bobcat: 5 days and 4 nights.

HITS: Did you take any side trips / hikes while you were in the Smokies?

Bobcat: I took a very brief trip into Gatlinburg to pick up a mail drop.

HITS: The highest point on the AT passes over Clingmans Dome. There are also 5 other summits above 6000 feet. Did you feel that the Smoky Mountains were the most difficult section of trail?

Bobcat: Absolutely not. The Smokeys are primarily a ridge walk and there is very little elevation change once you are more than a few miles out of Fontana Dam. On the contrary I thought the Smokeys were slightly better maintained than other parts of the trail. Besides, parts of it are graded for pack animals.

HITS: Did you run into any dangerous situations; such as aggressive bears, wild boars, bad storms, an injury, etc..?

Bobcat: Not until I tore a ligament in my foot just before Pearisburg, VA. I’m not quite sure how it happened. It either made me slip and fall, or it happened when I slipped and fell. You're constantly turning things, tripping and sliding while hiking. I had to take 2 weeks off entirely (should have taken more) and gradually built up the miles until I was back where I was.

HITS: Did you ever experience what is described as trail magic, where something unexpected happened that lifted your spirits?

Bobcat: Not in the Smokeys but on other parts of the trail, yes. Gallons of water near road crossings in PA were more than magic since it was such a dry year. I think the best magic I found was in all my friends on and off the trail as I made my way to Katahdin. I received a lot of support and encouragement from a lot of different people.

HITS: What were your feelings when you finished? Were you glad to be back or did you have a civilization/culture shock? Did you feel like you just accomplished the ultimate life experience? Did the trail change you in anyway?

Bobcat: The trail changed my perspective on a lot of things, while I am still the same person I was over a year ago before I hiked the AT, my priorities have changed and I realize now what is truly important to me, it was tough adjusting to life off of the trail after hiking but it was just as much of an adjustment coming on to the trail, it just takes time. Hiking the AT has been the most rewarding and fulfilling experience of my life. I will never forget the friends I made and the experiences I had. The trail is very much a part of me as I am a part of the trail.

Angela is working on a web site which will eventually highlight her Appalachian Trail adventure as well as her hike along the Long Trail in Vermont which she did later on that same fall. Her site is at:

Read More

Summer Hiking: How to Beat the Heat

Saturday, June 7, 2008

No comments
Summer hiking season is already upon us. Anyone who has ever been to the Smoky Mountains during the summer knows how hot and humid it can get in the Southern Appalachians. Temperatures have already soared into the mid-nineties in Gatlinburg. I’d like to offer some tips for beating the heat this summer.

Before we go into anything else, the most important thing about hiking during the summer is staying properly hydrated. Hiking in hot, humid weather depletes your body of liquids. To replace those fluids and electrolytes you need to drink frequently. If you wait until you feel thirsty you’ll more than likely already be dehydrated. The more dehydrated you become, the less efficient your body is at cooling itself down. Your body becomes less efficient at walking as well.

Make sure you take plenty of water or some type of sports drink with you on any hike. Sports drinks are excellent sources of liquids because they replace both fluids and electrolytes. Good old Gatorade gets the job done for me.

If you’re thinking about drinking water from the backcountry, know that it must be treated for Giardia lamblia. Giardia is a parasite that can cause an intestinal infection with a variety of symptoms. To avoid this infection, boil water for at least one minute or use a filter capable of removing particles as small as 1 micron.

To help offset the effects of fatigue, bring a lunch and/or snack with you. Food is your body's primary source for fuel and salts (electrolytes) while hiking. Try eating a salty snack every time you take a drink.

Finally, stay away from sodas and alcohol as they will only promote dehydration.

Besides staying properly hydrated, there are a few other things you can do to help avoid over-heating while out on the trail.

For one, go slowly and rest often. Also, try hiking in the early morning as this is coolest part of the day.

Summer provides a great opportunity to explore trails at the higher elevations of the Park where it’s naturally cooler. Keep in mind, however, that the summer season brings thunderstorms to the Smokies. Never ascend above tree line when there’s lightning. If you’re already above tree line when a thunderstorm approaches you’ll want to descend immediately.

Wear moisture-wicking clothing made of polypropylene or polyester to carry sweat and moisture away from your body. Moisture-wicking material keeps you dryer, cooler and more comfortable than a sweat-soaked cotton shirt. It’s also a good idea to wear light colored clothing because it tends to reflect heat away from your body.

Wearing a hat, a baseball hat, or, preferably, a wide-brimmed hat, will help protect your face and neck from the sun. Don’t forget sunscreen either. Sun-burned skin makes you feel hotter.

Finally, you should be aware of heat related health issues on the trail. As part of your first aid training you should know the signs for heat exhaustion, heatstroke and even hyponatremia; and know what to do if someone in your party has any of these signs.

For additional safety tips, please click here, and to make sure you have all the essentials before heading out on the trail, please review our hiking checklist.

Read More