A January Climb of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire

Climbing Mt. Washington is not for the faint-hearted, especially when you do it in January.

The observatory at the top of the mountain has a small building with a staff that works to record wind speed and temperature conditions. In 1934, the observatory recorded a wind speed of 231 miles per hour. That record was broken in 1996, but it remains the highest wind temperature ever recorded that wasn’t associated with a tornado or tropical cyclone.

You can view the current conditions on Mt. Washington here.

The Highest Mountain East of the Mississippi?

I’ve previously stated on my blog that Mt. Washington is the highest peak east of the Mississippi, but I was mistaken. It’s actually the most topographically prominent.  To be honest, I’m not 100% sure I fully comprehend what that means. What I think it means is that relative to its base, it has the most elevation gain, but in terms of actual feet above sea level, it’s not the highest. That would be Mount Mitchell in North Carolina.

Here’s a wikipedia article about topographic prominence if you want to dive deep into this. But just know this: it’s pretty damn tall. However, compared to other mountains throughout the world, it isn’t that tall.

The challenge of climbing this mountain isn’t so much its height, but the terrible weather. You will be exposed to extreme wind speed, wind chill, and cold temperatures. Since 1849, more than 150 people have died trying to climb Mount Washington, mostly due to poor planning and naivety about what the weather would be like.

It’s definitely vital that you plan well, wear the right clothes, and have the right gear.

How Tall is Mount Washington?

Mt. Washington is 6,288.3 ft (1,916.7 m) above sea level.

If you’re going to be doing this trail, you’ll need to study your route well in advance. You’re taking the Tuckerman’s Ravine Trail for just over 2 miles, until you reach a sign that directs you to the Lion’s Head trail.

We started early in the morning, hitting the trail at 5:30 AM, since the climb takes 8-10 hours. The journey begins at Pinkham Notch Visitors Center, which has lots of parking available.

The climb starts off as a steep, uphill hike through the woods. It will be early in the morning, you’ll need your headlamp to see in the dark. After a brisk warmup of uphill climbing, you hit the bottleneck: a pretty technical spurt of climbing. It’s about a 20-foot section of steep cliff that gets covered in ice. Someone needs to climb head and secure a rope so you can pull yourself up.

I did this with 2 ropes, wrapped around my wrists, feeling a lot like Mulan.

Getting Above the Tree Line

On the mountain, there is a point where the trees no longer can survive. This point is known as the tree line. After emerging out of the woods, the trees are no longer there to stop the wind. You enter a new world, where gust of winds cut your face and the snow is deep.

Before your trip, you’ll need to rent an ice axe, mountaineering boots, and crampons. I rented mine through International Mountain Equipment (IME) in North Conway.

Summiting the Mountain

Unfortunately, this year, the weather was too intense with very low visibility due to snow blowing around. We had to turn around before we summited.

This video depicts our climb in the year 2018. That was my first time doing the climb, and I was told that the weather was unusually calm. You can see pretty well!

Check it out:

The Time I Went to the Grand Canyon and Just Looked at it

I wanted to go to The Grand Canyon since I was in 4th grade and read an “I Can Read!” book about a girl who rides a donkey down The Grand Canyon with her dad.

I always hated her spoiled ass for complaining about how donkeys “smell.” This was before she even was near enough to the donkeys to smell them, btw. That was her first response to her dad when he shared his spectacular travel plans with her that she would be included in. She had the nerve to just say “Eww, but donkeys smell bad.”

She also complained about having to eat freeze dried food and her only peace came when her dad found her freeze-dried chocolate ice cream to pack with them. Wow. Ungrateful, much?

I’m still a little mad at that bitch but I got the chance to go down the Grand Canyon! But I sort of botched it by having no plans for The Grand Canyon besides showing up and winging it. I went there after solo hiking The Narrows in Utah, which was incredible and very well planned on my part. But we can’t always be great.

I’m still glad I went. I secretly always wanted to decide to go to the Grand Canyon on whim, like April and Andy from Parks and Rec.

“Where’s all the presidents?”.

These photos…sum it up. Awkward. A lovely Russian mother and daughter took these photos for me. They were staying in the same hotel as me. I bumped into them at The Grand Canyon and offered to take their picture, and they were kind enough to reciprocate.

“Want to take a picture? And we make it?” they asked me. They were so nice.

But I did not help by being the world’s most awkward model. Here are some more pics. Crappy like the rest, as I had only my old phone to take pictures with.

My Blogging Goals for 2020

Happy New Year! 2020 is going to be our year, I can feel it.

If you’re reading this, I love you! I really appreciate anyone taking the time to read my blog. Thank you.

I got inspired by a post by Colorado Chelsea in which she shared her blogging goals for 2020. What a great idea! So here I am, sharing my own blogging goals for the year.

Post Ideas for 2020

This year, I plan to post on the blog twice per month. Here are some ideas I’m going to write about this year:

Climbing Mt. Washington in January: This is located in the White Mountain Range of New Hampshire and is the highest peak East of the Mississippi. I am going to climb it in a few weeks, and it will be my second time doing it. At one point, this peak had record-breaking cold temperatures. So, while the mountain is not high enough to feel affects of altitude (it’s 6,288 feet), it is often used as training to get used to windy & cold conditions in preparation for climbing more serious mountains.

grand canyon
here’s me…at The Grand Canyon…..just…standing.

2017 Grand Canyon Visit: When I did my hike of the Zion Narrows in 2017 (which I posted about recently), I also visited The Grand Canyon. I pretty much just stood there and looked at it, so this will be a short post. 🙂

Glacier National Park Trip: Bart and I plan on traveling to Glacier National Park this summer! I am so excited, I’ve always wanted to go! I hope it works out and I can share my experience with you.

batonaThe Batona Trail: This is another past experience I plan to blog about soon. During the summer of 2018, Bart and I hiked the entire Batona Trail in the Pine Barrens of South Jersey. I *absolutely no NOT* recommend going near the Pine Barrens during the summer, for reasons that will soon become clear (hint, we were absolutely covered with a notorious blood-sucking insect during the entire hike).

Bart’s Denali Guest Post: Bart is climbing Denali with his dad in May! Denali is sometimes called Mt. McKinley. It’s located in Alaska, is the highest peak in North America, and is one of the 7 summits. Bart said he wanted to do a guest post about the experience. I cant wait for this! Though not looking forward to being apart for a month. 🙁

Local Trails: I don’t plan on taking any more far-away trips, other than what I mentioned above. However, I plan on going on some short backpacking & day-hikes in good old Pennsylvania. The list includes the Wissahickon Trail in Philadelphia, The Black Forest Trail, The Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, and The Old Loggers Path. I’m not sure if we’ll get to all of them, but we’re hoping to bag a few!

Video Content: My goal is to post a piece of video content each quarter. The first video idea I have is to tell my story about what happened when I taught English in South Korea in 2016, and had to leave early. There’s a story there, and America wants to know!

Style Changes to My Site

I know that the 6 people who look at my blog have been waiting for this!!!

I plan on making a better homepage. The page right now that shows my recent posts is pretty disorganized and overwhelming to look at. I also am hoping my graphic designer friend finishes creating my logo soon!

I also plan to do at least 1 guest blog post this year and keep up with sharing my posts on Pinterest.

I also plan to start up a monthly newsletter soon.

Personal Goals for 2020

Money Goals: This year, I plan on sticking to a financial plan to get my funds on track. This means investing 10% of my income for the year, putting a large chunk of money in my savings account each month, and sticking to a budget.bad with money

Fitness: My goal is to maintain my weight. I also want to cut down on my Broad Street Run Time. My goal is to run this 10 mile race in 90 minutes.

Guitar: I used to play guitar as a kid, but had to stop taking lessons because I never, ever practiced and stopped putting effort in. However, I really enjoy singing and would love to be able to accompany myself. I’ve been wanting to get back into guitar for years now, but I never stick with it. It’s tricky because I’m not a complete beginner, but I will need a lot of refreshing. My goal is to put in 5 20-minute sessions per week.

Creative Writing: My last goal is to spend 4 hours per month on creative writing, unrelated to work or to Hannah Goes Outside.

Solo Hiking the Narrows of Zion National Park

My journey to Zion National Park was fated by the alphabet.

Having a last name like Wolfe is kind of a bummer growing up. My desk was always in the back right corner of the room behind this douchey kid named Patrick Wilson (not that Patrick Wilson). I always got my report card handed back last. Not ideal, but there are definitely worse things, I know.

The Assignment

When I was in college, I took a general education course called the Geography of the US and Canada, and one of our assignments was to write a report on one of the US National Parks. My professor alphabetized our names, and he alphabetized the parks, and that’s how I got assigned Zion National Park, the best one on the list, by far. My alphabetic fortune had finally shifted. It was around this time that I realized Wolfe was actually a pretty cool last name.

“A lot of my past students have called me and said ‘I’m in my park!'” My professor would tell us that all the time while we worked on this project. I wanted to be one of the kids who made it to their park. And a few years later, I made it happen.

Going West for the First Time

 

While working on my project, I became enchanted. My head would buzz with wanderlust as I poured over photos of Zion’s vertically vast & colorful landscapes: steep orange cliffs, water the color of oxidized copper, purple pebbles, deep green pines. America the beautiful, indeed.

I wanted to go, and I wanted someone to go with me. No, I wanted someone to make my dream happen for me. I’d never planned a trip before. I longed for someone to do it for me, to plan every stitch, to guide me, to make the first move.

3 years later, I was hoping for a trip to Zion with my then boyfriend. It didn’t work out. When I’d bring it up to my friends and none of them gave a committal response, I decided I wanted to make it happen anyway. I decided I would go alone.

About Zion Canyon

The narrows hike winds through a slot canyon, which are so named because they’re deep and narrow. This is thanks to the sandstone that forms the canyon walls. Sandstone is porous, so the water quickly fills all the space in the stone, sinking in deep and, over many years, forming a slot.

The Narrows hike is strenuous. It’s filled with large stones and water that’s difficult to see through. You’ll need hiking poles and the right shoes, and you’ll need to be in decent shape.

Flash Flood Warning

The most important piece of advice is to be aware of the risk of flash floods. Since the canyon is very narrow, it fills quickly with water (that’s what formed it in the first place!). Even if there’s rain miles away, it can wash down to the trail and quickly be a huge problem.

Before your hike, be sure to check the park website for alerts about closures, and check the weather for rain. Don’t go if it’s raining! Also, when you go to pick up your backpacking permit, the park ranger will let you know the conditions. If there’s any risk of flash-flooding, they won’t let you go (and that’s a good thing).

How to Hike the Narrows

To hike the narrows, you need to make sure you get your permit ahead of time, and you also need to hire a service to shuttle you to the trail head.

Footwear: This is a unique hike, and I was not sure of what type of shoes were best. Since the majority of the hike is in a river, you don’t want to wear wool hiking socks. They are just going to get waterlogged and uncomfortable. Ditto heavy hiking boots.

Joe’s extremely helpful guide recommended a pair of LaSportiva trail runners, which I purchased, along with a pair of neoprene socks. The trail runners were perfect because they have rubber over your toes, eliminating the issue people have wearing sandals. There are tons of little rocks and pebbles that you could stub your little feet on.

The shoes also don’t absorb any water, so your feet stay light.

Knowing the Route: Honestly, you’d have to be pretty clueless to get lost on this hike. You’re just following the Virgin River. If you got lost, it would be because you did a 180 and started walking the opposite way.

Top-Down vs. Bottom-Up: You can hike the narrows as a 2-day top-down hike, as a strenuous 1-day top-down hike, or a 1 day bottom-up hike. I choose to do a 2-day top-down hike, starting at Chamberlains Ranch and ending at the Temple of Sinawava.

Permit: All overnight trips in Zion require a permit. It costs $5. You can apply for the permits 3 months in advance, starting on the 5th of the month at 10 a.m. MST. Since I bought a plane ticket before I had my permit, my stakes were sort of high.

I made sure to mark my calendar for the booking window so I could be one of the first to apply. I didn’t have any issues. If you’re doing a day hike, you won’t need a permit, and if you sleep more than 1 night in the park, you’ll need a permit for each night. Since I was doing a 2-day hike and sleeping 1 night, I only needed 1 backpacking permit.

Shuttle: The trail head of the narrows is at Chamberlain’s Ranch, which is a very remote place. It isn’t accessible by the bus that runs through Zion Park. You could drive yourself to the trailhead, but after your hike, you’re going to have to find a way to get back up to the trail head, plus have a long drive. It isn’t worth it.

I used Zion Adventure Company, which cost me $37. They loaded the hikers into a van with an impressive shock system–which brings me to another reason you shouldn’t drive yourself. The terrain is probably going to be too much for your rented Toyota Yaris.

At the end of the hike, I just hopped on the Zion Canyon Shuttle, a free shuttle that travels through the park, at the Temple of Sinawava.

Pooping: You need to pack out your poop. Which sounds gross, but think about it. It’s much better that way. The alternative is to have a valley covered with strangers’ poop. Also, they give you this nifty bag to poop in:

Sleeping at Walmart the Night Before My Hike

I flew in the night before my hike to the Las Vegas airport, rented a car, and drove all night through the Rocky Mountains until I hit the Walmart in Hurricane, Utah. The Walmart is about a 30 minute drive from the park. I slept in the backseat of my rental car with my keys and a can of mace next to me.

(The mace was in my checked bag. I probably didn’t need it, and after this trip, I realized I probably wasn’t allowed to have the mace, even in the checked luggage. Also, probably wasn’t allowed the fuel for my stove. But it turns out they don’t really searched checked luggage for dangerous items. Comforting).

If you didn’t know, Walmart is cool with people parking RVs or sleeping in their parking lots, as long as your Walmart is not on this list, so check it out first. I think that list may just be for RVs though. You’re probably fine parking in a no-park Walmart in a regular car, but don’t sue me if you get caught.

The next morning, I got in my car and set my sites on the Zion Welcome center, stopping for a coffee, smoothie, and mini quiche on the way. You may think this detail is unimportant, but I assure you it’s not. It was one of my favorite breakfasts ever. I stopped in a parking lot to eat my quiche and texted some friends that I was in Utah, and I sent them this impressively unimpressive photo.

Utah Sunrise
Just a regular-ass scene in Utah

Unfortunately, at the time I took this trip, my only means of taking photos was a very old cell phone (a Samsung Galaxy s4 Mini, to be precise). This phone came out before phones have as great cameras as they do today and the photos I took are not of the best quality as the pictures I take with my current equipment.

I know, it’s the photographer, not the camera. But still. I never claimed to be a great photographer. I’m just OK at taking pictures. For me, the camera does more legwork than I do 😉

Crappy photos or not, this hike will forever be one of my most treasured experiences.

My Pre-Marathon Food & Exercise Log

This Sunday, I ran my first ever marathon!

I really enjoyed the challenge of training and participating in this event. My time was 5:27:48. I didn’t meet my goal of breaking 5 hours, but I did meet my goal of completing the race, which is good enough for me. This is also my first race during which my pace started slow and gradually increased, instead of the other way around. I used to be pretty mindless when pacing long races, going as fast as I could at the beginning so I would end up crawling at the end and just hobbling across the finish line.

This time, I moderated my pace quite well, and I think I would have had a shorter time if it hadn’t been for the surprise wintry mix. That’s right. Surprise. Wintry. Mix. It started around mile 20, and it was blowing directly into my face. My shorts and long sleeved shirt were drenched. It was 35 degrees. I had run 20 miles and had 6 to go. It really sucked.

But then, at mile 24, my friend Val appeared to run the end of the race with me. She had already done the same for Bart, who ran the race in 4:36:15. I also had not 1, but 2 groups of friends who came to cheer me on. Running through Philadelphia, a beautiful city that’s special to me, was a wonderful experience. All of these things were special and a great reminder of how lucky I am!

My Marathon Diet & Exercise Log

I thought I would share how I fueled myself in the days leading up to the race. I am not a nutritionist, but I pay attention to what I eat and am pretty good at figuring out what works for me.

For the first few days, I focused on eating as healthy as possible, with lots of fruits and veggies. Then, I started to increase my protein intake. The day before the marathon, I switched to eating several small meals rich in carbohydrates, and of course, I drank plenty of water during the entire week.

I also was told that it’s a good idea to keep running, but run short distances at faster paces, so that is what I did.

Tuesday (5 days out)

Wednesday (4 days out)

  • Breakfast: Skipped
  • Lunch: Chicken gyro wrap, 2 apples, & a handful of almonds (I got lunch from the same place 2 days in a row. They loved me at the pita shop this week. And honestly they do every week because I get lunch there all the time!)
  • Dinner: Trader Joes orange chicken & veggie fried rice (OK, so this wasn’t the healthiest. But it was so easy and delicious!)
  • Exercise: 75 minute yoga video at home

Thursday (3 days out)

  • Breakfast: Skipped.
  • homemade acai bowlLunch: Homemade Acai bowl- 1/2 cup frozen blueberries, 2 frozen bananas, 1 tablespoon of freeze dried açaí powder, 2 scoops of pea protein, 1 cup of kale, and unsweetened rice milk. I put everything in the blender and go, pausing occasionally to scrape the sides with a rubber scraper and slowly add more rice milk as needed. Topped with chia seeds, unsweetened coconut flakes, and homemade granola.
  • Dinner: Salmon filet, roasted sweet potato & cabbage, quinoa
  • Exercise: 4 mile run, followed by a 30 minute foam roll & stretch session

Friday (2 days out)

  • Breakfast: Skipped
  • Lunch: Trader Joes Super Spinach Salad & sesame bagel with peanut butter
  • rolled ice creamDinner: Duck & wonton ramen from a Japanese restaurant followed by rolled ice cream. An impulsive meal. Bart and I had to pick up our bibs at the expo and grabbed dinner afterward in Chinatown. This dinner did *not* make me feel good the next day, I would *not* recommend eating this two days before a marathon. However, I would recommend it on a day when what you ate mattered less, because it’s delicious.
  • Exercise: none, rest day

Saturday (1 day out)

  • Breakfast: Oatmeal cookie pancakes
  • After this big breakfast, I ate several small meals throughout the day. I ate: a sesame bagel with butter, a 6-inch Italian hoagie, a packet of potato chips, and a cookie.
  • Dinner: Since she lives within walking distance from the race, we spent the night at a friend’s house who was also running in the race. She cooked us a spaghetti dinner with very mild tomato sauce. I didn’t gorge myself, but had a large but reasonable helping, probably a quarter box of spaghetti. We also ate some chocolate covered graham crackers with sea salt from Trader Joe’s while watching a trashy realty TV show called Temptation Island.
  • Exercise: .75 mile run to get my muscles warm so I could spend an hour stretching.

On Saturday, I made sure to drink 5 1-liter Nalgene bottles full of water. I also had some watered-down Pedialite and several cups of hot ginger tea. The tea was to help with the stomach ache I had because my dumb ass ate ramen and ice cream the night before.

Sunday (Race Day)!

The race started at 7, and I got up at 5 to eat a bagel with peanut butter, half a banana, and a double shot of espresso. I also drank a liter of water and about 12 ounces of more watered down Pedalite.

To answer your question, yes, I had to take a lot of pee breaks during the race. Honestly, I’d do it again because I think being so hydrated definitely benefited me during the marathon. I also took a cup of gatorade at every stop and had 4 energy gel packets while I was running. A lovely woman was passing out fun-sized candy to the runners and I had a Reese’s peanut butter Christmas tree.

After the run, I had a banana, granola bar, and a cup of hot chicken broth they gave me before heading back to my friends’ apartment. Since an Uber XL would have taken 10 minutes to arrive and we were .5 miles from their place, we just walked home. It was brutal. I watched the Eagles lose with a bunch of my friends and had a burger from ShakeShack and 3 slices of Sicilian pizza. Also, lots of red wine. Another big mistake. Huge.

I didn’t eat perfectly, but these meals worked for my life and fueled me reasonably well. Do let me know what you like to eat before races, hikes, or other big days. I’m always looking for new ideas!

The Loyalsock Trail, Mile by Mile

In this post, I break down the Loyalsock Trail into 25ths, providing a description of what your in for at each part of the trail. Check out my first Loyalsock Trail post for more general info about the hike.

This list was derived by memory, and also by reviewing the Alpine Club’s Guidebook, which my boyfriend’s dad purchased. You can order your own by downloading the order form here (they’re $4 each).

Guide to The Loyalsock Trail

Please note, we do the trail backwards. So this guide starts at mile 59.2 and works toward mile 1.

  • Mile 57.23, The Haystacks: Park your car at the trail head and then you got a 2-mile hike to get to the haystacks, an interesting rock formation in the Loyalsock creek. This section of the trail is relatively easy. It has a few slight downhills, but is mostly flat.
  • Mile 55.32, Iron Bridge: from the Haystacks, you’ll cross the Loyalsock creek on an old iron bridge.
  • Mile 53.47, Sones Pond: Nice Uphill until it levels out and you get to Sones Pond, which is a nice place to camp, if you’re ready to stop for the day.
  • From here, it’s a leisurely 7-8 miles of moderate hiking (not much uphill) leaving Sones Pond and going forward, you’re at the top of a high plateau, so it’s flat.
  • Mile 47.61: You start to descend into Worlds’ End State Park.
  • Mile 45.98, World’s End State Park: At mile 45.98, you’ll find the park office for Worlds End State Park. This is a great time to go to the park office and fill up on water, before you cross over the Loayalsock creek again by way of a large concrete bridge, which supports a paved road where cars are driving.
  • Leaving worlds end, cross route 154 and then you’re going to take a series of switchbacks and uphills for the next 2.5 miles, pretty steep uphill, series of switchbacks and uphill.
  • Mile 43.27, Loyalsock Canyon Vista: Very nice view. Stop for a break! After that, you’ll have 6.5 miles of leisurely hiking, just a bit of up and down, but fairly easy
  • Mile 36.45, Alpine View: A nice vista. From here, you’ll have a very steep downhill section into a stretch of the next 2-3 miles. This is tough hiking, rugged terrain with lots of up and down.
  • Mile 35.17, Rode Falls: Pretty waterfall, good place to break, good campsite, you’ll have to climb a ladder to get over the falls. It’s on the left! Leaving the falls, you have a 2 mile stretch that is uphill and rigorous. As you make your way out of the ravine, you’ll come up to split rock.
  • Mile 32.48, Split Rock: Another interesting rock formation. You’ll walk through two rocks that look like they’re split in half. Hiking difficulty is moderate, a little up and down, but nothing too crazy.
  • Mile 29.95, High Knob Road: Cross the road on top of the mountain. If you followed our advice about parking a third car at the midway point, this is where it is! From here on, keep your eye’s peeled for timber rattlers! In the past, every time I’ve seen rattlesnakes, it’s been between here and mile 1. Leaving high knob, is a steep downhill, no switchbacks. Once you reach the bottom, it’s fairly level hiking for the next 4 miles.
  • Mile 26.66, Cross a Road: and begin a descent until you bottom out at
  • Mile 25.24, Kettle Creek: No camping here. Very low elevation. From here, you’ll be climbing for the next mile, it’s a pretty steep uphill to get out of Kettle Creek. This is followed by a long, steady downhill until you reach
  • Mile 22.08, Good Break Spot: Next to a road. Altitude is 1,270.  Your feet are probably tired, and you have a long uphill coming up, to the highest point on the trail at mile 19.92. You’re going to be going up a long, steep, never-ending uphill.
  • Mile 21.14, Private Land Begins.
  • Mile 19.92, Highest Point on the Trail: 2,140 feet. Trail turns to the right, and you reach a long, beautiful meadow, trail is now a dirt road. Follow for about a half mile until it takes you back into the woods. At this point, you’ve passed mile 21.14, which begins an area that is privately owned, so no camping between there and 14.82.
  • Mile 18.85, Return to the Woods: The long meadow ends here. Go back into the woods until the woods clear out again, and you’ll see a bar/restaurant at the top of a hill.
  • Mile 18.25, Highland House Club: You can’t get a beer! It sound delicious right now, I know. But this is a private club, and only members can eat at this place. Bart says that he and his dad tried to get a beer twice. The first time, they were turned away. The second time, someone was kind enough to sign them in. Last time I did this hike, two guys drove by in a car and gave us each a cold blue gatorade and a room temperature can of Busch Lite. Awesome!  Anyway, at this point, you’re on a long gravel road that’s going downhill. Follow this road until mile 16.1.
  • Mile 16.1, Gravel Road Ends: Turn right off of the road, back into the woods and onto the trail. Be careful, this is easy to miss! The next 2 miles will be gradual uphill until you reach mile 14.82.
  • Mile 14.82, Private Land Ends: You can start looking for a spot to camp for the night. At this point, you’re on the last leg of your journey. For the next 4 miles, it’s relatively flat and slightly downhill at some points.
  • Mile 10, Gentle Ups and Downs: Starts some gentle climbing and descending.
  • Mile 6.65, Smith’s Knob: Smith’s Knob is rough. It’s a very steep hike up to the overlook, and then a very steep hike down after that. From the top of Smith’s Knob down, you’ll lose 12,000 feet of elevation.
  • Mile 4.81, Ranger Headquarters at Little Bear Creek: No camping here.
  • Mile 4.6, Peter’s Pathway: Steep, narrow, rocky uphill path. From here, you’re gaining back the 12,000 feet back until you reach mile 3.38.
  • Mile 3.38, Crest of Alleghany Ridge: The home stretch! Traverse over Alleghany Ridge (about 3 miles). Hang in there!
  • Mile .58, Steep Downhill to Victory: a very steep downhill until you reach highway 87.

How to Thru-Hike the Loyalsock Trail

There’s nothing like the sense of pride that comes with finishing all of something, and hiking a trail in its entirety is really something special. But it’s hard to do.

If you’re anything like me, you dream of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail, but walking away from society for three+ months is difficult to pull off. And that’s putting it lightly. Fortunately, there are a lot of eventful trails that are shorter. The Loyalsock Trail connects Mountoursville and Laport, two small towns in north-central Pennsylvania. The trail spans along the Loyalsock Creek for 59.2 miles. Hiking the whole thing in 4 days is certainly no easy feat, but it’s entirely doable.

Mile 1 of the trail is at the Northwest end, in Williamsport, but I’ve always done this trail backwards, starting at mile 59.2 and ending at mile 1. Mile 1 is a treacherous rocky hill, so starting it backwards helps you ease in on a more gradual start. Plus, then you have a nice steep downhill to look forward to as your last mile. 🙂

About the Loyalsock Trail

The LT is maintained by The Alpine Club of Williamsport. It follows the mountain ridges and streams along the Loyalsock Watershed. On abandoned railroad grades, footpaths, and old logging roads, the trail makes its way through the Loyalsock State Forrest.

The trail is marked with yellow blazes with red lettering.

Click here for a detailed, mile-by-mile breakdown of the hike.

A Note About Water

On this hike, we carry 2 Nalgene bottles and collect water from streams along the trail. I recommend packing 2 1-liter water bottles and something to use to treat your water. Check out my guide for techniques to purify your water.

The Best Time of Year to Hike the Loyalsock

If you’re from PA, you know the 4 seasons: almost winter, winter, still winter, & construction. What I mean is, things are hit or miss and vary from year to year. Obviously it’s better to go during a clear forecast, but that can be difficult to predict. It’s also more enjoyable to hike during mild weather, and that’s something you can predict, within reason.

I’d say the best time to do this hike is in September or May. That will save you from extreme heat during the day and extreme cold and night. If you can, check the forecast and choose a weekend that isn’t so rainy. But if you have a rain fly for your tent and a rain jacket for your person, a little rain isn’t a deal-breaker. At least not for me!

Of course, you can hike the trail any time of year. Heaven knows that Bart has! Personally, I’ve done the hike twice: once in May and once in July. The July time was a bit miserable–so hot! Another thing to keep in mind, if you’re doing it in the summer, is the bugs. Oh, the bugs! I didn’t have any issues with ticks, but there were gnats buzzing in my ear for much of the trip. So much so that I got into a rhythm of step, swipe bugs out of my eye, step, swipe bugs out of my ear. Rinse and repeat.

But if you’re an experienced hiker and you like a challenge, you can definitely do it in the heat, if that’s your jam. Just bring extra socks.

Camping/Hiking Permits for the Loyalsock Trail

If you’re hiking the entire Loyalsock Trail, you don’t need a permit. Just find a good-looking spot on the edges of the trail. The world is your oyster. Just don’t camp on any private property, and there is no camping between miles 14.82 and mile 21.14. That’s all private property.

Some people prefer to just do part of the trail or have a more laid-back camping trip, & that can be fun! Depending on where you stay, you’ll need to get a permit. I would recommend World’s End State Park, which has beautiful overlooks. That campground opens the second Friday in April and closes at the end of regular deer season (early December).

Trail Transportation

Though I’ve never used it a shuttle service exists for hikers on the LT. You will need to pay a fee and schedule ahead of time.

Another option is to park a car at either end, and one in the center can add an extra layer of security, in case someone gets injured or has a change of heart. Plus, you can store some supplies and food in there!

Here’s where we park our 3 cars.

  • 1 in the parking area along route 87, at mile 1, which is the northwest end of the trail
  • 1 in the parking area off of 220, at mile 59.2, which is the southeast end of the trail
  • 1 at High Knob Overlook, which is mile 29.95, roughly the center of the trail

If you’re parking a third car at High Knob Overlook, be sure to stash a feast in there. Goldfish, gatorade, honey mustard pretzels, jerky. The works.

 

3 Steps to a Great Picnic

Picnics are so underrated.

The simplicity is beautiful. Packing a lunch and a blanket and going to the park is cheap, low-maintenance, and has incredible pay-off. They are a great way to spend time outside with your SO, family, friends, or solo.

But just as with most other things, preparation is key. The way I see it, there are 3 important steps to preparing for a great picnic.

Step 1: Choose a Venue

First things first, you’ll need to choose a place to have a picnic. I like to go to a park with lots of grassy knolls, bonus points for lakes or ponds. For our example picnic, we headed to FDR Park, located in South Philadelphia right across from the city’s sports stadiums. I like this park a lot because it’s huge and has lots of parking spaces.

I highly recommend having a few picnic venues up your sleeves. If you’re new to a city, this may take some time. Check out the public parks in your area and see what you can find. But, depending on where you live, you could also have a picnic in your backyard! And if it’s winter, you could even spread out a blanket on your living room floor.

That reminds me, make sure you check the weather before you go!

Step 2: Choose Your Menu

Depending on your venue, you could have so many different vibes for your picnic! If the park as grills and picnic tables, you might want to bring burgers to cook. Most of my picnics are more low-key. Some of my favorite things to pack are:

  • Fresh fruit (easy to eat, nothing too juicy)
  • Cheese & Crackers
  • Chips & Dip
  • Cookies, Chocolate, or Another Treat
  • Wine

Now, if you do bring wine, you may want to first check and see if the park you’re going to is strict about drinking (if you live in a major city, Reddit can be a great source for this). Obviously, you’re not having a frat party. Keep it chill.

For this picnic, I got most of our rations at Trader Joes (I’m not sponsored. As if). We packed:

  • Fresh Figs
  • 1000 Day Gouda Cheese
  • Pumpkin Tortilla Chips to Scoop Up Our
  • Leftover Red Beans & Rice (Packed in a Rinsed-Out Yogurt Container!)
  • Maple Leaf Cookies
  • Red Wine (Couldn’t buy at TJ’s Because PA Liquor Laws)

Step 3: Pack

wine packed for a picnicThis is important! You’ll want to make sure you pack everything you need. It will be sad if you forget a spoon to scoop your bruschetta or an opener for your wine. Doing a run-through in your head will help you remember each of the items you need. How are you going to divvy up your dip? You could scoop it out of the container, or you might want to bring a spoon and plates. If you’re packing cheese, you’ll need a knife and a cutting board (or, you could probably make do with a plate).

Consider a Picnic Kit

A few Christmases ago, my sister gifted us a picnic kit, featuring a cooler, Tupperware containers, mini cutting board, and knives that came with their own sheaths. She also gave us a water-resistant picnic blanket that folds up nicely and has a carrying handle. I would recommend investing in a similar kit, if you want to get seriously into picnicking. It also makes a great gift! Of course, if you’re a minimalist, you can totally get away with just packing what you have in your kitchen already. You can just use a regular blanket and throw it in the wash when you’re done.

You may also want to bring a card game, book, or other activity. I usually do, but end up chatting and napping instead.

Enjoy your picnic!

Puerto Rico: An Outside Itinerary

I’ve been home from Puerto Rico for 2 days. In Philadelphia, the air is starting to get crisp, with just a few crunchy leaves sprinkling the ground. It’s one of my favorite times of year, but still I wish I was in Puerto Rico!

It was too easy to get used to these views from our morning coffee spot in El Yunque National Forrest.

Traveling to Puerto Rico from the US Mainland

Especially for US citizens, Puerto Rico makes a easy & affordable trip. Here are some reasons why:

  • Puerto Rico is a US territory, so you don’t need to bring a passport or deal with customs.
  • Everyone in the tourism industry speaks English.
  • The currency is the US dollar.
  • There are plenty of direct flights–especially on the East Coast.
  • The flight isn’t long. It took us 4.5 hours from Philadelphia.
  • Rent a car with your US car insurance.
  • It takes 4 hours to drive across the entire island. During our trip, everything we wanted to see was within an hour from our Airbnb in El Yunque Forrest.

We arrived in Puerto Rico on Saturday in the late afternoon and flew home early Wednesday morning. Despite this being a shorter trip, we were really able to pack a lot in!

Where to Stay in Puerto Rico

panoramic photo of elemental eco retreat in el yunque forrest

Many people prefer to stay in Old San Juan, which is a fun city in a good location for accessing other destinations on the island.

We opted to stay in El Yunque National Forrest, which was more our scene. The forrest is another great, centralized location. Plus, you get to experience the beauty of the only rain forrest located within the United Sates National Forrest System.

We found the place we stayed by searching for lodging in El Yunque National Forrest using the app, Airbnb. Our Airbnb was called Elemental Ecoretreat, and was a house with awesome views run by a lovely couple and from Minnesota and their son. On our first night, we stop for dinner in Old San Juan on the way home from the airport.

Next, we attempted a run through the rain forrest behind our airbnb, but discovered it was far too thick. Sharon and Doug, the owners of our Elemental Ecoretreat, say they have machetes we can borrow, and they aren’t kidding. Their son, Parrish, is away during the time we’re in PR. Sharon and Doug tell us that at one point, he had the trail bush wacked, but it has grown over.

We decide to stick to the trails for our hikes during the trip. During the trip, Bart expresses interest in re-clearing the trail for them, but we don’t end up getting the chance to do it.

A Hike in El Toro Wilderness

After waking up and having our coffee in our magical coffee spot, we set out for the El Toro trail head, which is located very close to where we’re staying. When we drive up, we are heartily greeted by no fewer than 5 dogs, 3 of whom will accompany us on our journey.

At the trail head, there is a collection of walking sticks. I grab one, and thank myself for it later. This trail is muddy, and requires a great deal of hopping on rocks and steep banks. On the way, we pick a fresh lime from a lime tree and visit with a tadpole.

When we reach the top of El Toro Mountain, the 5 of us take a rest near the Puerto Rican flag and take in the beautiful view.

The hike is fun and invigorating, but makes me wish I would have brought a pair of hiking pants. The plants along the side of the trail brush against my legs and leave lots of tiny cuts, which look and feel like paper cuts.

Waterfalls of Juan Diego Creek

When we first booked our trip to Puerto Rico, one of the things I most looked forward to was swimming in a waterfall. Juan Diego Creek did not disappoint! The trail to the falls was located along a paved road. Later in our trip, we will travel further to access the trail head to Mt Britton & El Yunque Peak, but today, we stop at the creek.

The falls are crowded, but we notice a cliff toward the edge with a rope tied to it. Climbing this way, we are able to access several more levels of falls. On our way up, we are fortunate enough to bump into a young Puerto Rican woman who lets us know that the trail to the best waterfalls has been blocked by fallen trees during hurricane Maria.

She advises us that if we’re willing to endure a 45 minute climb, we have the chance to get off the beaten path.

The trail is challenging and a little confusing, but so worth it, for we discover a pool under a waterfall that we get all to ourselves.

wide angel shot of the pool

We end up climbing above this pool to discover yet another waterfall!

After a lunch of 1/2 a barbecued chicken, rice and peas, french fries, and a beer each (all for $15!) we head to the beach.

Seven Seas Beach in Fajardo

After our action-packed morning of hiking in the forrest, we head to the beach to check out 7 Seas. Though Bart has seen the Caribbean Sea before, it’s my first time, and my mind is blown away by the soft sand and crystal clear water.

The mountains and rain forrest in the background delight us both, as do the shady trees on the back edge of the sand.

On our way back to the car, we spot a local man selling fresh fruit. We pick up a papaya and a bag of fruits we’ve never seen.

These fruits are called quenépas, the vender informs us. He also teaches us how to eat them. You bite a hole in the skin, then suck the fruit out, which has a simultaneously sweet and sour flavor and is stuck to a large pit.

We finish most of the bag of quenépas the car on our way home.

Back at our Airbnb , we cook a dinner of cut up papaya, rice and beans, and avocado. We sprinkle the avocado with salt, and squeeze on some of the juice from the lime we picked on the El Toro Trail. The flavor is more intense than any lime I’ve ever had–delicious.

Before bed, we spot this little guy hanging out on the wall. This is one of Puerto Rico’s iconic Coo-qui frogs, named for their distinct croaking.

Having both grown up in the woods, we sleep peacefully to a chorus of frogs ribbiting their hearts out.

A Snorkeling Trip to the Island of Culebra

Before our trip, I booked a snorkeling trip to Vieques Island with a company called Pure Adventure Corp. The trip was cancelled due to not enough people signing up, but Pure Adventure Corp was kind enough to rebook us for a different snorkeling trip to Culebra.

The cruise included a stop at Flamenco Beach, which is considered to be one of the world’s best beaches.

panorama of flamenco beach

At Flamenco beach, we get a chance to practice snorkeling with the equipment. I catch on quickly, even though it’s my first time. We see some cute, tropical fish swimming in and out of the edge of the coral reef.

Juan Morales, a marine biologist who works for Pure Adventure, lets Bart cast his fishing rode a few times over the side of the boat. He also gives Bart some local fishing tips, which we put to good use later in the trip.

Pure Adventure provides us with sandwiches, fruit, chips and salsa, and a cooler of water. There’s also a cooler with sodas and local beer–but we are under strict orders to not touch the beer until we’re on our way home. One of the other people on the boat with us gets scolded for cracking one open early.

coconuts in shopping cart at restaurant We all get back aboard the boat and travel to a more isolated location, where the water is deep enough for us to swim over the reef without damaging it. Here, we see two sea turtles, more tropical fish, and a sting ray.

After snorkeling for the day, we head to Luquillo Beach. This beach has a strip of bars, restaurants, and souvenir shops. After watching the sunset on the beach, we pick up some magnets for our fridge and split a plate of grilled shrimp and chicken. The restaurant where we eat has a shopping cart filled with coconuts in the corner, which I find charming.

Mt Britton and El Yunque Peak

On our last day, we head back to El Yunque National Park to Mt Britton Trail. We access the trail head through the same road where we found Juan Diego Creek, PR 191.

The path is paved nicely and winds through beautiful stretches of forrest. Along the way, we catch glimpses off of the side of the mountain, and can spot the observation tower that awaits us at the top.

We get the chance to say “hello” to some more of the local flora and fauna.

When we reach the top of Mt. Britton, we climb up the observation tower, which gives us a boost on an already impressive view.

Observation tower panorama

We travel .6 more miles past Mt. Britton to reach El Yunque Peak, and on the way back, we hike .2 miles off the trail to check out the overlook on Los Picachos Spur.

mt britton panorama view

Fishing for Sabalos

Bart wants to try out some of Juan’s tips for fishing for Sabalos (Tarpons). We head to the beach Juan suggested, located on the old military base near Fajardo. While Bart fishes, I explore the beach, where the water is more rough than the beaches we’ve visited so far.

I pick up some broken pieces of coral. These cause my bag to get pulled aside when going through security at the airport the next day, but the TSA agent lets me keep them.

After an hour or so, we head back to the beach at 7 Seas to say goodbye to the sea before our last event: a bioluminescent bay kayaking tour!

Kayaking at Bioluminescent Bay in Fajardo

Through Kayaking Puerto Rico, we book a kayaking tour. We opt for the 8:45 pm departure time, since we hear the darker, the better.

Bioluminescence refers to a process carried out by a type of plankton. When agitated, these plankton give off bright blue light (don’t worry, stirring up the water doesn’t harm them!).

We began our tour with a thorough application of bug spray, which was provided by the kayaking outfitter. After kayaking through the mangrove trees, we had a free 20 minutes to paddle around the bay, stirring up the water and seeing the ethereal blue sparkles.

Saying Goodbye to PR

After a farewell to a weekend of relaxed adventure, we are reluctant to go back to our urban, corporate lives, but feel we’ve experienced a full trip.

We hope to return some day!

Canoe Camping in the Paw Paw Bends of the Potomac River

The first time I ever camped, it was in a canoe.

Since, I’ve camped from a car and from a backpack, and thoroughly enjoyed both, but canoe camping might be my favorite.

Traveling by canoe offers advantages. You can pack much heavier than you would backpacking, but unlike with car camping, you can enjoy the feeling of being away from the rest of the world.

Canoeing is fun and good exercise, but much less physically demanding than hiking. It’s even more fun if you love fishing, birdwatching, or swimming.

This particular trip was in the Paw Paw Bends of the Potomac River. 

The Paw Paw Bends

The Potomac River flows through Washington, D.C., though the Paw Paw Bends are about 150 miles upriver from our nation’s capital. This windy stretch of water meanders back and forth in lazy loops, forming a strange shape in the Maryland/West Virginia border.

Potomac River Canoeing Map:

The Paw Paw Bends are locally known for the Paw Paw Tunnel, which you can learn more about here. We didn’t have time to visit this time, but I gotta get there one day!

The Trip

We complete our trip over the course of 3 days & 2 nights on the river, though we stay overnight at Happy Hills Campground the day before our journey begins.

Day 1

How Canoe Camping Works

Our journey begins at 8:30 am on Friday. Mike Sweeny of Tom’s Run Outfitters meets us at our pickup location in Hancock Maryland. That’s where we’ll end up on the last day of our trip. 

Mike meets us at a boat ramp in his truck pulling a trailer full of canoes. He then shuttles us upriver, where we canoe back to where we started from. For 3 days, we’ll paddle with the current.

Our canoe team opted for a 3 day journey, but most canoe outfitters also offer 2 and single-day trips.

Bracing for the Rain

Mike and his wife, Becky, are retired school teachers. I find out when Mike describes the Potomac’s smallmouth bass as pugnacious, which is a good word. Our SAT word for the day, Mike tells us.

We’re prepared for rain, which began at 3 am, to continue through mid-morning. However, Mike informs us that the rain is supposed to last until 4. We check the weather one more time, and realize that the forecast has changed since we last checked it–as forecasts are wont to do–and we settle in for a damp, cold day.

We’re wet, miserable, and cold, until two things happen. We realize the water is about 85 degrees, so we jump in. We also break into our supply of beer & orange flavored Burnet’s vodka. It helps, but it was supposed to last for the whole trip!

Nighttime 

At approximately 5:30 PM, we arrive at our first campsite,  Bond’s Landing. Before bed, we cook noodles and spaghetti sauce on the camping stove. Robyn and I are desperate for s’mores. Bart and I have an argument which, in retrospect, is very embarrassing, about whether it’s possible to light a fire with wood that’s been soaked through with an entire day of rain.

The day is far from perfect, but we make the best of it. Robyn said she likes camping specifically for these small struggles. They can help to put things into perspective when we go back to our indoor lives. And despite how tough things get, we are able to overcome them.  

The sentiment doesn’t lessen the hollow sting of unactualized s’more desires, but it’s good food for thought.

Day 2

We begin the next day in much better spirits. After a good night’s sleep followed by a breakfast of fresh black coffee, s’more flavored pop-tarts (not as good as regular s’mores, but I take what I can get), and oatmeal, we hit the river.

On this day, our competition heats up. It’s a fishing tournament. We all agree to contribute $20. The one who catches the biggest fish wins the pot, minus $20, because second place, most fish, wins back their money.

This is Bart and my third year doing this trip, and each time we are unable to locate the campsite Mike recommends for our second night, called Cacapon Junction. So instead, we spend the night on top of a bank beside the river that Bart found the previous year.

On this night, we are able to light a fire, on which we cook hamburgers in pie irons. And afterward, blessed s’mores!!

When we first gather round, I intend to stay up all night roasting s’mores and telling scary stories, but after I realize how tired everyone, including myself, is, we turn in early after Robyn, Bart, and I roast 1 s’more each.

Day 3

This is a sad day for Bart, as he comes very close to catching a muskie, an ambition he’s held for much of his life.

As we a traveling a stretch of the river where muskies are rumored to have been spotted, a giant fin flashes in the water. From the canoe behind us, Aaron shouts about a monster fish.

The muskie bites, and we start to paddle the canoe quickly toward the shore so Bart can jump out of the boat and stand in shallow waters to angle the fish. But as Bart reels him (or her) into the boat, the canoe and the fish move quickly in opposite directions, and the line snaps.

Though it’s hardly any consolation, Bart had in fact, caught the record fish earlier that morning: a 15-inch catfish. 

Better luck next year!