Fastpacking on the AT – Amherst County, VA

Trip Report for my first fastpacking overnight on the Appalachian Trail in beautiful Amherst County, VA. As is usually the case, I could only spare the time for a single overnight and, being as it is that I live at least three hours from the mountains, a six hour minimum drive needed to be factored in. My reasoning was as simple as the plan: try out my new UD Ultra Vest, pack as minimalist as possible, cover as many miles as was reasonable, and bring my cattle-dog mix, Ollie, along for good measure.

 

Day 1:

I realized within the first two miles or so that Ollie was not going to be able to maintain the pace necessary to do 20 miles each way. He would often lag so far behind as to be out of sight but never “whistle” range. While he was unable to remain tangled in my heels (as would be most comfortable for him under almost any other circumstances), he never completely let himself fall back to some unrecoverable distance. Out of my own sense of caution and so as not to feed his sense of impending abandonment, I stopped every few minutes on that first day, perhaps somewhat begrudgingly, to allow him to catch up.

Within a few hours, it became clear that we were not going to reach the James river before dark. Perhaps that goal had been a bit quixotic, but add the slow pace with the fact that we had started somewhat late in the afternoon and the inevitable became.. well, the inevitable. Moreover, our water was running dangerously low by mile 10.5ish and, according to the topo, the remaining portion of trail was almost entirely ridgeline (ie water scarce). It was about this time that we reached the turnoff for the “Punchbowl” Shelter and, with an air of disappointment, I decided to play it safe and stop for the night. The aptly named cabin actually proved to be a pleasant spot, situated at the bottom of a shallow valley, punctuated by several felled trees, a small pond, and lots of open space.

Day 2:

I had packed up camp and was ready to hike by 6:45. Ollie seemed no worse for the wear, albeit a little sore (as was I). Not quite ready to return to the car and, by extension, admit that our trip was already halfway complete, I decided to continue south for another 1-2 miles to see the peak of Bluff Mountain before finally turning around and heading home. Within the half-hour or so it took to get there, I was certainly glad I did (again, see photos above).

The remainder of the day proved to be extremely pleasant hiking/jogging. It was mostly downhill and Ollie actually performed a little better (it’s worth mentioning that I didn’t stop to wait for him as much and he didn’t let himself fall too far behind).

Post-trip highlights and lessons learned:

  • Sunny, upper-80s both days (a little cooler in the woods)
  • Could’ve gone without gels, but CLIF bars were great
  • Anything put in those belt pockets was felt through the straps – needed to ensure comfortable before running
  • Trekking poles were awesome (knee-savers), but needed to remove straps from top (flop around when carrying poles while running)
  • Holy spider webs, batman – strung across trail any time there were branches 4 ft apart
  • Tent/sleeping recap:
    • with tent/tarp edges off ground – great place for cold wind to blow through
    • trashbag ground cloth didn’t do much except (maybe) reflect heat
    • colder than expected by midnight – had to put on UA rain jacket rather than use as blanket
    • used emergency blanket (foil/reflector) for legs; helped somewhat
    • used backpack rainfly I found in shelter as pillow stuffed with anything else “soft” I had on hand
    • ** overall, did not sleep well
  • Insect repellent was a necessity
  • Enjoyed having calf sleeve/gaiters – may not have been doing a lot of compression but was nice to keep crap off my legs
  • Sunglasses were not necessary (glad I didn’t try to bring them)
  • Ate a lot of semi-mashed potatoes in car before hike – satiating and easy on the stomach
  • Carried only 2x 20 oz water bottles
    • Appreciated trade-off of carrying less water weight but needing to be more conscious of water sources throughout hike

Here is my complete packing list (see first photo):

1x UD/SJ ultra vest
2x UD water bottles, 20 oz
2x newspaper dog bags
2x grocery bags (1 bear, 1 trash)
1x 39G trash bag for ground cloth
4x baby wipes in ziplock
1x iphone 4s
1x “wallet”: cash, license, credit card, insurance card, rubber band
1x small notebook w/pen
8x small zipties
1x small swiss army knife (knife, file, scissors)
1x topo map
1x travel towel, quick-drying
1x parachord for bear bag
1x emergency blanket
1x small roll medical tape
1x Saywer water filter with reservoir bag
1x headlamp
1x contact solution (1/4 full) in ziplock
1x insect repellent (1/4 full) in ziplock
3x paper towels in ziplock
1x plastic spoon
2x 4oz(?) homemade gels
4x clif bars
2x granola bars
2x instant oatmeal packets
1x instant coffee packet
1x homemade granola in ziplock
1x package instant potatoes
1x 1 lb bag dried apricots
1x 4oz bag dried edamame, lightly salted
1x lighter
1x extra ziplock (cell phone?)
1x UA rain jacket/outer shell
2x trekking poles (Goode supermax 7101 ski poles, hastily acquired from local thrift shop for $5) w/ tent cord tied to one
1x tent kit:
1x footprint from Mountain Hardwear tent
4x lengths paracord
6x aluminum stakes

Dog:
1x dog pack
2x 0.5L bottle water (lighter than nalgene)
2x ziplocks, each w/1 cup food
1x small plastic bowl, cut from chinese fast-food soup container

Total carry weight (loaded pack w/water/food and trekking poles): 11 lb
Total pack weight (w/ water/food): 10.2 lb
Total trekking poles weight (w/ cord): 0.8 lb

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