View Full Version : Shakedown Hike Complete!

10-12-2014, 20:34
Well I just got back from my official shakedown hike for next year and it was overall a big success. I loved being out on the trail for a longer period of time and was sorry to get off just as I really got into the swing of things. I suppose there will be plenty of time for more in a few months. I did the southernmost 85 miles of the AT/LT in Vermont, starting at the Pine Cobble Trailhead in Williamstown MA and getting off at Minerva Hinchey Shelter where I live (well usually not at the shelter but just through the woods). I had a max of 9 days to finish and did it in 8, here's how the miles broke down:

Day 1: Pine Cobble trailhead Williamstown to Congdon Shelter - 13.3
Day 2: Congdon Shelter to Goddard Shelter, Glastenbury Mountain - 14.4
Day 3: Goddard Shelter to tent around IP Road @ foot of Stratton Mountain - 12.9
Day 4: IP Road to Spruce Peak Shelter - 13.3
Day 5: Spruce Peak, resupply in Manchester, Bromley Ski Patrol summit shelter - 5.4
Day 6: Bromley to Peru Peak - 7.1
Day 7: Peru Peak to Little Rock Pond - 9.7
Day 8: Little Rock Pond to Minerva Hinchey Shelter and home :( 9.9

The miles were bigger to start out but it logically worked out that way, I had set coming through Manchester on a Wednesday as my "on time" target and figured I would have a few pretty easy days in the woods towards the end if I hit that. It worked out well, rolled into camp by 4:00 the last two full days to build a fire and socialize with folks, and dragged my feet leaving the lovely little rock pond.

Here's the Geargrams for what I returned with, which was slightly heavier after a few additions in Manchester: http://www.geargrams.com/list?id=21084 I'll mention a couple things about the list that will probably come up if I don't: I won't thru-hike with the Esbit stove, it was brought because I'm still getting a feel for how long a gas canister lasts and it was smaller and lighter than a second canister. I hike with poles in my hands about 97% of the time so consider them more of a worn than a pack item. There are a few items that I know could be lighter (mini vs. full size lighters, 20L food bag is too big, etc.) but were what I had on hand or could acquire before the hike. I carried the Superfeet after changing shoes in case I wanted them in the new shoes, turned out I should have left them in Manchester to pick up with the boots. Finally the saw is staying, I know it's a luxury item and have classed it as such but I love cutting back blowdowns as I come to them and it's now part of my trail name (Ham Sawyer) so I will be taking all 5.6 ounces of it to Maine. Aside from those mentions (and the slightly heavier winter kit I'll start with for early March) this list is very close to what I will thru-hike with

Overall I'm very happy with the pack weight, take out the few extras specific to this trip and I'm sitting just over 18 pounds for 3 season use. I also learned from this trip that there is room for a few extras, for example I didn't mind carrying the 10 oz. paperback book I bought one bit for the enjoyment I got. That 20 pound base weight does seem like a good target, once I got through the food weight I overloaded on the pack was sitting very nicely.

My clothing system worked great and is very close to what I'll ultimately take for temps down to the low 30's. It did get there a few times (ice in my water bottle on Glastenbury Mt.) and I used every layer on several occasions. Seemed to hit the nail on the head, I was never left shivering nor carrying anything that was never put on.

This trip as a huge learning experience, and I'll cover a few of the big lessons I learned pertinent to thru-hiking:

-Trail runners: Well prior to this trip I've been a firm member of the "I'm not drinking the kool-aid, you can't tell me backpacking in glorified sneakers is right yadda yadda" crowd, man my foot is stuck so far down my throat I just might need it surgically removed. I started out in ventilated mid top boots that have always treated my feet well on shorter trips, but around the middle of the second day the firm upper started squeezing my Achilles tendon on ascents and by the time I got to Manchester it felt like I had knives in the back of both heels. Did some quick internet searching and was scared by accounts of how long an Achilles problem can linger if you continue to abuse it. I tried on the Salomon XA's at the outfitter in Manchester and they basically cured it right away. No more squeeze and I walked the last 30 miles in relative comfort. I also had no issues with the reduced ankle support that I feared would happen.

-Water: I've often made a habit of carrying two liters in the past, but quickly changed that to carrying just enough for the next fill up which usually ended up being a maximum of one liter. two liters just isn't necessary for most of the trail I was on with one exception, and an extra two pounds is a lot to carry for nothing. If the guidebook doesn't make it clear, hikers coming the other direction were a good resource for when I could expect water. Of course this is dependent on the region, but I'm consistently hearing from the finished thru-hikers I followed this year that one liter was enough just about everywhere.

-Food: Holy crap did I ever carry too much food, I didn't weigh the bag separately but it had to be well north of 10 pounds. I stopped counting at 17,000 calories when I was filling it. When I got to Manchester after 5 days on trail my entire resupply consisted of one dinner, a box of granola bars and a bag of trail mix. Now of course some of that was due to the hiker appetite taking a few days to kick in etc., but it suffices to say I'm now aware of my general tendency to vastly overshoot the mark on food.

-Condensation: I guess this pertains more to single wall shelters but it really is true that a little condensation inside won't render your sleeping bag completely useless, at least that's how I had come to think of it at times. I had a few nights of conditions that generated a good bit of condensation, weather in some cases and me learning not to pitch the Solomid too low in others. a quick wipe with a towel before bed or when you stir at night does a lot. Two times I did have some dripping on my bag, and it never seemed to penetrate beyond the outer fabric. Despite feeling cool and clammy on the outside of the bag I couldn't feel any loss of warmth or loft.

-Get comfortable with using your tent, and don't limit yourself to shelter hopping! Except in some areas where it's otherwise posted the whole woods is your campground, and sticking to only shelters removes a ton of flexibility from your plans. Case in point: on day 3 I reached Story Spring Shelter south of Stratton Mountain around 2:00 PM. if I were bent on staying at shelters the options would be quit for the day at 2:00 or hoof 8ish miles over Stratton Mountain to the pond on the other side, moving slow with a screaming Achille's Tendon and stagger into camp well after dark and with way more miles than I cared to do that day (around 17). Instead I hiked slow to the foot of the mountain, stopped at the last good tent spot before the ground gets steep, and went over Stratton the next morning with rested legs.

-One last note, though this isn't news to a lot of folks on Whiteblaze, Jeff at the Green Mountain House Hostel in Manchester is one great guy! We had some eerily good timing where he was parked at the route 11/30 crossing when I came out intending to hitch a ride into town, and then ran into me again in town right as I was finished and ready to head back towards the trail. So rides and great conversation both ways purely out of coincidence. Put the Green Mountain House on your radar if you're hiking next year, but remember to call well in advance!

Well I hope this is helpful to some of my 2015 classmates, or anyone really. As someone who had never gone beyond a weekender this hike was tremendously helpful in so many ways, even more than I've already said but I've written a lot and you just might have stopped reading already.. It's put my mind at ease on many levels, though did have the side effect of making me even more anxious for March to just get here already! If you can possibly fit it into your schedule and haven't already, get out there and do a shakedown!

10-13-2014, 11:03
Thanks for sharing, Mat. I did read the whole thing. Our pack weights are similar, although I'm carrying a lot more years than you.

I always find myself feeling jealous of those who live near the AT and have easy access. I've got my stuff all packed for my shakedown this week. Four days in the 63k acre Shawnee State Forest doing a forty mile loop. They call this area the "Little Smokies", and I'm anxious to check it out, especially at this time of year. It's supposed to rain the first two days, so we'll see how I do with drudgery right off the bat. I am very much looking forward to it.

Again, thanks for sharing your experience.

10-13-2014, 13:05
It's supposed to rain the first two days, so we'll see how I do with drudgery right off the bat. I am very much looking forward to it.

That was exactly my experience! The day I started was probably the most rainfall VT has seen in 3-4 months and I was soaking wet by the end of the day. Honestly I found it easier to deal with at the beginning since I still had all the spunk of finally being out on the trail doing this long-anticipated hike. I suppose pretty similar to the novelty of starting a thru-hike that a lot of people report propels them through the first couple weeks then wears off. Rain reminded me of something I forgot to mention, sleeping clothes! I've heard the benefits of carrying an always-dry set of clothes touted on here and it is so true. Man, what an incredible morale boost to peel off all my cold damp clothes and change into warm and dry from head to toe before burrowing into a warm bag, not to mention the safety aspect in the right conditions.