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A Helpful Guide to Start Planning Your First Thru-Hike

After 6 years of dreaming, I finally was able to hike the Timberline Trail in 2015. Photo by <a href="">Kate Hoch.</a>
After 6 years of dreaming, I finally was able to hike the Timberline Trail in 2015. Photo by Kate Hoch.
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started” Mark Twain

Maps. Gear. Food. Planning for a thru-hike can involve so much stuff and data, it can seem downright daunting.

Before I started my first thru-hike, I obsessed the Pacific Crest Trail, but was scared to actually take the first step to make a thru-hike happen. Friends knew of my dream and would urge me to pursue it, but I kept letting fear and the amount of work involved keep me from doing anything about it. I found excuses to avoid even starting to plan. I didn’t even know if I could find the time and money, so why waste that time dreaming?

Then, in January of 2008, I took the plunge and went in head first. I didn’t know what I was doing, but all I can say is that that decision is among the best things I’ve ever done.

Planning and prep for a thru-hike will look different from person to person. We have different goals, different dreams, different timelines. And no matter how much prep we do, Mother Nature always throws something unexpected at us. But the truth is, regardless of who we are or how we want to hike, our experience in the outdoors is safer and more enjoyable when we take initiative and do some old fashioned planning.

Here are some tips to beat inertia and indecision and to hop on the planning train.

  1. Commit to hike, even if you aren’t 100% sure you can make it happen I can tell there’s a difference between the trails that I’ve planned a year out vs. hikes I cobbled together 2 weeks in advance. The further out I can commit to a trail (even if it’s a slow start), the better off I am physically and mentally when I do hit the trail. Committing to my hike early also allows gives me the time to address my demands at home (work, my stuff, bills, etc.) and to make sure years in advance that the family vacation won’t be scheduled in the middle of my hike.
  2. If you’re not sure you can actually hike (find time and money), research how others have made it happen. People from all walks of life have thru-hiked. All ages, all backgrounds, all sorts of professions. Finding the time and money to do a trip sometimes requires some creativity, but if you want it enough, it can be done! Work with a financial planner and talk to other hikers who are similar positions of you to get ideas and inspiration.
  3. Decide to start planning early….say, now. If you’ve ever thought about thru-hiking, the more time you give yourself to mentally be in the “I’m going on a thru-hike space” the better prepared you will be when that day actually happens. If you’re planning on hiking this summer, in 2017, or after you retire in 5 years, setting your goal now and moving on it is a great way to make sure it happens.
  4. Stop worrying that prep and planning will take away from the adventure. No matter how much prep and planning you do, the outdoors is always giving us surprises, always giving us gifts, and promises to keep us on our toes. On a long hike in remote country, you’ve got a smaller margin of error than you do at home. Planning and prep isn’t about forming expectations. It’s about being willing to take whatever Mother Nature gives us and have the knowledge and skills to know what to do with it.
  5. Don’t buy your gear yet. The temptation to go out and buy the first great deal that you see at the outfitter is great. “Who cares how it works? I’ll figure it out after I take it home!” I’ve declared far too often. But for many hikers, gear is the biggest expense of a thru-hike, so it’s worth doing some research—a lot of research—before handing over your hard earned cash.
  6. Find a mentor. First-time thru-hikers who learn from thru-hiking mentors not only get the information to hike, but also get personal support that a book or listserve doesn’t offer. A good mentor will live by the motto “there are no stupid questions.” Avoid online forums, listserves, and facebook groups with trolls that prey on newbies. Instead, look for mentors who are willing to take the time to “tailor” answers specifically to you and who are willing to invest the time to learn about you to help you come to decisions that fit your goals and values.
  7. Know How to Choose the Information You Use. There is a lot of info on mountaineering, survivalism, and “the right thing to do in the outdoors” out there. But just like if you’re planning to bake a cake, a cooking class will only be so useful, if you’re planning to thru-hike, a survivalism book will also be of limited use. A lot of hikers I meet get caught up in learning skills and strategies that tend to not be useful for most 3-season thru-hikers, like learning to kill and skin squirrels or build ice caves. These people would have better spent their time learning to develop a lighter gear system or plan out their resupplies—skills better suited to long distance backpackers.
  8. Carve out time each week to plan for your trip. Even if it’s only an hour each week, this is your time to re-commit to your goal, familiarize yourself with your trail, and prepare yourself for the challenges of a hike. Whether this time is spent taking a class, watching a hiking movie, reading a book, or going over your dream gear list, regularly making trip planning a part of your habitual routine will make sure your dream can’t slip away.
  9. Break planning into chunks. Planning, research, and prep can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to do everything all at once. For example, a friend of mine committed to spend one month just on finding the best sleeping bag for his trip and saving up for it. You can do something similar by spending one week (or one month if your trip is a few years out) just researching something as silly as salty snack foods. The more time you have before your trip, the more easily you can break up your research and prepping needs and make the process fun. Plus, staying engaged throughout the planning process can help you get even more psyched about your trip.


If you have always dreamed of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, John Muir Trail, Camino de Santiago, or any other trail, on January 12th, I will be launching (with BACKPACKER Magazine) a 6-week online course called Thru-Hiking 101 with videos, worksheets, interviews, webinars, gearlists, physical fitness training calendars, and community. It’s an easy to digest, unintimidating guide to help you plan for your first thru-hike and make your dream of outdoor adventure come true. Sign up today

Cheap, Tasty Hiking Foods from the International Market

It turns out that Americans are not the only folks who want food whose instructions are “just-add-hot-water.” For hikers, this opens up a variety of new tasty options for those who have had their fill of ramen, instant mashed potatoes, and Knorr sides this summer.

Every time I’m back in California, I check out the International Market in Rancho Cordova to top off the international flavor in my food bag. Here are a few things that make it into my shopping cart and then into my pack:


Dehydrated coconut milk: One of the best calorie-weight ratio drinks you can find anywhere, international markets always sell this for a much better price than general grocery stores. I add it to granola to eat as cereal. You can also mix it into noodle dishes with almond butter to make a richer dinner or drink it with chia seeds as a quick calorie-heavy drink.

Dried mushrooms:

Another item that is a bargain at international markets compared to specialty grocery stores. Most dried mushrooms rehydrate well with hot water and can make most hiking dinners seem meatier and more fulfilling. Plus, there are probably all sorts of nutritionally good things associated with mushrooms that we haven’t yet discovered.

Instant Beef Pho broth:

I love Pho and especially like to eat at Pho restaurants after especially hot and dehydrating hikes (like the Highline Canal Trail) to replenish salts and liquids. Now, I can have that same rejuvenating effect with instant Pho broth. Most vermicelli rice noodles (same as the rice noodles in Thai Kitchen Instant Ramen popular with hikers, but available much cheaper in bulk or at an international market) rehydrate easily with hot water and a soak. Add some dehydrated veggies, freeze dried tofu or meat, and this Pho broth, and you’ve got a cheap and delicious dinner.

New flavors of “ramen”

Instant noodles in flavors besides chicken, beef, or ….uh, that’s it. Spaghetti flavored? Cheese flavored? Chili Citrus? Green flavored?? (Actually, that chorella noodle ramen is AWESOME and a really great hiking food). These tend to be around the same price as typical ramen with the spendier ones still being less than a buck and comparable to Thai Kitchen’s hiker favorites.

Calorie-loaded hot beverages

I’m not sure how this tastes, but it’s got a decent calorie to weight ratio.


Instant Thai Coffee

Allgood’s backcountry barista on the Sierra High Route turned this into a favorite treat on cold mornings or mid-day snow storms. It’s a great pick me up and it feels downright luxurious drinking a fancy coffee with all the fixings while far away from a Starbucks.

Honey powder

Lighter than actual honey with a lower glycemic index than table sugar, powdered honey can be added to beverages or desserts. You can make your own pineapple chicken by taking bulk freeze dried chicken, instant white rice, freeze dried pineapple, chicken flavoring, and honey powder.

Beat it, Nutella! There’s a new sweet butter in town.
Beat it, Nutella! There’s a new sweet butter in town.


Vanilla sesame butter or Pistachio Cardamom sesame butter:

I haven’t tried them, but am intrigued. They look like a creatively gourmet-flavored seed-based alternative to Nutella for people like myself who are allergic to hazelnuts. I imagine it tastes like halvah, which has one of the highest calorie-to-weight ratios of any food I’ve seen besides straight oil.


Goya Saffron Powder

For a decadent dinner, add this seasoning along with some powdered sour cream to instant rice (maybe throw in some freeze dried chicken or veggies, too). I remember discovering this meal on the CDT and being really impressed by the delicious flavor I could get out of a no-cook meal. I cold-soaked the ingredients it in a peanut-butter jar. That impromptu meal made of everything left in a few hikers’ food bags was one of the best and most memorable trail meals I’ve had anywhere.

Dehydrated Whole Milk Powder

Many hikers know about Nido, which is dehydrated whole milk from Mexico. Nido can be mixed in with creamy dinners to add calories or consumed with cereal. There are other milk alternatives out there, too. I love Milo, which is a tasty malted milk with vitamins. It makes a great breakfast drink and cheap alternative to the hiker favorite Carnation Instant Breakfast. Anyway, the canned bulk dried milk from the international part of the store is way cheaper than gourmet dehydrated gourmet milk.

Dehydrated Seaweed

For those trying to get their greens on trail who want a lightweight, inexpensive, and healthy vegetables, look no further than adding a bit of seaweed to all your meals. Dried veggies tend to be expensive or heavier than many seaweeds. Seaweed is light and helps to add bulk and nutrients to your meals. Remember to add some extra water to each store bought meal (Ramen being the least weird) to give the seaweed plenty of liquid to rehydrate. You can find Eden brand Wakame Seaweed at Whole Foods, but it is 4x the price of what I paid at the international market!

Joint Rebuilding Teas

I don’t know if these actually work, but if it does, after hiking your way through all that food, a hiker could probably benefit from a sip of these!


What are your favorite international store finds??? Share below!


How to Train your Feet for Hiking Season

Altra Zero Drop shoes have quickly become a hiker favorite.
Altra Zero Drop shoes have quickly become a hiker favorite.

If you’ve ever thought about switching to Altra Zero Drop trail running shoes for your backpacking season, now is the time to start getting your foot accustomed to the shoe. I find that switching to hiking in the Altra Lone Peaks has increased my stability, reduced my strike impact, provided comfort for hours of hiking, eliminated long term hiker issues like plantar fasciitis, and increased my efficiency. That being said, hitting the trail with a brand new pair of Altras if you’ve never worn them before may not be the best idea because there is a transition time associated with switching over to a Zero drop shoe.

Lone Peak 1.0 in Escalante. Photo by <a title="Rocky Mountain Ruck" href="">Barefoot Jake Morrison.</a>
Lone Peak 1.0 in Escalante. Photo by Barefoot Jake Morrison.

Fear not, though—the benefits of switching over are HUGE for long distance hikers. Zero drop shoes help align the feet, reduce the impact of each foot step, and increase your stability. The foot shaped toe box—increases balance and efficiency, while reducing blisters and chaffing, maximize shock absorption and allows toes to spread out naturally. What this means for hikers is day-long comfort, increased stride efficiency, and less foot pain.

Baileys traverse in the Lone Peak 1.5s. Photo by <a href="">Barefoot Jake.</a>
Baileys traverse in the Lone Peak 1.5s. Photo by Barefoot Jake.

So, why should you start transitioning to Altra shoes now instead of say, a few days before my hike most thru-hikers (myself included) do the bulk of the trip planning? Because we’ve all spent years wearing high-heel like elevated trail runners, our feet have been trained to be lazy (in scientific speak—has neutralized our Achilles and lower calf muscles). If you hit the trail doing 15s, 20s, or 30 milers in a zero drop shoe when you’ve never worn zero drop shoes before, your Achilles and lower calf muscles are going to feel the burn. The muscles in your feet are going to be confused. It’s best to give yourself at least three weeks to strengthen your legs and feet before your hike.

Bobcat, Malto, and me on the Wonderland Trail in the Lone Peak 1.5s. Photo by Swami at <a href="">the Hiking Life.</a>
Bobcat, Malto, and me on the Wonderland Trail in the Lone Peak 1.5s. Photo by Swami at the Hiking Life.

Pre-hike training schedule:

Before you get your shoes (or during week 1): Walk around barefoot in the grass or the beach or your bedroom for 30 seconds, adding a 30 seconds per day. Week 1: Wear Altras around the office and running light errands (they sell a “work appropriate” show called the Instinct Everyday that has many of the same features as the running shoe, but looks like it’d work with a suit). At first, the Toe Shaped footbox may feel too roomy and weird. After a few days, your toes will start relaxing and will start spreading out naturally.

Sandstone in Moab in the Superior 2.0s Photo by the <a href="">Tom Gathman.</a>
Sandstone in Moab in the Superior 2.0s Photo by the Tom Gathman.

Week 2: Do a very short hikes (whatever that means to you). Start without your backpack and give yourself a rest day to assess how your feet, joints, Achilles, foot muscles, and lower calves feel. If everything seems great, slowly increase the mileage and add weight to your backpack, being sure to build in days in between for rest and recovery. On a thru-hike, it’s near impossible to take zero days every day, so let your body take advantage of rest days between hikes to build muscles and strength. Let your body also take advantage of the muscle building fuels that you can get from living off trail. Building muscles on trail when you’re living on instant mashed potatoes and ramen is going to be a little bit more difficult.

Escalante in the Lone Peak 1.5s. Photo by<a href="">Barefoot Jake</a>
Escalante in the Lone Peak 1.5s. Photo byBarefoot Jake

Barefoot Jake. Week 3: Up your mileage slightly, being sure to take days off in between. Take note of any excessive soreness or discomfort and rest up more. Week 4-6: Do a few hikes of the approximate length that you would wish to start a thru-hike. Take some days off between. Assess how you feel. Try doing that distance with a full pack of gear.

Glacier walking in the Lone Peak 1.5s in Olympic National Park. Photo by <a href="">Barefoot Jake.</a>
Glacier walking in the Lone Peak 1.5s in Olympic National Park. Photo by Barefoot Jake.

With this training system, your feet will get stronger and reduce the chance of getting bone fractures. Your lower calves will be ready to hit the trail (relatively speaking). And you’ll enjoy the natural alignment benefits of wearing a Zero Drop shoes. Wearing Zero Drop shoes is like long distance hiking: once you start doing it, you’ll have a hard time thinking of life the same way. If you’ve ever thought about it, I highly encourage starting now before hiking season gets into full swing so that you can maximize the benefits when you’re on trail.     (P.S. I’m not a doctor. Legal says that you should consult with your physician before doing anything physical or changing your life in any way).

Rocky Mountain Ruck

ALDHA-W and the CDTC held the Rocky Mountain Ruck on March 14th at the American Mountaineering Center in Golden, CO
ALDHA-W and the CDTC held the Rocky Mountain Ruck on March 14th at the American Mountaineering Center in Golden, CO

Get to the hills! The Colorado hikers are in Ruck! This past weekend, ALDHA-W and the Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC) completed their first Rocky Mountain Ruck attracting 85 people from as far away as Salida, Vail, Portland, and even LA! This all-day event attracted hikers in all stages of experience—from dayhikers to seasoned veterans to the long trails. No matter what level of expertise, everyone walked away having learned a trick or two, and the fellowship, fun, and beer made the event the closest Colorado has gotten to a Gathering yet (besides maybe Lawton “Disco” Grinter and Felicia “POD” Hermosillo’s wedding).

Outside demo
Outside demo

Held at the historic American Mountaineering Center in historic downtown Golden, CO, the event kicked off with speeches by CDTC Executive Director Teresa Martinez and ALDHA-W President Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa. To acquaint everyone to the terms, quirks, and nuts and bolts mechanics of a thru-hike, Ryan “Dirtmonger” Sylva and ALDHA-W Secretary April “Bearclaw” Sylva presented a funny and lighthearted intro to What is a Thru-Hike.

Pack shake down with Allgood and Annie
Pack shake down with Allgood and Annie

After a break with food and snacks provided by Great Harvest Bakery and Whole Foods Golden, the event jumped into the ever-important ‘Everything that Can Go Wrong on the CDT’—with applications for the Colorado Trail, PCT, and pretty much every other trail. Disco and POD used their humor and wide breadth of hiking experience to present a spectrum of safety techniques for various tribulations of the trail—from grizzlies to giardia.

Outdoor fording demo
Outdoor fording demo

From here, it transitioned to winter hiking teacher Pete “Czech” Sustr’s hands-on (read: powerpointless) clinic on fords and snow travel. The troop of hikers traveled outside to a park outside to enjoy the four surrounding mountains of Golden, the 70 degree temps, and a little lightning safety position practice.

Czech demonstrated walking on a not-snow-covered hill and then gathered everyone to Clear Creek where he and a lone brave volunteer forded the creek. Passerbys from downtown Golden stopped to witness the crazy.

The view of the ford from the bridge over Clear Creek. The downtown passerbys were gathered on the bridge watching these two.
The view of the ford from the bridge over Clear Creek. The downtown passerbys were gathered on the bridge watching these two.

The morning concluded with backpacking gear presentation by expert and ultralight guru Glen van Peski. Throughout the day, hikers had the opportunity to explore manned booths and touch, try on, and otherwise drool over gear from Montbell, Gossamer Gear, Katabatic Quilts, and the CDTC. Lunch outside transitioned into pack shakedowns with experienced hikers and trail Q&A in breakout groups. Those who brought their backpacking gear for one-on-one consultations were stoked at the level of attention, helpfulness, and insight the hour of gearheading provided.

Dirtmonger heading up a pack shakedown. What a nerd!
Dirtmonger heading up a pack shakedown. What a nerd!

Corralling people back to the classroom on such a sunny day was a chore, but well worth it. Paul “Mags” Magnanti gave a highly informative presentation on navigation on the CDT with a robust Q&A. Mags proved a hard act to follow, but Allgood and I came on stage to discuss serious business: pooping in the woods. We discussed Leave No Trace trail ethics and Trail Town Etiquette—two very important topics that to-be hikers need to know before stepping foot on trail. The session concluded with a cathole digging competition with participants using their shoe, hiking poles, sticks, tent stakes, rocks and potty trowel to dig the best hole they could in 45 seconds. Needless to say, the trowel got the job done.

Cathole digging competition
Cathole digging competition

The evening ended with a killer presentation by Junaid Dawud, who thru-hiked all the Colorado 14ers as a continuous hike. A minor Front Range celebrity, as well as a seasoned thru-hiked himself, Junaid’s photos were jaw dropping and his description of pioneering a trail and the suffering that actually doing it entailed somehow just made me want to hike it even more. Junaid told us during Happy Hour that it was the first time he had given a talk about the 14ers Thru-Hike. Everyone who heard that could not believe it—his talk was so well-polished that we had all assumed he had given it to numerous clubs around the Front Range. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure Junaid has an opportunity to give his talk again sometime soon.

Cathole competitors put on their game face.
Cathole competitors put on their game face.

The night ended with a raffle of gear valuing thousands of dollars including backpacks from Gossamer Gear and others, numerous pairs of Altra Zero Drop shoes, DVDs of the Walkumentary and Embrace the Brutality, downloads of Guthook’s trail guide apps, Sawyer filter, a Montbell jacket, Katabatic gear bivy, a Hennessey Hammock, and much more. Nearly everyone walked away with some schwag (and everyone who came to the event walked away loaded down with giveaways from Probar, Whole Foods, Tecnu, and Dr. Bronner’s). We all gathered for a Social Hour and Q&A with beer provided by Colorado Native Lager.

The Gathering is about food, fun, and fellowship.
The Gathering is about food, fun, and fellowship.

It’s the end of Ruckin’ Season. Soon, hikers will hit the trail. But with the help of the Rocky Mountain Ruck, we hope that everyone will set foot on trail—whatever that trail may be—feeling more prepared for the journey ahead.







15 Hiking Stocking Stuffers under $15 (and most under $10)

Cheap presents that will be appreciated by the hiker(s) in your life.
Cheap presents that will be appreciated by the hiker(s) in your life.

Got someone on your list who is a hiker? These are 10 simple, practical, and useful items that are bound to get used by anyone who is thinking about going on a long backpacking trip. I’ve used everything here and keep buying them over and over again because they really spruce up a backpacking trip. Many of these items are things that hikers have to buy anyway (like hand sanitizer), but for gift giving, these particular items add a special touch that will help your loved ones remember you when they’re hundreds of miles away from home. Throw a couple of these goodies into a stocking with some chocolate, and you’ll literally have a happy camper.

1)  Dr. Bronner’s Organic Lavender hand sanitizer: I am a STRONG advocate for using hand sanitizer during backpacking trips and believe it can significantly reduce trail-borne illnesses like Norovirus and Giardia. The Dr. Bronner’s Lavender Hand Sani smells so good that I use it on trail during the tough part of the day just to boost my mood. Now that’s a multi-use item everyone can love.

2)      Mini dice: If you’ve got a lot of hikers to give presents to this year, dice makes a great cheap novelty gift for hikers. Five mini-dice weigh in at grams and provide hours of entertainment for hikers trapped in a tent or shelter on a rainy or snowy day. Good for Yahtzee, Farkel, and anything else you can make up. Weighing in at 2 g, I can count the times I wish I had this in my pack and never am sad to have carried them.

3)      Wet Ones Single Packs: Nothing will elicit a cry like “Thank you!!” than a stinky hiker opening a resupply package and finding some Wet Ones singles. Weighing in at less than 0.5 oz, one of these can really spruce up a hiker’s mood (and smell) at the end of a backpacking day. I like the singles since they maintain their moisture until I need them. With a box of the singles (as in the link), I can put a few in every resupply box or have a fresh one every day at less weight than the bigger packs.

4)      Photon Freedom: The lightest light on the market, this version of the Freedom can be attached to your hat to use as a headlamp or be worn around your neck for easy-to-find-at-night convenience or as a backup light to use in camp. I use the Photon exclusively on trips where I won’t be doing a lot of nighthiking, but I have friends who have nighthiked hundreds of miles with nothing but the Photon. It can also be used as a keychain so is a great backup light when I head out into the woods and realize at the last minute that I forgot to pack a headlamp.

5)      Rite in the Rain Waterproof Notebooks: Some of my most treasured memories in my life were hiking journals written in these notebooks. Give the hiker in your life a private place to write about his or her adventures

6)      Mini bottles: Hikers can never have enough of mini-bottles and it is HARD to find the really tiny ones. In the past, I’ve used these bottles for Dr. Bronner’s soaps, toothpowder, Aqua Mira, and have hiked with people that use them for contact lens solution. I love the bottles sold at Gossamer Gear and Mountain Laurel Designs online stores.

7)      Animal-Shaped Gear Aid Patches! After piercing a down jacket and lancing a cuben fiber tent

in the field, I never go on a trip without Gear Aid patches. These badboys have saved me in the woods multiple times. With these insta-fixes, I patched my holes and spent the rest of the day focusing on my hike instead of worrying about my gear. They stick better than duct tape and look a lot cooler, too.

8)      WetFire: Every backpacker has had a night where she really wants a fire…NOW. Wetfire won’t let wind or water prevent you from making your fire. This works great for making campfires and for making sure that your fuel to cook dinner doesn’t go out.

9)   Down cleaner: There’s a lot of power behind a present that is actually a backhanded commentary on a person’s odor. If you’ve ever asked to borrow a friend’s sleeping bag, and then immediately regretted it, Nikwax Downwash or Gearaid Down Cleaner will make a perfect gift for that friend. That hiker should get the message.

10) Food items! Anything from this list of best treat food stocking stuffers for hikers and backpackers

Anything I missed? What would you include?


How I Became a Backpacker

In an article that came out today in <a title="Mushroom Trip Report" href="">Trails Magazine</a>, I discuss my transformation from sedentary to migratory.
In an article that came out today in Trails Magazine, I discuss my transformation from sedentary to migratory.

As a kid, teenager, and young person, I constantly had a restlessness in my feet, but I didn’t know why.

In an article published today in Trails Magazine—an online magazine that focuses on the athletes and culture of long distance backpacking—for the first time, I’ve written about how I became a backpacker.

For a lot of people just getting into backpacking, it’s easy to think that I was just born a Triple Crowner. But like a lot of serial long distance hikers, I came from a fairly sedentary, smart-kid restless lifestyle and transformed into a lady who lives to be on the trail.

Please check out the article (scroll down: the full version in English is there!!!) I’m hoping that by reading this article, a few people (teenagers?) may be inspired to get out there.

How did you transform into a backpacker?


Ultralight Gear list: late season Wonderland Trail


The Wonderland Trail circumnavigates Mt. Rainier
The Wonderland Trail circumnavigates Mt. Rainier

After the ALDHA-W Gathering, I was lucky enough to hike the 93 mile long Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier with Swami, Malto, and Bobcat.

I was expecting some colder temperatures in bad weather because: 1) we were hiking late season 2) Mt. Rainier is high altitude 3) Mt. Rainier is relatively north 4) it’s Mt. Rainier.

On the other hand, I was trying to keep my pack as light as possible because 1) my three hiking partners are really strong, world class hikers and I had to be able to relatively keep up 2) I knew their packs would be very light 3) the Wonderland Trail has a good deal of elevation change and I wanted to make going uphill as easy as possible.

With these concerns in mind, here is the gear list I put together for a late season Wonderland Trail trip.

Download the PDF file .

Tokaido Nature Trail: Logistics and Planning

The trail up to the northern termini of the Tokaido Nature Trail
The trail up to the northern termini of the Tokaido Nature Trail

In the U.S., the term “nature trail” denotes the one-mile long interpretative boardwalk next to a parking lot. It’s the place for toddlers in strollers, not a place for hardcore backpacking. So, as I scoured the internet for wild long distance hiking trails in Japan, I was skeptical to find the Tokaido Nature Trail. While the Shikoku Pilgrimage (aka Temple Trail) remains Japan’s most famous long distance trail, I wanted to walk a less publicized, more primitive path. Yet the Tokaido Nature Trail does just that—travels 1,000 miles from Tokyo to Osaka along mountains and forest reserves. I was a little surprised to find such a trail exists in Japan, especially one whose termini are so easily accessible to a car-less foreigner, yet this summer, I set off to hike on one of Japan’s longest and least publicized footpaths.

Almost all the information on the Tokaido Nature Trail is in Japanese, including the maps. Although I am ashamed to say I can’t read much Japanese, I became quite proficient at comparing Japanese characters on signposts to characters on my map. In addition, I am thankful to my mom, a native Japanese speaker, who painstakingly helped me translate maps and internet-based material. My goal in writing a series of blogposts about the Tokaido Trail is to provide a bit more information on the trail in English to would-be long distance hikers.

Mom enjoys some konnyaku yam cake at one of the food stands along the “trail”
Mom enjoys some konnyaku yam cake at one of the food stands along the “trail”

My mom joined me for the trip out to the northern termini of the Tokaido, Mt. Takao, easily accessible by train from Shinjuku, the financial district of Tokyo. Somewhat like Mt. Katahdin, Mt. Takao is a termini that is a destination in itself. Even for hikers who have no interest in doing the Tokaido trail, Mt. Takao is still worth visiting. I shared the first part of the popular trail with school children in matching bright caps on a field trip.

Japanese garden lines a stairway up to a temple.
Japanese garden lines a stairway up to a temple.

There are several routes up Mt. Takao, including taking a tram halfway up. My mom says that the temples, shrines, and old growth cedars along the trail are not particularly interesting to native Japanese people, but as a foreigner, it was fun to see them along the trail. Perhaps for a break from the climbing, my mom stopped to make a wish to the Buddhist angels for my safe journey.

View from Mt. Takao
View from Mt. Takao

In standard Japanese fashion, we found several restaurants complete with celebrity-signed photos at the summit. Yet, Takao-san is also home to several rare plants and animals (including a Japanese monkey preserve). On a good day, the climber is rewarded with views of Mt. Fuji and Tokyo. Unfortunately, summer smog and mountain fog made all but SkyTree Tower visible to us. Mt. Takao is easily visited by tourists and brochures and maps exist in many languages.

Well marked signs mark the Tokaido Nature Trail
Well marked signs mark the Tokaido Nature Trail

Now safely at one termini of the Tokaido, I departed on my own down Takao and onto Shiroyama mountain. To my frustration, maps in Japan rarely express distance between two points, instead opting to show the approximate time to hike between two areas. As an ultralight hiker, I imagine my pace is somewhat faster than the suggested times listed on maps. Eventually, I found myself solidly on the well-marked Tokaido Trail—complete with signs at each intersection in English! I was ready to set off on my journey alone.

Click here for Part 2 and more on the Tokaido Trail


Fall Kale Dehydrating for Summer Hiking Health

The Hiker Must Do before the end of the month! Photo by Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons
The Hiker Must Do before the end of the month! Photo by Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons

What’s the perfect trail food that no one carries on trail? Kale! This leafy green has as many nutrients as that multivitamin in your med kit that you keep forgetting to take. Kale is a natural detoxifier, which is a plus for hikers who spend the whole day eating (or making) trail dust. Dark, leafy vegetables also have anti-inflammatories, meaning less Vitamin Ibuprofen for those of us with lots of miles on our feet. Plus, any thru-hiker can appreciate how rehydrated kale can be incredibly filling for its weight. A pint sized ziplock equal to an entire bunch weighs in at less than an oz.

It’s kale! I promise! (Ok, fine, there are some beet greens in there, too)
It’s kale! I promise! (Ok, fine, there are some beet greens in there, too)

Unless you live in California, before your local farmer’s markets holds its last sale until the spring, be sure to stock up on kale to dehydrate. The dried stuff lasts more than a year and will be a great asset to your March trail food.

Redbor Kale (purple), Curly Kale, Russian Kale, red and golden beets and Hakurei turnips (their green tops are edible)
Redbor Kale (purple), Curly Kale, Russian Kale, red and golden beets and Hakurei turnips (their green tops are edible)


 Snorkel’s Dehydrated Kale “Recipe”*

1)      Be sure to thoroughly wash your kale before starting, especially if it isn’t organic. Who knows what could be trapped between those nice little leafy ridges?

2)      Strip the leaves off the thick stems, which can be tough and unsavory. From here, you can cut the remaining leaves into 1” strips or (for people like me), tear the leaves into strips of similar sizes.

3)      Go raw to retain your kale’s nutrients! Since raw kale can be a bit rough, I dip my strips in salty hot water to slightly soften it. The salt helps with flavor and preservation. Baking soda or baking powder also work to tenderize and preserve the somewhat tough vegetable.

Drying set up includes bowl of leaf chunks (ready to toss into water), lots of towels, and dehydrating slats (the things that look like window screens)
Drying set up includes bowl of leaf chunks (ready to toss into water), lots of towels, and dehydrating slats (the things that look like window screens)

4)      Lie the kale strips on slats for your dehydrator, being sure not to overlap.

5)      Put it in the dehydrator on the vegetable setting. In my circa 1970s dehydrator, it takes about 24 hours to get completely dry. Since I usually don’t use my kale for several months, it’s important that my kale is completely dry to prevent rotting in storage. If done correctly, dehydrated kale has lasted me a year.

*This recipe also works for Swiss chard and Collard Greens. I’ve also had luck with turnip and beet greens (although these guys are usually tougher and less tasty than kale).