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Trip Report: Woody Ridge Hike, Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina

Where:
This trail is located about 4 miles south of Burnsville, NC just off of Highway 80.  The trailhead and parking are at the end of  route 1156, marked Shuford Creek Rd, despite what the online map services may call it.  The road just ends with a nice wide area and parking for about 8 cars.  The small Forest Service trail marker for Woody Ridge is visible straight ahead.

When:
We day hiked on January 29, 2011.  It was a beautiful Spring-like day…a nice break in a fairly cold and snowy winter.  It was warm when we parked the car (about 55F), and by the time we turned around, we were hiking in 3 feet of old snow!

Who:
My 10 year old son and I. I would not recommend this trail for kids any younger than about 10, unless they are just “gung ho” about getting up to the highest ridgeline in the eastern US.  It is a tough climb.

Positives:
– rapid altitude gain with some beautiful views during colder months (when the leaves are down)
– solitude – we saw no one, and were making first tracks after about 1 mile
– dramatic terrain – very steep and open and windy up top
– starting a fire on a huge boulder to warm up…the winds on that exposed ridge stoke your fire for you
– hot russian tea using our alcohol stove (I started with about 1 cup of our bottled water and filled the rest of the pot with snow)
Negatives:
– rapid altitude gain – uphill 95% of the time
– “post holing” through the snow soaked our feet quickly (lightweight hikers)
– I suspect this trail is very rocky and washed-out when not covered with snow…it has so few switchbacks
– during warmer months, leaves on the deciduous trees would block all views for nearly the first 2 miles
– my son could have used gloves because he kept putting his hands down in the snow as we post holed up the steepest sections
– there were really no camp sites on the trail…a few flat spots would work in a pinch though
Comments from my Son:
– “I can’t wait to tell the guys about hiking in all this snow up here”
– “This snow just takes all my energy”
– “Glissading is awesome”
– “My toes hurt”
Plan it, and go visit Woody Ridge Trail before the leaves come out on the trees.  Be careful…the weather on the ridgeline could be extreme.  Check out a posting on what we wore and carried here.

Beginners: What Do I Need to Take my Kids Backpacking? Pt.2

So, in my previous post I listed some key preparations and pre-requisites for your first lightweight backpacking adventure with your family to be a success.  Now I will get down to the practicalities that you are probably looking for…I will discuss some of the details of each item, but I will save a discussion of where to get good-value examples for another post(s).  For now, just remember that Goodwill and other thrift stores are your friends.

First a bit of a disclaimer…this list is no substitute for you, the parent, using your common sense and your parenting skills with your kids.  This is a 3-season list for the Southern Appalchians; 3-season refers to Spring, Summer and Fall.  (Winter conditions require heavier gear like snow worthy tents, snow/water resistant boots, hand and face protection, etc.  Winter requires more experience and has no mercy if you make mistakes.)

3-Season Clothing to WEAR the day you head out….

  • Comfortable Shoes like runners (NOT stiff boots…your loads will be light so you don’t need heavy  boots/shoes and the blisters that accompany them.)
  • Wool Blend Socks (at least 60% wool even in hot weather.  Wool just holds its bulk and breathability better than anything else.  You might also wear thin, “liner socks” under the wool ones if you are prone to blisters or very sweaty feet.)
  • Synthetic Underwear IF you are comfortable in it.  (It will dry fast if you stop for a swim (“underwear dipping” if skinny dipping is not an option), or if you get caught in a shower, or if you over-estimate your level of fitness and sweat like a hog.)
  • Polyester Short Pants (Nylon would be the second choice.  Single layer polyester dries the quickest.)
  • Wicking / Quick-dry Polyester T-shirt or polyester “safari style” shirt.  (If it is early Spring or late Fall, this might be a long sleeve thermal type shirt.  In hottest summer, make sure the weave is open or the front has buttons to open up.)
  • Bandana or microfiber mini towel (For wiping sweat, crumbs, a bandage, arm sling etc.  And it just makes you look the part!)
  • Sunscreen (wear some) or a lightweight, wide brimmed hat that is comfortable.  Burned nose, ears or necks can ruin a trip.
  • Pocket knife – light weight folding knife.  But don’t give your kids their first knife as you head into the woods, away from modern medical care!

To carry:

  • Backpack – It needs to fit the wearer, especially the adults’ because they will be carrying the most weight.  Up until around age 11, a kid can get away with a very basic pack for a trip of 4 days or less.  Watch for other posts on backpacks for kids.
  • Stocking Cap (choose quick access location in the backpack) – A comfortable, warm hat that pulls down over the ears and part of the neck….polyester, Merino wool, acrylic blends.  Grab it when you stop for a break at a windy vista, or if someone gets hurt and you want to keep them warm.  Also, you will probably be sleeping in this, so make sure it is not too tight making your head itch.  This is a critical piece of gear…you lose more heat through your neck and head than any other part of your body.
  • Rain Shell (choose quick access location in the backpack) – Look for a light weight, breathable design.  Even in cooler weather it should serve only the two purposes of blocking wind and shedding rain.  Grab it in the event of a shower or steady, cooling wind.  Insulation will come from a separate layer(s) when you stop your exertion for more than a few minutes….in other words when you get camp set and start getting cool, you put on your insulated jacket.
  • Insulated Jacket – First choice is a puffy fiber or goose down filled light weight jacket.  Remember this does not need a heavy outer skin, your rain shell handles that role.  The shell and lining should be polyester or nylon.  This puffy style of jacket gives excellent warmth for its weight, and it packs down very small in the backpack.  A polyester fleece would be a 2nd choice because they are heavier and bulkier to pack.  We sometimes sleep in these jackets on really cold nights.
  • Water Bottle/ bag (choose quick access location in the backpack) – Just get a liter of bottled water and recycle the bottle.  Some of my favorites are Smart Water or Voss brand because their long skinny bottles fit into my pack well.  Don’t waste your money on expensive, heavy water bottles or canteens.  Hydration bladders are another option, but they can be difficult to refill on the trail with a water filter, and they can be difficult to clean.
  • Sleeping Pad – Huge range of prices and styles here, but the basic $7 blue foam pads from Walmart’s sporting goods department are perfectly light weight and adequate.  We often place 3 of these pads across the floor of our tent for myself and the three boys to share.  A fourth pad will not fit and is not necessary.
  • Sleeping Bag / Quilt – For 3 season use, sharing a quilt can be a great, lightweight, affordable sleeping system.  We recently picked up a fiber filled comforter made entirely of polyester.  We always sleep in socks and, if it’s cool, stocking caps.  The shared quilt is much lighter than 4 sleeping bags, and takes up much less space in a pack.  Individual sleeping bags can be very bulky and heavy or expensive.
  • Spare Clothes – Have discipline here, or you will blow it and take things you will not need.  Keep each person’s clothes in their own water proof “stuff sack” or tough plastic bag…they must stay dry!  This stuff sack of extra clothes will be your pillow at night…if the bag’s surface is uncomfortable, use a shirt as a pillow case.
    • Long Pants – for sleeping and cold mornings or a bog storm…polyester wind pants.
    • Emergency Pants – shorts in hot weather, long pants in cool.  In case of sickness/accident.
    • Long Sleeve Shirt – polyester as discussed above…only one extra.  Sleep in this one and pack your day’s short sleeve shirt into your stuff sack for the night.
    • Underwear – one change for every two nights out..really only needed in case of an accident/sickness.  (We have no problem going “bare back.”)
    • Socks – 2 extra pair…a dry pair just for sleeping, and a third pair while in case the first are still drying.
    • Diapers or Pullups – if needed.  A pain to pack out but crucial to keeping the sleeping system and your clothes dry.
  • Eating Utensils (for each person) – plastic cup with a handle (or made thick enough not to burn little hands when filled with hot chocolate), plastic bowl like a Tupperwear cereal bowl, and a metal spoon that’s tough enough to scrub with sand.  Metal cups and bowls are only good for burning your hands and cooling your food too quickly.  I like to have at least one medium sized, mesh laundry bag like those used for washing delicates…I hang everyone’s cups, bowls and spoons up in the mesh bag after supper and washing.
  • Toiletries – All we have are tooth brushes, some toothpaste (shared), and a small bottle of camp soap (Dr. Bronner’s, shared).  But you may need a little more….contact solution, feminine items.  Also, this may overlap with our first aid / comfort kit below.
  • Head Lamp – with good batteries.  Each person has his/her own head lamp once they reach about age 5.  There are tons to choose from these days.  Remember to think light, but also durable and using an affordable, common battery size.

Shared Items to Divvy up and Carry

  • Potty kit (choose quick access location in the backpack) – A lightweight, plastic trowel and ziploc bagged toilet paper.  The two of these together in a larger bag because the trowel is always slightly dirty.  Optionally, we keep a cigarette lighter in our kit to burn the paper just before covering the hole….it makes for less chance of an animal uncovering the ugly white paper, BUT it can be a fire hazard in dry weather.
  • Water Filter (or treatment system) – For a group or large family, being able to filter or treat water as you need it is MUCH easier than trying to carry enough even for a single night.  Water is usually the heaviest item in a kid’s pack.  Their are alot of options to purchase, so ask around and do some reasearch…these are extremely important, and a good unit can serve you many years.
  • Tent or Tarp – This will be your heaviest item, and is a huge topic of discussion for a dedicated posting.  I’d recommend beginners spend the money to get a good, lightweight, double-walled tent, or 2 for the family.  There are many ultralight options out nowadays.  Don’t forget that you can usually separate the tent into poles, body, fly, and stakes if you need to spread out the weight among several folks.
  • Sleep Quilt – if you choose this lightweight, shared alternative as we have.
  • Food Bag – a good quality stuff sack  and 50 feet of cord that can hold your entire family’s trip food.  You will hang ALL of the food in this bag high in a tree at night (along with other things that smell good like deodorant and toothpaste) to keep it away from critters and bears.  Recipes and food recommendations will definitely be covered in other posts.
  • First Aid / Comfort Kit – in a small “ditty bag” or quart Ziploc freezer bag.  Be realistic about first aid, if it’s not that bad, the kid will probably ignore it for a few days, and if it is real bad, wrap bandanas or clothing around it and get out to get help.
    • Medical tape – some good tough tape.
    • Sunscreen – in a small bottle, also use it for chapped lips or dry skin.
    • Duct tape – NOT a whole roll…wrap some around the suncreen bottle just in case..use it for blisters, fabric tears, and tons of other repairs.
    • Gauze – a small roll or a few pads in case of a deep cut or severe burn.
    • Band-Aids – just a few large and a few small, not a year’s supply.
    • Over the Counter Meds – I carry chewable Tylenol, chewable Benadryl, and chewable Pepto-bismol.  Don’t forget the dosing instructions.
    • Prescription Meds – if you have any.
    • Allergy Meds – epi-pen or inhalers, etc.
    • Bug repellent – I keep some of the disposable wipes.
    • Sewing Kit – tiny travel kit in case of pack strap failure or shoe or clothes problem.
    • Extra Cigarette Lighter AND extra matches.
    • Napkins – 6 to 10 in a ziploc for those greasy dishes or messes that might not rinse out of a bandana.
  • Camera – (choose quick access location in the backpack)  Remember fresh batteries and an empty memory card.
  • Map and Compass – Learning to read the basics of a trail map with a compass is not that hard.  Nobody wants to get lost.
  • Stove & Pot Kit – All of these items fit into the pot….
    • Pot – We love our aluminum, 6-cup grease pot from Walmart.  It was only $7.
    • Alcohol Stove – home-made or purchased for $10 or so.  Watch for a posting.
    • Alcohol Bottle – I have a Christmas Coke bottle that is short and fat holding about 13 fluid ounces, enough for about 4 to 5 family meals with several hot drinks.
    • Single Leather Glove – as a pot holder.
    • Can opener – military style, usually available at Walmart in sporting goods.
    • Mini Bic Lighter – maybe two, in a small ziploc bag.
    • Wind Screen – homemade out of foil or roof flashing.  It surrounds the stove and pot to improve its efficiency and reliability in the wind.
  • Large Alcohol Bottle – For more than 2 nights out with the whole family, I use a larger Coke bottle for the extra fuel, as needed.

And that is it…nothing more for up to 4 or 5 nights in the three mild seasons in the Southern Appalachians!  Just add food!  As I discuss these items and where to get them, you will see that you don’t have to spend a lot to get the family out there.  Tent(s) and adult backpacks are really the only big ticket items.  As always, please post questions or comments.

Trip Report: Panther Creek, Chattahoochee National Forest, Georgia

This was a great trip away from the Christmas rush.  It was fun to test ourselves in some colder conditions.
Where:
This trail is located about 15 miles south of Clayton, Georgia just off of Highway 441.  The trailhead and parking are on Old/Historic Highway 441.  The paved parking area across the road from the trailhead is for a large picnic area with composting toilets (that were unlocked and available during our trip).  The parking area requires a $3/ vehicle use fee, and the signage gives the impressionthat overnight use is not allowed.  I spoke with a ranger, and he said that overnight use was prohibited in the picnic area, not on the Panther Creek Trail.  He also said to use the gravel space on the same side of the road as the trailhead, if available, for free overnight parking.  It is across from the main parking area entrance.  This gravel space was large enough for 4 or so cars.

When:
We were there December 18-20, 2010, for two nights out.  I have seen reports of this area being crowded on weekends during the warm months, but we saw only 7 people during our 3 day / 2 night trip on the weekend before Christmas.   I must tell you that I enjoyed this much more than a crowded shopping mall!
Who:
Two dads, four young men ages 8, 10, 12 and 13. One hammock, one 2-man tent, and one 3-man tent.  Young kids (approximately 7 and younger) will need close supervision along some sections of the trail with high drops and poor footing.  There are a lot of nice camp sites large enough for 3 to 4 tents.  The river is beautiful along most of the trail, so if your children can’t make the entire trip in to the main falls (3.5 miles), they can still enjoy a nice trip.

Positives:
– a very scenic river with a sizable waterfall
– no crowds on the weekend before Christmas…very different from warmer seasons
chewable Pepto Bismol tablets in my first aid kit
– quart size freezer bags and “bubble wrap envelope cozies”<link> for easily re-hydrating “death noodles” (ramen noodles with chunks of greasy summer sausage)
– impromptu “spelunking” near the second night’s campsite about 2 miles from the trailhead
– the majority of the trail is flat

Negatives:
– Stove Top Stuffing with chicken – too much of a mushy thing for a main dish
– no extra, dry shoes for around camp in the evening, (after slipping into the creek, we had extra socks, but we needed something like Crocs or slippers for around the camp site while the primary shoes were drying)
– the first three quarter mile of trail is generally downhill (uphill heading out!)
– several places along the trail have hazardous drops and poor footing that will require hand holding for the youngest…keep your kids safe!

Comments from the Kids:
– “the cave was awesome”
– “the waterfall was huge….but not being able to swim due to the cold was a bummer”
– “cheap gloves for mornings and evenings would have been nice”
– “the cheese grits with bacon were awesome” – Quaker instant cheddar cheese grits with real butter and bacon pieces (from the salad toppings aisle)

Plan it, and go visit Panther Creek.  Try to get a trip in before school’s let out for summer break, on a weekday if possible.

Here are more pictures…

One of many beautiful views of the river along the trail.

This was one of several rocky areas along the trail that were a little scary for those less than sure-footed.

The second night’s campsite as the sun was dipping.

A quick shot of Luke and I enjoying the cave.  It was actually big enough for all 6 of us.  It was found just steps from our second camp site about 2.75 miles into the trail.

Also at this second night’s site was a “stand-up kitchen rock.”  Bryan and I agreed that this was the most convenient backcountry kitchen spot we’d ever used.

Bryan is one of those tree hangers (uses a hammock).  He was bundled up tight on the second morning.  His digital thermometer showed 21F when we were getting up.  Notice the frost on the inside of his tarp…frozen respiration.

It was a beautiful morning heading out, back to our cars.  But it was a little tough since it was up hill the entire way out.  We were comfortably tired when we reached our cars….feeling a lot better than if we’d spent a long day Christmas shopping.

As always, please post any questions or comments.

Beginners: What Do I Need to Take my Kids Backpacking? Pt.1

So this is one of the most common questions I get when I bring up backpacking with other parents.  Here is an overview of what you need to introduce your kids to the great outdoors….

1. Someone with some experience backpacking (if you do not have some).  Because you don’t want to have any significant mistakes/oversights the first time you take your kids.  You want their first experience to be a good one, so try to partner with a family that is experienced in backpacking.  Be careful though…car camping is  VERY different from backpacking.  You want someone that packs light as if they were trekking 10 miles into the wilderness, but is willing to stay close with a beginning family.

2. Good weather.  Have a plan B for the weekend in case of bad weather.  Rain or staggering heat (without a swimming hole) can ruin your kids’ first experience in the woods.  Just don’t do it until you have some experiences with good weather under your belts.  Also, be prepared for bugs if you can’t avoid them entirely.

3. A good location / hike.  You need somewhere that is far enough for your kids to feel independent and adventurous but close enough to bail out if things go bad (like a stomach bug, torrential downpour, or injury).  Also, some special geographical feature is a real plus…a waterfall, overlook, mountain meadow, etc.  See our Trip Reports posts for some ideas in the Southeast.

4. Clothing that matches the weather and terrain.  The right clothes and amount of clothes makes a huge difference in everyone’s comfort and satisfaction.  Having what you need to stay warm or cool, to recover from an accident, and nothing more than that is great.  Everyone carries at least some of their own clothes.  See our Clothing posts to learn more about good family outdoor clothing and how to get it at the best prices.

5. Gear.  Besides clothing, you will need tent(s) or tarp(s) for shelter, bags or quilts for warm sleeping, cooking and eating equipment, water containers and treatment or filter, some emergency and hygiene items, and backpacks to carry it all.  See our Lists and Guides posts for the details.

6.  Food. You will want good food and plenty of it.  But this also has to be kept in the perspective…you will not have a microwave or a dutch oven.  But little surprise treats like sugar free gum and a favorite candy can help a lot.  Also, our kids really enjoy jerky, trail mix and Russian tea on trips because we rarely have these flavorful treats around the house.  Check out our Food and Recipe posts for ideas.

7. A good attitude.  If you the parent(s) on the trip are reluctant, you will not be able to carry your kids past the obvious lack of a TV and air conditioning.  You should look forward to living independent of luxuries with your whole clan even if only for a few days.  Be prepared to draw pleasure from the minimalism, from the plants, bugs, views, wind, stars, camp fire, and your company (family and friends). Ultralight backpacking is not about setting up a home away from home.  It is about getting a drastically different perspective and different experiences with your family every so often.  See our Philosophy page for some thoughts on that.

As always, PLEASE post any questions that you have.  We really do want you and your family to have a good first trip backpacking.

Welcome to UltralightFamily.com!

We are getting this site going, slowly but surely!  Please check out our About and Philosophy pages.

Our initial efforts are focused on answering the most common questions we have heard on the topic of hiking and backpacking with young families….

1.  What do I need to take the family hiking or backpacking?…and what do we eat?

2.  Where can I get what we need without spending a small fortune?

3.  Where can we go as a family?…exciting and worthwhile but not too much for youngsters or newbies?

Please be patient as we trickle our efforts out, and please post your comments and questions to guide us so that we can be most helpful.