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Happy Hermit's Holiday Hikes
I want to offer something for this group over my December break from school. I'm off from 12/20 to 1/2 (don't hate me). Last year, I backpacked Patagonia in December. The prior two years, I offered "Happy Hermit's Holiday Hikes" to experienced hikers that I knew. This involved a selection of treks that were back-to-back-to-back with a concert worked in for some town fun (the Tivoli Theatre in Chattanooga) . In 2015, we started with a trek in the Smokies then a trek on the AT at Max Patch/Hot Springs then a trek on the South Cumberland Plateau (Fiery Gizzard, Savage Gulf). I could also just focus on one large trek.....like an end-to-end traverse of the Smokies. I've done three different versions. I wanted to gauge interest before I invested a lot of time into planning. There are a lot of logistics but I'm glad to do it if I can get a group together. I'll be going out even if its solo.......but if I'm solo, I can get away with a lot less planning & more last minute planning. I created a document with some gps data from past trips to give you a better perspective: http://allatoms.com/caba/Happy%20Hermit%20Holiday%20Hiking.pdf If you're available & any of this interests you, give me some feedback & we'll go from there.

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What we're about

This group is for experienced, dedicated backpackers who enjoy longer treks & thru hikes. People who enjoy extended, authentic wilderness experiences. We live in a fertile region for these experiences. There are plenty of Meetup groups in NC that offer excellent opportunities for day hiking, car camping, & backpacking trips that are camp-centric. I am not trying to duplicate the abundant offerings for novice to intermediate backpackers. This group will focus on more ambitious backpacking treks to explore & experience our beautiful wilderness areas........more of a thru hiking style. These treks would prepare you for even more ambitious treks such as section hikes, thru hikes, & backpacking in those tall western mountains. If you aspire to this level, but are not yet ready......please consider joining my educational group (Carolina Educational Backpacking Adventures) which is designed to assist backpackers who are making the big jump from intermediate to advanced level.

A representative example would be a traverse of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from end-to-end in 4-7 days (depending on the route chosen, this can be 70-120 miles). I use the Smokies a lot to train for trips out west that require a lot of elevation change.

Again, to be clear - I'm also putting together a developmental program to offer treks for those who aspire to gain experience & join advanced treks. I'm an educator by profession and have taken over 450 teens on wilderness backpacking treks. That group is "Carolina Educational Backpacking Adventures". Please join that group if you're not yet confident enough in your experience & skill set to do the advanced treks. Thank you.

What is "advanced" level backpacking? Of course, that is a subjective term so when I was asked that question, I had to ponder what it really meant to me. I looked over the data for my outings over the last two years and I noticed that a "big" day seemed to consistently measure up to these parameters:

20+ miles 5,000'+ of elevation gain 2.5-2.9 mph

......but I also think advanced means you're prepared for any weather and don't have your trip plans constantly derailed by "too cold", "too hot", "too wet"......as well as "too far", "too high", etc.

I consider myself advanced but I don't consider myself an expert. I learn every time I go out and that is something I really appreciate about backpacking. Here are some goals I see for myself in becoming more "expert":

- completing a long trail thru hike (this goal will be met in May 2018 when I begin the PCT). My longest continuous trek has been 366 mi in the High Sierras. I've completed the JMT twice.
- true winter backpacking. I do a lot of "winter" trips in the southeast but I'm talking about a trek that requires snowshoes.
- a significant off trail trek requiring more navigational challenge like the Sierra High Route
- backpacking in Grizz country
- desert backpacking
- a trek that requires a significant amount of packrafting

If you're still interested in this Meetup group, here is more background information to provide context for the types of experiences I intend to offer........

I'm a high school chemistry teacher. I didn’t experience backpacking until 2009 so I was a very late starter. You could say that I caught the “bug”. By 2015, I was completing 15 treks a year. Some of my trekking is by bike so my passion can be generalized as self-powered, self-contained adventure travel. As a teacher, I have 12 weeks off a year and I try to make good use of that time. We launched an outdoor education program in 2009. The popularity of that program led some students & I to start an Outdoors Club in the fall of 2012. To my continued astonishment & delight, that has led to the successful completion of 26 trips involving 458 student participants & 80 chaperones. It has been a joy to share the serene beauty of the wilderness with young adults who have grown up in the digital age. Many are sleeping outside for the first time and have never been away from their electronics (TV, computer, phone) for any length of time. We have trips in May, November, & February so many are getting their first experience in some challenging conditions. I admire their courage to push their boundaries. After strapping a backpack on for the first time in June 2009, my backpacking has evolved into three types of trips:

1. School trips – large groups (our record is 44)
2. Small groups – I invite experienced club members & alumni to join me for more challenging treks
3. Solo

I enjoy all three. All share some core rewards but also offer some unique rewards. As my treks have become more ambitious, I have found myself going solo more frequently. In March, I traversed Great Smoky National Park for the third year in a row. In June, I led a school trip on the Foothills Trail. Later in June, I bikepacked from Carolina Beach NC to Astoria OR. In September, October, & November, I took short solo trips to the Smokies. I took a large group to Wilson Creek Wilderness in November. I will be taking a large group to Chile in December to backpack the Patagonia region. I’m currently training to thru hike the PCT in the spring. My motto is “make it memorable”. This year has been memorable for me & I’m thankful that I can have these experiences & share them with others.

Just some general parameters to give you a sense of what I consider ambitious:

1. On solo trips, I now generally plan to hit the 20 mile mark per day. It wasn’t that long ago that I thought 10 miles was a big day…….and it still is if you leave camp late and carry heavy loads. For me, the morning light is the best time to be out. I like to get out of camp early & quickly and use breakfast as an additional break at a beautiful spot.

2. I trek light but by no means ultra-light……my base weight is down to 23-27 lbs depending on destination, days out, & season. I tend to carry 2.5 lbs of food per day so a 6 day winter trek can have me carrying a 40 lb load at first step.

3. Some consider me fast but I’m not a speed hiker. I’m not interested in racing or records. I take a lot of photos, enjoy swimming in the clear mountain waters, taking in the views earned by a tough ascent, & stopping to admire magnificent old trees. Starting early affords you the time to travel far but also to really take it all in. I usually average about 2.6 – 2.9 mph moving speed in challenging terrain. This means I’m normally spending 7-8 hours hiking under load to travel 20 miles…….but I get to see a lot. Another way to look at it is that I'm spending 1/3 of my day hiking. I love hiking.....exploring.....discovering. I don’t go out there to spend 15-20 hours in one spot.

This group requires that you provide your own gear & assume liability for the risks inherent to wilderness trekking. I will provide detailed itineraries & hopefully we will all share advice earned from our respective experiences.

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