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Appalachian Trail Shakedown

We had a guest contact us looking to do a backpack or two in hopes of preparing himself for an Appalachian Trail (AT) thru-hike starting in late January/February. He had been chatting with Redline Guide Arlette Laan so it was a natural thing to have her lead him. Also, not many folks are qualified to really help, not to the level Arlette is, anyway, what with her National Scenic Trail bonanza under her belt. What follows is Arlette’s summary of this three-day/two-night shakedown adventure in Vermont.

Ahh, Yeah, Thru-Hiking — The Learning Never Really Ends
Trip Report and Photos by Redline Guide Arlette Laan

They’re smiling at the start, but to maintain this spirit will require some effort.

Day 1: Let the Soaking Begin

Snow, rain, and ice. We had it all last weekend. Friday I met up with a prospective AT thru-hiker who wanted to test gear and prepare for his upcoming nobo (north bound) hike starting late late January/February. I love guiding trips like these because I basically get to coach someone to have a successful thru-hike. And I get so excited for someone to start their big adventure!

The weather was gorgeous. The trail was beautiful with a dusting of fresh snow. We started at Clarendon Gorge in VT and headed south. We talked a lot about keeping yourself safe in various weather conditions and how to handle the mental challenges while trying to hike over 2000 miles.

It gets dark so early now but we felt so good we wanted to hike a few more miles. Hiking in the dark with snow on the ground and a bright moon was really fun and a first for my guest. It was challenging to navigate some of the wetter sections of the trail and my shoes got soaked. I could feel my waterproof socks getting saturated. We decided to sleep at a shelter since it was supposed to rain overnight and most of the next day. I set up my free standing double wall tent inside since my guest had never seen one set up and it was just us there. We talked pros and cons of certain gear choices and what to do with wet gear overnight when it’s cold out. As for me I slept with my damp water proof socks against my belly then put them on my hands and was able to dry them out with my body heat. Stay tuned for day 2 where setting up camp didn’t go so well…

Day 2: Early Winter Challenges

We woke up to rain and most of the snow had melted off. This was the day to test rain gear and waterproof mittens or lack thereof. It was probably in the 40s and I don’t hike in the rain that often in those temperatures. So even for me it was testing my layers. Turns out my baselayer was too warm in combination with the more waterproof but less breathable jacket. I was sweating inside my jacket. This is one of the reasons I carry an extra dry baselayer and a thinner rain jacket in this season. At lunch I put the dry thinner jacket on over my shirt and the sweaty rain jacket loosely around it. The rain stopped for a bit and I continued hiking in the thinner more breathable jacket effectively drying out my wet baselayer. Phew!

Snowmelt combined with rain created pretty streams everywhere. And yesterday’s white landscape turned to brown and green. We stayed warm all day and my guest was pleased with how his gear performed.

He wanted to learn how to set up his trekking pole tent on a platform so we stopped at a campsite rather than the shelter. It was only raining lightly and we would be heading back to the car the next day so having stuff be slightly wet or frozen didn’t seem too risky. After setting up his tent I went to set up mine and it suddenly started raining harder and with the wind gusts my inner tent kept blowing over and in the end got pretty wet. When I finally got the rain fly on and all the hooks attached I found the tent floor so wet that I didn’t think sleeping in it knowing temperatures were going to drop below freezing overnight was the best idea. In the meantime the wind gusts had also blown water into my guest’s tent and we both packed up and headed for the nearby shelter. This was definitely a learning curve for me. I’m used to setting up my trekking pole tent in the rain and the inside doesn’t get that wet. This tent is fairly new to me and the timing of the five minute intense rain shower couldn’t have been worse. But for testing purposes with a shelter nearby this was about as perfect as it gets. We hung out wet stuff to dry from the hooks and our tents and rain gear dried quickly.

Day 3: Real Troubles with Wildlife

Some other things froze overnight and while I had only left things out that I knew I wasn’t going to be using the next day, it did prove challenging to stuff socks, frozen stiff and now shaped like boomerangs, into my pack pockets. I learned to pack an extra pair of waterproof socks in these circumstances because they got so wet that drying them out in my bag while it was freezing outside would have been pushing my limits of staying warm. I usually avoid hiking in rain before a freeze on a thru-hike just because it proves so challenging. But again, a good learning experience!

Besides the frozen things we had another unpleasant experience in the morning. A mouse had chewed holes in the bottom of our sleeping bags. Such a bummer! I tried to focus on the fact that the holes can be fixed and not let it ruin my day. But I felt terrible for my companion and his wonderful new bag. We both had to get over it and move on with the day. It was cold but at least the sun was poking through and it looked to be a beautiful day.

We packed up, carefully selected our layers and headed up the hill. I usually don’t like climbing in the morning but in winter it’s a great way to get the blood flowing and warm up. Our toes and fingers only took a short bit to get comfortable in some of the damp gloves and boots. As expected the trail now was very icy and we were happy to put the spikes we brought to good use. Peru and Styles Peak would have been very problematic without them. As we descended to Mad Tom Notch the ice disappeared and soon we found ourselves climbing up to Bromley Mountain. The sun was out, it was a beautiful day!

And then we hit snow! Wet snow! From the snow making machines on the ski slopes! Lol! We had to walk straight into them because the trail follows the ski slope for about 1/4 mile. Luckily we had our rain gear handy and we layered up again. Down we went! Luckily it wasn’t any colder because the wet snow soaked my unprotected mittens and I didn’t feel like digging for my dry ones. Back in the woods, the trail was lovely and we made quick time of the last few miles to the parking lot. What a trip!

If nature’s not harsh enough. here Arlette is battling the extra-natural ski area snow guns.


Thanks for sharing the adventure! Arlette’s hiked all of the National Scenic Trails in the US — all eleven of them. She has an enormous amount of experience. And still, however, challenges arise, dangers exist, and on this trip even the wildlife turned against Arlette and our guest proving that adaptation and the learning never end. In a way, this trip focused on some of the more pernicious obstacles to success lending to a heightened level of learning and coping. As a teaching backpack, it doesn’t get much better.

Great job, Team. Thank you for choosing Redline Guiding!

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