HikeMore Online Newsletter - Appalachian Trail Edition, Spring 2004


Danger on the Trail

Hikers finish the Appalachian Trail with a lifetime's worth of memories and experiences. While most of these are looked back on fondly, there are some that would best be forgotten. For the most part, the Appalachian Trail is safe. When on the Trail or in town, just remember to use common sense and follow your instincts.


It'll Never Happen to Me...

Once upon a time there was a thru-hiker named Footslogger. In a prior life he had been a paramedic and knew a lot about first aid in the great outdoors. During his thru-hike he dealt with a lot of abdominal pain, which he refused to accept as being sufficient enough to see a doctor. As the miles wore on, the pain got worse. But the stubborn Footslogger pressed on, being true to his former paratrooper training and code. Lo and behold though, when he reached the White Mountains in New Hampshire, Footslogger hit the wall. One morning, while ascending the trail towards Franconia Ridge, he got the worst abdominal pain and cramps he had ever felt. The breakfast that he had eaten a few hours earlier found its way up and out of his system. Now without any nourishment and being somewhat dehydrated, Footslogger finally gave in to the pain and decided to sit down along side the trail, hoping that this would all pass. The air was cool and the ground was still cold from a chilly night. Footslogger was sweating a lot as he first sat and then dropped to the ground. Within a few minutes the world around seemed to get a bit fuzzy and unclear. Footslogger knew that he was dropping into hypothermia, but by this point there was little he could do to help himself. Fortunately, there were two other hikers who had started out with him that day. They knew he wasn't feeling very well and when he didn't catch up with them on the trail they stopped for a rest. Footslogger called for them and they backtracked down the trail, finding him coiled on the ground in a state of total disorientation. Smartly, they dumped Footslogger's backpack and found some dry clothes. After getting him into a warm and dry shirt, they zipped old Footslogger into his sleeping bag and stayed with him as he started to get his bearings and say things that made any sense. After around 45 minutes, Footslogger was able to climb to his feet, collect his clothing and gear and make his way back down the trail for a much needed rest back in North Woodstock.

Sound like "just" a story or a tale designed to get peoples attention? Well, it's not "just" a story but it is something that will hopefully ring a bell with some distance hikers out there. Actually, it is a totally true story and one that it worth sharing. This is Footslogger telling the story and that's about as close to the source as you can get. Yes, I am an old paramedic and a stubborn old paratrooper who rarely admits to being under the weather or in pain. But on that day in September 2003, I met my match. The lessons learned that day are among the most prominent hiking memories in my mind and most likely always will be.

To all those who may choose to undertake a long distance hike, regardless of your physical condition and prior medical training, take notice of what happened in this little anecdotal tale. First and foremost, remember that it's not enough to know what is happening to you; you need to know your limitations and listen to your body. I KNEW what was happening but by the time I decided to react to the situation I was in too bad of shape to help myself. I needed help. Bottom line is that if you don't feel good the best bet is to push back and either cancel the hike for that day or go VERY slowly. Second, and maybe even more important, if you're hiking in an area where a physical problem could possibly lead to an emergency, make sure that you're not alone!

And here's a little post-log on this story. After returning home from completing a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, I was still having some abdominal problems. I went to the doctor and was ultimately diagnosed as having serious kidney stone disease. Two surgeries and 8 months later, I am back on my feet and feeling great. But the memory of that day in September is as clear as yesterday.

Our thanks to Footslogger, a 2003 Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, for submitting this article about his experiences on the Trail.

Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker Summits Katahdin


Storm Stories

Storms became some of our most vivid memories of hiking the Appalachian Trail last year. Up until then, most hiking and camping consisted of nearby shelters, whether car or cabin, or a carefully planned weekend based on the weather forecast.

During our six months hiking the trail, there were a few heart pounding storms that I can remember like they were yesterday. Our first severe storm blew down on us near High Rocks, with an elevation of 4,100 feet, but not without warning. It was our own denial, and the fact that we thought we could make it to the campsite before she poured down upon us, that caused to us to be stuck in this situation.

Just before the peak we quickly learned what would soon become our best known defensive measure to remaining calm. With the thunder and lightning now upon us and pea size hail pelting our skin, we proceeded back into the western or northern side of Whistling Gap. Because of the severity of the lightning we sat up on our backpacks to isolate ourselves from the ground. I've read about these situations, but until that moment never had to rely on it. I kept thinking to myself, "How much difference does this make and will this prevent us from getting struck down?" Well, we're both here today, and that's good enough for me. Meanwhile, I had pulled the ground cloth for the tent from my wife's backpack, and we covered ourselves, shielding the wind and hail. It became evident that keeping the ground cloth easily accessible was a necessity. Not only did it protect us from the elements but more importantly it helped calm our nerves. Was it the best idea to blind ourselves from the situation? I don't know.

Remaining calm was put on trial once again when we were hit by a storm while on top of Bear Mountain, just before the Connecticut / Massachusetts border. The trail proceeded down a steep ridge with slippery loose rocks and tree roots protruding above the ground and across our path, making for very dangerous terrain. With the constant distraction of lightning and deafening thunder, we hiked with caution and remained patient with each step we took. As I think back, once again we had plenty of warning that this storm was coming. Haven't we learned anything yet? Was it that important to make it to the next campsite? Not really...

Storm clouds along the Appalachian Trail in Vermont

We were lucky it wasn't like the storm we encountered a couple of days after. I believe it was about a mile from the Mount Wilcox South Lean-to, just beyond the ledges. This time we were in a valley but it wasn't any less dangerous. In fact, in turned out to be quite the opposite. It became so loud. The wind, thunder, and nearby lightning strikes all made the sounds of hell. We found ourselves once again on our backpacks covering our heads with the ground cloth. I remained peering out from under the tarp, watching the trees in a silent panic - watching them twist and turn, with sounds of branches breaking. It was unsettling at the very least. This only lasted for about fifteen minutes before the worst had past, leaving us with a long exhale.

We were thankful to have made it to the shelter that evening without injury and so very thankful that a few other hikers made room for us to stay.

A lot was learned on our journey, so I'll leave with a few words of SvenSaw wisdom. Never try to out hike a storm if you have the option to stop before it hits. You'll never beat it. Remain calm and think before you hike more.


SvenSaw, a 2003 Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, is co-editor of the HikeMore Online Newsletter.



Hiking the AT in 2003
Danger on the Trail
Agony of the Feet
Appalachian Trail Documentary
Appalachian Trail 2003 Survey Results
Trail Food Ideas and Recipes
Trail Days in Damascus

Additional AT Info

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HikeMore Online Newsletter | Appalachian Trail Edition | Spring 2004

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