Fall was just beginning to creep into Atlanta, so my friends E and M and I decided to head North (west) and hit some prime-time foliage. We had time for a 3/2 and wanted to hit Shining Rock Wilderness, North Carolina; our first day would be from Black Balsam to Cold Mountain (yes, that cold mountain). We drove the 3.5 hours from Atlanta and arrived at the Black Balsam Parking lot at 10am. From our first steps on the trail, we knew that we had timed it right and that the foliage was going to be spectacular. Temps were high 60’s and windy on the balds/knobs during the day, dipping into the mid 30’s and even windier at night. Although certainly not as “sharp” as anything in West, the worn-down Blue Ridge Mountains have their own unique appeal. Their undulating peacefulness coupled with brilliant, colorful explosions was a real treat this time. My base weight was 12 lbs, and that included a Large Neo Air (18oz), a Hex crazy creek chair (20oz), and a modified Osprey Talon 44 (32oz). I will go into some gear standouts (as most of my gear was based on BPL recommendations) at the end of the pictorial, but first, here are some moments of grandeur that I tried to capture on film:
(above) the trail heading north over the balds after Tennent mtn
Picking blueberries before sunset
our harvest of apples and blueberries cooked up for dessert.
our site on cold mountain sans tent
our second night site
GG LT4’s —MVP of the trip. The handle with its corkish grip and ergonomic form seems to be a gift from outer space. Freakishly light. For the first time ever, I went sans-straps and liberated my wrists in the process. As the trail dictated, I alternated through a hand-full of positions on the pole, something I could not do when strapped in. They also served double duty as feather light poles for my Shangri La 1. Loved every minute of em.
Hex Crazy Creek Chair —their “lightest” chair at 20oz. I strapped it to the top of my pack after a long, internal debate in the parking lot...and couldn’t have been happier with my decision. For me, it’s about light weight COMFORT...and it takes the stress off my lower back. At the very least, it gives me piece of mind that I have something good and insulated to sit in and that my neoair is still protected in my pack.
Rail Rider’s Eco Mesh Pants – these could be the perfect pair of pants. They were warm and wind resistant over a baselayer when the sun was setting, and when fully vented while hiking, I felt cool breezes across my lower half. Insect shield made it so I didn’t even apply (or bring) bug protection. As far as durability, these pants clean up like new after an overgrown trail and bushwhacking across blueberry fields
Ex officio (boxer briefs)—I could actually feel the sweat evaporate off these while wearing my eco mesh pants. I don’t think they ever even had a chance to wet out.
Patagonia Houdini—Awesome over my cap 1 on the ridges. Best hood I’ve ever synched down. Using that and a visor was much better than taking a hat.
The North Face Triumph Anorak –wore this over my FA Down Sweater in the AM to watch the sunrise and was toasty the whole time without a warm drink.
Wild Things Happy Feet –cordura bottoms are great, did a lot of walking around camp in these and they kept feet warm down to 35 with med weight smartwool socks underneath.
EB FA Down Sweater –kept me warm at 35 degrees with cap 1 underneath. I can’t believe I picked one of these up for $41 bucks.
SD Nitro 30 –slept open to the elements at 35 degrees and windy on cold mountain and flower knob…only wore a cap1 top, r1 bottom, medium smartwool socks, NO hat… (gotta love that hood design) and was warm all night.
Neo air Long –incredible, I felt like I had my own inflatable mattress, and was safe if we had any flash floods…the long makes me less dependent on a larger ground cloth because I’m 3 inches above the ground!
Golite Shangri La 1 —didn’t sleep in it, but set it up. looked huge compared to E’s Gatewood Cape. He kept calling it a two/three man shelter in jest. Took me 5 min to set up taught.
Gatewood cape — E never slept in it, but set it up. What a great, well thought-out minimalist shelter. We pitched it with trekking pole tie out on the head and it looked perfect for E but would be a bit tighter for me at 6’0 . Took him 5 min to set up taught.
Steri pen –worked like a charm and was easy to use. Felt like a wizard using it. Wizards are cool.
GSI Minimalist Cookset –loved taking a mug/pot combo. Coosie worked well also and kept drinks hot for 20 min or so with temps below 40. Lid was hard to get off when engaged, but called gsi and they are sending me a replacement top that is supposed to be easier. Sweet.
Thanks to all those who gave advice and swapped gear!