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Weekend Death March on the AT
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Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Weekend Death March on the AT on 09/21/2012 18:22:52 MDT Print View

My brother Daniel and I are different in many ways but share a love of the outdoors. I lean more towards backpacking while he was a taste for more technical mountaineering. At the end of the summer both of us felt the urge for a little adventure so we decided to cover 42 miles of the AT over the weekend.

The plan was to hike 31 miles the first day from Sunset Fields on the Blue Ridge Parkway to Punchbowl Mtn. shelter.


We both packed as light as possible. I had about a 6 pound baseweight in my MYOG pack.



The first ten miles or so led along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains and crossed the parkway several times. The valleys were filled by early morning fog.


We passed a dry spring by a shelter and powered ahead. I was bit concerned by the dry spring. If others were dry we'd have to bail but we kept going.


We were pleasantly surprised to find water in a spring coming down from Thunder Ridge toward Petites Gap. We took a quick break to purify water using a new Steripen and then kept going. Our goal was to make mileage by staying on the trail not moving super fast which I'd learned was generally conter-productive when I tried it on the Colorado Trail.


The boundary of the James River Face Wilderness area meant we'd come roughly a third of the way for the day. At this point we were feeling good.



This was familiar territory for me. In my pre-lightweight days it had taken a whole weekend to cross the James River Face Wilderness. Today we'd cross the whole thing and keep going.


James River

Heading down from the crest of the James River Face Wilderness we caught glimpses of the James River and the rapids below.


We crossed the river on a footbridge. A quick road crossing and we were back in the wilderness.


20 Miles!

I paused to take a picture celebrating the 20 mile mark. I'd done plenty of 20 plus mile days but this would be the first time Daniel had done more then 20 miles in one day.


After crossing the James River valley the trail climbs steeply up to Fuller's Rocks. I was feeling the heat and miles a bit so I took a couple brief breaks and slowed down a bit to let my body recover.

Fullers Rocks

Fullers Rocks was a nice place to stop for dinner. We know had about 7 or 8 miles left.


After Fuller's Rocks we continued a brutal uphill climb. Daniel began to feel sick. My theory is he was bonking a bit from the exertion. He runs more then I do and should be in better shape. My theory was that I was just pacing myself better since I'd had more practice putting in long days. I could sense when I needed a break.

After resting and drinking some propel drink mix Daniel felt a bit better and we kept going.


A mile or so later it began to rain. It was supposed to be a dry night! Even the Appalachians can have crazy weather I guess.


We passed a couple side trails where we could have bailed but Daniel was feeling better so we forged ahead in the dark. We crossed Bluff Mountain in the dark which was a shame because it has nice views and Daniel had never been there.

We reached the shelter in the dark and crashed next to three week end hikers who were pretty impressed with the small size of our packs and the distance we'd covered.


We got a fairly early start the next morning. We only had about 10 miles to go but we were hungry for burgers.


The trail passed through some beautiful forests...

Lynchburg Resevior

and the Lynchburg Reservoir.



The final section of the trail followed Pedler Creek. Its a fun section because of the many small waterfalls. A community of freed slaves farmed the valley after the Civil War to the early 1900s and you can still see traces of stone walls. The trail followed what I believe is the remains of an old wagon road.


Soon we were back at our car and headed for burgers and home. Bragging rights aside the most important part of the trip was spending quality time together. I'm glad I can enjoy the wilderness with my brothers.

Gear Notes


MYOG Pack - This was my second trip with a MYOG pack using Dyneema and straps from an old REI Flash 30 pack. The pack weighs about 13 oz and is just about what I want in a weekend pack. I was perfectly happy with it.

Shoes - I used New Balance 101s. The traction isn't the greatest on gravel but I love the wide toe box, and the balance of protection and flexibility. I had no feet issues on the trip besides the soreness you would expect after a long day.

BPL 60 Quilt - I got this quilt way back in 2008 and love it. I've take in into the high 30s with other clothing. For warm nights in VA its perfect.

Wal Mart Pad - I should have taken a heavier and more comfortable thermarest for the hard shelter floor.

Steripen - We used Daniel's Steripen fora lot of our water purification. It was more convenient then Aquamira but less convenient than the Iodine tablets I brought as backup. A few times when I was in a hurry I just threw tablets in the water and we kept going.

Justin C
(paintballr4life) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Great trip on 09/21/2012 19:44:42 MDT Print View

Thanks for the great write up. I like reading your stories.

Ozzy McKinney
(PorcupinePhobia) - F

Locale: PNW
Jealous on 09/23/2012 17:43:15 MDT Print View

30 miles is a bit, for sure! Makes me miss my brother.

Tim Zen
(asdzxc57) - F

Locale: MI
Beautiful on 09/29/2012 10:30:23 MDT Print View

Great report -- nice mix of pictures and prose. You look like you are carrying enough for a day hike.