Final Gear List: JMT Thru-hike

Melissa’s solo gear:

Sleep System:


  • Two 1-L Smartwater bottles
  • Platypus collapsible 1-L bottle
  • Aquamira (A & B plus eyedropper-size bottle for dispensing during the day)

Clothing Carried:

  • Rab Fleece Quarter Zip Pullover
  • Silk/Poly blend long underwear
  • Icebreakers Merino t-shirt
  • Purple Rain Hiking Skirt
  • Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded Down Jacket
  • Turtlefur Fleece Hat
  • TrailHeads Powerstretch Fleece Gloves
  • Darn Tough Hiking socks (2)
  • 2 pairs of Patagonia no-seam, quick dry underwear
  • Outdoor Research Helium II rain jacket
  • Sea to Summit Bug Headnet


  • iPhone 5
  • Dual USB charger
  • Jockery 6000mAh rechargeable battery
  • USB to lightening wire
  • USB to mini-USB wire
  • aLoksak waterproof bag


  • Small SPF 50 sunscreen
  • lip balm with SPF 30
  • Hand sanitizing lotion
  • 1 oz of concentrated liquid soap
  • Toothbrush & toothpaste
  • 35% DEET insect repellant
  • small disposable razor
  • Wet wipes
  • Plastic stake for cat-holes (acts as an emergency extra stake)
  • Pee rag
  • Diva Cup
  • Small towel


Shared gear (Melissa carry):

Shared gear (Paul carry):

Paul’s Gear

Sleep System:

  • REI Igneo 20F bag
  • Thermarest NeoAir inflatible pad
  • Cocoon inflatible pillow


  • 1-L plastic bottle
  • 1.5-L Platypus water bladder


  • Nylon pants
  • 2 Quick dry t-shirt
  • 2 pair underwear
  • Ex Officio Bug Out Halo shirt
  • 2 pairs of Coolmax socks
  • Down vest
  • Marmot Precip Rain jacket
  • Fleece hat
  • Fleece gloves
  • Merino long underwear bottoms and top
  • Headnet


  • Razor
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Biosuds
  • insect repellant
  • sunscreen
  • lip balm
  • wet wipes
  • small towel


  • Samsung Galaxy phone
  • Nokia point and shoot camera
  • charging cord


  • “wallet”–cash, credit card, license, medical insurance card
  • headlamp
  • Medicines (ibuprofen, glucosamine, diamox)
  • Swiss Army Knife

Final training hikes: Going big in Pennsylvania

I am now a week away from my departure from Northern Virginia and the start of my cross-country road trip to California from where I’ll spend a few days with family prior to starting my JMT thru-hike. To be ready for my hike, I’ve been building in longer and longer hikes into my training program. The last three weeks saw me hiking 36 miles in two days along the Allegheny Front Trail in Pennsylvania and then 40 miles in as many days along the Quehanna Trail also in Pennsylvania.

These were my first two backpacks in Pennsylvania and what an introduction to Pennsylvania hiking they were! What Pennsylvania seemingly lacks in views, it makes up for in the variation of flora along the trails.

Allegheny Front Trail

Quehanna Trail

Mt. Rogers/Grayson Highlands Spectacular Weekend Backpack

2015MtRogers_Pic16This is one of the most rewarding hikes in the state of Virginia–you get vista after vista AND wild ponies! I spent May 29-31 in southwestern Virginia backpacking a 21-mile loop through the Mt. Rogers Wilderness and Greyson Highlands State Park with the fabulous DC UL Backpacking Meetup group. We had an awesome time. Here are the highlights and a map of our hike:


Friday, May 29, 2015

We drove for 5 hours down towards Marion, VA to the Grindstone Campground. Arrived around 10pm when the camp gates had already closed, but the kind camp hosts let one of our group members who had arrived early keep a gate key and open for us. Thanks Grindstone!  Hiker’s midnight quickly approached and we were quick to set up camp and get to sleep.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

I never can sleep in much when backpacking especially when I bring my trail dog Buddy with me, so it was an early morning. We ate a quick breakfast, discussed the route, and hit the trail.

2015MtRogers_pic1Finding the start of the Mount Rogers Trail from the Grindstone campground proved easier than we originally thought it was going to be and we were quickly on our way. The trail ascends quite a bit at the beginning–remember you are hiking to the highest point in the state of Virginia–but the trail is very well graded and your early morning legs shouldn’t be barking too much as you make your way there. After ascending on the Mount Rogers trail we turned north to join the Appalachian trail as it winds its way through this part of Virginia.

The top of Mt. Rogers at 5729 ft is a bit of a let-down after you experience the scenic open hill tops just a few hundred feet from its peak. Go to the top of Mt. Rogers and take a picture anyway if only to say that you have done it (a small circular metallic plaque marks the top of the mountain), but linger at the top of the open hills of Mt. Rogers. The top is accessed from a side trail off the AT. Go up, take a pic and then get the real views from the open mountain tops below the peak. I don’t know about you, but the first thing I thought about was Maria in the Sound of Music singing, “The hills are alive with the sounds of music…”


After descending Mt. Rogers, you’ll ascend again to the Thomas Knob Shelter on the AT. This is a crowded location, but a good place to get water. Water can be found about 150 feet downhill from the shelter trickling out of a man-made sieve.

From there you’ll stay on the AT and walk through Rhododendren Gap where, if you are lucky enough to come in June when the Rhodos are at their peak, you’ll marvel at the beauty of these majestic pink flowers.


From there, you’ll find several more vistas as you make your way to Greyson Highlands State Park where you’ll inevitably come upon one of the wild ponies. Because my dog was acting a bit skittish around the ponies, I myself did not approach, but several in our group were able to come up to and pet the ponies who seem quite docile despite the warnings that they kick and bite!


Once through the Greyson Highlands, we the descended, still on the AT, towards the Scales where many trails converge and you find yourself at a major parking/trailhead area. We then ended our 16 mile day with an ascension up Crest trail to our campground for the night on an open dell near a level spring. The wild ponies roamed our camp all night giving Buddy the trail dog plenty to growl at throughout the evening.

We were blessed with the most magnificent sunset. Our camerawoman, Hua, took this great photo of the sunset as seen just feet from our camp. You can see from the timestamp that it was 8:29PM and still light. We had put in a long day of hiking and this was our reward.

2015MtRogers_Pic23Sunday, May 31, 2015

On Sunday we got up early, ate, broke camp, and made our way 5 miles down to Grindstone campground where we had kept our cars. Buddy was ready for another day of hiking. 2015MtRogers_Pic26

The 5-mile hike was completed in just two hours. While we enjoyed our time in the Mount Rogers Wilderness, we were eager to get washed, eat, and head back home. On the way back, we stopped at Due South BBQ in Christiansburg, VA. I had a wonderful pulled pork sandwich and others thoroughly enjoyed the Sunday special–beef brisket. We were pleased to find ourselves the audience of live country music in the outdoor seating area. This couldn’t have been a better ending to an already over-the-top fabulous weekend.


Last year’s bucket list check off: BWCAW

photo (4)

Although this blog will mostly be about hiking, I start my first blog about canoeing. Last July, I had the opportunity to check off one item from my “bucket list”–I got to travel with my dad to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota for a good week’s worth of canoeing, camping, portaging, and enjoying northern Minnesota.

The planning for this trip began in January, six months earlier, when we contacted Cliff Wold’s Outfitter in Ely, MN to help us to secure an entry permit and rent us a canoe. We wanted to enter the BWCAW at entry point 23, Mudro Lake, on July 2, 2014 and exit six days later at the same location. We would have a fairly leisurely loop with a fair amount of portaging. The route we selected is below.


The yellow markers are the start and finishing points of portages measured in “rods”. A rod is approximately 17 feet, the length of a canoe. Our portaging distances varied anywhere from just under 100 feet to just over a mile.

The red markers are established campsites. You are asked to only camp at established campsites in the BWCAW. The red arrows mark the actual locations where we ended up spending the night.

July 2, 2014–Day 1

We got off to what I thought was a bit of a late start. Dad and I had argued about the time the guys from Cliff Wold’s should pick us up to then take us to our entry point. He had originally wanted 10am. I talked him into 9am, but would have preferred an even earlier start.

Our driver Ryan was friendly twenty-something who had grown up in the area, had gone away to college in Florida, but was back working in Ely for an indefinite amount of time. He dropped us off, even portaging our canoe to the entry point for us.

We got our packs in the canoe, loaded Buddy the Wonder Dog in, and were off!

The day started off overcast, but the clouds would soon part and we’d enjoy a sunshine-filled day. We were feeling good with great nervous energy about what was to come.

The only one of us with too much nervous energy was Buddy the Wonder Dog. He hadn’t been in a canoe before and decided that he just wasn’t having any of it. Within the first five minutes he jumped out of the canoe into the lake and began paddling towards what he thought was firm ground–only it wasn’t. It was a bog of reeds and he panicked. Luckily, we were able to quickly paddle the canoe over to him and pick him up by the large handle on his life-vest and put him back in the boat. Although my dog is a good swimmer, I was very happy to have put him in a life-vest for this trip. The best part of the vest was the handle which I used to help him into and out of the canoe throughout the trip. It’s from Ruff Wear and was well worth its cost.

photo 1

Day 1 turned out to be our longest day paddling of the trip. Why? All the campsites at our originally planned stopping point at Lower Basswood Falls were occupied by the time we got there in the late afternoon forcing us to paddle on further and finding camp as the sun was just about to set.  The campsite we found was nice and the picture above was taken at that camp as the just before sun was setting creating great light on the lake. The picture below shows Big Agnes Mad House 4, bought on deep discount on REI-outlet at our first campsite.

photo 2

While backpacking I’d never take anything so luxurious (and back-breaking!) as a four person, ten pound tent, but this is canoeing and most of the moving you do is not with a pack on your back but in the canoe. A few luxury items were quite welcomed on this type of trip. The Big Agnes Mad House is now discontinued (and thus the deep discounted price). Some have commented on the difficulty of set up. We had no difficulty with it and it keep us dry with ample room for two people and a dog throughout the whole trip.The two deep vestibules came in handy for keeping gear out of the rain which we had a lot of during our six days out on the BWCAW.

July 3, 2014–Day 2

On Day 2, we were greeted by a bright, beautiful day full of lots of sunshine. Prior to the trip, Ryan Olson over at Cliff Wold’s had shared with us some of his favorite campsites in this route. Night 2 would be spent at one of Ryan’s favorite spots and it would not disappoint. It was a relatively short day of canoeing, but then was filled with an afternoon of fishing and napping in the sun.

photo 1 (1)As you can see in the photo above, we had a bright, sunny day and a beautiful campsite that jutted out on a peninsula. You can also see two other luxury items that we brought with us–REI Flex Lite Chair. Again, this is not a luxury I’d take on a backpacking trip, but they were quite welcomed on the relaxed paced and with the large carrying capacity of the canoe on a canoe trip. These chairs are pretty light for their comfort and easy enough to store away in our packs when we portaged.

photo 3

As you can see, Buddy the dog made himself right at home on a rock in the sun. By this time, he was feeling much more comfortable in the canoe and seem to be enjoying the trip. My dog can go from 110% to zero so quickly; I’m always a bit jealous of how he can so quickly turned it all off and relax almost anywhere.

In the late afternoon, we took the canoe down into the cove for some fishing. Dad was excited to catch his first fish of the trip.

photo 4

Dad caught four fish total during the trip. Did we eat any of them? No. I asked dad if he knew how to fillet and cook the fish and he had no idea. Neither did I. If I was hungry enough, I’m sure I could have figured it out, but we had plenty of food–actually, too much food–with us. Dad had voiced concern that we would not have enough to eat when I was planning the meals, and so I added more food than we needed. We ended the trip with extra. Dad’s appetite is nothing anywhere near what it was when he was in his 40’s. Now in his 60’s, he thinks he has the appetite of a younger man, but in reality doesn’t eat that much.

We ended the day with another gorgeous sunset out on the lake trying to catch more fish. So far, we had had gorgeous weather and easy canoeing. That would change over the next two days.

photo 5

July 4, 2014–Day 3

Day 3 brought overcast skies and strong winds making canoeing especially difficult as we rounded Friday Bay. We found a break in the clouds and drop in the winds around noon and took a lunch break at a camp on Friday Bay. We needed to fortify ourselves for our first portages since day 1.

During our break, I took time to visit the “facilities” on the BWCAW. There are pit toilets at every campsite in the BWCAW, usually about 200 ft from the water–very much away from the shoreline and meant to keep the human waste away from the lakes. Toilet #11 had been decorated with some animal print duct tape making the baring of my ass to the awaiting mosquitoes if not easier, at least a bit more stylish.

photo (5)We finished the day at Chippewa Lake. We would have liked to go further but the darkening skies in the afternoon kept us at the camp on Chippewa. You do not want to be out on the lake during a thunderstorm. It is just not safe.

We were smart to bring a Kelty Noah’s 12 x 12 tarp with us. There are much lighter tarps out there, but again for the trip we were doing and the money, this was one of our smartest purchases. We set up the tarp between two trees and waited out the storm under the tarp throughout the late afternoon.

The tarp would come in very handy on day 4 as well.

July 5, 2014–Day 4

Day 4 brought even more portaging–three to be exact–and very cloudy skies. Again, dark skies in the afternoon made us stop a little sooner than we might have otherwise. We actually had some canoeing in the rain in order to make it to an available campsite. The rain wasn’t too hard, but steady. We set up camp in the afternoon on Gun Lake and again huddled under Noah the Tarp. This time, we arrived in wet clothing. Luckily, temperatures were warm so it wasn’t a big deal to strip down and let the clothing dry on a make-shift clothesline under the tarp.

photo (6)We found we had cell service for the first time since day 1 and made a few calls to let family know we were safe and well.

The rain continued throughout that day and into the night, we would get a bit of rain on day 5, but for the most part the rest of the trip stayed dry, even if we didn’t stay “found”.

July 6, 2014–Day 5

Staying found should be one of your primary objectives on any backcountry trip. We, on the other hand, decided to flirt with danger, and decided to try out being temporarily lost.

We started day 5 going to the wrong portage and ending up on the wrong lake. There are no signs on the BWCAW, nothing to announce “YOU ARE HERE.” You must use geographical features and navigation skills to get your way around and for the most part we did this well. However, we got ourselves onto Gull Lake instead of targeted Fairy Lake. We spent hours on Gull Lake trying to find our portage then on to Boot Lake. We just couldn’t find it because it just wasn’t there. We were on Gull Lake thinking it was Fairy Lake.

Feeling dejected and exhausted from our efforts to find this non-existent portage, the darkening skies made us set up the tarp yet again on a peninsula on Gull Lake. We would eat lunch, and see if we could make a plan. We poured over the map and finally dad said verbalized the possibility that we were on the wrong lake. I immediately saw that he was right. We couldn’t find the portage because there was no portage.

We figured out the errors of our ways–a wrong portage on Gun Lake leading us to the wrong lake. The portage we should have taken was further south on Gun Lake. We decided then to retrace our route back to Gun Lake and find the right portage.

Getting lost and then found makes a person have two polar opposite feelings in a very short amount of time. When you are lost, you doubt yourself and your ability to problem solve. A hopelessness begins to sink in. But just as that a-ha moment comes and you realize you did solve your problem, it also gives you tremendous confidence in yourself.

We finally found the portage to Fairy Lake, then portaged on to Boot Lake. It was already late afternoon when the winds came up on Boot Lake. It was becoming increasingly hard to steer the canoe due to the strong winds. We decided to call it a day on Boot Lake and found a beautiful, protected campsite on a small cove on the lake. Tired from the mental effort spent in getting both lost and found, we relaxed in the sun. We knew we had our longest portage ahead of us on day 6 and needed to recharge before our final effort.

July 7, 2014–Day 6

Our final day! The one mile portage by this time wasn’t too difficult. Even if we double portaged and thus traveled each three miles with packs and canoes. Luckily, the sun was out again for our final day. Cell service meant I could email Ryan at Cliff Wold’s to request a slightly earlier pick up.

We arrived around 11:30am back at our entry point on Munro Lake. We were greeted at 1pm by another driver from Cliff Wold’s with a cold beer in the cooler to finish off a great trip back to Ely before starting the drive back to Northern Virginia.

The trip to the BWCAW was amazing! Definitely one I would do again. The area is wonderful and the people helping us make it a great trip from Cliff Wold’s were top notch. I hope to return there again soon.