Friday, April 22, 2016

Birthday Backpacking

For my 29th birthday, Richard took me on a much-anticipated and oft-planned-but-never-executed backpacking trip! We've been talking about going backpacking for ages, and we have a lot of the gear -- most of which we have used on day hikes and car camping trips. So, I was thrilled to finally try out backpacking and legit primitive camping. 

We hiked McAfee's Knob which is the most photographed part of the Appalachian Trail. There's a great campsite on the north side of the trail, and we set up camp there. 

We drove out to Roanoke early on Saturday morning and found the parking area on 311. It was incredibly crowded, as we expected it to be on such a beautiful, Spring weekend. Soooo, we parked just barely still on the parking lot grounds but managed to not block in any other cars. Many of the other people parking weren't so considerate. 

We headed up the mountain, and I was immediately confused. We had read about the shelter (Campbell Shelter) at the top of the mountain and the couple of designated camping areas around the shelter. We passed a shelter (Johns Spring Shelter) about a mile or so into the hike that we hadn't read about and thought that that one was Campbell. Incorrect. Then we passed another shelter that we didn't know about (Catawba Mountain Shelter), and some camping areas that seemed to be farther from the shelter (which one?) than we thought it would be. Basically, we thought we had read up enough about the hike and the camping situation, but we really had no idea. This is a great resource for actually being informed about the hike before getting there.  

We met a very kind and very helpful AT volunteer, and he told us to hike up the fire road to get to the Campbell Shelter area and surrounding campground instead of hiking up and over the mountain. This saved us quite a bit of time and effort. We were able to hike around the mountain (still on a steady incline) to reach the spot where we camped and then leave our packs and hike up the (difficult) path to reach McAfee's Knob sans heavy packs. 

And the view at the top is breathtaking -- a full 270-degree view of the beautiful surroundings. 

After hiking to the top and taking in the gorgeous view, we headed back down to our campsite and set up or eno tents. Then we relaxed. In all of our hiking up the mountain, around the fire road, up to McAfee's Knob, and back down, we had logged about 9 miles. We were pretty worn out, and relaxing in the hammocks felt amazing. 

The camping areas around Campbell Shelter were particularly appealing because that area has a privy (outhouse) and a water source. We filtered all of our water from the stream, but it was great to have that cool, fresh water within such a close range. We didn't have to ration our water at all, so that was great -- especially when cooking and then rinsing out our dishes. 

On Sunday morning, we woke up and had some coffee and breakfast around the fire. Then we broke down our campsite and headed back up the steep trail to the mountain peak. 

This was what I had really been looking forward to. We had the place practically to ourselves, and the morning light was so beautiful. 

We read Psalms 8, 19, and 139 and enjoyed God's glorious creation. Being able to see so much from one point and soaking in all of the overwhelming beauty really reminded me of the majesty of the One we love. 

It was so beautiful at the top, and the hike itself was really enjoyable.

We loved getting to try out all of the gear that we hadn't used yet and putting our outdoors-skills to the test. We had to hang a bear bag which we hadn't done before and we had to pack out all of our trash. We had to make sure that the food we packed could be easily cooked in our camp stove or in a pot over the fire and that the food (and packaging) didn't weigh too much. 

I can't wait to go backpacking again, and I can't wait to get back out on the Appalachian Trail.