Hiking New York: Peaked Mountain in the Adirondacks

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Near the top of Peaked Mountain. (PC: D. Herscovitch)
Sometimes, the best adventures are the ones you don't really plan on doing. After a relatively packed weekend in the Adirondacks, the thought of sitting in less traffic on the way home to Philadelphia made an early departure from the Adirondacks seem appealing.  But at the last minute, we decided to take advice from the staff at Garnet Hill Lodge, where we'd stayed, and head up Peaked Mountain.

Getting to the Trailhead

There are so many incredible hikes in the Adirondacks, and so many (relatively) tall mountains to climb, the odds of hearing about Peaked Mountain at all are pretty slim. Without a trip to Garnet Hill, we certainly wouldn't have.

The 2,919' mountain, pronounced pee-kid, sits overlooking Thirteenth Lake in the Siamese Wilderness. It's one of a handful of many moderately-sized mountains in the area, and the 7.2 mile round trip is a perfect way to spend a few hours on a beautiful autumn day.

How to Choose the Right Sleeping Pad for Backpacking

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Some foam pads double as padded seats on
hard picnic benches, like the yellow Therm-a-rest Z Lite
I'm sitting on here! (PC: D. Herscovitch)
I turned up my nose at the idea of taking a sleeping pad as a beginner backpacker. I didn't need to be
comfortable, I needed to be hardcore!

But the truth is, sleeping pads function for one important purpose that has nothing to do with comfort - insulation. We lose body heat to the ground and air when we're sleeping outside, and a sleeping pad is a key piece of gear to have to combat that.

As with most pieces of gear, there's a lot to consider when you're looking for the right one. This list isn't exhaustive, but when you're shopping, hopefully it helps narrow down options!

Types of Sleeping Pads

Foam pads are typically of dense, closed cell foam, are usually the lightest type of pad, and you'll often see them strapped to the outside of a backpacker's pack because they're less susceptible to rips and tears than other types of pads. They're super easy to set up - just drop them on the ground - and can be great to sit on in camp. But because they're generally firm and thin, they don't tend to be very comfortable.

Trip Report: Backpacking New Hampshire's Pemigewasset Loop

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One of the few rock-less stretches. (PC: D. Herscovitch)
We've been off the trail for two full days. My knees and hips feel normal, but my feet and calves have
a different story to tell. It makes sense; they don't often get put through what I put them through this past weekend.

All told, we covered just under 34 miles, gaining and losing 9,000+ feet of elevation on the Pemi Loop. It's a special collection of trails in New Hampshire, traversing three mountain ranges (Franconia, Twin, and Bond), covering eight summits, and featuring some of the most spectacular views in the Northeast.

The eight summits are all well above 4,000', which might not sound like much, but it does when you start from near sea level to reach them. And it's not often you get to spend time above treeline around here, much less extended time above treeline on one knee-buckling, quad-busting trip.

A friend told me about the Pemi Loop years ago, but the distance from home (seven hours without traffic) and level of difficulty kept the trail on my bucket list, until now!

Celebrating 101 Years: National Park Memories

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This month, the National Park Service celebrated its 101st birthday. The organization represents over a century of conservation, stewardship, connecting people to places through recreation and other programs, and engaging communities in support of some incredibly special places.

It's disheartening, to say the least, to watch our most recent administration work to dismantle protections to vulnerable landscapes, roll back regulations and laws meant to safeguard incredibly special wild places, and put business and industry ahead of just about everything else.

And it's been shown that recreation is good for business anyway. According to Yvon Chouinard, "America’s public lands perform best when protected for recreation. In fact, the business of outdoor recreation, which relies heavily on public lands, supports more jobs (6.1 million) than oil, natural gas and mining combined. Americans spend more on outdoor recreation annually ($646 billion) than on electronics, pharmaceuticals or automobiles."

Given the current attack on our public lands, I wanted to share some of my favorite national park memories. Read on, and join the fight to protect, conserve, and preserve our public lands and environment for future generations!

Gear Review: Outdoor Research Women's Gauge S/S Tee

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Pre-run in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park. (PC: D. Herscovitch)
When it comes to adventuring around the Northeastern part of the United States in summer, no matter your sport, you're going to deal with humidity. In Southeastern Pennsylvania, it can feel like you're swimming through the air rather than running, for example.

I don't get out running too often these days, but when I do, I enjoy it as long as I'm prepared for the temperatures and humidity. At a certain point, there's nothing you can do, you're going to be a hot sweaty mess. But wearing the right clothing can make a huge difference.

As part of another season of the #ORInsightLab program for Outdoor Research, I received a complimentary Women's Gauge short sleeved (s/s) tee to test. And the hot, humid trails around Philadelphia were the perfect testing grounds.

Backpacking the Virginia Triple Crown: Tips, Tricks, and Route Planning Advice

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Why a picture of an outhouse? Because the RATC does
such an amazing job maintaining the trails and lean-tos!
Southwestern Virginia has some incredible hiking and backpacking available, and covering the Virginia Triple Crown makes it possible to visit three beautiful destinations in one trip. The Triple Crown can be completed via a number of different routes, and each of the three destinations can also be visited on day hikes. We chose a loop route that, if completed, covers about 36 miles and allowed us to use one car.

As a caveat, I don't recommend this trip if you're a beginner backpacker. Our route covers over 9,000 cumulative feet of elevation gain, involves rock scrambling, an entire day of hiking without reliable water sources, and a day over 15 miles. With that out of the way, I'm excited to share tips and tricks to help you plan your Virginia Triple Crown adventure! Read the full trip report here.

Review our two night, three day route plan, starting at Mcafee Knob.

I grabbed this map, then took out the pages we needed before we left. But as a note, the connector trail to North Mountain from the Andy Layne trail isn't on the map, and that resulted in my miscalculating our mileage on the second day.

Trip Report: Backpacking the Virginia Triple Crown

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Heading up to Mcafee Knob on the first day of the trip.
The Virginia Triple Crown includes three of the state's coolest hiking destinations - Mcafee Knob, Tinker Cliffs, and Dragon's Tooth.

All are popular day hikes, and conveniently, they're located in close proximity to each other on or near the Appalachian Trail (AT). If you're willing to spend a night or two on the trail, backpacking to all three of them is possible via a handful of route options.

As part of a trip sponsored by Virginia Tourism for Great Outdoors Month, a friend and I made the drive down to the Roanoke area from Philadelphia to see how spectacular Virginia can be.

We planned a three day, two night loop that got us to Mcafee Knob and Tinker Cliffs on the first day, covered a whopping 16 miles on the second day, and ended with a trip to Dragon's Tooth on the last day.

Day 1: Mcafee Knob to Lamberts Meadow Shelter via Tinker Cliffs (10.6 miles, ~2,500' elevation gain)

Hiking New York: Dix Mountain via Beckhorn in the Adirondacks

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Scooching my way along the trail - something
I did a lot of on the hike! (PC: D. Herscovitch)
Though there are so many big, impressive-looking, challenging mountains to hike up in the western part of North America, I'm consistently humbled by how tough getting up some of the mountains on the east coast can be.

Case and point, my recent 13.2 mile round-trip ascent of Dix Mountain in the Adirondacks.

My partner in crime and I planned a single overnight in the Dix Mountain Wilderness over Memorial Day Weekend, but that quickly turned into a day hike for a multitude of reasons. Regardless, the ascent was one of the most challenging I've done in a long time, but as is typical in the mountains, the challenge was absolutely worth it.

Getting to the Elk Lake Road Trailhead

As is the case with many of the ADK 46ers, there's more than one way to get up Dix Mountain. We chose to park in the parking lot on Elk Lake Road here due to the length of the round trip hike. You can also park in a very small parking lot along NYS Route 73 here.

5 Ways to Avoid Letting Rain Ruin Your Outdoor Adventure

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After the rain on Devil's Path, trying to remember
backpacking is fun! (PC: D. Herscovitch)
For a while, I thought Devil's Path in the Catskills and Mother Nature were truly out to get me. 

We faced torrential downpours on my first three pilgrimages to the area. On one backpacking trip, after gaining what felt like thousands of feet on our first day, we took a break and huddled underneath a rock outcropping looking for some sort of reprieve from the weather. It was supposed to storm for 48 hours. We snacked, relaxed for a bit, listened to the rain falling, and then continued on.

I have many fond memories like this from trips I went on despite wet weather. Even if being soaked to the bone felt terrible at the time, I still had fun. Case and point, you don't have to let wet weather ruin your trip. Here's how.

Understand Basic Thunderstorm Safety.

There's a big difference between getting caught in the rain and getting stuck in a dangerous thunderstorm. Before you leave home, make sure you understand how to deal with a thunderstorm if you're stuck in one, and if you're planning to be at higher elevations, consider coming up with a backup plan. 

Interview + Giveaway: Heather Balogh Rochfort and Her First Book, Backpacking 101

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Healther Balogh Rochfort. (PC: Will Rochfort)
You know how you can just tell when you've met someone incredibly special? I felt that way the
first time I met Heather Balogh Rochfort.

I was introduced to her on a trip to the Grand Canyon as part of a social media influencer experiment conducted by Columbia Sportswear, the #OmniTen. Her infectious energy, storytelling ability, and general zest for life made her an ideal hiking partner, and we've stayed close friends since that incredible adventure nearly five years ago.

We've traveled to places like Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, I've consulted her about all things Colorado for trip planning, and now, I'm stoked to share more about her latest big adventure - her first book! Read more about Heather, and scroll down to enter to win a copy of Backpacking 101.

AI: How did you get started backpacking?

Heather: In college, I hung out with a group of guys enamored with the mountains. Coming from 20 years of dancing, of course, I decided to tag along. On one of my first trips, we decided to pack the full distance (~18 miles) into Chicago Basin in the San Juans of Colorado.

The Pros and Cons of Trekking Poles for Hiking and Backpacking

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Picking my way down rocky terrain
in the Adirondacks. (PC: D. Herscovitch)
Devil's Path in the Catskill Mountains is considered one of the toughest trails on the east coast. Completing it requires climbing and descending over 14,000 vertical feet. You'll hike straight up, straight down, rinse, and repeat for 25 miles.

Partway through one Devil's Path adventure, my partner in crime rolled his ankle, aggravating a recent injury. The uneven terrain made it uncomfortable for him to hike, especially the series of rocky descents we had to contend with.

It was one of the first trips I brought trekking poles on, and boy did they come in handy. They helped him take weight off of the aggravated ankle, balance on the steep ascents and descents, and generally just made things easier.

Understanding the pros and cons of using trekking poles on your trips can help you decide if they're right for you.  I've found they're right for me on some trips, but on others, it's best to leave them at home. And after testing a complimentary pair of STABIL Stride poles, I'm refining my list of essential trekking pole attributes.