Category Archives: hiking

Return Of The Dana!

In the mid-90′, Dana Design was the backpack for thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail.  I liked mine so much that I bought a second one two years after my thru-hike despite the steep price of $400+ 

And Dana Gleason, founder of his namesake Dana Designs, has returned to the market!  After selling his company and watching a series of outdoor companies fumble with a once dominant brand – Dana is back (and so is the Terraplane).

mystery-ranch-terraplane-300x300-2015 The U.S. Military and U.S. Forest Service “hot shot” fire-fighting crews have been the beneficiary of Dana’s skills over the last few years – but the packs are once again available to the public.  There is a great article about this at, and hopefully I can land a N2Backpacking podcast with Dana in the future.  That’s how passionate I am about both my Dana backpacks – which after 20+ years I still use to this day!





Showers Bring Waterfalls And Flowers For Our Summer Backpacking Trip To Panthertown Valley

Panthertown Valley is one of my favorite hiking spots in North Carolina. It is located near Cashiers, NC in the western section of the State and was purchased by the Nature Conservancy from Duke Power in 1989. Panthertown is now part of the Nantahala National Forest and has been growing rapidly in popularity – especially over the last ten years.

Schoolhouse Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in Panthertown. When we first visited Panthertown in 2001, there was only the occasional day hiker at Schoolhouse Falls, but these days you will likely have lots of company – especially on weekends!

But it’s definitely worth the trip. You can hike behind the Schoolhouse Falls and take some really cool photos. The trail is rocky and slippery but no match for energetic kids!

Many visitors come to Panthertown to see the 20+ waterfalls in the ~6300 acre valley, but in spring and summer there are many beautiful wildflowers along the trail.

It rains around 91 inches per year in this area which is more than double the precipitation that the major cities get to the east in Charlotte and Raleigh. So no surprise there are such great waterfalls and wildflowers in this forest.

The kids hike back to the trailhead with our wives, and Alec and I backpack deeper in to the valley to camp at one of our favorite falls on the Tuckaseegee River. Our friend Roger (aka The Camel), hiked in earlier in the morning and has already set up camp.

Roger is determined to catch a trout in the river. He rigs up and hits the water. The streams in the Valley have lots of 4-8” brook trout.

The pool at the base of this falls has produced many trout for us in the past – and once again it delivers.

I pitch my tent while Alec and Roger test the waters. It rained most of the morning and thunderstorms are forecast for the evening hours. So I tuck in under a canopy of rhododendron for some extra cover.

In the meantime, the dog burrows in to the sand to rest. He’s hot and tired from the hike in to the campsite.

Fortunately, the thunderstorms pass to the North and leave us with only a few sprinkles. So we relax next to the falls and set in for some dinner.

Burritos mixed with rice, vegetables, and some Campbell’s Lentil soup mix is on the menu for the night. Round 1 is successful, but my stove gets knocked over and Round 2 ends up in the sand! This doesn’t seem to bother Boone Dawg and he gets and extra meal tonight.

Roger is a fan of the stuffed Burrito! And he enjoys busting my chops for knocking over our dinner.

It rains hard overnight, but the Trail Gods smile on us the following morning – with cloudy skies but no storms for the hike out.

We are back at the mountain house and off the Trail by the time rains finally come – under cover and watching a double rainbow light up the sky. ~91 inches per year – no doubt – and maybe even 100+ inches in 2015. But we’ll be back…

A Thru-Hiker Looks At 20

It’s been 20 years since I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail.  There’s no doubt, it was a different Trail back then – fewer thru-hikers, no cell phones, and no websites to research the A.T. prior to heading out.  Thru-hikers today are better informed, better connected, and significantly better prepared than when I hiked in 1994.  That said, here are some tips for the Class of 2015 as you start the A.T. this Spring:


The First White Blaze On The Appalachian Trail – April 11, 1994

  1. Create, then ditch your itinerary. It’s fun to plan an itinerary and anticipate where you will be during your thru-hike. You should do it – but don’t live by it.  Schedules are for the workingman.  I had the most fun on the Trail when I ditched my itinerary and rolled with the Trail (and not against it).
  1. It’s the journey not the destination:  Take your time and enjoy it.  There aren’t many thru-hikers that finish and wish they went faster.  If you generally enjoy being on the Trail, you are far more likely to finish it.  Besides, many of you will be back in the 40+ hour/week grind soon enough.  Cherish your thru-hike while you have it.  You may not get this chance again or for quiet some time (although I hope you do).
  1. Don’t let the extreme thru-hikers ruin your experience. Don’t let anyone ruin your experience, this is your trip.  Hike your own hike.
  1. Keep a journal: Your mind will fade, trust me, and you will want to remember where you were on [insert date] on your thru-hike.  In the 20 years since my thru-hike, there isn’t a single month that goes by where I don’t look at my journal.
  1. Take lots of photos (or videos): No one was shooting video in 1994 when I hiked, but we did take 35mm pictures and I’m glad we did.  Photos (and video) capture many things your journal does not – what you are wearing, eating, doing, etc.  Many of these things are lost in a journal and over time.
  1. Swap photos (or videos) with other thru-hikers: Your Trail buddies may bring a different perspective to the thru-hike in the pictures they take, angles they shoot, moments they capture, etc.  They may also take a lot of pictures of you during the hike.  That’s something you can’t easily do on your own.
  1. Be grateful to those who provide services on the trail. You are setting a legacy for the future.
  1. Don’t forget those who made this possible. Thank every volunteer you meet. Pitch in when and where you can (now or later). The A.T. exists because of the Trail maintainers and they can’t be thanked enough for it.
  1. Mix a few hours of music into your hike each day. It will become the soundtrack of your thru-hike, and 20 years from now those songs will bring back memories just like your journal, photos, or videos.
  1. Know that this experience may haunt you for the rest of your life (in a good way): So embrace it.  The reality is that the trappings of life (jobs, mortgage, car payments, kid expenses, etc.) will find you soon enough.  Those things aren’t necessarily bad, but they make doing a second thru-hike a challenge.  This is truly your time – when you have the freedom to take every day at your pace and to answer only to the Trail.  So make the most of it.

Episode 26: Blind Courage

In Episode 26 of the N2Backpacking podcast series, I speak with Director Clint Ross who is hard at work with Producer Paula O'Neal on the film adaptation of the book Blind Courage, which is based on the 1990 Appalachian Trail thru-hike of Bill Irwin – the first legally blind hiker to complete the entire Trail within a single year.

In the show, Clint discusses the first draft of the screenplay, the trailer, and the upcoming plans to film the movie.  He also give us some personal insight in to Bill Irwin and how he overcame alcohol and tobacco addiction through faith in God and by heeding the call to hike the A.T.

For more information or to follow the making of this film, click here.  For the audio interview click below.

Subject: Blind Courage

Interviewees:  Clint Ross
Interview Date: 
February 25, 2015
Download Now: 
Blind Courage – The Bill Irwin Film (WMA format 68.2 Meg);
Blind Courage – The Bill Irwin Film  (MP3 format 49.2 Meg)

You can follow or subscribe to this podcast if you click here (via Blubrry, Facebook, Google+, iGoogle, iTunes, RSS, Twitter, Stitcher, Yahoo, Zune). Or click this link for a complete list of N2Backpacking podcasts.

Bly Gap, North Carolina – January 31, 2015


This is a video of a January 31, 2015 backpacking trip to Bly Gap, North Carolina which is located just past the Georgia-North Carolina State line on the Appalachian Trail.  It was the first time I'd been here in 20 years and it was great to be back.  Northbound thru-hikers love this place because it marks the completion of the first of fourteen States on the A.T.  

Trading Up:  Leaving Las Vegas (For Zion National Park)

There is nothing better than escaping a trade show in Las Vegas for the backcountry and fresh air of Zion National Park. After a 3 hour drive Fuller and I arrive in Springdale, UT and stay a short distance from the park. Our first mission is to hike the Hidden Canyon Trail. 

We climb 850 feet and link up with a steel chain that guides us around a cliff with an insanely sharp drop off.  It is at this point that I remember that I might have a slight fear of heights.

And to make things more interesting, we round a corner and see the Trail covered in ice.  Hmmm – better hold on to that chain!


I try not to look down – because damn it's a long way to the valley floor.  Get me off this ledge!

Fortunately, the Trail Gods smile on us and we reach the mouth of Hidden Canyon without incident.  

We hike along a sandy and rocky canyon floor, then scramble across some boulders to walk deeper in to the canyon.  It's a cool place and well worth the trip.

We even discover this mini-arch less than 15 minutes from the end of the maintained Trail.  

But the forecast is for rain within the hour, and neither Fuller nor I want to get caught on that cliff with wet, slick, and icy rocks.  So we start our decent to the trailhead.

The Hidden Canyon Trail is supposedly a warm up for Angel's Landing in the park and just across the Virgin River from us.  Damn!  I can't image what that is like.  Guess you are soaring with the Angel's if you miss a step.


We make it back to the trailhead without incident, and decide to squeeze in another three miles on the Watchman Trail before the rain comes.  From here there are great views of Zion Canyon to the north and Springdale to the south.   

And after 6+ miles of hiking and 2436' of elevation gain/loss today – we are hungry and tired.  So we grab a sandwich and Fuller slams a margaritta at the Zion Lodge restaurant.

Then we retire to the comforts of the hot tub at the Desert Pearl Inn.  Here we are with a Nalgene of brew watching some bursts of sunshine light up Johnson Mountain at sunset.  A great day to say the least.



Episode 25: Flip Flop Flippin'

Flip Flop Flippin

In Episode 25 of the N2Backpacking podcast series, I speak with Scott “Squatch” Herriott about his three part series Flip Flop Flippin'.  The films were shot on the Appalachian Trail during the summers of 2011, 2012, and 2014 and they follow the thru-hiker community as they make their way along the nearly 2200 mile trail.

In the show, “Squatch” talks about his first ventures in to the wilderness, some of the thru-hikers and trail angels that he met on the A.T., and his experience as a filmmaker in the backcountry.  His skills as a stand-up comedian come across in his videos and on the podcast.  So I am sure that you will enjoy both.


For more information on Squatch and his films, click here!  For the audio interview click below.

Subject: Flip Flop Flippin'

Interviewees:  Scott “Squatch” Herriott
Interview Date: 
November 21. 2014
Download Now: 
Flip Flop Flippin' (WMA format 55.1 Meg);
Flip Flop Flippin'  (MP3 format 75.7 Meg)

You can follow or subscribe to this podcast if you click here (via Blubrry, Facebook, Google+, iGoogle, iTunes, RSS, Twitter, Stitcher, Yahoo, Zune). Or click this link for a complete list of N2Backpacking podcasts.

Working Off Thanksgiving Dinner – An Overnight In Panthertown Valley

After fattening up on Thanksgiving dinner, The Camel meets us in North Carolina for a hike in to Panthertown Valley.  No one is more excited than the Boone Dawg who is craving some time in the backcountry.  And we are blessed with sunshine as you can see from the the shadows in this photo.

The weather has been cool this week with snow showers and ice that is still lingering in the valley.  Here is a giant piece floating near Schoohouse Falls.

Our preferred campsite is taken.  So we shift to this area under a bunch of pine trees which is close to Panthertown Creek and has some nice fishing holes for the kids.  Wonder if the fish will bite with the temps in the 40’s?

The kids also try their luck at Schoolhouse Falls, but the verdict is that it’s too cold for the fish to bite – or quite possibly their fishing skills.

So we head back to the campsite and make the boys some hot chocolate.  It’s a winner – as you can see here.

The next morning, we hike out under sunny skies and work to dodge the snowmelt that has collected on the valley floor.  All three kids end up with soaked feet in the process!

And all goes well on the hike out, until we are about 15 minutes from the trailhead.  The leaves are wet, the hill is steep, and Will goes down with a knee injury.  Someone call the medic …

Or step-up and carry his pack out!  Dang, I feel like I am carrying a baby.  Fortunately we are not far from the trailhead and I still have some Thanksgiving Day calories to burn off.

What a beautiful day for the drive back home.  Here’s Lake Toxaway in the distance at about 4000 feet.  And the kids are already “angling” for a return trip!