Black Creek Outfitters Guru Session – Hiking the White Mountains

Jack telling us about The Whites.
Jack telling us about The Whites.

On August 27th Black Creek Outfitters hosted a Guru Session led by Jack Stucki. The subject matter was “Hiking the White Mountains” of New Hampshire. The range consists of 48 peaks which exceed 4,000 feet known as the 4000’ers. It includes Mt. Washington, which at 6,288 feet is the highest mountain in the Northeast.

But it’s more than just numbers and names. “The Whites” are a destination for college students, adventure seekers and families.

Jack’s memories of this section of the AT are varied and happy. The kindness of the people in trail towns, the pristine upkeep of the trail and most of all the amazing views. If this is not on your bucket list it should be. The irony is that my family will be in this area for our Christmas trip. While winter in The Whites can be dangerous Jack assured us that there are still sites aplenty.

While there are many areas to hike The Whites, Jack focused on the section which he traversed while hiking the AT. Therefore the mentions, for example the notches, are not fully inclusive of all The Whites.

The Guru discussions occur every Wednesday evening, with pauses in the series based on availability as well as breaks for planning and actual outdoor adventuring. If you are in the Jacksonville area and would like a session dedicated to a specific topic you can reach out to me or ask for Jack when you visit the store.

If you see anything which you feel is incorrect I always appreciate feedback on how to improve upon, or further elaborate, the information conveyed. I have also tried to include more informative links to items noted in the session.

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Black Creek Outfitters Guru Session – Footwear

On August 13th Black Creek Outfitters hosted a Guru Session led by Evan Fullford. The subject matter was “Selecting the Best Footwear for a Long Distance Hike”. A strong proponent of minimalist hiking, Evan went from sandals to shoes to boots. In spite of the title focusing on long distance hiking, Evan fielded questions relative to a variety of trail time from a simple run to a through hike.

An unexpected benefit of the session was Evan explaining the importance of arch support and how people strike the ground. Use a skeletal foot he detailed how shoes can assist impact points.

The Guru discussions occur every Wednesday evening, with pauses in the series based on availability as well as breaks for planning and actual outdoor adventuring. If you are in the Jacksonville area and would like a session dedicated to a specific topic you can reach out to me or ask for Jack when you visit the store.

If you see anything which you feel is incorrect I always appreciate feedback on how to improve upon, or further elaborate, the information conveyed.

  • Boots, hiking shoes, trail running shoes and sandals
  • First example was the Keen (the one I own)
  • Salomon Tech Amphibian
  • Evan pointed out the weight difference and concern over rocks and sticks
  • Obviously good for warmer weather or if you know you’ll be spending time in water
  • A shoe will need to dry
  • Compared the hiking and trail running shoes
  • Trail running shoes are much more flexible
  • Example was the Salomon S-lab
  • Trail hiking shoes maintain rigidity for true hiking stability
  • Trail running shoes are usually lighter
  • More tread on a trail running shoe due to faster travel, and more resistance
  • Trail hiking shoes tend to have a thicker sole
  • Trail running shoes can be geared for the type of strike (heel or forefront)
  • When walking you tend to heel strike
  • Boot example was Lowa and Vasque
  • Heavier hikers or heavier packs may require boots for better support
  • Evan reminded us that concern over ankle support tends to be over stated, noting that hiking in shoes will strengthen the ankle
  • However if you have weak ankles there is no reason to go without support
  • Evan noted the difference between water resistance and water repellant. Unless there are no access points for the water the interior will get wet regardless of the coating.
  • Be mindful that all leather vs. leather/mesh with Gore-Tex might give you the same degree of water protection.
  • Big negative with Gore-Tex: the interior will take longer to dry
  • If you can carry the weight, carry the sandals with you for water crossings. Personal preference.
  • Do not wear cotton socks when hiking. If they get wet they hold the water, and your shoes/boots will take longer to dry.
  • Leather, however, is more durable.
  • Evan shared his Salomon love: better arch support, lighter and simply better construction.
  • Discussed the importance of knowing about arch support.
  • Defined pronating and supinating
  • Naturally your foot doesn’t need arch support, per Evan’s sources. This is something being debated by physicians.
  • Those who support minimalist shoes note we’ve simply become accustomed to arches.
  • Street running will kill the tread of a trail shoe. A street shoe does not have the best foot plate for trail comfort.
  • For hiking, your shoe should not fit like a glove. Compensate for swelling.
  • Also, when on trail you tend to consume more salt and you’ll retain water.
  • When hiking downhill you don’t want your toe slamming against the front of the shoe.
  • Go a half size above your normal, but consider it more different sizing.
  • Discussed different insoles. Superfeet was our example. Make sure it suits your shoe.
  • Some inserts can tear Gore-Tex.
  • Your ideal hiking shoe bends where your foot is supposed to bend. Sounds obvious, but folks forget.
  • Your price range for shoes/boots/sandals is $75 to $160 based on general public. These are still good quality, but as with anything you can get higher quality at a higher price. Fully understand the environment they’ll be used in. No reason to overpay because you’re romanced by features and technology you don’t need.

Black Creek Outfitters Guru Session – The Wonderland Trail

On June 18th Black Creek Outfitters hosted a Guru Session led by Jack Stucki, with help from Evan Fullford. The subject matter was The Wonderland Trail, a hike 93 mile that takes winds around Mt. Rainer in Washington state. Jack, a veteran of the area, is making the trek again this September and felt his planning was better shared.

The Wonderland Trail is a must for any hiker. If you are unfamiliar with the trail go to the National Park Service official site here. Apart from this site there are many hikers who have wonderful blogs detailing their adventure.

The Guru discussions occur every Wednesday evening, with pauses in the series based on availability as well as breaks for planning and actual outdoor adventuring. If you are in the Jacksonville area and would like a session dedicated to a specific topic you can reach out to me or ask for Jack when you visit the store.

* Jack recommended going through Seattle as opposed to Portland (flight)

* Jack has hiked the 93 miles three times. Twice with his daughter, the other with friends. More than an handful of time he traversed it as a partial hike. (confirm this, along with dates)

* He is once again planning a hike and thought he’d leverage his planning experience to share with others.

* Folks tend to hike it clockwise, starting at Longmire. Jacks states it doesn’t matter where you start. As a participant noted, “Its’ uphill both ways.”

* Trail is on Mt. Rainer.

* Going with his wife and daughter.

* Loaded with switchbacks, thank goodness. “The good folks in Washington know what a switchback is, unlike those in Maine. I wouldn’t hike it if there weren’t switchbacks.”

* Trail goes around the mountain.

* The two times Jack went he started at Paradise Inn. Nice place to begin and end.

* 25 permanent glaciers. Water is not going to be an issue for year round hiking.

* 9 wilderness backcountry camping areas. Flowers on 75 days a year. Hard for foliage to adapt. You must have permits to hike. Middle to the end of April. This year it’s first come first serve due to the number of requests. They will hold out permits for walk ups.

* Many day hiking trails start near or at Paradise Inn.

* Camp Muir, at 10k ft, is where folks begin their ascent. No need for axes or crampons. Cascades, Rockies, Mt. St Helens and even Oregon are visible.

* Main months of the year to hike the trail, August and September if you don’t want to get rained on. Jack did see snow in late September once. August is the best for dry hiking. Twice as much rain in September. May and June are the worst.

* Mid to late September the inns start shutting down.

* Permits are normally done by mail, save this year. 4 ranger stations to get permits at the 4 entry points.

* Typically it’s a 10 to 12 day hike.

* Jack’s advice: hydration and moderation. Start with short days and get your double digit days later.

* “You climbing the mountain?” Said the Ranger to Jack. He learned you can mail packages for refilling. Don’t pack for the duration. Mail it 2 or 3 weeks before you need it. Must be in a hard plastic container. Name and permit number required.

* They’ll stop you on trail and check your permit.

* They will help you change your permit if the trail is impacting your travel time.

* Kilpatche is “phenominal”. Summerland and Indianbar “the most beautiful place on the planet. Also Goatrocks.”

* You’ll go through rainforests with wide trees, traverse glaciers, meadows of “crazy beautiful wildflowers”

* The gear list – Jack’s Big Four – Osprey Exos 58 M Backpack 40 oz, Big Agnes Fly creek UL3 tent w/footprint, 27 oz, Marmot Hydrogen 30′ sleeping bag 21 oz, Thermarest NeoAir Sleeping pad 14 oz, Sea to summits backpack cover 4 oz, 96 oz.

* Evan noted “hiking Washington is like hiking the Alps (Germany)”

* They do not allow campfires. You can for car camping.

* Most of the rives have bridges. But in July and August, as the glacier melts, the bridges will be overrun by rising water. Note warnings about the need to be across bridges before specific times.

* Jack’s hiking in his Salomon XD shoes.

* Make sure your gear is water proof. Storms can come in hard and stay longer than you’d like.

* Gators are not necessary.

* Jack is using a High Tek gravity filter. (I need to confirm the name) A lot of sediment in the water. Look for clear water. Be prepared in case your filter get’s clogged.

* Klipatche Park photo was gorgeous. Mountain reflecting in the lake with mist on the water. Water was very filterable.

* Upper 30’s to upper 60’s in September.

* Great story about Jack’s military buddy who needed a “plan” to cross the suspension bridge. When everyone else sat, Jack crossed.

* Additional story of a man’s young son who shook the bridge while he and his father were reaching the mid point.

* Story of a guy washing himself in the water with Zest. Jack was convincing him to be more mindful when the ranger came by and grabbed the bar with no questions asked by the hiker. Keep nature natural is the lesson.

* One of the most pristine places Jack has been. No trace camping is very relevant here.

* Deer, black bears, elk, marmots among some of the wildlife you’ll see.

* Marmots are blonde on one side. When hibernating they urinate on themselves which gives them the yellow coloring.

* 3 or 4 groups sites. > 4 in a party is a group site requirement.

* Jack is taking a tent and 2 hammocks.

* They may give you a cross country permit, if you show your are a mindful and experienced hiker/camper. You might need this if you get some, but not all permits.

* Shuttle service from CTAC no longer exists. Options are now a rental car, cab or Craig’s List.  (92.2 miles 2 hr 15 min driving.)

* 8 to 9 hours of sunlight in September

* They now have bear boxes. Haven’t had bear issues in years.

* Campsites are anywhere from 4 to 10 miles apart, typically.

* Southern and Western are most forested. Northern and Eastern you can see forever.

* Trails are mostly dirt. Minimal rocky spots.

* 1,507 irrigation steps between Summerland and Indian bar.

* 6700 and 2000 ft (highest and lowest elevation)

* If you’re lucky you’ll see a lenticular cloud.

* Recommendation – don’t rent a car on Seattle airport property. Taxes and fees will double the cost.

* NBylon pants, Smartwool toe socks, Icebreaker Merion hirts for warm and cold days, fleece jacket, rain gear, gloves and skull cap, Icebreaker wool long bottoms in case the temp dips.

* 30 degree sleeping bag (down) 20 oz is Jack’s choice.

Black Creek Outfitters Guru Session: Outdoor Gear

Jack Stucki led a great discussion on new gear coming into Black Creek Outfitters. He also fielded questions on general gear options based on conditions, time on trail and durability. These are bullet item highlights of the discussion.

The Guru Discussions occur every Wednesday evening, with pauses in the series based on availability as well as breaks for planning and actual outdoor adventuring. If you are in the Jacksonville area and would like a session dedicated to a specific topic you can reach out to me or ask for Jack when you visit the store.


  • Footwear is the most important when it comes to fit.
  • People who wear boots tend to be older folk (Jacks notes on trail he sees people his age in boots.)
  • 40 lbs or more, consider a boot (though Jack considers 40 lbs a reason to question how the hiker has packed.)
  • Boots are good for ankle support along with snow conditions. Most boots will be water proof. Hard to find ones which aren’t. Warmth and structure are your gains.
  • Jack noted day hikes in low top shoes didn’t impact his ankles or knees so he knew the problem was weight. (Lowa boot was the session example)
  • Salomon X D is the recommended low top show.
  • They need no break-in (I can attest to that).
  • Vibram is the standard for sole, however Salomon does not use Vibram.
  • They’d prefer to not use Goretex but their contract with REI requires it.
  • Jack showed how the Salomon has a high degree of tortional rigidity: as much as the boot.
  • Climashield is Salomon’s proprietary waterproofing.
  • If Goretex gets wet on the inside, it takes a while to dry. Note that.
  • Jack has over 1,000 miles on his Salomon shoes. Salomon doesn’t promise they’ll last that long.
  • Hiker, trekker and PHD. Those are your Smartwool options. Your version is based on your environment.
  • FITS makes a light, medium and rugged sock. The mill that makes FITS used to make Smartwool. When Smartwool went to China, the mill made FITS.
  • You can’t go wrong with FITS or Smartwool.
  • But Darn Tough may be the best sock out there.
  • Jack sharing Outdoor Research Backcountry Boardshorts. Great, light weight hiking short. Feather light with some give.
  • Jack is wearing Vissla on the Wonderland Trail. Super light weight with great stretch, and quick drying.
  • 150 weight Merino wool icebreaker shirt is his go to shirt. No SPF.
  • The shirt has a tag with a number. Go to the site. Put in the number. You’ll get the location and sheep that shirt came from.
  • ExOfficio 91% polyester shirt is also a solid option. But polyester is petroleum based, if you are concerned.
  • 200 weight Merino wool Icebreaker 3/4 zip is a solid long sleeve base layer.
  • 200 weight Merino wool Icebreaker “long johns” pants are the complete package.
  • Comparing fleece anything to the Arc’Teryx Atom jacket. Spend the extra money and go with the Atom.
  • OR rain gear from 2 weeks ago was our example of the rain proof outer layer.
  • Looking at OR Versaliner gloves. Cool zipper for glove rain cover.

Vogel State Park, Blood Mountain and the Appalachian Trail


Living in Jacksonville, FL affords wonderful access to many water based activities, but time on the Appalachian Trail cannot be had without at least a 14 hour round trip (unless of course airfare and a rental car fits into the budget). So it was with great joy that the May 17th weekend became totally open for both me and my daughter, Sara. My goal was to get her on the AT for the first time, and for me to experience a new section the famous trail.

Of course my dog Roxy was required company. She loves trail.

Initially Grayson Highland State Park was the destination. Cresting “God’s Stairmaster” to see an open field of wild horses is quite memorable. Mother Nature, however, had other ideas. Vogel State Park was option number two, and even if wet and cold became reality it wouldn’t be too severe for my daughter’s tastes. The horses will have to wait until October, hopefully.

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The Benton MacKaye Trail


A 2015 goal will be to hike the Benton MacKaye Trail. At just under 300 miles, the adventure will hopefully entail no more than two weeks away from wife and work. The key will be coordinating it such that the memory will have, at the very least, my son as a trail companion. Should time and opportunity be more kind the AT/BMT loop will be tackled, which would allow for 500+ miles of trail time.

There is a great deal of information about the BMT (noted below is the link to the association which manages the trail), but I would like to share this link as a place to start. Tim Homan’s book comes highly recommended, and has found a place on my to-do list. The problem…it’s out of print. On Amazon’s site you can find used versions for around $30.

If most of what I have read is true, it is a less traveled AT. This link will take you directly to a map of the hike.

All information following is shared with full credit to the Benton MacKaye Trail Association (BMTA). (Source)

The Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT) is a footpath of nearly 300 miles (480 km) through the Appalachian mountains of the southeastern United States. It is designed for foot travel in the tradition of the Appalachian Trail (AT).

Running from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Big Creek Campground on the northern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (the Smokies), the BMT passes through some of the most remote backcountry in Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina, including eight federally designated Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas. For further information on the trail, visit the BMT Vital Info page.

There are numerous access points and trailheads along the BMT route creating many options for one-way and loop hikes, and several more in combination with local trails. Longer hikes are possible on the BMT by doing a partial or full thru-hike. And the longest walks are done by also using the three major intersecting trails, the Pinhoti, the AT, and the 900-plus mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

Because the BMT intersects the AT at each terminus and in the middle, three large hikable loops are formed in a figure 8: a lower circle of 364 miles, an upper Smokies-only walk of 158 miles, and ‘The BMT Loop’ – a complete circuit hike of over 500 miles. The Georgia Loop, “toughest hike in Georgia”, is a 55-mile triangle of the BMT, the AT and the Duncan Ridge Trail. In the Eastern Continental Trail; the 4400-plus mile route from Key West, Florida to Cape Gaspe, Quebec, Canada; the BMT connects the Pinhoti and Appalachian Trails. For more hiker information, check the Hiker Resources page.

A January Weekend at South Carolina’s Mountain Bridge – Table Rock

IMG_1011A rare dry moment

The drive back to the Cleveland, SC area started at roughly 9:00 am EST on Thursday the 10th of January. Wanting to maximize the offerings of my location I planned to knock out two of the Table Rock trails prior to meeting up with Chris Gandy at Caesars Head State Park. Chris had rented the Bear Scratch Cabin from Firefox Mountain Cabins and the plan was to meet up with him at 1:00 pm EST. This meant an early start as the collective trail time on Table Rock was 6 hours if I pushed hard (which is normally the plan).

Arriving in Greensboro, SC at 3:00 pm EST I unpacked my bags, attended to some work responsibilities and then closed the night with a filling club sandwich and two pale ales. While feeling grateful for the opportunity to experience the Blue Ridge area I was a bit disheartened by the weather shift which offered a 70% chance of rain with a temperature range of 40 to 50 degrees. My attention to detail for trail readiness failed to incorporate rain gear for the lower body and I was left hoping the precipitation would be gone by mid-morning. False hope.

Prior to entering sleep mode I finished reviewing the trail research compiled over the previous weeks. Links will be posted below and with total assuredness those resources get my complete backing. Before sharing the experience I want to speak a bit to preparing for any hike. Visiting a state park with well maintained and marked trails ensures a level of safety and confidence. However, you should never anticipate terrain and maintenance. Of this I was reminded as I began my ascent of Table Rock.

My primary trail need was a new set of hiking boots and my wife was kind enough to make my primary Christmas a pair of Keen hikers (I forget the name). While I love my Keen sandals the boots felt too loose and the overall foot support was harsh. Thankfully she purchased them from Black Creek Outfitters so my next 3 visits (yes it took that long to decide) yielded the Vasque Breeze. Highly recommended by the staff and by friends it is not a brand I would have looked to, another reason why shopping at your local outfitters is worth the extra money. Trail conditions would further validate the purchase.

My Osprey Raptor 10 hydration pack was well surplused with Clif bars, a compass, rope, first aid kit, toilet paper, knife, extra socks and of course water. I was properly layered with a Mountain Hardwear polyester blend base layer, an Outdoor Research Radiant pullover and a water resistant Endura Stealth jacket. While my Marmot light weight hiking shorts were a good idea they were not quick drying and on the descent it was all I could do to not have them fall down my legs.

Let my mistakes be your lesson learned.

Breakfast was free so I loaded up on oatmeal, granola and a few bacon-egg-cheese english muffins. My departure time of 7:00 am EST was honored though the cold and wet morning made me rethink things. Estimating a drive of 1 hour and 30 minutes I knew the wet terrain would cause a change of plans both driving and hiking so I spent my dark, wet morning deciding which trail would win out. A quick stop at a drive-thru Starbucks helped change my mood as the kind person in front off paid for my Americano. Of course this meant I had to “pay it backwards”. Fueled by a good deed, and more than enough caffeine, the day began to brighten up in spite of the overwhelming gray that was disclosed as night slowly took its hiding place.

With XM radio 1st Wave my soundtrack the awe inspiring drive to Table Rock took on a movie-like quality. The mountain ranges seem to hold the roads in place as you wind past oddly place mobile homes and remote communities. Table Rock itself is divided into two areas: one being the Welcome Center (situated by a meditative lake) with group parking, cabins and camp sites, the other being the start of the trail, offering further residences along with a variety of recreational treats.

Pulling into my parking space an unloading my gear was water torture. The steady rain was enough to be annoying, just short of refreshing. My running cap ended up being the smartest accessory for both heat retention and keeping the rain off my face. The trail begins, as all good ones do, with a sign-in card for the hiker to complete. Should anything happen this is your lifeline as it allows you to give your destination, start time, emergency contact and expected return. I filled mine out along with a fellow enthusiast dressed well for a challenging mountain run (he was going the full extent of the course) but not for the weather conditions. Upon leaving I would find that his car was gone, hopefully meaning he realized his gear mistake.

The “gift shop” at the trail head was closed but the bathroom was open. Care has been taken with this area as the entry is a newly built wood bridge and walking path. Maybe they did this to give you a sense of calm at start and relief upon return. All references to the challenging elevation would speak nothing to how much worse the wet conditions would make it. (Brenda’s detail is priceless.)

The full hike was wet and misty. The elevation was challenging but not impossible, save for a fallen tree. Moving was a requirement simply to keep the body temperature at a comfortable level. I learned very quickly that all the gear that was presumed to be perfect for the known conditions would not completely answer the call to functionality. By the time I was coming down from the peak of the trail my shorts were falling off my hips due to the all the water that it consumed. Additionally my Endura jacket did not match the environmental conditions and eventually gave up its resistance.

Yet I love these moments. These humbling moments through which learning to be in the wilderness is better defined. I wish I could remember the quote or the news article but it is true that we should never enter any wild place with arrogance.

Apart from this minor inconvenience the hike itself was worth the trip. Sadly the low hanging clouds kept me from fully appreciating the view, although the haunting death call of the wind whipping over the rocks at trails end did its best to make up for it. There is always something stirring about not being able to see your destination all the while knowing what lies ahead thanks to nature’s not-so-subtle clues. Add the stairs carved in stone and the heavenly silence to the brochure and I found myself wanting to stay.

But I had to meet Chris.

IMG_1012You must go beyond this to get one of the great views

IMG_1013One of those haunting drop offs

IMG_1002A minor natural obstacle

IMG_1003Many of these…more difficult thanks to the rain

IMG_1026The lower on the trail the more clear

rockstairLove the rock stair