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 – Shenandoah National Park Section Hike

On August 20th Black Creek Outfitters hosted a Guru Session led by Jack Stucki. The subject matter was “Section Hiking the Shenandoah Nation Park”. Jack believes the Shenandoah section of the AT is a great hike for beginners due to the relatively level terrain. Add to that welcoming lodges with full service facilities (dining, pool, sauna, etc.) and you have a place the whole family can enjoy.

What makes this trip a welcoming temptress are the fine folks willing to shuttle you to any put-in. Oh, and then there is a great mountain a bit south of the southern terminus. But you will have to read on for that.

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.


  • Jack states the Shenandoah Valley is an easy hike, compared to other sections on the AT, and one of the most beautiful. 
  • Many side trails that lead to places to sleep and more vistas. 
  • 103.3 mi – Rock Fish Gap to Front Royal VA. 
  • Add 4 miles of walking to leave the trail for the closest town. 
  • Elevation stays between 2 and 4 thousand feet. 
  • Very well manicured. 
  • Best time of year – Autumn. 
  • Got into the teens during Jack’s time in late September/early October. 
  • Blazes change from white to markers noting your location.  
  • You’ll see bears and deer. The wildlife is robust. 
  • Bears have been humanized, so be mindful. 
  • That said Jack’s experience with a mother bear and her cubs was benign. 
  • Bears Den Hostile – owned by AT Conservancy in the Shenandoah Valley. 
  • Permits – pretty easy to get a permit. You self register in the kiosk just inside the valley, coming north and south. No charge. 
  • You will be fined heavily if you do not get a permit. 
  • You can stay any place for a max of 2 nights. 
  • You can reserve spots, but they are not shelters. 
  • Shelters are first come first serve. 
  • Picnic pavilions are considered shelters. 
  • Camping shelters are called “huts”. There are 8 in the park. 
  • Most campsites have showers. 
  • The park embraces stealth camping. 
  • 50 yards from another party and 10 yards from water. 
  • Cabins are free, but they can be reserved. They’re located just off the AT. 
  • You have to be a member of the PATC – Potomac Appalachian Trail Club – to reserve a cabin. 
  • Big Meadows, in the southern part, has a resort next to it. 
  • Waysides – three of them. Here you can replenish your gear. Think of them as a convenience store. 
  • In theory you could limit the food you carry in and supply on trail. 
  • They also have kitchens. 
  • Your supposed to camp a 1/4 mile from a wayside. But knowing there are hot meals, good luck with that. 
  • Two national park lodges in the park – one 1/3 of the way from the north and south points. 
  • Four trail towns close to the park: southern end Waynesboro, 50 miles south of Waynesboro is Buena Vista, Front Royal at top, Luray just south of Front Royal. 
  • Shuttle services – Mountain Valley Shuttle Service in Lorray from Duncannan to Daleville VA 
  • Rockfish Gap Outfitters in Waynesboro will shuttle you to Royal 
  • Ironically Jack suggests the following – Rockfish Gap to Cow Camp Gap (about 50 miles) gets you over 3 Ridges Mountain. You’ll hit a mountain called The Priest. A top 3 place on the AT for Jack. 
  • Jack recommends staying on top of the mountain. It’s just above a water supply. 
  • Good place to solo hike. 
  • Jack recommends checking in at every journal. 
  • Jack noted there was sufficient natural water supply points. 
  • June, July and August are wicked hot. Memorial Day and Labor Day are crowded. As is late October to watch the leaves change. 
  • Early spring is nice – no bugs. 
  • Mid-April is when the thru hikers start to come through. 
  • You can also kayak the Valley. 
  • Most AT miles are in VA. 
  • No campfires allowed. 



Mt and Valley Shuttle Service 

Duncannan, PA – Daleville, VA 



Rockfish Gap Outfitters 

.8m from Waynesborough 


Trail Angel Network 

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.

Gate River Run – 2013


Beaker. Pokey. A man in a dress. Thor. Spiderman. Captain America. A female Forest Gump. A team of mentally disabled children. A father pushing his disabled son in a wheel chair. Friends. Family. Church groups. Firemen. A half-dozen multicultural men and women dressed in Irish gear.

These are a sampling of what you might have seen if you were in downtown Jacksonville today for the 36th annual Gate River Run. According to the Florida Times Union the total number of runners for the 15k was 15,388 and they benefitted from a cool, sunny day with no wind. Beyond the visual entertainment and natural calm it was the first time my entire family participated. While Kerry and Sara traversed the course together, I had the benefit of running with my son Evan. The goal was to finish in under 90 minutes, a target which we just missed.

Historically my companionship has either been Brian Thompson, Philip Hughes or my iPod. This year the competitive nature normally driving training and participation was muted by the desire to see my son compete and experience the joy of Gate. His confidence turned to anxiety as we pulled into our parking space this morning. Having never gone further than 6 miles, and with the Hart Bridge looming, quite possibly the reality overwhelmed the bravado.

With my friend Brian unable to make the trip we leveraged his seeded race number and found an early home in the black corral. Being one of the first 5,000 means you are with those who run at your pace. The Easter Egg was the foresight of the race organizers – they staggered the seeded runners which meant we were near the front of the second seeded stage. Every year I struggle not running a sub 8:00 first mile because we work hard to find a less crowded race pack. This year the road before us was wide open which meant Evan and I could focus on a consistent 9:30 pace.

Could we have run faster? Probably. But discretion demanded discipline as we had no idea how Evan would handle the Hart Bridge. Cresting what some call the “green monster”, passing a good number of participants, I realized our planning had rendered the bridge an afterthought. For me it was my most aggressive attack and for Evan a well-earned feeling of accomplishment.

The last few yards showed that youth was king and his kick was a bit better than mine making him the winning Fullford for 2013.

While I did not run with my daughter I could not have been more proud of her as well. Leaving her mother early on because she wanted to push herself a bit more, she fell victim to the seams separating the concrete slabs on the Hart. Coming just past mile marker 9 I saw tears welling in her eyes due to a sprained ankle that had all but ended her ability to run across the finish line. Finding a break in the security gate I helped her cross under the banner and take ownership of her Gate River Run medal.

Every year the Gate becomes more of a family event and less of a personal challenge of where my aging body is. My in-laws from Melbourne and Tampa Florida came up – local in-laws and nephews were also there – Neighbors were present along with old high school friends. Billed as the largest 15k in America, the race really is a community gala with the 15k, 5k and a 1 mile fun run for children. You can see all shapes and sizes on the course as well as a wide range of ages. For me there is something to be said about a fitness event that affords you great memories and an extended community.

I look forward to the Gate every year and I am grateful for my family and friends who make it so special. Running or walking, competitive or casual, you can find a local event wherever you live which can be just as life affirming.

January 2013 Gleaning Starts Strong

Vicki Poole and me in front of her orange tree.
Vicki Poole and me in front of her orange tree.

December was a tease but January delivers! New Years Eve found me with a welcomed email from my good friend Sandi Newman, NE Florida Gleaning Coordinator for Society of St. Andrew. Citrus gleaning is occupying the month which means multiple opportunities to help those in need. For students this is a great way to satisfy your volunteer hours and for family/friends a chance to spend quality time together for a worthy cause.

This Saturday (1/5/13) we will be in Satsuma, FL picking grapefruit, oranges and tangerines. For new gleaners this means 1) wear a hard hat and/or be very alert because falling grapefruit is hard on the dome, 2) snippers and blankets will be in order as falling tangerines explode on impact and 3) sampling some of the best citrus you will ever taste.

Satsuma is one hour south of Jacksonville off of US-17. I will have address confirmation later today but as always I can travel with the Tahoe which means I can seat nine. Reach out to me via Twitter (@iambwf) or comment on this post if you would like information on participation. For all “friends” Facebook, call or text me.

The rest of the January calendar is below. My only weekend of no gleaning will be January 12th as Chris Gandy and I will be up in Caesar’s Head, SC.

  • Saturday, January 12: Picking citrus fruit in Mandarin/Scott Mill area
  • Monday, January 21:   Picking citrus in Jacksonville or Green Cove Springs
  • Saturday, January 26: City-wide Citrus Drive with Second Harvest North Florida food bank. There will be 5 locations in Jacksonville to drop off citrus or to volunteer to help pick citrus from backyard trees.

There are also gleanings going on Wednesdays in the Arlington/GrovePark areas and on Thursdays in Orange Park/Fleming Island/Middleburg. Please ask! And remember, you can make a direct impact by talking to neighbors who have citrus trees who might not be using all their produce. If you see any homes while traveling which might be gleaning candidates, but you do not want to make contact with them, let me know the address/location and I can stop by to ask if they would be willing to donate their yield.