It is Well

It Is Well With My Soul – Horatio Spafford

“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.”

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“Been a little quiet over that WWTS these days George.” You betcha! Haven’t been on a hike since December 2014, and the prospects of one before September of this year are glum, as evidenced by the above photo. It’s been a rough 2015 so far, but oh boo hoo. These things have been a blessing of sorts. This is the first time in my life I’ve been able to slow down, and I can truly say it is well with my soul. I have a few new things that are now coming to the forefront, and  I believe everything that has happened is a part of God’s greater plan. Maybe I could live vicariously through one of you. Tell me about how you’ve been walking with the Son!

Staff Sergeant Thomas William Logan Sr.

American Soldier by Toby Keith

“I’m an American soldier, an American
Beside my brothers and my sisters I will proudly take a stand
When Liberty’s in jeopardy, I will always do what’s right
I’m out here on the front line
Sleep in peace tonight
American soldier, I’m an American soldier”

 

 

Uncle Tom

Staff Sergeant Thomas William Logan Sr.    December 8, 1942 – March 27, 2009

A few days ago I decided I didn’t want to do the same old Memorial Day post. I wanted to memorialize an individual who represents the heart of Memorial Day. I see posts that say “Happy Memorial Day”, but the reality for anyone who has or had a loved one who served, it can be a very somber day.

I decided to write about Staff Sergeant Thomas William Logan Sr, or Uncle Tom as I knew him. My first recollection of Uncle Tom was when I was very young – maybe 5 years old. You see I was born in 1964, and my Uncle Tom did 3 tours in Vietnam, so when this soldier showed up at the house and was hugging my mom I was wondering who this guy was. Tommy, as my mom called him, was her twin, and he was on leave, and had to shovel through 18 inches of snow to visit.

Uncle Tom earned two purple hearts in Vietnam. On one occasion he was riding in the back of a duece and a half (2 1/2 ton truck) with another soldier who was on his way home. The truck ran over a landmine and both men were throw into a rice patty. My uncle had a shoulder wound, but “commandeered” a motorcycle from a local to ride and get help. Sadly, that soldier never went home. Uncle Tom signed up for another tour in Vietnam after that, and completed 3 tours.

Sadly, my next memories of Uncle Tom were running into him when I was about 30 years old. He sometimes worked with my Uncle Jack, and I saw him on a job site. I would see him on a rare occasion, and he always would laugh and joke with me. I regret not getting to know him better.

In the above picture Uncle Tom was 66 years old. Even as the war and it’s memories followed him through life and eventually caught him, he was still proud to be an american soldier. Rest in peace Uncle Tom. God Bless the American Soldier!

Why Happy Resurrection Day?

 

The Revelation Song – Kari Jobe

“Worthy is the Lamb Who was slain,
Holy, holy is He”

lionandlamb

Easter/Resurrection Day is the most important day of the year. Yes, even more important than Christmas, the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. You see, Christ’s birth would have no meaning if it were not for His atoning death on the cross. Jesus did not come to live here on this earth, but rather to be a sacrifice for our sins and die on a cross. Why? Through the cross we all have the opportunity of eternal life in heaven, because by dying on a cross Jesus paid the price for all of our sins, past, present, and future.

Hebrews 52:13-53:12

13 Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
    he shall be high and lifted up,
    and shall be exalted.
14 As many were astonished at you—
    his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
    and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
15 so shall he sprinkle many nations;
    kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which has not been told them they see,
    and that which they have not heard they understand.
53 Who has believed what he has heard from us?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
    a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation,who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors.

If you know Christ, then you already celebrate with me today. If you don’t, please don’t let this day go by without praying to God to become real in your life!

A Winter Tradition

Psalm 19:1

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.”

Continuing a tradition

Continuing a winter tradition

For Trip Pictures Click Here

Last year Paul and I went to Harriman State Park in New York state on the weekend after Christmas in search of a winter hike. This year we decided a 2nd annual WWTS Winter Hang was in order so we returned to Harriman, only this time visiting the northern end of the park.

Bear Mountain

Bear Mountain

Bear Mountain loomed over the parking lot of the Bear Mountain Inn, and as we prepared our gear I thought, “Man, that looks like a rugged climb!”. It turns out I was wrong. We would be starting out southbound on the Appalachian Trail, and when a  trail sees as much use as this section does trail maintainers have to take serious steps to minimize erosion. About half of the climb is on stone steps that climb just steep enough to let you know that you’re going to breath a little harder before you reach the top.

Stone steps on Bear Mountain

Stone steps on Bear Mountain

Not to worry, the grade relents and becomes more of a foot path, with nice views of the Bear Mountain Bridge and the Hudson River.

Appalachian Trail on Bear Mountain

Appalachian Trail on Bear Mountain

We paused long enough to take it all in, and with a little coaxing Paul convinced me that lunch on the summit would be so much better, although that might be hard to imagine.

Hudson River view

Hudson River view

We passed through a nice little stand of pines and then the trail turns onto the paved road that goes to the tower on the summit of Bear Mountain. After a short road walk, and another short pitch with some nice views, we stood at the top, looking over the southern half of the park. There was a parking lot and folks sitting on benches, and even one of those doodads that you put a quarter in and look out over the views. Paul and I decided to pull up a comfortable rock and enjoy the scenery while chowing down. It was a nice, clear, comfortable day, with a light breeze, and by the time we finished lunch we had cooled enough that we knew it was time to get moving again.

Views from Bear Mountain

Views from Bear Mountain

Tower on the summit of Bear Mountain

Tower on the summit of Bear Mountain

Instead of taking the bypass trail to avoid the hike on the summit we stayed on the AT, and I’m sure next time I’ll take the bypass. Not a whole lot to see, but I had to hike it once. The trail down off the mountain top was just as nice as the trail up, and soon we were in the valley again.

Paul negotiating rock steps

Paul negotiating rock steps

After crossing Seven Lakes Drive we got to talking about life and some of the things that good friends talk about, and I didn’t notice that were missed a turn on the AT. We walked along the 1777 trail, and then the Timp-Torne Trail, and finally we turned onto the Fawn Trail. About 100 yards onto the Fawn Trail I notice the white blaze with the red “F” and thought,” hmm, this doesn’t seem right”. A family was walking up from the Anthony Wayne Recreation Area parking lot and they confirmed my suspicion, I WAS in fact meandering without a clue of where I was. Well, to be fair, I had a clue, but I was meandering. Anyway, I also knew that we wanted to be on the Timp-Torne Trail, so after a short bit of backtracking we turned onto the blue blazed T-T trail.

Bear Mountain summit from the Timp-Torne Trail

Bear Mountain summit from the Timp-Torne Trail

Timp-Torne Trail

Timp-Torne Trail

Up, up, up we climbed, over slabs and along some nice trail. Once again cluelessness set in as I commented to Paul that I guess we were on the section that paralleled the AT, but where were the white blazes? I swear to you folks, I’m a much more competent operator than this, or I’d at least like to think so. It turns out that we never doubled back to the AT, but got right on the blue blaze, but I guess I knew that at the time. I tell ya, it’s a wonder my brain doesn’t melt down sometimes immediately upon awaking in the morning. Oh well, no harm, no foul as we eventually linked up with the Appalachian Trail once again. What’s an adventure if everything goes as planned, eh? Soon enough we were walking up on our destination for the day – West Mountain Shelter.

West Mountain Shelter

West Mountain Shelter

Camp behind West Mountain Shelter

Camp behind West Mountain Shelter

West Mountain Shelter has a bit of a bad reputation due to it’s easy access and lack of water, but the view from the front is amazing, with the New York City skyline some 25 miles distant. On top of that, there had to be a hundred places to hang a hammock. Paul and I immediately set about making camp and securing firewood, and although the wood was slim pickings we did find enough to get a small fire going.

Warming fire

Warming fire

As I inhaled my dinner (Packit Gourmet State Fair Chili, and mighty tasty I will add), something told me to turn around. It was one of those magical moments in the outdoors that plays out over and over, even when no one is around to see it. The NYC skyline had suddenly become ablaze with the reflection of the fleeting sun, and in just a few short moments it was gone.

NYC skyline on "fire"

NYC skyline on “fire”

As the fire died we took in the views of civilization there below us, lights coming on one by one, and reflected on how fortunate we were to be here and now.

Dusk at West Mountain Shelter

Dusk at West Mountain Shelter

As always happens on winter hikes, we wind up in the rack early. Winter nights in camp are long and it’s hard to sleep that long. I was down and out somewhere around 6:30, but by 9 I had to get up to readjust my tarp. The wind had picked up substantially, and I couldn’t stand the flapping of my tarp any longer. By the time I got done resetting everything Paul was up as well, and we did the same with his rig. We went over to the shelter and took some more night shots before resettling in, and I only woke a few times during the night. Somewhere around 6 am it started to rain, and the pitter patter on my cuben tarp told me it was time to rise and shine. I made breakfast and a hot cuppa tea, and as my meal soaked I broke down my hammock.

Under Paul's tarp in the rain

Under Paul’s tarp in the rain

I had brought along a camp stool I got from Jacks R Better(the same one Shug uses), and it was well worth the weight when you look at the comfort it provides. It’s funny how as the years go by I fuss over the weight of some things, and then add weight back in other places. It was nice to sit under the tarp and pack in comfort.

Packed up and ready to go

Packed up and ready to go

After packing and preparing for our walk out in the rain, Paul told me he had been thinking about our conversations of the prior day, and it led him to the days’ devotion in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” As the priest of our home we will one day give an account to God as to how we conducted ourselves in that mission field. Did we lead with the kingdom in mind, or did we compromise with the world? Put on the whole armor and be not ashamed of the gospel.

Suffern-Bear Mountain Trail

Suffern-Bear Mountain Trail

Our walk out this morning would be on the Suffern-Bear Mountain Trail, and I was anxious to see the northern end, as I hope to hike the length of the park on this trail in the spring. The trail started with a few ups and downs and water was plentiful. Eventually the downhill got serious and very rocky. There were fleeting views of the Hudson, and then the trail turned into an old road as we reached Doodletown.

Doodletown Map

Doodletown Map

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Old foundation in Doodletown

Doodletown was a hamlet that had been inhabited at least since 1762, and at it’s peak 300 people had lived there. The park eventually bought out the residents, and by 1965 the town was completely abandoned. As you walk along the trail/road, you can’t help but imagine how rugged life in Doodletown must have been. These were some hardy folks.

The miles flew by, and as we drew nearer to the trail head civilization became more apparent. First we passed some highway construction equipment and powerlines, then on the final downhill stretch we could hear music. It was the sound of the outdoor ice skating rink at the trail head.

Skating Rink

Skating Rink

And just like that, bam, we were back. It was interesting to me how close, yet how far we were from people and niceties like ice rinks, and inns, and merry go rounds. It just goes to show you don’t need to go very far to get away. Just far enough. I can’t wait until next years winter hang!

 

 

 

 

Oh Holy Night Indeed!

 

Oh Holy Night by John Sullivan Dwight

“O holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth”

As the Christmas holiday approached I found myself singing my favorite songs, especially Silent Night and Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel. As I sat down to read the account of Jesus’ birth in Luke I was suddenly taken with “Oh Holy Night” and felt the urge to seek out it’s origins. There are others who will tell the story much better, so I will leave it to the reader to do his or her own searching. All I can say is that this wasn’t what I planned to pen here on this most holy night, and so I will yield to the promptings of the Spirit. I have included Josh Groban’s version for your listening pleasure.

Merry Christmas from Walking With The Son!

Just as an after note; when I attended church last night what was the first song the worship team sang? Oh Holy Night! God is good. 🙂

Bitten By The DIY Bug

Acts 18:3

“Paul lived and worked with them, for they were tentmakers just as he was.”  NLT

Brother xl2600i thread injector

Brother xl2600i thread injector

I’m a bit of a tinkerer. In fact I made and sold thousands of alcohol stoves over the years while operating End2End Trail Supply. Wood burning sheet metal stoves, no problem. Anything metal was my forte. Even so, I always admired anyone who could create something from fabric.I never thought I would be able to sew projects like the folks at Hammock Forums and Backpackinglight. I decided to give it a go and bought myself the above pictured Brother xl2600i for my birthday a few years ago, and then it sat, probably mostly due to my lack of confidence. I visited my good friend John Donewar back in March and saw his projects and sewing space and finally decided to give it a go this past July. Now I’m bitten by the DIY bug and I’m here to say if I can do it so can you.

I started out making stuff sacks and small (pin cushion size) pillows, and there’s a good reason why folks start out with these simple projects – you get familiar with the machine and how to sew a straight stitch. In fact, 90% of the DIY projects out there just call for the ability to sew in a straight line. In my opinion learning the functions of the machine and why it might not sew properly were tougher than actually sewing (hint: most of the problems I came across were from improper top tension and improperly wound bobbins). Once I got the hang of it, sewing became quite cathartic. I become absorbed by the hum of the machine and the flow of the fabric.

I will outline some of my projects to date, and include any links I think are applicable. My first project of any real size was a bug net affectionately know as the Fronkey Bug Net, named after it’s creator Fronkey, of course!

Fronkey Bug Net

Fronkey Bug Net

I bought the no see um from DIY Gear Supply, and the design is basically a hem at the bottom for a length of shock cord, and a couple of hems up the side. Best of all, I finished it in about a half an hour! Final weight came in at 7.3 ounces, including stuff sack.

By now I had become obsessed with a camo hammock setup, and decided to knock off a camo Asym style tarp made from some 1.1 silnylon I purchased from Ripstop By The Roll. Using a pattern found at DIY Gear Supply this project was a breeze!

Asym camo sil tarp

Asym camo sil tarp

Corner reinforcement

Corner reinforcement

Self tensioning guyline

Self tensioning guyline

With stuff sack, ridgeline, and guylines with self tensioners the tarp setup weighs 6.8 ounces. Throw in a couple of MSR groundhog stakes and the kit weighs 7.8 ounces.

Well, what good is a camo tarp without a camo hammock, so I tapped Dutch over at Dutchware for some Argon 1.6 fabric. Once again, just a few straight seams and the hammock body was done. The ridgeline and whoopie sling suspension was made from 7/64″ Amsteel from Redden Marine, the toggles were cut from aluminum arrow shafts, and the camo 1″ webbing for the tree huggers came from Dutchware as well. I whipped up a bishop bag (basically a stuff sack with openings on both ends) from some Momentum 90 I had laying around and viola, she is fini. Or so I thought.

Camo Argon 1.6 hammock

Camo Argon 1.6 hammock

Yup, it's camo!

Yup, it’s camo!

Amsteel suspension

Amsteel suspension

That’s when I decided to sew up a ridgeline organizer, ala Dream Hammock.

Papa Smurf Dream Hammock style organizer

Papa Smurf Dream Hammock style organizer

I like the idea that I can slide a water bottle in the middle so I don’t have to fumble in the dark. The weight of my whole hammock rig including hammock, ridgeline, whoopies, toggles, tree straps, ridgeline organizer and bishop bag comes in at 15.7 ounces.

By now my skills were improving and I took on a project that I must admit I was quite nervous about – a down under quilt. I love my Hammock Gear under quilts, and was going to pay for a custom super ultra light summer UQ to go with my 50° top quilt, but I thought, “why not give it a try”. I found a very detailed description of an under quilt someone had made at hammock forums, and decided it didn’t look all that bad. Once again I tapped Dutch for some Argon 67 in Coyote Brown for the inner shell, and Argon 90 in camo for the outer.

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Hem detail

Hem detail

Inner shell color

Inner shell color

I went with 1″ baffles and 3 ounces of down, and according to Catsplat’s UQ Calculator my under quilt should be good down to 51°. I slept in it shortly after finishing, and it got down to 52°, which kept me plenty warm sleeping in only sweat pants and a tee shirt. Best of all it only weighs 8.5 ounces!

Here’s the whole rig:

100% DIY camo hammock rig

100% DIY camo hammock rig

Shortly after finishing my UQ my buddy Matt asked if I would make him a full length 20° UQ in the same colors as mine. I challenged myself and was able to make it in one day! Whew! I made it from Argon 90 inside and out and filled it with 11.5 ounces of 850 fp down.

20° full length UQ

20° full length UQ

Inside view

Inside view

It weighed in at 20.6 ounces and should be good to 19°. So far Matt’s tests have given a big thumbs up! Now if I can get Paul’s UQ done I can get on to making my silnylon rain gear, heh heh.

 

Stickin’ Three Forks In It

Psalm 23:1-3

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” 

Lovin' life in the Dolly Sods Wilderness

Lovin’ life in the Dolly Sods Wilderness

For Trip Pictures Click Here

I’d have to say I’m a guy who likes variety in my hiking adventures. My hiking to-do list has many flavors, and I’m not one to get stuck on vanilla. That’s why I was a little surprised that me and the boys wound up back in “Almost Heaven West Virginia” and the Dolly Sods Wilderness so soon. Actually, it should come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever visited the “sods”, since there are so many different types of terrain in one tidy package. Joining Matt and me on our return visit would be Matt’s son Matt, as well as Paul Cummings, Dave Darrow, and his son Noah.

During the trip planning phase Matt and I kicked around a few ideas of how we envisioned the hike. My hike started at Bear Rocks trailhead at the top of Dolly Sods, while Matt’s originated at the Red Creek trailhead in the lower end of the wilderness. The only thing we had to take into account was the fact that Dave and Noah were hiking in and joining us at our camp on the second afternoon, and it made for some interesting ideas. In the end we all agreed that Red Creek was the best choice.

Day 1

An early start and many miles later and we were turning onto Forest Road 19. As we traveled toward the Red Creek trailhead, FR19 started a rather long descent and it became apparent that we were beginning in the lower valley as opposed to the plateau that Dolly Sods North is known for. My only hope was for nice grades as we regained any lost altitude while on the trail.

One continuing theme in this wilderness area is the lack of trail markers other than junction signs, and other than a few confusing areas early on, the trail was relatively easy to follow, with a nice, steady, moderate grade. It started along Red Creek and would climb in a side slab fashion along the hillside before dropping to meet the creek for a crossing, before once again repeating on another hillside.

Climbing on a side hill

Climbing on a side hill

We stopped at a high point to eat lunch, and this is where I must confess my ultra light backpacking sin – I brought a frying pan! Actually not just a frying pan but an MSR Flex Skillet, weighing in at 6.7 ounces. What’s the big deal you say? Well, for someone like me who has spent years trimming his load and whittling away at non essentials this is unheard of. I decided that I would eat like a king this trip and see if I could shake my fear of extra gear. On the lunch menu was trail pizza, which consisted of two pita halves stuffed with pepperoni, sauce and mozzarella, and then toasted in the pan. Quick, delicious, and worth the trouble, I’ll rate that meal an A!

Our destination for the day was the same camp that Matt and I had stayed at on the last trip, along the left branch of Upper Red Creek. That changed the moment we hit Three Forks. Plenty of beautiful places to hang, and hardly a soul around convinced us we were home for the night. All I can say is this is my favorite spot to camp in the ‘Sods, with everything a backpacker would want in a temporary home. There are plenty of spots for hangers and non hangers alike without crowding anyone out, a couple of nice creeks, and someone actually took the time to construct Adirondack type stone seats around most of the fire pits. Don’t be confused – this is no campground, but back country camping at it’s best.

A room with a view

A room with a view

That's livin'

That’s livin’

Matt roughing it in style

Matt roughing it in style

Matt Jr on his first hang

Matt Jr on his first hang

After making camp and gathering firewood the next order of business was dinner. I told the guys I was bringing steak, but I think they thought I was kidding. If I was carrying a skillet I wanted a steak that was going to fill it, and I think I succeeded in the form of a 16 ounce thick cut NY Sirloin. As it sizzled away the smell wafted throughout the entire area. Thankfully it was bear season or I would have been concerned about visitors. I’ll call meal #2 a success, and something worth repeating.

After dinner Paul and Matt stoked the fire, and I shared from Psalm 51, which has become something of a regular bedtime read for me as of late. I make it my prayer to ask for God’s mercy and to ask Him to “create in me a clean heart” before I sleep.

Day 2

What a great nights sleep! The only thing that could have been better would have been a clear night for star watching. No matter, the mid 50’s temperatures were just the ticket for a work weary body, and looking out from the warmth of my nest the view made it clear that this would be a great day in the wilderness. Up and at ’em, chocolate chip pancakes and let’s pack it up and go!

Morning camp

Morning camp

Before breaking camp it had been on my heart to share from Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning”. I am reminded how God is a God of new beginnings from the creation, to the flood, to the cross, to the day you give your heart to the Lord, to every new morning. It says in Lamentations 3:22-23, The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning”. What a promise! 

Everyone was excited for what the day held in store. We would be climbing to the northern end of Dolly Sods, with it’s high plains and open views. As we climbed the Red Creek Trail toward Blackbird Knob we could hear the sound of dogs running a bear not too far from our position, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if we had seen a bear run across our path. As the dogs excited barks eventually faded we were once again left alone with just the sounds of the forest.  No matter, as we gained altitude the forest opened and there were more and more fields and views to take in.

View along the Upper Red Creek Trail

View along the Upper Red Creek Trail

We stopped for a quick snack at the intersection of the Dobbins Grade Trail and the plan was to ascent via the Raven Ridge trail a short distance away. Only one hitch in that plan – Matt had the only map and I didn’t bother to take a look during the break, so we wound up turning left onto Dobbins Grade instead of right. No matter, I like an adventure, right? Anyhow, we drudged along on a lightly used and slightly boggy section of Dobbins Grade, until at last we came upon the Beaver View trail before realizing my mistake. It’s all good, as my pastor likes to say, we’ll just take that trail instead. After 1.2 miles we intersected the Raven Ridge trail and were back on course. Back on familiar terrain we happily hiked along taking in the views.

View from the Raven Ridge Trail

View from the Raven Ridge Trail

What an awesome day to be walking in the wilderness – sunny, a slight breeze in the air, beautiful scenery and perfect temperatures. It don’t get much better folks!

Once we reached the Rocky Ridge trail we looked for a rock with a view to enjoy our lunch from. Everyone kicked back, took off their shoes, and took it all in.

Lunch view from the Rocky Ridge Trail.

Lunchtime view from the Rocky Ridge Trail.

Back on the trail we were now on a course back to the valley, and over the next several miles we would pass over a number of knobs and rocky features before finally diving down to Stonecoal Creek. Along the way we passed a couple on horseback, and while I like riding I would rather be walking this rocky stretch of trail.

Along the Rocky Ridge Trail

Along the Rocky Ridge Trail

 

As we started down the Big Stonecoal Trail our destination was the second crossing of Stonecoal Creek. It had been described by one author as “the most beautiful campsite in the entire Dolly Sods Wilderness”, with the promise of a nice sand beach and plenty of campsites. I must admit, after our camp at Three Forks the night before I had pretty high expectations. We hit the first crossing and Stonecoal Creek was barely a trickle, not the mighty creek I had expected. When we hit the second crossing we all  had our doubts as to whether this was the spot we were looking for, so much so that Matt and his son dropped their packs and hiked on to the next trail junction just to verify our position. We were there all right, but what a letdown. I will admit that the campsite grew on as as we made it our home, but we had such high hopes. There were few decent spots to hang and the beach we were promised wouldn’t have normally even garnered a look if we weren’t told about it ahead of time.

Stonecoal Creek

Stonecoal Creek

No worries, we were still just happy to be outdoors. Our biggest concern at this point was the fact that Dave and Noah hadn’t made it to camp. It was after 4 pm and I thought they would have been there by now. Knowing there was no way to verify that they even made the trip from New Jersey, we set about the business of setting up camp. Around 5 pm I noticed a hiker coming down the trail and realized it was Noah. They made it! Dave said he had a frustrating time with some of the trail junctions, and apparently there more than a few folks having the same troubles. Somehow he had sorted it all out and found us.

Home sweet home

Home sweet home

Dave and Matt relaxing by the creek

Paul and Matt relaxing by the creek

After dinner I was relaxing in my hammock when the next thing I knew I woke up and it was dark. I checked my watch – 9 pm. I could hear the guys talking and spied a campfire. By the time I got up to join them it was pitch black. What the heck! Apparently I had caught the last of the fire as everyone was hitting the hay. Oh well, back to bed. I guess I must have been tired as I slept until 7 am.

Day 3

Anxious to hit the trail

Anxious to hit the trail

After breakfast camp broke down rather quickly. I suppose we’re a pretty well oiled machine at this point.It’s not the breakdown that’s tough, it’s usually just getting moving that we struggle with. If you haven’t tried it and you’re the type to likes to get up early I warn you now, don’t buy a hammock. There is always a temptation to just lay there a little longer, and to steal a quote from Dave, “It’s glorious!”.

As we prepared for our journey out Matt shared with us from Isaiah 55:1-9, “Come, everyone who thirsts,come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?………….For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LordFor as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”. God wants us to be heavenly minded in all we do, to invest in “the bread of life” and “living waters”. These things were already bought at a price that we cannot afford through the blood of Jesus Christ.

Hiking through Mountain Laurel

Hiking through Mountain Laurel

As always the hike out seems to fly by. As we crossed Red Creek we stopped for one last rest stop. It’s funny because that’s when most of us try to eat the last of our food because we want to walk out with nothing left. Like it matters if I get to the trail head with a pack of crackers in my food bag. It’s nice to be strange when no one is looking sometimes, I guess.

First of all, I guess I’d like to rate the campsites we’ve stayed at in the Dolly Sods Wilderness. We’re all in agreement so I can speak for the group. Number one by a mile is Three Forks. I can’t think of one bad thing to say about the spot – it’s a gem. Number two would be along the Left Branch of Upper Red Creek where it crosses the Blackbird Knob Trail. Just an exceptional spot with the right amount of solitude. A distant third would be along Stonecoal Creek, and that’s only because I have yet to camp in the meadows of the upper ‘sods. I can picture a spectacular star show from the open plains and hope to one day experience it first hand. Which brings me to my impression of Dolly Sods after my second hike there. I’m certain that we will all be back here soon.There is so much diversity, just enough of a challenge, and the beauty of the area keeps my mind wandering back time and time again. We have other adventures to pursue, but Dolly Sods will be on my short list for some time to come.

PS: By the way, I’m still struggling with the idea of carrying extra gear on most trips, although a big fat juicy steak on occasion might just sway me!

 

 

 

Well, Hello Dolly

Joshua 2:1

“And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” 

Matt and I getting started

Matt and I getting started

For Trip Pictures Click Here

As a backpacker my to-do list of hikes is relatively short, but it never seems to get shorter as I complete each hike. Part of the reason is because as I explore new areas there always seems to be more options to explore. Well I’m here to tell you my short list just got a little longer after my June 28-29, 2014 visit to the Dolly Sods Wilderness in “almost heaven” West Virginia. Joined by my brother (and not often enough hiking companion) Matt Bealor, we had the pleasure of exploring just a piece of the 17,371 acres that comprise the Dolly Sods Wilderness.

 

Dolly Sods

Dolly Sods

Getting to the “Sods” was an adventure in itself (isn’t it that way on every trip?) that entails a bit of “country” driving that eventual leads to a single lane gravel forest service road that winds and climbs for about 6 miles and 2000 feet before reaching the top of the plain, before connecting to another gravel road to access the various trail heads in Dolly Sods. No matter, the terrain and scenery were beautiful, and the pre-adventure excitement was building, until we finally reached our starting point – the Bear Rocks trail head.

Bear Rocks Trail trail head

Bear Rocks Trail trail head

An ominous warning

An ominous warning

Apparently back in 1943 this area was used by the army for maneuvers and mountain training for WWII, and there was a bit of unexploded ordnance left behind. Much of it was cleaned up in 1997 at the most popular campsites, but there is still this warning, “IF YOU DID NOT DROP IT DO NOT PICK IT UP”. Me: “Hey Matt, is that your grenade under my hammock” Matt: ” Yeah man, sorry it must have slipped out of my pack, Can you pick it up for me?” Me: “Sorry man I didn’t drop it so I can’t pick it up” Yikes!

Matt heading out into the great unknown

Matt heading out into the great unknown

Trails in Dolly Sods have both a name and a number, but no blazes or other markings like those found on the AT for example, and I found that I rather liked it that way. None of the trails were difficult to follow, in my opinion, and all of the major junctions and trail heads were well marked.

Trails in Dolly Sods North

Trails in Dolly Sods North

Day 1

We started off on the Bear Rocks Trail (number 522), and right away knew this would be a different kind of hike. Typically most hikes here in the northeast are wooded with limited views, and that’s kind of what I expected here. Instead we started with rolling hills and open views, and that is what 80% of this hike would be. It was a genuine pleasure to be able to hike with my head up, looking around, instead of watching my feet. We started off on a gently meandering downhill path, and I hardly realized the path had as much slope as it did until the next day when we had to climb back to the trail head. We crossed the Dobbin Grade trail and reached a piece of trail where a boardwalk over a muddy section started in the middle of a mud hole! I was hoping this wasn’t a taste of things to come.

This boardwalk was a little short!

This boardwalk was a little short!

First view of Red Creek

First view of Red Creek

Just beyond the boardwalk we entered a short wooded section and our first crossing of Red Creek. Someone had made camp along its banks and I could hardly blame them. It was just a little too close to the trail head for my liking. The trail climbed gently through the forest, and just before we broke out into the open again Matt and I decided to take a lunch break. As we rested quite a few people passed us by. The one thing I did notice was that just about everyone we saw on day one were day hikers. In fact we only passed a few backpackers all weekend.

One fellow on his way back to the trail head commented on how hot it was out in the open, but as we packed up from lunch some cloud cover rolled in. I was quite grateful since I hadn’t anticipated how exposed we would be, and was happy not to bake in the sun. In fact, between the clouds and the breeze it was a pleasant walk.

Cloudy hike

Cloudy hike

Matt on the Raven Ridge TRail

Matt on the Raven Ridge Trail

The trail meandered along open grasslands, interspersed with the occasional short wooded section, providing enough diversity to keep things interesting. Matt and I eventually came to the Raven Ridge Trail (521) and this trail just felt like an extension of the the first since the scenery stayed the same. Once we hit the Rocky Ridge Trail (524) that would all change. The character of the trail became much more rocky (hence the name –  just call me captain obvious) and as we hiked near the edge of the plateau the occasional view of the valley would open up. In the meantime you could look to the east and see the terrain you had covered over the past few miles. Throw in a little rain and things quickly got interesting as the rocks got more slippery.

Valley views on the Rocky Ridge Trail

Valley views on the Rocky Ridge Trail

The rain slacked as we made the turn onto the Harman Trail (525), but either way our spirits couldn’t be dampened because we knew that with each step lower into the valley we were that much closer to camp. As we reached the Blackbird Knob Trail (511) our pace quickened and at last we reached Upper Red Creek.

Upper Red CReek

Upper Red Creek

Someone had pitched a tent right off the junction of the trail and creek, but we were looking for more secluded digs. Just after you cross Upper Red Creek there is a trail to the left that follows the creek, and after a short 1/4 mile walk we were in a grove of red spruce that just begged for a couple of weary hammock hangers to call it home. Unfortunately right about the time I hung my hammock it began to rain. I hurriedly strung my tarp and dried my hammock before putting up my quilts. After helping Matt get setup I returned only to discover my trees were a little too close, and my ridge line was not taut. At that point I was more interested in getting out of the rain than looking for another hang so I decided to make do.

It’s been a while since I’ve had to cook under cover, but it was a nice change of pace. I enjoyed my Mountain House Beef Patties and Mashed Potatoes dinner. Afterward, I decided to read, lounge, and generally call it a night. It was only 8 PM, and still light out, but I was bushed and it was raining. As I relaxed I could hear Matt up and about, working on a fire and staying busy.

I'm bushed

I’m bushed

Day 2

Even with a lousy setup I still slept very well. I guess it couldn’t have been that bad. I woke up about 5:45 and decided to make breakfast, figuring Matt would also be up soon. After retrieving my bear bag, cooking, and eating Matt still wasn’t stirring so I dozed off again, this time waking at 8:30. Thankfully this time Matt was up.

Matt enjoying the morning

Matt enjoying the morning

On a whim I packed in a package of Jiffy Pop popcorn, and this became my second breakfast (no fire for me last night even though Matt succeeded in making one, and I wasn’t carrying uncooked food out). We took our good old time packing up and I believe we set a new record for latest time leaving camp at 11:00 AM!

Before heading out I read the morning devotion from the Book of Psalms, chapter 8:

“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens,

Out of the mouth of babies and infants,

you have established strength because of your foes,

to still the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings

and crowned him with glory and honor.

You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,

the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord,
 how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

It’s mind blowing to think that the God of the universe would not only care to know my name (and yours), but also entrust me (us) as stewards over all of His creation. Very humbling indeed!

Heading back out to the main trail

Heading back out to the main trail

Once again we hiked under overcast skies, as we turned onto the Blackbird Knob Trail (511), this time in the direction of the Upper Red Creek Trail (509). After a bit of mixed hiking we reached an unmarked trail junction (odd, I thought), but I figured it was the 509 trail so we turned left. It turns out that was just a good guess, since a short distance later we came to the real trail junction. The Upper Red Creek Trail doesn’t actually follow a creek as you might presume, but rather crosses a low hill on it’s way to the next trail. After a quick snack and some easy hiking we reached the junction of the notorious Dobbin Grade Trail (526). This trail follows the route of an old railroad grade that hauled timber out of this region many years ago. That fact alone would make you think you were in for some solid,  easy hiking. Not so. This section of the 526 trail is in a low valley (relatively speaking) so it is “famously” muddy. Read any trip report of the Dolly Sods Wilderness and you’ll know what I mean. After you cross Red Creek it becomes unbelievable soupy and boggy for probably about a mile. It’s a real mind game to not become annoyed, but if you just take the time to look up and look around, the views can change your attitude fast.

Matt crossing Red Creek along the Dobbin Grade Trail

Matt crossing Red Creek along the Dobbin Grade Trail

Beautiful views on a boggy rainy hike

Beautiful views on a boggy rainy hike

Somewhere after passing the Beaver Dam Trail (520) the rain decided to get serious, at least serious enough to clean the mud from our shoes. By the time we made our final turn on the Bear Rocks Trail (522) the weather no longer mattered, as we were in “back to trail head” mode. There’s something about being in the home stretch that makes everything okay. We passed a fellow who was camped way too close to the road in my opinion, but other than that we only saw a couple of day hikers all day.

What a trip! Dolly Sods lived up to everything I had hoped for and more. Views, beauty, some solitude – what more could I ask for? There is no doubt we will return again, and if I have my way it’ll be soon.

Coming Full Circle on the Appalachian Trail

Numbers 23:9

“For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.”

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Click Here To See All Trip Photos

Day 1

The very first section I ever completed on the Appalachian Trail was Pennsylvania section 3, from Rt. 309 north to Lehigh Gap near Palmerton, PA. Ever since that June 1989 hike I have expoused my love of this section, calling it my favorite in Pennsylvania, but for some reason never returning. Now as things have come full circle, not only was it the first section of the AT I ever completed, but it currently is the last I’ve completed. On May 3-4, 2014 I had the honor of taking along some of the usual suspects (Paul Cummings along with sons Brian and Joshua, Dave Darrow with son Noah, Josh Gordon, and Brian’s friend and first timer Jeremiah). The coolest part about redoing this hike nearly 25 years later is that I didn’t remember the details. I remembered The Knife Edge, Bear Rocks, and Bake Oven Knob, but I didn’t remember the “in betweens”. It was nice to have to fill the pieces in, so to speak, and it made for a few pleasant surprises and some great new memories.

 

Old friends circa June 1989

Old friends at New Tripoli circa June 1989

Old friends circa 2014

Old friends at New Tripoli circa 2014

After shuttling vehicles the trip started around 11:15 am on Saturday morning. The first part of the trip between 309 and New Tripoli Campsite flew by rather quickly and we were taking in the first of many views that day. Beyond New Tripoli the trail becomes very rocky, as should be expected anywhere on the Pennsylvania AT north of Duncannon. Before long we reached an area along the trail known as The Cliffs. This spot has obviously become somewhat overgrown over the last 25 years, and after a climb to the top I was disappointed  by the lack of views.

Joshua posing like a BOSS on top of the cliffs

Joshua lookin’  like a BOSS on top of the cliffs

No matter, I still enjoyed the breeze as I sat and enjoyed lunch. I could catch glimpses of the PA countryside through the trees, with the occasional hawk giving us a fly-by. “I’m back old friend. What other changes do you have in store for me?”

Back on the trail we hiked further along the rocky spine of Blue Mountain, until finally reaching The Knife Edge. What great fun to be hiking on the very top edge of the mountain, scrambling over boulders and taking in views.

Paul on The Knife Edge

Paul on The Knife Edge

Dave on the Knife Edge

Dave taking in the views from The Knife Edge

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Along The Knife Edge

Once again, the same only different – my memory again left me coming up short. I seemed to remember a slightly shorter version of the real thing. It was actually a good thing since I enjoyed the scrambling all the more this time.

Just about the time I was ready for a break, we reached Bear Rocks. This was the one feature that really showed me how much I had forgotten. In my faded memory I remember walking along and Bear Rocks was next to the trail at trail level. Not so. Bear Rocks actually entails a bit of a climb to the top.

Climb up to Bear Rocks

Climb up to Bear Rocks

Nothing crazy mind you – just not what I remember. Once up on top the views were just as good as I remembered, with Bake Oven Knob ahead in the distance.

View from Bear Rocks

View from Bear Rocks

The next stretch of trail was pleasant easy walking until just beyond the parking area for Bake Oven Knob. We walked straight through the circus scene of people goofing off and partying at the parking lot (a dirt lot in the middle of know where, mind you) and reentered the woods. As we climbed to the knob the trail became increasingly more rocky until we at last reached the prize – Bake Oven Knob.

Bake Oven Knob

Bake Oven Knob

From the knob on a clear day you can see for at least 20 miles to the north, following the trail along Blue Mountain. The only sad thing about this area is because there is a cross mountain road and parking area just 7/10’s of a mile away graffiti has become a real problem. It’s very unfortunate that there are those who, when given easy access, destroy the beautiful things that others work so hard to enjoy. That’s why I rarely hike the AT these days – I like to go to places where only people who truly enjoy the outdoors (and don’t mind a little hard work to get there) seek the solitude that keeps the vandals away. Don’t get me wrong, the AT has it’s place and has some beautiful sections. I just prefer solitude over the social experience the Appalachian Trail provides, but enough of me and my soapbox.

North of Bake Oven Knob the trail is a little less rocky, which was good because the rain the forecasters were calling for finally caught up to us. It started drizzling as we approached Bake Oven Knob shelter, our destination for the day. The shelter was occupied so we set about setting up tarps and hammocks, and just as I helped set up the last of the tarps the rain stopped. Ya just gotta have a sense of humor folks.

Three hammocks in a row, with the tarps down low

Three hammocks in a row, with the tarps down low

After dinner we decided to skip the fire since everything was soooo wet. By night fall everyone was ready to sack out. Just after dark the rain started coming down in earnest, but it was short lived. All in all, it was great night to be in the woods. Our first time hammock hanger, Noah, had the high ground and judging by how hard it was to get him up I’d say he slept well.

Jeremiah rising to join the morning

Jeremiah rising to greet the morning

Day 2

Aah, morning, oh precious morning. Never do I sleep as well as I do in the woods in my hammock. When I finally drag myself from my fluffy, downy cocoon, I appreciate what a great night’s sleep feels like. It must be a mutual feeling because I’ve never heard anyone else in our small circle of hangers say they hate sleeping off the ground. As usual Dave was up early, perking up some of his industrial strength coffee. Little by little camp came to life, and before we knew it breakfast was done and all signs of our visit disappeared into eight tidy bundles.

Ready for a new day

Ready for a new day

Before heading out Paul shared from 1 Timothy 2:1-7, ” First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior,  who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” There is no more powerful prayer than selfless intercessory prayer for a lost and hurting world. Intercessory prayer mirrors the very heart of God ““For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” What a blessing to start our day in prayer!

Noah leading the way

Noah leading the way

Once again we started off with my memories of the trail clouded by snippets of a time long past. I seemed to remember the trail being very rocky northbound from Bake Oven Knob shelter, but instead we were marching on very pleasant trail. After a good bit of hiking we hit the rocky section I remember, but that wasn’t until just before Ashfield Road. I had prepared myself for some rough travel, but I have to say most of this day would be very nice walking. After a snack break on a very rocky power cut, we dove back into the forest along some wet, but easy trail.

Nice steady climb

Nice steady climb

The trail climbed steadily at an easy grade, eventually reaching the height of the land where it would remain for most of the rest of our hike. At one point during the climb I hit a bit of a low energy wise, but after a little bit of nose to the grindstone effort pushed through and got back into a better state of mind. There’s no doubt that I need to get in better shape so I don’t have these “walls” to push through. That will be one of my goals for our upcoming hikes. Anyway, it didn’t hurt my outlook that the trail was much easier than I had anticipated, and I was rather enjoying the views to the north that were vaguely visible through the trees.

Views to the north

Views to the north

We took a lunch break at a cell tower that I don’t think was here 25 years ago (but I could be wrong), right above the Pennsylvania Turnpike tunnel through Blue Mountain. It was kinda cool to think that here we were on top of Blue Mountain on the Appalachian Trail, eating lunch, and 1000 feet or so directly below us cars and trucks were flying by on the interstate oblivious to the beauty above.  We made it a slightly longer break since this would be our final push back to the trail head.

After passing George Outerbridge shelter the trail takes a nosedive off the ridge on it’s journey to Lehigh Gap. My one memory of this area years ago was that the rhododendron were in full bloom, bright whites and purples adding to the beauty of the day. Unfortunately we were a little early to see the blooms, but it was a nice walk in the woods regardless. As always seems the case, we were suddenly thrust back into a world of man made things as we broke from the trees into Lehigh Gap.

Lehigh Gap

Lehigh Gap

I guess there’s no gentle way to reemerge from a pleasant hike in the woods, but it just seems so abrupt every trip. This one was special for me, and even now I am grateful to look back at the “new” memories I have of what is still my favorite section of the Pennsylvania AT.

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Whoops! In my hurry to publish this post I forgot to include this great video of the trip put together by Brian Cummings. He has knack for getting the shots that make for a great trip video. Many thanks Brian!

 

 

 

 

Living A Resurrected Life

1 Corinthians 1:18

The teaching about the cross seems foolish to those who are lost. But to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (ESV)

 

As I ponder the most significant day in history for most Christians, my heart leaps at the thought that my God’s not dead, but instead lives on in resurrected victory. The grave could not keep Him, sin had no power over Him – He is risen! Jesus truly is “the way , the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), and by His death , burial, and resurrection Jesus created a way to the Father.

The Bible teaches that we were also crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20), died with Christ (Romans 6:8), were buried with Christ (Romans 6:4), made alive with Christ (Ephesians 2:5), and raised up with Christ (Ephesians 2:6). It is in our resurrection with Christ that we are to be a “new creation” – “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17). 

We were connected to Jesus at the cross because of our sin. Just as Jesus was buried, so should we bury our sin. In His resurrection Jesus rose up free from our sins, so too should we flee from our former sins. But we can’t do it alone. That’s why Jesus sent the Holy Spirit. Just as the Holy Spirit walks alongside us (para) convicting us of our sin prior to our conversion, and dwells in us at the time of our salvation (en), He also flows from us (epi) as we walk in Christ. I believe that we need to pray daily for a filling of the Holy Spirit since, to quote D.L. Moody, “I leak”. That, I believe, is the humble beginning to living a resurrected life – prayer. Pray daily for the strength, wisdom, grace, mercy, and love that our Saviour Jesus Christ lived every day in His life here on earth. Then pray for a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit, and I believe you’ll find the building blocks of living a resurrected life.

Happy Resurrection Day!