Altitude and the Appalachian Trail

We had a great time on the Ramsey Cascade Trail, and wanted to hike more. We were planning to hike Porters Creek, but our guide let us know that what we’d see would be pretty much the same as what we already experienced. We had several people suggest we hike out to Charlie’s Bunion from Newfound Gap. We had wanted to take photos with the AT sign anyway, so this sounded like a terrific plan.

We drove up the next morning and parked at Newfound Gap. It was windy and super cold. I was glad I had my puffer and soft shell jacket. It was awesome watching all the backpackers coming through the area. I’m certain a healthy percentage of them were thru hikers and we enjoyed seeing what packs and accessories they were carrying.

We got our coveted sign pics! We hope to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail in 2020, so have been reading and learning everything we can about the journey. Most of what we know about backpacking has come from the research about the AT. We had planned to hike it sooner, but we have been scheduling too many other exciting excursions, and we had to push it out. Ultimately, we would love to be triple crown hikers. (AT, PCT, CDT)

Hiking on this venerable trail was exciting, and incredibly beautiful. It was a perfect day, with the sun out and the view on either side of us. I was super excited about reaching the incredible photo op at our destination.

Unfortunately, I started feeling off. I was getting slightly dizzy, short of breath and my vision turned into a ‘fish eye lens’ perspective. I pushed on for a while, but started to feel insecure. With the steep drop offs and uneven trail, I began reconsidering the day’s hike.

Thom convinced me to try a little longer, and I’m glad that I did, because the surroundings were amazing. Ultimately, I decided that it was entirely unsafe for me to continue. We had hiked about a mile out, and I was feeling pretty stupid. I had just killed the 2,000 elevation gain the day before and couldn’t even manage an easy 4 mile trail. The tears welled up, and I compounded my embarrassment by crying.

We headed back, and all I could think about was our upcoming trip to Idaho with Hell Hike & Raft. Newfound Gap has an elevation at 5,049 feet and our time in the Seven Devils Mountains would take us to 8,300 feet! If I was having issues here, I was worried that I was going to fail at the big trip of the year.

After talking with others, we learned that dehydration may have been an issue as well. We were super glad we had decided to hike here, instead of Porter’s Creek, if only so we could learn about potential pitfalls for future trips. We try to take every experience as a learning exercise, and all of them are valuable. We knew from this hike that we were going to have to study up on elevation prevention in order to succeed in Idaho. That alone was worth the price of admission.

Master Naturalist – Acquatics

I loved this class far more than I expected to. Our teacher was an expert on mussels – those freshwater bivalves that aren’t “clams”. I had no idea just how fascinating they could be.

Mussels can live up to 200 years and were once so plentiful in our rivers and streams that an entire industry was built up around them. Unfortunately, between the pearl button trade, pollution and invasive mussels, their population has been dramatically reduced. We are seeing a bit of a resurgence since the clean water act.

We learned about some other freshwater creatures, and before we knew it we were headed outside to get our hands dirty!

We caught crayfish and learned how to sex them and examined them up close. The highlight of my day was learning how to hold them myself, without getting pinched. Its really cool how they arch back and show you all their glorious parts once you get a good grip.

This is a dragonfly nymph! This incredible water creature will metamorphosize into the adult winged dragonfly we all know and love. Its incredible that they are even related.

We dug into the water bottom and scanned for mussels. We found several invasive zebra mussels, but did manage to find one live tiny mussel! We did find shells of both an old and a fresh small spectaclecase mussel – a mussel that is on the endangered list. Its an encouraging sign that we found them there.

After class broke up, we hiked the Middle Fork Preserve, taking a different route than the last time. We enjoyed hiking through forest and prairie and worked up a good sweat for the next 90 minutes.

The colors are changing, seeds are setting and the air is getting cooler. All signs that fall is certainly upon us.

Master Naturalist – Wetlands and Invasives


Floodplain forest

This weeks class covered wetlands, aquatic invertebrates and invasive species. I had no idea that there were 10 different kinds of wetlands, or that before we turned the Midwest into an agricultural haven, 1/3 of Illinois was wetland. Back in the day, the government owned most of the wetlands in my state and considered it a wasteland. The only way they could sell the burdensome plots was to drain it and Illinois lost 90% of its wetlands.

We then learned all about the variety of invertebrates that live here – from the surface hangers to the bottom dwellers. What was most fun was going outside and collecting samples from the pond.

We observed many of the creatures we’d just learned about inside in our trays. It was a whole other world in there and I want to carry a tray around with me everywhere! I just don’t look at things closely enough, and miss so much that is wonderful out there.

We then brought our samples inside and looked at them under the microscope. Whoa! It was seriously crazy fun – I implore you to watch the video because there is just no way to grasp how cool it is without seeing it.

Mike took us back outside and talked about the fight over invasive species. Fact is that biodiversity is critically important, and invasives will take over, ultimately eliminating other native plants. Our world is full of so many living things, and allowing invasive species to take hold means that we will lose far more than we already have.

This week’s class was held at the Middle Fork Forest Preserve, so after things wrapped up we hit the trail and explored the area.

The path we followed was called the Oak Burl Trail, named after the deformities found in these trees. The burls are highly prized by woodworkers because of the patterns it creates in the grain. I think they look pretty impressive from the outside as well!

As usual, we found some terrific fungus on the way! I need to start cataloging and learning what these all are.

We also stumbled on this ginormous spider, who was spinning a web all the way across the wide walking path. He was so cool and we had a great time getting up close and personal.