Backpacking Benton MacKaye Trail Prologue

March 25, 2014 — 10 Comments

This post is part of a short series of posts describing my weekend backpacking the first three sections of the Benton MacKaye Trail on March 21st-23rd:
Backpacking Benton MacKaye Trail Prologue
Backpacking Benton MacKaye Trail Section 1
Backpacking Benton MacKaye Trail Section 2
Backpacking Benton MacKaye Trail Section 3
Backpacking Benton MacKaye Trail Epilogue


This past weekend I backpacked the first three sections of the Benton MacKaye Trail with 7 strangers.  But before I tell you how all that went down, let’s drag this story out a bit…

It’s been a while since I’ve been backpacking.  As best as I can tell, I believe the last time I went was when RakeTheTable, DuckHunter and I went to Shining Rock. That was September 2011.  I didn’t think it had been that long, but apparently it had.  So I wasn’t about to turn down an invitation to go backpacking… unless DuckHunter was planning the trip. 😛

To be honest, I wasn’t familiar with the Benton MacKaye Trail.  When I was first invited, I mistakenly thought the person was talking about the Bartram Trail (of which I am familiar).  It wasn’t until later that I realized I had the wrong trail in mind and started reading about the right trail. (Sorta important when planning, ya know?)

This was to be approximately a 25 mile hike with as many as 12 persons (invited), some of which have never been backpacking before.  (Personally, I thought this might be a bit much for a first backpacking trip, but I’m a sissy.)  Since so many new backpackers were expected to come along, I thought it might provide me with an excellent opportunity to stretch out on a couple summits and get some Summits On The Air time in.

However, the longer I spent researching the trail, the harder a time I had finding exactly which summits might be along the BMT.  An email exchange with another ham who had recently activated a few summits I was looking at confirmed two summits would be along the trail we were hiking (excluding Springer Mountain, of course): Tooni and Tipton Mountains.

Only, they weren’t.

Since I can’t seem to follow directions OR read a map, I didn’t notice until the day before the trip that those two mountains (Tooni and Tipton) weren’t on the sections of trail we would be hiking.  Springer Mountain was, but I wasn’t interested in lugging along 4.5 pounds of ham radio gear for a single activation.  And even then, activating Springer Mountain posed it’s own problem since the trail begins there.  I might have returned to Springer Mountain to activate it after the hike, but I wasn’t going to do it before embarking on the weekend.

Sadly, I removed the radio gear from my pack and decided I’d have to wait until another weekend to play radio.  On the bright side, that dropped my pack weight (including water) to a light(er) 29 pounds!  I can’t recall the last time I packed for a 3 day trip in under 30 pounds.  I’m not as bad an over-packer as I used to be in years past — but I do drink a lot of water so I tend to carry between 2-3 liters on most trips.  (I kept it under 2 liters for this trip.)

Off the top of my head, these were the contents in my backpack:
(Hennessey) Hammock (replaced ridge line and suspension with whoopie slings)
Rain cover for backpack
Sleeping bag
Air mattressMountain House Entrées (x5)
Mountain House Breakfasts (x2)
Jack Links beef jerky (1 bag)
Publix California trail mix (1 container repackaged in Ziploc bag)
Knock-off brand Camelbak
Platypus 1 liter collapsible water container
Water purification tablets
Jetboil SOL-AL
50′ Paracord
Trowel
Toilet paper
Hand sanitizer
Epi-pen
First-aid kit (+Second Skin, extra mole skin, small amount duct tape, bug juice)
1 gallon Ziplocs (x2)
Sandwich bag Ziplocs (x2)
Yard-waste trash bags (the huge ones) (x2)
Shorts
Starter brand Under Armor long-sleeve top and pants
REI synthetic briefs (1 pair)
Wool socks (1 pair)
Long-sleeve Nike Dry Fit pullover
Light-weight gloves
REI Skull cap
North Face rain jacket
Compass
Whistle
Firestick fire starter
Lighter
Home-made fire starters (x4)
Petzl e+LITE (headlamp)
Leatherman Skeletool CX
REI Hiking Poles
Crocs (best camp shoes ever!)
Poncho
A few baby wipes
Body Glide (a hiker’s lifesaver)
A small amount of a few essential oils: Breathe, OnGuard, Deep Blue & Tera Shield

I think that was just about everything I packed…

I wore a Nike Dry Fit short sleeve shirt, REI rain pants, REI synthetic briefs and wool socks.  I wore my Columbia fleece jacket to the trailhead but decided to keep it handy for when I wasn’t active.

Oh, and about those strangers? I didn’t know 6 of them.  The 7th guy that went on the hike lives in my neighborhood.  I saw him carrying a pack while walking around the neighborhood (during Snowpocalypse 2014 1.0) and asked him if he was training for a hike when he invited me.  What I didn’t realize at the time was how much fun I’d have…

Aaron Melton

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10 responses to Backpacking Benton MacKaye Trail Prologue

  1. You have to admit that Shining Rock was a pretty great hike. . . if you like uphill.
    I appreciate your pack list because I’m re-evaluating my own. In fact, I read this blog, spent an hour on Amazon shopping, and now I’m back to write this comment.

    I have to go spend some money now…

    • I’ll be changing how I manage my water after this hike, too. I haven’t fully committed, but I believe I’ll be ditching the Camelbak in favor of two 1 liter bottles.

      • Why the change in water? What do feel are the plusses and minuses? I prefer the camelbak just so I can drink while on the move and not reaching behind me.

        • Here’s what I’m considering: Carry a 1l water bottle w/ water, a Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter (1l) w/ (unfiltered) water and an empty collapsible 1l water “bottle” in case I need to carry more. If/when I empty the 1l bottle, I’ll filter the other water into it and replenish it when I find a new source.

          The reasons are:
          1. I can see how much water I have in my bottle at any moment.
          2. Plastic water bottles (not talking Nalgene here) are a bit more durable than water bladders and could possibly be fixed in the field (duct tape) whereas bladders maybe not so much.
          3. Carrying 1l in a bottle and 1l unfiltered would cut down on time to replenish water. Also a bit more convenient way to filter water than the way I’ve been doing it.
          4. I don’t have to worry about cleaning that darned Camelbak every time I use it.

          My pack weighed in at 29 pounds for this hike (including the 2 liters of water I carried for most of it) and I thought that was light. After spending the weekend with someone who had a pack 10 pounds lighter than mine, I’m re-evaluating what I could be doing without. I’m slowly becoming one of those AT gram counters. 🙂

  2. I only use my camelback now for water storage. I don’t drink from it. I use the water to cook with. I like sipping as I hike but I can’t stand the plastic taste not the cleaning so I just use it for storage. I use two 1L Smart Water bottles to drink. It gives me a reason to stop for a moment and remove my pack and rest (if I’m not on a schedule). Plus I can add nutrients, kool-aid, or lemonade to the water bottle where I can’t a camelback. I’ll also typically keep my camelback empty till I get to camp. This also saves on weight.

    • I’m curious what advantage your CamelBak affords you if you don’t use it when you hike? Unless you need more than two liters of water while in camp, I don’t know why you wouldn’t continue to use the two one liter bottles you already have for your water needs?

  3. Since I don’t treat the water that goes into the camelback, I just boil it for food and cleaning. The water bottles I use for treated water and by doing this I save on the amount of times I use my filtration system since I only fill two liters and drink two liters of clean water rather than cleaning three liters of camelback water and wasting some of that water for cooking or cleaning.

    In other words, using my camelback for non-treated water saves on my prohiker filter and I don’t waste as much treated water when boiling does just as good. I do tend to use more than three liters at camp.

    • Ok; I assumed you were treating the water as you placed in in the CamelBak. I prefer to filter my water even if I plan on cooking with it. I’ve had bad water on the trail and don’t plan on experiencing that again in the future. 🙂

      I haven’t completely committed, but I believe I’ll leave the CamelBak at home in favor of keeping a liter of (filtered) water in a bottle and a liter of (unfiltered) water ready-to-go in the Sawyer pouch. I picked this up from someone I recently went backpacking with and it seemed to work well for him.

      Carrying in my CamelBak is convenient, but I can’t observe how much water I have left at any given time and I can’t treat it (purification tablets, if I had to) or flavor it without potentially ruining the bladder. That’s why I’ve decided to change things up a bit and see how that works out for me on my next trip.

      Happy hiking and thanks for leaving a comment!

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