Springing into Adventure on the AT
Amidst the stress of school and work, the mountains were calling. I was feeling inspired by all the adventurous people around me, and wanted to reconnect with nature. I wanted to spend meaningful time with myself and friends. I wanted to do something physically and mentally challenging.
My dreams of backpacking weren’t going to actualize without taking agency and making an active choice to go an an adventure! One of my best friends, Sydney, and I decided to spend spring break backpacking on the Appalachian Trail.
As total newbies to the world of backpacking, we were (ridiculously) bold with our plans - intending to hike 100 miles in only a few days. After touching base with a couple of our good friends who have extensive hiking experience, we realized we were in over our heads. It was too ambitious to plan on hiking 20 miles per day on our first trip; so we scaled things back, and landed on 10 miles per day as an accessible and enjoyable pace.
With three friends joining the trip, EmmaLi, Banks, and Kels, we began the planning process. It felt pretty daunting due to our lack of experience, but we jumped in headfirst, buying maps, doing online research, watching YouTube videos, and talking with friends.
We started by making a gear list, hodge-podged from many online packing lists and advice:
Pack: 58L Osprey Pack
Sleeping bag: Rab Ascent 700 Sleeping Bag
Sea to Summit Compression Sack for sleeping bag
Sleeping Pad: Thermarests
Tent: MSR two person tent
Stove: MSR Pocket Rocket 2 Stove (Sydney) and Jet Boil .8L Personal Cook System (Olivia)
Cooking pot: 18oz GSI Outdoors Glacier Stainless Bottle Cup
Food (Oatmeal, bars, peanut butter/cranberry tortillas, couscous, etc.)
Food bag: Sea to Summit 8L Dry Sack
Water bladder: Osprey 3L Hydraulics Reservoir
Water filter: Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System
Iodine: Potable Aqua with PA+ Plus Water Purification Tablets
Trowel + toilet paper
Clothing (One hiking outfit, one sleeping outfit, multiple pairs of underwear)
First aid: Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight Medical Kit
Field & Stream Compass Combo (Whistle, thermometer, compass)
Nite Ize LED Mini Glow Stick
Texsport Waterproof Safety Matches
We used TB&C’s rental program to reserve the two sleeping bags, the 2-person tent, and Sydney’s sleeping pad and pack. It was really handy to be able to use the rental program, especially as a college student. It’s a great opportunity to use quality gear, without having to invest in the up-front costs. Plus,if I owned the gear myself, it would be really hard to store such bulky equipment in my college apartment, especially at a time in my life when I’m extremely mobile.
As for the hike, we ultimately decided to hike from Davenport Gap to Hot Springs, NC; approximately 40 miles in 4 days/3 nights.
We woke up at Laughing Heart Lodge in Hot Springs, NC, a hostel 50 yards off the AT. We were feeling pretty intimidated by how cool all the thru-hikers staying there looked in their bandanas and broken-in hiking boots, but we gathered ourselves and set off. We left EmmaLi’s car at the hostel, and drove Banks’ car to the Big Creek Ranger Station. That’s where I peed in the woods for the first time ever. For a lot of outdoorsy people, this might seem like a menial milestone, but it made me feel like I was really out there doing it.
We had to hike about a mile from the lot to the trail head, where we started things off by climbing a set of wooden stairs. After just a few minutes, Sydney and I were wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. The terrain was steep, my pack felt heavy, I was sweating bullets, and the days to come were going to be really challenging.
After about a mile of hiking, we stopped for a quick snack (Builder Bar) and to grab some water at a stream. When we set off again, I found myself hiking alone as we settled into our own paces. Kels led the pack, and would stop at different points along the trail for us to reconvene, take a break, grab snacks, and plan our mileage.
11.5 stinky, STEEP miles later, we were happy to set up camp a few yards off the trail near the Groundhog Creek Shelter. We spent the evening setting up our tent for the first time, cooking couscous on our camp stoves, and watching the sun set. It was a hard day, but it felt great to have accomplished so many miles on Day 1, and to finally snuggle into our warm sleeping bags at the end of the day.
We started the morning by making breakfast, packing up our things, and filtering plenty of water for the day at the stream adjacent to our campsite. This was my first time drinking directly from a stream, so I was a bit nervous, but made sure to carefully follow the instructions that came with my Sawyer Mini filter.
We set out for the day, again splitting up for some solo hiking. Unfortunately, shortly after we started, the temperature dropped and it started to rain. At first, it felt like the type of rain that was light and would only last a short while; we tried to convince ourselves that it would fade. But alas, the rain continued. I stopped on the side of the trail to get out my rain jacket and pack cover in an attempt to keep my things dry.
Quite honestly, I was losing steam and the rain was getting me down. Luckily, as I was struggling on the side of the trail with buckling my pack and getting situated before continuing on, Banks appeared from the wilderness with a cheery smile and a slice of dried mango. Sometimes, that’s just what you need. Morale was back up again, and we trekked on together.
We sat just below the Max Patch bald in a cluster of trees and shrubs, trying to find some wind and rain cover as we ate our peanut butter tortilla wraps and trail mix. We were shivering, but we were laughing and together. Although it was rainy and hazy that day, it felt special to walk through Max Patch with my friends.
We arrived at camp shortly afterwards. We met a German UNCA exchange student at the Roaring Fork Shelter, hung up our bear bags for the evening, and played cards in the tent until we fell asleep.
In the morning, we happily woke up to clear skies, although it was chilly. Our joints felt stiff from the cold, so we were eager to get moving. Once we made breakfast, and said goodbye to our new friend, we filtered water for the day, and set off.
We passed many creeks and were surrounded by lush, green vegetation on this morning. There were rhododendrons everywhere. The rain held off, and we stopped for lunch on a hilltop with nearly 360 views. We laid in the sun and used our packs as pillows, taking the time to appreciate our existence together and in nature, giggling about silly jokes and good stories.
We hiked a few short downhill miles, and camped for the night at a mountaintop campsite. This was my favorite night on the trail. We were dry and the wind was calm. It was our last night, so we feasted on the remainder of our dinner foods. We made a fire and whittled spoons and spears. We played with our headlamps and stargazed
On our last day, we woke up warm and excited to make the final push to Hot Springs. We packed up our camp and were hiking by 9am! To thru-hikers, this may seem like a late start, but compared to our previous 12pm start times, it felt like the crack of dawn.
At the end of the day, we were happy to land back in Hot Springs and see the familiar sight of EmmaLi’s car. We drove back to the trailhead where we started on Day 1 to drop Kels and Banks back at their cars.
We spent the evening in Kels’ Asheville cabin where we took the best showers of our lives, and made a massive produce-filled meal.
Being in nature feels powerful. Spending time with myself and with my friends fills me up and recharges me for school and work in a way that nothing else can. I could not be more thankful that TB&C made this trip accessible with gear rentals! I can’t wait to get back on the trail, hopefully this summer.
About the Author
Olivia Corriere is a junior at UNC-CH. She studies sustainability, geography, and urban planning. In her free time, she works on renewable energy projects on campus, cooks with friends, dances to music, and gets outside!