Trail Fuel: Nourishing Your Body for Adventure

By Katie Rhodes

There are many things we can do to prepare ourselves for a rigorous outing in the backcountry. Chances are you’ve reviewed the map, created an itinerary, dropped more cash than you care to consider on the proper gear, and conditioned your body for the occasion. Perhaps you even force down a nutritious breakfast prior to starting out and stash a bag of Skittles in your hip pocket to hold you over until dinner. Despite your best efforts, it happens like clockwork; halfway through your well prepared itinerary – the dreaded BONK – exhaustion overtakes you and it’s all you can do to grind out the final mileage in misery. If this scenario sounds familiar, don’t despair. Inadequate and inappropriate fueling is more common than you would think and can easily sabotage even the most fit adventurer.

The Low Down on Macros
Fatigue and diminished enjoyment are not the only issues caused by lack of proper nutrition in the woods; joint inflammation, muscle cramps and reduced recovery times can also become concerns. In order to avoid these issues and set ourselves up for success, we must understand the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats and protein; and how to consume them for optimal energy and nourishment.


I had the opportunity to speak with Certified Holistic Nutritionist Barb Biagioli, who provides nutrition consultation from her Saratoga Springs, NY based business. Barb indicated a relative ratio of 60% carbohydrate, 20% fat, and 15% protein would allow for optimal longevity and prolonged stamina when undertaking outings such as sustained hikes. However, this is just a general guideline, she goes on to stress the importance of not getting lost in counting macros – instead, focus on packing high quality, whole foods. This is particularly true in cold temperatures, she says, when proper fueling becomes even more challenging.

Carbs & Sugars: Quick, Sustained Energy
Carbohydrates, including pasta, bread and candy, are well known for their ability to provide the body with easily accessible energy stores. Carbs accomplish this by processing into glucose, which is stored for immediate use in the blood. Once your blood reaches its glucose capacity, the excess is converted into glycogen and stored in the liver and muscles until needed. When your muscles run out of glycogen stores, expect to hit “the wall” until these stores can be regenerated. Since you’re constantly burning glucose while in the backcountry, it’s critical that these glycogen stores be created during times of rest – including before and after you trip.

Many athletes turn to refined simple sugars (think candy) to serve as their primary glucose source. Not only is candy calorie dense, but also delicious and it can be enjoyed without the normal pang of guilt in this setting. However, while it’s true that these selections supply your body with quick energy, they’re a poor choice for your primary source of energy. Now don’t reach for the torch and pitchfork just yet, I certainly indulge in the occasional Snickers or Sour Patch Kid on trail – but this is the exception not the rule. The problem with refined sugar treats is that they’re so accessible as glucose to your body, that energy is processed and used in short order leaving you with a roller coaster of blood sugar levels. If you choose to fuel yourself in this way despite this knowledge (again, not recommended but who am I to get between you and your Skittles), know that it is necessary to consume these simple sugars constantly in order to avoid the aforementioned sugar crash – plan on snacking about every 10 minutes, or risk becoming fatigued and hangry. Instead, I prefer to use simple sugars selectively – for example popping a handful of M&Ms in my mouth just before I start a summit push. This provides the energy boost I need, when I need it while not relying on this ‘quick fix’ as my primary fuel source.

Fat: The Energy Safety Net
While the muscles will turn to glucose first, fat can act as a reliable safety net of energy if your stores start to become depleted, especially during times of low to moderate exertion and high mileage days [1]. A trip into the backcountry is no time to try to maintain a diet as you will be burning calories as fast as you consume them, so be sure to allow yourself this nutrient dense food group in reasonable quantities. Since fat is more cumbersome for the digestive system to process, set yourself up for success (and fewer cat hole breaks) by consuming these calories in moderation during times of lower intensity – before reaching the trailhead or higher altitude, and during sections of low grade trail.

Meatball pizza: Perfect combo of carbs, fat and protein!

Protein: Recovering Efficiently
Playing a slightly different role in fueling you up that mountain, protein provides the body with amino acids, which can also be turned into energy. However, unlike carbs and fats, the body is unable to tap into protein stores more aggressively when energy demand increases, such as during a challenging hike or trail run. Despite this, a number of studies have shown that protein steps up to support the body when we need it most – as we’re closing in on the finish line. Research indicates that when the body is pushed to exhaustion via a sustained effort such as hiking or climbing, athletes who consume small amounts of protein with their carbohydrates consistently have an edge over those that consume carbs alone [2, 3]. The key is moderation, too much protein just before and during active exertion can quickly lead to unpleasant scenarios such as gastrointestinal issues.
In addition, protein consumption during and immediately following a rigorous outing has been shown to reduce muscle breakdown during exercise, resulting in shorter recovery times and improved long-term performance [4, 5]. That’s right, limping around for three days following each high peak traverse doesn’t have to be a hazard of the occupation. As a bonus, protein also has the ability to slow down how quickly glucose gets into your blood stream. So, if you do decide to indulge in simple, refined sugars frequently be sure to pair them with protein (think chocolate & nut combos such as Snickers) to maintain a steadier blood sugar level.

Water & Salt: Liquid Fuel
Not only is water an essential component of all living things, it also acts as a digestion aid, allowing the body to efficiently process food and distribute nutrients throughout the body. Dehydration disrupts production of stomach acid and pancreatic enzymes, forcing the body to work in overdrive and burning through precious energy stores unnecessarily. It would be a shame to work so hard to carry and consume the correct macronutrients in the correct way only to stifle your body’s ability to process them – so be sure to stay hydrated both on and off the trail. Most sources agree an average rate of approximately ½ liter per hour is sufficient but this can vary by person, terrain, exertion, temperature, etc.
Sodium and potassium levels in the blood can also have a significant impact on energy levels and overall well-being. While some folks opt to use salt tablets or electrolyte replacement drinks, eating sufficient calories will often provide all of the electrolytes necessary to maintain healthy levels in the body. However, these supplemental sources of electrolytes can assist if food becomes scarce (ultralight enthusiasts I’m looking at you), reserves become tapped faster than expected or stomach distress prevents proper food intake.


Digestion of whole foods takes precious energy that may be better served to fuel your legs. That’s one reason I am a huge fan of liquid calories on bigger efforts. In instances when heat or nausea are preventing food consumption as needed, these drinks can really save the day as well. My go-to product for this purpose is Tailwind, an endurance fuel drink mix providing electrolytes and 200 calories per serving. There are several drink mix options filling this niche now but I have found Tailwind brand to be the easiest on my notoriously sensitive stomach.

Turning Macronutrients into Miles
In order for our bodies to become as efficient as possible during sustained exertion and become stronger during future outings, it’s crucial that we (1) supply ourselves with immediate fuel, and (2) build up energy reserves and replace them as appropriate. Remember, your body is a machine. You wouldn’t expect your car to get you to your destination with a gas tank on E so why would you expect your body to? Not only does lack of calories create an immediate energy impact but it also forces the body to begin breaking down precious muscles to complete the task at hand, impairing your future success. Let’s take a look at how we can utilize our new knowledge of macronutrients.

Stocking Your Pack Pantry
Nutritionist Barb Biagioli reminds us, “More important than the formulaic macronutrient content and even calorie content, is food quality and source. It is crucial to prepare high quality, nutrient dense snacks and meals for your hike that are made with complex carbohydrates to maintain energy and avoid blood sugar drops, high quality fats from nuts and seeds for prolonged calorie burn, and plant based proteins that will endure your trek.”
Specific recommendations from Barb include:

• Nut butters – studies indicate nuts in butter form allow the body to process a larger percentage of the available calories and nutrients than whole nuts. Try slathering it on whole grain bread and wraps or stashing single serving packets in an easy to reach place.
• Quinoa and beans – a lesser known but fantastic hiker meal option, particularly for backpacking. Lightweight and chock full of complex carbs, fiber and protein (8 grams per cup!) quinoa is a fantastic option to replace some of your monotonous pasta dinners or oatmeal breakfasts. Paired with beans, this “buddha bowl” style dish sets up the body for efficient muscle recovery.
• Homemade granola bars – take one peek at the refined sugar content of a standard manufactured granola bar and you will see why Barb specifically recommends homemade. In particular, oat-based, naturally sweetened bars provide a generous amount of complex carbs. If you don’t see yourself getting around to making your own, you might consider grabbing TogaNola Bars or Protein Bombs (toganolasnackcompany.com), handmade by my husband and I in the Southern foothills of the Adirondacks.
• Dried fruits – lightweight, energy dense and packed full of glucose. Dried fruits are a great option on trail but be aware of the refined sugar content and opt for unsweetened versions when possible.
• Whole grain wraps with lentils and avocado – an optimal ratio of complex carbs and protein, these wraps can be prepared ahead of time for easy snacking. Bonus: no more flattened pack sandwiches!

Taking it to the Trail
So what does all of this look like in a real world application? Let’s take a look at my ‘pack pantry’ and consumption timing from a recent 18 mile day hike in the High Peaks of the Adirondack Mountains for one example:
Night Before: Homemade whole wheat veggie pizza and chicken caesar salad.
Morning of: Hardboiled eggs and overnight oats with fresh fruit.
At the Trailhead: Whole wheat hummus and quinoa wrap and banana.
Mile 2-8 (every ~60 mins): TogaNola Bars, dried papaya, trail mix, whole wheat pretzels, and ginger snaps.
At the Summit: Dark chocolate peanut butter cups, bone/ veggie broth
Miles 10-16 (every ~60 mins): TogaNola Protein Bombs, dark chocolate covered raisins, whole wheat turkey avocado wraps, and peanut butter packets.
Final miles: Yup, I’m still eating! Cubed chicken and cheese, roasted & seasoned chickpeas.
Immediately After: Black bean burger on whole wheat toast, hummus & veggie platter.

Bethany goes for Burgers and Wine

This is just one example, play around to find the foods that work for you and your body. You will notice that little time goes between snacking in the above breakdown. The use of a ‘drip method’ intake of food – eating small quantities frequently – supplies consistent energy supplies without the threat of sluggishness from digesting a large meal. Make access to food convenient by keeping snacks in hip belt or coat pockets so there’s no need to stop to eat.
The above breakdown does not speak to quantities, as this will vary significantly from person to person. This doesn’t have to be overly objective if you’re on a casual outing – my rule of thumb is to eat frequently and slowly until comfortably full, if your stomach is growling you’re already too late. On the other hand, if I’m racing or going after an aggressive itinerary I tend to be more calculated in my calorie consumption. After years of trials, I’ve learned that a system of 200 calories/ hour on trail works best for me. Prior to my most aggressive or multi-day efforts I will pre-portion calories to assure I’m consuming what I need when I need it even when my brain goes dead 20 hours into the hike. On multi-day efforts, I’ll go as far as portioning out each day in individual bags and anything left I eat just before bed – no calorie left behind!

Wrapping It Up
That’s a lot of information to digest and start implementing! Here are some bite-sized bits to remember and get you started. Yes, those puns are intended and I’m not sorry…

  1. Carbs = glucose = quick energy, excess carbs = glycogen = energy reserves
  2. Complex carbs > simple sugars for sustained energy. Simple sugars > complex carbs for quick energy prior to a big push.
  3. Fat is necessary for sustained effort but harder to digest, build reserves before your trip and during times of lower exertion.
  4. Protein is essential for recovery, build reserves before and especially after your trip as well as in small quantities with your carbs on trail.
  5. Stay hydrated by consuming around ½ liter per hour, even if you’re not thirsty, it makes everything easier for your body.
  6. Pre-portion your calories before big efforts so you don’t have to think about what and when to eat.
  7. Plan for around 200-300 calories/ hour exerting depending on body size, exertion level, terrain, etc.
  8. Minimize digestion energy expenditure by drinking your calories when you can, particularly on hot days or when nausea is setting in.
  9. Always pack more food than you think you will need!

Good luck and happy adventuring!

Big thanks to Barb Biagioli, Certified Holistic Nutritionist for her expert addition to this article. Barb is a board certified holistic health coach and nutrition consultant. She offers one-on-one counseling programs to athletes and outdoor enthusiasts to improve and optimize their nutrition for trainings, triathlons, ironman competitions, marathons, and other outdoor activities including running, backpacking and hiking. She also works with women and families to improve their health and specializes in supporting women through fertility, conception, pregnancy and postpartum.

Find out more about Barb and how she can assist you with your nutrition needs by checking out her website at https://www.barbbiagioli.com/ or follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/barbbiagioli/

References:

[1] Askew EW. (1984). Role of fat metabolism in exercise. Clin Sports Med Jul3(3):605-21.

[2] Ivy JL, Res PT, Sprague RC, Widzer MO. (2003). Effect of a carbohydrate-protein supplement on endurance performance during exercise of varying intensity. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 13: 382–95.

[3] van Loon LJC. (2014). Is there a need for protein ingestion during exercise? Sports Med 44 Suppl 1: S105-11.

[4] Tipton KD, Wolfe RR. (2004). Protein and amino acids for athletes. J Sports Sci. 22:65-79.

[5] Rasmussen RB, Phillips SM. (2003). Contractile and nutritional regulation of human muscle growth. Exerc. Sport Sci. Rev. 31:127-131.

Unsupported Winter Bob Marshall Traverse

03.20.21

Katie Rhodes

Bethany and I pull into the Garden parking lot just before 4:30am feeling eager, and flow down the trail at an easy pace; this was only the warmup after all. After a round of the single season winter 46 this year, our bodies are accustomed to heavy packs over long miles. It’s almost as if we had trained for this day all season, without even realizing it. Our plan is to mimic the footsteps of Bob Marshall, a forester and wilderness activist who was one of the first to summit all 46 High Peaks of the Adirondacks. His is a household name in the Adirondack Park and the physical embodiment of the High Peaks to many.

On July 16, 1932 Bob took the same walk we would complete today – up and over 13 High Peaks and 1 Low Peak in order to set a new record that, according to him “would fit perfectly in a class with flagpole sitting and marathon dancing as an entirely useless type of record, made only to be broken, were it not that I had such a thoroughly glorious time out of the entire day.” Today we would try to make Bob proud, not only by completing this challenge with the same enthusiasm but with the intention of being the first women to do so in the winter. 

Just as Bob had done, we started our journey officially at Johns Brook Lodge at 5:39am, backtracking on ourselves to begin the ascent of our first mountain – Big Slide. A journey like this is a marathon not a sprint, so we tried to hold back despite feeling light and strong. As we reached the junction 0.3 miles from the summit, we began to see peeks of red and orange from the inevitable sunrise and our pace quickened. We struggled to refrain from stopping and gasping at the sight of a perfect rising sun, knowing we were on the clock, but it was too gorgeous not to turn and pause several times as we climbed. We reached the summit at precisely the pinnacle of the sunrise, gulped it in for just a moment, and then started right back down. A man on the summit rock with a large camera called to our backs, “Where are you going?? Aren’t you going to stay for the rest of the sunrise??” I called back “Not this time, we’ve got a long day ahead of us!” as we disappeared around the corner. We laughed and grinned as we made quick work of the descent, feeling like the mountains had spoken to us with the rising sun as their mouthpiece. 

Near the base we passed by a women so in the zone she barely saw us coming. “Hey you!” Bethany called to her as we got near, “What are you up to?” “Just going for a walk” she replied and kept trucking, determination in her eyes. “We’re tackling the Bob Marshall” Bethany shared but Laura was practically gone already. We continued on, pondering the interaction. I hadn’t recognized her at the time as I only knew her via social media but we had just run into Laura Tuttle, one of the original Adirondack Badass Mountain Women. So strange that we would see her at this time heading up the backside of Big Slide… with such a large pack… Bethany and I exchanged looks. Laura was going for The Bob too! That was the only reasonable explanation! We grew excited, three women were out simultaneously pushing for The Winter Bob, something only one man had been able to accomplish to date. We prayed our presence down the trail would help her dig deep and drive her forward.

We cruised back past JBL and began sailing up towards the Great Range, I had never approached the range from this direction and was thoroughly enjoying learning the curves and inclines of this new (to me) trail. All of a sudden, we were at the junction to Lower Wolfjaw, as if by teleportation. Up to the summit and back we slipped, then on to Upper Wolfjaw feeling strong. Despite hauling 5 liters of fluid and 5,000 calories each, our packs felt surprisingly light. Right from go, we are careful to pause at least once every hour to hydrate and down a few hundred calories to keep us fueled. The Upper Wolfjaw summit comes easily and we’re off to Armstrong, cruising over the rolling terrain of the range. A quick pause on the summit ledge of Armstrong to take in the views gets us fired up for the day to come.

The skies are bluebird and the sun shines brightly on our faces, driving us up towards Gothics knowing an even more grand view of the surrounding peaks awaits there. As we pop out on the summit we reach our arms up and spin about, smitten with the summits and trail still awaiting us on this glorious day! Two women approach us and say they recognize us, they’re going for the Great Range Traverse today and seem as content as we are – kindred souls. We say goodbyes and then we’re off again, dropping down down down along the cable route before starting the climb back up again. For the first time all day, I begin to feel a bit sluggish. The snow has been warming under the full sun and has taken on a mashed potato consistency, slowing us a bit. We get quiet as we slog upwards and I begin to worry about this sudden fatigue so early in the journey, we still have a long way to go today. Then my stomach gives a helpful little grumble and I smile; we’d been so caught up in the beauty of the range we’d failed to refuel on the hour. I was just hungry! We pause and I gulp maple almond butter and Tailwind down before we press on to the summit of Saddleback.

Another quick break to enjoy the day from this new vantage point and to swap to our Kahtoola Microspikes to make for a safer descent down the bare Saddleback cliffs. Another pause to flip back to our snowshoes and we’re off to Basin through deep, windblown snow. This section would prove to be the toughest trail conditions of the day but we manage to maintain a solid pace and summit Basin with renewed vigor. Dropping down the north side of Basin, we run into Jay Whitbourne and his group who are going for the GRT Plus today (Great Range Traverse + Skylight & Grey). We refer to Jay as the ‘Modern Day Bob Marshall’ for a reason – strong, kind and humble; he’s gained a reputation for impressively long days in the mountains and emanates the spirit of the Adirondacks. They send us off with well wishes and we push towards our next objective with enthusiasm. As we approach I become nearly giddy; the sight of Little Haystack before us and Mount Haystack looming behind it.

Haystack has always been a favorite of mine and I know the out and back to the summit will charge me up as it always does. Our legs gain a renewed sense of vigor and we move quickly over the bare rock summit, taking the time to pause and enjoy the majesty all around us. Sometimes I stand on these peaks and can’t help but wonder how I got so lucky to live this life among such beauty. Back to the junction we bounce toward Marcy, the halfway point! I wonder aloud how Marcy’s ascent will feel after the mileage we had already covered with full packs but I’m pleasantly surprised at how good our legs feel as we climb.

As we reach the summit we plunk down behind a rock crevice to block the wind and soak up the sunshine and to take a proper rest break. We gaze back over the terrain we had covered already today, squinting to see the figures on the peaks we had already visited. ‘Was Laura out there somewhere’, we wondered? Just then a woman crested the backside of the summit and approached us excitedly. She explained that she recognized us and shared a powerful, personal story with us that nearly brought us all to tears. Another kindred spirit! We wished we could stay longer and trade stories but we were still on the clock so off we went, down the backside of Marcy where the mashed potato snow greeted us again. Skylight came quickly, with the ascent feeling trivial after all we had already accomplished. My brain flashed forward to the climb we were headed towards up Algonquin Pass which required us to gain 2,000 feet in just 1.5 miles. ‘How bad would that hurt?’ I wondered before pushing the thought away and settling into the pleasant descent to Lake Colden we were on.

Time passed quickly as we approached the Pass and I took point, shifting into low gear. Slowly and steadily we climbed up up up. I tuned into my body’s cues, slowing the pace whenever my heart rate dictated. With little trouble, we topped out with grins on our faces – we were in the final stretch! The out and back to Iroquois feels so good we practically run it, overjoyed with the journey unfolding. As we reach the summit of Iroquois I hug the summit cairn and we both call out into the mountains – woohooooo! With fire in our hearts, we run down Iroquois and over Algonquin, laughing and whooping. The sun begins to set and we power up Wright knowing we’re about to catch a magical sunset. Again, the mountains speak to us, ‘You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be’ they say.

The sun crests behind the distant peaks and casts a fiery glow just as we reach the summit rock. Then we’re on our way back down at top speed. I had been too fired up to stop and switch to my Microspikes before the ascent and regret it as my snowshoes spark and slide on the descent. At the junction we take a final break before barreling down and out toward the Loj. Sprinting with unbridled exuberance we haul down the trail; reaching the Loj we book it across the parking lot and head out to grab our final objective – Mt Jo. As we ascend my lungs finally start to protest, wheezing subtly in the cold air from all I had demanded of them today. We slow the pace and respect our bodies’ limits, chugging up to the summit in low gear. As we reach the top, we both gasp and snap off our headlamps. The stars were perfectly shimmering in a pool of the deepest black night. We stood and stared side by side for a few minutes, in awe of the sky and the mountains and the journey we had just shared.

Finally, we nod to each other and make our way back down to the trailhead to finish what we had started. Back at the 46 House we cut a pizza down the middle and each take half, knowing we earned this gluttony and recapping the day. Again, we wonder aloud ‘Is Laura still out there somewhere?’ The next morning we wake up still buzzing from our journey when suddenly B looks at her phone and calls out, “She did it! Laura completed The Bob too!!” and our hearts are soaring – three badass mountain women persevered on the ultimate Adirondack traverse on the same day! 

31.16 miles

15,000 feet gain

13 High Peaks

1 Low Peak

15 hours 39 minutes 

Vivo Barefoot Tracker Hi FG: A Minimalist Winter Hiking Boot

KT’s Corner: Trail Review Edition

By Katie Rhodes aka “Lady Logic”

Disclaimer: It should be noted that terms like ‘barefoot’ and ‘minimalist’ in the shoe industry are used interchangeably and have become potentially confusing/misleading buzz words. When referring to minimalist shoes in this post, I am referring to shoes featuring low to no drop (difference in height between the heel and the ball of the foot), minimal stack height (total amount of shoe material between your foot and the ground) and a wide toe box.

The Struggle (It’s real)

Ever since discovering the magic that is minimalist trail runners a few years ago I have struggled every winter with transitioning back into high heel, clunky, stiff hiking boots. In my trail runners I can bust out 40 mile days pain free but as soon as I switch to my traditional winter boots I’m limping 5 miles in. I even managed to give myself neuropathy and a bone bruise on my right metatarsal during my single season winter round of the Adirondack 46 High Peaks this year in my Oboz. Frustrated and in pain, I decided I would not stop searching until I found a viable zero drop, minimalist winter hiking boot. Enter, Vivo Barefoot Tracker Hi FG Boots.

Why Go Minimalist?

Before I dive into the nitty gritty on these boots, I want to address one of the most common questions I get when discussing minimalist trail shoes: Why? Why would I opt for flat, thin hiking shoes when there are fancy, uber cushioned shoes on the market made with the ‘latest technology’? Anytime a new fad emerges from the sports industry, I’m justifiably skeptical but I don’t believe this is a fad – because it’s in fact how our feet evolved to interact with the ground. I’m no professional on this topic though so I reached out to Certified & NYS Licensed Athletic Trainer Kiera Kenyon for her thoughts;

“ My favorite feature about minimalist shoes are that they let feet be feet. Your toes are supposed to splay, grip, and extend. Your foot should be able to pronate and supinate as it needs. Primarily, your feet need to FEEL. They need to feel not only movements (which normal shoes typically prevent), but also different textures. Typical shoes are quite literally, ‘foot coffins’ because they suffocate our feet into one position – high arches, pointed toes, and comfy heel lifts that stop your feet from being able to twist and feel. 

People with pain often don’t have a good brain ‘mapping’ of that area which often leads to increased pain. If you can’t specify one specific pain point, or you’re bad at guessing an image that was outlined on your back – you probably have poor brain mapping of that body part. Body mapping (or more simply put as brain body connection) is VITAL to living a strong and pain free life. If we don’t know the who, what, where, why, and what of pain and performance… how do we move forward to treat it?

By stifling the foot’s ability to feel, we are primarily breaking up and destroying that body brain connection. Minimalist shoes not only significantly improve strength of the hundreds of intrinsic foot muscles, but it creates a strong base for the rest of the body to operate on top of. If your house was built on a poor foundation, it’s going to collapse pretty easily. The same thing applies to your body. Whether you are dealing with plantar fasciitis, achilles issues, hip issues, back pain, or thoracic mobility limitation we can always find some traces back down the kinetic chain to the feet. Want to perform better and live pain free? As a movement therapist who works with active individuals everyday, minimalist shoes are one giant step forward toward your goals.”

The Good, The Bad & The Minimal

Yeah, yeah but what about the boots? I have to admit, when I first stumbled upon these boots (after many long hours of Google searches) they seemed too good to be true. They are advertised as zero drop, minimalist, lightweight but winterproof with multi terrain traction – everything I was looking for. The question was, could they hold up in the rugged Adirondack terrain and harsh summit temperatures where I spend my winter days?

Immediately upon receiving them in the mail, I set out for an 18 mile jaunt into the High Peaks Wilderness with 6,100 feet of elevation gain and three High Peaks along the way. I ordered up a half size and paired the boots with my usual winter sock combination: liners with Showers Pass wool blend waterproof socks. My first concern was how these flexible, lightweight boots that lacked a heel lip would fare in snowshoes. However, that concern was whisked away in the first few miles. In fact, my Tubbs Flex snowshoes stayed so comfortable and in place so well they did not need to be adjusted once the entire day. With temperatures in the mid teens, I was also pleasantly surprised that my toes were comfortably warm during the first summit approach.

The Vivo Barefoot Tracker features a removable thermal insole that seemed to be doing its job. The real test was yet to come though, a peek at the forecast before we set out left me wondering if I’d regret my footwear option on the summit of Mt Haystack where a -24°F (-31°C) windchill was expected. As we made our way out and back over nearly 2 miles of heavily exposed rock face, there’s no denying that my feet did start to get chilly. I had my toe warmers at the ready but even with the arctic windchill my feet only got a bit chilled, not concerningly cold or numb, so I never bothered to put them in and the problem permanently resolved as soon as we were back below the treeline. Just a few weeks prior to this, I had been out in similar conditions on the summit of Mt Marcy in my Oboz Bridger Boots which feature 400g insulation with the same results so I didn’t consider this a point against the Tracker Boots.

So far, so good. I like to really put gear through the wringer before I review it though so next up was something a little more vigorous. I headed out to grab 4 more High Peaks along a 27 mile loop. This journey consisted of a 3 mile road walk where I got to test out the traction claims. With a firm ground sole and 3mm lugs, I was pleased with the traction the Trackers provided on the snow covered, plowed dirt road and was able to bareboot the entire way to the trailhead. Once to the trailhead I attached my snowshoes and again, the boots remained comfortable and secure in my for the entirety of the trek. I was pleasantly surprised that, even after 12 hours and 27 miles of hiking, my feet were perfectly happy in the roomy toe box. This was a pleasant surprise as I’d grown accustomed to screaming, suffocated feet by the end of long treks in my traditional winter boots. My only critique would be the fact that my feet did end up quite damp towards the end of this outing.

However, it should be considered that we were trudging through a particularly heavy, wet snow after a rainy previous day. My feet stayed plenty warm so it was not an issue but the Trackers did seem slightly less waterproof then some of my previous winter hiking boots leading me to apply a waterproof spray the next day. The deciding factor for me was the fact that I walked out of the woods both days with blister-free, comfortable feet and absolutely no foot pain. I plan to continue testing these bad boys in the mountains for the rest of the winter but as of now, I don’t see myself wearing anything else for winter day hikes.

*Note: I am not affiliated with nor do I receive compensation in any form from Vivo Barefoot or their affiliates. I review gear honestly and only promote products I personally use and trust.  

Big thanks to Kiera Kenyon, founder and owner of Movementality, LLC based in Saratoga Springs, NY. She is a certified and licensed athletic trainer. Movementality offers personalized care that provides you with the tools to relieve pain, explore movement and create experiences. Find out more about Kiera and Movementality at her website (https://www.movementality.me/) or follow her on Instagram @kiera_atc

Cold Weather Outdoor Layering: Implementing an Effective System

“KT’s corner,” is a new and exciting category at The Climb, written by guest Author Katie Rhodes, outdoor enthusiast and expert.

There’s a reason the first principle of Leave No Trace is ‘Plan Ahead & Prepare’ – prevention is the key to pleasant and safe adventuring in the outdoors. Humans are terrifyingly susceptible to cold-related injuries such as hypothermia – the rapid, progressive mental and physical collapse caused by the core temperature of the body cooling to below 95°F. According to the CDC, hypothermia only requires mild temperatures of +40°F to begin onset; particularly in wet, windy environments. Such conditions are known to be present in the mountains not just in winter but well into the ‘shoulder seasons’ and even into the summer months at higher elevations once night falls. 

Excessive loss of body heat in the backcountry is not only uncomfortable, but can quickly lead to dangerous life-threatening conditions. This scenario generally occurs as a result of poor clothing quality, selection and/ or management. The rigors, constraints and dynamic nature of backcountry conditions demands a clothing system that is lightweight yet versatile, packable yet robust – sounds easy…right? Don’t fret though, decades of research and real world testing (and mistakes) has brought us the fool-proof concept of layering systems. Such clothing systems allow simple transitions as weather, temperature, exertion level and other factors change throughout your adventure to maintain an optimal body temperature for comfort and safety. 

A winter day on Mount Marcy

I spoke with John Reyes and John Bulmer of Adirondack Mountain Rescue, a non-profit wilderness and technical search and rescue team based out of Clifton Park, NY. When I asked if they had any thoughts on the role of improper layering on initiation of rescue operations, they had a few thoughts to share. “Proper layering and temperature management are critical skills to master for anyone who spends time in the backcountry. The opportunity for people to find themselves in a situation where they are in danger of becoming hypothermic while being too far away from rescue is very real. In the wilderness many people fall victim to hypothermia, and to a lesser extent heat related medical conditions, every year. Being prepared and knowing how your own body reacts to insulation can keep you out of harm’s way.”

The Science of Heat Loss

In order to understand how to properly implement a layering system, first we need to understand thermoregulation and how the body loses heat through evaporation, radiation, convection and conduction.

Evaporation occurs when energy, in the form of heat, is released during the process of water molecules converting into their vapor form. Evaporation as a result of sweating is the body’s primary means of releasing heat and poses a particular issue when overexertion causes ‘sweating out’ – soaking through your clothing due to excessive perspiration. This is due to the fact that water pulls heat away from the body about 25 times faster than air. Rain, snow and other forms of precipitation also facilitate excess evaporation when allowed to create trapped moisture against the skin. For these reasons, garments that effectively wick moisture away from the body are an essential part of the layering system.

Radiation heat loss primarily occurs from the head and core, as the cold air ‘steals’ the warmth of our body in an attempt to create temperature equilibrium. By layering garments together, warm pockets of air are readily created within our system that match the heat of the body and nullify the radiant effect.

Convection is most well recognized as wind chill factor and results from the movement of air and fluids. As air moves past the skin, it draws the body’s heat away with it and this effect is magnified with the speed of the movement. There’s a reason a wind gust on the summit can chill you to the bone so easily. A wind-proof layer can significantly reduce heat loss in this form.

Conduction works in a similar manner to radiation; contact with cold materials or surfaces such as rocks, ice and the ground or even cold raindrops causes heat to be drawn from the body to the colder material. The solution – an outer waterproof hard shell to create a durable barrier between you and the harsh outside world.

Building the System: The 3 W’s of Layering 

Base Layer – Wick That Moisture

Your base layer is going to be your primary guard against evaporative cooling and should fit relatively snugly as it needs to lay directly against your skin to work most efficiently. It’s critical to select a base layer specifically designed for this purpose – polyester blends, bamboo and merino wool are safe bets. Lightweight options will be most effective at pulling moisture away from the body and more breathable, while mid-weight options will provide an extra layer of warmth in harsher conditions. Heavy weight options are also available but generally are layered over a lighter layer that sits directly against the skin.

Mid/ Insulation Layer – Trapping Warmth 

This layer(s) is designed to draw moisture vapor away from the base layer to the outer shell, while at the same time trapping warm air against the body and is your primary defense against radiant cooling. Many people choose to pair a fleece layer with a down insulating layer. Fleece is a great option for your system as it is both breathable and retains warmth when wet. Insulating vests, coats and pants can consist of synthetic down or goose down. Synthetic down offers a more humane option as well as retaining its warmth properties when wet unlike goose down, however, it is slightly less compressible. Fit is another important consideration for the mid layer. Garments must be loose enough to allow warm air to build up between layers and moisture to wick to the outer shell, but snug enough to prevent release of warm air.

Outer Shell – Guarding from the Weather

Minimizing cooling through conduction and convection, the outer layer is the armor of the system and acts to repel wind and precipitation while trapping precious body heat. You may hear outer layers referred to as ‘soft shells’ and ‘hard shells’. Soft shells consist of a weather-resistant but relatively breathable material with more give and a light layer of insulation. While hard shells are generally completely weatherproof but offer limited insulation or breathability unless vents are featured. These options can be worn independently or paired together, depending on the conditions present. Be sure to consider the bulk associated with your other layers when sizing your outer shell.

Watch “What Katie Wears”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXgfEe0nJkU&t=72s

Managing the System

Even the most thought out composition of layers still don’t assure a comfortable adventure if those layers are not properly managed. Plan to follow the tried and true adage ‘be bold, start cold’ when selecting your starting layers by anticipating terrain and exertion level. This will help you avoid scrambling to strip layers ¼ mile down the trail to avoid sweating out.

In the best case scenario, full layers will rarely need to be added or removed mid adventure aside from throwing on a summit jacket if peak bagging is your game. As excess heat is generated, try making small tweaks to see if a few degrees is all that is needed to bring you back to a comfortable temperature. Below are some options to consider;

  • Seek out hard shell options with built in vents, they will be pricier but worth the money for their versatility! This feature provides release of excess heat during exertion when harsh conditions prevent removal of the weatherproof layer.
  • Rather than removing your hat and risk losing an excess of heat, try flipping the edge of the hat up to expose only your ears.
  • In warmer conditions, consider donning a headband rather than a hat to reduce the potential of sweating out while protecting your ears.
  • The simple act of rolling up sleeves/ pant legs releases a surprising amount of heat. 
  • Gaiters can also trap heat produced by the hard-working calves, removing or rolling them down can be an effective venting method.
  • Removing or putting a hood up can make a startling difference in overall body temperature.

Perfecting the System

Winter layering is both a science and an art form, don’t expect to get it right from the start! Many factors besides temperature can impact your layering system; humidity, wind speed, level of exertion and fatigue can all effect your body temperature and perspiration rate. Be patient with yourself and test out layering combinations on shorter/ less strenuous outings first to assure you understand how your body works with your system under various conditions.

I always keep an adventure journal and use it to note mileage, elevation, duration, weather conditions and layering combinations I found to be most comfortable as well as any other lessons learned. A weather-proof notepad and pen can be a good option for this. I’ve found this type of documentation to be invaluable over the years in helping me fine tune not only my layering system but my packing list and technical skills. 

At some point, you WILL make a mistake but that’s okay as long as you learn from it! Anyone who tells you they’re an experienced outdoorsperson and they’ve never spent a day in the woods miserable and uncomfortable because of improper/ malfunctioning gear is either a liar or a mythical god. Sadly, I have yet to run into Zeus on the trails. The key is assuring those mistakes don’t lead to a dangerous situation requiring medical response. 

Good luck and happy adventuring!

Find out more about Adirondack Mountain Rescue (AMR) at their website at; https://www.adirondackmountainrescue.org/ or follow them on Facebook at; https://www.facebook.com/adirondackmountainrescue/

Favorites from the 46 Thru-hike

On September 17, 2020, Katie Rhodes and I completed an unsupported thru-hike of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks. To our knowledge, we are the first women to complete this feat in unsupported fashion. Meaning: We received no aid, food drops, or rides and simply walked from mountain to mountain under our own power. We covered the 183 miles with 65,000 feet of elevation gain in 7 days, 4 hours and 50 minutes.

Here are a few of my expedition favorites:

Favorite sunrise: Flowed Lands, Day 3

Sunset: South Dix, Day 6

Piece of gear: Goodr’s Sunglasses. Also had the best laugh at this picture.

Song: The Struts, Could Have Been Me

Food: Katie’s dehyrated meals, especially her Thanksgiving dinner.

Summit Photo: Iroquois, looking back at the ground we covered.

Advice: Life moves forward on a conveyor belt. Put one foot in front of the other and you’ll get there.

Spiritual Moment: Watching the clouds part on Panther.

Groupie Experience: Trio of young women on Giant. Katie and I approached the summit, heard screaming and one ran towards us, “Ahh!!! It’s them!”

Moment: Signing in at the trailhead on September 10th, looking at each other and saying, “Ready?”

How to do the Bob Marshall Traverse

Are you an ultra mountain athlete looking for a challenge? Or a backpacker looking for a great multi-day trek? Something with 15,000 feet of elevation gain and roughly 40 miles? Try the Bob Marshall Traverse. On July 15, 1932, Marshall left John’s Brook Lodge, tagged Big Slide before breakfast then headed to the Great Range. (It could be argued the traverse begins at JBL for FKT timing purposes. However, I began my watch at the Garden parking area.) After a late lunch on Marcy, he ticked off Skylight, Iroquois, Algonquin, Wright, and ended his ultra day in roughly 18 hours on Mount Jo.

Photo taken from Cascade of the first half of the BMT, Big Slide to the Great Range

In a day: Begin at the Garden (If you want the exact sequence of Marshall) or LOJ (Just reverse this sequence).

Note: For exact mileage, please refer to your own map. With my experience in the Adirondacks, I’ve found trail mileage varies slightly. Sometimes I’ll provide a rough estimate.

Note: This route is only recommended in 24 hours for those who’ve done similar mileage and elevation gain in that time frame. The Adirondacks have seen a huge increase in hiker traffic. Please be responsible and do not become a strain on already strained resources.

Garden start: Park your car at the Garden or have a friend drop you off. The Garden is a parking area at the end of John’s Brook Lane. It fills up quickly and during the summer it can be hard to get a spot. So, start very early or get a drop off. Also, there’s a fee to park at the Garden.

From the Garden, you could hike Big Slide over the Brothers, however, I hiked towards JBL (3.3 miles) and up the Slide Mountain Brook trail (2.4 miles), because I wanted to replicate Marshall’s route to the best of my ability.

Descend Big Slide via the brook trail and cross over John’s Brook to access the Phelps trail to ascend between Lower and Upper Wolf Jaw. Once you’re on the range trail, go left for the summit of LWJ. It’s roughly .5 to the top, so I fueled up and left my day pack at the junction because you retrace to that spot then continue on the range trail to UWJ. Once on the range, the mountains begin to crank out rather quickly. At Marcy, you’re nine mountains in and have completed the great range but, you’ve only completed half of the mileage. Mentally, think of Marcy as your halfway point.

Note: Be a responsible hiker. If this is more than you can do in one day, there are plenty of places to bail off the range. Summits are your best chance at cell reception to phone a friend for pickup, but do not bank on it. If you’re feeling in over your head, get down and out. Remember, the mountains will always be there.

If you’re feeling sharp on Marcy: Descend to the Four Corners and hike Skylight. Then hike down the Feldspar Brook Trail, stay left at the junction, pass Uphill lean-to and hike around Lake Colden. You’ll have a steep ascent to Iroquois, which will feel amazing on your ultra legs. After you’ve completed the Macintyre Range (Iroquois, Algonquin, Wright) descend to the Adirondak LOJ, Heart Lake area and give little Mount Jo your last burst of energy. One mile up, one mile down.

LOJ start: Mount Jo, Wright, Algonquin, Iroquois, Skylight, Marcy, Haystack, Basin, Saddleback, Gothics, Armstrong, UWJ, LWJ, and Big Slide.

With camping options: Take a few days to complete the BMT and camp along the way. There are so many great options!

From the Garden: I’d recommend drop offs and pick ups if you want to save money. To get the full backcountry experience, I’d recommend a three night, four day break down of the traverse. But, feel free to adjust however necessary.

Day One: Hike in and set up camp near JBL. There are plenty of campsites and lean-tos in the area. Just be mindful of the time of year. Summers are busy! I’d recommend avoiding weekends to maximize your chance at a campsite. After camp is established, take an afternoon hike up Big Slide and return to camp for dinner.

*If you’re ahead of schedule, you can also drop full packs at JBL, pack day packs, hike Big Slide, then spend your first night at Wolf Jaws lean-to (More mileage, but gets you closer to the range for day two).

Day Two: The Great Range. There is one spot to camp on the range: Snowbird, located between Basin and Haystack. This is your best water source on the range. Make sure you are respecting Leave no Trace ethics.

Day Three: Haystack, Marcy, and Skylight. I’d recommend camping at Lake Colden.

Day Four: Iroquois, Algonquin, Wright and Mount Jo. You’re done!

I’ve Never Camped Alone

I recently read an opinion piece in Outside Online about camping alone and that everyone should try it at least once in their life. The author took a “Challenge and push your boundaries approach,” but I found the message far too whimiscal for our current realities.

I’m a white, cisgender female in her thirties who lives in a six-million-acre state park. I’ve spent hundreds of nights in the backcountry as an instructor and guide, I can start a fire in the pouring rain, and make a dry, bombproof shelter from branches and leaves. I’m extremely confident in my camping ability and leading others into the backcountry.

Yet, I’ve never camped alone.

Why? I don’t feel safe sleeping by myself. And bears are the least of it.

The woods and wilderness spaces have historically been places of violence against POC, women and the LGBTQIA community, and the outdoor industry is well behind in acknowledging the trauma that lies in those scenic visitas. Massacres against native peoples, lynching parties, rapes and murders. Truth filters down generation to generation and those stories become deep fears.

You might be shot. You might be sexually assulted. You might be murdered. Those are big consequences when weighed against You might have a nice time.

Here’s the thing. I could push myself to do it. And most likely I’d be fine. I’d probably have a wonderful experience and meet wonderful people. But, it’s that low percent, high danger fear that keeps me searching for camping partners. Not to mention the added benefit of safety in numbers while exploring remote places.

Camping is a beautiful experience. And you can do it with the comfort and safety of a group. Don’t feel pressured to camp solo, because you think it “makes you a better camper.” Or that you have to do it to be a “real” camper.

Acknowledge history and organize camping experiences with friends who’d never go it solo. Let’s challenge the glorification of the “solo” wilderness experience, which has been promoted by well-known environmental writers, even though few feel comfortable to pursue it.

Go camping with your friends and family. In your living room, backyard, a highly trafficiked area or remotely. Support and protect each other while discussing the complexities of these wild spaces. With knowledge, empathy and understanding, more opinions will expand. Mine has.

Badass Mountain Woman: Sara Roma Safari

On April 25, 2015, while Mount Everest shook from a 7.8 earthquake, Sara Safari clung to a ladder at 20,000 feet. Avalanches thundered down the slopes and within minutes killed 22 people. Sara and other climbers were stranded on the mountain and eventually helicoptered to safety. In Nepali villages and cities, buildings crumbled and the total death toll of the earthquake was over 10,000. No one stood atop the summit of Everest for the first time in 41 years that season.

I met Sara in 2018 and instantly thought of her as a modern day super hero—it’s no wonder a real life movie is in the works about her. This woman is a force to be reckoned with. Her story begins in Iran and crisscrosses the globe as she attempts to climb each of the Seven Summits to empower women. She is my definition of a Badass Mountain Woman because she pursed this unlikely path as a passionate advocate for equality and justice. Along the way, she fell in love and became a mountaineer.

Bethany: Can you describe the day of the earthquake?

Sara: I was on a ladder at 20,000 feet in Khumbu Icefall on Everest. I could feel ferocious wind and a blizzard of snow threatening to blow me off the ladder that was swinging wildly out of control. I could hear cracking ice and saw huge chunks of the wall breaking off around me. The ice towers were collapsing like buildings that had imploded. I felt I was going to be buried and there seemed to be nothing I could do to stop it. I couldn’t see or breathe and I was terrified. I scrambled upward as fast as I could, fighting against the blowing wind and snow. As soon as I crested the top I clipped my myself to an anchor with all the carabiners in my possession. I knew this was futile and there was no way I could hold on with the force of the avalanche that was coming. I kicked my crampons deep into the ice, buried my head into the snow, and held onto the ropes with all my strength. I could no longer feel my fingers at all and my breathing was so panicked I was on the verge of hyperventilating.  

Bethany: Wow, I can’t even begin to imagine what that must have been like for you and your loved ones. How does your family feel about your climbing?

Sara: Most of them try to change my mind constantly, especially after the earthquake, but after seven years now they got used to it.

Bethany: Tell me a bit about your family and coming to the United States.

Sara: It has been over 17 years since my family and I first moved to the United States from Iran. We managed to make a better life for ourselves the way so many other immigrants do when they come to the United States for sanctuary and better opportunities. My family was not religious nor particularly observant, but ever since I was a child, I’d been told over and over again at school that a girl would go to hell if she did not always cover herself. Women had to ask men permission for everything—to work, to drive a car, to go for a walk unaccompanied, and especially to ever leave the country, which was my dream.

Bethany: How did you find mountains on your journey?

Sara: I signed up for a series of leadership seminars, hoping to improve my confidence. The instructor asked us to come up with an impossible project and I chose climbing Everest.

Bethany: Wow, that’s awesome. What are some climbs you’ve completed? And throw in a most memorable moment if you can.

Sara: Cho-Oyu, Denali, Aconcagua, Vinson, Carstenz Pyramids, Elbrus, Kilimanjaro. Atop of Cho Oyu when I saw Everest so close that I wished I had wings and I could fly to Everest and the sunrise at 27,000 feet was so beautiful.

Bethany: And you’re only one away from completing the Seven Summits?

Sara: Yes, I still need Everest.

Bethany: When do you plan to return?

Sara: Hopefully 2021.

Bethany: So much of your work focuses on raising awareness towards gender equality and funds for women around the world. What can we do on a day to day basis to support gender equality?

Sara: Acknowledging people’s efforts and strengths. Having empathy for women who are pushing themselves out of their comfort zone. It is often easier to have empathy for someone who is like us but it is possible to learn empathy for those who are different from us. This kind of understanding, can cross bridges and promote positive social behavior. Maybe we could use a little more empathy in our world. That would be the first step towards gender equality.

Bethany: Well said. I very much agree with that. How much have you raised over the years?

Sara: $200,000.

Bethany: Nice work Sara, that’s amazing! So, while you’re doing all of these mountain adventures and saving the world what’s your favorite food?

Sara: Ramen noodles and digestive cookie.

Bethany: Best strategy for training?

Sara: Hike with a heavy pack plus boot camp.

Bethany: Any tips for people who want to get into mountain climbing?

Sara: I started on Mt. Whitney in California but I recommend finding a mentor who knows a little bit about mountains before putting yourself in danger.

Bethany: That’s a great point. And, lets wrap up with a few things you’ve learned from climbing mountains.

Sara: I love the challenge, I love how I grow as a bigger and better person every time that I climb a mountain. The challenge creates a space inside me where I get to experience the new sides of me and I get to see powers inside that I never knew I had. It creates an environment for me to grow and develop myself. The mountains, nature, the peace that I experience in general, it brings me back to myself. It’s very grounding. I can use the silence to see what I really want in life and what I really care about. Climbing high altitude mountain is very humbling. I realize how small we are. I realize that all the things I worry about on a daily basis, really doesn’t mean anything.

Find out more about Sara and her causes at: https://www.climbyoureverest.org/

Introducing a New ADK FKT: The Bob Marshall Traverse

This trip report/article first appeared in LOCALadk, Fall edition 2018. Fun fact: Adam and I set out to honor the environmental legacy of Bob Marshall and I didn’t even know how to submit an FKT trip report at the time. Oddly enough, I’ve had a lot of people ask me about the route since I completed it and I think it would be fitting to put it down officially. Bob Marshall finished the route in roughly 20 hours. Adam and I began at 7 am at the Garden trailhead and finished at 10:33 pm (15 hours and 33 minutes) at the LOJ parking lot. To my knowledge, we have the fastest time, but who knows? It can certainly be done faster… go for it! We were unsupported for 95% of the hike and got Gatorade and bananas from my husband between Wright and the Loj. So, we’re listed as supported.

The light fades. Against a slab of smooth rock, I drop into a modified downward dog and stretch my calves. Over my shoulder, I study the domed summit of Colden. Bathed in alpine glow I estimate another hour of daylight before headlamps need to be clicked on. I look down the steep trail and search for the neon glow of my hiking partner’s t-shirt, but there is no sign of Adam. His absence does not alarm me. In the past two miles we’ve ascended 2000 feet and we’re both hiking at our own pace. The autumn chill settles on my skin and raises goosebumps. It feels good. I fuel up with a few gulps of iodine water and stuff half of a chocolate chip Clif bar in my mouth. On tired legs, I push to the col between Iroquois and Algonquin.

There is a gentle breeze above tree line and I take off my pack and layer up, pulling on a poly top, fleece and pair of gloves. I hang my headlamp around my neck and look towards the west. The horizon is a flaming pink with flat horizontal clouds that frame the setting sun. I watch the colors morph into oranges and purples. From the corner of my eye, a beam of light catches my attention and for a split second I think it might be Adam’s headlamp. I turn and clasp a hand over my mouth. A full moon rises over the Great Range. It’s almost too much beauty to take in at once. Layers of purple mountains stretch before me and the slides of Colden and the surface of the moon pick up a faint pink from the sunset. Adam staggers around the corner, perspiration dripping off his face and eyes wide, he slumps to the ground.

“Oh, my God,” he huffs. “Bob Marshall was one badass.” 

“Yeah, he was,” I laugh. We’re 30 miles and 10 high peaks in, attempting to recreate a hike Bob Marshall completed on July 15, 1932 which is now referred to as the Bob Marshall Traverse. Roughly 35 miles with approximately 15,000 feet in elevation gain, the route consists of: Big Slide, Lower Wolf Jaw, Upper Wolf Jaw, Armstrong, Gothics, Saddleback, Basin, Haystack, Marcy, Skylight, Iroquois, Algonquin, Wright and Mount Jo. We’ve been on trail for twelve hours and our bodies are tired. Minds too. Thankfully, the grandeur of the Adirondack wilderness refreshes us.

“You ready?” I ask Adam. He looks to the boulders of Iroquois and nods.

“Let’s do this.” 

Robert Marshall was well known for two things: His preservationist wilderness ethic and ultra-hiking. Mind you, Marshall was an ultra-hiker (Completing distances over 26.2 miles in one day) before ultra-hiking was a thing. Born in New York City in 1901, he came from a family of wealth and frequently vacationed in the Adirondacks as a young boy. His father, Louis Marshall was a lawyer and conservationist who played a large role in passing the “Forever Wild Act” of 1894 and founding the New York State College of Forestry at Syracuse University. Because of his interest in the protection of the Adirondack forest lands, Louis Marshall had a large collection of books and maps written by surveyor Verplanck Colvin. Robert and his younger brother George, poured over these texts and were inspired to explore the interior mountainous areas by passages like, “Unnamed waterfalls pour in snowy tresses from the dark overhanging cliffs, the horse can find no footing; and the adventurous trapper or explorer must carry upon his back his blankets and his heavy stock of fare.”

Under the tutelage of Herbert Clark, a local guide and Colvin’s maps, Bob and George began to climb all of the Adirondack peaks over 4000 feet. The trio began the adventure in 1918 on the summit of Whiteface Mountain. Seven years and forty-five mountains later, the journey was completed on Mount Emmons in 1925. Whether or not the Marshall Brothers intended to inspire others to follow in their footsteps, the idea of becoming a 46er was conceived and roughly a century later, well over 10,000 hikers joined their rank.

In concurrence with the ADK 46er 100th anniversary, I decided 2018 would be a meaningful year to honor Robert Marshall with a tribute hike. And I knew which one I wanted to go for: The traverse. I learned about Robert Marshall while I was an Environmental Studies major at Paul Smith’s College. It was roughly around the same time that I began hiking in the high peaks. Instantly, I felt a kinship to Marshall. He was a man of words and mountains. One of my favorite lines came from an article he wrote in 1930 for Scientific Monthly, “There is just one hope of repulsing the tyrannical ambition of civilization to conquer every niche on the whole earth. That hope is the organization of spirited people who will fight for the freedom of the wilderness.”

For the traverse, I recruited Adam Meyer, a Civil and Environmental Engineering student at Clarkson University. From Clarence, New York, Adam was a part of a cohort of Clarkson students living at Paul Smith’s College while they participated in a semester long experience called the Adirondack Semester. I’d met Adam in the Sense of Place course I taught, which introduces students to the Adirondack Park and the intricate web that weaves people into place and vice versa. Part of the curriculum was a three day, two night backpacking trip to Marcy Dam. On the second day, the group split and I took an ambitious team of six up Tabletop, Marcy, Skylight, Gray, and the back slide of Colden. They were talented hikers and I told them about Bob Marshall and the traverse. Adam said, “I’m in.”

The day we set out to attempt the traverse broke cold and clear. As we drove to The Garden trailhead, a shooting star with a bright green tail streaked across Marcy field. Adam and I took it as a strong omen of mountain magic. We hiked in briskly towards John Brooks Lodge, where Marshall had stayed the night before his traverse. Marshall woke up at 3:30 am, hiked Big Slide, watched the sun rise and then returned to the Lodge for a hearty breakfast to carry him across the Great Range. About the traverse, Marshall wrote, “The weather was absolutely perfect, one of those crystal clear days such as only occurs occasionally in an entire Adirondack summer.”

Our weather was perfect too. A fall setting instead of a summer one, the dawn brightened to reveal blue skies and changing leaves. On the top of Big Slide, Adam and I stretched and looked at the route ahead of us. It was epic. Wright, our last high peak seemed like a mere speck far in the distance.

“Oh, why did he have to start with Big Slide?” Adam complained with a smile. We looked down at the valley. Lower Wolf Jaw rose up on the other side—a huge elevation challenge right off the bat.

“One peak at a time,” I said and clapped my hands together. We hiked down to Johns Brook, running the sections that weren’t too wet, leaf covered or rocky. Along Wolfjaw brook, we ascended through a hardwood forest that transitioned to conifers as we gained elevation. On the tree covered summit of Lower Wolf Jaw, we looked back at Big Slide and smiled. We were just standing there two hours ago.

Between Upper Wolf Jaw and Armstrong I heard a “thunk” and “oww”. I turned back and Adam stood under a fallen limb with a hand placed on his forehead. Blood trickled down between his eyes and fell off the tip of his nose.

“You alright?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. He looked back at the limb with a frown. I walked over and checked the crown of his head. It was a small wound and the bleeding had already stopped. Though the front of his face looked like he had just stepped off the battlefield. He sopped up the sweat and blood with a black hat and soldiered on. Along the range we discussed a variety of topics, from the high peaks of Marshall’s era to ours, pushing the human limit, and access to wilderness. With a blood speckled face, Adam commented, “Most of the time when we think we’ve reached our limit, we’re only 40% of the way there.” I couldn’t have agreed more and I kept that as my mantra for the rest of the hike.

We arrived at Mount Marcy at 3:15 pm, precisely around the time Marshall did. On the summit, we changed our socks and munched on trail food. We were a little more than halfway through the traverse. In 1932, Herb Clark brought Marshall lunch at the spot we now sat. Another notable Adirondack figure was atop Mount Marcy that same day was preservationist and wilderness advocate, Paul Schaefer. He recorded, “Here came Marshall, right on schedule, heading for us at a dog trot. He was a stocky, powerful, ruddy man, dressed in a well-worn plaid shirt, blue denims and sneakers.” A conversation ensued about the threats to the Adirondack wilderness and Marshall proclaimed, “We can’t let the American wilderness be destroyed,” before ambling down to Skylight. It is speculated that this conversation inspired Marshall to help organize the Wilderness Society in 1935.

On the summit of Iroquois, Adam and I watch the sun dip below the horizon line. We put our heads down and march up and over Algonquin. The full moon provides us with ample light and no headlamps need to be turned on until we hit the tree line. In the darkness, I think about tramping over the same ground Marshall did and I feel his presence. In 1939, he died at the age of 38 of heart failure. His death was sudden and stunned those who knew him. Even though he was young when he passed, he left a large legacy that would help preserve and protect millions of acres of wilderness in the United States. Ascending Wright the cairns look like sentries standing at attention. In all directions, mountains are outlined by the moon’s light. I pause in the darkness and look back towards the curved summit of Algonquin. What had appeared so far away, from the summit of Big Slide, Adam and I now stand on our 13th high peak. One more mountain remains and I feel the success of our expedition mounting. As we make our way to the Adirondack lodge, I see a headlamp in the distance.

“Andy!” I call out, knowing my husband is hiking in to join us for the last leg. With him, he brings gifts of bananas and Gatorade. Adam and I graciously accept and fuel up one last time. Mount Jo is a small mountain, one mile up and down from Heart Lake. On fresh legs, you can barely feel it. Our legs are a different story. My feet are swollen and toes beginning to blister. But, the mind is a powerful thing and I tell myself what must be done and before I know it I’m standing atop Mount Jo with the High Peak’s wilderness before me. Adam and Andy exchange high fives and I smile broadly. The Bob Marshall traverse is complete. For me, it’s not about ticking another mountain or hike off my list. It’s not about boasting or bragging rights.

Adam and I come to these mountains and immerse ourselves in the woods for many of the same reasons Marshall did. To heal, to feel and to fight for what we love. In one day, we’ve watched the sun and moon rise. We’ve bled and blistered. We’ve been in awe of one view only to be stunned by another. Marshall wrote, “Finally, seeing the view from fourteen different mountains all in one day gave me an excellent opportunity to appreciate the distinctive character of these Adirondack Mountains, which made each summit leave an entirely different effect of delight.” We’ve followed the footsteps of a spirited man and it has been a true Adirondack adventure.

Strong Enough

I’m disappointed.

I didn’t think I was strong enough. And more specifically, because I’m a woman.

It was during a mountaineering course on Mount Baker and I was hauling a climber out of a crevasse. I kicked my crampons into the slope, hurled my body forward and the rope didn’t move. Instead my harness dug so fiercely into my hips that I feared it might dislodge something. I compared my weight to how much I was hauling and felt defeated. I’m not strong enough. I laid atop the snow and recovered my breath.

“Do you want help?” one of the instructors asked.

“No.”

And I didn’t. This was mental and I needed to flip my negatives to positives. I can do this. Kick, kick, pull, kick, kick, pull. The rope moved and foot by foot, I pulled my partner out and over the lip of the crevasse.

But, lets be honest. No one has told me to my face that I couldn’t do something in the sports or mountaineering world because I was a woman. Quite the opposite. I’ve been coached and mentored to the point where I believe most of my limits are still waiting to be found.

So, where did that voice come from? That whimpering voice of defeat?

Ah yes, mountain culture. Quotes from sexist journalists and mountaineers like, “Even the toughest and most courageous of women are still the weaker sex in the white hell of a blizzard and avalanche torn mountain.” Books with titles like, “Of Mountains and Men,” and others from the “Golden Age of Mountaineering,” when women weren’t permitted on expeditions, which still dominate the shelves.

I like how one of my college students recently put it: “Gender norms are dangerous and bullshit.”

As is our “generational jet lag” and popular culture that reinforces stereotypes for all genders and sexual identities. Lots of TV sitcoms and movies do not age well when it comes to topics regarding race, gender and sexual identity. Watch a rerun or movie from the 90s or whatever decade you grew up in. Whether or not you were aware of it, those messages imprinted on you and formed a slice of your identity. A lot of it makes me cringe.

Of course there are biological differences between men and women, but biology only goes so far and I believe the mental aspects of ability in mountain sports to run much deeper. This social construct of gender and what we can or can’t do based on how much upper body strength we have is at best propaganda. And yes, it’s probably near impossible not to let that voice from mother culture in from time to time. But, put it in check and tell it to fuck off.

There is something powerful and liberating about seeing something done for the first time. Lynn Hill on the Nose; “It goes, boys!” Women need to see women completing physical tasks that were once rumored not achievable, just as we need to see our identities reflected in outdoor spaces and popular culture. Gender is just one component in the fight for a more inclusive and diverse outdoor industry. Race. Social class. Sexually identity. Mental and physical abilities. I pray, it goes, with momentum and energy, onward and upward.

And, I’m hopeful.

Check out: https://www.diversifyoutdoors.com/