It would be great if every backpacking trip consisted of nothing but sun, 72-degree temperatures and zero percent humidity. But it doesn’t always work out that way. When you’re hit with bad weather on the trail, you have two choices: Keep complaining or keep walking while staying safe and making the best of the situation.
On a 25-mile backpacking trek across Pine Mountain, a group of Kentucky Scouts chose option No. 2. “We were always like, ‘Come on … you can do it … let’s go,'” says 13-year-old Carter Lockhart from Troop 10 in Pikeville, Ky. The first day of their trek was always going to be the hardest. An elevation gain of nearly 2,000 feet over 12 miles is nothing to take lightly. Then the weather turned nasty. First came the rain. Then hail. After a short break, the pattern would repeat. It’s easy to see how a 12-mile hike could turn into a nearly 12-hour slog. With the right attitude, though, 12 miles uphill through the rain and mud is like a walk in the park.
“It was pretty long and it was really hard, but it was also really good,” Carter says. “I was just walking with my friend and talking.”
An amazing trail
Michael Rushing is an 11-year-old Scout from Troop 382 in Lexington, Ky. At the time of the Pine Mountain hike, he had been a Boy Scout for only a few months. This was his first backpacking trip.
“It was hard,” Michael says. “Everybody got soaked. It was muddy. It was like we were walking in a creek.” Welcome to Boy Scouts, Michael. We promise not every backpacking trip will have weather like this one.
“You just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other,” says 13-year-old C.J. Alcorn from Troop 209 in Georgetown, Ky., who was also participating in his first extended backpacking trek. “That’s about the only thing you can do.
“We would just talk along the way. When you’re talking, it passes the time because you’re just listening to their stories and not thinking about anything.”
The hikers had to set up their tents on soaking wet ground. If there were ever a time to complain, this was it.
“It was an amazing trail,” Carter says. “Just getting to be outdoors with all of your friends … it was a really good experience.” That’s the spirit, guys.
The next day, the hikers were rewarded with better weather and flatter ground. Early in the day they arrived at Birch Knob, the highest point on the trail at 3,000 feet. “We were on top of the mountain,” C.J. says. “It was foggy, and that made it cool.” They say on a clear day you can see all the way to Ohio from this point. This wasn’t | a clear day, but leave it to these guys to find the positives in everything. “We were walking along a cliff and all we could see was white (clouds) over the edge,” says Michael. “That was the best day.”
From there, it was all downhill. They hiked 10 miles that day, but with better conditions it seemed to take no; time at all.
Their reward was a unique camping experience that night under a series of outcroppings the locals call a “rock house.” “That was really awesome,” says C.J. “It was nice to have shelter.”
The third day was a short hike to the spot from which they would exit the trail and head home. But before they left, they gathered to celebrate and reflect on how much fun the whole experience had been.
“The trail was surprisingly very hard,” Michael says. “It was never a straight line. It was zigzagging all around. “Every time you went down, you knew you’d be going back up even more.
The Pine Mountain State Scenic Trail is a work in progress. It will eventually be 120 miles long, but at the time of this hike, less than 50 miles were open. The trail cuts through land made famous when Daniel Boone explored it in the 1770s. When finished, the Pine Mountain trail will be part of the Great Eastern Trail, an epic 2,000-mile hiking experience that will stretch all the way from Alabama to New York state. The forest around the Pine Mountain trail is so dense and rugged that basically nobody messes with it. To this day, the region looks about the same as it did when Boone trekked through it nearly 250 years ago.
The Pine Mountain hike was the third leg of the Lonesome Pine District’s Triple Crown Outdoor Adventure Series.
Seven months before the hiking trip, some of the Scouts canoed and kayaked 50 miles along the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River. Two months later, some of those Scouts biked 50 miles along the Dawkins Trail. Of the more than 100 people who showed up for all three events, only 12 successfully completed every mile of each adventure.
“Before I started, I wouldn’t have thought % that I could have done all that,” says CJ. Alcorn, one of the few who completed all three adventures. “So it’s awesome to know that I could do it.”
The National Weather Service recommends that when you hear thunder, you go indoors. This is difficult when you’re in the middle of the woods. When the Scouts on the Pine Mountain hike saw lightning nearby, they took the proper procedures:
- Avoid open fields, the top of a hill or a ridge top.
- Spread out 100 feet from the next person if possible.
- Stay away from isolated trees. In a forest, stay near a lower stand of trees.
- Stay away from metal objects. (The Scouts on the Pine Mountain hike dropped their hiking poles and moved well away.)