“Who wants to lead a caving trip” by Catrina Timeus

“Who wants to lead a caving trip?” Anna said at my first Hike Leader meeting. I quickly volunteered, because as long as I could remember I have wanted to go into a cave, I saw specials on the Discovery channel and thought that would be so amazing. So Anna put me in touch with Nancy and her daughter Scout. Nancy picked a good beginner cave for us, and we set a date and away we went!

Tumbling Rock Cave
The first thing I learned that caving is much more physically demanding that I thought, and can be very scary at times when you are the not so sure footed person like myself who will stumble over a twig or slip on a wet leaf, so when I hike I use poles to keep me on my feet.
Before we entered the Cave

So we go into the cave and our first thing is to step over this crevice.

With my short legs I was unsure about making it over, but with a hand and a leap I made it over. It really wasn’t that wide not much more than a 1 ½ feet, but like I said not so sure footed (NSSF) here saw it as this huge cavern.

We would walk a little ways, then we would have to climb up these huge formations, then we would then slide down the other side. My favorite part was sliding down. With every down slide or climb I would look back and think how am I going to get back up that. But everyone said don’t worry.

Then we got to the breakdown, an area when the water stopped flowing rocks came down in the cave. This was un-even, having to climb around looking for places to step and the entire time making sure you don’t slip. I made it over this, but struggled with my breath, and nerves.

Once we completed this, Nancy our fearless leader let us know there was going to be at least two more of those, and let the group know that if any of us wanted to turn around at any time we could. Two ladies decided they wanted to turn around. I hesitantly turned around, because even though I was exhausted, I was having a blast!

So Nancy was about to take us back while Brent and Scout led the other two ladies forward when the Cave Maintenance person Jay showed up and offered to take us back. I am so happy he did, even though this is an in and out cave it had a few different paths you could take, and he took us through them. To my relief these didn’t involve climbing up some of those areas I was worried about. We also took a moment to turn out our lights to experience complete darkness. It’s amazing how dark it is, that is one place you don’t want to have your lights go out.

When we finally got to the 1 ½ foot crevice that we went over in the beginning, well I swear it grew by 2 feet! But again with a helping hand, I made it over, and then we climbed out into the light of day. We spent about three hours in the cave, I wasn’t keeping track, but the rest of the ladies came out about 2 ½ to 3 hours later. I’m hooked.

Raccoon Mountain Echo Room
I’m so hooked I joined the Georgia Adventurers Group two weeks later on the Raccoon Mountain Echo Room tour. I am going to have to say, this one was much more involved. We had more crawling, belly crawls, sliding, rolling.

The first major climb I thought I was done because it required using a rope and pulling myself up and I just did not have the upper body strength. Thankfully Josie was behind me (she also went to Tumbling Rock).

She gave me the push up I needed, while the guide help pull me up. I was told that was the hardest part, so after a brief break to catch my breath, forward we went.

This cave had A LOT more up and down climbing then tumbling rock, but most of it is a loop, so a lot of the hard maneuvers didn’t need to be repeated just new ones. Even though I had a hard time with the rope climb, personally I think the hardest and scariest part was when we had to go over a canyon. Where our feet (and butts when it was narrow enough) were on one side of the cavern and our hands were on the other side and we had to side step while looking down the canyon.

I had a wonderful gentleman David in front of me who helped me by pulling, and Josie was behind me giving me a push when I needed. And everyone else in the group provided great emotional support when I was struggling giving me some great words of encouragement when I was nervous and worried.

At the end I was so exhausted that I had to take breaks more frequently, and the last 10 feet which was crawling I had to take 2 or three breaks, not because it was difficult, I did it going in, but I was so exhausted I was just struggling to move. But I made it out having had an amazing adventure, and as I was emerging I was already thinking about the next cave……

This post was contributed by Catrina Timeus who is a hike leader for the Trail Dames of Georgia.

“8 Reasons Why Women Need to Go to the Mountains With Other Women” by Leslie Hittmeier

Leslie Hittmeier has given us permission to post this article on our blog.  To learn more about Leslie Hittmeier, click here.

Most of my life I’ve been trying to keep up with the guys. I grew up with two older brothers who were bigger, faster, and stronger, so I think that’s where my mentality of “chase the men” began; I found myself wishing for their traits and doing everything I could to be just as strong as they were. And when I started really getting into climbing and backcountry skiing, it seemed like I could only find guys who would go with me, and teach me. And that wasn’t a bad thing, I think that men and women in the mountains are a fabulous thing; the love of my life, who is a man, taught me mostly everything I know and I have so much gratitude in my heart for that.

But that said, I’ve been getting out there with some powerful and badass women lately and it has really been amazing.. here’s why:


Because when you’re hangin’ with other chicks in the mountains, you no longer have the excuse of “being a girl.” You have to push it and be just as good as the strong ladies you chose to go out with that day. I don’t always try my hardest when I’m with a bunch of guys because I know I will never quite be as strong or as fast as them so I just work on pacing myself and staying safe. But when it’s all girls, we can be a little more competitive and push each other to do better.




Women generally have similar struggles in the mountains (being short, small, less powerful) so it’s great to be around chicks and figure out how to get up a rock route or how to ski a line together.

Picture 2 -  GIRL BETA



Celebrating and sharing the fantastic relationship and beauty of the way a women does things in the mountains. Whether it’s skiing, climbing, biking, or running, we just do things differently than the boys and it’s wonderful to share that.




Guys just don’t giggle and shriek as much as us when they get to the top of a mountain. “Even though I don’t enjoy shopping and manicures, I’m still a girl and I get excited and giggly about things.” – Lila Scott



There’s nothing like getting together with a girlfriend and solving all the worlds problems while walking up a big hill. Also, connecting with other dirtbag ladies who love the outdoors is one of the greatest pleasures in life!




Real talk.




Those womanly characteristics like: nurturing, care, consideration, and patience really come in handy in the mountains. At least with backcountry skiing, sometimes I feel like dudes race to the top. Women seem to be less worried about submitting and more worried about the group as a whole. I know that it takes me a long time to get into my groove and I usually start off slow, and having a fellow chick right there with me keeps me motivated and feeling strong even though I’m in the back of the pack.




We just can’t even contain ourselves. I have no explanation.




“I slept at the feet of a giant last nite” by Michele Zehr

Michele Zehr is a member of the Trail Dames Board of Directors and she is also the head Dame of the Central Virginia Trail Dames.

Michele’s trail name is Certain and she finished her Appalachian Trail (AT) hike in 2008.  It would be safe to say that Michele has one of the most popular Trail Journals of all time.

Michele has given us permission to post her journal entry from October 8, 2008 – the day she submitted Mt. Katahdin.  She also has a wonderful video showing her final ascent.

I slept at the feet of a giant last nite

A giant that for so so long has reflected back to me
My fears and pain and disappointments
As well as the raw beauty of nature

As I lay there awake in the nite
Feeling its presence looking down upon me
I wondered if it was ready to receive what I had to offer to it

So before the sun shed its light on the morning sky, I rose
One last time
I exposed my bare skin to the frigid fall air
One last time
I packed the things that would keep me alive out here
One last time
I strapped my pack on my back
One last time
And I started walking north again
One last time

I passed a rushing stream with crystal clear pools
I stood next to a roaring waterfall with endless cascades

I struggled over boulders the size of buildings
And scaled the sides of rock faces that hung on the ends of the Earth

I finally made it to the shoulders of this giant
And walked across its cracked red surface

Then climbed one final time

I walked right to the top and looked this giant in the eye
And whispered
“Thank you, my friend…thank you”

And at that moment
The giant unfolded its bouldery arms
And cupped its rocky snow covered hands
And allowed me to place my fears and pain and disappointments into it

The giant took these things that I had offered
And folded them inside to be held forever
Leaving me with my joy
And a deep deep appreciation for the beauty of nature and this trail

So I turned south
And started walking away for good
And I suddenly felt choked
I stopped for a moment, stumbled and gasped
And my tears dropped to the ground beneath me

Then a surge came rushing through my nostrils
And into my lungs
And filled my veins and body with pure fresh air

I knew
At that moment
The giant had released me from its clutches

And I was free to breathe again.



“Where were all the curvy women” by Anna Huthmaker (aka Mud Butt)

I can remember where I was the first time I heard the words, “Appalachian Trail”.  I remember buying my first A.T. book and subsequently reading everything I could get my hands on.

I remember being moved to tears by the likes of Cindy Ross, and Bill Erwin and, I remember getting my first “AT Journeys” in the mail.  More than anything, I wanted to be a part of the magic, beauty and community of the A.T.

In 2003, I finally had the opportunity to attempt a thru-hike.  I knew that I was going to take my place among the 2,000 milers of the world, and that I, too, would have a journey for the ages.  One that would inspire and move others and one that would make me part of the history of this amazing trail.

I took six months off from work, hiked seven hundred miles, broke my foot and met more amazing people than I ever could have dreamed.  I had my Polaroid taken at Mountain Crossings, ate breakfast at Miss Tillie’s Hostel, and sat in the wood-fired hot tub under the stars at Rusty’s Hard Time Hollow.  Oh, and I hiked.

Like my fellow dreamers, I hiked through rain and shine, green tunnels and sunny fields.  I did not become a 2,000 miler.  Injury, lack of fitness and a hard, hard pull towards every blue blaze in sight changed my hike plan.

However, as I hiked along, I found my dreams give way to different thoughts.  Like an itch I couldn’t scratch, something was bothering me.

Two hundred miles into Virginia, I realized that there were no women like me out there.

Where were all the curvy women?”

There were plenty of big guys out there, but where were the ladies?  I came home from the A.T. and begun asking questions of women everywhere.

”Do you hike?”
“Why not?”
“What are you afraid of?”

And my favorite…. “Do you know what it feels like to stand on top of a mountain? “

Slowly but surely, the answers came out.
“I am too slow”
“I don’t want my husband to see me struggle up the mountain”
“I can’t keep up”, and
“I am scared”

The questions and answers swirled around until the idea of a hiking club for women began to grow.  In April of 2007, I printed up a few fliers and scheduled a meeting to see if anyone was interested in a hiking club for women.

A hiking club for curvy women, to be precise.  A club where we could hike slowly, enjoying the beauty around us and the laughter of friends.

My goal was to have three women show up that day.  We had nine.  Nine of us talked about hiking, clothing, and whether or not to use poles.

Two weeks later our ranks had swelled to 20 and we were climbing Springer Mountain to celebrate the beginning of Trail Dames.  If the women were confused as to why we were driving to the middle of nowhere, and traversing a long forest service road, only to climb .9 miles, they never said so.

I talked about Springer Mountain and its place in the heart of A.T. people everywhere.  I told them that they were standing at the beginning of a 2,100 mile hike, and that a million dreamers had stood in their very steps.  I told them that the only people that get to see the view off of Springer Mountain are the ones that did the work to get up there.

And then we did the “Dance of the Real Woman’ to celebrate the birth of Trail Dames.

Trail Dames began to grow faster than I had dreamed and as time went by, I noticed something.  While I had created the group with curvy women in mind, women of all kinds were joining.

Curvy and thin, old and young, novice and experienced.  It turns out that we all shared the same fears, and that we all experienced the same sense of joy when climbing a mountain.

Now, we have marathon runners hiking alongside complete beginners, and 2,000 milers sharing backpacking trips with first-timers.  Trail Dames will always be a ‘hiking club for women of a curvy nature’, but it has become a place where all women are welcome.  All they need is a sense of fun and the desire to put one foot in front of the other.

Seven of our chapters are within a two hour drive of the AT, and one thing that permeates the entire Trail Dames family is the love of this path.

Many of our Head Dames, (Chapter presidents), share that love.  You could say that we are all a bit in love with the trail.

As of now, Trail Dames now has over 2,000 members in twelve chapters across the US.  We are growing quickly and we joke that we are going to take over the world one trail at a time.

But our true goal is to make a place on the trail for all women.  And while we love all trails, you have to forgive us if we have a special love for the A.T.  It was where my dreams began and when we climb Springer Mountain every April to celebrate Trail Dames birthday, I can see the love of the A.T. take root in more and more women.




Backpacking Food Pyramid







Re-Posted from Lori of the Delaware Dames!

The above is a scan of a rather elementary school-ish drawing I made to illustrate my version of a food pyramid for backpackers. Obviously, I’m not an artist. Neither am I a nutritionist. This is just a simple, very low-tech presentation to help you visualize the logic I use for planning backpacking menus. This works for me. Please feel free to build on it as your body demands and your talent allows.

I have always struggled with my weight, and happily, like most people I usually come off a trail trip weighing a bit less than when I started. But this is not a diet plan, nor is it the time to try to limit your calories. Calorie needs are based on variables such as your weight, level and endurance of exertion. But when it comes to backpacking, it’s nearly impossible for you to carry enough food for your body to meet demand. Basically, what you put into your body is going to fuel your walk. So think in terms of hiking fuel.

You want to avoid highs and lows in your energy level while on-trail. The highs are usually short-lived, and the lows take all the joy out of the walk. Your goal is to provide a steady stream of long-burning fuel. And it’s good to include occasional quick burning stuff to get you up a big climb or through the last mile of a very long day. Plan on eating often. In fact, nearly non-stop snacking works for many hikers. For me, I’ve found that building my entire menu on long-burning complex carbs is key. You know the roll call, I’m sure: whole grains, oatmeal, rice, beans, etc. These help to give you balanced energy over a long period of time. Simple carbs are the things that taste soooo good and land right on our hips and thighs. You know ’em… the cookies, candy, cakes, pies, and other treats. These do not provide a long, even burn of energy. But, they also play a role in your backpacking adventures. Now and then, a Snickers bar at the bottom of a mountain will help you get to the top. I firmly believe it. In fact, I live for it, because I rarely allow myself to eat Snickers off-trail when I’m living in the paved world. (However, I’ve been known to enjoy an occasional Kit-Kat, and should I find some Godiva chocolate laying around, I wouldn’t necessarily let it go to waste.)

Most of the food I bring on backpacking trips comes straight from the grocery store. Stroll up and down the center aisles and you’ll find lots of processed, quick cooking food that, in my opinion, isn’t all that good for you on an everyday basis. I prefer to eat whole foods and cook from scratch at home. That’s not practical for backpacking. Instead, I look at every convenient, add-water and eat type item in the grocery store as a possible block in the foundation of my hiking food pyramid. Packets of noodles and sauce? Got it! Rice and sauce? Couscous? Dried tortellini? Yep, they go right in the pack. I’ve even cannibalized the guts of boxes of mac and cheese and Hamburger Helper in order to build tasty, long burning fuel/food for my trips.

Once you’ve decided on a tasty long-burning carb, add in some protein to really up the energy burning value of your calories. You no longer have to depend on beef jerky as your only source of protein on a long hike. Step into the tuna fish aisle my friend, step in and behold the bounty! Tuna is available in no-drain pouches, of course. You can even find pre-mixed tuna salad, so no need to mix in little packets of mayo as you sit on a pile of brown leaves next to the trail. Just open the packet, squeeze into a pita bread and eat! In the same aisle you will also find crab, salmon, and shrimp. Look a little further down the shelf and you will find a variety of flavored chicken breasts in pouches. Even single serve slices of Spam are on the shelves these days. A short walk to the deli section, and you’ll find pepperoni, salami, and other dried meats that will keep for days in your pack. Bacon? Would you like some bacon? Sure! Pre-cooked, shelf-stable bacon and ham can also be found at your grocery store. And don’t forget cheese! Hard cheeses or wax covered individual cheeses such as BabyBel carry well in a pack, especially in cooler weather.

Now you have two levels of your pyramid sorted out. Choose something from the carbs level and something from the protein and fat level and mix it together for a tasty meal. Couscous with shredded chicken and a douse of olive oil and Parmesan cheese is a great way to end the day. One of my favorite meals is a combination of Barilla shelf-stable tortellini mixed with a packet of Knorr rosa sauce, diced pepperoni and even more olive oil and cheese stirred in. Oh, and don’t forget peanut butter! Not with the tortellini, of course! But, peanut butter is another grand source of protein and fat. I even enjoy it stirred into my morning oatmeal.

Now we’ve come to the electrolytes and fluids levels. You’ve heard about electrolytes. There are aisles and aisles of electrolyte replacement drinks all across the land. But what ARE electrolytes? Well, let’s just go with the 7 you may be tested for in a basic metabolic profile. These are sodium, potassium, chloride, carbon dioxide, BUN (blood urea nitrogen), glucose, creatinine. OK, that’s more than you needed to know, I suppose. But these little chemical substances keep your bodily functions running the way they should. If you’ve ever had an out-of-whack result on a blood test, you’ve had discussions with your healthcare professionals regarding diabetes, kidney failure, and a host of other life-threatening conditions. And that’s what we’re talking about. Life-enabling/life-threatening chemical balances. As you hike, your body is going to burn fuel and chemicals. You will sweat. Your electrolyte balance is going to get a little wonky. This will effect you along a spectrum that goes from feeling tired and dizzy to being dead. We’d really like to avoid the dead part, so let’s try not to get beyond the tired and dizzy level. To do that, you should plan to replace electrolytes.

And what a lot of choices we have today! You can go well beyond Gatorade. In fact, I’m not a big fan of the flavor of Gatorade, and I prefer something called Nuun, which comes in tablet form. In addition to my Platypus full of water, I always carry a separate bottle filled with water and one or two tablets of Nuun dropped in. I sip from that during the day and enjoy another bottle with my dinner each night. Another of my favorite sources of electrolytes comes from Jelly Belly. Yep! Jelly beans can be electrolyte replacement! Jelly Belly makes something called “Sport beans”. They are sweet, chewy, and deliver a pack of energy and electrolytes to your system. I call them my 1000-feet treat. One packet of those beans gets me to the top of a 1000′ climb. Both Nuun tablets and Jelly Belly sport beans are available at REI and other athletic-oriented stores. Of course, you can find packets of easy-to-mix electrolyte drink powders at your grocery store, too.

I also include soups in the fluids and electrolytes category. I enjoy some instant soups on the trail. Sometimes I make my own dehydrated creations at home. Sometimes, I just carry along envelopes of instant soups from the grocery store. These help get some fluids and sodium into you. And they are a very comforting treat on a cool day in the woods.

Finally, my pyramid is topped with a level I call “Stuff you crave”. It’s basically everything else you bring along. Call it comfort food,if you’d like. For me, these are mostly my snacks and treats. I try to look for things that have a nice calorie punch for their weight. I love little packets of Justin’s nut butters, individual cheeses, hot chocolate for an evening treat. And yes, I even like Cliff and Luna bars. I also like taking along some sort of veggies. There aren’t a lot of calories per weight in vegetables, so I usually wait for an off-trail meal to get my fresh veg dose. But I do like the flavor and texture of veggies added to my meals. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s carries a nice selection of freeze-dried veggies that can be added to your soups and long-burning carb/protein concoctions. In cooler weather, I will sometimes carry a single small cucumber. I like the crunch. Also, baby spinach will hold up well for a couple of days in a plastic bag. I toss a bit into my rehydrating meals for a bit of taste and eye appeal.