Trip Report: Backpacking with the Trail Dames at Pine Mountain

By Jean Swann (Georgia Trail Dames)

November of 2014 brought a wonderful flurry of backpacking trips! Pine Mountain was my destination for two weekends in a row. I had backpacked once before with Joan West and others from the Trail Dames organization. This was my second opportunity. I arrived at F.D. Roosevelt State Park at Pine Mountain early in the day and took advantage of the extra time to do a little geocaching. The woods were beautifully arrayed in bright fall Crayola colors.

Fall leaf along Pine Mountain Trail
Fall leaf along the Pine Mountain Trail.
Beautiful red leaves.
Beautiful red leaves.

Joan was driving in from North Carolina, where she had just finished thru-hiking the 77- mile Foothills Trail. She met me at Dead Pine campsite at dusk, just as I was polishing off the last of my dinner. The evening was chilly, and it was almost dark, so she quickly hung her hammock, and we retired for the night at 6:30 p.m.!

Joan at Dead Pine campsite.
Joan at Dead Pine campsite.

I thought I would have a hard time going to sleep, but I drifted off in about 30 minutes, snug inside my 10-degree down sleeping bag. This was its maiden voyage, and I was really glad I took it because the overnight low was 23 degrees and Mark wasn’t there for me to put my cold feet on!

I slept until almost daylight, when a group of hikers noisily tramped along the nearby Pine Mountain Trail, probably heading for the Country Store for a hot breakfast. Joan and I met the two other Trail Dames who would be hiking with us – Tonya and Kelly – at the park office, and we were off to Dowdell Knob to do a gear shakedown. By the time we got on the trail, it was nearly lunchtime.

Joan (at left) and Tonya on the rocky trail.
Joan (at left) and Tonya on the rocky trail.

We left Rocky Point parking lot and headed west on the Pine Mountain Trail. There, the trail drops quickly amid huge chunks of rock embedded into the mountainside. At the bottom of our descent, we rock-hopped across Sparks Creek, discovering, in the process, late fall blossoms of the lovely Grass of Parnassus. The delicate white flower is actually not a grass but an herbaceous dicot.

Grass of Parnassus.
Grass of Parnassus.
Tonya rock-hopping while Joan and Kelly wait their turns.
Tonya rock-hopping while Joan and Kelly wait their turns.

After taking advantage of the photo op, we continued until the merry waters of Sparks Creek beckoned us to stop at a creekside campsite and eat our lunches. We left the pleasant creek valley and climbed the ridge on the switchbacking treadway, eventually reaching a parking lot, where Tonya bid us goodbye and headed home. Following the Boot Top Trail, Kelly, Joan and I eased back down the ridge into the valley of Bethel Creek, the scene of extreme tornado damage a few years ago. As the Boot Top Trail rejoined the Pine Mountain Trail, we passed a Boy Scout troop taking a breather. For the next mile and a half, we played leapfrog with them as first one group and then the other stopped for rests or photo sessions.

Joan and Kelly passing a blue blaze of the Pine Mountain Trail.
Joan and Kelly passing a blue blaze of the Pine Mountain Trail.

We reached Whiskey Still campsite in plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely dinner and once again shut down for the evening by 6:30. At dawn we were up and loading our packs to head back. The walk out to Mollyhugger Hill parking lot, where we had stashed a vehicle, was beautiful and only about three quarters of a mile. It was a great weekend trip!

At the Whiskey Still campsite.
At the Whiskey Still campsite.

“Dehydrating Helped Me Improve My Trail Meals” by Debbie Wroten

I never thought I would try to dehydrate my food for backpacking.

It was so easy to go to the outfitter and buy Mountain House or some other packaged food. However, three summers ago I went on a 20 day backpacking trip—my first outing longer than 5 days.

I discovered that after eating the 4 dinners that I liked several times, the thought of having to eat any of them again gagged me. And the thought of having to eat another power bar or any other protein bar made me just want to forget about lunch.

When I was in town, I would load up on fruits and vegetables. I lost about 13 pounds on that trip and decided I had to have a better meal plan. The things that worked for a 3-5 day trip just weren’t working for a longer trip.

I needed better quality food that was better tasting and more nutritious if I was going to continue backpacking. After all I don’t really eat processed foods home nor do I eat foods that are low in nutrient density.

Dehydrating food for my meals seemed like a good place to start. I could control what went into my meals so I would have food that I liked in amounts that were satisfying to me. I have a Nesco dehydrator with 6 trays plastic sheets that I can line the trays with if I am dehydrating something like spaghetti sauce but most of the time I use parchment paper.

My favorite foods to dehydrate are:

*fruits — apples sprinkled with cinnamon, fresh pineapple slices, strawberries, and watermelon. The key is to slice the fruit evenly so that all the slices are finished at about the same time. I may do all the fruit at the same time since it uses the same temperature, but some fruits take longer. For example, a watermelon takes about 26-28 hours. Because of the sugar content of a watermelon I wrap slices in plastic wrap before putting in a Ziploc to keep the pieces from sticking. The key is to get all the moisture out. Why dehydrate fruit when they are so easily available at the grocery store? It is very hard to find fruit that does not have added sugar.

*vegetables — frozen mixed vegetables are easy to spread on a tray to dehydrate and can be added to anything. Many vegetables such as butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and acorn squash need to be cooked first. I usually roast them and then puree before spreading on a parchment paper- lined tray. Add any seasoning you like and you won’t have to carry seasonings with you. Canned black beans and kidney beans can be spread on the parchment paper to dehydrate and then use with rice for a tasty meal, especially if you remember to bring along single serving sour cream or even the powdered sour cream.

*meat — this is usually ground beef, sometimes plain but usually with taco seasoning. I can add this with any vegetable combination and some minute rice for a quick meal. I add the vegetables and rice before leaving home so I can play with herbs and spices. Beef and venison jerky are easy to make and there are a variety of recipes on the internet. It is very important to get all the moisture out or the jerky will mold.

*hummus — you can make your own or dehydrate your favorite brand. This makes a great lunch with crackers or flatbreads!

*leftovers – chili, spaghetti sauce, and hamburger stroganoff are three of my favorites and I plan to experiment with others this winter. I spread the food on parchment-lined tray and dehydrate.

Just a few things to remember:

*it takes planning to dehydrate your food but once you package it, you can toss it in the freezer until you need it

*I rehydrate each new food once at home to see how long it will take and how much water I will need. This also gives me a chance to play around with seasonings

*sometimes you will decide some foods aren’t worth it. I will never dehydrate tuna again—it is not worth the smell! Nor will I do bananas.

*your dehydrator should have various temperature settings. Fruits and vegetables need to dehydrate at 134* and meat 155*. Remember to make sure all the moisture is out

*I keep a notebook of foods that I have tried to dehydrate, the time needed to dehydrate, how much I packaged as a serving, and the amount of water need to prepare it. I write the amount of water on the package along with the contents.

I don’t get caught up in having “perfect” meals but I do want to have nutritious meals. After a day of hiking miles, pretty much anything will taste good. At the end of the day, my main goal is to have a satisfying meal that meets my nutritional needs and can be made with boiling water in less than 10 minutes with little or no clean up.

I can honestly say that this past summer I looked forward to my dinners every night of each of my backpacking trips. Now to improve my lunches!