New to hiking, saying hello and seeking advice.

8:24 a.m. on July 30, 2009 (EDT)
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My girlfriend and I are looking to start getting into hiking/camping/backcountry. I have always loved camping and canoeing and doing some easy day hikes while camping growing up. I'm looking to start collecting some gear and doing some hiking on the AT this fall (live in Richmond, VA).

We are going to Alaska next summer (May or June? We don't mind the cold but trying to avoid as many mosquitos as possible, can't go in July) and I would love to do the backcountry in Denali for 2 or 3 days. We need to get a little experience under our belt first though because I won't feel comfortable going out there without a few trips beforehand.

Does anyone have any advice on the AT in Virginia where we can get some good experience and do some camping wherever we decide to stop? What kind of gear should I be looking at for these trips? size pack? type of tent? What types of things do I need to know about Denali and the AT? Anything else that might be helpful would be much appreciated!...i'm just getting started on my research so I still have lots to learn!

11:53 a.m. on July 30, 2009 (EDT)
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A couple of comments on Denali, although most of my experience with Denali is up on the mountain, not in the lower parts of the park -

There are actually two Denali parks, Denali National Park and Denali State Park. It is easier to get permits for the State Park (along the east side of the National Park) than the National Park. And you will get just as much wildlife and good hiking in the State Park.

You say May-June time frame. Be aware that for the National Park you will need to take the bus from the town of Mount McKinley Park (just outside the NE entrance to Denali NP) to your drop-off point on the way to Wonder Lake. When you get your permit, you will be assigned a region (the north side of the mountain is divided into a number of regions with the number of people in any one region strictly limited). You should start figuring out which regions you want with a ranking of choices now, since permits are reserved well in advance. It is highly likely that the road may not be opened until late in June, and almost certainly not open in May at all. A couple years ago, when Barb and I were in Alaska, we never got out to Wonder Lake at all because the road still had not opened by the 3rd week in June (we weren't backpacking on the north side, just wanting to go out to camp for a couple days at Wonder Lake, but it didn't affect our plans to go onto the Kahiltna Glacier).

Because of your time frame, I would suggest you consider Denali State Park. It is just as beautiful and you will have pretty much the same experience. You won't see Denali from the traditional north side, but you will get spectacular views of the Alaska Range and you will see all sorts of wildlife.

You will be required to go through a briefing on the bears and keeping your food from the bears (bear canisters are required).

As far as mosquitos go, you have no choice. They are out all the time. Mosquitos are, after all, the Alaska State Bird. You will need to use a head net and some type of repellent. We found that Ultrathon (a timed-release version of DEET) works very well. Treating your clothes with permethrin helps a lot as well. If you can stand the cost, Ex Officio and a couple other companies sell pre-treated clothing. Ex Officio's line is called BuzzOff. If you do not want to use DEET, the FDA has approved picaridin (Natrpel is one brand). Picaridin is supposed to be almost as effective as DEET and less of a problem.

If you go in May, it will already be quite warm. I have been in Talkeetna in midMay when it was already in the 80s every day. Even on the Kahiltna Glacier (you won't be going there) at the 7200 foot climber's base camp, the days are quite warm. But the snow along the road from Mt McKinley Park to Wonder Lake has to be cleared from several passes.

12:48 p.m. on August 1, 2009 (EDT)
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Does anyone have any advice on the AT in Virginia where we can get some good experience and do some camping wherever we decide to stop? What kind of gear should I be looking at for these trips? size pack? type of tent? What types of things do I need to know about Denali and the AT? Anything else that might be helpful would be much appreciated!...i'm just getting started on my research so I still have lots to learn!

It is hard to talk about gear without knowing time of year or length of trip. Almost any book on backpacking will have a gear check-list that might be helpful.

I like Chris Townsend's "Backpacker's Handbook" and, while dated, Colin Fletcher's "The Complete Walker." Fletcher's book, in any of its 4 editions, gives a lot of advice on the how-to and the feel-how of backpacking.

You can get more up-to-date information on gear in a lot of places (like right here on Trailspace's Gear Reviews), but the basic information Fletcher provides is priceless. It sounds like you are pretty new to this, so if you check out one or both of those authors, a lot of your answers will be found, and then you can ask more precise questions. You will enjoy reading both books thoroughly, also.

I have some experience with the AT in Virginia, around the Roanoke area. Was up there most recently in June with some Scouts for a 5 day hike. If I can be of any help, let me know.

1:41 p.m. on August 1, 2009 (EDT)
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Welcome to Trailspace tnis0612, I hope you like it here.

Sorry I cant help your question I live in N.Y. and its been many years since I have been to the V.A./T.N. area.

9:44 p.m. on August 5, 2009 (EDT)
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I suggest borrowing at least some gear, like a tent, stove, perhaps backpacks, from friends/family/coworkers for your first trip or two.

Also make the first hike short and simple, perhaps just out to one of the camp sites on the AT and back.

Hopefully you'll find you both love to be in the outdoors like everyone on this forum does but just in case, you don't want to blow what could be a sizable chunk of money on things that just sit in the closet.

12:01 a.m. on August 6, 2009 (EDT)
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The AT is for the most part a specialized kind of hiking. The people who are serious AT hikers are ultralight backpackers. You can get a lot of info on various AT websites like Whiteblaze, but much of it is aimed towards people who are doing the whole trail.

Someone mentioned Colin Fletcher-get the updated edition of his book.The old ones go back to the 70's (1970's not 1870's).

Trailspace is a good source of gear reviews, but so are many other sites. Do as much reading as possible before buying anything. Camping gear should be thought of as a system-shelter, cooking, travel, clothing. Buying stuff piecemeal can waste money if the pieces don't work together. This is especially true of clothes for winter where layering is very important.

My kit has been put together over many years and some of what I have, I don't use anymore because it doesn't work with some of my newer gear. Some of my gear is for a particular purpose for a particular place at a particular time, i.e. ski camping in Yosemite in winter, so I have focused on having what I need for that particular trip, which I have done for the past few years. For example, I have a parka I have worn only a few times, just in Yosemite and just in winter. If I go anywhere else really cold, of course, it would work there as well, but so far I haven't. I bought it just for that trip.

My point being, some gear will work anywhere and some is specialized. If you are not sure what you are buying, you may wind up with something you don't need. For example, I have a mountaineering stove that had I known better, I would not own. Not that it is a bad stove, on the contrary, it is a very good one, just not one for general camping. That's the kind of thing you want to learn before some guy or gal in the store talks you into buying whatever they are selling.

12:56 p.m. on August 10, 2009 (EDT)
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Thanks for the great advice everyone. Unfortunately I don't know anyone that does any hiking or has any gear that I could borrow. The one guy I do know just moved to Alabama and i'm in Virginia. I think I will have to buy a good portion of the stuff myself but I am pretty confident that I will enjoy girlfriend on the other hand, we will have to see! I still have lots of research to do and will most likely have more specific questions after I have done some more. I have a feeling I will be a fairly moderate weather hiker. I doubt I will do anything in the snow and I won't go out anywhere when it's 100 degrees.

I am thinking about doing the AT in October. I am actually looking at hiking around Roanoke as well. The stretch that I like is McAfee's Knob and Tinker Cliffs. It looks like there is about a 20 mile stretch that I'd like to try to do over one weekend in October. I'm sure you know exactly where i'm talking about if you've done the AT in Roanoke!...any advice would be great.

11:54 a.m. on August 11, 2009 (EDT)
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I have not hiked that section of the AT (McAfee's Knob.) We went to the section from Thunder Hill to Black Horse Gap. Lovely country, and a great swimming hole in Jennings Creek -- although that may not matter as much in October as it did in June! Great views from the ridgelines along Apple Orchard Mountain, Cove Mountain, and the stretch from Bear Wallow Gap to Black Horse Gap. But McAfee's Knob gets high marks for scenic beauty also, I'm sure you will have a great time there, especially with the fall foliage.

April 23, 2018
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