Updated: Jul 30
By Jeanne I 6/20-6/22/2021
Buckle up for the ultimate bucket list adventure: the Triple Crown Hike! Here's some hard-earned wisdom: never wing it and beware of Appalachian inclines. As the organizer, you'd think I'd be super prepared. But hey, I'm human, full of excitement and, well, the occasional brain fart.
Get ready to conquer the Triple Crown with resilience, laughter, and a dash of 'Oops, I did it again' spirit. Let's make this wild ride unforgettable!
Packing and Preparation
Gear is the name of the game when it comes to hiking. Remember, less is more! So what if your outfits don't match? Trust me, after a few hours on the trail, everything smells the same anyway. Here's a valuable lesson I learned the hard way: when you're hiking with a group, there's no need for all four people to carry a massive roll of toilet paper each. Next time, we'll definitely opt for some group sharing to save precious storage space and cut down on weight. Trust me, your back will thank you!
Life Straw you need it. Anytime you hike.
Food, the holy grail of hiking! Lesson learned: I went overboard with my purchases, clueless about my cravings, and ended up wasting heaps of it. Pro tip: if you're hiking with a group, share the food and avoid the nightmare of carrying excess weight. Remember, whatever you don't devour, you'll have to haul out—yuck! Personally, I refuse to let my pack become a spaghetti graveyard for three days. Oh, and guess what? I'm creating my own food tasting video (stay tuned!) so I can make smarter choices, satisfying both my taste buds and calorie needs. Bon appétit, fellow adventurers!
Tent and sleeping bag: When it comes to tents and sleeping bags, remember this golden rule: "Buy once, cry once." Opt for lightweight gear that won't break your back. If it's twice the length of your backpack, it's definitely not a backpacking tent! Don't forget, whatever you attach to your pack, you'll be lugging around. Even though my tent, sleeping bag, and pad totaled around 12 lbs., it proved to be too heavy. Well, looks like I've got the perfect excuse to go shopping for some lighter alternatives. Time to lighten the load and hit the gear aisle!
Water: Take it from me, lesson learned: make sure your backpack comes with a built-in bladder next time. Trust me, using my running bladder was a major discomfort under my pack. And as if that wasn't enough, I was lugging around a whopping 73-ounce water bottle to battle the scorching summer weather. Time to invest in a more backpack-friendly hydration solution for future adventures. Stay hydrated, my friends, without the unnecessary weight and discomfort!
Day one of the Triple Crown Hike: Dragon's Tooth
Picture this: the infamous contingency plan! Let's just say, when the weather hit a blazing 85 degrees (way hotter than expected), the rain vanished into thin air, and someone had to drop out due to an injury, that plan swung into action. It allowed our brave comrade to exit gracefully while the rest of us soldiered on. Curious about the juicy details of my plans? Head over to my download for a free guide and get the inside scoop.
Now, let's rewind to the beginning of our adventure at Dragon's Tooth, armed with only our trusty day packs. Why carry the weight of a full-blown backpacking gear until absolutely necessary? My theory is to conquer the toughest %^&* first, covering the most miles, so we can kick back and savor the rest. Picture this: a three-mile climb from the parking lot, with boot scooting totally acceptable here. When you finally reach the summit, you breathe a sigh of relief... until you spot that towering rock and think, "Oh, I want to strike the legendary Captain Morgan pose up there!" But hold on tight, because it turns out you have to engage in some bona fide rock climbing, clinging to rocks for dear life. It's an adventure packed with surprises!
Two of us took on the challenge like true badasses, driven by our adventurous spirits. Let me tell you, it's not for the faint of heart, especially for someone like me who's terrified of heights!
Our plan was to reach McAfee's Knob just in time for a breathtaking sunset, then set up camp at the second shelter, nearly 3 miles uphill from the base. Little did we know that the route from the top of Dragon's Tooth, which was initially advertised as a 7-mile stretch to McAfee, turned out to be a whopping 10 miles.
Surprise, surprise—yet another misleading detail in the guide, causing us to laugh it off.
Everything was going swimmingly as we leisurely strolled along, taking in the beauty around us. That is, until we encountered a massive field—think endless plants, overgrown jungle weeds, curious cows, and more. The sights were stunning, but with the scorching 90-degree sun mercilessly roasting our skin, it was far from pleasant. Nevertheless, we pressed on, determined to conquer the trail.
Lesson learned: when packing your day bags for the Appalachian Trail, make sure to include lunch because, believe it or not, there are no restaurants along the way. And trust me, you'll want food that's ready to go because we all witnessed the "hangry" monster emerging in ourselves and others. Thankfully, I had the genius idea of packing some amazing packaged smoothies that provided all the nutrients I needed. They were my saving grace!
Our first contingency plan came into play when we reached the McAfee parking lot. By that point, we were all praying for a break after enduring 13 scorching miles under the sun. Our legs were screaming from unexpected inclines. Thank the hiking gods I had a plan in place. Unfortunately, one of our fellow hikers had to bail due to some gnarly blisters. It's crucial to know your body and when to call it quits.
Day one left us all hurting, and now we had to strap on 25lb bags for the remainder of the trip. Here's a lesson I learned the hard way: never, ever wear running pants for hiking! Picture this: rug burn on your thighs and no body glide to save the day. I ended up truffle shuffling my way up the mountain to our next contingency plan—the first shelter, just 1.5 miles up. There, we plopped down our gear, fired up the stoves, and indulged in some much-needed real food. Let me tell you, Mountain House lasagna became my new best friend.
Did we make it to sunset? Nope, we hit the sack at 8pm. Did we catch the sunrise? Haha, close but no cigar. Instead, we made it to McAfee's Knob for an early morning view. Thank goodness we did because a rowdy group of 10-15 campers woke us up at 10:30pm, completely clueless on how to properly pack up for sunrise. It felt like being in a zoo! Oh, and a shoutout to the first aid kit and the pair of shorts I had as a backup—they were true lifesavers for the next couple of days.
Day two McAfee's Knob and Tinker Cliffs
McAfee Knob, a spectacle of cloud-filled glory! We encountered a crowd at the top, and of course, I happily embraced my role as the personal photographer, capturing epic poses on the rock. Let me tell you, those 3 miles of uphill incline from camp were no joke—it felt like a never-ending feat of strength!
Heading towards Tinker Cliffs was supposed to be a mere 7 miles, but oh no, the signs lied! It ended up being a grueling 9-mile journey. As if that wasn't enough, we knew the chances of finding water at Pig Shelter were slim to none. We held onto hope, but alas, disappointment awaited us. Two of our lunches required water to cook, but we were running scarce. It was scorching hot, and all we had was what we had carried from the start—no refills in sight.
Lesson learned: no matter what, fill up your water supply at every available source (life straw and filtration system, take note!). Trust me, dehydration is not a fashion statement.
There weren't many pictures taken on the way to Tinker Cliffs. While we relished the downhill stretches, those brutal 3 miles of uphill torture leading to Tinker sucked the life right out of us. Imagine gazing up, desperate for the end to come into view, while the blistering sun beat down on your back, and your water supply dwindled with every sparing sip.
Tinker Cliffs, let me give you a heads-up: if you don't know what you're looking for, you'll miss it completely. No signs, no off-path indicators. Thank goodness for the wisdom of thru-hikers who pointed us in the right direction—the path running alongside the cliffs, offering numerous rocks to sit on and admire the view. We picked the first available rock and lay there, slowly succumbing to our waterless fate. Only one of us had a precious sip left.
And then, on that very rock, we met Bruce—an incredible 74-year-old Appalachian thru-hiker, embarking on his third journey along the entire 2200-mile trail. He started at the age of 64! Bruce shared some profound wisdom with us: "You'll never reach the finish line if you don't keep walking," he said. And he warned us that fatigue can turn anyone into a coward. Those twenty minutes spent conversing with him left me in awe, inspired by his resilience and determination.
Bruce, if you're out there, you're an absolute legend!
Feeling humbled and slightly exhausted, we trudged forward, knowing that Lambert's Shelter and its glorious stream were just 2 miles away. Bruce, the hiking wizard, declared, "I'll catch you there!" And catch us he did, zooming past like a ninja on turbo mode. Seriously, his legs must be seasoned with some secret hiking sauce—total legend, that guy!
But oh, the sweet victory of reaching Lambert's Shelter and finding that glistening stream. Filtered water never tasted so good! It was like winning the hydration lottery. And here's the best part: in that moment, it dawned on us that we had actually completed the Triple Crown Hike, backpacking style. Talk about a surprise achievement! Who knew we were such trail-blazing, unintentional conquerors? Haha, cheers to unexpected triumphs and well-deserved hydration breaks!
Like a comedy of thirsty hikers, we discovered that even the seasoned ones had run out of water. Turns out, they were smart enough to fill up at every available source. Ah, the irony! Our luck wasn't on our side that day. We were supposed to have a 60% chance of rain, but nope, we got stuck in the unlucky 40% club. But hey, let's focus on the positive—camping at this shelter was absolutely amazing. Surrounded by wide-open nature, with the soothing rush of the stream right beside us. And guess what? Almost everyone there was a thru-hiker. Talk about being in good company!
Last day on the trail
Brace yourselves for another round of sign deception! The following day, we naively believed we only had a straightforward 4-mile journey to reach our cars at the Tinker Cliffs lot. But oh no, those sneaky signs had another trick up their sleeve. It turned out to be a grueling 5.5 miles, featuring some of the most challenging uphill sections we encountered throughout the entire hike. Just when we thought it would be smooth sailing after reaching Andy's Lane, Andy himself had a mischievous surprise in store for us—a series of relentless ups and downs on his mountain. Oh, the joys of unexpected uphill battles!
As we neared the end of our hike, all we could think about were mimosas, bacon, eggs, and our sweet escape in the car. The desire to hike out was burning in our tired souls, drained by the relentless heat throughout the weekend. Complaints filled the air as we trudged along, wondering when the trail would finally cut us some slack. But hey, guess what? We got to traipse through another enchanting cow field and conquer some thrilling bridges, signaling that the end was within reach.
And just when we thought things couldn't get wilder, the rain crashed the party! Luckily, the trees acted as our protective umbrellas, and the rain transformed into a gentle mist, soothing our sunbaked bodies. As if stumbling upon a dead cow wasn't enough, we crossed paths with a thru-hiker couple. Out of the blue, the guy desperately asked if any of us would sell him a sleeping pad because his had called it quits, and he still had a long journey ahead. Well, I decided to be a trail hero—I refused his money and handed over my own sleeping pad, commanding him to pay it forward. Little did I know, I was officially becoming a trail magician, spreading unexpected generosity along the way.
And then, lo and behold, we saw the sign we had been longing for—the sign that pointed to our car! With uncontainable excitement, we unleashed our happy dance right there in the rain. It was a wild celebration, for we had triumphantly completed the grueling 33-mile Triple Crown Hike. Oh, and as for that additional 11-mile hike on North Mountain? We said, "No thanks!" Our trusty car was waiting, serving as our backup plan. Plus, a ranger warned us it was pretty boring and not exactly safe at the moment. No regrets there! In the end, we had still embarked on a 2.5-day adventure, conquering this epic bucket list item. Cheers to the human comedy and conquering trails with style!
Oh boy, let me tell you—the trail witnessed my tears, heard a few choice words, and made me question my sanity for choosing a summer hike. But you know what? Despite all that, I couldn't help feeling incredibly grateful and blessed for this crazy adventure. Seeing the girls conquer obstacles and push through to complete different sections of the hike was downright awe-inspiring. And when I looked at myself, realizing that I had actually accomplished this feat, I was struck by a mix of disbelief and pure mesmerization.
Now, I get it—some people might swear up and down that they'll never do it again. But me? Oh, I'm a glutton for punishment. I'm already planning my triumphant return to the trail, this time dragging some unsuspecting souls with me (don't worry, it'll be in the fall—lesson learned!).
So here's my sage advice: never say never, my friends. We all have an inner strength waiting to carry us through the wildest of adventures. Embrace your dreams, conquer that bucket list, and unleash your full potential. Trust me, we were all meant to do great things, one hilarious and unforgettable adventure at a time.