MAY. 3, 2017
Stretching 1175 miles across the state of North Carolina, the Mountains to Sea Trail (MST) is as unique as the landscape it traverses. From its western-most point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the eastern terminus on the Outer Banks, the MST crosses four national parks, three national forests, and two wilderness areas. Driven by a large network of volunteers, the trail has been a work in progress since 1977. As of 2016, nearly 700 miles of footpath are complete. The rest of the trail is temporarily made up of backroads and community bike paths and greenways.
If you call North Carolina home, the MST isn’t far from where you live. Here are some highlights and favorite hikes across the state.
1. Clingman’s Dome
The MST’s western terminus stands at 6,643 feet and is the highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
2. Mt. Mitchell
A short spur trail off the MST takes hikers to the summit of 6,684 ft. Mt. Mitchell, the tallest mountain east of the Rockies.
3. Linville Gorge
Often referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the East”, Linville Gorge is a rugged wilderness area known for spectacular rock climbing and hiking.
4. Stone Mountain
Hike to the top of a massive 600 foot granite rock face and enjoy views of a 200 foot waterfall.
5. Hanging Rock
Known for its sheer cliffs and rocky summits, Hanging Rock State Park is a favorite for local climbers.
6. Watershed Lakes
The MST connects six different footpaths around three lakes near Greensboro: Lake Higgins, Lake Brandt, and Lake Townsend.
7. Falls Lake
More than 50 miles of the MST winds around farmlands, through hardwood forests, and along the shores of Falls Lake just outside of Raleigh.
8. The Neusiok Trail
The MST follows the Neusiok Trail for more than 20 miles through Croatan National Forest, which is known for Loblolly Pines and swamplands.
9. Cape Hatteras National Seashore
This section of the MST is almost completely a beach walk that covers 113 miles across Cape Hatteras National Seashore. As an added bonus, hikers can climb to the top of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse between April and October.
10. Jockey’s Ridge
This 140 foot sand dune (tallest in the Eastern US) is the eastern terminus of the MST.
To plan your own adventure on the Mountains to Sea Trail, check out an interactive map of the entire trail here.
Liz Snyder, Assistant Camp Director
APR. 20, 2017
Hante Appalachian Trail Trek circa 1980…
Hante Instructor Greg Kucera, Eagle Scout, prepares to lead his first Hante and is faced with the arsenal of whole foods recipes that Helen Waite has adapted for fine trail culinary experiences. Nowhere in sight was something he was familiar with to eat. What was a young man from Minnesota to do but call his mom Marti Kucera for her famous “Cow Dabs” recipe – known to get you down the trail several more miles.
Looking for a fun treat to take out on the trail this spring? Try these!
2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa
1 stick butter
1/3 cup evaporated milk
3 cups oatmeal
1 cup peanut butter
(add raisins, coconut, etc. as desired)
In a saucepan, boil sugar, cocoa, butter and milk for 2 minutes. Add oatmeal, peanut butter and any other personal choice ingredients. Plop spoonfulls onto waxed paper to cool and set (yes, they will look like cow pies). Plan at least a 5 mile hike and get out and enjoy!
Noni Waite-Kucera, Executive Director
MAR. 2, 2017
Some of the most memorable places I’ve visited make it to the top of my favorites because of the experiences I shared with those around me. On each trip I always took a moment to look around and notice the smiling faces and mouths agape in awe. I would think, “this place is wonderful, and it is so amazing to see my own joy, happiness, and excitement mirrored in the faces around me.”
On many of my personal trips I have found that company is always welcome. When I set out alone on an adventure I undoubtedly collect a friend or two along the way. These travel companions help strengthen my connection to the experiences I have and the places I visit. I even feel a distinct pride in revisiting my favorite places with friends or family who’ve never been. Witnessing their awe and wonder feels like experiencing the trip for the first time all over again.
You may understand the sentiment- the one of talking about camp with a friend and feelings so excited to see them on the first day or running up to them after Capture the Flag to hear their heroic tale. You may even know the feeling as you walk your parents around camp on the last day, recounting each day and every stand-out moment as you pass through the quad and OD Board and down to the garden.
This can be more difficult with Hantes. Every year there is a new and exciting mix of Hantes. Until you take the leap and understand what it means to “step out and learn” it can be hard to imagine how to share that with others. What sets Hante apart is that for those 2 or 3 weeks everything you do and see is shared with a small, tight-knit group of people. They will share the struggle of packing a wet tent, eating a burnt noodle and pulling their weight to see the valleys from the mountain tops. Those moments will become tales and epic stories to be shared with friends and family that others will sit and listen to in wonder.
Once the adventure is over it can be difficult to recreate the failures and triumphs for your friends. In truth, you will never be able to carbon copy your experience for others, but you can share the joy and satisfaction by taking them on the next one so they can see first hand. We are at that time of year when the leaves begin to bud and daydreams become warmer and lighter like the summer to come. Start thinking back to the summers past and how you want to spend this one, or if there is someone you want to share the magic of Hante with.
Hante has an instagram: @hanteadventures
Flip back through time and see the memories others have shared for over 40 years. You may even come across a familiar face, or even your own. Remember to share!
Marlin Sill, Hante Director
FEB. 20, 2017
Sometimes it’s the fear of missing out that keeps you from trying something new. And other times it’s the fear of the unknown. Stepping out of one’s comfort zone and accepting that which we cannot control is one of the greatest lessons in life. Failure is an innate part of learning and growth; discovering our limits while honing our successes is a key aspect of our development. Too often we hold ourselves back for fear that the road ahead may be difficult, that we may feel embarrassed along the way, or that we may realize that we fall short of our expectations.
It can be hard to imagine yourself on a Hante but these are accessible adventures designed to develop leadership skills for anyone with a serious interest and a deep level of commitment. This year, Hante Trails aims to bridge the gap and make the leap a little smaller. By cutting back on backpacking and instead spending more time immersed in the forest, there will be increased opportunities to connect with the natural world without too many added distractions. Because the first three days will be spent base-camping in Pisgah Forest you won’t feel rushed to learn map and compass skills or fret about cooking dinner in a timely manner. Once you become comfortable with the basics you can help serve the forest by removing invasive plants or building trails, skills that allow you to connect with the earth, while still returning to “base-camp” each afternoon.
But no Hante is complete without its capstone challenge! Your final five days will be spent backpacking a shortened trek either on the Appalachian Trail or Art Loeb. With shorter mileage per day you’ll be able to enjoy the sport of backpacking and feel confident about returning to camp to have dinner ready by a reasonable hour. With six days to practice your camping skills, the addition of backpacking will feel like nothing more than a hike through the woods surrounded by spectacular views.
Thinking about joining a Hante is easy but making the decision to commit can be tough. It’s the moment when you have to let off the clutch and engage the transmission. With a few deep breaths and a positive mental attitude anything is possible. Believe in yourself and trust the program—take that little leap and come see what you can do! Who knows, maybe you’ll even surprise yourself.
Marlin Sill, Hante Director
FEB. 9, 2017
There’s always that moment in class when you stare out the window and daydream, and sometimes you daydream about all the places you want to be that don’t involve that classroom. So what have you been daydreaming about this week? Maybe the sea kayaking you’ll do in Washington State, or is it the climbing you’ll do in Pisgah Forest? You might even space out imagining the rolling hills in Scotland. But don’t get too caught up, there’s a lot to do between now and then. You’ll find that school will have a lot more to offer you for your Hante than you think.
“School,” you ask, “Really?” Let’s take a look at geometry for a second. For those of you thinking of coming to the Outdoor Academy (or if you’ve just left) you’ll know that much of what you learn in the classroom can relate to our “real” outdoor world. Your first look at a map or shooting a bearing with a compass will show you the relation between the gridlines on the chalkboard and the elevation profiles of the ridge you’re hiking. Or the difference of just a few degrees can put you off your mark by miles if you don’t calculate your direction of travel correctly.
Still not sure what I’m tapping at? So maybe math isn’t your favorite, but what about literature or history? At some point in High School you may read the epic poem The Wallace, or your history teacher may show you excerpts of Braveheart. That’s a great time to perk up and learn the history of how, for over 800 years Scotland fought so hard for independence from the English. William Wallace stands as one of Scotland’s Iconic Knights who led many successful campaigns against the English before his defeat.
Don’t forget science and natural history though. Sea Kayaking in the San Juan Islands will expose you to a plethora of ocean flora and fauna. The area is teeming not just with marine life, but a veritable buffet for marine mammals like Orca Whales, Dolphins and Sea Otters. Just south on the Olympic Peninsula you’ll find a rainforest bursting with evergreen trees, mosses, and ferns. The valleys sheltered by the massive Olympic Range towering overhead. Where water meets earth, you find streams and rivers filled with Salmon who recently found their way back upstream after the Elwha Dam removal. Eagles and bears returned to the bank of the rivers to feast, all while you pass quietly and just beyond sight, enjoying the wild as it should be: un-caged and live.
It’s very difficult to appreciate the beauty and understand the complexity of our world without a backbone of knowledge to build from. Yes, many centuries ago we lived simply, walking the earth without much needed beyond our basic needs. Times have changed, and whether for the good or bad, we must adapt. Part of that process should be absorbing all the information you can. Consume every morsel of information, so that as you step out and walk through the landscapes you can connect in new and exciting ways.
Marlin Sill, Hante Director
FEB. 3, 2017
Certain nostalgia hits me this time of year. Throughout the first months of 2015, I was very busy preparing for a northbound thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. My February days were spent gathering and testing gear, making plans for drop boxes of food along the trail, and preparing to move all of my belongings into a storage unit. Handling the logistics of a thru-hike is stressful, but I look back on it now and find myself missing the excitement I felt knowing that a great adventure was on the horizon.
To combat the bittersweet nostalgia, as well as the cold days of winter and dark events taking place in our world right now, I’ve been re-reading my journals and blog posts from my time spent on the trail. Remembering how it felt to live simply in the woods, to connect with an incredible community of people, and to realize that I was capable of more than I ever imagined brings me intense joy, even after the fact.
I wanted to share a specific post I wrote about magic. It’s a good reminder that wonderful, beautiful things are happening around every corner. It’s there waiting for us on trails, in our neighborhoods, and in chance encounters with strangers, but to experience that magic we must fully open our eyes and hearts.
April 14th, 2015:
Before I began this journey, I was told that the trail would give me exactly what I needed at precisely the right time. I assumed this meant I’d find rides into towns without much hassle, delicious food from strangers at road crossings, and kind-hearted gestures from fellow hikers. Each of these things has happened countless times over the past 2.5 weeks, but the magic I’ve encountered has far surpassed anything I could’ve dreamed.
After my last update, I climbed up and out of the Nantahala Gorge. The ascent was intense – nearly 16 miles of steady (and at times, very steep) uphill. I left the NOC in good spirits, but my mood quickly diminished as the day progressed. I thought maybe I was just hangry, so I ate and ate but my attitude remained sour. There were times during the hike that I had to bargain with myself to simply put one foot in front of the other. I’ve felt similarly on long training runs, but unlike those there was no opportunity to cut this day short. It was the toughest mental and physical day I’ve experienced on the trail thus far.
And then, magic came in the form of a new friend. I met Vulture at a shelter that afternoon, and we commiserated about our rough day and connected over our mutual love of the towns of Asheville and Boone, North Carolina. Vulture and I move at a similar pace and ended up hiking together for the next couple of days, including another tough climb from Fontana Lake into the Smokies. I don’t know if I’ll see Vulture again anytime soon, but her friendship came exactly when I needed it.
As a native North Carolinian, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’ve never visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park. That is, until hiking through it last week. My mind was blown! There is magic around every bend in the trail in the Smokies, and I feel fortunate to have been so intimately connected to that landscape for several days. Above 5000 feet, the forest morphs into a land of towering red spruce and Fraser fir. The air is thick with the fragrance of what I can only describe as “Christmas”. Most of the days I spent in the park were very wet and foggy, but there were times that the clouds lifted to reveal a blanket of mountains below me. Though the hiking was strenuous, I remained in high spirits as I moved through the forest and connected with a new community of incredible people.
I’ve also experienced an extreme amount of “traditional” trail magic over the past week. I’m constantly amazed by the number of people who give their time and money to feed, shuttle, and hang out with hikers. I’ve been given doughnuts, soda, veggie chili, brownies, Snickers bars, rides to and from town, and most importantly, the time and stories of many kind people. To each of you – THANK YOU for reminding me that people are so very good and for making me want to be better.
I also found magic as I walked into the town of Hot Springs, NC. I came to Hot Springs for the first time when I was in high school, and I was amazed by the fact that the Appalachian Trail ran directly through the heart of town. I saw people with backpacks and dreamed of being like them someday. Yesterday afternoon, “someday” became “now”. Dreams I’ve held onto for so many years are being realized each and every day, and there’s nothing that’s quite as magical as that.
Interested in spending time on the Appalachian Trail this summer? Hante Trails and AT Trek Virginia will give you the opportunity to experience trail magic firsthand. Very limited space is still available in both adventures – register today!
Liz Snyder, Assistant Camp Director