Tag Archives: hiking

The Perfect Backpacking Sweater


It is coming on ten years since I starting packing for my through hike of the Appalachian Trail. I had completed college in May and was home until beginning my journey in March. My dad and I took over my parents dining room to lay out all of the “essential” items for my adventure. It looked like an awful lot to carry on my back and it felt that way too, but surely I had already parted with everything that I could do without! Of course, my story is the same as most thru-hikers. I mailed home a heavy package of gear within a week. Then, with help from a discerning friend, another package a month later. The longer I was on the  trail, the less I needed. Two t-shirts (one at a time) got me through five months of camping. I still wear the same outfit that I had for the second half of my thru-hike on backpacking trips. The synthetic shorts were purchased in Waynesboro, VA. A size too big, but comfortable and with pockets. I found the mostly cotton-partly wool Mountain Hardware shirt at a specialty store in Delaware Water Gap. With well over 100 wears each, I am impressed by how well the shorts and t-shirt have held up.

Now I am on a mission to knit the perfect sweater for backpacking. It must made of light but strong wool. Warm but not too warm. The fit must have enough ease for a shirt or two underneath, yet slim enough to fit below a jacket and a backpack without bunching in the armpits. Raglan or yoke? Quarter-zip, three buttons, or a crew neck? Opinions on what makes the perfect hiking sweater, please!

Hunter’s Creek

A few weeks ago, G and I drove down to Hunter’s Creek in Wales, NY. We have spent most of our time inside this winter, and we were in need of a good walk in the woods. Hunter’s Creek is owned by Erie County and has hiking and biking trails that are maintained by volunteers (thank you!). It is also a Wilderness Weekends in Western New York location.

My ulterior motive for this walk was to capture G modelling my latest knit sweater.


This cardigan is for my cousin who escaped from project photos because he lives in a different state. In exchange, he sewed a beautiful quilt for us. My cousin chose the yarn, which is from Nanne Kennedy’s flock, but is undyed. Though simple in construction, this sweater was a work-in-progress for almost a year. It included a lot of re-knitting, especially above the armholes. I am pleased with how the final result has come together, and hope it sees plenty of wear in the winters to come.

Knitting the Isle of Arran

Months ago, I wrote a bit about M and my travels in Scotland, and our time on the West Highland Way. Following our hike, we also visited the Isle of Arran, one of Scotland’s larger islands, located to the southeast.

To reach the island, we took the ferry from Adrossan to Brodick. It was a cloudy, misty day, and our views were minimal, but we could sense the ocean around us and the islands in the distance.DSC_0098

We set up our camp behind a hedge of gorse outside of Lochranza, the picturesque village situated on Loch Ranza…P1020042…and spent the day exploring a section of the Coastal Way.

The island was beautiful and made me say to myself in an Anne of Green Gables sort of way, “Oh! I wish I could capture this beauty and keep it with me always!” The colors of the coastal seaweeds, lichens, and plants were incredibly bright, yet relaxing to the eye at the same time.
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The ocean was calm, yet full of potential energy, and I was able to forget for a while that we would ever have to leave.DSC_0127DSC_0121DSC_0124

On our second day, the skies cleared, and the neighboring islands were visible across the sea. At the town of Blackwaterfoot, the ocean took on deep shade of green and blues, contrasting with the white houses, the brown seaweed, and the green grasses.DSC_0161P1020086P1020091The world felt perfect.

When we did returned to the mainland, I wanted to knit myself a tangible memory of our time by the coast. I had already purchased two skeins of Jamieson and Smith Shetland wool at Yarn Cakes in Glasgow, but I need a few more shades to capture the blues of the ocean and the sky. On my last rainy day in Edinburgh, I walked across town to Kathy’s Knits, and the proprietress helped me choose four additional colors to use in my Memory Piece. I began knitting on my flight back to the States, and completed my hat a week later. I wanted my hat to reflect the spontaneity of the coast, so I did not draw out a pattern or even think more than a few rows ahead. Just this week, as the mornings have to feel chilly, I sewed in a thin fleece lining. I am looking forward to wearing it this winter, and remembering our few, gorgeous days in the Scottish Isles.

Machrie Moor


Two weekends ago, my family hiked Mt. VanHovenberg near Lake Placid, New York. At the peak, I celebrated the completion of a new Memory Piece.


This sweater has been in progress, mentally and then physically, since April 2015, when my sister and I visited the Machrie Moor standing stones on the Isle of Arran, Scotland.


The Machrie Moor standing stones have been in place for ~4000 years. M and I have been to many historic places, but I felt particularly honored to be at Machrie Moor. We spent a beautiful, windy morning touching the rocks, breathing in the wind, and warming our face with the sun. Our experience was intimate, but also shared with an unknown number of other humans. There were settlers who lived on this land before there were stones, there were workers who erected the stones, there were  worshippers who gathered at the stones, there were and are farmers who have maintained the land around the stones, and, now, there are visitors like us, trying to understand our own places in history.DSC_0144

This particular stone especially appealed to me, and I chose the yarn (Tormentil in Alice Starmore’s Hebridean 3-ply) for my sweater based on its tone and texture.DSC_0153 - Copy

The cables in my sweater represent the ridges, and the different front and back reflect the distinct sides of the stone.DSC_0155

On Ravelry here.

Haystack Mountain

DSC_0147Two weeks have gone by already since our slippery trip up Haystack Mountain, near Saranac Lake.DSC_0154DSC_0159Now, the ice is melting in the North Country, and our wool sweaters will soon be packed away. I am missing winter already, despite my excitement for signs of spring – a woodcock calling out from the brush, salamanders swimming smoothly through a dark pond, bloodroot buds pushing up through the soil.

Skylight, Marcy, and a Sweater for the Mountains

This past weekend, my dad and I drove up to the Adirondacks for two days in the High Peaks. The Adirondack High Peaks are our favorite place in the world to be, and we could not have asked for a better visit.

We arrived at South Meadows, off of the ADK Loj Road, well after dark on Friday, and quietly set up camp in a small clearing below the dense spruce trees. In the morning, we stuffed our still-warm sleeping bags into our packs, and heading off toward Marcy Dam via the truck road. The sky was just begin to grow light when we reached our first stream crossing…
…and the sun was striking the  mountains by the time we reached Marcy Dam.

We set up our tent at a nearby campsite, and then began the ascent to Skylight. The air was crisp and the light was soft. We took our time along the way, stopping to tape my toes…
DSC_0006…appreciate the trailwork…   DSC_0013

…and, of course, look at the plants.

We arrived at the peak of Skylight in time for lunch, and for plenty of knit sweater photos (Thanks, Dad).

DSC_0043 DSC_0099e Knitterly details about this sweater- nine months in the making (not counting the sheep’s work)- are here on Ravelry. The body and neckline are knit from undyed, farmspun wool from the Wrinkle in Thyme farm in Maine. I love this yarn! The other colors are also undyed fiber including alpaca, camel, and wool.

Dad pointed out each of the high peaks…DSC_0058and I looked at the plants…DSC_0059 DSC_0076 DSC_0077 DSC_0085DSC_0057DSC_0101DSC_0080

I could have spent all day looking at the minature leaves, the shades of green, and the fading flowers, but there is only so much daylight in late September, and we had to continue. Leaving Skylight, we hiked over to Marcy for another hour above treeline, and then down, down, down to our camp and hot meal by the dam. We are already thinking about our next visit…DSC_0088

West Highland Way – Sallochy to Rowardennan & Kinlochleven to Lairigmor

Into the Highlands!


On our third day on the West Highland Way, M and I decided to make our way north via foot, ferry, and bus, so that we could spend at least a day in the true Scottish Highlands. We set an alarm for the first time on our trip, and woke during that magic time when the sky is starting to lighten.DSC_0065 We packed up our things and made our way to Rowardennan to catch the 9:30 am ferry to the town of Luss, passing this amazing Juniper along the way…P1010959 P1010967 P1010969 Luss is a “conservation” village. (We would say “historic preservation” here in the US.) It is full of beautiful stone cottages, and there is a sheep pasture just on the edge of town, where a shepherd was working his collie. P1010972We bought toasted scones with butter and jam (I could not get enough of these scones!) at a small cafe with incredibly friendly staff, and then made our way to the bus station on A82. It would have been nice to spend an afternoon in the town, but we needed to catch the next ride north to Glencoe, where we connected with a second bus to Kinlochleven. (Incredibly grateful for the wonderful public transportation available to these small towns!) From Kinlochleven, we were able to get back on the Way and continue our walk toward Fort William. Here I am at the western, Glencoe side of Loch Leven.P1010973 Our guidebook claimed that Kinlochleven- a planned town built up around a now-closed aluminum smelting factory- was one of the ugliest towns in the region. M and I could not disagree more! Clearly the author has never visited any rust belt towns in the US… Kinlochleven was made up of white town houses, each with a well cared for garden. P1010976 P1010975P1010977We would have stayed the afternoon, perhaps eaten some fish and chips, but we were also eager to get back on the trail and into The Mountains. Up the Devil’s Staircase – our first real hill- and through the birch forest, there were views back to Kinlochleven…P1010986…and back toward Glencoe…P1010985 There were lovely little streams…P1010981 and there were sheep! (Cheesy photo for my benefit.)P1010996 Just before Kinlochleven passed out of sight behind us, M posed for these photos with her Hansel Half Hap (Ravelry link)…P1010989The colors of the yarn blended with last season’s dried grasses and the red-brown heather stems.

P1010990      P1010992(I knit this small version from Gudrun Johnston’s pattern just for our trip. My intention was to complete one for myself as well, but other projects got in the way. Perhaps mine will be done before next winter…) We spent the late afternoon walking west with the sun on our cheeks.P1010999e There was a gentle breeze, the air smelled fresh, and we couldn’t have been more content. We paused at the ruins of an old croft house…P1020010P1020005and then set up camp at Lairigmor – the big pass.P1020014M and I have camped together and with our dad in a lot of spectactular places. This site, however, felt special. We were alone, but for a few sheep, and the world was quiet, but a sense of history hung in the valley. It was easy to imagine armies, shepherds, and hikers passing through this land- their footsteps on the road, their voices in the air.P1020017

West Highland Way – Drymen to Sallochy


On our second day on the Way, M and I woke up after for the last time well after the sun had risen. The campers around us were starting to roll over in their bags and to emerge slowly from their tents. We packed up our things, shook the dew from our tent, stuffed everything in to our still-too-heavy packs, and hit the road. (And it was a road all the way to the town of Drymen.)

Drymen is a small town, with lovely houses and colorful gardens. The town center is dominated by a large bed and breakfast, and there is also a grocery, a cafe, and a few restaurants. (Until recently there was an outdoors store for hikers, but this appeared to have closed permanently.) I was hoping for a cup of coffee and M had read that the butcher sold pies to-go, but it turns out that Drymen is impossible to get to [on public transit] on Sundays and just no fun to get to on Mondays. The butcher and the cafe were both closed for the day.

From, Drymen, the Way passes through a few pastures before entering land owned by Forestry Commission Scotland (Comisean na Coiltearachd Alba). Our guidebook (2013) described this section, as “…a shaded track through mature conifer forest”. Apparently since 2013, someone in the Commission decided that the forest was a bit too mature, and went about clear cutting the entire hillside.DSC_0028eNow, I am aware that clear-cutting, especially when slash is left in place, can be part of a responsible forest management strategy. This scene, however, was painful, disappointing, and confusing for us. According to the Forestry Commission’s Cowal and Trossachs Distric Strategic Plan (PDF), forests make up only 9% of Scotland’s total land area. Is clear-cutting the little forest that there is truly the best approach?

From the Forestry land, the Way continues toward Loch Lomond, taking a turn through sheep pasture, and then up over the shoulder of Conic Hill…

P1010941Views of Loch Lomond

DSC_0030 (2)A managed burn, visible from Conic Hill

…before descending through plantation forest…

DSC_0035Primrose (Primula vulgaris) growing in the forest understory

and to the loch-side town of Balmaha.

Balmaha is home to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Centre. M and I have visited dozens of National Parks together, and we always go to the Visitors Centers to read the interpretive panels, speak with the staff, and, if possible, become Junior Rangers. (OK, this last one only applies to me.)

National Parks are new additions to Scotland; Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park was the first in 2002. We go the impression that Scots are still figuring out just what having a National Park means for them. (There were survey questions for visitors to answer. Should the main road through the National Park be expanded? Miles of forest would be affected, but the local people would have a safer route to and from their homes. Should a popular trail be closed in order to save an endangered species of flower?)

M and I bought ice cream at a cafe, stopped for a photo with Tom WeirDSC_0040 …and followed the paved path out of town.

We reached Loch Lomond’s most famous tree in the afternoon…DSC_0047e…and took time to play on the rocks.


The rest of day was spent on sidewalks and paths through the woods along the road…DSC_0056We reached Sallochy Camping late in the afternoon, with sore feet and crabby additudes. Enough of this walking on pavement!

Fortunately, out campsite was beautiful and quiet…DSC_0057

and right on the loch. We made tea and drank it with our toes in the cool loch water…



before eating a simple dinner as the light faded…DSC_0062