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Winter camping has its share of seasonal perks—no ticks, mosquitoes, or drunk teenagers trashing your favorite campsite. It also affords a new perspective, as you get to explore the backcountry with ultimate seclusion and vast views among the leafless forests. Still, enjoying your favorite outdoor oasis in a winter whiteout requires some extra preventative measures. Before you head out into the winter wild, follow these essential tips:

Stay Dry: A waterproof jacket, hiking pants, and boots are obvious essentials. Avoid cotton like an angry yellow jacket—it takes a long time to dry, and it loses all insulating properties when it gets wet. 

Cover the Exits: Warmth leaves your body through your head, hands, and feet. A properly fitting hat and gloves is just as important as a weather repellent jacket. Overly tight boots and socks constrict blood flow and lead to cold feet. Pick boots with enough room for bulky wool socks, and if you must use two pairs of socks for extra warmth, make sure the outer pair is a couple of sizes larger than your inner pair.

Sleep Soundly: Before bunking down in the snow, make sure you have a four-season tent that can withstand high winds. Four-season tents will usually be heavier than standard backpacking tents, but they can make or break your evening. For slumber time, bring an insulated sleeping pad that will put some distance between you and the frozen ground, which will suck away your body heat rapidly. Avoid oversized sleeping bags because the roominess allows convection currents to form. If your bag is oversized, wrap up the excess and tuck it beneath you. You can also pour some hot water into your water bottle and place it in your bag. 

Pace Yourself: Plan on covering less mileage than usual per day on a winter backpacking trip. You will be carrying more weight than usual, and will therefore be exerting yourself at a higher rate. Overdoing it will cause body heat loss. 

Build Smart Campfires: Fires are not typically part of winter camping trips. If you do need a fire, bring some dry tinder with you to expedite building your fire. Damp wood takes longer to ignite. If possible, bring a lightweight fire pan to cover the wet ground. This is also a good low impact practice.

Consume: During cold weather backpacking, your body will be working harder to stay warm, so it needs more fuel. Bring at least 30 percent more food than usual, and drink more fluids. On longer trips where carrying water is not an option, plan to melt snow in your stove, because creeks and other normal water sources might be frozen. 

Fuel Up: Bring extra stove fuel. Although most new portable camping stoves are designed to be wind-resistant, the cold temperatures will increase boiling time. You will need extra fuel for cooking and to melt drinking water. Do not melt snow in your mouth. It can quickly lower your core body temperature to dangerous levels. 

—Jedd Ferris

The Wood Wide Web

Many Trails in Appalachia Originated as Cherokee Footpaths

“The exercise will do them good.” The statement seems benign enough until you consider its source—a decidedly corpulent General Winfield Scott referring to the Cherokee’s forced exodus from the Southern Appalachians. 

The year was 1838, and the white-folks-in-charge had decided it was time for the Cherokee to go. Despite opposition from some—Ralph Waldo Emerson, for instance, who urged his countrymen not to inflict “so vast an outrage upon the Cherokee Nation”—the removal at gunpoint proceeded and became known as the infamous “Trail of Tears,” a national disgrace in which thousands died on a forced march west. As wicked as it was, the crime would have been even worse had it not been for an extensive network of trails which cut through the gaps and ran along the ridge lines of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Several hundred Cherokee used them to evade Scott’s troops, helping to form what is now the eastern band of the tribe. Many of today’s most popular trails—including sections of the Appalachian Trail—are former Cherokee trails. 

These trails were originally blazed by the “buffalo,” the North American bison. Back in the day, these big bovines—six-foot plus at the shaggy shoulders and a ton of chunk on the hoof—thrived in the thick forests of the Southeast. Migrating across millennia between seasonal feeding grounds on opposite sides of the Appalachians, the bison bulled their way through the Blue Ridge, leaving in their wake a network of pathways which, for the first Cherokee who finally came along, was nothing less than the information superhighway of its day. Its existence allowed for various forms of communication over distances and landscapes that otherwise would have been impossible. Since the first horse would not be seen in the Blue Ridge until Hernando de Soto came clopping along in the sixteenth century, all communication would have proceeded at the speed of feet. Champion Cherokee trail runners must have been treated like some combination of rock star and FedEx delivery guy. 

By the time the settlers barnstormed their way in, punctuating the equilibrium with their pigs and cattle, gunpowder and iron, whiskey and exotic diseases, the Native Americans had developed the trails into a web of continental proportions. Archaeologist William Myer documented dozens of such trails. One of the most important, the Great Indian War Path, linked what is now upstate New York to the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile, Alabama. Along the way, this spinal column of a trail intersected major east-west routes which connected the Carolinas to Tennessee, and Virginia to the Ohio Valley. If you could travel back in time to 1492, it would have been possible to run for years east of the Mississippi without ever having to step off a trail. Even the mighty Appalachian Trail can only gaze upon such well-endowed mileage. 

But things fall apart and centers cannot hold. Almost nothing of the original Cherokee trail network remains. In fact, its very existence facilitated its destruction as it provided a convenient avenue of entry for all those settlers with their wagons full of stuff. Some stretches, to be sure, remain in use to this day, but those tend to be the valley sections and are now state highways with big trucks and SUVs zooming over them. 

Then there’s Warriors’ Path State Park in Tennessee, named for the Cherokee section of trail that once cut through the Holston River Valley and reached all the way north into Iroquois country. The park is lovely, but its 12 miles of trail fail to measure up to the original trail by almost three orders of magnitude. 

Still, a few of the Southern Appalachian trails today are based on previous Cherokee trails, including sections of the Mountains to Sea Trail in North Carolina. One of the most popular stretches is the ‘Bull Gap’ section, which got its name when, in 1799, a settler by the name of Joseph Rice shot the very last buffalo in North Carolina. 

—William Harwood

The Dirty Truth About Liquid Coal

As prices rise at the fuel pump, coal industry barons are developing technology to convert coal into liquid fuel for diesel cars and planes. But far from being the silver bullet for the national energy shortage, converting coal into liquid fuel would have an irreversible impact on the Appalachians. 

In a region already ravaged by destructive forms of strip mining, including mountaintop removal, many citizens of Appalachia are concerned about the added demand for coal. From blasting off mountaintops to emitting thousands of tons of pollutants from smokestacks, coal has proven its deadly and destructive capabilities. The development of coal to liquid conversion technology is estimated to increase coal mining activity by 40 percent. 

“This is just one more way that the coal industry is trying to ‘green wash’ coal, saying it is clean and safe,” says Coal River Mountain Watch’s information technology specialist Matt Noerpel. Coal River Mountain Watch is a grassroots organization based in Whitesville, W.Va., that is committed to combating the development of the coal to liquid industry. In August, the group staged a protest with approximately 50 people at the Coal to Liquid Coalition conference at a resort in Beckley, W.Va. In addition to their protest signs, they arranged for a plane to fly over the resort golf course with a banner that read “Solid or liquid, coal is filthy.”

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, a multi-issue citizens social justice organization with over 4,000 members, is also focusing on coal to liquid.

The coal industry is promoting coal-based diesel fuel as a low sulfur, clean burning substance. But the carbon sequestration that would be necessary to cut greenhouse gases has not yet been developed, says Noerpel. Without the sequestration, the conversion process produces twice the amount of carbon dioxide as diesel oil. Even with sequestration—which will not be feasible for another 25 years—the fuel creates eight percent more pollution than regular oil, according to Noerpel. 

Coal to liquid technology is nothing new. Known as the Fischer-Tropsch process, it has been around since the 1920s, but it has never been widely available for commercial use in the United States. In the peak oil crisis of the 1970s, the technology was refined in reaction to rising fuel prices, but once the price of oil went down, the demand for alternative fuel sources diminished. 

This past August, the Kentucky General Assembly passed House Bill 1, an energy bill that provides $300 million in subsidies to promote coal to liquid development in the state. Coal industries are pushing for heavy subsidies because private investors are hesitant to back the fuel. They are hoping that tax payers will foot the bill for this experimental technology.

Pro-coal political figureheads such as Representative Nick Rahall (D-WV) and Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) are endorsing the fuel as a necessity for national security to relieve the nation’s dependency on foreign oil. One of the most significant potential customers for the liquid coal is the Air Force. Already, Air Force engineers have tested a blend of synthetic fuel and JP-8 in the B-52 aircraft. 

At a Coal To Liquid Coalition conference in West Virginia this past August, even industry leaders admitted that coal to liquid fuel is not the solution to the global energy shortage. Says Bill Harrison, a major investor in a West Virginia coal to liquid energy project: “Coal to liquid technology makes sense because the United States has the most coal reserves in the world. But anyone who thinks that coal to liquid is the solution is wacko.” 

—Hannah Morgan

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