In a previous column, I covered two major companies, Kelty and JanSport, who will introduce retro-style, external-frame backpacks in 2011. The article pitched external-frame packs as throwbacks—bulky, exposed and skeletal products that were left behind two decades ago by anyone serious about carrying loads in the great outdoors.But the external-frame lives on, and it’s not just for the retro crowd. A new entry in the category, High Sierra’s External Frame pack series, include the classic exposed-frame look but with modern touches including hydration-reservoir sleeves and eco-minded PVC-free construction.One pack in the High Sierra line, the Foxhound 50, has a top-load main compartment, contoured straps, and a mesh panel to let air flow between your back and the pack load. There is a removable media pocket on the front to store a GPS unit or an iPhone. It costs $110.High Sierra is hardly the only company in the external game. In addition to their retro lines, Kelty and JanSport sell modern external-frame models. Other companies that sell externals include ALPS Mountaineering, Mountainsmith, Coleman, Texsport, Cabela’s, and Outdoor Products.ALPS, a small company in rural Missouri, offers two external models. The Red Rock, a 2,000-cubic-inch model, costs $89.99.Outdoor Products has a couple packs in the category, including the bargain Dragonfly External Frame Youth Pack. It costs as little as $39.99 on web retailers like Campmor.com and features a plastic-composite frame.Coleman’s Bozeman X 60 has water repellency and a slick, modern look with silicone-treated nylon in a diamond rip-stop pattern. It costs about $150. There is an adjustable torso pin-and-ring system for positioning the frame and pack on your back.The Scout model from Mountainsmith, made for youth, costs $109 and is marketed as offering a “supportive external frame that provides a comfortable backpacking experience for kids.” Its frame is made with 6061 aluminum and it has a “sleeping bag sling,” which looks like a small hammock hanging on the bottom of the pack.Why go external? Cheaper price is a good place to start. To be sure, you can find deals on internal-frame packs. But at retail, external-frame packs are often cheaper than comparably-sized internals.For hot weather, externals can be a good option. With a frame propping the load away from your back, air flow is increased.Some backpackers claim externals offer better support with heavy loads. The packs can sit high and tower up behind your head, offering a higher center of gravity for the load.One thing is for sure: As a backpacker, with an external-frame pack you will stand out. The exposed-frame look is one of a bygone era in the backpacking world. Could these special packs make a comeback? Seems a few big companies are betting externals can.—Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.gearjunkie.com.
Photo courtesy BRENDA WILEYMy pace picked up to a brisk trudge when I started to hear the roar of Carrick Creek Falls, at the eastern end of the Foothills Trail in South Carolina’s Table Rock State Park. More, even, than the usual post-trek treats—beer, real meal, real bed—I wanted a good soak in that chilly water. I’d underestimated the Foothills. I’d figured a thru-hike would be no problem for a recently transplanted Floridian because, after all, it’s just the foothills—not really the mountains, mostly in reputedly tame South Carolina. But by the end I was footsore and battered. I was exhausted. I was done.And yet, even before slipping into the swimming hole beneath the falls, I realized that I wasn’t. Done, that is. Not if I wanted to walk all of the foothills. Why stop at Table Rock when it’s practically neighbors with Caesar’s Head and Jones Gap state parks, which together form the 13,000-acre Mountain Bridge Wilderness, home of some of the best trails in the state? The forests there are just as lush, the hills just as steep, the creeks and rivers just as clear and tumbling. And then there’s the name, Foothills, which fails to capture the drama and difficulty of the landscape, fails to give fair warning to hikers. The better, alternate term for the southern escarpment of the Appalachian Mountains is the one reportedly favored by Cherokees, the Blue Wall. That’s what it looks like from the flatlands, where it’s also clear that Table Rock is closer to the midpoint than the end. Nothing against the existing, 77-mile trail, which, according to the Foothills Trail Conference website, Backpacker has ranked as “one of the best long trails in the country.” It’s just that it could so easily be a little better, a little longer—about 90 miles. I can almost picture the thru-hike patch, because I already have the name: The Blue Wall Trek.That wall defines the region’s climate, which defines everything else about it. Moist air cools with the sudden rise in elevation, releasing about 80 inches of rain per year. The resulting temperate rainforest supports a vast variety and abundance of plant and animal life, including the rare Oconee Bell wildflower and one of the densest black bear populations in the East. Rain, of course, also means rivers. The Foothills crosses and/or follows five of them and passes several spectacular waterfalls, including the 411-foot Upper Whitewater Falls. Four of these rivers flow into the famously clear and sparsely developed Lake Jocassee.South Carolina’s Lake Jocassee is situated along the Blue Ridge escarpment. Just Askew Photography.Despite all these attractions and Foothills’ stellar reputation, it’s hardly overrun. On a 20-mile day on my June thru-hike—a day walking among the column-straight trunks of tulip poplars and red oaks, crossing rapids on discrete but well-engineered bridges and regularly catching shimmering views of Jocassee—I encountered two parties of boaters and precisely zero other hikers.The trail climbs several ridges between river basins but only one real peak, 3,563-foot Sassafras Mountain, the highest point in South Carolina. The standard Foothills route heads southeast from there to Table Rock, a 10-mile stretch that on a clear day offers a spectacular view from a clearing below the summit of Pinnacle Mountain. But the day I crossed this bald was not clear and, in the mist, the fire-scarred landscape with its eroded trench of a trail reminded me of nothing more than a World War I battlefield. This stretch is being rerouted and the forest will quickly recover and ultimately benefit from last fall’s forest fires, said Heyward Douglass, executive director of the Foothills Trail Conservancy.Courtesy Foothills Trail Conservancy.And I have to admit that the route I followed from Sassafras to complete the Blue Wall Trek, tracing the state line and therefore blazed alternately with Clemson University orange and University of North Carolina blue, is initially short on scenery and also shows the effects of the fires—wide swaths of charred understory and mazes of fire breaks. I must also admit that this stretch has already been designated as part of a Foothills spur that leads 14.2 miles to a trailhead on U.S. 276 in Caesar’s Head State Park.But, unaccountably, the spur bypasses one of the park’s main attractions, 420-foot Raven Cliff Falls. About 12 miles from Sassafras, I turned right on the Naturaland Trust Trail and followed its Pepto-Bismol-colored blazes to the dizzying, deafening crossing on a suspension bridge over one of the fall’s main drops. From there, the attractions come along as fast as fence posts on a highway: the 120-foot-high cliff face known as The Cathedral, a deep valley shaded by mature hardwoods and speckled with wild hydrangeas, sparkling Mathews Creek. I pitched my tarp near the creek crossing—at a campsite reserved in advance because it lies within a state park—and in the morning was greeted by a Foothills-worthy, 1,300-foot climb on the Dismal Trail. A short spur at the top leads to the Raven Cliff Falls observation deck.The Foothills Trail as it crosses Matthews Creek. Photo courtesy BRENDA WILEYI walked on to the trailhead at U.S. 276 and crossed the road into Jones Gap State Park, which offers several good options for the hike’s last leg. I chose the 5.3-mile route that includes Coldspring Branch Trail, partly because it starts with a gentle climb over a hillside carpeted with ferns. Also, the Blue Ridge escarpment is all about water and the Coldspring trail—following its namesake creek and crossing tributaries—gives hikers a closeup, start-to-finish view of a mountain stream as it grows and gathers momentum before flowing into the Middle Saluda River. This brings the hike’s total inventory of landmark rivers to an even half-dozen. And though the competition is fierce, the Middle Saluda’s massive boulders, impressive drops, and inviting pools, might make it the most spectacular of the lot.The final stretch along the river follows the historic path of the Jones Gap Road through the mountains. As I neared the park’s log-and-stone visitor’s center, I noticed the river widening and the gap’s walls sloping downward. I felt as if I had reached the natural end of not just of my hike but of a region of high, wild, and watery landscape, the end of the Blue Wall. I felt as if I deserved a patch.
Death had not fazed gravedigger Mohammed Shamim up to now, but since the grip of the coronavirus crisis has tightened in New Delhi, a shiver runs up even his spine each time he sees a hearse pull up at the cemetery he tends.”I’ve been burying the dead for the last two decades. But until now, I’ve never been scared for my own life,” he said.The Indian capital has become one of the country’s COVID-19 hotspots, with media reports based on graveyard records saying there are 450 dead — triple the official tally. Fear of contagion The gravedigger has been so worried about the pandemic that he has twice been tested for the coronavirus, and paid for one himself of them despite his meager wages.He said he has had help from the cemetery management committee and city authorities, but nothing from the government. “I am way too low for them to bother about.” With the number of victims growing in Delhi and his services in greater demand, Shamim says he worries now if his breathing changes or he has a stomach upset.”I always felt safest around the dead and most vulnerable in the outside world. Now I find it difficult to sleep at night,” he said. Shamim says he alone has dug graves for 115 bodies at the cemetery’s designated area for coronavirus dead, about 200 meters away from the others.Despite the third-generation gravedigger’s experience, his family has now started complaining about his job at the Jadid Qabristan Ahle Muslim cemetery, and Shamim has moved his four daughters to his parents’ house to reduce the risk of them catching the disease. “They are scared. Sometimes I lie to them that I don’t touch the bodies,” said the 38-year-old. Prayers and heartacheShamim gets a call an hour before the hearse arrives. That is when he becomes nervous.He prepares the relatives, asking them to put on protective suits, gloves and masks for the burial ceremony, before the family says a prayer and lowers the corpse — usually wrapped in cloth or plastic sheeting — into the grave. The mourners then throw their protective gear into the hole before a mechanical earth-mover fills it in.Some of the bodies of coronavirus victims arrive without relatives to help with the burial, so Shamim said he has often defied orders to stay away.”People just refuse to come help with the burial. What can you do? I have to step in,” he said, describing “heartbreaking” scenes, like when only a wife and a small child came to the funeral of one man.At a recent burial, Shamim had to find gloves for a small group who had turned up just with plastic bags for protection. He finally found two pairs and gave one glove each to the four people who were lowering the body.”I understand it’s never easy to bury the dead, but some families don’t follow the rules at all. So many times I have had to beg the hospital workers who accompany the body for gloves,” Shamim said. Topics :