Most hik­ers can drop 10 pounds in a day. Just not where you think.

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - BY KAREN NITKIN

About a mile into my hike with Michael Martin and Jen­nifer Adach, lead­ers of the D.C. Ul­tra­light Back­pack­ing group, we stop to com­pare our loads. We’re stand­ing in a clear­ing on the Gap Creek Trail on Mas­sanut­ten Moun­tain. The path so far has been gen­tle, steadily up­hill, not dif­fi­cult. But it’s a warm, hu­mid Vir­ginia day, and sweat drips off my nose.

Michael and Jen are indulging me. Nor­mally, they would keep walk­ing, prob­a­bly for hours, but they stop to show me some of their gearan­dex plain how it fits into their ul­tra­light, long-dis­tance hik­ing phi­los­o­phy.

Michael and I shrug off our packs, and I lift one in each hand. I’m not sur­prised that Michael’s pack weighs a lit­tle bit less than mine. But I’mim­pressed, be­causeMichael can travel for days with what he’s brought along on our day hike. He’s got an en­tire cook­ing sys­tem in there, a tarp, a sleep­ing bag, maps, a first aid kit. My pack, stuffed with wa­ter, snacks and an ex­tra pair of socks, wouldn’t seemepast sunset.

Ul­tra­light back­pack­ers such asMichael and Jen have made an art form of cut­ting the weight of their gear to 10 pounds or less, not count­ing food and wa­ter. With the D.C. Ul­tra­light group (known as D.C. ULers), Michael and Jen have trav­eled hun­dreds of miles on trips across Swe­den, Italy and Ice­land.

In their new book, the cou­ple hope to in­tro---


duce peo­ple to the out­door op­por­tu­ni­ties in our re­gion.

“AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the Shenan­doah Val­ley,” pub­lished by the Ap­palachian Moun­tain Club last month, de­scribes 50 of Jen and Michael’s fa­vorite trails, all close enough to the Dis­trict to drive and hike in a day. The long­est is the stren­u­ous 13.2-mile Three Ridges trail, in the Blue Ridge Moun­tains. The short­est is the 1.2-mile Black­rock Trail, in Shenan­doah Na­tional Park.

There’s some­thing for ev­ery­one, says Jen — par­tic­u­larly new hik­ers or peo­ple who re­cently moved to the Washington area.

The cou­ple spent about a year re­search­ing the book, head­ing out nearly ev­ery week­end, rain and shine. “It was nice to have this re­minder of how ac­ces­si­ble it all is,” says Jen. “We’ve re­dis­cov­ered a lot of great hikes.”

“Best Day Hikes” could be con­sid­ered a pre­quel to Michael’s 2014 book, also pub­lished by the Ap­palachian Moun­tain Club. “AMC’s Best Back­pack­ing in the Mid-At­lantic” fea­tures 30 mul­ti­day hikes as far north as New York and as far south as Vir­ginia. “I do be­lieve that the lighter your load, the hap­pier you’re go­ing to be on the trail,” Michael writes.

“It’s not about leav­ing stuff at home,” says Jen, 38, who grew up on Long Is­land and works for the Food Re­search and Ac­tion Cen­ter, an anti-hunger non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion in the Dis­trict. “You look at where you’re go­ing and look at the things you need. You re­ally get di­aled into your gear and how to use it.”

The goal, Michael and Jen­say, is to carry ev­ery­thing that’s needed for com­fort and safety — and not one frac­tion of an ounce more. Some D.C. ULers snap the han­dles off their tooth­brushes. Oth­ers de­hy­drate tooth­paste.

Michael and Jen typ­i­cally cover 20miles per­day. “It’s all a ques­tion of gear and willpower,” says Michael, 43, a Texas na­tive em­ployed by the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture. They start hours be­fore the sun rises and stop late in the day, leav­ing just enough time to eat, set up their tarp, and col­lapse into deep sleep be­fore start­ing again the next day.

Those early-morn­ing hours are the mag­i­cal ones, they say, when the air is cool and wildlife abun­dant.

No­body likes schlep­ping around more stuff than they need, but ul­tra­light hik­ing as a con­cept is fairly new, dat­ing to the 1990s. Michael be­lieves the D.C. Ul­tra­light group is the largest such or­ga­ni­za­tion in the coun­try. Formed in 2009, it has about 700 mem­bers and per­haps 150 ac­tive ones, he says.

D.C. ULers can de­bate at length the rel­a­tive ben­e­fits of tents ver- sus tarps, or how many pairs of socks to take. But, Michael notes, many hik­ers can trim 10p ounds or more sim­ply by swap­ping out three things — old, heavy packs; sleep­ing bags; and tents — for new, lighter mod­els.

The group or­ga­nizes 75 hik­ing ex­pe­di­tions a month, plus ed­u­ca­tional sem­i­nars and gear show­cases. “For our group, the phi­los­o­phy is re­ally to grow and nur­ture new back­pack­ers,” Jen says. “We start with low-mileage trips, and we have a sys­tem where peo­ple ad­vance as they gain newskills in the out­doors.”

On a re­cent Sun­day, Michael and Jen took me on one of their fa­vorite hikes. Mas­sanut­ten Moun­tain is as close as many Shenan­doah trails (about two hours from the Vi­enna park-an­dride), but far less crowded. We saw only one other hiker, with her dog, even though it was a sunny, late­spring Sun­day.

This four-mile hike on the Gap Creek Trail was beau­ti­ful. And gru­el­ing. The fi­nal as­cent was a jum­ble of rocks that Michael and Jen seemed to float over, while I had to usemy arms to hoist my­self up, one care­ful step at a time. My pack sud­denly seemed un­bear­ably heavy.

The first pay­off was a warm, flat rock at the high­est point, with a fab­u­lous view over the val­ley. Pay­off No. 2 was still a few hours away: an in­ex­pen­sive and yummy meal at the Mex­i­can res­tau­rant Jalisco in Front Royal.

Michael and Jen spend a lot of time on trails all over the world, but they say they never get tired of the riches so close to home. “In the D.C. area, it’s pretty amaz­ing that we have all these great hik­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, and they’re so close,” Jen says.


On the trail of the pop­u­lar Old Rag, in Vir­ginia’s Shenan­doah Na­tional Park. For views just as beau­ti­ful, with­out ever-present crowds, tryMas­sanut­ten Moun­tain.

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