The Beginning Of An Adventure: Our First Day-Hike

By Maria Pickerill, E&H Semester-A-Trail Student | Spring 2021 Semester

On Tuesday, Jan 19, the Semester-A-Trail cohort headed for Damascus to meet Professor Jim Harrison. Jim is the head of Semester-A-Trail, and he is incredibly knowledgeable about the hiking experience. Not only has he helped put several hikers through the trail, but he has also hiked the trail himself. How cool is that? We are definitely lucky to be in his hands.

Lexi leading the women's hike. Lexi leading the women's hike.Before the hike, Jim wanted to give us a small pep talk. We met just off of the Appalachian Trail. It was then that we discussed some of the difficulties of the trail. Jim talked about the usefulness of trekking poles and the comfort that comes from bringing the correct gear on the trail. He gave us tips like “always begin your hike cold.” I had never considered this before, but it makes total sense. You don’t really want to take off multiple layers of clothing as you warm up. Jim also talked about the mental and emotional aspects of the trail. He talked about how past students had handled them, and how we need to be prepared to handle them ourselves.

Jim also talked about the principles of Leave No Trace, which are:

  1. Plan ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly 
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of other hikers.

These principles are important to know before embarking on the trail. Members of the Semester-a-trail Cohort are actually required to have them memorized before departure. If you are interested in learning more about Leave No Trace, you can do so here.

Jett and Tucker stand on trail listening to Jim give instruction. Jett and Tucker stand on trail listening to Jim give instruction.After meeting at his house, we loaded up Jim’s truck with our gear and headed out to the trail. We hiked the Iron Mountain trail, as well as part of the AT. The girls and guys started on opposite sides of the trail, with the goal of meeting in the middle. Thus, our hike began. I personally have been surprised by how hilly Virginia is (I am coming here from the very flat Ohio). Anyway, what I’m trying to say, is that this hike was STEEP. On top of this, the trail was a little slippery due to the snow, and the wet leaves. As a self-proclaimed clutz, I was definitely thankful that my new trail runners had such good traction, and I was also thankful for my trekking poles because I definitely would have fallen without them. On a more positive note though, the trail was STUNNING the day we hiked. It was a beautiful sunny day, with just enough snow to feel like a winter wonderland. I definitely felt lucky to be out there. The view was especially beautiful from the top of the ridgeline. Virginia may be hilly, but the hills come with a major payoff.

Matanya standing on the side of the trail before our day hike. Matanya standing on the side of the trail before our day hike.After the hike, we packed up our separate vehicles and headed back to campus. Our first hike was so fun, and we learned a lot. I’m definitely looking forward to our future day hikes. From now on, we will be hiking a few times a week, and soon we will begin doing overnight backpacking trips! There is a lot of awesome aspects of this program to look forward to.


Damascus, Va