What's Worked While Backpacking?
Each time out, backpackers learn something that works (or doesn't) that comes as a(n) (un)pleasant surprise. Sadly, one of the things that doesn't work is my memory, so I occasionally repeat mistakes or fail to compensate enough for past learning experiences. Hence, this page: my way of ensuring that more things go well next time.
Note to self: read this before you go!
1979, Wind River Range
- Don't buy fake hamburgers in cans.
- Store food properly, whether for bears or rodents.
- Hold camera very carefully, don't drop it onto solid rock.
- Don't wait for others to join you on a day hike you really want to do!
- Do NOT lose the trail! It's there to help you!
- Do NOT lose track of companions - they may need help when they lose the trail!
- Think carefully before leaving tent at the car on a five-day trip..
- Bring a wide-angle lens when in mountains.
|Best meal ||Lunch at Big Sandy Pass||
||Best gear ||Francin's Alpenlite pack|
|Best camp||Lonesome Lake, Cirque of the Towers||
||Next time? ||Bring a wide-angle lens!|
1989, Sierra (Taboose)
- Carry PLENTY of water when hiking through a desert.
- A collapsing water-bucket is ideal for pumping water and cleaning up!
- Simple trail mix of M&Ms and peanuts goes over well but it's quite heavy..
- A breakfast of oatmeal and cocoa can take one quite a ways!
- Cool-weather hat and gloves are essential at 10000' in late August.
- A walking-stick is extremely helpful for stream-crossings and other balancing acts.
- It's OK to let someone throw your food-bag over a cliff, IF they tie good knots and no trees are handy!
- Don't feel bad just because your companions reach the pass twenty minutes ahead of you - maintain your best pace.
- Noodle soups are cheap and light, but freeze-dried food is worth a few extra bucks for variety and flavor.
- Play it safe: assume the worst weather might be coming.
- Next time (?), do the 2-mile hike to the top of Mt. Whitney!!
|Best meal ||Late lunch at Bench Lake||
||Best gear ||Collapsing bucket, water filter|
|Best camp||Rae Lakes||
||Next time? ||Take an extra day; climb Whitney|
1993, Sierra (Pine Creek)
- ALWAYS CAMP AT HIGH ELEVATION ON ARRIVAL, even if it means sleeping in the back of the truck!
- Keep fully hydrated the day before the trip!
- Don't rush up steep trails if you don't have to! Slow the pace to keep with any deadlines.
- Altitude Sickness is most unpleasant when you hike alone.
- Make sure everything you'd need to counter altitude sickness is easy to find; when your head is spinning from lack of oxygen you'll be surprised how hard it is to remember where the aspirin is.
- Don't make hasty decisions under the influence of oxygen starvation.
- Drink heartily and rest abundantly before deciding if the trip is over.. it's a long drive from Bishop to Portland.
- When a trip ends early (24 hours?!?) drive further south and start again (especially when someone thinks they're meeting you on the trail).
|Best meal ||only one - at Upper Pine Lake||
||Best gear ||mosquito head-net|
|Best camp||only one - Upper Pine Lk.||
||Next time? ||sleep high, hydrate, slow down|
1996, Sierra (Italy)
- Don't let past memories convince you that you're sick when you're simply exhausted.
- A tarp can be rigged to look like a tent, but it's not a tent.
- Always look back before leaving camp, your ground-cloth just might be waiting for your attention.
- If your hiking-stick has a camera-attachment on top, so much the better.
- Get all possible information about a 'sketchy trail' before you take it!
- ALWAYS REPLACE YOUR CAMERA BATTERIES BEFORE A TRIP!
- Stay alert! Slopes of large talus can become hypnotic - take breaks and look around for another option.
- Multi-grain dinner-rolls are excellent lunchtime snacks!
- It's good insurance to bring duplicate items (one stove and one water filter failed).
- Make sure a favorite food awaits the end of a tough day.
- Sunflower seeds are extremely tasty on the trail and weigh far less than peanuts!
- When a joint first begins to hurt, rest and examine it.
- When your limp becomes excessive it's time to camp.
- When companions offer to take part of your load, don't be proud.
- If you're on day five of an eight-day trip and you're cutting off miles due to injury, consider adding a day of rest; you have enough provisions so why rush back to town when you could be in a park?
- Spend more time looking around without a camera covering your face.
|Best meal ||Marie Lake w/hailstones (chicken stew)||
||Best gear ||camp stove|
|Best camp||Marie Lake [close second: French Canyon]||
||Next time? ||better preparation, camera inspection|
1997, Sierra (Mono)
- Vacationing with relatives isn't always an ordeal!
- A small tent can weigh as little as a big tarp.
- Always know where the tent's rainfly is.
- AWLAYS bring the warm vest, for cold evenings and a pillow.
- Small campfires, where allowed, can be good for the psyche.
- Don't believe everything you read in a trail guidebook!
- A half-spoonful of instant coffee does wonders for cocoa!
- Carry 3x more sunfolwer seeds and only one bag of M&M/peanuts, you'll save weight and eat more!
- Long-term weather forecasts break down when a tropical storm pops up.
- Don't let a little exhaustion keep you from seeking a better camp five minutes ahead, but let a lot of exhaustion keep you in place.
- Put loose equipment in a safe place; the water-filter includes a cleaning brush for a reason!
- Don't let "the schedule" rush you across a stream; it only takes ten minutes to do it right.
- Never EVER EVER throw your camera across a stream, no matter how soft the underbrush looks on the other side!!!!
- NEVER forget that streams are at the bottom of hillsides; objects could roll all the way downhill from soft underbrush into streams!
- If you buy a one-day fishing license, don't hike until dark.
- When two creative and spontaneous people hike together, strange things can happen; relax and enjoy.
- Plan a short day for day 3 or 4 to relax and do laundry.
- A little alcohol is a good thing; someone else carrying it is even better!
- Accept failure when it happens; don't force a route where none exists.
- Don't hang your head after failure; you might not see an alternate route!
- When certain defeat is overcome, take some time to enjoy the moment.
- If you can't find a trail in a big valley, relax and enjoy the unspoiled beauty: you'll be driving on a well-marked freeway soon enough.
- Put rain gear on before it rains.
- Try to fight the rush to get out of the wilderness! What's so important that another night of camp (even if damp) will harm?
- Play the slot machines with the cherries.
|Best meal ||Lower Hopkins Lake (teriyaki chicken w/rice)||
||Best gear ||durable Pentax SLR|
|Best camp||Golden Creek (or Big McGee Lake?)||
||Next time? ||more sunflower seeds, hold on to camera|
1998, Wind River Range
- Don't plan a big event for day one.
- Assume that flying bugs will find any exposed flesh
- Two camcorder batteries easily cover seven days if you're conservative.
- When trails don't appear, relax and go x-c until it does.
- A poor wide-angle lens is slightly worse than no wide-angle lens.
- It's easy to pack too much photo equipment!
- It's easy to pack too many M&M's - I didn't eat a single one!!
|Best meal ||Baptiste Creek potluck:|
Chicken & Broccoli with noodles, Hearty Stew with Beef,
Chili (spicy!), French Vanilla pudding w/raspberries
||Best gear ||ultralight, adjustable hiking stick|
|Best camp||Lizard Head Meadows||
||Next time? ||better lens for camcorder;|
starve a little!
1999, Sierra Nevada
- Continue not to plan a big event for day one.
- Don't expect a 32° sleeping bag to keep you warm at 11000 feet.
- Consecutive days of cross-country travel are not recommended!
- Once again: when trails don't appear, relax and go x-c until it does.
- Just because a camera winds and clicks doesn't mean it's working.
- Candy corn and caramel are great ideas!
|Best meal ||AlpineAire Sierra Chicken|
||Best gear ||poles and rainfly without the tent|
|Best camp||Darwin Bench, or Dumbbell Lakes?||
||Next time? ||warmer bag, Pentax 35mm camera|
2000, Sierra (Evolution)
- Sleeping high is far less valuable than Exerting high.
- A bulging disc in winter does not mean a backpack-free summer.
- I have seen Lamarck Col often enough now!
|Best meal ||Evolution Lake Golden trout||
||Best gear ||superlight walking pole|
|Best camp||Colby Meadow||
||Next time? ||don't let anyone catch a cold..|
2001, Sierra (Blackcap)
- Three hours of flying is an excellent alternative to three days of driving.
- West-side trailheads are not necessarily more crowded, even if they are closer to more people.
- You CAN withstand three days of rain in the wilderness!
- A compact 35mm camera still takes photos worthy of 11×14 enlargements.
- Day-trips are an excellent way to see the land.
- Never expect to climb a peak while on a backpacking trip.
|Best meal ||bulk tortellini & boullion||
||Best gear ||DryLoft down bag|
|Best camp||Pearl Lake (two nights)||
||Next time? ||MORE TORTELLINI|
An excellent way to learn more about a trail in the Sierra Nevada is with the
Mountain Images "Sierra Nevada" CD-ROMs. These are a compilation of several serious packers' experiences in the Sierras and includes scanned topographic maps, detailed descriptions and beautiful pictures. Most popular trails are covered, as well as quite a few cross-country jaunts of varying levels of difficulty. It's a great way to prepare for a trip, and a fine way to spend the winter on the trail. Just drop your virtual hiker on a trailhead and go!>