Posts Tagged ‘Backpacking’

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I stumbled on this quote a couple years ago while reading a book about GySgt. Carlos Hathcock. The Gunnery Sergeant served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam, and in the course of his multiple tours of duty, became one of the most lethal snipers in military history. If you’re into shooting, it’s a good read.

Anyway, the quote is actually by Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbltes, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

It’s obviously a pretty famous quote, and simple Google search will show that it’s pretty much all over the interwebs. I’ve been trying to work it into the blog for a while, and just now it occurred to me to let it stand on its own. Maybe, just one person reading this little blog of mine hasn’t seen it before and will find some value in it, as I did.

Enjoy.

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It’s the end of May, and now that I am finally done with training, I can start to relax and start thinking about other things. In the last couple weeks, I have been starting to get my head around going back to the mountains. Not quite ready to tackle the Whites just yet, I decided a good training hike would be to go back up Mt. Monadnock… On a Saturday.

Yeah, so weekend days are not usually my first choice to walk up one of the most traveled peaks in the country, but it’s the only day I have, so it’s going to have to do. I pull into the lot and it’s packed. People from all over travel to Jaffrey, New Hampshire to climb this mountain. While admittedly it’s no Everest, I would never refer to climbing any mountain as easy, and this one is no different. The result of this mass misunderstanding is that hundreds if not thousands of people, flock this place of elevation in an effort hike the White Dot to the summit.

It’s been nearly two years since I’ve been here, and just as long since I’ve shouldered a pack and endeavored to climb any mountain. The last effort was on Mt. Moosilauke in August of 2013, a humbling trek that forced me to reevaluate my systems and make some much needed changes. The beating I took on that trip finally forced to admit that I needed to streamline my system and trim pounds to make a more manageable kit. Armed with a new, lighter pack, trail runners instead of heavy boots, lighter trekking poles and a gopro, I was ready to put some of those changes to the test.

Despite the crowds, I made pretty good time to the summit. Initially, I thought I would be annoyed by the mass of hikers on the White Dot trail, but on the ascent, I found it enjoyable to exchange pleasantries with people as we passed. Arriving at the summit in just under ninety minutes, I could see it was going to be a struggle to find a place to sit. The wind was blowing hard, and the throngs of hikers made it difficult to stake out a spot that would provide some shelter. I found a free piece of granite and took a seat to enjoy some much needed rest and a snack. The real benefit to Mondanock on a Saturday was the summit people watching. Everyone seemed in good spirits, and enjoying taking the requisite summit picture poses. I mean let’s be honest, no one comes to Mondanock on a weekend seeking solitude, right? So I might as well take a few minutes to enjoy the show.

I let some of the groups filter out before I picked up my gear and made my way back to the trail. For the hours of toiling to reach and recover from the summit, I always find it a shame that more time can’t be spent enjoying the view. Since I got a late start, I needed to start heading down. This is where the crowds became a bit of a problem. I’ve said before that the descent can be more dangerous than the climb up, so I’m not racing down the mountain, of course. I also know that a group only moves as fast as their slowest hiker. So with some of these larger, slow groups, some patience was going to be required as I maneuvered down the mountain.

The descent was uneventful until about 15 minutes above the parking lot. I could see a lone hiker ahead of me who I had been trailing for some time. Our pace seemed about the same until all of a sudden it wasn’t. As I closed the distance I could see him doubled over in pain and groaning. I stopped to ask if he was ok. “Yeah I’m just cramping up,” was his response. As it turns out it was his first time hiking a mountain, had gone through his two liters of water and was getting pretty dehydrated. I passed along some encouraging words and pressed on. But as I walked passed him I got to thinking. I had some extra water in my camelbak, and here’s a hiker in trouble. Sure, it’s not far to the parking lot, but dehydrated and cramping, that parking lot might as well be on the moon. I’ve been that guy, downed on the trail, and when I needed help someone was there. I couldn’t just leave him like that. I stopped and turned around. When I got back to him he was sitting on a log catching his breath. I told him that while I didn’t have much left, I had enough to fill some of his bottle so he could have a little more water to get down to the end of the hike. We snapped a quick photo, shook hands and parted. Helping that dude out was the right thing to do, and maybe next time he goes out to hike, or to work, and sees someone else in trouble, he might do a little something to help. You know, pay It forward and all that.

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Hey look I’m on Instagram. Internet fame achieved. Reality series to follow.

All in all a good day, and a good return to hiking in the mountains. Hopefully more to come this year.

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I’m a gear nerd. Let me just put that out there. I spend a tremendous (probably unreasonable) amount of time, reading, researching, and watching video reviews on various kinds of gear: running, tactical, backpacking, whatever. It’s a sickness. Since my reawakening to all things outdoors, my backpacking/hiking kit has gone through several evolutions. Usually, I find that after a trip is a good time to reassess what I’m carrying in the pack. I mean, what better time to take stock of what I have, and what should be cut or replaced with something better?

When you’re carrying everything you need on your back, weight should be the primary consideration. Is what I’m carrying worth the weight? That’s what I’m always asking myself. The catch here is that I can pretty much convince myself that something is justified. So it’s helpful to have an outside opinion. Usually, after a couple beers around the campfire, the topic of how much crap I’ve carried rears its ugly head. Most of the time I fend off the “you don’t need that,” conversation with, “but dude, it just saved the day.” There are, however, a few cases where I’m actually packing too much kit and I need to look at places to trim the fat. I’ll address this in more detail shortly, but the reason to mention it now is just to point out that any system needs review and adjustment.

The base of my backpacking system is, you guessed it, the pack. For day hikes I use the 5.11 Tactical Rush 12 pack. The pack itself is a bit on the heavy side, but it is just the right size for a day hiking adventure, and it’s molle webbing system is ideal for attaching additional pouches for accessories. I’ve used it now on several adventures and the only downside I can see in this pack is that because its not made specifically for hiking, it’s not super ergonomic. A lighter day pack with a waist strap might be better. But overall I’m pleased with it… For an overnight trip I have an (at this moment) untested REI Flash 45. I like the feel of the straps and the empty weight of just about two pounds makes it a solid choice. Once I figured out how to pack a little smarter, the 45L size is perfectly adequate for a two day trip. I’ll have more to say on this once I get it out in the woods and test it.

In list form, the rest of it looks like this :

Cooking:
GSI Pinnacle Kettalist
GSI Insulated Mug
Fuel Cartridge
Soto Stove
GSI Titanium Long Spork

Water Management:
MSR Sweetwater Filter
1L Folding Water Bottle
Seattle Sports Water Bucket
3L CamelBak

Woodcraft tools:
Sven 15″ Folding Saw
Ontario Gen II SP46
Leather Work Gloves

Lighting/Nav:
B.D. Orbit Lantern
Black Diamond Head Lamp
Garmin Etrex Venture GPS
Map and Compass

Survival:
Fire Starting Kit – lighter, flint/steel, trioxane, storm proof matches
First Aid/Emer Kit – basic first aid, space blanket, signal mirror, chem lite etc.

Bivouac System:
EMS Velocity 1 Tent
EMS Mountain Lite 35
ThermaRest +11 Sleeping Bag Liner (optional)
ThermaRest NeoAir All Season Pad
Big Agnes Inflatable Pillow

Misc:
Pack Cover
Camp Towel
Camp Spade
50 ft. Reflective paracord

This doesn’t include much in the way of cold weather gear, because I’m rarely camping below 40 degrees. I’ll usually take a packable jacket, fleece, light base layer, gloves and a fleece watch cap.

Like any good system, it is constantly evolving. This year brought a major change to my overnight system. I swapped out my tent, heavy synthetic bag and equally heavy sleeping pad for lighter replacements which in total saved me a six pounds. In addition replacing the Gregory Z65 with the Flash 45, weighing in at just two pounds, helped me shave a shocking eight pounds off my load out. EIGHT. Pounds. Dude, that’s significant. I don’t think I’m going to go as far as some of the ultralight set ups that you read about, but with these changes, I’m looking at roughly twenty five pounds completely loaded out. To give some perspective, when we hiked Whiteface, my pack weighed fifty pounds. And believe me, I felt every ounce of it. That was two years, two packs ago and a tent ago.

It occurs to me that in backpacking, much like in life, when experienced people talk, it is in my best interest to listen. I had been resisting my buddy’s constant haranguing over the weight of my day pack, until I ran myself into the ground on Moosilauke. That enjoyable moment lead to my finally admitting that my first aid/survival kit was absurdly heavy. Believe me when I tell you there is no worse feeling, nor greater motivator in the world than watching your buddy hump some of your gear. This simply will not do. So I trimmed and cut until I ended up with a far lighter kit with fewer, albeit more realistic options.

A month later when I set out for Sawyer Pond, I spent the night with two guys who had recently finished all of the 4000 footers in New Hampshire. An impressive accomplishment to be sure. During the night we talked a lot about where to save weight while still taking what you need (in their case: beer). On that trip I brought the Z65 for a total of about 32 pounds of gear. Not too bad, but it was that experience that got me thinking about how pack weight affects total weight and the benefits of down over synthetic. I came back with some new ideas about where I could cut down, and thus, this current revision of the system was born.

So now the fun part: testing and review. The only real way to know if your system is going to work is to get out into the wilderness and put it to work. My limited experience has shown me that the weak points in the system will immediately make themselves known. It’s usually the stuff that looks really cool, but in reality offers little in the way of practical use. A perfect example of this is my Alite folding camp chair. I thought this chair was just the coolest thing. Weighing in at 1.4 pounds I brought it along on several adventures, but really only used it once… For a few minutes. Now to be fair, they were several well earned minutes, but after three more trips on which it went unused, it became obvious that I didn’t actually need it, and the room and weight it took up could do much to help lighten the load.

It’s that real world trial and error, and advice from more experienced people that has helped me learn over the years. It’s my hope that one day I can pass on some of the knowledge gained from my successes and failures to someone just starting out, perhaps helping them shed a few unnecessary pounds, or ditch that piece of gear they “just have to have,” for something better/lighter, or more functional. Hiking and backpacking is hard enough, there’s no reason to make it any harder.

September 2013

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The decision:

I’m going. My usual backpacking partner can’t make it, and determined to get one more camp in before the end of the season, I’ve decided to go in on my own. The decision to go out by myself is, for me, a big one. The time I’ve spent in the wilderness has mostly been with my buddy, who I consider a far more established hiker than I. Sure, we disagree about gear from time to time, but he’s always had my back, and this time ill be doing it without him.

The route:

As of this moment, I’m undecided. I have a couple ideas, and I have to carefully weigh the options. The epic ridge hike I had been considering seems like it might be a lot for my first solo overnight. I’m leaning towards the relatively easy hike into 13 Falls in Lincoln, NH. I’ve been around that area before, so it wouldn’t be a total unknown, and if for some reason I had to bail, it wouldn’t be too hard to get out. The other option is Sawyer Pond. The hike in is about the same, and the campsite overlooks the pond. The view would be nice, but it’s a small camp and could potentially be crowded.

The hike:

In a bout of indecision, I decided on the easier adventure. The plan was to hike into the Lincoln Woods on the Pemi East trail and camp at the Franconia Brook tentsite. It’s a short two and a half mile hike to a well put together set of tent sites right on the Pemigewasset River. I had been there once before on my first trip into the woods in decades. So leaving my house I thought it would be a good place to have my first solo camp. That was the plan.

What was it Moltke said? “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Seems legit.

In this case, “the enemy” was a tailgating woman in a Honda Pilot. Unsure of the location of the parking lot I was driving slower than normal up the Kangamangus Highway. In between watching intently for signs indicating the Lincoln Woods parking lot, I noticed the SUV riding my tail pretty tight. She was close enough that when I finally saw the lot, I couldn’t slow quick enough without causing an accident. So, I kept going. The trouble was that there are only a few spots to turn around, and being somewhat unfamiliar, I was going to have to slow quickly to get off. With my new found shadow closely in tow, that wasnt going to be easy.

As I got farther away from my intended objective, it occurred to me that the Sawyer Pond trail was somewhere in this direction. I initially wanted to hike in there, and since it was getting closer, and the Pemi farther away, I called an audible. Instead of taking the easier hike into known territory, I would take the longer hike into an unknown destination. Eventually, I pulled off to let the Honda pass, and kept my eyes peeled for any signs indicating Sawyer Pond.

It took about 30 minutes to find the trailhead. As I pulled in the lot, I noticed another car with a couple hikers milling about. It wasn’t clear if they were coming or going, day hiking, or camping, so I pulled into a spot and killed the engine. I sat for a moment contemplating my decision. I didn’t have a map, which is a pretty big failure on my part, but I do have GPS with terrain, so I was pretty certain I would be able to navigate to and from the pond. I got out to check the map at the trailhead. It seemed pretty straight forward, so I solidified my resolve and got my gear.

Keeping an eye on the other pair of hikers, I got the GPS up and running, and sent a check-in message to my wife. The message will give her my new coordinates, so she’ll know that I changed the plan. As I shouldered my pack, I heard, “Hey guy, where ya headed.” I told them I was hiking into Sawyer Pond and as it turned out, so were they. No sweat, there should be plenty of room. I turned and headed down the trail was immediately confronted with a river. Well, more of a stream, but it ran right down the middle of the trail. “Um, who the hell put that here?” Yeah, I get it, nature.. But still, I had to figure out how to get across.

Somewhat stymied by this unexpected turn of events, I made a right through some trees on the shore to see if I can find a way across. Nothing. Waist deep water at best was all I could see. I began to worry that this adventure was going to be over before it even started. About the time I got back to the trail. The other two hikers arrived and started looking for their own way to cross. They found a shallow spot, about knee deep down a seven foot ledge. It seemed to be the best solution so I watched them ease their way down the ledge into the water, took my boots off and followed suit. It was chilly, but not terrible. Using my poles for stability, I slowly made it across to the rocky shore.

Sitting on the shore getting dried off, I got to talking with the other guys. They seemed nice enough, and since we were all going the same way, were amenable to my joining their hike. With our gear squared away, we found the trail and started making our way towards Sawyer Pond.

The four and a half mile hike in was pleasant. Except for a small-ish gain in elevation near Birch Hill, the trail was mostly flat. My GPS wasn’t quite cooperating at first, and I immediately regretted that fact that I didn’t have a map with me. I mean, really, who goes into the wilderness without a map? Apparently I do. Not really cool, but fortunately, the guys I linked up with had one and we were able to find the trail as it branched off at a snowmobile trail.

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After just a couple hours of hiking, we arrived at Sawyer Pond. Following the trail around the wooded shore line lead to the shelter that sits facing the water. A fire ring and an improvised bench made it pretty clear that this was the place to be. We figured that since it was going to be chilly overnight, there wouldn’t be much threat of bugs and we’d sleep in the shelter rather than set up the tents at one of the the set back tent sites. It was looking to be a nice night and with the open side of the shelter facing east, we’d get a nice view of the sunrise over the hills in the morning.

I made a cup of tea as the sun set behind us and the night slowly crept in. The temperature was dropping and we got to work setting up the camp fire. The area was pretty well picked over for firewood so scrounging without cutting anything down was difficult. After scouring most of the empty tent sites we managed to find enough wood to last the night. The temperature got down into the high 40’s and rest of that night was spent beside the campfire bs’ing over a couple beers and freeze dried food. Not a terrible way to spend an evening.

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In the morning, as promised, the sun made it’s way over the hills and into the shelter. By sheer luck I had positioned my sleeping bag in the far corner, which gave me some protection from the fiery ball in the sky that was interrupting my otherwise enjoyable morning sleep. And then, cutting through the tranquil, still morning air:

“Guess what day it is? Guess. What. Day. It. Is? Mikemikemikemikemike.. Guess what day it is?”

“Fuck you, I’m sleeping.” Is the response.

“Matt… Matty.. Come on, I know you can hear me… What day is it?”

“Its Wednesday?”

“Hump day! Yeeeahh.”

“You’re an asshole.”

Good morning Sawyer Pond.

We pulled down the bear bags, and got the fire going again for breakfast. They were planning to hike the other side of the Sawyer Pond Trail and then cycle back to the five miles back to the parking lot. I thought about hiking the long way out, but it was going to be ten miles, and I decided to take the trail back the way we came. After spending an hour or so waking up and eating, I packed up my gear, bid the guys farewell, and headed back towards the truck.

Almost immediately I realized that leaving my pack on the ground during the night had opened the valve to my Camelbak and leaked out all of my water. Rookie mistake. (Those hooks are there for a reason bro.) As I made my way back, I came up to a small brook, kneeled down between the tracks of what I hoped was a passing moose, and filtered in a couple liters. The rest of the hike out went by fast enough and I soon arrived at the stream that ran across the trail leading to the parking lot. I did another quick recon on the shore line and came to the conclusion that the only way across was the way we came the day before. Only now I was going to have to climb up that ledge. I carefully waded across and got to the other side. I tossed my boots and poles up over the edge and, using a nearby tree root, hauled myself up and over the top. The effort lacked anything remotely like grace or style, but I made it. A few yards later I found my truck, in the same place I left it the morning before. I snapped a few pictures to bookend this adventure and headed home. While it didn’t turn out to be a solo trip into the Lincoln Woods, I was happy to have the company and discover a new part of the White Mountains. It seems that sometimes the adventure we set out on is not the one we end up having.

It’s taken me nearly a year to finish this post, and now, looking back on this overnight backpacking trip I’m reminded why I make the effort and take the time to embark on these adventures. On our way in, we talked about what draws us to the back country and I think Steve said it best: “How will you know what you’re made of unless you come out here and do this.” I think it’s an excellent point. I’m ever a student of the outdoors and I always try to take a little something from each trip that I can apply to the next one. This trip was no different.

So, what’s next? I guess all I have to do is pick a point on the map and grab my pack.