The First Test

We went backpacking during this past Fourth of July weekend with our friend Matt to test our gear and our overall attitude about setting out in March.

Our destination was Spirit Lake, an alpine lake tucked into the Pecos Wilderness and between five and six miles from the trail head at the base of Santa Fe Ski. (In truth, the destination was to be Lake Katherine, but it is about two more miles in and we decided Spirit Lake was as good as any. It turned out that Lake Katherine was crowded so we were blessed with a good excuse to not go as far as we originally had planned.)

We had exceptional weather even though Santa Fe County was under a flash flood watch the night we were out. We had no clue and were treated like rock stars by the people we passed on our hike out. Nearly each person out of about three dozen wanted to know how we had survived the night. We had only a sprinkle of rain. I decided that instead of shrugging off the fact that we had experienced no real rain we should say that Saturday night was one of the worst, most fearful nights of our lives. But we didn’t do this.

We Thought We Had “Home” Figured Out

Our new, two-person Tarp Tent kept the drizzle out once we remembered to zip it closed. But we have reservations. After hours upon hours of research, we selected the Tarp Tent Double Rainbow based on weight and price. It is a fine tent. It delivers on its promises. It is a two-person tent. So, the following isn’t a knock on the tent or its manufacturer. It’s just so small. So small. It makes our two-person REI Passage tent feel like a mansion. The Passage is five pounds and the Tarp Tent is 2.5 pounds.

Our decision now is do we take the Tarp Tent to keep the weight down or do we divide the Passage components between us to have more room? Which decision is best? Save weight? Or keep our marriage intact? (The AT is forcing us to think about some things in a whole new way and we’re still eight months from starting.)

We Have Camped Before, I Promise

Matt is going to join us for a section hike. He lives in Santa Fe but he has family in eastern Tennessee so he has a great spot from which to jump off from. It’s a good thing. He’ll probably help us out just when we need it most. Out of three fuel canisters that we had on this trip, only the one he brought actually had a decent amount of fuel in it. I don’t know what Adam and I were thinking. That cold, crumbly ramen is just as good?

With Matt on the trail.

With Matt on the trail.

We learned that an extra full fuel canister is just one of several items we need to find room for in our packs. The other is insect repellent. This is a no-brainer for most people, but I’ve lived in New Mexico for seven years and probably average two mosquito bites a year. It didn’t cross my mind. Camping next to a lake doubled my seven-year total overnight. We also need a second bottle of sanitizer, a second water filter, my contact solution, a second small food bag for when we are separated, gloves for me, etc., etc.

The problem is stuff weighs stuff and I already am not pleased with how heavy my 20-pound pack feels. Any way I can get a shakedown now instead of having to mail stuff back home when I am at Neels Gap? I think I can use it.

Just as with the tent, we are undecided about filters. We took our Sawyer Mini for the weekend. I like it. Adam says it’s fine but, “is slow as molasses.” He wants to take our Katadyn pump filter because it is faster. I say we take both. I can use the Sawyer with a one-liter bottle and he can use the filter that I find unwieldy to operate when I am tired, hungry and thirsty.

The Good News

Our backpacks, sleeping bags and sleeping mats will work. Most of the clothing we have now is fine. Our stove, eating utensils, makeshift first aid kit and other small items will work. What we do need is a system to keep the small gear organized in our packs. Once I was in camp, the twice-hourly baggie shuffle began. I kept pulling out plastic bag after plastic bag to look for items I thought I had properly categorized. It grew real old, real fast.

Cows eventually will yield the trail. The Puerto Nambe meadow that has to be crossed to get to Spirit Lake is beautiful grazing land. One big, black cow decided the trail was her spot. She bellowed at us and held her ground. No problem. I am not going to tangle with something that weighs half a ton unless it has decided to tangle with me. And, she had a calf with her. It became practice for black bears. But she kept bellowing and holding and we weren’t sure what to do. Eventually, her second calf sauntered out of the trees and tall grass and the happy trio wandered away.

We are perfectly happy spending at least one night in the woods. We’ve had only one other backcountry night together at another alpine lake outside of Taos. (Although, Adam has reminded me that our three trips to the bottom of the Grand Canyon were accomplished with minimal equipment. There is only so much you can get down there and back up. I am less inclined to count these trips because at the bottom you can buy beer and the toilets flush.) We took a car camping tent and sleeping bags. Talk about heavy packs. We have progressed so much since then. But five to six months out in the woods? We probably will not know what we’ve gotten ourselves into nor whether or not we’re up for it until we are there, experiencing it.

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