In the Beginning…
Prior to this summer, I had zero backpacking experience. I had turned down my husband’s offers to take me backpacking, typically in this fashion: ‘No way. I have to shower. Do I look like a pack mule? I do not poop in the woods. And what about makeup???‘
I have always been one for the outdoors, but only in small quantities with the assurance of a warm shower and clean sheets at the end of the day. I was raised on car camping, and I thought that was ‘roughing it.’ Backpacking was a kind of adventure I hadn’t ever really considered.
We started planning an AT thru hike in January of 2016. By June, we had acquired enough gear to hit the trail. Our work schedules didn’t allow us much time for multi-day trips, but we did manage to squeeze in three overnight ‘mini-shakedown hikes.’
Stevens Lakes – June 2016
Trail specs: 4 miles out-and-back, 1600′ gain per guidebook, 2200′ gain per GPS. Location: Idaho.
The first trail that I selected was short, which was good because I worked the morning that we left. Despite valiant efforts, we didn’t actually set out on our hike until 5:45 PM. Surprisingly enough, a lone backpacker set off just a few hundred feet behind us.
The whole hike was a climb. I didn’t account for the amount of time it takes to climb 1000′ per mile. My pack weighed 20 pounds, and I wasn’t used to carrying that weight around. I was huffing and puffing, but I couldn’t afford to stop and take a break because the sun was setting quickly. Philip and I waited for the other hiker so that he wouldn’t be alone in the dark. As a group, we decided to do a bit of bushwhacking on a less-traveled trail to avoid some switchbacks on the shale.
Most of the campsites were claimed by groups who had arrived earlier than us. We pitched our tent, a Six Moons Design Lunar Duo, in a less-than-desirable location next to the lake on a slope. A church group invited us to warm up by their roaring fire, and we happily accepted.
Later, we retired to our tent and I spent most of the night slipping toward the bottom of our tent. I slept cozily in a Therm-a-Rest Mira down sleeping bag that I borrowed from a coworker. In the morning, I woke up to a terrible condensation problem and a beautiful view. After wiping the tent with my camp towel, Philip and I took off down the trail. My trekking poles saved me on quick and steep descent back to the car.
Hiking at dusk makes me nervous. Other hikers are the best part of hiking. Getting a tight pitch on a free-standing tent is tricky. I need to pick a better campsite. Trekking poles are life. If you have the right equipment, being a ‘pack mule’ isn’t a problem.
Gear I Need/Want:
My own sleeping bag. A camp towel for Philip.
Upper Priest Lake – July 2016
Trail Specs: 12 miles out-and-back, minimal gain. Location: Idaho.
To celebrate Philip’s birthday, we set off on another overnight trip. We had recently received our Enlightened Equipment Revelation quilts and I was super eager to spend a night wrapped up in down fluffiness. We hiked 6 miles of mostly-shaded and well-maintained trail in stifling 93 degree heat with the promise of cool water to swim in once we got to camp.
Tent sites were plentiful and very flat. We got a nice and tight pitch of our tent and I set out my quilt to fluff up immediately. We made Top Ramen in a single Titan Teakettle and argued over who got to hold the bowl. Louise took a refreshing dip in the lake while Philip and I marveled at the beauty around us.
When darkness fell, we lit a fire and drank some wine. I crawled into my tent and proceeded to roast in the furnace of my quilt. Eventually, I kicked it off but stayed plenty warm in the 60 degree heat. When the sun was up, we packed all of our things up and nearly sprinted the 6 miles back to the car in order to beat the heat.
Condensation isn’t really a problem in the tent as long as we pick a good site. I can hike really quickly on flat terrain. Sharing food supplies won’t work. Quilts>sleeping bags.
Gear I need/want:
Another Titan Teakettle. Summer weight quilt?
Salmo-Priest Loop – August 2016
Trail specs: 19 mile loop, 3400′ gain, Idaho/Washington
This hike was the longest and most remote hike that we completed. Tucked into the upper corner of Eastern Washington, this trail crossed into Idaho and had views into Canada. Big wildlife, including grizzly bears, frequent this area.
From the outset, it was tough going. We started late on our drive, and I got lost trying to find the trailhead. We hit the trail at 1:30 PM and had 10 miles to hike in order to get to our planned campsite. In my infinite wisdom, I
might have downplayed the grizzly bear presence in order to convince Philip that it would be a safe getaway for us and Louise. I sincerely regretted this decision once we started hiking. We had bear spray. Other hikers that we passed had shotguns. I felt underprepared.
We hiked in the rain, which wasn’t awful. What was awful was (once again) hiking with the waning sun in unfamiliar territory without anyone else around. My eyes played tricks on me; I was certain that bears were around every corner. All at once, the fear and panic hit me. In a quivering voice, I cried out to Philip:
‘I am going to hike and cry now. You don’t need to do anything about it, but you should just know what is going on back here.’
I hiked and cried tears of fatigue, fear, and frustration. I doubted my mental resolve. When we got to the campsite, we had only 15 minutes of light left. We set up our gear and bagged our food very far away. I was too exhausted to eat, so I didn’t bother. The night was cold, and my Outdoor Research Filament down puffy couldn’t keep me warm. I crawled into my quilt and covered up Louise. I slept like dead in the 28 degree weather and never once felt chilled (10 degree quilt for the win)!
In the morning, Philip confessed that he hadn’t really slept because of the large ‘woodland creatures’ moving through our site. Turns out that his brain plays tricks on him, too. The sun wasn’t really up yet when I woke, but I scrambled out of the tent and waited for what I was sure would be a spectacular sunrise. The view did not disappoint me.
It was still cold in the morning, so we got a quick start to the remaining 9 miles. As we hiked, we kept a diligent eye out for bears and called out ‘hey bear’ approximately 1,452,981 times. At the end of the trail, I loaded my things into the trunk and reflected on the difficulty of this trip. I decided that my tears weren’t really a sign of weakness…sure, I turn into waterworks when I get tired and stressed but I never stopped moving. I can chalk that up to a victory.
Hiking with the setting sun can be downright scary (I am a slow learner). My puffy isn’t warm enough. Maybe those bear bells aren’t so stupid after all. Not wearing makeup is really handy…no runny mascara!
A warmer jacket and a better food bag.
In the End…
This summer was an incredible season! I can add a modest amount of experience to my backpacking repertoire, and my confidence has certainly increased. These hikes were very informative, and I am glad to have hiked in such a variety of conditions and terrains.
I owe a whole lot of thanks to Philip for putting up with all my crazy, not just once, but three times! Hopefully that bodes well for the five-month behemoth in front of us. If you ever happen to come across me while hiking and crying, feel free to wave as you go by and remind me that tears and sweat are the reason that makeup doesn’t belong on the trail. Happy hiking ♥
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