2020: Backpacking Lessons Learned

My brother’s pack after a rock chuck decided it wanted a treat during our Weminuche Wilderness trip.

This year I was able to get in three different backpacking trips: Eagle Rock Loop (AR), Weminuche Wilderness (CO), and South San Juan Wilderness (CO). The links will take you to the trip summaries. Each trip was quite unique, and each had lessons to be learned. I have compiled the main ones I can remember below.

Hikes outside the “big mountains” can be quite difficult. I figured, being at lower elevation, and with no huge elevation gains or losses, that the Eagle Rock Loop wouldn’t be too challenging. It ended up wearing me out a lot more than I expected. The ups and downs were pretty much straight up and down (no switchbacks), and the bunches of small ups and downs definitely added up. I’m sure it helped being at lower elevation though. For not being in the “big mountains”, I was actually quite impressed with this hike.

Wear rain gear when hiking through wet vegetation. It rained a decent amount early in the Weminuche Wilderness trip. For some reason it never crossed my mind to put on my rain gear the second day while hiking through dense, wet vegetation until after I was completely soaked. I think part of it was that I didn’t realize we would be walking through so much wet vegetation, and another part of it was I didn’t realize just how wet the vegetation would be. My brother and I learned our lesson pretty quickly, and on the third day we put on our rain gear before we hit the trail since it appeared we would be walking through wet vegetation again.

Bring more toilet paper than you think you need. Probably TMI for some of you, but I’ll explain: For whatever reason, on previous backpacking trips, I would rarely take a poop during the trip. As soon as we got back into town, I would need to go, but during the trip, I usually didn’t. I figured the Weminuche Wilderness trip would be more of the same, so I didn’t pack a whole lot of toilet paper. However, on that trip, I ended up taking a poop every day but the first, I believe. I’m guessing it had to do with the change in food. We ended up running out of toilet paper at the end of the third day. My brother made it back to the campground before he had to go again, but I had to use some natural material to wipe on the fourth day of the trip.

Rock chucks can be destructive. You can read about the destructive rock chuck in my Weminuche Wilderness trip summary. The picture at the top of the blog is just one of the pieces of gear that it damaged. For whatever reason, all the gear it decided to go after was my brother’s. I felt pretty bad for him. We had camped around rock chucks before and never had any problems, so it didn’t even cross our minds there would be any issues. I have since heard of other people having this problem as well. It definitely made us wary of camping around rock chucks in the future!

Filter/bottle freezing prevention. My brother and I changed up how we did water on the Weminuche Wilderness trip (more about that here). I left the cap for my bottle in the car when we hit the trail. After the cold front came through, I was concerned that the temperature might drop below freezing. Normally I would put the filters in Ziploc style bags and then keep them in the sleeping bag overnight, but I realized that I didn’t bring any extra Ziploc style bags for this. I also realized that, without my cap, I couldn’t seal my bottle without the filter on it, which meant I couldn’t keep it in the tent overnight if the filter was in my sleeping bag. Forgetting the Ziploc style bags was an oversight on my part. I knew to bring those and just spaced it out. Leaving the cap was definitely due to not being used to using a bottle.

Write down the parmesan amount (or add it before). For the Weminuche Wilderness trip, I tried several Backcountry Foodie recipes for dinner (more about that here). I believe all the recipes I tried called for parmesan cheese, and they had recommended using single serving packets to help the cheese last longer. Instead of dumping the cheese into the spice packets when I was preparing the meals, I brought along the single serve packets and was going to put the parmesan cheese into the meal when I was making it in the backcountry. What I didn’t realize was that the backcountry instructions for the meals didn’t include the amount of parmesan cheese to include. So I just had to wing it. Haha. In the future, I’ll likely go ahead and put the parmesan cheese in the spice packets while I’m preparing the meals at home instead of bringing the single serve packets with me.

Don’t cinch my pack too tight. On the first day of the Weminuche Wilderness trip, it felt like my pack was riding a little bit too low on my waist, so I cinched the hip belt down pretty tight. After we reached our destination, my right hip/upper thigh/groin area was really, really sore. It hurt way more than it had done on any previous trip. The only thing I could think of was that I had the hip belt a little bit too tight. I didn’t tighten it up quite as much the rest of the trip, and never had that problem again.

Be thankful for trail crews. There were sections on all three trips where I had to deal with lots of blow downs, or the trail wasn’t even existent. It made me realize just how nice maintained trails are. So big shout out and thank you to all the trail crews out there maintaining the trails! After I finished my South San Juan Wilderness trip, I ran into a trail crew in the parking lot that had just finished doing trail maintenance. It was the first time I had ever run into a trail maintenance crew. I would have loved to stay and chat with them for a while, but I wanted to get the “mouse in my car” situation taken care of as fast as possible, so I didn’t stick around. I’m not sure if I’m more mad at the mouse for trashing my car or causing me to miss that opportunity to chat with the trail crew.

Mice can get into closed vehicles. On a camping trip a couple years back I had a mouse get into the passenger compartment of my car. I figured it got into some stuff I had laying on the ground that later got put into the car, or managed to jump in the car when the doors were open at some point. After getting a mouse in my car a second time on the South San Juan Wilderness trip, I was a little bit baffled. I was pretty sure it couldn’t have got into anything I left laying around, as I was pretty careful about not doing that. My dad ended up doing some research online, and apparently it’s somewhat common for mice to be able to get into the passenger compartment of a closed vehicle. I had no idea. Definitely nice to know. Will be better about leaving food in the car from now on.

I have a love/hate relationship with thunderstorms. I love the sound of thunder in the mountains, and it’s nice to get the cloud cover in the afternoon to keep it cool in the tent. I’m not a big fan of laying down to rest in a hot tent. However, probably due to my meteorology background, and living in Oklahoma for the last 13 years, I have a healthy respect for what thunderstorms are capable of. I also know there isn’t really a good place to get protected from lightning while backpacking. Thus, I always get stressed when there are thunderstorms while I’m backpacking. If I remember correctly, every day of my South San Juan Wilderness trip involved thunderstorms nearby, so that trip definitely brought this out.

Using GPS has its pros & cons. When I was learning about thru hiking early in the year, I discovered there were apps I could use to show my location on trail maps. I thought this was pretty cool, and decided to give it a try on my Colorado trips. It wasn’t really necessary on the Weminuche Wilderness trip, although it was handy to pull up the maps and see exactly where we were. On the South San Juan Wilderness trip, it came in much more handy. On the second day there was a point where the trail completely disappeared for quite some time, and had it not been for having the GPS to use, I very well might have turned around. Later on there were a couple “trails” marked on my maps that ended up being cross country routes across high plateaus, which weren’t marked very well with cairns. It was really nice to be able to pull up the maps with GPS and see if I was headed in the right direction, which I often wasn’t. Looking at the GPS also made me realized I missed a turn at one point, and had I not looked at GPS, I probably would have gone a ways further before I even realized it. However, I also noticed with using the GPS that I wasn’t paying as much attention to terrain and features to understand where I was. Had I not had the GPS, I likely would have spent more time looking at maps to figure out certain terrain/features along the trail, and then paying more attention to terrain/features as I hiked. In my opinion, that is probably the better way to go. Also, on those cross country routes, I have a feeling they may have been better had I just figured out what heading I needed, and used my compass to follow that heading, instead of getting off the route, realizing it with GPS, heading back to get on the route, and then repeating many times. So while it definitely is a powerful tool, I think there is definitely a place for map and compass skills, and an awareness of what to expect in regards to terrain and features on the upcoming trail.

Leave me a comment about any lessons you learned on the trail this year!

One thought on “2020: Backpacking Lessons Learned”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s