Ozark Highlands Trail: Shakedown Thoughts Pt. 2

Gear changes for the Ozone to Lake Ft. Smith section of the OHT.

Although it was a bummer to call it quits at Ozone on my first OHT hike when I had been planning on going all the way to Lake Ft. Smith (LFS), it did allow me to make some tweaks to gear and test those out after getting back on trail. You can read about my gear thoughts after the Woolum to Ozone section here. This blog will mainly cover the gear changes I made for the Ozone to LFS section and how those worked out. I’ll also cover a couple changes to make going forward. The image below lists out the gear I took on the Ozone to LFS hike.

Changes for Ozone to LFS

Camera/Video Gear: After my Woolum to Ozone hike I decided I needed to swap out my camera gear for something less bulky and lighter. I can put up with carrying my big DSLR on short trips, but carrying it for 3,100 miles was going to be a whole other deal. I decided on a Sony a6400. It was much lighter and more compact, and seemed like a good picture/video combo camera. I spent a good chunk of my free time between the two hikes trying to learn the camera. During my hike I found out it’s a little difficult using the same camera for photos and video, as I use different settings for each. I also generally have a polarizer on for photos and take it off for videos. I think I prefer my DSLR for photos, but it was definitely much nicer to carry the smaller camera. Part of the weight savings was offset by bringing along a gimbal for video. I haven’t gone through my video from the Ozone to LFS section, but I have a feeling between the new camera and gimbal, it will be a lot better than the video from my phone on the Woolum to Ozone section.

Footwear: This was a big one due to the blisters I got on the Woolum to Ozone hike. I decided to give my Darn Tough socks another try. I had used the Darn Tough socks before and had issues with really sore big toes, after which I switched to the running socks for a few different trips. I decided to try Injinji liners for the first time on this trip. I also used a surgeon’s knot on each shoe to try and keep my heel in place a little better. Finally, I brought along some sandals to use for creek crossings and wearing around camp. During the day I would usually swap out my socks at least once for some dry socks. I often felt like I was getting blisters during the trip, but I never actually had one form. That was definitely a good sign. Hopefully it stays that way for the CDT.

Insulated Booties: I have had some backpacking trips before where I had some issues with cold feet. Generally I’ll bring along a spare pair of socks to use for sleeping to help with that. Earlier this year when we had a really cold stretch of weather I tested out my sleeping gear to see how low I was willing to go with temperature. It actually did quite well, but I struggled with cold feet. After that I did a little research and came across the Enlightened Equipment Sidekicks. I ordered these before my Woolum to Ozone hike but didn’t get them until afterwards, so I decided to give them a try on this trip even though it wasn’t supposed to be particularly cold. I loved them. They were great to have on during the evening if I was just sitting around at camp, and they were great to have on in the sleeping bag. The only bummer about them is I can’t wear them to walk around. But for keeping my feet warm in the sleeping bag or sitting at camp, they worked great.

Ice Axe/Micro spikes: You’re probably wondering what the heck I was doing carrying an ice axe and micro spikes on the OHT. It was purely for practice packing them along. I wanted to see if I had any issues with where I packed them or put them on my pack. I didn’t come across any issues other than the ice axe makes it a little bit more difficult to go under low trees/branches. I would like to get out on some snow prior to getting on the CDT to get some practice with the micro spikes and ice axe, but I’m not sure if I’ll get around to that or not.

Changes to Make Going Forward

Chapstick: I’ll normally bring a tube of chapstick along on hikes, but for some reason I didn’t on this trip and I regretted it. I think that’s the worst chapped lips I have ever had, although thankfully they never split real bad. It finally got to the point to where I was putting olive oil on them to try and help them out. I’ll have to be sure and take some chapstick along on future hikes.

Mount gimbal/camera: Each time I wanted to take a video, I had to take the gimbal out of it’s bag, take the camera out of it’s bag, put the camera on the gimbal, get the gimbal set up, take the video, take the camera off the gimbal, put the camera up, and then put the gimbal up. It was quite the process. Haha. I’ll have to take some time to see if I can figure out a way to mount the gimbal with camera attached to my shoulder strap to make it easier to take video. The setup I used would work pretty well to protect the camera and gimbal in inclement weather, but it would be nice to have them more available during better weather.

Gloves: I used some brushtail possum gloves from Zpacks, and while they seemed to do a decent job at keeping my hands warm, they got hair everywhere. It nearly looked like I was bringing some sort of pet along with me at times. Haha. I’m not sure if I’ll switch them out, but I’ll at least look into other options.

Stretching: I always stretch after my runs, but for some reason I have never stretched after I finish a day of backpacking. I listened to a podcast during this trip where there was a discussion about stretching while thru hiking, and yet I still didn’t remember to do it. Haha. I need to get into the habit of stretching a bit each day after I finish hiking. I’m sure it would help.

Closing Thoughts

Overall I was quite happy with my gear after this hike. I’m a little bit worried about being on the heavy side, but I have thought and thought and thought about my gear and feel like this is the best fit for me, so I’ll give it a shot. It’s definitely doable, but will make the CDT a little more difficult. I feel much better about my gear after the Ozone to LFS section than I did before. I’m sure there will still be tweaks made as I prepare for the CDT and as I go along the CDT, but I feel like I’m at a good starting point.

Ozark Highlands Trail: Shakedown Thoughts

The main goal of my Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) hike earlier this month was to use it as a “shakedown” hike for my upcoming Continental Divide Trail (CDT) hike. I wanted to get some systems/routines worked out, figure out if there was any gear that I didn’t like or that didn’t work, etc. There was plenty of new gear to test out. In order to mimic my CDT hike, I took along several pieces of gear I normally wouldn’t have brought along on this hike. This blog has some thoughts on what worked, what didn’t, and planned changes. (You can read my trip report here.)

What Worked

Pack: Once I figured out how to wear the pack correctly and got it all adjusted, I was quite happy with it. There are three main concerns I have with it though. First, the waist straps. I have to have the waist straps cinched down as tight as they will go. Hopefully if I lose some weight along the CDT it won’t cause the pack to stop fitting. Second, the water bottle holders. Getting my bottle put back in on this pack is much more difficult than on my other pack. Third, there is really no spare room. It might be a little tricky figuring out how to carry extra water for parts of the CDT. I think as long as I don’t have a big food carry and big water carry all at the same time, I’ll be ok. Also, I don’t think this is quite as comfortable as my other pack. But, even with all that said, overall I was pretty happy with the pack, especially for saving a couple pounds over my other pack.

Experience in wet weather: I haven’t done a whole lot of hiking in wet weather. I have been stormed on up in the mountains, but I have never had day after day of rain and creek crossings and have done little hiking while it was actually raining. It was good to finally get some experience in that type of weather. My rain gear kept me dry from the rain, not so much from the sweat, which is a problem with most, if not all, rain gear. I quickly learned to tuck my shirt into my rain pants when it’s raining, otherwise the bottom of it gets soaked. Other than my tent (which I’ll discuss later), I didn’t seem to have any problems with water getting somewhere it shouldn’t be. Based on the forecast when I started the trip, I expected to be walking in the rain much more than I actually did. Although the experience was good, I was glad I didn’t have a lot of walking in the rain.

Mileage: I was quite worried about being able to string several 15ish mile days back to back to back. After I got my pack figured out, and excluding my feet, I was actually quite happy with how my body did. I was definitely sore and worn out at the end of each day, but I was able to make the mileage I needed, and my body seemed to recover pretty well each night. I even was able to get in just under 20 miles one day. I’m not sure how I would have felt by the end had I done the whole 164 miles, but this was at least an encouraging sign. I hope to start off a little slower than that on the CDT, but it was good to see how my body handled this mileage right off the bat. As long as I can get my feet figured out, I’ll feel pretty darn good about the physical part of it.

Creek Crossings: One of the things that made me most nervous during the trip was creek crossings. There were only two that ended up being fairly difficult: Buffalo River and the west crossing of Hurricane Creek. Thankfully I hit the water levels at a good time and made it across safely each time.

Maps: I had started out mainly using the Guthook app, but as I went along, I found myself looking more and more at the OHT Backcountry Maps from Underwood Graphics. It was really nice to pair the maps with Guthook as one often had a camp spot listed that the other didn’t.

Water: Speaking of Guthook, I was a little curious starting off since water sources on Guthook often had several miles between them. I brought bladders to carry extra water if needed (I actually wanted to try a big water carry at some point). Shortly before starting I had someone mention that “water was everywhere” and they were correct. There are many, many creek crossings that aren’t marked in Guthook. Some of them may dry up during certain times of the year, but I would be willing to bet there are a lot of them that don’t. So there is no shortage of places to stop and refill water.

Foods: I tried several foods on this trip that I hadn’t tried before. I really liked the yogurt covered raisins and dried mango for snacks. I’ll have to keep those in mind for future trips.

What Didn’t Work

Footwear: as I mentioned in my trip report blog, this is an obvious one due to the blisters. I’ll definitely have to figure out how to prevent those. I think next hike I’ll try using liners and different socks as well as lacing my shoes a little different. Hopefully that will help. But it was just as much about the constantly wet feet. I wore trail runners and crossed the creeks with those on. I didn’t bring any other shoes. Between the rain and creek crossings, from day 3 on my shoes were rarely dry. It was really annoying to get to camp and have nothing else to wear other than wet shoes when I wanted to dry out my feet. One option to fight this would be to bring waterproof boots and separate shoes to cross the creeks. This would help a lot where there is relatively shallow water running along the trail that gets into trail runners. My big problem with this is that it would add a lot of time to creek crossings. I had days where there were as many as 4-5 creek crossings that would have required changing shoes, which could add upwards of an hour spent crossing creeks. If you’re not on a time crunch, not a big deal. But if you’re trying to knock out some miles, this is less than ideal. What I’ll likely do if I hike the second half of the trail is bring some sandals to wear around camp at the end of the day. That way I can at least try to air out my feet for a bit at the end of the day. I’ll also likely bring an extra pair of socks (three pairs total) and try to change out socks a little more often. This shouldn’t be as big of a problem on the CDT, but it does have me reconsidering whether or not I want to bring along my sandals.

Camera: bringing along my DSLR has always been a hassle, but one I’ve been willing to put up with for short trips. I didn’t take my DSLR on my first couple backpacking trips and I still regret not doing that. However, after this trip, I realized that I likely won’t want to deal with the DSLR for 3,100 miles (distance of the CDT). I have already bought a Sony mirrorless camera to use instead, so the bulk and weight of my camera gear will definitely be going down, although it will be offset some by bringing along a gimbal for video purposes.

Umbrella: This is one of those items I normally wouldn’t have brought on this trip, but I plan on taking it on the CDT, so I wanted to give it a try. I tried it out right at the start of the trail while I had some room on the dirt road and quickly realized that I needed to figure out a different way to mount it. I was able to mount it, but it was so low I could only see a few feet in front of me. I’ll have to try and figure out a way to mount it a little bit higher.

My Mind: I forgot my sunglasses in my car, and then forgot a tent stake on two separate occasions. Hopefully I don’t have that frequent of instances of forgetfulness on the CDT.

Tent: In order to cut down on weight I bought the REI Flash Air 2 tent, and this was the first trip to use that tent. Between the condensation on the inside (an issue for all tents with that type of design) and issues with water getting inside the tent when it was raining, I wasn’t a huge fan of it. I believe the main issue with water getting in the tent was due to a bad seam, but I know there was also a little bit of water splashing into the tent when it was raining heavily. I’m debating on whether or not to use my old tent (which I like better but would add around 1 lb to my weight and I’m already on the heavy side) or exchange for a new Flash Air 2 and hope that the water getting in is due to a manufacturing defect on the tent I have.

Phone Case: I used a brand new waterproof case on my phone for this trip, and at some point mid-trip it broke. The piece used to turn the phone on/off silent fell out. I was able to put it back in, but it wasn’t in there very well. Thankfully that didn’t cause any issues. I have already purchased a different case to try on the next hike.

Slow Getting Going In Mornings: I got better towards the end of the trip, but some of that was due to not eating breakfast at camp and not brushing my teeth. It also didn’t help that I spent several minutes every morning but one drying off my tent. Hopefully I can get a little better at getting going in the morning as I get systems and routines worked out.

Sleeping Pad: This worked with the exception of apparently not being waterproof. This was another new piece of gear for this trip. I honestly like the sleeping pad I was using before much better, and it is waterproof, but it is much, much louder when I move around (which I do a lot), so I decided to go with this one. As long as I don’t get water in the tent, this shouldn’t be a big deal, but it was still a bummer to find that out.

Foods: I found out that I’m not a big fan of Idahoan potatoes (at least the mix I got). The Idahoan potatoes mix was also a ton of food. I could barely finish it. I also realized after I got home that the two pasta mixes I brought along required milk, which I didn’t have with me. Not sure how they would have turned out without the milk. Haha. Note to self: look at ingredients needed and instructions when purchasing food to bring on trail.

So, although cut short, the trip definitely did what it was supposed to do in providing feedback. I think it will actually turn out to be a good thing to make some tweaks and try those on my next hike (hopefully the second half of the trail). A second hike should give me some good practice with the new camera. I’m going to need it. And fingers crossed the blisters aren’t an issue on the next hike!

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!

My Beginner Trail Lessons: Part 10

For a short background on this series, see my first post.  

S.T.O.P. slide from PowerPoint by Steve Lagreca

I have covered lots of lessons learned over the course of this blog series. There are likely many more small lessons I didn’t include. To close up this series, I want to cover what is probably the biggest lesson I have learned over the course of all my backpacking trips. This is to stay calm, think, and don’t rush when things don’t quite seem right or don’t go to plan. The S.T.O.P. acronym above is a great thing to keep in mind.

On our first trip, this may have resulted in me actually knowing we were still headed in the right direction, instead of just having a hunch/hoping we were. When I couldn’t find the trail in the Tetons, this could have resulted in me finding the trail again instead of taking the more dangerous route. When we were pumping water on the Highland Park trip and it got hard to pump, this may have saved us from having to cut the trip short due to a broken filter.

I could go on and on with this. There is a moment on nearly all of my backpacking trips where this would have likely saved or did save me some trouble. This S.T.O.P. acronym is often aimed towards people who are lost, but it comes in handy in many other situations as well. Rushed/hurried decisions, or those made while panicking, often aren’t the best decisions, and while you are backpacking, there can be severe consequences for bad decisions.

So when something goes awry in your next backpacking trip, S.T.O.P. Take a breath, relax, think, and take as much time as you can to make the best decision possible.

One more thing I want to touch on: you don’t need the best gear to do backpacking. My brother and I started off with a lot of cheap equipment on our first trips, and we were able to do the trips. Over the years, I have upgraded nearly all of my equipment to better equipment. It definitely helps in the comfort department, but it’s definitely not necessary. So don’t think to start out that you need to spend a boatload of money. You can definitely start off cheap like my brother and I did and work your way up to better equipment over time.

My Beginner Trail Lessons: Part 9

For a short background on this series, see my first post.  

Sep 2019 – Observation Peak Area – Sawtooth Range, ID

My reprieve from train wreck trips was short lived. With my previous train wrecks, I was able to at least get in most of the trip. That wasn’t the case with this one. You can read my trip report here.

First lesson from this trip: don’t get in a rush. As soon as I got up to the first lake, I could tell it would probably be difficult to find a spot to pitch my tent. I could also tell there were already a few people at the lake, which would probably make finding a spot even more difficult. That got me in the mindset that I needed to hurry and find a spot. I pitched my tent at the first spot I found, which I wasn’t a big fan of, and was way too close to the lake. Thus, I figured I would try and hurry up to the second lake and see if I could find a spot up there. I went around the first lake, and didn’t see any obvious trail heading up to the second lake. In my hurry up mentality, instead of taking some time to look for a better route, I decided to take a route up to the lake that was quite steep and had a lot of loose rock. Probably about 2/3 of the way up I slipped on some loose rock and fell, and knew right away I had hurt my hand.

I’m lucky it wasn’t worse than it ended up being. Looking back on it, it was a pretty stupid decision, especially once I actually figured out the better way to the second lake (on my way back to the first lake). But it really all began when I got in that hurry up mentality. If I had actually taken my time and found the better way, there likely would have been a much better outcome. Getting in a hurry in the backcountry definitely increases the risk of something bad happening.

Second lesson: if you can, ask for directions if you’re unsure. I generally try not to bug other people while in the mountains. I’m shy as it is, and I know a lot of people get into the mountains to get away from people. Looking back on it, once I figured out I didn’t see the easier route to the second lake, I should have asked some of the people at the lake if they knew how to get up there. I’m sure they probably wouldn’t have minded, and once again, it likely would have had a better outcome. Funny thing is I should have learned this on my Aero Lakes trip when a couple other hikers found a way down a small cliff side.

My Beginner Trail Lessons: Part 8

For a short background on this series, see my first post.  

July 2019 – Aero Lakes – Beartooth Mountains, MT

Lower Aero Lake

After three rough trips in a row, I was really in need of a good trip. Thankfully this trip came through, although it almost went sideways the first day. You can read my trip report here.

So first lesson: being familiar with your hike can save you a lot of time and frustration. Do some research into the hike ahead of time. See what information you can learn on the internet. If you know other people who have done the hike, talk to them about it. Then, when you’re on the trail, be following along with where you are on the map and be thinking ahead in regards to what should be coming ahead on the trail. If I hadn’t known we should be going against the flow of water, I have no idea how far down that trail we would have ended up before we realized we went the wrong way. Although it wasn’t marked on the map, the trail we had started down was mentioned in a guidebook I had read, so once we got on the right trail I connected the dots and realized what that other trail was.

Second lesson: the largest, most worn trail isn’t necessarily the correct one. Once I put all the puzzle pieces together, taking the smaller trail made sense. But without any signs and no trail intersection on the map, my logical choice was to take the larger trail. I learned pretty quick that isn’t always the right choice. Haha.

My Beginner Trail Lessons: Part 7

For a short background on this series, see my first post.  

September 2018 – Highline Trail – Uinta Mts., UT

At the bottom of the east side of Rocky Sea Pass.

This was trip number three in a row that ended in a train wreck (remember how I mentioned in an earlier blog I’m now very thankful when things go to plan). The first three days of this trip went really well. The fourth day not so much. You can read about the hike in this blog post. What lessons did this trip teach me?

First, keep my Camelbak bladder in the tent overnight to reduce the chance of it freezing. While it didn’t end up being a huge problem on this trip, it was definitely an inconvenience I would like to avoid in the future if possible.

Second, carrying a detailed map of the area you plan to hike, as well as a less detailed, broader view map, is a good idea. Thankfully I had both on this trip, and I was able to reference the broader view map to see what other options I had for hiking out had I not been able to get out to the trailhead where I started due to the fire. I wrote a little more detailed blog post about this after this trip.

Third, having a way to communicate with the outside world would have definitely helped with the stress level. If it had come to hiking out to a different trailhead, I would have had no way of letting anybody know that’s where I was. I would have to bank on finding someone who would be willing to give me a ride to my vehicle at the other trailhead. If I had been carrying a satellite communication device like I do now, I could have let my parents know if I hiked to that other trailhead, and at least had them try to contact someone (likely the local ranger office) to see if a ride could be arranged.

My Beginner Trail Lessons: Part 6

For a short background on this series, see my first post.  

July 2018 – Highland Park – Big Horn Mts., WY

View from above Highland Lake.

This was another one of the train wreck trips mentioned in the previous blog. The first couple days went really well, other than leaving the Sawtooth Lakes area sooner than we would have liked due to storms. On our hike the third day, I had planned to stop at a particular lake for a little while so my brother could do some fishing. The map showed the trail going right next to the lake, but it never came that close. We realized pretty quickly that we had missed it, but we decided to keep going. Things just went downhill from there.

We ended up stopping later at a different lake for lunch. My brother tried some fishing, but we weren’t sure the lake even had fish. We kept moving and made it up to Highland Park mid-afternoon, where we decided to camp. It was stormy around, and the wind came up pretty good around dinner time. While the wind was blowing, we went to go get water from a small pond nearby. The wind had caused the water to become quite dirty. After pumping some water, it became quite difficult to pump, but we kept at it and we eventually got our water. The next morning, while taking a break on our hike and filling up with more water, my brother noticed he had “floaties” in his water, at which point we realized our water filter was likely bad. Since our only back up was boiling water, we decided to hike out that day (a day early).

Thankfully neither my bother or I got sick. After this I realized I hadn’t put enough thought into the water filter going bad/breaking situation. While we could have boiled water if it came down to it, once I started really thinking about it, it was not a great option. It would have been very time consuming (small amount at a time, having to let it cool before pouring in our bladders) and would have used a lot, if not all, of the fuel we had with us. After this trip, we both got Sawyer Mini filters to use as back up in case we had an issue again. So definitely put some thought into what your back up plan is if your primary water filtration system has problems. I’m not saying you can’t use boiling, but just know the pros and cons of each method.

My Beginner Trail Lessons: Part 5

For a short background on this series, see my first post.  

July 2017 – Teepee Pole Flats/Emerald Lake – Big Horn Mts., WY

Sunset while camped at Emerald Lake.

This trip, along with three of the following four trips, were pretty much train wrecks. There were lots of valuable lessons learned during this stretch. Haha.

The plan for this trip was to do the purple loop in the map above, starting at the yellow star and going counter clockwise. However, on the first day, we ran into a creek crossing that we didn’t feel comfortable crossing because of the depth and current (roughly in the vicinity of the red star). We briefly looked for other options, then decided to head back to Teepee Pole Flats (pink star) and figure out what we wanted to do. We ended up camping at Teepee Pole Flats, and then hiked back out to the campground at the trailhead the next day and stayed there for a night. After that we hiked to Emerald Lake (orange star) and spent a night there before hiking back out. So what lessons did I take away from this?

First, trekking poles were on my list of gear to get for the next trip. I had never used them since I figured they were additional items to bring along that I didn’t necessarily need, but they would have been really useful for this creek crossing. I have taken trekking poles and used them throughout each trip since this trip. They were a tremendous help for all the creek/river crossings on the Eagle Rock Loop hike I did earlier this year.

Second, I wish we would have taken longer to try and find a spot to cross that we were comfortable with. I’m not sure if we would have found one, but we definitely had some time to look, and I think it would have been worth taking some more time to try and save completing the loop. I’m pretty sure if we had had trekking poles, and had taken some time to find a better crossing, we could have got across that creek.

Finally, a good pack makes a big difference. Up until this trip, my brother and I had used cheap packs we bought at Walmart. I remember after our last trip with those packs my shoulders were killing me. For this trip, my brother and I each got an Osprey pack and had REI fit us. This helped tremendously. The fitting was definitely a good move since there were some adjustments they made I would have had no idea I could have made. So while not necessary, a good pack will definitely make the trips more comfortable.

My Beginner Trail Lessons: Part 4

For a short background on this series, see my first post.  

August 2016 – Titcomb Basin – Wind River Range, WY

Island Lake as we were headed back to the trailhead.

This was a trip that actually went pretty much as planned with no big hiccups. We (my brother and I) got incredibly lucky on the second day though. We had stayed at Barbara Lake the first night, and on the second day we hiked to Island Lake. As the hike to Island Lake progressed, it looked like it was getting stormy behind us. I wasn’t 100% sure it was headed towards us, but I figured we better try to get to Island Lake as soon as we could in case it was coming our way. We usually stopped for lunch each day on our hikes, but if I remember correctly, on this day we just took a short break for snacks and water and then kept going. I’m sure my brother wasn’t too happy with me by the time we got to Island Lake. By the time we got to Island Lake, the storm appeared like it was pretty close, so we grabbed the first suitable camp spot we found. As we were finishing setting up the tent it started to sprinkle, and not too long after we were in the tent, it was a full on downpour with some very small hail/grapuel included as well. This still holds as the most intense storm I have been through while backpacking. After the storm moved through, we overheard several stories of people getting caught in the storm in Titcomb Basin, which is not a good place to try and find shelter from a storm.

Since I’m already a weather nerd (my degree is in meteorology), I’m probably more tuned into the sky than a lot of people while out backpacking, but this was a great reminder to pay attention to the sky throughout the day. This storm was a great example of how quickly conditions can deteriorate. However, we had plenty of warning the storm was coming. Enough so that we were able to push hard to Island Lake, and got lucky enough to beat the storm. If you’re tuned into the sky, you’ll almost always have some warning that storms are coming and can take appropriate action. Had we not been paying attention to the sky, we likely would have taken our time on the trail and been caught in the storm on the trail somewhere.

Also, know how to set up your tent so in a situation like this you can get it set up quickly, and have your rain gear in a spot where you can get to it quickly in case you are still on the trail when you get caught in a storm.