Monthly Archives: December 2013

Backpacking In Pouring Rain: Staying Dry Vs “Rain Management”

Backpacking in a pouring rain in the summer is bad enough, however backpacking in a pouring rain in the winter not only sucks, it can be at best down-right miserable and at the worst, it can be potentially dangerous.

2009062207I hate hiking in the rain, but I hate hiking in extremely cold rain even worse.

I’m not an expert and I’m not giving my advice here, I’m only thinking about another epiphany I recently had on a cold and raining backpack.

I make a differentiation between backpacking and hiking here.  Backpacking for me normally means I’m a long way from civilization and carrying a tent, sleeping bag, nice warm, dry clothing, winter clothing and I should try to keep it all very dry so I don’t get wet and cold or hypothermia or freeze to death.

That said, I think almost every downpour and “all day rain” I’ve had the pleasure to hike in, has left me pretty much….damp at the least, and a little soggy around the edges.

DSC00267  So my little epiphany is that under these circumstances, I’m going to get wet, I just need to realize this and get over it.  Going up hill and carrying a pack generates a lot of body heat, even in the winter. That moisture is trapped under the rain pants and inside the parka and is moistening whatever I’m wearing.  Rain is also making its way inside my collar, directly and dripping off my hat.  I like to wear a large brimmed hat in the rain but I’m thinking cinching the hood of my rain parka around my face could cut down on water coming in from around my head, but the hat keeps the water off my face.

DSC05372So my point to myself is, I’m going to get wet, therefore I should realize that (a) I need to remember that after walking a while I’m going to start generating a lot more heat that I expect, therefore don’t worry about the freezing standing around in camp before we start walking, therefore don’t put on too many layers, because I’m not going to be able to stop in a deluge and take them off, and (2) whatever I wear, is going to be sacrificed to the Rain Gods and not worry about whether or how soaked my walking clothes are going to get.  The clothes worn while walking will get wet, they can’t be saved, just have something warm and dry to change into when the hike is done.

DSC00273A quick war story.  In the summer of 1988 I took my two sons, William and Mark, ages 11 and 10 ,on a 9 day thru hike of the AT through Great Smokey Mountains National Park.  It was in July and we stayed in a shelter each night.

It rained for about 3 days, soaking us to the bone each day.  When we got to the shelter, we took off our wet clothes and changed into our warm clothes.  The next morning, when it was still pouring, we took off our dry clothes packed them safely away and put on the soaking wet, cold clothes from the day before, this sucked, but they did warm up after a few minutes of hiking.

In conclusion, I’m going to get wet, don’t wear unnecessary layers that I won’t be able to remove, and have some dry clothes to change into.

The End.

Rapidan Hike 28-29 Dec 2013 Trip Report & Changing My Paradigm on What “Staying Dry” Really Means

I don’t normally blog about my monthly weekend backpacks but this was special for stress testing rain equipment in the cold and for the 3 river crossings!  My next post will be on my new phil-osophy on staying dry in pouring rain.

It’s not supposed to rain in the Blue Ridge, especially this time of year.  We (being myself, Buff, Pyro, and Bones from Obsessive Compulsive Backpackers Meetup) were looking forward to our first snow hike of the season, but warm weather had melted what little snow there was and as a bonus, a predicted front brought in a torrential downpour on our day 2.

We parked at the Graves Mill trail head parking lot, and with a late start we had about 4 hrs of daylight to make the days first objective, a flat spot next to the Rapidan River, just past the ‘Rapidan camp’ (this is a series of cabins that you can rent out on the road to camp Hoover.  The Marine guards for the presidential visits to camp Hoover were housed there).

But first we had to negotiate a crossing of the Staunton River and Rapidan River.  The first one went ‘ok’, we were able to barely hop across on the rocks and had no problems.  The second river was a little higher, so those of us who are vertically challenged, had a series of long jumps ahead of us which left us looking for an alternative crossing.  After spending a little bit of time searching to no avail, we wound up just sucking it up and taking off our boots and socks fording barefoot.  The river at that point had a few sections 1 1/2 – 2 feet deep and had a pretty good current, so it was a good opportunity ‘stream crossing lessons’.  Once across, we used bandanas to dry our feet off.  The good thing about the water being freezing cold is that the numbing effect sort of negated the pain of sharp rocks on bare feet.

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After a few miles or so we happened upon a  junction of the trail, a fire road going up the mountain, and a gravel road coming in from the south-east leading to the Rapidan Camp.  There was a gravel parking lot for visitors to the Rapidan Wildlife Management area and a natural flat area with a not-so-old fire ring.  After some discussion about the pro and cons of stealth camping there (we were in the wildlife management area and not exactly in the park (SNP) and the fact it would be dark soon), we decided to go for it and camp there.

Despite the many pick up trucks passing on the gravel road, who we assumed were hunter who had to vacate the area before dusk, we didn’t have any issues with any ‘authorities’.

We had a great campfire and I strung the Christmas Lights on my tent that Buff and Pyro had carried.

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The rain started in the middle of the night and didn’t stop at sunrise, it just got heavier.  Soooo….we had every backpackers worst nightmare (no not a bear in camp), we had to get up and break camp in a driving rain!  I had brought my REI quarter dome and had a great breakfast, cooking under my vestibule  (or my tent’s ‘foyer’ as Buff and Pyro like to call it!)

Then it was out of the tent into the driving rain and packing up.  As a bonus, the rain was kicking up mud onto everything in contact with the ground, adding to the soaking wet tents that had to be packed up.

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And off we went!  We decided to take an alternative route back to the cars to avoid the 2 river crossings, the Rapidan, which we camped near had risen quite a bit.  So we hiked up the mountain on the fire road heading up towards the Sag and the junction of the Jones Mountain Trail.  We found on the USGS topo map a trail that formed a cut-off back down to the Staunton river Trail which would negate have to hike up to the Sag, and taking the Jones Mountain Trail to the Staunton River Trail.

Only problem was, that trail was not on the PATC SNP map so it was anybody’s guess if it was still there.  As it turned out, the trail intersection was not marked and we walked right by it.  Fortunately we were using the Backcountry Navigator GPS app, with the USGS map tiles pre-loaded and were able to double back, only 100′ or so, and found the trail.

The trail looked unmaintained at the start but well defined, but after about 200 meters, it started fading out and disappearing altogether, we knew it followed a creek to the Staunton River so we had to basically bushwacked down the mountain for a while, fortunately the app still received GPS signals and we knew we were in the trail’s vicinity, more or less.

We were able to hit the Staunton River and Staunton River Trail at the exact spot of the trail crossing, but as luck would have it, the river was very much swollen over. We searched, pretty much in vain, for a rock crossing.  However, Bones, who should be renamed “longshanks”, managed a daring rock hop leap and crossed (luckily) without falling in!

The rest of us short legged folks, have no alternative and being already soaked (did I mentioned it was still pouring?) said ‘fuck it’ and just plowed on through.  Swollen river crossing lesson number 3!  We’ll, it was touch and go, but we managed it ok.

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After the crossing, it was a short scramble up the bank, finding the main trail and straight on, easy walk, to the car.

The rain let up and had stopped on the way back to the parking lot, but, as again luck would have it, started raining when we got the truck (SHIT) so we had to hold up umbrellas for each other to change into dry clothes.

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It was then off to the Mellow Mushroom in Charlottesville and the post hike celebratory feast!

Planning & Respecting the Wilderness

I’m not going to lie, I love planning hikes, backpacking trips specifically.  I’m ALWAYS planning my next hike, and probably will until my bod gives out.

In case you wondered, this coming weekend, I’m planning on a  3 day/2 night loop in Shenandoah NP, in the Rapidan Wildlife Preserve with Pyro, Buff, and Bones.  This was supposed to be a winter hike, but we’ve had several days of 70+ which has probably melted any snow (here’s a link to the planning ).

Also planning a trip of 8 people to the Grand Canyon,for the first week in March (2014);  We’re duplicating the same trip Geardog and Nighttrain and I did in March 2012. Going on this trip is Juice, Mr. Clean Jeans, Red Baron, Fez, Scenic Vue, Gunny and Astro.  We’re going to go slow and easy, hike from Bright Angel Trail Head, to Indian Garden, then to Bright Angel, then to Cotton Wood, then return along the same route.  6 days and 5 nights of backpacking and 6 million photo ops!

What I don’t have right now is a destination for my big summer backpacking trip(s); maybe a return to the Winds.

Anyway, back to planning.  In the Army we had a saying, any plan was better than no plan; you can always change the plan, but it helps if you have a plan to change!  Further, a good plan is only good until the first shot is fired in battle, then you may need to change the plan.  And; the 80% plan you can execute is better than the 100% plan that you can’t, I just threw that one in there for grins.  We had a lot of trite management sayings!

Not only do I love planning trips, I love maps, and love technology and what its done for maps!

Let me wander down another rat-hole for a moment; I keep meeting a lot of good people on the trail with their smartphone maps and/or GPS’ (both of which I also love), who don’t have a (paper) map, and I’m very sure don’t know how to read one either.  The new topo apps for smartphones, I’m learning, can be quite fun and useful; as long as you have a battery and a real map.  Many folks I’ve hiked with, who happen to have a map and a GPS/Smartphone, would  be hard pressed to find themselves on their map once they’ve figured out their ‘coordinate’ from the GPS.  I’m pretty lucky to have had formal map reading training, but I’m starting to think, the main issue is that there are almost no opportunities for a person to get good map/topography/orienteering training these days.  Red Baron (who has had 6 weeks of NOLS training) and I were just discussing the possibility of putting on some map reading basic training.

With the advent of and the meetup I’m in (  ) Obsessive Compulsive Backpackers, I have had many opportunities to plan trips.

This is what happens, Say I want to go backpacking to some spot, I write up a little description, pick some dates, add some photos, determine a group size, then post it on the meetup site where any other interested people can RSVP and attend.  I don’t consider that I’m a formal “leader” of the group, just a person going on a hike inviting others to tag along, responsible for themselves.

Although, I’m not the “leader”, I’m more of a “host”, I still want people to enjoy themselves and possibly become friends for future hikes, I want everyone to be safe, have a good time and not get hurt, so I’m more than happy to mentor, hopefully without being suffocating, those with less experience.  While fun, backpacking is not going to the mall, I have a saying (sorry if you’ve heard this), “there’s no such thing as a small accident in the woods”, that’s because, at some point on the hike we could be hours or days from rescue.  You may be ‘on your own’ on the meetup hike, but nobody’s going to leave you!

Some of the objective dangers of backpacking are twisting an ankle, exploding stove, cutting you finger off with your knife, ( I exaggerate) getting lost, not having enough bag for a freezing night, getting wet and getting hypothermia.

This brings me back around to a point, I see too many people who lack respect for the wilderness environment, especially when they fail to plan and put themselves into the hands of possibly equally inexperienced people.  I guess there is great comfort walking the tree tunneled AT here in Virginia and and doing this often enough can lead to  a false sense of security.  On the AT, a road or a town is always just a few hours away.  It’s hard to get lost on the AT and help is always around the corner.

We had a very experienced, so I had presumed, hiker/climber, show up with us last August in the Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range, WY…..with no map (WTF!!!!!) after 8 months of planning.  We had another “experienced” hiker show up, same trip, with not only no map, but no hiking boots, only sandals, again…(WTF!!!).  This is what I call not respecting the mountains.  These 2 (I know this will piss them off, but I don’t care), after a change of plans to the route, decided the trip wasn’t long enough for them and took off on their own, without informing me, but not until they talked a novice hiker into giving them her map and leaving her without one!  So, I turn around, 2 hikers off on their own without telling the group leader where they were going, and 1 hiker now with no map.  Lack of respect, lack of planning.

The best people I hike with are humble and respectful of the environment and totally aware of the endless potential of wonders and of course dangers.  Becoming aware is the first step in learning/planning!

When I hiked for the first time with Gunny and Red Baron, they didn’t need to list years of hikes and experience to establish credibility, this was because it was obvious they respected and loved the environment and actually came prepared – they planned for the trips, they offered gentle advice and helped others!  When I hike with those just recently into backpacking, such as  Buff, Pyro, Bones, Purl, Juice or Needles it becomes evident after  2 seconds that they understand the potential of nature and necessity to plan and to learn.  They are not arrogant, they are respectful.  Contrast this with a hiker who doesn’t bring any food for her dog! Or the hiker with no stove! (that’s an entirely different story I wrote about last year) or the hiker who wears those funny running shoes with toes and winds up slipping and sliding and throwing out his back on a rain soaked muddy trail!

In summary, I have to stop and unload the dishwasher

Phil-Osophy on UL hikers, Bridger Wilderness Wind River Range, Maroon Bells

Howdy all!

Like I’ve said many times, you really need to have something to say on these blogs.  They (the blogs) take a lot of time to do right and to make half way interesting.  I thought I’d be writing more than I have, heaven knows I’ve been backpacking at least once a month for the past 2 years or so.

Buff sent me a link to a rant some guy posted on youtube the other day, the rant was about UL hikers; that’s ultra-lite hikers.  Here’s the link

And here’s my rant.

This guy kind of nailed what I couldn’t put my finger on.  For whatever reasons, these people, the UL’ers, sort of make themselves out to be socially dysfunctional in a setting among other backpackers.  They do this with an arrogance deriving from their quest to lower their pack weight to almost, well, not almost, unsafe levels.  They come up to you and ask how much one’s pack weighs, say 30lbs, then brag that theirs only weighs in at 12 lbs and insinuate that anyone who needs food/shelter/first aid stuff/stoves/fuel/extra clothing/maps/camera, etc etc etc is somehow a loser.  Their main goal in the backpacking universe seems to be how low they can go, not about having fun with friends, enjoying the beauty of the natural world, creating great memories among new friends.

The reason this irritates me, is that it could make a person who is trying to get into backpacking and all the wonderful doors to nature that it opens, feel somehow inferior, or embarrassed, inadequate, and then they drop the whole backpacking thing. Backpacking is hard enough and expensive enough without this bullshit!

Another common link that this vid nails is that these people seem to lack normal social skills, keeping a distance from the group – especially in camp, lacking basic conversational skills, hiking alone, and maintaining an unfathomable air of superiority.

Anyone who has hiked with me for anytime has heard my observation on this; at almost any social venue, there are a group who have bonded together to be the ‘experts’ or upper clique of the venue; it seems every bowling ally, skating rink, hiking club, climbing club, golf club, you name it, have a clique of regulars who want you to know that they are the social elite of that venue; this is no less true for the day hiking/backpacking/rock climbing/mountaineering communities.

Here’s another of my observations; an off shoot of the UL are the fast-hikers.  These idiots pride themselves on literally (I think I’m using that correctly here) racing down the trails, and brag about that they hiked 20 miles or so, while you only hiked 8, and they do this every trip, all the time.  Hiking with people, making conversation is not their goal, and in my opinion, within their ability.

It seems that people who lack social skills, in the backpacking universe, who find their niche in having a strength in UL or long mileage, something or anything they can excel at, then exploit that ‘strength?’ to a point of conceit and use it as a subtle hammer whenever possible.

I for one enjoy the camaraderie and companionship, although I don’t deny that I can hold my own on being quite the ass.  The camp, the camp chores, fishing, making a fire, telling stories around the fire, just a wee bit of the fire-water, the navigation skills, first aid skills, cooking skills, fine meals, and meals not so fine, swimming in the creek, taking pictures of fantastic vistas are a huge part of total experience and shouldn’t take a back seat to how much ones pack weighs or how many miles and how fast you walked that day.’

whew! take a breath!

just saying

I’ll talk about what happened in the Winds & Bells later, I promise!