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

6 thoughts on “Planning & Respecting the Wilderness

  1. Mike Gartman

    This is a great summary of all you have taught me in the past year. I even asked for a compass for Christmas so I can learn how to use it to read and follow a map properly.

  2. Rich Pedersen

    I don’t wear sandals but I disagree with your comments regarding sandals as hiking footwear. I would not recommend them for beginners, but if an experienced hiker choses to wear them on trail I respect that choice. People hiking with sandals may have foot issues and hiking in sandals is their solution to that situation. Yes it may require them to be more careful of foot placement and they may be more likely to collect small rocks between their foot and the sandal, but until it impacts the safety of the group I see no problem with wearing sandals on trail. I have changed from a heavy high-top hiking boot to a lighter hiking shoe on trail and they work well for me.

    1. Phil Reed's Hikes Post author

      Really? (I love debate) We both know a very experienced backpacker/mountaineer that tried a light shoe boot and eventually had to upgrade. IMO anyone who plans their first 6 day backpack in the Winds with only sandals – and no backup – is pretty much an idiot, they put themselves as well as anyone else in jeopardy. If they have a foot condition that requires sandals, why are they carrying a pack into a western mountain high wilderness? These western wilderness’ are not the shaded tree tunnels in that guy’s home state of Virginia.

  3. Rich Pedersen

    Plenty of rocks and tough terrain along the AT, similar to trails in the Winds. If sandals work on the AT why not on trails elsewhere? As I recall the hiker under discussion covered more and rougher terrain than we did and I believe they hiked out with the rest of us. Foot conditions may include sweating and wearing sandals provides much increased ventilation. Ankle support from boots is overrated. How does hiking in sandals decrease the safety of the group?


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