Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Backpacking 101: Desolation Wilderness

TO ...


Desolation wilderness!  Yikes.  Um, not exactly the most welcoming of signs.  But take a look at what you just might see when you are far away from the urban concrete and hoards of people ...

This is Echo Lake (Lower in the background and Upper in the foreground), south of Lake Tahoe.  It is pristine and beautiful. And only about a 3 hour (or so) drive from San Francisco.  

This is my second backpacking trip.  The first was with my husband on our honeymoon just 2 months prior.  He took me on an 11 mile hike to Kalalau Beach in Kauai.  After I did this hike (and it was truly amazing), I read that it was one of America's top 10 most dangerous hikes.  Thanks a bunch New Husband.  But I made it through alive and I must have been an okay backpacking partner because this weekend, we set out again.  That particular hike was a grueling 11 miles UP giant boulders and red dirt, winding around curvy dangerous cliffs, and ended at a beautiful beach.  Totally worth it.  But it's not exactly a "starter hike".  

The adventure we had this past weekend was much easier than the Na Pali coast trail to Kalalau Beach. We drove to the bottom of Lower Echo Lake, took a $12 per person boat ride across the entire length of Echo Lake (approximately 2.7 miles), and then hiked about 4 miles to Lake Aloha.  Echo Lake to Lake Aloha map
I am only a newbie at this backpacking thing.  And this blog is NOT meant to cover everything about backpacking.  I'll just tell you what I brought & a few lessons learned along the way. 

The #1 Rule:  go with someone who knows what they are doing!!!  They can tell you what to bring (from clothing to equipment) and even better -- they will likely have many of the gadgets that you need for a backpacking trip.  

Let me back up here for a second and explain something that is common sense for those in the backpacking community but not so much for the rest of us.  

Backpacking = hiking with a heavy backpack full of junk to a far away distance and camping overnight.  Whereas just Hiking = walking in the woods or other natural terrain with a day's supply of water, sunscreen, and snacks.  And Camping = sleeping in a sleeping bag and tent.  This can be broken down into Car Camping = driving to a destination, unloading the car with fun gear, and setting up a tent VERSUS Back Country Camping = backpacking.  And we are back where we started.

Some key items for backpacking are seen in the picture below.  For a good backpack, go to a reputable place that can fit you for a backpack, like REI or Sports Basement.  I got mine from a friend who just had a baby and has put her backpacking days on hiatus for a while.  Backpacks can be pricey so ... go me.  

my backpack and a few key items
Other essentials are (going in a loopy sort of clockwise order here) a headlamp, water bottle, hand sanitizer, bug repellent (also shown is a green plastic bracelet impregnated with citronella), NuSkin, lip balm, and toilet paper in a Ziplock.

Let me break these items down for you.

 Toilet paper is a must (for me).  It takes some getting used to peeing and pooping in the wild, but I refuse to wipe my bare bum with a leaf or grass or something crazy like that.  The Ziplock is not only to carry the toilet paper in but -- RULE #2:  you MUST "pack out what you pack in".  This means that whatever you bring into the backcountry, you MUST bring back out.  We took extra food that we didn't eat and had gone bad -- we "packed it out".  My bottle of insect repellent ran dry -- we "packed it out".  We put the used toilet paper in a Ziplock (different than the one holding the clean roll, or you can stuff the used toilet paper bits into the hollow of the cardboard tube), and we "packed it out".  This is a 'dirty' -- haha-- subject but a really important one.  Besides the fact that it is completely disgusting to walk around in the woods and see someone's used toilet paper sitting on the ground, it is terrible for the environment.  Things do not compost unless moist (or treated), and in Desolation Wilderness the air is very dry.  It would take several years (apparently) for simple toilet paper to become compost.

Speaking of Ziplocks -- these can be your best friend in a backpacking trip.  For instance, I put my phone in one (in case of water damage from rain or a creek or the ocean).  I can't recall other random things I used them for, but I do recall saying aloud, "Crap, what should I do with this?" and my husband whipping out a clean Ziplock as the perfect solution more than once.  So might I suggest to cram a bunch of Ziplocks in a Ziplock?  Bag in the bag?

Next items:  NuSkin which you can buy in any local pharmacy (e.g. Walgreens, CVS, or Amazon).  It is a "liquid bandaid" so as long as your cut or wound is fairly superficial, this stuff works great.  The warning is that it stings like a mutha, but after you blow on it and wave around your damaged appendage like crazy for a 10-15 seconds, the pain goes away and you are left with a waterproof, semi-permanant bandaid.  You can also use it preventatively for blisters in those brand new hiking boots.  Just put on a thin layer, let it dry, and you should be good to go.  Works for heels too.  =)

Purell.  This is essential for post-wilderness-bathroom-ing.  After I use it, I tend to rinse my hands in (sterilized) water if I have any to spare.  **Comments on water sterilization are below.

Moving on ... the green bracelet is from the company mosquitnoband.  It is one of those silicon "Lance Armstrong/breast cancer awareness-type" bracelets that is laced with citronella.  I found the scent to be a bit strong but I think it may have actually worked -- and it says Hey Don't bite me please which I thought was amusing.  I found these at Sports Basement but you can buy in other places, like Amazon.  If you want an official checklist for your backpacking trip, Sports Basement a good one.  In fact, Sports Basement has everything.  If you have one nearby, definitely go.

Another good bug repellant was Repel Sportsmen MAX formula spray pump.  I loved the long thin tube because it fit in the side pocket of my backpack wonderfully.   This formula has 40% deet which may not be suitable for everyone.  And the bottle will only last a few days with 2-3 applications a day.

Lip balm is an obvious one but you may forget.  Blistex Medicated is my favorite (for backpacking, daily and nightly use!).  It's SPF 15 & very moisturizing.  Other brands I find too waxy or it doesn't moisturize enough.  But this one only needs to be reapplied after several hours.  Comes in Regular or Mint.

Zipka 2 Petzl headlamp
My last 2 items:  the Petzl headlamp, and the Camelbak water bottle.

I have the Zipka 2 Petzl headlamp.  It's awesome.  I love how compact it is with the retractable elastic band.  When I first heard of a headlamp I thought of miners from California gold digging era, or perhaps a retro MD headlamp.  But these things are super handy when it is dark, and you are walking back to your tent.  Or when you have to get up in the middle of the night to pee.  Or when your apartment has a power outage and you're scrambling in the dark.  How convenient to have your hands free and your path illuminated.  Get one.

I use my Camelbak daily.  It took a very short time getting used to biting and sucking on the silicon straw -- like reverting back to baby bottle days -- but I find it handy because you can bite it and have hands free (again!); you can be lying on your back and still drink from it without spills, and it's easy to clean because of the wider neck.  I've had a few different water bottles (Nalgene and Kleen Kanteen) and had chosen the narrow neck bottles because they are easier to swig out of, but they are more difficult to clean.  So I found the Camelbak to be the best.  So far.

** WATER STERILIZATION:  Dang it, I didn't take a pic of the SteriPEN, but I linked it to the exact one we have:   SteriPEN Freedom.  This thing is great.  We think it actually works too.  Heh heh.  For Hawaii we used iodine pills -- icky.  So we invested in the SteriPEN: Freedom.  I chose this slightly more expensive non-battery model because it weighs the least (2.6 oz).  It may only be a few ounces less than other models, but when you are backpacking every ounce counts (another lesson I learned as I trudged up the hill, all hot and sweaty with what felt like 500 pounds on my back).  It is rechargeable so it works the same as a cell phone -- plug it in to charge, and you are good to go.  It's small, light, and can sterilize 10 gallons per charge.  One minus is that if you are going for a long backpacking trip you will need to re-charge it (or you can buy a second SteriPEN).  You can get an iGo, a portable charger which weighs 3.7 ounces and can recharge items like a SteriPEN, iPhone, etc.

the lovely Karen with her hiking poles
My friend who devised this trip hikes with hiking poles.  She says they help most with going downhill to take some of the pressure off the knees.  I liked using them on the uphill.  If you get these, I suggest getting a brief tutorial on how to size and use them.  I had actually been using them backwards, and didn't like the straps because they just chained me to the poles.  Then Karen showed me the way -- and I realized that when you use the straps the correct way, it actually allows you to be almost hands-free (geez, this is the 3rd? time I've used the term 'hands free' in one blog post...) while using the poles because your wrists rests on the strap.  Difficult to put into words.  Look up a YouTube (I'm sure there's one) or ask someone who sells them or already uses them to show you.

AND NOW, back to the trip ....

After we hiked to Lake Aloha, we set up tent and relaxed.  I was able to sit at water level on a rock and dip my barking feet into the cold clean water while looking at the snow patches on the mountain ridge next to us.  It was pretty awesome.

my toes chillin' in Lake Aloha

We woke up the next day to the most quiet and calm morning I think I've ever experienced.  The stillness was so odd after living and working in the city for so long (NYC and now SF).  The still water became a perfect mirror for the grand background.  It was like taking abstract pictures -- except that it was actually nature at its finest!

A still Lake Aloha in the early morning mirrors the mountains

After our calm and peaceful morning, we decided on a leisurely hike back to Echo Lake.  We stopped at Lake of the Woods for lunch.  We swam, tried to catch some fish (no luck), fired up the camp stove for some really delightful re-hydrated food <--no sarcasm there, it was delish!  I bought Mary Jane's Farm Organic food at Sports Basement.  We had the Bare Burrito (which would was made more awesome with the leftover Doritos I had), and the ChiliMac.  Yum Yum Yum.  We then had Backpackers' Pantry Hawaiian Chicken and -- blech.  We may have put too much water in it, but it was just a bag of sweetened watery rice.  Mary Jane's Farm is Organic, mostly vegan or vegetarian, and cost twice as much.  But tasted about 300 times better.  Your call.

Let's end with a few of the beautiful sites along the way back to Echo Lake.

pine cones a -plenty

weird fluorescent yellow green covered branches

beautiful wildflowers were everywhere!!

And lastly, the VERY BEST part about backpacking (besides washing your hands in a sink and using an actual toilet) ... is your first hot non-dehydrated meal.  Double double with cheese, please.
Need I say more?

1 comment:

  1. A great and very valuable information about this topic. Thank you very much for sharing.

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