Monthly Archives: July 2015
Our 100 mile backpack starts tonight! We’re hiking the southern portion of the JMT in California. We’ve trained by doing a couple grueling weekend trips, but we don’t have any long distance backpacking experience (yet). Our training trips have been pretty painful at times, and we hope we’ve learned enough lessons on these shorter trips to help our big trip go smoothly.
Nothing gets you ready for backpacking like backpacking, so we dove right in. We started training by doing a popular backpack called the Northern Loop in Mount Rainier National Park. It was 33 miles and about 9,000 feet of elevation gain. We did it in three days.
Oh, the pain. Each day we descended 3000 feet, and then climbed 3000 feet. I read about the Northern Loop years ago and always dreamed of doing it. It’s amazing and I highly recommend it. But not as your first backpack of the season. Oh my.
The scenery was breathtaking and it helped to distract us from the physical difficulties. We hiked next to the tremendous Carbon Glacier and felt the cold breeze blowing across. We swam in shallow, warm Mystic Lake. We crossed brown, violent glacial streams, sometimes on bridges and sometimes on sketchy logs. We hiked through beautiful forests and enjoyed wonderful drinking water from small, gurgling streams. We met two fun park service employees dressed in sparkly fourth of July outfits, and invited them to camp with us at Mystic Lake. We had a lot of wonderful experiences, but each day it got harder and harder to climb with my sore leg muscles.
The pain eventually wore me down, and on day three we had a fight. Brian told me I was complaining and I burst into tears. We quickly made up and decided we will do our best to avoid backpacking fights because they’re awful. There you are, in the wilderness, with one other person. The last thing you want is tension between you as you hike through a beautiful place, trying to enjoy it but not really enjoying it at all. We agreed I should plan our next trip and gather all the information for it, so I don’t feel overwhelmed by the difficulty. For the record, Brian did not pressure me to hike the Northern Loop. I was enthusiastic to do it, but also a little too optimistic about my abilities. Our long Sierras backpack will not be as difficult as the Northern Loop, so that’s reassuring.
I got to work planning the next training trip. It was my birthday weekend and I was excited to hike by waterfalls and eat berries on the Eagle Creek Loop in the Columbia Gorge. It was only 22 miles with 4000 feet of elevation gain, so overall it was easier than the previous trip. We were already in the Columbia Gorge living in the van at a nice $10 campsite and canyoneering the wonderful waterfalls and creeks of the gorge. This backpack trip was right in our “neighborhood”, only a 10 minute drive.
The side of the loop with the waterfalls (Eagle Creek) was really impressive. We saw a dozen waterfalls, and the best was Tunnel Falls. The trail went behind Tunnel Falls and through a short tunnel before it emerged on the other side. Small water droplets flew in the air and lush ferns surrounded us as we prepared to pass behind the thundering falls.
Once in the tunnel, the sound of the waterfall became extremely loud. The black, rocky sides and ceiling of the tunnel were dripping wet and there were some small puddles on the floor. The tunnel was about 20 feet long and tall enough to stand in comfortably. Tunnel Falls was the highlight of the backpack trip.
We also hiked through beautiful forests and foraged for blueberries and raspberries. The climbing was still painful, especially one day where we climbed nearly 3000 feet. That night my back and legs hurt badly, but then in the morning I felt ok and ready to hike again. I might be getting a little more used to those stiff 3000 foot climbs.
I can do everything with relative ease except the 3000 foot climbs with a heavy pack. There isn’t time to train more, though. The big trip is here. Brian has agreed to help me by carrying my pack up some of the 3000-4000 foot passes if I’m in as much pain as I was during our training trips. On one hand, I feel ashamed. Why didn’t I train harder, lose weight, or do more to prepare for this trip? I hate the idea of not being able to do these climbs without hurting so much.
This is no time to question the past. We talked about the upcoming backpack and decided we both really want to do it. We will do whatever it takes to make it happen. Brian says if he were hiking solo he’d be hiking hard for 10-12 hours per day anyway, so to help with my pack sometimes is no bother. It’s still a tough concept for me to swallow. It requires me to examine my independent approach to life, that I can do anything I want, that I don’t need anyone.
We’ll be doing this backpack trip as a team, and I am trying to come to terms with that. If it means Brian hikes up some of the steeper parts of the trail twice to get both our packs and I swallow my pride while he does it, then ok. That may be what it takes to complete this hike.
We will hike a portion of the John Muir Trail from South Lake to Whitney Portal, travelling over 100 miles in 14 days. During the trip we plan to summit the highest mountain in the U.S. (Mount Whitney). We’ll have no resupplies for food, so we’ll start hiking with enough to last two weeks. Food alone will weigh over 40 pounds.
I’m excited, and sure we can do this together! I’ll let you know how it goes.