by Nick Narigon
A couple weeks ago, three friends, myself, and my little sister went on a backpacking trip in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.
As a former mountain ranger for the Boy Scouts at Philmont, New Mexico, friends like to invite me along on these trips for my expertise. Usually though, it just means I am the one doing all the cooking and cleaning and carrying the heavy equipment.
Our trek was a five-day hike covering 26 miles along the Grouse Mountain Trail. We left from Minturn, Colo. and returned to civilization at Beaver Creek Ski Resort. We peaked at 12,001 feet and camped overnight at some of the most beautiful mountain lakes the Rockies have to offer.
After hiking for more than 400 miles of mountain wilderness, you eventually learn a thing or two. Here are some tips for others planning similar trips:
� Wear worn-in hiking boots. My friend Jeff, who has never backpacked before, showed up wearing skate shoes with a hole in the bottom. Luckily we wear the same size of shoe, and I had an extra pair of hiking boots he could use. A couple sizes different, and Jeff could have gotten some nasty blisters, which leads us to�
� Bring lots of moleskin. A thorough first aid kit is necessary, but the only thing I have ever used out of my first aid kit is moleskin for blisters.
� Gold Bond medicated powder. Gold Bond feels like heaven after a sweaty, seven-mile hike.
� Baby wipes works as a great substitute for toilet paper. It is comfortable, lightweight and clean and reduces the chance for developing a rash.
� Plan your route to your skills and condition. I don�t care how physically fit you are, never hike more than three miles on your first day. It takes at least 24 hours to adjust to the altitude. A day adjusting to your backpack is also helpful.
Our friend Ogre, who lives in Eagle, Colo., planned our trip for us. He decided that we would be able to hike 10 miles in our first day. Needless to say, we didn�t make it the 10 miles. We made it seven miles, and it was extremely rough, especially for Ogre, who is built like, well, an ogre. Three miles would have been perfect. Seven miles was a stretch, and 10 miles was impossible. After the first day, hike as long as you want.
� Keep your backpack under 40 pounds. Half the fun of backpacking is buying gear, but it is easy to overdo it. My favorite example is the backpacking espresso machine my dad once purchased. He doesn�t drink espresso. Doesn�t know anyone that drinks espresso. But you never know, he reasoned, there might come that occasion when you are in the backwoods and someone might suffer severe caffeine withdrawal. Needless to say we have never used the espresso machine.
Another example of a needless equipment purchase is an adult advisor I once guided in New Mexico. This man brought along a Global Positioning System (GPS), which I have no problem with. GPS are cool machines that enhance the fun and safety of your trip. However, this gentleman did not program the GPS before he brought it on the trail. In fact, he hadn�t even taken it out of the box, and he brought along the instruction manual the size of a hardcover dictionary. So he had about 15 pounds of worthless weight he carried up and down the mountains for 10 days.
Coordinate with other people you are hiking with when packing equipment. For instance, you usually only need one bottle of sunscreen, one bottle of insect repellant and one bottle of soap for the entire party. When packing these bottles of lotions, put them in plastic baggies. Every time I forget to do so, it is inevitable that I have a backpack pocket full of sunscreen.
The toughest part is leaving brand-new equipment behind, but once in New Mexico a dad paid me $40 to carry back all the unnecessary equipment he brought with him to Philmont. Keep your pack light. It makes for a much better trip.
� Packing food. This is the toughest item for me to gauge. You don�t want to run out of food, but food is also the heaviest item in your pack. Stick to serving sizes and don�t bring too many extra snacks for �just in case.� I have been guilty of this every time I go backpacking and I always bring home extra bags of food.
� Proper rain gear is essential. Not only can a sturdy, lightweight rain suit protect you from the elements, but it also acts as an extra layer of clothing.
DO NOT bring a poncho. Ponchos rip and when you are huddled on the ground trying to cook over a Whisperlite stove in the rain, a poncho is extremely unwieldy.
Whatever you do, and this story makes me cringe, don�t do what my girlfriend did. She brought an umbrella with her on a day hike up Mount Fuji. One word: Lightning.
� When hiking, stay as a group. This is tough when you are with people of different abilities. Ogre was a very slow hiker, huffing and puffing and whining his way up the mountain. Our other friends Jeff and John are as fit and as fast as gazelles.
Near the end of our second day of hiking in Colorado, we found a sign that said one mile to Turquoise Lake, our destination for the day. Ogre was laboring pretty badly by this point, and Jeff and John were ready to get to the lake. Instead of waiting while Ogre took one of his 15-minute breaks, Jeff and John went on ahead.
Well, in order to teach us a lesson, the mountain snow had washed out the rest of the trail completely. We were forced to bushwhack down the mountain. Ogre, my sister and I were able to find Turquoise Lake by using our map and compass. Jeff and John showed up three hours later after hiking three miles in the opposite direction.
If we had stayed together, Jeff and John would have been in much better moods when they finally reached Turquoise Lake. Which leads us to the last point�
� Know how to use a map and compass.
About the Author
Nick Narigon, a University of Iowa graduate, is an Eagle Scout and former ranger at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico and a former canoe guide in the boundary waters of Minnesota.