Category Archives: Backpacking

Preparing for Isle Royale

In my previous post on ‘Planning for 2017’ I wrote briefly on going back to Isle Royale. I find this desire to backpack here very humorous because the last time I did this with the rest of my family I was adamant that backpacking was not for me and I would never do it again. I was glad to have experienced it once but that was enough. And now I can’t wait to return and hike further and for more days. What happened?

One of the shores of Isle Royal

Either I’ve gone crazy or have gained more knowledge on backpacking. First lets figure out why there was no desire to backpack again. Most of this came from hiking with a lot of extra weight on my back causing pain in my shoulders and back every time my pack was hoisted back onto my shoulders. The second reason is that sleeping was cold and uncomfortable leaving me tired much of the time longing for a good nights sleep. Other than that, I enjoyed the time on the island.

Getting up close to a moose can be very exciting if done safely for the animal and the viewer.

So what’s different now? A number of things have changed my opinion of backpacking bringing on an excitement to do it again. First is all of the information and experience I’ve gained since then increasing the confidence to be able to hike with extra weight and actually enjoy it. I now have a good idea of what is involved in preparing for an extended hike which includes hiking locally with a heavy backpack for a couple of miles each time along with biking a couple of days a week for several miles putting me in better shape. Also I have a nicer camera that I really enjoy using and Isle Royale is a great place for beautiful photographs adding to my excitement to be there.

A portion of the beautiful trails on Isle Royale

If I do this right the training backpack will be heavier than my actual pack making it seem like no big deal to carry all day long. Add to this increased muscle strength to be able to carry the weight while working around rocks and tree roots, using trekking poles to keep better balance and weight distribution, and bringing fewer items reducing my overall back pack weight should combine to make a fun hiking experience.

Sleeping in the solitude of Isle Royale can be difficult to get use to.

A few weeks after returning from Isle Royale the last time I began to go through our supplies and determined how I would pack differently another time to reduce the weight I was carrying. It was amazing how much different things felt for each pound we removed either in food or water weight making the pack lighter. We definitely brought too much food last time and heavy food at that. That is an easy place to reduce weight by several pounds. Also, sleeping gear last time was heavy lugging small air mattresses, cotton sheets, and blankets. This time a sleeping bag, light sleeping pad, and maybe a small pillow which should eliminate more weight. My only concern is increased weight in camera equipment so I will have to watch that part. As far as sleeping goes, I know there won’t be great sleep so I’m prepared for that so it should be less of a concern.

One of the Entrance Stations of Isle Royale

Training for hiking in the Rocky Mountains in 2016 and how successful it was and I was at completing a couple of 10 mile + hikes at higher elevations has proven to me that I can adequately train for this trip and go the distance with my backpack. In fact, at times I would even forget I was carrying my backpack loaded with clothing, food, and water all as a result of training before hand. The pack will be heavier this time as it will include more food, a tent, sleeping gear, and probably more clothing so I understand what I need to do to prepare. I’m so looking forward to this but there is much to do before then.

Exploring Flattop Mountain

Back in 2009 we visited Rocky Mountain National Park to hike to Flattop Mountain Trail and we did that successfully. Unfortunately that was done after a long day of exploring so there wasn’t much energy to continue further. I’ve wanted to attempt the trail again if the opportunity presented itself. Well, recently we made the opportunity happen and once again found ourselves on the trail. Surprisingly the beginning of the trail looks very different from what it looked like seven years ago as proven in the next two photos.

Flattop Trail in 2009

Flattop Trail in 2016

The top picture was taken in 2009 and the next one taken just a few weeks ago. I can find now similarities to them which made it a little challenging to begin this hike since there wasn’t really recognition of the beginning of the trail causing me to question if we were on the right path or not. Especially since it was still dark when we got to this point. Trusting in the trail signs we pressed onward towards the top.

Flattop Trail Head when we began our hike from Bear Lake

Our hike on Flattop Mountain began at 4:30am as we passed Bear Lake. The scene is pictured above. In the dark, armed with flashlights, our journey on this mountain trail began to climb towards to top. In a short time we began to see light on the horizon however the trail swallowed by trees continued to be dark requiring artificial light sources to make our way over rocks and tree roots as we went up, up, up, to the sky.

Sunrise from the mountain

As we continued on this trail we could begin to feel the effects of the ever thinning air making it more difficult to breath and hike at a fast pace. Increasing our breaks while we trekked higher the trees began to decrease in size indicating the approaching tree line where they can no longer grow in the cool mountain air. Daylight finally penetrated this forest trail just as we broke above the trees bringing spectacular views of the mountains surrounding us with Emerald lake in the valley below. Our climb began below this lake and now look how high above it we are. Progress.

Overlooking Emerald Lake

Marmots appeared from the rocks in the mountain to greet us as we passed their homes. They made for a more interesting hike once reaching the tundra of the alpine zone on Flattop Mountain. Watching as they climbed in and out of boulders and finally on top of them to grab the warmth of the morning sun before gathering food for the day was extremely entertaining.

Marmots came out to greet us

They would definitely not be outdone by their smaller tundra mates – the Picas. These smaller alpine mammals would give a sharp squeak but would not always come into view as they moved between the rocks and boulders. If you watched long enough there would be a glimpse of movement and out would come one of these soft Picas running across the surface as they gathered portions of plants to store in their nests giving another squeak as if to say good morning while we passed.

Picas roaming around on the tundra

After several hours of hiking and a number of breaks to catch our breath we reached the summit of Flattop Mountain. I always imagine mountains as these immovable pieces of solid stone reaching towards to sky. It surprises me as we walk the top of the mountain that the top is scattered stones and boulders showing they are not as solid as originally perceived. The elements continue to work on these mountains breaking them apart slowly over time. For now it’s a great challenge to climb to the top of these massive rock formations.

Reaching the top of Flattop Mountain

In our picture above you see Hallet Peak to the right which is the next mountain over and one we briefly discussed climbing but decided this was enough for today as the real  challenge rests in the left of this photo – Longs Peak. A hike for another day. With our goal achieved for today we spent some time exploring and taking in the sights of our amazing surroundings, and watching some of the animals as they went about their business for the day.

One of the vast views from up here

After a little rest and energizing food we ventured to the nearby Continental Divide Trail. I’ve read about people hiking this entire trail covering over 3,000 miles from Mexico to Canada and wanted to walk a little of this beautiful trail. There were large cairns marking the trail most likely to show where it is during the spring and fall when snow could cover it making a more challenging hike and increased likelihood of getting lost. Further exploration on the CDT was tempting but it was time to head back down the mountain. With our destination successfully found we began the descent back to Bear Lake.

Exploring the Continental Divide Trail

 

Lewis Falls Trail

After a full day of hiking in Shenandoah National Park, it was time to retire to our cabin and get ready for our evening meal. The only thing was that the forecast for the next day was for clouds and periods of rain and we had one hike left to do in our short time in Shenandoah – Lewis Falls Trail. This was the most important of our hikes in this great national park because it was the trail on our National Parks Monopoly board. It was decided then, another hike that was longer and covered more altitude than the others we had completed earlier in the day.

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This trail is 3.3 miles round trip from our cabin and back again. It’s not the distance that makes it more challenging, it the 1,000 feet of altitude that you change from the start to the waterfalls and then you have to climb that 1,000 feet again on the way back. To make things a little more challenging, we wanted to get back before 9 pm when the nearest restaurant closes otherwise there is not really a place to get food after a full day of hiking in Shenandoah.

Looking over the top of the Falls

The trail starts out relatively flat and easy to hike but eventually that drop in altitude finds you and it starts going downhill quickly. Downhill is easier but remember to watch out for roots and rocks in the trail that could trip you. We made it to the falls in pretty good time passing only a couple of other hikers on the way. Lewis Falls

Lewis Falls is a nice waterfall and one of the highest in the park at 81 feet tall but at the time we were there the stream going over the cliff is not very large compared to several other waterfalls in the park. Getting a good view during the summer is a little more challenging because parts of the waterfall are covered with leaves and the steep cliffs around it make for getting a different and better view difficult. Still, I enjoyed this waterfall and the adventure to get to it.

Our Wildlife Encounter on Lewis Falls Trail

Due to time restraints and wanting to get back before the restaurant closes we didn’t spend much time at the falls taking it in. Also, we weren’t well prepared to be on the trail after dark so we needed to do the most difficult portion of our hike at a faster pace. Along the way back we encountered a deer taking the trail toward us which was kind of fun to see but delayed our return both because of wanted to observe the deer and not wanted to chase it. After awhile of watching it decided to meander off the trail allowing us to pass and continue our trek up the mountain. We were all really tired and hot after this hike but we did manage to get something to eat before total darkness enveloped the area.

Dinner in the Big Meadows Lodge

A Memorial Weekend Hike

Among the Mississippi River Bluffs

During the holiday weekend at the end of May we were camping in the Bluffs near the Mississippi River. Since it was a later spring the water temperatures were colder than usual, it was cloudy and cool so the fishing would likely be slower than we wanted. After a little research we found a couple of trails near by and decided to go for a hike in the bluffs and see if we could find an great view or two.

A Forest Valley

The forest was so lush and green with a number of beautiful wildflowers beginning to bloom.

Wildflowers in Bloom

This was a 7 mile trail so a little longer hike than we’ve been on before but without any gear should be achievable. Expecting we should be able to hike at a 1.5 mph pace it was expected to take about 4-5 hours total to complete this trail including time to eat and enjoy the views while taking pictures. Past experience taught us to bring along food for a meal as well as a few snacks and water.

The ATV Trail

As we arrived at the park we found out that this is mostly an ATV trail and very few people actually hike it. As a result the trail was quite muddy in places and we needed to keep a watch for ATV’s as there were many using the trail that weekend. The first half of the trail was lacking much for vistas that we were hoping to see and included a couple of steep hills both up and down to climb. Fortunately the blooming wildflowers and seeing a scarlet tanager made this part of the trail worth the effort. This was the first time I’ve ever seen a scarlet tanager.

A Scarlet Tanager

Growing a little tired of hiking after walking up the bluff for a second time we were just hoping there were no more major hills to climb down and back up again. Shortly we came upon the first of a couple of locations that over look the Mississippi River and surrounding  bluffs. It was at this point we achieved our main goals of this hike which was to see this amazing part of the country from within the top of the bluffs. Here was a view from an area we had not witnessed before.

River Panorama

After taking in the views it was time to head down off the bluffs to the trailhead. If time permits a trip to the locally famous Nelson Cheese Factory for some great ice cream was in order. With that motivation the pace was increased to get back to our cars and head towards our camping location.

Nearby Bluffs

For those who are curious, we did make it in time to get our ice cream.

Experiences Gained: Longest hike yet in one day gaining confidence to tackle more difficult hikes on Isle Royale and the Rocky Mountains someday hopefully soon, Saw several scarlet tanagers which are a beautiful, vibrant red  bird that migrates to this area for the summer, and enjoyed views of the river and bluffs new to us.

Backpacking Tips Continued….

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-Take a moment to realize how little you actually need to live while you’re hiking and surviving on only the things you can carry on your back. There are so many distractions in life that we begin to believe are necessary filling houses with so much stuff to occupy our time. It’s nice to live in a simple manner if only for a few days. These few days of simple living can also serve as reminder to appreciate the comforts of home.

-One aspect of taking a backpacking trip that no one mentioned to me ahead of time was training for it. Adding a 40 pound backpack to your weight instantly puts a lot of stress on your body especially while walking up and down hills, over rocks and trees, and any other obstacles on the trail. Some methods of training include putting on the pack and running, using a Stairmaster while wearing the pack, or just go hiking on local trails with your pack on. You make think this is not necessary or be a little concerned about what people are thinking as they see you training with a backpack but it will make a huge difference on how much you enjoy your backpacking experience. After completing the first hiking trip I entered a conversation with more experience backpackers on what they do to get ready for the physical endurance required. Two of these included ex Marines that agreed backpacking is tougher than the training in the military regarding carry packs. In the military training may include running with a 40 pound pack for 10 miles but these miles are on flat, smooth surfaces. The trail is very rarely flat and smooth!

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-Take a few moments and just be. What does this mean? Sit or stand still and close your eyes to listen to all the activity that is going on around you. The breeze moving leaves, critters rustling around, birds fluttering, a deer off in the distance. After a few minutes open your eyes to the amazing vista you came to visit. Just listen and feel yourself breathing: your heart pumping, lungs inhaling and exhaling the fresh air, your muscles aching reminding you of the feats your accomplishing. Realize how few people actually get to experience this solitude of the wilderness. People call these the simple pleasures in life. I believe these are reminders of the great and necessary things in life.

I hope these tips help you understand what is involved in a backpacking trip so that you are better prepared and most of all enjoy your first experience.

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To read more about my first experience check out these articles:

An Easy National Parks Trip?

Isle Royale Preparations Update

A Night on Isle Royale…or Three

Some Tips for First Time Backpackers into the Wilderness

Hitting the Trail for the First Time

If you’ve never been on an overnight backpacking trip before but have the urge to see what it’s all about like I did, here’s some tips from my first experience.

-Every backpacker is looking for 3 things from their gear:

1. Quality to last

2. Lightweight for easier carrying

3. Inexpensive

Pick 2 out of 3 because getting all 3 is very unlikely

What?! I Have to Fit All of This Into My Backpack?

-Realize that for your first time out your are going to be carrying a lot of weight for a couple of reasons. First, you will most likely over pack for your trip simply because you have never done this before and are unsure of exactly what you will need and what you can live without. Being caught in a rainstorm without rain gear or running out of food during a hike are not going to make your trip fun. Second, acquiring lightweight gear is something that takes a number of trips to accomplish due to the expense of it so for the first time you will likely have equipment that is reduced cost but heavier to carry. Some options for finding good lightweight gear include borrowing it from someone you know that has it or renting gear from an outfitter.

Duct Tape Fix

-bring a partial roll of duct tape. This stuff comes in a variety of colors and patterns now instead of just the good old grey to make it a little more fun to use. Ultimately you want this as it can be a versatile fix it tool. If something breaks or rips on your tent, clothing, or hiking boots duct tape can get you through your trip. In a pinch you could make a rope out of it by twisting long pieces of tape together or use it as a medical bandage.

Duct-tape-dressing-for-tropical-sores

-when planning your meals, try to plan a couple of meals that don’t require cooking each day especially if that day requires a lot of hiking. This accomplishes a couple of things. First, you save on fuel. Second, and probably more importantly you save water and time. Cooking a meal requires water to cook with and clean with. Cleaning is the more water and time intensive task. Once everyone is finished eating a warm meal the dishes need to be washed with the wash and rinse water needing to be strained away from water or trails in an effort to leave no trace for wildlife and other hikers to find. This requires filtering more water to clean with. All in all cooking a meal requires time and energy that can be spent on the trail. I took the time to cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner for my first backpacking trip. Next time I will plan on more breakfast bars and snacks with a warm meal only once a day for some of those days. In addition, food to be cooked generally adds more weight to your pack.

How Does This Stove Work?

-Plan a practice backpacking trip a few weeks before the real thing. Go to a nice campground that’s not to far from a store or restaurant in case you forgot to pack something preferably with a river or lake so you can test out your water purification methods. Your back yard doesn’t count because it is to easy to go in the house to get stuff. This accomplishes a number of things. It forces you to have all of your equipment you think you’ll need with enough time to make adjustments before going somewhere with nothing available except what your carrying. This gives you practice in real conditions with your equipment to make sure it all works the way you want it to and figure out how to best use it. Also, this is on opportunity to figure out how to pack your backpack and how much it’s going to weigh. The most important thing this does is give you confidence in your ability to successfully prepare for a backpacking trip in the solitude of the wilderness.