Monday, April 16, 2012

The 2012 Backpacking Season Beckons

I first took the kids out for backpacking in 2003. Brian, 15; Jim 13. We did several trips into the San Diego backcountry and hiked up to and camped near the peak of Mt. San Jacinto (above Palm Springs) a couple times. Got the little buggers into shape.

In truth, I was using the kids to figure out how to take Mrs Elliott into the backcountry. She said she'd like to take a trip and I figured I'd use training them as rehearsal for taking my lovely wife into the wilderness. I bought two expensive zip-together sleeping bags.

But back to the kids. The hikes took on a life of their own and culminated in a six-night trip in the Sierra Nevadas in 2003. We entered from from the east side -- from Lone Pine, I think -- hiking up to and over New Army Pass, to camp for two nights beside Lower Soldier Lake, fishing and exploring, before, regretfully, heading back out.

I never took the saucy and sweet Mrs Elliott on the trip I was working so hard to make easy and perfect for her because I got fat, and my ankle packed up on me. I hung up my backpack.

But, huzzah! in 2009, I got ankle surgery, found a nutritionist here in Bend, and lost 55 lbs.

So last year, 2011, September, I took a short overnight backpack trip up to Lancelot Lake in the Cascades, loved it, and invited my son Jim (who now lives here in Bend) to take an overnighter with me a couple weeks later -- and even in the rain, wind  and cold, we had a delightful adventure.

So we're thinking we'll take two or three backpacking trips this season.

Mrs Elliott has also allowed that she might enjoy an easy overnight backpacking trip, too. (For this I am considering going to a place like Sparks Lake where you can kayak across to shoreline camping sites on the far side where cars cannot go.)

And I'm planning a couple of short two-night easy solo trips and a five-night solo hike someplace like the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness

Inspired, I have been poring through my backpacking gear, the stuff I used last season, the stuff that was lightweight stuff ca. 2003. Some of it is still perfectly fine gear. Some of the bits are heavier than they need to be but upgrading is very expensive and I have to keep within a tight budget; but others items can be upgraded for close to no money at all by being smart.

For example, ten years ago I packed a fancy Evernew titanium coffee cup (52 grams):

But how about a lighter cup/bowl that is lighter, insulated and lined (the way I like my women):

Believe it or not, this aluminum soup container -- with its snap-on lid (making a useful place to store items such as a tea ball, some gunpowder tea, and a tiny alcohol stove while hiking) -- is eight grams lighter than the fancy titanium cup.

Eight gram? That's not even a third of an ounce!

But at my advanced age of geezerage, every gram counts. They all add up: you gotta carry them. 28 grams are an ounce, 16 ounces are a pound; after miles on the trail each pound wears out the old joints and ligaments and the bottoms of the feets.

It's only April, sure, and there are a few car camping trips in the High Desert lowlands to take before the Cascades open up for old guy backcountry exploration, but I'm already geeking out, weighing everything to within a gram and recording it, examining different combinations of gear to find the lightest setup for the high season, for the shoulder seasons, for the short and long solos, and for the two-person trips.

I'm questioning which items I really need and discarding them or combining two or more items together to make a multi-use item (example: replace Ace bandage and roll of duct tape [used for sprained ankle and repairing things, respectively] with a single roll of leukotape athletic tape: coaches tape up ankles, and the tape can be used for repairs).

I've found a lot of redundancy that way. is a great resource if you're trying to get away from the marketing hype of shops like REI who sell quite good but expensive gear.  Check out the forums, it's driven by people who love backpacking, are unimpressed with marketing hype, evaluate the entries into the market, and are ruthless about shaving ounces.

I'm having a lot of fun preparing for the upcoming season.

At least my kind of fun. Geeky fun.


  1. "and even in the rain, wind and cold, we had a delightful adventure."

    I guess this is why some have told me I'm "not Bend material." To my mind, the words "rain," "wind," "cold" and "delightful" just don't belong in the same sentence.

    "Sun," "warm," "water," "beach," "pool" -- that's more like it.

    Yep, I am definitely not Bend material.

  2. "To my mind, the words 'rain,' 'wind,' 'cold' and 'delightful' just don't belong in the same sentence."

    Well, I don't seek bad weather to camp in, and I greatly prefer nice weather, but bad weather doesn't destroy an outing for me.

    A little rain and wind and cold are nothing with shelter and warm food.

    This one time, '78 or '79 I reckon, the first Mrs Elliott and I were caught out above Idyllwild, Calif., by a surprise snowstorm. Fortunately I was able to rig a suitable shelter with a nylon groundsheet and some rope to spend the night in. The wind howled and the snow blizzarded.

    Woke up to crystal-clear blue skies and sunlight and enjoyed the hike out. Others were not so fortunate: that same night a couple kids on a boy scout or cub scout outing died.

  3. "A little rain and wind and cold are nothing with shelter and warm food."

    Not to mention some good wine and a good cigar. Which is why people should stay at home under such conditions.

    "Others were not so fortunate: that same night a couple kids on a boy scout or cub scout outing died."

    Unfortunately that sort of thing happens all too often; I'm reminded of the students who died in a blizzard on Mount Hood a number of years ago. Which causes me to wonder if these "outdoor adventures" are really worth it. Nature can kill. There are plenty of ways to make kids strong and tough, and give them experience with nature, without exposing them to so much risk. If they want to engage in risky behaviors when they're grown, fine; that's their business. But don't push them into it when they're kids.


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