Posts made in July 2018

Kalmiopsis Wilderness

Learning How to Backpack Alone

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

When I go on my wilderness backpacking adventures I usually go alone (solo).  There have been occasions that I have gone with someone but for most of my wilderness adventures I go it alone.  Many people have asked me why I go alone and others think that I am crazy to do so.  The answer is not clear-cut but I explain that the adventure and challenge of being in a remote and rugged wilderness area fuels my backpacking passion.

The challenge and adventure are my motivation but what really allows me to go solo backpacking is having the necessary KSA’s to do so.  KSA is the acronym for (Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities).  My KSA’s have given me the skill-set to go wilderness backpacking alone.

Being motivated by the adventure and challenge is good but if you lack the KSA’s your risk of getting hurt or dying increase dramatically.  All wilderness backpackers take on risks when they go backpacking.  Some of these risks are:

  • Bad weather
  • Wildlife
  • Getting Lost
  • Being Injured
  • Getting Sick

Much goes into having the necessary KSA’s to have a great adventure.  Having one of the elements and lacking the others is a recipe for disaster.  For example, if you have the knowledge of what gear to bring in a wilderness area, but you cannot properly set it up then undue hardship, inconvenience, and injury may result.

If you bring a hammock into a wilderness area and you have not practiced using it then you may get injured by improperly setting it up or you may have a sleepless night.

Skill sets in a wilderness environment encompass many things. The most important one in my opinion is Land Navigation.  In my blog section, I have done a series of articles on land navigation.  These articles are basic land navigation skills every backpacker should know.

So how did I develop my skill set for wilderness backpacking?  That is what I will discuss by defining KSA’s.

The Kalmiopsis Wilderness (Oregon)
The Kalmiopsis Wilderness (Oregon) My Basecamp by the Illinois River

Knowledge:

My knowledge comes from my years of experience both as a military veteran and wilderness backpacker. In the military I learned survival skills, first aid, and land navigational skills.  As a wilderness backpacker, I have learned from my own experiences, (both good and bad), and other subject matter experts.  These experts cover a wide field of professions and backgrounds.  (Some of these professions are).

  • Outdoor Survival experts
  • Medical (First Aid) Professionals
  • Hunters
  • Other Wilderness related experts.

My knowledge was gained through but not limited by my personal  contact with the experts, reading articles and watching videos.  As stated above, I have also learned from my personal  experiences by trial and error.  The errors have luckily not been to egregious, since I am here to write this article.

Skills

I have developed my skills by practicing and training.  Remember that practicing and training does not necessarily happen in a wilderness area.  You should practice and train important skills at home.  Setting up gear in your backyard, like a hammock, will help you set up that same hammock on your wilderness adventure.

Taking a medical first aid course before going into wilderness area will help build your medical skills.  When you sustain a deep arterial cut you will be able to properly apply a tourniquet when you are alone in a wilderness area.  Taking a compass and using it to navigate in a local park will build your confidence and your land navigation skills.  The key point in having the skills for me is to practice, practice, and practice some more.  I am a hands on learner, and I have to physical perform a task repeatedly to get proficient at doing it.

Abilities

My abilities come from (2) factors.  These factors are my mental and physical capabilities.  Mentally I must be able to retain what I have learned so I can apply it to tasks I perform in the field.   Physically I have to be able to perform those tasks.

If I cannot remember how to determine elevation on a topographical map I may miss the fact that I may have to climb several thousand feet to get to my objective.  If I cannot physically carry my weighted backpack I will not make it to my destination.  This may expose me to the rugged wilderness environment that can lead to heat exhaustion or some other environmental danger.

Wind River Range (Wyoming)
Wind River Range (WY)

Conclusion

I started this webpage along with my other social media sites to on pass on my years of backpacking knowledge.  I am old school when it comes to wilderness backpacking, but I incorporate modern technology to make my stay more enjoyable and safe.  Being alone in a wilderness area at night surrounded by the mountains, wildlife, and other environmental factors can be un-nerving at first.   As you progress and build your KSA’s it does get easier.

What I can say with certainty is that developing your KSA’s will help you control your fears, lessen the dangers, and make your stay in a wilderness more enjoyable and much safer.  It will also give you the confidence to go alone if you choose to do so.

White Mountains Pemigewasset Wilderness (NH)

How to Prepare for a Backpacking Adventure

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

I enjoy backpacking in remote and rugged wilderness areas throughout North America.  My successes in the wilderness have been attributed to my pre-planning.  Preparing for an adventure into a rugged wilderness area requires allot of research.  Backpackers who do not properly prepare themselves may encounter difficulty, undue hardships, and dangers on the trail.

Pre-planning should be a big part of your wilderness adventure.  Your research will not only give you important information, but it will prepare you physically and mentally for the adventure ahead.

I will discuss the below (9) topics, and how you should implement them into your next wilderness adventure. 

  1. Travel  
  2. Terrain
  3. Trail System
  4. Weather
  5. Wildlife and Foliage   
  6. Dangers
  7. Equipment Needed
  8. Amenities and Laws
  9. Notifications


TRAVEL

Arizona Picture taken from an aircraft
Picture taken from plane of Arizona (the smoke is burning fire in the Wilderness)

Determine your mode of transportation.

Determining how you will get there is obvious but much goes into this.  You need to decide if you are:

  • Flying to your destination
  • Driving a vehicle
  • Sharing a ride (if you plan on going with a group of people).
  • Determine other forms of transportation available to you.

Planning your adventure requires time and money.  You need to figure out all of the costs associated with your trip.  These costs could be airline fees, car rentals, hotel stays, food you will need, equipment you will have to purchase, and other miscellaneous expenses.

When I fly to my destination I have to pack my gear that usually weighs more than 50 pounds.   I usually end up paying extra airline baggage fees for the equipment I am checking in.  When I land, I have to rent out a vehicle for several days.  I sometimes need an all wheel drive or 4-wheel drive vehicle that costs extra.   All of these costs can be very expensive if you are on a budget.  My pre-planning allows me to know how much I need to save and budget for my adventure.

Lost Creek Wilderness (My all wheel drive rental vehicle)
Lost Creek Wilderness (Colorado) My all wheel drive rental vehicle.

You should also come up with a timeline on how many days your adventure will take including travel time to and from the trailhead.  I use the calendar on my phone to document this timeline.  I will put flight times, confirmation numbers and other necessary information on this calendar. Having all of this information organized either written down or on my phone gives me quick access to this information.

Research the trailhead you plan on starting from and the parking situation.

When I research a wilderness area I find out how I will get to the trailhead.  Many people believe that there will be well-placed signs guiding them to the trailhead.   These sign may have been moved by someone or damaged by a recent storm.  Some signs can be dilapidated, misleading, and some can be difficult to decipher if you are not familiar with them.

Gila Wilderness (New Mexico)
Gila Wilderness (New Mexico) Weathered Signage guiding me to the Pueblo Park Trail.

Use other backpacker’s online guides/blogs.  These blogs will give you valuable information on how to get to a trailhead. Some even post GPS coordinates and distances on how to get there.  Some blogs will also give you specific landmarks that will help you navigate safely to your starting point.  There are trailhead’s that are many miles off the main road. I have travelled up to 30 miles off-road to get to my starting point.  Be prepared because getting lost doesn’t always happen on the trail.  Sometimes it happens getting to the trail.  Use all available resources especially online information.   Print out these guides to help you get there safely.

Find out if there are private landowners or private structures around your starting point.  Knowing this will help you from possibly trespassing on private property that may not be adequately posted.  I have seen trespass signs that have also been improperly posted giving you false information leading to confusion. 

Gila Wilderness (New Mexico) A private cattle corral I came across around a trail.
Gila Wilderness (New Mexico) A private cattle corral I came across around the trail. No signs posted .

Find out about parking and whether it is safe to do so during your stay.  Some trailhead’s start by rivers and streams that may flood out during a rainstorm leaving you with an expensive vehicle recovery.  Have a secondary location to park your vehicle in case the one you are planning to use is full or closed.

Superstition Mountain (Tonto National Forest)
Superstition Mountain (Tonto National Forest) Parking area I used from the Peralta Trailhead.

Determine if there are Trail Fees.

Finally find out about fees you will need to pay if any from the trailhead you plan on starting from. Some wilderness areas allow you to pre-purchase a pass online.  Make sure you print it out and put it on the dash of your vehicle before leaving the trailhead.

Some places require that you pay at the trailhead.  You will see some type of container system, (wooden or metal box), that you fill out an information card and drop the card with the necessary fees in the box.  I recommend that you always have some cash with you since you will probably not be able to use a credit card at the trailhead.

Researching this in advance will save you a lot of headaches and a ticket, (civil citation) from the parks department for not paying the necessary fees.  They do check and I can recall an instance where I had a warning citation put on my vehicle when I got back to the trailhead.  It was on my trip to the Glacier Peak Wilderness in Washington, (Hint).

TERRAIN

Kalmiopsis Wilderness
Kalmiopsis Wilderness Topo Map

Get a topographical map and do your research.

Get a topographical map of the area you plan on visiting and research the terrain.  Much of the information you need will be online.  I still advise purchasing a topographical map and having it with you during your stay in a wilderness area.  You may choose to print out the map online but either way have a paper version with you at all times. (FYI if you print out your topographical map on a printer there is waterproof paper you can use to help keep your map intact.)

The terrain in a wilderness area can change quickly.  You could be in a desert type terrain and then find yourself in an evergreen forest. Research the area thoroughly before leaving.  Knowing what terrain you will encounter will help you stay on course.

One very important thing that you will find out from your terrain research is where you can find water.  Topographical maps show you where lakes, rivers, and streams are located relative to the trail system you are on.

TRAIL SYSTEM

Determine the Route you plan on taking.

When you get your topographical map determine the trail you plan on using.  Route out your trip from the trailhead and back using online software like Garmin Basecamp.  There are other navigational software programs you can use as well.  I do this especially if I decide to do some bush whacking off the trail.   You should be up on your land navigational skills as well, (know how to use a compass and topographical map).  I have posted videos on Land Navigation here my website.

Garmin Basecamp Software
Garmin Basecamp Software (Planning my Superstition Mountain Wilderness Route)

I always upload my anticipated routes with alternatives, and waypoints on on my GPS unit (Garmin inReach Explorer).  You may want to use your cell phone to do this.  There are some good cell phone applications you can download to your cell phone. Your cell phone will use its GPS capabilities outside of the cell service to function.

WEATHER

Pemigewasset Wilderness (NH)
Pemigewasset Wilderness (NH)

Research the weather in the area you plan on visiting

Research the weather during the time you plan on visiting the wilderness area of your choice.   Weather forecasts, in today’s technology, can be determined up to 10 days out.  These forecasts are not always spot on but they can give you an idea if bad weather will affect your adventure. 

You can also look at historical weather trends to include the Almanac.  Historical weather trends may give you an indication on rainfall and the temperature you will experience during your stay.  Here in Florida the summers are hot and humid and we get afternoon rain showers.  Having that information means to have rain gear if you want to backpack in Florida during the summer

The more information you get on weather the better your stay will be.  Knowing the weather will also help you pre-determine where you may want to set up your basecamp.

WILDLIFE AND FOLIAGE

Research the wildlife and the dangers they pose to you.

Research the wildlife that is present in the area you will visit.  Once you find out determine your course of action if you encounter that particular wildlife during your stay.  If you know that you are heading into Montana have bear spray with you. Know how to use it and learn about what to do if you are attacked or see a Brown Bear.

Wind River Range (Wyoming)
Wind River Range (Wyoming) Grizzly Bear Country
Wind River Range
Wind River Range (Wyoming)

Knowing the wildlife also helps you determine the appropriate food containers that you will need. Researching the wildlife may save your life if you are not familiar with a particular wildlife species.  Encounters may not necessarily be with large animals like bears. 

Smaller wildlife may be just as dangerous or disruptive.  There may be raccoons or Armadillos carrying diseases or raiding your food.  You may travel to an area that has poisonous snakes. Know their habitats and be vigilant during your stay.

Kalmiopsis Wilderness
Kalmiopsis Wilderness (Oregon) A Rattlesnake That I came across while getting water.  Near my Basecamp

I will also include insects in this category.  Have the proper insect repellents with you to prevent biting insects such as mosquitos or black flies from making your stay miserable.  Having the right repellents may also prevent you from getting certain diseases such as the Zika virus or Lyme disease.

Kalmiopsis Wilderness (Oregon) Rattlesnake
Kalmiopsis Wilderness (Oregon) Spider

Lone Star Tick on my glove at my basecamp (Juniper Prairie Wilderness)
Lone Star Tick on my glove at my basecamp in Juniper Prairie Wilderness (Florida).

Understanding all of the wildlife gives you the knowledge to deal with them if you encounter them during your stay.

Research the plant life and trees in the wilderness area you plan on visiting.

Plant and tree life are important to know.  There are areas in North American where you may encounter poisonous plants that when touched may cause some type of allergic reaction to your skin. 

Knowing the type of plants and trees you will see in a wilderness area may also save your life. If you go into survival mode and you need to forage off the land knowing what plants to eat may sustain you until you get to safety.

Indian Paintbrush Plant
Kalmiopsis Wilderness (Oregon) The Indian Paintbrush Plant. The flowers are edible but eat in moderation.  This plant has selenium in it and eating to much can be toxic.

DANGERS

Call the local Ranger Station near the wilderness area you plan on visiting and speak to them about current and potential dangers.

I always call the local Ranger District in wilderness areas I am not familiar with.This type of first-hand information will get you up to speed if there has been some major change to the wilderness area you will be visiting.

There may have been a natural disaster unknown to an out-of-state backpacker.  A storm may have flooded out a trail or downed some trees closing a trail. This is information you want to know before leaving.

Use the knowledge of these Rangers to plan your route.   Some of these Rangers are hardcore backpackers and they may give you some good areas to check out during your stay.

They can also give you information on local towns.  This information may be on where you can purchase supplies for your trip or hotels you can stay at.  The information I received on my Superstition Mountain Wilderness trip made my adventure epic. 

EQUIPMENT

The American Backpacker
Wilderness Go-Bag

Once you have done your research using the above elements now you have to determine what gear you will need.  Many backpackers have a basic, (core items), list of gear they bring into any wilderness area.  I have my core list that I have in my Go-Bag, and I add to it as needed.

The equipment list that I bring on all of my expeditions.  My research may add to this gear list. (Alphabetized List)

  • Bedding gear
  • Bear Spray
  • Compass
  • Cordage (550 parachute cord)
  • Clothing (to be determined)
  • Fire starter gear
  • Firearm (My personal choice that I always carry into a Wilderness)
  • Food (to include a proper food storage container for wildlife)
  • GPS system
  • Hiking poles
  • Headlamp
  • Knife
  • Medical kit
  • Satellite communicator
  • Solar Panel
  • Shelter system
  • Toiletries (to include hand sanitize)
  • Water filtration system
  • Whistle
  • Wet weather gear

AMENITIES AND LOCAL LAWS

Determine locations of the following especially if you are travelling to a very remote Wilderness area. The more remote the less amenities. 

Stores:  Know locations of stores, (Outdoor sporting, Grocery, Gas Station, Etc.), around the wilderness area you plan on visiting.  Knowing these store locations will help you purchase supplies and fuel up your vehicle.   You may have to find stores close to the airport you land at.  You may have to travel to a larger city or town that may have these stores because there are none near your trailhead.

Kalmiopsis Wilderness (Oregon) REI Store where I purchased my supplies when I landed.
Kalmiopsis Wilderness (Oregon) REI Store where I purchased my supplies when I landed.

Remember some items cannot be transported by the airlines such as bear spray and cooking fuel. Consider maybe shipping out some of your gear to a local hotel if you plan on staying there before your trip.

Lodging:  Find out hotels and motels near your trailhead.  You may need to stay a night before your trip to prep your gear. There may be no lodging amenities close to you so pre-planning will help you locate one before your trip.

White Mountains (New Hampshire) The cabin I stayed in the night before my trip.
White Mountains (New Hampshire) The cabin I stayed in the night before my trip in to Pemigewassett Wilderness.

State Laws:  If you plan on backpacking with a firearm read up on the laws of the state you plan on visiting.  The laws of the state you plan on carrying your firearm may be different from where you live.  You also need to check with the airlines on their policies for bringing a firearm with you. When you travel by aircraft you will need to check in your firearm with your checked baggage.

NOTIFICATIONS

Before you leave the trailhead make sure that you have notified family members and close friends on where you are going.  This is where your timeline will help you.  Print out a copy and give it to them.   You should be specific to include GPS coordinates on the trailhead you will start from and if you have a different ending point give them that GPS coordinate as well. You should give them a start date and a return date.

I highly recommend that you carry a GPS satellite communicator with you.  The costs associated with them are well worth your safety.  Many of those costs have come down considerably and the air plans on them are very reasonable. Having a GPS satellite communicator allows you to let family members know if you change your timeline during your trip.

Garmin inReach Explorer Plus video review

You may decide to stay an extra night or you may have to alter your path due to an unforeseen problem or emergency.  A GPS communicator in general is for your safety in case of an emergency.  They come in all types.  I use the Garmin inReach Explorer Plus and it allows my family members not only the ability to communicate with me but also to track my movements in the wilderness.

Notifications can save your life if an emergency arises when you are not back on a specified date you told everyone.

CONCLUSION

Pre-planning your wilderness adventure will save you time, money, undue hardships, and even your life in an emergency.  I find that pre-planning not only is important but fun.  I learn important facts that make my trip more adventurous. 

Many wilderness areas have a certain mystic and lure that makes me anticipate the adventure.  When I went to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness in Oregon, I was in an area where Miners mined for gold and other valuable ores in the 1800’s. I found many artifacts, tools and a homestead, that made my experience unique and exciting

No matter where you travel do your pre-planning. Pre-planning and research will make your stay more enjoyable, exciting, and more importantly safe.

Pike National Forest (Lost Creek Wilderness) Colorado

The Clove Hitch Knot

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

This article is about the Clove Hitch Knot.  This is my last wilderness knot in my series of articles on rope knots.  There are a total of (4) wilderness Knots you need to know and understand their applications.  The (4) rope knots covered to include the Clove Hitch are

  1.   The Tautline Hitch
  2.   The Bowline Knot
  3.   The Sheet Bend
  4.   The Clove Hitch

The Clove Hitch is used for binding or anchoring a rope to an object.  A Clove Hitch is used by climbers to anchor themselves to a point as they are climbing.  Climbers can also use the clove hitch to lower someone.

For the wilderness backpacker a clove hitch has multiple uses:

  • Used as a starting knot and end knot to lash items such as sticks or logs together.  This is especially useful building a shelter system.
  • Used to hoist or lower objects.
  • Used by wilderness backpackers hang their hammocks.
  • The clove Hitch can be used with webbing and straps and not only used with a rope, which is a plus for hammock backpackers
  • A temporary anchor point.

The Clove Hitch is a very easy knot to tie or untie.  Caution should be used when using this knot since it can come loose if tension is not kept on the knot.

 The clove Hitch is a very versatile knot that should be in your toolbox of knowledge when using rope, cordage, or webbing in a wilderness area.


Clove Hitch Knot

Clove Hitch Knot

Clove Hitch Knot

Clove Hitch Knot

Clove Hitch Knot

Clove Hitch Knot

Clove Hitch Knot

Clove Hitch Knot


 

 

White Mountains (Pemigewasset Wilderness)

Surviving a Lightning Storm while Backpacking

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

You are backpacking and a lightning storm quickly moves in.  What should you do?  Tragically, for the last 10 years an average of 27 people have been killed by lightning each year in the United States. 

This is a dramatic decrease in lightning deaths since 1940, when they began officially keeping records of these tragic deaths.  In 1943, (432) people in the United States died from lightning strikes.  This decrease in deaths is a result of education and advanced weather forecasting technologies.

So what should you do when you are caught in a severe lightning storm on your wilderness adventure? I will discuss what you need to do by breaking down this article into three sections:

–  Pre-planning

–  On the trail

–  At your basecamp

It is important to remember that there is no exact science on where and when lightning will strike. Your knowledge on how to react is the key when it comes to survival.  This article will discuss how you can reduce your risk in a wilderness area when a lightning storm moves in.

Lightning Bolt
Lightning moving in

Pre-planning:

I have been wilderness backpacking for years and before I head into any wilderness area I always check the weather prior to my trip.  Watching the news, going on the Internet, or checking a weather app on your phone will give you valuable information.  Knowing the weather pattern for the area you plan on visiting can help you decide what gear to bring and where to place your basecamp during inclement weather. 

Today’s weather technology allows me to decide what type of weather I may encounter, (10 days out), before my trip.  Of course, this is only estimation but it helps me plan my adventure.  One specific technology that has been invaluable for me while I am on my adventure is my Garmin inReach Explorer Plus (GPS Satellite communicator). This unit has a weather feature that allows me to predict weather 24 hour out using satellite technology.

Pike National Forest (Lost Creek Wilderness)
Sheltering from the rain in the Pike National Forest (Lost Creek Wilderness)

ON THE TRAIL

When you are on the trail or bushwhacking through and a lighting storm moves in you should do the following:


DO THE FOLLOWING IF YOU ARE ON THE TRAIL

1.  Look for shelter if available, (A fully enclosed structure or vehicle)

2.  Look for a low-lying area (based on the terrain around you).

3.  Avoid open areas.

4.  Drop your backpack and any metallic gear to include hiking poles and weapons.

5.  Distance yourself from these items maintaining at least a 10-meter gap.

6.  Avoid tall objects such as trees around you. If you are in an area with lots of trees look for the section of smaller trees in a low-lying area.

7.  Crouch or squat down covering your ears during the storm. Do not lye down since it will expose your body to ground surges from lightning strikes. If you are in a group of people spread out with at least 10 meters between people.

White Mountains (Pemigewasset Wilderness)
Rain in the White Mountains (Pemigewasset Wilderness)

AT YOUR BASECAMP

I have always told you that when you are looking for a basecamp use the acronym W.E.S.S. (Water, Elevation, Security and Safety). Using this acronym will give you an ideal basecamp but during a storm it may increase the risk of lightning striking your basecamp. 

The letter E, elevation can be the issue in this acronym.  Elevation is important when setting up your basecamp because having it in a low-lying area can expose you to flash floods, rising water, or unwanted cooler temps, especially during the winter months.

Having elevation also provides you with a good vantage point to fight off dangers such as animals that may wander into your camp.  So with that said elevation in a thunderstorm may expose you to lightning strikes.  It is kind of that old saying; you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.  So in this situation good intelligence helps if you know that a storm is coming in. 

If you are in your basecamp when a lightning storm hits there is not much you can do to move it quickly so you must ride out the storm.  Most backpackers will not readily get out of their tent so here are some points to follow in effort to lessen your risk of getting struck by lightning:


DO THE FOLLOWING IF YOU ARE AT YOUR BASECAMP

1.When setting up you basecamp look for a separate low-lying area not in the open that you can retreat to if a storm hits. Set up a small tarp system, (poncho) in a low-lying area for rain protection so you can wait out the storm and return to your tent if you decide to leave.

2.  If you decide to stay in your tent then use your air mattress as an insulator. Do not lie down but instead crouch down or kneel on your air mat avoiding contact with your tent especially your tent poles. Lightning will probably not hit your tent and the dangers are from the ground currents caused by lightning strikes.

3.  Ground currents occur when lightning hits an object by your tent such as a tree and it travels through the tree to the surrounding ground. Crouching on your sleeping pad and sleeping bag will help reduce and insulate you from the ground current.

Pike National Forest (Lost Creek Wilderness)
Bad weather moving in at the Pike National Forest (Lost Creek Wilderness)

Conclusion

Backpacking in a wilderness areas has its risks.  Being caught in a lightning storm is one of those risks.  Pre-planning your adventure to include checking weather forecasts plays in big role in how safe your adventure will be.  Unfortunately even with the technology we have today the potential for being caught off guard exists.  Lightning is not an exact science and it has a mind of its own.  Knowing what you can do during a lightning storm if caught off guard will greatly increase your chance of survival.

There has been a dramatic decrease in deaths due to lightning strikes since the 1940’s because of education. I hope this article has added knowledge to your skill set on increasing your chances of surviving a lightning storm if you encounter one on your adventure.