Posts made in October 2018

Backpacking in the Superstition Mountains Wilderness

How to Bushwhack in a Wilderness Area

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

Bushwhacking is a slang term that backpackers use when they navigate off a trail blazing their own path through a wilderness area.  For me it means exploration.  Bushwhacking allows you see areas that few have seen and you may find something that has been lost in time.  Wilderness backpacking is an adventure and bushwhacking only serves to enhance the experience.

Before you decide to bushwhack I highly recommend that you are up to date and proficient on your land navigational skills.  I also strongly advise that you preplan your adventure and research the terrain, wildlife and plant life before you enter any wilderness area.  

I recently posted an article on how to prepare for a wilderness backpacking adventure and you can click on the following link, How to Prepare for a Backpacking Adventure, to review that article.  I have also posted some land navigational articles here on my website under the Backpacking Blog (Land Navigation).

I will discuss 3 methods I use when I go bushwhacking.  Those methods I call:

  •  The Line of Sight Method
  •  The Trail to Trail Method
  •  The Terrain Method

**The above three methods use your compass and a topo map with a GPS unit as your backup.  Relying on your GPS alone without having a compass and map is very risky and dangerous.** 


LINE OF SIGHT METHOD:

Hells Canyon Wilderness
I am pointing to a Hilltop.

Line of sight is exactly what it means.  You are on the trail and you see something in the distance, (some type of landmark such as a hilltop), and you decide that you want to check it out.  You first need to find your location on your topo map.  If you are not sure where on the trail you are try to find a trail intersection or marker near you that you can identify on your map to assist you in pinpointing  your location.  Shoot an azimuth/bearing to that point and begin walking.  

As you walk use your pace count to determine how far you have traveled from the trail.   Stay on course till you reach your destination. As you walk mark your path every 25 yards, (Less or more if you need to), with a rock, stick, or other object for identification if you need to back track.  Orient your map to the major terrain features around you such as mountains, streams, etc.

When you get to your final destination mark an identifiable landmark (Tree, outcropping of rocks, Boulder, etc.).  This landmark will be what you use to shoot your back azimuth  to your starting location.  This method is simply to use and it allows you to explore interesting landmarks that you may see off the trail.  These points may be structures, terrain features, or other natural points.  

How to Bushwhack in a Wilderness
Line of Sight Method for Bushwhacking

 As you travel to your landmark, you may come across an awesome area where you may want to set up a basecamp.  One advantage in using this method is that you will see the landmark you are traveling too. The hard part is going back if you have not properly identified where you are starting from and a compass azimuth/bearing to your landmark.

TRAIL TO TRAIL METHOD:

Gila Wilderness (Land Navigation)
Gila Wilderness (NM), I am using a map to plot out my bushwhacking course

This method uses trails on your topo map as linear points that you navigate from to another trail. You basically are bushwhacking from one trail to another.  You should first plan your route on a topo map.  Find an area you want to do some bushwhacking through with a trail that is close by.  Navigate to that trail and then find an adjoining trail.  That trail may parallel the one you are on. Shoot an azimuth/bearing to that trail from the trail you are on.  

When you are ready to get off trail make sure you can identify your current location on the topo map.  Stay on that azimuth/bearing as you explore the area and terrain.  If you stay on that course you will run into the next trail which you should be able to identify on your map.  You will also want to mark your path as you walk in case you need to back track.  Keep track of the distance using your pace count.

You may choose to setup a basecamp somewhere on that course or do some exploration before reaching the trail. If you do stop to explore or setup a basecamp mark a good land mark, (use a Bright vest, a colorful air mat, etc.) so when you are ready to head to that second trail you have a good reference point. You can modify this technique in different ways.  You may parallel that second trail knowing that it is a specific direction from you, (North South, East or West).  When you decide that you are ready to head to that second trail head in the cardinal direction of that trail.  

If you decide to use this method make sure that you can identify where you started from. You may want to use a pencil and draw some lines on your map identifying your route from start to finish. Make sure to keep your map oriented using your compass and terrain features around you.

How to Bushwhack in a Wilderness
Trail to Trail Method for Bushwhacking

TERRAIN METHOD:

Backpacking in Kalmiopsis Wilderness
Kalmiopsis Wilderness (Illinois River) I am using the River to navigate

This method is my favorite and can be used in many wilderness areas.  This method allows you to use the natural terrain as a navigational point.  I find that using rivers, streams, and creeks, work the best.  As you do your pre-planning find a terrain feature such as a river and use it as a navigational tool when you get off the trail.  You will not get lost as long as you keep that terrain feature next to you.  

I used this method in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness using the Illinois River as my terrain feature.  You may choose to use a lake, valley, or even a group mountains or a ridge.  I would recommend if you are just starting out that you use a river, stream, or creek.  Using a set of mountains or a ridge line can be difficult if you are not proficient in your land navigational skills.

Land Navigation
How to Bushwhack in a Wilderness

Conclusion

The above three methods will keep you on point when getting off the trail.  Remember to have your GPS with you and make sure that it is on and tracking you.  If you need to use it to get back then by all means do so.  Make sure when you get to your destination to mark it with something that you can use as a reference point to navigate back to your starting point or to another location.  As you are bushwhacking you may see a great location to set up a basecamp.  

Make sure you have a small notepad and pencil with you so you can write down your pace counts along with your azimuths/bearings.  This is especially important if you plan on staying in the area for an extended period of time.   If you have never bushwhacked start off slow.  Maybe go 100 yards off the trail at first.  Then work your way up to larger segments.  

Terrain will dictate these methods.  You may have to adapt and overcome situations where the terrain makes travel difficult or impossible to traverse.  An example would be if you come to a cliff.  You will have to back track and recalculate your course. Preplanning is the key to bushwhacking. Look at the terrain before you head out to insure you have a reasonably clear and safe path. Bushwhacking is what a true wilderness backpacker should do to make their trip an adventure.

Bushwhacking in the Wilderness
US Army Ranger School

US Army Ranger’s (S.U.R.V.I.V.A.L.)

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

My time spent in the military as a Army Ranger taught me a lot about what my strengths and weaknesses were. I took those weaknesses and made them strengths.  Being a Ranger required me to have a strong body but it equally required me to have a strong mind. My training in the Military prepared me for many things in life especially when it comes to wilderness backpacking in remote and rugged wilderness environments.  In my Ranger handbook there is a section labeled Survival.  In this section it breaks down the word SURVIVAL into an acronym that I want to share with you in this article.


US Army Ranger Class 12-86 ( I am on the top row 2nd from the R on right side)

S–Size up the situation by considering the individual, the country and the enemy.

UUndue haste makes waste.

  • Don’t be eager to move.
  • Don’t lose your temper.

R–Remember where you are.

V–Vanquish fear and panic.

  •   To fear is normal.
  •   When injured, it is difficult to control fear.
  •   Panic can be caused by loneliness.
  •   Planning an escape will keep the mind busy.

I–Improving

  •   The situation can be improved.
  •   Learn to put up with new and unpleasant conditions.

V–Value Living.

  •   Hope and planning reduces fear and makes the chances of survival better.
  •   Health and Strength must be conserved.
  •   Hunger, cold, and fatigue lower efficiency and stamina.
  •   Remember your goal, GET OUT ALIVE.

A–Act like the Natives.

LLearn Basic Skills.

COURTESY OF THE US ARMY RANGER HANDBOOK (SH21-76) Feb 1985

Army Ranger Handbook
My Ranger Handbook 

Conclusion

The above acronym is focused on your mindset and training your mind to adapt and overcome both physical and mental obstacles that you may encounter in the wilderness.  Positive thinking with a plan is important to overcome fear and panic especially if you find yourself lost. Being prepared is important before you head into a wilderness but you must also have those basic skills such as land navigation to make it through those trying times.  This type of thinking can also be applied to life in general when you are not on the trail bushwhacking.

Backpacking in the Ocala National Forest

Choosing the right Clothing for Backpacking

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

During the last quarter century the type of clothing wilderness backpackers wear has changed dramatically.  Today’s clothing is lighter, stronger, and more durable than clothing worn in the past.  Clothing provides a backpacker four things.

  • Protection from the weather (Sun, Wind, Rain Snow, etc.).
  • Protection from the environment (Poisonous plants, scratches and scrapes from other elements, etc.).
  • Comfort by providing you support and the ability to store items.

The material your clothing is made of is important in providing you the above protections and comfort.  There are still occasions where I see backpackers on the trail wearing clothing made from 100 percent cotton, (i.e. jeans). Cotton jeans are very durable and they have their uses but not on your backpacking adventure.  Cotton clothing is like a sponge that absorbs water and sweat that stays next to your skin.

This retention over a period of time will cause your skin to chaff or to develop a rash that can lead to a more severe skin irritation.  That retained water and sweat can also lead to hypothermia in cold weather climates.

So here are my recommendations for the type of clothing you need on your next wilderness adventure.

Material (Synthetic and Natural)

100 percent cotton is not advisable for you to wear.  The best type of material to have is a synthetic material comprised of PolyesterNylon, Spandex, or a natural material called Merino Wool.

Synthetic Materials:  Clothing using a synthetic material like polyester, nylon, and spandex are a great combination to wear in the wilderness especially in hotter/temperate climates. These synthetic materials allow water and sweat to be wicked away from your skin.  This means that the water and sweat evaporate quickly keeping you dry on those rugged backpacking adventures.  Wearing synthetic fabrics allows your skin to breath which helps regulate your body’s internal temperatures.

Synthetic clothing allows you to mix and match materials.  So your material can be 80 percent poly and 20 percent spandex.  You can even mix these synthetic blends with cotton.  A cotton blend works well giving you the comfort of cotton with the functionality of synthetic material to wick away moisture. Cotton blends have their limitations but they are very durable.  If you use a cotton blend you should limit the cotton to no more than 50 percent with the other 50 percent being a synthetic material (50/50).

There are many manufactures that produce some very high quality backpacking clothing (5.11, Kyrptec, Vertx, Tru-Spec Etc.).  The costs associated with synthetic clothing are higher than those made with 100 percent cotton but well worth it to make your stay in the back country more comfortable and safe.

Natural Materials:  The natural material I recommend is merino wool.  This material is made from the wool of certain sheep’s.  This natural material works well in both hot and cold climates.  The structure of the merino wool allows it to wick away moisture in the hotter climates and it also traps air between its layers to keep you warm in cooler climates. This dual function is adaptable to various wilderness environments.  Wool also has the ability to control odor.  Merino wool is expensive but again well worth your comfort and safety.

Suwannee River State Park (FL)
Columbia Titanium Shirt

Clothing Design

When it comes to the design of what you should wear I recommend wearing both long sleeves and long pants.  This is up for debate with some backpackers but wearing this combination will provide you well needed protection.  This protection comes from the sun, insects, and the environment.

When I was in the military I wore long sleeves and long pants.  The difference with the clothing I wore in the military verses the clothing I wear today is night and day.   Todays material allows me to wear long sleeves and pants with much more comfort.  There are also convertible pants as an option for those wanting to wear shorts that allow you to zip off your pant legs when needed.  You can also rollup long sleeves if you desire short sleeves..

Clothing designs have also changed in terms of styles and configurations. I enjoy having various pockets on my clothing.  The amount of pockets and types are much more functional then the standard pockets you see on jeans.  Pockets are not limited to your pants and many shirt designers have integrated them on the sleeves of their shirts.

Today’s designs also allow you to choose from wearing either and athletic cut or clothing with a more loose fit.  I have worn both and choosing one or the other is a personal preference for backpackers. The athletic cuts have more spandex in them that adheres close to your skin.  They also allow you to use lighter belts and in some designs you do not have to wear a belt at all due to the spandex waistbands.  I always like wearing a belt even though I might wear an athletic cut design.

Tru Spec Pants
Tru Spec Pants (Elastic Waist Band)

Insect Repellent: I always treat my clothing with an insect repellant that is called Permethrin.  This insect repellant is sprayed on the outer portion of your clothing to include your socks and boots.  It is a first line of defense when it comes to deterring insects from attaching themselves to your skin while you are backpacking.  Certain clothing can be purchased with an insect repellant in the material.  All clothing treated with this repellent needs to be reapplied after so many washes.

The American Backpacker using Permethrin insect repellent.
Permethrin Insect Repellent.

Conclusion

Having the right clothing can make or break your adventure.  Technology has advanced making what you wear more functional and comfortable in the most rugged wilderness environment.  There are very good manufactures in the market to choose from. Using a synthetic or merino wool material will allow you to have a lighter, durable, and more breathable outfit. This will result in a more comfortable and safer stay while you are backpacking.  As for designs, think about wearing long pants and sleeves for added protection and choose a style that fits your personality.

Hells Canyon Wilderness Over looking the Snack River


Backpacking in the Superstition Mountains Wilderness

My Top 3 Backpacking Adventures

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

I have traveled to many remote and rugged wilderness areas in North America.  In this article I will give you my top 3 backpacking adventures to date.  I still have many more backpacking adventures so this list may be subject to changes in the future.  North America offers some unbelievable wilderness areas for you to plan a backpacking adventure.  I hope you have the opportunity to plan one of your adventures to my below top three wilderness destinations.

#3:  Superstition Mountain Wilderness (Arizona)

The Superstition Mountains are located in the Tonto National Forest (Sonoran Desert) in Arizona.  The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine is what comes to mind when you hear about the Superstition Mountains.   This legend dates back to the late 1800’s when a German immigrant by the name of Jacob Waltz found a gold mine in the heart of the Superstition Mountains.  After his death in 1891, many treasure Hunters have sought that gold mine.  Many individuals have also died in this quest. This mine, (Fact or Fictitious) is still sought today and it brings many treasure hunters into this wilderness area.

I started my (4) day (3) night adventure from the Peralta Trailhead.  My adventure brought me past some open scenic views like Weavers Needle.  This wilderness area truly depicts the Southwest desert.  The backdrop of this area allows you to see for miles, which provided me with many great scenic shots.  Many old western movies were shot in this wilderness area.

I took the below picture on this adventure, which became my trademark photo for the American Backpacker.

Superstition Mountains (Arizona)
The Original Picture for Logo

The best time to travel to this wilderness area is during the winter months (November thru March) In the Summer months the temps will get into the 100’s.  The evening’s cools down considerably even in the summer.  The summer nighttime temps can get very cold (low 50’s) and the winter months will bring freezing temps at night.  The trails can be difficult to navigate so make sure that you preplan your route and have a good topo map.  I found that using large landmarks like Weaver’s Needle kept me on point.

Water can be found in the low lying areas during the winter months but the heat of the summer months make some of these areas dry up due to a lack of rain.  The rainy season occurs during the winter.  If you decide to head to this wilderness area be prepared to see what the Southwest desert offers and that is some very scenic landscapes that you will remember long after you leave so take allot of pictures and videos. Call the local Ranger Station before you get there to find out about water sources during your stay.

Superstition Mountains (Arizona)
Filtering water in the Superstition Mountain Wilderness

#2:  Hells Canyon Wilderness (Idaho)

The Hells Canyon wilderness encompasses approximately 217,615 acres and it covers two states, (Idaho and Oregon).  This wilderness is located in the Nez Perce National Forest.  The Hells Canyon Wilderness has the deepest River Gorge in North America with the Snake River running through it.  The well-known Snake River is the 9thlargest river in the United States, extending 1,040 miles. The Snake River is also where Evil Knievel attempted to jump this canyon over the Snake River using his Skycycle. This area also has the 7 notable mountain peaks called the Seven Devils Mountains Range.

Hells Canyon Wilderness
Hells Canyon Wilderness overlooking the Snake River (From the Dry Diggins Lookout Point)

My adventure began at the Windy Saddle trailhead in July, (Idaho side), and it lasted for 4 nights and 5 days.  I traveled through some very rugged and remote areas with dramatic changes in elevation making this a very strenuous adventure.  The wild landscape offers some of the best scenic views in North America.  On my trip I saw a various ecosystem made up of sub-alpine fir, Douglas fir, and ponderosa pine. Prickly pear cactus and poison ivy are fairly common in this wilderness area.

During my stay I took a day trip to the historic Dry Diggins Lookout point.  Once on top I saw a fire watchtower that was built in 1968.  This tower now is used for emergencies.  The views from Dry Diggins are well worth the strenuous effort to get there.  From here you can get a 360-degree view of the Hells Canyon Wilderness to include the Snake River.  I spent a lot of time on this peak and took many pictures and videos.  The views from this point were some of the best I have ever seen in North America. (See Short Video Below)

Short video from my vantage point at the Dry Diggins Lookout Point.

If you decide to plan your trip to this Wilderness area be aware that the summer months can get very hot, (100 degrees plus).  The snow may still be present up to several feet in the Seven Devils Mountain ranges in June.

#1:  Kalmiopsis Wilderness (Oregon)

My number #1 backpacking adventure to date has been my trip into the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.  The Kalmiopsis Wilderness is located in the Siskiyou National Forest in Oregon.  This wilderness area is one of the most remote and rugged areas I have backpacked.  The rugged adventure began before got to the trailhead, (Briggs Creek Trailhead).  The road to this trail has various transition periods.  I started driving on hard pavement, then it transitioned to a gravel road, and then about 2 miles out I was maneuvering over ditches and rocks.  Make sure you have a 4 wheel or all wheel drive vehicle because you will need it to get to the trailhead.

Kalmiopsis Wilderness
Illinois River
Illinois River

I started from Briggs Creek Trailhead in July on my 5-night 6-day adventure.   I crossed a bridge from the trailhead and I began one of my best backpacking adventures to date. I traversed the mountains keeping the Illinois River next to me.  The Kalmiopsis has a rich history of settlers and those who mined the area for valuable ores and minerals.  In July of 2002, The Kalmiopsis Wilderness had a devastating fire.  The fire was known as the Biscuit Fire because it started by the Biscuit creek when lightning struck the area.  The fire destroyed almost a half million acres.  During my trek, I could still see the signs of the fires devastation.

I found remnants of an old homestead with artifacts from miners and settlers from the past.  I found old medicine bottles, tools, and other man-made objects during my adventure.  I had (2) basecamps with my second basecamp in an elevated position by the Illinois River.  The terrain was rugged and parts of the trail were difficult to follow due to the fire. Many organizations to include the Siskiyou Mountain Club have worked hard over the years to clear the trails for backpackers to enjoy.

Found Artifacts on My Adventure

I was immersed into the silence and solitude of this wilderness area.  The evenings were mystic and quiet and the moon shined brightly off the Illinois River where I had my basecamp.  I came across large redwood trees hundreds of years old and the Kalmiopsis Flower for which the wilderness is named after.

The Kalmiopsis is not a wilderness area to take lightly.  The terrain and elevations are strenuous but well worth the adventure for those willing to take on the challenge.  The landscape views are unbelievable and they take you back in time.   You will see much of the wildernesses history as you travel through the scenic landscape.

This wilderness area will challenge your skills in many ways especially when it comes to land navigation.  Those challenges will also reward you both in your accomplishments on backpacking this wilderness area and the history you will see and live.   

Conclusion

These are my current top three destinations for your next backpacking adventure.  There are many more great places that I have yet to explore.    Plan your next adventure soon and experience the wonders and history of a wilderness area.