You’ve been a good camper and packed all of your 10+ essentials, checked the seals on your water bladder and made sure you have enough chocolate Goo packets to feed a small nation. While test-hefting the final weight of your pack your mind can’t help but wrap itself around the memory of those steep switchbacks halfway up the trail, recalling the sweat rolling down your brow and the burning of your quads accompanied by constant mental curses.
Not even 10 seconds later you start pulling things out of your pack to lighten the load. What can go? …What about that medical kit? You haven’t used that at all the last few trips. Hastily, glancing around the room as if you were on the lookout for the backpacking police, you grab a couple bandaids out of the kit, then stuff it quickly back into the gear closet.
We’re all guilty of it. Gambling on gear. Lightening your load of important gear in order to make it up the trail with less sweat. Its the old trade off of hassle vs. safety.
Here’s some tips on how to make a trip safe without literally breaking your back.
Traveling in a group? Split up some of the burden. Everyone should have some of their own key items, but if you will be staying together its not necessary that all members of your group come loaded to the gills with gear. For Search and Rescue, each team typically divvies up our gear so that one of us carries the tent, stove and cooking gear, another the heavy call out rope and technical gear. Caveat: Make sure you still keep enough gear with each backpacker to keep them safe and warm if they do get separated from the group.
Invest in lighter weight solutions, especially on key items. That titanium cookset, lightweight down jacket, and the ultralight sleeping pad may initially cost more than their heavier counterparts, but you’ll be more likely to bring them than the bulkier version and the weight they free up in your pack can be used for other critical gear- like your first aid kit.
Knowledge weighs nothing. Depending on what you want to do and where you want to go, its a very good bet to stock up on related training. Your best gear in the backcountry are your skills.
Wilderness First Aid Courses teach you the basics of how bodies work and break. You’ll learn when you need to evac asap, and when you can still stay and play. You’ll learn how to improv with your gear and backcountry materials. You get lots of critical hands-on experience to help you stay calm when things hit the fan. For an excellent local resource, look into the Wilderness Outings course taught in Idyllwild.
Backpacking skills courses. You can take anything from a basic day clinic like those offered by REI to a multi-day backpacking and snow travel course like NOLS or Sierra Club’s Wilderness Travel Course (WTC) and beyond. Whatever you want to do, the training is out there to help you do it safely.
Improvise wisely. Think critically about what you can and can’t Macgyver in the backcountry. Try to stop severe bleeding with pressure from your dirty clothes (that you need for warmth) while shivering in a snowstorm? All of the sudden you might be pining for that pile of sterile compresses nestled back home in your gear closet. Bottom line: think it through before you discard a piece of gear from your pack.
Bring multipurpose items: Multipurpose gear means more functionality for less weight. I like to keep a stock of multi-purpose gear like bungees, plastic bags and duct tape, just to name a few. Example: 2 durable contractor garbage bags can form a pack liner in rain, an improvised rain jacket or even be joined end to end around my sleeping bag as a makeshift waterproof bivy for weather emergencies.
Still feel like grumbling about the time and expense of investing in good gear and training for the off chance of an emergency? Just remember, it is a gamble every time you go out unprepared. Sooner or later, if you spend enough time in the Wilderness, something happens to everyone. The only question will be if you win or lose your bet.
Ever find it hard to get back on the trail again after a big meal? Or be hiking along and suddenly bonk? When backpacking, when you eat can be as important as what you eat. In order to keep your body in the best shape to move up the trail you need to eat the right thing at the right time.
Mix it up: Carbs are a popular fuel source while hiking, but it’s important to remember that eating only simple sugars without any backup will cause you to “bonk”.
While you’re busy trudging up the trail your body wants foods that don’t take too much work to process into energy. Simple sugars provide quick burning kindling for your body, but in order to have a steady stream of energy it’s a good idea to back them up with complex carbs and small amounts of slower burning protein and fat. Example: snacking on dried fruit, sweet potato chips, nut butters, coconut butter, nuts and beef jerky throughout the hike.
Give yourself time to digest. Start moving too soon after eating a large meal and you’ll sabotage your refueling. The process of digestion requires a lot of blood flow to your stomach and intestines. This requires a trade off: your body can shunt blood either to the major muscle groups or the stomach and intestines.
If you start hiking aggressively again too soon after a meal your body will not be able to send enough blood to help properly digest your food. Your meal will end up sitting in your stomach like a rock instead of fueling you to greater heights. Not fun.
If you’re planning on a big meal, include time to relax and digest in your hiking schedule. Nutrient dense meals a couple hours before you go to bed will give your body time to assimilate the materials to rebuild your cells and get you ready for another day.
Drink up! Drink water throughout the day. Spacing out your sipping allows you to hydrate more efficiently. Your body absorbs water better in smaller amounts rather than in big gulps. Adding an electrolyte mix to one of your drinking bottles can give you a nice change up to encourage to drink more often. Water bladders like a Camelback or Platypus have also been shown to encourage hydrating more often.
Food isn’t just fuel: Calories aren’t the only thing in food. Your body also the host of nutrients in it to rebuild, cleanse and repair. Most of the dehydrated meals out there are heavy on the white rice and pasta, but pretty thin on nutrient density. Protein and fat are not only used for fuel, they’re also absolutely critical structural components of all of our cells, make up our hormones and neurotransmitters, are part of the process in liver detoxification and a myriad of other processes.
When going dehydrated I like to bring along fat (olive oil, butter or coconut oil), protein (salmon, tuna, chicken, etc) and various dried and fresh veggies and fruits (sundried tomatoes, pine nuts, cranberries, garlic…) and healthful spices (curry, cinnamon, nutmeg, sea salt, pepper) to add in to my dinner.
For most hikers, winter spells the end of the hiking season until the Spring thaw brings us back out from our caves. But wait, before you hunker down by the fireplace with a good book, take just a little time out to make sure you put away your gear properly so that it’ll be there for you for many seasons to come.
Here are 5 quick steps you can take to prolong the lifespan of your valuable outdoor gear. Don’t wait until Spring to tackle these changes—grab this list and go to your gear closet now.
1. Re-waterproof your raingear at the start of every hiking season to keep it from letting the environment in at inconvenient times. The standard waterproof coating will degrade over time, allowing more condensation buildup, and eventually just soaking right through even after a light rain. Look for something like NikWax.
2. Store your sleeping bag uncompressed! You can keep it in a breathable cotton, mesh, or canvas stuff sacks placed on shelves, hung in the closet or just layer out in the spare room across the bed. Storing your bag compressed, although a space saver, will eventually ruin the insulating capacity of your sleeping bag. The pressure crushes down feathers and breaks synthetic fibers, reducing their ability to trap air and thus keep you warm.
3. Dry it out. Hang your expensive sleeping bags and tents to dry inside-out after every trip. Cutting down on any moisture will decrease the growth of mildew during storage.
4. Combat mold. Uncap water bottles and open up hydration bladders when not in use. Free air flow will prevent moisture from being trapped inside and developing a nasty case of mold. Take it from me, forgetting your water bladder for several weeks after a trip in the depths of your backpack in generally not a great idea. If you really want to combat mold, try storing your hydration bladders and tubes in your refrigerator. The cold air will slow down the mold that infiltrates hard-to-clean nooks of the bladders and tubes.
5. Preserve your power. Keep your battery-powered goodies and any extra batteries in a cool, dry spot. Extreme heat (much more than cold) will drain batteries quicker tan a vampire convention at a blood bank. There’s nothing like fumbling in the dark for “fresh” batteries to replace your headlamp, only to discover that they aren’t so fresh after all
You’re not quite sure where you got turned around, but if you just keep going, you’ll probably figure it out, right? Maybe if you follow this stream downhill… didn’t Bear Grylls say something about water leading to civilization?
The shadows start to grow around you and the trees that seemed so welcoming now hold hidden menace… Night is falling and you’re getting nervous. You’re starting to realize how unprepared you are: no headlamp to illuminate the growing dark, no jacket to hold off the chill. The cold is starting to bite at your shorts clad legs. You can see some lights in the distance; maybe if you just keep going it’ll work out alright…
It’s always there; the temptation to just keep going. It’s a natural tendency, to want to rely on yourself, to avoid the embarrassment of “getting lost”, but there’s a dark side to this self reliance. There comes a time to acknowledge that you are indeed lost, and to sacrifice your ego, call for help (if possible), stop moving and find a safe place to hunker down.
Here are some tips to help you stay safe and be found as quickly as possible.
Let em’ know before you go. Let someone reliable know where you are going and when to expect you back. It’s common sense, but too few people actually do it. We can’t send out a rescue team unless we know approximately when and where you disappeared.
Keep your lines of communication open. Bring your cell phone and conserve your battery until you need it by turning it off or using airplane mode. A sketchy cell connection may someday be enough to save your life. If you have a GPS enabled phone, the Sheriff may be able to get a ping on your rough location for the rescue team. This is useful to us only if you stay put!
Find a safe spot out of shelter of the wind and elements to spend the night. Getting cold? You can jog around your improvised campsite, do push-ups, exercise…. But above all, stay put!
Don’t be lured in by the lights. Our local Southern California mountian ranges are often surrounded by a network of roads and cities. The lights twinkling in the distance can seem so tantalizingly near, so achievable. But what you can’t see at night are the dangers that lie ahead of you in the dark, the rough terrain and impassable cliffs that are concealed under the cover of night. Many a lost hiker has been lured in by the siren song of the city lights, only to be trapped in the dangerous jungle of steep ravines with no safe route back up or down.
Stay put! You are far more likely to fall and injure yourself while moving in the dark or in unfamiliar territory. Moving will probably only make a bad situation worse. If you could depend on your sense of direction you wouldn’t be lost in the first place. Moving wears you out and wastes your resources.
DON’T lead us on a wild goose chase! (Did I mention you should stay put?) Moving puts not only you at risk, but also the rescue personnel that are trying to find you. If you’ve managed to put a call through about your location or believe that you have been reported missing from a specific trailhead or area it’s particularly important that you don’t go wandering off in another direction and widen the search area.
Be prepared to patiently wait. It can take a while for emergency services to activate the search team. We are all volunteers with our own jobs and lives. We must stop whatever we are doing, or climb out of our beds, gather our gear and drive to the trailhead. Also remember, the people looking for you won’t be moving as fast as you; we are carrying heavy packs with extra supplies (for you!) and must often stop to call out and check out side canyons and gullies for your tracks before moving on.
Help us out! Can you see or hear a helicopter looking for you? It’s amazingly hard for the air crew to see people on the ground, especially if you stand still. In a recent interview with aviation one of the guys remarked; “If you stand next to a rock, you look like a rock”. If you want to be found, go to a nearby clearing, ridge line or rock outcropping and make yourself visible: wave, move around to catch their attention. (NOTE: they can’t hear you over the rotor blades, so save your voice!). Don’t expect them to immediately land and pick you up. Often they will instead call in your location for our ground crew to reach you. If you’ve been sighted don’t move- even if the helicopter flies away, stay put!
So go out, have fun, try not to get lost…. But if you do happen to get in trouble, did I mention you should stay put?
“Ding!” I look down at the text, sigh and kick off the high heels I had just slipped on. Dinner down in the desert can wait; we have a call out.
15 minutes later my heels and dress have been exchanged for an orange shirt and hiking boots. I’m sitting in the passenger seat of Lee’s truck as we bounce up the rutted dirt road leading to South Ridge Trailhead.
It’s a search. Out from the coast for a relaxing time camping in the mountains, the subject (Herb) had wandered off to the South to meditate, became disoriented and used his cell to call his friend back at camp. As Herb became increasingly lost, his friend made the call to contact 911.
We see the red and blue flashers ahead and pull up parallel to the Sheriff’s car. Mark Young is the RSO deputy on scene. He’s in contact with the subject by cell and already has a good handle on the situation.
Deputy Young uses his previous military experience to help pinpoint Herb’s location. “Point your chest to the setting sun and describe what you can see in front of you.” Having the subject turn in a circle and relate what he sees at each 90 degree angle gives Young a good idea of Herb’s location. This helps him guide the Sheriff’s helicopter rapidly to the spot. Star 9 hovers above Herb for several minutes, allowing us to get a bead on the direction and distance we’ll need to go.
We get the news that several members of the team from off the hill are on their way. Gwenda is bringing our RMRU Rescue Truck, Dana is heading up the mountain and Paul is already on the way out from Orange County. Good to know- if anything goes wrong we may need additional people.
Since we still have daylight, Lee and I make the call to head out as a hasty team and see if we can locate the subject before nightfall complicates the matter. After a quick cross-check of our gear, we swing on our packs and head out cross country through the heavy brush. Thick stands of Manzanita, Chinquapin and various other thorny and spiky obstacles have us swerving off course more than once. We note landmarks along the way to keep us on track for our way back.
Once the helicopter peels away and the forest becomes quiet again, we yell ahead to establish voice contact. “1…2…3… Hello!” Herb responds loudly and boisterously “Hey, Hey, Hey! I’m over here! I’m here!” His voice is coming from a few hundred yards directly ahead. “Stay put! We’ll come to you!” We start out again, picking our way through the brush and calling out once in a while to make sure we stay on course.
Within a matter of minutes we crest a hill and come across a thankful Herb. He’s dressed in tattered blue sweatshorts, his arms and legs covered with scratches from forcing his way through the sharp foliage. After shaking our hands, he gratefully guzzles the Nalgene of water Lee passes his way. “Man, I’m soooo glad to see you! I was waving at the helicopter, but then he flew away. If the deputy wouldn’t have kept telling me to stay put, I would have definitely moved!”
After giving Herb a few minutes to drink and eat, we make the call to head back quickly. We might still be able to beat the sunset. Herb certainly isn’t dressed for nighttime in the mountains and the temperature will be dropping quickly.
Lee is familiar with the area, and after a few minutes of hiking he locates an unofficial mountain bike trail. Having a nice, smooth, brush-free trail makes the going much easier for our exhausted subject. We reach the truck and load Herb into the back seat. We pull up next to Deputy Young as the last fading rays of the sun disappeared in the west. Mission accomplished.
“You never believe everything you hear.” ~ Haley Hightower
It was supposed to be a simple carryout. But if there’s one thing you learn in Search and Rescue, you should never believe everything you hear about a call-out.
The “heads-up” text comes in at 12:30 early Friday morning; a warning that a call-out might be on it’s way. I groan, roll back over and stuff my head under the pillow. The call-out may or may not happen, but I’ll catch as much sleep as I can in the meantime.
At 1:30 the sharp “ding” of a text announces that we do indeed have another mission.
Everyone but Craig Wills and I are off the hill tonight. With the team so short-handed, there’s no going back to sleep on this one. I roll out of bed and shuffle over to pull on my hiking pants and orange shirt. I load the 4Runner up with gear: my standard call out pack plus additional food, water, medical, warmth and overnighting gear. Even though it’s reported as a simple carryout, you never really know what’s coming when you hit the trailhead. I swing by Craig’s house for a quick pickup and we’re on the road with our traditional Rammstein blasting out the stereo.
The request is to assist Cal-Fire with a critical carryout. Intermittent cell service contact with the subject tells the highly dramatic story of a man with “two prosthetic legs, injured and covered in blood.” Cal-Fire is already on trail to his location. We are to provide backup manpower on the litter.
The flashing lights lead us directly to the fire engine at Cactus Spring trailhead. We arrive on scene, ready to spring into action. Not so fast. We’re informed that the fire crew is already on their way back out, but without the subject. They hiked in several miles with a heavy litter in their full call-out gear, but were not able to locate the subject at his self-reported location at the crossing with Horsethief Creek.
Apparently the elusive subject has moved and isn’t responding to attempted voice or cell contact. With failing headlamps and sagging energy the Cal-Fire guys are simply not set up for a major search. What was once assumed a simple assisted on-trail carryout has now become a full-blown search covering miles of wild canyons.
Oh man. I look over at Craig. This is big country out here. There’s a lot of ground for just two people to cover. I guess we’d better get to it! As Craig and I conduct a last cross-check of our gear and sort out our plan of attack, a paramedic brings the welcome news that DSSAR has been contacted to join in on the search with an additional 6 people. We decide to hold off heading into the field until we have the additional manpower.
In the meantime, the RSO deputy has established shaky cell contact with our subject once again. Parked at the Tewanet overlook, the deputy pointed his headlights out into the abyss of canyons south of the 74 and was able to roughly ballpark the subject’s location on the trail. The deputy repeats cardinal rule of Search and Rescue to the subject: “Stay put. We’re coming for you.”
The united RMRU/DSSAR Search team decides we will hike in together with CDF along the trail. Once we can see the police vehicle headlights, we should be directly in the subject’s vicinity. He’s been told to stay put, so we should be good to go. Great! Sounds simple enough.
As we head out, the final search party consists of RMRU and DSSAR joint squads joined by 2 CDF and 1 paramedic carrying around 60 lbs of gear. We take turns trundling the litter and the wheel over the dusty and rocky terrain towards the subject’s last reported location. Hiking with a litter can be strenuous, even without a subject strapped in. After several minutes on litter duty the cold night seems suddenly all too warm and we stop to strip down to our bright orange team shirts.
After a couple miles we reach the crossing with Horsethief Creek. Staring up in the moonlight we survey the challenge ahead of us. The ridge looms in front of us, a final extended vertical push of steep and rocky switchbacks up to where our subject supposedly awaits us. We stop to deliberate. Should we lug the litter up this extreme grade without confirmation of the subject’s whereabouts? He’s already moved on us once. “That could just burn us out- and if he’s not there, well…” notes Sharon from DSSAR.
We call out towards the ridgeline “1…2…3… Hello!”…and wait expectantly for an answer. None comes. Calling again produces the same result. The decision is made to leave the litter at the base of the climb until we’ve confirmed his location. He should be nearby. How far could a man with 2 prosthetic legs get in this sort of terrain?
We wind our way up the ridgeline, towards the slowly brightening horizon to the east. We call out once in a while, just in case our subject has gone to sleep or wandered off trail into a nearby ravine. Reaching the top of the climb, I look to the North. In the far in the distance the red and blue flashers of the deputy’s vehicle are visible, its headlights pointed directly towards us.
Radio contact with the deputy yields disturbing information: He recently saw the subject’s light 400 yards below our current location. Since there’s another ridgeline between us and the road, the only way the subject’s light could be seen below us is if he’s …(sigh) massively off trail! Oh dagnabit: He’s been moving again! I share a look of frustrated understanding with Craig. We both know we’re in for a much longer night.
Looking again to the North, I can understand why the subject would be tempted to make a go of it. The lights from Highway 74 are so tantalizing. They appear to be so close, almost within reach, especially when the rough terrain and impassable cliffs are concealed under the cover of night. But still- you have to marvel that a man with two prosthetic legs could make it that far off trail in this kind of rough terrain! Something just doesn’t seem quite right here.
After a brief conference, the decision is made to head back down to the crossing with Horsethief Creek. We’ll attempt to access the neighboring canyon by following the scar of the boulder-strewn creek downstream. We once again make the wise decision to leave the litter at the crossing. In brightening light of dawn, we pick our way through the rocks, debris and puddles that clutter the narrow base of the ravine.
Just over a mile in we receive encouraging radio contact: “He’s on the move! The deputy can see him!” The subject has made his way to a ravine far below the Tewanet lookout. Of course the canyon is far too steep for him to climb out of, but now we at least have a visual. The deputy establishes faint voice contact and finally gets the subject to stop moving.
A few minutes later, even better news crackles its way over the radio. A Cal-Fire Helicopter is available and will be here in a few minutes. “Alright!” The relieved team shares a quick celebration as we take a much-needed break from clambering through the ankle-twisting rocky debris. Snacks are passed round and drinks shared. As the thup-thup-thup of the helicopter approaches our mood starts to lift. Help from the air is always appreciated.
“The copter says we’re about 1500 feet from him as the crow flies, but there are some very steep drop-offs between us and him,” the Cal-Fire crewman on radio detail reports. Getting to the subject on foot would be very difficult and extricating him on foot even worse. Luckily, the weather is calm and clear and the canyon wide enough for the Cal-Fire air-crew to hoist. What a relief. We stand by as the Cal-Fire Helicopter extracts our elusive subject and returns him to trailhead parking lot.
Now all we have to worry about is ourselves. After hiking around all night carrying a full call-out pack and litter after a moving target, we’re not looking forward to the long hike out. Luckily, our generous friends at Cal Fire have a greatly appreciated solution: spend the extra time and effort to extract the search team as well! The helicopter crew drops a man in along the trail behind us to clear a landing zone. The copter extracts us in groups of three, cutting an exhausting hike of several hours down to a matter of minutes. Thank you Cal-Fire!
Back at staging area we get the scoop on our subject (who has refused medical care and already left). The man “covered in blood” with “prosthetic legs” was actually a guy with a couple of bad knees who had gotten a bit scratched up by the brush during his cross-country travels. Craig and I look at each other and can’t help but laugh. What a great punch line.
Sigh… like I said before… you should never believe everything you hear about a call-out.
Coffee is the best thing to douse the sunrise with. ~Terri Guillemets
With crisp fall days on the way in the high country, cooking up a mug of some steaming hot coffee on my little MSR stove is pure backpacking heaven. However, a camp stove can also be very dangerous if used carelessly. Here are a few strategies to keep you safe and your tummy satisfied.
Check local regulations in the area you plan to camp. Due to the extreme fire risk in our local wilderness, a permit is required to use a camp stove for both day hikes as well as overnights, and campfires are totally prohibited in the high country. Fire regulations may change throughout the year, so make sure and contact the Ranger station for the latest info.
Get to know your stove. Each camp stove has specific guidelines in it’s manual to keep you from burning your eyebrows off. TIP: In order to avoid any nasty surprises, make sure you set your stove up at home and take it for a quick spin before you take it out on the trail.
Think before you fire up. Before you light your camp stove, make sure that you have placed stably it on a level area clear of dry fuel like pine needles and duff. This will prevent little inconveniences like starting a raging forest fire or having boiling water spill all over you.
Careful lighting- During lighting, keep your face, hair and expensive (and flammable) hiking clothes away from the stove. Using a fuel like isobutene? Be careful how much gas you let out before you light your stove since too much can cause a big flame-up. A friend who shall remain unnamed recently lost his facial hair this year in a freak camping stove incident.
Keep it outside: When the weather turns bad it’s tempting to try and cook inside your tent. Don’t. Backpacking tents tend to be exceedingly flammable and cooking inside them is a generally a bad idea. A moment of inattention and you could lose your shelter. TIP: For periods of heavy wind, rain or snow bring along some foods that don’t require cooking.
Deceptively hot: Be very careful if you are cooking while it is still bright out. The flames generated by some fuels can be difficult to see in bright light and it’s easy enough to burn yourself on a flame you didn’t think was lit. Hands off! I’ve learned first hand not to touch a camp stove too soon after extinguishing the flame. Angry red blisters covering your fingers are a great reminder that patience is a virtue. Let your stove cool before you put it away.
Stow it safely. Before you put away your stove, allow it to sit outside in a well-ventilated location so that any remaining fuel inside can disperse. Check your fuel container to make sure it is properly sealed. Store stove and fuel containers away from any sources of high heat.
Fall. The days are still deceptively warm, but the night air carries a crispness that speaks of snow and ice to come. It’s the perfect season for hiking- that is if you follow a few tips that will enhance your enjoyment and safety.
A mild Autumn day hike can turn uncomfortably cold with the addition of a surprise storm. Air temperature drops about 3° to 4°F for every 1,000 feet of elevation gain. Heading for Tahquitz Peak? With around 3,300 feet in gain, the temperature may drop as much as 13 degrees from downtown Idyllwild (not accounting for wind chill.) That means a simple drizzle in downtown Idyllwild could turn to biting cold rain or even icy flurries as you climb.
How to keep safe and warm despite the changing weather?
Hiking tips: heating up the trail
Stay dry: While you’re updating your pack for the colder weather ahead, make sure to pack your rain gear and additional dry insulating baselayers to change into. Clothing wet from sweat or rain conducts heat 25 times faster than air and can lead to a surprisingly quick loss of body heat.
Switch to higher-fat snacks: Calorie-dense foods like chocolate, nuts and nut-butters, and cheese burn slowly, keeping you warmer longer. I love those serving size packets of Justin’s maple almond butter and coconut butter. You can find a variety of single serving packets at our local Harvest Market.
Bring enough water and/or a water filter: Many of the water sources in the high country have dried up and sources that were fresh flowing may have become stagnant over the summer. Staying hydrated allows your body to regulate it’s heat stores much more efficiently.
Overnight tips: Keys to staying cozy in camp
Be picky about where you pitch your tent: Your camp-site choice is critical to spending a comfortable night. Pitch your tent well above lower-lying areas like gullies, meadows, and creeks where cold, damp air settles. Nighttime temps can be as much as 25°F warmer just 250 feet above the inversion layer!
Take the chill out of the wind chill: make use of natural windbreaks by pitching your tent behind thicker stands of trees, bigger boulders, and on leeward sides of slopes.
Downsize: Bring a smaller shelter. A lower-volume tent requires less of your body heat to warm it.
Snack yourself warm: Eat a snack and brew hot drinks while you set up your camp. Snack again just before bedtime; digestion will help raise your body temp.
Fat is your friend: Add oil and spices to your fall meal plans. Coconut oil is a quick burning fat,butter is just plain delicious (and has gotten a much undeserved bad rap) and olive oil can add great flavor to any meal. Eating spices like ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon can increase blood flow to the skin and make you feel warmer.
“People are meant to connect with natural places. It is good for the human soul for people to explore their relationship with the places where they live.”
There was a time not too long ago that I felt more connected to my iphone than to the wilderness. At work I spent my time on the phone providing tech support, or hunched over my computer keyboard designing logos for hours on end until my neck and back were on fire with pain. My obsession with my TV shows, tech gizmos, and structured “play” activities made it harder for me to truly allow for free time. Something was always demanding my attention, distracting me, offering the promise of cheap, quick and effortless entertainment.
I grew up in a different world. I was three when we moved back to the family ranch. We had no TV. I spent my days outside. I played as much with sticks and stones as plastic toys. I knew only knew about town life from short resupply trips.
We were always outdoors. My older brother and I built dams in the stream near the house; making our own swimming holes- then destroying them a few days later just to watch the swirling power of the water take everything away. We climbed the oaks for lookout posts, built forts in the trees and bunkers in the brush. It made me feel proud that we had made these things together. We had built them ourselves. They were somehow ours in a way that things simply given to us were not.
I was always in touch with and learning about the world around me. My father took me out and showed me the local snakes, animal tracks and scat. He told me how to tell them apart by what they ate, how they moved and how their lives (and ours) followed the seasons. I learned to look before I placed my foot, watching the ground and surrounding brush carefully for threats. I learned to respect my environment in its power and beauty. I felt connected.
In Girl Scouts we would stagger up the trail under the weight of old fashioned tents on multi-day camping trips. We were often short a tent and I discovered I loved sleeping outside under the stars. The cold wind would bite my cheeks as I stared at the night sky. I remember my first view of the stars from the mountains up near Idyllwild. The Milky Way was a brilliant white splash. I would lay awake for what seemed like hours making up my own constellations.
I felt like I was part of something bigger. Like I had a purpose.
As a child I had run free with a light heart and an inquisitive mind. My relationship with nature as a young adult became gradually more structured and constrained. Although I never completely stopped my outdoor activites, they took on a different tenor. With my new University and then job obligations I felt I had to make an effort to spend time in nature. Living in the city, it seemed all so far away and harder to get to – any outing had to be planned- and it seemed I never had the time.
I rarely approached my now brief journeys into the wilderness with the same completely open and accepting attitude I had as a child. I had learned the ways of modern distraction. I was often thinking of the other things I had to do. I filtered my experience through my camera, by listening to music, by looking for connectivity with my “smart” phone to check my email.
It took me a while to realize that most of the barriers that kept me from connecting with my wilderness were of my own making. I had made the choice to make these limitations and barriers part of my life- and I also could make the choice to let them go.
In the last couple of years I’ve looked back on my childhood relationship with the wilderness and resolved to restore our free and easy bond. Finding ways to connect despite my busy life have been key. Working with the Forest Service as a Volunteer Wilderness Ranger, with Search and Rescue and the Sierra Club as a WTC intstuctor have been critical to reconnecting me with my love of nature, with my love of life itself.
I believe that a life without a connection to nature becomes more sterile, somehow blander. It robs you of basic skills of self-reliance, creativity, spirituality, of a feeling of connectedness with the cycles of life.
Away from the easy distractions of technology you not only can, but are forced to hear the ebb and their flow of your own thoughts and become comfortable with them. Without this inner ear you are likely to become disconnected from your own sense of self and goals in life. You are more likely to float on the surface of life and less likely to truly live.