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First time backpacking solo?

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First time backpacking solo?

Postby TRAUMAhead » Wed Aug 03, 2011 11:37 pm

Looking to get out on a backpacking trip, as my usual hiking partner (Known on here as RoguePhotonic :lol: Met up with him 2-3 weeks ago, all was well. Ironically he's the more carefree just do it type, while I'm the what if worry wart paranoid type.) is out on a 3 month trip. Some tidbits about my scenario: RP handled all the logistics and trail planning to the point where I was just blindingly following him out into the woods. If I'm new to the trail, I have a terrible sense of direction. My first ever hiking trip was Telescope Peak (I thought how "hard" could it be to "walk" up a mountain. Well, I didn't make it to the top, lol), and on the way back down I thought I was lost since I turned around early 2/3s of the way up, even though there was no other trail to take. #-o

The place I'm considering is Cottonwood Lakes, since I've been there the most (about 5 times) and the trail is labeled well enough for me. I currently don't know how to use a map and compass, but I'm most likely going to take one or two of REIs classes on map and compass before I head out along along with map, compass and cellphone (GPS app, will download topos of the area prior to the trip).

Other than planning on where to camp, packing up, and going, what else is needed? I'll also be leaving behind itinerary/info/pictures which sadly I never did when backpacking with RP. I always feel as if nothing bad will happen/everything will go as planned. The "Let people know (where you're going)" thread also opened my eyes a lot more.
“The word adventure has gotten overused. For me, when everything goes wrong - that’s when adventure starts.” - Yvon Chouinard



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Re: First time backpacking solo?

Postby kpeter » Wed Aug 03, 2011 11:55 pm

Not to sound like an advertisement, but I carry a Spot when going solo. The ability to summon help if you really need it is good, but my family highly values their ability to know on a regular basis that I am fine and to plot where I am on a map. Given my family, I think I can say that without Spot I would never have had the chance to solo backpack.

By the way, I got Spot when going on a major trip in the Idaho wilderness. Given the huge numbers of people in the California backcountry it would not be quite as essential here. In an emergency there would no doubt be other people in Cottonwood Lakes to appeal to for help. Still, I take on every trip now that I have it.
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Re: First time backpacking solo?

Postby Jimr » Thu Aug 04, 2011 9:05 am

I'm going to assume you to be level 2, class 1. Whether you've had cross country experience or not, it's been as a blind follower. It seems you've already made a good decision to stick to a trail you are familiar with and will leave itinerary with someone. Don't rely on your cell phone for anything. There's an excellent chance it won't get reception. Definitely take an orienteering class. Take paper maps and a real compass. Again, don't rely on electronics for orienteering. Limit cross country travel until you are very good with your map, compass and senses. By senses, I mean you should always be looking at the big picture. If you've studied your map properly, you should have a good idea of the general lay of the land, it's features and drainage along with the major ridges and peaks in the surrounding area. Keep the big picture in mind and where you are at in the big picture. Since Cottonwood lakes has a trail all the way up, you probably will not need to pull out your map. Make a point of pulling out your map at camp, orienting it to the proper declination and taking bearings on the major features and transferring the bearings to the map. Practice triangulation. Once you've successfully done this, study your surroundings and see if you can identify the minor features by just reading the map without compass. This will help you better read maps and relate contours to real features. Bring a pencil with an eraser so you can draw lines on the map. Have a lot of fun, but stay within your comfort zone. Your past experience is with a much more carefree person, so just because you've done it before, doesn't necessarily mean you should do it solo. Listen to your gut.
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Re: First time backpacking solo?

Postby ManOfTooManySports » Thu Aug 04, 2011 11:21 am

Jimr beat me to it. I'll re-emphasize the value of learning to read and use a paper map and a compass. Any electronics are vulnerable to general failure, drained batteries, and any kind of wetness. I read a trail report from someone trying to cross snowed-over Forester Pass after falling into Wright's Creek. Her phone with maps got wet and she had to do it off general memory. Not a good situation.

So here's some advice. Beside the classes, get a good compass and a detailed topo of a local area you know very well and where you do a lot of day hiking. Play with the map and landscape as Jimr recommends. Navigate and place your location on the map using just the map and the map and compass combined. You won't get lost, and it will build some knowledge and confidence in how to use the maps.

I may be an old fuddy duddy, but I never go backpacking without paper topo maps of the region and a compass.* We frequently pull out the map and figure where we are on the trail using landmarks, and, as Jimr suggests, I constantly look at the big picture to understand where I am.

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*Besides, in the wilderness we want to get AWAY from electronics and tethers, not continue our reliance on them!
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Re: First time backpacking solo?

Postby dave54 » Thu Aug 04, 2011 7:49 pm

ManOfTooManySports wrote:...I may be an old fuddy duddy, but I never go backpacking without paper topo maps of the region and a compass...


I thought I was the only one anymore. :)

Do you also periodically practice determining north without a compass and making a fire with a bow drill?
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Re: First time backpacking solo?

Postby rlown » Thu Aug 04, 2011 9:02 pm

dave54 wrote:Do you also periodically practice determining north without a compass and making a fire with a bow drill?


I know that was a tongue in cheek comment, but If you don't know where North is and you're planning a trip, and you've already poured over maps, you're already lost. Yes, I've successfully done the bow-drill thing. I didn't like the blisters.. :)
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Re: First time backpacking solo?

Postby ManOfTooManySports » Thu Aug 04, 2011 9:11 pm

No bow drill. But I do gauge where north is using various means. Old habits....
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Re: First time backpacking solo?

Postby kpeter » Thu Aug 04, 2011 11:44 pm

ManOfTooManySports wrote:I may be an old fuddy duddy, but I never go backpacking without paper topo maps of the region and a compass.*


Agreed. I do not use a GPS. I print up maps from Acme or MyTopo and carry a sheef of them so I can see every bump and molehill. This did prove to be extremely useful when I had to route find with the trail under snow for miles.

I admit to having odd feelings about the Spot tether and the reliance on electonics. I remember Colin Fletcher--the great guru of the 1960s backpacking movement--noting that he always left his watch at home! I think what makes Spot tolerable is that I cannot receive messages from the outside world. I can tell my family I am safe, but neither they nor anyone else can contact me to interrupt the feeling of isolation.
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Re: First time backpacking solo?

Postby bheiser1 » Fri Aug 05, 2011 8:29 am

ManOfTooManySports wrote:I admit to having odd feelings about the Spot tether and the reliance on electonics. I remember Colin Fletcher--the great guru of the 1960s backpacking movement--noting that he always left his watch at home! I think what makes Spot tolerable is that I cannot receive messages from the outside world. I can tell my family I am safe, but neither they nor anyone else can contact me to interrupt the feeling of isolation.

Funny, I go through this same thought process. Part of me really dislikes having that "connection" when I'm out there. In some small way it diminishes the experience. But on the whole, the benefits (as you described) outweigh the disadvantages for solo trips.

Soon there'll be two-way communications available, like with the DeLorme InReach... :evil:
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Re: First time backpacking solo?

Postby Jimr » Fri Aug 05, 2011 9:17 am

I never bring a watch either. Time has no meaning for me in the Sierra. What has meaning is where the sun is in the sky compared to what I have yet to do. I recently received a GPS, but I did not pack it last night. I seem to have done just fine without one for many years and have had a hard time convincing myself otherwise. Hmmm, I suppose it would be useful to mark camp in case night should fall while I'm out, but that has never happened. I don't suppose it ever will unless I'm injured, then a GPS will be of no use.

I agree with rlown. If you can't dead recon North, you're already lost, and the blisters hurt. Actually, I don't dead recon North, per se, I dead recon the northerly and southerly run of the range and the direction to the Owens Valley and the Central Valley. It's the framework of the big picture.
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Re: First time backpacking solo?

Postby 87TT » Fri Aug 05, 2011 3:14 pm

I don't own a GPS or a Spot. I usually have a small compass stashed somewhere but can't remember the last time I needed it. But I have hunted and fished my whole life and grew up exploring the wild places from local mountains to national parks. I can almost always backtrack or find my way crosscountry. I usually study a map before going in somewhere new and keep it with me but that's about it.
But I also know people that get lost or turned around on heavily traveled trails within a 1/2 mile of the TH. Whatever your comfort level is you need to find it and equip yourself accordingly.
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Re: First time backpacking solo?

Postby ChinMusic » Fri Aug 05, 2011 4:25 pm

Personally, I carry a paper map (am near quiting that for many trips), but cannot remember ever looking at one for help in years. I carry a standard GPS, with loaded maps (usually trail data too). My iPhone also has the maps and serves as a GPS backup (no cell service necessary). On the AT (deep in the woods with no landmarks) I can tell EXACTLY where I am, day or night, rain or fog.

Maps would have not helped me in the snow this year in Yosemite. With my GPS I knew within a few feet of where the trail was under me. Never made a wrong turn. I read trail journals where PCT thrus could not find the trail to Cathedral Pass (side trip) with map/compass. Piece of cake for me.

Give me technology ANY time.
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