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Getting Back to Backpacking

Backpacking and camping basics and other general trip planning discussion for the uninitiated. Use this forum to learn where to look for the information you need, and to ask questions, related to the beginner basics of backpacking and camping, including technique and best practices.
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Getting Back to Backpacking

Postby Bluewater » Sat Jun 22, 2013 8:37 pm

Hi SoxGolf00, I agree with just getting out and backpacking as my favorite way to get in shape, but if I can't get into the mountains I also do hikes in Laguna Beach to get ready. From Victoria Beach to Moulton Meadows Park via Nyes Place is about 850 feet straight up in 1.5 miles and a great 3 mile out and back. This has really helped to strengthen the muscles around my knees. The 850 foot incline has been a good way to judge the difficulty of many of the typical climbs in the Sierras.

For distance training I do a 12 mile loop in Aliso/Wood Canyon. There are several ways to go in the canyon and there are some nice shaded sections along the Woods Creek Trail (much better than the mostly exposed Morrow trails in North Laguna). The late afternoon views along the West Ridge Trail and Aliso Summit Trail are good, although it can get hot mid-day in the summer.



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Re: Getting Back to Backpacking

Postby overheadx2 » Sat Jun 22, 2013 9:42 pm

Something that I do is hike up Baldy from Manker Flats and then across Devils Backbone and take the lift down. Get a great 3k uphill work out with some down hill but not enough to ruin my knees. I also Mountain bike the Crystal cove loop from the ranger station up to the top by way of Emerald Point and back. Great 1.5 hour work out to get the lungs burning, and easy on the knees. Recently started hitting the stair master at the gym (we'll see how that goes).
I have to admit, a lot of my training was based on the fear of Taboose Pass in July.
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Re: Getting Back to Backpacking

Postby SoxGolf00 » Mon Jun 24, 2013 2:43 pm

Thanks for all the great advice. I tend to do better at a slow pace and can go about 10-13 miles with an elevation hike of 1000ft within 3 hours. I know that is not very fast but this isn't a race, right? With that pace, I do very well and dont feel wiped out. The main concern is the elevation different from JMT to SoCal. How does the elevation affect breathing? I lived in SLC, Utah for a few months and the elevation made me feel tired.
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Re: Getting Back to Backpacking

Postby Tom_H » Mon Jun 24, 2013 4:29 pm

If you consider 13 miles and 1000' elevation gain in 3 hours as slow, then you're in better shape than you think you are. (Perhaps what you were trying to say is 10-13 miles per day as well as 1000' elev. gain within 3 hours.) That's really nothing to be ashamed of. If you can do that, you can have a lot of fun, and let's face it, even though we might enjoy the physical workout, the main reason to go do this is to have fun.

At altitude, there is less atmospheric pressure on the alveoli of your lungs. Going up quickly has a somewhat similar affect as a diver coming up too fast in water. The pressure inside your bloodstream is greater than the atmosphere against your alveoli. You won't have nitrogen boiling in your blood vessels (bends), but can get Chronic Mountain Sickness, Acute Mountain SIckness, and edema, primarily pulmonary edema. In pulmonary edema, the higher pressure inside the pulmonary capillaries forces blood plasma through the walls of the alveoli and the lungs begin to fill with fluid. This same pressure can cause headaches, capillary ruptures in the retina, and edema in the cerebrum. Normally, being at altitude for a few days allows the internal and external pressures to equalize. The alveoli adjust and the transfer of O2 into the pulmonary capillaries and of CO2 out normalizes. The body will also produce more red blood cells to enable greater transport of O2 and CO2, but it takes time for stem cells in the bone marrow to mature grow into mature cells. We call this all these things acclimation or acclimatization. If you lived in SLC for a time, your body should have adjusted to it to a great extent, although I have known of people whose bodies never could. I had a friend who had to leave a good job in Mammoth after a couple of years because his wife's lungs just never could make the adjustment. We had a guy who got pulmonary edema at 13,000 ft. in CO on a mountaineering training expedition and had to be evacuated. He trained as hard as he could for a year and came back the following summer for the same trip, got p. e. again and had to be evac'ed again. Did you exercise regularly when you lived in SLC?

There are ways at low altitude to prepare for high altitude, but they aren't practical for most of us. One is to go spend time in a hypobaric chamber, and even to exercise in one. Only the rich or elite athletes can afford that. The other is to wear special masks that lower the amount of O2 you can breath in. They typically also cause too much CO2 to build up, unless they have a CO2 absorber. Very few people use these things as they can be claustrophobic and problematic. They also don't actually lower the pressure within the lungs. I have heard of these things, but am not sure you can even find one to purchase. The biggest way most people prepare is doing aerobic exercise. If you can't run, then swim, tread water, do aerobic follow-along videos. Serious high altitude climbers (think Everest, K2, Annapurna) climb to a certain altitude, spend a day or so, go halfway back down for a day, go 2 camps up for a day, come back down 1 camp for a day, up 2, etc. If altitude is a serious problem for you, this could help you, if you have that kind of time. Most people don't and it seems it would be boring unless you carefully planned a route around this method. Some people plan a regular vacation for a few days at Tahoe, Mammoth, or elsewhere, do some aerobic exercise while there, then head off backpacking. That can work well and is probably the only reasonable approach (other than the aerobic exercises) out of all this rambling I've done.

I don't know if anything I have said will be practical, but I hope it gives you some background and perhaps sparks some ideas of what might help you. Best of luck.
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Re: Getting Back to Backpacking

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Jun 25, 2013 11:18 am

The JMT vs day hikes have three big differences: heavier pack, altitude, and going day after day. I assume your 10-13 miles in 3 hours is on a day hike. If it includes carrying an overnight pack, you are in good shape already! On longer backpack trips with daily travel, your feet get a beating so if you are going to use different shoes than you already do for day hikes you need to wear them on the day hikes to break them in. Do everything you can to keep pack weight down. I take 1.3 pounds of food per day and my "base weight" is about 18 pounds (with bear can and solo tent). A lot of backpackers go even lighter. The best way to handle altitude is to spend the first night you drive to start at a moderate (7,000-9000 foot elevation), then go very slow the first few days. You could also spend a second day camped a bit higher before going on the backpack.

Handling altitude has as much to do with walking technique as being in shape. Learn the "rest step" if you do not already know how to do this. Never get extremely out of breath. "Gear down" as needed to keep a steady rate of breathing (steady heartbeat). One way to slow down is to take smaller steps. Go slow and steady, vs jackrabbit go and stop. Start very slow and gradually go faster, reaching your fastest pace mid-day, then "cool down" at the end of the day. Drink plenty of water and continually snack on small bits of trail food.
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Re: Getting Back to Backpacking

Postby Tom_H » Tue Jun 25, 2013 3:01 pm

Paul Petzoldt's rest step is a good suggestion. I was hesitant to mention it as it can be a little hard to visualize with only words if you don't see one person doing it while another person describes it at the same time.

If you watch a runner in slow motion, you will see that most of the time he/she is airborne with both feet in the air. One foot touches the ground for propulsion, then goes back into the air. The other foot comes down for a moment, goes back into the air. Both legs are spending most of the time with the muscles working.

When we walk, we tend to put one foot down and lift the other almost immediately. Each leg is working about half the time and resting about half the time.

The rest step works best when going uphill, the steeper the incline, the more effective it is. The main idea is for the torso to remain in a somewhat slow but constant forward movement, but each foot stays on the ground, resting, for a greater percentage of the time. As the right foot moves forward and is placed on the ground, the left foot also remains on the ground for a moment or so while the torso continues in as smooth of a motion as possible. For this moment or so, you are still moving forward, but both feet are on the ground resting. The left foot then makes its stride and lands softly while the torso continues to move forward a bit, both feet rest on the ground for a moment before the right foot comes up. This lowers the amount of glucose (ATP in the Krebs Citric Acid Cycle) being burned in the muscle fibers, which lowers the amount of oxygen needed for oxidation. It is a technique that brings greater efficiency of motion and better management of aerobic respiration and prevents anaerobic respiration/oxygen debt. It is very important to leave the muscle sets around the knees in a relaxed state and not begin doing the "lock step" which can fatigue those muscles and lead to injury.

The rest step can be coordinated with breathing techniques used by distance runners. Breath in through the nose with the mouth closed to prevent dehydration of the throat. Breath out through the mouth, but with the lips pursed almost closed. You actually have to mildly force or blow the air past your lips. This causes higher air pressure against the alveoli in the lungs, allowing greater efficiency in the transfer of O2 and CO2 across the membrane. It also allows the exhale to be oral without as much loss of moisture as would happen with the mouth fully open.

To coordinate the rest step with the runners' breathing technique, when the left foot goes down, inhale; when the right foot goes down, exhale, and continue, or it can be vice versa. In either case, it is one full stride to one full breath cycle. When the left foot goes down, mentally say in, and when the right foot goes down think out. This pattern is for the most aerobically demanding uphill stride.

It is also possible to have one full stride per inhale and one full stride per exhale. As the right foot comes down, the inhale begins and you count one mentally. When the left foot comes down, you are still in the midst of the inhale and count two mentally. As the right foot comes down again, the exhale begins and the count is three. The left foot comes down as the exhale continues through its end on the count of four. This pattern is for an intermediate aerobic demand.

For a slight aerobic demand, it is possible to do a mental count of six. Each time a foot touches down (while still doing the rest step), you count. You inhale on one, two, three, and exhale on four, five, six.

For walking on level ground, I do not coordinate breathing and steps. They become independent and I return to a normal walking gait (not using the rest step).

I hope this helps. Daisy, does NOLS have any rest step illustrations on You-Tube?
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Re: Getting Back to Backpacking

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Jun 25, 2013 3:23 pm

The rest step is also described in Freedom of the Hills, the Seattle Mountaineers "bible". It has been around forever. I learned it in the mid 1960's at "Mountain School" while in the Spokane Mountaineers. The best way to learn it is to climb 1000 feet on snow! Snow is easy because you totally concentrate on each step, without worrying about foot placement on rocks, etc. and each step can be exactly the same. It is difficult to be successful at high altitude mountaineering without being very good at the rest step. If you combine rhythmic breathing and taking smaller steps with the concept of a rest step you can effectively go on forever up about anything without undue exertion.
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Re: Getting Back to Backpacking

Postby SoxGolf00 » Tue Jun 25, 2013 3:53 pm

Tom_H wrote:If you consider 13 miles and 1000' elevation gain in 3 hours as slow, then you're in better shape than you think you are.



The hike I do is 6.8 miles. Start at sea level and finish at 985ft. Then turn around. So the total is 13.6. I can do that hike at a moderate pace in 3 hours. I have a fully loaded bladder in the camelback and I add two additional 16oz water bottles. I also have the normal "safety" items in the bag along with a couple snack items. I haven't weighed the bag but it feels a little heavy when starting then I get comfortable with it within the first mile. In the next month, I am going to move up to an LL Bean day pack and weight it down to about 20lbs and see how I do.

As far as shoes, I have some Merrell day hikers but I am going to move over to the Keen Tarhee II mid high shoes. They are recommended by The Hiking Lady (http://www.hikinglady.com). I heard that Keen's break in rather quickly.

The last main items I have to get are my sleeping bag, tent and poles. Since my first trip out will only be two nights, I should be able to keep my pack under 30 lbs.

Last question. How safe is it for a woman to go on her own? Like I said, I am going to do a modest trip of Agnew to Ediza, so it shouldn't be too hard. Are there enough people on that section just in case anything happens? How are the bears in that area?
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Re: Getting Back to Backpacking

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Jun 25, 2013 4:20 pm

The issue of solo backpacking has little to do with being a woman or man and more to do with your experience level. If you feel you need to depend on others to bail you out, you probably should wait until you are confident in your self-sufficiency. That goes for men as well as women! Always assume you will NOT have anyone come along to assist. On a busy trail, it is likely others would run across you if you were hurt, but what if you break a leg, while wandering around camp? What if you lose the trail and get lost? I do solo trips, some up to 14 days before I come out to resupply, some 80% off trail, sometimes I see nobody for 8 days, but I have been doing this for a long, long time! I was pretty much an expert backpacker before I ever went alone.

As for bears, they are out there, but it is not common to run into them. Use a bear canister where required, keep a clean camp, read up a bit on bear behavior and what to do when you run into one. One way I avoid bears is not to camp in an established campsite on a busy trail. Also, look for bear signs when you choose a campsite. If you see bear poo nearby, go to another site! Same if you see bear tracks. While walking, make noise. I talk to the bears and bang my trekking poles. And keep alert - look ahead, and to the sides, not just at your feet.

In all my years of backpacking, I have NEVER meet another person on the trail or off the trail in the wilderness that made me feel creepy. Some have been very eccentric, a few have been condencending (assuming all women need their expert advise), but none threatening.
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Re: Getting Back to Backpacking

Postby Tom_H » Tue Jun 25, 2013 4:21 pm

Re. a sleeping bag and tent, you can find very lightweight and high quality items, but at a higher price. How much are you willing to pay? I can recommend some different things for various budgets. If you know how to keep down dry, there are some new moisture resistant down bags that are very lightweight. Do you tend to sleep hot or cold? For $500, you can get a 2 lb. 2-person tent from REI, $400 when they have a sale. There are some selections from Z-Packs that are lighter, but are what you might call "alternative" design. $500 also is what you'd pay for one of the very best 1 lb. 32 degree down sleeping bags. You can do 2+ lb. synthetic, same temp range, for $150-$200 or so. Sometimes it just depends.

I too have never run into weird people on the trail (just some eccentric in a good way), but have seen some hanging out at popular trailheads that I really didn't want to interact with.
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Re: Getting Back to Backpacking

Postby SoxGolf00 » Tue Jun 25, 2013 4:35 pm

I'm a total eBay shopper. I've have gotten most of my items off eBay to keep costs down. The smaller essentials I will be getting at REI outlet. The bag and tent.....still looking. Depends on if I go alone or if I ever go with someone. Do I carry a tent for that possibility? I tend to sleep cold but I layer and feel great. As long as my toes and chest are warm, I am fine.

I am looking at this for a tent: http://www.ebay.com/itm/281123101460?ss ... 1438.l2649

This for a bag: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Eureka-Casper-1 ... 3a823eb27c

Daisy - Always great reading your posts. Very insightful. Luckily, though I haven't hiked in a while, I am knowledgeable enough to know what to do when there are wild animals about. I hear of people putting their headphones on full blast to not notice that they just walked up on a bear. Keeping your eyes and ears open is essential to a safe hike. It's also good just in case another person needs help.

I know my first overnighter isn't long or hard, but I don't want to kill myself on my first trip. I need to see how I do in the altitude, endurance, "rest step" and food.
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Re: Getting Back to Backpacking

Postby SoxGolf00 » Tue Jun 25, 2013 4:37 pm

Sorry Tom, forgot to mention....I would rather go with a synthetic as I have been warned about downs. If they get wet, you're screwed.
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