David and I did our annual hiking trip back in September. It was absolutely the hardest terrain we’ve ever covered. We were hard pressed to do seven miles a day. I can only imagine what it would have been like if I hadn’t made significant strides in reducing my pack weight.
In a previous post I wrote about my plans to reduce pack weight. I bought the do-it-yourself G4 pattern from Quest Outfitters. I think a sensible person would have just bought the pre-made pack from Gossamer Gear. The guys in the how-to lightweight backpack books talk about how great it is to make your own equipment, and I guess I drank the Kool-Aid. The problem was I had never sewn anything with a machine; for that matter I didn’t even own one. But that wasn’t a problem Wal-Mart was only half an hour away. To learn my way around the machine I made some stuff sacks. I didn’t have a pattern for them, so I just modeled them after store bought stuff sacks, and guessed at the best way to make the seams. To my surprise they turned out pretty good. After gaining some confidence, I immediately started procrastinating and didn’t return to the project for 10 months. In fact, I didn’t try to sew the backpack until the week before we were supposed to go on the trip.
It turns out sewing isn’t that hard — at least the kind of sewing I needed to do. Making the pack was a piece of cake. The instructions were pretty good, and for those few times where they were lacking I found a Yahoo! Group with a lot of great information about constructing the pack. In the end, it took 25 hours; I only made a couple of mistakes; and the pack turned out great.
My goal was to get my base pack weight down to 10lbs. It has been around 23lbs on previous hikes with a total weight in the 45lb range. I know, WTF, right? My store bought pack weighed a whopping 5.56lbs — that’s with nothing in it! The pack I sewed weighed 15 ounces. Let me say that again — My original pack weighed 89oz; the pack I sewed, 15oz. I don’t have specifics about what else I cut, but I can tell you I weighed every single item down to the ounce and sometimes the gram and cut everywhere I could. When all was said and done I ended up with a base pack weight of 11.5lbs. Just shy of my 10lb goal, but respectable none-the-less. Clothes added 3.33lbs; food added 5.43lbs; and water (1 liter) added 2.5lbs. I also carried one liter of wine the first day, and 500ml the second. This brought my total pack weight to 25lbs.
I tried several new things. For clothes I only had two sets: on-trail, and off-trail. We got a lot of rain on this trip, so I ended up spending most of my on-trail time wet. With water I took a chance and never carried more than one liter at a time. When I knew we were getting close to stopping for the day I would fill up a 2 liter bladder and top off my bottle. Though there were times on the third day where water was scarce it ultimately worked out pretty well.
As I said this was some of the hardest terrain we’ve done. The first day was short. As usual, we were late getting on the trail — it is just something that can’t be helped when you’re with David. The down pour started immediately. We came to one lean-to within an hour, but felt like it was too early to stop, so we continue on to the next one. It wasn’t that far away, but it was all up hill. By the time we got there it was dusk. I wore my “breathable” rain gear (jacket and pants), but I was so wet from sweating that I’m sure I would have been just as good off without them. Of course, this is fall in the Catskills so once we stopped, chill set in pretty quick. We had a few housekeeping items to attend to. David took the task of getting water — there was a spring about a 100 yards from the lean-to. I found a place to hang the food bags and got it setup. Once this was out of the way I changed into my evening wear and was able to warm up.
A lot of times lean-tos have log books that the guests contribute to. This can be a source of good information, humor, etc. Shortly after we got there we started hearing really weird noises from a variety of positions somewhere out in front of the lean-to. This got mine and David’s dander up. David had a keen interest in the noise so I decided to go to sleep. Once I started snoring David figured, “If Jamie’s not worried, then I guess I can go ahead and go to sleep too.” The problem was I was only sleep soundly because I knew David was keeping watch. Once I knew David had laid down I was no longer able to sleep as peacefully. The weird random noises go on all night. We had no idea what it was, but it sounded little so we didn’t know if a bigger momma or daddy something was going to show up at some point. The next morning David notices the log book and starts to read it. It was at this point we found out it was just a Porcupine. If only we had read that the night before!
The first half of the second day was all downhill; it was steep, but not unruly. We came across a large pond at the bottom. There was a day use area with tables. It is a luxury not often found on the trail so we decided to eat lunch there.
The next segment was uphill, and pretty steep (or so we thought). On the way up we came across a couple of guys who were witnessing for a woman doing hikes for the 3500 club. Once at the top it was an easy trek across the ridge. This was the last time anything would be easy, and we soon learned why the trail we was called Devil’s Path. Shortly there after, we vowed never to hike a trail with “Devil” in the name. After starting the descent, we came across an abandoned pack (the first of two). The trail was brutal. It took us over two hours to do less than a mile. It was just getting dark as we got down. As luck would have it a stream crossed the trail about a half mile from the lean-to; we filled up for the night.
It was approaching seven when we got to the lean-to. We built a fire and made dinner. Sometime after dark set in we started hearing a couple of guys approaching from the opposite direction that we came from. It was over two hours before they reached the lean-to. The guys got caught off guard by how difficult the hike was. They came down some pretty treacherous stuff in pitch black. Hiking up it the next day, I have no idea how they did it without getting hurt. When they showed up at the lean-to they were exhausted and had been out of water for some time. Fortunately, we were fully stocked. I’m not sure about David, but I sort of felt like Ned from The Three Amigos. The scene when they are in the desert Lucky goes to drink from his canteen and it is empty. Dusty’s next and he gets a mouth full of sand. Meanwhile Ned drinks ’til his heart is content and tosses the remaining water on the ground. In our case, we had a nice fire going; we were sitting back having finished a spaghetti and meatball dinner enjoying our remaining wine. Unlike the oblivious Ned we were happy to share.
The hike the next day was grueling. Straight up. Straight down. All rocks. For a while I was confused, I thought we went on a hiking trip, not a rock climbing adventure. The guys had pointed out water was scarce, but with a little ingenuity we were able to get what we needed. Sometime in the afternoon we came to a fork in the road. In one direction we could hike out, in the other a path leading to Devil’s Kitchen lean-to. After some napkin math we determine we probably couldn’t make it to the lean-to by dark, so we headed out.
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