First overnighter - a few things learned.

9:36 a.m. on September 14, 2007 (EDT)
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Whew, what a ride!

I got back from my first real backpack trip, and although it didn't go exactly as planned, I did enjoy it and learned a few tips for the next one. I'll throw out my thoughts, and let anyone critique them who wants.

Firstly, I drove 5 hours to get to this trail, and then started in. That's a no-no for someone like me. I would have been better off just to have drove up and slept in the car, starting fresh as possible after sleeping in a car, in the morning. The trail was about a 9 miles long loop and my original plan was to sleep over at a campsite about half way through. The reviews of the trail described a 5 hour total time, but I soon realized that these reviews were for a light daypack, and my backpack was a little less than 40 pounds. I didn't make the campsite and it started getting dark, so I pitched away from the trail overnight.

I have a condition where one of my calves cramps if I move my leg a certain way, and sure enough, in the tent, I cramped my leg. Now the decision - should I continue uphill to complete the loop, or just head back the way I came. I chose the latter. I was a little short of halfway in anyway, so the length ended up about the same. That turned out to be a very wise decision as I discovered once I was back in the car, every muscle in my body was really pissed at me, and some of my bones, also. Six miles a day spread out over the workweek day does not equal 4 miles uphill with a pack. The trip downhill was a lot quicker - 2.5 hours out versus 4.5 hours in.

I'll choose my next hike a little better, or plan this trail a little differently. I had the elevation graphs for this hike, and can now interpret them a little better as far as what I can handle.

All of my equipment performed very well. I used my fly for the tent as we had been having early morning fog at home, but none showed up at the trail, but I need to open the ventalation tabs in my fly as there was a little condensation from my breathing.

I don't have a GPS, but did take my pedometer. Although it's useless for discovering where I really am, it is really helpful for estimating my position. As I described, I did not make my planned stop for the first night, and only decided to stop based on where I was from the pedometer reading. There was not a lot to determine from my map and compass, so this worked out pretty well.

Somewhere in the reviews of any trail, there should be something that details how rocky a trail might be. I found this to be my biggest problem. Parts of the trail I was walking had some very rocky parts, not large rocks but stones. I had to pay close attention to the rocks and missed a blaze once or twice. Fortunately, I never walked to far before I realized I hadn't seen one for a while.

Hiking alone means you have to carry everything. I like the solitude, I don't like 40 pound packs.

I need to adjust my pack a little better, strap-wise and when packing it. Should be self-explanatory.

Well, that's it for now. I had a good time, got the first one under my belt, and am ready to start looking for another adventure. Thanks for all the past help from you guys.


12:28 p.m. on September 14, 2007 (EDT)
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Congratulations, Steve! It is really great you got out and did your trip successfully. And those are great lessons to post for everyone. Sometimes us grizzled veterans leave a lot of what you said out when teaching courses or leading a beginner group. I think I may print this as a handout.

But I think you did really great!

About the sore muscles, bones, and joints - as Barb always says to me after I come back with various scrapes, bruises, and soreness, "goes with the territory!" A lot of that will go away as you get out more, but it is really your body telling you "I told you so! Gotta keep getting out there and keep moving!"

2:00 p.m. on September 14, 2007 (EDT)
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Good for you Steve. I don't think I would have driven five hours for my first overnight. You did the right thing by stopping in my opinion-no point in winding up somewhere in the dark, trying to set up your tent.

One suggestion for rocky trails-if you don't have them, get a pair of trekking poles. Don't worry about getting a fancy pair-there are inexpensive ones that will do just fine. Try REI or even a place like Big 5; I saw some decent ones in there just the other day. Poles will help not only with your balance, but will be easier on your knees, especially on the downhills.

You finally got out, you had a good time, didn't get lost; I'd say for a first time, that's a pretty successful trip.

3:39 p.m. on September 14, 2007 (EDT)
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Steve, you learned your current limits the hard way. I start every season with some day hikes with about 30# on my back to feel how my body reacts to the challenge(s). Then I can plan my overnighters with a 50# load, accordingly. I know I carry too much, but I am not about to spend hundreds of bucks to trim 5 or 6 lbs. I use one of my old ski poles as a walking stick--works fine, even in rough terrain with lots of elevation change that characterizes most of our mountain trails here in WA. I like to keep one hand free to grab a root or branch in steep terrain, take a quick photo or pick some berries. I've tried two poles, and one inevitably seems to get in the way. I also carry a headlamp, and minimaglites in case I overestimate my daylight hours. Some trails are hard to follow even at dusk. I've been fortunate, but I have found others without lights wandering around trying to find the trail, and were they happy to see me! If you hike alone in the mountains, it can be a little spooky without a light.

8:45 p.m. on September 14, 2007 (EDT)
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Steve, congratulations on a successful first backpacking adventure! I say, you made it back without major problems, you learned some things, so it was a success! It didn't go quite as you'd planned - but what in life goes just as we plan it? :)

And you're ready to head out again - that's how I feel when I get back from a trip, no matter how tired or sore I may be :).

6:07 a.m. on September 15, 2007 (EDT)
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Thanks for all the comments. I learned the hard way for sure. By the next morning, most muscles were very forgiving, only the bad calf muscle and one ankle were bothersome.

I actually did have a hiking pole and headlamp (two in fact, with fresh batteries). I used the pole all day, with a camera on a strap in the other hand. I put the headlamp on just after dusk and set up camp with it.

I had never considered a down summertime sleeping bag, but after strapping my rather large, old Coleman to the outside bottom of my pack, I think I'll consider one for the packed size I can obtain. If it gets wet, it'll not be too bad as it's summertime. Funny how experience can change your mind about some things. Considering a Kelty Light Year 45.

Success? The real success, I feel, is that I want to do it again. What fun would it be if I did it all right the first time, and it was always the same each time - just go for the hike, setup camp, take some pictures, eat, move on, etc. I've always wanted the adventure, not just the trip. So it has to be more than just the same thing over and over again. Mind you, I'm not talking dangerous stuff here, just little differences each time that needs attention. And it wasn't so bad that I never want to do it again. So there is the success I feel I've accomplished this time. That and getting back in one piece.

So til next time..

6:16 a.m. on September 15, 2007 (EDT)
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Before I forget again, I want to give thanks to a couple of sites for the trail reviews and printable maps they offer.

If you haven't been there yet, and hike in the East, you might like them.


8:49 a.m. on September 15, 2007 (EDT)
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Good job Steve!
I'd go with the trekking poles (1/hand) over the single thiking pole (if that's whatyou describe). The 2 are much more useful in stabilizing and balance aiding than a single staff.

Re: cramping. Is this a routine thing for you or only when you're hiking? Dehydration can be the casue of muscle cramps as well as being low on potassium (K) which is found in bananas.

9:09 p.m. on September 15, 2007 (EDT)
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Congratulations, Steve! Glad you had a successful trip. And I bet you discovered one my favorite benefits of setting up camp after dark: completely new surroundings to discover and enjoy in the morning!

6:17 a.m. on September 16, 2007 (EDT)
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My wife says the same thing, dehydration and potassium. It could be the former, but it happens too often for me to believe that, and the latter is very possible, so I'll just eat more bananas and find out or start taking a supplement. It's really strange how it comes about, though. It is not limited to hiking.

Dave, thanks, and yes, it was a new view when I crawled out the next morning. I was so tired, I just went to sleep as soon as the inflateable was filled, so I didn't get to explore much that night.

7:45 a.m. on September 16, 2007 (EDT)
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Belated congratulations, Steve! It sounds like your first overnighter went well. Each time you go out you'll learn something new, and if you're like most of the others around here you'll keep learning something every time you get out there, no matter how many times you've done it before.

I second Adam's suggestion for two hiking poles next time. That could make a big difference.

10:29 a.m. on September 16, 2007 (EDT)
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And I bet you discovered one my favorite benefits of
setting up camp after dark: completely new surroundings
to discover and enjoy in the morning!

While I hope to avoid setting up camp after dark while backpacking, I do this all the time when I head out on Friday night for weekend trips. I drive someplace so I'm already there on Saturday morning.

It's a very cool feeling to wake up and see a spectacular view from your campsite :)

As for hiking poles - I'm not a fan of that myself - it's just more to carry. Though, on one of my recent trips, after encountering a bear on the trail, I started carrying a stout stick which I used to periodically rap on my pack frame - to make sure there wouldn't be any more surprises (for me, or for the bears).

D'oh, there's another advantage of an external frame pack! It makes a good noise maker! :-)

10:10 p.m. on September 17, 2007 (EDT)
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After seeing your last post before you left, I was thinking of you this weekend while on my own solo hike. Glad to hear you enjoyed it.

8:33 a.m. on September 18, 2007 (EDT)
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If it's hydration, it's not that hard to stay hydrated using the water bags and bite valves. Take a sip every 10 minutes or so (adj as neccessary) and never stop moving. If you ever feel thirsty you're way behind the curve & into dehydration.

When's the next trip?

8:21 p.m. on September 18, 2007 (EDT)
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adam g,

I started taking more sips on the way back. I carry 1/2 liter bottles in the pockets of the pack so I can just reach back and grab a bottle. Two each side. I keep the liter size empty until I get close to camp, and fill it then. Both of my packs have hydration pockets and one came with a pouch and bite valve. I may start loading it up in the pack I am using at the time.

I started taking a multiple vitamin each morning to take care of the vitamin K and potassium. It seems to help. I sure don't notice the additional pill, now that I'm on every type of blood problem pill there is. (Diabetes, cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure).

Not sure when and where the next trip will be. I'd like something a little closer to home, although I may re-do the last one a different way again.

Thanks for the advice.


12:08 p.m. on September 26, 2007 (EDT)
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On numerous hikes where I have had to drive several hours to trailhead, I consistently overestimated the number of miles I can cover. Arriving later than planned at the trailhead often meant up setting up camp in the dark. It is not always possible to get there the night before, however.
When you get back from a hike, review all the gear you had carried. Sort out what you did not use. Can you leave it behind next time? For example, I used to carry enough first aid supplys to set up a field hospital. Now I mainly carry only items for my feet, ie. blister related items. Another example: your pedometer. These are best suited for terrain where your stride can consistently be the same length. On a rocky steep trail, your steps might be short ones. To keep track of where you are, note the time you leave certain point you can identify, eg. trailhead,trial junction, a water crossing, and then note the time you arrive at the next notable landmark. How long did it take you to cover the mileage? Pretty soon you will be able to judge your pace which will, of course, be effected by the terrain. Another area to consider in saving weight is in your cooking style. How many pots, pans, utensils, soap etc. did you carry? Can you find lighter weighing material than what you carried? Fuel is heavy. Did you have a lot left over when you returned to your car? Try to estimate how much fuel you will need and resist the temptation to carry a large extra supply, "just in case". Your tent has a fly. Now that bugs are gone, do you need the tent or could you just use the fly alone to protect you from rain. Carefully consider using a tarp that can be supported by your hiking poles. You can shave off pounds that you have to carry and get expansive protection for yourself and gear without using a heavy tent. Look at "taptents". These are tarps with mosquito netting, but no floors. One of the best ways to save the knees is to carry less weight in your pack. Just keep hiking and you will be figuring out for yourself what works. Got to websites and look at gear lists, but again, start by looking at your own pack and what you carried on your last hike. Have fun.

6:19 a.m. on September 27, 2007 (EDT)
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Thanks for the tips.

Concerning the pedometer -

A pedometer is only an estimating device. It's only good, at best, when the paces are close to the same stride length and what was programmed into the unit. Well aware of that point.

I don't explain myself very well all the time, so I'll try putting the pedometer usage in different words. I would have to compare the use of a pedometer in the woods alot like the dead reckoning from my piloting days. You estimate time, number of steps, and average number of steps to a certain point to estimate where you are or how long till you get somewhere. Of course, a TOPO map helps also, which I used, and which had the planned trail drawn on it along with mileage to waypoints along the way.

It was helpful to me only because I didn't overestimate my mileage. I knew that if my pedometer said 2 miles, it had to be less. There were a few waypoints I could check the pedometer against along the way. So I could establish an average based on what it said to what I really had walked.

It was my first outing, and I discovered that as I was wandering along a trail, it was very easy to loose track of where I was or how long I had been walking. The pedometer kept track of both in some way. (steps per minute, time walked, and steps). It was also useful in knowing about how many steps I needed to get somewhere once I had established my pacing. And believe me, once I was nearing a stopping point with my 40 pounder on my back going uphill, that was real important.

A pedometer is so lightweight, I will probably carry it all the time. At least until I get a GPS. And maybe after. I think it's a very efficient, albeit imprecise, tool.

Ultimately, my biggest problem was my large, old-fashioned sleeping bag that was strapped to the bottom of my pack. It was heavy, and threw off the balance of the pack on my back. It stuck out quite a bit. So, I'm looking for a better pack now.

Keep throwing those ideas at me. I really like them all.


1:50 p.m. on September 27, 2007 (EDT)
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Steve -

Hey - sounds like a good trip - you're not threatening to donate your gear to the nearest scout troop - cool.

Hydration is really key when trying to keep muscle pain and joint stiffness at arms length - that and, as you discovered, you really need to train those muscles to deal with trail conditions - but hey - have you ever had a more enjoyable lesson (that you can share, in public, on a "G" rated forum)??

Trails and rocks - the Southern PA section of the AT (about halfway) is infamous for the rocks - especially among the "light shoe and sneaker" set (who end up with bruised foot muscles and, in many cases, abandon) - a good, supportive boot can be your best friend on trails like that - and (much like your leg muscles and the rest of your body) conditioning your feet - getting them used to walking on uneven surfaces while carrying a load can help - but nothing makes 10 miles of sharp rocks underfoot "fun" (at least not in my personal experience) - trekking poles do seem to help ('cause I'm not worried about falling down all the time) -

Bingo on the late start - never a good idea (IMHO) -

Nice trip report - so when you heading out again?

4:20 p.m. on September 27, 2007 (EDT)
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Thinking about a short trek into the Cranberry backcountry. Not the full loop. Another thing I learned from my first trip is that just because it's a 20 mile loop, you don't need to go the full loop. You can go a short way in, and have just as much fun. I just have to remember that 5 miles in means 5 miles out.

Not sure when I can do it, for now, but I'm kinda anxious to do it again.


1:15 p.m. on September 28, 2007 (EDT)
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Steve -

You might want to consider taking a few "shakedown" hikes - basically a day hike BUT gradually (over a few hikes) building from about a half load in your overnight pack to a full load - ease your way into the overnight and longer distances.
The important thing is to make these full day hikes - not a couple hours wandering a local park path - it'll condition your body to the load and effort you're planning to make but with the advantages of a comfy bed to sleep in at night and less mental stress - that way you can improve your conditioning and gain some confidence - then head out for the overnight and longer trips.

3:40 a.m. on December 26, 2007 (EST)
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Congradulations on your first overnighter.

A bit of a note about the cramp in the calf, I have the same problem, as does my sister and brother. I'm fairly certain it's a potassium deficiency for us however I don't recomend bannanas. True, they ARE high in potassium, but they also have a side effect... mosquitos! Yes, it's true, eating a bannana will attract mosquitos to you. Instead, I recomend dried aprocots. One 8 ounce package of dried apricots has about 90% of the recomended daily value of potassium and they taste better then bannana's IMO too :)

On my last big hike I forgot to eat them the first night as it was realy late and dark out when we made camp due to setting out late and I just wanted to sleep. As a result my leg cramped up 3 or 4 times during the nite.

This summer I'm going on a 2 week hike and will probably give up my distaste in using supplements and just take some potassium pills instead of carrying that many packages of dried apricots.

6:57 p.m. on March 19, 2008 (EDT)
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Sorry to be so late in replying, but thanks loads for the suggestion. And it's a very agreeable one at that.

7:40 p.m. on March 19, 2008 (EDT)
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I enjoyed your trip report.....hits home!You might benefit from setting up a base camp(however far in is determined by your comfort/fitness zone)and day hike from that point. It's a great way to get your sea-legs early in the season and greatly enhances your enjoyment of the wilds. Also, enables you to pack in a few luxuries.As for rocky trails, take the advice to invest in a good pair of boots. Much of my lower body and leg aches and pains were relieved after getting a pair of Asolo 520 GTX boots. A great pair of boots! As your fitness level increases you will knock of those 10+ mile days carrying 50lbs. without a hitch and have a great experience to boot!

12:00 a.m. on March 20, 2008 (EDT)
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"As your fitness level increases you will knock of those 10+ mile days carrying 50lbs. without a hitch and have a great experience to boot!"

The trick is not to carry 50 lbs. By choosing your gear carefully for the terrain and weather, you can save your back and knees a lot of abuse by carrying either less gear or lighter versions of the same gear.

I don't think you need to go to the UL extremes, but there are plenty of ways to knock off a lot of pounds and still have a comfortable and safe hike. Not all UL gear has to be outrageously expensive either, although a lot of it is; you can find bargains by spending time looking around online and reading what other folks use or make to lighten their load.

10:47 a.m. on March 21, 2008 (EDT)
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Good points,Tom. I guess I tend to carry more than average, but I carry extras in the way of Photo gear and luxuries. For any of my trips of more than a couple days, I always pack between 45-50 lbs.Honestly,that feels pretty good to me!

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