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What are your top 5 backpacking moments?

As I strode down the trail at the end of a trip this weekend I had one of those random thoughts that often occur as you drift along:  What moments do I like best about backpacking? 

Not specific moments related to one experience, but the ones that keep occurring on a semi-regular basis.  I easily rolled off about 20 but here's the first that came to mind...

- That moment you sling your pack onto your back and begin the day's journey.

- Waking up on a cold morning and watching the sun come up and thaw things out while sipping on a cup of coffee.

- Watching the sunset from a comfy campsite sipping on a wee dram of Scotch.

- That moment you crest a hill, or come out of the forest, to a brand new view and the landscape opens in front of you.

- When an off-trail exploration finds a nice little spot, view, campsite, whatever, and you wonder how long its been since someone else stood there or if they ever have.

Love to hear your top 5, or 2, or however many.  No bottom 5's though - there's enough negativity out there in the wide world web!

in no particular order...

when i hit my stride after starting out on the trail and it feels almost effortless for a while.

finally reaching the end of a grueling set of switchbacks that never seem to end and feeling a sense of accomplishment.

sitting next to a creek or river and just watching, almost trance like, and listening to the sound of the water.

when i come across a particularly impressive plant scene. one of my favorites in the north cascades is a small waterfall with maidenhair ferns growing out of crack in the rock.

as mostly a solo hiker, the "silence" - which of course isn't really silence (winds, birds, water, thunder) but maybe the absence of human sounds.

1. on the 2nd night of a 3 day hike Steven and I pitched our tent in the bottom along the creek By the  Gravefields Below the overlook. I’d stood on many an over look observing these people wondering what it was like. From that time on till now I’ve known! I’m no longer the kid looking threw the window.

2. On one of my 1st hikes, the Cahuta Panther Creek Trail. My nephew and I thought this was going to be epic and it was but not like I’d thought. The hike was relatively easy , however when we busted out of the woods and stood on top of that waterfall and watched the sunset with no a visible sign or light of any other human for as far as the eye could see. I knew what it was like to really achieve and understand why our forefathers kept pushing on. I just had to know what was over the next hill. I was hooked or smitten if you prefer.

now more to what you were asking 

3 the stars every nite from up top on the balds, the cool brisk breeze, hiking  in the rain on the last day of a hike ( the invigoration it gives and the relief when your finally back at the truck soaked and it cranks up.), pilling into my hammock or tent after a freezing hard hike putting on something dry and warm and sleeping like a baby. I love the cold hikes cannot explain just do.

4  The people I take with me seeing them overcome their fears and achieve what they thought was impossible 

5 The conversations and great people you meet on the trail. Like the young lady on the AT section hiking or the gang of  college kids and the unbelievable amount of stuff they carried over5 mountains and special mention to Patrick great guy , conversationalist and a true warrior 

in short 1= I’m in, 2= the addiction to search out 3= the emotions And wonder satisfied 4=Giving back and a lift 5= true people who share the same values and enthusiasm for life and it’s wonderful gifts in nature 

and more besides

Mossback...several of those were in my next 5 or so.

John....cold hikes are my favorite time of year. Well, down to about zero for me...

In no particular order...

  • Looking down on clouds in the valley below while standing in the morning sun.
  • Seeing the sign that marks the long sought camp or intersection. Just something about spotting the straight line among the trees after waiting to see it. Finally!
  • Laughing at how early it is while falling asleep before dark after a hard day.
  • Sub zero potty breaks on Winter nights. Can't stay out there long so have to enjoy the stars fast. Only have a minute to see all those stars you usually can't see.
  • When the music in my head matches up with the trail under my feet!

Freshly washed after a hard day on the trail, in a clean change of clothes.

Staring into the camp fire with a buddy in silent acknowledgement.

Way off trail, where even silence doesn't wander.

Night ski touring on squeaky cold snow, twinkling like a field of diamonds in the moon light.

Meal time when so hungry even freeze dried tastes good.

When it's over, and you get a real shower and pizza, perhaps even a hot spring soak, before the long ride home.


so many great ones here, I agree with most

this year has had lots of off-trail exploration for me; finding those beautiful spots that you know not many have seen is pretty special

I rarely do long trips, but when I do, I also love that feeling of adventure you get with the first step and all the possibilities that lie before you

one of my frustrations with short weekend trips is that I usually need about 3 days to get in the groove, get my head right, let the stress of work and life in civilization melt away...that moment is one of my absolute favorites, can't exactly predict it, but you know it when it happens

I'm with Patman on that last point. After about 3 days you're back to basics, and all you can talk about is what goes in and what comes out, if you catch my drift.

And I like those days-ends when I feel like I've really done something physical-- covered some distance, carried some weight, gotten to the top of something, gotten up or down something steep and scary. Well-earned meal and sleep.

Surprise encounters with wildlife. The mountain lion disappearing up the trail in Costa Rica. A grouse bursting out of the snow just ahead of my ski tips in Vermont. The rattlesnake that induced me to teleport myself two feet sideways in the Paria. Spotting an elf owl sleepily roosting by day in a juniper in Madera Canyon. A late afternoon kiwi in New Zealand rain forest. Lizards, scorpions, brightly colored insects. 

Finding and IDing new wildflower species.

Plunging into a cold lake or creek to wash the sweat off.

Unexpected, deep encounters with strangers on the trail, at camp or in a hut.

More good times:

Hanging out with the buds under a rain fly, waiting for the weather to pass.

Fishing at sunset for dinner on an alpine lake.  

Hiking days where the topography permits seeing the day's destiny from beginning to end, and witnessing the progress to that objective.

Sharing amazing places with people there for the first time.

Successfully navigating XC in the dark, without GPS, to a precise location miles away.

Holiday cooking in the BC.

The three day rule seems widely shared, I wonder why it takes most of us three days to get our heads into BC mode?  Perhaps that is also the time it takes a reasonably fit person to physiologically adjust to being a pack animal; perhaps it is related to the amount of time required to dial in our BC routines and habits; perhaps related to a physical adaptation to new routines, similar to jet lag recovery; Perhaps it is driven by the complete gastrointestinal purging of everything physically related to where we came from?  For me it seems to be a mental adjustment, but also is related to getting "saddle broken" to the pack.


Putting down the pack, setting up a chair and putting on the crocs after a long day. 

Coffee in the sun, next to a morning fire

Critters on the trail. 

A wee dram with close friends around a fire at night. 

Unexpected killer views. 

The answers here and common thoughts show why this group of folks gets along so well on the www. I think many of us would enjoy sitting around the campfire.

The three day time frame is something I feel as well although there are a couple of exceptions. First if I go out for three days a couple of weeks in a row I often slip back in "the zone" by day two the second week. Also, if I arrive by 8am or so to a local area, a full day hiking on day one let's me reach the zone earlier as well.

I could see that Phil. My short weekends are sometimes interrupted with work as well and that is terrible for my head-space.

Last weekend I did my typical training hike up Mt Sterling via Baxter Creek trail; it gains 4200 feet in 6.5 miles and you get to the top all worn out and satisfied, see the top of the mountain which is a beautiful boreal forest, all moss covered and green, and the balsams smell fantastic. And then I check messages and have to spend the next hour on the phone with an AT&T network support engineer instead of climbing the fire tower to watch the sunset. Arrghh!

I can't wait for that day when leaving work really means leaving work.

I'm taking two weeks off for this upcoming Wyoming trip and realized that I've never had two consecutive weeks off work in my adult life except for the time I had a bowel re-sectioning surgery. Crazy to think about. 

You will love the two weeks until you have to come back. That second week of my Scotland walk was wonderful...totally at peace and the aches and pains worn away. Enjoy!

We need to catch up when you get back and trade stories over the fire or stove!

I remember taking 6 weeks to travel across the country moving to California in a VW bus.  When we found a place we like we would stay for 3 days.  All emotions came to the surface.  We could laugh and cry easily.  Life was simple as a nomad. 

Sleeping in the open and watching the Northern Lights with my dog in the North Cascades of Washington. . 

Hiking down off Chilkoot Pass into northern BC into a lodgpole pine forest in bright sun shine after 4 days of rain. 

Climbing Half Dome before permits. 

Watching a moose and her calf walk through our campsite in Wyoming. 

Walking up from a nap in a herd of elk in Colorado. 

When ever I go on a a trip, I start planning the next trip.  That way I always have a trip to look forward to.  I have strong memories of using this process.  It avoids the disappointment of a trip coming to a close.  It is like an Unbroken Circle of Trips. There will always be the next one until I get too old and then I will do something else outside. 

1-Pretty much any adventure with my son.  One stand out, on his first trip into Grand Canyon, a bald eagle glided just a few feet above out heads as we were walking from Bright Angel Campground over to Phantom Ranch.  And when he was younger, him sitting in my lap in the tent as I read him Lord of the Rings.

2-Fred, Mike, Steve and me waiting out a thunder storm at Charlotte Lake with 2 bottles of wine, a block of cheese, and a loaf of sourdough.  Ultimate resupply decadence.

3-Meeting Art in Lyell Canyon on my 2009 JMT hike.  We have now shared several joint adventures.

4-Boy Scout summer treks in the Sierra Nevada.  Where I got the bug and learned the skills/gained the confidence to do my own trips.  I am ever thankful to the adult leader who gave me this gift.

5-My first solo thru-hike, a short one, the CDT between Wolf Creek Pass and Silverton.  The alone time gave me time to pray over and think through a difficult time in my marriage.  I returned home with a renewed commitment.  And though it has seldom been easy we celebrate 38 years on the 11th.

The roar of my SVEA stove.

Constant Comment tea.

Sleeping under the cold night sky with just my nose poking through the drawn tight mummy bag.

Panic in the wee hours when that nose hole has shifted God knows where.

 The planning to do it all again.

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned this one yet, but that first glimpse of the lake that you are camping at, when you see a tiny corner of blue sparkling water through the trees.  You know the hiking is over for the day...and yet so much to look forward to around the lake...

Waking up from a high altitude bivouac in a sheath of ice.
Or surrounded by elk.

Sliding into that pre-warmed sleeping bag.


Huckleberries. Or if you're really lucky, a seeded pine cone.

When the world inverts, going over a mountain pass, leaving you dangling over the sky.

Walking along looking in a valley and gazing at the clouds look like mist.

Hiking in New Mexico when I was a teen seeing and learning from a two week trip.

Meeting people that adore what we do and friendly.Like the next door good neighbor you have.

Hiking in Colorado and enjoying the peace one feels with a new challenge.

November 28, 2020
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