What could go wrong?

10:42 a.m. on August 19, 2019 (EDT)
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My wife and I have hiked something more than 2500 miles in the Sierra Nevada and other parts of the West.  We've backpacked for years and years, and we are as experienced a pair as you are likely to find on any given day on the trail.  So what could possibly go wrong? 

Well, on our last trip, just as an example, we had a few misfortunes.  My toothbrush broke.  It was a source of some amusement to see me trying to brush my teeth holding the stub of the brush with both hands and still reach the teeth in the back of my mouth.  

And my sunglasses also snapped above the ear.  No worries, we had packed duct tape--except that for some reason I had switched lip balms, and the supply of duct tape was wrapped around the old lip balm tube, not the new one.  That's OK.  We also have adhesive tape in the first aid kit.  In fact, that tape came from my parents' first aid kit...and let's see...my mom passed away how many years ago? 

So It was tape, but it wasn't adhesive.  hmm.  Luckily, we still had a few small band-aids, and a couple of them, wrapped around a twig as a splint, fixed the sunglasses at least enough to get him home.  Just a reminder that it pays to make sure all your gear is newish...and that you've also got a back up!

12:57 p.m. on August 19, 2019 (EDT)
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I think the most serious equipment failure I've seen was the sole of a buddy's boot delaminating, two days from the roadhead, with daily afternoon rains to contend with.  He actually made it back with two or three duct taping sessions.   This apparently is an issue with the weltless, glue on soles, typical of many boots on the market, that the adhesives and soles age, regardless of use, and fail after five years or there abouts.   

One time I took a bunch of old freeze dried food on a trip.  It tasted like cardboard food packaging.  Check your dates, and don't believe for a minute, the claims that stuff will last five or ten years...  

Ed

5:45 p.m. on August 19, 2019 (EDT)
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Actually a lot can go wrong.  The worst was a busted femur a long way from help.  A friend sprained his ankle real bad 25 miles in.  i have been bucked off horses and mules 40 miles from the trailhead.  People get burned.  I have seen two people put axes in their feet.  Hunters have gotten lost at night when the temperatures were headed toward zero.  

Sometimes items are forgotten.  I went on a week long pack trip without a toothbrush and used charcoal and a frayed piece of aspen.  It is possible to make a pancake turner and open cans with a knife.  Once we forgot coffee on a pack trip.  We sent the youngest hand  on a 25 mile round trip to get some. 

We have cracked up plenty of canoes after swamping them in rapids.  I have punched holes in a raft and had a zipper holding the bladder come apart.  A roll of duct tape and some straps can get you home 50 miles from a trailhead. 

When I was a kid we went on a 2 week trip to Maine a long way from home.  In those days we had a canvas umbrella tent.  My Dad forgot the top part of the pole set up, the top of the pyramid.  He walked out in the woods with an axe and fashioned some saplings to do the same thing. It worked better than the poles that came with the tent. 

We were hunting elk in Idaho and we were short one chair.  A friend of mine, a carpenter, walked into the woods and gathered some willow saplings.  In 20 minutes he had a chair that was the best one in camp.  He took it home and used it on the patio for 3 years before it fell apart. 

Everything worked out okay except the busted femur.  That took 3 years to rehab. 

6:32 p.m. on August 19, 2019 (EDT)
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Well I first answered this tag line from an equipment centric POV, but Ppine broadened the scope to all manner of advents - including some real humdingers.  In that vein the worst for me was riding out a long winded storm in the Andes. 

We were advancing our camp to the final of three stages going up the mountain.  All six of us hauled gear to Camp 3, including six man days of food.  The intention was four of us would return to the lower camp the same day, but the weather closed in, trapping us at the high camp.  Ten days later we were forced to evacuate when some members of the team started showing signs of frost injuries to their feet, regardless the storm was still tormenting us.  The rest of us were not doing much better.  Being holed up like that was a dreadful experience.  I have been in severe cold before, but cold combined with hunger induced exhaustion is in a class of its own.  The escape was harrowing and frightful.  I think everyone of us had given up at some point, trying to get down during the escape, with only the goading and encouragement of fellow team members making the difference.  The only word I can think of to describe the combination of exhaustion and fear is "exquisite".  One's very will to live was in the balance.  I was so affected by this ordeal that I plunged into a six month depression afterward.  This event was a fundamental reason that drove me to eventually curtail gonzo level, high altitude mountaineering.  I still have all of my digits, but some toes on the left foot remain partially numb.

Ed

7:36 p.m. on August 19, 2019 (EDT)
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Well back to the equipment discussion...here's my fix the other week when a trekking pole went kaput and snapped just below the handle... 
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Some Leukotape and a couple of tent stake splints made it storm worth for my tent tarp support and for two more days of hiking. Would have used my duct tape but hadn't replenished it from another fix so there wasn't enough. Seems like something happens at least once a year for me...makss the trip more memorable. 
20190622_163011.jpgWorst missing item...TP fell out of a side pocket on an old pack on day 1. Improvising that is a bit more of a problem at times...

9:51 a.m. on August 20, 2019 (EDT)
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A fiberglass canoe, broken up in a rapid and sunk on the bottom of a river, makes broken sunglasses or a broken hiking pole look like child's play. 

11:32 a.m. on August 20, 2019 (EDT)
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Alot of backpacking gear failures can be prevented at home before a trip.  Like:  Replace tent pole shock cords before they break in the field.  Replace your Thermarest inflatable pad before it leaks or delaminates.

Buy a new pair of boots before the trip and let the older ones sit idle.  Carry an extra hipbelt buckle.  (Because you will eventually step on it and snap it apart during a trip).

Clean your stove thoroughly before leaving.  Carry an extra MSR fuel pump just in case.  Always carry a tent pole repair sleeve.  Replace hiking pole tip before it loses its carbide tip.

Much gear "wrongs" can be prevented before the fact.

Regarding the other wrongs---a broken leg, lightning strike, rattlesnake bite, falling, drowning, hypothermia, food/water poisoning etc etc---They are surprises we as backpackers try to avoid as much as possible.

Very careful foot-on-trail placement may prevent broken bones.  Getting off the high ground in lightning storms---or studying area trees for previous strikes.  Keeping your eyes open for pit vipers---and hike slowly.  Don't cross high water creeks in rage mode.  Don't get lost by impatience or frustration. 

Carry enough gear on your back to survive a cold night out. 

One time I had an entire dental bridge fall out while eating a larabar.  Broke a couple toes during the years.  Snapped a little finger bone on a creek crossing.  Numerous ligament/tendon poppings and knee problems.  Carry a knee brace if paranoid.

Hundreds of yellow jacket stings.  Falling tree branch on a recent trip tore open my Hilleberg tent fly.  Oops.  Fixed quickly using a pre-threaded needle and some McNett's silnet sealer.


Trip-198-69--XL.jpg

6:17 p.m. on August 20, 2019 (EDT)
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Tipi Walter said:

Alot of backpacking gear failures can be prevented at home before a trip.  Like:  Replace tent pole shock cords before they break in the field.  Replace your Thermarest inflatable pad before it leaks or delaminates.

Buy a new pair of boots before the trip and let the older ones sit idle.  Carry an extra hipbelt buckle.  (Because you will eventually step on it and snap it apart during a trip).

Clean your stove thoroughly before leaving.  Carry an extra MSR fuel pump just in case.  Always carry a tent pole repair sleeve.  Replace hiking pole tip before it loses its carbide tip.

Much gear "wrongs" can be prevented before the fact.

Regarding the other wrongs---a broken leg, lightning strike, rattlesnake bite, falling, drowning, hypothermia, food/water poisoning etc etc---They are surprises we as backpackers try to avoid as much as possible.

Very careful foot-on-trail placement may prevent broken bones.  Getting off the high ground in lightning storms---or studying area trees for previous strikes.  Keeping your eyes open for pit vipers---and hike slowly.  Don't cross high water creeks in rage mode.  Don't get lost by impatience or frustration. 

Carry enough gear on your back to survive a cold night out. 

One time I had an entire dental bridge fall out while eating a larabar.  Broke a couple toes during the years.  Snapped a little finger bone on a creek crossing.  Numerous ligament/tendon poppings and knee problems.  Carry a knee brace if paranoid.

Hundreds of yellow jacket stings.  Falling tree branch on a recent trip tore open my Hilleberg tent fly.  Oops.  Fixed quickly using a pre-threaded needle and some McNett's silnet sealer.


Trip-198-69--XL.jpg

 

6:22 p.m. on August 20, 2019 (EDT)
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Don't ask me how I did the above post:)...but snowshoes break. snowshoe webbing breaks, ice axes break, heart attacks happen, branches whack eyeballs, fish hooks embed in skin, fishpoles break, zippers blow out so do pants bottoms, boots melt...I've seen all that.

2:17 p.m. on August 22, 2019 (EDT)
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Once and only once my down sleeping bag got wet after 4 days of rain on the trail in Alaska.  Above treeline in the sleet and snow, there was no hope for a fire.  I was afraid to go to sleep for fear of not waking up.  The date was August 31.

2:53 p.m. on August 22, 2019 (EDT)
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Sounds like a Jack London story...

8:15 p.m. on August 22, 2019 (EDT)
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I do not believe he has read that one, at least not up to a year or two ago but perhaps that has been remedied. I’ve read both versions of To Build a Fire. The early version is a terrible and somewhat disfiguring ordeal and the second is grimly horrific. They are both very short. Jack London is still relevant today.

10:46 a.m. on August 25, 2019 (EDT)
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Practice your fire building skills.  A lot of backpackers now defiantly are against fires.  The skills can save your life. 

On the backside of Chilkoot Pass into northern British Columbia, I found an old trappers cabin and built a fire in the small wood stove.  That was the first time I had been warm in about 36 hours.  We were able to dry everything out hanging in the rafters of the snug cabin. 

8:09 p.m. on August 25, 2019 (EDT)
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Fire building skills are good, but a liquid or gas fuel stove can get a wood fire started with a lot less effort.  I have been entertained on several occasions watching others with friction devices, or sparkers, as they labored against uncooperative wood and kindling, then have them look on, incredulous that I would resort to such wood lore blasphemy as using a canister stove to start a wood fire. 

Ed

12:16 a.m. on August 26, 2019 (EDT)
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Good one Ed. 

9:50 a.m. on August 28, 2019 (EDT)
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Anyone else remember and use carbide lamps?  on one SAR operation (many moons ago) we built a dandy roaring fire with the aid of the carbide lamp flame, despite the nay saying of our victim, who said the woods were too wet to burn....

2:30 p.m. on August 28, 2019 (EDT)
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I've owned and used carbide lamps. One line of my family were Virginia coal miners which is where I acquired them. I never used them in the woods tho.

3:52 p.m. on August 28, 2019 (EDT)
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Never used a carbide lamp but fount an antique with some carbide still rattlong around in the lower chamber. I was extensively exploring an area near some very old remnants of coal mines, lots of enamel ware scattered about and other obviously old and antique thingS. 


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6:15 p.m. on August 28, 2019 (EDT)
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Wow! That is an oldie. Great find.

10:41 a.m. on August 29, 2019 (EDT)
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I  have looked at a lot of trash piles and middens around old mine sites and gotten paid for it doing archaeological surveys.   Carbide lamps were very common before batteries.  Remarkably similar stuff shows up in the trash piles, like Prince Albert tobacco cans, milk cans, purple glass etc.  There is a typology to date most of it.  Milk cans can be dated by the type of solder used and the imprint on the bottom of the can. 

What went wrong in the mining camps was that either the ore petered out, or the price of the ore declined to a point where they no longer made any money.  The same places have been inhabited multiple times. 

12:43 p.m. on August 29, 2019 (EDT)
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Old Guide said:

Wow! That is an oldie. Great find.

 

It was an exciting find, laying out in the sage with obvious fallen structures and an area where it looks like they bored into the side of the hill nearby. Nearby there is an elaborate inscription on a sandstone boulder for a miner who passed away and the chiseled lettering is amazing. Further in there were parts of a narrow gauge railroad and huge, bolted and riveted water tanks like never seen in these times. Much more and fairly deep into terrain that is cut off from normal kinds of access. Wild and wonderful country that is a pleasure to explore with surprising features around every corner.

February 26, 2020
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