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Introducing A Newbie The Wilderness

I introduced a newbie into the wilderness this last weekend, he is a middle aged man that has only been car camping once about 25 years ago. So I took him on a full 3 day trip to Wolf Lake State forest in northern N.Y. (10 miles west of the Adirondack state park and 10 east of Gouverneur). It is a beautiful place to see with relative easy terrain, 3 lakes, 3 lean-to’s, nice trails & good wildlife. Sadly he has been a couch potato and works behind a desk for most of his adult life and has minimal energetic experience so short distance was the key to a successful trip him with his gear which was about 30-35lbs.

On the first day we hiked about 1.75 miles and camped at a lean-to, the trip was tough for him but he managed the hike ok. On the second day we hiked about 1.25 which was shorter than the first day but harder on him because he was quite sore from the first day but he mad the hike. And on the third day we hiked about 3 miles and he surprisingly did very well but on the last leg he did get worn down quickly.

I didn’t think a person’s body could get that out of shape that a mile and a half hike would be a problem I’m not in the best shape I could be in either. But he had a grate time and he said he has a little muscle soreness but he hasn’t felt this good in years and he is looking forward to doing it again. His health got a jumpstart that he has to keep up with and his confidence got a huge boost. By the beginning of the third he stopped saying can’t. Heck on the first day I thought can’t was his favorite word.

Great job mike068!

I have done this a few times, although fun and rewarding, it requires patience and selflessness doesn't it?

I once took a middle age guy who claimed to be experienced on an 8 mile trip. He showed up with an old military pack, the kind with a steel X frame, no hip belt. He had brought can goods and a wool blanket, a large skillet & charcoal, and some plastic and duct tape. That's about all. Oh..and a Rambo knife.

I let him borrow an old hammock and backpack I had in the truck, a second wool blanket, a mess kit, and some light weight food. Basically my kit I kept in the truck, just in case. He had told me he had survival training while in the Army. About 2 miles into the hike it was clear he wasn't gonna make it, so we decided to camp at the three mile mark close to a stream where I knew of a fishermans campsite. gets much better!

About 2:00 AM he is in the hammock with the bug net zipped up and the whole thing stretched as tight as he could get it tied, I decided to name the knot he used after him. All of a sudden he is yelling at me to come over and unzip him. He had flipped the hammock and was trapped face down with his hands on the ground but his feet tied up in the bug netting and could not right himself. Very Funny!

The next night he offers to cook, I reluctantly let him, While I was off fishing a bit he built a rock oven with some flat limestone rock from the creek bed. He had managed to get a very hot fire going inside the rock oven, in all honesty I didn't realize at the time how dangerous this was. About the time I got sat down good the wet rocks started exploding and sending shards of limestone wizzing about our heads.

In spite of it all I had a good time which has left me with fond and humorous memories.

I can’t claim to have done this although it reminds me of a co-worker who is presently planning (and preparing?) to hike Canada’s West Coast Trail (75 km/46miles) with his teenaged son and a few others. For the last couple of weeks at coffee breaks he has been asking my opinion regarding gear for the upcoming trip. He is a newbie to backpacking.

He thinks he can do this because his son and other boys did this hike last year with their school.

He does not want to spend a whole lot of money on gear. Fair enough, trouble is he doesn’t know where to spend the money. He wants to use a cheap tent ($40) from a big box store. Steel toed work boots that he has at home. A cartridge stove that he is unfamiliar with. Two weeks left and he is only beginning to plan a menu for 5 people, with no knowledge of types or amounts of foods to use never mind if anyone likes or finds that type of food palatable. Or how to cook that type of food outdoors for that matter.

Great help that I am I did tell him that he should have planned this from a year ago to try/buy the different types of gear. Try some backpacking camps to learn how to use and set up/teardown the gear. How to pack the gear, and generally get fit enough to try to tackle this trail. He still wanted the 5 min explanation or opinion regarding gear.

A warning or notice posted on an information website.
Prospective hikers must understand that hiking the West Coast Trail is not without personal risk: it is difficult and physically challenging. Accidents and injuries are common. This trail is for experienced hikers in good physical condition who are prepared to have a wilderness experience. The trail is not a training or practice area for novices.

It is common practice that if you can walk you have to walk out if injured. Only broken bones or worse get air lifted out.

I have serious and deep reservations about his trip. If he makes the hike, I don’t think that he will have a great or as rewarding experience than if he planned a little better. Perhaps later he will be able to laugh at his folly.


I have done this a few times, although fun and rewarding, it requires patience and selflessness doesn't it?

You hit the nail right on the head. But you will never forget the experience.


I have heard similar tails from other people and have had some of the same questions presented to me. Why do people think that its soo eazy

As the above stories illustrate, the giant gorilla is the attitude of the newby. Mike said his protege's favorite word was "can't". Yes, that happens all too often. Trout's friend dug out gear from years ago that was less than appropriate then and "knew" how to do everything - the "don't admit to ignorance" attitude that is the mirror image of "can't". But you know, trout, many years ago when I was a youngster, I thoroughly devoured my Red Ryder Handbook, one page of which said something to the effect of "Never use rocks from a stream to make a fire circle or to cook on - they will explode when the water in the rock turns to steam!" Didn't you memorize your Red Ryder Handbook? Oh, wait! You are too young to remember Red Ryder. Probably don't remember all the advice from Straight Arrow, either.

redpatch, you have a moral dilemma. Should you attempt to help this guy out of his "fat, dumb, and happy" state of mind, possibly saving him a lot of pain or even disaster, or should you bite your tongue and not try to help him out? If you try to help him out, you might encounter the "I don' need no stinkin' advice, I know it all" attitude. OTOH, he has been asking for your advice, which is a good sign. So maybe there is hope. At least suggest to him that he cut down a bit on the distance schedule - take longer to go the distance or shorten the trip. Maybe like mike's friend, 2 miles a day might be more appropriate.

I have encountered a number of would-be mentors of newbies, mostly parents who volunteer to be trip leaders for Boy Scout outings, taking the newer scouts for their first backpack, or perhaps first winter campout. Unlike mike, they often vastly overestimate the capabilities of newbies.

While I was Scoutmaster, one of the parents, who had gone mountaineering in the Andes, planned a winter backpack. He had scouted out an area in the Sierra, Leek Springs Meadow, which had a SnoPark trailhead. The distance seemed reasonable, but the first day of the scheduled 3-day weekend featured heavy snow and closed roads. So the trip was delayed 24 hours. I had some questions, since I had never been to the area, but he assured me that it was just a short hike, just fine for the boys who had done a snow carcamp and were out for their first snow backpack. So we drove up the second day, parked in the SnoPark parking area, and set off on the trail, a summertime USFS numbered road.

The first sign of trouble that delayed day was that there were chain controls, which added an extra hour to getting to the trailhead. Then the fresh snowfall meant sinking deeply into the snow, despite snowshoes. At that time, I had not convinced people that it would be best to haul the gear on sleds, so the younger boys particularly were falling over every few steps. Getting them back on their feet/snowshoes with their too-heavy packs slowed things down further. Plus we were again getting snowfall. After almost 3 hours, now getting late into the afternoon, I pulled rank on the Hero of the Andes, reminding him that scout outings are supposed to be "boy-led", and called a conference of the older youth. I suggested that we find a clear spot to set up camp, now! They agreed (much to the chagrin of the Hero of the Andes, who was arguing that the Meadow was still farther on and the "only" place to camp).

We found a good place by stepping off the road and pitched camp. The older boys and I did a fair amount of coaching of the younger ones, but we had good meals and everyone was warm. I did a bit of figuring and realized that we had gone all of 3/4 mile in the 3 hours, with the Meadow of original destination another 2 miles along the road. It turned out that the Hero of the Andes had done his scouting trip on skis, a much faster mode of travel.

Next morning, we got up, prepared breakfast, and started hiking out in our track which had been stomped down to 2 to 3 feet deep in the soft snow, but was re-filled to just a foot or so deep trench. A couple of the young kids still were falling over every 20 or 30 feet, when we heard a roar. It turned out that the Hero of the Andes had failed to discover that the SnoPark was one of the favored and designated snowmobile starting points. So here came snowmobiles, following our trench from the day before, and with the attitude that no way were they going to move aside for a bunch of hikers. So the kids were struggling to get out of the way of the yelling snowmobilers who "couldn't" ride their snowmobiles in the fresh deep powder.

When we got back to the parking lot (faster, thanks to the well-packed snowmobile tracks), we found the lot jammed with big trucks and snowmobile trailers. Eventually we did get out and into the bumper to bumper traffic headed back to the Bay Area.

What went wrong? Most obvious was that the Hero of the Andes was so anxious to show the joy of winter backpacking to the young scouts that he did not take into account their inexperience and the difficulty they would have with their huge packs (that could have been much lighter with planning).

Also obvious was that there was no Plan B taking into account the heavy snowfall and the effect it would have on travel to the trailhead and travel along the summer road in deep snow. Another factor was that the trip leader did not gather all the available information (the 8.5x11 foldup sheet on SnoParks that you get with your SnoPark permit actually did list that SnoPark as a "recommended" snowmobile site).

And the Scoutmaster (me) foolishly trusted the "experienced" Hero of the Andes (he was also the Outings Chair at the time) to use good judgment and knowledge of young scouts in planning the trip, as well as knowing better than to fall into the "gotta get there, can't change plans" trap. One thing my stepping in did - since we only went a little beyond the youngest scouts' mental limits, they looked back on it as a Great and Memorable Adventure. No one got hurt, no one got sick, and no one got more than a little uncomfortable.

redpatch, I think this illustrates a piece of advice you should give your co-worker - Have a Plan B, and be ready to use it, or even turn back if things are "going south". The West Coast Trail will always be there for you to come back. Just make sure you are ther to come back to the West Coast Trail.

(I realized that I had committed the sin of running everything together, as well as being overly long, so I went back and at least broke it into smaller segments. Hopefully this is easier to read.)

Hay Bill I am just about the same age as trouthunter and I don't remember thous books either but I did know about the rocks do to a similar experience at a young age when I was a boy scout OOPS lol. No one got hurt so it was a good learning experience.

When doing things with new people experienced or not I make the first trip together a short light & easy trip and have a contingency as well. When you do it that way you can get a idea how prepared, limits, knowledgeable & attitude of the other people with you so the next time you can plan a trip that will be fun & enjoyable to all.

If any one is interested here are some pictures of our trip.

Sorry Bill,

I did not have a Red Ryder handbook, and am not familiar with Straight Arrow. I did watch Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger, etc. Not the same I know.

I also had an old Boy Scout handbook from the early 1950's. I use to read it religiously, it's sad how they have had to add the first twenty pages or so.


I think your gonna have to tag along and show the way! HaHa.



Nice photos, thanks for sharing. One question though, how much does your shelter weigh, how long does it take to set it up, and are those shingles on it hurricane rated? I guess that's three questions.


As far as the shingles go the hurricane rating is not a problem unless the hurricane comes off the Grate Lakes, But the other 2 questions you would have to ask the state of New York Forestry Service.

The only bad thing about sleeping in a lean-to is you still need to bring the dam tent.

That birds nest in thous pictures was inside one of the lean-to's we stayed in and the mother bird didn't really seam to care she cam and went at will.

Thanks for sharing the trip report, Mike. It's great that you took a newbie and he had a good time and wants to do it again. That's a succcessful trip!

I also liked the pictures.

Update on a frustrated earlier rant.

My coworker, son and a few friends did complete their hike on Canada’s west coast trail.
Albeit looking beat up with scratches, bug bites, bruises, blisters, and sore muscles. Both himself and the rest of his group did slip or fall a number of times while on the trail. This may seem to be nitpicking but I was told it was dry on the trail at this time and it had been over a week since the last person was evacuated. This trail can be very treacherous when the trail is wet.

Trouthunter I did not accompany them as I did not have the time off work to do this.

He did use proper footwear, the rest of his gear did stand up to the trail although he did regear a couple of days before departure. (He had met up with his son’s teacher who had taken the class out on the trail last year, borrowed equipment that he did not have or used the better equipment from the teacher). (How nice to have a gear cache like that eh?)

My coworker did run out of food on the hike as his teenaged son kept eating. The last day my coworker was dragging behind the group, hungry, and sore. An older couple on the trail did give him a small amount of food to help him on his way. After a quick talk with him I did find out that he had not been conditioning himself in the outdoors. A few short walks around town on pavement, did not do much for him. He did not try backpacking before the trip to sort out his gear, learn about how much food he would need. A few short trips would have prepared him for the trip.

He did enjoy himself, learned a few things about himself and about backpacking.

A good lesson/reminder for all. Plan ahead, try the gear, hike a few times to sort it all out and enjoy.

I guess the end result was good. They learned, no one was seriously injured and they enjoyed them self's. You cant really ask for more than that.

I wish I could say that I have had such an experience....none of mine have been that "exciting"!

September 30, 2020
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