Pretty much all of my hiking has been what is known as “day hikes;” although some have been really long days in the range of 9-12 hours. In my day hikes, I’ve trekked a variety of elevations with 14, 433 feet being the highest (Mt. Elbert).
Recently, my friend Erika and I signed up for a four day thru hike to a volcano which includes three nights in a tent in addition to some training on days two and three. Training includes self arrest techniques and the use of crampons and ropes all on a glacier. To say we’re excited is an understatement.
Overall, for the most part, my mountaineering experience is more hiking class 1-3 mountains and trails. If I want to open up to more experiences, then I need to learn and master additional skills. Plus, things happen and the more you know and are comfortable with, the better off you are.
Thru Hiking; Take One…
I don’t want to be the low hanging fruit of the group this July (our trip). So that means, getting my gear early, learning how to use it and to be comfortable because I don’t want my first experience with it to be on my trip. I’m already going to be fire-hosed with new information and I’d rather focus on these new techniques verses how to wear my backpack.
Gear wise so far, I have a 65L Osprey Arial Pro backpack that I got fitted for, a Nemo Rave 15 degree sleeping bag that came with a compression stuff sack, and Lowa mountaineering boots that support full crampons. And add, all the other stuff that I already own.
Here in Colorado Springs, we have a wonderful backpacker Camp known as Barr Camp that is approximately a 6 1/2 mile one way trek from the Barr Trail trailhead. The hike itself is considered a class one and it’s well marked. We decided to make reservations to stay one night so we could start to experience a thru hike and use our gear. Our reservation included staying in the bunk house, spaghetti dinner, and pancake breakfast. The bunk house is not heated and it’s kind of like a hostel.
First of all, I’ve done multiple day camping, but my campsite has always been near my car. With thru hiking, my car will be no where near so I need to carry everything that I might need. Two big items are my backpack and my sleeping bag. Surprisingly our big sleeping bag compressed into this tiny little thing with the help of a compression sack and it fit really great in our Ospreys. Both of us filled three large mouth Nalgene bottles of water and had those in our bags. We technically didn’t need that much water, but RMI Expeditions (our outfitter for July) told us to be able to carry 50 pounds. Other things in our bag included a small toiletry bag (make up zipper bag was used to store items), toilet paper, gallon ziplock bag for our trash (leave no trace), flashlight and headlamp, clothing systems, baby wipes, snacks, and of course the rest of the 10 essentials.
Normally, I don’t wear mountaineering boots, but it’s a requirement for my July trip. I bought Lowas and broke mine in on this trip. They are a lot heavier than I’m used to.
Bring a smaller shoe (flip flops perhaps) to wear at camp especially if you’re wearing heavy mountaineering boots. It felt like heaven to take those boots off! We didn’t bring additional shoes, but I was so envious of the other backpackers who did.
I had a Life Straw that I tried out in a nearby creek and the water was delicious. I also had water purification tablets so as long as water is available, I can cut weight and make space in my bag by not having to bring as much water. Another backpacker had this filtration device that looked pretty easy to use. I really like this idea. We carried extra Nalgene bottles because it’s still winter weather and they are less likely to freeze as well as wanting the weight. On my July trip, I’m pretty sure I’ll be carrying a tent so I’ll need the extra space.
Little things in your bag all add up weight wise. In talking with a more experienced thru hiker, I learned there are little ways to cut weight. For instance, do you really need all those little bags that gear comes in. (Little bags can add an ounce or two). Chances are, you don’t. So I’ll be examining my items for our next adventure trial run out.
Clothing. You don’t need as much as you think you need. I wore the same pants and base-layer shirt both days and was fine. I brought one pair of socks because I had two pairs of sock liners which allowed me to extend the wear of my socks. I bought two pairs of underwear and two sports bras and felt comfortable with that decision.
Bert Bees facial wipes cleaned my face, neck, and chest just great. Baby wipes are better for your more intimate areas and are less likely to cause irritation there. I also found this great small “PackTowl” at REI that can hang on the back of your backpack. I didn’t use it this time, but can see using it in the future when it’s warmer and water isn’t frozen over as a way to clean myself up. (Yes, I know to be 200+ feet from water). Maybe, I won’t be so paranoid of hygiene as I go further along this path, but it is a big concern for me so I’m interested to learn more hygienic tricks along the way.
Barr Camp has one of those natural biological toilets so I didn’t have to use the restroom outside although I’ve peed plenty of times outside on my many hikes. I’ve never had to poop thus needing to do the cathole or blue bag deal. I do own a blue bag as they are readily available in many hiking places for free.
All in all…
I think we had a great experience, it wasn’t to intimidating, and it was fun. Barr Camp or somewhere similar is a great tip toe into thru hiking. We will be looking to add a third day eventually that is less supported, cooking our foods, adding our sleeping pads, better packing of our backpacks, and of course carrying a tent.
Our July trip will require us to bring a helmet, crampons, and ice axe. So definitely, I’ll need to figure out how pack those.
As you hike, you’ll want to stretch or do some yoga along the way. You will be sore! Now that it’s been two days later, I really feel it in my legs. We used trees to hold as we rotated our torso so we could stretch our chests because while we were hiking wearing our bags, I felt it in my shoulders and chest. When I got to camp, I did a prolonged Sphinx pose to open up my chest. Other great areas to stretch include calves, hamstrings, and hips. Ankle rolls feel great once your boots are off.
Great yoga poses for hiking: Dancer’s Pose, any Pigeon Variation, Forward Fold (seated or standing), Gentle Cobra or Sphinx Pose, and gentle twists. Also, keep doing ankle rolls.
Its about the journey…