Wednesday, January 5, 2011
I am always carrying a backpack...and so should you
The story begins with my childhood, as most stories do. Not with my childhood, but somebody’s. I was brought up in a loving family, where I was free to explore who I was, for good or ill. I always was exploring outside, climbing trees, scratching knees and generally just being a kid. The main difference between myself and other kids was that I always had a backpack or something full of supplies in case I got lost, kidnapped, or hurt. When I was really young, I would have a few band-aids and some sort of old pocket knife given to me by one of my wonderful grandfathers in a secret gift exchange to help me become a man.
This was the 80’s when kids had little to worry about, as far as I knew. My neighborhood was safe, so my school chums and I decided to get together a kit so we could go hunt down the Green River Killer, and bring him to justice. We had a bag with a few rolls of duct tape, a couple of pocket knifes, a lighter with no fuel and a few snacks. To put this in perspective, we lived two hundred miles south of the Green River, and we were 8 years old. Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway; these plans never came to fruition, which was probably a good thing. While I never hunter down a notorious serial killer, I did continue to have a bag with emergency snacks and supplies with me at all times.
When I was 9, my family took a trip to Yellowstone, which was one short year after the horrible fire that brought me to tears as I watched my favorite national park burn down on national television. We drove from Vancouver Washington to Yellowstone straight through, as we often did for a myriad of reason, from financial to logistical. Remember the only stops were at exits with gas stations, where we would grab snacks from inside and maybe a burger or two from whatever fast food establishment was at the same exit. I would always order an extra burger, or pick up a few more candy bars from the store and save them in my bag. Hours later, when my sister would be talking abut being hungry, I would open my bag, and just like Jesus on the 3rd day, a miracle occurred. There, in all its glory, would be a delicious snack that I had stashed away for just the right moment. I could have been a good brother and shared it with her. In fact, I know on a few occasions I did, however, this time I savored it in from of the drooling, starving family members who were slowly going mad with hunger.
That trip, I realized the power of being prepared. I was never hungry, I was always warm with an extra sweatshirt, and I always had a trusty pocketknife in case I had to fend off a bear, save my family and become a national hero. Can you tell I lived in my head a lot as a child? I never had to use a knife, but many times I was glad I had gloves or a hat when it got cold. During this trip I remember my parents complimenting me on always being prepared and responsible, which I took as a leg up in the sibling battle that everyone with siblings engages in. I was winning, and it was all because I had a bag of supplies.
This habit has many other tales to prove the point, but after years of having a backpack always with me, it became my thing. In high school on bus trips to sports, I was ready to survive an Andes style accident without resorting to cannibalism. My friends and coaches always knew whom to turn to if they ran out of pretty much anything.
The main reason for these silly tales of being over prepared is largely because of some events that have transpired in my life and on the news. A few weeks ago, a few snowshoe hikers went off the route they intended and ended up being stuck in a large dumping of snow and sub-zero temperatures for 2 days. They, like me, had one person with them who though it was smart to bring a backpack full of objects that they probably wouldn’t need, but would be good to have, just in case something bad went down. These things included, but were not limited to a blanket, 4 pairs of extra gloves, waterproof matches and a bag of almonds. This is why being prepared is important. By stocking up on some emergency supplies, and not going all Y2K prepared, you will not only be safe, but save lives. Who knew, right?
My personal story could have been very scary, but instead turned out to be a defining moment in my budding hiking career. It was the summer before my freshman year of college, and the girl I thought I’d marry and get old with had just left for her college (hint number 1 that it didn’t work out) and I was sad. My father decided that it would be a good idea to get me out of the house and go on a day hike up by Mount Baker in Northwest Washington. We were supposed to go on one trail, but during the drive up, he had mentioned that when he was my age, he had hiked up an old trail and could be on the glacier. I told him we should do that instead, and without contacting anyone, we veered off the original course to our new trail. We arrived at the trailhead at about 10am, and headed up. The trail started out in a meadow, very scenic and easy to follow, with few switch back and a smooth path. Soon, we came across a marker that said the trail we wanted was to our left. We glanced left and saw nothing but what I would later describe as a Vietnam-esque jungle. Trees, ferns, fungi and all sorts of other plants I should know covered out route, making each step a brutal battle. After nearly 3 solid hours, we had gone about 2 miles. Frustrated, weighed down by my pack, and generally tired, I suggested that we walk along and in the small stream of runoff and scramble to the glacier. We agreed on my plan, and within 20 minutes we had scampered up to the glacier, which was much smaller thanks to climate change. I passed out on a rock, basking in the sun all lizard-like. My dad took pictures, and after about an hour we decided we should head back.
Waking from my nap, I realized we had no idea how to get back to the trail. We glanced up, but couldn’t get to the ridge thanks to a cliff. If we went up the mountain, above the glacier, we would almost have to climb the thing to come down, and that just wasn’t going to happen. Instead, we hugged close to the cliffs, sliding down shale deposits and bleeding all over. Finally, hours later, we emerged into the forest. This is where the debate began. I was sure I knew which way the car was. It was Southwest, I recalled, feeling smart. My father disagreed and said it was southeast. From our view, we could see neither river nor mountain, making getting our bearings even harder. We finally reached an agreement and started walking. It was at that point when the heart problems started.
My father was in good shape, or so I thought, but he had been battling chest pains nearly the entire day, brought on by stress and genes (thanks ancestors). He would walk for 5 minutes, and have to rest for 10. Walk for 5, rest 10. After an hour of this, we were running out of daylight and we both realized our fears were going to come true. We would have to stay the night on the mountain, with nobody having any clue whatsoever of where we were. For me, I feared he may die, and then what would I do. I used comedy later, and said I would have used sticks, built a stretcher, and lifted him feet up and carried him down the mountain. I said this to him, so he would know that every rock, branch and hole we hit he would smack his head. As I said, this was said later, in humor. In the present, I was scared, and we started looking for a place to make a shelter. We found a log, and using the blankets and jackets, along with fir tree branches; we made a nice warm hut and prepared to sleep. I had plenty of extra food and water, and we even split a candy bar before sleeping. Every few hours, one of us would wake up and check on the other. I checked on my dad to see if he was alive, and he checked on me to see if I was getting too cold. We looked out for each other, and soon the suns rays peaked through the canopy. We got up, ate some more of the emergency trail mix I always have with me, and did a health check. My dad was feeling better so we started on our way.
A few hours later, we found the trail and reached the car around noon. We got into cell phone range; called everyone we could and told them we were ok. We then went to the E.R.; my dad was given an ok bill of health and we drove back to Olympia. He latter needed a stint put in, something I dread about getting older. The experience showed me that while I thought I had what I needed in my backpack, I didn’t have anything to start a fire, or even detailed maps. Now, thanks to great GPS devices and fire starters and lighters, I am prepared.
This is just a little story to let you know about me, my background, and some tips that hopefully come in handy for you. I hope you never need an emergency bag when you are hiking, but if you do, make sure it is stocked full. Some day you may only have a box of Teddy Grams in your camera bag, but as I joked to a friend while hiking on Mt. Rainier, Teddy Grams will feed you through the anything, even the apocalypse.
In summary, stay prepared, be ready for anything, tell people where you are going, stick to your plan, and above all, enjoy yourself because you never know what the hike may throw at you.
Exotic Hikes LLC Guide and Photographer