Ultralight Lessons #1

20 Apr

Two weeks ago after a year and a half of gear research, gear discussions, and eventual gear purchasing, Emily and I finally set out on our first overnight “ultralight” backpacking trip. Though it had been long anticipated, both of us knew that there were going to be many lessons to be learned, the majority of which would be the hard way. Our trip did not disappoint.

We started off what felt like way too early on Tuesday morning. We were up at 7:30am to make our final preparations and to toss our gear and pups in the back of Emily’s Jeep. We had a 30-mile overnight planned out in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix. Google maps said it was about a 3 hour drive and we hoped to hit the trail by noon to knock out 15 miles the first day.
Well, five and a half hours after leaving our apartment we arrived at the trail-head having endured a 50 mile drive on the “treacherous road of death”. The road had a 20 mph speed limit, and that was too fast at times for the majority of it was dirt with cliffs on either side. Slightly worse for the wear we tossed on our packs (mine weighed in at 16lbs with water the night before and Emily’s at 12lbs without water) and set off on the trail. Georgy was carrying his own food and water in his pack, while Chille sported his new booties in hopes of protecting his slightly raw  pads.

Though the packs did feel lighter than anything Emily and I had worn before, we quickly realized that the rocky, overgrown trail we were on allowed for only one speed: Slow. Five miles (and 2.5 hours) later we realized that we were a bit lost and the sun was setting fast. We turned around and set up camp at the nearest site we had seen a half mile back. We were low on water, but we decided we could make it through the night as long as we were sparing. {Lesson 1: Never say “no” to water, especially in the desert. Fill up at streams!} We made a quick couscous dinner with Lipton vegetable soup mix (Emily’s awesome idea) and were in bed before the sun even went down.

Twelve hours of tossing and turning later { Lesson 2: Bring benedryl for sleep}

My view of Emily for the next 5 months!

My view of Emily for the next 5 months!

we were woken up by a beautiful day and some very hungry puppies. Chille had a rough night with being cold for he lacks the fur that Georgy has and also unknowingly was in some pain. So after feeding our four-legged friends, and praising the youngest for his rabbit*, we unknowingly headed off for our first long climb of the day. {Lesson 3: Know the general elevation plan for the day. This eliminates the surprise of hiking straight up hill while still trying to chew your dry granola bar breakfast. Choosing between eating and breathing shouldn’t be the way we start our days, nor should we have to worry about the nausea that is sure to follow.} It was a long steady climb up to a beautiful view. Followed by another long steady climb up to another beautiful view.
Oh, did I mention we ran out of water about 5 minutes into the day? Because we did. (See Lesson 1!) After 2 hours of increasingly anxious and silent hiking we finally came to what will now be known as “The Stream of Life”. It may not look like much, but we had our first opportunity to use our MSR water filter and we pumped some delicious water from there. Both of us were impressed with how quickly our filter pumped, even with the desperation of our dehydration clouding the picture!
With dromedaries refilled we continued on our way. Unfortunately by this point it had become extremely obvious that Chille’s pads weren’t just a little raw, they were decimated. The poor boy couldn’t walk more than a few hundred feet without trying to lay down in some shade and get off his paws. {Lesson 4: Protect the paws! We had no idea how quickly and brutally our pup’s paws could get torn up. A daily/nightly inspection plus possible options such as booties or synthetic liner socks may be necessary.} I won’t go into detail about the last 7 miles except to say that Chille and Bear were troopers. They pushed through the pain of their paws as they clambered over rocks and rough dirt while Emily and I promised endless dog bones and personal puppy massages (more to make us feel better than them.)
While driving home drinking more than one beverage at a time and eating all sorts of junk** we came up with several more lessons we had learned. In list style:

  • Lesson 5: Bring more food! We were very hungry by the time we got off the trail and I had already lost 2 lbs in just 24 hours.
  • Lesson 6: Climb more in training. The ups were definitely challenging, mainly due to the fact that we haven’t been working on climbing as much in our workouts.
  • Lesson 7: More pack time. This was the first time carrying full packs during our training. Even at 15-20lbs they feel darn heavy, especially when going up hill. We know the only way to get used to them and to strengthen those muscles is simply more time with weight.
  • Lesson 8: We can do this. We really can. It is going to be difficult and some days are going to be huge struggles, but it is also going to be amazing. We want this and we are going to make it happen.

* Georgy had made a ferocious kill while we were sleeping. He had caught a small rabbit. He was very proud of this offering and we wanted to let him know we were proud too! In fact, he was so proud that the rabbit kept miraculously appearing closer to us as we packed. I turned around and there was rabbit. I was tying my shoes and there was rabbit. I walked over to take care of morning necessities and there was rabbit. You get the picture. He was very proud. It was so cute!
** Junk food consisted of water, Gatorade, soda, white cheddar popcorn, cheesypoofs, chex mix, and of course the largest beef sticks Jen could find for the dogs!
This post was written by Panda and edited by Koala. Thank you for reading.


4 Responses to “Ultralight Lessons #1”

  1. Wilderness Escapades April 21, 2012 at 4:21 pm #

    How are Chille’s pads?

    • Koala April 21, 2012 at 6:23 pm #

      Thank you for asking! They are on the mend. Both dogs will be happy to get out of the desert and back onto that softer east coast ground.

  2. Dirigo April 21, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

    You understand your dogs should be on leashes on the AT, and you can’t bring them through the Smokies or Baxter State Park. If the dogs kill anything on the trail, you might be scorned by other hikers and dogs are a very sore subject to begin with on the AT. Killing a rabbit and not eating it is a waste and a violation of Leave NO Trace, which is highly honored by the ATC and hikers of the AT. Not trying to be a downer, but you need to understand how your actions might be taken.

    • emily April 22, 2012 at 5:57 pm #

      While I appreciate you reading our post and taking the time to comment, we understand about dogs on the AT. As a teacher for many years of Leave no Trace, I understand the principles very well. Our dogs will be tethered at night and we will be considerate of other hikers. All we ask is that they be considerate of us and the way wish to experience the trail. Our dogs are being shuttled and kenneled in the Smokies and will not join us until after the Whites. If you another constructive comment I will be happy share it.

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