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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Best Things in Life

If you want to start your New Years by being grateful for the comforts of your life, ring in the New Year by going on a 3 night, 4 day backpacking trip.

This is the second time I've done this backpacking trip in January, with varying numbers of nights. It's beautiful, wonderful, hard, and satisfying.

I was more uncomfortable than I had to be, having packed as light as possible, because of the elevation changes in this particular hike. I knew that the result of my decisions to leave home some of my gear, if things didn't go perfectly would result in a rather uncomfortable trip, but wouldn't risk my health or life, and it was totally worth it not to have to lug any more than 30 pounds up the hills of the Ohlone trail (hiked from the Livermore to the Sunol end).

I think the best way to illustrate some lessons learned is by highlighting those things I appreciated the most upon my return to civilization last night.

1. A hot hot hot LONG shower. Unless the trip is in a warm spring or summer it is highly improbable that I will EVER utilize my backpacking shower. I view being wet on a winter trip as being one step closer to death. HOWEVER, having some wipes to do a bit of clean up at the end of the day probably would have been appreciated by my clothes, my sleeping bag, my hiking partners, and my dog..........

2. The ability to change into clean clothes. I had an errrrrr.....rather unfortunate accident on night 2 of the trip. One that left me soaking wet from the waist down, at night, with no spare changes of pant-like-things. The extra dry socks and underwear were appreciated. The micro weight towel was useful in extracting as much moisture as possible from my pants and smart wool bottoms. However, what I REALLY wished I had packed was my weight-nothing-take-up-no-room silk long underwear. They would have made a PERFECT pair of emergency bottoms while my other things dried out. As it was, I decided that damp smart wool pants were warmer than no bottoms at all, and decided that Tess would sleep IN the sleeping bag that night --> no easy feat considering I was wearing smart wool top + shirt + polortec sweat shirt + down jacket in a mummy bag.

3. The SOFT, WARM bed never felt so good last night. It was like a little piece of heaven. I can't even describe the simple JOY of snuggling on a good mattress under a down comforter, on the best pillow I could afford. Seriously, robbers could have broken in last night and as long as they left me and my bed alone they could have EVERY thing else in the house and I wouldn't have cared.

As part of my "pack lighter" attempt on this trip, I DELIBERATELY left my thermarest at home and relied on my crazy creek chair and a myler type tarp to keep me comfortable. I knew I would be a little colder and not sleep as well on the hard ground, but figured it was worth it for the weight and bringing the chair.

The result was I didn't sleep for 3 nights, was never really warm (and burned through a TON of calories keeping warm!) and "woke up" (we will use that term loosely as I'm not sure I ever really slept) from the dark 12 hour nights sore, cold, with a headache from neck cramps.

What I hadn't counted on was my 4 year old Marmot 15 degree sleeping bag being quite so worn out. It was never comfortable at those 30 degree temperatures (the temp rating is more like a "you won't die at 15 degrees), but at least I would eventually warm up. Considering that even through it's black interior fabric it's basically transparent, it might be time to retire this bag to summer trips only. I've used it hard and often during those 4 years, only washing it once, when it was obvious that the dirt was doing as much damage to the temperature rating that washing it would. The zipper doesn't go up and down well any more, the flap that keeps out the wind from rushing through the zipper has dissapeared, and I think I'm ready for a new bag.

The best way to determine the "right" price you are willing to spend on a piece of equipment that is going to be expensive, like a new bag is to lay there on a trip, uncomfortable and cold, and decide how much money you would give to your fairy godmother if she showed up to magically be warm and comfortable.

I decided that I would gladly spend between $200-250.

With a better bag, I think sleeping on the crazy creek chair would be fine. The crazy creek chair was SO WONDERFUL that if I'm concerned about weight I would gladly leave the thermarest at home, buy a new bag, and bring the chair. I used it at lunch, at dinner, in the tent to read. It insulated me from sitting on the cold ground and brought me a degree of comfort on this trip that it has become my new must-bring-piece-of-equipment that is more of a necessity and less of a luxury.


There is one thing that is better on the backpacking trail than in the comforts of home - food. Food never tasted so good as on a cold, windy evening. And my mouth waters even now as I think of the "blow out" feast we had our last night as we stuffed ourselves silly on everything we had left. There were no fewer than 4 courses and that doesn't include dessert.


If you are planning on a cold weather adventure of your own, here's a couple of things that did work REALLY well on this trip, that were "new" (ie, I didn't think of them or have them on my last winter backpacking trip 2 years ago). I have a feeling that many of you in other parts of the country that are NOT central CA are probably going to laugh at the commensense-ness of this list, but humor this sunny CA girl :)

1. A scarf or other neck covering makes a HUGE difference in staying warm.

2. Spring for the beanie hat with EAR flaps. You will be the envy of your camping partners.

3. Plan on eating almost double the amount of calories that you will in the summer (because I was eating dehydrated meals on this trip, I was actually able to quantify the number of calories on this trip as compared to my warm weather trips.

4. There is a perfect pair of gloves that will allow you the dexterity to do all sorts of things without removing them. Don't rest until you find them.

5. Don't be afraid to be a little uncomfortable for a couple of days. It won't kill you and it's good for your soul.

6. Good = down vest. Better = down jacket


Today is the end of my vacation! I have 3 important tasks to do before school starts on Monday and it's time to buckle down and get something accomplished. A book review for Aarene's Endurance 101 book, Scholarship application, and study guide for the reproduction block that will be shared with my friend and study partner. If I accomplish one a day starting tomorrow, I'll have one day of rest before it's time to start school again!!!!!!!!!


  1. I've never camped that light, but I've camped in the cold for 7-10 days before, and OMG YES A HOT SHOWER IS THE SH!T!!! Amen to that! Flush toilets are also a miracle after a week without them. ;)

  2. I've not winter camped here (in Wisconsin) but totally agree with a Good sleeping bag rated for mighty cold temps. "Hypothermia bag" has been retired with a -10 bag!

  3. it is amazing to me that I'm sittlng still and can still feel my toes, a hot shower is almost beyond comprehension of joy!


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