BACKPACKING AND BACKPACKER QUOTES
" Here are some categories for you: 1)Pure backpackers, here to stay for several days and carrying their gear. 2)Dayhikers coming in with no gear and no overnights. 3)Hunters and fishermen backpacking in and setting up a basecamp. Generally I can tell a 3 by the low tech camp such as the 3 I saw and their camp which had beer cans(no pure backpacker would hump the weight), a cheap clear plastic tarp for shelter and two folding lawn chairs. The tarp means they needed the room for 3 but didn't have a large family style tent for bug and rain protection. They also built a large smokey fire which as a rule backpackers don't bother with as often instead you'll see a de-leafed bare spot denoting white gas stove use as they leave the firepit alone.
BACKPACKS AND TENTS
There are two types of pure backpackers, the low tech and the high. The low carries whatever they can get like an Outdoor Products frame pack or an Army duffel bag with straps which I saw on my last trip out. They will have the cheapest stuff although they can easily evolve into the high tech category as I have done. When I started I carried what I had but having a willing heart is the most important piece of gear. When I started I had a Boy Scout Yucca pack and then later a USAF duffel bag over one shoulder but I've always had a good tent. Now I am high tech and why not? It is cheaper in the long run. I would say the days of Grandma Gatewood are over as gear is available and everywhere. Even a poor soul can get a cheap internal pack and a $28 dome tent at Walmart."
"LOCALS DON'T BACKPACK
One of them brought a child's sleeping bag that came up only to his chest and both brought cheap rectangular polyester bags rated at 40 degrees, summer bags at best. Neither had a mattress of any kind(ouch!)and their tents looked poor with one tent not having a flysheet so don't pray for rain. Like I said before, locals don't backpack.
Is it their difficulty in finding a specialized store that sells good gear or is it their reluctance in paying the high prices for such gear? They will pay dearly for such items as a big truck or a new car, a fine hunting dog or perhaps a good rifle, but backpacking gear eludes them. The locals can't just "go out backpacking," they need a better reason than that to get out. Hunting and fishing are the main reasons while paid trail work is a secondary one. If a locals finds himself loving nature he will pack up the vehicle with his Walmart gear and go car camping, but the fine art of backpacking escapes him. Is it too much work? Is it too sissyfied? Is it too hard to find gear? Is it too expensive? Is it too middle class? Are they fearful of the woods unless they are toting a gun? Maybe it is an unwillingness to read a map and the fear of getting lost. Maybe the danged government took all their land and they'll be damned if they camp on it again."
Three foot snow means 100% more effort especially uphill where every 2 steps forward goes back one. Postholing drains the spirit on any trail up or down and time cannot be made, it then becomes a steady huffing and puffing usually beneath too many layers where the hot body glistens with sweat. Setting up a tent in deep snow requires 100% more effort too, so be prepared for white removal, cold hands and more wet sweat. Tent camping in snow produces a specific lassitude related to how much snow and ice is attached to the tent fly. When overburdened one only wants to stay put and the thinking is, why move a warm secure homehole in the snow, a warm secure nylon covered pithouse?
This reasoning can become dangerous if another storm is headed your way, but it is a powerful inertial cry to not move out of deep snow, out in deep snow, or out in deep cold. No other place in the wilderness seems so inviting as the little one you've carved out for yourself, it is your wonderful palace nomatter how humble."
"THE BAG NIGHT SCREED
I often think of the AT hikers in weather like this and wonder why most of them insist on walking in such crappy conditions. Gotta make the miles is, I guess, their predominate emotion, but where exactly is it they are going? By sitting still they could understand the real power of living out and not just travelling through. Living out is the most important quality of a person's character, it shifts the diseased indoor paradigm into a holistic one of balance, simplicity, endurance and spontaneity against the outdoor natural setting.
It is therefore all about "bag nights" and who has the most, hence Johnny Molloy's obsession to it, "Backpacker Magazine's" contest with it and my apparent fanatical devotion to it. Free Man Status is then not how many days one can go without a woman (or a man), but how many days one can be with a woman (or a man) and still live outside. This is the test for both partners, anything less is humanity's propaganda to stay indoors and in debt. And we see clearly where such a philosophy leads.
There's no screed needed here from me to annotate its debasement and decay. But even the AT thruhiker runs screaming from the woods as soon as his or her ambitious quest is done, finishing a ME to GA travail never to be repeated. The ones who go back for more know something about living out, about their early ancestors, about the Red Man's walk on this sacred land and about the inner workings of their own selves.
All I can say to them is this: Set up a basecamp and stay put, set up a Tipi and live permanently, forsake the $200,000 American wetdream house on the hill and trade it for the $300 tent and the $400 goose down winter bag because with these 2 items you can laugh and turn your back on this crazy America intent on pushing the natural world further and further away. You've heard this all before but without nature, without long trails going into pristine wilderness, without the chance of death by grizzly, death by falling, death by exposure, without these things we cannot live.
Any nation, any culture that destroys it's wild places, that disfigures it's air and water, is the enemy and must be seen as that. The Indians knew this a long time ago, you guys are just learning it. When the AT is just a linear park surrounded by roads and sprawl, when a permit is required to park, to backpack, to sleep overnight, you will finally know what the Indians experienced decades ago at seeing all that they loved lost at the hands of your great great grandfathers.
How to make it right? Accumulate those bag nights and live out. The goal is not to see how much money you can make, but how little money you need to make to live out. End O' Screed."
TO STAY PUT OR PACK UP
It is the age old dilemma and especially one that I might have an issue with: To stay put or to pack up in the rain and start walking thereby keeping to my schedule. Most AT types would gear up and go as a day sitting only uses food and time when the 2,000 mile monster sits grinning on their chests. I don't quite see it as such, the goal is not Maine but to be out, a state of being rather than being in a state of completion.
So, by sitting here, it is good and ancient as I am out in the style of my ancestors whereby the tent has become the Tipi or Yurt or Hogan or Longhouse or Witu or Earth Lodge or Igloo or Pit House. My home, in other words, and why strike my home in such nasty conditions? But the goal-oriented backpackers must keep to a schedule and hike the required mileage because these are the only tools they have to relate to the woods.
But by viewing the woods in such a way a few will be reminded of the ancient way and see in Nature their truth and salvation and then end up bonafide nature boys intent on living out. Most backpackers, though, like loggers and miners, will take and use the land and the forest for their own selfish needs and when they are finished never give it a second thought. The beauty of God's face escapes them.
They become the Promiscuous Backpackers: How many trails have you screwed? Naw, it's not like that at all, I'm full of spit so don't listen to me. All backpackers are good people and deserve honor and respect because compared to car drivers and airline pilots who destroy the wild lands, the hikers leave little trace and take only memories.
Oddly enough my most persistent memory of snow camping beyond the obvious wind and snow and cold was of sweat drenched clothing, too much clothing. Winter backpacking always made me sweat whether going into Lost Valley or climbing to the #9 Tipi, whether humping up to Conehead or sloging to the Stillwinds lodge.
The walk in or out thru the snow often at night captivated me due mostly to the wild land I covered, a hundred times wilder in the snow than without the snow for every inch of snow took me further north until at one foot in a blizzard I would be in Alaska and not in North Carolina anymore. Deep snow made time too reverse itself, in 2 or 3 feet of it society stopped and I was in North America one thousand years ago because cars and planes stopped moving, the population shrunk because nobody left their homes and I had the pristine woods all to myself.
It was hard going too, especially postholing up a mountain and hard to clear a tent space and hard to pack up an icy tent with cold fingers but it was a joy to be tent bound in a howling midnight blizzard when at first light all was calm again and bitterly cold at zero or 10 below. I always felt most alive in such conditions and who wouldn't?
in slumber I dreamt a twisted thing and awoke feeling a terrible remorse. My life for the most part has been self centered but idyllic and honorable, a love affair with Nature but there were some actions I was at my worst. My Dad always called me a sponger and a user of people and their things and despite his callous orneriness and emotional and physical turmoil he just could've been right.
This kind of life backpacking and living in a Tipi and tent does not seem to me to be parasitic, it may be I am living 100 years behind the times but it really allows me to blossom in my world without feeling so much like the using pychopath that I very well might be.
All those years of tromping thru the woods in the Boone winters and thru the Pisgah waters and along the Tipi ridge really was the only thing I could do to flee myself long enough to experience some sort of simple ecstacy not tied to the poison drug of self. And it worked and even works today, this morning. The only drawback in this Thoreauian endeavor was my deepseated loneliness in the face of Indifferent Nature, and so in haste and foolish desire and even outright lust I sought out the girls to give me solace, not a permanent solace but a brief respite to let me and my ego know that I was still alive, still vital, still important and not so alone.
I've always thought that the forest, the tent and the tipi would've been the perfect life had I not carried such loneliness inside me, always directly or indirectly searching for my "soulmate" and relief.
Since meeting Little Mitten I for sure haven't felt lonely and in some ways I've even kept my connection to nature, tenuous perhaps and nothing like the 100% haul-water and chop-wood I used to have which when I had it I also had the emotional heartache of nobody to share it with. I guess I blame my predicament on the loss of our tribal culture in the last hundred years.
Back then a man and a woman lived in nature always, their identity was formed by the landscape and the Tipi, possessions did not eat away their hearts and the beauty of nature wasn't destroyed by their own actions as when they knelt before men in black robes. For sure they had their own hubris ego, pride and violence to contend with, but their desire and need to walk in beauty with nature was satisfying as was their walking in such a manner with another person, a fellow member of their own culture, by their side.
This has been consequently lost and so here I sit alone again in the pristine beauty of this river valley sorting out on paper the rift and clash of opposing cultures where even Indian people can't get it right. Either I go down the yogic road of illusion and we are just ordinary lust-greed-anger filled lost souls, or I embrace the Medicine Wheel of Indianness which says sure we are pitiful and all those things mentioned above but the Great Spirit loves us dearly no matter what because we are 2 legged animals surrounded by a rich world of fellow 4 leggeds and winged ones all in a love embrace for the beauty and wisdom of Nature.
The pipe ceremony is our way of prayer and it is all we need because with these "fallen" eyes we see the Circle right before us in a tree and let that be enough. It has to be enough or otherwise we'll never be content, we'll always be brainwashed to believe that we are worth nothing, a sinner in need of salvation and redemption while in reality the truth we seek is easy to get and keep, to taste, to smell and to hear, it's right before us to see. I see it now.
This has always been the European problem, not to take his tribal roots seriously and embrace the tribal truths of the new world Indians he encountered. Instead he brought the sinner mentality to color all his actions and thus we have 500 years later the sum total of such a fear based spurious, artificial, destructive, genocidal, possessive, control-oriented worldview and we fanatically call it democracy and freedom.
By sowing such fear we've lost our most important possession: Self-identity, who we are in the world. Are we Lakota? Cherokee? Druids? French prehistoric cave dwellers? Naw, we are nothing, we've made ourselves smudges and everything we touch we turn also into a smudge, a stain. How to change it? Sweet Medicine of the Cheyenne said all this would happen and he said to keep to the old ways, period.
The 3 backpackers I saw look to be one nighters as the packs they carried seemed shrunken and not filled out. When Johnny B and I went out for one night our packs would be bulging full and with numerous items tied to the outside along with a full tote bag of stuff in each hand. The 2 miles in seemed like 8 and after the climb up Heartbreak Hill we thought we were bonafide hotshot backpackers and we were.
At one time there was a series of hellish blowdowns before the overlook which required a combination of squirting duck walks, dips and tucks, belly busters and backflips to get past. We had a bowsaw but Johnny B remarked "Leave em. Make it harder for the others and it'll keep the tourists out."
We were at one time Pisgah Popes and the king rats of Burnthouse Branch and thru our tutelege hundreds of common dayhikers became authentic backpackers for a day or two.
\ Now we sit at home looking up symptoms in a medical dictionary but at one time we controlled the wildest and prettiest parts of the Pisgah forest. Laugh at us now you young turds but at one time we made your Daddy cry on steep hills and took his daughter. We were the warlords of the Hipbelt and I'll leave it at that. Sure we had our intercine rivalries and dissension in the ranks and we faced our separate enemies on the trail(wimmin). But here we sit on the trail now and the wimmin? Well, they remain indoors. That is the way it has been from the very beginning and the way it will stay. END
The hardest part of winter camping is: 1) keeping the fingers warm upon camp arrival and departure, 2) packing up cold bulky gear into small spaces, 3) keeping the water jugs thawed out, 4) keeping the boots thawed out, 5) spending long hours tentbound and bag bound thru the long darkness of night, and finally, 6) dealing with deep snow if it should come to that. The Nutbuster is not a trail I would want to take either up or down in snow or ice. As Jody said, "You'd need crampons on that trail!" and I believe he's right.
CAMPING IN THE SNOW
Camping in the snow can be delightful although it has a certain pucker factor seriousness as your world becomes an icebox and the wet stuff never stops, wet and frozen boots, wet socks, wet tent, no place to sit and relax, just a series of cold hassles like the blowdowns covered in snow. It all must be taken into account and extra time allotted for each day's hike. It's hard also to pack up a warm and cozy tent and leave the only place you have in the world that is dry and free of snow and then venture into a mean and forbidding world where with some effort that world must be re-erected once again.
THE DEFCON LEVELS
Defcon Level One: T-shirt and shorts
Two: Shorts, silk turtleneck and t-shirt over the turtleneck
Three: Shorts and thermal tops or t-shirt with rain jacket
Four: Thermal tops with hat and gloves and rain pants
Five: Thermal bottoms, pants, thermal tops/wool shirt and down jacket
Six: Everything and the rain jacket(level 5 includes the hats/gloves)
Seven: In the sleeping bag
Eight: In the sleeping bag with hot water bottles
Nine: Rescue by helicopter or fleeing on foot
Defcon Level Ten: Death by frostbite or hypothermia
The first 4 levels are hiking only, the last 6 are basecamp levels as it would be almost impossible to backpack in the down jacket no matter how cold it got. The wool shirt is a transition layer, it's the demarcation between cold and cool and is rarely worn while backpacking but is always worn in camp either alone over the thermal tops or underneath the down jacket.
Defcon Levels are the stages of warm layers every backpacker thinks about, they exist in the back of the mind as a security zone giving the backpacker leeway up or down in all conditions.
Summer usually does not concern itself with Defcon Levels, in fact when it is hot many items are not even taken out such as the rain pants, the down jacket, the second hat and the gloves. Hiking in the rain is allowed and though one can still get chilled and soaked the thermal top and the rain jacket usually is all that is needed to solve the problem.