My son and I headed into our local hills for a typical overnight on Friday; roasted sausages, lounging around and talking, reading- the typical plan. We got a late start, not getting to the trailhead until it was nearly dark and the winds were picking up. I was a bit concerned when I heard the radio report on the drive in: Santa Ana winds picking up through S. CA, gusts of up to 80MPH predicted in canyons and passes. Everything looked calm enough upon our arrival; my son said he was still up for it, windstorms or not, so we began hiking.
(In the back of my mind wondering if heading into the mountains in a windstorm with my 10 year old was foolish thing to be doing- visions of falling rock and trees, disaster…)
An hour or two later, we’re cutting down a rocky hillside towards our intended camp, through yucca and talus, I’m leading the way by headlamp as my son follows a few yards behind. My hurried descent is immediately halted by a loud cry from behind- whirling around, I found him on the floor, clutching his ankle.
(Why did I have a bad feeling about this trip from the beginning? He looks like he’s really in pain.)
As I approach him, assessing the situation, visions of alternate outcomes immediately appear; I’m carrying him out of the canyon in the dark, packs lashed together. Or I stash the gear to carry him out faster. Fortunately, my rational side has always been dominant in these situations, and though I cannot say I wasn’t worried, I calmly dropped my pack to tend to him. He twisted his ankle pretty badly. I carried him to a level spot, propping him up with his foot elevated. Tears, pain, consumed by the moment, the inability of youth to be able to rationalize suffering and push through without completely losing composure.
It didn’t look that bad; no immediate swelling or color. Tears subsided, he calmed down, I started to set up camp after giving him a snack. He’d be fine, perhaps sore in the morning.
We ate, relaxed, he retired to the shelter early to lay down and read (still in some pain). I stayed up outside for another hour or two, drank a little wine, watched Orion slip across the sky and out of site behind a canyon wall.
The winds were picking up at around the time I was hanging our food and getting ready for bed.
(Glancing upward at the trees as I climbed into the shelter, wondering if any could fall on us if the winds were bad enough: visions of a crushed tent, getting pinned, my son leaving for help? I took care to situate us far as far from the trees a possible.)
I began to doze as the the canyon began to really roar. You could hear each gust on its journey down, shaking trees and echoing off the walls as it approached. My son was asleep, oblivious, as I braced for each new barrage…eventually drifting to sleep myself.
I awake to what sounds like branches cracking, a pop, and the sound of metal on rock. I jump up in my bag to find the shelter torn from above us, the sound of two stakes bouncing off of rocks as they fly away, wind howling. My son is immediately up as well, I snap him to it by telling him to hold the center pole of our ‘mid- he does so in a bewildered shock. Unable to find one of the stakes, I make a wooden deadman and get the corners secured again. After some effort and re-tensioning, the shelter seems to be holding, despite gusts of at least 40-50MPH. The stakes that pulled were both 8″ Y stakes, each pounded in fully and topped off with a watermelon-sized river rock. I doubled the rocks this time.
My son promptly forgets the incident and falls back asleep. I’m fully aware that I’m the one that has to worry, that it’s going to be a long night. Upon getting back into the tent, I realize I’ve lost one Montbell pillow (my son’s), a cuben stuffsack for a sleeping bag, the stuffsack for my shelter, one of my son’s magazines, and a beanie. Robbed in the night. I step back outside to look and realize it’s completely futile; they’re a mile down the canyon by now.
The wind rages on, actually beginning to escalate. Debris is getting whipped into our shelter, the walls are flapping violently with each gust. Within an hour or two, another stake pops, rendering the entire shelter useless again. I climb out to fix it, but this time find that the grossgrain stake loop is 80% torn from the body of the tent. Had the stake not pulled, it appears that it was on the verge of tearing. I re-anchor it, this time again using a 2″ thick stick as a deadman, but my confidence in the fabric is low. I lay down for another hour or two of fitful sleep, all stakes still holding, but both of us wake by 3AM and decide we’d rather hike out in the dark than sit in the tent for another couple hours until it’s light. So we pack up from within the shelter, exit, and quickly take it down.
Hand in hand, headlamps on, my son limps out beside me in the dark, steadying himself against the gusts as we walk. The poor guy loses his balance in a gust during a river crossing and goes in waist deep. Between his ankle, the wind, and now the cold, he’s getting pushed pretty hard. We find ourselves back at the car by 5 AM.
Sitting beside me in the warmth of the car’s heater, driving back down the mountain, he says that despite the wind, his soaked pants, and his hurt ankle, it was still a fun trip.
“Dad, are there any more flamin’ hot Cheetos in your bag?”
All the bad is promptly forgotten, good memories remain, and mom is only told about how crazy the weather was and how he hurt his ankle and fell in the river but is over it…
I’ve had to cancel this trip a few years in a row now. First time due to getting permits for too early and the Sierra getting too much snow. Second time I cancelled due to a sprained wrist/elbow from skateboarding followed by a sinus infection. Hopefully, the third time works out better. I’ve yet to finalize dates or get permits, but here are initial plans.
JMT Fastpack, southbound, full trail (Happy Isles to Whitney Summit), ~211 miles. The plan is to try and come in under 7 days, with one resupply (likely at Muir Trail Ranch). So that means I need to average a little over 30 miles/day. Coming off what I hope will be one of my best ultrarunning seasons, I should be going into the Sierra well-conditioned. I’m running the Grand Canyon R2R2R in mid-April, followed by plans to run the Bishiop High Sierra 50 Mile in late May. That leaves most of June and July to train for the JMT, which I’ll likely do in late July.
Here’s my preliminary gearlist. I’ll borrow the GG Spinntwinn shelter from a buddy. The only things not included are axe and crampons- carrying them depends on when I go and what snow levels are, though I doubt they’ll be needed. Too bad I have to carry a bear canister, otherwise I’d be in the 7lb. base weight range.
Gearlist comments appreciated, though I don’t have too much flexibility as I’m trying not to buy any new gear this year.
Glaring granite and thin, dry air-
I want the white hot sun to burn me clean, burn me out.
No sound but wind and chop on an alpine lake;
-or wind in creosote branches, licking lips, rubbing crusted salt from around the eyes;
And then the forgetting.
Burn me out, let me forget
and frighten me
into going home.
Staring at a computer screen sometime in the evening, browsing gear, specifications, and shipping costs, I rub my sore neck and it occurs to me that I could’ve been working in the garden and now it’s too dark. Bouncing back and forth between manufacturer sites and Google searches, I have completely wasted a couple hours and it begins to dawn on me that I have been running a fool’s errand, that I am shopping for “fun”, shopping for a trip that hasn’t even been planned, and obsessing over details that are utterly meaningless.
Read any internet forum and it becomes painfully apparent that we are likely in the height of the Age of Vicarious Living Through Gear, made possible on this scale by the internet and the plethora of shiny new offerings and site after site of reviews and teaser photos of a new toy in action. Not that the gear obsession is entirely new; prior to the computer, I remember pouring through Climbing Magazine ads and Patagonia catalogues, reading specs, and absorbing the potential of new offerings…for a few hours, but then it ended. It was hard to obsess over things, at least for very long, because there simply wasn’t enough information available. Soon the magazine was dog eared and beaten, relegated to a pile somewhere, the gear forgotten about until next month’s issue. Or I’d take a trip to the local outdoor shop, browse the racks and shelves, talk with the owner, and saunter out. Nobody would want to be the person that stays in the shop comparing gear for 5 hours and nobody would do it multiple times a week.
Enter the computer, the great gear enabler, making it ever so easy to burn 5 hours a week shopping and searching from the anonymity and isolation of your home. It is now entirely possible, common even, to launch into heroic campaigns of ruthless shoe comparison, sitting at 2AM and juxtaposing the weights of every minimalist trail runner currently made while your family soundly sleeps. It’s tragic really, because now in one click of a mouse button your favorite wind shell that’s served you faithfully on the last twelve trips suddenly becomes mysteriously inadequate in the face of some fresh new fabric you just have to have. Oh, how we all like to say it’s not about the gear…
No more! I have everything I need, I will resist.
I propose a challenge, a personal experiment, perhaps an antidote to the gear-centric, consumer-driven outdoor world we can all become mired in:
No New Gear in 2012.
No backpacking gear, cycling gear, fishing gear, climbing gear, etc. No new gear.
What if something begins to fail? Fix it. With the exception of a few items (running shoes, socks, running shorts/underwear, climbing rope, and a few bicycle wear and tear items, namely tires/brakes), I cannot foresee being able to wear anything out that cannot be fixed, borrowed, or simply replaced by another piece of gear I already own.
So here’s to the challenge, to a year of learning new things, to studying the names of plants and animals and rocks instead of the technical specifications of tents. To a year of adventure, of buying food and gas and plane tickets instead of stuff, a year of doing it rather than thinking about it. Here’s to starting 2013 with a tattered kit full of tears, duct tape patches, burns, grease stains, and amazing memories.