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Backpacking 101

(5/15/07) Written by Andy S.

Photo Credits: Glen O.

Glen: Two and a half years ago I set out on my first solo backpack trip with a backpack that weighed about 65 pounds. It was kind of a scary experience going at it alone with nobody to show me the ropes. All I had was my little backpacking field guide book to shed some light. Today, my base pack weight is down to 14 pounds

Andy: About the same time, I was on my first backpacking trip in over a decade in Anza-Borrego. Between the water weight and the extra weight from bad equipment choices, it took two people to haul my pack up a dry waterfall (while everyone else's went up one-handed). Now, all my gear fits in what is essentially a large day-pack.

It's true what they say: you never really learn something until you have to teach it to someone else. Two weeks ago, we (along with Mike) had the chance to pass what we've learned in Perfect Pace's first Backpacking 101 course. Lee & Larry from San Diego, Dave from Oceanside, Jayson from Rancho Cucamonga, & John A., John B., & Ray from LA. all had the opportunity to benefit from our boundless knowledge.

Well, maybe not boundless. But the weekend was rich with backpacking topics including clothing selection, filtering water, tent choice, sleeping gear, navigation, cooking in the outdoors, wilderness first aid, outdoor ethics, and more. And bonding. It was a great group.

The trip started out at Bandido Group Campground, which we had all to ourselves. Once we got in. There was a bit of a snafu: the campground was locked. Thankfully, Larry, ever intrepid, thought to ask over at the neighboring Christian camp ("prepared to meet your camping needs in the spirit of Christian fellowship"), and they had the entry code.

After tent set-up, and "lessons" on clothing and packs, we enjoyed a fabulous dinner of marinated grilled chicken, fresh corn on the cob, grilled asparagus, couscous, and salad, with baklava for dessert. Hope we didn't set their hopes to high for the backpacking dinner the next night.

The next day we began our point to point backpack journey through Cooper Canyon. Before we began, Andy had planned to weigh everyone's backpack and force them to remove items as necessary. But there was no need: everyone's pack was well done (no 65 pound packs there!)

Along the way we took a detour to see the falls, and stopped a couple times for more "lessons." Everybody was in great shape. The group moved quickly on the trail, and we hit Cooper Canyon Camp (a developed wilderness camp) ahead of schedule. We broke for lunch, and begin the home stretch hike up an old fire road to the campsites (away from the developed camp).

The hillside we chose for our overnight camp was beautiful -- forested and quiet, with awesome views. Although campsites were few and far between (Did we mention it was a hillside?) We did this intentionally so that folks were forced to really search for & think about potential campsites, but it was perhaps a bit more challenging to find a level spot than we expected.

Once we'd established camp, we descended to the creek to pump water. There, John B. wowed us with his new Steri-pen, which sterilizes water with UV light, no filter required. Quite handy, and no sore arm from pumping.

We had quite the festive happy hour. We were even lucky enough to enjoy a short comedy show by Ray, although maybe he should hold on to his day job, just in case. (just kidding). We enjoyed a very social evening -- probably about 5 hours spent talking and laughing. Camping can be great that way.

The next morning we were up and ready to go only half an hour behind schedule (on time, if we went by gay time....) We headed back down to the trail, and then up to the top of the ridge. There we enjoyed amazing views of the San Gabriels -- a perfect spot to stop and go over navigation and reading a topo, led by Glen.

Then as we descended from the ridge, the trail crossed a certain fire road, about 200 feet past our campsites. Rather than take the short, easy way to the camp, we had selected a route that went in a loop, to further heighten the sense of getting away from things. Fortunately, no one wanted to hurt us for making them hike that extra mile.

We roared to the finish, almost two hours ahead of schedule. So we broke for a tailgate and "graduation." Glen passed out the new, hot off the press Perfect Pace t-shirts, and we posed for group shots with our former students.

But the party did not stop there. We headed down to Newcomb's Ranch for chow and beer. Did the fun stop there? Nope. We then headed down to the Faultline in LA for the Sunday beer bust, which was quite the entertaining scene. Glen & Andy had to leave around 7 to get back to San Diego, but the rest of the group was still going strongmuch to the annoyance of the line of folks waiting to get in.