Your Editor, resting at breakfast after a 3500 foot hike out of Tahipite Valley

The Wilderness Traveler

Another year gone...Well I am glad you are reading this. People are so busy these days browsing, bustling, hustling and rushing, that few take the time to stop and read mere words, including me. So thanks for stoping by and the taking time to see what may be on my mind this time.

What kind of wilderness traveller are you? There seems to be several flavors of backcountry travelers, all with different requirements:

The Litepacker, The Weekend Warrior, The Medium Haul Trail Walker, The Cross-Country Traveler, The Mountaineer, The Long Haul Trail Walker, and The Horsepacker. Up front let me say there are various shades and combinations of the following, but this is the rough cut that most people fall into.

The Litepacker: Speed and distance is the utmost importance, so the gear is minimal and of good quality and escape is only a day away. Training is almost a prerequisite. Trail runners fall into this catagory, and they may do up to 200+ miles, although they seem to be a rare breed.

The Weekend Warrior: Their gear could be anything, and of any quality and weight, but seeing how they are never far from the trailhead, their risk is minimal although newbies make up the bulk of rescue candidates.

The Medium Haul Trail Walker: Spending from 4 days to 3 weeks in the wilderness, these are usually experienced backpackers with reasonable gear for the most part who stay mainly on the trails, and cross-country is mainly a dayhiking activity. Food could be anything from dehyd to homemade concoctions featuring pasta, coos coos, meal, and other assorted bulk foods with an eye on keeping the weight to the minimum. Overall pack weight is usually a major concern. They may train before a planned long hike. They are usually prepared to wait out bad weather in good shelter with ample food.

The Cross-Country Traveler: Spending about the same amount of time in the wilderness, these hikers are not too much different from the Medium Haul backpacker except they are usually very experienced, prefere cross-country and solitude to trails, are very weight conscience, usually will train before a major hike, and usually have excellent gear. Food could be varied though dehyd is a common staple, but it will be a result of serious weight considerations. They are usually prepared to wait out bad weather in good shelter with ample food. Their gear is purchased with heavy wear in mind, particularly boots.

The Mountaineer: Much like the Cross-Country Traveler, they are well prepared mentally and materially for the wilderness backcountry with many of the same considerations. Weight is a concern so they tend use bivys and tarps in the summer Sierra to make up for the heavy gear needed for mountaineering. They also tend to hike to a simi-permanent camp from which to base their operations to the nearby peaks. Food could be anything from minimal to extravagant, although they have a reputation for bringing lavish food and even alcohol. Their gear is purchased with heavy wear in mind. They are usually very experienced in mountaineering, are somewhat weight conscience, and though training is reccomended, conditioning varies widely among mountaineers. They are prepared to depart the mountains quickly, if need be.

The Long Haul Trail Walker (AT, PCT, maybe JMT): Their gear could be the beginning. After a time, anything not absolutely necessary is abandoned till needed later in their trip, if at all. They are usually prepared to wait out bad weather in fair shelter with ample food. After over two weeks on the trail, food is the overwhelming concern because by then any spare body fat is usually burned off and the body begins to shout for fuel in the form of powerful cravings, usually fat and protein centered. As 20+ mile days become the rule, the food issues must be met, and the hiker will begin to carry an extraordinary amount of food, well beyond the food loads of the above backcountry travelers. Also, food boredom becomes a real issue, and the hiker becomes more than willing to bring along heavier than normal cooking gear to cook a greater variety of food. Life becomes reduced to the essentials of good shoes, good pack, adequate shelter, and sufficient food.

The Horsepacker: These guys will carry nearly anything and often do, only limited to the weight carried by the horses/mules.

As I said, there are possibly many shades in between these categories, and some mixing, but I think these are the main flavors of backcountry travelers. But someone suggested another catagory: The Clueless Backpacker. All of which brings me to the point of this editorial. Our actions in the backcountry, not our intentions, defines us as people and wilderness travelers. Clearly, entering the backcountry without maps (in one case two people were lost because they brought a GPS and cell phone but no maps, then called up and blamed the Rangers for being lost!), or bringing the wrong or bad gear, or they had the right gear but didn't use it (five people died of hypothermia in the rain in the Sierra even though they had warm clothes and rain gear), or using destructive practices even though warned not to (I could go on and on...) all qualify as Clueless Backpacking. Certainly, people like the above may engender more feelings of pity than anything else, but what really exasperates me and gets me leaping for the soap-box is people who should know better who deliberatly do questionable things (people you thought were on "OUR" side), or people who should know better who simpely are out for themselves and do not care who or what gets in their way (you know the type: they hide behind specious slogans such as "People First" or "Wise Use"). It is these kind of people who will be inspiring my next few editorials. It doesn't take much to stir these people up: already my most innofensive remarks has inspired some knee-jerk right-wing delete-bait moron-mail, so I have nothing to lose and everything to gain by encouraging discussion and spreading the word in my own small way.

The forces of evil are afoot, and we all cannot stand idely by.

That about wraps things up. If you have comments, sent them to me here at Sierra Trails.

"The mountains are calling me, and I must go..." John Muir.

Created and updated December 31, 1997. By Doyle W. Donehoo, Editor, Sierra Trails.

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