Saturday, November 1, 2008

Ultra-Light Weight Backpacking = Hiking Without Stuff

It is important not to carry too little. Not having gear can create more safety issues than benefit. The true success to ultralight backpacking is to hike with people who have STUFF!

I have noticed that since super lightweight backpacking has become popular I find more people on the trail wanting to borrow stuff from me. Many of them look like they are cold in the morning and hungry in the afternoon. If you use some common sense and lighten your load to a reasonable extent you will find you can comfortably do just as many miles in a day with thirty pounds on your back as people carrying half that weight.

Light weight hiking is not only restricted to backpacking. If you day hike you can also drop pounds just by thinking about what you really need to have along and what you may be able to replace with lighter gear.
One rule of thumb that does not always work is, "If I haven’t used it in a hundred miles I don’t need it." I tried that last summer while hiking the Great Divide Trail in Canada. I started out with great weather and no bugs. After a week on the trail I came in for a resupply and went through my gear so see what I might leave behind on the next section. I came across my bug repellent and thought, "I haven’t used this. There haven’t been any bugs."

I left my bug repellent and the little beasties devoured me for a week. It was like they had put out a newsletter and every bug in the Rocky Mountains knew I was fair game. No bug juice. Saved myself about 3 ounces. Actually I saved a lot more weight than that because the insects took at least a pint of blood and blood is heavy.

So my point is—don’t get carried away. Take what you need and trim what you can. Save weight on items that do more than one job. Example: a rain poncho that also works as a ground cloth. If you hike with others you can share the load with community items like the cooking gear, shelter and water purification equipment. The more you think about it the lighter you become and the lighter you become the more you are going to have to start looking down the trail for people with STUFF! —Keep Smilin’, Dick E. Bird

Hiking James Bay

I wanted to go backpacking where I wouldn’t see another soul. I decided on James Bay in Ontario, thinking it would be a remote area and a good spot to find some interesting birds.
I drove into Ontario, Canada and took the road as far north as it would go. I then boarded a train called the Polar Bear Express for another 186 miles straight north. I ended up in a town called Moosonee. It reminded me of a lot of Alaskan towns: a few miles of road and everyone had a vehicle that would take him nowhere.

I had not come looking for a frontier Chamber of Commerce, so I hiked across town to the Moose River and hired a Cree Indian to taxi me across to the Tidewater Provincial Park, an island in the middle of the Moose River.

I set up camp and had lunch then went off to explore the island. It didn’t take long to discover that there were more people camping on this island than the state park back home in Traverse City, Mich., during the Cherry Festival.

I broke camp and decided to go back to the mainland and see if I could find a trail less traveled. I stopped in at the Ministry of Natural Resources in Moosonee and found a brochure on the Coastal Trail. It was just beginning to be developed and promised possible encounters with spruce grouse, boreal chickadee, black-backed woodpeckers and gray jays. It also said pine marten are common.

This sounded more like the adventure I was looking for. It recommended rubber boots as a minimum (hip waders recommended)—they should have mentioned a submarine. When the tide is in (twice a day) finding a dry camp would be almost impossible.

Up the trail several miles I noticed it was low tide and still the ground was too wet to pitch a tent. I would need an air mattress to set my tent on and then float around all night.

I returned to Moosonee and hopped the first train going south. I plan to go back and explore this area one day but I will take a rubber raft to sleep in during the twilight nights and knee high rubber boots to hike the marsh like landscape of James Bay.