THE PLACE TO GO WHEN YOU CAN'T GO BACKPACKING

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Alyssa Erickson

Alyssa Erickson has 7 articles published.

The Golden Hike

in Fireside by

It is  Tuesday evening. Just after work. My husband stumbles upstairs and doesn’t look nearly as excited as he should be considering it is date night and we have a fun hike planned for the evening.

“Um… the babysitter cancelled.”

In the world of parenting, during an especially hard week, the news of a babysitter canceling can be quite the tragedy. And for us it was.  It seemed our golden sunset wasn’t going to be so golden tonight.

golden hike

I brushed a few meaningless tears aside and heading into the kitchen to start dinner. A dinner I hadn’t planned on making. Then Chris said, “Hold on. You don’t have to go so far as to start dinner. KIDS! Get your hiking shoes on; you are coming along and we leave in five minutes!”

That was how our golden hike began. Tired. Emotional. Frenzied. And towing along three no-so-excited kids who were much more interested in having a movie night with a babysitter than being dragged on some adventure with their parents.

We started up Mill B North trail in Big Cottonwood Canyon, legs complaining about the ascent. And the sun began to dip low in the sky, casting everything in that golden light all photographers treasure as though it were real gold.

It painted the sky a cobalt blue and maple-hillsides yellow and orange. And it painted our family new. Our rushing turned to peace. Our battling turned to unity. I felt my shoulders relax and my soul breath deep. That is when I paused to see my kids disappearing up the ridge, following their fearless leader of a dad. I snapped this photo before they disappeared completely.

We all make choices. Do we settle under the debris of life or adapt and overcome? Do we sit at home or go in hope of that golden light upon a mountainside?

I almost settled. I almost missed that sunset. But I am very glad I didn’t.

“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.” ~ Michael Althsuler

Flash Floods at Crestone Peak

in Fireside by

You never think it is going to be you. Not really.

We started early. Long before the sun wove its rays through the sky. Seven of us, adventure ready, headlamps on, layers donned, heading up towards Broken Hand Pass hoping to summit Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle in the Sangre de Cristo Range of Colorado. We’d been having a series of intense mountain storms every afternoon, so an early start was mandatory.

We really weren’t on the trail for most the time up the pass. Scrambling and traversing was perhaps just a precursor to the rest of our day, but spirits were high; bodies felt good. We made it to the lake by 7 a.m. and launched ourselves up the “red gully” a pretty straightforward and fun ascent of Crestone Peak.

It was an awesome scramble, probably one of my favorites and before we knew it we were topping out on Crestone Peak, wind rushing over the lichen spotted rocks near the summit. The vertigo was intense. It was only 8 a.m.

After a descent of roughly 400 feet we all stopped to collect ourselves. Three members of the group were going to continue down and back over to Broken Hand Pass. My friend and I decided to join another couple in climbing the class 3/4 traverse to summit Crestone Needle.

our group at the summit of crestone needle
Our group at the summit of Crestone Needle

The traverse was tricky but fun. There were moments of anxiety as we realized we were off route and intimidated by the sharp rock spines that separated us from the Needle. We found our way to the Black Gendarme, the final pitches before the summit. Had fun pulling the crux 5.2 move, crossing a short knife edge and climbing some exposed class 4 with solid foot and hand holds. It took us twice as long as we predicted to summit the Needle due to a number of reasons, but our spirits were gloriously high when we reached the summit. The sky was still clear and all we had was a class 3 descent to Broken Hand Pass. We should be home in an hour or two…

Crestone -5.2 crux move

At this point we paused (though probably not long enough) because we heard the descent was really tricky to find. We pulled out all our beta and talked to a few other climbing groups, a few of which were headed down different gullies. We gained a ridge line, following cairns and then stopped to figure out which gully we should proceed down. “West,” it said. So, after double checking a compass, we headed down the west gully from the ridgeline.

At first, the descent was an easy class 3 and all the time we had a pair of climbers descending below us. One member spotted a cairn but in hindsight it was a mistaken pile of rocks. Slowly the difficulty increased. Looking back, it was like we were in a slowly heating kettle, but not noticing the temperature rising around us.

Class 3 soon became class 4, with definite class 5 moves.  It was becoming obvious that we were not only off route, but dangerously off route. The other group was always below, just within sight. Soon they were crossing East at a notch into another gully. At this point we had one final pitch of class 5 down climbing in order to reach the notch and cross over into the other gully. Everyone had their game face on. Slipping meant serious injury at best. Everyone was sincerely hoping that next gully over was the right one.

scrambling the red gully on crestone peak

But it wasn’t. By now storms were building and we’d already descended almost 1500’. I am not sure about the others, but in my head I was uneasy going back up. We were caught in a catch 22. We needed to go up and try to find the route, but needed to get down quickly due to incoming storms. So we continue down, down class 4 that turned to more class 5. Swallowing our fears and focussing on each step, every handhold, every movement. And we’d all heard the stories and trip reports: Don’t descend the wrong gully. People get cliffed-out. People get caught in storms. People die.

We were writing our story in the land of “epics.” And not at all sure how it was going to end.

But everyone in the group kept their composure. We made every move forward at this point as a group. We kept focus and didn’t voice the fears. As my legs turned to dead weight I clung to something my husband is always saying to me about running.

When you think you can’t possibly keep going, you can. You can go far further than you think.

We picked our way down the mountain. I ran out of water. Small clouds hovered and we all pulled out our rain gear as small sprinkles fell from the sky. Finally, we reached a level shelf. It was so close to the bottom that I felt I could just dive into the lake down in the valley. We each took a side of the shelf to look for our next step down. But there wasn’t one. We came back one by one, “nothing over there,” “it just drops off…” But the worst was my friend, “Well, I found a sling…the other group had climbing gear and rapped off the side.” Not good. Not good at all.

The sheer cliffs on each side left us with a disparaging feeling. At this point, we all had a glimpse of hopelessness on our faces. In my head I kept thinking, “We are those people. Those people who got lost on a fourteener.”

off route on the descent

At this point I found the best looking “weakness” in the cliff band and decided to down climb for a better look at what was below. But it led to another worse looking crack system. Maybe it was my refusal to believe we really were stuck. Maybe it was my last ditch attempt at hope or due to the fact I was dehydrated and out of water, but I still wanted to try going down. One guy said no. And all it took was a glance at another friend’s face to know I was being unreasonable. We climbed back up a ways and took a break.

We took stock. A huge storm was sweeping over the peaks adjacent to us. We had to keep moving but I was out of water. One guy pulled out a Lifestraw that I used to drink out of the small pools of running water we frequently came across. Soon we found a runoff collection from a snow field large enough to re-fill reservoirs. We tossed in some iodine tablets for good measure, pulled out some layers, and came to terms with the very real possibility that we might have to bivy for the night. At this point we decided to call my husband, (since we happened to have cell coverage) and share our general location and warn him we were prepared to spend the night. Feeling completely powerless and fully recognizing my mortality, I did the only thing I knew to do, pray.

We had two gullies to choose from. The one we had descended and a band of grass and rock that arched up to the west. I am still not sure why we went for the latter. Logic would say backtrack the way we came. But we chose the band of grass and rock heading west, desperately hoping it ended somewhere good. By now my legs were screaming, my breath coming quick and short. I needed to keep moving, I needed to be fast, but I couldn’t.

When I was half way up the ridge, David yelled from the top, “I see the ‘red gully’ and a clear descent to it!” But the storm was charging over us. Our time had run out. While the descent to the gully was class 2, it had begun to hail and was slippery. I began simply sliding down the grassy, flower patches (flower glissading?) to move more quickly. Quick was necessary. We knew the storm patterns from the last couple days. Hail that turns to torrential downpour. And that is exactly what it did. Just as the last one of us got off the mountain and into the valley the hail faded into sheets of rain and the gullies we’d been scrambling, climbing and descending in all day erupted into full on raging waterfalls. I’ll never forget the sight of the peaks, like fountains roaring down from above.

It was a flash flood at 14,000 feet. And we’d missed it by minutes.

While we were decently sure the worst was behind us, the adventure was far from over. We headed back up Broken Hand Pass, barely moving, with lightning crashing around us. There was no place to shelter, so we kept moving. My legs didn’t even hurt much anymore. They just wouldn’t work… partially from the wet, cold and certainly from exhaustion. But at the summit the clouds moved off and sun warmed our soaked limbs. We were pretty certain of one thing, we’d be sleeping in our tents that night.

I am not sure how long it took us to descend the pass back down to South Colony Lakes. Our group back at camp had been watching earnestly for us, and we heard cheers and whoops as we came into view. They’d made us a hot dinner: chicken broth, potatoes, stuffing, gravy. Perhaps this will be the most memorable “thanksgiving” dinner I’ll ever have. Tears were plentiful as all the frightful emotions we’d controlled all day flowed free.

I am still processing all that happened, all that could have happened or maybe should have. In the end, we don’t know how far we hiked that day, but we’d spent 16.5 hours on the trail and according to my altimeter ascended AND descended over 12,000 vertical feet.

Crestone summit of the needle

There are a few things I know, other than God’s favor, that saved us up there that day:

1. Team work – There were four of us in our “lost and cliffed-out” group, one being a guy. Maybe it was the natural group dynamics, but the guy was put in the lead a lot. He didn’t stress about this, but also made sure to address each one of us, asking our opinion on route finding, terrain, etc. before making the next move. There was an unspoken rule that we all needed to be okay with the route we chose.

2. We didn’t freak – Sure, we all wanted to. At each separate moment where we lost route or became cliffed-out again I could feel the panic creeping up my throat. The temptation to sit down or start crying was very real and powerful, but we held onto our composure. We didn’t think about the what ifs: “What if we fall? What if we never find a way down? What if that storm gets here before we get off the mountain?” All those thoughts wouldn’t have served us at all, but only slowed us down.

3. Survival gear – Looking back I’d like to upgrade much of my survival gear in my day pack, as I was borrowing from others. Items that made a significant difference:

  • Lifestraw – When I ran out of water, I used this to suck water out of small puddles.
  • Iodine Tablets – Once we found pools large enough, we refilled our hydration systems. And while the Iodine probably wasn’t necessary (the water was melting directly from snowpack) it still gave peace of mind.
  • Space Blanket – I certainly had one, which made the possibility of spending a cold night on the side of a fourteener slightly less freaky. Now I’d probably upgrade to a space blanket bivy sac.
  • Poncho – A $1 plastic poncho saved my pack and dry layers from the rain as I draped it over the top of everything.
  • Rain Jacket and Shell Pants: While I had a jacket, I certainly wished I had shell pants, as my legs were wet and very cold after the storm hit.
  • Food – I did not bring enough food, but thankfully much of the group did. From now on I am going to add Energy Shots, Peanut Butter Packets, and small forms of high calorie energy to my pack.
class 4 scramble to summit crestone needle
Class 4 scramble to summit crestone needle

Gearing Up for Backpacking with Young Kids

in Gear/Skills by
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As we walked through preparing for our first family backpacking trip I noticed something: there are a ton of articles on backpacking with kids in their teens. Even a few with middle schoolers. But I found only a couple posts on backpacking with young kids… seeing as our kids are ages six, five, and three, I just couldn’t relate. Even simple things, like finding a backpack or sleeping bag were not straightforward. Many packs were just too big. And it didn’t matter how warm the sleeping bag was because at the toddler ages I am just trying to figure out how to keep them IN the bag!

And thus began a journey! Here are some things that have worked for us:

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1. Working out the sleeping quarters

You want a tent that is warm and lightweight, right? But enter into the world of family tents and you are not likely to find either. We tossed around the idea of taking multiple two-man tents but our kids are young enough that I wasn’t comfortable letting them sleep in their own tent. However, we were able to test out the Kelty Salida 4 tent and were super impressed.

The Kelty Salida 4 is a three season tent that weighs just over 6 pounds and is quite roomy. We can fit all five of our family members in it without much crowding. We also brought the ENO hammock along and my husband spent a night in it – because why not?!

Here are a few other tents that are worth checking out: GoLite Shangri-La 5 or the Big Agnes Lightweight 4 person tents.

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2. Sleeping pads that keep the kid’s centered on the pad

Keeping the kids warm through the cold nights is perhaps one of the biggest worries with young kids. We’ve found this issue to be a result of the childhood wiggles. 1. They wiggle out of their sleeping bags and 2. They wiggle off their pads. Thus leaving them uncovered and freezing.

We found our solution in air chamber sleeping pads. Kelty and Big Agnes (as well as others) make air chamber camping pads that have larger chambers on the outside edges of the pad, causing a “cradling” effect. This is not only super comfortable but successfully kept the kid’s from slipping, tossing or sliding off their pads.

The Big Agnes sleeping systems for kids, like the Little Red and Haybro, worked well for us too. The pad slips in a sleeve on the bottom side of the sleeping bag.

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3. Getting the right pack for the adults and kids

While my husband and I always tried for “lightweight” gear, I would never say we really focused much on it… until we had five people’s gear to carry! A pack that could extend to carry a huge load, but still weighed 3 pounds less than most backpacks was important to us.

There are a ton of good packs on the market but I want to highlight two. For adults the Deuter ACT Zero 50+10 is awesome. It is lightweight with a super expandable main compartment/hood. So my husband has packed it down small for day trips / climbing approaches but also maxed it out for our family trips.

The second pack is for kids. We found there is a large gap in backpacking products for kids ages 7-12. There are a ton of day-packs (which are perfect for the young kids, because they don’t carry much anyways.) However, the next step up is a teen internal frame backpack. But what about in between?!

This is where we discovered the Deuter Climber pack, available this August. Adjusted down, it fits my six-year old perfectly and will keep working for many years. It has all the elements I wanted: hydration port, Air Comfort suspension system, rugged fabric, decent size, but not too big.

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4. Finding inexpensive synthetic clothing for kids

When you have three kids, buying them all expensive synthetic clothing is out of the question. Sure, I’d love for them to all be walking the trail with merino on their backs and zip-off pants. However, the cost mixed with the fact that they will grow out of it in less than a year, makes it impractical.

Still, quick-dry clothing is equally important. If one member of the group is going to run head long into the nearest body of water, it will be one of the kids. Here is where we found the bulk of our synthetic clothing:

  • Sports jerseys/shorts – either from our favorite football team or last years pee-wee soccer season. Most jerseys are synthetic.
  • Rash guards – Meant for swimming, but why not hiking? They dry quick and protect from the sun!
  • Race shirts – As we’ve been frequenting the running race scene, the kids have been running more “Kid races.” Some (not all) give out tech tees with a $10 entry… seems like a pretty good deal on a synthetic shirt to me!

Have you taken your kids camping or backpacking? And if so, what worked for you?

What’s In Your Day Bag – Alyssa Erickson?

in Gear by
Alyssa Erickson

You’re not always hiking and backpacking, as much as you wish you were. What’s in the bag – your day bag – the one that gets you from home to work to the trail, or from kids to soccer to weekend getaway, that makes it easy to move from here to there. This begins a series from some SBM contributors that answers that question. So what’s in your day bag?

Tell us about your survival kit. 

 Alyssa Erickson
My survival kit is actually in the form of a backpack that is compact, durable, and allows me to be “hands-free”. I’m already in need of more hands since I have with three kids, I don’t need to be hassling with ‘stuff.’
The two backpacks I use depends on what “hat” I am wearing for the day. The Teton Sports Summit 1500 is my go-to bag for skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, summiting mountains, or simple trips to the zoo with my kids. It is incredibly versatile; built like a full frame backpack, but the size of a day pack. When I have my photographer “hat” on, in addition to being a mom, the best I’ve found is the LowePro Sport 200 AW. It is so comfortable, and has a modest compartment at the bottom for my camera and two lenses. The top is enough room for all your layers, snacks, etc. This bag has served me well from park bench to fourteener.

 

What are your 10 essentials? 
  1. 3L Hydration Bladder (Platypus, doesn’t ever leak), not just for outdoor pursuits either. When you have an always-thirsty-band-of-kids swarming around you it is genius to just shove a hose at them. And lets face it, they need water even after an hour at the park!
  2. Camera in some shape or size (I am a mom, come on!).
  3. Extra diaper goes right in the front pocket. Now that we moved onto potty training it is a PullUp.
  4. An extra set of pants and underwear for which ever kid is going to need them. Socks too, if hiking near water.
  5. Snacks. Granola bars and gummies= instant sugar for any trail melt-downs.
  6. One warm layer per person. Some days it is a fleece, some days a rain jacket.
  7. Sunscreen
  8. Sun hats / Winter Hats
  9. If I bringing my DSLR – my most versatile lens; Tamron SP 17-50mm
  10. Extra camera battery/memory card

 

What are the most frequently used items in your kit? 
Definitely the Hydration bladder/water, snacks and camera. The first two for obviously reasons. And the camera is pretty obvious if you knew the quantity of photos I take. What I wished I was more faithful at using? The sunscreen!
If you could add one more thing, what would it be?
A travel pack of wipes. I ALWAYS need them. ALWAYS forget them. And ALWAYS have to borrow them. Oh and small plastic bag for the dirty wipes, snack trash and dirty clothes, should I need it.
Alyssa Erickson 2

Training to Hike a Fourteener

in Skills by
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We were only a mile into our first day of backpacking and huffing and puffing our way up the trail. To be fair, we had gone a mile but had also gained over 1,000 feet of elevation at the same time. Anyone would be huffing and puffing, especially carrying a 40-pound pack. But naturally, in between gulping down oxygen, our conversation steered towards fitness training and preparation for backpacking.

I asked one girl how she got ready for this trip. “Pretty much I did a ton of squats, with a lot of weight.” Other women nodded their agreement. “How about you, Alyssa.” “Well,” I said, “I took an entirely different approach, I pushed cardio pretty hard and did hardly any strength building, except our usual routine of rock climbing.” Once again I was reminded, there is no wrong way to get in shape, except maybe doing nothing at all.

Assessing your weaknesses

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Whenever looking forward to a fitness goal, you have to take in the whole picture. Football players aren’t just strong, they also have to run fast. Same with backpacking and summiting mountains. You need not only strength to carry heavy packs but endurance to walk long miles. The first thing you should do is assess your weaknesses and target them.

When it comes to body type and build, my mother and I are polar opposites, so I will use us for reference. My mom is slender and small framed. I, not so much. My mom’s main form of exercise is walking. Walking fast and walking long. In fact, I have to jog just to keep up with her long, quick strides. Me? I put on muscle fast. My main exercise, previous to this trip, was rock climbing and yoga. My mom is not used to having much more than 10 lbs on her back. I hike nearly every weekend with either a 28 lb toddler on my back, or a 25 lb bag of climbing gear. Naturally our fitness needs are different.

So while my mom started weight training. I hit the cardio classes.

Below are many of the training techniques I have used to prepare for a backpacking trip and climbing fourteeners. I am not an expert. Every body is different and each person should consult a doctor before starting a new training plan if they have concerns.

Cardio Training for Backpacking

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Many things come to mind when I think of summitting a fourteener but one of the first is this: sucking air. The air is thinner, meaning there is less oxygen at higher altitudes. While the best way to become a better hiker at high altitudes is to hike more at high altitude, many of us cannot easily fit that into our daily lives. But there are various cardio options that can be done outdoors or at the gym to prepare.

When looking to hike at high elevations, it is important to improve your body’s VO2 max. A person’s VO2 max measures the maximum capacity of an individual’s body to transport and use oxygen during exercise and is a factor in measuring overall physical fitness. In easy terms, the higher your VO2 max, the more oxygen is getting to your muscles, which means you can hike longer and faster. You can have this measured at many local fitness centers, and that is actually what I did. I have no clue what mine was one year ago, but I remember the trainer saying this, “It would be great to work on this number. And the only way you can improve your VO2 max is to push yourself. Really push yourself.” And seeing as I am not all that good at pushing myself, I added a regiment of cardio classes that did the pushing for me. Here is a list of cardio options that benefited me:

  1. Endurance and sprint interval training. Interval training is a method where you elevate your heart rate significantly and then allow it to recover for a period of time, before repeating. This can be done running, on a bike, walking, swimming, etc. On a scale of 1 – 10 (1 being resting, 10 being maximum exertion) you should reach 8-9 during the elevated intervals and recover around 5-6. Spinning/cycling classes are great for this.
  2. Circuits that combined resistance training and cardio. This can be another form of interval training. What I like is that it both strengthens and gets your heart rate up. A dynamic play between the two worlds of endurance and power, of which summitting mountains is very similar.
  3. Running. You don’t have to run fast, but I would suggest a slow building of mileage. Other than the conditioning benefits, I believe running has helped me learn to breath deeply and rhythmically, and to become more aware of my body, joints, and muscles – listening to when I need to rest and when I should “push on.” In addition, I’ve had to experiment with fueling on longer runs, figuring out what foods work best with my body, how much I should be drinking, and how often I should be consuming calories to keep me going for the long haul. All these things are highly beneficial in summitting fourteeners, something I have neglected to pay any attention to until this year.
  4. Snowshoeing! For many of us, it is winter and our trails are under a couple feet of snow. Snowshoeing has all the same benefits of hiking (though I consider it harder). You get the physical benefit of using your hiking muscles, but can also benefit from the exposure to higher elevations. Plus it is inspiring being on the trail again!

Strength Training for Backpacking

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No one will deny the importance of strength training in summitting mountains. Weighted squats, lunges, and high stepping are great to build your legs. But what I want to focus on are the big benefits drawn from strengthening our little-known muscles.

There are two body parts mentioned frequently when backpacking, okay maybe three. Your back, knees, and ankles. Everyone is afraid of hurting them but no one is really talking about how to prevent injury through strengthening. People strap on back braces and high hiking boots, all to add support to those weaker areas, but I’ve noticed a huge benefit from a surprising source: yoga.

All my life I have been plagued with weak ankles and wrists. After my last pregnancy I started doing yoga once or twice a week. There was nothing purposeful about it. I was a hurried and stressed mom and I needed a peaceful outlet. So yoga became my one or two hours of quiet a week. After six months, I noticed a significant increase in shoulder, wrist, core and foot strength. In our weekly climbing sessions, I found I was more balanced, composed and graceful on the rock. Slowly over time I forgot about my ankles or my wrists. I kept doing yoga and last summer after four days of backpacking with low-rise hiking shoes and a 40 lb pack, I found my ankles were strong. I never twisted one once. Something I attribute largely to yoga.

When should I start training?

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You can never start too soon. You can start too late. I would suggest starting training for a moderate backpacking/fourteener event no less than two months before the trip. Obviously, this will vary greatly depending on the length and difficulty of the trip, and your overall fitness.

The Mental Game of Getting to the Summit

in Skills by

What is the most difficult thing you’ve ever done?

I asked myself this question, in the early twilight, coffee steam forming haloes between the sun and myself. It took me awhile to answer. It isn’t as though I’d forgotten. But what I remembered most was not the bullet-point-mission I was on of getting to the summit, but my internal mental monologue while climbing Long’s Peak (14,295′) or traversing the Sawtooth between Mount Bierstat (14,065′) and Mount Evans (14,265′).  I remember a whispered chant oscillating between, “I will laugh at the days to come” and “I think I can.”

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Beyond Positive Thinking

What do you say to yourself when things get hard?

We’ve all heard about the power of positive thinking. If you say things like, “I can’t do it” or “I’m not going to make it,” well, then you’ll do what you say. But getting to the finish is a little more than just being positive. It is being purposeful. Purposeful with every foot step. Every water break. And every thought.

This year I’ve embarked on a running journey. I have always hated running. I mean loathed it. I am not sure there is a strong enough word for my negative emotions toward it. I’d run, my chest would hurt, my breathing more like gasping, my legs burning and sluggish. So I’ve avoided running. Until this year… when I was half-tricked-half-challenged into signing up for my first half-marathon. The game is on. And my husband shared a few thoughts as I started my training late last fall, thoughts that I have applied to hiking, climbing, and skiing with measured success.

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1. Go slow to go far

Ever been on hike with a group of people and everyone shoots off down the trail like they are being chased by a mountain lion? Or run a race only to find yourself exhausted after mile two because you took off like stampeding cattle? I have. And each and every time I bonked hardcore, far before the finish. Far before I even expected to. I learned my mental game has to be on, right from the start. Go slow to go far. Or start slow to go long.

I’ve learned this the hard way in the world of rock climbing too. Early last summer I’d find my arms pumping out, my grip slipping, and in a panic I’d throw myself quicker and quicker up the rock…eventually failing and falling. It’s taken time to train myself to slow down. Find a good resting stance, shake out my arms one by one, breathe deeply, then make my move. But as I slow down, my success increases.

This has made all the difference in my running. I slowed down, I mean way down. And running was a little more enjoyable. I no longer felt like dying with every step. I found I could run longer distances. But I’ve noticed something else. I’ve gotten faster! In slowing down, and not really worrying about my pace, I have lost almost 1.5 minutes/mile in my pace in the last month and a half. Without even trying!

For me, this involves setting my ego aside. Don’t get caught up in comparing yourself to the others around you.  Be willing to set your pace and stick to it. For me it means running my own race, not the person’s next to me. And mostly, being ok with not always being first. For many outdoor endeavors and for most outdoor athletes, the goal is in finishing, not in being ‘first’. And that is a worthy goal.

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2. Focus on the Small Picture

Did you think I was going to say, “Focus on the big picture?” No, I meant it. The small picture. There is a time to dream big. Usually this time is when you are setting your far reaching goals. But in actually accomplishing them? Looking at where you want to end is not always the best plan…

In my last article I chronicled an all-women’s backpacking trip that I took my mom on. Focusing on “baby goals” was invaluable to getting us to the top of Mount Belford (14,067′) and Mount Oxford (14,153′). Nearing the end of our second summit of Belford my mom had hit a wall (and I wasn’t too far off.) Some super-steep-switchbacks, covered in crumbling rock, stood between us and the summit (and inevitably the descent to our tents). I remember setting baby goal. If I’d asked her, “can you make it back to camp?” She’d probably have thrown something at me or burst into tears. Somewhere in the deep recesses of our minds, we couldn’t handle that question. But could you make it 25 feet to that funny little rock shaped like a triangle. Well….sure. So we did. And how about forty feet further to where the trail turns left…Okay. Before we knew it, we were at the top and on the way back down. Choosing to focus on the the small picture helped us accomplish the big picture.

Dean Kazarnes, renowned ultra-runner uses a similar approach when the end goal seems endlessly impossible. An article on Wired.com shared the story:

Fifty-six miles into his first Western States Endurance Run – one of the oldest 100-mile races in the country – Karnazes found himself alone entering a canyon at twilight. It was tough going – the trek boasts a total elevation change of 38,000 feet. With 44 miles to go, his spirit was flagging, but he found a way to make it seem conquerable: He remembered the next checkpoint would leave only a marathon and two 10Ks left to go. He knew he could run each leg, and that helped him achieve the whole.

Early last summer I found myself staring up at Bastille Crack (5.7, 5 pitches) in Eldorado Canyon, CO. River water rushing behind and below me, stirring my stomach into a mess of knots and spasms. Recently I’d been having a “freak out” problem when it came to climbing. Not just climbing, but climbing high. And here I was, about to start a 350 foot climb, with nothing but some rope and my shaky limbs keeping me on the rock. This is the first of many adventures where my mental game was tested. When I looked to the top, I could not imagine how any one got there. And yet if all went well, that would be me, a little speck high on the wall.

Instead of surrendering to a full on fit-of-nerves, I focused one pitch at a time, one rest at a time. It sounded like this in my head: “Can I climb this first pitch? Yes. Six moves up then a good rest before the crux (a.k.a the hardest moves on the pitch). Make sure to slow down and take that rest. Worry about the other pitches one at a time.” And it worked. Days later I came back to Eldorado Canyon for a little day hike with my kids and stopped to watch other climbers start on this infamous route. My vision swam a little, and then I heard myself telling my mom, “I don’t know how anyone does that.” I had to chuckle to myself… of course I’d just done that two days prior.

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3. Tears aren’t all bad…

When in doubt, when it seems like all hope is gone, shed a few tears. This is mostly for the women out there (and maybe a few men). But often I find myself getting bogged down with doubt and if I shed a little emotion, my thoughts will clear up. My body once frozen in fear or exhaustion might just find that “little extra” it needs to keep going. A few tears isn’t an admission of defeat, just an admission that the road is hard.

One thing I’ve learned this last year: your mental game can make or break your outdoor adventures. I find it funny that we spend so much time focusing on gear, training, packing lists, and meal planning, while neglecting the fact that our mental game is such a huge factor in our success.

And there is no better way to prepare mentally than challenging yourself beyond what you think you can do. We become mentally stronger by taking that first step, and moving to a place we are not comfortable. But after you’ve committed remember to move slowly, with purpose. With your eyes directly ahead. You’ll become stronger. You’ll achieve more. You’ll get to the top.

 

 

Women Only Backpacking Trips

in Community/Skills by

“Will you come? You should come!”Those were the words of my good friend concerning a rapidly approaching all-women’s backpacking trip that she was planning. I was nervous. I was uncertain. And so…I was silent.

But I like to consider myself an adventurer. If I have to be honest, I ride most my adventures on the back of my husband. Or when I was single, on the backs of the guys who were with us. That is why we love the men. Well, that isn’t the only reason…

But I tossed and turned over the trip, wandering back-and-forth in my mind as to whether or not to jump in with both feet. What about safety? Am I fit enough to handle both the elevation and the weight? What about all the other women I DON’T know? But underneath it all, I doubted if I still had what it takes to head into the wilderness, haul all my crap and summit a few fourteeners in the process–with the knowledge that my husband would not be there to carry my pack should I NOT “have what it takes.” And God forbid, should my husband not be there to light the stove and get the hot water boiling in the frigid mornings.

A month later, I exited DIA (Denver International Airport), with a huge pack that was shouting “I am headed on an adventure!” on my back. And…my mom was coming with me!

During the next four days we backpacked into Missouri Basin in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness; a steep but short hike with a 19% grade. We summitted Belford [14,197′], Oxford [14,153′], and for a few women, Missouri Mountain [14,067’].

But mostly we made new friends, kept old ones, we laughed and conquered fears, we stuck together, drank wine, and watched the sunrise reflect off the faces of some of Colorado’s majestic beauties. We lived.

Safety: Arm Yourself with Knowledge AND Experience

When it comes to all-women trips, safety is usually the first and largest concern among critics. And as one of my fellow backpackers said, “We should be concerned! We are hiking a 14’er in the middle of nowhere!”

Every trip needs knowledgeable leaders and participants. This can mean a lot of things: those well-versed in route finding, well-educated in your particular trail, and well-researched in what to expect in terms of elevation gain, difficulty, and mileage.

But equally significant are the women with experience in the outdoors. Again this can mean many things… but those who know what to pack, how to handle wildlife, first aid, meal planning, and who will take initiative in setting up camp and daily tasks are invaluable.

And lastly, danger doesn’t always come from where you’d expect – terrain, weather, injury, wildlife. It can come from other people. On a previous trip, the women ventured out into the backcountry, and found out they weren’t alone. A loud, drunk, all-MEN’s group was nearby, with their alcohol, horses, and guns. Talk about uncomfortable. Our group leader commented on the incident: “I think we got a little taste of our vulnerability during the cowboy/gun incident. In reaction to that, some of our braver ladies started packing in their own heat. As far as mountaineering safety, we follow all of the recommended practices for avoiding encounters with dangerous animals, avoiding injury and avoiding situations where we could get separated or lost.”

Which leads to my next point…

Arm Yourself with Numbers

But what if something does go wrong…and all your knowledge didn’t stop it? Well, you cannot avoid every danger. But there is safety in numbers.

On our trip we had twelve women, and one fourteener doggie, and we worked hard to stick together. We came together. We hiked together. We summitted together. One of the women said, “I love the fact that the ‘younger generation’ doesn’t leave the ‘older generation’ in the dust.” If an injury occurs or a scary moment, everyone is there to offer help and encouragement.

In addition, embrace a multi-generational group! This doesn’t happen very often…that women from a variety of generations can come together and do a physically challenging task together. But we did. The life experience, various backgrounds, and differing personalities were invaluable. Not only in terms of safety, but growth and enjoyment! One of the “empty-nester” participants shared, “Along the way we got to know each other and bridged generational gaps.  It is rare to have an activity with such a broad range of ages, and we covered several decades.  It was great to get to know the youngest and admire their mountaineering skill. Hopefully those of us who were at the upper end of the age spectrum created an awareness that age is not a barrier to adventure.”

And that is certainly true. As a middle of the pack participant, I was deeply encouraged by the humility of the younger, fiercely athletic women, that stuck with the group joyfully! But I was also challenged by the older women out there adventuring, conquering new mountains and laughing along the way in their 50s and 60s.

Arm Yourself with Fitness

All being said, you cannot ignore another huge safety influence – fitness. Mark Wellman said “Climbing is not a spectator sport,” backpacking is no different. And while the intense support of all the women certainly helps you up the mountain…it is your legs and iron-will that get you to the summit.

One member said, “I had to be sure I was self-reliant and not take the easy way out… like I might have in a multi-gender group.” Ensuring that your women know how to hike carrying heavy packs, have experience at high altitudes and with steep terrain, certainly helps your safety odds.

Grab your Girlfriends and Go!

Ironically, as a woman, I have been a huge critic of women-only trips. Honestly, I doubted they could be any fun! Sometimes we women become more competitive when we are all together. We can compare, be driven by ambition, and all sorts of ego. I didn’t experience an ounce of this on the trip! I wrote shortly after the trip, “I have never experienced a group like this. Such diversity in age, ability and life experience. Such fun personalities. What I didn’t experience? Comparison. Competitiveness. Agendas. If anyone was proving anything, it was only to themselves.”

The youngest hiker said, “I believe that backpacking with all women creates less pressure for me to perform and exert myself beyond what I should to keep up with the group.  Our trip was very relaxing and not really time-based, so I was able to just enjoy getting to know other women.  Other huge pluses: I didn’t have to worry about what I looked like, and between all of us women we had packed enough to survive anything.”

For a more complete trip report please visit The Kid Project – Femina

 

 

 

 

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