Fear and Planning

posted Feb 2, 2014, 3:34 PM by Paul Wagner
We have a lot of emails from people who are thinking about taking their first backpacking trip this summer.  It's always interesting to read what they are most concerned about---which is often something that we rarely give much thought to.  And the things that we worry about often aren't on their radar.
For one thing, we never leave on a trip without checking the weather.  If it looks like it is going to be ugly, we stay home, or at least give ourselves a couple of options to hike out early.  Yet we hear from people every week who are planning a trip in March, April, May...Yikes!  Those months are sure to include a few snowstorms down below 6,000 feet, and sometimes much lower.  We don't tackle long trips before the middle of June just for this reason.  And even in July and August the weather can be nasty in the SIerra, at least in the afternoons.  That's why we always make sure we have a place to stop before the afternoon thunderstorm kick in--and one that is well below tree line, off the high passes.  That's part of good planning. 
So it taking enough food and warm enough clothing.  There is no better way to be unhappy in the backcountry than being hungry and cold.
And while we're at it, make sure your daily hikes have enough water sources to keep you well hydrated.  We don't really mind getting into camp with an extra liter of water--but we absolutely hate running out of water on the trail.  So we plan ahead, and make sure that we have enough to get to our next stream or lake.
Speaking of streams, we never force ourselves to cross a rushing stream or icy snowfield if we are not comfortable doing it.  There's alway s another way...even if it means just turning around, or taking another route.  We didn't cross the stream below, for obvious reasons, but we did have a great trip!  
I think you can see why.©http://backpackthesierra.com
All part of planning ahead so that the trip is fun.
So what do they worry about?  Bears...of course.  And also how many miles they are going to hike each day.  Many people think that since they can manage a ten mile dayhike without much trouble (and at sea level sometimes!) that they should be able to manage the same miles backpacking.  We don't think so.  Hiking up and down the Sierra with backpack on is a lot more work--we are always surprised at how easy dayhikes seem after a summer of backpacking--and hiking at 10,000 feet is a lot different that at sea level, or even 3,000 feet. 
From the shore of Dorothy Lake, where we pumped water. ©http://backpackthesierra.com
We don't worry much about bears.  We've never had a problem, because we always use a bear can, and don't camp where a lot of other people camp.  And we know that hiking in the Sierra is something that shouldn't be rushed.  We figure on 6-8 miles per day, although we've done 15.  Part of the plan is keeping that open each day, and taking the hike as it comes, depending on how we feel.
And when we find a nice lake, sometimes we stop and rest, or camp, even though it wasn't part of the plan. 
But you can only do that if you plan ahead, and know that you've got options.  Options, and planning are the cure for anxiety on the trail.