It was raining and blustery and just above freezing as I shoved another translucent, blue gummy bear into my mouth. I was sitting at the top of Dead Woman’s Pass, 13,828 feet above sea level, waiting for the rest of my group to catch up and desperately in need of carbs. For a windswept, bedraggled hiker, I was in surprisingly good spirits. I watched the rain drip gingerly off my hooded poncho like a curious ant hiding beneath a blade of grass to stay dry as I gazed out at the misty cloud forest below, daydreaming about coca leaves and crimson orchids hidden in the deep crevices of towering trees. I had just completed the most difficult section of the Inca Trail in a downpour with a full pack on, and I was incandescently happy.
In July of 2016, I completed my first 3-day backpacking trip with a man I was terribly in love with. We ambled up rocky paths in the high country of Yosemite National Park and watched the sun rise with a shock of electric pink over granite domes that dotted the landscape like the hardened knees of some huge, mummified giant. On our last night out, we set up camp early near Polly Dome, allowing for ample time to dodge mosquitoes, smooch, and jump naked into an alpine lake. “1… 2… 3!” I yelled as I launched my sweaty, dirtbag body off a neighboring rock and into the water. Not two breaststrokes later, I yelped loudly, clutching my left leg. Careful not to sink too deep into the murky water, I examined my knee, noticing a flash of bright red that trailed through the lake like a miniature oil spill. “Are you ok, dude?” Asked my companion from his mindful perch along the shore. “I’m fine! I’m just bleeding!” I shouted back, laughing emphatically so that he wouldn’t make me get out of the water. I was happy and hurt and full of as much aliveness as a body can possibly muster. Instead of stitches, I found smiles.
When your short hikes are breezy 10-milers, and you rack up 30+ miles each and every weekend, you tend to get picky about what you put on your feet. After years of hiking and backpacking, I’ve fallen into the category of the foot-care superstitious, as though the ingredients for keeping my toes dry were some mysterious witches brew that could not be altered for any reason. Though I often have my doubts about new trends that enter the hiking and trail running world, I’d been curious to try compression socks for quite some time. When CloudLine Apparel sent me a pair of their finest in backcountry-blue, I knew I had to give them a go!
Let’s face it; we all love to nerd out on gear. I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent researching the latest pack suspension technology or which hydrophobic down jacket is the least absorbent, but I know that it’s embarrassing, and I know it’s a number high enough to rival many part time jobs. This week, I figured I would put my career in procrastination to good use and share the best tips, tricks, and hacks I’ve found over the years to stay comfy and safe in the wilderness. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to my pack.
The first time I soloed a long trail, it almost broke me. Being naked and shivering inside my sleeping bag with nothing to shield me except a tiny backpacker’s tent quickly twisted my thoughts into a thousand worst case scenarios, my mother’s voice echoing loudly about hypothermia, snakes, and career-minded decision making. It was 42 degrees outside, and I could hear the percussion of rain lapping against my tent as I trembled in my down sack. Below my precarious perch on Saddle Peak’s mud-covered switchbacks, the constant whoosh of traffic pulled at me like a trail of breadcrumbs. Civilization was just a mile away, if only I would give up.
A manual in 7 easy steps
In one of my grandest schemes to date, I decided to push several self-limits at once and hike the entirety of Malibu’s recently completed Backbone Trail System in only 3 days. For those of you who aren’t LA local, that’s 70 miles of peaks and valleys, traversing along the Santa Monica Mountains, just spitting distance from Los Angeles! It promised to be relatively waterless, 40 degrees at night, difficult to navigate, and illegal to camp on (technically). Oh, and the gods decided to grace me with a massive rainstorm in the middle of day two that left me sliding down the side of a mountain in the pitched black, hiking through multi-million dollar Malibu estates, and finally befriending a valet at a 4 star restaurant who let me charge my phone and call a ride home. Even with a TON of planning and back ups in case of things going wrong, the trek decided to take a left turn in a hilarious assortment of unexpected ways, leaving me to bail on night two and return to complete the last 24 miles of trail the following weekend. So, I felt it only fitting to write a how-to manual in reverse for what not to do on The Backbone Trail!