August 2011 – With great success comes great failure. I figured a post like this might help some of the newcomers to the hobby or give the experienced folks a good laugh.
This is a story about my friends Jon, Dan and myself back in 2011. This was a time when I had no idea what hiking or backpacking really involved. We all decided we wanted to take on a new challenge and hike a 4000 footer in New Hampshire. It was August and the weather looked good. We googled a bit and tried to find the most “remote” peak to do an overnight backpacking trip. We all went on Amazon and visited REI stores several times to build our arsenal of packs and gear. On August 27th, 2011 we embarked on our maiden voyage.
Mistakes before we even hit the trail
That morning we decided to head out at what at the time… seemed early 11 AM! This meant after our 2 Hour and 45 Minute ride to the Rocky Branch Trail head on Rt. 16 we wouldn’t arrive until 2PM. After getting everything together and finally setting foot on the trail it was almost 2:30PM. This was FAR too late to ever have dreams of making the summit! But again… we had no idea what we were doing.
What were we carrying?
All of our packs for this overnight trip were tipping the scales at over 40 pounds… for a single overnight! My first mistake was the actual backpack… I had bought a cheapo pack on amazon for $50 or so. It weighed 6 pounds and it didn’t fit my body correctly. As for the pack contents… I’m speaking from memory but it went something like this:
- Two 1 liter wide mouth bottle of water
- One .75 liter bottle of water
- Metal Mug
- Spare Cotton T-Shirt
- Spare Cotton Undergarments
- Spare Cotton Shorts
- Spare Cotton Socks
- Thick plastic poncho
- One very large machete style knife
- Another very large knife
- Matches / Lighter
- Two flashlights
- One Headlamp
- Marmot 40 Degree Synthetic Sleeping Bag
- My friends big puffy sleeping bag (he was carrying our tent in exchange)
- One big bottle of whiskey
- 10 Pounds of items so useless I can barely remember (playing cards, hatchet, etc…)
This all seemed very necessary at the time… but 1 mile in and I was already in agony from my awful fitting backpack and the intense amount of weight! I had also loaded the pack in such a way that cantilevered all of the weight to the outside causing the pack to pull on my shoulders intensely.
As for Dan… He was complaining about his pack being heavy. Jon and I assumed he had packed too much food or water. This wasn’t the case, he had packed a 10 person car camping tent that weighed at least 20 pounds. We all failed to inspect each others gear prior to the hike in order to consolidate at the car… instead we had extremely heavy equipment and duplicate items! Dan also had a limited water supply of two poland springs 12oz bottles that would soon run out.
What were we wearing?
Of course my attire was almost entirely made up of cotton. Which almost immediately got soaking wet with sweat as we hiked. this went for Dan and Jon as well. For those of you who know the Rocky Branch trail… you know it’s never dry. Today was no exception. The trail was a running steam in some sections and we were completely soaked from head to toe. Due to the cotton clothing our clothes stayed wet the entire time causing us to get cold and uncomfortable.
On my feet, I had trail running shoes that I had bought online for a discount price… they allowed water in through thin mesh sides and my cotton socks got soaked. This caused extremely uncomfortable soggy feet for the entirety of the trip. I seemed to be the only one suffering footwear wise, the other guys made better decisions here.
At around 6 PM we had only moved roughly 3.7 miles from the trail head. We had cleared engine hill and hit the junction of the Rocky Branch river. If we wanted to make the summit it would be an additional 4 miles of steep hiking… not happening. Everyone was exhausted from carrying too much crap. And uncomfortable in wet clothing. we decided that we weren’t going to make the summit… it was time to set up camp.
This is also about the time we had all realized we didn’t bring enough water. We also had no means of filtering or purifying additional drinking water. Panic set in.
Dan decided that the stream water was clean enough for him and started drinking it directly from the source. Jon and I didn’t want to risk getting sick so we decided to set up a boiling operation by the river using Jon’s MSR pocket rocket stove. We would fill the pot of water, get it to a very slight boil, then fill our bottles with it and chill it in the river. It wasn’t until after that we realized we needed at least a “5 minute rolling boil” to kill any harmful bacteria or virus. Luckily none of us got sick!
Setting Up Camp
About 1/2 mile from the rocky branch river we set out to get “200 feet off trail” by NH state forest rules. We probably made it 100 feet. Dan pulled out his giant tent and we scrambled to find an open spot big enough to set it up in. The tent barely squeezed between two trees.
Jon had brought his own hammock and tarp for shelter. He had obviously thought this through more than us.
We had started a small camp fire and cracked open the heavy glass bottles of whiskey we brought to enjoy during dinner. Jon and I had packed dehydrated meals (mountain house type). Dan had brought some canned food that he didn’t enjoy at all. We tried to enjoy ourselves after an awful uncomfortable day and eventually turned in for the night.
The next morning we were all eager to get back to the car. The hike out was equally as painful as the hike in. Clothing still wet from the day before. We made it out alive and drowned our defeat and sorrow in beer and burgers from the local bar Red Fox
Identifying our mistakes
- If you’re a beginner, choose a beginner hike. A 15 mile loop was WAY beyond us.
- Start earlier… Always be on the trail by 8 AM despite how long you think it might take
- Carry a means of water purification
- Travel light, only bring what you absolutely need
- Inspect and consolidate “group gear” before you leave the car.
- Cotton Kills! wear completely synthetic or wool clothing. Cotton gets wet and stays wet!
- Properly fit your pack before getting to the trail head
- Glass is heavy, transport your booze in a lighter container 😉
- Many… many more
At the end of the day, it was a great adventure regardless of all the awful things that could have happened. I will remember this trip forever and probably continue to tell the story with friends and family. Hopefully I can talk these guys into joining me again now that I “kind of” know what I’m doing. It’s funny to think that 3 years after this trip these guys would become groomsmen in my wedding! I still need Mt. Isolation for my 48 4000 footers list. I’ll be back!