Friday, September 23, 2011

Beginner Backpacking Trip

After the success of our North Carolina Trail Dames Beginner Backpacking trip, we brought the show to Georgia.  Eleven beginners turned out, some never having spent a night out in a tent, others with some camping experience, all with plenty of enthusiasm and inquisitiveness.  Five "experienced"* Dames helped out-- Salt, Kellye, Monica, April, and myself.  We were also lucky to be joined by the Head Dame herself, Anna (AKA Mud Butt).

Monday evening before the trip, we went over the gear list at a pre-trip meeting at Dame North Star's lovely farm.  The experienced Dames brought our own spare gear and gave it to the beginners to use, supplemented with items from Trail Dames.  The experienced Dames also brought along our packs and we each explained what gear we use-- the idea being to show different gear options.

Sorting through gear at the pre-trip meeting
On Saturday morning, we met at the Warwoman Dell trailhead full of nervous excitement.  Packs and gear exploded once more onto the picnic tables.  Camping-type sleeping bags the size of a small refrigerator were exchanged for foot-ball sized bags.  Heavy lanterns were removed, and we tried to help rearrange gear in packs for optimal load carrying.   We showed everyone how to put on and adjust their packs.  Fitting packs was challenging because many were just too big or too small, but we did the best we could and hoped that none would be so uncomfortable that it would ruin anyone's experience. 

Packs loaded and spare gear stashed in cars, we circled up for introductions.  So many unfamiliar faces!  I wondered if the beginners were as nervous as I had been my first trip, before I leaned just how quickly strangers become trusted companions out in the woods.  As we went around the circle giving our names, everyone was also asked to describe what they liked most about being outside in nature.  The answers:  watching the change of seasons, the spiritual experiences, connecting with others, feeling peace, getting exercise.  I felt all my anxiety from the work week melt away as I breathed in the crisp mountain air and listened to everyone remind me of the important things.
Introductions at the trailhead
Then we were off on our two mile hike to camp near Martin Creek Falls!  What a gorgeous site to see our group of women heading down the trail carrying everything we'd need for the night in our packs.  After climbing out of the Dell, the Bartram Trail crosses Warwoman Road, and then circles up to Becky Branch Falls.  We went slow, and stopped for breaks often to snack, eat, and adjust clothing layers.
Photo by April.

Right before we got to camp, April demonstrated how to filter water from the creek.  One of the few "rules" we'd learned backpacking is to get water before setting up camp.  If you can't find water, you need to relocate, so doing it first ensures you are set for the night.

April demonstrates using a water filter.

Then everyone set up tents and hammocks.  Lending hands, discussing dry ground, looking above for dead branches to avoid.  Aja's new tarp provided the most challenge, and she mastered it, achieving a nice taut pitch!   The plan had been for her to share it with Connie, but the tarp had no bug netting and was smaller than expected, so a plan was devised.  Monica and Terri went along with Connie to retrieve Connie's tent from back at the trailhead.  Thank you Monica and Terri!

Hanging bear bag rope was next on the agenda.  We'd chosen this site because of the proximity to water, gentle trail, low and protected and large soft campsites.  NOT for abundance of suitable branches for hanging bear bags.  I will NOT reveal just how many hours were spent searching for enough branches and throwing enough lines to accommodate 18 people.  We finally found a good "teaching" branch-- one with enough area below it that was a good height.  Salt and Kellye explained bear bag theory and demonstrated the PCT method and variations.  Then we dispersed and everyone got the opportunity to hang lines. 

It's always fascinating to find what everyone brings for dinner.  Everyone was drooling over Terri's  mashed potatoes, salmon, pudding, and even after-dinner mints.  She definitely got the prize for most creative, delicious-looking meal, presented with style!

Kellye and Sandy got the fire going.  Then we had the "peeing and pooping" discussion, amid lots of giggling. 

Then, fireside yoga!  Salt developed a special yoga routine for backpackers that both stretched muscles and didn't require touching the floor.  Brilliant!  This really helped keep our bodies happy and relaxed.  Everyone was amazed in the morning how much yoga helped us, and I'm definitely adding this to my regular backpacking routine.  Thank you Salt!

Fireside conversation lasted well into the night and was significantly enlivened by Aja's hilarious stories and commentary. 

I also want to mention that all the questions everyone asked, especially by Jules, Dennice, Sue, Jo Ann, Susan, Connie, and Aja, were really super!   You all made it so much fun by your enthusiasm and curiosity!!!   it was fun watching someone climb a hill with a fully loaded pack or throw a bear bag rope for the first time and seeing the joy on their face.

In the morning, we compared reports of snoring, pee trips, and all agree that the bright light must have been the clouds parting briefly to reveal the moon.  We relaxed, had breakfast, and packed up.  Monica directed the fun group photo-- I don't know how she does it, but she always captures the fun spirit of the trip.  Thank you Monica!

Group shot.  Photo by Monica

A short detour took us one more time past Martin Creek Falls, and then we made our way back to the trailhead.

Martin Creek Falls
This trip really deepened my love of backpacking.   In thinking through what things to teach the beginners, it really made me understand more of the reasons why I love the whole experience.  Explaining the techniques really forces you to think through each step, and get a deeper understanding of the whole process.  It's true that you don't really know something well until you have to teach it to someone else.  Salt used this quote to describe it: "To teach is to learn twice." -Chinese proverb.

This trip also showed what amazingly awesome women the "experienced" backpackers are.  We do trips together all the time, but seeing them in action made me really appreciate their skill, kindness, and how well we all work together as a team.  Each of us has our specialties, and I learn so much for them.  I am so lucky to have shared this trip with you all!

*By "experienced", I mean we'd been backpacking a few years, and had a ton of love for backpacking, so much that we wanted to share that with others.  But I don't think any of us had ever taught backpacking before. 

1 comment:

  1. It was an amazing trip! Seeing backpacking through the lens of the "beginner" made me realize how much we have all learned in the last year together. And sharing that knowledge was lots of fun!