Monday, March 24, 2014

Trail Dames Beginner Backpacking Trip

This beginner backpacking trip with the Trail Dames felt so precious and meaningful for me— it was my ‘last’ beginner trip (and second to last trip I lead for the Dames) before I leave for the PCT.  I always find it so exhilarating to watch others experience the excitement of backpacking for the first time (there were 4 first time backpackers).  Being around others who are so thrilled to be out in nature and helping them learn backpacking skills, reminds me about what is most important to me in my life.
Trail Dames beginner backpacking trip.
Everyone’s stories as we give introductions were so varied and inspiring!  One woman decided she wanted to take up backpacking since she’d turned 70 (how cool is that!?!?).  A common thread was wanting to be part of a group where it was OK to hike slowly and enjoy the experience, and where they could learn to do things themselves, rather than having others do the camp tasks (like when the “guys” throw the bear ropes) and make the decisions (like selecting where to camp).
We had some awesome teamwork and ingenuity getting a stuck throw line for the bear bags unstuck- way to go ladies! Photo by Amy.
One thing I absolutely love about beginner trips is seeing the backpacking through fresh eyes.  Gathering and purifying water is one of the first lessons.  As they used their filters and steripens (and discuss other options like aquamira), the women on the trip expressed the wonder in gathering water.  There was delight to tasting the coolness of the mountain stream water.  It turned the process that sometimes feels like a “chore” into something empowering-  because the ability to get water equates to freedom to stay out longer, to being self-sufficient. 
Gathering and purifying water.
One of the biggest challenges I have when teaching a beginner backpacking class is how much to share and explain, and how much to let the women find their own way.  When I strike the right a balance, they figure things out for themselves, and I watch the wheels turn and hear a new flood of questions.  The heartfelt questions- raw with truth, expressing fears, and the ones that spark deeper conversations.  I can see myself in these women.  There have been so many questions as I’ve been preparing for the PCT.  I ask here, and ask there, and ask everywhere- grateful for the expertise and wisdom I find, but in the end it comes down to trying things out for myself.
Steps upward.
Night hikes are my favorite ‘Leave No Trace’ alternative to having a campfire.  We stopped at the high point on the trail and took a moment to turn off our headlamps and look at the night sky.   The stars were amazing.  In the silence, I felt the magic of sharing those moments with these women who started off strangers in the morning.  And I am grateful to them for their questions and openness to new ideas (and to entertaining all my leave-no-trace lessons).
Glow-ring power on the nighthike.
As I prepare for the PCT, I have been reflecting a lot.  A friend ask me what I ‘believe in’ and I say this: I believe in spending time outdoors, in finding the wonder that is out there, and sharing it with others.
Becky Branch Falls along the Bartram Trail of Georgia.
Stopping to enjoy the rue-anemone- an early spring ephemeral.


  1. Ohh, looks like such an awesome trip!

    1. It sure was! Great group of ladies!

  2. What an inspiration you are, Joan! :) Enjoy your PCT'll be fine...and we are back east here rooting for you & Rene...hugs