Backpacking blunders

One of the small joys of watching Wild was seeing some of the failings in backpacking the protagonist, Cheryl Strayed, suffers (too-small boots, too-large pack, wrong fuel for stove).  (One of the small disappointments was their choice of pretending Oregon was the Sierra and Strayed skipping the iconic High Sierra). And of course it brings to mind for all of us who have spent time in the backcountry those personal moments of suffering that, in retrospect, are hilarious (trying to stay dry in a tube tent, exploding stove, freeze-dried beef patties, bears, hanging food, blowing-away tents, yellow jacket attacks, leaking canteen, burnt shoelaces…sheesh, and this is not even getting close to being done.  Could have a separate blog–the Bumbling Backpacker–oh wait, that’s been used).  So why not share one here?

Long ago we were installing temporary seismometers in the Sierran backcountry; GG was working with Steve and Tom (some might know who these people are).  We had a station near Tunnel Meadow that needed installing, but the equipment was cached at the ranger station in Kern Canyon.  So we had a relay planned: one day most of the equipment was lugged up the trail about 8 miles and Steve and GG returned to the ranger station.  The next day the rest of the gear was lugged to our camp along with supplies for a night. Steve and Tom carried up the sleeping bags and food and whatnot needed for the night (a final cold night in early June).

Steve, while experienced in field work around the globe, had escaped backpacking until this trip. He expressed amazement at the modern ability to take food, freeze-dry it, and then make it edible merely by adding hot water and waiting a few minutes.  So he brought some freeze-dried food and a stove and a pot for water.  We built a roaring fire to push away the cold (we had found a nice packer campsite with a large fire ring and nice logs for benches).  Eventually the fire got to be white hot in the center–a perfect antidote to the freezing temperatures around us.

Water was boiled and the food unloaded from Steve’s pack.  Among other elements was a package of hash browns. As a couple of pouches were opened and water poured in, Steve read the directions on the hash browns.  Add water, wait five minutes, then fry in a frying pan.

“What!? I didn’t bring a frying pan!”

“Well, how did you expect to get hash browns then?”

“I dunno; somehow they get everything else to work out.”

Hungry as he was, Steve proceeded to add water to the hash brown mixture.  When it was done he offered the white mush to Tom and GG.  Tom accepted some, took one bite and made a sour face before flinging the rest into the white-hot fire.

That part of the fire went out.  Water wouldn’t have put that fire out.  We all laughed; Steve’s “hash whites” may well have been one of the best fire retardants ever developed.

The rest of the hash whites? Consumed by Steve, not one to let marginally edible food escape after a hard day’s work…

(Feel free to share any goofy backpacking stories in comments)

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2 responses to “Backpacking blunders”

  1. Kristin Alexandra says :

    Sharing time! My friend and I went on our first backpacking trip after watching “127 Hours.” I don’t know if you’ve seen that movie, but it’s based on the true story of the young man who got trapped in a little canyon and had to saw off his arm. My take-away from the movie was that you should always be certain to tell people in the outside world of your general plans in the wilderness. His take-away, apparently, was that it’s important to be able to cut off your arm, if need be. At the first shelter we came to, he unloaded his pack for the night, at which point the entire shelterful of backpackers laughed at his 7″ serrated knife/saw.


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