Friday, June 17, 2005

Hiking - useful hints

I recently hiked Mt Washington in New Hampshire. Mt Washington, apparently, is the tallest peak in the Northeast. It was my first backpacking trip, and a great one at that! I will leave out a description of the two day hike of the mountain and the surrounding wilderness for another time. For now, I will try and list a bunch of useful things to do and take with you if you are planning something similar, and you are new to it. I was lucky in that on my first hike, we had one very experienced hiker, who has hiked 8 National parks, and dozens of State parks. Quite frankly, he saved our asses on this hike.

If you want your hiking experience to be Good, then you need to plan for it: travel light, travel right. Don't lug unnecessary shit along in your backpack. When all you do for hours is plod on some rocky trail in the bush, you will be thankful for every little thing you left behind, that made your pack lighter. But that doesn't mean you leave your toothbrush behind (hmm... may be you could). For instance, if the forecast says there's a chance of rain where you are planning to hike, you should probably take your raincoat along.
I will leave out some of the obvious things that one should pack on a hike. A simple Google search for hiking resources will give you quite some information. The ones below might also be obvious (so sue me), but they are also for my future reference:

  • Maps: Get a map of the trail and the surrounding wilderness. Your chances of getting lost decrease dramatically with a map in hand. You will also need a compass. Now, if you can't figure out how to use a compass and a map, then you probably deserve to get lost.

  • Trash bags: They are light, and they can be variously useful. If it rains, you can cover your backpacks beneath a couple of trash bags. You could cover yourself too. There's always the option of using it as a trash bag.

  • Ziploc bags: Get at least a dozen of these babies, with the zips at the end. Pack your hummus mix, powdered milk mix, orange juice mix, folded clothes even, in them. Your shit will stay dry, and everything will be okay!

  • Torches/Flashlights: Try and get yourself a headlamp instead. It'll free your hands.

  • Food, and food mixes: Oatmeal packets for breakfast, orange juice concentrate (mix water), hot chocolate mix, hummus mix, dried fruits and nuts, cous-cous mix (just boil it in water, and see it grow enough to fill your appetite), pasta sauce, cheese, and pita bread should do ya. Don't get squishy stuff like bananas, or crumbly stuff like cookies, if you don't want a mess on your hands.

  • A water pump: for pumping and filtering water from a fresh water source.

  • Stove: a small, portable stove, which is basically a burner on three stands. A canister of gas (that's gasoline/petrol for the rest of the world) as fuel for the stove. We filled ours at a gas station on the way. Be careful with packing and stowing the gas in your pack.

  • Oh, speaking of food and cooking, on what would you eat your food? China plates, and forks ? Ha! Fat chance... Get yourself some of those tupperware plastic boxes, and pack just one spoon for each hiker. Eat out of those boxes for lunch, breakfast and dinner. Lick it clean as a substitute for washing. Waste nothing.

  • Toilet paper: Unless you are an expert with dry leaves, or if you mind not taking a crap at all. And please stay away from any water source while you are at it.

There, as you can see, hiking is not a joke. But if you do your homework, you can have a wonderful time out. I will probably add to this post with time, as I think of more things to add.