Rappelling, Caves and Backpacking Oh My, Videos, Thoughts and Tips
This past weekend my wife and I went on a backpacking excursion in Clear Creek Canyon. It is about an hour east of Flagstaff, Arizona. This is one of the most beautiful and amazing places in all of Arizona. The Canyon is like something out of a movie or photograph and every time I am there I am in awe of its beauty. One of the best parts is that it is quite difficult to get to so there are some people but it is definitely not packed. We had the pick of the camping spots and I think we found the best in the canyon.
This picture at the left is of a water hole in the canyon. To the left of the dead tree is a spring that runs into the canyon. There are actually two very nice springs within a half mile. The water is beautiful and crystal clear. Almost every place at the creek you are able to see right to the bottom and the trout, chub and crawdads are easy to see. Years ago there were some big trout that could be caught. Recently there are as many big fish. This would actually be a great place to use trotlines or even net fishing. I was not succesful catching any fish but did not fish at the best times of the day either.
The hike down is quite a tough hike as you can see by the picture of the trail at the right. There are many areas that are steep and slippery and require you to hold onto something on the way down. The trail is only about a 1/2 mile, but is the hardest trail I have ever hiked. This trail really isn’t for the faint of heart.
Tips For a Good Backpacking Trip
1. Know what you can carry and how far you will be going.
- I weigh almost 200 lbs and my pack was probably almost 60 lbs. My wife’s pack was about 25 lbs as that is where she felt comfortable. I would advise to have a backpack no more than 30% of your body weight. One of the reasons I had decided to have such a big pack was that I had done the trail previously and knew what I could carry (I am also a glutton for punishment). I also knew how far I was going to go and where I would camp. Our camping spot was only about a 1/4 mile from the end of the trail so we didn’t have to go far with our big packs, we were then able to do day hikes with a smaller pack. I would say the further you are going to go the lighter your pack should be. If you are on a longer backpacking trip to take only the essentials.
2. Know how to use your equipment.
- I would say there were two main problems I had while on this trip and they both had to do with knowing how to use my equipment. The first problem I had was my alcohol stoves. They worked perfectly but I would say the user did not use them perfectly. I had what I thought should have been way more than enough alcohol(and it was just barely). I had used these stoves a few times when I was at home experimenting, but I had not used them enough. I really didn’t know the optimal amount of alcohol to put in them, so there were some times that I was finished cooking but just had to let the rest of our valuable alcohol fuel burn off. I also did not know that it would be better to boil one big thing of water instead of three small ones. With three stoves going at once I was using much more alcohol and energy than just the one big pot of water. So even more than just knowing how to use your equipment, know how to be efficient with your equipment.
- The second problem I came across was how to use the magnesium fire starter I had bought the day before. I had matches and a lighter, but I thought I should get a backup to the backup (which is a great idea). So I wasn’t planning on using it, but I got curious and just wanted to try and teach myself how to use it. I will say it was not easy. I ended up learning how to use it ok, but that was after I had almost demolishing the serrated part of my EDC KA-BAR pocket knife. If I had time and had practiced with it previously I could have been much more efficient with it. I was just lucky that I did not have to use it or I may have starved.
3. Have Decent Equipment that works for you.
- I can’t say I have top of the line stuff. I am actually quite opposed to just going to REI and buying all of the top of the line stuff as it is ridiculously expensive. If you plan on doing many 11 day trips through the Appalachians I would advise you to buy some top end stuff, but if you are like most people who are occasional campers and backpackers you don’t need this high priced gear. I have a CusCus 88L backpack that was about $40 on Amazon and it worked just fine. Two of the places to get great gear at low prices is yard sales and Craigslist. There are many people who buy high end camping and backpacking gear thinking they will use it often, but in reality most people don’t use the stuff. So you can get stuff for half price that is almost brand new. Like the title states have the equipment for you. If that means a $5 alcohol cook stove is going to work just as well for you as a $5o one, I would advise to buy the $5 one. If you buy lower priced stuff and you decide you do not like backpacking then you are losing a lot less investment.
- The thing I found that didn’t work for me was the lighter I used. It was one of those long skinny lighters that folds up. Though it was great for space, like most of these cheapie lighters it took 5 times of pushing the button to get a flame. The flame also liked to die out. If you watch my “how to build a rocket stove” video that I will be posting later you will see how much trouble I had with the lighter. Other than the problems with this lighter I really didn’t have anymore problems with my equipment.
4. Make sure to have a pad or something to sleep on
- This was one of the biggest mistakes I made. We slept in a sleeping bag in the tent on sand. It was miserable without a sleeping pad. Even though it sounds like sand wouldn’t be too bad it really was not comfortable. You can use your pack or sleeping bag holder bag and fill it with clothes and soft stuff to make a pillow, but there isn’t much you can do about the ground unless you have a sleeping pad. This is one of the things I would no longer skimp on. It is better to carry a few more pounds and pay $50 for a pad then have back problems for the hike out. We actually decided to hike out one night early instead of sleeping down there because it was so much more comfortable to sleep in my truck bed sleeping platform.
- You will also want to make sure your sleeping bags are rated for the outdoor temperatures. While we were decent with 40 degree sleeping bags a 20-30 degree bag would have been just perfect. Make sure to have an adequate sleeping bag.
5. Use a Camping Water Purifier instead of Carrying Water if Possible
- I have in the past carried a couple gallons of water which is very heavy and not fun. If you are camping in the desert this may be something you have to do, but if there is any water around buy a water purifier and use it. Not only are they easy to use they are also very reasonably priced. For under $100 you can get a pretty good quality water purifier. I used the MSR Miniworks EX and it worked perfectly. It was nice to be able to only bring 2 water bottles with water for the hike down to the water.
- One of the things I like to do is to get those small flavored powder mixes. They break up the monotony of just drinking water. It is nice to have a little variety. Many of these have vitamin C and electrolytes that help your body stay hydrated and healthy, and they also are cheap, single serve and very light. They also make instant coffee which helped me get the day going. For those coffee drinkers this is a must!
How about the rappelling I was talking about. No I didn’t go rappelling, but there were some people that rappelled right into our camp site. It was quite funny because we had just finished eating dinner. I went to the creek to clean the dishes. We started hearing voices and there was nowhere they could be coming from, but above us as there was only one way (I guess 2 if you count rappelling from the top) into the site. Just a few minutes after we started hearing talking we saw a rope come down. That is when I decided to get the camera and take a short video. It was quite cool and fun to watch. I hope you can excuse my dorkiness as I guess I really liked to narrate what was going on. Hopefully it adds to the video!
In this second video you will see a cool cave that we explored. I had been shown this cave by another hiker about 5 years ago and thought I would share it. It is really not easily found as you have to walk through a bunch of weeds and tree branches to get to it. The most amazing thing is that someone had lived in it. He had made a door from cement, a big caster wheel and a pipe. As you could see from the previous picture of the trail this person must of had a tough time carrying down 50 lb bags of cement. I know it’s something I wouldn’t have wanted to do.