You’re Not Ghandi

24 02 2012
Diamond Head

Diamond Head, Oahu

Originally published November 16, 2009

My grandfather, “Pépère,” is eighty-three years old.  We call him “Pep” for short, and the nickname suits him…he’s in better shape than I am.  A couple of years ago (and I do mean only a couple), while vacationing in Hawaii, he climbed Diamond Head on Oahu.  Now, Pep is a smart guy, with lots of common sense and life experience.  On that climb, however, he made a very common mistake for a novice (or overconfident, as the case may be) hiker: he didn’t bring enough water.

It all worked out okay for Pep, don’t worry.  He made it to the top, where some nice folks commented that he was by far the most senior person they’ve seen climb the volcanic crater.  But when he tells the story now, he puts a lot of emphasis on how hot he was and how he regretted not bringing more than a teeny little water bottle.

You see, kids, he didn’t follow Rule No. 5:

You’re Not Ghandi: Pack Food and Water

WaterNot packing enough food and water is a common mistake, even for experienced hikers.  It’s very easy to over- and underestimate your water needs.  If you’re new to hiking, you don’t have any frame of reference as to how much water you’ll need.  If you’re new to hiking in a particular climate, particularly one that is hotter/drier/more humid than you’re used to, you can’t use past experience to guide you.  If  you are an experienced hiker, you can sometimes get overconfident (which usually leads to not packing enough water instead of packing too much).

FoodThe same is true for food.  As an experienced hiker, there are times that I just want to head out on the trail and not take the time to pack anything to eat.  Having found myself hungry on the trail, however, shaky from exertion and wishing I had at least a Powerbar, I know better.  Remember that while hiking you’re going to use up more energy than while sitting around — and maybe even more than your normal workout routine.  You won’t usually find (thank heavens) a convenience store at the top of the mountain where you can replenish your supplies, so plan ahead.

Wait, wait.  I know you have questions.  Go ahead.

But, Her Side, I don’t want to have to carry too much!  Water is heavy!

Sure, but being dehydrated is worse than carrying a little extra weight.  And it will get lighter as you go (and drink it), or you can empty some out if it becomes clear you’ve overestimated your needs.

I’m only going to a hike for a couple of hours.  Do I really need food?

Yes.  You should have something, even if it’s just some fruit or a couple of granola bars.  After all, look what could happen on a simple hike.

Will I ever be able to refill my water while on the trail?

Sometimes.  On the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon, for example, there are water stations at intervals of the trail into the canyon (which is a darned good thing because it is HOT there).  If you have a water purification system, you might be able to refill from nature (of course, that requires packing the water purification system, so…).  You can usually find out whether there are opportunities to refill before you go.  However, I wouldn’t skimp on the water anyway, just in case.

I was thinking if I didn’t drink too much water, I wouldn’t have to use the facilities — or lack thereof — while on the trail.  I think peeing in the woods is icky.

Get over it.  This isn’t a reason not to bring water or keep yourself hydrated.  Stop being such a wimp.

Fine, I’ll pack extra water.  But how do I know how much I need?  And is there an easier way to carry it?

There’s no mathematical formula that I can give you to tell you how much water to bring.  I can tell you that it’s always better to have too much than to not have enough.  Don’t despair, however.  You can, in fact, make it easier to carry.  Get yourself a hydration backpack.  Those things hold liters of water (usually plenty for a day hike, even in the heat), and aren’t difficult to carry because the backpack sits comfortable on your back.

Now, if only I had written this post before Pep climbed Diamond Head…

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.





There’s An App For That

23 02 2012
DSCN0100

My equipment for the Road Trip

Originally published November 2, 2009

How many times have you looked out the window at gloomy skies and decided to take an umbrella, not because you might need it, but because if you don’t bring it you feel you’re tempting the rain?  That’s Murphy’s rule of packing having its wacky effect on your life — and your packing decisions:

If you don’t pack it, you’ll need it; and if you pack it, you won’t need it.

Any time you pack for a trip, you have to balance bringing what you think you might need and bringing the minimum necessary to make the travel easier.  When it comes to packing for a solo camping or hiking, however, this balance is trickier — you want to have the equipment you’ll need to deal with problems that arise, but you don’t want to have to lug around too much.

Which brings us to Rule Number 4:

Pack the right equipment.

The right equipment will be the most efficient equipment for your intended journey.  Just like you wouldn’t pack flip-flops and shorts for a ski trip, you don’t need a camp stove for a short hike.

Keep in mind the purpose of your trip when you’re considering equipment.  When car camping, if I’m going for more than a couple of nights, I might bring a camp stove and cooking equipment.  Most of the time, however, I pack food that can be prepared without the rest of the equipment, to limit what I need to take.

The equipment checklist can help you think through what you might need.  There are some things I never leave behind:

  • Water
  • Food
  • First Aid Kit
  • Cell Phone
  • GPS

On longer hikes, I also always bring an extra layer of clothing.

Just keep asking yourself what your intended trip will be like, and when in doubt, particularly in regards to safety items, food and water, it’s best to err on the side of inclusion.

Within reason, of course.  You probably won’t need that evening gown or…sorry…the Louboutins.

What equipment can’t you live without?





Your Gut’s Telling You to Run, Run. OK?

22 02 2012

potential023

Originally published October 19, 2009

BUFFY: What did your instincts tell you to do just then?

RONA: Block his attack, keep him off balance, gain the advantage…?

BUFFY: No, they didn’t.

RONA: They told me to run.

BUFFY: Vi?

VI: They told me to run. They’re still sort of telling me to run.

BUFFY: Don’t fight on his terms. Your gut’s telling you to run, run. OK?

— Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Potential”

We all have instincts.  Have you ever found yourself in a conversation with someone you don’t know, and started to feel like backing away?  Something was telling you — signs the stranger is putting off, something he/she said, something you’ve noticed but haven’t consciously considered yet — that this person wasn’t trustworthy, or the situation wasn’t safe.

When discussing hiking solo as a woman — or traveling solo as a woman — there are a lot of “do’s and don’ts” to consider.  While some of these rules are phrased as absolutes, all of them can be broken if the situation warrants.  When to break the rules — or how to make decisions about something that isn’t covered by the rules — is something that you can only do by considering your situation and balancing the risks and the benefits of each choice.

Here’s one example: I have read solo female travel guides that advise women to never reveal that they are traveling solo, to always have some excuse, like they’re catching up to your group, or waiting for a husband/boyfriend.  This isn’t a bad idea, at least as a fallback.  The trouble is, it’s difficult to maintain (what if you’re at a restaurant, eating alone, or you’re walking behind a group on a trail, by yourself, etc.).  Also, it will deprive you of one of the great joys of traveling alone: meeting people.  That’s why it’s not a rule on my list.  However, it falls under the umbrella of Rule Number Three:

For God’s Sake, Use Your Head: Instincts Are Your Best Tool

Like with anything else, there is a balance here.  As a default, not revealing you’re solo status is wise, at least up front.  But sometimes it can’t be helped, and really, all you need to do is pay attention and trust your gut.  Don’t trust everyone blindly, but there’s nothing wrong with making friends while you travel, as long as you’re using your head and taking other precautions.

Here’s an example from my own experience: One day, I drove to Moab, Utah, with the intention of pitching my tent and spending the next day at Arches National Park.  When I arrived, however, I found that the park’s campgrounds were closed for renovation.  The private campgrounds on the side of the main highway made me uncomfortable.  They were exposed (as it was, after all, the desert), and there weren’t any tent-campers, only RVs.  It took me about thirty seconds to decide I didn’t want to risk being the only tent on the side of a major road, and I pulled into the Comfort Inn (or it might have been a Motel 6, I don’t remember).

Would anything have happened?  Probably not.  But there was something about the situation that said “don’t do it.”  And so I didn’t.

Several nights later, I had no trouble having a couple of beers with an older couple from California while watching football at a local bar (Pats v. Colts, season opener) and sharing with them that I was on my own.  I was camping that night, and I was just careful not to say out loud where I was staying — or even that I was camping that night — and since I was staying at a quite crowded campground, I was very comfortable.  My caution was less about the couple I was hanging out with (they were really nice people), but more that I didn’t want someone else to overhear.  In that situation my instincts were giving me the go ahead, with caution, and so I did.

Sharing your solo status, and meeting people, is only one example that falls under this rule.  Some solo female travelers don’t touch a drop of alcohol while traveling alone, afraid it will impair their judgment.  That’s a personal choice you have to make, but I wouldn’t advocate willingly impairing your judgment while traveling even if you were with a group.  Or in your home city, for that matter.  You may be in a more comfortable place, but there are still risks.  It all comes down to using your head — don’t do anything willfully stupid, and trust your gut.

The bottom line is that you have a head.  Use it.  You have instincts.  Listen to them.

Or, as Buffy says:potential051

Your gut’s telling you to run, run. OK?





Anything You Can I Can Do…Maybe

21 02 2012

rosie1

Originally published September 28, 2009

Yes, we can.  (Wait, haven’t I heard that somewhere recently?  Nah…)

I live alone, and one thing I have learned is that while I can do many things (rewire an electrical socket, figure out a plumbing problem, use a drill, kill any manner of bugs without freaking out), there are other things that I just can’t do on my own (hang a fifty-pound chandelier from the ceiling in my dining room — thanks, Gary and Erik).

The simple truth is that, as an average woman, there will be things of the physical sort that are just more difficult for us than they would be for a guy.  Maybe a couple of us could handle it, but the whole point of this blog is to talk about solo camping and hiking.  As I keep saying (so it must be important), the best weapon you have as a solo hiker is to be aware of the risks and be prepared to handle them.  So that brings me to Rule Number Two:

Don’t Confuse Enthusiasm With Ability: Realistically Assess Your Abilities and Plan Accordingly

This rule could also be called “Don’t Overestimate Your Abilities.”  What it means is that I think it’s great if you want to camp out on your own and tackle the outdoors because your boyfriend/husband teased you that you wouldn’t last ten minutes without your manicurist once you chipped a nail.  However, I don’t suggest that you decide to prove him wrong by shouldering a fifty-pound frame pack and hiking twelve miles into the back country that is known for its aggressive population of grizzlies, if you’ve never slept outdoors in your life.

Solo camping and hiking is not the time to attempt some grand feat that you’ve never before come close to even considering, when that could land you in some serious trouble.  If you go with the boyfriend/husband (or a girlfriend, or your mom, or whatever), then at least there’s someone around to help when you realize that you need to dump half your pack or else collapse from fatigue.  There’s someone to encourage you when your muscles start screaming.  There’s someone to go for help when you step wrong and twist your ankle.

Rule Number Two doesn’t mean you can’t challenge yourself.  It simply requires that you realistically assess your abilities and limitations, and plan accordingly.

The key here is being realistic.  Are there some women who can rebuild a transmission?  Sure.  I’m not one of them.  Could I learn?  Probably, but right now I can’t do it.  When I was on my road trip, I knew that if something happened to my car, I’d have to get help.  When my tire blew out while I was flying down Rte. 40 in New Mexico, I called AAA to come and help.  Good thing, because the guy was also able to direct me to the nearest town that had both a hotel and a tire place that would be open in the morning.

Just be realistic.  Don’t be afraid to push yourself, and try new things, but have an escape plan ready in case you need it.

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.





Risky Business: Not Necessarily

20 02 2012

risky_business

Originally published September 10, 2009

Last time, we talked generally about risks inherent in solo camping and hiking, primarily that any risks you face while camping and hiking are heightened because you may have no one around the help you if you find yourself in a difficult situation.

Life is full of risks, however.  Driving a car is risky, and yet many of us do it every day.  We minimize our risks by being cautious, requiring drivers to be licensed, discouraging risky behavior with civil and criminal penalties, and making cars as safe as possible through the use of seatbelts and air bags.  We also avoid increasing risks through our own behavior, by not driving while intoxicated or on medication or while sleep-deprived (at least, I hope we avoid this…you do, don’t you?  Yeah, I’m looking at you, with the margarita glass in your hand and salt on your lips…).  We are taught to be extra cautious in these situations: if you have any question about your ability to drive safely, don’t try.

That brings me to my first rule for safe solo camping and hiking:

Knowledge is Power: Learn the Risks and Take Precautions

We’ll talk a lot about the risks.  We’ll talk a lot about precautions and preparations and how these preparations, just like obeying traffic rules and wearing seatbelts and not driving drunk, can make solo camping and hiking safer.

So what are some of the risks?  This list is not exclusive, of course.  I haven’t listed, for example, “Getting a concussion when a stray parachuter lands on top of you” or “Making a fool out of yourself when you run into Billy-Bob Thornton” (hey it could happen…in fact, it might have happened to me).

  • Getting Lost
  • Injury (twisted ankle, gashes/scrapes, broken limbs)
  • Wild Animal Encounter (snake bite, bear/mountain lion sighting)
  • Sudden Change in Weather (drop in temperature, rain/snow)
  • Heat Exhaustion/Dehydration/Over-Exertion
  • Meeting Unsavory Characters/Being a Target

For every risk, there are preparations and precautions, such as:

  • Maps/GPS/Distress Signal Devices
  • Cell Phones
  • Telling someone where you’ll be
  • First Aid Kits
  • Knowing how to handle an animal encounter/Being aware of surroundings
  • Having the right clothing/equipment
  • Knowing the weather forecast and packing accordingly
  • Visiting the ranger station for trail/campsite updates and cautions
  • Having enough food/water and knowing your own limitations
  • Being cautious around strangers and choosing the best trails/campsites to minimize the risks of solo female travel

This may seem like a lot, but most of it is really common sense, and the volume of risks to be aware of/prepare for shouldn’t discourage you from getting out there and enjoying nature.  Stay tuned for the first post about The Good Stuff, the encouraging counterpoint to the Rules.  Up first is “Oh, the Places You’ll Go: the Passion is in the Possibilities” so stick around.

In the meantime, what are some risks that you have encountered or that you worry about when you camp and hike solo?  How do you prepare for these things?

(c) Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.





What’s Your Survival Skill Level?

11 08 2010

The folks over at Women’s Adventure Magazine have a cute little quiz up about survival skills.  How do you measure up?

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.





It Was a Dark and Stormy Night…

12 07 2010

Imagine an amazing hiking day.  There’s a light breeze, but the temperature is nearly perfect.  You’re whistling a little tune as you’re hiking down the trail.  You have your backpack of supplies.  You’re reveling in the sights, sounds and smells of nature, dawdling here at a brook, spending time setting up the perfect shot there, laying out on the rock at the peak, closing your eyes to just be for a while.

Sounds like a great day, doesn’t it?

Suddenly, in the distance, you see some angry-looking dark gray clouds.  They seem to be moving toward you awfully quickly.  You start down the trail, hurrying now, but sure enough, it soon starts to rain.  Hard.  You find some semi-shelter and wait it out, but by the time it stops the sun is going down.  Suddenly, what started out as a great hike, one that was simple for you, turned harrowing, all because the weather and the time caught up with you before you realized it.

Something similar happened to my friends.  If you remember, they left for their hike on the late side, were not familiar with the trail, took a couple of wrong turns, were hiking slow, and then it started getting dark — and scary — fast.  Everything is different in bad weather and when the sun goes down, and all the slightly dangerous things about hiking get a lot more dangerous: animals moving under cover of the darkness, higher chance of injury because you can’t see where you’re going, the temperature drops, etc.

How to prevent against this situation?  Rule Number 11:

Pay attention to the time and the weather.

Please don’t leave for a 3 hour hike 3 hours before sunset.  Please check the weather forecast for where you are hiking (i.e. not your house) before you leave.  Please keep an eye on the time — yes, wear a watch or have something on you that keeps track of time — and an eye on the weather.  Watch for clouds, darkening skies, temperature dropping, the smell of moisture in the air.

This is not to say that, on some occasions, you can’t hike with an iffy weather forecast.  Just use your head.  If the forecast calls for light showers in the late afternoon and you plan to be back by noon, you just have to keep watch on the weather while you’re on the trail.  If, on the other hand, you’re planning to snowshoe and there’s rumors of a blizzard, today might be the day to catch up on that novel you’ve been wanting to read.