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501 Summer Stories -
Jangling Packs

Longs Peak

Many years ago, a friend joined me to climb Kieners Route on Longs Peak in the late fall. It had been a been a cold and snowy season in Colorado. Coming from the East, we carried all the clothing and gear that we owned. Our packs were not nearly big enough to hold all of the gear we wanted to take. We therefore had extra gear dangling and jangling from every possible hook and strap of the pack. I am sure that all those that saw us, thought we were going on a ten day expedition and not just a day climb on Longs Peak.

In the summer of 2011, Amy and I went for an acclimating hike on Longs Peak. Amy had just arrived in the mountains and she needed a few days to adjust to the thin air of the higher mountain altitude. Coming down from the mountain we met a group of hikers going up the trail to Longs Peak. These guys were definitely going to try to conquer something ... From Journal #435, Longs Acclimating:

Further down the trail we met a hiker/climber with a bulging pack. All his gear and clothing looked brand new. He was followed by six other hikers all with ice axes, helmets, ropes, crampons, and big boots dangling from their packs. They were low on the mountain but they already felt the weight of their inexperience. We did not speak with the group - they were in misery - but we could easily read the story of their hike from the pained looks on their faces.

They were doing the exact same thing that my partner and I had done many years before. As soon as they passed, I began to tell Amy about my similar experience over twenty years ago. I was not making fun of the group, I was sharing their pain and inexperience.

A few lessons to learn ...

Acclimating is more than just adjusting to breathing thin air. After you are in the mountains for a few weeks - you become more fit, you adjust to the climate, you begin to move fluidly and gain balance, and you are able to breathe. We adjust to the mountain environment.

So many times we make trips to the mountains for a weekend, or a few days and we expect miracles. We are not used to the mountain environment and for safety, carry more gear than we need. The extra gear might actually put us in greater danger.

If instead, we have been in the mountains for a few weeks, we would know the conditions in the mountains and would be able to pack accordingly. We would know how much weight we could carry and still be able to move fast.

Advice is always tempered with experience. If instead of obtaining first hand information on mountain conditions, you instead rely on advice from others - you might find one person who claims a route was impossible and another who says the very same route was easy. Which person was right? Both of them probably were, they were both telling you what they felt.

If you carry a big pack, you will find things to fill it.

A pack that weighs too much at the trailhead, is only going to feel heavier as you hike or climb. If at all possible lighten the load. If lightening the load is impossible, then consider changing plans. Try a lesser goal and gain more experience. Your decision to change plans will be easier on your mind, body, and soul.

I don't know if there is anything more demoralizing than a heavy pack. On our epic trip, while hiking back to the trailhead, we were so tired we could hardly move. As we toiled downhill, every muscle in our bodies ached. To make matters worse, we then met a chatty, fit, soldier who was visiting the Park on his leave. He was carrying a light pack and was bubbling with excitement from his hike. We just wanted to be alone with our pain! He decided to walk with us and we could not shake him. We would take a break and he did also. We would take an even longer break, stopping to eat, and he would sit and join us. We would walk even slower and he would match our pace. We could not walk in faster or we would have tried that too. The whole time he talked endlessly. After miles of torture another group passed us. Our friend finally left us and joined the other group. We struggled to continue but eventually reached the trailhead long after dark.

We made countless mistakes on our attempt of Longs Peak; but we both took our failures back to Tennessee and learned from them. Maybe, carrying a big heavy pack wasn't the worst thing that could have happened to us - there were lessons to be learned.

Now, when I see someone else carrying a heavy pack with extra gear dangling and jangling from every possible hook and strap, I just smile. Hopefully, this will be the trip when they too learn their lesson.

Happy dangling and jangling trails


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