Sunday, November 25, 2012

Wilderness Getaway

New River Mesa
Backpacking in the wilderness for a few days is a nice way to escape the anxiety of modern life. Its also a great way to renew your appreciation for the comforts and increased survivability modern life affords. When you are completely on your own with nothing more than what you can carry, you quickly realize that civilization and modern technology have their advantages.

One of the biggest reasons people get into trouble in the wilderness is they get themselves lost. There are no street signs in the wilderness. Having a topographic map and compass is a must if you are going into a remote area, but just having them isn't enough. You need to learn how to use them.  Here are two good videos to start you off: Compass Use & Navigation.

Be very careful when bushwhacking. Its easy to start off in a direction thinking you know where you're at and find yourself hopelessly lost. I make sure I turn around every so often and look back at where I've been. This helps me remember what the way back looks like. If you don't do this the path will look unfamiliar when you try to backtrack. Another method to help find your way back is to place visible markers like these.

Don't Out Hike Your Water.

Another big mistake people often make is underestimating the amount of water they will need. Water is an especially limiting factor in the Sonoran Desert. Water weighs 8.35 lbs per gallon and you can use 3 quarts or more a day. I personally can only carry up to about 50 lbs comfortably and I use the word comfortably loosely. If I used only the minimum 3 quarts per day (That means I didn't sweat much) 5 days of water would weigh 31 lbs. That doesn't leave much payload capacity for gear or food, So you better know where the streams or springs are if you plan on being out there for more than a few days.

Tonto Creek

You also need to contend with the weather. If you pack for warm weather and it turns cold or a sudden violent storm occurs with flash flooding you could be in big trouble and, keeping in mind the previously mentioned payload capacity, you obviously can't pack for every contingency.

Technology Can Be Wild.

Ironically enough, technology can actually make your escape from modern life a little easier. New lightweight materials for making tents and heat retaining sleeping bags can keep you dry and warm without weighing you down. High tech water filtration devices can make bad water drinkable. There are also many high tech electronic devices that are a valuable resource for making your get away from civilization a bit more civilized.

Some of the electronic devices that are nice to have include GPS navigators, pocket weather stations, altimeters and pedometers. One of the most valuable and versatile electronic devices you can have is your cell phone. If you need help and your in an area that's close enough to a tower you can call for help. Coincidentally many cell phones now have many of these other nice to have devices built in. I use a Casio Ravine 2 with G-Zone software. It has a compass, GPS with marking functionality, Sunset/rise times, tide chart, pedometer and thermometer. Its also ruggedized to withstand  a lot of abuse. In addition most phones today have a camera which is a great way to take pictures for your blog.

Mogollon Rim

I try to make sure I match the equipment I carry to the type and duration of the hike. On most hikes lasting more than a few hours and going more than a couple miles from my car, I carry a first aid kit and usually some emergency shelter equipment like a bivy tent and pocket sleeping bag with heat reflective foil. Additionally I make sure I have at least two methods for starting a fire and two methods of purifying water. Its also a good idea to carry some form of protection, even if its just bear spray and a buck knife.

Tonto National Forest
On my 2-3 day hikes I like to carry the same as the day hike but with a thicker bed roll, some dried food and at least 1 gallon of water per day I plan to be out, unless I know there is water where I'm going. I also make sure I have a jacket, beenie and scarf or shemagh for the cold night air and of course a compass and topographic map. Additionally its a good idea to have flashlights and a radio to hear weather reports. I have one that operates on hand crank and receives NOAA broadcasts. It also has a handy USB plug so I can charge my cell phone.

The More You Know The Less You Need.

Aside from good equipment the best thing to help you survive in the wilderness is knowledge. Being aware of how much water you're going to need, understanding what the clouds and wind are telling you about the coming weather or just having enough sense to know where and where not to pitch a tent, these skills are a must before leaving the safe and familiar urban environment you're accustomed to. You will also find the more you know, the less you need to carry.

Fig Spring
Much of this knowledge can be gained by reading books or listening to those who have experience in wilderness survival, I recommend reading any books by Cody Lundin, but you really do need to practice these skills and build up your physical stamina as well as your mental and emotional tolerance to being truly on your own before you attempt to venture to far from civilization.

Hiking in the mountains of central Arizona or whatever unspoiled land is near you is good physical exercise and mentally refreshing. It is a great way to get away from civilization and find some peace and quiet. A place where there's no email, no honking traffic, no smog and no obnoxious advertisements. However, If you're going to enjoy it and be safe, you better make sure you have the right equipment and know what you're getting yourself into.

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