Saturday, December 18, 2010

Planning A Thru-Hike

Most mornings I get up, refill the firewood box, and go get 5 gallons of water to filter for the day. The Barracuda builds and starts the fire, and then we eat breakfast while talking about what his schoolwork will be that day.

This morning, I got up, laid out clothes for the sleepy child (he had a family Christmas party and personal clothing choices of a 6 year old are normally not appropriate), and then drove Jules to the airport. We sent Jules off at the security check point, I hugged the teary eyed Barracuda, and the two of us ventured back to the car to drop him off at Grampy and Grammy's house for the family Christmas party.

This left me all alone to eat chocolate dipped almond biscotti in the local coffee shop.

Once about every year and a half the planets align and I am left with no Jules and no Barracuda for an entire day. This gives me plenty of time to do wonderful things like plan a long backpacking trip!

It occurred to me a couple weeks ago that The Barracuda is getting to the age where he should feel the satisfaction of walking the entire length of a trail. Not a loop, not a side trail, but the whole of a trail which covers some real miles. His first thru-hike. We're not talking thousands of miles, he is still only 6, but somewhere around 100. This bring us to the Historic Columbia River State Highway Trail.

“You have in the Columbia Highway the most remarkable engineering in the United States, which for scenic grandeur is not equaled anywhere.” Theodore Roosevelt

The last of this trail was completed just this year, so there aren't too many maps of the entire thing. You walk the old historic highway which was originally constructed in 1913 along the basalt ridge lines of the Columbia Gorge, a whole series of snaking forest service trails which have been braided together to create a fabulous view of waterfalls every day, and a couple of state parks here and there for a shower or two. There are also many Lewis and Clark visitor centers along the way to get in all that great learning. Most of the old highway is gone, but preservation efforts have rebuilt and refortified the old tunnels and bridges along the way so now people hike through or across them.

Everyone I know plans long distance hikes a little differently. It is just far too personal a thing to have only one-end-all-be-all way. This is the way that I do it. It is meant as a guideline for others who are trying to figure it all out for themselves.

Create Sections
These sections are not divided into days, they are divided into places I can find definitive information about an area. Preferably rather specific information on topography, mileage, camping, water, sites, towns, etc. Some substantial trails have already done this for you. It is a good idea to remind yourself that you aren' t married to predetermined sections. If your pace is different, if your needs are different, if you have a different idea of what the hike is for you, you can change the sections. In many other cases, even finding a very decent map can be difficult. I'm stringing together multiple different hikes from multiple different sources and know that compass bearings are going to be needed here and there. Often times, many longer hikes are like this. It just plain isn't as simple as walk straight and follow the arrows.

Which Direction?
Most hikes have a standard direction, but just like the sections, you aren't married to it. Which direction do you want to hike? You need to consider seasons on some longer hikes and the ability of resupply. Certain state parks and campsites are only open during peak season

Figure Out Mileage

Once the sections and direction are defined it is much easier to figure out exactly how many miles you will travel each day. In many instances it isn't as simple as a flat number. Some days it pours and you won't be able to cover your miles. Some days are all up hill, just after restocking, or in treacherous terrain and the days are just harder. Other days you will have showered, slept well, the wind is at your back and you fly. Using topographical maps, do an honest analysis of how many miles you think you can cover in each section for the difficulty of the terrain. This will construct the number of days out.
Find Water
This may not be an issue on some trails, but on most that are very long drinking water isn't everywhere. It sucks to have to carry your water for more than about 2 days. Water is heavy and rationing can cause anxiety. In each day, mark everywhere there is water. It is important that you don't just mark where you plan on getting the water, but that all water is marked. Some places dry up, some places will freeze, sometimes things just look gross or signs are posted of people getting sick, sometimes you walk right past it and don't realize. Mark all the water and be sure you can have access at least every other day if possible. This might mean a long day or two.
Find Camping
Around here, you can pretty much camp wherever you throw down your tent. This is not the case everywhere. Designated campsites and open enough areas to camp might be sparse. In each day figure out potential camping places. Topographical maps and overlays of state parks can really help here. Keep in mind that if you are camping in a state park or private campsite you might need reservations as much as 9 months in advance.

With mileage, water, and shelter covered, food would be next. Resupplying is just plain necessary. There are many methods which are all outlined really well here. Whatever method you use, consider that it will probably add a significant amount of time (and/or miles) to that day. A bit of shuffling mileage might be necessary around resupply days. For many, resupply days are down days where you sleep, eat like a pig, and take a day off the trail.
Other Considerations
Who is taking you and picking you up?
Most long distance trails are one way so you cannot drive yourself unless the car doesn't matter to you. Many places offer shuttles to well known trail heads. Family members and close friends are often anxious to be helpful if only to consider themselves a part of the process.

Where is your mail forwarded while you are gone?
If no one is at home while you are gone, it has to go somewhere.

How do you figure out work?
Since very rarely does a backpacking trip go as planned, a day or two here or there (even week or two here or there) can be common. Everything is approximate. It is important any employer realizes this or that you leave yourself plenty of leeway between time home and time back to work.

Lots of trails have special provisions for pets or separate sections where pets are allowed. Many just flat out don't allow them due to the ecosystem or wildlife. Check first.

Family and Friend meet-ups?
It is often fun for family and friends to meet up and hike with you in places. Keep this in mind as it will probably add time or mean you need to check in via phone to report on progress.

Mainly, just read, read and read some more. Then realize that everything you read isn't worth much while experiencing the difficulties which always come on vacation.

This time our trip isn't going to be a long one. At only 80 miles it should take us about 2 weeks. However, ample planning is essential for the trip to be fun and for Jules (and my father) not to be worrying like mad at home.

4 thoughts:


Hey, sounds like a fun trip. When are you guys planning on doing this?

Mr. H. said...

I'm surprised to read about the "no pets" restrictions and will have to keep that in mind. We have never run into this before but mostly hike in northern Idaho. I can't wait to here how the boy does. This will be a nice challenge for him.

Granola Girl said...

AinP ~ It is a bit dependent on exactly when the move happens. There appears to be a window between the last couple weeks in January and the beginning of February (when dance classes start again). We are hoping to be moved by then. The weather begins to let up around there too. There is still some snow on the ground in a couple places, but less pouring rain. If we hike East (normally it is hiked West) then we start in the rainshadow and can hike the rainy side even later when the rains will hopefully have died down even more.

Mr. H ~ The pets thing through me for a loop as well. We wanted to go to the Rockies over Spring break, but they don't allow dogs AT ALL. Guadie doesn't play well with others. We are her people and no one else. Rockies were out. The Olympics have areas where dogs can be either. There are sections of this that only allow her to be on a leash. There is also another point along Eagle Creek where many dogs have slid down the side of the exposed trail this time of year (muddy as all get out) so we are going to have to rope her up (and The Barracuda) and anchor ourselves off. She isn't the most cautious. We've already had to fish her out of a river. Jules might just wind up bringing her out when he comes for weekend hikes.

Mel said...

I'm going to live vicariously through you for awhile. Big through hikes are on our agenda when the boys get older (or at least are hiking by themselves and not riding on my back;)

It's so fun to start thinking about it, though!

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