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Tahoe to Yosemite Trail
Principals and Practices for Successful Planning Complex Long Distance Backpacking Trips
April 21, 2017
April 1, 2017 BACKPACKER ALERT:
In force through May??
Always review conditions and weather.
2017 has decisively broken the last six year's (excluding last year) increasingly earlier and earlier Spring Thaw and High Sierra trail opening dates.
Last few year's weather characterizations
Steady flows of tropical rains from November through February deposited a record snow pack while overfilling and flooding many reservoirs, lakes, and rivers. Oroville Dam is not out of risk at the time of this writing in late March.
High Sierra News: Feb-March 2017
High Sierra News: Dec 2016-Jan 2017
DANGEROUS SPRING THAW
At this point we are looking at the potential for incredibly dangerous Spring Thaw conditions when the thaw begins in earnest. The main rivers and streams will not be crossable during this phase. The potential for warm rains or a heat wave bringing a catastrophic thaw and flooding conditions still exists generally across California and locally, in all the individual Sierra Watersheds.
March 22 2017 Backpacker Alert
Spring Status and Disposition factors
February 2017 Backpacker Alert
SNOW ON THE CREST
In the meantime, ski resorts along the Sierra Crest are planning on being open until July 4. This is indicative of how much snow they believe could be on the Crest long past the point most PCT hikers are going to be expecting clear trails.
The trails through the high passes along the Sierra Crestline may not clear of snow until August, if at all. This depends on exactly how the weather and temps work out through Spring.
I've discussed the basic factors controlling our
likely weather outcomes on March 8.
March 18 Update
PCT hiker expectations of an early start and an early passage through the Sierra should be moderated, if not dashed, right now. Unless you are very experienced travelling in very difficult Spring snow conditions.
Current conditions should create expectations that the Sierra will not be passable for Summertime-geared hikers, and especially those deploying ultralight gear, until at least mid-July for those without snow travel skills and the proper snow gear.
Right now I would say that this upcoming hiking year is going to set records for the number of PCT hikers requiring rescue...
2017 Backpacker's Calendar
2016 Backpacking Tracking
A fairly normal Winter and typical, if a bit early opening date for Sierra Trails
2016 Backpacker's Calendar
Addition to the Hiker's Planning Toolbox
Looking at The Dry Sky
The consolidation of fierce fire conditions after four years of record drought during the Summer of 2015 turns our attention to addressing growing safety concerns.
These intensifying fire conditions indicate High Sierra backpackers should have a "rolling fire plan" that observes for indications of fire while accounting for potential escape routes as we cross drainages.
2015 Backpacker's Calendar
Fall 2015 Backpacker's Alert
The High Sierra Backpacker's "Personal" Fire Plan
All Backpacker Alerts
Fire and Smoke
California Smoke Information
High Sierra Weather Information
Monitoring Seasonal Transitions
Weather information and awareness are vital. We use a number of different tools to monitor Winter Weather in the Sierra. We are mainly focused on the progression from Winter's depths through the Spring Thaw into full Summertime conditions to inform Summertime backpackers.
Our goal is to ascertain the unique progression of each year's Spring snow backpacking conditions into Summer's open trails, follow the declining Sun and temperatures through late Summer into Fall, and finally back into the depths of Winter, when Nature begins charging-up the cycle again.
Ascertaining Seasonal Character and Trends
These same observations of the "opening" of High Sierra Summer conditions give us insight into the evolution of each season's unique character and emergent trends. These observations inform our departure date and establish our temperature and trail conditions expectations. The evolution of High Sierra trail conditions out of Spring to when they open for Summer hikers is especially vital for PCT hikers. PCT hikers need to properly time their border-departure date with the expected opening of the High Sierra Trails and their arrival at the foot of the South Sierra.
All of these weather trend observations are vital for backpackers to properly time their departure dates and tune gear selection to conditions in the sky and on the ground.
Adjusting the Backpacker
The alignment of our planned and expected departure date with the actual conditions in the sky and on the ground may become important. The Sierra does not act for, nor fit itself into human expectations. The Sierra does what it does, and either we are ready, or we are not. Trips planned with start dates in May and June are especially dependent on cooperative atmospheric trends.
Only careful observation and analysis of the weather and its trends will balance our trip's plans and our personal expectations with the actual realities we will experience in the sky and on the ground during our trip dates.
Traditions, Trends, and Traps
The snowpack has not traditionally cleared from the high passes along the Sierra Crest Trails until mid-July. The steady trend of earlier and earlier High Sierra Trail opening dates over last 40 years have been gradually changing backpackpacker's expectations.
The slow trend of the High Sierra Trails opening earlier and earlier have been significantly accelerated by our last 4 years of exceptional drought.
The slow change in the seasonal weather patterns coupled with the virtual lack of any snow over the last 4 years have worked together to create the unreasonable and unsafe expectation in many backpacker's minds that the Sierra clears of Spring Snows in May! It does not.
Expecting clear trails in May will be a very unpleasant expectation when the current trend of early Spring Thaws finally "reverts to the mean," and we again have episodes of very heavy snow falls in May and June.
Despite the steady pushing of the Fall and Spring Sierra Seasons into Winter and the significant lengthening of Summertime over the last forty years, I know that we will still experience our "traditional" seasons in the High Sierra. We will just experience our traditional weather patterns much less frequently along a trend line rapidly pushing us to a whole new and different weather pattern.
The Sierra does not reliably clear of snow and open in May, even now. The Sierra only clears of snow in May during times of emergency and serious a-historical conditions. We are "there." The North Pacific weather pattern controlling Sierra weather has been undergoing what I can only describe as a, "long slow-motion train wreck."
A slow but steady set of alterations to our North Pacific weather pattern have brought dramatic changes to every aspect of our historical High Sierra weather pattern. One of the main elements of change is the strong trend towards "Indian Summers," of warm and dry Fall-seasons stretching right into Winter. Fall's warming trend has been generally reinforced and complimented by the long term trend of weakening, shortening Winters, and this whole warming and drying trend has been consolidated by earlier and earlier Spring Thaws.
Winter has been slowly shortening over the past decades, and has virtually disappeared for at least the duration of our drought. It will return, and we must be ready when it does.
This new pattern has given many backpackers the impression and expectation that the High Sierra Trails open in May and close in November. They do not. Well, not reliably, which gives me concerns for the safety of early and late season backpackers. Snow in May and June during Spring should not be unexpected, nor should bouts of early-Winter snows falling in October be surprising.
These warmer and drier conditions we are experiencing earlier during Spring and later in Fall are still happening within a context of low or declining seasonal air temperatures. These conditions always bring the potential for serious snow storms.
This fact requires that we always enter Spring conditions knowing what the odds are that a late-season freak Winter/Spring storm could quickly lay down two feet of powder snow. This would cover our trail and radically change the look of the terrain and likely obscure our landmarks. Two feet of unexpected snow makes hiking very cold and very difficult. Even desperately difficult.
This is the source of both great risk and great pleasure for Backpackers who venture into the High Sierra during early Spring and late Fall. Be perfectly aware of them before departing.
Backpacker Be Ready
Hikers on the trail near and beyond October 1st and those on the trail before the 1st of July risk being caught out by early and late-season snow storms, respectively. The important point is that we know these are risky behaviors, that we monitor their likelihood of their occurrence, and that we prepare ourselves for unexpected worse-case weather trends.
High Sierra Weather Resources
Also see our
High Sierra Calendar
to track the
Evolution of High Sierra Seasons
Long Distance High Sierra Backpacking
Identifying and Balancing the Factors of Success and Failure
Our first goal hiking out of the Meeks Bay Trailhead is to successfully pull off the 175.38 mile backpacking trip down the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite while staying safe, healthy and fit. This requires we be able to stay warm & dry, well-nourished & well fed, and well insulated and sheltered.
We previously discussed the
differences between the TYT and PCT routes South to Tuolumne Meadows.
The well-nourished and fed part of this equation requires excellent planning and logistics.
Being warm, dry, and properly sheltered is a function of good gear as much as having the knowledge and skills to anticipate weather conditions to properly select and deploy the gear we will need during our trip, especially if and when the winds and weather get going. Weather happens.
Once we have developed the skills, fitness, experience, and gear to successfully hike from Tahoe to Yosemite we will be fully fit, capable, and checked out for hiking the Tahoe to Whitney, the PCT, the AT, or any other long trail. But use caution. Once you put a foot on the trail you may never get off again!
Reaching our long distance hiking goals from "scratch," beginning cold with no backpacking experience requires a bit of training, practice, and study. We must train our bodies, practice the backpacking arts, and study the patterns and behaviors of Nature, especially the weather. Everything is tuned to the weather. The mostly benign activities of the plants and animals* in the Sierra Nevada follow seasonal rhythms, but only the weather will kill you.
Most typically through lightening strikes and failed fordings, but improperly insulated hikers who are cold and tired die of exposure on a regular basis.
If we have backpacking experience, we must make it current. We must brush the rust off our skills, and recharge our physical fitness. All hikers should plan a series of increasingly longer and more difficult hikes to bring our field skills up to speed. We need to have a good understanding of our current comfortable backpacking capabilities long before we hit the trailhead.
Find Your Feet
These prep trips will be first designed to find our current levels of fitness and skills, and work out the bugs. This information will help us plan the correct series of evolving difficulty backpacking trips necessary to consolidate, then begin evolving our skills, fitness, experience and knowledge to the highest level of difficulty and pace appropriate, safe, and comfortable for each of us.
These trips will give us all the specific information about ourselves that we need to understand and plan long distance backpacking trips appropriate for our capacities.
Meeks Bay backpacking into Desolation Wilderness is a good place to get started on our personal program, starting the TYT, and finally beginning our Tahoe to Whitney hike.
All three, given enough time.
*If you sleep with your food a bear could kill you going for the food, though injury is more likely. I consider mishandling of food a "human caused" danger, and not inherent in the bear's activity or behaviors. At least not in the Sierra Nevada. Black Bears outside the Sierra Nevada behave differently in different places.
Camp and Trail Skills
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General Outline & Strategy
We have three potential resupply points between Tahoe and Yosemite. Many times I hike the TYT I only use two of the three resupply points, by-passing the Northernmost Echo Lake Chalet. My rational for this is more social than practical, though practical too. Socially, I want to get the heck away from the crazy busy conditions at the Lower Echo Lake Trailhead and Echo Chalet as soon as possible.
As beautiful as Desolation Wilderness is, it is very crowded. The facilities at Lower Echo Lake are the center of that concentration of social access. I really want to hit some secluded trail after hiking across "Desolation" Wilderness!
I was once driven into Lower Echo Lake for a backpacking trip planned to hike North into Desolation during early Summer. As soon as we pulled into the upper parking lot I asked my ride to bring me back out, to Echo Summit, as soon as I saw the crowds.
Desolation Wilderness gets crazy busy with backpackers.
I ended up hiking South to Lake Alpine from Echo Summit after seeing the crowds massing in the Desolation Wilderness parking area. These same crowds afford a degree of comfort to new backpackers. Desolation Wilderness is a good place to work out skills and fitness issues with a heck of a lot of folks around if you have a degree of discomfort being along in Nature.
You are never alone in Desolation Wilderness. I consider its name ironic.
And, the beauty of Desolation Wilderness remains intact, regardless of the max capacity crowds and culture surrounding its natural splendor. The permit and quota system maintains Desolation at its maximum capacity of traffic without suffering more degradation.
This is a fantastically beautiful Sierra landscape where rookie backpackers can evolve their backpacking skills close to easy bail-out options and with lots of company on the trails to provide a comforting environment. Desolation Wilderness is not just a great start for our Tahoe to Yosemite Trail backpacking trip, but is a great place to begin High Sierra backpacking itself.
Desolation Wilderness is rookie backpacker heaven.
Echo Chalet is only 30 miles South of our TYT starting point out of Meeks Bay Trailhead, so this section of trail a great option for a warm up trip to get us ready for longer and longer runs down the Sierra Crestline.
Echo Chalet is also an optional resupply spot for all Tahoe to Yosemite Trail hikers, depending on our current carrying capacities, preferences, and goals. Yet the 42.28 miles from Echo Chalet to the Lake Alpine Lodge added to the 30 miles pushing our first resupply point out to 72.28 miles might be beyond the capacities or desires of many backpackers. It will be just right for others.
In either case the 15 lbs of food weight required for the unresupplied run down to Lake Alpine makes for a heavy pack weight starting out of Meeks Bay.
Echo Chalet's location North of our other two potential trailheads in the South Lake Tahoe Basin described on this trail guide makes it irrelevant for anyone hiking South out of them.
Those are the Echo Summit and South Upper Truckee Trailheads in the
Southwestern and most Southern parts of the Lake Tahoe Basin.
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Starting out of the Echo Summit or South Upper Truckee trailheads reduces the distance of our hike to Tuolumne Meadows by roughly 30 and 33 miles, respectively, than hiking South out of Meeks Bay. The trails out of the Echo Summit and the South Upper Truckee Trailheads are significantly less crowded than the trails hiking through Desolation during Summertime, especially the South Upper Truckee Trailhead.
Sadly, these other trailhead do not hike through the granite wonderland that is Desolation Wilderness. But they are very quiet and deeply forested trailheads and trails, when compared to Desolation Wilderness. The beauty is not less, but is a more subtle mix of forest, rock, meadow and valley.
Sections Between Resupply Points
Skipping Echo Chalet as a resupply point hiking South out of Meeks Bay puts the distance from Meeks Bay to our first resupply at the Lake Alpine Lodge at 67.6 miles along the route of the TYT. The distance from Lake Alpine to Kennedy Meadows Pack Station is 34.57 miles, and the final leg of the TYT from Kennedy Meadows to Tuolumne Meadows measures out at 73.21 miles.
The last section of trail from Kennedy Meadows to Tuolumne Meadows is not just long, but it also presents a higher degree of physical difficulty than the previous sections of trail. We cross the Five Canyons of the North Yosemite Backcountry along this section of trail.
Notes on the Trans-Sierra Highways
Unmaintained Segments of the
Tahoe to Yosemite
We must take the unmaintained segments of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail across the Mokelumne and Carson Iceberg Wilderness Areas into our accounting of what it will take to hike each section's miles. Unmaintained trails are much harder to hike and take significantly longer to cross than an equal distance of maintained trails. Even longer and harder if we cannot follow and stay on the optimal route.
Night and Day
Ironically, though the TYT begins in what is often the busiest Wilderness in the USA, Desolation Wilderness, it quickly passes into a
couple of the most remote segments of the most remote wilderness areas in the Sierra Nevada. The change is like Night and Day. The Western edges of the Mokelumne and Carson Iceberg Wilderness are not anywhere as busy as the Desolation and Yosemite Wilderness Areas to their North and South, and their unmaintained segments along the TYT are quite isolated even during the peak of the Summer backpacking season.
Including Echo Chalet as a resupply spot breaks our first section down into 30 miles to Lower Echo Chalet from Meeks Bay Trailhead followed by 37 miles from Echo Chalet to the Lake Alpine Lodge. Otherwise it's 67.6 miles hiking South from Meek Bay to Lake Alpine, as mentioned above.
Heavy and Light
Using Echo Chalet to resupply keeps our pack weight low across our first section of trail, which will be important if our fitness and carrying capacity are not up to our highest potentials. We've got to match our plans to our level of fitness and experience, gradually increasing both. In this case using Echo Chalet to resupply keeps our pack weight down during our first days acclimating to the rigors of the trail. That's always nice.
The point here is that we've got the option of hiking South to Lake Alpine on one resupply or none. Starting out of the Southern Tahoe Basin Trailheads (Echo Summit and South Upper Truckee) eliminates Echo Chalet as a resupply option.
Each of these sections of trail between resupply points can be hiked as an excellent stand-alone backpacking trip. Hiking a section of the PCT or the maintained elements of the TYT across the North Sierra is a fantastic way to get our backpacking skills going, once we get our body and mind woken up a bit.
Using this plan of evolving our skills through a series of shorter trips of increasing distance and difficulty will quickly ready us for the long trails along the Sierra Crest with the minimal amount of pain. We can begin with short trips within Desolation Wilderness and the South Tahoe Basin, then expand our distance capacity sufficiently to first span the shorter sections of trail between resupply points, then the longer.
This is a good way to begin approaching all long trails, including
the TWT, TYT, the PCT, CDT, or AT.
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External and Internal Constraints of Resupply Planning
Time, Distance, Food Density, and Weight
HOW ARE WE GOING TO PLAN THIS?
We've a pressing need to figure out a good resupply plan that will nourish us properly over the six weeks (or so) it takes us to cross the distances between all of our resupply spots from Tahoe to Whitney. We don't want to carry too much, nor too little food between resupply points.
How much food we need is determined by how many days it takes us to hike each section, which is determined by how many miles we can walk every day, over a series of days.
The nature of today's culture dictates that most people's backpacking trips are taken with emphasis on, and within restricted time constraints. We have a certain number of "days" we can get away, so our trips must fit within these time constraints. Thus our trip distance is the product of the number of days we have times the number of daily miles we are capable of crossing each day. I'm not a big fan of this approach, but you've got to do what you've got to do to get what you need...
Let's say we can string together the time necessary to hike from Tahoe to Whitney. Or our desired sections of trail. From five to fifty days.
In that case the constraints of our planning are our expectations about the nature of the trip we want to have between each resupply point. First, our plans must be within the constraints of our capacities and experience. This requires we know our capabilities. We cannot make good plans unless we understand our capacities.
Thus we execute a series of training trips.
Once we got that covered,
I prefer to divide the overall distance of the backpacking trip I want to hike by the number of miles I want to hike each day, then modify that number within the practical constraints of the terrain, the distance between resupply points, and the food and gear weight, including the food brought for potential days off in sweet locations, some planned scrambles to explore the terrain, and emergencies. Oh, and staying at my favorite campsites along the way.
That's the logic I prefer to use planning my backpacking trips, if circumstances permit. This approach gives us a lot of flexibility both planning and executing trips.
Our social-work-"real-world" time constraints may deny us the time necessary to hike the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail, let alone hiking the Sierra Crest from Tahoe to Whitney. Thus we are thankful we can section hike and hike fantastic loops in the North and South Sierra.
Planning for the Longest
TYT Section between Resupply Points
OK, now that we've got our trip-planning logic matched to the trips we have time for, we've got to make sure that we can handle the requirements our hiking plan puts on our level of fitness across the longest and most difficult length of trail between resupply points on our Tahoe to Yosemite backpacking trip.
That's the 73.21 mile section from Kennedy Meadows Pack Station to Tuolumne Meadows. Let's round this up to 75 for convenience.
First, let's look at the Kennedy Meadows to Tuolumne Meadows section "structurally." By "structure" I mean looking at the physical outline of the trail in terms of miles and difficulty against some typical levels of backpacker performance.
The "M," being the number of hiking miles per day we can sustain for "D," the number of days we can hike those miles determines "TD," the total days it will take us to cross this 75 mile section. Our "D," the number of hiking days is then multiplied by the weight of each day's food to determine our final pack weight.
This means the distance of any trip is divided by our "M" to find its "D," which is then multiplied by the weight of one day's food to ascertain the starting weight of our pack.
7.5 miles per day
If the maximum daily miles we can hike is 7.5 miles per day, and this is a hard section, and each day's food weighs 2.5 lbs a day, then our 7.5 miles per day requires 10 of hiking. Ten days of hiking requires we carry 25 pounds of food. Most of us will struggle and suffer badly carrying the weight of a ten day trip cross this long, difficult section of trail.
10 miles per day
If the maximum daily miles we can hike is 10 miles per day, then our 7.5 days of hiking will require we carry 18.75 lbs of food. Most of us will exhibit various degrees of stress and strain carrying the weight of a seven-point-five day trip cross this long, difficult section of trail.
Going slow will not help us. The extra weight required will punish us.
The 18.75 lbs of a hike of 7.5 day's duration is still punishing.
15 miles per day
You might not think that 15 a day is a merciful pace. But it is.
The distance from KM to TM takes 5 days if we can sustain 15 miles per day. This brings our food weight down to 12.5 pounds, still heavy, but much more manageable than the 25 pounds required for a ten day passage.
We are trading a considerable increase in hiking distance for a considerable reduction in pack weight.
I consider this as a very productive trade-off, in that it is responsive to our adjustments. We can lighten-up our pack for the "lightening" runs, and fill it up for our more leisurely strolls.
The Central Contradiction
All backpacking reflects the contradiction between our pace, the weight of our pack, and the duration of our trip. The heavier our pack the slower our pace can be, but a longer duration of trip will be necessary for the same distance.
The lighter our pack the faster our pace can and must be, to attain higher miles per day,
to shorten the duration of our trip.
Two Sides of the Same
Now, if we are planning on joining the heavy-side we have to assess our carrying-capacity, our ability to endure under heavy loading conditions, especially when crossing difficulty terrain. We need to know our strength and level of fitness are sufficient for the steep terrain under heavy load.
On the light-side we must assess if our aerobic and endurance capabilities are sufficient to maintain 15 mpd for five and a half days crossing the 75 miles dividing Kennedy Meadows from Tuolumne Meadows.
The maps of this section of trail reveal the very challenging set of climbs and descents crossing the Five Canyons in the heart of the North Yosemite Backcounty. The hike approaching this most difficult segment of trail out of Kennedy Meadows Pack Station is one of our major climbs back to the Sierra Crestline from lower elevations along the Western Flank. Let's take a closer look.
Measuring the miles and elevations of our climbs and descents marks this out as a
very difficult section of trail. We climb from 6400 feet of elevation at Kennedy Meadows to 9760 miles crossing Brown Bear Pass over a little less than 11 miles.
North Yosemite Backcountry
Once we begin crossing the North Yosemite Backcountry we find a closely spaced series of difficult steep ascents and bone-rattling descents into the series of deep canyons dividing this set of massive ridges running off the West Flank of the Sierra wrapping around the North end of Yosemite National Park.
This section is noted as the "Washboard," and "The Five Canyons" of the North Yosemite Backcountry. It is formidable terrain. OK, now we know that our longest 75 mile section of trail is also very physically demanding.
A Difficult Section
The Hardest Section of the TYT-PCT
The hardest segment of the trail from Kennedy Meadows to Tuolumne Meadows begins in earnest where we hike East out of Jack Main Canyon beginning our 34.51 mile hike across the "Washboard," ending where we climb out of Virginia Canyon into the top of Cold Canyon. From the top of Cold Canyon it's a big downhill run to Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp.
It is a Hard-2 trail to get up and into Jack Main Canyon hiking South from
Kennedy Meadows Pack Station. The trail South out of Jack Main Canyon to the top of Cold Canyon across the North Yosemite Backcountry achieves our highest rating of Hard-1.
Hardest Section between Tahoe and Whitney
Our trip planning/map review will identify the character of this whole 73 mile section trail from Highways 108 to 120 as difficult, with this 34.51 segment of trail from Jack Main Canyon to the top of Cold Canyon as the hardest degree of High Sierra trail difficulty, and the physically hardest segment of trail along the whole length of the Tahoe to Yosemite, John Muir, and Pacific Crest Trails between Tahoe and Whitney, in my opinion.
The difficult nature of this section of trail establishes that we will suffer terribly if our trip plan exceeds our physical capabilities by too much, or if we make the most common of rookie mistakes.
Prep Trip Evaluation
We have a need to establish and verify that our capabilities are sufficient for our objectives, and at least determine the sustained miles we are capable of hiking, as well as the food and gear necessary to support and maintain our pace before we plan or try to execute this difficult section of trail.
These needs suggest the utility of a couple of local prep trips for rookie backpackers to establish their capacities, and maybe a couple of short Sierra prep trips for experienced backpackers who have gotten out of shape and practice.
Just what are we shooting for with our training and prep trips?
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Standard Time, Distance and Weight Capacities
15 MPD with Proper Gear
Yup, it's 15 mpd. I consider the ability to hike 15 miles per day over a five day span at high altitude in steep High Sierra mountain terrain the minimum distance and time standard capacity for safe and successful long distance backpackers. This is a level of fitness. It requires the capacity to hike 75 miles over five-day week.
This capacity allows us to cross long distances between resupply points without being required to carry excessive food weight for extended periods of time. Unless you want to, and can hike heavy and slow.
Making 15 miles a day through this 75 mile long section of trail over five days requires excellent fitness, or intermediate fitness and a higher degree of suffering. I would prefer to structure this section of trail from Highways 108 to 120 on a 5 day, 15 mpd basic schedule to maintain low food weight. But that might be kind of crazy.
I always advocate carrying an extra day's food as we will see in the food section below. My rational is that I've hiked so far, long, and hard to get into the middle of "nowhere" that I am going to have the food to give me the time to kick back and enjoy it.
We will also discuss this in the food section, but suffice to say that our extra day of food will give us slack on the trail if we are not as fit as possible,
and slack to explore more, and take full advantage of the fitness we do have.
The bottom line is that if we show up at our starting trailhead ready to roll out 15 miles per day as we reach acclimation, we have arrived with the physical resources necessary to succeed.
If our fitness is an ornament to the correct gear we selected, compliments our solid logistics, and reflects the wisdom of our evolving experience, we are ready to roll!
Having the capacity to carry heavy weight is important over the length of this 75 mile section, and will become even more important over the much longer 130 miles separating our last resupply point at Muir Ranch from the end of our trail through Whitney Portal.
I figure the distance from Muir to the Portal is at least 130 miles for us after we visit Darwin Bench, do some scrambling around upper Evolution Basin, and explore Center Basin. There are lots of cool places to explore along the John Muir Trail with our extra days of food.
We can get by with lower physical standards hiking the section from Kennedy Meadows to Tuolumne Meadows, but we will have a very difficult time carrying the weight of our pack from Muir Ranch to the Whitney Portal if our range is only 10 miles per day. Ten miles per day means that the 13 days of food we would have to pack will make the weight of our packs quite unpleasant.
Therefore it is it vitally important that we are capable of maintaining our 15 mpd pace over the nine days (+/-) hiking the section from Muir to Whitney, but we are going to have to do it while carrying a heavy pack by anyone's definition of heavy.
Even by my crazy standards, and by the military's even crazier standards, too.
Lightweight backpackers cry when they see my pack... Marines laugh knowingly.
Quotes from Mountain Trainers
A great Marine Quote:
"Hump it Dude! Hump it"
Another favorite US Marine Quote:
"We're the ones who will scrape your dead frozen ass off a tree."
I loved that "dead tree hugger" quote. I was laughing when they told me that... I do Winter work around the East Carson River South to Leavitt Peak, so I sometimes run into Marines out there during my Winter expeditions. The next day one group I met drove their snow cat "thing" out searching for me to deliver hot coffee and skol!
There are some pretty cool Jarheads out there.
Just as one should adjust to backpacking gradually, so too should we gradually increase our carrying capacity, distance, duration, and speed capacities. Gradually increasing the length and duration of our prep trips gradually increases our pack weight. These heavy prep trips will encourage us to do our sit-ups and weight training, as well as our road work.
The mountains will bring you to your potential and/or to your knees.
Hell, its done both to me, repeatedly. Up and Down.
How We Roll
Hey, I'm not being critical about lightweight nor heavyweight backpackers. Each to their own. Each has its time and place. I've met (and been a) successful slow and heavy long distance backpacker. It's just that "slow and heavy" is a tough way to go! Backpackers should train for a productive balance between strength, endurance, and speed.
If you can't do the daily distance carrying the weight required for safety you must improve your capacity to carry heavier weight over longer distances and timespans. It is as simple as that.
Don't use lightweight gear to make up for your physical deficiencies. Train for the capacity and competence to carry everything that you need, then extend that capacity with lightweight gear. Don't put the cart before the horse.
Having the capacity to sustain 15 miles a day is sufficient to hike across the two longest sections of trail between Tahoe and Whitney. Both the 75 mile section of trail from Highway 108 to 120 and the 130 miles from Muir Ranch to the Whitney Portal demand our most close attention during planning, and not just for their extreme lengths.
The next question is "15 miles a day over what?" The section of trail from Highway 108 to Highway 120 is one of the two hardest sections of trail between Tahoe and Whitney, if not the hardest. Our even longer Muir Ranch to the Portal section is the other. These are both extremely difficult sections of trail, as well as being very long.
I believe the Five Canyons crossing the North Yosemite Backcountry is the most physically demanding segment of the Tahoe to Whitney Trails. The terrain across the section from Muir Ranch to the Whitney Portal is not as physically demanding, but covers a significantly longer distance. Duration makes up for sheer difficulty.
For difficulty due to length and terrain the Muir Ranch to Portal section is hardest, but the North Yos Backcountry contains the single most difficult segment of trail difficulty between Lake Tahoe and Mount Whitney. Well, that's how I rate them.
All Hard Trails
Though both of these two sections are exceptionally difficult, we cannot underestimate the high degree of difficulty that the "average" High Sierra trail presents. All of our trails between Tahoe and Whitney are difficult, steep, high altitude trails crossing remote terrain that present a number of objective and subjective dangers.
High Sierra Mountain Safety
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Welcome to the
The Twilight Zone
Though we are focusing on the number of days we will be on the trail, the distance we must hike per day, and how these factors determine our food and total pack weight, the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route also has some serious route issues we must contend with.
The TYT contains two substantial lengths of unmaintained trail. Our workload per mile increases significantly on unmaintained routes, and our psychological and physical stresses and strains will radically increase if we are unable to stay on and follow the optimal line of the best route through these unmaintained sections.
We can get ourselves into real trouble if we are in sub-par fitness and get off-route along the unmaintained segments of the TYT. A heavy pack is also troublesome in unmaintained conditions. It is vitally important that backpackers on the unmaintained segments of the TYT have the fitness and route-finding skills required to maintain safety across these more challenging and difficult segments of the TYT.
Dangers of Hiking Unmaintained Trails
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Fitness Vs. Difficulty
The levels of fitness a backpacker approaches the Sierra Nevada with establishes the subjective level of difficulty they will experience on any particular trail. These intertwined levels of backpacker fitness and "objective" trail difficulty determine both the nature of the each backpacker's subjective experience, and the span of time they can maintain their efforts.
Our trip plan must be within our physical capacities and limits or it will fail.
Below the fundamental level of the "success vs. failure" of our trip is the quality of our subjective experience.
Pain and Pleasure
The balance we craft between the external physical and navigational demands of the terrain against our resident internal physical and navigational capacities, balanced upon our personal expectations determine not just if our backpacking plan is feasible, but the nature of the subjective experience itself.
This balance between our expectations and reality determines just where the line between
pain and pleasure falls across our trip.
We can suffer greatly, get lost, and even die if we have mis-assessed our capabilities and skills for the level of difficulty of the unmaintained segments of the TYT. We can rise to, meet, and overcome great internal and external challenges if our trip is close enough, if not perfectly matched to our skills and fitness.
These intertwined time, distance, and difficulty parameters are the three most important external physical factors determining our planning and resupply planning needs, but the real key to balancing these external factors are each backpacker's internal physical capacities.
Each of us entertains psychological expectations that are wedged between the external demands of the environment and our internal physical capacities. Every backpacker has some sense of expectations about how the trip will work out.
The success of our expectations is dependent on how well we matched our trip selection and planning against our fitness and skills.
Three backpackers hiking with each other on the same trip can have very, very
different experiences! One can be in full joy mode while the second is struggling along at capacity as the third is suffering terribly.
I want to be the one in full engagement mode. Therefore a series of prep trips to establish capacity, grow skills, and temper expectations to reality is a wise approach
to building the physical, psychological, and experiential foundations for successfully planning and executing long distance backpacking trips.
Training with honest self-analysis shows us our capacities and guides our trip selection to properly balance the pains and pleasures of our backpacking trips within a reasonable set of expectations.
Bracketed somewhere between the pains and pleasures of our long walk through Nature lies the meaning of life. I certainly can't tell you what that is for you. But I can tell you where you can find it for yourself, and practices helpful for hunting it down for yourself.
I see the meaning of the life within me best when I can reflect the spirit of life in Nature around me. My backpacking research leads me to believe that the power of nature congregates within large, uninterrupted natural spaces, and that this power can be reflected and concentrated to revive and recharge the spirit of life in even the most damaged humans.
As I see it, all of our backpacking training and prep are to shake off the cobwebs from our natural abilities to engage with, and reflect the Spirit of Life in Nature. Part of this engagement is physical, part of it is psychological. Part of it is inside of you, the rest outside.
My goal is to get your physical and psychological reflective lens cleaned up and engaged reflecting Nature in a self-perpetuating manner while constructively balancing pain and pleasure.
It's all gravy after that.
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I have seen many, many suffering backpackers on the PCT, JMT, and TYT.
One of the most common mistakes I have seen hundreds of times on the trail is that folks did not include breaking in their boots and preparing their feet for the high stresses and strains that working across 15 miles of hard terrain every day puts on them. Any little lack of preparing our feet and footwear for the duration and degree of stress they are going to endure assures some degree of suffering with blisters and sore feet.
Ass rash is another minor malady that can spoil our pain-pleasure balance. We may get a series of soft-skin rashes if our rubbing skin parts are not hardened to walking 15 miles a day. For some folks it's their armpits, others their crotch, some their butt cheeks. Lots of chicks have rubbing thighs that will torture them without proper prep.
Everyone has something soft that rubs the wrong way! Only training will tell what that is, and harden it for the trail.
Knee, hip, and shoulder pain are the common products of lack of use and training for each of these "backpacking joints." These are all unnecessary pains on the trail.
The strain of a heavy pack cutting into soft shoulders is passed structurally through sore hips and knees down into our blistered feet. Every movement generates pain.
We can easily prevent all of these stresses if we bring our shoulders, hips, knees and feet all up to the level of exertion required by backpacking gradually, rather than just throwing ourselves out of the frying pan into the fire at the trailhead.
All of these issues should be confronted and mitigated on prep backpacking trips and through training.
Could Have, Would Have, Should Have...
We may very well be within our actual physical limits, but small lapses in planning to prepare our feet, knees, shoulders, hips, and bum for the cumulative effects of long-term backpacking repetition quickly turns what could have been a pleasurable trip painful.
The Vortex of Pain
These minor flesh, joint, and structural maladies can quickly combine to magnify the aerobic/metabolic strain we are already suffering under, all of which ultimately work together to multiply the "apparent," weight of our pack.
Everything seems heavier, harder, and more exhausting when blisters, ass rash, and/or aching knee, hip, and shoulder joints are simultaneously torturing us!
The freeking joy of backpacking!
Small physical issues that could have been easily mitigated by some prior prep training can shift our subjective experience on the trail from delightful to dreadful in an instant. Ironically, we may easily have had the capacity to perform the hike pain-free, if only we had trained and properly hardened ourselves for the tasks.
The stresses of backpacking can produce a huge amount of pain when applied "cold"
to soft bones, muscles, and tissues.
These are the reasons my pack is named HOPP, the Harness of Pain and Pleasure.
It is a Wise Proverb that says,
"Slowly boiled frogs stay for dinner."
Napoleon should have added feet and asses to the stomachs
that carry successful long-distance pack-carriers to their goals.
Long Term Planning
A good trip plan goes well beyond the logistics and difficulties of the trail to include our personal and physical preparation and training. We must be able to effectively burn the calories we carry, which means our planning must include prepping our heart, lungs, legs, and feet for the trail and the shoulders, back and hips for the pack.
The Art of Walking
The physical and psychological skills we discuss above are the fundamental elements of the Art of Walking. I have rough drafts of the Training and Art of Walking sections up, but I will not finish them until I've got the Guide and Forum substantially complete.
One of the greatest joys is the feeling of full engagement with Nature. The Art of Walking is the process of weaving the elements of our physical, "social," intellectual and spiritual perspectives into full and active engagement with the natural realities around us.
The bottom end of Full Engagement
is exercising the capacity to find our feet the perfect stepping spots along the route while simultaneously keeping our moving position in the surrounding terrain on the optimal line of the route while fully observing the patterns of life, weather, and movement within the environment around us.
We were designed by nature to move over all terrains in all weather conditions while observing all factors surrounding us while chasing or being chased.
The Art of Walking is about bringing our self as close to full engagement with Nature across every aspect of our existence as possible. It is our very physical contact with the trail and its abstract reverberations. It is the fundamental layers of experience, observation and analysis we apply to each aspect of our existence. It is the sounds in, and the "feeling" of the air. It is our navigational awareness, it is matching our pulse to our pace, it is our awareness of every factor at play within and without us as we cross natural terrain.
Hiking through It is the goal, the beginning and the end.
It is the endless trail of Life.
Sierra Trails are portals into some of Life's most magnificent manifestations.
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Planning and Logistics
Food works out to weigh about two and a half to three pounds a day. This specifically depends on how many calories per day we need. A big dude is going to need significantly more calories than a little chick to be doing exactly the same distance over exactly the same time span. Both will need significant calories to maintain high work output over successive days and weeks on the trail, but the weight of food each needs for the same task will be considerably different.
Each hiker's weight, body type, metabolism, and level of fitness determines their specific food needs for various levels of daily mileage. Nonetheless, we all choose our specific menus, which determines how much a given number of calories weighs.
I maintain a rough 100 calories average energy content per ounce of food weight for my food. This means that one pound of food contains roughly 1600 calories, putting my daily food consumption of +/- 3200 calories at two pounds.
How many calories a day you need, and how much these calories weigh are going to determine how much your food and therefore your pack weighs across each section of trail between resupply points. I pack as dense high-calorie foods as possible, balanced by the need for fruits and fiber. This works out to an average of 100 calories per ounce of food carried.
The weight of our clothing, personal, survival, and cooking gear is consistent during each hiking season, and between resupply points along our route. Thus the weight of our food is the unique variable that determines our pack's final weight for each section of trail on a given trip.
Once we establish our food needs, set our hiking schedule, and get all of our gear established we can know what our pack will weigh starting each section of trail from Tahoe to Whitney before we even put a foot on the trail.
This weight represents our obligation to train or suffer. And, it gets better.
Extra Day's Food
My standard policy is to carry one extra day's food between resupply points for flexibility along the trail. One day's extra food provides two half-days off for rest, observation, climbing, or scrambling. I have a long list of locations along each section of trail demanding exploration.
Carrying an extra day's food allows us to spend two nights at one "base camp" location to pull off a major local scramble, to bag a local peak, or just to wander around a selected area for some basic understanding.
Or we can take two half-days off at two different locations, with us having a half-day's scrambling time at each. Or rest time. Time to observe. I know what you fisher-folk will be doing!
However you use it, Food is Time. Time is flexibility on the trail. Food is weight, and weight is pain.
Knowing that a little extra pain (food weight) can multiply our pleasures on the trail gives our training program even more meaning. Our training allows up to get much deeper into nature with much less pain per pound.
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The Harness of Pleasure and Pain
My basic pack weight has hovered around 35lbs (+/-) without food or water for quite some time now. That is considered a "heavy"
pack by the lightweight crowd. My Winter pack begins without food at 45 lbs, in case you were wondering. This is not all gear.
TRAIL GUIDE GEAR
Pack weights include a tripod, two cameras, extra batteries, solar charger, a day pack, and lots of note paper. I also carry an extra pair of light "tennis shoes," a tent, and most times a book or two. All that is in addition to my standard insulation, camp, and cooking gear.
I even carried a set of 35mm lenses for a while. The cowboys at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station say I'm a mule. I believe the expert balance of capacity, training, expectations, imagination, and pain management make anything possible.
More practically, I say carry what you need, need what you carry, and always have a bit of extra space in your pack for a little bit more. Call that your safety margin. Always design one into every aspect of your backpacking plans.
Four Season Gear List
THE ANNUAL CYCLE
As a Wintertime backpacker I've come to view the Summer trails as a type of training ground for Winter activities, therefore a heavy Summer pack is just the first step to Winter Joy. We'll soon be trotting up and down the Sierra Crest with that heavy bad boy Summer pack, muttering "Winter is Coming!," after not too much time on the trail.
We know life is good when we are trotting down Summertime High Sierra Trails chasing the thoughts of Winter travel right through Fall into the rigors of Winter... and it gets better.
We can lighten our gear and extend our snow trips as Winter breaks down into Spring, the days get longer, and the beauty of backpacking the High Sierra Spring snow pack crowns the promise of the upcoming thaw, and takes the measure of the potential upcoming blooming of the Engine of Life that is Spring in the High Sierra.
Once I get done packing all my snacks, hot drinks, and tasty "extras" that I deeply enjoy on the trail, my one day food weight can run up to 3 pounds, and pack over 4000 calories. So I generally call it 15 pounds for a five day food supply.
Tailor your daily food supply to your specific physical needs and pleasures, and make its weight consistent and reasonably predictable for each day.
3 lbs of food per day over 5 days packed into my 35 lb pack puts my typical KM to TM pack weight at 50 lbs. This will be carried over 75 miles in a standard five day crossing. This will make for fairly long hiking days, with little slack. If we pack six days of food we be able to take a full day, or a couple of half-days off, giving us a bunch of time to study, and soak in the nature of the terrain much more closely.
What's your gear-only pack weight? What's your "Poundage Per Day" of food perfect for you? What will your pack weigh with the five days of food necessary to hike from Kennedy Meadows to Tuolumne Meadows? Adding an extra sixth day of food?
The bottom line here is "bring what you need, need what you bring," and "don't exceed your carrying capacity." Getting need and capacity balanced and squared away requires figuring out our current capacities and applying the training through practice trips required to understand what it will take to successfully complete the hardest section of our trail.
Again, my fifty pound pack is considered very heavy. It requires training and prep to carry without excessive pain. Without training pace is restricted, pain unleashed. Your pack should not weigh as much as mine, either proportionally to your weight, or in real weight. But, my pack weight is not so much a specific weight as it is an approach to backpacking.
We confront the demands of backpacking directly with strength through training, not by diminishing our load.
I am looking to constantly improve my carrying capacity. Well, at least preserve my capacity to occasionally reach the potential I have. I am a Mule. Your range of goals is dependent upon your perspective and expectations. You must adjust your plans to suit your carrying capacity, as well as who, and what you are, in terms of moving logically towards who and what you want to be.
Finding either brings the other. Both are measured from Nature's standards.
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Avoiding Bad Starts
Backpackers commonly experience three negative responses during the beginning & early stages of acclimation to High Sierra backpacking. I've seen many well-conditioned backpackers experience stomach discomfort and lose their hunger, get fierce headaches, and get locked up by constipation during the early stages of high altitude Sierra backpacking trips.
I put the line where elevation altitude problems begin at 7000 feet. This is the altitude where work is noticeably more difficult and our bodies automatically begin acclimating.
I've lost my own hunger on the first days of a Sierra hike, gotten a headache that could knock down the mule, and become locked up like Fort Knox, completely constipated, all while making a difficult transition from city to natural environment.
Altitude acclimation problems are a big "Ace of Spades" sign warning us to mitigate our workload and carefully monitor the progress of our physical status under the reduced load.
Altitude effect phenomena are not at all uncommon. My remedy for the latter, for constipation, has been to start the trail diet a few days before hitting the trail. Overall, I find that being well-trained, well-rested, and well-hydrated before hitting the trail reduces the impact of acclimation that kills hunger, constipates the bowel, and aches the head.
A night or two at high altitude without work, such as camping at our high altitude trailhead the night before starting our trip, helps the body adjust to altitude before putting it under stress.
Mayo Clinic, Prep for Altitude, pdf.
Altitude alone is a significant hazard. Altitude amplified by hard work under a heavy pack up a steep Sierra climb during a heat wave is a significant shot to the metabolic balance of even the fittest backpacker.
The interface between Objective and Subjective Hazards
I look at altitude acclimation as an Objective Danger who's specific impact is Subjectively experienced. This means each of our unique transitions to altitude acclimation must be accurately assessed during the first days of every trip above 7000 feet of elevation. Each acclimation episode is different for the same person because our fitness and capacities change.
I put altitude acclimation and blisters into the same category. Most times neither bother me, until they do. Thus we will monitor both, along with every other health and safety factor involved in our adjustment to the increased altitude and work load. It is far better to prevent problems with a little forethought and planning than experiencing breakdowns through ignorance.
In practical terms this means if we were planning on hiking ten miles the first day of our trip we would acknowledge the possibility of cutting down to seven miles, or even less, if our our acclimation is harsh. It happens. The fact is that we will experience both hard acclimation and soft feet, if we spend enough time on the trail. With enough time, all the things that can happen on the trail will happen on the trail, both good and bad.
Respond to Circumstances
In cases of reduced hunger, headache, and/or constipation backpackers must adjust/reduce their pace as much as possible until the condition passes. The most dangerous condition is the altitude-affected backpacker. They must be monitored. If the headache-lack of hunger and weakness persists or worsens I suggest bringing the affected hiker down to low altitude as quickly as possible, and for a medical check-out if symptoms persist at lower altitude.
Most hikers pass though a brief one or two day period of hard adjustment, then continue to slowly improve acclimation over the succeeding weeks. A very few hikers will be seriously compromised, and will have to either stop or retreat to recover.
A Dangerous Degradation
Though fairly rare in the High Sierra Nevada, full-blown altitude sickness can kill. The key is not to press yourself during acclimation. Take a "zero day" if you are experiencing a harsh transition to altitude. Proceed the next day if you've recovered, retreat if you are still badly compromised.
Backpackers who are altitude affected to a lesser degree and continuing down the trail will find their observation, physical self-control (balance), and decision-making can be compromised. We must be aware of this degradation in our self-awareness, and offset it with razor-sharp accurate observations of our status.
Self awareness is the Solo Backpacker's best friend.
Self and situational awareness are every backpacker's best friend!
The effects of altitude not only reduces the bounds of our capacity, putting our ability to "stay within ourselves" to the test by reducing our physical strength and endurance, but even more dangerous is the reduction in the effectiveness and accuracy of our observations and analysis.
Losing our good judgment and excellent decision-making skills can get us into real trouble. Especially when a "bad head" is sitting atop a weakened body.
Staying within Ourselves
Our ability to "stay within ourselves" is dependent on our ability to accurately monitor and ascertain the extent of our ever changing capacities. These assessments guide wise adjustments to our pace, controlling our daily level of exertion to preserve our ability to completely recover each night for the next day's work.
While working at high altitudes climbing high angles carrying heavy weight.
We must be able to accurately assess our own level of degradation and reduced capacity so we can properly adjust our output to compensate for our changing physical status.
This assessment can become difficult when our awareness and observation skills are degraded by a harsh combination of altitude, overwork, and fatigue.
The object of our inquiry is, "can we get ourselves (or our hiking partner) safely through this harsh transition by slowing down? Must we hunker down to rest, or does the condition merit retreat?
Making the correct decision is vital, especially when we are subjecting ourselves to heavy internal and environmental stresses. We will learn how to juggle fire quickly if we find ourselves suffering altitude acclimation woes while blisters, rashes, and aching joints all begin howling at once like a pack of coyotes.
16 Things at Once
From the point in time and space we make a basic physical recovery from the worse effects of altitude degradation/headache/constipation we will need to figure out how to re-jigger our schedule to make up for the loss of miles during the period of our stressful acclimation.
From that point how we catch up with our increased daily mileage requirements will be be limited by the trajectory of our physical recovery from the initial altitude shock. Our pace and the number of hours we can hold it on the trail over a series of days are a basic function of our level of fitness and our acclimation to altitude.
The good thing is that we find that our daily trail time and pace both increase with each day we spend on the trail. Not only does our acclimation increase, but our pack weight decreases by up to 3 pounds of food consumed per day.
Start Slow-Finish Strong
That's why it is a good idea to plan the first few days of our trips at lower miles than our known capacity. We need to write in some room on our schedule for adjustment and acclimation to the hard work at altitude and to recover from potential initial physical strains.
Comments, Questions, Share Experiences
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What is Success?
Success is Good Decisions
For me a successful trip is not reaching any particular destination, but making the correct decisions for the situation.
I say success is bringing together our ability to accurately self-monitor our own condition and capacities, accurately observe the environment, and bring our internal and external observations together by making good decisions suiting the mundane, the exceptional, and especially any critical situations we find ourselves in.
In a broader sense success is being fully aware of the specific trajectory of our physical status in reference to our objectives over the duration of our backpacking trip. Are we evolving or are we devolving?
Backpacking is a continuum of on the trail decisions balancing the brutal but mundane daily formula of, "hiking hours (per day) times miles (per hour) divided by our rate of exhaustion that this pace induces times the number of days we must sustain it."
There is a variation of this formula where we strengthen each day:
Our basic formula of hiking hours times miles per day is next multiplied by our daily strengthening, rather than divided by our daily rate of exhaustion, as in the first formula above.
I don't really expect you to write out and calculate formulas. I do expect you to be able to visualize and precisely track the balance between the distances and climbs we face against our personal reserve of energy, and most effectively balance them as we hike down the trail.
We discuss the nitty-gritty of our daily hiking plan below.
This formula tells us that our daily energy output induces a daily rate of exhaustion, which is multiplied by our number of days on the trail. The sum total of our daily rate of exhaustion must not exceed our total energy available over the length of our section.
I am constantly looking at the Sun for the time, at the mountain for the distance remaining up to the top, down the range to our series of remaining daily climbs and nightly campsites, and into myself to measure how well my remaining energy will cover the remaining segments of this section of trail.
Besides our mundane pace decisions we must occasionally make exciting route, fording, and sometimes even make instant decisions in critical situations when things go wrong.
Our mundane decisions about pace, daily hiking duration, and the timing of our breaks and daily meals determines the trajectory of our level of fatigue as we hike down the trail. These mundane decisions either keep us within, or put us outside our physical limits. If we are pushing ourselves beyond our limits we are entering the mental zone where decision making distorted by exhaustion can put us in danger.
Vortex of Doom
I cannot stress strongly enough that we are constantly making decisions that can potentially hike us into heaps of trouble or keep us safe. In either case it is our awareness that the implications of our decision-making creates the physical conditions and the mental space we are going to live within.
Bad decisions can put us in physical and psychological states of exhaustion and stress where we continue making bad decisions. Each bad decision leads naturally to the next bad decision, which compounds one upon the other into a classic example of the Vortex of Doom.
A classic example of bad decision making is to start a Spring or Fall trip with weak fitness and thin gear, followed by getting caught-out by unexpected snow or rain. Stress at the snow and wetness spurs overwork and dehydration, which contributes to insufficient food intake. These stress and strains degrade analysis sufficiently to contribute to bad route-finding decisions, which gets us lost.
Now we are cold, wet, tired and lost.
Climbing Back Out
This puts us at great risk if we cannot construct an excellent warm protective shelter within which we can warm up and recover our energy, get a bunch of good food and lots of water into us, and rest and recover our warmth and our observation, analysis, and decision-making skills sufficiently to navigate our way back to civilization.
A Successful Backpacking Trip
A successful trip is great decision making that keeps us out of the Vortex of Doom,
if not allowing us to climb back out of the Vortex after getting sucked in.
Most times our mundane backpacking decisions bring us to our destination. Other times our internal circumstances demand we take a break or change our pace in the face of exhaustion, acclimation, or injury.
external circumstances demand we alter our route to get around dangerous fords or damaged trails, or even seek alternative destinations against fire closures, or even to avoid overcrowded trails.
Sometimes success requires a route modification, other times it demands a retreat.
To me success is all those outcomes, as dictated by our responding effectively to the logic and demands of our circumstances.
"Success" ultimately comes down to individual expectations, which depends on each backpacker's standards and values. The definition of "success" should not include too much pain! The simple fact is that if you did not come prepared with the tools to succeed you will suffer. This comes down to a lack of basic physical fitness, most times, but can also be tracked to other failures of preparation, gear selection, or skills.
Not breaking in your feet and boots is another primary source of backpacker failure, with joint pain coming in a close second. Many folks do not realize that the basic mechanics of walking 15 miles a day puts tremendous strain on all locomotive joints, and irritates all soft skin that rubs.
Our feet, joints, and even our skin must be brought to the level of endurance and exertion demanded by High Sierra trails slowly, over time, with gradually increased work, over longer durations, under gradually increased loading.
My view of success is safety, coming out alive and in one piece, if possible. I'm pretty cautious. My ultimate standard for achieving "success" is not a particular "goal," but success is based on making accurate observations, deploying razor-sharp self-analysis, and making the correct decisions as my condition degrades, improves, and degrades again.
The values of my terms of "success" are based on survival and perpetuation of the conscious reflection of the natural environment, not getting to a particular location within it.
That'd be you and me making it through the experience.
Success is excellent observation guiding correct decisions maintaining observer and observed in long term balance and communication.
We can call it "not getting squished by Nature."
The Sierra Nevada is at least a Cathedral of the Church of Nature, a little bit of heaven on Earth.
To me it's Rome, but I'm a homer.
My goal is to visit, get as close to the alter as possible, and come back with all my parts intact.
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Constraints and Capacities
The effectiveness of our trip and resupply plans are dependent on the accuracy and honestly of our self-assessments about our capacity for repeated high daily miles over weeks based on our current level of fitness. That's where our trip planning proves its success or failure.
In excellent condition I will quickly establish 15 miles per day as my basic distance, and be able to exert great flexibility in reducing or expanding daily miles as required or desired.
In poor condition I will plan on a slow transition from 7 to 15 mpd over the length of the first section of trail to our first resupply point, and I know I will not have a great deal of flexibility to increase daily miles.
A day or two off might be required to properly recover after finishing the first section of our route if we start our trip in poor physical conditioning. If you think you are tired after a five-day work week at your normal job, wait until you finish five days hiking 75 miles at high elevation along the Sierra Crest trails with a too-heavy pack!
Accurately matching our hiking plans to our capacities is vitally important.
Deriving our Trip and Resupply Plan
The first steps of deriving our actual trip plan is to begin with the external approach. We figure out and divide the distance between resupply point by the number of days we have. This gives us a rough miles per day figure. We then modify our initial figure by the level of difficulty of each day hiking the route to derive our first real estimate of our required daily miles.
The next step is to contrast our true internal physical capacities and fitness against the miles we are supposed to cover, and adjust our daily miles total to one achievable from our current level of physical fitness.
At that point we can start to honestly assess how we are going to "feel," how our psychological expectations are going to be contrasted against the physical realities that these daily miles are actually going to impose on our minds and bodies.
If we planned everything correctly we will be able to "stay within ourselves," to maintain our daily miles over the duration of the trip without excessive pain, increasing weakness, and the threat of exhaustion and injury hanging over our heads. We will blossom under the pressure, growing stronger rather than folding like a lawn chair.
The outcome of the trip itself informs us if we are ready for more miles on the trail or need more training at home, and more short prep trips to harden us up sufficiently for the long trails.
The Endurance Factor
Our resupply plan depends on our assumptions about the number of daily miles we can hike over a given number of days between our resupply points and/or with days off, which will determine the total number of days between resupply points.
Our resupply plan is our statement about our assumptions, expectations, and capacities. It behooves us to get it right.
Figuring out how much food we need every day, how much weight we can comfortably carry over how many miles, and how long we can do it are the proper roles for our preparatory trips. Our basic capacities should be known facts when we arrive at the Meeks Bay Trailhead starting our long hike South to Mount Whitney.
We should not be planning long backpacking trips if we are not sure about our personal food and rest requirements and our strength and endurance capacities. We should be running a set of short trips to accurately ascertain the status of both our food, shelter, and insulation requirements against our mileage and endurance capacities.
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Days between Resupply Points
Hours Per Day/Miles Per Hour/Miles per Day
Consider that the length of the effective hiking day during the month of July is 14 and 3/4 hours. Consider holding a 2 mph average over those 14 and 3/4 hours. That's 29.5 miles. Yeah, sure. Now let's be reasonable.
The basic consideration about the length of our hiking day is our base level of fitness. Very few people can hit the trail and do 2 mph for almost 15 hours on a flat surface, let alone up high angles on high altitude Sierra Mountains with a heavy pack day after day.
Start Smart-Finish Strong
Pushing hard on the first days of a backpacking trip is common among aggressive males, and often results in debilitating blisters, sore muscles and strains, and lots of unnecessary pain. Even if you are very strong and capable of instant high mileages, it is very wise to bring yourself up to full exertion slowly.
We are shooting to set up a daily schedule that supports consistent performance over many days of many miles each day. We will find that this requires adjustments of various factors to suit changing circumstances.
First is our daily trail time. I wake earlier, start earlier, and hike later in the day as I hike down the trail. My time on the trail increases every day I am on the trail. I call this my "TIP" time, or Time In Pack. TIP times increase steadily as we hike, until we are capable of dawn to dusk backpacking.
How long it takes us to reach this level of work is based on our initial level of fitness.
Second are our lunch and break times. Long days with high mileage requires an excellent daily trail plan to support these long efforts. My typical Summer day includes two hour-long lunch breaks, with at least three additional "take off the pack" breaks.
One lunch consists of a cold lunch of cheese and crackers with a wide variety of tasty snacks. Lunch two consists of a hot lunch of ramen or soup, coffee, and a wide variety of snacks. That measures out to 3 and a half hours of breaks per day over the length of a 14 3/4 hour day.
A comprehensive daily rest break and food plan is an example of "slowing down to speed up." If we do not derive a daily hiking plan that feeds, services, and supports our daily hard work on the trail we will slowly break down over time.
Most "rabbits" run their batteries down fast. They may initially get more daily miles by forgoing rest and food breaks, but most gradually begin losing miles, energy, and speed as their reserves are depleted.
Slowing down by keeping yourself within your rest and recharge limits allows you to speed up over time by not losing time to injury and exhaustion while potentially gaining more strength and endurance hiking further down the trail.
Our daily plan must at least give us the chance to succeed, if not excel and get stronger over time.
Changing Balance Points
So far, our hiking plan brings our 14.75 hours of daylight down to 11.5 hours of trail time per day with our 3.5 hours of lunch and "pack-less" breaks.
At 2 mph we are looking at 23 miles per day. Now that's more like it. But that would still be a crazy figure to base the first days of our trip plan on. We will be so tired that at least I won't have any fun at all. Let's work our way gradually up to twenty-plus mile days. This will become important.
Consider starting with a standard 8 hour work day with our 3.5 hour of lunch and breaks, putting us on the trail for a total of 11.5 hours of the 14.75 hours of available daylight. We can increase the length of our hiking day as we adjust to the workload. Starting with an eight hour hiking day over a 14 hour day gives us a couple of hours to screw around in camp every morning and evening.
Carefully building our capacity to squeeze out a few very high mileage 11 hour hiking days is going to come in very handy hiking the lengthy last section of our trail South from Muir Ranch to the Whitney Portal, as well as the long stretch from Highways 108 to 120.
The Long View
By the time we get down there to Muir Ranch we'll be fit to squeeze off a few 20+ days, and it will be a breeze. It will be a breeze if we carefully build our strength and endurance as we hike South. It will be a nightmare if we are breaking down as we hike South.
I've hit the ability to hike a marathon a day for as long as necessary, with minimal food. The actual level of efficiency the human machine can achieve is incredible. You've just got to develop your internal assets sufficiently to succeed.
Honest analysis of our "big" and "little" math as we hike South does not lie.
Big and Little
I have a daily ritual. It begins each morning with an assessment of the day's hiking agenda and goals. At Sunrise we do the time dance. We are going take a few minutes and sit down to look at the map and do the day's little math every morning before we begin hiking.
Little math is our daily map assessment to check the locations and make plans for the day's upcoming major climbs, access to water, the best vistas and overlooks, and to try to time our breaks and lunches advantageously to mitigate the hard and enjoy the beautiful segments along the route of the day's hike. In any case, by doing our "little math" we are looking for the best approach to the difficulties and the beauties along the day's trail, while always giving ourselves the time to stop to enjoy the magnificent views and scenery, watch Nature, properly rest and recharge ourselves, and to meet cool people.
"Cool People" = Backpackers. And horsepackers. And trail crew. Wilderness Rangers. And dayhikers. And so on and on and on... about anyone who will stop and talk, and tell me what they see and know...
Little math is the logic of each hiking day, including our social time.
My thoughts turn to the "big math" as the end of each hiking day approaches. The big math is the total remaining distance and difficulty to our next resupply point. I begin to think of where the end of this day's hiking affects the total miles we have to hike tomorrow.
Big Math is the total of all the miles, days and degree of difficulty remaining to the end of the section. Big Math is the total remaining miles divided by the number days of food we have remaining in our pack over the total amount of energy/endurance we have remaining within us. The "big math" is the sum of each day's "little math."
The success or failure of each day's "little math" becomes apparent as the end of each hiking day approaches, turning our thoughts to how this affects the "big math."
Once I establish camp I look at each remaining day's "little math," the upcoming challenges of each day's hike to the end of the section against our current level of food and energy. The point of doing the big and little math is to understand and control how each of our upcoming hiking days is really going to feel. We are going to maintain our trip plan by maintaining the proper food, rest, and hydration for our required miles, multiplied by the number of the remaining hiking days to our next resupply spot.
Spreading this load out properly is vital to maximizing our efficiency.
Our big and little maths are the technics I use to carefully monitor my energy and plan how we are going to maintain that level of energy over the remaining days, distance, and difficulty to the end of the section.
I imagine this approach of mine is why my trail name was "The Calorie King" one year...
Doing the big and little math shows us the daily and overall external score against what we have to work with internally.
It suggests strategies for managing the distance and the terrain between us and our next resupply, how to manage the remaining food to cover that distance, and how to balance our metabolic capacity between the food and distance requirements.
That's Big and Little Math.
My goal is to put myself into the best regional campsite at the end of the day, and hopefully near my first climb of the next day. It is always nice to get one of the daily climbs done in cool morning air. That saves us a lot of calories.
Camp Irene is an example of just such a place on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail. We're camping in a deluxe position under our next major climb over Mount Reba, which allows us to make the climb in cool early morning air. The same is true climbing Glenn Pass from Rae Lakes along the JMT in the South Sierra. Especially since we are going over Glen and Forrester in one day.
We've got to determine the proper daily balance between work, rest, food, and mileage that keeps our capacities in balance against our environmental demands to sustain maximal enjoyment of the terrain every day across each little bit of trail while putting ourselves into the most beautiful campsites along the way.
Our daily plan for mileage and the number days we must sustain it between resupply points must reflect a balance that suits us physically as well as aesthetically over the course of each hiking day and across the length of each section of our trail.
We only have a few simple factors to balance, but each is vitally important.
Stay Within Yourself
We must not only stay within our physical capacities, we also must stay within our psychological limits. Though challenging ourselves is fun, the physical pain of backpacking should not be underestimated, and the pain should not be greater than the pleasure. This is a subjective measure involving your specific expectations and tolerances, but it is really important to get the balance between pain and pleasure right. This will set the overall tone of our trip.
Hey, I'm down for a survival run every now and again, but the tone of our basic backpacking trips will be tuned by our daily hiking plan more towards pleasure than pain. This is especially important if you are a new backpacker, or bringing new backpackers into the mountains.
Gain acclimation to the stresses and strains gradually to avoid discouraging, if not injuring and exhausting yourself, or new backpackers! Don't break the new backpackers! What is difficult across the first steps turns out to be delightful with a careful, gradual application of work.
They won't even know they are working, for the joy it produces!
Then they will be hooked.
Understanding how to manage our capacities against the requirements we write into our long-term trip plans will determine the length of our personal hiking day at the start of the trip, the mileage we are required to cover during the length of our hiking day, and the number of days we are required to repeat this mileage and daily time under pack on the trail.
Therefore our plans must comfortably suit our capacities.
Though the days in July are nearly 15 hours long, we may start out our backpacking trip with 5, 8, or 10 hour hiking days, depending on our personal level of fitness, until we work up the capacity to hike from before Sunrise to after Sunset as we progress down the Sierra Crest.
We will get considerably stronger and deeply acclimated as we cross the 100, 200, and 300 mile marks hiking South. Give yourself a chance to get there.
These are the reasons I strongly recommend that we "stay within" ourselves, especially during the first few days of a long duration high mileage trip. It is much preferable to start slow and get stronger and faster on the trail than it is to start fast and fade.
We must consider the number of days off we will need along the way, and how many days we can hike before we need a day off. I have come to follow the normal "civilized" work week of five days on, two days off. Days off should be coordinated with either the most beautiful locations along the trail and/or our rest and resupply spots.
I have used my extra day's food to allow myself to spend successive nights camping first at Bensen Lake, then the next evening at nearby Smedberg Lake. My extra day's food gave me the flexibility to do this short-miles day between these two stunning lakes and not worry about running out of food!
But, planning is an abstraction concerning our capacities that does not express the
of the backpacking experience. Extra food is painfully heavy, but this pain purchased extra time and pleasure at a sequence of beautiful places along the trail otherwise unobtainable.
Though backpacking is a beautiful experience, it demands direct physical engagement with difficult terrain and harsh environments that will tax every physical and psychological system in our bodies. It is vital that our estimates of our capacities can support our hiking plan.
Don't think that you will "magically" adjust to your expectations and requirements without proper training. We will painfully adjust to our requirements, if we don't break ourselves trying. There is a better way.
Each step we take from the trailhead is taking us further from our social infrastructure, from help and support. This is when it becomes frightfully apparent that the pains and dangers of backpacking are just as real as the pleasures backpacking brings. Maybe more real.
The particular balance of pain and pleasure you are going to experience depends on the accuracy of your hiking plan's reflection of your capabilities, So be reasonable. Be realistic. If you can break out right now and jog seven miles, half that distance up 750 feet, and do it every other day, you will be fine. You will reach 15 mpd quickly, without too much trouble. Every degradation from that training standard makes every step down the trail harder.
A reasoned approach to the physical demands of backpacking requires training that will minimize the dangers of exhaustion, injury, and unnecessary suffering on the trail. A reasonable approach demands physical preparation prior to backpacking, and a good hiking plan on the trail that reasonably and realistically reflects your capacities, your skills, and your level of fitness. Finally, a good hiking plan is flexible to adjust to changing realities as they develop on the ground.
Thus we may determine that bringing an extra day's food along each section of the trail between resupply spots is (or is not) a wise idea. This gives us a "cushion" if we sustain an injury that slows us down, such as a sprained ankle, get some blisters, or get exhausted. This extra food gives us the flexibility to be able to take two half-days off at the finest scenic locations along each section of the trail, or to stay an extra full day at our favorite place.
Extra food gives us the ability to bail-out the injured, hungry PCT hikers, or other improperly supplied backpackers. In the South Sierra I've never found any shortage of hungry hikers on the JMT who somehow never manage to bring enough food. Well, these hungry JMT hikers are often counter-balanced by the numerous short-distance South Sierra backpackers who always seem to pack way too much food!
I meet stupid folks on the trail who are strong enough to survive their ignorance... and other who are not.
Life is weird.
One word that boils this all down: Training.
Make Yourself Ready.
Last Call for Life
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Tahoe to Yosemite Trail
We've worked out that it will take three nights to hike the 30 miles from Meeks Bay to the Echo Lake Chalet, four nights over the 40 miles to the Lake Alpine Lodge, four nights for the 35 miles to our last resupply point North of Tuolumne Meadows at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station, and an additional six nights to cross the 73.21 miles to the end of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail at Tuolumne Meadows.
That makes 17 days with at least 2 days off planned-in along the trail, as I have brought an extra day's food for each section between resupply points, except from Meeks Bay to Echo Chalet.
At our Echo Chalet and Lake Alpine resupply stops we will pick up four-day resupply buckets we sent ourselves, and a six-day resupply at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station.
We will likely take days off at premium locations in the Mokelumne, Carson Iceberg, and Emigrant Wilderness Areas as we hike South, as well as nights off at each resupply spot.
For example, we are going to take an extra day's food South into the Mokelumne Wilderness. Let's say we use that extra day's food to spend a full day kicking back, scrambling around, and enjoying Camp Irene. That means that our actual hiking will cover 35 miles in 3 days, putting our required daily miles at 11.66.
Now that we know how roughly many miles a day we are going to hike each day we can determine where we are going to find the best campsite each night, which finally gives us a pretty good idea of how many nights it will take us to get to each of our resupply points, and exactly how many miles we are going to hike each day. Our selection of premium campsites will make some days longer than others.
Figuring out our final daily miles by establishing our campsite selection finally tells us exactly how much food to actually pack for each section between resupply spots, and exactly how many miles we've set ourselves up to hike each day.
Now I'm ready to derive and write out my actual final itinerary, with my specific campsites along the trail between resupply spots. I'm going to set up the packing lists for the contents of each resupply bucket, check 'em twice, and work out just when to send them timed perfectly with my departure date.
On one end of the far extremes of planning I hiked the classic route of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail in 2009 stopping for no resupply at all. I carried all the food necessary to complete the trip without resupply. The pack was very heavy, weighing in well above 70 pounds.
On the other end I have hit every resupply point while racing down the TYT as quickly as my feet could carry me. Slow and heavy & light and quick.
You are going to have to sit with pen and paper, hiking maps, and miles lists deriving the itinerary that guides your food planning based on your assessment of how you can manage your level of fitness over the length of your day.
You need to plan a trip that perfectly fits your capacities, preferences, and reasonable expectations.
A Final Backpacking Trip Assessment:
Tahoe to Yosemite by PCT route, Oct., 2009.
High Sierra Backpacking Trips Planning Forum
For an example of my approach to planning and resupply take a look at these planning documents that I worked up and brought on my 2002 Tahoe to Whitney backpacking trip. I generated these documents when my plan came together. They guided the packing of my resupply buckets, then I brought them onto the trail to chart the difference between my actual progress against my planning. I marked up the planning documents as the trip varied from, returned to, then deviated again from my planned schedule as I hiked down the Sierra Crest trails.
I carry this set of planning-resupply-itinerary documents is in addition to the trip journal and trails and hiker journal I keep as I hike down the trail.
To save space I make up my own 15 page 8x11 animal, nature, and tree guide who's blank back pages make my basic 15 page trip journal. I use one of those Penway 4.5x 3.25 Composition Books as my "trails" and "hikers on the trail" journal.
I find this system helpful for noting and organizing lots of trail information that naturally divides itself between trail experiences, backpackers encountered, and trail information.
Having a clear system for recording planning, trip information, notes, and results allows us to keep our experiences straight, and create our own reference library of backpacking trip information and experiences.
Digital tech has expanded backpacker's ability to record experiences.
I designed the account features for members so you can set up your own private pages in your account where you can record, bring together, and organize your planning information, and to subsequently keep a record of your experiences and information generated on the trail for future reference:
Creating a "Backpacker Note" after registering as a member works as your own personal "digital notepad" within your account that you can use to keep track of all types of backpacking planning and record keeping needs that your hiking requires.
Any unregistered, unidentified backpacker can post up in the public forums as well:
As a member you can post up and share public backpacking information in the forums as well as keep personal, private notes in your account.
Navigate to the Trail or Topic Forum you want to post in before posting public information!
Give Yourself a Fighting Chance
Practically, "staying within ourselves" means that our nightly rest is sufficient to recover our daily energy expenditure, so that we are not wearing away bit by bit every day.
My real goal, my secret goal is full engagement with "the environment."
I believe it is important that we give ourselves the time to truly enjoy and soak-up the environment we are working so hard to hike through. My "standard of pleasure" requires not only that we have trained ourselves for the rigors of the trip, but that we have the energy to observe and enjoy it. To do this we must not just come with the proper experience and fitness for our trip, but must be ready to give ourselves time to acclimate to the altitude and work, as well as the protective camp environment and rest and recovery time necessary to recover from each day's efforts.
Finally, we must accurately monitor our physical status, being our level of energy and strength of our metabolism, and project its trajectory under our current work load to assure our physical survival, if not to locate the balance between work and rest that will allow us to thrive indefinitely.
Expanding Natural Engagement grows upon this stable platform.
Our most successful hiking plans are actually finished in Gym and Jogging Trail with our bodies, not by planning with pen and paper at the desk. We are going to have access to an endless series of great times and experiences once we have these fundamental levels of fitness, gear, and experience operating.
I have a pretty good idea about my capacities and how I will feel on the trail based on my level of training prior to starting a High Sierra backpacking trip. Hint: The better our fitness, the more aggressive trips we can plan, and the better we will feel doing them. Reciprocally, we should not plan aggressive trips until our fitness and experience have matured.
Start with a High Baseline of Fitness
My baseline for fitness is a standard stretching, jogging, and weightlifting program that I've been running for approaching 30 years now, though it has been punctuated by great periods of injury interruption.
At its top level the basic fitness program consists of jogging 7 miles through hills every other day while pursuing a strong free weight training program (bench, flys, curl, military and forearms) on the non-running days. Extensive stretching is executed on run days. Floor and core work is daily. That's situps and floor stretching.
At it's bottom level my training program shifts to injury recovery. It consists of slow attempts to get walking, walking longer and steeper on the way to short jogs. It is carefully probing stretching and range of motion capacities to find the depth and extent of joint-injury irritation preceding light work and weightlifting.
Our training program must be custom tailored to our current status, be it top-level fitness or bottom-line injury recovery. Likewise, our backpacking trips must also be tuned to our level of fitness. We must match our trips to the level of conditioning we maintain.
We can only consider aggressive and ambitious trips if we are well trained.
Baselines of Fitness
Knowing our baseline of our fitness gives us two bits of information. It gives us predictable outcomes at various levels of exertion. This allows us to plan our backpacking trip schedule for our current level of fitness. Knowing our capacities makes our trip plans work.
In "standard" conditioning of jogging 7 miles at slow speeds accompanied by average weight training performance our transition to trail conditions is easy and high miles are achieved quickly. Nightly recovery is rapid.
If we are at the top level of fitness we will have to slow down to transition to Nature only in proportion to our rate of altitude acclimation, and nothing else. We will be able to control our exposure to high elevation, and how it effects us by increasing or decreasing our work output.
Starting backpacking trips in excellent physical condition means we can plan on reaching high daily miles quickly despite acclimation stresses.
At half our "standard" level of conditioning our transition to trail is still smooth, but takes a bit longer with a higher degree of physical difficulty, of distress. High daily mileages on the trail take more days on the trail to achieve, and recovery from each day's exertions is slower and more stressful.
We are weaker, colder, and more drained.
We must plan for less-aggressive lower-daily mile starts to our trips.
Each degradation in our preparatory fitness degrades our initial mileage capability.
If we have no fitness, no training, and are depending on faith to carry us through our backpacking plan we will quickly find that pain and discomfort are our trail companions, that the miles we thought we could cross are totally unreasonable, and our overnight recovery does not bring us back to yesterday's level of energy.
This is a distressing position to be in.
Our pain increases, and our
recovery slows with every diminishment from our "standard" level of training. The worse shape we're in, the longer it takes us to make high mileage on the trail. Or the more it hurts. Or both!
Our trip plan must honestly reflect our capabilities. We should defer our backpacking trip until we have the basic physical capabilities to support backpacking.
Fitness and Capacity equals Optimal Trip
It is vitally important that we must honestly access our level of fitness by finding our training level, and weave our awareness of our level of fitness into making a hiking plan that is suitable for our fitness and sustainable over the time and distance of our trip.
It is likely we will have to plan our daily mileage to start with shorter working days, and increase the length of our hiking day, hiking speed, and daily miles as our bodies adjust to high elevation, the heavy load, and long miles up steep mountains.
As we get stronger our packs also get lighter. Consuming each day's food lightens
our packs by 2 to 3 glorious pounds every day.
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More on Planning
Considering mileage, food, and physicality
Preparation and Planning Sections
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Enough planning. Let's hit the Trail.