I started hiking again after many years of schooling and parenting. I discovered the Adirondacks and adopted peak-bagging in day-hiking mode. This simply means that the day’s goal is to reach a summit or to string together a series of two summits or more and then return to the car and drive home again. Simple.
After 10 years of this type of hiking I decided I wanted to get back into camping in order to be outside for several days running and to go further. In the Canadian Rockies or French Alps this is fairly straightforward but in the Adirondacks the way I wanted to do it it has turned out to be quite a challenge. Why? Because in the Adirondacks the trails are extremely rugged and steep and are often strewn full of unstable rocks and large boulders. Many sections are deeply eroded and may have deep mud right in the center or even running water. Even with a day-pack, hiking in the Adirondacks is considered to be a major challenge.
Often backpackers will will hike into a designated camp-site or shelter and drop most of their weight and hike a peak or two with a light pack. I wanted to free myself from this constraint and I also wanted to go off-trail with my overnight pack. Hiking off-trail is even more difficult than trailed hiking. Speeds of 0.5 mph are the norm with energy expenditures much higher than trailed hiking.
When I decided I wanted to do a linear 2-week back-packing trip I also decided to intermix on and off-trail traveling and to cover about 50 peaks. So, starting in April I began figuring out how I would go about it.
Reducing Pack Weight
I knew the key to success would involve getting the weight of my backpack down to 20-25 pounds. I would also have to toughen myself up sufficiently to handle even that moderate load day after day with elevation gains of 5,000 feet per day or more. I knew that off-trail ascents with the pack would be extremely difficult. So, out the door I went and got cracking.
I replaced the tent with a silicone-impregnated tarp that only weighs a pound and I found a smaller (48 liter capacity) pack that weighs under 2 pounds. (some backpacks weigh 5 pounds or more when empty!). I use a 1 pound sleeping bag (fragile and very expensive!). Beyond those measures reducing the weight of one’s pack is simply a question of bringing less stuff! Doing without is the key. ie. no comfy camp shoes, no extra pants, no espresso maker (yes they have them for backpacking) no Bowie knife, a very simplified 1st aid kit, no books, no GPS, etc. etc. No water filter, purifying tablets weigh next to nothing and a most pumps weighs nearly a pound. (the Sawer mini-filter is a notable exception).
Training and Toughening Up
Still, I found that with 2-3 liters of water on board that my pack felt very heavy compared to a 10 pound day-pack. That’s where the training comes in. I went out nearly every weekend for 3 days at a time and backpacked most of the sections I would be doing on Project Full Deck. Up and down the peaks I went, camping out either in shelters or under my tarp. I did some extremely difficult hikes and bushwhacks, almost always alone, and hoped my body (and mind) would adapt to the training load. Most of the time I was in low gear (stump-pulling gear) going slowly and steadily, trying to stay in the fat burning zone, which theoretically increases endurance nearly indefinitely.
During the week I did 2 days of repeated (200 vertical feet) hill climbing with a 15 pound pack for a total of 4,000 feet of elevation gain. These sessions were very beneficial but if I was to do it again I would choose a longer and less steep hill and carry a 25 pound pack. (After a couple of months of this and 4 weeks from my start date I began to feel some aches and pains so I reduced the exercise load until the aches healed.)
Simple Clothing Tweaks
The hardest part is dealing with rain. Weather can be either a deal maker or breaker. Going light means you have little in the way of resources (ie. shelter and spare clothing) and if it rains day after day you will be starting out in the morning by putting on wet clothes, wet socks, wet shoes, wet everything. This is something I have learned to bend my mind to and have found to be nowhere near as bad as it sounds. (I keep a few clothing articles for wearing to bed or for sitting in a shelter dry at all costs) Every 3-day trip I went out I learned a little bit more and gradually tweaked my kit. For instance if hiking in the rain for hours I find it more comfortable to just wear shorts instead of rain pants. Instead of a true rain jacket I wear a breathable shell. I do carry rain pants however in case the temperature dips too low for wet legs. Other items that are very handy include shell mitts, a bala-clava, a baseball cap for sun and rain, and a bandana for sweat.
For food I decided to dehydrate all of my meals as well as make my own beef jerky, muesli and granola bars, all of which entailed its own learning curve.
And now, with only days until I begin the hike I will decrease significantly my training load and try and add a few pounds of fat. I estimate I will lose a pound a day on this project (daily calorie burn will range from 6,000 to 10,000 calories and my intake will only be in the 4,000 calorie range) so if I’m five pounds over before starting I’ll hopefully only be about 10 under at the end of it.