Of all my favorite outdoor fun sports, it seems that hiking and backpacking must be my all-time favorite. I've backpacked in about 20 states, a half dozen countries, and an incredible number of trails. And I'm just getting started!
I've climbed up and down the 12 highest peaks in Maine, the 5 highest in Vermont, and 47 of the 48 highest in New Hampshire. (I'm saving the last one, # 48, Owl's Head, for my 48th birthday!) Someday I'll make it into the 4000 footers club.
I've hiked or backpacked in probably three dozen National Parks and National Forests. I've spent many months on the backcountry trails in Montana, Idaho, Washing, Wyoming, Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, etc. If you want some info on my favorites, send me an email. (See my travel page for info.)
I backpacked over 200 miles of Vermont's Long Trail in September a few years ago. The autumn foliage was spectacular. I was only 4 or 5 days away from the end in Canada when one night I had a dream (a realization actually). I realized that my favorite backcountry place in New England, Baxter State Park in Maine, would be closing on its traditional final day on October 15. I bushwhacked down a side trail, out to a road, and bought a hot chocolate (it was snowing at the time!), a Milky Way, and a Long Trail Ale. Then I hitchhiked back to my car (seven different rides, about 4 hours) and headed immediately to Baxter State Park in northern Maine. I stopped at the office and got permits for ten nights, and proceeded to have two excellent weeks in the front- and backcountry. Mile-high Katahdin, (also known as Baxter Peak) is the northern terminus of the 2000 mile Appalachian Trail. I climbed to the summit three times that week, from three different trails, but one was especially memorable. I made one climb up the Abol Trail with a group of AT thru hikers, and shared their tears as they approached the end of a six month journey! We all shared champagne, smoked oysters and frozen beers on the summit!
My favorite hiking playground is just a few hours north in the magnificent White Mountain National Forest of New Hampshire. I've spent so many nights in the backcountry up there that I would never be able to count them all. Most of my early winter backpacks were in the Sandwich Range with Dann. We made many mistakes in those early days, and several times we almost paid the ultimate price. We reached the later stages of hypothermia several times, and two occasions if we hadn't finally gotten large campfires going, we would have surely been goners. I remember both of those nights very well; both nights I was so cold and so sick that I just wanted to crawl my frozen body into my (summer) sleeping bag and die! Dann somehow forced hot food into me, and kept me alive. That first winter, we backpacked heavily, drank heavily, and slowly learned the lessons that have since helped keep us alive. Now we have all the right equipment, regularly bivouac on high summits in winter, never build fires, and have even more fun than before. Judgment is the limiting factor now; knowing when to say when goes a long way toward spelling the difference between danger and comfort (and stupidity too)!
The Adirondacks of New York are a favorite winter destination. The NY DEC maintains an excellent system of Adirondacks lean-tos throughout the backcountry (and frontcountry also). The beautiful Heart Lake is the starting point for most adventures. The Adirondak Mountain Club operates a small wilderness campground and Hiker info center there. Dann will recall several adventures there. One four day Easter Weekend we made the four hour drive, and arrived about midnight. After packing, me made the treacherous hike towards the Marcy Dam lean-tos, commenting several times that we should stop and put on crampons to make the icy trail somewhat safer. Sure enough, about a hundred meters from the lake, I lost my footing and took a whipper down a short but steep hill (an ice-covered stairway actually). I wracked my ankle, and later that evening found out that it was severely sprained. It swelled up like a football! I stayed in the lean-to for the next 4 days, with my foot uncovered and suspended, while Dann did day excursions up Phelps and the other High Peaks. I finally tried to walk out on Sunday, but later that evening back at home, decided to pay the emergency room a visit.
Luckily in all our hikes we have never had serious injury, and nothing at all far out in the backcountry. Just in case, I always carry a bivouac sack now whenever I hike, even on short day hikes. A broken leg, or severely blown knee only a mile from the trailhead can spell a nasty night on the mountain if you are caught unprepared. A good flashlight also is always now on every hike; Ricky can testify to the scary winter night that found us wondering around lost after climbing a gully in Tuckermans Ravine on Mount Washington, trying to share a flashlight and find the trail at the same time. We almost both squeezed into his bivy sack that night, but the afternoons diet of flactulance-producing snacks kept us searching for the trail, until we finally found our way down to Pinkham Notch well after midnight!
The big killer up on the summits is sometimes nearly impossible to prevent; lightning! We are always pretty careful not to get caught above treeline when storms are approaching or imminent, but sometimes "stuff happens". One time on Pamola our hair was standing up! An overnight bivouac on Mount Haystack in the Adirondacks almost got me good. Right after the second round of lightning bolts all around me at 4 a.m., I grabbed everything and went running down toward treeline in the rain and hail. Summer bivouacs are much more limited now (and often illegal too,,,, don't get caught!). No trace camping is the only way to go.
The Randolph Mountain Club is absolutely the best place to spend $8 in the White Mountains. Their backcountry high cabins are run the way that AMC and others should imitate. No frills! First come, first served!
The Alpine Club of Canada has lots of cool backcountry facilities. I've spent a lot of time in the backcountry all throughout the Canadian Rockies (my favorite place in North America). Nothing compares.... go there once, you'll return again and again.
The West Coast Trail is an awesome trek through the rainforest of the the coastal Vancouver Island. The 100 mile trail takes about 5 nights if done end-to-end. I started with a German woman named Anna and some Canadian folks, but we all sort of did our own thing. The week we had was utterly surrealistic, and can never be accurately described. Half or the trail was along the rocky coast, and half of the headlands were tide bound and impassible except during certain hours of low tide. Our campsites were mostly in secluded isolated coves; the most incredibly beautiful spots to be found on earth!
The Grand Canyon is a backpackers paradise during parts of the year (non-summer)! I've done multi-day backpacks down to the river a couple of times, and both were excellent.
As far as National Parks go, New England has one of the best! In fact, my favorite place in the northeast is Acadia National Park. The place is packed during the busy summer months, and its difficult to get a campsite at one of the two campsites. Blackwoods Campground is always full, and the prettier and more remote Seawall has a waiting line most mornings. No backcountry camping is allowed anywhere in the park, and for good reason. The place is very overrun with "tourons', and if those folks were let out overnight in the backcountry, the place would be mobbed. Luckily the trendy and popular town of Bar Harbor has much to attract the crowds during the evening hours and during bad weather days. I know of and have used about a dozen great bivy spots in the park, but almost never recommend them. If you get caught here, you pay heavily. The obvious constraints are the same for all bivys, and are tough for most folks; set up after dark, pack up before sunrise, no tent, obviously no fire, leave no trace, keep your stove low and hidden, be very quiet, leave your wheels in town, and tell no one. If you can do all these successfully, you can spend excellent nights in the backcountry of Acadia!
An eight day backpack in the wild and beautiful Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica was one of my best weeks living out of a backpack. The whole Osa Peninsula is a huge virgin tropical rainforest, and one must hike along the coast for about seven hours just to get to the first legal overnight camping spot in the park (Ranger Outposts).
One of the best weeks I ever spent living out of a backpack was in Colombia, out at a tropical National Park that had absolutely no roads leading in or out. If you ever get a chance to go, this place beats the tropical resorts a million times over.
A couple years ago I did an incredible 4 day backpack in Cordillera Blanca of Peru. We were up at altitude the whole time, up around 15,000 feet, so the altitude sickness and fatigue were constant. The copious quantities of matte de coca tea was the only relief; nothing else even helped. A month later I climbed up to about 19,000 feet on the Cotopaxi Volcano in Ecuador.
was a great backpack trip in southwestern Canada, although most of the days
were spent on alpine climbs. We had met a couple of cool Aussies a few
days earlier, and somehow convinced one of them to carry an extra case of beer
with him up to the Conrad Cain Alpine hut. The drive to the trailhead was about
50 km up a rough dirt logging road, and a moose chased us about half of the
way up. Porcupine gnawing were a major problem at the parking lot, so everyone's
vehicle was tightly wrapped in "chicken wire". We hooked up
with Jan and climbed Bugaboo Spire one day, but the snowbridge that we crossed
Lots of folks email me and ask, how do you do all this stuff? All this time traveling or in the backcountry is possible due to lifestyle compromises. I work long hard hours, and save my money. No green freshly mown lawn in summer, no new SUV in the driveway, no stupid sitcom crap on the boob tube every night. No waste of time on the normal things most people do, like sitting around doing NOTHING but staring at a electronic box!!! Some folks accumulate lots of stuff, I do lots of stuff. LOTS of stuff! I'd rather do stuff than have stuff EVERYTIME. I work hard, then I play hard. Hey, ya can't take any of that stuff with you when its over. Some day when I'm close to death, and wishing I had just a few more chunks of time,,,, will I wish I could spend the time watering or mowing the lawn? watching TV? waxing my SUV? shopping at the mall? HELL NO. I'll wish I was at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, or on top of Grand Teton, or at any of those cool places that are there for the effort. I think that heaven is probably really right here on earth.
I'll bet that heaven will be a pretty boring place
compared to this planet we call earth!
(I hope I'm wrong about heaven, but why take the chance...)
Page created and © 1999-2000 by Tim D; (updated 4/25/02)