first time backpacking

Itineraries / Indian Peaks Wilderness in Colorado - Day 3

DAY 3: LOWER CASCADE FALLS TO MONARCH LAKE TRAILHEAD

It was another 4.5 miles back to the trailhead where we took those first steps. The hike out was easy with its gradual downhill. It was especially easy to do with our lighter packs and full spirits, at least that's how I felt. I am always nourished by the wilderness...all the unspoken sacred moments: the moonlight sparkling in the creek, the moments of aw and silence, the mesmerizing moments staring at unique dance of flames. 

We had another oatmeal and coffee breakfast, packed up and headed back to the cars. As we got closer to the trailhead, we saw more and more day hikers sprinkled on the trail. It reminded me how special it was that we got to steep ourselves in the wilderness for three days, like we had become a cup of wilderness tea.

All fed, packed and cleaned up. I believe our goal as backpackers is to leave the wilderness in better condition than how we found it.

All fed, packed and cleaned up. I believe our goal as backpackers is to leave the wilderness in better condition than how we found it.

Nancy. Aww... sweet girl. 

Nancy. Aww... sweet girl. 

There is something so beautiful about a group of women backpacking together. It's one of my favorite sites in the wilderness.

There is something so beautiful about a group of women backpacking together. It's one of my favorite sites in the wilderness.

Thank you Indian Peaks Wilderness. You've left quite the impression. 

Thank you Indian Peaks Wilderness. You've left quite the impression. 

If you missed Day 2 photos, they're waiting for you here. Enjoy!

xo

Itineraries / Indian Peaks Wilderness in Colorado - Day 1

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I had a very fortunate opportunity to spend three days in the Indian Peaks Wilderness in Colorado. It was brilliant, gorgeous, and invigorating. The best parts? Getting to introduce the basics of backpacking to ladies completely new to it, and learning about their motivations and barriers to entry.

For many, their backpacking curiosity is piqued because they already love hiking and camping. Backpacking is the natural combination of those two activities. Yet the barrier to entry can still feel quite high. Most people tell me they don't know where to go and what gear to take. I also don't think most people realize how much planning goes into it. Planning definitely gets easier as you have more experience (like most things in life), but it's certainly a lot of work to get started. 

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Here's our itinerary for our three day trip. I highly recommend this backpacking trip. It gets the YESYESYES! stamp of approval.

TRIP SPECS

Wilderness: Indian Peaks Wilderness
Trail: Cascade Trail #1
Trailhead: Monarch Lake
Mileage: 14.8 miles
Start Elevation: 8,345'
End Elevation: 10,328'
Total Elevation Gain: 2,507' (1,938' gain one way)
Detailed Trail Description: From ProTrails
Trail Map & GPS Coordinates: From ProTrails
Ranger Station: Sulphur Ranger District, 970-887-4100
Permits? YES, Reserve a campsite at Crater Lake as early as possible. It's $5 and they also provide a parking pass
Nearest Town: Granby, Colorado
Downloadable Topo Map Here

ITINERARY

Day 1: Monarch Lake Trailhead to Lower Cascade Falls / 4.4 miles
Day 2: Day Hike to Crater Lake / 6 miles 
Day 3: Lower Cascade Falls to Monarch Lake Trailhead / 4.4 miles

DIRECTIONS

Check out the map here, from Dino Lots to the Monarch Lake Trailhead

  • From the Dinosaur Lots, take 70W
  • Veer (R) to the 40W
  • Turn (R) to 34E
  • Turn (R) to Hwy 6 (not super well marked, keep your eyes open)
  • Take Hwy 6 all the way to the trailhead

THE CONCERN FACTOR for June 26-28, 2015

  • Snow: We were expecting snow for the last two miles up to Crater Lake and thought we were going to have to posthole our way. Fortunately, the snow had mostly melted off and it was only muddy for the last mile or so.
  • Bears: Didn't see any; word of black bear(s) at Monarch Lake a week prior
  • Mosquitos: Definitely around and biting, especially bad on the hike from Crater Lake to Lower Cascade Falls
  • Ticks: Didn't see or get any
  • Water: Plenty of engorged creeks, waterfalls, and eventually lakes
  • Creepy men: Didn't see any; this trail is heavily used so there are plenty of people you'll come across
  • Lots of people: Surprised by how many people backpack to Crater Lake and day hike to the Lower Falls. If you're looking for solitude, this may not be the best spot for you
  • Elevation gain/loss: The ascent up to Crater Lake was difficult at times

GEAR

I ended up taking all of my usuals + extra water treatment, bear hang gear and tarp since we were a larger group, a robust first aid kit including a SAM splint, and extra pair of socks (in case my feet got wet from snow). Oh, and I took my big ole zoom lens. It definitely adds a few pounds, but it was great to be able to get shots I wouldn't have been able to otherwise.

I took a few more things than I would on a solo trip since we were a group of seven. Some new things I've added to my overall pack weight include: more robust first aid kit, survival kit, and 911 food. My pack was heavier than normal, but overall it was still quite manageable.

I took a few more things than I would on a solo trip since we were a group of seven. Some new things I've added to my overall pack weight include: more robust first aid kit, survival kit, and 911 food. My pack was heavier than normal, but overall it was still quite manageable.

day one: Monarch Lake Trailhead to Lower cascade falls

We had two cars with ladies from various parts of Denver, so we touched base at the Dino Lots (just outside of Denver) and then caravaned to Granby for a short restroom stop. We drove to the Monarch Lake trailhead, got our belongings together and started the walk. And by "we," I mean this lovely bunch of ladies. 

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We hiked about 4.5 miles to the Lower Cascade Falls and set up shop near the top of the falls. It was perfect. Close to a water source, pre-made fire pits and white noise lulling us to sleep after everyone's first trek carrying all that gear on their backs. 

Hike hike hike. 

Laura (L) and Rachael (R)

Laura (L) and Rachael (R)

Amy's pack gave her a pretty hard time, but she was still a trooper. (She said she was going to return the damn thing after the trip!) That's the benefit of renting gear...you get to try it out and see what you like and don't like about a backpack without the commitment. 

Amy's pack gave her a pretty hard time, but she was still a trooper. (She said she was going to return the damn thing after the trip!) That's the benefit of renting gear...you get to try it out and see what you like and don't like about a backpack without the commitment. 

Our campsite was next to the Lower Cascade Falls. What a breath of fresh air - literally! And, we got to fall asleep to the sound of this roaring waterfall. It was glorious! 

Our campsite was next to the Lower Cascade Falls. What a breath of fresh air - literally! And, we got to fall asleep to the sound of this roaring waterfall. It was glorious! 

Airing out my socks using little nubs on the tree. 

Airing out my socks using little nubs on the tree. 

Everyone collected wood and I taught them how to make a proper fire. Rachael (the one in that cute beanie) did an awesome job of stoking the fire and keeping it ablaze. We sat here to have dinner and relax after day one.

Everyone collected wood and I taught them how to make a proper fire. Rachael (the one in that cute beanie) did an awesome job of stoking the fire and keeping it ablaze. We sat here to have dinner and relax after day one.

OH, FYI...This event was brought together in collaboration with Niki Koubourlis, Founder of Bold Betties Outfitters. Consider renting your gear with her if you're interested in trying out backpacking. She has a nice selection to try. (Yes, this is an affiliate plug! If you rent gear from Bold Betties through my link, I earn a tiny bit of commission. Yay for passive income!)  :-) 

See more photos from DAY 2 & DAY 3

Firsts / Lisa's first backpacking trip as an adult!

I got a chance to reconnect with an old colleague during my last visit to the Bay Area. Meet Lisa. She is the Partnerships and Communications Assistant at HopeLab (my last workplace), she has two teenage kids, and holds a curiosity and vitality about life I find irresistible!

Lisa was buzzing with energy while telling me about her upcoming backpacking trip with her friend Liz (not me, another Liz). This would be her first one since she was just a young lass. Lisa showed me the new hiking shoes she was considering (in her favorite color, purple, of course) and gear she was borrowing, and we gabbed on and on about what she was hoping for during this trip.

Well she went on her first backpacking trip recently and told me all about it! I laughed out loud, squealed, and related to her stories and pictures. I hope her story inspires you to go on your first backpacking trip. (P.S. Look at how adorable she is in her dress + hiking shoes!)

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Snowqueen & Scout: Tell us briefly about your background in backpacking.
Lisa: The last time I backpacked was about 28 years ago when I was 20! My very first trip was with the community center when I was in 3rd grade and I went a few times with my family while growing up too. 

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For this most recent trip, where did you go, how many days were you gone, how many miles did you hike, and what did you see? 
We went to Emigrant Wilderness, north of Yosemite. We arrived late Thursday night and threw up the tent in a random spot near a fire road. We started hiking on Friday and finished around 6pm on Sunday. In three days, we hiked roughly 24 miles total (including the "Oh Shit" four-mile detour which I'll talk about later). 

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You mentioned your hiking partner Liz when we chatted in a previous conversation. Tell us about how she was a partner to you both pre-trip and during your trip. 
After a group conversation about the movie “Wild,” Liz totally made our trip happen. I often say something sounds like a great idea, but don’t follow through with it. This would have absolutely been one of those things without Liz’s enthusiastic planning and follow up. She got input from one of our colleagues on the best places to go backpacking, researched it, got a map, determined our route, and called the ranger station to learn about permits and restrictions. The week of the trip she called the ranger station and made arrangements for our free permit to be left at a pick up spot since we would arrive after they closed.

During our planning phase she would check in with me and let me know what she was doing in terms of training and getting equipment together. That really motivated me to keep up and keep my own prep going!

During the trip she was a great partner because we kept a similar pace, had similar endurance and were on the same page about when to call it a day. We really had to work together to pick up the trail at certain points and to negotiate some of the stream crossings. She also had a lot of great ideas about food, equipment & hygiene that she shared. Liz created what I called the “Bidet Bottle.” I will totally try it on my next trip. It's a water bottle with a squirt top for cleansing yourself during bathroom stops. I thought it was brilliant!

Did you have any "OH SHIT" moments? What happened? 
We were fortunate that we didn’t have many of these at all. There are two that stand out. The first OH SHIT moment was after we left camp the first night. We missed the trailhead to Gem Lake and continued on a trail going to Wood Lake. Liz and I didn’t realized we were not on the right trail until we came to a river crossing and could not figure out where to go from there.

Up until then, there had been small stream crossings, but this was much bigger. We definitely did not want to cross it without knowing where to go on the other side. We didn't want to risk having to cross back if we couldn't pick up the trail, so we decided to backtrack. We finally ended up back at a familiar stream crossing. It was challenging for Liz to cross the first time so she wasn’t thrilled to go back across. But once we crossed the stream, we very quickly saw the trail marker we had missed. Not sure exactly how far that detour was, but it potentially added up to four miles to our total!

The second OH SHIT moment was when I stumbled and fell forward onto my knees. That wasn’t so bad, but the weight of my pack pushed me forward and I had to land on my right hand. I felt really powerless to stop the momentum and that was pretty scary. I was super lucky that I really didn’t scrape my knees or tear my pants. I came out of that fall with only a light scrape on my hand. 

What are two highlights and two lowlights you'd share with your closest friend? 
Highlights: I loved skinny dipping for the first time! I loved being naked outside in general!
Lowlights: My lady parts did not smell good by day two and I need to learn to dig a deeper hole for shitting in the woods. Also although Liz is not my closest friend, it was still fun talking about all of these things on our trip!

First breakfast on the trail. This picture doesn't do any justice.

First breakfast on the trail. This picture doesn't do any justice.

What would do differently next time? 
I would like to plan more time to stop and appreciate beautiful places and I would stop more frequently for small meal breaks. I would maybe play in the water more! And I definitely need to come up with a better hygiene plan as well. 

Was there anything you took that you'd definitely not take again? And conversely, is there anything you didn't take that you wish you had? 
I got such great advice on what to bring from Snowqueen & Scout and from a colleague who is crazy about backpacking so I don’t feel like I had anything that I didn’t need. The things I didn’t use are things that I think I couldn’t avoid bringing anyway (i.e. gloves, stuff to start a fire, a compass, most of my first aid stuff). I also brought sunglasses, two bobby pins and ear plugs I didn't use, but I would probably bring those again next time. I did have a small drinking cup that I left behind because it seemed unnecessary, but I'll take it next time. And did I already mention that I really want to try Liz’s idea of rinsing with water at potty breaks next time?! 

Describe those last steps out to the trailhead on Sunday night. What were you feeling? 
The last few miles Liz and I were both feeling sad that it was coming to an end. But by the time we were close to the trailhead, I started feeling better about the trip ending! When I saw the car, I knew there would be clean clothes and shower wipes available, and we would be on our way to a fast food meal! I was pretty excited about those things. 

But as we drove away from the trailhead, I felt a little sad again to be leaving the amazing quiet, peace and beauty. We drove with our windows down because we were already missing all the mountain fresh air. And although it was great to have no cell service on the trail, it was nice to be able to check in with our significant others after we finished.

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Would you go backpacking again? If so, what about it draws you back? If not, why not? 
I will absolutely go again! I loved the beauty and serenity. I loved experiencing all kinds of conditions and environments and I loved pushing myself when I was tired or hot. I loved getting to a new beautiful location or seeing some new spectacular sight or view. I loved the simplicity of not really cooking or washing dishes, not having to choose what to wear each day, not having to wear makeup or worrying about my hair. I loved the freedom of not having too many choices and decisions to make, not being tied to my phone, and being totally self-sufficient.

We were just in our bodies, feeling them work and really only had to worry about basic needs – food, water and finding somewhere to sleep. It was exquisitely awesome!

In what ways are you a different Lisa now, than the Lisa before you went on your first backpacking trip?
I’m different in that I love backpacking and can’t wait to go again! I would even go on a short trip by myself. I NEVER thought I would have any interest in that. I had never been backpacking without a man in the group. Being single after a 22 year marriage, it feels good to have the confidence that I don’t “need a man” to do things with me, particularly something like go out into the wilderness. In the past when we'd car camp, I was always afraid of animals like mountain lions and bears. I liked knowing my husband would be there to help or protect me.

It turns out that I’m totally ok on my own! I wasn’t afraid and I didn’t spend any time worrying about it. There wasn’t anything we couldn’t handle on our own. Feeling confident, self-sufficient and empowered is a great thing.

Anything else you'd like to share? 
Thank you, Liz, for all the great info and inspiration on your blog and in person!


Aww, you're so welcome Lisa! Thanks for sharing your story with all the ladies out there who are new to backpacking. I so appreciate your candor and reflections and I can't wait to hear more stories of future backpacking trips! #GoLisaGo

Chanell's Story / What comes after "I want to go backpacking"?

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If you've never been backpacking and you want to go, what comes after saying, "I want to go backpacking"?

If you missed Chanell's intro story, you'll want to take a read. She asked some great questions that are on the forefront of her mind after publicly announcing that she wants to go on her first ever backpacking trip. To recap, here are her top five initial questions:

  1. What do I need?
  2. How do I find where I want to go? 
  3. Where do I get what I need at a reasonable price? 
  4. What am I missing? 
  5. It can't be this simple - what else do I need to be asking? 

Most beginners have the same questions about what gear they need and where to go. (I'm surprised Chanell didn't have any questions about bears, but I'm sure those will creep up soon enough.) Let me dive in with my responses to these questions, and we'll see how helpful they are - or not. Do they make sense? Does it still leave her baffled? Does it help her get one step closer to standing on the trail? You all are invited to chime in too, in the comments below. 

1. What do I need?
Chanell, here's a general gear checklist. I use it to make sure I don't forget my essentials. It's written in the general because there are different considerations for different seasons, altitudes, location. You can use it as a guide to think about what you'll need for your trip. For the specific things I take, here's my gear list.

Depending on where you're going and the weather, you'll use that info to determine what clothes you'll need. I don't recommend buying anything until this aspect nailed down.

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2. How do I find where I want to go?
This is a great question! Because there are so many choices, I think it would probably be helpful to  filter your options. Here are a few questions to consider:

  • Is there a place you've heard of that you'd like to explore? 
  • How far are you willing to drive? (E.g. 1-2 hours? Half day? Full day?)
  • How many days do you want to be backpacking? (Exclude travel time)
  • Do you want to see anything specific? A lake? Waterfall? Awesome mountaintop view?
  • What kind of backpacking would you like to do?
    • Fairly easy (1-5 miles, not a lot of ascent or descent)
    • A good challenge, but not too hard (4-7mi/day, more steep uphill and downhill)
    • Challenging (7+ miles/day with at least one pass - that means hiking up to the top of a mountain range)
    • Let's get it (You're game for 10+ miles, passes, etc.)

3. Where do I get what I need at a reasonable price? 
I just wrote a post about ways to find gear for cheap or even free here

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4. What am I missing?
The first questions that pop into my mind when I'm thinking about a planning a backpacking trip are as follows:

  • When is the best time to go? Can I go then? 
  • What do I want from this trip?
  • What kind of a physical challenge am I looking for?
  • Am I equipped for this trip? If not, what do I need? 
  • Do I want to go solo or with people? If the latter, who? 
  • Where can I find more info and trail recommendations on the area? 
  • Which ranger station is the one that knows the most information about the area?

5. It can't be this simple - what else do I need to be asking?
There's plenty more to come as we get closer to your departure. Let's focus on question #2 and find you a place to go! 

 

What would you add? 

Gear / How to find backpacking gear for free (or cheap)

Before you decide to go buy a bunch of gear without having much backpacking experience, please take a moment to pause.


[Take a deep breath and relax. Feel the excitement in your body and let go of any anxiety you have about acquiring gear. Seriously, take one big deep breath now.


An alternative way of approaching your first backpacking trip.
We are bombarded with messages to buy buy buy. Our pervasive consumer culture permeates every aspect of the outdoors industry too. No surprise, just ironic. (I mean I even have ads and affiliate links on my lil ole site.) 

When you want to get into backpacking, it can feel particularly overwhelming to figure out what to buy. A visit to REI might leave you feeling depleted because of all of the options and the lack of knowledge to make the best decision. (I mean your life is on the line, isn't it? We're talking about your survival in the woods!) Naturally, each purchasing decision feels big. A sleeping bag suddenly isn't just about a sleeping bag, it's about your survival, your life. 

[Is it time for another deep breath?]

I want to offer another framework. Instead of thinking of your first backpacking trip as "a big survival adventure that requires a huge financial cost where you suddenly acquire a whole crap-ton of gear you may never use," consider it as an invitation to invest in one backpacking experience. Just one.

You will be okay. 
I want to acknowledge that there's a lot of fear around going backpacking. The thing that people will attest to being one of the most empowering experiences ("Wow, I can't believe I carried everything I need to survive on my back") can be the thing that causes the most concern ("What if I don't bring what I need to survive, or it's not enough?"). 

Those fears are normal. They lessen with experience, but they are very real. Be smart, listen to your gut, don't take foolish risks in the wilderness and study up before you head out. You will be okay. And trust me, you're thinking will change rather quickly. 

Buying gear is scary because it asks you to commit to something you don't know if you even like.
Even with generous return policies by many of the major companies, it still feels like a big commitment to buy a $300 tent, doesn't it? What if you don't even like backpacking after all? Or what if you do like backpacking, but the tent was difficult to set up and the zippers were loud (don't worry, all zippers are strangely loud!). Ugh, now you have to go return the used tent and worse, if the sales rep asks you if there was anything wrong with it, you have to come up with something to say. Well skip it. Get it out of your head and go straight to the next point. 

Don't buy any of the major pieces of gear. Borrowing from friends or renting is the way to go.
Ask your coworkers, your family, your friends if they've gone backpacking before. Do they have a backpack, sleeping bag, pad, and tent you can borrow? Ideally, find a backpack from another woman so it's sized a smidge better for you. If you can go light, try to seek out lighter backpacking gear too. You'll thank yourself for it later. 

If you don't know anyone at all, try renting gear. Here are some places to consider to rent gear for your first backpacking experience. 

When you borrow/rent, the gear won't feel just right or as comfortable and light as you'd like. That's normal since you won't even know what you like the first time around. Just pick one and go for it. It doesn't have to be the "right one." You'll learn what you like and don't like on the trip and those lessons are valuable. It's a 100% learning trip, so keep that in mind.

Go on your first trip, enjoy it, learn, and then decide if you want to go again. You might catch the backpacking bug (no pun intended). If you're not sure if it was your thing, borrow gear again and try it out a second time. Apply what you learned. You'll know when it's time to start purchasing gear when you find yourself wanting to go back again and again. (And how to purchase gear is a whole other blog post!)

Any questions? Know any other gear rental resources you'd recommend?