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What is a Backpacking Trip Failure?


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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable What is a Backpacking Trip Failure?

Viewing 11 posts - 26 through 36 (of 36 total)
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  • #3734128
    Mark Wetherington
    BPL Member

    @markweth

    Locale: Western Montana

    Really enjoyed this piece, Ben. I’d been thinking about this lately, too, and it’s interesting to look back on trips in a success/failure way. I think the trips where I didn’t catch any fish at a lake, but could see huge trout cruising below the surface stick out the most as failures in my mind : )

    I’ve thought about this a bit and I think generally I view my trips as having different degrees of success or excellence. Sometimes weather inhibits things, but the good attitudes of my companions and the shared experience means it is a trip I remember fondly. I think the trips I find most successful are those where I have some time for exploration and whet my appetite for coming back to the area again and linking up different areas to create an even longer trip.

    #3734360
    Bryan Bihlmaier
    BPL Member

    @bryanb

    Locale: Wasatch Mountains

    Great essay, Ben.  Reminds me of a video by Jeremiah Hikes in which he repeatedly says “oh well” when things don’t go just right.  He adapts but doesn’t stress – a great attitude.

    Six years ago I was in a local climbing club, and we decided to drive up and summit Mt Olympus in WA as our annual “big objective”.  This mountain is notorious for turning around climbers with very inclement weather.  The hike in along the Hoh River was one of the most spectacular hikes I have ever done, even though it was a pretty long day packing cold-weather and mountaineering gear.

    On summit day, after we crossed the spectacular Blue Glacier, the clouds began to set in and by the time we were high on the mountain, visibility was less than 100 yards.  One member of my rope team had severe knee issues, so we left him sitting in our tracks and told him we’d catch him on the way down.  Only a few hundred yards later, we discovered that the snow bridge we had to cross for our intended route had collapsed.  We smartly made the decision to turn around given that setback, the limited visibility, and cold rain that was falling.

    The hike back out to the trailhead was miserable.  It rained non-stop for 48 hours on us.  Everyone was soaked through and through, because with that much rain it finds a way into your hood or other openings and your “wicking” base layers wick it all the way to your mountaineering boots that now serve as ice buckets for your feet :-).

    Even before this article, I have thought many times about what I learned from this trip though, which could be seen as a failure.

    • This was the first mountain I had ever climbed and failed to summit.  It reinforced to me that reaching the summit is optional, but getting down is mandatory.
    • I learned that the real joy of most trips is the company I’m with.  I had a great time with the people on the trip from our club, and especially those I was in a rope team with.
    • I have learned many times that splitting up is almost ALWAYS a bad idea.  We made the mistake of leaving my friend with knee issues behind, but in this case we got lucky and turned around before he was even finished resting his knees.
    • I got to see the most awe-inspiring glacier I have ever been on (and I’ve seen quite a few).  It was fun to watch the water flowing only inches under my feet in places.
    • It reminded me to think of others.  Coming back down, as I reached the moraine on the far side of the Blue glacier, there were others quite far back.  I turned around and flashed my headlamp for quite a while to help guide them to the right exit off the glacier.  (Was I more selfless, I could have stayed there until they all finished crossing, but it was rainy, cold, and getting dark quickly).
    • I learned that the high-volume backpack I brought, while waterproof, had a VERY unsubstantial hip belt (it will remain nameless, but it is made of white DCF/polyester laminate ;-P ).  I suffered nerve damage down the front of both thighs from cinching the crap out of the hip belt, trying to keep it from sliding down while I hiked for 1.5 days in the rain.  So a relative short trip to learn that piece of gear did not work for me.
    • I learned about “trench foot” – luckily from a teammate, not my own feet.
    • I learned that my first aid and blister kit is not just for me, but could be for everyone on the team.  One poor lady was hiking in new boots.  By the time she stopped to address her blisters, it used every inch of Leukotape, gauze, and blister bandages I had to fix up her feet.  I am glad I had not skimped on those supplies!  (Hopefully she learned to stop earlier to address foot issues!)
    • I think the most significant thing I learned is from this: when we finally reached the trailhead – all of us exhausted, soaked, cold, and in pain – a very petite, older lady – literally a grandma – dropped her pack and literally ran back up the trail to help carry the pack of the girl with the feet in poor condition.  I am ashamed to say that none of the “strapping young men” in the group did likewise – we all thought we were too wasted.  But that is a lesson in humility and selflessness that I will never forget.
    • And, like all Type II fun, looking back I only think of the fond memories.  Enough that I want to go back one day and “get revenge” on that mountain that thwarted me!
    #3734376
    jscott
    BPL Member

    @book

    Locale: Northern California

    Bryan, years ago I spent a week and a half doing trail work on one section of the Hoh trail about 12 or 14 miles in. Despite it being wilderness the Park gave us a helicopter to fly in tools. We drew straws to see who would ride in the copter; I lost. All but the winner hiked into the night to the rendevous, on a rock outcrop on top of a cliff face over a section of the Hoh. The next day it was socked in and we thought the chopper would call it off. No. We saw it approach flying under the clouds through that very narrow river canyon. We raced to the spot where the copter was hovering to unload the tools that were hanging below on a net. But the mist made for an electric shock each time we touched the net. We kept trying to release the hook and finally succeeded. The guy who won the short straw was looking down at us from the chopper in a really frightened way. He was hovering over a cliff that plunged about 600 feet. After the pilot let him off in a safe landing spot below he hiked in and said the whole trip was terrifying. I’d ridden in a car with the pilot the day before. He was a Viet Nam vet. He was a hell of a pilot with nerves of steel to say the least. He told me some pretty crazy stories.

    actually I wasn’t happy hanging out under that hovering chopper with the winds blowing, trying to unhook the damn tools.

    Anyway, it rained the whole time we were there except for the hike out. I was too soaked to get up to see Olympus; all of us were. I still regret that. So I actually do count that as a trip failure.  Indeed, it’s a beautiful trail.

    #3734377
    Bryan Bihlmaier
    BPL Member

    @bryanb

    Locale: Wasatch Mountains

    Jscott, yep, I didn’t get a ride either. I hiked the “Hoh” river! (Groan!)

    #3734615
    Dan Quixote
    BPL Member

    @dan_quixote

    Locale: below the mountains (AK)

    I’ve thought about this a bit and I think generally I view my trips as having different degrees of success or excellence. Sometimes weather inhibits things, but the good attitudes of my companions and the shared experience means it is a trip I remember fondly. I think the trips I find most successful are those where I have some time for exploration and whet my appetite for coming back to the area again and linking up different areas to create an even longer trip.

    Good stuff! I’ve had trips ruined by knee pain, chafing, and ennui, but I look back now and regard them as learning opportunities. I say “opportunity” because I didn’t always learn the first time!
    And I too love building my mental map of places and then finding a route that connects them. Very satisfying.

    Most of my hiking has been in a relatively compact area of Alaska, the Chugach mountains in a triangle between Anchorage, Eagle River, and Girdwood, and I’ve gone out there and suffered through post-holing for miles, inordinate mosquito pressure, soaking rain and underbrush, pleasantly-dangerous river crossings, inadequate gear for the conditions, inadequate (irresponsible!) preparation, and trying to get as remote as I could within that little triangle and finding myself bushwhacking through devil’s club, but for me I don’t look back on the conditions of my various forays as being what sucked the most: it was my physical pain (knees and chafing) or internal baggage.

    Sometimes when I bring people along they feel the suffering more than I do, but they usually look back on it fondly. Haven’t gotten anyone into more trouble than blisters and wet/cold/tired/hungry yet, though. =)

    #3734819
    David Gardner
    BPL Member

    @gearmaker

    Locale: Northern California

    Not getting home. Followed by not getting home safely.

    Everything else is at worst a learning experience somewhere on the I-II-III scale.

    #3734835
    jscott
    BPL Member

    @book

    Locale: Northern California

    So…if I’m on a plane that gets hijacked and I’m held captive for ransom for three years, but eventually get home…that’s a learning experience?

    Nothing wrong with saying that a backpacking trip was a failure, even if one also learns something from it.

    Sloop John B has it right: “this is the worst trip/ I’ve ever been on”.

     

    #3734839
    David Gardner
    BPL Member

    @gearmaker

    Locale: Northern California

    Yes. Type III.

    #3735571
    Q Smith
    BPL Member

    @neotechktc-com-2-2

    Locale: Texas Hill Country

    Two failures:

    1.) not going

    2.) not returning (unless you don’t intend to return, then, success

    #3736709
    Walter Isenberg
    BPL Member

    @wisenber

    I “failed” my first Everglades Challenge, but I wouldn’t dream of retracting the effort. I learned more by failing than if I had lucked out and completed it “successfully”.

    I learned that route planning (and alternate route knowledge) played a larger role than training. I also learned the difference between a “dry bag” and an “immersion bag”. I also came out with an awareness that waiting for better conditions is often a faster option than pressing on. I also learned that I can spend an entire night crossing a twelve mile wide harbor in seven foot whitecaps and live to tell about it. More importantly, I learned a lot about me.

    “Failures” like that help shape a person.

    #3736713
    jscott
    BPL Member

    @book

    Locale: Northern California

    I consider a miserable trip to be a failure in planning, most often. I don’t like miserable hikes and avoid them if possible. Most often you can see them coming, in terms of weather and other considerations.  I re routed one trip at the last minute when on arriving at the trailhead and talking to people who’d just come through my route that it was entirely under snow. I didn’t want that. I don’t go out looking for exhaustion, endless suncups, pain, or unprepared. I’ve been ‘shaped’ to avoid horrible and dangerous situations if possible. Again, I don’t need near death experiences to learn not to get into them. Touching a hot stove over and over doesn’t form character. Learning not to touch the stove after one time, and then using that experience to avoid similar situations in the future is a real instance of character being formed. NOT having trip failures shows character.

    In short, I think people tend to romanticize their trip failures after the fact. And that keeps them from not repeating failures going forward.

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