Over the years, I’ve been known to lecture friends, family, customers and students on the importance of proper gear maintenance and testing before heading into the backcountry. Unfortunately, when it comes to these orations, I haven’t always been known to practice what I preach.
Case in point, while undertaking a spring garage cleaning this past April, my husband discovered my backpack stowed away in a corner still completely packed with everything from my most recent trip. It is worth noting here that I hadn’t been backpacking since the previous September. We discovered my down sleeping bag still smashed into its tiny stuff sack, a few clothing items I thought had been carried off by trolls, my “missing” Leatherman and my hydration bladder still filled with water.
I was completely irritated with myself and made Stuart promise not to tell any of my friends about my neglectfulness.
This year, I kicked off the last month of summer by trekking around the Cloud Peak Wilderness for five days with three girlfriends. Each schlepping 50+ pound packs, I wouldn’t say we subscribe to the “light and fast” backpacking mentality. We eat well, sleep fairly comfortably and all bring a couple of unnecessary surprises to share along the way. However, so as not to carry even more weight, we are thoughtful in planning who will supply and carry certain pieces of integral shared gear. Two water filters, one stove, two fuel canisters, one first aid kit, two bathroom bags — you get the idea.
Prior to our departure, as I gathered the items on my packing list, I thought for once I was following my own instructions. I fully assembled my tent and even double-checked the number of stakes. I disassembled, oiled, reassembled and lit my stove. Since we don’t bring a back-up, I took particular care to be certain it was operational. Lastly, I pulled apart my water filter, determined it appeared to be in working order, put it back together and stuffed it into my pack.
After a full day of mostly uphill hiking, my friends and I set up camp for our first night on the trail. We made our way to the nearby watering hole and started filtering water for the evening. Upon filling one Nalgene bottle with the pump I had brought, one of the ladies looked at me and asked, “Is it supposed to be foamy like this?”. I couldn’t believe it. Why didn’t I test it at home? Fortunately, the other filter (that someone else had packed) was working.
Lesson learned? Of course not.
Four days after returning home from my trip, my step-daughter, Gabby, and I headed out with another group of ladies on our annual mother-daughter Bighorn Mountain backpacking trip. As you might imagine, a lot more gear is required for a group of fourteen than for a crew of four.
Upon getting a pot of water heating on the stove I had taken the week prior, I assembled another stove. I worked for ten minutes trying to get it going, to no avail. I couldn’t believe it. Why didn’t I test it at home?
Maybe next year I’ll finally learn to head my own advice.
Julie Greer is a member of the Wyoming State Parks & Cultural Resources Commission.