On Top of the world: Cementing friendships in the great wide open
Our family has organized camping trips of which dreams are made – three-page itineraries, exotic destinations and packing lists that rival Santa’s wish list. Once, while camping at a beach in the Sea of Cortez on the Isla de Espiritu, we watched a Humboldt squid extricate itself from a rocky section of beach at low tide. Another time, backpacking on the Appalachian Trail in Vermont, we hung out in our hammocks observing a mother snake protectively circling her young around the trees at the edge of Stratton Pond.
These are moments when the intrinsic value of being outside is fully realized. At the time, it might seem like a quick event – a get-your-camera moment that will pass and be forgotten.
The thing is, you don’t forget.
I can’t tell you how many typical evenings pass at our house without a second thought – dinner on the table, a few chores around the house or yard, read a good book and call it a night.
But outside, everything is magnetized, enhanced and impressive. Even wet rainy days get a nod – hiking Alaska’s Resurrection Pass with my brother many years ago I still remember the squishy feel of the rainwater that turned the trail into a small river. Even better: the sweet relief we felt upon reaching our public-use cabin and firing up the woodstove to Hades-worthy temperatures to dry out. These precious moments outdoors feed the soul and fortify the mind.
On one of the first clear days of summer, Jen Sees and her daughters, Emma and Samantha, and my daughter, Reilly, and I strapped on our packs and headed up Eagle River’s iconic Mount Baldy, one of my favorite and most accessible places near my home in Alaska. Our destination: anywhere with a view. For a year we had put off this outing, due to busy schedules, rainy washouts, and lack of motivation to throw together the supplies.
But this day, we made the time. With only a few weeks together before they packed off to move to Colorado, this fleeting trip was not only a way to cement our bond over s’mores but also create a memory that would withstand distance and time.
Emma and Reilly led the charge, skirting along the valley floor below Baldy and eyeing a rolling, exposed summit to our east. Our dogs Benny and Stella were ecstatic, running through the alpine terrain like crazed children, stopping to cool off and roll in snow patches protected by shade. The sun stayed high in the sky and the warm sun was a welcome site after our long, busy and cold winter. Jen and I chatted about time – how it marches forward, no matter what we are doing with it. Better to be here, spending time on a mountaintop than attending to yet another to-do list. Jen’s half-packed boxes could wait. My deadlines would be there tomorrow. Right now, this is where we wanted to be.
Once the girls picked their campsite, we dumped our packs and set up camp. This hike was steep, but short, allowing for plenty of time to enjoy the view of Cook Inlet, and further north, Denali, which rose crystal clear in the distance. The girls rolled out their sleeping pads and made nests overlooking the land below, wrapping their sleeping bags around them even though a warm breeze persisted.
This trip has no climax – we did not run into a bear, we did not get accosted by a late-night rainstorm, we did not lose gear, lock our keys back in our vehicles or twist any ankles. We simply existed. And this is why this summer farewell to very close friends will be yet another moment that will be locked away, never to be forgotten.
Make the effort. Pack the gear. Do the trip. This is our life, and let’s make it count.
10-STEP BACKPACKING PLAN
Don’t put that camping trip off one more day. A quick overnight camping trip can be accomplished in these 10 steps. Here’s how:
- Pack quick, dehydrated meals to make eating and cleanup a breeze (or pack cheese, crackers and salami. Anyone can survive a night or two on these simple rations).
- The three necessities: sleeping bag, tent, sleeping pad. If you are confident it won’t rain, forego the tent (or hammock) and sleep under the stars.
- Extra layers for staying snug at camp, once the hiking is done. Camp shoes are a plus.
- Something to celebrate the special moment: The kids brought fixings for s’mores and cooked them over the campstove — no fire necessary. We brought a bottle of wine packed in a Platypus.
- A small first aid kit — always be prepared.
- A way to store your food away from wildlife — a rope for hoisting in trees, or bear canister for treeless areas.
- A game plan back home, so someone knows where you are going and when you plan to return.
- A campstove and fuel. We prefer the backpacker-friendly JetBoils, but there are plenty of lighter and newer options available.
- Plenty of water. Find out ahead of time if your destination has water nearby. If so, pack a water filter for filtration. Or, for quick overnights of distances less than 3 or 4 miles, packing in enough water is usually manageable.
- A can-do attitude. The more comfortable you can feel outdoors, the more you will be drawn to repeat efforts.
CAMPING DO's AND DON'T's
- When traveling in the backcountry be respectful of wildlife and other hikers.
- You are in bear country — at least where I live in Alaska. Store food well away from your campsite and be prepared with your bear deterrent of choice, whether that is bear spray, a firearm or your vocal cords.
- Pack out what you pack in. Always.
- Bury waste thoroughly.
- Clean up after your pets and keep them on leash where directed.
- Try not to trample fragile vegetation. When hiking as a group fan out over tundra to avoid wearing a path.
- Do not build fires in undesignated areas.