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First solo trip
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Ian Schumann

Locale: Central TX
First solo trip on 07/16/2011 11:53:08 MDT Print View

Hey friends,
So I've wanted to take a solo BP trip for a long long time, and finally I find that I have the means, transit, and time that I could actually do it.

I'm looking at hitting the Pecos Wilderness or Wheeler Peak Wildnerness (both in the NM rockies) for a 3-5 day trip sometime in the early or mid fall, circa September or October. I'm writing this post to solicit any feedback on something that you wish you knew before your first solo trip, or just ... something that you think I should know.

More Background
I've done about a half-dozen trips in high mountains before, mostly 2- and 3-man teams, all during summer or fall. I've been researching and poring over stuff on BPL for about 5 years, and have absorbed a good amount, I guess. My base weight has usually ended up in the 8-12lb range. I feel comfortable putting together a gear list and planning meals, since I've been THE point man for planning on all the previous trips I've done. I have a fair idea of how to find suitable campsites (and have experienced exposed campsites with some memorable [and terrifying] weather). I have a vague understanding of how my (particular) body acclimates to altitude. I've been shivery and nauseous while taking care of a friend who needed to get into his sleeping bag at 5pm due to even more shivering and nausea, in the middle of a hail storm -- that was my very first trip in the mountains, heh. I've even managed to navigate off trail, just a little bit.

I know, more or less, how to hang a bear bag. Although, if I saw a bear in the wild (probably not likely in NM, right?), I'm not sure what I would do. But, on all my trips in the mountains, sleeping at night has always been nervous for me, as every stray sound of the wind makes me want to look around; and every (rare) actual encounter with deer or other critters at night has made me jump and lay awake for another hour or so. On that note ... one of the reasons that I've wanted to get out solo for so long is that I think there's a bit of rite of passage in there for a young man (or any man) -- I want to get out into the wilderness by myself and get more comfortable being just myself, a mere man, in a big unknown place that I can't control. Something about that feels primal and good. (Take it or leave it?)

Anyway friends -- the point is, I've been up into the mountains before, with lightweight gear; I've battled the elements a little bit; I've done this thing we call backpacking, in short. But, there's still a fair chance that I've missed something basic along the way. And, since I'm about to go solo, the margin of error for some things decreases, I suppose. If I get hurt, there's nobody nearby to help, etc.

So -- what do you think I should know?

Edited by freeradical on 07/16/2011 11:53:51 MDT.

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
"First solo trip" on 07/16/2011 12:17:58 MDT Print View


I can answer some questions specific to the Pecos, may help with your planning, shoot me a line sometime, or PM.

Mark Ries
(mtmnmark) - M

Locale: IOWAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!
What you need to know ? on 07/16/2011 12:23:13 MDT Print View

I have only been on three solos myself.... wait a second I brought a dog does that count? Ok the first times Ive went with out other people made me think why did I not do this sooner. You can do what ever you want,travel at your own pace, fish as long as you want sleep as long as you want. You wont have to please anybody. Dont get me wrong I like good company but that can be hard to find.I think you know all you need to know,just realize you are alone. It tends to make me more cautious. This year I leave the pup home.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
safety on 07/16/2011 12:28:57 MDT Print View

leave an exact itinerary with someone ... and set a time when they should take appropriate action

basic precaution ...

bears? on 07/16/2011 14:04:01 MDT Print View

Umm, what do you mean that its probably not likely to see a bear in NM?

Philmont scout ranch @ Cimmaron, NM has one of the highest bear densities in the country.

Just saying.

Sean Staplin
(mtnrat) - MLife

Locale: Southern Cdn Rockies
Stop to look around on 07/16/2011 15:10:53 MDT Print View

When I am solo which is most of the time, I have a rule that if I want to look around, I stop. It is very easy to twist something if you are not watching where you are stepping. A good thing to do anyway, but more important when alone, and really important when alone and in a remote area where seeing others is rare. Other than that do pretty much what you normally do.

John Whynot

Locale: Southeast Texas
Re: First solo trip on 07/16/2011 15:19:58 MDT Print View

I've done all of my recent backpacking solo.

I spend a bit more time in planning the trip. I try to anticipate what problems might occur, and how I would solve the problem. To put it simply, have a Plan B (and maybe a Plan C)...

Sean Staplin
(mtnrat) - MLife

Locale: Southern Cdn Rockies
As for bears on 07/16/2011 15:22:00 MDT Print View

As for bears of which I live and hike in area with lots of Grizzly and Black bear. I think I have found a good way to deal with them. I usually make some noise, but when I do come up on a bear, I stay visible and have a white T shirt or bandana around my wrist which I unfurl and hold over my head and slowly walk away staying visible. Has worked for me every time and I use this technique a couple times a year. When I am riding my mountain bike I do the same thing but hold the bike over my head. So far the bears have always taken off, knock on wood.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: As for bears on 07/16/2011 15:43:05 MDT Print View

Sean, if you suddenly go silent from this forum, we will know what happened. One of us will want to get your white T shirt with the bear paw print on it.


Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
First solo trip on 07/16/2011 15:55:49 MDT Print View

I've seen large black bear in the Pecos but they aren't a problem there. Seen them mostly going in the direction of Mora Flats, a big fishing area that is illegal to camp in. First NM Fish and Game going to stock the lake on horseback, then anglers, then the bears! LOL - probably just coincidence. I've started from a number of trailheads and september is a great month weather-wise, though you can still get rain and hail at anytime. Most start at a relatively high altitude, so a night at or near the trailhead may help acclimate you especially if coming in from central TX.

Wheeler peak has a nice view but much depends which trailhead you want to use. I've only used the ski area TH, but want to start on the other side one of these days.. Any questions feel free to shoot them.

Edited by hknewman on 07/16/2011 16:06:41 MDT.

Sean Staplin
(mtnrat) - MLife

Locale: Southern Cdn Rockies
LOL Bob on 07/16/2011 16:02:05 MDT Print View

LOL Bob. I have had visions of the bear just grabbing my shirt, tucking it in and using it as a bib as he enjoys my soft tender flesh. :)

Dan Montgomery
(theDanarchist) - F

Locale: Hampton Roads, VA
Solo advice on 07/16/2011 16:38:36 MDT Print View

First: Good on you. Going solo is great. But it's no time for tricky bushwhacking or steep-slope scrambling (I think you already know that).

I'm with Eric: I always give my ever-loving wife a map with my itinerary, rangers' phone numbers and a description of my car. You might even want to include a description of your shelter, sleeping bag and raingear (You'll want search and rescue folks to know that, while you may be missing or lost, you're not some goofball with a plastic tent and a cotton sleeping bag).

But yes, go for it!

James Winstead

Locale: CA
good advice here on 07/16/2011 18:49:43 MDT Print View

Seems like some good advice already. I sketch a map of my planned route including camp sites, trail head etc. with my wife. Cody Lunden's book 98.6 has some good advice. One idea(which I haven't yet done) is to leave a footprint(step in a muddy puddle, then on a piece of paper or something) on your car's dashboard. Theoretically SAR guys can know your track if they end up needing that. I haven't yet left specific info on my car, I don't always know about theft at trail head parking lots, but it is something to consider in different areas.

Otherwise, don't be a dumb__s. You'll probably be fine, but solo might be a time to justify all those survival goodies(ie signal mirror, extra meal's worth of food etc.) that the SUL guys leave at home.

I don't know NM at all, but it always helps to check with local rangers, fishing guide resources, hiking groups etc for any specific info.


Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: good advice here on 07/16/2011 19:44:44 MDT Print View

"Theoretically SAR guys can know your track if they end up needing that." [footprint]

Did you ever wonder how the SAR guys avoid tracking each other? I mean, if there would be a dozen guys scattered out in pairs across the forest, how would they know if they were tracking the lost hiker, or tracking each other?

If you have a dozen guys in your SAR group, you have each guy carve a different lug off his trail boots. The lost hiker's tracks will be one of the tracks with no lug marks missing.


Jozef _____
(DerJosef) - F

Locale: The southern border of Holland
Some hints on 07/17/2011 13:23:31 MDT Print View

"...I'm writing this post to solicit any feedback on something that you wish you knew before your first solo trip, or just ... something that you think I should know..."

Allright some lessons I learned, or things I do, hope they will inspire:

1. Don't be stupid!!!!!!
I think this is the most important thing. Never push yourself beyond your capabilities. Don't be afraid to turn back. Retreat, learn, prepare yourself better and try again.

2. Be well trained.
The more you go solo, the more going light is important. Don't get yourself worn out because of a heavy pack. More importantly, you have to be well trained to get around easier, be faster, be safer and be able to get yourself out of a hairy spot/moment. Also, statistically you won't get injured as fast, and you will heal more quickly. This goes especially for your feet and ankles. The first time I was out alone, I was way in over my head and thought it would basically be the same effort as trekking with friends. The fact that you have to do everything by yourself takes more effort during the whole of your trip.

3. Be prepared for every eventuality
Every situation you can think of you must be able to tackle on your own. This goes for falling, hurting yourself, getting lost, and breaking your gear. Be prepared to limp or even crawl out of your hiking-area if things go really bad. If you calculate this as an eventuality, you will more likely see it as a realistic option instead of losing your hopes, when you are injured.

4. Bring lots of useful (repair)-stuff and extra's (still keep it lightweight)
This helps to accomodate item #3. This does not mean so much the Swiss army-knife but I mean REALLY useful stuff. DUC-TAPE, Tie-wraps, (compression)-straps in various sizes, plastic bags., medicin you actually have tested and know will work, etc.. These things will help you fix your stuff as well as yourself and your broken limbs. Bring extra's of your most important stuff. For example: e-tickets (one in pack, one on person), money (divided between pack and person), at least 2 memory-cards (in case you lose one OR if you screw one up, better to take it out of your cam and try to restore your pictures at home on your computer, replace with the other one so you won't overwrite your data and can keep shooting those pictures).

5. Be prepared for time-loss
Sometimes in the mountains you might want to climb the same stretch twice. First to make a track or maybe a rope-anchor, without your pack, then go back for your stuff and cross in (relative) safety.

6. Entertain yourself
Going solo sometimes means being out alone, and get bored really quick when you've finished for the day and sit on a rock in front of your tent. Although at first I found it very romantic to think I would be able to "watch the stars", "look out over the mountains" or "come to peace with myself", I found it easier through the years just to pack a good, long read. Screw the weight.

7. Don't skimp too much
Although this is BPL, and lightweight is important...when you're alone you might want to have enough of everything. This means, enough food, enough water, enough warmth, enough protection. Also bringing lots of UL stuff means generally cutting on durability. If you fall down, rip your pack, lose your're screwed. Break your water-container 5 hours from the nearest stream in blistering heat, you're screwed. You don't have your buddy with you who can share some drops. Think about this, and cut down on weight and gear, wisely.

Think ahead, be prepared, have fun! Cheers

Edited by DerJosef on 07/17/2011 13:25:36 MDT.

Steven Paris
(saparisor) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
First solo trip on 07/17/2011 14:23:17 MDT Print View

All good advice here already.

I make a short list of relevant things like TH name & where the car will be parked, phone number & name of the NF, NP or whatever govt agency is in charge of the area, hiking route & where I think I will camp, etc. I usually write our car description & license plate too to b/c I want to make it easier on my wife if she ever has to call (it's OUR car but I don't think I'd want to dig up that kind of info if I was the worried person calling about someone who hadn't checked in).

Stay on trails. Have a map. Make a gear so you don't forget anything, especially essential stuff like flashlight, fire-starter, etc.

Finally, I find that some of the hardest time is entertaining yourself once you are in camp. If I'm there early, it can feel like it's going to be a looooooong time before it's bedtime.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: First solo trip on 07/18/2011 02:08:32 MDT Print View


Good for you. Solo is the best way to hike for me. Been doing it for over 40 years. It is rare for me to go backpacking with someone else.

As stated earlier, let someone know where you are going and when you will be back. Also let them know who they should call (note to self-probably should do this more often). And come hell or high water, get back on time! This may mean over-estimating your hike time by an acceptable margin of error.

At first stick to well marked trails until you refine your skills. Going solo does not mean you have to stick to trails... cross country is better, when you are ready. You can buy trail guides to help you plan your trips (I hate them because good trails get overrun when someone publishes a guide), but they can be an excellent resource.

Become expert with a topo map. This takes time. You will learn how to read the land. BTW, different USGS topo maps have different contour line intervals. Some of the 1:24,000 maps have 40', 80' and even 20 meter intervals. Become expert with a compass too. Take an orienting class if you can. A GPS is probably a good thing for someone fairly new, but do not make it your only (or main) navigation tool.

Plan ahead of time. Study your maps. Figure out the mileage. Consider the elevations. I have never seen anyone here on BPL mention a map measurer, but here is what I use:

Map measurer

Plan for the weather. Make sure you take adequate insulation and shelter. Cold can kill quickly if you are not prepared. Make sure your gear can keep you warm and dry.

Stay alert. This does not mean be paranoid. Someone mentioned stopping if you want to look at something. That is good advice. The only time I have stubbed a toe or twisted an ankle was when I was not paying attention.

If you truly get lost, stay put. If you have given someone an accurate itinerary it will be easier for rescue. Of course the goal is not to get lost. I never plan to get lost.

Bears. If you are going into bear country with known problems, just bring a canister and be done with it. Other options are Ursacks (where legal) and PCT hang. If you use the last two; practice, practice, practice before you use them.

It may take a while for you to be comfortable alone, that is normal. But with time it becomes a non-issue.

Know when to bail. Sometimes things just don't go right. If you need to go back or exit early don't consider yourself a failure. There will always be another day. The bailout situations are usually weather related, high water, or something has happened to the trail that blocks your way.

Boredom. I can't answer that one. I never get bored, and I do not bring reading material or music. If weather is good, I never sleep in a shelter. Just lay on your back and enjoy the show... best entertainment in the universe. Site selection helps. A bed with a view is wonderful. When weather is bad, I lay down, close my eyes, and go to sleep :)

Ian Schumann

Locale: Central TX
Whew! on 07/18/2011 07:33:04 MDT Print View

Wow! This is the kind of response that makes BPL such a great community. Thanks so much, everyone. Very very useful. I'll be sure to post a link to my gear list in a week or two.