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Help me go Solo!
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Rocco Speranza

Locale: Western NC Mtns
Help me go Solo! on 05/17/2013 19:59:08 MDT Print View

I've been wanting to go backpacking for awhile now. I've had the time, but not many of my friends have time or want to go. The problem is I tend to freak myself out at the littlest sounds in the woods. I do want to get out, but it just annoys me that I have to rely on someone else to get out.

Any suggestions to make it easier for me to get out alone?

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Baby steps. on 05/17/2013 20:10:55 MDT Print View

Start with something a bit less intimidating than off trail in the Sierra. maybe car camping etc. then work your way out. I went through something similar when I stopped using a tent. It was amazing how protective the cocoon of a tent appeared to be. After a few trips I loved camping solo in the middle of nowhere under the stars. Good luck.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - M

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Help me go Solo! on 05/17/2013 20:32:28 MDT Print View

"The problem is I tend to freak myself out at the littlest sounds in the woods."

So you're afraid of the dark huh?

Just remember that if you hear a noise it's most likely a squirrel or a rabbit or deer or a bobcat or something. These animals aren't going to hurt you. The biggest fear is the fear of the unknown. There are many nocturnal animals and having something walk by your camp is normal.
Get a powerful light.

Try doing night hikes if you are comfortable with that. Find some spots to sit down and relax and listen to the forest. It will be a lot less intimidating if you can walk back to your car.

This next piece of advice is the most important. Set up camp before nightfall so you will know what's around you. Setting up camp after dark in a dense forest where you cant even see the land features around you can feel very claustrophobic and creepy even for an experienced solo backpacker. If you don't have a mental picture of your surroundings it feels like you are surrounded by a featureless black mass.

Have you tried asking on the forum? There could be some NC people who are looking for someone to hike with. Try and see if there are any local hiking groups.

Try doing practice runs on day hikes where you set up your shelter and cook a meal.

Edited by justin_baker on 05/17/2013 20:53:33 MDT.

solo on 05/17/2013 20:36:49 MDT Print View

Sleep with ear plugs.
Listen to small radio before go to sleep

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Help me go Solo! on 05/17/2013 20:41:41 MDT Print View

The others have given some great advice. I especially agree with Justin on checking out a group in your area - you may find you actually do have folks to go backpacking with, and new friends to make.

If you do head out solo, and if you can, sleep next to a running stream. The noise of the stream serves two purposes, it pretty much drowns out any other noise out there, and it's a nice noise to fall asleep to.

Rocco Speranza

Locale: Western NC Mtns
Re: Re: Help me go Solo! on 05/17/2013 21:22:45 MDT Print View

Dang, I wish I had worked out my schedule to do that this past week. I have a place that I could camp up the mountain I live on, not on my property, but I've camped there a few times with my friends.

The stupid thing is, when I'm with someone I don't think of it at all. I think it's because I have someone to talk to instead of having the chance to listen to the night sounds.

I've been on many night hikes, non by myself though. It's the same thing as above, it doesn't really bother me as much.

For instance, I went to the Grayson Highlands State Park with some friends Easter weekend.
There was still snow on the ground so you could see foot prints of people that had walked there, but you could also see animal foot prints. We saw obvious prints of a Wolf that had followed the trail. At first I thought it was someone's dog, but then compared my hand and they really big as well as being on parts of snow where there were no previous human tracks. We found a dead pony that had froze to death, it was lying on the ground next to the wolf prints and we thought there could had been a wolf around that had killed it and we started to freak out a little..., but the horse was frozen and had no bite marks. We ended up continuing to the shelter since it was late.

Seemed as though my friend were more freaked out by it than I was. If I was alone I think I would had been really afraid... Don't like the aspect of knowing there is a large predator in the vicinity.

Thanks for the tips though!
I was also thinking that making a vlog of my trip like many backpackers do would help.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Going Solo on 05/17/2013 21:32:20 MDT Print View

Couple ideas

-Build a big fire to hand out by until it gets late. If feels better by a fire. Sit by the fire and read a book or listen to music until its good and late.

-Bring a powerful light

-Camp in an open area, if you hear something weird you can spotlight it.

-There will be noises, figure out which ones are normal and get used too them

-There isn't much in the NC woods to be afraid of

-If you like buy a can of bear spray. If it helps you fall asleep its worth 8 oz.

-Remember black bears don't make a habit of bothering sleeping campers (this is more of a grizzly thing) and to the best of my knowledge Mountain Lions (which probably aren't in your area) have NEVER, EVER bother a sleeping person

-Car camp a few times until you get used to the night noises, a benefit of this is you don't need a lot of time, just drive out in the evening and be back home the next morning.

Bradley Danyluk
(dasbin) - MLife
fence on 05/17/2013 23:37:44 MDT Print View

I have the same issue - I think it partly stems from an actual close-encounter with a too-curious bear in the middle of the night who circled my tent over and over, poking his nose into the fabric, many years back.

I've just recently built myself a portable electric fence to encircle my campsite. Haven't put it to use yet but I am certain it will help me sleep when in the mountains alone. Earplugs in and trust the fence to do its thing. It weighs 16oz - worth it for a peaceful sleep.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - M

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: Re: Help me go Solo! on 05/18/2013 00:55:28 MDT Print View

Are you sure they were wolf tracks? They were probably coyote tracks. Coyotes are very shy and I wouldn't worry about them in the slightest. They are small.
Mountain lions aren't very big either. You look huge to them.

Television and movies like to portray wild animals as dangerous killing machines and people believe it. The truth is you are far more likely to be attacked and killed by a human in the woods than an animal. The statistics show that they are not a real risk.
You live in a very safe place as far as animals are concerned. You don't live in the North wear there are grizzly bears or moose. You don't live in the African savannah where there are lions and hippos. You don't live in the jungle where there are poisonous snakes and spiders everywhere. As Luke said there isn't much in the NC woods to be afraid of.

I do most of my backpacking in a place that has the highest density of mountain lions in the United States (Santa Lucia Mountains) and after a snow you can see tracks everywhere. I don't let it freak me out because there have only been 11 recorded fatalities in North American in the past 30 years even with mountain lions living in such close proximity to cities and very popular hiking areas. I know that it's easy to get excited and scared about animals after all of the misinformation that television has bombarded us with, but really we are talking about North Carolina here. You really shouldn't be this worried. I don't mean to be rude but you are being a little ridiculous here.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - M

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Going Solo on 05/18/2013 01:23:58 MDT Print View

A campfire can help. You could even throw some big logs on there keep it going all night while you sleep if that makes you more comfortable. Gather extra firewood so you can wake up in the middle of the night and stoke it. Also if you throw a bunch of pine needles or grass and twigs on the fire it will light up your entire camp temporarily.

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
Re: Baby steps. on 05/18/2013 06:44:08 MDT Print View

In my experience, it really just comes down to exposure therapy. You won't be comfortable sleeping alone in the woods until you get some experience sleeping alone in the woods. Of the suggestions here, I would pick a couple that you think would help your nerves the most and try them on a short overnighter.

My own personal advice is: when you're planning trips to practice going solo, pick locations that are safe, but not convenient. If it's too easy to bail, you'll find yourself making excuses to go home. If it's a long drive home or a hike through a dark swamp back to the car, your mind will weigh those choices and staying put and trying to sleep will be more appealing.

Then you'll wake up at sunrise and realize, huh, I survived the night! And the mental hurdle crumbles a bit more.

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
"wolf" tracks on 05/18/2013 06:48:34 MDT Print View

Also, no wolves in NC, although the tracks you saw may well have been wolf-size. Tracks in the snow will spread over time. However big they were, they started out smaller than the size you found them.

Jennifer Mitol
(Jenmitol) - M

Locale: In my dreams....
Re: Re: Baby steps. on 05/18/2013 07:19:56 MDT Print View

I'm glad you posted this...

I have been camping and backpacking literally since I was 3 and after 40 years of it you'd think I'd be comfortable enough to go by myself. I'm not. I even have a big dog who has a nasty growl who I KNOW would alert me to the slightest danger, but somehow that doesn't seem to help, either.

My problem is that I don't know what I'm afraid of - here in the Midwest there is enough riff raft close by that I am somewhat afraid of ending up as the plot line of a Criminal Minds episode more than becoming a bobcat snack. But honestly, I agree that it's just the sounds.......

Some of these suggestions are great...and I's just a matter of exposure. You just gotta go do it. One day.....

Rocco Speranza

Locale: Western NC Mtns
Re: "wolf" tracks on 05/18/2013 07:34:39 MDT Print View

This is true I guess.
There is a pic of one.

Group of them here:

It was at a high enough elevation that the snow didn't really melt.
As was just across the border in Virginia.

Pictures of dead pony:

Edited by Mechrock on 05/18/2013 07:54:47 MDT.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Re Re Wolf on 05/18/2013 07:42:29 MDT Print View

I know of no credible reports or even rumors that wolfs are coming back to VA. If its not a coyote my guess is its a stray dog.

Rocco Speranza

Locale: Western NC Mtns
coyote on 05/18/2013 07:56:27 MDT Print View

I guess it does make more sense for it to have been a coyote.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: "wolf" tracks on 05/18/2013 09:52:17 MDT Print View

North Carolina has had a red wolf release program in the NE part of the state and it is estimated that there are 100 wolves there now. I would bet that a large solo set of tracks was a stray dog. A pack might concern me, but not a solo wolf.

As far as the solo thing, just do it. Those critters are far more afraid of you. A big ol' can of bear spray may improve your confidence and as good for two legged snakes as four wheel drive critters.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Re Re Wolf Tracks on 05/18/2013 10:26:17 MDT Print View

I stand corrected, I'd forgotten about the wolves in NE North Carolina but that is a long way from Grayson Highlands. Since lots of people hike there and people live in the valleys around there I'd guess it was a stray dog or a dog going along for a hike.

Rocco Speranza

Locale: Western NC Mtns
Can't see it being a stray dog on 05/18/2013 10:48:55 MDT Print View

I don't see why a dog would wonder so far away from it's home.,+Appalachian+Trail,+Jefferson+National+Forest,+WHITETOP,+Grayson,+Virginia+24292&hl=en&ll=36.6552,-81.533296&spn=0.013875,0.033023&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-a&geocode=FdhVLwId694j-w&hnear=Thomas+Knob+Shelter,+Appalachian+Trail,+WHITETOP,+Virginia+24292&t=h&z=16

We were probably less than a half mile to the right of the shelter.
I'm guessing now that it was either someone's dog or a coyote.

Thanks again for all of the tips. I think I'll have to get some bear spray.
Any ultralight ones out there? I think vlogging would help a lot as well.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Can't see it being a stray dog on 05/18/2013 10:57:09 MDT Print View

If you carry a trekking pole, that would provide a lot of protection.