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Gear Testing and Getting Lost


It was time to do a little backpacking gear test. I had just received my new Ribz Frontpack and I had never yet used the GoLite Nest screen tent that I bought the year before. I decided to pack up and go for an overnight trip to climb/explore Mount Aetna. I drove east an hour-and-a-half to county road 240 and turned right.

Lesson One: Know Where You Are

My plan was to go as far as I could once the road turned into a much rougher Forest Service road, and then head east up Mount Aetna. I couldn't see the mountain when I parked, but I thought I knew where I was on the map, so I figured I would just climb up over the ridge above and I would see the lake I planned to camp at for the night. Only later would I discover that I wasn't where I thought I was.

Lesson Two: The Importance of Water

After tip-toeing across a series of beaver dams, I started up, pushing through some thick stuff for an hour or more (see the photo at right). I should mention that there are no trails where I was headed. I was happy that my Ribz Frontpack slid through the brush without snagging. A couple hours after I started I drank the last of my water as I arrived above tree line.

Soon I was on top of a mountain, immediately noticing my thirst and the fact that the lake I expected to see was not there. Working with the map and compass for a while i realized I had somehow ended up far south of where I meant to go. I was on top of Lost Mountain (really - that's the name), at 12,650 feet.

On top of Lost Mountain

I realized I probably wouldn't be climbing Mount Aetna in the morning. My new goal was to reach the tiny stream I saw miles away spilling down the side of a larger mountain. I had to go down about 600 feet and then climb higher again to get there. It was a thirsty hike.

As soon as I arrived at the stream I filled both water bottles and dropped in purification tablets. While I waited for them to do their thing I set up camp. I pitched my tarp and then the GoLight Nest under that. It was nice to have total bug protection for a change.

Ultralight tarp and Golite Nest screen tent - about a pound each.

I drank both bottle of water down, filled them again, and explored the area a bit. I found a cabin in the meadow nearby. When the mosquitoes got worse I crawled into my tent and listened to my MP3 player for hours (audio books). I had never brought one on a backpacking trip before, and it was a nice way to spend time in the tent.

Lesson Three: Bushwhacking Takes Time

The wind blew and rattled the tarp all night. I had enough by four the next morning, and so packed up to head back to the car. I might have still made it to the top of Mount Aetna had I wanted to, but I realized that it always takes a lot longer than you would think from the map to travel without trails.

I hiked by moonlight, heading north by way of what looked like a shorter route back. I was soon above the trees again (tree line is at about 12,200 feet here). After crossing over a pass I slowly started to work my way down into the valley where my van was parked. By the time I was halfway down there was a little light from the rising sun. That helped as I entered the thick aspens and spruce.

Lesson Four: Know Where You're Coming Out

Hours later I managed to get down and across the stream without injuring myself. I found the rocky road, and turned right. I still thought I knew where I was on the map, and where my van was, thinking that my being lost the day before was just a matter of hiking for hours without using the compass.

After a mile though, I realized that I must have somehow come out on the wrong side of the car. I hiked back the other way for a almost two miles, and then realized that I definitely didn't drive that far in on the road. Just to reassure myself, I stopped a jeep - the only vehicle I had seen - and asked the drive if he had seen a green van. He had - two miles or more in the other direction.

Here's a tip so this doesn't happen to you: On your way in tie a small ribbon to a tree branch at the side of the road about a mile or two before you park. Then aim to come out further up the road than where your car is. That way, if you happen to miss the mark you should see the ribbon and know you have to turn around.


As for the gear testing, I went with a total of less than 12 pounds. For my complete packing list see the page; Overnight Under Twelve Pounds.

The GoLite Nest screen tent was great - easy to set up (hung the ends from the tarp grommets - no poles necessary), and kept out the bugs, while weighing only 17 ounces.

The Ribz Frontpack gave me better balance on the steep slopes and was very convenient. I could take out a water bottle or map without removing my pack. You can see my complete review of it on the page; A Review of the Ribz Frontpack.


The Ultralight Backpacking Site | Gear Testing and Getting Lost