Gear Testing and Getting Lost
By Steve Gillman
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
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
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
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
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.