From Flatlander To Mountaineer:
One Woman’s Quest For Half-Assness And Tips On How To Get There.
by Sophie Bertin, female HAE member, fan, and cybah-spaced but not quite so half-assed mountain correspondent.
I’ve always loved the great outdoors. Born a flatlander, I decided to take a shot at hiking in 2003 and I’ve been hooked ever since. Much like hunters, who experience buck fever upon the impending hunting season, I periodically get the urge to embark on a hiking expedition. On my first outdoors adventure, we were a group of about a dozen people, led by an accomplished hiker. Our goal was to climb the challenging Mt. Sagamook, located along the section of the Appalachian Trail which goes through New Brunswick, Canada. Not knowing what to expect, I joined the expedition with much enthusiasm, but with absolutely no experience.
This first hike would prove to be a test of my patience, courage and determination. At some point during the ascent, our group had separated into three smaller groups: Those who were more physically fit went on ahead, while those who were not so physically fit kept going, but at a much slower pace. And me, well, I was somewhere in between. It came to the point where I could no longer see or hear anyone from my group ahead or behind me, and for a split second, I even thought about giving up. Right then and there, out of sheer desperation, I screamed at the top of my lungs “I’m never coming back here in my fucking life!”, but got no reply. Then all of a sudden, I felt the beast raging from within. The “woman of the wild” buried deep inside me was emerging. Mt. Sagamook had met its match. After all, I was a mountaineer in the making; I vowed that I would conquer that mountain and make it back down alive, if I didn’t die up there first. Hell if my legs wouldn’t get me up there, my pride and stubbornness would. So, I fired up a haebar and kept going. I was ultimately rewarded with an absolutely breathtaking mountaintop view, which was beyond anything I could have ever imagined. At that moment, upon seeing the natural splendor that surrounded me, I knew I’d be coming back for more; the wilderness was simply too pristine, and somebody had to trash it! In fact, this expedition was just the beginning of what would become a yearly tradition for me, and I’ve long since become the one leading my flatlander friends to the summits of New Brunswick’s great outdoors.
Now don’t get me wrong; in no way do I consider myself to be even half as half-assed as the guys at HAE: Reaching the state of half-assedness is an ongoing process that takes years to develop, and I have yet to reach that pinnacle of my existence. But there’s one thing I can say for sure: To anyone out there who is considering trying out a hiking adventure, I strongly encourage you to do so! However, don’t head out on your expedition blindly and unprepared.
So how do you prepare when you don’t know what to expect? Here’s a few tips to get you started on the right foot.
Upon seeing the natural splendor that surrounded me, I knew I’d be coming back for more; the wilderness was simply too pristine, and somebody had to trash it!
Plan your itinerary
Preparedness is the key to fully enjoy your outdoors adventure. So, the first thing you need to do is decide where you want to go on your expedition. Start by getting a map of the area you are considering for your hike. This is also the time to decide whether you want to go on a one-day adventure or if you’ll be spending one or more nights in the great outdoors. Once you know how long you plan on being out there, you can map out your itinerary, or vice-versa; map out your itinerary first and then, you’ll have a better idea of how long you’re going to be out there, so you can pack accordingly…
Don’t go it alone
I wouldn’t recommend for first-time hikers to venture out on an expedition alone in unknown terrain. An experienced hiker will be able to give you some pointers as to what you’ll need for your expedition. This is especially true if your guide is already familiar with the area you are considering for your hike. They’ll be able to give you an idea of how long the hike will take, the level of difficulty of the trail, and if there’s any special equipment you’ll need to bring along. Not only that, but if you have a poor sense of direction, who knows where you might end up… And of course, there are several factors that aspiring hikers should consider when planning their adventure:
The seasonal factor
Upon planning your outdoors adventure you need to consider that, depending on the time of the year you choose to go on your expedition, you’ll need to pack accordingly. Hiking in the summertime, for example, certainly doesn’t call for packing a warm hat or gloves, just as hikers won’t bring a can of bug spray on winter hiking trips. However, do take into consideration that you’ll need to pack most of the items on your list for your outdoors adventure, regardless of the time of the year.
The weather factor
Be ready for anything Mother Nature will dish out! Check the local weather forecast prior to leaving for your hike. If the forecast calls for heavy rain, you may want to postpone your trip or at the very least, pack a rain poncho in your backpack. Also, if you bring a tent – which means you’ll probably be spending at least one night in the wilderness – bring tarps. Tarps can be quite useful when dealing with the elements; they can be set on the ground under your tent to provide added protection against wet soil, and can also provide some shelter from rain when hung overhead. In addition, let’s not forget how many times the guys at HAE have used tarps during their expeditions, to provide themselves with a makeshift shelter in a lean-to, somewhere along the AT. As a matter of fact, as soon as you plan on staying out there for a few days, everyone on your hiking team should carry a large tarp; weather patterns can change rapidly, and you might have to deal with the elements when you least expect it. The same can be said about winter backpacking adventures, where you might be faced with an unexpected arctic cold front or a severe snowstorm. Use your judgment, and don’t underestimate the power of nature’s wrath.
The weight factor
Obviously, the more gear you pack for your expedition, the heavier your backpack will be. Personally, I usually pack a lot more stuff than I’ll actually need, since I always take into account the fact that my fellow (inexperienced) hikers may have forgotten to bring along certain things. This means I’ll usually pack enough food and water for an infantry squad, enough rain ponchos for the whole group, enough toilet paper for the worst crap attack, and so on. Of course, this results in an overstuffed, unnecessarily heavy backpack. This is my choice and I have to deal with the consequences, but I’d rather be over-prepared than under-equipped. However, hikers should not assume that their guide has over-packed their backpack like I do, and that they are ready to provide for those who might not have fully planned ahead. Do pack everything you think you might need, unless otherwise specified by your guide.
On group expeditions, hikers can share the load. For example, there is no need to bring more than one saw or several camping stoves (unless you’re a very large group). With this in mind, one hiker can carry the saw, while another brings the camping stove, and so on. This way, hiking gear will be more evenly distributed among the group, and will avoid carrying unnecessary equipment. In addition, a belt pouch can also help take a little weight out of your backpack while adding a little more room. I usually wear a large belt pouch and two smaller ones, in which I carry small miscellaneous items that I like to have on hand without having to sift through my backpack (haebars, lighters, camera and such). Basically, these belt pouches are the equivalent of the kitbag used by the guys at HAE (for more info, see “The Kitbag Examined” in the “Gear” section).
Belt pouches can be used to carry small miscellaneous items that hikers like to have on hand. This is basically the equivalent of the kitbag used by the guys at HAE. Notice the totally awesome blue HAE lighter and the Blisters Dice Game in their rightful place!
The time factor
Depending on how long your hike will take, you’ll need to review the contents of your backpack. For example, if you’re planning a one-day hike, you won’t need to pack any sleeping gear. When heading out on one-day trips, I still pack an emergency shelter tent in case we’d be faced with an unexpected situation where we’d have to spend a night of camping in the wilderness. Emergency shelters are manufactured as such, but a large tarp will do just as well, although it will take up much more space in a backpack. In addition, I always carry a blanket, and I also advise everyone on my hiking team to bring their own blanket. Aside from providing warmth and a more comfortable place for hikers to sit while they take a break, blankets can also serve to make splints, in the unfortunate event of an injury.
The “waste” factor
No self-respecting half-assed expeditioner would head out on an outdoors adventure without an adequate supply of haebars and booze. After all, what’s the point in summiting if you’re not going to celebrate by getting wasted? Here, anything goes. As the guys at HAE would say, “choose your poison”. Do keep in mind however, that since the alcohol content in beer is much lower than in spirits, you might want to opt for something a little stronger like vodka or whiskey; unless you have a super-sized backpack, you won’t have room for a 12-pack in there, not to mention the added weight you’d be carrying! And while you’re at it, pack a few pouches of powdered orange juice. Mix it in with a little water and some vodka, and there you go: A nice refreshing beverage! It might not taste as good as vodka with regular orange juice, but these are the great outdoors and hikers have to make do with what’s on hand… Another option, especially preferred during winter hiking trips, is the hot toddie. Look under the “Menu” section to learn more about “The Art of the Backwoods Toddy”. Now let’s drink to that! And while you’re at it, pass the haebar around!
Sorting out the essentials
The “essentials” for any outdoors adventure can be separated into three basic categories: personal essentials, group essentials and seasonal essentials. Personal essentials are the items that every mountaineer needs to bring for themselves. Group essentials are basically the items that everybody may need to use, but which are not strictly for personal use. Finally, there are the seasonal essentials – those items that may or may not need to be brought along, depending on the time of year when your adventure takes place.
Below is a sample list of essentials for your hiking adventure. I won’t go in detail here because many of these items are more than adequately described in the other sections of this website (i.e. “Skills”, “Gear”, and “Menu” sections). You may want to add other items to this list, but the basics are pretty much covered here:
Facecloth / Towel
Plastic bags (trash removal)
Pepper spray / Mace
First Aid kit
Emergency shelter tent
Swiss Army knife
Pen & paper
Gloves / mittens
Hand and foot warmers
* Each hiker needs to bring spare clothing. However, depending on the time of year for your adventure, you will need to pack different types of spare clothing (This can include spare socks, tee-shirts, sweatshirts, undergarments, etc.).
† Yes, this applies to guys too. Please refer to Timur’s article titled “Panty Shields, the Backpacker’s Pal!” in the “Skills” section if you have any questions.
One last thing to keep in mind
Finally, remember this: You’ll hurt. In fact, you’ll hurt in places you didn’t even know you had. Hiking definitely isn’t a walk in the park and if you’re not used to regular physical activity, you’ll feel the pain sooner or later. However, don’t let that discourage you from heading out on a hiking expedition; you’d be missing out on all the haebars, the booze, and the destruction of pristine wilderness… oh, and the view from a mountaintop is pretty amazing too…