Hope, Chappie and I were able to experience our first backpacking trip about three weeks ago. We geared up with our 30 pound pack and our friends, Kerri and Goose, and headed out into the wilderness near the Mogollon Rim and Camp Geronimo. We wanted to make sure we shared not only our experience with our readers but also how to plan and successfully execute an overnight backpacking adventure. Hang on tight, here we go!
Our morning started out before sunrise when we got on the road at 5:30 in the morning. Our trail head was about a 2 hour drive from my home in Apache Junction. After a quick pit stop in Payson, we continued up the mountain to our turn off on a clearly marked fire “control road” on the right hand side of the 260 highway. Driving back towards Webber Creek you will see Juniper and Pine trees and as you get closer to the creek, you will find all sorts of lush, dense, beautiful scenery. Blackberry bushes lined the side of the road where we parked and prepared to make our trek.
We got lucky, because the Boy Scout Camp nearby (Camp Geronimo) was not fully functioning that weekend and we were able to shave off about 3 miles by cutting through the camp as opposed to weaving around numerous switchbacks on the mountainside near by. After we made it up our first real incline, it was time to sit on a log near by. I can honestly say carrying 30 pounds up a hill for the first time was very strenuous! We continued on, climbed another incline and were greeted with fairly fresh bear scat/paw prints on the ground. Needless to say, we got to walking at a faster pace. That area at the top of the hill must have been a hot spot for animals because there was a strong scent of elk urine as well. We were sure we would see some sort of large wildlife, but never did.
We stopped at a beautiful little clearing next to the creek for some photos, a snack, and to rest our backs. The dogs played in the creek & ate plenty of treats! We debated stopping here for the night, as Kerri had stayed here before with a group of our friends, but we were concerned with it being right on the trail, and Kerri’s interest in what was beyond that point pushed us on a few miles further. The trail soon went from clear and open to dense and congested. We had to scramble over several downed trees, one of which, we had to take our packs off, climb over the behemoth and put our packs back on. We crossed the creek a couple times more and when we came to the clearing that would soon become our campsite, we knew all our hard work was worth it.
Our campsite was a stones throw away from the creek and hidden from the trail in some immature blackberry bushes. We were able to quickly walk to the creek to filter our water, let the dogs drink/play, wash our dishes, and take photos. The only downside to our camp was finding out the ground was slightly slanted and enough so that we were constantly sliding down in our sleeping bags/tents overnight. Once camp was set up, it was nap time! A light rain lulled us off to sleep for about an hour and when we woke, it was time to head down to the creek to filter water with our Sawyer Water Filtration Systems. We walked about 1/4 of a mile (maybe) from camp and found a cute little swimming hole and perfect spot to filter water. Once we finished that, we took photos, explored around our camp, and then it was time for dinner.
We brought our little “pocket stoves” along on this trip. They can fit in the palm of your hand and work with isobutane fuel to heat your water to boiling in less than 3 minutes. I made my Mountain House Lasagna dinner and Kerri had her Mountain House Pasta Primevera. This was my first time having a meal out of a bag and it did not disappoint! After dinner, we unpacked our packs of all our food and smelly items so we could put them in a “bear bag” and hang them away from camp. Kerri took the bag and hung it about 1/8th of a mile from camp, in a tree that had arched over. After some hot chocolate and time by our campfire it was time for bed. We were both exhausted!
After what felt like the longest night ever, the sun woke up and morning arrived. Kerri and I discussed how our nights went and if we had both heard the ape like sound off in the not too far distance. “What was a monkey doing in the woods?” we wondered! We found we both kept sliding down thanks to the slight incline we were on. I had issues with keeping myself warm thanks to my lovely pups trying to get into my sleeping bag and pulling it off. Thank goodness for the extra, light-weight, fleece blanket I had brought. It was a life-saver along with my base layers, long socks, and hood on my Columbia fleece hoodie. Breakfast consisted of oatmeal and hot cocoa for us and kibble for the dogs. We let the dogs lick our bowls clean of any remaining oats. Who wants to do dishes before full sunrise? After retrieving our bear bag (that Kerri found was untouched, thank goodness!) we started packing up camp so it was ready to go when we were. We decided to head past the swimming hole without our packs and venture on towards the natural spring that was higher up on the mountain.
Our trek up to the natural spring was beautiful. We were able to climb right up to it, take some beautiful photos and look out over the area we had hiked to get as far as we had. The view was breathtaking. After taking some photos, we found it was about 10:30 and decided it was time to head back. The rain storm from the day before had come in around 1:30 so that was our goal to be back to the truck by.
We hiked a good 3/4 of the way back and stopped next to the creek for some lunch and, why not, some additional photos. After packing up all our trash from lunch, we continued on our way towards the road leading into the boy scout camp. We got to the bridge that crossed Webber Creek and made sure to take some photos there as well. As soon as we packed up, we started to feel a mist coming from the sky! We hadn’t even really noticed the clouds that had come in. We made a mad dash to the truck and thankfully got all our gear, our pups and ourselves in the truck before it really started raining hard! What a rush! After we got back into town, we pigged out on some Taco Bell. Amazing what 48 hours in the woods eating Ramen, Tuna, and bagged meals can do to a person!
This overnight trip was successful for so many reasons. Being prepared, bringing the right gear, timing, knowing our surroundings, and having great company. So what do you need to have a great backpacking trip? Well, we recommend the following:
- Plan Ahead – Kerri and I started planning for this trip about 2 months in advance.We had a couple last minute diversions from the original plan but the core of our trip remained a go! We mapped things out, planned our departure times, and did several gear and weather checks throughout the weeks prior to the trip.
- Pack Light (Or as light as you can!) – We know, lightweight, backpacking gear can be expensive. We definitely did not have the lightest gear but it was all at least rated for backpacking trip use. If you are going near a body of water and can filter water, that will save you a couple of pounds easy because you won’t have to worry about carrying so much water in. You can find a lot of discounted, lightweight gear at Sierra Trading Post along with SO many other amazing products at a fraction of the price.
- Purchase a Decent Pack – If you can’t get the lightest gear on the market, at least invest in a quality backpacking pack. The internal frame of these packs will save your back a ton of grief. Kerri carried a Gregory Amber pack and I carried a Teton Hiker 3700. Both packs performed well, came with a rain cover and had plenty of room for storage.
- Food/Cooking/Storage – Lightweight foods do exist! We brought foods like Ramen, protein bars, pita bread, tuna pouches, oatmeal and our single Mountain House meals. We saved our larger meal for dinner and had the smaller “meals” during the day. I would estimate all of my food weighed about a pound. We each had our pocket stoves to heat our water for our meals. Those break down easily and are stored inside our cooking pots for added storage space. Remember to bring a bear bag and do not leave any food sitting out anywhere. We can certainly owe it to our bear bag being hung away from camp for keeping any wildlife from coming around us at night. I brought light weight, hard plastic utensils that were easy to use and wash.
- Clothing- Dress in layers! If you get warm, you can always dress down. We knew it was going to drop down into the low 40’s at night so we made sure to bring base layers, and long socks and layer them under our clothes at night. We did bring gloves, and a warm fleece jacket as well. Rain wear is a must, even if no rain is in the forecast. Weather is unpredictable! Don’t forget a hat of some kind to protect your head/face from the sun. I wore my mid-high hiking boots and brought some water shoes to wear around camp because nothing feels better than taking off your boots after a long day on the trail.
- 10 Essentials – Make sure you have these before you go. A Map or Compass, sunscreen, extra clothing, head lamp or flash light, first aid supplies, matches, food, hydration (water and/or water filtration supplies), emergency shelter and a small repair kit (for patching holes in a tent, rain cover, etc).
- Organize your pack appropriately – I learned quickly (thanks to Kerri!) there is a right and wrong way to load your pack. Heavy in the back, light in the front, and items you won’t use til you set up camp towards the bottom, while items you might need on the trail need to be at the top. Tent posts go on the sides of your pack and the sleeping bag in the very bottom. My sleeping pad I strapped to the front of my pack. If you have a well organized, well fitting pack, it will carry on your back so much easier. The pack should fit pretty snugly and it shouldn’t shift around much when you walk. The “brain” of the pack usually rises above your head and the waist straps should help the pack sit sung on your hips. Make sure to use those compression straps! I cant tell you how much room I made in my pack thanks to those straps. They sell compression sacks at most retailers so you can stuff your food, sleeping bag, clothes, etc in one.
- Traveling with pets – If your pup is big enough, get him a pack to carry his food and a couple small water bladders in. If your pup is small, then the food/water is your duty to carry! A harness/pack with a handle is recommended and we love Ruffwear gear! Goose wore a pack made by Hurtta, who also has great adventure dog gear. We also think bringing treats along for motivation and mid day snacks is a good idea. Zuke’s makes these amazing treats called Power Bones. They are an all natural treat, with great sources of energy for our active pups!
We can’t wait until our next backpacking trip! This was a first for not only myself but my pups as well. Chappie was about 3 months old at the time and I was amazed at how well he did keeping up with Hope and Goose. We hope that our experience has inspired you to plan a trip of your own soon and that our tips will help you have a successful, enjoyable time! Remember to pack out what you pack in and be mindful of your surroundings at all times. Bringing a form of protection is always a great idea and we never recommend backpacking alone but that is just our opinion! We know many people that do and are successful. But being a 5’2 woman with two smaller dogs, I like to always have my adventure buddies by my side! Not only for safety, but because we make so many great memories together AND with our pups.
You can check out the gear we used for us and the pups on these sites:
- Zuke’s (For Power Bone Treats)
- Ruffwear (Hope & Chappie’s Harnesses)
- Hurtta (Goose’s Pack and Hope’s Jacket)
- Camping With Dogs (Shirts, Hats & Bandanna’s)
- Sierra Trading Post (ALL Supplies at Discounted Prices!)
Happy Trails Everyone!