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It's late spring, temperatures are comfortable: time to go camping or better yet backpacking. During the first week of June I headed into the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness in the northwestern corner of Mendocino County. In the Wintun language "Yo-la" means snow covered and "Bo-li" translates to high peak. Doubt there will be snow, but peaks rise to the 7,500 foot range. The trailhead lies a few miles south of the three main peaks: Sugarloaf Mountain, Solomon Peak, and Hammerhorn Mountain.
Avid readers will recall that I often backpack with the semi-legendary outdoorsman Steven Steelrod. Yes, he really has a steel rod implanted in his body, but not in the part that would make it most humorous. This trip will be sans Steelrod, but since it is still early in the season it may be of some assistance to share a backpacking/camping checklist that Steelrod and his wife, a good wilderness photographer in her own right, came up with decades ago. Over the years Steve and I have added and subtracted from it, hopefully refining the process. The actual checklist takes up two double spaced pages and is usually left in an automobile at the trailhead after one final check. The paper can also make a nice fire starter, so it sometimes gets stuffed in my pack. Items like park permits and maps are relatively obvious, but others such as cash for self-registration at wilderness trailheads far from the nearest ranger station are easily forgotten. Even when packing light for a trek into the wild, a plethora of small items should be brought along, hence the checklist.
The Steelrod/Macdonald checklist is broken down into subheadings. Paperwork is for maps and permits. Clothing, for everything from ponchos to flip-flops or camp shoes and a laundry bag to keep the smell of your dirties separate. And believe you me, after a couple days in the wild, clothes and especially socks stink to the high heavens. Just like in the infantry, don't stint on your socks in the great outdoors. Housing is the next category. If you think it's impossible to forget a tent or a sleeping bag remember something I witnessed winter before last. An experienced Sierra Club member arrived at his backwoods destination in February, after an eight and a half mile uphill snowshoe slog, only to discover he'd left his sleeping bag inside his pickup at the trailhead. A dispiriting, lonely hike out spelled the end of his winter getaway.
Household items may prove almost as critical. Once upon a time our ancestors used pine cones and corn cobs to wipe their behind; however, unless you grew up doing that yourself, don't expect to start the practice out on the trail without uncomfortable ramifications. And now a word or two about GPS systems. Screw 'em. You're better off with a compass in case of an off trail misadventure. Your best bet in the wilderness is to pay attention to where you are in relation to obvious landmarks. In this day and age assume that all water must be run through a filter before drinking. Don't be stupid. Giardia sucks, big time! As anyone who has hiked for any length of time knows, duct tape is a necessity. It's one of the best short term solutions for foot blisters. Don't leave home without it. Other household necessities: headlamp and extra batteries, rope for tying your food sack high in a tree, so you can eat the contents instead of leaving your yummies to a bear. Many wilderness areas have made bear canisters a requirement. Our list also includes such things as a case for your glasses, tiny tools for eyeglass repair, a garbage bag (carry out what you packed in), a hot pot holder, a few paper towels (always handy), a scrub pad, Kleenex tissue in small baggies (loose in your pockets they'll sweat to shreds). Obviously, you'll need some sort of Sierra cup as well as pots and/or pans, but keep these lightweight and minimum in number. A Swiss Army knife is a fine substitute for a knife and fork, but don't forget a couple of spoons for an extended stay. The lightest weight “pocket rocket” fuel stoves are the way to go for cooking in the wild. If you live on the Mendocino Coast, the Outdoor Store in Fort Bragg has a fine selection. Matches and waterproof matches are a must. For those who share a tent or a hut with others, ear plugs are also a must unless you want to return home more sleepless than Tom Hanks in Seattle. For several days or longer on the trail a small, palm-of-your-hand size sewing kit will prove invaluable for all sorts of repairs, not to mention sliver removal.
As we move into the Health section of the Backpackers checklist I am reminded that a small vial of medicinal alcohol or some sort of disinfectant is a great preventative. A decade or so ago, in the middle of nowhere, a large insect flew itself into Steelrod's ear. The critter was still buzzing inside when I caught up. Sounds unbelievable, but it's true. Since I was dealing with the eternally tough Steelrod, one round from a carefully aimed revolver went clean through and out the other side, while relieving the problem.
You can believe the last part or not, but a good disinfectant and Q-tips doesn't weigh much in your pack. Don't forget your toothbrush, toothpaste and floss. The rest of the Health list reads thus: first aid kit, sunscreen, insect repellant, bandages, ipecac, chapstick, gauze pads, bandages, iodine, benadryl, neosporin, hand cleaner, athlete's foot powder, and a CalStar or Reach card (you don't want to pay extra thousands if you ever have to be helicoptered out of the wilderness). I also include Immodium or a similar product. It can prevent an extremely uncomfortable journey.
Next week: The rest of the checklist, and whether or not I make it out of the Yolla Bollys alive.