The Olympia Hiking and Outdoor Recreation Group Message Board › Question about participating in multi-day backpacking?
I recently received a question from another member on this site. I'm publishing my response so all can see the discussion.
"I'm interested in getting more info on the multiple day backpack. I'm not a novice but have not done any hiking that has required an ice axe. Can you tell me about your pace?"
Thanks for the question. I myself walk about two miles an hour which I consider to be a rather average pace. I like to joke that I only have two speeds for walking; Slow and slower! My pace may pickup a little going down and slow down a little going up but by and large I can usually estimate my time on the trail by the miles I have to cover. Most hikers also agree that you need to account for elevation gain and loss. The standard is to add a mile (or half hour of walking at my pace) for every thousand feet up or down. Using mileage and elevation together gives you a pretty good estimate of how long it will take you to reach your daily goal on the trail.
Nevertheless, my personal walking pace is not relevant or important. First, I don't require participants to match my pace. On my hikes I allow participants to hike at whatever pace suits them and we tend to spread out all over the trail. I only ask participants to hike "together" in off-trail terrain where an individual could stray and get lost. On my hikes people begin each day of hiking when they want and arrive at camp whenever they get there. For the most part, participants can hike at whatever pace suits them. Second, as Event Host, I most often hike at the tail of the group and don't set the pace. Choosing to hike at the end allows me to keep an eye on any stragglers and be available if anybody needs help during the day.
So I don't think pace is the question you need to ask yourself. I am NOT an elite athlete and the treks I post are not beyond the realm of a person with average conditioning. In my opinion what you should be asking yourself is do you have the physical and mental endurance to hike and live in the backcountry for many days at a time? At your pace can you sustain eight to twelve miles days along the trek with a heavy pack? Can you take care of yourself in the backcountry? Can you keep yourself and your gear dry in wet weather? Can you deal mentally and physically with thick clouds of biting insects? Can you look after your feet, your hygiene, and keep yourself fed and energized? Can you field repair your stove, tent, or backpack if it fails during the trip? Do you have a sense of direction? Can you read a map and locate the correct trail to take when you arrive at a trail junction?
These are the kinds of questions that you need to answer before embarking on multi-day excursions. Many participants on this site are primarily involved with day hiking. Day hiking is a wonderful sport and I have been known to enjoy day hikes from time to time. Nevertheless, like weekend warriors, day hikers rarely get experience being out in inclement weather or carrying a heavy load. Day hikers have no experience in sustained hiking over multiple days. In general, I sometimes find habitual day hikers and weekend warriors to be arrogant and cavalier about the constant and present dangers always lurking in the backcountry. I can't tell you how many folks I've come across who just figure they will call for help on their cell phone if they twist an ankle or get lost.
Day hikers have no experience cooking in the wild, field repairing equipment, or how to bath and take care of oneself in the backcountry. It's nobodies fault. You simply can't learn these skills if you never camp out.
So when I post "not recommended for novice hikers" I am not talking about conditioning. I suspect there are many day and novice hikers in much better physical shape than myself. Instead, I am seeking hikers who can take care of themselves in the backcountry. I'm looking for participants that I don't have to babysit. People who can light their stove, erect their tent, and cook their dinner without my help. People who know how to stay dry and warm in wet weather.
Regarding the ice axe. The ice axe is essentially a safety device. Over the Memorial holiday I hosted a four-day, 33-mile trek across the Olympic Mountains. There was only about 1/4 mile stretch where I needed and used my ice axe for safety purposes. I did not fall and did not have to self-arrest on that 1/4 mile stretch but I am glad I had the axe. I am hosting a 10-day trek along the Wonderland Trail this September. Along the 93-mile trail there are two locations where icy snow slopes linger into late fall. Crossing these slopes without an ice axe could be catastrophic if a hiker were to slip. It's only prudent and sensible to carry an ice axe to cross these slopes.
I hope this answers your question. Happy trails!