Newbie Overnight with REI gear - Farmington, Utah May 2021

GramaNana

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Apr 15, 2021
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20
A Rookie Trek and a cautionary tale.

My husband and I have been very anxious to try out all of our new hiking and camping gear, as well as begin training for a 100-mile trek [slated late summer]. This past weekend, we loaded up our packs, and off we went out our door and up the mountains! It did not quite go as planned, but thankfully we were given a chance to learn a lot. In our 55+ years of life, we consider ourselves experienced day hikers, casual runners, and avid walkers. We completed the Camino de Santiago Ingles in October 2018, and we have done plenty of car camping. However, this would be our very first time carrying all our gear/food/water on our backs up a trail and staying overnight in the wilderness in an undeveloped ["dispersed"] camping location. We decided to stay close to home for our first jaunt. We would start from our house, walk along the lower Lagoon Farmington Creek trail, then up Farmington Canyon road to connect to the Upper Farmington Creek trail, and eventually find a spot somewhere above the waterfall at the top where we could set up our tent, make a meal with our new cook system, and spend the night. Then we would pack up in the morning, responsibly "leave no trace", and hike back down the way we came.

That was the plan.

The weather forecasted we would have about two hours of overnight rain starting at 12 midnight, with a low reaching 40 Fahrenheit. Definitely chilly, but totally doable. After all, we had our nice new REI tent, sleeping bags rated for 15-degree comfort, and pads with an R-value of 5. We packed our warm puffy coats and rain jackets, our Smartwool thermals for sleeping, and even threw in a pair of lightweight gloves and wool beanie hats for good measure. All was well!

It was sunny and about 70 degrees when we finally left the house. We got a late 4:45 PM start because we were waiting for our new camp stove/cook system that we ordered on Amazon to be delivered. It arrived at 4 PM [a day late] and we did a quick test. Did it work? Yes. Did we manage to figure it out? Let's just say we didn't burn ourselves in the attempt! It is an Asian-made brand called the "Fire-Maple 2". We did a lot of research prior to purchase, and it had good written reviews as well as YouTube so we decided to take a chance. It worked great and it only set us back $55 instead of $100-150 for the name-brand JetBoil or MSR.
Will it last? We hope so. Will we regret it? Only time will tell.
maple-fire-2-cook-system.jpg


Our hike up the mountain would be a total of 7 miles from our front door to our destination, but it would ascend 2,800 feet. So, it was not a walk in the park! My pack - fully loaded with my sleep system, the camp stove plus fuel, snacks, a dehydrated Mountain House dinner packet and 2 Liters of water weighed in at 21.2 lbs. My husband's pack with his sleep system, the tent, his food plus 3 liters of water weighed 26 lbs. We definitely are not "ultralight" hikers. We look forward to finding ways to lighten our load, but for now, we felt pretty good about the numbers all things considered! As newbies, we are still trying to use as much existing gear as possible to conserve our budget. We've watched literally 100s of hiking/backpacking videos and they always advise beginners to just "start with what you have and get out there". So, that's what we are doing!

As we walked down the city streets with our fully loaded packs on we felt a bit self-conscious and out-of-place. We wondered if we looked like homeless vagabonds? It felt so much more natural once we got onto a trail. The first mile was fairly flat, after that we began the continual uphill climb. Our new-to-backpacking bodies were feeling it! I was very happy to discover that my beautiful new backpack [the Gregory Amber 60 Liter in Pearl Blue] was expertly fitted by the helpful folks at REI for my extra-extra small torso - [plus, I got a great deal]. It feels very comfortable on my shoulders and hips, and the pack weight was well distributed. I already love it and hope we make many great memories together.

gregory amber 60L.jpg


My husband doesn't have a new pack yet. He somehow managed to use his REI 40 Liter bag for this trek [I was certain he was going to either bust a seam or blow out a zipper, but that bag proved once again to be an incredibly tough and stretchy piece of gear! [a bigger bag is definitely coming soon]

The road leading to the trailhead felt like a really long slog. We had to continually move off to the side to allow for all the truck and ATV traffic.

2021.05.22_175930.jpg


The creek was running very high and fast, and the mountains were super green and sprinkled with lovely wildflowers. The Upper Farmington Creek trail includes three stream crossings, several pretty vistas, and the reward of a big waterfall toward the top.
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There are some old smashed-up rusted-out [1940s-era?] cars nestled among the trees along this trail. We figure they must have tumbled down from the mountain road high above this trail years ago [either accidentally or on purpose, no one knows]. I just hope there was nobody inside these cars when they fell!

2021.05.22_192547.jpg


We stopped and practiced doing water filtration for the first time using our new Sawyer Squeeze kit. The ice-cold stream water looked very refreshing. It was so quick and easy to filter the water! We realized [too late] we never needed to carry all of that heavy water from home! We should have simply planned to fill empty bottles with filtered stream water along the way [next time].

Someone has attached a long rope for hikers to ease their way down the steep cliff from the trail to the bottom of the waterfall. We saw some younger folks tackling it, but we did not make the attempt. [I have a photo, but I can't figure out how to rotate a vertical pic on this page! Any ideas?]

About another .5 mile above the waterfall, the trail ends at an area that used to be a developed site called Sunset Campground. A few years back it was closed. We don't really know why. A website just said, "due to environmental concerns". The area has been closed off from any access from the mountain road, and there are a lot of purposely felled trees to prevent motorized vehicles inside. Any pit toilets and water lines previously on site were removed. We have not heard that it is forbidden to quietly "disperse camp" here, but we tried to go a little higher and farther back, just in case. As I mentioned, we got a late start in the day, and then it took us much longer than we expected due to carrying the pack weight, the big elevation gain, taking a couple of rest/snack breaks, and our water filtration tutorial. However, we made it just in time to have enough light to pitch the tent and enjoy the brief sunset.

2021.05.22_204604.jpg


There was a clear sky when we pitched the tent at 8 PM and no wind. For good measure, we used some extra stakes we brought to secure all of the guylines just in case there was any wind later on. We successfully used our new little stove/pot system to rehydrate some Mountain House Meals [surprizingly quite tasty] and laughed at how proud we were of ourselves to be able to boil water! ‌‌

Our biggest fear for this adventure was encountering a large animal that would maul us [unlikely], or attracting a smaller pesky critter [more likely] that could potentially chew a hole in our tent, so we made sure to hang all of our food and trash far, far, FAR away from our campsite! In reality, this should have been the least of our worries! At midnight when we finally settled in and started drifting off to sleep everything was very calm. In fact, it was eerily quiet. Was this normal?! We did not hear any wilderness sounds at all - no birds hopping around in the trees, no chattering squirrels, not even one cricket chirping [aparently, they knew what was coming].

We soon learned our biggest rookie mistake. If weather predicts rain and 40F on a valley floor at 4,200 feet then things might look a lot different up at 7,000 feet. [also, assume a "2-hour" storm window on a mountain could be a miscalculation!] The "weather" began to hit at 2:00 am, waking us. First, there was a medium-heavy rain which quickly turned to hard sleet by 2:30. Although it was loud, we were warm and dry inside the tent and happy to see it holding up well to this test, naively assuming it would all blow over in an hour or so, as predicted. By 4:00 am the rain had morphed into a full driving snowstorm. We would spend the next three hours smacking the roof of our tent every few minutes from inside to break up the heavy wet snow regularly accumulating up there - which would then slide down the sides and pile up outside the tent completely burying our stakes, and eventually pushing the zipped-up vestibule doors toward the mesh doors of our inner tent.

2021.05.22_snow.jpg


Since we were anticipating some rain, we had placed the bottom of our packs in garbage sacks inside each vestibule [a good idea], so our packs remained relatively dry and eventually acted like a little barrier to prevent the vestibule wall from completely touching the mesh wall of our inner tent [preventing moisture getting to us]. Unfortunately, our shoes and camp stove got pretty wet before we realized and pulled them inside.

2021.05.23_055211.jpg


The REI Co-op 2-Passage tent is built for 3-seasons. It is not designed for snow - however, it was a little trooper! All of the seams held. There was a bit of condensation dampness if we touched the inside of the tarp cover, but we didn't have any leaking or dripping. The tent has a very high "bathtub" style floor that kept all of the snow and water out, and the included "footprint" [an attached tarp under the tent] gave us an additional barrier against any moisture or cold seeping in. Despite the weight of the snow, nothing ever sagged or collapsed, the poles and guylines held strong. We huddled inside, minute by minute and hour by sleepless hour listening to the storm and trying not to panic while we methodically decided what to do next.

We concluded we had three options:

#1. Try to "Wait it out". We estimated we were accumulating at least 2 inches per hour, and the temperature was dropping. If this continued, it would become an increasingly dangerous situation and would be more and more difficult to get down off the mountain.

#2. Try to walk out now. We knew that taking the same narrow, steep 3-mile trail back down that we had climbed up was completely off the table. Instead, we would need to make our way over to the small mountain road that is used to access a satellite tower at the top of Francis peak [and in the summer that leads to a ridgeline campground]. Once we got to the road, we would just need to start walking down. We concluded the tent would have to be sacrificed since we had no way to dig out the stakes, and we would waste precious time trying - getting soaked before even beginning to walk. Perhaps we could come back to successfully claim it later? I had also [stupidly] left my trekking poles laying somewhere "out there" when we had sat on a log to eat dinner. Now they were buried Who Knows Where under deep snow. So, I would have to make do without them when going down [a highly worrying thought knowing there would be plenty of ice, plus I really love those poles and hated to lose them!]. We had packed puffy coats to layer under our rain jackets, but we had not thought it necessary to bring our waterproof pants [another duly noted error]. Our trail runners are not waterproof and were already wet from sitting on the ground inside the vestibule. So, we knew we would be getting wet and feeling very cold quickly. We calculated it would take us a minimum of 2 - 3 hours to get down the road and find some shelter, placing us at risk for hypothermia. We were also concerned about how slick the road may be, and acknowledging the increased risk for a fall or other injury.

#3. Try to get help. This seemed our best first-line of defense out of the three. If it was possible. We were showing no bars on our cell phones with Verizon [something we had not anticipated, being fairly close as the crow flies above the city], and we could not access any internet nor make a phone call - but, we were successful in sending out a text to my brother at 6:00 am [and he was awake!] He has a big heavy-duty truck with a 4-wheel drive and he texted back saying he was on his way, instructing us to "Stay inside the tent to remain warm and dry". I was a nervous wreck that he would get stuck, or worse slide off the cliff trying to rescue us and crash to a fiery death below, ending up like those old cars we had seen on the trail... I imagined the agony of having to try to cope with my guilt for the rest of my life...

My panic was in full swing when I received another text "I'm here."
Sure enough, he was able to slowly and carefully navigate the very narrow icy mountain road and reach us within a half-mile of where we were camping [turns out, we had done some things right - such as letting my brother and several others know exactly where we were going].

Hero-Bro brought a shovel and was handily able to uncover all the tent stakes and get the shelter down. He also blessedly found my trekking poles, thus saving all our gear! He helped haul my pack out to the truck so I could focus on carefully wading through the 8-10 inches of snow. At the same time he arrived, there was a blessed reprieve of the downpour - which all felt very magical - although heavy black clouds were looming overhead. I also had a bonus victory of being able to spy and successfully retrieve our makeshift "bear bag" still hanging up in a tree - ensuring we would "Leave No Trace" of ever being there!

2021.05.23_074005.jpg


The slow drive back down that steep, icy road was harrowing for me [I had to close my eyes and pray]. While my husband and brother animatedly joked and laughed in the front, I was curled up in the back seat whimpering. When I did take the chance to look outside, I marveled at how our lush green paradise of just a few hours before had now been transformed into a beautiful winter wonderland. Never underestimate the dangerous power and endless potential of nature.

We arrived home safe and sound! The luxury of a hot shower and a soft warm bed is priceless! We owe a debt of gratitude to my amazing brother. We feel extremely fortunate that we had the best possible outcome for our [mis]adventure. We were glad that we did not try to "wait it out" because it kept raining in the valley and snowing in the mountain on and off for the rest of the day. Also, after driving down that long and treacherous road, treacherously slick and muddy, we were very relieved we didn't need to walk it! We are also very happy to have been kept safe, warm, and dry inside our little tent - and to learn we have a good sleep system and reliable hiking clothing. We definitely put them all to the "test", and they passed. We have learned a lot from this experience. It is nice to have one "under our belt" and perhaps this means we are "pre-disastered" now? Despite it all, we really look forward to having many more future backcountry adventures this year as we plan [more] and train [harder] for our multi-night 100-mile hike at the end of the summer - which hopefully will all be much LESS eventful than this Rookie Trek!

Knowing us, there are many more adventures ahead.

2021.05.23_074326.jpg
 
Last edited:

scatman

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Dec 23, 2013
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1,743
Nice first trip. Loved your report. Now you know that you are ready for anything now. :thumbsup: Your "Panic Mode" will now begin to adjust itself, and you've got a great story to pass on. My three season tent has always held up well when it has snowed too, as long as I remember to knock the accumulation off of the top every now and then. :)
 

Laura V.

I'm not lost. I'm on an adventure.
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Joined
Feb 15, 2021
Messages
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Welcome to backpacking! If it’s not an unexpected snowstorm, it will be something else. But like @scatman said, your experience, skill set, and comfort outside will recalibrate your “panic mode”. I enjoyed reading your trip report. Enjoy getting out there!
 

Reef&Ruins

Colorado Plateau is calling...
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Feb 3, 2017
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Wow! What an experience. Great TR and keep getting out there and enjoying what comes along.
My second time backpacking (and last time I have been) including watching my dad almost go into hypothermia in Glacier NP. That's not why I stopped backpacking although I'm sure it didn't help. Shift in life is what did it I think. Someday I will get back into it.
 

Bob

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Mar 3, 2013
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2,672
100 miles for first wilderness experience,?! Sorry I'd start as your first with something shorter... Plenty around
 

GramaNana

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Apr 15, 2021
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100 miles for first wilderness experience,?! Sorry I'd start as your first with something shorter... Plenty around
I really respect that advice. We are planning to take multiple overnight hikes between now and then so it will not be our first wilderness experience. We plan to expand our days/nights to get more experienced and build stamina. We are also in a strength training class and do regular long walks, etc. The 100-mile route we have chosen is frequently travelled and well mapped. If we feel it is too much by the time our date rolls around, we are totally willing to cut the length back, but for now having such a challenging goal helps keep us stay committed to "getting out there" and hitting our fitness milestones.
 

GramaNana

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Apr 15, 2021
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Wow! What an experience. Great TR and keep getting out there and enjoying what comes along.
My second time backpacking (and last time I have been) including watching my dad almost go into hypothermia in Glacier NP. That's not why I stopped backpacking although I'm sure it didn't help. Shift in life is what did it I think. Someday I will get back into it.
That must have been super scary. "To everything, there is a time and a season" for sure!
 

GramaNana

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Joined
Apr 15, 2021
Messages
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Nice first trip. Loved your report. Now you know that you are ready for anything now. :thumbsup: Your "Panic Mode" will now begin to adjust itself, and you've got a great story to pass on. My three season tent has always held up well when it has snowed too, as long as I remember to knock the accumulation off of the top every now and then. :)
Thanks for the kind words and support! We definitely have a dramatic story now. :D Nice to hear the snow whacking is a thing for others.
 

GramaNana

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Apr 15, 2021
Messages
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Welcome to backpacking! If it’s not an unexpected snowstorm, it will be something else. But like @scatman said, your experience, skill set, and comfort outside will recalibrate your “panic mode”. I enjoyed reading your trip report. Enjoy getting out there!
Thanks Laura - I already feel a sense of relief to have the first-time experience out of the way and under my belt. No doubt there will be something "interesting" to learn every time!
 
Joined
Jan 18, 2014
Messages
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Y’all nailed th epic adventure trip right off th bat....got 18 inches of snow overnite with a tarp one March a few years back at Bandelier Natl Mon..had to walk out to th vehicle..a 2+ hr trip normally, but with th snow..bout 6! Best trip ever!

Now y’all know ya can survive out there ya are well on your way to many more adventures. The trips rarely turn out how ya think they will. But they always seem to exceed my expectations. It’s a journey..have fun. Y’all are on th right path..ya did good.

Happy trails to y’all,

John
 

GramaNana

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Joined
Apr 15, 2021
Messages
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Y’all nailed th epic adventure trip right off th bat....got 18 inches of snow overnite with a tarp one March a few years back at Bandelier Natl Mon..had to walk out to th vehicle..a 2+ hr trip normally, but with th snow..bout 6! Best trip ever!

Now y’all know ya can survive out there ya are well on your way to many more adventures. The trips rarely turn out how ya think they will. But they always seem to exceed my expectations. It’s a journey..have fun. Y’all are on th right path..ya did good.

Happy trails to y’all,

John
Hi John, Yikes! That was epic. Feels nice to be in good company and know this is apparently all just a "normal" part of being a backpacker! LOL, There's something to be said for having "Lived to tell the tale!" - Glad we didn't have to walk 6 hours out on our first attempt or I think we would not have any desire to keep backpacking! Thanks for your encouragement!
 

Rockskipper

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Jun 11, 2017
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Reminds me of a trip my brother and I took into the San Juan Mountains in our youth, except we ended up walking 17 miles in pouring rain. We then got a ride in the back of some rancher’s pickup in the pouring rain. After that, we waited for two hours for our mom to come pick us up in front of a little fishing store - of course in the pouring rain.

But you know what? It’s one of the trips we remember best. LOL.

You have a really great way of describing things and I hope your next trip goes well.
 

GramaNana

Member
Joined
Apr 15, 2021
Messages
20
Reminds me of a trip my brother and I took into the San Juan Mountains in our youth, except we ended up walking 17 miles in pouring rain. We then got a ride in the back of some rancher’s pickup in the pouring rain. After that, we waited for two hours for our mom to come pick us up in front of a little fishing store - of course in the pouring rain.

But you know what? It’s one of the trips we remember best. LOL.

You have a really great way of describing things and I hope your next trip goes well.
YIKES! That's quite an adventure you had. Must have been miserable at the time, but glad you lived to tell the tale and have great memories!
 
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