Diary of a Backpacking Wimp
Updated: Jul 15, 2020
I collapsed on the shuttle dock on the far side of Redfish Lake, my whole body exhausted and filthy, tossing my backpack aside, unable to stand looking at it anymore. My three friends and I had just descended from a backpacking trip to Saddleback Lakes, just missing the most recent shuttle by 10 minutes meaning we would have to wait another whole hour for the next. All I could think about was getting home to order Thai food and watch the new episode of “Game of Thrones.” As more people filled the dock to await transport back to the main side, they took a look at us (or more likely, me) in our filth and exhaustion and asked how long we had been out there.
“One night,” I grimly replied, accepting that I was a backpacking wimp.
As a child growing up in Idaho, my parents forced my brother and me to hike and backpack incessantly, instilling in us a hatred for both activities for the majority of our youth. Not only was trekking numerous miles tiresome for a 7-year-old, I had yet to appreciate the outdoors in any way and would spend the entirety of our backpacking trips and the following days in the wilderness complaining and trying to figure out ways to pass the time. When I reached my teenage years, I avoided outdoor activities like the plague and even went so far as to attend college in New York City where words like “hiking” and “outdoors” are heard about as often as “rent-controlled apartment.”
But after spending some of my formative years in a city focused on expensive cab rides and club openings, I realized I was bored because I—gasp!—missed the mountains of the west and the ability to grab friends and jump in a river or have a bonfire or camp for the weekend just out of town. I returned home after college reinvigorated with the mountainous land I grew up in and began to love hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, and a slew of other activities.
But not backpacking. I still felt on the fence about the idea of having to carry a heavy pack while hiking for miles but was willing to give it a shot for the first time in my adult life. My friend Amy was living in the small mountain town of Stanley, Idaho for the summer and suggested we backpack up to Saddleback Lakes (also known as Shangri-La) as a means of dipping my toe in the water; after all, the hike is only 6.7 miles total or 3.35 miles each way. How hard could it be?
The answer: very hard. As it turns out, I am a backpacking wimp. Many things went wrong but in the end, it was my attitude and lack of appreciation for backpacking that really made the trip difficult.
After Amy and I decided to backpack Shangri-La, we found out that two other friends of ours, Kami and Emily, were coincidentally going to be there that same weekend. Huzzah! Kami and I are both rock climbers so we decided I would bring climbing gear and we would have our friend Ashton, a rock climber and guide, meet us on the second morning to climb the Elephant’s Perch, a rock with several climbing routes that overlooks Saddleback Lakes. Amy and I would meet them at the top, accompanied by my pitbull Otis.
First mistake. We left on a Saturday morning from Redfish, but I had mistakenly drunk too much on Friday night and was thus left to attempt my first adult backpacking adventure hungover. As I slid on my pack full of food, clothing, a climbing rope, climbing gear, and dog food and dog gear, I could tell I was in for a rough day. On the way up, we somewhat followed the cryptic trail instructions from our guide, at one point forging the river and then attempting to find cairns in the scree field we crossed. By the time we had made it up the 2,000 feet of elevation to the lakes, I felt like I wanted to die and so promptly and wordlessly stripped down to my bra and underwear and plunged into the lake, desperate to soak every cold drop of it into my body.
Kami and Emily emerged, having gotten to the lake several hours before and my spirits were raised. Here we were at a gorgeous lake, secluded from people on a hot summer day with clear, cold lakes beckoning. We spent most of the day jumping in the water and lying on the rocks sun-bathing.
After finding a spot on a rock with just enough room for our two tents, it was time for dinner. In an effort to pack light due to the room my climbing gear took up, I had only brought Clif bars and a vegan backpacking meal. As I sat eating my flavorless gruel out of its bag, I couldn’t help but stare jealously at my friends eating macaroni and cheese and candy bars. My mood soured significantly.
We all crawled into our tents where I set up an expensive backpacking pad and bed I had purchased for my dog in the naïve hope that he might behave like a dog instead of a spoiled child disguised as an animal. During the night, he refused to sleep anywhere but inside my mummy bag with me, a dilemma akin to shoving a round peg through a square hole that resulted in a night of little sleep for me.
I woke up cranky and wondering what the hell one does in the outdoors when there’s no hiking or climbing. My friends enticed me to explore for a while, at which point I decided that the idea of climbing the Perch the next day was probably short-sighted: I had no way of confirming if Ashton was going to make it up there the next morning, my dog would have to be leashed to a tree for the eight or so hours the climb would take, and there was a good chance we would miss the ferry on the way out. While Kami and Emily had explored the previous day, they had accidentally found that one hill’s top had a bar of cell reception so I scurried up to tell Ashton not to come and crossed my finger’s he would get it and not show up to the Perch to find none of us there.
With my mind on getting home to the amenities civilization has to offer, I told the girls I would be leaving that day and they decided we would all descend together. Despite the ease of following the trail up to Shangri-La, we found there were multiple ways of going back down and couldn’t seem to recall which of them we had come up. As we scrambled down a rock face that we had decidedly NOT come up, we ended up back at the river but with no good options for crossing it. We wandered until we found a large enough log to cross on. After crossing, we were in a thicket of painful bushes with no trail or space between and only the option to literally bush-whack through them. Once through the thicket, we ended up in a swamp maze with only logs to walk along, trying to get to dry land and not fall into the water. How had we taken such a wrong turn? When we finally got to the trail, we realized we had only precious minutes if we wanted to make the next ferry and we ran as fast as we could, only to arrive just minutes too late. It had only been 24 hours in the woods, but it felt like a lifetime.
As backpacking aficionados and generally pleasant, optimistic people, my three friends lay on the dock eating snacks and laughing about all that had happened in our time at Shangri-La. All I could do was lie on the dock, wallowing in my misery and how much I truly hated backpacking.
All in all, the trip was a good lesson; it taught me that no matter how many of my friends like backpacking and no matter how much good terrain there is in Idaho for it, it’s simply not the activity for me. I gladly rock climb, hike, mountain bike, snowboard, skateboard,and play soccer but strapping my possessions to my back and walking for days on end is not in my cards. I, Hayden Seder, confess I am a backpacking wimp.