Samaniego Backpacking Adventure March 11 - March 13 (2017) - LESSONS LEARNED
1) Drinking Water Source Strategy planning and consideration.
- Location - I did thoroughly read the maps, so there was no problem on this trail, but we had trouble finding Walnut spring, because we weren't using the GPS. It might have been helpful to have spent a little more time with google earth to become maximally familiar. I would have worried less had I known all the features of my GPS unit, but out of necessity, I figured it out quickly.
- water availability when needed - I did not consult with the forest service to find out the reliability of all relevant water sources along the backpacking route. The spring was running just fine. But it might have been a problem. I wasn't aware that Walnut spring didn't produce water in all four seasons until I saw a note on my GPS map. I probably should have called in advance to see if there was water in that season when we were backpacking.
As it turned out there was a lot of unnecessary worry, and the backup plan wasn't too bad, requiring us to hike 2 miles each way, down to the CDO to get snowmelt water. Also, I didn't have GPS coordinates for all the water sources. I should have had either GPS coordinates, or have familiarized myself better with the area so I could have more easily found the spring. Our main problem is we stopped looking 0.1 mile shy of the location of the spring on the evening of the first day out. I learned that shortly after we set up our campsite. In retrospect, it would have been nice to camp at the spring location.
Lesson learned - having adequate water supply is always the single most important consideration.
Lesson learned - gather information about precise locations and flow for all water sources near route.
Lesson learned - know your navigating tools thoroughly before you leave home.
2) Temperature of the southern desert -
We planned this hiking trip with the first two days up above 6,500 feet, when it was in the mid- 80's down in the valley, and up on the mountain top, the temperatures were perfect as expected. We knew that the third day we were going to be hiking down in the valley 6.4 miles, and that it was going to be uncomfortably hot, and we weren't dissapointed. The weatherman raised the forecast up to 91F for the third day with clear skys it was a roasting oven. In the sun with out 40 pound packs on it felt like 110F.
We hadn't eaten all of the meals we planned on, so our electrolytes and blood sugar was low. The combination of effects hit me harder than Jason on this trip, and I had to stop after 3.5 hours to rest under a shade tree and take in some water and calories. Jason thought I probably should have taken some electrolyte - restorative pills to endure the hard work in the heat of lugging my pack. I thought it would be an easy hike, but the surface was worn smooth with small round sand and rocks, producing a ball bearing like surface. This made us work harder than one would think to keep from falling on this rock road. As it worked out, we both fell once on the way down, higher up on the foothills, where it was steeper.
Bottom line, it was harder to hike, hotter than forecast, and I didn't have the calories or salt to burn, and I had to stop for an hour to rest and eat. It wouldn't have been as bad had I been dressed properly, but it still wouldn't have been pleasant, which is the goal. So I didn't plan as well as I should have.
Lesson learned - don't normally plan a backpacking trip for hot weather. In full sun, preferred is below 65F, non preferred is 65F to 80F, unacceptible is above 80F
Lesson learned - pack salt pills in first aid kit, just in case you end up in unexpected hot weather.
Lesson learned - always pack (clothes, etc.) for weather and conditions unexpected, within reason.
Lesson learned - sometimes it's just better to burn some time resting in the shade than push on in the sun.
3) food and caloric intake -
On the last item, I noted how a lake of caloric intake affected my performance hiking down Charouleau Gap road for the 6.4 miles down from the Gap to the roadend parking at Lago Del Oro Pkwy.
This problem could have easily been averted had I simply followed the discipline of eating dinner and breakfast each day, as we had planned and provisioned for in advance.
The first day we were dissapointed that we couldn't seem to find Walnut spring, after hiking about 600 feet past where we were hoping to find the spring. With benefit of knowledge, we should have put on our headlamps and kept our packs on until we reached the spring. We were tired from the 6.5 miles and 2,000 feet lost and 700 feet gained, and were ready to stop and rest for the night, which is what we did. In retrospect we should have taken ten minutes to rest, and then pressed on and camped at Walnut spring. For some reason, neither of us was hungry, so we just turned in for the night. But we should have gone ahead and cooked dinner. Had I had more confidence that we would have our water replentished in the morning, then I would have more strongly suggested it, but if we would've had to hike down to the CDO to get water, we would have needed our water stores to get down and back, and it would have been best to conserve everything we had instead of using it to cook.
The Second day in the morning, I went off to filter water, and found the spring. Long story short it took until 1:15PM to filter all the water and get packed up from the previous nights camp. At that point breakfast time was passed, but we should have gone ahead and cooked and eaten it to maintain our strength. But we would have needed to rush things, because it was getting late in the day, and the trail was not suitable for night hiking.
We did actually have supper on the second day, and it was good.
The morning of the third day, neither of us were hungry, so we decided to push on to the Gap and then have trail snacks, thinking that we'd be at the gap in a couple of hours, because the trail seemed like it was getting better where we camped, but we were soon dissapointed when the trail got worse again, and required our near steady use of the gps, and taking 6 hard hours to cover 3 miles.
When we got to the gap, we had snack food, but we didn't have enough. We should have stopped and eaten a good breakfast to take in our calories.
Lesson learned - follow a strict discipline to eat food at every meal so you don't run out of energy.
Lesson learned - sometimes distance is deceptive timewise. It's not the distance, but it's the quality of the miles.
4) Backpacking clothes -
Both Jason and I dressed right ..... and wrong, in that we didn't have the right pants for all the different scenarios we encountered. Every experienced hiker knows that if you hike in the mountains, you need to be equipped and prepared for nearly anything.
I wore bluejeans, so because the Samaniego trail was totally overgrown with thorny bushes on the ridge, I was dressed right for the ridge trails. But because I didn't pack short pants for the last day, I suffered badly. Ironically I had a sweater and a rain/wind jacket in case it got even colder than what we experienced, even though I knew what the forecast was. ( not that the forecast is always right ), but I wasn't prepared for the third day afternoon 6.4 mile HOT hike across the desert, even though the forecast was for 87F ( turned out it was 91F after all ). So I should have packed short pants ( or convertable pants ), and a short sleeved tshirt instead of my long sleeved tshirt. I knew the forecast, but I didn't think through what clothes were needed, and pack accordingly.
Likewise, Jason wore shorts and short sleeves. So Jason was properly dressed for the last day afternoon. But he suffered while we were up on the ridge hiking through the thorny bushes that scratched him up pretty bad. In his defense, we didn't know that there would be that thorny overgrowth, but we did know the temperature forecast.
Lesson learned - bring bluejeans for thorny bushwacks and shorts for hot wide open trails. Some people get the convertible cargo pants, but I don't think that they cut it when it comes to really tough bushwacking or overgrown trails. These pants will get ripped to shreds. I've seen it happen before, more than once. Heavy bluejeans or equivalent are needed for the really nasty sticky/pokey cactus thorny stuff.
5) Water treatment -
Overall things worked well, except that squeezing the 1 liter bottle in the first phase of the process for 0.1 micron filtering required quite a bit of squeezing to get 2 gallons per day fast enough through that filter.
Jason did some experimenting and innovating trying to use different scenarios to create the pressure to eject the water from the tough thick walled plastic liter bottle. He was able to get about two gallons filtered in a little over 2 hours.
But that's still not very fast. Much faster would be preferred because backpacking is not about expending energy and time filtering water, it's about other things. Perhaps a system that was as reliable and effective, but produced much greater output of filtered water per unit time could be found that didn't weigh or cost too much.
The main problem is that it took from 8:00AM until 1:15PM to filter a little more than 3 gallons. The process is really slow. I need to get a filter system that meets the requirements of wilderness streams and springs, and the system needs to be able to process at least 10 ounces per minute. with a system of this capability, each gallon would take 15 minutes or less, 4 gallons per hour. This is an acceptible rate of filtration.
Lesson learned - I need a faster system. Current system can be used as a back up in case the faster system that I purchase should break or fail in some other manner.
6) Water supply reserves packing -
Two gallon plastic milk jugs were being used on this trip to carry our water reserves. These jugs were strapped to the outside of the backpack. Because the trail was very overgrown, there were many large thorny abrasive and piercing thorny bushes. One of the bushes thorns punctured one of our gallon jugs of water reserves near the bottom, and the water began rapidly pouring out. We quickly transferred the remaining water to the other jug which still had it's structural integrity intact.
Lesson learned - Gallon milk jugs may be helpful in water filtration processing, however the thin walls of these jugs will need to be protected from thorns and sharp objects that might puncture them rendering them unuseable. Another option is to obtain more of the liter bottles with very thick walls, similar to Aquafina liter bottles, which would be much more rugged and puncture resistant than the much thinner walled gallon milk jugs. Backpack volume could be a consideration on which approach would work best (gallon vs liter). Empty, the weight difference between liter and gallon is negligable. This may not be as much of a concern where trails are not as badly overgrown with thorny desert bushes as Samaniego ridge trail was, which was extremely overgrown.
7) pack weight minimizing -
Our packs weighed about 39 pounds each with full water rations aboard. I think between 30 and 35 pounds is a better target weight if the route includes quite a bit of hiking mountains with a lot of elevation being gained.
When hiking downhill, it's not quite as much of a consideration, but it's still a consideration. Perhaps one can haul 20% more going downhill than uphill. But since no trail is 100% uphill or 100% downhill, it's a moot point.
Lesson learned - 30 pounds is a preferred target weight for a backpack for most adults in good physical condition, but 35 pounds is also manageable. In the desert, and on ridges, sometimes extra weight associated with extra stores of water may be necessary to haul, which will boost up your pack weight. So it's better to keep the non-water portion of your backpack weight down to low 30's of pounds.
8) Planning -
One problem on this trip was the unexpected overgrowth of thorny bushes, and the difficulty of navigating through the thicket of ovewgrowth. It would have been helpful to know this in advance, both to know that a GPS was needed with appropriate GPX file loaded, and that the clothing needed was that necessary to bushwack through a thicket. Turns out that at the equipment rental place, the clerk knew of this problem, and could have told us had we only asked.
Lesson learned - It sometimes may be helpful to call up or stop by Summit Hut, or REI and talk to some of the staff hikers there, to find out timely recent information about trail condition that they may know.
The reason why this might be especially helpful, is the timeliness of the information may be the best that can be obtained, some of the National forest personnel may also have some timely information as well, also search and rescue staff may know.
With the passage of time, trees can fall down and block the trail, bushes can grow over the trail, large boulders can roll downhill and obscure or block the trail, water can flow downhill and wash out the trail completely. So timeliness of information can be of great importance potentially. In a perfect world, the Forest service would be on top of the situation as far as providing all the maintenance that a trail might need, but in the real world, the forest service is part of the government, and the government can't seem to manage itself, much less maintain the condition of mountain trails.
Hike Arizona (HAZ) website also has a great deal of information and data, but some of the information is not timely, be sure to check the dates on the posts. At one time several years ago according to a post on the HAZ website, the Samaniego ridge trail was in reasonable condition, but that was 7 years ago, so not really useful.
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Last Update: April 5, 2017
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