Last June, a Robbinsville grandmother and her 13-year-old granddaughter set out for a morning hike in the Snowbird Mountains of far western North Carolina. They got lost in the rugged terrain: their morning hike ended a day later when they were found by a Graham County search and rescue crew.
It was cold and dark, and we were occasionally plunked with raindrops. But not a one of us moved from our spot by the fire.
“What is it about a campfire?” someone asks.
We’re drawn to fire for its light and heat, of course. But for us, on a three-day backpack trip on the Neusiok Trail in the Croatan National Forest, it was less about survival and more about pondering, as Guy Noir might say, life’s persistent questions. Like whether one would survive a freeze-dried meal with an expiration date of 1997. (Answer: yes, surprisingly.)
“Well, I learned something new on this trip,” Cat said as she watched Brandon hoist his backpack to his bent knee before pausing to swing it onto his back.
“That’s the thing about backpacking,” I said. “Every trip, you learn new things.”
You’ve likely heard about all the great hikes trying to capitalize on peak fall color. But leaf peeping isn’t the only game in town.
Rarely do we recommend a spectator activity, what with GetGoingNC being about active, adventurous living and all. But today’s recommendation is spectating that could lead to sweating.
In late July, an essay appeared in Colorado’s High Country Times bemoaning the death of backpacking. The article relied on the author’s “anecdotal evidence” and the fact that sales of “heavy” boots and massive packs are down. Heavy boots, as in the kind no one buys anymore because lightweight boots easily handle the lighter loads of today’s backpacker. Massive packs, as in the kind no one uses because we no longer cook with cast-iron skillets and enamel coffee pots. (Titanium pots and plastic French-press mugs rule!)
Backpacking, like baseball, claimed the writer, isn’t attracting younger participants because they find it boring.
Stephen Meyers, the outdoors writer for the Fort Collins Coloradoan was skeptical. A week later, he responded with a piece titled “Backpacking may be changing, but it isn’t dying.” His article relied on facts.
Like the fact the average pack size is down because we no longer carry 50 or 60 pounds into the woods (it’s more like 30).
Or the fact the 2012 Leisure Trends report counted more than 1 million backpackers between the ages of 18 and 24, comparable to the number of mountain bikers and whitewater kayakers in that age group combined.
Or the fact that the American Camper Report for 2011 reported that of the 42.5 million Americans who went camping in 2011, 10 percent were backpackers. That’s about 4.3 million people.
Unlike the High Country essayist, my anecdotal evidence suggests a keen interest in backpacking. Since launching the GetHiking! program nearly a year ago, I’ve had a steady number of hikers ask, “What about backpacking? I’d like to give that a try.”
What about backpacking? you ask.