“You should do the Midstate Trail,” my brother suggested. I’d been stewing about where to take my week-long backpacking vacation with my freshly (hopefully) healed sprained ankle. As a thru-hiker, I’ve been interested in backpacking the long-distance trails in my home state of Massachusetts, and I figured that a week would be just about the right amount of time for me to hike the 95-mile Midstate Trail.
Here’s a list of the winter hiking and backpacking gear that M’s Seeing Eye Dog Edge used on our winter Appalachian Trail adventure in Virginia for New Year’s. This list includes the gear he used for climbing up to Mary’s Rock with wind-chills of -15℉, as well as the gear he used for his first winter overnight (with a record-breaking low of -2℉).
Knowing what I know now, I would have made different decisions… I may be an expert hiker, but when it comes to kayaking I’m still a novice and I know it. There’s absolutely no way that I would have knowingly chosen to kayak through class IV (advanced) rapids in my origami kayak (Oru Kayak), never mind doing it alone, and without a spray skirt!! No way! So how is it that I ended up in way over my head on the West Branch of the Penobscot River, swimming through Big Ambejackmockamus Falls?
Spring is here! It’s time to go outside, explore new places, and find new adventures… but how do you decide which adventure is right for you? Here are some things to consider before you go:
All week people had been telling me about how amazing Obsidian Falls was… “Absolutely gorgeous,” they’d say, “but you’re not allowed to camp there.” No problem, I’d thought… I understand the need to protect the unique and fragile areas of the wilderness, especially the ones that see heavy use, I don’t need to camp there.
Finally the day came and I was within 10 miles of the famed Obsidian Falls… It was really a shame that we weren’t allowed to camp there because it was the perfect distance… It was the place that I would naturally end up if I kept up my usual pace and hiked until I normally did… Looking at the map I realized that I was going to have to stop hiking early, or push myself to hike further than usual in order to avoid the banned zone… That was ok. I could do that, but it was a shame… It would be the perfect place for me to camp that night.
As I continued to hike northwards I encountered wave after wave after wave of southbound section hikers. “Where did you camp last night,” I innocently asked one of the groups of four… I was hoping to get intel on a pretty spot, since I figured they probably started at around the mileage where I’d finish that day.
“Obsidian Falls,” they cheerily explained, and went on to describe how amazing and breathtakingly beautiful their spot had been.
“Oh, I thought we weren’t allowed to camp there.”
“Well, you’re not allowed to camp there,” they said, seeming rather smug to me. “You have to have a permit to camp there.”
“Cool,” I responded, “I have a PCT permit, so I should be all set.” Maybe I could camp in the mythical place after all, and not have to worry about cutting my day short or pushing it too long.
“No, your PCT permit doesn’t count for that,” they patiently explained to me… They had the right permit, so they could camp there, but I had the wrong permit, so I wasn’t allowed. Not only that, it sounded like there was no way that I, as a long distance hiker, would have been able to get the right kind of permit.
A wave of betrayal and indignation washed over me… It felt so unfair, I’d hiked ~2000 miles to get here, and once again the PCT was telling me that I couldn’t stay at the pretty place, because it was reserved for other people.
Was I experiencing the fabled sense of entitlement that I’ve heard thru-hikers are rumored to be full of? Up until that moment I didn’t think I suffered from that dread disease… Maybe I was just grumpy, and if I sat down and ate a snack the world would suddenly feel fair again.
As soon as the other hikers went by I sat down and I ate my snack… Did it suddenly feel fair that they could camp at Obsidian Falls and I couldn’t? Nope, it didn’t… Did I feel like I should be allowed to camp there if they were letting people camp there? Yes, I did.
Over the past four months the trail had become my home, and it felt like someone had come in, slammed my bedroom door in my face, and told me that I had to sleep on the couch that night because they were going to sleep in my bed. I contemplated shouldering my way in, and crawling into my proverbial bed anyway… Knowing that it would make it too crowded, and that I’d be sharing my bed with a bunch of strangers… Knowing that it would be even less comfortable than the couch…I was grumpy and I wanted to make a point!!
As I thought about my analogy, I realized how incredibly juvenile that kind of behavior was… I didn’t need to sleep at the falls, I could still see them and enjoy them without camping there. I would just hike my hike, the way I usually did, and pretend that nobody had told me about Obsidian Falls and what an amazing place for camping it was.
The area leading up to Obsidian Falls was gorgeous in its own right, with alpine meadows full of lupine, and impressive views of both South and Middle Sister… As evening approached, I did what I always do, I looked for a spot to camp with a sunset view… About 2 miles before the Obsidian limited use area I found it, the place I wanted to camp…
There was a lava flow cliff off to the left of the trail, with a full sunset view to the west, and the sisters behind it… It was the perfect spot!
I settled in, ate my dinner, laid out my sleeping bag on the smooth rock surface, and watched the sunset with a heart full of awe and joy. There was absolutely no doubt, I was exactly where I was supposed to be!
I awoke to an amazing sunrise the next morning and smiled as I ate my breakfast of skittles and Cheetos from the warmth of my sleeping bag… What an amazing spot this was, and I still had Obsidian Falls to look forward to!
P.S. The huge deposits of obsidian by Obsidian Falls were really cool, but my campsite was much more awesome than anything I saw there… Besides, who wants to camp on a pile of broken glass anyway? :)