Fall is a fantastic time to backpack. The days are warm, not hot. The nights are cool, not cold. Every turn in the trail offers new shades of amber and gold and as the leaves surrender their coats of green and succumb to gravity, they offer a soft serenade about the ground and the top of the tent throughout the night that seems to induce deep sleep. There are countless aspects of Fall that make this a special time of year for backpackers.
Some aspects of what makes Fall so special are apparent in the slow and subtle changes that creep into the landscape. Other aspects demand our attention with every step we take. Take the narrow and winding paths that we have enjoyed all summer long for instance. In the Fall those innocent trails are coated in crumbling leaves that quite stealthily disguise loose rocks and stubborn roots that we would otherwise recognize as potential ankle breakers. Combine the additional challenge below your feet with the temptation to enjoy the distant views that are afforded by the lack of leaves in the trees and it almost seems as if the leaves are playing a role in some deeper conspiracy targeting backpackers. Maybe the leaves prefer the literal definition of Fall over the synonym for Autumn?
The current issue of Backpacker Magazine (October 2012) highlights the literal definition of Fall. The entire issue is dedicated to Survival. An issue that is traditionally a subscriber favorite, the Survival issue is packed with stories of horror, close encounters and close calls that have pushed backpackers to the literal edge. An entire segment of the magazine specifically targets falls and points out that gravity is year after year, a hiker’s worst enemy. Annette McGivney’s feature story, “Man Down” describes the nightmare with brutal honesty when she writes, “the impact from falling 200 feet does the same thing to a body as stepping on an IED. It explodes. Shreds. Splatters.”
The image Annette has successfully painted in our minds would be enough to keep some backpackers from searching out elevation ever again, for us it just instills an ever present reminder that we need to stay alert at all times. Combine the perfect destination with the additional challenge presented by the conspiracy of the leaves that coincides with autumn and as guest editor Bear Grylls put it, “one complacent or careless move, and gravity can grab you…a fall from any height can do serious damage”.
You can pack in the best, latest and greatest gear on the planet, but if it’s in your pack when you get careless and take a fall, it’s accelerating with you at 9.8 meters per second squared. We’ve said it thousands of times, but we know we can’t possibly say it enough, the most important thing you can have with you on any adventure into the wild is your BRAIN! Stay alert, think things through, weigh the risks and reward yourself with the opportunity to come back another day.
As for those perfect destinations (or as the Survival issue calls them, “Killer Trips”) where you can find a true risk/reward proposition, we’ve had the pleasure of exploring two trails recently where it could easily be perceived that “gravity wants you dead”. The Angel’s Landing Trail in Utah’s Zion National Park and the Chimney Top Trail in the Red River Gorge NRA of Kentucky. With a freefall knife edge of over 1,000 feet and an overhang of 600 feet respectively these routes are not for the casual explorer. These routes offer world class views and acrophobia inducing exposures. If you want to find out if you have a head for heights these hikes are for you!
Check out our pictures from Zion here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/24479591@N05/sets/72157631731020034/
Check out our pictures from Red River Gorge here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/24479591@N05/sets/72157631731128077/
Better yet take the risk/reward challenge for yourself:
Red River Gorge: (606)784-6428; fs.usda.gov/dbnf
See you Outside,
Sheri and Randy Propster