Lessons I learned From a Bad Backpacking Trip…

About a year ago my friend Sally and I decided to start backpacking. We are both hikers and there are places that we want to explore that you can only get to if you backpack. We went to REI and got fitted for backpacks and slowly started collecting our gear. We’ve been on some overnight trips and recently we have been practicing for a through hike in the Sierras. On our latest backpacking trip, I learned some lessons the hard way.

It Was Supposed To Be An Easy Overnighter.

Our latest trip was to Little Jimmy Campground. It is located off SR2 (Angeles Crest Highway) in the Angeles National Forest. You can only reach the campground by hiking in. There are 16 sites, picnic tables, fire rings, bear boxes and a vault toilet. There isn’t running water, but Little Jimmy Spring is just 1/4 mile away.

The parking lot is at Islip Saddle.

Lesson #1: Watch Out For Detours

We started our trip around 11am, so that we could avoid the commuter traffic. Unfortunately, they were doing road work on SR2 and we had to make a major detour. We found some friendly firemen that were able to give us directions to detour around the road closure. There is no cellphone signal in the canyon. Our detour took us 2 hours.

Heading up the switchbacks.
Hiking on the PCT

Lesson #2: Eat Breakfast

We finally arrived at Islip Saddle Parking lot. The trail is part of the PCT and it follows steep switchbacks for the first mile. I wasn’t feeling it. Some days your body just doesn’t feel like hiking up a steep hill with a 35-pound backpack on. Looking back now, I realize it was probably because I didn’t eat breakfast and it was afternoon time when we actually started hiking and I had only eaten a protein bar on the drive up the mountain. I munched on a few sour gummy worms on the way up hoping it would give me a burst of energy. Luckily, after the first mile, the trail levels out a little bit.

We saw butterflies the whole way up.

A Hammock & Book Are Backpacking Esstenials

We made it to camp and there was only 1 other camper there so we had our choice of spots. After putting up our tents, unpacked and set up our hammocks, we decided instead of hiking we would just relax in our hammocks and read. It was peaceful and relaxing for about 30 minutes and then it got windy and cold. After 45 mins we had to get out of the hammocks because it was too cold.

Hammock time.
My favorite part of camping is reading in my hammock.

Little Jimmy Springs

One of the best things about camping at Little Jimmy is the proximity to Little Jimmy Springs. The spring runs year round and the water comes out fresh and cold. Some people filter the water, but numerous Boy Scouts and a ranger have told us that it isn’t necessary. We walked down to the spring and filled up our empty water bottles for drinking and cooking.

The trail to Little Jimmy Springs.
On the way to the spring.
Filling up my nalgene from the spring.

Lesson #3: Make a List

When we got back to camp I decided it was too cold to be sitting around in shorts even with a fleece top on. I climbed in my tent to change and found out that unfortunately, I packed a long sleeve shirt instead of my long pants. They are both black and made of the same material. unfortunately, I made the very bad decision to put on my sleeping fleece pants even though it wasn’t time for bed. I came out of my tent in my fleece top and bottom that I sleep in and a fleece hoodie. I was warm and cozy for a few minutes. We started dinner.

Lesson #4: Accidents Happen

Sally found out that she had forgotten her backpacking stove. Luckily it wasn’t a problem, because we just used mine. Over the last year, we have narrowed down our backpacking dinners to what we like and what we can eat without having leftovers that we have to pack back out. I had picked up a lentil soup at REI. We boiled the water I added water to Sally’s couscous and then I added two cups of boiling water to my package. After adding the water I realized the package didn’t come with the standard top that allows you to reseal it after you add the hot water. Generally, after adding water the food has to sit for 10 minutes while it rehydrates. I use a mailing envelope as a cozy to put my food in while it’s rehydrating. It helps retain the heat. Somehow while I was transferring the package to the cozy I knocked over the soup onto myself. I was sitting at the picnic table and the soup poured onto my ribs, thigh, calf and inside my camp shoes. I let out a blood-curdling scream, but I couldn’t do anything. The hot water was trapped between my fleece and my skin.

A Long Night

When I calmed down I pulled my clothes off and realized how bad it actually was. I had to leave all my clothes outside the tent. Inside the tent, I put on my long sleeve shirt and a puffer jacket. Unfortunately, I only had my shorts to put back on. I opened my first aid kit and slathered myself with antibiotic cream. My dinner was all dumped out on the ground so, I ate a small baggie of trail mix that I had packed. Sally made a fire and I sat with my burned side of my body away from the fire, because I was cold! I remained fairly calm. I made some trail margaritas and took some Advil. When it came time for bed I had to put all my fleece clothes in the bear box. We were in bear country and my clothes all smelled like lentil soup. I had to sleep in my underwear and I was cold all night.

Trying to dry out my clothes on the tree and the bear box.
Backpacking Margaritas
Sally made a nice fire.

Packing Up

After a rough night of trying to not pop my blisters, trying to stay warm and trying to sleep I was ready to go home. We had planned to hike up to Islip Saddle in the morning. It has a beautiful view and both times I’ve been up there I’ve seen Bighorn Sheep, but I didn’t want to hike anywhere. We had coffee and then packed up. While I was packing up my tent, I felt something on my leg. I looked down and a spider almost as big as a tarantula was climbing on it. I again started screaming and somehow got it off my leg. Thankfully, Sally came to my rescue and relocated it with a hiking pole.

Hiking Back To The Car

All packed up we hiked back out to the car. I was so happy that I made it to the car. I leaned my hiking poles against the trunk and hoisted my pack in the backseat. Later after we had been driving for over an hour I realized that I had left my hiking poles against the trunk and now they were laying in the parking lot. I went to the doctor the next day and I have 2nd-degree burns on my rib and thigh. The burn on my thigh is worse and will leave scarring.

Backpacking down the mountain.

Lessons Learned

Here is a list of things I learned from this backpacking trip.

  • Google Maps and Waze are not always up-to-date for road construction.
  • If you are in Southern California and using route SR2, good luck. This isn’t the first time we’ve run into road closures and I even called Cal- Trans the morning we left to check for closures.
  • It’s a good idea to have a permanent packing list. This would have helped with the forgotten stove and missing pants. I’m thinking of making a list of things I have to pack in my backpack and then laminating it.
  • Never change into your sleeping clothes until you are ready to climb into your sleeping bag.
  • When buying dehydrated food check the the top to make sure it’s resealable or have a another way to cook it. If I would have realized about the top before we got there I would have dumped everything into a ziplock freezer bag. You can pour boiling water into the freezer bags and cook that way.
  • Ice cubes will stay in your Hydroflask. Perfect for trail margaritas.
  • Accidents happen, not much you can do about this. I told Sally this trip was to teach us humility. We’ve been on so many backpacking trips where nothing went wrong something was bound to happen eventually.
  • Make sure all your gear is in the car before you drive away.

Little Jimmy Trail Camp

One thought on “Lessons I learned From a Bad Backpacking Trip…”

  1. I’m glad you made it down the mountain safely especially with your leg so burned. I guess it could have been worse. Like the spider biting you, or bears coming to investigate. You will be so prepared for your next hike that this will only be a bad nightmare memory.

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