ADVENTURE HIKES AND CANYONEERING© Christopher Earls Brennen
IN THE SOUTHWEST
Equipment and Provisions
Being properly clothed, equipped and provisioned can mean all the difference between an exciting wilderness experience and a miserable ordeal. This chapter is intended to give some guidelines on these issues though each person will soon discover their own particular preferences as their experience broadens.
Choice of clothing will vary with the weather, the time of year and personal tastes. As a general rule it is better to rely on a number of layers for warmth rather than single thick and bulky garments. Of course, in more severe climates, mountaineers can get very technical in choosing these layers. For example, they select one for next the skin, one or more for heat insulation, one for external protection and one for rain. If you wish to invest in these more expensive and coherent systems by all means do so. However, in the Southwest it is often sufficient to choose more inexpensive layers. Thus I use tee shirt and underpants, a thicker upper layer for warmth (usually this is shed once I warm up and I end up carrying it in my pack) and a pair of shorts. Pants, whether long or short, should be roomy enough so that climbing movements are not impaired. While cotton garments may suffice on a hot summer day, it may be wise to invest in ``wicking'' garments made of modern synthetic materials such as polyester and a warm polartec jacket. These not only dry much faster than cotton but they will also keep in the warmth even when wet. In addition I carry raingear in the form of lightweight Goretex pants and jacket. This raingear can also serve as emergency clothing should you encounter an unexpected drop in the temperature or have to spend the night in the wilderness.
Some of the above choices need further comment in the context of adventure hiking. First, if you are susceptible to poison oak, you should recognize that it is not easy to completely avoid coming in contact with this plant at some point during adventure hiking. Thus you may be better off wearing long pants and long-sleeve shirts. Second, one's outer clothing almost always takes a beating during adventure hikes, whether from pushing through undergrowth, sliding down loose scree or climbing over rocks. Consequently you should avoid expensive outer garments.
Several other items of clothing are almost essential for adventure hiking. First, for protection from the sun you should always wear a hat, preferably one with a brim that protects the eyes, face and neck from the strong sun. The hat, along with sunscreen and lip balm, becomes even more important at higher elevations and triply important if you are hiking through the snow. In this last case, good sunglasses are also essential for protection against snow blindness. Some people can also suffer sun blindness in the bright desert.
For different but equally obvious reasons, a good pair of leather gardening gloves (preferably quite tight fitting) is essential for hand protection when bouldering, climbing steep earth slopes or pushing through undergrowth. I use leather rather than cloth gloves for protection against the many prickly plants in the Southwestern wilderness. Leather gloves also provide good friction when clambering over rocks. Some even choose to use gloves while rope climbing or rappelling though this is not recommended.
Another essential purchase is a good pair of hiking boots with lug soles. I have two pairs. One pair is more flexible but not waterproof. The other is Goretex-lined but not so comfortable. I like the former when the hike involves a lot of climbing and/or wading and the latter for hiking in wet weather or in the snow. Under either pair, I utilize two layers of socks. Next to my skin, I wear a thin pair of polypropylene socks. These minimize the chafing or blistering of the skin. Outside these I wear a thick pair of woolen or polartec socks. This equipment is particularly crucial because comfort for your feet is essential to the enjoyment of hiking.
In addition, many of the canyon bottom hikes will require you to wade in the river and, for these outings, I recommend taking a spare pair of socks to change into when the wading is done. For such occasions, I do not use waterproof boots; rather I wear an old pair that drain and dry more quickly. While you may choose to take an old pair of sneakers in order to keep your hiking boots dry, I do not recommend this because sneakers slip too easily on the rock. It is better to wade in your boots. Besides, in the warm climate of the Southwest and with the warmth generated by hiking, your feet can dry out surprisingly quickly.
For wading (or swimming) through deep pools it is almost essential to bring along a ``dry'' bag in which to stow your entire pack, or at the very least, your valuables. While a large plastic trash can liner might serve, it is also easily ripped. You can purchase very tough and light waterproof bags called ``dry bags'' in an outdoors store that caters to rafting and kayaking. When swimming, it is also convenient to employ the dry bag as a floatation device. I also suggest you take along a small towel (it has many uses) and spare tee shirt and shorts.
Of course, additional clothing and equipment may be needed if you intend to hike in the snow. Then crampons and an ice axe become essential. However, the hikes described herein are all intended to be tackled in good weather.
A sturdy day backpack in which to carry all your equipment is clearly essential. On adventure hikes, a backpack can take quite a bit of abuse as you plough through the bush, slide down slopes, haul the pack up steep slopes by rope or wade through deep pools. Consequently a strong and secure daypack is a must. Mine is roomy, has strong zips, contains two side pockets for water bottles and will float for a brief time without the contents getting wet. For really wet hikes, one can now purchase moderately priced waterproof backpacks.
It is a vital safety measure to keep the contents of your pack dry at all times. Therefore, within your backpack, it is a very good idea to store items or groups of items in sealable plastic bags. This not only provides protection against rain or river dunkings but also helps to keep your stuff organized. Moreover, an essential part of any plan to negotiate a deep pool, is to arrange safe passage for the packs. Many people get careless and allow their safety to be compromised by not ensuring dry passage for their packs. One method is to put your pack in a large, waterproof bag as described above.
On overnight hikes, it may be convenient to use a larger backpack. Then, internal frame packs are preferable to the external frame variety that can be very awkward to manage during climbing or scrambling for they tend to hang up more often on rocks and vegetation. The best idea is to travel as light as possible. Indeed, a large daypack with a strap-on sleeping bag maybe be better than either an internal or external frame pack for the overnighters described herein.
Essential and emergency equipment
The following is a list of the essential and emergency equipment that I carry with me in addition to the clothing described above:
These I carry in several clear plastic bags with airtight seals.
- Maps. Fold these so that the area you will be consulting is on the outside and then install them in seperate, sealed plastic bags so that they can be read without removing them. This not only protects the map against wear but is essential in the rain.
- A compass and binoculars. While the latter may not be essential, I have found a small, lightweight pair of binoculars to be very valuable in helping to identify distant features or discerning smaller objects like rappelling anchors.
- A pocketknife.
- A small, quality flashlight and a set of spare batteries. The headlamp variety is particularly convenient.
- A space blanket.
- Two butane lighters and some matches. Warmth is an important key to survival and the lighters, matches and space blanket are to preserve warmth. You should learn how to light a fire in the wilderness (see preceding chapter). In addition I carry the lightweight waterproof pants and jacket mentioned earlier not only for use in the event of rain but also as layers for additional warmth.
- Several packages of paper tissues. Please ensure that you bury your waste in a hole at least six inches deep and as far from a stream or creek bed as possible.
- An ace bandage (or athletic tape), several bandaids, neosporin ointment for bites or stings and ibuprofin for pain and muscle relaxant.
- A snake-bite kit with instructions.
- A leather thong for multiple uses including as a tourniquet.
- Sunscreen, lip balm and poison oak protection cream.
Water and Food
It is essential to carry two or more quart-sized water bottles with good quality screw tops so that they do not leak after just a few uses. Despite the weight, I always start out with two full bottles, usually one filled with a quality sports drink and the other filled with plain water. On longer hikes, I notice a significant difference when I use the sports drink rather than plain water and so I recommend it. In addition, I strongly recommend that you carry a light-weight water filter pump and use this rather than water treatment chemicals. The filter pumps now available at camping stores are very effective; in all my years of hiking I have never experienced any problems when I used a filter pump.
To the beginner, these provisions for drinking may seem excessive. But the experienced hiker knows just how dangerous dehydration and/or hypothermia can be and knows that all of these precautions are essential. Conversely, food is not necessary as an emergency item. I always take a lunch and a snack but little more. You could survive for weeks on roots and berries if it was necessary. Incidentally, it is not a bad idea to learn of some of the edible plants.
Other Useful Equipment
In addition to the above, I carry a selection of other items which depend on the circumstances I expect to encounter:
- Especially as you get older, a good hiking stick can be useful on many adventure hikes. It is particularly valuable as an aid in the many stream crossings that are a part of many of the adventure hikes described herein. It can also be useful in dealing with brush, as an aid in climbing or for dealing with snakes or other hazards.
- Even for those without any formal training in rock climbing, I recommend purchasing some rudimentary climbing gear in order to fabricate some simple protection when climbing in places where a slip could mean a serious accident. Rather than a rope, I recommend for this purpose the 1in wide tubular webbing which you can buy in most sports shops. At about 30c per foot it is quite inexpensive and can therefore be left behind if necessary. Webbing is easier to grip than a rope and can be adapted for many purposes. I have several lengths (10ft, 30ft and 60ft) and I choose whichever piece seems most useful for a given hike. In addition, carabiniers are useful and I carry several of these in my pack.
- Some of the hikes described herein require both the training and equipment to allow you to rappel down cliffs of various heights, from 12ft upwards. You should not attempt these particular hikes unless you have obtained such training. However, it is fairly simple to learn to rappel and not as frightening as you might imagine. I learned some simple rockcraft at the age of 53 and enjoyed it much more than I had imagined I would. The necessary equipment consists of a good quality climbing rope (at least 150ft and preferably 200ft long), a climbing harness, a rapelling device (a figure eight or ATC design), several lengths of tubular webbing and a number of carabiniers and rappel rings. I strongly recommend that you never rely on the old ropes you will often encounter hanging in places in the wilderness.
Back to table of contents
Last updated 1/1/00.
Christopher E. Brennen