If this is the first of Hike or Die blog that you are about to read, we suggest that you take a look at our disclaimer first to get an idea of what we are all about.
After many months of preparation this was to be our very first hike together. All the conversations, hundreds of dollars spent on gear and all the bullsh#t we thought we knew was about to get the true test that only the wilderness can give. Everything to that point had been recommendations from outdoor store “experts” or information from the Internet & books.
The first part of this hike led us through cattle yards as we made our way to the base of the mountain range. Straight up my shoulders were telling me that I packed way to much gear and food while my nose was telling me to watch my step in my shiny new hiking boots as we were deep in cowshit city. A short time later and it was my legs that were now already suffering from fatigue. I continued on, but at a slow pace. Being the first hike we had ever done, we were having to get to know our packs, boots, each other and at the same time how much/when to eat, drink and rest. Decisions and actions that we take for granted now as more seasoned hikers were easy ways to make life really uncomfortable and difficult at the time without even knowing it.
After a short break we began the first ascent on the mountain ridge and in a very short amount of time gained some pretty nice elevation. My legs were paying the price though. I remember at the time, the actual thought going through my head was “Is this what hiking is? What the f@#k have I signed up for?”. Thankfully the human body adapts quickly and over the trip I learned to adjust to the weight and terrain. Craig however, seemed to have no such trouble. This made me feel twice as ridiculous.
Late in the afternoon after picking my ass up and getting on with it, we found the waterhole that had been marked for us on our map. Yep, it looked like shit soup but it was a perfect test for my new and as yet, untested filtration system. I was and still am very, very impressed at the speed and ease at which it filters dirty water. Craig was instantly sold and bought one for himself as soon as we got back to civilization.
We made a decision to save weight at the start of the trip by leaving our tent behind with the intent to make some crude shelters out of our rain ponchos. Well, they sure lived up to the “crude” part. Comfort didn’t seem to be as much of a focus then as it is to us now. I find the more times we hike, the more distance we cover and the more important a comfortable night of sleep is. On this particular trip our ignorant bliss about potential visitors in the night allowed us very peaceful sleeps.
The next morning is still a fond memory of mine. The combination of the feeling of accomplishment from having survived the night and to wake up in such a peaceful place was great. It was also to be first experience with a freeze-dried breakfast. I found them, and still do find them very messy and the baked beans are shit. Still, it was great to give the hiking stoves another run. We were very impressed at the simplicity and ease of use of the unit having had no previous experience with any compact stoves of any kind.
The final highlight of the morning was when four deer stumbled upon our camp on their way down to the watering hole. I managed to get to my camera just in time for a pretty crappy photo of the slowest one racing away. At least I have proof I guess.
When we were packed and ready to leave we decided that instead of carrying our full packs around for the day to find a suitable campsite we would just travel with light packs and come back later to move the remainder of the gear. The terrain was incredibly steep and with only cattle and game trails to follow I’m glad we took that option. We followed a natural spring-fed stream until we came to a Y-junction. The combination of the trickling stream, unlimited clean water supply and dappled sunlight seeping through the trees was too much to pass up. We backtracked to grab our packs and spent the afternoon resting, setting up camp and gathering water. I even managed a catnap on the warm rocks while Craig gathered firewood and prepped the campfire. Before you go judging anybody, I did those jobs the night before.
That night we didn’t sleep as well. It seems we had not only both set up our beds on a very slight slope that magnifies once you start sleeping but we also had regular visits from some kind of marsupial. I woke up with it right in my face at one point sniffing around checking me out. Pretty sure it was something like a Bilby. Whatever he was, he was noisy, inquisitive and we were camped right on the front door of his burrow. Stupid humans.
The next morning remains in the top 5 most frightening moments of my life together with a car accident and a near death surfing experience in huge Fiji waves amongst other things. I woke to hear crackling in the woods and my first thoughts were that it was a passing deer herd. As I strained my weary eyes to try and see I saw a faint glow on a ridge above us that confused me as it wasn’t quite dawn yet. It was Craig who woke up and asked the question that nearly stopped my heart. “Is that a fire?” The sudden realization snapped both of us out of our slumber states and launched us out of our sleeping bags like we found snakes in there with us. There was no question that the fire was heading our way and we were in significant danger.
Here is where we learned yet another valuable hiking lesson. One I would like to pass onto new and seasoned hikers alike: PACK ALL, OR AT LEAST MOST OF YOUR GEAR BEFORE YOU BED DOWN FOR THE NIGHT! That way, if you have to leave in a hurry for any reason at all, you only really have to get dressed and jam your sleeping gear into your pack and you are done and mobile. In this case we did not do this. Not even close. Gear was strewn across the entire campsite over trees, rocks and paracord clotheslines. Nothing was packed. Nothing! We chewed up over 10 minutes getting dressed, packed and ready to move out. In that time the fire had covered a third of the distance to us. Being downhill from the fire was a huge stroke of luck on our part in hindsight. It gave us those extra few minutes to not have to ditch all of our gear and run. This was our plan B that we thankfully didn’t have to put into play.
We were literally stuffing gear in our jackets and pockets still as we moved out of the campsite and my heart was pumping way too much blood and adrenaline around my body. Thankfully we were both able to focus on the task at hand and were setting a good pace up the steep slopes. We couldn’t have been any happier when 15minutes later we arrived on a section of mountain that had been previously burnt out a month or so before by the looks of it. We were safe. There was nothing left to burn in this area. It was at this point that I revisited the thought from the previous day but this time I said it out aloud to Craig as we sat on a burnt log contemplating what just happened. “Is this what hiking is? Is this what we can expect every time? Risking our lives and potentially never making it back to our families? I don’t think this is what I wanted” I’ve given you the non-explicit version there.
We discussed this for almost half an hour as we prepared coffee & breakfast. Neither of us were really hungry and there was a real sense of urgency to get back to civilization. I think it was more about going through the motions and letting the adrenaline settle. We didn’t end up having answers for all of the questions. We didn’t really come close. We agreed on a lot of points though.
Breakfast was done and so was our discussion. It was time to head home. We were less than a couple of hours out from our destination and I think we were both secretly pleased at this thought. The whole morning had certainly put me in a state of mind that was focused on getting home and preferably in one piece.
There was a particular point on our return journey that really stood out for me. We had reached the summit of the last mountain we had to cross and we looked straight down the valley that was to lead us home. It was beautiful. In fact it was absolutely stunning. The air was cool and still. The sun was now beginning to rise and bathe the valley and surrounding mountains in a golden glow. There was not a sound except for birds in the distance. It was like Mother Nature had prepared all of this for my arrival and then slapped me in the face and said “Here is that answer you wanted”. If that was her plan, it worked. It was the answer. This is why people go hiking I remember thinking. This is what hiking was and from that point, I was hooked. Sure, I’d be more cautious in the future but nothing was going to stop me from missing such beauty like this.
The rest of the hike was uneventful. We passed the cattle sheds again which marked the home stretch. We were worn out and tired on the drive home although I don’t think that was why we were so quiet. For me at least it was due to being deep in thought. Sifting through the highs and lows of the memories that we would now share forever.
In an effort to not see other people make the same mistakes as us, we have decided to put this section in our posts when we see fit. This is most definitely one of those cases.
Here are a few key lessons we learned from the hike:
- Pack light. Think about every item that you carry, why you need it and if another item in your pack could serve the same purpose.
- Don’t camp in a dry riverbed. We made this mistake twice but thankfully came to no harm.
- Pack all of your gear that you can before you sleep. This makes for a quick exit if required throughout the night.
- Scout the area around your potential campsite before setting up. Look for burrows & holes that may house not so friendly residents.
The Hike or Die Team