This is Part 2 of a 2 part series covering the basics of backpacking by way of a weekend adventure in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands.
As I said at the beginning of my last entry, we did a lot of things right in getting ready for this trip, but we did quite a few things wrong as well. Overall the trip was a success, but next time we’ll make things a bit easier on ourselves.
I’ll start with the map at the end of my last entry:
We hiked north, from about the 19 mile mark to the 31 mile mark, covering this distance over two days. On this map you may notice the blue rings that adorn the terrain – these indicate elevation changes. Those topo maps that were missing from our GPS? These blue lines are what I was looking for. These help you for a lot of reasons, but the reason that would have meant the most to us for this trip was course planning. Had I paid closer attention to elevation changes when planning our course, we would have hiked south from mile 31 to mile 19. These cross-section (“elevation profile”) views help explain why:
The above image shows the elevation changes of the bulk of the 1st day of our trip. It was reasonably flat terrain and only moderately taxing. Day 2 on the other hand…
It was a lot more up and down, and after a long day of hiking the day before, felt like mostly up. Long story short, there were three take-aways from the weekend. When planning your backpacking trip:
Make day 1 your longer day of hiking (we hiked 5+ miles day one and ~7 miles day 2).
Tackle the tougher terrain day 1 if possible.
Your legs and shoulders are fresh and willing to take more punishment.
Don’t underestimate how long it will take you to cover your intended mileage.
The average man walks approximately 3 mph, but when hiking on uneven wilderness terrain with a 20-40 pound pack on your back, plan on doing 1 to 1.5 mph… slower if you want to take frequent or lengthy breaks. We allowed ourselves enough time to get to camp (day 1) and our car (day 2) before sunset, but if you’re not monitoring your pace/mileage you could easily get caught in the woods after sundown – not an ideal situation. Plan appropriately, keeps your wits about you, you’ll be fine, but it was worth mentioning.
When we do our next trip we’ll do less mileage – maybe 3-5 miles per day instead of 6-7. We were somewhat spent by the end of day 2.
Another important skill/concept to keep in mind is minding your trail blazes:
The trail blazes on the LHHT trail are gold, with occasional short stretches of blue near some of the trail head and shelter areas.
These trail blazes are far and away the #1 thing to be cognizant of while hiking.
With the exception of the short section of trail that cuts through the Seven Springs resort (where you’ll have plenty of people to tap for direction), the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail (LHHT) is very well marked. When you’re hiking this trail, or any other trail, you HAVE to mind your trail blazes. On the LHHT, if you’ve gone more than 100-150 feet without seeing one of these yellow markings, STOP, get your bearings and figure out where you went wrong. You won’t get lost on the LHHT – it really is an exceptionally well maintained and well marked trail. Keep your eyes open, don’t go wandering aimlessly deep into the woods, and you’ll have a really enjoyable time out there.
So all-in-all, we really did pretty well. The scenery and the foliage were great and the Grindle Ridge shelter area was quite nice. This designated camping area sits near the 24 mile marker on the above map. For a grand total of $8 you get your choice of tent sites, men’s and lady’s restroom facilities, hand-pumped well water and all the free pre-split logs you could ask for. It was a good facility and is quite welcoming for backpackers. You have to book in advance, but it’s obviously very affordable and the staff at the state park office proved to be quite helpful. They also have 3-walled Adirondack-style shelters with built-in fireplaces if you prefer not to buy/haul a tent. These are popular and need to be booked further in advance.
That about wraps it up! If you have any thoughts, critiques or insights into any of this, comment and let me know! Now that we have all the equipment we need for future trips, cheap and relaxing weekend vacations are readily available to us in the future. We plan on doing many more of these trips in the coming years – it’s a great way to spend a few days getting back to nature!