Preparing for our first backpacking trip

After hiking up Harney Peak last year, I looked up Missouri’s highest point of elevation. It turned out to be a rather disappointing 1,772 feet at Taum Sauk Mountain. But this discovery yielded an interesting bit of information. There is a hiking trail between Taum Sauk and Johnson Shut-Ins (site of one of our camping trips last year) with a length of 14 miles. The hike up Harney Peak left me itching to do more hiking and 14 miles seemed like fun. However, a hike that long would take us the better part of a day and we wouldn’t have time to do a roundtrip back to our car.

Then, sometime over the last two months I read about Missouri’s Ozark Trail. It is a hiking and backpacking trail (with a lot of mountain biking and equestrian access as well) with a total length over 350 miles at the moment.  The trail is situated mostly in the southeastern quadrant of Missouri and stretches almost down to Arkansas.

I spent several hours one night reading stories backpackers had written about their experiences on sections of the trail, including the section between Taum Sauk and Johnson Shut-Ins. That’s when I got the idea to do a backpacking trip with Fox.

We bought hiking boots about two months ago, but most of our camping gear is suitable only for car camping. In order to better understand what we are getting into and how to prepare, I started reading lots of guides to backpacking during my train commute to and from work (The guides on REI’s website seemed quite good).

Seeing as we normally camp with a queen-size air mattress, relatively heavy tent, and heavy blankets, we had some big holes to fill in our gear inventory. We would need at least one frame backpack, a lightweight tent, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads. We have been doing a lot of reading across the Internet about pros and cons of various types and brands of tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, sleeping pads, stoves, water filtration systems, clothing, and other accessories.

So far, we found a great clearance deal on a Kelty Coyote 80-liter backpack for me as well as clearance deals on Kelty Cosmic Down 20-degree sleeping bags (Long for me, Women’s Regular for Fox). We didn’t intend for this to sound like a Kelty advertisement, but their backpacks and sleeping bags have been consistently recommended on review sites for their quality at a reasonable price point. Also we keep finding great sales on their stuff where we look.

We are still looking for a good four-person tent (maybe the Kelty Gunnison 4.2 since it reviews well and is only $200 at REI) and sleeping pads (probably NEMO Astro Insulated) and probably a backpack for Fox too. If we need a backpacking stove, we recruited my little brother to go with us and we got him one for Christmas. We were thinking ahead there.

My plan at the moment is to keep an eye out for a dry weekend this spring and drive down to Taum Sauk Mountain State Park early in the morning. We will then park where our car will hopefully not get disturbed for a couple of days. Then the three of us and our dog, Mishka, will set off for Johnson Shut-Ins. We will hopefully arrive at Johnson Shut-Ins State Park a couple hours before dark so we can get to a campsite and get our tent up without trouble.

We may spend a day hanging out at the park and spend a second night there, or we may head out the next day. This part is still up in the air. The park has a good showerhouse, camp store, and campgrounds with fire pits, so we will still have nice amenities and won’t have to make camp in the wilderness this time.

I have been spending a lot of time looking forward to this trip. The thought of hiking through the wilderness while carrying everything we need to survive holds a particular sense of excitement for me. It’s definitely my most anticipated adventure for 2015 that we have planned so far. I’m looking forward to making some good memories this year.

It’s Getting a Bit Chilly Out Here

The forecast for Saturday night at Indian Cave State Park was mostly clear skies and a low of around forty degrees. This would be the coldest night of camping Fox and I had experienced to date. We were already planning on bringing a comforter and two warm blankets, but forty degrees caused us to throw a fourth in the car.

A mild west wind blew through the campground until nightfall and made me think maybe a fifth blanket would have been a good idea. Fox’s brother, his wife, their dog, and the two of us huddled around the fire for warmth until we decided it was time to get some sleep.

When we finally got under our stack of blankets, I was immediately aware of the chilly surface of the air mattress through my clothes. I had not given any thought to the effect of slowly descending temperatures on the compressed gaseous filler in our bed. Rather than insulating us from the cold, the heat from our bodies seemed to be drawn away to warm all of that cool air.

I woke up well before dawn to find my face chilled by the low morning temperature as well as a bed even cooler than the night before. While the feeling wasn’t miserable, it wasn’t comfortable either. I moved closer to Fox and fell back asleep.

When we both woke up for good a little after dawn, neither of us wanted to get out from under the blankets, nor did we want to separate from one another. We just wanted to stay like we were until the weather warmed up again.

Eventually we felt compelled to get up, start a fire, and make breakfast. While we were eating, Fox’s brother seemed to really enjoy informing us how warm he was and how well he slept the night before. They didn’t need a pile of blankets. They had cold weather sleeping bags.

Yes, I’m a little jealous.