Odd Couple: old dog teaches newbie, needs ideas

Posted by: dolphyfan

Odd Couple: old dog teaches newbie, needs ideas - 10/31/11 08:33 PM

I have been backpacking and camping for decades. I have a friend who I enjoy traveling with, but until recently she has never even camped out and has never done more than a decent length day hike, never mind backpacking. Now she is making noises about accompanying me on a very difficult three week trip that I have dreamed about doing for years. It involves serious mileage, altitude and isolation. Except for a keen willingness and desire, she is in no way prepared or qualified to go.

I am looking for suggestions to get her started, and for getting her up to speed in a short time frame (a year or so.) I am looking for suggestions to fast-track someone from T-ball to the Major Leagues.

To complicate matters, we live several time zones apart, so she's going to have to do most of this on her own. Any suggestions?

Oh, yeah... I am new to this board. If this Q belongs somewhere else, please tell me how to get it there. thanks.
Posted by: TomD

Re: Odd Couple: old dog teaches newbie, needs ideas - 11/01/11 12:10 AM

I moved your post. You don't say much about this trip, so I will speculate a bit. If you are as experienced as you say you are, why do you think this is a good idea?

I don't want to burst your bubble, but you are asking for trouble. A "very difficult three week" trip is no place for a self-taught beginner. I have no idea what you consider "very difficult" so you may want to elaborate. Backpacking isn't rocket science, but it isn't a trip to the mall, either.

A year is more than enough time to learn camping skills, but what you describe, including altitude, would cause me to rethink my plan.

I have first-hand experience at altitude (above 10K), including two hospital stays due to HAPE or pneumonia that almost killed me both times. I was fortunate, I wasn't camping and was in a big city with adequate medical care both times (same place).

Example-I flew into La Paz (13.5K ft.), got picked up and went home (11.5K ft.) Went out with a friend, had a couple of beers, went home and woke up coughing up blood. Woke up my parents who drove me immediately to a clinic. According to one of the doctors, another hour and I would have been dead. Had this happened in the outback somewhere, no way I would have survived.

Granted, not everyone will have the problems I had, but if your friend turns out to be someone who does, you are looking at serious consequences if she has a problem
Posted by: ringtail

sports analogy - 11/01/11 09:18 AM

Tim Tebow needs good coaching and repetitions to become a good NFL quarterback. You are not in a position to provide either for your friend.

Search for hiking clubs in the area where she lives. A club can give her the coaching and repetitions she needs.

There are two parts of your trip description that concern me. One is the length. The other is isolation.

Posted by: Gershon

Re: sports analogy - 11/01/11 10:18 AM

A lot depends on the actual hike. If it's not technical, I feel it can be done with a lot of committment on her part. Since she is new, you will need to guide it. It will be better if there are bailout points along the way.

With a difficult problem, I like to plan things backwards to "What can I do today to train?"

One thing she can start doing today is walking 6 days a week. The distance doesn't have to be long as there is plenty of time to work up. I'd suggest a mile a day no matter what the weather. Set up a plan to increase the distance gradually each week until she is doing about 60 miles a week. Somewhere along the way a light pack can be added and the weight increased gradually.

The second thing is to start accumulating gear. I'm a strong believer in not sharing gear, but you may feel otherwise. Either way. Here is a list I put together. I would suggest getting the sleeping bag and tent first so she can practice camping in the backyard. Once she is comfortable with that, she can go car camping a few times to see how it works out. While car camping she can hike very simple trails with her pack. Even along a road if that's all there is. If she can go out in the rain, that's even better.

Joining a group or even finding someone else to backpack with would be a problem where I live. But by taking things slowly and with proper guidance, I feel a person could get ready in a year.

I wouldn't dump all the preparation plans on her all at once. Just let her know you have a plan to help her along and if she follows it, she will be ready. For now, I'd just tell her to walk a mile a day for a week and see how that goes. If she doesn't have the committment to even do that, the rest probably won't go so well.

Posted by: Glenn

Re: sports analogy - 11/01/11 10:29 AM

I'm not going to offer very much help here; I don't have the requisite experience in the conditions the OP describes for the hike.

However, I would like to elaborate on two of Gershon's points.

First, I agree about walking every day, regardless of conditions. That will mean she will walk in the rain and/or snow - and on a 3-week trip, it's more likely than not that you'll have to deal with foul weather. This will get her used to that - and also give her a chance to make sure her rain gear is up to the task. (Just remember that heat retention characteristics may be different where she's living than they are where you'll be hiking.)

Second, if she's going to learn the camping skills remotely, she'll have no choice but carrying her own complete set of gear - you're not there to share with her. If you plan on sharing later, she may be able to rent gear for the practice trips; however, depending on how many practice trips, and whether she intends to solo after your joint trip, it may be more cost effective to buy her own gear. I don't hink it would be necessary to get the lightest and best (though she may want to); something reasonably light might actually be better, since it would result in perhaps a slightly heavier pack than she'd actually be carrying (thus do a better conditioning job.)

Good luck; I think you are taking a big, big bite - but I don't know enough about either of you, or where you are going, to say that with any authority.
Posted by: wandering_daisy

Re: sports analogy - 11/01/11 11:28 AM

Difficult, long, isolated, newbie partner. She will need to be confident and experienced enough to get out on her own if something happens to you. That is a huge expectation for a newbie. Yes, one year is enough, but she needs to get the proper training. I suggest that about half way through the year you two do a 3-4 day rigorous trip so you can see if she is making proper progress towards the goal. There is more to backpacking than walking and camping. She needs to be "on the same page" as you- if this is a trip with the goal of being challenging and hard, she has to totally buy into that. As a newbie, she does not even know what a "hard trip" means. IF you decide that she is ready to accompany you, then you must be willing to change objectives if she is not able to do the planned trip. If you are 100% set on your goal, I would say do it solo and plan another trip for the two of you. Since you have not identified the exact trip, it is hard to say if your plan will work or not.
Posted by: Gershon

Re: sports analogy - 11/01/11 11:34 AM

Added: I seldom say "Something can't be done." Other people have done whatever crazy idea I'm planning, so my attitude is "How did they do it?" Other people have learned to hike a difficult hike in the time you have. Some in much less time.

No single aspect of backpacking taken by itself is really that difficult. It's when everything is put together that it can become difficult.

People hate me as a teacher, because I break things down into very simple components that are easy to learn. They always want to rush ahead to more difficult things. I'm also a big believer in repetition.

I'd set up a merit badge system with each badge being extremely simple. For instance, her tent may require her to tie a taut line hitch. I'd practice it 7 times a day for 7 days and then it will be automatic.

Then I'd have her set up the tent 7 days in a row on different terrain in her yard. It's nice to know if it doesn't work so well on a slight slope.

Then sleep in the tent for 7 nights, not necessarily in a row, on different slopes. It's nice to know if you are going to slide across the floor at night.

The number 7 is important as that's the number of repetitions to make things sink into long term memory.

There is a method to my madness. If preparing takes a lot of effort, she may decide not to go. Then you can plan something simpler to enjoy her company if that's important to you.

If she goes through all the preparation, you will likely have a great hiking partner.

As I still don't know the definition of "extreme" temper this all with judgement.

Added: I like the new title of the thread.
Posted by: dolphyfan

Re: sports analogy - 11/01/11 12:41 PM

The trip is the Cordillera Huayhuash, in Peru. Almost the entire trek above 10,000', with half a dozen passes over 15,000' to cross. The route is remote, takes roughly 2 weeks to complete (100-130 miles depending on exact details), acclimitization requiring additional time. I am aware that this has trouble written all over it and have already told her that I have final "no-go" say, if I feel she isn't ready.

I backpacked the Cordillera Blanca with a buddy a few years ago. We humped our own packs while anyone else we saw had a guide and burros. By all accounts, this would be a wise, almost mandatory choice for the C.H., and I am planning on it. This hike is no walk through the park, but it is the one I have dreamed of doing ever since I heard of it.
Posted by: TomD

Re: sports analogy - 11/01/11 12:52 PM

That's where I was-in the Andes, except I was living in the biggest city in Bolivia, not out in the boonies. Not sure how much things have changed since I was there (a long time ago), but once out of the cities, infrastructure is probably still lacking. I know you can find Internet cafes and such now in some places, but getting help in an emergency or expecting a chopper ride out if you are injured, as you probably know, is way too optimistic.

I'm not saying it can't be done, but if I was going on a long trip with newbie, the Peruvian Andes would not be the place I would go.
Posted by: oldranger

Re: sports analogy - 11/01/11 02:13 PM

Wouldn't there be another trip somewhere that would be of interest to your but not quite so daunting to a beginning hiker? Perhaps you need to ask yourself, what is more important - the trip or the relationship?
Posted by: dolphyfan

Re: sports analogy - 11/01/11 02:54 PM

Thanks for your replies. Once out of Huaraz, there are no internet cafes, no stores, no phones, no nothing. Most of the few villages along the way will not even have electricity. Even the bail-out points are remote. Yep, if something goes wrong, it goes wrong in a big way out there; that's part of its allure.

My friend is not entirely and completely without experience. We spent two weeks traveling the western US this past summer, camping half the time. Her first time in a tent was in Colorado. I found an ideal location (isolated enough, under trees, river right out tent door.) There was a hand-pumped well and an outhouse. I made a nice fire, cooked a good meal, and inadvertently created my own monster... She loved it.

Her second night camping out was a bivouac in the middle of the desert, in Arches NP. We deliberately started a hike at midnight, under a full moon. Around 2:30am we were about 22 miles into the desert if you include the drive to the trail head, and I told her to pull up a rock and hunker down. She balked and moaned and was spitting mad at me complaining that "this wasn't camping!" I knew where we were and felt safe. I figured it'd give me some sense of how she handles adversity. She fumed and plotted my demise; I slept out of rock-throwing range. Something interesting happened during that night: she relaxed, and began to notice how beautiful and quiet and alone it was We were the only people out there, no tent. In the morning she was still mad at me, but her perspective had changed and she looked forward to doing more of this camping business.

We hiked in Zion and camped our way up the eastern Sierras towards Crater Lake, where I took her snow shoeing for her first time. She loved that, too! There was still 7' of snow on the ground in late June, so we camped in a National Forest down the mountain and up a logging road. There was no running water except the river. We were the only people there, unless you count the zillions of -albeit slow and unambitous- mosquitoes. She thought this was the loveliest spot she had ever been to. Now she was mad at me because I had refused to dig us a snow cave to sleep in up at Crater! This was her fifth night ever sleeping on the ground.

As you can see, her adaptability is remarkable. But, NONE of this means she is ready for Peru. So, we continue to talk about it. She has started the walking and running, even carrying a bit of weight. She's already hit the gym (which is much more than I can say for myself...)

If it matters, we are both in our mid-50's. I have 40 years of camping and backpacking under my belt, including a self-contained six month trip to Alaska and my previous trip to the Andes. I've slept on the ground in 38 states and half of Canada. She is a complete, though enthusiastic, newbie.

We already have a few trips planned together in the relatively near future and of progressive complexity. We will use these as a classroom, testing ground, and an experiment into how well we get along under a variety of conditions. I have little illusion about what I'm considering biting off. The trip has some significant potential consequences; I am not going to go easy on her and she understands the sink or swim aspect of her education, and trusts me. I am trying to temper my desire to do this trip (at any cost?) with the realities of her lack of experience. What I'm hoping for is the chance to pull it off and live to tell about it.

Your feedback as to how to approach helping her get ready is much appreciated. Thanks.

Posted by: TomD

Re: sports analogy - 11/01/11 05:48 PM

Another thing I would suggest is a thorough checkup before going and a talk with your or her doctor about taking along Diamox or whatever is the most recent drug for treating altitude sickness. I've even read that Viagra works also-it is a vasodialator from what I understand.


Posted by: balzaccom

Re: sports analogy - 11/01/11 06:06 PM

I think there are a couple of elements here that should get your attention:

Is this more about the trip, or more about the relationship?

She sounds like a remarkably adaptable partner with a real appreciation of the outdoors. That's great. Is she ready for this trip? You WILL NOT KNOW until she goes on it with you. And when she does...are you going to allow your concern for her, and her well-being, sidetrack you from completing the trip?

Or is the trip more important to you than she is?

If this were the woman of my dreams, and she wanted to do this, I would agree--knowing that there is every chance we may have to bail early for some reason. And that would be OK. There is always next year for the rest of the trip.

If she is not the woman of my dreams, I would not want to take her on this trip. No way. Thank you very much. Way too many issues here, and too many things that can go wrong.

And if she is the woman of my dreams, I sure don't want to set up a scenario where I give her a series of goals and tests she has to meet, or feel that she has failed.

That is NOT the right way to develop a healthy relationship.

Then again, that may be exactly what she is doing to you---and you are failing! grin
Posted by: lori

Re: sports analogy - 11/01/11 10:20 PM

Two thoughts:

She needs to start hiking a lot, like, every weekend. A good part of that needs to be at higher elevations.

She also needs to get herself educated - wilderness medicine basics, navigation, etc. And, also, she needs to go on a backpacking trip of a week - after working up to it. Not everyone is able to withstand isolation like you're talking about day after day. I've had people freak out on day three and want to go home, despite a number of years of one and two night trips. Some people just cannot backpack that long. So she needs to know how she will react to long backpacking trips. Not car camping, not overnight jaunts.

She doesn't need to trust you - she must trust herself to be alone in the situation, and she needs to be honest with herself about that, too. The last thing either of you needs is what will happen if she goes and she is not ready for such a trip.
Posted by: phat

Re: sports analogy - 11/01/11 11:22 PM

Originally Posted By wandering_daisy
Difficult, long, isolated, newbie partner. She will need to be confident and experienced enough to get out on her own if something happens to you. That is a huge expectation for a newbie. Yes, one year is enough, but she needs to get the proper training. I suggest that about half way through the year you two do a 3-4 day rigorous trip so you can see if she is making proper progress towards the goal. There is more to backpacking than walking and camping. She needs to be "on the same page" as you- if this is a trip with the goal of being challenging and hard, she has to totally buy into that. As a newbie, she does not even know what a "hard trip" means. IF you decide that she is ready to accompany you, then you must be willing to change objectives if she is not able to do the planned trip. If you are 100% set on your goal, I would say do it solo and plan another trip for the two of you. Since you have not identified the exact trip, it is hard to say if your plan will work or not.

I agree 100% with this statement. With your added bit that it's mostly above 10K in the andes I become even more apprehensive.

Now having said that, i've taken very large out of shape newbies down what most would call a "hard" trail (West Coast Trail, B.C.) for their first ever hike. In this case the individual involved was motivated to go, and spent the better part of 8 months preparing - they started walking every day - and kept walking every day. I had them buy boots, socks, and clothing, pretty much everything else they took my gear. They did well and had a good time.

So nothing is impossible, but it really depends on the individual and their motivation. *I* would not take a newb on an over 10K hike for their first time out. I would want to do some serious warmup trips first.
Posted by: RHodo

Re: sports analogy - 11/02/11 12:26 AM

From the trips you've already taken together and the ones you have planned, I'm guessing that this lady is someone that you feel is worth the time investment. So here's how I see things.

She's not ready, but the fire is lit. You can't go on the trip of a lifetime and leave her behind, because now it's become her dream too.

Also, let me remind you of what Tom said, "According to one of the doctors, another hour and I would have been dead." As in "DEAD". I don't know about you, but dragging a corpse around would really spoil the rest of my trip and simply doesn't go with the UL nature of this forum. wink Come to think of it, it probably wouldn't help your relationship that much either.

If the tickets aren't already bought, can't you dream just one more year to give her time to get ready?

I hope this helps, it was intended to.

Best of Luck,

Posted by: dolphyfan

Re: sports analogy - 11/02/11 07:18 PM

Great input. Much of it overlaps my own thinking, and believe me, as much as I want this trip, I am not going with someone unqualified or unready. I especially like the reminder that she doesn't need to (just) trust me, but must trust herself to be competent enough to extricate herself if things go poorly. We have a looong way to go before that will be the case. I am not adverse to putting it off another year, maybe even two, but it's getting harder to convince myself that I'm 18 as the calendar nears 60...

Again, thanks for your thoughts. Feel free to chime in with any ideas you might have.
Posted by: Steadman

Re: sports analogy - 11/03/11 04:24 PM

I think the question we're all asking is she "the girl" or "a girl who might be interested in hiking with me".

The answer to your question depends on the answer to this first question. You don't leave "the girl" to go on an outing she wishes to attend, but is not ready for. You can do that with "a girl who might be interested in hiking with me".

You may not know the answer to this question yet, but it is the independent variable here; the answer to your question depends on it.
Posted by: TomD

Re: sports analogy - 11/03/11 08:48 PM

FYI, those two trips to the clinic- I was 17 and 19, so age isn't the determining factor for altitude problems. Some people adapt easily, some don't. Nowadays, I can go to Yosemite at 7500ft and it doesn't bother me a bit as long as I don't wear myself out.
Posted by: ppine

Re: sports analogy - 11/04/11 12:25 PM


When was the last time you humped a pack over 15,000 feet? As Tom D has explained several times, once you get over 12,000 the world can go to hell in a hurry. There is no help out there. In my opinion you are asking for serious trouble unless you go with alpinists on a trip like the one you describe.

I enjoyed hiking in Peru and Bolivia, but not really until I had been there for 10 days or so, and not above 13,000 feet. My brother is going next spring to Bolivia and paying for the trip by getting his teeth fixed while he is down there.
Posted by: dolphyfan

Re: sports analogy - 11/04/11 03:42 PM

ppine, thanks for your response. I don't get to hike at altitude often. Most recently last month at about 10k, but only a short solo day hike.

I have only been over 15,000' once. That was in 2004. A buddy and I spent a month in Peru and I insisted that we spend part of the trip backpacking. After reading a bit we decided on the Cordillera Blanca. My buddy had never gone backpacking, didn't own a pack. I trusted my own abilities and experience, and I trusted what I knew of my friend to be up for such a trip. We decided no guide, no arriero, and just humped our own gear, food, etc. We figured out the logistics of getting to and from the trail once we were in the area.

This new trip I have in mind, in the Cordillera Huayhuash, is a whole other deal. More, and sustained altitude. More remote, and three times as long as that last trip. As I have stated, I have a friend who thinks she wants to go on this trip. She has loads of enthusiasm and energy, but zip for experience. I do not consider her request lightly, nor have I agreed to anything but talking about it and starting her on the right path to learning to enjoy being competently self-contained outside.

While this is the trip of my dreams, I will not rush into it, especially with a newbie. It has been correctly and repeatedly pointed out that this proposal has danger signs written all over it. I agree. But I see that as a starting point, rather than a dead end.

One major difference with this trip is I am going to hire a local guide/arriero. The main difference is that burros carry a good percentage of the load. I have yet to completely sign-on to LP and tend to carry a large pack. Read: I am the guy people come to when they realize one sweater isn't enough, or their batteries just ran out, or stare longingly at my calorie rich hot meal as they munch on their bird-seed... So, even if I end up carrying a 40 lb pack, I'll be a happy camper. Admittedly, as I get longer in the tooth, LP is starting to reveal its charms. Your collective pontificating has not gone unnoticed.

Meanwhile, I will continue to get ready for this trip, aiming at 2013 or 2014 on the outside. Whether my friend proves ready, or decides that for all her desire, that backpacking in remote areas is not her cup of tea, I plan on doing this trip before the sand runs out on me. Still, I think it'd be swell to share it with someone I like.
Posted by: TomD

Re: sports analogy - 11/04/11 08:36 PM

Not all of Bolivia or Peru is in the Andes. A big portion of Bolivia is in the Amazon basin and parts of the country around Santa Cruz and Cochabamba are temperate and at low altitude, but up on the Alto and in the mountains, you are pretty high up relative to where most Americans are used to living or traveling.

The Andes are the big attraction for most folks, but there are some really interesting places elsewhere in both countries. If you want to see the Amazon jungle, head out to Riberalta in Bolivia.

I'm not trying to dissuade anyone from adventuring; but when people ask, I also have a couple of "oh, I didn't think of that" cautionary tales that may encourage them to think a bit harder about what they are planning.
Posted by: ppine

Re: sports analogy - 11/06/11 12:50 AM

It is great to hear from people who have spent time in the Andes and the Amazon Basin.

The big picture in this case, might be the things that people do when they are in love to please their new partners. Many of us have probably ruined relationships by pushing our partners to do things they really were not that interested in. I wouldn't bring this up except for the severity of the trip that is planned.

When I was single, I always took new partners car camping after awhile to see what kind of a person I was dealing with. I took my current lady partner down the Missouri R in Montana 151 miles in a cedar and canvas canoe on the Lewis and Clark Trail, and we are toghether after 13 years. It was later that I learned she cannot swim a stroke.
Posted by: balzaccom

Re: sports analogy - 11/06/11 12:58 AM

You may also want to check the local regulations about using guides. Many parts of Peru require that you take a guide--partly to provide employment for the locals, and partly to make sure that you don't steal or destroy archeological items.

Our experience with guides there was pretty good...but we did learn of a group that was turned around and escorted out of the mountains because they had no permits or guides.
Posted by: dolphyfan

Re: sports analogy - 11/06/11 12:38 PM

Balzaccom, the rules in the Huayhuash do not require you to use a guide (you are free to go it alone), but if you choose to use a guide, you must use a certified guide and pay the going wage.

This area until recently had remnants of the Sendero Luminoso. There had been a number of instances of robberies and a few deaths, including a friend of mine. The locals, got together to make the area safer (and no doubt to safeguard the small cottage industry from passing mochileros.) Some now charge entry fees to pass through, but in exchange place men on horseback at night, as sentinels. I always check the U.S. State Department reports before going abroad. Another good source of info is the South American Explorers Club. The SAE has offices in LIma, Cuzco, Quito, and a few other cities.

The reasons I will choose to use a guide/arrieiro this time are that route-finding on this trek is quite challenging; plus, having a local to talk to is always interesting (and a chance to give my Spanish a work-out); and last but not least, spreading the load out on a trip this physically challenging seems prudent.

Ppine, loved the canoe story. A number of years ago I took a friend sea kayaking. He had had a leg amputated due to cancer. I asked if he could still swim?... He responded, "I guess we'll find out!"