September 3, 2012

Checklist omission forces Tarzan Method in the wild

After an embarrassing number of miles hiked, I finally realized that committing my quasi backpacking checklist to memory was like wearing speedos on the beach - neither would work me. I had never worn the scant swimsuit, yet knew better. But at the same time, I knew better than to head into Oregon’s wilds without going over a checklist, yet it took me several frustrating miles to realize that putting my list to paper would not only spare me from aggravation but actually add enjoyment to my hikes.


On far too many occasions, even on day hikes, I frantically scurried through my pack, searching for my camera, suddenly realizing I had forgotten it at home while an extraordinary trailside scene was playing out.


On those hikes when I did remember my camera and that once in a lifetime photo presented itself, I'd sometimes discover there was no film in it (pre memory card days). Then - when all the elements came together, when my camera was at hand, loaded with film, and a bald eagle hovering overhead, ready to soar down out of the sky and stealthily strafe the lake surface, and I had strategically positioned myself to capture that magical instant when the majestic bird plucked an unwitting trout from the water, body wriggling amidst steely talons, trying mightily to free itself - a cruel silence often prevailed over what should have been the sound of the camera's shutter. I had used up the last of the roll earlier that morning, snapping pictures of either a chipmunk posing mundanely on a trailside log or moss growing on a tree. The trials and tribulations Ansel Adams must have gone through!


Maybe if photography was more of a priority for me the act of taking a picture would have gone more smoothly. Instead, it was only a side interest along the trail and, like all others, a distant second to the act of simply walking along a mountain trail.


You would think one junket into the mountains without toilet paper would hint that a checklist including a roll might be not only worthwhile, but desirable. But no! On more than one occasion I've crouched down in the brush, having to test my ingenuity by frantically scanning the forest floor for something within an arm's length that might suffice to “blow my nose.”   ;-)


While hiking into Four-In-One-Cone, one of Oregon's most impressive looks into the Cascade Mountains’ most recent eruptive history, my stomach began to rumble. The early morning performance of my only cup of java left little time to dwell on my predicament. Being a procrastinator, I could easily and often turn this process into an urgent situation. This time was no different.



On a forested island amongst this vast lava land I frantically searched for a place to squat without exposing myself to some innocent hiker trying to enjoy more pleasant panoramas. I chose a private location behind a boulder.


Crouched down, I reached over and searched through my daypack for some double quilted, having squandered the opportunity to calmly pull it from my pack before going into my crouch. I quickly realized that half the supplies I usually carry on a day-hike were missing. This didn't surprise me. I had stumbled around camp in the early morning hours hastily packing for the hike. Omitted from my pack on this particular morning was, of course, toilet paper. 


With no time to stand up and search the area for some forest product that might be a surrogate for my missing toilet paper, I spotted a small patch of old snow covered with twigs and needles and cones. I hesitated for a moment, then reached out, scraped down to the cleaner snow below and scooped out a handful. I have been forced to “blow my nose” with much worse.


Ignorant of what a poison oak leaf looks like finally convinced me to make hiking and toilet paper synonymous. Today, if a psychiatrist gave me an association test with a picture of a hiker, I might associate it with toilet paper.


Please understand this: that hiking overflows with more pleasant things to write about than “blowing one’s nose.” But it is also important to realize that “blowing one’s nose” in the wilderness is more complex than doing it when connected to a sewer system. Sanitation is also a bigger issue when in the sticks.


On a hike to East Zigzag Mountain, located just west of Mt. Hood, I again found myself without toilet paper. This time, severe lower abdominal pain accompanied my predicament. Why I was in this position was pretty clear. While hiking the previous weekend along the lower reaches of Mt. Hood's slopes, I had forgotten water purification tablets and, against my better judgment, decided to gulp down a few gallons of what was likely giardia-infested water. Yes, the reason I was in this position, needing to “blow my nose” without toilet paper, was likely because I had forgotten water tablets the weekend prior.

 Mt. Hood from East Zigzag Mt.

Before my checklist revelation, which finally occurred after my gut wrenching episode up East Zigzag Mountain, I simply relied on the assumption that all the gear I needed was kept in my day-packing gear box, and as long as I pawed through the box each time, I would find everything necessary for a day hike. Actually, on the surface, this doesn't sound like a bad system, and for some people it would probably work.


As for myself, items used up along the trail were seldom replaced before the next hike. Covering up 5 blisters with moleskin isn't fun, but developing blisters a month later and suddenly remembering you used all your moleskin on the five blisters a month earlier is pure hell.
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