PAT NEAL: Backpacking tips

THERE’S NOTHING QUITE like the freedom of the hills, with the mountains spread before you in a scenic tableau of snow and rocky meadows stretching to the jagged horizon.

Unfortunately, the freedom of the hills isn’t free anymore.

Backpacking used to be how poor people went on vacation.

These days backpacking involves a series of permits, reservations, fees, regulations and quotas that can take the fun out of your wilderness experience.

Just getting to the trailhead for your wilderness backpacking adventure can be a challenge.

It might require long waits to pay your $30 entrance fee just to get into Olympic National Park.

Other trails might be accessed on Washington state roads where a $35 Discover Pass is required to access U.S. Forest Service roads where you’re required to have a Forest Service permit to get to the trailhead in order to use your wilderness permit up the national park trail.

Before you even hit the trail, you must navigate the labyrinth of wilderness fees, reservations and camping quotas that have been made necessary by the crowds of nature lovers loving the wilderness to death.

Once locked into this system, to quote the park’s wilderness regulations, “Deviation from your permit itinerary is not allowed, except in cases of emergency.”

In other words, you have to know where you’re going before you get there even if you’ve never been there before.

This is a problem for those of us who can’t make it from one side of the trailhead parking lot to the other without collapsing at least once.

In the unlikely event you ever do actually hit the trail, your problems are just beginning.

Wilderness regulations state that horses, mules, burros and llamas may be used as pack animals.

To an animal rights person such as myself, who does not happen to own a horse, mule, burro or llama, the use of our fellow travelers on this planet as beasts of burden is a cruel form of animal slavery that’s outdated and inhumane.

I should know. I have been forced to backpack my own stuff.

Backpacking is a form of torture that would be outlawed as a war crime by the international court at The Hague if it wasn’t for the fact that it is self-inflicted.

I certainly wouldn’t want to inflict the abuse of backpacking on a poor innocent animal.

If you actually do make it to your assigned campsite, you are going to want a drink of water.

Good luck with that.

Our wilderness waters are polluted with a couple of unpronounceable bacteria that could make your backpacking trip memorable for weeks to come with diarrhea, nausea and stomach cramps.

After a cool drink of polluted water, you might want something to eat.

The problem being all food must be stored in a bear-proof canister 24 hours a day.

For backpackers who spend at least 12 hours a day cooking and eating, this will be problematic.

Next to your permits, food and water, clothing is an important item to the wilderness enthusiast.

At this time of year our abundant nests of bald-faced hornets and yellow jackets are at their peak and mighty cranky from getting stomped on by backpackers all summer.

It might help to avoid wearing brightly colored clothes while backpacking because wasps seem to go after bright colors.

Especially avoid wearing white.

While there’s almost no chance you will be mistaken for a flower-stomping mountain goat, tranquilized and airlifted out of the Olympics, why gamble?

In closing, I can offer only one word of advice on your backpacking trip: Don’t.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patnealwild