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Learn How To Take a Hike

When I was 48 I decided to fulfill a lifelong dream and take an Outward Bound course. I was moving from New Jersey to Colorado and wanted to make sure I'd learn the basics of backpacking in the wilderness. I signed up for a three week basic mountaineering course given during the summer, attended mostly by 18 year old kids. My camping experience had been very limited; a few excursions through the Pine Barrens and an occasional overnight camping trip.

I didn't know about equipment, how to pack, light a stove, or take a hike.Outward Bound was pretty much a disaster for me. Although I'm extremely fit and could keep up with the pace of those decades younger, I frankly didn't enjoy their company.

We never learned much about map reading, compass skills, or safe cooking. Information was casually imparted and the whole concept seemed more like the Army than a learning experience. We got up every morning 6:00 a.m.

, packed impossibly heavy backpacks (mine weighed 55 pounds, while my total body weight is 112) and we just humped and humped. The terrain was steep and difficult and there was very little guidance about how to endure what appeared to me to be endless misery.A week after the end of the Outward Bound experience I took another hiking trip with the Sierra Club into the Snowmass Wilderness of Colorado. To my delight, my pack weighed only 40 pounds, which seemed like featherweight compared to my previous experience.

The folks ranged in age from 20-50 and were very affable. We learned from each other. In the hours we spent together hiking through the woods, valleys, and mountains I learned this: every one had come to backpacking through a pure love of the wilderness, and had learned what works and what doesn't through a series of learning disasters.If you've spent one cold night in the wilderness you'll quickly learn the importance of staying warm and dry. Exactly how one does that is more than a series of trials and errors. There truly are several basic backpacking rules that can make the difference between a wonderful wilderness experience and pure, unadulterated suffering.

Further, there is much to be learned about safety, food handling, and water purification. Clothing needs to be specific to the environment and hiking poles are invaluable.After my summer of wandering around Colorado I came to rest at KB Mountain Adventures on Bear Basin Ranch in Westcliffe, Colorado. My partner and I run various outdoor adventure programs ? all women weeks, Father-Son Cowboy Camp, Mountain Sports Weeks, Photography Workshops and a host of customized fun adventure programs involving rock climbing, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, and mountain hiking.

A few months ago Bob and I were trekking back from one of our many two day forays into the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains. As always, I had picked up a few more tips on how to stay happy, well fed, and safe in the wilderness. Bob is a mountaineer of 30 years with four expeditions to Mt.

Everest under his belt. There's not much he doesn't know and there's not many mistakes he hasn't made.I'll never forget this October morning, because the beauty of the mountains was stunning.

White-golden aspen were everywhere, and the creeks flowed generously as we walked out. As usual in Colorado, the weather changed in a heartbeat and it started to snow. We were prepared with the right clothes and attitudes, and enjoyed every minute of it.

At some point in the journey we decided that we would put together a Backpacking Basics course, to teach people from scratch about how to camp well. I'm happy to say the course is up and running and we hope to be among the first outfitters in the country to focus on the adult population. It's never too late to learn to take a hike, and our goal is to reach out to folks who have been hiking informally or who haven't even set foot in the woods.

The best thing about the Outward Bound experience is that I know I'll never do it again. Sometimes, out of the ashes of something difficult there is born a good idea, and we like to think that Backpacking Basics is just that ? a good solid idea, long overdue. Come out to Bear Basin and be taught the basics in an instruction-rich, non-threatening environment. This country is just too beautiful to miss, and sometimes the only way to see things is on foot.


Phyllis Coletta and Bob McConnell own and operate KB Mountain Adventures. Both are "recovering lawyers" who left traditional careers to live and work in the mountains. They want to share their love of the wilderness with as many folks as possible. See http://www.kbmountainadventures.


By: Phyllis Coletta

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