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the 2018 backpacking season

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Re: the 2018 backpacking season

Postby Hobbes » Mon Jan 01, 2018 10:22 am

With respect to crowds and impacted trailheads, I think stepping back and considering a macro perspective can serve to highlight some basic fundamentals.

For one, let's begin with the very idea of backpacking. Specifically, how many actually enjoy hiking around the mountains, spending nights in a tent, using 'outdoor facilities', and generally "roughing it"? I would suggest the actual number is fairly low - maybe 5%. The other 95% are caught up in (sales) imagery, the social media shaping of ideals, and the attraction of engaging in something 'adventurous'. Now, I'm the last person to criticize motivation or consider one position superior to the other. Rather, I'm simply interested in dynamics to discern where crowds may or may not be.

If we accept my 95% theory, then the next obvious step is to identify where/when they tend to go. Well, we already know that: Whitney, Rae, TI, Valley and some other locations, typically in July/August. Where do they not tend to go, or if they somehow found themselves there, would either be warned off beforehand (eg ranger @ permit station), turn around, or suffer in misery?

Well, we already know that too: any of the steep E side passes (Shepherd, Baxter, Sawmill & Taboose), or other, difficult, less popular THs. And, what seasons tend to keep most people at home? We know that too: April/May & Oct/Nov. To this mix, we can add a third, highly subjective component, which is "beauty". For me personally, since I hate trees, it's any place under 10-11k.

So, if we add it all up, then if you want to avoid crowds, it would definitely behoove one to avoid Kearsarge August 1. OTOH, you could have a completely different, 180 degree experience by heading up Taboose in May. Even a prime target like Whitney conforms to this rule: attempt an alpine ascent in April/May, and you'll find yourself in the (small) company of other, like minded souls equipped with axes & crampons. Go in August, and among the hordes, there are people literally doing a r/t trail run in shorts.

It's up to you to understand this game and figure out the odds. Once you know how to play, you can score empty solitude all by your lonesome self on a fairly regular basis.



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Re: the 2018 backpacking season

Postby markskor » Mon Jan 01, 2018 10:40 am

Hobbes wrote:For one, let's begin with the very idea of backpacking. Specifically, how many actually enjoy hiking around the mountains, spending nights in a tent, using 'outdoor facilities', and generally "roughing it"? I would suggest the actual number is fairly low - maybe 5%.

Respectfully disagree. Here, specifically among the long-time members of HST, that suggested 5% number seems ridiculously low. Why would you think this?
Are you talking % of all of the total world population? Maybe then yes. It also may be somewhat accurate for brand new hikers (who do not know enough yet to appreciate the simple things in life), but for those who return regularly, especially some of us old-timers, we relish the wilderness experience. For me, Sierra always feels like coming home. Just from those I have met coming thru Tuolumne...90%+ enjoyment seems much more accurate.
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Re: the 2018 backpacking season

Postby oldranger » Mon Jan 01, 2018 12:19 pm

Yo Mark, I agree with Hobbes. If anything 5% over estimates the number of people into overnight backpacking. Just look at how many total visitors travel to Yosemite each year (over 5,028,868 in 2016). Then count the number of people listed as backcountry campers (216,989 in 2016). That ratio indicates 4.3% of yosemite visitors camp in the backcountry. But that is a skewed sample because there are many people who do not visit national parks. By living in Mammoth and working in Tuloumne meadows you experience an even more skewed population. So what you experience does not really reflect the real proportion of the population who are into backpacking, my guess is probably less than 2%, though that is less than the proportion of people that I know that backpack--because of where I live and the people I associate with do not constitute a representative sample of our population.
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Re: the 2018 backpacking season

Postby Hobbes » Tue Jan 02, 2018 9:34 am

Hey Mark, sorry we didn't see you this year up @ TM. It was bad enough when they didn't open the store, but the deal killer was lack of potable water and sewage disposal. It would have been bad enough hauling 50 gallons (400 lbs) of fresh water up Tioga, but to come back down with black/grey tanks full would have been worse. So, maybe this year.

As for the 5%, I was thinking out of the total population of REI customers. That is, out of 100 people who are acquiring camping/backpacking gear & equipment, how many actually adopt backpacking as a lifestyle vs the rest who are one-and-done?

As an aside, that's not necessary a bad thing either. How many people of us here have tried something once and either swore they would never do it again, or simply weren't motivated or interested enough to ever commit enough time & energy for a repeat?

So, back to the 95%: where do they go and when do they go? If you want a party, it's easy to join them; if not, it's also easy to avoid.
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Re: the 2018 backpacking season

Postby SSSdave » Tue Jan 02, 2018 11:31 am

There is a list of reasons people may not get into backpacking beyond whether they enjoy it or not. In other word some people may have enjoyed their first experience greatly but then decided it is not something they choose to engage in except when a blue moon rises.

The Sierra Nevada is several hours away from the low coastal urban region most people work and live at that takes time, dealing with logistics, and effort just to visit on day trips. In this era the lives of most 8-5 m-f working adults are ridiculously complex with a great many complications especially with those with families and dependents. Personal time off to participate in an overnight multi-day activity is limited and precious and is often strangled by other commitments to ongoing education, community involvement, relatives, friends, and family. Many people will only ever participate if they are part of a group and that probably means getting involved with other people they don't know personally, a tall barrier to many.

For those in our modern urban areas there are endless other interesting things to do besides lugging a heavy pack uphill on trails. Thus while it is fair to say only a minor number of people continue to engage in either regular Sierra camping, fishing, and hiking much less backpacking, the reasons for such are many beyond what I tersely mentioned above.
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Re: the 2018 backpacking season

Postby rlown » Tue Jan 02, 2018 11:43 am

Other reasons aren't really an excuse to not go. I was fresh out of college in '84 and got an interview offer from HP, but I had the trip planned to Emigrant (kind of a recession year.) I came back and got a call from another manager in the same R&D Lab. Interviewed for that and got that job, which was for a much better project and manager. Then, I later took a month off w/o pay to go to Utah. Did that a second time a couple years later, but the second time was on paid time off.

If it's in your blood, you make it happen. If those you work for don't understand the draw, but appreciate your vigor, you do it.
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Re: the 2018 backpacking season

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Jan 02, 2018 12:24 pm

The demographic that is too busy to go backpacking, is the same that always was- those in the middle of their careers, with kids, pets, etc. You are missing those on either end of this crazy lifestyle- the under 35 folks and the over 65 folks. You are also missing all the "gig" workers. I think you would be amazed at the percentage of people who actually do NOT have a demanding 9-5 job. The fact remains that a majority of people still do not backpack, but that does not mean backpacking is not growing.

Just look at the number of permits that were given for the PCT. Or the JMT. I meet LOTS of backpackers in their 20's and early 30's. And with lighter gear, I also see more over 65 backpackers. And the GPS has enabled a lot more who otherwise would not want to learn to read a map.

One difference I have noticed, is that the younger folks, growing up with social media, are more into the social aspect of backpacking or the bragging rights (post it on Facebook) of extreme sport aspect (light and fast and thru-hikes) than solitude or a wilderness experience. For these people, the crowds on the Whitney Trail are desired, not something to avoid. The older newbies also seem to prefer trails. I think the trails are getting as crowded as they were in the backpacking boon of the 1970's. However, I really have not seen a large upsurge in off-trail travel to more obscure places (except those "named" routes that give bragging rights).

The permit system, as annoying as it is, has kept down the overall numbers in the wilderness. But it has not dispersed the use very much, since everyone wants to go the same places. Not sure if this is a good thing or bad thing. I think we underestimate the impact of technology and social media on backpacking and need to have a total revamping of out permitting system in light of this.

Good discussion here, but we are really off-topic at this point.
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Re: the 2018 backpacking season

Postby Hobbes » Tue Jan 02, 2018 12:47 pm

rlown wrote:If it's in your blood, you make it happen.


This is true for life in general. If you want to do/be something, you make it happen. If you don't, there are a million excuses why not.

There are countless professions, careers, avocations & hobbies where people who want something commit to huge lifestyle changes. Our forefathers got on a boat and sailed away, many never to return.

If you're into backpacking, hunting, fishing, sailing, surfing, skiing, etc, you're gonna make it happen, no matter what, if that's what you want to do.

As for 2018, I'm going a couple of trips, come hell or high water.
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Re: the 2018 backpacking season

Postby rlown » Tue Jan 02, 2018 1:08 pm

I'm planning, but waiting until March to plan the execution time for the trips. I'm free to go but, my friend I like to hike with lives in Boston, so that creates a logistical issue until I know how the snow pack and ice out works out. Yes, we go to fish.
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Re: the 2018 backpacking season

Postby maverick » Tue Jan 02, 2018 2:52 pm

As for 2018, I'm going a couple of trips, come hell or high water.


Please do!!
As I accumulate the years, I get reminded more and more often that tomorrow is not guaranteed! Also, it is much better to indulge now, while you still physically can, instead of looking back with regret and saying, "I wish had done that or should have gone there".
I don't give out specific route information, my belief is that it takes away from the whole adventure spirit of a trip, if you need every inch planned out, you'll have to get that from someone else.

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