Popping my “hiking up a mountain with a loaded pack” cherry

It is just under 4 weeks until I start my through-hike attempt of the Appalachian Trail (actually 3 weeks, 5 days, 4 hours and 20 minutes at the time of writing this post, but who’s counting?). I have done some practice hikes with my pack so far, but these have been fairly flat to date. So today I decided the day had come to load up my pack with all the earthly belonging I will have on the AT, and climb a mountain. Luckily, living in the Rocky Mountains, mountains are pretty easy to come by.

Mission: Sulfur Mountain

My target for the day was Sulfur Mountain. Located in Banff with an elevation of 2,281m, the hike up is a 5.5km route of continuous switchbacks, with a hike elevation of 700m (2,286 feet for the metrically-challenged). My pack was loaded up with everything I am taking on my through-hike, except my electronics and toiletries/medical kit, and with about 1-1.5kg of food.

I have climbed Sulfur Mountain before, it being a popular tourist attraction and site of the Banff Gondola. I quickly discovered that it is a fair bit harder with a turtle shell on my back! In the 5.5km to the top I had to stop and roll out my shoulders quite a lot, especially in the last kilometer or so. My hip belt was pretty tight, so most of the weight was on my hips, but my shoulders were still unaccustomed to their load. It was definitely more uncomfortable on the way up than down, so it might also have had to do with my body positioning when I was going uphill. No actual pain or anything, just a bit of discomfort, which I’m sure my body will adapt to.

At the top of Sulfur Mountain, I stopped for 40 minutes for a sandwich and a coke (thank you mountain-top cafe – which will not be a feature of the AT). It was then 5.5km back downhill, which was mostly unevenful.

learning

Rain gear

It rained for about 20 minutes when I first started my downhill trek, so I got to use my pack cover (which came with my pack) for the first time. Can confirm that it is very easy to use. I had packed my rain jacket in the “brain” (top lid) of my pack, on the advice of people online. This certainly made it easier to quickly access and put on my pack cover and rain jacket when the sudden rain started.

Bum bags are awesome

I had seen online that it is fairly common for through-hikers to carry a bum bag along with their pack. I felt (and likely looked) like a bit of a dork. However, being able to have my phone, wallet, snacks, hand sanitiser and asthma inhaler in an easy to reach location was a game changer. It was also super useful when I went to the toilet at the top, as I could leave my pack outside due to its size, but keep my bum bag on, confident that all my items of importance were coming with me.

Big lunches and hip belts are not friends

At the mid-point of my hike, I had a fairly large focaccia sandwich from the cafe there. This felt ok at the time, but when hiking down with my hip belt fastened, I started to feel a bit yuk. I put this down to my hip belt pressing on my (now full) tummy. I had seen that some through-hikers have a number of equally sized snacks during the day, instead of smaller snacks and a larger lunch. The experience today has further pointed me in that direction, as I think my stomach would appreciate the more constant, but smaller, loads.

More focus on regular water intake needed

Even with my drink bottle being easily accessible, I did not drink enough water. For unknown and illogical reasons, I kept telling myself I would not take a proper break until I got to the top, so I only had a few sips of water the entire way up. I perhaps need to set myself set drink times (such as every 1 or 2 kilometres), regardless of whether I am taking a break. Not drinking enough on a short single day hike is not the end of the world, but it will become an issue if it is ongoing.

Onwards to Mount Katahdin!

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