Those of you who have been reading the blog for years know that I don’t claim to be an expert on all things backpacking related, but I am a profoundly appreciative connoisseur of one thing: the hour-long, deeply satisfying, self indulgent, trail-side break. There is nothing I enjoy more!
Like most things, you will get a better experience if you put some thought into it. Here’s what I look for:
~ A Great Spot. I even go as far as doing a satellite map reconnaissance for places weeks before I hit the trailhead. Here are the key ingredients: a flat area with a view, some shade, some water, a sunny area so I can recharge batteries with my solar panel, and the right distance from my last stop (and my next one). A perfect example is this spot on the way to Donohue Pass. If you needs some ideas, check this out.
~ Re-Hydrate. I carry a bladder, so I do much of my drinking while I’m walking. When I take a break I’ll often break out the drink powder and mix up a Nalgene bottle’s worth of something flavored. This is also how I get my caffeine on the trail, since I don’t drink coffee.
~ Some Snacks. If you aren’t snacking during your breaks there is probably something wrong. Most likely you are dehydrated or you are suffering a mild (if there are no other symptoms) case of altitude sickness. Or you brought the wrong food. So many people decide that they are going to “eat healthy” on the trail and bring food that they end up not eating. (Thus, the overflowing hikers barrells at Muir Trail Ranch.) I once carried sweets for breaks, but I no longer do so. After years of trial and error I have gone full circle and tend to eat during a break what I did thirty years ago: GORP (the simple, unimproved version of “good old raisins and peanuts”). Snacks provide energy, are a wonderful treat, and often lead to that most decadent element of a break…
~ A Nap. I’ve experienced some of the best parts of the Sierra Nevada with my eyes closed — just like a lizard on a rock. I even carry the fleece vest I wear around the campsite near the top of my pack so I can use it as a field-expedient pillow.
~ Knock Off Some Chores. Sure, it’s a break, but you do need to get a few things done. I’ll often purify water, slip off my boots and rub my feet (or soak them), make an entry into my journal and write some notes on the map, take some photos, do a navigation and “day’s progress” check, put some layers on or take them off, do some stretching (especially of my Achilles tendons), and check on any nagging injuries, like strains, scrapes or blisters. I’ll also do a map reconnaissance of the way ahead.
If you are going to thru-hike the JMT you are going to do some goal-setting. There are a certain number of miles you need to cover each day. That said, part of your planning should be to spend at least a little (and if you can afford it, more than a little) time just relaxing and enjoying where you are. There is no better way to do that than with a good break!
Good hiking, Ray
p.s. One of these is good to have, too!