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Warren Adventures: Backpacking Colorado

F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. --

The wind pushed its way through the trees as clouds darkened the sky above. It felt like the Greek god, Zeus himself traveled right over me to display his might in lightning and thunder. I cowered inside my tent waiting for his spectacular show to end, trying my best to stay warm and dry.

 

Lucky for me the rolling thunder only lasted an hour at most, but it was a fun experience on my first real backpacking trip through the northwest part of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. I am here to tell you how you too can get out and backpack.

 

 

Preparing

When you think of journeys, you may think the hardest part is the journey itself, but for me, it was the preparation. I read books and magazines on the subject of backpacking and collected the items I needed for this new hobby I found interest in. When I moved here last year, I knew it was time to get out and do it instead of just preparing.

 

My first step was to learn all about backpacking, where to go, how to survive, and what type of gear I need. I learned all the above from reading books, magazines and even attended a backpacking 101 course at an outdoor equipment store nearby to prepare myself as best as I could.

 

The gear itself took me years to purchase which was by choice. I bought a water filter one month, a tent next, then a backpack. I wanted to ensure I had everything and bought it when I could afford it since some of the items depending on the quality and brand name, can get expensive. I didn’t need the best, but I like to have good quality gear that won’t break after a couple uses.

 

Bring only what you need to survive!

 

The essential items I needed was clothes for any situation like that thunderstorm I mentioned above, a portable stove and gas canister for cooking, water purifier to safely drink the water from the streams or lake, a tent, sleeping bag, bear pepper spray, bear safe food storage container which is required by the parks rules, map, compass and of course a backpack to put all this stuff into.

 

 

There is, of course, more items you may want and don’t need like bug spray since for some reason my blood is a delicacy to mosquitos. Remember, whatever you pack, you have to carry. For me I carried about 10 extra pounds since I brought along my camera gear. Did I need it to survive? No, but I got some cool photos.

 

The Journey

This past Labor Day weekend, I took a three-day, two-night trip to the park, traveling over 15 miles through the mountains that provided some of the most beautiful scenery I have seen.

 

When people think of backpacking, they usually think of European travelers or even those that travel for months to trek the Appalachian Trail, but it can just be simple weekend trip. My hope is to one day do those long treks through the states and other countries, but for now, I will stick with small weekend excursions as I build up experience.

 

The process to get my campsites was pretty simple. I used the park's website to reserve and purchase the sites. From there it was just the matter of driving to the office on my first day to pick up the permits. One permit is for parking a vehicle overnight and the other to hang on the tent to let the rangers know I paid. You can purchase the campsites at the park visitor center, but they fill up fast since each backcountry site only has one or two spots available.

 

 

The first day was probably the hardest since it was the highest elevation gain of my three-day trip, climbing more than a thousand feet into the mountains to reach my first campsite. I am in okay shape, but climbing a mountain with 40 pounds, maybe more, each step was like walking with cinderblocks on my legs and became only heavier with each step. The level ground became my friend.

 

Using a handheld hiking GPS as my main guidance system on the trails I arrived at my campsite. When I was within about 50 feet of my site, I started seeing red plastic arrowheads leading the way since some of these campsites can be a few dozen yards from the main trail. A large gray arrowhead marked the campsite.

 

I set up camp propping up my one-person tent, which took about five minutes. I cooked and ate dinner as the sun faded away. Before my slumber, with my little camp light, I was able to read a book a good hour before I finally fell asleep. 

 

 

The next day I was greeted with a beautiful sunrise over the mountains. I ate breakfast, took a couple of photos of the sunrise and was fortunate enough to see a moose about 100 feet away from me in the fields eating his breakfast as well.

 

As soon as I was packed up, I left to the next campsite which was only a few miles away. Walking up, down and through the mountains, I was surrounded by nature on all sides. The best part was there was no one around me, no politics, no working at a desk and no family or friend drama. Besides, the little worries in the back of my head that a bear would attack me, I felt pretty carefree and happy. 

 

 

I arrived at my next campsite a little early, so after setting it up I traveled around, getting photos and enjoying the scenery. I was taking in as much as I could since the next day I would have to return to society.

 

Then that thunderstorm started rolling in. As it began to rain, I started to hike quickly back to my tent. The thunder got louder and louder the closer it got as the sky started to turn dark gray with the occasional lighting up from its lightning within.

 

Finally, arriving at my tent, I just laid there reading as the thunder shook the ground. I knew all I had to do was wait it out. Once the storm passed, there was not that much time left in the day. I cooked up some grub then eventually made my way to bed.

 

 

The concluding day of my backpacking trip was upon me. I had to hike my way back the way I came. Trekking downhill was a lot faster taking me about half the time to get back to my vehicle parked at the trail head thus completing my journey. I had a lot of fun hiking and camping, so I know I will be out here again.

 

How you can start

If you love hiking and camping, you too can experience this great activity. You do not have to backpack for weeks or months; a simple weekend trip could be all you need to cleanse your mind and soul.

 

You can take the route I took, getting all your gear and doing the research to start camping at the national parks and anywhere you are allowed. There are multiple resources online you can search for. Books and magazines can be picked up at your local book store as well.

 

The Outdoor Recreation Center on base has multiple camping trips each summer and even more activities that you can sign up for. You can find a schedule of their events at www.funatwarren.com. 

 

Warren adventures are out there! Stay tuned to our website for more adventures! If you would like to submit an adventure story you have done in the surrounding area, please contact the public affairs office by emailing 90mw.pa@us.af.mil.

 

 

 

(All photos by Staff Sgt. Christopher Ruano)