There are a lot of backcountry trip planning resources out there, including plenty I’ve written myself. It is something of a fashionable thing among those of us who know too much, and a good way for those who monetize content to avoid yet another version of that same article which features how to, the best, and at least 2 digits all in the title.
On the one hand this is good. It is easy to forget how hard the obvious used to be; things like bringing enough but not too much food, or hiking uphill on a chilly, windy day without either sweating or getting cold. Explaining the details of fundamentals, aka teaching, helps the teacher understand and not take dogma as rote.
On the other hand planning as logistics and gear selection is reductive, in most occasions. You are not going on a trip to not be (too) cold, you are going on a trip to learn or facilitate or achieve some far more ephemeral thing. Identifying that can go a long ways towards purity of purpose, which can make the trip itself more enjoyable.
To immediately argue with myself; moreso than with most things there is immense and irreducible virtues in the process of finding purpose in adventure out the long way. I’ve long been adamant here that the big virtue of backcountry endeavors is the diminution of our personhood, in the ways it is subsumed in context. For the 21st century soul this is often a deeply novel and disconcerting thing, something I mention to both normalize that anxiety as well as suggest that finding comfort in that vastness is as worthy an end as it is elusive. Ambiguity is healthy here.
When I think about recent trips, this one stands out as one where I achieved great satisfaction from knowing my purpose well, and because I was able to adjust in the field to prioritize the parts of my original plan which lay closest to my goal. The day of that trip I recall with least fondness, the second, was entirely on trail and given over to making miles, after the initial paddle that morning. Going into the trip I knew that big miles was not a way to my primary goal, nor was it something I was well prepared for. I don’t regret that day of walking, because it set me up so well for days 3 and 4, which were very much on purpose. The whole experience has endured as a lesson in sacrificing ambition for focus, something which is ever more difficult to do when the stakes and specialness of a trip are high.
My canyon trip a few months ago is another, rather different example. It did not have quite the same stakes in the planning of Isle Royale, simply due to travel distance, but I also knew that the Colorado Plateau is far enough away that this would be one of two, maybe three trips there this year. I spent a lot of time in the lead up trying to maximize the route, to make it as rad and unique as possible. In the end I let that ideal slide away, in favor of a route that was more known and logistically and conceptually simpler. The primary goal of that trip was not, in the end, to push and expand my knowledge, skills, or experience, but to honor my 40th birthday in a way I knew I would never find wanting in retrospect (family divergence in birthday celebrations having been something M and I have struggled to consistently unite in our marriage). On those grounds I succeeded, even if the route itself would not, for a variety of reasons, make my personal top 10 of Utah backpacks.
In the end, clarity of purpose not only makes backcountry trip planning simpler and the trips more satisfying, the practice itself is an invaluable act of self knowledge.
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