Generations of boy scouts will blanch at the thought and a million World War II infantrymen may boycott the movement, but America—a land pioneered on horseback, built by the steam engine and overrun with motor cars—has finally discovered the joys of walking. What began as a five-block saunter to the train for exercise and turned into a 50-mile hike on a presidential dare has now become a migration into the forests and mountains by men, women and children walking for health and pleasure. The most ambitious and satisfying approach is the backpacking trip where, by means of the lightweight, functional camping equipment now available, entire families like the Richard Macks of Carmel, Calif. (shown on the following pages during a weekend hike near their home) can comfortably carry everything they need to live well—even luxuriously—while sharing a wilderness experience that is today's most intimate approach to nature.
THE PLEASURES OF FAMILY BACKPACKING
Not so very long ago a man who wished to enjoy the wonders of nature while avoiding the threat of starvation, insect bites and rain in the sleeping bag had to work for it. In hot lumberjack shirt and heavy Mackinaw pants, he staggered through the woods under an unbalanced pack stuffed to the exploding point with canned goods, a sack of flour and a side of bacon, 10 pounds of bedding and a pup tent that sagged in the wind, leaked in the rain and was as bugproof as a street lamp on a hot summer night. Not until well after World War II did backpacking begin to be a sport that women, children and, indeed, most men could enjoy.
Things have changed. Today, with easy-to-prepare dehydrated foods, nesting pots and pans, tinned bacon (and butter), featherlight down-filled sleeping bags and durable mountain tents, all packed on a scientifically designed contour frame, a family can set off for a weekend or longer in the woods without sacrificing anything in the way of comfort or safety. Self-sufficient and relatively unencumbered, backpacking families find solitude and adventure away from crowds and automobile exhaust. Their campsite is lit by a cheery, flickering fire; they wash dishes and keep perishables chilled in a mountain stream and they sleep on soft, springy leaf beds. Best of all, they can forget about winding their watches. In the wilderness time may be fleeting or it may stand still, but time—in itself—is not important.
May 30, 1965
The fact that many hikers are discovering the pleasures of backpacking—from the Appalachian Trail to the high Rocky Mountains and from Tennessee hill country to the rain forests of the Olympic Peninsula—is due in large measure to the development, by Dick Mack and a handful of others, of modern, lightweight pack frames that practically walk by themselves. Mack spent 15 years backpacking throughout much of the West, in Europe and the Far East before he got around to designing a better pack frame. In 1948, after graduating from Yale with a degree in anthropology, he joined a National Geographic-Yale-Smithsonian Institution expedition to Nepal as a hunter-mammalogist. The expedition classified several new species of mammals, birds and body lice, and spent some time disproving the existence of the Abominable Snowman. On the trip Mack made one important observation of his own—the effectiveness of the crude baskets and L-frame packs with which Sherpa porters could carry enormous loads along narrow, precipitous trails in the high Himalayas. "Their loads were built on platforms and were perfectly balanced, with the bulk of the weight at shoulder height," recalls Mack. "By comparison, our World War II Marine frame rucksacks were hardly efficient. All the dead weight of the load was suspended from our shoulders, and we had the discomforting feeling that we were always about to be pulled over backwards."
Returning to the U.S. long enough to get married (he took his wife, Linn, on her first backpack trip, a month-long honeymoon trek in New Mexico and in Oregon's Cascade mountains) and to try his hand at selling agricultural chemicals in the Rocky Mountain states, Mack again went to the Far East, this time as a State Department information officer based in Saigon. "The Sherpas had nothing on those slight, small-boned Vietnamese," he says. "They, too, carried heavy loads using similar principles of pack-frame design, and they had a wonderful rhythmic style of walking that made their loads seem lighter than they actually were." A year later, back in California, Mack built his first pack frame, incorporating into it the best features of the carrying devices he had observed in the Far East and those of the American Indian pack boards he had used as a boy. The result was the first Hike-a-poose, an ingenious child-carrier made of aluminum tubing and canvas. The demand for Hike-a-pooses led to other designs and eventually to the formation of Himalayan Industries on Cannery Row in Monterey, where Mack manufactures several kinds of contour pack frames (and fitted pack bags), including the Everest Pak, used by Sir John Hunt's Mt. Everest conquest team in 1953, and the unique and versatile Everest Assault Pak, a pack frame with a folding leg that locks under the platform and converts the frame into a comfortable camp chair.
With Mack's frames and several others, most notably those made by A.I. Kelty of Glendale, Calif., the backpacker carries only "live weight." By packing most of the light gear in the bottom of the waterproof packbag and building up to heavier items, the bulk of the load rides high on and close to the back. Only the shoulder and back-support straps touch the body, thus permitting air to circulate freely. "With these frames," explains Mack, "the backpacker no longer has to bend over forward to balance his load. He gets upthrust and support from the hips and legs, and lift and pull from the shoulders." The addition of a hip belt keeps the load from riding up and down or sideways and allows the wearer to shift the load onto his hips, relieving his back and shoulder muscles.
With the Hike-a-poose, Dick and Linn Mack were able to teach their sons about the joys of hiking through redwood forests, up into the rolling hills of the coastal range or along the kelp-strewn beaches near their Carmel home at an age when most toddlers are confined to playpens. "We backpacked the boys wherever we went," Mack says. "We'd stop for lunch and let them crawl around and discover streams, rocks, trees and wild flowers. As they got older, we took them on day hikes. They carried little knapsacks packed with sandwiches, fruit, candy, string, rocks and anything else they could stuff in. We exposed them to all kinds of terrain, and they learned to adapt themselves to each new situation. The objective on a day hike need be nothing more than fishing or rock collecting, and a trail lunch of family favorites—in our case finger avocados, Greek olives, artichoke hearts, a wedge of Monterey Jack cheese, wine and apricot candy. Now Josh, 12, and Jeff, 9, both have an interest in trapping. Last year, on a three-week trip into the Sawtooth wilderness in Idaho, they caught deer mice in traps made from oatmeal cartons and kept them as pets. On other trips they have trapped bobcats, raccoons and possums, tanned the hides themselves and had Linn sew them into a fur blanket for their room. Both boys love to bush-whack—explore off the trail—and there's always a cave to crawl into, streams to fish and fall into, grassy slopes to roll down and trees to swing from. Jeff likes to prospect. In Idaho he found a good beryllium outcropping. We staked a claim—Jeff calls it the Blue Hail mine—and are in the process of selling the mining rights."
Recently the family took a weekend pack trip through a section of Los Padres National Forest south of Carmel and up to Pico Blanco, a mist-shrouded 3,710-foot mountain overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Before leaving home on Friday afternoon after school, they checked trails and availability of water on a U.S. Geological Survey map and then double-checked by telephoning forest ranger headquarters. The first night they camped near a spring-fed stream and dined on fresh lamb chops, asparagus with hollandaise sauce, fried potatoes and hot butterscotch pudding. Lassie, the Macks' Chesapeake, took care of the table scraps and two instant meat patties. The next morning the boys caught pan-size rainbow trout for breakfast. Then the family set off for Pico Blanco. They forded a wide stream, using alpenstocks (forehead-high walking sticks) to keep their balance on the mossy boulders and hiked through sunlit meadows full of purple lupine, wild iris, johnny-jump-ups and Indian paintbrush. Perspiring in the morning sun, the family stopped to rest by leaning back against the side of a hill ("You rest on your feet," says Dick Mack. "If you sit down or take off your pack, your muscles stiffen up and you slow down"), then hiked on until suddenly the trail topped a ridge and a fresh breeze cooled them off. A pair of red-tailed hawks soared on thermals over-head, their shrill whistles barely audible in the wind.
After a lunch of cheese-and-salami sandwiches washed down with spring water and a swallow of Rhine wine from a boto, the Macks stretched out for a nap in the sun. Later in the afternoon the boys caught lizards with snares woven of grass. Then Dick and Josh climbed to the weather-whitened top of Pico Blanco, using alpenstocks to get purchase against the steep slope, where they looked out at the Pacific Ocean dimly visible through the mist. They "jumped" down the slope, controlling their speed and keeping their balance by dragging the alpenstocks and leaning back on them. After dinner that night Dick made popcorn and cocoa and entertained the family with another chapter of "Silver-tip," a story about a tame wolf and his still-wild, all-white mate. By 8:30 p.m. darkness had settled over the camp, and a light rain began to fall. Raking down the fire, they snuggled into sleeping bags and were lulled to sleep by the sound of rain hitting the tents. On Sunday morning they broke camp and hiked back to the car along the boulder-strewn south fork of the Little Sur River.
"For all of us," says Dick Mack, "it's like playing house outside. Every part of camp life—building a cook fire in the wind and balancing a pot over it without burning the fingers, or fording a river without getting a dunking—is a major accomplishment. The bruises and scrapes, dusty trails and sudden downpours are shared and overcome. They merely add to the excitement of the trip and make a family appreciate more fully the innerspring mattresses, the refrigerators and freezers full of food and the temperature thermostat at home."
GOING LIGHTLY INTO THE WILDERNESS
Although an ounce of technique is still worth 10 pounds of equipment, the average family will live better and enjoy a backpack trip more by taking along certain "luxury" items recommended by the Macks. The best lightweight backpacking gear (and clothing and dehydrated foods) can be found at specialty shops in major cities across the country. A number of ski shops and some of the better sporting-goods stores also stock comparable equipment.
BOOTS AND BAGS: The Macks prefer oil-tanned leather hiking boots, five or six inches high, with heavy-duty neoprene lug soles, padding around the ankles to prevent rock bruises and bellows-type tongues to keep out sand, gravel and water. For growing children, sturdy leather boots with rubber soles, to which lugs can be added by a shoemaker if desired, are adequate. Lugs do get clogged with wet earth, and backpackers who must hike most of the time over wet ground should consider rubber-bottomed leather "pacs." To protect their feet, hikers can put tape on pressure points (ankle bones and the balls of the feet), and moleskin or Band-Aids on tender areas before starting out. Tape should never cross or go around the foot, where it might cut off circulation. The Macks prefer down-filled sleeping bags because of their lightness, warmth and compressibility. A washable snap-in liner of raw silk or flannel adds 10° more warmth. A separate waterproof nylon ground cloth serves the same purpose. The Macks stuff their bags into six-ounce waterproof sacks and lash them to their pack frames.
TENTS AND AIR MATTRESSES: On most weekend trips the Macks find that two waterproof rain-fly sheets (11 by 14 feet), pitched as tarp tents, are adequate protection against infrequent showers. When they expect to encounter heavier rains, cool weather or mosquitoes, they carry two-man water-repellent mountain tents, complete with collapsible poles and aluminum stakes, sewn-in waterproof floors and zippered mosquito-net doors and windows with weather flaps. They lie a fly over the tent, leaving an air pocket in between to allow the tent to breathe. The beginning backpacker should set up his tent in the backyard before he camps out, and he should remember to allow for some slack when pitching it to prevent wet guy lines from ripping out grommets or tearing tent walls. Most families will find inflatable "half" mattresses (shoulder to hip length) a worthwhile luxury. Foam pads are punctureproof, but they add more bulk to the pack.
CLOTHING AND FIRST AID: The most useful hiking garment is a wind-proof, water-repellent shell parka with a full-length zipper, waist drawstrings and hideaway hood. The Macks wear tailored but loose-fitting khaki bird-hunting pants, cuffless and double-faced in front, for walking in brush. Soft, well-washed jeans that do not bind are also good. Women's stretch pants are not. On warm days the Macks wear short shorts that do not bind at the thighs. On weekend hikes each member of the family packs an extra pair of pants, a change of underwear, bandanna handkerchiefs, three pairs of wool socks, a sweater or down shirt, a pair of soft moccasins or sneakers and a light, knee-length poncho that flares out at the back to cover the pack. Linn adds a scarf, hair ribbons, one lotion in a plastic bottle for hands and face and one mirror. In addition to a Swiss army knife and lip salve, each person carries insect repellent, toilet tissue, a hotel-size bar of pumice or borax soap, a towel and 50 feet of nylon lashing rope. Other extras include fishing gear (there are excellent fly and spin rods that fit into 24-inch cases and can be lashed to the pack frame), one map in a plastic case, one compass, one camera, a roll of electrical tape, a small whetstone, a coil of pliable wire, two flashlights, one flat-folding candle lantern and a tube of sun cream. The Macks also carry a small first-aid kit prepared with the help of their family doctor.
FOOD AND COOKING EQUIPMENT: Linn supplements dehydrated foods, which are always tested at home before being added to the trail menu, with fresh vegetables, fruit and meat, and manages to serve at least one family favorite at every meal. The Macks carry 12 to 15 pounds of food on a weekend trip. Linn saves weight by using squeeze tubes of jelly, peanut butter, mustard and mayonnaise. She also takes eggs (in an aluminum egg carton), butter (in a plastic-lined tin), and packs other staples like sugar, cereal and coffee in polyethylene bags, bottles and jars.
Cooking gear consists of nested pots and pans in which are packed aluminum foil plates, aluminum mix-serve bowls, forks and spoons, cold-water detergent, scouring and soap pads, aluminum foil, canvas gloves, clamp-on pot grippers, salt and pepper, spices in tiny pill bottles, a few lemons and onions and a garlic clove. To this she adds a spatula, aluminum cups, extra containers and bags for leftovers, Wash 'n Dri kits, a dish towel and a plastic ground cloth to spread food on and to cover food and firewood at night.
ADDITIONAL LUXURY ITEMS: A folding saw, folding shovel (which is also a hammer and an ax), a steel grill with folding legs that can be lashed flat against a pack frame and a tiny stove that burns alcohol or white gas.
The total cost of the Macks' equipment, excluding clothing, personal items and food, is $400 to $500. They use the best backpacking equipment and find that it will last for years.
The Macks split up their load for a weekend so that Josh and Jeff each carries 15 pounds, Linn 25 and Dick 30.
WHERE TO GO: There are 104,600 miles of hiking trails in 154 national forests and 10,200 miles of trails in 32 national parks. Most such areas permit off-trail bushwhacking, but backpackers should check local regulations, obtain maps and fire permits and leave word with rangers or wardens before setting out. Some parks and forests do not allow pets, and all insist that garbage be buried or burned. Only downed timber may be used for firewood in national parks but standing dead trees may be cut in most national forests. When driving from low elevations into high country, it is a good idea to spend at least a day acclimatizing to the altitude before hiking away.