Before my divorce last year I had been quite active with a pair of Scout Troops in San Antonio. The crossroads of Scouting and backpacking go a long way back for me. It was Scouts that first introduced me to the sport, and it was in Scouts that I accomplished many of my first backpacking trips. My first extended trip was a 5-day "50-miler" from North Adams, Massachusetts to Manchester Center, Vermont along Vermont's Long Trail in 1984. I was 12 at the time.
This past weekend I relived some of those memories. I am tag-team-teaching a backpacking merit badge class with an Assistant Scoutmaster from San Antonio Troop 485. Some of the youth on this trip were older and had done some backpacking before, but some were 12-year-old novices, just like I was.
The merit badge requirements include a sequence of three 2-night/3-day trips to gain experience for a longer 5-night trip. This weekend was the first of the 2-nighters. The place: Lost Maples State Natural Area in Vanderpool, Texas. It's a popular backpacking destination - a little slice of heaven in Texas hill country. It's called "Lost Maples" because there are Texas big-tooth maples in the valleys along the creeks. It has 10ish miles of trail on two loops in a figure-8 format, with 3 hills that have 300-400 foot climbs on those loops. It is typical of Texas hill country - which is to say - hills and valleys with LOTS of loose limestone and flint scree. That scree, unfortunately, was the cause of Tina spraining her ankle while crossing a creek. She's Ok (or will be) but that obviously slowed the group down a bit.
The most surprising aspect of this weekend was the weather. The forecast was for clear but chilly conditions. Highs were suppose to be 50-60. Lows were suppose to be right around freezing. Winds were suppose to light (3-10 mph), and dew points were suppose to be very comfortable (12-25.) However, Friday night the bottom fell out. My digital thermometer Saturday morning it read 13 degrees! I have been on a number of winter campouts during my time in the Vermont Army National Guard and Scouting in Vermont. Some were much colder than 13, but not all of them. This was most unexpected for South Texas! Thank goodness everyone was prepared!
It warmed up quickly Saturday morning as the sun came up. It was in the 30's by the time the Troop started hiking, and in the 50's by the time we stopped for a mid-morning break. Saturday night was not as cold as Friday night - though it was still colder than expected It bottomed out at 22 Sunday morning. However, Sunday brought wind. Not sure what the mph was, but I ended up with a wind-burned face.
This was a great trip for Tina and I. It was her first overnighter since she injured her foot on the Lone Star Trail over Thanksgiving. (Yup. She's an injury magnet!) It was also her first time going Ultralight. I bought her a used Dandee pack earlier this spring. She had the same reaction wearing it that I had my first time - it doesn't feel like you're wearing anything at all! Our plans are to try to finish up the LSHT at the end of this month - both going UL. It was good to get her "back in the groove."
For my part, this past weekend was not UL. It was my first time using the Seek Outside Flight Two (that I bought in a factory seconds sale on black Friday). I did not bring my Dandee because I was carrying some group gear for the Scouts - a Wilderness First Aid kit - that is both kind of heavy (5 pounds) and kind of chunky. Other noteworthy gear firsts - I got a really good test on my Timmermade 20 degree Coati quilt. (Click here for a review.)
Oh yeah - and two other noteworthy notes: Saturday I got older (I turned 50) and Tina asked me to marry her (I said yes.)