Every July, my girlfriends and I make an annual trek to our favorite local hike, The Zirkel Circle. It’s about a 12-mile loop with two spectacular lakes to stop for a lunch break and snap a group selfie or two. There are ample creek crossings, steep rocky switchbacks, and plenty of breathtaking views. Contrary to what all the guidebooks say, we enjoy hiking the loop in a counter-clockwise direction, to Gold Lake first, then climbing up the backside of the summit that overlooks spectacular Gilpin Lake. At the top, often there is still snow even in the middle of summer, blanketing the slope down to the shimmering, turquoise lake below. This section makes for an excellent snow slide on your bum, which is the whole reason we choose to hike the loop in this direction in the first place.
This year, I naively put my cellphone in my cargo pocket for the slide down. A young girl of 12 or 13 years old was standing at the bottom of the hill, gawking at us “old ladies” as we laughed and slid in snow on our butts. I could tell she really wanted to do it but felt way too old for such frivolity. We greeted each other then I stood up and started down the trail as she trudged her way up the snowy slope with her family. A few moments later I heard a call from the top, “somebody’s phone!”. I checked my pants pocket and yes, indeed it was mine. I turned around to hustle back and thank my young trail angel, only to find her sliding on her bottom through the snow with a big smile on her face. “See,” I told her, “I knew you really wanted to do that.” She just smiled awkwardly as I thanked her profusely for saving my day.
Back on the trail, my hiking buddy opened her pack and whipped out a plastic baggie for me to put my phone into to keep it dry. What a brilliant idea. It made me think of other clever things to take with you on a long hike. Here are my top five:
Plastic Bags — of the sandwich bag variety. These little beauties can keep your cell phone or your keys dry. They are also great for storing toilet paper (clean or used) and for picking up trash and litter along the trail. Pack one full of bandages, safety pins, pain reliever, rubber bands, a lighter, and a whistle, and you’ve got yourself an effective little first aid kit.
Whole Foods — No, not the grocery store chain, but real homemade treats that are both nutritious and delicious on the trail. A hiking friend just told me about almond butter stuffed in dates, which I can’t wait to try. Peanut butter oat balls or apples with cheese are great options, as well. If you’re looking for more real food snacks, the Skratch Labs Feed Zone Portables Cookbook is an excellent resource for on-the-go food for athletes.
Apps on your phone — Yes, one of the reasons we retreat into nature is to get away from screens and technology. However, it can be of great relief to have one of those handy GPS enabled apps created for various sports that can track you on the trail, like Strava, Map My Run, or the Trail Run Project. There are also cool identification apps that can tell you more information about your surroundings, like Peak Finder, National Geographic Birds, or Audubon Wildflowers.
Books and Maps — If you’re more of the old-school variety, there is still much value in printed material, and you don’t need to worry about your phone dying or lack of cell service. Carrying a topo map of the area or ripping out pages of a guide book (as long as it’s not a library book!) can be a reassuring resource on the trail. Two books that are well worn and dog-eared in my collection are Hiking the Boat by Diane White-Crane and Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Rockies by Linda Kershaw.
Friends — Hiking is all about connecting, both with nature, with ourselves, and with other people. Hiking with a buddy makes the hike go faster, allows you to have meaningful conversations, and offers someone to take great pics of you in front of beautiful scenery. Be sure to wait for each other, take breaks, smell the flowers, and share your snacks on the trail.