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Ramblings of an Old Hiker: In the Beginning

I’ve been an outdoors enthusiast for my whole life; fishing, hunting, snowmobiling, camping and as an adult leading scouting like groups that included hiking and camping outings.  All of that said; I had little or no experience at multi-day backpacking, that is until one day many years ago when guy from our church (James) asked if I would like to accompany him and his brother on a hike of the Fundy Foot Path.  This journey encompasses about a 50Km trek from Point Wolf in Fundy National Park to Big Salmon River on the Fundy Parkway (technically 8Km on the Goose River Trail in Fundy National Park to get to the beginning of the Fundy Trail which is about 42Km long, but those are just details).  The hike was supposed to happen in the spring but for some reason it didn’t so we set a date in September, I agreed and once somethings in my calendar, I’m committed.

Once I started pulling gear together I realized, though I had a decent daypack and some basic gear, I was missing some fundamental pieces for a 4 day hike.  I had limited budget but ample time to search out the right gear and the right price to get me on the trail.  With the thought in mind that I might never do another hike like this I was cautious to not create a stranded investment in gear.   I borrowed a pack, bought a stove, cheap sleeping pad, water filter and a lightweight tent.  James convinced me of 2 things; 1. Boots not sneakers and 2. You need a walking stick.  I had doubts on each of these points but I took his advice and wore an old pair of boots instead of my new sneakers and he lent me old school wooden walking stick.  I had most of the rest of the gear or I improvised on the remainder.  Being rather independent by nature (I won’t rely on my hiking buddies to share their stuff) drove me to make sure I had everything I needed without having to ask someone else to support me on the trail.  The local Scout Shop has been a favourite place of mine for many years and the staff there were very helpful in the process – just a plug for a local business with great staff.

The Fundy Footpath is not the place I would suggest for anyone to start experimenting with multi-day backpacking as (when you count an 8Km hike inside of Fundy National Park to get to the Fundy Footpath trail-head it totals 50Km) it's of some of the most aggressive non-forgiving terrain existing in New Brunswick.  Once the car door slammed behind me and the car sped off; I was committed to the 4 day trek.   At the time I felt confident in my ability based on my experience and my impression of what the footpath was.

The Fundy Footpath:

  • - A marked path through the forest, wetlands, across open spaces and beaches but not a trail that you would find in a park – easy to find yourself off trail if you are not careful.  Buy the map kit (supports the volunteer group that maintains the path), do your research and prepare to do some fundamental navigation
  • - 42 Km of beautiful vistas, old forests, wildlife, beaches, steep climbs and peaceful campsites
  • - 80% grades that are ~250m high; switchbacks or cable ladder or a combination there of with sticks, rocks, stumps and other habits
  • - 40+ foot tides – bring your tide charts and plan the fording of Goose Creek and Goose River around the tides
  • - You will ascend and descend about 2000m from start to finish
  • - Some bridges but many Brooks, Creeks and Rivers that you need to ford (some of them only at low tide)
  • - Lots of water along the path, you will encounter a source of running water 3 to 4 times per day; I would suggest filtering before drinking and be aware of tides – don’t drink brackish water it will make you sick

Useful Fundy Footpath links:

What I remember:

A typical campsite on the beach

At the end of day 1 I was exhausted, my backpack didn’t have a good enough harness to keep it on my hips and off my shoulders and my boots were old, in hind sight I should have bought better boots, so I was sore.  I wondered when I went to bed how I was going to get up and face this again tomorrow and each day until we were done.  I don’t remember really appreciating the beauty of the journey, I think I was the deer in the headlights not appreciating the magnificence of the Bentley that is about to run me down.  I didn’t sleep well overnight, my sleeping pad was thin and the ground was hard.  I remember getting up on morning 2 being stiff but having a positive attitude (I’m all the way in or all the way out … there is no half way) and realizing once we got going how quickly the aches and pains went away and that even though the terrain on day 2 was worse than day 1 it was much more enjoyable and I was feeling that I was getting in the groove and by lunch time I was feeling that I could make it through.  The time around the campfire in the evening was awesome even when one of the group got a bit over zealous that over stocked the fire and almost lit the forest.  Martin Head and Little Salmon River are a couple of the most beautiful places on earth but when you face a 250m almost vertical (80%) climb out of the valley as a warm up for the day, it’s a bit intimidating the first time.  Day 4 it rained and rained and rained, early in the day we were taking off our Hiking Boots and putting on water shoes to ford streams but by the afternoon we were slogging through the streams with our boots as we were soaked to the skin anyway without proper lightweight rain gear were wearing those 99 cent plastic ponchos since it was the final day we didn’t use the care about getting home wet.

What I learned:

In Hindsight for a 160lb guy I had too much stuff (my rule of thumb is your pack should not weigh more than 25% of you optimal BMI).  Now I carry less clothing, less food, lighter items and overall less “in case I might need it” stuff.   Outside of July and August, you need to stay dry Hypothermia occurs when your core boy temperature drops below 35°C or 95°F (Normal body temperature is 37°C or 98.6°F) … the proper slight weight rain gear is worth the money.  When we encountered rain, and didn’t stay dry it resulted in my returning home slightly hypothermic and spending several hours trying to get warm to stop the shaking. 

This is where my editor asked me a great question; Steve, what is the proper way to get warm?  Since there is a short answer and a long answer let's pause from the story and address this important subject.

Backpacks on the beach

First; what is Hypothermia?  As I describe it; it's an anatomical process that kicks in when the human body detects its internal temperature dropping to unacceptable levels.  The process triggers uncontrollable shivering (stimulating muscles to generate heat) and constricts blood vessels in the extremities (starting in hands and feet advancing up words towards the torso) to focus heat into the core to protect vital organs.

Short answer: 

Since I was home I just took a long hot bath.  The temperature of the water should be what you normally bathe in.  Not hotter because you're colder, you could easily burn your skin by trying to warm up too quickly. It probably took 30 - 45 minutes before I was feeling back to myself, ready to start unpacking my gear.

Long Answer:

If you allow yourself to get hypothermic on the trail it gets much more complicated.   If you are on an overnight hike you need to get a tent step up or at least get out of the weather the best that you can.  Take off any wet clothes you have on and get into something dry.  If you have others with you have someone heat some water and pour it into water bottles, not boiling hot you don't want to get burned.  If you can get into a sleeping bag or curled up in a blanket it will help but take those water bottles and put them directly on your body.  There are two areas to concentrate on; the choroid arteries on the side of the neck (you can feel your pulse here) and femoral artery (tuck that water bottle in to your groin area).  This is what I refer to as warming from the inside out; warming the blood that is traveling through the core. 

Another option is to get a fire going and sit beside it; depending on weather conditions this can be a challenging.  Rain, wind and cold can hamper one's ability to absorb heat energy faster than it is being lost but I might be your only option.  This is what I refer to as warming from the outside in. 

Walking along the ridge

Either way this process of getting warm is going to take a while (might be an hour or more) and the effects will last for several hours, you need to  stay dry, warm and fueled (eat to keep your energies up) until you return home.  If the process of warming up is not working, seek medical help and avoid going to sleep.  As Hypothermia advances untreated you will stop shivering (even though you are not warm), lose all energy and finally fall asleep (and possibly not wake up). 

Now back to the story; James was right on the boots, shortly after I invested in a reasonably good pair.  I've also purchased a pair of aluminum walking sticks, they are invaluable for added stability when fording streams across rocks and mud and are as useful at assisting to fight the effects of gravity when hiking downhill as they are going up.  The journey challenged me as much mentally as it did physically.  I’ve always kept myself in reasonably good physical condition but there were times when I questioned my own ability to complete the journey. 

This adventure has been many years ago, and somehow despite all the things that we did wrong and weren’t properly prepared for I fell in love with both Backpacking and the Fundy Footpath, I spent the next decade hiking about 400 square Kilometers between Fundy National Park and Big Salmon River enjoying nature and developing Hiking, Backpacking and Survival skills (oh, and buying gear … lots of cool gear) that I’m hoping to share in the next few articles. 

I think it’s worthy of noting that the reason that we were doing the footpath was that James had failed to finish the journey with a larger group the year before and determine to complete it end to end to prove to himself that he could.

Until next time my friends,

Steve (known on the trail as Kaldi)

2017-03-15 09:55:24


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