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Our First Sierra Club Backpacking Trip

By Kira and Marissa Collins, age 15

We have always been Park people.  As far back as we can remember our family vacations almost exclusively involved a National Park. As we got older, we were able to go farther into the Parks. Some of the trips we’ve been on have been a little grueling (cross-country skiing in Yellowstone at eighteen below, for instance), but we really enjoy the beauty of the wilderness. Two years ago, we hiked “Six Trails in Six Days” at the Grand Canyon. It was the first time we had ever been to the Grand Canyon and we found out that hiking to the bottom on a day hike was strongly discouraged. On one of the last days Kira casually mentioned that she wished we could stay out and get to the bottom. Our dad informed us that such a practice is called “backpacking”.

A year and a half later we took the Sierra Club’s Introductory Backpacking class in September 2010. That Christmas, we forewent the traditional presents and instead got tents, cooking pots, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads. Many a Sunday night was spent cooking up different backpacking foods with the new little stove.  After practicing hiking on the streets in our neighborhood and a trail at Lake Texoma, we wanted an overnight trip to get a feel for what we could expect before an expedition into the Grand Canyon, and also what we did or didn’t want to pack, so we drove to Arkansas for the Sierra Club’s Caney Creek Beginner Backpacking trip in the Ouachita National Forest.

Kira and Marissa CollinsWe headed out with team leader Marcos in the lead and team leader Steve as the sweep. Despite numerous “dangerous stream crossings” (stepping in two inches of water or on a wobbly rock didn’t injure anyone) and extremely damp weather, we survived the first few miles. Marcos loudly announced that we had a long way to go and to keep up our stamina. Fifty feet later we were setting up camp. It was a beautiful spot, with the river just a little bit away and tall trees filtering the now abundant sunshine down to the flat, leafy ground. After pitching our tents and unrolling our sleeping bags, we geared up for a day hike.

First, we went to Caney Creek Falls, and then we headed up the hills. Climbing several hundred feet in elevation, we eventually reached our destination, a rocky outcropping perched atop the saddle between two hills. Relaxing in the sunshine for a while, our group sat on the rocks and watched the different little lizards skitter across the warm stone. When we headed back down the hill, the warm sunshine began to rapidly disappear. Evening drew close, and by the time we got back into camp, it was really starting to get cold and windy. Shrouded in every vest and jacket we had brought, we cooked dinner. As daylight dwindled, the team leaders told us stories about encounters with bears and how Steve came by his bright aqua Antarctic tent; thoughtfully loaned him by Marcos. As darkness closed in, Mommy and Kira quickly sought the warmth of their sleeping bags. Daddy and Marissa stayed out, huddled around three candles (only two of which would stay lit) and listened to the conversation and the night sounds. One backpacker even played a harmonica, although not very loudly so as not to disturb the sleepers. When what was finally deemed a respectable time was reached, we turned in.

The next morning we got up bright and early to dine on oatmeal before setting out. Marcos coerced Marissa into leading the group, and thanks to her “slave driving” we made it back to the trailhead in record time, well before noon.  Although she definitely did not volunteer for the position, Marissa was glad she got to be up front and to lead.  Kira played Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” in the car on the way to lunch in town, where we once more met up with our group before driving home.

We are so glad that we were able to go with the Sierra Club for our first backpacking trip! The family has learned in the past that going with a group always adds to the quality of the trip. Giving us a good feel for what we could expect, it was a great way to try out everything needed for backpacking, and to prepare for longer trips. It was a wonderful trail in beautiful country with experienced leaders. We plan to head back to the Grand Canyon this spring, backpacking this time, and we know that our trip with the Sierra Club has prepared us to enjoy this vacation, and other trips into the American wilderness, even more.

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