It started innocently enough. My wife Francie and I were driving to her office Christmas party, and stopped to pick up Kristi, another nurse who works there. Since Kristi has a daughter who does backcountry guiding, Francie had sent her some photos from my last trip down Buckskin Gulch/Paria Canyon. As we drove to the party, we talked about the trip, and her friend Kristi said “Wow, I would love to go on a trip like that some day.” I told her it wasn’t that hard, I could just pick a date, make reservations, and take her down the canyon. As we spoke, Francie piped up “I could go on that trip too!” Those 7 fateful words started a new chapter in outdoor adventure for me.
I have been down Buckskin/Paria several times, and been blessed to backpack all over the country and even overseas. Although due to work schedules I’m typically limited to around 24 days a year, I’ve had a lot of fun and adventure over the years. In the 33 years we have been married, Francie has never shared in that fun and adventure. Francie is tough as nails, and she has always said she wouldn’t mind walking all day, she just doesn’t see any attraction in sleeping on the ground and forgoing showers. We have lots of fun vacations together, but they have been more along the lines of hotels, with soft beds and warm breakfasts. With those 7 words in the car, Francie had set in motion a collision of universes that had, to this point, been separate.
I reserved Buckskin Gulch permits for 6 people, and started planning for the trip. When I go into the backcountry, I’m typically going as light as I can, because that’s how I best enjoy the wild for the type of trips I take. On this particular trip down Buckskin/Paria, I had different goals. The primary goal was to make sure I would successfully make it to 34 years of marriage. Secondary goals (although related to the primary goal) included making sure that Francie had a good time, was warm, dry, and well-fed. I also had to modify my general criteria for selecting the other participants. I maintain a list of people that I meet at ultralight clinics and speaking engagements who seem like 1) they would be good company in the backcountry, 2) possess above average fitness and 3) have their gear pretty light and fit well. Francie clearly meets the first criteria (at least I’m hoping so), marginally for number 2, but not so much for number 3. Unfortunately Francie’s friend Kristi dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. I invited Diane, who with her husband Pat are longtime friends.
Diane is an ultramarathoner, so she hit criteria 1 and 2, but is new to backpacking, and has no gear. Next invitee was Ivars, who I met at a Wilderness Basics Course. He seemed like good company, and having been through WBC, he at least had some training as far as gear. The roster is rounded out by our oldest son Brian, who has done this hike before, and clearly hits all 3 criteria; and Jenna, a PCT hiker who we gave a ride back to the trail two years ago in Mammoth, so she should be good to go. I focused most of my efforts on Francie and Diane, as they had the least experience and gear. Since I wanted Francie to be warm, I went with a 15 degree down bag. Probably overkill for the Paria, but I’ve tromped out through an ice-fringed stream before, so I know it can get chilly. Of course I went with about the best down I could afford, to keep the weight down somewhat. As far as a pad, I thought it was probably unreasonable to expect Francie to excel in the arcane art of contouring the sand to create a comfy bed, so I went with one of the new insulated Sea to Summit air mattresses. Luckily, since Francie is of modest height, I didn’t have to get too long a pad, which helped keep the weight down. Diane just got the same items for herself. Ivars came over for a gear check, and ended borrowing a fair amount of stuff from my extensive loaner collection, including a new Mariposa, an esbit beer can cooking kit, a Nightlight torso pad, and a warm down jacket.
Diane came over for a similar exercise. When I told her to bring all her existing gear over, she just laughed… she really doesn’t have any gear. But she started by buying a 15-degree bag and a mattress like Francie’s, so at least she’ll be warm. She will be borrowing a Mariposa. I’m figuring on having the Francie and Diane use an old Squall Classic I have, and I’ll be cooking for the three of us, so they don’t have to worry about stoves and pots.
To round out Francie’s sleeping gear purchases, we added some base layer from Columbia, some nylon supplex hiking pants, a pair of Ex Officio performance panties, and a nice Columbia down jacket and gloves. She may not use it on this trip, but I got Francie a hiking skirt from Purple Rain, so now she figures she’s already a ‘badass adventure woman’, even before the trip. While I’m pretty sure that her trail name will end up being “B and B”, I did engrave her a Gossamer Gear bamboo spoon with “Francie ‘Badass’ Van Peski” as a pre-trip encouragement.
We were traveling the weekend before the trip, so the final packing came down to the week that we were leaving, trying to get stuff organized after working 12 – 14
hour days. I keep my ‘go-to’ kit fully packed and ready to go at all times, so packing for a trip is reduced to putting in my sleeping bag and food, and making a few clothing and shelter choices. This trip was much more stressful to prepare for. Not only was I responsible for packing or supervising two newbies, even my own gear I would normally take was different. I ended up with a Mariposa because of the extra food and cooking gear I was packing (more about that in Part II), and to provide some additional margin in case we had to redistribute gear. I was fried by the time we set out at 5:30 a.m. on Friday to drive to Utah.
We are all set for the trail! Check out part two of this adventure while hiking Buckskin Gulch
This post was contributed by Gossamer Gear founder Glen Van Peski