Prior to 1994, I was using an old Jansport external frame backpack that my family bought in the late 70’s. It was a communal family backpack that my brother used predominately during his hikes throughout the Oregon Cascades…by the late 80’s it was yet another hand-me-down that became mine.
As for my tent (another hand-me-down), I can’t even remember the brand, but will just call it a Coleman 3 person ‘car camping’ tent with fiberglass poles…probably weighed in at 10 pounds. I remember both those items well because I packed them into Tamarack Lake, Carson-Iceberg, during college summer break, 1991. I remember that trip well. A college girlfriend and I set out from San Fransisco, over Sonora Pass, up 395 to Walker and then headed back towards the Sierra. Up a steep and rough gravel road to the Little Antelope Pack Station trail head. An 8 mile hike in with a pack that easily weighed 75 pounds.
I carried water the whole way, two pairs of Levi’s, shorts, and a couple pairs of everything else; you name it, I probably took it. We made it Lower Fish Valley on Silver King Creek the first night (6 miles in) and tackled the 2 mile/1300 foot climb most of the next morning.
Midday we arrive at a very beautiful lake perched high on the side of the mountain at around 9400 elevation. Positioned our camp to have a spectacular sunrise view to the East.
About an hour after arriving a typical Sierra thunderstorm creeps over the ridge above and unleashes its fury. Rain and hail pelted our tent as we huddled inside. The floor started to take on some water which prompted a quick exit to deepen and revise the drainage channels scratched away in the decomposed granite. An hour later as the storm subsided, we had a damp interior, a damp foot of my cotton sleeping bag and one of the fiberglass poles splintered at the metal collar under the additional weight of the wet fabric. Using a shoelace, I jerry-rigged a fix on the tent pole that held up for the next couple nights…Downside was the fact I had a shoe without a lace…The lake was so beautiful and easy enough to explore without needing my heavy duty hiking boots. Frankly, that rubbed away blister on my foot needed time to heal.
A couple days later we packed up and completed the entire 8 miles back to the car. (8 miles seems so trivial now)
Thus it started…the quest to buy and maintain my own gear…nice gear! Something to last me another 20+ years. It was this backpacking trip that really set myself up for what I would do in my adult life.
First thing first…I stopped off at the North Face outlet in Berkeley and I bought myself a Blue Kazoo sleeping bag…the same one I am still using today. 25 years later, it still keeps me warm during the summer hikes in the Sierra Nevada. It didn’t work as well when I slept in a cold 20 degree night in Nebraska a few years back – I definitely felt where the down had separated at the baffle stitching. (Yet, a new sleeping bag does occupy the top slot of my ‘to be replaced/upgraded’ gear list.)