This weekend I joined a group of New Englanders from the Backpackinglight.com forums for the first of hopefully many group hikes. We’d been lamenting the fact that west-coast BPLers seem to have a tighter community than what we’ve been able to arrange in the northeast, so with some expert planning by a few of the forum members we were able to get ten strangers together in the mountains of Western Massachusetts together for a weekend of what I can only describe as intense gear-nerdiness.
|Tranquil forest in Mount Washington State Forest, MA.|
I’m a bit of a hermit, myself (hence the backpacking, the blog, and the lack of interaction with real humans in my immediate vicinity), so this trip was a welcome change of pace. I’d been feeling less like a part of the BPL community since my PCT through-hike a year ago, as I’ve had less time to go through forums and participate in the really great discussions there. This would be quite different from joining discussions on the latest trends in lightweight backpacking, but it seemed like a good idea none the less.
I joined the last of the Boston contingent late in the evening on Friday, meeting them in Northampton to leave my car and ride the rest of the way with a group. We were the latest arrivals at Mount Washington State Forest near South Egremont, MA, getting to the trailhead at 10:30 PM, and hiking by headlamp to the camping area. Luckily, I had just charged my Petzl Core battery, since hiking in an unfamiliar place after dark is always better with a bright light. We arrived at the campsite at 11, just after most of the group had gone to sleep. A few who were still awake excitedly welcomed us to the site, but we wasted little time in setting up shelters and passing out ourselves.
The morning is when the real fun began.
|Ultralight Home Show part 4: Gossamer Gear The One|
There were ten of us at the remote campsite, and you could tell it was a gathering of ultralight backpackers. So much cuben fiber, sil-nylon, and spinnaker fabric stood around the campsite that we couldn’t help but start the day with an “Ultralight Home Show.” We toured the site and had each person show off their backpacking shelter, sleeping set-up, and cool gear.
After looking through ten shelters (five pyramid tarps, four flat tarps, and a hammock), we talked gear, gear, gear, and more gear, before realizing we should go for a hike rather than just stand around and act like nerds all day. It was a short hike to Alander Mountain, but with the New England foliage still bright in its decline, the lack of sunshine couldn’t dampen anyone’s spirits.
|The Massachusetts/Connecticut Border in fine form, late in autumn.|
We spent most of the day hiking around on Alander Mountain, with some fine views of the Catskills and the valleys below, and on the South Taconic Trail, a particularly gorgeous walk in the woods with some of the most beautiful streams running through the wide open forest. It was beginning to feel like autumn proper, though, with a light overcast all day and chilly temperatures. After several stressful days last week, dealing with work and the life of a part-time hiker, a day of trading stories with other hikers and enjoying the relaxing forests of southern New England wiped away all my worries.
|If I must have a fire, it’s got to be a good one.|
The day finished with some more show and tell about lightweight gear, and then, to make sure nobody thought we were too serious, a giant campfire and an unspecified amount of wine.
|I can’t get over how clear and peaceful these frigid streams were.|
To sum up the weekend, it wasn’t so much about hiking as about meeting other lightweight backpacking crazies. We’re a relatively rare bunch– backpackers aren’t a big population, and lightweight backpackers are a fringe of that small group, so we don’t often meet. And since a lot of the equipment that we get excited about is either home-made or sold only online, it was sort of a shopping experience, too. I got to see and test several tarp shelters, backpacks, and new ideas that I’d never seen before. The downside to this is that now I have even more items on my wishlist than before. This could get expensive.