We are a group of women who take 50-mile backpack trips in California's Sierra Mountains. Early in our history we named ourselves FLAB (Fun-Lovin' Adventuresome Broads), a moniker that has accurately described us for more than two decades.
The ten women shown here represent a 30-year age span, with hikers with 20 years of FLAB participation all the way to women on their first backpack trip. Geographically we represent a core group founded in Southern California who now live 3,000 miles apart. We hope that, with the help of this blog, you will also join the ranks of women who backpack!
Around 1980 a beautiful woman named Carol Sibley shared her love of adventure, fitness and the wilderness with some friends, and together they built a hiking style adapted to the strengths of women. This Blog outlines the details of that hiking style and, hopefully, will encourage many other women to venture out into the wilderness in her memory.
Carol dared to dream, looked for and accepted challenges, and lived her dreams with a determination and drive that broadened not only her own horizons but also those of us with whom she shared her journey. Her strength, charisma and personal drive, even through her final fight with terminal cancer, was an inspiration to all who knew and loved her. As we celebrate 26 years of hiking together, the women of FLAB continue to thank you, Carol.
The FLAB Mission Statement:
Our mission is to help ourselves and one another grow
emotionally, physically and socially
through the challenges of the wilderness,
while respecting each other's individuality.
If you've read this far, you probably have a fitness program to get yourself strong -- your trip will be much more fun and safer if you get fit well before you reach the trailhead. All of us work out, alone or together, all year long. As the date of our backpack nears, we take a big hike every few weeks, building to a hike that is about as high and as long as a typical day on the trip will be. We also do one big local hike with full packs (35+ pounds).
On a recent week-long FLAB hike, we were in California's Sequoia Nat'l Park when a large group of college students straggled into camp, shrugged off their oversized packs, and sagged onto logs around their campsite.
We sat and watched in wonder as the exhausted and weary hikers began dug into their packs and pulled out (among other things) a 2 gallon cooking pot, bottles of hot sauce, boxes of graham crackers and lots of whole fruits such as avocados and grapefruit. They were having fun together, but they had not yet tackled the 11,600-foot pass under their staggering, and unnecessary, weight load of 50-70 pounds per person, including even very slight women.
The stronger you make your body and the lighter you make your pack, the more upright you'll hike and the more you'll enjoy the scenery you came to see.
Below is a list of our hikes since 1981. We delight in finding new territory to explore each year, and over the years many of us have covered most or all of the John Muir Trail and/or the Pacific Crest Trail. Here are some of the primary criteria for our selection:
- about 50 miles in length
- a loop trail, so we don't double back over "old" territory
(if a loop isn't possible, the next best is a "balloon on a string" with a short double back)
- if a loop or partial loop is not possible, plans must include a car shuttle from trailhead to end point -- sometimes friends and family have helped us with this task, and other times we must allow time to leave a car at the exit before we start and also time to retrieve the trailhead cars before heading home
- water sources during the day and at the campsite
- campsites designated by the rangers or recommended in hiking books
- altitude, preferably two high peaks
- access via acceptable roads, ideally with a pre-hike camp site near by
So get out your trail books and consider one or more of these:
• 1981 Bishop Pass Trail only to Long Lake
• 1982 Badger Lake and Thousand Island Lake
• 1983 Pear Lake with lots of snow
• 1984 Little Yosemite Valley with day hikes to Half Dome and the river
• 1985 Hockett Meadows – 10 miles in and day hikes
• 1986 Rae Lakes – our first pass (Glenn)
• 1987 Duck Pass to Pica and Purple Lakes – a group of 16
• 1988 Pine Creek to L Lake & Mono Pass to Pioneer Basin
• 1989 John Muir Trail – FLAB joined from Tuolomne Meadows to Mammoth
• 1990 Cottonwood Pass around to New Army Pass
• 1991 South Lake to North Lake – the longest so far – 60 miles
• 1992 McGee Pass to Tully Hole and the infamous Hortense Lake
• 1993 Florence Lake to Medley Lakes Basin
• 1994 Mineral King – balloon on a string and the famous waterfall
• 1995 Wishon Reservoir to Half Moon Lake
• 1996 Lake of the Lone Indian, Goodale Pass and Graveyard Lakes
• 1997 S. Yosemite – Fernandez Pass (2 X), Slab Lakes, Triple Peak Divide
• 1998 Colorado – Continental Divide, Columbine Pass and RAIN
• 1999 Lake South America via Kearsarge, Forester & Shepherds Passes
• 2000 Northern Yosemite – Saddlebag Lake to Twin Lakes
• 2001 Yosemite – Valley Floor to Glacier Pt. Via Red Peak Pass
• 2002 Mineral King – Franklin Pass and Black Rock Pass and waterfall
• 2003 JMT - via Bishop, Mather, Pinchot and Sawmill Passes
• 2004 Trans-Sierra east to west: Twin Lakes to Hetch Hetchy
• 2005 Desolation Wilderness: Emerald Bay to Lake Zitella
• 2006 pending -- possibly Hell-for-Sure Lake by way of Courtright and Wishon Reservoirs
Food selection, and food packing, can make or break your trip. And it IS possible to eat delicious, nutritious meals at relatively low weight -- not by grabbing granola bars and bananas at the last minute, but with careful planning. Start weeks ahead to allow for dehydrating foods and for delivery of mailorder supplies.
Although we've done this dozens of times now, it's never an easy project. You should allow a full day to pack and weigh the group's food -- and this is AFTER spaghetti sauce, jerky, granola and salads are cooked and dehydrated.
Every food item should be premeasured for the number of portions needed. Then it should be repacked in freezer weight zip-locs and labeled. Each bag should tell the day and meal it's for plus any recipe details. Whenever possible, combine ingredients at home: each individual portion of potato breakfast = instant mashed potatoes + Molly McButter dried butter + dehydrated onions + instant milk. This simplifies packing and preparation -- only hot water is needed.
During the week we make note of improvements we want to remember next year; at home these are stored with FLAB water bags and other gear.
Here are a typical shopping list and a step-by-step listing of "bagging day".
FLAB has reworked our menu around allergies and metabolisms, but we also have many favorite recipes we repeat each year: home-made jerky, sweet & sour chicken, and our FLAB granola. We even "Count our Blessings" the last night on the trail with turkey, stuffing and cranberries, mashed potatoes, peas, gravy, soup and dessert.
You'll find some of our favorite recipes and a week's menu below.
The beef jerky recipe came from "Come into the kitchen with Jackie" by Jackie Olden, Copyright J-Mar Productions, and the idea for a "Count Your Blessing" dinner near the end of the hike came from an old Adventure16 newsletter.
We're grateful for these and other inspirations and hope you will build your own recipes to suit your tastes. There are plenty of publications and on-line sources to work from -- just think of delicious meals as part of the adventure you're building!
We are women! Our height, weight or strength may be similar to men, but female bodies have a different center of balance than men’s. For hours of walking, the load on your back should be light and have a low center of gravity. You can find diagrams for packing your pack, but be sure to use one specifically for women, and then wear it for a while and make your own adjustments.
Backpacks come with internal or external frames. (The new ultralight packs have almost no framing but we don't find that they support a load comfortably for a week.) External frame packs are basically a structure of aluminum poles lining the inner corners of a canvas bag, and your gear is stored inside the framing. These packs have numerous outside pockets and straps, so lots of gear is close at hand. Internal frame packs have their structure mostly against your back with padding to protect your spine. These were designed for extreme sports such as mountaineering, rock climbing or hang gliding; they are compact and hug the torso, moving easily with the wearer. Most FLAB hikers carry external frame packs for two reasons: they weigh less than internal frame packs, and they are cooler because the frame holds the bag away from your back.
High quality packs have adjustable frames so the fit can be customized to your body. Be sure to buy your correct torso length (an outdoor gear store will know how to measure and fit you to the pack), then add about 25 pounds and wear it around the store for at least a half hour. While heavy, it should not give you any sore points in that short time, and there should be little swaying of the pack as you move and bend. Many good camp stores will allow you to exchange the pack, even after you’ve worn it on a day hike; you can also rent before buying your pack to give it a good test. Like your boots, it's critical that your pack fits well and is comfortable!
FLAB hikers work hard to keep our personal gear under 23 pounds; group gear and food add 10-15 pounds to the personal load. Your goal should be to carry about 25% of your body weight. In fact, you should try to carry less than these numbers, both for your own enjoyment and as an emergency precaution -- with a little room to spare, you could help carry the gear for someone who’s been injured.
For a week on the trail you’ll need a pack of about 4,500 cubic inches. The largest items you’ll carry are your sleeping bag and sleeping pad, a tent, and a bear canister (required in many locations). Be sure these can all fit into or be tied onto your pack, preferably at the midpoint or lower. Some packs have a long tent-pole pocket on one side, but most poles also fit inside your pack or strapped to the outside.
By far the heaviest single item you'll carry is your bear canister (2-3lbs) and your share of the food (6-8lbs). Your sleeping bag (4-5lbs), your half of a 5-6lb 2-person tent, and some portion of other group gear such as first aid and cook kits, will be next heaviest. Strap the sleeping bag below the pack and push the bear can down to the lowest section it will go inside the pack. Tents can be carried in sections: poles, tent, ground cloth and rain fly. Large group items will be a cook kit (one serves 5-6 women), first aid kit, and a large tarp. FLAB hikers divide these items among the group and then fill the remaining nooks and crannies with smaller items. We have found that packing clothing in ziplock bags keeps them organized, clean and dry. Your rain gear, maps and compass should be the last items in your pack, in a place that’s easy to get to.
Water can be carried many ways, and each of us seems to have a personal style. Some prefer a “holster” or pouch that hooks the bottle to the front of the hip belt – very convenient! Others keep it out of the way in a lower side pocket of the backpack, asking for help when they want it. Still others use a hydration system that fits inside the pack but has a drinking tube that clips onto any convenient strap or belt. Just make it easy to reach and don’t let its weight (which changes throughout the day) throw off the balance of your pack.
The outer, small pockets are great for things you'll need at stops along the trail: topo map and compass, toilet items, bug repellant, bird or flower book or binoculars (if you can afford the weight of these luxuries), etc. Many FLAB hikers also wear a waist pack for more frequently used items such as camera, candies, neckerchief and sun block. Just be sure to put the waist pack on before your backpack, and check that its strap and buckle don’t cause lumps under the backpack.
So you're on your way! When you reach your trailhead, be sure to check in with the Ranger and get an update on hazards. Also find out if there are trail crews working along your route -- it's nice to know where help might be found if you need it.
You should have reviewed the day's hike before heading out, but also try to stay together. One map-aware hiker can take the lead, and one or two should consciously be last so that no one falls behind (we call them "sweeps" like in this photo). The faster hikers always stop at trail merges until the others catch up -- we started doing that when half the group went 2-3 miles in the wrong direction and it ruined everyone's day.
The "Leave No Trace" rule applies in all wilderness areas (and wouldn't it be nice if it applied around the city, too!) Follow park rules, carry out everything you've carried in, camp at least 100' from any water and do your best to make your campsite look natural and pristine before you leave. All potty holes should be 5-8" deep and covered with soil and a rock. Carry your used t.p. in a little ziploc to discard at home.
There are just a few real chores when on the trail: filtering water, cooking, and cleaning up. FLABs generally pair up for each day's chore, rotating chores and partners daily. Anyone not working looks around for ways to help before she takes a swim or reads her book.
After a day's hike, we enjoy relaxing by the river or lake for a while before starting dinner. Here we are playing a dice game near camp.
The enthusiasm of successful hikers leads them to talk about trips among friends. Newcomers have started out as work and social friends, vacation acquaintances and family. After a group hikes together they learn the idiosyncrasies and personalities of the group, and it’s important that the group's lore be shared with newcomers. The sooner a new hiker feels confident of her competency with the group dynamics as well as with its various hike-related techniques, the sooner she’ll enjoy your fellowship.
If someone expresses interest in your group, invite her to train with you -- it’s an easy way to become friends while learning important things about her. If she’s friendly, reliable and physically fit on your short off-season hikes, you and she may want to share some longer hikes (i.e. training hikes in the months before the backpack).
Sometimes it takes a few years before a new walker/hiker is actually ready to hike with your group. If she hasn’t backpacked before, there’s much to be learned on both sides before a place should be made for her. She’ll watch you train, listen as you ponder menus, buy supplies, review maps and so forth, and then she’ll hear the stories when you return, including the problems faced along the way. All of this is valuable training for her and will benefit your group if she ends up joining you.
As her first backpack trip with your group approaches, the new hiker should share in these preparations, teamed with others she may not know. Make sure she’s included on the mailing list of planning documents, strongly encourage her to join your training hikes, give her packing hints, and give her a pre-hike job such as dehydrating some food or updating the kaper chart. In FLAB, everyone contributes to our “Last Supper”, a potluck at the trailhead – so pair your newest member up with another hiker to bring food for this dinner. When campfires will be part of the trip (many areas prohibit this treat), we encourage each hiker to share something – sing a song, do a little dance, teach a round, recite a poem or share a story. Make it clear to new hikers that they share in the camaraderie and the chores!
Carpooling to training hikes and then to the real trailhead are great integrating opportunities for new hikers, affording time to share stories of earlier trips and anticipate the next one. While backpacking, we find that we scramble ourselves periodically along the trail, talking with one or two here, another one there, throughout the day. It’s everyone’s responsibility to be sure the newest hikers (and not just 1st years) are included in this. Get to know each other, and then get to know each other better! This process continues as tent partners are determined each day; FLAB tries to change tents and partners nearly every night -- "best friends" can be hard on the rest of the group.
With new hikers added each year, each bringing her own style, experiences and talents, your group will be dynamic and exciting. You'll find that the quiet time before falling asleep is often the most intimate sharing time, and it’s wonderful to share it with old and new hiking friends. Over our twenty years of hikes, FLAB has included as few as 5 and as many as 16 hikers; five or six of us have hiked more than 15 years, while others may hike once, twice or half a dozen times. There has typically been a 30-year range in ages on any particular hike, and we’ve shared many of the joys and troubles inherent in life as we share the joys of the wilderness.