Katharine at Lake Katherine

A total noob tries not to die in the forest, succeeds

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On a sunny July morning in Santa Fe, as I stuffed dehydrated foods into my pack, I heard my dad ask from across my parents' kitchen: "How many weeks you guys going?"

We were going for one night.

I almost retorted to my father's jab, but I had more pressing matters to deal with. A small mysterious puddle was seeping out of the bottom of my borrowed backpack. In all my frantic packing, I hadn't noticed the mouth valve on a hydration pack wasn't totally shut and the weight from my bag was slowly draining all my drinking water. Rookie mistake.

OK, so I'm new at this. I've only spent a handful of my days sleeping outside. How hard could backpacking be?

Luckily, I know a good amount of people who do know what they're doing in the wilderness. When I heard a group of Santa Fe friends was planning a night on Lake Katherine (which is northeast of Santa Fe and near Santa Fe Baldy), I thought that was the perfect way to introduce myself to backpacking. In the weeks prior, I'll admit, I didn't do much research. I had read Cheryl Strayed's "Wild" a few years back and my old roommate has hiked all three major cross-country through trails in the continental U.S., so by association, I should know what I'm doing, right? As it turns out, backpacking takes a bit of planning. One week prior to the trip, I realized I was lacking a backpack (genius) and also a sleeping pad and water filter. The things I needed started to add up quickly.

Once I had all the gear and supplies, I got all the things successfully into the pack. Phew.

I could lift the pack. Phew.

My friend, Leah, and I drove up to the Santa Fe ski basin and met the group. Of the 10 humans and four dogs in our group, four humans and three dogs had experience backpacking. The other seven of us were new to this.

As we started off on the trail, I felt confident that none of us would die. When traveling in a group that big, the bears would hear us, right? I had hiked the trail before and it didn't go near any cliffs, so most likely, none of us would fall and die. The weather said there was a slight chance of rain, but nothing too cold. We wouldn't freeze. Short of someone seriously injuring themselves and needing to be helicoptered out, it was hard for me to imagine anything would go too terribly wrong. Despite having all that in mind, I had a great time.

I did not, however, anticipate how much work carrying a big backpack through the forest would be.

Add elevation and weight and the activity you're doing completely changes. We got about 6 miles in and the whole group collectively started slowing down. More snack breaks, more griping. Our youngest pup started crying a bit. I had recently run a marathon, so I was feeling in pretty top shape, but raining had done a number on my knees. I thought for sure two weeks after the marathon, my knees would feel better - especially if we were just walking through the woods. Unfortunately, I was wrong. The 9-mile load-bearing trek to the lake had left my knees in such poor shape that even the mile walk to search for firewood was excruciating. And the hike out the next day would have been impossible without painkillers.

Recently, I read in a Haruki Murakami book the helpful aphorism that "pain is inevitable, suffering is optional." Even though I was in a lot of pain during the trek, I did not suffer. Upon seeing Lake Katherine, all pain and exhaustion melted away. We set down our packs and frolicked around the perimeter of the lake until sunset. The sheer amount of photos I took is a testament to the state of mind a beautiful slice of nature put me in.

List of the things:

One backpack

One sleeping bag

Hiking shoes

Two pairs of yoga pants

Two pairs of socks and underwear

One rain jacket

One rain pant

One wool sweater

One heavy flannel

One ball cap

One beanie

One neckerchief

One big bag of unsweetened banana chips

One small bag of unsweetened apple chips

One 3-liter bladder of water

Four small packages of peanut butter

One apple

Four energy bars

One bag of beef jerky

Shoes

Sunglasses

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