For the past week, I went backpacking into the San Juan mountain range and part of the Continental Divide in Colorado to record and make a promo video for this extreme backpacking program I am working for. I was pumped for the chance to see some mountains and finally get some authentic nature shots. However, this past week turned out to be one of the most enduring, both painful and stressful, and the most fun weeks of my life.
Before you start a trip with limited battery and memory you have to have a plan in mind. My promo is going to have a song that is 2 minutes and 26 seconds long. I memorized the song so I knew what kinds of shots I needed for each part and their lengths. Have a plan before you go out for work -related stuff and you will find yourself keeping better track of yourself and your shots so that you don’t run out of memory and can conserve the most battery you can.
Sunday- Night time,
I was packing my camera equipment, and I ended up bringing 9 pounds of camera equipment including my: canon rebel t3i, my two zoom lenses that cover 18-250mm focal lengths, my LCD Viewfinder, my 6 batteries (all fully charged), a backup camera (fully charged), a GoPro, my tripod, and two 32gb sd cards. I was also given a list of items to bring such as sunscreen, toothbrush and toothpaste, an extra outfit of clothes, wool socks etc. I had no idea that these items would add up so quickly and end up weighing over 45 pounds. My backpack was the heaviest in the group. We had a group of 14 people, myself included, and everyone else’s pack weighed about 30 pounds. After this day I learned to pack as light as possible. Bring only what is absolutely necessary. The group gear was dispersed such as food, cooking stoves, sleeping bags, and other heavy items but because I had my camera equipment, mine weighed the most.
Once the group was done weighing the packs we threw them into the trailer, had a hot dog dinner and watched a short slide-show on how to backpack efficiently. We got in the 12 passenger van and drove into the mountains and camped at the trailhead. We ended up sleeping on the ground and out underneath the stars. I recorded the group huddle before we left the backpacking base but it was too dark to record anything at the trailhead.
We woke up, had some cereal but were offered two options; Raisin Bran and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Everyone in the group excluding the guides ate the Cinnamon Toast Crunch and I felt bad that nobody was eating the raisin bran so I ate that only to have doomed myself later on in the trip. We said a prayer and started moving. Bringing the viewfinder for my camera was one of the best things I brought with me. It magnifies my screen and keeps glare out so I can keep my screen brightness to a minimum to save battery and can keep my focus as sharp as possible.
The group moved so fast I didn’t even get all shots that I think I wanted because I didn’t want to get a mile behind the others going up this mountain. I also figured I’d be out here for a week so I’d get the shots I wanted at a different time. I ended up having to run and was always last in the group to arrive at stopping points on the first day. I took advantage of the times when the group stopped by recording people eating, close ups of plants and bugs and those types of things. The first 3 hours were brutally painful. It was a hike up a mountain on pretty much a vertical slant. When we reached the top of the mountain, about 10,000 ft., we stopped for lunch and had some tuna wraps. While we were eating it started to rain. Rain and thunderstorms are overly dangerous in the mountains. You are one of the only charged objects in the highest places possible so you are more likely to get struck by lightning. Our group quickly packed the items away and went down in elevation towards some trees. We hid underneath the trees for about 2 hours and waited for the storm to pass. Thankfully my rain jacket and my rain cover for my backpack kept all the rain away. Prepare for rain. My batteries and cards were stored in a plastic zip-lock bag so incase it did rain hardcore they wouldn’t be ruined. I had my camera in a small athletic tie bag that I kept on my shoulders. If it rained I just put my rain jacket over the bag.
We hiked back up and over the cliff until we reach a small pond. The water was very stagnant and dirty but thanks to a little Iodine and some vitamin C the water became drinkable. We reached Quartz Lake and setup camp for the night. I recorded some kids having quiet time with God and then we had some Ramen. A deer had been stalking us for the past few hours and kept creeping on our camp. It didn’t show any fear of us but after chucking some rocks at it and screaming he finally got the message and ran away. A previous hiker must have tamed it somehow. Part of “Leave No Trace” is to keep the animals wild and afraid of humans otherwise the balance of nature will be thrown off with tamed animals. It rained a couple of hours again and a rainbow came out. I got a quick shot of it but it vanished very fast so my shot wasn’t as great. Don’t put your camera away, always keep it out and ready in case something unexpected happens like a funny conversation or in my case a beautiful rainbow appears.
We went to bed at around 10:30pm.
I woke up at about 7:00am and pulled out my camera from my pack. The lighting was awesome. Take advantage of morning light. The lighting was so dramatic, about 70% of the shots used for the promo were captured with this morning light. After I got about a half-hours worth of footage we ate some sausage tortillas, packed up our stuff and left. We traveled around Quartz Canyon where I got a couple of shots of the backpackers. We went up and around some sketchy ledges and then had some lunch after about 3 miles of hiking. We had peanut-butter and jelly tortillas this time for lunch. Just as we were about to leave the rain fell down on us for about an hour. Packing rain protection gear is essential. In the mountains rain comes and goes and it’s very unpredictable. Always prepare for rain.
Something I didn’t really make clear in any of these previous paragraphs was that I was practically dying the entire time I was on this trip. The group took very few water and breather breaks and powered through till we got to our next campsite. Whenever it rained and I said that it stopped, I’m referring to that it stopped down pouring. We still ended up hiking in the rain for hours. We got over this ridge and then were bombarded by a thunderstorm. With zero trees for cover we had to run down a rocky mountain, through some snow until we could hide under a small cliff area. We were freezing and the rain lasted for about 45 minutes. Once it lightened up we took off until we reached the basin of Summit’s Peak, roughly about 13,000ft above sea level. We decided to camp on top of the mountain that night. It was cold, windy, and at night probably got to around 30 degrees F. Bringing multiple warm layers and gloves becomes essential when it gets freezing in the mountains. If your hands are freezing then you aren’t going to want to film anything. We had some awful chunky potato soup that night which would have been better if the water was warmer. It took 45 minutes to boil some water because the wind kept taking the heat away. I went to bed with a cold and the chills but thankfully my sleeping bag was warm.
Last night I didn’t get any sleep, maybe a half-hour at most. In the middle of the night I had to ask my guide for some of his water because I was so dehydrated and mine ran out. Oh I forgot to mention that I slept in a tent with my guide. I tossed and turned but couldn’t get any sleep. Around 6:30am I got out of bed and walked around a little. I walked a good 500 yards away from where everyone was camped at and I puked. I had stomach flu or so I thought. I walked back, told the guides and they told me that I didn’t have the flu but rather I had altitude sickness. I have never been at 13,000ft so my body wasn’t used to breathing in 25% less oxygen. I was also dehydrated so the condition worsened. I was told that for every 1% of hydration that you don’t have you lose 10% of energy. Another bodily function that I should probably mention is my stool. Remember when I said I had raisin bran on the first day? Altitude sickness worsened it. Enough said.
Anyways, I decided to stay back and try to sleep in the tent as the backpackers summited the 13,500ft peak. I took some pepto bismol and had a little oatmeal. Once the backpackers came back I got out of the tent, took down the tent, and packed my backpack. I left out my 10 pound tripod and the 4 pound peanut butter and jelly bag that I was supposed to carry. The items were given to other backpackers and I sat down and tried to get some calories in my body before we left. I was extremely weak. I slowly ate a tortilla with honey on it. In the process I was chewed up by about 20 flies.
I lead the way as we hiked gradually downward. I made the group take about 10 times the amount of breaks that we usually took. I was extremely weak with the 30 pounds of gear in my pack. I went about 2 hours until we stopped for lunch. Crackers and cheese were on the menu and I attempted to eat a few. The rain came and I got about 45 minutes more of sleep. The rain stopped and I started hiking again. I collapsed on the side of the mountain and got sick several times. The instant I stopped everyone in the group surrounded me and asked what they could take from me. They opened up my pack and took everything from me, my camera equipment, heavy sleeping bag, and clothes. I really felt the love of Jesus at that moment. Everyone came together to help someone that was in need of help. My pack was lighter than a feather. I got up and I trucked down the mountain with the motivation that once I got to the bottom a car would be there to pick me up and bring me to lower elevation where my body would heal itself with more oxygen. I took very little video that day, more than I wanted to record. Don’t let sickness stop you from doing your job no matter how rotten you feel.
We got to the bottom and the van appeared. I took shotgun and we drove to a gas station. Once we got to the gas station I already felt 50% better, good enough to eat a footlong sub from Subway. We left the gas station and drove to Penitente Canyon. I slept the entire ride there and woke up in a desert. Penitente Canyon was a sandy-rocky desert and to my benefit was at 8,000ft, 5,000ft lower that what I was at earlier in the day. Around 9pm everyone unpacked their stuff from the trailer and started setting up their tents. I slept in the van where it was warm and away from any possible rain. I woke up several times in the night for water but overall had a good night’s sleep.
I woke up and felt refreshed. I had an egg breakfast with the campers. We packed up some stuff in some day packs and went into the canyon to go rock climbing. We climbed for hours. I didn’t do any climbing however. Climbing a fake rock wall and climbing on actual rock is very different. You don’t have any specified places to grab or place your feet and you have to rely on your belayer (rope holder) to catch you if you fall. Don’t put yourself or your camera at risk. I didn’t feel comfortable so I gave my camera to a guide and gave the GoPro to another camper.
After climbing we ate some more crackers and cheese and went back to our campsite where we played hacky sack, slack lining, Parcore up some rocky ridges, and played some card games until dinner. We had some chicken-alfredo pizzas which was by far the best meal on the trip. We all got ready for bed and I slept in the 12-passenger van again.
At this point in the trip I was ready to go home. I was done. My body was physically and mentally exhausted. We went back to into the canyon where our ropes were from yesterday and we repelled down the canyon. This was even scarier than climbing since you didn’t have a rope holder suspending you . If you let go of the rope to fast you’re done. I didn’t partake in this stunt but I enjoyed getting shots of the kids having fun. While we were sitting in the canyon there were a lot of ants and little bushes. I took out a macro lens that I was borrowing and started recording. Take notice of the little things and look for opportunities even when nothing is happening.
We packed up our stuff and went into the van around noon. We drove around for maybe an hour until we reached Creed, Colorado. Creed is a super small town with like a population of like 200 people. We then went rafting down the Rio Grande for about 3 hours. The water was about 40 degrees but it was super fun. We then went to a steakhouse called Kips where we had some delicious green chili burgers. I got a few shots of people eating. Don’t be afraid to take video or photos of food or of people eating. It started raining again while we were heading back to the van. We drove until we got back to Pagosa Springs, Colorado and we went to the hot springs. Hot springs’ water smells like rotten eggs but is ultra good for your skin. If you have any silver you have to remove it or else it will tarnish. The hottest spring was 112 degrees. They were super relaxing. We all got into the Van and drove back to base where I emptied what was left in my pack and took all my possessions back to my cabin.
This past week I went backpacking in the mountains of the Continental Divide filming a promo video for the backpacking program. It was by far the most challenging experience I have ever put my body through carrying 44.4lbs on my back for 17 miles of straight up hiking. I was sore, tired and hungry for the majority of the trip. I was 13,000ft above sea level and I got altitude sickness. I was puking on top of mountains and my body was dying, only breathing in oxygen 75% less dense than Michigan. If I was any higher in elevation I could have put my life at risk, thankfully my body was able to handle it and it didn’t develop into HYPE or HACE or any other conditions where my lungs fill up with fluids. I was able to explore God’s Kingdom and experience nature in a whole new way.
I’ve gained a new respect towards backpackers and mountain explorers and I had one of the best life experiences that I will treasure forever. I hope you were able to learn a thing or two from my experience and that this might have prepared you for any mountain adventures you may have.
Thanks for reading this monster long entry.
Next blog post you see will be the promo that I did.