On May 02 some expats and I travelled to a nearby mountain called Mt. Panshan about 2 hours from Tianjin city. Given my planned travels for next summer, mimicking the backpacking experience in preparation seemed to be a practical exercise (no pun intended).
In my big backpack, the following were packed: pants, long sleeve shirt (as head covering or if it got cold), sweater, 3L of water, apple, banana, orange, two sandwiches, my journal, box of cookies, wallet, sunscreen, toilet paper, lock and cable for my bag, sunglasses and a few other little things. Estimated pack weight -- about 15lbs. Climbing with this weight was not bad at all. In fact, the 4 hours of hiking with this equipment was easier and lighter than carrying my normal backpack with iPad+keyboard, yoga mat, shirt/pants, and 3 pieces of fruit.
Although travelling with colleagues and new friends to the mountain, I ventured off on my own. "Outgoing introvert" would be an appropriate self-describing personality type for me. There personalities thrive being around people, and can do so for long periods of time. Then comes a point where time alone is needed. My own company and the room to think in solitude are refreshing. Such was the intention for this hike. Additionally, when out in Vancouver last summer, I completed the Grouse Grind in approximately 54 minutes, when average times are 1.5 hours. With this mountain being several times smaller, I anticipated a quick hike and wanted to see what the climb time would be like.
This hike itself was much easier on its own, however the weather added an interesting challenge. It became cold early on, started raining, and was really windy. The three combined made the trek across the ridge from the first to the second peak an opportunity for building mental stamina -- which it indeed did.
The following are 11 points I became mindful of which will really help me on subsequent hikes:
1. Clothes: You should have three sets of clothes. The first, you wear and these should be selected based on weather forecasts. The second for adjusting to unforeseen weather/environmental changes. The third set for changing when you finish and need a back up dry set. This time, I wore shorts and t-shirt, however, upon arrival it was cold, windy and started to rain. The long sleeve shirt came in handy quickly. I ended up taking the pants back off because it was getting too hot with them on. A small pair of gloves would have been much appreciated.
2. Act early on observations: Something which became apparent very quickly is to notice and act on your circumstances before they become problems. What do I mean? Act before it's obvious to do something ie. Have a snack BEFORE you are hungry, change your clothes if you start to get cold, not once you've become cold. This requires attention to detail and the capability to not think it will pass or you're ok. This was helpful when wearing the pants I brought and started to sweat in them. Taking them off early meant being able to better regulate my body temperature.
3. Mistakes with clothing: When starting to hike up the hill, I put the long sleeve shirt and pants on over my t-shirt and shorts. Shortly after starting to climb, the pants were taken off and put in my pack. My mistake? Not putting the pants into a plastic bag like my sweater was. The end result? Once the hike was over, I was soaked and cold. I had to keep wearing my shorts because my pants weren't inside a plastic bag and got wet. The second mistake was not taking off the t-shirt when putting on the long sleeve shirt. This would have been an extra layer to wear under the zip up thin sweater I had.
4. Poncho: I bought a poncho, which I was glad for, though purchasing two, the second for my pack, would have been the wiser move. While on the mountain ridge, it was super windy, I guessed wind speeds were reaching 45m/h plus. The poncho did have a few buttons, but being so spread out created a pocket for the wind to catch and noticed many people having wet spots given the blowing wildly and rain getting inside. I put mine on, spun it around and with the buttons on my back, I didn't have to worry about the wind or rain going inside. This did create a problem, but this problem lead to the discovery of a new awesome solution!
5. Head covering: With my poncho on backwards, my new solution created a new problem - no use of the hood! What to do about covering my head?! Luckily, I was able to use a bag holding my little items from my pack (because a separate bag was covering the top of it) on my head! The cherry on top? I always have elastics on my wrist because when you need one they come in SUPER handy! Imagine this, it's a moderate rain, winds are ~45km/h, it's cold and you need a head covering. Put the plastic bag over your head and ears, take the elastic and tie the loose part of the bag in a pony-tail! The bag won't let in any water, but better yet, the plastic is great at reflecting the heat from your head and will actually keep your head warm! Now some studies have debunked estimates of loosing 40-45% of your body heat from your head, and this may be true... But, in any case, your head houses your brain, so, that's kinda important, and when out on a hike, any part of your body being cold sucks. So, just put the damn bag on your head, and keep a few elastics handy. If nothing else, you can find some other use for both of them.
6. Plastic bags and elastics: Having a few of each was essential for nifty little tricks, and will no doubt reveal numerous more. I used my bags for keeping clothes and food dry, easy categorization and un/packing of items from bag and making a cover for the top of my pack. Elastics are also great for sealing items such as opened packages, holding items together like writing utensils, passport and papers etc. A quick note on how to seal your plastic bags with food/clothes inside. Initially, I tied tight knots for mine, however this was a mistake because once the climb was finished, I was cold and too weak to even tear a pack of cookies open let alone the tight knots on the plastic bags (which can be tricky normally). How to avoid such problems: use the elastics to tightly seal the bag, or tie and leave a small handle from completing the know which allows you to tug at the handles of the plastic bag and undo it.
7. Devices: Although I was able to take a few photos, I would have took more had there been a waterproof case on my iPhone. Or I had a GoPro. I'm contemplating both.
8. Pack the right food: I tend to favour bananas, oranges and apples. Bananas are great for keeping energy up, helps to keep you alert and can keep hunger pains at bay. Just be mindful where you pack them as they can get squished. Apples are super easy to pack, lightweight, and apparently provide energy faster and longer than a coffee does. I can back this up, the day I did the Grouse Grind, I only had around 5 hours of sleep and partied a little the night before. I ate a large apple right before starting and was sustained throughout the hike (along side some water and strong mental attitude). I repeated the method of eating the apple before the hike this time, and it worked again. Oranges can be a bit of a pain to peel, and I'm sure there are nutritional benefits, this is not why I like them though. Peeling an orange and taking it apart requires a little focus. This can be a small refreshing change to the brain. The real reason is the juices of an orange are sweet and actually wet. This is great if you have little water left over and want to wet your tongue, or if you get tired of the bland taste of water. Lastly, they provide a sweet liquid without the dehydrating sugars found in energy drinks or sodas. I'll be looking more into nuts and dried fruits for my larger hikes. It's important to eat just before you get hungry, this helps your body and mentality stay maintained instead of loosing focus on your hike because you are hungry. The proactive mindset is just helpful in general.
9. Breathing: Keeping focused on your breathing rate will deliver consistent oxygen to your muscles and help your endurance. A portion of the climb included 740 stairs in increments. I took these stairs 2 at a time, and stuck to a strict, rapid breathing schedule. Each new step I had to start a new breathing cycle (1 inhale and 1 exhale) before the next step. After each set, I took approximately a 30 second breather and deliberately took slow deep breathes, to lower my heart rate. The net result was being able to climb all sets with surprising ease, and only getting sore thigh muscles on the top few stairs of the last few sets. Recovery time also seemed to be significantly shorter as well. Each time I do an exercise, a quote from the movie Never Back Down rings in my mind where the coach tells this hot shot kid "you'll defeat yourself if you don't control your breathing".
10. Control water intake: Having a pack with a bladder pocket is great! Mine holds 3L, and let me tell you, water is HEAVY! It's important to control your intake not only so you do not consume all your water early (which leads to numerous issues later), but drinking too much can lead to feeling bloated, cramps and constantly having to go to the bathroom. By controlling the intake, you stay hydrated and your body will use most of the water resulting in not having to pee as much.
11. Posture and centre of gravity: My developing yoga practice has provided insights I didn't foresee applying to numerous other areas of my life. Posture has been one of the major benefits, and it is equally important, if not more so when hiking. With the added weight of a pack and the incline of the mountain, proper posture is essential! Many people start to bend forward to compensate for the incline, make sure to do so at the hips, while keeping your back straight and leading your body with your heart pressed forward. This reduces sweat build up on your back, removes pressure on the bladder pack, and helps your central nervous system (spine) communicate with your body more effectively. Hiking also requires a lot of core and back strength. Having a strong core is not appropriate only for countering the weight on your back, but also for lowering your centre of gravity! This helps prevent you from loosing balance, and plays a role in creating a strong foundation. Try the following tips to: 1) Flex your abs, 2) When climbing try stepping with the ball of your foot, not the heel 3) Rooting down through your legs and toes (flexing your toes into the ground as if they were fingers grabbing a handful of dirt - visualizing it helps). These tips will provide you a better stance any time they're practiced.
There is talk of doing another climb on the much bigger Mt. Ling near Beijing next month. I will keep you updated as details emerge.