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  • May 16, 2020 3 min read

    tent camping in eureka valley

    As a mountain guide (and Eastside Sports co-owner) I have an unusual job: I am a professional camper.

    Sure, there’s all the guiding and climbing, the terrain assessment and hazard avoidance, the going up, the coming down; creating course outlines and educational curricula, and all that stuff I do as part of my job as mountain guide and outdoor educator; but when it comes right down to it, I get paid to camp. A few years back this added up to over 200 days in the field, on hugely varied outings, with nearly six hundred different people - kids, young adults, adults; wanna-be kids. We merrily climbed preposterous peaks, skied and hiked, dodged storms and bugs, enjoyed lots of wild places and generally acted bold and valiant. But mostly we camped. 

    There are as many kinds of camping adventures as there are stars in the sky, but in my world camping falls into three broad genres:

    1. Decadence: All my stuff and the stuff I’m being asked to bring for others is being transported by something with wheels or hooves. Ruled by excess, in this group falls all my trailer-based outings, stock supported trips, and most car camping. And just between you and me, this is my favorite of the categories.
    2. Compromise: In this category some sort of limit has been imposed upon how much stuff I can bring, but I still don’t need to think about it too much. This might include normal car camping, car pooling for a climbing trip where I just have room for a duffle, or a short backpacking trip.
    3. True suffering: These are the trips where every ounce counts and then I throw in a ten pound rope and fifteen pounds of climbing gear, and possibly a pair of skis. “Sixty pounds of light weight gear” as my friend Allan used to say…

    I do not dance easily between these worlds. Take a sample from this past spring, for instance. I had just packed my utility trailer for a week-long outing to Eureka Valley. Plenty of room, everything goes. I had a 5’ tall telescope in tow, with about fifteen lenses. A spare sleeping bag in case it’s warmer than anticipated, and another just in case. Not one but two extra chairs lest anyone go without. The full deluxe car-camping kitchen, eight burners and five jumbo coolers. But the following week I embarked on a ten-day ski mountaineering double transit of the Sierra. For that trip I have plucked every other bristle out of my tooth brush and agonized over whether or not to bring an extra pair of socks (for a total of two pair on the trip). The problem is I’d be coming from Decadence mode when I should be in True Suffering mode: a book? Sure, toss it in. Spare T shirt and camp booties? No problem. I’ll see your extra pair of socks and raise you an inflatable pillow! Then, with a crushing pack, I find I have to do a sloppy “trailhead triage”, which sometimes results in essential items being tossed into the ‘no-go’ pile and an extra book hiding under deep in the recesses of the pack, unfound until day three.

    The funny thing is that it’s only while in suffering mode that true decadence makes itself apparent. On the ski trip an extra lemon drop for teammates, shared at a rest stop (weight: two grams) means so much. A spare tea bag on day eight can make or break the day. The value of a dry pair of socks after having wet feet for five days? Priceless. But in Decadence mode can there really be appreciation? 

    Trailer camping, with two extra pillows, a shower and a roof is comfortable, it must be said. But there’s nothing like discomfort to help me appreciate the little things in life. A climbing rope stuffed into a fuzzy jacket makes a wonderful pillow when the ground underneath is rock, and when there isn’t room for a book it’s amazing what joy just paying attention to what is going on with the sky, or the lake can bring. All told, I like to camp. I like a hot shower, warm bed and good meal as much as anyone. But sometimes when we’re roughing it in our RV I do miss the simpler days when all my stuff fits into a backpack.