First Backpack Trip in Twenty Years

I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but yes, I didn’t go on any backpack trips for over twenty years. Although you might find that hard to believe, it’s true. The reason behind this is simple yet complex.

When I was 28 I injured my back from overuse. On this particular year I had climbed Mt Whitney, Mt Raineer, San Gorgonia, San Jacinto, Mt Gould, Temple Crag, and more. That, combined with a lot of climbing, hiking, biking, snow boarding, and snow skiing, my body was worn out. Eventually, it had had enough and while training one day, I felt a sharp stab in my lower back. Three years later, after finally giving in to the pain, I had surgery. Afterwards, I feared I’d never be able to climb or backpack again. It’s not that I was handicapped or anything. It was more that I didn’t trust myself or have the confidence in those abilities. I felt weak. Before the injury, I was climbing and hiking regularly with frequent backpack trips. I was strong and felt like I was in good shape; I never gave the idea of carrying a 50 pound pack a second thought. After the injury, however, carrying a heavy pack intimidated me. I also didn’t want to place any burden of responsibility on a partner. So, instead of trying, I simply stopped. Twenty years later, I discovered that my actions were fear-based and I was on the wrong path.

This realization and newfound confidence birthed out of a simple hike in the Sierra Nevada to Valentine Lake. Although we didn’t trek all the way to the lake, we hiked almost five miles round trip and it felt invigorating. It was almost an epiphany, an awakening of sorts. Like what the hell have I been doing with my life for the past twenty years? So what came out of that hike was a strong motivation to get back into the mountains, back into the wild again, and to do it with vigor and determination.

If this was to become reality, then I’d need to seriously reconsider what I could carry on my back. I was vaguely aware of the ultralight backpacking movement, so I immediately started researching gear. It didn’t take long to put a list together, but it took a bit longer to swallow the pill of the price tag. This wasn’t going to be cheap, but I felt that it was going to be worth every penny and realistically the best way for me to put the least amount of strain on my body and to enjoy myself.

Over a period of a couple months, I purchased and acquired gear while simultaneously researching where my first backpack trip was going to be. As winter was approaching, I chose Joshua Tree National Park since I was planning on going out the week before Thanksgiving in 2020. But when looking on the AllTrails app, I couldn’t find a backpacking trail either long enough or as a loop that I was interested in. Most trails seemed to be geared for day hikes. So I scoured the internet for backpacking ideas in Joshua Tree and I came across an article from, Christy Rosander (trail name Rockin’) titled, Joshua Tree National Park Big Loop Backpack. After reading this, I was inspired to create a loop myself by linking a bunch of trails together. I came up with the following.

Trip Details

TRIP DATE Nov 22 to Nov 24, 2020
LENGTH About 15 miles, loop
TRAILHEAD Beginning and ending at Boy Scout Trailhead
DIFFICULTY Easy to moderate
WATER No water available. Cached water where trail crosses road.

Download the GPX file here: Joshua Tree Loop

As for gear, I went all in on the ultralight idea. There’s still some room for improvement, but I did my best to minimize what I brought. Check out the gear list on Lighter Pack: My Gear.

Day 1: Boy Scout Trailhead to Samuelson Rock

Since this was my first trip in over twenty years, I decided to take things easy and not push myself at all. I really just wanted to get back out into the wild and enjoy and immerse myself in nature. So the first day was really easy with a gently downward sloping trail that mostly followed a sandy wash to Samuelson Rock where I planned to camp for the first night. But just prior to reaching this destination, I took a short detour up Johnny Lang Canyon to an old functioning water pump. I had never been here before, so I was rather excited to find it.

Old water pump at the mouth of Johnny Lang Canyon

From there I continued on to Samuelson Rock where I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring in complete solitude to finally settle down to a beautiful sunset.

Samuelson Rock has an interesting history surrounding John Samuelson that I encourage you to discover on your own.

Rock inscribed by John Samuelson that greets you.
One of eight rocks inscribed by John Samuelson scattered around the area.
Evening light at Samuelson Rocks

Day 2: Samuelson Rock to Boy Scout Trail

The next morning, I awoke to a serene sunrise and spent the early hours photographing leisurely.

Early light at Samuelson Rocks
Sunrise at Samuelson Rocks
Slowly the sun rises and the day warms up.
Remnants of John Samuelson’s homestead
I always make a point of looking down at my feet.
Details everywhere you look.

After breakfast and packing up, I finally hit the trail, or rather a series of trails. My hike from Samuelson Rock took me on the Bigfoot Trail to Maze Loop Trail to Big Pine Trail and finally to Boy Scout Trail where I camped about two miles before the end. I was feeling really good and certainly could have continued on to my vehicle, but I wanted another night out in the wilderness. After all, that’s what I came for.

Evening light at Camp 2 just off of Boy Scout Trail
Soft light really lets the colors pop
Wonderland of Rocks
Into the eye of a cactus
Many footsteps on Boy Scout Trail

Day 3: Boy Scout Trail to End

The next day offered another peaceful morning and with beautiful light.

Early morning light at Camp 2 towards the Wonderland of Rocks
Rocks, rocks everywhere!
Sunrise at Camp 2 just off of Boy Scout Trail

I finished this short trip in short order with only about two miles left to the car, but it was shared with a sweet feeling of success. I had more than succeeded in my goal. Not only did I complete the loop, but I did it solo and without any problems. My skills from long ago were never forgotten, like riding a bike, and my back and body felt strong. I was overjoyed in the moment.

If you would like to follow more of my hiking adventures, be sure to check out my AllTrails profile. And be sure to follow me on Instagram @mikebodenphoto.