Backpacking into Sykes Hot Springs in Big Sur

Sykes Hot SpringsFor one of my dear friend’s birthday, she requested a camping trip to Big Sur (the Sykes Mineral Springs). However, this wasn’t your typical camping adventure. This was a carry all of your belongings, hike ten miles in the heat, camp along a river with four dogs and nine people, and then hike back out the next day kind of trip. Planning and packing was key and the proper equipment was essential. For this trip, I had to rethink my entire notion of what it means to hike with gear like shelter, food, and water. You know, the important things that keep you alive out in the wilderness. Our Friday night was spent at the Pfeiffer campsite in Big Sur, California. It was wonderful to have one night to “luxury” camping with friends where we could bust out tacos and cake, goblets of adult juice, chairs, and guitars. This was also the time we tested out our Eureka camping gear (can I fold that sleeping bag into a tiny little burrito? Oh good-yes I can) and got rid of excess items for the next day hike/camp adventure. Packing for this trip was like a game my brain had to play for the first time. After discussing with the other people what they were bringing (one brought a first aid kit, the other an invaluable baby propane thing with a pot for boiling water), we figured out an essential list that was pretty much per person. With nine people hiking, one person was sure to share but being independent was also an important asset.

List of Essentials:

20141005_114314This Sawtooth 45L backpack from Eureka was pure awesomeness. I felt like a hermit crab that carried a convenient house on its back. It had a whistle on one of the buckles in case you get lost or want to make backpack music. The hip straps latched across my stomach really helped with weight distribution and back comfort. All of the cool pockets and zippers made packing a fun game. I felt like a squirrel hiding precious items for the winter. In the backpack went: o   Headlamp (because I didn’t want to sit in poison oak for a late night potty run). o   Potty packs (four little wipes and toilet paper in a plastic bag). o   Chapstick. o   Sunscreen. While most of the hike was protected by the shade of the redwoods, there were some sunny and hot chaparral parts. o   Cell phone (for Instagram #whenihaveservice). There was zero reception so my phone was turned off unless there was a photo moment, like when one of the dogs was wearing a cute green bandanna and playing in the stream. o   ID and insurance card (my mom would be proud of my adult decisions). Also there was a missing hiker sign at the trailhead. o   A Eureka! Singlis UL sleeping pad. This was very lightweight and easy to pump up by hand (no batteries needed). It came in a bright orange carrying case that is perfect for me not to lose. It also stayed full of air and supported my tired back against the cruel ground.20141004_170210 o   Eureka! Taron 3 Tent. This was a three-person (or two person and one dingo) tent that was lightweight and easy to pack in one of the backpacks. It was super easy to assemble with poles and latches. It also came with a top part that we actually didn’t use because the weather was so delightful in the evening. o   A Eureka 30 Degree mummy sleeping bag. Lightweight, easily packable, and extremely comfortable. I was perfectly happy at night cocooned in this sleeping bag. o   Food. For Saturday and Sunday breakfast, we packed oatmeal packets, instant coffee, and granola. For lunch, we packed beef jerky and Cliff bars. For dinner, it was a bag of chili that can be heated in someone’s empty can of chili. Yay for the person who brought the propane and a lighter! Accommodating those items included: a mug, plastic spoons and a few plastic cups (because I did manage to bring three Black Box baby sized wine… yes, I am that person). We were minimal on food. Others brought more snacks. Sharing is caring. o   Clothes (and a very minimum at that). We packed light clothing for a hot hike there and back the next day. I even packed a bathing suit and a towel for the mineral springs that were an anticipated evening activity. Probably unnecessary but I am more modest. For nighttime, a light down vest was all that was necessary (it also doubles as a pillow!) I also packed two pairs of socks that I made sure went past my ankles. No body likes bloody ankles after hiking a total of twenty miles. Also, excellent shoes (hiking shoes are key). My North Face hiking boots were tremendous in keeping my feet blister free. I also had them nicely broken in before our trip. *Side note: after Friday night’s “normal camping,” I tossed all my clothes I was wearing the night before (including flip flops) into a bag I designated as “leave behinds” and left it in the truck only to reunite with it on Sunday. o   A hat and sunglasses. Three people had on Patagonia and looked very professional. o   Other important items included: Band-Aids and moleskin, Advil, utility knife, and bug spray, mini toothbrush and toothpaste, and a map of the trail. Some of those items were not used but I am happy I had access to them. o   WATER! I say this in all caps because above all else, water is what kept me from, oh I don’t know, dying. It was a very hot and long hike and we had a lot of steep inclines. Water was essential to our success. Here is what we packed according to our situation: I carried 1.5 liters of water and two little water bottles for the dog. What was nice with hiking with a group is that sometimes someone else took care of your animal’s needs in the water department. Also there were steams along the hike that the dogs could soak in and drink from. The real key was my loving husband also carrying a “bladder” of water with a mouthpiece that held about two liters. Every time we stopped for a break, I would get a good drink of water. He always drank second. What a stand up dude. We finished that entire bladder after ten miles and six hours of hiking. I also broke into the bigger water bottle. 20141004_181343-MOTIONo   A water filter. There was no way to carry in enough water. The water filter provided an opportunity to refill the bladder and plastic water bottles, make dinner, and breakfast. Also it was fun to watch one of our friends sit at the river like Golum pumping water from the stream into the filter. We repeatedly asked him to yell “my precious.” o   Dogs. Dogs are so fun and I couldn’t imagine leaving our dingo at home while out on this adventure. With this said, dogs are an important consideration when doing a trip like this. It involved extra planning and babysitting. This section is dedicated to the four naughty dogs that we lovingly brought on our trip: •   Leashes. Three dogs were herding dogs and understood the meaning of “stay behind.” My dog in particular is a rescue (excuse) and loves to greet everyone and is not under great voice command. So, having her on a leash was kind of key. • Water bowls. I just brought a lightweight plastic container and every time I got water, dogs got water. Unless there was a stream stop. • Dog food. I packed the exact portions in little sandwich bags for each feeding. I packed a little more for the extra energy. • Poo bags: Lightweight and actually multipurpose. • Dog packs: the border collies rocked these dog packs like champs. They could carry the extra water. My dog freaked out when we tried to put it on, so it went into the “leave behind” bag. What was great about the hike back out was our load was lighter. Sure we had our trash (leave no evidence of human behind), but most of our food was eaten and our water amount was an exact amount calculation. Not to mention, the hike back to the truck took one whole hour less (five hours) as we figured it was a lot more decline. Overall, it was a magnificent trip that I feel so accomplished from. I felt zero guilt when we stopped for pizza, beer, and football on the way home.

Article written by

Lacey Mae

Lacey is a naturalist at an outdoor school on the central coast of California. She lives down by the bay with her cool husband in a red house. She is mom to a sweet but naughty mutt dog, a huge cat and (soon-to-be) human baby.

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