Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Tips For Twosomes

Here are some more of the tidbits that didn't make the final cut of my book. Waste not, want not I say!

If you backpack with your partner, you may have noticed that there are certain times when a little teamwork can go a long way. Helping out a partner who is smaller or less experienced opens up more options for taking on challenging trails or tougher conditions. So I've outlined a few tips for some of those more challenging moments--crossing rivers and scrambling up or down rocky slopes. Enjoy.

One of the key moments for teamwork is when you need to ford a river. Crossing fast-flowing water can be very dangerous, but by working together you can combine your strength and stability.

There are two basic methods for a couple to cross a river as a team if the water is higher than knee-deep on either person and/or the current is strong and/or the bottom of the river has a lot of loose rocks.

The first method is to cross facing one another with each person’s hands grasping the other’s forearms. The larger person should be upstream, breaking the current for the smaller person. You should walk sideways across the river, and take turns stepping so that one of you always has two feet on the bottom. Think of it as slow dancing in fifth grade. Awkward and not very cuddly, but at least you’re making contact.

The second method is useful if you’re hiking with poles. You should link arms, and each carry a hiking pole or sturdy branch in your free arm. Face the far bank of the river, and cross using your poles for stability, as a sort of third leg. Again, it’s best if one of you takes a step, then the other, so that one of you is stable at all times. This I like to think of as the ‘boy scout helping an old lady across the road’ method. But I’m not sure the name will catch on.

If there is a big size difference between the two of you, sometimes the crossing is only difficult for the smaller person. If this is the case, the taller partner can help out by making an extra trip. His first trip (sorry, but the law of averages says the guy will probably be the tall one) should be used to cross the river and leave his pack on the far side. Then after returning, he should put on his partner’s pack, and they can do one of the paired methods of crossing described above. This will not only help the smaller person’s balance by taking her pack away, it will also help to keep her gear dry if the river comes up above her hips. The taller person will obviously be carrying the pack higher above the water than the shorter person could. Note that this is not an excuse to wear high heels when you go camping, in case you were considering it. They won’t help your stability any when you’re trying to cross a river.

Climbing up or down steep slopes and boulder hopping are other times when teamwork can be a big help, particularly if you have a big difference in size or experience. It’s easy to forget that if your partner’s legs are shorter than yours, you may be able to make a leap from one rock to another where your partner can’t, or you may be able to step up onto a rock that your partner will have to climb onto using several steps or pulling up with his or her arms. It’s important to stick together over this type of terrain, especially if one of you is inexperienced and may need a bit of help. I’ve been left behind by a group who went somewhere that my short legs just couldn’t reach, and I had to stand there and wait until they realized I was gone and someone came back to help me. Believe me, it was not a nice feeling! It was, on the other hand, a good reminder of why you should keep a whistle somewhere easy to reach.

A larger partner can be helpful when the smaller partner is having difficulty climbing up or down rocks by getting to the next step and having the smaller person hand over (or up or down) their pack. This will enable the smaller person to clamber over the rocks without getting a pack caught or wedged, and it will also help with balance. This is particularly helpful when trying to climb down from a large rock, if a small person has to slide off on his or her bum because it’s too far to step down. The sliding is much easier without a pack on. This was my preferred method of descending the Grand Canyon, and I have the shredded pants to prove it!

Sometimes all that’s needed is literally a helping hand. Reaching down to pull your partner up a big step is an easy way to help without taking the time to take off a pack and have to put it on again after. It’s also sometimes the only thing you can do, if there’s no safe place to put a pack on the ground. Sometimes my partner will be behind me when I’m climbing up a big step, and he’ll just give me a shove upwards. It’s not exactly graceful looking, but it works.

Every once in a while the smaller partner is the one with the advantage. Sometimes a smaller foot can balance on a ledge where a larger foot can’t. Or a smaller hiker can duck under a fallen tree that a taller person has to climb over or walk around. So it’s important to make sure your partner can follow you whether you are the big one or the little one. By keeping an close eye on each other, and working as a team using all of your different strengths and abilities, you can keep each other safe and happy.

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