It's time to head for the backcountry

Hiking is in and skiing is out, except for the iron men and women who ply the backcountry for lonely patches of snow and hike to them. For the rest of us, the mountains still call, but for footwear instead of ski and boarding boots.

I've day-hiked for years, enjoy it and will continue to do so. But I've heard the wilderness siren call and recently picked up a backcountry backpack. Unfortunately, in my ignorance I bought a cheap model on sale, much to long for my height. I also didn't know what size capacity to go for. Now I do - for me, for weekend backcountry stays, a pack with a capacity of 3,000-3,500cc is right.

I also now know that the well-padded back lateral support should ride above my hips, not below as in the first buy. I found out that straps to hang a sleeping bag, small tent and sleeping pad are vital. None of these straps came with my cheap bag, which is also too narrow.

I also now know that for a backcountry pack I should go to an experienced outdoor sports shop, such as Sporting Rage in Carson City or REI in Reno. There knowledgeable sales persons will be able to fit the bag to me. Friends have assured me such counseling will be repaid many times over by more comfort on the trail.

My backpack tent is small, eight pounds and about 19 inches in width, 6 inches in diameter. That will fit my new backpack (when I get it this weekend). But my old sleeping bags are designed for car camping, where all you have to carry them is a few feet. They are bulky, filled with material that will get soggy in damp weather. So a new, down-filled back is essential. My old sleeping pad seems to have disappeared so I'll need a new one of those. More shopping, more cost.

But after that I should be ready to try a weekend or at least a night in the backcountry.

One of the reasons I'm moving into backpacking is my desire to return to the Grand Canyon. Last time I tented on the North Rim, hiked around the canyon for a couple of days before descending to the Colorado River. I arrived there exhausted, turned in at the Phantom Ranch and the next morning climbed back up the trail. I knew that if I didn't I would have to be helicoptered out. In short, a disaster.

So this time I plan to go backcountry, take my time going down, stay there a couple of days exploring side canyons, and return. Before that trek, sometime in September before the North Rim shuts down I want to get some backcountry experience. I'll start out small and slow, gradually build up to Pyramid Peak for a weekend. Then I'll head for the Canyon, determined to do it right this time. Keep tuned.

• Squaw Valley starts its summer season Saturday, June 12 with a party at High Camp featuring a poolside concert and tribute to Woodstock-era music by Reno's new act, Max Yasgur's Farm.

The Saturday celebration officially marks the start of summer operations at Squaw Valley, offering warm weather guests scenic Cable Car rides, mountaintop ice skating, swimming, hiking, and restaurants all from the spectacular facilities at High Camp. The ice skating in the past has been a blast.

Starting June 12, the Cable Car operates daily from 9:40 a.m.Ð4 p.m. with the last ride up in the afternoon at 3:40 p.m. Night operations for the summer begin Saturday, June 26.

The Swimming Lagoon & Spa and the Olympic Ice Pavilion welcome swimmers and skaters 11 a.m.Ð4 p.m. Access to the miles of upper mountain hiking trails is free with the cable car ride and snowfields offer a cooling treks. Cable Car tickets are $19 for adults, $15 for juniors (13-15) and seniors (65-75), $5 for children ages 4-12 and free for children under 3 and seniors 76 and older. Visit www.squaw.com.

Later this month flying animals, smiling kids, and lively musical performances are part of the high flying fun at Squaw's third annual High Altitude Kite & Music Festival June 26-27.

The festival brings members of the Northern California Kite Club and other regional kite organizations to High Camp to launch dozens of kite creations.

The weekend event, touted as the nation's highest altitude organized kiting festival, also includes kite-making seminars, flying demonstrations and live musical performances on the outdoor High Camp stage.

The Kite & Music Festival soars from noon-6 p.m. on Saturday and noon-5 p.m. on Sunday and all concerts are free with a Cable Car ticket. Kites are also available for purchase at High Camp for those new to the sport. For more information about the festival visit www.squaw.com on the web or call Squaw Valley Marketing and Events at (530) 583-6985.

Sam Bauman is a Nevada Appeal Staff Writer. Contact him at sbauman@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1236.

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