Sherpa shenanigans 

Published 11:58 am Tuesday, February 6, 2024

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In college, high-altitude mountaineering monopolized my daydreams. The science behind human beings surviving where trees could not boggled my mind. The Himalayan mountains contain most of the highest peaks on earth, and the people who call them home. These people, the Sherpa, are biologically supercharged to carry heavy packs and efficiently move in a low-oxygen environment. After our family’s backpacking trip this weekend, I think it is safe to say I have zero Sherpa genetics. 

Now that our kids are getting older, we have started to choose campsites that can’t be backed into in a truck. Backpacking into remote areas gives us a real wilderness feel and usually ensures no noisy neighbors. 

Most evenings, we walk a mile or so as a family with our dogs. While our kids may have thought it was a family bonding time, we also were testing their abilities to hike. During these walks, I have started to wear a backpack with weights. 

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Wearing a weighted pack while walking has been popularized recently with the name “rucking.” A term that is common in the armed forces is now coming to a suburban dad near you. 

While increasing weight in my ruck bag over the past few months, I had confidence in my ability to carry the heaviest load on our backpacking trip this weekend. I was going to be my family’s sherpa on the hike and gain mythological status for strength and endurance in the eyes of my children. 

My first mistake was underestimating the trail we were hiking. A mile and a half in length, I assumed my heart rate may be slightly elevated by the end of it. 

My second mistake was packing too much weight, and then adding more. My hiking backpack has been with me through hundreds of miles and across multiple continents. It has enough capacity to hold my nine-year-old, which leads me down a path to keep packing until it’s full. At the start of the trail, I had packed enough food for a football team, two different stoves, extra fuel canisters, multiple fire-starting options, and even decorative LED lights to hang around camp. 

Just to be on the safe side, I attached a 20-pound stack of split firewood to my pack and we headed up the trail. It didn’t take long for me to start regretting my self-confidence. The uphill nature of the trail burned up my legs quickly. I pondered if I could get my leashed dogs to pull me up the trail as I slowly climbed to our site. 

Sherpas are paid to carry other people’s gear up a mountain. They even carry people off mountains when needed. They take great pride in their work. 

As I unloaded my pack at the campsite, there was no pride. I was not being paid monetarily for toting my kids’ gear up a mountain. Instead, I immediately began to think of how to make my pack lighter for the way back the next day. 

“Kids,” I said, “we are going to make a huge fire and eat everything we brought so I don’t have to carry any of it back.” 

That evening we laughed around the fire as we gorged ourselves on camp food. I made a mental note to pack less for the next trip because it is now obvious I am not a sherpa. 

Hiking packs were fully loaded for a recent backpacking trip.