01 May Going Solo – Caching and Cycling between Trailheads
When hiking solo, you don’t have the option of leaving one car at the destination trailhead. The easiest solution is to choose a loop hike or at least a loop that leaves you minimizing the trail distance you have to retrace. Look for “near loops” where you might be able to add a short road walk to complete the loop.
Even better, use a bicycle for the road portion of the trip. I’ve often used a bicycle to complete a loop. I have ridden on paved and unpaved roads. I have ridden in rain and snow.
On one occasion, I used two bicycles. There were many miles of paved road in combo with several miles of rough unpaved forest service road. By dropping a mountain bike at the start of the unpaved section and dropping an old road bike at the head of the paved section, I was able to switch bikes on the ride back to the starting point.
I slept in my van at the beginning trailhead. The next morning, I drove toward the destination trailhead. Reaching the end of unpaved road, I pushed my mountain bike into the woods and locked it to a tree. At the destination trailhead, I parked the van and pulled out my road bike. I rode about 15 miles back toward where I had stashed my mountain bike, switched bikes, locking my road bike to the same tree, and riding rest of the way via mountain bike. Again, I picked out a hidden spot and locked my mountain bike to a tree. At the beginning trailhead, I retrieved my backpack and hiking poles where they had been stashed earlier that morning.
Whether closing the loop by walking or biking, gear caching works well for reducing the load. Ease the load by caching your backpack and heavier gear when you plan to return to that same spot later that day. If you do this, just remember a couple of things. Carry your food and smelly stuff with you in a day pack and hide your gear well; however, take care that you can recognize the hiding place. I have cached food in plain sight on shelter bear cables and hidden on bear lines or in Bear Vault. Plain sight caching hasn’t always worked well for me. Once, someone took down by bear bag, drank my wine boxes, replacing them with some nasty food that they didn’t feel like carrying, and finally, re-suspending my bear bag. Another time, when caching in plain sight (an AT Trail Shelter) someone stole all of my cached gear including my sleeping bag. When I returned a few hours later after a short loop hike, the sun was going down, temps were dropping, and it began snowing. In those conditions without suitable gear, I was forced to night hike off the mountain.
I always take photos of the area on the trail near where I place a stash. If the spot has no outstanding features, I’ll add a few markers before taking photos. I’ll also use GPS to mark a waypoint. You would be surprised how hard it is to find your stash even when you know where you put it. Everything out there really does looks the same.