Choose your Vail Valley camping companions wisely
Special to the Daily
There are many ways to camp. There’s car camping, which does not necessarily entail camping in a car, as the name suggests. There is backpacking, which can take place over one night or extend for several days. There is close-to-home camping and travel-to-a-destination camping. However, though there are many different types of camping, there is one element that is crucial for a successful trip: your camping companions.
These are the folks who will not only make sure that you eat but that you eat really well. It’s the person who not only knows where to hike, but where to find the most beautiful, unpopulated trails or campsites. And the individual who may have no other discernible talent other than doing silly things and bringing the beverages. To ensure a most successful camping experience, be sure that the following cadre of companions accompany you on your journey: the campfire gourmand, the Boy/Girl Scout, the good-time Charlie, the gear junkie and the llama whisperer.
The Campfire Gourmand
Man cannot live on bread alone, and plain old hot dogs won’t cut it, either. For a tasty and fulfilling camping experience, there must be a campfire gourmand in your group. This is the person who says, when asked about dinner plans, “oh, I was planning on flank steak with chimichurri, grilled asparagus and couscous.”
Don’t know what chimichurri is? Don’t worry — your campfire gourmand is more than happy to explain.
Those that are culinary inclined seem to effortlessly produce great meals, using tips and tricks that mere mortals may not realize. Planning and prep is extremely important. Cutting up vegetables before you leave the house is easier than doing it at the campsite. Flank steak is great for a backpacking trip if you cut it and marinate at home and then freeze it, then it will thaw out on your hike.
For those who are a little less comfortable in the kitchen, a helpful resource for elevating camping cuisine is Pinterest.
“For me, cooking in general is not something that I’m a master at,” said Kelly Allen, who lives in West Vail and works at Christy Sports. “Pinterest has become that easy tool to find recipes. There are a lot of really clever ideas on there to make it simple.”
Allen has tested many ideas that she’s found on Pinterest, from making single use coffee pouches with filters and dental floss (not a winner) to easy recipes like nachos and pizza rolls that can be cooked over the campfire.
“The pizza log roll was awesome,” Allen said. “It was one of those things that was big enough to feed a lot of people and didn’t take a lot of prep to make.”
After your group has enjoyed the culinary stylings of your foodie friend, remember the cardinal rule of cooking: Those who cook don’t have to clean up.
The Boy/Girl Scout
When you’re exploring the wilderness — or car camping in a posh spot complete with showers — you need someone who practices the Boy and Girl Scout motto, which is “Be prepared.”
“My emergency kit has duct tape, those flexible rubber ski straps and baling wire,” said Cedar Davidson, who works at Alpine Quest Sports in Edwards. “Also, 50 feet of parachute cord. You can help rig a tarp, tie down a tent or repair a backpack strap. It’s high-strength cordage so it’s versatile: You can replace a shoelace if it breaks, repair part of a tent fly or make a drying line for wet clothes. It’s always nice to have little bits of string.”
Davidson also recommends carrying dental floss and a sewing needle.
“Floss is stronger than any commercially available sewing thread,” he explained. “You can repair a tent, a backpack or a piece of clothing, and it’s high strength and waterproof. It doesn’t weaken when it gets wet.”
Having someone in the group who is prepared for the small mishaps that inevitably come up is crucial. After all, there’s nothing worse than sleeping in a drippy tent that could have been easily repaired with a bit of floss and a needle.
No camping trip is complete without a fire. While there are many schools of thought on how to start the perfect fire, the most important part is the end product: a cheerful fire on which to cook your meals, warm your hands and break out into a round of “Kumbaya.” Allen had a fail-proof tip for this necessary demonstration of mild pyromania.
“Take cardboard toilet paper rolls and fill them with cotton balls or dryer lint,” she explained. “Then cover them in Vaseline and they make awesome fire starters. It’s really easy and it makes you feel like a champ, even if you’re not an outdoor expert at all.”
The other important element of camping is your location. Many people who fall into the Boy/Girl Scout category are wizards about finding the prettiest overlook or the most deserted trail. However, if you’re venturing into unknown territory, then call your local U.S. Forest Service and pick their brains about recreational campsites as well as off-road spots that are still allowed. They’ve got the tools to make your camping experience a bit easier, and they’re happy to help.
The Good-Time Charlie
Just as there must be someone who ensures that the group makes it safely home, there will always be someone who keeps everyone on their toes. This is the person who brings a bottle of Everclear to perform fireballs at 2 a.m. This is the person who, while attempting to catch a cutthroat with their bare hands, falls into the lake and spends the rest of the night in an assortment of borrowed clothing because they didn’t pack any spare clothes. This is the person who regales the crew with stories of his last camping trip, when he woke up to find a snake cuddled up next to his sleeping bag because he forgot to zip the tent up completely.
This person will also provide the impetus for entertaining the group, especially if the weather turns foul and everyone is huddled under a tarp to escape the monsoon. In this situation, Charlie will pull out a deck of cards for drinking Uno or perhaps Banagrams — a good backcountry game, according to Davidson.
The Gear Junkie
There are necessities for living: food, water and shelter top that list. But many things fall into the category of “unnecessary but totally awesome” and that’s where the gear junkie comes in.
No, it’s not necessary to have gourmet coffee for your morning pick-me-up, but it sure is nice for one of your camping companions to pull out an Aeropress and ask, “Would you like an Americano?”
Some of these items might actually save your life, like waterproof speakers and an iPod, according to Davidson.
“I once spent 36 days on a glacier in Alaska,” Davidson said. “(The speakers and iPod) maintained our sanity during a 12-day storm when we couldn’t leave the tent.”
Your gear junkie friend could also be the one that provides a better night sleep, like packing an air mattress and Egyptian cotton sheets, or a camping hammock for those long lazy afternoons after you set up camp.
There are all sorts of items that are being made for camping, from tent chandeliers (these actually exist) to a backcountry carbonator like the one from Pat’s Backcountry Beverages (available at Alpine Quest). The size of a Nalgene, this device carbonates just about any beverage, including beer.
“It’s a cool gift item,” Davidson said. “You can buy the beer kit at the store and make your own backcountry beer. You can also make soda to make mixed beverages or just plain soda.”
Continuing under the category of unnecessary but totally awesome, enter the llama whisperer.
The Llama Whisperer
While car camping means that you can pack up the trunk with everything that you might need and pull right up to the site, backpacking trips take more consideration as to how much gear weighs and what you really want to carry on the trail.
Traveling with llamas can allow you to hike farther because you’re not as loaded up with heavy gear, said Karen Peck, a manager at Paragon Guides in Edwards. You still carry your daypack, but the larger items, like tents or cook stoves, can be carried by a llama — they can carry anywhere from 60 to 80 pounds, depending on the llama.
Paragon Guides offers several options for llama trekking and is the only outfitter offering this service in Eagle and Summit counties. If you know what you’re doing, where you’re going, can function in backcountry and have all of the gear and just want llamas to carry it, then a llama lease is the best bet. This requires going through some training, which includes learning how to function around them, how to care for them and how to manage different scenarios. After this four-hour course and a $150 fee, then you’re certified with Paragon Guides and can take a llama on your next camping trip.
Hiking with llamas is a unique experience because these Andean ungulates are quite unlike your human companions.
“Llamas will walk at a calm pace, will hum in your ear as you’re walking and have amazing eyesight,” Peck said. “You’ll notice that they’ll hum and their head will turn — if you look that way, you’ll see something that you may not have known about — a fox darting into the trees or a baby elk in a meadow.”
If taking a llama on your own sounds daunting and you want to leave the planning to someone else, Paragon Guides can take care of that as well.
“It is really nice to go with a guide service because we have all these little tricks,” Peck said. “We’ve been doing this for more than 30 years and we’ve got this planned out.”
Because the llamas can take some of the extra weight, Paragon is able to bring along some extra amenities, like a covering for the eating area or additional food and beverages.
If you want to check out the llamas ahead of time, then head up to FAC on Vail Mountain on July 10. Paragon will be there with the llamas and will be doing short hikes to the backcountry center.
Happy Trails to You
Camping is a great way to spend a night or a weekend just enjoying nature and making memories with family or friends. Having these types of camping companions with you can make the experience more streamlined, but perhaps the most important thing is finding people who are looking for a similar experience.
So find your group and collect your perfect combination of friends. And if you’re missing one of these camping companions, then these tips and tricks can help you be that person. Next thing you know, you’ll be starting the fire or leading the llama on the next trip.