Generations of boy scouts will blanch at the thought and a million World War II infantrymen may boycott the movement, but America—a land pioneered on horseback, built by the steam engine and overrun with motor cars—has finally discovered the joys of walking. What began as a five-block saunter to the train for exercise and turned into a 50-mile hike on a presidential dare has now become a migration into the forests and mountains by men, women and children walking for health and pleasure. The most ambitious and satisfying approach is the backpacking trip where, by means of the lightweight, functional camping equipment now available, entire families like the Richard Macks of Carmel, Calif. (shown on the following pages during a weekend hike near their home) can comfortably carry everything they need to live well—even luxuriously—while sharing a wilderness experience that is today's most intimate approach to nature.
THE PLEASURES OF FAMILY BACKPACKING
Not so very long ago a man who wished to enjoy the wonders of nature while avoiding the threat of starvation, insect bites and rain in the sleeping bag had to work for it. In hot lumberjack shirt and heavy Mackinaw pants, he staggered through the woods under an unbalanced pack stuffed to the exploding point with canned goods, a sack of flour and a side of bacon, 10 pounds of bedding and a pup tent that sagged in the wind, leaked in the rain and was as bugproof as a street lamp on a hot summer night. Not until well after World War II did backpacking begin to be a sport that women, children and, indeed, most men could enjoy.
Things have changed. Today, with easy-to-prepare dehydrated foods, nesting pots and pans, tinned bacon (and butter), featherlight down-filled sleeping bags and durable mountain tents, all packed on a scientifically designed contour frame, a family can set off for a weekend or longer in the woods without sacrificing anything in the way of comfort or safety. Self-sufficient and relatively unencumbered, backpacking families find solitude and adventure away from crowds and automobile exhaust. Their campsite is lit by a cheery, flickering fire; they wash dishes and keep perishables chilled in a mountain stream and they sleep on soft, springy leaf beds. Best of all, they can forget about winding their watches. In the wilderness time may be fleeting or it may stand still, but time—in itself—is not important.
The fact that many hikers are discovering the pleasures of backpacking—from the Appalachian Trail to the high Rocky Mountains and from Tennessee hill country to the rain forests of the Olympic Peninsula—is due in large measure to the development, by Dick Mack and a handful of others, of modern, lightweight pack frames that practically walk by themselves. Mack spent 15 years backpacking throughout much of the West, in Europe and the Far East before he got around to designing a better pack frame. In 1948, after graduating from Yale with a degree in anthropology, he joined a National Geographic-Yale-Smithsonian Institution expedition to Nepal as a hunter-mammalogist. The expedition classified several new species of mammals, birds and body lice, and spent some time disproving the existence of the Abominable Snowman. On the trip Mack made one important observation of his own—the effectiveness of the crude baskets and L-frame packs with which Sherpa porters could carry enormous loads along narrow, precipitous trails in the high Himalayas. "Their loads were built on platforms and were perfectly balanced, with the bulk of the weight at shoulder height," recalls Mack. "By comparison, our World War II Marine frame rucksacks were hardly efficient. All the dead weight of the load was suspended from our shoulders, and we had the discomforting feeling that we were always about to be pulled over backwards."
Returning to the U.S. long enough to get married (he took his wife, Linn, on her first backpack trip, a month-long honeymoon trek in New Mexico and in Oregon's Cascade mountains) and to try his hand at selling agricultural chemicals in the Rocky Mountain states, Mack again went to the Far East, this time as a State Department information officer based in Saigon. "The Sherpas had nothing on those slight, small-boned Vietnamese," he says. "They, too, carried heavy loads using similar principles of pack-frame design, and they had a wonderful rhythmic style of walking that made their loads seem lighter than they actually were." A year later, back in California, Mack built his first pack frame, incorporating into it the best features of the carrying devices he had observed in the Far East and those of the American Indian pack boards he had used as a boy. The result was the first Hike-a-poose, an ingenious child-carrier made of aluminum tubing and canvas. The demand for Hike-a-pooses led to other designs and eventually to the formation of Himalayan Industries on Cannery Row in Monterey, where Mack manufactures several kinds of contour pack frames (and fitted pack bags), including the Everest Pak, used by Sir John Hunt's Mt. Everest conquest team in 1953, and the unique and versatile Everest Assault Pak, a pack frame with a folding leg that locks under the platform and converts the frame into a comfortable camp chair.
With Mack's frames and several others, most notably those made by A.I. Kelty of Glendale, Calif., the backpacker carries only "live weight." By packing most of the light gear in the bottom of the waterproof packbag and building up to heavier items, the bulk of the load rides high on and close to the back. Only the shoulder and back-support straps touch the body, thus permitting air to circulate freely. "With these frames," explains Mack, "the backpacker no longer has to bend over forward to balance his load. He gets upthrust and support from the hips and legs, and lift and pull from the shoulders." The addition of a hip belt keeps the load from riding up and down or sideways and allows the wearer to shift the load onto his hips, relieving his back and shoulder muscles.
With the Hike-a-poose, Dick and Linn Mack were able to teach their sons about the joys of hiking through redwood forests, up into the rolling hills of the coastal range or along the kelp-strewn beaches near their Carmel home at an age when most toddlers are confined to playpens. "We backpacked the boys wherever we went," Mack says. "We'd stop for lunch and let them crawl around and discover streams, rocks, trees and wild flowers. As they got older, we took them on day hikes. They carried little knapsacks packed with sandwiches, fruit, candy, string, rocks and anything else they could stuff in. We exposed them to all kinds of terrain, and they learned to adapt themselves to each new situation. The objective on a day hike need be nothing more than fishing or rock collecting, and a trail lunch of family favorites—in our case finger avocados, Greek olives, artichoke hearts, a wedge of Monterey Jack cheese, wine and apricot candy. Now Josh, 12, and Jeff, 9, both have an interest in trapping. Last year, on a three-week trip into the Sawtooth wilderness in Idaho, they caught deer mice in traps made from oatmeal cartons and kept them as pets. On other trips they have trapped bobcats, raccoons and possums, tanned the hides themselves and had Linn sew them into a fur blanket for their room. Both boys love to bush-whack—explore off the trail—and there's always a cave to crawl into, streams to fish and fall into, grassy slopes to roll down and trees to swing from. Jeff likes to prospect. In Idaho he found a good beryllium outcropping. We staked a claim—Jeff calls it the Blue Hail mine—and are in the process of selling the mining rights."
Recently the family took a weekend pack trip through a section of Los Padres National Forest south of Carmel and up to Pico Blanco, a mist-shrouded 3,710-foot mountain overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Before leaving home on Friday afternoon after school, they checked trails and availability of water on a U.S. Geological Survey map and then double-checked by telephoning forest ranger headquarters. The first night they camped near a spring-fed stream and dined on fresh lamb chops, asparagus with hollandaise sauce, fried potatoes and hot butterscotch pudding. Lassie, the Macks' Chesapeake, took care of the table scraps and two instant meat patties. The next morning the boys caught pan-size rainbow trout for breakfast. Then the family set off for Pico Blanco. They forded a wide stream, using alpenstocks (forehead-high walking sticks) to keep their balance on the mossy boulders and hiked through sunlit meadows full of purple lupine, wild iris, johnny-jump-ups and Indian paintbrush. Perspiring in the morning sun, the family stopped to rest by leaning back against the side of a hill ("You rest on your feet," says Dick Mack. "If you sit down or take off your pack, your muscles stiffen up and you slow down"), then hiked on until suddenly the trail topped a ridge and a fresh breeze cooled them off. A pair of red-tailed hawks soared on thermals over-head, their shrill whistles barely audible in the wind.
After a lunch of cheese-and-salami sandwiches washed down with spring water and a swallow of Rhine wine from a boto, the Macks stretched out for a nap in the sun. Later in the afternoon the boys caught lizards with snares woven of grass. Then Dick and Josh climbed to the weather-whitened top of Pico Blanco, using alpenstocks to get purchase against the steep slope, where they looked out at the Pacific Ocean dimly visible through the mist. They "jumped" down the slope, controlling their speed and keeping their balance by dragging the alpenstocks and leaning back on them. After dinner that night Dick made popcorn and cocoa and entertained the family with another chapter of "Silver-tip," a story about a tame wolf and his still-wild, all-white mate. By 8:30 p.m. darkness had settled over the camp, and a light rain began to fall. Raking down the fire, they snuggled into sleeping bags and were lulled to sleep by the sound of rain hitting the tents. On Sunday morning they broke camp and hiked back to the car along the boulder-strewn south fork of the Little Sur River.