Meandering the mountains: Family enjoys backpacking the West Rim Trail

Family enjoys backpacking the West Rim Trail

THOMAS ASK/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Dr. John Boll and his son Andrew recently took a backpacking hike on the West Rim Trail near Wellsboro.

“Don’t ever talk about what you left behind.” This is the advice that guides Dr. John Boll, a family practice physician in Williamsport, as he makes his way along the backpacking trails in our area.

“Keeping a good attitude,” Boll said, “is one of the unique challenges of backpacking.”

Backpacking makes you the king or queen of your own empire. Everything you need is on your back and you can go where your feet guide you. You are immersed in nature and your own thoughts. Days are defined by sunrise, sunset and hunger. You are liberated from the worries you left behind.

Boll likes to backpack with his family. For their birthdays, his kids get to pick an activity with dad. This year, his son Andrew picked backpacking on the West Rim Trail near Wellsboro. Andrew had hiked some of it when he was a camper at Camp Susque and he wanted to finish what he started.

His father, being a seasoned backpacker, was familiar with the trail.

“It has amazing views and is well marked, much easier to follow than the Old Loggers Path,” which lies near Ralston, noted Boll.

The West Rim Trail is an inviting, three-day trail that follows the west rim of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. It is a popular trail that draws backpackers throughout the Northeast.

While the immersion into nature is the principal joy with backpacking, Boll said, “getting prepared and working within your limited options are attractive challenges in backpacking.”

The confidence to travel light, travel far and sleep inside the thin veneer of a nylon tent requires a leap of faith in your own abilities.

“The best way to get started in backpacking is with a group,” Boll said. “You have economies of scale that allow you to travel lighter because you share basic equipment, such as stoves.”

Boll compared backpacking in this region with his backpacking adventure in the Wind River Range in northwest Wyoming.

“To get to the Wind River Range, I had to fly and then drive a long way to the trailhead. In Williamsport, I am only 1 1/2 hours drive from an amazing trail.”

The most unique aspect of backpacking is you become truly independent. You can travel for one day or for one month with what is on your back. It is very liberating. It also makes you intimate with nature and your own meandering thoughts.

Walking leaves a lot of brain power free for musing. You see and hear things you wouldn’t otherwise in the rush of life.

Few things make you feel as accomplished as completing your backpacking goal. Not only do you get to live your childhood desire to wear the same clothes too often and be comfortable with deeply embedded grime, you also appreciate the first shower, meal and soft bed when you get home.

Boll’s son Andrew had a common sense way of dealing with the fatigue of backpacking: “I take short breaks at all the viewpoints.”

We can learn a lot in the woods. Nine hundred years ago, a monk named Bernard, of Clairvaux, said, “You will find something more in woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from masters.”