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  • Writer's pictureJoanna Lee

First Time Backpacking

Updated: May 12, 2023

Our first ever backpacking trip was a success!! It was me, Josh and both dogs. I have been wanting to try backpacking since we moved to Colorado. Summers seem to fill up so fast with hiking, camping and visitors, it just hasn't happened until now. In true summer fashion we already had so many booked weekends so we decided to do a little weekday trip. A bonus being that I would have more trails to choose from because popular trails will be more quiet on a Wednesday/Thursday!


June 16-17, 2021

Abyss Lake via Abyss Lake Trail #602

18 miles; 3800 feet elevation gain

8.5 hours of hiking


This is a trail that has been on my list for a long time but is too long for a day hike for me, we saw two people yesterday who did it as a day hike. I did a few miles of it last year to see the colorful aspens but wow it continues to get more beautiful the further you go. I felt like it was a reasonable distance to try for our first trip with our backpacks with the bonus of amazing views. Our plan was to hike to Helms Lake on day one and sleep here. We would then do a hike, without our packs, to Abyss Lake either Wednesday night or Thursday morning before hiking out on Thursday.


We began our hike in at 12:30pm on Wednesday, it was about 80 degrees when we started. I was very thankful that there was water access along a majority of the route to keep the dogs hydrated and cool. Our packs both weighed about 33 lbs and each dog was carrying about 3.5 lbs. I packed liberally but we did use everything we brought and our packs were not completely full (see below for our packing list). The first 3.5 miles of this hike are relatively flat with a dirt trail, fairly easy. We did see a moose and her two babies around mile 3.25, just off the side of the trail, she stood up as we approached to protect her babies but thankfully let us continue...my heart rate skyrocked! Thankfully both dogs stayed calm. After this point the incline starts to increase and the trail is more rocky and steep. We stopped for a little break and snack around 4.5 miles. At this point we checked alltrails and unfortunately realized that the map on alltrails is NOT accurate. We had planned, based on the map, for a 5.5 mile hike this day. It was actually going to be 6.5 miles. The last 2 miles are the steepest of the route, with majority of the elevation gain! The last mile was absolutely brutal, since it was a mile we hadn't planned on doing and it was steep. We reached camp in just under 4 hours to isolation and absolutely stunning views. We saw a few groups of people hiking, a few groups camping and only 3 dogs. I will note, this is an on leash wilderness area. No one we saw had their dog on a leash but everyone was respectful; keeping their dogs on the trail and didn't let them interact with us, always a nice surprise. We set up camp at Helms Lake, made dinner and filled our water bottles and bladders using our water filter. Shortly after we ate it started lightly raining. Thankfully we know how dramatic Colorado is; we quickly put everything into the tent and climbed in as the downpour and thunder started around 7pm. The storm didn't last long but it rained on and off for about an hour. We hung out in the tent for the rest of the night and got an early night at 8:30pm, we were absolutely exhausted. It got very cold in the night, around freezing temperatures but we stayed warm in the tent as did the dogs. I was very glad I packed my Rumpl blanket even though I thought I was being extra.


The sun rose around 5am and we got up around 5:30am. I ate a quick protein bar and headed out to Abyss Lake with the dogs while Josh hung out at camp/made breakfast/packed up. The trail up to Abyss Lake right now is a mixture of well trafficked trail, walking through thick willows and walking in the creek because the run off is so high! When I turned the corner to the lake I almost cried at how stunning the views were. It was truly breathtaking. The lake was still mostly frozen but still stunning with some beautiful peaks surrounding it. Alltrails was off on this distance too, I expected around a 4 mile hike and it was actually 5.2 miles. We did it very quickly in 2 hours to get back for breakfast and coffee at camp with Josh, obviously still stopping for photos and videos. I really debated not going to Abyss lake this morning when I wanted to stay in my sleeping bag at 5:30am and my legs were tired. But wow, it was worth it a thousand times over.


I got back to camp around 8am, had breakfast and coffee then packed up and headed out. Hiking downhill in a backpack is much easier than hiking uphill. We got back to the car in about 2.5 hours, much faster than expected. No moose sighting this time. We saw a few groups again, a couple with dogs. It was honestly so relieving to have a trip with no irresponsible dog owners/dogs invading our space. Everyone we met on the trail was so friendly, chatty and respectful.


So, overall backpacking is MUCH harder than I expected. Having that much weight on your back is exhausting. BUT, it is also so amazing. We had so many miles of absolutely stunning wilderness to ourselves for a whole night. It was a great length for our first trip, with my morning hike not including my backpack! This trail is a popular one but on a weekday was so relaxing, quiet and enjoyable. The dogs exceeded my expectations massively, they were so well behaved the entire time. They are now absolutely exhausted and I haven't seen them in hours (they are sleeping upstairs in our only air-conditioned room).


I will do a Q&A soon on my Instagram to answer any questions you have about our first-timer experience!





Packing List

  • 65L Backpack - REI

  • Platypus Gravity Works water filtration system

  • MiniMo Jet Boil with fuel

  • Lighter

  • First aid kit

  • 3 Person Tent

  • Teton Sleeping bag, Zero Degree

  • Klymit Sleeping pad

  • Inflatable Camping Pillow

  • Rumpl Puffy Blanket

  • Headlamp

  • Garmin inReach Mini

  • Bear bag

  • Knife

  • Fork

  • RTIC mug

  • Knife

  • Plastic grocery bag for garbage

  • Microfiber towel

  • Hand warmers/power bank

  • Toilet paper

  • Poo shovel

  • Hand sanitizer

  • Sunscreen

  • Body wipes

  • Toiletries

  • Kindle

  • Sound machine

  • Hiking poles

  • Water bladder - 3L

  • RTIC water bottle - 1L hydration drink

  • Camera

  • Dehydrated meal - dinner

  • Dehydrated meal - breakfast

  • Assorted nuts

  • Beef jerky

  • Bars x3

  • Coffee - Grounds and Hounds packet

  • Tea bag

  • Change of clothes

  • Patagonia fleece

  • Light jacket

  • Rain jacket



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