After 44 years of faithful service, the time has come to put my Kelty backpack out to pasture.
I purchased my Kelty model D-4 pack from REI in 1971, just after my sixteenth birthday. Back then, REI was a strictly membership mail-order house out of Seattle for outdoor equipment. Kelty backpacks were considered the finest that money could buy. It was a backpack loaded with innovations like a contoured aluminum external frame, clevis-pin attachments, padded hip and shoulder straps, and quick release buckles. Not only was the Kelty a marvel of late 20th century technology, but it had seen action in Antarctica as well as the first successful American assault on Mount Everest in 1963. If the Kelty pack was good enough for Jim Whittaker on the slopes of Everest, it was the pack of choice for my third climb on Mount Whitney.
My Kelty and I became close friends immediately and we have seen many adventures together over the years. In 1972, I moved out on my own at the age of seventeen with literally the pack on my back after a terrible argument. I was young, obstinate, and angry. It wasn’t a smart decision but I had too much pride to come crawling back, so I found myself living on the streets with my Kelty. To be homeless with the Cadillac of backpacks was an odd combination and I am certain that it made the difference one early morning when a cop wanted to arrest me for vagrancy. As I was explaining my circumstances, he noted the pack, which turned into an amicable discussion of backpacking, which in turn caused him to reconsider and let me off with a warning. It was a rocky start to my recent emancipation.
A few months later, I was to meet a friend at Mirror Lake along the trail to Mount Whitney. I took a bus up to the desert town of Lone Pine and hitchhiked to the trailhead. It was on that trip that my Kelty fell victim to a marmot that gnawed a hole in the pack to get my food. My repair job has withstood the test of time and is still evident in the upper right corner of my pack. Meanwhile, my friend never showed up and after lingering for a few days, I made the longest continuous hike of my life from Mirror Lake to just outside of Lone Pine, about 16 miles. The next morning, barely able to walk, I finished my hike into Lone Pine and ate two breakfasts at a local cafe.
In June of 1975, I moved to Fort Collins to attend school at Colorado State University. As it was with my sudden departure from home in 1972, I arrived at the Greyhound bus station on the corner of Olive and College with no real plan and my meager possessions stuffed in my Kelty. The scene was like something out of a Clint Eastwood western. The wind was blowing and kicking up a bit of a dust storm. I half expected to see tumbleweeds rolling down the street. As they say, when a stranger comes to town, the locals have to decide whether to kill you or serve you a drink. So began my Colorado adventure.
The beauty of an external frame pack is that it can haul a lot of stuff. In my early days of backpacking, I fell in with a group that was not afraid of packing heavy objects to gain bragging rights. We packed in all sorts of things like cast iron skillets, golf clubs, bottles of champagne, and even a television. His name was Mike Vogel and he had a portable TV called a Ranger 7 that was powered by something like a dozen ‘D’ cell batteries. He dragged it the top of Iron Mountain and got zero reception, but won the admiration of us all. For my part, I managed to lash seven six-packs of beer onto my Kelty. Yes, I realize that hauling that much beer probably violated some wilderness mountaineering code, but that’s what true rebels of the late 70’s counterculture did in those days, even if it was stupid.
So now, it’s the spring of 2015 and the old Kelty shows the tears and scars of many miles. The waterproofing of the nylon pack has long since worn off and the nylon material is getting paper-thin. The hip belt needs to be replaced for, I think, the third time, maybe fourth. The zippers are metal and losing their ability to open and close efficiently. Over the last decade, my Kelty certainly has been the subject of many trailside comments about being ‘retro’ or ‘low tech’. Like people, even a backpack gets old. If there was a nursing home for backpacks, my Kelty could tell some stories! Together, we have weathered many seasons of storms in the mountains as well as the storms of life. We have shared many miles through thick and thin, but it’s time to retire the Model D-4.
My new backpack? It is a red Kelty Trekker external frame pack!