My First Backpacking Trip with Venture Outdoors

By: Joshua Tenenbaum

My backpacking trip to Raccoon State Park was a remarkable experience that I won’t soon forget. Going to the outfitter to select backpacking and camping gear and having the opportunity to use it on the trail was very gratifying. I had a ton of fun packing my bag, trying to distribute weight evenly in my pack, and organizing all my gear and food in the pack (although, it took me multiple tries to get everything to fit).

Early in the morning, we dusted off our gear and headed out to experience the beauty of Raccoon Creek State Park. We reviewed some backpacking basics (safety, gear checklist, and leave-no-trace ethics) and Trip Leader Orville Steinenger led us on a loop hike and tent camping overnight. We covered seven miles the first day over moderate terrain with stops at historic landmarks within the park including the Doak’s family farm. We learned that Robert Doak was born in Ireland in the mid 18th century. He immigrated to Pennsylvania with his three brothers in 1767 and enlisted in the military. Robert served as a soldier and fought in the battles of Germantown and Brandywine among many others. He was one of the soldiers camped at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777 and suffered from cold and lack of proper food and clothing. Soon after, Robert married Sarah McKribben and together they had 10 children. They built a log cabin home and established a farm located on the very land that we were standing on. Just being there gave me a great sense of historic relevance and admiration for the beautiful area. The farm sat on a wide, gorgeous meadow with a stream and rock quarry not two miles from the farmland.


Afterwards, when we returned from our journey back to camp, we built a campfire, ate dinner, relaxed, and then told stories. When we got to the campsite I set up my new tent,

unfolded my sleeping pad, and unrolled my fleece sleeping bag. I knew I would be in for a night of comfort, a home away from home. Afterwards, I set up my camping stove and helped build a bonfire so that we could cook our dinners before heading off on a short evening hike. There was a guy in our group who had trouble cooking his food, so I helped him by showing him how to use my camping skillet and arranging the logs and coals so that the food would cook efficiently and evenly over the campfire. He was very grateful for the lesson and ended up sharing his food with me. On the second day, we backpacked 13 miles to the park office, stopping for lunch along the way and completing the loop in the evening ending at Frankfort Springs.

This trip has truly helped me enhance skills in program leadership, responsibility on the trail, being group sweep, and improving my outdoor backpacking skills. Trip Leader Orville Steinenger shared his knowledge of edible weeds and flowers along the way. During the second day of the backpacking trip, I walked through what I believed to be a patch of poison ivy; Orville had mentioned that jewelweed was a wonderful remedy for poison ivy. I chewed up a fistful of jewelweed leaves and applied them to my calf. Within a half hour the poison ivy’s effects were gone and a cooling sensation remained where my skin had felt raised and itchy. Later in the same day I walked through a patch of stinging nettle, but much like the jewelweed remedy, Orville had told us that applying chewed plantain leaves relieved insect stings. I followed his advice and used the leaves where the stinging nettle had touched my leg; shortly thereafter the stinging sensation was gone. I couldn’t believe it.

I was also placed as the group sweep for the entire trip. Initially disappointed with these orders (due to my quick hiking pace), I was to remain at the back of the group ensuring safety for any stragglers. This was a difficult but rewarding lesson in trail responsibility, motivating the group, and patience. I ended up spending much of the time with an older woman who was

lagging a bit behind the main group. My pace had to be her pace and that was a lesson in patience in and of itself.

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  • The Nature Treasure Hunt is Here – Join Now!

    March 20, 2018

    By: Josh Doty of Foto-Foraging

    Spring is here. If you have been hiding from the snow and cold temperatures, it is now time to venture outdoors again. There is so much to see, even if you only have a chance to go to your local park or even your own backyard.

    The Nature Treasure Hunt

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     » Read more about: The Nature Treasure Hunt is Here – Join Now!  »

  • Winter Tree ID

    March 13, 2018

    By: Iris Marzolf

    My favorite Venture Outdoors program I’ve attended thus far is the Winter Tree ID hike in January at Frick Park.

    It was an educational hike, so participants got a two-for-one deal—exercising while learning how to identify trees without leaves. Winter tree identification is a lot easier and more engaging than one would think. My opinion of trees in winter is generally negative; they look like dull brown skeletons. They’re all the same. Ugly.

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     » Read more about: Winter Tree ID  »

  • Youth Mental Health First Aid

    March 6, 2018

    By: Maggie Zangara

    On November 20, 2017, I had the opportunity to participate in an interesting training hosted by Venture Outdoors. The name of the training was Youth Mental Health First Aid, and it took place at Venture Outdoors through the Allegheny County Department of Human Services. A fun fact is that Lady GaGa, who is a first aider herself and an advocate of the program, has set a goal of getting 150,000 people trained this year.

    Youth Mental Health First Aid ActivityThe intent of the training was to teach family members, teachers, school staff, health and human services workers and other caring citizens how to help adolescents who are experiencing a mental health crisis.

     » Read more about: Youth Mental Health First Aid  »

  • Rachel Carson Trails

    February 27, 2018

    By: Amy Nelson, Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy, Member and Volunteer 

    In 2015, three friends and I did the Rachel Carson Trail Challenge  for the first time. We were avid road runners, bored with the monotony of pavement.  A 34-mile trek through the woods seemed like a great way to mix things up. Cut to the day of the event. Twenty miles into it, we experienced a torrential downpour which caused mud slides on some of the steepest hills. Mother Nature can be cruel.  By the time the last five miles rolled around our spirits were broken and we prayed for it to be over.

     » Read more about: Rachel Carson Trails  »

  • Leaving No Trace

    February 20, 2018

    By: Sara Cardamone

    At the Annual Volunteer Meeting, I had the opportunity to attend the Leave No Trace breakout session. Led by Joel Johnston, the interactive gathering was focused on educating participants on what Leave No Trace is truly about. Here are some of the things that I learned!

    Leave No Trace was launched when attendance at parks started to increase, so much so that it was taking a toll on the environment. The mission of the organization is to “protect the outdoors by teaching and inspiring people to enjoy it responsibly”. This comes in the form of seven principles that one should keep in mind when enjoying the outdoors.

     » Read more about: Leaving No Trace  »

Kayak Pittsburgh

Sunset Paddle

Thank you for another great season!
We’ll see you on the water in 2018!


Featured Outing


About Boating Safely
Saturday, March 24
9 AM – 5 PM

Join Venture Outdoors and members of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary for About Boating Safely. This course gives participants the knowledge needed to obtain a boat license or safety certification in Pennsylvania.