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Ruffwear Cloud Chaser Dog Jacket: A 14 Year Review

Whether you are venturing out on a day hike with inclement weather in the forecast, or heading out on a multi-day backpacking trip, when you’re doing so with a canine companion taking the appropriate gear not only for yourself, but also for your dog is critical. A dog jacket is one such item that I put to constant use on the trail – nearly every backpacking trip into the mountains – in addition to other dog-specific gear like dog packs and sleeping bags. While there are many dog jackets that wil

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Kahtoola EXOspikes Traction System Review

The EXOspikes Traction System is a product from Kahtoola designed to enhance traction in wintry terrain, and is suited both for hiking and trail running. Sharing some similarities with the popular Kahtoola MICROSpikes, the product is available in multiple sizes, each fitting a range of footwear sizes. A stretchy elastomer harness fits over your footwear, and underneath you’ll find a grid of trekking pole-like metal carbide tips on the forefoot and heel – 12 on each foot to be exact. My size XL p

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Backpacking the Kalmiopsis Wilderness: A 50 Mile Loop

I awoke in the comfort of the back of my vehicle as the Pacific Ocean’s peaceful waves gently moved across the nearby beach. I quickly drove away and soon found myself driving on a remote forest road. Fortunately I had checked road conditions and discovered that I needed to detour to avoid a landslide. The road was bumpy and had deep cracks. My vehicle has all-wheel drive, but not high clearance. With careful maneuvering I arrived at the Chetco Divide/Vulcan Peak Trailhead and the edge of Oregon

Eric

Eric in Trips

Maine's 100 Mile Wilderness: The Narrated Video

As a follow-up to Curry Caputo's excellent Issue 52 article Of Life and of Maine's 100 Mile Wilderness, a story that details a family backpacking journey through the wilderness of Maine and to the top of Mount Katahdin, here is the full narrated, audio version of the story alongside video documenting the entire trip. You can read the original article here in Issue 52, and watch and listen to the video below:

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Trips

Digital vs. Paper Maps for Hiking and Backpacking

Ten years or so ago, questions about smartphones were just beginning to come up in backpacking circles. Questions like “Do you take your phone with you on the trail?” were typically asked. Some – including myself at times, saw little reason to take the extra weight and a potential distraction into the wilderness. Others simply packed theirs along so they didn’t have to leave it in their car at the trailhead where it could be stolen. However, these days you are more likely to hear questions perta

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Technique

Nalgene Ultralight - Best Backpacking Water Bottle Ever?

When hitting the store for a backpacking water bottle we may be inclined to at first reach for our favorite color bottle or the bottle featuring the most appealing printed design on the side. While there’s nothing wrong with that when it comes to having a water bottle around the house or at work, when it comes to choosing a hiking or backpacking water bottle other performance factors should be considered. With weight being paramount in the backcountry, the prototypical standard, Tritan Nalgene b

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Best Canister Fuel for Backpacking Stoves

While the physical standardization of backpacking fuel canisters may lead one to believe they’re all the same, the actual contents of each canister vary greatly, and results in a multitude of liquefied fuel mixtures on the market. And if you’ve ever been in the situation – like I have – where you’re trying to boil water by the light of a headlamp on a chilly fall night only to watch the output of your stove steadily drop towards a heat level barely above off, you know it pays to know your stove

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

A Day Hiking Weekend in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

My childhood best friend moved to Akron, Ohio right after she graduated high school to attend the University of Akron. Being from Virginia and having lived there all my life, I had never really heard of the city aside from its connection to Lebron James (but even about this my knowledge was severely limited due to my lack of interest in basketball). That was seven years ago, and I realized recently that I still had yet to visit despite her open invitation. Feeling guilty and quite aware of how l

Grace Bowie

Grace Bowie in Trips

Mountain House Chicken Teriyaki Meal Review

While some meals may come and go from the backpacking freeze-dried meal repertoire, other meals stand the test of time and seem to find their way into your food bag many times over the years. Mountain House Chicken Teriyaki is one such meal that I’ve taken along on recent trips to trips pretty far back in the memory bank, and in Mountain House packaging from the latest all the way back to the old yellow and blue package. While perhaps not quite as exciting as newer meals to hit the market, somet

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Food

Backpacking Gear: Down vs. Synthetic Insulation

Before you begin to narrow down your choice of a sleeping bag or jacket for backpacking usage, there’s one key decision you must arrive at first: the choice of down vs. synthetic insulation. The source of much debate, both options have mostly pros and a few cons. In this post we’ll detail why you might choose one over the other and detail the performance of down and synthetic insulation across various backpacking situations. Down The lightest and most compressible option, down in

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Solarpad Pro Ultralight Solar Panel Review

Now having tested several solar panels over the years that are marketed towards outdoor use and use on the trail – most of these stay stashed in the back of my gear closet, and are more likely to be something I might use during a power outage at home rather than actually depend on out on the trail. For hiking and backpacking purposes most of these panels are too heavy, just don’t perform well enough, or have significant drawbacks like compatibility with one device, while not being compatible wit

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Good To-Go Chicken Pho Review

Many years ago, I was stuck at a cubicle all day under fluorescent lights in the corporate world. In such an environment one has to find small ways to make their days positive – getting your favorite morning coffee, a lunchtime stroll, or looking forward to that dedicated Friday lunch spot. One such eatery was a local restaurant that specialized in one thing: Vietnamese pho. Perfect on bitter winter days, the dish for me is a satisfying blend of a flavorful soup broth and noodles but with a heav

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Food

Backpacker's Pantry Rocky Mountain Scramble Review

While most breakfasts on the trail in my case are whatever gets me hiking the fastest – typically an energy bar or two and coffee – from time to time a more elaborate breakfast is called for. And of course, there’s always breakfast for dinner, which for me is the most likely time I’ll make such a breakfast meal. For this purpose I already have a couple go-to freeze dried backpacking breakfast meals including the Breakfast Skillet from Mountain House and their Spicy Southwest Style Skillet. Varie

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Food

Garmin InReach Mini: Battery Life with Basic Messaging

Although I’ve been a user of an InReach SE for years – which always met or exceeded my battery life expectations in the backcountry, when the InReach Mini was released – and despite its obvious advantages in the weight and size department over previous InReach devices, I had a few reservations in regards to a possible upgrade. While the weight and size factor would be a step up, custom messaging would be a downgrade – the InReach SE’s message composition already reminded me of text messaging on

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

NEMO Fillo Elite Backpacking Pillow Review

After setting up the tent on a recent trip and after a long day, I heard an unwelcome sound the moment I laid my head on the pillow – the sound of air leaking from the previously trusty pillow I’d been packing along on trips for years. Luckily, this trip was quite warm for the mountains – lows in the high 40s plus having a double walled tent along meant I had a down jacket that I wasn’t wearing at night, and could roll up in a stuff sack to get me through the trip. However, for more normal temps

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Firepot Spicy Pork Noodles Review

Ever since one of my favorite backpacking meals of all time – the Pad See You noodles from Backpacker’s Pantry was unfortunately discontinued, I’ve been a search for a simple, but good rice noodle dish with an accompanying meat protein. The Pad Thai from Mountain House is a recent meal that ends up being a close contender to my old time favorite, and the latest meal with this theme I’ve tested is the dehydrated Spicy Pork Noodles from Firepot, who makes pre-packaged, just add water dehydrated me

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Food

An Outlaws' Retreat: Hiking in Robbers Cave State Park

The forested slopes of southeastern Oklahoma’s ironically named Sans Bois Mountains provide the backdrop for much of the excitement in “True Grit,” a novel by Charles Portis and two major motion pictures (1969 and 2010). You wouldn’t know it though, for the mountain peaks shown in the films suggest places farther west. Indeed, the movies were filmed in Colorado and New Mexico, but pursuing outlaws in post-Civil War Indian Territory, as the main characters are portrayed as doing in “True Grit,” w

Susan Dragoo

Susan Dragoo in Trips

Firepot Chili con Carne with Rice Review

While many of us have settled on a routine of meals and old standby dinners in the backcountry – whether that’s commercial freeze dried meals or our own recipes on the trail, every once in a while it’s nice to mix it up. Recently when re-stocking the freeze dried meal inventory for some upcoming trips I noticed that REI was carrying a brand I hadn’t tried before – and I decided to test out the new Chili con Carne with Rice Meal made by Firepot in the United Kingdom. While trying new m

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Food

Backpacking the Lost Coast Trail: An Oceanside Wilderness

The Lost Coast Trail (LCT) in northern California may very well be the best beach hike in the United States. The name derives from the fact that it is the only part of the California coast that is not paralleled by a highway. I’m sure the romantic ring of that name only adds to its considerable popularity. It sounds like something from a teenage adventure novel. “The Hardy Boys and the Pirates of the Lost Coast” There is a northern section and a southern section. The southern stretch is muc

George Graybill

George Graybill in Trips

A Winter Refresher: Backpacking at Chief Joseph Pass

Although I did several trips on cross-country skis and snowshoes that involved camping out in the Northern Rockies in below freezing temperatures for multiple nights, the past few years my definition of “winter backpacking” has either included a US Forest Service rental cabin with a wood stove or a plane ticket to southern Arizona. I still find winter to be a beautiful time of year and I enjoy the heightened elements of the season that seem so magical, but I just hadn’t hadn’t been motivated to

Mark Wetherington

Mark Wetherington in Trips

Ancient Wanderings: Hiking in the Ventana Wilderness

I collect hidden places of refuge in the wilderness. At least once a year I retreat to one of these havens to renew my spirit. These spots have a few things in common: They are off trail, deep in the wilderness, difficult to get to, and a delightful surprise when first discovered. And, when I am there, being alone feels exactly right. Deep within one of California’s coastal mountain ranges in the Ventana Wilderness, one such location is a sandstone cave at the base of a large rock outcroppi

George Graybill

George Graybill in Trips

Feathered Friends Down Booties Review

Few items provide as much comfort for the weight during frigid backpacking trips as dedicated down booties. Cold feet can quickly sap out any enjoyment of wonderful winter scenery and can easily discourage someone from ever attempting winter backpacking or cross-country ski touring. While down jackets can easily keep your core warm, having a full-body strategy for keeping in heat is crucial for winter trips where you’re spending a significant amount of time in camp. Down booties provide a soluti

Mark Wetherington

Mark Wetherington in Gear

Hiking the Wailau Trail: Lost in a Hawaiian Jungle

I was muddied, bloodied, and soaked, but I had reached my goal. I was standing on the rim of Wailau Valley. Just beyond my toes, the land dropped away steeply to the valley floor 3,000 feet below. Waterfalls streamed down the cliffs that surrounded this lost world as it swept away before me to the north shore of Moloka’i. It was hard to believe that 50 years ago I had descended this cliff and then hacked my way through five miles of jungle to the ocean. I must have been crazy. I was definitely l

George Graybill

George Graybill in Trips

  • Blog Entries

    • Grace Bowie
      By Grace Bowie in TrailGroove Blog 1
      My childhood best friend moved to Akron, Ohio right after she graduated high school to attend the University of Akron. Being from Virginia and having lived there all my life, I had never really heard of the city aside from its connection to Lebron James (but even about this my knowledge was severely limited due to my lack of interest in basketball). That was seven years ago, and I realized recently that I still had yet to visit despite her open invitation. Feeling guilty and quite aware of how long 7 years is, I reached out and we worked it out so I would stay with her over Labor Day weekend. Now was the time to figure out what there was to do in Akron!

      As I said before, 7 years is a long time. Long enough for me to also graduate high school, and college, and develop a love for hiking and the outdoors that would take me on road trips all over the country. From Zion to Acadia, from Shenandoah to Bryce Canyon, I loved seeing all sorts of landscapes, beautiful views, and making a dent in my National Parks bucket list. And as luck would have it, as I glanced over the list of parks I had yet to see, I noticed – Ohio! After a quick search, I dove into researching the new-to-me world of Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP), which – as luck would have it – is located right in Akron’s backyard. Why hadn’t I heard of this park before? Perhaps because Ohio isn’t the first state that comes to mind when you think of National Parks or wilderness hiking destinations. Maybe because there’s no colossal red rock arches, or canyons that are a mile deep, or bison roaming on grass plains. Undeterred, I was excited to find the beauty in this park and immerse myself in a new space full of its own natural wonder.
      Our first hike was the Ledges Trail. This 1.8 mile loop trail winds through sandstone cliffs and features one of the most scenic overlooks in the park. Not too difficult, it was a great first foray in this new place, with lots of little crevices and slot canyon-esque areas to squeeze into and poke around in. A few ups and downs along the way, but mostly a flat journey that was filled with massive slabs of rock and lush greenery. Perhaps most impressive was the complete immersion in nature I experienced. No sounds of highways or motorists, I felt like I had been transported to a completely new place. It certainly was not the image I picture when I think of Ohio. Be sure to bring bug spray though if you’re thinking of visiting from late spring to early fall –mosquitoes abound.

      The next morning we enjoyed a stroll on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. Almost entirely flat, the trail was packed with runners, bikers, and walkers by 10 AM when we set out. Passing through Beaver Marsh and seeing all sorts of wildlife like great blue herons, snakes, and other little creatures was a delight. The locks which would raise and lower boats were an incredible piece of history that sparked daydreams of the early travelers of the canal. But the best part? The signature midwestern kindness. Every person greeted us with a chipper “good morning!” and a smile.
      That afternoon, I ventured solo to the Boston Mill Visitor Center to pick up a map and talk with the rangers. When I arrived, the parking lot was full to the brim. After hearing horror stories of closures and hours-long waits for trails in parks out west, I realized that the problem seemed to be ubiquitous across most National Parks, even the ones I hadn’t heard of until recently. I was finally able to snag a parking spot and talk to a ranger. He informed me that while the holiday weekend likely exacerbated the problem, this crowd level had been the norm for them in recent months. He estimated that their visitor numbers quadruple from the weekdays to the weekend. I believed him – as I sat in a line of cars later waiting to park at the Brandywine Falls trailhead, I couldn’t believe the crowds. I later found out from another park ranger that CVNP was the 7th most visited National Park in 2020, beating out big names like Acadia and Joshua Tree. I credit these numbers to the weekend (and weekday!) local visitors. The proximity of the park to major cities like Akron and Cleveland, even Pittsburgh, make it an easy weekend getaway to a totally green space.

      Brandywine Falls seemed to be one of the park’s crown jewels. With a packed viewing balcony just a quick staircase from the parking lot, visitors eagerly shot photos of the gushing water and the mossy sandstone backdrop. I diverted away from the crowd, preferring to take the less populated Brandywine Gorge Trail. Following the edge of the gorge and passing by an adorably quaint bed and breakfast, the 1.5 mile loop trail descends to the creek and provides more intimate views of the many layers of rock that formed the gorge. You’ll lose and gain a bit of elevation around the loop, but the trail provides plenty of stunning vantage points to stop and catch your breath while you take in the surroundings. The flourishing vegetation of the late summer was fun and enveloping, but I would be eager to visit again in the fall to see this same place with the leaves changing colors.
      After hiking a few more trails and seeing some landmarks (including a visit to the house from A Christmas Story in a suburb just outside Cleveland!) I hit the road and headed back home to Washington, D.C., finding myself dumbstruck by the fact that I was a bit sad to be leaving Ohio. The park I’d never heard of! I couldn’t believe it. But the winding, easy trails surrounded by history, the cooler temperatures of late summer in Ohio, the ability to so quickly escape from the city and immerse oneself in a forest – it was magical.

      Maybe it doesn’t make your bucket list when stacked up against some of the marvels out west, but Cuyahoga Valley National Park should not be counted out. This park brings people to the outdoors, regardless of their physical ability. It immerses them in history, in greenery, and in a space that they can call their own. It may not be the subject of oil paintings or John Muir quotes, but in its own beautiful way, it is a place of quiet, unassuming inspiration. I certainly hope I find my way back.
      Information: Entrance to Cuyahoga Valley National Park is free! You can support the park by donating to the park’s friends group, the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park. CVNP no longer allows camping within the park, but there are state parks and campgrounds within driving distance. Learn more here at the NPS website. Portions of the Buckeye Trail also pass through the park.
      Getting There: Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a thirty-minute drive from both Cleveland and Akron, OH. CVNP is also easily reached by car from Cleveland, OH and Pittsburgh, PA in about two hours driving time. If flying, arrive at either Cleveland Hopkins International Airport or Akron-Canton Regional Airport, both of which offer car rentals.
      Best Time to Go: Summer is a great time to visit for hiking, as the trails are shaded by trees and the scenic railroad is operating. If you’re looking for fall colors, visit in September and October while the leaves are changing. Winters in Ohio can be biting due to lake-effect snow from Lake Erie, but opportunities for skiing and snow tubing can make it worth the freezing temps!
      Maps and Books: The National Park Service offers detailed information and maps about the park and its trails at their website. The Conservancy for Cuyahoga National Park sells numerous books and maps as well, including a Cuyahoga Valley National Park Handbook. The Trail Guide to Cuyahoga Valley National Park offers easy-to-use maps and trail descriptions written by park volunteers.
    • Aaron Zagrodnick
      By Aaron Zagrodnick in TrailGroove Blog 0
      Whether you are venturing out on a day hike with inclement weather in the forecast, or heading out on a multi-day backpacking trip, when you’re doing so with a canine companion taking the appropriate gear not only for yourself, but also for your dog is critical. A dog jacket is one such item that I put to constant use on the trail – nearly every backpacking trip into the mountains – in addition to other dog-specific gear like dog packs and sleeping bags. While there are many dog jackets that will keep a dog warm, there aren’t many that will also keep a dog (relatively) dry if wet weather rolls through during the hiking day.

      Weighing 9 ounces in a size large, the Ruffwear Cloud Chaser Dog Jacket is one solution that performs well for all around backpacking and hiking usage. This jacket is sleeved in the front for additional warmth, and features a stretchy bottom with a waterproof / breathable top section. Both the top and the bottom have a water repellent DWR coating. Reflective trim and a light loop on top complete the exterior of the jacket. The interior is lined with a very light fleece. Getting the jacket on and off is pretty easy with a little cooperation from your dog – get the front sleeves on and then zip the jacket on. Folding the zipper back locks operation so it will not unzip itself while on the trail, and there is both an inside zipper guard and outer zipper cover that serve to keep the zipper from snagging fur and also to block the weather. Rearward, there’s enough room for calls of nature without the jacket getting in the way.

      While this jacket doesn’t exactly feature warmth appropriate for the arctic, and doesn’t offer rain protection for something like an all-day downpour, the jacket is most appropriate to take the edge off the cold, block some wind, and to assist in keeping the dog somewhat dry. Since this isn’t full coverage like rain gear we might wear, your dog will still get wet in the rain and the bottom of the jacket is not waterproof. However, even if they do get wet, this fully synthetic jacket will help to keep them warmer. The jacket is also great for chilly nights in the tent. The jacket is offered in 6 sizes, sized by measuring around your dog’s chest behind the front legs. Sizing wise, my dogs have measured to fit the medium, but after trying that size I found it worked but was just a bit too tight. I like to size up in the Cloud Chaser, especially for backpacking purposes where your dog will wear the jacket when they sleep at night. If the jacket is too tight, not only will your dog be uncomfortable, but it will compress their fur and they will be less warm as a result.

      Overall…and currently going on 15 years of use all on the same jacket, I’ve found the Cloud Chaser to work very well for hiking and backpacking with dogs – it offers just enough warmth for 3-season chilly mountain backpacking trips, and is perfect to have on hand if inclement weather rolls in where you need to have some type of protection for your dog. At night, your dog needs to stay warm and get a good night of sleep just as much as you do. The Cloud Chaser helps in all these respects, packs fairly small, and while I wish it was a bit lighter to carry around, it’s well worth the tradeoff for me. While I’ve found the Cloud Chaser to work great for all-around usage, Ruffwear offers a few choices in the dog jacket market, one of which will likely be a good fit for the conditions you and your dog are likely to encounter. These include the insulated Powder Hound and the fleece-only Climate Changer Jackets.
      The Ruffwear Cloud Chaser Dog Jacket retails for about $80. You can find it here at Amazon and at Backcountry.com.
    • Kevin DeVries
      By Kevin DeVries in TrailGroove Blog 4
      The United States tends to protect its public lands in piecemeal fashion. Congress designates a single landform – a mountain range, coastline, or canyon – as a National Park or Wilderness area, but leaves the surrounding land open to settlement and industry. As a result, an ocean of development – towns, roads, mining claims, and logging operations – surrounds a few islands of protected space. Only a few ecosystems are protected in their entirety.
      One such ecosystem is the Greater Yellowstone, which encompasses most of northwest Wyoming along with parts of Idaho and Montana. Yellowstone National Park naturally serves as the ecosystem’s centerpiece, and a dozen Wilderness or Wilderness Study Areas flank the park on all sides. Moreover, even the land that has no formal designation remains largely wild, owing mostly to the ruggedness of the terrain.

      And what rugged terrain it is! While the park itself is not especially mountainous, it is ringed by a nearly-continuous series of outstanding mountain ranges. Some of them are well-known, like the Teton or Beartooth Ranges. Others are more obscure – the Wyomings or Gros Ventres come to mind. In 2020, I set out on a self-supported hike around the perimeter of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. To avoid having to resupply in towns on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, I spent several days driving to various trailheads and placing bear-proof food drops – in compliance with forest regulations – along the route. I opted to hike in an 800-mile loop, beginning and ending the journey at my car to eliminate the need for public transit. I anticipated staying completely off the grid for the 2-month duration, walking in a circle.
      The journey began on July 1st near the town of West Yellowstone, MT. I spent the first few days at lower elevations, battling swollen creeks and ruthless mosquitoes. I soon climbed into the Tetons though, walking right on the crest of the range for many miles. There’s something particularly magical about walking through an alpine landscape right as the snow is melting off. I felt as though I were somehow “getting away” with something – finding my way through snowy mountains that weren’t quite prepared for my presence yet. While I would glimpse the Grand Teton at least once daily for the majority of the loop, it would never be more up-close than it was along the Teton Crest Trail.

      Leaving the Tetons behind, I ventured into a pair of more obscure mountain ranges – the Snake River and Wyoming Ranges. These ranges, while not quite as ostentatious as the Tetons, still contained plenty of magic – wildflowers in the height of midsummer bloom, ridgelines splashed with two-tone gray and orange coloration, and marvelous views of the Salt River, Teton, Gros Ventre, and Wind River Ranges. Despite a lack of official designation in the Wyoming Range, it felt like one of the most wild places of the hike. The magic continued in the beautiful but little-known Gros Ventre Range. The Gros Ventres were heavily glaciated in the upper elevations, creating “shelves” just below the main ridgeline that were a joy to cruise along. The lakes sparkled with a dazzling blue and wildflowers continued to show off their seasonal beauty.

      The route briefly joined Continental Divide Trail as it entered the vast, wild, and obscure Absaroka Range. The Absarokas are home to incredible above-treeline tablelands, crumbling volcanic cliffs, jagged peaks, and scores of grizzly bears. On July 21, while following an elk trail near the edge of some cliffs, I turned a corner and met one of those grizzlies, trapped between me and the precipice. Though I was carrying bear spray and had practice deploying it quickly, the attack came far too quick to use it. He made contact, spinning me around, and charged again. This second charge knocked me to the ground. Recognizing the attack as the defensive reaction of a cornered animal, I played dead, protecting my head and neck with one hand and grabbing my bear spray with the other. But almost as soon as I hit the ground, the bear bolted. Looking at my watch as I lay on the ground, I resolved to stay still for a full 10 minutes – the bear had fled, but I wasn’t sure how far.
      Once my 10 minutes were up, I field-dressed my wounds (a series of deep gashes in my shoulder and chest), and mulled my options. The injuries weren't severe enough to warrant activating my personal locator beacon. However, I couldn't just continue 40 miles along my route to the next outpost of civilization – I needed urgent medical attention. In the end, I hiked out the shortest side trail I could find and caught a ride to the hospital. The hospital staff cleaned and stitched up my wounds – nearly 40 sutures in all – and sent me on my way. I spent a couple weeks off the trail, waiting for my injuries to heal up. I was very grateful to be alive.

      By early August, I felt well enough to continue the hike – with just enough time to complete it before winter arrived. The second half of the loop would be more relaxed than the first – I still couldn’t lift my arm above the shoulder, making scrambling impossible – and I stayed mostly on trails. Still, the Greater Yellowstone Loop didn’t disappoint. I made my way through the northern Absarokas, meandered down the seemingly-bottomless Clark Fork Canyon, and climbed into the Beartooth Mountains. The Beartooths were perhaps the most scenic range of the hike – and that’s saying a lot. Hundreds of lakes dotted the Beartooth Plateau. The area is a wanderer’s paradise – there aren’t many trails, but above treeline, they’re not needed. I walked past dozens of beautiful lakes, many of them unnamed.

      All too quickly, the Beartooths faded away, dropping me into the northern part of Yellowstone National Park. Thick smoke from a West Coast fire complex obscured the area, imparting an eerie orange tinge to the entire viewshed. It wasn’t all bad though – I followed a well-defined, NPS-grade trail for the first time in ages, enjoying a few days of easy travel. As I began the penultimate section of the hike, the Gallatin Range, I left the park, continuing on good trail along the crest of the range. The Gallatins were probably the most “fun” section of the hike – a combination of pleasant walking and pleasant temperatures made for glorious days despite the smoky views.

      For the past few weeks, I had been racing the changing seasons, and that became very apparent in the final range, the jagged Madisons. The fairly stable weather of the past two months began to break down, with a fresh batch of thunderstorms arriving each day. Due to the exposed nature of my planned route through the area, I was forced onto a couple of lower, safer alternatives. On one occasion, while following a trail through a forested basin, I glanced up at Lone Mountain – where my intended route would have led – just in time to see two lightning bolts crash down onto it. I was glad to be down here, rather than up there. As I walked into West Yellowstone on the last day of August, completing the loop, the first snow of the season began to fall in large flakes.
      I spent two months walking in a circle. And yet, in going nowhere, I saw so much. The underlying unity of the entire ecosystem was apparent. Nearly every day, I caught a glimpse of either the Grand Teton or Electric Peak, two prominent area landmarks. The jaggedness of the Tetons, the wildness of the Absarokas, and the splendor of the Beartooths weren’t just points of beauty in a sea of unknown; rather, they were connected by footsteps. I suppose that time spent walking in circles is time well-spent.

      Information: The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is a vast tract of mostly-protected land, with Yellowstone National Park at its center. Many of its mountain ranges rank among the true classics of North American backpacking. Backpackers new to the area may be drawn to the Teton Crest Trail, Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley, or trips in the Wind River Range. Backcountry Permits are required in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks
      At least two people walked a Greater Yellowstone Loop prior to 2020. Phillip Knight, a Bozeman local, wrote a book about his 600-mile loop circa 1990. In 2018, my friend Pepperflake hiked a 1,000-mile route, which I used as a starting point for my own 800-mile variant.
      Best Time to Go: The backpacking window in the Greater Yellowstone is rather limited – high alpine terrain generally doesn’t melt out until July, and snow often begins falling again by mid-September. July and August are prime months.
      Getting There: Cody WY, Jackson, WY, and Bozeman MT are useful regional transit hubs, served by airlines and bus lines. In addition, bus lines serve both Big Sky MT and Hoback Junction WY – smaller towns that offer easy access to high alpine terrain.
      Maps and Resources: Beartooth Publishing produces high-quality maps for most of the Greater Yellowstone’s major mountain ranges. Notable books include Thomas Turiano’s Select Peaks of the Greater Yellowstone (out of print).
      About the Author: Kevin “LarryBoy” DeVries is an avid hiker based in Salt Lake City who enjoys everything from weekend trips to thru-hikes on America’s long trails. Most recently Kevin has hiked the Florida Trail, the Route in Between, and in the summer of 2020, Kevin hiked 800 miles on the Greater Yellowstone Loop as detailed in this article, a route encircling Yellowstone National Park and traveling through the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem through Wyoming and Montana. Kevin has also hiked from Mexico to Canada on the Route in Between.
    • Aaron Zagrodnick
      By Aaron Zagrodnick in TrailGroove Blog 0
      The EXOspikes Traction System is a product from Kahtoola designed to enhance traction in wintry terrain, and is suited both for hiking and trail running. Sharing some similarities with the popular Kahtoola MICROSpikes, the product is available in multiple sizes, each fitting a range of footwear sizes. A stretchy elastomer harness fits over your footwear, and underneath you’ll find a grid of trekking pole-like metal carbide tips on the forefoot and heel – 12 on each foot to be exact. My size XL pair weighed 8.2 ounces.

      I ordered the XL size as someone who usually wears a size 12.5 men’s trail runner or maybe a 13 boot. And I’m certainly glad I didn’t size down – the Kahtoola EXOspikes are pretty tough to get over my lightweight, mid-height boots (a couple times I have felt like I was going to rip the harness trying to get them over the heel), but are secure once on. If you wear a bulkier or winter boot in a men’s size 13 or above you might just be out of luck, as XL is the largest size offered. Without a doubt, while the EXOspikes will work on boots, the sizing guide is for trail runners.

      Traction-wise the EXOspikes offer just about what you might expect. These are not aggressive spikes like the MICROSpikes and definitely are no Kahtoola K10s, so I found myself less connected to the surface beneath my feet than with those alternative and more aggressive products. But for me, the EXOspikes are a very nice to have item for non-steep mixed terrain and especially where there might be a little front country and backcountry mixed in together on your hike. Where I found the EXOspikes to perform best was in cold conditions where the snow / and or ice is firm and packed, and while the product does serve to add something of a lugged grip to the bottom of your shoe, traction is only slightly improved in loose snow, as there’s just not much bite.
      Once conditions warm up and get slushy, the EXOs are not as effective. On ice, the spikes do add traction, but it feels more like added traction – kind of like having sandpaper on your feet, rather than a connection to the surface as with MICROSpikes, and I still very much appreciate trekking poles in addition to the EXOs. Additionally as you might expect from looking at the design, there isn’t much mid-foot traction.

      Underfoot, the EXOspikes are very comfortable and even in trail runners, you can't really tell anything extra is on the bottom of your shoes. While I didn't notice this with boots, when wearing a trail running shoe there is enough compression in the toe area to cause some minor annoyance. Additionally when trail running on cambered trails, the EXOspikes did tend to drift out of place which isn't the most comfortable thing for your toes. You can quickly readjust, but the next time you hit a section of trail that's slanted side to side, it will happen again.
      One thing to note is that just like the way trekking poles (without rubber tips) will mar rock and leave holes alongside the trail, you will want to either take the EXOspikes off when the trail clears up or be careful not to walk on rock that’s free of ice and snow. Not only will this increase the life of your EXOspikes, but more importantly it will help preserve the trail. I was impressed when reading the instructions that Kahtoola included this warning, in bold.

      Overall the EXOspikes fill a niche for conditions where you would be taking your MICROSpikes off and putting them back on too often due to the terrain being mixed, and when you do opt for the EXOspikes they also have the side benefit of being about half the weight. Another larger, XXL size might be beneficial to the lineup for sizing. All said, I’m definitely keeping my MICROSpikes, but the EXOs are nice to have on hand for everything from wintry walks and runs in the neighborhood (or yes, even shoveling the driveway), to trail runs, or on day hikes where you might go from icy to snowy to dirt (or even pavement) and back again.
      A pair of Kahtoola EXOspikes retail for around $60. You can find them at Backcountry, at Amazon.com, and here at REI.
    • Eric
      By Eric in TrailGroove Blog 0
      I awoke in the comfort of the back of my vehicle as the Pacific Ocean’s peaceful waves gently moved across the nearby beach. I quickly drove away and soon found myself driving on a remote forest road. Fortunately I had checked road conditions and discovered that I needed to detour to avoid a landslide. The road was bumpy and had deep cracks. My vehicle has all-wheel drive, but not high clearance. With careful maneuvering I arrived at the Chetco Divide/Vulcan Peak Trailhead and the edge of Oregon’s Kalmiopsis Wilderness, 3800 feet above the ocean nearly twenty miles to the east. The trailhead was empty.

      The Kalmiopsis Wilderness, Oregon’s third largest, is one of the most remote areas in the state. It is a land of rugged ridges and canyons with the headwaters of National Scenic Rivers. This is an area that has experienced some of Oregon’s largest forest fires, but recently many trails have been restored including the route I planned to complete, an approximately fifty mile loop into the heart and depths of the wilderness.
      The trail started high on a ridge and it was difficult to discern whether the blue on the horizon was the sky or the ocean. The path was rocky and wide, possibly an old road. There were puffy clouds in the sky and the weather was nearly perfect. It was late May, the perfect window of time after the cold of winter had stopped, but before the shadeless ridges were unbearably hot in the summer sun.

      I arrived at a small mountain lake and gathered some water for the dry sections on the ridge ahead. There were many wildflowers along the trail and I wondered if some of them were the rare Kalmiopsis flowers that the wilderness is named after. There were nearly constant endless views of the canyons were all around.
      As the end of the day neared, the trail descended steeply to the beautiful Chetco River. Near the river there was a well-established campsite a small waterfall on Carter Creek. It was a dangerous scramble down to the river, where I cooked dinner and enjoyed the light coloring the canyon walls.

      The next morning, I forded the river, followed along it for some time, dodged poison oak as possible. Sometimes it was unavoidable and I simply plunged straight through the bushes that towered over my head. I hoped that I wouldn’t pay the consequences later. I passed a couple backpackers, heading the opposite direction, the first people I had seen since beginning the adventure. In fact I wouldn’t see anyone else until I had left the wilderness.
      The climb was steep and even in May, I could feel the heat. My goal of fastpacking returned to simply maintaining a hiking pace. Throughout the first day, I had been able to slowly run some sections of the trail with my lightweight fastpack on my back, but the 6000+ feet of elevation gain made my efforts seem slow. I embraced the struggle and was grateful to experience the scenery at a slower pace.

      After climbing out of the canyon, I was greeted again by the expansive views across the wilderness. The trail followed a narrow ridge and skirted around a large, rocky mountain. I could have finished the loop that evening, but there was a scenic lake several miles from the trailhead. Vulcan Lake was a deep green with a unique reddish-orange colored Vulcan Mountain as its background. I enjoyed a refreshing swim with several water salamanders, ate some food, and experienced the evening view from a cliff at the lake’s outlet.

      The next morning was a short journey back to the trailhead, partly on the only roadwalk needed to complete the loop. Soon I was back at the Pacific Ocean, and although I had the reminder of poison oak’s itchy misery bathing and inflaming my legs for now, the reminder of the sights, experiences, and ruggedness of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness was etched on my memory for years to come.

      Information: The Leach Memorial Loop is about fifty miles in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness in Southwest Oregon. Going counterwise from the Chetco Divide/Vulcan Peak Trailhead the loop uses the following trails: Chetco Divide Trail #1210, Kalmiopsis Rim Trail #1124, Emily Cabin Trail #1129, Bailey Cabin Trail #1131, Bailey Mountain Trail #1109, Upper Chetco Trail #1102, and Johnson Butte Trail #1110. There is a short side trail to Vulcan Lake and also a short road walk to connect the loop. No permits are required. The Siskiyou Mountain Club has current trail conditions on its website.
      Best Time to Go: May or September to avoid the heat of summer. The Chetco River ford may be challenging early in the year. Much of the route has less snow earlier and later in the year than in the Cascades.
      Getting There: from the west the loop can be accessed by the Chetco Divide/Vulcan Peak and Vulcan Lake Trailhead on forest roads from Brookings, Oregon. From the East, the loop can be accessed from the Babyfoot Lake Trailhead. The closest international airport is in Medford, Oregon. Check the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest for road conditions.
      Maps and Books: For maps check with the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest or print your own from Caltopo, and consider using a GPS app. William Sullivan’s 100 Hikes/Travel Guide Oregon Coast & Coast Range describes portions of the route including Vulcan Lake, Upper Chetco River Trail, and the Chetco Divide Trail. The upcoming 2nd edition of Falcon Guides’ Hiking Southern Oregon: A Guide to the Area's Greatest Hikes, which is due to be released in June of 2022, will likely include hikes in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.
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