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Popular Content

Showing content with the highest reputation since 06/24/2015 in all areas

  1. 162 points
    Note: This giveaway ended 7/12/16. For summer, we're giving away a new ZPacks 4-in-1 MultiPack filled with a $50 Gift Certificate to REI and a choice of shirt or hat from the TrailGroove Store! If you're not familiar with this versatile storage solution from ZPacks check out our Multi-Pack Review from back in Issue 17 for all the details - I personally use one as a ~3 ounce solution to keep my camera easily accessible (in chest pack mode) on every hike. Just make sure you're subscribed to TrailGroove and then like this blog post to let us know you'd like to be included in the drawing. Full details below. Above: Our review setup in pack lid mode strapped to a ULA Circuit backpack. The ZPacks Multi-Pack can also be used as a chest pack, waist pack, or satchel. How to Enter 1) Like this blog entry in the lower right hand corner of this post. Simply login with your TrailGroove account and like this blog entry in the lower right hand corner of this post to let us know you'd like to be entered to win. New to TrailGroove? Click here to sign up for a new account - make sure to select the subscribe option on the sign up screen as well - it will help with step 2. The button you then need to click to like this post will look like the one below, albeit a bit smaller: 2) Subscribe to TrailGroove. Odds are you might already be subscribed, but you can subscribe below or verify by typing in your email if needed. (Hint: Receive an email from us about this giveaway? If so, you're subscribed!) Note that you won't be subscribed twice, so it doesn't hurt to check - make sure you're subscribed with the same email you used here for your TrailGroove account: Subscribe Here 3) Premium TrailGroove Member? You've been automatically entered into this giveaway - like this blog post for an additional entry and chance to win! Or sign up for a premium membership anytime before 7/12 to take advantage of this benefit. 4) Optional: This isn't required and doesn't even earn additional entries, but since you're here feel free to give us a like on Facebook and a follow on Twitter below - we'd appreciate it! (And it helps us keep you up to date with any future giveaways and TrailGroove news from time to time) 5) As always, if you're new to TrailGroove or perhaps just haven't dropped by in a while, feel free to stop by the forum to jump in the discussion or just to say hello. We'll randomly draw from all entries on Tuesday 7/12 at 7 p.m. Mountain Time and will contact the winner here via a private message - Good luck!
  2. 144 points
    Note: This giveaway ended 5/16/16. This month enter to win a $100 REI e-Gift Card plus your choice of a shirt or hat from the TrailGroove Store! Just make sure you're subscribed to TrailGroove and then like this blog post to let us know you'd like to be included in the drawing. Full details below. How to Enter 1) Like this blog entry in the lower right hand corner of this post. Simply login with your TrailGroove account and like this blog entry in the lower right hand corner of this post to let us know you'd like to be entered to win. New to TrailGroove? Click here to sign up for a new account - make sure to select the subscribe option on the sign up screen as well - it will help with step 2. The button you then need to click to like this post will look like the one below, albeit a bit smaller: 2) Subscribe to TrailGroove. Odds are you might already be subscribed, but you can subscribe below or verify by typing in your email if needed. (Hint: Receive an email from us about this giveaway? If so, you're subscribed!) Note that you won't be subscribed twice, so it doesn't hurt to check - make sure you're subscribed with the same email you used here for your TrailGroove account: Subscribe Here 3) Premium TrailGroove Member? You've been automatically entered into this giveaway - like this blog post for an additional entry and chance to win! Or sign up for a premium membership anytime before 5/16 to take advantage of this benefit. 4) Optional: This isn't required and doesn't even earn additional entries, but since you're here feel free to give us a like on Facebook and a follow on Twitter below - we'd appreciate it! (And it helps us keep you up to date with any future giveaways and TrailGroove news from time to time) 5) As always, if you're new to TrailGroove or perhaps just haven't dropped by in a while, feel free to stop by the forum to jump in the discussion or just to say hello. We'll randomly draw from all entries on Monday 5/16 at 7 p.m. Mountain Time and will contact the winner here via a private message - Good luck!
  3. 136 points
    Note: This Giveaway Ended 3/15/17. For our winter giveaway (and just in time!), we're giving away a new Helinox Chair Zero and the choice of any shirt or hat from the TrailGroove Store! This new camp comfort seating solution from Helinox is a comfortable chair that's both packable and light enough for those backpacking and hiking excursions where some extra comfort might be on your list of priorities - for more info on the Chair Zero, take a look here at REI and read our recent review. Just make sure you're subscribed to TrailGroove and then like this blog post to let us know you'd like to be included in the drawing. That's it! Be sure to check out a Premium Membership for more chances to win. Full details below. Our review Chair Zero How to Enter 1) Like this blog entry in the lower right hand corner of this post. Simply login with your TrailGroove account and like this blog entry in the lower right hand corner of this post to let us know you'd like to be entered to win. New to TrailGroove? Click here to sign up for a new account - make sure to select the subscribe option on the sign up screen as well - it will help with step 2. The button you then need to click to like this post will look like the one below, albeit a bit smaller: 2) Subscribe to TrailGroove. Odds are you might already be subscribed, but you can subscribe below or verify by typing in your email if needed. (Hint: Receive an email from us about this giveaway? If so, you're subscribed!) Note that you won't be subscribed twice, so it doesn't hurt to check - make sure you're subscribed with the same email you used here for your TrailGroove account: Subscribe Here 3) Premium TrailGroove Member? You've been automatically entered into this giveaway - like this blog post for an additional entry and chance to win! You can sign up for a Premium Membership anytime before 3/15 to take advantage of this benefit. 4) Optional: This isn't required and doesn't even earn additional entries, but since you're here feel free to give us a like and follow below - it's always nice to stay in touch! (And it helps us keep you up to date with any future giveaways and TrailGroove news from time to time) .ig-b- { display: inline-block; } .ig-b- img { visibility: hidden; } .ig-b-:hover { background-position: 0 -60px; } .ig-b-:active { background-position: 0 -120px; } .ig-b-v-24 { width: 137px; height: 24px; background: url(//badges.instagram.com/static/images/ig-badge-view-sprite-24.png) no-repeat 0 0; } @media only screen and (-webkit-min-device-pixel-ratio: 2), only screen and (min--moz-device-pixel-ratio: 2), only screen and (-o-min-device-pixel-ratio: 2 / 1), only screen and (min-device-pixel-ratio: 2), only screen and (min-resolution: 192dpi), only screen and (min-resolution: 2dppx) { .ig-b-v-24 { background-image: url(//badges.instagram.com/static/images/ig-badge-view-sprite-24@2x.png); background-size: 160px 178px; } } 5) As always, if you're new to TrailGroove or perhaps just haven't dropped by in a while, feel free to stop by the forum to jump in the discussion or just to say hello. We'll randomly draw from all entries on Wednesday 3/15 at 7 p.m. Mountain Time and will contact the winner here via a private message - Good luck!
  4. 135 points
    Note: This giveaway ended 10/31/16. For fall, we're giving away a new BearVault BV450 food canister filled with a $50 Gift Certificate to REI and a choice of shirt or hat from the TrailGroove Store! Check out our full BV450 review in Issue 30 for more info on the BearVault, and just make sure you're subscribed to TrailGroove and then like this blog post to let us know you'd like to be included in the drawing. Full details below. Photo credit Mark Wetherington How to Enter 1) Like this blog entry in the lower right hand corner of this post. Simply login with your TrailGroove account and like this blog entry in the lower right hand corner of this post to let us know you'd like to be entered to win. New to TrailGroove? Click here to sign up for a new account - make sure to select the subscribe option on the sign up screen as well - it will help with step 2. The button you then need to click to like this post will look like the one below, albeit a bit smaller: 2) Subscribe to TrailGroove. Odds are you might already be subscribed, but you can subscribe below or verify by typing in your email if needed. (Hint: Receive an email from us about this giveaway? If so, you're subscribed!) Note that you won't be subscribed twice, so it doesn't hurt to check - make sure you're subscribed with the same email you used here for your TrailGroove account: Subscribe Here 3) Premium TrailGroove Member? You've been automatically entered into this giveaway - like this blog post for an additional entry and chance to win! You can sign up for a premium membership anytime before 10/31 to take advantage of this benefit. 4) Optional: This isn't required and doesn't even earn additional entries, but since you're here feel free to give us a like and follow below - it's always nice to stay in touch! (And it helps us keep you up to date with any future giveaways and TrailGroove news from time to time) .ig-b- { display: inline-block; } .ig-b- img { visibility: hidden; } .ig-b-:hover { background-position: 0 -60px; } .ig-b-:active { background-position: 0 -120px; } .ig-b-v-24 { width: 137px; height: 24px; background: url(//badges.instagram.com/static/images/ig-badge-view-sprite-24.png) no-repeat 0 0; } @media only screen and (-webkit-min-device-pixel-ratio: 2), only screen and (min--moz-device-pixel-ratio: 2), only screen and (-o-min-device-pixel-ratio: 2 / 1), only screen and (min-device-pixel-ratio: 2), only screen and (min-resolution: 192dpi), only screen and (min-resolution: 2dppx) { .ig-b-v-24 { background-image: url(//badges.instagram.com/static/images/ig-badge-view-sprite-24@2x.png); background-size: 160px 178px; } } 5) As always, if you're new to TrailGroove or perhaps just haven't dropped by in a while, feel free to stop by the forum to jump in the discussion or just to say hello. We'll randomly draw from all entries on Monday 10/31 at 7 p.m. Mountain Time and will contact the winner here via a private message - Good luck!
  5. 128 points
    Note: This giveaway ended 6/2/17 For spring, we're giving away a $100 REI e-Gift Card plus your choice of a shirt or hat from the TrailGroove Store! Just make sure you're subscribed to TrailGroove and then like this blog post to let us know you'd like to be included in the drawing. Full details below. How to Enter 1) Like this blog entry in the lower right hand corner of this post. Simply login with your TrailGroove account and like this blog entry in the lower right hand corner of this post to let us know you'd like to be entered to win. New to TrailGroove? Click here to sign up for a new account - make sure to select the subscribe option on the sign up screen as well - it will help with step 2. The button you then need to click to like this post will look like the one below, albeit a bit smaller: 2) Subscribe to TrailGroove. Odds are you might already be subscribed, but you can subscribe below or verify by typing in your email if needed. (Hint: Receive an email from us about this giveaway? If so, you're subscribed!) Note that you won't be subscribed twice, so it doesn't hurt to check - make sure you're subscribed with the same email you used here for your TrailGroove account: Subscribe Here 3) Premium TrailGroove Member? You've been automatically entered into this giveaway - like this blog post for an additional entry and chance to win! Or sign up for a premium membership anytime before 6/2 to take advantage of this benefit. 4) Optional: This isn't required and doesn't even earn additional entries, but since you're here feel free to follow us below on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram - we'd appreciate it! (And it helps us keep you up to date with any future giveaways and TrailGroove news from time to time) .ig-b- { display: inline-block; } .ig-b- img { visibility: hidden; } .ig-b-:hover { background-position: 0 -60px; } .ig-b-:active { background-position: 0 -120px; } .ig-b-v-24 { width: 137px; height: 24px; background: url(//badges.instagram.com/static/images/ig-badge-view-sprite-24.png) no-repeat 0 0; } @media only screen and (-webkit-min-device-pixel-ratio: 2), only screen and (min--moz-device-pixel-ratio: 2), only screen and (-o-min-device-pixel-ratio: 2 / 1), only screen and (min-device-pixel-ratio: 2), only screen and (min-resolution: 192dpi), only screen and (min-resolution: 2dppx) { .ig-b-v-24 { background-image: url(//badges.instagram.com/static/images/ig-badge-view-sprite-24@2x.png); background-size: 160px 178px; } } 5) As always, if you're new to TrailGroove or perhaps just haven't dropped by in a while, feel free to stop by the forum to jump in the discussion or just to say hello! We'll randomly draw from all entries on Friday 6/2 at Noon Mountain Time and will contact the winner here via a private message - Good luck!
  6. 117 points
    Note: This giveaway ended 2/22/16. With an eye on the upcoming arrival of spring next month, we're giving away a Platypus GravityWorks water filter system - similar to the system we reviewed here in Issue 25, just in the 2 liter reservoir kit version, plus your choice of shirt or hat from the TrailGroove Store. The GravityWorks filtration kit is an easy to use .2 micron water filter system that we've found to be well designed and easy to use, and it's a great choice for anything from a day hikes to longer backpacking trips. Click here to see the exact system the winner will receive. (Above: Our 4L Review Setup) How to Enter 1) Like this blog entry in the lower right hand corner of this post. Simply login with your TrailGroove account and like this blog entry in the lower right hand corner of this post to let us know you'd like to be entered to win. New to TrailGroove? Click here to sign up for a new account - make sure to select the subscribe option on the sign up screen as well - it will help with step 2. The button you then need to click to like this post will look like the one below, albeit a bit smaller: 2) Subscribe to TrailGroove. Odds are you might already be subscribed, but you can subscribe below or verify by typing in your email if needed. (Hint: Receive an email from us about this giveaway? If so, you're subscribed!) Note that you won't be subscribed twice, so it doesn't hurt to check - make sure you're subscribed with the same email you used here for your TrailGroove account: Subscribe Here 3) Premium TrailGroove Member? You've been automatically entered into this giveaway - like this blog post for an additional entry and chance to win! Or sign up for a premium membership anytime before 2/22 to take advantage of this benefit. 4) Optional: This isn't required and doesn't even earn additional entries, but since you're here feel free to give us a like on Facebook and a follow on Twitter below - we'd appreciate it! (And it helps us keep you up to date with any future giveaways and TrailGroove news from time to time)5) As always, if you're new to TrailGroove or perhaps just haven't dropped by in a while, feel free to stop by the forum to jump in the discussion or just to say hello. We'll randomly draw from all entries on Monday 2/22 at 2:22 p.m. Mountain Time and will contact the winner here via a private message - Good luck!
  7. 82 points
    Note: This giveaway ended 7/28/17. For summer, we're giving away a $100 Backcountry.com Gift Certificate plus your choice of a shirt or hat from the TrailGroove Store! Just make sure you're subscribed to TrailGroove and then like this blog post to let us know you'd like to be included in the drawing. Full details below. How to Enter 1) Like this blog entry in the lower right hand corner of this post. Simply login with your TrailGroove account and like this blog entry in the lower right hand corner of this post to let us know you'd like to be entered to win. New to TrailGroove? Click here to sign up for a new account - make sure to select the subscribe option on the sign up screen as well - it will help with step 2. The button you then need to click to like this post will look like the one below, albeit a bit smaller: 2) Subscribe to TrailGroove. Odds are you might already be subscribed, but you can subscribe below or verify by typing in your email if needed. (Hint: Receive an email from us about this giveaway? If so, you're subscribed!) Note that you won't be subscribed twice, so it doesn't hurt to check - make sure you're subscribed with the same email you used here for your TrailGroove account: Subscribe 3) Premium TrailGroove Member? You've been automatically entered into this giveaway - like this blog post for an additional entry and chance to win! Or sign up for a premium membership anytime before 7/28 to take advantage of this benefit. 4) Optional: This isn't required and doesn't even earn additional entries, but since you're here feel free to follow us below on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram - we'd appreciate it! (And it helps us keep you up to date with any future giveaways and TrailGroove news from time to time) .ig-b- { display: inline-block; } .ig-b- img { visibility: hidden; } .ig-b-:hover { background-position: 0 -60px; } .ig-b-:active { background-position: 0 -120px; } .ig-b-v-24 { width: 137px; height: 24px; background: url(//badges.instagram.com/static/images/ig-badge-view-sprite-24.png) no-repeat 0 0; } @media only screen and (-webkit-min-device-pixel-ratio: 2), only screen and (min--moz-device-pixel-ratio: 2), only screen and (-o-min-device-pixel-ratio: 2 / 1), only screen and (min-device-pixel-ratio: 2), only screen and (min-resolution: 192dpi), only screen and (min-resolution: 2dppx) { .ig-b-v-24 { background-image: url(//badges.instagram.com/static/images/ig-badge-view-sprite-24@2x.png); background-size: 160px 178px; } } 5) As always, if you're new to TrailGroove or perhaps just haven't dropped by in a while, feel free to stop by the forum to jump in the discussion or just to say hello! We'll randomly draw from all entries on Friday 7/28 at Noon Mountain Time and we'll contact the winner here via a private message - Good luck!
  8. 7 points
    I wear the multi pack on every hike, too! My camera loves it.. On Whitney, I used it as my go-to food bag.
  9. 7 points
    TrailGroove, thank you once again for putting one of these giveaways. I was fortunate enough to win the Patagonia Houdini wind-shirt giveaway last year and have been utterly delighted with the jacket, which is now a firm favourite. I say a quiet thank you ever time I use it. Thanks once again Richard
  10. 5 points
    Gossamer Gear has been refining their ultralight oriented backpacks since 1998, including multiple iterations of the Gorilla – their medium volume framed pack. The newest version was released in early 2015 using gray Robic fabric instead of the white Dyneema Grid fabric as seen on older packs. The shoulder straps are now unisex, more contoured, thicker,and slightly narrower than the previous version. The hip belt was also redesigned to have more padding with a mesh inner face to wick sweat. Trekking pole holders were also added along with heavier stitching for prolonged pack life. As a result, the listed weight increased slightly to 26 ounces for the size medium pack. Design The Gossamer Gear Gorilla is a typical ultralight style backpack with one large main pocket, but it uses an integrated lid to close the pack. It features two large side pockets that each easily fit a 1 liter Gatorade or Nalgene bottle. There is a small zippered pocket on the non-removable lid which can fit maps or other small items, a single large mesh pocket on the front of the pack, and a pair of mesh pockets to hold the included sit pad or other compatible foam pad on the back on the pack. The pad is the only back padding of the pack to save weight. The pack also features an ice axe loop, side compression straps, and trekking pole holders. The bottom of the pack and side pockets are made of a heavier duty version of the Robic fabric to resist abrasion. The pack hip belt (available in 5 sizes) is purchased separately and has one large zippered pocket on either side, sized for 3 cliff bars or a large point and shoot camera. It is attached to the pack with a large swatch of Velcro and sandwiched between the pack and the included sit pad (or your own sleeping pad). Note that the extra-small hip belt does not include pockets. The Gorilla is available in 3 torso sizes and a pack + hip belt goes for $245. The Test I purchased my size large Gorilla nearing the end of Rachel and I’s through-hike of the Arizona Trail to replace a larger volume frameless pack that was giving me shoulder pain. I used the pack for the remaining 100 miles of the Arizona Trail (AZT), 75 miles of backpacking in Zion and Buckskin Gulch, over 2,200 miles of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), and about 500 miles on the Grand Enchantment Trail (GET). Round it all up slightly and I have about 3,000 miles in 7 states over 7 months on this pack. I typically carried a base weight of about 12 to 14 pounds with some variation along the way. My longest food carry was 7 days and the most water I carried was about 5 liters. I used this pack both on trail and off-trail to bushwack on the Grand Enchantment and for many cross country alternates on the CDT. Most recently, the Gorilla has served as my winter day pack for snowshoeing in Colorado. To call this a long term review would be an understatement. As a bonus, Rachel purchased a Gossamer Gear Mariposa at the end of our AZT hike and used it for the CDT and GET. She decided to downsize to the Gorilla after we got home, so I have some comparison photos of an almost brand new but size small Gorilla. Initial Impressions Prior to this pack, I was used to large volume frameless packs that had lots of excess room taken up by only partially compressing my sleeping bag and down jacket. This strategy worked well when the food carries were 5 days or less with ample on-trail water, but my shoulders were not happy with the long dry stretches on the AZT. My daily mileages were also lower than normal due to an injured partner leading to longer food and heavier water carries. The two problems led me to move to a more supportive but still lightweight framed backpack, and Gossamer Gear was the only ultralight backpack manufacturer at the time that had anything in stock. I had heard good things from my friend Section Hiker on his review of the Mariposa and “pulled the trigger” last May but opted to go for the smaller volume Gorilla. When I unboxed the pack sitting at a picnic table in front of the south rim general store, I was a little shocked by the small size in comparison to my voluminous frameless pack. How was I going to make this work exactly? I quickly realized that smarter packing was the answer and that I had all the volume I needed. My sleeping bag would have to be more compressed and instead of simply piling food in my 20 liter food bag I now had to carefully pack it, fitting smaller items in the spaces between the larger to reduce volume. Fully packed with 5 days of food and three liters of water, the Gorilla felt dense but carried much better than my old pack. The center of gravity of the pack was much closer to my body than my old pack and the shoulder straps were much more comfortable with very thick padding. The pack’s frame did an okay job of transferring weight to my hips, I would estimate about 50-75% of the 30 or so pounds the pack weight versus the 25-50% of my frameless pack. I also found that the size large fit my 21 to 22 inch size torso perfectly without much of a gap between the shoulder strap and my back. I would not recommend buying this pack if your torso measures significantly larger. I also immediately noticed several minor things I didn’t care for on the pack. Gossamer Gear sized the straps that cinch the lid and compression straps on the side of the pack excessively long and included clips on the ends of the shoulder straps. The shoulder strap clips are supposed to be clipped together to create a second lower sternum strap but the shoulder straps were the only straps not sized extra long! I tried to remove them to trim a little useless weight but was only able to get one off without pliers. In the end I decided not to cut the straps since I could foresee using the extra length for strapping snowshoes or ski’s to the pack in the distant future, which I do now. Further, the size large torso length is several inches longer than the 20-inch Gossamer Gear Nightlight sleeping pad I know and love. That meant the pad rides up the pack as you hike and exposes the lower 2 inches of the hip belt. It’s not a big issue and can be mitigated somewhat by stuffing your extra socks or liner gloves into the top of the upper pad pocket. Rachel did not have this problem with the size small pack using the same sleeping pad as her pack is shorter. Hopefully in future versions of the Gorilla, Gossamer Gear will attach the mesh pad holder separately from the top of the pack and lower so solve this issue. In Use I really like the traditional layout of ultralight packs which consist of one large pocket and several exterior pockets and the Gorilla follows suit perfectly. A typical day for me involved stuffing my sleeping bag into the bottom of the pack sans stuff sack but inside a waterproof trash compactor bag, piling my sleeping clothes on top, closing the compactor bag, and adding our Fly Creek UL2 tent and gas canister on top. Next in was the 1/8” foam sleeping pad I double over and put under my legs. My food bag sat on top of everything and was accessible by opening the main compartment of the pack and held in place by stuffing my down jacket around the edges. My maps, first aid/repair kit, and electronics would slide in between the food bag and front of the pack. My wind jacket, rain skirt, stove, and pot lived in the front mesh pocket and umbrella in one of the side pockets held in place with the side compression straps. While hiking I could easily reach either water bottle, eat snacks from one hip belt pocket or use my camera from the other hip belt pocket. If I needed the next map, it was easily accessible in the top of the pack. Lunch breaks just meant opening the pack and accessing my food bag. Being able to continue moving without stopping for food and water is the key to putting in those big miles. The pack is not waterproof but in my experience everything waterproof eventually wears holes so you end up using some kind of pack liner anyway. The Robic fabric also doesn’t seem to soak up as much water as silnylon so a pack cover wasn’t needed. At camp, I would remove the food bag and immediately be able to access our tent, stove, down jacket, and food. The sleeping pads, sleep clothes, and quilt would come out last inside the tent. This system negates any need for a sleeping bag or other compartments in the pack, simplifying the design and shedding the weight of additional zippers, seams and fabric. 3,000 Miles Later It goes without saying that if I didn’t replace the pack for 3,000 miles that I must really like it. To me, it’s a good compromise between weight, durability and load carrying capacity. I also find the size and shape of the pack to be perfect for what I carry for 3-season backpacking and exceptionally good for off-trail travel. The narrow shape doesn’t snag on brush and the small size means my balance isn’t thrown off as badly on talus or scree as a larger pack would. However, this is a review and I want to delve into the nitty-gritty. That said, I did have some minor issues. The pack shoulder straps start extremely fluffy but quickly compress. On my size large the solid material that actually carries the load is only about half the width of the shoulder strap and squishes down the foam within one to two hundred hours of use. This puts more weight on a narrower section of the shoulder straps so I did experience some discomfort, but only with more than 25 pounds in the pack and only after hiking for close to 2 hours without taking the pack off. Part of the problem is because the hip belt lacks shape and doesn’t do a the best job transferring weight to my bony man-hips; it’s basically a rectangle with rounded corners and a wide strap across the center. In my experience hip belts with two strap attachment points further back from the edge of the belt contour to your hips better and transfer the load more efficiently – like the ULA hipbelts. In fact, my girlfriend/hiking partner Rachel converted a ULA hipbelt to work with her Gossamer Gear Mariposa by removing the Velcro and replacing it with the opposite type to match the Mariposa Velcro – apparently an easy thing to do for something with some sewing abilities. She says it made a huge difference and recommends buying the Gossamer Gear pack and a separate ULA hipbelt (if you can sew) since Gossamer Gear sells the packs without hip belts. I did not do the same because it was a minor enough problem that I could just ignore it. Like I said – it’s a compromise. You can’t expect a 26 ounce pack to carry weight like a traditional 50+ ounce pack. Other minor issues include the fact that the trekking pole holders don’t work when you set the pack on the ground. The pole tips easily push up out of the holders and the poles fall out. I think you’re better off securing them upside down in a side pocket with the side compression straps. Also when using an ice axe, the handle is secured with the top lid of the pack strap – presumably to save weight over using a dedicated Velcro loop. However, if you want to open the pack you now have to let the ice axe fall to the ground and re-secure it when you close the pack. Both are minor inconveniences but could be redesigned with just a minor increase in weight.Also a note about the weight – my pack with hipbelt and aluminum stay but no foam back pad weighs 28.5 ounces whilethe listed weight for the pack and hipbelt in size large is 24.8 ounces. Where the Gorilla really shines for an ultralight pack is durability. Rachel and I saw many lightweight packs fail completely on the CDT but both of our packs held up exceptionally well. Rachel’s pack had virtually no wear on it by the end of our trip, mine has multiple small holes in the front mesh, significant wear on the lower pad mesh pocket, and one tear on the water bottle pocket where it got snagged on a door latch in town. I did tear some cosmetic stitching from the right shoulder strap and reinforced it with dental floss but that was over 1,000 miles before we finished hiking with no further damage. The remainder of the stitching is in great shape. Most impressively, the hip belt zippers lasted the entire trip which to me is almost inexplicable for a zipper! Considering the amount of talus our packs were dragged across and the number of barbed wire fences we crawled under, this is a very small amount of wear for a 26 ounce pack. I think with some minor repairs to the mesh pad pocket I could easily get another multi-thousand mile hike out of this pack. Even better, it has replaced my old winter day pack as the lid easily fits snowshoes since I left the straps long as previously described. Overall and in the lightweight backpack market, the Gossamer Gear Gorilla strikes a great balance between comfort, weight, durability and price and is best suited for lightweight, low volume loads for trips up to 7 days long. The pack does exceptionally well with off trail travel and is very user friendly. An average user could easily expect this pack to last a decade or more. There are some minor inconveniences that I hope Gossamer Gear will address with the next generation but in day to day use these issues amount to very little. In summary, and while there’s room for improvement my experience the Gossamer Gorilla was very good and it’s a great choice for those looking for a suitable long-distance pack that can handle the miles. The Gorilla backpack retails for $245 (with a hipbelt) and can be found at Gossamer Gear. The Author: Mike "Hiker Box Special" Henrick and Rachel "Heartbreaker" Brown spent 8 months of 2015 backpacking over 3,600 miles across the American West on the Arizona, Continental Divide and Grand Enchantment Trails after meeting just two months prior. Mike thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2013 and has been bike touring, backpacking and traveling since 2008. Look for more stories from Mike and Rachel's hikes in future issues of TrailGroove Magazine and on the TrailGroove Blog.
  11. 5 points
    awesome giveaway. Thank you for the chance .
  12. 5 points
    Boy, this would be a great addition to my gear for my summer trip to Thousand Island lake!. Thanks for the contest.
  13. 5 points
    It's kind of an interesting line of questioning to ask if something is necessary. You don't "need" a backpack. You can easily fold a tarp up into a pouch to hold all your gear and hang it from a sling. But not many people would make an argument not to use a backpack, despite the significant expense. Continuing the thought process, you don't need a tent, a tarp is just fine. You don't need a cook kit or water filtration, as you can cook on a fire or boil water to drink. Bottom line, most things in this hobby are optional. We choose to use things that make the experience more enjoyable and safer. As do trek poles.
  14. 4 points
    Note: This giveaway ended 10/30/15. For fall, we're giving away a brand new Helinox Ground Chair, (Reviewed here in Issue 23) a ~22 ounce chair that's great for those more relaxed backpacking trips, day hikes, or even while car camping or just about anything else you can think of. We'll also throw in a TrailGroove hat or shirt of the winner's choosing! How to Enter: Leave a comment below on this blog entry describing the single backpacking/hiking luxury item you'd never leave behind on a backpacking/hiking trip, and why that's the case. Your comment counts as one entry. Once entered, head over to the forum for an additional entry per post between 10/24 and the giveaway drawing. (Maximum 10 entries total) Entries end Friday 10/30 at 5 p.m. Mountain Time. We'll randomly draw one winner from available entries and we'll contact the winner via a private message. The winner will receive a brand new Helinox Ground Chair, and we'll throw in any shirt or hat from the TrailGroove Store. Premium Members automatically receive an entry into the drawing, and can earn up to 20 total entries! The Fine Print: For entries to count, the posts should be applicable to backpacking, hiking, the outdoors, etc., and at least somewhat constructive. For instance, we won't be able to count intentionally repeated posts, one word posts (Unless it's a really good one word post), or posts that don't meet our basic forum guidelines agreed to when you register. Essentially, we'll be able to count all normal discussion. Thanks for visiting, and good luck!
  15. 4 points
    The last two winters I’ve spent living in the American southwest, and before I left I planned to take a long bike ride. I wasn’t quite sure where I wanted to go, but I was leaning towards somewhere way out in the desert. I changed my mind many times in the months before the trip, but eventually decided to leave sunny California, and drive further inland, to Utah. I had driven this highway once before, a scenic route through the southern part of Utah. Highway 12, “The All American Road.” I knew there was a route. I could bike out to this highway, turn right in the town of Boulder onto “Burr Trail Road” and bike it to the end. Then head north on the dirt Notom Road from there, turn left onto the pavement to pass through Capitol Reef National Park, and finally, reconnect to Highway 12 in the town of Torrey making a giant loop ride. It might’ve seemed ambitious; I wasn’t totally sure how far it was. I was going foolishly ahead with no map and only a basic knowledge of the simple country highways. The day finally came when I drove the careening road, leaving a high plateau and descending through an orange and cream colored slick-rock badland. I parked at the trailhead for the Escalante River, near the Calf Creek Falls Recreation Area. My bike wheels bit the road in this red, dry country, and I began to climb steeply away from the sparkling green cottonwood choked river where I parked. I put all my effort forth to climb the mountain, twenty grueling miles of uphill. I was thoroughly enjoying the climb, still being fresh in the crisp, spring morning. Huge monoliths of rock towered around me, the desert landscape was much more intimidating by bike than by car. My backpack was heavy, carrying my supplies and enough water to dry camp that night, hopefully being able to finish the loop ride the following day. I knew one thing, it was 75 miles of no services, no water. Hopefully I could do all that today, I thought, even though I had gotten a late start. For some reason, I tend to grossly over-estimate what I am capable of, and today was a day like that. The highway, as I climbed, dropped away on both sides of me to rugged canyons dissecting the earth in all directions. After passing through beautiful Boulder, Utah I turned left on the Burr Trail to find a thrilling roller coaster ride. The legendary route winded rough and rarely traveled across the white slick-rock. I knew next I’d I entered the final frontier desert. Soon I was flying downhill fast through a brilliant red canyon with walls of pockmarked and intensely carved stone. This amazing and enormous canyon, known as Long Canyon, became a claustrophobic cathedral all around me. This descent was taking the plunge, I knew now I was biking into the remote, desert backcountry. Mile after mile I biked the Burr Trail, growing bumpier the deeper in I went. I snaked around countless corners through the red canyon maze. Needless to say I had become ridiculously haggard and fatigued. The sun was low now and cast the towering spires in a malicious light, and anxiety was growing inside me from this place so epic, far away, and unknown. The anxiety was growing stronger around each corner as I realized what a poor plan I had made for this trip. I came finally at long last to the end of the canyon around sunset and stopped where the road viciously switchbacked down. The view showed that the landscape was unequivocally vast. The effort it took to get to this spot had me traumatized and in great pain as I looked out to the Henry Mountains, still so distant. In fact the distance, exposed to me all at once from this overlook towards the Circle Cliffs, terrified and humbled me. I had come forty intense miles and still had thirty-five to go to arrive at town, then who knows how far the next day to make the loop! No, I said, this is crazy, I’m not doing it. I knew if I biked down this next mountain, it would be unappealing to return, so I simply chose to camp on the BLM-managed land close by. In the morning I retreated, abort the mission! Biking back through the colorful undulating desert filled me with such joy, that I decided to go ahead and bike Boulder Mountain, the road rising to nearly 10,000 feet. By the time I was halfway up I realized I had bit off more than I could chew...again. I was so exhausted that I made it to within a mere hundred feet of the summit before collapsing and giving up. From there it was thirty miles of flying downhill to get back to the truck and I was so wrecked by the time I arrived back I couldn’t think straight. I didn’t complete my loop, but I had more fun letting my plans be flexible. What a wonderful memory it was and a trip of a lifetime. The moral is, don’t let anyone tell you not to do something simply because you won’t be able to do it. Get out there, give it a shot, (always be ready to reevaluate your decision) and see what happens. Information: No permits are required to ride the Burr Trail or to camp on BLM land, and there is a campground you can stay at for 7$ per night called Deer Creek. If you choose to do the entire loop ride, then camping within the Capitol Reef National Park requires a free permit picked up at the ranger’s station. Bring enough water to expect a 75 mile dry stretch on the Burr Trail and Notom Road, so as much as possible but not less than 9 liters. Getting There: The Burr Trail passes through central Utah, the heart of the state. If coming from Colorado or from Salt Lake City, find your way to interstate 70. Green River, Utah will be the nearest town to the road junction of highway 24. Take 24 and follow it to Hanksville where you turn right to stay on 24, and eventually it will pass through Capitol Reef National Park. Keep going straight and you’ll pick up highway 12 in the town of Torrey, head south and when you get to the town of Boulder, the Burr Trail is on your left. If coming from the south take interstate 15 to Cedar City where you turn right on Highway 14. Take a left on Highway 89 and soon you will see the junction with 12 on your right. Best Time to Go: Fall is the best time to experience Utah, dry with comfortable days and chilly nights. Spring is second best but could be rainy. Winter can be possible if the road if free of snow, but not ideal, and summer is not advisable because it becomes very hot. Books & Maps: Beyond Capitol Reef: South-central Utah: A Guide to the Area Surrounding Capitol Reef National Park is an excellent guide book to the area. The Geology of Capitol Reef National Park is a fascinating book telling how the Waterpocket Fold formation shaped the beautiful structures within Capitol Reef. The National Geographic Capitol Reef National Park Map should contain all the information you will need for this route. The Author: Michael Swanbeck is an adventure seeker and aspiring author. He learned culinary arts in school, and has been using his trade to work seasonal jobs in America’s fantastic national parks. In Glacier National Park, Montana, he found that his true passion was hiking. During the off-season from restaurant work, he is free to explore the world, and focuses on seeing the beauty of our diverse natural environment. He spends his time in the wilderness when possible, having hiked southbound on the Pacific Crest Trail for 100 days in 2014. He finds his inspiration in nature, and draws his writing from that inspiration.
  16. 4 points
    In typical backpacker fashion, I did my solemn duty of taking off the Thursday before a federal holiday falling on a Friday to schedule a two-night trip followed by a day of rest. A stroke of good fortune allowed me to book Christmas Eve and Christmas night at a small, rustic Forest Service rental cabin in the mountains of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. Given the frigid forecast, it was well worth the nominal fee to know that after skiing around all day I’d have four walls, a roof, and a wood stove to wind down in and not have to put in the full effort required of winter backpacking in the northern Rockies. Parked at noon on Christmas Eve, I skied away from Chief Joseph Pass under overcast but nonthreatening skies. It was in the mid-teens, but I shed my hardshell jacket within a mile of the trailhead. I’d forgotten how much effort cross-country skiing with a pack took and was grateful that it was only six miles to the cabin, on a slightly downhill grade. My gratitude mixed with distraction and enchantment at the snow-covered landscape and my blissful inattention led to me missing the painfully obvious turn to the cabin. By the time I reached the cabin, around 3:30 p.m., I’d skied closer to nine miles than the six I'd planned on. I rarely comment on footwear, but I was glad to be out of ski boots and in down booties as I worked at getting a fire started in the wood stove. As a consistently non-traditional individual (please forgive or embrace the contradiction), I spent Christmas Eve in a quintessential Christmas scene, sitting beside a crackling fire watching snow fall from the window of a snow-covered cabin in a stand of evergreens on the edge of a meadow, while doing absolutely nothing related to Christmas. I stretched to try and loosen up my muscles, with a slight degree of success. I unpacked and arranged my gear in what seemed like a logical manner. I listened to a bit of music (Palace Brothers) and read from a travel-worn book of poetry by David Berman and from “Outer Dark” by Cormac McCarthy. Each of these three were perhaps equally incongruent with the time and place, but somehow it worked. After a filling meal of mushroom ravioli and pesto, and a glass of pinot grigio, I took a brief stroll outside to admire the scenery. It was too cloudy for moonlight skiing, but perfect conditions to stand outside in the single-digit temperatures and ponder the vastness of the planet with as much or as little effort as desired. I tucked myself into bed at an embarrassingly early hour and hoped that Santa might bring some fresh muscles to me overnight. I awoke on Christmas morning to a chilly cabin, slightly stiff legs, and an inch or so of powdery snow. No complaints. I made a quick breakfast, packed up my gear for the day, and headed out the door into crisp temperatures and a cloudy but clearing sky. About halfway through my 8-mile loop I encountered the trail groomer (the forest roads in the area are machine-groomed for skiing by the Bitterroot Cross-Country Ski Club) and stepped off the road to let him pass. We exchanged brief pleasantries and I received some unpleasant news. A close friend of the groomer’s had been solo backcountry skiing two days earlier and was missing; presumed dead. I offered my condolences and we spoke with detached but intense mortality about the dangers of beautiful places before wishing each other well and parting ways. Needless to say, that exchange didn’t exactly lighten my mood. It was a somber and introspective event as I skied back toward the cabin. Successfully resisting melancholy, I reflected considerably on the themes of loss, of love, of change, and rattled through my mental catalog of personal experiences in each category. The miles slid by on the freshly groomed road as people, places, and decisions streamed across my internal projector and bubbled into my consciousness. Some of these I examined with more purpose than others; some it was almost like watching someone else’s life, especially when speculating on the what-might’ve-beens. But as always, truth and reality were most certainly stranger than fiction or speculation. This should perhaps be a mere footnote, but I’ve always found strange solace when ruminating on loss or love, or loss of love, in the poetic profundity of a specific line in one of the songs penned by David Berman: I asked a painter why the roads are colored black He said, “Steve, it’s because people leave and no highway brings them back." Not exactly Zen Buddhism, but I’ve always found more than enough to ponder upon. And ponder I did -- about certainty, finality, mortality. All good in moderation, I suppose. I arrived back at the cabin in mid-afternoon and immediately started a fire to warm the cabin. While waiting for the stove to heat up, I warmed myself by hauling a few loads of wood from the barn on a sled and splitting some for the next guests. More tired, both physically and mentally, than I had anticipated, I enjoyed some tea and read a few chapters before indulging in a brief nap. It was nearing dusk when I awoke and I stoked the fire, ate a large snack, and got excited about the clearing skies and the prospect of skiing under a full moon. It took a couple of hours, and I had to kill some time by reading, writing a letter to a friend, and taking a cautious sip or two of bourbon, but the clouds thinned out and I was able to enjoy the sublime pleasure of moonlight skiing. Gliding across an expansive meadow illuminated in a monochromatic and surreal light is something I would highly recommend. Not having to rely on the beam of a headlamp to enjoy a landscape after sunset is such a freeing and novel experience. The quiet, the beauty, the vastness -- all were amplified by the moonlight and I skied aimlessly outside for the better part of an hour before returning to the cabin. I’d worked up an appetite and consumed my meal of Thai peanut noodles with chili-lime jerky and fresh-squeezed lime juice in record time. A satisfying meal any time or place, but particularly enjoyable on a cold night after skiing. I stretched some more after dinner and did what bit of pre-packing I could to ensure an early start and limit the chance I would forget something (I was successful on both counts). More reading and I was ready for bed; with a full stomach and tired body I fell asleep quickly. I woke a half-hour before sunrise and began packing up by lantern light. Two cups of coffee, a light breakfast, and a few simple housekeeping chores later and I was heading out the door. I stepped into my skies under an impossibly blue sky in temperatures a few degrees shy of zero and began the six-mile trip back to the trailhead. The trip out was pleasant and I was alone on the trail for the most part, although a caravan of snowmobiles briefly interrupted my reverie. In keeping with my eclectic entertainment choices on this trip, I listened to the criminally under-appreciated Beach Boys album “Friends”. Featuring excellent harmonies, but much deeper lyrics than their more radio-friendly material, this seemingly absurd choice was actually a great soundtrack. Certain lines just fit right in with the glorious sunshine and positive energy of aerobic activity in an idyllic setting: Your life is beautiful A seed becomes a tree A mountain into a sky This life is meant to be, oh Now is the time, life begins I reached the lively trailhead just before noon and it brought a smile to my face to see so many others out enjoying a beautiful day in the mountains. Not wishing to delay the inevitable, I packed up and changed into fresh clothes and then headed out. Rather than head straight home, I made the 40-mile detour to Jackson Hot Springs for a soak and a late lunch. It was a beautiful trip, which is a compliment I rarely pay to journeys taken on pavement, through the lonesome Big Hole Valley to Jackson. I think I saw as many mountain ranges as I did other cars. Pioneers, Beaverheads, Anaconda-Pintlers. Dodge, Ford, Honda. Soaking in a hot spring is a treat that needs no justification, but it always feels even better after a hiking or skiing trip. Watching steam float from the outdoor pool into the blue sky to mix in with the few clouds overhead was a great way to wind down what might be my last backpacking trip of the year. Forty-two nights backpacking in 2015, each one incredible in its own right. By the time I left the hot spring I was already planning well into 2016, thinking about which new places to explore and which favorites to visit again. All I knew for certain was that there wouldn’t be enough holidays or vacations for half the adventures I had planned. Information: Visitors are requested to sign in at the trailhead. Hogan Cabin can be booked via recreation.gov by searching "Hogan Cabin" and completing the reservation process. For additional information, call the Wisdom Ranger District of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest at (406) 689-3243. Getting There: The trailhead for Chief Joseph Pass and its system of cross-country ski trails is located on Montana Highway 43 a mile or so east of the junction with US Highway 93, near the Montana-Idaho border. Missoula, Montana is the nearest major town (about 100 miles away), although most goods and services can be procured in Darby, Montana or Salmon, Idaho. Best Time to Go: The best time to go is somewhat dependent on snow, but anytime from December to early March should be good conditions on groomed trails. Maps & Books: Maps can be obtained from the US Forest Service ranger stations in the area, as well as a nifty brochure map published by the Bitterroot Cross-Country Ski Club that should be available at the trailhead registration booth. This area is also exceedingly well-signed, with maps posted on trees at each major junction. The Author: Mark Wetherington is an avid backpacker and occasional writer. Since 2008 he has attempted, with varying degrees of success, to spend 10% of each year on backpacking trips. Born in Tennessee and raised in Kentucky, he now lives on the edge of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in Montana.
  17. 4 points
    It is one thing to conceptually understand that you have the gear to bivy at 7,500 feet in the Northern Rockies with a forecast of six degrees below zero. It is another thing entirely to find yourself in circumstances where you end up having to do exactly that. And it was in such circumstances that I found myself on the last night of 2015. Perhaps I shouldn’t have turned down that invitation to a New Year’s Eve party after all. I left home that morning later than I would’ve liked and drove for more than five minutes but less than five hours to the trailhead. Montana, Idaho, Washington, Wyoming . . . all within striking distance given the equation of time and space using motorized transportation. Discretion is the better part of many things in life, including keeping special places special by not indiscriminately broadcasting their details on the Internet. Hoisting my pack and stepping into snowshoes shortly after noon, I began what would be one of the most challenging hikes I’ve ever had the joy of undertaking. From where I parked to the lookout tower where I planned to spend the night was a bit over five miles. The last two miles gained over 2,000 feet of elevation in the final ascent to the ridge. Intimidating, but certainly not impossible. I had gone less than a hundred feet up the road (the first three miles were on a snow-covered road, the remainder on an indistinct trail) before I recognized the enormity of the effort that would be required. I was sinking in at least half a foot with each step and the weight of the snowshoes on each foot conspired with gravity to make each step forward feel like it used twice the effort, and twice the muscle groups, as it should have. Given the conditions, I made surprisingly good time on the first section, arriving at the “summer” trailhead in just under two hours. Blue skies and temperatures in the mid-teens made it a crisp, beautiful day. The sun glowed warmly without the faintest atmospheric obstruction and was high enough to allow me plenty of time to cover the remaining ground at a reasonable pace. I sipped some water, ate a quick snack, enjoyed some coffee from my thermos, and began the crux of my trip up to the lookout tower. Two thousand feet of climbing in just over two miles, in snowshoes, with a winter-weight pack, is not a task to underestimate. Add in the fact that the guidebook noted some minor routefinding issues and it goes without saying that the last section of this hike required mental effort commensurate with the physical. In good shape and experienced with backcountry navigation, I deliberately and confidently began the uphill grind. And it was a grind in every sense of the word. I found myself having to stop much more often than anticipated simply to catch my breath. I also found myself having to stop much more often than I would have liked to make sure my sense of direction was functioning correctly. Attempting to follow the trail would have been a futile effort, although our paths did overlap from time to time. Two feet of snow made it indistinguishable for most of its length, even to a keen eye, but I did pick up on it for several sections of switchbacks as I climbed toward the ridge and the shelter of the lookout. Sidehilling for a mile or so in snowshoes with a pack is physically demanding. On the bright side, it turned out to be a great warm up for bootkicking steps into ridiculously steep sections of mountainside to continue forward and upward progress. In a cruel twist of fate, just as the terrain reached its zenith of difficulty, I began to notice the unmistakable signs of fatigue and a hint of minor frostnip in my toes. It was taking me longer to get up when I fell; and I fell more times than I can count on two hands. I couldn’t catch my breath. Snack, water, and coffee breaks helped, but were a double-edged sword. The brief respite from activity amplified the chilling, damp discomfort in my toes. I’d figured my normal high-top, waterproof hiking boots would be sufficient for this trip. Wrong. Proper snow boots are now at the top of my fortunately short list of gear to buy. It was late in the afternoon, during one of the bittersweet breaks, that I found myself confronted with the possibility that I might not make it to the lookout. This was concerning, but not panic inducing. Nothing I could do but continue on until I reached the lookout or an alternate reality for the evening was imposed on me. So onward I pushed. An alternate reality was imposed on me about a half-hour before sunset when I reached the ridgecrest, exhausted, knowing that regardless of how close I was to the lookout that continuing vaguely toward it, with my right thigh cramping, my toes numbing, and judgment declining, would be foolhardy and unsafe. Part of good judgment is knowing how to avoid situations where you will be tempted to make a bad decision. Setting up a bivy seemed to be a more prudent choice than pushing toward the lookout in steep terrain, fatigued, in the dark. So that is how on New Year’s Eve I found myself stamping out a spot in the snow to throw down my bivy sack, insert my sleeping pad and sleeping bag, and spend the night under the stars. I’d picked as nice a spot to bivy as possible -- reasonably flat, sheltered by a few trees, and oriented for maximum exposure to the warming rays of the morning sun. All things considered, I was rather comfortable after changing into dry baselayers, a midweight wool layer, a down jacket, and sliding into my sleeping bag. By the time I’d gotten myself situated and was ready to fire up my stove and make dinner the first stars were shining overhead. It was when I attempted to pressurize the stove (MSR Whisperlite) that I experienced an “Oh, crap . . .” type of moment that can make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. This was due to the fact that the plunger on the pump system was seemingly stuck and nearly impossible to operate. I figured maybe it was frozen, so I wrapped it in a bandana and put it against my body, ate a large chocolate bar, and waited for it to warm up. Fifteen minutes later and still no luck. This was going to take some troubleshooting. I’d spilled some curry paste on the plunger last winter during a cross-country ski tour, but had replaced everything affected by that culinary catastrophe, including the rubber pump cup. But this problem showed eerily similar symptoms, and lo and behold, it was a faulty pump cup. Tired as I’ve ever been, in single digit temperatures, I replaced and lubricated the pump cup by headlamp and hoped for the best. The sight of the flame priming the fully pressurized stove was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen. That flame meant warm food, warm drinks, and plenty of water from melted snow. It’s absence would’ve meant gorging on Clif bars and trail mix, rationing my remaining half-liter of water and mixing it with a handful or two of snow at a time to melt inside my sleeping bag, then hiking out the next morning. But the flame was there, the stove repaired, and I enjoyed perhaps the best tasting pasta and tuna, with fresh spinach, mushrooms and grated cheese mixed in, that I’ve ever had. After devouring my dinner, I filled my thermos with hot chocolate, filled two Nalgene bottles with warm water from melted snow and dropped them into my sleeping bag, organized my gear as best as I could, and then took two sips of single-barrel bourbon before laying down and gazing at the stars until I feel asleep. Happy New Year’s. I slept soundly and warmly through the calm night, but woke up a few times just long enough to notice that the constellations had shifted and that time wasn’t standing still. I awoke around sunrise and laid in my bag patiently waiting for the warming promise of the sun to be fulfilled. Taking it slow, it wasn’t until 10:30 a.m. that I found myself packed up and heading toward to the lookout. In an amusing twist of fate, I’d camped less than a quarter-mile from the lookout. From the time I left my bivy site to the time I was opening the door on the lookout was no more than half an hour. I don’t think I’d ever been so glad to see a manmade structure in all my years of backpacking. And what a setting the structure was in! Endless mountain views, with several mountains above 9,000 feet pushing skyward, and one peak over 10,000 feet being the focal point of one of the grandest skylines I’ve seen. The lookout tower is an indescribably special place. No locks, no fees, no reservations. Officially abandoned by any government agency, it is for use at your own risk and for your own pleasure. Some great stories are recorded for posterity in the logbooks and the worn floorboards and weathered shutters tell a story of their own. Unsung heroes keep up with the constant maintenance informally but effectively. I entered the lookout and set about reversing the task I’d completed less than an hour before, pulling gear out of my pack and arranging it in some semblance of order. While nothing was exceedingly damp, I took advantage of the clotheslines stretched across the ceiling and aired out all the gear and clothes I wasn’t using or wearing. As I made my way around the lookout’s catwalk and opened the shutters, I took time to appreciate the stunning vantage from each cardinal direction. Sun filled the lookout as I organized my gear and my thoughts, spending much more time with the latter than the former. The day unfolded at a perfect and purposeless pace, with my only accomplishments of note being much needed stretching, reading all the log book entries (including one dated September 11, 2001; the author completely unaware of the tragic events unfolding in the world at large) and arranging the notebooks in chronological order. I arranged the entries in subject order in my head; you can take the man out of the library but you can’t always take the library out of the man. Although there was a cast iron stove and plenty of firewood, I decided to forego that luxury and simply wore enough layers to be comfortable. Although it was in the low 20s outside, the sunlit sanctuary of the lookout was noticeably warmer, or at least it felt that way. I paged through a year-old issue of Outside Magazine, reading an enthralling article about ancient manuscripts saved from looters in Timbuktu, and ate a delicious mid-afternoon snack of white cheddar cheese, gouda cheese, and jerky, washed down with a few sips of bourbon. It was New Year’s Day and, in my defense, my ability to celebrate on New Year’s Eve was a bit hindered by location and circumstance. Here’s to hard-earned and delayed gratification, the best kind in my humble opinion. Wanting to make the most of the amazing view from the catwalk, I brewed up some tea just prior to sunset so I’d have a warm beverage to sip as I soaked up the sunset with every sense available to me. Tasting the air, seeing the colors meld together and simultaneously lighten and deepen, truly hearing the silence and the creaks of the catwalk which occasionally interrupted it, feeling the chill breeze across my face. That was the easy part. Trying to fully contextualize myself and better appreciate such a vast landscape proved impossible. Gazing out at mountains near and far and mulling over the passing of another year, one of millions seen by the mountains and one of less than a hundred I’ll likely see, themes of timelessness and endlessness were hard to avoid. The phrase “Forever ain’t as long as it is wide” came to mind and never really left for the rest of the evening. I ducked inside to enjoy dinner, then put on all my insulating layers and took my closed-cell foam sleeping pad out onto the catwalk for a four-hour shift of stargazing. Artificially and unnecessarily aided by a choice selection of music and bourbon, I laid outside from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., moving from one section of the catwalk to another and laying on my back gazing up at the stars with an attentiveness bordering on entrancement. After seeing a dozen shooting stars and the Milky Way establish itself with awe-inspiring intensity above the silhouetted mountains, I called it a night. Zipping myself into my bag in the shelter of the lookout was a much more reassuring way to transition to a night of sleep than crawling into the bag inside a bivy sack. My first night of rest in 2016 was blissful. However, determined to use the perspective of the lookout to its full potential, through sheer force of will I removed myself from the comfort of down feathers and synthetic fabrics, placed my feet on the frigid floorboards, arose and dressed, and exposed myself to the elements to witness the beauty of sunrise. The second day of the new year dawned crisp, clear and full of promise -- my spirits rising with the sun and my soul swelling. The power of place and rejuvenation resulting from a pure focus on the beauty of the workings of the planet cannot be understated. As the sun rose in its inevitable arc above the mountains and it rays illuminated the landscape, I packed up my gear and attended to closing up the lookout. Shutters were lowered and latched. The floor swept, the tables wiped down. Leaving the lookout was an emotional challenge on the same level with the physical challenge of arriving. It’s always incredible to me the sense of comfort and sanctuary that can be gained from spending less than 24 hours in such beautiful and special places. I followed my tracks on the descent, but also opted to shortcut them in a few places. Owing gratitude in no particular order to gravity, a substantially lighter pack from consumption of food and fuel, and the lack of routefinding, my descent took half the time as my ascent had two days prior. For the second day in a row, the sun shined with a pleasant ferocity that allowed every aspect of the environment -- the snow, the ponderosa pine bark, the spruce needles -- to shine with a radiant and contagious joy. I made it back to the trailhead early in the afternoon, stretched, changed, and put the wheels in motion to return home. This brief trip gave me much to ponder on the way home. I’d ended up with more “adventure” than I’d planned on, but not more than I was prepared for. Not necessarily a bad thing in backpacking or when applied to most aspects of human experience. The passing of one year to the next and of life and time in general weighed heavily on me as I traveled along the highway at 55 miles per hour, which was about 55 times faster than my pace had been when I was passing through the forest on my way to the lookout. The thoughts on existence and emotion that I’d found myself immersed in at the lookout continued to run through my mind on the drive home. While the drive had an end in sight, the sentiments seemed to be infinite in nature. As usual, I found myself comforted by poignant lyrics which fit the time and place perfectly, and which seem a perfect way to end this particular trip report: There’s a stretch of road in Wyoming across a timeless interstate You can drive a hundred miles and not see a Wyoming license plate Just some truckers and some hard-luck bands on tour In stormy weather Nobody actually lives there, they’re all just passing through . . . We’re only passing through We’re all just passing through We’re passing through indeed, through life and landscapes, with people and places changing at varying paces. Sometimes predictable, sometimes not. I can only hope that I pass through more places as special as this lookout and remember to truly value the people in my life who are passing through it with me and to whom I return from my journeys to the backcountry. Information: For liability, specific information about this lookout is not included. Many books, listed below, provide information about lookout towers and information about visiting and/or renting them if available. You can also search recreation.gov for "lookout" and see which lookouts are available for rent. Maps & Books: Numerous books provide information about lookout towers; this list is a great place to start. Searches using Google or on Amazon.com will also yield plenty of results. The Forest Fire Lookout Association has a wealth of information on their website. The Author: Mark Wetherington is an avid backpacker and occasional writer. Since 2008 he has attempted, with varying degrees of success, to spend 10% of each year on backpacking trips. Born in Tennessee and raised in Kentucky, he now lives on the edge of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in Montana.
  18. 4 points
    After a season of hiking, sleeping and sweating in your down jacket or sleeping bag things can get a little stinky. You might even notice a slight loss of loft as body oils compromise the fluffiness of the down feathers. Or, as in my case, the jacket is just grubby. Fortunately washing your jacket or sleeping bag is a lot easier than you may fear. In this article I’ll go step by step through washing one of my down jackets but the same process can be used for nearly all down sleeping bags. The only difference is more soap (typically a capful) and using a clean bathtub instead of a sink. Total washing time for me is about half an hour long for a jacket with two to three hours of drying time. A sleeping bag may take double that time depending on the amount of down fill and your dryer. You Will Need: Down specific soap (Nikwax Down Wash or Granger's solution have worked equally well for me) A clean sink, a stuff sack for your jacket/bag (or appropriately sized zip lock) A front loading dryer with a low heat or air fluff setting Note that Nikwax recently came out with Down Wash Direct a new detergent for both hydrophobic treated and non-treated down so if you have a mix of treated and untreated products that detergent might be best. Cover Your Bases Before you get ahead of yourself, check the manufacturer’s recommendations for how to wash the garment. They might be on a tag on the jacket or on the website. Generally the website will have more specific information than the tag so it’s always worth a check. Most instructions will require the use of down specific soap, a front loading washer and dryer and recommend avoid using fabric softeners. I’m washing a Feathered Friends Daybreak jacket with untreated down, similar to most down jackets in the 7-9 ounce total weight range. Their instructions for washing all their products are located here. Check the Jacket Before we start, check the jacket for any holes and repair them with circular or oval pieces of repair tape so there are no corners to snag. Also look for spot stains that can be cleaned by lightly scrubbing with a mild detergent and a damp sponge. After that’s done, close all the zippers to prevent tearing in your dryer and turn the jacket inside out to prevent wear to the outside fabric. Lastly, stuff the jacket into the stuff sack or the jacket pocket if it was designed to stuff into its own pocket. A Ziploc bag might work in a pinch as well. Get Ready Now that the jacket is ready, thoroughly clean your sink and fill it about half way with warm water, no need for your jacket to smell like your toothpaste. Make sure you get any soap residue off the sink as well. Add a capful of down soap to your warm sink water, two if it’s an especially large sink. I find you don’t need much down soap washing things by hand and too much soap takes a lot of rinsing to get rid of. Start Your Washing Immerse the stuffed jacket into the sink water and slowly pull the jacket out, exposing it to the water. Uncompressing the down in the water helps it wet out faster. Swish the jacket around in the wash water while squeezing it to move the water through the down. Notice the color change! Drain and Rinse Now we want to get that soapy water out of the jacket, so drain the dirty water and let the faucet run over the jacket. Carefully squeeze different parts of the jacket to work the clean water through until you get very few bubbles each squeeze. Some bubbles are normal since you’re pushing air around as well as water, but it should be a noticeable decrease. 5 to 10 minutes of rinsing is a good estimate. Then turn the faucet off and carefully squeeze as much water as you can out of the jacket. This will speed the drying time. Off to the Dryer Next, take your jacket to the front loading dryer. Pick it up in one big clump and try not to let anything hang off as you carry it – the jacket is much heavier when wet and may overstress a seam or the fabric. This is more critical with sleeping bags but the same care should be taken for a jacket. You’ll often hear people recommending tennis balls to help break up the down clumps but I don’t think they really help. I have had to break apart down clumps by hand on a stubborn sleeping bag that was taking all day to dry and I don’t see how tennis balls would have helped in that case. Make sure to set the dryer to “air fluff” or the non-heated mode. It will take longer this way but you won’t risk melting any of the fabrics. The low heat setting will often work but you want to check that the temperature isn’t high enough to damage the fabric. Either way, be sure to check the jacket after a few minutes just to make sure it isn’t tangled and then every 45 minutes thereafter. In 2 hours or so you should have a nice clean jacket!
  19. 4 points
    They say fire warms the soul, better yet when that fire is in a potbelly stove set inside a historic cabin atop the spine of the continent burning wood you didn’t have to chop! Rachel and I decided to celebrate my 31st birthday and our recent move to Colorado by booking an overnight stay at one of the over 30 backcountry huts for rent in Colorado through the 10th Mountain Hut Association and the above scenario is exactly what we found. Based on some advice from fellow TrailGroove writer @PaulMags, we decided on Section House – a historic railroad cabin built in 1887, restored in the 1990’s and situated at the top of the Continental Divide at Boreas Pass just outside Breckenridge, CO. The trip promised mellow skiing and excellent views along with the ample snow Colorado has received this winter. A $30 per night fee gave us a roof over our head, a warm bed, gas and wood stoves and a propane cook top – not a bad way to spend a gusty winter night at 11,500 feet! We started our trip on the Bakers Tank trail from the Boreas Pass trailhead – the start of the winter closure of Boreas Pass Road. The trail was well graded for Nordic skis, wide and well used. Barely out of the parking lot we both noticed a total lack of grip to our skis when we started to slide backwards instead of glide forwards. Rachel and I use waxable metal edged Nordic touring ski’s which provide better glide than their waxless counterparts but require selection of the correct sticky kick wax for the snow conditions to provide grip on the snow. When the skis don’t grip, you switch to a warmer wax. The only problem was the giant balls of snow that formed under the warmer kick wax! Warm, wet, fresh snow is extremely unstable and will easily melt and refreeze to form large clumps under your ski, waxless or not. We quickly gave up on wax and switched to kicker skins – short segments of patterned nylon that do the gripping. The skins worked for a while but as the day warmed and we skied through slush on the trail even those iced up and we resorted to strapping the skis to our backpacks and bare-booting our way down the trail. Our boots made only shallow imprints on the well packed trail so we didn’t feel so bad. On the Bakers Tank Trail we passed several intersecting trails not shown on the hut association map, then ran into some other skiers planning on staying at Ken’s Cabin – a private cabin next to Section House. They gave us some rub on glide wax for our skins which made skiing possible again. Next time my rub on glide wax is getting packed with my skins! We had a quick lunch with our new friends and skied our way up the former railroad grade covered in several feet of snow. The snow depth was fantastic and we frequently stopped to take in the views of the snow-covered Tenmile Range across the valley below. With a little imagination the recent snowfall turned the distant mountains into sinister marshmallows, fluffy and white but still steep and avalanche prone. Just out of view was the sprawling Breckenridge ski area, both out of our budgets and out of our minds as we swished our way up to the Continental Divide. The ski up Boreas Pass Road was pleasant and we were even getting good kick and glide with the skins on the slight uphill. Soon the hut was in view and we opened the lock using the code in our reservation email. Several Forest Service placards dot the area and explain some of the history of the narrow gauge railroad used to ferry miners, equipment, and ore between the Front Range and Leadville. The town of Boreas used to exist at the top of the pass to house railroad workers but was abandoned in 1937 along with the railway which was plagued with avalanches and rock falls during its service life. The Army Core of Engineers reconstructed the old rail grade for automobile traffic shortly after World War 2. The house we stayed in decayed until 1992 when it was restored by a joint effort through the U.S. Forest Service, Park County, Texas A&M University, the Colorado Department of Transportation, and Harris Construction. Summit Huts Association now has a permit to rent out the hut to ski, snowboard, and fat biker enthusiasts during the winter. Ken’s Cabin next door to Section House was also restored and sleeps 3 for a more private setting but at a higher nightly rate. Inside the hut we found an ample kitchen and common space stocked with tables, couches, a three burner propane cook top, two woodstoves, and all the cleaning supplies we would need. The night before our trip I prepared and froze some potato chicken stew and baked some brownies for dessert. Rachel brought pastries from work for breakfast along with ample hot chocolate. While the food cooked on the stovetop, we got a roaring fire going in the woodstove and I successfully practiced not losing any fingers while making kindling with the provided hatchet. Two enormous pots of water from melting snow made cleanup a cinch and we worked fruitlessly on a 500 piece puzzle until bed. Upstairs the beds were all reasonably comfortable and came with sheets and pillows that we used alongside our 3 season sleeping bags. There are even some double beds for couples! There is a gas heater but I couldn’t figure out how to regulate the heat so ended up turning it off after the room reached sweltering temperatures. Despite howling winds, we slept warm in 3 season bags and were able to dry our boots by the wood stove. The next morning was an easy downhill ski out although the grade wasn’t quite enough to glide the whole way down as we had imagined. We decided to stick to the road all the way back to the trailhead instead of taking the Bakers Tank Trail for a change of scenery. The views were even better on the way out but we hit several sections of road that lacked enough snow to ski on. Still, we made it back in under 2 hours and enough time for Rachel to get her first Colorado downhill resort skiing in at Loveland ski area. Information: There are many, many huts for rent in Colorado to the point where it’s hard to tell what hut is suitable for your abilities at what time of year. Section House and most of the more accessible huts can be booked at www.huts.org with additional information at http://summithuts.org/. A listing of all the huts and their amenities can be found at: http://www.huts.org/cohutsyurts/amenities.php. Prospective hut users should be aware of which huts require winter routes with avalanche danger, which is listed with the hut information and found in any guidebook. Hut skiing is very popular in Colorado but since we were able to go midweek, our hut was available on short notice but booked on weekends for the next month. You should definitely book well in advance for weekend trips or other more popular huts. Best Time to Go: Generally December through April or later depending on the year will have the best snow conditions; also some huts are only open certain months of the year. For Section House, check the weather in Breckenridge and keep an eye on the snow totals at the ski area. Warmer temperatures during the day can lead to icy trails so you may have to time your skiing when the trails are softer. Getting There: From I-70 take Exit 203 for Route 9 South towards Breckenridge. Stay on I-9 around the outside of the Breckenridge and take a left onto Boreas Pass Road. The road is closed at the trailhead with ample parking. Maps & Books: A free map of Section House is located here and other free maps are located here. The map for Section House didn’t include several trail intersections so it would be wise to bring a larger overview map of the area such as Trails Illustrated 109. I recommend picking up Colorado Hut to Hut: Skiing, Hiking and Biking to Colorado's Backcountry Cabins by Brian Litz which covers most of the huts. Recommended Gear: For the ski up Boreas Pass Road any Nordic ski will work great. The grades are very mellow and metal edges wouldn’t be critical even for moderate ice. One of the benefits to a hut is being able to dry your boots overnight so there are no worries about removable liners. You won’t need a shelter, stove or cooking equipment which leaves room for good food and beer! Slippers for the hut and a warm jacket to wear until the wood stove kicks in (1 to 2 hours after lighting) are critical. Any 3 season sleeping bag will work since the hut is heated. Don’t forget the hot chocolate!
  20. 4 points
    In the summer of 2009 I was sitting in a hotel room in Hirosaki, a small city in the far north of Japan’s main island of Honshu, eagerly anticipating my upcoming hike. It was to be the second big hike I’d ever gone on in Japan, and I was determined that unlike my first journey into this country’s wilderness, this one would be perfect. Unfortunately for me, though, neither of the two friends I was traveling with seemed particularly enthusiastic about hitting the trails, and we had yet to make the final decision as to whether or not we’d even be going out to the mountain. The reason we had yet to decide was because, as I had recently discovered, I’m not always the best at planning a trip. This is also where my two as-yet-unconvinced hiking partners come in, because this hike was in fact only one small part of a larger trip I was on with my friends Dan and Brian. Dan was visiting Japan for a few weeks on vacation, and Brian and I were showing him around. Since I lived in the north of Japan and Brian lived in Tokyo, we’d agreed to split the planning of this trip between us into northern and southern portions. For the southern leg of our trip, Brian had created a detailed spreadsheet of activities, including concerts, restaurants, shops, attractions, events to see, plans about reservations and tickets, and even scheduled down time. Along with that, he demonstrated a willingness to be flexible with regards to Dan’s interests and abilities. I, on the other hand, had little more than a bulleted checklist scribbled on a piece of paper. Despite that, though, and in the face of numerous other difficulties involving transportation during one of Japan’s biggest and most travel-intensive holidays, we had arrived here in Hirosaki, near the base of Mt. Iwaki, and it seemed like the perfect place to go hiking if you needed to keep a flexible schedule. There’s a toll road that goes most of the way up the mountain, with buses that run along it every so often, and also a cable car from the parking lot at the end of the road that takes customers to within half an hour of reaching the peak. In other words, if the object of the trip was to quickly get to the summit, enjoy the view, and get back to town, that could easily be accomplished. On the other hand, for someone more interested in an authentic hiking experience, there is also an old path starting at a Japanese shrine where you can trek up the mountain from its base. According to the internet, the estimated time from the start of this trail to the summit was about four hours. Armed with these facts, I made my case for climbing the mountain to my two friends who were, it seemed to me, leaning towards just getting out of this place already. I argued that we could spend the full four hours climbing up from the base, then take the cable car down the other side and catch a bus back into Hirosaki. This would both save us some time and give us the chance to see all that the mountain had to offer. I would have liked to take the trail both ways myself, seasoned hiker with one whole mountain’s worth of experience that I was, but I knew my friends probably wouldn’t go for it. Somehow I managed to convince them that this would be a good idea, and then it was merely a matter of coordinating how we would get to and from the mountain, which was about an hour outside the city. I found out when the last cable car ride would be, and we based the time we would need to arrive by off of that. Remembering the rain and mud from my last hike, I was also quite sure to check the weather repeatedly, but the forecast was for a nice, sunny day. It looked like everything was good to go. Looks, however, can be deceiving, and by the time this hike was over I’d be wondering whether I should ever be allowed to plan anything ever again. To begin with, we were not well prepared. Nobody had hiking gear of any kind except for Brian, who’d thought to bring along a backpack that we used to store a few bottles of water. Also, there was the issue of finding the trail that we hadn’t considered. Since there’s a perfectly accessible parking lot and cable car on the other side of the mountain, not many people walk the path from the shrine anymore, leaving it a thin, overgrown thing that was a real challenge to locate at times, especially at the beginning. Fortunately, we could ask for directions at the shrine, and as we started on our way we discovered an old signpost that told us how far we had to go in both distance and time. Once again the time estimate was about four hours, and we wasted no time beginning our ascent. Or at least, we soon began fighting our way through the woods. The first part of the trail was so thick with vegetation that it was difficult to go forward. Also, a lot of the greenery had grown up over the top of the path, making it nearly impossible to stand up straight. So we all hunched forward, stumbling along a thin path through the woods with what we all hoped was the trail turning to mud at our feet. At first I wasn’t sure why there was any mud involved at all, since the forecast had been so promising, but we soon found that the path involved crossing over a small stream before starting up the mountain in earnest. We also discovered another error in planning on my part, because though I had checked the weather, I hadn’t paid attention to the temperature. Yes, it was the middle of summer, and I knew it would be fairly hot, but Aomori is located pretty far up north and the weather had been mild for the past few days. How bad could it be? As it turns out, it could be very bad indeed. It got so bad, in fact, that within half an hour of starting up the trail I was already drenched in sweat. I felt miserably hot, my clothes had been reduced to a soggy, clinging mess, and I was stumbling along through the mud unable to even stand up straight. Besides all that, I had only the most vague assurance that the path we were following was actually the correct way up the mountain. All I could count on was that the plants were so thick everywhere else that this seemed like the only viable option. When we got to an area where things finally cleared up a bit and everyone could stretch out and rehydrate, thanks to Brian and his carrying that water, we were nearly on the point of turning around and putting an end to this once and for all. Two things stopped us. First was the thought of having to walk all the way back through the area we’d just gotten out of. Second was the signpost that we discovered collapsed nearby. Like the first post, this one included an estimate of how much further we would have to go in order to reach the summit, and despite our having only been on the trail for half an hour, it clearly said we were now only three hours from the top. This was extremely encouraging, since it meant we were moving about twice as fast as the estimates had indicated that we would. Still feeling pretty miserable, but emboldened and not wanting to retread the terrible section of trail we’d just staggered through, we continued on our way. Every now and then we’d pass another fallen signpost, and joke about the strength of our long foreign legs. After all, we were practically flying up the mountain, and the path itself seemed to reflect our newfound sense of confidence. Vegetation became sparse and less intrusive. Once or twice, we could actually look back out over the trail we’d covered and get a sense of how far we’d come. This was turning into quite a pleasant hike. After we’d been on the trail for about two hours, though, we began to get tired. A nonstop uphill climb does take its toll after a while, and some parts of the trail were very steep. Still, we reasoned that by now we must be closing in on the summit, and since we’d caught sight of a couple of hikers coming down the trail in the opposite direction, we decided to wait and ask if we were anywhere close to the summit. One of the two hikers looked at us like we were crazy and said we were a good two hours or so from the top, while the other jokingly answered that yes, we could just go straight for another five minutes and take a left. Confused by this advice, we decided to simply continue on, hoping for the best but aware that we may in fact still have a long way to go. What we were close to, it turned out, was the mountain hut, which in this case was just a small, unmanned rest house. There we looked over the maps and signposts on display and, much to our chagrin, found that we had only traveled a little more than half the distance to the summit. So much for those long foreigner legs of ours. Apparently we were in for a four-hour climb after all. This was of course dispiriting, but I didn’t let myself feel too down about it. If it hadn’t been for that earlier mistake, we might never have made it this far. And now that we were this far, things only seemed to be improving. The increase in elevation had tempered the heat, the trail was now clearly marked and well-traveled, and we’d reached a natural water source where we could rest and replenish our supplies before moving on. It was as if the higher up the mountain we got, the better everything else was getting too. This even seemed to include the scenery. Up until now, we’d mostly been looking at small shrubs and tree roots while watching out for overhead branches and focusing on the trail. Now we’d reached the point where the trees had mostly stopped growing, so when we looked around we could see lots of deep green grasses, rich mineral hues in the rock faces, and an expanse of forested areas and farms below. There were also long, thin clearings with houses and shops clustered around the barely-visible lines of roads beneath us, faint signs of modern life in an otherwise green landscape. Before long, clouds began blowing past us on the mountain as well, many of them below us now, obscuring the path we’d been climbing and covering our surroundings with a bright sheen. It made it feel as if we were walking along at the top of a world untouched, still wet and fresh and new. Then, as we got to within half an hour of the summit, just before our path merged with the one leading up from the cable car, there was a brief flattening of the mountainside, revealing a peaceful pool of water surrounded by green grass and wreathed in mist. There was a kind of serenity to the place, emphasized by the feel of the now-cool mountain air on my skin, the fresh alpine scent, and the pervading sense of natural isolation. It was a stirring sight, one that would almost have made all the trouble we’d had at the beginning of the climb worth it in and of itself. All three of us took our time admiring this sudden transformation of the landscape, until finally we had to move on. Then the path led us to a change just as abrupt as when that pool had come into view as soon as we’d gotten over the next rise. We’d reached the final section of the hike, where the path grew crowded with people who’d taken the easy option and the entire area grew rocky. Despite the sudden presence of these crowds, though, by the time we reached the summit, it felt magical. There was something almost visceral to the feeling that I was now standing on a giant piece of rock thrust up above the clouds, surrounded by both friends and strangers alike. After four hours of almost constant climbing I was thoroughly exhausted, but also immensely satisfied. The scenery had been amazing, and the act of actually climbing the whole way made me feel both accomplished and like I’d had a much deeper experience with the mountain. The hike itself had almost perfectly mirrored my feelings about it, starting out difficult and conflicted, and constantly improving as we went along until finally culminating in triumph. Still, I was glad that we planned on taking the bus back into town. My friends seemed to have had a similar reaction to my own. There had been a number of moments when we had seriously questioned hiking the mountain at all, not to mention tackling it the way we had, but everyone was happy we’d decided to do this in the end. So, feeling both tired and proud, we all climbed into one of the last cable cars and descended to the parking lot nearby where we planned to catch a bus. And that’s when we discovered that the last bus had, in fact, left hours ago. This is not the kind of problem one expects to encounter at the end of a hike, nor is it an entirely welcome one to deal with when you’re exhausted. Since we’d gotten off the lift so late, we were now pretty much the only people left on the mountain. The sun would be setting soon, and even if we did manage to get a ride down to the edge of the toll road, we were still at least 45 minutes outside Hirosaki, where our hotel was. To top it all off, after all our efforts to cool down when we were at the base of the mountain, here at the summit it was quite chilly. Once again, I’d failed to plan appropriately, and we were all essentially stranded. Fortunately, I had made sure to get the number of the local taxi company the previous day, and I had a working cell phone signal, so I was able to call and have them send a car. It was to be the most expensive cab ride of my life. But even with everything that went wrong, still more had ended up going right. Somehow, we’d all managed to have a great time out on this crazy hike, and that made me feel like maybe it would be worth planning more trips like it in the future. Information: Mt Iwaki (岩木山) stands as the highest peak in Aomori prefecture with an elevation of 1,625 meters (5,331 feet). It is also sometimes referred to as “Tsugaru Fuji” because of its conical shape and its location in the Tsugaru region of Aomori. An inactive volcano, its last eruption was on March 23, 1863. No permits are required to hike it, and the toll road leading to a chair lift on one side of the mountain makes it a relatively accessible climb if you’re in the area. (in Japanese) The website can be browsed for the timetable of the bus that runs to the Mt. Iwaki Shrine and Dake Onsen. It also includes the relevant times for the Skyline Shuttle bus in blue. The table on the left with pink headers includes times going to the mountain while the table on the right with blue headers has the times heading back to Hirosaki station. Times listed in red do not run on weekends or holidays. Best Time to Go: Mt. Iwaki is most safely ascended between early June and late October. During the winter there is an avalanche risk near the summit, and there can be quite a lot of snow on the mountain until after the rainy season. My recommendation would be to climb it in late June or early July as that will also be your best chance at seeing a unique variety of primrose (known as the Michinoku- or Iwaki-Kozakura) near the 9th station (located at the top of the chairlift). Getting There: For the shuttle to the chairlift, catch a bus going to Karekidai (枯木平) from stop number 6 outside Hirosaki station. Get off at Dake Onsen (岳温泉) and transfer to the Skyline Shuttle Bus (スカイラインシャトルバス) heading for the 8th station (八合目). The chairlift will then take you to the 9th station where you can easily hike to the summit. Note that the Skyline Shuttle Bus is not in operation from mid-November to mid-May. For the full hike, take the same bus from Hirosaki station but get off at the stop for the Mt. Iwaki Shrine (Iwakisanjinjamae [岩木山神社前]) instead. Maps: A map from the official website can be found here. Books: While there aren’t any books specifically about Mt. Iwaki, it is one of the 100 famous mountains of Japan, which were originally chosen by the author Kyuya Fukada in his book of the same name, a translation of which is now finally available in English here on Amazon.
  21. 4 points
    The Red Desert of Wyoming holds a unique appeal no matter your approach – it’s a country just as suitable for backpacking as it is for exploring and camping beside your vehicle off a rough and long forgotten dirt road. Either way, you’re likely to be in the middle of the nowhere. Adding to its allure, to begin the year the desert can only be comfortably explored for a short time each spring after the roads have sufficiently dried from melting snow to make passage by vehicle (just to get there) possible, and before this treeless and shadeless expanse becomes too hot for comfortable hiking. And especially for family hiking as would be the case on this trip. And even hot weather aside, admittedly as summer arrives in full swing the high country opens up to distract a hiker up and into the mountains to enjoy those alpine meadows and valleys with pleasant summer mountain weather. Recently a quick backpacking trip was made into a particularly scenic corner of the Red Desert to explore one of the numerous Wilderness Study Areas that can be found in central Wyoming. One of my favorite things about backpacking is the pure adaptability of one’s existence, with your home on your back and as long as you have water and food, you don’t really need to be anywhere other than where you currently stand. Thus, as we left the highway and the dirt road progressively became rougher, and began to become only muddier as we turned onto a more obscure high clearance road passable only with the assistance of 4 wheel drive and patient driving, it gradually became apparent that plans would need to be changed. Not wanting to only get stuck farther in on the slick road, maps were consulted and an alternate entry into the Wilderness Study Area located. In this park anywhere, trail-less, camp wherever you can pitch your tent country, we pulled off the side of the road and shouldering packs laden with water picked our way through the sagebrush and hiked south. Although it wasn’t even officially summer at the time, the early afternoon sun was unrelenting and as a family trip, we’d need to make the most of our miles. Descending to the bottom of a rim we followed the contours and canyons that made up its base, with a multitude of unique formations serving as ample entertainment for all of us. Eventually, a suitable alcove was located to serve as a campsite, and the rest of the day was spent photographing, exploring from camp, and observing the numerous wildflowers and local residents of the area…from prairie dogs to prairie falcons. At sunset thunderstorms threatened and made for an amazing display, while gusty winds covered everything we had in fine sand. That night coyotes howled not much farther than a stone’s throw from our tent. The rain held off – meaning we’d actually be able to drive out the next day. With storms again threatening the next day however, a lazy hike out – stopping to take photos nearly every few feet – became the plan as temperatures climbed and clouds grew taller in the distance. Ascending the rim we passed a herd of cows, then elk, then a lone antelope and eventually reached our lone vehicle. It hadn’t yet rained though, and the road seemed just a bit drier than yesterday, so we drove on to explore the area around what had been originally planned to serve as a starting point only to find that the road had been closed by the BLM and we were lucky we’d stopped where we had the previous day. But the further exploration was beneficial as much for the additionally scenery as for the knowledge gained when further exploration of the area is due. Turning around and after an hour of bumpy driving, we reached pavement just as the first drops of rain coated the windshield and with the satisfaction of this quick trip into the desert…along with plenty of ideas for the next. Information: Exploring this area can be a bit difficult as the BLM web pages covering the Wilderness Study Areas in this region have recently gone offline, but information can be found with a little sleuthing and by using web archive services. Take plenty of water, gas, and provisions and check your spare. Watch the weather and forecast before the trip and the weather during, roads are often impassable when wet even with 4 wheel drive. Best Time to Go: Spring after the roads have dried enough for easy passage (timing varies), and early fall – check hunting seasons. Getting There: The Red Desert is located in south-central Wyoming. Numerous, somewhat maintained dirt country roads act as convenient ways to access more remote areas of interest from main highways. High clearance and 4 wheel drive are not required to get there, but are nice features to have, can help access more remote areas, and might help get you out! Maps: Printing USGS topo maps at home for hiking and combining with a detailed atlas like the Delorme Atlas and / or the Benchmark Map offerings to get you around while driving is a good strategy.
  22. 4 points
    A bit of a followup to http://www.trailgroove.com/issue31.html?autoflip=17 I made a return trip to the Ah-shi-sle-pah Wilderness in October 2017. I had been to this rough badland area before where we saw the ‘King of Wings’ formation, but his time we were headed farther west toward the ‘Valley of Dreams’ area where the ‘Alien Throne’ was located. After miles of driving mostly unmarked dirt roads across the boring plains, we came to a spot in the road where there was one other car, and my GPS showed us to be a little over a mile from the destination. We loaded our backpacks and headed off toward the badlands. There were a scattering of interesting hoodoos on the way, but the best was yet to come. It had been a week of clear, sunny days without a cloud in sight. This day, however, was different - there were some high wispy cirrus clouds moving in, promising a colorful sunset, and we were not disappointed (especially me!). We arrived at the eastern part of the ‘Valley of Dreams’ in late afternoon and it struck me as being some of the densest concentration of hoodoos and bizarrely-shaped rocks that I’ve ever seen! It was both a photographer’s dream and a photographer’s nightmare - so many shooting possibilities. We wandered around the hoodoos slowly making our way to the west. Once on the west side, we met a couple from Germany (and the people whose car we had seen earlier). They had been out both the evening before and that same morning. They were in the midst of a 25-day trip through the American west. They pointed out the ‘Alien Throne’ and we all proceeded to take piles of pictures of that hoodoo and the surrounding area. The sunset was spectacular as hoped for, and even after sunset the pictures show the otherworldly beauty of this spot. We set up camp nearby and had our coldest night of the trip (probably around 40 degrees). I got up early the next morning, which was once again mostly clear skies, but still shot a few excellent pics. Pictures #2, 4, and 5 are the Alien Throne. First picture is a Giant Mushroom - over 6 feet tall.
  23. 4 points
    I know this is an old post, but I noticed that there were no factual data posted about the safety of aluminum cookware. As a critical thinker and an REI employee, I believe that people should make informed decisions based on facts from credible sources, not someone's own personal beliefs. (Disclaimer: This post in no way represents the opinions or recommendations of REI and I am not posting as an employee, but as a private individual.) According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), aluminum is safe to cook with. Aluminum is naturally present soil, water, and the air, but account for minimal exposure in humans. Primary exposure (about 7-9 mg/day) is via ingestion of aluminum containing food, including baked goods and goods containing anti-caking and coloring agents. Aspirin contains 10-20 mg. of aluminum and antacids have 300-600 mg of aluminum hydroxide, very little of which is absorbed. Most of the aluminum ingested passes through the digestive system and leaves the body in the feces. Smaller amounts that enter the bloodstream are voided via urine. Aluminum is applied topically via cosmetics and antiperspirants. Aluminum poses no health risks in these very minute exposure because healthy individuals do not store aluminum. However, some people who have kidney disease do store aluminum that enters the bloodstream as the kidneys fail to remove it. Some studies show aluminum in high levels are correlated with Alzheimer's; but other studies contradict that finding and there is no scientific consensus of a link between aluminum and Alzheimer's. The CDC recommends that concerns regarding typical aluminum exposure should be addressed by reducing or eliminating aluminum containing processed foods and avoiding cooking acidic foods in aluminum pots, although the levels of aluminum found in food cooked aluminum pots are safe. From here: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/phs/phs.asp?id=1076&tid=34 With regard to anodized aluminum, according to Clemson University, anodized aluminum is hardened to prevent reaction to acidic foods cooked within, but storing acidic foods in the pot does cause pitting like non-anodized aluminum contact with acidic foods. From here: https://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/food/pdf/hgic3864.pdf Since it's uncommon for backpackers to cook or store acidic foods in their cookware, I would suggest that unless you have kidney disease you should be fine with aluminum pots, whether anodized or not, and would be better off basing your decision on factors other than safety such as weight, cost, and durability. Here comes my "gear nerd" answer: Titanium is chosen primarily for weight-saving and strength, but is generally much more expensive than aluminum/anodized aluminum. Aluminum is an excellent heat conductor making it a more efficient metal for cooking. However, the difference in heat transfer is negligible because even though titanium is more of an insulator than a conductor of heat, its greater strength allows for extremely thin walls which pose little barrier for heat to pass through. This is why I can't hold my titanium pot filled with boiling water with bare hands and why it's as efficient as an aluminum pot. Whether it's worth the added cost is really an individual choice. I am personally very happy with my 600 ml titanium cup that weighs 88 grams and can easily boil 2 cups of water. But I would also greatly consider anodized aluminum as an alternative since the weight cost is negligible and the cost is much less. The GSI Hallulite Minimalist is a 600 ml anodized aluminum pot with a cover, folding plastic spork (useless, IMO), a silicone pot gripper, and an insulating sleeve for 177 grams. If you ditch everything but the pot, you're down to 92 grams, only 4 grams heavier than titanium for (currently) $9 less. Hope that helps anyone considering new cookware or replacing old cookware.
  24. 4 points
    So there's a foot of snow on the ground, the temps have been in the single digits (both positive and negative). I should get out and go for a ski, but the NWS says winds of 30+ MPH in the high country. Clearly, the proper thing to do today is start planning a long-distance hike. For section-hiking the PCT, I have relied on Craigs PCT Planner to help me estimate how many miles I'll hike per day and thus how many days it will take to get from one resupply point to another. It does this by having you put in an average pace, hours hiked per day, and an elevation gain factor. It works pretty well, and I highly recommend you use it (and donate) if you are hiking the PCT. But I am thinking of the AZT this spring and there is no ready-made app that I know of for it. But I do a lot of quantitative analysis in my line of work, and wondered if I could come up with my own predictive formula. I hiked the PCT from Walker Pass to Lake Tahoe last summer. Thanks to Halfmile's PCT maps and app I could estimate the miles hiked and the elevation gained and lost pretty accurately. I put these into a data table in JMP, and then added in other factors that I thought might affect my daily mileage: days on the trail, days of food carried, ± bear canister. I put these together into a model that also looked for interactions between factors and non-linearities within them, and then ran multivariate regressions to determine which were the most influential and fit the data best. The model did a pretty good job: About 77% of the day-to-day variance in miles hiked is accounted for, and the average error between predicted and actual miles hiked is 1.5 miles. What surprised me was the factor that turned out to be far and away the most influential: how many days I had been hiking. In fact, if I just plot miles per day vs days on the trail I get a pretty good correlation: This wasn't totally unexpected. I knew I was hiking longer distances as I got in better shape. But I was surprised at just how little influence other factors like weight carried or elevation gain or loss had on mileage. Here's the plot for elevation gain vs miles hiked: It has a negative correlation, just as you'd expect, but the effect is fairly small and in fact is of weak significance (P = 0.11 vs P < 0.0001 for trail days). A Pareto plot illustrates the relative influence of the factors (all other factors were insignificant and were left out of the model): That central term accounts for the non-linearity of the EG effects, meaning that going from 400 ft/mile to 500 ft/mile slowed me down more than going from 100 ft/mile to 200 ft/mile. I don't think I have to convince anyone in this forum that this makes sense. There is an obvious problem with this model - it predicts that if I were on the trail for 50 days I would be hiking some 35 miles/day, which is not likely. My mileage would surely flatten out at some point in the hike, if for no other reason than that I like to swim, fish and take naps when the conditions are opportune. The prediction expression ends up being miles/day = 18.4 + 0.31*Day - 0.014*EG/mi + (EG/mi-193*((EG/mi-193)*-0.00014). It's fairly easy to plug this into a spreadsheet and limit the intercept + Day factors to ≤ 25 miles a day and then use the rest of the equation to adjust for elevation gain. Of course this just applies to me. Your mileage, as they say, may vary. But I wonder if anyone else has seen a similar pattern on their long hikes.
  25. 4 points
    These look useful even when you are not in bear country. I can see thwarting the local raccoons with this.
  26. 4 points
    The compact size of the bear cannister is perfect for a solo overnighter. I generally carry the Bearicade Weekender for the small group I hike with, and it just about fills half my pack! Thanks for a chance to win!
  27. 4 points
  28. 4 points
    What a great contest! Just in time hiking season. Thanks..
  29. 4 points
    Hike to Backcountry Hot Springs Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Clearwater National Forest Idaho November 26-28, 2015 Soaking in a hot spring and stargazing on a winter night certainly meets the definition of sublime. When the hot spring is reached after a delightful five-mile hike and you have it all to yourself, the charm of the experience increases exponentially. When there’s just enough snow on the ground to provide a lovely contrast to the lush evergreen forest without causing the slightest inconvenience to camping or hiking, then the setting and experience approaches perfection. It should go without saying that finding myself in such a blissful place on Thanksgiving that I was indeed grateful, peaceful, and content in the utmost. Being an only child of divorced parents and having lived a few hours away for a decade, and a day’s drive from extended family since birth, I’ve allowed myself a certain amount of flexibility and indulgence -- perhaps even selfishness -- around the holidays, for better or worse. For most of my adult life I’ve spent the Thanksgiving holiday with either girlfriends and their families or out backpacking. In each circumstance I’ve created some cherished memories. Thanksgiving with my friend John in the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness of southern Appalachia, tents pitched amidst old-growth poplar trees and a glorious Black Friday climb to the Hangover and its magnificent vista. Thanksgiving spent gorging on gourmet food and bourbon with a girlfriend and her family in the heart of Kentucky’s Bluegrass region -- followed the next day by the two of us heading out on one of the most rugged overnight trips I ever did in the Red River Gorge, working off the turkey and camping at an obscure waterfall. So, I suppose on this most recent Thanksgiving sojourn I was merely continuing a tradition I started in my early 20s rather than breaking from any tradition. Given its popularity and prominence in numerous guidebooks and on the Internet, I’d delayed a visit to this destination until I felt that circumstances were in my favor to have at least 24 hours of solitude at such a prime location. Between the Thanksgiving holiday, the frigid forecast (highs just below freezing, lows on either side of 10 degrees), and the short days of late November in the northern Rockies, I put my chips on those odds and planned the trip. It was five degrees when I loaded my car up and left Hamilton and the sun was shining on the snowcapped peaks of the Bitterroot Mountains as I began the two-hour drive to the trailhead. The drive was breathtaking and, given a recent snowstorm, the road conditions were surprisingly decent. Two feet of snow were present at the mountain pass as I crossed into Idaho and began the descent to the Lochsa River, which I would follow to the trailhead. As I lost elevation, the snow thinned out considerably and was patchy in the campground where I parked. Shortly after 11 a.m., I shouldered my pack in the empty trailhead and headed up the trail. It felt like the temperatures were in the upper teens and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The trail started off with a steep climb that got my blood flowing and my zippers opening. It remained a gentle grade for the next few miles and I vented or zipped up according to my level of exertion, the amount of shade I was in, or the combination of the two. The views of the Boulder Creek drainage were scenic, but a but intimidating as I knew an unbridged creek crossing loomed ahead of me. I took a break at the wilderness boundary at two-miles then continued on to the crossing. Boulder Creek, true to its namesake, featured a streambed of uncountable boulders and rushing water. Ice crept in from each bank and surrounded the rocks, while a swift current pushed frigid water downstream via the path of least resistance. Crossing this creek would be the crux of the hike and I was determined to take my time and minimize the not-inconsequential risk of crossing a large stream in sub-freezing temperatures. First, I took a sip of water. Then I put traction devices on my shoes and ensured my trekking poles were adequately locked and extended. Finally, I shifted my pack and zipped up my jacket so that I was as comfortable as possible. Satisfied that I’d adjusted all the variable I had control over in my favor, I looked for the best place to cross. Despite the abundance of boulders, all were inconveniently spaced and covered with snow and ice. I spotted a downed tree a few hundred feet downstream that resembled a bridge and made my to it. Not wishing to tempt fate, I straddled the snow-covered log and scooted across. Although I was on solid ground after dismounting the log, there was still another channel of the creek to cross. Fortunately, this was a much smaller channel of the creek and I was able to walk across a downed log to the other side of the creek without incident. While the crossing had been as good as I could have hoped for, I had inadvertently ended up pretty far downstream from the trail. Fortunately, the forest wasn’t very thick, although it was boggy in spots, and I was able to easily work myself back towards the path. When I encountered a large downed tree, I joked to myself that “Well, trees usually fall across trails, so I might as well see where this one landed.” I couldn’t help but smile when I stepped off the tree and onto the trail. The last half-mile to the hot springs was bathed in the glorious and fleeting light of early afternoon in winter and was especially fragrant with spruce and pine. As the narrow footpath closed in on the hot springs, my anticipation increased. When I saw steam wafting through the forest I became almost ecstatic and knew I had arrived. I scoped out the springs and dipped my fingers in the warm water of the pool closest to the trail before embarking on the search for an ideal campsite. The campsite I found was excellent -- a few hundred feet from the hot springs, above the main trail, no widowmakers nearby, it was hard to ask for more. There was a heavy dusting of snow in the forest but the dense canopy cover allowed me to set my tent up on bare ground. After getting my campsite situated and hanging the bear line, I headed over to the hot springs. I won’t bother trying to describe in detail what it was like to ease into a steamy pool of water on a sunny winter afternoon in a lush mountain forest. Incredible is probably the most accurate word I could use. Perfect would also be suitable. The water temperature, the size of the pool, the frost clinging to everything within a few yards of the springs, the sound of the water as it flowed from pool to pool -- there was no opportunity for improvement. I floated around for just over an hour with half of a 3/4 length foam sleeping pad allowing me to perch on various rocks and logs in utmost comfort, and supporting my lower back as I floated in the middle of the pool. A few sips of bourbon and reading “To Build a Fire” by Jacking London for the dozenth time or so made the time fly by. Just as the day began to darken I exited the pool and cooked my Thanksgiving dinner of pasta, spinach, mushrooms, tuna and grated cheese. Not quite a turkey dinner, but not half bad by any means. Once dinner was cleaned up, I took a thermos of hot chocolate back to the hot springs for a starlit soak. Words fail at communicating the bliss of the experience, so I’ll quit while I’m ahead. I soaked for maybe two hours before getting out, putting on a fresh wool baselayer, and heading to the tent. I was supremely relaxed but not exactly tired, so I read a bit more before turning off the tiny lantern that lit my small tent. Perhaps it was the bourbon, or maybe it was my sheer giddiness at the way the trip was playing out, and I suppose it could’ve just been the cold weather, but I felt a special kinship with my sleeping bag as I zipped it up and tightened the draft collar. I mentally composed an ode to my down-filled friend to the tune of Neil Young’s “Long May You Run”, re-purposed as “Long May You Loft”, hopefully the backpackers out there will appreciate the sentiment and the Neil Young fans will forgive me: We’ve been through some nights together Chilly mornings and snow covered tents You’ve kept me warm in frigid weather Long may you loft I added a fleece pullover during the night, and a midweight set of wool bottoms in the early morning hours, but this was to be expected. My 15 degree bag was pushed a bit past its limit, which is why I’d brought my puffiest down jacket and thicker wool layers. When I exited the tent in the morning to retrieve the food bag it was about 8 degrees, according to the keyring thermometer I’d set on a branch near the tent. Not being in an hurry, I took the food bag back to the tent and climbed back into my sleeping bag, then sprawled out and made coffee and oatmeal just outside the tent. I had a liter bottle of water in my sleeping bag to keep it from freezing and another liter in a Platypus in a minor pool of the hot springs to keep it from freezing. I sipped coffee in the comfort of my sleeping bag, read some more Jack London, and made another round of coffee before finally leaving the tent and heading over the hot springs for a late morning soak. Starting the day with a cup of coffee and a soak in a hot spring in an idyllic setting while reading classic stories of adventure and peril in the Yukon is something I would highly recommend. Determined not to have a sedentary day, I decided to hike up the trail as far as I could to scout it out for a future trip. On the map, it seemed like a great loop hike could be put together. I ventured up the trail only a few hundred yards before it faded into fallen trees. I tried to push through in hopes the path would re-appear, but to no avail. It seemed to just fade out. I’m not trying to give myself too much credit, but I’ve followed some notoriously faint and/or rough trails in my time as a backpacker. Deep Creek Trail and North Fork Citico Creek Trail in the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness/Citico Creek Wilderness, a seldom-used mid-elevation path in the Chiricahua Mountains, and a decommissioned Forest Service trail to an unnamed lake in the Bitterroot Mountains immediately come to mind. But on this trail I wasn’t able to make much progress. Maybe it was the downfall and dense vegetation, maybe it was the snow, or maybe it was the fact that there was a hot spring waiting for me, but I turned back after only a half-hour or so of forward progress. I did wander down to the creek during this outing to admire the beauty of the partially frozen stream for a moments, which was time well spent. Once back in camp I had -- you guessed it -- another soak before enjoying a delicious snake of cheese, pita chips, fruit strips, and jerky, along with a warming cup of mint tea. Shortly after I finished my feeding frenzy, two other backpackers arrived. These dudes reminded me of myself and my friends, which is meant as a compliment. They were great company and oddly enough had lived in east Tennessee earlier in their lives, which is where I was born. So we had some common ground (pun intended) in that we had each spent a good bit of time in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While I valued my solitude, my assumption that any folks who would spend a frigid Thanksgiving weekend at a backcountry would probably be pretty good people was proved correct. I enjoyed another soak before dinner while getting to know my neighbors. Thai peanut noodles with chili-lime jerky and fresh-squeezed lime juice as on the menu, and I enjoyed an aperitif of Kentucky bourbon while my stove did its work. With a full stomach, I headed back to the hot spring to enjoy another night of stargazing. Seeing shooting stars from a hot spring is a great way to end a day, and the conversation with my springmates was interesting but not overwhelming. We all seemed to know how to appreciate silence, which unfortunately doesn’t seem to be a universal value these days. Zipped into my sleeping bag, I got another great night’s sleep and awoke to a morning just as chilly as the one that had preceded it. A cup of coffee made packing up bearable, as did the promise of one last soak before hitting the trail. I tried with my utmost to internalize the beauty around me as I slipped in for the last time. Steam rose and mixed with frigid air, depositing beautiful frost formations on rocks and logs; and on the living carpet of moss that grew from log to rock to ground and back. An impossibly beautiufl scene and one that was nearly impossible to leave. Nevertheless, after a final soak I headed down the trail with a feeling of rejuvenation and gratitude. As accommodating as the hot spring had been, the crossing of Boulder Creek was the exact opposite. I took a different route than the one that I had used to cross a on my trip over and it was a slight improvement in both safety and convenience. Aside from the fact that I was moving further from the hot spring and my time in the woods was winding down, it was a great hike out. The slight downhill grade made for efficient hiking and the light pack (owing to food and fuel consumption) was noticed and appreciated. I made it back to the trailhead in the middle of a sunny afternoon. I changed into fresh clothes and made a cup of coffee for the road before hopping in my vehicle and beginning the gorgeous drive home. Despite radiating satisfaction on the return journey, I was just a bit disappointed to know that baths at home just wouldn’t feel the same after this trip.
  30. 3 points
    Recent books and movies have inspired countless hikers and potential hikers to dream about thru-hiking one of the “big three” of America’s long trails: The Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, or the Continental Divide Trail. However, most people that attempt the feat drop off the trail before completion. A six-month commitment to a hike can become just too difficult. Countless others don’t even try; it’s just too much time away from family and the lives they’ve built. Completing all three trails, the “Triple Crown of Hiking,” is beyond even contemplating. Other options exist though. There are long trails that, while still providing life changing experiences, can be completed in weeks rather than months. In fact, there’s even a “Triple Crown” that can not only be contemplated, it can be accomplished. That’s right, there’s a junior version of hiking’s “Triple Crown.” Mine began as a bucket list hike. As a guy in his 50’s with titanium in one foot, I didn’t even entertain the thought of the AT, PCT, or CDT. I was looking for a significant adventure though and settled on trying the Colorado Trail. The 486 mile CT shares nearly half of its distance with the Continental Divide Trail and travels through some of the most beautiful scenery of the Rockies. It was a tremendous, month-long experience; everything I had hoped for. After that trail, I was hooked on thru-hiking, just not the kind that requires six months at a time. In the last year I also completed both the iconic John Muir Trail, and the trail many consider to be the inspiration for the AT, the Long Trail. For those with weeks, not months, available to hike; I recommend them highly. But which trail is the best? It all depends on what you are looking for. The Long Trail is 273 miles of classic eastern mountains. Much of the time is spent meandering through oaks and maples. Because the trail runs the very spine of Vermont’s Green Mountains, there are a surprising number of big views. Besides the bare peaks of Camel's Hump and Mt. Mansfield, several other mountains crossed are ski resorts in the winter. The cleared ski slopes reveal more scenery than typically found on other eastern mountains. Quite often the views also include a beautiful small town nestled down in a valley. One such spot is Stratton Mountain. It was there that Benton McKaye conceived of the idea of the Appalachian Trail. The southern 100 miles or so of the trail are perfect if you are looking for an AT type experience. In fact, for that stretch the trail is shared with the AT. There are numerous shelters, plenty of company and nearby resupply. Once north of the split, the trail is significantly more challenging. The crowds disappear and the hiking gets much more rugged. There were many spots where I found myself climbing ladders or metal rungs drilled into rock walls. There were other spots where I wished there were ladders. More than once I looked at the trail in front of me and exclaimed, “You have got to be kidding me!” Oh, and the famous “Vermud” is a real thing. If you’re looking for a new level of challenge, the Long Trail is for you. The Colorado Trail is quintessential big mountain hiking. Rather than follow one chain of mountains, the CT crosses eight named mountain ranges, each with its own look. The hike varies between open coniferous forests, aspen groves, high mesas, and rugged alpine passes with views of mountaintops that seem to extend forever. In some drier areas, there are even cacti. While the trail averages 10,000 feet in elevation, the object of the trail is not to climb the peaks, but travel around them. Peak bagging is possible through side trips, but not on the CT itself. Initial construction was completed in 1987, making it by far the newest trail. Beyond self-issued permits at some of the wilderness areas, no paperwork is required to hike the CT. Winding from just south of Denver, Colorado to Durango in the southwest portion of the state, the CT is mostly single track without significant mileage on Forest Service roads. There is one (6 mile) section of road walking. Besides multiple mountain ranges the trail winds through six wilderness areas and some of the most beautiful scenery in the Rocky Mountains. The CT shares approximately 235 Miles with the Continental Divide Trail. The trail itself is very well constructed and appears to be well maintained. A tent is a necessity as support structures such as shelters are noticeably absent. In my mind a hammock is not really an option due to the trail spending extended stretches above tree line. Altitude is a significant consideration on the trail. With the average elevation over 10,000 feet, snow can remain well into the summer months. Thunderstorms at that height are a real danger. Hikers on the CT need to be self-sufficient. In the more remote sections there are few other hikers and convenient resupplies can be far apart. I typically hiked 70-100+ miles between town stops. Wildlife is prevalent on the trail and I saw quite a bit, from hummingbirds, chipmunks, and pika up to big mammals including deer, moose, bighorn sheep, and elk. Marmots were very numerous at higher elevations. There are also black bear near the trail, though I did not see any. The John Muir Trail should be on every hiker’s bucket list. It is 210 miles of spectacular. The JMT shares 170 miles with the Pacific Crest Trail and by most accounts is the most scenic section of the PCT. Running from Yosemite National Park to Kings Canyon National Park, the trail travels through the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the top of Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the continental United States. Known for their beauty, the Sierra were called “The Range of Light” by John Muir. Beyond jaw dropping views of places like Half Dome, Cathedral Peak, Evolution Valley, and the high passes, the JMT is about water. There are beautiful alpine lakes and countless clear streams. Even hiking during the 2015 drought, enough melting snow was left to fill the spectacular rapids and waterfalls that travel down the mountains’ steep slopes. Much of the trail appeared very dry, but water was never an issue. There is only one mountaintop view, but it’s a doozy. At 14,505 feet, the summit of Mt. Whitney is the official endpoint of the JMT. On a clear day, the view goes on seemingly forever. Potential wildlife sightings on and near the trail were second to none as well. A good portion of the hike is within National Parks after all. All the wildlife normally thought of in a mountain wilderness lives near the JMT. Deer were thick through the lower elevations and seemingly oblivious to hikers. What really stood out during my hike was the close encounters with predators. I happened upon coyote and even a bobcat while on the trip. The multiple sightings of bear left no doubt as to why food canisters are required. Resupplies get tougher as you travel from north to south. The last relatively convenient resupply option is at Muir Trail Ranch, 110 miles into your 220-mile hike. (Yes, I know the trail is 210 miles, but you still have to get off Mt. Whitney.) Cramming enough food into your bear canister to take you the rest of the way can be a challenge, to say the least. Like the CT, the JMT has high elevations and big climbs, but both are well constructed with switchbacks when needed. Again, like the CT, you’ll need to rely on your own shelter. Perhaps the biggest challenge with the JMT is getting a permit. If you want to start at Happy Isles in Yosemite, plan on faxing in an application 24 weeks before your planned start date. By the end of the day, you will find out if you secured a permit. You probably did not. Per the National Park Service website, over 97% of all applications are denied. Prepare to repeat the process the next day with a new starting date and start location options. One hiker I met on the trail had been denied 22 times before she received a permit to start at Happy Isles Trailhead. Now I fully understand the National Park Service’s position. They have a duty to protect the wilderness from overuse and want to provide a true wilderness experience for those that do receive a permit. I certainly did not want to hike the JMT like I was in a conga line or a parade. Based on my experience, allowing 45 people daily to travel over the JMT’s first pass seemed like a reasonable number. While I saw others at times, it was not constant and I was always able to find a good spot to camp. None of that makes getting the permit any easier, however. You’ll need to plan ahead, yet be very flexible. In my case, after being turned down a few times, I changed my plan. I was able to secure a permit starting from Tuolumne Meadows, 20 miles down the trail. However, I also arrived at the park a couple days early and day hiked the section I would have otherwise missed. Yes 20 miles is a long day hike, but using park bus service and walking it backwards, it was doable. Was it perfect? No, but it was the only option to walk the entire trail within my timeframe. So, if the logistics of a 2,000 mile hike are impossible for you in the near future, don’t fret. There are viable options to still be a thru-hiker. Pick whichever one of the shorter options of America’s three foremost cross-country trails that sounds best to you. Perhaps you’ll get the bug and eventually hike the Triple Crown; just the junior version. Information: No permits are required to hike the Long Trail though some camp areas and shelters have a $5/night fee. More information is available at the Green Mountain Club. Other than free, self-issued permits at some wilderness areas, no permits are required to hike the Colorado Trail. More information is available at the Colorado Trail Foundation. A permit is required to hike the John Muir Trail. The cost is $5 for the permit, plus $5 for each person in the group. In addition, a bear canister is required on much of the trail. For those starting from the northern (Yosemite National Park) terminus, information on permits and the trail is available on the Yosemite National Park page. Best Time to Go: The hiking season for both the CT and JMT is generally July through September. Early season hikers enjoy more wildflowers, stream flows and mosquitoes. At the highest elevations, snow can last well into the summer, and return again early in the fall. Parts of the Long Trail do not open until Memorial Day Weekend. The “mud season” returns by late October. September would be my choice as the trails tend to be at their driest, bugs mostly gone and the AT thru-hiker wave has passed. Early-mid October brings the added draw of tremendous fall color. Getting There: The Colorado Trail Eastern/Northern terminus is located at 11300 Waterton Road, Littleton, CO 80125. From Denver, take I-25 South to C-470 West to CO Hwy 121 South. After 4.5 miles turn left onto Waterton Rd. Most hikers attempt to start the John Muir Trail at the Happy Isles Trailhead located at the eastern end of Yosemite Valley inside Yosemite National Park. There are numerous options for both driving and public transportation to and throughout the park. The southern terminus of the Long Trail is located on the Appalachian Trail at the Vermont/Massachusetts border. The trail can be accessed via the AT by hiking north from the crossing of Mass Rt 2 between Williamstown and North Adams, MA. Another option is the hike the Pine Cobble Trail from Pine Cobble Rd in Williamstown to the AT just south of the Vermont state line. Maps: There are highly useful Guthook phone apps for all three trails. The Green Mountain Club produces a map of the LT. The Colorado Trail Foundation produces a map and a databook for the CT and many Trails Illustrated Maps cover the route. For the JMT I used the John Muir Trail Pocket Atlas by Blackwoods Press. The JMT Map Set from Tom Harrison Maps is another option. Books: The Colorado Trail Guidebook by the Colorado Trail Foundation. Long Trail Guide by the Green Mountain Club. John Muir Trail: The Essential Guide to Hiking America’s Most Famous Trail by Elizabeth Wenk. Backpacking’s Triple Crown: The Junior Version by the author Jim Rahtz.
  31. 3 points
    “What are some of the more scenic trails in the area?” my friend Joan asked a local man at a hiking store in Sedona, Arizona. “All of them. They’re all scenic. Everywhere you look is scenic,” he said with a well-practiced manner, unable to hide his weariness with such questions. Even the trail map on display at the store was marked in bold black ink with exclamatory statements: “It’s scenic!!” “The views are amazing!” To say the least, it became apparent that we weren’t the first out-of-towners to ask the locals such seemingly innocent questions about hikes in the area. But after a few days in Sedona, I became more sympathetic to his sentiment, if not his attitude. Everywhere you look, it is scenic. Not just scenic, but grand. Magnificent is not too strong a word. Line up all the synonyms for “breathtaking” that you can because they all apply. Red rock spires ring the city, sandstone formations call to mind distant castles and alien landscapes, and it’s all made more dramatic when viewed in the golden light of sunrise and sunset. Limpid, turquoise waters flow south through Sedona’s mystical Oak Creek Canyon to the Verde River. And, amid all this scenery, there are hiking trails everywhere. Literally, everywhere. In four days, Joan and I could only sample a few. But they were good and, yes, they were scenic. All of them are within the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness and three (Bear Mountain, Devil’s Bridge, and West Fork) are rated among the top 15 Sedona hikes by the Great Sedona Hikes guidebook. Bear Mountain: This strenuous, out-and-back hike involved 2,100 feet of ascent over about 2.5 miles and the views were well worth it. The literature contains several differing estimates of the elevation gain, but my GPS measured 2,100 feet, consistent with the Great Sedona Hikes guidebook. The descent was actually more difficult than the ascent, with many steep, sketchy spots along the trail. We experienced some light rain, and tiny hail at the 6,444-foot summit. This would definitely not be a trail for a rainy day! Total round trip mileage was almost 5 miles, which we did in about 4 1/2 hours. Palatki Ruins: A visit to these Sinagua ruins was good for a rest day after Bear Mountain. It is an easy walk to cliff dwellings and rock art, totaling about 1.2 miles. Make a reservation for a guided tour at (928) 282-3854. Take your time and soak up the interesting lore (and speculation) from the knowledgeable docents. Devil’s Bridge: Ending at the largest natural stone arch in the Sedona area, this trail attracts a lot of tourists — most of whom don’t seem to have a clue what they’ve gotten themselves into. It’s an easy trail with some steep climbing at the end, 4.4 miles round trip from the Mescal Trail parking area. You may have to wait your turn to get out on the bridge for a photo, and don’t miss the short and less traveled trail to see the bridge from below. Long Canyon: In Long Canyon, we attempted to find a cliff dwelling I’d read about, located about 0.4 mile off trail and behind the “Ice Cream Cone” formation. After some slickrock scrambling and brambly bushwhacking, we gave up. I know it’s there but couldn’t find the right access point. It was otherwise an easy and enjoyable out-and-back hike, a little less than 5 miles round trip. West Fork, Oak Creek Canyon: It’s no wonder this mellow trail is one of the most popular hikes in the area. Its beauty combines red rock canyons, clear cool waters, and tall pine forest. Wear shoes you can wade in so you can enjoy the 13 creek crossings with abandon. You’ll see widely varying estimates of the distance to the trail’s end (where the canyon narrows and the footpath disappears into the creek), but my GPS said it was 4 miles. With side trips off trail to explore the creek, our round trip distance was about 8.4 miles. But don’t worry about the distance, take your time and enjoy this magical spot. In four days, my friend and I barely scratched the surface of Sedona’s abundant hiking, but it was enough to get acquainted with the geography of the area and whet our appetites for more. And when we return, we’ll certainly know which trails are scenic, because we have it on good authority that it’s every single one. Recommended Guidebook: Great Sedona Hikes, Revised 4th Edition, William Bohan and David Butler More Information can be found at the Bear Mountain, Palatki Ruins, Devil's Bridge, Long Canyon, and Oak Creek Forest Service pages.
  32. 3 points
    Long before I’d ever shouldered a backpack for a hike into a wilderness area, I found myself intrigued by Arizona’s Superstition Mountains. As the purported location of the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, I was first exposed to the Superstitions in books about lost treasures and historical mysteries I checked out from my middle-school library. An episode of “In Search of . . .” with Leonard Nimoy that featured the legend and aired as a re-run on the History Channel further deepened my fascination. Hidden gold and lost maps, murders and disappearances, towering rock formations and an unforgiving desert landscape – all made for captivating TV to a city kid in Kentucky. Tales of lost treasure closer to home, like Swift’s lost silver mine and buried Civil War payrolls were more geographically relevant, but the Lost Dutchman’s Mine and the Superstitions had made an impression. After becoming an avid backpacker, my interest in the Superstition Mountains was rekindled. The Superstition Wilderness is one of the original wilderness areas designated in the Wilderness Act of 1964, is an excellent springtime backpacking destination, and – as far as stunning desert landscapes go – is easily accessible. Despite a few half-hearted attempts to plan a trip over the years, I didn’t get a chance to hike there until recently. Having a close friend and fellow backpacker who lived nearby and was eager to fit in a backpacking trip before the imminent and awesome responsibility of fatherhood was bestowed up him later in the year provided all the motivation I needed. The unlikely yet unique possibility that I might solve a centuries-old mystery while digging a cathole may or may not have factored into my enthusiasm as well. The plane touched down on the warm runway of the Phoenix airport at 10:17 a.m. and I filled up five liters of water from a water fountain while waiting for my checked bag to arrive. Backpacking efficiency at its best. John picked me up and, despite having not seen each other since a trip in 2015 in Montana’s Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness, we picked up right where we left off. After an anticipation-building eastbound drive, with the mountains rising ever higher from the Arizona desert and the buildings thinning out the further we traveled, we found ourselves on the trail by noon. Desert landscapes are surreal enough, but to have gone from boarding a plane six hours earlier in gray and snowy Missoula, Montana to being able to reach out and touch a Saguaro cactus (not that you’d want to) took the experience to another level. The mix of muted browns and dull greens made the objectively inhospitable landscape seem almost cozy as we traipsed along the trail toward a campsite located a short jaunt from a reliable water source. Temperatures in the 70s, blue sky, and a light breeze made for comfortable hiking. In the shade of a particularly large Saguaro, I paused to investigate what I thought might be a dire circumstance – a puncture in one of my two-liter bladders. As it turned out, it was merely an inordinate amount of perspiration on my lower back. More amusing and, fortunately, much less concerning. And a good reminder of the importance of consuming water in such an arid environment. We made good time to our campsite, climbing up to a mesa and then descending up to a pass and then down into a canyon, with some stellar views of iconic Weaver’s Needle along the way. Although there were several other backpackers out and about, we made it to the large camping area first and snagged what I believed to be a premium campsite. Secluded and with nice views of the canyon’s slopes, and plenty of elbow room before bumping into prickly, thorny, or otherwise unfriendly forms of vegetation, it was an ideal spot to set up our tents. We relaxed for a bit before making the mile or so roundtrip to get water from the reliable spring further up the canyon, which offered suitable campsites that were predictably crowded. While it doesn’t take much to puzzle me, I was genuinely befuddled by the guys we met who earnestly intended to hammock camp in the area. Indeed, John and I had exchanged sarcastic text messages about hammock camping in the desert in the days prior to the trip, amongst other important topics such as sources of water and brands of whiskey. After stocking up on water and comic relief, we began our return to camp. Although our packs were heavy with water on the way back, the gentle downhill walk back to the campsite as the sun set and the light in the canyon changed were enchanting enough to make me forget I even had on a pack. Back at camp, we stretched out in the twilight and started fixing our dinners. Or at least I started fixing mine while John struggled to open his bear canister, which he regretfully opted to bring to protect his food against rodents. I simply chose to bring my trusty stuff sack to hang from whatever I could find and then hope for the best. Bears are of no real concern in the Superstition Mountains and John paid an unexpected and mildly amusing price for his overkill decision in regard to food storage. John lacked the ideal tool – a nickel – to open the bear canister and had little success improvising with other tools. A man versus bear canister battle unfolded before me as I devoured my pasta and tuna. I could contribute nothing except sympathy and stifled laughter. Frustration increased and, after about fifteen minutes, I am certain that if I had a spare nickel John would have gladly paid twenty dollars for it. As I moved on to dessert, the bear canister was finally opened in a triumphant display of determination and creative use of sharp objects. John was then able to consume a hard-won but ultimately underwhelming freeze-dried meal. After an hour or two of trading stories and sips of a whiskey while stars began to slowly punctuate the desert sky, we retired to our respective tents for a peaceful night’s slumber. Although John had intended to hike the approximately 10-mile day hike loop from camp with me the following morning, a late-breaking and unexpected family emergency forced him to curtail his trip and hike out early. Since he would still be able to pick me up from the trailhead the next day, we parted ways that morning and I finished the rest of the planned trip solo. I would be remiss if I didn’t note my surprisingly deep disappointment at the fact that I would be companion-less for the rest of the hike. I’ve done over a hundred nights solo in my decade of backpacking and am incredibly fond of solo backpacking, but I cherish to the very center of my soul the trips I share with close friends. Missing out on the opportunity for another day of wilderness bonding with John emotionally altered my trip, but I understood the gravity of his family situation, adjusted my expectations, and proceeded onward and forward with the rest of my stroll through the Superstitions. To say that the hiking was blissful would be an understatement. Overcast skies saturated the colors and added depth to the landscape that allowed it to shine in a different way than it had the previous day. The lack of a sun beaming down made the hiking remarkably pleasant and the scenery unfolded with a grandeur and intensity that was jaw dropping. Cacti, distant cliffs, pools of water in the creekbeds, rock formations, all occurred with a perfect mix of frequency and variety. The Superstitions are certainly not an uncrowded area and I had the good fortune to share some of the hike with three other hikers. They were kind enough to invite me on a short scramble up to an overlook for lunch, which had a great view of Weaver’s Needle. We continued on the loop together, but different pacing eventually led to us drifting apart and I returned to my walking reverie through the desert. I re-filled on water at the same spring as the previous day and returned to camp to settle into my usual solo routine of stretching, reading, writing short letters to friends on the backside of maps or a scrap paper to drop in the mail, and replenishing lost calories and fluids. A light rain fell consistently throughout the evening and overnight, but never to the point of inconvenience. Given how rare rain is in the desert, I looked upon it as a rare treat and appreciated every drop. The beauty of a rain drop on the needle of a cactus is absolutely divine. The cool morning temperatures and light rain which defined my hike out the next morning made for a mystical landscape, as fog rolled across distant mesas and swirled around rugged formations and mountains both near and far. I made it back to the trailhead a half-hour or so before the pick-up time that John and I had agreed upon, which allowed me to stretch, make some tea, and generally lounge around the trailhead and enjoy the desert ambience. Upon reuniting with John for the concluding chapter of our trip, which was an overnight stay at the delightfully funky El Dorado Hot Springs to ease our exaggeratedly aching bones, we picked up right where we left off. And that is perhaps as best a note to end on as any – when it comes to friends, backpacking, hiking, and life in general – there is a simple pleasure in picking up where you left off, regardless of distance or time passed, that leaves one with nothing more to desire. Information: The Superstitions are an ideal destination for the majority of most seasons other than summer. Water and heat are the primary limiters for trips here and should be given the utmost respect and consideration when planning your trip. The trailheads can be popular and crowded on weekends “in season” and camps directly adjacent to water sources can suffer from overuse. If you can commit to dry camping and plan your water sources appropriately, you greatly increase your chances for solitude. Several popular trailheads, such as Peralta and First Water, are located only an hour’s drive from Phoenix. Call the Tonto National Forest, Mesa Ranger District, for the most up-to-date information. Books: Hiking Arizona’s Superstition and Mazatzal Country by Bruce Grubbs Superstition Wilderness Trails West: Hikes, Horse Rides, and History by Jack Carlson and Elizabeth Stewart Superstition Wilderness Trails East: Hikes, Horse Rides, and History by Jack Carlson and Elizabeth Stewart Map: National Geographic's Trails Illustrated Map #851, Superstition and Four Peaks Wilderness Areas (Tonto National Forest)
  33. 3 points
    We had been warned that the Three Fingers Lookout wasn’t for the faint of heart. But that didn’t take away from the shock of first seeing it. The hut was just a speck in the distance, perched precariously on a jagged spire of rock rising up above a crevasse-riddled glacier and a low sea of clouds. From our vantage, it seemed impossible that the wooden hut could balance there for another night, let alone that there would be a passable trail to reach it. My partner, Emily, and I had gotten hooked on the idea of visiting this 89-year-old lookout, in Washington’s Boulder River Wilderness, after a friend made the journey. She described needing to keep the windows closed for fear of falling out of bed and over a 2,000-foot cliff, and then showed us a photo of the panorama of the North Cascades. We were sold on the trip. Reaching the lookout doesn’t require technical climbing, but it wasn’t going to be straightforward, either. To start, the road to the trailhead was washed out, leaving a 10-mile mountain bike ride just to reach the trail. Neither me nor Emily are mountain bikers, so we borrowed bikes from friends – hers too large, mine too small. What better way to learn how to mountain bike than on frames that don’t fit, loaded down with overnight packs, in a classic Northwest drizzle? The road was just uphill enough that my legs and back started burning after just a few minutes of pedaling. With a loaded pack, though, I couldn’t stop for fear of never being able to get the bike moving again. I was pretty excited when we arrived at a brushy opening into the forest, much sooner after leaving the car than I had expected. If it seemed too good to be true; that’s because it was. After a few miles on the trail, we were still in the forest. I was beginning to feel suspicious – the route was supposed to be 7.5 miles to the lookout, yet we were still a long way even from the basin that it sits above. My GPS clearly showed a trail snaking its way from our position to the lookout, but we had hardly made a dent in the route after hiking for more than an hour. My questions were answered when we ran into another pair of hikers, who told us that in fact there are two different trailheads that lead to Three Fingers. The one we had been planning to start at was located several miles further up the road. The one we found started 15 miles from the lookout. After that revelation, the next few hours were a fast-packing blur. It was early afternoon and we had more than 10 miles and 4,000 feet of elevation to cover on foot – more than we had originally planned for, even after the time we had already spent hiking. The blur came to an abrupt halt three hours later when we reached the Tin Can Gap and got our first view of the Three Fingers Lookout. After how far we had come, it still seemed impossibly far away. Plus, we knew that this would be where the straightforward trail ended and the rock and snow scrambling began. Almost immediately, we transitioned into a steep snow-filled gully, cresting the ridge before reconnecting with the faint trail. From there, the scrambling involved was thankfully more mellow than I expected. Earlier in the season, the crux of the route involves stepping out onto the icy headwall of the Queest-Alb glacier. But we found that the snow had pulled away from the rock, leaving a small space that could be easily navigated without crampons. We reached the base of the lookout about an hour before sunset. Entering the hut requires climbing a series of three wooden ladders held into the rock with pitons, rope, and metal wire. At the top of the third ladder, I stepped out onto a slab that, at its edge, falls into the abyss of the glacier 500 feet below. A worn rope led up to the lookout’s front door. Even after Emily and I got inside the hut, it was hard to feel comfortable about where we were standing. The lookout extends past the rock platform on which it was built on two sides, and there’s only a small spit of rock outside the back door before the mountain tumbles several thousand feet into the valley below. But the exposure also allows for a view that is, simply put, unbeatable. The fog had begun to clear as we approached the lookout, and just before sunset it cleared away entirely. Out of the front door of the lookout, we watched the sun set over the Olympic Mountains and San Juan Islands as the lights of Seattle and the I-5 corridor grew in intensity. The North Cascades remained cloudy that evening, but we were treated to the sight of the sun rising over the shoulder of Glacier Peak out of the back door early the next morning. It’s still hard for me to wrap my head around how the Three Fingers Lookout has existed in this spot for nearly 90 years without being blown off the mountaintop. But for those willing to believe that the hut can survive another day, let alone another 90 years, the commanding views make it well worth the effort required to spend the night. Information: There are no permits required to spend the night at the lookout. However, it is first-come first-serve and the hut does fill up on weekends in August and September. For more on backpacking to lookouts see this TrailGroove article. Best Time to Go: The upper sections of the trail typically melt out in July, and the passage across the top of the Queest-Alb glacier opens in August. If you go earlier in the season, be prepared with ice axes, crampons, and potentially a rope to cross the glacial headwall. The lookout can also be accessed on skis throughout the winter. Getting There: Follow the Mountain Loop Highway to Forest Road 41, and continue until the road closure at mile 8. You can hike or bike the gravel road from there. The Mountain Meadow Trailhead (15 miles to the lookout) is 2.1 miles up the road. The Three Fingers Trailhead (7.5 miles to the lookout) is 10 miles up the road. Maps and Books: The Green Trails Map for the Mountain Loop Highway covers most of the Boulder River Wilderness, including the Three Fingers Lookout. National Geographic also offers a Trails Illustrated Map that details nearby North Cascades National Park, offering more exploration opportunities in the area.
  34. 3 points
    After something like three years of talking about it and months spent making plans, my good friend and hiking companion, Wayne Garland, has finally set out on his attempted thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. In October, at the age of 70, Wayne retired from a long and distinguished career as a Paramedic, providing emergency medical services here in Oconee County, South Carolina. One of Wayne's stated goals for his retirement, was to do a lot of traveling. I think that it's safe to say that he's accomplished that goal already. In the months since his retirement, he's already traveled to the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg, and Guam. In January, he also traveled to Vietnam and Cambodia. As a veteran of the Vietnam War, that trip had represented the first time that he had been back to either country since the end of the war more than 40 years ago. Wherever his travels have taken him, Wayne has made it a point to hike some of the local trails. While in Europe, one of the notable hikes that he did was to the top of the Feldberg in Germany's Black Forest region. At 4,898 feet, the Feldberg is the highest mountain in both the Black Forest and in all of Germany outside of the Alps. According to Wayne, though, the hardest hiking that he’s ever done anywhere was along the grassy trails of Guam's southern mountains, to the summit of Mt Schroeder. In addition to the terrain, which was very steep and rugged, the hiking was made more difficult by an abundance of razor-sharp Sword grass. The Sword grass is so sharp that wearing long pants, long sleeves, and gloves is a must. In places, it was more than eight feet tall and so dense that he couldn't see the trail or even the other people that he was hiking with. Another of Wayne's goals for retirement is to thru-hike the entirety of the Appalachian Trail, from it’s southern terminus in Georgia, to it's northern end atop of Mount Katahdin in Maine, nearly 2,200 miles away. To Prepare, Wayne has been hiking or backpacking with every available moment. In 2016, although he was still working 72 hours per week, he hiked more than 1,400 miles for the year and averaged nearly 120 miles per month. Unfortunately, an Achilles injury and tendinitis sidelined Wayne for the first half of last year. Now that he's fully recovered and with the end of winter approaching, Wayne is ready to set out on his next adventure. Two of Wayne's close friends and fellow hikers are Pam Hembree, and Jan Haney. On Tuesday, March 6th, Pam, Jan, and I, drove with Wayne from our homes in Upstate South Carolina, towards Dawsonville, Georgia and Amicalola Falls State Park. Our intentions were to accompany him as he hiked the Approach Trail that runs between the State Park and the official start of the A.T. at the summit of Springer Mountain. First however, we had to drive along Forest Service Road 42 to a gravel parking area about a mile north of the summit and leave our vehicle, then wait for the shuttle that would take us the rest of the way to Amicalola. Our shuttle driver's name was Ron. Ron is a super nice guy and is very knowledgeable, having previously served as a Park Ranger for more than eight years. Through no fault of his own, Ron was running a couple of hours behind schedule. By the time that he had picked us up, it was already about a quarter after four. We needed to be at the Park Office before 5 pm so that Wayne could register and receive his 2018 A.T. Leave No Trace hang tag. It was close, but Ron got us there with a couple of minutes to spare. Wayne was the last one to register on this particular day and is number 719 to register overall. Next, we stopped at the famous stone archway behind the park office and had Wayne pose while we all took pictures. The oft-photographed landmark marks the beginning of the approximately 8.8 mile long Approach Trail. For today, though, we would only hike the one mile from the arch up to the Lodge at Amicalola, where we had planned to spend the night. Along the way, we climbed 604 steps, gained about 800 feet in elevation, and got up close and personal with the park’s namesake waterfall. Amicalola Falls plunge a total of 729 feet from the top down to it's base and are the tallest in the southeast. At the lodge, we watched a beautiful sunset from the balcony, ate dinner at the Maple Restaurant, then went to our rooms. There, we took care of some last minute details before trying to get in a few hours of sleep. The moon was still high in the sky early Wednesday morning when we woke. After showering, then eating a quick breakfast, we set out on the Approach Trail. The morning air was cold, with the temperature ranging somewhere between 26 and 30 degrees. The wind blew hard on us the whole day, gusting to close to twenty miles per hour. Although it was a blustery day, within minutes of beginning to hike, we had warmed up considerably. Except for our hands and faces, it wasn't bad at all. While not terribly difficult, the Approach Trail is certainly no pushover either. I've been told that if you can do the Approach Trail, then you can do the whole trail. I'm not so sure about that. I think that may be at least a bit of an overstatement. It will, however, definitely make you think twice about lugging a heavy backpack up and down mountain after mountain, mile after mile, day after day, for five or six months. Heck, it gave me second thoughts, and I’m not even the one doing the thru-hike. Early in our hike, the trail had climbed steeply, then leveled as it passed through an area where there were lots of Hollies growing. Some of the Hollies were just beginning to bloom. Later, we passed through Nimblewill Gap and by a memorial there to the people that had died in a small plane crash near that site in 1968. With about a mile-and-a-half to go, we reached Black Gap Shelter, where we stopped to eat our lunches. At the shelter, we met a fellow who's trail name is Silver Bullet. At least that had been his name. That is, until a former army medic told him that “Silver Bullet” was military slang for a shiny rectal thermometer. Now his trail name is Silver, just Silver! From the shelter, the trail climbs another 600 feet by the time that it finally reaches the top of Springer. At the summit, there is a register and two plaques. One plaque was provided by the US Forest Service and is fastened to a boulder. The other plaque was placed there by the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club in 1934 and is attached directly to the rock-face. Also at the summit is the first official white blaze. It's been estimated that there are 165,000 white blazes along the Appalachian Trail. If that's true, then Wayne only has another 164,999 more to go. After spending a few minutes taking pictures, we hiked a mile from Springer, down to where we had left our vehicle the day before. There we said our goodbyes to Wayne, prayed for his safekeeping, and watched as he headed up the trail alone. We wondered what he must be thinking and how he was feeling. Wayne is mentally tough and has a lot of good old fashioned grit, so unless something unforeseen or beyond his control happens, I'm confident that he'll do well. Happy trails, my friend! Update: at the time of writing (03/21/18), Wayne has been on the trail for fifteen days and has hiked 173 miles, including the Approach Trail. He's at Fontana Dam and about to enter the Smokies. He's been given the trail name Defib, a reference to his background as a paramedic. He's had to contend with a broken tent pole, a lost down vest, strong winds, snow, and temperatures that have dipped down into the teens. Even so, he's still plugging away.
  35. 3 points
    Looks like the Leave no Trace Center just published a post in regards to them taking public input on this issue and concern. If these issues are important to you in regards to social media, or any type of media for that matter, here's the link: https://lnt.org/blog/social-media-and-8th-principle-discussion
  36. 3 points
    First semester of college. A friend and I decided to summit Utah's Mt. Timpanogos (in the dead of winter). Rented snow shoes and an ice axe (with no knowledge how to use either), ended up spending a long cold night just a few miles up the trail on a steep side slope in chest deep powder. No shelter. Blizzard. Avalanches rumbling down all around us (covered our tracks) through the night. Ya, I'm lucky to be alive. Hundreds of backcountry miles later, I now have a profound respect for nature!
  37. 3 points
    I saved up enough vacation this year to go on a three week road trip. The plan is to do two-night, three-day trips. I'm still working out all of the specifics because I'm trying to meet up with friends in a few places, but right now this is the plan: Start in the Needle Mountains in Southern Colorado, then head to the Flagstaff or Sedona area. Afterwards I will meet up with some friends south of Salt Lake City and find something cool to check out. Next I head to the Jarbridge Wilderness in Nevada, then North to the Sawtooth Wilderness followed by some time in the Wind River Range (Aaron, route suggestions?). Then to wrap it all up, I'm meeting my Aunt in RMNP with plans to bag Long's Peak, we already have our site reserved at the boulderfield. August can't come soon enough!
  38. 3 points
    Congrats to @idtman - our randomly selected winner of this giveaway! We'll be sending out a private message with the details and thanks to all who entered!
  39. 3 points
    How can I not go into the High Sierra without my BV450. Sign me up and Thanks for a Great magazine.. Just Bruce
  40. 3 points
    The Readers Digest version. This is probably my 5th backpack trip. Ever. A quick overnighter and another grand adventure in the books. 16+ mile round trip overnight backpack to see what I have dreamed of. Trail Notes: The Range of Light. Every step uphill is a step closer to Nirvana. Every dog on the trail was warmly greeted with a "Hi Baby!" How can my hips have outgrown my mummy bag?When the weather man says no rain, be sure to bring a rain jacket...always. Because it will rain. Because it will hail. Spur trails are an adventure in themselves. Bouldering! Sometimes, one is not really lost, sometimes one just doesn't know where the trail is. Someone who shall remain nameless thought it was a brilliant idea to pee in a gallon baggie in her tent instead of stumbling around the boulders in the cold, dark night. Someone who apparently is not a genius and who shall still remain nameless should be sure there isn't a hole in said baggie. Welcome to the reenactment of Moses parting the Red Sea...er...Yellow Sea! Tidal waves of pee. Pre-dawn silent laughter. Good times with great ladies. Daydreaming of the next adventure already.
  41. 3 points
    thanks for the chance I have learned a lot from this site so thanks to every one. Jim
  42. 3 points
    A trip Aaron, myself, Mike Henrick (fellow TG contributor) and my friend Mark. It was TrailGroove theme jaunt in many ways. http://www.pmags.com/ferris-mountain-wsa-walkabout
  43. 3 points
    I rarely hike with other people, and I don't carry one for a number of reasons: (1) SPOT-style devices with a "check-in" ability create an expectation that I check in, and an opportunity for false SARs called by others. (2) PLBs are expensive. (3) A PLB is only relevant in the rare situation that you are unable to self-rescue, conscious, able to survive until SAR reaches you (potentially overnight), and in a location with satellite reception (better than cell, but not ubiquitous). (4) PLBs encourage the expectation that you can push a button and a helicopter will show up to save you. Plenty of people disagree, but for me, part of being in the wilderness is being out-of-touch and self-reliant.
  44. 3 points
    As this trip was in the planning process we were going to trek 14 miles. We ended up going roughly 9 miles. The terrain for the portion is moderate with some steady inclines and declines throughout it. We started at Prospect road bridge where a 1.5 mile portion of a loop trail (can't remember the name of it) leads to the NCT. We went from there to Jennings Environmental Education Center. The weather was fair enough throughout the day that we actually came across other people on the trail. Some were cross country runners. Others were day hikers. I packed my Kelty RedCloud 90 at 25 pounds with water for the challenge again. For the 9 miles it is overkill so to speak in some peoples opinion. But I am preparing for long distance hikes and I want to see what adjustments I need to make. The views of Lake Arthur are impressive to say the least on this portion of the trail. ( I haven't hiked any other portion in Moraine State Park yet) and I tried to capture some of them with my phone camera. I think my next investment for backpacking is going to be a good DSLR. I had a good time on this trail and it was well worth the 1.5 hr road trip to get there. Once we got off trail we decided to pack on some carbs at a nearby tavern in Butler called Rock Ann Haven. Good food Good Spirits and excellent customer service.
  45. 3 points
    Sure would be nice to let gravity do all the work instead of having to pump all my water. Will this thing inflate my sleeping pad as well???
  46. 3 points
    Hiking from one beautiful place to another on pleasant and well-maintained trails is a great way to spend five days. Doing so with a good friend and cooperative weather makes a great experience even better. Throw in a few synchronous strokes of good fortune and you end up with an incredibly rewarding and memorable adventure. Neither John nor I had been on a four-night trip since March 2011 when he, myself, and my girlfriend at the time did a trek through the Chiricahua Mountains in southeastern Arizona. John was working nearby in Sierra Vista, Arizona with the US Forest Service at the time (we had met while working with the USFS in Kentucky) and invited us out for a spring break trip. That trip was my first time backpacking out West and was simply incredible; I promised myself it wouldn’t be my last. Fast forward almost five years and a lot has changed in our lives, both personally and professionally. I moved from Kentucky to Montana and John lives in Florida and is recently married. This summer found him in Alaska working a seasonal job with the Forest Service and his itinerary on the way home to Florida included a stop in Hamilton with time set aside for a five-day backpacking trip. Over the summer, I contemplated various destinations for our trip. Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and the Gros Ventre Wilderness all received ample consideration. I pored over maps and diligently read and re-read guidebook descriptions and information I found online. I asked seasoned hikers for their suggestions. Eventually, I settled on a 40-mile loop in the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness of western Montana for our trip. It ranked high in the scenery department and low in the crowds department, it didn’t require any permits or fees, and the trailhead was an enjoyable two-hour drive away. It offered nice options for camping at various lakes and meadows and included a section of hiking above treeline that virtually guaranteed majestic mountain views. The fact that a guidebook described it as “perhaps the single best alternative for folks wanting to see the best the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness has to offer without going to the trouble of setting up a long shuttle for the Continental Divide hike” also gave me considerable peace of mind in the decision. After the enjoyable but tedious pre-trip legwork of packing, meal selection, and checking in with the three different ranger districts through which we would pass in regard to trail conditions, we finally made the uneventful drive to the trailhead. Half of the drive was on dirt roads and included a brief stop at Skalkaho Falls. We found ourselves parked by mid-afternoon at a large trailhead which we shared with a truck towing a horse trailer. Once the requisite stretching and map reading were completed we began the 5-mile hike to Johnson Lake where we would spend the night. This was the shortest day of our trip, but it certainly didn’t lack in scenic rewards. Two nice waterfalls broke up the comforting monotony of the coniferous forest through which we hiked. We made good time to Johnson Lake and arrived in good spirits despite the drizzly weather. Once our tents were set up near and bear bag hung we headed for a lakeside dining spot and enjoyed pasta and tuna with fresh spinach and mushrooms. It would’ve been nicer if the tuna was fresh, but hey, this is backpacking. We called it an early night and found ourselves in our tents by 9 p.m. as a light rain tapped out its inimitable rhythm on our sil-nylon roofs. The morning shifted from darkness to overcast glow and eventually daylight with an unhurried pace. We found ourselves packed up and climbing the trail to Rainbow Pass at a respectable time and at a respectable pace. Mid-morning found us at Rainbow Pass (9,250 feet) and we took a short break to enjoy the views and review the plan for the rest of the day. It seemed to make more sense to push on to Rainbow Lake, a mere downhill mile away, for an extended break rather than stretch out our time at Rainbow Pass. The lake was a perfect place for a break but it didn’t hold any great appeal for camping. We enjoyed some coffee and conversation, each made more pleasant by the presence of the other, before starting the descent down the drainage to the junction with the trail to Warren Lake. As expected, we made great time on the descent and lagged slightly on the uphill section. We reached Warren Lake with plenty of daylight left to allow us to search around for a good campsite and enjoy some leisure time before dinner and sunset. The daylight we had left was a light worth talking about — what a warm and sublime illumination it was as it shone upon the mountains, the water, the rocks, and the trees. Quintessential autumn light at a quintessential mountain lake. Warren Lake is an exceptionally scenic lake (there’s a reason it’s on the cover of the only guidebook to the area) and seeing it under such prime conditions was a visual pleasure that’s hard to explain or exaggerate. As twilight neared, it became apparent that the day’s sunset would be much more entertaining than its sunrise. Faint pinks and purples became more vivid and the blue shifted to a rich darkness that perfectly contrasted the other colors in the sky. This beautiful and fluid mosaic of clouds and sky reached a fever pitch of intensity, almost humming with depth and energy, reflecting off the lake, before becoming a dark, moody and mostly cloudy ceiling above our little corner of the Rockies. Stuffed from an oversized dinner of burritos and still awe-struck from the sunset, we digested and decompressed beside a small campfire. Although not a frequent part of my backpacking repertoire, the fact that the wood was conveniently stacked beside the fire ring and a desire to remain reasonably well-practiced in this art of woodcraft compelled me to go through the motions and put match to tinder. While not as mesmerizing as the sunset, the campfire proved — as always — to be a relaxing way to wind down the evening. A sunny and nearly cloud-free sky greeted us in the morning and we packed up at an efficient pace, despite a reluctance to leave. This day would be our longest hike of the trip (approximately 12 miles) and featured a significant descent, followed by a long climb to Cutaway Pass, a few miles of above treeline hiking, then a seemingly endless descent to Black Bear Meadows, where we would pitch camp. The section of trail descending from Warren Lake was a delightful way to start a gorgeous and unseasonably warm October day. Some sections of trail were indescribably lovely under the conditions in which we hiked them. We navigated tight switchbacks carpeted with golden larch needles before reaching straight, gently graded, narrow sections of trail which passed beneath towering lodgepole pines. The climb up to Cutaway Pass was less visually charming, at least until we were high enough to catch glimpses of the mountains and get our first taste of the middle portion of the day’s journey. It wasn’t early and it wasn’t late when we reached Cutaway Pass and took a break to snack, soak up the view, and rest for the next section of hiking. While I don’t have a breadth of experience when it comes to high-country hiking, I feel comfortable stating that the next section of trail (from Cutaway Pass to an unnamed pass) was indeed a fine example of northern Rocky Mountain alpine scenery. We enjoyed unobstructed views of various mountains ranges near and far, glimpses into glacial cirques (some with lakes and some without) and the thrill of being on a treeless ridgecrest. Perhaps the grandest vista was the one we took in right before we began our descent — a sweeping panorama which included an unnamed lake, Warren Peak, and most enticingly, a view down into the meadow where we would be camping that evening. To say the descent took forever would verge on being an understatement. The majority of our afternoon seemed to be spent on endless switchbacks, some long and some short, but it sure beat sitting in traffic or doing laundry. We didn’t have too much time to spare time once we finally reached Black Bear Meadows, which was just as idyllic up close as it looked from 9,700 feet. Black Bear Meadows was an easy place to camp in as virtually the entire acreage was flat and every spot to pitch a tent had a backdrop worthy of a magazine cover. We pitched our tents in what we thought was a fine spot, but it was subsequently upstaged upon our early evening “discovery” of the Bonus Meadow. Separated by a small creek shaded by trees, this adjacent meadow offered spectacular views and included a feature designed for comfort — a large perfectly shaped and slanted rock slab that could accommodate two humans in supreme comfort and provide them with a breathtaking view of Warren Peak and adjacent mountain slopes. Needless to say, we had dinner at this too-good-to-be-true spot after some Frisbee throwing in an attempt to stay loose and stretch our muscles before settling down. The stargazing from this spot was as incredible as the sunset had been the previous evening. The silhouette of the mountains with the stars above made for a truly remarkable view. A shooting star streaked across the sky a mere split-second after I commented to John that we would be seeing some shooting-star action once the skies darkened enough. Coincidence or synchronicity? I’ll opt for the latter. With stars above and perfect seats we stayed up considerably later than on the other nights of the trip. We sipped just enough bourbon to enjoy a warm fuzzy feeling of accomplishment and camaraderie without having to pay a penalty the next morning. We awoke not long after sunrise to a beautiful morning and warm temperatures. As was the routine, we enjoyed a quick but not rushed breakfast while packing up our gear. We had a relatively easy day of hiking ahead of us, especially when compared with the previous day’s effort, and started up the trail with a spring in our steps. We reached Warren Pass in 90 minutes, a modest accomplishment for two non-competitive hikers such as ourselves. On the way to the pass, we strolled through several spectacular meadows as well as a stunning tarn tucked into the woods. Descending from Warren Pass, we passed Upper Carpp Lake before following the trail as it wound between Carpp Lake and Lower Carpp Lake. A few tents were scattered along the lakeshore and we encountered the first other hiker we had seen on the trip. We had decided the night before that our campsite for the final night of our trip would be at Tamarack Lake, requiring a three-mile roundtrip hike from the main trail we had been following to this absolute gem of a high mountain lake. Although we made good time to the lake, I found myself more tired from the effort than I expected and set my tent up at the first spot that looked decent. It wasn’t a bad spot by any means, but while walking around the lake later in the day I stumbled upon a much more appealing spot, which I will definitely put to use in the future. Tamarack Lake was an enchanting mix of blues that varied with depth and light conditions and possessed an almost psychedelic shimmer under the mid-afternoon sun. Mountainsides and Warren Peak towered above the far shore, and just to top things off, a small and rugged island sat in the middle of the lake. Piles of eroded rock and gravel on the mountain slope resembled the bottom halves of hourglasses, making the whole scene seem just a bit more existential than might be expected. This observation brought to mind a verse from the song “Trains Across the Seas” by poet and musician David Berman: Half-hours on Earth, what are they worth? I don’t know. In twenty-seven years, I’ve drunk fifty-thousand beers And they just wash against me, like the sea into a pier. I don’t know either, but I do know for certain that all too few of my half-hours on Earth have been spent in places as beautiful as Tamarack Lake. Our dining spot for the evening provided a great view of the lake and was well-protected from the wind, which had picked up over the course of the day. We headed into our tents not long after darkness settled and endured a night of sustained and at times strong winds (some gusts likely exceeding 35 m.p.h.) that also brought with it a few inches of snow. Fortunately, ear plugs allowed me to sleep relatively uninterrupted; lacking such equipment John’s night was a bit less restful. The morning was slightly overcast, with wind and snowfall sticking around well into the morning. I awoke before John and headed over to his tent after retrieving our food bags and provided a friendly morning wake-up call, letting him know that I would have coffee ready by the time he go out of his tent. A few minutes later, sipping coffee on the lee side of lakeside tree trunks and watching the warm mist from the cups twist in the wind and mix imperceptibly with the snowfall, it was hard not to smile even given the rough conditions. It was like we had awoke in a completely different season; we got a “two-for-one” deal on conditions at the lake — fall and winter separated by only a few hours. Perfectly equipped to handle this change in weather, we packed up and hit the trail without incident and with less than nine miles left on our journey. The first few miles of our hike out were so intensely beautiful that it is hard to describe them. The cliche about “hiking in a snowglobe” seems appropriate enough. The carpet of snow on the ground and the snow falling from above, combined with the intrinsic enchantment of a dense coniferous forest made even more spectacular by the dusting of snow that clung to its trees, was illuminated by a sky full of faded pastels — creams, yellows, pinks, hints of blues. As the day went on it shifted from a backlit overcast to partly cloudy, with healthy amounts of blue sky making frequent appearances. We both agreed that if we could’ve chosen snow or no snow for the hike out, we definitely would’ve chosen snow. As we hiked we eventually fell below the snowline and knew we were entering the twilight of our journey when we heard the upper of the two waterfalls we had passed on our way in five days before. We arrived back at the trailhead around 1 p.m., tired but exhilarated and rejuvenated by the experience. As can be inferred from my lengthy description our trip, this 43-mile loop with over 9,000 feet of elevation gain (including the spur to Tamarack Lake) and a maximum elevation of 9,700 feet is an epic hike, although it takes a bit of time to reveal its most superb characteristics. It’s certainly not an “instant gratification” type of trek, with the best scenery reserved for the second half of the trip. While the trails were in great shape during our hike and junctions were clearly marked, the terrain traversed and the distances separating the most desirable campsites make this hike, at least the way we did it, one which edges into the “difficult” category. Experienced backpackers in decent shape should have no trouble with it, but it could pose a challenge for the out-of-shape or underprepared. Information: Visitors are required to self-register at the trailhead. There are no fees or permits required. For yet another trip to the Pintlers, see this article in Issue 5 of TrailGroove Magazine. Getting There: The nearest towns of any consequence are Butte and Missoula. The easiest way to get to the trailhead is to get to the junction of Montana Hwy. 1 and Hwy. 38 from wherever you're coming, then head west on Highway 38 to the signed junction with Moose Lake Road (FR-5106) and continue for about 15 miles on a surprisingly good gravel road to Middle Fork Trailhead. Junctions are obvious and/or well signed. The parking lot has outhouse facilities and plenty of room for horse trailers. Great spot to throw some pre-hike Frisbee, too! If you're headed over from the Bitterroot Valley, simply take Hwy. 38 from the junction with Hwy. 93 to the Moose Lake Road turn-off. This road is suitable for all vehicles, provided due caution is exercised on the narrow and gravel sections. Best Time to Go: This loop has a relatively short window of prime time hiking, from the middle of August to the middle of October, with mid-September being perhaps the most ideal time. Maps & Books: Maps can be obtained from the US Forest Service ranger stations in the area or you can download/purchase topo maps for the area. This link is helpful in choosing which topo maps you will need. The only hiking guidebook for the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness is Hiking the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness by Mort Arkava. This book was published in 2000 and is currently out-of-print. It is an excellent guidebook, but is difficult to find and a bit out of date. Several public libraries in Montana have copies and you could coordinate your trip to stop by one and browse the descriptions and photocopy needed information. Your local library might also be able to obtain a copy through interlibrary loan. Libraries are awesome. The Author: Mark Wetherington is an avid backpacker and occasional writer. Since 2008 he has attempted, with varying degrees of success, to spend 10% of each year on backpacking trips. Born in Tennessee and raised in Kentucky, he now lives on the edge of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in Montana.
  47. 3 points
    This is one of those backpacking topics that really gets contentious. Leather Hiking Boots or Trail Runners?White Gas or Propane? To trek with poles or not? And really, there is no one correct answer - it all comes down to personal preference. Where are you backpacking? Will there be a lot of water crossings? Is there a lot of elevation gain and loss? Are you young or old? What is your physical condition like? My preference happens to be to hike with trekking poles. I don't like the "downs" and having a set of trekking poles I can extend and reach out in front of me helps me navigate descents much more easily. They also help me to stabilize when I'm crossing water. And I can use them for much more than just walking - they can be used to snag a dropped item off the ground (who likes to bend down and pick up something with a 30 pound pack on), or to help set up a dining fly, or even to extend between a couple of trees and hang wet clothes on... If I'm in the middle of a hike and don't want to use them, I just close them down and strap them to my pack.
  48. 3 points
    If possible, get an inexpensive pair of ski poles used. Try them out. See if you like hiking with poles. If not, you are not out of much money. If you like them, you can (possibly) get something better.
  49. 3 points
    The movie of A Walk in the Woods comes out this week... anyone planning to see it? http://www.walkinthewoodsmovie.com/
  50. 3 points
    I love this magazine and I am happy to support it. I have been a lucky recipient of a few drawings and have also been the recipient of the fantastic eye-candy in each issue. Now I must get busy and start catching up on posting some recent trip reports...trips I have been inspired to hike from being a part of this really nice hiking community.