Saturday, October 13, 2012

Gear Part I

Oh gear, where to even start. Before you get to caught up just remember a certain piece of gear will not guarantee you getting to the border, this hike was more of a mental game than anything else (at least for me). I remember getting ready for this trip, poring over websites and plaguing friends with questions. Reading all the blogs and gear forums and wandering around stores was always fun. Gear seemed so critical and overwhelming but really the gear worked itself out. Once you're out there you either make it work or throw it away. I appreciated the research I had done but you've heard it a million times, what works for me might not work for you. These are just my opinions and hopefully they can at least entertain you as you stare at all of your millions of options. 

It's going to be easier if your lighter but personally I found that while ultralight sounds great, I’m more of a lightweight backpacker. My base weight seemed stuck in the 12-15 lb range although I only weighed my pack 3 times the whole trip mostly I’m mostly just guessing. 

My gear stayed pretty much the same throughout the trip although I did mail things home and of course had to replace all the things I lost or broke on the trail.

So I guess lets start with the basics:

Backpack: ULA Circuit

The backpack is pretty critical on a trip this long, I kept the thing the whole trail but I’m pretty sure it won’t be my choice on my next thruhike. Overall it’s a great pack, usually bigger than I needed, it carried the weight well (pretty sure at its heaviest it was in the 35-40 lb range in the sierras and on super long water carries). The shoulder straps were pretty comfy and I am in love with the giant hipbelt pockets. The pack was fairly durable, some fraying in a few spots and the mesh on the outer pack ripped but it all stayed functional, it’s a great pack and was very popular this year.
I was pretty happy with how the pack fit and I think I want a slightly smaller pack for my next trip so I’m pretty sure I’ll go with the ULA ohm. First because it’s smaller and second because of its backpanel. The biggest problem I had with the circuit was the mesh back panel. Somewhere before Crater Lake I started getting a really nasty heat rash in the shape of my backpack. Hosing off the pack and changing shirts helped but it remained an issue the rest of the trip. Balling up a bunch of bandanas between my pack and my back helped me make it, that and a whole lot of Vaseline. An experience I would dearly like to avoid ever having again. Overall ULA and osprey seemed like the biggest presence on the trail this year.

note the lovely chewed straps courtesy of
mystery rodent in the night

Sleeping bag: Western Mountaineering 20 degree bag
Solid bag, it seemed super popular this year and treated me well. I was only cold once or twice and that was fixed by adding a layer or 2. Was definitely too hot but that’s the beauty of zippers. But quilts sure do seem tempting for the weight savings…

okay maybe I would be warmer if I actually got in it the right
way but this was so much faster!

Sleeping bag liner: Cocoon Silk Liner
This right here turned out to be one of my very favorite pieces of gear. I’ve never used one before and wasn’t really expecting much but it was fantastic. I even ended up liking that it was white, who knew? Turns out it makes a great scarf, a sweet layer of shade in burning sun (white has its uses!) and of course helped keep me warm and my sleeping bag clean. Multipurpose is so handy. I put a rip in it the day before sierra city but the trail provided as usual and at the red moose inn I was able to get it patched and good as new. If you are on the fence about a liner just do it, its only 4 ounces and so worth the weight.

Tent: Tarptent Notch
I don’t regret carrying a tent but I avoided using it whenever possible. I saw a lot of the zpacks tents out there (and I saw a lot of broken down cuben fiber gear out there too…) but I was perfectly happy with my choice. I wish it was lighter but don’t we all. It held up in crazy wind (I pitched it badly and it was loud but never fell down), I stayed dry in serious rain and light snow. Although it was my very favorite when I set it up and was able to hide from the hellacious mosquitoes. I set the thing up less than 10 times the whole trip but did have problems with the zipper. One of my zippers became very touchy only a few pitches in. I’m sure it got grit in it and I know tarptent will fix it once I get it together to send it to them but still, it was annoying fighting a zipper when you have to pee and its cold outside after so few uses. It’s a solid one person tent, I would say I would tarp and bivy next time but even just those 3 or so times I hid from bugs make the extra weight worth it.

Groundcloth: sheet of Tyvek

Did its job just fine, although if you are going to throw it over you in the rain be aware that its waterproofing capabilities do wear off. Keeps you dry on wet ground but not from rain coming down after 2000 miles of use.

Sleeping pad: Zrest

By the end there was virtually no padding left but it was a handy insulation layer and it was still more cushy than the bare ground. This pad worked just fine for me although quite a few people swear by their inflatable ones. Those Neoairs are noisy! I loved that I could just throw it down and never worry. Nevertheless if you are a sensitive sleeper this is probably not for you.

Toss it down and immediately have a sweet nap spot


Stove: Caldera Cone

Pot: Evernew 900

Okay so I used my stove two whole times before Kennedy Meadows so I sent it home because I was sick of carrying gear I wasn’t using. It did its job just fine but I found I had no desire to cook and often didn’t think it was that safe with the wind and fire danger anyway. Stoveless worked great for me until I decided that Washington would be more fun with hot food. I was getting burnt out on my food choices and hot food sounded appealing in its variety. I still prefer stoveless but I enjoyed mixing it up at the end.
I think any alcohol stove would work but I really like the Caldera Cone and will probably use it again. My pot was a perfectly good size, no complaints there. Still the stove and cone seemed a little prone to denting so I did end up making it so everything fit in the pot and was contained in one place. I never had trouble finding alcohol, I’m sure it was in stores but I was lucky enough to find it in every single hiker box in Washington.

Food Bag: Ursak
Not sure it was needed on this trail but I liked the peace of mind it gave me. Kept my food safe and rodent free, a little heavy but I was happy with it.

Okay these can cause some nasty arguments out there but seriously folks calm down. You often hear people nicely saying hike your own hike but it seems like they often don’t mean it and hikers can seem pretty darn judgy out there. Get over yourself people, we all go out there for different reasons and I like my maps and yes horror of horrors I occasionally like GPS and music. Shoot sometimes I had headphones on with nothing playing because I was too lazy to take them out or I just didn’t want to make small talk. Leave people to their own devices and if you are so against them don’t carry them, oh and don’t get all self righteous and then two minutes later ask to see my GPS. Not cool guys, not cool. Okay enough of that rant here goes:

Iphone: I got this right before the trip and it was quite the learning curve. But I’ll admit it, I ended up loving it. It became my phone, journal, camera, music player, and my main source of map/data. I had at&t and it worked pretty well until Washington, then I was pretty much out of luck. I was very happy with this choice and I don’t see why I won’t be dragging it on my next trip. Although one tip: airplane mode! That phone eats batteries so you do have to watch your usage.

Power: speaking of batteries one of the biggest questions I got was, wait how do you charge your phone? Solar my friend, solar. Solar works great, except in the tree covered land that is often the Pacific Northwest, oh well I had no service anyway. But seriously solar worked pretty well.

Powermonkey explorer: I got this based on some other people’s recommendations and was really not happy with it. It does its job but slowly and unreliably. The cords were finicky and it was very slow to charge. I had access to another charger and after seeing some other hikers with it I eventually swapped it out.

Goal Zero: so much better, yes its heavy but by Northern CA I really just didn’t care. I wanted my stupid phone to work and this thing was so much more reliable than the powermonkey. Plus if you charged the battery pack with a wall outet in town I often didn’t even need to use the solar portion, it had enough juice to last me 3-5 days with conservative use. Still not sure what I will use next time but this was better than my first option; guess it will be dependent on what trail I head for.

Camera: Panasonic Lumix
Lens cover jammed within two weeks and stopped working. That dusty desert is no joke. You all can judge the effectiveness of my iphone camera since that’s what all my pictures ended up being taken with. Not amazing but totally satisfactory in my opinion. I’m no professional photographer and they are really just for my memories so if I carry my phone next trip no separate camera will be coming.

Mp3 player: sansa clip
I loved the idea of this thing, lasted for ages battery wise and I wouldn’t cry if I lost it due its cheapness. However I ended up just using my phone because the thing decided to first not recognize the microsd card which meant I only got radio and then it stopped working entirely. All over the course of a few hundred miles, it’s really not worth replacing anything that often in my opinion. So yeah that was a fail, the phone used more battery but at least it never stopped working.

Flashlight: petzyl tikka plus headlamp
Well I used it once in 700 hundred miles so it was sent home at Kennedy Meadows. Worked fine but was dead weight. I used my phone for light one night which was hilarious and pretty darn ineffective but probably funny to anyone who watched me stumble by. The goal zero battery pack had an amazing little LED light that ended up being my go to light for night hiking. I’ll probably just try to find a little LED light for my next trip, never saw the need for more.

Extra Gear for the Sierras:
It was a light snow year so the microspikes, down socks and other possible warm things were never used at all. Just sitting in a box gathering dust waiting for another adventure. I never bought an ice axe so no loss there. Only special gear I ended up using in the sierras was my bear can.

Bear Can: Bear Vault
This was required so yes I carried it and gladly mailed that sucker home the minute I got to Echo Lake. Heavy and cumbersome I am not a fan, but I dislike fines and bears being shot so I follow this rule. It messes with how you pack and simply isn’t big enough for most resupplies. It does make a lovely stool though…

Okay this is getting ridiculously long so it looks like this gear review will be in two parts, clothing and such will have to wait for another day.

Monday, October 1, 2012

A few post trail thoughts

I went on a hike the other evening and felt comfort as the darkness settled around me. Picking my way down the trail in the dusk brought me a peace that I have found hard to come by now that I am off the trail. It’s been almost a month since I stepped off the trail and I am unfortunately 100% back in the real world.
The first few days were the toughest. Sitting in a house and being shuttled tourist style around British Columbia should have been wonderful but instead it was just shocking. On the drive from Manning Park after an hour in a cramped car I found myself dizzy and hyperventilating in the small space. I've never had trouble with car sickness or any kind of culture shock, but then again I've never been away from my life for 4 ½ months. I had pretty much discounted any type of culture shock, brushing it off and thinking it just sounded dramatic. But I fell into that one head first, big groups, constant noise and the simple lack of walking was overwhelming for me. It was exciting having things like kitchens, grocery stores and water. And I’m not going to lie, my body was pretty happy for the rest. But I miss the trail.

The simplicity of waking up every morning and knowing that all you have to do is walk is gone. Everywhere I turn I am forced to make decisions; I am having a surprisingly hard time with this. Restaurant menus and grocery stores offer more choices than I can handle and let’s not even get into the whole life/career decision thing. If I can’t pick what I want for lunch I think I’m going to have a bit of trouble planning the next year or two of my career.

The last miles into Manning Park I spent daydreaming about what’s next. The Continental Divide Trail draws me; it’s basically a burlier version of the PCT. It follows the Continental Divide along the Rocky Mountains and traverses five states — Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. Then there is the Appalachian Trail over on the east coast running from Georgia to Maine, plus a million other less official adventures I've come up with. But realistically I have no idea, the stability of homes and jobs are awfully nice. Being back and working I can see how easy it will be to slowly slip back into couch potato working land. I've met a few thru hikers who've struggled with post trail depression and I don’t want to fall into that trap. Hopefully day hikes and bike rides can keep me sane, I think it’s time for me to pick up a few new hobbies… The trail itself already seems like a distant memory. A great memory, but in a way it feels like it didn't even happen.

Well enough of my pity party, I got to spend a season hiking from Mexico to Canada, what a fantastic journey. If you are considering it go for it, section, thru, day hike. Whatever makes you happy but get out onto the trail, it’s a magical place. 

A video or 9...

Videos are always fun, just like pictures they never really capture everything but they give a little bit of a different perspective. I tried putting them in the blog along the way but they rarely loaded so I picked a bunch to entertain anyone still reading this thing. Sometimes its just me talking to myself (that's what happens when you spend so much time alone) and there are a few of some other hiker trash. 

This was our sledding adventure right after Forester Pass, Cheese was our guinea pig on some Tyvek...

One of my big days in the Sierra, over Pinchot then Mather Pass

The area right before Sonora Pass

And you thought all the water in the wilderness came from lakes and streams...

Near McKenzie Pass (Sisters, OR)

Ramona Falls (day after Timberline)

Across the Bridge of the Gods and into Washington

 Morning views

A glimpse of Goat Rocks, and honestly this was before the insane knife ridge gorgeousness

Log crossing of the Suiattle, Kombucha and then Toast heading across

Getting close to Canada!

I love Washington