Above and beyond from Thru-hiker.com

December 29th, 2012

So it’s been a long, long time since I’ve posted anything here; also been a long time since my last backpacking trip. Recently, though, I had a chance to finish a homemade backpack (with a great deal of sewing help) and that started me thinking of a few other gear projects that I’d been sitting on: a bivy sack and a lighter weight version of my original homemade backpacking quilt.

I decided to order the fabric for the quilt first. My original quilt used 5oz of insulation and was good down to 50 degrees Farenheit. The new one will have half the insulation and a few other features (snaps around the footbox and neck, for example), along with a lighter shell fabric (Momentum 50 versus the Momentum 90 nylon I used previously).

I ordered the fabric from Thru-hiker.com on the 27th and today (29th) I had the fabric. Not only that, but Thru-hiker included a free copy of the book “Haunted Hikes of New Hampshire” and a mini-caribiner. Pretty awesome — I’ve ordered from them several times in the past and always been happy with the service, but this is particularly impressive.

Thanks, Thru-hiker.com!


January 8th, 2011

Backpacking on the PCT Day Three

August 22nd, 2010

We woke up at 6am and were immediately set upon by swarms of mosquitos. Packed up and were almost running out of Salvation Spring camp site. The mosquitos didn’t clear out for another couple miles. Looking at the map, that stretch of trail was at slightly lower elevation between Lost Lake and Bull Run Lake, which was clearly a mosquito breeding ground like no other. Funny thing was, despite the sheer numbers, I received very few bites; only a couple around my face and ankles. Apparently, they were very picky.

After four miles or so, we reached a side trail to Buck’s peak. The PCT skirts the peak, but it marked the start of the Waucoma ridge, a long, very dusty and sun exposed stretch of a couple miles.

Buck Peak

The Waucoma ridge also quickly earned the nickname “The Star Trek V” ridge, because at this point we entered into a long discussion of the relative merits of Star Trek V (almost none) and also had to review the plot for Dan, who apparently only remembers the camping portion at the beginning, Kirk and Spock locked in the brig, and the camping trip at the end. While that would have been a much better movie, I felt compelled to fill in the detail. I also had to explain that Kirk did not tell anyone Spock’s ears got caught in a mechanical rice picker in Star Trek IV (that happened in “The City on the Edge of Forever”, great episode).

And yes, I am clearly a massive nerd.

All too soon, we began descending off the ridge and arrived at Indian Springs camp site. Initial impression wasn’t good — large sunny field with a lot of trash, but it turned out there were several smaller, much nicer campsites. Sites even had a picnic table. We had done ten miles by Indian Springs and it was only lunch time. Jeff and I still had some miles in the tank, but Dan’s knee and feet were causing him a lot of pain, so we decided to stop for the day.

It can be surprising hard to fill hours in a camp site. Took a nap, then spent some time looking at the maps to determine the best route for tomorrow. Jeff’s original plan had been to follow the Indian Springs trail down into Eagle Creek, mine had been to follow the PCT around Wautum Lake. My route was longer, but was a gentler descent while Jeff’s was looked pretty steep. After some discussion, mostly around the relative states of our knees and what a steep descent would do, we chose the easier, Wahtum Lake, route.

Then it was dinner time! Jeff and I cooked up some Chicken Italian while Dan had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Dan also recorded some video for our new show, “Trail Chefs” or “Trail Cooks” or something like that. After, Dan built a fire for his new show, “SurvivorDan”. Not yet on youtube, but I’ll add the clips once I’ve uploaded them.

At the time, that all seemed really cool…oh well.

Jeff and Dan hung the food bags while I gathered more water for the next day. We decided to forgo the tarp again and sacked out cowboy style around the fire. Far better when there aren’t swarms of mosquitos trying to suck your blood…

Backpacking on the PCT Day 2

August 22nd, 2010

Day Two of our PCT Trek started at 9am. I had slept reasonably well, which isn’t always a guarantee for me. Had a gourmet breakfast of granola, dried fruit, and powdered milk. Got packed up and were on the trail by 10am. First challenge, crossing the mighty Sandy River, which we accomplished with our normal aplomb.

After that, we had a long stretch of “AT” style hiking; lots of uphill with no switchbacks. The overall elevation gain wasn’t that bad, but it was tougher than the day before. Only other issue was with the water filter. For this trip, I was using a 4 liter platy bag with Aqua Mira purification tablets in combination with the Aqua Mira Frontier Pro water filter. I’ve used this set up before and it had worked well in the past. Basically, I just fill the water bag, drop in tablets, wait thirty minutes, and then use the water filter in gravity mode to fill the water bottles. Simple, no pumping, and the combination of purification tablets and a 3 micron filter work well for catching small and big bugs. At lunch, I tried filtering some very silty water that wrecked havoc with the filter. Water throughput dropped drastically and had to spend lots of time trying to get the water through it. Managed to get the four liters filtered and kept moving. Important to note that the filter isn’t necessary; I could have just let the water sit after putting in the tablets for the full four hours, but using the filter lets me speed up the process slightly (30 minutes is long enough to kill the little stuff and the filter gets the big stuff).

After we got back up on the ridge after crossing the Sandy, we came to a fork in the trail where the official PCT and the Ramona Falls trail split. We took the Ramona Falls trail (listed in the guidebook as more scenic) and weren’t disappointed.

Ramona Falls

Ramona Falls

Ramona Falls was pretty impressive. After ten minutes admiring the view, we continued on, climbing another thousand feet or so, up and onto Yocum Ridge. Next cool sight? Crossing a bridge high above the Muddy River.

Then it was more “AT” style hiking up to and around the summit of Bald Mountain. Dan and I argued about his “seeing blue through trees means we’re close to the summit” theory; in my opinion, all that could possibly tell you is where a local maximum is, but he’s convinced. The fact that he’s said that on many trips without us being close to any summits hasn’t made any difference…

We reached Lolo Pass, around 4:30 pm. We were looking for a camp site, but the “site” at Lolo pass (right off a dirt service road) was pretty trashed. Plus, not a fan of camping near roads. We continued through the pass, which was basically a stretch of tall grass between two ridges, when Dan pointed and said, “Look, a deer!”. A second later, about thirty yards away, leaped something definitely not a deer; a couger took off out of the long grass and ran up the hill into the woods. The whole encounter was over in seconds. This was also the largest animal I’d seen on any of our backpacking trips and easily the most dangerous (although, the rattlesnakes are right up there).

We took a few minutes to reflect on the beauty of nature and to review both how cool and how frightening it was that we were about to go into the same woods into which the cougar had vanished. We then continued into the woods and after a few minutes came to our next water source. As we were eating and filling up the water bag, I mentioned that I bet we’d find cougar tracks in the mud around the stream; there were vague tracks that could have been cougar, but they were indistinct. There was a small spot down hill from the stream where we could have camped, but the area was very buggy (black flies) and the site itself was slanted and small. Also, a cougar had just come through…

At this point, the water filter had pretty much given up. We hiked another mile (to get away from the flies) and sat down to try to get water through the filter. Around this time, a trail runner came up from the South (where we’d been) heading North (where we were going). After calling it quits with the filter, we managed to get another three liters through it, but that was it. We started moving again and after thirty minutes ran into the same trail runner heading back South. He warned us that in another mile, the terrain changed and the mosquitos were insane — told us to break out our sleeves if we had them. We thanked him for the info, but didn’t pay too much attention; we hadn’t seen more than one mosquito the entire trip so far and we were well supplied with bug spray (especially Jeff). We were singing a different song when we hiked another mile, though.

I’ve never seen mosquito swarms like I saw on that stretch of trail. It was like a switch was flipped. We were literally wiping mosquitos off our arms and legs; dozens, if not hundreds, were landing on every part of exposed skin. I put on my wind jacket and pulled up the hood to protect myself. Jeff and Dan covered themselves with bug spray, to no effect. By that point, we’d already done about 13 or 14 miles and were hiking as fast as we could, trying to get out of the mosquito zone. After another mile or so, we were still being attacked and we were running out of steam. About the same time, we reached “Salvation Spring” camp site. I went down to check it out and it looked pretty good, although lacking on the “Spring” part; the water source was just a trickle. We got down there and lit up a big smokey fire, which still didn’t keep the mosquitos away. We were all so beat we didn’t bother with the tarp or a hot dinner, or even hanging the food bags; we just spread our sleeping pads around the fire and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

The mosquitos finally “died” down around 9pm — as Jeff put it, that meant they dropped from one hundred mosquitos to about eighteen mosquitos for each of us to deal with. It took me a while to get to sleep, since there was one mosquito who just loved to fly around my ear.

Some lessons from this day’s hiking:

1) Mosquito head nets are a good idea
2) Prefilter silty water (stupid me, I knew this and didn’t do it, but did for the rest of the trip)
3) Probably should have brought either a second water filter or bought a fresh one for this trip anyway.

Backpacking on the PCT Day Zero and One

August 5th, 2010

Several months ago, I started planning a trip to Oregon with Jeff and Dan. Jeff had moved out there several years ago and neither Dan nor myself had been out to visit. Also, since Jeff has missed all the backpacking adventures Dan and I have gone on, it made sense to also make it a Backpacking Adventure — a trip for Guys, with Guys.

And so, the Great PCT Adventure was hatched. I mapped out Section 11 of the Oregon portion of the PCT — Mt Hood to the Eagle Creek trail head at the Oregon/Washington border. Not entirely PCT, Eagle Creek was supposed to be more scenic than the PCT. I made food, Jeff bought his first set of backpacking gear, flight reservations were made, and life was good.

Life continued to be good the day Dan and I went to the airport. We got a nice, early start and took public transportation the entire way (Metronorth to Grand Central, walk to Penn, LIRR to Jamaica station, Air Train to JFK). We got to JFK and a nice Delta employee helped check us in. That same Delta employee then informed us that even though our seats had been “confirmed”, we would actually be sitting in totally different seats, each at one end of the plane. Apparently, in the year 2010, Orbitz and Delta can’t figure out how to make sure confirmed seats are actually confirmed. Pretty amazing.

Anyway, I considered it a minor annoyance. We get through security without too much trouble (despite Dan’s best efforts) and find ourselves with hours to spare. Maybe our start was a little too early. Dan and I retreat to a bar and spend an hour or so talking to various passengers and a pilot. That hour was probably the most enjoyable one we would have for the next 20 hours or so. After we’ve quenched our thirst, we head towards our gate only to discover our flight has been delayed an hour. Since we only had an hour to catch our connection in Seattle, that’s a problem.

After a six hour flight that felt far longer, we finally get to Seattle. Of course, we got there far too late to actually make our connection. We get on standby for the next flight to Portland and don’t make the cut. Next flight — 6:30 am the following morning. We call Jeff to fill him in and go off in search of food and shelter for the night.

Turns out, sleeping in airports is only fun on television or in the movies. I ended up sacking out on the floor while Dan tried curling up in one of the seats. Neither of us slept much and were up in plenty of time for our flight.

The flight to Portland was fairly uneventful and quick. Jeff was pulling in about ten minutes after we arrived. By 8am we were at Jeff’s place, packing and sorting our gear. By 10am we were leaving for Mt Hood and the Timberline Lodge. This had been the original starting point until about three weeks before the trip when Jeff scouted the area and discovered it was covered by several feet of snow. We had decided on an alternate trail (Paradise Park) as our starting point, but we still wanted to see the Timberline Lodge. When we got there, we discovered that all that snow was gone and the trail was mostly clear, except for some large drifts of old frozen snow. We decided to leave from our original start point and by 12 we were heading North.

Also, just a note — there’s a Park Ranger at Timberline who was nice enough to tell us that the entire trail was completely closed. While I’m sure she was telling us that because, let’s face it, we look like the Three Stooges most days and she didn’t feel like having to rescue us from some ravine, it was pretty obvious that the trail was clear and that tons of people were using it.

Snow on the Timberline Trail

The Timberline Trail on the first day mostly stayed level, traveling around Mt Hood on a ridge line. Every so often, the trail would dip in the a ravine, usually with a stream or river flowing through it, and then back up onto the ridge.

View from the ridgeline

Stream in ZigZag canyon

About an hour before we reached the Sandy river, we ran into another hiker coming from the North. He gave us some beta — apparently there were some logs across the Sandy that only reached about 2/3 of the way across the river. We’d need to jump the rest. Around this time, Jeff found an unwitting companion — a hiking stick he planned on using to help him cross the Sandy. We got to the Sandy around 6pm or so after hiking roughly ten miles. Jeff scouted the crossing while Dan and I cooled our heels (literally, the water was freezing, being glacial melt). The Sandy crossing looked rougher than we felt like doing, particularly given the time of day and the distance already covered. Luckily, there were plenty of nice campsites along the river and we made camp for the night, complete with a camp fire. For dinner, Dan had Cheesy Tuna and Ramen, while Jeff and I had Cranberry Chicken and Rice. That turned out to be a tactical error — I didn’t have my hiker appetite yet and it ended up being too much food. However, my cook kit (complete with Unican alcohol stove) performed flawlessly).

The Sandy River

After dinner we hung the food bags and sat around the camp fire for another hour or two before retreating to bed.

B & H Photo and Video

March 18th, 2010

Went to the B&H store in NY last weekend. Quite an operation. The store has a conveyor belt system that runs all the way around the store, so when you go to the camera desk and buy something, the clerk puts the order in a box and prints you out a receipt. Your order goes by conveyor to the registers, where it’s bagged and ready to go when you check out.

Also stopped at the Playwright in New York. Had their Guinness stew. It was good, but I liked the Inn at Long Trail’s better…

The Inn at Long Trail

March 10th, 2010

Took the Wife to Vermont for Valentine’s Day weekend and stayed at the Inn at Long Trail. Beautiful place. Awesome food, really nice Irish pub, live music, lots of skiing nearby, and the Long Trail / Appalachian Trail practically go through the parking lot. Highly recommended — best (and only) bowl of Guinness Stew I’ve ever had.

We didn’t do any skiing, but since the AT / Long Trail were so close, we did do some day hiking in Gifford State Park (the AT runs through the park). Before we left I uploaded all the nearby geocaches to my gps and there happened to be one in the park.

Cool frozen river feeding Kent Pond:

Finding the Geocache:

Kent Pond:

2nd Annual Winter AT Trip

March 10th, 2010

In what will surely become The Event of the season, Dan and I headed out to the AT for a two day backpacking trip (March 5th and 6th). However, we didn’t pick up where our last trip left off. Instead, we started at Pittsfield Rd in MA, about twenty miles north of our last finish (Bear Mountain Rd in MA), and hiked the nearly ten miles south to MA I20.

Our first winter trip, last Febuary, was easily our most challenging trip ever. We weren’t prepared for the trail being one continuous sheet of ice, our food supply depending too much on having to stop for long periods of time to cook on a stove, and every river and stream that, in the summer, you could step over, became torrents of white water that were nearly impassible. Also, my mileage estimates were far too optimistic.

Learning from that experience, we came far more prepared. For one thing, we both used snowshoes. Even though Dan questioned whether we’d even need them during the drive north (despite several big snow storms last month, all the snow is gone in Connecticut) the snowshoes definitely earned their keep. The trail had several feet of snow over it and postholing ten miles would have gotten one of us hurt most likely.

For food I kept to the system that’s worked well the last couple of trips. Some hot drink mixes, one or two hot dinners, but the rest is easy and quick sandwiches that require almost no prep and can be eaten on the move. And this time around, we didn’t even bother with the hot stuff.

Third change involved mileage. For this trip, we went from North to South. I switched that because the shelter along this stretch was only a very flat two and a half miles from the Northern end. Since we always seem to get to the trail head in early to mid afternoon, having an easy hike to a shelter meant we’d have more time to relax and be fully rested for the second, more difficult day.

And that’s pretty much exactly what happened. We were hiking by 1:30 pm (2.5 hour drive, plus we had to stop and buy Dan snowshoes) and had reached the shelter by 3:30 pm. We started on a snow mobile trail at Pittsfield Road and missed the turn for the AT — apparently we got distracted by the used fireworks marking the turn off and kept walking another 50 feet or so before realizing something wasn’t right. Then Dan ran back to the car to get something (forget what) and while he was at the car, four or five snow mobilers came riding down the snowmobile track. This section of the trail went through October Mountain state forest and the AT crossed snow mobile trails 4 or 5 times. Also, the AT is apparently popular between that snow mobile track and the shelter; trail was heavily post holed and also showed snow shoe tracks. In addition, about 100 yards down the trail was a fire pit — in the middle of the trail.

But clearly the Gods were smiling on us, because when we got to the October Mountain shelter we found seven cans of Bud Light. So, after spreading out our gear, gathering firewood, and otherwise killing time waiting for night, we had ourselves a nice fire and pounded back a few cold ones. Easily one of the best shelter experiences I’ve had on any of these trips. Thanks to the person or persons that left the beer, much appreciated.

The temperature dropped big time during the night. Went from low forties to somewhere around 15 degrees. Even in my 0 degree bag, I got cold around 1:30am and couldn’t really get comfortable again. I think the biggest problem was the stupid inflatable pillow I decided to bring. Took me a while to realize the thing was like an ice cold brick under my head. And I also hadn’t tightened up the sleeping bag hood enough either. By that time it was too late, somewhere around 4:30 am, and Dan was also up due to the cold. We both decided, better to be warm hiking than cold sleeping and packed up and left.

The second day was the “big” mileage day — about 7 miles to I20. We stopped for breakfast around nine am after covering almost three miles. We stopped again at 11am after reaching Finerty Pond. By that time, the temperature felt like it was low to mid fifties, the sun was shining, and the sky was absolutely cloudless and a gorgeous blue. We spent an hour on the bank of that pond, just relaxing.

At 12 we started moving again, with only a couple miles left to cover. Unfortunately, the AT around Finerty is poorly blazed. Most of the blazes are extremely faded and far apart. We lost the trail a half dozen times in only thirty minutes or so.

The last leg of the trip was the most “difficult” — up Mount Walling and Mount Beckett, then a descent to I20. This was also the first significant elevation change of the entire trip. We were both winded going up (snowshoes and wet, slushy snow make for tiring hiking), but we got through just fine. Signed the register on the top of Beckett and then started the hike down to the road. Reading the register on Mount Beckett, it appeared we weren’t the only ones to lose the AT at Finerty, either.

An additional note — Google Earth just gets better and better for trip planning. I usually use the Trimble Trip reports in Google Earth to get track logs and waypoints that I can import into National Geographic TOPO! to make custom maps, but Google has also integrated Street View into Google Earth. While I’m not crazy about having pictures of my house on the internet, it was very nice to be able to use Street view to figure out where the trail head parking was and what it looked like. A lot easier than driving around having no idea what kind of parking will be there. Also, Backpacker Magazine’s web site (backpacker.com) also allows access to the Trimble Trip reports, including the ability to print out a map, elevation profile, and waypoint list directly from their site. I printed it out from backpacker.com to leave for the Wife, so she would know exactly where we were going.

The Stick Pic guys rock!

January 5th, 2010

So over the Holidays I noticed this comment posted on this site. When I first read the comment, my first thought was that this was the single most specific and impressive scam in history. Luckily, Rod (the poster) actually is one of the inventors of the Stick Pic, an ingenious device that allows me (or you, even) to pretend you’re Survivorman by attaching your camera to tip of your trekking pole. I bought one in May and have used it on every trip since and love it. Apparently, Rod also noticed the love and offered to send me the latest and greatest stick pic. I accepted his offer and also give permission for Rod to link to some of my youtube videos and pictures on thestickpic.com.

Today I received my brand new, improved stick pic. I’m looking forward to trying to out this weekend and comparing the old and new versions. Also, the timing is perfect, because I’m planning a winter trip in a few weeks.

Jets beat Colts!

December 27th, 2009

Not too hard when the Colts rest Manning after two quarters. Poor Painter (Manning’s backup): gives up a fumble for a touchdown, throws a pick to end the game, and in between gets booed by the crowd since the undefeated season was going down the toilet once Manning was out.