Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Missing gear

I'm not quite sure how this happened; but my two younger sons borrowing some of my gear is no doubt at least partially to blame.  But I find myself having to replace a few items of my backpacking gear that have somehow gone missing.  Sigh.

  1. Lost my waistpack.  I'm considering ditching it entirely, though, and not replacing it.  I'll have to be a little bit more judicious with how I pack my stuff, but I think I can pull it off.
  2. Lost my SteriPEN.  I actually really liked that, so that bums me out.  I'll have to replace it, I think, although I could go with iodine tablets or a filter for less money.
  3. Lost (both of my) pack rain covers.  I think I'm going to ditch these too, though, and just line the inside of my pack with a plastic bag from now on.
I'm also thinking of not bringing my tarp anymore.  When I camp in more xeric climates, like most of the west, I don't really need to worry about water getting in the tent anyway.  When I camp in rainier climates, like here in Michigan, I've actually had water pool up on the tarp and soak into the tent; I don't think it actually helps keep my tent drier at all.  It does protect the bottom of the tent from the ground on which it stands, but honestly, I'm not worried about getting rips in the bottom of my tent anyway.  If I truly do ditch the waistpack, that means I really only need about $50 to get back into backpacking, replacing the gear that mysteriously went missing.

Sadly; there is no urgency around this; I won't be able to make time in my vacation schedule for a backpacking trip this year.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Palo Duro canyon

About a week ago, I got to hike in Texas' Palo Duro Canyon State Park, not far from Amarillo.  It's a beautiful place; maybe a bit understated compared to some of the Colorado Plateau badlands like the Grand Canyon or Canyonlands or Zions or Arches, but comparable in many ways.  The Llano Estacado is a large flat plateau that makes up most of the Texas panhandle as well as eastern New Mexico and some of the area just north as well; it is the southernmost portion of the High Plains and the largest mesa area in the North American continent, of over 37,000 square miles.  It's edges on both the west and the east are marked by rather abrupt north-south running escarpments.  Although there is a very slight slope to the entire Llano Estacado rising from east to west, both ends are still marked by drop-offs of a few hundred feet, and at this edge, erosion has given us some fascinating terrains, including Palo Duro canyon and the nearby Caprock Canyon area.

I also made a number of mistakes on this hike.  My initial intention was to take Palo Duro fairly easily, doing a number of small hikes; I ended up hiking a loop of about 8-miles instead.  I originally intended to go early in the morning; I ended up leaving Lubbock, where I was staying at 8:30, so by the time my boots hit the trail, it was 11:00 or 11:30.  And I had plenty of water, but only two small bottles that were portable in my little day-pack.

In terms of weather, a cold front was just ending, which lured me into thinking that early May was a good time to hike.  It ended up not being.  Had I been able to go 3-4 days earlier, I could have faced highs in the 60s; as it was, I faced highs in the 90s.  Combined with not a single cloud in the sky, hardly any shade at all on the trail, insufficient water for the miles I had staked out, and the fact that I'm not exactly in the best shape, I ended up limping back to the car dehydrated, over-heated and very uncomfortable.  Had I brought my water bladder I probably would have been OK; had a brought my bladder and started two hours earlier, I certainly would have been.

Better yet, had I gone in early April, or even mid March, I probably would have been fine even without worrying about either of those.  As it was, it was a challenging hike; not because the hike itself was difficult, but because it's hot, it's dry, there's no shade and no water.

I started the hike at the big P listed above, which is the trailhead for the Givens, Spicer, Lowry trail (clearly marked with trail markers every tenth of a mile as the GSL.  This wanders in a remote part of the park, and I saw only a handful of other users on it for a little over three miles along the edge of the canyon bottom.  Had I started earlier (and had more water) I would have also taken the Fox Canyon Trail lollipop, but I could tell even then that I needed to move on and get back to the car before it got too hot and I ran out of water, so I skipped it.  That's OK; for various reasons, I'd love to come back and see more of the canyon anyway, so I'll have a shot at it later.  When the GSL joins the Lighthouse Trail, continue on to the formation known as the Lighthouse, the most iconic element within the canyon (which sadly I didn't get a great picture of up close.  But I think the best pictures are from the more northerly canyon rim trails, which I didn't even attempt anyway.)  Go to the end of the trail, take the left-hand branch to avoid too much scrambling, and climb up to the base of the formation.  Then take the Lighthouse Trail back to the road.  At this point, you can take the short Paseo del Rio (PDR) trail back to where you started.  I had expected the PDR to be shady and cooler; in fact, it wasn't much shadier than the Lighthouse or GSL had been, although the trees managed to block the breeze, making it actually hotter.  I did have to stop under a big cottonwood tree in the shade and cool off before finishing, which was a shame because I was pretty close to the car.  This completes the 8-mile (or so) loop.  Like I said, in spring or fall, with lower temps and a full water bladder, this would be a lovely hike, and anyone who can walk 8 miles can do it; the terrain is not difficult and the trail is very well graded and groomed.

Although I was warned about rattlesnakes, I suspect that you only see them on the trail in the early morning as they come out to catch some rays.  By the time I hit the trail, they were back in the shade to avoid overheating.  I did see a number of lizards of various types, including a horny toad, lots of birds, including a flock of wild turkeys, and very briefly, a coyote popped around the corner right on the trail about 50 feet in front of me.  As soon as he saw me, he disappeared into the brush, and I didn't see hide nor hair of him again.

The trailhead is also kind of confusing.  There are two readily apparent trails at the trailhead, but only one on the map.  As you can see, the PDR doesn't actually come all the way to the trailhead on the map, but in reality it does.  If you take the left-hand trail, you'll end up in short order on the PDR, even though it technically has a different trailhead (although it's only a couple hundred or so yards away.)  Take the right hand trail that goes slightly uphill to end up on the GSL.  Because all of the trails are so well marked with markers every 10th of a mile, you can hardly get lost unless you really try.

One of many strange eroded hoodoos on the GSL trail.

Another GSL hoodoo.

If you look closely, you can see the Lighthouse in the distance.  From the GSL.

Hoodoos and the canyon wall.  You can also see the spring bloom of the mesquite and Texas juniper, which gave the canyon a greener than normal appearance.  In reality, it had hardly had any rain all year and was in a serious drought.

Very dry grass and distant cliffs from the canyon bottom.

Swinging wide towards this hoodoo on the GSL.

Typical Palo Duro scenery, including dry grasses, mesquite, cedar and prickly pear.

A bone dry creek bed that I crossed on the Lighthouse trail.

You can see the high quality of the trail here.  This was also one of the very few spots where you can catch some shade if you need to cool off a bit.  I did.


More hoodoos and badlands terrain.

Getting much closer to the Lighthouse, which looks like a double formation from this angle.  The one on the right is the Lighthouse proper.  The left one is actually a fin viewed front on; up close, and from other angles you can see that it is not actually a spire like the Lighthouse is.

Another hoodoo near the Lighthouse trailhead.  Some poor guys I passed thought this was the Lighthouse.  They were only a half mile in and had two and a half to go.

Another bone dry creek bed.


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Flip-flopping

In this political season, flip-flopping is generally seen as a pejorative, but in the world of long-distance hiking, it's actually a derived strategy for completing thru-hikes that are a bit more nuanced than simple point to point hiking, and which offer some interesting possibilities.

Over lunch today, I allowed my imagination to be indulged.  Suppose I had a corporate sponsor to do the Triple Crown over the hiking seasons of 2017, 2018 and 2019 respectively.  How would I do them?  I decided that each of the long trails actually merited a flip-flop.  So how would I do it, if this is what I'd do, and why?

Summer 2017: The Appalachian Trail.  My initial reason for wanting to do a flip-flop on this trail is the infamous party atmosphere of the so-called People's Trail, or the Social Trail as it's also sometimes called. Because there's a huge surge leaving Springer Mountain in mid-April, I'd start at Harper's Ferry at... I dunno, probably about that same time, and head north, before coming back to Harper's Ferry and heading south.  Harper's Ferry isn't literally the center of the trail, but it's often considered to be so for spiritual and symbolic reasons, since it's the headquarters of the Trail's Conservatory, and it's close enough to the geographical center to make everyone shrug and just say why not (it's actually probably closer to about 2/5s of the way through, so it's a bit shy.)  However, there are some other advantages that I didn't really consider.  1) There's no rush to get to the end.  For most thru-hikers, getting to the peak of Katahdin before the park closes for the season can actually be a challenge.  With my itinerary, I'd arrive right in the middle of the season.  Plus, I can actually take as long as I'd like, because there's much less of a rush, if any at all, to even finish the hike.  I can hike at my own pace near the end.  Although by then, I imagine that my pace would be pretty good after the better part of five months or so of walking.  2) This also avoids the plague of black flies up in the New England portion. And it minimizes the risk of ticks, for that matter, too. 3) As the weather starts to turn more autumnal, I'll be in the south, heading southbound from Harper's Ferry again, so I really get the best of the climate at all stages of the hike, without ever having to deal with the hottest weather in the worst spots for that, or the coolest weather at the worst time for that.  It truly optimizes the hike based on the climate as well.  4) It also starts the hike at a relatively easy and flat area.  When I hit the difficult "Rocksylvania" portion of the hike, I'll be plenty warmed up, but not yet at all beat down by fatigue.  I'll hit the 100-mile Wilderness and White Mountains stretch (which compared to conditions in the West isn't nearly as wild or remote or rugged as all that anyway) while I'm also still (relatively) fresh.

The average time to completion for an AT thru-hike is about 5½ to 5¾ months, which if I start in mid-April would have me finishing at the beginning of October.  I don't know about what my pace would be like, but I don't intend to try and beat anyone, that's for sure.  I despise being in too much of a hurry during this kind of activity.  But I don't want to drag it out either.  I predict 5½-6 months with up to 6½ or so at the absolute longest.

Summer 2018: The Pacific Crest Trail. Although the surge from Campo, CA is nothing like the surge from Springer Mountain, GA, it exists, and it's growing very, very quickly as awareness of the PCT has grown.  Just in the last five years, the number of permits issues to thru-hikers has more than tripled, and it's estimated by the PCTA that about 50 hikers start their hike at the southern terminus every single day of April and a few days into May.  For climate reasons, i.e. southern California gets really hot and dry if you wait any longer than that, but would still be prohibitively cold and snowy at higher elevations if you started any earlier, that's really the only thing that you can do.  But once you hit Kennedy Meadows or so and start the High Sierras, you often have to wait on snow-melt.  On the flip-side, you're often racing against potential snowfall that blocks your access to the northern terminus in early October.  This could be avoided if I jumped the Sierras up to Ashland, OR, and then hiked northward to the terminus, avoiding high elevations (and latitudes) during the portion of the season that they're at risk of being snow-choked, as well as leaving the crowds (hopefully) behind.  After hitting the northern terminus, I'd need to go back to Kennedy Meadows and doing the highest portion of the Sierras while it's still early enough that snow is not a significant risk.  I may well get snow in Northern California while I'm finishing up, but my chances of it being really bad, or of being prohibitive to my goal of finishing the hike are much lower this way.  Plus, like I said, hopefully I get to leave the surge of hikers behind and not worry about finding them again.

Although the distance is greater than the AT by almost 500 miles, the average time to complete it is 5 months.  It's actually an easier, more well-groomed trail to hike, by report, so you can tend to make better time day to day.  Plus, by then after having done the AP the season prior, I'll probably be walking longer, faster days on average just by virtue of being more in shape.

Summer 2019: The Continental Divide Trail.  The CDT doesn't yet have a surge to speak of.  There are still relatively few people who are willing to take on this beast, which is not even complete in every section, which doesn't yet have an "official" route for all areas, which means that a lot of variation is common, and which lacks much of the infrastructure that AT or even PCT hikers might take for granted.  In part, because of this, the actual length is under a bit of dispute.  According to Wikipedia, the length is another 500 miles longer even than the PCT, but lowball estimates as low as 2,500 exist, and the most reports indicate that the "typical" hike (depending on exact route chosen) is actually probably comparable to doing the PCT.  As with the PCT, a start in mid-April heading NOBO from the Mexican border is generally seen as ideal, and as with the PCT, there are constraints that have to do with seasons and altitude.  With the PCT, you may be facing lingering snowpack when you hit the Sierras, with the CDT, the same thing happens with the San Juans (at about the same elevation and latitude, curiously.) As with the PCT, if you go to long you'll get stranded in potential snows in the mountains near the Canadian border, so you can't be too slow.

The secret for this trail is, I believe, to pay attention to conditions.  Some years, there may be snows still in the San Juans when you arrive, but the north might be drier, in which case flipping to the northern terminus and finishing the trail SOBO at Cumbres Pass, or somewhere thereabouts.  But if could be the other way around; the San Juans might be drier and clear early enough to pose no problem, while the northern or central portions of the trail might be clogged.  Unlike on the PCT where after the Sierras, you encounter (relatively) lower elevations, you still have big sections of reasonably high elevations all through Colorado, and through portions of northern Wyoming too, for that matter.  It's a little harder to flip-flop the trail in a way that consistently avoids the risk of either lingering snowpack in the early season or early snowfall in the late season.  It just all depends on the year in question and what happens that year.

Although it might not be a bad idea to skip the from the San Juans to somewhere in the middle of Wyoming if the snow isn't so bad in the Winds.  Go back to Cumbres Pass and continue hiking NOBO, and you'll end the season in the Red Desert.  Water availability might be an issue, but weather shouldn't be.  Water in the Red Desert is a challenge no matter what, but at least you'll end the hike at a relatively low elevation, and early snowfall should be an insignificant risk.  But the CDT is the one most likely to avoid a flip-flop entirely, or to do a more simple flip-flop where halfway through you drive up to the northern terminus and finish the hike SOBO.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

7 Patagonian Andes hiking destinations

I'd really like to think that one of these days I'll be able to really hike the kinds of hikes that I want to do on a regular basis.  At least three big trips each year; a July or August (at the latest, early September) trip to the Rockies, Cascades, Coast Range or Sierra Nevada—the big alpine mountain ranges in North America.  A shoulder season desert trip, most of which are in the Colorado Plateau area of Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and a bit of New Mexico—although places like Big Bend and Death Valley offer more alternatives too. Can mix this up with some shoulder season hikes in the Appalachians or other, lower, eastern ranges.

And finally—a big international trip where I can take advantage of the flipped seasons of the southern hemisphere to do some mountain hiking in the season that is blacked out by inclement weather in the north.  New Zealand is often considered the gold standard here, since it's relatively easy to reach, has beautiful scenery, is a hospitable, English-speaking country, and is quite developed.  I also tend to really gravitate towards the Patagonian Andes, however—in part because I lived for a little while in Argentina (on the eastern side of the continent, however) and can still put together some conversational Spanish if needed, but also in part because it's less of a gold standard; it's much more wild, much more remote, much more adventurous.  Not to say that it doesn't have its "hiking Meccas" so to speak, but it's still as of yet a relatively untrammeled set of routes.

Here's what I think are the top half dozen or so destinations that I'd love to do:

Nahuel Huapi Traverse: A 5 or so day trip in and around the Bariloche region of Argentina, in the Nahuel Huapi National Park.  It's only about 25 miles, but it's pretty rough country, passing by the famous Laguna Frey, which has become a technical climbers paradise, and then going further and deeper into the backcountry.  Like many traditional hikes in Patagonia, it's been somewhat built up with refugios and whatnot.  I don't know if you are required by park regulation to stay in the refugios, or if everybody simply does, but at the very least, it does offer decent shelter from the notoriously fickle Patagonia weather.

Cerro Castillo Circuit: I absolutely love the look of Cerro Castillo.  There's a semi-standard route that goes through the National Reserve and is about 38 or so miles, but which is much less developed than the option noted above (or two of the options noted below, for that matter.)  One neat advantage (of most of the hiking options in Patagonia, actually) is that the absolute elevation isn't as high as you'd think, so things like altitude sickness aren't really a big deal.  You wouldn't think that to look at the mountains, which are extremely impressive, rugged, and even fairly seriously glaciated.

Cerro Castillo in the autumn
San Lorenzo Circuit: This route might actually be harder to do, because it requires a handful of back-country border crossings.  I'm going to throw it out there because I've seen absolutely stunningly beautiful pictures of it, because getting good beta on how doable it actually it is and the legality of crossing the border from Chile into Argentina and back again deep in the backcountry is difficult.  It can be done, however, as two trips; one that stays on the Chilean side, and another that stays on the Argentine side, although you may not be able to link them together or make a loop of sorts out of them anymore.

Future Patagonia National Park: This is actually a really cool traverse of three contiguous areas; the Jeinimeni National Reserve, and then with a stop on the stunningly beautiful Valle Chacabuco, and then crossing the Tamango National Reserve to end in the small town of Cochrane.  This is really close to San Lorenzo; maybe the two of them should be done together?  This is a big hike, though—over 100 miles.  Absolutely wonderful.



Ignore the granola whining, and just drink in the scenery.  Ignore the running too—I'm a hiker and backpacker, and I don't get the ultra-running hobby really.  I want to enjoy and savor the experience and the scenery, not race through it.

Los Glaciares National Park:  As it happens, this is less of a backpacking trip, and more of a base from which to do lots of day hikes and exploration.  There are, of course, some backpacking opportunities, but most of the best things to see in Los Glaciares can be seen without pitching a tent for more than a few nights, unless you go off-trail and do some real bushwhacking (I've seen some great options explored here and there in this space.)  Cerro Torre and Monte Fitz Roy are, of course, not to be missed.  The Cerro Heumul circuit is turning gradually into the multi-night backpacking jaunt of the park.

Torres del Paine National Park:  This is a very structured route, the W (plus the back end) is a classic route, where you go from refugio to refugio, and are generally discouraged from deviating from your path to a great degree.  There probably are great opportunities for deviating from the route, but it's very difficult to get much beta on what to do in the area other than the W—I've seen at least one guy (and his wife) post a picture gallery of following an old nearly abandoned gaucho horse-route from PN Bernardo O'Higgins to the gates of the Torres del Paine, and then see the park inside while they were at it.  But that's outside the park proper.

If you aren't already familiar with the area, I suggest a simple google search.  Chances are you've seen pictures of the Paine massif; it's more famous than you'd think.

Navarino Circuit: This final Patagonian "must hike" has to be the circuit of the Teeth of Navarino, a very rugged 30 mile (or so; depending on exactly how it's measured) circuit of Navarino Island, a sub-antarctic island in the Tierra del Fuego region at the most remote southern stub-end of South America.  In spite of the fact that it's getting more press, this is still a very remote and untraveled route, and recent stats suggest that fewer than 100 hikers do this route every year, and that when you do it, the chances of seeing nobody else the entire time are... pretty good.  While Torres del Paine and the W have become darlings of the international backpacking set, this is just barely starting to get on its radar.

Others:  There's certainly more to do in the Andes.  I've been focused on the Patagonia section of the range, but if you head up north, to Ecuador, Peru, northern Chile, etc., there's all kinds of things to see.  Volcanoes to circuit or summit.  Aconcagua.  The matoral and the Valdivian temperate rain forests and the monkey puzzle trees.  The bizarre cold flora of the p├íramo ecosystems.

I like both the remoteness of most of these destinations (Torres del Paine and probably Los Glaciares excepted; maybe the Bariloche area too) their exoticness, their light crowds, and, of course, the fact that they offer mountain hiking in the "off season" relative to North America or Europe.  Plus, I'm kind of jingoistic about the Western Hemisphere.  Who needs the Alps when you've got the Rockies and the Cascades and the Sierra Nevadas?  Who needs New Zealand when you've got Patagonia?  Sure, I'd love to see those places too... but I've got plenty to keep me busy closer to home in the meantime.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Cabela's XPG Outkross hybrid jacket

As part of my birthday in January, I got a bunch of gift cards to Cabela's, and I picked up a bunch of clothing.  One of the items I picked up was the Deep Sea Cabela's XPG Outkross hybrid jacket, pictured here.  I hardly needed it; I've got a lot of jackets, but it was on sale for $65—normally $130, and I liked it, and I had the gift cards that I had to spend on something anyway, so... I picked it up.

Hybrid jackets are all the rage for active outdoorsy outerwear these days.  Hybrid can mean many things; in this case, what I got was a high-tech fleece jacket in side panels, sleeves, and along the bottom hem, with puffer jacket construction for most of the main torso, collar, and top half of the sleeves.  It's got fairly light 60-gram Primaloft Silver insulation in the puffer section; a relatively light weight for the loft, but one that comes with a bunch of nifty technical features, offering high warmth per weight ratio, and the ability to maintain loft even while wet.  The jacket also has a water repellent chemical finish.  Although I haven't taken it out in prolonged or hard precipitation, I certainly noticed that water beaded on the surface in light rain, and did not penetrate.  So it purports to do a lot of things all at once; but again, that's the appeal of a hybrid jacket.  It does not purport to be a really warm jacket, for wearing while sitting in a tree stand in freezing weather for hours, or anything like that, but for the active—backpackers, backcountry skiers, etc.—well, that's what it was specifically designed for.

A little bit of context.  Cabela's is, of course, well known as an outfitter for hunters and fishermen, mostly.  Backpackers and other non-sportsman outdoorsy types have typically turned to other brands like REI, Marmot, Patagonia, etc.  The North Face and Columbia and a few other brands also qualify, I suppose, but since they have become such a trendy brand for non-outdoorsy folks, it's hard for me to take them seriously—which is a shame, since they make good stuff.  If pricey.  Other more indy companies, like Rail Riders, Outdoor Research, Arc'teryx, and others also are go-to in reviews sections of backpacking blogs, magazines and whatnot.  In part because of this exact same wilderness chic that has propelled The North Face, Columbia, L.L. Bean, Eddie Bauer, and many others into big sales, and in part because Cabela's thought that they could probably sell to their existing customer base that already does more than simply fish and hunt while outside, they created the XPG—Extreme Performance Gear—brand, who's purpose is to compete head-to-head with the list above.  This is mostly, although not exclusively, a story of apparel.  Non-clothing gear includes a couple of backpacking tents, a sleeping pad, and some flashlights.  I'd already picked up some of their hiking boots, and quite enjoyed them last year while hiking in the High Uintas Wilderness of remote northern Utah.  But it's their technical active wear and outerwear that really bulks up the XPG brand.  The Outkross Hybrid jacket fits here.

The first thing I noticed when I picked the jacket out of the box—it's a lot greener than it looks in the picture online (which, as you'll notice, doesn't really appear to be green at all.  I'm OK with this, as various shades of olive and piney green are my favorite colors, but Deep Sea as a description isn't terribly descriptive and the picture online looks black, so that was surprising.  And for someone else who doesn't have green as his favorite color, potentially quite disappointing.

The next thing I noticed: the fit is extremely athletic; most likely smaller than you are expecting.  I was on the fence about XL vs. 2XL, and I went for the 2XL opting to use this more as an outer layer that should be a bit baggier, but there's no way I could have ever worn an XL.  2XL fits me about like what I expected an XL to fit.  Again; because I was on the fence, that wasn't a problem for me, but again, it wasn't what I was expecting either.  But the fit is more than just general bulkiness; there are thumb-loops on the sleeves, for instance, but if I try to put my thumb through the thumb-loops, then the sleeves fit a little too tightly.  Either I have long gorilla arms, extra broad shoulders, or again—the fit is just a little bit too small for most, and you need to order a size up.

I was surprised by how light and thin the jacket is, and yet, I've found it's surprisingly warm.  If it's going to be cold, it needs to be part of a layering system; it's not sufficient by itself, but I've been out in temperatures in low 30s for some time with a warm base layer underneath it and been perfectly fine.  If it's significantly below freezing, or if I'm going to be outside for a longer time, I'd put a lighter fleece jacket on underneath this and over a warm base layer, and expect to be just fine—in fact, I've done that for a while already.

I haven't tried to pack the thing up yet to see how small I can compress it, but given its general lightness, I have no doubt that it packs up pretty small.  I also haven't tried to put my rain jacket over it for really prolonged downpours, but for light rain and for wind, it seems to do a decent job.

A curious fact.  Previous Cabela's XPG products I've bought (like my boots) said Cabela's XPG as their brand.  This one simply says XPG; you only see Cabela's on the inside when it's off.  I was in the store recently trying on some shoes for work, and I got into a conversation with a guy working there, where I mentioned that.  He said that people claim not to want to be a "walking billboard."  He thought this was kind of funny, as these same people were openly wearing their North Face or Columbia jackets.  The branding of XPG, which minimizes Cabela's, is supposedly to avoid that.  But let's be honest.  These guys don't care about being a walking billboard; they simply don't want to be one for Cabela's.  Not that they don't love Cabela's.  But why then?  Because Cabela's is a hunting store, associated with guns, hunting, rednecks and the political Right.  And people don't want to be a walking billboard for that because we live in what has basically become a crowd-sourced police state.  It's pathetic.  And yet; I can't completely fault them.  It's easy to just say, "man up and don't be a coward," but if you're not substantially anti-fragile in your career and in your social life, the consequences of falling victim to one of those viral two-day hate fests that liberal "social justice warriors" oh-so-bravely engage in from afar with the backing of their mob of rabbits.  Too many of our people are afraid, or at least unwilling, to confront that, so they just don't wear their Cabela's brands in public if they can help it.  I tend to do the opposite; I'd wear nothing but Cabela's brand clothing if I could get away with it.  But my shoes, my socks, even my jeans being Cabela's brand doesn't really matter if they are discrete about their branding.

But, sadly, that gets to my final point.  Literally just a day or two after I bought this jacket, I was with my wife at Meijer, a Midwest big box that is like a slightly more upscale version of Wal-Mart, and we were looking at their winter wear clearance to get a new jacket for my sons.  I saw a New Balance hybrid jacket that looked very similar in design and styling to this XPG jacket I just bought.  And even though I bought this jacket at nearly half-off clearance pricing, the New Balance jacket was a fraction of that price: only about $25, if I remember correctly.  Now, perhaps you can argue that the Primaloft Silver filling is better than the filling in the New Balance (of which I'm doubtful that you could tell a difference in the field) the cost differential would make it worth it.  I bought one for my son, and I was really tempted to get one for me, even though the only one in my size was not the color I preferred.  My wife talked me out of it, pointing out that I just got this Cabela's jacket, and I already have more jackets than I need anyway.  But it made a great point: as much as I like Cabela's; you can usually get the same performance at a better price.  Looking for deals or sales at Target, Meijer, Kohls, etc. gets you the same stuff at an order of magnitude less money, and it's usually not chump brands either: C9 at Target is by Champions, New Balance is a serious brand, and they've got Ascics, Avia, Columbia, etc. stretching your dollar farther.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Western Uintas exploration

I like planning trips almost as much as I like taking them.

Well, not really... taking them is certainly better, but planning them is fun, and certainly easier, so I plan a lot of trips that I may or may not end up ever taking.  The following is a plan for me and (at least one of) my boys, or at least its designed that way.  It explores some of the area west of the Mirror Lake Highway in the Uintas, and then goes back to Naturalist Basin (which I visited a year and a half ago) allowing me to see the area again, and do a better job than I did last time of exploring the area.

It's not a complicated or a long trip—in fact, it only has four nights out.  By mid-, or at worst late afternoon on Day 5, I'd be pulling into a staging area somewhere in the SLC area.  This isn't really a long hike in terms of miles either; and in fact, it is broken up into a number of even shorter legs, after which I move the car to another TH.

Here's how the trip should play out:

  • On the first day, get up fairly early and get to Bald Mountain Pass as quickly as I can.  Hike up to the summit of Bald Mountain, enjoy the views, and be back at the car before lunch.  This is the light blue trail, and the total mileage is only 2.58 miles—1.29 one way, but repeated all the way back down.
  • The second leg is in green.  This one has me move the car to the Crystal Lake TH, and taking the Notch Mountain loop (see link for some examples of the hike), including going down from The Notch a bit to explore Ibantik Lake.  This is only 6.62 miles, with only a tiny bit of it (The Notch to Ibantik Lake) repeated; the rest is a true loop.  I only plan on doing 2 miles the first day—after tackling Bald Mountain, we may well appreciate a lazier afternoon, but if it's early enough, I can make camp at Ibantik Lake itself rather than past Clyde Lake and the Three Divide Lakes.  I'll have to play it by ear and see what time of the afternoon it is when I arrive at those lakes.  If it's any later than 5, I'll absolutely stop before tackling the Notch.  It's it's before 4, I'll absolutely continue on to Ibantik (unless the weather looks bad.)  If it's in between, I'll just figure it out based on how we feel.  After camping out near Notch Mountain—either on the southern or northern flanks, depending, we'll head back and be at the car by lunch-time the second day.
  • The third leg is in purple, and is also relatively modest (just under 6 miles as measured, but since some of it requires uncertain route-finding, might as well round up that last few hundred feet or so.)  Here's a great resource; some local guy did it with his Boy Scout group, so it's definitely a tried and true route (the former route is also really quite well established.)  It requires moving the car again to the Pass Lake TH.  As I have it marked, I imagine camping at Cuberant Lake, but again, if I'm there early enough and the weather looks good, I could go ahead and summit Marsell that afternoon and then come down on the eastern side and camp at Kamas Lake instead.  Again; the guy I'm linking to did that, and it only took him about 2½ hours, but he was trucking it to catch up to the Scouts who did that same distance over the course of an entire day instead.  I'll be in between those two extremes; if I get to the TH by early afternoon, as I imagine, I can—again—play it by ear depending on how I feel.  If I end up going up Marsell in the morning, I'll get very different pictures than the ones in the link; he obviously took his in later afternoon, and my shadows would be all reversed.
  • The final leg (in red) is the longest, at 14.5 miles, and is meant to also have two nights out.  After coming back to the car at Pass Lake, I'll drive a couple miles back to the Highline TH and start walking.  I've stayed in the past at Scudder Lake, and it's a pretty decent place to stop.  It might be early enough that I'm unwilling to stop there, however, in which case I'd have to press on into Naturalist Basin.  And if I end up walking that far, I might end up cutting the trip down by one night out.  In any case, assuming that I stay at Scudder Lake after coming off of Lofty and that area, I'd spend the next day getting to Naturalist, bypassing Jordan Lake and instead going up on the bench.  There are some good spots that I scouted last time not far from Faxon Lake where I'd probably set up camp.  This is meant to be somewhat leisurely; I should get from Scudder to Faxon by mid-afternoon, I think.  I can spend much of the evening exploring the eastern side of the bench in Naturalist Basin.  The next morning, I pick up camp and go explore the western side, including LeConte and Blue Lake; coming down from the bench via the Morat Lakes, making this part of the trip more like a lollipop than a regular out and back.  I don't know how long for sure I'd spend exploring the Blue Lake area (I might even drop my pack and go up on the ridge to look into neighboring Middle Basin) but by sometime mid afternoon, I want to be sure that I'm on my way back to the car, which will take a couple hours minimum.  And once I get there, another couple of hours, I think, to drive back to my staging point in the SLC area to take showers, change into clean clothes, and eat a high calorie restaurant dinner somewhere, hopefully with big juicy burgers and fries.
Anyway, here's the caltopo of this entire trip:



Total distance hiked (not counting any exploring that I'd do once set up) is only 29.5 miles.

Potential summits on this trip include: Bald Mountain, Mount Marsell, Spread Eagle Peak and Mount Agassiz.

UPDATE: Added a slight extra little bump.  If I decide to stay one more night, instead of continuing past Scudder Lake on the way out, I turn off on the Packard Lake spur and spend one more night there.  I'd get out of the mountains earlyish the next morning, instead of late that night.  But the overlook over the Duchesne River valley from the cliffs near Packard Lake looks amazing in some pictures... and as a destination, it was completely off my radar until just recently. Another alternative for this, depending on time and weather, is that I'd go to Packard Lake for night 3 instead of staying at Scudder.  Doing that means I can maintain my original schedule, although I have to add a couple of miles of walking to accomplish it.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more I prefer that alternative.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Stillwater Exploration trip



A lengthy yet relaxing itinerary for a part of the more westerly portion of the High Uintas.  The idea here is this; each number represents a day in this 7-day trip:
  1. Park early in the morning at Christmas Meadows.  Hike Leg 1: 8.8 miles to unnamed lake high up in West Basin
  2. Explore West Basin.  Don't move the tent, don't wear the backpack.  If weather and conditions are good, consider making an attempt on Kletting or A-1 summits.
  3. Hike Leg 2: 7.5 miles from West Basin to Middle Basin, setting up camp near Ryder or McPheters Lakes (or one of the unnamed small satellites).
  4. Explore Middle Basin. Climb up on either the ridge between Hayden and Agassiz, or the ridge between Agassiz and Spread Eagle.  Don't move tent or put on pack.
  5. Hike Leg 3: 9.9 miles from Middle Basin camp to the shores of Amethyst Lake.
  6. Explore Amethyst Basin, including finding Ostler and Toomset Lakes.
  7. Come back to the car: 6.1 mile Leg 4.  Go home.
I won't have the Vernal Connection any more by next summer (I'm a little unsure of the timing, but for sure by then it will be gone) but that's mostly OK because it's going to evolve into being an SLC connection.  Or technically, somewhere in the north of the valley, like Bountiful or Layton or Ogden or something like that.  Not that that's not just as good as Vernal, I suppose.  I'll miss the pleasant drive along 191, though, and won't have any more excuses to go visit the Sheep Creek Geological Loop on the way to the trailhead.

Best done during the week.  Middle and Amethyst Basins are well-enough known by the local backpacking cognoscenti that they are not without their crowds on weekends, but there are lots of tales of folks who've gone during the week and had the entire area to themselves.

Here's a handful of images thanks to Google Image Search to complete the picture:

West Basin and Kermsuh Lake




Middle Basin




Amethyst Basin






Total distance hiked (not counting exploration) is only 32.5 miles.  Potential summits to go for include Kletting Peak, A-1 Peak, Hayden Peak, "East Hayden Peak", Mount Agassiz, Spread Eagle Peak, and Ostler Peak.