Monday, March 31, 2014

Gear still to pick up (about $200 worth)

Here's the gear on my list that I'm still missing.
  • A tarp (Outdoor Products All Purpose Tarp at REI) $8
  • River shoes -- I could use some existing ones, but I'd really like closed toe river sandals, and I don't see any benefit in pricey Keen or Merrell ones vs. Ozark Trail river sandals at Wal-Mart for $11
  • Fuel cannister $5
  • A new lighter from the dollar store.  I could use an existing one, but given the cheap price, I'd like a full one
  • Copper coated scrubbing pad.  Again; dollar store.
  • JetBoil Zip cooking system.  The smaller one, for about $75.  It's a mite cheaper at Cabelas than anywhere else, for some reason.
  • SteriPEN traveler water purifier.  I could punt and get some treatment pills for less, but at $50, this is a "permanent" option that I like a great deal.
  • Camera.  I don't have one of my own that I'd like to bring (although I saw an option for $80) so I'll probably just use the one that is nominally my wife's instead.
  • I have a headlamp that fits on the brim of a hat, but I'd like to buy a regular one.  Again; there are high-priced brand name ones, and there are low priced Ozark Trail ones at Wal-Mart for about $7.  I see no benefit in having a brand name flashlight.
  • Permethrin--my first and best defense against mosquitos.  I need to buy a batch and treat my clothes, pack, tent and sleeping bag.  $10
  • Trails Illustrated map.  $10 from Amazon.  Need to pick this up really soon to get the route details nailed down well in advance of the trip.
  • Pack Rain cover.  The North Face makes a good one for $11 at REI.
  • I budgeted $10 for any items I need to finish out my repair kits, first aid kits or wash kits. 
And, of course, the food.  You'll notice that I have two expensive items still to pick up; the water treatment SteriPEN and the JetBoil backpacker stove.  Other than that, it's just nickel and dime type stuff that bulks out the rest of the budget.

The entire trip has a budget of $1,000, about two thirds of which is gas and hotel cost associated with just getting there.  Next year, with a completed gear list, I'm hoping to lower that budget.  Or, more accurately, I'm hoping to maintain that budget, but have more of it left over to improve some of the items on my list.  I'd like to have a better tent, for instance, but good backpacking tents ain't cheap.  And by next summer, I'll probably need new boots/shoes again too.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hiking in trail runners

In addition to all that I talked about in my last post, I'm going to be doing a bit of an experiment.  I found some $70 Trail Runner type shoes on sale for less than $30, and I snatched them up to use as everyday tennis shoes type shoes that I'd wear on weekends, or at the gym or wherever.  I don't actually need them quite yet; my former pair aren't dead yet, but they will be within months.

It occured to me as well that many people hike in trail runners, and in fact swear by the experience.  Hiking boots--and I have a big, clunky pair of those as well, are... well, big and clunky.  They're heavy, they're not necessarily comfortable unless they've been thoroughly broken in, and I was, frankly, a bit nervous about my feet.

I like hiking boots, don't get me wrong.  And I'm a little nervous about potential ankle twisting with trail runners.  But the notion of walking in these comfortable, lightweight shoes also feels like a major relief on something that I was frankly dreading.  I think it's going to make my trip much more comfortable.

All in all, I'd probably rather have a pair of high top hikers with a GORE-TEX liner.  Something like the Cabela's XPG hikers I highlighted a few posts ago.  Keen, Merrell, The North Face, Adidas, Vasque and tons of other folks make hikers like that.  However, they all sell for over $100.  Finding the shoes I did at the price I did was quite a steal.

I'll want to eventually upgrade them, but then again, I don't anticipate that they useful life on these shoes, especially considering that I plan to switch in the next few months into making them everyday shoes that I wear everywhere except work and church, won't be much longer than a year or two anyway.  For now, I'm going to just be glad I scored such a great deal, and then look for another replacement--maybe--for the 2015 hiking season.

I freely admit that this is a bit of an experiment for me.  Back in the day, when I was actually backpacking every season, I always wore hiking boots; in fact, I always wore the same pair of hiking boots.  But this time, I'm looking at my all-leather uppers Frankenstein boots and just not feeling the love.

Monday, March 24, 2014

It's decided: High Uintas

Well, I've decided on potential summertime trips--to be taken in very late June, straddling the first week of July, most likely.  Although there's a chance up to two of my sons might be involved, and a very slight chance that some friend or one of my brothers might join, most likely it will just be me by myself and on my own.  I like the Uintas for this trip for a few reasons:
  • I've been there before.  Sure, it was 25 years ago, and I admit that I wasn't paying much attention to the details back then (nor would I remember them if I had been) but there's a sense of familiarity that seems nice for my first foray into a big backpacking trip in many years.  It gives me a chance to do something big and yet a bit familiar, which is marginally less intimidating than heading out across the country in a place I've never been before.
  • Although the High Uintas wilderness area is big and lonely, it somehow seems a bit tamer than some of my other options; like the Yellowstone area, for instance, which is not tame at all, except in the highly popular tourist zones.  In spite of this, it is pretty lonely--solitude is there for the having in the High Uintas.
  • I like Utah.  I have family I can stay with on the ends of the trip, even.  Plus, I really would like to climb to the summit of Timpanogos in the nearby Wasatches, and I could do that as a warm-up to acclimate to the altitude and stuff before heading into the Uintas itself.  Timp is no slouch in terms of summiting, but the summit elevation is still under 12k feet.  Ever since my teenage hike into the Uintas, I've been drawn to the area, though.  I don't even know where we went on that hike, which is curious.
  • The place is big.  I'm going to be struggling to narrow my options down to something doable, and yet I'll still have highly desireable destinations left over--with half a dozen trips into the Uintas, I'd still only scratch the surface.
I'm thinking of taking at least ten days off work, but maybe more.  With two days to drive to the area and two days to drive back, even that would only give me six days to be in the mountains.  I'd like to see if it's possible to pump that up to ten days by making it a full two weeks.  Assuming I can arrange my schedule to accomodate that, then I've got two days to drive followed by a day to do Timp, six to seven days to do the Uintas, a day to recover and two more days to drive back home.  I'm looking at possible routes assuming that schedule, or something similar.  I may be disappointed in my ability to take that much time off, though--ten days total, with only five to six in the mountains, may be more doable.  But I'll cross the bridge in the next few weeks of planning.  I'm cognizant of the fact that I'm older than I was last time I really did this, and significantly heavier--as a 160 lbs. (roughly) teenager, my ability to do this was much better than my current state--a 235 lbs. 42 year old.  I imagine I'll come back out of the mountains noticably lighter, but that that will force my hand a bit in terms of taking it a little easy.  I don't want to be too ambitious and plan something that I can't actually pull off, either.  My ability to get serious about training in the time left, and lose a bunch of weight and get really good at climbing stairs or something, is somewhat limited, but I'm going to see what I can do...

OK, with those caveats in mind, what am I thinking?  I'd actually like to, if possible, make two backpacking trips out of it, and see two areas of the Uintas.  I'd like to do a two nights, two and a half to three day trip in the Central Uintas, and summit King's Peak.  I'd come in from the Henry's Fork Trailhead, go over Gunsight Pass and Anderson Pass, bag the peak, and then continue Eastward from Anderson on the Highline Trail to go into the Smiths Fork Basin.  I could pass iconic Red Castle Peak this way.  Continuing north, the trails will take me either to the China Meadows Trailhead, or there appears to be a cut-off trail that will take me back to Henry's Fork.  Blam!  Don't need shuttling or hitchiking to get back to my car.  Perfect.  I'd like to do this during the week, because King's Peak, as the highest point in the state, is a major draw.  Because it's a weekend sized trip, the weekends can get a bit crowded.  A weekday trip should help, and then the detour into Smith's Fork Basin should provide a bit more solitude as well.

With up to four additional days, I've got a lot of options for the rest of the trip, and that's where I'm not sure what, yet, I want to do.  Peter Potterfield's suggestion, in Classic Hikes of North America, is to come into the range from the Highline Trailhead far to the west.  You take the Highline Trail until it turns off to Naturalist Basin, and then explore that for a day or so.  Then hop back on the Highline Trail (which becomes a bit of a hikers' version of an expressway, according to his scheme) over Rocky Sea Pass to explore massive Rock Creek Basin.  He also suggests spending a few days exploring this basin.  The really adventurous could then, of course, continue on over Dead Horse Pass and have a look around West Fork Blacks Fork Basin.  If I were able to get a shuttle, I could hike up north out of this basin to the West Fork Blacks Fork trailhead, even.  More likely, I'd cut my trip short of the Dead Horse Pass and just turn around and head back to my car.  And, of course, I'd love to go even a little further... to Red Knob Pass, and see Mount Lovenia, and others.  But again; let's not get too ambitious the first time out.  If I go this route, I'll almost certainly confine my trip to the Naturalist and Rocky Creek Basins.  I only have, at best, four days to do all this, unless I get rid of my Timp day or cut short my Kings Peak trip, after all.  And, as I said, I'm older, fatter, and out of practice.

But wait!  There are, of course, lots of other attractive options.  Going in via the Christmas Meadows trailhead and exploring the West Basin, Middle Basin and Amythest Basins looks really attractive.  It may be possible to crest a pass off-trail from there into Naturalist Basin, but I need to do some research to confirm that first.  If not, it's still an attractive option on its own.  The East Fork Bear River Trailhead, as well as offering access to the Scout camp in the area, could send me by Lamotte Peak, Yard Peak, Mount Beulah and The Cathedral--all scenic gems of the northwestern Uintas in the Priord and Allsop basins.

Realistically, I could decide almost on the fly at the last minute, but I'd like to not.  I'm leaning a little towards the Naturalist/Rocky Creek route, just because it's so well described and I like the notion of not venturing too far off of well-described routes for my first outlay in so long.  But the other routes are pretty clearly described and "well trailed" as well, by all accounts.

It's nice to have choices...