Monday, April 7, 2014

Isle Royale traverse

A friend of mine here locally, who knows that I'm an avid outdoorsman and hiker, and considers himself someone who's also very interested in picking up the hobby while he still has boys at home who are both old enough to successfully do it and young enough to be at home to do it, has suggested that I might be interested in doing an Isle Royale traverse with him.  Isle Royale is a large island in the northern part of Lake Superior, and the entirety of the island (as well as numerous much smaller islands) make up a National Park.  The island is a long, thin island about 45 miles long, but the trail length is closer to 60 miles from end to end.

I've also got some other "local" hikes scouted out; places I'd like to see, and maybe even take my kids, that aren't far away in the mountain west.  Along with the Isle Royale hike, I'd like to do a traverse of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, I'd like to go back to Hocking Hills and explore some more, I'd like to explore Cuyahoga National Park, and I'd like to hike the Art Loeb Trail and the Roan Highlands section of the AT.  These are actually hikes that I could concievably do--or do portions of, at least--this year, in addition to my existing plans. 

I was going over summer plans with my wife.  Because she's going to be recovering from rotator cuff surgery much of the late summer, and unable to take time off work for the fall, I could be looking at as much as a week of still unplanned vacation later this year.  Rather than fritter it away on days where I stay at home for a day or two at a time, I'm thinking I'd rather do a second smaller, and probably closer, backpacking trip.

Or... I could go back out to southern Utah in the fall and hike Coyote Gulch. 

I dunno.  I'm feeling like I might yet have more options this year for another hike beyond just my High Uintas one.  I don't really want to try and spend so much time on the road; I'd rather spend more time on the trail.  But, given my long furlough from the hobby of backpacking, I've got a major backlog of places I'd like to do, and a lot of pent-up demand.  With additional time to spend on the hobby, I might yet get a second trip in this year.  Candidates include:
  • Isle Royale with my friend
  • Pictured Rocks
  • Hocking Hills
  • Roans Highlands
  • Coyote Gulch
  • Art Loeb Trail

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Gear weight

Nice article.  I've said before and I'll go ahead and say again (and will probably do so many times yet), I'm not a fetishist of ultralight backpacking.  Then again, anything you can reasonably do to decrease your pack weight seems only smart.  I disagree with the notions that a $30 tent must be replaced with a $400 tent or tarp-tent in order to save 2-3 lbs. or that not having a tent at all is fine (mostly just because pyschologically I prefer to sleep in a tent when outside) but that doesn't mean that plenty can't be done to reduce your weigt and improve your experience.

I don't actually have a scale with fine enough sensitivity to tell me the weight of small, light-weight items, so what I've done is estimate the gear weight of everything I'm bringing--as often as possible with printed or official weights--and then when I've finished picking up all my details, I'll weigh the total pack (sans food and water, which are both highly variable over the course of a single trip, and therefore not included in base pack weight so that meaningful comparisons can be made) and see how close I am to my estimate.  Exactly what weight range qualifies as "ultralight" seems to vary (and honestly, the cut-off is entirely arbitrary anyway) but I've seen under 10 lbs for base pack weight.  The article linked here suggests 15 lbs.  My base pack weight currently is just under 20 lbs.--19.93 lbs. to be exact.  Again, we'll see how close I get...

The "Big Three™" heavy items tend to be tent/shelter, sleeping bag, and pack.  I've got a fairly light pack--3,000 cubic inches (50L--exactly the size recommended in this article, by sheer coincidence) which is just over 2 lbs., and I've got a fairly small and light sleeping bag (although not one of those several hundred dollar ultralight mummies--mine cost about $30.  The payoff is, as the article says, in sleeping in your base layers, fleece, and warm hat, which you need to bring into the mountains anyway.  Use 'em every night and save yourself weight on the bag!)

Where I'm at least 2 lbs. over my ideal weight is in my tent, but I'm not going to go with a tarp-tent, or really expensive ultralight tent, or anything like that.  At least not yet.  Spending the money to take a few pounds off isn't worth it to me.  If I'm fairly rigorous in removing or lightening items that I can do easily and cheaply, I can suck up a few pounds on items that would be expensive to replace with ultralight versions, and not feel the difference too much.  Again; doing otherwise is, in my opinion, fetishizing base weight to a certain extent.  It might make sense for long trail thru-hikers, like PCT hikers, for instance.  But for your typical backpacking trip which isn't likely to have you hiking more than 50-60 miles or so and spending more than a week or so in the backcountry, it seems overkill to focus on just those last couple of pounds.  The real kicker in lowering pack weight is in cutting all those items that your "Be Prepared" Boy Scout leaders and your mother always thought you couldn't live without, but which you never, ever used ever once in your entire life.

The advice on skipping the stove altogether and taking no-cook food is interesting... although I'll note that even the godfather of ultralight backpacking, Ray Jardine, says that he really missed a backpacking stove when he hiked the AT without one and he'd never have done that again.  But again--for shorter trips?  That's something to think about.  I may have to consider it.  I can save, by my estimate, at least 2 lbs. by eliminating the stove and fuel cannister, which... gets me pretty close to 15 lbs, actually, even without a good, lightweight tent.  And it frees up over $80 on gear budget while I'm at it.

The advice on thrifting your first aid kit to the essentials, instead of bringing a bunch of stuff that is redundant, it also good advice.  But, realistically, it's missing the one essential item that any backcountry first aid kid needs... ibuprofen and/or acetaminophen.  Because, let's face it, what's the most likely to need first aid in the backcountry are splitting headaches as you acclimate to altitude or humidity, and muscle stiffness and soreness from walking all day and sleeping on the ground.  Treat that, and you'll have a much happier trip, and as you adjust, you won't need it as often.