Tuesday, January 22, 2008

New toy(s)

Marmot Hydrogen, '07 model

I'm pleased, very, very pleased. I had toyed around with sewing my own bag, but I was looking at spending between around $150 for the materials and then investing the time. The time I do not have.

In case it is not mentioned below, I have also acquired an older Marmot Col (pre-EQ version). It is a -20 bag with 725 fill power down. (New Col EQ bags are made with 800 fp down and retail new for ~$600; less on Campmor)It compresses nicely, to about the size of a basketball. I have yet to measure it. It kept me sufficiently warm in -18 weather last weekend. I was using a Prolite 3 (1") full length pad, ridgerest full length pad underneath me. I was wearing my poly-pro base layer; poly-pro liner socks, SmartWool style winter-grade socks, Sorel felt boot liners (9 mm), 100 wgt fleece pants, 200 wgt fleece vest and a thin 100 wgt Fleece hat. I was not wearing gloves. I had no problems staying warm. The only problem with the bag is that it is a long bag, but I see that as just fine, since in winter I shove a bunch of stuff in there anyway.


These two bags should be the end of my sleeping bag purchases. I knew I needed two bags - one for winter and late fall/early spring and another for the rest. Essentially, I needed a 3.5 season bag and a 0.5 season bag. I think I have picked up what I need.

The Col has proved itself capable of going down to low temps. I believe I could take it further with more clothing, such as an additional fleece jacket or my down coat. I also could have worn my balaclava and my thicker hat.

The Hydrogen is intended to cover the rest of the year. Ideally, I thought a 20 degree bag would have been better, and I missed a chance to pick up my dream bag, a WM Apache 20 degree bag with a taffeta shell for $210 (someone beat me to it). A warmer-rated bag would have been better because it can easily get to 20 degrees in northern Minnesota. However, I couldn't pass up such a good deal. A 30-degree bag should be just fine for my uses, and I can wear clothing to bolster its rating. And it weighs in at a listed 25 oz. I was hoping for a bag that weighed under 2 lbs and around 24 oz (1.5 lbs) would have been ideal. My hand-sewn bag was designed to have 3 inches of loft (top only, bottom would have no insulation) and weigh in at approximately 18 oz. So, this bag is right up my alley.

It should be here in about a week. I'll continue my BWCA story soon.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Returned from BWCA

Part 1 added 1/11/08
Part 2 added 1/14/08

I'm back from the BWCAW. Here's a synopsis:

Thursday, Dec. 27.

The drive from home to the lake is about 5 1/2 hours. On the way, we see a sign in Virginia (or some other mining town) that says "Be prepared to stop for blasting." We scoffed. A minute later, we say another sign that read the same thing. This sign, however, was a cloth-type and was moveable. Someone was serious. And then we saw the State Trooper talking with one of the mine workers. Yup, it was serious. We saw the same thing going the other way.

As usual on a trip, the road got worse and it also got slimmer as we drove along. First it was a slimmer paved road. And then the ice-covered dirt. We passed a few resorts and also the Kekekabic trail parking lot. It was not plowed and the trail looked sketchy at best. So we drove further, and came to the Snowbank Lake canoe landing. It was now about 3 p.m. - we have 90 minutes of daylight left.

We changed and packed the sleds, something we had not done in the days previous. It was all very interesting cutting rope for the sleds that were designed to carry kids down hills. They were never meant to be pulks.

We were planning to stay on the west side of the lake, at a canoe campsite on the tip of a spade-looking peninsula (get out your maps now). This we did, but it was slow. It was a few miles away and pulling the sled, even in snowshoes, done was 1 to 1.5 mph. We made it to camp at 5 pm ish. The stars were coming out and the northern sky turned a hue of purple. This was to be our coldest night.

The lake ice seemed reasonably solid. There were only a few parts where we needed to move out onto more stable ice, and when these times came, my trekking poles proved invaluable for determining safe ice or not.

The campsite had a table someone had carted no doubt from one of the local resorts. There was a hook in one of the trees and two nails in others. Someone had been making clothesline hooks. Snow was about 12-15" deep.

We had brought a hand-powered ice auger to get water. We never used this. The ice near the first campsite was too sketchy to venture out onto for long, so we ended up melting snow. We had plenty of gas for the planned four-night trip. This created a nice cedar/woodsy taste to our bottles.

The temp hit 5 above (F) that night. The tent, an Half-Dome from REI circa 2005 (pre-goofy hub) did not breath incredibly well., despite being a 3+ season tent. There was plenty of frost in the morning. Also, a 51" wide tent is not wide enough for two people while camping in winter. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Supper that night was pizza hotdish. It was cooked at home by my mother and bagged. It was still not frozen. We had a large pot and boiled water. It took some difficulty to keep the bags from melting on the bottom, and I eventually wore a hole in the two bags. We pulled the food out right away and it was still edible.

Breakfast was a mixture of pre-cooked eggs, sausage, mushrooms and green peppers cooked in the same manner. I managed to keep the bags moving better this time and it worked better. No bags got holes. As my mother said, the green peppers would soften upon thawing. Of course, she was right. In the original mixture, I added the mixture of green peppers and mushrooms late and hardly cooked them.

We left that morning with an ambitious trek. We needed to get across the lake to its northern edge and find the Snowbank trail. The crossing was about 2.5 to 3 miles. Without a map, I can't give only estimates. This side of the lake, the western side, had deeper water and no major narrowings to create sketchy ice conditions. The day was 10 degrees F with overcast skies and a 5-10 mph wind from the SE/SSE area. The wind was at our backs on for the majority of the first crossing.

We navigated to the trail by two hills that rose from from the shore. The trail split these two hills (50 ft+ off the lake shore) and a canoe campsite was just SE of the easterly hill. We left the ice and were at the base of the westerly hill. We could not find the trail, as we were stopped by the downed trees. The area was impassible. So we moved. At the suggestion of my partner, we ventured across a little bay of 50 yards and began searching. We left the sleds at our original landing. The ice was sketchy and covered with slush.

The campsite was small and maybe could have fit three two-man tents. The site was not very visible from the water, and it may have been a hiking campsite. My partner found a spur trail off to the main trail, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

We split up to look for the trail. I trekked through the knee-deep snow toward the water and then moved north toward the easterly of the two hills. My partner did find the trail. It was thin, no doubt and obscured by overhanging branches at points, but it was in front of us. The trail was marked by clean chainsaw cuts through fallen trees.

And it was impassible. There was no way we were going to get a sled through there. The snow was a problem compounded by the trail conditions - low hanging branches and thin trails - that pulling a sled through there would have been impossible. Well, that was that plan. We needed to figure something out.

So we ate lunch. Lunch was some sandwiches with turkey, cheese and bacon. They were decent and better when not partially thawed. I had my bag in my pocket the whole morning and that helped slightly.

And then a plan. It became that we would complete our circle of the lake and stay at a campsite on the eastern shores. It would a water-access campsite. It appeared that it was on a peninsula; but when we got there, no campsite was to be found. And then we moved on. Plan number next was a site at the northern end of Harri Island. It was about a mile away, the same distance we had traveled to our phantom site. When we got there, the sun was getting lower. The site was vast, and stretched a hundred yards into the island. There was a main area on the tip of the peninsula, and a small trail led back to another area. It was protected by the wind from all sides. This is were we made our camp for the night. Further exploration revealed an additional site south east of our tent site. The site in all could fit multiple tents, probably enough for three or four full parties of BWCA overnight campers (8 people to a party max).

more later ...

Thoughts and reflections about the trip
  1. Freezer bag cooking, as done on this trip, was ineffective once the food has frozen. It took too long to melt the ice chunks that were our meals.
  2. REI half dome needs a redesign on the fly on the head and foot ends (non-door) to eliminate the need for an additional stake on each end.
  3. vapor barriers