Thursday, September 25, 2008

Jacket in hand is better than one on order

Midwest called today to inform me that they could not order my Drillium jacket from Rab. I was told that Rab is out of stock for this year's model and is making changes to the jacket. I could not get the new model by my Dec. 1 deadline. So I went to Midwest and bought one of their purple (indigo) models in my size.

It is purple, effectively. This adds to my collection of purple gear - Montbell Thermawrap, TNF Nupste and Marmot Col. Woot. It is not the international orange that I would have preferred, but purple is still visible against white snow. Its still a bold color and effective for what I need.

So far, the jacket works well - I biked back from Midwest and the jacket breathed reasonably well. My sleeves were the area of sweat buildup, but I believe that will go away if I wear a long-sleeve shirt underneath. I'm not worried about it. I have been wearing it sitting down with a t-shirt and a softshell jacket on and been fine.


As a later addition to this post, I have now had the jacket for about 6 weeks. In that time, I have taken it hiking with my father, been rained on in it and wore it while biking. Here's the skinny - I can work extremely hard and not wet the thing out. Yes, it can feel incredibly humid underneath, but I am not cold because of it. As I relayed to the employee at Midwest Mountaineering, it is the best eVent is the best waterproof-breathable fabric out there that I have tried.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

RIP: Marmot PreCip jacket; Hello Rab Drillium

My love affair with my Marmot PreCip jacket is over. It has died a long, slow death. Nikwax couldn't fix it, and somewhere in the back of my mind, I think the decline started when I let my mother wash it oh-so many years ago. Since then, I have blissfully ignored the jacket's short-comings. Now, the shell is a worth no more than a typical PVC parka. It does not bead water and as a result, does not breath. I got wet from the inside.

Where the PreCip comes up short is the fabric - it is not as breathable as one needs it to be, and the DWR is gone, never to be repaired again. With respect to features, it has more than most jackets with its tremendous pit zips and dual pockets big enough to fit footballs in. Most jackets these days just have a single Napoleon pocket - dumb, me thinks.

So what's next? I'm upgrading either to Gore-Tex PacLite, ProShell or eVent. Therein, the options are endless. My criteria are pretty simple. I want a feature-rich jacket. It should have pitzips, at least two pockets, a stiff brim and an easily-adjustable hood. I want a draw cord on the bottom hem. I want it to be large enough to wear over a few layers, at least a fleece and my Montbell parka. I also want it reasonably close in weight to my PreCip (~11.9 oz). And the last requirement, and probably the most exacting of all - I want to be able to use it year-round. It's more of a weight issue there, but I don't want a 20 oz. winter shell.


Post draft edit/addition:

I went to Midwest this evening with Thermawrap and Nupste in hand. I wanted to try on their Rab Jackets. They carry two - the Drillium and the Lokat Alpine. The Alpine is an alpine jacket. It has huge pockets and a large hood designed for helmets. I went with the Drillium. It is lighter (14.1 oz) than the Lokat (18 oz) and it is slimmer cut. It also fit over my Mistral and Thermawrap easily. I could also layer my Nupste over it easily. I ended up going with their "amber" colored jacket, which looks more like international orange than "amber." I had to special order it because they did not have my size and color in stock. They had a purple shell in stock in my size, but I already have too much purple gear and orange is more visible to rescue squads and hunters. The purple also got the cabash from the girlfriend - mostly for the rescue squad reason.

I was surprised by the jacket - Rab bills the Drillium as a multi-spot jacket and says it is cut narrowly. But when I tried it on, the sleeves where very long, the bottom hem went down past my butt and the hood was fantastic (Everyone is making hoods similar to Arc'Teryx hoods now - there is a stiff brim and the hood adjusters attach near your temples; they do not encompass the entire hood). I expected a much narrower cut and the inability to layer it over more than a heavy fleece.

Before going into this purchase, I was looking for a shell that would layer over my Nupste. That meant I needed a shell with at least a 44 inch chest - this is an XL or XXL for most manufacturers. My PreCip could do this. Previously, I knew people purchased their winter shells to be worn over a midweight layer or heavy fleece, but not over their down parka. The idea is that you carry the puffy jacket on your pack and put it on when you stop or get into camp.

I agreed with this proposition when I purchased the shell. I don't remember the last time it was snowing and I needed a puffy jacket to stay warm. It snows less as it gets colder because the air cannot hold very much moisture. And so I went with the jacket, knowing that if it is snowing and uber cold that I may be in a little bit of trouble.

The jacket is being shipped to the store - I'm not going to get a call when the order is placed with Rab, but I am going to get a call when it arrives. I'm not sure when that is, but I put a Dec. 1 deadline to get the jacket. More when it arrives. I'm excited.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Blitz successful - 61.2 miles completed

I have arrived home, trip modified and spirits lifted.

The initial plan was beautiful - I was going to drive to Duluth and meet a friend who would serve as my shuttle. We would then drop my car off at Highway 1 and haul north to drop me at Forest Service 336 near Mt. Oberg. I would then hike the 60 miles south to my car, hoping to be at the car by 2:30 Sunday in order to get home by 6 p.m.
Well, the best laid plans of mice and men... As we neared Two Harbors, we watched a thunderstorm to the north of us. My ride said she heard on NPR/MPR that there was a severe thunderstorm warning and later a tornado warning for east/central Lake County. We pulled off and ate at Culvers to wait out the storm. The goofy thing is that I was listening to the radio all day and heard nothing about a storm on any such warnings. After some butterburgers, we watched the sky again. Forty-five minutes later, we could not see any such storm. A phone call to my brother revealed the storm was mostly over the lake and it had effectively passed. Weather clearance notwithstanding, my friend backed out and decided to drive home. She didn't want to be on Highway 61 that late and night, and I think she didn't realize how far it was going to be. Looking back, it was probably the right call to stop even though if we had kept driving, we would have missed the storm.

Not to be discouraged, I drove north the additional 30 miles to Lake County 6 and turned up the road and away from the lake. I nearly blew past the parking lot; I had to double check the trail sign in my reverse lights. The white light displayed the SHT's North Shore logo. The lot had an island in the middle, and a brush-filled field to the northwest. The wind stirred trees continuously, and I even killed a mosquito on my leg. Mosquitoes cannot fly in winds exceeding two mph; it was one tough mosquito.

The trailhead was 0.2 miles away - the campsite, my goal for the evening, was 1.5 miles past that, up a variety of hills to Section 13. My brother and I had stayed there last May, but the hike up was brutal. It was scary as hell; my headlamp, a Tikka Plus, isn't the brightest in the world (nor it is the lightest, but that is beside the point). The wind rattled the trees and creaked trunks. The trail attacked my toes and preventing my poles from getting good purchase.

The wind rattled louder as I rose to the top of the rocks, and got louder when I trekked up the path to the campsite. It was 10:30 p.m. I was alone under the shadow-creating half moon. The wind was coming off the lake, and I set my tarp up with one long end to the ground. I set my poles on the lee corner and the middle of the long side; all other ties were staked to the ground somehow.

I slept poorly and did not eat the food, 750 calories of it, that I brought with me for the hike in. The wind kept me up, mostly from noise through the leaves. My watch woke me at 5:36 a.m. Dawn had not yet come, but as I packed up an orange layer of light peaked over the lake's horizon. And I started walking via headlamp down the other side of Section 36 toward the Sawmill Bog. I turned my headlamp off 30 minutes later.

I had a goal of hiking at least 30 miles that day. When I initially conceived this trip, I thought I could do at least 50 miles in a weekend, but less than 100. These figures were semi-arbitrarily based off of traditional ultramarathon trail runs. My dad figured I could do 40 miles. He reasonably based this off my 20-mile/day average from May. My brother said 45 miles, and that 30 miles in one day was "out of the question."

Breaking the weekend down, I figured I could hike from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Saturday and 6 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. I also figured I could hike two hours Friday night. My brother and I averages approximately two miles per hour, counting stops. I figured I could hike between 2.5 and 3 miles per hour and had approximately 24.5 hours to move. This put my reasonable mileage between 61.25 and 74.5 miles.

When I finally got hiking, I realized my initial time estimates were a little off. I could not hike for two hours on Friday night, and I did not want to hike until 8 p.m. on Saturday. Also, I was on the trail 45 minutes earlier than I anticipated on Sunday. So, I was down to 21.25 hours to move. Again, averages move to 53.125 to 63.75 miles. In the end, I hiked 61.2 miles - near the high end of the spectrum. I believe that I could have cleared 70 or even 75 miles had I kept going until 6 p.m. or so on Sunday.

As for the day, I got to Aspen Knob at 11:45 a.m. In May, I stayed at the Knob and then Section 13 the next night. Although my brother and I got to Section 13 early that day, We still got there in middle of the afternoon after starting out in the early morning. I did it in under six hours. I was now 1.2 miles away from Crosby Manitou State Park, a section of trail I had set out to conquer.

The Manitou River bisects the state park, and it is guarded on both sides by the steep and knobby bones of the earth. They stick out and form irregular steps into and out of the valley. In Crosby, the arrows pointing ahead do not merely point to the direction of the trail - they also point up. Go this way, they say. Hike over the ridge to the sky. And is it painful.

But I slogged through the park, and it was approaching 2 p.m. On Sunday, I needed to be able to get back to my car by 2:30 p.m. in order to get home by 6 p.m. As such, I opted to stay Saturday night where I was at approximately 2 p.m. At 1:45 p.m., I arrived at Horseshoe Ridge, a campsite just outside Crosby park boundaries. I had hiked approximately 23 miles down in 8.5 hours. Not too shabby. Because I needed to get back to Horseshoe Ridge and I wanted to hike until approximately 6 p.m., I could hike for another two hours before I turned around. I could travel six miles in that time.

One hour later I came upon the Baptism River. The spur trail on the west side of the river was closed, but the east side was open. I wanted to hike down it to Highway 61, but it was only 0.7 miles away. I still had one hour to hike, and that was three miles worth of time. Highway 61 was just too close. I kept moving north on the trail.

The next three miles took me past Crystal Creek and the birch forest that surrounded the ridge the creek passed through. In May, I burned the left sides of my calves because there was no leaves on the trees. This time, the birch trees provided modest shade. At no time on the weekend did I use sunscreen.
Eventually, the trail opened up and I came upon Sugar Loaf Road - it was 4 p.m. and time to turn around. Sugar Loaf Road also provided me with some perspective on the mileage I had traveled that day. I was now at about 29 miles with 6.1 miles to go to get back to Horseshoe Ridge.

On the way back, I ran into a fellow I passed earlier. He was wearing a work glove and carrying a Sawvivor packing saw. He said he recognized me from earlier, and that I was moving pretty fast. I agreed, but kept moving.

Back at the Baptism River, I needed to get water for the evening. There was little water on Horseshoe Ridge and I needed 16 oz. for supper and probably the same amount for drinking during supper. Again, I broke out the Aqua Mira and filled both bottles. I used 15 drops of each chemical despite the remarkable clarity of the water. It was the best-tasting water all trip.

The push back was long. I found myself calculating mileage and taking myself out of the hike. My feet were sore and a good-sized blister had formed under the ball of my right foot.

But I got to camp at 6 p.m. I had gone ~35 miles in 12 hours. Not bad, me thinks. Supper was approximately 4 oz of instant mashed potatoes. It was a little much, but the potatoes held their temperature well. As usual, the chocolate bar was fantastic.

Sleep came exponentially easier Saturday night. I was tired from the hike and was not wired on adrenaline from an ascent in the dark. However, it was colder that night. Cold air settled into the valley I was in, but I remained warm after pulling the face muff tight.

Morning came early - I woke up at 4:40 a.m. to nature's call; my watch was set for 5:20 a.m. I crawled back into my sleeping bag, and did not fall asleep in short succession. Instead, I got up and got moving and was on the trail at 5:16 a.m.

The morning hike was done via headlamp and was done at a slow clip. I got to the Manitou River at 6:40, 86 minutes to go three miles or so. It was four miles from campsite to parking lot. I got another liter of water, so now I had almost two liters. It would be the last water I gathered all day, and it was a mistake I would pay for in the final miles and on the way home.

Like Saturday, I came upon multiple hikers, including passing a couple carrying ULA packs, one a Catalyst and the other a P2. They looked much bigger than I thought they would look like, but they looked magnificent. I was traveling much faster than them and the lady of the pair thought my homemade pack was interesting.

I also came upon many, many day hikers, especially toward Section 13. Most of them looked prepared for the trek. Many were carrying poles and every group had some backpack that looked relatively full.

I was sore toward the end of the hike, something I link to my dehydration, lack of easy bottle access and urgency to get home. It was an odd ending to the trip.

The trip was unique for a variety of equipment variances from prior trips.

I was not using a water bladder for the first time since I purchased my Vapor Trail. The adjustment was jarring. My packs pockets are built tall and I needed to take off my pack to get water. Went I stopped, I found myself gulping larger quantities of liquid than normal and urinating less. However, I was still peeing clear.

On the same note, I was not using a filter for the first time. On Isle Royale with in 1999, we used filters plus Polar Pure, but we still had a filter. On Saturday, my Gatorade ran out near Sonju Lake. The water I gathered was slightly tinted and the water tasted like it had pollen in it. It probably didn't help that I only put 7 drops of Aqua Mira A and B in. I should have put 15 of each. But hey, I did not get sick.

Stopping for water was also welcome. I was trying to put on mileage for mileage's sake. Stopping meant not getting miles on. All told, I only had one dedicated stop for the weekend, and it occurred at 4 p.m. on Saturday. (Water gathering is not a dedicated stop; it is a necessary one.) I took 10 minutes at the West Caribou River site to swap socks, check blisters, eat etc.

The tarp worked as planned. I pitched it with one of the long end to the ground to block wind. I did not deal with rain or other inclement weather. My father mentioned this when I talked to him post-trip.

I also carried my sil-nylon pack for this trip. The main problem with the pack is that the shoulder straps are too short (padded section) and this could have been solved by making it longer or putting more distance between between the pack and the starting of the strap padding. The after-model hipbelt was OK, but it showed that the pack is too small in the torso to be really useful. The side pockets allow for large water-carrying capacity, and the huge rear mesh pocket is great for holding everything. I carried my rain coat, FAK, Aqua Mira, hat, sunglasses, extra food, TP, etc. It carried very well, but it is clearly a first-generation model. I have been working on a replacement, but my sewing machine is on the fritz.

In the evening, I left most everything in the rear pocket and put my feet on top of it. My feet were fine as a far as insulation goes. This went against my prediction, but I am OK with that.

My camera worked just fine. I took wide shots, and macro shots. I even took a movie with it.

My shoes worked excellent, except for the blisters. I got three, all on my right foot. One on my heel, a pinching-style blister on my pinkie toe and one on the ball of my foot. Otherwise, the shoes never felt like a burden to my movement. I did not like the lack of toe protection. I frequently punted rocks and roots because of the frequency of them on the trail, and regularly was in pain because said punting. I need to really test these shoes in rain to determine if my friend is correct.

My titanium folding spoon was a let down - it frequently collapsed at the hinge. I'm going to try and bend it to make it work.


Next up are more training trips. I need to more experience with my clothing systems to truly figure out how I'm going to swing SHT January '09.

Gear for Blitz - lowest base weight to date

Pack oz
Sil Nylon 16.30
Pack liner 1.13
Shelter oz
Poly Cro 1.66
Easton stakes 2.82
Sil Tarp 9.67
Sleeping oz
Hydrogen 23.35
Ridgerest 8.08
Clothes carried oz
NW cap 1.02
MLD mitts 1.09
SM socks 1.94
BD gloves 2.36
PreCip Bottom 7.48
PreCip Top 11.89
Montbell Jacket 12.77
L/S top 5.75
Kitchen oz
Grease pot 3.81
Alc stove; screen; pan 1.52
Matches (5, in box) 0.17
Fuel bottle
Folding Ti Spork 0.60
Hydration oz
2x 1L bottles
Aqua Mira 2.93
Emergency oz
FAK; repair kit 3.56
Triptease (50') 1.34
Headlamp 2.75
Packing oz
S2S for bag 1.16
Sewn roll top for clothes 1.02
MB purple (food)
ID (toiletries) 0.21
Toiletries oz
Toothbrush 0.42
Toothpaste 0.67
Contact solution 0.74
Glasses case 1.62
Glasses 0.67
Bronners 0.53
TP and Wet Wipes
OZ 130.51
LB 8.16
Clothes worn oz
S/S shirt 5.26
Sm socks 1.94
Headsweats hat 1.66
Sunglasses 0.60
Watch 0.88
Zip-off shorts 8.92
Spandex 3.10
Carried oz
BD Spires 20.74
Footwear oz
Nike Elite +4 22.00
ID Gaiters 2.01
Misc carried oz
Knife 0.67
Cell phone 3.92
Polaroid i1035 6.56
OZ 78.27
LB 4.89
OZ 208.77
LB 13.05

There are a few things missing from above, but they are negligible. For the missing items, I used a 20 oz bottle for fuel, two 32 oz Gatorade bottles for water and two Mont-Bell stuff (not one) food. I consider TP and wet wipes consumables, so they are not counted in base weight. The weight of the shoes is approximated, but it is close. I have weighed them before. I also carried a small Tupperware container (0.35 oz) for butter. For comments on the gear see the upcoming trip report.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Food for blitz

Friday Servings cal/day oz/day cal/oz
Granola 3 420 3.15 133.33
Nature Valley 2 360 3 120.00
Daily Totals
780 6.15 126.83
Saturday Servings cal/day oz/day cal/oz
Pop Tart 3 1200 11.01 108.99
Granola 3 420 3.15 133.33
Gorp (2/3 cup) 1 1522 9.91 153.58
Nature Valley 1 180 1.5 120.00
Cheeze-its 2 320 2.1 152.38
Potatoes 4 400 3.64 109.89
powdered milk 0.5 40 0.405 98.77
Butter 2 200 0.98 204.08
Chocolate bar 1 230 1.55 148.39
Daily Totals
4512 34.245 131.76
Sunday Servings cal/day oz/day cal/oz
Pop Tart 3 1200 11.01 108.99
Granola 3 420 3.15 133.33
Gorp (2/3 cup) 1 1522 9.91 153.58
Nature Valley 1 180 1.5 120.00
Cheeze-its 3 480 3.15 152.38
Daily Totals
3802 28.72 132.38
Trip Totals
9094 69.115 131.58
Goal deviation (+/-) 94 -2.885

Above, you can see my food list. For the most part, it is a lot of snack-type foods with one hot meal built in. This is very similar to my SHT thru-hike, with the major change being a different supper.

The weekend is built around 150 cal/mile with food of at least 125 cal/oz. Hence, the goal was 9000 calories that weighed 72 ounces. The Goals (+/-) listing on the bottom shows that I am carrying 94 calories more than I intended and my food weighs almost 3 oz less than my goal. This is attributed to my over 131.58 cal/oz ratio. Not too shabby. The days are broken down to 5 miles, 30 miles and 25 miles for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, respectively. This gives the total calories needed per day. The totals per day are listed underneath each day.

As you can see, the bulk of the calories per day are coming from early morning Pop-Tarts and mid-day/afternoon Gorp (a mixture of sunflower seeds, M&Ms and peanuts mixed in a 1:1:1 ratio of ~2/3 cup each). I added a little more M&Ms than the above calls for, so the calorie count is probably negligibly higher.

There are a few alterations from prior hikes. First, I am not taking a dedicated energy bar a la Clif Bar or PowerBar. Second, I am taking Bear Naked Granola - Original and there are no Snickers bars in the mix. The third change comes with Saturday night supper, which is instant garlic potatoes. I have had them several times at home and can vouch for their goodness. Finally, I am not taking any dedicated extra food. Normally, I would have food for an additional meal (we carried 12 days plus an additional breakfast and morning snack on our May SHT trip). I have packed just enough to get me through the weekend and no more. Last May, it was painful for my mother to watch my brother and I pack our food. She repeatedly attempted to make sure we had enough, and wanted to put more in. I packed food this morning with no one but the cat watching, and he didn't say anything.

The calories per mile ratio is the same as our May SHT thru-hike, despite the feeling at the end of that trip that we were not eating enough. I think this is appropriate on such a short-term blitz because I will not be depleting long-term reserves so severely.