Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Food mailed!

I've committed - resupply packages were dropped off at my local post offices headed for Finland and Grand Marais. This money can never be returned, although the packages can.

I sent seven days of food to Grand Marais and five days to Finland, a day extra per stop on the chance that I need the time - I am also starting with 5 days of food to get to Grand Marais, a 50 mile trip that should take me about four days. I have heard reports of two or three feet of snow on various, spread-out parts of the trail and nothing will slow me down like breaking trail on thick snow.

My first batch of jerky turned out excellent - the last pound is in the dehydrator right now. When this batch is done, it will be packaged and go in my initial trailhead pack. As for weight reduction, 63.7 ounces of meat reduced to 24.9 ounces of jerky.

There is little left to do but pack and drive. Just a few phone calls to be made and e-mails to be sent. And then, the North.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Food, Twitter and the PLB

I put together the jerky today - it is drying now, some 25 minutes after I turning the thing on. It should be done sometime tomorrow around noonish, maybe later. I have about 4.5 lbs in the Excalibur now, a birthday/Thanksgiving/Christmas present that was rolled all into one machine that keeps on giving. When it is all said and done, I'll post the weight reduction ratio and use that number for future trips. Like everything else, I keep a large spreadsheet of backpacking food that records calories per serving, serving size and calories per ounce (the key number). Before I go to bed I am going to pack gorp and organize the food boxes.

Tomorrow the first round of food leaves my apartment and heads to Grand Marais. This will occur when the jerky gets done and I find a box fit to pack it in. There will be approximately 6 days of food with me sent to GM, plus some other miscellaneous goodies (batteries, maps, matches, etc.). This act is a first real, immediate, commitment to the trip. Gear and food can be bought and used on another trip, but postage is something that only works for this trip, right here, right now.

As part of method of keeping loved ones informed, I am sending text updates to Twitter. If you know me on Facebook, you can read the updates there. You can follow my trip at

My personal locater beacon arrived today from PLBrentals, LLC. I expected it to arrive Wednesday or even as late as Thursday, but I realized after I poked through the instructions that the earlier arrival was in case a test failed and a replacement needed to be sent overnight. I rented an ACR Microfix. With the lanyard and without the case, the $600 piece of gear ($750 at some places) weighs in at 10.65 ounces and is worth its weight in gold.

On a sad note, I will not be taking a GPS unit with me. I had arranged to use the GPS I used on my 2005 expedition to Hudson Bay, but alas it cannot be found.

I will leave you today with a quote from a man I owe much to - he taught me how to dig into a passion and work my fingers numb. The words are full of focus and dedication, and they fit the trip perfectly.

"keep your eyes open and don't ever separate yourself from the experience."

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Going stir crazy

One week from now I will be 1.5 days into my trek. Until that time, I am a little stir crazy. Everything that has been planned for the last six months comes to a head this week when I put it all together. The list of tasks is endless - buy food, pack food, mail packages, organize, gather and pack all gear - the list goes on. I will also be testing my stoves this weekend for fuel consumption. I did a little MYOG this weekend - I trimmed my windscreens and attached Velcro dots to them so that they could hold a consistent shape. I also made a balaclava out of Epic fabric to be used a softshell-style hood. This completes my storm protection.

One this is for sure, though. It will all come together, all at once, and it will be beautiful. When I get dropped off just south of the Canadian Border, the adventure will really begin. Me and the snow, woods and the world before me. Not a contest, not a battle - a flow. I shall enter the woods and meander down a trail that will lead to an adventure the store of which only the steps of my feet can write.

I just want to start walking.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

First huge snowstorm of season arrived this morning

The first big storm to hit the metro area arrived this morning. We supposed to get six inches my 6 p.m. and eleven by tomorrow morning. I'll get out there eventually. Right now, I'm stuck inside studying for my final final exam of this semester. But when I'm done studying for today, I'm strapping on the snowshoes.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Snow + bike = sore morning

We got a few inches of snow yesterday. The flakes were light and small in the coldish temps (0F or colder). And I needed to get home, 7.5 miles from downtown Minneapolis to St. Paul.

Traffic in downtown was snarled. The roads were slow, and people would creep into the intersection on a green or yellow (or red!) and would be stuck there, blocking traffic for one or more lanes. And then the honking would ensue. It did everyone a great bit of good, as you can imagine.

The trip takes me about 30 minutes on clear, dry roads in 3 season temps. Snow and/or cold increases my time my an exceptional margin. Yesterday, it took me 80 minutes to get home. It took a buddy of mine 90 minutes, by car, to get from downtown Minneapolis to Inver Grove Heights. Ouch.

I spent the majority of my time on the sidewalks. The snow was simple powder and not packed down, unlike the snow on the roads. The only hard areas were when the snow was not shoveled from our storm this past weekend, and the lower layer was iced. Add some snow on top of compacted ice created exceptional difficulties. This morning, my shoulders are sore from the vibration of the handlebars.

Also, it was -30 (F) in northern Minnesota yesterday morning. Exciting!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Snowshoes perform well in first test, and VBL issues

I took the snowshoes out for their first test hike today. I strolled around a local park a few blocks from my apartment. The park is settled in a bowl and is protected on three sides by moderately steep slopes that rise 30 vertical feet or so.

The snow conditions were all over the place. We had freezing rain at 37 degree temps Saturday morning which shifted to snow that night. Temps plummeted for the next 48 hours and are hovering around -5 today. It snowed Saturday and most of Sunday. Some of the hills were coated with ice, others had snow. The base of the hills had snow on top of gelatinous sludge, and some places had drifts of ultra-light powder.

I went out with all of the clothes I am taking for SHT - I had on everything but my big dumb mitts, puffy pants, VBL pants and down jacket. I carried a small backpack that I put these extra clothes in, in which I also carried a bottle of water nestled inside a jacket sleeve. The pack, and its contents, may have weighed 5 lbs. The temp was about -5(F) and the wind was a consistent 15 mph with gusts to 30 mph.

Overall, I was very pleased. The snowshoes held to my mukluks very, very well. I spent a considerable amount of time going up and down hills, and adjusted the straps once to move my feet backward on the snowshoes. I intended to test the Televator bar, but I was unsuccessful. The soles of the mukluks just barely reached the bar, and they were too soft to hold onto to the bar. Problem? Not really. There are only a few places that have long, steep hills that would require such a bar, and it would be terribly inconvenient to have to bend down at the bottom and top of every short, steep hill.

My soft shell clothing performed very well, and it blocked the wind very, very well. I only wore my Jetstream gloves while hiking and kept my mitts in my backpack. As soon as I stopped and dropped my hands to carry the snowshoes and poles home, my hands got cold. Lesson learned.

One issue did arise - I wore a baselayer, VBL and softshell jacket on my torso, and the VBL was damp when I got home. I think it was either because I was working too hard and/or I was wearing too much clothes. I think it was the latter. I was not working too hard, even when I went up and down that set of hills 15 or so times. Lesson learned? Just wear the VBL and not the softshell when moving. The trees will not care.

It feels like winter

It was all snow and wind last night. When I woke up this morning, the mercury read -4 and the news reported the wind chill in the -30 range. Seriously, it's finally winter. I'm going snowshoeing later today.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

JetBoil recalling some stoves

JetBoil is voluntarily recalling some of their stoves with a "B" type valve. These stoves were shipped to U.S. retailers from July 10 to Sept. 9, 2008, and have been sold since July 10, 2008. All the information is here: JetBoil Recall Notice. Gotta love corporate responsibility.

Owners with questions should contact JetBoil at 888-611-9905.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

SHT stove carry weight

My stove of choice will be a Pocket Rocket on a Brunton stove stand (MYOG link), with a modification. (Stove stand linky, at REI.) I have added an upright fin to the stove that connects to a brass block. The block wraps around a brass tube, and essentially operates a a pre-heat. I will be taking MSR canisters, which have a higher propane content than most canisters, and they also use iso-butane, which has a lower boiling point than plain butane. In all, the canisters should work down to about -15F, and lower if I take warm the canister.

Anywho, the idea using the PR in winter is that with the stove stand, I use the canister like a liquid feed stove. Propane has a boiling point of -43.8 (F) and isobutane has boiling point of 10(F). This means that as long as the temp is above 10F, the stove is burning vaporized fuel. However, if temperature is below the boiling point of the isobutane, then I must use the stove in liquid feed mode. In other words, I must turn the canister upside down. This way, the pressure exerted by the boiling propane will push out the liquid isobutane out of the upside down canister. The fuel will then travel through the brass tube, where it will be heated by the fin and block, and then vaporize. The cycle will then continue, much like a generator on a white gas stove works to vaporize the liquid fuel.

I have asked the post office if I could leave the canisters at the PO for pick up on resupply. I was categorically rejected, although I have been finding on the PO's website that such drop-off may be acceptable. The question is how much fuel to bring. After consulting BPL's testing, I am curious if their 12.6 g/qt boiled in cold temperatures will hold up to my needs. The tests were conducted without a stove-stand with 40F water and the stove and cans cooled to 10F overnight in a freezer. BPL's more comprehensive testing is here. One curious note from BPL's testing is that although the stove was running flat-out, it used up less fuel because the stove was running at the equivalent of half-flame.

The only option I see is that I need to carry all of my fuel with me from the trailhead. This is going to be quite inconvenient, but I cannot count on getting fuel up there, or someone bringing it to me. The next question arises as to how much fuel I need.

Based on my past winter experiences, and talking with friends who do a lot of winter camping, that they go through about a gallon of drinking water in a day outside of cooking. To this, I need to have 16 oz of water for supper. Since it takes approximately the same amount of fuel to melt snow as it does to take 40F water to a temp just below boiling (~178 F), I would venture to guess that the figures produced by BPL's testing (40F water to boiling) are accurate if not conservative estimates of how much fuel I will need. This means that I need 4 qts of drinking water, plus fuel for another quart (1/2 quart to melt snow for 16 oz of water for supper, 1/2 quart to boil it).

It is important to note that BPL's figures were obtained NOT using a stove-stand. This may vary the results, but I am going to hold to them for now. To accommodate for windy conditions and cold snow, I will increase the fuel consumption by approximately 20 percent, bringing the total estimated consumption to 15 g/qt (up from estimated 12.6). Thus, my table looks like this:

Days and ratio Extra Cans
14 day carry, 15 g/qt 85 5
14 day, 12.6 g/qt 26 4
17 day 15 g 87 6
17 day, 12.6 g/qt 64 5

As you can see I am estimating for both fuel usages for two trip lengths - 14 days, which is the amount of time I estimate the trip taking (or less), and 17 days, the amount of food I will have. I will be carrying one extra day of food at each of the three segements (trailhead, resupply 1 and resupply 2). As you can see, five 227 g (8 oz) cans accommodates my fuel needs under three of the four conditions. My fuel usage per day is 75g for 15 g/qt, and 63g for 12.6 g/qt. This if I take five cans, I will have at least one day of extra fuel under the three estimates circumstances. Furthermore, this consumption estimation does not take into account obtaining liquid water from the abundant major rivers that I will encounter throughout the trail. This is why I am comfortable taking only five cans and discounting the 17 day, 15 g/qt estimation. Should the trip end up taking that long, I know I can still get liquid water. In an absolute worst-case scenario, I will build a fire and melt snow that way. (I will be taking an emergency fire-starting kit, consisting of dried lint, waxed matches, 1 oz of denatured alcohol. Also, the birch and pine trees are abundant. Pine pitch and birch bark make excellent fire-starting materials). This makes the stove's initial carry weight the following:

Item Oz
PR 3.03
PR Case 0.81
Stove stand 5.64
5x cans (empty) 23.46
5x cans (fuel) 40.04
TOTAL 72.98

This weight will drop by 2.64 ounces per day (fuel weight) and then drop another 4.69 ounces every fourth day. This number is based on 75 g/day; obviously I get more gas mileage if fuel consumption decreases. Bolded numbers represent canisters are dropped. The numbers end up looking like this:

Days Oz
0 72.98
1 70.33
2 67.69
3 65.04
4 57.71
5 55.06
6 52.42
7 45.08
8 42.44
9 39.79
10 32.45
11 29.81
12 27.16
13 19.83
14 17.18
15 14.54

Of course, I do not expect the trip to take 14 days. That estimation is based on the number of miles I need to cover (approximately 215, counting resupplies) divided by my estimated speed (1.5 mph). This speed is derived from taking half my normal hiking pace of 3 mph, and then multiplying that number by the number of hours of estimated daylight (10 hrs/day). This leaves me with 15 miles per day of hiking, and leaves me with one day (last) of 20 miles.

I also anticipate that I should be able to hike for more time that that, up to about 20 miles per day. Skurka did 20 miles per day on the Border Route Trail in 18 inches of snow with about the same amount of daylight. He also dealt with a large amount of blow-downs and a less-than-immaculate trail. I would love to be able to finish the trip in less days than it took my brother and I to finish in May (11.5 days i.e., done before noon on the 12th day).

Therefore, my estimate is probably accurate or conservative. Either way, I get out of the woods in an appropriate amount of time and I finish my trip before I must return to school.

Updated gear list

Pack Carried Worn Consumable
Granite Gear Vapor Trail 36.90

Shelter Carried Worn Consumable
MK1 XL 77.00

SMC Sno Stake x8 8.47

Sleeping Carried Worn Consumable
GG Comp. Sack (XL) 3.84

Blue foamer (57") 7.65

Ridgerest (57") 8.08

Marmot Col, -20 (long) 74.00

Clothes worn Carried Worn Consumable
OR Sonic Balaclava
NW Hat (100 weight fleece)
Stephenson's VBL shirt
Base layer bottom (Theramar)
Marmot Scree
BD Jetstream gloves
Base layer top (Theramar)
Neck Gaiter
Footwear Carried Worn Consumable
Steger Mukluks, Arctic
MSR Lightning Ascents (25")
Integral Designs VBL socks
Smartwool Mountaineer socks
Fox River X-Static socks
Clothes carried Carried Worn Consumable
Fox River X-Static socks 0.85

Smartwool Mountaineer socks 4.62

TNF Nupste 24.83

Stephensons VBL Pants 4.69

Montbell UL Thermawrap pants 9.77

REI Ridgecrest Mitts
S2S stuff sack 1.16

MLD eVent mitts 1.09

Kitchen Carried Worn Consumable
MYOG PR 9.49

5x Canisters

REI 1.3L Ti Pot 4.97

Hot Spark (on ribbon)
Lexan Fork 0.39

30 matches

Hydration Carried Worn Consumable
48oz Nalgene Canteen 2.22 2.22
Chlorine Dioxide x20

Emergency Carried Worn Consumable
FAK; repair kit 3.70

ACR Microfix
Fire kit

Misc Carried Worn Consumable
Tikka Plus
CF poles
Cell phone
$20 Cash; ID; 2x key; Credit; Ins
Toiletries Carried Worn Consumable
Toothbrush 0.42

Toothpaste (baking soda)

TP (4x day, 5 days) 0.07
Wet Wipes (1xday, 5 day) 0.07
Handsanitizer (1 oz)

Sandwich bag (toiletries) 0.07

Navigation Carried Worn Consumable
Map(s), average (2)
Silva Polaris compass
Aloksak for phone
Aloksak for maps
Comsumables, trailhead max Carried Worn Consumable
Food, 5 days

Canister fuel (5x 8oz cans)

Water, 56 oz
BASE Carried Worn Consumable
OZ 284.37 254.90 195.99
LB 17.77 15.93 12.25
Totals 17.77 33.70 30.02

Notable as not on the list is a hard shell jacket. I have also increased the tent stakes. I have also adjusted for fuel consumption. At totaled, by base weight should stay about 18 lbs - remember, my goal was 15. The extra weight comes from the shelter and bag.