Monday, July 27, 2009

Trip Report: Jardine was right

The more I hike, the more I realize Ray Jardine had it right all along. From quilts to tarps to shorts, his methods just work.

Jacci and I hiked on the Superior Hiking Trail this weekend between Beaver Bay and Silver Bay, and skirted the edges of Bean and Bear Lakes. We got as far north as the two Palisade Creek campsites, and camped Friday night along the Beaver River and Saturday night at the rest stop above Bear Lake. The trip was spectacular.

When we hiked in Friday night from the Lake County 4 trail head, we hit a campsite on the Beaver River. Thinking we had passed the first of the two sites just a short jaunt from the trail head, we turned around and parked our shelter just off trail at a makeshift site. Come the following morning, I should have trusted my gut - the marked campsite we came to was the first of two, not the second. But it was occupied anyway, and solitude is something best shared with a good friend.

The shelter system we use is a CatTarp 2 and Dixon DoubleBivy, both from OwareUSA. The bivy is tricky to manage because of its tie-outs. To make it work, you need to use all three ties, and you need to pull the middle up high enough to get the Pertex at the head end vertical. This puts the silnylon bottom on the ground, and helps keep the mesh off the users face. Lightweight stakes work great to keep the bivy in place; titanium shepherd hooks work great.

Like all tarps, the best part about using one is the openness of the shelter experience. When morning comes, one can cock their neck all around and get a 360 view of their world.

Based on our packs, it was going to be a different weekend altogether:

At left is my Z1. At right is Jacci's school backpack, a Jansport model marketed for day hiking she got at REI. When she got it, she said she would take it out on a weekend trip. This was the first weekend of this long-set plan.

The trick was to take a single sleeping bag with a full-zip and use it like a quilt. The bag of choice was her WM Ultralight (short), which fit us well when we laid down underneath it at home. I carried the bag - in exchange, Jacci carried our kitchen (sans fuel) and our tarp. I got the bivy, Tyvek groundsheet, stakes and fuel canister. So shared gear was more or less even, with a tilt toward less.

At least five people in two parties confused us for day hikers. On Saturday evening, we shared a site with a woman named Sandy and her husband Mike. We had passed them twice on the trail. When we introduced ourselves, Sandy said she was initially confused by our pack sizes when she had seen us on the trail. She said she thought we had too much stuff for day hikers, but it looked like too little for an overnight. To her credit, this was her first time backpacking - she and Mike are kayakers and canoeists who are accustomed to taking whatever they want.

The weekend was also my first weekend our with my new torso pad. The pad worked great, but success with it is dependent on location. Closed-cell foam pads, in general, as less forgiving to roots and rocks underneath your bottom than inflatable mats. On Saturday night, I had two such earthly denizens that stubbornly rested beneath me.

As far as hiking goes, traveling between the Beaver River and the tailing pond/pumphouse Saturday morning was slow and irregular. A 10K trail race was going on and the runners were coming at us. Out of courtesy, we stopped, stepped off-trail and let them pass unbothered.

We could not have asked for better weather. Large cumulus clouds dotted the sky, and there was a stiff breeze that was best felt on the top of ridgelines. It kept the flies and mosquitoes away and kept us cool.

A sun shower came later Saturday morning in the form of misting. When we thought the mist would turn to legitimate rain, we donned our shells. I had a poncho while Jacci had a traditional waterproof-breathable jacket.

Hiking in the rain is always enjoyable. The air cools, and droplets hit your forehead and cleanse your face. But the sun was out, so temps stayed high. When the mist continued and stayed that way, we removed our raingear and hiked on in the mild mist.

Initially, the forecast said thunderstorms all weekend. Perfect. As it turned out, we got two downpours on Saturday night in addition to the mist. The first deluge came just after supper from a single pregnant cloud. The timing could not have been more perfect - we just finished making supper, a Lipton/Knorr noodle packet cooked over a canister stove.

But when the rain finally came, mud poured through the campsite.

Here's what was left of our bivy/tarp shelter after the rain passed. It looks much worse than it actually was. The rain came hard and heavy, and the sloped dirt we were on created a mini-mudslide that ran under the lower portion of the tarp. Add some splatter off the short end (which is the close end in the photo), wind-blown rain directly at said short end and a pool of water forming on the uphill side of your tarp on its edge hem, and you've got a recipe for mud.

Like I said, it looks much worse that it was. I was standing outside during the storm in my poncho/tarp and just observed what was going on. I rolled the tyvek up on the right side of the photo, and water ran underneath it. No water got into the bivy, although it did get between the Tyvek and bivy. The silnylon was waterproof and the Pertex's DWR held fast. All I had to do when it was all done was wipe it down with Jacci's skirt, which was still soaked from a washing earlier that evening. Sunday morning after the tarp was taken down, here's what the place looked like:
Had we been stealth camping or otherwise on a grassy area, this whole mess would have been averted. Again, Jardine was right - tarp camping is all about location, location, location.

It also rained Saturday evening, around 10 p.m. as we were going to bed and the last remnants of sun were disappearing. This time, the rain was much less severe, and the tarp protected us adequately. Sleeping with rain pattering the tarp is always comforting, like a calm soothing white noise.

Temps stayed mild both nights. The quilt had kept us warm and comfortable despite the low temps being at least 30 degrees warmer than the bag's rating of 20 degrees. We could adequately vent by raising an edge, kicking a foot out, or pushing the bag's head lower on our torso. I used all three of these techniques to manage my body temperature.

On Sunday morning, the early sun baked the rain-soaked forest and pushed the humidity to 110 percent with sunshine and clear skies to boot. I removed my pants and hiked in my spandex shorts for the remaining four miles. Jardine advocates hiking in spandex shorts and having a shell pant to deal with bugs and other nasties. I plan to take this clothing arrangement on future hikes.

On a final (gear) note, I cut off the waist belt and removed the (removable) sternum strap on my Z1 when I got home. I dropped almost two ounces off the pack, pushing its weight to 3.35 oz(!).

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Yet another Ridgerest hacked in the name lightweight backpacking

I'm slowly converting to Ray Jardine's philosophies - again.

The evening, I chopped up yet another Ridgerest closed-cell foam pad into a torso-shaped pad. This version weighed in at 103 grams - 3.63 ounces. The dimensions are similar to's Torsolite, which a) will be back in stock soon; and b) has been selling like hotcakes recently on BPL's gear trade forum.

This is my second attempt at hacking down a CCF pad into a torso-shaped bundle. My first attempt still exists - it is rectangular at 29.5x19.5 and about ~5.4 oz. When I saw that BPL was going to get more TorsoLites in stock, I through about the unused pad on my sides, especially flanking by buttocks. So I hacked this one down and lost almost 2 oz.

It's going out for its first test this weekend, somewhere in Minnesota that lacks mosquitoes. When I return, I imagine I'll cut a concave curve into the sides near my true waist to chop out even more unused pad. Until then, the pad will stay nicely above 100 grams.

As a final note, the only company that sells torso-length pads is GossamerGear. Unmodified, these pads weigh in at 3.5-3.8 oz, and are also rectangular. Not too shabby.

New TarpTent from Henry Shires

Continuing in his arched tradition, Henry Shires has introduced his latest in a continuation of single-arch shelters: the Moment, a one-person single-wall shelter requiring only two stakes.

The shelter is a continuation of Henry's Scarp 1 and 2, and the Hogback. A single arch poles goes over the width of the shelters, providing overhead and vestibule space. The design is also a direct competition to the Hilleberg Akto and the Terra Nova Laser Competition (along with TN's related designs).

BPL's initial commentary by Will Rietveld here. I trust Will's gear reviews as very thorough, and he's very excited to get at this one.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Ice Age Trail: baffled by shrubberies

I pondered my predicament: do I hike in a given distance in the dark, or make camp adjacent to my car? I was at the trailhead of the Ice Age Trail on Highway 64 just outside of Medford, Wisc. Tired from the drive, but itchy to get walking. I chose the latter, after venturing into the woods by the light of a single LED bulb. Ferns and overgrowth hid the path; getting lost was not an option.

This would be the first night I would sleep in my new solo shelter system: a poncho/tarp and a bivy. Except parking lots rarely accept stakes easily. I jammed one stake under a tire, and hammered to others into the gravelly ground. During the whole process, a few rain drops started to fall. Just a few. "She's going to laugh at this," I thought. The hood was tied, and I slipped into the bivy. Rain came harder. Lightning. Thunder to the west at 10-Mississippi. The wind rushed, the air cooled. Then 15 was the count. Then it drifted away, to 20, 30 and 45.

I also set out to experiment with a new sleep system, one that leaves traditional bags and quilts at home, and to instead opt for insulated pants and parka. I started out resting my shorts and shirt. As I cooled, I slipped my long pants back on, and made damn sure my hips and shoulders were resting on my hacked down, torso-length pad. Then my fleece beanie went on, and I draped my jacket over my torso, quilt like. Then the jacket went on. Dawn came, and I stood up, warm and comfortable.

In my initial trip planning, I had been hard-pressed to find a decent map of the trail on such short notice. So I printed off a handful USGS topo maps (from 1980), grabbed the map at the trailhead and wandered in. The trail was woodsy and overgrown. No overlooks or vistas. Just woods. Ferns spilled over the footpath even at the trailhead, and dew-soaked grasses invaded any sense of path when I crossed over ancient beaver dams.

It was buggy, too. And I do not use DEET. I wore a windshirt in the morning and while moving, and kept the hood up almost at all times; my legs thanked me for wearing longs pants.

Around 90 minutes into the hike, I navigated down and around an old clear-cut via an access road. The trail then made a jaunt back into the woods and into a thicket of shrubberies and raspberry bushes. The trail then disappeared everywhere but at my feet. The bushes folding in front of me. Take a step in any direction, and they bent back to cover your path. The vegetation was taller than I, so I felt like I was walking blind through a cornfield without crop lines.

So I turned around. I already did not have a good picture of where I was going, and I was not interested in getting lost or wandering off-trail. To another trailhead? Maybe. That was a decision to make when I returned to my car.

With a mile or two to go, I could tell my knee was not 100 percent. The trail had been rolling, but not steep, and there had been now technical sections. Just cushy earth. But better safe then sorry, I headed home.

Because of the short nature of the hike, reviewing gear is sketchy at best. But I will say this. My pack was too large for a short jaunt such as this. This is caused by two factors. First, I did not take a full-size sleeping bag or quilt. Second, my food volume was low. Despite packing a cookpot, I could have easily fit many more days worth of food or packed bulkier gear. The pack carried well despite being underfilled. Also, as noted by Ryan Jordan in his review of the Blast 18, the side pockets were too short for my large, 1.5L Nalgene canteen (really ~63 oz). No matter, the bottle went in the rear pocket. My poncho/tarp took the place of the bottle in the side pocket.

Next on tap is a hiking trip for the weekend beginning July 24. Location is TBD.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Seeking happiness, one step at a time

In a thread about recommended reading for simplifying one's life based on UL principles, Ben Tang dropped these words.

"Folks who get their 'highs' from new toys can expect to have a harder time avoiding clutter -- and self-inflicted complications."

The link has the full text of his post. Take that, materialism.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Hiking on a bum knee, and other thoughts.

I'm heading to the Ice Age Trail in Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (not a navigable gov't website this weekend (tomorrow) on the recommendation from some staffers at my local gear shop. Where on the trail I'm going, though, is not determined yet. I have yet to find a decent map or the trail or the forest. So I'll plan the thing when I get there.

I've also developed an inflamed plica in my right knee. After not running and not getting better for nearly two weeks, I saw my orthopedic surgeon today, who diagnosed the condition, gave me a cortisone injection and prescribed me with an anti-inflammatory patch. He also cleared me for hiking with a 10 lb pack. Gear list here.

I'm going to taking it easy this weekend, nothing too strenuous. It'll be a relaxing hike, and I'm going to monitor my knee and let it tell me how to go. I'm taking a completely new shelter system out this weekend: a poncho/tarp and bivy. While I have tarped in a two-person bivy before, I have never used the poncho tarp, or used a solo bivy. I also have not spent a night out in the rain with a tarp, or had to set up or take down in the rain. Such is life. Weather is supposed to be clear this weekend. I am also leaving a sleeping bag/quilt at home, instead opting for insulating clothing, including insulated pants. In a bivy, I should be fine. Here's to gear testing.

Trip report, with pictures, when I return.