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(!).


samh said...

Good report. Your comments about tarp location can't be repeated enough.

Chris Wallace said...

I saw the photos on FB before the report and was going to ask if you were doing a test on bad site selection. I wonder if taping the corners of the tyvek to a bathtub like config would provide more protection in situations like that. It'd still fold flat for carry.

Jared said...

Excellent trip report. Isn't it great to be nearly mistaken as a day hiker? Tarp placement is always the fun one.

Frank and Sue said...

Great trip report, not sure if I am psychologically ready for just a tarp and groundsheet yet!

Love the way you were confused as day hikers...(we never are.. our packs are way to big!)

Matt Lutz said...

The site wasn't so bad under moderate rain. What really did us in was the fast, hard deluge.

@Frank/Sue - all you need to do is try it. Go get a cheap Target/WalMart tarp and pitch it a-frame style. You'll be hooked when you wake up in the morning and can see everything.

Finally, this is not the first time I have been mistaken for a dayhiker, or to nudge an inside joke, a fastpacker.

Anonymous said...

My daughter and & were on the SHT as well this past weekend, just a bit north in Finland via egge lake. We however would not be confused for day hikers though, but we kept it lighter than when I had the family of four doing the leg you were on a couple of weeks ago. That Bean-Bear lake section almost killed my kids with the elevation change. It also could be called "Bare" lake as well. How was the traffic going up and back? Almost took the enjoyment of the weekend right out.


George Carr said...

Great trip report Matt. You're dead on about location. That can make the difference between a good night or a bad night.

Jolly Green Giant said...

Continued good work on your blog. I didn't realize that I hadn't added your blog on my end of the world, so I've ensured that oversight has now been fixed.

Best wishes.