Saturday, March 6, 2010

Sunshine and snow melt on the SHT

I spent Feb. 26-28 on my favorite section of the Superior Hiking Trail: Beaver Bay to Highway 1. The weekend was fabulous - the weather was warm, and with the exception for Sunday morning, there was no cloud in the sky. The weather was so warm throughout the weekend, I hiked in my base layer top for most of Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning into the afternoon. Rarely did I have anything else on my torso besides my top and sunglasses.

I was the first obvious human visitor to the area between somewhere south of Penn Creek and Mt. Trudee in a while. The trail was obvious because of prior indentations (and subsequent snowfall), but there were no fresh tracks. The trail register at the east fork of the Twin Lakes Trail confirmed that what I thought: I was the first person to make an entry in the log since jan 2, 2010, a span of eight weeks.

I also saw only one person physically on the trail, and he was out walking his dog. I saw no other hikers. From my vantage point atop the adjacent ridges, I saw some persons icefishing on Bear and Bean lakes, and two cross country skiers on Bear Lake.

There were at least more recent visitors in the section between Penn Boulevard and Penn Creek. Unfortunately, some snowmobiles south decided to carve their path on the SHT. It made walking easy, but it does not lessen the intrusion. The SHT crisscrosses numerous snowmobile trails, and the trail clearly marked with "Foot Traffic Only" or "No Motorized Vehicles." Signs mean what they say: snowmobilers, stay off.

The trail section between Mt. Trudee and through Tettegouche State Park to Highway 1 was much more compacted, likely because of visitors to the park. The compacted trail pretty much started at the summit of Mt. Trudee and wound its way back through the park.

Somewhere in Tettegouche State Park in amid its cedar forests is a climb dubbed The Drainpipe. It is the toughest single climb on the SHT, and and it reminds me of the Hillary Step, a 40-foot climb on Mt. Everest only 269 vertical feet from the summit (although no where near as difficult). To climb up this section, I had to click up the heel bars on my snowshoes and take it one slow step at a time. This photo does not do it justice.

Because I did an out-and-back, I had the pleasure of going down and then up the Drainpipe. I can compare the two only as such: going down was likely more dangerous because my feet could have more easily slipped out from underneath me (landing me on my butt), but going up was harder because of the single-step/rest-step method I used to get up.

It was the second weekend out with my Betalight. I had initially wanted to modify the anchors by adding ladder lock buckles to the corners, but I did not get the chance to do that before I left. This would allow me to get a tight pitch, and to tighten the pitch throughout the evening should the silnylon sag or the snow shift. Instead, I pitched the shelter as tight as a could, then set up the shelter. My poles (115 cm Gossamer Gear LightTrek 3s) were too short to get a tight pitch, so I had to add rocks under the poles to boost them slightly. This tightened the pitch, and created vents along the base of the shelter because the pitch was not tight to the ground.

I spent Saturday evening on a hill just outside the park boundaries. The moon rose over the lake, leaving a glow over the lake and throwing shadows from everything. It was one of the best campsites I've been at in a while.

Being on top of a hill, it was breezy. I closed up the door to keep drafts off my chin and expected heavy condensation on the interior walls throughout the night. But when I woke up, there was minimal condensation on the interior walls, just some mild condensation directly above my face. The ground-level vents created by the pitching method created sufficient ventilation to prevent an icing, too.

Here is my Final 2.26-2.28.10 Gear List (Google Spreadsheet). You'll notice that I have not calculated my base weight. This was not intentional, but in hindsight it is less important in winter because your clothing system changes throughout the day - you're simply adjusting layers more often.

I made two last-minute gear-list changes: In my initial gear list, I cut out my SMC Snowstakes to save approximately 8 oz off my pack weight. But I added them back in out of sheer convenience. I also listed my sole base layer bottom as a pair of GoLite Stride shorts. But I brought along (and wore) my new Patagonia R1 Bottoms instead because I wanted to have a base layer over my knees.

Taking the snowstakes was the correct decision. I got into camp Friday night at around 12:30 am, and the stakes were convenient. I did not have to go searching for sticks, and the stakes sliced into the packed snow of the designated campsite. However, I should not have worn my R1 bottoms. The temperature was too high for their use, and I was sweating on my legs throughout the day. That all said, as soon as I stopped the bottoms dumped heat, just as the fabric is designed to do.

Because of anticipated weather conditions, I switched from my MSR Dragonfly, a white gas stove, to an MSR PocketRocket, a top-mount canister stove. Canister stoves are not traditionally used in the winter because the temperatures tend to be below the boiling point of the fuel in the canister. I use MSR canisters (almost exclusively), which contain a mixture of isobutane and propane. Isobutane boils at +10F, and propane boils at -43.8F (chart from BPL). Like white-gas stoves, the fuel for a canister stove must be in a gas form to burn efficiently. Thus, when the temps drop below +10F, the canister will start to burn propane almost exclusively, and when that fuel runs out, the stove stops dead. Now, take into effect Boyle's law (as pressure decreases (through using the stove), the temperature decreases) and the canister can cool below +10F and cause the stove to stop working despite the canister being two-thirds full.

The weather cooperated with the stove. The daytime temps were in the mid 20s to mid 30s. I also warmed the canister inside my jacket, and on Sunday (photo posted above) I kept the sun shining on the canister throughout the snowmelt.

It takes about the same amount of fuel to melt snow as to bring 40F water to approximately 180 degrees. According to BPL testing, the PR used an average of 8.3 g of fuel to bring 16 oz of water to a boil under optimal conditions. My testing is yields similar results.

I was surprised by the stove's performance: I used 93 g (of a full 227 g canister) to melt approximately seven cookpots of 25 oz water. I also boiled a small amount of water for oatmeal on Saturday; this amount is not included in the calculations below. I was using the MSR Titan Kettle, which holds 850ml/28.75 oz of fluid brim-full, and my melts were mostly full, but never brim full. Thus, I believe my fuel consumption and water melting data are conservative estimates. All total, I melted 175 oz, or approximately 11 pints, over the course of 48 hours. Running the numbers, I used approximately 8.45 g/pt.

Finally, I did have one major problem with my boots because my feet were wet from Saturday afternoon until I got to my car on Sunday. The snow was melting and despite the GoreTex liner in my boot, my feet were wet.

Problem diagnosis: I do not think snow got in over my boots because I was wearing over-the-calf gaiters. My pants were wet on the outside of the lower part of the gaiters, but this is from condensation on the inside of the packcloth of the gaiters. I do not think it was from excessive perspiration. I was wearing heavy winter socks (SmartWool Mountaineering), but my right sock was wetter than my left (on both days) and on Sunday afternoon (in the sunshine, temps well north of 32F) I wrung water out of my right socks. I think there is a failure of the Gore-Tex lining (similar to the hole I wore in my Saloman on the SHT in 2008), and I'm going to contact Innov-8 to see if it is a warranty issue. I love the boots, but this is unacceptable.


Joe said...

Great report Matt, sounds like you had a fantastic time.

It sucks when WP/B boot linings fail. I've had to say goodbye to perfectly good, comfortable boots in the past due to linings springing a leak. I toyed with the idea of getting unlined boots (like inov8's discontinued 370s) and wearing my Gore Tex socks when necessary but then I found some lined Montrail boots on sale and so far they've been fine.

I need to get some snowstakes. Last time out I used my skis, poles and a tree but it didn't result in a particularly taught pitch.

Matt Lutz said...

I think if the temps had been 15 degrees or so cooler, I wouldn't have know the wiser because the snow would not have melted as it did. Much colder than that and I'm donning mukluks.

L-Train said...

Hey! I think the isobutane canisters have issues in colder temps. That's why I have a different stove for winter trips that'll burn any fuel.

Has anyone tried using an alcohol stove in the winter?

Matt Lutz said...

Read the link to BPL about the canister stoves in the winter. Roger Caffin there has written many, many articles on the subject (and stoves in general).

I have never used alcohol in the winter.

Nielsen Brown said...

The Beta light is a great shelter, used mine in Norway, on the AT and in Oz. I have used alcohol and Esbit in the winter with a caldera and have no complaints, lighting the esbit or alcohol is the challenge but with patience it has never failed me.

samh said...

Thanks for sharing, Matt.

Anonymous said...

So your feet don't sweat? The water is coming in. It's trying to get OUT. Yoiu need a vapor barrier sock.