Monthly Archives: March 2014

Comprehensive PCT gear list

The following is a comprehensive list of all gear coming with me on my PCT thru-hike.  Weights included.  Item subject to change! Enjoy.

Big 3+

  • Rab Neutrino 600 sleeping bag – 34oz
  • Black Diamond BetaLite tarp tent – 21oz
  • MSR groundhog stakes (7) – 4.5oz
  • Exped SynMat UL 7 Small – 14oz
  • Gregory Z55 pack (straps cut down) 47oz

Total weight 120.5oz/

 

Clothing layers

  • North Face RDT lightweight rain shell – 12.5oz
  • Montbell ClimaAir Fleece – 12.5oz
  • Montbell ClimaPlus wind vest 6.25oz
  • Patagonia lightweight wool t – 4.75oz
  • Patagonia Strider shorts – 3.5oz
  • Montbell Ex. weight wool pants – 6oz
  • Pearl Izumi Elite thermal arm warmers – 2.75oz
  • Pearl Izumi Shine wind mitt/glove – 3oz
  • Mammut buff – 1.5oz
  • Sea to Summit bug headnet – 1oz

Total weight – 56.5oz/3.53lbs

 

Cookwear

  • Evernew Titanium .6L pot – 5oz
  • Sea to Summit long-handled spoon – .5oz
  • MSR MicroRocket stove – 2.75oz
  • MSR titanium mug – 2oz
  • Sawyer Mini filter – 4.5oz
  • CRKT Peck (knife) – 1oz
  • 3L Camelbak bladder – 7.25oz
  • 2 x Disposable 2L water bottles – weight currently unknown

Total weight – 23oz/1.44lbs

 

Random Items

  • McMurdo Fast Find PLB – 5.5oz
  • First Aid kit – 5.75oz
  • GoPro Hero3+ and accessories – 10oz
  • Black Diamond Icon headlamp – 8.25oz
  • Peppers Sunset Blvd polarized glasses – 1oz

    Total weight – 30.5oz/1.9lbs


 

Total weight of all items – 228.5oz/14.28

 

*other items are yet to be weighed and added i.e. cell phone/charger, additional camera, hat, sunglasses, etc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When lite IS right

In my quest to prepare for the PCT, I have found myself getting sucked into the game of shedding weight wherever possible. Recently I read a great article by Andrew Skurka “Stupid light”.  Andrew’s article gives some great examples of omitted gear that ultimately proved detrimental to his comfort and abilities on particular trips.  I thought I would give a few examples of my own to further illustrate weight savings, not safety 20140327-165842.jpgcompromise.

As I have been preparing for the trail, water treatment has been one of the areas that I have seen my strategy slowly evolve.  I originally intended to use a chemical purification product called AquaMira. I used this product on a NOLS semester course with success. In addition to its ability to make questionable water safer to drink, it had no unpleasant taste that I could detect in addition to being simple to use and light weight.  Unfortunately it is rather cost prohibitive at $11 (which treats 30 gallons).  I anticipate drinking more then 200 gallons of water during my PCT hike. This works out to a cost of roughly $75 for enough Aqua Mira for my entire hike.

I felt that I could do better then $75 so I looked to my Steri Pen Classic.  I bought it for $50 on sale at REI. Some benefits are the fact that it is chemical free and more compact then most filters. Upon researching this product however, I found that it will only purify roughly 100 liters (under ideal conditions) on one set of lithium batteries ($10).  This would cost roughly $80 for batteries in addition to the cost of the pen itself for a total of $130 for chemical free water purification for the duration of my hike.

Although I had entertained the idea of using bleach, which is highly cost effective and lightweight, I still have a 20140327-165831.jpghard time willingly putting chemicals in my body (even though chlorine is used to purify municiple water supplies…). Before I invested in a dropper bottle and bleach, I was lucky enough to come across the Saywer Mini water filter.  This little gem is compact, easy to use, and for $25, will purify 100,000 gallons.  Also, in my quest to shed unnecessary weight, this filter comes in at 1.5oz less then the Steri Pen including a collapsible water bottle, straw attachment, flushing syringe and stuff sack. If I leave behind a few of these accessories, I can get the weight down to 1.6oz, almost 5oz less then the Steri Pen!  This is a rare instance where the lighter option is also much cheaper (unheard of when shedding ounces) and is actually simpler to use without sacrificing function.

After having so much success in reducing my gear weight with water treatment, I reevaluated my stove – the MSR Microrocket. This little piece of metal is already light, weighing in at 4.5oz including all the accessories. These additional accessories include a hard plastic case as well as a piezoelectric igniter.  Separating these items and putting the stove back on the scale revealed a weight savings of 1.75oz. Leaving behind a plastic case and igniter (redundant items since the stove can stow in my cooking pot and I will still carry a lighter) is a safe move that doesn’t jeopardize my safety or comfort, two important factors to consider when taking items out of your pack.

20140327-165837.jpgOne last example of weight savings is my choice to forgo a long sleeve shirt.  I initially planned on bringing a wool tshirt as well as a long sleeve shirt.  While it would be nice to have to two layers, I came across my biking arm warmers.  I substituted the arm warmers for the long sleeved shirt – a moderate weight savings which doesn’t sacrifice my ability to cover my arms for added warmth or protection from the sun.

With all of these substitutions and omissions, the main question I asked myself was, ‘am I threatening my safety?’.  In all of these examples the answer was no, allowing me to make these weight saving changes without threatening my well-being on the trail.  I recommend using the same criteria when making decisions about your own gear choices – good luck and happy hiking!

 

Planning for a PCT Thru-hike

Recently a friend asked if I might be interested in writing a blog article about the planning process for the PCT.  Until he had suggested it to me, I hadn’t thought about detailing the steps of planning the hike.  Sure, I have been loosely documenting my experience with this blog, mentioning my experiences so far with little tidbits about the process of getting ready to hike.  But so far, I have not written any specific articles detailing the process as a whole.  So here it goes.

Getting the Bug

It all starts with an inspiring series of events.  At least that’s how I would describe my experience with ‘catching the bug’ for a long distance hike.  Rewind a few (15+) years.  When I was a middle school student I got involved with a fantastic program known as Overland (www.overlandsummers.com).  They are based out of Williamstown, Massachusettes and offer summer outdoor recreation based camp programs for students from middle-highschool.  I had never attended any kind of sleep-away camp and was a bit apprehensive at first.  With some coaxing from my family I participated in a two week program in the North East, hiking and mountain biking.  Some of our hiking took us on the Appalachian Trail, one of the most famous long-distance hiking trails in North America.  This was not the specific moment, but this was the beginning of my love of hiking.20140321-170158.jpg

I participated in other trips with Overland as a student, later returning as a trip leader for three years.  I took students mountain biking in Colorado, backpacking in Yellowstone National Park, and on my final year as an instructor, co-led a cross country bicycle tour from Georgia to California.  Up until our cross-country ride I had never completed a long distance journey and to say we were thrilled with our accomplishment would be an understatement.  This trip, which lasted six weeks, was a testament to the ability of the human body, given time, motivation, team work, and the desire to accomplish something ‘great’.  Our group of students and my co-leader amazed me with what we all accomplished together.

Fast forward.  Some time after my coast to coast bike tour it occurred to me:  I biked 3000 miles in 6 weeks, why couldn’t I hike 2000+ miles in 5-6 months?  During college in Maine, I had some opportunities to hike on the AT near it’s Northern terminus in Baxter State Park and on occasion I had the opportunity to meet and chat with some AT thru-hikers.  They seemed like an odd breed, talking about eating gallons of ice cream in mere minutes, carrying VERY simplified backpacking setups, and sporting strange ‘trail names’.  I wanted to be one of these people.

I didn’t catch the bug at one specific moment, I had lots of opportunities and experiences that conspired to make the idea of thru-hiking a long distance trail something that I wanted to do at some point in my life.

When is the time right?

While getting excited and deciding that you would like to attempt a thru-hike might seem like a big step (actually wanting to hike thousands of miles you say?), deciding when the time is right is a much more difficult task.  We don’t exactly live in a society that embraces the idea of leaving your job (or career?), home, and responsibilities (who needs those anyway…) behind, in favor living in the woods for 4-6 months.  And even if this sounds appealing, how realistic is it to just pick up and go?  Could you leave your job and would it be waiting for you 5 months later to pick up where you left off?  Do you have the ability to move out of your home so that you don’t have a mortgage or rent?  Can you afford your other bills – phone, health insurance, student loans while not working?  Regardless of money and societal expectations, you also have your family and loved one’s who will no doubt have an opinion of the hike you are about to embark on.

Luckily for me conditions have been just right.  It hasn’t been an easy set of events to get to this point though.  In addition to a nine year long relationship ending, I was laid off in late September, a month before Thanksgiving.  While both of these events have conspired to make my thru-hike attempt possible, I would not wish divorce or loss of work on anyone.  They are both terrible and will make even the most confident person examine their self-worth.  Instead of getting depressed about the shitty hand I was just dealt I decided to remain positive.  I no longer had any responsibility to anyone other then myself – this is a good place to find yourself if you want to go hiking for 5 months.

Without speaking too much longer on ‘when the time is right’, it has become clear to me that often there is no ‘right’ time.  You simply have to get off your ass and DO IT.  Don’t wait.  You are only going to get older and fatter (it’s the American way).  You are only going to become more entrenched in your way of life, having commitments, obligations, bills, events, Jesus, you might even have kids.  You either take the steps necessary to make it happen or it won’t.  You have to be proactive here, it’s the only way.  If you wait, the opportunity could slip by without giving you the slightest chance to embrace to unknown and get out there.

Some stuff you HAVE to do

I already mentioned some big picture stuff like leaving your job, your home, and almost all of your responsibilities.  But let’s backtrack a tiny bit.  What do you know about the trail?  Where does it start?  Where does it end?  How long is it and how much will it cost you to hike it and what do you need and where will you sleep and…  What I am getting at here is research.  You have to do some.  Behold, the greatness of the interwebs.

I personally started with The Pacific Crest Trail Association website.  You will find more information on this site that you can easily digest in one sitting – it is a fantastic starting point complete with maps, trail journals, photos, phone numbers, distances, and any other information regarding this hiking trail you could desire.

Another great course of action would be a Google search for ‘PCT trail journals’ or some similar keyword combination.  In the past few months I have come across multiple journals and blogs of previous and aspiring PCT thru-hikers.  The experiences and lessons they have learned will no doubt help you refine your planning stages, avoiding some of their mistakes, and learning from their successes.

PERMITS

This is really part of ‘stuff you have to do’ but deserves a small, separate section.  The two big ones you will need are:

My long distance hiking and Canada entry permits.

My long distance hiking and Canada entry permits.need are:

Long Distance Permit – Information and forms to obtain this are available on www.pcta.org.  The paperwork is easy to fill out and straight forward but you will want to do a little bit of general research about the trail prior to filling out the forms.  The PCTA will want to know things like your anticipated starting and ending dates in addition to where you will be starting and finishing your hike.  This permit is only needed if you are going to be hiking more then 500 continuous miles.  I received my permit roughly 2 weeks after sending in my paperwork but the closer you get to April/May, the longer I would anticipate waiting – best to secure this one early.

Permit to enter Canada via PCT – Like the Long Distance Permit, I would recommend securing this as early as possible.  I have read about other hikers having to wait over a month to receive this permit after mailing in their paperwork.  I got mine in two weeks.  You will need a valid US passport and drivers license and color copies will be required in addition to an estimated date of entry to Canada and itinerary while in Canada.  While it sounds a little daunting, filling out this paperwork was not very difficult.  Write legibly and be as complete as possible to avoid having your paperwork returned or denied.

*There are a couple of other, less important permits you will likely want to secure.  All the information regarding permits is provided on the PCTA website – I’ll let you figure it out, it’s part of the adventure!

GEAR

Current gear selection for my 2014 pct thru-hike attempt

Current gear selection for my 2014 pct thru-hike attempt

I won’t mention every item because YOU will have to decide what you can and can’t live without.  Here is the breakdown as far as I am concerned:

  • Three big items – Backpack, Sleeping bag, Tent.  These are usually the heaviest items.  I am using an internal frame pack (Gregory Z55, my heaviest piece of gear).  I am using a silnylon tarp-tent (Black Diamond beta lite).  I am using a 20(ish) degree down sleeping bag (Rab neutrino 600).  Don’t get hung up too much on weights, but if possible, shoot for under 10 lbs (it’s very doable with today’s fancy-pants materials).
  • Cookware – Stove and other cooking items.  I am using a small canister stove (MSR micro-rocket) and a titanium (Evernew) cook pot.  While I have used and read about others using alcohol stoves (exceptionally light) this is not possible due to fire restrictions in California and possibly other areas on the PCT this year (2014).  Consider eating utensils, mug, seasonings, etc.
  • Water treatment – I will most likely be using bleach.  There are lots of options out there, filters, uv sterilizers, chemical treatments.  I would suggest something that is lite, fail-proof, and cost-effective.
  • Clothing – Upper and lower body layers.  The criteria I am using:  Can I wear everything all at once.  I am choosing layers that compliment each other and can all be used together (comfortably).  Minimalism is key here to avoid bulk and excess weight.  In the past month and a half I have removed almost half the items I originally planned on bringing.  An important note – you will likely need to make changes based on the region you are in.  Your clothing selection for the Southern California desert will most definitely be different then what you need in the Cascades.
  •   Footwear – Not too much info here.  The amount of support you should seek for footwear depends on a couple factors.  Do you pronate or supinate?  Do you know what these two terms mean?  Also, the ‘burliness’ of your footwear should be relative to the weight that you are carrying on your back.  The less weight in your pack, the lighter footwear will PROBABLY be sufficient for you.  I plan on using trail running shoes.  Test your proposed footwear PRIOR to your hike WITH the FULL WEIGHT you anticipate hiking with for DISTANCES THAT ARE EQUIVALENT to what you expect to hike on the trail.
  • Other items – Lots of things can be included here.  Some extras I am bringing include trekking poles, a camera, a digital voice recorder, a journal, a PLB, and some other small items.  Keep in mind ‘even small’ items add up.

My original pack weight was roughly 20lbs.  I removed some items and got it down to a little over 15lbs.  I am aiming to reduce that number by 2-3lbs more before I get on the trail.  Am I a fanatic about pack weight? No, but having hiked with packs as heavy as 85lbs (thanks NOLS) and also with lightweight ‘minimal’ backpacking setups, I have concluded that going light rather then heavy is the correct choice for me.

Training

There is no true consensus here.  Some people do a lot of training, some do a little, and some do none.  If you have never been on a backpacking trip I would suggest trying it out prior to making all the aforementioned preparations.  If you know what to expect then I would suggest incorporating SOME sort of regular physical activity into your daily life.  Other then being generally fit I think your thru-hike will kick you into shape.  Sure, it will hurt a little at first.  The short answer here is that everyone is different when it comes to physical activity and you should train in a way that will prepare YOU so that you can have the greatest chance of success.

Food

Two main options here: buy as you go or resupply via mail.  There is also the obvious middle ground where you do a little of both.  Using pre-packaged resupply boxes will likely give you better financial control over gear/food but can be limiting.  How can you possibly anticipate accurately everything you will need in advance?  Also, how will you know exactly how much food you will ACTUALLY consume?  I plan on purchasing as I go, but occasionally sending boxes of food/supplies ahead when availability/cost of resources dictates the need.

Sponsorship/free stuff

All I have to say is that this stuff exists.  Get creative.  Send letters, emails, and make phone calls.  Your chances of success will depend on a few factors including what you can offer potential sponsors as well as your persistence and professionalism.  Be polite, expect to get turned down a lot, but stay positive and you just might find some great opportunities.

In conclusion…

The above describes SOME of what I have experienced in getting ready for this endeavor.  It is highly likely that I have left some key information out (thanks recreational substances!).  The important take-away here is that preparing for a trip of this magnitude will be different for everyone.  Don’t expect the same experience as I have had.  Planning to thru-hike the PCT might be much more complicated, but it might also be simpler.  Do your research, have fun with it and make it yours!

The long road to California

The weather is beautiful and sunny here in Southern California. I arrived this morning (March 21st) after a week of adventures in the Southwestern US.  This post will be broken down by destinations and travel days to attempt to make it a bit more reader friendly, enjoy!

Getting on the road

As most of you who have been following my blog are already aware, Megan and I had been planning a ‘spring break’ road trip to California, the dates of which lined up nicely for the start of my PCT thru-hike and Megan’s break from CSU.  After what seemed like months of planning our route, acquiring gear, and and coordinating with friends, March 14th finally arrived and to say we were excited would be an understatement.

While Megan finished up some mid-terms, I organized and loaded the last of our gear into the Forester, a task which proved challenging.  The gear necessary for two people to enjoy a 1300 mile road trip including hiking climbing and camping is substantial.  Add to that everything else that I own, which needed to come with us to California, and you are looking at very little space for the two people who are needed to actually pilot and navigate said car.  It seemed improbable but we managed to fit everything, with a little leg room.

We shifted the car into drive some time around noon and immediately made our first stop at New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins.  In addition to the two bombers of La Folie and Tree Shaker that Megan had purloined, we needed to fill her growler, a 64oz. (half gallon) container with some sweet nectar before heading into Utah.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Utah’s liquor laws, lets just say that they make acquiring beer with alcohol percentages higher then 3.2% ‘difficult’.

We ALWAYS have a great time at New Belgium and this visit proved consistent with the past.  Our bartender turned out to be a 2010 Appalachian trail thru-hiker known as ‘Tree’.  Once he heard that I was on my way to California to begin a thru-hike of the PCT, his eyes grew wide and he came alive, recounting his trail experience a few years ago.  We ended up chatting for 45 minutes in which time he offered me that highly valuable information that thru-hiking alumni always seem to posses.  As if that wasn’t enough, Tree wished us well and sent us on our way with tasters and a growler fill, free of charge!  The trail magic had begun and we weren’t even 15 minutes from the start of our road trip.  It is already apparent to me that the community of thru-hikers I am about to immerse myself in are wonderful people.

Beer in hand, we rolled out of Fort Collins towards Boulder to make a few more pit stops before stopping by my friend Jason’s house in Conifer.  I took one last look through some belongings that J is looking after for me.  I grabbed some fly fishing gear and stuffed it god-knows-where in the solid brick of equipment that had become my car before wishing Jason farewell and resuming our momentum West, towards the coast.

Some other highlights of our first day of driving included bar-b-q in South Park, beers in Breckenridge, and an unplanned motel night in Grand Junction.  We had originally planned on driving straight through to Indian Creek that evening to meet up with our friends who we planned on camping with.  Initially I was a little irritated at Megan’s suggestion to stop driving, wanting to get to our destination.  In hindsight, her GOOD idea got us into bed by 11pm, not 2am.  We both got roughly seven hours of sleep, waking up early the next morning to finish the last four hours of driving.

Indian Creek

As climbers, Megan and I had seen pictures, heard stories, and dreamed of the day we would get to climb at the iconic desert sandstone cliffs that are Indian Creek.  This BLM managed piece of land is located in the high desert of South-Eastern Utah.  Heading South through the red rock landscape of Moab, the sun slowly climbed past the horizon and the landscape whispered canyon country.  We wandered across washes and around mesas until turning off the main highway towards an area known as the Newspaper Rock Recreation

Literally on the side of the road.

Literally on the side of the road.

Area.

After climbing through a small window in the sandstone fortress ahead of us, the road angled steeply and drunkenly downwards thrusting us into the canyons below.  Crossing cattle guards and making winding turns led us to the parking area for Newspaper Rock, a sort of community canvas of pictographs and petroglyphs.  Megan and I stopped briefly to snap a few quick photos but resumed our drive, arriving at the Supercrack parking area about 40 minutes ahead of schedule.

Upon stepping out of the car, we immediate dug out our down jackets – it was coooold and the parking area was not yet basking in the same sunshine splashing over the sandstone cliffs above.  We had been on the road since 5am and we needed sustenance.  With the Coleman 2-burner set up on the hood, we brewed coffee, Megan had oatmeal, and I ate some granola and yogurt.

After some driving around, we managed to run into Jeramiah and Kevin, our friends we were looking for.  They led us down Beef Basin road to a fantastic camp site right below the Technicolor Wall.  To say this spot was scenic wouldn’t do it justice.  We were tucked right below the massive sandstone walls we would be climbing that afternoon, in the middle of a valley that winded it’s way between buttresses of red iron.  In the distance, snow-dusted peaks showed winter’s reluctance to let go of this stark landscape.  Not long after pulling into camp, our friend Ian came motoring up the road on a dirt bike he was just learning to ride.  He attempted some advanced maneuver which resulted in him laying the bike down immediately in front of the group, resulting in laughter.  It was quite a grand entrance.  We laughed, met new friends, stuffed climbing gear into packs and headed up the ridge line to the Technicolor wall.

Upon arrival, Ian ‘warmed up’ on a fist and off-hands-sized corner that was damn near 60 meters long.  On top-rope I was humbled by the nature of the climbing as my hands were sanded into submission.  No tape could protect me from the ancient sea floor.  Megan and I marveled at the nature of the climbing, managing our way up the climbs but without the style or grace of our friends who have obviously honed their desert crack climbing technique from previous visits.  We were beat down and we were loving it.  The cracks and chimneys that made up this small part of the climbing area kept us occupied until the sun dropped below the canyon walls and we retreated to our barracks for the evening.

Dinner consisted of meat products (meat stick and bacon) in cheesy mac – let the flatulence begin!  We shared 20140321-170147.jpgbeer and good company around a campfire with a million stars overhead.  My night alternated between moments of deep sleep as well as waking – I often sleep this way outdoors, I can’t quite explain it.  In the early morning I listened to the cries of coyotes.

Day two saw us driving towards the Pistol Whipped wall, a bit further down Beef Basin road.  After a steep approach to the base of the cliff, we traversed right until we found some appropriate climbs to warm up on.  I jumped on lead on a short and think finger crack while Ian set up one of the tightest chimneys I have ever climbed.  After a boost of confidence I got to watch Ian onsite a 5.12- finger crack, impressive.  Ian and Jaremiah mentioned a climb called Jolly Rancher when we had initially hiked up to the climbing area for the day and at 5.10, it seemed like a grade I could manage.  After collecting close to 20 cams, I walked around the buttress until a splitter hand crack came into view.  After the previous day I knew that although this line looked beautiful, the climbing would be strenuous and challenging.

20140321-170135.jpgThe first few moves off the ground were difficult – slightly insecure jams with thin feet.  I managed to reach high enough for a solid thumbs-down jam, camming my feet into the crack, finally feeling secure enough to reach down and select a cam.  After a few more moves the climbing eased a bit more and I repeated the process of selecting a cam and protecting my upwards movement.  After about twenty feet I placed one more cam and decided to take a rest.  Crack climbing is really no different then any other type of climbing when you get down to the underlying strategy.  Conserve energy, hold your body close to the rock with your hands and use your feet for upward progress whenever possible.  I have told hundreds of students those very strategies and thankfully Ian and Jeremiah were there reminding me of these basics.  It’s easy to lose sight of the simple things when your forearms feel like they are about to rupture and you are on the sharp end of the rope.

I wish I could say that after that rest I run right up the rest of the climb.  The truth is that it took me about 45 minutes to finish the remaining 120 feet of the route.  Rock climbing can be extremely humbling and this was a perfect case of ‘first time at the Creek’.  I didn’t give up though, thrashing my way up the crack, running out

The Author climbing Jolly Rancher 5.10, Pistol Whipped Wall, Indian Creek, Utah

The Author climbing Jolly Rancher 5.10, Pistol Whipped Wall, Indian Creek, Utah

of small gear when I desperately wanted it right at the end.  After clipping the anchors and being lowered I rested for a long time.  I was beat down but I enjoyed it.  Jamming your way up a splitter crack, in the middle of a blank sandstone face, in the desert turned out to be an excellent experience.  I look forward to next time.

That afternoon Megan and I decided that we ought to continue our journey South to Blanding, Utah.  Our friends were getting on the road back to Salt Lake City that afternoon and we needed gas in the car as well as water and some other food items.  Simultaneously cracking open beers in the parking area, we recounted our experience that day and laughed together.  Ian bestowed upon me some lighter trekking poles for my PCT hike and he and Jeremiah offered to help out with mailing supplies to me on the trail if necessary.  The trail magic continues and I’m not even on the trail yet.

South-Eastern Utah, Butler Wash

After leaving Indian Creek, Megan and I had a short drive South, through Monticello and Blanding, Utah.  We rolled down Butler Wash late Sunday evening and without too much difficulty, found a spot to park the car.  For those of you that are unfamiliar with South-East Utah, amazing Native American ruins and artifacts reside in the sandy, winding canyons that make up this arid landscape.  Butler Wash road, South of Blanding, gives access to Comb Ridge, a sandstone incline punctuated with many easily accessible canyons.  In these canyons you will find many Anasazi ruins as well as petroglyphs, pictographs, potshards, and many other artifacts.  The Non-Technical Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau, by Michael R. Kelsey, is a fantastic resource.

20140321-170216.jpg

Since we were climbing nearby, exploring some of the cultural past that Utah has to offer seemed like a fun and relaxing option (not to mention convenient, less then an hour from Indian Creek).  After a productive morning, cleaning and organizing the car as well as cooking bacon and eggs in cast iron over our campfire, we were feeling motivated to do some walking.  We quickly learned (or maybe I already knew) that BLM land often has limited signage.  Having neglected to reset the odometer on the car as we turned off the main road, 20140321-170255.jpgfiguring out the specific turns to access the ruins we were looking for proved challenging.  While I drove aimlessly down the dirt road, Megan glassed Comb ridge with her binoculars and suggested that we take one of the side roads to our West.  Leaving the main road and heading towards Comb Ridge, we eventually found a parking area with trail markers.  With water and cameras in our packs, we began the pleasant walk towards the canyons.

Within five minutes sandstone walls rose on both sides, funneling us towards the cool shade of the alcoves and brush within the confines of the canyon ahead.  We continued down the well-worn path, eventually cross in front of a sign the warned ‘do not disturb cultural resources’.  We were on the right path.  A few more minutes of walking and the canyon opened.  We didn’t see the ruins immediately, they blended into the orange and red rock which they were perched on.  Upon closer inspection, we could now see an overhanging alcove with two levels.  Stone and mud walls were carefully perched on the edge of each level, offering a living space for what appeared to be multiple family groups.

Upon closer inspection we found pieces of pottery, stone flakes from the creation of tools and grinding marks 20140321-170232.jpgfrom processing grain (we guessed).  The walls of the canyons nearby were inscribed with carved images known as petroglyphs depicting events long passed.  As we climbed among the old structures we imagined the people who made this place their home and wished we were so lucky to live in a canyon as beautiful as this.

As we began out walk out of this location, our attention to detail had shifted and we now saw many more petroglyphs on the walls that we had previously passed.  It’s amazing how these ancient pieces of artwork could be sitting right in front of us and go unnoticed.  We had gotten a late start this morning and wanted to visit at least one more canyon before getting on the road.  Getting back to our car, we consulted the map and picked another side road to explore.

The next trail that we found led us to an area known as Monarch cave, one of the deeper and more expansive alcoves we had seen containing similar structures.  This particular site had some features that we had not previously seen including wood incorporated into the stone dwellings as supports and also as roofing.  We found some grinding plates as well as lots and LOTS of carved and drawn images on the nearby walls.

20140321-170322.jpgAfter our cultural exploration was complete, we headed back to Blanding to pick up an atlas and some food items.  We needed an oil change and a destination.  After talking to the caretaker for a local RV campground, we decided to drive a little further to the town of Bluff, to find a campground that might offer showers and internet.  Bluff didn’t disappoint and we were able to get cleaned up and upload email a few photos to our friends and family.

The Grand Canyon

Megan and I thoroughly enjoyed our time in Southeastern Utah, but with California in the distance, we had to get on the road and put some more miles behind us. Morning saw us rolling across the Navajo nation through Monument Valley and ultimately ending at the Grand Canyon.

Prior to starting our road trip I had attempted to contact a good friend of mine who has been on a road trip for the past 10 months.  Craig retired, and now that he is receiving social security, he is living his life on the road!  I am impressed that someone such as Craig is able to find happiness and peace living a simple life, enjoying the National Parks and other Federal lands from the comfort of his tent.  I wish more people could see how much value exists in a life lived this way.

As we climbed the long road out of the desert up to the entrance station to the park, I mentioned to Megan that I had not yet successfully gotten in touch with Craig.  His daughter told me that we would find him at the Grand Canyon but knowing Craig, he could be anywhere in the Southwest soaking in the sun in his camping chair.  We took a chance and headed towards the campgrounds on the South Rim, hoping to find my friend.

There are over 250 designated camp sites on the South Rim and we started with number 1.  Megan and I drove slowly around the loops looking for the green Tacoma and L.L. Bean tent.  Winding through the pines, we searched every corner of the campground loops without much luck.  Occasionally we would see a promising site, but no luck, Craig was nowhere to be found.  Driving through the last loop, I was feeling a bit discouraged, preparing myself for the task of finding our own site and setting up all of our equipment when we saw something promising.  Through the trees a big, 70’s style tent came into view, complete with a tanned, shirtless dude, sitting in a camp chair, his white handlebar mustache almost fluorescent in the afternoon sun.

Craig’s familiar smile crept onto his face as he waved hello and we stepped out of the car to greet him.  It was

We found our friend Craig, livin' the life, resident at the Grand Canyon and loving it!

We found our friend Craig, livin’ the life, resident at the Grand Canyon and loving it!

really wonderful seeing Craig who I originally met working in Boulder, Colorado, trimming marijuana in a dimly-lit warehouse.  The two of us hit it off, with similar life experiences and a love of the outdoors.  I was so happy to introduce Megan and the three of us immediately drank a few beers and shared stories from the road.

Craig was happy to have us stay at his site and he offered to let us sleep in his tent as he was using the back of his truck.  We gladly obliged, saving us some time and allowing us to kick back and enjoy some beers.  That afternoon we all hiked to the rim where we watched the sun retreat behind the horizon, painting the canyon walls orange, red, and magenta.

The following morning Craig headed into town for gas and other provisions while Megan and I had a dense pancake breakfast.  We discussed our options and decided that a nice day hike on the Bright Angel Trail would give us a taste of what the Canyon had to offer.  Packing our gear for the day we made sure to put a couple beers in our packs to enjoy during lunch.  Megan and I hit the trailhead at 10:30 and began our descent.

The Bright Angel Trail is one of the most famous hiking trails in the Canyon, eventually winding it’s way down to Phantom Ranch.  As we began our hike, it was clear that the trail was manufactured, carved into the steep side of the upper canyon.  The more switchbacks we rounded, the warmer the air got and the fewer other park visitors we encountered.  We were headed to Indian Gardens, a campground part way down the trail.  Amazingly, there are MULTIPLE bathrooms and water filling stations on the way down the trail (in just 3 miles).  While I laughed and joke with Megan that we better get our $25 worth, it occurred to me that multiple guests probably would have died without these services.  While the existence of these structures don’t exactly lend themselves to creating a wilderness experience, I remembered that this was not a wilderness, this was a park.  There is an obvious difference.

Megan and I eventually made it to Indian Gardens which felt like an oasis, complete with flowering shrubs, Grand Canyon NP sunsetsinging birds, and flowing water.  We had brought PLENTY of water and didn’t need a refill.  Instead we continued on towards Plateau Point, our halfway point and planned destination.  Our new trail diverged from the Bright Angel Trail, and we became further removed from the crowds.  Park visitors were replaced with barrel and prickly pear cactus as the hiking became nearly flat.  Megan and I covered the remaining mile, ending at a beautiful rock point overlooking the Colorado river 2000 feet below.

Megan and I ate some lunch and fended off ground squirrels with my trekking poles, those little bastards, I wanted to smack them over the cliff near by.  It occurred to me that the ‘chiselers’ are only so food agressive because of all the park visitors that have fed them in the past.  While keeping a close eye on our packs, Megan and I snapped a bunch of photos and took some time to relax before beginning our 3000 foot climb back to the canyon rim.  By the time we reached the end of our 12 mile hike, we had both worked up a substantial appetite and immediately began cooking food when we got to camp.

Enjoying refreshments at Plateau Point, GCNP.

Enjoying refreshments at Plateau Point, GCNP.

Our final evening with Craig was enjoyed around a campfire, drinking good beers and sipping some red corn and oat bourbon we brought all the way from Fort Collins.  Megan and I wanted to stay longer and do more hiking and exploring but Megan had some family events to attend and needed to get to the airport in Las Vegas by 3 the next afternoon.  In the morning, right before getting on the road, Craig bestowed upon me a ‘lucky’ coin that has been in his possession for 40 years.  This gesture of generosity and thoughtfulness is a perfect example of Craig’s nature.  He is thoughtful and selfless and we were happy to spend some time in his presence, soaking in the sun in the freedom of the outdoors.

 

Las Vegas, Joshua Tree and the West Coast

We continue rolling forwards, the solid mass of gear that is my car carrying us across the arid landscape towards the most unsustainable city EVER.  This black hole continuously grows bigger, sucking the life out of the Colorado River, beaming electric sex into the atmosphere and the minds of those poor souls that succumb to it’s draw like moths to a light.  This is Vegas.  We pointed the car straight at it and hit cruise..

When we saw the signs for the Hoover dam, it only made sense to burn extra gas exiting the highway to go back in the direction we just came from to see the biggest pile of concrete man has ever crapped out onto the

surface of this beautiful planet.  This massive wall would ultimately stop you if you traveled the length of the Grand Canyon and continued across lake Mead (not a lake but a reservoir).  We looked for the free parking, ran to the edge of the precipice, snapped a picture and got back on the road.  We needed a cheap buffet, probably the only positive thing that place has ever or will ever do for me.

After filling up on the mediocrity that was ‘best Vagas buffet’ or some similar ironic title, we rolled on towards the airport where Megan caught her flight to Florida.  I immediately got on the road towards California, intent to leave the city and get back to the more wild places.  Megan and I had initially planned on doing some climbing in Red Rock Canyon but now that my partner was in the air headed towards the East Coast, I couldn’t see the appeal in hanging around (unable to climb).

California was close and I reached Barstow quickly.  I continued on through the desert, the vegetation changing slowly until Joshua trees abounded and the park felt within my grasp.  I passed the fee station at 8 o’clock and drove on, through the rocks and ridges, looking for a place to camp for the night.  This quickly proved to be more difficult then I expected, surprising for a Thursday evening.

I drove from one campground to the next, cruising every loop without any luck – EVERY single campsite was full.  When I say full I don’t necessarily mean that the sites were packed with tents.  Instead, every single site had a paper ticket on the site number post, showing that someone had reserved it or paid for it prior to my arrival.  As my frustration mounted, my driving speeds increased, carrying me through every campground in the park with no luck.  Eventually I parked at the group camping area, threw my pad on the ground, forgoing a tent, and fell asleep with troubled thoughts.

Awaking to the sound of an owl, just before sunrise, I quickly packed up and looked for a good spot to photograph the changing light.  A few nice photos were the only thing I was motivated to accomplish that morning and after some difficult communications, I decided to leave the crowded park (in favor of LA? geeze…) and continued my road trip to it’s Western terminus.  It only took roughly 3 hours to get from Joshua Tree to my Father’s house.  I had made it.

Stunning sunrise, J Tree NP

Stunning sunrise, J Tree NP

Our trip from Colorado to California ended up being a bit shorter then we originally planned, but Megan and I had a fulfilling and wonderful time sharing the company of each other as well as our friends.  We had the pleasure of spending a few days together in LA when Megan flew back out to enjoy the last three days of her spring break.  We hiked, climbed, and explored the city.

Where one trip ends, another begins, and this is far from the end for either of us.  My head is literally ready to melt after writing this article although reliving the experience in the confines of my mind has been a blast.  The Pacific Crest Trail is 2 weeks away and I’m on the cusp of starting something great.  Thanks for following along so far and I hope you all read along as I take the next big leap.  Stay adventurous my friends!

Road trippin’

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Quick post here – writing to you all from Barstow, California where I just paid more for gas and Starbucks coffee then anyone in their right mind should. Maybe it’s the long mileage or the desert but I feel a Thompson-esq insanity starting to take hold. Not a literal insanity, more of a disconnect from the civilized world, and why not? I haven’t had the pleasure of living day to day life ‘normally’ for the better part of a week now. Before I write much more I’m going to stop myself – I have 2.5 more hours of driving before I reach Joshua Tree National Park, my home for the next two evenings. Once I get to Los Angeles I’ll write a proper article detailing my adventures from the past days including climbing splitter cracks at Indian Creek, descending millions of years into the earth at the Grand Canyon, and finally having some solo time in the desert. Until next week, stay adventurous my friends!

Granite Pass, RMNP

Enjoying some shelter from the wind in RMNP

Enjoying some shelter from the wind in RMNP

My friend Jason is one of my more regular partners when it comes to adventure.  We do our best to get out regularly and motivate each other to stay active.  It might seem silly for two people who live in Colorado to need motivation to get out but we all need it now and then.

Jason called me up this past weekend to reminded me that his kids were in day care on Mondays and to see if I had any plans yet.  I jumped at the opportunity to get out for a couple of reasons.  I have been sick this past week and have scaled back my physical activity significantly in an effort to recover and be healthy for the climbing road trip I am about to take.  I was excited to get outside and enjoy some physical activity.  I also have my new pack from Gregory, the Z55 which I have been eager to load and test out on a real hike.  I told Jason I was in and we discussed our options in Rocky Mountain National Park.

We would be headed to the Longs Peak trail head which is off the Peak to Peak highway, a couple miles South of Estes Park.  This is one of my favorite park access points (free…).  Jason and I agreed to meet at the parking lot no later then nine o’clock to get started.

My drive to the trail head from Fort Collins was uneventful although I got to see a lot of flood damage on highway 34 that I had not previously seen.  Houses hanging off of slopes that had been partially washed away and metal pipes wrapped around trees like pieces of ribbon were a few of the highlights.  The construction crews are still busy at work, repairing pull-offs, adjusting the riverbed, and cleaning up debris.

I breezed through Estes park, buying a crappy cup of coffee at one of the local gas stations before heading South to the trail head.

When I pulled in, Jason was practically ready to go.  I rolled out of my car looking like I had just woken up.  I apologized for not having any of my gear ready to go.  It took me about 30 minutes to get organized, change clothes, and drink a few sips of water.  We decided to don snowshoes (uhggg) and got on the trail a little before ten.

Following the trail towards Granite Pass would give us the option to hike Mt. Lady Washington, Storm Peak, or the Keyhole (on Long’s Peak).  We didn’t want to set a specific goal until we got up above treeline and could assess the conditions and make an educated decision.  We meandered through the trees, taking our time and enjoying the fresh air.  After what seemed like a long time (we both remembered it being shorter) we ascended a small snow slope and broke out of the trees.  The views of Meeker and Longs were commanding.

Snow swirled in wintery dust devils high on the North face of Long’s.  The alpine intensity of the sun beamed down on us like a laser and I was thankful to have my goggles.  We picked a point up the valley and began the slow walk up hill.  This is when I realized that my energy reserves are still quite low from being sick (or maybe it was the altitude…or both).  Either way I felt like I was moving at a snails pace and I mentioned this to Jason to his amusement.  He said it made him feel great to see me moving slow for once.

After what seemed like 45 minutes we had made it about half way up the rocky slopes between us and the summit of Granite pass.  We decided that just making it to the pass would be enough of an accomplishment for both of us.  Even though our objective was in sight, things began to get a bit more challenging as waves of wind blasted us with spindrift from the slopes above.  In addition to our outdoor pursuits, both of us worked on a 14er as Interpretive Rangers.  Jason and I have had plenty of exposure to high terrain and the wind that seems to persist there.  Today however was a bit more extreme.  Individual gusts began hitting us and we estimated them in the vicinity of 60 miles per hour.  We watched as these waves of energy descended the slopes above us, excavating and launching pieces of wind-crusted snow high into the air.  It was spectacular.

We continued upwards, stopping occasionally to steady ourselves with trekking poles, orienting our bodies to combat the powerful wind.  We were both almost blown over multiple times before we reached the summit some time around three o’clock.  On the saddle that is Granite pass the wind was less gusty and much more consistently insane, prompting me to find a large rock for shelter.  I shuffled over to make room for J as he sat down beside me, a look of satisfaction on his face.  We drank some water and decided that with how slow we were moving and how late in the day it was already, we better bust a move and start heading down.  We decided to make a little circuit and head down a different way then we originally came up.  A pleasantly angled ridge appeared to lead right back to our descent route.  We put our packs back on and began hiking again.

Often times in an alpine environment or any outdoor environment for that matter, our perception of the environment can be skewed.  Ill use our descent route as an example.  This benign looking ridge, with it’s few rock outcroppings and snow-free crest appeared to be a great choice.  After walking with snowshoes on for the better part of the day we were thrilled to have a nice tundra walk sans awkward foot attachments.  The reality of the situation was that, yes – the walking was pleasant.  Something that was difficult to judge however was the severity of the wind that we were about to experience.  Because there was no snow present on this ridge, it was difficult to SEE the wind.  As we worked our way down, the wind steadily increased.  By the time we were within a hundred yards of the rock outcroppings we had seen from afar, the wind seemed that of a tropical storm…no correction, of an arctic storm.  The icy blast increased as we approached the rock tower to a point at which I’m pretty sure we were being blasted in excess of 80 miles an hour.  The rocky tower was big enough and positioned perfectly to deflect the wind raging up the ridge and channel it around both sides to a focal point.  I stood in this location, facing the blast, leaning forwards, held at roughly a 40 degree angle by the tempest.

I had my fun for a few moments before seeking shelter once again.  In the lee of the rock I was able to comfortably sit down and watch Jason approach.  Watching him stumble his way across the tundra, almost being knocked on his ass brought me to the point of hysterical laughter.  Once he arrived safely we both ate some more food and drank.  We discussed the next obstacle, a saddle roughly 100 yards wide that we needed to cross to continue our descent.  It was the low point of the ridge and a frigid cloud of spindrift scouring this exposed area made it apparent that the wind at this location might be even more intense then what we had just experienced.

As we began our trek forward our predictions proved correct.  This intensity of the wind was almost enough to suck the breath right out of our lungs and we staggered across the low spot on the ridge.  Spindrift pelted the few millimeters of exposed skin on our faces, making us feel as if we were being sand-blasted.  Speaking to each other was pointless, we couldn’t hear a thing.  As we stumbled through the invisible force that attempted to prevent our travel we managed to cross the saddle only to arrive on an exposed high point.  We crouched for a moment and quickly decided to continue.  After rounding this small summit we almost let out a shout of joy as we dove into some haggard looking Limber Pine.  Shelter is a wonderful thing.

Hiking in RMNP

Hiking in RMNP

Our descent became much more tolerable as we wound through this dwarf forest of Pines in a place which was clearly demonstrated to us as one of the most extreme environments where life can carve out a foothold.  We remarked at how pleasant the now 40 mile per hour wind was as we crossed our old footprints and regained the trail down into the Spruce/Fir forest.  We walked with a spring in our step, enjoying the downhill grade and the shelter we could finally enjoy.

Just before getting to the trail head we ran into a group of four young hikers who asked if we had seen their friend.  They had gotten split up as he short-cutted the switch backs while they stuck to the trail.  Separated, they wrote a note in the snow for him and decided to head back to their truck.  We eluded to the extreme nature of the weather up high and wished them luck in finding their friend.

Getting back to the car always creates mixed feelings.  On the one hand there is relief.  The safety the vehicle seems to provide reassures us that we have ‘made it out alive’ and that we are going to be ‘ok’.  At the same time, reaching the car signifies the end of our adventure.  We recall our hours of exposure up high in the alpine, where we can only rely on each other and our previous experiences to keep us safe.  It is in those moments that we smile and know that we will go back at some point, a reassurance that the adventure is not over, we’re just taking a little break so we can rest, refuel, and do it again next week.

Getting organized: the gear…

Current gear selection for my 2014 pct thru-hike attempt

Current gear selection for my 2014 pct thru-hike attempt

Ok, here it is, the blog article going over the gear I plan on using for my 2014 thru-hike.  While I occasionally indulge in gear-geekery, I try not to get caught up in all the little gadgets and gizmos designed for those of us that like to recreate outdoors.  Why?  Let me ask you this question, if no new gear was developed ever, would it prevent us from enjoying our outdoor pursuits?  The answer is most definitely no.  All those companies out there who come out with newer, lighter, more advanced gear are mostly doing so to have a new product to sell you.  Now I don’t want to give the impression that this gear isn’t great or that I don’t find some of this stuff fascinating and awesome. I have bought a few new pieces of gear specifically for my thru-hike.  I will however be using MOSTLY gear that I already owned.  The point I am getting at is that you should not feel the need to buy gear just because there is a newer, lighter, brighter-colored version.

I did think it would be fun to mention all the different gear and geek out for a bit in hopes that some of you who read this might have some suggestions for me to cut a bit of weight.  My base-weight at the moment is right about 20lbs.  I was hoping for something in between 10 and 15.  And while the 20lb weight includes some things that I will actually be wearing and not carrying on my back, there were a few items that I realize I did not add that I will in fact be bringing (stakes, socks, maybe some other small stuff…).

So lets get to the gear.

Starting on the top left of the photo above – the pack, one of my new gear acquisitions for the trail.  This is a Gregory Z55.  This is a size small and weighs in at just over 3 lbs.  It has a frame (yeah I’m not sure if frameless appeals to me for 2600+ miles) and 55 liters of capacity.  Gregory packs graciously provided this pack to me for use as an ambassador while on the trail, communicating with others about my experience using their gear.  Thanks guys, I look forward to putting the Z55 to the test!

On the far right of the picture are two sleeping bags.  A Rab neutrino 600 down bag and a Mountain Hardware ultra lamina synthetic bag.  Both are rated for 20 degrees.  I plan on using the down bag in the desert section and switching over to the synthetic bag once I hit the mountains.

As for upper body layers: Patagonia lightweight wool tshirt, Ibex hooded long-sleeved wool shirt, Patagonia R1 fleece, Montbell windbreaker vest, Montbell Fleece, Patagonia Houdini windbreaker, Wildthingz alpine shell, Patagonia Nanopuff hooded jacket.  I’m already planning on ditching the Ibex base layer and one fleece (probably the R1, even though I love it).  I may add arm warmers.  I may also ditch the Houdini even though it weighs next to nothing.  Count the ounces and the pounds mind themselves right?

Lower body layers include:  Montbell expedition weight wool long underwear, Rab hiking pants, Patagonia hiking shorts.  Socks (haven’t picked them out yet).  And hopefully a pair of wool boxers.

My tent is a Black Diamond beta-lite tarp (19oz).  It is made of sip-nylon, pitches with my trekking poles and gives surprisingly good weather protection – I have used it above 9k feet in Colorado during a spring snow storm, and on the coast of Maine in high winds.  It has held up well.  I am forgoing a footprint.  I have a Big Agnes sleeping pad as well as a silk sleeping bag liner.

I am currently using an MSR 6 liter dromedary bag with a drinking hose attachment.  I might look for a lighter weight camelbak bladder which will most likely have 3-4 liter capacity and have to add a few lightweight water bottles.

As for cooking I am using an MSR micro rocket stove (new this year) with an Evernew titanium pot (.7 liters I think).  I also have a long-handled Sea To Summit spoon and an MSR titanium mug.

As far as other small items, I have a journal, signal mirror, whistle, pen, Black Diamond headlamp, mosquito head net, blister treatment kit, SteriPen, wide-brimmed hat, GoPro, extra batteries, and backup water treatment (iodine).

I know I haven’t gone into much detail on these items, their individual weights, their strengths and weaknesses, etc. etc.  I’m hoping that I’ll figure out what works and what doesn’t work while I’m on the trail (and I plan to blog/tweet about it).  I will also likely add items at certain points such as ice axe and crampons, helmet, etc.

Ok, I’m already losing my patience for this post.  Those are the items I’m brining.  I will attempt to ditch roughly 5 pounds of gear in the next month to get my base weight down into the sub-15 pound zone, I’m sure my feet and back will thank me for it.  Any suggestions or criticism is appreciated!

Later!