Thursday, April 28, 2011

MYOG U/L Sunglass Tether

UltraLight gear screams simplicity and utility. Extra features just add unnecessary weight, so we avoid them like the plague. This Make Your Own Gear project is about as uncomplicated and inexpensive as they come, and it works great too!

Start with a flat piece of cord - I like to use this type I get from, but you can use anything you have. Cut it to about 26" long, then singe the ends.

For the end attachments, I tie a modified taut-line hitch. The difference is that you only wrap around the cord once in the first step to keep the knot as small as possible.

Just slip the loops over the ends of your sunglasses, snug up and you're done. A .10 ounce super simple project that will last you for years and years.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Observation Point, Zion National Park - Breathtaking!

Waterfalls, they're just falling water, so why are they so inspirational?

Weeping Rock

If you ever get the chance to visit Zion National Park in Utah, I strongly suggest you head to Observation Point. The hike begins on the valley floor at the Weeping Rock trailhead, and rises some 2,150 feet on a wonderful 4 mile (each way) long trail. The first mile or so has you zig-zagging back and forth up the steep mountain face. Here's the view looking back down...

Observation Point / Hidden Canyon Trail

As the trail heads into the canyon, look to your left over the edge to see a maze that flood water has carved over the years.

The canyon walls almost seem to glow like the colors of an oil painting!

Happy hikers...

Be careful not to get your feet wet (like we did) while navigating this stream crossing.

You just might find yourself stopping to admire the dark canyons along the way.

One of the locals...

A nice valley with views towards the east entrance of the park.

As you climb the steep trail, you get a sneak peak of what's to come.

Portions of the trail, although plenty wide, have lots of exposure which can be nerve-racking to people with a healthy fear of heights (like me)!

Once you make your way to Observation Point you are treated to this unbelievable view down Zion Canyon. Jutting out from the right is Angels Landing, another rewarding day hike with chains to hold onto in the exposed sections, leading you to the end that would otherwise be most dangerous to get to.

The breathtaking views go on and on, making this one hike you won't want to miss!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A (not so) UltraLight Rant!

One thing that we UltraLight backpackers tend to have in common, other than continuously shaving ounces from our gear, is our backpacking style. Style you ask? What images come to mind when you think about the traditional backpacker? Most likely it's more than just an oversized pack with a hiker struggling under its excessive weight. Usually you will see all kinds of extra gear strapped to the outside of their pack. Yes, now you're getting the picture of traditional backpacking style!

In the above photo is my wife Juggy on our recent trip to Kolob Canyons in Utah. She is always great about my borderline obsessive behavior when it comes to shaving pack weight, and never makes fun of me even though I give her plenty of opportunities. In fact, she really appreciates the fact that her base weight is just over 5 pounds and totally embraces the UltraLight style of a custom home-made backpack (weighing less than 6 ounces and very stylish if I do say so myself), with her closed cell foam pad rolled up inside being utilized both as padding and also as the pack frame, and all of her gear neatly tucked inside of waterproof stuff sacks.

Until recently that is...when she maliciously strapped her pillow from home to the outside of her pack, not only adding an insane amount of unnecessary weight but totally blowing any style points she had built up! You can imagine my dismay when she informed me it wasn't a joke and that the pillow would not be staying in the car. Really, a full sized pillow, strapped to the OUTSIDE???

So now the sad part...I have to break it to her that she can no longer come on our two week stint in the high Sierras this summer on the JMT, and that I think I just might need some time away from her. Who knows where this type of behavior might lead us to...hopefully not the big D!

So what do you I overreacting, or should I move out?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Barefoot Hiking - Torture or Bliss?

I've been wanting to check out the barefoot hiking experience with a pair of Vibram FiveFingers shoes for some time now, but I don't tend to like the feeling of a strap across the top of my foot, so I have never parted with a hundred bucks to check them out. A combination of my REI dividend burning a hole in my pocket, and the introduction of Vibram's new lace up Bikila LS Running Shoes was all it took for me to finally take the plunge. My Men's size 45 weigh just 13.4 ounces for the pair, less than half of what my trail runners weigh...a huge benefit for a gram counter like me!

They recommend you don't over do it when you first start wearing FiveFingers because the muscles you use in these are different than in "normal" shoes. Heeding their warning, Juggy and I went on a little 6-7 mile hike the day after I bought them. The unique experience of walking through trails "barefoot" was pretty cool, and afterwards my feet felt fine. The next weekend I decided to walk a little farther, and took one of my favorite routes through Red Rock from my It's Just Walking post a while back. I figured that this would be a good test because it consists of walking on a rocky trail, 9 1/2 miles out then back. If my feet were starting to feel sore, I could simply turn around and cut it short.

When you first slide your feet into them, the shoes feel a bit weird, but that's because you're used to having your feet jammed inside "normal" shoes all your life. Once you start walking they feel very natural, and you end up walking quite differently...softly is the best way I can describe it, like when walking barefoot. They leave some very cool foot prints too!

These shoes are very much at home in water, and you might find yourself walking right through stream crossings rather than hopping across the tops of boulders.

The dirt that collects on the wet shoes is not bothersome and falls off in short order.

One thing about these shoes is that you feel everything, which is both good and bad. The good part is that you feel much more stable in technical sections because the soft soles help your feet mold to the terrain. The not so good part is that the thin soles are subject to letting thorns and such through easier than with running shoes.

At the 8 1/2 mile point, my feet were starting to get sore, so I decided to turn around. Part of the soreness was from hitting a rock quite hard with my little toe about 4 miles into the hike. I didn't think much of it at the time, as I knew it wasn't broken, but it did bother me the entire way. As I passed the 12 mile mark of my 17 mile day, the bottoms of my feet were getting more and more sensitive. I walked slowly and softly, and took several breaks, especially at stream crossings to soak my sore feet. The last couple of hours were rough, and with each step the pain increased. I took my time and eventually made it back to the trailhead, but I definitely stopped having fun towards the end. Removing my shoes once I got home, my toe looked worse than I thought it would. This photo is from the next day, when I woke up with it swollen and brightly colored reminiscent of Red Rock.

The photo below shows a hole in the little toe pocket, and the rubber starting to separate on the big toe. I was disappointed to see product failures like this so quickly.

So I am planning to return my goofy looking new shoes. If they had lasted longer, I probably would have kept them for lighter hiking, water activities, etc. I'm not sure why they wore out so fast...maybe I'm just too hard on my footwear, but my Foot Pillows sure didn't wear out like these did! It's too bad, because I got some great reactions wearing these...from conversation starters, to little giggles, "ewww", and my favorite comment from a buddy "You know how I can tell you're gay? Look down."

To be fair to Vibram, these are street running shoes, not trail running, but I have successfully used regular running shoes on trails many times. I strongly suggest you do not use these for trails if you are clumsy like me and kick rocks or step on cactus off fall. With a swollen foot and burning calves, my body is not very happy with me right now. Luckily my injuries are minor, and I should be back to hiking next weekend. In my trail runners!