Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Singing the Accolades of a Dirty Girl

Gaiters that is. In all the time I've been hiking with trail junk filling my shoes, I've never tried out a pair of gaiters. Then I found Dirty Girl!

Dirty Girl Gaiters are about as simple as you can get, which makes them perfect for UltraLight Backpacking. The website, www.dirtygirlgaiters.com is quite amusing, and they have lots of different patterns and colors to choose from. In fact, at first it appeared to me that they didn't even offer plain black gaiters, but I picked up a pair of "i do not make black gaiters" color in a men's 12.5-13 for $17 US including shipping. I've been using them for the past couple of weekends now and had no idea what I was missing!

They attach in the back with a small piece of velcro that you cut and stick to the back of your shoe.

The front attaches with a small metal hook that goes under the front of your laces. This simple attachment works very well. You put on your socks, slide the gaiters on over them, and put your shoes on like normal. Slide the gaiters down and hook them in the front, then attach the back to the velcro and that's it.

These simple spandex gaiters do an amazing job of keeping dirt and rocks out of your shoes, and your feet stay nice and clean. They breathe well and the pair weighs just 1.45oz for my enormous size. If you want to keep your feet happy, do what the Dirty Girls do and pick up a pair of these!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

One Container - Multiple Uses!

It's a mug, a bowl, and a water storage container! Backpacking gear doesn't have to be expensive to be good. Ziploc's Twist'n Loc containers are a great multi-use backpacking item.

After wandering the aisles at my local outfitter for a half hour, I walked out with just a pair of socks. Everything else I was looking for was just too heavy for my backpacking style. Afterwards, I ended up finding this 3-pack of Ziploc containers at the grocery store for just $3 US. The size small weighs 1.4oz, which makes it half the price and 0.4oz lighter than the pictured REI plastic mug. When you consider that the Ziploc container has a larger capacity (2 cups vs 1 1/2), and a lid, it seems like a no brainer.

Since the lid has a water tight seal, you can also use it to carry extra water. There is a 1 cup marking on the side, which can be helpful for preparing meals. For enjoying a hot bowl of soup or a mug of hot coffee, you could make a simple cozzie for it, but I just put on my glove liners to insulate my hands from the heat.

A versatile, UltraLight, UltraCheap Backpacking solution...perfect! Replace one of your water containers with this and it won't even add any weight to your pack!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

What's in my pockets?

When heading out into the wilderness, some people try to have a plan for every possible situation, and others just "go for it". I'm forever the anal retentive planner, which probably comes as no surprise if you follow my blog. I attempt to make sure every situation is well thought out so I'm prepared (I may have learned that from the Boy Scouts of America).

What's in my pockets is no accident, and is there for both convenience as well as a margin of safety. What if you got separated from your pack...took it off during a break by a cliff to enjoy the great view, and somehow you let it slide over the edge? If you couldn't get it back, would you be able to survive?

Shown above is two ounces of stuff I like to carry in my pockets. My modified Backpacking Journal slips into my rear pocket, and along with my UltraLight Pen, I am ready to journal or write down contact information of people I meet on the trail. There's also a safety factor here, because if I was ever lost, I could leave notes for other people, or write things down to keep my thoughts in order so I wouldn't start to panic.

My MSR Packtowell Nano rides in my front right pocket, well at least 1/4 of one. I use it to blow my nose  (using the inside folded portion), wipe the sweat off my face (using the other side), or at a water source I rinse it out and wash my face. You always feel better when you're clean.

Speaking of clean, perhaps on of the most versatile items I carry is my Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Soap. I use just a few drops on my wash cloth for a quick cleanup, to wash my hands after doing my business, to clean my cook pot, and also as toothpaste. One soap fits all, so I repackage it into a 0.20oz dropper bottle and keep it handy in my front pocket at all times.

My cash and credit cards ride safely in a zippered thigh pocket because I definitely wouldn't want to lose them. If I did get separated from my pack, this would allow me to pay for supplies or transportation.

My tiny pocket knife is attached to my mini fire steel with a length of thin cord. This helps me keep from losing one of these little items, plus they work together for fire starting. The scissors are used to trim my nails or a piece of mole skin, and the knife for many things including cutting a piece of parmigiano reggiano, my favorite backcountry cheese.

The file seems obvious, and I do use it to file my nails, but I have also ground an edge on it that doubles as a striker for my mini fire steel. This allows me to leave the striker at home, and not dull my knife blade by using it as a striker. I don't leave home without some lip balm, and Burt's Bees is my protection of choice. Also if I'm having trouble finding dry kindling, I can always use some of my Burt's Bees as a fire starter.

My wrist watch has a digital compass on it for navigation, as well as time, date, etc. I hope I will never be separated from my pack, but if it ever does happen, I'm prepared with what's in my pockets.

The goods...


Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Way Hiking Pants Should Be

What makes Montbell's new Trail Ridge Convertible Pants worth a second look?

Montbell Quality
I'm a fan of Montbell clothing, and my U.L. Down Inner Parka is nothing short of amazing at just 9.3 ounces (men's XL). I find their quality to be top notch, and these pants appear to be no exception.

2-Way Stretch
This is what makes these pants unique. I've yet to find another manufacturer that offers lightweight men's convertible trekking pants with stretch fabric (these are 92% nylon/8% polyurethane DWR treated). I have some old REI pants that stretch, but they are heavy and hot...only to be used for the coldest weather. These lightweight pants have the right amount of give for the crazy positions we get our bodies into, and yet they are still as light as a pair of Columbia Silver Ridge II pants (both are about 14.8 ounces for a men's XL).

Zip-Off Legs
While some people only hike in shorts, I appreciate having pant legs when blazing through an overgrown section of trail. And of course it's a nice relief to zip the legs off when you are over heating. With an 11 1/2 inch inseam, you don't end up looking like you're wearing Richard Simmons style short-shorts either :-) Rather than having zippers at the bottoms of the legs to make it possible to remove them with your shoes on, these legs are just not tapered so they are quite wide at the bottom. I'm not so sure this will be widely accepted, but it's a lighter alternative than more zippers.

Integrated Belt
Most hiking pants are included with a belt, but I have to say this is about the nicest one I've seen. The buckle has a solid closure that won't come undone or loosen like others I have owned (Columbia), and the webbing is super thin (i.e. lightweight).

Zippered Pockets
Zippers just add weight right? Yes it's true, but they also add utility, and in my UltraLight opinion you need the right balance. The 2 hand pockets and 1 each back and thigh pockets are about right for me. The pockets themselves are mesh, providing some added ventilation if you leave them unzipped. I like to carry certain things in my pockets so they are very accessible (1/4 of a pack towel, lip balm, mint soap, knife...), and the zippers give me that extra bit of security for these important items.

Montbell clothing tends to have an "athletic" cut, something I don't appreciate because I don't have the lean build of a runner. I went ahead and ordered these any way thinking they would be OK because of the stretch. To my pleasant surprise I found that they are not tight like a pair of 70's disco pants...hoot hoot! The waist sits low, and they don't feel like they are binding anywhere. The length is on the long side for this 6'2" hiker, and I will probably hem them to take about an inch out of the length.

Bottom line is I really like these pants, and I fully expect them to last a long time. Montbell is living up to its good reputation!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Things don't always go as planned

With our JMT thru-hike less than 3 months away, we decided it was time for us to get some elevation training. It had finally warmed up down in the valley, so we headed up to Mt. Charleston.

Trail Canyon or South Loop Trail, hmmm...both head towards Charleston Peak, which is currently buried under several feet of snow. I decided that if we could make it up the northern exposure of South Loop Trail to the saddle 4 miles and 3,000 feet up, the high elevation of the meadows would be OK because of its southern exposure.

Looking back on the section of trail we just passed, the heavy snowfall of this season left parts of the trail a complete obstacle course. Just a little ways ahead it got worse...

"Where the hell is the trail" I thought as I confidently lead us up the wrong way. After admitting temporary defeat, it was Juggy's turn to lead the way.

She found the trail, lost it, and was convinced it lead up this snow covered valley.

I muscled up the long slope ahead of Juggy until I started to sink into the snow a bit. Realizing it was still early in the day, I pushed my trekking pole down in the snow to see how deep it was because we would no doubt be postholing later in the afternoon. The snow was nearly 3 feet deep, so we decided to bail out and find a southern exposed route to get some miles under our feet (looking across the valley in the photo it seems very obvious now).

Leaving the deep snow behind, the first two hours were fun but not what we had signed up for. We headed across the valley to Trail Canyon, the site of our recent Postholing day. The snow was all but gone and we got some good steep miles in.

The turn-around point in our second hike of the day was the locally famed "Rain Tree", a three thousand year old Bristlecone Pine. After taking a break and getting to know a couple of nice hikers from the Boston area, we headed back to the trailhead and stopped by the lodge for an early dinner and a couple of beers. This could get to be a habit during the next few months of training up here!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sandstone Cliffs, Rushing Water, Huge Arch, Backpacking

After spending a couple of days celebrating our wedding anniversary hiking and relaxing in one of our favorite places, Zion National Park, Juggy and I decided to finish up our long weekend with a quick backpacking trip. La Verkin Creek Trail winds through Kolob Canyons, which lies in the less traveled western edge of Zion.

The trail begins at 6,000 foot Lee Pass, and quickly descends into this colorful valley.

In about 3 1/2 miles and 1,000 feet lower, you come to La Verkin Creek, which was brown with high water during our visit.

A recent snow storm followed by warm spring weather left some parts of the trail quite muddy.

The park regulations limit all overnight camping to designated sites which require a permit. This helps to maintain the parks pristine conditions, as too many visitors would surely destroy what nature has so painstakenly created. We enjoyed a leisurely 6 mile hike to campsite 12, which is surrounded by Ponderosa Pines and sandstone peaks.

After setting up camp, we decided to venture up a nearby canyon to see the famous Kolob Arch. The trail follows a small creek for a half mile.

We took our time and really enjoyed our surroundings. We actually totally missed the arch and went about a half mile past it before we realized we had definitely gone farther than the half mile the sign had stated.

Kolob Arch, neatly tucked away in this thickly vegetated canyon, was at one time thought to be the worlds largest freestanding arch.

On our way back we stopped for a quick game of backcountry chess.

Our campsite was on the far side of La Verkin Creek, which had risen about a foot while we were gone. After sliding down the embankment and falling on my butt, I celebrated saving my camera from a watery death. Juggy decided to find a better place to cross, but shortly after this shot I feared for a moment that she would be washed away as the rushing water went above her knees, but she held strong. I found a shallower place to cross.

Fortunately I had enough forethought to put a beverage in the freezer the night before, so we treated ourselves to this ice cold beer when we returned to our campsite...Miller Time!

Cooking dinner is always a pleasure using my Trail Designs .9L Sidewinder.

My famous (in my mind) Moroccan Delight is currently our favorite backcountry home cooked meal.

Perched on a large boulder, we enjoyed this view while consuming our well deserved meal.

The next morning I savored a hot cup of coffee from the same place while Juggy slept in, then we shared a hot breakfast of couscous, nuts, berries, brown sugar, and powdered milk (I need to come up with a name for this). Then we packed up camp and hit the trail. Apparently the beavers have been busy in this area...unfortunately we didn't get to see them.

One thing I neglected to mention earlier is that there are probably a dozen stream crossings between the trailhead and La Verkin Creek from smaller tributaries. I attempted to grab a shot of Juggy falling in, but she wouldn't oblige.

Making the climb out of the canyon, we heard a distressed chirping sound and stopped to figure out where it was coming from. Looking up we saw this little squirrel stuck high in a nearby tree. We didn't get too close so not to scare him in fear that he might fall.

One last shot just before returning to the trailhead...some of you may see an anatomy lesson here.

Juggy and I are very lucky that we share this passion for the outdoors. Or should I say I am lucky that she enjoys my obsessive backpacking habit!