I was a first-hand witness to every ultralighter’s dream. We had just dropped down into Chicago Basin, through one of Will’s famous cross-country shortcuts (think the doors on the last Matrix movie), and the trail was clogged with people heading up to bag a 14er. We ran across a Scout troop, and the adult leader at the front seemed a pretty seasoned outdoorsman. He asks Will if we had already bagged Mount Windom and were heading back to camp. Will explained no, we were on a 6-day loop through the high country. The guy looked perplexed, and repeated his assumption that our gear was waiting for us down in the valley. It’s every ultralighter’s dream to be mistaken for a dayhiker, and I watched with a faint smile as the Scout leader tried to wrap his head around the fact that Will was out for 6 days with what looked like nothing more than a day pack.
I have always loved hiking in high country, so last year’s invite from Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador Will Rietveld to come play in his backyard was an awesome opportunity. When Will invited me back again this year, it was only a matter of setting the date. Hiking with one of my heros is always a treat, and I always end the trip smarter than when I started. I just wished my memory retained more of the endless stream of knowledge that comes out of Will’s mouth. While much or our route took us into places where we didn’t see another soul, there were a couple of other amusing interludes from our time on trails with other hikers. As Will was talking to the Scout leader mentioned previously, I was towards the end of the group, talking to a couple of the scouts, discussing the finer points of various snack foods, as I recall, when the Scout leader who was bringing up the rear arrived. After a couple of minutes of small talk, he suddenly asks, “Hey, are you Glen Van Peski?” Turns out he follows me on Twitter, and had seen I was going to be in the Weminuche at the same time as his Scout trip. He never figured he would see me in the half-million acres of wilderness, but sometimes it’s amazing how paths cross.
The next hiker encounter that brought a smile to my face was when we were hiking up out of Chicago Basin to Columbine Pass. Will and I passed a youngish-looking couple carrying giant Kifaru packs that they were very proud of. The guy noticed our small packs as we stopped to chat. Will made some comment how we were packing light because we were getting old. The guy said “Well, let’s throw down our dance cards! I’m 43.” I replied that I would be 54 on Monday, and Will was old enough to be my father. He had not figured we were that much older than he was, and was impressed at how we had overtaken them.
So about the trip… After last years robust adventure, I had made a comment about never having fished on a backpacking trip. I’m not really a fisherman at all, I don’t sit well, and like to keep moving. But I hear people talking about fishing in those alpine lakes, and thought it would be nice to try it. Will planned out a trip with a little less hiking (only 10 hours a day, trip was only 65 miles with 19,700 feet of elevation gain), and camping at lakes, so we would have time for some fishing in the evenings. The fishing was great the couple of times we stopped in the middle of the day to kill time waiting for the weather to clear. It was not so great at night, but we did eat fish a couple of evenings. I enjoyed the casting, and definitely need more practice on getting the hook out of the fish, and cleaning fish, although I performed both under Will’s expert tutelage. I was so excited the first night to catch, clean and cook a fish in my Trail Designs Heine can over Esbit.
Governed by the weather, the daily routine generally followed the same pattern. We woke up at 5 am, and were on the trail around 5:30. We would hike through the day, sometimes killing an hour in the middle of the day to fish a promising spot, or to wait to see if a thunderstorm would develop before tackling a high pass or ridge walk. We would arrive at our intended campsite by about 3:30, and set up shelters. It would generally rain for an hour, so we would retire to our shelters to organize gear, nap, write in journals, etc. Then it would clear up, so we would emerge and do some fishing. After that we would make dinner, sit around and chat, and by 8:30 it would start pouring again so we would head to bed. There were some variations, but that was the general pattern.
GEAR AND LESSONS
I packed a little lighter than last year, but still took my heavier down bag, even though temperatures were predicted to be fairly moderate (not counting the daily hail storm). I definitely took the Cuben Twinn again, since this trip enjoyed a more monsoonal weather pattern than last years trip. I ended up being glad with both those choices. I was also very glad to have brought my Montbell ExLight jacket again this year. Other gear was slightly lighter just from my continual refinement process. The largest weight savings probably came from my brand new DIY tyvek rain jacket, which only weighed 3.7 ounces. This ended up being a choice that fell into the ‘stupid light’ category, as I will explain below.
- Water Treatment: since watching John Potter on a previous trip, I have been using sodium hypochlorite, commonly known as bleach, for water treatment instead of aqua mira. I was lured by only having a single micro dropper bottle, since you only need 4 drops per liter instead of 14 for aqua mira. I notice that some recommendations are for 2 drops per liter. I packed my small bottle, and as a result was a little short for 6 days. I ended up under-treating some sources, and drinking from some sources with no treatment. I did not suffer any ill effects, but note that I was quite particular about the sources I took water from, and there were some I passed up. I also may have a pretty robust immune system. PLEASE DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH BEFORE MAKING A DECISION ON WATER TREATMENT.
- Note-taking: I have always taken notes, sometime about the route, or people we meet, but always about ideas I have and lessons I learn. For the last few years, I have taken a Rite in the Rain Notebook. I have had lighter solutions, but I liked the ease of having the hard cover to write on. When I noticed Will was just using a single page from the mini notebook, I knew I needed to get serious again about pack weight. Next trip I will just take a page from a book that I remove the staples from. Weight savings – 0.6 oz!
- Shoes: I’m still looking for a more minimalist shoe to hike in. I’ve used the Golite Sun Dragons for years, since I do all my running in Vibram Five Fingers. Trips with the Merrell Trail Gloves and the Stem (now Lemming) Origins did not make me want to repeat the experiences. So for this trip I was back with the trusty Sun Dragons, which make me feel like I’m 6’6″ tall. I typically wear a thin sock inside, and my feet were not that comfortable. Will suggested adding a sock for volume, so I took my fleece sleeping socks out of my shoulder straps and put those on over my thin socks. It worked GREAT! Very comfy, even cross-country, although we didn’t have much side-hill work this year. Unfortunately this contributed to a ‘stupid light’ moment, as you’ll read later.
- Repair: Will, who never injures himself or breaks gear except when he’s with me, slipped on one of the many talus slopes we crossed, and ripped a hole in The One that he had in his outside pack pocket. All we had to repair it was duct tape, which didn’t really stick to the spinnaker fabric. It’s not often I ADD something to my kit, but from now on I’ll be packing a bit of McNett Tenacious Tape. They don’t recommend it for repair on silicone-coated spinnaker fabrics, but in a pinch, I’ve had good success with it.
- First Aid: Will spends hundreds of days a year hiking, many of those in his local Weminuche mountains. He is very sure-footed, and as a result, his first aid kit has dwindled to a couple of bandaids. While crossing a fairly flat, minor patch of sliderock, a rock turned when Will stepped on it. A sharp rock edge stabbed his leg, cleaving a rather deep, nasty gash. We were racing a storm over a ridge, so just had time to slap some duct tape on it, and got over the ridge and down to our camping spot. The duct tape didn’t really stick well, and a fair amount of blood had oozed out by the time we were ready to work on it. I was very glad I had antibiotic ointment, butterfly bandages, and a Tegaderm dressing in my pretty minimal first aid kit. Even without a robust debridement, the field repair was adequate enough that we finished the trip, and no trip to the ER or doctor was ever required. It was a good reminder for me that sometimes it’s nice to carry things for infrequent occurrences. I had probably carried those two butterfly bandages for 10 years before using them. Obviously, you have to use some discernment, or you start carrying everything, “just in case”.
- “Stupid Light” Moment: Okay, Andrew Skurka, this is for you. There was a tweet awhile back wondering how many “stupid light” stories I had. Not too many, actually, but there was one on this trip. So, I got this great new rain jacket, the Malpais Trinity courtesy of my friends at Golite. I knew there was going to be some rain on this trip. The original plan, which would have been the right call, was to take my cool new 3.7 oz. DIY Tyvek rain jacket, made according to Will’s post, and have the Trinity as a backup. As I was weighing my pack, I decided “no guts no glory”, and left the Trinity at Will’s house. The Tyvek jacket worked great for the moderate showers we encountered. On the last day, however, the start of the afternoon thunderstorm caught us before we got to camp, and we ended up with an hour of walking over talus in the pouring hail and rain. The Tyvek jacket wet through, and I was drenched when we arrived, and a little chilled. I got to set up my tarp in the wind, and in my haste, managed to set the head into the wind. Then I climbed into my sleeping bag with my wet clothes. Worst part, I was wearing my sleeping socks for volume, so I didn’t have any dry socks to change into. It was as close to hypothermia as I have been. After an hour or so the storm passed. My shirt had dried so it was only moderately damp, and I put my down sweater over it while I cooked dinner and pretty much finished drying out. Except for my feet, which were still damp and chilly the next morning until we got walking, then they were just damp. So, yes, it would have been really nice to have that 7.9 oz. of real rain jacket. Also would have been nice to have some dry socks. With a tent I would not have had to pull my polycryo over my head to keep from being sprayed. But I survived, and will make different choices next time. Maybe.