Weminuche Wilderness 2011

Glen has always loved hiking in high country, and likes learning new things about ultralight backpacking, so he jumped at the chance to go backpacking with Will Rietveld, a Senior Editor for BackpackingLight. After some emails back and forth, Will set an ambitious route he had tried once before but had to abort because of injury to his hiking partner. He was hoping Glen was maybe made of tougher (or at least lighter) stuff, and could complete the loop with him. Glen was just hoping he could keep up with Will.

The route Will mapped out, or at least the route they ended up taking, was almost 80 miles, mostly cross-country, with 22,300 feet of elevation gain, starting at Cave Basin Trailhead, and exiting at Transfer Park. Will used the TOPO! program to plan the route, but Glen didn’t own the Colorado data, and wasn’t able to print the maps. A couple of days before the trip, Will informed Glen that their printer needed a new part, so they wouldn’t have maps, but they didn’t really need them. Glen did end up picking up a map at a Durango outfitter upon arrival, but it turned out to be unnecessary weight. “You have to understand that Will has been walking these mountains for the last 50 years”, Glen remarked. “He has an incredible memory, and as far as I could tell, is basically walking around with a 3D terrain model in his head, with every route he’s ever hiked highlighted. Watching him make assessments on passes we couldn’t even see, based on his intimate knowledge of the mountains in different seasons and conditions, and modify the trip plan, on the fly, in his head, was nothing short of amazing.”

Glen was worried about acclimatization, but it ended up working out well. The original plan was for Glen to fly out from San Diego dressed to hike, get picked up in Durango, and start hiking that afternoon. The thought of going from sea level to 13,000 feet in an afternoon was not something Glen was looking forward to. As it ended up, Will got a chance to do a trip right before this one, and didn’t get back until LATE on the day Glen arrived. Will’s wife Janet picked Glen up at the airport, and took him to a friend of Will’s who had agreed to help out by running Glen up some altitude. It wasn’t much, but it sure helped. Plus, Will coming straight from one trip, getting little sleep, and heading out on this one, helped Glen to be able to keep up with him.

Glen advises anyone lucky enough to get an invite to hike with Will to go for it. “Hiking with Will is like being with a walking Wikipedia on all things ultralight, and an awful lot of other stuff as well”, says Glen. “But you better bring your A-game. Do not be lulled by Will’s gentle demeanor or his relatively advanced age – he is a hiking machine. I would say we were pretty evenly matched, but considering 1) Will is 16 years older than me, 2) he returned late the night before from a rigorous backpack trip, and with a few hours of sleep, grabbed the pack he had already prepared the week before and headed out with me, and 3) I had slightly longer legs, a more rested body, and a little bit lighter load… all I’m saying is, you should be in shape.”

Glen packed a little on the heavy side for this trip, based on not having experience in the area, and some uncertainty about the actual weather. To provide a margin of safety, he took his heavier (warmer) sleeping bag, his new Montbell Ex-Light down jacket, a CubenTwinn tarp instead of his Cuben Wedge, and his MLD eVent rain mitts. The mitts came in handy the first day, but as it turned out, the Wedge and the lighter bag would have been fine. The weather the first day included some snow, sleet, and hail approaching marble-sized, but then the weather pattern settled in as beautiful days, with an afternoon thunderstorm. Temperatures were fairly moderate at night, although Will had some ice in a water bottle one morning.

NEW GEAR
Glen tried a couple of new gear items this trip. Here’s his report:

  • Water Treatment: based on watching John Potter on a recent PCT trip, I decided to try 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 didn’t have time to research it before the trip, and was somewhat dismayed by Will’s observation that bleach didn’t kill cysts, especially coupled with the profusion of elk pellets I saw on the ground. Will graciously offered the use of his backup iodine, as he was testing a water bottle filter. But I decided I would learn my lesson one way or the other, so I used the bleach. I did not suffer any ill effects, but note that I was very particular about the sources I took water from, and there were many I passed up. I also may have a pretty robust immune system. PLEASE DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH BEFORE MAKING A DECISION ON WATER TREATMENT.
  • Fenix light: I have used the Fenix LD01 for years, but have recently had issues on trips. The battery has lost power dramatically and terminally, only to be fine the next day, and the sequence of modes does not always work the same. It got to where I actually ordered a replacement, figuring the circuitry had gone wrong. I had problems with the new light right out of the box! When I took out the nice lithium batteries and put in regular ones, everything worked fine in both lights. As far as I can tell, the lithium should work fine, I’m just telling my personal experience.
  • Wrightsocks: I had tried Wrightsocks many years ago, but didn’t find them comfortable enough to take again. I don’t remember exactly why I didn’t like them, but I know they did not end up as part of my regular kit. I saw them in a running store, and decided to give them a try. I really liked them and will try them again. Unfortunately on this trip, I think they were one of several factors contributing to significant ankle strain. I spent a fair amount of the trip following Will over faint (and sometimes nonexistent) elk trails across some pretty steep side slopes. Between the Golite Sun Dragons sitting fairly high off the ground due to their lugs, my penchant for using curly laces, and the Wrightsocks, my ankles did a fair amount of twisting, and were pretty swollen by the end of the trip. Sore enough to notice, but not to affect performance on the trail. It was a little tight getting them squeezed back into the wingtips, but luckily they were pretty much back to normal within a few days, since I had agreed to run in a relay of the Carlsbad Triathlon. Despite my feet being wet or damp for most of the trip, due to a combination of hiking in snow, rain and stream crossings, I didn’t have any foot problems.
  • Starbucks Via Iced Coffee: Will and I had agreed we weren’t cooking in the morning, to allow early starts for our ambitious agenda. I brought along some Via Iced Coffee to try. It was quite excellent, shaken up in my Smart water bottle in the morning. One morning I goosed it up by also adding a standard Via packet. That was too much of a good thing for me, although other true coffee fiends might like it.

Glen’s Gear List