Words by Ryan Sylva
A whirlwind of a summer finally concluded on August 20th along the CDT. I trekked across the Canadian border with Trail Ambassador Lint and a measly base weight of 8lbs, about 1.5lbs lighter than when I started way back in early May in New Mexico. I met Lint in Rawlins, WY, with my 9.5lbs base weight, and for 50 days we talked of raunchy jokes, some gritty life stories, and gear. Luckily, we were able to hike that long together for we had commonalities, namely the same sense of humor, hiking pace, and an ultralite philosophy. Lint’s ultralite practice had been honed down to base practicalities and necessities, his was refined and polished, while my mindstate had been evolving in an adoloescent phase, sort of speak. Lint convinced me to go all in, to committ to an ideal that I obviously had been living in but held on to minor fear/comfort based items.
Next thing I know I’m in a motel room in Anaconda, MT. I am cutting my hip belt off of my backpack, trimming the sewed straps close to the seams without weakening the material. I cut 1/4 length of my 1/8 wide Thinlight Insulation Pad. I walked the rest of the way to Canada boiling ideas in my head about refining my gear for next year’s hike, most likely the AT.
I paraded through Montana, winding my way from town to town through the Treasure State, visiting friends and sharing my experience on the CDT. I slunked my tiny pack over my shoulder proudly whenever anyone spoke in disbelief of the size of the backpack. My chip on my shoulder grew because I knew I could be smaller, way smaller.
Then the whirlwind lifted me to L.A. to begin a 2 month road trip with a girl, Whitney, I met on the CDT in Rawlins, WY. Actually, Lint introduced us wayfarers. We were hiking north to Canada and she and her friend were biking across the country along the TransAmerica bike route. Lint struck up a conversation with Whitney’s friend by showing her his light weight backpack, of course. She couldn’t believe that he hiked that far with what he had in that small of a package. So, fast forward a month and a half later and I am in Austin, TX taking a Gossamer Gear tour. I ended up leaving the Gossamer Gear house with a Kumo Superlight shipped to Moab, UT where I would employ the new pack on the Kokopelli Trail.
The Kokopelli Trail is about 140 miles long connecting the mega-mountain bike giants of Moab, UT to Fruita, CO. The trail is travelled extensively by mountain bikes and dirt motorcycles. But I decided to do the route on foot. The trail is a road, almost 90% of it, but the trail is lonesome, scenic, dry, and hilly posing challenges to a walker. There is no potable water on trail so I must find my own since I am not using water caches. Some dry stretches yawn over 30 miles. Really, the trail is nothing to write home about but I had plenty of time before work would begin for me and the urge to get outside and walk itched far too greatly for me to sit around and wait until next year’s hike. I thought the hike to be a reflective one to help understand the rekindling emotions and to fill the big void in my life that the trail-life fulfills. And that was a big part of the Kokopelli mission, however, hiking in southern Utah also proved to be a practice in refining my gear for next year. Even though thru-hiking season does not start until 6 months from now, here I am in early November, utterly alone in a cold desert with hardly any water, trying to lighten my load, both mentally and physically.
Although my base weight weighed 7lbs, I loaded up the Kumo to the brim pushing upside of the maximum capacity of 25lbs. Forced to pack heavy due to lack of water in the area, my pack would be heavier than usual for the expected 5 day completion. I left the Slickrock Trailhead and walked along Sand Flats Road straight into the foothills of the La Sal Mountains, the spiky range east of Moab. Instantly, under the heavy-lading of the pack, the shoulder straps grasped my shoulders rather than pinch in on my clavicle. The straps are wide and conform to my body structure. I feel no pressure along the top portion of my body. As I walk more miles, my body releases air, the corporeal puffiness now free like when a horse’s saddle begins to slink atilt its broad back after settling in for a long ride. I tighten my straps, the cinching of them very easy despite the heavy weight. The pack clings to my body like a heartfelt lover never rocking left and right. I gather this to be because of the long and lean tube-like compartment that fits neslted within the curvature of my back. And I used the Thinlite Insulation Pad that I cut on the CDT in the back pocket for rigidity. Like the pad does while I sleep on top of it, it conforms to my back as I wear it walking. I must tell you that I have only the sternum strap buckled and tightened. Even without the hip-belt buckled the pack, under heavy weight, stables itself against my body.
The Kumo is almost 14oz. lighter than my pack I used this past summer on the CDT. I could do without the Kumo hip belt which saves me nearly 2oz because I can remove the hip belt from the Kumo. A built in pleasure-option considering I don’t have to do alterations myself, for I am not sure-handed in the tailoring world. By the time I reached La Sal Mountain Loop Road I knew my overall weight and comfort of my system improved by almost one pound and I hadn’t even addressed other gear issues.
I watched my water closely, actually conserving the water I did have precariously. But when I needed a sip I walked in stride and reached to the side pockets to grab my water bottles. Easily attainable, the water bottles fit snugly and do not risk falling out of the pockets. Most other packs I’ve used have a low clearance, a non-elastic band, and the water bottles fall out. I find this very frustrating and the Kumo mitigates this annoying quality with the Dynema Gridstop. I might add that I use SmartWater bottles which slip in and out of the pockets easily. Two of the bottles fit side by side within each pocket with assurance that none will fall out. So, as I knelt down to the brisk banks of tiny Castle Creek, I leave the Kumo on and refill my water bottles. I reach over the top of my head and un-zip the pouch on the top pocket and pull out my water treatment tablets. My 4 liters filled, I put back the bottles in their secure nest and I amble on. Efficient to say the least. The water exercise took roughly 5 minutes, which turned into valuable time for me high up in the foothills as the early sunset of fall blanketed the landscape in front of me as I lumbered up towards Fisher Mesa.
The second morning held quiet. No chirping of birds, the silence was deafening as the creaky sun rose over gloomy ridgelines. I rustled up camp after the cold jarred me awake. The road steeply wended up towards Fisher Mesa Trailhead. To my right I heard a coyote yelping across the glen responding to his pleading echoes bouncing off the surrounding gentle slopes. My next water source was a good 20 miles away. I drank more water, ate some energy bars, and my pack felt like a feather. I made easy miles and the day flew on by. My next water source was bone dry. The map showed a solid blue line but the up-valley ranch had drained Fisher Creek for their pastured lands. This made my waterless stretch yawn from 20 miles to 35 miles. I slow-rolled my way up to another buttressed mesa tinted with buttery sandstone and creamy turrets. I tired and my legs cramped before I found my camp under black light.
Dawn posed another day and I tried to ration the water I had left. I had 12 miles to the mighty Colorado River, not the usual guaranteed water source I would want but it would have to do. The Kumo grasped my back but the feeling was non-existent as it was such a part of me. Without the water my load hovered around 14lbs total including 2 days of food and a liter of water. I walked efficiently, hard but soft. At about 4 miles from the Colorado River, I turned my pack around to the front of my person, grabbed my split pea soup and black bean mixture and my 2 cup-sized plastic container from the outer mesh pouch, combined the mixture in the container, put the container in the pouch, and turned the pack back around to its proper positioning. I did this all without stopping. The Kumo provided for me the simplicity of making a meal on the go a luxury, one that I have been thinking about for a couple of years. Over the years, I’ve become not a fan of outer-zippered pockets. The zippers clog with dirt, break or cease running along the line smoothly. And the zippered pocket cloaks items that I readily need. I am forced to dig around my bag, sometimes taking off my pack and wasting more time. The Kumo outer pouch readies items I regularly use in easy access form. For me the most important thing is that I can now store my food container in the pouch. The band opens wide enough to fit the container I use all the while the band clinches back shut strongly enough to hold the container in place and not jar it around. My former system had me putting the plastic container inside my backpack. The process took way too long, especially if there was mosquitoes hovering peskily around.
I attained the Colorado River and hunkered under the bridge spanning the river. I kept my pack on the whole time, even leaning against it while I ate my pea-green and bean-black mixture. Now, the Kokopelli Trail is strikingly scenic but it is still the desert. Lack of water aside, the desert pokes. I leaned frequently on the Kumo, hardly removing it except for extended breaks or camp, and the material proved durable. I even had a run-in in a bottom choked with saltcedar and spindly willows.
The story follows as this: To get to Agate Wash I had to bushwack from pavement through thick brush of willows and salt cedar then try and find a jeep track. The route seemed rather easy enough to do. Then the bushwack became bushwhacked! I thought it a tiny sliver to navigate through but the bottom was throttled with bristled branches, pokes and spines reached for my person. I bent over to fit through the tunnels made by deer. The branches grabbed and tugged at the Kumo. Some of the shock cords ripped back in a fury to sting my sides. I kept following the deers’ diminishing thorofare, smaller and smaller. I cursed over and over. Loudly, I exclaimed, “Mother-f*ck*r!, Why the f**k am I such an idiot!, C’mon!” The tunnel got so small I had to crouch. I got down on my knees and crawled, the Kumo still latching onto everything. I flung my arms around trying to fight my way out, aggressively trying to push my way through. The more I did this the more I became stuck.
I stopped suddenly, exasperated. I breathed slowly, as a large spider crawled on my arm. I gauged my body noticing scratches on my arms and thread dangling from my shirt. I emerged on the other side and attained the concrete bridge of train track over the wash. I took off the Kumo this time. I noticed only dirt marks and, surprisingly, no tears. I laughed at myself, acknowledging what a buffoon I am, but the Kumo held up tough. I came out of the jungled mess self-loathing, the Kumo came out in a stolid fashion, dependable.
The next 2 days, I dealt with the same problem: long distances between crappy water sources. I became tired, even bonking. I pushed 33m a day. My food ran low. But my hiking became easier because my pack weighed so little. The nights grew colder and the ground harder, but optimism prevailed as I drew near the end. My lighter Kumo elevated my spirits. I entered the Mack’s Ridge trails area and mashed the trail with stomping, motivated feet. Eventually, I touched the stone monument with the Kokopelli figure morphed in iron. I snapped some photos of me in front of the marker with the Kumo and I realized: I am way ahead on refinement for next year’s hike. Reflection aside, I felt happy, efficient, and fast. And lighter!