Get those thoughts out of your head. On July 4, 2017 I hiked/skinned/skied the Russell Glacier in Mt. Rainier National Park. Ever since I did Observation Rock and a bit of Ptarmigan Ridge, I wanted to come back and tag a point above 9,000 feet and in the process get in some skiing. With just 4 hours of sleep after returning from overseas, I drug myself out of bed and packed up, hitting the trailhead at Mowich Lake just before 9 AM. Yes, that washboard road from Hell still sucks. There were just a few cars and people on this Skindependence day, and I crossed paths occasionally with 3 other skiers until we parted ways at the bottom of the Flett Glacier....they were heading over to do the ski from the headwall and I broke left to contour above Echo Rock to bake on the Russell Glacier. Aside from 4 day hikers, these were the only people I saw all day, and once I hit the Russell I had the park to myself. I have to admit that this was a long, tough day, entailing about 16 miles RT and over 5,000 feet of climb/descent. It was very hot on the glacier(s), I spent a considerable amount of time schlepping my skis and boots, the terrain was sometimes challenging, and I ran out of water before topping out at 9510'. I resorted to eating some snow to keep my mouth from feeling like the Gobi, as no melting rivulets were to be found on the way up. The last stretch going up the Russell was steep enough to shed the skins and boot up, but the views were amazing from this height (complete photo set here). The Liberty Ice cap and the top of Willis Wall look completely different because of the angle, closeness and altitude from such an interesting part of the mountain. Perched on Ptarmigan Ridge, one can survey the entire Puget Sound and gaze down on the North Mowich Glacier and the rugged Mowich Face above. The Liberty Cap ice fall looks like it could shed at any moment (I did record the tail end of a minor avalanche). One can look across during the climb or descent to Curtis Ridge, and on the ski down it was strange indeed to see the rubble-y Carbon Glacier stretched out below the fall line. Generally the snow was good and not too mushy, although somewhat striated....every turn crossed mini ridges for a bumpy ride but that didn't detract from my enjoyment of having this entire glacier and environs to myself. I skied lower than my ascent, which necessitated a short carry over to the Flett, and soon I found myself at the bottom of the run with a melt pool to slake my thirst. Although I had short cut the ascent from Spray Park over snow, I decided to continue down the summer trail for the descent, basking in perfect afternoon weather on heather during a snack break, sipping on ice cold water caressed from a tiny stream off snow melt to ensure I was rehydrated. The only sounds were wind and birdsong, and eventually I donned my clumsy and heavy ski and boot laden pack for the last push back to the vehicle. Spray Park is awash in avalanche lilies and speckled between with red, purple and yellow, but nowhere near the peak, there is still a bit of snow coverage in the meadows. As evening approached the mountain blazed with low angle sun through the trees, and I finally emerged from the woods at 9:40 PM, no headlight required. There's always a let down when the day is done, but I could tell I was really spent from the physical demands of the day. I was still able to enjoy fireworks on the ride out, especially in clear areas facing west to all the myriad towns from the Mowich road. Today defined the phrase "earn your turns", but this Skindependence Day was one of the best times I've had on the mountain.
My daughter and I are just back from two days of hikes (photos here), trying to work around the very high snow year we have had. We decided to go from one extreme to the other, hitting the Olympics and day hiking to Enchanted Valley, then hitting Mt. Rainier and climbing to Steamboat Prow (9700'). One day awash in green, the other in blinding white. One day with high mileage (30 miles), the other with a point to point climb (5300 feet elevation gain).
ENCHANTED VALLEY We started on Wednesday, June 21 and headed to the Olympics and parked at the Graves Creek trail head. This is a 4 hour drive for us but we managed to be on the trail just before 9 AM. Now, the weathered wooden sign at the beginning of the hike reads Enchanted Valley 13.5 miles. However, what with reroutes and the such multiple sources (strava, GPS etc) put the actual mileage at 15 one way, making for a 30 mile round trip. This higher mileage is mitigated somewhat by the rather gentle elevation gain of about 2,000 feet over the entire distance. Perfect weather set the stage for this incredible journey through old growth elken (as in lots of elk) forest, inhaling green splendor with every breath, creek crossings either via established bridge or makeshift ones, keeping feet dry, with terrain gentle enough to let the feet carry us along as we let the ambiance infuse us with health. Doesn't get any better. We arrived at our destination, Enchanted Valley, early enough for the sun to still bathe the valley. Enchanted Valley is of course known not only for the incredible setting between mountains and cascading waterfalls, but for the iconic and historic 3 story Chalet, built so far into the wilderness in 1931. A few years back the wandering Quinault River eroded one end of the chalet, leaving it teetering with the probable demise of falling into the river. However, Jeff Monroe, a house mover from Sequim, instigated (along with much support) a plan to move the chalet from its foundation back 100 feet to save it from erosive destruction, and here it sits with the steel girders still under it, waiting to be moved further to a more permanent location about 200 feet away. Despite looking rather vagabondish with these temporary underpinnings, the chalet is still a sight, nestled in this beautiful valley so far from civilization. We enjoyed a respite from ambulation, sitting on the old foundation (what's left of it) and soaking in the sights, peering up the valley to Anderson Glacier. I orbited the chalet snapping pics and taking video, and we finally packed up for the 15 mile return leg when the sun dipped below the opposite peak. Our hike out was equally enjoyable, watching an elk family ford the river with newborns barely making it across, not using artificial light until 10 PM on this solstice day, and occasionally stopping to gaze at the unpolluted (both haze and light) star show above. We arrived physically sound but plain old tired at our vehicle at 1:30 AM, sleeping in our pseudo RV until 10 AM.
STEAMBOAT PROW We used the next day for R&R and travel, with another 4 hour drive to the White River Campground at Mt. Rainier National Park. We set up the truck in a camp spot with the gracious approval of a ranger; technically the campground didn't open until the next day. One of the best additions to our truck camping arsenal is a Zodi hot shower, and we emerged from the shower privacy pop up destinkified with fluffy hair, with plenty of time to lounge, eat dinner, sip Bailey's and enjoy a legal campfire. Mentally and physically we were ready the next morning to tackle blazing reflective sun and continuous climb. I had skied the Inter Glacier a few weeks before and the melt off was progressing well, but there is still an amazing amount of snow for this time of year, steady from 5400' elevation on. Although the river was emerging from the snow at Glacier Basin, we were still able to avoid wet feet by simply walking up the snowfield for a bit. Climbers and skiers were out bigly time, which made for a good boot track all the way up to about 9100 feet. We paid constant attention to multiple layers of sunscreen and sun protection. My daughter was dragging a bit on the steeper section of the Inter glacier (cracks are starting to show) as this was really her first climb of the season, but after a break at 8100' she felt fine all the way to Steamboat. I was feeling great until I had to kick steps for the last 600 feet or so in my trail runners, with the varying snow conditions eating up a bit of energy. However, the section was short and when we arrived at Steamboat (9700') the weather was perfect; not too hot, not too chilly, conducive to lounging for an hour and a half soaking in the 360 degree views. The Emmons and Winthrop glaciers slapping us in the face ahead (with numerous ski tracks and the Emmons climbing route clearly visible), Little Tahoma knife edged to the left, rising out of gleaming white and shadowy cracks, and views north to Mt. Baker and Glacier Peak, gazing down on the Mt. Ruth prominence (8700'), which my daughter had visited a few years prior. We could have spent all afternoon up there but the evening hours were approaching....we reluctantly hopped back on the glacier and plunge stepped our way down, marveling at our descent speed versus the climbing speed. The snow was even good enough to set in a glissade track, and we did just enough to avoid frost bitten buttocks. Lickety split we were back at Glacier Basin, and our further descent to the waiting food and beverage laden vehicle was just as quick. This day entailed 14 miles and 5300 feet of elevation gain and loss, just enough to know we did some work but not enough to detract from eye popping views, perfect weather and conditions. Two parks, two totally different eco zones, two totally different color schemes, one day of cleanliness and relaxation, how could it get any better?
(Caution: glacier travel should not be taken lightly, one should have the knowledge and skills necessary. Conditions on the Inter this early in the season were mild enough for unroped climbing and skiing by experienced outdoors afficionados, although crevasses were just starting to show themselves. We witnessed a group of 3 glissading towards the opening cracks, obviously not checking their position on the climb. Exercise good judgement and don't recreate on a glacier if you don't know what you are doing)
I've been using action cams since the early iterations, enabling outdoor footage impossible to capture on larger video cameras. For the past few years my main action cams in use have been the GoPro Hero 3+ and the Contour Roam 2. Skipping the Hero 4, I recently purchased the Hero 5 Black and have tested it in various outdoor settings and endeavors, like biking, hiking, skiing, even indoors in Kendo. This review offers a wide gamut of examples to give the viewer more info if considering a purchase. If the viewer wants more technical information on this camera, there are plenty of reviews available online that will show how to manage the myriad manual settings. Generally, I am shooting in 2.7K in either 30 or 60 fps, with the bike shots using "superview" and other shots "wide." The 2.7 K video gives me options for manipulation for online content that I master in 1080. I also set the max ISO at 800 as anything higher than this will produce too much grain. Like anything else, there are compromises when using a camera this size. Most of the stunning video one sees online is shot outside in excellent and unchanging lighting conditions, where this type of camera excels. However, it gets tricky when shooting in fast changing lighting conditions or different exposures in the same frame, and this video provides multiple examples of both the good and the not so good. For location reference, these scenes were captured in Mt. Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park (including Ruby beach), and one indoor sequence at the Bellevue Kendo Club.
My daughter had been after me for a while to go visit the Hoh rainforest, so I finally conceded the long drive during a spate of good weather. Besides, we were in need of a warmup hike and the Hoh trail barely climbs over the first 14 miles, keeping the hiker immersed in green paradise that entire time. What with the long drive and various other chores, we didn't start hiking until almost 2 PM, but that was fine as we planned on going in about 10 miles for the first day, then making the second day a bit longer. There is still snow on the upper portion of the trail towards Glacier Meadows and we weren't sure how far we wanted to go in with no preparations for steep snow travel. We spent the first night in Lewis Meadows, pitching our Duplex right next to the river. The water lulled us to sleep as a nearly full moon tracked across the adjacent ridgeline during the night. Normally, having to arise for a nature call can be a pain, leaving one's warm cocoon, but the evening stayed mild and the moon glistened off the river, making me wish I had brought a tripod. Click here for the complete photo set.
With pristine weather on day two, we arose for breakfast and continued towards the river's beginnings, finally running into some mildish uphill on the way to Elk Lake. It was here I discovered I had failed to include some mandatory food for our trip, so the decision was made to turn around and complete a 20 mile day on what meager portions remained. I tried to make up for my faux pas by donating most of the remaining food to my daughter, because hunger is far preferable to starving daughter crankiness. It was rather comical for me to eat one chip with 3 miles remaining, a typical portion for the day. I've been told I'll never pack the food again, and I tend to agree on that point. However, growling stomachs did little to distract us from the cool breezes, the buttercup fields, the gentle trail through giant spruce, fir, cedar and ancient maples draped with moss, all the while serenaded by birdsong and breeze induced flora rustling. Who needs food when every breath is a feast for the lungs? And later in the day we had a cool encounter with a coyote, loping down the trail towards us with nary a glance at the multicolored bipeds. We stopped and wondered what he would do, but the bushy tailed beast simply arced around us and rejoined the trail, never even glancing back. We made it back to the truck by 8 with plenty of time to take a hot shower in the parking lot, this night sleeping in the camper converted Avalanche and lulled to sleep by a frog croaking cacophony (we did have food waiting for us in the cooler). After sleeping in with a late start out of the park, we were able to stop at a cafe for some calories and remochaize before spending some time at Ruby Beach on the way home. The Hoh certainly delivered on immersing us in a classic temperate rain forest hike, well worth the drive and the empty stomachs.
Nunatak has filled a void in outdoor wear, namely a non-down jacket that is useful beyond just lounging around camp or at a temporary rest stop like a belay jacket. Made from Climashield Apex, the customer can essentially customize their order of the Skaha Apex jacket by means of multiple pull down options. I wanted a jacket that could also do duty as a standalone sleep piece or used in conjunction with an elephants foot half bag. With this in mind I ordered mine with these options:
• Extra Tall collar • Apex 2.5 in the arms and collar, but 3.6 in the main body • Added 6 inches to the back length (which also adds about 4 inches to the front) • Shell material: Robic ripstop .74 oz/yd Dark Grey• Hand warmer pocket• One interior zippered chest pocket• Sleeve end: Lycra stretch banding• Liner fabric: Pertex Quantum ripstop .80 oz/yd Mountain Safety Orange
To complete an ensemble for fastpacking or trips that require little rest time, Jan made the half bag in 2.5 Apex for me with the same exterior material, the .74 Robic. This Akula Apex Half Bag is now available on the Nunatak website. Nunatak describes the lighter 2.5 Apex: Combined with other layers it should be good to 40° for brief stops, naps, recovery breaks. For a full night at those temperatures up the insulation to 3.6 oz/yd or 5.0 oz/yd. In this regard I agree, as I have spent 3 nights out with the combo and in the wee hours was thinking more insulation on the bottom would have been more comfortable. But with the difficulty of finding custom work of late, the beauty of Nunatak is the ability to customize your order from the myriad options available to you right on the website.
You'll notice in the photos that my jacket is long enough to cover my backside, one of the options I wanted if using this piece as my primary insulation for sleeping. I have found the 3.6 Apex in the main body to provide that extra bit of joule retention when the body is at a heat producing low. On my nights out I was able to sit up at various points and attempt night photography, with no loss of body heat; this was another primary consideration when I ordered this jacket. And as far as moisture resistance goes, water simply beads up and rolls off the Robic material, and I have yet to feel any sort of dampness from general condensation or breath. I even left the jacket on after arising early one morning and hiking a few miles to my vehicle, with only one problem: getting too hot. The only improvement I could think of (and I related this to Jan at Nunatak) is the lack of ability to cinch up the extra tall collar for trapping that last bit of body heat. However, I wouldn't be surprised to see this as an option at some point considering the responsiveness and nimbleness of this company. This jacket has and will be in my pack for every trip this season, be it skiing, biking, climbing or hiking.
If you want inexpensive look elsewhere. If you want to order extremely high quality, fully customizable pieces with an astounding number of options and choices, and don't mind excellent customer service from the owner and team that make up Nunatak, then spend the dough and take the plunge. Now here's the disclaimer, I paid full price for these products.
It's been kind of nasty this winter here in the Pacific Northwest in that we've had very few days of sun with lots of rain and stormy weather. I have spent most of my time in the gym trying to get ready for this season, which will put huge demands on my mental and physical stamina. My training is approaching my days of ultra running, i.e. last week I ran (fartleks) for 4 miles, then climbed 2300' feet over an hour on the stair machine, then I biked for 20 miles for a total workout time of 2:50. I anticipate workouts like this to eventually approach 5 hours by June.
But this past Monday (April 3,2017) the Mt. Rainier forecast called for sunny skies and the freezing level eventually climbing to 4500 feet. I figured I could tick off quite a few boxes:
• Test my progress on actual terrain• field test the Inov8 ArcticClaw 300s I recently picked up on Mass Drop• get in real bike time versus gym bike• climb a total of 7000 feet in one outing• time my event to enjoy crowd free hiking and a deserted road• get some downhill time on the legs• dial in clothing system that would work for both biking and hiking
There were a few unknowns that could have been deal breakers, such as the road from Longmire to Paradise being too icy to safely bike, and especially the snow conditions as I was only taking these beefed up trail runners with no snowshoes; I also decided to leave the skis at home for this one. I got lucky on all accounts. After a breakfast at the National Park Inn, I was on my bike at the gate opening at 9 AM and was pleasantly surprised by temperatures as I ascended. I was wearing the Inov8s on my flat pedals, some biking softshell pants with a bike padded liner, a NTS layer (Beyond Clothing Aether long sleeve) under a long sleeve bike jersey, and a final outer layer, the proven Beyond Clothing Brokk windshirt, along with a beanie under my helmet and some full fingered mountain bike gloves. This is a 2600 foot climb right from the get go, but the temperature stayed cold enough to preclude much actual sweating and cold enough to keep all the layers on. I was a bit concerned on the climb about the road condition on the way back down later, as I had plenty of slippery patches to cross on the way up. These next two shots are composites of frame grabs during the climb.
I arrived at Paradise 2:15 after I started, faster than I have done it before despite the pack and stopping for photo ops, plus I was holding plenty in reserve for the climb from Paradise to 9800 feet. There were about 20 cars in the lot, and I knew every one of them would be gone by 5:30 PM, as the gate is locked at 6 PM on weekdays at this time. Basically I had as much time as I wanted to hike up high and time my arrival back at the parking lot after everyone had departed.
I secured my bike to a post; the only clothing changes I made were to trade my helmet and beanie for a sun cap with drape and put on some gaiters. In hand I had one regular pole and a Black Diamond Whippet, not knowing what snow conditions I would run into, only knowing that there was lots of it. What I did meet with during the day enabled me to continue to my high point of 9800 foot elevation (giving me my total planned climb of 7000 feet for the day)....sometimes soft, sometimes crusty, sometimes icy, but nothing to impede my progress in trail runners. It of course warmed up on the snow field as I expected, but the sub freezing temperatures kept the heat at bay...in fact, I never had to don and extra layer or even take one off; I even used my same bike gloves. Because my Brokk pullover shirt has two zippers, I even found that I could sling my camera over my neck and poke the lens through, zipping all the way up to extract to my face for shooting, then nestle it back inside my shirt, very handy. I was slowing considerably as I passed 9000 foot elevation, more due to age and the altitude than my legs, which stayed true to the training all the way to the end. As I descended I crossed paths with parties I had passed on the way up, but soon had the rest of the hike to myself after the last skiers and boarders whooshed by. The lighting on the mountain seemed especially sublime on the descent, affording lots of photo ops (complete photo set here). With the sun behind a cloud the snow was setting up fast, and I judiciously grasped my Whippet on some steep sections just in case, but frequent post holing was my main impediment, especially after Pan Point (7000'). Sure enough, I was greeted with an empty parking lot when I arrived at 6 PM, and after employing brakes on the first part of the bike descent (gaiters off, warmer gloves and a beanie and one more layer), it soon became apparent that all vestiges of snow and ice were gone from the roadway, as were any vehicles, so I was able to let off the brakes and use the entire road for the best line on the way down. This year will see the completion and final paving of this section and I look forward to the buttery smooth ride that awaits at the end of the season versus the bumpy, sometimes teeth jarring present experience what with all the patches. When I arrived at my vehicle 15 minutes later, I was greeted by another empty parking lot, save mine. Yes, with careful planning you can have this park to yourself. Totals for the day: 29 miles (22 miles biking, 7 hiking)/7000' elev gain/loss.
ARCTICCLAW 300 Review
How can I write a review on something I've used just once? Well, the variable snow conditions I experienced on this hike covered just about everything. The shoes were warm enough with just regular socks (no WPB liner), although my socks got damp during the day. Considering I spent hours in snow and cold temps, I'm satisfied. I could have worn some WP socks for extra warmth, but I see this as unnecessary. Where these puppies really came through was on ice....the studs on the bottom gave me complete security on moderate slopes. At one point I took a break on a rock where the surrounding rocks and snow were basically ice. I crunched around to my hearts content with no slippage. On the steep climb to Panorama Point, I simply followed a boot track, with the studs providing enough security that I never needed to kick a step. At the top during a photo break I watched a guided group ascending the same path and the leader was kicking 2 to 3 times for each step. In the photo above the conditions were about an inch of loose snow on top of crust, and I easily tromped along (no breakthroughs on the way up), including side hilling, with nary a slip. When the snow was soft enough for post holing or plunge stepping they acted like any other footwear, with the exception that any shoe like this is not torsionally rigid, but with soft snow the heel is plenty beefy enough for the secure plunge. One has to remember that this shoe is designed for winter runs on icy terrain, but they excelled in this hike where every other person on the snowfields were in climbing boots, snowshoes or ski boots. I got a few looks as I passed people in my running shoes. I am lucky in that I can order Inov8 shoes in size 11.5 and they consistently fit my feet, these were no exception; comfy, no toe jamming, no hot spots and no blisters on the climb/hike portion of this trip, 7 miles and 4400 feet of elevation gain/loss where the only even steps I could take were the sections on crust. With the high snow year we have experienced I plan on using these well into the summer.
Although I am no longer a paying member, I regularly check in to the forums over at BPL; there's a lot of experience in those pages. There was recently a discussion on SUL (Super Ultra Light) and the lack of posting activity, which got me to thinking about it. Actually, there have been discussions all over the web about this subject for years. When Jardine's book came out it made a huge difference in my approach to backpacking, and I became very cognizant of weights. But at some point along the way, after cutting my total load to less than 20 pounds, I have put very little thought into gear weights, as the quality of gear is generally good and the weights have lowered over the decades. Been a long time since I puts weights into a spreadsheet or list. I no longer concern myself with useless "base weights".....what does that mean? When you are wearing your clothes, pick up your pack with food and water and that's what you're schlepping. I've even heard of people stuffing their pockets with various gear to keep their "base weight" down.
Base Weight: weight of your entire gear kit, excluding consumables which are food, water, and fuel
Not to be confused with skin-out weight, which means the weight of everything you're carrying AND wearing.
It appears UL is defined as a base weight of 10 pounds or less, and SUL starts at 5. When I put on my pack and start down the trail, my measure of a load is how comfortable I feel over hours, do I have to take off the pack frequently, or does the extra load beyond my body weight interfere with my enjoyment? Now, although I don't own a scale, this doesn't mean I don't pay attention to the published weights of gear I may pick up. In my selection process I look at function first and foremost, then weight along with durability, cost and other factors. I look at volume; how much room does my gear need? How can it be packed for maximum efficiency? What gear do I need during the day? How am I going to carry liquids, how much do I need to carry, do I want to add something like Tailwind to my water, do I need to filter? How much food, cook or not? What temperatures will I deal with on the trip, weather, clothing requirements? Bivy? Tent? 50 degree? 20 degree? Do I even need a sleeping bag or quilt? These are but a few considerations that go into trip planning, and these considerations dictate what gear I will bring on any given event. From there I make my gear selection and pack up. I heft the pack, loaded with food and water, and do a quick assessment. Anything I can cut? Anything I need to add? Nowhere in this process do I consider UL or SUL weights, I have retired these terms from any trip planning I have done in the past 10 years or so, and it seems I am not the only one. The state of the industry has changed tremendously over the past 20 years and perhaps the UL and SUL monikers will be put on the shelf and gather dust, just like Jardine's book, having served their purpose but are no longer needed.
For illustration purposes I'd like to offer experiences from two different hikes on either end of the spectrum, yet both are considered UL or SUL according to base weights: An 8 day hike into Washington's Pasayten Wilderness in August of 2014 with my daughter (101 miles), and a Wonderland Trail fastpack (solo, 93 miles) in September of 2015. The Pasayten trip had us carrying 10 days of food with a flexible itinerary. I had a ZPacks Duplex tent, a 9.75 ounce 50 degree quilt, plus other cutting edge light gear. We both used older Gossamer Gear Mariposa packs because they could swallow the gear, especially all the food (full bear canister and Ursack). My daughter likes to eat hot food, so we had the utensils and cookware, albeit super light. However, the packs were weighty, with mine at 35 pounds and hers at 30. But once underway (starting with a 4,000 foot climb), it became obvious that she was struggling with the weight. I repacked, taking all the food, bringing my pack weight to probably just under 40 pounds and reducing hers to less than 30. It was the trip of a lifetime, but I've never suffered so mightily. That older GG pack destroyed me with this load; if I took the weight off my shoulders I had to cinch up the waist belt so tight that I had temporary nerve damage in my legs. When I took the weight on my shoulders I had to pop Advil to deal with the pain. Yet I'll bet that my "base weight" on that trip was 10 pounds or less.
In 2015, with a favorable weather forecast in hand, I fastpacked the Wonderland Trail in 3 days, and my base weight was under 5 pounds (SUL baby!); NeoAir Xlite, Borah Gear cuben bivy, 50 degree quilt, clothing, trekking poles and assundries, including camera gear. I remember putting my full pack(s) on a bathroom scale, with food and water, and it came in under 10 pounds. I even packed a ZPacks Pocket Tarp with stakes, just in case the weather changed. My pack was unnoticeable on my back (and front). What a difference compared to the Pasayten trip!
As I research and plan this season's trips, my mind goes to clothing and gear, not to weights. But I'll bet that even my toughest trip will not have me thinking about the load on my back, and not have me wondering if I can get my "base weight" down to UL or SUL; familiarity with my gear allows me to generally assess what I'll be carrying on my back without having to create a spreadsheet. Seems, without really thinking about it, I've replaced the SUL/UL terms with C (Comfortable) or RC (Relatively Comfortable) or even ID (It'll Do). And so it goes.
My daughter laughs when I tell her I'm an engineer, as she is about to graduate with an engineering degree. But is my process so different? Every year I learn something after being outside, and of late I've been trying to customize my kit to optimize my trips based on these trials. In truth I could get away with one pack and some of my 15 year old clothing, but the thing I've been fiddling with the most has been my sleep system. I tend to run on the warm side but last year's trip to The Colonnade had me wondering how I could improve the experience. I'm comfortable with a bivy on these types of trips where I am not dealing with rain, but even with a 30 degree quilt and NeoAir XLite pad I resorted to donning my rain shells to stave off the chill, and I'm guessing the temperature didn't get below freezing. The 3.2 R Factor for the XLite has been fine for summer trips so my chilliness is probably due to my sleep layers. I also have to factor in usage, as I spent some considerable time sitting up in my bag to experiment with night photography. So with these factors in mind and my trip goals for this year, I will be trying a system built on an old climbers concept, but slightly altered.
I can safely say that most of today's cottage manufacturers of outdoor gear came about because the user/founder(s) couldn't find anything on the market that fit their needs, and out of frustration started making their own gear. Fortunately for me, I don't have to learn how to sew, weld, tape, resource or glue because there have been people willing to do this for me.
B4: This was a simple concept based on a dire need; my daughter has a physiology such that any type of biting insect seems to gravitate toward her feastable flesh. Many a time I would escape unscathed yet she would sport numerous welts from biting bugs. The B4 was a way to lounge at campsites free from attack without having to resort to tentage. In this case I took advantage of a buddy's wife who had all the tools and was able to sew up this design lickity split. Our B4s have been in use since 2011 and have proven to be the most effective solution for keeping bugs at bay while taking breaks on the trail. After using this once her skepticism disappeared.
Although his business model no longer supports it, Joe from ZPacks has also done some custom work for me in the past, including two front packs and a 3/4 length bivy made from the older version of breathable cuben. This bivy has made it into my pack many times since 2013 and is still a viable option for many of my trips (mostly as an emergency shelter combined with a WB shell) . I have also had custom packs made by Chris over at Zimmerbuilt. But to address my sleep situation previously mentioned, I am trying an old but new concept; a multiple use system based on the climber's concept of an Elephant's Foot half bag and Parka for the top, utilizing the parka as the "top half" of the sleep system to minimize weight. Feathered Friends still makes the Vireo, with more insulation in the lower part of the bag with the premise that users will be wearing a down sweater or parka on top to supplement the less lofty upper section of the bag. MLD offers their FKT Quilt on the same lines. I should also mention that both my daughter and I have the Feathered Friends Rock Wren. However, real world usage of the Wren as an insulated top (I have had a Wren since 1996) is marginal, useful for midnight bladder calls or standing in one spot for short periods.
I have found a hopeful solution with Nunatak, specifically their new offering of the Skaha APEX Ultralight Climashield Jacket. The amount of on line customization makes for this synthetic is as close to ordering a custom garment as one can get. I was able to specify Apex 3.6 oz/yd for the body and the lighter 2.5 oz/yd in the (full) sleeves. Instead of a hood, I opted for the extra tall collar. Other pulldown options I chose: 6 inch extra back length (making the entire jacket a lower covering cut), a full handwarmer front pocket, inside left zip pocket, and an outer shell of Robic ripstop (WPB). The cut is roomy and made for layering, and although I don't anticipate that it will be roomy enough to comfortably pull my arms inside, I am sure this will be an option if absolutely necessary.
Nunatak is also making a custom elephants foot half bag with the 2.5 oz/yd Apex and the Robic outer shell. When discussing the details with Jan at the company he agreed that this piece in conjunction with the jacket I ordered will have plenty of overlap to make the sleeping aspect complete.
Typical Scenario: I've been hiking hard all day and have arrived at at stopping place, either intentional or out of desperation. Although the weather is clear, I'm above 6,000' in the Cascades and the temperature is dropping along with the setting sun. My 62 year old bod is having a hard time producing heat because I'm foolishly doing trips that are very hard and my fatigue level is (X amount) more than 20 years ago. I lay out my 9.1 ounce custom bivy (Borah Gear) and expend even more energy blowing up that damn NeoAir Xlite. Experience has taught me that I need to trap heat before I feel cold, so I donned my Jacket (with short sleeves), put on a beanie and cinch the hood, reveling in the warm cocoon that also covers my butt and upper thighs. A little food helps stoke the fires and I am now able to concentrate on photography, video or time lapse shenanigans with a little exploration beyond the campsite while the alpenglow is ablaze. When I'm ready to retire I retreat to the bivy and pull up the elephants foot, knowing that if my toes get a little chilly I can put on my EE booties, and if my fingers need some supplemental heating I can use my Black Rock Foldback Mitts. Although my sleep/jacket system doesn't pack as small as if it they were stuffed with 950 down, I am less concerned about vapor transfer and wetting out with the Climashield. During the night I unzip my bivy and try with varying success to capture the Milky Way or Orion. In the morning I pack up still wearing the jacket to retain heat as long as possible, and perhaps even hike for 20 minutes until my ancient metabolic furnace finally kicks into gear and I'm able to shed down to appropriate layers. Then I'm off for 17 hours, arriving late because I underestimated the time needed to cover day 2 distance and elevation, but able to sack out in a protected spot that would never accommodate a tent but is perfect for my bivy with minimal fussing with gear: IOW, throw down and sleep.
Planned Trips using this system:
Glacier Peak Circumnavigation (@107 miles). My daughter and I attempted this last year but turned back due to time. This year I will solo it and plan 4 to 5 days.
PCT Section J (75 miles): I did this in one shot years ago, starting at Stevens Pass at around 2 PM after getting dropped off, and ending at Snoqualmie Pass about 10 PM....two nights later. On that trip I learned the true meaning of "sufferfest." This time I will plan on 3 days and try to end at Snoqualmie much earlier on day 3, and perhaps actually take in the scenery this time.
9,000-10,000' forges on Mt. Rainier: I've done the Grand Tour but have some areas I want to further explore, conducive to hard 2 day trips, or 3 at the most; Curtis Ridge, Puyallup Cleaver, Success Cleaver, Cowlitz Park, and a practically unexplored region between Ptarmigan Ridge and The Colonnade. Typical scenario on these trips; forge to an appropriate lower level spot to sleep on day one, then on day 2 push towards 9,000' or beyond and hike out.
Black Bear Traverse: This 100 mile hike in the Olympics is a classic, described in Mike Woodmansee's book "Trekking Washington"
Only real world usage will tell if this system performs to my expectations, but Nunatak Gear has an excellent reputation for quality work and the experience background of Jan points to someone who has been there; in fact, when I balked at the cost of the elephants foot further emails convinced me to go for the whole system. I am also eager to test the Robic outer fabric and see how it holds up without the benefit of a bivy.
I've been working in the studio lately after a break and compiled two playlists on Soundcloud, one for a song sampler and one for instrumentals. After all this is Willis Wall "Multimedia" and a lot of work goes into music production for my videos. I also like to have fun in the process. If you like slighly bent music and not so love songs, give a listen. Vocals by Darrell Dodge and May Palmer (Gimme a Latte). Additional instrumental work by Dan McInerney (guitar). These are in no particular order, but the latest are Bolerow, Settee and B'roke, with remastering on some previous songs like Paranoia and Enumclaw Love. Core music by the Willis Wall Trio, who shall remain anonymous. To aid in listening, these are the songs with vocals:
Gimme a Latte• Enumclaw Love • Never be so Lucky • Paranoia • So Special • 3 of Us
It's time for the annual Willis Wall Holiday video. This past year film was gathered at Mt. Rainier, Mt. Baker, Glacier Peak, Channel Islands and the North Cascades. Lots of bike trips! Happy Holidays to everyone!