High Snow Year: Two Parks, Two Days, Two Hikes

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 Chalet, still bundled up for the move to a more secure location

Enchanted Valley Chalet, still bundled up for the move to a more secure location

teetering chalet in April 2014

teetering chalet in April 2014

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.

The beautiful Enchanted Valley, June 2017

The beautiful Enchanted Valley, June 2017

fresh glissade track on the Inter glacier

fresh glissade track on the Inter glacier

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)

a pictoral definition of "in your face"

a pictoral definition of "in your face"

waning light as we finish our day, Mt. Ruth (8700') and Steamboat (9700') visible in foreground

waning light as we finish our day, Mt. Ruth (8700') and Steamboat (9700') visible in foreground

GoPro Hero 5 Black Review

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.

 

 

Bye Bye UL, SUL etc

SUL? Mt. Baker RTM gear (95 miles bike/hike)

SUL? Mt. Baker RTM gear (95 miles bike/hike)

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.

EXAMPLE HIKES

not posed: sagging with UL base weight

not posed: sagging with UL base weight

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.

tiny packs for the Wonderland: SUL? stuff sack includes quilt, down sweater, booties, Hoodlum

tiny packs for the Wonderland: SUL? stuff sack includes quilt, down sweater, booties, Hoodlum

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.