As the reader can tell from my prior post, I've been on a bit of a bike roll lately. But this time of year affords some splendid opportunities at Mt. Rainier National Park to bike the plowed roads with abandon before they open to general public vehicles. My buddy and I took advantage of great weather and this timing to explore around the entire park over two days (May 02-03). We forged up the West Side Road, negotiating the washed out section via carries and ascended to just short of Round Pass (4000'), stopping at 3700' due to snow that should be gone in two weeks. I was able to careen down the Stevens Canyon Road, cutting corners for the best line, in late afternoon with nary a soul in sight. On the north side we entered via the White River entrance and biked to the White River Campground, enjoying solitude and lunch on a sunny overlook of the river. I've found that timing can afford one solitude throughout the year at this busy park; I've hiked the better part of the Wonderland before it was "open" for business, I've descended from Camp Muir in the evening with only a full moon for company, I've spent the better part of days off trail apart from the masses, and I've biked most of the roads in the park where the only traffic I had to be concerned about was an errant deer. I'm hoping for one more bike visit here before everything comes on line for summer, hopefully being rewarded for hours of climbing with a carefree romp on my vintage steed down empty roads with a smile on my face. Then I'll happily trade my wheels for ambulation.
I did my first shock session of the season on April 19th, where I biked with a buddy on a mild ride (@400' climb/30 miles) using my classic Gary Fisher hard tail mountain bike, then continued on to Mt. Rainier National Park to hit the West Side Road for another 1000' climb and 9 miles, then continued to Longmire where I biked to Paradise for another 2600' climb and 22 miles, for a 100K day with 4000' of climb. If you are interested on my philosophy on shocking the body then refer to this blog post from 2010: Going Longer: Shock, Body Memory and Mental Toughness. When I shock my body I go at least twice as far as my longest session since last summer/fall season. I have been doing some occasional rides and gym sessions that generally don't exceed 50K. This is one of the techniques I use to keep all the moving and thinking parts in working order with the goal of enjoying an active lifestyle after retirement, still 4 years away.
But this session was far more than a training ride. I got to hang with my STP buddy for a few hours, enjoying the recent record breaking heat (my vehicle thermometer still read 82 degrees F when I entered the park at 2 PM), yukking it up and stopping halfway through for a coffee shake. Then the bike up the West Side Road, checking the snow levels and enjoying solitude on the road (road is still gated until opening to vehicles for the first 3 miles on April 29), checking out the washouts, enjoying teeth rattling sections where I wished for full suspension, and ending with a speed limit busting romp back to the vehicle. By now the heat was subsiding and I tried to time my descent from Paradise just before sunset, and indeed the traffic thinned considerably. I started uphill at 5 PM and there were only 4 vehicles in the Paradise parking lot when I blasted off at 7:15 PM...not one car overtook me on the way down so I basically had the road to myself, reveling in alternating icy breezes, warm pockets, setting sun and a dry road. I even had to keep my mouth closed on the final miles as the bugs were a flyin', hard to believe this was April.
Mt. Rainier National Park is certainly my stomping ground, and has been for over 30 years, but I never tire of its environs, whether on trail, off trail, or on road. As I get older I also like to incorporate more biking in my training; the hills give me long duration aerobic workouts without the pounding of running or trail trotting, my quads stay in shape, and my reward after all that pseudo suffering is the romp back downhill. I'm looking forward to when the paving project is done for the Longmire to Paradise section when I might have a hankering to bring my road bike and go, let's say, slightly faster.
This short video are some of the highlights from biking the roads in the park: Longmire to Paradise (or sometimes the entrance to Paradise), the West Side Road (closed, except the first 3 miles, to non park vehicles), Highway 410 from Cayuse Pass to the gate at Crystal Mountain turnoff (last year I was able to bike this section all the way to the White River entrance when it was closed for the season, as there was no snow on the road in February), and finally the Ipsut Creek trail, which was a vehicle road but closed due to recurring wash outs and is now open to hiking and biking only. This year I will video Highway 123 and the Stevens Canyon road to complete the series. Vive le bike Rainier!
Or "how do I contend with only walk up permits for Mt. Rainier NP in 2016?" These five loop hikes will take you over 125 miles and 32,000 feet, sampling the best Mt. Rainier National Park has to offer and allowing for increased flexibility in camp sites, not worrying about caching food, and giving you a full meal of the park. What will you miss by not hiking the Wonderland straight through? Stevens Canyon (within earshot of the road), Longmire to Narada Falls (sometimes right next to the road), and the Wonderland between Mowich Lake and the North Puyallup camp, which includes Golden Lakes but is mostly forested.
One can obviously peruse a map of Mt. Rainier National Park (MRNP) and come up with myriad ways to sample the park in short segments. These are just my suggestions for those who may have never visited this region and would like some guidance. Please reference my prior blog post for trips that include more off trail segments.
Eastern Loop Trail (35 miles/7300' elevation gain/loss)
Park at the trail head just inside the Stevens Canyon Entrance. For a complete description of this loop, check out the trip report on NWHikers I wrote a few years ago. Beyond what you will read there, this is a fantastic loop that will take you over some of the most dramatic parts of the Wonderland, namely the Cowlitz Divide, sporting some of the best vistas in the park, to Indian Bar, then over Panhandle Gap (prime mountain goat viewing area) and Summerland to the White River road. You'll have to walk the road a short half mile to the Owyhigh Lakes trail head, where you'll ascend for the last time before dropping to the Eastside Trail and finish your hike amidst old growth splendor on gentle trail. Before you hike less than a mile back to your vehicle via some short connector trails, check out the Grove of the Patriarchs. Possible camp spots are:
Olallie Creek: just 3 miles into the hike, a good place if you got a late start and want to get going
Indian Bar: very popular and perhaps harder to get on a weekend, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try.
Summerland: probably the most popular and sought after camp in the park due to its easy access from the road (4.3 miles) and fantastic scenery.
Tamanos Creek: this is a pleasant spot in the forest prior to the Owyhigh Lakes and assuredly easier to secure than Summerland
Deer Creek: easy access from Highway 123 but a pleasant spot nonetheless
Northern Loop Trail (33 miles/9200')
Park at Sunrise unless you want to add 14 miles of walking (10 on the Ipsut Creek Road, closed to vehicles), which actually isn't so bad as it traverses lovely rain forest next to the Carbon River. There are some nice vistas to be seen near Sunrise if you don't mind the crowds, but once you get much beyond Frozen Lake the hoards drastically thin out. Berkeley Park (proceeding CCW, camp sites also) is pristine and a great place to camp and wander the higher lands towards evening, scouting for elk, deer and bear. Water ouzels will mesmerize you with their dipping in the creek that flows through the valley. Flowers abound here during the post melt season. Continuing on one can linger in the oddly flat Grand Park, another elk haven in the fall, and just up the trail is another "best" vista that overlooks the mountain and the White River, 2000 feet below. Once you drop out of Grand Park and descend towards the West Fork of the White River, you will pass Fire Creek Camp, which is a half mile off the trail and nestled in the forest, no views here. Be aware that it's steep trail to the river, I've seen people suffering mightily coming in the opposite direction (CW) with heavy packs. As you ascend towards Windy Gap you will pass James Camp, pretty enough but a mosquito haven for sure. Once passing the Yellowstone Cliffs (and Yellowstone camp) get your downhill legs to quivering as you drop from 5200' to 2700' ending up next to the Carbon River. You will pass another camp at Dick Creek, although with only two sites, and climb next to the Carbon for a 3300' gain. Keep this in mind in your packing, most people take 3 days to do this trail but the climbs and descents will punish you if you are toting 1/3 your body weight. However, HYOH. You'll have two more places to camp, Mystic and Granite Creek. The Mystic camp is not on the lake, it is a bit lower in the woods but lots of sites (7 individual and 2 group). If you are camping here do the short 1 mile jaunt up to Mystic Pass and watch the alpenglow on the mountain and Willis Wall as the sun sets. The trail continues over gentle downhill terrain until crossing Winthrop Creek, then ascends next to the Winthrop Glacier until veering off, steeply for a short period, to Granite Creek (and camp, which has the most private site in the park, #3). Highlights for the remainder of the trip? Skyscraper Pass with airy views, and the treeless meadows above Berkeley Park, sporting carpets of flowers at the right time of year.
Paradise/Muir Loop (7 miles/5500')
This is a day hike but if you are in the park you need to visit the Paradise area. If you don't want to "get off trail" you can skip the snow hike from Panorama Point to Camp Muir (10,188') but there are few areas on the mountain where one can climb this high, sometimes above the cloud sea, without more technical terrain. Just don't take the climb to Camp Muir lightly....on a sunny day you will fry from the sun and reflected rays if you don't take sun precautions, and in foul weather it is downright dangerous. But if you are prepared and don't mind hiking with a crowd, it's well worth it for the views and experience. Also, the route is usually wanded by the park service in case of low visibility. But I'm ahead of myself, Park at Paradise (get there early in summer) and proceed for 2 miles up the Skyline Trail to Panorama point...make sure your head is on a swivel for the views behind you. From Pan Point you can do the 4 mile round trip up to Muir and/or continue on the Skyline Trail CW to the intersection with the Lakes Trail. Open views, creeks, flowers, wildlife...a cornucopia of sights, sounds and smells, not to mention vastly diminished crowds. Before you do this part of the trail check with the park service on the steep slope one must traverse past Golden Gate...if snow covered make sure there's a good boot trail and the snow is soft, but don't proceed if it looks too scary. The Lakes Trail continues to drop to Faraway Rock with a wonderful view of Louise Lake. I recommend continuing on the Reflection Lakes trail (also the Wonderland), staying lower in elevation until the Narada Falls trail. From this road access point the trail continues up to Paradise to complete the loop. Lots of elevation for a short day hike but well worth it. The best timing for this hike is an early start but a lingering climb to Muir, saunter back with lots of breaks for snacking and picture taking, then finishing the hike later in the afternoon by Reflection Lakes and Narada Falls. A worthy day.
Western Loop (34 miles/6500')
Due to lack of access with the closing (to vehicles) of the West Side Road years ago, the western part of the park is the most remote, i.e. not many day hikers, with some of the most spectacular scenery any time of year. I'll warn you up front, to complete this loop without backtracking you will be hiking 11 miles of the West Side Road and finishing up with about 2 miles on the main drag to return to your vehicle parked at the Kautz Creek trail head. However, the West Side Road has some of its own charm and after the up and down of the trail you might appreciate the easy hiking to finish off. If you have access to a bike you could stow it at the parking terminus on the West Side Road and simply bike the remaining 5 miles to your vehicle. To start, the Kautz Creek Trail is charming and steadily climbs you through picturesque terrain until you reach Indian Henry's Hunting Ground, where one can spend hours just lounging (good bear watching area also). Your only camping choice at this point is Devil's Dream, just over a mile down the Wonderland. A possible side trip here would be to tag Pyramid Peak, which (although not shown on the map), has a trail that leads from Mirror Lakes to the summit with eye popping views. If not, continue on the Wonderland, descending from Indian Henry's (at 5300') to the Tahoma Creek suspension bridge (at 4300') for the lofty span over the creek, creaking and swaying slightly as you cross. This is truly a unique area of the park. From here the trail proceeds upwards and parallels one of the Tahoma Glacier moraines...watch out for grouse....and the mountain slowly rises over nearer terrain features until cresting Emerald Ridge, with views all around. This area can also house an explosion of white avalanche lilies and later, carpets of yellow and red flowers. Definitely a lounge area. Climb the knoll here and bask in the breezes and views. You may run into day hikers who accessed the area from the West Side Road via the South Puyallup Trail. From this point you have 2 options to shorten this loop from my description, either by taking the South Puyallup Trail to the WS Road, or continuing on and bailing via the St. Andrews Creek Trail, which also takes you to the WS Road. Keep these in mind but I recommend continuing on from South Puyallup (camp possibility) to climb yet again to St. Andrews Park and Lake. St. Andrews Lake is another area where one could spend time eating, napping and lounging. If you have a mind and the experience then a cross country jaunt up to Tokaloo Rock (7684') might be in order. From the lake the trail takes you past views to the rock formations at the foot of the Puyallup Glacier, spectacular in evening light, then down to Klapatche Park and Aurora Lake. The lake can be completely dry in later season so be aware. Being on the west side of the mountain at higher elevations affords one spectacular sunsets on the mountain and its flanks, and Klapatche Park is an awesome place to spend the evening taking in the waning sun and emerging stars. If you haven't seen the milky way recently then these elevations over 4000 feet will reacquaint you on moonless nights, one of the reasons I love to bivy instead of using a tent. After your sleepless night from star gazing, continue on to perhaps spend another night at the North Puyallup Camp. As far as backcountry camps go, this ranks low on the list....the individual sites are basically located one after another on an old road section, and the group site is in the old parking lot. What makes this worth the overnight is the completely different alpenglow on the rock formations I described earlier, glowing bright orange and ablaze with the setting sun, while the North Puyallup river provides background music in shadow below. Take this all in while lounging on the polished rock whilst drinking a backcountry martini or hot beverage just around the corner from the bridge. Life is good.
After this park sampling perhaps the easy stride on the WS Road won't bother you, especially as you check out the sights at St. Andrews or partake in a side trip off the road to Gobbler's Knob lookout. Maybe you read that the washouts from glacial outbursts on Tahoma Creek were the deciding factor in closing the road to vehicular traffic (except for park vehicles), and as you hike the road next to Tahoma Creek the stacked boulders, dead trees and obvious water lines will give you visual confirmation. You'll also see why the parking lot is now closed at the gate after Fish Creek....you can't miss the boulders that cratered the area, still parked on the road after cascading down from Mt. Wow. Now it's just the trot back to your car on easy grade. Who knows, someone may just give you a ride those last two miles to your waiting vehicle?
Mother Mountain Orbit (16 miles/4000')
Last but certainly not least, this "companion hike" to the Northern Loop Trail will be your dessert. Drive the washboard road from hell to Mowich Lake and park. I like doing this loop CW, dropping from Mowich Lake (at 4900') to the other side of the Carbon River (at 2600'). This is a very pleasant forest walk with abundant water supplies and cool shade. If you want, you can almost guarantee a site at Ipsut Creek, just a quarter mile down the trail, as this used to be a drive in campground but has been converted to a backcountry camp with over 20 sites and bear lockers. It's actually quite pleasant here and the day hikers (5 miles to the parking area) will be gone in the evening. Continuing CW climb next to the river for under 2 miles until coming to the lower river crossing. The trail used to continue right side here but was eradicated to the bedrock by the flooding of 2006. Once across the Carbon River the trail joins the Northern Loop Trail for 1.1 miles to the suspension bridge; this is the only time you will walk on the same turf if you do all 5 of these loops. Luckily it's a pleasant stretch, with moss covered boulders glistening in the sun dappled forest. Once you arrive at the suspension bridge cross this lower and less dramatic swinger (as compared to the Tahoma Creek bridge) and prepare to climb. You can also camp at the Carbon River camp, tucked amongst giant cookies from sawn blow downs, cleared by yours truly assisting the trail crew back in 2000. Just part of 33 years of personal history with this park.
The trail continues, climbing next to Cataract Creek and leading past Cataract Valley camp, which is a very pleasant one. One of the few places one can have morning constitution while basking in the sun atop a solar toilet, being serenaded by squeaking pika. Not to be missed. Continuing on, you are now next to Marmot Creek, in my view the most picturesque creek in the entire park. You have to see it to appreciate it, a cascade of pristine, freshly melted water running between shallow mossy banks, over the underlying bedrock, nourishing myriad species of wild flowers...this alone is worth the hike. But wait, that's not all! As you climb higher the forest thins and you find yourself above Mist Park, then climb ever higher until even the green is gone and only rock and boulders are under your feet. This is Seattle Park, which gives way to the high point at 6400' and upper Spray Park. Up for a side trip? Go left and continue upward to perhaps climb Echo Rock (7870') and Observation Rock (8364'), or at least the environs of the mild Flett Glacier and the scree fest that borders it. Now, the traditional way back is via this alternate route on the Wonderland Trail through Spray Park and the probable day hikers that venture here, for good reason. Or, one can go an alternate way, branching off on a side trail below the high point that will eventually peter out, but contouring below Mount Pleasant one can espy Knapsack Pass and, once crested, follow the trail all the way back to the visible Mowich Lake and your vehicle. Needless to say, this makes for an excellent day trip also if one doesn't want to spend the night. Start early.
There are innumerable ways to explore this park, but these loop hikes I've described will give you the "best of" the Wonderland, albeit with a little more punishment than the Wonderland's wimpy 93 miles and 22,000 feet of up and down. Plus, you get to adjust itineraries with much more flexibility while looping and adjust for the vagaries of weather. While you're catching your breath I suggest camping at Ohanapecosh, by far the best drive in in the park and located further from the Seattle area crowds who use the Nisqually and White River entrances.
It's hard to believe that an entire computer system could be taken out with no backup, but that is apparently what happened this year at Mt. Rainier NPS. Read all about it here. The bottom line, all permits for 2016 will be walk up. For locals this may not be a big deal, but for those non Washingtonians who have vacation planned and are flying into the state to hike the Wonderland, it throws a big monkey wrench in there and creates a whole lot of uncertainty. From the NPS website:
Permits must be obtained in person at the Longmire Wilderness Information Center (7:30 am - 5:00 pm), White River Wilderness Information Center (7:30 am - 5:00 pm), or the Carbon River Ranger Station (hours vary, call in advance). Remember to bring:
- An emergency contact phone number
- The license plate number of any vehicle being left behind in the park
- The make, model, and color of the vehicle
There is no fee for a first-come, first-served permit.
What about caching food? Do I try to get a permit the day before and then drop off a food cache, drive to the other side of the mountain and start my hike there? How long will the Park Service store the food? Do the caches need specific pick up dates? Lots of questions arise from this scenario when one can't count on reserved sites on specific dates for advance planning. One can only guess about lines at opening times; perhaps people will abandon Wonderland plans this year and go somewhere else, dramatically dropping thru hiker numbers? Or perhaps long lines will necessitate hours long waits just to talk to a ranger? From my experience doing only walk up permits, frustration can creep in as the people before you chat and waffle on where they want to stay, asking endless questions that point to a lack of planning. One thing is for sure, if you plan on going through this process make sure you have multiple options written down so you can go to plan B or C and so on.
This could be a bonanza year for fit hikers that can cover long distances, allowing for myriad possibilities on the walk ups, especially if not caching food. The walk up scenario certainly better fits this demographic versus people who were planning on 10 to 14 day hikes and the attendant logistics, not to mention the vagaries of where to stay if backcountry camps are unavailable for a planned 10 mile day max.
Because of my familiarity with the park, future posts will present some itineraries that better suit this walk up permit only system. For example, shorter loop hikes that require only one or two night stays, like the "Eastern Loop Trail." There are innumerable ways to explore Mt. Rainier National Park without resorting to a 10 day Wonderland Trail hike. I'll present some shorter jaunts in the following list but stay tuned for more suggestions on how to take advantage of this park hiccup for 2016.
Mt. Rainier Grand Tour:
Severe weather can create incredible vistas. Watching the light show from a very tight and massive thunderstorm is almost mesmerizing, especially when the cloud to cloud flashes are almost continuous. Digging into the Willis Wall video archives, the Willis Wall Trio is now resurrected operating out of new digs and provides the background music for nature's light show. WARNING: this slightly warped composition may cause distress to some listeners.
I usually wait a minimum time for gear reviews where I’ve had a chance to put equipment through a large sampling of conditions, but in this case I wanted to talk about Borah Gear as there are few reviews out there when one does searches for specific pieces. This company deserves a little more attention because of its excellent customer service, very reasonable prices, ability to do custom work, and quality of products. Here’s a rundown on items I have purchased over the past two years.
Snowyside eVent Bivy
I can’t help myself, I’m still a bivy user and fan under certain circumstances. This year I ordered a modified Snowyside eVent, corresponding with owner John about reducing the length from 96” to 90” and constructing it with 1.45 Cuben on the bottom. At 90” this bivy is roomy enough for me to put my pack(s) inside, use a full length 2.5 inch pad and any of my quilts or bags. My target use was for a throw down shelter (with the 1.45 cuben modification allowing for no ground sheet) for all conditions, including ski mountaineering. I was not able to use this piece of gear in the snow, as I had to postpone plans to ski Mt. Rainier’s Emmons Glacier due to low snow year and lack of back country ski opportunities in general. Witness the fact that I hiked the better part of the Wonderland in 2015 on JUNE 9/10 with August like conditions. I did, however, get to use the bivy on a few trips where it proved very effective. My daughter and I hiked Mt. St. Helens’ Loowit Trail in May, spending one night under open skies and cool temperatures on the Plains of Abraham. The eVent fabric held up very well in challenging condensation conditions, where the fabric was essentially dry on the interior but frosty and wet on the exterior. Compare this to my daughter, who was using a ZPacks Splash bivy (old design with no head and foot panels and a cumbersome netting arrangement). Her’s was quite wet, basically soaked from condensation. This one night was enough to prove the efficacy of eVent. I also used the bivy on the Timberline Trail, on the Mt. Adams Round the Mountain, and on Mt. Rainier above 6,000’ with open skies, waking to frost on the exterior but once again dry inside.
I ordered the Snowyside with the longer zipper going down the side. The velcro arrangement for the netting could be considered a PITA, but it is simple enough and once in place protects from bugs and critters. In general I find this to be a minor con point. Also, in my view there’s no other manufacturer that offers this kind of quality construction and materials at such a good price point. OF NOTE: my bivy is the earlier iteration, not the one currently advertised that looks to incorporate improvements. I don’t own a scale but according to John the weight of this particular item is about a pound; also I can tell you that it doesn’t pack up to “the size of a softball” per the newer description. I usually rolled it up and used one of the side pockets on my small Zimmerbuilt pack for carrying, freeing up valuable space inside the main body of the pack. In sum, I consider this bivy bomber: it stays in my ski pack as emergency shelter and will be what I use this coming season for any higher altitude trips, especially on snow.
For fast packing trips where I am camping lower, where I want minimal weight, and where I am looking for minimal size, I picked up the Borah Gear Cuben Bivy. It’s packed size is tiny. It’s light (4.5 oz.). It offers just the right amount of protection to a sleep system. I’ll qualify that I’ve only used this bivy on two nights, when I fast packed Mt. Rainier’s Wonderland Trail (93 miles) in 3 days. I obviously wasn’t spending any time “camping”….I moved for 15 to 17 hours per day and then flopped. Despite a favorable weather forecast, I packed a ZPacks Pocket Tarp just in case (it stayed in my pack). My first night was spent sleeping under the stars, and the second I crashed on a cabin side porch, which afforded me a wood elevated floor and a roof over head. In these conditions this bivy was perfect, adding just a touch of warmth to my sleep system but with a netted head area so my breath escaped outside, but kept the roving rodents out of my warm enclosure. This piece of kit is still roomy enough for a full 2.5 inch pad, and I coupled that with an Enlightened Equipment Enigma 50 degree quilt. I always pack with entire systems in mind for anticipated conditions (plus reserve safety and weather protection), and in this case I also carried a Borah Gear.....
If I didn’t use the jacket to supplement my sleep system, I used it to stuff my pillow. It’s extremely light (5.4 ozs), stuffs incredibly small, and is well constructed. It’s a minimalist piece, with a pullover design, short zipper and not too long with no pockets. Unlike the photo on John’s site, mine came with the zipper extending all the way up the collar. I found the sleeves nice and long, providing ample coverage over my hands. All this for $180, quite the deal. Perhaps the jury is still out on the long term fundamentals of water resistant down, but this jacket is filled with 2.3 ozs of 850. I was able to fit my entire sleep system into a smallish stuff sack: quilt, down jacket, booties, and EE Hoodlum.
Even more minimalist, I pack the down vest when the trip warrants. 3.7 ozs for size L, again with no pockets and the vest has no collar. The minuscule pack size and weight make it a no brainer to bring along on summer trips where I am not packing the down jacket. Not bad for $100.
I am always happy to write reviews for a company that manufactures quality, specialized gear here in the US along with offering excellent customer service. Borah Gear also offers some of the best bargains out there. There won’t be a trip in my immediate future that won’t see one or more of these items in my bag. And yes, I gladly paid full price for everything.
When the going gets tough on the ungroomed, sometimes I dream of an easier way to get down. A Willis Wall short.
Just a bit early this year but a Happy Holidays goes out to everyone! I had a good year hiking (and biking) solo and with my daughter, and got out with my buddy Craig a few times. Places included: Mt. Rainier National Park, Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, Alpine Lakes, Enchantments, and Olympic National Park. Please enjoy this video compilation from the past 10 months.
This review is gonna be short and sweet. Chris Zimmer makes excellent packs, customized to your exact specifications. The workmanship is nothing short of outstanding. The response to emails was excellent, with questions being answered promptly and appropriate questions from Chris himself to nail down my needs. His prices are very reasonable. Once the specifications were finalized and the invoice paid, I had the packs in hand within a matter of days, not weeks. Here's the chronology of my experience:
• I asked for slight modifications to his standard Hybrid Daypack. Done. Paid. Delivered.
• I inquired about a custom front pack to match the Daypack. Perfect. I've been using it all season. The components are robust, meaning the strapping is wide and the buckles are solid, the attachment system is good for any pack I own, the zipper is rugged and the materials are tough (hybrid cuben).•
Pleased with this front pack, I ordered a completely custom backpack with these specifications:
- Hybrid Day Pack Body Style but larger volume
- Pack Volume - 1700ci
- Pack Material - Hybrid Cuben Fiber - Olive/Black
- 3D mesh padded back panel
- Foam Padded Shoulder Straps
- 3D mesh padded hip belt - minimal size
- Side Pockets - Dyneema X - Slanted top - Pleated
- 2 Side Compression Straps per side
- 2 Front vertical daisy chains
- Front Pocket - Mesh
- Ice Axe Loop - Left
- Zipper Pulls - 2
- Sternum Strap
- Haul Loop
Once finalized, I had this pack in less than a week.
• Noticing some wear on my clothing from front pack bottom attachment straps over the past few years,
I asked about slide on "mitigating rub pads". Done, delivered, tested and worked perfectly.
• Impressed enough with my pack experience,
I asked about a custom pack for my daughter:
- 2200ci ZB2 Style Pack
- Pack Dimensions - 11" wide by 7" deep by 22" tall plus the roll top
- Pack Material - Dyneema X
- Aluminum Stay
- Load Lifters
- Haul Loop
- Sternum Strap
- Foam Padded Hip Belt
- Foam Padded Shoulder straps with daisy chain
- Front Mesh pocket
- Front bungee cord compression
- 1 Axe loop - Left
- 2 Side compression straps per side
- Side Pockets (dyneema, pleated)
- Dry Bag Style Roll Top
- 2 Top straps for securing bear can if needed.
This was to be a "do all" pack, able to haul heavier loads if need be but not so huge as to preclude using it as a day pack. This was to replace a GG Mariposa, which proved uncomfortable at best with heavier loads. Used all season with excellent results. Sturdy. Perfect fit. Comfortable. Rides well when scrambling. Accommodating for large or small loads. Stylish. Great value. 'Nuff said.
I've used the smaller 1700 c.i. pack on most of my trips this season, including Mt. Adams Timberline Trail (2 days, 40 miles), the West 57 miles of the Wonderland Trail (2 days), a complete Wonderland Trail Fastpack (3 days, 93 miles) and a circuit of Mt. Adams along with numerous day trips of varying lengths. Scrambling. Running. 'Schwacking. Biking. Bashing. Snot bombs. Sharp talus. Scree. And I wasn't gentle. Of all the equipment I have purchased over the years, these packs rank among the best purchases I have made, including best bang for the buck. The most outstanding customer service. Best selection of materials for a combination of ruggedness and light weight. If you are experienced enough to know exactly what you want in a pack, buy a Zimmerbuilt.
Zimmerbuilt Custom Packs in use......
I had a choice today: go solo and knock off Echo and Observation Rocks at Mt Rainier National Park, completing the points on the Grand Tour. Or enjoying the day with my buddy Craig, who hasn't been out hiking in two years and is recovering from bronchitis. I chose the latter and I'm glad I did, despite the Mowich Lake road imminent closing in a few days, essentially cutting off easy access to this area for this season. I did manage one peak in the process, Fay Peak (6492') on the way to Knapsack Pass, which I practically sprinted up so as not to make Craig wait too long. I also left the trail in lower Spray Park to check out the saddle between Mt Pleasant and Hessong Rock, although climbing either of those peaks would have taken too much time while Craig was waiting. This was a great day overall, mostly from the camaraderie, theme based jokes and banter while enjoying decent weather. The hike was not so strenuous as to bring Craig to tears. His cough subsided as the day wore on, we took plenty of time to linger and shoot pix, the trail on the loop back was downhill and mild, and we made it to my vehicle just as it was getting dark. I've done a bit of solo hiking this year and just getting out with an old friend and inhaling nature's healing vapors was just the ticket. Check out the complete photo set.
This map shows the GPS track over Knapsack Pass via Fay Peak, at just over 5 miles and 3100 feet of elevation gain. The loop was completed on the main trail shown back to Mowich Lake for another 3.5 miles, making this loop a total of 8.5 miles long.