Well, the hiking season seemed to pass by almost unnoticed this year, partly because I spent so much of it on snow. Emails and calls especially concentrated on the conditions at Mt. Rainier and the Wonderland Trail in particular, and I posted a number of updates on the trail centered around the snow conditions. However, this post is about things I discovered, new gear and new techniques.
BAREFOOT RUNNING SHOES AND BACKPACKING: I haven't run in regular running shoes since this past February. After much research I decided to give this a try, to see if the supposed benefits could be bestowed on an older runner such as myself. In the past I have used support shoes for my overpronating narrow feet. Check my earlier post on this subject, so I don't repeat myself. I have used the Merrell Trail Gloves on the trail a number of times, including snow, rocks, muck and scree. I have found that for shorter excursions, say under 15 miles, these shoes are fine. However, for longer outings of over 15 miles or over 12 hours, I am still using trail runners. Not because of support issues, but because the bottoms of my feet tend to get sore on a long day and the extra cushion in the trail runners help prevent this soreness. A 12 mile day in the Merrells had my feet starting to bark. However, for training I am all for the Merrells and continue to use them for all training runs. Your experiences may be different than mine, but I will emphasize that on my training runs I seem to glide over the surface (mostly treadmills, I avoid hard surfaces at all costs) versus pounding and my body is reacting well do the lack of support.
HYPERLIGHT PACKING WITH THE BLIZZARD TUBE: Again, check my earlier post on this arrangement. At that time, I hadn't actually tried it out. My plan was to use this in the lower elevations in milder weather. Instead, the first real use came in an unplanned bivy at the highest point on the Wonderland Trail in cold conditions. My daughter and I were attempting a fastpack of the WT in August. All was basically on schedule, leaving Longmire and hiking counter clock-wise with a planned first day of 40 miles, stopping at Granite Creek. The still heavy snow on the Cowlitz Divide and above Indian Bar slowed us down a bit, as did route finding leaving Indian Bar; some time slogging in ankle deep mush trying to establish the track. Upon climbing above the cloud deck, we transited the area above Ohanepecosh Park in a glorious full moon, reflecting off the snow and the clouds to the point where I could actually take video....Fabulous! The snow was firm but just adequate to maintain secure footing until we reached Panhandle Gap. Right at that area the snow became much harder...like skating hard. With minimal bootpath there (still few people had transited the area) I decided it was too dangerous to attempt the crossing so we had to stop short, just below 7000.' We donned all our clothes, erected the Gossamer Gear cuben tarp and got into the Blizzard Tube. Amazingly, we slept fairly well during the cold evening. When I got up the next morning to contemplate our options (the snow was still frozen hard), Cassie was still snoozing when I came back with a plan to bypass the Gap. After that experience I can attest that the system works....nothing but clothes, tube and a tarp (we also had pads, although we found a bare spot to set up on and didn't have to sleep on snow).
TRAINING: In my Backpacking Strategies product I talk about training and the importance of conditioning your legs for downhill. If only I took my own advice. I did another section of the Wonderland, from White River (where Cassie and I bailed the first time due to time constraints) to Mowich Lake, about 25 miles. This was not a sufferfest but what slowed me down the most? The downhill, as I was adequately trained for distance and long days but hadn't hiked in over a month. Reminder: do your minimal training, including downhill, before attempting a long hike! It will make the outing so much more enjoyable.
SOLO HIKING: I really enjoyed my outings this year with my daughter and my buddies. Olympics, Camp Muir, Mt. Adams, Wonderland Trail....we had a great time. But I also enjoy my solo time, it's just a whole different animal. My aforementioned hike, from White River ccw to Mowich Lake, was incredible. When I transited Sunrise, the road was closed and I had the whole place to myself on a cold but clear day with the sun just coming up. Somewhere I missed the part where winter's snows had melted and found myself on new stuff for a good portion of the hike until I descended below about 5400.' But conditions aside, I always find going solo rejuvenating, refreshing and wonderful in it's own right. There's just something about having the trail to yourself (only saw 2 people all day) that is indispensible to one's soul. Maybe I should call it soulo hiking.
THE B4: And finally, a followup on the B4 (again, check earlier post). My daughter and I used this the most on a 5 day trip to the Olympics while we were participating in the Marmot survey. Determined to help Cassie this year not get eaten like before, we came up with a two pronged attack. We (1) bought a shirt and hat from Outdoor Research that was billed as bug repellent. Conclusion: this stuff works! no bites during the day. And (2) the B4, worn every evening when the bugs were buzzing to lounge around camp, eat, and enjoy some time in the waning hours of daylight without being sequestered in the tent for refuge. No welts, itching...what a difference during bug season!