Prep Hike 2: Bridge to Nowhere

On Friday, I ventured out to the San Gabriels mountains of Southern California to do a shakedown hike of my gear, food, and comfort level with cold weather backpacking.  Yes, I know “cold weather” is a stretch in Los Angeles, but with temps around 40 degrees at night, it was a good test without going too extreme.

The prep hike followed a 6-mile trek to the affectionate Bridge to Nowhere, an eerily and fully constructed bridge in the middle of the mountains with no road leading to it or from. I did this hike a few years ago with friends and decided the comfort of knowing what to expect would be nice.  With a couple new friends in tow, this overnight adventure was a great chance to once again test out my full pack weight and gear options, and it did not disappoint. I highly recommend this trip for anyone looking for a great day hike, overnight, or multi-night trip.  With multiple river crossings, continuous ups and downs, and very rocky terrain … it doesn’t feel too far off from the Appalachian Trail. Hello Neiman!

A couple things I learned about gear during this shakedown hike

  • Stuff Sacks. I don’t like how my gear is organized. The stuff sack arrangement does not have like-items together, and causes a lot of taking out, rearranging, and putting back. Some examples:  1) my bandana/towel/dishcloth needs to be packed with my mess kit, as that is where I need it most.  2) The electronics that are not used daily (e.g. battery pack) should be packed deep as I’ll only need them occasionally).  I’ll be re-thinking this before Prep Hike 3.
  • Pillow. (sigh). I like the idea of having it, but didn’t use it. In my hammock, even wearing all my clothes (including raincoat) at night, I still had sufficient soft stuff to put in a stuff sack for pillow-use.  The Exped pillow I have is only 1.8 ounces but wasn’t used. I’ll keep it in my pack for now, but consider my eyebrow raised…
  • Crocs. I love my crocks, I’ve talked about that before, but the issue is going to be pack space. They don’t pack down well, and my pack is very full. I decided to order a pair of Xero Z-Trails, which are similar weight but MUCH more packable. Xeros are like Tevas, and strap to your foot more tightly than Crocs, so I’ll try these out and see if I like them better or just suck up the annoyance of Crocs being attached to the outside of my pack.
  • Hammock and Quilts. This was my first test of my new Dutch Chameleon and Enlightened Equipment Quilts … wow, simply wow. These products are so well made and passed the field test with flying colors. I was very warm during the cold night, and felt very comfortable. My only issue was that the underquilt is very tight on the hammock, riding high and not having enough slack to lay low. I can’t tell if this is on design or not, as it feels and looks awkward. It kept me warm, but I fear I need longer suspension chord. I’ll call EE to confirm.
  • Water Filter. The friends that joined me brought a Sawyer Mini filter with a gravity bag, and I must admit, it was pretty neat.  I don’t like the idea of using force to get clean water with those filters, but the gravity concept is better than I expected. I’ll do some research, but for now will keep my Aqua Mira until they run out, then decide on the right replacement along the trail.
  • Cook Set. Cold weather, cold wind, and cold water = worst efficiency of an alcohol stove. Using 2 tablespoons of alcohol, I was not able to get 2 cups water to a “raging” boil. It was hot, but not boiled. With the basic recipes in my meal plan, this shouldn’t be a problem, but I think it could get annoying over time. For now, we stick with it, but I’ve got my eye on JetBoils again.
  • Boots. Something happened on this trip that hasn’t on the dozens of treks in my Oboz Sawtooth hiking boots before. Big toe pain. I’ve scaled mountains in Alaska, Montana, and California in these boots before but for some reason this time I could tell they were too small. Five days of hiking like that would easily cost me both toenails. They are a few years old, and maybe my feet have swelled a bit, so I’m going to pick up the sized up Salomon X-Mission trail runners I already planned to buy as a first replacement on the hike.
  • Hammock/Quilt Storage. This is minor, but has anyone thought of creating a giant bishop bag with their hammock and underquilt stored together?  I feel like I spent a lot of time assembling and disassembling my shelter set up, and would easily see that time cut by keeping the underquilt permanently attached and stored with my hammock. Anyone else think of that?

Also, just a quick note, but the camera portrait mode on the new iPhones is amazing. This photo looks as good or better than I could pull up with our SLR. Technology .. wow.

Prep Hike 1: North Cascades National Park

A couple weeks ago, I departed dusty LA for the green majesty of North Cascades National Park in Washington. The original plan for this backcountry father and son trip was to do the popular 34-mile Copper Ridge Loop in the NE corner, but had to change last minute to a less aggressive itinerary for the group. For anyone interested, my research found this loop to be of the best in the park, and I highly highly recommend it.

Although the trip was converted to mostly car-camping, I treated it as an AT prep-hike nonetheless and packed accordingly. I still wanted to test out the Gear List finalized earlier this month, so packed only those items with the comfort of knowing we could go into town if needed. However, no resupply trips were required and the Gear List held up great!  Since minimizing base-weight is so key to an ultralight pack, some discomfort can be expected, but I felt 80% pleased with the items and accompanying weight I brought.  Still, there were learnings to consider and tweaks to the Gear Plan to be made:

  1. Sleeping Pad – I admit it was wishful thinking to assume I could avoid cold butt syndrome for 5 months with a sleeping pad. Although the DIY reflectix wings helped, the comfort of a hammock is lost with every toss or turn.  Instead, I will trade in my 16oz Thermarest ProLite for the 14.5oz 20d EE Revolt.
  2. However, since switching to an Under Quilt will leave me without a sleeping pad for shelter/hostel stays, I have to add that as a luxury item. At 10oz, the small Thermarest Z-Lite Sol is the best option (and brings other uses like a sit pad in camp). I’ll drop my 1oz foot pad and look for other ways to make up the added weight.
  3. Hammock – Although I love my Dutch Half Wit in Southern California, the bug net will definitely not keep out Appalachian bugs. I’ll be upgrading to Dutch’s versatile and interchangeable Chameleon.
  4. Pillow – The Exped Air Pillow was great, but stained easily, made noise, and lacked that soft pillowy feel. I will evaluate a swap to the Sea to Summit Aeros.  Or bring none. 
  5. Nail Clipper – Although it was a recommended luxury item, I found it easy to cut my nails with the scissors on my Swiss Army Knife instead.  #hegone
  6. Bag Liner – The Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Nano Dry Pack is unnecessary and annoying. It traps too much air for compacting and is a nuisance to open and close. I will just use my bag liner and a trash compactor bag.
  7. Winter Jacket – I still think I can live without a puff jacket, but for now, plan to bring my Patagonia through the Smoky Mountains. I picked up a 3oz Mountain Hardware Ghost Lite jacket on sale in Seattle which I think will pair nicely with my fleece sweater to provide similar warmth. If needed, I’ll wear my Top Quilt for additional insulation around camp.
  8. Cook Pot – My Keith Ti3209 900ml Titanium Mug does not have water measuring lines, so I created a DIY version out of an aluminum baking tray.

Since these changes look to add ~1 pound, I will continue to evaluate additional changes to stay within the UL goal of 15 lb base weight.  At first glance, I think the extra T-Shirt is a gonner…