Upcoming Hike – Copper Canyon Traverse (CCT)

Details are finalized and plane tickets are now booked, which means that I can officially say that the trip is on! I am really excited for this hike and am literally preparing for the trip as I post (yes, I am eating Ben & Jerry’s while I type this).

It may seem strange to a lot of people that I am headed out on a month long hike with someone that I met in person for the first time only three weeks ago. I met Cam Honan (Swami) in person at a hiker gathering at the end of September. We had been e-mailing off and on for a few years about information on various hikes. In the late summer and fall we were corresponding about the Copper Canyon when we decided to adjust course from solo trekking and add the security of a partner for this hike. I think this ability to comfortably add a hiking partner, even one that you hardly know, really says a lot about the hiking community and everything we have in common. Once you have hiked a certain amount of miles, in varying environments, your outlook on hiking, life, and the unexpected is likely to be fairly similar. With that having been said, Cam has hiked A LOT! I think Cam and I have very similar hiking styles and I am really excited to head out with him on this trip.

Now some details on the trip, since that is probably what you are all interested in:

Who: Cam Honan (Swami) and Justin Lichter (Trauma)

What: We will be traversing the Copper Canyon region in Mexico, connecting all of the major canyons in the area.

When: We will be heading out in mid-November and hope to complete the route before Christmas.

Where: The Copper Canyon region in northern Mexico.

Why: The Copper Canyon is a remote and beautiful area in northern Mexico. The canyon system is the deepest in North America, deeper than the Grand Canyon. There is tremendous recreation potential in the area but the region gets a bad rap from some of the dangers associated with travel in northern Mexico. We intend to link up the major canyons to traverse the region, not in the straight line, shortest distance possible type of plan, but in weaving through the area connecting the canyons and areas that look impressive and scenic. We expect the route to be somewhere between 350-450 miles. We’ll have a better idea of that when we get on the ground. It is very hard to tell the exact mileage with all of the twists and turns in the canyons. We will be hiking, swimming, canyoneering, packrafting, and of course — ‘shwacking.

Check back for more posts before the trip as the details get ironed out and as we are in the field.

Cam has also posted some great information and background on the region on his website at http://www.thehikinglife.com/journal/2013/10/full-length-traverse-of-mexicos-copper-canyon-region/

Good write up about the Outdoor Retailer Tradeshow a couple of weeks ago

I was fortunate enough to attend the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City a few weeks ago. The show this summer seemed especially vibrant and innovative. It was also one of the most well attended shows of the past few years. This report does a great job of covering some of the new products that were introduced and will be available next spring (Spring 2014).

http://gossamergear.com/wp/buzz-blog/outdoor-retailer-delivers-again-loads-of-new-updated-lighter-better-and-outrageous-gear-and-some-items-you-didnt-know-you-needed-or-not

Sawyer Squeeze Filter Gear Review

The past few weeks I have been experimenting with some Sawyer water filtration products, including the Sawyer Squeeze Filter. I was excited to use these products. I have increasingly been seeing the Sawyer Squeeze Filter out on the trail. It seems like it has been gaining popularity among thru-hikers, and rightfully so. It is simple, lightweight, and very easy to use.

Sawyer has done a great job making the Squeeze Filter adaptable to most people’s systems and for a variety of locations. The filter comes with several sizes of lightweight, collapsible water storage containers (similar to Platypus bottles). As a result you can use the system on trips on the Appalachian Trail, where you hardly need to carry any water, and also on trips in very dry areas. Just change out the water bladder that you carry by the volume that you will need. Additionally, they include a contraption that allows someone to fill their hydration pack without removing it from their pack. This is a brilliant idea and eliminates one of the main reasons that I don’t use a hydration system.

After asking an employee at Sawyer, I also found out that it is possible to use the Sawyer Squeeze and still use Crystal Light and other drink mixes. They recommend adding the drink mixes to the dirty water and then letting the mix dissolve before the water is filtered. Just make sure to back flush the filter with clean water before storage as the sugar can harden in the filter.

In addition the Sawyer gravity filter can be a great, lightweight option for larger groups since you can just hang it on a tree and let everyone fill up at will (the gravity filter is definitely my go to option for groups with more than four people).

I must mention a few small gripes about the Sawyer Squeeze. The first being that it is hard to chug the water through the filter system because it is released a bit slower than I would ordinarily drink. This is not a big deal and I got used to drinking slower. However, when I am out of water and come up on a water source, I usually add Crystal Light and down the liter within 30 seconds. My second small gripe is that the mouth on the water bladders are small and can make it a little difficult to fill up from some water sources and seeps. You can use an extra plastic water bottle or your pot to help fill up the bladder if need be, but it is an extra step. Also keep in mind since this is still a filter system it is not good if the filter has water inside and freezes.

Overall the Sawyer Filter is a convenient and easy to use filter system for 3 season hiking trips. I would not recommend it for winter use, but it is a quick and efficient system for all other trips. There are many similarities to the SteriPEN in its capabilities.

To sum it up here are the reasons that I like both of these treatment systems:

1)    There is no need to sit at the creek when the mosquitos are biting and pump water. You can just grab water and keep moving, saving time and blood loss.

2)    You also have the ability to drink immediately when you arrive at the water source, preventing the need to carry additional water. Saving weight and water is one of the heaviest things that you will carry at about 2 pounds per liter.

Vargo BOT review

Every so often an idea comes around that makes you slap the side of your head and say, “why didn’t I think of that”. The BOT by Vargo is one of those notions. So simple, yet so practical.
A few weeks ago I tried one out on a two week ski trip through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, following the corridor of the Pacific Crest Trail and John Muir Trail. I skied about 300 miles through varying conditions and weather. I was excited to test out the BOT and this was a perfect trial.
Dinner on some dry ground during the ski trip.

Dinner on some dry ground during the ski trip.

It took me a day or two to get comfortable with the BOT. The higher center of gravity initially played tricks while I was cooking. I am used to the typical .9 and 1.3 Liter Ti pot shape, which is so stable that I hardly ever have a cooking disaster. On the first night cooking we were camping in the snow. I piled some sticks in the snow and cooked on top of them to prevent melting and settling, however I did have a tip-over. Luckily I didn’t lose my whole dinner! Also on the first day, it was snowing and windy with highs only in the 20’s. The top of my BOT froze and I was unable to open it until I set it on my stove to warm it up. Not a huge deal, but I would not recommend it for winter camping or winter conditions. The temperatures warmed up for the rest of the trip and I had no other freezing issues, despite continued overnight temperatures below freezing.
I also came to the conclusion that water boils a slower in the BOT. I believe this is due to the shape. I will try to toy around at home and make my alcohol stove a little more efficient for a narrow pot bottom, so I don’t lose as much heat and flames up the sides. This should help the boil time a lot.
I initially thought that I would need a silicon band near the top to help me pick up the heated BOT since I did not carry pot grippers. I quickly learned that due to the shape this was unnecessary. The upper area of the titanium never really got too hot to handle. Titanium is a poor conductor as far as metals are concerned, but in this case it was perfect because it aided in the simplicity of the product.
My biggest concern was that I sometimes mis-threaded the lid back on to the base and it became stuck. This was more of a nuisance than anything. All it took was a little tap on a rock or a tree and the lid would then come off and I could reattach it properly. Not a real issue once you learned how to deal with it.
After tens of thousands of miles of drinking from reused Gatorade, Powerade, and other plastic water bottles, I thought it would be great to have the opportunity to save weight, while also going BPA free. It seemed like a no-brainer, after all my plastic water bottle typically sits on the outside of my pack and in the sun all day. The sun causes the water bottles which aren’t meant to be reused to release the BPA, a potential carcinogen. Why not save weight and cut the BPA out at the same time?
Cooking dinner in the BOT.

Cooking dinner in the BOT.

All in all, I quickly became accustomed to the intricacies of using the BOT and I highly recommend it. While hiking a water bottle is likely your most used pieces of equipment. The wide mouth on the BOT handles and drinks smoothly and the shape will fit well into most outside stretch pockets. The lid doesn’t leak at all and it is perfect for making tea, Crystal Light, hot chocolate, and even saving leftovers for the next day. The Vargo BOT is a versatile tool to add to any outing. It quickly became my new favorite product and I am excited to add it to my kit. Why didn’t I think of that years ago!
Skiing through the Sierras. The BOT is right in front of the yellow HEET bottle in my outside mesh pocket.

Skiing through the Sierras. The BOT is right in front of the yellow HEET bottle in my outside mesh pocket.

P.S.- I also just used the BOT on a John Muir Trail thru-hike. On the final day of the hike I descended about 8000 vertical feet without opening the lid. I then got into a car and drove to sea level. The pressure change created a vacuum seal on the lid that I couldn’t wrestle open for the life of me. A few days later I went home (elevation 7,000 feet) and the lid practically fell off when I grabbed it. I felt like a weakling, but apparently there have been some other instances of this as well. So keep this in mind on big descents and when heading out of the mountains. Here’s a link that Vargo posted for some tips on how to deal with this.(http://www.vargooutdoors.com/blog/screwing-around-with-the-bot-unsticking-a-stuck-lid/).

John Muir Trail Hike

I had about 6 days without much going on. Since I was free I decided to go out and hike the John Muir Trail. It was great to get back out on good trail tread and hike. I averaged about 35 miles per day and completed the trail in 5.5 days. I was hoping for a little bit more snow on the passes, but in this low snow year that wasn’t happening. It was amazing to see the difference in the landscape and amount of snow around from when I skied through about a month prior. The mosquitos were already starting to come out also.

Here are a few pictures from the trip.

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Sierra Ski Trip Completed


View Sierra Ski Trip – April 2013 in a larger map

I got back home last night after completing the Sierra Ski Trip. All in all, despite the lack of snow this year, this was a great trip and really good experience to get my gear and systems dialed for this type of travel. In two weeks and over 250 miles, there was a mixed bag of conditions and terrain to try everything out on. This ranged from walking across dirt patches with our skis on, to hiking in our ski boots, scrambling through house-sized talus with some class 4 and low class 5 moves in ski boots, to actually skiing. Boot fit for all of these conditions is the single most important lesson that I have learned, since I wasn’t expecting these conditions and who knows what you will encounter.

Where's the snow?

Where’s the snow?

During the past week, the conditions improved greatly since the majority of the time was spent over 8000 feet elevation. Up high in the lakes basins and heading up to the high passes the conditions were optimal. The skiing was fantastic and the lakes were still frozen, which made for direct lines, good glide, and little side-hilling, not to mention fun, slightly out-of-control downhills. At times, especially in the afternoons, I would relish in the fact that I had skis on. Knowing that if I were hiking I’d be postholing every step. In skis I was able to stand in places that I knew I would ordinarily posthole, and not budge an inch. It was great! Other times, especially in the mornings, I knew I could be moving faster by walking on the firm snow and straight up a steep uphill. Sometimes I’d strap the skis on my back and bootpack. Overall when the snowpack is covering this much terrain, I’d have to say it is faster to ski. By the last week, my body was feeling good and used to the motions, so an average of about 20 miles per day was not out of the question, including a few 30 mile days. At the beginning of the trip, we were hard pressed to get 15 miles in a day. In the last week, basically following the Pacific Crest Trail/John Muir Trail corridor through the High Sierras, I went over 8 high passes, covered about 130 miles, and broke another camera. I am not sure how but right after the last town stop in Mammoth the camera lens stopped working. Bummer, but that is the life of a long distance hiker. This is probably the fourth or fifth camera that I have had break in the backcountry. Other than the camera breaking, a few big blisters, and a couple of painful bruises on my achilles from the ski boots (which were bothersome enough to end up requiring Vitamin I treatment the last few days), the trip was fun and the scenery was amazing. It was great to see the Sierra extra early in the season with all of their Nevada.

Day 2 with the storm starting to break up.

Day 2 with the storm starting to break up.

A few days ago I saw bear tracks at 8500 feet elevation. The terrain was completely snow covered still, so I was very surprised to see this so early in the season. I have been wondering what the bear was doing up there since there obviously wasn’t much food yet. It is a light snow year but it seems very early in the season for it to be heading to that elevation.

I think that’s all for now. Time to go get some Ben and Jerry’s.

Getting water.

Getting water.

Update from Mammoth

Pepper and I pushed hard yesterday to get to Mammoth Lakes, CA. We are getting organized and resupplying now for the next stretch. We skied into town under headlamps and moonlight in a ~30+ mile day. We camped a few miles south of Tuolomne Meadows in Yosemite the night before and had the most favorable conditions of the entire trip while heading over Donahue Pass and Island Pass. We even had some pretty good turns and corn snow on the descents. I only wiped out once on the descent, which is saying a lot considering I am using leather tele boots and 3-pin bindings with no heel bail (this set-up was the toughest decision for a weight conscious hiker—added control/performance vs. weight). I don’t regret my decision now at all considering the snow conditions have been less than optimal. Below 8000 feet elevation it is a mixed bag. We have had to bushwack through thick brush with our skis on our packs, make our way through talus fields with house sized boulders in our ski boots, and hike at least 15 miles of clear, snow-free trail in our ski boots. We should be higher mist of the way through the next section, but we have still decided to add the burden of carrying a lightweight pair of shoes just in case.
The first couple of days were chilly and snowy. The weather has now transitioned to full-blow sunshine and intense solar radiation. At times I notice that I am still squinting despite wearing sunglasses. The fords have been cold, with ice often flowing in the rivers, but none too overwhelming. The biggest thing is the lack of snow. At times we are forced to zig-zag around to stay on snow instead of being able to travel a straight line. All in all, the trip is going well. We have covered about 110 miles now and are excited to get into the Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park tomorrow. From here on out we are anticipating staying more on the Sierra High Route than the Pacific Crest Trail/John Muir Trail due to snow conditions and the higher elevations that the SHR maintains.

Last Minute Scramble

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As usual the last minute scramble tie up all loose ends has begun! We are headed out to Sonora Pass tomorrow to begin our ski trip to Mt. Whitney. The weather is supposed to turn back to winter tomorrow with temps in the 20’s and 50 mph wind gusts, and lows in teens overnight. Needless to say it will be a little chilly.
As far as snowfall goes, it has been the polar opposite of a couple of years ago when Pepper and I went to the Himalayas. At this point two years ago it was still dumping snow and there was over 30 feet of snowpack on the ground. Shortly after we left, the police had a voluntary evacuation of the town, due to propane leaks from the snow and the subsequent explosion of a home. Ironically, this year when we are going to undertake a ski trip, the snowpack is a meager 50% of average and the last few weeks have been really warm. My gear list for the trip is below in case you are interested. Check back in. I’ll be updating the blog during the trip.

Sierra Ski Trip Gear List