How to get into ultralight backpacking

Lightening your backpacking load can have dramatic implications, particularly for aging hikers who have followed the techniques in Colin Fletcher’s “Complete Walker” hiking bible.

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    Last summer, when I was hitchhiking in Colorado, I met a 63 year old hiker who gave me a ride. He taught a course on Ultralight Backpacking at the local college. Bob said that the easiest way is go ultralight was to scrape up $1250, go to the zpacks.com website, and order their most popular cuben fiber pack, solo tent, and down sleeping bag.  This gets the “Big Three” on your back for total weight of three pounds. Expensive, but efficient.
For the rest of us, it’s best to start with keeping the big 3 under 10 pounds, which would lead to a fully loaded backpack of 15-20 pounds if you leave that Rambo knife at home.
Once you have cut the weight on your Big 3, you enter the “ we pack for our fear” zone.  Anxiety about what might go wrong on a hike may lead to placement of unnecessary items in that light pack.  For example, I once saw another backpacker pull a cast iron two foot long lawnmower blade from his pack and place it by the side of his sleeping bag at bedtime.  I asked him about it and he said, “ Wild hogs here in Georgia can attack you when you sleep.”  I used to carry a heavy ankle brace, “just in case” , but after lugging around-unused for 3,700 miles I now leave it at home.
I hike with three pair of thin socks, two for walking in, one for sleeping. Ultralight hikers don’t generally carry spare clothing like underwear.  Some give up long pants in the warmer weather, adding thin wool tights and rain pants if it gets too cold.
Another popular option to ditch weight is to go stoveless, and forget the cooking pot as well, opting for foods that don’t require cooking, or that can be rehydrated with water in a plastic container.
A Katadyne-type pump filter for water purification is not a typically in an ultralight pack- instead we see the Aqua Mira solution, or a Sawyer Squeeze gravity system.
The best resource for a quick lesson in learning about ultra and lightweight backpacking is the book “Lighten Up ! A Complete Handbook for Light and Ultralight Backpacking” by Don Ladigin. It’s inexpensive and filled with all you need to know. 51VeNaJAHsL._AA160_
Of course if you have $1250 bucks, you can get there quickly, but I would rather take that amount and use the money for a one- month backpacking trip.

Top Ten Hiking Tips From the Woman Who Hiked the AT Faster Than Anyone – Beyond the Edge

Photograph by Christoffer Sjostrom

Photograph by Christoffer Sjostrom

Top Ten Hiking Tips From the Woman Who Hiked the AT Faster Than Anyone – Beyond the Edge.

Excellent points, from Jennifer Pfarr Davis ( “Odessa”) , who was awarded Outside Magazine’s Adventurer of the year Award in 2012 for her record breaking hike of the Appalachian Trail.   Her 47 mile a day pace suggests that one might pay attention to her recommendations.  I’ve not seen tip #6  elsewhere on these types of lists — to personalize your hike, by incorporating your off-trail interests into your hiking adventure. For example, if you like to read, bring a book.

For those of us who use electronics like a smartphones or a Steripen , I  agree on the use of small battery pack rather than the often frustrating solar charger.  I love my 4 oz. Anker 5600 mAh external battery.

In a related story, the self-supported record for the Pacific Crest Trail was just broken in 2013 ( 60 days, 17 hours)  by another woman -Heather Anderson ( “Anish”) . The August 2014 Backpacker magazine has an excellent article about her and her hike, entitled A Ghost Among Us.

 

Anker Astro 5600mAh External Battery
Anker Astro 5600mAh External Battery
Anker Astro 5600mAh External Battery
Anker Astro 5600mAh External Battery

 

What’s Your “Fitness Age”? – 2014 version

The first “fitness calculator” I learned about was Dr. Oz’s Real Age.  It became popular several years ago.  Real Age is an online calculator that is based on the results of answering questions about 125 factors related to a person’s overall health, including health, feelings, diet, and fitness ( i.e., How often you eat fish versus red meat to exercise and sleep habits, asthma, smoking, aspirin use, cancer history, parental longevity, and conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes.). I took it once but didn’t get too worked up over using it more than once, even though my ” real age” was about 10 years younger than my actual age.

Now there appears to be a much briefer method of determining your relative fitness that is based on just 5 factors.

This 2013 study, from the  Norwegian University of Science and Technology,  reveals a more efficient, low-tech means of precisely assessing how well your body functions physically. It culminated in each of the 5,000 participants in taking a treadmill test assessing peak oxygen intake (VO2 max), or how well the body delivers oxygen to its cells. From the study, “VO2 max has been shown in large-scale studies to closely correlate with significantly augmented life spans, even among the elderly or overweight. In other words, VO2 max can indicate fitness age.”

The real value of this study is it’s apparent ability to establish one’s own VO2 max without the cost and inconvenience of paying for the medical procedure.  The researchers found that  just five measurements — waist circumference; resting heart rate; frequency and intensity of exercise; age; and sex — into an algorithm allowed them to predict a person’s VO2 max with noteworthy accuracy, according to their study, published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise

The researchers have used all of this data to create a free online calculator that allows you to determine your VO2 max without going to a lab. All you need to establish is your waist measurement and your resting heart rate.  You plug these numbers, along with your age, sex and frequency and intensity of exercise, into the calculator, and you’ll learn your fitness age.

From the NYTime article, “The results can be sobering. A 50-year-old man, for instance, who exercises moderately a few times a week, sports a 36-inch waist and a resting heart rate of 75 — not atypical values for healthy middle-aged men — will have a fitness age of 59. Thankfully, unwanted fitness years, unlike the chronological kind, can be erased, Dr. Wisloff says. Exercise more frequently or more intensely. Then replug your numbers and exult as your “age” declines. A youthful fitness age, Dr. Wisloff says, ‘is the single best predictor of current and future health’.”

I have been recording my heart rate on a daily basis for the past two months with an iPhone app called Cardiio .

Cardiio app on iPhone 5s

Cardiio app on iPhone 5s

While there are manual methods that don’t rely on a watch, the program’s charting features give you the ability to aggregate and share data. I  sent the summary results to my doctor, as I am concerned about my occasional heart rate drops into the high 30′s.  While heart rate is one of the five measurements in the Norwegian study that drove my “fitness age” to 38, I want to stick around to enjoy my fitness.

She referred me to a local sport-aware cardiologist for a screening after my own office EKG results were normal.  I’ll keep you posted, but in the meantime, I’m going to try and drop another inch off my waist line, continue hammering the backpacking and bicycling, and doing my TM twice daily, which I feel has resulted in a decreased resting heart rate after practicing it twice daily for 42 years.

What’s Your ‘Fitness Age’?. <<- click here for full New York Times article.

 

 

 

Seeking Midcoast Maine’s Tastiest Fried Clam – Week 3

I sampled fried clams this week at two more local Midcoast Maine seafood establishments, both recommended to me by readers: Rockland’s Hills Seafood Company and The Captain’s Fresh Idea in Waldoboro.

Hills Seafood Company: Rigger recommended the seafood, so I went. Hills is a new restaurant taking over at Brick’s former location. It is right across street from the Time-Out Pub and Rockland’s Harbor Park-prime seafood country with the broad blue Penobscot Bay backdrop right across the street. The North Atlantic Blues Festival is here next weekend, where a seat on the outside deck here will put a chorus of “Down to Chicago” front and center with your ocean feast. Mame and I decided to eat on the deck, a prime spot to watch the unique parade of passers-by that tend to frequent this part of town. The fried clam plate at Hills sets you back “ market price,” which was $24 right today. I passed on the fries, opting for the veggie side plus cole slaw.  Twelve clams were tastefully presented on top of a piece of blue and white checkered paper that decorated the plate, looked good, but not so useful this time.

HILLS
The whole belly clams were lightly batter fried, and characteristically chewy-they were good, but the whole experience was not great. Things would have been much better if the steamed broccoli was served in its own little plate, instead of being placed next to my sacred fried clams. I’m not one to slowly savor the glory of the clam-they are best hot, crisp and fresh. The hot water from the broccoli side soaked through to the point where little pieces of colored paper deteriorated and started sticking to my treasured clams. Nope. However, the quick and friendly service helped, as did the Allagash White draft beer. This plate could have been a contender if the side had not leaked into the good stuff.

The Captain’s Fresh Idea:
The Captain’s Fresh Idea, on Route 1 in Waldoboro, has been across from the Wooden Screened Door place since 1987. It looks like a take-out. However, the dining room is super clean and loaded with summer-in-Maine stuff. There is also a screened in deck and a take-out window if you would like to sit outside on one of the picnic tables. Lobster rolls are at the top of the menu. The fried seafood is reported to be hand breaded.
The only fried clams appearing on the menu were a full basket with all the sides. I inquired about other options and learned that they’d make up any amount I wanted-I chose a half-pint with a side of home made cole slaw. It was $14.95 for a single serving of 15 delicious fried clams, with the giant cup of slaw $2.99 more.

20140715-155229-57149074.jpg The service was speedy. The clams were very good, lightly battered, slightly crispy, and hot. The clams here tied for first place with the Red Barn, reviewed in week two. Any coincidence that both establishments sport red metal roofs?

My Book Review- Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail

Grandma Gatewood's Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian TrailGrandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail by Ben Montgomery
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Grandma Gatewood broke the mold. The first woman to solo thru-hike the AT in 1957, she went on to walk the AT two more times, the last at 75 years old. She was also the first person to thru hike the AT three times. This was all accomplished with no money to speak off. The $57 a month she was receiving from Social Security at that time was all she would need.
Spoiler: stop right here if you don’t want me telling you details that I learned from this book, a 2014 release. Hell, it’s a book review. I am going to write what I want. Your choice.
This story is not about backpacking, because Grandma Gatewood never wore one. She probably couldn’t afford to buy one if she did. Even so, she might have declined to use a 1957 model, as it would have been too heavy for her to want to carry. The word iconoclast fits her to a “t”. Instead, she carried her spartan kit in a homemade bag slung over one shoulder. No boots, tent, sleeping bag or pad, stove for her, just Keds sneakers and carrying an army blanket to wrap up in, a plastic shower curtain for shelter, a cup, first aid kit, raincoat, and one change of clothes. That’s it ! Her food was no-cook high calorie stuff- dried beef, cheese, and nuts, supplemented by any wild food she was able to forage.
The AT is known for hardships: humidity, steep climbs, rattlesnakes down south, and periods of relentless rain. While the typical AT thru-hiker reports are all about the hike and how tough it is. For Gatewood, a thru-hike of the AT would have been a respite from the brutal life she led for her first 67 years. She married young to a bastard of an individual, who sexually and physically abused her on what appears to have been a daily basis, resulting in 11 children, 23 grandchildren, and a work day on the farm that would have crippled lesser folks.
Gatewood’s chance read of an old National Geographic article planted a seed in her heart that would not make growth until her last child was independent. When that happened, she just walked out of the house, without telling a soul where she was going.
She had to learn new skills, and really fast.
You may cry when you read this book, it is so well written and genuine.
While reading present articles about Gatewood, I learned that there is a movie about her that is currently in production ( http://grandmagatewood.wordpress.com/… ). This is one story that needs to be heard, a genuine American epic of a life saved and even graced by the open trail.

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My Book Review of Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park

Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National ParkDeath in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park by Lee H. Whittlesey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Don’t be reading this book just before a vacation to Yellowstone National Park. You just might cancel your reservations.

Death in Yellowstone details the 350 violent deaths that occurred from the period of 1839-2012. When you have 750 bears, 4,000 buffaloes, and 10,000 hot springs, and precipitous mountain locations things go wrong, occasionally deadly wrong, and this book chronicles approximately 350 of those end game scenarios.

It’s a well researched, 2014 second edition effort, with close to 100 pages of notes, and additional bibliography, and extensive index.

Nature Can Kill is the book’s slogan.

Here’s a representative list of the ways you could get terminated: Stumbling (or diving!) into hot springs, falling off high places, crushed by a falling tree, freezing /hypothermia, grizzly bears, murders, suicides, accidental shootings, drownings, and a few lesser tier deaths under the noxious fumes/poisonous gasses cluster. There’s more, if you can get your imagination flowing into the macabre direction.

Some segments didn’t work for me, like the drowning chapter. It quickly became repetitive to detail who drowned, how they drowned, who found them, etc.

I found the Death in Hot Water, and Human Deaths from Bears and How to Keep Them From Happening chapters the most interesting. They are also the longest chapters. I have actually backpacked for a week through Yellowstone, which was a unique experience for me, one which gave me confidence and practice in avoiding mishaps from the few bear encounters that I have experienced. I saw grizzlies and I am here to tell about it, as are most of the many millions of individuals who have enjoyed their visits in the Park. The best part of the book was on pages 87-90 at the end of the bear chapter. The author summarizes all the data from bear attacks and reduces the advice to this sentences, ”The worst possible situation is a person hiking alone, who surprises a bear that is feeding ( as on a carcass) and also has cubs.”

I was just back in Yellowstone this week, where federal cuts resulted in no rangers observed supervising the hordes of summer tourists doing their best to illustrate stupid behaviors in the wilderness. I expect a thicker revision of this popular book, and sooner than later. Some of those people walking around the Park with their eyes glued onto their smart phones are going to figure into this.

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Big Miles in Montana

Today we drove 300 miles north to East Glacier, where we had a room at the Whistling Swan Inn. My mom and I took a different route than we took on our way down to the southern part of Montana last week. It’s a heck of a vacation- bouncing from Glacier to Yellowstone Park and back, but what’s 300 miles when you have a brand new rental car, with the wide open spaces calling us out again?

The sparse population of Montana stunned us today, and we were traveling on some of the more frequented highways in the state.
“Montana is ranked 4th in size, but 44th in population and 48th in population density of the 50 United States. The western third of Montana contains numerous mountain ranges. In total, 77 named ranges are part of the Rocky Mountains. “ – Wikipedia. I’d add that three of my favorite big National reserves are in the state, with the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument following up on Glacier and Yellowstone ( which is mostly in Wyoming).

It would be very difficult for anyone from the eastern US to really appreciate the feeling of vastness without visiting Montana.

I have been here several times now, and today’s drive found me startled with the vastness of the countryside, a term that is not restricted to any particular part of the state.

Montana plains

Montana plains

Sure, the western portion of the state has all the mountain ranges, including the two National Parks, but huge visual expanses of green vastness were omnipresent as we motored north today.

The highlight of the day was revisiting the tiny community of Augusta, MT. I backpacked as far as Benchmark, MT, some 30 miles up and west with Train, and Dick Wizard last September 3. We had a most difficult time with getting to Augusta in order to buy food for the next 130 mile segment through the Bob Marshall Wilderness. You can read about our most interesting adventures in Augusta here, on my Trailjournal. I loved reuniting with Aimee today, the owner of The Bunkhouse, who did so much last year when we were in Augusta. She remembered my name, and even asked about Train and Wizard.

We had the rental car until 8 PM, so after we checked into our room at 5 pm, we hightailed it from East Glacier up to St. Mary, here we went as far on the Going to the Sun Highway (GSH) as we could, with our ride stopped at around the 10 mile mark. The the middle section of the GSH is still not fully plowed at the highest point around Logan Pass and the Big Drift. Two weeks ago, Glacier was reporting 50-70 foot snow depths around that area.

Here are some photos of the park from our evening ride.

West into GNP

West into GNP

The drive back was quite exciting, with no guardrails on the outside lane of the extremely twisty, uneven, and elevated roadways through that portion of the Park. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It got so bad that my mom, who was sitting even closer to the edges that I was, resorted to closing her eyes, and faintly whispering her Hail Marys as she pointed her clasped hands to heaven.