Lowest to Highest, a Backcountry Route from Badwater to Mt. Whitney, Part One- Don’t Fear the Reaper

Three chicks in a desert- Carrot Quinn photo

She’s back at it again.

Check out Carrot Quinn’s three-part mini-series on a ridiculously tough microadventure from the lowest point to the highest in the USA, with all 165 miles in between.  Warning: bad words, and numerous behaviors that are considered unacceptable to mainstream America follows!

—>>>Lowest to Highest, a Backcountry Route from Badwater to Mt. Whitney, Part One- Don’t Fear the Reaper.

 

Midwest Winter Camping Symposium- my take

The big event on the shore of Sturgeon Lake in Minnesota was a huge success. My travel from Maine was originally scheduled in order for me to work in the vendor area at Don Kevilus’ Four Dog Stove booth.

Don Kevilus steering the Four Dog Stove operation

Don Kevilus steering the Four Dog Stove operation

I worked the Four Dog Stove booth in 2011 at Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia, where twenty thousand hikers converged at the Appalachian Trail’s biggest weekend event. It’s fun being front and center at a major event where there are so many people who are excited about getting out in the woods and trails and walking for day, weeks, and even months at a time.

The days were all sunny, the night cold but not frigid, and the sleeping was delicious, or was that deciduous?  Lots of trees nearby, just like back at home in Maine.

We are here at the Midwest Winter camping Skills Symposium.

Here is a video journal from Four Dog Stove that captures the energy and the experience of the weekend’s festivities.

Here’s a Facebook page for the Winter Camping Symposium.

And the link for the schedule–> See the wide variety of workshops  and seminars presented at this event.

I was Saturday’s Keynote Presenter

P1040551  Here’s my biography, with a pic of me walking white winter in Acadia National park: Thomas Jamrog has been backpacking, riding mountain bikes, and living in the outdoors for close to 50 years.  Tom maintains his popular blog: Living Large While Walking The Big Trail, and Tom’s Trailjournals have amassed close to one million web visits.   Tom is a member of the Iron Butt Association, a long-distance motorcycling community whose basic entry requirement is to ride 1,000 miles in one day. Tom rides mountain bikes year round in Maine. For one calendar year, Tom commuted 32 miles a day to work, on a bicycle, through the winter. Tom’s winter camping experiences have recently expanded to include winter fat-tire biking.From 2007 to 2013, Tom backpacked over 8,000 miles in the United States. On October 24, 2014 The American Long Distance Hiking Association-West awarded Tom the Triple Crown of Hiking, for having completed continuous through hikes of the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, and Continental Divide Trails, joining a relatively small club of 200 people who have received the award to date.  
Tom has completed winter walking trips in Canada and conducts yearly trips in Maine, where he has lived with his wife, Marcia, for the past 40 years.Tom Jamrog

This was the topic for my presentation:

Winter Walking the West: Preparing and Adapting to Snow Travel in the High Sierras and Rocky Mountains–Tom Jamrog has recently completed 400 miles of walking on snow and ice over the High Sierra in California and several hundred miles above 10,000 feet in Colorado.  He will discuss his physical and mental preparation and how he adapted the skills learned from traditional “Winterwalking” in New England and Northern Canada to succeed in being awarded the Triple Crown of Hiking.

I also made some new friends.

I was camped right next door to Kevin and Beth Kinney, who are making a very respectable go at it sewing super well-designed winter outer ware from traditional textiles like cotton and fur. We’re talking Empire Canvas Works.

The big needle at Empire Canvas

The big needle at Empire Canvas

 

At the Four Dog Stove booth, we provided some table space for Ben’s Backwoods. I liked hanging with Ben Piersma and am reading through his authoritative blog right now.  His bio reads:  “Ben’s full time job is testing, researching, and selling tools and outdoor goods for life in the north woods. He uses hand tools like axes, hand-saws, and knives daily for fishing, hunting, foraging, self reliance, and primitive bushcraft. His goods can be found at Bensbackwoods.com

Did you know that that residents of other states can be licensed as Registered Maine Guides. I enjoyed talking trail and skills with Scott Oeth, from Minnesota, who had passed all the testing requirements for the Maine Guide license last year. Scott’s blog is tops, and full of interesting outdoor angles.

Scott checking out some very warm custom mittens

Scott checking out some very warm custom mittens

I was impressed with the camaraderie here.  For example, Don Kivelus invited Ben to set up a his Ben’s Backwoods goods table at Don’s Four Dog Stove booth, making for many grand choices on one long table full of shiny metal , or polished wooden stuff.  These two guys are in effect  direct competitors, supplying the bushcraft public with a number of the same items, but sometimes work together, like this. I also know that both Ben and Don live in the sticks, and at least Don has an actual farmstead, with animals running around a wide expanse of Minnesota.  Don prefers cutting and hauling his firewood with some of the five mules he tends on the back forty.  He sometimes posts pics of mules plowing up a field, not something you see everyday, even way out in rural areas where tractors rule.  Any product these two guys consider to sell is first used, abused, and sometimes refused before it goes up for sale. A true American business experience, a rare occurrence these days.

In the next few weeks, I plan to post a few Four Dog Stove Youtube videos related to this event and also highlight some of the products I am evaluating that I picked up out in Minnesota. Stay tuned.

It’s Official- Triple Crown Award !

Small size, big deal

Small size, big deal

I opened the beat-up padded envelope that just came in my mailbox and was blown away to finally see this physical object in my hands.  I’m in a club of  230 individuals world wide !

The American Long Distance Hiking Association-West sent me a congratulatory letter with three statistics:

“On a single day in May 2012, more people summited Mt. Everest than have hiked the Triple Crown.

More people have circumnavigated the earth than have hiked the Triple Crown.

More people have been in space than have hiked the Triple Crown.”

Triple Crown patch

Triple Crown patch

I didn’t do it alone.

My deepest appreciation goes out to Dick Wizard,  Train, General Lee, Paddy-O, my wife Auntie Mame, my mother Isabel, my brother Roy, my son Lincoln and his fiancée Stephanie , Don Kivelus ( Four Dog Stove)  and my Trailjournal transcribers Jan Munroe (v8), and John Clark (Tenzing).  Special thanks to all the other hikers who helped me ( it’s an impossibly long list to do justice to) , my faithful Traijournal readers, and all the individuals , past and present, who worked or are working  to make our National Scenic Trails a reality that anyone can step onto and return to our ancestral purpose in the grand forests, deserts, mountains, and plains that grace the United States of America.

 

Walking the Trails Near Katahdin Lake – Baxter State Park

Crafty Use of Birch

Crafty Use of Birch

Our second full day at Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps was so interesting.

Last night I awoke to the sound of waves slapping against the sand beach below us.  I walked out on the porch to check it out and was pleased to see a starry sky. Right in front of me was the Big Dipper, boldly presenting right above the horizon behind Katahdin Lake.

Our front porch

Our front porch

This porch faces directly north, boldly defiant in it’s willingness to comfort any potential traveler.

I awoke to a still, cold morning with the thermometer outside registering 34 degrees. I took a number of photographs just after light appeared.

Katahdin to the Turners - Panorama

Katahdin to the Turners – Panorama

Here are two brave canoeists who were wearing winter coats and gloves.

North Across Katahdin Lake

North Across Katahdin Lake

The unmistakable sound of a powerful airplane engine echoed against the nearby painted hills. Just about everyone in camp was on the beach to greet Jim, ace bush pilot at Katahdin Air, who was taxiing right up to the beach. Jim flew three of us into the Hundred Mile Wilderness in August.   to pick up Chris Huntington, a landscape painter who was wrapping up a two week residence here today.

The Artist Exits

The Artist Exits

Three of Huntington’s paintings of Katahdin hang in the dining room here, along with two of Caren Michel’s pieces. He told me that he had been  here for two weeks, but usually lives here for  a month.  Marcia and I shared two meals with Caren, who is a Maine-based painter, and was bundled up and standing outside all weekend, creating new treasures.  I particularly enjoyed two of Michael Vermette’s small, thickly layered renditions of the mountain that were on display above our wooden table.

Classic Baxter signage

Classic Baxter signage

Marcia and I walked a 5 mile loop today to the Martin Ponds where a new lean-to faces yet another unique view of Katahdin.

Katahdin from Martin Pond

Katahdin from Martin Pond

It is the closest view of Katahdin that we’ve seen. Canoes for rent pepper the shores of the Lake and ponds here.  ($1 an hour in Baxter, $10 a day at KLWC).

We walked over a beaver dam to start our loop.

High Water Would Have Been Tough

High Water Would Have Been Tough

The path was rocky, rooty, and covered with moss in parts.

Marcia keeps dry boots

Marcia keeps dry boots

I was hoping to get in some canoeing this time, as walk all the way out to the end of the Twin Ponds Trail, which would have added 10 more miles to the day’s efforts.  Next time, for sure.

Marcia and had our last dinner in the Lodge tonight. We didn’t know the menu, but found out when the cook himself quietly tapped on our cabin door at ten minutes of six to ask how we wanted our sirloin steaks prepared. Caren and the two of us were the last “sports” served dinner this season, as the camp was closing tomorrow, on Columbus Day. They tend vegetable gardens here. The roasted potatoes, boiled carrots, and friend onions that accompanied our perfect steaks were especially tasty.

Auntie Mame

Auntie Mame

We lingered for an hour or so in the tiny, ancient library in the Lodge before we walked back to our car, the woods vibrant  in pulsing light.

Fall Treasure

Fall Treasure

A Full Weekend of winter skills, wool, woodstoves, and wierdos in Minnesota

I’ll be a first timer at this event coming up October 23-26.   I’m working in the Four Dog Stove Booth, assisting the old master- Don Kevilus in meeting the needs of the citizens.  Don has been my major sponsor for both my Pacific Crest and Continental Divide Trail thru-hikes.  His Bushcooker-Lt is the best multi-fuel backpacking stove on the planet.  We’ll be demonstrating that stove as well as other types of useful gear all weekend. safe_image

Winter Camping Symposium.<<<- website here
There’s also a great Facebook page as well.

 

 

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Russell Pond Campground in Baxter state park

Chimney Pond –>Roaring Brook Campgrounds–>Lean-to at Russell Pond CG.
10.8 miles

Despite adding another hiker to our duo, we were able to started hiking today at 7:15 AM. We encountered dozens of hikers that were coming up the 3.3 miles ( and 1500′) from Roaring Brook campground to Chimney Pond.

Chris had come in on his own, and had the consciousness of a heap of throb after he lumped his 40 pound pack up here yesterday afternoon.  However this morning, he carried himself surprisingly well on the descent.  We stopped just once on the way down. Here is a video clip of Chris checking in with “The Daily Inventory of Pain”, a phrase and practice coined by my Canadian hiking buddy The Burglar.


When we reached our cars at the parking lot, Chris decided to take me up on my offer to look through his stuff and suggest what might be left behind to get his pack weight down.  I implemented the bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, and clothes closet pile technique and watched him orient his gear in the proper categories.  Chris’ empty backpack/ day pack military ops combo weighted 6 pounds one ounce empty. He reluctantly replaced that with the 3 pound ULA Catalyst that I had given him.  Even his camp chair was dumped, shedding 2+ more pounds. In the end, Chris reduced his load to 28 pounds, a much more reasonable weight that included even more meals than he carried up last night.

Guthook was on his own today. He went back up high over Hamlin Peak then took the North Peaks Trail and ended up with us in lean-to #5 at Russell Pond.

Number 5 , Baxter style

Number 5 , Baxter style

I was hoping to meet up with the Russell Pond ranger, Brendan, who lives not far from my house, but Guthook met up with Brendan, who opted for the challenge of the high route as he was headed home for a couple of days.

The walking was especially great, and followed a big day of going up and down. I was transported back in time as we passed the huge glacial boulder known as Halfway Rock. My wife Auntie Mame and sons Lincoln and Arlo were in my thoughts today, as they were physically back in the 1980′s when our family traversed this and many other of Baxter’s trails on our annual Columbus Day weekends.  Today the trail was wooded, dappled in greens, and frankly, easy.  We were in the green tunnel all day long. Today, Chris and I took the right fork over the Wassataquoik Trail.

We made two fords: one little and another wider over Wassataquoik Stream, about 2 miles before we ended the day’s walk. It made sense to keep my feet bare and walk the 100 feet or so across a fairly soft footpath to the second ford, rather than putting the boots on and taking them off and then putting them on and off again a minute later.  I was shocked to find a leech already stuck to the heel of my foot, even though I had been in the water for less than a minute.

We were way off on our own in Lean-To #5 at Russell. 

Lean-To #5

Lean-To #5

Dead wood was scarce, and what few solid sticks we could find were some distance from our spot. I bear-bagged my food way up in a tree after I spotted a huge pile of bear crap beside a nearby blueberry patch.
The crowds are gone now that we left Katahdin.
We had our session of “cowboy TV ” on a small wooden bench in front of the  cracking spruce wood fire.
I was asleep before dark.

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.