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.

51K9PQ93JRL._AA160_

    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.

Day 4: wherein the desert becomes desert-like again | CARROT QUINN

Day 4: wherein the desert becomes desert-like again | CARROT QUINN.<—

The best writing about long-distance hiking is coming right at you from Carrot Quinn.  She’s back at it again this season a fresh new attempt at completing the Pacific Crest Trail.

I laughed out loud at the first line of this post.

I encourage you to follow her.  630 other readers are already enjoying this ride, which will be exciting, funny, and shocking.  She’s posting daily pics on Instagram this time, accessed at the bottom of her blog posts.

Another birthday- another hike planned. Join me?

Another Nor’easter predicted for tomorrow, I’m not sure who may join me on my birthday hike and sleepover the next day–> Thursday, March 27.

No work on my birthday, the seventh anniversary of the first day of my 2007 thru- hike of the Appalachian Trail (2007).   Marcia usually makes be a great breakfast. This was the spread last year!Double espresso, eggs, croissant, presents!

I don’t work on my birthday. At least one day of my life should be scheduled to be free of responsibilities to the economic machine!

I have rented the Ski Shelter in the Camden Hills State park for Thursday night.  There’s six bunks in there.  Friends are welcome to stop by and even snag some bedroll space if they want, free. 

I walk from my house across town, my own march to the sea.  It’s a 7 or 8 mile hike, depending on the route.

La, La, la!

There will be plenty of snow when I start out on the abandoned Proctor Road.  I wind my way down through Lincolnville Center, mostly a downhill. Then the climb starts up the Thurlow Road, and onto the abandoned section that crosses Youngtown Road, where it dumps me onto a snowmobile trail that heads up the back side of Cameron Mtn. I may turn left at the base of Cameron Mountain and  link to the Multipurpose trail.

screenshot

Two of my friends, Karl Gottshalk and Pat Hurley, came by last year after 4 PM to spend the night in the shelter with me. Pat and I grilled up steaks out in one of the grill stations, and then we ate cake, provided by Karl !

La, La, la!

La, La, la!

 

Carey Kish: It’s time to step up to the 1,000-mile challenge | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

As part of a regimen for the 1,000-mile goal, include hiking time in Acadia National Park. With views like this, you’ll be invigorated in both body and mind. Carey Kish Photo

As part of a regimen for the 1,000-mile goal, include hiking time in Acadia National Park. With views like this, you’ll be invigorated in both body and mind.
Carey Kish Photo

Carey Kish’s idea is superb. I like the idea of setting a long term goal that requires bit of a stretch. Totally in the right direction, which is getting outside. It’s also Maine-based.

Hey, Carey, I’m on this bus! Maybe we can hike together sometime in this 2014 campaign. I vowed to stay close to home this year, and your plan is making me look forward to the next few months.
I’d like a third hike of the Hundred. Carey’s thru-hike of Baxter state park inspired me to do the same this coming August. And yes to Grafton Loop. Definitely will do a thru hike of the George’s Highland Path and all of Camden Hills State Park

Readers click here—>>Carey Kish: It’s time to step up to the 1,000-mile challenge | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram.

After the trail: The return of the existential despair

Occasionally I repost material written by others that I feel a connection with. Carrot Quinn has given us one of the best post-thru hike accounts of how it feels to stop walking after exercising 12 hours a day, for day after day, and months at a time.

photo by Carrot Quinn

photo by Carrot Quinn

It’s a bit long, but has good photos and deserves to be listened to.–> After the trail: The return of the existential despair.

I experienced some of this post hike depression in 2007 after I completed the AT. I was better after the 2010 PCT hike, and am almost back on track after completing the CDT this past September. I do have a great place to live, and a family and friends that love me.

It still feels feels selfish when I whine after being on “vacation” for 5-6 months a year, but thru hiking was definitely not a vacation. My MeGaTex buddies and I used to joke about how nice it would be to just be able to “camp” and walk a bit each day, but we were generally asleep after boiling up a pot of food, and staring at the campfire until the tiredness took us away into the darkness.

Day 5 Moose River Winter Walk

Map of the area.

Map of the area.

Finishing any multiple day walk ramps my excitement up a notch.  On last days, I have always acted like a horse getting closer to the barn, often speeding up and taking on longer mileage days as the idea of coming home catches fire inside of me.  I like being in the outdoors, and this trip has only confirmed my desire to get back somewhere in Maine for another longer winter walk in 2015.
Several things stand out about these past few days:
First, we had no set itinerary to stick to- something that is difficult for me.  I’m goal oriented, however a fresh goal is embracing improvisation. If you want to explore how improvisation can improve your outlook on the inevitable changes in life- here it is-Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up by Patricia Ryan Madson.  Thanks to Brad Purdy for bringing me this information!
There was serious democracy in action out here. By the third day, no one had to talk about what to do – cutting firewood, splitting it, fetching water, cooking, washing up.  It just got done.  Fine men around me, all. The best example of this was our “rest day”  where each person was free to walk all day on a day hike, or to lay around inside the sleeping bags and read and sleep.
I learned that cold hands are inevitable when it gets below zero and there is close handwork to do, like packing toboggans, and cinching ropes.
Despite being one of the top snowmobiling capitals of Maine, Jackman is still far away from civilization.  We were surprised to see just a half dozen sleds on the Pond.  Consider midweek vacations if you want to avoid crowds.
 Old stuff works.  Old snowshoes, traditional cotton tents, mukluks, axes, saws.

Just yesterday I read a interesting story that came to me from my stove/fire guru and proprietor of Four Dog Stove,  Don Kivelus.  Fresh from Minnesota Public Radio, it’s about one man’s shift from cold to warm winter camping–>click on the hotlink below for a superb article about another guy doing just what we what we did.

Why would you camp in the winter?”

Here’s one reason why ( from the MPR article)!

photo by Chris Gibbs/For MPR News

photo by Chris Gibbs/For MPR News

Day 2 Moose River Winter Walk

The sun is finally making it’s showing above the expanse of spruce and fir trees here along the shore of the Moose River.

20140210-060750.jpg
My thumb is already starting to crack in the cold. We spent over 12 hours in the sleeping bags. This morning, no one was up until it was light. I got the stove going and then crept back into my sleeping bag to warm up while I waited for the stove to start radiating heat into our living space. It was very cold. I have no interest in winter camping out of a backpack any more.

20140210-060953.jpg
Heated tenting is where it is at for me. Pat works outdoors in all seasons and he said it was around 10 below zero. Snow had collected on the 13′ x 13′ plastic tarp in the night and we had to knock it off. The tent’s interior surfaces were covered in a thin layer of ice that built up from the cooking and the moisture that four men create by living in a small heated space.

I suffered through an hour of discomfort while eating supper last night. Stay away from Dave’s Ultimate Insanity Hot Sauce. I shook 4 dabs into last night’s stew and two spoonfuls put my mouth into such a fire that I was unable to eat any more. I should have read the label, which recommended 1 drop at a time. I put hot sauce on just about everything, but this stuff is truly in another universe. I should have read the label, which warned the user to use , at most, one drop at a time, and even suggested diluting the stuff in oil.

We came up with a creative solution to today’s activity. Instead of moving the tent again, we completed a 6 mile round trip walk up the river, taking minimal gear- just 1 toboggan, two saws, and the axe. Our quest was to pack down the fresh 6″ of snow on snowshoes and scout out a potential tent site to use as we move up river tomorrow.

The day was sunny, with a bit of a breeze, however it stayed freakin’ cold. I was terribly frigid at our first snack stop after 2 miles of trudging through the loose powder. I tore open two chemical heat packets and shoved them into my chopper mitts. I put a scarf over my lower face. I pulled up my jacket hood, drank a pint of hot coffee, ate a big Chunky, and trusted that things would turn around while I continued to walk.

We never did find an ideal tent site within those three miles. At the turn around point, Matt suggested that we explore a tributary that came into the river through a marsh. While walking in the frozen swamp, Pat broke through the ice and luckily dove onto shore before he got his feet wet. We all walked over to a single, tall, dead spruce to observe the osprey nest at the very top.

20140210-061425.jpg
Matt told us that the boggy expanse of swamp would be an ideal place to spot a Snowy Owl, which are overwintering here from their northern reaches in the arctic. No luck with that.
We made great time walking the three miles back to the tent, where the four of us, unspoken, set to work getting a bucket of fresh water, replacing melted snow under the stove, cut and split firewood, and readjusted the tent. No more snow allowed for repositioning some of our outside gear as we settled into Bad Influence’s evening meal of Ranch dip and veggie chips, beef stew, and yummy dessert bars.
We were all in bed by 6:45 PM. I hope I sleep soundly, and pray for no legs cramps tonight. The silence of nature is genuine here, a rare occasion in America in 2014.