Click to check out Aislinn’s feature about my backpacking life in today’s Bangor Daily News–>
Click to check out Aislinn’s feature about my backpacking life in today’s Bangor Daily News–>
Three long-distance backpacking DVD projects were released in 2013 while I was away thru-hiking the Continental Divide Trail: “Mile, Mile and a Half”, “Embrace the Brutality”, and “Tell It On the Mountain”. I’ve secured all three, watched them, and will review each on separate blog entries.
The first- “Mile, Mile and a Half”, is a gorgeous production by the Muir Project.
It’s their collective record of a 25 day thru-hike of the 219 mile John Muir Trail, in the heart of California’s Sierra Nevada Range. Lest one think that this 8.75 mile per day schedule was chicken feed, it’s important to consider that these individuals not only carried their own backpacking gear and food, but also their respective artictic tools. Some of these folks were packing weights up to 75 pounds. No joke.
Here is the trailer for the video.
The John Muir Trail is considered to be the premier hiking trail in the United States. The trail starts in Yosemite National Park, and continues 215 miles through the Ansel Adams Wilderness, Sequoia National Park, King’s Canyon National Park, and ends at the highest peak in continental United States, Mount Whitney at 14,496 ft. ( from http://johnmuirtrail.org/). With the exception of the first 9 miles at the northern end climbing out of Yosemite Valley, the elevation of the JMT seldom dips below 8,000 feet. The trail crosses seven mountain passes in excess of 11,000 feet; from north to south, they are: Donohue Pass, Muir Pass, Mather Pass, Pinchot Pass, Glen Pass, Forester Pass and Trail Crest. At 13,153 feet, Forester Pass is the highest point along the Pacific Crest Trail and the second-highest pass along the JMT ( -from WiKiPedia).
It is estimated that, when hiking north to south, the amount of ascent of the JMT is just over 46,000 feet and the total descent is over 38,000 feet, for a total of about 84,000 feet, or almost 16 miles.
I pledged financial support of this product as a Kickstarter project when it was in the formative stages, allowing me to receive my “Special Edition DVD”, as well as a drink flask and sticker for my bear canister.
Five hikers, who were also accomplished artists in their own disciplines, were inspired to carry additional video and audio recording devices, still photography tools, musical instruments, and graphic materials for the purpose of producing a multimedia production of their journey.
I have watched it twice to date.
The second viewing revealed details I didn’t recall from the first viewing- a pleasant surprise that is not often the case with lower budget productions of this nature.
These are not accomplished backpackers- all these individuals are primarily artists, who happen to be backpacking in order to carry out this unique task. For some individuals, it was their first time walking at elevations over 10,000 feet, or walking on snow.
These folks suffered- you will see the standard “horror-show-of-my-feet” images of tumescent toe blisters and gushers from strategically lanced areas of the foot with subsequent audience groans guaranteed.
There was one drop out- it was that tough. We see the punishing ascents, post holing parties, and experience the unique frosted terrain that greeted these hikers in 2011, where the snow pack was off the charts.
I hiked 160 miles on the JMT in 2010, where it shares the path with the Pacific Crest Trail.
The segments that show the group getting up over the high passes were definitely thrilling and possibly scary, especially my personal horror show at Mather Pass, the site of my most terrifying traverse.
The footage of the notorious Bear Creek ford will put a lump in your throat.
This is a five star production that will be interesting to both hikers and non-hikers alike.
Four Dog Stove is the major sponsor for my upcoming ( April 17, 2013) attempt to thru-hike the Continental Divide Trail, AKA “ King of Trails”.
I will be using Four Dog’s Bushcooker LT1 multi-fuel stove kit. In addition, Four Dog Stove has provided financial support for purchase of maps, solid fuel tablets, and 55 days of Mountainhouse freeze-dried meals for the remote sections requiring food drops.
My connection with Don Kevilus and Four Dog Stove goes back 15 years, when I purchased one of his 11 x 11 x 22 titanium Ultralight tent stoves. I still use it to heat my 9 x 12 Egyptian cotton wall tent in the winter and fall on toboggan/snowshoe and canoeing trips.
Since then, I’ve purchased saws, books, titanium pots, as well as the only titanium tent stakes made in the USA.
I first met Don in Vermont at the Snow Walkers’ Rendezvous. He gave a couple of stove and fire building workshops and tended a vendor table, where he sold his handcrafted stoves, as well as a variety of survival and outdoor skills-related tools, strikers, books, videos, and knives.
I was intrigued by his newest creation, a small titanium backpacker’s model. I inquired about a purchase and Don encouraged me to make my own, and try it rather than purchase his $100+ creation. I liked him immediately.
I enrolled in his half-day workshop, where I had fun and successfully built my own twin-walled, secondary-burn multi-fuel stove. At the time I was backpacking with a highly modified ultra-light Sierra Zip stove, where the electrical components were the Achille’s Heel of the unit, and Don’s lure of lure of simplicity and efficiency appealed to me. After I built the stove, I made more of them at home. I was worked up about the little firepots, and gave them to my friends and family for Christmas gifts. I used that stove on my 2007 Appalachian Trail thru-hike.
In 2010 I completed a thru-hike of the 2,700 mile Pacific Crest Trail. This time, Don provided me with a Bushcooker LT 1, a 2.5 ounce single-person alcohol, solid-fuel, and wood/charcoal burning titanium unit that that nested in a Snow Peak Trek 600 ml cook pot/mug. An alcohol fuel cup, a windscreen, and my MSR coffee filter also fit in the mug, capped by a custom titanium lid. Don recommended welding two titanium tabs to the top of the cup that secured a wired bail handle to the pot, for moving it in and out of campfires as well as on and off the stove itself. The stove performed flawlessly, boiling up two to three times a day for 156 days. What convinced me that I had the best unit out there was when my traveling companions used mine whenever they ran out of fuel and were unable to locate isobutane canisters for their Pocket Rockets or Jetboils.
Five years ago, Don presented at Snow Walker’s again. This time, he asked me if I would serve as an assistant in his build-your-own Bushcooker class. I agreed, and learned a lot, mostly what-not-to-do, and how things can go wrong. I also became more skilled at explaining the details of the stove, and learned additional assembly tricks and tips. As part of the course, Don has also expanded what he calls his “Potology 101” talk, a working presentation of facts and table-top examples on the current use of biofuel for cooking on the planet ( over 2.4 billion people), with practical physics of heat values of the fuel types, and the science of heat transfer and efficiency, when the flame meets the pot.
In 2011, I assisted in sales and stove demonstrations at the Four Dog Stove booth at Appalachian Trail Days in Damascus, VA.
I now have 3,000 trail miles on my present Bushcooker LT1 and I’m planning another to use it on my upcoming CDT hike of 2,800 miles. Readers can follow
my daily Trailjournal .
Since then Don, has encouraged me to offer these build-your-own stove workshops here in Maine, where I have sold-out two of the adult-education programs in the past 6 months. I Don continues to provide me with a custom fabricated, titanium base plate that we use in assembling these units.
Simpler is better.
In Maine’s Sunday Telegram.
Dateline: Spring Brook, Camden Hills State Park, Camden, ME
The normally staid water bottle, AKA Tiki- Man, barely survived a harrowing fall into the rushing, frigid Class V rapids along Spring Brook on March 16, 2013, in Midcoast Maine.
Glancing straight down the side of the road to the surface of the maelstrom below, Tiki-man was sighted, in an immobilized state within the backwaters of an eddy, but beyond human reach. Tenzing leaped into rescue mode, and quickly fashioned a three-pronged branch, that he used to dislodge and release Tiki man, only to realize that the valiant water bottle was facing yet another harrowing scoot down the icy water.
Tiki-man courageously traversed at a diagonal across the channel, where he eventually struggled to maintain a tentative hold on the far-side shore.
At this point, Tiki-man was clearly up against very thin ice.
The three-pronged stick guided Tiki-man past this last challenge into a still pool, where he was airlifted to safety by the selfsame stick.
Most importantly, Tiki-Man lived to tell the tale. He described his dunking as the most harrowing experience that he has ever been through.
Tiki-man is a seasoned, 6 year old water bottle. Tiki-Man has recently become increasingly despondent at his persistent failure to lose enough weight to qualify him as an ultralight backpacking accessory. He occasionally mumbles about being teased as “a bloated relic” by Platypi and even the young upstart plastic soda bottles.
The colorful character has risen through the ranks of backpacking water bottles through his persistent dedication to thru-hiker hydration.
A veteran of three National Scenic Trails, Tiki man has endured unparalleled adventures on the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, and Vermont’s Long Trails.
The closest the battered water bottle had come to the slag heap of also-ran hiker gear was in 2007, when he was dropped from a day pack on the AT and left for dead in a crevice between a rock and a hard place. Extracted from his impending tomb by a hiker named Big Sky, the revived Tiki-Man survived a dark passage through the US Postal Service, adorned with a mere one dollar and thirty-two cent stamp and a tattered Uncle Tom address label.
Undaunted by his early morning sub-freezing soak today, Tiki- man bucked up, and settled into place in the backpack, where the wizened vessel supplied his human partner, Uncle Tom, with hydration on a long winter day hike in the Camden Hills.
“Uncle Tom, why are you wearing boots? “ – One of the Kiwis, at Third Gate on the PCT (2010)
“I’m curious about your choice of shoes. Comment please…”- Dennis on tjamrog.wordpress.com (3/2/2013)
You’ll see a fairly regular number of hikers wearing boots on the Appalachian Trail. You won’t see many boots worn by long-distance hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail. I bet I’ll be the only long-distance hiker wearing boots on the Continental Divide Trail this season.
Here are some of the reasons from today’s Google about boot shunning, mostly from hikers on Whiteblaze.com:
Boots are considered so old-school as to be relegated to the slag heap of slide rulers and hand-held calculators that cost $50. They are considered unnecessary, and so heavy that they are a sysiphean drag on the energy required to lift each foot. They don’t dry out as fast as lighter, fabric trail runners. They supposedly “reduce blood circulation” (therefore your feet won’t be as warm than if they were in trail runners). Boots, ”increase the chance of ankle injury by masking features in the terrain that would turn an ankle”. Boots cost too much to replace when your feet grow on a thru-hike ( compared to trail runners). Gore-tex and other membrane boots don’t stay waterproof for long (Thru hiking “abuses the membrane” through dirt, sweat, and body oil….in as little as 45 days.)
Here’s an answer (whiteblaze.com) that begs critical analysis – “I thru hiked with boots. I had no issues with ankle support. ..Boots kept me from spraining or injuring my ankle”. This answer illustrates the generalization fallacy, illustrated by substituting one word to change the statement to, “ I thru hiked with sandals. I had no issues with ankle support. Sandals kept me from spraining or injuring my ankles”.
People do complete thru hikes in minimalist footwear. In fact, I saw a barefoot thru hiker on September 13 this year on the summit of Katahdin. It was this guy:
He swears in this most interesting blog entry, “I will never wear hiking boots again.”
Few plusses are found for boots: Boots provide “ankle support”, “keep feet cleaner”, protect if something heavy falls or whacks against your foot, and are, “more durable”. Here’s a durablility dreamer, “Do I want a pair that will see me through this hike and others in the years ahead?” Obviously from someone who is still contemplating a thru-hike.
So why buck the current trend?
History–> I started the AT in boots that were highly recommended to me from experienced staff up at Winterport Boot shop. They sold me a pair of Merrill Phaser Peaks
In 2007, I began to get blisters within a week of hiking in Georgia, and some of the people I was hiking with encouraged me switch to ventilated trail runners, so I went to a pair of New Balance, and the blisters stopped. I then switched to Inov-8’s in Virginia with Superfeet insoles that took me all the way to Maine. Unfortunately that combo left me with nerve damage and low-grade left forefoot pain. Despite physical therapy, occupational therapy, acupuncture, medication, custom orthotics, and consulting the best sports podiatrist in Maine, I’m still affected. It hasn’t gotten any better, but is no worse, even after two more thru hikes.
I was ready to start the PCT in April of 2010 in Asics Gel Trabucos when my brother Roy, who works as a costing manager for New Balance, told me that NB had just acquired a Vermont company, On the Beach, that manufactures military and tactical footwear.
“You are going to hiking in the desert, right? These are the exact boots worn by Navy Seals in Afghanistan and Iraq. I can get you a pair to try out.”
Long story short, I received free New Balance Tactical 802 boots for whole 2,700 miles, where I encountered NO blisters.
I did jump up to a size 14, with PLENTY of room in the forefoot, that ensured my toes were not able to rub when I walked.
That, plus 2 pair of thin merino wool micro-crew Cushion Darn Tough socks that survived the whole trip. There is no finer hiker deal than Darn Tough. There is NO other manufacturer whose hiking socks last like Darn Tough, and even better, the $20 that you spend on a pair is a lifetime deal. Made in Vermont. “If you wear these socks out, we’ll replace them. Free of charge. No questions asked.” It’s true, I have 2 new pair of replaced Darn Tough socks for the CDT.
People get blisters on the PCT, even General Lee, who is usually blister free, but whose feet succumbed to the volcanic grit that was present in Northern California and Oregon.
I now hike three seasons in the Bushmasters, now renamed the NB Tactical 802, which also allowed me a blister free completion of Vermont’s Long Trail (2011).
I like being free of blisters. The boots ventilate exceedingly well, and this trip starts in the Chihuahuan desert in New Mexico. After they are soaked from rain or stream crossings, they dry our very quickly. The specialized Vibram soles wear and grip nicely. The laces don’t wear. They are fairly light, and don’t have any metal in them, which is a military consideration. They weigh 1.5 pounds each, where my Inov-8’s with Superfeet insoles weigh 1 pound each. No big deal.
My beef with the boots continues to be the exposed stitching on the toe and heel cups. I went through 4 pair on the PCT and in each case, the stitching rubbed through, and made a hole between the plastic cup and and fabric where debris entered, and the separations increased, primarily on the toe cups. I communicated my concerns back to NB. The primary manager for these particular boots assured me that there would be a design modification in future factory runs of the boot that would recess and then cover these areas, but it hasn’t happened yet.
My brother Roy has helped me to secure five new pairs of Tactical 802′s for this trip. One pair was free, and the other four were sold to me for 60% discount, with free shipping.
This time, I’m coating the toe and heel stitching with a sealant, probably more than one thin coat. Auntie Mame will send them to me when I need them.
That’s why I wear boots. These boots work for me, but as Auntie Mame so perceptively put, “You could also call them ankle height trail runners.” Enough already.
Soon it will time to “Stop Talking, Start Walking”
Today, it’s officially 2013 and time to take action toward my latest big-deal adventure: backpacking the Continental Divide Trail ( CDT). I’ve got 3 months and 15 days to pull things together. I already have my plane tickets. I had air miles accumulating from my credit card for the past 5 years so the flight from Portland, ME to El Paso, TX cost me just $10 as did the trip back to Portland from Bozeman, MT on October 1.
In the past 6 years I have completed three thru-hikes: the Appalachian Trail in 2007, the Pacific Crest Trail in 2010, and Vermont’s Long Trail in 2011. Readers can access my daily Trailjournals from these journeys on Trailjournals.com, or click the hot links on the right side of my blog to get there.
On March 27, 2007 on my first day on the AT I met General Lee and then encountered Richard Wizard a couple of weeks later. We and several others held up as a “AT family” that eventually reached Katahdin together. We’ve forged life-long bonds and we reunited to complete the PCT in 2010, and in Lee’s case, the Long Trail as well. Lee is from Georgia, and Wizard from Texas. On the trail, we’re known as MeGaTex, and all three of us are on “ the bus” for this one, plus other people that I’ll introduce you to in the weeks ahead.
I started a blog in 2008, after I enjoyed writing about the daily adventures on the AT. Between my trail journals and my WordPress blog site I have racked up over a half million “hits” from readers. I’ve been rewarded many fold for my time spent whacking away at these keyboards, sending out my thoughts from the house or in the tent. The kickbacks just keep on coming. So, just to be perfectly clear- I’ll take any and all the help I can get.
So far, I’ve spent close to $500 on maps about this “King of Trails”, which is of undetermined length, ranging somewhere between 2,700 and 3,100 miles. It’s undetermined because it is not like the AT or the PCT, or the LT. It’s undetermined because the trail is only 70% complete, and 58% complete in the most northern state of Montana. You get choices to go high, go low, go over mountains, or walk riverbeds, or walk roads. The one defining characteristic about the CDT that makes it especially challenging is the tendency for hikers to lose the trail. It’s unmarked and unsigned, for sections as long as a couple of hundreds of miles. Depending on the depth of winter snows, the trail generally gets buried in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.
Right from the start, you get to choose three starting points along the Mexico/ New Mexico border. I’ve been spending the last month familiarizing myself with the New Mexico maps, and still am not sure I understand where the trail goes. For example, I have the latest 2009 edition of the New Mexico Delorme Atlas and Gazatteer where I believe there have been major changes from the Acoma Indian Reservation below the town of Grants all the way up to the Colorado border, and that’s 1/3 of the CDT in Mexico. I’m concerned about the fact that New Mexico is mostly a barren desert and that natural water sources are as much as 150 miles apart.
I plan to update my official Trailjournal at least once weekly as April approaches.
In September of 2010, I crossed US Route 2 at Steven’s Pass in Washington state, on day 146 of my walk from Mexico to Canada. At that point, my life was a daily, face-to-face meeting with adversity as I marched those last ten days into Canada. As tough as it was moving forward through 5 days of mid-forty degree rain, I made it.
Flash two years forward to February of 2012, when deep fresh powered dropped a mantle of snow on the Steven’s Pass ski area, when 16 expert skiers had the worst day of their lives, one where three of the group died, and the survivors will never be whole again.
The New York Times has just produced a long-form newspaper documentary of sorts about that day. What’s different about this web read is the depth of the research, and the inclusion of multimedia clips, active graphics, and moveable maps that accompany and enrich the article, which has generated over 700 reader comments. The images from this read have lingered with me for over 24 hours so far, hours that have left me with a desire to share this account with anyone who goes out into the outdoors and brushes against danger. It’s going to take you at least an hour to experience the “read”, but do carve out the time.
The cash machine keeps on kachinging for Cheryl Strayed. In addition to the recent announcement of being made into a movie, the book about her 1100 mile hike 1995 backpacking trip on the PCT is now the first selection of Oprah’s new book club . Check out the Oprah website with photos or Strayed on her hike, PCT photos, and loads of sidebars, ready for eager readers.