Saturday, December 6, 2014

Mountain Laurel Designs Burn Backpack Review

Disclaimer: I bought this pack used with my own money and have no sponsorship or affiliation with MLD at this time.  

I picked up a Mountain Laurel Designs (MLD) Burn from a PCT friend last spring to use as a day and overnight pack over the summer since my only other pack big enough for the job was my enormous Six Moons Designs Starlight.  I got the idea from another PCT hiker I met who loves the Burn - Lint of www.linthikes.com.  He uses the Burn for PCT, CDT and AT thru-hiking, although he typically averages 30-35 miles a day which means carrying 1 to 2 days less food on a typical section than your average thru-hiker.  He also packs very light even by my standards and uses every inch of the pack.  I'd rather be able to carry a bag of potato chips (aka ghetto electrolyte tablets), but that's me.  

Speaking of inches, MLD lists the Burn as 1950 cubic inches (32 liters) of total capacity with 1500 cubic inches (25 liters) in the main body and the remainder in the extension collar, side and rear pockets.  Without pockets the pack is listed at 15 ounces,  in the large torso size with one added hip belt pocket and some shock cord mine weighed 15.2 ounces; not too shabby.  As of Fall of 2014 it lists as $175 without hip belt pockets, which I think is pricey but I am a cheap bastard. 

Packed with usual overnight gear, minus food.
Side view with 20 ounce Gatorade bottle.  Note the curve in the back panel.

Opposite side with carbon fiber tent pole.


The MLD Burn is a frameless pack that uses a drawstring closure on top.  For structure you have to rely on how you pack the bag.  In my case I like using a Gossamer Gear Nightlight to sleep on so I used that pad in the back.  Putting the Nightlight in the Burn was my first taste of just how narrow this pack is; I could barely squeeze the pad into the pack.  The pack is so narrow it squeezes the pad into a slight curve shape, which is actually more comfortable to wear than a totally flat pack. The curve sort of sets the middle of the pack in line with the depression between your back muscles. The long extension collar doesn't help fitting the pad in either, especially since it isn't tapered like you'd find on a roll top bag.  To get the pad in, you have to squeeze the edges together to make it narrower and slide it into the pack.  Not a problem once I figured that out but I found myself having to really try to stuff anything into the pack since it would get hung up on the drawstring - especially my sleeping bag.  In the big picture it adds up to an extra few minutes of annoyance a day but I'm used to having a pack that is over sized and easy to access. 


Drawstring opening is rather small.
 I found the wing belt and shoulder straps to be fine for loads in the 15 pound range, although I can't imagine fitting much more than 20 pounds in this pack since the volume is so small.  The wing belts are on the short side and stop over an inch from the end of my hip bones on my 32" waist, so much more weight than that makes the belt dig into my hips.  I didn't experience any slipping of the shoulder strap buckles at higher loads like I do with my SMD packs.  I also like the curved torso since it left the sides of my back to breath despite the initial squeeze of loading the pack.  The construction of the pack is excellent with very neat seams and a professional look.  This clearly isn't some DIY job.
My finger is on the edge of my hip bone - the wing belt stops over an inch short.

Pack bottom with slight curve on the front side making for a comfy, low sweat carry.

Here's two photo's of me in the pack.  All photos show it loaded with a typical trip (minus food) - 15 degree quilt stuffed in the bottom of the pack (no stuff sack), SMD Wild Oasis tarp, 8 ounce feathered friends puffy jacket, wind jacket, wind pants, 850mL pot and alchohol stove, long underwear, nightlight sleeping pad.  I could compress the sleeping bag and down jacket more but at this point most of the main volume of the pack is used up, leaving the extension collar and any additional compression for food.

20 ounce Gatorade Bottle in pocket.

Size Large is just big enough for my 21" torso and my T-rex arms don't touch the hip belt pocket.
In use, I had a hard time getting to my water bottles back in the side pockets of the Burn.  The side pockets are tall and hold the bottles well but they aren't slanted like other MLD packs, which makes no sense to me.  The lack of slant makes it impossible for me to put the bottle back in without removing the pack from one shoulder.  Not a big deal for a light pack, but slightly annoying.  The MLD Burn's side pockets are too narrow for my usual Gatorade bottles.  They work for 1L smart bottles, 20 ounce Gatorade bottles (shown) and slimmer 1L "disposable" water bottles but wide mouthed 1L Gatorade/Powerade bottles won't fit.  Not a deal breaker and sort of expected for a pack this small. Again, the side pocket construction is another slight irritation that doesn't mean much in the big picture but adds up.  

My pack came with one hip belt pocket, which is probably the best sized hip belt pocket I've used.  I can comfortably fit a large point and shoot camera, snack and map in there without it bulging to the point where I hit it with my arms as I walk. The pocket connects to the hip belt with two elastic loops and a clip, resulting in a very stable but easily removable pocket. It also has a waterproof zipper and no drain hole, so Ron is clearly confident in the pockets water resistance.  I did a long dayhike with the pack in blowing rain on a Presidential Ridge traverse attempt and never noticed water in the pocket. Without wind I use an umbrella which shields the pocket fairly well but I would still zip lock my camera to be safe. If I get a pack without hip belt pockets in the future, you can bet I'll buy MLD pockets.  

Love Ron's hip belt pockets, shown with RX100 camera + leather case inside.

The rear mesh pocket is excellent and will safely hold your pot, ground cloth and a small stuff sack of random crap. I added shock cord but it's unnecessary with such a tiny pack. My past experience with storing wet items to dry by hanging them shock cord has left me dropping the wet items and walking away from them without noticing, so I only use it for compression in day-pack use.  The mesh MLD uses also seems tougher than average and looks like it would hold up well to moderate bushwacking and typical thru-hiker wear and tear.  

Overall the Burn would be a great pack if you can get over the narrow opening, oddly shaped side pockets and short hip belt wing padding.  I suspect you could ask Ron at MLD to make the side pockets slanted and with longer wing padding if you order from him but I picked mine up used with the default pockets.  A roll top would be nice but I imagine that would change the template he uses for his production.  I have heard he's very accommodating on making tweaks to his products so definitely ask if you're considering this pack.  Those changes with a tapered roll top closure would make an almost perfect shoulder season day and overnight pack for me.  Instead, I'm trading the pack for heavily modified a Z-packs zero.  

Afterall, I have to do something with my free time when I'm not thru-hiking.  Might as well try out different packs!


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Southern Kilkenny Ridge Overnight Backpack

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All week the forecast for northern New Hampshire grew worse.  Cold rain and high winds shifted to a few inches of snow and even worse wind.  Wind chills dropped below zero, winter is here! Combined with low cloud cover, it was the perfect weather for boring view-less hiking!  If you go into something with low expectations, you're in for a treat.  My NH 4,000 footer list still had Mt. Cabot and Waumbek lingering, so they were an obvious choice.  They're a 3+ hour drive from Boston, known for not having many views and being very remote.  My good friend Pam Wilmont helped me hatch a plan to park the car at the Starr King trail head in Jefferson, hike up to Waumbek and continue across the Weeks mountains to camp in Willard Notch.  On Sunday I could join up with Anne and her AMC group hike of Cabot, the Bulge and the Horn schedule to start at 8 am from the Berlin Fish Hatchery parking lot.  Anne would then drive me back to my car in Jefferson NH, only a few minutes out of the way.  You can see my planned route on this nifty webpage: http://caltopo.com/map?id=1U4P

Doing a short overnight is nice, because you don't have to get back to your car.  So I left at 8 am and was on trail by 11:15.  10 miles to camp and about 7 hours of daylight meant I could take my time and still make camp well before dark, which was good since I forgot my headlight.  There was light rain on the drive up, so I was glad to have remembered my umbrella.

After a mile of old logging road, the single track started and I began the climb to Mount Starr King (not a typo).

The drizzle quickly transitioned to snow:


It continued to snow on and off the remainder of the day.  The wind howled and whistled through the trees but I rarely felt more than a light breeze.  I made my way up over Starr King, Waumbek and started the roller coaster of the Weeks.  The temperature continued to drop to about 28 degrees but I was still sweating my way up the climbs.  North Week mountain was a kicker and I was starting to get tired; being a knee nursing couch potato all summer was catching up to me.  Still, the knee felt good and I headed down to camp at Willard notch right at 5 pm, just as I predicted.  There was a nice spring fed stream coming out of the saddle which I didn't bother to filter. It was getting dark by the time I was cooking dinner and I settled in for a long night with my thoughts,  deciding to try drying my hiking clothes by wearing them in my sleeping bag.  I could feel the moisture make its way from my shirt to my fleece to my down jacket and eventually to where it stayed in my sleeping bag.  I was chilly as the temperatures dropped to 25 - a good sign since dry clothes would have extended the comfort range much further.  Overnights like this are a good chance to test the edge of your systems.

The next morning I was in no hurry since Anne would be leaving the trail head at 8:00.  I had texted her the night before and found out the AMC trip was canceled but she was still coming up.  I had 3 miles to Bunnel Notch, where our paths would meet.  I awoke to an inch or two of snow blanketing everything:

My Six Moons Designs Wild Oasis tarp shed the few inches of snow well.

The umbrella looks out of place but i

t was great hiking through the falling snow and staying dry. It also gave me a dry surface to toss gear onto when packing up.

Leaving camp the trail became more difficult to follow.  On Saturday I could tell where the trail had overgrown and been trampled.  Sunday felt different, there was more snow, fewer blazes and the trail cut the side of a hill awkwardly.  It wasn't quite cut into the slope and the boulders and roots made following it feel more like guesswork.  I stumbled across four sets of moose tracks, one wider than my feet:

That must have been one big moose!

Arriving at Bunnel Notch around 9:30 I had still not seen a soul all weekend and there were no tracks ahead of me on the way up to Cabot.  I figured I was a half hour or an hour ahead of Anne and kept plodding up hill, hoping to take shelter in the Cabin just before Cabots summit to wait.

View on the way up Cabot.

Icy tendrils of hoarfrost
I made the cabin about an hour later and settled in to wait, layering up and munching on snacks.  I checked my phone and found a text from Anne "Do you still need a ride?".  Odd, why would she think I didn't?  A little while later a guy and his dog stopped in, working on their grid (each 48 4,000 footer in each month of the year).  They left the same lot Anne was to leave from at 8:40 and hadn't seen anyone.  That didn't sound good.  I texted Anne, waited a while and then called.  I ate lunch, heated some water while wondering if my ride had bailed.  Rather than doing the whole loop to the Horn and the bulge I would head down Cabot towards the fisheries and hitch a ride back to my car.   At one point I ran up to the summit and back, leaving my pack on the cabin porch in case she showed up while I was gone but no luck.  

I made my way down and almost at the base of Cabot, there was Anne with two AMC hikers in tow who had still come despite the formal hike being cancelled.  They had gotten a late start and her enormous daypack was filled with group gear that was meant to be shared among several leaders, so their progress was a little slow.  The inch of slick snow was too thin for any traction devices and made everything slick, so they weren't interested in the Horn and the Bulge either.  Rather than head all the way back up with them, I decided to wait for them at the bottom, which I did and got super cold.  We headed out together, exchanged some stories and shared a meal and some hot coffee at the Tilton diner.  All in all a great way to spend some crappy weather in the Whites.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Great Sleeping Bag Butchering of 2014

If you like this post - check out my fundraiser to support the AZT, CDT and Te Araroa!

I started my PCT hike mostly with what I already had.  One of those items was a Marmot Helium 15 degree 850 fill down bag, circa 2010 or so.  I had used it for the odd car camping and bike touring trip and the few overnight backpacking trips prior to the PCT.  It's a great bag, although it was overkill for the PCT.  It used to weigh about 2 lbs 5 ounces.  I'm thinking I'll hit some consistently cold temperatures in Colorado and possibly New Mexico on the CDT this year, so I'd like to use it.  My preferred bag, the Feathered Friends Vireo weighs less than a pound so it's a big jump to add roughly 10 degrees of warmth.

Rather than wring my hands over buying a new quilt, I did some googling and found out it's fairly simply to butcher a sleeping bag into a quilt to save weight.  My friend Anne offered to help since I am essentially inept with a sewing machine.  So I provided some beer and promised to make dinner sometime in exchange.

We followed the instructions here: http://purebound.com/homemade/sleepingbag/ although backpacking light has a slightly more complicated method here: http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/forums/thread_display.html?forum_thread_id=34665

First step was to pin and sew seams in where we would cut to limit down loss, although if you use the baffles as borders it could be avoided:


Then the scary part of actually cutting the hood, zipper and draft tube off.  You'll want a vacuum handy!


Sewing up the edges:



Anne ended up finishing the seams another night and added 4 pairs of tie-outs to the long edge of the quilt.  I tied some shock cord loops to be able to stretch the quilt open for my sleeping pad.  During the fitting session with the expert advice of Annes mom, Annette, we decided to sew the footbox together for about 8-inches to prevent drafts.



Hood and zipper gone:



 Tie outs and shock cord:

Quilt selfie:



Below is the foot box.  Anne stitched the seams all the way around first, then came back and did the footbox. I guess you could save a few grams of thread doing it a better way but we're shooting for durability here.  This puppy has to last about 4,000 miles.


Total weight savings was 7 to 8 ounces!  Not bad for $0.  My lighter bag + bag liner is about 23 ounces and is good down to about 30 degrees.  I'm hoping to take this now 30 ounce quilt down to about 20 degrees comfortably.

Last weekend I went on a little bushwacking overnight with Philip Werner to test the quilt out and was pretty warm after I pitched the tent low to keep out the drafts: http://sectionhiker.com/bushwhack-bailout/

The knee was sore on Monday so I'm glad we bailed out early.  I'm hoping it's a good sore since it wasn't at the patella and I can keep upping my hikes.  The White's are a good proving ground since the hiking I have planned won't include nearly as much rugged terrain.  Stay tuned for more planning fun!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Golden Age of Thru-Hiking

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I’m certain we are entering a Golden Age of through hiking powered by social media, volunteer mapping efforts, GPS equipped smart phones and the trail organizations themselves. You can see it in the rapid rise in numbers of PCT through hiker permits given each year and anecdotally on the Continental Divide Trail which does not formally track through hikers.  Each year’s through hiker class has more hikers than the last and many maintain blogs or online journals every step of the way.  It’s easy to blame Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” for this surge but I believe she is part of a trend, not creating it.  Even before her book blew up, through hiker rates were rising. 

The cause is based in the information age that we live in, not one particular person or invention.  Previous barriers to entry to through hiking were largely information based.  For instance, if you wanted to through hike the PCT in the 1990’s or earlier you had to:

  •         Know that the PCT exists and can be hiked in one year – probably by word of mouth, by encountering it by accident or from a printed National Geographic Article
  •          Arrange for permits along the 2,600 mile trail corridor for dozens of wilderness area’s, national parks and USFS land by snail mail
  •          Acquire the maps along the trail, also by mail from a litany of agencies and sources and with little added information like tabulated mileage between points, reliable water or trail conditions.
  •          Determine where you can resupply, what’s available and whether a box is needed
  •         Determine reliable water sources (no water caches existed either) or just carry more water all the time
  •          Acquire the skills and gear of a long distance backpacker without Google

All of those are largely information based and are now available for free on the internet by a few google searches and mouse clicks.  The PCTA provides a permit for the entire route, Halfmile provides excellent maps for free download on his website and tabulated mileage the water report (pctwater.org) gives up to date information on water sources and town information can be found for free on the internet or through yogi’s guidebooks as well.  Not only that, you can download halfmile’s app for free on a GPS enabled smart phone and not even carry maps, a common practice.  Guthook also offers an app for sale with more detailed information like additional campsites and water sources not shown by halfmile.  Even that last bullet point - a huge amount of experience can be informally learned from the trip reports and blog posts by others and dozens of gear reviews are only a google or youtube search away.

Equally important is social media.  Thru-hiker blogs like Walking with Wired and Carrot Quinn have taken off and become incredibly popular among day hikers and people who might never have heard of the “big three”.  The most popular blogs are those who post entries daily or almost daily – something only possible by typing out entries on trail, in camp with a smartphone and uploading them when cell service or wifi is available.  These blogs are then shared, tweeted, liked, forwarded and reach potential hikers by the thousand.  Before the internet you would be lucky to get a post card! Popular bloggers are able to capture the sense of grandeur, community and freedom through hiking provides – a stark contrast to an office laden 9 to 5.  Combined with breath taking photo’s they grab those of us bored with everyday life by the heart strings, hook line and sinker. Gear lists are googled and cottage manufacturers eagerly provide lightweight gear catering towards specific needs of long distance hikers and those who dream of it. 

The trail associations themselves have grown to be incredible forces of both sharing the information about the trails and helping to construct and maintain them.  If the PCT had as much road walking as it did 30 years ago, I don’t think you would see the numbers we do today.  A quick look on the PCTA website shows listing for all the information you could want as a through hiker and a blog feed from the current years hikers.  Trail conditions such as fire closures and news are also posted and shared on facebook. 

The CDT is undergoing a similar transformation with the help of the new CDTA and their excellent website in addition to miles of new trail going in faster than they can be mapped.  Guthook is already working on an app for the entire trail and free maps from Jonathan Ley and Bear Creek have been available on the internet for years.   The uncertainties of navigation, terrain and resupply are largely taken care of with a smart phone and a large enough battery.  This does not make through hiking easy (I still plan on using map and paper) but it makes some of the logistics easier.

Each year more people through hike one of the big three blogging along the way.  Each year some of their friends are inspired to do the same and some will through hike other trails.  I did the PCT in 2013 and many of my friends will be joining me for the CDT in 2015.  In several more years  I wouldn’t be surprised to see more experienced thru’s on the PNT, GET, TA, AZT and other less known trails which will drive the same kind of information sharing that is making the PCT so popular.  The snowball is building and the Golden Age approaches!

What does a Golden Age mean? 

Many will decry a perceived loss of solitude or complain about the increased numbers.  Others will moan about how much harder it used to be, without all the information.  Both sentiments share hints of elitism and entitlement but the trails are public spaces, they are not private play grounds for fantasy adventures into unknown lands.  If that’s what you’re after, it never existed on a long distance backpacking trail constructed by people, mapped and described by other people and maintained by still more people.  A better response is to welcome and educate the newbies, something that actually does happen often in real life.   The community of long distance hikers is growing exponentially and there’s no stopping it!

If you like this post - check out my fundraiser to support the AZT, CDT and Te Araroa!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Need my knees or why I'm postponing

I did a stupid thing.  Multiple stupid things really.  These are on top of all the other stupid things I've ever done, but especially relevant at this moment.  This one's made me pretty sad, so I haven't been posting much since I find it hard to talk about myself when I'm unhappy.  

Towards the end of June, I went mountain biking at the New England Mountain Bike Association festival with some friends.  I had been training for the presidential traverse attempt the week before and hadn't been biking much.  So after riding for six hours two days in a row after barely riding at all for weeks, my knees were both very unhappy.  No problem I thought, and gave them the week off before trying a 30 mile backpack in the Pemi with a friend.  If I was going solo I probably would have taken the weekend off, but I had canceling on friends and the knees felt ok.  Everything was fine until descending a steep rocky trail to Galehead hut when the right knee really started hurting.  I stretched them both out and we went up a quick jaunt to Galehead, took another break and then part way down thirteen falls to camp early. 

The right knee hurt bad the next day, so we skipped Owls head and headed straight out, still a solid 13 miles on a bum knee.  It hurt for a week, even sitting at the office hurt. I iced, stretched, massaged, rested, everything.  They started to feel better again right before another hike with friends up to Mt. Carrigain, but I re-injured them again on the descent, again not wanting to cancel on friends.  More time off, more ice, more ibuprofen.  Things were looking shaky for my year of through hiking and I decided I wanted to switch the order anyway.  If I do the AZT in March, then do the CDT and finish on the Te Araroa I'll have an open ended schedule to travel in NZ and SE Asia rather than having to plan for the CDT.  Still, I wanted to do the Wonderland Trail and the trail maintenance I signed up for right after, September 4th and the 12th.  

Last weekend they were feeling good again, at least on short hikes in the Middlesex Fells and Blue Hills so I went up to try and bag Owls Head again with my friend Anne.  I needed a test to see if I should buy the plane ticket for the Wonderland trial.  This was only 2,500 or so feet of elevation gain and we did a little last minute research with the help of our White Mountain expert friend Pam on a bushwack going to the north to avoid descending the slide and hurting my knee.  

The hike in went well, we took our time and I swam in three spots in icy gushing water of the Pemigewasset River and Franconia brook.   Pam told us about some camp sites right by the path to the Owl's Head summit, so we stopped there a little before 4 and decided to make camp.  It was a good decision since we spent about two hours bushwacking through thick deciduous trees until hitting and old logging road.  The complain a little, then more on the descent down Franconia Brook trail to our campsite, only getting worse whenever we stopped.  I iced on the way home, then used heat and ice last night along with more ibuprofen.  It still hurts today, stiffening up after sitting at work.  Occasionally I can crack it and it feels better but it's in bad shape.

There's no way I can do the Wonderland Trail - 96 miles with over 20,000 feet of elevation gain/descent is not going to happen in three weeks.  I made a doctors appointment for Wednesday but only a nurse practitioner was available - hopefully she can send me to physical therapy and the recovery process will get started.  I haven't had much luck with physical therapy in the past so I was reluctant to try again but this is getting out of hand.  Hopefully I can still do the trail work, I'd really like to see the PCT again.

So for now the plans are to do the AZT in March and into April, then the CDT from early May through September, then the Te Araroa from early November of next year through winter. 

Keep your fingers crossed.  

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Q + A with Matt Nelson from the Arizona Trail Association (AZTA)

It's true that trail maintenance doesn't happen on it's own but most often we think of the boots on the ground and forget the logistical support required to get those boots to the right spot, with the required equipment and logistical support.  As part of my effort to raise awareness of trail associations I asked Matt J. Nelson from the AZTA to answer a few questions about himself and what he and the AZTA do.  I managed to catch him before he left for a 6 day backpacking trip in the Sierra.

How long have you been involved with the AZTA and what is your role?

Matt: I have been the Executive Director of the Arizona Trail Association (ATA) for the past two and a half years. As the only full-time employee of the nonprofit organization, I do a little bit of everything: managing volunteers (1,200+) and trail work events (@ 100 annually); fund raising to support trail operations; protecting the trail from large-scale mining operations; program developments; coordinating with all of the agencies whose land the Arizona Trail (AZT) traverses (USFS, BLM, NPS, Arizona State Parks, Babbitt Ranch, Pima and Pinal Counties); writing newsletters; attending events and meetings; education and outreach; overseeing our Seeds of Stewardship program within Arizona schools and leading some of the outings; and just about everything you can think of.


How did you get involved?

Matt: It all started one day when I was out on a mountain bike ride and I found a brown carsonite sign with the Arizona Trail symbol. That was the first I had ever heard of the cross-state trail. The more I explored, the more I fell in love with the trail. This was back in 1994, and the trail was FAR from being complete. So I got involved as a volunteer trail builder. Later, I organized groups of inner city youth to participate in trail building. Then, working as a natural and cultural resource specialist, I conducted archaeological surveys and did trail design before the final segments of trail were constructed. Working seasonally as a backpacking guide, I helped hundreds of people explore and appreciate the Arizona Trail through Grand Canyon National Park. Once the position of Executive Director became available, I was encouraged by many people to apply for the job.


How do you use the trail?

Matt: I spent equal time on my feet (hiking, trail running and backpacking) and mountain bike. I love riding mules and horses, too, so I try to experience the AZT from every form of non-motorized travel possible to help keep me in touch with the variety of user groups we have on the trail. My job keeps me really busy and I don't get many opportunities to play on the trail (despite what everybody thinks) but whenever we have meetings or events in different parts of the state, I aspire to sneak in some time on the AZT.


How would you describe the mission of the AZTA?

Matt: Our mission is to build, maintain, promote, protect and sustain the Arizona Trail as a unique encounter with the land. That's the official mission. Beyond that, the ATA is committed to engaging individuals, families, groups, businesses and agencies in the enjoyment and stewardship of the trail. The more people that use it and fall in love with it, the more likely they are to support it and protect it into the future. The trail is an 800-mile-long organism that requires constant "care and feeding" and if you think it takes a village to raise a child, think about how many people it takes to maintain and sustain the trail.


Has the land use along the trail corridor changed since the trails inception?

Matt: Not really. Fortunately, the founding father was a true visionary who embraced all user groups from day one. Dale Shewalter was a hardcore hiker who loved riding horses and mountain bikes, too. So from the very beginning, the Arizona Trail has been a shared-use experience. And because of that, we don't have the kinds of conflicts that other long-distance trails are now experiencing because they exclude certain user groups.

Most of the land the Arizona Trail traverses is extremely remote, so there is little fear of development and encroachment on the trail corridor. That said, there are currently four major mining operations that could destroy portions of the AZT. Arizona is filled with natural resources, both on the surface that we all enjoy and appreciate, and underground, which we all use and need. So protecting the trail, negotiating with private companies and public land management agencies, and working to ensure the trail will be here for future generations is a constant struggle. Especially with a push toward more "green energy" nationwide, long-distance trails are being faced with obstacles likes transmission power lines, large-scale solar and wind energy projects, and open-pit mines.


Have you seen any changes in the gateway communities along the trail?

Matt: Absolutely! Many of the towns (gateway communities) the trail passes near are former mining towns that have gone through a boom and bust cycle and are trying to figure out how to survive. Recent reports from the National Park Service show that the single greatest source of economic stability for rural communities is through ecotourism. Instead of small towns building something from the ground up, we've essentially brought the trail to them. Now, then can incorporate the AZT into their master plan and learn from other communities that are finding success in appealing to outdoor recreationalists who enjoy a good meal and small town charm as much as a day out in the dirt.

Gateway communities are a great way for us to gauge how many people are using the trail, too. Since we don't have any permit or registration system, we rely on town to help inform us how many thru-hikers and day trippers are on the trail each season.

Through more outreach and education and providing gateway communities resources like maps and information, we're seeing them develop into trail towns. This means healthier communities, and more people who have a vested interest in maintaining, promoting and protecting the AZT into the future.


How would you describe the trail community?

Matt: Just like the state of Arizona, the AZT community is a wild and eclectic mix. On any given day on any segment of trail you might find a determined thru-hiker, a club of trail runners, folks riding mules or horses, a crew of mountain bikers, folks hiking with their kids, geocachers, bird watchers...you name it. The diversity always inspires me, and the fact that we have very few trail conflicts each year is testament to the nature of people out West.

The number of international visitors on the trail is incredible! Last year, international thru-hikers outnumbered Americans. And the number of guidebooks we sell to foreign countries is pretty amazing. So it's definitely worth mentioning that the trail community is global.


What are some current or ongoing trail building or maintenance projects?

Matt: Maintenance projects happen every week or weekend throughout the state, and the trail corridor is always in need of brushing and tread repair. Arizona's seasons are extreme, so when it rains it comes down like a fire hose. Because of that, we're constantly repairing the damage Mother Nature does to the trail. A few major wildfires over the past five years have left segments of the trail devastated, so we're building new trail through severely scorched terrain. Some of the more remote mountain ranges in the middle of state are too far out for volunteer crews, so we're using grant funds to get professional trail crews into the Superstition and Mazatzal Mountains to bring the trail up to National Scenic Trail standards.

For thirty years the goal of the ATA was to get the trail completed. That meant linking existing trails and building new trail. While the project was completed quickly, it wasn't always built well. There are many segments of trail that are poorly designed and in desperate need of "realignment," meaning abandoning the bad stuff and building fresh tread that is truly sustainable.


Are there any trail projects that stand out to you?

Improving the trail to accommodate all users is something worth mentioning. Much of the trail is great for hikers, but the corridor is too narrow for equestrians or the switchbacks are too tight for mountain bikers. Our focus now is a trail that is accessible to hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians. It will never be "easy" as the Arizona Trail is a serious endeavor over rugged terrain in the middle of nowhere, often times far from water sources. But we're trying to fulfill the mission and vision of the AZT to improve what we have so all non-motorized users are able to experience it.

The other trail project that stands out to me is our ongoing mapping and signage projects. We're working with GIS specialists to offer free interactive maps, GPS datacards, and other forms of non-paper map options for outdoor explorers. Instead of adding more signs to the trail or producing paper maps that will change often, we're using technology to provide up-to-date information to anyone with a GPS or smartphone.


Do you have any favorite volunteer stories?

Matt: Considering 1,200+ people contributed over 17,000 volunteer hours last year, it's hard to choose a single story. I am always inspired by people who give time and energy to the trail. It's not surprising or shocking, because like many people who spend time outdoors, I realize that the Arizona Trail is a transformative experience for so many people. Trail work is a rewarding and bonding experience, which is why we have so many committed volunteers who have made working on the Arizona Trail a regular part of their lives. Some of them spend more time working on the trail than playing on it. It's an honor to be able to swing a pick alongside them, knowing that the next person who comes down the trail will have a better experience...even though most will never know.



What's in store for the future of the AZT?

Matt: With more awareness and support, I think the AZT can become one of the premier trails in the nation. We've been flying under the radar for thirty years but now it's time to introduce the AZT to the rest of the world. Heck, most people in Arizona have never heard of it. So through some creative promotional efforts, I hope the Arizona Trail becomes known and appreciated.

The ATA has been operating on a shoestring budget for years, but in order to keep up with trail maintenance needs we really need to step up it. With federal funds dwindling all the time, that means relying on support from individuals who care about the AZT. Most people assume their taxes pay for trails, or that federal agencies take care of it, but more often than not, it's small nonprofit organizations like the ATA that rally volunteers, hold fundraisers, and work like crazy to make sure the trail is there for people to enjoy.


How can people help the trail?

Matt: Donate dollars, volunteer time at a trail work event, and encourage others to do the same. The majority of funds to support the ATA come from individuals and businesses who make tax-deductible contributions every year. It's the only reason the AZT was built in record time, and it's how we continue to provide an 800-mile adventure-of-a-lifetime to anyone who wants it. The AZT is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and no permits are needed (unless you are camping overnight in Saguaro or Grand Canyon National Parks).

We also have an awesome membership program with great incentives for people who join and renew their support each year. And if donating or joining is against your nature, then buy some Arizona Trail merchandise from our online store. Guidebook, T-shirts, socks, and much more are available. Every purchase helps support our mission.


Friday, July 18, 2014

Landscape Photography for Hikers – Camera settings

If you like this post - check out my fundraiser and upcoming hiking plans!

Cameras and the images they capture have never been more accessible, portable or easier to share.  Within hours of returning from hikes, it’s common to see photo’s on social media posted, tagged and described by friends.  That said, bad photography and poor results have never been more common either. Almost everyone carries a camera in their phone, but the image quality is always lacking when blown up to a size larger than that of a small tablet screen.  Panoramas with smartphone cameras can at first glance be nice as well, but often show striping from slight differences in metering or sensor noise.  Most smartphone cameras have become so automatic that they no longer give the user control over camera settings since most users don’t know how to use them.  Instead, carry a small portable point and shoot camera which allows for better images due to a larger image sensor and control from traditional camera functions. In this post, I hope to give readers some tips for how to take better quality photos with a typical point and shoot camera.
First we need some background on photography and digital photography.  I’ll be brief so if you want more in depth coverage feel free to google terms.  To me, photography consists of two distinct actions – framing the shot and selecting the settings.  This post will focus on camera settings. 

The goal in basic landscape photography is usually to recreate what the photographer sees, maybe with some slight alterations to add drama to the shot.  Advanced landscape photographers look to modify the image to really increase the drama, but that’s beyond this post.  For our purposes, the end goal is to walk away with a picture that accurately portrays what we are looking at. The biggest settings that affect that goal are white balance, exposure, ISO, F-stop and shutter speed. 

Oversimplified, white balance is what color the camera believes is white.  The source of the light fools the camera into believing some other color is white and causes colors to look off.  Blue images in snowy landscapes are common because the wrong white balance was used.  Try playing with your camera’s settings to fix it when your are shooting, there are usually white balance modes for most types of scenes – or you can try automatic white balance and hope for the best. Your computer monitor uses a similar setting.
Exposure refers to how much light we allow the image sensor to record and it’s determined by the combined effect of ISO, F-stop and shutter speed.  Too much light or overexposure makes bright spots such as clouds, sky or distant peaks become washed out but objects in the shadows are well defined.  Too little light and the darker areas of the shot are lost but the clouds look great.  We usually want something in the middle or a “correct” exposure. F-stop, shutter speed and ISO are combined to change the exposure of the shot which is measured by the camera’s light meter.  The light meter looks something like this, which shows a 2/3 reduction in exposure:
 
Typical light meter

Or in simpler camera’s the symbol to adjust the metering might 
look like this:


The light meter is a measure of how much light the camera settings will let into the sensor.  We can change the metering by adjusting the ISO, F-stop and shutter speed.  The ISO is a measure of image sensor sensitivity to light, the F-stop is a measure of fast the aperture will allow light into the sensor and the shutter speed is how much time the sensor will record light.



To understand these settings let’s imagine a bucket being filled with water from a hose.  The bucket represents the light meter and we will fill it with light or water in this analogy.  The hose is our lens and out of it flows the water or light.   If we want to fill the bucket (get the exposure) more quickly we could use a larger diameter hose, or a wider aperture.  Lens aperture widths decrease exponentially with an increasing number – so an F-stop of F4.0 is 16 times faster than an F-stop of F8.0.  That means we would only have to turn the hose on for one-sixteenth as long with the F4.0 to fill the bucket to the same level.  Finally, we can change the ISO – which is really the size of the bucket.  A smaller bucket will fill faster and a larger will fill slower.  Again, this relationship is backwards since an ISO of 800 represents a much smaller bucket than an ISO of 200.  The 800 ISO bucket will fill 4 times faster than an ISO 200 bucket, since the speed doubles every time the ISO doubles.  How high we fill the bucket is the exposure.  Overfill the bucket and it’s an over exposed image, under fill it and it’s underexposed.   The flow in the hose depends on how much light is in the scene – lots of flow in a bright sunny day, but very little in a shot of the stars.

So why have so many ways of filling a bucket?  Well, each setting has an effect on the image.  A smaller ISO setting, or larger bucket will mean more light (water) is collected.  So we have more detail and more information to work with.  When we increase the size of the image there will be more detail.  At higher ISO’s the image becomes pixelated and fuzzy due to image sensor noise.  Larger image sensors found in bigger camera’s become less pixelated and have less fuzziness or noise and can use higher ISO’s without problems. 

If we change the size of the hose or aperture, it changes how much of the image is in focus.  The part of the image in focus is called the focal plane and the width of it is called depth of field.  A smaller hose, or aperture, such as an F8.0 will give us a deep depth of field with less blurring in the background.  That means our subject and most of what’s behind it will be in focus.  A very large aperture, such as an F-1.8, will give a very narrow depth of field, especially with near subjects, and a lot of blurr in the background. 



 The length of time we leave the hose on, or the shutter speed, will also affect how we fill the bucket.  A very fast shutter speed such as 1/2000 will stop time – water droplets in a water fall are frozen in place or the hair of a running stallion is stopped instantaneously.  A long shutter speed will allow the waterfall to condense into a pleasant blur or for car lights at night to form bright streaks across a highway. 


These three settings effect on the exposure are measured by our camera’s light meter measured in “stops”.  1 “stop” half is the amount of light the camera thinks the image needs since the light meter is just the camera’s educated guess of how much light will give a pleasant image.  So if we lower the exposure by 1 stop, we reduce the amount of light our camera records by 1/2.  On more advanced camera’s we can change how the light meter measures the light in the image.  It can use a broad average of the amount of light in the entire image, concentrate the metering on the amount of light in the center of the image, or concentrate it entirely on a small dot.  In any case, it’s the camera’s best guess as to what combination of settings will work best. 

The problem is, despite all the technology we are still smarter than cameras.  Most cameras will over expose bright landscapes that end up washing out the terrain but depicting the sky perfectly.  A quality point and shoot will have a high definition screen and you’ll be able to see this effect after or even as you take the photo.  Instead, try reducing the exposure by 2/3 of a stop – like the light meter image at the top of this post.  That will lower the amount of water in our bucket and may give a nicer image. 

Another common problem is a blurry image in a dark forest.  A dark forest means the flow in our hose is very low so the camera has to hold the hose, or shutter open too long allowing the movement of our hands to blur the image.   We either need a bigger hose or a smaller bucket!  If we make our hose larger – lower the F-stop – a faster shutter speed is needed and less blur from camera movement will happen.  However, that means the background may be too out of focus.  Instead, we can increase the ISO which will also need a faster shutter speed.  Around an ISO of 800 or so, most cameras will create unpleasant noise and pixilation, so this only works to a point.  In the end, a combination of both may work best. 

The easiest way to adjust these settings quickly is to set the camera for “A” mode or Aperture priority on the large dial at the top of the camera.  This lets us choose the aperture with one camera control and the light meter setting with the other, while the camera decides what shutter speed to use to get that light meter setting.  The ISO is usually held constant and can be adjusted through the camera’s menu.  I keep my camera in this mode about 90% of the time, only occasionally using “S” or shutter priority to get blur on a waterfall. Read your camera’s manual to find out what the other settings mean.
Typical mode dial

Another useful setting is HDR, short for High Dynamic Range.  It’s common to take a picture of a couple in front of a mountain, only to have their faces come out too dark.  If your camera has this setting it will take three photos as quickly as possible and stitch them together.  Each picture is taken at a different exposure – one underexposed, one at the exposure setting and one over exposed.  The couples faces will show up better in an over exposed photo, the mountain better in the “correct” exposure and the sky better in the over exposed image.  Together they will combine to create an image closer to what we see with our eyes.  However, if you set the difference exposure of the 3 images too high, the image will turn out strange looking and seem fake.  This is a common mistake, I recommend sticking to 1 “stop” of difference between images to prevent it.



Hopefully this post has helped your understanding of how digital photography works and can help you take better images, if not feel free to ask in the comments!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Gear Review: Feathered Friends Daybreak Jacket (hooded)



This is a review of an item I plan on taking on my upcoming year of through-hiking to raise money for the Arizona Trail Association,Continental Divide Coalition and Te Araroa Trust.  Please consider donating and sharing it on Facebook!


Feathered friends is mostly known as a small Seattle based sleeping bag maker, but they also make lesser known line of goose down insulated clothing.   I took advantage of a recent sale and picked up their Daybreak hooded jacket.  Their Daybreak series are lightweight, and meant for 3 season use.  I saw a lot of similar Patagonia and Montbell down “sweaters” on the Pacific Crest Trail last year but most lacked much loft for any real warmth unlike the daybreak which has about an 3/4 of an inch of single layer loft mid-baffle.  On the PCTI carried a 20 ounce down parka from Marmot, the Ama Dablam jacket for use with my feathered friends Vireo sleeping bag instead of a much thinner down sweater.  The bag is 25 degrees on your legs and 45 on your chest and is meant for use with a down jacket. Look for a full review soon.


The Feathered Friends Vireo


I liked having the heavy Marmot jacket as piece of mind, even though it was overkill most of the time and relying on it as my only insulation caused some problems.  I didn't carry any other insulation layer other than a sleeping shirt, so when I encountered days of cold rain in Washington State I had to keep hiking to stay warm!  My breaks were limited to about ten minutes before I got cold and could only be taken at the base or partway up a climb.  I didn’t want to get either my long johns or the jacket wet since both were essential for my sleep system, which left me with only a long sleeve hiking shirt and wind jacket for continued wet, cold conditions.   

For my upcoming hikes I want something lighter with more flexibility.  Rather than a single heavy down jacket, I picked the day break and a half-zip 100 weight fleece pullover.  The daybreak weighs just over 7 ounces on my scale and the fleece pullover is 10 ounces on the nose so the total is only only a few ounces lighter than the Marmot jacket.  However, the fleece has the benefit of staying warm when wet, absorbing minimal water and drying quickly.  I can use it as a layer for hiking and since it dries fast and won’t hold much water it can still be used as sleepwear when wet, since my sleeping shirt, daybreak jacket and bag will be dry in my pack.  I recently used this combination on a Presidential Traverse attempt, including hanging out on the summit of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington in 35 degree temperatures with winds blowing over 50 miles per hour.  Based on my experience so far, I think this combination is at least as warm as, maybe slightly warmer than my Marmot jacket and a much more versatile system.  

The daybreak in action over a fleece - far left.
The Daybreak jackets construction is top notch and I have noticed no down leakage.  The hood is fitted tightly and would not work over a helmet, which is perfect for me.  Instead of a clunky drawstring, it uses elastic around your face which works great and sheds the extra grams to boot.  The bottom of the hood stops at the base of my chin, which helps retain warmth around the neck.  The sleeves have similar elastic cuffs that are tight enough to keep warm air in but not constricting – the same as the adjustment I would have made on a heavier drawstring closure and never touched again.  The bottom of the jacket does have a drawstring, which might be useful occasionally.  The fit of a medium jacket on my averagish 5 foot 8 inch frame is almost perfect.  I have short legs – my pants inseam measures 30-inches – and the jacket is long enough to cover most of the way down my hip bone, which is great and the sleeve length is great for me.  The jacket also packs into a provided stuff sack, though I rarely use stuff sacks since I prefer to use insulation layers to take up dead space in my pack.  This strategy keeps things from rattling around back there, is better for the down loft over time and takes less time to pack and unpack.

A quick note - the fit of this jacket is everything I want for the outdoors but the elastic cuffs mean it looks a fit funny on the street.  I honestly think this is a plus since a lot of outdoors clothing is being fashion-a-fied into looking better but compromising function.  At a typical gear store it can now be hard to tell what's really meant to be used in bad weather versus what's meant to be worn on the street.  I think part of the steadily rising down price trend is due to this as well, since you see 800+ fill down sweaters everywhere on people who's wallets would be better served by synthetic insulation.


The hood looks a bit funny but is much warmer than an open design.

Anyhow, the pockets on the Daybreak jacket are plenty large enough for my hands but not fleece lined, which is not a problem for me.  All the zippers feel very solid and latch easily.  The baffles seem to work well and the shell material on my 2013 jacket is made from Pertex Endurance, a water resistant breathable fabric and filled with regular 900+ fill down.  Feathered friends hasn't bought into hydrophobic coated down like most other cottage retailers and even has a post about it.  It should be noted that my sale jacket must have been the last of these since the feathered friends is now using Schoeller Nanosphere® - a new fabric that is hydrophobic!  From the manufacturers website it sounds like water and dirt should bead right off.  Sounds cool, but I think I’ll live with the older fabric and extra $100 in my pocket. 

In summary I would definitely recommend this jacket if you’re in the market for a top notch, light  weight down jacket.  They work great for camp and can extend the range of a sleep system.   If money were no object I would have probably splurged for the Helios jacket – only 3 or 4 ounces heavier but significantly warmer.  However, this jacket was on sale and will get the job done for me just fine.  

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Overnight to the Bonds, South Twin and Galehead - aka a Semi-Pemi

This post is part of my training for my upcoming year of through hiking to support the people that help make the AZT, CDT and Te Araroa possible!  Please consider donating or sharing on facebook!

This past weekend AMC friend Chris and I headed up to the White's for a quick and light overnight trip.  On the menu was Bondcliff, Mount Bond, West Bond, South Twin, Galehead, down to thirteen brook tent site and then the bushwack up to Owls Head on the way out.  This would check off five mountains from my NH48 list, and bag South Twin for the second time - the first was on a training hike for the PCT over a year ago.  It's also the second half or so of a Pemigewasset Loop - the #2 hardest day hike in the country according to backpacker magazine (although I don't believe anything else they say so why believe that?).

Unfortunately, last weekend I spent a bit too much time on the mountain bike at Nembafest and triggered an old knee injury since I haven't been riding much.  I took the week off and it felt fine on Friday so I figured what the heck, let's go for it, it's only 20 miles the first day, twelve or so on Sunday and I hate cancelling last minute. Chris wanted to practice ultralight camping too, so I decided just to go for it.

We started out at 8 am at the Lincoln Woods trail head with a full parking lot and quickly made the 2.6 mile former rail bed walk into the Pemigasset Wilderness, crossed the bridge over Franconia Brook and continued our walk, dotted with "wilderness ties" - my name for the rail road ties left by logging crews in the late 1800's that cleared almost all the trees in the Whites - including the now "wilderness" area's.  We even spotted a wilderness bucket!

Bridge over Franconia Brook - which uses 1800's era foundations from a defunct logging railway


I don't mean to hate on wilderness area's, I certainly appreciate the preservation effort but it's a bit silly when trail crews aren't allowed to use chainsaws but reach their trails via former logging roads.

Politics aside, we made great time up to Bondcliff in under four hours and got some obligatory photos:
Bondcliff - appropriately named

Showing off!
We made our way up the ridge in the back of that last photo - Mount Bond and enjoyed the 360 degree views of just about every range in the White's.  My knee was bugging me a bit but not getting any worse, so I didn't worry about it.  Next up was South Twin, where we met four people in a row doing the pemi loop (you could tell by the death stares) and enjoyed the view back to Mt. Bond:

The knee really started bothering me on the rocky 0.8 mile 1,200 foot descent down to Galehead hut, so we took a longish break at the AMC hut, then a quick slack pack four tenths up to Galehead and back - probably a dumb idea just to check a box on a list.  We decided to just camp at the first decent spot on the way down to the Thirteen falls tent site and considered skipping Owl's head.  Meanwhile at the hut a woman doing the AMC Hut Traverse stopped by for some hut food.  The Hut Traverse is a 54 mile hike in under 24 hours to all 7 AMC huts usually done by trail crew members or the hut staff - totally insane!  Not only that, she only had 12 miles to go and it was 5 pm!

After the superwoman left we made our way down the thirteen falls trail.  Around halfway of the 2.6 mile trail I spotted a decent flat spot off trail with a small stream running by.  I hadn't been filtering water all day and gladly continued the practice.  Then we made camp - each with tarps.  My original plan for bug protection was a DIY bug netting supported by my hiking umbrella.  Sadly my tarp pitch was a few inches too short for the umbrella but there were so few bugs I just went without:
In the trees, all you need is a tarp... and maybe DEET
This was actually my first night under an open tarp (the gray one is mine).  The low pitch was pretty annoying, I think the A frame would only be comfortable with an 8 foot wide tarp instead of my 5 footer.  Next time I'll try a different pitch.  Otherwise it was nice to have such a light shelter, mostly for dew in this case.  Finding and breaking the sticks I used for support was a little annoying though.

I keep that tarp in my day pack as an emergency shelter, along with the gossamer gear nightlight pad for pack structure.  It's nice to be able to overnight if needed with only a pound and a half of added weight to an already sub pound daypack (MLD Burn) - lighter than most traditional empty day packs!  For this trip I was using my new-to-me Six Moon Designs swift pack - a smaller version of the Starlight I used on the PCT and sadly out of production.  I really like the pack and the lack of hip belt padding didn't become an issue. I keep my sleeping bag and jacket fluffed inside the pack to take up space, so the pack rode well to boot. I did notice the rear mesh pocket is significantly smaller than the Starlight but it wasn't a problem.  I do need to try it with heavier loads for dry stretches on the AZT and CDT though.

Unsurprisingly after some 1,300 miles on the PCT without a stove I forgot to bring fuel...  My mac and cheese was begging for boiling water but my alcohol stove seemed useless.  I tried to and quickly lost patience with building a small wood fire and then remembered my 2 ounce bottle of hand sanitizer - gelled alcohol! The first inactive ingredient is water but man does that stuff burn!  I squeezed a full ounce onto my stove, lit it up and set the pot on.  Who woulda' thought that it boiled the water and was just enough to perfectly cook my macaroni.  That and a can of salmon made for a filling dinner.  Camping before the designated tent site also meant a quiet night and no bear or critter issues.  That basically sums up ultralight to me - improvise, avoid high use area's and use your noggin.

We slept pretty well, although I did put ear plugs in so Chris's neoair didn't wake me up every time he moved around.  The next morning my knee was really feeling stiff and sore so we decided to just head straight out instead of bagging Owl's head.  That meant 10 long flat miles out back to the trail head after pushing some leaves and brush back over our campsite and mixing the ashes from my pathetic fire attempt into the dirt.  We broke up the walk with some waterfalls and at one point next to a beaver pond were walking through more dragonfly's than I have ever seen - over a hundred of them all taking off around us!  They eat mosquito's and are in my opinion the coolest looking insect, so I was happy to see them.


Thirteen Falls fall waterfall number ??

Franconia Brook Falls up close and person

There were a bunch of water crossings on the way back and Chris got to try out getting his mesh trail runners wet and seeing how fast they dry.  This was his first hike with them instead of heavy waterproof boots and he seemed to love it, tripping less and actually having dry feet for a change.  He didn't realize how sweaty his boots would make his feet until trying the trail runners.  No ankle problems either - I think we've got a convert!


Base weight for the trip was a little under 9 pounds and not much different from what I plan on carrying for my upcoming through hikes aside from shelter choice, which I'm still working out.

All the other pictures are here: http://imgur.com/a/5ldd2

Friday, June 27, 2014

AZT Planning - Resupply!

This is part 2 of the planning posts for the first trail of my year of through hiking for the trails

The last post was water, without which in the desert you might last a few days.  Now that I have some notion of where the water will come from, the next step is food. I like to break food down by distance.  The easy math is simply divide the distance by how many miles you want to hike each day and pack for that many days.  Say the next leg is 115 miles and I want to do 20 miles a day so we can round up to 6 says. You might think if I leave town in the morning for a 6 day stretch, that means I need 6 dinners, 6 lunches, 6 breakfasts' and 6 days of snacks.  If you did, you'll wind up with an extra breakfast and dinner when you get to town!  If I can do 15 miles out of town today (day 1) I need one lunch, dinner and day of snacks.  The last day I won't need dinner since I'l be in town, and I ate day 1's breakfast in town.  Viola! Over a pound of food saved! How's that for ultralight? (yes I know I just wrote the musical instrument, it's a joke, lighten up).

Of course, this only works when you are certain about your pace.  If trail conditions are worse than expected, you were overly optimistic about your conditioning or you become injured and can't make your miles - you have to ration food, which is no fun.  The PCT had incredibly wonderful trail conditions with lots of other hikers. On the two or so occasions where I did start to run low on food, I bummed food from other hikers - I also gave away plenty of extra food.  The AZT is known for being more rugged and there likely won't be many other folks out to help out a hungry but foolish hiker low on food.  So for the AZT, most of the time I'll just carry the extra dinner and breakfast.  I can cut down on this by checking on the passage rating systems, so if a section is predominantly over easy passages I can just carry an extra lunch or snacks.

Notice the trend?  Uncertainty about water - carry more water.  Uncertainty about pace or trail - carry more food.

Here's my itinerary as of today.  Keep in mind I'll start the AZT after hiking the Wonderland Trail and doing a week of trail maintenance in the Goat Rocks Wilderness (more on that later).  Start off in Page, AZ with 4.5 days of food,  hike south, then...

Mile 727.7 - Hitch (illegal in Nat. Parks) or walk 2 miles to North Rim County Store - Pick up a box, spend a few days exploring the Canyon and possible Canyon to Rim to Rim with a friend from AMC (or just canyon to Rim if I'm lazy)
Mile 702 - South Rim - Pick up a box from AMC friend - carry 5 days of food
Mile 589.1 - Hitch to flagstaff via Hwy 89 for a zero and some grocery shopping for 6 days +/-
Mile 537.6 - Pick up some snacks n such at Mormon Lake Lodge, probably a meal
Mile 463 - Walk 1 mile off trail to Pine to buy food for 4 days or pickup a box, not sure
Mile 388 - Hitch 30 miles on Hwy 87 to Payson to buy groceries for 5 days
Mile 301.6 - Walk or hitch 2 miles East on Hwy 60 to Superior to buy for 5 days
Mile 200.8 - Hitch or walk 4 miles west on American Flag Rd to Oracle to buy food for 4 days
Mile 119.6 - Hitch or walk 5 miles on Colossal Cave Road to Vail - pick up a box at the post office for 3 days
Mile 52.8 - Walk into Patagonia, right on trail pick up a box at Mariposa Books and More for the last 3 days on trail

I like this resupply strategy since the hike is essentially book-ended by high quality boxed food, with the typical grocery store choices in the middle ~450 miles.  That means I won't get sick of either grocery store hiker food or boxed food, essential for the first leg of a year of backpacking.  It also means I need a maximum of 4 boxes for the whole trip, which won't take long to prepare.  The problem becomes maps - carrying 800 miles of paper maps kind of sucks - 45 pages in total - so 23 printed double sided.  It's not so much the weight or volume but the wear and tear and risk of loss.  That Brewery and Pub takes packages, so I may end up mailing 300 map miles there and including the last of them with my Vail box.

The next post will be navigation and how to get to/from the trail - stay tuned!