Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Two Weeks and Counting

Two weeks from this morning we pack the car and head for Oregon, looking to spend the bulk of August hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).  I have been looking forward to this hike for quite some time, but suddenly it's nearly upon me.  Lots to do yet, but its nearly time to turn the preparation into an actual hike.

Darker red lines are this years route.
This years hike will actually be two distinct experiences.  The first will cover the southern 2/3's of Oregon, from McKenzie Pass to Seiad Valley in California. This part of the trip will be about 320 miles and entail 17 days of hiking with a day off in the middle at Crater Lake.  I will be hiking solo through this section with my lovely and gracious wife meeting me every 3-4 days for resupply.  She will also hike out to meet me from the resupply locations, allowing her to experience parts of the PCT without having to carry more than a day pack or spend the night with the bears.  We have all the resupply points and dates identified, but she may also join me wherever a paved road intersects the trail.

The second part of the hike will shift back to Washington, heading south from Rainy Pass to Stevens Pass, about 120 miles.  I will have a friend along on this 6 day segment with no support along the way.  The wives will drop us off and then party until its time to pick us up at the other end.  This will be the most challenging segment of the trail for me this year, being both longer and considerably more rugged than the Oregon segment.  But by the time I am done with Oregon I should be in tiptop share, if not broken down.

The gear for this year is pretty much dialed in and ready to go.  Just need to stuff it all into the bag and head out.  I have been assured that there are opportunities to hang the hammock over the whole distance, assuming I am willing to look a few miles along the trail for an adequate pair of trees.

The stove is being left behind this year but I am still working on the menu.  I thought I was about ready with cold dinners until someone suggested I might not really have any weight savings with what I was using.  I am still refining my dinners, but have discovered the joys of dehydrating food in the oven, as well as finding a source for some other dried foods, particularly beans and corn.  I should be able to put together a number of different types of 'burrito' type dinners using dried chicken and deli meats as well as shredded beef or turkey jerky.  Add in some dried refried beans (pinto or black), freeze dried corn, minute rice (white or brown) and a variety of spice combinations, wrap in a large flour tortilla, and I have a tasty dinner, even when cold.  And the weight is no greater than the freeze dried meals I was taking.

It looks like at least the Oregon stretch will be hot and dry so I can shed a bit of weight by not taking the cold weather clothes.  But for some stretches I will have to carry additional water.  The Washington section will likely be cooler, but I have no forecast for that far out.  I'll pack some warmer clothes to have in the car should the weather surprise me, but hopefully I won't have to carry any of that.

The Oregon section of this trip will be very much like 5 back-to-back multi-day trips.  One of the challenges in preparation for this is to be sure I have all of the resupply stuff I need packed into the car before taking off.  If all goes well, I should be able to just swap food bags, replenish consumables, and charge batteries every few nights, and then hit the trail early the next morning.  How well this will work for me still remains to be seen.

I am somewhat concerned about my left calf.  It feels good now, but was hurting by the time I finished my last hike from the Dosewallips river over to the Quinault river, and for several days after; the results of a strained muscle.  But I cancelled my last prep hikes and quit running in order to give it as much time to rest as possible.

Fires are another concern for me.  Last year there ended up being 3 fires on the section I hiked, including one that I was nearly caught in.  It seems hotter and dryer this year, with twice the distance, so fires are a real possibility.  Will just have to handle that as it comes.

Another interesting part of the preparations for this hike is getting the wife ready to car camp and day hike out of the Prius.  She is eager to be a part of this, but has little camping experience, especially solo.  So we are working on getting her equipped to be able to spend at least a few nights in camp grounds along the way, in addition to the nights with me.  Other nights she will find a hotel for the evening as well as explore whatever is in the general area that I am hiking through.  I am very fortunate that she loves to explore and is comfortable with doing it by herself.

My son is taking care of the house; the wife's sister is taking their mother; and the shopping is just about done.  All that's left is to get organized; fix a few meals; pack up; and wait for the calendar to get to the right day.  Only 324 more hours!  But who's counting!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Going Stoveless

One of the constants in my Backpacking experience, up until recently, has been the use of a stove, whether it be a white gas or canister stove.  Hot meals and drinks were just something I did.  The funny thing about this is that I do not drink hot drinks at home, nor did I often have hot breakfasts.  But for some reason it just seemed like the thing to do when out on the trail.  Over the last 2-3 years I have slowly quit taking the hot chocolate and oatmeal along, opting instead for just water, sometimes with noon added and a bar for breakfast.  This simplified meal preparation somewhat, and reduced the use of the stove to a single boil each evening to heat water for dinner.

Late last season (I generally only backpack in the warmer half of the year) I started thinking about dropping the stove altogether.  It seemed like if I could shift over to cold dinners that I would be able to drop the 17 ounces of a JetBoil Sol and fuel canister.  I had read about a number of people who had done just that, going stoveless for extended periods.  The biggest problem for me though is that I am somewhat of a picky eater.  I would read about what these folks ate instead of a hot dinner, but I could not imagine myself doing the same.  I might carry it, and eat it if I got hungry enough, but I know that I would not eat enough to stay energized for a long trip.  The food really needed to be appealing to my taste, or at least not too objectionable.

To add to that, I have yet to find a 'bar', or combination of bars, that I was willing to eat for very long.  Seems like I was always bringing a significant number of them back home with me.  So as I prepared for getting back onto the PCT this year I had three goals food wise.  Eliminate the stove.  Eliminate at least the lion's share of Clif Bars, Power Bars, Meal Replacement Bars, Luna bars, etc.  And find food that is lightweight, tasty, and nutritious.

Breakfast was fairly easy.  I like instant breakfast OK; just needed to find some milk to go along with it.  Most of the powered milk I could find was low fat, but I really wanted whole milk.  And I finally stumbled onto Nido at Walmart and it is pretty good and easy to make.  I can prepare a sandwich Ziploc with 1/2 cup of Nido and 2 packages of instant breakfast.  Then at breakfast I pour that mix into one of my half full, quart sized, Gatorade bottles, sake a few seconds and start drinking as I go about packing up for the day.  My one bar of the day gets eaten here as well.  Nature Valley makes some crunchy granola bars that go down really well with Instant Breakfast, and give me some crunch with the meal.  Cleanup is as simple as adding a bit of water to the bottle, slosh, and drink.

I am not very good about stopping for breaks, so I am scheduling 2 lunches a day where I will drop the pack, kick of the shoes and eat for a few minutes.  Lunch #1 is late morning and will either be PB&J on a small tortilla, or Spam, mayo and relish on a small tortilla.  Individual Spam packets and tortillias are available from most grocery stores.  I have found individual servings for the PB&J, mayo and relish at Minimus.  This is quick and easy with only a few wrappers for cleanup, all of which will go into the breakfast  Ziploc.  The whole stop only takes about 15 minutes and my feet and belly are both happy for a while.

Lunch #2 will be in the early to mid afternoon and will consist of some dried meat sticks (Bavarian Landjaeger), Babybel cheese and Wheat Thins.  The cheese seems to last well out of the fridge and comes in several flavors.  There is a wax liner that is discarded afterwards, but it is sure good eating out on the trail.  Again, the break is short, but well worth it.  These two lunches can easily be reversed, but both are planned for and needed.

Dinner has been the most challenging meal so far.  My initial foray has been to make tortilla sandwiches using the foil packages of tuna, salmon and chicken.  They work well, although require a lot of mayo, especially the chicken, to moisten them up.  But those packets of meat, especially the chicken are heavy.

I am exploring some alternatives now, having found a source for dried pinto bean flakes.  They reconstitute quickly and are ready to eat in just a few minutes.  Rice also hydrates fairly quickly in cold water, about 20 minutes.  One part rice, 2 parts beans, 1 part diced jerky, some burrito or taco seasoning and dried onions go into a Ziploc bag.  20 minutes before serving add 2 parts of water.  pour out onto a tortilla and viola!  Good eating.  And while it takes some additional preparation, it is as light as a freeze dried meal but without cooking.

I generally wear a belly bag when hiking with the main pocket full of food: nuts, dried fruit, homemade granola, and candy.  All of those things I can eat while walking the trail without hardly breaking stride.  Each of these are in their own little bag and I try to alternate through the bags all during the day.  Because they are tasty and easy to get to, they usually get eaten well and help keep the energy level up during the day.  They also have a tendency to make me thirsty, which forces me to drink more, which is a good thing.

And what's the end of a day without some kind of dessert?  Adding 3 or 4 cookies to the mix allows me to satisfy the sweet tooth as well as adding some additional calories at the end of the day.

I am a bit compulsive about the packaging for all my food.  Each day goes into a gallon Ziploc bag.  Each days snacks go into snack sized Ziploc bags as well.  It makes it easy for me to keep an eye on how much I am eating.  At the end of the day everything in the gallon bag for the day should be gone, or at least nearly so.  And I don't have to worry about eating up the cookies or cheese to early and having none for the end of the trip.

So there you have it.  No stove, and only a single bar a day, and that washed down with my Instant Breakfast.  I do not know how many calories I get each day with this, but so far it has been plenty.  And I am carrying just over 2 pounds of food per day, and maybe a bit less with the burrito instead of packaged meat sandwiches for dinner.

I should note that this is really for a hike with moderate temperatures.  If I was expecting cold temps I think I would still be using a stove and would likely keep the hot chocolate and oatmeal.  And the weight savings is not really all that great if all you do is replace the stove and freeze dried dinners with packages of chicken and tuna, although the burrito mix helps some.  It does seems simpler so far though.

I would be very interested in any insights that you might have or alternatives to the menu.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Crossing the Olympics: Dose to Enchanted Valley

With the weather forecast looking promising, and the need to keep out in the woods for a while, it seemed like it was finally time to head back out in the 'the park' (the Olympics that is).  I was wanting to be able to walk for several days, in preparation for my August PCT trip, so that generally means I am going to have to cross a pass or two.  I decided to go over Anderson Pass on this trip, mostly because it has been over 25 years since I have been up into it, or been in the Enchanted Valley.

Wednesday morning my wife and mother-in-law dropped me off at the road washout on the Dosewallips road and I headed out.  The 5.5 mile road walk is looking less and less like a road all the time as the forest is reclaiming all but a narrow strip through much of its length.  I used to really wish they would get the road fixed, but now I think of it more as just an extension of the trail.  The trip up to Diamond Meadows was fairly uneventful and only saw 2 parties of 2 each on the trail during the day.  Plus 6 more coming down past Diamond Meadows as I was setting up camp.  One of the earlier groups had come through Anderson Pass and I got some good info from them.  The 6 had come through LaCrosse Pass and were pretty heavily loaded.  I heard later that there were actually 12 of them but I missed the other half.

All ready to go from the Dosewallips trail head.

Rabbit stew anyone?

The mighty Banana slug.  Saw quite a few of these monarchs of the forest floor.

A colorful spot along the road walk.

This is a part of the area that burned about 3 years ago.  It is coming back nicely.

I wonder if the NPS would consider renting out this little summer cottage?  It seems not to be used for anything else since the road washed out.

The high bridge across the Dose.  As far as I know this is the highest bridge in the park.  You can feel it moving as you walk across it, although not as much as its predecessor.

The view looking down from the high bridge.  Looks like 100 feet or so.  Makes you really thankful for the handrails.

The Diamond Meadows campground.  This big open area can handle  several groups with  room for another at the edge of the meadow, several more on the hill to the right and a few more in a spot just up the trail.  Could probably easily accommodate 8-10 parties, complete with a privy and 2 bear wires.

Thursday morning I left camp about 7 and headed up stream.  The crossing of the Dosewallips required you to pick out a route across a jumble of logs, none of which appeared to go all the way across.  I believe it took me three logs to make it.  Patchy snow started just past the crossing, although only one large patch on a steep slope presented any real obstacle.

There are multiple braids in the Dose here and it takes several logs to get from one bank to the next.  

Just below Honeymoon Meadows there was a very large blow down, probably 100 yards long.  I had to take the pack off for part of this and pass it under logs and then either crawl after it or find a way around or over; quite a mess. 

The trail goes right through the middle of this mess, for the next 100 yards or so.  It is on a steep slope so it is hard to go around, leaving over or under.

I love Avalanche lilies.  Hit the first patch of them just above the big blow down.

I didn't like the looks of any of the logs across the Dose at Honeymoon Meadows so I ended up fording there, up to mid-thigh in one place, but not too bad.  The lower meadow was mostly snow free, but the snow started in the upper meadow and continued most of the way up and over.  The only real exception was a series of switchbacks in the woods; they were clear enough that I could mostly follow the trail.  

Honeymoon Meadows just after fording the Dose.  Looks good here, but just over the small rise in the middle of the picture, the snow starts.
I am not the most proficient navigator in snow country so I had Backcountry Navigator on my phone to help me out.  About every 10-15 minutes I would pull it out to check my position relative to the trail.  About half the time I was right on and the other half I was a bit above the trail.  I eventually made it up into the pass, a real sense of accomplishment.

The view from Camp Siberia

Anderson Pass; finally!

Heading down the other side was a real adventure as well.  I was probably half way down before I saw any evidence of a trail.  I ended up just cutting down the steep slope in the general direction of the trail until I came out into the clear and started finding periodic sections of trail.  

Toward the bottom of the pass was the debris field from a large avalanche, probably 1/4 mile across and 1/2 mile long.  The trees looked like pick up sticks just tossed all over.  Quite fun crossing that mess.  Once past that the snow diminished enough that the travel became easier, and by the time I hit the O'Neil Pass trail the snow has mostly disappeared.

I had not remembered all the waterfalls falling into the Enchanted Valley.  While there were not any I saw with massive amounts of water, they were falling many hundreds of feet, and pretty frequently.  I could see about 8 of them from my campsite alone.  I did manage to see a couple of bears just above the camping area and a couple of deer that wandered through the next morning.  Also experienced my first mosquitoes of the season, although not to terrible.

One of the waterfalls in the upper valley.

Caught this picture just as he put his head back down to graze.  Good sized bear just about 50 feet of the trail.  More interested in eating than in posing for a better picture.

Not sure just exactly what he was eating, but it must have been good.  He was slowly mowing his way across the meadow.

Some of the waterfalls across the river from my camp at Enchanted Valley.  None of them had a large flow, but there were lots of them.  This is 3 of the 8 I could see across the way.

The Chalet / Ranger Station 

I have grown fascinated with the world of mushrooms.  These were growing out of the cut end of an old log by my camp.  There were just about fingernail sized.

Are you looking at me?

There were 4-5 other camp sites occupied that night, and one of them beat me out in the morning although I never saw them.  The most amazing thing to me on the trip out was the number of people coming up the trail.  I do not believe I had ever encountered so many people in the back country before.  In the first 6.5 miles I encountered 3 day hikers and at least 3 dozen backpackers heading for the Valley.  One group of 10 and another of 8 were both planning on going over Anderson Pass the next day so I talked with them for a while.  I suspect I encountered nearly 100 people on the trail before I got to the trail head and pickup point.  It was really crazy, especially from the Pony Bridge out.

A very interesting bridge across the Quinault just below the Valley.  No passing allowed.

What looks like abstract art is just what is left of an old tree.  The rest of it has rotted away.

The base of a fallen Red Cedar.  The base is nearly 30 feet across.  The trail  zigs around  it here.

There were a few places along the East Fork of the Quinault that looked almost manicured.; like walking in  a county park.

One of a small stand of big old Red Cedar's.  This one appears to have a diameter of 8-10 feet.

If you look closely you will see an elk print with a deer print on top of it.

If you blow this picture up, you will be amazed at the number and types of bugs pollinating this Cow Parsnip.  They were just swarming over it.

Looking back up the gorge under the Pony Bridge.  The bridge is hard to see here, but it is at the center and toward the top of the picture.

The Dosewallips trail end is just over 34 miles away.  It appears like the road above the washout is now considered a part of the Dosewallips trail.

All in all a very good trip, although I did fight with a pulled calf muscle for the last day and a quarter.  Backcountry Navigator worked well until I changed the battery on the phone to start the third day; it was lost after that.  Fortunately I didn't need it for navigating the trail out of the Valley.  SPOT tracked along OK, although the heavier tree cover down low blocks it a lot.  Going stoveless is getting easier, finding a better variety for dinner.  All of the rest of the gear seems to be working pretty well so I think I am about ready for a much longer trip.

If you are looking to head out over Anderson Pass it should be easily doable now, so long as you can handle the navigation issues.  I made it with trail runners, micro-spikes and trekking poles.