Sunday, September 23, 2012

Grand Valley and Lillian Lake

With the weather looking promising for the weekend, I took off for the Grand Valley in the Olympics with a buddy.  We got reservations for a couple of nights at Gladys Lake and planned to hike over to Lillian Lake on the day between those two nights.  I have seen Lillian from a distance a couple of times and knew that it was reachable, but had never headed that way before.  I was hopeful that we would be up to the challenge and be able to check off another location from my bucket list.

My buddy still has a real job and had to put in a few hours on Friday so we were late getting started, hitting the trail head at Obstruction Point about 3:30.  We discovered at the trail head that the two guys prepping next to us were heading for the same lake, and since it only had 4 spots and we needed suitable trees to hang from, the race was on.  Fortunately the old legs of our crew had more than enough life to win the race this time and had our pick of spots at Gladys Lake.

If you have never hiked Lillian Ridge from Obstruction Point I would highly recommend it.  The first couple of miles are pretty mellow and offer fantastic views of the Olympics, assuming the skies are clear.  Unfortunately on both the trip in and coming back out the sky was pretty hazy with smoke from the eastern Washington fires and visibility was limited.  At the end of the ridge walk the tail takes the express elevator down to the floor of the Grand Valley, dropping about 1400 feet in about a mile, so you need to be prepared for a serious return climb once you leave the ridge.

We scored a nice spot on Gladys overlooking the lake and the upper valley, including a great view of Low Pass, our entry point into the Lillian drainage.  We quickly setup camp, ate and cleaned up just in time for dark and bed.  Apart from a pesky deer and a visit from the ranger, the evening was quiet.  The night was a bit cold and breezy, but nestled in our down cocoons we was nice and toasty.

Saturday morning was in the low 40's with some wind, but it soon died down and the sun warmed us up.  We headed up the climb to Low Pass and took a look across the drainage to the Lillian Lake bowl, plus the long traverse over to it.  For the first half of the trip there was an intermittent trail with a few cairns over the talus fields.  But the last couple of miles were pretty much without any indication of a trail that we could see, other than a few game trails.

Apart from getting around the toe of a ridge about a mile into the journey, the going was fairly straightforward until crossing the runoff stream from Lillian Glacier, the low point of the trail.  The trail was steep and hard to find in places, but we generally felt like we knew where we were.

But about a half mile from the stream crossing we lost any semblance of a trail and were on our own.  The old trail description that I had found indicated that the valley floor was a big meadow and all we had to do was go down it until we found the outlet from Lillian Lake and then pick up the trail to the lake.  Unfortunately we did not find anything resembling a big meadow and ended up wandering through the trees along the valley wall for a while before dropping a bit and finding easier passage.  At some point we found muddy boot prints heading up for the lake and followed them until they disappeared.  We then just charged up hill and managed to come out into the bowl below the lake, hiked across it and then up to the lake itself.

Lillian Lake is a beautiful little lake nestled down in a shallow bowl with steep walls around about 1/3 of it, and snow right up to its edge in places.  It was well worth the 3.5 hour journey.  We took the opportunity to eat lunch and rest for a while before the time came to head back out.  As we were leaving we meet a trio who had crossed over after us and were planning to spend the night.

On the way out we followed the outlet creek down for a while, along an intermittent trail and then struck off along a traverse that brought us back to our original stream crossing.  One more shortcut put us back on our trail in and we followed it back to Low Pass and on to Gladys in about 2.5 hours, a big improvement from the outbound trip.

Once back to camp we took advantage of the sun and took a spit bath by the lake, because it was too cold to swim, and then lounged in the sun for the remainder of the day.  To bed at dark for another restful night hanging in the trees and then up this morning to 35 degrees and a return of the hazy conditions.  The trip out was uneventful and another wonderful weekend out in the creation was over.

This yearling and mom took a break half way up the hill to Lillian Ridge.  I knew the trip up was hard for people, but apparently we are not the only ones.

Moose Lake from the north end.

This guy had sentry duty on the trail by Gladys Lake.  

Lillian Lake

A smaller lake near Lillian.  This one still has quite a bit of snow on it.

Looking down from the Lillian Lake bowl, across to Low Pass.

Looking back to Lillian Lake from near Low Pass.  The lake is behind the clump of trees in the center of the bowl.

Gladys Lake from Low Pass.  We were camped in the trees just back of the bare spot above the  left half of the lake.

Low Pass as seen from our camp site on Gladys Lake as the sun is rising.  Beautiful setting.

The trail running along the top of Lillian Ridge back toward the trail head.  A hazy day obscures much of the distant  mountains

Friday, September 14, 2012

Sawyer Squeeze Filter: a Review

Over the years I have mostly used either iodine or Aquamira to treat water in the back country, mostly because they were lightweight and fairly easy to use.  But I was intrigued by the Sawyer Squeeze filter, mostly because of its weight, but also because  it appeared to be fairly simple to use.  So I bought one and have used it for over 500 miles this year.  The following is a review of the filter, along with some tips for using it.

The filter itself is fairly small, weighing in at 3 3/8 oz or 96 grams, is just a shade under 6" long (with the optional cap included) and a bit under 2" in diameter at its widest.  Sawyer claims that the filter removes anything larger than .1 micron, including 99.99999% of bacteria, including Salmonella, Cholera and E. Coli, and 99.9999% of protozoa, including Cryptosporidium and Giardia.  The filter does not remove viruses however.

Unfiltered water goes into one end of the filter, through the side walls of a bunch of micro-fibrous tubes into their center, and then out the other end of the filter as clean water.  A certain amount of pressure is required to do this, provided either by gravity, or by squeezing an attached bag of untreated water.  Either way will work, although the squeezing method will generally be faster.

The filter comes out of the box with 3 squeeze bags, one each of 16, 32 and 64 oz.  You can also use a regular soda bottle or other water bottles with compatible threads.  My Platypus bottle has the correct thread size, although apparently some do not, so you would want to check that before going out on the trail with one.  The Mylar bags that come with the filter are probably the lightest option and can be bought separately, so that is probably the best option.

The most general way to use the Squeeze is to fill a bag, attach it to the filter, aim the discharge into your water bottle, and then squeeze the bag; out comes clean water.  This operation is generally fairly simple and within a couple minutes of stopping you can be drinking fresh filtered water.  The biggest challenge I have encountered with this is getting the bag filled.  It you have dripping, or cascading, water this is not a problem.  But it can be difficult from a lake or smoothly flowing river or stream.  When you put the bag into the water to fill it, the water pressure outside the bag keeps it collapsed and very little water will go into the bag.  I resolved this by cutting the top off of a soda bottle and use it as a scoop to pour water into the bag.  This works especially well when the water source is shallow, especially with a lot of sediment.  It is easy to skim water from the surface without disturbing the stuff on the bottom.

I would caution against squeezing the bag too hard.  I have heard from lots of folks who manage to bust the seams of the bag, I suspect because they clamp down too hard.  I apply gentle pressure to the bag, neatly rolling it up as it empties.  This keeps the seams laying flat all the time, reducing the chance of them popping open.  It also makes it easier to get all of the water squeezed out of the bag.  With a filled 2 liter bag, I can fill both of my quart Gatorade bottles in just a couple of minutes.

But what happens if you do manage to bust open your squeeze bag?  You could always carry a spare bag.  But if you have a soda bottle top for a scoop like I do, you can screw the top onto the input side of the filter and then use it as a gravity filter.  My scoop is about 4 inches long and, so long as I keep it nearly full, will allow me to fill a quart Gatorade bottle in about 7 1/2 minutes.  That is slow, but easy, and does give you a fall back without having to carry an extra bag.

I have also, for long dry stretches, carried the squeeze bag full of water, and then filtered it as needed when my Gatorade bottles ran dry.  You need to be a bit careful when doing this, ensuring you have the cap on good and you don't unduly stress the bag, otherwise you might have a mess.  I carry the full bag in the outside mesh pocket of my ULA pack, cap up, and have had no problems with doing so.

When not in use, I carry the bag rolled up and tucked into the soda bottle scoop along with the filter.  I have taken the remainder of the soda bottle and notched it.  It then fits over the other side of the bag and filter with the bag cap sticking out the notch, offering additional protection for the bag while tucked into the outer mesh pocket of my pack.  And then the whole thing is stuffed into a gallon Ziploc bag, holding it all together.  The filter, a 2 liter bag, the cut-up 20 oz soda bottle and the gallon Ziploc bag weigh a total of 167 grams, or 5 7/8 ozs.

I really like this filter, especially once I figured out how to use it effectively.  I have had no problems with it this year and look forward to using it for years to come.  Keep it periodically back flushed, be gentle with it, and you should be happy with it as well.
For emergency use, the soda bottle scoop can be attached to the filter  input.  If the scoop is kept filled it will take about 7.5 minutes to fill the quart Gatorade bottle.

This is my filter kit: the filter, a 2 liter bag, a cut up soda bottle and a gallon zip lock bag.

The filter and bag go into the soda bottle with the bag cap sticking out of the  notch in the bottom of the soda bottle.

And then the whole thing nestles down into a gallon Ziploc.  

Friday, September 7, 2012

Trail Names

Names.  We all have several.  A first name, a last name, and usually a middle name or two.  Names are useful in providing identification, distinguishing us from other people.  I have only known one other person who has the same set of names that I do, and that was my dad.  But a problem with the names given us at birth is that they are not very descriptive.  The name Edwin says nothing about me.  Nor is it really all that unique.

Many people also have nicknames.  A nickname is an alternative name that a person might use, either because they don't care for their given name, because it is easier to say, or simply because they just like it.  It is also possible that you might have a nickname hung on you by others, usually because of something you have done or what you look like. In my life I have had two nicknames, one given me by the nurses in the maternity ward when I was born, because I was very chubby, and the other just a shortened version of my first name.

In the culture of the long distance hiker the idea of a nickname has evolved into the trail name; a name usually given by others, but sometime self adopted: SkinnyD, Love Bird, Ironman, Two Hats, Wired, Half Fast, Drop & Roll, Day Breaker, Silent Joe, Tequila Jack, Butter Cup, Calf, Birdie, Moon Shine, Stride, Barracuda, Sunshine, Trail Bait.  Many of these names trigger an image of something about the person with the name.  But other times the name is just a whimsical handle that a person uses when out on the trail.

Trail names have the added advantage of generally being unique, although you might occasionally run across the same name used by multiple people: Hawkeye being an example this year.  And they also provide a bit of anonymity, which may be important to some folks.  But best of all, at least to me, is that they are fun.  I have known about trail names for a few years now, but had no real experience with them until last year, my first to hike more than a single section of the PCT.  That year I hiked the northern 160 miles of Oregon, south bound.  I met a lot of north bound thru hikers and began asking many of them for their names, something that most seemed quite happy to provide.  It became a game for me during that 8 days to collect and record these names, and was one of my favorite parts of life on the trail.

But it was always a bit of a downer when they in turn would ask for mine and the only reply I could provide was Ed.  I wanted a cool trail name.  But no one is going to give a solo south bounder a trail name (we just don't spend enough time together), and I could not come up with one on my own that I liked.

The 400+ miles on the trail in 2012 were much the same.  I enjoyed talking to the north bounders I would meet, and collected many names.  But until midway through the trip I was just Ed.  And then it hit me.

When my kids were small we all fell in love with Winnie the Pooh.  We watched the adventured of Pooh Bear by the hour, never having to worry about the message that was being passed on to the little ones.  Over time we collected quite a number of VHS tapes of the adventures of Pooh Bear, that we did our best to wear out, as well as all the stuffed characters.  Everyone had their favorite character, and mine was Eeyore.  I do not know just why I related so closely to him (and maybe I am afraid to know), but I did.  And over the years I have been given at least a dozen Eeyore's, from Christmas ornaments to windup toys.  Most of the Pooh stuff is long put away, but there are still Eeyore's hanging around, with at least 4 of them watching as I write this.

And so, I became Eeyore on the trail, a name that my wife thought was perfect.  So, in the years to come, when you see an old, tall, lanky guy moseying down the trail toward you, with Eeyore perched high on a shoulder strap, you'll know who it is.  And if you're not in too big a hurry, take a quick break and give us a howdy.