Tag: hiking

Ultralight Hiking Article Rebuttal

Ultralight Hiking – what does that even mean?

In a [social] Group there was a link to an article about Ultralight Hiking [link removed] and after attempting to read it, I was dumbfounded. I need to step aside here for the next few comments, then I’ll get back on the topic of ultralight hiking in response to this article.

Ultralight Hiking Pack recommendations from the article
Ultralight Hiking Pack recommendations from the article

Ultralight Hiking Backpack Weight Recommendations

This is the type of information we get in this article. I’m contemplating a total newbie first time ever hiker at 180 pounds loping along the trail with a 36 pound backpack. On a day hike. And imagine the expert toting along a 65 pound backpack. Wow. As the spinner generated text so aptly states “The mind really boggles when you start researching the topic.” Here’s a real quote though, and one that addresses the whole ultralight hiking mentality.

“it is easy to get into the trap of opting to save a pound or two in weight”

And that sums it up nicely. If you’re intelligently boggling your mind by researching the topic of ultralight hiking, you’ll start tossing weight right and left until you’re trimmed down to your own minimum weight. That is what it’s all about.

When working on my Couch to Colorado 14er Training Program I recommended a maximum weight of 12 or so pounds for a day hike on one of these huge and popular mountains. That’s not even ultralight hiking weight either. That allows for a lot of extras that you could easily do without. It’s just that as a “couch to…” book it’s designed for newbies, who don’t know what is most important for their own hiking needs. Once you’ve been hiking for a long time you get a pretty good idea on what is essential or not.

Ultralight Hiking action shot
Ultralight Hiking action shot

What’s in my ultralight hiking pack?

When I do a hike up Quandary, a Colorado 14er near Breckenridge, I used to carry a lot more. Now I’m down to this simple 3 pound pack setup.

  • Ultimate Direction SJ Pack: 8.2 oz
  • Snacks and TP: 5.2 oz
  • Gloves, Hat, Bandanna: 3.7 oz
  • TNF Flashdry Vest: 6.5 oz
  • TNF BTN Hoodie: 5.3 oz
  • 3/4 Full Water Bottle: 19.4 oz
  • Total: 48.3 oz or 3.02 lb
Ultralight Hiking Daypack with gear spread out
Ultralight Hiking Daypack with gear spread out

Even my winter hikes here are with a very similar pack. I might carry a hooded down jacket instead of the vest, and I might carry two water bottles, but add in the two of those together and I’m only up to 5 pounds.  Going that light I don’t have a lot of margin for error, so if something goes wrong I’ll have to be prepared to suffer a little bit. I’m intimately familiar with the trails so I don’t have to worry about route finding or being lost. This kit is good for me in a temperature range from about 15-50 F. I can’t make a general recommendation as to whether this would work for you or not. If you feel inclined to try your hand at ultralight hiking then please experiment gently on known familiar terrain and work your way down slowly.

Read about Ultra Running Gear Requirements HERE

Ultralight Hiking Pack Video:

Here’s a video I made showing the above items packed in my pack as I pull them out so you can see how they all fit. Keep in mind that this is actually what I do take on my Colorado 14er hikes, even those of 10 or more miles, like Grays from Bakersville or the Grizzly Gulch Fork.

Obviously this is a minimum to carry and I don’t recommend it to anyone of any level of sanity or lack thereof. Remember that Ultralight Hiking can be quite dangerous and you MUST start off slow and take proper precautions for safety and any emergency equipment or gear. Do not rely on cellphone service and rescue crews. You are always on your own.

Colorado 14ers in January – Quandary

Of all the Colorado 14ers it seems like Quandary is my favorite. It’s only a few minutes away from Breckenridge, and has an excellent year-round parking area with plenty of room. I think it’s my favorite just because I’ve done it a lot more than any other of the Colorado 14ers. I’ve been to the top now at least 15 times over the years, and in every month except January. Last month I did it, and that was my first time in December. Today I set off to get January done.

Quandary Trailhead Colorado 14ers
Trailhead for Quandary, one of the Colorado 14ers

The weather forecast showed that it would be in the high teens at the summit with 20mph winds. I almost assumed it would be true and and dressed for 15 and took a small water bottle bag. Knowing Colorado 14ers weather as I’ve experienced it in the past I decided to take a small pack. I packed a TNF Better Than Naked hoodie (wind shirt), a Mont Bell thin puffy jacket, a Buff and my REI Lobster Cycling Mitts. I figured that would do. I packed a few gel packets in my pants pockets and headed out the door.

Tree line on Quandary, one of the Colorado 14ers
Where the trees thin out by the bridge

At the parking area I switched to my Salomon Spikecross 3 CS Trail Running Shoe (CS is for ClimaShield waterproof fabric). I don’t wear these in the house or car if I can help it. So I switch at the parking area. The new parking area at Quandary is great and helps make this one of my favorite winter Colorado 14ers, with a very easy short approach. I hiked up behind the parking area, heeding the “no trespassing” signs and got onto the road to the trail head. A couple was in the parking area skinning up, but I couldn’t imagine what for, since there’s not a lot of snow.

Colorado 14ers have some great views
View looking toward Breckenridge CO

On the trail I made great time to the sign below the restoration area where the Winter trail heads up the hill and the Summer trail heads toward the bridge. Quite a bit of restoration and trail maintenance work has been done on the Colorado 14ers in recent years. Please remember the Leave No Trace principle “Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces”. Bottomless snow qualifies. I headed up the hill and was pleasantly surprised to find a narrow strip of well packed snow so I didn’t sink too much. Too much. At about 12,400′ I looked around at building clouds and an obvious whirlwind blowing down the ridge from the summit, which was shrouded in dense dark clouds.

Be alert for weather on Colorado 14ers
Whirlwind blowing down the ridge from the summit

I stopped at 13,000′ to put on my wind jacket, and again at 13,300′ to put on my puffy and buff and switch gloves. Going over the bump on the ridge to the flat before the final steep push to the summit the temperature seemed to drop by about 20 degrees and the wind picked up quite a bit. Weather can be fickle on the Colorado 14ers. I had passed a few people on the way up, both above and below treeline. Now I was passing people coming down who said that the top was even worse than here. I trudged on up. My fingers were getting a bit cold and my forehead between my glasses and hat was cold. Everything else was pretty good.

Summit of Quandary one of the Colorado 14ers
Quandary Summit stick. No view from the top today.

Summit of Quandary, one of the Colorado 14ers, in January

Finally, I topped out in hard, steady, biting winds. I got a few quick pictures and took off for the warmer lower elevations. The summits of Colorado 14ers can be deadly cold in the Winter. No real view today with the summit shrouded in dense clouds at the moment. I wasn’t going to hang out to see if it cleared either. Everything up here was coated in thick wind-blown crystals on the lee side (North-ish today). I got a picture of it on the rocks, but the summit pole was even more thickly coated.

Summit Ice formations on Colorado 14ers
Rime Ice formed on everything on the summit

I moved as quick as I could on the descent. My shoes were awesome on the ascent, but the spikes are fairly tiny and a little more slippage on the descent. So I had to be quite careful in spots. For most people I would be very cautious about recommending spiked running shoes for a Winter Colorado 14ers ascent. As I got lower it seemed like suddenly it got warmer and less wind at about 13,200′. I looked around and the layer of cloud was hovering above and behind me. I was out of it. The rest of the way down was pretty uneventful. I stopped by the restoration area and stripped down to my thinner lighter clothes. There was one spot where the other people both ascending and descending couldn’t figure out what path to take, and all were pretty soft sun melted snow so I stepped carefully.

Be wary of weather on the Colorado 14ers and prepare to bail if needed
Looking back at the cloud over my shoulder on the descent

Down in the trees there were bare spots in the trail I didn’t remember on the way up. I was moving pretty quickly, but still if they were there before I should have remembered them. I suppose the sun down here was quite a bit warmer. I got to the car, changed my shoes, and headed into Breck. It was an awesome day, and I achieved a goal – in November I discovered that I hadn’t done Quandary in December or January. Now I have that out of the way. Do I have another goal for the Colorado 14ers? Time will tell …

Elbrus 2012 Pastukhova Rocks Hike Video

I hiked to Pastukhova Rocks on Elbrus, a volcano in the Caucasus of Russia, and one of the Seven Summits. On Thursday September 6 I took a taxi to Azau, where the tram and gondola bottom stations are.

I took my billet or pass as we Americans prefer, and waved it at the scanner and the gate beeped ajar and I passed through. Having skied a number of times I booked it to the next open gondola door and jumped in. I scared the attendants and you didn’t need to know Russian to know what they yelled. Like a punk snowboarder I smiled and waved as I scooted aboard and sat. — Elbrus, My Waterloo – publishing October 2012

I barely made my goal time, in spite of the chairlift between the top tram station and the Barrels Huts being off that day. This was an important acclimatization hike to 15,300′, about halfway in elevation gain and miles from the Barrels to the Summit of Elbrus. The snow conditions were awful, terrible, hard frozen slush and gravel dusted packed snow…

…with running water over ice. The trail angled just to the left at Pastukhova Rocks, which seemed quite bare this fall. I had set a goal of hitting the Rocks at 1:00 PM, and I made 1:06. Amazing, 2:13 from the Barrels, but I was beat and empty. — Elbrus, My Waterloo – publishing October 2012

I hit the Rocks and made a hasty retreat to the gondola station to make the last car down. I did not want to walk that 4,000′ in the dark on top of the 4,000′ I already did that day. In the middle of all that I got a chance to shoot a few seconds of video here and there and spliced it all together.

Here is my Elbrus acclimatization hike video

Horseshoe Basin Training Hike

I am currently in training for my Aconcagua trip in December, part of which will be via fast hiking on rough terrain at altitude. I selected Horseshoe Basin, a fork of the Peru Creek Road between Keystone and Montezuma Colorado. The entire 15 mile semi-loop I hiked ascends from 10,100′ to over 13,000′ and returns by mostly the same route. I managed to hike the entire 15 miles in less than six hours, with about 2 miles in the middle (7 to 9 mile points) being on rugged technical terrain, which wasn’t great in the running shoes I was wearing, and went very slow – like 1 mph.

I was trying to run with poles, which I’ve done before, but never for this prolonged a time. The trail ends at Gray’s Lake, below Gray’s Peak, a Colorado 14’er (14,270′). I did the off-trail rocky traverse to an ill-defined ridgeline trail, and turned around at 3:09, approximately my turnaround target time. Descending on the stacked boulders/talus was fairly sketchy in my Hoka One One Stinson Evo, though they are really a lot more stable than the Bondi.

Once down to the road I picked up speed again, though I was fairly beat by the rocky section and couldn’t get my speed back up for very long. I finished my water (about 3.6 liters) and my gu packs about a half hour from the car, so perfect timing on that. Hikes like this are a great way to figure out your own needs in a relatively safe environment.

I have a Google Earth Embedded in my old blog – See it Here

It was a great day out in beautiful scenery, including rocky slopes, ice-covered ponds, snow-melt fed lakes, and a few rabbits. Excellent training for any mountaineering adventure.


Late Update: I’m including this in my Elbrus Race 2012 training group.

Half Dome Ascent via Cables Route

A friend (and fellow Goal Zero athlete) Steve Schrag had some permits to do the Cables Route of Half Dome on June 9 2012, and had asked if anyone wanted to go up with him. I happened to have that day off from other scheduled things, and was in a recovery week from my Steamboat Springs Half Marathon run, with some “miles” available, so I asked to go with.

I flew into Fresno and met him and his family at the curb, and we drove to Curry Village where we stayed in a tent cabin Friday night. Early Saturday we hit the trail and walked from the tents to the trailhead, about a mile. We selected the Mist Trail option, since that was shorter and maybe a bit more scenic. We stopped to filter water and top off our bottles, then proceeded to the cables.

The cables were steep, but especially with the boards every 5 feet or so, quite manageable, and we hit the top in a respectable time of 4:15. I have my Google Maps off my Polar RS800CX above, and since Google has basically banned non-blogger blogs from showing the Earth Plugin, I have the Google Earth version on my old blog at blogger.

We hung out at the top for about a half hour, then went down the cables and reversed the route, including the now extremely scenic, though congested, Mist Trail. We managed to get down to the bus stop in 3:15 in spite of the crowds, with a little bit of running in the last mile, and rode the shuttle to the Village Store, where we hooked up with Steve’s family. They had spent a relaxing day as tourists. We detoured to the Glacier Point overlook, for some great views overlooking most of the route we’d hiked just hours before.

They dropped me off at my airport hotel, and I checked in for a soak in a hot tub, and good, though short, night sleep. I flew out the next day for Denver, so I could spend a couple days recovering in Summit County. I loved the trip to Half Dome, and the exquisite beauty of Yosemite, and wonder what I could do with a year of training and preparation and maybe the assistance of one of my rope-gun friends?

Late Update: I’m including this in Elbrus Race 2012 since my performance here was instrumental in my decision to pursue working up the logistics and training for that goal.

Stuffing a Backpack – Solo Overnight on Snow

I was going on an overnight on Mount Timpanogos and had originally planned on following snow to the top (read the story at the link on this blog). I think hiking and camping solo is an excellent way to work out kinks in your gear and camping skills.

You can learn a lot about how to pack your bag on an expedition by packing your pack a lot, and watching others with some experience do it. Here’s how I packed for my Timp overnight. I laid out all the things I thought I’d need. I’m going light and want to cover a lot of ground quickly. I checked the weather, and estimated I’d be camping at about 9,000′ where the forecast was for an overnight low of about 20 degrees F.

My Gear List:

I opted for a 30 degree ultralight down bag by Stoic. It has a half-zipper for weight saving, and it works okay for me. I also have an ultralight Montbell thin inflatable half-size pad. I’ll be using my backpack under my legs for insulation. I’ve also wrapped my lower legs in my puffy if it got colder, like on Liberty Ridge on Rainier, where I took a 15 degree bag and this same pad.

I have a Thermarest Sitpad (small inflatable seat) which I use for my knees and butt while cooking or building my tent, and for under my head as a pillow at night. Because I plan on hiking in Spring snow, I might get a bit wetter than the backpack will protect from, I am taking a silicone-nylon stuff sack for my sleeping bag, which is down and while it has a Pertex shell, it shouldn’t get wet if I can help it.

I have a Montbell hooded puffy jacket (really like it), a Patagonia fleece, and Mountain Hardwear Super Hero zip hoodie that I wear as a medium baselayer. My tent is a one person single wall three season Sierra Designs Baku. They don’t make it anymore, but it’s a decent tent for the weight and easy to set up. It will stand without staking, but it’s almost always better to, if you can. I have a couple different pair of gloves (to allow for wetness and coldness), headlamp, ice tools, GoalZero Guide10 and Luna, freeze dried food, a disposable microwave container with a couple packs of oatmeal and hot chocolate, my Jetboil, cameras, and Kitty (long story).


Packing the Backpack:

First of all, start with an empty backpack. Since my sleeping pad folds up so small, I put it into the hydration sleeve, against my back, which also protects it from puncturing somewhat. Then stick the tent poles and stakes in the bottom corners near your back. In general, try to keep the more dense items near your back, working up to the heavier items up top. I kept them in their little silicone nylon stuff bags, since they’re almost weightless, and keep sharp items from poking things they shouldn’t.

Stick the silicone nylon stuff sack in, open, and feed the sleeping bag into it. I had folded the sleeping bag into itself like like those collapsible kitchen measuring cups, just to make it feed in faster. Some people prefer pushing it in hand over hand until it’s all in the sack. Then I folded the sack down and pressed till it was wadded up in the bottom.

Next put the Jetboil in sideways against the back panel, and wad the tent in filling any empty spaces till level. Put the freezedried meal in pointing into an empty space, and wedge it in. The idea is to fill any empty space up. Put your water bottles in now, in the center, facing up. Some people prefer them on the outside edges, but I think if you have to do any vertical work at all, it can swing and put you off balance. Since I did have to ascend about 20′ of Class 4 cliff, I was happy not to have my pack flailing about.

I put my windbreaker in along the side, filling up around the water bottles, then my container of oatmeal in facing the outside. I wiggled it all round to fill up space and make it ride more stable. I anticipated needing my base and fleece layers before my puffy, so I put my puffy jacket in next wadding it up around the water bottles and pushing it down to fill space. Then the fleece and base layers. Before I push everything in tight, I put my ice axe and ice tool on the outside of the pack in the sleeves provided.

Snacks, Electronics and Crampons:

Finally, I put my snacks in a gallon ziplock bag and put that on top, and cinched the strap closed. I put my gloves, hats and electronics (including the SteriPEN Adventurer Opti Handheld UV Water Purifier) in the top pocket, and closed it. All done and ready to go. In my pants pockets I kept a hammer gel packet, a shot block packet, and my camera. In the waist belt pocket I put my cellphone and music player. I wasn’t sure if I’d have reception (I did when I stood in one spot near the tent), so I keep it off while hiking to save battery from hunting for a tower, and turn it on when I want to check.

I had a GoalZero battery pack for charging my electronics, which in this case was my Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS Receiver With Heart Rate Monitor. I like to use it to see how long and how fast and how far I’ve been hiking, as well as my altitude, since I had goals for each of those. The battery is good for about 10 hours, and if I had gone for the summit on day two, I would have needed to have it full that morning, so I did set it to charge overnight.

Anyway, just my take on packing for a solo overnight when you will climb and camp on snow. The only thing missing from this is the clothes I wore, and my crampons, which I stuck on top under the top flap just before loading into the car. Pays not to have pointy things on top too long imho.