Naoshima Art Island

Ah, woke up early--another wonderful full night sleep.

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The big 3: then vs now

One of the fun things about my upcoming PCT adventure is shopping for new gear--it's pretty much all I did in December, scrounging through websites looking for clearance deals, comparing gear and people's reviews, scanning blog posts and forums for what worked for people on months long backpacking trips.

My old kit is all at least 15 years old, early to mid 1990's technology. Today I got the itch to weigh "the big 4" and see how much weight I've dropped: backpack, tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad. I can't find the sleeping pad, so I'll just make it "the big 3".


Then: North Face Inca Trail, 4.8 pounds

Now: ULA Catalyst, 2.81 pounds

The old purple North Face backpack was purchased many years ago--I'd say sometime in 1988 or 1989, I have a picture of me the last time I climbed Mt Whitney, with some old Air Force buddies, so it's definitely that vintage. It was the newest thing at the time--internal frame with two side pockets for canteens, open cell foam padding for ventilation, an adjustable torso, and 70 liters. And it weighs in at 2185 grams/77 ounces. That's 4.8 pounds.

New backpack is a lightweight ULA Catalyst, size medium. It's also an internal frame, with two hydration holes and a hydration sleeve. It's a bit larger than my old pack, at 75 liters. And it's 1277 grams/45 ounces/2.81 pounds.

Total savings from changing out my pack: 2 pounds.


Then: Sierra Designs Meteor Lite CD, 9.28 pounds packed

Now: Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1, 1.98 pounds packed

Old tent was big and a bit heavier, but it was marketed as "lightweight" back in the day, with a mesh ceiling even. It was in no way lightweight--the tent bag itself weighs in at 2.6 ounces alone, and the fly is 38 ounces. All together, this two man tent weighs at 4211 grams/148.5 ounces/9.28 pounds. It's obvious that it needed a replacement, and I went to the other extreme, the lightest weight one-man tent I could find.

I chose a Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 tent, because I wanted sometime mostly free-standing and wanted to drop a lot of weight. It was mentioned frequently in PCT forums and blogs and gear lists, along with the BA Copper Spur tents, but those are still a bit heavier yet a bit more free-standing. As I pack it, it comes to 1.98 pounds, including the ground cloth, and putting the tent/fly/ground cloth in one bag and the poles and stakes in the other.

Total savings from tent: 7.3 pounds

Sleeping Bag

Then: Marmot Sawtooth 15 synthetic, 2.86 pounds

Now: ZPacks 20 degree down, wide long, 1.26 pounds

That old Marmot bag is synthetic, because I was fearful of down getting wet. I'm not that fearful anymore; I can avoid the wet. So I replaced it, and custom-ordered a Zpacks bag. It worked great up in the snow a few weeks ago, and I'm happy.

Total savings from sleeping bag: 1.6 pounds

Adding it all up

Doing the math, just by changing out the big three items I've been able to cut about 11 pounds from my base weight. That is (literally) a massive load I won't have to be carrying, and I'm really pleased I made these investments, and my poor old legs will appreciate it for sure!

Got my PCT permit today!
Applied for it last Wednesday, Feb 4th.  T-48 days.  That is all.

PCT Permit applied for, plus PF :-(
PCT permits became available today, so I applied for one at  Unlike previous years, they're limiting starts at the southern end of the trail to 50 people a day... more rationale here:

I was #2 out of 50, starting on Monday March 30th.  Looks like a whole lot of people are planning to start on Wed April 1st--right now there are 20 starting that day, just a few hours after the permits opened!  On my day, not so many so far, just 4 out of 50.

Now I can apply for my permit to walk into Canada.

On another more discouraging note, I felt a twinge of plantar fasciitis yesterday morning on my run, just in front of the back ball of my foot of my left foot.  It's the first time since May 2012 that I've felt it (when we were tromping around Ukraine and Russia), but it wasn't as bad then.  It didn't start happening in my run until 25 minutes in, about 2 1/2 miles... and it went away the rest of the day.

But last night at 2pm there was a noise and I woke up--and I felt it, stressed out, and couldn't get back to sleep.  It's a tough condition to cure; the worst I ever had it was in 2005 or 2006, when I was really doing a lot of rugby and running around.  When I had it that time, it took six months to heal, and I thought I was broken permanently.

I'm trying to recall what I did then--I treated it with resting it for sure, I had custom orthotics made but they made it worse, and I think I took a lot of ibuprofen.  I should go back in my journal and look at the notes I took then to figure out exactly what worked and did that time (time to dig through old LiveJournal entries from way-back-when!)

I also suspect that it was all the snowshoeing this weekend and walking in those cold stiff new leather boots that triggered it.  I liked the snowshoeing I did this weekend, but it wass really hard for me to hold my left foot in a straight line.  That left foot of mine is attached to my lower leg at a goofy angle, so I walk like a duck.  I had to to unnaturally twist my left knee and upper leg to keep my left snowshoe pointed straight so I didn't trip over the end of it--or stomp on it--with my right showshoe.

It could also be the new shoes I tried out yesterday, the same model I normally wear but with lugs on the insole for more aggressive grips on trail conditions.  They really felt more grabby on the street, and on the trails I ran on in Balboa Park. Anyways, whatever the cause and cure, I'm resting from running until the weekend.  I'm pretty fit right now, so my overall fitness won't suffer, and that plantar fasciitis should be improved by a few days off.

snow camp day 1
After a two hour flight delay, my flight left San Diego for Reno, and I scored a brand-spanking new RAV4 rental car. Fortunately (for me) it was really warm, so there wasn't any snow or ice on the 60 miles to South Lake Tahoe, and I got to the friendly Motel 6 around 1am.

We met up with Ned and my other four classmates around 9:30, and were on our way, stopping briefly at the Lake of the Woods outfitters so I could get 100g of JetBoil stove fuel that I couldn't carry on the plane.

I did a not-so-quick repack at the Carson Pass trailhead--I had rented a spiffy 3 man, four season tent, and between that and the snow shovel and the ice ax and the foam sleeping pad (I will be sleeping on snow tonight), I just had no idea how it should all be arranged. And my pack is brand new, I ditched my 1988 era North Face Inca Trail pack, with its disintegrating foam padding, for something three pounds lighter, a ULA Catalyst.

Yes, this is a shakedown cruise--it's not just snow camping basics class, it's "see what works and what doesn't for the PCT." Already I've decided I definitely don't need some things, so this is good.
The conditions this late January weekend should be (oddly) roughly equivalent to the spring conditions I'll encounter in May heading north from Kennedy Meadows, so that's also good. The weather forecast says highs in the 40's, lows around 25, with wind and partly sunny to mostly cloudy. Great!

We put on snowshoes and were on our way--except for a little piece of advice from Ned on crampons. He didn't care much for the microspikes--they don't catch sideways traverses along slopes, because they don't have sides. Try and find some actual crampons with side spikes, and with toe spikes that go down, not out. The toe spikes will be good for going uphills and digging in.

We followed the PCT south, making our own path (along with cross country skiiers and a few other snowshoers) and Ned pointed out some things about how to use snowshoes, what trees grew in the area, how to spot dangerous humps of snow and avoid them, and other goodies. We weren't going far, but it was good.

After a couple of miles, though, my 40 pound pack (that damn 3 man tent!) weighed on me, and some weird undiscovered glute muscles started demanding I slow down. I was also getting real tired of tripping--I'd trap my right snowshoe under the back of my left snowshoe. I had to remember to concentrate to walk with toes pointed straight ahead with snowshoes, and not devolve into my typical goofy left-footed stride.

The weather also got a bit more windy, so we took a lower route and then made it to the outlet of Winnemucca Lake, where we setup camp on the snow. I learned that yes, you can secure a tent in the snow with stakes--by the odd "dead man" anchor technique (dig a trench, bury the stake horizontally, pack snow on top. The stake will freeze with the snow and secure you.)

The blowing tiny ice crystals and wind chilled and annoyed us, so we retreated into our own individual tents for dinner. I cooked up a tasty Backpacker's Pantry Santa Fe Rice WIth Chicken (201g dry weight, 760 calories), which took about 25 minutes to rehydrate, giving me ample time to write this blog post. It's spicy and filling and hot.

As far as gear and clothing goes, I'm pretty pleased. Boots (Sorel Paxton) and socks (Darn Tough ski socks) kept me mostly warm, I'd add another pair of socks. Legs were toasty with REI silk base layer, REI fleece leggings, and Mammut Trelinka (?) snow pants, no complaints at all. Torso was covered with REI silk top, REI midweight base layer, Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer jacket, and North Face Mountain Light parka. Warm there too! Hat was this odd fleece hat from Kathmandu in Sydney ages ago, sunglasses were Julbo Dolgan Spectron4, which were a bit too dark for the dark clouds scooting by; we were almost never in the sun. Gloves were just adaquate--not super-warm, but not chilly--they were REI Gauntlet.

A good and interesting day, one of the days where there's definite "clarity of purpose". Even though today was just a learn-some-stuff and see-how-your-gear-works, there really wasn't much time for idle thought or outside distraction.

And now, time for bed!

Snow camp, day 3
A much better night's sleep--no howling wind, not nearly as cold (just below freezing), and a brilliant bright near-full-moon.  I got plenty of sleep, nodding off at 7 and waking up at 6:30, and I needed it; some of my leg muscles just aren't used to snowshoeing.
Today's lessons, as it were, were how to use an ice ax to self-arrest.  We headed off to a slope east of the campsite and practiced glissading... or sitting on your butt and sliding down the snow like you're a 4 year old kid.  It's great fun, and brought back memories of sliding down the snow on Mt Ruapehu in New Zealand a year ago.
Once we got a feel for that, we started with some ice ax training.  It's a scary looking implement, like it's designed to poke the eyes out of zombies, but I felt I needed to be confident with how to use it, and watching YouTube videos for training just wasn't going to cut it.  YouTube will show you how to do it right, but won't show you the dozens of ways how to do it wrong and what's wrong about each one of them... and I'll probably do it one of those wrong ways without realizing it, so in-person training's important.  Learning how to use an ice ax was the key reason why I wanted to take this class.
First off, sizing.  Ice axes should be gripped with your thumb under the adze and your fingers across the top of the pick--pinky to the tip!   You should grip the shaft with your other hand, with the shaft diagonally crossing your body, so the base of your thumb is on the top of your pelvic bone.  The pick should be pointing out, the adze should be right about shoulder height.  If the ax is sized right, you should have maybe 2 to 4 inches of shaft below the lower hand.  At 120cm, my ax was properly sized for my torso.
Next up was the simple "roll over and stop" drill.   Sliding fast, feet first, down the hill on your back, roll over and stop, remembering "GO TO THE PICK"  If you're right handed, roll over on your right side (the pick is facing out on your right shoulder) and dig it in.  Keep your elbows in, and the ax under you... pull yourself on top of the ax if it ends up above your head.  When the pick bites, you'll stop.  Don't roll over onto your knees, just keep stiff and log roll.  It took me awhile to get.  I rolled over the wrong way once.  Another time my elbows were out.  Yet another the ax got away from me uphill; I didn't lose it, but it wasn't decent.
Following that drill was the 'opposite hand' drill.  Put the ice ax on your non-dominant hand, and arrest.  That felt weird, but I got it more quickly.
Then there was the "head first" position.  You're sliding downslope, head first, on your back.  Just do the same and 'go to the pick.'  I kinda liked this one, which sounds scarier than it is--when you roll over (on the side of your body where the pick is), the pick grabs, then your legs end up swinging around.  Sometimes you can end up in a taco shape, but more often than not you end up more-or-less upright on the slope with your feet directly downslope.
And lastly was the "tumble".  This reminded me of rugby tackle practice--don't be scared of the ground, just figure out how to go to ground.   With the "tumble", you walk across the slope, ice ax in uphill hand as it should be, and then sink your downhill knee so you fall.  Tumble over yourself, then arrest.  Same drill, except when your tumbling you just think "where's the pick" and then "roll over on the pick side so the pick is digging into the slope".  I got the hang of it after a bit; strangely this was the only drill where I'd get the ax on the slope, but the pick would lay across the slope instead of digging in.  So I had to rotate the ax to dig in, throwing out my elbows.  It didn't look great, but it worked.
There were a couple of other things we learned about that day--prior to the ice ax training, Ned dug a snow pit in the slope, a vertical box, to show us the snow layers and how to use your fingertips against the back wall of the pit to judge the snow layers--some were real soft and didn't stick together well, some were compacted by warmer temperatures and consolidated into hard ice layers.  The snow we had today was about 2 inches of powder on top of a hard ice layer, with softer 6 inch layers underneath interrupted by ice layers.  You could also use that snow pit to make a shelter out of the wind or snowfall if you needed an emergency survival shelter.
After the fun on the snow, we packed up and snowshoed back to the trailhead.  My pack felt much lighter, though I know it had only dropped a few pounds and probably weighed only 38 pounds and not 40.  It was easier going, and I switched to fluffier looser socks (Holeproof Explorer with the copper padding), and my feet were much warmer.  Note to self: take a pair or two of these on the PCT.
Then a quick drive back to the trailhead, a cozy room at the Three Peaks Resort,  and an unplanned dinner with a good buddy Dave at Basecamp Pizza.    I knew Dave lived "in Tahoe", but for some reason I thought he lived miles away on the north side of the lake in Incline Village.  He lives just a few miles away!  It was good to catch up, and he offered some much-appreciated logistical support for when I walk through Tahoe on the PCT.   I'll definitely take him up on that after Echo Lake, and perhaps before; it's a long 10 days from Yosemite to Tahoe without many good resupply points.
And finally a nice fluffy bed to fall asleep in... though the room is far too hot.  Dialing it back to 56 degrees helps, heh.  Tomorrow I'll be back in San Diego, where the weather will be sunny and 72 degrees, of course.

Snow Camp day 2
It was a long, cold windy night, with gusty winds that would die off and then come back roaring, while creepy shadows from the nearly full moon played across the roof of the tent as the clouds blew past.  During one of the quiet spells from the roaring wind, I answered nature's call and walked over to a nearby tree through thick yet sparkly fog, and admired the special-effects feeling of the night BUT IN REAL LIFE!  Then I decided my toasty warm sleeping back trumped the glittering subzero mist and crawled back in.
I slept long, and a bit fitfully, from 7:30 until 7.  This is the first time I've been in the new sleeping bag, and it worked really well; it's a Zpacks 20 degree bag.  For most of the night it was around 26 degrees F, but then the wind stopped and it dipped down to 21F and I slipped inside a silk bag liner for more warmth and put my down booties on my feets.   Those poor cold feet always keep me up at night when camping, they're never really warm and they weren't tonight, even though I started off the night wearing my long undies.   I was sleeping on a Thermarest NeoAir Lite women's inflatable, on top of a Thermarest Solite something foam pad.  No chilly spots in the sleeping bag at all, except when I slipped down during the night and those feet were resting on the tent floor... which is sitting on 3 feet or so of snow and ice.  Tonight I'll make a little ski-jump with my backpack at the bottom of the foam pad so I won't dangle myself.
Fired up the JetBoil, made some coffee in my mug, then annoyingly had to wait until I finished the coffee to make oatmeal in the same mug.  Hm.  Maybe reverse the order next time, or just eat a breakfast bar.  Dug around a bit, making a huge gear explosion in the tent trying to find random things (where's my sunscreen?  My camera?  My water filter?  Oh yeah, water filter is down in the bottom of the sleeping bag), and I repurposed my pack into a daypack.
Today we're going to do some snowshoeing and navigation and boot hiking west, towards the eastern edge of the Kirkwood ski area.  The day was bright and sunny, not a cloud in the sky, and best of all no wind!  We climbed up as Ned did some instruction on how to avoid problem snow areas--convex lumps, avalanche/snowslide mountainsides with 30 to 45 degree slopes and no trees, snow covered creek drainages with lumpy bottoms and snow bridges.  We stopped up on a ridge for a bite to eat, and it was super-clear--I could see the north shore of Tahoe, and out to the Coast Ranges north of Napa.
After the break, we headed southwest in our showshoes, walking over Round Top Lake (frozen for the winter), towards 4th of July Lake.   On the way, we took off the snowshoes to practice walking across moderate snow slopes, how to cut into the slope with the uphill side of your boot, make a nice platform, don't make too long of a stride.  I felt hesitant at first, as did all of us, but we got the hang of it with a bit of feedback from Ned, and after awhile we all felt more confident.  The snow had a thin crust and was a bit compressible underneath, so it wasn't hard and icy or waist deep powder, just typical springtime conditions according to Ned, albeit it's January now.
Another break, and though we couldn't see the 4th of July Lake far below we could see a chairlift from Kirkwood, so we spied on skiiers real briefly (seeing none, maybe we were too far away?) and headed back to camp.  I chose not to wear snowshoes to see how boring old boots would do when walking across compacted snow with a couple of inches of powder on top.  The boots I'm wearing are Sorel Paxton, which remind me strongly of my old school Vasque Sundowners.  They did fine, I postholed to my knee once and I slipped on ice that I didn't recognize, and slid downslope a few seconds.
And on my way back, I spotted an unexpected sign of wildlife--mountain lion tracks following a very large set of rabbit or hate prints.  I wouldn't have expected that up here, in January, in the snow, at 9000 feet altitude, but there they were.  Too large to be a coyote, and what else has paw prints like that?
Back in camp, it was nice and calm, so we all made hot food in a snow bench we build.   I decided just to have coffee, and have real dinner in the tent and write a blog post about the day :-)    Dinner was AlpineAir Three Cheese Chicken Pasta, and I ate both servings--once again, I find I don't have much of an appetite, but the creamy pasta is super tasty, and a Chocolate Almond Fudge Clif bar makes an excellent dessert as I wonder when to go to bed (it's 6:15pm now, and I don't feel like sleeping yet.)
Hmmm, what else?  Some little tips:
For dirty water scooping: Mike mentioned that you can take a Platypus PlayPreserve wine storage bag, cut off the top, and use it to scoop dirty water into a container for filtering.  It weighs next to nothing, and folds up nicely.  That's a great idea.
I'm thinking I should buy a Nalgene/Playtpus wide mouth collapsible sack for dirty water.  I could put a coffee filter over the wide mouth, and scoop water into it for prefiltering.  The typical Platypus container has a tiny opening that really doesn't work with coffee filters.  Maybe it does, though, with those tiny #1 sized coffee filters, or a #2 filter rolled up.  Must investigate.
Add a tube to the Sawyer discharge nipple and you can use it as a gravity-feed filter.
Make a little bag out of metallic insulating bubble wrap that looks like a mailing envelope, then use it to hold a food pouch when you're rehydrating.  Another tip from fellow camper mike.
Adding a second pair of socks can make your feet colder.  Yep!  My feet were chilled during the walk yesterday, so today I wore a second pair of socks... they were a little tight, but more is more, right?  Nope, it actually didn't work out well--my feet were really cold, much colder than yesterday.  I told Ned and he said "hey, take off one pair.  Maybe you're just compressing your feet too much and there isn't enough blood circulation to keep them warm."  I did, and my feet warmed up.
Lastly, take fluffy socks for cold nights--like Holeproof Explorers.

Off to Tahoe
Whelp, I'm sitting here at the San Diego airport, waiting for my flight to Reno, and then the drive to Tahoe. I'm not thrilled about how late I'll get to the hotel--it looks like I'll arrive around 1am--but that's fine, I'll be happy to head up there and learn a few things.

I'm curious as to how to do 'things' in the snow--set up the tent, use snowshoes, figure out what clothing to wear. The weather looks like it'll be around 50F in the daytime and just below freezing at night, even at the 9000' elevation we'll be camping at, up at Lake WInnemucca near Carson Pass.

I'm guessing everything will be fine--but almost all my gear is untested, so I'm being a little excessive. Do I really need two midlayer shirts? Will the silk base layers be warm, or just kind of a hassle? How will the new sleeping bag and pad work out (I'm taking both a blow-up NeoLite and a foam pad, just to make sure I'm warm sleeping on the snow).

If anything, the sunny, cool, and likely windy days expected near Lake Tahoe this weekend are likely to be similar to the sunny, cool days I'll encounter at the end of May, as I head north out of Kennedy Meadows into the southern Sierras. This will be good preparation, and I hope to learn a lot from Ned, his training, and the other four class members going along on this trip.

Met up with another thru-hiker
Chris and I met up with James last night at Waypoint Public here in North Park.  He's another thru-hiker, starting in mid-March just before I do.  It was great to compare plans and strategies, particularly around provisions on the trail.  While I'm not going to use many resupply boxes, he's going to ship out many, and he's been keeping his dehydrator running it seems for weeks to fill those boxes with tasty treats.    Me on the other hand--not so much... I'm going to buy stuff in the stores along the trail, as I don't want many hassles around being in towns during post office opening hours... though I may send some boxes to places that accept them.

Anyways, it felt good to know I'm not quite alone in some of my concerns.  I left thinking that I might just be overplanning a little to much as well... and that things will certainly change and adjust once I start walking.

My current biggest worries about hiking the PCT
I've been planning like mad for my PCT thru-hike this spring and summer.   Here's what I'm concerned about right now, at the moment, etc.
Cold weather: I generally don't hike much in the cold weather--if it's around freezing or below, I stay home.  That's not to say I haven't hiked quite a bit on snow, but it's generally been in mid-summer.  Yes, that sounds odd, but snow in the Sierras lingers in the high elevations until late June to mid July, depending on how much falls during the winter.  I'm just not sure how much clothing I'll need.   I think I'll be fine with a baselayer, midlayer shirt, a down jacket, and rain jacket.  Maybe fleece?  And for pants, leggings and my zip-off pants.  I'll find out more next week when I'm camping outside of Lake Tahoe.
Food: Tricky.  I was nicknamed "the airfern" on Sierra backpacking trips with the Scouts when I was a teenager... because I just didn't eat much.  (I also weighed forty pounds less than I do now!)  I've never enjoyed cooking, but do like hot soups and cocoa and pasta-y things when backpacking.  I'll continue to worry about this for awhile.
Sierras resupply.  There's not a lot of places to easily hop off the trail.  My Sierra plans now start at Kennedy Meadows (mile 702, west of Ridgecrest and 395), then I'll go for six days and pop out the easy pass to Onion Valley and Independence for a night.  Then several more days and then to Mammoth for two nights.  Tuolumne Meadows is a small resupply, though it'll be mid-June.  After that, it's 10 to 12 days walk to South Lake Tahoe.  That section is problematic.
Timing.  I wonder how far I'll get, but looking at things I'll be getting to Canada the first week of September.  That's good timing (particularly in the North Cascades, when weather can close in from mid-September on), but I'll worry I'll pressure myself into trying to finish too quickly, and I won't have time to stop and enjoy the scenery along the way.  I don't really want to feel rushed, but I really do want to complete the PCT.


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