Mt. Rainier is now wearing a new coat of snow and the high country is making the transition to winter. Days are short, the rain is arriving and it is time to look ahead to ski season. This is a good time to reflect on this year’s outings. What worked well? What didn’t?
Comfort light delivered for me this season. Good, light weight equipment continues to open opportunities. My wife and I are backpacking again, without me as the mule. I am able to do grab and go trips to support climbs requiring a base camp. Bake a load of Logan bread. Take a quick shopping trip and I am off. With less gear, packing is quicker. In the past even overnight trips seemed to have packing drama.
While I had no extended trips this summer, I did a number of 3 day outings with my wife or others, mostly for remote peak bagging. With my larger share of gear for couples camping or adding light climbing equipment, I was able to stay under 30 lbs. for total, start of trip weight. With more field time on everything, here are my conclusions.
Pack: My Ray-Way pack works. It is a good size and accommodates moderate overloading. I can fill it and still ride a mountain bike for road approaches. Unloaded, it carries day gear well for day climbs from a base camp.
Tents: Both on my solo Night Wing and my two person Bilgy tents did well. When I made the Bilgy, I cut down an old set of sectional aluminum poles to pitch the tent without using trekking poles. These assembled pole lengths did not quite fit the Night Wing, but swapping longer front sections and shorter back sections, I got a combination did. Now I can pitch the Night Wing and still have trekking poles available for day use. I could build an equivalent pole set using carbon fiber pole sections, but I expect the weight savings to be only ounces. Neither tent shows any signs of wear. The Bilgy passed another rain test.
Sleeping: My Ray Way quilt and Big Agnes Q-core insulated pad keep me warm and comfortable.
Kitchen: I cooked exclusively with Esbit tablets this season, even in the rain. My fuel requirements are about 3 tablets per day for solo cooking and more for two people. A climbing friend showed me that a storm proof match lights a tablet in the wind. When I am cooking for two and using two pots, I take cone style wind screens for both pots and just move the pot and screen over the Esbit burner as needed. This works much better than trying to balance a small pot on an over sized cone. Menu planning is still a work in progress. On short trips I will often take a small can of chicken rather than bother with dehydrating, trading the taste of comfort light for a few ounces saved. The same friend turned me on to Stove Top Stuffing as a quick, tasty, carbo element of any meal. 2 lbs. a day or less for solo food works.
Water Purification: Another friend pointed out that the MSR Aquatabs I am using are not a chlorine dioxide based purifier like Aqua Mira. While the Aqua Tabs will work against giardia, they are not effective against cryptosporidia. Typical cryptosporidia outbreaks are associated with contaminated recreational water venues – swimming pools and water parks and sometimes farm animal sources. I try to carefully pick my water sources. I haven’t gone back to Aqua Mira and continue to have no issues.
Rain Gear: I have more field time on my sil-nylon rain chaps. They are good in brush. One small puncture was patched with repair tape. Even being very light, I think they are at least as tough as normal nylon rain pants.
Spot Connect: The Spot Connect / smart phone combination I use for staying in touch is good. Battery life on the Spot is reasonable. A pair of batteries doesn’t last a season, but would be fine on a week plus trip. I like the “signal sent” confirmation from the smart phone. However, I had a couple of instances where in spite of confirmation of 3 signals sent, no text or e-mail messages were delivered. I think that in a 911 situation, I might send out additional messages with texts for redundancy. The smart phone system lets me customize the list of message recipients to include spouses of my climbing partners.
Emergency Gear: For the first time ever, I had an unplanned bivouac. I have always carried a lot of emergency gear, just in case. This has been paired down as I eliminated weight. Still, when my climbing partner announced late in the day that we were stopping, I was able to set up a little tarp shelter, put on warm clothes and even have some supper and breakfast the next morning with what I was carrying. We put in a challenging 4 hours the next day getting down the rest of the way, so the decision was a good one.
It was a good comfort light season.