Snow camping

While it may be spring in the lowlands, there is still 14 feet of snow on the ground at 5,000′ elevation in the Pacific Northwest.  A brief 2 day weather window provided a great opportunity to test a lot of snow camping gear and ideas.  How do lightweight backpacking solutions translate into this environment?  Are the solutions still lightweight?

As the Black Diamond Mega Light tent project progressed, I started a planning spreadsheet to see what the weight penalty would be adding a 4th season to comfort light backpacking.  The answer looked like it might be about 10 lbs.  But there were questions.  Would I be warm enough sleeping?  Could I use an alcohol stove to melt snow?

Snow cover transforms the wilderness experience.  Summer trails exist only in concept, sometimes continued between storms as well used trenches.  But otherwise you have freedom to go elsewhere.  Camp sites are no longer limited to established locations.  Adequate snow depth provides opportunities for creative site preparation.  And of course, in nice weather the scenery is stunning.  But the level of commitment is higher.  Weather windows and daylight hours are shorter.  Travel is slower and cold is the ever present concern.  None the less, my friend and I felt we had done our preparation well and were ready for some field time. Continue reading

My first unplanned overnight, ever

Unplanned bivyIt wasn’t an emergency situation.  But the reason we all carry (or should carry) The Ten Essentials is that some days do not go according to plan.  The previous summer we seriously underestimated the length of a long alpine scramble in Mt. Rainier National Park and turned around at 2 in the afternoon with a lot of mountain still above us.  This year we started up from base camp much earlier and had better luck with the obscure route finding challenges.  It was still 3 pm when we got on top.  At 7 pm my partner announced that we were at a good spot to bivy.  We were in open woods by a little stream.  I was still intent on getting down that day, but he was correct.  We found a couple of nice level spots for “camp”.  He often does “day and a half” outings, so he just got out his overnight bivy gear.  I got out my Ten Essentials stash.  For 40 years I had been having this conversation on outings – “What if we had to spend the night?  Would you be O.K. with what you are carrying right now?”  Now I was actually going to find out. Continue reading

End of season review

New snow - RainierMt. 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. Continue reading

Beyond the bag

P1010117-001I sleep cold. I have always needed sleeping bags rated at least 15 degrees colder than the conditions I expect. Once I made that adjustment, I have logged a lot nights in a variety of bags with a variety of fills. My current approach focuses on staying just as warm while carrying less weight.

Sleeping equipment is one of the “big three” in moving to lightweight backpacking. So I looked for a lighter solution, and decided to try a quilt. Continue reading