Light shelter: We weathered two days of rain and wind, completely exposed at over 11K. Our Gossamer Gear Spinn Twinn tarp kept us dry at just over 4 ounces per person.

A 15 lb pack (with food & fuel) for 7 days in the High Sierra

It’s been six years since Colin dropped 30 pounds from his pack. Time to drop some more pack-weight! Once again the brothers and their sons ventured into the Sierras with even lighter packs. We headed into the Southern Sierras. Our plan was to:

  1. Climb from 5K to 11K the first day
  2. Spend the rest of the trip traveling mostly off-trail in areas 11 to 12+K, and
  3. Fish remote areas, concentrating on finding Golden Trout and native Rainbow Trout
  4. And of course, drop some more pack weight!

A Brief Summary of the Details (with pictures below)

Detailed gear 4.7 pound backpacking gear list for 2007 Sierra Trip (PDF file)

While we did not make the huge weight savings of our 2001 trip, we still shaved another 10 pounds from our 2001 packs weights. This brings the total weight savings vs. our 1999 trip to over 40 pounds. Our packs were 75% lighter than in 1999!

Lake

A Brief Summary of the Details (with pictures below)

It’s been six years since Colin dropped 30 pounds from his pack. Once again the brothers and their sons ventured into the Sierras—this time with even lighter packs. We headed into the Southern Sierras. Our plan was to:

  1. Climb from 5K to 11K the first day
  2. Spend the rest of the trip traveling mostly off-trail in areas 11 to 12+K, and
  3. Fish remote areas, concentrating on finding Golden Trout and native Rainbow Trout
  4. And of course, drop some more pack weight!
Kevin Hiking

The trip went without a hitch and all equipment performed well even with below freezing temps and a fluke cold front with significant amounts of precipitation and wind.

A Brief Text Summary of What Changed

Savings vs. 1999
Total Pack Total Gear Food & Food storage
1999 55
2001 25 30 23.5 6.5
2007 15 40 29.2 10.8
10 lb Saved 2007 vs. 2001

While we did not make the huge weight savings of our 2001 trip, still we shaved another 10 pounds from our 2001 packs weights. This brings the total weight savings vs. our 1999 trip to over 40 pounds. Our packs were 75% lighter than in 1999!

Food: Like the reduction from 1999 to 2001, our greatest single weight savings (over 4 pounds) was from food and food storage. Our food “savings” came from taking fewer days to travel a longer trip distance over harder terrain. That is we took fewer days food. This reduction in trip days is due to:

    • Both sons are older and in better shape—gaining adult strength and endurance they can hike faster and longer each day.
    • The fathers can still hold their own.
    • With nearly 50% lighter packs vs. 2001 we all could travel faster and farther each day (but still have plenty of time for fun, side trips and fishing for golden trout.)

Golden Trout

Food Storage/Bear Cans: We weren’t in an area requiring bear canisters but we were close to area that did require them. We considered each taking an 8 oz Ursack (without aluminum liner) for our food, but we decided to share an ultralight food hanging system for less than 2 ounces per person. We camped well away from trails and popular areas that bears might habituate. We were fastidious about our cooking and washing up habits. We made excellent food hangs, slept next to our food and were prepared to defend it from Bears.
Father Son

Packs: Colin and I used low volume, hipbeltless packs with a minimum of features. With strong but light, high tech fabric they are more than durable enough for off trail travel and light mountaineering. On the right is my 10-ounce, home made backapck with durable X-Pac fabric.
Sleeping

Sleeping: Average sleeping bag weight went from 1.75 lb to 1.1 lb using very light hoodless down sleeping bags. Some savings came from using 1 oz Polycryo ground cloths. We slept warm enough in below freezing temps.
Shelter

Shelter: We shared a 9 ounce Gossamer Gear SpinnTwinn tarp. This two-person spinnaker cloth tarp is less than half the weight of our old tarp with heavier silnylon fabric. We weathered a couple of days of high winds and sustained rain when camping exposed at over 11K.

Wx

And this rolling in, is is the ugly weather system that sat on us for two days. Again, no problems under a tarp.

Clothing

Clothing: We halved the weight of our rainwear and insulating garments by using new lighter technology clothing (a 5 oz vest each was the only warm clothing we brought). Much of this saving comes from substantially lighter fabrics. We added 1.5 oz rain chaps.Caldera

Stove/Cooking: We switched to an integrated alcohol stove/pot/cooking system from Trail Designs and Antigravity Gear. This system is lighter than a canister stove. More significant, alcohol stoves are more environmentally conscious than fuel canisters. The fuel efficiency of the Trail Designs Caldera system contributed to a weight reduction in fuel carried for the trip.

The Rest (not included above): A number of small things add up. We saved around 2 pounds vs. 2001 by taking fewer things and lighter things. It pays to look at the small details.

View

Trout

Kevin 2

Swim

Kevin

Fishing

K & S

Hiking

Weather

KS Tarp

The Crew

You can do amazing things with only 4.2 pounds of gear! Through coastal rain forest, montane forest, sub-alpine forest, alpine meadows and finally the rock and ice of Mt Olympus. We bivied in the snow in +45 bags.

Link: 4.2 pound Olympics Gear List (PDF)

We started our “backpacking” trip with no intention of climbing, but the snow was nice, the day beautiful and stuff happens. So,

Unplanned, we traversed Blue Glacier and climbed a significant portion of the mountain. We did it in trail running shoes and trekking poles, much to the dismay of fully equipped and roped climbing parties with climbing boots, crampons, and ice axes. At some point the slopes got steep enough and the exposure significant enough that it was foolish to continue in trail runners. Well, maybe that point was a bit earlier :)

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Colin Hiking across Blue Glacier towards Mt Olymp. We made it to the top of Snow Dome with only 4.2 pounds of gear.

 

A quick meal in a beautiful alpine setting. . .

Rain Forest – Trip Start

The first 12+ miles are in temperate coastal rain forest on well groomed trails

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Cool and shady – natural air conditioning.

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Rain forest – full of pine trees, deciduous trees, ferns and amazing mosses

 

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The mighty Hoh River

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The end of the rain forest….

Montane Forest

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Around two thousand feet things begin to change a bit . . .

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Huge snowfalls caused many avalanches and blow-downs. We spent a bunch of time climbing over and around downed trees and washed out trails. This is the definition of a completely destroyed shelter

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Our first view of the Olympic summits. Things are looking better . . .

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A washed out avalanche gully and steep snowfield

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Scree from hell!

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Our toasty warm camp for the night. Guess there is a reason they call it Glacier Camp . . .

Mount Olympus

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Looking across Blue Glacier up at summit block of Mount Olympus

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Now exactly where does the route go?

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Across Blue Glacier and approaching the base of Mt Olympus

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A rest with some spectacular scenery. And approaching the top of Snow Dome!

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Taking the fastest way down…

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We briefly stopped on the lateral moraine on our way back to camp and were visited by mountain goat (non-native)

Down to the Canyons of Utah – Another year of the spiritual spaces and beauty of the canyons and mesa.

Photographs (except as noted) taken by Alan with an Olympus E-30 digital SLR (info on cameras) and Zuiko 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6 lens. More on lightweight photograpy…

Backpacking Photography Gear Lists

The Trip in Brief


Dawn on a ledge 600 feet above the Escalante. Our last campsite.


Cottonwoods glowing in early morning light.

A wash in late afternoon sun.

Finally working our way to the the mid-day shade of a deep Escalante canyon.

 

Trip Start – detailed report

Our trip began with the most exciting 4-wheeling either of us has ever done. Apparently, Kane County is not interested in grading roads to trail heads.


We arrived at trailhead at an earlybird 3:00pm (note low sun) and jumped in.

Starting off always requires a walk “into nowhere”. Somewhere in this vast expanse of slickrock we needed to drop into a deep canyon at a very specific place.

We’ve located the right spot and are preparing to downclimb into the canyon.

Into a sunlit wash that feeds into the Escalante River

We walked for about five hours before dropping our stuff at this arch campsite surrounded with fragrant sage.

As we approach the Escalante, the canyon walls get higher and shade increases


Al got to see her first real Indian ruins, a granary. How they got up there, is anybody’s guess.

Finally, walking down the canyon of the Escalante with its orange-red mid-day light

With river levels at record lows (snow pack 40% of normal) crossing the Escalante was not difficult. We crossed or waded it often to get better footing and faster hiking on the benches on either side of the river. Frequent crossings left our feet wet all day. The next morning, we again got to put on our wet shoes.


It seemed every bend was an opportunity for a new photograph.

We entered a side canyon and headed for the rim. As we climbed past the Kayenta, we passed
this detached pillar of Navajo sandstone.

In early evening, we climbed up a striated sandstone ramp past old Indian caves.

Our first view. The gorge of the Escalante is below (behind the green bushes, not seen in this photo) and the white Navajo domes of Circle Cliffs in the distance. Al is standing below the arrow in the next picture


A breathtaking perch

Nearly 1,000 feet above the Escalante, a superb view


Alan climbed a few dicey slabs to get a bit higher. A Navajo dome at the top of our world.

A close-up of the flowers in the lower right corner of the previous picture.

We climbed back down to a dream campsite at a spring-fed desert oasis. A waterfall sits right next to our sleeping bags. We slept to the frogs singing (croaking) to us all night… ALL NIGHT.


Sleeping-bag-view the next morning.

Moving down the Escalante again. This tower marks an abandoned meander where the Escalante used to run.

We did more bouldering up clogged streambeds and bushwhacking thru willows and tamarisk than we wanted.

Spring pools not shown on any map….a surprising find given the severe drought.

A jagged wingate tower above the pools.

On our last night, we climbed 600 feet above the Escalante River to camp on this ledge.


A Long-nosed Leopard Lizard kept us company on the ledge.


Sunset view from our camp.

A bit later in the evening — the other direction.

And a stunning dawn view from our campsite the next morning.

After taking photos. We left camp and walked along ledges on the canyon wall (described as “the finest ledge walk in the Escalante”). After we were over the canyon rim it was a very long march without stopping through sand and Navajo domes. Difficult overland navigation and blazing desert sun. We were though all 4 L of water each by the time we reached the car at 3:00 pm. Zero food and zero water after 7 days is excellent planning on our part.

Parting Shot

Trail head and our car which blessedly has a spare gallon of water in the back.

 

A 100 mile rafting and backpacking trip from the headwaters of the Talkeetna River to the town of Talkeetna via the Talkeetna and Susitna Rivers.

Route: Bush plane drop at the headwaters of the Talkeetna River. Float Talkeetna R to Prairie Creek. Heinous bushwack out of the Talkeetna River and cross the plateau to the Susitna River. Another challenging bushwack down to Gold Creek on the Susitna. Then float the Susitna to the Town of Talkeetna (with a short flag train ride into town—just for the novelty of it!).


A detailed gear list for Packrafting in Alaska. [PDF file]

The Trip in Brief

We started our trip by catching a Bear Mountain Air bush plane from Anchorage’s Lake Hood Airport. Bad wx made for a dicey plane ride in. Our 8:00 AM takeoff was delayed until almost noon. We had another delay mid-flight when we had to land on a river gravel bar in the Talkeetnas–had to wait for wx to clear to make it over the pass to the Upper Talkeetna River. Then had to fly high and dodge through cloud holes landing around 4:00pm. Whew! Thank you Joe of Bear Mountain Air for some excellent flying!

Safely landed on a gravel bar on the upper Talkeetna River. Our 1960s era Cessna 185. A wonderful plane! Skillfully piloted through low visibility conditions by Joe Houston of Bear Mountain Air.

Talkeetna R was high and fast but doable if you paid constant attention. Ripping along! Made 6-7 mph with current. No problems except that Alison could not hold her line at one point. Ended up going through a nasty class 3 wave train on a long, steep ladder chute. Fortunately, she kept her boat straight with a strong forward stoke and did not swim :-) We had intermittent rain both river days.

View of the Talkeetna River at the mouth of Prarie Creek and near the start of our bushwhack to the plateau between the Talkeetna and Susitna Rivers.

We had a stupendous hailstorm our second day on the river and Alan had to hack out a camp site using his 1 oz. pocket knife to make enough room for our tent. It was a real challenge to anchor the tent in the rubble and rocks of the gravel bar.

Our bushwhack out of Talkeetna R to tundra was as long and heinous as I remembered from my 2010 trip. Almost 5 miles of brush with significant elevation gain (and loss due to numerous steep gullies to be crossed). Even with an excellent and direct route and following some good game trails it took us all day to reach a nice lake in the tundra. Wind was howling and we were lucky to find a semi-sheltered, almost flat tent site in moderate tussocks. It started to rain in earnest around 6:00 PM.

Weather was a challenge along the plateau. Temperatures in the 30’s & 40’s. 100% rain without remission white-out conditions much of the time. Torrential rain at night had the tent leaking in numerous places (We really need to seal some ridgeline seams!). Constant headwinds. Hard to find anywhere to safely pitch the tent. Ground, tussocks and bogs super saturated with 40 degree water. Our feet were constantly squishing in and out of bogs, sponga and pools of near freezing water. Alan’s feet got so cold they hurt for days after the trip. Pretty much some of the worst hiking weather days either of us can recall. Wx on Alison’s birthday, 7/4, was one of the those days that will go down in history as wanting to forget!

Alison loses the weather lottery on her birthday. With constant rain, wind, white-out and temperatures in the 30s and 40s, it was no picnic.

The rest of the trip had milder wx with intermittent rain. Float down the Susitna was very fast & fun. The river was high and ripping along! We made around 7 mph. Just for the novelty, we flagged down the train rode it the last 7 miles into town–one of the last flag trains in the US. Great fun!

Town of Talkeetna super nice and fun. Great restaurants and amenities. We had a superb day of King Salmon Fishing! According to our guide, the best day all season. Alison and Alan caught 9 king salmon between us. They averaged near 30 pounds with the largest near 50 lb! Picures of our big fish!

Detailed Report and Photos

Our first morning and one of the few sunny moments (abeit partial) on the trip. Looking at the high, silt laden, and swiftly moving Talkeetna River.

Starting a fire to warm up and dry out. Always a challenge to make a fire with wet wood!

Packrafts safely secured near camp. (There is always a potetnial for rafts to be blown away or even float away if not secured.)

Ready to load the rafts for the final section of River before packing them up and hiking to the plateau to commence the foot portion of the trip.

A view from our bushwack (and not to the tundra yet—groan! We started bushwacking in the morning somewhere near the yellow arrow. Our bushwhack out of Talkeetna R to tundra was as long and heinous as Alan remembered from his 2010 trip. Almost 5 miles of brush with significant elevation gain (and loss due to numerous steep gullies to be crossed). Even with an excellent and direct route and following some good game trails it took us all day to reach a nice lake in the tundra.

Finally in the Tundra! And our beautiful campsite.

Wind was howling and we were lucky to find a semi-sheltered, almost flat tent site in moderate tussocks.
We had a blessed hour to dry everything out before the rain moved in.

It started to rain in earnest around 6:00 PM. But we had some wonderful views of light and stormclouds before the rain.


Alison’s birthday morning. Temperatures were in the 30s and white-out condtions starting to creep in.

A period of better weather on Alison’s birthday. Local white-out has lifted and we can actually see across the valley. Somewhere in the distance is the pass we came over earlier in the day.

Morning mist day 5

We constantly encountered small groups of caribou on the plateau.

As we began to descend from the high plateu to the Susitna River, the weather begain to improve. We are fairly sure that the high plateau created its own static and horrible weather amplfying lower elevation weather by 3x.

Bushwhacking through alder on the steep slope from the escarpement down to the Susitna River. Yes, we did have to climb on some lower alder branches to get through some areas!

Last night’s camp on the Susitna River. And a brief and welcome moment of sunshine at a stunning location.

Finally some nice weather a day after her birthday. Alison relaxes in some mild weather and late evening light.

By the next morning we were back to overcast, rain and mist. Alison sets off on our last leg down the Susitna to the town of Talkeetna, AK.

Alison’s raft is just a blip on the huge Susitna. It is the 15th largest river the the US!

We stopped at the ghost town of Curry, Alaska. Curry was a significant staging point for the constrution of the Alaska Railway. The major hotel burned down in 1957. It was not rebuilt and almost all traces of the once bustling town are gone.

One of the last flag stop trains in the US! The Hurricane approaches: this “train has delivered Alaska locals to their remote cabins since 1923. On this wilderness run, get off the train anywhere along the 55-mile stretch: hike, fish, or journey to a remote cabin. When you are ready to return to civilization, you can stop the train on its return with the wave of a flag.”

Using a MLD MoPacka (AKA “the thing) on the end of paddle, Alan flags down the Hurricane train. Alison, always the transit geek, was super excited to ride the last few miles into the town of Talkeetna.

 

We had a superb day of King Salmon Fishing! According to our guide, the best day all season. Alison and Alan caught 9 king salmon between us. They averaged near 30 pounds with the largest near 50 lb!

BIG FISH. Happy face.

After seven days in Alaska with now views, Alison finally sees Denali from the front porch of our cabin..

A double rainbow while we ate dinner at the local pizza joint.

A bus ride back to Anchorage. Transit geek suitably happy. We did not rent a car on this trip. Float plane, jet boat, packraft, foot and train but no car!

Parting Shot

Alison contemplates Alaska at a brief stop in the middle of the massive Susitna River.

ce_shepherd_big

Colin and Emma with their killer huge packs on a high alpine route.

The Start Of My Interest In Lightweight Backpacking

Killer heavyweight equipment list. What not to take! A detailed Table of Weight Savings from 1999 and 2001.
Discussion of weight savings between 1999 (heavy) and 2001 (ultralight) trips
Discussion of weight savings of 2007 trip vs. previous trips (1999 & 2001)

Killer Packs

Good planning can make or break a backpacking trip, especially with kids and heavy packs. I found this out the hard way when I took my kids on their first extended trip to the high Sierra. Our experiences sparked my interest in ultralight backpacking, especially since our industry-standard equipment was much too heavy for anyone, but in particular the kids, to carry over long distances. Colin and I started out the trip with 55+ pound packs.

We saw a lot of great scenery and camped in beautiful places, but it’s harder to enjoy the astonishing beauty of the high Sierra when you ache all over. Nonetheless, Colin and Emma and I would do the same trip again—but not with the same ten tons of gear. We didn’t get into camp until just before sunset many days. And each day we spent more than double the hiking time I had anticipated. The additional hours on the trail meant that my whole body, feet included, had to support a 55 pound pack for much too long. Just standing up with that weight was exhausting; but what was hard for me was, at times, misery for my kids. Never again!

The Trip

Our loads were just too heavy. And I, the eternal optimist when it comes to getting my family and friends into the great out-of-doors, overestimated the kids strength to some degree and underestimated how long it would take them to hike the distance I had planned. We were out for eight days without re-supply and covered 45 to 50 miles. Over half of this was challenging cross-country, with only one layover day (not surprisingly, the kids favorite part of the trip). Colin and Emma would have enjoyed the trip a lot more if I had known then what I know now about ultralight gear and if I adjusted our schedule to their real hiking ability rather than my sanguine estimate of what they could do. Obviously, if you halve your pack weight, most everything about backpacking becomes easier. Next time it’s ultralight for us!

But we made it there and back. And the kids didn’t kill me, although they’ve promised to bludgeon me if I plan any more hikes with “4 to 5 mile easy days” of off trail hiking. They are old enough to figure out that “easy” in dad lingo means “you’ll survive.”

Colin and Emma (then sixteen and twelve) were model backpackers, getting up at first light each day to help cook breakfast and then break camp. Every night they helped to unpack and set up again. I didn’t need to ask them to help. Mostly, they figured out what needed to be done and just did it, without bickering or grumbling. Even on long and hard days, they never gave up and complained very little.

Day 7 (see photos) is a good example of a hard day. En route to Crown Lake, we’d already been over one steep pass and a difficult boulder field descent. We were all tired. Unfortunately, our planned campsite was already occupied by a tent city of yahoos, breaking every camping regulation you can think of. A shock from the off trail solitude of previous days. Laundry hung from lines. Tents pitched on the waters edge at every flat site. People everywhere. Short of hoping a posse of pack-ripping, tent-shredding, cooler-chomping black bears would descend upon them, there was nothing we could do. Discouraged, we opted to hike the extra distance to Peeler Lake, even though it was late in the day. The uphill climb to Peeler Lake was much steeper and took much longer than we had anticipated. Emma was worn out and moving slowly, although she still didn’t complain. Colin was nearly as exhausted, but better able to disguise it.

I made it to the lake first, dropped my pack, hiked back to Emma, and offered to carry her pack for the last thirty minutes of hiking to the lake. Nothing doing. She made it clear she intended to carry her own pack all the way to the end. Unfortunately, all the nearby campsites at Peeler Lake were taken and we had to hike another half-mile to the far side before finally dropping our packs. But the kids still didn’t complain.

A brief plunge off a cliff into the deep and very cold waters of the lake washed away the misery of the day. After scrumptious handfuls of dusty gorp—which by now had been compressed into bricklike nuggets—Colin and Emma once again helped set up camp, filter water, and cook dinner. We enjoyed the beauty of Crown Peak reflected in Peeler Lake, and checked out its second outlet (Peeler Lake is one of the few lakes that sends water down both the western and eastern slope of the Sierras). I got in some fishing and we watched the dusky, orangey-pink alpenglow suffuse the landscape. Night had fallen by the time we crawled into the tent for much-needed sleep.

In Conclusion — Ultralight Here We Come

This was a fantastic trip! Fabulous scenery, rugged routes, solitude, remote campsites, and great fishing. Please look at the photos of this trip as they say a lot more than anything I can put in words. But with the heavy packs and long days, I think I lost a little credibility with the kids. Our next trip, with ultralight backpacks and a bit less rigorous hiking schedule, will be a 100% winner and should change this. It’s my hope that Colin and Emma will continue to hike in the mountains for years to come. And hopefully their children will hike in the same mountains as well. I feel fortunate that I’m blessed with such wonderful children.

-Adventure Alan

The Start Of My Interest In Lightweight Backpacking

This was a fantastic trip! Fabulous scenery, rugged routes, solitude, remote campsites, and great fishing. Please look at the photos of this trip as they say a lot more than anything I can put in words.
Read text about the trip – Discussion of Weight Savings.  Or browse the photos below.
The brood about seven days in. Colin left, Emma center, AA on right. Yosemite Backcountry – Sawtooth Ridge and Matterhorn Peak in the background. Our heavy packs nearly killed us on this trip.
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Why we go to the mountains. View from Camp morning of day 5. The middle three days of this trip were entirely off trail in some of the remotest areas of Yosemite. We saw no one and it seemed we had the whole Sierras to ourselves.
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Day 6. Our final day of off trail. Colin and Emma hike up Slide Canyon in a seemingly endless valley meadow at 10,000 feet. Although they don’t show in the photo, the meadow was strewn with wildflowers.
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Colin and Emma morning of day 2. We had cooler weather for the trip (50-60’s during the day and below freezing at night). We got a late start the evening before, and stopped hiking just before dark. Nowhere to pitch a tent so we bedded down in the shelter of some low pines and used our packs as a wind break. Heavy winds all night. We could hear the bigger gusts coming up the canyon long before they hit us. Emma was so cold that Colin and I had to sandwich her between us to keep her warm enough to sleep.
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Cold morning – day 2. Colin and Emma just before we started our off trail ascent of the ridge in background. One of dad’s “4 to 5 mile easy days.”
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Day 2 – half way up and preparing to ascend the steeper portions of the ridge.
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e_shepherd_big
Day 2 – finally at the top of the ridge! Emma eyes a very steep decent into Upper McCabe Lake. The kids have promised to bludgeon me if I plan any more trips with “4 to 5 mile easy days” of off trail hiking. They are old enough to figure out that “easy” in dad lingo means “you’ll survive.”
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Colin being attacked by his monster Pack!
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Day 4 – another “4 to 5 mile easy day” of steep off trail hiking. Colin and Emma
taking a rest before descending into Tulula Lake. We saw a pair of skinny dippers from this vantage point but they were gone by the time we arrived at the lake.
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Emma enjoying some warm afternoon sun in our “kitchen,” a rock bluff overlooking the lake.
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Day 5 – our only layover day. Colin resting on an excursion to a very remote high altitude lake. We had a wonderful swim although the water was very cold. The lake’s shore was lined with late season wildflowers in full bloom.
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Day 5. The kids hiking back down to Tulula Lake.
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Day 7 – Colin and Emma climbing up
towards our last pass of the trip.
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Day 7. A brief plunge into the deep and very cold waters of Peeler lake washed away the misery of the day. This was the coldest lake of the trip. I’m guessing the water was not much above 50. We were the only people swimming.
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Day 7. The kids enjoying the last alpenglow of the trip. The pink of Crown Peak reflects in Peeler Lake.
s2k1-11

Pitching the tarps as the winds pickup and the cold front comes rolling through. Notice the windward pullouts in the middle of the 10×10 Oware tarp. Lee edge is raised to for ventilation. The tarps kept us dry and saved a ton of weight vs. conventional tent.

Background

Two years ago (1999) I took a backpacking trip to the Northern Sierra with my son (16) and daughter (11). The Sierras were beautiful but our packs were heavy and our feet and backs sore. Hiking was long and tedious. Even with an early start, we seldom got into camp with much time to do anything at the end of the day. Needless to say, the kid’s favorite day was our layover day in the middle of the trip. This was the beginning of my interest in lightweight backpacking.

This year was the summer before my son, Colin, went off to college. As a sendoff we decided to retake our Sierra trip with my brother and my 10-year-old nephew a fathers and sons trip. The challenge for me was to see if I could get pack weights down to a minimum while trying to meet the diverse attitudes and interests of four people ranging in age from 10 to 40.

A Comparison of Heavy and Ultralight Backpacking

1999 Trip 55 Pound Packs Photos
2001 Trip 25 Pound Packs Photos
Savings 30 Pounds

Link: Highlights of the major weight savings
Link: Detailed Table of Weight Savings from 1999 to 2001.

2001 Trip Report

In the end Colin and I managed to reduce our pack weights by 30 pounds each. This included cameras, fishing gear and carrying some extra food for my brother and 10-year-old nephew. Our base pack weight was below 10 pounds. My brother and nephew carried very light packs as well.

Just about everything on the trip worked as planned. We completed each days hiking with plenty of time to swim, fish and hang out. There were no blistered feet, sore shoulders or aching backs. The mood was generally cheerful. No problems with any piece of equipment.

Colin said he was more comfortable on this trip than the 1999 trip. Just as warm. Better food. Easier hiking without a heavy pack fighting him, especially going downhill and cross-country. He really liked the shorter hiking days. One thing he mentioned about going ultralight is that he had to be more aware of what he was doing with his clothing, sleeping system and shelter. That is, to achieve the same level of comfort with less equipment, he needed more knowledge both about his equipment and backpacking technique, but also a higher level of awareness of weather and trail conditions. He also noted that on very cold nights there was little clothing left to put in a stuff sack to make a pillow.

Logistics…

saved us one day of food and started the trip right.

We stayed locally the night before the trip. This put us at trailhead early the first day, feeling chipper and raring to go. This and lighter packs allowed us to easily travel in the fist day some difficult cross country that took us two days on the previous trip. We arrived in camp with plenty of time to fish the evening hatch. It saved us a day’s worth of food as well.

Every other trip I’’ve taken has started at 4 AM with a long drive to the Sierras, getting a permit and bear cans, frantic packing of the food etc. Tired and cranky we’’d be lucky to get to trail head with enough time to stagger down the trail a few miles before dusk. Starting like this puts a trip, quite literally, off on a the wrong foot. I don’t think I will do it again if I can help it. Nothing like starting fresh and positive with a big lodge breakfast in your belly!

My Favorite Moment

Mid-trip, we woke the morning after a cold front had come through. A hard frost covered everything. Don’t remember who, but someone had the silly idea to take a dip. Temperature was still below freezing but we all plunged into the lake. Kevin and I took 10 minutes to swim across and back. We walked back into camp in just our shoes and sunned dry while cooking breakfast. It took another hour
for the frost to melt off our tarps.

What Ultralight Didn’’t Solve…

the usual trail squabbles.

Going into this hike, I naively thought that ultralight would turn this trip into one long idyllic camaraderie fest. We did have a great time and enjoyed each other’s company. And I know the reduced stress of lighter packs and getting into camp early certainly helped to minimize conflicts. But…..

But in retrospect it was unrealistic to assume that everybody would get along all of the time. Given four personalities, four interests, and four ideas of how to hike, there probably isn’t a complete solution to this. Colin hates to suffer, Kevin loves to fish and holds to a loose concept of schedule, Silvio is only 10 and needs to visit every snowfield, and yours truly likes to hold to a schedule get into camp early. I think we did a great job getting along 97% of the time.

For Next Trip…

people first.

For next trip I’ll focus a more on people and personalities. I think I’ve got the equipment stuff well under control but people are never easy. I have a feeling that 20 years from now I’ll still be learning. For the next trip I’m going to slow down a bit and listen more. A good belt of scotch in the evening wouldn’’t have hurt either.

-Alan

 

This trip marked the demise of my beloved Olympus XA rangefinder camera. Many of the pictures on this page are soft. I have since replaced the XA with a new camera, an Olympus 3.3 Megapixel C-3000 Zoom. Not as light or easy to use as the old rangefinder, but the digital camera makes loading up photos on to a web page a lot easier. With a 128 Mb of SmartMedia, I can take over 170 3.3 MP pictures. 2015 Note: my how things have changed in the digital world!
Kevin fishing the evening hatch at a remote back country lake.
Traveling ultralight on some smooooth granite: Kevin, Colin and Silvio.
Trekking poles make kicking steps a breeze on a late season snow field
The brothers at the summit. I always love a picture with a glacier in it.
On top of the world, or at least our part of it. From left to right, Kevin, Silvio, and Adventure Alan.
On our way down. Easy walking along a granite ridge
Camp mid-trip. The clouds are the very beginning of a huge cold front blowing through.Notice the neat two tarp pitch using two trekking poles and a stick (far left). We never got rain but had a very hard frost overnight. This was the morning that we went for the very early, very frosty swim.
Father and son enjoying a very cold water but what a bathtub!
Some of the weight savers on the trip. From L to R, Barricade Food Can, less food (inside the can), light plastic cup, SnowPeak Giga stove with homemade heat shield and windscreen, Primus 450 g fuel canister, titanium cup, 1.9 L ti pot, 2.5 L Platypus reservoir.
The hike out on the last day. Last big mountain lake <sigh>. Colin, AA, and Silvio in a communal hug. Next stop the ice cream stand at the Tourist Lake From Hell (TLFH). At the TLFH Kevin went on a 20 minute rant about power boats, SUV’s, summer homes, and mass consumer culture. Can’t blame him. It’s such a shock to the system after 7 days in the high country.
Colin strolling into camp. We got done hiking by 1 or 2 in the afternoon most days.
Enjoying the last bit of alpenglow glow and staying warm my a 8 oz Cirrus vest and 8 oz Montane Sirocco Smock. We saved over 5 lb. per person on clothing this trip. We were never cold.
Colin and Silvio heading back to lunch after filtering water.
Kevin running a streamer through a deep pool. As usual he’s hoping to entice a large trout.
Kevin leaning against his rod case and looking very philosophical. Not! I guarantee you that he is intently looking at the obvious drop off for large cruising trout. The aluminum rod case served double duty as Kevin’s walking staff for the trip.
Pitching the tarps as the winds pickup and the cold front comes rolling through. Notice the windward pullouts in the middle of the 10×10 Oware tarp. Lee edge is raised to for ventilation.
Adventure Alan enjoying a mid-trip layover day and fishing his heart out. This lake held some very, VERY nice fish. Put that streamer over the drop off and strip, strip, strip…. BANG!
Colin had a touch of trail sickness mid-trip. I got up, gave him two ibuprofen, and threw my bag over his. You can see he is warm and resting peacefully. Who wouldn’t the both a Marmot Hydrogen and Western Mountaineering Ultralight sleeping bag over you. Note the Photon light, Swiss Army Classic knife, and small whistle all on a lanyard by his head. The kid knows the drill!
Kevin making a long cast on a windy day. High altitude lakes are often difficult to fish in the middle of the day because of they are unprotected from strong afternoon winds.
In fine spirits and winding our way up to a rocky “pass.”
Kevin and Silvio skirting a small lake as we navigate our way cross country. Kevin was disappointed that this lake held no fish. Nice weed population though, and probably a good breeding habitat for the endangered Yosemite Toad.
Father and son getting ready for steep cross country descent.
It’s a delight traveling across large granite slabs.
Colin in a pensive moment at the end of the day.
A cheerful conversation over the morning’s tea.
A very windy afternoon. My hair is blowing straight back. I need the Montane shell to stay warm.
A refreshing swim after a hot 2,500 foot climb.
Silvio doing what the likes most, going to every snow field I had to walk him across a big moraine to get to this one.
Silvio and Colin hanging out after dinner. This was a deep canyon and quickly got dark. You can still see alpenglow on the peak at the end of the canyon.
Silvio having a sunny breakfast on a warm rock. The drying clothes are Kevin’s. He took an unexpected and fully clothed plunge into the nearby stream. As usual, concentrating a bit too much on the fish and not his feet!
Alpine meadow and stream meanders.
A drying lake. Lots of great tadpoles. And lots of fresh bear prints in the mud.
Too cute for words. Kevin and Silvio sharing a cup of tea.
The End!

 

Alison and I took our first trip together to Scotland in 2003. Since then we’ve been on many trips in the US and around the world but, we’ve always wanted to return to Scotland. This year we invited my father and his wife, Judith, to enjoy the best hill walking (hiking) in the world.

Photographs (except as noted) taken by Alan with an Olympus e520 digital SLR and Zuiko 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6 lens.

Scotland captured our hearts. Here a sudden opening in the clouds illuminates a lone tree and a small outcrop overlooking Loch
Marie in Wester Ross. The summit of Slioch (left) is still shrouded in mist at midday. Wester Ross was our favorite hill walking locale.

In the foreground is a small side ridge of Beinn Eigh. In the background and completely enveloped in clouds, is the main summit
ridge of Beinn Eigh.

Wester Ross

Isle of Skye: Looking down the vast landslip of the Trotternish Peninsula. The Storr 719 m (2385 ft), the highest point in
Trotternish is the furthest peak in the distance.

Glencoe

Buachaille Etive Mòr

Alison summitting Stob na Doire of Buachaille Etive Mòr. The mountain is a five mile ridge with four distinct summits. Our loop walk
covered all four of the summits. The highest summit, Stob Dearg 1022 m (3352 ft), is reddish in the background.

Traversing the ridge towards Stob na Doire.

Together on the summit of Stob na Doire. Stob na Bròige in the extreme upper left is the other Munro summit of Buachaille Etive Mòr.

Hiking out along Lairig Gartain.

Judith and Alison ready to pop in for soup and dinner. The Clachaig Inn in Glencoe is a popular place for
hill walkers to warm up, dry out and re-fuel after a long day in the mountains.

It rained hard all night but in the morning the storm clouds cleared out of the Glen — a good sign for the day’s walk up the Lost Valley.

Richard, Judith and Alison, hiking along the terminal moraine just before dropping into the basin of the Lost Valley.

Richard and Judith stayed to enjoy the valley floor. Alison and Alan headed up to the mist covered ridge at the end of the valley.

Enjoying a quick lunch and a great view of the Lost Valley just before entering the mist.

A parting shot of Glencoe. [Photo, Alison]

Isle of Skye

This August was the wettest on record for Scotland. The moderate rain and generally good hiking conditions in Glencoe were a blessing. For the rest of the trip in Skye and “Wester Ross” we had considerably more rain and mist. We averaged less than an hour of sunshine a day and had no more cloud free Munroes.

The Trip to Skye

The requisite picture of Eilean Donan Castle. It is the most photographed castle in Scotland.

A small stream along Glen Shiel.

Hill Walking in the Cullins of Skye

The weather was so bad in Cullin hills of Skye that we have no pictures of our hill walking there. Cloud level was never higher than 300 meters. Many times mists swirled at ground level. We had less than 30 meter visibility on the ridges and navigated exclusively by GPS to summits and back down. Our most difficult climb was Sgurr nan Gillean 964 m (3162 ft) with hard rain and complete white out. We saw nobody on route from the time we left the Sligachan Inn.

The Storr on Skye – Trotternish Peninsula

We arrived at the Storr late in the day. As the pinnacles came into view a storm blew in and all the walkers scurried away. We were left alone to enjoy a wet, misty and very windy Sanctuary and Old Man of Storr. You can just make out Richard (purple blip), Judith (yellow blip) and Alison (yellow blip) above the small outcrop in the right foreground.

Walking down from the Sanctuary — The Inner Sound and Isle of Raasay in the distance.

The Quiraing – Trotternish Peninsula

The Quiraing 543 m (2385 ft), a huge landslip on the Trotternish Peninsula. “The prison” is in the middle background. We were fortunate with mostly clear but blustery weather.

Struggling to stay upright in a stiff wind.

If you look hard across the Sound of Raasay you can see Wester Ross and the hills of Torridon, our next hill walking destination.

A stone crofters fence extending to cliffs edge.

Wester Ross – Torridon Hills and Shiedaig

 

Wester Ross was our favorite walking area. Wilder and less populated than Glencoe or Skye, it has impressive glens and summits in every direction. Liathach, Beinn Eigh, Beinn Alligin, and Beinn Dearg are just a few famous mountains. It would take months and months of hill walking to do Wester Ross justice. Sheildaig is a lovely little town and home of our favorite B&B on the trip, the Aurora.

Looking north from the base of Beinn Eigh. This impressive horizontal line of clouds covered all Munroe summits for the day.

Alison on the Horns of Alligin in Torridon. These were typical Munroe conditions in Wester Ross.
Like the Cuillin Hills we had rain and less than 30 meter visibility on the ridges. We navigated
exclusively by GPS to summits and back down. [Picture taken with Olympus Stylus 830 camera.]

A small side summit of Beinn Eigh breaks out of the clouds. The main summit ridge of the mountain is in the background and completely enveloped in clouds.

On the top of the Applecross Peninsula en route to Loch Torridon and Sheildaig. [Photo, Richard]

The Gang

 

Judith, Richard, Alison and Alan on Rannoch Moor as dusk settles in. Stob Dearg, the highest peak of Buachaille Etive Mòr,
rises in the background.

 

Montana 2002

Ascent of Whitetail Peak Via Whitetail Gully

Ryan ascending the steeper upper sections of the couloir.

The route up Whitetail Peak as seen from our acclimatization day at the high altitude fishing lakes.

Alan Starting up the lower section in classic pied à plat.

On steeper ice and using both tools.

The sun starts to hit the upper section of the couloir. Not good!

Taking a breather.

Negotiating over a step.

Ryan very near the summit.

Success — the top of the couloir.

A short section of class 3 rock and Ryan is at the summit. Fabulous 360 degree view of the Beartooths.

My goat-chewed trekking pole grips.

Our obnoxious camp mascot and eater of my trekking pole grips.

Sky Pilot, the climber’s flower. It only grows between 10,000 and 13,000 feet. These flowers are around 11,500 feet tucked in the middle of a talus slope.

 

 

Beartooth Fishing

Ready to start another day fishing and hiking in the Beartooths

Overview

With their heads swollen from a successful ice climb of Whitetail Gully and their feet swollen from too many miles in ice climbing boots, Alan and Ryan head off for some relaxing backcountry fishing in the Beartooth Absoraka Wilderness.

Evening Day 3 – Thursday, July 11, 2002

After our long day climbing Whitetail, even after dinner in Red Lodge and a soak in a hot tub, there still was little enthusiasm for hiking in and preparing for a one-day summit attempt on Montana’s high point, Granite Peak. Both of us were sore, and our feet did not relish another 18 mile romp over Beartooth talus, even in trail runners.

On the other hand, there was a lot of enthusiasm for unwinding on a light and fast 3-day backcountry fishing trip. Since I had never fished in Montana’s fabled trout waters, it took little effort on Ryan’s part to convince me to try and catch some Yellowstone Cutthroat from some remote Beartooth Lakes. Ryan bought the latest edition of the Beartooth Fishing Guide in Red Lodge and did some research on which lakes might be fishing well. Before we went to bed we selected an area with some promising lakes to check out.

Day 4 – Friday, July 12, 2002

After breakfast at the motel, we got our morning espresso from a little eatery in downtown Red Lodge and hit the supermarket for extra food. We purchased such healthy delicacies as 70% fat beef sticks and Red Vines. Then we headed off for a trailhead near Cooke City. To get there we drove the Beartooth Highway, one of the highest paved roads in the lower 48. The alpine scenery was spectacular and was a special treat for me who had never been over the road. After fully testing out the ground clearance and traction of our rented 4WD vehicle on a Montana logging “road” we reached Lady of the Lake trailhead around 1:00 pm. (Ryan didn’t seem to understand about slowing down for the frequent drainage chasms that crossed the road. Maybe it’s a regional thing; Ryan’s response: “It-t-t’s a r-rent-t-tal d-d-dude. What the heck is that in the r—! Ow! Whoa!! These climbing helmets are awesome! Alan, why’s yer helmet back in your pack? Is that blood, man?”)

Catching a few brookies at Lady of the Lake

We shouldered our delightful 16 pound packs and immediately forded the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River and followed Lady of the Lake Creek to the lake of the same name. Here we had a snack, sampled respectable fishing for brook trout, and discussed what we should do next. Ryan convinced me that we should head off cross country to some largely unknown lakes under”experimental fisheries management.” The first of these lakes was Swamp Lake, the last Marsh Lake. With names like that I should have known better…

Ryan with Cytomax bottle, trying to figure out where the heck we go next

The route, entirely in the woods and without views, was challenging. Ryan and I navigating together managed to hit our destination, Swamp Lake, right on the nose. I don’t think either of us would have fared as well separately. Swamp Lake is what one would expect from the name, a shallow, warmish lake with a few boggy areas around the shoreline, and with hardly a dry place to put your feet or set up camp. There air was calm and even in mid-afternoon the mosquitoes were plentiful.

Swamp Lake – Ryan’s tarp is the greenish-blue thing on the far shore

Ryan had chosen this lake because it was said to harbor trophy rainbows. As we were eating an early dinner at the lake’s outlet, we did see a massive surface wake that could have been either a US Navy torpedo test or a trout of unknown proportions. We also saw an otter and a porcupine. The otter immediately dove under the water and the porcupine immediately went up a tree.

During dinner we found a ripped hunting guide’s jacket that Ryan thought might be the result of a bear attack – not a cheering thought in grizzly country but then again it could have been the work of a brother of our friend the mountain goat. Ryan took down the name of the guide service on the jacket to make a call when we got back. Since we were in grizzly country, we were careful to cook at one end of the lake at the established campsite where a bear was more likely to come, but to sleep at the other end of the lake.

The fishing guidebook said the fisheries management policies at these lakes had not yet been evaluated, but I can tell you the fishing at Swamp Lake stank. We never saw a rising fish and despite many fishing strategies, we caught nothing. Ryan claims to have spooked two more huge rainbows but I didn’t see a fish, not even a minnow. The water was clear and the surface mirror flat. Our odds of catching large wild rainbows even if they were in the lake were just about nil. Just about any cast or presentation would send them charging to the other end of the lake. Ryan says he may pack a float tube back to Swamp Lake and see what he can do. I say bonne chance. But make no mistake: we did see a large wake…

Our camp on the soggy shores of swamp lake – Ryan is sitting on stuff sack to keep his behind dry

Our camp was so damp that if you took four shoeless steps your socks would get wet. Fortunately the silnylon bottoms of our bivy sacks did keep our sleeping bags dry. Mosquito pressure steadily increased towards dusk until each of us had a personal haze of the hungry ones humming around our heads. We’d already been using our head nets and DEET for hours.

It was then that I began to question Ryan. I couldn’t figure out why we were sleeping (floating?) in a bog on the shore of a windless, mosquito-infested lake. For three uncatchable rainbows? I’d been hoping he had a little more sense than that. But then fisher folk will do a lot of crazy things if they think there’s even a remote possibility of landing that big one. My brother is exactly the same. Been that way for years.

Alan having fun
White things are skeeter wings caught in the flash


“There were a few bugs at this lake.” So great why was Ryan wearing his head net, gloves, and Jackorack in such warm weather?

Ryan’s journal notes about the mosquitoes: “There were a few bugs at this lake. Alan looks annoyed. Maybe he’s frustrated with the lack of spices in our dinner?”

Alan’s note: My frustrated look was more likely envy of Ryan’s bivy with the zip-in mosquito netting. This inequity in accessories may account for much of our difference of opinion about mosquitoes. (Possibly I wasn’t paying attention and Ryan was nipping harder at the bourbon than I thought.) Anyway if Ryan thought the bugs were so great why was he wearing his head net, gloves, and Jackorack in such warm weather and why did he beg me for my DEET (he forgot his) three hours before sunset?

Anyway, without bug netting on MY bivy, the mosquitoes were so intense that even the bourbon didn’t help me to sleep. I like to think I have decent mosquito tolerance, but the hundreds of buzzing skeeters kept at bay just an inch from my face by the head net were too loud for me to doze off. I finally had to zip the bivy hood shut to get to sleep. It was a bit warmer and stuffier inside the bivy that I like for sleeping but better than the drone of the hungry ones. Nice that the EPIC bivy top was breathable enough that I didn’t asphyxiate. As I dozed off, I cringed wondering what lovely destinations Ryan had planned for the next day.

Day 5 – Saturday, July 13, 2002

We woke at dawn, packed, and left in 10 minutes without eating or cooking breakfast. We motored away from Swamp Lake in a hurry, glad to put the worst of the mosquitoes behind us. Unfortunately, on this trip there was no place day or night that was free of mosquitoes, it was only a question of how many.

Enjoying one of Ryan’s excellent meals.
With thundestorms all around we’re also enjoying an ununsual respite from mosquitoes

Food

We returned to Lady of the Lake and had pleasant breakfast. Did I tell you how well we ate on this trip? First, Ryan has these fantastic homemade meals that he puts in Stand and Zip bags. He was kind enough to make a whole set for me. The familia breakfast cereal, with grains, nuts, and freeze dried fruit like raspberries is to die for. We had it hot but Ryan says it’s at least as good cold.

Ryan’s dinners are equally good. He gets these great dried soy chunks from his local coop that hydrate into a perfect texture. The two meals he brought were chili mac and corn chowder. Both were full of sauce, spices and veggies. They are about two the three times better than commercial freeze dried meals and have a whole lot less sodium. For a few more easy calories, I brought some canola oil which we added after our meals had been rehydrated.

Coffee

I brought some super Café Chiapas Zapatista coffee that I ground fresh the night before the trip. I make a serious cup of trail coffee with a caffeine buzz that helps a man get up and do what he has to do. What the heck do you think launched us up Whitetail Gully? Ryan raved about the coffee all trip and I’m sending him a bag of it this week.

We boiled water for meals in my 1.3 liter Evernew titanium pot. We used it to poach trout and we also used it for brewing coffee. Yes, we brewed about a liter of coffee in the morning and Ryan had another 16 oz cup of coffee in the eve (“Helps focus me vision on them reeeally tiny stars,” he says). The man has a serious caffeine Jones.

After breakfast we headed up canyon to Zimmer Creek and then along Sky Top Creek before going off trail to a couple of small lakelets with good brookie fishing; then we moved on to Cliff Lake.

Fording some swift water. We waded through many steams and just kept on going.Our pants and shoes were dry in a short time.

At this point we were in high spirits — rested from Whitetail, full of warm breakfast and pleasantly buzzing with caffeine. With sub-15 pound packs and fly rods in hand, we were ready to do some serious fishing. Ryan and I hiked and fished our way from Cliff Lake to Peanut Lake and Moccasin Lake, and finally to Weasel Lake. With our trekking poles in our packs and our fly rods ready we cast a line in almost every body of water we came to.

Ryan casting to spooky brook trout in gin clear water.

We had some exceptional catches of brook trout as big as 15 inches in a small, unnamed lakelet along the way. We would never have fished it if we hadn’t seen a few risers out the corner of our eyes. Ryan says Beartooth fishing is like this. You need to be alert. Some of the smallest and most innocuous lakes and tarns sometimes have excellent fishing and some the larger, fishier looking lakes can be disappointing.

Weasel lake at dawn. The glass smoth surface takes a beautuful photograph but makes fishing hard

After Moccasin Lake we moved on in a hurry because thunderstorms had been threatening for over an hour. Nothing like darkening skies and the sound of nearing thunder to quicken your hiking pace. Ryan was looking forward excitedly to a torrential rainstorm in which to test our silnylon ponchos. I preferred getting to the lake before the rain arrived and testing them in tarp mode, over my bag and bivy.

Ryan Exonerated

Weasel lake, our ultimate destination, was large and looked fishy. Ryan picked it because it was in year 5 of its 8-year stocking cycle. Around 4 to 6 years after stocking, lakes have the best combination of large fish and quantities of fish. I was delighted to see rising fish as we approached.

Ryan’s tarp at Weasel Lake

We beat the thunderstorms by about 15 minutes. Just enough time to pitch our ponchos/tarps in low storm mode before they arrived. Luck of the draw, but with storms raging and thundering all around us, all we got was gusty wind and a splattering of rain.

Fishing can be good with overcast skies and rain. Not ones to be afraid of standing around with a 9 foot rod of carbon in an electrical storm (at least when there are rising fish — is this the first time you’ve thought we were a bit demented?) Ryan and I went down to the lake and had at. Ryan struck first with a nice 14-inch Yellowstone Cutthroat in just a few minutes. This was to be the best fishing of the day. The overcast skies and the windruffled surface had the fish rising and our presentations disguised.

Alan fishing Weasel Lake. He’s barely visable on the point.

The wind ruffled surface of the water and overcast from adjacent thunderstorms made for good fishing.
As the storms left, the lake surface calmed and the fishing got a lot harder. By evening Ryan and I were delving deep into our fly boxes for tiny stuff and lengthening our leaders to 10 feet and longer with fine tippets. Ryan kept mumbling about his midge box that he’d left at home. He did have some success with a #22 Baetis Sparkle Dun that he cut down to resemble a midge pupa. I had brought two fly boxes to Ryan’s one and a much larger assortment of flies. I was able to get some fish with a #20 BWO emerger, and some with my old standby, a Parachute Adams in size 20 or 22, which I fished just below the surface. Ryan switched to the Adams Parachute pattern with success as well.

In the end it was a perfect afternoon and evening of fishing. A couple of our fish were 16 inches, maybe a bit larger, which is a good fish by Beartooth standards (Ryan has caught fish well over 20 inches in the Beartooths.) The fishing was challenging enough to keep us entertained but not so hard that we were breaking our rods in frustration (we got close a few times). What a wonderful introduction to Beartooth backcountry fishing and Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout. Thank you Ryan!

Oh, I forgot to mention. As soon as the winds from the thunderstorms died down the mosquitoes were murder. Sounding like a familiar story? At least at Weasel Lake the fishing was good enough to warrant the torment. These mosquitoes were the worst of the trip (Ryan’s journal reads succinctly: “Bugs.” Alan’s response: Yeah, Ryan’s so tough that he chews his way through the thicker clouds of “bugs!”).

Anyway for some reason known only to him, Ryan fished the whole time in a head net and again borrowed my DEET for his hands. I fished in a fleece balaclava with DEET on the exposed portions of my face. Even so, I got dozens of bites on my nose and between my eyes and the balaclava. For my hands I alternated between fingerless fleece gloves (hard to fish in) and DEET. Again, I got quite a few bites. Surprisingly, the mosquitoes for the most part couldn’t penetrate my Rail Riders Ecomesh shirt.

During dinner Ryan and I both got a hundred bites on ankles exposed by raised pants hems. Right through our socks! As at Swamp Lake, the mosquitoes did not abate during the night. This made for some mad dashes for a nighttime pee. Don’t want to keep things exposed for too long. During my stay at Weasel Lake, I think I got bitten dozens of times just about anywhere I could be bitten. Fortunately, I have a fairly high tolerance for mosquitoes, especially when there’s fish to be caught. Again Ryan had the better deal with the zip-in mosquito netting on his Oware bivy.

Ryan heading off towards Moccasin Lake for breakfast.

Day 6 – Sunday, July 14, 2002
We woke at dawn and again left camp quickly without breakfast. The surface of Weasel Lake was like glass and we were not interested in any more midge fishing to selective trout. Besides, we had other plans. Around 7:00 AM we arrived at Moccasin Lake and caught two fat brook trout each. Into the pot they went to be poached with a little oil. A delicious trout breakfast, a large cup of strong coffee, and all was well with the world.

Breakfast: Four brook trout – perfect eating size


Ready to poach.

From Moccasin Lake we traversed over to beautiful Splinter Lake (Sliver Lake on some maps). The lake truly is a splinter. It is so narrow that it resembles a fjord more than a lake. There is an idyllic waterfall cascading into the middle of it. It was so perfect that it looked like the ultimate mountain lake for a glossy calendar photo. Ryan caught a couple a nice brook trout at the far end of the lake and I took a dip. The cold water felt great on my mosquito bites.

Alan swimming in beautiful Sliver Lake

Now it was time to hammer out. I wanted to be back in time to take Ryan, Stephanie and Chase out to a relaxed dinner in Bozeman. We passed three groups of non-ultralight backpackers who seemed almost not to be moving by comparison. One woman was wearing shorts. Her legs looked like what they must have been last night — a feeding station for mosquitoes. Shorts? And still wearing them? She might as well have put up a neon sign advertising “eat here.” Well, on second thought, if I had legs that good I’d might shave them and suffer the shorts too.

Ryan and I stopped at the Grizzly Cafe in Cook City. It’s something of a local color place and it’s Ryan’s favorite place to stop on his way out of the Beartooths. We were sandwiched in between a large biker group in leathers with bandanas tied around their heads and a couple of yuppie families with Orvis hats. A strange contrast but I liked the bikers better (Ryan’s journal: “Hell’s Angels to the left and Orvis catalog models to the right. At least the milkshakes are good”).

Given the venue, I couldn’t bring myself to order the veggie burger on the menu and instead had the special: cheeseburger, fries, and a milkshake. It was my first cheeseburger in at least 15 years but I suffered no ill effects. The strawberry malt was thick and superb. Nothing like ice cream after a hot dusty trail. (Ryan: “Alan tried to order a veggie crap something-or-other but I told him that we’d have none of that in a backwoods Montana town. He was to eat meat and like it if we wanted to walk out of this eat joint without getting shot.”)

From Cooke City we drove through the northern section of Yellowstone Park. Ryan had to stop every 10 minutes or so to show me some neat trout stream that we would fish in the future. My jaw just kept dropping lower and lower was we passed one unbelievable river after another. My favorite may have been the Gardner River in which you can soak in sulfur hot springs (“The Boiling River”) where they empty into the river. Ryan says he stops here on the way back from most trips and has a soak while he fishes the river. Unfortunately we were too short on time to for me to have a shot at this dual bliss.

Oh, we did get a good look at a young male Grizzly Bear on our way through the Park.

Far too quickly we had exited the north entrance of the Park at Gardiner/Mammoth (I have a photo of myself here) and now headed out along the Yellowstone River through the towns of Corwin Springs, Chico, Pray, Emigrant, Livingston; finally we were on our way to Bozeman. Along the way we stopped (just to look) at Depuy’s Spring, one of Montana’s legendary spring creeks.

We arrived in Bozeman at around 5:00 PM. I took Ryan, Stephanie and Chase out as a small thanks for their hospitality. After dinner, and after putting Chase to bed, Ryan and I had a couple of stouts with ice cream. Stephanie visited with us but was virtuous and just had ice water. We all chatted until after midnight. Ryan and Stephanie are wonderful hosts.

In Summary

All I can say is a million thanks to Ryan who planned the trip. Between the successful ice climb and the superb backcountry fishing, I don’t think I’ve been on a finer one. Then there’s always our next trip, which may be even better.

– AD, Arlington VA; RJ, Bozeman July 21, 2002

 

GEAR NOTES

Packs

Alan tested out his 27 oz GoLite Speed Adventure Racing Pack on this trip. It was ideal for a light and fast crosscountry fishing trip. He spent a lot of time hiking and fishing with this pack on. The foam-and-mesh back with its air channel was a blessing in the heat of this trip. The pack was so comfortable that much of the time he forgot I had it on. He rarely bothered to take it off.

Alan on the move with his GoLite Speed Adventure Racing Pack and rod ready to fish

The pack has tons of external storage. Its four side pockets held a Cytomax bottle, fishing equipment, camera, and lunch food. All were easily accessible without delving into the pack. Alan put most of my other small doodads in the top pocket of the pack. Oh how I do love a top pocket. I used the helmet holder to secure my Mt. Washington ground pad and put my Silponcho (and trekking poles when I was fishing) in the large rear pocket. With all this external storage, I didn’t have to go into the main bag of the pack except to make camp at night.

The pack comes with a 3 liter Platy Zip Hoser hydration system built in. The bladder is right against your spine for great balance. The large volume was a plus in the hot dry weather of this trip. We went through 6 to 8 liters of water a day. The hipbelt took some weight off of his shoulders and was a nice load stabilizer. In addition the hipbelt pockets were great for packets of Gu and Aleve (vitamins for aging jocks).

One final plus, the more durable fabric on the bottom of the pack is a welcome design change for GoLite (in comparison to the Breeze which has a less tear and abrasion resistant Spectra Ripstop). Alan felt this pack bottom was much better for off trail use. It’s nice not to constantly pay attention on whether you’re putting your pack down on something sharp. Also, one always seems to bump the pack bottom on rocks while boulder while or sharp branches while bushwhacking.

Ryan used his incredibly versatile McHale, stripping it down to include just its frame, top pocket, and side pockets. With his Mt. Washington pad rolled inside the pack, there was room to spare for this 3-day trip (the main packbag is about 2,800 ci).

Shelter System — Integral Design Silponcho and Oware Epic/silnylon Bivy

We were very pleased with our shelter system of ID’s Silponcho as tarp, an Oware EPIC/silnylon bivy and Leki Ultralight Ti trekking poles. Both of us are taking this exact system on future trips this summer.

This is the standard A-frame/lean to pitch we used


Ryan’s tarp in a storm pitch

Both for day hiking and for our climbing days, we put our sleeping pads, sleeping bags and surplus gear in the bivy and staked it to the ground. This kept everything from blowing away while we were gone from camp. With the tarp pitched over the bivy, we had a fully weather resistant sleep and shelter setup in camp. When we came back our bags were fully lofted ready to sleep in—no setup, no fuss, no bother. This works much better than putting everything in a stuff sack and jamming it between boulders or in the bushes. Nice not have to re-pitch camp when you come back from a long day hike or hard climb.

The ID Silponcho and Oware EPIC/silnylon bivy worked well in a variety of conditions from frosty sub-30-degree nights below Whitetail peak to boggy and humid conditions on the damp shores of Swamp Lake. Everything under the tarp and inside the bivy stayed dry. The damp soil at the side of the lake did not seep through the silnylon floor of the bivy and there was no condensation inside the bivy.

Alan’s tarp in storm pitch an well sheltered behind a beak of trees.The green thing under the tarp is his Oware EPIC/silnylon bivy sack

The last few nights in the Beartooths were very warm with intense mosquito pressure that did not abate during the night. Ryan was in heaven with his bugnetted bivy. He had the hood tie-out secured to his tarp. Alan was OK with his spring-loaded headnet poking through the non-meshed hood opening on his bivy. He had a hard time getting to sleep on boggy shoreline of Swamp Lake. The hundreds of buzzing skeeters kept just an inch from his face by the headnet didn’t allow him to doze off. He finally had to zip the bivy hood shut to get to sleep.

The bivys were great on the warm 50-to-60 degree nights because we had bug protection without having to be in our sleeping bags. On still warmer night they were too hot for Alan, who slept in his bivy with only his GoLite Chill vest for insulation.

We had no significant precipitation on the trip although we spent a few very windy hours high on the Beartooth plateau with thunderstorms raging all around us. We got only the gusty winds and a splattering of rain. It was also a few blessed hours where we weren’t tormented by mosquitoes. Both tarps held up well in the gusts in a low A-frame storm pitch. We were both hoping for rain to test the water resistance or our shelter setup and to see how the Oware bivys handled rain spray under the tarp but it was not to be.

We brought only water-resistant jackets and no rain pants. The Silponchos, in poncho mode, were our backup to protect us and our packs in case of torrential rain. The EPIC of the Jackoracks is good but not that good.

FF Jackoracks

Both of us used EPIC Jackoracks from Feathered Friends. At under 9 oz the Jackorakck may be the most versatile shell on the market. They are great windshells, and will keep you reasonably dry in all but heavy precipitation. The Jackorack has a full hood that fits over a climbing helmet, and it has a generous brim. Between the breathable EPIC fabric, huge front vents, pit zips and a full front zipper, the Jackoracks arewonderful at regulating heat and moisture from hard exercise. We also found that they made great mosquito protection.

Ryan: “I found the EPIC fabric to be pretty warm for summer wind wear. I prefer the more breathable microfiber polyester of the GoLite Bark or the Pertex Microlight of a Montane Featherlite windshirt. However, the Jackorak has huge torso vents and pit zips that compensate for this, making it the most versatile shell jacket I’ve ever owned.”

Insulation

Alan took his GoLite Chill vest. He picked this vest for both his Climb on Whitetail and the fishing trip because he wasn’t taking fully waterproof raingear. The Polarguard 3D insulation in the vest would keep him a lot warmer if he got into some serious rain that worked its way through my EPIC shell. He also likes vests because they leave his arms free for activities like ice climbing and fishing. The Chill is a very efficient insulator. At 14.5 oz it has substantially more insulation than most synthetic fill vests like a Patagonia Puffball. Alan was toasty warm in the vest and Jackorak shell on the frosty mornings at the base of Whitetail Peak.

Alan warming up in his GoLite Chill vest at the top of Whitetail Gulley

Although it was too warm to wear the vest for most of the unusually hot weather on our Beartooths fishing trip—It was 103 degrees in Bozeman one day while we were gone—the vest was still useful. The last two nights of the fishing trip, temperatures dropped into the 50’s. Alan did not use his sleeping bag. Instead he used the Chill vest as his only insulation for sleeping in his bivy sack. He was warm and comfortable. Ryan was impressed enough with the vest that he may buy one for himself.

Ryan’s choice was a PhD Minimus down jacket (12 oz). The only time he really appreciated its warmth was preparing for the climb at 4 am on a 28-degree morning. But it makes a great pillow. Had Ryan let the weather forecast sink in a bit, he probably would have replaced it with a Puffball Vest (7 oz).

Ursack Bear Bags

Since we were in Grizzly country, we were serious about keeping our food away from bears. We both used Ursack Bear Bags for our food. These were light (5 oz) and, unlike bear cans, compress to the size of your food. This was good, given our small and lightly padded packs. We usually camped where there were no trees tall enough to hang food from. With the Ursacks we just tied the bag to a sturdy tree trunk about eye level. It took us about 60 seconds to put up or take down our food. Compare that to the time it takes to do a good food hang. In addition, to minimize attracting bears at night, we cooked most meals away from where we camped.

Schoeller Dynamic Pants

Alan wore a pair of Ibex Alp pants and Ryan a pair Arc’Teryx Gamma LT pants. We were surprised – and pleased – with the warmweather performance of Schoeller’s Dynamic fabric. These pants were the only bottoms we brought and worked well in 80 degree hiking weather. On this sort of trip we’d usually take nylon Supplex pants and expected to roast in the more durable and heavier Schoeller fabric. Instead we were cool and comfortable. We waded through steams in the pants and they were dry in a short time. The Dynamic fabric is extremely tough and survived a lot of bushwhacking with no signs of wear. Finally, the pants were very mosquito resistant, a necessity on this trip!

ALAN’S GEAR LIST
ITEM WT (OZ)
down bag (Rab Top bag – modified) in silnylon stuff sack 20.0
3/4 length closed cell foam sleeping pad
(Paramount Outfitters’ Mt. Washington) 7.0
bivy sack with EPIC top and silnylon bottom (Oware) 9.5
silnylon poncho-tarp (Integral Designs) 8.5
titanium stakes (9) and Triptease guylines in ziploc bag 3.0
GoLite Speed Pack 27.0
clothing worn (Supplex shirt, Ibex Schoeller Dynamic pants, merino running socks, trail runners, Supplex hat, bandana) n/a
EPIC shell jacket (Feathered Friends Jackorak) 9.0
Polarguard 3D vest (GoLite Chill) lots of loft! 14.5
other clothing (Patagonia R.5 zip-T, 1 pr extra socks, 200 wt balaclava, fingerless gloves) 15.0
personal cook kit (Snowpeak 21 oz ti mug, plastic spoon) 3.0
1/2 group cookwear (Snowpeak GigaPower canister stove, 1.3 L ti pot, lighter, empty wt of 8 oz fuel canister) 6.0
bear bag (Ursack TKO) and mylar liner 5.0
hydration (3L bladder, 1L sports bottle, Aqua Mira Kit) 8.0
emergency kit (blister kit, meds, whistle, pocket LED light) 3.0
toilet kit (toothbrush & paste, headnet, DEET, TP, Purell) 5.0
navigation (map, LED light, Suunto Vector worn, micro-compass) 2.0
camera (Olympus digital w. Li batts & 128 Mb card) 14.0
fishing (4-pc fly rod, cloth cover, reel, 2 box of flies, tippet, split shot, strike indicator, nippers, hemostats, floatant, lanyard) 19.0
TOTAL PERSONAL EQUIPMENT 11.2 lbs
breakfasts (2 x 6 oz ea) 12.0
lunches (2 x 10 oz ea) 20.0
dinners (2 x 6 oz ea) 12.0
coffees (2 x 2 oz ea) 2.0
Cytomax (4 oz) 4.0
carbo gel 6.0
1/2 fuel (net wt) 4.0
TOTAL PACK WEIGHT INCLUDING CONSUMABLES
(WATER WEIGHT NOT INCLUDED)

14.9 lbs

RYAN’S GEAR LIST
ITEM WT (OZ)
down top bag (Nunatak Arc Alpinist) in 1000 ci silnylon stuff sack 22.0
18″ x 36″ closed cell foam sleeping pad (Paramount Outfitters’ Mt. Washington) 4.0
bivy sack with EPIC top and silnylon bottom (Oware) 11.0
silnylon poncho-tarp (Integral Designs) 9.0
titanium stakes (14) and mason twine guylines (50 ft) in small ballistics nylon stuff sack 4.0
210d Spectra ripstop pack 2800 ci (McHale) with top pocket/fanny pack, two side pockets, and frame 52.0
clothing worn (Supplex shirt, Schoeller Dynamic pants, merino trail socks, trail running shoes, Supplex hat, bandana) n/a
EPIC shell jacket (Feathered Friends Jackorak) 9.0
down jacket (PhD Minimus) 12.0
other clothing (1 pr extra socks, Powerstretch balaclava, nylon/tricot gloves) 6.0
personal cookware (Snowpeak 21 oz ti mug, lid, ti spork) 4.2
1/2 of group cook kit (Snowpeak GigaPower canister stove, lighter, and empty wt of MSR IsoPro fuel canister) 6.0
bear bag (Ursack) 5.0
hydration (1.5L bladder, 1L sports bottle, Aqua Mira Kit) 6.5
emergency kit (blister kit, meds, whistle, pocket LED light, cell phone) 7.0
toilet kit (toothbrush, Dr. Bronner’s, Dermatone, headnet, TP, Purell) 5.0
navigation (map, LED light, Suunto Vector worn) 1.8
camera (Contax T3, case, extra battery, 3 rolls film) 13.0
fishing (5-piece fly rod, vinyl rod tube, reel, 1 box of flies, tippet, split shot, strike indicator, nippers, floatant, lanyard) 16.0
TOTAL PERSONAL EQUIPMENT 12.1 lbs

breakfasts (2 x 6 oz ea) 12.0
lunches (3 x 10 oz ea) 30.0
dinners (2 x 6 oz ea) 12.0
coffees (2 x 1 oz ea) 2.0
Cytomax (3 oz) 3.0
carbo gel (3 oz) 3.0
1/2 of fuel (net wt) 4.0
TOTAL PACK WEIGHT INCLUDING CONSUMABLES (WATER WEIGHT NOT INCLUDED) 16.2 lbs