The following is a mix of anecdotes, gear reports, and fishing stories. Hope you enjoy the read. -Alan
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK TRIP, August 2000
Sad to say, as a native Californian and lover of the Sierras, but the Rockies are better. Lusher, higher and more rugged. I found beauty, solitude, challenging routes, and great fishing.
I hiked about 50 miles in four days. My average hiking speed was between 2.5 and 3.5 mile per hour. The trails were great and the hiking easy thanks to my new ultralight load. I like the idea of being in the back country multiple nights but only carrying a day hike load. My longest day was a exceptionally beautiful 18 mile circuit from Pear Lake over Cony “Pass” and back via Junco and Blue Bird Lakes. Did have time to fish after I got back but had some sore feet.
The route was rugged and I hadn’t sufficiently tested my Soloman Wind Raids before I left. Bicycling is my form of aerobic exercise. This causes my feet to be tender backpacking since they don’t get the normal wear and tear, blister prevention, and break in, from running or hiking. Normally I take some warm-up hikes up and down the Blue Ridge using my footwear of choice before I leave for a Western multi-day trip. I didn’t before this trip (just ran out of time) and it was a big mistake. My socks were too large and Coney “Pass” really steep. Not enough room for toes on the decent. Blisters. Ouch!
The day was overcast and sputtering. I spent some time fishing Hutchinson Lakes waiting for it to clear. Around 11:30 I figured it wasn’t going to rain seriously and decided to go over the pass. The ascent was steeper than expected and I crested at 1:00. The route down was steep and difficult, the glacier above me had warmed and was putting lots of water on the route and sending down the occasional rock. I started moving fast since I was running out of valuable hiking time. I felt like I had idiot printed on my forehead. Here I was doing just they always tell you not to do. Up high, late in the day, under a melting glacier, by myself with nobody to come and look for me if I didn’t show up in camp that night. Anyway, moving quickly and picking good routes, I was back on trail by 3:00 with only a few cuts on my hands for the effort. I think I’ve temporarily lost my taste for boulder fields and scree. All other hiking on the trip was beautiful and uneventful.
GoLite Breeze Pack
This pack is a delight. I took about 20 pounds in the pack for 4 days and covered about 50 miles including one 18 mile day with lots of alpine cross country. It carries beautifully. The pack rested snugly against my back – the bottom of the pack nested in the hollow just above my butt. The shoulder straps are very comfortable. I felt no need for a hip belt. Without the belt you are free to move your hips and assume a more natural gait. I’ve always had problems getting hip belt packs to sit squarely. With the Breeze it was easy to “hitch” pack around to balance perfectly on my back and shoulders. It is the most comfortable pack I’ve used.
This mesh pockets are great. The large rear pocket holds rain wear, tarp, water filter, a 2 liter water bottle and more. Stuff is really easy to get in and out. The side pockets are a bit tight for water containers with a stuffed pack. It can be done, but the bladder edges tend to snag in the mesh and the opening is a bit small. They work fine for food and small items. If you want to put water in the side pockets, a narrow soda bottle type container would work better than a bladder.
Packing the Breeze as GoLite suggests — putting everything in the middle of your loosely rolled ground pad — didn’t work for me. Instead, I put my ground sheet, food and tarp in the bottom of the Breeze, followed by a loosely stowed sleeping bag and clothing bag stuffed sideways. All my other stuff in zip loc baggies fit easily in the last few top inches of storage. A bit of massaging and the pack has a nice flat back and the main bag a perfectly rectangular shape. I put my rolled up ground pad on top of the load extension collar and cinched everything down. What could be easier? (If I was whacking through a lot of brush, I could and would, pack it as GoLite suggests or take my Thermarest Ultralite mattress.)
A few suggestions. A heavier fabric on the pack bottom would be worth one or two extra ounces for increased durability. Ditto for a simple top pocket. I miss this feature. This is where I put my maps, flashlight, first aid kit, etc. I think a top pocket provides useful storage, rain protection for the main pocket, and abrasion resistance for the load extension collar. A top pocket is great for stuffing things like your ground pad or camp footwear under. Finally, I sweat like crazy under the Breeze. The weather was hot and I was hiking fast. At times the sweat was down to the backs of my knees. I don’t see this as a major problem or recommend a fix. Just noting that a large expanse of waterproof fabric on your back will do this. I wouldn’t be interested in the additional weight for a sweat management system. GoLite recommends that you carry the pack by one shoulder strap, alternating between shoulders, to air you back off.
SHELTER AND SLEEPING
My Sil Shelter worked fine. It didn’t get a thorough testing since I camped below tree line and didn’t get a major storm with rushing water and raging winds. I did get moderate rain and wind and stayed dry. The Sil Shelter does setup with ease. One night I was sleeping out under the “stars” when I woke to rain in the face. I located the Sil Shelter in my pack and had it pitched in the dark in just a few minutes. Everything under the shelter nice and dry and back to blissful sleep. Integral designs recommends a trekking pole for the center support since it’s adjustable. I don’t use trekking poles but a couple of tent poles at totaling 41″ worked fine. Total weight of shelter with stakes and poles 17 oz. The shelter can handle two in a pinch but some gear would need to go outside. It is very roomy for one. Also, the rear portion of the shelter does tend to droop a bit low. Might get the end of your bag damp if you weren’t careful. Some creative pitching would probably solve this problem.
I knew my Marmot Pinnacle DryLoft bag (43 oz) was overkill when I left. Just ran out of money to buy a lighter bag. The weather was hot and overnight temps didn’t drop much below 50 even at 11,000feet. I had enough down and fabric with me to keep a whole scout troop warm. Next trip I’ll go for a RAB Top Bag or a WM HighLite. If it gets really cold I’ll just wear my Puffball pullover and a heavy balaclava inside the bag. For heavy rain I will need to figure out some type of ground sheet system to keep the bag dry from water running under the floorless Sil Shelter. With a DryLoft bag this is not a major concern. (Post trip note: I got rid of the Pinnacle and purchased a 17 oz. RAB Top Bag.)
The only good thing I can say about my 20 x 40″ blue foam pad is that is light. So is sleeping on the ground. As far as I can see insulation is the only advantage (but a very significant one) blue foam has over sleeping on the ground. It is hard stuff. I did slept OK and will probably continue to use the foam pad. But I never know when I might be tempted and consider the extra weight of bringing my Thermarest ¾ Ultralite.
FOOD AND WATER
I didn’t take a stove. Ate mostly gorp, Power Bars, pemmican bars, Peanut M&M’s, powdered milk, grape nuts and beef jerky. Took caffeine pills for my morning buzz. I might not take the grape nuts again. Too much trouble to mix and eat. Then I could leave the bowl and spoon at home. No stove, fuel, pots, cups, bowls, or utensils. I realize this puts me on the fringe but it works for me and saves weight. If I were traveling with others I would probably need to reconsider this position. Ry’s meals sound a lot better than mine and I’m sure that I couldn’t convince many others to follow my frugal eating habits.
I brought a 1 and 2 liter platypus. In the future I’d only bring the 2 liter platypus. Most of the time I didn’t carry water. Why use a camel back when you can be your own camel? I can drink 2 to 3 liters at a “sitting.” This is sufficient to get met to the next watering hole most of the time. I still use a PUR hiker. I haven’t gone over to the gravity side yet. Maybe I’ll talk to Ry and see how it works. For the time being, the lack of stove and cook gear should more than makeup for the increased weight of a pump filter.
Fishing was great. I brought a 4 pc. 5 wt. in a fleece rod sleeve. Put my two tent poles in the middle, rubber-banded the whole mess together at both ends and shoved it down the side of my Breeze. It worked just fine. Fish at Pear Lake were easy to catch. “Cookie cutter “greenback cutts in the 10 to 12 inch range. Probably could have used a hook with strike putty molded around the shank to catch these fish. I used a #14 humpy. Fish at Thunder lake were a bit harder. I used woolly buggers, beadhead princes, and some #22 dry and emerger patterns. All worked at one time or another. Got some nice fish 14 to 16 inches. Most effective patterns were #22 parachute Adams and a #22 midge emerger under a bit of strike putty (the 16 inch fish). I had one fish hit a woolly bugger at a drop-off. Went racing along the shoreline flats like a bonefish. My drag was screaming. Survived the first run but on the second Mr. Trout wrapped me around some shoreline rocks and that was that. Nice fish!