Here's my account of the trip:
I saw Michael's post about Joshua Tree, and I was already looking for a place to go during the 3-day weekend. I'd never been to J Tree before and I always wanted to check it out.
The mileage was way more than I've ever done before, but I'm in decent shape, and I felt I could handle it. Plus, it would give me a chance to try out new gear that I had slowly been collecting in my garage. I had just received my ULA Conduit that Thursday, and my Hardrocks came in Friday night...I was literally waiting for the UPS truck to show up so I could get outta Phoenix and head down there! I know, I know, it's a REALLY bad idea to go on a 40-mile backpacking trip with a spankin' new pair of shoes. I'd heard the Hardrocks were very comfortable, and needed virtually no break in...HA! My heels would disagree with that statement!
I showed up at the campground around 11PM, and Sawchuck said he was running late due to traffic. I decided to try and get a little shut eye while I waited for him. I was excited and restless, so sleep was not working out for me at this point. Mike showed up around 1AM, and we quickly shuttled my car down to the end of the trail, dropped it off, and headed back over to Ryan where we stashed some water. By the time we got back to camp and I setup my tent, it was around 3:30AM. The temp dipped down to around 38F, and my Marmot Atom combined with my Prolite 3 short were no match. I was REALLY cold, and didn't sleep a wink! Stupid me had a micropuff vest in my stuff sack as a pillow and never thought to put it on!
I arose to the sound of Sawchuck beating on my tent to get up...I complied, and we ate some breakfast and hit the trail around 9AM. The first couple of miles the pack felt heavy (23lbs at the house with 8lbs of water), and I could tell pretty quick that my heels weren't liking the Hardrocks too much. I tried to put some athletic tape on the hot spots, but it slipped off and probably made things worse. Over the next few miles, my feet hurt more with each step. Around mile 8, at the top of a long uphill slog, I stopped to examine. Nickel-size blisters on both feet! I put some moleskin on the wounds and off we went. It was shortly thereafter that I realized we weren't even half-way into the days trek. I wasn't too happy at this point to say the least! I tried to keep my spirits up, and ignore the pain, but by mile 9 I was in need of a break and we stopped for lunch. The moleskin had slid off my heels adding more insult to the mess that was the back of my foot, and I began considering a medi-vac outta there! OK, maybe that's a stretch, but I was feeling a bit low. I added more moleskin and a mess of athletic tape to hold it in place, and off we went!
The next 12 or so miles were pretty blurry...lots of up and down and painful steps. We pulled into Ryan (half-way) around 6PM, and Sawchuck immediately headed for a nice roaring camp fire that was being tended by a nice couple from LA. They put up with us for awhile, and then we found a stealthy spot to setup camp. Food was consumed in great haste, and a few nips of whiskey to dull the pains of the day. Sawchuck lent me all of his extra clothing (down inner-vest, wool sweater, merino wool shirt) and I made a warmer den to crash into. I passed out pretty quick, only waking up a few times that night. We scarfed breakfast down, and we were off like a heard of turtles!
I did a better patch job on the feet the second day, and the pain was mostly tolerable for the the first 12 miles. We were in high spirits, bounding from rock to rock, soaking up the winter sun (literally-REI sun-block is worthless!). We stopped at another campground for lunch, forgot the name, but it was very picturesque. I took a mean nap in the sand, and at this point my right knee was swelling and aching quite a bit. We headed North trying to find the trail, eventually landing on it by a stroke of navigational prowess, and soldiered on for the rest of the way. By the end, I felt like a 90-year-old man with two cains and a bum knee! We had numerous "false summits" or false "your car is right there dude!" moments, but finally made it in around 6PM. The Newcastle was pure gold, and Pizza Hut got ransacked by two grubby dudes who were curiously swapping drinks...(Sawchuck forgot his ID card in his car).
All in all, a trip I won't soon forget, and a good number of lessons learned for this UL newbie! Sawchuck, thanks for setting up the trip, and it was great to hang with you for the weekend!
My gear List:
Things that exceeded my expectations:
ULA Conduit - 23 lbs at start with 8lb water. Definitely felt the weight until pack was at 20lbs or less. From then on, carried exceptionally well using Prolite 3 short as the frame. Very durable and well built.
Petzl E-Lite - Decent light output that didn't fade. Clipped to my hat brim well, and proved very useful.
Simblissity Gaiters - Kept out all trail debris over the 2 days. Easy to put on/take off.
Buff - Versatile, useful bit of gear. Worked very well as headgear/neck gaiter/sunglass wrap/pot lifter/etc.
Patagonia Micropuff vest - Very wam for 10 oz. Was a furnace when worm in sleeping bag.
BD Contour flicklock poles - Easy to adjust, comfortable, VERY durable. I tortured these things after my heel blisters appeared!
Mike's Heiniken Pot/cone/alky stove combo - Worked very well for him, I need to get more practice with alky.
Mike's Montbell pillow. Wow, that thing is comfy!
Clif MOJO bars - Ate one for lunch, filled me up until dinner. Salty, crunchy, and tasty!
Things that performed as advertised:
Montrail Hardrock - Good stablility, decent cushioning, and felt connected. Gave me heel blisters after 5 mi. but were brand new. Worked well with Simblissity Gaiters.
SMD Lunar SoloE - Easy to setup (when not exhausted). Some condensation formed on night 2 which affected warmth, and water seeped up from the ground also with UL floor. Seemed to be overkill for JT conditions.
Marmot Atom - On the first night, I froze my A## off at 38F with light poly top/bottom,wool socks, fleece hat. Lost most of the heat through the ground, and was unable to get warm. The second night was 40-42F, used Mike's extra clothing as insulation under bag, slept well until condensation started to dampen bag at 3AM. I was using my micropuff vest as a pillow, didn't think to put it on...no doubt would've had a huge impact on my comfort!
MSR Titan Kettle - Worked great, no complaints! Easy to pour with built-in spout.
Platypus 1L and 3L narrow-mouth bottles. Worked well, no leaks.
Brunton Crux - Heated 16 oz. in about 3 1/2 min. No fuss. Heavy setup with canister though.
Brunton foldable ti spoon - light, easy to store, but hard to reach the bottom of food bag and keep clean.
Things that did not live up to my expectations:
REI SPF 30+ waterproof/sweatproof sunblock - Useless! Applied 3X/day and still burned.
Prolite 3 short - R value for me = zero. It provided decent cushioning, but I was losing a LOT of heat through this pad. It was only 40 degrees in the desert, and it felt like 10 degrees in the rockies.
My legs/feet - 15 Mi/day seems to be my sweet spot with my current fitness level. The last 5 miles on the second day were BRUTAL. It was a good test of endurance, and I learned a lot about how my body handles that much mileage.
OR Omni windstopper gloves - Too bulky, heavy for the performance I got out of them. Glow-in-the-dark palms didn't do much.
Thermarest stuff sack pillow - Used for clothes storage and pillow, lined w/fleece, comfy and heavy.
Duofold poly bottoms - Provided very little insulation.
Things that will not be taken on/or replaced before next trip:
Prolite 3 (too cold)
Marmot Atom (too cold)
OR Gloves (too bulky)
REI Sunblock (useless)
Brunton Crux/canister (heavy)
Lunar SoloE (overkill)
Things that will be purchased/used on next trip:
Warmer bag/pad combo
BD or Marmot powerstretch gloves
Reflectex for cozies
Some sort of mug for hot drinks
L/S wool zip-top/bottoms for stink free warmth
GSI rehydrate lexan spoon