I'm just getting unpacked and getting my notes together after a recent trip to Montana's Flathead Nat. Forest in early October. This trip had been planned for several months in order to coincidence with business travel to Missoula. Therefore when NOAA issued a weather advisory a few days before our hike advising strong probability of snow and heavy rain my partner and I made some slight changes to our gear choices.
The loop we chose to do went North from Benchmark up the Continental Divide trail along the base of the Chinese wall up to Larch Hill and returned on the west side of the divide via the White River trail and over White River pass. and back out to Benchmark. The loop was a tad over 60 miles (~96km) which we completed car to car in 96 hours, spending 4 nights out. We covered 10 miles in the first and last days and the remaining 40 miles over the middle three days, with one day covering 18 miles. I did not have a scale to weight our packs, but estimate mine was in the 25-30pds with food. My goal on this trip was to really cut weight on previous trips. I was also hiking with a partner who does not seem to mind heavier weights. Our contrasting styles sometimes lead to slower performances and longer days due to slower paces.
We heard and observed several elk herds, saw grizzly tracks but luckily did not encounter any bears on the trail. The Bo Marshal Wilderness is a spectacular place and I look forward to explore more of its beautiful wilderness.
Pics from my trip are posted here:
Had a new patagonia specter anorak for this trip and found it very sweaty on the two rainy days we encountered. Although in the cold and wind it was quite breathable. Given that I carried an extra tarp to use for cooking and additional rain protection I will be seriously looking at some tarp/poncho outer layers in particular the MLD sil ponchos in combination with a lightweight windbreaker. I like the specter anorak but I think I will be using it for climbing trips rather than pure hiking trips.
On this trip I had a few upper layers: a BPL merino wool top, a patagonia R1 ninja top and a MEC northern light pullover as an insulated layer. I was very impressed with the merino wool top. It was far superior to any equivalent capilene or polypro layer I've been using for the last 15 years. I am purchasing a set of bottoms ASAP.
My MEC northern lite pullover is holding up quite well after almost 10 years of use. When not wearing it in camp to stay warm I draped it over myself inside my sleeping bag. If BPL ever sells the cocoon hoody again I will be looking to replace it with a more modern, lighter hooded version top. Until then it keeps on trucking. I did notice that MEC is now carrying a new hooded version but that it is significantly heavier.
I wore a pair of light Arcyterx pants, some Lowe Adrenaline shells when it rained and some capilene bottoms to sleep in. No complaints about any of these.
At the last minute I switched from a WM Ultralite to a Moonstone 15 degree synthetic bag that was both heavier and bulkier but which I felt was warranted given the weather outlook. Unfortunately this bag is almost 10 years old and is no longer warm to 15 degress and I felt cold several nights sleeping on a ridgerest pad in a tent.
I'm hoping for some advice on a replacement and I am currently considering an MLD quilt or the Mountain Hardwear ultramina 20 degree bag. I tend to sleep cold when camping. So I'm not sure if a quilt would be appropriate for colder temps, thus I am leaning towards the MH bag.
A 1.5 liter MSR titanium pot and a Primus Micron stove. We carried two regular size canisters but could likely have gotten by with just one with more judicious use. Especially given the abundance of firewood and low risk of fire at this time of year. This combo is also a bit unstable and I've had spillage incidents on cold mornings with
numb fumbly hands.
Food wise we ate all that we brought and calculated calorie intakes quite well. I can strongly recommend the Pemmican bars recently discussed on this site as a very energy filled snack, much better than any food bar I have previously tried. I stored half the food in an ursack which prove heavy but extremely easy and convenient to use, especially on the night we set up in the dark.
Shelter. We used an old sun faded SD clip flashlight supplemented by an ID silnylon tarp. I had originally planned on using a BD lighthouse but my partners height was an issue, he is well over 6' tall and given that we would have to climb over one person to get in and out of the single side door tent we chose a less intimate tent. IMO the lighthouse is better suited for couples. I switched to a tyvek groundsheet for this trip and I'm quite satisfied with the performance. I've always been suspicious of its suitability but was happy and might consider even lighter options I've read about on the site.
Gear was carried in an old GoLite pack. I have a new MLD Exodus pack I was hoping to use but the switch to the synthetic bag precluded its use. Hoping my next trip to the smokies will give me an opportunity to use the new pack
Anyways a great trip, wet but not epic conditions. Luckily we avoided the big storm that hit Montana a few days later and saw a beautiful part of the country.
I'm still working on upgrading my gear, some of which was considered cutting edge 10 yrs ago but which still works and hopefully I'll be psychologically ready to make the switch to a lighter tarp shelter in the next year.