Forum Index » General Lightweight Backpacking Discussion » Miserable Environment: The Worst Conditions?


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Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Miserable Environment: The Worst Conditions? on 02/03/2007 19:53:52 MST Print View

The conventional vacation planner posts this type of post on a forum:

"Hi guys, planning our annual summer backpacking trip with the buddies, looking for scenery, mountains, wildflowers, and sunshine. Where should we go?"

I'd like to propose something different, to spark a discussion of either (1) where have you been that's been a truly awful environment, and (2) help me plan my summer (spring, fall, winter?) vacation!

So:

"Hey guys, looking to plan a trip with pals and we really want to test ultralight gear in bad conditions: cold, wind, rain, mud? We don't care about views, mountains, permits, but the point of the trip is to get fair tests of ultralight 3-season backpacking gear, so no subzero temperatures or Trips Requiring Ropes, and we would like to stay in the lower 48. Any time of year is fine."

Edited by ryan on 02/03/2007 19:54:41 MST.

Aaron Sorensen
(awsorensen) - MLife

Locale: South of Forester Pass
Re: Miserable Environment: The Worst Conditions? on 02/03/2007 20:12:50 MST Print View

Hey Ryan,
If you want an absolutely miserable time go for the trails at Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee where the Barkley Run takes place.
You have huge temperature shifts from 1 day to the next but it still falls into an Ultralight range. You can also go for terrain that ranges from moderately strenuous to puking every 10 minutes.

Jon Solomon
(areality) - F - MLife

Locale: Lyon/Taipei
Re: Miserable Environment: The Worst Conditions? on 02/03/2007 20:37:20 MST Print View

Ryan,

Taiwan fits the bill *perfectly* in every way you mention(plus, you might add, lots of off-trail or unmaintained trail walking)--except (and this is the deal killer, I suppose) for the lower 48 stipulation! But if you can get over that, it really would be "perfect".

Jon

It was great to hear both you and Carol on the podcast! Thank you for bringing out those uncompromising designs!

Mike Barney
(eaglemb) - F

Locale: AZ, the Great Southwest!
Re: Miserable Environment: The Worst Conditions? on 02/03/2007 20:43:52 MST Print View

Louisiana or Florida swamps in the late summer, bugs et al. Hurricanes optional.

Bill Fornshell
(bfornshell) - MLife

Locale: Southern Texas
Miserable Environment: The Worst Conditions? on 02/03/2007 22:57:52 MST Print View

I have two for you.

1. I call this the Mountain to Mountain. Mt Washington, NH to Mount Kathadin, Baxter State Park, Maine. This would be 332.4 miles if you follow the AT. You could start at Crawford Notch if you wanted to test you gear in some high winds and the total mileage would go up to 345 miles. If you started in early spring you should see some snow in the higher elevations, mud in Maine, Rain most anywhere along the route and wind. If you feel lucky you could even try a little fishing along the way in Maine.

2. If you want less miles I would suggest what is called "The 100 Mile Wilderness". The last 100 miles or so of the northern part of the AT. Do it in early spring. Monson, Maine to Baxter State Park.

Edited by bfornshell on 02/05/2007 19:25:38 MST.

Matthew LaPatka
(gungadin) - M

Locale: Pittsburgh, PA
Re: Miserable Environment: The Worst Conditions? on 02/03/2007 23:51:28 MST Print View

That Mountain to Mountain hike sounds like a great idea. It could definitely turn into quite an epic trip. I love it up in the Whites and in Maine! Ryan, give this one some serious consideration; it could be a great test for SUL/UL gear.

Edited by gungadin on 02/03/2007 23:51:58 MST.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Miserable Environment: The Worst Conditions? on 02/04/2007 02:05:59 MST Print View

> we really want to test ultralight gear in bad conditions: cold, wind, rain, mud? We don't care about views, mountains, permits, but the point of the trip is to get fair tests of ultralight 3-season backpacking gear, so no subzero temperatures or Trips Requiring Ropes, and we would like to stay in the lower 48. Any time of year is fine."

You had better exclude Australian scrub as well if you want to bring the UL gear back in one piece...
:-)

Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: Miserable Environment: The Worst Conditions? on 02/04/2007 07:48:38 MST Print View

I would offer the Benton MacKaye Trail (any section) in early March. High enough to stay cold, almost guaranteed to be rainy or possibly snowy, very narrow trail tread (almost non-existent in many parts of the southern BMT), with level cleared camping spots at a premium, and virtually no through-hikers. For the southeast, this trail is remote. Even in the Smokies, the route is only very lightly travelled especially at that time of year.The one advantage of March is you don't fight as much brush as you would in May.

Jason Shaffer
(PA_Jay) - F

Locale: on the move....
Re: Re: Miserable Environment: The Worst Conditions? on 02/04/2007 13:17:32 MST Print View

Re: Mountain to Mountain.

I've been wanting to do a springtime northern AT route like this for a long time, but have been put off by warnings about the fragility of the trails during the spring mud season. Some claim its irresponsible to do this. Any thoughts?

Most of the mainstream AT season is too crowded and warm for my tastes, but I'd love to see some of these areas in early spring. And I really relish the cold wet weather -- this type of trip sounds perfect!

Erin McKittrick
(mckittre) - MLife

Locale: Seldovia, Alaska
Re: Miserable Environment: The Worst Conditions? on 02/04/2007 13:28:08 MST Print View

I'd love to give you some Alaska suggestions...

But here in the lower 48, how about the Olympics, or the North Cascades? The Olympics are the wettest place in the lower 48. Go off-trail in the Queets River Valley, and you can be clambering over giant logs in the rainforest in the rain... North Cascades is steep, brushy (again, go off trail for the "best" test), also quite wet, or snowy, depending on the time of year... Just don't go in summer and you'll be set.

Though I suppose I've done both of these "miserable" things for fun, so I'm not sure what that says about me...

Chris Jackson
(chris_jackson) - F
Re: Les Miserables on 02/04/2007 14:19:00 MST Print View

A year or more ago, someone from South America (Chile?) posted on BPL, complaining that UL gear is only suitable for the 'mild' conditions experienced in the lower 48. Given the windy conditions during a typical Patagonian summer, I'd have to say that the poster has a point. The question is whether UL gear can be adapted to these more challenging conditions?

Two sets of 'miserable' conditions where I'd like to see UL gear tested in are:

(1) Hypothermic environment: Multi-day, incessant rain or sleet, in conjunction with high winds and temperatures around 40, resulting in damp clothes, major heat-loss and possibly hypothermia. Do you really want to use a tarp that lets in the wind in these conditions? Possible locations: Above treeline in the Canadian Rockies during a 'bad' summer, above treeline in the Olympics in Fall, or south island of N.Z. . Other suggestions?

(2) Wet/Boggy campsite: The only campsite available is on boggy ground surrounding a marshy lake. When you step on it, the footprint fills up with water. Can your groundsheet really keep standing water at bay? Since we're aiming for utter misery, feel free to add the pestilence of your choice; mosquitos, black-flies, maybe even leeches?
Possible locations: I haven't experienced major, unaviodable bogginess in the lower 48, though the Olympics can compensate with plenty of rain. Any other suggestions?

Edited by chris_jackson on 02/07/2007 21:49:10 MST.

ROBERT TANGEN
(RobertM2S) - M

Locale: Lake Tahoe
Miserable Environment on 02/04/2007 15:21:28 MST Print View

The most Miserable Environment that my soft, tender body can endure is a warm-sand-beach to warm-sand-beach hike around Lake Tahoe in July.

Roger B
(rogerb) - MLife

Locale: Here and there
Re: Miserable Environment: The Worst Conditions? on 02/04/2007 16:18:30 MST Print View

Ryan, sadly you eliminated the rest of the world in your post.

I would suspect just getting your gear intact to some places would be a challenge. If you included Australia I would send you to South West Tasmania (in summer) for 3 weeks of mud, rain, cold, possibly snow and some extremely steep muddy climbs.

My knowledge of the US is limited, but I found torrential downpours and high humidity on the AT in Connecticut in June a challenge. Your gear may survive, but I doubt you will stay dry.

Roger

Edited by rogerb on 02/04/2007 16:19:05 MST.

Brian James
(bjamesd) - F

Locale: South Coast of BC
Re: Miserable Environment: The Worst Conditions? on 02/04/2007 17:22:07 MST Print View

Think of Canada as "the lower 48 with a little bit more"... it's close by and we can cater to your need for terrible conditions the way no other US state can aside from Alaska.

Southwestern BC is technically rainforest for starters. The West Coast Trail is a bugger; one of the tougher trails in North America because it's constantly wet and constantly muddy, but also vertical (ladders and manual gondolas all day long) and bear-infested.

North of Vancouver there is Prince Rupert. This city gets the fewest hours of sunlight of any city in the world. (There is actually a Chilean family who received special permission to live there because they are allergic to sunlight!) The bears and huge, the rain is constant, and the terrain is either straight up or straight down.

You'll also get a lot more isolation up here. We are much bigger in area than the US but we have 1/10th the population. And most of it is concentrated out east. Translation: walking 7 days without seeing another person happens almost all the time in Canada.

Check it out!

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Re: Re: Miserable Environment: The Worst Conditions? on 02/04/2007 17:22:25 MST Print View

I agree that by eliminating areas outside the lower 48, we are certainly excluding the most hostile of the world's environs.

However, we really do want to create a series around this topic, and it must escalate into the requirement for transcending gear, rather than plunge immediately into a short circuit!

It must also be (initially at least) in context with the daily reality of the majority of our current U.S. subscriber base.

In that respect, I'm thinking based on comments so far, combined with my own experiences, that either the Olympics or the White Mountains in April or November might rate quite highly in this exercise, with exotics like Taiwan and Tasmania for "future installments"!

In talking with some of you behind the scenes, I can easily envision something like a transect of the entire Olympic Range from, say, the oyster bays of Quilcene, to the ocean shores of Cape Alava, would offer plenty of cold and wet and fine misery.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Re: Re: Miserable Environment: The Worst Conditions? on 02/04/2007 17:26:55 MST Print View

Canada would be great, actually. I think the absolute worst misery in the coldest and wettest conditions I've experienced, was a late 80s trek along the hydrologic divide of Vancouver Island. 19 days of 34 degree rain with lots of wet brush. Ugh. I'd like to go back with ultralight gear and give that one a go again.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Re: Re: Miserable Environment: The Worst Conditions? on 02/04/2007 19:06:28 MST Print View

Like others I would suggest the northern sections of the AT in the spring: plenty of rain, mud and you might even get some bugs. It been years since I have spent significant time on the smoky's, but have strong memories of spring trips that hovered around freezing and were the rain literally didn't stop once in a 6 day period. There are sections on Washington State and Oregon which would be good, but I haven't spent enough time to speak to those areas.

My favorite "nearby" miserable environment has been winter along the Lost Coast. Unfortunately, the trips I have taken in the last few years have been milder than past years, e.g. I saw the sun on part of the trip and the temps staying in the 40, and 50s F.

--Mark

Edited by verber on 02/04/2007 20:28:56 MST.

douglas ray
(Dray)

Locale: Olympic Peninsula
I vote the Olympics on 02/04/2007 20:06:42 MST Print View

And I'll even offer my services as guide this spring or fall if you wish, no charge of course. My personal recomendation would be to stay on the West (ocean) side as it's much wetter and plan your trip either in May/April/early June or October. If your up for freezing at night than November is about as bad as you can find with the uncertainty of snow accumulation adding to the stress. Springtime offers flooding rivers (so can fall sometimes), and some bugs.

The Baily Range Traverse would be good, all West Side, Wet, off trail, and high. But for the real experience you have to throw in some serious bushwacking at some point in some slot canyons below timber line.

You might be surprised what light gear some of us locals carry.

Brian James
(bjamesd) - F

Locale: South Coast of BC
Re: Re: Re: Miserable Environment: The Worst Conditions? on 02/04/2007 20:13:36 MST Print View

"the absolute worst misery in the coldest and wettest conditions I've experienced, was a late 80s trek along the hydrologic divide of Vancouver Island. 19 days of 34 degree rain with lots of wet brush. Ugh." -Ryan Jordan

Sounds about right.

When I was 10 I camped on Vancouver Island in August. My Dad (who grew up in the bush in northern Manitoba with -60 winters and was also a prospector in the Yukon) and I had a startling experience there: it was the first time either of us had been 100% unable to start a fire, no matter what we tried. Including a litre of stove fuel! Vancouver Island is also the only place I've ever seen a dog suffer from clinical depression, thanks to constant and utter wet and cold.

I think that if you want to prove that your gear can take the worst "lower-48" conditions, prove that it can handle something worse! :D

Anyway all storytelling aside, I look forward to the article that comes out of this one!

Brian

Edited by bjamesd on 02/04/2007 20:14:50 MST.

pack nwcurt
(curtpeterson) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Olympics.... on 02/05/2007 06:29:56 MST Print View

Scariest two backpacking experiences I've ever had were on the Olympic Coast. Beautiful, peaceful, world-class beach walking in the right conditions. Scary, violent, shin-deep mud, and hypothermic hell in the wrong ones.

It's one of those places where 32 degree sideways rain is common, and the winds whip up, the logs start flying, visibility goes away, the escape routes disappear, and it's easy to get trapped.

That said, it's one of my favorite places on the planet, and as long as you bring your brain and are constantly aware, it can be the experience of a lifetime.