Ok, I know this was a long time coming, but here is my trip report from my recent trip to WA.
Trip Name: Washington State Sampler
Trip Dates: 31Jul2013-08Aug2013
Trip Location: Bothell, WA (home base), Olympic National Park, Mt. Baker National Forest, Mt. Baker Wilderness Area
Adventurers: Myself, David
My trip goals: Two 2-3 night loops, somewhere awesome in WA. Test new gear and myself.
As I’ve mentioned before, this would be my first “real” backpacking trip, with the intention of being completely self-sufficient on the trail. Most of my gear is new, and at best I’ve only tried it out in a backyard or while walking around a local State Park near Houston.
My trip companion, Dave, was a college roommate whom I haven’t seen since college some 15 years ago. He was an Eagle Scout and now manages to get in a backpacking trip about once a year or so. I learned that he moved to WA and figured I really ought to go see him. The dry season in WA corresponds to the miserably hot season in Houston, so it seemed ideal.
Flew into Seattle. From the air, even Seattle’s industrial areas looked fairly clean and organized. I carried on my backpack with most of my new expensive gear in it, excluding WMDs such as trekking poles, tent stakes, Swiss Army knife which I checked along with shoes and food. Dave met me at baggage claim, and we had to wait a while after exchanging greetings. After some silence, Dave pointed to my back and asked, “Is that your backpack?” I confirmed, and then he said, “oh….” I suspected that my Gorilla is smaller than what he is used to.
We got to Dave’s place and I had a look at his gear. Woah, trad alert! Huge backpack, bag, Nalgenes, you name it. I was feeling a little smug until Dave got out his two bear canisters, a Garcia and a BV. I was stunned by the size, and I really saw no good way to carry one in/on my pack. So much for being self-sufficient. Since we weren’t planning on long trips, we decided that Dave would carry one can with all our food and I’d take some of his denser weight (heavy cookset, stove, canister, and a heavy tarp) to offset his extra burden. Dave told me that he has really come to like hiking with a bear can, since you don’t have to waste time trying to hang a bag, you can use it to sit on, to carry water in, to heat water in for a shower, etc. I told him his condition is called Stockholm syndrome. We packed up, had dinner and went to bed.
Caught a Ferry over to the Olympic Penninsula and drove around to Fork, where we got a permit and then had lunch at “Restaurant”.
I had taken my hanging scale, and at the trailhead I was around 16.6 pounds with my poles strapped to the bag and a liter of water (I was wearing my fleece at the time, though). Dave’s bag weighed in at an even 43 lbs. (including 2L of water). Ouch.
Dave’s plan was to hike from La Push to Third Beach and spend the night there, then to Toleak Peak the second night, and then hike out the third day. We got to Third Beach in two hours, looked at each other and headed on to Toleak Peak, which we made in short order. Along the way there were several ascents with ropes where the sections of beach ended in cliffs, with brief inland trails. The rocky outcrops offshore were impressive. The ocean was quite calm, the sky was initially sunny but became overcast later in the day. The entire hike only took three hours and twenty minutes. I’d have gone stir crazy if we hadn’t hiked on to Toleak. The total hike was about 7 miles I think someone said.
We setup camp just behind the tree line where the soil was a bit firmer. We could have set up on the beach, but without freestanding tents we would have had to improvise tie-out points since regular stakes would not have held in the sand. I was able to demonstrate some of my new gear to Dave, and he took and picture of me using the Schnozzel to inflate my airmat to send to his usual backpacking buddy with the caption “we’ve been doing it wrong all these years.”
We walked around and took many pictures in the evening light while the sun teased but never really broke through the clouds on the horizon. When heating water for dinner, my alky stove was considerably slower than Dave’s canister stove. We turned in and slept to the sounds of surf.
We got a fairly early start in order to beat the high tides and ate only granola bars for time’s sake. It took Dave a lot longer than me to get all of his gear packed and ready. It was drizzling so we donned rain jackets. My shoes got wet from some surf and were wet for the rest of the day but I developed no problems because of it. We stopped along the top of a cliff to catch the view and I made a pot of tea. While the water was heating we saw a bald eagle perched on a tree for some time, and then it flew off into the mist. The sky started to clear after an hour or two.
We got back to the trailhead and decided that since we were a day ahead of schedule we would find something in the “interior” of Olympic NP while we were in the area. Dave found a potential lollipop around the seven lakes basin that looked good so we got in the car and headed for that. All of the permits for the best sites on the ridge facing Mt. Olympus were already taken by the time we got to the ranger’s station so we got a permit instead for Appleton Pass, on the back side of the basin. The good news was that there are bear wires at Appleton Pass. Dave’s blisters probably had something to do with the fact that his Stockholm syndrome went into remission, and he was relieved to ditch the bear can. I took my own food and he got his cook gear back. Dave got his “overnighter” weight down to 30.7 lbs. (w/o water this time I think, but still a big improvement). I ditched his rain tarp, reasoning that the weather was hopefully clearing, and if we needed a shelter to cook under, we could both fit under my Notch without the inner. I remember being right around 15 lbs. at the trailhead, and that was probably with some water.
It was a lovely hike with many fields of wildflowers. The sky was still mostly cloudy, but there were occasional clear views at the higher elevations. We were getting tired by the time we reached the split to Seven Lakes or Appleton Pass, and were dismayed to find that we had only covered a third of the total elevation for that hike. It seemed that the map must surely be wrong, but it was not. The rest of the hike passed in silence and foot dragging. When we stumbled into camp, all I wanted to do was get my tent setup, and all Dave wanted to do was eat, so we did each separately, without talking. We were investigated by some deer as we did our chores. I must admit, I don’t know how a bear hang would work in that area - all of the branches are thin, short and point downwards. I think we hiked a total of about 14.5 miles that day, a lot of it uphill.
In the middle of the night I awoke to the sounds of a large animal sniffing my tent, which really got my heart rate going, but I couldn’t decide what to do about it – be still and quiet or make noise? Finally I heard the sound of hooves and was mostly relieved. Dave told me in the morning that he had looked out of his tent and saw an unusually large mountain goat.
The previous night was the coldest of the trip (I’m guessing 45F) and in the morning it was still drizzling and the trees were dripping so I dropped the inner from my Notch and made oatmeal under the fly. We were a bit sore, but still got back down the trail quickly. The sky was clear and we got some peeks of Mt. Olympus here and there. We drove back to Dave’s house, aired out our gear and had a nice dinner. 7.5 miles, all downhill.
This was planned to be a day off. We visited the locks and fish ladders in Seattle and then we went to the flagship REI. Wow, that is what an REI should be, not the strip mall version we have in Houston. Dave seemed particularly interested in the lighter backpacks that are now on the market. We were considering going next to Mt. Rainier around the Sunrise or Paradise area or to the Goat Rocks area, both of which were recommended by BPL members before I left, but after considering that we might have difficulty getting good permits (as we did at Olympic NP) and after talking to the ranger at the REI, we decided to spend a few days around Mt. Baker. There is a small loop in the Mt. Baker National Forest and it looked like we could make a few days out of it with side trips. I looked at Dave and he asked, “Do you want to head out there today instead of tomorrow?” and I said “hell yes.” We got some lunch and then headed back to his place to repack.
We had to use the bear can again, but I weighed them each and found that the BV is actually lighter than the smaller Garcia. Dave may be catching the UL bug, as he switched to a lighter sleeping bag to save a pound or so. As we were packing he said, “Oh, I know what I can leave out – this kite,” and actually pulled a kite out of his backpack. My sides were hurting with laughter – a kite of all things! After I was able to breathe again, I had to admit that it was a fairly light and compact kite (.35 lbs.), and it would have been fun to kill some time on the beach with a kite if there had been wind. But with a 43 lb. pack, screw a kite. I weighed Dave’s empty MountainSmith backpack – it was nearly 8 lbs.! I can see why their logo includes an anvil.
We headed out in the afternoon and got to the trailhead parking lot around 6pm. From the sporadic vehicles still parked along the edges of the lot and road, it looked like it had been a busy weekend. The trailhead information told us that we could only camp in designated sites, and the first were about six miles out along the route we planned to take. There were two “overnight” campsites at the trailhead and one was empty (the other was incredibly full with a youth group). We didn’t feel like hiking that far with a late start so we decided to camp there for the night and get started hiking in the morning.
After having breakfast and waiting again for Dave to pack up (it took two hours to get on the trail), we headed out along the Scott Paul trail. We saw a lot of overloaded people and kids hiking out on a more direct route toward the climber’s camp. Some of them were wearing their climbing boots the entire way – ugh! It was a nice trail with pleasant views and many streams and wildflowers along the way. There were a couple of stream crossings which I am sure are treacherous at times, but they were no problem as we went across.
After 6 miles or so we came to the Railroad Grade Trail which took us past a few nice campsites and then further up to High Camp, where we scored what has to be one of the most awesome campsites around (at least out of the designated ones). This campsite had it all – great views of distant ranges to the east and south, Mt. Baker just to the north and what we think were the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Vancouver Island far out to the west. There was clean running snow melt for water just 30 feet away. Not a lot of protection but the weather was perfect.
We had plenty of time left in the day and decided to get camp set up and then continue up the trail to the climber’s camp. It was not until after we set up camp that it occured to me that you cannot pitch your tarptent and still use your trekking poles for side trips – duh! Dave let me use one of his poles and off we went. We got to the climber’s camp – all rocks and snow, no trees – and poked around. There were several people on the nearby slopes practicing self-arresting and other climbing skills. We kept hiking up past the camp along some rock outcrops. Dave was satisfied but I had to keep going for a while so I told him I’d be back in “a few minutes” after going a little higher. I didn’t get far before he couldn’t resist and caught up to me. We scrambled up until it didn’t feel like there was much point in going further and sat down to relax with some snacks and take in the fabulous view. We took some more pictures then headed back down to camp. We saw several marmots playing around a boulder and were able to get quite close and photograph them.
We had dinner and then watched the fabulous sunset – we weren’t sure which way to look with so many choices of scenery. We hiked maybe 8 miles that day.
We both woke up around 4am for bio breaks and had excellent views of the clear starry night, the light bloom from Seattle, and the headlamps from climbers going up Mt. Baker. After we rose later in the morning, we could see Rainier in the distance.
We had originally planned to spend another night nearby and hike up to a nearby fire tower and explore some of the surrounding area, but none of it would have even come close to the perfect experience we’d had the previous day, so I said, “Let’s get out of here and go explore somewhere new!” to which Dave said, “Man, you’re a hiker!” We took the more direct route out to the trailhead (about 4 miles) and then drove to a North Cascades NP information center not too far away but not in the NP.
We must have gotten the summer intern helping us at the info center, because he was really not selling the North Cascades. Dave was somewhat familiar with the Mt. Baker wilderness area on the north side of the mountain near where he skis, and there was a trail (Ptarmigan Ridge Trail) there that he had been interested in for a while. We called a closer information center and found that that trail was still snowed out, but there was another trail that went around the Galena Chain Lakes that sounded nice, so we drove to that area and the Artist Point parking area – definitely a less serious crowd of people here.
We started hiking out on the nice but very easy trail. I teased Dave that he likes “old lady trails” after we passed several of them along the way. We stopped along the way and I practiced with a map and compass, pretending that I needed to determine my location and then trying to correlate landscape features to the map. I’ve studied how to use a map and compass and practiced some at home (there’s not a lot of practicing that you can do in Houston), but it can be a bit tricky when the terrain is complex. Dave gave me some great practical guidance that really helped – I learned a lot in just five minutes of practice. We made it to Hayes Lake with little effort, but had been warned along the way that all of the sites there were full. One was just clearing out, but it was very close to another tent and a little bog. Dave scouted out a nice little hidden spot a little way up the hill and we decided to stay there for the night. It was quite buggy, as was the rest of the area, so we set up and made dinner quickly and the bugs drove us into our tents by 7:30. I started to write a bit in my journal; Dave was snoring by 7:45. This was a very easy day, maybe 6 or 7 miles.
The sun drove us out of our tents by about 7:30 this morning and the bugs encouraged Dave to pack up more quickly than usual. We had planned to continue the loop trail that we were on, but it didn’t look all that interesting on the map and seemed to include a lot of “useless” elevation change so I suggested that we back out to the car instead and then take the trail up to the top of Tabletop Mountain and Dave agreed.
At the car Dave detached his pack lid to use as a fanny pack and I stripped my Gorilla down to the minimum, but Dave may have actually been lighter than me this time. I packed my kitchen so we could enjoy some tea at the top. The trail up wasn’t too bad, but it was still nice to have a minimum amount of weight to carry up it. The view from the top was nice and we spent some time exploring the top and following distant trails with our eyes. Dave found a strange cache of women’s shoes, a photo album and a toy stuffed animal near one ledge. My first thought was to pack it out, but it seemed like some weird kind of shrine that one way or another wasn’t my business so I left it there. I’ve been meaning to report it to a ranger.
We found a nice spot to sit and enjoy the view while I made us a pot of tea, and then it was finally time to hike back down and bring our trip to an end. We found a public restroom in a nearby ski town where we changed clothes in an attempt to mitigate the smell a bit, and then had a couple of post-trip local beers at a nearby restaurant. The drive back to Dave’s house was pretty quiet.
Traveled back to Houston.
While I had hoped to be able to do two loop trips with significant mileage, we ended up doing a bunch of one-night out and backs, although it really wasn’t as bad as it sounds and was in fact still a great trip. I got a lot of variety and still got some really good experience with my gear.
-Pillow – The “extra clothes in a stuff sack” approach didn’t work. The height was insufficient if I was wearing my fleece at night, and clothes were too hard and caused my ear to hurt, resulting in even more tossing and turning than I am normally prone to. Consider buying an inflatable such as the Exped UL pillow (1.9oz) or carrying a small piece of foam as a topper.
-Draft management with the EE quilt – the quilt would tend to rotate with me when I turned over to my other side, opening gaps along my back side. Maybe try the supplied straps? The quilt is certainly wide enough, since if it had a full length zipper I could easily zip it up around me like a sleeping bag. I fret that I should have ordered a slim quilt with a little less weight and less space to heat up, but then I would probably have more trouble with drafts… I tried cinching up the drawcord at the neck one night, but that just added another source of discomfort during the night. It would also be nice to have a longer quilt that I could pull up over my head.
-I had some trouble a couple of times getting the Notch pitched right. I would stake the ends out too far apart, which would prevent me from being able to get the transverse ridgeline taut. And without the inner clipped in, it seems like it might be particularly difficult to get the end distance correct on the first try. Maybe a bit more practice, or perhaps now just simply understanding what went wrong will be sufficient.
-Need to add a “clothes line” inside the Notch for hanging my glasses etc. on.
-Need the ability to carry a bear canister. Is this possible with the Gorilla, or would I need a different pack with a full-size canister? For 3-day trips, I might could fit a Bare-boxer in the Gorilla.
-Head warmth – the balaclava I had was sufficiently warm, but uncomfortably tight for sleeping. It did serve as a good pillowcase when not sleeping in it. Maybe try a Buff, or just go with a beanie?
-Filter for tea/coffee – just a scrap of plastic screen, or maybe just use tea in bags, but I like the better selection of loose leaf.
-Mug lid – I was pretty happy with the MYOG lid I made for my SP600, but I think I’ll make another with a straight-across cut on the side where I pull it back to pour out of/ sip from. This will allow sufficient flow from a narrower opening.
-Stronger fuel bottle – I was using an 8oz. “reduced plastic” disposable water bottle with the tiny cap, and while it held up fine and is well protected in my kitchen kit, I was never quite comfortable with it. I may have to use a somewhat heavier fuel bottle. I could carry the fuel on the outside of my pack, but then would have unused space inside my kitchen.
-Body odor – my upper body odor was noticeable but quite bearable. My crotch however was a full on funk factory. I had ordered some ExOfficio odor-control boxer briefs for the trip, but they didn’t fit me well and I used some plain synthetic underwear from Target. I’ve ordered some from Patagonia with Gladiodor, and if that doesn’t work maybe I’ll look for some really light wool.
Things I was completely unprepared for:
-The size of the bear canister. Wow.
-The pull loop on the stuff sack for the Exped Synmat UL 7 tore off. Yes, this is very minor.
-I experienced some collapse from the Fizan poles on two occasions, even after double checking that they were well tightened. I think the root cause of this was some powdery corrosion residue resulting from exposure to salt water along the coast. I have since cleaned out the residue and honed out the insides of the tubes and I expect that this will solve the problem. Otherwise the locking mechanisms on these poles appear nicely designed.
Other equipment notes / suggestions to manufacturers:
-TT Notch – The clips that hold the inner to the fly are a pain to detach, especially when the tent is set up, and especially when hands are cold. The clip tips need a ramp to help guide the loop out or a tab to help depress them.
-OR Helium II – needs to be longer in the front – who wants a wet crotch? I’m sure it doesn’t help that I have to wear a small because I’m thin, but still.
-GG Gorilla – For me, could use somewhat narrower, more flexible shoulder straps, or maybe they need a different shape, as the straps tend to rub against my neck, and I don’t have a thick neck by any means. Needs a way to actually compress – the shock cord stuff on the sides is pretty useless. Pack could use a dedicated way to hold trekking poles – putting the handles in the side pockets and looping one of the “compression” cords around the tips works ok, but could be better. Needs longer padding sections on the hipbelt, or maybe just the sewing should be done differently, as the 1” square of stitching compresses the padding and lines up exactly with my hipbone, resulting in sore hips.
-Fizan poles – Sloppy diametrical clearances between sections causes extra flex and rattling sound. Needs tighter fits or very thin ferrules at the end of each section. I added some thick packing tape around the poles to fill in the gap, but this isn’t a great solution. Grips are a little thin, even for my smallish hands.
Things I learned:
-With ultralight gear, I am about equal in speed and endurance to a normally built man with traditional gear. Dave and I had very similar natural paces and fatigued at about the same rate.
-I tracked my calorie intake for a couple of days and was surprised by how little food I needed. One day I took in 1740 calories and was quite satisfied. The next I only had 1450 calories and was concerned that I’d wake up hungry in the middle of the night, but slept fine, though I was hungry in the morning.
-The Sawyer Squeeze works well, at least in the low-sediment water I filtered. Dave’s Steripen seemed ok, but I still prefer a non-electronic option.
-Some map skills
-The Notch can take up a surprising amount of space on small designated camp sites. It was sometimes a real squeeze to get both our tents on a pad.
-Backpacking helps me feel confident, capable, and self-sufficient
Didn’t need (at least on this trip):
-Fleece jacket – I carried a bulky 16oz. fleece jacket for the first part of the trip, then switched to a lighter and more compact heavyweight base layer pullover, which was plenty.
-Such a powerful headlamp. With long summer days, I only needed a headlamp for writing or looking at maps in the tent.
-A lot of the food that I took.
Glad I carried:
-Tent with bug net
-Gorilla Grip gloves (these things are great)
-MSR groundhogs (some of the tent pads were very compacted and hard, and the ground near the beach was too soft for the supplied Easton stakes)
-Heavy-ish travel zoom camera
-iPhone to take positions and Photosynth panoramas
-Polycryo groundcloth (for dusty and rocky tent pads and to lie down on to check site selection)
How to drop some weight:
-Better water planning – I carried too much water too much of the time. For most of this trip I didn’t need to carry any water as there were streams all along most of the trails. The maps we had gave a very poor idea of how many streams there were along the trails.
- I took about 1.4 ppd food (including packaging!) and it was way too much.
-Otherwise, I had about 4.9 oz of gear that I didn’t use, but much of that was first aid/ emergency or rain gear. I had one or two chemical handwarmers that I really didn’t need to carry.
-There are several small refinements I could make, like leaving behind the stuff sack for the airmat, etc.
Questions for BPL’ers:
-Is it ok to keep my backpack under the tent vestibule? I did, and I like to be able to pack most of my gear up as soon as I wake up before getting out from under the tent, and of course to keep it dry in case it rains. But sometimes I wondered if it could be an attractant for animals – of course I didn’t keep anything aromatic in it, but it could have picked up odors, no? What do you guys do in bear country?
-I’ve read that some people use the Schnozzle as a pillow, but I couldn’t figure out how to configure it so my head didn’t get bent at some weird angle or so it wouldn’t squeeze out from under me. Are there any tricks for this?
-Do you guys carry a bear can with a backpack the size of the Gorilla (and if so, how do you manage it,) or do you use a larger pack? -- I just recently saw a thread on this exact topic, so this question doesn't need answering here.