Thursday, June 23, 2011

Not Sleeping In The Air

Trying it the old way.

Not Sleeping In The Air

First morning. Gray and damp.

I just completed a four day backpacking trip to Mt St Helens. I wanted to go have another look at a place I got to last year. Which I did, sort of, but with snow pack at two to three times normal, the end of June this year is not a third of the way through backpacking season, but pre-season.

A few years back, I drove in on April 30 and went hiking anywhere I wanted. The only snow then was up where only climbers would go, not anywhere that sane hikers would have trouble with it.

And so it was for the first several years that I spent exploring the area.

No longer. This is the fourth year running that heavy snow has pushed the hiking season out toward autumn. It looks like the window for real backpacking will again be only two or three weeks long.

Not Sleeping In The Air

Lumpy and snowy and foggy.


But it wasn't all bad this trip because I was expecting to deal with snow. Not so much, but some.

I also knew that where I'd be going I'd have no chance to use my hammock.

In places there are trees tall enough and thick enough to support a hammock, but those trees grow in only a few spaces. They are bushy, hard to hang from. And their trunks are covered with blisters that pop open under pressure and ooze a thick, sticky sap that smells like turpentine.

Not Sleeping In The Air

Transparent. Nice in the moonlight. A real dew-catcher.

The smell is fine. It's a strong, clean smell, but the stickiness isn't.

Get this stuff on your hands and it won't come off. Get it on the suspension of your hammock and it's worse. It hardens and though alcohol will remove it from hands, and spots of it from clothing, if your hammock suspension gets saturated with it, you have to let it harden and just live with it.

So anyway, I had a piece of plastic I wanted to play with. I used it once as an 8x10 tarp, then cut it down to make a sort of tent-like shelter. I took that.

As a backup I took my home-made Brawny Shelter, a.k.a. Dancing Light Gear Tacoma.

Not Sleeping In The Air

Seemed to keep the werewolves away too.

The short of it: I missed the hammock. A lot.

I'm way past the days when I can sleep on the ground comfortably. A couple of years ago I talked to Ron Moak of Six Moon Designs, who said that he doesn't even use a sleeping pad. Apparently just a waterproof sheet beneath him, and he gets by OK.

Not Sleeping In The Air

Could have been pitched better though.

Go, Ron.

I have enough wrong with my back, plus a heap of years piled on top that I can't sleep more than two hours on the ground without awakening from the pain. In a hammock I can just snore my way through the whole night.

Not Sleeping In The Air

Night two. Slight clearing.

But hammocks aren't perfect either.

A big hammock tarp will catch the wind. A smaller tarp catches less wind but gives less protection from both wind and rain. Being above ground level you're up higher where there is more wind. This is colder, and hammock insulation is tricky.

You are also tree-dependent. You need the right size and type of trees, and need two that are just far enough apart, and oriented right so you can protect yourself from wind and weather.

Hammocks are places to sleep, not homes. You can't wait out a day-long storm in a hammock. You can't really change clothes in one, and can't spread out your gear for convenience or for anything else. You also have more limited sleeping positions. No sleeping on your stomach, and though sleeping on your side is possible it isn't that convenient.

Not Sleeping In The Air

Not as lumpy. Almost grassy.

But there are huge positives too.

A hammock is independent of the ground. You can sleep over rocks, mud, logs, or trickles of water. You are above the night-dampness. In tree country you have many more potential camp sites, even on severe slopes, and you stay well above critters like ants, spiders, centipedes, mice, wood rats, ground squirrels, snakes, and skunks.

Setup is simple. As is takedown.

I have a fabric tube (which Tom Hennessy calls "snakeskins") that I carry the hammock in. After stringing it up, I slide this off the hammock, and unfurl the tarp. Takedown goes the other way -- I just slip this tube back over the hammock and tarp, and I have all the loose ends magically contained in a long, loosely packed bundle that's easy to arrange in the pack.

Not Sleeping In The Air

You can't be this messy with a hammock.

Using single-wall tents the last few days I had a chance to refresh myself on dealing with them.

Setup is annoyingly complicated. If I had to use a tent all the time I'd get a freestanding tent or design one. Fumbling with stakes and line three nights running made me crazy. Keeping track of the pieces too. It's really easy to lose one or more stakes any time. The lines always get tangled.

Finding a place to pitch a shelter is insane. The ground is either lumpy or at too great a slope or both, and if you find a place that works, it may be too exposed to weather or too crowded by trees and shrubs, or you have to orient the shelter facing the wind rather than away from it. You usually end up sleeping on some odd slope, either sliding or rolling downhill in your sleep.

Not Sleeping In The Air

Tent on lonesome flat, at top right.

Critters can just walk right in.

And it's damp. I had extremely heavy condensation all three nights. The ground was damp, the air cool and damp, dew collected on everything, and I was right in the middle of it. Ventilation was no help.

In the morning I had a dripping, slimy, grit-covered shelter and dangling stray lines to fold and pack away. By the next evening I had a still-dripping, slimy, grit-covered shelter to set up again, except that all the lines had gotten tangled.

For those who like sleeping on the ground, though, a carefully-chosen shelter can be the lightest way to go by far. You don't depend on finding the right trees in the right area. You have a wider variety of shelters to choose from, and you can get one at almost zero cost if using plastic sheeting, though that option is heavier than modern fabrics.

Not Sleeping In The Air

Slight clearing that later became more mist.

Tent-like shelters are easier to understand, and more familiar, and can sleep two, or three, or four at a time. They are also easier to repair, and to work around in case there is some kind of catastrophic failure. Rip the bottom of your hammock and you're screwed. Rip your tent and you can at least use the remaining part as a waterproof blanket.

Ultimately it comes down to what a person likes and can deal with.

I've done both. I'm glad I've had the experience of using a hammock and look forward to getting back to it on the next trip.

That's me. Other people like other things and that's fine too. I'm glad we have choices.


More, If you make your own:
Fibraplex/Raptor Resins


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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Pasayten 2010, Day 4

Entering rougher country.

Pasayten 2010, Day 4

After crossing the gravelly dip, descending in the cold shade, and climbing out the other side, you can look northwest across the valley of Devil's Creek to a couple of unnamed peaks on the other side of this long, deep valley.

At its western end it dumps into Ross Lake, the long and narrow (and deep, and still) body of water backed up behind (appropriately enough) Ross Dam.

Out of sight to the left in this first photo is Devil's Dome at 6982 feet (2128 m). The right peak of the two shown is 6262 (1909 m).

Pasayten 2010, Day 4

Looking to the right (east), you can see the landscape along the top end of Devil's Creek, and the ridge above it, where the trail lies, under treeline.

Devil's Pass is in the low saddle at top left, just before another unnamed peak in the background. This one is 7203 feet (2195 m).

From Devil's Pass, the main trail angles off to the northeast, while the other trail goes left, west, to Ross Lake. I haven't been on that trail. Maybe later this year.

Pasayten 2010, Day 4

But before all that you have to descend, radically, and then climb again, radically, before reaching level trail again.

The trail drops from about 6200 feet to 4400, and then back to 6200 in the space of about a mile (1890 m to 1341 m to 1890 m in 1.6 km).

In 2004, my first time, the downhill part of this was heavily overgrown. I kept clacking my trekking poles together to alert any big critters of my presence.

It can feel sketchy being out alone, in thickets of annuals as high as your head, and knowing that occasional grizzly bears pass through.

A few days later, on that first trip, I unexpectedly came across a huge brown bear that ran up the mountain as soon as I alerted it, and I thought for years that it was a grizzly, but a closer look at the photos showed that it was really a black bear.

But you don't want to be rude, so you try to let everyone know you're coming.

Pasayten 2010, Day 4

This is a good spot for lunch. At the bottom. There is a small creek there (Devil's Creek!), and enough flat spots to make it reasonable.

Then you climb out the other side.

The views are great, both descending and climbing out again, but by the third time you wish there was another route to take.

Pasayten 2010, Day 4

In 2004, earlier in the season, I didn't see anyone else for two and a half days. There was only one set of footprints on the trail, but I didn't see those except occasionally.

This year was pretty quiet too, but obviously someone had a birthday, and someone else knew.

Pasayten 2010, Day 4

And if you travel quietly enough, and act respectful, you see critters here and there.

Whatever it is, if it has eyes it has probably seen you before you see it.

Pasayten 2010, Day 4

Looking back you get a better idea of the real geography you've just skirted. The snowy peak is also nameless on my map, though there is a number with it. It's 7350 feet (2240 m).

The cliff between the camera and that peak is above the trail where it dips through the narrow basin where Devil's Creek begins.

Pasayten 2010, Day 4

And if your camera has enough reach, you can see what the rock is really like.

Pasayten 2010, Day 4

A little farther on, going north, the trail is out in the open for a while, which makes you easy to be see.

But then it's also easy to greet anyone who lives here as you walk by.

Which is a pleasant way to pass a few minutes.

Pasayten 2010, Day 4

Farther on, you eventually reach the saddle that defines Devil's Pass.

Looking east toward Deception Pass and Sky Pilot Pass you see a few ponds that contribute to the North Fork of Canyon Creek. The trail lies along the left (north) side of this valley.

Pasayten 2010, Day 4

It looks pleasant, though on the trail you see only trees.

But before heading out that way you can turn to your right, look at the south side of this valley, and catch some bare rock watching over it all.

Pasayten 2010, Day 4

This last shot is from Devil's Pass itself, to the east and southeast, giving you an idea of the surrounding landscape, though it is more rugged while you're walking it than it seems from above.



Days 1, 2, and 3 of this trip.
Also: SamH at Devil's Park.


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Me? Me. I wonder about that at times.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011



These first three photos are of a model I made from a sheet of paper.

For me, that's a good way to play with ideas.


So here's the deal, in two parts.

Part one is that I want to go do a part of Mt St Helens overlooking Castle Lake to the northwest of the mountain. I went there early last year but the weather was pretty crapola, and even after 30 years, the trees aren't big and strong enough to hold a hammock.


I did find a spot but it was breezy, and my new, roughly 8x10 (244x305 cm) custom-home-made hammock tarp caught a lot of wind. So I stayed only one night.

Time to try again, and though it hurts me all over all night long, I'm going to sleep on the ground, which brings us to part two.


Which is that, once upon a time I tried a suggestion in "Beyond Backpacking" and slept under a tarp made of 3mil polyethylene sheeting. This is also generically known as "poly film", and among construction-worker types as "Visqueen", which is actually a brand name for the stuff.

This worked well enough. I cut out an 8x10 piece, and used another swath as a ground cloth. The downside was that it was awkward to pitch and drafty. And I had to crawl in from one end.

But there was plenty of room inside.


So, a pretty huge, pretty cheap shelter that weighed 25 ounces (700 g) in all, and seemed tough enough, but was hard to pitch and impossible to rearrange whenever the wind changed.

I put an umbrella into the foot end to block the wind but it still wasn't great. For several years now I've been stumbling over the wadded up sheet of plastic and thought maybe it would be fun to try again, but modified.


After playing with a sheet of paper I found that I could cut off a bunch, pitch it carefully, and have a small, even lighter shelter with a high entry and lots of headroom inside. It's also roomy enough to sleep in, and could even serve for two.

And I really like the clear plastic. Not great on a sunny day, but really fun at night. All you have to do to check on the weather is to open your eyes. If you see stars it's clear. If not, it's cloudy. Sit up after daylight and just look around. You can see everything.


I also have another shelter similar to this that I'll take as a backup. This is smaller and lighter and even a bit harder to pitch, but it could also double as an extra layer of rain wear on the way out, if things get really nasty.

The design for that came from Carol "Brawny" Wellman when she was still making and selling gear. I looked at the pictures on her web site and finally figured out the design, and then just sewed one up.

The interesting part about her design is that it has no seams. It's only a piece of coated fabric 5x9 feet (152x274 cm). See the Mountain Laurel Designs' "Monk Tarp" for something similar but pitched another way.

For my version of the "Brawny Shelter", I added a beak, since in any real rain (with any kind of breeze at all), you'd get rain inside, and the single width of fabric (60 to 66 inches is what you get) isn't quite wide enough to make a deep enough shelter.

But pitched cleverly you angle in the two ends to form a sort of doorway (unlike the Monk Tarp at MLD). Around here though the big opening is just too big.


Which is what looks interesting with this tarp I got of of my poly film scrap.

It pitches high (or can pitch high), and if you do that then you can pull in the two sides to make a sort of doorway.


I haven't tried it outdoors yet, just rigging it over the carpet using big safety pins for stakes, but if the weather isn't too bad it could be fun.

Then again there's the unpredictability of St Helens and its weather. Today is supposed to be sunny. Here is how that actually worked out:


When I go I'll get some real photos of this in action.


More: Conversion Utility
Mountain Laurel Designs
Later version of the Brawny Shelter:



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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Kahtoola Micro Spikes

I gotta problem.

Kahtoola Micro Spikes

Snow. We have lots. Want some?

Kahtoola Micro Spikes

There's plenty to go around. Two thirds of the way through winter the snow pack was half of normal. Heh.

Didn't stay that way, did it?


Kahtoola Micro Spikes

Something happened. Snow.


Kahtoola Micro Spikes

Now the snow pack is double normal and has been for a while, and will stay that way.

Because it isn't melting enough to matter

Kahtoola Micro Spikes

One thing I learned shortly after giving up my leather boots and beginning a career of hiking in trail running shoes was that the shoes sucked. On ice. On snow.

Everywhere else? Superb.

Kahtoola Micro Spikes

Even go near hard, late-season snow, just look at it almost, and you start sliding around.

So I'm thinking "Do something, butthead."

This ought to work.

Kahtoola Micro Spikes

People who use these things seem to like them. A lot.

They are hefty. (Sorry, I haven't weighed them, but one reviewer provided a listed weight of 11.4 oz/313 g and a measured weight of 11 oz/312 g.)

Kahtoola Micro Spikes

But they have big teeth.

Kahtoola Micro Spikes

Last year there was heavy snow on mid-elevation trails through the end of July. I didn't get into any really high country, but still found patches of snow around 6000 feet/2000 m at the end of August.

This year will be worse.

Kahtoola Micro Spikes

It is cloudy every day here in the coastal lowlands. Cloudy and cool. There is no end in sight.

East of the mountains, in semi-desert where all the fruit and vegetables and peppers grow, the spring cherry crop is a month late. They are still have freezing nights. The land is waiting for something that may be coming, if at all, only by accident this year.

Kahtoola Micro Spikes

So snow. It will be with us all summer long.

Now I have some teeth for my feet. They look good. Let's see what happens with them.

(Note: I normally wear much lighter shoes than shown, but this is all I could get on closeout last time, and I have two pair, so I'll have to use them. They are big. But even though these spikey things had to stretch to get on the shoes, they seem fine once in place.)


More: Kahtoola Micro Spikes Test Report by Gail Staisil Kahtoola Micro Spikes Test Report by Arnold Peterson Kahtoola Micro Spikes Owner Review by Mark Thompson Kahtoola Micro Spikes Owner Review by Kathleen Waters

Kahtoola Micro Spikes

I have no idea why a packet of silica gel came in the box.

I mean, hey. What?

Maybe I should try eating it.


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Me? Just ate a cookie. Feel better now.