Monthly Archives: September 2014

How To Put NatGeo “Trails Illustrated” Maps On Your Smart Phone

Hey everyone!  I want to share an exciting discovery I recently made.

As I was preparing for our next Grayson Highlands trip I was wishing that I could have the same trails of the (National Geographic) Trails Illustrated Map of Mount Rogers in a format I could use on my phone.

Downloading maps to your phone allows you to have the map when your phone doesn’t have a data connection.

After a little research I discovered that alltrails.com does this for both the iphone and android.

The alltrails app is free, but if you want access to the trails illustrated maps (and their other maps), that runs $29.99 a year.

Hard-copy TI (Trails Illustrated) maps run about $13 each plus shipping, so if you only down load 2 you break even.

You can down load the dozens and dozens that are available.  Once you’ve downloaded them, they’re yours to keep.

I recommend a separate micro SD card for your maps.  The Mount Rogers map is huge, covering the East boundary of the Recreation Area all the way to Damascus,  a straight line distance of over 57 miles(!) and is about 700 MB, but is the EXACT same map you purchase at the store!

The app (with membership) also allows you to down load a variety of topo maps, forest service maps, satellite maps, road maps, international maps.

If you’re going to do this, go online, get the membership, then install the app, else the app won’t know that you’ve paid up and you’ll spend hours trying to figure it out.

My “go to” app on my phone (Android) is the Back Country Navigator Pro, around $11 from the app store.  Topo maps are free to download, it’s fast, reliable, and easy to read and use.  There are also a huge variety of fee maps to download for your hike or city trip.

I create or draw my routes and points of interests such as campsites, parking, water,  over at caltopo.com (free) or trimbleoutdoors.com ($30/yr), then send that data via a .gpx file to my phone.  Back Country Pro opens the file and overlays it over the topo maps I’ve downloaded and voila! I’m navigating in the trees.

The primary drawback to the smartphone map app is battery use.  I put my phone in airplane mode for the entire trip and turn it off completely, only turning it on if I want to check the maps.

I offer a map class on the meetup I’m a member of (OC Backpackers) to teach how to get, create, and use, all this for FREE, but sadly, not special maps like the TI maps.  The paper TI maps are done by National Geographic, but they sold the digital mapping to alltrails, who now sell them.

 

More Thoughts On “Rain Management”

More thoughts on Rain/Cold weather management while backpacking

Here’s my perspective and frame of reference;

I’m not a thru hiker of anything. I just like to backpack. I am primarily able to get out and hike at least once a month, sometimes twice, and when I say hike I mean backpacking. I try to get out west once or twice per year for a week long backpack. My normal hiking range is the Virginia-West Virginia National Forests and Wilderness areas along the Appalachian Mountains (AKA Blue Ridge Mountains).

I used to climb but am retired from that now. I lived in Europe for 14 years and did quite a lot of ‘stealth’ backpacking along the German-Austrian frontier, especially in the winter (less chances of being caught).

So on with Rain Management.

As I reflect on the Spring/Summer of 2014 here in good old VA, it was pretty lousy, lots of rain, lots of cold windy days.

But what didn’t kill us made us stronger (Friedrich Nietzsche) and wiser and better able to deal with the weather.

Last week in the Bridger Wilderness we had cold and windy and sometimes rainy conditions for most of the trip. But guess what, it didn’t seem to matter, we were prepared and dealt with it. We had been doing it all summer.

Good tents.

The tents went up easily in the rain. We had experience putting them up in rain. We knew how to put them up while keeping the inside nice and dry.

All our tents had some sort of vestibule, most had two vestibules. You threw your wet stuff in a pile in one vestibule and cooked under the other.

A canister stove with an attached pot, like a jet boil, works great under a vestibule, no flare ups. No way to cook under a vestibule with a white gas stove, you’d burn down your tent for sure.

We were automatically conditioned to keep our stuff dry in our packs while walking in the rain. We had lots of down clothing/bags and it was imperative to keep that stuff dry to avoid hypothermia. Everyone had some sort of layered waterproofing both inside and outside of the pack. I use, in addition to the stuff sacks, a thick black industrial garbage bag for everything inside my pack and a good, tested pack rain cover. It seems however, no matter what I do, wind-blown water will creep in around your neck and shoulder strap area and make its way into the pack. That’s why you need to wrap everything up inside the pack.

Every night’s camp requires water to be drawn and filtered, so you just have to suck it up and do it, wait for the filtering, then take your water to your vestibule.

You can’t hike in your rain gear, you just get all your layers totally soaked, and if there was a chance for a little air drying, it won’t happen. While you’re walking you only need to wear something light enough to keep you warm. But whatever you’re wearing, it’s sacrificed to the rain gods and you need to change out of the wet stuff and into something warm and dry when you get to camp. You can put your wet stuff back on tomorrow and dry it out while you walk in the sunshine!

If it is still raining and you changed into your dry and warm stuff once you got to camp and before you got your water, you absolutely must keep that stuff dry!! But now you’ve got a rain layer wet along with your walking sacrificial clothing. Sometimes it’s best to stay in your wet walking clothes until you can finish your camp chores, getting water, hanging bear bag, and then you can finally dive into your tent for the final change into your warm stuff.

If it’s raining when you set up camp, get your tent up, get the dry stuff in your pack into the tent. Put your food under one of your vestibules. Get your water and start filtering. Hang your bear bag rope. Now that your water is filtered take it to your tent. Get in as best you can, take off the wet stuff and place inside the vestibule, dry off the inside of the tent with your bandana, then change into your warm stuff.

Now that you have warm clothes on and your food and water under the vestibule, go ahead and eat.

Now one of the bitch things. Now that you’ve eaten, you need to get back out in the rain and hang your food. That means putting your wet socks back on and grabbing your parka and hat or something to keep your head dry (hood?) and making a dash into the trees to hang the bag and then back to the tent. Keep the wet socks and parka outside the dry part of the tent and under the vestibule. Dry the inside once again with your bandana.

I keep my backpack under one vestibule and eat under the opposite side. I’ve learned to place my pack on top of my pack rain cover so the bottom doesn’t get any wetter while on the saturated ground during a good soaking rain.

Next morning, you’re going to need to put back on those wet socks and pants and shirt and walk them warm. Your boots are still wet from yesterday’s walk in the rain and if you put on your last or next to last dry pair of socks, well, you’re going to have a second pair of wet socks. Better to keep one pair dry for inside the tents.

When you got in your tent where your pants wet? Get them off quick, not to avoid hypothermia, but to minimize dripping inside your dry cocoon. How to keep your legs warm then? I carry a spare set of thermal bottoms, but you could carry an extra set of pants to keep dry, or just push your sleeping bag around you.

Next morning you need to be able to pack your stuff up and tear down your tent in a rain. If it’s not still raining, your tent is probably soaked on the outside. Pack up your stuff into your backpack while inside the tent, be wearing whatever you’re going to walk in that day, probably yesterday’s wet stuff, as you exit the tent. Take down your tent in such a manner that keeps the rain fly over the inside and folds up nice and neat, keeping the inside dry.

Your probably should practice this in the back yard.

Because you’re probably walking in wet socks, little irritations on the feet and small hot spots are magnified, so best to tape them up before hand.

If the sun is shining, you’re going to dry out and everything will be alright! If it’s raining, chug on, take photos of your ‘ordeal’ and just remember you’ll have great bragging stories around the next campfire!

And remember what Friedrich Nietzsche said, if the weather doesn’t drown you, you’ll have great stories…or something like that.

Backpacking the Sky Pilot Loop, Bridger Wilderness August 2014

Sky Pilot Loop, Jim Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range, Pinedale, Wy

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23-29 August 2014.

Phil, Gunny, Buff, Pyro, Biscuit

Click here to see my favorite pix from this trip.

“Let me explain, no, there is too much, let me sum up” (Inigo Montoya)

Another great trip to the “Winds”. Very long drive. Cold wet weather. Great photos. Took longer to acclimatize to the altitude.

So, let’s get started.

Buff and Pyro drove up from VA Beach and met me at my house in Hampton on Wednesday 20 August. We then drove up to Verona, VA to Gunny’s new house where we stayed for the night. Gunny and Nancy were perfect hosts preparing fresh chicken enchiladas and salsa and supplying us with plenty of iced cold craft beers!

We then sat around in Gunny’s study and watched him finish packing getting to bed around 10 or 11. Which isn’t anything to talk about until I tell you wake up was planned for 3a.m. with departure set for 3:30 yikes! But, happily, but not much, since we were already in Northern VA, we moved back departure to around 4 a.m.

So there we were at 4 a.m. pulling out of Verona and heading to St Louis, Mo our destination for day 1 (day 2?).

From St Louis (departing at 0330 hrs) we were off to Cheyenne. Going through St Louis and then Kansas City at this time of day is a piece of cake, if you can keep awake! Fortunately our plan of switching drivers every 2 hours worked out very well.

We got to Cheyenne, in the rain, around 1900hrs. We could tell we were at higher altitude already (6000′) as we huffed and puffed just going up stairs to our rooms.

Saturday, 23 August.

We departed Cheyenne again at 0330 hrs arriving in Pinedale, Wy around 1000 hrs, later than planned due to quite a bit of highway construction.

We linked up with Biscuit at the outfitters in Pinedale then grabbed some early lunch at the micro-brew next door to the outfitters.

We then dropped into the outfitters for last minute supplies and fishing licenses. It was getting ready to rain and getting cold, like it wanted to snow, so Buff decided on purchasing some more layering.

It was then off to the trail head, but not before a detour into the grocery/hardware store and a stop into the Museum Of The Mountain Man. This is great museum and I highly recommend it if you ever make it to Pinedale.

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It started to drizzle slightly on the way to Elkhart Trail Head. It was cloudy and dreary and there were remnants of an earlier snowfall in the trees. When we were able to make out distant peaks through the clouds you could clearly see the snow cover at the upper elevations. Temps were in the upper 40’s to lower 50’s at this point.

We got the parking lot about 1400 hrs and were headed down the trail by around 1500 hrs. The sun was trying to peak thru the clouds, which helped our morale quite a bit.

The trail down to Long Lake was maintained and in pretty good shape. We arrived on the shores of the lake about 1700 hrs.

We found a super campsite and since we had dropped down about 1800′ it had warmed up a bit. We got the tents up and Pyro and Gunny got a good fire going in spite of the very wet conditions from the day prior’s rains.

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Sunday, 24 August.

After breakfast and photos on the beautiful shores of Long Lake we started walking at 0930hrs.

At this point I had started to get an ass kicking cold, sore throat, headache, dripping sinus, not fun. To add to my fun, the grass/vegetation around the trail was sopping wet and the water proofing of my normally reliable boots immediately failed soaking my left sock, great.

This year, in order to complete the Sky Pilot Loop we needed to drop down almost 2000′ from the trail head, to Long Lake and then back up to Glimpse Lake where the rest of the trip would be more or less between 10,600′ and 11,060′.

Well, the trip up to Glimpse Lake was harder than we hoped, a 2000′ climb over 4 miles, The trail wasn’t too bad, but adjusting to the altitude was a bitch. The altitude was affecting everyone differently. We didn’t arrive until about 1530 hrs. To be fair, we walked really slow, stopped for quite a few breaks, and took a ton of photos. A long day for such a short walk.

Once at Glimpse, we had the pick of several great campsites. Pyro and Gunny once again got a great fire going under very damp circumstances. Gunny, ever the fisherman, found some reserve strength and went fishing for a little while.

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Monday, 25 August.

We departed Glimpse Lake around 0900 hrs headed for that day’s goal of Summit Lake. The going was still pretty slow as we were still not acclimatized and at 1500 hrs we had only reached Borum Lake. We were all dragging, Borum was beautiful, so we decided to camp. I was only too happy not to continue the 1.6 short miles to Summit Lake for several reasons, I still had my sore throat and was still feeling weak, and, Summit lake is above the tree line so there’s no campfire there. Borum turned out to be a very beautiful place to camp indeed! We had 2 short thunder/rain storms which negated a campfire and I was so tired I sacked out early, eating only snacks in my tent.

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The next morning was clear skies and beautiful. We had terrific reflections on the still lake waters.

Tuesday, 26 August.

I’m feeling better, but still not much of an appetite.

We depart Borum Lake about 0900 hrs. headed for Upper Jean Lake, arriving about 1630 hrs. This is our best day so far, clearing skies, a bit warmer, above tree line.

We hike on past Summit Lake, cross the bridge on upper Pine Creek, over to Elbow Creek to Pass Lake and Twins Lakes following the creek above tree line, in a moonscape environment, past countless stream crossings and unnamed small lakes/tarns. We spot the tip of Elbow Lake in the distance. As we get closer, the Lake is enormous and the walk around it very long. We’re on the Highline trail headed for the junction of Shannon Pass Trail, where we’ll turn south, go over our high point at 11,060′ and drop on down to Upper Jean Lake.

We arrive at Upper Jean Lake around 1630 hrs and go on with the business of setting up tents before any rains can move in, get water for filtering, getting stuff unpacked so it can air out/dry out/fluff out, getting ready for another night in the 30’s.

No trees so no campfire. Gunny goes fishing. My appetite is getting better, but I have trouble finishing my one hot meal.

When you’re above tree line and in mixed company, going to do your ‘business’ can be a little tricky. A small ridge behind out tents along with some huge boulders provided a small bit of privacy. The obvious little piles of rocks meant to conceal made me coin the term for the area “monument valley.”

This area was the only area on the entire trip where we were bothered by mosquitoes and used head-nets. Except for Gunny, who had some repellent in this clothing, which also, I guess, deterred the critters from bothering his exposed face.

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Wednesday, 27 August.

We depart Upper Jean Lake around 0915 hrs headed for Freemont (Creek) Crossing, then down an un-maintained trail to the big “Water Slide”, then off to Lost Lake.

After a short lunch at the “water slide”, we decide to bushwhack, more or less, from the water slide, follow “game” trails down to Lost Lake, like we did last year.

Gunny leads on following very feint trails, but after about 20 minutes the trail disappears so we have to thrash about a bit to find what we hope is the trail from last year. Well, after several dead ends over cliff tops or around impassible corners, I resort to the GPS. The “trail” we’re looking for is not on the map, of course, so we are left to head in a generalized direction over contours that we hope aren’t cliffs. After a few more false leads we miraculously find the path and finally meet the primary trail at the series of two fords where Freemont Creek pours into Lost Lake.

It starts to rain. Nothing to do but take off our boots and march across the series of fords. As luck would have it, the fabulous and only campsite is taken so we’re forced to set up in a series of clearings just off the trail.

So in the rain we set up tents, get water, hang bear bags, etc.. Pyro tries to get a fire going and succeeds for a bit. Gunny goes fishing and brings back 4 or 5 good sized trout. He’s had wade out into the area where Freemont Creek enters the lake and fish in the intermittent drizzle and fog.

Nevertheless, due to the constant drizzle, they can’t get enough fire and coals to cook the fish. I retired to dinner in my tent to avoid a slow soak.

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Thursday, 28 August.

The morning is glorious and clear. Lots of sunshine. However, due to the mountains surrounding the lake, the sun can’t quite reach our tents to dry them off before it’s time to leave. So yet another day of packing wet tents, oh well, no problem, the sun is glorious! My cold is finally gone.

We depart between 0900 and 1000 hrs and have a good walk up to Seneca Lake for a nice lunch in the sun. We arrive at Barbara Lake, I think about 1500 hrs. I discover the top of my fishing pole has slid out of my pack, oh well. We set up and Gunny goes fishing but doesn’t have much luck. Pyro makes the fire and we do our set-up chores and hang bear bags, which is very tricky with these lodge-pole pines and their short branches.

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Friday, 29 August.

My tent is on a sort of angled hump and I wake with little bit of a back ache which loosens up when we start walking.

We depart about 0900 arriving a short time later at Photographer’s Point for the obligatory scenic photos. A man with 4 or 5 very little girls is camped right on the point in the area people go for photos. I’m sure this isn’t allowed. Very bad manners to camp there.

We arrive back at the trail head around noon, hiking all day under very blue skies and warmer temps. My back starts to tighten up again and stays tight for the next 4 or 5 days.

We head on down the micro brewery for our traditional after hike feast. After a few short stops to look for souveniers, Pyro, Buff, Gunny and I are back in the truck around 1400 hrs and headed for Cheyenne.  Biscuit heads on back to Jackson Hole to catch his flight to Salt Lake City then on back to VA.

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