Tag Archives: obsessive compulsive backpackers

Winter 2014/2015 RECAP

As of today, 6 March 2015, this has been the ‘winter that almost wasn’t’.  We’ve had a ton of rain and warm weather (40’s – 50’s), up until about Mid February 2015, then it started to get ‘Polar Vortex Cold’ along with lot’s of snow that Virginia is not geared to deal with.

On the coast, where I live, we got a foot of snow in early February, then a week went by, then we got another foot, while I was off for a week Skiing in Colorado, paradoxically, looking for snow.

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The temps on the coast have been single digit, which broke records everywhere around here.  Gunny just posted that it’s currently -4F where he lives now, up near Staunton, Va.

That said, I have just scheduled a short 2 night backpacking trip for next week, a short loop thru the Rapidan Wildlife Management Area and Shenandoah NP.  Camping will be ‘Stealth Camping’.  Hoping for snow camping.  Hopefully the 2 river crossings will be easy and we won’t have to take our boots off (December 2013 below), else, it’s going to be a bit ‘nipley’.

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In late December we had a backpacking trip up and over Cold (Cole) Mountain, off the AT, near Buena Vista, Va.

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We’ve done this area many times and it’s always a beautiful trip.  The temps were pretty mild, I think above freezing the whole time, and we had sunshine (yeah!).  We had 8 or 9 show up from OC Backpackers.  Here’s a link to the photos :http://www.meetup.com/OCBackpackers/photos/25818110/ .

In February we had a Backpacking 101 course, which went, IMO, really well. Instead of speaking to a powerpoint slide show,  I and several others brought our backpacks fully loaded for a spring/summer 3 day/2 night hike and slow unloaded, explaining and discussing the concepts and variations as we went on.

Also in February, I met up with Geardog in Denver and we drove out to Summit County, Dillon, Co, for a week of skiing at Keystone.  It was GREAT!.  I bought a season pass for about $300 in October, which brought the price of skiing 5 days down to about $60 a day, versus the walk up price of $105-$120 per day!!!

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We had sunshine for ALMOST everyday, a few days the clouds would roll in after lunch, and we had small amount of snow 1 or 2 days, but not enough to drive one off the mountain.  The biggest thing though, is when mid-week skiing, the slopes are almost deserted!  You can ski so much that you (I) can become exhausted by about lunch time! YIKES!  Each day we would trudge back to the condo for lunch, a small break, then hit the slopes for the afternoon.  According to the Keystone app, we skied over 100,000 vertical feet, and that was with a short day on Friday, when we had to check out by 11 and drive up to Denver.  We were determined to leave early and take our time driving to Denver as the weather on the I70 corridor between Denver and Summit Couny had been literal shit the entire week, with, I kid you not, hundreds of accidents due to the speed, snow, and ice. On the Wednesday we were there, over 60 cars where in a massive pile up on the interstate on the way back to Denver, leaving motorists stranded all night!  Luckily we had sunshine on the drive back.  Single digit temps, but the roads where clear except for the constant mud spray on the windshield from the cars in front.

I’ve got my annual 6 day, 5 night corridor backpack in the GRAND CANYON coming up the first week in May!

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DEVIL'S CORKSCREW FROM PLATEAU POINT

DEVIL’S CORKSCREW FROM PLATEAU POINT

We’ve got 4 people going (that’s all I requested on the permit application).  We’ve got myself, Jen, Biscuit, and Bones going.  Normally we go in March, but I was undecided if I wanted to do a trip this year and didn’t decide to go until the earlier deadlines had passed and May was up for the lottery.  It promises to be a lot warmer, possibly shorts weather down in the canyon, that will great!

I guess the big thing going on for this summer is a planned hike to do the James Muir Trail (JMT), 210 miles in the California High Sierra’s with Biscuit and Geardog.  After we went to the Jim Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range, Wyoming last August, where I was pretty much under the weather the entire trip, mostly due to my own doings, I was determined to make this years’ BIG ADVENTURE a ‘sleepy, easy’ fishing trip loop either in Colorado or back in the Winds.  However, after a winter of sitting around, pretty bored, Biscuit and I kept talking about the JMT, so I started researching it.  It’s a huge logistical undertaking and permits are required and have been greatly reduced due to enormous demand, by the park service in the northern terminus of the trail in Yosemite NP.  Reduced to lessen the impact on the corridor the JMT traverses in YNP and just outside the park.  We were able to snag permits going NOBO from about 22 miles SOUTH of the JMT’s southern terminus at the ‘Mt Whitney Portal’, with a start date of 15 August.  I also applied for a permit starting at the Whitney Portal, which are awarded based upon a lottery, which will happen in mid-March. So we’re still waiting to see what happens with that.  I’m not sure my body is up to doing 230 miles, we really won’t have a time limit.  The limits are really based upon the number of meals one sends to the resupply points.  We’ll see what happens.

 

Roaring Plans Wilderness Trip Report

Roaring Plans West Wilderness, Monongahela NF, WV 17-19 Oct 2014 Trip Report

Photo credits to Pyro, Gunny, and Jen.

After our Winds hike last August I came up with a new rule that I would stay home if the rain forecast was greater than or equal to 50%, this is especially true if the daytime temps are predicted to be in the 50F’s or below.  Not that I’m that big of a pussy…it’s just that I’ve had more than my fair share of backpacking trips that become gruesome slogs in wet cold rain.  And a wet cold rain in a tree tunnel just doesn’t do it for me anymore.  I’m not talking about the trips where it rains unexpectedly or the big trips away from home, just those ‘routine’ hikes that are in the class of what I call ‘training hikes.’

So it was on 17 Oct that Buff and Pyro arrived at my house and we loaded up the truck with a 60% chance of rain and 40F temps hovering over our heads for the next day.  But…being ever the optimists and having plenty of sunshine as we loaded up, we once again decided to go for it.  Jen and Cartman linked up with us and we were on our way to pick up Gunny in Verona.

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We set up our camp just off Forest Road 19 and followed the trail, an old gravel road, about 1/4 mile to the crossing of Red Creek.  We didn’t see any campsites so we ended up camping on the road and forgot about making a fire.

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One33 great thing that happened was that the leaves in this area had just peaked and the colors were absolutely FANTASTIC!  We had thought we may have missed out, but we were very-very pleased!

 

 

Next morning we awoke to partly cloudy skies and temps pretty mellow, probably in the low 60F’s or upper 50F’s.  Immediately upon starting off we had to take off our boots and make an uneventful ford of the creek where as luck would have it, found a great campsite just on the other side.  For next time.

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The trip description we were using was pretty easy to follow at first.  Our first section had us following blue blazed trail winding up to the plateau that Roaring Plains is known for.

But wouldn’t you know it, about 10am it started to drizzle.  About an hour later the drizzle got a little harder and the temps dropped into the forties.  And for extra fun, the breeze started to pick up.

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More creek crossings.  Bear prints in the mud on the trail.

So on we slogged.  I will say that the drizzle did stop for a while, at times, and the sun would start to peek out.  And our morale would rise.  But then just to mock us, the skies would laugh and cloud back over and the drizzle would begin anew.

We followed the South Prong Trail up to the plateau but then marched past the right turn onto the Lost Passage Trail.  Once we discovered our mistake, after about a quarter mile, we backtracked and got on Lost Passage.  Here’s where things got a bit tough.  There were several trails headed in more or less the general direction we wanted to go.  Some seemed more obvious than others. We followed a well worn path just to have it die out in the brush. We crossed a creek and tried to follow a few others, just to see those come to a dead end.  Gunny went back across the creek to check out a faint path that had seemed to die out in the bushes.  He followed it for a bit and determined it was probably the main trail. A check on the GPS after a few yards confirmed it was headed in the right direction.

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By the time we got to the Pipe Line Trail, it was raining pretty good.  And cold.  And Windy.  Time for winter hats and gloves.  The clouds had settled in at our altitude so no valley views and no views of anything more than a half mile or so.

We noticed that the Pipe Line Trail is a huge right of way, maybe a hundred feet wide with a dirt maintenance road and a good foot trail, and it was running both south (our direction) and north.  What’s more, earlier in the day, when the South Prong trail crossed what appeared to be just another old dirt road on the USGS topo map, that road was actually WV Forest Road 70, a very well maintained gravel road with quite a few trucks running up and down it carrying hunting dogs.  We had been listening to the distant howling of the dogs for several hours and had even had a few pass us on the trail.

It appeared on the map that we could bail out now and follow the Pipe Line Trail north to where it intersected FR70, then take FR70 east for a few miles to where it intersected FR19 a few miles below from where we were parked. This would bypass the Canyon Rim Trail (which we couldn’t see) and allow us to skip a muddy 1500′ descent on the Boar’s Nest Trail to the trail head.

The descent to FR70 on the Pipe Line Trail was a bit sloggy in the rain but once we hit the gravel road we were able to make good time.  So about 3 hrs after we made our decision to bail we were back at the cars.

We stopped at our favorite local restaurant for dinner and some peanut butter pie and  coconut pie and it was great!

We convoyed back to Verona, stopping to pick up groceries, and stayed at Gunny’s new house.  With plenty of craft beers and chips and salsa we had a great time swapping lies late into the evening.

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.

Getting Ready for Tar Jacket Ridge (AT), Skiing at Keystone, Grand Canyon 6 day backpack, and another Winds Trip?

Getting ready for the next weekend’s winter backpack to/on Tar Jacket Ridge, on the AT.  However the weather’s predicted to be not-so-cold, maybe low 20’s, at least no rain is predicted yet.  This will be TJR hike number 5 or 6?  highres_246741902I got sick just after the last trip, ‘gastro’ thing (’nuff said), thought I had giardia.  Went to the doctor’s about a week or two after the trip and did have a gut infection.  Had to take cipro for 10 days, this was in Jun/Jul, but I got rid of it the day before our trip to Grayson Highlands.  We’ll camp at wiggens spring and take the AT 7 miles to the seely shelter, camp, then hike back, eat and go home.

Then, I need to ship my pack to Las Vegas, where 8 of us will meet at the LV airport and drive to the Grand Canyon for 6 days, 5 nights on an easy out and back, easy if you don’t DSC02431count the 3000′ hike out from indian garden on the last day, then it’s 1 night at one of the lodges followed by a drive to Vegas on Saturday with flights back to Virginia that same day.

But, on the way to the GC, Red Baron and I will meet in Denver, drive to Dillon and stay a 028week to ski at Keystone, probably for me only 3 days, before driving back to Denver and flying to LV to pick up that backpack I shipped earlier. (Don’t break a leg!).

Then back to planning another trip to the Winds in August.  This will probably be a ‘by invitation only’ hike, not posting it on our meetup group, need to avoid the ‘first timers’ DSCN2752and hiking with strangers thing.  Not that I mind hiking with strangers and making new friends, but that needs to happen on the weekend trips where we can get past the ‘group dynamic stuff’ in an easier, less remote scenario.

I need to put this away and get on the treadmill.

bye

Rapidan Hike 28-29 Dec 2013 Trip Report & Changing My Paradigm on What “Staying Dry” Really Means

I don’t normally blog about my monthly weekend backpacks but this was special for stress testing rain equipment in the cold and for the 3 river crossings!  My next post will be on my new phil-osophy on staying dry in pouring rain.

It’s not supposed to rain in the Blue Ridge, especially this time of year.  We (being myself, Buff, Pyro, and Bones from Obsessive Compulsive Backpackers Meetup) were looking forward to our first snow hike of the season, but warm weather had melted what little snow there was and as a bonus, a predicted front brought in a torrential downpour on our day 2.

We parked at the Graves Mill trail head parking lot, and with a late start we had about 4 hrs of daylight to make the days first objective, a flat spot next to the Rapidan River, just past the ‘Rapidan camp’ (this is a series of cabins that you can rent out on the road to camp Hoover.  The Marine guards for the presidential visits to camp Hoover were housed there).

But first we had to negotiate a crossing of the Staunton River and Rapidan River.  The first one went ‘ok’, we were able to barely hop across on the rocks and had no problems.  The second river was a little higher, so those of us who are vertically challenged, had a series of long jumps ahead of us which left us looking for an alternative crossing.  After spending a little bit of time searching to no avail, we wound up just sucking it up and taking off our boots and socks fording barefoot.  The river at that point had a few sections 1 1/2 – 2 feet deep and had a pretty good current, so it was a good opportunity ‘stream crossing lessons’.  Once across, we used bandanas to dry our feet off.  The good thing about the water being freezing cold is that the numbing effect sort of negated the pain of sharp rocks on bare feet.

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After a few miles or so we happened upon a  junction of the trail, a fire road going up the mountain, and a gravel road coming in from the south-east leading to the Rapidan Camp.  There was a gravel parking lot for visitors to the Rapidan Wildlife Management area and a natural flat area with a not-so-old fire ring.  After some discussion about the pro and cons of stealth camping there (we were in the wildlife management area and not exactly in the park (SNP) and the fact it would be dark soon), we decided to go for it and camp there.

Despite the many pick up trucks passing on the gravel road, who we assumed were hunter who had to vacate the area before dusk, we didn’t have any issues with any ‘authorities’.

We had a great campfire and I strung the Christmas Lights on my tent that Buff and Pyro had carried.

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The rain started in the middle of the night and didn’t stop at sunrise, it just got heavier.  Soooo….we had every backpackers worst nightmare (no not a bear in camp), we had to get up and break camp in a driving rain!  I had brought my REI quarter dome and had a great breakfast, cooking under my vestibule  (or my tent’s ‘foyer’ as Buff and Pyro like to call it!)

Then it was out of the tent into the driving rain and packing up.  As a bonus, the rain was kicking up mud onto everything in contact with the ground, adding to the soaking wet tents that had to be packed up.

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And off we went!  We decided to take an alternative route back to the cars to avoid the 2 river crossings, the Rapidan, which we camped near had risen quite a bit.  So we hiked up the mountain on the fire road heading up towards the Sag and the junction of the Jones Mountain Trail.  We found on the USGS topo map a trail that formed a cut-off back down to the Staunton river Trail which would negate have to hike up to the Sag, and taking the Jones Mountain Trail to the Staunton River Trail.

Only problem was, that trail was not on the PATC SNP map so it was anybody’s guess if it was still there.  As it turned out, the trail intersection was not marked and we walked right by it.  Fortunately we were using the Backcountry Navigator GPS app, with the USGS map tiles pre-loaded and were able to double back, only 100′ or so, and found the trail.

The trail looked unmaintained at the start but well defined, but after about 200 meters, it started fading out and disappearing altogether, we knew it followed a creek to the Staunton River so we had to basically bushwacked down the mountain for a while, fortunately the app still received GPS signals and we knew we were in the trail’s vicinity, more or less.

We were able to hit the Staunton River and Staunton River Trail at the exact spot of the trail crossing, but as luck would have it, the river was very much swollen over. We searched, pretty much in vain, for a rock crossing.  However, Bones, who should be renamed “longshanks”, managed a daring rock hop leap and crossed (luckily) without falling in!

The rest of us short legged folks, have no alternative and being already soaked (did I mentioned it was still pouring?) said ‘fuck it’ and just plowed on through.  Swollen river crossing lesson number 3!  We’ll, it was touch and go, but we managed it ok.

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After the crossing, it was a short scramble up the bank, finding the main trail and straight on, easy walk, to the car.

The rain let up and had stopped on the way back to the parking lot, but, as again luck would have it, started raining when we got the truck (SHIT) so we had to hold up umbrellas for each other to change into dry clothes.

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It was then off to the Mellow Mushroom in Charlottesville and the post hike celebratory feast!