Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Reflections on this Weekend & the Month Ahead

Well, I figured I should do a bit of a post-trip analysis for lessons learned and adjustments that I'll be making.

For gear changes, lets start with the boots. I was disappointed by the leaking I experienced through the mesh on my Merrell MOAB gore-tex boots. This led to the freezing and perpetual wetness, which was extremely frustrating through the weekend.
Those have been reassigned to the Oregon/Washington section and removed from High Sierra duty in favor of a new pair of Asolo Powermatic 200's. Depending on how the Asolo's feel, I may just stick with them from the Sierras all the way to Canada. The month ahead will be just enough time to break these in. Probably the first 'real boots' I've had since early HS, so its going to be a bit strange to get used to them. On the other hand, they feel fantastic on my feet, and I expect no trouble tearing it up over the snow in June. I've added a sleeping bag liner to my gear to help simplify town stops by eliminating the need to wash my sleeping bag. I picked up a new pair of sunglasses after I learned that my other pair isn't actually polarized (I swear they were when I bought them...) It was pretty clear that they weren't polarized though for two reasons. 1) My eyes were aching at night after hiking over the snow 2) My face was tanned under the sunglasses - clearly they weren't stopping much sunlight. Its really too bad, since I liked how they looked on me with the lime green highlight. Picked up the snow baskets for my trekking poles, so hopefully I won't be embedding them down to the handle in the snow next time. I figure I'll just use the snow baskets the whole way so I don't have to fuss around with swapping them out somewhere along the trail. I also finally got around to swapping out my large carabiners for the mini ones, so thats was about a 1.5oz saving on each one. I've never been huge on counting ounces, but this was just a no-brainer for the $1.50 it cost me. I'm also going to try out the Coghlan's version of esbit tablets to see if they work any better/worse.

Food went really well out there this time. I ate nearly all of my food by the time we left, though I did have to force myself to make it through the final bit each night. I was a big fan of the instant chocolate mousse, but was shocked to realize I had bought cheesecake flavor instead of vanilla. Julie observed the fact that the expression on my face made it very clear that it was not very appetizing. I went shopping for more of those mixes this evening and was very careful to make sure I bought the right flavors this time. I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to make it through the whole 12oz can of bacon-spam (yes, BACON!!!) the first night, and the waste tin didn't bother me at all in terms of weight or bulk. I understand where people are coming from with trying to minimize the packaging they have to haul out, but on the other hand, this is probably comparable to the weight of all the packaging from the 3oz foil packs... As I get further in my resupply planning I'm considering the idea of packing one heavy meal for the first night out so that I have more variety in my diet but don't suffer a huge weight penalty for an extended period. I was very happy with my Caldera Cone stove on this trip considering the low temperatures and decent wind. The only trouble was that the aluminum wind screen / pot stand would sink into the snow as it heated up, blocking the lower vent holes. I had to hold it up off the snow to get a decent burn rate, and I was able to find a hot spot where it really roared. Good to know that the stove has a 'fast' speed by adding a touch more air. I also tried doubling up tablets for the first time, and I probably won't ever need to do that. Not only did it bring 700ml to a boil in about 5 min, it blackened the bottom of my pan with a nasty gunk everyone associates with esbit. When I only use one tab it isn't an issue, so I think I'll stick with that method from here on out.

In terms of mental changes, I think the course was a huge factor in my preparedness. First of all, I had to get all of winter gear ready for this trip, so I have all of that set now rather than waiting until the last minute. Also having a chance to step foot on the PCT already was nice, as it gave me a taste of what is coming. I think that will help with the nerves when I get to T-1 days. Another big change is my feeling towards the snow. I've completely changed my opinion on the snow level this year, and I no longer see it as a curse on the trip but rather a mixed blessing. On the one hand it may slow me down, but on the other, it frees me up from following the exact trail, instead giving me the opportunity to find the easiest route across the snowfields to my destination. Postholing is now less scary now that I've experienced it, and I'm much more confident in my ability to safely traverse snowy slopes. I'm working on an interesting strategy for maintaining my high mileage through the Sierras, and I'll elaborate once I've had a little more time to go through all the elements in my head.

This weekend I'll be printing out my maps, packing all of my resupply boxes and finalizing my itinerary. I'm also trying to figure out a good point for my dad to come visit me on the trail, so that should be pretty exciting after a couple weeks out there. Everything seems to be coming together well, only 30 days to go.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Mountain Education Snow Course Day 3 (or) Learning to Fall Down a Mountain

Today was the third and final day of the course. It was definitely warmer out last night, but I wasn't taking any chances, so I slept with my boots in the tent. So much more comfortable to put them on in the morning when they aren't a pair of ice blocks. Unfortunately they were still damp from the soaking they took yesterday in the soft, slushy snow, so I definitely need to pick up a better pair for my thru-hike in the Sierras. These will likely be used as a replacement pair somewhere up in Oregon or Washington depending on how the new pair holds up. I did get some condensation in the tent last night, so that was a bummer. I'll have to try out the inner liner to see how well that manages the condensation issues. We all gathered around our snow table for one last meal together and then packed up our gear and left the basecamp. Ned brought us down to a moderate slope where we began to learn to use our ice axes. The process was: sit down at the top of the hill, start sliding down, self arrest to stop sliding down. Rinse and repeat. Self arrest can be critical through some of the snowy areas as it is the best and most effective way of stopping yourself if you lose your footing and take off down the hill.

Fortunately or unfortunately, due to the higher temperature last evening, the snow was relatively soft. This made it possible to stop yourself simply by digging in your feet as you slid, so there was less riding on a successful self arrest. On the other hand, it was a low risk environment to learn, so that was positive. I learned how to self arrest from several different positions, namely feet first with and without my pack, and then head first on my back. That was probably the most challenging as you are a bit disoriented and it isn't quite as intuitive which way you want to roll. Its actually quite interesting to think about the mechanics of how a self arrest works. First of all here is an ice axe. The pointed side is the pick, the broader side is the adze, and the point on the end of the shaft is called... the point. The idea behind self arrest is to dig the pick into the snow while holding the ice axe tight to your body and diagonally across your body from your shoulder to your hip. You need to keep it close in so that you can hang on once it bites in and pulls you to a stop. When you self arrest you need to roll over the shoulder holding the axe head so that the pick is the first part to contact the surface. If you roll the opposite way, the shaft will bury itself in the snow, potentially vaulting you backwards down the slope - not desirable at all. Once I figured out the basic idea behind the technique, it really wasn't too terrible to put into practice, although it did take a few tries to become consistent, and then quite a few more tries to do just as well with my off hand.

After a good hour and a half of practice with self arrest, we slipped on our packs and began the 6 mile hike out. It was MUCH quicker going down the hill instead of climbing and traversing it, so we made excellent time. We went back across the lake again, but this time there were definite signs of surface melting on the eastern side. Still nothing to worry about yet, but if this temperature holds for a few more days, I'd be a bit more apprehensive about crossing the lake like we did. We made it back to the cars around 1:45 and I quickly unloaded my pack into the duffel bags and said my goodbyes. I hope to see all of you out on the trail at some point, especially since you all start before me. Sourdough and Don start on Tuesday, so it'll be some time before I see you guys, and I'm extremely jealous that you'll be out on the trail while I'm doing problem sets and writing papers. Phil, I'll probably see you first since you only will have a couple days head start on me. Probably see you somewhere around Warner Springs. Pat and Sandy it was sure nice to meet both of you, and I look forward to seeing you out there. And of course, a huge thank you to Ned, Julie and Snowball for making us all feel like family and providing priceless instruction and guidance over the three day course. Thank a ton, I really enjoyed my time out there, and I hope to see you all soon!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Snow Course 4-16

This morning I woke up around 6:30 to a bit of dew on the inner wall of ny tent. Not a big deal, but I may want to try use the inner liner or the tent next time. It was 29 outside, which would've been done had I not left my boots outside to freeze... That was quite unpleasant and it took a good 30 minutes for them to finally warm up and get loose enough for a good good lacing. I was pretty slow getting glib, but as I was going to have to wait on everyone else I was in no rush. We didn't actually get moving until about 9:30 after breakfast so it was a real strange morning for me... We crossed the lake and started heading up the ridge, aiming for Haypress Meadow where we would hit the real PCT. Ned has quite an interesting take on winter navigation, which is the idea that you don't need to stay on the trail itself but rather you just have to get to the right landmarks. We did quite a few climbs and traverses, learning about the buries hazards you may face. I got really nice traction in my boots and I was quite satisfied with them for most of the day. We saw some really crazy stuff like a 12 foot deep windwell around a tree and a massive cornice off a ridge. From our final desinayion we were able to see Pyarmid Peak, Jack's Peak, Dick's Peak and Aloha Lake. Quite the sight. Starting on the way back a bit before 1 we started sinking in a bit more and then before you know it that had genes to postholing. I did that for awhile to see how it would be and I can see why it would be exhausting. For the unfamiliar, postholing is what happens as you walk on the sun-softenes snow and your step causes you to sink in to your knee or further. It can be especially painful when there is an icy crust or granite boulders below, but we were fortunate to experience neither. After descending about 300 feet via that method we all decided to try glissading, essentially sitting down and sliding down the slope using your feet as brakes. That was much faster, much less tiring, and frankly just a lot of fun. The big problem I faced was with all the postholing, my feet were constantly under the snow and my goretex boots started leaking. By the time we hit camp my feet were soaked and I was quite happy to change socks and air out my boots. We also took some time to learn about avalanche pits to assess the snow pack and also how to build a snow cave. With that we wrapped up the days training and retired for dinner and conversation. This is quite a fun group and I really do hope I get to see them all out on the trail this summer. I'm the last of this group to start so I should be passing most everyone at some point. Tomorrow is self arrest training and then the flight back home. This sure flew by and now it will be harder than ever to wait for ny start on re 18th, especially knowing that Don &  Sourdough will be there as of Tuesday!

PHOTO: Pyramid Peak

Friday, April 15, 2011

Mountain Education Snow Course Day 1

Today was an excellent day of training courtesy of Mountain Ned and his three day snow course. There are seven of us students, including Sourdough, Don Johnson, Dan and Phil. Its a really nice group and I'm definitely looking forward to the rest of the weekend. We did some basic navigation training today and got the hng of walking with snowshoes over all kinds of terrain. Sourdough' got a great pic of me one time when I went sown in a traverse of a hillside. Tomorrow will be more navigation work as well as avalanche SAR. Sunday we get to do ice axe training which should be a real blast. Absolutely gorgeous views out here and I can see Echo Lake out of the foot of ny tent. Crazy to think there's enough snow on it that we walked straight across ir no problem.The neatest thing will be getting back here in 2.5 months and seeing how different it is. I'll have to try to get pictures from the same spots on my thru hike. Well, that's about if for now, all that snowshoeing has me beat and I'm ready to pass out. G'night all!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Mobile posting?

It looks like I'll be able to post updates here from my phone over the summer ( when I get service ). I'll get a chance to test it our this weekend in Lake Tahoe when I do my snow backpacking course in the mountains.