Wild Turkey stew

Sorry mom, but growing up I never liked turkey.  Never eaten save on two holidays, it was always overcooked and underflavored.  Thankfully wild turkey solves both problems handily if done right.


Roasting a whole turkey is probably a fools errand.  It looks cool, but the different parts respond best, by far, to different treatments.  I like to remove wild turkey breasts and fry them as schnitzel, sear and braise them as cacciatore, or rub and grill them as barbeque (all originally wild game preparations).  The four limbs and the meat attached are extremely tasty, but a whole lot tougher, and benefit from the classic sear and braise method.

For this year, I had a whole carcass left from this springs bird, minus the breasts.  I had originally intended to braise it whole, but lacked a pan anywhere close to long enough.  So I cut off all four limbs at the upper joint, brined them overnight (salt, brown sugar, alpine cider vinegar), and made stock out of the rest of the bird.  This stock is very lean, but full of flavor.  Yesterday morning I browned the meat pieces in oil, poured off said oil, deglazed the pan with a splash of vinegar, then added the meat, the liter of turkey stock, a further liter of chicken stock from the store, a whole white onion, two big leaks, and three carrots.  All this was simmered gently for about 5 hours.  When the meat was falling off the bones I carefully removed all bones and cartilage (which is tricky), and simmered more aggressively for another half hour with the lid off to reduce the stew.  I flavored the broth with a touch of sea salt and thyme.

Unlike stereotypical turkey, leftovers will only get better (see above).  The stew sets up in a light aspic that is the key to this dishes success.  The broth has a subtle flavor with a surprisingly amount of depth.  No need to turn it into curry.

4 months


At the second snack stop Little Bear had a fit; screaming as often as breath would permit.  Was he hungry?  Cold?  Sick of being bounced over potholes and rocks in the bike trailer? Four month olds can’t answer these questions, not because they can’t talk but because they can’t parse concepts from emotions, so I was left to wrap him in two coats and rock him until he cried himself to sleep.  At that point I had a hand free to put my hood up and eat more, but he was still wearing both coats and after 20 still minutes the wind was beginning to cut deep.  How cold would you get for your son’s comfort?  A lot colder than this, so I let him nap on my lap for 5 minutes until his breathing was rapid and regular and I was almost certain I could buckle him into the chariot without waking.

He didn’t wake.  Not for the first 20 seconds, not for the next twenty minutes, as I turned squares into what was now a headwind to warm up.  Both feet and both hands were back, the car was a few easy landmarks away, and LB was still lolling asleep when I saw the mountain lion.

The dirt two track ran through willow and aspen thickets along the edge between the upper and lower flood plains, the older separated from the younger by a steep 50 foot bank.  The lion crested the dirt with a flick of its very long tail which could not be missed, 30 yards to the right.  Stopping seemed the right thing to do, so I squealed the BB7s and dismounted.  The lion flattened itself behind a log, and we stared at each other, 20 yards apart.  I didn’t quite yell, but I talked at it very loudly while walking the bike past and away, making sure the cat didn’t move, at all.  Out of sight I got back on and pedaled, fast, looking back often.  LB had woken up during the ordeal, but didn’t make a sound.


All of which is to say that this parenting thing has become old hat, novelty subsumed in an ocean of inevitability.  We’ll go hunting and backpacking and mountain biking with him because he is part of us, the family, now.  I’m more tired on nights when he doesn’t sleep for eight solid hours, but only because he’s more likely to disrupt my REM.  Less regular sleep and hauling all manner of stuff for every occasion is simply what we do now, and by the time it isn’t M and I will be different enough people that we’ll be moving to another phase, rather than returning to an old one.

Fortunately having a baby isn’t, overall, as stressful or disruptive as I was led to believe.  We are lucky that LB sleeps well and is generally easy to please.  His persistent reticence with his bottle the only thing I can hold against him, even at my most stressed. We’re also fortunate, not lucky, that M and I both love and like each other, and every day we count it as wisdom that we took 11+ years to bring ourselves to this point.  If a magician could give us anything right now, we wouldn’t ask for a week away to ourselves, just more time the three of us not disrupted by work or anyone else.


Previously not riding all the way from Polebridge to Kintla and back would have annoyed me, but when our sojourn was cut short by icy hills in the forest and not wanting to stress him too much (for a 19 pound kid bouncing in a trailer harness is hard exertion) I did not mind.  The northern rollers, shaded by old growth spruce, had been a question ever since we passed the road closed gate and found a half inch of crusty snow-ice, complete with griz and wolf tracks frozen deep.  So when we passed the patrol cabin on tenuous ice I was not surprised, and assumed we might stop at the next hill.  I was surprised when, 50 feet from the bottom, a coyote came down right at us and fell and slid 5 feet on its side in the process of swapping tail for nose and disappearing into the forest.  In my amusement I forgot to downshift, stalled, spun out on the ice, almost fell over when I put a foot down, and decided it was time to go back.  22 miles was plenty for both of us.

Good kid gear has been crucial and, thankfully, easy to come by.  The Chariot is as awesome as Eric said it was, and we haven’t even had the snow to take the wheels off, yet.  We got the double model, which with the infant sling installed leaves convenient room for a pack full of gear (or a rifle).  It does fit into our small hatchback, but everything has to come off.  We were able to hit two Patagonia outlets three times total over the past few months, which along with internet sales means that LB is well outfitted (until he outgrows the 6 month stuff).  The infant HiLoft Down coat is better than anything anyone could buy 20 years ago, and while stupid expensive at full retail has been invaluable for cold, windy days.  Otherwise fleece is more practical, easier to grip and better at absorbing drool.  The synchilla bunting suit, which has leg zips which allow for separate legs or one uniflipper, wins the most valuable award thus far, in large part because it allows for minimally disruptive diaper changes.  Unfortunately Patagonia seems to have taken it out of their rotation, replacing it with several suits which all use the one zipper, ankle to chin closure, something to be avoided in every clothing item and clearly not designed by a parent.


Most exciting; LB now has the size, and close to enough head control, to ride in the backpack carrier.  The possibilities for this winter, and especially next spring and summer, are as big as our will and creativity allow them to be.  Everyone is looking forward to it.

2 hours with elk


The tracks passed through the fence and continued on the other side, a large wad of dark hairs stuck in the top wire the definitive sign that the obvious was real; the elk had jumped on to private land and my time with it was done.  The sense of loss was only indirectly related to the likelihood that my hunting trip was now over, it was everything with how I’d no longer be able to follow the big feet through the sage fields and juniper gulches, linking obvious craters through shaded stretches of deep, crusted snow with bare ground indentations which stretched my ability to see at all.

At first the tracks had been dusted in with grains of snow, suggesting age.  Then I had found a bed, melted icy into a hollow under a pine, and circling tracks thereafter.  Hard to read which elk was the newest, heading uphill, and it opened the big question of tracking; was I close enough in time and space for it to be reacting to me.  100 yards on and 5 minutes later, on the other side of a sunny bare patch which made for slow going, I found in quick succession two piles of slick, sticky droppings, and the answer to that question became an emphatic yes.  From then on the psychic rope going back from the elk to me stayed taught, and it seemed like I could almost smell his mood when it walked a complete circle at the edge of a steep gully, choosing to go around rather than down and over.  Unfamiliarity and confusion, I assumed, could only be good for me.  Until I realized that the fence was close.   The elk repeatedly ducked low and stayed on BLM land, until the public strip became too narrow and tilted between the cow pasture and the big canyon.  And perhaps because I was getting so close.


I arrived at the trailhead in the dark, and beat a slow march up the sage field, breaking through the stout 1 inch crust into dry sugar snow which let my boots go all the way to the ground and filtered up into the small spaces of my gaiters.  WIth only a vague destination, I kept the crescent sliver moon just off my right shoulder and kept climbing.  My pack felt heavy, my feet kept catching under the snow, and the short halo of light my lamp gave minimal illumination to a vague plan.  Close to 1000 vertical off the highway I started running into fresh tracks, lots of tracks, and a ways higher some recent looking beds.  With enough optimism and exertion harvested I continued into the dark until I found a fairly flat spot under a tree, swept a sleeping space down to bare ground, set up my mid, and went to sleep.

The morning was cold, cloudy, and with just enough irregular wind to cause problems.  Stay here?  Go up?  Go down?  I went up, as that had been the plan back home, but the steep climb and deeper snow bogged me down and mentally I was moving slower and slower.  Atop the ridge there were no tracks of any kind, and a brief snow squall which blew in fast enough to freeze my hands before I could get warmer gloves out.  They stayed cold enough to not shoot well for almost 40 minutes.

The elk were not in the trees, and when I got back to the southeastern slopes and the open pines and sage fields, fresh elk tracks were all over.  As in fresh since I left my camp just above that morning.  Some times your hour with elk is more academic, if no less poignant and irksome.

The 2015 pack fleet

I’ve been doing the pack thing for a while now.  After owning and especially building so many none of them can retain nostalgia for long, with any and every little detail subject to scrutiny, revision, and destruction.  That said, the novelty of cutting and sewing has also waned significantly in the last year, and it’s my intention in 2016 to only act on my best ideas and hopefully let a few of the packs discussed below live for more than 8 months.

These six are the ones currently in my closet, smallest to largest, good points and bad, along with an estimation of whether I’d buy it again and in the case of home made stuff speculation on commercial alternatives.


HPG Tarahumara.  I’ve had this for a few years, and the elegant simplicity and functionality continues to impress.  The contours of the back and side panels make it both streamlined and large for it’s size, and it’s built of bomber materials to absolutely impeccable standards.


I know just how good the stitching is because earlier this year I tore the top and most of the side panel seams out to add different shoulder straps and buckles which would interface with the Unaweep.  I’ve torn out a lot of seams, factory stuff and my own, and these were far and away the most difficult.  In this case at least the added quality of domestic manufacturing, and the associated surcharge, is no joke.  That said, the stock shoulder harness just didn’t work, especially for cycling, and the Patagonia Endurance pack straps have made it a solid little number for short ski and bike outings.  The back panel is still sweaty and holds moisture for a while, but I can’t yet find this objectionable enough to mess with it.

Overall I like this pack a lot, though I’m not I would buy it again.  The Osprey Talon 11 I used to have is in many respects a more functional option, though not nearly as stout or stylish.


Gossamer Gear Type 2.  A fantastic daypack which has gotten a ton of use this year; the Type 2 is just the right size and has just enough pockets for just about anything.  My shoulder strap replacement is nice, and makes the pack feel custom fit for me, but is far from obligatory.

I’d buy it again without hesitation, and recommend it to others.


610 Diaper pack.  The newest pack in the lineup, and the one with the most and widest variety of iterations behind it.  Based on the last 10 days of hunting and dayhiking, I’m optimistic that I’ve finally got things right.  The side zip works particularly well with the current dimensions, as setting the pack down on the side keeps it stable, gives good access, and keeps the harness out of the mud, all at the same time.  Being able to use or not use the twin aluminum stays is a very nice feature for a pack this size.

It’s hard to think of a good commercial alternative to such a particular pack.  If the zip access were not crucial one of the HMG 2400 series packs would work well, or a Cold Cold World Ozone for less money and more abusive use.  The smaller Black Diamond Speed packs are a good value, and the Speed 30 in large is actually long enough in the torso, something shockingly difficult to find amongst smaller, “technical” packs.


Stone Glacier Solo.  I really enjoyed hunting out of this pack back in September, it was easy to conclude that a pack this size, with a meat shelf and at least partial panel access, is an ideal platform for warmer weather backcountry hunts.  It has enough space, but is small enough to force discipline and to fit through brush well, and spotting scope access is quick.  Unfortunately the Solo suffers from a few features I find unbearable, mainly the several seams at the top of pack which cause it to leak like mad in the rain, and the excessive strappiness.  You don’t want to shortcut compression for a load shelf, but I have a few ideas that should trim thing considerable, which is a way of saying that this is a pack which will be replaced, when the ideas I’ve been tossing around in my head become sufficiently refined.  The frame I made for this pack works well, the only flaw is that I didn’t quite make their bottom spacing wide enough, and this slightly impinges belt wrap across the lumbar.

If I were buying commercially I wouldn’t get a Stone Glacier, they’re far too expensive when a Unaweep 3900 (below) is hundreds of dollars less.


Seek Outside Unaweep.  I haven’t used this pack much this year, but there have been quite a few occasions when I had something else along and wished I could zoom home and instantly swap packs.  Simply put the Unaweep is the reference for how a larger pack should carry and function, and anything I come up with or buy has to equal it in all ways and exceed it in some to be worth keeping.  That is not easy to do.  As detailed in the previous post I cut a few things off my Unaweep, and I’ve continued to monkey with different Talon panels, but having it in the closet as a dependable option for anything beyond a light overnight it always welcome.

I didn’t buy this pack, but if I lost it I’d buy another as soon as possible and rest easy knowing I was getting a stellar deal.  I’d probably go for X50 fabric for better durability than VX42, and step up to the mondo 6300 size for a one pack quiver.


Canyon center-zip. Based on one overnight and one day hunt, I like this pack.  3900 cubic inches is not that big, and the added size will surely come in handy, as will I think the front zipper.  At this point far more testing is need to comment substantively, but given the number of previous packs which fed directly into this one I’m confident this will endure.  But then again I usually am.

Little Bear goes deer hunting


I’d been running this outlandish idea through my head since before LB was born, and practicing for months. How to hunt deer with an infant in tow?

Two options were obvious, each with advantages and disadvantages. Carrying the baby in a sling, with a pack and rifle, was possible, but taking a shot would require seeing an animal, putting the pack down, putting a pad or jacket on the ground, putting LB on the pad, sneaking a safe distance away (far enough to not harm his hearing, close enough to keep the coyotes from stealing him) and take a shot. The advantage here is being able to go anywhere which didn’t involve excessive steepness, and back at the end of September I did what would have been a successful dry run on a 3×3 mule deer had it been rifle season and had I not already punched my general deer tag. The second option is pictured above, pushing LB in the chariot in stroller mode along dirt roads. By the time we got home from Utah the only deer tag I had left was the whitetail doe tag for the local valley, which made this second approach the way to go. We have a lot of whitetail deer in the Flathead, and in the few patches of public land they are both abundant and pressured hard. I put a lot of days into hunting this tag last fall, ultimately without success (I bailed to a backup area with easier hunting). The chariot is easy to push on even rough logging roads and horse tracks, and has a bomber brake which is quick to set with one foot.

Despite all that LB and I almost used option one with good success last week, hunting for a few hours late afternoon on the heals of a snow and rain storm. The air was heavy and damp, and with the deer having been bedded for most of the day they were both out moving and less able to hear and see.  On two occasions I was able to deposit LB carefully down in a mud-free spot, move off, and be within a few seconds of a good shot window.  I drove home in the dark thinking that the goofy plan might actually work.

The next day we were back, this time with the chariot.  5 minutes from the car a small doe crossed the road a hundred yards away in full flight.  The sun was out, the air was crisp, and we were both enjoying a nice afternoon walking logging roads.  LB napped a few times, but for the most part was wide-eyed, awake and silent bundled in layers of fleece and with my jacket tucked around him.  A little over an hour from the car, a deer appeared ahead, actually on the road, with us mostly hidden by a subtle dip and curve.  With the deer unaware of us it was a perfect opportunity.  I locked the chariot and crawled forward.  The pressure was on, with an opportunity better than any I had hoped for right in front of me.

So naturally I missed.  Twice.  From prone, at a deer facing me perhaps a hundred yards away.  I watched the doe bound up the hill, visually unscathed, and turned around to check on LB only to see a group on horseback a hundred yards back on the road.  I moved the stroller over to the side, sat in the dirt, and looked my placid son in the eyes as the horses passed and the realization that I had wasted a golden opportunity washed over me.  We went over and searched for blood, but I knew there would not be any.  The tracks left as the deer spun and jumped across the road and into the woods were plain in soft dirt.  Equally plain was the improbability of having a comparable opportunity again this year.

There was plenty of daylight left, so LB and I walked back a ways and walked out another road.  3 more deer disappeared back into the thick woods, leaving no chance for a shot.  The previous weekend I had come out early by myself, walking to this same spot in the full dark of morning, before blowing my setup right at first light when I decided I needed to move a bit to the left and spooked a deer right across the road.  It was still early in November, after all, and I had weeks left to fill this tag, be it by myself or with LB along.

The air got colder and I put on the vest LB which had been LB’s blanket, replacing it with a warmer jacket.  As we headed for home we crossed paths and exchanged a few words with an older gent on an ATV, who seemed amused that someone would be out hunting with an infant.


As the poor picture shows, I did get a second chance.  Quite close to the car and quite close to dark, walking through an open area recently logged, the ground heavily obscured with small bushes and piles of slash, I saw a deer.  To be exact, I saw a part of a deer, a horizontal patch of grey/brown which a recently trained part of my brain saw as not just a stick.  Last fall I probably didn’t see 10 deer in similar situations.  This time the deer knew something was up there, but wasn’t overly concerned, and I gave myself plenty of time to move 40 feet forward of the sleeping Little Bear and get a good rest of my pack.  My rifle went off, and the deer twitched to the right and disappeared from view.

Now the genius of my hunting with baby plans got complicated.  The shot had felt dead on, and I was pretty sure I’d find a dead deer within a short distance of the spot by the tall aspens, but I couldn’t get the stroller far off the road through all the garbage on the ground, and didn’t want the burden of carrying a baby while worrying about administering a follow up shot.

LB had not woken up due to the shot, and I could get the chariot well off the road and him within easy sight, so I locked the stroller and left the sleeping baby behind as I made my way 80 yards back into the woods.  The deer was laying right were I shot it, spined.  I quickly put another bullet through the head, reflecting that no shot should be taken for granted, and that the deer must have been on the verge of running off.  Now I could go retrieve LB and figure out the easiest way to get the deer and us back home as simply as possible.

The hunter on the ATV saw the stroller, empty, and stopped to check on us.  Seeing my headlamp off in the distance he made his way through the tripwire forest, and found me changing a diaper.  Bemused and happy, he asked if he could hold and comfort the fussing (doubtlessly hungry) baby while I finished gutting the deer, then generously helped me drag the deer back to the road, put it on his rig, and motored it the last half mile back to my car.  All the interactions I’ve had with hunters in the field this fall have been excellent, and this one, for obvious reasons, was especially precious and welcome.

Little Bear won’t remember this, regardless of when or if he becomes a hunter, but he’ll benefit from the early childhood hours out developing his senses in the woods, and every day I’ll benefit from one more adventure more multifaceted than anything I could conceive 12 months ago.



Twelve years ago that morning we had been in a hotel in Vegas, me flipping through the Yellow Pages and calling wedding chapels at 9 in the morning.  Twelve years later we were in a tent under the ponderosas back from the rim near Bryce Canyon, sun coming up slowly on a cold and clear morning.  After his own breakfast, I slid Little Bear out across the pine needles to help me make coffee and give M another 45 minutes of sleep.

We had been worried about camping on this trip, as due to weather, lassitude, and fear of bears he hadn’t spent a night in a tent, at all.  LB exceeded our expectations each and every night camping, setting a personal best of 9 continuous hours of sleep during his first night backpacking.  Wrapped in a fleece hoody, fleece hunting, and the fleece and Climashield sleeping bag I made for him temps down a little below freezing were not just tolerable, he seemed to enjoy them.


That morning we had a hike planned, and the first outright cerulean forecast of the trip, but we were also on baby time and had the wisdom of five days of road tripping to give us patience.  We spent a bit of time in the visitor center staring at bright lights, and I got us second breakfast in frozen burritos from the camp store when we went into a marathon mid-morning feed at the trailhead.  Eventually all things will stay on schedule, and eventually we were off.


The previous days of hiking had made it clear that LB had outgrown the rear facing sling carry we’d been relying on since birth.  He got frustrated not being able to look ahead, and was too big and had too much leg power to make the sling carry stable.  Surprisingly I nailed the tension for the new, forward carry on the first try, and it proved to be a big hit.  Pictures cannot capture the enthusiastic limb waving which ensued and went on for the first few hours.




It is easy to overlook Bryce because the popular trails are so crowded, Ruby’s is so ugly, and even the more remote trails are never very far from a road, but none of that makes the scenery any less worthwhile.  The trails in Bryce were built with no utility in mind save tourists, initially on horseback, so they are all well graded, well groomed, and tend to serpentine through the landscape maximizing scenic potential with only modest regard for getting from A to B in any manner of good time.  In short, very fun meandering.  We had also been reminded, by our utterly trailless backpack with the heavy kid, that good trails are occasionally very welcome.


Hiking in the wrap has always been the most reliable sleep-inducer for Little Bear.  The visual stimulus of facing forward, and having more active neurons to put the view to use, kept him very awake for a long time, but he eventually gave in to the rhythm.

We had also learned that for him being carried in the wrap was real work, therefore we brought along the ridgerest and every big person break for sitting was accompanied by an infant break for laying flat, wiggling, and staring at ones feet.


Seven miles can take most of the day this way, and with our late start the shadows were growing the wind getting cold by the time we arrived at the final uphill.  Of course this is when he had a huge crap which got out the diaper and soiled his clothes and the wrap.  An immediate wet wipe pitstop in a cold place did not put him in a good mood, which I fixed as best I could by carrying him up the last mile.  Which given his 80th+ percentile dash to 3 months old is good exercise for everyone now.


LB genuinely prefers to be outside hiking around, but doing it near home or a 17 hour drive away is to him still quite immaterial.  For us it was invaluable; we proved that we could do it, and do it well with a minimum of struggling.  I’ve done dayhikes with more miles than we hiked that whole week, but I don’t mind the difference.  Continuing to cover the west with my soon-to-be washed away tracks lacks the interest and challenge that bringing him along for a few miles does.  And every day I am grateful that I have such a good partner for it.

The 610 pack, diaper version

R0011620I’ve made this pack, or one to fulfill the same role, 6 or 8 times now.  Most for my own use, a few for friends.  It continually evolves.  The most recent version got axed because the back panel taper got too funky and resulted in a subtle narrowing pinch point in the middle of the pack, which made packing and unpacking a pain.  The top closure was also too complicated, and the hipbelt connection didn’t work properly.

This version is made from scraps and pieces of this pack and this pack, plus some from another pack which never saw the light of the net.  You never get as much material from a cut up project as you think, but I was careful in my cutting and deliberate in my planning, and in this case it worked with no compromises.  Which is rare.  Using the intact backpanel from pack one even expedited construction such that once I got sewing the whole mess took less than three hours.  Which is very rare.  I should note that the death knell for pack one ended up being that damn spreader bar.  Nothing worked to my satisfaction, and an attempt to make a pack with a tapered foam panel that would facilitate similar dimensions did not work out.  So that’s currently an unsolved puzzle.  The tight exterior pad slot with laterally folded blue Walmart works very well, with an ideal balance of support and flexibility for 20 pounds and under, and keeping that feature was a priority.

The other things I wanted in this pack was access, fast, and plenty of it.  Quick and unpredictable diaper changes are a fact of life hiking with an infant, and no pack in the fleet addressed that well enough.  Diameter is 31 inches at the bottom, 35 at the very top.  Backpanel height in 28 inches to the top of the extension collar.  Materials are X33 and X50, with 40D sil/PU for the extension collar, 70D nylon ripstop for the inside of the rear pocket, and WX20 for the pad slot.  All zips are standard #8 YKKs.


The bottom X50 reinforcements on the side panels will be good for longevity, keep the zipper coil from the worst abrasion, and were dictated by the X33 panels I had to work with being a tad too short once squared up and sewn together,  Ideally I’d have been able to skip the seam on the non-zip side, but I can live with that.

The back panel is 9.75 inches wide all the way up.  Side panels are 7 inch, tapering to 8.5 above the shoulder curve.  The front panel is 7 wide at the pocket bottom, with a half inch of taper up to the extension collar.  4-6 inches of gain in diameter from bottom to top seems to be the magic range for packs, with smaller ones ideally being at the smaller end, really big packs at the larger.  Any less and packing is just a little less easy, any more and things seem to end up feeling ungainly.  As is plain in the penultimate photo, the bottom tapers both in (1.3 inchs per side) and up (3 inches total), to keep things sleek.  You loose capacity and a bit of packing ease compared to a square or rectangular base, but gain considerably in climbing ease and in style.  I am not interested in packs with non-tapered bases, generally speaking.

At the end of these projects there is always something you wish you did differently, almost immediately.  Aside from two minor sewing flaws the only thing to make the list is moving the upper lash loops along the side panel down an inch or so.  Which is not a bad list, at all.

As always, questions are welcome.

The 2016 BD Alpine Start Hoody

As I’ve mentioned here and elsewhere, the Black Diamond Alpine Start hoody is one of the better pieces of outdoor clothing one can buy.  The original version had a fabric which was as perfect as current technology allows; mine has stood up impressively well to lots of use in the past 20 months.  The only things holding it back from functional perfection where a few oddities in the cut (namely the neck) and a hood adjustment which just wasn’t right.

R0011599Thankfully BD has fixed at least the second issue with the newest iteration, while keeping the same excellent fabric.  As can be seen above and below they’ve gone from dual side cinches with internal cordlocks and no rear cinch to a single cinch which wraps around the sides to the back.  It is all but identical to the 2011-2012 Houdini in this respect.  It isn’t my favorite system, as tightening things up exposes rather than covers the backs of your cheeks, but this system does allow the hood to stay glued to your head, bare headed or thick hatted, even with the zipper done well down.  The awesomely articulated armpits remain unchanged.

R0011601I still wouldn’t call the hood truly helmet compatible; it will fit over a trim helmet, but not especially well or easily.

R0011604I can’t address the neck fit issue as I never really noticed it in the first place, and because my new Alpine Start is a large, rather than medium.  The trim fit of the medium is fantastic for active use, more shirt than jacket, but won’t fit over much in the way of insulation.  I wanted a new jacket for colder weather use, and as I couldn’t think of anything with better performance than the Alpine Start, just got another one.  The large is noticeably bigger than the medium, but not too much.  It fits over a few lighter insulating layers not problem, without getting in the way when worn over a t-shirt.  I do wish the cuffs on this larger, longer shirt had a way to cinch tight when needed, and may retrofit velcro tabs to serve that end.

Details, like the felled seams and secondary stitching to contour the dimensions of the chest pocket, are without exception exceptional.

R0011606Overall the Alpine Start is a premium piece of clothing; very functional, very well made, and very expensive.  It is worth it?  There is no useful way to quantify such questions.  You could, by way of example, buy a Sierra Designs Microlight 2 jacket in stead, at a third the retail cost.  The Microlight provides equivalent weatherproofing at a similar weight and bulk, but with much less breathability and less finely tuned fit and feature set.  The satisfaction in wearing one versus the other is at least for me drastically different, but I could make do with either and suffer little in terms of comfort and not at in terms of safety. I regard the Alpine Start as money well spent, but it was between having the Microlight or having no windshell at all, that would also be an easy choice.  A good rule for all gear/cost choices: while good gear is almost always worthwhile if carefully matched with preferences, getting out more and soon should always take first priority.

Just another deer hunt

It was damn cold at 0530 when DJ Shadow’s “Endtroducing” woke me from the depths of my sleeping bag. Well into the second verse, which illustrated why I’ve never been able to use the alarm on my watch. Little Bear sighed his squeaky baby sigh, bundled in his sleeping bag in between us. Worried that my absence would more directly expose him to the cold gusts coming in under the tent edge, I tucked my sleeping bag close to him and draped it over his legs before carefully and quickly exiting, every finger and toe attuned to waking neither my wife nor my little son.

Outside it was far too cold for hanging around and making coffee, so I grabbed my pack out of the car, loaded my rifle, and got walking, still in my big coat. The moon was more than adequate for a mile of road walking, but it was Sunday of rifle opener and the wall tents across the meadow were all already illuminated, generators thrumming but muffled by the wind. I flicked on my headlamp to keep from being run over.

I had been up the trail before, and lost the bottom section through the grass, sage, and cobbles in a controlled manner, sweeping far right so I could know where to refind it once the canyon began to pinch down. I lost all moonlight in the depths, and took my time, walking to stay quiet and not sweat. In the upper reaches I switched my lamp to red, to better stay stealthy, but the feeble red light did not serve me well stumbling up through a steep sage field, and I wondered if the stronger white light would have served me better. In either case, I made it to the saddle before first light, and settled down in all my layers to wait until the binoculars mounted to the tripod in front of me would become useable.

R0011596Montana does an exceptional job of providing for hunter opportunity, and with a little research one can uncover an almost confusing range of buck, doe, bull, and cow tags available either over the counter or with very favorable draw odds.  Most are surely meant for population control near highways and agricultural lands, but many give one leave to hunt deer or elk in some pretty wild and fairly remote, or at least overlooked and untraveled, country.  I actually had four different tags in my pack I could use that morning, and when a half hour of glassing revealed a doe, and then two more, amongst the brush across the canyon I was faced with a dilemma.  This particular doe tag could be probably be reliably filled on a trip we’d be taking in a few weeks to hunt a cow elk tag several ranges over, and something more rarefied than a deer might appear at any moment.  On the other hand, M and Little Bear were waiting down in camp on a morning which was not proving to be as warm as anticipated, and what little mammalian life these hills held was probably pretty reticent, especially on opening weekend.

I had done my homework and, with no coffee, made it up into position in time to calmly watch all three deer get up and start feeding, my head buried in a hat and two puffy hoods, my eye glued to the spotter at 30x magnification.  There was no cover taller than my knee between me and the deer, but the wind was steady up canyon and I was far enough away that a backwards crawl out of sight seemed probable.  It worked, and once out of sight I took off up the steep hill towards the rim.  I’m fat and in bad shape at the moment, but know myself well enough to pound out a satisfactory ascent just fast enough to not make my rifle shake should a shot need taken, now.  Towards the top I ditched my pack and crawled, rifle in hand, binos on my chest over the edge of a craggy knob.  The deer were still up and feeding, moving steadily but slowly away.  The wind was strong enough to be constant, but not enough to push a bullet too much at the modest range which should be possible if the deer kept feeding below the next high knob.  Things looked ideal.

Good conditions created by a long cold walk in the dark are not something to think about, but something to act on, and I edged back out of sight, grabbed my pack and hauled the last hundred feet to the ridge faster than before.  Dropping 20 feet down the other side to allow for no absolutely no chance of being skylined, I moved along at the fastest walk possible, forward to the notch I had marked in my mind.  Moving close to the edge, I selected a notch in the rimrock which would allow me a view below.  No deer in sight, but that pointed toward two possibilities, either they had spooked off entirely, or were feeding below the rocky knob 200 feet lower.

R0011594Caution remained second behind action, and I threaded my way down the cliffs and sage fields towards the knob.  I put my pack down, chambered a round, flicked on the safety, and crab walked sideways to the edge.  There they were, one doe plain as day 100 yards below me, the other two partially obscured further right.  I took off my hat to pad the edge, and reminding myself to take my time, scooted left and folded it in half to achieve an ideal position.  Reclined, with both elbows anchored on the ground and the stock pushing my hat into the rock, my brain turned off.  Apparently I’ve done enough field practice that this last part isn’t subject to much conscious thought any more, and soon enough the safety was thumbed off, the deer bucked hard, and a roar echoed back from across the canyon.  The doe ran one way, then the other, stumbled, and disappeared from sight.

Collecting my pack and chambering another round, I headed down to where I had last seen the deer.  Before I got there I saw abundant blood splashed over the dirt and rocks, every 3 to 5 feet.  Then more blood, bright and thick, and then a dead deer crumpled in the short brush on a steep hillside.  It had come to rest in an old animal bed, providing just enough purchase my both it and myself.  I had left camp in the dark barely three hours before.

Gladness overwhelmed me.  With grocery stores and well employed parents Little Bear will not go hungry, but the abstract question of can I feed him myself, now, made hunting very immediate lat fall when he was little more than a zygote, and even moreso now that he is three months old and food beyond milk is on the horizon.  All of which made an hour of butchering and the five mile walk out very happy indeed.  I still have a lot, lot, to learn about hunting, but I think I can justifiably attribute these venison packages to planning and skill, rather than just luck.  And that is something to celebrate.

The Virgin at 120

Mostly, packing for our first big trip with the kid was simple. His fragile infant state prohibited anything technical or involved, so the gear end of things consisted of simple backpacking stuff. The week before last was warm in Montana and by our standards hot down on the Colorado Plateau. Hiking with Little Bear in a sling is a warm affair, and highs in the 80s had me thinking we might better go elsewhere. A last minute forecast check the day before departure replaced those concerns with others involving a wet baby and too little sun to dry out diapers. We left anyway, and we did with my packrafting gear in a corner of the Rocketbox.

Saturday afternoon 100 miles north of Cedar City walls of rain swept past the lines of traffic ahead on the interstate, reducing visibility to 50 yards for the few minutes it took to drive through them. They were the kind of autumn storms which can produce record floods when several happen to converge in the right spots. That evening and the next day I checked the gauge of the North Fork of the Virgin River eagerly.

graph1graphThe big rains finally came that evening, and the Virgin surged as only desert rivers do.  The gauge descended rapidly the next day, our morning hiking plans in Kolob shut down by boulders washed down over the road.  Even with the river rapidly falling by the time we made it down to Zion proper it seemed that floating was worth the attempt.

R0011172A few hours work going from the end of the river walk down to the Grotto ended up being one of the more memorable packrafts in the last few years.  My estimate that the more constricted section of river above Big Bend would make for good floating proved accurate; additionally, flows in the upper canyon are surely a bit higher right after a flood as less water is lost to the sandy banks.  As pictured, the water was utterly in opaque, not visibly or audibly muddy, but clouded deeply with fine flour, just like glacial rivers.  Floating such streams puts a premium on reading water so as to not get stuck, and after blowing up my boat in plain view of the paved trail I entertained my audience of ~40 by getting my feet stuck in quicksand putting my boat in the water, then floating 20 feet before getting hung up for five seconds on a rock.

I didn’t mess up avoiding rocks too often during the ensuing 5-6 miles of river, but the harsh transitions between channel and shallows as well as the hidden sandbars made for slow going, especially below Weeping Rock.  Normally freestone rivers have transition zones between the deepest, perennial channel and the shallows which are submerged only at high water.  Owing I assume to the very recent channel recutting flood, these zones were utterly absent, and I spent a lot of time getting stuck in the grippy sand when my attention wandered and I didn’t hue exactly to the main line.  I only had to get out and walk twice, and one of those times was unavoidable, but I should have gotten out of the boat a half dozen more times, rather than scootch and abuse my paddle as I did.  Traveling at walking pace parallel to a paved road may seem like a silly use of a packraft, and a descent of the Narrows is still very high on my list, but having to develop a quick intimacy with a newly altered part of the canyon made the process of boating worth every sandy minute.

Packrafts help you see different, and that is the important part.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 650 other followers