The 2016 Bob Open

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The 2016 Bob Marshall Wilderness Open will start Saturday May 30th at 0800 mountain time, at the Bean Lake campground near the Dearborn River, southwest of Augusta. Finish will be the Cedar Creek campground on the Swan River roughly equidistant between the towns of Condon and Swan Lake. Course area will be any public lands which drain into either the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans. The normal guidelines apply.

See you there.

Synthetic insulation technology

IMG_1338When it’s cold outside, insulation is important.  And it can be cold outside at just about any time.  My new article over at Rokslide detailing the strengths and weaknesses of the various types of synthetic fills might help you keep warm.

The death of the Baring Creek cabin

IMG_7824A couple years ago I spent a few nights, alone, at the Baring Creek cabin along St. Mary Lake in Glacier National Park. A few days ago it burnt down in the Reynolds Creek fire.

IMG_7835The press copy about “the historic” cabin is somewhat misleading. Yes it was built in the 1930s, possibly by CCC labor. Yes it is hidden away in a gorgeous location, and was an excellent example of the classic one-room patrol cabins, back when such things were more systematically used. But the cabin was also 100 meters from a paved road, and the vintage look was taken away by the installation of a propane range and oven inside. Oddly, no propane lights were installed, hence my wearing of a headlamp when it was still light outside, as the classic cabins have windows both small and few.

IMG_2621The Reynolds Creek fire is noteworthy because it started and has primarily burned through old growth pine forest.  Not especially scenic stuff from a hiking perspective due to the lack of views, but very pretty if you have a good look, what with abundant moss and thick twisted bark.  The Reynolds Creek drainage is one of the very few places in Glacier I’ve seen lynx tracks.

IMG_2637The area won’t be the same for quite some time.  I’m not enough of a dendrologist to know how long it’s been since the Reynolds, Baring, and St. Mary valley forests have burned, but I’m quite sure it has been a long time.  Over a century, perhaps.  These forests are not especially moist, but they are dark, and hold onto the long snow of winter for a long time.  This spring they were, surely, fairly quiet.  Next spring they’ll be much louder, with standing dead snags, lots of flowers and greenery, and plenty of happy deer, elk, and bears.

I look forward to seeing it next year.

Fighting islands of moisture

“Go for a short walk, and you’ll know if your gear fits. You might notice the stretch, the lightness, the breathability, the warmth. But you won’t really know if it can keep you alive.”

-Sitka blog

ul-wpb-jackets-sotmr-part1-1Fire during the 2011 Wilderness Classic, still the coldest I’ve ever been.  Photo by Paige Brady.

The article/post linked to above is worth reading, not for the hyperbolic and jingoistic aspects of its marketing slant, but because it hammers home an essential truth of dressing for the woods: under duress the most important characteristic of your clothing system is not the ability to keep external moisture off you, but the ability to allow internal moisture to escape efficiently without chilling you excessively.

This is accomplished via several different tactics.  Having base and insulation layers which respond to thermal pressure and move water quickly is one.  Having enough shell gear, but not too much (i.e. wind gear rather than WPB if it isn’t raining) is another.  The most effective and important, by far, is having pieces which hold the smallest amount of moisture possible.

My upper body system for the 2011 Classic was a Capilene 1 stretch tshirt, Capilene 2 longsleeve, hi loft fleece hoody, and a Goretex anorak.  The tshirt was a poor choice, with a relatively high spandex content, and was consistently hard to dry all trip.  A cap 2 tshirt would have made all the difference.  My lower body system consisted of a pair of cap 2 undies, Patagonia Traverse pants, and Montane windpants.  The windpants let my legs get soaked, so I brought real rain pants the next year, and while the Traverse pants dried fairly fast, they were still the weak link, and were replaced the next year with a pair of more fragile but lighter and faster drying 100% nylon supplex pants.  For serious conditions little details like 4% versus 0% spandex content are absolutely worth sweating.  It’s ironic that Sitka, of all companies, published this, as they are more guilty than most of excessive spandex use.  The previous generation of the Traverse zip-t, for example, was without question the worst midlayer I’ve ever used due to an outsized ability to hold tight to sweat and water.

As a textile spandex doesn’t hold on to moisture, but in almost all occasions it is turned into a garment whose structure is a big island of moisture, and avoiding lycra/spandex is thus a good first rule for eliminating islands of moisture.  That said, fabric thickness correlates more directly with drying time than any other metric; the thinner the fabric, the faster it dries.  This is why the new lightweight Capilene (80 grams/meter!) is so exciting, and why the Alpine Start hoody is the best softshell fabric around.  Pants remain a tricky one, as they often need to be a bit heavier for durabiity’s sake.  Go as thin, tight-woven, and light as possible.  Hats are another tricky issue, but Arc’teryx figured that one out a while ago.  Insulating hats should be on the thin side, numerous, and able to layer over each other without causing eye-bugage.  And so forth.  These principles apply, with some modification, to items like backpacks and shelters.

It’s easy to dismiss concerns like these as only applying to a small percentage of users in eccentric circumstances, and while it is true that the extreme wetness which comes with packrafting did more than anything to open this issue up for me, it is equally true that if you spend enough time far enough from the car you’ll get bitten by islands of moisture.  It can even happen during warm months in the desert, though such equipment and body stress is far less probable.

R0000416The day after a full day of hiking in a downpour, on the Heaphy Track, NZ.  Had we not stayed in a hut with a coal stove the night before life would have been challenging.

An investment in these clothing and equipment details pays dividends in comfort most of the time, and in a lighter pack which contains a larger margin for error most of the time.  Occasionally, having already minded these things will make it much easier for you to save your own life.  Not as sexy as “survival” stuff like firestarters and knives, but far more significant.

Bits and bobs

First of all, my article on baselayer technology and the excellent Rab Meco 120 and Kuiu Ultra Merino 125 shirts was recently published over at Rokslide.  It is free to all, and I reckon most of you will find it interesting.

Second, the most recent stage of the fight (which is the right word) to permit paddling in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks is set to heat up this fall.  The American Packrafting Association has a bunch of handy information online, including the map shown below, which outlines the backcountry waterways which ought to at least be considered as paddling legal by the park service.

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 6.31.57 PMI wrote plenty about this last summer, and I don’t think much has changed.  The primary issue is I still maintain the big “fuck you” the administration in Yellowstone gave to the paddling public in 2013 when they failed to give any substantive consideration to Snake River Headwaters Wild and Scenic planning project.  It is not unlike the comparable finger they’ve given to the snowbiking community over the past five years.  Increasingly it seems that the current higher-ups in YNP are due an awakening, and passing the Paddling Act would help bring that about.  The secondary issue is the cultural conflict within the conservation/environmental community over this issue, with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition continuing to object to the bill for reasons which are to me ever more obscure.  It’s a pity, as the GYC has an ever increasing hold on the YNP administration due to the large percentage of research projects they fund.  I have to remind myself that the stereotype I outlined in that OpEd last year is not often true.

Third, the other day I did what everyone ought to occasionally, and cleaned out and updated my emergency/repair/firstaid/possibles bag.

IMG_1185Not too much has changed over the years.  I still bring floss and needles even though I hardly ever use them.  The same could be said of a few gauze pads.  Hammer Seat Saver lube I do use, for butt related chafing, on a fairly regular basis.  The Hammer product isn’t especially exceptional for this end, but I have a pile of these convenient small tubes which I obtained for free, so why ever not?  The major changes in this kit over the past year have been MSR Aquatabs, which are cheap and convenient and taste-free, as well as trioxane tabs (military surplus) for tinder.  Trioxane is similar to esbit, but can be lit with one spark from a fire steel and don’t quite burn as hot.  A few of each will cover fire starting in every possible scenario.  Container at bottom-right is my packraft repair kit, which remains unchanged: UV aquaseal, Patch and Go tape, and duct tape.

Lastly, M and I didn’t participate in the APA Packraft Roundup whose last day was today.  With the due date so close that seemed like tempting fate, but with no signs of the kids immanent arrival I did get out boating with Doom on Saturday, and last night got out for the tail end of the BBQ, the raffle, and Rich Rudow’s presentation on packrafting and canyoneering in Grand Canyon.  I happened to have 20 dollars in my pocket, with which I bought five tickets, and with which I also 30 minutes later won a new Yukon Yak with all the trimmings.  Sponsors came up huge this year, with an HMG pack, Werner paddle, and three packrafts (Bakraft, Kokopelli, Alpacka) making up the prize list.  APA is a great organization, and the packrafting community is served by some great companies, so support them and yourself by coming to the Roundup next year (wherever is might be).

In all good things you must be present to win.

My favorite salsa recipe

R0010052Ingredients:

9 jalapenos
4 small onions
1 head garlic
2 cans stewed tomatoes with garlic
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
salt
olive oil

Slice jalapenos into ~1cm pieces, roughly dice onions, peel and halve garlic cloves.  (If you’re averse to spice, de-seed the peppers entirely or in part.)  Place in skillet or pan, drizzle with olive oil, and roast on the middle rack on 400 degrees, stirring occasionally, until done.

R0010057Halfway.

R0010061Done.

Decant into large pot, add tomatoes, use vinegar to deglaze skillet, adding liquid to salsa.  Salt liberally and simmer for ~20 minutes, until things have thickened a bit and the vinegar has mellowed into the veggies.

R0010069Check taste and add salt if needed.  As it will be eaten cold, you want it to be a bit on the salty side when you call it done.

Pour into tupperware and store in the fridge for 24 hours before eating.

R0010074As I make it this is a spicy salsa, but not overly so.  I like spice, but also like to eat salsa by the cup as a legit vegetable side with roasted meat, scrambled eggs, potatoes, and so forth; and this can be eaten copiously without inducing tears.

Enjoy.

Pack materials redux

This is an update of and the evolution from this post 18 months ago.

R0010048A good pack fabric, like the well patina’d 1000 denier Cordura above, can do a lot of great work, simply. There is a subtle elegance to something which is easily sewn into a finished product which continues as a reliable, innocuous companion for many years and many miles.  The following is a collation of experiences and opinions from the last few years.

R0010038In the first half of 2015 I’ve gone out of my way to beat up on cuben fiber whenever I have the chance.  I don’t think cuben makes sense from a cost/function perspective, but my primary objection is that companies like Hyperlite Mountain Gear have begun to use it as a sole talking point, rather than discussing how they have nice packs which happen to be made of good fabric.

The 150 denier hybrid cuben pictured here is good fabric.  The cuben backing is very waterproof, and the tight polyester face fabric is impressively tough for what is by any standard light duty stuff.  I can’t think of anything of a comparable denier which comes close, but nonetheless there just isn’t that much material there.  As seen above, holes in the poly face are easy to come by, the while the cuben backing does put up a fight, the package just does not stand up to abrasion very well.  Tear strength is pretty good, but abrasion is the source of every hole I’ve ever put in a pack.  If you don’t beat on your gear regularly this heavier hybrid will last a long time, but with other options that weight almost the same, have exactly the same performance properties, and cost half as much I just don’t see a reason for cuben hybrid, other than fashion novelty.

Closing question: would HMG sell more or sell fewer Windrider 3400s if they were made from X33, weighed a few ounces more, and cost 75 dollars less?

R0010035This leaves me with Xpac fabrics, for which my enthusiasm has not diminished.  VX42 is still a favorite, as pictured above and below, which has held up very well and is heavy enough for almost anything but not egregiously so.  As Brendan has often said, the X layer looks cool but doesn’t really do anything but provide an abrasion point.

R0010040The oxford face fabric of VX42 lags behind the plain Cordura face of X33 and X50, which are my current preferred moderate and heavy use fabrics, respectively.  There is just something about the even and symmetrical Cordura weave which stands up proud to abuse of all types.  The X series is quite a bit more pliable and quiet than the VX series, which is welcome, but currently only available retail in multicam prints, which is less so.  I’ve put holes into X33, but it takes more quite a bit of effort.

IMG_1324Highly waterproof fabrics like Xpac and cuben are sexy, but there’s a lot to be said for quality PU fabrics, especially if lots of precipitation is not a regular feature.  Good cordura remains an excellent option.  Sadly, lighter fabrics are more difficult to find.  The 210 denier gridstop from Thru-hiker is still a bit on the expensive side, and still an outstanding option for a moderate use pack.

In summary, I’d use X33 for most packs, and X50 and X51 for pack bottoms, and packs which will get lots of abuse.  210D gridstop is great for pockets and extension collars.  Every year more and better options appear, and more and better retail options come into being.

R0010050All the better for growing a fat quiver.

South Fork Flathead flow guide

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This was originally posted almost three years ago, but I’m bumping and updating it in light of record-setting low flows which will seriously effect packrafting this summer and fall.  I’ll include specific predictions for when I think each section will cease to be floatable, and some trip recommendations.

The wilderness portion of the South Fork can be divided into four or five sections, each with a different character:

1) confluence to Big Prairie pack bridge
2) Big Prairie to White River
3) White River to Salmon Forks
4) Salmon Forks to Black Bear Creek
5) Black Bear Creek to Mid Creek takeout

They are described below in turn. All cfs references are to the Twin Creeks gauge.  (This gauge is below the Spotted Bear river, so it does measure quite a bit more water than you’d see above Meadow Creek, but it is a reliable indicator nonetheless.)

1) This section is open, meandering, with big views, good camping, and often extensive log jams. At flows much below 1200 cfs this section gets pretty draggy, and packraft speeds will likely average below 2 mph. At around 8000 cfs this section is a laugh, and speeds approach 5 mph.  For 2015, I wouldn’t recommend floating this section much past mid-July.

2) Below Big Prairie things get a bit more constricted, and Burnt Park has what are two of the cruxier rapids at lower flows (between river miles 8 and 10.5). At 5000cfs or above these get washed out and are noticeable only as slightly bigger wave trains. Low water speeds (below 1500cfs) are 2-2.5 mph, while around 8000cfs speeds likely approach 8mph in the more constricted sections. Below river mile 11 things mellow out and the river from here to Big Salmon is very similar.  Again, much past mid-July will be very slow for this section, this year.  There are plenty of deep sections that are fine below 1000 cfs, but also plenty of gravel bars and rock gardens which will get very slow.

3) From White River to Salmon Forks the river splits the difference between the first and fourth sections. At lower flows, there are plenty of braids and gravel bars set within low dirt hills, and no obstacles of consequence. Speeds below 1500cfs approach 3 mph. Below 800cfs, they’re closer to 2, with lots of rocks to avoid.  For 2015, avoid this section beyond August 1st.

4) Below Salmon Forks (the entrance of Big Salmon Creek) the river becomes more concentrated, with steep pine-covered walls. This is probably the point below which floating is decent at just about any level. Speeds between 1000 and 1500cfs are around 3mph. At lower levels floating is mellow. Above 5000 or so cfs things get pushy, with the many riffles morphing into larger and larger rapids.  This section is good floating even at 500 cfs in early October, and should be fine floating all year.

5) In the short stretch between Black Bear Creek and the Mid Creek takeout are several tricky bedrock rapids and micro-gorges, which are worth paying heed at any level. Speeds are relatively fast, and the fishing is excellent. Watch out for the final takeout warning sign, which is well above river level and midway through the rapid right after the takeout gravel bar.  Meadow Creek gorge is pretty fun packrafting at low water, and the silver lining of 2015 is that it’s in good runnable shape right now, and should remain so all summer.

Normal July packraft trips in the Bob often involve hiking into and floating either Youngs or Danaher Creek down into the South Fork.  And for good reason, as these trips which see the drainage grow and evolve are the best in the Bob.  This year they are just not going to work.  Danaher is probably only good for another week, if that, and lower Youngs for perhaps a bit longer.  For alternate July routes I’d concentrate on the lower South Fork, and the Middle Fork.  As of this typing the Middle at West Glacier is at 2300 cfs, just a hair above what I consider the ideal level for a full run of all the great whitewater from Schafer to Bear Creek.  In what is shaping up to be the worst boating summer in quite some time, this is just about the only silver lining to be had.

15 days

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Little Bear (aka the kid) is due in 15 days. With no immediate signs of arrival, but with very hot weather, a very pregnant M, and some caution due we took a 28 hour vacation to a cabin up the North Fork, and around Glacier generally.

R0010013

When it’s 99 and you don’t have air conditioning the last thing you want is an oven pumping out heat, so I gathered wood and roasted our pork shoulder, corn, and garlic scapes outside. This shoulder was the cheapest boneless cut the store had: little more than a dollar a pound. It got a dry rub of salt, white sugar, and curry powder and sat in the fridge for four days. At the cabin I rinsed the meat, let the wood burn down to hot coals, and slapped it on the grill. The first four flips each got a generous amount of BBQ sauce. The key here is to never cook it with flame, just heat. I didn’t have a second feeder fire and a shovel to refresh the coals, which would have been ideal, but I made due. After almost two hours it was nicely blackened and dripping with juice and flavor.

R0010019

Other activities included reading, fishing, shooting cardboard, sleeping poorly, and a much needed rain shower at Logan Pass which dropped temperatures down into the 60s.  If summer continues this hot I will not be pleased.  Now we’re back home, with not much to do and everything to wait for.

Apgar Mountains circumpe/adlel

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If you’re in the Glacier area with a bike and packraft, and have a hot day to dispense with, this loop is a good way to do it. Something around 35 miles and in the 5-8 hour range depending on the river level and how fast you ride, it has good scenery, convenient logistics, and consistently fast riding terrain and the river will both keep you cool.
IMG_1158After riding up the Camas Road in the park (paved, climbs steadily for most of the way, light traffic) cross the bridge over the North Fork of the Flathead, walk down to the gravel bar, and do the obligatory bikerafting gear explosion.  The North Fork between this bridge and the confluence has a few rapids which are no joke at higher levels, as well as some pretty broad and slow stretches, so picking the right flow is tricky.  Between 3000 and 5000 cfs is my suggestion; any bigger and the rapids get hairy with a bike on board (and portaging would be tiresome due to short cliffs), any smaller (like the 2700 I had recently) and the beginning and ending stretches are slow.

I’d also recommend getting a not too late start.  The North Fork usually generates fairly stiff upriver winds starting around 1600, which can make the few miles before the confluence frustrating.

The confluence of the North and Middle Forks is easy to spot, as it is right upstream of Blankenship bridge, the first bridge you’ll have seen since the put in.  Take out on the small gravel bar at river left right at the confluence and put your bike back together.  The old Flathead ranger station road, in Glacier, is atop the hill above the confluence, and is the only real dirt trail in the park open to bikes.  It’s a short but steep push on a fisherman’s trail up the hill, and a mostly fast ride back to the trailhead, dirt road, Quarter-Circle bridge over McDonald Creek, and the bike path back to Apgar.

This trail is gentle enough to do on a ‘cross bike.  I you have a road bike, take out at Blankenship and ride east (well graded gravel) back to highway 2 a few miles east of West Glacier.  A longer and more properly mountain bike version of this would be to ride the inside North Fork road from Fish Creek campground north to a mile or so past Logging Creek, where the river can be accessed via a very short bushwack.  This route is on the long end of what is possible for a day trip, and would make a fine overnighter.  The NPS boundary is the middle of the river, so as long as you camp on the west bank (and not in someones yard) you are legal.

IMG_1160In the name of practicality (Chariot towing) I recently put gears back on the Karate Monkey.  Up front are the same Sugino cranks and 20/30/38 chainrings I’ve had for years.  The 20 is a steel Race Face, 30 a steel Surly, and both have massive miles with no visible wear.  My back wheel is the same Mike C-built Arch on Hope SS I’ve ridden for seven years.  It suffered it’s first casualty on this recent trip; I nipple which broke off inside the rim.  Considering the miles I’d call that a good record.  I used to be able to fit 7 gears, barely, but six is more conservative and the only option now that the edge of the freewheel splines wore a hair.  Using cogs from various low end cassettes I have a 14-34 spread, though the jumps wouldn’t make the cadence-sensitive happy.  Shifting happens via an X9 twistie for the front, and a Durace/Paul friction thumbie for the rear.  XT derailleurs both.

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