Paradox Unaweep: the category killer

Regular readers will know that I have a deep and abiding fascination with backpacks, though terms such as obsession or problem would not be entirely amiss.  This being the case, the Paradox Unaweep I’ve been using for not quite three months now presents a serious problem.

Our lookout rental this past weekend was a steep (300 vertical feet) quarter mile trail from the car.  As seen below, the obvious and easy solution to getting our beer, wine (and large block of ice), steak, ribs, bacon, and so forth up there was to strap the cooler to the Unaweep and carry it.  I’d spitball the total weight at 60 pounds, and aside from the inherent awkwardness and poor weight distribution, the pack did very well, and by well I mean that the belt stayed put with no more tightening required than if I’d been carrying 15 pounds.

As I’ve been running the Unaweep (detailed below), it weighs a bit over 3 pounds.  That attributes like these so easily coexist breaks a lot of rules.

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M photo.

Obsession is fed by new things, which in the case at hand is fed by dissatisfaction.  Occasionally I’ve bought or built a pack out of the desire to just try something new, but almost always the primary or only mover has been things which didn’t work properly on a recent outing.

Increasingly, I’ve become disgusted with new stuff for new stuffs sake, and am thus very loath to keep messing with new packs unless I have a good reason.  The problem here is that the Unaweep doesn’t give me much.  It can carry anything I can fit in it, as comfortably as I believe a pack can.  It’s tough.  It’s close enough in weight to anything save much smaller, less durable, and/or less capable (and usually all three) packs that not bringing the Unaweep, or trying to replace it for a given task, just seems silly.  For example, back in June I brought this pack to save weight.  I regretted it the whole time, because the Unaweep would have done so much better.

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I have made a few modifications to the Unaweep as it came to me.  The big one was building the two chambered orange camo pocket shown above and below.  The side-opening pockets measure roughly 16 inches high, 6 wide, and 6 deep when stuffed full.  Together they add a bit more capacity over the stock Paradox Talon pocket, and quite a bit more organizational capacity.  The blaze fabric, a 600D polyester plain weave from Rockywoods, was the only thing I could find of a decent weight and in non-monolithic orange.  Good for hunting season, it has actually ended up being an impressively tough and waterproof fabric.  This project was a huge success.

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Unaweep 3900 at right, HMG Porter 4400 at left.  M photo.

Additionally, I added a haul loop near the shoulders, fixed the bottom compression straps to buckles on the bag (rather than the bottom of the Talon), cut out the carbon rod and associated fabric near the top of the frame, and sealed some of the seams.  Eventually I’ll add a hydration hose port.

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A haul handle is nice for donning and doffing the pack, and very nice for hauling it on a rope, which I don’t do all that often.  If you put a half-twist into your handles they stand out a bit more, and are easier to grab with mittens.

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Having the bottom panel attached to the bag makes compressing the bottom when the bag is not full a bit easier to do, and possible independent of the Talon.  The Unaweep 3900 is long and thin, and when it’s not full keeping the weight from sagging to the bottom is crucial.

These things being done, I’m left with very few beefs.  The side pockets are rudimentary, but perfectly effective.  The pack is around 5-6 inches deep, which is quite skinny, and can limit how you pack larger things (to keep them from poking you in the back).  The benefit is a load which is exceptionally close to the body, a price I’m more than willing to pay.  The pack is also quite wide (14″ at the bottom), which is occasionally less than ideal when down climbing or scrambling through tight rocky places.  The metal frame along the bottom is also a concern when I pack it in my Scout, which on first try put it unpadded against the floor, something easily fixed with a foam bad or just the hipbelt wrapped around the right way.  Again, when I think about making a pack to address these issues I come back to how much I’d be giving up in the quality of the load carry, and leave well enough alone.  Easy to do given how well the VX-42 fabric has held up to everything, and how the pocket array and compression panel easily manages everything I want of it, from packrafting gear to rifle to snowshoes to ice axe and skis.

Aside from a smaller pack for day trips and light 2-3 day hikes, the Unaweep seems to be all I need for everything I do.  Imagine my disappointment.

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It’s a secret.

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Six months; that’s the lead time for reserving a forest service lookout around here.  For July that means you need to be thinking about sandal hiking right as ski season is fully firing, and with most lookouts only open during the non-snow season (July-September), there is not time to mess around.  Fortunately I thought to ask M the question early enough, so we had suitable accommodations.

We’ve done quite a few cabin trips now.  They’re always pleasant, but plans for hiking or skiing in the area always end up watered down in favor of reading, hanging around, cooking, eating, and just looking.  Given their original purpose, fire lookout towers are perfect for this.

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There was a lot to look at, especially at dawn and dusk, and a lot of time to look, as with such unimpeded access to all horizons we had readable light between 0530 and 2315.

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Happy birthday M.

Where Bears are Spotted

There have been many occasions over the last three years when I’ve thought about counting all the trees in the Bob.

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Chatting with the guys at RMO the other day I repeated for the upteenth time, to myself and others, that one of the greatest virtues of packrafting in these parts is getting you out of the forested-in trails along valley bottoms and out in the middle of streams and lakes, where you can see things better.  A lot of the most multifaceted, spectacular valleys in the Glacier/Bob complex, like the Waterton and Middle Mokowanis, are only visible occasionally from the trail.  In a boat you can see things well and constantly, at least when looking around won’t immediately get you stuck on a rock.

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I have a long list of rivers and creeks still to paddle in the Crown ecosystem (and that’s not counting Canada).  I have a rather shorter list of waterways which I think have a good chance of not being manky woodfests.  Yesterday the river at the top, the Spotted Bear from Dean Creek to the South Fork, got checked off.

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The bike shuttle in the morning confirmed that my cratering and having to walk last year was somewhat justified: there’s a lot of climbing on the Spotted Bear road.

The above pack is the latest day-and-a-half iteration.  Key feature for both functionality and simplicity: full side zip.  Good for skiing, as it keeps the snow off the back panel, and for rafting, as you can lash your pack on and get into it while floating.

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Gorgeous out there; the “Great” is not really necessary.  No bears seen, as they’re likely smart enough to be hanging out way up high.

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There was just enough water right at Dean Creek (above), and the float back to the South Fork river access took five hours.  I had to get out and carry twice, once for a log in the lower reaches, and once at the seived-out and shallow Spotted Bear Falls.  Mostly the whole float was fun, engaging, and fantastic.

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As seem to be usual in this part of the Bob, there were a few places like the above where you have to pull over, stand around, and pinch yourself.

Overall, highly recommended.

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The full sun rig

It’s not too often I have cause to dress only for sun and heat, but there always at least a few weeks mid-summer, and this year they are here right now. Thankfully, I’ve finally discovered the missing link in my system for multiday backcountry trips when it’s darn hot.

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M photo.

As per above; I have shades, cheapo synthetic truckers hat, and a homemade cancer curtain on my head, long sleeve thrift store shirt and wicking synthetic t-shirt on my torso, and shorts. If the sun and/or is really bad or I’m bushwacking I’ll add pants, but strongly prefer shorts.

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I try to minimize sunscreen because in the backcountry it’s a non-renewable resource, and gets in your eyes when you sweat.  The cancer curtain shown above is key to making this work.  It’s a simple 2/3s of a bandana sewn over a thin piece of shock cord, with a small cord lock on the end.  Not my idea, by the way, but a very good one.  It goes over any hat, and even helmets if you leave enough cord, and can be stowed when not needed.  Custom cut it for length and width, so it reaches your collar with a bit to spare, and just doesn’t get in your peripheral vision.

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A cotton/poly blend dress shirt, in a very light and light-colored fabric is a great tool for hot sun, and cheap.  It keep the sun off, and can be soaked in creeks for cooling.  The issue has always been the boggy chafe after a few days of continuous wear.  The solution this summer has been to wear a Mountain Hardwear Way 2 Cool t-shirt underneath.  I thought the fabric tech here was hype until I found one half-off at Zion Adventure Company this spring.  Now I’m a believer.  It wicks and dries incredibly fast, and the combo of a close fitting synthetic t-shirt under a cotton shirt has proven the best I’ve used.

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Most thrift shirts will require a bit of tailoring for optimum fit.  The new one above is a large, which I need for long enough sleeves, but the diameter of the chest is a full 2 inches larger than I prefer.

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Simply take in the side seams to fix this.  You’ll want fairly straight seams, but it doesn’t need to be especially neat.  Cut off the extra, and roll the seam and sew again to keep unraveling at bay.  Further mods I usually are taking any plastic stiffeners out of the collar, and sometimes shortening the tails in front.

My favorite hiking shorts, by far, are the various Patagonia board shorts.  All are expensive.  The stretch ones are more comfortable, the heavier non-stretch fabrics a bit more durable.  The key feature here is the waistband, which is totally flat under a hipbelt.  The bunched elastic common to most running shorts sucks under a decent pack load.  I wish Patagonia put this design on a pair of pants.

On the subject of pants, finding good summer pants is tough.  Look for a 100% nylon, probably plain weave, under 4 ounces a yard, and in a baggy fit.  This should result in something fairly breezy, while still being bug resistant and tough enough.

All I need besides this is a bit of sunscreen on my nose and backs of hands and I’m good to go.

The First Packraft Roundup

M and I got home a few hours ago from the APA Packraft Roundup, and even though it was early afternoon, we were both done in.

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It has been hot the last few days; record breaking for northwest Montana, which means mid 90s. Good river weather, but being out in it all day for three days non-stop made it tough to stay un-jerkyfied. Drinking beer with new friends makes that process harder still.

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It was enormously rewarding to lead paddling groups on Saturday and Sunday.  Saturday we had 18 beginner paddlers out with three instructors on one of my favorite after-work routes: lower McDonald Creek to the confluence of the South and Middle Forks.  I believe around half of those 18 folks had never been in a packraft more than a few times before, if that.  Everyone learned well enough, and was in high enough spirits, that we kept the whole gaggle of 20 boats and 21 people together all day.  Seeing so many bright little craft bobbing over the waves of the Middle Fork, and then a train of a dozen hikers with paddles and PFDs on the hike back to the circle bridge, is a joy I cannot yet elucidate.

Sunday was quite different, but just as satisfying.  Mike from American Rivers, as well as John and Matt from Tasmania, joined me on a favorite hiking and paddling loop up in the North Fork.  John had given a very impressive slideshow the night before of the exceptionally remote and rugged trips he and Matt have done in western Tasmania over the last decade, and as we were starting out it occurred to me that I had the thinnest paddling resume in the group.  The terrain was all new to the three of them, and it was fantastic to see such new and unalloyed appreciation for a lovely but subtle and obscure patch of terrain.  When it came time to float we negotiated the smallish, fast and woody creek in seamless form, dispensing with a few portages and strategic ducks under strainers easily and with great humor.  Taking a group on a new to them 25 mile loop, and making it seem easy after getting an 11am start, is a rare and beautiful thing.  We undid all that ease with a lot of beer afterwards, but it was all in the service of meeting members of the still thing and far-flung band of packrafters.

I’m headed back to work tomorrow, while a bunch of folks are headed out in to the Bob with rafts in tow.  The enthusiasm is quite infectious.

The annual visit

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Let us suppose you win the lottery with the ticket you’ve never bought, or some other comparable hypothetical, and have practically infinite leisure options for the rest of your life. Let use further suppose, given that you’re reading this, that outdoor pursuits would feature prominently in the eternally recurring debate which would no doubt ensue. Amongst all the options vying for your attention, which places would you return to every year? Which would get the annual visit?

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The South Fork of the Flathead would be on my list, along with a very few others.  Specifically, the section between the origin at the confluence of Danaher and Youngs and the mouth of the Whiter River.

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It’s not the most gobsmacking valley.  The treed foothills rise a thousand feet from the broad river plain, only occasionally hinting at the big mountains 3000 vertical feet and 10 or more linear miles away.  The glory of the upper south fork is in the remoteness, the subtle terrain, and the feeling of a raw landscape.  The valleys have never been logged.  The flora and fauna have survived european colonization largely intact.  The native fishery is intact, guarded from Lake Trout by the reservoir below and Rainbows stocked in alpine lakes by the rugged and cold streams.  Aside from the trails and the remenants of the old phone line, it’s easy to imagine you’re looking out as a trapper would have circa 1830.

And the water.  The water and the riverbed below it might be the most gorgeous on earth.  I’ve yet to see their equal.

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After this trip I’ve floated every stretch of the wilderness South Fork at least three times.  While the options for new entrances and exits, and unseen seasons, remain immense, I do have a certain familiarity with the South Fork.  The best thing about our route this past weekend wasn’t seeing new terrain, like White River Pass above, but in seeing M, Luke, and Spencer witness new-to-them terrain.  I can never recreate my own first trip four years ago, but helping others have their own experience is a very nice substitute.

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I think we’ll all be back.

A Montana Wolf hunt

Randy Newberg has either the second or third best hunting show on television; Meat Eater is consistently better, and at it’s best (which isn’t all that often) Solo Hunter is too. It is worth mentioning that the competition is not very fierce, most hunting television is trite, formulaic, and fulfills negative stereotypes in an appalling predictable manner.  Newberg’s work is so good both because he holds himself to a fairly strict fair chase ethic, and is articulate and forthright in portraying it.  The winter before last, when wolf hunting was newly legal in Montana, Newberg filmed a successful hunt.  As of today you can watch the first of two episodes covering the hunt on Carbon TV, for free.  The second episode should be up in a week or two.

It’s a noteworthy effort for several reasons, with the most prominent by far being his forceful and succinct articulation of the argument for wolf hunting.  His formulation isn’t the only version, and it’s quite mild compared to some, but if you’re not acquainted with the “local” side of the argument the above 22 minutes of TV is a good place to start.

On a theoretical level I don’t have an issue with wolf hunting.  There are compelling reasons to think that the current population in Montana and Idaho, and to a lesser degree (outside the GYE) Wyoming, will suffer minimal longterm effect from hunting and trapping, provided they are carried out in a lawful and ethical manner.  (There’s been rumbling about legalizing hunting from aircraft and over bait, which is an entirely different matter, both biologically and ethically.)  I have many practical issues with wolf hunting as it is most often carried out today, and Newberg, ordinarily a compelling and well-reasoned voice, falls into some of these pitfalls.

It is unfortunate that he allowed the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation space on his show.  The RMEF does good work, foremost the land acquisition mentioned in the episode, but they’ve fallen down on the job by pandering to the worst parts of the hunting community over modern wolf policy.  When David Allen (RMEF CEO) says on the episode (I paraphrase) that wolves and predators managing their own populations in concert without human interference is an impossible “oxymoron” one is moved to congratulate him on learning to speak in complete sentences in the first place.  What he means of course is that when left to their own devices predators and their prey will not manage themselves in a way which humans will find completely innocuous and non-interfering.  If Mr. Allen, and Mr. Newberg, believe in a purely anthropocentric, instrumentalist approach to wildlife management in general and large predator management specifically, they should say so, but they should not expect the coming generations to take them very seriously.

The vilification of environmental groups, and the stereotyping of their members, is also not productive.  Firstly, western states like Montana have an extensive and protracted history of being poor managers of public land, going back to before statehood.  States may have gotten on the bandwagon and preserved public lands for access and wintering range in the last 40 years, but without federal intervention in the 19th and 20th century there would be little productive megafauna habitat within the public sphere to access.  Western states should spend the next 50 years doing better than they ever have in this area before any of them complain.  To say nothing of the extensive federal dollars (taxes from those liberal enclaves on both coasts) without which western states would have, at best, anemic infrastructures and economies.  And the idea that in a republic national identity and privilege supercede that specific to your state of residence (we’ll leave astronomical out of state hunting and fishing licenses for another day).

People who live with (and this shouldn’t just mean “with 50 miles of”) wolves do indeed have different and in many cases more intimate and better knowledge of wolves, and by proxy the human relationship with the rest of the living world.  I am quite sympathetic to those who view the wolf watchers in Lamar, seemingly never further than 10 feet from either the pavement or their 3000 dollar spotting scope, as having a rather superficial, even theoretical, appreciation for wolves.  At the same time, everyone would do better to admit that the folks at the Center of Biological Diversity usually know what they’re talking about, and don’t keep suing state and federal agencies out of some conspiracy to keep themselves funded.  You can disagree with the CBD, the RMEF, Randy Newberg, and me, but the kneejerk stereotyping and tinfoilhat hysteria does no one and nothing any good.  If there is an enemy here, it is the indifference which will paper over why elk and wolves do what they do, and pave more of the world in the process.  In 2014, people who care passionately about the wild fighting with each other is nothing but shameful.

Feathered Friends Vireo Nano review

Last fall I decided I needed a new “three season” (i.e. lows above 20F) sleeping bag. The synthetic quilt/bag I’d been using for the past four years was not nearly as warm as it used to be. I decided that I did not want a quilt, as I don’t value roominess or venting ability, and thus the open bottom is just a liability. I decided that I did want down, mainly for longevity. I wanted something simple, fairly light, and not too expensive.

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In the end I bought a stock Vireo Nano from Feathered Friends, in the 68″ length and the Bark shell color.

The factory specs (17.8 ounces total weight) were dead on.
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The Vireo is hoodless and zipless.   The bottom 2/3s of the bag have the baffle height and fill of a 25 degree bag, while he upper third flares out quite generously and has the baffle height and fill of a 45 degree bag.  I idea is that you have the space to wear an insulated coat to increase the overall warmth.  Colder temps, use a warmer coat.

As can be seen above, the cinch cord is sewn inside the bag, which facilitates an excellent seal when cinched tight around your neck.  I’m 5’11″, and find the 68″ length ideal.  As can also be seen above, the top opening is asymmetrically cut.  The back cinches higher around the back of your head, while the front tucks neatly under your chin.

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Detailing throughout is excellent, with clean stitching and (as shown) a handy little hang loop along the footbox seam.

I selected the Nano fabric over the lighter Pertex Endurance in the Vireo UL for several reasons. First, the weight savings didn’t merit the extra cost, and second, I’ve had poor experiences with the breathability of lightly PU coated fabrics like Endurance (and with Endurance specifically). The Nano fabric has a great DWR and wind resistance while still breathing well (for drying). It was also available is a dark color, which further helps speed drying. This is a crucial consideration with a light down bag, as it doesn’t take much moisture to significantly bring down loft.

The design of the Vireo is fantastic, perfect for a sleeping bag in my book.  It’s only marginally more squirmy to get into than a conventional side zip bag, and has no fat.  Every gram exists to make you warmer.  Quilts, for me, do not merit the hype.

My only complaint with this bag is that I didn’t get a few ounces of overfill.  I let the (very helpful) guy on the phone at FFriends talk me out of it, and this was a mistake.  The uppermost section needs at least a little more down.  As is there’s not quite enough, and it is prone to shifting and cold spots.  With a light synthetic puffy (hood up), I find the Vireo a solid 30 degree bag, but I think it’d be a bit warmer with only a marginal increase in the quantity of down.  Feathered Friends will do this for a modest fee, and at some point this fall, once the weather has gotten cold enough for me to use another bag, I’ll send the Vireo back for some overfill.

Overall, I’m extremely pleased with the purchase.  The design suits me well, and the price (I paid 250, listed at 269 now) is right.

Grand Canyon Packrafting today

Back in 2007 Roman Dial started a discussion which led to packrafting being explicitly legal in Grand Canyon National Park for the first time.  He and his group, and many groups to follow, were able to do a proper packrafting trip (hiking in and out, running significant sections of river) by obtaining a conventional noncommercial river permit as well as a backcountry permit.  Before this plenty of packrafting had taken place, but it was either outlaw or so far in the past that the trips predated specific regulations.

Unfortunately, the most common and in many ways desirable kinds of packrafting trips are today not possible under current regulations; or at the very least are unnecessarily burdensome to plan.

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Brendan and I getting ready to, inadvertantly, break the law back in March.  We were not informed of all the below rules even though our permit request clearly entailed violation.  Notification of fines can be sent to biteme@hayduke.net.

The current Superintendents Compendium of Designations, Closures, Use and Activity Restrictions, Permit Requirements and Other Regulations governs packraft use on a plain backcountry permit (the sort you’d get for a backpacking trip).  On page 12 it lays out five rules, concerning “river crossings incidental to a backcountry hiking permit.”  To quote:

  • Only the minimal amount of river travel necessary to gain all the hiking terrain of the opposite shore is permitted.
  • Multiple crossings are approved if the permitted itinerary requires them.
  • Backcountry permits involving such crossings will only be issued for backcountry use areas that are immediately adjacent (across the river) from one another.
  • If proposed crossings for a given itinerary result in five or more miles of travel upon the water, a private river trip permit is required.
  • The five mile limit applies to same side, river-level hikes for which entry into the river is necessary in order to navigate around terrain which prohibits travel by foot.

What does this all mean?  The first four provisions are quite plain, in their intent to limit packrafting to five miles of travel “upon the water,” though exactly how that mileage is to be measured is ambiguous.  (Does a 100 yard horizontal crossing with minimal downriver drift count towards the total?)  The final provision, of which I was totally unaware this spring, is intended to prevent packrafting anything which cannot be walked (“entry into the river is necessary”). 

This final provision is excessively ambiguous and generally unconstructive.  There is a very large range of river-level walking to be found in the Grand Canyon, and most of it is pretty tough.  Some of it is rough to the point of calling emphatically into question how objective a term necessary can be.  1/4 mph talus and loose 4th classing around rock prows is quite possible for some, and stupidly unsafe for others.  My intent in highlighting these rules are to clarify them for future hikers (I had to change a permit last week due to #5, and my reluctance to break the rules again), and to get folks keyed up to comment on them when scoping on a new backcountry management plan begins, perhaps later this year.

I have a pretty big axe to grind on this one, as I take personal offense to how populated the river has been allowed to become in the Grand Canyon.  In my book it should be managed as wilderness, and doing so requires not allowing hundreds of thousands of user days which are begun and ended with motorized transport.  There is no way to do this without seriously angering a seriously large amount of serious people.  One solution would be to ban all commerical trips, while keeping noncommercial numbers static.  Another option would be to slash the numbers of both commercial and noncommercial trips.  A third, and the one I like best, is to make trips of both types far less accessible in hopes that a natural regulation of numbers will take place.  The easiest way to do this would be to remove the Lee’s Ferry access road entirely and require human-powered access to the river from the highway. 

All of that is irrelevant to the overly restrictive packrafting regulations currently in place.  The broad point is that adding more partial river trips to an already stressed river environment cannot be tolerated (read: hike in, packraft 50-100 miles of river, hike out).  Trips like Dial’s from 2008, where whitewater is the main focus, should continue to fall under the river management guidelines, which means the permit lottery.  River permits cost 100 dollars a person, not a burden to be placed lightly upon users.  Hiking trips which involve packrafting merit more inclusive regulations which reflect on-the-ground conditions and are not driven by paranoia.  A much more generous mileage cap would be one simple solution, such as 20 miles.  A more complex but still reasonable idea is to have zones along the river, built around probable access points, with their own mileage limits, or unlimited river travel within that zone only.  The ultimate goal is to not constrain user creativity, or turn the Grand Canyon backcountry office into big brother. 

Comments aren’t yet being officially accepted, but you can contact Superintendent Dave Uberuaga at PO Box 129, Grand Canyon, AZ, 86023, if you think you have something to say which needs saying now.

Be safe out there

It is not infrequently that I want to return to these days, when almost all the trails in Glacier National Park were new, and I had only the maps vaguest idea of what was around the next corner. Today, I’m running into needing two hands to count the times I’ve been over many of the passes and across many of the lakes. I’ll never run out of corners to explore, and there is a lot to be learned from seeing at ground level just how different each year is from the next, but the days of whole drainages being blank spots are over, which is sad.

The purpose of hiking, and life generally, was in question early Saturday afternoon. Three times now I’ve hiked north over Flattop in June, with miles of snow slogging and lots of rain. But never before had the snow been so spongy and energy sucking, and never before had it rained the whole damn day. Going through the big meadow north of Fifty Mountain the rain beat down, the wind blew it up into my hood, and there were no flowers to be seen under the 10+ feet of snow and avalanche debris. It’s hard to justify esoteric backpacking plans in moments like that.

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Stoney Indian Lake.  The campground is just out of sight on the left; the trail follows the far short and wraps around the right end before climbing up to the pass.

Everyone told me to be safe out there, even the folks on the shuttle.  With snow delaying the full sun road opening, small buses started running visitors up to the Loop (halfway to Logan Pass) last Friday.  M dropped me off an hour before the first was to run, and I was the seventh person in line.  45 minutes later there were nearly 40 people waiting, and the buses only hold 12-15 people.  Riding the bus up through the rain and fog, most of the passengers seemed to lack a clear idea of where they were going and why they were doing it.  There’s no shelter at the Loop aside from a small bathroom awning, and I imagine many people spent a lot of time Saturday standing in the rain, waiting to go back down.

The safety comments are always curious, and seem to dovetail with the advert copy about ultralight gear: “lighten your pack without effecting comfort or safety!”  We’ve been over the comfort issue before, and I worry that thinking the contents of your pack should make the top five list of safety considerations is itself a deeply dangerous idea.

I sure wasn’t comfortable Saturday night.  Everything was a bit damp, which is best case scenario after hiking for 10 hours in the rain.  Dinner warmed me up, but I ate it hurridly in the rain.  The Stoney Indian Lake campground lacks many trees taller than 15 feet or wider than 4, and most of them were made even shorter by being 6 feet deep in snow.  I skipped making tea, as it would have meant more time squatting in the drizzle, and headed to bed, meditating upon back sweat migrating out of my wool shirt, through my fleece vest and primaloft jacket, and finally deep enough into my down bag so I would not longer feel like a lightly used and forgotten kleenex.  That did eventually happen, and I did eventually go to sleep.  Safe, and comfortable enough.

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Stoney Indian Pass looking NE.

The next morning answered the why question pretty well.  Late June morning and while snow and a white tarp woke me up very early, early enough that when I rolled over, went back to sleep for a while, and woke up again it was still barely 6.  I took my time and enjoyed hot coffee lounging on a rock, out in the open and lashed by wind which did not contain rain.  Cramponing up around the lake and to the pass went easily on hard snow.  It wasn’t sunny, and the clouds threatened eventual rain, but being cocooned against alpine wind is less oppressive when that wind is dry.  I lost the trail heading down off the pass, but had a good enough idea of where it made the first creek crossing that I didn’t mind.  With crampons the walking was easy, and I could follow bear and wolverine tracks and hop creeks at whatever pace I saw fit.

So why do I hike?  The point of diminishing returns has with backpacking been reached.  By any standard, reasonable or un, the Grand Canyon trip this spring was so good and went off so well I could have immediately retired with no truly important business left undone.

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Atsina and Glenns Lakes.

The first answer is that, for the moment, I have to do something with my time, and I’ve yet to reach a level of maturity where reading books and going for strolls nearby are sufficient for contentment.  The second answer is why the hell not?  You can’t see things like the view above enough, you just cannot.  Smart people have recently said that writing is nothing more or less than an extension of language itself, that it exists to share your perspective on the world with others.  The first corollary is then, if you want to write something worth reading you need to find interesting perspectives on the world.  This is why, today, it’s impossible to take a good photo of Mesa Arch.  This is why it’s essential to get out into the world, however you choose to do so.  Why go backpacking in the rain?  As Nietzsche wrote, “why have knowledge at all?”

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Thimbleberry.

Once I was done Stoney and able to put the axe and crampons away for good, the crux of the trip was over, but the seeing was not.  I still had Glenns Lake to paddle across, chased downstream by a 20 mph tailwind, lashed by rain.  I still had Redgap Pass to get over, where I was nearly blown flat by the wind.  My feet still hurt, a lot, going down into the Kennedy Creek drainage, and I still had the creek itself to paddle, with it’s fantastic fast and twisty willow tunnels, and one horrific portage around beaver damn induced willow sieves to infinity.  I still had to paddle across Poia Lake, in the rain of course, where I saw a Common Goldeneye botch the landing, hit a wave, endo, and do a 360 before picking itself back up and squack away to join it’s family.  I perfected the paddling a packraft across a lake late in the day, in the rain, while drenched to the navel and with numb hands and feet song in the process.  It’s easy: half “Row your Boat”, half “I’ve been working on the railroad”, sung at 200 bpm, with every word having become fuck.  Like so:

fuckfuck fuckfuckfuck

fuck    fuck      fuck

fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck  fuck fuckfuck

fuck     fuck      fuckfuck

And so on.  Try it, it will help you paddle faster.

The next morning I was up early, having eaten everything except granola bars, with visions of microwave burritos and a triple espresso driving my legs forward.  Ending a backpack in the Many Glacier valley is a good idea, with the grand enveloping folds taking a second seat to nothing and nowhere.  The hotel, set at the base of the lake at the confluence of three big valleys, is well named, and totally ridiculous.  It brings lots of people to prime bear habitat, and sits one hundred feet high and many hundreds of feet wide in the one of the windiest spots around.  The snows drift deep all winter, and I’ve heard they always have lots of fun in May shoveling out the interior, ideally before it all melts into the flooring.  But the view is stunning and the whole edifice of excess stands as a metaphor for modern human conduct in the wild: as vital as it is absurd, every day standing out more and more as apart and foreign, but still deeply tied by a history so coherent it can barely be expressed.

Which is why I’ll keep backpacking.

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