First, the route; it’s very scenic and has great variety for a low(physical) price of entry. The floating is expedient, easy, and all rapids can be scouted and/or portaged. The hiking is not easy, and while there is almost always a use trail in Slickhorn it is rarely obvious or very useful for sustained stretches. Fit, experienced hikers who are canyon novices will do fine and enjoy the challenge. The less fit will get worked and do low miles. Checking all administrative boxes requires both a backpacking and a river permit, which must be obtained from different BLM offices. The cumulative cost of these is considerable. River permits seem easy to obtain before the reserved-permit season starts April 15th. Using WAG bags (and carrying them out) is compulsory on the river.
The sandwich of gear between the Osprey Poco AG and the Seek Outside Revolution looks absurd, and carried heavier than it was, but was also uncannily stable and thoroughly bearable for a person with decent training. I felt plenty of pressure on my hips, lumbar, and the fronts of my pectorals, but had no chafing, bruising, or point discomfort. My legs and hip flexors are still a bit sore, generally, and I got a cramp in an abdominal the morning after the trip at breakfast. I really don’t see a better way to accomplish what needed to be done, and all the reasons outlined here were confirmed. Organization would suffer on a trip which didn’t involve to many burly drybags, so aside from building a slim bag with a side zip I don’t see making any improvements for the future. I’ll say it again because it’d be rude not too; Seek Outside packs are the real deal.
After last fall we needed a much lighter, smaller tent which would still have room for we three, elbow room for diaper changing, and keep the baby out of the sand. Not easily done, but my sense was the Sierra Designs Tensegrity would come closest. We didn’t have weather of any significance this trip, but the Tensegrity succeeded well in the light and small category, as well as in providing enough space for 2.3 adults. The massive covered storage space, ample ventilation, and decent (though not great) headroom also get nods of approval. I’ll post comprehensive thoughts after many more nights in the field, but one thing I’d like to highlight, especially compared the direct competition (Big Agnes, Tarptent) is the exceptional detailing and construction quality. Corner reinforcements, #5 zips on the doors, grommets set in multiple layers of fabric, top shelf stakes, guyline, and hardwear, and very nice stitching all make this tent/tarp/thing stand apart, to say nothing of the clever design. Taken together they might, almost, justify the high cost.
Clothing in the desert is pretty easy. I gambled on the forecast and did not bring a rain jacket for myself, nor Little Bear (though he had the Poco rainfly, which was not used). The Sitka Core LW hoody got the nod; the fabric is more breathable and pleasant after sweating than the new lightweight capilene, and the hood is great for both warmth and sun. I wore it constantly and never wished for anything else, except for a solid color option. The rest of my clothes were the Alpine Start hoody, Strata hooded vest, Prana Stretch Zion shorts, Wild Things windpants, buff, and an extra pair of socks. The Zions are worthy of a future post, but I’ll note here that the adjustable, integrated belt make them excellent under a heavy pack.
Hoods are also good for Little Bear, who removes most hats in short order. His sun hat was a passenger all trip after the first five minutes. Outstanding performers were Patagonia’s infant Baggies jacket, an excellent wind and sun jacket, and The North Face fleece hoody pictured above, mainly for sleeping. I need to add suspenders to his sleeping bag, as he kept worming out during the night. Redundant layers were invaluable when he blew out into his capilene onesie on two consecutive night.
I’ve been observing the recent trend away from minimalist trail shoes with some dismay, something epitomized by the LaSportiva Bushidos I used on this trip. Compared to their ancestors, specifically the Anakonda and X Country, they seemed for me a step backwards, with a stiff heal counter, considerable mid foot structure, and an insole with consequential arch support. Reminiscent of the old One Sport Vitesse, though with less drop. I’ve had this pair for over a year, but could never get them to fit quite right. Finally last fall I started running them without any insoles at all, and at last they gripped my heel correctly and gave my toes enough vertical space. In this form they have enough structure and stiffness for a heavy pack trip like this one in technical terrain, without feeling overly stiff and clunky. As usual, the Sportiva rubber and tread combo is the best, full stop, for traction in mixed terrain. M wore her Chacos, also as usual, and we discussed our dear hope that LB inherits the excellent biomechanics with which we’ve both been blessed.
When we next head to the Colorado Plateau, likely this fall, we won’t do too many things differently.