Future plans

Bill Hatcher photo; the legendary Dial-Tobin-Adkins Alaska Range bike traverse.  Look at that tiny pack!

The past weekend of fun and the extensive germ exposure of my job caught up to me, and I’ve spent the past two days feeling achey and sluggish, trying to not get any more ill.  Hopefully it works.

Life up here in the Flathead can feel claustrophobic.  The ever present (unless it’s below zero) fog from Flathead Reservoir is the number one factor, how I ended up living somewhere so not like the desert southwest in terms of sun exposure is a matter of some speculation.  We’re also two hours from the interstate (my parents found out there’s a surcharge to mail stuff here v. Missoula), which makes a hypothetical escape all the slower.  Beyond that, this is a forgotten corner of the world, an attribute made very evident at my job.  Folks move here because they want to get away, and somehow the not inconsequential concentration of people and the consequent trappings of civilization (Super Walmart, mini-malls, ski resorts) only serves to make more obvious the extent to which the normal denizon of the Flathead is a few standard deviations removed from any broader standard of normalcy.

It’s also been since July of ’09 and the Markagunt epic since we’ve been down to canyon country.  Far, far too long. I’d like to go soon, and fulfill some longstanding plans in the process.  First on the list involves biking and packrafting.  Doing, in essence, Doom’s route with minor variations, and doing it faster.  Moab to Escalante, or vice versa.  So, I have two questions:

-Who has a bike and raft and wants to go with?

-What are you, my rabid readers, dreaming of for the coming year?

Cases for and against Armstrong

Call it “physiologically believable” (which many don’t like, but I use it with its obvious intention), or call it signs of change, I do believe that the Tour is slower, and that the days of 6.3W/kg for 40 minutes are now the stuff of highlights and commemorative DVDs.

-Science of Sport, 7/23/10

 

For a while now, I’ve believed that Lance took performance enhancing drugs during his seven-tour run.  Not a shattering thought certainly, and perhaps evidence that in sentimental cases my optimism goes too far.  In the end, irrespective of the details, I find the whole affair to be a very sad one.

While writings like the recent Sports Illustrated article take a legalistically nit-picky tack on developing a case against Armstrong, I find analyses like that which the excellent Science of Sport engaged in during the 2010 tour to be far more compelling.  Rather than focusing on accusations from exceptionally biased people (the affair has proven, if nothing else, that Lance Armstrong is a very unpleasant person to have as an enemy) or on a weight on circumstantial evidence, the scientific case against Armstrong (more exactly, against his claim that he never used illegal performance-enhancing drugs) boils down to several largely inarguable “facts”:

1) The most talented, best trained, and most motivated cyclists of the current, post-EPO testing era are significantly slower (~5%) than those of the Armstrong era up the same TdeF climbs.

2) EPO, homologous blood doping and the like are estimated to give a 5-10% performance boost for an athlete already in peak condition.

3) Virtually all Lance Armstrong’s contemporaneous rivals (Riis, Ullrich, Hamilton, Landis, etc) have either admitted to or been implicated in illegal performance-enhancing drug use.

Two conclusions are then possible: that Armstrong was in his prime almost categorically better (for reason of physiology, method, and determination) than anyone else; or that Armstrong was doping.  I see no third option.

I also think that both are almost certainly the case.  Armstrong doped.  To think otherwise seems to go against a massive weight of evidence.  I also think that many of the prerequisites for Armstrong’s success have nothing to do with drug use, legal or otherwise.  The 2010 tour only served to highlight that winning such a race is a game of manufacturing your own luck.  Frank Schleck failed to do so well enough on the cobbles, and his brother may well have lost because of it.  Evans and Armstrong both crashed out of contention.  Yet for seven straight years Armstrong managed, by skill moreso than luck I would argue, to go against the numbers and do everything right.

It is certainly not unprecedented for an athlete to operate, if only for a season, on a level far beyond anyone else.  In almost all respects Armstrong must have done so, and thus I think it sad that such a great human achievement will, to a certain extent, be lost amid the noise.

2010: in review

Running through all these Christmases is the sense of an emotional cadenza at the end of the year, a braiding of feelings like hope, renewal, nostalgia, love, joy and exhaustion. Yet in the stories about this holiday, it’s surprising how often we’re reminded of a darker life, full of isolation, penury, greed, despair and the fear that traps emotion within us.

-The NY Times editorial page, today

2010 will stand out in my mind for many things; I finished my masters, got a good job, raised my gear making and photography to a new level, met many great people, and achieved a paradigm shift in how I view outdoor adventuring.  But above all, 2010 was the year in which I finally became an adult.

About time, eh?

In my post-MSW world, there is no longer some hypothetical future achievement which can (abstractly) be expected to categorically alter my life.  What I have and am now can reasonably be expected to be, with subtle variations, what I have and am in the future.  Reflecting on this has gone well with the expected, end of year, seasonal introspection of which the Times speaks.  It has been the cause of both satisfaction and angst.  And while there are many thing with which I am not satisfyied and which I hope to change in an enduring fashion, there are also many things of which I am proud.  Examining the first 29.8 years of my life is, from this comfy chair on this quiet morning, majorily a fulfilling experience.

This year I learned, primarily through school, that there are still important things that I’m quite bad at, that there are things in life that I thought I might be that I will not be doing, and that choices I’ve made in the past have already limited choices I can make in the future.  Most importantly, I’ve learned to embrace this more accurate, full, realistic poirtrate of my existence.

This year I learned that cultivating friends and partners, for today and for days in the future, is essential.  Finishing up the second video this morning was an emphatic reminder of this.

This year a long dormant in interest in artistic expression and the sharing it allows was reawakened.  I’m very pleased with the photography, videography, and writing I’ve done in the past 12 months, and the responses it has engendered.  Thanks to all of you for being a part of that.

This year I learned that day trips are, to be blunt, bullshit.  18 months ago I was still quite uneasy with overnight trips.  This year I sought out that uncertainty and looked at it right up close.  And while I’m still afraid of solitude, I’m longer afraid of that fear.  If I were to seriously ruminate upon and draw up a futile list of the 10 most significant outdoor adventures of my life, I think that half of them would have taken place this year.  And while some of the packraft trips may have been more sublime, there is no question that the Thorofare trip in May was the greatest outdoor adventure of my life to date.  It is just not possible to drink as deeply of the wilderness if you don’t spend the night.  When I plan trips now, the ones which capture my interest the most are days long.  When I write this essay a decade from now, I’m certain that adventures will be categorized as pre or post Thorofare.

This year I learned that making gear and sewing can be deeply satisfying, and that while I may come up short on detail work, I both enjoy and excell at big picture design work.  I think about gear design and fabric science in categorically different ways today.

And this year I learned that packrafting rules.  I’m not doing a list of best gear items, because there is the packraft, and then everything else.  Get a raft, but at your peril: you will never look at outdoor adventures the same.

I expect great things from myself in the year to come.  My job suits me perfectly, and I have no reason to suspect anything but better things as I continue to learn.  But it is the vast wilderness complex to the east that really inflames my imagination.  Winter is still something I’m working on and learning about, but come spring and summer, my confidence is large and my plans grandiose.  After almost 30 years of walking in the woods my summer skillset is nearing completion, and I am very much looking forward to exercising it to the fullest extent.  I suppose that, having found maturity at last, I am enjoying its benefits.  2011 should be a good year.

Adventure film-making after Youtube (Banff World Tour review)

I’ve been lucky enough to see the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour three times now; in LA in 2008, Missoula in 2009, and here in Kalispell last night.  Even in that short time the dynamic of the films showcased seems to have changed.

The world tour makes a wide selection of films shown at the original festival available, and local promoters pick which ones they wish to show, based on whimsy and their expected demographic.  When you attend the world tour, you never know quite what you’re going to get.  I’m going to list and comment briefly on each of the seven films we saw last night, before moving on to a more general discussion of how Youtube (both as a website and a cultural phenomenon) seems to be shifting the Banff films.  In the order seen last night:

1) Dream Result

You can see a trailor at the website, above, but it bears only a passing resemblance to what we saw last night.  We did not see the full film, but rather an edit, about 15-20 minutes long.  Whether the film makers or Banff folks did the edit is unclear, but whomever did should be mildly taken out to the woodshed.  Sturges et al secured some astonishing footage, and while much of it is in the traditional, “radical” vein of bigger is better, some of it went beyond and showcased the personal, narrative side of kayaking.  Chiefly, that running the brown (aka schralping the super gnargnar) can be terrifying, and beat the shit out of you.  Our clip consisted of a biographical piece about Tyler Bradt, many minutes of the most outstanding and gut wrenching boating carnage I’ve ever seen, and a brief narrative of Bradt’s world-record-breaking run of Palouse Falls.  In short, good stuff, but the edit we saw came up emphatically short.

2) As It Happens

You can watch this one (or a version very close to the festival one) on vimeo!  I’ve discussed this one before, both because I went to college with one of the makers, and because the project is one of the more interesting ones to come out in 2010.  The premise, that editing footage as close to the moment as possible will produce a superior artistic product, is a great one, and Renan and Cory pulled it off in great style.  Unfortunately, the edit shown on vimeo and at the festival underwent quite a lot of editing to make it one single work, rather than 5 dispatches (you can view the originals on Renan’s account, which I recommend).  A lot of the immediacy has been lost in the polish, which is unfortunate.  This film also highlights the ways in which things that succeed online and in the Youtube idiom of social media marketing (TNF did well with this one, I reckon) fail on the big screen.  Each dispatch had an amount of local-color/cute cinematography/intro-extro material at the beginning and end, sandwiching the meat of the narrative.  It all sort of works online, but put up on the big screen, in a different context where expectations are different, the lack of a tight narrative with meat on the bone stands out starkly.  I enjoyed this, but think that either the original film(s) should have been preserved, or an even more complete transformation should have taken place.

3) Eastern Rises

This is by far the best film I’ve seen at the Banff world tour.  By far.  It balances all the elements the make adventure films work: great cinematography, compelling micro and macro narratives, humor, idiosyncrasy, and an interesting and exotic subject.  And the film wears its confidence very well indeed, as evidenced by the trailer.  A fly fishing film trailer without a single fish visible!  Be warned, this will make you think about taking up fly fishing.  This is a film worth buying.

4) Chimaera

Also fully viewable on vimeo.  Great shooting, completely boring content.  I think the least interesting film I’ve ever seen at Banff.  A walking, talking cliché that gives great evidence that the Youtube format flops out of the computer.

5) Azadi: Freedom

A film about skiing in Gulmarg, Kashmir, India.  Good material, but unfocused.  It has some nice skiing footage, which is particularly refreshing because the lack of a helicopter obliged the filmers to avoid many of the modern clichés.  It has even better local culture material, which to a certain extent gets lost amongst the ski porn and historical/educational diversions.  Greater focus and a time restriction would’ve helped this film a great deal.

6) First Ascent: Fly or Die

This work, by the super-team of Peter Mortimer and the Lowell Brothers, wins my award for most disappointing.  (I had low expectations for Chimaera from the first few seconds.)  Five years ago their work was indeed at the cutting edge of climbing films, but the effects used by the Camp 4 Collective crew and the material had by Hot Aches and Posing Productions leaves this film feeling stale.  The fact that the series was made for National Geographic TV is largely responsible, leaving the narrative structure dumbed-down and stilted.  Dean Potter is an extraordinarily cinegenic figure, and by that virtue alone this work should have been much better.  Perhaps the other films in the First Ascent series are better, or perhaps Sender Films just needs to step up their game.

7) Kranked Kids (or something)

The seventh film was a goofy, hilarious little spoof from the producers of the “Kranked” series of mountain biking films.  It involves their kids.  I can’t find the name or trailer.  Darn.

Overall the evening was entertaining, and “Eastern Rises” alone was well worth the price of admission.  Unfortunately for the rest of the films, the fly fishermen led by example and showed that good material is not sufficient to make a truly great adventure film.

Rises would not have succeeded had it been standard, 5-15 minute Youtube length.  The interest was in the arch of the storytelling, and the characters which drove that process.  Humor, scenery, and nifty camera work made the medicine go down easily, but were in the end secondary factors.  By contrast, “As It Happens” would have been quite boring without the exceptional camera work, because the storytelling was so thin.  If the material in “Dream Result” had not been so remarkable, the loose character development and barely-there narrative would have never been paid attention.  Without HD video and truly gratuitous slo-mo, “Chimaera” would have gone beyond the realm of the soporific and into the realm of the unbearable.

All of which makes me wonder how Youtube culture will continue to change adventure cinema.  On the one hand, 5 minute attention spans reward visual and athletic pyrotechnics above all else, providing little incentive for auteurs to step back and focus on that which, for me, is most interesting.  Athletic achievement and the dreaded process of “progression” (going bigger, faster, and so forth) are significant because of the mental processes at work for the participants.  “Dream Result” hinted at the fear involved in kayaking a 60 meter waterfall, and the psychological and interpersonal effects of such a process is in the end the story of modern adventure.  As Steve Fisher notes in the “Dream Result” trailer linked to above, in the absence of unexplored continents adventure exists more purely than ever as a pyschological construct.  Telling this story in Youtube-friendly bites, with the immediacy and quick turnover that social media marketing demands, will be a tall order.

I look forward to seeing how my generation measures up.

When in doubt, ride

I came home in an evil mood. There is one direct solution: get out.

It worked.  It’s not Missoula, but we have some ok riding.

I also gave my new Homebrewed Components Nut Tugger.  I prefer the simplicity of track ends (not that I’ve owned a bike with an EBB or sliders), and while the bolts on a Hope hub always held without moving, both quick releases alone and the standard solid axle bolts that came on the above Surly hub moved enough to cause problematic chain tension.  The Surly chain tug works, but is a clumsy, poor design.  The nut tugger is lightweight machined aluminum, and at first ride seems dead-on perfect.  It slots perfectly into the dropout, and seems to hold well.  I’ll keep ya’ll posted.

Election night good omen: Obsidian Stout on sale for $5.98 a sixer at Super 1.

Twothousandeleven

I finished the first part of the year in review video last night, so it is now time to start thinking about next year (like we haven’t all been assembling race calenders for a month already; I’m waiting on the Classic to set a date).

On Sunday night I slept restlessly, and as the alarm went off at 630, was in the middle of being chased by some very big and very hungry dinosaurs.  Seriously.

I started editing this last month, on the plane flight back from New York, and when the mood struck me finished May, June and July off yesterday.  I like some parts enough that I didn’t want to wait to let them out into the world, and now most of this footage, which has been overworked as of late, can be put to rest.

Any commentary would be welcome.

My current thoughts on shells

Monday, for moment, is gear day. Check the last few mondays for thoughts on base layers and footwear.

This article will be much shorter than either of the previous, because the subject is much simpler. You need shells to keep wind and precipitation out. Wear as little shell as you can get away with given the conditions, and pick one that fits and has useful features. That’s it.

Shells can be separated into windproof and waterproof shells. Both are misnomers, as no windshell is windproof, and no waterproof shell you’d actually want to wear moving through the wilderness is actually waterproof. A good example from either category will block most of the wind, or almost all the water in almost all conditions. I’ll address the former first.


Windshell tops

A good windproof shell jacket is probably the most versitile piece of outdoor clothing you can own.  Shown below (Danni Coffman photo) is me in my 5 year old Patagonia Houdini. 

The Houdini is a great example of what a good windshell can be.  Mine weighs 4 oz, has a hood, a full zip, and an inside pocket that closes with a velcro dot.  Nothing else.  It stuffs down to small apple size, and can thus be brought along on any adventure.  There have been but a handful of bike rides, any bike ride, in the last half decade where this thing hasn’t been on me on in my pack, frame bag, or jersey pocket.  It came to Egypt last winter, has logged many days skiing, etc, etc.  Originally I was concerned about the light fabric, but I’ve only put one hole in it this whole time.  Amazing.  (The original #3 zip did fail, but Patagonia repaired it for free, and at my request put in an all metal #5 instead.  My Houdini is unique, and in my opinion the best in the world.)

The Houdini is floppy, but also big enough to layer over a fat fleece.  A good tradeoff.

A hood is mandatory.  It can add tons of warmth for little weight and fuss.  The newest Houdini has a rear cinch cord on the hood for better fit and visibility.

A windshell like the Houdini is highly breathable.  I can chug uphill sweating like crazy and moisture will not collect and condense under it.  It dries blazingly fast.  For this reason windshells are vital in winter.  Waterproof fabrics are not appropriate in true winter conditions (ie when rain is not possible).  At single digits or below, moisture will condense inside a Gore-tex shell and freeze to the inside.  Worse than useless, they are dangerous.

The shortcoming is that the wind resistance of something like the Houdini can be overpowered by extreme wind and cold.  A Houdini copy, but with a bigger hood and thicker uncoated fabric (3-4 oz a yard or so) would be great for winter, but I don’t know of such a shell that is presently available.  I layer the Houdini with a light soft shell shirt, and throw the belay coat on when its really cold.  This works fine for skiing in the woods, but would come up short in the winter mountains.  I may have revised opinions next spring.

Windshell pants

Windshell pants have been one of my great gear discoveries this year.  Specifically, the Montane Featherlight pants.  The Pertex is a bit heavier than the Houdini fabric, they have ankle zips (easy to get on and off with shoes on), and velcro straps on the lower legs (keeps them out of your chainring, but gets undone in stream crossings).

I don’t find waterproof pants necessary.  The Featherlights keep wind off, dry super fast, and thus keep my legs warm.  For the moment, they’re all the shell pants I want.  Pictured below on the Thorofare traverse in May, which tested shell gear hard.

Waterproof shells

In short, a necessary evil.  While I haven’t tried Event, I’m skeptical that any waterproof fabric will be able to come close to keeping up with the sweat that is part and partial of serious aerobic output.  Goretex is ok, and pit zips sorta work, but if its raining and coldish and you’re trucking uphill, you will get wet.  Pick the lesser of two evils: waterproof shell on or off.  At least on the downhill you can throw the hardshell back on and not get wetter or colder.

I’ve been using an Arc’teryx Alpha SL pullover this year, and other than the fabric issue stated above its quite ideal.  The cut is roomy enough for layers but trim, the fabric is tough without being overbuilt, the hood is a work of art (cinches tight, over a helmet or a bare head or anything in between), and the front ‘roo pocket is perfectly positioned to sit above a hipbelt and provide convenient storage.  I like a waterproof anorak because it’s a bit more weathertight, has no full length zip to make it feel stiff under motion, and if I’m putting on a hardshell I plan to keep it on all the time.

Here in Montana a waterproof top is essential for any multiday trip, even if it never gets used.  I often bring both the Arc’teryx and the Houdini.  Back in Arizona, or somewhere like the Sierras with dry and predicatable weather, you can chance leaving the hardshell behind given a good forecast. 

Shells: try them out, try them on, buy some, love them, never leave home without them.

My thoughts on base layers for active adventure

I hesitated to write the footwear article I published last week, for reasons I’ve written about on several occasions, namely that I don’t want to feed the gear obsession that for many perniciously supplants actual experience.  Yet the response I got to that article, for quarters expected and not, has been positive and profuse.  So I going to do more in that idiom in the future, with an emphasis on broader overviews of important equipment issues that can be both important and complex.  I’ve been studying gear catalogues too closely since I was in third grade, and while the volume and type of my outdoor experience is not exceptional, I hope I can put forth some words in ways that folks will find illuminating.  Ergo this article. 

Base layers are, with the exception of foorwear, the most important piece of gear you’ll use outside.  Unlike footwear, the same base layers can be used year round across disciplines.  It’s a worthwhile endeavor to match your physiology and approach to outdoor adventures with your base layer choice.

Base layers exist to be a buffer between your skin and the environment.  They move sweat away from your skin (wicking) so that it can evaporate, keep the sun brush, and rough rock off you, and provide a modicum of warmth in the dry, the wet, and the states between.  An ineffective garmet will leave you damp and cold, and in the case of underwear or the interface between skin, fabric, and pack straps, allow chaffing to occur.  Good clothing and gear elsewhere can be rendered largely ineffective by a bad baselayer.

The normal debate here begins with material, namely ultrafine merino wool versus the various polyester weaves.  But first, it’s worth mentioning cotton.

Cotton is known as the death cloth in outdoor circles for its ability to retain lots of moisture and dry very slowly.  Under most conditions, this makes it totally inappropiate for any item of gear, save perhaps a bandana.  However, in serious heat, cotton can be put to good use.

And not just in Vegas.  The rather natty shirt pictured above was a Patagonia outlet purchase, and is made of a very tight, fine weave of 65% poly and 35% cotton.  It is a fantastic hot as hell base layer.  It keep the sun off (flip the collar up to protect the back of the neck, and wicks and dries just fast enough to cool without chilling.  I’ve worn it mountain biking and hiking in 90+ heat the last two summers and become a big fan.  Of course, in any conditions other than serious heat and full sun, it would become dead weight in the pack.

Most folks will wear a poly or merino base layer.  At present the stereotypes governing the two fabrics are well established and a matter of empirical and subjective consensus.  I’ll review them briefly.

Merino wool:
-Highly resistant to stink
-Softer
-Comfier/warmer when wet and damp
-Fragile
-Dries slower
-Absorbs slightly more water (the above BPL article puts it at ~20% more)

Polyesters:
-Moderately to horrendously stinky
-Lighter
-Tougher
-Dries faster, absorbs less water

I’ve yet to use or hear of a fabric that seriously breaks with any of the above.  My preferences for the last few years have been to use a wool shirt as a base layer in winter conditions, when I’ll be using a midlayer, and synthetic in three season conditions and for more active pursuits like mountain biking.

There is a bit more to the story here, and that is fabric weight.  I sweat more than most under any active circumstances, years of living in Arizona and Utah, I suppose.  I’m also a pretty warm person compared to most.  Thus I value fast wicking and drying highly.  Not only does this prejudice me towards synthetics, it leads me to only select thinner base layers, and fabric thickness plays a large role in water aborption and drying time.

Take Patagonias Capilene 2 (my favorite for the last 15 years) compared to its Wool 2.  Cap 2 fabric weighs 124 grams per square meter, while Wool 2 weighs 165 grams per square meter.  Cap 3, significantly warmer in my experience than Cap 2, is 167 grams per square meter, essentially identical to Wool 2.  One of the reasons Wool dries slower than synthetics, and why I’ve had a hard time embracing it, seems to be that the structural limitations of ultrafine merino make it difficult to make it into fabric light enough to be a truly year round base layer.  BPL has a line of merino clothing made of 115 grams per meter fabric, which seems promising.  I snagged one of the beanies they made, in a single production run, from this fabric last fall, and find it an extremely versitile hat.  Unfortunately this light merino is proportionally more fragile, enough that the product page carries a disclaimer, and that BPL is currently struggling to find a shop willing to work with the finicky fabric.

 This is Kevin Sawchuk heading up to Pentagon Pass almost exactly 365 days ago during the Parcour de Wild wilderness race.  We both wore light wool base layers (Patagonia Wool 2 for me, Ibex Woolies for him) under lighter synthetic midlayers (Patagonia for both, R1/2 hoody for me, R1 hoody for Kevin).  In the cold, wet conditions we found this system worked very well, keeping us warm even though we were damp most of the time.

In summary, pick your fabric weight carefully, and lean towards the lighter ones, especially for active uses.  Pay attention to weave as well; Cap 2 wicks and dries faster than Cap 1, even though the fabric is marginally heavier, due to the weave.  Open knits with a three dimensional structure are best.

Your base layer shirt will get worn a lot, and the lighter fabrics that get summer usage will often be the only thing on your torso.  They’ll get a lot of abuse, be it from pack straps, slot canyon walls, or mountain bike crashes.  It is in this department that merino comes up drastically short, and why I can’t see myself buying more of it.

This is me riding the then brand new Karate Monkey in Granite Basin during December of 2006.  I’m wearing a long sleeve Capilene 2 crew neck under my thrift store jersey.  I bought that crew neck in 2004.  It’s still in service today, and gets worn at least once a week.  I have two Wool 2 shirts that are 12 and 16 months old.  Both have a few small holes in them.

Beyond selecting a base layer fabric that suits your needs, getting one that fits is vital.  Fit in many respects determines function.  A good wicking layer can’t do its job if it flops away from your skin, and can’t be a comfy part of a clothing system if it forms creases and pressure points under a midlayer.  Keep the big picture in mind when making selections.

The most useful base layer is the long sleeve crew neck.  Rolled up sleeves are only mildly warmer than short sleeves, and with so many blood vessels close to the skin on the inside of the forearms, rolling down sleeves adds a surprising amount of warmth.  I’ve never found turtle neck comfortable, or zip necks especially useful, but others have different experiences.

Base layer undies are vital.   Spending 30 bucks on a pair of synthetic undies is not an exciting way to spend money, but will end up being among the best you’ll ever spend on outdoor gear.  Goodbye swamp ass.  I like boxer briefs for the balance of comfort, good wicking, and chaff prevention.

Long bottoms are useful as well.  I have a pair of Cap 2 long johns I hacked to below knee (knicker) length.  They provide complete coverage when paired with knee high socks, avoid bulky overlap under ski boot cuffs, and the additional thigh and knee coverage adds more warmth than you’d think.

Ariel, Isaac, M, me, and Phillip in the Robbers Roost during November of 2005, with a lot of old canyon anchors.  We camped out in the cold for a few weeks, did a ton of canyons, and celebrated T-day with a bitching dutch oven cook out, beer, and shooting cans with my .45.  A few days before this picture was taken Phillip and I descended an obscure fork of Upper Blue John.  M and I did an unknown, possible first descent of it a few days prior.  Phillip and I had intended to upclimb the publicized east fork into which our fork fed, but our attempt to pack toss and tent pole hook past a 25′ drop didn’t work, and we had to wade the 150 yard long, chest deep pool below.  In near freezing weather, with no sun, and no wetsuits.  I wore Cap 2 knickers and soft shell pants and was cold, but survived.  Phillip wore something similar, but the cold seemed to affect him more.  When we exited the long wade he immediately dropped his pants and shuffled back and forth giving his manhood a vigorous two-handed rewarming.  Ya gotta do what ya gotta do.  We climbed a sandy 5th class ramp to escape the slot.  Lesson: know your physiology and buy clothing accordingly.

Last but not least, a good synthetic base layer headband is handy in winter.  It will keep your ears warm, disperse forehead sweat, and let heat vent out the top of your head without soaking a hat.  I made one last winter, with a double layer of Cap 1 and a single layer of Cap 2 in the back.  When the aforementioned thin wool hat would get too wet skinning uphill, but it was too cold to wear no hat at all, this little thing was amazingly useful.

In short, baselayers are important, and a matter of personal need and preference.  While there is no substitute for trial and error, and lot of money and bother can be avoided with a little research and introspection about how and where you’ll be wearing them.  I’m hopeful that a poly/wool blend (like Patagonia’s newest generation of Wool 2) will come into being soon, and will allow the anti-stink, warmth, and coziness of merion to be enjoyed in a ~120 grams per meter fabric that dries fast and is tough enough for real world, four season use.  In the meantime, I’ll keep using the boxes full of baselayers I’ve accumulated over the years, because so many of the quality synthetics just refuse to die.

All-Pack, finalized

Back in April, I put together a pack almost from scratch, which was to be an all sport and all conditions multi-day and/or technical pack. It still represents my finest design and sewing work to date. Although the larger canvas makes execution a lot easier than with frame packs or clothing.
It’s been on two backpacking trips and a bunch of day training and testing stuff since, and the other week I pulled a few seams apart to make some tweaks.
The beavertail flaps top buckle got moved lower down, and the pocket itself shortened.
The extension collar got shortened.
The lower drawcord where the orange silnylon met the ballistics was done away with.
I removed the internal pad sleeve entirely.
I moved the load lifter attachment down almost two inches.
I took in the back panel seams above the shoulder harness, thus reducing the overall circumference of the top part of the packbag and biasing the weight closer to my shoulders.
All that said, things still just weren’t quite right.
Over the summer I became a devotee of placing a rolled up foam mat inside the pack, letting it unfurl, then stuffing all contents inside it like a burrito. It provides great structure and load control, and another layer of insulation against abrasion (useful in canyoneering and bushwacking). The pad I had been using was a rather stiff, generic bit of 48″ by 21.5″ by 5/8″ foam.
Yesterday I bought a short (48″ by 20″) Ridgerest, and the pack was transformed. The Ridgerest provides the exactly right balance of structure and flexibility. It allows better use of the compression straps, and does a much better job of hugging my back.

It’s very interesting comparing the above with the pictures from the earlier post. I can’t wait to take this thing ski touring. I’m actually hatching a January (pre Camp Lynda, ideally) trip that will fulfill my long time ambition to do the Narrows in the dead of winter, with some flair added.
I’ll get dropped off on Highway 14 a bit above 9000′, ski through the lovely aspens along the east side of Black Mountain, descend down west of Aspen Lake and enter Deep Creek right above O’Neill Gulch. Then take the skis and ski boots off, put the drysuit and neo socks on, and tromp down Deep Creek. Camp somewhere, and finish up down the Narrows, carrying skis to the Temple bus stop.
You’d need touring skis, boots, poles (for both sections), drysuit etc, and likely instep crampons. Should be a hoot.
In any case, I was sufficiently pleased with my design that I went down to the basement this morning and made it all permanent by seam sealing all the major seams and bar tacks. I like the liquidy, REI brand seam sealer for this job. Lends both durability and a bit of waterproofness.
The whole pack, including the removable snack pouch on the belt, weighs 20 oz. on the nose (without the 8.5 oz Ridgerest). Not bad for a pack made of 16 oz/yard fabric, with a double bottom and 3/4″ grommets for draining. I’m quite confident in it’s overkilledness. Its already been hung as a bearbag.
Hydration port, a mandatory feature. As efficient as using bottles and constantly refilling in streams is around here, I like hoses more.
One benefit of the beavertail pocket (pulled, as Eric noted many moons ago, from the Dana Designs packs) is that it makes packing a bike workable. Pull all the straps, put the seat tube in the bottom of the pocket, lay the pocket around the frame and cinch down all the straps. Driveside out, right pedal up and next to the pack, an extra strap holding the fork to the triangle so it’s immobile. Wheels off and strapped on after. I may be putting this feature to a more exhaustive test than I care to contemplate soon.
Gets me thinking about a lighter SS frame for easier carrying.

Summer Vacation (1.0)

It was a very nice long weekend, with more to come.

I’m tired. Not just muscle tired, though that is most present this evening; I’m tired in my soul. I dug deep, squeezed out a great ride Saturday, and now I’m ready to rest and rebuild. I want to go camping, wake up, drink coffee and read in the camp chair, and do yoga in the pine needles.

The story of the KMC was all about endurance and experience, using a mind much stronger than last year to keep the pedal pushed, but not too far. It was good.

The morning started cold! I built a fire around 430 to ease the discomfort, though that helped continue the tradition of starting late. Only 10 minutes this time. I felt horrid for the first hour, as usual, with frozen hands and feet clumsy until things loosened up. Chad was lacking a map or much of a clue, and I was glad to have him stick close for the first 80 miles. I didn’t hesitate to stop or get ahead, as usual Chad can diesel back up no problem. Halfway through the Rainbow Rim, I looked back on a switchbacked section and saw that he wasn’t there. Should I wait? Slow down? Leave his sorry ass to get lost? I split the difference, pushing on and having fun through the singletrack, then sitting down under a tree at the end to eat an orange and some cheese. He was about four minutes behind me.

The climb up to the route’s highpoint was tough, though having a ton of water made it merely a nuisance. The store was most welcome. I grabbed a couple sodas, an ice cream bar, fritos, and a danish. Chad and I got a bag of ice, and I chowed. As I was stuffing my dromedary and bottles with ice, Nathan pulled up (as we had been expecting for a while). He was pretty cooked. Neither he nor Chad were eating much, a sign I could relate to from last year. I was feeling pretty good, and when Chad teamed up with Nathan I jumped at the chance to run off guilt-free. Riding with company is awesome, and can be the most efficient way to ride, but I knew that on that day, I would push much harder solo. I plugged into the iPod and headed out for the last (and hardest) third of the route.

It took most of the first five miles of rolling gravel to get my food settled. I felt slow at first, but once the fuel kicked in and the sweet singletrack started, I was on fire. I reigned myself in on some of the loose, golfballlimestonerock strewned climb, saving the matches for later. On and on, down into gorgeous meadows, up into the woods (usually off the bike a bit), along through the aspens and pines, and back down again. Brilliant riding.

Soon enough, the smallest most delicate aspen grove yet came, and forest road 213. The moment of truth, and no hesitation. I was finishing today. I did drop part of my danish as I tried to eat on the bike and crank along as fast as possible, which was sad. I continued trying to stuff down food, looking forward to the big descent.

The descent was quite rowdy, plenty of rubble and chunk. The Leviathan rules the endurance roost in these moments. That evening Brian remarked that the washboard took it’s toll on him and his Moots hardtail. It was only on the worst parts that I evened noticed it. Very soon, I was at the East Side Game road. The antipenultimate stretch. I stopped for a few minutes in what seemed like the last bit of pine-shade, to kill a bottle and my fritos. I wanted to keep the granny cranking ability around as long as possible.

The game road was what I expected: tough, especially at the beginning. It’s rough and 4×4 rocky, and hugs every drainage as it contours along the base of the biggest level of the Kaibab upwarp. The first couple were by far the biggest. Bomb down, granny back out, repeat. Only one short bit I found unrideable, but plenty of slow moving.

I did get a bit annoyed that the big climb took so long in coming, but the Pinon-Juniper skeleton forest, flowers, and debris flows from the Warm Fire were entertaining, and I wasn’t feeling bad, just tired and hot. My ass did hurt, and I was if nothing else looking forward to hiking for it’s relief.

I got my wish soon enough. Nice, hard, mindless. Push up, look ahead occasionally to pick the best footing, keep pushing. I hopped back on to ride in a few sections, but for the most part doing anything but walking would’ve been a waste. I was quite calm at this point. The climb wasn’t that long, the nine miles after were mostly downhill, and I was going to finish in less than 14 hours unless something stupid happened.

And nothing did really. The wetter spring, which had provided some amazing green all day, caused even more profligate overgrowth, making an already faint AZT worse. I had to stop once and backtrack to find the damn thing, and managed to loose the trail on the road even earlier than last year. Maybe next year I’ll pre-ride and mark, though the last half of the AZT is consistently downhill such that I don’t think the road is much of a shortcut, if at all. Alas, I just wanted to be done. And soon I was.

My legs hurt. Andy gave me a beer, which was very welcome. Eventually I motivated, got up, changed, and ate some stuff. Felt more like a human, talked, laughed, soaked it in, slept like the dead.

The next day saw a late rise of 0600, a two hour breakfast, hanging out, and a journey down to the North Rim lodge by M, Chad and I. Pints of Hefe, a pizza, and the nice new chairs on the porch, with one of the world’s best views. Heaven.

Later that day we tracked down our friends Phillip and Ariel in St. George. They had spent the day making wedding plans, and we got to help them test out some catering at Famous Dave’s BBQ, which was very welcome for my constantly hungry self. Laughs, memories, happiness. Old friends I hadn’t seen in many months, we felt right at home, like no time had passed at all. Back to their place in Cedar City, for Guinness drinking and a game of Texas Hold ’em.

The next morning Phillip was off to work, counting birds and such for the Forest Service. Ariel and I went to a kickass, ass-kicking yoga class, taught by an anatomy prof from Southern Utah University. A good combination. I’ve let my core work lapse, a lot. Ouchy on the core, but my legs felt wonderful for the rest of the day. Wooooonnnnderful. Best yoga class ever. I went home, woke M up, and we spent the rest of the day until Ariel got off work, hanging out and doing very little. That afternoon the three of us went to the park, killed a pint of Ben and Jerry’s each, and played Bocce. Ahh, recovery.

M and I headed off to Zion to do Mystery Canyon Tuesday. It was hot. M’s fickle stomach, and the heat, were a bad combo. She bailed, and I pushed up to get through one of my favorite canyons without too much imposition on M. Back in the day I’d soloed in, car to car in the Weeping Rock lot, in less than five hours. This was in February, with postholing down the steep hill initially, and drysuit-cold water at the end. This time, I logged 2:10 from the head of the canyon to ropes-pulled in the Narrows, with rusty rope work. I think sub-4 Weeping Rock to Sinawava is very doable.

It was hot, but I’m pretty used to it now, drank tons of water, and had fun. Rapping into the swimmer that is the spring on the penultimate rap was heaven, and I got a round of applause for making it down the last rap from the hungry tourist hordes in the Narrows. I forget occasionally how many damn people come to Zion in the summer.

Fortunately, we’ll be back October 17th for the wedding.

It was too hot to sleep low. We got Pizza n’ Noodle in town, and fled back to the Kaibab to sleep. Up, and back home. My legs hurt, and I was getting cranky as the morning wore on and the heat grew. M took over, and I got a Slurpy, and made it home. Barely.

And tomorrow, it’s time to flee to the high Sierra, and then Zion again, for more than a week.

I’ll be back, eventually. There is a reason I scheduled vacation at this time in the year.