Perhaps this weekend?

Trip planning is an equisite art. The mechanical side has, and continues to be, revolutionized by technology. Six years ago M and I lived in Moab, and quickly stockpiled USGS quads because they were the only source for detailed topographic information about most of Utahs backcountry canyons.

That is no longer the case.

Travis from BPL turned me on to Wikimapia less than an hour ago, more than enough time for to appreciate the finely presented satellite images and the clean, intuitive features.  The level of detail on Google Terrain will still have the prudent reaching for paper (or another resource) in some situations, though many of those situations (I’m thinking SoUt slots) also push up against the boundaries of what paper can hope to articulate, 20 ft counter intervals or not.

And that is in the end why maps and trip planning are both such fun, because eventually you’ll stumble across an idea which, once opened up on a map, promises to show so much more once you’re actually out in its folds.  I’ve been looking at the big paper map of Glacier on our wall for weeks, trying to sort out an idea as good as the last one (that being the Two Medicine-Lake McDonald trip).  I finally found one.


In summer this would be an interesting route with major flaws, chiefly the amount of road walking and the near mile long packraft crossing of a lake full of powerboats.  But now, with the Hungry Horse reservoir roads gated, Jewel Basin’s trails covered in snow, and ice lapping at the shores, things change quite a bit.  I am concerned about avalanche terrain on this route, especially going over the first pass.  I may well put this project off for at least a weekend, to get out a bit more and gain more data points about the snowpack.  On the other hand, temps are moderate this weekend, and wind looks to be low.  And adventure calls.


More interesting off-season trips:

A ski-canyoneering adventure in Cedar Breaks.  How many raps in Ashdown, Phillip?

Perhaps the ultimate shuttle trip: the complete Deep Creek and the Narrows trip.  In winter, of course.  Skis, drysuit, crampons, 3 days.  No rope work on this one, but best bring a bit anyway.  Winter does odd things to canyons.  How could you go wrong?


LaSportiva Crossleather review

ExecSum: The shoe marries aggressive, sticky tread with a flexible, low profile midsole and a very durable leather upper, creating a combination unique amongst current trail running and hiking shoes. It does so by increasing the weight relative to mesh shoes, by decreasing the draining speed, and by substantially increasing the drying time.

Review: Back in August I purchased a pair of LaSportiva Crosslites. They’d been on my radar a while, and after I had decided that the Fireblade tread was too shallow and the MT100 upper too fragile, it seemed like a good choice. It was, and for the first 50 miles of hiking (plus another 60 sitting in a packraft) they seemed perfect. Until this rip appeared.

A comparable but smaller tear had appeared on the other shoe, and in my frustration I returned them to REI (who were very nice as always) and exchanged them for some Crossleathers. The Crosslites and Crossleathers are identical save two things: the toe cap is a different color, and the sides of the later are a thin leather rather than the mesh and synthetic reinforcements of the former. I wear a 45 in both, and the fit is wonderful for me. I can wear a single pair of thin socks without my feet slipping, or a thick combo of wool and vapor barrier socks without restricting blood flow. I have wideish but very low volume feet. If your feet are clubish and/or very wide, the Crossleathers (and Sportiva shoes in general) probably aren’t a good choice.

I made three modifications to the shoes before wearing them outside. I cut the silly lower lace guard off with scissors (dead easy), as it interfered with using gaiters. I glued a 2″ square patch of velcro to the back of the heel for Dirty Girl adhesion, which I do to all my hiking shoes. I also treated the leather with two thick coatings of beeswax, warming the leather before and after each coat by placing them on the open oven door (with the oven on 200 or so). I was concerned that the many, many wet-dry cycles to which my shoes are subjected would cause the leather to dry and crack.

This has turned out to not be a problem. Weather the leather treatment was essential I cannot say, but I’d certainly recommend it.  Doing it with pristine leather is much more effective.  As you can see from the above picture, the shoes have held up very well.  They don’t have a massive amount of miles from the last three months, but many of those miles have been bushwacking, snow slogging, stream wading, and talus running and scrambling.  The leather is scuffed in the usual spots, but there are no significant gouges, and (with the possible exception of the old synthetic leather Vitesse) no other trail shoes I’ve owned would have done so well with such difficult terrain.

The downside is in weight, draining, and drying time.  If my memory is correct (our scale is still in a box from moving), the Crossleathers are 14 oz a shoe as they sit modified by me, in size 45.  That’s 1.5 oz heavier (per shoe) than the Crosslites, and fairly porky compared to the modern crop of light trail runners.  My Mt100s were 8.2 oz a shoe in the same size.  However, given the expense of shoes, and how well this last fits me, I’m willing to take the weight penalty.

The draining issue is a more multifaceted one.  On the one hand, a slow draining shoe holds heavy water longer, and lets your foot dry much slower.  On the other hand, a slow draining shoe creates something of a wetsuit effect, and is all things equal warmer than a fast draining shoe.  I’d rather have a fast draining shoe, but every truly fast drainer I’ve owned has suffered from either a fragile upper and/or an upper which let in tons of dirt, dust, and sand.  The Sportiva Exum River sorta avoided that trap, but had other issues which led to its exit from the market.  Point being, this is a problem which could be solved my existing technology if designers took it seriously.   For the moment, slightly wetter feet aren’t a big deal, and in light of the Crossleathers strengths I don’t care so much.

Dry time on the Crossleather is quite bad.  The Crosslite dried very quickly, almost as quickly as the MT100 (the fastest drying shoe I’ve very owned, bar none).  I’d expect the Crossleather, if it and the Crosslite were soaked and let sit in a breezy, warm, shady spot, to take between 3 and 4 times as long to dry out completely.  Less if a catalyst like body heat were introduced.  This is a pain because it makes an already heavy shoe heavier in real world use.  Theoretically it will freeze up a lot more solidly when you overnight with a wet shoe, though bizarrely I’ve managed to avoid that thus far (the night on St. Mary lake last month was preternaturally warm given the wind and season).  I mind this the most of all the downsides, but am prepared to live with it for all the aforementioned reasons.

The heart and soul of the Crossleather/lite is the sole, and for Montana hiking (or anywhere that mud and loose gravel and scree are the norm) I cannot fathom a better tread pattern and rubber compound.  It’s the trail running equivalent of a Continental Mountain King tire, big sticky lugs, widely spaced to both grip in the loose and shed mud quickly, that are somehow arranged such that they don’t feel draggy and slow.  When descending a steep, slick trail this sole is worth quite a lot of quad energy saved.  I say again: insofar as my vision reaches today, this sole is perfect.

The rubber has worn quite fast, especially the softer gray compound.  I don’t see this as a bit deal, as given the current rate of wear the midsole will be shot around the time the tread is gone.  Rubber compound is a compromise between hard wearing and traction, and I think LaSportiva hit the balance well here.

One downside of this sole design is that on bare rock, friction is much diminished due to the relatively small percentage of the sole in actual contact with the rock.  This isn’t the shoe for 4th class slickrock scrambling in Zion, and there have been times I’ve noticed this shortcoming when scouting or portaging the packraft.  Such terrain is a small percentage of miles traveled, and thus for me not a big deal.

Fit is at once the most important thing about a shoe, and the one which is impossible to review.  I find the fit ideal for my peculiar feet.  As I wrote a few days ago, my transition to more minimal shoes has wrought a substantial change in my feet, such that now, I find even the minimal arch support of the stock midsoles to be obnoxious and excessive.   I’m planning on replacing them with yoga mat insoles this evening, with perhaps less than full coverage on the inside of the instep.

On the whole this shoe has been tough, the fit excellent, and the sole design extraordinary.  Most significant of all, this shoe has been very comfortable.  Part of that is the synergy of all of the above, especially the good fit which lets me lace them looser than I’m typically able, thus allowing more room for swelling.  I also theorize that the soft rubber lugs being against the ground, with a reasonably good rock plate above, causes a lot of the impact of walking to be dissipated and absorbed across the whole foot.  Typically the balls of my feet get sore before anything else, and I think the combination of extraordinary traction and good impact management has helped abrogate this significantly.

In the sysiphian quest for the ideal shoe, this is one worth considering.

The Ultimate Trip and Gearlist(s)

It’s 2F outside as I sit here in the comfy chair, sipping coffee from the 28 oz Yellowstone NP trout mug. Our neighbor two house down just, as he does whenever snow gives him the chance, cruised by in the process of snowblowing the entire sidewalk on this side of the street. He greated/accosted me as I was leaving Sunday morning, bundled up, pack on, snowshoes in one hand, inflated packraft in the other. Just like when we lived in Moab and the neighbors could never figure out why in a desert you’d constantly have wetsuits drying on the front porch railing: we’re a bit odd. Anyway, our neighbors a Bobcat fan (Montana State, Bozeman), while as I’m a alumnus I’m presumed to be a Griz fan. The Griz lost the annual “brawl of the wild” Sunday due to some apparantly humiliating fumbles. If I were in charge, I’d do away with the football team, their scholarships and gratis private tutors, and put that money towards bringing the undergrad graduation rate up (only about half manage it within 5 years of matriculating).

We Americans must look odd, sometimes.

On that note of international adventural cooperation, I’m taking Hendrik’s Goof-off Tuseday challenge. I’m not yet at work, and as the minutes pass it’s looking less and less likely that drifting snow last night will have closed the office. Upstairs in the case management bullpen we were all a bit squirrely and goofy, enlivened by the extreme weather and distracted by the short week.  Bit irrespective of the weather I’ll have to make my way up to Columbia Falls for some home visits late this afternoon, and into the office tomorrow to finish some reports before we drive down to Missoula to fly to Des Moines, via Denver.

Visiting Des Moines isn’t my idea of an Ultimate Trip.  In fact, deciding on just one seems like a more substantive act of intellectual parsimony than I care to undertake this morning, so I’ll list and discuss a few different trips, in order from the most esoteric and theoretical (in implementation) to the least.

1) Lhasa-Dharmsala Trek

A reenactment of the Dalai Lamas trek walk into exile, and a way to see some amazing high desert and mountains at the same time.  Requires suspension of geopolitical disbelief.  Start in Lhasa (in making this up from looking at Google sat) walk a bit north then west.  Avoid roads, visit villages, check out those lakes and isolated sub-ranges.   Got to be some packrafting.  Reup and repsyche in Ngari before crossing the Himalaya and ending in Dharmsala, which my sister tells me is a lovely place to relax and spend some time.

I imagine you’d want to do this in high summer, and even so that it’d be rather cold and dry.  So a good down sleeping bag, or perhaps a down and Pertex quilt from Nuntak would be in order.  A hooded Shaka as well, for the cold nights.  Fleece gear, neo socks, and paddling pants for the cold waters of the Himalaya.  Maybe I’ll make that version of the MLD Thing I’ve been thinking about, and bring it along.  My Yukon Yak of course, and a new all-carbon, 200 cm, four piece Werner Sho-gun paddle.  I’d bring my Trailstar, my North Fork pack, Sportiva Crossleathers, and other odds and ends.

That’d be cool.

2) The Arctic 1000 route, with packrafting and a food drop

This is where I start with trips that I hope to do fairly soon.  The arctic sounds fantastic, new, and the Arctic 1000 route sound the same, so long as I get to packraft and not carry 40 lbs of food at the start.  In June, before the bugs and after the snow, of course.  With whatever deviations Roman recommends to maximize stellar walking and fun boating.

I’ll bring the Yak, homemade PFD, Werner paddle (Forrest’s was sooo sweet), North Fork pack, Trailstar, paddling pants, and fleece gear.  My standard kit with a few blingy refinements, really.

3) Spring Bob Marshall traverse

This is a trip I plan to do over a three day weekend in May, as wilderness classic training. It will require the right combo of water coming up, but snow still hanging around.

Start in Benchmark, float and then trek up and over White River pass, float the White River and then the South Fork almost to the reservoir.  Trek over into Long Creek, down to the Middle Fork, float down to West Glacier and have a burger while waiting to be picked up.

The gear list for this one will be fast and light, and what I actually expect to take.

Yukon Yak, Aquabound Shred paddle, inflateable PFD, helmet.  All-pack, ridgerest pad, emergency bivy sack.  Paddling pants, NRS Expedition socks, homemade Epic/Pertex anorak, pile pants, pile jacket (I want a Patagonia Los Lobos).  Snowpeak 600 mug, food.  I’ll sleep Mehl-style, around the fire, and be moving 20+ hours a day.  I’ll also need my fast shoes and adjustable poles for snow travel, and perhaps some Hillsound Trail crampons as well.

Other dream trips that will happen this year include a winter descent of The Narrows in Zion, and years of creek to raft in Glacier and the Bob.

Thanks Hendrik, it’s going to be good.

Early Winter

Harrison Lake.

In the previous two years autumn has lasted almost until the solstice, with snow and single digit (F) temps waiting until mid-December.  This year, everything seems to be a month ahead.  I approve.

It is a few weeks process getting acclimated to winter.  The psychological and physiological aspects of cold adaptation cannot be rushed, nor can the great variety, numbers, and importance of gear.  (I forgot my Houdini today, fortunately it was almost dead still.)  Most importantly moving through snow, and the added foot-weight of snowshoes or skis, is strenuous in ways that cannot be effectively mimicked by dry land training.

Prepping to cross the Middle Fork of the Flathead at the start of today’s outing.

Winter is also a fountain of possibility.  Early snow like we have now tends to be shallow, dry, and in most every way a hindrance to wilderness travel.  In a month or two brush and blowdowns will be covered by compacted feet, and snow will become an expediant.

Today was forecasted to be cold, and I made modest plans to account for my lack of winter acclimation on all counts.  I thought about a loop, but knew that I would most likely do a shorter out and back, which I did.  Bring snowshoes and the packraft, ferry across the Middle Fork, snowshoe up to Harrison Lake, reverse, ferry back to the car.  The seeing the freezing river ended up being so interesting that I packed the raft and paddle with me, and when I returned to the Middle Fork drainage headed upstream to give myself a mile or so of floating before I had to take out.

Packraft-carved passage in the ice.  This had totally refrozen when I floated by on the way home 6 hours later

I had on Sealskinz socks (as a vapor barrier), but it still seems like a really bad idea to get my feet wet.  Avoiding this at the put in was easy; place the boat on the 4-8′ of supportive ice along the shore, get in, seal the deck, slide right in.  This same ice layer, specifically the 4-6 additional feet of ice that wouldn’t support my weight, made getting out with dry feet quite a bit trickier.  I probed the shore a bit, then settled on ice-breakering my way into the small alcove pictures above.  This process proceedes as follows: gather momentum with a few quick strokes, and just before contact with the ice lean back.  Your unweighted bow and feet will slide over the ice, and aggressive forward weighting and bouncing breakes the ice into chunks.  Shuttle the pieces behind you with the paddle, and repeat.  Slow, but effective.  My take out used a similar technique, and when I reached the weight-supporting ice braced one blade in the mud behind me and pushed myself up and totally onto the ice.  What would have been two mundane river crossings turned into fascinating puzzles with temps near zero (F).

Ice build-up after the first crossing; perhaps 5 minutes of paddling.  After the final take out all three joints were frozen shut, I had to carry the whole assembled paddle back to the truck.

After the first crossing had been made, I was able to strap on my snowshoes and enjoy some aimless wanderings in the silent forest.  Snow is a prodigious sound dampener, and though I saw some very fresh deer, moose, and wolf tracks, heard nothing other than flowing water and three differents species of bird.  (Canada Goose, Killdeer, Dipper.)

You’ll see tress with ~12″ pieces of diagonal barbed wire tacked to them all over the park.  They’re designed to do the above, catch fur from passing Griz.  The DNA is then analyzed and conclusions extrapolated.

This wreck of a building looked a bit big to be an abandoned patrol cabin.

This tractor doesn’t seem like an NPS sorta thing, either.  I wonder how big that cedar was when the tractor was, finally, parked?  All this was in the midst of a good stand of forest, which doesn’t help explain it’s existence.

All in all, it was a splendid day out wandering around, getting used to winter.  May it be long.


Packrafting defined

St. Mary Lake from 500′ up.  50 mph winds and oceanic swells.

I was introduced to boating and skiing early in life, in the normal ways: canoeing, whitewater rafting, downhill skiing in area, XC skiing on track skis.  All were fun for short periods, but none resonated especially well.  Until the last few years, that is.  Backcountry skiing revealed skis as an enhancement for exploration, rather than a hindrance.  Like a mountain bike.  Two years ago it was love at third or fourth sight.

Boating has taken quite a bit longer.  In the hierarchy of outdoor pursuits the human-powered descending of rivers exists in the upper echelons with respect to the literature it has produced.  Twain, Powell, Ellsworth Kolb, Katie Lee, Abbey, Dimock; all give ample evidence that floating a watercourse seems to be an especially good way of experiencing the landscape.  It has also always struck me as indecently decadent, ponderous, and constrained, objections rooted in aesthetics as much as financial and logistical concerns.  I’ve never liked having more equipment than strictly necessary, and shuttles are at best necessary evils.  And while the kinesthetic and technical aspects of skiing and especially mountain biking are seductive, I increasing enjoy such things primarily as a means to the end of seeing large slices of the world.

A good pair of shoes is the most essential piece of equipment.

At first packrafting was the obvious, water-based equivalent of skis and bikes: portable technology to enhance foot-based travel.  Packrafts are such things, but they’re much more.

I’ve been continually frustrated by my inability, since July, to adequately capture the fantastically intimate details one sees from a packraft.  Being low and in the river, the clear water of the Rockies, and the ability to float small streams and thus follow drainages in a very definitive fashion.  Ryan Jordan has written some resonant words, and put a item on my to-do list, about following lakes chains in the Beartooths.  And he is absolutely right, floating down a drainage and seeing the landscape shaped and reshaped on its own terms, rather than a human trail builders, is a singular aesthetic and metaphysical experience.  In the modern world, with so few real wilderness floats, packrafting goes back through Powell to Lewis, Clark, and the anonymous voyageurs in that it unites efficient wilderness travel and contemplative, experiential profundity.

The upper St. Mary River, near my put in on Saturday.

All that is why I drove for far too long yesterday to hike up to and descend the St. Mary river, from up near the cascade down from Gunsight Lake down to the lake itself.  I wrote some concrete beta on the packrafting forum, which fails utterly to communicate the experience.  That me-to-others lacuna is in turn exacerbated by the fact that my camera stayed tucked in my drybag for the duration.  It was cold, snow was flying, I was wearing neoprene gloves under Gore-tex mittens, and by the time I paddled along the lake for a stretch and took out at the beach I was darn cold and my mostly-empty All-Pack was encrusted in a 1/8″ thick carapace of verglass.  I want a waterproof HD helmet cam.

This is what they do to bridges in Glacier for the winter.  Stream crossings do a lot to give a place back to the wild.

All of which is to say that packrafting is a paradigm changing activity.  Yesterday is a perfect example; the intensity of 5-6 hours in the forest and on the water matches much longer trips on trail only.  Add the wonder of emphatic weather and an empty park (the ranger was closing the road behind me as I left), and you have a single-day out that cannot easily be improved.

So yes, you ought to get a packraft. They’re almost as cool as 4×4 trucks.


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.