11 months


The skiing this Satuday was almost certain to be terrible.  Temperatures barely below freezing make for wet, sticky, slow snow; and poor visibility removes the other element which might compensate with appeal.  I had promised myself that if Little Bear woke early Saturday we’d go skiing, regardless of all but the most horrid conditions.  I had worked out the logistics of skiing at Logan Pass, namely how to get the two of us and all our gear up to end of the paved path, and wanted to put that to use.  So when it was sprinkling at 0630 when the bear woke up I dressed us both and went downstairs with the intention of driving to the shop to get pastries for breakfast.  Instead I loaded ski gear in the car, went back upstairs, redressed us both, bade M good day, and left.

The skiing was terrible, and even with LB tucked into a synthetic blanket in the largely windproof trailer I didn’t care to be out much more than an hour.  Rime was building up on the windward side of my chest, and in the whiteout we ran out of non-sidehill terrain with reliable landmarks should things really close down and the ping pong ball descend.  In spit of all that, it was absolutely worthwhile, and we had enough time to get coffee in Apgar, go for a crawl on the beach, and smoke a 5 pound pork roast for dinner.

The crucial word is of course we.  Saturdays, when I am not at work but M is, Little Bear and I are we and we are a team whose constraints are impressively modest.  My creativity and willingness are usually the limiting factor, things like singletrack mountain biking and shooting rifles (LB pulls off his earmuffs) aside.  It is now just assumed that whatever I do, he’ll be along for the ride.

For the rest of our long weekends, and on vacations and in daily life, M is also with us and as a family we can do still more.  Again, our energy and perceived limits are generally the limiting factor, though a still stochastic sleep schedule adds to the difficulty.

We’re still mourning our past life a bit, when sleep was abundant and on demand, with leisure hours and as much quiet as we cared to have almost instantly available.  In the past 11 months it is shocking how stupid I’ve become, the mind does not get favors from irregular sleep and an absence of unstructured time.  I’ve forgotten things I knew, failed to learn things I ought to’ve, and on numerous occasions not heard obvious things told directly to me.  But it’s been worth it; the added value I’ve been forced to see in all the little stuff, the greater value I place in each hour, and the greater satisfaction in managing basic things well are unequalable.

All the worst cliches about parenting are true, as are all the best, and neither one cancels out the other.


2016 Bob Open video and lessons

Executive summary:
I did more miles faster and had more fun than any previous year, even though my 2015 route is still tops when it comes to scenery. I hope the exuberance is captured in the video.

As you’d hope on my sixth consecutive year, I had the equipment pretty well nailed. The weather, far milder than anyone had a reason to expect, didn’t push clothing too much, but 40 hours moving out of 56 will show a great deal quickly, no matter how kind the conditions. The only things which fell a bit flat were my last minute move to BD modernist rock jeans (my Patagonia pants had problematic holes I only noticed at the last minute), whose waist closure doesn’t cinch quite tight enough now that I’ve lost weight compared to last year; as well as my food. After a demanding first day I ate a ton to recharge, and found myself tolerably short on day three. Derek gave me a few bars, which restored a comfortable margin. I also would have preferred a bit more salt and a bit less carbs, due to the warmer weather.

Highlights were the Sitka Core LW hoody and BD Alpine Start combo, which I wore exclusively about 95% of my moving time. Together they achieve a broader range of quick-adjust comfort than anything else I’ve tried. My foot system (Hydroskins, Smartwool UL knee high ski socks, Montbell spats, LaSportiva Bushidos w/o insoles) was also bulletproof; I had no foot issues of any kind save general fatigue, and used no tape or lube, ever.

The Seek Outside Divide and Osprey Grab Bag combo was also immaculate, with just enough features for daily efficiency, and effortless carry of a relatively heavy load. As I’ve told the designers at Seek Outside, the bottle pockets only need to be made a bit taller and wider (to easily hold a 1 liter nalgene when the pack is stuffed) for perfection to be at hand.

In spite of the weight the MSR Windboiler was essential. A few hot meals refuel me better than cold food, and hot coffee is good for moral. I also slept with a hot water bottle both nights; on the first night this was the only reason I slept much at all, as my depleted body was having a tough time producing enough heat to warm up my sleeping bag. If anything I’d pack a third Mountain House and even more coffee, the midday breaks absolutely added to overall speed and efficiency.

Of the several navigational and tactical errors I made the only one I can’t forgive was putting in early on Danaher Creek. Just below the meadows the water looks so inviting, but all the reports about it devolving into a spruce-choaked portage fest I now know to be quite accurate. I burned at least an hour over just walking down close to Basin Creek, as I did five years ago. I was frustrated by the slow pace my wobbly legs had set over the pockmarked trail in the upper meadows, and acted out of immediate need, rather than judgment. My second regret is less coherent, and that is not being able to better recover after that first day. Calf sleeves overnight and better nutrition the first day probably would have helped keep my pace from dropping as much as it did. I fueled and hydrated aggressively once I was out floating the South Fork, which allowed me to keep a good pace up Little Salmon that evening.

Overall I’m incredibly pleased at how enjoyable and low-drama the whole affair proved to be. I had good moments of frustration, notably during the Danaher detour, as well as when lower Lion Creek proved so damn long, but finishing was never in doubt and the only source of stress was the prospect of not making it before the time I had arranged for M to be there. It was just fun to be out in the woods, moving all day, discovering new terrain and revisiting old, seeing a bunch of critters, and solving problems as they came. I’ve talked about moving the Open earlier to produce more challenge, but it was very clear this weekend that the things works very well as is. I all but made up my mind concerning 2017 while I was walking through Danaher Sunday morning, and the event will stay on Memorial Day, waiting for newbs and veterans to show up and discover that wonder for themselves.

Until next year.

The float to hike transition

Transitions are an easy way to loose time while packrafting.  Having a predictable system whose way of doing things is as similar as possible from trip type to trip type not only makes you faster, but makes it less likely you’ll pack your rain gear at the bottom of the main packbag, or leave something important at the takeout.

I always put my boat at the bottom of my pack.  I try to avoid strapping anything outside ever, and when I do I like to strap light and durable things, like a foam sleeping mat or PFD.  Having the boat in the bottom makes sense, as anytime I’m getting my boat out the whole pack will be exploded and rearranged anyway.  A cargo fly makes them obsolete in many circumstances, but 7 foot long, 1 inch polypro webbing straps have become my preferred lash strap.  Polypro is lighter and absorbs less water than nylon, and 7 feet works well for big packs and complex bike parts alike.  3/4 inch straps have less surface area which means less frictional hold, and 1/2 inch fastex buckles can be broken fairly easily in this application.

I still use the Dial technique for folding my raft, though it has evolved and gotten more exact with the new, long-tail boat.  Practice will tell you how long to make the initial folds; longer folds will result in a slimmer, taller package, and ideally the raft will be not quite as fat as your pack is deep.  The new boats have more material and pack bigger, especially with a cargo zipper and thigh straps.  It’s crucial to make the folds such that the mouth valve isn’t on a fold line, and to start the final roll/folds on the non-main valve side, so that all air can escape.

When it isn’t raining out, and especially during a multiday trip, I schedule a snack and map break before packing the boat, so it can air dry as much as possible.  A little sun can save a lot of weight.  Similarly, dry out your spray skirt and PFD, and pour the water out of your paddle shafts before packing.  Do everything in the same order when you get out of the water, and pack stuff as close to the same way as circumstance allows.  Soon enough your float to hike transition time will be well under 10 minutes.

Lastly, take Alpacka’s directions about keeping the cargo fly zipper clean seriously.  Early in my rafting career I several times mistook silt hissing against the boat for a pinhole leak, and have had several others report the same.  Yesterday my boat actually did have a pinhole leak, one I could hear distinctly during quieter sections, and it was coming from the head of the cargo zipper.  A bit of grit, which I’ve since cleaned out, was I’m sure causing it, but that only partially calms my misgivings about the design.  Yes it is very convenient, but failures have already been reported, and I wouldn’t relish the prospect of taping and gluing the thing closed under duress.

Banff 2014: Turning the Corner

It’s been plain for a while now that the Banff Film festival is in a perilous position. The relative accessibility of video equipment has made outdoor films more common than ever before, thus in theory increasing both the breadth and depth of the pool from which an official fest like Banff has to draw. At the same time, the echo chamber of the internet has encouraged adventure films which do not have outdoor adventure as their subject, rather they are videos about the other videos that came before. They’re like the barn in Delillo’s White Noise, with hucking and a soundstrack. As things such as slomo, time lapse, POV, and saturation-to-11 have become the norm, the technical edge of both the video production and the action which it captures have at once become ever better and ever less relevant. When you see anything too many times, done over and over and always scrubbed so thoroughly, it becomes too perfect and shortly thereafter drifts into the realm of abstraction. Outdoor films should be deeply relevant because they are deeply personal, tied to experiences we’ve each had. The profusion of online adventure videos has instead done the opposite.

After a seeming period of stagnation, both in film fests and outdoor films generally, Banff appears to be fighting back. Using a night of the world tour, where only a selection of Banff festival films are shown, is inherently problematic in terms of making useful generalizations, but is I think not entirely misleading.

Many Banff filmakers are repeat offenders, making the development of the genre as a whole easier to trace. Sherpas Cinema is a good example. Several years ago we saw Chimaera, an admittedly abstract short ski film which was so concerned with it’s own details it ended up being about nothing, at all. This year we had a chapter from the Sculpted in Time film, which put the technical proficiency, patience, and eye for detail which featured in Chimaera to good use, resulting in a spare, rich, sensitive short. It is the best ski film I recall. If Valhalla had taken skiing so seriously it could have made for an astouding film.

Cedar Wright has also become a Banff regular, and though his Sufferfest 2: Desert Alpine is both a remake of Sufferfest 1 and a lamer version of tours Doom already did, it’s still a damn good movie. For simple reasons; it avoids goofy camera tricks because the action is already good enough, and lets the personalities of Wright and Alex Honnold, who are more than entertaining enough, shine through. It’s profound because it isn’t trying to be, a lesson all outdoor filmakers would do well to repeat early and often.

If this is what Banff is becoming, I look forward to next year’s world tour.

The long summer hike

It’s a good problem to have, but summer around here is getting long in the tooth. 6 weeks of good weather and 16+ hours of daylight each day must be filled, and inevitably energy runs low before either days or possibilities, no matter how insistent the looming winter is that all useable moments must be put to good use. Fitting work and life maintenance into that schedule makes summer quite hectic.

Thus, I’m excited to head out into the Bob for a little over a week, and to do so with only a modest and vague plan. I batted around all sorts of options for this week: the Teton Wilderness, northern Alberta, one of several high traverses in Glacier, but I kept coming back to the Bob, and a few days ago committed fully.

Six years ago I entered the Bob for the first time, via the trail I’ll be hiking tonight and tomorrow. It’s been the major catalyst for my learning about real wilderness travel, and as the years have gone by I’ve only wanted to spend more time there. This next week, I’m giving myself that wish, with permission to wander, and no need to end up anywhere at any particular time (save next Sunday when M will pick me up along highway 2). Should be fun.

Seek Outside Big Sibling stove review

I am not going to discuss the theory and applicability of a backpackable wood stove here. For that, go elsewhere. If you are interested in the lightest and most compact such stove currently available, read on.


The Big Sibling is the lightest wood stove on the market because it dispenses with a lot of what makes a stove a stove, namely a floor and cooking surface. Instead, it’s a titanium cone capped by a damper, fed via a door (also made of thin ti sheet), and anchored to the ground by three ti tent stakes. The cone is 12.5 inches tall at the base of the damper, and has a 10 inch diameter at ground level. The body and door weigh 3.5 ounces, the damper 1.5, and the three stakes a further ounce, bringing the total to an even 6 before adding an appropriate length pipe.

The whole arrangement, including a 5 foot pipe, rolls into a cylinder 3 inches wide and 15 inches long.


The cone fits together via folds in the metal on each side, and a wire attached to the door laces through five holes to hold the whole thing together.  A wire loop on the bottom of the door allows it to be raised for feeding.


Putting the stove together is not complex, but is precise and a bit finicky at first.  As befits an extremely light piece of gear (by which I mostly mean one abstracted beyond that which is conventional, to its essentials), there is a something of a learning curve before you come to the point of optimal efficiency.


The damper has a wire mesh screen in the bottom, to act as a spark arrestor.  The damper flap is welded on to a ti stake.  Getting the flap assembly into the body of the damper requires a bit of trickery; thread the curved end of the stake through the hole on the side, slide all the way to the flap, then squeeze the damper body to flex it enough and allow the far end of the stake to get through.  Easy and obvious once you’ve done it once.

Drafting is allowed because the door is a bit shorter than the body of the stove, leaving a ~1cm gap.  As can be seen and heard in the video below, this arrangement is extremely effective.  Once a modest bed of coals has been built up, the Big Sibling will burn fast and very hot with the damper wide open.  Damper control is very effective, and burn rate can be controlled widely and fast.


The most acute limit of the Big Sibling is the size of wood it can be fed. 2 inch by 6-7 inch pieces are ideal, and to facilitate this a small saw or hatchet is almost mandatory for good performance. Even stuffed full of big, dense pieces of fuel of damped low, the Big Sibling will burn through its cargo fairly quickly. It is not a stove for heating your shelter all night while you sleep, it is a stove for cranking heat to drive off the cold and dry gear while you eat dinner, hang out, and get ready for bed. It can drastically warm a pyramid shelter, but will not allow for a lighter sleeping bag than you would otherwise take.

The floorless nature of the stove naturally makes use on snow problematic. No doubt a metal foil floor atop green sticks could be arranged, something I’ve yet to experiment with.

The only other limitation might be the relative fragility of the titanium stove body. The metal is thin and prone to bending if not handled prudently. I’ve no concerns about longevity, but it should still be handled with care.

Overall, I could not be more pleased with this stove. The weight and space penalty are perfectly acceptable for all but the most light and fast trips, and after a modest bit of learning the functionality is impressive. Outside summer, and the most weight-sensitive trips, it should get a lot of use.

2013 Trip Report Contest Voting

“If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”
-Emma Goldman

What you are voting on:

Kristen Gates’ ~1000 mile solo east to west traverse of the Brooks Range in Alaska. A thru-hiker graduating to something bigger in spectacular fashion. An exceptionally well written account.

Dan Durston’s packraft and hiking trip on the north shore of Lake Superior. Even in the internet age, there are still lots of blank spots on the map.

Steve Fassbinder’s bike and packraft loop around what would be the most remote place in the lower 48, if it weren’t for that accursed reservoir. Be sure to read all of the many installments.

Brendan Swihart, hiking and floating right nearby, during the wrong time of year. Exploring the bowels of the last named river in the lower 48.

Luc Mehl’s urban/wild, self-supported, dirtbag route from Mexico City to the sea, over a big volcano. Bold and creative.

A reminder, voting closes in a little over 48 hours.