Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The West is the Best - Shipwreck Coast III

… We rolled out of our tents on day three and were greeted by another cloudy day. I knew it had been raining off and on because I was occasionally woken by the pattering of rain drops against my tent in the night. For now it was dry, and after the tide receded some, we were off.

Like the day before I was worried about Stevie. What was left of his plastic red parka he had wrapped around his head and wore like a turban. I found my gaze constantly drawn toward the sea as I scanned the horizon for a clue to the incoming weather. I could see so far west that I spotted all the rain clouds before they reached us. Rain clouds over the ocean are quite a bit different then ones you see in town. They are so dark and ominous, and with nothing blocking your vision of the all encompassing sky they almost seem like massive black bombers soaring high above the sea searching for landfall so they could dump their deadly payloads. We could see them coming from miles out, and when we could, we sheltered under giant deadfalls or behind huge boulders to escape the rain.

This day would be opposite of the one before. It didn’t rain nearly as much, and most of the route we had beautiful sand beaches to walk on. It was like a walk-in-the-park compared to what we had already gone through. I had my camera out the whole way and was taking pictures like crazy. I took over 600 in all.

We found some Halloween vampire fangs just sitting on the beach. “How the hell could these have got here?” I wondered. Think about it for a second. We were basically in the middle of nowhere. The closest town or road was 10 miles or more as the crow flies. It is highly unlikely that someone brought them backpacking and dropped them. The only possible explanation is that they washed up on the beach, but from where? Somewhere south on the Pacific coast perhaps? One of the Pacific islands maybe? I guess it’s possible that someone went swimming shitfaced on Halloween dressed as a vampire and lost their fake teeth, which floated across the Pacific and wound up on the Olympic coast, which happens to be where the most famous vampire movie ever made is based. Either that or someone lost them from a boat, but then you have to ask yourself, “Why would someone be wearing fake vampire teeth on a boat?”

I was really looking forward to a place called "Wedding Rocks" where I knew some centuries old petroglyph's existed. I had heard they were hard to find, but I didn't realize how hard. I searched for about 15 minutes and found a couple drawings etched into some rocks, one of which looked like it might be fake. I guess I'll need an expert to inspect my photos and tell me.

We ended the days trek at a place called Cape Alava, the western most point in the contiguous United States. It was beautiful, and crawling with the other backpackers, enough to play a game of beach baseball. I have never seen so many backpackers in one place before. Usually when we go backpacking we see maybe one or two other small groups, but on this beach there were twenty or thirty people.
As the sun crept closer to the western horizon the scene from our camp became picturesque. So I yanked out my camera and fired away. I got by-far the best shots I’ve ever taken. When I got home and uploaded them to my laptop I was in shock that I actually took them.

After the sun went down and we sat around the fire eating freeze-dried dinners and reminiscing about the adventures of the last couple days, I spotted movement in the trees near our camp. I flicked on my head-lamp and after scanning the woods for a minute saw a huge raccoon sitting anxiously on a tree branch totally scoping our camp and watching us eat. These little pirates are what the park service is so worried about, and why all backpackers are forced to carry large, obtrusive bear canisters, so I was a bit worried that he was going to slip into camp and ransack are stuff in the night. I was hopeful though that since we ran a tight ship in camp the raccoons would bother some of the other backpackers on the beach, who, no doubt, had much worse camp discipline then we. Either way, when morning came our camp was untouched.

The last 3.5 miles to the Ozette Lake Ranger Station was actually overland and through woods. I was grateful to be hiking through more familiar territory with trees and shrubs and streams and everything green. The woods on the coast are thick and wet, so thick in fact that the park service had actually built a boardwalk the entire 3 or so miles from Ozette Lake to Cape Alava. We marveled at the time it must have taken, and the sheer difficulty of the job.

As we walked out through the lush coastal rainforest it felt so different from the past few days; it was quiet, calm, and peaceful, and it gave me time to reflect on how lucky I was. As we pulled out of the parking lot, my thoughts were on Memorial Day weekend and Upper Priest Lake.

PS – It’s funny how writing works for me. The first two chapters of this story were virtually written in my mind before I even touched the keyboard. This last part however, was so hard I had to force my way through, and the result I feel is a lesser quality of writing.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Gear Review: The North Face Orion 20

I was looking for a sleeping bag comparable to the weight and compressibility of down, but with the ability to retain insulation when wet. Living in the Pacific Northwest (or NorthWet as some call it) I was worried about buying an expensive down bag and getting it wet, so I felt like synthetic would be a better choice for a climate known for rain. I found this sleeping bag on Backpacker.com, which was the bag of choice in their March 2008 Perfect System: Northwest, and I purchased it from REI soon after.

Sleeping Bag
In action at Cabin Lake, MT
The North Face Orion is a 20 degree mummy bag with Climashield Neo insulation. I had never heard of Climashield before I found this bag and it's actually some really impressive stuff, at least according to Climashield and the U.S. military. I learned that Climashield, like Primaloft, was developed for the military for an alternative to down, which wasn't preforming well in the field. In fact Climashield is still the insulation of choice for the U.S military according to this article here. Now I can't confirm any claims about it being the "most compressible, warmest, softest, most durable, water resistant and hypoallergenic insulation", but I can say that it works pretty darn well.

This bag has it all. It's light and packs down really small. As a matter of fact it compresses smaller then my hiking partners Big Agnes Lost Ranger 15 down bag. It actually leaves enough space in my backpack's sleeping-bag compartment, that I can put other items in with it. At 2 pounds 5 ounces it's not the lightest sleeping bag on the market. There are plenty of lighter 20 degree down bags, but some of them are outrageously expensive compared to $179.0 of the Orion.

The bag is very warm. I would say it's close to the EN rating of 23 degrees. Lately my girlfriend has been using it, and she sleeps warm in it as well. But I have to admit that I have had several chilly nights in this bag. It is rated at 20 degrees, and I have used it down to that temperature, but I was chilly. Not cold mind you, just chilly. Now when I know the temps will be particularly cold, I bring a Sea to Summit silk sleeping bag liner.

The bag is a pretty snug fit for my wide frame, but I've gotten used to it over the years and sleep pretty comfortably. The zipper sometimes snags. Mostly at night when I'm fiddling with it in the dark half-asleep. As long as I'm being careful, I usually don't have a problem.

For the price, this bag is perfect. It's light and compacts very small, and will keep you warm during the vast majority of your 3-season nights. The best part about it is that if you always hike in the rain, like I do, you can rest assured that the insulating qualities wont be ruined if it gets wet.

Sleeping bag
Airing out in the morning.

Gear Review: Asolo Fugitive GTX

Iv'e spent a crazy amount of money on backpacking gear, and after 6 months of regular use I have to say that these boots have been one of my best investments so far. I tried on several pairs of various brands in the store and these Asolo Fugitives were by far the most comfortable.

Since then I have used the boots on a weekly, sometimes daily basis and I love them. They fit great and are comfortable on my feet, especially after I discovered the perfect "sock system" to wear with them, which is simply mid-weight Lorpin merinos with Smartwool liners.

One of the reasons I bought this style of boot was that I wanted something lighter and more breathable. Last summer I wore full-grain leather Vasques and my feet were hot and sweaty all the time. With the Fugitives, my feet feel good. My socks aren't wet when I take the boots off. The sweat factor on my feet are reduced. I don't think I'll ever go back to a full-grain upper again.

Case in point: I recently returned from a 4 day trek on the Olympic coast. My hiking partners who all wore full-grain leather boots were rotating out socks on lunch breaks. I wore the same socks the entire trip. They weren't even damp at the end of the day, which tells me that the boots are letting my feet breath.

The comfortability factor is high as well. Again on the same previously mentioned trip, my hiking partners complained of foot soreness. My feet felt good the entire time, and while my hiking partners chalked it up to "good feet", I am inclined to think that it was my lighter boots.

I can also attest to the waterproofness. I have hiked through swamps, marsh, tide-pools, and small streams, and have not had water penetrate the boot interior yet. As a matter of fact, one trip in early Spring left our boots all covered in mud. At the house afterwards we attached a pressurized nozzle to a garden hose and blasted our boots to get the caked mud off. My boots did not leak at all, even after spraying with high pressure from a foot away.

The only drawback I would say, is the tread. It doesn't seam to grip that great. Other then that, these boots rock, and are well worth the dough I payed for them.
*** UPDATE*** 1/13/12
After having these boots for a couple years now I regret to say that my feelings have changed regarding these boots. Both boots leak (albeit very little) and the tread on the soles are getting worse. Slipping is still a constant problem. The only other big change in my review would be that after I upped my daily mileage closer to 10, I suffer extreme foot pain with these boots. In fact, I quit wearing them backpacking because of this reason. They just aren't comfortable enough for longer miles. In fact I quit wearing boots all together and have moved to shoes, though I still wear these for day hikes in the winter time, which I think they are best suited for.
This shot doesn't do this drop off justice. These boots are best suited for shorter hikes in winter-like conditions.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Testing... 123

Did I tell you guys I landed a really sweet gig as a Gear Tester for Cocona Fabrics a few weeks ago?

So I ran across an add in Backpacker Magazine from a fabrics company called Cocona, who make fabric using the fiber of a coconut. They were looking for backpackers, skiers, mountain bikers, and the like to test their new line of functional outdoor clothing. So I figured "what the hell" and applied... This was probably in February.

A couple weeks ago I get a letter from Cocona saying I got the job! Well, it's not really a job... What happens is they send me gear that I have to test when I'm in the outdoors. I have to fill out a "test form" for each test I perform with the "test-garment" and keep a blog (which they have created for me on their website) detailing the adventures I am having with their gear and how it's holding up. All I get in return, is the gear, which is all mine to keep... Which is also pretty cool IMO.

So today I got my first package from them, and I am just so darn excited! Anyways, here is their website if anyone wants to check them out.