Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Rocka Rolla: Dawson Pass Loop Day 2 - Glacier National Park

Not long after we left the moose behind, it started raining.  The forecast actually looked really good, calling for a chance of rain Thursday but partly cloudy Saturday and Sunday with highs in the 70’s.  Despite all the times the weather forecast has been wrong, I believed it like a fool, and packed accordingly.  So you can imagine the look on my face a couple hours earlier at the Ranger station when I stood bemused while the Ranger was contacted by radio and informed right in front of us that an arctic storm blowing across Canada would hit the park that night and last for two damn days.  Here it was early August and Glacier Park was expecting 2 inches of snow…

 So when the rain started, all I had for protection was a pack cover and a rain jacket, which usually would be fine in a regular rain storm… But it rained hard and never stopped.  By the time we got to camp at No Name Lake I was soaked. My feet were soaked through waterproof boots, my whole upper body was soaked through a waterproof jacket, and my pants were so wet I could wring them out like a dish rag. I’ll be honest; it made me rethink the quality of my gear.  The really crappy part was that because fires are illegal in most of Glacier Parks backcountry, we didn't build one. We sat in the rain and made dinner, and the first time the rain broke, we hurriedly pitched our tents.

Finally the rain did let up and we all went down to the water and did some fishing. The dreary overcast sky was darkening with the coming of twilight, and as we fished at the waters edge a thunderclap exploded in the sky overhead.  It boomed like a howitzer and the violent crash of rolling thunder stampeded from the mountain side onto our beach and shook the ground beneath our feet. And there it remained, unwavering, beating against our courage and filling our bones with dread. Our eyes were fixed on a massive sheer cliff towering over our beach like Point du Hoc, and with eyes wide open we could see stones and boulders violently tumbling down its doom lit face and smashing into the rocks below.  It was a sight to behold, the raw power of nature. Jesse looked at me and for the second time today asked, “Should we be standing here?”
Luke fly-fishing No Name Lake

It rained all night and the next morning.  At breakfast we discussed our course of action. Luke and I were so sick of the rain. We have been rained on every backpacking trip since April. It seemed we couldn't escape it and we were both feeling like we just wanted to be dry. But Jesse came to the rescue with words of wisdom that really got moral turned back around, “Overcoming adversity like this is what makes you a better and stronger man, we need to finish what we started.” Of course he was right, and a half hour later we were packed up and heading west toward the continental divide.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Bear Bait: Dawson Pass Loop Day 1 - Glacier National Park

Within 30 minutes of walking we ran into a group of hikers going the opposite way, who warned us of a black bear ahead of us on the trail

I kind of slowed down, and was intently scanning the forest in front of me looking for it, trying to make sure that we wouldn't surprise each other. The woods were thick with spruce, and pine, and fir, and even aspen, and all I could see were a thousand shades of green and brown.  Two Medicine Lake, I knew, was maybe a couple hundred feet from my left shoulder, but I couldn't even see it through the trees. I couldn't see squat. I felt like the point-man on a U.S.  Special Forces team in some southeast Asian jungle, trying spot the enemy first before I stumbled into an ambush.

 I know the bear isn't my enemy, but  frankly I didn't want to surprise the hell out of it and get attacked by the damn thing. I kept thinking about that poor hiker in Kentucky last June who was almost eaten by a black bear. If he hadn't been rescued by another group of hikers he would have been dinner. But I had some companions with me, so I wasn't too worried.

We were being loud. We sang some Tom Petty. We clapped our hands. We called out “hey bear” and “coming through bear”, or even the occasional enticement “people steaks” and “Special tonight, leg-of-Larson, come and get it”. It was pretty amusing coming up with funny little quips to yell into the woods to ward off bears…  And in this particular instant it didn't even work.

I had just about given up. I thought the bear must be gone and I wasn't going to see it.  I glanced to my left and my eyes locked with the eyes of a bear that was standing about 15 feet just off the trail in front of me. He was staring right at me, watching me coming, and I didn't see him until I was nearly right on top of him. The instant I saw him, I was startled, which in turn startled the bear, who jumped just as a person would when you scare the crap out of them, did a lightning  fast 180 degree turn, and took off into the woods. He got about 30 feet before he ran into some huckleberry bushes and sat down for lunch.

He was big and black and the light gleaming off his manicured coat looked like something a rich woman would have worn back in the day. He paid no attention to us at all, just sat there eating like we weren't even there.  I took some pics, and soon we were on our way again. I couldn't help but wonder how the outcome might have been different if it was a 500 pound grizzly instead of a 150 pound black bear (that’s what it looked like to me). Not that 150 pounds is small. I remember Luke remarking that it was just the size of a big dog.  Well 150 pounds is a huge dog (and coincidentally also the size of the bear that mauled that dude in Kentucky).  I remember my old dog Bruener (who I compare all big dogs too), he was about 110 and scared the holy crap out of everybody, and could have killed just about anyone if he wanted to. Seeing the bear up close like that was surreal, but it wasn't scary. I realized 5 minutes after we left him that I didn't even reach for the bear spray I had on my hip.

About 15 minutes later we had another encounter that truly did scare me.  Jesse was up front, and somehow spotted a bull moose off the trail to our left about 60 feet or so into the woods. I t was by far the biggest animal I have ever seen in the wild. His rack was 5 feet long from end-to-end it looked like a damn school bus. I know that I’m exaggerating, but I was kind of freaked. It just stood there holding its ground staring. It’s like it was sizing us up. I remarked to the guys, “That thing is gigantic and it’s staring right at us” and Jesse goes, “Yeah, should we be standing here? Let’s go!” I took a couple heart pounding (it was so huge) pictures and we boogied.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Gear Review: Big Agnes Fairview 1

In the wind on Heart Lake, Montana

I was looking for a good lightweight solo tent that wasn't going to break the bank, and when I found this baby on REI Outlet for $150.0, I snatched it up. I admit I was hesitant at first because of the price, and the fact that I hadn't heard anything about it, but I trusted in the Big Agnes name, and pulled the trigger.

There is nothing fancy about this tent, it's just simple and functional. The cross-pole design is so easy to pitch you could probably do it with your eyes closed. I am 5'8" and broad shouldered, and this tent was very roomy for me. I had plenty of clearance on both sides and head-to-toe. I could sit up easy without touching my head on the top, and the inside pockets were perfect for my headlamp and bear spray. Unlike other solo tents I've seen, it's not like you're sleeping in a coffin. It actually feels like a tent.

It rained on me every night on a trip in Montana's Lolo National Forest, and not an ounce of water got in. It most certainly is waterproof. I was somewhat concerned about moisture on the inside due to the lack of mesh, but found it dry every morning. The very top of the inner wall is all mesh, and combined with the vents on the rainfly, it really circulates air well. Speaking of the rainfly, the vestibule is quite small, but should be just enough to cover your gear.

I also dealt with fairly high winds (30-40mph) camped on shore at a high mountain lake, and had zero problems. I didn't even guy it out all the way, and it held fast all night. In the morning my hiking companion's Kelty Crestone looked like it took a beating, but the Fairview was still taut and sturdy.

The bottom line is that I really love this tent. The only drawback with this tent (like almost all freestanding tents) is the weight, at 3lbs 8oz. If you're thinking ultra-light it is way too heavy. In fact, this tent is straight-up heavy. If ultra-light isn't your deal, and you would rather sleep soundly at night with the knowledge that you're protected from the elements, then I would highly recommend this tent. 

**UPDATE** 12/7/11

A lot of people have been reading this review so I wanted to throw out a quick update.

I have had this sucker for two hiking seasons now and my opinion of it hasn't changed at all. I LOVE it! Every time I take it backpacking I am constantly reminded of how awesome this tent is. The pitch is so tight and it's roomy. I still have had ZERO problems with condensation or leaking. Now, since I first wrote this review my preferences have shifted to more of an "ultralight" style so at 3 pounds it is on the heavy side. But if you are doing overnights and weekends and weight doesn't bother you, this thing is perfect. 

Without the rainfly on Cabin Lake, Montana

The vestibule is small, but still enough for one persons stuff.