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Monday, May 13, 2013

Gear Guide Spring 2013

Here's a rundown of some of my favorite gear used in 2013. I made a lot of changes after my Appalachian Trail thru-hike in 2012 and have been absolutely thrilled with many of the results. There have also been some pieces of gear that have not worked for me. I'm just not going to write about them. If you have specific questions, feel free to contact me.

I'm sure that after I thru-hike the PCT this year I will have even more thoughts about my "perfect" setup. As The Trail Show's Paul Magnanti says: "There is no such thing as the best gear! What is best for one person may not be the best for another person." That being said, I highly recommend the following:

Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter

If there was one gear change that has made my life exponentially easier on trail it has been the switch to using the Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter. I absolutely love this filter and in general I have detested filters in the past. I have been a tried and true Aqua Mira user for many years but now that I don't have to wait for chemicals to mix and sterilize, I don't think I'll ever go back. I also didn't want to continue to dump large amounts of chlorine into my body for months at a time.

Typically, I use the provided bladders only for storage and squeeze the water through the filter using a 23.7 oz. Smartwater bottle. I also have replaced the cap on the filter with a Smartwater cap. This makes for better flow and ease of use. It is amazing how long one bottle and cap will last.

I can't recommend this filter enough. It is so easy, doesn't clog and has a one million gallon guarantee. A significant amount of time is saved by using this filter and that means more time and miles hiked each day.  Just don't let the filter freeze. This could damage the filtration mesh inside. The 0.1 micron mesh is designed to filter out all protozoans but it is not small enough to catch all viruses. However, I've been assured that this isn't a problem in North America,

I have the older version of the Sawyer Squeeze with the bags that had a tendency to break on people. Since I don't drink from the bags this has not been a problem for me. I hear the newer bags are far superior and this shouldn't be a problem.

The Sawyer Squeeze only weighs 3.1 oz. and is being sold for $39.95. Only straight bleach beats this bargain.

Gossamer Gear Gorilla UltralightMurmur Hyperlight and Kumo Superlight

Murmur Hyperlight

It's no secret to my friends that I love Gossamer Gear packs. I've used the Gorilla Ultralight, Murmur Hyperlight and Kumo Superlight for different types of trips in 2013. This winter, I started experimenting with the Murmur Hyperlight to drop my base pack weight and see what it was like to travel hipbelt-less on fast, high mileage weekend trips. I absolutely loved it and found the Murmur to be more than roomy enough for the gear needed for multi-day trips with subfreezing winter night time temperatures in Central California. With the amount of weight I was carrying and the Murmur's wide shoulder straps, there was no need for the hipbelt.

After two exciting off-trail cross-country adventures (one which involved bushwhacking through spiny chemise and whitethorn ceanothus, and another which involved foot and butt-skiing down clay and fallen redwood trees) I only had a small hole in the back mesh of the Murmur to show for all the wear and tear I had put on the pack. I was impressed and the hole was easily repaired on the spot with a little needle and thread. The Murmur is not designed for off-trail travel and it faired excellently under some pretty extreme circumstances.
Kumo Superlight
Even though the Murmur excelled in this experiment I couldn't resist the temptation of trying the Kumo Superlight. The 30D body of the Murmur had done its job but it was always in the back of my mind that some blackberry bush was going to snag the fabric and rip it to shreds. 

The Kumo has been the perfect pack for my cross country tendencies. It gives me piece of mind in advance, while I prepare for trips, and it gives me the freedom to explore and go off trail if I get in the mood to do so. I will still be using the Murmur for what it was designed for, fast on-trail adventures, while the Kumo has become the favorite for my more adventurous outings.

The Gorilla Ultralight is the largest Gossamer Gear pack that I own. I used this pack on my recent Lost Coast Trail Yo-yo and was extremely happy with how it handled the required bear canister. I'll be using this pack on my Southbound PCT thru-hike starting in June and any other adventure that requires a larger heavier load. I've been using the Gorilla with the support stay and hipbelt attached. The suspension is excellent and can easily handle 30 lb. loads. The hipbelt pockets are extremely useful and the hipbelt itself is quite comfortable. 

Gorilla Ultralight
The only thing I would have changed on these packs has already been addressed by Gossamer Gear. The gross-grain straps used in the 2012 versions of these packs did not hold their tension very well on the shoulder straps. They have since replaced this webbing and the 2013 Kumo I own does not slip one bit. I have used a slippery hitch on the older Gorilla and Murmur and do not have a problem using them at all. Gossamer Gear does a great job of incorporating the feedback of numerous extremely experienced hikers to constantly refine and improve their products.

All three of these Gossamer Gear packs are very elegantly designed. I really appreciate their combination of simplicity and features that are truly useful to the long distance hiker. These are ultralight-weight packs that can hold up to some pretty heavy duty adventures.

GoLite Chrome Dome Trekking Umbrella


The Chrome Dome was a godsend on the Lost Coast Trail. I have not used this umbrella as rain protection but as sun protection it excels. The reflective top takes off a lot of heat and the shade provided is a welcome break from a full exposure day. I just wish the chrome dome was a little lighter than 8 oz. Only $19.99 right now!

Gossamer Gear SpinnTwinn

Just like the Gossamer Gear packs discussed above, the SpinnTwinn is a simple and elegant piece of gear. This spinnaker tarp is perfect for two people and has kept us and all of our gear dry in some pretty crazy torrential downpour thunderstorms. The SpinnTwinn also stays taught extremely well. Unfortunately, Gossamer Gear doesn't make this tarp right now but they will be releasing some new shelters in the coming year.

Fenix LD01 Light 

This little light packs a huge punch. I've logged quite a few night hiking miles with this tiny light and have been quite impressed. Powered by a single AAA battery, the Fenix LD01 is far brighter than my old Petzel Tikka. Even while carrying an extra AAA in reserve, this is one of lightest legitimate light sources out there.

I've also found that prefer a hand light for night hiking. A headlamp can't be beat for cooking, tying knots or setting up a tarp but as far as night hiking goes, I prefer a lower angled light source.

When light is emitted from the same angle as your eyes you loose your depth perception. At a lower angle, the shadows created by the light allow for better analysis of the terrain.

Derma-Safe Razor Knife

Some people would say that it's crazy to travel in the wilderness without a real knife. I haven't found this to be a true. This tiny orange .2 oz. folding razor knife has been more than enough to accomplish anything I have need to do on trail.

I keep this blade on a length of cord with the Fenix for easy access and to prevent myself from losing it.

Leki Makalu Ultralite

These poles have been with me for 10 years now and they are still going strong. One of them did bend at a 45 degree angle coming down Mt. Madison in the dark last summer but that's a story for another time. I think this failure was more of a product of the fatigue induced by a 21 mile AT traverse of the Presidentials in one day.

The small problems I have had with these poles, after A TON of use, have all been quickly addressed by Leki with replacement parts. Their customer service is among the best I have experienced.

I have often considered making the leap to carbon poles but the way Leki has taken care of me has kept me coming back to the Leki Makalu Ultralites. They don't sell this model anymore but they continue to make other great trekking poles.

Neoair xlite size small

The most comfortable pad I have ever slept on. It's even more comfortable than many of the beds I have slept on. At the 7.7 oz. with the patch kit, this little inflatable can't be beat. I have had no issues with durability even though it looks like it would be quite fragile. The shoulder, hip and lower back pain of the past have all been mitigated by this luxurious pad. The xlite is also quite insulating with a 3.2 R rating.


Gossamer Gear Pack Liner

I know, it's just a plastic bag. However, the size is perfect and these bags are quite durable. They keep my gear dry and I have used a single bag for a really long time before having to replace it.

Gossamer Gear Polycryo Ground Cloth

A simple featherweight groundsheet. It's nothing fancy and it does its job quite well. Pretty tough for a sheet of plastic.


The best bear rope I have used. Very visible in its florescent green and it slides effortlessly over branches, rarely ever hanging up on the bark. I used this rope a lot on the southern portion of my AT hike and was very pleased.

Body Glide Skin Glide

I call this stuff "miracle cream." It does an excellent job of repelling moisture and keeping the feet smooth. This has cut down immensely on the blisters formed on wet days. Just apply the cream the night before or in the morning and give it time to soak in. If used properly, you shouldn't have much trouble with the maceration caused by the loosening of wet skin.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Out the Backdoor: Backpacking in the Santa Cruz Mountains

There's something Bagginsesque about putting on your pack and heading out the door of your house, yurt in my case, and going for a wander in the mountains. For the last 8 years I have been lucky enough to live in the Pescadero Valley. Home to three outdoor schools, two county parks, four state parks and hundreds of trails. The possibilities for adventure are infinite.

Cresting Butano Ridge, one quickly makes their way into Big Basin State Park to the south. To the east there is a series of Open Space Preserves and Castle Rocks State Park. The other weekend I did an approximately 60 mile loop that included all of the previously mentioned green spaces. This loop included four giant waterfalls, incredible rock formations, scenic ridge walks and numerous old growth redwoods. I love my home.

A lot of people think of Boulder, Colorado or Bend, Oregon as ideal homes for adventure athletes but I couldn't be happier with the Santa Cruz Mountains. Sure, the elevation in the Front Range is better for cardio training and the weather might be sunnier as well but I rarely run into many people on my hikes and runs. The weather is moderate enough year round and I actually love fog. It's one of my favorite weather conditions. I'm talking Bay Area marine layer fog, not walk off a cliff, Mt. Washington fog.

Some of our favorite routes have been from our home at Exploring New Horizons Outdoor School to the ocean at Ano Nuevo and Waddell Creek. The Chalk Mountains are another favorite, shining in all of their pearly white diatonaceous glory. And the connecting trails down into Big Basin offer a good challenge to even the biggest hill climbing zealot. On a hot day, cap off a ramble in the Chalks with a dip in Silver, Gold or Berry Creek Falls. Last time I visited Berry Creek Falls I was gifted a double rainbow. Not kidding. Don't forget about the old growth wonderland of the Peters Creek Loop in Portola State Park. The possibilities are endless.

The Santa Cruz Mountains are the perfect training ground for my long thru-hikes. No worrying about shuttles and few logistics. I also love the balance of walking across this great continent for half the year and afterwards returning to my home and sinking deeper into a relationship with a beautiful land that I have been studying for almost a decade. Thank you Exploring New Horizons Outdoor Schools for allowing me to live in such a fulfilling way.

The pictures in this post are from a combination of four different trips that took place in first half of 2013.

Monday, May 6, 2013

A Return to Henry Coe State Park: The Rooster Comb

The Rooster Comb
The view of the Rooster Comb from the Hartman Trail was so compelling on our last adventure to Henry Coe State Park, we returned just a few weeks later.

We arrived late on a Friday night around 9 PM. It was dark, windy and very cold, right around freezing. The bathroom of the visitor center was our staging ground due to the heat provided. That first night we headed down Povery Flat Road to Poverty Flat. Surprisingly, it was quite warm down in the valley.

We were rewarded by our campsite selection during our last trip by staying away from valleys and choosing east-facing sections of ridgeline.

The Narrows were as gorgeous as ever as we headed through on Saturday morning.

The Narrows
From Los Cruzeros we traversed the Willow Ridge Trail to Willow Ridge Rd. At Mississippi Lake we hopped on the the beautiful Hartman Trail and took it to Orestimba Creek Rd. Following Orestimba Creek Rd. north we eventually joined the Rooster Comb Trail.

Orestimba Creek Rd. with the Rooster Comb in the background
Cooling off at the swimming hole
The Rooster Comb Summit Trail is a very loose route and the scramble was a lot of fun. We had a great time bouldering on the Comb's prominent features.

After sunset we backtracked to Orestimba Creek Rd. and camped at Paradise Flat. That night, cold air descended into the valley and the temperatures dipped into the high twenties.

Morning in Paradise Flat
It was a frigid morning but by midday the temperatures were soaring. We followed Paradise Flat Rd. to the seldom maintained Chaparral Trail. 

The Chaparral Trail
Up on County Line Rd. we discovered a horned toad and a wonderful series of cougar tracks.

Horned Toad

Cougar Tracks
We finished up our journey with a trip down Bear Mountain Rd. and back to the Narrows Trail. Down in the wash below Bear Mountain the temperature must have been in the 80's, a 60 degree swing from the morning. We cooled our bodies in Coyote creek and made sure to intensely hydrate before the last push up Poverty Flat Rd. We finished up with the Forest Trail to the Corral Trail. Once again, we had another fantastic trip in Henry Coe State Park. Next time we'll have to check out the southern portion of this amazing park.

One parting note: Thank you Sada Coe for preserving and donating this land in your father's name. This park should be renamed in your honor.

Total Mileage: 42.4 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Henry Coe State Park: An Introduction

 Henry Coe has quickly become my favorite location for multi-day backpacking trips in the Bay Area. It is the only place that I have explored locally, that truly feels like wilderness. Once you leave the zones closest to the main entrance of the park it is very unlikely that you will encounter other hikers and the mix of maintained and unmaintained trails makes for endless route possibilities. I have particularly enjoyed the less maintained trails and the adventures experienced in some of the more remote sections of the park. With over 89,000 acres, I still have yet to explore much of Northern California's largest State Park.

On our first trip to Henry Coe we took a "choose your own adventure" route starting and ending at the visitors center.

Getting ready at the visitor center

The first evening, Fiona Maclean, Ashley Hebert and I headed up Hobbs Road past Frog Lake up to Blue Ridge Rd.

Big Berry Manzanita, a very good looking tree

We took the Blue Ridge Rd. to Bear Mountain Rd. and night hiked through a spectacular wash until we reached Bear Mountain. In the wash we discovered mating clusters of California Newts and the feathers and skeletal remains of a red-tailed hawk. We finished the night with a steep climb up Bear Mountain before setting up camp for the evening.

Fiona's Ridge Stretches

That night there was a hard frost and we woke up with sheets of ice on our sleeping bags. The next day heated up quickly and we took a warming and drying break up on the ridge. Mountain Lion Tracks and sign were abundant and I was really hoping we could catch a glimpse of this ghostly magnificent cat. From the Bear Mountain Ridge we descended to Bear Spring on an unmaintained trail.

Yummy! Anybody thirsty?

If you're up for some minimal bushwhacking, Henry Coe has some stellar trails that really evoke a sense of wilderness. We continued our descent from Bear Spring down to Mississippi Lake and enjoyed Lunch next to the cattail filled oasis.

Mississippi Lake

From Mississippi Lake, we chose to take the Hartman Trail, an excellent choice, over to Orestimba Creek Rd. The hilly Hartman Trail is one of my favorite routes in the park. This trail offeres some great views of The Rooster Comb, a rocky ridge that became the focus of our second trip to Henry Coe. 

Navigation Discussion

Hartman Trail

Fiona and Ashley

Shooting Stars

We connected Orestimba Rd. to the Orestimba Creek trail, another gorgeous walk above a rocky creek. Next, we took the Alquist Trail to County Line Rd, and over to Coit Rd. At the intersection of Coit Rd. and the Phoneline Trail there is an unmarked trail that runs north along Mississippi Creek. This trail quickly disappeared and after following the creek for the better part of a mile we were unable to locate the Mudd Spring Trail.

At this point we had a couple of options. We could head south back down the creek or we could try to make it up to Pacheco Ridge. We chose the second option and took on the good old cross-country bushwhack. We became well acquainted with Chemise and White-thorn Ceanothus. In fact we were so well acquainted that they became one with our flesh.

After an hour of thrashing through brush we found a open clearing and set up camp just as the sun set. The next morning we quickly made our way up to the ridge and were relieved to find ourselves exactly where we expected to be.

As we descended back down from Pacheco Ridge we were met with a frozen valley. The ridgeline campsites were good choices.

Frozen Valley

The last day we took the Rat Spring Trail to Willow Ridge Trail to Los Cruzeros. The section of trail from Los Cruzeros to the Narrows is a definite highlight.

Fiona climbs the Narrows

After the Narrows, we traversed the Creekside Trail and made the big climb up Poverty Flat Rd. We finished up our Henry Coe adventure with a great walk on the Forest Trail. The Forest Trail has some of the coolest Madrones and Valley Oaks I have seen.

Valley Oaks

Acorn Woodpecker Granary

I absolutely loved this arid, hilly, chaparral landscape. The Rooster Comb was so compelling we were already planning a return trip.

Total Mileage: 37.6