Sunday, November 29, 2015

Strange Pairings- Vargo and Trangia

I have always found it difficult to out perform the original design of backpacking equipment. The conceptual ideas and engineering of a product seems to always vet out inefficiency before it is introduced to the market. Still I tinker on, pairing pots and stoves that are not designed to be together, but it is always worth a try anyway, especially on some rainy afternoon.

This time the pairing experiment is the Vargo Decagon, the Vargo windscreen and the Trangia 28 Mini. This idea was first put forth in a Backpacking Light thread and was quickly put to rest as a bad idea. The weakness of the Mini is a stove holder that Trangia calls the windscreen. It's worthless for stopping wind, and wind is the enemy of alcohol stoves. As for the Vargo Decagon, a great concept to use the stove as a pot support, but the terrible reviews and stories of poor performance put this stove at the bottom of most lists. 

Is this stove a misunderstood creature? As it turns out, yes it is. If one follows the instructions that include filling fuel to the weld line or beyond then prime the stove generously, this stove will burn like a rocket! With a good generous prime, the stove blooms at full blast and will boil 2 cups in about 6 minutes. As fuel is consumed and the level drops in the stove, the flame output is reduced then becomes more of a simmer until all the fuel is finally consumed in about 20 minutes. Perfect for those meals that may require long simmers after a boil, such as brown rice. Another nice feature is the stove can be blown out like a candle then the unused fuel is then easily poured back into the fuel bottle. The Vargo windscreen consists of 5 small flat panels that fold out to surround the pot and stove and easily stows inside the Mini along with the stove and pot holder.

The shape of the pot is a huge factor and the Trangia pot design is designed to be use with an alcohol stove, much better than the SnowPeak mug design.

I use the lid as a double cooker for tortillas.

A generous prime is the secret to a quick and full bloom. I use a small squeeze bottle that holds the perfect amount of fuel for the stove. Before I am ready to use the kit, I put the bottle and the stove in my pocket to warm up it all up and don't have to worry about crushing it because of the titanium construction.

Pairing this stove with a Sierra Cup worked really good also.

Using the Vargo equipment with the Sierra Cup was the lightest setup with the best boiling and fuel consumption times, but I prefer the Trangia Mini setup for added versatility and the lid snaps to the pot without the need of a strap or bag. This setup weighs in at 9.45 ounces and can also get a small squeeze cup in there that adds another 3 ounces.

Do I dare compare the Decagon burner with the Trangia burner? If one can master the Decagon, then some real comparisons can be made and only then can the Decagon can be in the same league and even be considered a UL substitute to replace the Trangia burner in it's kits.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

A New Dehydrator

My American Harvester dehydrator finally quit, so I got another one just like it. The updated model has the fan and heating element in the lid now, instead of the base, so it is much easier to keep clean. I got some great ideas from their site, including making jerky with ground sirloin, seasoned with spices provided with the unit. After seasoning the ground beef, it goes into a press that results in a uniform ribbon of beef to dehydrate. I used a cookie press with a flat stencil with excellent results. Also had great results in dehydrating left over pasta dishes and turkey chili with beans and rice. Best of all was smoke salmon jerky from an online Alton Brown recipe then watching a White Trash cook do it on You-Tube It was very oily with the good omega-3 and packed well with no sign of rancidity on my last trip. It was also tasty when mixed with pintos or mashed potatoes.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

A week with the Baxters. TR July 22-27

This year it had to be Baxter Pass. Not because it’s where I wanted to be, for jaw dropping beauty and big fish, but because… well, I’m not getting any younger and this was the last of the Four Beasts for me to do. Lets face it, for most Sierra trekkers this trail is an on-off ramp to the JMT not the destination. So it was sea level to the Visitors Center in Lone Pine to pull the permit then on the trail be 11AM. I was getting a late morning start on the trail and felt some relief to hear about the chance for rain in the afternoon. As it turned out, almost too perfect, by the evening and two solid downpours later, I was soaked from the knees down but otherwise settled in with the tarp pitched and dry clothes on, ready for more rain which never happened for rest of the trip. 
Trail conditions on the east side. The trail does not really start on the valley floor as the other Beasts do, but still, the climb is constant on a tread that is no longer maintained, all the way to the JMT. To complement the challenge, the lower half is through a recovering burn area that has become revegetated with chaparral instead of pine forest, and growing over the tread in many areas. Further up, there are 2 washouts, and multiple areas where timber has fallen across the trail so following ducks is what this trail is all about as the trail will suddenly disappear into  the obscurity of green flora or collapsed talus. The trail crosses the creek early on, then becomes mostly out of reach except for the meadows area. As with many burn recovery areas, wild flowers are everywhere as are large stands of burnt trees. 

At the 9000 foot level the trail takes a northerly turn leaving the burn area and enters a zone of lush green forest and virgin meadows before finally entering another talus field and the final push to the top. A quick word about the upper meadow.... take the time to get off the trail and enjoy it. Not often will you find a Sierra plant community with so much variety, in such perfect harmony, more of a garden with the perfect gardener- nature doing all the work under the watchful eye of the massive Diamond Peak 

Trail conditions on the west side. The path has light use and no maintenance by SEKI so be prepared to lose the trail and rely on ducks to find it again, especially in rocky  areas, meadows and blow downs. After descending the pass, the trail skirts around Baxter lake then veers north and away from the other lakes contained in the basin. After descending a wall of talus and timber, the trail terminates at Dollar Lake on the JMT. Just before you enter the canyon down to Woods creek, there is a statement by previous hikers on ducks: 

Trip summary. My original plan was to explore two isolate groups of lakes, the first contained within the Baxter creek system  west of Acrodectes Peak, the second, in a hanging valley lake system on the west side of Woods creek, 3 miles below Dollar Lake (WL-3144 on Topo maps). 

Acrodectes Peak, or "the Beetle" 

Plenty of room to pitch a tarp. 

 I abandoned any hope of getting to WL-3144 when I got to the take off point from the JMT too late in the day to negotiate the  1500 foot timbered ridge wall  complete with blowdowns and ledges. This brief stint on the JMT was worth the trip just to experience the excellent tread and marvel at such a diversity of use, including groups of joggers, dayhikers, through hikers, and section hikers doing the Rae Lakes Loop. Quite the crowd, I must say! 

Trip Highlights. My backcountry interests are exploratory fishing, followed closely by lazy mornings around camp, and this area allowed me to do just that. After fishing most of the lakes, I discovered the lakes do have some diversity, the lower chain of lakes contained small Goldens, and the upper chain, Brookies to 12". 

 Best of all was the dayhike up to a group of lakes west of Acrodectes Peak, seeing fish rise and splash the surface, then fishing these waters all day, surrounded by high mountain peaks and ridges in all directions. My original plan was to camp there, but glad that I did not. the entire landscape was  talus,  with nothing level to bed on. 

Ready for a day hike to unnamed lakes. 

                                                        The talus wall needed to be climbed.

View from the first pond.
The first pond.

The upper lake was much larger.


Wish I would have.... Visited the upper lake just south of Baxter Lake in a small basin of high steep cliffs and a snow field. I doubt that it had fish, but the whole time  I was in the area, I could here rocks rolling down and echoing across the valley. To see the lake and hear the echoes in such a canyon would revel any cathedral in Europe. 

Final thoughts. Obviously this area is not on anyone's list to sample scenic beauty and lunkers, but sometimes the best view is from afar, and this area does not lack in classic eastern high sierra vistas beautiful flora and a variety of fish that were always eager to check out my flies. The nights were chilly, down to 38 degrees and long pants are advisable because of all the overgrown trails and blowdowns.