Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Gear Not Intended for Backpacking

Often I notice or work with an item that also captures my attention that it might also be used for backpacking even though thats not it's intended use. One such example is the Finis Skin Sock. I purchased these to use with my new bodysurfing fins that were slightly too large and I needed to wear something to give my foot more volume and protection. For the beach they also proved handy walking around in the sand to protect my feet from beach tar and at the public shower because,'s a public shower.

I decided to bring them on my last backpacking trip to also wear around camp but they have no sole so protection was minimal. What I discovered was the fine nylon and lycra weave were excellent in repelling  campground duff from sticking to the material and what did stick was easily and cleanly brushed away. Because of that and the comfortable loose fit, I decided to also sleep in them instead of socks so when I got up in the middle of the night for some "star gazing" I could quickly and cleanly slip back into the sleeping bag without bringing in a bunch of dirt.

Backpacking is a dirty business so sometimes its the little things that aid in cleanliness that can make a big difference in comfort and wellbeing. Since they are lighter than a pair of socks, I think these are going to stay in my kit and become a part of my sleep gear.

Monday, October 8, 2018

On and Off the Trail from Taboose to the Upper Basin


Going over Taboose pass is well documented so I will skip the blow by blow punches it throws at the traveller but it deserves all the respect and publicity it receives regarding difficulty on the east side of the crest then all the beauty on the west side. The area seems to be a vortex for the winds to funnel through and my trip certainly experienced plenty of that too.

Getting over Taboose is less about conditioning and more of enduring what it throws your way and that includes but certainly not limited to wind, steepness, talus and a combination of all those elements at the same time. Endure step by step until your are over the crest then take a sigh of relief and enjoy the endless views.

I would like to also mention here that the road to the trailhead is no longer suitable for sedans and low clearance vehicles. I rented a high clearance truck and was glad that I did. 

Okay, enough of that, here are some of the highlights....

An easy stroll in the Park to Taboose Lake?

Taboose Lake nicely nestled amid the talus acreage

My first objective was Stripped Mountain Basin but before I arrived to that destination, I made a brief side trip to check out Taboose Lake. The wind was of course howling so I hunkered down on the one and only small patch of grass that exists there and had my lunch. When I got to Stripped Mountain Basin that evening I realized I left my pocket cup back at Taboose lake, damn! ...wind storms and lost gear, I hoped these would not become the defining moments of this trip!

I had a pretty good camp at Lake 1, it was decently sheltered from the wind so I decided to stay an extra day in this location to day hike the basin. I also wanted to get up to the 3rd lake to fish and try out my Luna Sandals that I brought along as camp shoes to see if I could actually hike in them.

All the basin lakes were "Victory at Sea" but the upper most lake had one cove that was sheltered so I was able to get a dry fly onto the water and had good success for medium sized Rainbows. The bite in the first two lakes were totally shut down because of the wind.

3rd lake, Stripped Mountain basin

On my way down from the basin and heading back toward the Taboose trail, I could plainly see this small spur trail that's also shown on Caltopo so I decided to follow it and see if connects to the old trail or simply ends as the map shows.

Caltopo view

It does indeed simply end without connecting to any other trail. No big deal, the old north side trail was easy to find so I decided to follow it down to the JMT. The trail is no longer maintained so the occasion blowdown remains as does the young samplings that happen to sprout in the middle of the trail. The path becomes faint then terminates at the River/JMT area in what could be landmarked as a popular JMT camping area on the west side of the creek.

On my approach up to Cardinal Lake, I started my accent a little too soon, going up a timbered ridge that was full of game trails and cliffs, what a maze of false hopes that turned out to be, but I finally got on the right track and soon came upon a tarn that does not show on Caltopo. After the timbered ridge affair I started to wonder again if I was in the Cardinal basin proper or the Twilight Zone. Either way, it was deep enough to hold some nice Rainbows so I indulged for awhile before heading up stream on faith that I was indeed heading toward Cardinal.

CalTopo View. Cross country travel on timbered ridges is a PITA! 

FatMap View

Do you like to be serenaded by distant rock slides? Cardinal will be to your liking. All night long slides were occurring on the mountainside above the lake with some of the larger boulders actually rolling into the lake so I decided not to fish that side of the lake the next morning, those rocks were spooking me and the fish. It also kicked up quite a bit of dust that would eventually settle on the lake and create a dust slick of sorts.

Cardinal Lake rockslide dust at dawn.

Split Mountain area overview.

My northern most destination was the Split Mountain area within the Upper Basin and camped at the large unnamed lake at the base on the mountain. I was endlessly entertained by the Split view and the seemingly easy looking ramp to it's 14K+ summit. I decided to pass on the attempt and simply enjoy the view of the mountain instead of the view from the mountain. Besides, fishing is more my style so I concentrated on that instead, wind be damed!

Split Mountain overview.

As you know, the JMT weaves through the Upper Basin on its way over Mather Pass but I never saw a soul beyond the trail. I needed to book some quick easy mile back to the Taboose trail, so that trail is perfect for covering alot of miles and territory quickly. Within a couple of hours I was back in the vicinity of the northern Taboose trail, found it, and I was soon on my way back up to the pass. But there was one last agenda item. Go back to Taboose Lake and retrieve my pocket cup. Little details like that eat me up so I had to at least give it a try, and besides, the wind had settled down and who knows. maybe casting a fly might be possible?

I left the trail again close to the Pass and stayed well above these 3 tarns.

Taboose lake is only a mile or so off the trail, but the area is filled with acres and acres of sharp edged cuboids of talus. Every step needs to be planned so that landing wrong and getting injured does not become a reality. I did finally get onto a grassy ramp that made the final approach to the lake easier.

Closing in on the lake.

The view looking east toward Owens Valley.

After reaching the lake, there were no signs of my cup, no surprise there! The wind was now blowing at a subdued howl, but would predictably slacken every couple of minutes and I saw one area of the lake that benefited from the break, enough so that I even saw some small fish clear the water in pursuit of something (or being pursued by something larger??)

Even though it was now late in the day and I wanted to get on the east side of the pass before dark, I strung up my rod knowing that I had precious little time to decently explore the lake for possibilities. Just as I made my first attempted back cast a gust of wind crumbled it and the fly literally blew into the water before I could even begin my forward cast, several feet from its intended destination. But despite the terrible cast...Bam! Fish on. All of a sudden, time reality no longer existed, fishing mode was turned on and nothing else mattered now.

I did eventually get over the pass before dark but I was so bushed that I ate a stoveless meal of jerky burritoettes in my tent as the wind relentlessly howled away. At least the air was little bit warmer at 10,500 than it was at 12,500 and still a nice finish to a trip to some wild places.

Final thought on the last night of my trip? I need to lose then try to find my pocket cup more often if that what it takes to catch fish in the alpine Sierra!

As for the Luna Sandals and the zero drop concept? I was surprised at how well they performed in off trail conditions. I was concerned that debris getting caught between the foot and sandal would be an issue but it was not that way at all. Since I started wearing them, my foot strength has increased substantially and I think this is easing the pressure on my spine, knees and hips but spending a week in the Sierra with only sandals is not on my radar anytime soon but a zero drop trail runner certainly is.
I can gather all the news I need on the weather report
Hey, I've got nothing to do today but smile.

Paul Simon

Friday, April 20, 2018

Pocket Cups

Within many Wilderness areas of the west, it's still unofficially safe to drink water directly from the stream, spring, or lake and one way to save on pack weight is to not carry water and sip as you go. These are cups that I have used in the past and continue to use on many of my trips. The "Unkown" is certainly recognizable by all and is also available in stainless steel. I lost the cap which could also be used to sip water from. I only included cups that could fit into the pocket, but I should also mention the Sierra Cup since it to can be used to sip water from the source and will hook onto a belt for easy access. They come in 1 cup and 2 cup sizes and traditionally made of stainless steel. Mine is from Japan, 2 cup capacity and made of titanium and will also fit on my stove to cook with.

On long dry stretches when water has to be rationed, the pocket cup is the perfect tool to measure out water so that your supply will last the entire dry stretch. Without pouring and measuring, it's too easy to gulp water and drink it all early on.

Large Titanium Sierra cup, 1.9 ounces.

Wildco, Unknown, Guyot designs, Sea to Summit
Cups are opened.

Wildco, Unknown, Guyot designs, Sea to Summit
Cups are closed.

How they compare.
I can also use this Sierra Cup was a pot.

Sunday, March 11, 2018


I am not fond of inflating air pads by blowing directly into them, so improvised a PVC fitting to mate an Exped Snozzle with a Big Agnes Axl air pad. 

The male fitting on the snozzle is 1/2 inch and the female valve is 3/4 so I am using a 1/2 x 3/4 PVC bushing to make the reduction. The only modification was to wrap the bushing with electrical tape to get a better seal into the Axl pad.

By using this system, I will reduce the amount of moisture from my lungs into the pad and save myself from the dizzy feeling of hyperventilating at altitude.

PVC bushing 1/2 x 3/4

Wrapped with electrical tape for a better seal into the air pad.

The 1/2 " Snozzle fitting fits perfectly into the bushing.

With help from the electrical tape to give the PVC fitting a slightly larger  diameter,   an air tight seal is accomplished so the Snozzle can transfer air into the air pad.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Big Agnes Axl Air Pad

I just received the Big Agnes Axl Air Pad from REI today. I had it shipped to the store, which turned out to be a bargain because they sent me a $20 dollar off coupon a couple of weeks ago when I ordered the pad, then another 10% off coupon, both active at the same time for a couple of weeks only. Obviously they want you to purchase more items while you are at the store so I obliged them and also purchased a pair  Prana Brion pants and a new Z pad to augment the Axl. More on that later.

The pad, out of the box, in a stuff sack compared in size with a Nalgene bottle (full of fresh squeezed OJ!)

My pad came with 2 patch kits that included a spare valve flap. The patches already have adhesive so no need for a tube of glue that always seems to go hard after only one use.

The Axl fully inflated. I didn't count the breaths, but I did feel mildly high form hyperventilating. Twenty breaths maybe? BA hypes the antimicrobiotic properties but I wonder about the constantly adding water into the pad.

A close up of the head end of the pad with the valve.

Another close up of the valve. To let the air out, press on the inner flap and squeeze the pad at the same time. It's somewhat awkward, but the air does evacuate quickly.

I was able to deflate the pad then simply stuff it back into the stuff sack without folding or rolling.

The Axl has no insulation so the official use designation is for warm weather use. My plan is to pair it with a small Z Pad so that I have some redundancy with sleep insulation. If the air pad has a major failure, I will still have ground insulation with the Z pad. 

The Axl weighs in at 10 ounces with the stuff sack and the Z pad, 11 ounces.

Monday, January 15, 2018


I have been watching the tastefully done wilderness travels of Erik Normark and kept noticing the cup he drinks his coffee from. That's because he drinks a lot of coffee in the wilderness and he does it cowboy style direct from the Trangia teapot. 

Cups and bowls are one of those items that can be purchased at a reasonable price and experience the thrill of getting new gear without breaking the bank so I decided to do some research and find the cup he uses and thanks to the web, it was not hard to find. It's readily available in small and large, so I purchased both sizes. 

The manufacturer is a Swedish company named Wildo and the formal name is the Fold-A Cup. The design has even won some awards and as the name implies, it does indeed collapse and the small one will comfortably fit in your front pocket. 

The small will also nest securely inside the large if I decide to bring both.

On my trips I use the round silicone bowls, but the Fold-A Cup is lighter and probably takes less room in the pack so I look forward to switching those out and enjoy my next wilderness cup of java in a Fold-A Cup.

The large holds 20 ounces so will easily double as an eat out of bowl.

The small is more expresso size but great for sips of water from the creek because it does easily fit inside a pocket.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

New Camp Shoe

My new camp shoe, the Birkenstock EVA Arizona. Size 45 metric or 12.5 in US Sizing. Even thought I wear trail runners, I like changing shoes at he end of the day, a luxury I cannot do without. If my trail shoes get wet from a creek crossing or fishing, they will not be dry until the next day and I value complete dryness in camp, even my feet. These slip on and off easily in the middle of the night and give good protection to the bottom of my very sensitive feet from sticks and stones, I could even hike in them if  I had to. They are bulkier than I would like but lighter by a few ounces than my current Patagonia Advocates that I have had for several years now and refuse to wear out.