Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Isle Royale Lessons Learned

This post is unusual. Usually I learn a few things around the edges, just minor refinement. This trip I think I learned a lot.

First on travel. Use distance and ave mph to predict time on the road. Say 60 mph. Don't count on a service, an app or a device to cut it closer. Also, have hotels booked at reasonable distances and rates. Every time I drive late I find hotels booked. And trying to find the cheapest needs to be done ahead of time. 

Now for wet and cold. Unless you are going mid-summer Texas, take the down puffy!  The cap 4 expedition weight hoody was barely adequate for low 40's and wind. I thought it would be better for wet conditions. Bah!  Maybe it's only intended as a base layer.

Take decent gloves. Possum down gloves didn't work. They maybe added 2 or 3 degrees of warmth. They did NOT shed water. This is the only Zpacks purchase I have been unhappy with. Not worth it. Carry good fleece or wool plus the cuben rain mitts. 

The Montana ultralight course taught me to sleep in clothes. But what if they get all wet?  You need a backup. My spare (lighter) wind shirt plus my cap4 or puffy would be good for top at night. Need extra undershorts and wind pants or long underwear for bottoms. I need to work weight optimization there to come to a final decision. 

Don't skimp on spare socks. Keep one dry set for night/emergencies. A second to wear. And a third to wear while second is drying. I had a bare foot one night. I lived with it, but it would be better not to. 

Use that foot goo!  I thought I had so few (no) problems in the past, that skipping or just using a little was enough. Maybe that would work on good, dry trails with few rocks and roots. It didn't here!

And if you have damaged insole inserts in your shoes, fix them before the hike. I developed a heavy crease in my left insert during rainy hiking on the AT. It felt like a long rock in the shoe. It also tends to bunch up the sock. I forgot all about it. It got worse during the rainy hiking on Isle Royale. Having a relatively dry (i.e. only damp) sock and placing each footfall flat minimizes the problem. I should have replaced the insert before the trip. 

A couple of odds and ends. Thinking back, the day my clothes all got wet, I had forgotten to take off my buff. I also had the Houdini hood up under the rain jacket hood. In the future I won't let anything interfere with the rain hood's seal around my face. In an opposite situation, I need to use sunscreen. There was very little actual sun, but I still ended with dry skin on my face. 

This was the first time I used the quilt during the day for warmth. Don't rely on a warm forecast. Take the warmer quilt if it might be needed. 

I currently use an ultra-sil waterproof sack for rain wear. But its not really good for wet stuff in the pack. See about a cuben dry sack. 

I skipped the pee bottle this time. I found if I go about 9:00 pm, I don't have a problem holding till dawn. But what if its raining?  You want to keep your rain wear dry but can't hold it long enough. Carry a pee bottle. I carried a pint water bottle with the top cut off for getting lake and stream water for filtering. It works as a pee bottle in an emergency if you are alone and can just throw the urine out from the tarp. If not, carry a real bottle with a lid. 

Ghee has been great up until this trip. This time it was so cold I couldn't squeeze it out of the bladder. Olive oil would have solidified too. Need to think of a solution. 

Snacks are a continuing problem. I always bring them back. I stop for a light snack every hour. Say about 90 to 125 calories. That's half a candy bar or half an ounce of home-bagged snack.  So two bars and two one ounce bags will last up to eight breaks or nine hours on the trail. Assuming you take an extra lunch (e.g. tortilla with peanut butter and jelly) you are good for 10 hours. At my speed that's about 15 to 16 miles per day. I put the four snacks in a waist pocket on my pack. 

For short days, that's too much. For long days it's not enough--and I never want to dig deep down in my food sack to find an extra snack in the middle of a hike. Plan mileage and the right number of snacks!

I brought kale to mix with my Mountain House dinners. On the AT the slight degradation in taste was offset by the worry about nutrition. Here I wasn't going to be gone long enough to have serious nutritional problems. Don't take green vegetable additives on short trips. 

Cooking breakfast... The Mountain House Breakfast Skillet tastes fine, as opposed to their blah scrambled eggs. But when I want to hit the trail quick for a long day, I just want to grab a breakfast bar and get moving. Preferably I stop and eat it after I get warmed up. But if you anticipate a short hiking day or partners that won't start early, go for the cooked meal. Plan ahead for the right food. 

Tarp/bivy vs tent... I love the tarp and bivy. But if it rains, you have to worry about keeping all your bags dry. Plus back splash on bivy and quilt. With the tent everything fits inside and there are almost no back splash issues. If you think its going to be wet, take the tent. I plan to get a longer tarp, 8.5x10 feet versus the 8.5x8.5 foot I have now. Maybe if you are 5'6" you could live with the smaller one in a rain storm. The larger one will cover head and foot back splash better, and its going to save me three ounces. Take the tarp if you anticipate only occasional rain or short storms. 

This time I used a Dasani pint bottle to carry my alcohol. It saved almost half an ounce on my usual bottle and doubled the capacity. Do it again!

Water filtration stinks--not literally. I like my Steripen. This time the presence of tapeworm eggs in Isle Royale waters meant I had to carry a filter. I used an Evernew 2L dirty bag flowing through a Sawyer PointOne with a female-female screw connector either to an AquaFina 1L or to a Sawyer Squeeze 2L bladder. After filtering I added one AquaMira tablet to each liter pf water. This was the lowest weight option I could find in my equipment boxes. My alternative was a heavier 2L Gravity Works system. 

Neither system is optimum if you only want to filter one liter. Both take up space and weight in the pack. And you have to make allowances for everything in the system getting wet. You also have to worry about the filter rupturing if it gets to or below 32 F. To make it worse, no dirty bag I've seen fills easily. Holding them under icy water is painful. You have to bring an extra scoop. A cheap pint water bottle with the top cut off works well. The instructor in Montana used the lower half of a flat 1L Platypus. He could Steripen right in the bladder, tank up (drink) at water sources, and carry almost no water. That relied on water sources every 3 to 4 miles. 

One final point on my water filtration complaint. I believe I drank less than I normally would and less than I should have just because of the hassle. It seems hard to believe most AT hikers use Sawyer Squeeze for their whole trips. 

Finally the extensive bushwhacking this trip was unexpected. I tore two holes in the mesh back pocket on my backpack. A couple of times when I was wearing only my merino base layer on top I almost tore holes in it. Both items are very expensive. Take tough enough gear to handle the conditions you expect. Even then, be careful. 

That's about it for this one. Good hiking!

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