Monday, April 12, 2010

Winter camping more spring-like on the Superior Hiking Trail

I apologize as I am very delinquent at getting this out, but here is my trip summary from our trip to the SHT the weekend of March 12-14th.  I forgot to charge the battery on my camera, took three pictures, then the camera died... bummer!

What was initially planned for a winter camping trip, turned relatively warm.  Temps were in the 35-45F temp range and mostly cloudy until Sunday when we saw a little sunshine.  The early spring warm-up we had this year provided for some rains just prior to our trip that would normally have produced an incredible amount of snow.  We were really hoping to use the snowshoes and truly set up camp winter style with a pyramid tarp and 0F bags.  But, we ended up leaving the snowshoes in the car, donned regular shoes, lightly insulated clothing and my Tarptent Rainshadow.

I was wearing my ULA Ohm pack, my brother Bryan had my GoLite Pinnacle pack (2008) and Barak was wearing a old Mountainsmith pack that he picked up at a secondhand store for $7.  He was very proud of that purchase and it really wasn't too bad of a pack.  Fairly light and yet carried weight pretty well.  We each had somewhere between 25-30 lbs in each pack (including food and water).  At that weight range, mine was a little overloaded and I ended up with some chaffing on my hips.  The hipbelt is not really designed to carry much weight as it is more for just stabilizing the pack.  This was an error on my part to try and transfer too much weight to my hips.  Both of the other packs carried really well.

On Friday, we hiked from Castle Danger to a multi-group site just west of Gooseberry Falls State Park.  The trail had up to 12" of wet slushy snow and occasional clear spots.  The lower lying areas provided us with trails that were all or partially under water.  As we neared the gooseberry river, the trail was largely under water as it followed the banks of the river.  This left us but now choice to walk in cold, slushy water.  I elected to wear my Inov-8 Roclite 295 trail running shoes with a pair of merino wool liner socks and my Simblissity gaiters.  My feet did get quite cold when walking in the water, okay, they were numb!  But would quickly warm up as soon as I was out.  I might try and find a pair of neoprene socks to wear in these kind of conditions.

Since we got a late start, we push hard and hiked about 8 miles in 4 hours and ended up setting up camp in the dark.  Not a big deal unless you are trying to find dry wood to heat up water for dinner and a cocoa.  We ended up bypassing three campsites as all the tentpads were under hard-packed snow/ice.  We finally came upon the multi-group site that offered a nice dry tent pad under a large pine tree.  We had almost given up and were going to bushwack our own tentpad, so we were very thankful that we found this one.

It had been raining for the last couple days and while that had quickly melted a lot of the snow, it also saturated all the wood we could find.  We took some risk in taking my DIY J.Falk Compact Wood Burning Stove, and in the wet conditions we were in and trying to melt snow for 3 guys, either the stove or our skills fell short.

After trying to boil 1.5 liters of water for about an hour, we decided to set up a tripod over our campfire and that's how we melted snow and heated up water for the rest of our trip.  This worked out much better for us.  We just had too much trouble finding wood that burned hot enough in the stove.

In the future I will definitely be bringing my MSR multi-fuel stove for these kind of conditions.  Although, heating up water over the campfire wasn't such a bad thing, it just took a lot of extra time.  It's nice to be able to have a hot drink within about 10 minutes of reach camp when it is cold out.  Even though it's heavier, I think it will be worth it.

I was testing out my JRB quilt inside of a TiGoat Bivy and Bryan and Barak used a standard sleeping bag inside of a couple of bivy's that Bryan made out of reflective tyvek.  They had pretty major condensation inside the bivy and I had a little.  I think the their bivy's were just not breathable or just reflected too much heat back into the insulation.  As for me, not sure why I had the condensation I did.  From what I've read, it's really hard to eliminate condensation in these conditions (35F and humid).

On Saturday we hiked from down to Gooseberry Falls and then northward to the Split Rock River.  This section of the trail proved to be much drier of which we were very happy about.  However the last few miles were very icy and made for very slow going.  I was really wishing I had my Kahtoola Microspikes through this section.  Either way having our hiking poles saved us from falling numerous times.

Once again we bypassed a few campsites as the tentpads were either icy or too exposed of a site.  We ended up setting up camp on what I think was an unofficial campsite, but it had a fire ring and a tentpad and that was good enough for us.  As we were preparing dinner, Bryan announced to us that he just threw up...  poor guy! Turns out it was just a little stomach bug that thankfully, neither Barak or I caught.  He ended up not really eating anything and went to bed early.

Enter, a BIG advantage of a tarptent.  I decided to roll back the mesh door in case Bryan needed to make a quick exit during the night. (See picture of Tarptent from previous trip.)  While I was staking out the sides to give us a little more room, I hear him puking and as far as I can tell he is still inside the tent.  My first thoughts ere 'My tent is going to stink like vomit for the rest of it's life!!'  Fortunately, he was able to clear the tent and all the stink ended up on the dirt ground.  With a sigh of relief, I found a couple big chunks of birch bark, scraped it up and through it deep into the woods.  Some little critter will get a nice snack tonight I thought.

No more episodes for Bryan overnight and we all slept well.  I slept pretty warm all night, and woke up to discover quite a bit of condensation on the inside of my bivy, more than the night before.  I had been pretty warm the night before and didn't wear as much clothing, but I think I was still too warm.  My sleeping pad (CCF) was under my bivy which meant I was sleeping directly on the sil-nylon.  This definitely did a good job of trapping any moisture!!  Next time I will bring the pad inside the bivy to put a little buffer between myself and the sil-nylon.  In hindsight, we really didn't need the bivy's at these temps inside the tarptent, but personally, I just wanted to test it out to see how it works.  Bryan and Barak went without the bivies the second night and thus no condensation.  It's almost as if you need to sleep on the verge of being cold versus sleeping warm to reduce this condensation.  More experimenting will need to take place on future trips.

Next morning, the sun was shining, temps were very comfortable and Bryan was feeling a little better.  However, he was pretty weak from not keeping any calories down, so I lightly loaded my pack and let him carry it while I donned the GoLite Pinnacle (my first time carrying it).  The Pinnacle definitely felt much better at the ~30 lb weight range than that of the ULA Ohm with about the same weight.  Certainly not a fault of the Ohm as it's just not designed to carry that much weight unless you are willing to carry most of it with your shoulders.

The hike out was about 4 miles through Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.  The hiking was much easier as there was very little ice.  The last couple miles were especially as it was mostly downhill and on a mowed grass trail.

Overall, we enjoyed the trip and look forward to another!!

No comments: