Ultralight Shakedown & Wonderful Walk

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Open woods on the east loop trail

To friends, I’ve said, “The older I get, the lighter my pack.” Over the last 20 years, I’ve gone from a very heavy backpack to much lighter backpack. I say “very heavy” because I never actually weighed it or the items inside back then. I’d guess 45-50 pounds because I remember hoisting it to my knee before lifting it to my shoulders in a second move. I also remember the smothered feeling I felt while breathing under its weight.

Moving to lighter loads has been a process over time. By the time we did the John Muir Trail in 2016, my pack was at 32-36 pounds. That included a 2-pound bear canister and food for up to nine days.

This week I tried my ultralight sleep system and shelter. I considered it a “shake-down” hike to prepare for the last 63 miles of the Ouachita Trail coming up soon. My loaded pack weighed 18 pounds with food and water. Base weight (without food and water) was 14 pounds. There’s no heaving this pack, just a smooth swing from the ground to the shoulders.  I’d love to shave off more and approach a 12-pound base weight. It might be easier to lose a couple of pounds in bodyweight. 

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Shores Lake White Rock Mountain Loop is one of my favorite routes and close to home. After dinner, Hiker-dog and I drove to the trailhead as the sun dropped low in the sky.

This treasured Bliss Spring that crosses the trail required that I pause for a photo, so Hiker-dog waited patiently.

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I love the waterfall that roars softly below in White Rock Creek close to mile 2 but knew a side hike down was out of the question in the fading light. This waterfall was one of my earliest pleasing waterfall photos. I thought about the time I spent there as I hiked past the spur trail.

White Rock creek

Waterfall on White Rock Mt. Creek from several years ago.

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White Rock Mt. Creek in fading light

As we approached White Rock Falls, I knew we were close to home for the night. I used a rock as a tripod and took the photo below before continuing across the creek to a campsite close to mile 3. I thought we might stealth camp away from the trail, but the undergrowth in this area changed my mind.

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Photo in fading light from a rock tripod

I sat up the tarp by headlamp. It went nicely since I didn’t have to avoid rocks on the site. This tarp is 7 ounces and durable, a far cry from the 5-pound tent I used 20 years ago. After feeding Hiker-dog on a nearby flat rock, I crawled under the quilt. Soon I felt the familiar weight of Hiker-dog curled up next to my feet. She slept soundly all night. I was distracted a few minutes by moonlight through the translucent tarp but then fell asleep in the cool air.

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The next morning we packed and began walking by headlamp. It was fun to see the sunrise as we walked. After a breakfast stop, we continued the loop clockwise. Where I most benefited from a lighter load was on the climb up the first couple of miles toward White Rock Mountain. Speaking of “lighter,” I failed to pack one so coffee was cold. Forgetting a lighter was an embarrassing oversight and reminded me it’s important to check that list before I leave home.

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Nice signs at junctions at White Rock Mt.

The loop trail follows a portion of the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) where you’ll see both blue and white blazes. When we reached the OHT mile marker 19, in earshot of Salt Fork Creek, we turned to the south and began the east side of the loop. A muted sun lit distant hillsides through the clouds, and we had several small rain showers as we walked along.

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Mayapples and Dwarf Crested Irises were prolific in many spots. We enjoyed pausing to enjoy the color and variety. With my light pack, I never felt the urge to take it off. Click on the wildflower images for plant names. Yes, I like Crested Irises a lot…

 

 

IMG_7425rrDogwoods were blooming in all their glory. Their gentle clouds of white popped against the light greens of spring.

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Hiker-dog walking past one of many Dogwood trees

 

Hiker enjoyed taking a dip to cool off as temperatures rose to the mid-sixties. I filled a water bottle and carried it for the drive home. The next morning I enjoyed a cup of coffee at home from that creek water while planning another hike with my lighter backpack. 

Nimblewill Nomad in the Ozarks Dec. 10, 2017

Nimblewill Nomad posterI had the pleasure of hearing Nimblewill’s presentation two years ago and am looking forward to stories from his recent trek on Historic Route 66 from Chicago to the west coast. He’s an inspiration to all who meet him, so mark your calendar for December 10 so you don’t miss this opportunity!

Here is a pdf suitable for printing if you’d like to share: Nimblewill Nomad poster

Backpacking the Grand Canyon in Winter

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Always feel a sense of accomplishment after packing 4-days of food, clothing, and housing. Our group of six had mostly clear sailing on I-40 past Oklahoma City and on to the Grand Canyon in spite of recent snow. We were ready to burn some Christmas calories!

My pack weighed in at 27 lbs. without water.  Anything below 30 pounds is where I like it.  I was afraid my Equinox backpack wouldn’t hold up when I purchased it five years ago but it is still going strong which pleases me given its light weight.

Dale pack

This is Dale’s pack which came in at 29 lbs. without water.

We began our hike into the Grand Canyon on the South Kaibab Trail on Dec. 28th.  We spent two nights at Bright Angel Camp Ground which allowed some time to explore Clear Creek Trail.  Then we hiked to Indian Gardens and camped one night before hiking up Bright Angel Trail on our final day.

Roads were mostly clear from Alma to Gallup, New Mexico.  The first falling snow we saw was in Gallup.  A highlight of the day was our dinner at WOW Diner in Grants, NM.  It had lots of character, good service, and an interesting location sandwiched between a truck stop and federal prison.   Our appreciation goes out to Scott for the amazing marathon driving and arranging hotel rooms for us.

The WOW Diner

The WOW Diner

Backcountry Office scale

Backcountry Office scale

After a night at Maswik Lodge on the South Rim, we caught the hiker express shuttle to the South Kaibab Trailhead.  We were pleased that all packs came in at about thirty pounds including food for four days and water to get us down South Kaibab Trail.

South Kaibab Trail

South Kaibab Trail

The hike down was beautiful.  Beginning temps were in the low teens warming up into the 40s by the river.

View toward inner canyon from the South Kaibab Trail

View toward inner canyon from the South Kaibab Trail

Black bridge tunnel

Black bridge tunnel

Moon rise from the Colorado River

Moon rise from the Colorado River

It was a thrill to watch the moon rise and reflections of moonlight on the canyon walls.  The only picture I could get was this one just prior to the moon peaking over the walls.  My tripod was the black bridge.   Probably about a 6-8 second exposure.

Along side of Clear Creek Trail

Along side of Clear Creek Trail

The dayhike on Clear Creek Trail was a joy.  Interesting rock formations every step of the way and sweeping views of the river and inner canyon.  I hope to return and camp in the Clear Creek area in the future.

The Colorado River and South Rim as viewed from the Clear Creek Trail

The Colorado River and South Rim as viewed from the Clear Creek Trail

Bright Angel Creek

Bright Angel Creek

Our constant companion while camping at the bottom of the canyon was the soothing sound from Bright Angel Creek, named by John Wesley Powell.  It is clean, clear, and cold.

Wayne Ranney with Scott at Phantom Ranch

Wayne Ranney with Scott at Phantom Ranch

Scott was reading a book from the Phantom Ranch lending library when he discovered that the author, Wayne Ranney, was present.  Wayne, geology professor in Flagstaff, and his wife were hiking the canyon.  Carving the Canyon is a great book for those wanting to better understand how the canyon came into its present form.   The writing style is entertaining and makes difficult concepts more easily understood by non-scientists like me.

The hike up Bright Angel Trail was quite a climb.  Devil’s Corkscrew was an appropriate name for this series of switchbacks.  The overall vertical gain in elevation from the river to the rim of the canyon is over 5,000 feet which we covered in two days of hiking.

Devil's Corkscrew on Bright Angel Trail

Devil’s Corkscrew on Bright Angel Trail

The Grand Canyon is massive and literally overwhelms the eyes, but you’ll find unexpected beauty and interest as you narrow your focus to take in smaller scenes.  There were several locations where ice crystals formed over gently flowing water.  I like to call them ice puddles.

Ice puddle along the trail.

Ice puddle along the trail

Clear water shimmered over rocks in a small portion of Pipe Creek.

Pipe Creek

Pipe Creek

From Indian Gardens Campground we hiked out to Plateau point where a condor seemed to enjoy putting on a show for us.  A park employee named Shores had told us we might see a condor here but we never imagined we’d get such a performance.  His tag number was L4.  The introduction of condors into the park seems to be having some success.

Condor at Plateau Point

Condor at Plateau Point

Condor at Plateau Point

Condor at Plateau Point

Several deer were grazing close to the trail as we passed on our way back to the Indian Gardens Camp Ground.

Mule Deer

Mule Deer

Dusk at Indian Gardens

Dusk at Indian Gardens

After dinner I roamed the area and took some relaxing photographs as darkness came over the canyon.  Our last night in the canyon we had 1-2 inches of snow.

Bright Angel Trail

Bright Angel Trail

Our last morning we hiked up Bright Angel Trail in a winter wonderland.  In fact, we sang this tune softly as we came out of our tents.

View while hiking up Bright Angel Trail

View while hiking up Bright Angel Trail

I found myself walking slower and slower, not from the climb,  from a desire to make the experience last longer;  I didn’t want it to end.  Every few minutes I’d stop and stare as the clouds and light changed our view back into the canyon.  For a few minutes the canyon appeared through a “cloud frame.”

View from close to the top of Bright Angel Trail

View from close to the top of Bright Angel Trail

We topped out on the South Rim sooner than I’d expected at the end of day four.  The hike out didn’t seem as difficult as in the past.  Pictures and words fail in the presence of the Grand Canyon.  As one day hiker said, “I ran out of adjectives a long time ago.”  The sun sparkled as it reached the edges of stone bluffs while clouds seemed to dance and bend gracefully as they roamed freely around the upper canyon.  As soon as I reached the Kolb Studio on the rim I began to mentally plan a future trip into the Grand Canyon.

A word about our crew.  Couldn’t be a better group to backpack with.  We represent a variety of career backgrounds, skills, and I suspect, a variety of political and philosophical views, but we’re united in our love for the outdoors and appreciation of our beautiful planet.   I can also provide character references for any of these gentlemen because backpacking tends to reveal character flaws that may not be obvious in day-to-day activities.  I can recommend each of these guys without hesitation!

The Grand Canyon Crew

The Grand Canyon Crew

Video and slideshow which includes an amusing summary of things not to pack.