Backpacks

Osprey backpack

Laura and I are splitting a duffel bag for the mules to haul down to Phantom Ranch this time.  It’ll be filled with what we’ll need for two overnights and one day in between.  Nevertheless, I will want to carry enough stuff with me on the trail that I’ll need more than a fanny bag.

I’ve listed some of the things that’ll be in my pack already.  Did I remember to mention water and lunch?  You wouldn’t think that those things plus first aid and whatnot would amount to much weight, but it all adds up.  And as with boots and clothes, I’ve got to condition myself to carry the backpack, and not just a mostly empty one like I’ve been doing.

Problem is, I do not like backpacks, so I have been mostly figuring that I can deal with mine another day.  Hah!  Pretty soon it’ll be Canyon time and it’ll be too late.

I have a very nice backpack, an Osprey, that an REI backpack person made sure fit me.  I like it well enough – it’s lightweight, it holds as much as I need to carry for long day hikes, it’s got pockets and places to clip things – but I still don’t like it when it’s on my back.  It feels like I’m in a body cast, and because I hadn’t yet found the sweet spot of strap adjustments too often my shoulders and neck end up hurting after wearing it, even with nothing much in it.

I do understand that if I don’t start using the pack now and figure out the perfect adjustments, then come Grand Canyon I will suffer.  I’ve already done that twice and I really do not need to do it a third time.  So the last hike Laura and I took I wore the blasted thing on a climb up our local volcano (a post for another day maybe).  Even though all I was carrying was water, and not much of it, my shoulders and neck still hurt.

So, okay, time to get serious.  In three weeks we’ll be starting down Bright Angel Trail.  I can’t put this off any longer. I’ve just got to hike with a loaded pack.  But of course, having made the decision, we’re suddenly having Real Winter here, with nighttime temperatures below zero, and snow.  Consequently I’ve had little desire to abandon the wood stove for hiking.

Too bad, so sad, my days can no longer be spent sipping hot toddies by the fire (not that they ever have been). The day after Christmas is called Boxing Day, and this year I got a new dog, Izzy — a boxer! — and she needs exercise, so that’s motivated me to get outside in spite of daytime temperatures in the low teens.  I gotta admit, it’s beautiful out there.  Bonus: Walking in snow provides more bang for the exercise buck, even when walking in tire tracks made when the neighbor rancher comes in to break ice on the cattle tank outside my gate.

A snowy winter afternoon

Today I had even more motivation than Izzy to get outside.  Laura needed to go into town so I asked her to pick up some things for me.  I would meet her at the county road and she could hand over the few items I wanted.  Essentials only, of course.  I would be hiking with Izzy, not driving, and I’d be wearing the backpack so I could not only more easily carry the items back, but also carry some real weight in the pack.

I was shocked when Laura handed me the bag, though.  How could three items weigh so much?  But heck, if I couldn’t carry this stuff, then what would I do for the Canyon?  In three weeks I’d need to carry about a half gallon of water and that alone would be four pounds.  Oh yeah, you say four pounds isn’t much, but then there’s the lunch, the chocolate, the first aid kit, and the rest of the stuff — it all adds up.  Maybe it wouldn’t be as much as when we carried everything down to Phantom Ranch the first two times, but still…

So I loaded up my pack with the excessively heavy three items and hiked back, fiddling with the straps the whole way until, like magic, it didn’t feel like I was suspending bricks from my shoulders anymore.  Success!  Not only that, but when I came back, I weighed the pack with the groceries still in it:  12 lbs.  No way will I need to carry that much weigh at the Canyon!  Double success!

For the record, my pack with first aid and other stuff that basically lives in it all the time weighs 4 lbs.  So the essentials that Laura picked up for me weighed 8 lbs.  Bananas and cheese weigh more than you’d think.  The bottle of wine couldn’t possibly weigh very much.

And then there was a mini-split bottle of Cupcake Prosecco that Laura had put in the bag as a surprise for me to toast the New Year.  Why, that alone must have added 7 lbs to my load, right?

Happy New Year to my Patrons and to all my reader friends.  In the immortal words of Mr. Spock:  Live long and prosper.

 

 

It’s never too lace

Photo of boot lacing

Early lacing configuration

Laura and I were aiming for making it up to the fire lookout tower on top of Escudilla Mountain this coming Friday.  We’re getting closer to our Grand Canyon hike and both of us have been feeling like we need a real test.  The hike from Hulsey Lake up to the top of Escudilla Mountain (or near the top, where the tower is) is about 11 miles round trip.

To compare:  the hike from the top of Bright Angel Trail to Phantom Ranch is 9.9 miles one way.  The altitude change at Grand Canyon is the big deal. It’s 4380 feet from the rim to the Colorado River.  Hulsey Lake to the fire tower is “only” an altitude change of about 2200 ft.  Of course, the tower is at something like 10,866 ft, so that counts for something, right?

Plans change, though.  But more on that later.

Rant: Why why why do we humans do what we do?

I’m trying hard to not let myself get outraged every time I see the destruction caused by the 2011 Wallow Fire.  So much of the forest is gone forever (well, at least my lifetime) and it’s there, in my face, every hike up from Hulsey Lake.

Photo of Wallow Fire burn area

Wallow Fire burn area

We aren’t getting as much precipitation in the southwest as we used to.  Aspen is taking advantage of the newly available real estate but there’s little evidence of regrowth of conifers.  It makes me crazy that people (read environmental nonprofit organizations that do no environmental work other than file lawsuits) have been so dead-set against logging that the USFS has not been able to maintain forest health through thinning or reduction of hazardous fuels — so now whole forests burn down and wildlife is killed and, oh yeah, homes and human lives are taken, too.

Way to go enviros.

And it’s too late now.  The problem can’t be fixed, even if there was a way through the bureaucracy and litigation. Mother Nature has reacted to what we created with our socio-economic/political approach to management of natural resources, which may benefit humans in the short run but it sucks in the long term. The forest’s gone and it’s uncertain if it will ever come back.

But enough of this, I’m getting myself all worked up.

I’ve learned to look between the dead skeletons to the land itself, to the long views of ridges and valleys that we can still hike, and the far distant mountains that call to me.  I don’t think of myself as someone who wants to be at the top of mountains, but if and when we get to the Escudilla fire tower we’ll be very close to the peak of the third highest mountain in Arizona. If it’s clear we will be able to see as far as Flagstaff, something like 100 miles away.

That’s worth a lot.

View of the White Mountains of AZ

Equipment update

Boots

I discovered a major thing… alternative lacing.  Experienced hikers will no doubt roll their eyes (duh) when I say I have just now, after all these years and so many miles, discovered that I don’t have to lace my boots the way they were when I brought them home from the store.

Yes, it’s true!  I can lace my boots any old which way I want.  There are no lace police to stop me.

I should have guessed as much.  I mean, kids walk around with their laces just flopping rather than being threaded through those holes and hooks and D-rings.  It took a long time for my brain to connect what I had seen with my desire for happy feet. When I finally did, naturally I googled it.

Of course there are YouTubes and, for those of us who can still read, web pages with instructions on how to lace hiking boots.  As I’m a fan of learning via reading rather than by watching, here are a few links for you to try out: REIBackpacker, and GoreTex. They’re not the only ones, of course, but hey, you can Google it yourself or find some YouTubes to look at.

So, about that lacing.  Apparently there are not only alternatives for that, but there are options for tying those laces.  Who knew!

I have been experimenting on my Vasque boots and my Skecher hiking shoes.  Surgeons’ knots!  Window lacing!  Boot heel lock!  But wait — there’s more!

Last time Laura and I did the long hike at Hulsey Lake in AZ when I was wearing my Vasques, I got a heel blister from rubbing.  Little did I know that the cause is the same for heel blistering and feet sliding forward in the boots and smashing big toes (at minimum – my smashing involves three toes on each foot).  I discovered that I needed to lock in my heel, which I had attempted to do by just tightening the heck out of the laces, thereby causing all sorts of discomfort while not actually solving the problem.

So I studied the advice and then I relaced.  I hiked some, then changed the configuration several times till at last — oh my!  Hiking boots that fit like socks, with lots of wiggle room for my toes but without my foot moving all over the place.  Zowie!

I also figured out that there’s a reason for hooks being where they are, and D-rings, and plain holes, and leather lace tubes… they’re not just for decoration. Why don’t boots come with instructions?

Photo of Osprey backpack

Backpack

I decided to dig out my old Osprey backpack.  It’s old in years, but not that old in miles.  I haven’t used it since a week-long hike in the Gulf Islands, less than ten years ago I think, but still.  It’s been mostly stashed in a bottom drawer of a chest that otherwise contains fabric for wall hangings.

The day pack I’ve been using just isn’t working for me.  It’s meant for someone who’s taking a stroll rather than someone who’s going out for a whole day and might need to haul some real stuff along, like first aid, water, snacks, gloves, extra vest, emergency blanket (the foil kind), and last but not least toilet paper. Having to dig around to find what you want means that you have a hard time finding anything.  It means taking the pack off for the least little thing, like throat lozenges.

The day pack also was uncomfortable loaded up.  I never could find a comfortable balance between the weight carried on my hips vs. on my shoulders.  I suspect that is partly because the day pack isn’t long enough for my back, but no matter.  Not enough easily accessible pockets means it’s a reject for Grand Canyon.

I thought the Osprey would be overkill for a day hike, but it turned out to be wonderful not loaded down like it was when we hiked the Canyon ten years ago.  Then I was carrying everything I needed for three days.  Now I’m carrying just what I need for a day hike because we’re getting our overnight stuff down to Phantom Ranch via the mule pack train.

Hey, why not?  Mules gotta earn a living, too.

Change of plans

So now we’re not going for the fire tower on Friday.  Laura’s had something come up and needs to stay home that day.  Plus yesterday we accidentally went for a ten mile hike.

Laura lives about four miles from me.  Sometimes we hike out from our houses and meet halfway.  Yesterday the intention was for us to meet up so I could give her some KT Tape to try for a pulled muscle.  Each of us would then get in a quick four mile walk while accomplishing an errand.

It’s a measure of how conditioned we’ve gotten that after I handed her the tape and we chatted about that for a moment, I mentioned that I had planned on walking a little further just so I could rack up a bit more distance.  Well, when we got to the first logical turn-around point, we decided to walk just a bit more.  And then after that bit — a bit more than that.  Ultimately it amounted to over nine miles of hike, and when added to my ranch chore steps my Fitbit told me I had covered 10.55 miles yesterday.

Not bad!

What with Christmas prep plus my getting ready to welcome a dog back into my life (a story for another time), we’re putting off the fire tower hike till another day.  I’m not too worried about the change in our training schedule.  I think I’ve gotten the equipment issues mostly settled and my capacity to hike the distance needed has been reached.

But the up and down, that’s another thing.  That’s the real challenge of Grand Canyon, after all.  It’s not just a hike in the woods.

 

 

Grand Canyon Countdown

Photo: Headed Up, 2018 Lif Strand

In just under seven weeks I’ll be leaving for Grand Canyon.   That means one month and seventeen days to prepare.  It means forty-eight days.  Not that I’m counting.

Yesterday my friend Laura — who’ll be doing the Canyon with me  — and I repeated a hike from the week before.  We started out with breakfast in town.  Hiker’s gotta fuel up, don’t you know.  Then we drove up to Hulsey Lake in the Apache National Forest in Arizona.  The lake is at 8,620′ altitude, and we were aiming to go as far as we could in an  hour and a half up the road that goes up the western side of Escudilla Mountain, the peak of which is just shy of 11,000′.

Escudilla Mountain is an old volcano, as are many of the peaks around here.  Part of it is wilderness, most of it was burned in the Wallow Fire in 2011.  It’s kind of depressing to see how much of the forest is gone.  With climate change it’s likely to never grow back.  I try not to dwell on that, but when you’re hiking through it, it’s tough to not get really pissed off that the US Forest Service puts so little into reducing hazardous fuels and thinning the forest to limit the destruction of wildfire.  Of course, it’s worse to the east, in the Gila National Forest… but I digress.

Photo: Dead pines destroyed by fire

Moving on...

Yesterday was the first day of December, and the weather decided it was close enough to winter to hit us with snow and wind and darned cold temperatures.  Around here it’s so dry that snow sublimates, that is, it goes from solid directly to gas.  In other words, it doesn’t bother to melt, it just disappears.  So while we started out at Hulsey Lake in the snow in late morning, by mid-afternoon when we returned it was mostly gone.

Both of us had been disappointed the week before with our performances going up the mountain on this same route.  We were huffing and puffing and had to stop several times to catch our breath.  During this past week I figured out that we were just going too fast for the steepness of the road.  So we agreed this week we would walk for the same amount of time — 1 1/2 hours — but we would maintain a slower, evenly cadenced pace.

It worked like a charm!  I had expected better results but not nearly so much better.  In the same amount of time we were able to go nearly a mile further up the mountain, and we did it without gasping for breath like we had done last week.

I gotta tell you, we both felt pretty darned good.  Not only had we just cruised up the mountain, we were at 9500′ altitude when we turned around, at that point about four miles from the lake.  True, we were still three miles from the fire tower, but that’s a hike for another day.

Photo: High country -- 9500 ft, 2018 Lif Strand photo

Equipment report: Cruel boots

Starting from the ground up, my boots.  These are the ones I’ve described before.  Last week I wore Skechers hiking shoes… or maybe they’re just athletic type shoes.  No matter, I’ve done a lot of hiking in them since I got them a few weeks back and they’re really comfy.  Not meant for cold weather, but so nice to my feet that I was hoping I could use them for the Canyon.

But no.  My feet slide forward in them going downhill no matter how tightly I lace them and my poor toes suffer for that.  Maybe somebody can give me a hint how to lace them a different way to help out with the problem.  Anyway, this week I wore the Vasque boots, which I’ve been wearing on and off around here so my feet would get used to them.

I like the boots, but ever since my hip replacements a couple years back my IT bands have been bothering me.  The iliotibial band is “a thick bunch of fibers that runs from the outside of your hips to the outside of your thigh and knee down to the top of your shinbone. If your IT band gets too tight, it can lead to swelling and pain around your knee.”  (WebMD)  In my case the pain’s not at my knee, it’s halfway up my outer thigh starting at the knee.

It hurts.

The boots are heavy and they aggravate my IT band issue.  The specific muscle is the one that lifts the upper leg, so every time I wear the boots I’m lifting more weight than I’m used to and by the end of the walk I’m in pain, especially the right leg for some reason.

Sure, I’ll build up to the boot weight after a while but meantime… ow!  Smashed toes vs. IT band syndrome.  Sheesh.

But enter the marvelous invention of KT Tape!  It’s an elastic therapeutic tape (KT is just one brand I happen to use, though I’m auditioning another, Physix Gear) and following a YouTube instructional video I learned how to apply it to my Vastus Lateralis, which is the largest of the four quads that form the IT group.

(Note:  I’m no doctor, so don’t take any of this as gospel.)

Yesterday morning I applied the tape as directed to my right side IT, did not put any on my left.  This morning my right doesn’t hurt, my left does.  So let that be a lesson.

But wait!  There’s more!

Double socks.  When I first came across them I thought they were weird.  I mean, I see the point of wearing two pairs of socks, but I never can get them on so that the first socks don’t end up feeling like they’re choking my toes.  I was given a couple pairs of double socks and yeah, I’ve worn them — but mostly because two socks are warmer than one.

But now I have seen the light.  Or I will.  Yesterday when we turned around to go back down the mountain I was paying attention to my feet to see if they’d slide forward in the boots.  No, they didn’t — but I discovered a blister on my left heel instead.

Pro tip: I would have noticed the blister sooner but the pain was masked by a sticker in my sock that I just refused to take my boot off one more time to look for.  So take note that if you want to avoid blister pain, a judiciously placed sticker in your sock will do a fantastic job for you!  Recommended: Genuine New Mexico high-country stickers, needles, and/or spines, though twigs will do.  Just contact me and I’ll send you a selection for your very own.

Yesterday I wore a pair of SmartWool socks.  If it ain’t SmartWool it ain’t no wool at all for me.  Well, that’s not true.  I’ve discovered (very pricey) alpaca wool doesn’t itch either, so I’m thinking my problem has something to do with sheep, which basically I have no use for in any which way.  Sorry, sheep lovers, but that’s my truth.

Anyway, I wore the (one layered) socks, which are multi-colored stripes and I love them.  I’ve worn them many times before, and yet:  blister.  I know this would not have happened if I’d been wearing the double socks, which are a boring gray.  Not like my multi-colored SmartWool.

Oh well, I’m not one to choose fashion over comfort, so I’ll be ordering more of the double socks soon.  And you know I’ll be wearing a pair next hike.

More equipment:  The name of thy clothing shall be Layers

I have hiking pants that I’ve used in the past — lots of pockets, and they unzipper to become shorts.  However, since comfort is the name of my game, I find jeans with some stretch in them work even better.  The jeans don’t have cargo pockets, which I would like, but I don’t like that the hiking pants aren’t stretchy.  After a bunch of miles things like that become one more irritation.  Plus no way am I going to be wearing shorts at the Grand Canyon in January.

My jeans are loose enough that I can wear silk bottoms under them, but on the other hand the windy 32° or so up at the top of our hike didn’t make me fell I needed them.  Maybe if I spent my time sitting in a hunting blind I’d feel differently, but I’m not.  (PS — there were lots of hunters up there.  Elk beware!)

And then, over my torso, we have the layers.  I’m a believer in layers.  My inner thermostat is finicky so it seems I’m always just a bit too cold or warm.  Starting out from my skin I was wearing a long-sleeved silk top, cotton turtleneck over that.  One Polartec vest and a lined fleece jacket that my sister bought uswhen she and I and my other sister hiked the Canyon in 2009.  The vest was for warmth (I was carrying a second one in my backpack) and the jacket was to cut the wind plus provide another layer.

Note that the vests and jacket have zipper-closure pockets.  Highly recommended!  If you put stuff in your pockets and remember to zip them shut, then you won’t have your cell phone fall in a pond like mine did the week before.  But that’s another story (cell phone was fine).  Also while waiting at on the Safeway cashier line yesterday afternoon I discovered four M&Ms in my jacket pocket.  Who knows how long they were in there, but see?  They didn’t fall out even though partway up the mountain I took off my jacket and tied it around my waist.

Yes, I ate the M&Ms.

I had a fleece watchcap for my head as well as an alpaca (yes!  I splurged!) headband.  Most of the time I was too warm to need them, but coming back down and walking into the wind they were absolutely perfect.

And let’s not forget the fleece gloves!

Loves my fleece, unless it has spent any part of its formative time in close association with a sheep.

Even more equipment: Sticks, pack, electronics, etc.

Let’s start with the phone.  It was fully charged when I left the house in the morning and yet its battery was sucked dry by the time we were done with the hike.  I think this was because there was no WiFi on the mountain (gee whiz, go figure) and probably my phone was wasting battery power searching for what wasn’t there.  Or maybe it was the nifty altimeter app I was using.  Or maybe…

No, it was not the dunk in the pond the week before.

Who knows why about the battery.  I have one of those portable phone battery chargers somewhere.  I’m sure I could find it if I looked.  But in the meantime, Airplane Mode is my friend!  It is too sad to want to take a photo and have zero battery left.

Backpack:  I was using a small day pack that is meant, to be frank, for couch potato hikers.  Sorry spuds, but if you plan to be out all day and don’t want to be burdened with a huge camping pack, then the day pack you want isn’t basically a pouch with a few pockets.  None of which is accessible without taking the pack off.  No rings, no extra straps, no nada.

I’m going to either use my Osprey external frame that has gone down to the Colorado River with me twice or I’m going to find a better day pack.  This year Laura and I have agreed to put our overnight stuff for Phantom Ranch in a duffel that goes down on a mule’s back, not ours, so day pack is all I need.  Just not the one I have.

In the day pack:
First aid kit
Toilet paper + plastic bag for used paper
Garmin GPS (technically not in the pack but attached to the outside)
Compass/whistle/thermometer combo
Visor (why didn’t I use it when I needed it?  Because it was such a PITA to get stuff out of the day pack)
Wrist wallets (for ID, money, car key, etc.)
Throat lozenges
Water

Shoulda been in the pack:
Cell phone charger battery thingie
USB charging cable
Chocolate (little did I know there were M&Ms in my pocket but four?  No way that’s enough chocolate)
Prescription sunglasses (the glare off the snow was wicked!)
Pencil/pad (I meant to put them in, just forgot)

Under consideration to bring:
Second cell phone (why not — it’s not activated for cell but it’s got a camera)

Hiking sticks:
I don’t know how I lived all my life (till the first Canyon in 2008) without using hiking sticks.  Mine are Komperdell trekking poles, the kind that extend rather than fold.  I bought rubber tips for them, but I don’t know why — I like the carbide tips on mine.  Not only do the tips stay put, but I could use them as spears if I had to.  Girl Scouts always gotta be prepared.  By the way, when I first got the poles I didn’t know how to use them — height adjustment is important!

That’s all, folks

What I can get away with on a day hike isn’t, of course, the same as when I’ll need to do on the Canyon hike.  All the trails from the Rim to the River are longer, steeper, tougher, more intimidating, and so outrageously breathtakingly beautiful that a conditioning hike is never going to be that quite a challenge.  Between now and then, though — and right up to the last second — I’ll be making adjustments.

I leave in just under seven weeks — have I mentioned that?

Photo: Laura's shadow, 2018 Lif Strand