Saturday, September 14, 2013

Monday, September 9, 2013

Skunked on the Gunpowder River

Nic and I went up to Gunpowder Falls off the 87 this weekend to try my hand at some local trout fishing. Upon parking at the end of Bunker Hill Road, we briefly talked to an angler who had just gotten off the river. He said that the river was very "trouty" but recommended that we drive further upstream to the Macemore crossing as he'd found better fishing up there. He also gave us lots of advice on which flies and techniques to use, none of which I really remember (or understood), but I had faith in my killer bug.

We walked down to the river and fished for half an hour before deciding to head up to Macemore Road. After a ten minute drive, we were back on the river and walking up the fishing trail. This section of the river was more feature-rich and there were a lot more people fishing.

Unfortunately, neither of us caught anything. I saw a small school of trout and might have had one bite, but I'm not sure. There were a few runs and holes that seemed like they would be ideal for trout, but extensive fishing didn't net me anything.

I certainly improved at casting with my tenkara rod, however. I'm getting better at fly placement and presentation, and had some practice with difficult casting situations such as casting under obstacles or with tree branches overhead.

I'm going to study up some more on the area and try to go fish near the dam next weekend. From the pictures I've seen it looks like that section of the river is faster-flowing and more suited for tenkara.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Tenkara on the Shenandoah River

I just got back from a 28 mile canoe trip on the Shenandoah River in northern Virginia. The four of us rented two canoes from a local canoe company and paddled from Luray to the Bentonville Bridge. We all had a great time and I was fortunate enough to be able to try out my tenkara rod for the first time.

I was a bit daunted at first because I've never fly fished before, but I quickly figured out how to crudely cast and started catching fish every few minutes.

Over the two days, I fished for about three hours and caught at least 15 small fish, including a few types of panfish (sunfish and some bluegills I think), some smallmouth bass, and another fish that I can't identify. The time flew by and I was surprised by how relaxing and meditative it was. Definitely going to pick up a Maryland fishing license next paycheck and start going out as often as I can!

edit: I bought my flies from Jay Johnson over at backpackinglight -- the utah killer bug with grizzly hackle caught most of the fish!

Sorry for the poor cell phone picture quality!


smallmouth bass

the fish I can't identify!
I used a Fountainhead 330 rod with about 10' of level line and a 3' tippet

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Angels Landing

During my time home in Vegas, some friends and I drove up to Zion National Park and did a few dayhikes. We started off with Angels Landing a 4.8-mile round trip hike to the top of a tall spire named, you guessed it, "Angels Landing". Most of the trail is paved and there were dozens and dozens of people on it, but it was still a beautiful hike. The weather was absolutely perfect and it was just good to be outdoors again.

driving into Zion
The trail ascends the entire time sticking mostly to lengthier, lower-graded switchbacks, until you reach the last mile or so. The pavement then ends and you are left following a chain bolted into the rock, guiding up steeply up towards the landing and sometimes winding within five feet of a cliff face. There is a rest stop just before the trail seemingly becomes more treacherous, and I was given the impression that most people hiking the trail ended up stopping there rather than continuing to the end.

at the foot of Angels Landing
a couple on the trail
posing for a picture at a loooooong drop
The trail continues up to the landing for about a mile. Once we arrived, we were granted a wonderful view of the entire canyon. There weren't nearly as many people at the top as you might expect, given the traffic on the trail, but there were probably a dozen brazen squirrels and chipmunks that had no qualms about running up to your backpack and trying to pull food out of it.

the view from Angels Landing
the other side
On the way down I was able to snap some cool pictures.

over the edge
hanging on a limb
After coming back down, we took the bus all the way to the Temple of Sinawava and headed off on another trail. The trail followed the Virgin River for a mile before ending, leaving us (and hundreds of other tourists) to take our socks off and wade down the river and riverbanks for another mile or two into the Narrows.

Greg walking down the Narrows
We went down for just over an hour, jumped in and swam in a deeper spot, and then started heading back. On the way back we passed a group of canyoneers that were rappelling down a small waterfall on the canyon wall.

the face the rappellers went down
the same waterfall
the Narrows
As we neared the bus stop on the way back we passed a incredibly fat squirrel that was cooling itself by digging to a cooler dirt layer and then laying down in it.

We were back in Vegas by 6pm. I went home, tired after the trip, and packed my bags to fly to Bend, Oregon early the next morning.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Thoughts on the MLD Spirit 28 Quilt

Given that I've had ample opportunities to try this quilt in the field and that there isn't much written about it online, I think it's time to discuss how I feel about it.

The MLD Spirit is my first foray into the world of backpacking quilts. I started off with a number of lightweight sleeping bags such as the Golite Featherlite, but found myself being drawn to the lighter weight and higher flexibility of quilts. Quilts allowed more freedom of movement and control over sleeping temperature.

Why did I pick the MLD Spirit?

  • it's lighter than most comparable down quilts
  • it's cheaper than most comparable down quilts
  • it's synthetic
  • it's made by Mountain Laurel Designs

The quilt weighs in at 21.0oz, the exact same as the weight listed on Mountain Laurel Design's website. As a comparison, this is about the same weight as a 30 degree EE RevX quilt...without the overstuffed down. 

Although the quilt is light, it doesn't pack down quite as small as a comparable down quilt would. Don't get me wrong -- you can stuff it pretty hard -- but I can't get it to fit into my 6 liter compression sack like I could my old Golite sleeping bag.

I'm 5'9" and the regular size fits me perfectly. It pulls snug up to my chin and I can pull it over my head if I sleep on my side and bend my legs a bit. The footbox is pretty tight but can be resized by loosening up the cord at the end or simply undoing the footbox altogether, turning it into a true quilt. I have had no problems with drafts even though I have taken the straps (the ones designed to hold it to your sleeping pad) off. There is a snap and drawstring at the head-end that allows you to button the quilt around your neck and then tighten it comfortably. This, paired with the footbox, pulls the edges of the quilt around your body and keeps cold air out while still allowing you to toss and turn from side to side.

I have comfortably slept with this quilt down into the low 20s multiple times. I got cold once but that was due to an REI pad that simply couldn't handle the cold. I have switched to a Neoair Xtherm and have been warm ever since.
One key feature of this quilt that I have grown to love is the footbox. Most quilts allow you to open the end of the footbox to some extent, but the MLD Spirit is the only quilt I know of that can actually be opened up all the way and turned into a blanket. This has allowed me to sleep with the quilt during warm summer nights in Nevada without a problem since I can just uncover a hole leg or my torso if I get too hot.

Since the quilt is synthetic, it retains much more of its insulating capability when wet. This is useful on the east coast where the high humidity and temperatures can often lead to heavy condensation. I haven't had to wash it yet, but I've read one account where an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker washed his every week by just throwing it in a regular washing machine and letting it air dry, leaving the quilt just as lofty as before. That's just not something you can do with a down bag.

Other Considerations
I've used the quilt without a bivy and everything was fine, but I definitely prefer using it with a bivy. A bivy adds warmth to the quilt, keeps bugs off, prevents any unwanted drafts or rain splash, and keeps the quilt clean and off the ground. I really love using a tarp/quilt/bivy as my sleep system.

Overall, I love it. I can't really think of anything wrong with it and am very happy that I've switched from using sleeping bags. The Spirit 28 is an excellent product that unfortunately seems to often be overlooked by those in the market for a quilt.

MLD Spirit with the footbox fully formed and tightened
My sleep system: MLD Grace Solo (spinaker), TiGoat Ptarmigan bivy, MLD Spirit 28 quilt, and Neoair Xtherm pad

Monday, July 29, 2013

Brief Tahoe Rim Trail Report

Due to personal reasons, I ended up coming home a few days early. I managed to complete just over half the trail (Mt. Rose Summit to Echo Lakes Resort, plus some road walking down into a town), some 84ish miles, in just over three days. Looking back, I wish I'd stayed to finish the trail before coming home, but such is life -- gotta live with my decisions.

Anyway, it was a gorgeous trail. While I'm sure it's not quite up to par with the John Muir Trail, the mountains and scenery were still much more beautiful than anything I've seen on the east coast. It was cool to see Lake Tahoe from so many different perspectives, and the trail just felt more "thought out", as in no stupid PUDs, pointlessly-winding paths, or overly-steep slopes, than the AT.

Starting on Mt. Rose summit -- the weather didn't look promising but the rain held off!

I started at 6:47pm at the Mt. Rose summit parking lot after being dropped off by my ride. It took a while to figure out where the trail headed and I ambled around for a bit before finally going in the right direction. Fortunately, there were plenty of suitable camping spots in the first two hours so I was able to set up my tarp right as the sun was going down. There was a great nighttime view of Reno nearby and I promptly fell asleep. Usually, I have trouble getting a good night's sleep the first night on any trail, and this was only my second time hiking alone. However, I slept soundly through the night and woke up refreshed and ready to go at 7:00am.

MLD Grace Solo after the first night on the TRT
I hiked a few more miles to Tunnel Creek Station, and then five miles to Marlette Peak Campground where I briefly rested and filled up on water. I then carried on to Spooner Summit where I had lunch and, unfortunately, didn't realize that I needed to hike down to the lake to refill my water supply. I had a little over a liter left and decided to hike to Kingsbury North and get more water there. While researching online, I didn't find any source that said "there's water at these places," only sources that said "there isn't water between here and here," signifying to me that there should be water at either of those end points.

That was incorrect.

I ended up hiking all the way to Kingsbury Grade/SR207 and then down a few miles to a 7-11 in Tahoe Village. As it was already past 10:00pm, I decided to just stay at a nearby local hotel for the night rather than night hiking uphill another hour to find somewhere to pitch camp. During the hour and a half I spent night hiking on my way to Kingsbury Grade, I saw a few scorpions and almost walked into a huge spider web occupied by a huge furry spider. Thank god for my bivy!

My friendly hiking buddies!
I woke up the next day with very sore feet, but fortunately no blisters. I relaxed for a bit, having hiked about 33 miles the night before, and then took a taxi back up to Kingsbury grade where I started hiking again. It was pretty hot, but within an hour, dark clouds had rolled in and thunder started sounding every minute or two. I kept hiking as I hadn't seen any lightning and it wasn't raining. After an hour of that, it started drizzling, but I kept on going. I passed through Heavenly expecting to see a Tramway and a few restaurants (supposed to be on-the-trail resupply here) but instead only saw a few buildings off in the distance. I suppose that the trail has been changed in the last year so that you have to go off trail in order to resupply.

It kept raining and I kept hiking, but only once or twice did the rain pick up enough that I decided to hide under a tree until it calmed down. I eventually arrived at Star Lake around 5pm and set up my tarp with the foot end into the wind. There were a bunch of beautiful camping spots, but most of them had puddles of water spread about. I later found out that I'd gotten lucky with the rain -- at my elevation, I only mostly a drizzle, whereas it rained so bad at lower altitude that they had to close a main highway!

I didn't sleep as well this night, but woke up just in time to catch the sunrise over the mountains surrounding Star Lake. I also discovered that while I'd been reading my kindle the night before (The Rolling Stones by Robert Heinlein), another backpacker had made his way up to the lake and set up camp. We talked briefly in the morning and then I went my separate way.

Star Lake in the morning
I enjoyed the hike up to Mr. Freel, as the weather was perfect and the views were great at such high elevation. I made it to Armstrong Pass by 9:40am and Big Meadow by 12:30pm, where I then ate lunch and rested my feet. On my way there, I had a couple bad encounters with the local insects. One moth managed to fly right into my eye while I was hiking. Even worse, I spotted one of those large lay-my-eggs-inside-this-caterpillar wasps on the ground, looked away, and then looked back was gone. Thinking nothing of it, I went to check the time on my watch and there it was, right on the watch face. I freaked out, threw my trekking pole into the air, and the wasp disappeared.

Just below the trail heading up to Freel Peak, about 10k feet
I left for Big Meadow and was amazed by the size and beauty. On my way up, I passed a group of 17 parents and children heading up to Round Lake for two nights of camping and fishing. I wasn't able to get a picture, but every single person was carrying a pack larger than mine. A few of the fathers were carrying multiple packs -- their own, with another lashed onto it.

Big Meadow was gorgeous
After a few miles I made it to Round Lake. I refilled at a fast-flowing stream just past the lake and continued on to Showers Lake. On the way, I joined up with the PCT and felt immense pleasure that I was able to hike a small portion of such an awesome trail...hopefully I'll have the chance to do it in completion one day.

On my way to Showers Lake
I made it to Showers Lake and was surprised to see a number of people already there swimming in the lake. It was only 4pm, so I sat down and took off my socks and shoes. I was surprised to find that all the skin on the inside of my left pinky toe was just gone -- it hadn't been hurting me at all -- and I cleaned and bandaged the area. I packed up and headed for Echo Summit at 5pm hoping to make it there by sunset.

I arrived just as the sun was setting and was picked up by a friend who lives in Reno, where I slept on her couch for the night before flying home to Vegas the next day.

Overall, it was a great trip. The trail was beautiful and very well maintained. I learned that I do enjoy backpacking by myself, but also that I very much need to limit how hard and far I go each day so that I don't turn the enjoyable pastime into a job-like drudgery. I will definitely go back someday and do the entire trail from start to finish...maybe next summer. Who knows.

Some more pictures!

Boulderers have been here!

The sun was setting right behind this so I couldn't get a good shot...but the rock formation was incredible