John Muir Trail (JMT) 1971, Tuollumne to Reds Meadows

We got started on the trip on Saturday, driven by the Powells up the Owen’s Valley to Tuollumne Meadows, at the top of Tioga Pass.

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Once dropped off, all we had to do we hike 227 miles through the roughest mountain country, and the most beautiful, in the North American Continent. We got on the trail by late afternoon, and reached a camp on Rafferty Creek by evening. We were all tired, even though it was a short day, because none of us were used to the heavy packs and none of us were in shape for that high elevation.

My girlfriend Beth drove up from Modesto, and I hiked back down to the Meadows to meet her and spend the night there. I got up early and bombed up to Rafferty Creek but the troops had already split. We finally met Conrad, John, and Mike. The whole group had apparently gone up Rafferty Creek rather than up the Canyon of the Toulumne, which was our route. We had all been fooled the evening before when reading the map. When the mistake was discovered, Conrad dropped his pack and ran up the trail to catch Chuck, but never caught up with him. Since no one had seen him leave camp that morning we all hoped that he would realize his mistake and come back down the trail, to rejoin the JMT.

We went back the trail ourselves to the Lyell River, where Beth left us and headed back down to Toullumne Meadows, and we started up Lyell Canyon. Reports told us that one group of 4 was ahead of us, and a larger group ahead of them. We knew the smaller group was ours and hoped the other included Chuck.  Cruising along all afternoon we caught sight of Chris Hughes a few times but never caught up with them till camp that night at the headwaters of the Lyell River, a campsite arranged the day before. We made camp and hoped that Chuck would make it in and that everything was all right with the people that were with hJMT1971141im. They did show up shortly after us, after climbing up Rafferty Creek and then hiking cross country to our camp on the Lyell. He and everyone was quite tired, and we set about supper and a good nights sleep.

Our itinerary for the trip was not planned for each day of the week. We picked three high and about equally spaced trailheads for our food drops, arranged for the food to be delivered to the trailheads on each Saturday, and the itinerary between food drops we figured out as we went. That allowed us to adjust the pace of the trip, and choose layover days for the best areas we found, or the best fishing or climbing, or to avoid mosquitoes. This loose itinerary worked out very well.   One thing Mike and I didn’t anticipate was the urge of the hikers to get to the next food drop as early as possible, even a day or so early. Sometimes just making it in time was tough, but it was always nice to get a hamburger and shake, and take our clothes to a laundromat to get them washed.

Monday: From Lyell Creek we headed for Donahue Pass, where we had lunch. The view of Lyell was quite good, and Chuck and I headed off from there to climb Donahue Peak. We agreed on a place to meet the others at Thousand Island lake, and wished them a good trip as we headed for the peak. The peak was an easy one, but it gave us a late start for Thousand Island Lake.   We were wet from the snow when we crossed the Woods Creek Valley, a very secluded and peaceful place. Going up Island Pass I was really tired and we reached camp totally exhausted. The main group had beaten us to camp by only a few minutes, so we all hustled around for supper. As evening deepened the imposing view of Banner was spectacular. The peak really dominates the area, appearing to be an Everest from our camp.

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Tuesday:  Everyone was ready for a day of loafing and I sure was.  Nancy loaned me a book that John was carrying, and with the book I hiked back over to the lovely Woods Canyon and spent the day reading and fishing.  I returned in the evening, and found that everyone had used the day to fish, wash clothes, read, write, and sleep. Several had gone off and spent the day alone as I had.JMT1971128

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Wednesday. This was really a fun day. We got a late start from Thousand Island lake and traversed past Purple and Shadow Lakes toward the trail that branched off to go to beautiful Lake Ediza.   A few of us were alternately bombing and going slow, and we all had lunch at Shadow Lake.   The entertainment for lunch was provided by John and Nancy. We had passed a group of girls and John was full of plans and ideas of meeting the girls, which didn’ t make Nancy happy.

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The group of girls hiked past as we ate lunch and made no reply to John’s warm greeting. What he did get was a rock thrown by his girlfriend Nancy.  After a long lunch we climbed a hill to the valley below Lake Ediza. Chuck and I stopped at a falls for the others to catch up and had a nice shower and rest. When the rest of the group caught up several more had showers in the falls before we headed up toward Lake Ediza. About ½ mile below the lake we found a really nice campsite near the deep and silent stream. After some exploring we found a meadow and marsh area really thick with wild onions, which we set about harvesting. My cook group, Chuck, Madelyne, Wes Little and myself had enough to fry them into a good vegetable dish and added some fish caught at Thousand Island Lake that we had carried with us.

We had a campfire and cooked popcorn and most groups had breads or cakes before retiring.   Chuck was given the task of baking bread for our group, and really burned it badly. He made up for it later in the trip by turning out a series of flawless breads.

We cooked in groups of 4, and each group had a steel army ranger cookset. This set had a pair of nesting pots, with wire bails. The lid was a shallow frying pan, with wire handles that folded against the side of the pan. By putting water in the outer pot, and bread mix inside the inner pot, we made a double boiler, and could cook bread and cake mixes. We always camped in wooded areas in those days, and had wood fires. Stoves were an optional kind of thing, and only Conrad and Chris had a stove on this trip. We baked by putting the nested pots on a bed of coals, and then we put coals on the lid to heat the top of the mix. With practice, the breads could be baked perfectly, and were delicious. Each cook group also had a grill with three wires, which would be placed between two rocks with a fire under it. The outer pot became black from the smoke and the cook set was carried in a cloth bag.

Thursday:  Ah, its time to get down to some serious climbing. John, Chuck, and I planned to climb Mt. Ritter from Lake Ediza.  We started out early, reaching Lake Ediza at dawn. We went around the south end of the lake and soon found ourselves kicking steps up the glacier. We were heading for the notch between the two peaks of Ritter and Banner, both 14,000 foot peaks. Earlier that Spring three out of a party of four Sierra Club climbers were caught by a storm on Ritter and the three froze, the fourth one got out. We were carrying a newspaper clipping about the tragedy to leave in the register. All the prominent Sierra peaks had a metal register on their top, which opened to reveal a hardbound book in most cases. The tradition was that each climber signed the register, and could describe the weather or the trip, where they were from, and whatever else they wanted to say. The full registers were replaced with new books periodically by Sierra Club members.

All the way to the notch we ascended the snow field by kicking steps in the snow. At the notch we looked at the north side of Ritter and it looked really hard to me. From the notch we were about 500 vertical feet to the summit of either mountain. John wanted to stay but we talked him into continuing for a ways.

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We started up the most prominent chute and climbed it’s ice until it became quite steep and terminated. Chuck and I both had ice axes. At that point John had had enough and waited for us there.

Chuck and I climbed up and left out of the coular into the coular to the left. We just traversed across the top of this one to a ramp leading to the top. Three belayed pitches across the coular and 3 up the ramp. At the top of the ramp it was boulder hopping to the peak across boulders and wind fluted snow. We signed and read the register as we huddled from the wind. To the west we could see Half Dome and Yosemite, north were the big lakes of the Owens Valley: Mono, Crowley, and Owens. South was the whole of the Sierra and a tiny bump that I recognized as Mt. Whitney, our destination some 200 miles away.

Too bad it was too cold to really enjoy the view. After a quick lunch we started down, picked up John on the way, much shaken from 3 hours alone on an exposed coular, and had a long wet glissade to the notch between Ritter and Banner. At the notch Chuck began running up the south face of Banner, scrambling up the peak like a madman. John and I waited for him and we was to the top of Banner and back down in no time at all. The glissade from the notch to the bottom of the glacier was very fast and John especially enjoyed it. The trip down to Ediza and home to camp was uneventful, but Lake Ediza is a beautiful area.

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Friday: Not much ground to cover, and we got off to a late start. From Ediza the trail took us by Shadow Lake and through rather uneventful country toward the small, marshy, Trinity Lakes, our destination for the night. We had lunch together on rocks, and met an old man and his daughter who were doing the Muir Trail also. She was a student at Berkeley and not bad looking at all.  She wasn’t John’s type, we all decided; too brainy. Apparently her father was beginning to have problems with his legs and was becoming discouraged. He’s a tough old guy and I hope he makes it.

After lunch Conrad and I lagged behind, talking. We were overtaken by a group of four middle aged fishermen.

“Hello, where you headed?” they asked.

“The Postpile. How about yourselves.”

“Same. Have those ice picks come in any good or you?” They were referring to our ice axes, which several of our group were carrying.

“On Donahue Pass they were life savers, and we used them climbing Mt. Ritter also.”

“Oh. Say, has that mob from Toullumne passed you? A big party doing the Muir Trail.”

And thus was born the name of infamy that spread terror in the hearts of backpackers far and wide. Mothers would tell their kids “you’d better eat your spinach or the Toullumne Mob will get you.” That may be an exaggeration, but the name stuck with us and seemed to fit. This perhaps the start of a feeling of group unity, a feeling that would grow after we’d weathered a few storms together. We were the Mob, or the Toullumne Mob.

We reached the Trinity lakes and spent the afternoon sitting around, throwing rocks into the water, and other intellectual pursuits. John, Kevin, Madylin and Wes were not here and had presumably missed the lakes and gone bombing down toward the Postpile. Mike put on some running shoes and ran after them, passing John and Wes and going on after Kevin and Madylin.

Meanwhile Mike had returned. He had run down Kevin and Madelyn, and they were on their way back to Trinity lakes. Kevin showed up shortly and said that Madelyn was far back and having a hard time of it. Mike had left the two of them at a trail crossing, the other trail going deep into the heart of the Minarets. This was also the last time Kevin had seen her, since he left before she was ready to go.

When she didn’t show up for a while more, Chuck went to help her carry her pack up. It was fully dark by now. After 40 minutes Chuck hadn’t returned so I went after them, with Nancy waiting supper for our return. I ran down the trail to the trail crossing Mike had told me about, then on towards the Postpile. What had happened, had I missed them somehow? Had they gone on down to the Postpile for the night? Had they taken the wrong trail? When I reached a river crossing too dangerous to cross at night I headed back, calling all the way. About a mile from Trinity Lakes Mike met me. They hadn’t shown up at camp either, so all we could do was wait until morning. We assumed they were together, and Chuck could handle any emergency that came up.

We had an uneasy night of wondering about Madelyn. It was at this time that I was really struck with my responsibility. No matter what happened, I was responsible for the safety of eleven people. I cursed myself for not having made a stronger point earlier about not going off without a map and with no idea of where you were going.

Saturday: Early in the morning Chuck came into camp.

“Where did you find Madelyn, and where is she now, at the Postpile?”

“I never found her. I spent the night at the river. Ran all way down to the Postpile and couldn’t cross the river on my way back. No sign of her here?”

“Damn! We thought you would have found her and you two would have spent the night somewhere together. How the Hell could she get off the trail, anyhow?”

We knew that she had food so if she didn’t panic she would be OK. I packed up and took off down the trail, agreeing to meet Mike and the others at the Postpile, where we could search the place if she hadn’t been found. At the trail crossing some fishermen had seen a girl in red windpants heading down that morning. Yes, she had come from the Minarets trail.

I bombed on, and found her at the trail heading into the Postpile. She was fine, but shaken after spending the night alone on the wrong fork of the trail. She had discovered her mistake the next morning, and waited for us on the bridge when I found her. God, what a relief! We went on to the Postpile and I bought her breakfast at the café while we waited for the others. Apparently when Mike and Kevin left her they were so close to the fork that they assumed she would either remember the way she came or read the sign. She did neither, and hiked up the wrong fork until overtaken by darkness.

I filled her in on the happenings of the evening, and she really felt bad about causing us concern. She said that she had really learned something and would be more careful next time. Chuck and Mike arrived, followed shortly by the group. A few of us had breakfast and bought hot showers, and everyone made a raid on the store, resupplying for the coming week. It was becoming obvious the the food we had packed up for the trip would keep us alive, but to be full and satisfied we needed to buy supplement food in the form of bread mixes and extra lunch foods.

The showers were really heaven and after the showers we went back to the store in time to see several pies being devoured by almost stuffed hikers. We had lunch there, and waited for the Powells, who should have been there by midmorning. I walked down to the lower campground to see if they showed up, and was joined a while later by Madelyn. We waited and waited, and the Powell’s van finally showed up at 2:00.  We hopped in and drove to the Postpile store and proceeded to sort, divide and pack our food for the coming week.

John Muir Trail (JMT) 1971, Preparation

In recent times, hikers on the JMT have seriously lighter loads than we used in the 1970s, and covered many more miles than we did. In 1971 my younger brother Mike and I planned a 29 day trip on the JMT, with 12 people.  Some people might be interested in our trip as a view into backpacking technology in those days.

Chris Hughes

 

Chris Hughes

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Conrad Lowry

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John Laine, Kevin Anderson, Nancy facing away.

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Chuck Ringrose and Bob Shaver and the 10 lb rope we carried!!!!

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Wes Little washing up.

 

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Being literary sorts, we had reading material.

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John Laine

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Chris Hughes doing survival fishing.  We were hungry most of the trip, and relied on our fisherman to supplement our menu.

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That fish is big enough to keep, and we needed it.  Fry that sucker!

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Steve Siebert after a food drop, with bacon, bisquick, fish frying, life is good.

We used foam pads as a sleeping pad, as there was no Thermarest or any other deluxe sleeping pad.  There were no internal frame packs then, and we used Kelty external frame packs if we had the dough, or REI Cruisers, or other Kelty knock offs.  We didn’t routinely carry stoves, and no GPS of course.

For tents we mostly used a tube of plastic called a tube tent, which was about 8 feet long, and formed a triangle with the floor being about 4 feet wide.  We only strung up the tube tents between trees when it threatened rain. There were no polypro or other synthetic clothes,  and I thought I was being very innovative to have a short sleeved nylon knit shirt to wear.  Mostly we wore cotton or wool clothes, with cotton being OK as long as it could be dried.  For rain gear we had ponchos of coated nylon.

Being students, our food was the cheapest we could get, and Mike and I planned the food based on our experience with weekend backpacks.  We didn’t reckon for bigger eaters than us, nor for a big increase in appetite which hit everyone after a week on the trail.  We packed up all the food for 12 people for 28 days before we left, and a week’s worth of food was delivered to us at three trailheads along the way.  We used steel Army Ranger cooksets, one for each of the 3 cook groups of 4 people.  These great cooksets had two nesting pots, and a fry pan lid.  Each cook group had a small grill in a cloth bag, and the pots were in cloth bag.  We cooked over open fires, so the pots were filthy with soot.   We didn’t use water filters in those days, and giardia was not a problem.

We didn’t use bear canisters, and didn’t hang our food, and never had a problem with bears. There were no permits, and I don’t remember seeing a ranger on the whole 28 day trip.  We didn’t do much training before the trip, and got in shape on the trail.  Some of us were runners in high school or college, and generally fit.  By the third week we were strong, and on the fourth week we were in great shape. The notes that follow are from the journal I kept on the trip.

Itinerary:

day 1 S  Toulumne Meadows to Rafferty Creek

day 2 S  Rafferty Creek to below Lyell Creek

day 3 M  Lyell Creek, over Donahue and Island Pass, to Thousand island Lake

day 4 T  Layover Day, relaxing

day 5 W Thousand Island Lake to below Lake Ediza

day 6 T layover day, we climbed Mt. Ritter and Banner Pk.

day 7 F lake Ediza to Trinity Lakes

day 8 S to Devils Postpile, get food drop, hike 2 miles out of DP

day 9 S to Purple Lake

day 10 M over Silver Pass, to Quail Meadow

day 11 T to Lake Marie

day 12 W over Selmer Pass to Evolution Valley

day 13 T over “Shit for Brains” Pass, to Midnight Lake

day 14 F to Lake Sabrina, get ride to South Lake

day 15 S to Saddlerock Lake

day 16 S Over Bishop Pass, climbed Agassiz, cross country to Barrett lakes

day 16 M layover, climbed Polomonium, Sill

day 17 T cross country to Palisade Lake

day 18 W over Mather Pass to Lake Marjorie

day 19 T: over Pinchot Pass to Rae lakes

day 20 F To Onion Valley, over Glen, Kearsarge Passes

day 21 S to Flower Lake

day 22 S over Kearsearge Pass to Bubbs Creek

day 23 M over Forester Pass to Wright lakes

day 24 T Layover, climbed Tunnabora, Bernard

day 25 W another layover for Group A, to Wallace lakes for Group B.  Climbed Russell, Constitution,

day 26 T To Hitchcock lake for Group A, layover at Wallace for Group B

day 27 F over Trail Crest to the Portal, to summit of Whitney, spent the night on Whitney

day 28 S out to trail head Group A, down to Whitney Portal Group B

The backpack of the John Muir Trail began as a two man trip, just my brother Mike and I.  I turned 21 on the first day of the hike.  My brother was 18.  A group from our YMCA sponsored hiking club had attempted the JMT starting at Whitney the year before.  They were Paul Hungerford, Bruce Cyr, and George Runner.  Their packs were enormous, and the heavy mountaineering boots killed their feet.  They bailed at Kearsarge Pass I think.  We wanted to finish the trail, so we decided to start at the north, Tuollumne Meadows, and head south.  At that time the trail was not particularly famous, there was no internet, few books on the route, and no tradition had been established for doing the route, and there was no way to find out about resupply options.  We did have topo maps and knew how to use them.

The closer we got to the planning state, the more we found other interested people. It reached five or six and we decided to make it a Y’s Hikers trip in order to be insured with the Y. Almost immediately we had a party of 12 or possibly 16. The extra four were Scouts and when Mike refused to put them in one cook group they dropped out. We decided to charge everyone $50 each, for 28 days worth of food, plus gas for the transportation to the trailhead and back.  We were all students and we were trying to keep it inexpensive, but that was ridiculous.  if we had charged $100, we could have eaten a lot better.  This is a letter from Mike to me when I was still off at college, and he was in Lancaster starting to get things organized.

Bob:

Here’s the signup $50 paid:

Kevin Anderson (15 years old)

me

John Laine

$10 deposit Chris Hughes

Robert Bouclin

Tomlinson (age 14 but really wants to go and went on shakedown hike

Lowry, Conrad

You

Wes Little

Madeline Payne (ah yes, Gordon’s has put in a mountaineering line. Wipe out for Eaton! Wally to help buy food wholesale. Cheep. Good equipment. The jacket sold for $25 at last meeting to Payne)

Antonia Reeves

Plus two kids who want to wait until an Explorer Scout trip is scratched (they won’t commit themselves yet so neither would I on Oking them).

The first 11 seem alright to me, though Antonia Reeves and Robert Conchil weren’t on shakedown. The other two will have to commit themselves and $10 by next hiker meeting. I don’t really think 13 would be too many (+Sue? Is she going part?). Also Byron might go part with us. Que responde es? Shakedown was to Kern Peak with Wally Henry – an ickey trip, but it found a leader (I stayed home).

On food—I can get egg noodles and macaroni from the Wrangler cheep cheep cheep. All dehydrated, good for perhaps two meals on each 7 day segment. John Laine said any grits and he’ll wipe us both out (cream of wheat!). Will hold Y meeting and demand deposits, hand out medical slips and plan what support trips can be run. Powells volunteered their van for the shuffle, but with 13 people and packs it alone just won’t hack it. Drivers are you, Laine, the rest illegal. Don Shaw wants everyone to become Y members ($2) for insurance, so we probably should go along with that. I propose a split group when we hit the N. Pal Sill area—with peak baggers and trail-o-phobes taking last years route. We can hassle that out on the trail.

Rob Culbertson was drafted into the Army and Kevin Anderson into the Treasury. They still mail bank notices to 2121. Its frustrating!. Kevin A’s parents are willing to drop off food—how about Primmer? Still in? Logistics are going to be interesting! Where do we keep the food that is to be taken up to us?

Boy, have you got problems

Mike

I got out of school the week before we were to leave, and the week before the trip was when 95% of the work on the food was done. Our itinerary was planned and we already had our food drops in order. Of all the preparations I guess the food was the most work.

After the menu was made we had to buy enormous quantities of food, enough for 12 people for 27 days. These supplies purchased, we took over the facilities of the Palmdale Y for the week. The five or six steady workers became quite expert at food packing and accomplished the largest food packing in the history of the Y’s Hikers club, with no major problems. By Thursday our bundles were lined up along 3 ½ walls of the room, all in order and ready for the food drops. We had one big bag for each of the 3 cook groups, for each week.  We would start out with one of the bags per cook group. They were bundled and stored in Mike’s bedroom, till they were picked up and delivered by our support parties, the Powells, the Peca’s, and Ken Primmer.

“Kind of Light” Backpacking Gear list

My base weight (pack weight without food, water and fuel) has been decreasing steadily, and for a weekend or a week long trip presently comes to about 15 lbs. My go-to gear at present is listed below, and comes to just over 15 lbs. This is definitely not ultralight, but its as close as I might get to ultralight.  Daughter Laura shown below, has nothing to do with this post, but she looks better than I do. From our fall 2015 trip to Thousand Island Lake.

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Category Brand of Item Weight (oz) Comment
Packing Golite Jam 40L 32 See ULA, Osprey, REI
Pack cover 3.8
STS Dry bag 4.3 Shower, and for washing clothes
 

Shelter

Tarptent Squall II  and 6 stakes 48.8 2 man tent
WM Megalite 28.9 Rated to 32 d., down
Big Agnes pad 20.8 Sturdier than Neoair
Packed Clothing GoLite Rain Coat 13 No longer made
WM down jacket 13.4 Lighter than fleece
1 pr socks 2 oz wool blend
1 t shirt 6.4 synthetic
1 long sleeve shirt 8.1 Button up, nylon
Patagonia fleece gloves 1.7
STS headnet 1 For mosquitoes in early season
Knit hat 1.8 For sleeping
Hydration Aqua mira and MSR tablets 1.8
Water bottle Smart Water from grocery store
Cooking 900 ml Snow Pk pot 6.3 With rubber straps
TD Sidewinder Cone, stove, simmer ring 2.8
Salt and pepper 1 Tiny container
Bic lighter .8 At least 2 plus a fire striker
Dish soap, scrubber pad .2 Tiny bottle
cup 2.9 plastic
bowl 2.4 plastic
spoon .6 plastic
Camera Sony a6000, 10-18mm lens 21.3 Heavy but worth it
Mics Knife and sheath 2.5 Homemade
First aid kit 3.1
Toilet paper 2 oz 2 oz per 4 days
Sun block .6 In tiny bottle
Repair kit 1.3 With duct tape, patch kit and glue
Toiletries kit 4.4
Compass 2.2 With mirror
Petzl Headlamp 1
Sun glasses and case 3.5
cord 2 Braided Dacron fishing line 135#
Total minimum 248.16 oz
15 lb 6 oz

Helle Temagami for an Eagle Scout

Helle is a maker of super nice knives in a variety of styles.  They made a Temagami model in collaboration with Les Stroud, and its a hunting knife with a Scandi grind.  Les is an outdoorsman of “Survivorman” TV show fame.  One thing about Les, he always has a pretty decent knife, and he can always start a fire.  It has a half tang, so its as strong as a full tang knife, but a little lighter.  One claim is that when you grasp it in the winter your fingers don’t touch the tang on the bottom side, so you have less heat loss to the bare metal.

Temagami-V2

I wanted to make a knife for a young man who had earned his Eagle rank in scouting.   Tomio had been with us on a number of week long backpacks, and Jim and I had become great friends with him and his Dad, Gary Fujino.  Tomio had done some deer hunting, so I thought a hunting knife would be great for him.  The Temagami seems like an awesome hunting knife, and costs $180.  They also sell a Temagami knife blank, which is the finished and sharpened blade with no handle, and I got one at Ragnar Forge for something like $25.

Having the partial tang presented a different challenge in knife making, quite a little more complicated than putting scales on a full tank knife.  I found a piece of birdseye maple (in the free hardwood floor samples) and cut a slot for the handle along one side.  I drew a handle shape that was a bit slimmer than the stock Temagami, because Tomio’s hand is a bit smaller than average.  It bolted up ok with Corby bolts, but that was just the start. Corby bolts are brass and file down with the wood, and provide extra strength to keeping the handle on the knife.  They cost about $3 each.

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After glueing and bolting, the shape of the handle was formed by removing stock.  It turned out OK, and I gave it to him after his Eagle ceremony.  That knife should last his lifetime.

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My Preferred Cooksets and stove systems

I’m on about the 4th Caldera cone cooking system, and maybe the 10th stove I’ve used overall, so I thought I’d share what is the best of all the stoves I’ve used in 45+ years of backpacking.  The Fusion Sidewinder Ti-Tri split cone stove system, made by Trail Designs, the maker of Caldera Cone stove systems. The Ti-Tri refers to the windscreen being made of TItanium, and the stove having the capability to use three different fuels: alcohol, esbit, and wood.

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The photo above shows the two stoves I have used for at least 2 years.  The smaller one is a 900 ml Snowpeak pot that I use for solo backpacks.   The larger one is a 1.9 Evernew pot, which is perfect for use with two adults.  Both can fry a fish, boil water, and simmer to cook pasta, scalloped potatoes, couscous, or rice dishes.  Both windscreens pack into the pot, and shown is the stove itself, the simmer ring, a tiny bottle of dish soap, a lighter, a little of scrubber pad, and a small salt and pepper shaker.  That, plus a cup, bowl, and spoon make up my kitchen setup.

The smaller pot weighs 9 oz, with pot, windscreen, container strap, and simmer ring.  The larger pot weighs 14.2 oz with the same components.

Shown below are the two pot sets all packed up.  Inside is plenty of room for coffee, sugar, tea, cocoa, etc. Notice the straps that hold them together.  Those are pieces of bike inner tube sewn into bands that hold the handles in, and hold the lid securely on the pot.

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The other Caldera Cone stoves I have used have been the aluminum windscreen version, in a plastic tube, and the Titanium one in the plastic tube.  I highly recommend any of them but my faves are the two above.

Building a Quinzee for Winter Camping

If the snow is not deep enough for a snow trench, a quinzee is another option for a snow shelter.  A quinzee requires about 5 times as much work to make as a snow trench, but its somewhat fool proof.  If all the snow you have is 8″, you can still make a quinzee.  Some scout troops make these and mistakenly call them “snow caves.”

The first thing you do is tromp down an area about 15′ in diameter, wearing snow shoes or skis.  Then you take out of your pack the clothes food and water you will need for the next hour or so, and put your pack (zippers shut), covered by a blue tarp, in the center of your tromped down area. Below, Josiah has started to bury our gear on a gear sled in snow.

 

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Keep piling on the snow until the pile is at least chest high, and 10′ across or more. When it gets massive, smooth down the outside of the pile with hands and snow shovels, and stick 12″ long sticks in the pile.  The sticks will serve as depth guages as the center of the pile is hollowed out.

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When the pile is massive, let is set for an hour, to solidify.  This a good time to have some hot water or food.  After an hour cut off a face of the mound, and start a low entry into the mound.  When you hit your packs, pull them out without making the entry hole any bigger.

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After getting your packs out, put on a water proof layer of clothes, and take a shovel into the interior of the mound, and start hollowing out the mound.  At this point it helps if a partner is outside by the door and moves snow from the entry way to keep it clear.  When you start to hit the ends of the 12″ sticks, you know that the wall is 12″ thick, and you don’t make it any thinner than than.  Then you smooth the inner surface with your gloved hands to make a nice arch.

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Once the floor is flat and the ceiling arched and smooth, you could put a heat source inside and cover the door with a piece of plastic. The heat will melt some flakes and spikes off the interior, and the moisture will be absorbed into the walls.   The fewer flakes and spikes are left, the less that will be knocked off onto your sleeping bags.  After half an our or so, you can lay out a plastic sheet, and push in your sleeping pads and sleeping bags.  It will be a good 20 degrees warmer inside the quinzee than outside.  The door is kept as small as possible, and could be blocked by packs to keep the wind out.

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In the morning these shelters will be strong enough for 3-4 people to stand on.

Nemo Dagger 2 Freestanding Tent

Jim (my son) and I got to use a Nemo Dagger 2 on a 6 day trip in the Sawtooths, and I also used it on a 5 day hike in the Sierra with Tuckie.  Here are my thoughts. The tent without the fly is shown below.  Nemo Dagger 2

Most “two man” tents are really very roomy one man tents.  The Dagger 2 actually works for 2 adults.  I’m 5’9″ and Jim is about the same, and we had room to sleep without a lot of bumping each other.  Due to the side walls being vertical, as shown above, one can sit up and not bump into clammy sidewalls.  Each side has a door, and they are set up for foot to shoulder sleeping.  Each door has a substantial vestibule which can hold all your gear.  The headroom is very good, sufficient to sit up on your knees.  The light color makes the interior seem bright.

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As you can see the fly comes down pretty low on the tent, and we had the chance to test it in bad weather.   We got a fierce hail storm, followed by hard rain.  Jim and I were in the tent, and after a while we noticed that we were in a water bed.  There was about 2 inches of water under the tent, but luckily we were bone dry inside.  We got out, and moved the tent a few feet to dry ground, a big benefit of having a free standing tent.

On one trip, we slept in a group of tents, 2 Big Agnes tents, a Tarptent, a Mountain Hardware dome tent, and the Nemo. It rained all evening , and all night, and we packed it up in the rain. We and everyone thought we had the best tent of the bunch for bad weather.

This nice little tent, a genuine 2 man, weighs 4 lbs 6 oz, which is very decent for a two man tent.  It will make one feel very protected from the elements.  The price I saw on this tent was $400, and I don’t think you would regret this purchase, and it will last you for many years. This tent gets 5 stars out of 5 stars in my book. They make a Dagger 3 man, but this tent is sufficient for two hikers.

Gifts for the Ultralight backpacker

Buying gifts for the ultralight backpacker can be difficult, because you don’t want to buy stuff that she/he won’t like.  So here are my picks for cool things for the ultralight or lightweight backpacker, or for a person heading in that direction.

Petzl e+LITE headlamp:

One always wants a 300 lumen flashlight, but we also realize that a little zipper hanging LED is enough for most uses when camping.  A compromise between the two is the Petzl e+LITE headlamp.  I have it on good authority that Santa is bringing me one this year, and if it weighs less than 1 oz and puts out 60 lumens as advertised, and has a good on-off switch as it looks like it does, I’ll like it.

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Trail Pix UL tripod:

Real photographers carry big tripods.  Real UL hikers carry no, or a minimum tripod.  A light weight compromise is the Trail Pix tripod, that works with your hiking poles, and weighs close to the weight of a cell phone.

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This can be purchased with a ball head or phone holder, $100 for all components, trailpix.com

Caldera Cone Sidewinder:

This stove is light and effective.  I can’t say enough about it, and I was a die hard alcohol stove skeptic.  The full skirt model of Ti-Tri has been my go to stove for 5 or 6 years, and now its the Sidewinder that I love.  The titanium wind screen fits inside the pot, buy a pot with the wind screen and stove, or use your own pot.  traildesigns.com

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Exploded view below.  Different sizes of pots are available.

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TinyCharger5, by roadiesolar.com.

For charging electronics when on a long trip, this 4 oz solar panel hangs off your pack, leans against a rock, or use it as a hat (sure, why not?). Keeps cell phones charged, camera batteries, anything with a USB port. Contact roadiesolar for when it will be available.

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 Sea-to-Summit Ember Quilt:

I was a severe skeptic of using a quilt instead of a sleeping bag, but this thing convinced me.  Its awesome and is good down to at least freezing, although its rated at 40 degrees.  It weighs 1 lb 4 oz!!! is stuffs to about the size of a nalgene bottle. I’m not sure this is available yet, but call them and demand to buy one. The site says available in Spring of 2016, and it is worth waiting for.

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Tarptent Squall II tent:

Having tested, used, or seen many tents in the past 49 years of backpacking, I gotta say the Squall II by Tarptent is hard to beat.  It weighs about 2 lbs, sleeps two in comfort, and I’ve had it in wind, snow, rain, and bugs.  It is wonderful.

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Building a Snow Trench for Winter Camping

If you are camping in the winter, a shelter made of snow is tremendously warmer than sleeping in a tent. Different types of snow allow different kinds of snow structures to be built.  One very practical shelter for when the snow is deep is a snow trench.  How much time you have, if a storm is expected, and if you are going to set up a base camp are considerations.  A snow trench can made in a couple of hours. The snow has to be 3 or 4′ deep for this type of shelter, or wind packed snow also works. You need a snow saw and a snow shovel to make a snow trench, each of which are tools you would normally carry in the winter.

The first thing you do is compact the snow in an area where you are going to make the trench.  To compact it you gently walk on it with skis or snowshoes, then you let is settle for an hour.  That hour is a good time to cook some food or get hot water.  After it is compacted, you don’t walk on it again, which will cause fractures in the compacted snow.

Below, preparing a site for a snow trench.

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After the snow has settled for an hour, you cut a pit to stand in, which will be the start of the trench.  You can cut steps to get into and out of the pit.  One side of the pit should the size that you want your blocks to be, it should be flat.  You want blocks to be as big as you can lift them, which will depend on the snow you have. Standing in the pit you have dug, you face the smooth side and cut your first block. You do this by cutting the sides of the block first, to about 6 or 8″ thick, then you slice along the bottom of the block, then  you clear wedges along the sides and bottom of the block, so it will hinge toward you without snagging on the sides.  The cut along the bottom will as deep as the length of the snow saw. Lastly, you cut vertically along the back of the block.  If things go right, the block will drop down a short distance, and you will hear it drop half an inch or to.  Tip the block towards you, and lift it out and set it to one side of the trench.

Below: Bryan Wilkins has cut a few blocks and set them aside.

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Repeat the process of cutting and removing blocks, and work back into your compacted snow area.  When you have extended the trench about 10 feet, you will have a lot of blocks sitting to the sides of the trench.  While cutting, no one should walk on the compacted snow, or they might crack the snow structure.  Below, Bryan has cut enough blocks and has enough blocks to start forming the roof.

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To form the roof, you start at the far end of the trench and lean two blocks in from the sides of the trench to meet in the middle of the trench, forming an inverted V shaped roof.  Trim the edges of the blocks so they fit together and have good contact on the sides of the trench. You stagger the side edges of the blocks, so the next block you place will be supported by the last block you placed.  You work from the far end of the trench back to the pit you started at. Below Bryan has formed most of the roof, and has plenty of blocks to use.  The placement of the blocks seems a bit precarious when they are first placed, but after a few minutes the snow welds together.  By morning a person can stand on the roof and it won’t cave it.

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When the roof is formed, the trench walls will be straight, as shown below.  The walls can now be cut to taper outward toward the bottom, to give you more room at the ground level. Most trenches are built for a single person, but they can be wide enough for two people. Multiple trenches can start from the same pit, so they radiate out from the pit.  In that way people can talk to each other at night.

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If you have two people building trenches, you can use a three piece roof span, as shown below.  That is me inside the trench in 1974 on the first snow trench I ever built.

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Once the roof is on, you can use a shovel to toss loose snow on the roof, and fill in gaps in that way.  You can also cover the upper part of the door with a block of snow, to keep heat in.  You can also use your hands to smooth the walls and ceiling, which will reduce flaking of snow onto your sleeping bag.  You can put a heat source such as a candle or stove in the shelter, cover the door, and let the heat melt some flakes on the interior walls, also to reduce flaking later. Then lay plastic on the floor, put down one or two sleeping pads, a sleeping bag, and its ready to sleep in.  The snow is great insulation, and it could be 20 degrees warmer inside the shelter than outside.  You can drape a plastic sheet over the door to keep more heat in.

Below are some more or less finished snow trenches.

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Sierra Nevada, Thousand Island Lake

We had a family backpack in 2015, in which wife Tuckie, son Jim and girlfriend Jenna, myself, Kevin Anderson and his daughter Jenna, and Kevin and my old hiking partner Conrad participated.  The destination for the first day was Thousand Island Lake, in the Mammoth area.  We were reminded of how out of shape we were as we struggled up the dusty trail on a hot day, bound for 10,000′ Thousand Island Lake.

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We made it to the lake tired, late, and hungry.  Thousand Island Lake is a tremendously beautiful Sierra lake, and has 14,000′ Mt.
Banner as a backdrop.  When we did the John Muir Trail  in 1971, we climbed 14,000′ Banner and 14,000′ Ritter Peaks.  People do the JMT a lot faster than we did, but I have not heard of anyone climbing 17 peaks along the JMT, as we did. Banner is shown below reflecting in Thousand Island Lake.

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The next lake we hit was Garnet Lake, with Kevin and Jenna Anderson with the lake behind them, and Ritter and Banner Peaks in the background.

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Kevin Anderson and Jenna

Below: Garnet Lake

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Below: the Shaver gang on the bridge at the outlet of Garnet Lake. Laura, Tuckie, Jenna McKenzie, Jim  and Bob

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Below: Bob, Jim, Tuckie and Laura survived!

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Swiss Army Knife project

Swiss Army knives will do about anything, but they aren’t good hammers.  My friend Sill used his as a hammer one time too many, and both handles had broken.  This was a knife given to him by his mother 40 years ago. Sill just finished hiking the Camino in Spain, and posted his thoughts on […]

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The Best Backpacking Meal – Pasta Carbonara

This meal displaces the previous best meal I had known of, which was scalloped potatoes with bacon and asparagus pieces.  The new best meal is pasta carbonara, with bacon.  The ingredients and directions for a meal for two are: 5 oz angel hair pasta (more for big eaters.  I can eat 2.3 oz, Kevin can […]

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Keeping Your Devices Charged in the Field

I recently had a chance to try out the TinyCharger5, by roadiesolar.com.  The TinyCharger5 is a lightweight solar panel that has more surface area than a lot of other solar panels for travelers, and its very lightweight.  I used it in conjunction with a soundlogic XT power cell (battery pack), and the solar panel charged […]

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Big Boulder Lakes, Idaho

The White Cloud Range is the neighbor range to the Sawtooths, and the WCs have some places that equal or surpass the more famous Sawtooths. The Big Boulder Lakes are a gem in any range, and Sapphire might be the most beautiful lake I have seen in Idaho. The photo below is of Sapphire Lake, […]

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Ultralight Backpacking

In times past, I thought a 30 or even 40 pound pack for a weekend hike was about right.  Lately, I’ve gotten the pack down to 20 pounds pretty easily by lighter gear.  A few more years and replacing some older gear, and 15 lbs was pretty doable.  My backpack for an overnight trip few […]

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The YKS headlamp

I finally got a chance to take the YKS headlamp out for a field test.  It is a slick looking device and weighs in at a light weight 3.7 oz.  That is a bit more than the Petzl Zipka at 2.3 oz.  Maybe the added features of the YKS are worth the extra ounce over […]

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Keeping Clean on a long backpack

I try to stay fairly clean on a long backpack.  My strategies are several: 1. swimming: I swim in a lake once a day, preferably at camp for the night. I go in with my clothes on.  It is unbelievably refreshing, and has to clean things off a bit. 2. wet wipes: I wipe my […]

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Dpower Camping Stove

The folks at Dpower sent me one of their stoves to try out, and I had a chance to try it out this weekend.  These are for sale on Amazon, for $19.99.  I tried boiling water on this little stove, and it took less than 3 minutes to bring 2 cups to a rolling boil, […]

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Building a 2 oz knife for backpacking

Its nice to have a fixed blade knife when backpacking, which unlike folding knives can be easily cleaned, won’t fold over fingers unexpectedly, and provides a sturdy but not overly large blade with a comfortable handle.  A knife like that is handy for cleaning fish, making tent stakes, cutting sticks for roasting marshmallows, etc.  However, […]

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Big Agnes Boot Jack 24 sleeping bag

I got the chance to try out the Boot Jack 24 down sleeping bag, made by Big Agnes.  This bag weighs a scant 2 lb 3 oz, and compresses to about the size of a volleyball.  In the quest to lighten ones pack, a sleeping bag weighing less than 3 lbs is the goal, and […]

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