John Muir Trail, 2016: Preparation

I guess preparation for hiking the whole 220 miles of the JMT started about 7 months before the start of the hike.  At that time I had to figure out a general itinerary and how many days I would commit to the hike.

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I had done the whole JMT in 1971, and had a fair write up of each day, so that helped. Based on recent hikes, and some wishful thinking I figured I could average 10 miles a day.  That would put our trip at 22 days.  Some online research led to some excellent resources, such as:

Inga’s Adventures

Ray Rippell

Harrison maps

JMT Facebook group

I spent lots of time on all those sites.  Exactly 6 months before the start date of our trip I signed up for a permit for 2, myself and my son Jim (age 20). Within a few days our neighbors determined their two boys wanted to join us, and they got their own permit.  We also made reservations at Muir Trail Ranch on the day we projected we could get there. I contacted a person to get a shuttle ride from Tuollumne to Cottonwood, and I called a horse packing outfit to reserve a date for them to haul a food drop to us by mule.

 

The common way to do the JMT is to start at Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley, and end by hiking over Trail Crest at Mt. Whitney.  I decided to start at Cottonwood Campground south of Whitney, and end at Tuollumne. I had hiked from Cottonwood before, and wanted to see the old route, and thought we’d climb Whitney from the west side, without the full packs. We’d end at Tuollumne, and skip the 2 day section of crowded trail to Yosemite.  This would make our transport to the starting point a lot easier, and the sun would be at our back the whole trip.  Where the southbound hikers camped at high lakes below the passes, we’d be camping on the less crowded other side of the passes.DSC04174ases.

So our group  would be me, Bob Shaver, age 66, Jim Shaver 20, Ian Willnerd 15, and Luke Willnerd 17.  Our actual itinerary would prove to be close to our planned itineray, and the actual schedule is shown below.

Day of trip Date Camp at end of day Miles elevation
-1 July 16 Drive from Idaho to Tuollumne  0
0 17 Drive to Cottonwood 0 0
1 18 Long Lake 6.5
2 19 New Army Pass, Wood Creek 9.5
3 20 Crabtree Mdw  10
4 21 Climb Whitney 16
5 22 Wallace Lake  8 1200
6 23 Lake near Tyndall Crk  8
7 24 Over Forester to Vidette Mdw 12.1
8 25 Food drop above Charlotte Lk, Glenn Pass, camp at Rae Lakes  8
9 26 To near Sheppard Pass trail 10
10 27 Over Pinchot, camp on S. Fork Kings River 11.5
11 28 Over Mather to Palisade Lk  10
12 29 To Big Pete Mdw  12
13 30 Muir Pass, to Evolution Lake 12
14 31 To Muir Trail Ranck 15
15 1 Zero day at MTR 0
16 2 Selmer Pass to Marie Lake 8 3000
17 3 To Above Quail Meadow 12
18 4 Silver Pass to Tulley Hole 10
19 5 To Reds Mdw 18 1800
20 6 To 1000 Island Lake 7 1800
21 7 To Donahue Pass to Lyell Canyon  10
22 8 To Tuollumne Mdw, drove to Idaho  6

 

My gear in recent times has resolved to the items below, and would be similar for the JMT

REI Flash 62 pack

Western Mountaineering Warmlite 32 degree sleeping bag

Exped sleeping pad

STS inflatable Pillow

Western Mountaineering down coat

Golite rain coat

MLD rain pants

Columbia hat with neck skirt

1.9 L Evernew pot set

TrailDesigns Sidewinder cone and stove

A6000 Sony camera, 16mm – 50mm kit lens and Sony 10-18 lens

Suntastics solar panel and Askar 6700 ma battery

stuff sac with dry bag closure

Wet wipes

Cup, bowl, spoon

Golite wool hat

Light gloves

4 camera batteries

Aqua mira water treatment

1 oz camp soap

2 oz hand sanitizer

MoTrail tent, tarptent.com Jim carried it

Carbon tripod, carried in the hand

iphone6 and charging cable

0.5 oz deodorant

hair Brush

Toothpaste, tooth brush

Face cloth

Hankerchief

Scissors, tweezers

Nail trimmers

Tankara rod (Jim)

Gravity filter (Jim)

hiking poles, usually carried by Jim

 

Ultralight Camera Slider

Jim and I wanted to make a camera slider that was light enough that we could take it on the JMT.  We made one that weighed about a pound (1 lb 5 oz), and works well with cell phones and gopro cameras.  It cost $25 for the motor at Servo City. Here is the slider being explained when we were at Crabtree Meadow while hiking the JMT, and a few examples of videos made with the slider.

The end blocks are 3″ x 1.75″ x 10.5″, styrofoam covered by coreplast, glued on with Gorilla Glue.  The poles are aluminum tent poles.  The legs under the end blocks are tent stakes. The motor is a 12v 1 rpm motor from servocity.com, part number 638150, $25. I think next time I’d try a 2 rpm motor.  The motor is attached with zip ties as shown below.  I put a guide bar on the top of the block to feed the line onto the middle of the drive shaft.  There is a rubber washer on the drive shaft to keep the line localized on the center of the drive shaft. The camera platform is a single thickness of coreplast, 7″ x 5″.  The ball joint is held on by three plastic bolts. I already had the ball joint, so it didn’t cost anything.  Total cost to me, $25.

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Using the Mask feature of Photoshop for better exposure

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Monarchs of Colchuck Lake

Marc Dilley of Marc Dilley Photography showed me a technique in Photoshop which is advanced for me, easy for him.  Here is how Marc uses the Mask feature.

(Marc) I am using this image of Colchuck Lake in the Cascade Mountains of Washington to discuss some basic elements of exposure, composition and how those two field skills relate to processing an exposure (or, in this case, two exposures).

Let’s begin with exposure. Note that every element of this image is properly exposed: you can make out detail in the mid tones such as the boulders, trees and driftwood but also in the brightest parts of the sky and the shadowy areas. If you have shot much in the mountain environment, even with a top quality full-frame DSLR, you know that blocked shadows and clipped highlights are unavoidable. The dynamic range of the scene, that is, the brightness range from the darkest shadows to the brightest highlights, is too great for the sensor to record. If you expose to get detail in the shadows then the highlights will be hopelessly overexposed in a white, confused mass. You have all seen this – with their tiny sensors, phone cameras are quite susceptible to this (there is a direct correlation between sensor size, or more precisely pixel size, and image quality). Conversely, if your exposure is made for detail in the highlight areas of the scene, then the shadows and most likely the dark mid tones will be black or disturbingly dark.

Unlike the old film days, with digital photography there is a way to mitigate this issue. As above, make two exposures, one correctly exposing the highlights and one correctly exposing the shadows. Note that these two exposures absolutely must be shot with a tripod, or on a boulder. Now, here is where you need a good working knowledge of Adobe Photoshop. I am not aware of any other photo processing software that would allow a photographer to manipulate exposures in the following popular and well regarded technique, and that includes Adobe Lightroom.

One more digression before we move along. If your camera will output images in Raw, you should take advantage of this feature. I’ll leave a talk on Raw for another time but suffice it to say that shooting in Raw will give you unmatched potential over jpeg, period. Another absolute: get on the adobe.com website and sign up for Lightroom or Photoshop. It will cost you about $25/month and if you are serious about photography it will be the best $$ you will ever spend. There are good reasons why Photoshop is the gold standard for all photo artists – don’t shop around for competing software. The learning curve is steep, but You Tube has hundreds of helpful videos; if you seek truly professional instruction look up lynda.com.

On to the technique:  Photoshop allows you to “stack” distinct exposures -one on top of another- in the same work file. Just like a stack of cards, only the exposure on the top can be seen. But… Photoshop provides a neat and incredibly powerful structure that rides along with each exposure – the Mask. The Mask controls how much of it’s respective exposure will be visible. A pure white mask allows all the exposure to be seen; a pure black hides all the exposure; a neutral 50% gray mask makes the exposure ghostly half-transparent. After I stacked the cloud exposure (the darker shot where the bright highlights were exposed properly) on top of the land/water/cliff exposure, I took my paintbrush tool and carefully painted black pigment over the land portions of the cloud exposure mask, hiding all of it’s darker areas and revealing the well exposed parts of the land/water/cliff exposure below. I then painted back and forth with various shades of gray to adjust the blend then moved on to contrast and color adjustments, finishing off with dust removal, some minor chroma and noise.

A final note: some of you may use or may have heard of the HDR technique. HDR, or High Dynamic Range photography, is to some degree or another an automated process whereby three or more exposures (in register) are shunted into HDR software and pops out a fully cooked image with good tonality in all areas of the scene. HDR images have a unique look to them and you either like it or you don’t. They are distinct enough from traditionally made images that most photo forums place HDR images in their own category. HDR has it’s place but for full creative control you must jump in and learn to use layers.

Depth Of Field Blending

Marc Dilley, of Marc Dilley Photography has been nice enough to try to teach me a little about the technical end of photography.  Here are his thoughts on how to get incredible depth of field in a photo, such as that seen in the photo below.

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Photoshop layers can also be used to improve the depth of field in the final image, in addition to improving the dynamic range. In this image, shot pre-dawn in a meadow of Camas Lilies in North Central Washington, I wanted all of the flower heads in the field to be in razor-sharp focus, as well as the horizon. The flower head at left is very close to my lens, so getting it in focus meant most everything else in the scene would be blurry. An additional complication was that the meadow was much darker than the sky, or in other words, the dynamic range of the scene was way beyond the capability of the camera sensor.

To solve these issues, I worked on one at a time:

1) Depth of field: With the camera rigid on a tripod, and the controls set to expose well for the meadow (petals on the high side, but not too bright, washing out the color), I took a series of shots all at the same exposure, varying only the focus distance. For this particular subject I shot five times, each shot focused slightly more forward of the last. The final shot was at infinity.

2) Dynamic range: Sky exposures – if the sky is clear, one shot may be enough, but if it is an active sky with lots of clouds and sun flecks, multiple exposures may be needed. For this image I got by with one… but I hedged my bets as always and bracketed the exposures. Note that if you only shoot one exposure, and in processing you find that you need more exposure latitude, you may be able to “multiple process”. This technique simply treats your single exposure as though it is many exposures: you process it once in Camera Raw and shunt it into Photoshop, then return to Bridge and process the file in Camera Raw again to your new requirements and shunt this second copy to Photoshop as #2 in the stack. And so forth.

Back in the office: Take all of the meadow exposures and process them exactly the same. At this point you will want to get color temperature, tint, exposure and petal color reasonably close. As always, process conservatively; at this point your shots should be saturated but on the low side of contrast. If you are familiar with histograms, you want neither right or left toes touching the vertical end bars of the graph. Once you are satisfied, return them to Bridge.

Back in Bridge, highlight all of them. Then choose Tools>Photoshop>Load files into Photoshop layers. All of your exposures will appear in a stack in Photoshop. Highlight the entire stack (click on the lowest one, hold down the Shift key and click the top layer). Then go to Edit>Auto Align Layers…>Auto   Next,  Edit>Auto Blend Layers>Stack Images  Photoshop recognizes out-of-focus pixel clusters, those with the greatest circles of confusion, and masks them out. Once you are satisfied with the result, flatten the stack. You can then return to Bridge and process the sky exposure(s) and bring them into Photoshop as a layer in the Lilies file. Before proceeding, make positively certain that you are done with your sky file in Camera Raw, because the next step will permanently sever the bond and there will be no returning. Reason: the flattened Lilies layer and the Sky layer must be Auto-Aligned before they can be blended together. However, Smart Objects cannot be aligned, so they must be rasterized first, which strips them of the ability to return to Camera Raw. To do this, simply hover over the comment (right-hand) part of the layer banner, right click and choose rasterize layer from the menu. Add a mask, and you now have all of Photoshop’s tools at your command.

Alice Toxaway Loop in the Sawtooths

This loop hike in the Sawtooths is a classic, and I don’t think I’ll ever tire of it.  I got to visit the area with the Fujino family, friends from when our boys were in scouts together.  Starting at Petit Lake, we hiked over the hot dry hill to join the Hell Roaring trail, and from there on past Farley Lake, to a small lake just short of Toxaway Lake.   There is a great waterfall at this little lake, and we enjoyed a restful evening there.

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The next day we headed to Toxaway Lake, an easy hike from our little unnamed lake.  Sunrise from Toxaway was pretty nice.

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The next day we headed over Snowyside Pass, and got a view of Twin Lakes on the other side of the pass.

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The peaks around Alice Lakes have to some of the best in the Sawtooths.

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This was my first hike using my new Sony a6000 camera, and the hike was the last time I could hike before my awesome hike of the JMT with son Jim, 220 miles in 22 days.

My Preferred Cooksets and Stove System

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 wind screen 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 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 […]

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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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