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 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 this journey here.  I thought I could put some handles on the old knife and give it another 40 years of use.

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I have a piece of walnut that has been getting smaller and smaller as I make knife handles, and I took a bit more off it for these small scales.   It turned out pretty nice, and he loves it.

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Swiss Army knife with walnut scales

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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 eat 2.7.  Of this stuff, I can eat 2.5 for sure)

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon of dehydrated garlic

1 tablespoon dehydrated onions

1 cup chopped bacon pieces (from precooked shelf stable bacon, such as Hormel)

2 tablespoons of butter (carried in threaded plastic bottle)

Boil 3 cups of water. Pour off 1/4 cup of hot water into a cup and add the garlic and onions to rehydrate them.  Add pasta to the boiling water, and cook for about 3 minutes or until tender. Pour off all but about a 1/2 cup water. Add the Parmesan cheese and bacon, and the rehydrated garlic and onions, stir in the cheese, and serve.  Yummy!  I barely managed to get a picture of the last of it before it was devoured in the Sierras.

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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 the battery pack, and the battery pack kept my cell phone charged for a multiday bike trip plus two weeks at home.

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The TinyCharger5 is 8″ by 11.75″, with the solar cells mounted on a card that appears to be weather resistant if not weather proof.  The solar cells are covered by a plastic sheet which appears to be heat fused to the plastic card.  It is 0.10″ thick, about as thick as a credit card, and weighs 4.2 oz.The solar panels have eyelets at each corner which would be used to secure the TinyCharger5 to a backpack or bike, or to hang it from a nail.  I don’t see the TinyCharger5 on their website, but the Featherweight5 looks very similar and is $14.95.

I would get into camp on the bike ride in the early afternoon, set up my tent, and position the solar panel facing the sun.  It would get about 4-5 hours of direct sunlight, and put a fair charge on the power cell.  The power cell had enough juice to charge my cell phone twice.  When I got home, I kept up the charging routine for two weeks, and kept my phone charge for 2 weeks with no connection to wall current.  I was totally impressed with it.  See www.roadiesolar.com for ordering information on the TinyCharger5.  The bike ride provided phone charging services, for $5 per charge!  I got two charges per day for free.

The soundlogic XT power cell is also very cool.  I got it at Bed Bath and Beyond, and its available on Amazon.  It has 2 usb ports, and an input jack that goes to the solar panel with a usb plugin in the back of the solar panel.  The power cell has a power level display that is 4 LEDs, which show when you press a button, or when the solar panel is connected.  The power cell weighs 5.0 oz, and the connecting cable weighs 0.5 oz, and similar units are on Amazon for around $12.  It is 5200 mA, and one usb port is 2100 mA and the other is 1000 mA. This panel is great for cyclists on a road trip, backpackers, boaters, or anyone who has some devices to keep charged.  I got a usb battery charger for my camera and flashlight, so I can keep everything charged in the field or when the zombie apocalypse knocks out the power grid.

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, the nicest of the lakes that make up the Big Boulder Lakes.

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Big Boulder Lakes map

Walker Lake, below, is the first lake you hit, about 7 miles from the trailhead at Livingston Mine. The topo doesn’t show a trail to Walker, but there is a signed trail all the way.

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From Walker, there is not much of a trail going to the marshy meadow area below Sheep Lake.  From there, you turn south, and head up a steep ridge, where the trail becomes more visible.  You top out and the first lake you hit is Fish Hook Lake, below.  Its probably 2 miles from Walker Lake to Fish Hook Lake, but feels like 3.

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From Fish Hook, its a short walk to Sapphire Lake, where I camped near the outlet.  Below: Sapphire Lake

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Below: Sapphire Lake

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Below: outlet of Sapphire Lake

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Below: Elephant Heads after a mid July snow storm

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Below: Sapphire Lake after the storm clears.

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Below: Cirque Lake during the storm.

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Below: Cove Lake

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Below: Cove Lake

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Below: Cove Lake

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Below: looking down the valley to Island Lake.  There is no trail here, but its very doable.

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Below: Island Lake. its probably 2 miles to Island Lake from Sapphire, and another 1.5 miles from Island lake to the trail junction with Walker 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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Fixed Blade knife in Birdseye Maple

I finished my latest project, a fixed blade knife in birdseye maple.  The knife blank is made by a Finnish company, Enzo, and this is their smallest knife, a model they call the Elver.  I bought the knife blank already formed and tempered, and I put on the handles, with red liners, and brass pins.  […]

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Sawtooth Loop, Imogene to Redfish

We did a nice loop  in the Sawtooths this year, starting at Hell Roaring Trailhead, and camping at Hell Roaring, Imogene, Edna, Cramer, and ending the hike at Redfish Lake.  On the hike was Josh Edvalson, Marine and partner on many hikes.  Also my son Jim, age 18, and Kevin Anderson and his daughter Jenna.  […]

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Mt. Borah, Idaho’s highest peak

Jim and I headed out to Mt Borah this weekend, to climb the 12,600′ peak.  It was exhausting.  Here are some pictures. The peak above is not Borah, its a peak we passed on the way up, this was about 7:45 AM. This is the route on the lower part of the trail.  It seemed […]

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MSR SiltStopper Prefilter

We did a hike in southern Utah called Grand Gulch a few years ago.  Water in that canyon was always a concern.  After a rain there would be pools of water held in solid rock basins, from 1 liter to swimming pool size.  Where the stream bed was sandy instead of solid rock, the water […]

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