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. IMG_1530

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.


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.


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


Below: Sapphire Lake


Below: outlet of Sapphire Lake


Below: Elephant Heads after a mid July snow storm

IMG_1551 IMG_1552

Below: Sapphire Lake after the storm clears.


Below: Cirque Lake during the storm.


Below: Cove Lake


Below: Cove Lake


Below: Cove Lake


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


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.




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 weeks ago came in at 12 lbs, the lightest overnight pack I’ve had.  That is the weight without food and water.  That weight measurement is the base weight, and you can figure you will have 2 pounds of food per day, and the volume of water you carry will vary all day.

This is not ultralight:

not ultralight

My usual pack is a 65 L pack, whether for a week long trip or an overnight.  I got a Golite Jam 50 a year ago, when Golite was still in business.  It weighs 2 lbs, and saved a pound over my 65 L pack, and it was about 2/3 full of gear and food.

golite jam 50 pack

When people hear of a weight like that for an overnight, they wonder what creature comforts I have left behind, and what discomforts I suffered to get my pack to that weight. Of gear that could be taken, this is the gear which I didn’t take that I might have taken on other trips.

camp shoes (Crocs)
camp chair (REI chair that I did miss)
extra clothes (not having them worked out fine)
big first aid kit (I took band aides and moleskin, and advil)
fishing gear ( I took a Tenkara rod and about 5 flies)
extra camera battery (not needed for a weekend trip)
gloves (it was pretty warm, didn’t need them)
commercial bottles of “stuff” (I repackaged stuff like sunblock and bug juice into little bottles)
water filter (I took MSR purification tablets)

I really missed the camp shoes. I ordered some 2 oz shoes what might do the trick.  After the trip I also bought some trail runners to replace my over the ankle hiking boots.  That won’t affect my pack weight, but will save about a ton of weight my feet have to lift.  I really missed the camp chair, but I also really liked the light pack weight. That is a tough one for a 65 y.o. to do without.

Of the big gear I had:

Golite Jam 50 pack, 2 lbs, in which the top 10 inches were empty
Western Mountaineering Mega light bag 27.6 oz
Tarp tent Squall II and six stakes:33 oz
Big Agnes sleeping pad 15 oz
Caldera cone and stove, and Snow Peak Ti 900 pot, 8.5 oz
Western Mountaineering down coat 14.5 oz
nylon long sleeve shirt 8.6 oz
Golite merino wool hat 1.9 oz
REI rain coat 8.7 oz
my 2 oz cork handle knife

Those add up to 9.49 lbs.  The other 2.5 pounds were things like wet wipes, toilet paper, sunblock, some repair items, water bottle.  I also took my wallet and cell phone, Tenkara rod, which were non-essential.

I also took a small camera, not the big Sony R1


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 the Petzl.  Both use 3 AAA batteries, so the battery weight is the same.


The YKZ has an elastic headband that was very comfortable.  The single LED light mounts on a base that allows tilting, so the light can be adjusted to whatever angle the wearer chooses.  The light uses a single LED, and has high, low, and blinking settings.  The light is also adjustable in beam width, and the beam has a very sharp edge.  Very little light falls outside of the circular beam, so the light in the beam is the most efficient possible. The photo below shows that the light beam is very focused, and the width of the light beam is adjustable.


I wondered if the light was water resistant, and thought, there is one way to find out.  The picture below is the headlamp on, in the lake where I was camped.  I left it in the lake, in about 10 inches of water, for about a minute and it worked fine underwater.  I don’t think I want to try that with most head lamps.  I used it for the rest of the evening, and during the night, and it worked fine.  I would not advise putting the light in water, but it seems to be at least water resistant.

There is a red bandIMG_1277..24 of clear red plastic around the lens, and when the light is on that red band is visible to the side.  These sell on ebay for $5 to $20, and seems like a great headlamp for that price.

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 face and neck with a wet wipe before going to bed.

3. I use a small wash cloth, with a few drops of soap, for arm pits, face, crotch, arms and legs. Feet get washed in the stream.  I don’t care if the fish die downstream.

4. If I get the urge, I take a shower.  My syl nylon stuff sack has a shower head on it, and a dry bag type closure.

4. clothes: I wear one set and carry a spare set of t shirt, underpants, and socks. Day one, I start out with clean clothes.  Day 2, I wear the backup set of clothes, and in the evening, I wash the first set.  Every day thereafter, I wash a set of clothes (t shirt, socks, underwear).
to wash clothes, I use a sil nylon stuff sack, with a dry bag closure (it also has a shower head).  I put in a gallon or less of water, a few drops of soap, the dirty clothes, and I trap a bunch of air in the stuff sack, and seal it off.  Then I shake it left and right, dump the water. Then put in rinse water, shake shake shake. lay them on a rock in the sun, wear the underwear to bed even if they are damp, if the other set is dirty.

I use the syl nylon stuff sack for other things, like for food or clothing.

Below, scoop up water in the stuff sack. Gary Fujino took these pictures in the Wind River Range.  This method is Gary’s patented clothes washing method.


Below: Into the water in the stuff sack, put clothes, a few drops of soap, seal the bag, and shake shake shake.


Below: dump the water away from bodies of water.


Below:  Wring out excess water, put clothes on a rock in the sun to dry, or on tree branches in the wind to dry.


Below: clean (cleaner than it used to be) shirt, held up by an unknown wino we met on the trail.


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, and about 4.5 minutes to bring 4 cups to a boil.  I often use an alcohol stove, and that is about twice as fast as my alcohol stove.


This stove is of the remote canister type, and takes standard fuel canister.  One thing I noticed is that the three legs of the Dpower provide a wider and more stable stance than the MSR Pocket Rocket.  Since the Pocket Rocket is mounted on top of a fuel canister, the stability of the PR is based on the diameter of the gas canister its attached to.  The center of gravity is high for the PR, for that reason.  I’ve had the Pocket Rocket tip over or be knocked over due to the unstable balance issue and high center of gravity, so being more stable then the Pocket Rocket is a good thing.  The three pot supports of the Dpower are also wider than the three pot supports of the Pocket Rocket, which further enhance stability.  The two stoves are compared side by side below.


The Dpower has a piezo electric starter, which the Pocket Rocket doesn’t have.  It weighs 5.1 oz compared to the 3.1 oz of the Pocket Rocket.  Having the remote canister allows this stove to used for baking, such as with the Backcountry Oven.  Simmer control is fine with the Dpower. All in all its a pretty nice stove for $20.


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, fixed blade knives can be heavy, and a large blade is a little overkill for the small tasks that come up when backpacking.  I thought I’d like to have a very lightweight fixed blade knife, with a substantial handle for comfortable grip.  I made a nice little knife that fits that bill, and which weighs 2 oz, and actually floats.  This knife also has a fire steel in the handle for emergency fire starting capability.



This project starting by finding a smallish blade, of quality steel.  I settled on a blade blank by Helle of Norway, the Nying blade, in laminated stainless steel, and a 2.75″ blade for $17.   That size of blade is sufficient for most tasks in the backpacking and bushcraft world. After finding the blade, and buying it from Ragnar’s Forge knife supplies, I found 2″ cork rounds.  These have a hole in the center, and are made for building fly fishing rods.  Then I drew the sketch below of a handle shape that I liked.


Below shows a stack of 10 cork rounds, epoxied together with a dowel filling the center hole.



With the cylinder of cork, I cut it into a slab of cork with flat sides, then shaped the top and bottom surfaces into the rough shape of the handle (below).



Below, with the rough handle shape, I cut it down the middle, and carved out a slot for the blade, and holes for several brass tubes.  I thought the tubes would help secure the two sides to each other, but they didn’t seem to be needed, and they were pretty ugly.


Below; I put the two halves back together with epoxy and clamps. This version also has a slot in the handle with a razor blade in the slot.


I didn’t like the look of the brass tubes, so I cut off that handle with a chisel, and made another one just like it, but with only one brass tube for a lanyard hole.  I also made a cavity in the handle for a small fire steel, for emergency use.


Now I just have to figure out a super light weight sheath, and I’ll have a cool little backpacking knife like no other.  My friend says now when I drop my knife into a river, I can watch it float away.

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 this one weighs much closer to 2 lbs!


Above: Spring Break hike in Southern Utah, Dark Canyon


Above: The Boot Jack 24 in Dark Canyon


Above: Big Agnes Boot Jack 24 in the Sawtooths.

This is a great bag for mid 20s and up.  It packs compactly, is light, and for being a down and for its weight and temperature rating, the price is very reasonable.  It has a nice collar around the neck, smooth zipper action, plenty of room for shoulders, good water repellency.

As I was trying this bag out, I couldn’t help to compare it to my 32 degree rated bag which cost $350.  My $350 bag had a bit more loft, weighed about 8 oz less, and was about equal in comfort.  The Boot Jack 24 costs more like $190.

I have big shoulders, and had no issues with the Boot Jack.  I sleep on my side and move from side to side several times during the night.  I had no trouble rotating inside the Boot Jack.

It was warm lower than its rated 24 degrees.  For two nights on our Sawtooth backpack I didn’t even zip it up, yet 2 other people with new 15 degree bags were uncomfortably cold on the same two nights.  When we switched bags one night, the woman slept warm in the Boot Jack 24 where in the 15 degree bag she was freezing.  Pretty good for an inexpensive bag.

I got the chance to try the Boot Jack 24 at a temperature below its rated 24 degrees.  I was in the Ketchum Idaho area, and the sky was totally clear, so I knew it would be cold.  I slept out under the stars, so it was a bit colder than if I had been in a tent. I was on a Big Agnes uninsulated sleeping pad.  About midnight I had to zip the bag up all the way and get my arms inside the bag.  At about 2 am I cinched up the drawstring around the face, and eventually I had to get it fully cinched down.  I had a down coat nearby to use as supplemental insulation, but I didn’t need it.  I was wearing a wool hat, and wool socks.  When I got up I had frost on the bag and on my down coat.  I later learned it had gotten down to 19 degrees, and I was just fine in the Boot Jack 24.  No cold spots, and my feet were warm.  I’m a side sleeper, and I was able to turn from one side to another, and position the breathing hole for good breathing and warm sleeping.  Nice job, BA!

This bag gets a high rating for me for quality and value, and I’ve been recommending it to scouts, their parents, friends and family.

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.  I loaned a coworker an Elver to skin his elk, and it did great at a task that is real hard on knives.  This knife is perfect for this purpose, or carving wood.  Its a bit overkill for backpacking, but its fun to have a substantial knife in the backcountry.

enzo elver kit

Above: the blade blank, wood blocks (scales) and red liner material.


Above: the scales drilled for bolts and lanyard tube, liners glued to the inside of the scales, everything epoxied together and clamped to dry.


This shows how much wood has to be removed, mostly with a hand rasp.


Above: detail of the side of the knife, showing the red liners.  The handle was finished with three coats of tung oil for waterproofness, then three coats of shellac, the old time wood finish of violins and furniture.


Above: the other side of the knife, showing the finger grooves on that side, and the flare at the back end, to enhance grip.


Above: this view shows that this handle is not symmetrical.  Factory made knives are generally ovalized in cross section.  This shape is easy to to, by use of belt sanders, and allows one shape to fit both left and right handers.  With this knife I put finger groves on the left side, which fit nicely with my left handed grip.  Those grooves are about where my first knuckle hit when loosely gripping with with the left hand.  They also fit a right hand user’s fingertips, so next time I’m going to put finger slots on both sides.


Above: another view of the knife.


Above: Enzo also makes a sheath that fits this knive.


The knife fits snugly in the sheath, and the sheath has a belt loop on the other side.


Above: the coke bottle shape of the handle, with a flare at the base, a swell in the middle to fill the hand, and the finger grooves for a left hander.

Sawtooth Loop, 2014

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.  Kevin and I did the John Muir Trail in 1971, so it was interesting to have my son and his daughter on this trip.  The scenery was wonderful, very much a reminder of the Sierra Nevada.
























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 to go on forever.


My pace was slow enough that it was looking like it would be a very long day.  Since I had already climbed some years ago, I told Jim to go on ahead, and I waited for him at the place above.  Without me holding him back, Jim took off like a shot, and got to the top of the peak in no time.


Jim on top of Mt. Borah, wow!


Jim on top of Mt. Borah!  His first peak, and its not an easy one.


Me hiking down, with Borah to the far left, ChickenOut ridge right above my head.  We were both exhausted when we got to the car.



We started driving just as the rainstorms hit, and drove home in on-and-off showers.



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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Gear Shopping Advice for Folks (adults) new to Backpacking

This is a guide for adults who are new to backpacking and want to get gear for this fun sport.  This advice comes from me having started backpacking in 1967, been active in mountain rescue, nordic ski patrol, peak climbing, backpacking and mountaineering, and teaching college classes in backpacking for 12 years.  I don’t do […]

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Knife Project, an Enzo Elver Kit

Enzo is a Finnish company that makes all kinds of knives, including blade blanks, and kits with the scales, rivets, and blade blank.  I bought a kit, the Elver model, to give it a try. The kit comes as shown above.  Scales, knife blank, Corby rivets, and sheath.  It is about $60, even with shipping […]

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Craters of the Moon Backpack

Doing a spring backpack to Echo Crater in Craters of the Moon is becoming a regular hike for Troop 100.  We had 12 scouts and 8 adults head out there, each with at least 3 liters of water.  There is absolutely no water out in that desert route.  Before the hike Tom B. gave a […]

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The best trail supper ever, Scalloped Potatoes!

Scallop potatoes are great, so why do we never make them when backpacking  I’ll tell you why.  The potatoes have to be near boiling for 20 minutes or so, and they have a cheese sauce that burns easily.  When using canister stoves, the fuel efficiency goes way down when simmering, plus the heat comes from […]

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Dark Canyon, Utah, spring break backpack

Erik Lund, Tom Baskin, and I finished a backpack in Dark Canyon, in the desert of South West Utah.  It was between Hanksville and Blanding, near Lake Powell on the Colorado River.  It is very remote, and one has the feeling that a rescue is out of the question, there is no cell coverage, and […]

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How to Build an Enzo Knife, LR Horgan

Editor’s note: Enzo is a Finnish company that makes high quality knife blanks, and sells them as the blade only, as a kit with all the parts needed to make a knife, and also sells the pins, rivets, scales, and parts needed to complete a knife.                             Above: EnZo Elvers in D2 in Ebony (solid […]

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Winter Camp

Went camping with the scouts, and after last year’s bitter cold 10 below nights, I was braced for cold weather.  Instead we got bad weather.  I stayed in a 4 man, 4 season tent, and wondered just how big those 4 men were.  I found the tent to be about right for two guys and […]

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Most Excellent Menu for 5 dinners

These are the dinners we had on the recent Grand Gulch trip.  We were cooking using the Caldera Cone, and besides these dinner meals, we had biscuits made from mix, and popcorn for dessert.   Baked Pizza using Caldera Cone and Outback Oven Serves one, Baking time 25 minutes Double the recipe for two people, […]

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Echo Rock Hot Springs

We planned to take the scouts on a hike along the Owyhee River in mid November, but the weather was predicted to be rain or snow for Saturday, clearing by late Saturday.  We woke up to snow on the ground in Boise, and 6 of our 12 scouts dropped out.  Were they the smart ones?  […]

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