After Action Review: Early May backpacking trip

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torpified
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After Action Review: Early May backpacking trip

Post by torpified » Fri Jun 02, 2017 5:25 am

I took the first ferry from MI to IR this season and spent 4 nights on the island. Anticipating some cold, rainy conditions, I thought about, and instituted, a variety measures meant to deal with them. For my own sake, I’m writing this exceedingly pedestrian reflection about what worked and what didn’t. It might help me do a little better next time. I’m posting it for the sake of feedback, and also so others can learn from my mistakes.

In the event, the actual conditions were no rain, really, but nighttime temperatures well below freezing and day time highs under 50. Background fact about me: I’m very bad at staying warm when I’m not moving, which is why the whole weather situation demanded forethought. My strategy was to stay warm during the day by moving steadily, and otherwise by having (as close to failsafe as I could make them) rainproof shelter and warm clothes/sleeping system to huddle in.

Infrastructure (services). All the concessions at Rock Harbor were shuttered. Tragically, the ice cream cooler in the trading post was visible through a window. The permit-issuing station was a bare-bones (literally – the only remnants of its full-on summer wares and displays were some moose skulls) operation open only when boats arrived. I expected this. What was more of a surprise: the potable water at RH wasn’t turned on yet.

Infrastructure (trail conditions). At first, some of the trails still had LOTS of downed trees. Most of these were pretty straightforward to navigate. The exceptions were dense clusters of conifers on trails side-hilling steep hills (e.g. Tobin Harbor), which could require extensive and intermittently precarious detours to get around.

Another deadfall subtlety, which was easy to deal with once I’d clued in to it: sometimes a tree falls on a turn in the trail. If the trail doesn’t emerge from the snag where you expect it to, despair not. Keep looking---instead of going straight through, it might have turned underneath.

The brush was thick enough to strip off, without me noticing, a water bottle held snugly in an external pocket of my pack. So if you’re facing serious snagage, consider stowing everything you’d rather not lose INSIDE your pack.

Infrastructure (trail maintenance). The NPS got on top of the deadfall INCREDIBLY quickly. The Tobin Harbor Trail was a struggle to travel Monday. By Friday it was utterly clear. Two crews, working from either end, were clearing the trail between Mount Franklin and Lookout Louise (which had some significant patches of downed trees) on Thursday. They made incredible headway in the few hours between my first sighting of them and my last. If they didn’t finish clearing the trail that day, they most probably managed to by the end of the week – the first week tourists could get to the island by ferry. The deadfall on other trails I walked (you can reconstruct these from my May 17 TR), for me at least, didn’t cross the line between welcome diversion and unwelcome setback.

Some parts of some boardwalks seemed looser or more submerged than was ideal. This might be their default condition. But in some cases – notably, the boardwalk over the creek outlet at Daisy Farm --it looked like beaver activity had changed the water level.

Gear. The adaptations I instituted, why I instituted them, how they worked.
Footwear. I usually hike in late summer in drought-stricken western mountains. I wear low-cut, lightweight, non-waterproof shoes and gaiters. Anticipating cold, sloppy conditions on IR, I took mid-cut waterproof shoes and calf-length waterproof gaiters (all still fairly lightweight). This was a very good move. Other than the morning after the night my boots froze, my feet were warm and dry enough. And the footwear meant I could walk down muddy paths, or paths that were really rivulets or (face it) creeks, without angsting about keeping my feet dry or broadening the treadway by trying to avoid the puddles/muck. One infelicity: my gaiters had straps that ran under the soles of my shoes to hold them snug. These straps got shredded during my initial battles with deadfall on the Tobin Harbor Trail. The gaiters had elasticized bottoms, so they stayed put pretty well anyway. But sometimes they’d creep up, which meant there were episodes when the gaiters had crept and I stepped in muck higher than my boots --- allowing some moisture to seep into my boots from above. Never very much, and never leaving lasting damage. Still, snagproof gaiters would be a step forward.

Clothing. I went with my more or less my usual kit, but spent more time wearing more of it that I usually do. I took the extra precautionary step of packing a warmer than usual dedicated sleeping suit in a waterproof stuffsack.

The kit. Worn: darn tough socks, undershorts, hiking pants, lightweight merino top, R1 fleece pullover, wool buff. In reserve: wool gloves and beanie, puffy jacket, rain jacket, rain pants, second pair of walking socks. Cozy sleeping outfit: long sleeve merino tops + bottoms plus wool socks. (At camp I’d change into the sleeping outfit and my camp slippers, and wear the puffy jacket and rainsuit over them.) This kept me warm enough, although after hitting camp, I’d have to go on a vigorous exploration or chore expedition every few hours to keep my blood moving.

Sleeping: a 15 degree bag (also packed in a waterproof stuff sack), a neo-air xlite pad and – a special addition for the cold nights anticipated on this trip—an extra-thin gossamer gear foam pad, full length, about 1/8th inch thick and 3 oz all told. Although it required deploying all my staying-warm-in-a-sleeping bag craft, I made it through most nights close to comfortably. The exception was the first, the only night I didn’t set up my tent: by dawn my cocoon had cooled sufficiently that I needed to get up and start moving to stay warm. The gg pad, quadrupled, also made a splendid insulated seat for cooking/eating/book reading/writing, when I wasn’t sleeping on it.

Shelter: Before I fully understood how different an early May trip would be from a summer solstice one, I intended to bring a bivy sack, just in case some night I didn’t score a shelter. The weather forecast moved me to a free-standing tent (Flycreek UL1). I don’t really know how to get/keep me and my essential gear dry in a bivy in a driving rainstorm, and I thought I’d be more relaxed and sensible if I had a reliably dry shelter, whether I made it to and secured a campground shelter or not. A good decision, I think. Even though I slept every night in shelters, after the first I’d set my tent up inside (contriving satisfying workarounds to tent stakes with trekking poles and drying rails and spare gear) for the few extra degrees of warmth it afforded. Every morning there was some condensation on the underside of the fly; I brought along a lightweight pack towel to wipe it off and hasten packing. I think my sleeping bag would have wound up soggy if I’d resorted to sleeping in the bivy those nights for extra warmth.

food/cooking: I brought some extra fuel, extra hot drink mixes, and some of Midwest Ed’s patented fire starter. I didn’t wind up using any of them, but I was glad they were there.

I’m a little old lady, so I try to minimize how much weight I carry, consistent with acceptable (to me) levels of comfort and security. The adaptations described above – burlier shelter, extra sleeping pad, heavier waterproof stuff sacks, especially cozy sleeping clothes, extra food and fuel and fire starter, heavier boots and gaiters – added over 2 pounds to my setup. (My base weight still came in under 15 lbs, thanks to ditching 2 oz of mosquito netting and bug dope.) I think they made enough difference to my comfort and peace of mind to be well worth it.

Strategies. In addition to trying to spend a lot of the day moving, I tried to move in such a way that I didn’t wind up soaked in sweat or gassed. So instead of aiming for massive daily mileages, I tried to get my usual daily mileages to last a little longer, largely by seizing every opportunity I could concoct to dart a bit off trail to look for wildlife or scramble up an outcropping for a view. (I do some of this normally; I just took it to a new level for this trip.) Long breaks don’t work for me, because of how rapidly they return me to my ground stand of chilled, grouchy, and clumsy.

A number of things work less well when they’re cold: fingers. lighters. stove fuel. Sawyer squeeze filters (which come with warnings that they don’t work if they freeze). Boots, if they’re too frozen to put on. By the end of the trip, I was sleeping with ALL of the above (not just my fingers) either on my person or in my tent.

I try to keep my socks and underclothes clean (for a hiker), because I’ve learned that otherwise I develop blisters and adult-onset diaper rash. My routine is to rinse them out every afternoon when I get to camp, and leave them to dry in the afternoon sun/overnight. The underclothes almost always do. I carry two pairs of walking socks so that the socks don’t need to (although they do need to dry over the course of the next day and night). My first morning I got quite a shock when I discovered that my laundry (and my boots) had frozen solid. To contend with this next time, I’ll bring a second change of underclothes and a third pair of walking socks – and start sleeping with my boots from the outset.

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jrwiesz
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Re: After Action Review: Early May backpacking trip

Post by jrwiesz » Fri Jun 02, 2017 9:41 am

Thanks for the great report; you are such a valuable contributor to the forum.

Please continue your mature wisdom and insight as often as possible.

This season I was considering using a bivy in the shelters; the thought was to avoid having to set up my tent in the shelters.

From your post, it seems your thought is that, with a bivy in a shelter situation, condensation would possibly have been an issue?

Just curious about your thoughts.
"And standing on the the crest of the Greenstone Ridge, I suddenly had this desire to retreat north to where I just come, to stay in the backcountry, to spend another day in a place where the only deadline I had was to pitch the tent before dark."
Jim DuFresne


Topic author
torpified
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Re: After Action Review: Early May backpacking trip

Post by torpified » Fri Jun 02, 2017 12:13 pm

bivies: I only carry mine when it's reasonable to expect that I won't need to use it. So I have exactly n=2 nights of field experience. Both were rainy and both left me a bit damp -- but nowhere near as damp as I would have been wihtout the bivy! How much of the damp was due to precipitation that crept in and how much was due to perspiration/respiration that failed to creep out is hard to say.

I'd still expect condensation to be an issue for me in a shelter because (i) my sleeping temperature fluctuates a lot overnight--I'm bound to sweat some, and (ii) try as I might to keep my head poking out so that I don't exhale into the interior of the bivy, I'd spend part of the night crunched up and breathing straight into one of its walls. Although that adds up to much less condensation than built up on the interior of my tent fly, what winds up inside the bivy also winds up ON my sleeping bag, whereas the fly condensation stays put unless I do something idiotic to cause it shower down upon me and my gear.

If you have better temperature modulation and breathing skills than I do, these thoughts don't apply! I wonder if other islander-goers have more relevant testimonia?


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Re: After Action Review: Early May backpacking trip

Post by RockRiver » Sat Jun 03, 2017 4:20 am

I generally sleep in a military goretex bivy sack. I like being able to keep my sleeping back dry and the sack keeps me on the thermarest even if I roll around. I have never had any inside the sack condensation issues with it. We generally go to IR in May also and the sack was good even on our eight day 2016 trip where we had six days of rain and fog. We camp out of our sea kayaks so weight is not an issue. I doubt if a back packer would use the military goretex bivy sack. I like mine though, as it is good insurance for keeping my sleeping bag dry and cost only $60 at a army surplus store.

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