Light, Flexible, Easy to Fix Packrafts: The Perfect Vehicle to Navigate the Narrows
Text & photos by Dan Ransom
This Trailhead is a Total Yard Sale: Packrafts, Paddles and Drysuits Hanging Out to Dry. A couple tents looked haphazardly pitched, and the trucks are caked in thick mud. Our arrival is probably not a very welcome alarm clock.
Kind of an odd scene I thought, when a voice calls out from one of the tents: “You guys running the narrows?”
This is the start of Utah’s Zion Narrows, one of the most beautiful canyons on the entire Colorado Plateau. It’s an incredibly popular destination, one I’ve descended all or in-part nearly a dozen times either as a backpacking trip or an exit to a nearby technical descent. But today we aren’t here to hike it, we’re here to float. And I’m using a packraft.
The guys we are waking up–they paddled this stretch yesterday. It’s an incredible trip they say, one of the best ever. But the approach. It’s miserable. There isn’t enough water. Takes way longer than anticipated. Beats the hell out of the boat. And by the time they got off the river and rallied back up the hill to snag their shuttle vehicle a quick moving thunderstorm blasted through the area and turned the road to complete shit. Hence, this morning’s yard sale.
And now, a little bleary-eyed and sleep deprived, they are looking curiously at our small packs, and wondering if we aren’t about to make some poor decisions ourselves.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador and well-known ice and alpine climber Angela VanWiemeersch recently visited the Hayes Range, Alaska, in order to put up a couple new lines. (i.e. alpine climbing routes). During a trip to the area in 2014, she spied the two formations. “I was blown away by their beauty and steepness—blue ice drooling from the magnificent faces.” She decided then that she’d have to come back for these peaks. She and Anna Pfaff spent a month there, but got denied by snow and bad weather. But, as she says, a failed expedition is just another learning experience. We recently chatted with her about what she learned from her third big adventure up north.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear is proud to be an unofficial sponsor of the unofficial Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic.
Words by Luc Mehl
The Mountain Wilderness Classic is Alaska’s premier wilderness challenge, a grassroots event where participants push to their exertion and exhaustion limits. Ultralight is the name of the game, so it is no surprise that the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter is the pack of choice.
The 2016 course started at Galbraith Lake and ended in Wiseman, completing a north-south traverse of the Brooks Range, Alaska’s northernmost mountain range. The course was short by Classic standards, a minimum of 110 miles, half of which was floatable. This was a welcome change from the 2015 300-mile route in the Alaska Range, which was only finished by four of the thirty participants.
The short Brooks Range course and 24-hour daylight allowed participants to cut even more gear from their packs, with many participants expecting to go without sleep. Sleeping bags, shelter systems, and extra clothing were all left behind. One participant even opted to leave his packraft behind, starting with a 13 pound pack (this ended up being a bad decision). Read more about the Classic, and check out a sweet video.
Philip Werner never wanted to be a thru hiker. While he respects thru hikers and their achievement(s), he prefers to hike his own hike, which, to him, means hiking and backpacking both on and off-trail on journeys of his own design. People often equate hiking and backpacking with thru hiking. However, the vast majority of hikers and backpackers don’t hike on National Scenic Trails. Werner estimates there are probably 10,000 or more non-thru hikers for every Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail thru hiker. We recently chatted with this influential hiking blogger and owner of SectionHiker.com about what “hike your own hike” means to him.
Hiking new routes, to new places and in new ways. My favorite mountain is the mountain I have yet to climb. To find new routes, I look at maps a lot and work off trail lists and peak lists. For off-trail routes, I mainly use caltopo.com to plan my bushwhacks and a map and compass to hike the routes. I really enjoy planning unique trips to places I want to visit. I can’t think of a time where I’ve used someone else’s route on a trip on purpose.
What are some of the “new ways” you have hiked over the years?
Winter backpacking, mountaineering, bushwhacking, peak bagging, waterfall climbing, day hiking and nature viewing. There are lots of styles of hiking and combinations of these styles.
Plus, I’m constantly learning new backcountry skills and folding them into my adventures, adding endless new facets to my experiences. I’ve incorporated backcountry (cross-country) skiing, Tenkara fly fishing and traditional Flycasting with a reel into my adventures lately. This summer, for example, I’m doing a series of backpacking trips to remote alpine ponds in New Hampshire and Maine to fly fish from a packraft. That’s just one example of a trip that includes numerous activities—backpacking, fly fishing and packrafting. And this coming winter I plan to combine winter backpacking and backcountry skiing on some trips into the Pemigewasset Wilderness.
I’d wager that with my 5-6 pounds of ultralight gear I’m more comfortable, sleep better, and eat as well or better than most campers carrying 20 to 30 pounds of conventional/heavier backpacking gear. How is that possible? I’ll get into it in more detail throughout this guide to ultralight backpack, but let’s get things started with the three biggest reasons:
Good camping skills: Good camping skills rule! They are far more important than the weight of my gear for keeping me safe, warm and dry. And I don’t mean fancy skills—just the basic, garden-variety skills that every backpacker probably knows how to do (or should know)—like putting on rainwear or a warm jacket when needed, selecting a good campsite, and doing a decent job of pitching a tarp or pyramid shelter, etc.
Light gear appropriate for the conditions: I pick the lightest fully-functional gear appropriate for the actual conditions I backpack in. E.g. my light down sleeping bag/quilt, down jacket, and 6-8 oz rain jacket work as well as conventional (heavy) gear at 3 times the weight. I take gear that is appropriate for actual conditions for the time of year and location I am backpacking. E.g. I don’t take a 4-pound, 4-season dome tent, a +20F sleeping bag, and a down jacket for a warm May trip on the Appalachian Trail with expected lows in the 60s—you’d be surprised how many people do!
Nutritious high-calorie food: Intelligent selection of my food, gives me 3,000 nutritious and filling calories of complex carbs, protein and healthy fats for around 1.5 pounds/day. This is the same number of calories provided by 2 pounds of average backpacking food. Over a 3 day weekend backpacking trip I get as many calories and as much nutrition, possibly more than someone carrying almost twice the food weight.
Gear & Clothes That Can Make the Difference For Your Wilderness Packraft Adventure
Text by Moe Witschard // Photos by Moe Witschard & Mike St. Pierre
Maurice “Moe” Witschard is an experienced explorer, photographer and a filmmaker who loves packrafting and adventuring. Like all adventurers and packrafters he knows that it is key to stay safe and dry. In this blog post he shares 10 tips for your packrafing attire that will make your packraft adventure as safe and fun as possible.
Making smart choices as to what to wear often means the difference between joy and misery on a packraft trip. After packrafting extensively over the past 10 years, I have tried many different clothing systems. My present strategies are based on principles that I have taken from years of whitewater kayaking and backpacking. I apply them to my trips in what I believe is the most elegant of wilderness watercraft: the packraft. Here, I share my tips.
Cam “Swami” Honan’s Tips for Hiking in the Rain (Cold, Sleet, Hail, Snow, Fog and Basically Anything Else Nature Can Throw At You)
Tasmania’s Arthur Range is arguably Australia’s most spectacular mountain chain. Unfortunately for hikers there’s a catch. It’s called the “weather.”
Backcountry trips in the Arthurs are a meteorological roll of the dice at any time of year. When it’s fine you’ll be treated to sublime views of jagged quartzite peaks, hanging valleys and glacier carved lakes. If a big storm front rumbles through, all you will likely see is horizontal rain, thick fog and the brim of your baseball cap pulled all the way down over your forehead.
When coupled with the fact that much of the hiking is done on open rocky ridges exposed to the full brunt of the Roaring Forties (i.e. gale-force westerly winds found in the Southern Hemisphere, generally between between 40° and 50° latitude), the Arthurs is not a place you want to be without good backcountry skills and the right equipment.
If faced with these sort of extreme conditions, a hiker’s #1 priority should always be safety. Preset itineraries and/or mileage objectives should run a very distant second.
In such circumstances, I try to focus on core temperature management and sound choices. In regards to the latter, I find it helpful to put myself in the role of “objective observer” rather than “subjective participant.” In other words, take emotion out of the decision making process. Admittedly, this is sometimes easier in theory than it is in practice, however, in my opinion it represents one of the most important, as well as most overlooked, wilderness skills that a hiker can develop. Click here to learn about Cam Honan’s tips.
Adaptability is one of the most important skills for a hiker to learn. Find out how it affects all stages of your hike.
The only thing you have control over is yourself, your perspective and your actions. The elements couldn’t care less about your first ascent, your time record or your worthy cause. In thru hiking, as with all adventure sports, adaptability can determine whether you live or die. It means backtracking when you fought hard to get there. It means swallowing your ego.
Adventure athletes are a bull headed breed. We are out there to whet our mettle, pushing forward into new territory, testing limits–this all takes determination. Yet sometimes we have to turn around 300 feet from the summit. It means not dropping in if the snowpack is weak. It means not shooting that sick Go Pro video. Because before all else, Mother Nature demands humility.
Have I made the point about baseline safety, yet? Okay, now let’s talk about how adaptability comes into play at every stage, from planning to after-action review. Find out more about adaptability
3 Explorers Embark on a DIY Multisport Adventure to Alaska’s Mountains using Packrafts, Skis & Their Feet.
Not everyone can handle spending three weeks camped out on an Alaskan Glacier putting up first ascents of rock, ice and snow routes on unclimbed spires and peaks. Even fewer can then handle skiing out on handmade skis with 100-pound loads, over high mountain passes and across unknown terminal moraines to a river of unknown difficulty. But the trio of Craig Muderlak, Drew Thayer and David Fay did. Supported by the American Alpine Club through the Copp-Dash Inspire Award and various sponsors, including Hyperlite Mountain Gear, they climbed, skied, hiked and packrafted on the adventure of a lifetime. We recently chatted with Muderlak about their wild, multi-sport adventure and the reasons for their success.
What did you do exactly?
In the second week of May we flew into the North Fork of the Pitchfork Glacier in the Neacola subrange of the Aleutian Range in southwestern Alaska. We established a base camp and explored climbing routes on neighboring peaks, including two attempts on the NW Ridge of Citadel Peak, two new rock routes and an additional attempted route on Dogtooth Spire on Peak 7235, a new route up an unclimbed mountain adjacent to Peak 8909 that we call ‘Spearhead’ at the head of the North Fork of the Pitchfork, and a new route to the summit of a rock spire we call ‘The Wing’ on the W side of the Neacola Glacier across from Triangle Peak.
After spending 21 days climbing, we made a human-powered return to Cook Inlet via ski, foot, and pack-raft over six days. This part of the expedition proved to be very arduous and fraught with uncertainty. We descended the Pitchfork glacier with 100-pound loads on skis and reached the terminal moraine the second day, which we crossed by shuttling loads. The next day we descended the Glacier Fork of the Tlikakila River on pack-rafts; this eight-mile river was flowing strong with Class II and III whitewater and we ran all but one rapid. Read the rest of the article.
Bike/Pack/Raft/Climb: Steve “Doom” Fassbinder’s Recommendations for Aspiring Multi-Sport Adventurers
“You’re almost always making it up as you go”, says Steve Fassbinder of his multi-sport exploits. “Doom” embarks on long-distance, backcountry adventures that typically include two to four of the following sports: packrafting, thru hiking, rock climbing and mountain biking.
“I’m figuring it out as I go,” he says. Fassbinder started racing mountain bikes, but eventually, the constant riding took a toll on his knees. When he discovered packrafting he realized he could take his bike and do these routes that were never possible before. Learn more about multi-sport adventure.
The vast Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument is arguably best true wilderness in the lower 48. The beauty of the desert canyons and the mesas in the Monument is breathtaking—challenging the the best the planet has to offer. It is the perfect setting for a bona fide adventure filled with jaw dropping beauty.
The Escalante was the last river of its size to be discovered in the lower 48 states and the area was the last to be mapped in the lower 48. In the vast expanse below Highway 12 there are no trails (actually there is only one trail in the entire park). Many of the side canyons are so remote and inaccessible that only a few people every 10 years reaches them, if ever. Only a few canyons see regular use.
A light tarp is usually all you need in the desert. Note: While I could have camped higher up on the canyon wall on a slickrock shelf with better views… I discreetly camped out of sight, away from the trail and in the cottonwood trees as a favor to others sharing the canyon with me. It is also a warmer and more protected location than exposed on the slickrock. And this is far from a bad view!
Alan Dixon runs the popular website, AdventureAlan.com. He regularly uses our 3400 Southwest Pack. Stay tuned for Dixon’s future blog posts, including the second in our series of, “Why You Won’t Freeze or Starve Going Ultralight” blog posts, in which he discusses good camping skills, utilizing gear that’s appropriate for the conditions, and being prepared in terms of weather and calories needed. “I’ll wager that with my 5-6 pounds of ultralight gear I’m more comfortable, sleep better, and eat as well or better than most campers carrying 20 to 30 pounds of conventional/heavier backpacking gear,” Dixon says.
Not All Technical Appalachian Trail Clothing is Created Equal
Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and into Pennsylvania. Looking at the maps in the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s main building in Harper’s Ferry made it apparent that we have put a solid dent into our journey. At this point, it’s more than a little obvious what is and isn’t working out when it comes to our Appalachian Trail clothing kit.
After making it just about halfway on the Appalachian Trail I thought I would take a good look at the technical hiking clothes I use day in and day out.
But first, a little catching up…
Lays’ parents joined us for a short stint through the Shenandoah National Park, where it rained more often than not, but it was okay because of the waysides offered at almost every 15 miles. There, we fueled up on their bounty of affordable cheeseburgers and tall beers. Since then we have done a 26 mile slack pack in eight hours, sweated profusely in the humid air and caught up with some old friends we lost during our Trail Days endeavor. Continue Reading
The Triple Crown of hiking is an almost mythical endeavor. These three trails take thru hikers and backpackers to some of the most scenic, remote and illustrious landscapes of the United States. The Appalachian Trail is full of history, tradition and lore. The moss-covered New England rocks and gnarly roots are emblematic of the long and deep culture of this famous footpath. And the Pacific Crest Trail winds its way through desert, climbs its way to the High Sierra and John Muir’s fabled “Range of Light” and onward to the volcanic peaks of the Pacific Northwest. It is a land of biodiversity and enchantment. Anyone attempting all three will find something completely different hiking the CDT (Continental Divide National Scenic Trail). Read on.
One-Quarter of Aspiring Pacific Crest Trail Thru Hikes Succeed: These Tips Can Make The Difference
The Westernmost trail in the infamous “Triple Crown” of hiking, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) stretches from the US-Mexico border to the US-Canada border, running through California, Oregon and Washington. According to the 2013 statistics from the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, out of the 1041 people that attempted the PCT, only 273 of them reported completing the trail (26% completion). We talked to Trail Information Specialist Jack Haskel of the PCTA who gave us nine critical PCT tips to help you on your thru hike. Find out how to thru hike the PCT.
Add Four Season Functionality to Your Gear Lists for Day Hiking
Since it’s not always an option to take five-month long hikes, I have really come to enjoy fast and light day hikes with lots of elevation and long miles. Having a system dialed in makes it easy for me to grab the right gear for the day and hit the trails without much thought, a nice perk when you’re short on time and trying to spend as much of it outside as possible.
For long-distance thru hikes, I’m used to having limited gear options–you essentially pick one kit for five months of travel and hope it works in everything from the desert to the high alpine. With day hiking or quick overnights, it’s different. I modify what I carry continually throughout the seasons to ensure maximum comfort and minimum weight.
My day hiking gear lists include “standard items,” which I always carry. Then there are the “conditional items” that I need for the specific season or activity.
Regardless of the time of year or type of trip I’m doing, the first items I throw in my Daybreak ultralight day pack are a medical kit, ditty bag, snacks, water and an insulating layer.
Remote Camino de Santiago Routes To Challenge the Most Experienced Hikers
A network of ancient pilgrim routes, The Camino de Santiago (the Way of Saint James) leads from different parts of Europe into Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain, believed to be the resting place of Saint James the Apostle. Between 200,000 to 300,000 people from all over the world follow the famous signs of the yellow arrow and the scallop shell on the Camino routes each year. Camino pilgrims who hike at least 62 miles can get their “passport” stamped and then apply for the pilgrim certificate, the Compostela, once they arrive to Santiago. People hike for religious or spiritual reasons, to discover new places and to meet new people. Others hike because they want to experience the remoteness and difficulty of some of Europe’s most ancient trails. Though many people go on the Camino’s various trails for the cultural experience or for religious reasons, long-distance hikers can also have a true outdoor adventure. Special thanks to the folks at CaminoWays for helping us answer these questions. Read on to learn more.
Streamline Your Consumables to Carry a Lighter Pack & Enhance Your Adventure.
Text by Philip Werner
Ultralight backpackers spend a great deal of time and effort reducing the weight of their gear, or base weight. But reducing the weight of your consumables, (food, water and fuel) is just as important and can lead to significant weight savings with little extra expense.
For example, when I started hiking the Vermont’s Long Trail eight years ago, I filled a three liter hydration reservoir with water every morning, carrying six liters of water, even though water was plentiful along the trail. It took me about 100 miles, but I figured out that I never needed to carry more than a liter at a time, shaving four pounds off my pack weight just like that, without spending a cent.
It takes a little bit more planning, but this is a good example of how to skills and experience can help you reduce the weight of your consumables.
Here are a few more strategies that I use to reduce the weight of my food, water and fuel: <!–more Check out the 3 tips to carry a lighter load.”
Remove all excess packaging.
Replace low-calorie foods with calorically dense foods like nuts, olive oil or ghee.
Bring less food per day. There’s no need to pack 5000-6000 calories per day like a thru hiker if you mainly take overnight or weekend backpacking trips. Try bringing 3000 calories per day instead. This should still be sufficient to keep you satisfied and alert, and you’re unlikely to starve to death, even if you burn more energy than you consume. The goal is to come home with an empty food bag every time.
If not the most difficult, a hike below the rim of the Grand comes close.
Learn about Ambassador Rich Rudow’s thru hike & Hyperlite Mountain Gear CEO Mike St. Pierre’s planning & prep for his 2 section hikes.
More than four thousand people have summited Mt. Everest. Two hundred and fifty people have walked 7,900 miles to complete the triple crown of hiking (walking the PCT, CDT and AT). Twenty-four astronauts left the Earth’s orbit for the moon. But only 12 people have ever walked the length of Grand Canyon in one continuous push and just a handful have done it in sections. Why? There are no towns for resupply, no base camps for logistics support, and in fact, no trails for the vast majority of the 700 miles. Traversing Grand Canyon is like walking a complex three-dimensional maze with delicate routes that include hundreds of thousands of vertical feet of scrambling and climbing up to low class five terrain. There isn’t a guidebook, and beta is sparse. To most people, this thru hike seems impossible. But for people like Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Rich Rudow, the foremost expert on slot canyons in the Grand, Hyperlite Mountain Gear Chief Adventure Officer (aka CEO) Mike St. Pierre, and a handful of others it’s not only possible, but one of life’s most exciting challenges. Rudow finished his thru hike late in 2015; St. Pierre has achieved the first two sections of the hike, and plans on finishing the entire journey within the next few years. Read more.
On June 4th we’re celebrating National Trails Day! Occurring the first Saturday of June, this American Hiking Society-sponsored day celebrates America’s magnificent Trail System. According to AHS: “The event evolved during the late ‘80s and ‘90s from a popular ethos among trail advocates, outdoor industry leaders and political bodies who wanted to unlock the vast potential in America’s National Trails System, transforming it from a collection of local paths into a true network of interconnected trails and vested trail organizations. This collective mindset hatched the idea of a singular day where the greater trail community could band together behind to show their pride and dedication to the National Trails System.”
Daybreak Ultralight Daypack Reviews from the Seattle Times, National Geographic & More
At Hyperlite Mountain Gear, we usually just let our gear just speak for itself. But major media outlets have had such nice things to say in their reviews of our new ultralight daypack, the Daybreak, that we feel we just had to share.
Seattle Timeson the Daybreak Pack: Washington’s most widely read newspaper recently included our Daybreak daypack in its “Great Father’s Day gifts for dads who love the outdoors” article. “The new high-tech Hyperlite Daybreak Backpack ($220) is a seamless ultralight pack — weighing 19 ounces — that will get you through any long hike or trek without weighing you down.”
National Geographic Adventure Magazineon the Daybreak Pack: “Hyperlite Mountain Gear has built the Daybreak out of Dyneema® cloth, which is known for its extremely light weight, durability, and natural water resistance. Although it holds 17 liters, enough for a full day on the trail, it weighs just 19 ounces. But it isn’t flimsy: The Dyneema® has a structure that helps hold its shape, which lets it sit upright on its own and makes it easier to organize or find your gear. Like we said, sophisticated.” Read the full review.