Friday, February 25, 2011

Makin' Coffee: My New Stove and Mess Kit

This is my stove. It is tiny.

No forced perspective, I promise.

Expanded and assembled, atop a fuel canister. This is the larger size fuel; I'll use the smaller size on the trail.


The pot stores the whole assembly, stove, (small) fuel and all. The handle folds over and clips everything shut together.
Mug/bowl and Coffee Solution. I got the 2-person mess kit, because it had an extra mug/bowl.
Fits nicely.

I didn't time it, but boiling didn't take long. You can see the lid at the upper right.
Slowly, slowly...

Finished product. The plastic mug makes it look sort of blah,

but I can assure you, it is a notably fresh, full-bodied cup.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Water Update

I bought some water-purification tablets and tested them on my tapwater for taste. Instead of using iodine, they oxidize any biological contamination using chlorine dioxide. As advertised, it's true that they don't leave any aftertaste, which can be a blessing (aftertastes are the worst, specifically when you have nothing to get rid of them except the thing that has an aftertaste). Unfortunately, there is a striking chlorine smell. The odor is worse than the taste, and probably isn't helped by the cheap disposable plastic water bottle I did the test in. It would probably be tolerable in a camelback or a water bottle with a sip-top.

You do have to wait 4 hours for the chemicals to be effective on the more stubborn disease-causing cysts. But other than having to strategize the timing, it seems like an easy way to go.

Luckily, most of my cooking and coffee preparation already involves boiling, so there shouldn't be a problem with off tastes in the food and beverage department.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

In Which I Prepare to Deal with Bears

You guys, bears are assholes.

Pictured: an asshole.
I was going to write a long philosophical blog, ruminating on the difference between territorial wildlife and predatory wildlife; territorial wildlife wants you to go away, while predatory wildlife wants you in its belly. This is why I'm concerned about, but not really afraid of, the former, but rather nervous about the latter. But it turns out that bears take it to a whole nother level.

Bears are territorial, especially if you startle them or appear to threaten their cubs.
This woman likens herself to a total asshole.
While this can be dangerous, it's mostly solved by being conscientious, making your presence obvious, and backing off if you encounter anything. Bears are also occasionally predatory. Luckily, predatory attacks on humans are exceptionally rare.

But here's what really elevates bears from annoying jerks to total and complete assholes: in addition to being the worst of both worlds of territorial and aggressive, they add a whole other category of crappyness: they're pests.

Though bears could easily turn humans into food, they'd way rather skip the middleman and just eat our food instead. The vast majority of bear-human encounters in national parks happen not in some pristine wilderness, but near a thoughtlessly-kept parking lot, garbage bin, or campsite. They're the house mice of the outdoors. House mice that can eat your head.

I'd made all the recommended plans for this: bear-bagging food high in a tree, eliminating any possible scented toiletries, keeping the cooksite far from the tent for when hungry bears come a-snuffling. But it turns out that that isn't enough anymore. The national parks in California and the entire state of Washington have declared that all backcountry campers must carry a bear-proof food canister.

 Bear canisters are a total pain in the ass. The way you make things bear-proof is basically the same way you make things nuclear-waste-proof; bury them in about half a foot of impenetrable materials on all sides. Bear canisters are enormous and rigid. (Though there are collapsible kevlar bear bags, they're not tough enough for CA or WA bear laws.) Most of them are a weird tapered shape which prevents bears from getting purchase on any edges, but makes them pains to pack. And most unforgivable for backpacking, they weigh a ton.

Well, most of them weigh a ton--there's one manufacturer that uses some space-age polycarbon that saves over a pound. Except that while most bear canisters average about $50, these go for over $200. While I know that once I'm on the trail beginning a 5-day trek with my entire survival on my back, I'll surely appreciate saving weight more than I will saving money. But it's still a big cliff to face. Stupid bears!


Friday, February 18, 2011

Another Question

I need more advice from those with recent wilderness experience. What's your opinion on water-purification systems?

When I did my long wilderness canoe trips in high school (and when I hiked in Vermont on my own), we simply drank straight from the bodies of water at hand. No one got sick. My more recent hiking trips were in Arizona, and we necessarily brought all our water with us. So I have literally no experience with the water-purification systems below, only their pros and cons as described by guidebooks and the internet. My options are, from most-favorite to least:

Water Treatment Tablets: These seem to have the most pros; small, easy to carry, unbreakable, inexpensive per unit (whether it's cheaper in the long run to keep paying for tablets rather than get a filter, I don't know). But opinions seem to differ--do they make the water taste bad? And do you really have to wait 4 hours for full disinfection, or the 15 or so minutes the tablets advertise?

Water Filter: I like the idea of drinking as soon as the water comes out of the other end of the filter. I also like that I won't have to pre-filter if the water is less than clear. But filters are expensive, there's always the risk of breaking, and you hear more grumbling and pain-in-the-ass type complaints in filter product reviews than you do in tablet reviews.

SteriPen UV Purification: This sounds appealing at first, what with the instant disinfection, low weight, and no work. But I'm loath to risk my health on anything that requires batteries and electronics that I don't understand.

Anybody used any of these? What was your experience?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Big Step

This makes me nervous, but I think it must be set in stone. Or at least wood. Clay.

As detailed below, I need to time my departure just right, so I have enough time to do what I want before the deadline of my Grand Canyon trip. Now that I finally have five maps, seven guidebooks, and no excuses, I've tallied up the wilderness treks I hope to take, factored in my driving time, and dropped some real, solid X's on my giant calendar. (I must stay, it makes me happy that this more precise estimate lines up so well with the one I made stabbing in the dark as to how long I plan to spend in each place--it bodes well for my estimating abilities.) Specifically:

I'm leaving for Seattle on July 25, 2011.

Though I like the idea of open-endedness, I need at least a general schedule to fit everything in before October 5. Here's the rough itinerary:

July 25 to about August 6, Seattle/Olympia: Visit friends and family, outfit, buy a vehicle, and maybe do short trips with said family and friends to Olympic.
August 7 through about September 1: Olympic and North Cascades
September 1 through about September 15: Glacier
September 15 through October 5: Yellowstone and Grand Teton

Seeing it planned out on my color-coded calendar, I wonder whether I might want to spend less time in the Pacific Northwest and get to the Mountain West earlier to spend more time there, but that's the kind of thing I get to decide when I'm on the road. The important thing is that I'm (reasonably) confident I'll have plenty of time to enjoy everything I want to see before I've got to head down the Grand Canyon. Plus, I can finally give a specific answer when people ask when I'm leaving:

July 25, 2011.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

An Actual Question

Here's a test of my readership: I need an actual opinion.

I pretty much assumed I'd want a separate GPS device, since they're a nearly foolproof way of grabbing your location no matter where you are. I didn't want to use my phone's GPS because it eats the batteries, and I hope to keep my phone fresh in case it's applicable in an emergency.

But here's the thing: an "outdoors" GPS is extremely expensive, like hundreds of dollars. Since I only plan on using GPS as a last resort, when maps, compass, and my own pretty reliable sense of direction aren't enough, is a unit worth it? Or would my phone be enough for rare and brief GPS usage? (There's an incredibly thorough GPS app for my smartphone, which contains 1. downloadable topo maps that are readable without a cell connection and 2. a nav system that communicates directly with satellites and is also operable without a cell connection).

I don't plan on bushwhacking; I'm sticking to marked National Park trails that are shown on topo maps and described in guidebooks. I'd probably use a GPS only if I accidentally ended up off the trail. And as I mentioned, I have a pretty good intuitive sense of direction, and I not only know how to read a map, but I actually enjoy cross-referencing my location with a map like every few minutes or so, even when I know where I am. So what's the advantage of a separate GPS? And is it 400 bucks' worth of advantage? If you've got more wilderness navigation experience than I do, please weigh in!