Tag Archives: hiking

Images of Thankfulness

We hosted my parents and grandma and Rosie’s parents at our house for Thanksgiving. It was a wonderful day. Enough sentiment to make it memorable, enough relaxation to make it enjoyable.

Perhaps the best thing about Thanksgiving weekend is that you get the holiday out of the way right off. Once all the dishes were done, we had a long weekend of well-deserved rest and play.

On Friday, I had a couple free hours in the afternoon so I drove over to our nearest park and took Lola for a wander in the woods.

On Saturday, we went a-Christmas tree cutting with Rosie’s clan. The three families met in Stillwater and then headed across the St. Croix to find a tree.

Rosie and I got our tree tied on first and hit the road back to her parents’ for dinner. En route, we decided to swing by the Arcola High Bridge to see the sun set over the valley.

As we were driving away, the moon was suddenly hanging over the tree tops, as big as I’ve ever seen it.

I was out catching up to tomorrow, or was I caught up in the past?
These days it’s hard to tell what’s out in front from what’s behind.
But, oh God, it’s unforgettable and unpredictable the way our chemicals collide.

- Cloud Cult

Finally, on Sunday, we went for a hike with Rainier and B (and Lola and their dog Quercus). They were leading us to new parks and it was a good wander around the northwest part of the metro area. Our primary destination was closed for a special deer hunt that day and that day only, so we improvised and found a state forest where we could walk some fire roads and trails through the pines.

Perhaps my favorite part of the walk was through a stand of red pines planted 50 years ago. The thick carpet of red needles on the path and the wind in the high canopy created a strange peaceful effect. A crow’s caw some distance away echoed carried through the woods.

I got myself a new look,
(Something gave me another chance to see).
Each time, each time I will try to do better.
Right now, right now is where I guess I belong.

Pulled my fist from my mouth.
I beat myself for a quarter century.
Remind, remind that it’s bigger than me.
Dissolve, dissolve into evergreens.

- ibid.

The cold started to set in over the course of the weekend. Winter is looming awfully long right now, and November has been dim and darkening, the skies have been gray, the wind raw, the land impartial and unmoving.

But there are lessons in all of it, and I’ve survived every other winter I’ve attempted, and already the cold is feeling more comfortable.

An Ultralight Thru-Hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail, The Interview: The People

The fifth and final part of my interview with Sam Haraldson about his ultralight thru-hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail. Here’s part one, part two, part three and part four.

Sam is giving a presentation titled Ultralight Thru-Hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail,” tomorrow morning at 11 a.m. at the Midwest Mountaineering Winter Expo. Rosie and I will be there, as will some other folks. Let me know if you’re planning to attend and we can say ‘hi.’

Hikers on the Pacific Northwest TrailMy last question for the solo-hiking Sam was about other people. Though he spent days hiking in perfect solitude, Sam inevitably met some interesting folks on the trail.

He says the first half of his hike, through western Montana, Idaho and eastern Washington, differed greatly from the second half, through western Washington.

As I followed the trail across Montana, Idaho and Eastern Washington – places where population density is intrinsically low – I met the least number of people. Making my way into Western Washington where population density is higher I began to encounter significant numbers of people.

Up until I entered North Cascades National Park I had kept a tally of the number of backpackers I met in each of the recreation areas I’d passed and this number was in the dozens. Upon entering North Cascades and moving westward the number of people sharing the backcountry with me as backpackers became great enough that counting them became tedious and I quit keeping tally.

Fellow hikers on the Pacific Northwest TrailOf all those people, Sam encountered a few characters that have stuck with him, from an older gentleman practicing a very minimalist form of backpacking (from the miles per day to the simplicity of his food), to a guy who seemed to emulate The Big Lebowski in more ways than one.

Let’s begin with Bob whom was backpacking outside of Bonner’s Ferry, ID. Bob is in his 60s and had been hiking these loops of trails or some decades previous. He practiced Tai Chi and subsisted while backpacking off whey protein and raw olive oil. He knew his limits, moved at a slow pace and truly savored the sights and sounds of his surroundings.

Todd, an individual whom I met early on in my hike while I was in Glacier National Park was driving his truck on the backest-of-back roads along a route nearly identical, yet reverse of the hike I was making. He had started at Neah Bay in Washington (a few dozen miles North of where I was to end) and had worked his way Eastward to the Continental Divide at Glacier National Park (where my hike began). Todd wore a bathrobe all the time, had very interesting theories on modern physics and was an individual like few I’ve ever met.

Some kind folks who fed Sam dinner on the Olympic National Park section of the Pacific Northwest TrailClifford, Steve and Andrea all hail from Northport, WA. Cliff is the town librarian and music teacher while Steve and Andrea own and operate Northern Ales Brewery and Organic Grocery. Clifford met me one warm morning as the library was opening and let me in to check my e-mail and sit for a chat as the temps outside rose to 100 deg F. His son gave me excellent advice as to the best swimming in the Columbia River and in a visit back to the library later that day soothed my ears with some delectable acoustic guitar picking. That evening while Andrea poured us quality brews, Cliff and Steve had an excellent jam session at Northern Ales.

I met many a good conversationalist along the trail. From small talk about the weather at a local deli counter in Oroville, WA to an in-depth ultralight gear chat in the alpine country of Olympic National Park the people along the way were a highlight of the trip providing an excellent balance to the beauties of the scenery and sounds of the wilderness solitude.

So that concludes the interview. I hope you enjoyed it and found it informative. Many thanks to Sam for his great tales and insights, it was a pleasure to do the interview and post it here.

And don’t forget about the talk tomorrow morning and to let me know if you’re going to be there!

Old-growth log in Olympic National Park

An Ultralight Thru-Hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail, The Interview:

An Ultralight Thru-Hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail, The Interview: Great Thoughts

Part four of my interview with Sam Haraldson about his ultralight thru-hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail. Here’s part one, part two and part three.

A mountain vista on the Pacific Northwest TrailI decided to get a little existential with my next question. I sent a quote from Nietzche to Sam, “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” I asked him if he had any “great thoughts” on his own long walk. Though he says he is more predisposed toward experience than contemplation, it seems the walk did have a powerful effect on his mind:

Sixty-one days on the trail, a dozen or so of which I spent in utter solitude. Stretched ahead of me were the linear miles of trail pulling me ever onward and drawing my thoughts out into the vast wilderness around me. Drawing me to contemplation of these great places, what they mean to the animals and people whom reside within and what they mean to humankind overall. Walking this footpath spanning the many ecosystems and many economic systems as well brought me face-to-face with what natural resource management (or lack thereof) is all about. Many an hour was passed, a horrified look on my face as I passed through mile after mile of forests cut clear to the ground, slash piled high and rutted muddy water-flows Clear-cut devastation witnessed along the Pacific Northwest Trail.run amok. It was contemplation of these thousands of square miles which brought me sadness as it lay in stark contrast to the hundreds of square miles of pristine old growth wilderness.

But reality tends to keep me in check and awakening in the morning to find the dew-heavy leaves and the morning sunrise do great things for even the simplest of man. Joy is found right in front of you and spreads through the ephemera that is your reality and your presence. I’ve spent my life as a thinking individual always feeling somewhere in the back of my mind that all things are related through some force, be it God, Mother Nature, Science, whatever. How this force is defined has changed definitions to me over the course of my life. As a teenager I defined my being through Christianity, growing older I rejected this dogma and reduced it to something I simply referred to as spirituality.

A moment of contemplation along the Pacific Northwest TrailAlthough not formally educated as such I feel as though I found Zen while walking in the woods. Life reduced to its simplest parts, sustenance and shelter being your only concerns one is forced to grasp life at it’s minimum. Stripping away the intricacies of society the mind far better grasps the relationships not of one person to another but rather one person to the world. Kicking your foot mid step knocks over a plant which ultimately rots into compost making way for new life. A pebble thrown into a pond creates ripples of water which send ripples into the air and so on and so forth.

The exultant hiker himself along the Pacific Northwest TrailThis rippling effect followed me back into society and strengthened my beliefs in the interconnectedness of all things. It boosted my beliefs that people must be good to each other as the ripples aren’t just in the water, but in the conversations we have with others as well. As my sister-in-law loves to quote, “Live well, laugh often and love much.”

Anyone else who has read David James Duncan’s “The Brothers K” find Sam’s last paragraph reminiscent of certain realizations and revelations the young “Scientists” Bet and Freddy have about “humps of energy” and the such?

Don’t forget, Sam will be giving a presentation on his hike, titled “Ultralight Thru-Hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail,” at the Midwest Mountaineering Outdoor Adventure Expo in Minneapolis this Saturday at 11 a.m.

An Ultralight Thru-Hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail, The Interview:

An Ultralight Thru-Hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail, The Interview: Gear

Part three of my interview with Sam Haraldson about his ultralight thru-hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail. Here’s part one and part two.

Anybody setting out to hike 1,100+ miles will probably think long-and-hard about the stuff they’re going to carry on their back all those miles. The line between being prepared and being slowed down by a heavy pack is a fine one. So it’s no surprise that my queries regarding Sam’s gear elicited his lengthiest response:

A campsite with Sam's ultralight tarp shelter.Gear. I like gear. I talk about gear a lot. Ask my girlfriend if I like gear. I bet you she rolls her eyes and says, “I have to fight for space in his brain because he thinks about gear so much!” If you visit some of my favorite Internet haunts such as BackpackingLight.com you’ll see that many long distance hikers spend a good majority of their pre-hike time working out the gear they’ll be relying on for the months ahead. The nuts and bolts of a long distance hike really break down into your physical endurance, mental fortitude and gear.

I follow an ultralight philosopy which is commonly defined as a sub ten pound pack weight not including food, water, fuel (referred to as consumables). My gear spreadsheet displays 10 lbs. 2.71 oz. as my pack weight, so by definition I miss the ultralight mark by a bit but one could argue that ultralight isn’t just about weight but mindset as well. I am of the opinion that use of certain pieces of gear define an individual as an ultra-lighter. These include the use of a tarp instead of a double-wall tent, trail-running shoes instead of boots, frameless packs, non-white gas stoves, quilts instead of sleeping bags to name a few. The weight savings of some of these items allow for the carrying of luxury items such as a camera, journal or mp3 player.

Cooking dinner using his Bushbuddy Ultra backpacking wood stoveA sub-set of the ultralight movement is the MYOG-heads. MYOG stands for make-your-own-gear and has a strong following on Internet forums. I inherited my grandmother’s Singer sewing machine and put it to good use sewing stuff sacks and a tarp for my trip. My girlfriend also sews and she made me a set of custom insulated booties for sleeping in.

I’ve seen some of Sam’s homemade stuff. I was impressed: minimalist but innovative. I swear they should produce and sell the booties.

A frequent criticism of ultralight backpacking is that the gear sacrifices durability for grams. It seems that Sam didn’t encounter many problems in that regard, or with his gear whatsoever, which seems to speak well of the practice, as long as extensive research and field-testing is performed.

Now, having defined what ultralight and home made gear mean to me let’s talk about what worked well and what didn’t work well. To begin I’ll start with what didn’t work which fortunately wasn’t much.

Sam's ultralight backpacking gearWhen I was leaving a re-supply point and had up to nine days of food and a day’s worth of water with me my pack may well have weighed nearly forty pounds. I was carrying a ULA-Equipment Conduit pack I’d modified with a plastic framesheet which was designed for loads around thirty pounds. Putting those extra pounds into the pack made for a bit of discomfort in the initial three days. After consuming the food early on in a stretch however the pack weights dropped and made for a very comfortable carry.

I sewed myself a custom tarp with front and rear beaks, eight tie-outs and of a large enough size to comfortably weather a storm. This was my first tarp sewing project and although it held together quite well if I was to do it again I would have beefed up the stitches at the tie out points thereby eliminating the “worry factor” I often felt during heavy winds.

The gear worries and complaints being stated I will now mention what did work and why. Overall I was very confident in my gear choices as they were researched exhaustively.

Sam's ultralight backpacking kitI read reviews, purchased, tested, sold, re-purchased re-tested and finally settled on a quality list. I ran this list by as many people as I could and compared it to lists of other long distance hikers. Looking over my list one will see biases towards certain brands. Most of my clothing was from Arc’Teryx because their reputation for quality is hard to beat. Black Diamond also has bomber gear and I relied on a few pieces of their gear as well. I also attained many items from BackpackingLight.com as they specialize in the lightest stuff on the market.

All the gear I brought I hold in the highest regard but a few items stand out as being very superb. As the year comes to an end and I determine my 2007 favorites I predict the list will be topped by two items. One being the Bushbuddy Ultra backpacking wood stove and second being the Montbell Thermawrap jacket. These two pieces of gear packed the highest value per ounce of anything I carried with me.

Sam's food before departureTo conclude I was happy with my overall choices in gear but were I to do it again I would purchase or sew a slightly more robust pack with a lightweight internal frame such as the soon-to-be-release ULA-Equipment’s Ohm pack. I would also be certain to beef up any gear I made myself and spend adequate time testing it prior to a long walk to be certain of it’s performance. Were I to take another long walk it is safe to say that many of the items I brought with on this trip would come with me again.

Don’t forget, Sam will be giving a presentation on his hike, titled “Ultralight Thru-Hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail,” at the Midwest Mountaineering Outdoor Adventure Expo in Minneapolis this Saturday at 11 a.m.

An Ultralight Thru-Hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail, The Interview:

An Ultralight Thru-Hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail, The Interview: Best and Worst Days

Part two of my interview with Sam Haraldson about his ultralight thru-hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail. Here’s part one.

A campsite on the Pacific Northwest TrailI couldn’t help starting the interview off by asking Sam a pretty basic question: what were his best and worst days on the trail?

The worst day, he said, was a day spent literally bushwhacking a section of the trail a little west of Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho. It was an “alternate trail” chosen as the result of a section closed due to fire danger, and it sounded like a nightmare.

“Logging roads were often a nice treat after walking some of the ancient trail I’d been on all through Montana but not this logging road. It started off with only the occasional downed tree or overgrown area which I was well accustomed to by this time. It was the deterioration from old road, to single track path, to absolute alder-choked jungle nightmare that was slowly making this the worst day of my thru-hike. After a few miles of walking trail 315 I was Pacific Northwest Trail signageactually cursing quite loudly at the alder shrubs which have the most agitating tendency to grow so that the ground is perfectly visible yet nearly impossible to walk on. Cursing and swinging my arms, my hat being pulled off constantly, my clothing and body being prodded and poked and my anger rising I could do nothing more than push on – focusing my anger and rage into my legs to push harder and keep going. I don’t like to get angry but I realized on that day that I too am susceptible to rage. I’m glad I was able to focus it and tolerate it until I broke free atop that peak into the year old burned forest whereupon the going became much easier and I was even treated to spotting a young moose browsing through the new undergrowth. The note I made in my journal (after a few angry words) was this, ‘This camp is gorgeous and a good relax after a long day.’”

A campsite on the Pacific Northwest Trail in Olympic National ParkFortunately, as Sam said, “the bad days were numbered far fewer than the good ones on this hike.” His best day, he said, was had as he walked along the Pacific Ocean during the final days of the trek.

“On this day the joy I felt and the power of success that overcame me brought to my eyes tears of joy and to my lungs shouts of exultation. I was walking the last leg of my hike along the shores of the Pacific Ocean a few days from the end of the hike. My girlfriend, Sarah had mailed me my mp3 player at the last mail drop so that I would have it for the train ride home and I’d chosen to listen to it a bit while I was in camp in the evenings. The Olympic Peninsula is an area known to have rain the better part of the year and truly gorgeous, sunny days often only number in the dozens. Today happened to be one of those days. The sun was out, the few clouds in the sky were of the type that inspires daydreams, the sound of the surf was sumptuous to my ears and the walking was effortless and enjoyable. I arrived at a camping spot which had an element of perfection to it – from the giant overhanging tree which created a perfect spot over my tarp to the rope swing someone had built out of discarded rope to the crisp, brilliant flow of the creek a few dozen meters to the North – the campsite was perfumed with perfection. I had reached camp very early so I built one of the few ground fires I had during the entirety of the hike using some of the nearly limitless driftwood available along the beach, had The Flaming Lips “Yoshimi Battle the Pink Robots” on the mp3 player, my pants rolled up to the knees, shirt off and the warmth of the Pacific sun warming me all over. as I sat on the giant log along the edge of my camp and watched the surf roll in the view, music and feelings of what I’d accomplished thus far all came together in a welling sensation of emotions – bringing the tears and shouts I spoke of earlier to fruition. There have only been a handful of times in my life that I’ve felt so overcome with emotion and many of those have been tragic. There is nothing better than the power of joy so powerful it affects you physically.”

Don’t forget, Sam will be giving a presentation on his hike, titled “Ultralight Thru-Hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail,” at the Midwest Mountaineering Outdoor Adventure Expo in Minneapolis this Saturday at 11 a.m.

An Ultralight Thru-Hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail, The Interview:

An Ultralight Thru-Hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail, The Interview

Sam Haraldson on the Pacific Northwest TrailAs I’ve previously blogged, my friend Sam Haraldson thru-hiked the Pacific Northwest Trail in July and August of this year. The 1,100 mile hike took him from the Continental Divide in Glacier National Park to the Pacific coast in Olympic National Park.

Sam will be giving a presentation on his hike, titled “Ultralight Thru-Hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail,” at the Midwest Mountaineering Outdoor Adventure Expo in Minneapolis this Saturday at 11 a.m. I’ll be attending and I’d encourage anyone who can to come hear what he has to say about long-distance hiking, ultralight backpacking, and the experience of such a great trek.

As his occasional e-mail dispatches and batches of photos filtered in this summer, I found myself with lots of questions I wanted to ask Sam about his trip. When he returned, we commenced an e-mail interview, which I thought you all might enjoy. I had lots of questions and he had lots of answers, so I’ll split it up into a few parts this week.

Sam Haraldson's ultralight backpacking gear carried while hiking the Pacific Northwest TrailSam says he chose the Pacific Northwest Trail (rather than the more popular Pacific Crest or Appalachian Trail) for a multitude of reasons.

“I originally began planning for the Pacific Crest Trail which would have been a five or six month hike and I didn’t feel I could successfully generate enough income for a five or six month hiatus. Also, the PCT would have been a far different social experience as I would have been hiking alongside a few hundred other thru hikers. [Sam told me that there were six other thru-hikers of the PNT this year, none of which he ran into on trail.] The PNT begins in Montana – particularly in Glacier National Park, a place I called lived and worked for a number of years and this personal connection played a big part in my decision.”

The hike was 1136.30 miles by Sam’s apparently very exact records. His total elevation gain was 157,000 feet. He was on trail for 61 days, of which he hiked 57. Those numbers combine to figure that he averaged 19.64 miles/day, not counting days off. He had one epic day in which he hiked 37.90 miles. Yes, I know. That’s crazy.

Trail signage on the Pacific Northwest TrailOver the course of the trek, Sam crossed Glacier, North Cascades and Olympic National Parks. The trail also passed through Flathead, Kootenai, Kaniksu, Colville, Okanogan, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie and Olympic National Forests and the Salmo-Priest, Paysaten, Mt. Baker and Buckhorn Wilderness Areas. He hiked over four mountain ranges, the Rocky, Selkirk, North Cascade and Olympics.

Coming up: Sam’s best and worst days on trail, notes on the ultralight gear he used, and some thoughts on what it all meant.

An Ultralight Thru-Hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail, The Interview: