Wise Women, Sue (left with dog, Odie) and Jean (right), at the start of their 8-day grand adventure with newly lightened loads.
The “Wise” in the title of this series signifies a couple of things. The first is that we, Sue and Jean, are “mature” ladies. With age comes wisdom, and we’ve had six (or nearly so) decades to earn our wisdom. The second is that when you truly understand lightweight backpacking, it becomes clear that it really is the wiser choice over carrying everything, including the kitchen sink, on your back. We started backpacking later in life and it didn’t take us long to figure out that lighter is better so we contacted Backpacking Light for help. This three-part series documents our transition from a 20 pound to 13 pound base weight (Jean) and from a 14 pound to 9 pound base weight (Sue), so that other hikers new to lightweight backpacking equipment and techniques can learn from our experiences. Part 1 is a basic introduction to us and our “heavy” gear. Part 2 discusses our process of choosing lighter gear. This conclusion details gear choices and performance in the field and our lessons learned.
After dropping significant pack weight and agonizing over gear choices, we were looking forward to getting out on the trail. We needed plenty of practice to become accustomed to our new equipment and, frankly, needed confirmation that some of it would work for us. With our big September trip approaching, we took as many hikes as we could, whether they lasted one day or several.
It was especially important that we tested our gear in a wide range of weather conditions. September near Crater Lake in Oregon could bring 90-degree temperatures, rain, or even an early snowstorm. 2006 was a heavy snow year, and even before our trip snow could be found as low as 2500 feet. It was any weatherman’s guess whether the early snow this year would bring a sunny September for our big trip. Our decades of experience living in Oregon made one thing certain – we were well prepared for rain.
With lighter loads and minds laden with new ideas, we hiked our way toward September and our big hike. Our “practice” hikes prepared us for tougher challenges, and in the end, our big trip reminded us that gear is only part of the equation, and that the wilderness seldom gives you what you expect.
The Shakedown Hike
|Jean gazes along the PCT and provides a view of her ULA Circuit pack and Gossamer Gear NightLight pad (left). Sue also chose a Circuit pack for her 31-pound “big” trip load since it carries a heavier load better for her than the Six Moon Designs Essence pack which she reserves for 10 to 12 pound one or two night trips (right).|
Our preliminary hikes gave us valuable opportunities to test ourselves and our new equipment over longer mileage. The 3.5 day trip from Olallie Lake to Mount Hood in Oregon that we discuss below helped us solidify and get comfortable (or not) with our gear choices in preparation for our planned 8-day grand finale trip in September.
Jean: I wore my Circuit pack from ULA for the first time. I spent two days trying different ways to pack it. I found that I could put my Gossamer NightLight pad (three-quarter length) in either the large front mesh pocket or on top of the pack as the cinch strap is long enough to wrap around the pad and secure it to the buckle. I was afraid that the shoulder straps would rub my arms since they appeared to flare out a bit. Total weight for my pack with food and water was about 23 pounds.
We kept a good pace for the first hour or so and went about 3 miles. The terrain was fairly flat with small ups and downs. I could breathe most of the time with my mouth closed. Because of my asthma, I tend to be a mouth breather with any kind of exertion, so it was nice to not have a dry throat. The pack felt as if it wasn’t even there and I had no trouble with the straps rubbing.
Sue and I were wearing some Merrell Overdrive low-cut shoes. They felt great on my feet and had some features I liked. There was a hook for gaiters and a slit in the sole to allow the gaiter strap to go through and not be in contact with the ground. They were made to get wet, drain, and dry quickly. The information on the web says they were designed by Merrell’s Adventure Team leader.
The shoes worked well for the first half of the day. However, by mid day, the dust from the trail had worked its way into the shoes and through my SmartWool socks.
When we stopped by a creek, I took off the shoes and banged them together to get the dust out. I took off my socks, hit them on rocks, then turned them inside out and repeated this. I washed off my feet, being sure to get all the grit out from between my toes, and let my feet soak in the cold water. I repeated this process again later in the day.
Unfortunately, by day’s end (16 miles), I had blisters on the ball of my right foot and on the bottom of my little toe. I didn’t have any blisters on my left foot.
Our first night on the trail brought a thunderstorm. I was able to get my Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo e tent up just before the first raindrops fell. It was a challenge to spread out the thin Gossamer Gear ground sheet with the wind blowing. I retreated to my tent, but had to emerge later in the rain to re-tighten the straps.
Sue: We began the 54 miles from Olallie Lake to Mt. Hood on a lovely, sunny, warm day. The weatherman, of course predicted a thunder and lightning storm for our first evening out.
I wondered if we had everything we needed. During the two hour drive to the trail head, Jean mentioned her tent stakes several times – were they in her pack or on the counter at home? I took my dog, Odie, and worried that I had not packed enough food for him, not to mention for myself, as I tried to get my calorie content to a whopping 1500 to 2000 calories per day.
By the first mile I was wondering why my ultralight 20-pound load seemed so heavy. I was not doing well for a hike that was rated moderate, and I was ready for the hike to be a snap; the fact that it wasn’t coming together that way upset me mentally and emotionally.
The snowmelt created unexpected streams throughout the hike. These streams and the shaded forest were our saving grace in the heat. The day’s 16 miles crept by and the billowing storm clouds late in the day proved the weatherman right. Darkness settled quickly in the tall trees and even more quickly, it seemed, with a storm encroaching and nowhere to pitch a tent. When we finally found a good site, a couple was already preparing to set up their tent. We forced our weary bodies onward.
Jean was ready to camp in the middle of the road, but our camp site rule is that she has to give me at least 5 minutes to explore and find a good location. Soon we were settled in on a landing, and as we drove in the last tent stake, the mountains resonated with the fury of the storm. The lightning was close and the thunder was booming and the full strength of the storm soon surrounded us. I wondered, “Why am I here and not at home in my comfy bed?” Yes – fear lingered as I prepared to make the best of what turned out to be a long, stormy night.
That night I examined my blistered feet and realized that my ventilated shoes, Merrell Overdrive low-cut hikers, were the wrong decision for the dusty trail. Jean had chosen the same shoe, and I was strangely soothed to hear her remark about how blistered her feet were. Misery does indeed love company. I had blisters where I had never had them before, and grit had rubbed huge raw spots between my toes. We did the math – “Let’s see: 16 from 54 leaves 38 miles” – and I groaned. At the same time, however, my determination grew, and I told myself, “I will accomplish this hike.”
Jean: The second day we hiked 17 miles. I wasn’t able to wash my feet during the day. When we made camp, I had a new blister on my right foot, and more developing on my left foot. I think that part of the problem was that I walked with loose shoes. If I tied my shoes tightly, my feet rebelled and really hurt. A loosely tied shoe allows my feet to expand, but because of the dust, blisters developed. I did not get any blisters between my toes.
The second night I treated all the blisters and added duct tape for good measure. None of my Band-Aids came off over the next two days.
The ULA H2O Amigo made filtering large quantities of water easy.
Sue: The next morning, it took a while to get our blistered feet to accept the pain of walking. After a few miles, the pain subsided until we stopped for a rest break and then we’d have to start all over, breaking our feet in again. The trail was dusty, our shoulders ached, our feet hurt, and the view was restricted by the crowded trees. We focused on just putting one foot in front of the other. Hikers passed us by, some completing months-long thru-hikes of the PCT. My hopes of ever completing a thru-hike of the PCT were fading fast as I listened to their stories. As the day progressed towards late afternoon, I imagined calling for a helicopter to drop a line and rescue me from this miserable hike.
This was the emotional low point of my hiking experience, and I found myself wondering, “in the grand scheme of life, is this really a necessity for my journey through this earth experience?” As I approach age 65, I am slowing down and have to ask myself over and over, “What am I supposed to do with my life?” I saw a glimmer of salvation only when I stopped to wait for Jean, because I knew that she was slowing down as well.
We pushed hard to reach a campsite at ‘Little Crater Lake’ in the hopes that it would have running water. If anyone had told me that morning that I would have to hike 17 miles that day, I would have given up. With 5 miles to go, we crossed a highway. We had both hiked those 5 miles the year before, and we knew how tough it would be, but we resisted the temptation to thumb a ride. We were eventually both glad that we stuck it out, but it would be two days before we felt that way. The actual walking was pure… you know what. At one point I walked back a half mile to find Jean ready to give up and make camp on the trail. We made it to the campground a bit before dusk to find no running water and Jean’s patience with me at an end. My customary five minute look around was out of the question. Jean authoritatively picked a campsite close to the restroom and I heeded her decision.
The night was long and filled with soul searching as I wondered why I was putting myself through this. My feelings from day one were only intensified during day two. I dreaded taking off my shoes that night. The blisters were increasing, my feet were black with trail dust, and I did not have enough wipes to clean them at our dry campsite. The one bright spot in my sleepless night was the company of my dog Odie. Ah, to sleep peacefully like Odie on his Gossamer Gear pad! With the coolness of the night air, his warm little body was a blessing.
Something, anything needed to change to boost our spirits. We decided to go a mile off trail to take a break in a campground with water. We enjoyed a refreshing stop with a cooked meal and some clean up. We soon found out why we had hardly seen any other hikers. The lightning from the storms on our first night out had started some fires east of Mt. Hood, and many trails were closed. We hiked 16 miles that day and squeaked into a campsite right before dark that night.
Sleep came early for me that evening, but in the predawn hours a horrendous screeching startled Odie and me awake. My heart raced and my mind reeled as I thought about what could have caused such a noise. I heard no footsteps, though, and Odie quickly settled back into bed, reassuring me that danger was not imminent. Wide awake and edgy, I was relieved to know that Jean was only ten feet away in her tent – maybe solo hiking wouldn’t be as easy as I thought.
Jean: The third day, I replaced the insoles that came with my shoes with Spenco’s Hikers and added a liner sock to the SmartWool socks. I did not develop any new blisters and the blisters I had did not get any worse. Whether it was the blister treatment, new insoles or sock liner – all or none – I don’t know, but I was thankful.
It was painful, but hilarious when Sue and I would stop and then start walking again. Taking pressure off your blisters is wonderful, but putting pressure back on them is horrible. We looked like two people walking barefoot across gravel when we would start walking again. After about 30 feet, we would be re-accustomed to the pain and walking normally again.
Sue: Jean was the first one up and ready to go on our last morning. She had listened to my lecture the night before about getting an early start! I wanted to get to Mt. Hood by noon so we could call my daughter for our ride home. We had 5 miles and some elevation gain on this last day, but both of us could hardly walk. I had hoped for a view during this day’s hike, but the majestic beauty of Mt. Hood did not come until the final mile.
After four hours of walking we wondered if we would ever get there. I had read in a hiking book that this section of trail was rated easy. Well, it turned out that the author had hiked it southbound – going downhill. A sense of satisfaction and excitement at the thought of completing the 54 miles was taking hold in us, though. Looking back over the country that we had traversed spurred us on. We trudged to the trailhead and left the PCT for the restroom and clean up time in a sink.
The Ultralight Outfitters Beer Can Cook Stove with yogurt container lid works well for a solo hiker.
Jean’s gear notes:
This trip was the first time I used my Western Mountaineering Ultralight sleeping bag. It was not roomy, but I knew this already. I would start each night with it completely unzipped as the temperatures were in the high 40’s. By morning I had zipped it up and was warm – toasty, actually. The Gossamer Gear pad was good and bad. It insulated very well. However, the bumps in it were a bit too hard. I didn’t really notice them on my back or hips, but my feet would actually hurt when I would move them over the bumps. I sleep on my side most of the time, and my hips were sore on both sides by the end of the trip. I slept two nights with the bumps up and one night with the bumps down. The only difference I could tell was that my feet liked the smooth side up.
I used a ULA H2O Amigo gravity filter for the first time on this trip. I received it on a Saturday and we left on our trip on a Monday, so I didn’t have any time to play around with it. It proved very easy to filter water drawn from a creek. It was nice to just hang it and fill all of our water bottles without having to pump anything or wait for chemicals to work. The H2O Amigo will be our primary water filter for our longer trip in September. We will each have a filter straw or chemical treatment as backup.
I also tried out the Ultralight Outfitters Beer Can Cook Stove. Carol, Backpacking Light online editor-in-chief, had suggested this because I like to drink hot tea in the morning and by using the stove I could eliminate my travel mug. The stove uses Esbit tablets. It took about twice as long to heat water as Sue’s Pepsi can stove, but it did heat the water. I used one tablet to heat three cups of water, which was enough for my meal and a nice cup of tea. A lid from a yogurt container works well as a lid to keep the heat from escaping the top. The windscreen forms a double wall drinking mug after the water is heated. Very nice.
I have reduced my survival kit to a size that fits in my back pocket. An article Carol suggested I read pointed out that a survival kit is no good if it stays in your pack. If you have your pack off and fall, and can’t reach your pack, you are in trouble. So it fit nicely, along with my thin Simblissity Litefold XP Ultralite Bi-fold/tri-fold wallet from Backpacking Light, in my zippered back pocket. As a matter of fact, I have used that little folding billfold all summer. I found out that I don’t need all that stuff that is in my purse wallet. This one is so lightweight. I even had a screener at the airport admire it. I told him where he could get one, so maybe I rounded up a new customer for Backpacking Light.
I took Enertia brand food. It is made with thru-hikers in mind. It was light weight, tasted good, and had enough calories. I also gave up my M&Ms, nuts, and dried fruit trail mix and mixed up some nuts, seeds and dark chocolate chips from a trail mix recipe I found in Backpacker Magazine. I modified it a bit and added walnuts, smoked almonds, and butter toffee sunflower seeds – lightweight and yummy.
I brought all the clothes I expected to use on our trip in September, where we will experience colder temperatures, especially at night. Therefore, on this trip some clothing stayed in my pack. My Vert pants from Outdoor Research were fabulous. Even though they are black, they kept me cool when the temperatures were in the 80’s. I wore a Helios sun hat from Outdoor Research on this trip. I always wear a hat and like one with a large brim. I have used several different hats in the past. I decided to try the Helios because it has a 50+ UPF rating. I figured that with that rating it might deflect more of the sun’s heat away from my head, which it did.
I hiked and slept in a SmartWool lightweight long sleeved shirt. I used the PossumDown vest on cool mornings as I heated up water for my tea. The vest is light weight and packs small. I also used a GoLite Wisp wind shirt in the early mornings when we would start to hike. I bought some vapor barrier glove liners from Stephenson’s Warmlite when I was in New Hampshire. I haven’t used them yet, but will probably try them out in September. My hands get really cold, but sometimes gloves make them too warm. I am hoping I can wear the liners alone on chilly mornings and keep the gloves for really cold weather. I did not use any of my rain gear on this trip. I used the Celestial rain jacket from Outdoor Research on our Eagle Creek trip earlier this year, and it worked very well. I liked having the side zips.
I wore the Integral Designs eVENT gaiters all the time while hiking. I took them off when I took my shoes off to give the old feet a rest. My hiking companions occasionally got rocks in their shoes, but the gaiters ensured that I never did. I did have to get used to putting them on before putting on my shoes, since they just slip on and do not have a closure system. When spread out on the ground, they also provided a nice clean spot to air out my bare feet at our rest breaks.
Overall, the trip was a great success. We did 16, 17, 16, and 5 miles. The mileage was too long for me. Since I am not on my feet at all most days due to my job, my feet and body were completely out of shape for this trip. I could not have done the mileage if it were not for the light weight I carried. My ULA Circuit pack never bothered me. It felt as if I had no pack at all, until the shock of carrying a full load of water. Even then, the feeling of weight goes away. If I hadn’t had the blisters on my feet, the trip would have been perfect for me.
It is amazing how far you can go with a light pack weight, even when you are not in really good shape. Another benefit of the lighter pack weight was how fast I could recover at the end of each day. I was completely exhausted by each day’s end. My feet hurt and my legs were tired. It would be all I could do to set up my tent. But after crawling inside, taking off my dusty clothes and using wonderful Wet Ones wipes to clean my feet, face, neck and arms, I was a new person: refreshed, relaxed, and ready to let the night sounds lull me to sleep.
Jean enjoys a bee-free view of a pretty lake. Note her bright yellow Integral Designs eVENT gaiters which kept rocks out of her shoes.
Sue’s trip reflections:
I have been re-evaluating my hiking goals and acknowledging the strong ambitions that have motivated all my activities throughout my life, even my three Vision Quest experiences where I struggled and endured hardships on my spiritual journey. Then it dawned on me that I do not need to work so hard on gaining spiritual enlightenment. With an everyday awareness that I am more than this physical body, I seek guidance through my readings, teachings, guides and dreamtime that this is an okay way.
So here I am with my lightweight hiking experience. Yes, I will attain an ultralight (sub-10 pound) base weight and work out a few dilemmas that I have now with equipment and hiking style. But this endurance aspect of my personality does indeed need to be reconstructed. The physical body’s capabilities – and limitations – are what really wake us up and it is up to us to make the appropriate changes.
My hiking buddy Jean is a “take it at an easier pace” type of person and this is good for me. She wants to take our September hike at a slower pace and allow time to enjoy the experience. I am listening to her and willing to change my gung ho attitude. I will, within my own self, treat it as a vision quest and enjoy each moment as it comes.
Trails and adventures await and I shall be prepared physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
The Big Hike
Jean: Our planned 8-day, 84 mile trip began on September 7, 2006. Sue and I drove down to the Lemolo Resort near Highway 138 in Oregon. We had originally planned to start our backpacking trip at Highway 62 at Crater Lake. However, the PCT was closed through part of Crater Lake National Park due to fire. The smoke and lack of water in the part still opened caused us to change our original plans.
Just outside of Oakridge on Highway 58, we stopped and picked up Glenn and Linda, two PCT section hikers from Washington. They informed us that there was no water on the PCT from Windigo Pass to Highway 58. They said most hikers were taking the old Oregon Skyline Trail through that section because it went by numerous lakes.
We met up with Nancy and Dave Allen at the Lemolo Resort. Nancy was joining Sue and me for the big hike. I couldn’t fully enjoy the meeting of friends because I didn’t feel 100 percent well when we arrived, but I managed to eat most of my dinner.
Nancy was using a Kelty external frame backpack. I had worked with Nancy prior to this trip to lighten up her pack. She used a Gossamer Gear sleeping pad and polycro ground cloth, Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo e tent and my REI Sub Kilo sleeping bag. She had cut down on extra clothes. I would be carrying the stove and water filter that we would share.
On Friday morning, we met in the small café for breakfast. As I drank my tea, waiting for my French toast, I felt dizzy and a bit nauseous. I blamed it on the strong tea and an empty stomach. I ate most of my breakfast.
We hit the trailhead at about 9:15 a.m. An hour into our hike, I dropped my pack, grabbed the trowel and toilet paper and dashed off into the woods. To make a long story short, I had to turn back and leave Nancy and Sue to continue on. There was no way I would have been able to finish that first day. I didn’t feel bad about leaving, since all I could think about was the fact that there was a toilet at the trailhead.
Dave met me about a mile from the trailhead and took me to his and Nancy’s trailer at the East Lemolo Campground. By nightfall, I ate some chicken noodle soup and a cracker, then slept for 12 hours straight. I don’t know what caused my problem, but after the hike, we heard about the E. coli outbreak caused by contaminated spinach. I had eaten spinach during the week before the trip and had had a spinach salad on the way to Lemolo. My symptoms seemed too mild for E. coli, but who knows. By Saturday, I felt fully recovered.
At around 5:00 p.m., Dave got a call from the host at the Miller Lake Campground. Sue experienced tightening in her chest and felt weak. Dave and I drove to Lemolo Resort and reserved a cabin for Sue. We drove to Miller Lake and picked up Sue, Nancy and Odie (Sue’s dog).
On Sunday, Sue headed home and Nancy and I relaxed at the trailer. We had delicious rainbow trout for dinner.
Jean (right) and Nancy (left, on her first backpacking trip) restart their hike at Windigo Pass. The blaze orange vests draped over the packs are to keep hunters at bay.
On Monday morning, Dave dropped Nancy and me off at the Oldenburg Lake Trailhead near Windigo Pass. This trail is part of the old Oregon Skyline Trail. We were heeding Glenn and Linda’s advice to go this route. I was a bit apprehensive about this hike because Sue had always been the navigator on our PCT hikes. However, the trail was well used and Nancy had ridden horses on parts of the trail. Also, Glenn and Linda had given me their pages from Schaffer’s guide book that covered this part of the trail.
Nancy knew that the trail from Oldenberg Lake to Diamond View Lake would be very dusty because it was a popular horse trail. We decided to wear our Gore-Tex boots to keep out the dust. The dust was composed mostly of pumice, which is very abrasive and works its way through mesh and wool socks easily.
Since I came off the trail, my pack was lighter by the weight of three days of food. This small decrease in weight – about 3 pounds – felt significant when hoisting the pack. However, even on the first day the 30 pound pack felt like no more than a day pack.
The ULA Circuit pack took all the gear and food and still had room for more. I didn’t use the large mesh front pocket for anything at the beginning. My sleeping pad did fit into the pocket, but I preferred to carry the pad on top of the pack. The lashing strap was long enough to wrap completely around the pad and secure it to the pack. I assume that the length of the strap was made to be able to lash a bear canister to the pack.
It’s easy for me to take my pack for granted, but our ULA Circuit packs were truly fantastic. Sue had used a Six Moon Designs Essence pack on our shorter hikes, but it couldn’t carry the weight required for our longer trip and put too much pressure on her shoulders. Brian from ULA generously donated a pack to Sue after he heard that the Essence wasn’t working out for her. His ULA Circuit pack is now my “ideal” pack. It carried the weight of the gear well, didn’t put weight on my shoulders and kept my back cool. I am not the careful type when it comes to slinging the pack off onto the ground, but the pack material looked no worse for wear at the end of the hike.
I had a 2L Platypus Hoser in an internal sleeve and I attached the hose to a shoulder strap. In the mesh side pockets I carried my trowel and toilet paper, and water filter and Gatorade bottle. The hip belt has two pockets. I carried my inhaler, knife, compass, lip gloss, sunscreen, etc., in one and my maps and snacks in the other. The trail took us through a large deer hunting area, so we each had an orange vest draped over our packs for visibility.
The trail went through a very sparse forest of lodge pole pine trees with no underbrush, just pumice sand and lots of downed and dead trees. We reached Oldenberg Lake at noon and decided to stop and have lunch. It was 73 degrees in the shade. We were harassed by yellow jackets and large yellow and black hornets. We wanted a nice leisurely lunch, so I put up my tent. Nancy and I found that two ladies could sit up in the Lunar Solo e and eat lunch. Then we discovered that we could both lie down in the tent, so we took a half hour nap.
The trail from Oldenberg Lake to the Whitefish Horse camp was extremely dusty due to heavy horse traffic. It was as if we were at the beach walking on sand most of the way. By 2:30 p.m., it was 83 degrees in the shade. Nancy and I stopped every hour and took off our boots and socks to air them out and cool them off. I put my wet socks in the large mesh pocket of my pack and put on a dry pair. At the next stop, the wet pair would be dry and I would put them on and the now-wet pair in the pocket. Nancy had brought along some cling-free dryer sheets. She tied some to her vest and I tied two to my pack. This helped keep the yellow jackets away, but they loved Nancy’s boots. The sheets did nothing to discourage the hornets, which continued to dive-bomb us as we sat and ate some snacks.
Lunch near Oldenburg Lake was served inside the Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo e to escape the yellow jackets and hornets. Jean and Nancy found the tent big enough for both to sit up inside.
We arrived at the Whitefish Horse Camp in the late afternoon. The camp hosts were gone and there were some horse campers at the far end of the camp. The camp had a potty house and drinking water. Each campsite had a picnic table, fire pit, and horse corrals. It felt wonderful to wash off the day’s dust in the cold, refreshing water.
The next day, the trail to Diamond View Lake was dusty and the forest was sparse. A man at the horse camp said it was 4.5 miles up and 6.5 miles down to Odell Lake. This was pretty accurate. We reached a shallow lake that we thought was Diamond View Lake, so we sat on some logs by the lake and enjoyed a hornet-free lunch. After lunch, we hiked about a quarter mile and discovered the real Diamond View Lake. From Diamond View Lake to Odell Lake, the trail was less dusty. We entered a thicker forest of mountain hemlock that provided some shade. Nancy and I knew that there were showers at Shelter Cove Resort at Odell Lake, so we picked up our pace as we neared the lake.
Dave met us on the trail about 2 miles from the trailhead and walked out with us. We got in his pickup and drove to the resort. The showers were lovely. We washed our dusty clothes in the showers, put on fresh clean clothes that Dave had brought in the truck, and headed into town for a dinner of broasted chicken, slaw, and a cold beer.
The next morning, Nancy and I headed out towards Bobby Lake. The trail would be going through a thicker forest with a less dusty trail, so Nancy and I had changed from our Gore-Tex boots into low cut shoes with a lot of mesh. Even though it was still hot, the added shade and the lighter shoes kept our feet feeling nice and cool.
We passed the three Rosary Lakes. They were a beautiful blue and very clear. There were numerous camp sites, but also a bazillion yellow jackets. Rather than linger, we climbed up to a ridge and continued north. We ate lunch in a shady area without too many yellow jackets. Those that did stick around seemed to fly around us and then away from us because of the dryer sheets… yes, they did seem to work as bug repellent.
After lunch, we took a long break at the off-trail Maiden Lake Sky shelter. It was built by a group from Eugene, and was equipped with a wood stove, sleeping pads, and lots of windows. We wished we had waited to eat lunch here, but we did take a nice long break inside.
We continued on and reached Bobby Lake by late afternoon, traveling through a forest of Douglas fir. We had seen warning posters about bears, and since Dave had met a couple who had seen a mama bear and cubs the day before, we cooked at one campsite and slept at another one. We put all food, snacks, toothpaste, etc. in my Watchful Eye Designs O.P. (odor proof) Sak. That bag went in another odor proof bag, and then in a plastic bag. Better safe than sorry.
There was a beautiful sunset of pinks over the lake as darkness approached. The sky had been cloudless until today. There was a slight breeze and I knew that we were probably in for a weather change soon.
No bears or other nocturnal creatures disturbed our sleep. We woke to a pink sunrise. It was quite a bit colder than on other mornings, but I don’t think it was anywhere near freezing. I put on a PossumDown vest and Wisp wind shirt and was nice and toasty as I heated up water for breakfast.
The Ultralight Outfitters Beer Can Cook Stove proved very easy to use. I would recommend it for solo use. I could heat enough water for both of us to use for our freeze dried food, but had to heat another can of water for our tea. The can holds enough water for one person to reconstitute their food and have enough water left over for a nice large cup of tea.
By the time we had packed up, there was a very cold wind blowing and the sky was getting grayer by the minute. We took off some of our layers before starting off because we knew we would warm up quickly. I left the PossumDown vest on with my SmartWool long sleeved shirt.
The trail was mostly downhill or flat with only short climbs, so we made good time. I have what Sue describes as a “Capricorn Plod.” I just move along at a steady pace. Nancy, who is four years older than I am, has a more energetic pace and slightly longer legs. I found myself jogging numerous times during this trip to try to catch up. Usually this didn’t make any difference and Nancy would wait for me along the trail. As soon as I caught up to her, she would start off again.
I credit my light pack for my ability to be able to jog at all. I have also noticed that I can go longer without having to rest with the lighter pack and that it is much easier to cross streams where you must hop from rock to rock. Prior to lightening my pack, I had to stop more often and had to really watch how I maneuvered across creeks. This time, it felt like I was wearing a day pack instead of a multi-day pack, which was very nice.
The weather continued to get windier and colder as the day went by. We met two backpackers going the opposite direction. They said they had just been through a snow squall. Every time Nancy and I stopped, we put on our wind shirts, then took them off when we started hiking again. By 1 p.m., we were leaving our wind shirts on because of the cold wind. The three layers – SmartWool shirt, PossumDown vest, and Wisp windshirt – kept me warm and toasty. Every once in a while, we saw a snow flake.
We met Dave on the trail about a quarter mile from the Charlton Lake Trailhead. When we reached the pickup, he provided donuts and sodas for us.
Although this trip did not turn out like I had planned, I enjoyed myself and saw some beautiful country. I missed Sue’s words of encouragement as Nancy and I hiked along, but I was proud of myself for completing the trip and felt that my self-confidence had grown a lot. The lighter pack weight made each day’s travels more enjoyable. Lighter weight meant less fatigue so I could enjoy the forest, steams, lakes, and mountains more. I was not dead tired at the day’s end and had energy to set up my tent, cook dinner, and enjoy the sunset.
I am already looking forward to planning next year’s trip. I wonder what I can leave behind or change to decrease my pack weight even more?
Sue: Lemolo Lake marked the start of our big adventure. Our reservations were made in advance for one of the quaint cabins tucked into this family-operated resort. As Jean and I crossed over Willamette pass we anxiously looked for the PCT crossing. It turned out to be easy to spot, as there were two hikers, a husband and wife, standing by their packs next to the road. We picked them up, and as we took them back to their car, they showed us a short cut to Lemolo Lake.
On the big morning we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at the resort café, our last luxury for 8 days. Nancy, Jean’s long-time friend, was coming with us while her husband David was our “drop-off” and “pick-up” guy. A fisherman and hunter, he had no trouble keeping himself occupied while we hiked.
A base weight of 13 pounds gives Jean something to smile about.
I opted not to use the Six Moon Designs Essence pack on this hike as I found that with my slender frame, the Essence puts too much weight on my shoulders. I really like the Essence pack and will still use it for day hikes and for overnight hikes of 1 or 2 days where I can stay close to 10 to 12 pounds. With my pack weight (including food and gear for Odie) at 31 pounds, I hoped that the ULA Circuit pack would perform well on its maiden voyage.
The first mile took an hour. Jean was not feeling well and was forced to abandon the hike. My cell phone connected us with David, and Jean headed back to the trailhead. I wasn’t sure how to proceed, but Nancy assured me that she wanted to go on. This was her first overnight backpacking trip, but she was an experienced horse camper.
Mt. Thielsen’s grandeur lived up to all my expectations. Nancy and I thoroughly enjoyed this most scenic section of the hike. My ULA pack was doing well and I attributed my fatigue to the excitement of the past several days of preparation for the hike.
We stopped by Thielsen Creek that afternoon for our water supply and evening meal. This was the first time Nancy and I used Jean’s ULA H2O Amigo gravity filter by ourselves, but all went well. As the shadows deepened, we hiked several more miles to a campsite that would catch the sun’s first rays in the morning.
I had pushed myself physically for the last several miles, and the thought of helping Nancy set up her tent was a bit overwhelming. Jean is the real expert at tent pitching, but Nancy and I managed a respectable setup with our Lunar Solo e tents. I was tired!
Cuddled into my Jacks ‘R’ Better quilt inside an Equinox bivy sack I stayed warm as the evening chill settled in. The Gossamer Gear Nightlight Torso pad was comfy and kept the cold ground at bay, but sleep eluded me on that full moon night. Then the wriggles started, which of course caused a draft. As soon as I got tucked in warm again, another wriggle would come. I was physically not feeling well so laying still was difficult and the night seemed very long.
Sunrise was a blessed sight as the temperature hovered at the freezing point. Nancy, it turned out, did not sleep either but seemed pretty perky this morning. I, on the other hand, was dragging. It wasn’t my first sleepless night, but this one felt different. Facing the rising sun, I asked Great Spirit for the strength to get me through the day.
Mid-morning brought us to an elevation of 7560 feet, the highest point on the PCT in Oregon and Washington. Soon we left the views behind as the trail wound down through the forest. Nancy was in the lead and I could not keep up with her. Periodically I had to sprint to catch up. Pride kept me from letting her know of my poor health so I did not ask her to slow down.
That afternoon we had to go off-trail 1 mile to a lake to replenish our water supply. I groaned inwardly and trudged on. It was downhill to the lake, so I knew we would have to climb back up to get back to the trail. The campsites around the lake were disgusting and I had to put Odie on a leash. It reminded me that it only takes a few ignorant hikers to spoil a pristine wilderness. It was particularly hard to deal with the signs of careless toilet habits when I already felt ill.
It was all I could do to help Nancy with the H2O Amigo without passing out. My queasy stomach and chest tightness had gotten worse. Nancy fixed her cooked meal, but I had no appetite and could only sit leaning against a tree contemplating when death might come. Sucking it up was not an option as I had no fortitude left. I remembered our Vision Quest leader telling us to do a reality check on ourselves when things weren’t going well.
With tears rolling I informed Nancy that I had no more “go” in me. She took it well, and we discussed our options. We decided not to camp because of the filthy human waste, and because I dreaded the thought of having to spend another night on the trail. We had a bail-out spot 6 miles away at Miller Lake.
My cell phone worked, but we could not reach the resort. I called my grandson back home and gave him the name of the resort to call, so that they could notify David and Jean about our situation. My cell phone lost connection and I did not know if my grandson got all of what I was saying.
We met a young man walking his dog and it turned out he was camped at Miller Lake, which was only 3 miles away. The guardian angels must have been hovering and Nancy and I made it to the lake about dusk. The camp host had an old cell phone and soon Nancy had David on the line. Sitting in my chair at the fire pit, I could only repeat “get a cabin, get a cabin.” I desperately needed the comfort of four walls surrounding me that evening.
My chest discomfort was still with me. The camp host, who was trained in CPR, mentioned oxygen deprivation. I wondered how this could be, since I had been on many hikes at higher elevation without trouble.
The next morning I prepared for my departure home. Jean was over her illness and able to continue the hike with Nancy the following morning. I assured Jean that I would be able to come pick her up in four days, then endured a very emotional drive home with occasional tears and my imagination running wild as to what this health problem could be.
As I lost elevation during the drive my chest pressure lessened some. Later that evening at home I walked Odie around the pasture to visit the cows, only to find them enjoying the neighbor’s field. It took me two hours to round up eight cows and mend the broken fence. I was amazed at how well I did – I did not keel over with a heart attack.
Within a few days, I had heart tests. There were no blockages outside the heart, which was great news, but one heart chamber was not pumping to full capacity. I was relieved to know what I was dealing with, and in my determination to strengthen that chamber, I increased my walking regime at low elevation close to home.
After several months I felt ready to try out the ticker at higher elevations. Jean made me promise to tell her if I was in distress, but she agreed to a day hike of 13 miles at 6400 feet elevation. With my Essence pack carrying 8 pounds, the excitement of being on the trail again was fantastic. I felt some mild tightness several times but after rest breaks the discomfort went away and we had a very successful hike near the spectacular beauty of Mt. Jefferson.
I think that we humans have a tendency to think of life as walking a broad expanse. Instead, it is a precipice. A topple in this walk of life can occur quickly. The only thing certain is that things will change, and mankind, being a creature of habit, fears change.
Over the years I have learned to have faith in the saying that “everything happens for a reason.” This has helped my stress level tremendously. Now, midway through my sixth decade of this earthly experience, a calmness resides within me. Some may attribute this to old age, but I would like to think it is wisdom well earned from my journey through life.
They say that “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I was ready, and the teachers did appear. A doorway opened for me this past year, and I met people who could assist me in making the changes necessary to continue hiking. I am thankful for the knowledgeable people available for my ultralight experience.
Nancy and Jean enjoy a doughnut and soda at the end of their trip.
This trip wasn’t perfect for either of us. Our health issues were unexpected, and no amount of gear could have prevented those setbacks. We did, however, learn some important things about gear and its significance to a trek like ours. The lighter packs definitely helped. We especially noticed the difference when crossing creeks or negotiating difficult terrain. Of course, we knew that the lighter loads would be nice. The tradeoffs were what concerned us! We were pleased to find that we stayed warm and dry with our lighter gear.
Jean: The clothing and shelters worked well, although I may look into a LuxuryLite cot instead of a sleeping pad next time. I may also try to find a lighter replacement for my second-hand trekking poles. The ULA H2O Amigo was wonderful, though it may have encouraged us to carry more water than we needed since filtering was so fast and simple. Finally, though there are lighter alternatives, the ULA Circuit pack was an unconditional winner. I can’t imagine a lighter weight pack that could take the abuse I dished out. It provided excellent weight transfer from my shoulders to my hips, and surprised me with how well it allowed my back to ventilate. The Circuit really made for a great trip.
Sue: Since I had to leave the trail early on our 8 day trip, I didn’t get a chance to try a few things. I hadn’t yet decided if I prefer the Gossamer Gear NightLight pad with the bumps up or down. Either way, it provided excellent insulation, and with such low weight, I don’t mind carrying one for myself and one for Odie. I was frustrated by how the pad slipped around on the slick floor of my tent. Before my next trip, I need to figure out a way to either secure it to the floor, or keep it from slipping so much. I was again reminded of how handy a zipper lock bag can be when one’s bladder becomes insistent in the middle of a rainy night – or any night!
I enjoyed my SmartWool short sleeved shirt and socks. I still prefer my synthetic two-layer Coolmesh Wrightsock socks, but the SmartWool socks are growing on me. My GoLite clothing worked well too. The Valmont pants were fantastic – they were a bit slow to dry when they got wet, but I learned that I simply need to work harder at keeping them dry. They will replace my Columbia convertible pants since I almost never bother zipping off the bottoms anyways. I can’t say enough good about the GoLite C-Thru long sleeved top – it was cool and breathable, but provided good sun protection.
The thing that had worried me most was my food supply. Since I was carrying rations for myself and for Odie, I was concerned that I wasn’t providing either of us with enough calories. Otherwise, I was very happy with the performance of all my equipment. After the trip, I had a chance to go through my inventory and assess each item – I can honestly say that at this point I wouldn’t change a thing.
We started this project with 20 (Jean) and 14 (Sue) pound base weights, and we both accomplished our goals of sub-14 pounds and sub-10 pounds respectively. The time on the trail we document here was wonderful – both refreshing and inspiring (at least most of the time). Each pound that drops off our packs represents more miles that we can hike, and the two of us plan to hike many more miles in the years to come!
Gear Lists for Sue and Jean
|Clothing Worn While Hiking||WEIGHT|
|long sleeve top||polyester||GoLite||4.0||113|
|socks||cool mesh, anti-blister||Wrightsock||1.0||28|
|shoes||waterproof, mid-height hiker||Merrell Pulse II||29.0||822|
|hat||cap with neck flap||Gore-Tex||3.0||85|
|Other Items Worn or Carried||WEIGHT|
|knife||2 blade, tweezers||Swiss Army Classic||0.7||19|
|watch/altimeter||worn on lanyard||Highgear||1.7||48|
|handkerchief||clean up||blue shop towel||0.3||8|
|socks||cool mesh, anti-blister||Wrightsock||1.0||28|
|long underwear||sleeping warmth||REI silk||6.3||178|
|raincoat||hood, pit-zips||Outdoor Research Zealot||7.1||201|
|rain pants||nylon||GoLite Reed||6.6||187|
|short sleeve shirt||wool||SmartWool||4.3||121|
|windshirt||wind protection||GoLite Wisp||2.5||70|
|warm hat||neck and head cover||Buff||0.5||14|
|Shelter and Sleep System||WEIGHT|
|shelter||tent, poles, cords, stuff sack||Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo e||32.5||921|
|ground sheet||under tent + wrap Platypus in while hiking||Gossamer Gear polycro||1.1||31|
|sleeping quilt||sleeping warmth||Jacks ‘R’ Better Old Rag Mtn down quilt||25.0||708|
|bivy sack||warmth, wind protection||Equinox mummy||5.9||167|
|sleeping pad||comfort/warmth||Gossamer Gear NightLight torso length||3.5||99|
|backpack||internal frame||ULA Circuit||32.0||907|
|pack liner||garbage bag||unknown brand||0.7||19|
|fuel container||hold 8 days of alcohol fuel||Coghlans, plastic flask||1.5||42|
|stove||alcohol burner||bottom pop can||0.4||11|
|windscreen/pot support||lightweight||metal, self-made||1.1||31|
|pot and lid||sized for solo cooking||Evernew Titanium||5.7||161|
|bag for pot||mesh bag, protect pot||unknown brand||0.2||5|
|food storage||lightweight||Watchful Eye Designs O.P. Sak||1.0||28|
|fire||matches||REI Stormproof Matches||0.8||22|
|hydration||hard-sided container||soda bottles (x2)||3.4||96|
|extra bladder||water storage||Platypus 1L||1.4||39|
|backup water treatment||straw filter||Aqua Mira Straw Filter||0.6||17|
|light||headlamp||Black Diamond Ion||1.2||34|
|map||trail map||small section of map||0.8||22|
|first aid||various needs||medication, blister treatment||1.3||36|
|hygiene||various needs||lotion, toothpaste, soap||5.2||147|
|towels||clean up, reusable||blue shop towel||3.8||107|
|Consumables (8-Day Trip)||WEIGHT|
|food||8 days||17 oz/day||136.0||3855|
|water||maximum carried||2 quarts||64.0||1814|
|fuel||denatured alcohol||1 oz/day||8.0||226|
|Odie’s Gear and Food (8-Day Trip)||WEIGHT|
|Gossamer Gear Pad||3.5||99|
|(1) Total Worn or Carried While Hiking||3.5||1.59|
|(2) Total Base Weight in Pack||9.7||4.41|
|(3) Total Weight of Consumables||13.0||5.91|
|(4) Full Skin-Out Base Weight (1) + (2)||13.2||6.0|
|(5) Total Initial Pack Weight (2) + (3)||22.7||10.32|
|(6) Full Skin-Out Weight (1) + (2) + (3)||26.2||11.91|
|(7) Total Weight of Odie’s Gear and Food||5.2||2.37|
|(8) Total Weight With Odie’s Gear (6) + (7)||31.2||14.19|
|Clothing Worn While Hiking||WEIGHT|
|hat||full brim/protection from sun||Outdoor Research Helios Sun Hat||2.3||65|
|hiking shirt||short sleeved||REI||4.5||127|
|hiking shirt||long sleeved/lightweight||Columbia||7.2||204|
|pants||protection||Outdoor Research Vert Pant||9.9||280|
|hiking shoes||foot comfort/protection||Merrell Overdrive||20.6||584|
|Other Items Worn or Carried||WEIGHT|
|trekking poles||assist knees||Leki Makalu Poles||15.7||445|
|whistle (worn on shoelace around neck)||signaling/extra shoelace||unknown brand||0.3||8|
|knife||cutting rope, etc.||Mini paper cutter||0.6||17|
|bandana||cool off/protect face||Cotton bandana||1.2||34|
|pocket survival kit||Just In Case||5.5||155|
|camp shoes||rest feet/wading streams||Crocs||8.8||249|
|short sleeved shirt||dry||Duofold||4.0||113|
|long sleeved shirt||dry/protect arms/sleeping||SmartWool||6.9||195|
|shorts||dry/swim||Columbia water shorts||4.9||138|
|warm hat||use when cold||Buff||1.0||28|
|rain jacket||warmth/rain protection||Outdoor Research Celestial Jacket||8.9||252|
|rain pants||warmth/rain protection||GoLite Reed Pants||5.0||141|
|sock liners||emergency socks/warmth||Coolmax||1.3||36|
|glove liners||use when gloves are too warm||Warmlite Vapor Barrier||1.0||28|
|gaiters||protect legs/pants||Integral Designs eVENT||2.4||68|
|windshirt||wind protection||GoLite Wisp||2.5||70|
|Shelter and Sleep System||WEIGHT|
|shelter||single wall tent||Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo e with stakes and cords||35.2||997|
|ground sheet||protect tent floor||Gossamer Gear polycro||1.5||42|
|sleeping bag||ultralight mummy bag, down fill||Western Mountaineering Ultralite||25.0||708|
|sleeping pad||closed-cell foam||Gossamer Gear NightLight 3/4 length||7.5||212|
|backpack||internal frame||ULA Circuit||32.0||907|
|waterproof pack liner||keep pack contents dry in rain||plastic garbage bag||0.7||19|
|stuff sack||keep sleeping bag dry||plastic garbage bag||0.7||19|
|stove/cooking pot/windscreen||light weight/cooking/drinking||Ultralight Outfitters Beer Can Cook Stove||3.8||107|
|utensil||eating/light weight||LightMyFire utensil||0.3||8|
|firestarter||lighting stove||Mini Bic Lighter||0.3||8|
|hydration||carry water||Platypus 2L with hose||4.0||113|
|hydration||extra water storage||Platypus 3L (no hose)||1.3||36|
|hydration||for flavored drink||Plastic Gatorade 20 ounce bottle||1.6||45|
|water treatment||hanging water filter||ULA H2O Amigo||10.1||286|
|food bag||odor-proof bag for hanging||Watchful Eye Designs O.P. Sak/micro caribiner/plastic bag||2.0||56|
|mosquito headnet||bug protection||unknown brand||0.4||11|
|toilet kit||personal hygiene||tooth paste, tooth brush, sanitizer||2.5||70|
|light||headlamp||Gerber Scout w/extra battery||2.0||56|
|watch||tracking time/date||Timex Marathon||0.7||19|
|soap||hygiene/laundry||Camp Soap in micro bottle||0.2||5|
|medication||asthma medication||Albuterol Inhaler||1.0||28|
|lip gloss||protect lips from the sun||Ice Drops||0.2||5|
|sunscreen||protect skin from the sun||Cactus Juice in small container||1.5||42|
|bug repellent||but protection||Deet in micro bottle||0.2||5|
|first aid kit||minor cuts, sprains||Band-Aids, moleskin, scissors, blister pads, alcohol wipes in small bag||3.5||99|
|major first aid supplies||bad sprains, breaks||Sam Splint & vet wrap||6.1||172|
|water filter||backup water treatment||Frontier straw||0.3||8|
|bear spray||bear protection/self-defense||Bear Assault||12.0||340|
|Consumables (8-Day Trip)||WEIGHT|
|fuel||Esbit Solid Fuel tablets||0.5 oz am/pm||6.0||170|
|food||8 days||17 oz/day||136.0||3855|
|water||average carried||70 oz||70.0||1984|
|flavored drink mix||enough to mix 20 oz/day||Gatorade||20.0||567|
|(1) Total Worn or Carried While Hiking||4.6||2.09|
|(2) Total Base Weight in Pack||13.3||6.05|
|(3) Total Weight of Consumables||14.5||6.59|
|(4) Full Skin-Out Base Weight (1) + (2)||17.9||8.14|
|(5) Total Initial Pack Weight (2) + (3)||27.8||12.64|
|(6) Full Skin-Out Weight (1) + (2) + (3)||32.4||14.73|