Earlier this year, I picked up a pair of new hobbies – that I thought fit well with my love of travel and unquenchable wanderlust – called high pointing and peak bagging. There are many different flavors of peak bagging, and most of them revolve around completing lists, such as (to name just a few):
The Seven Summits (the seven highest peaks on each of the seven continents – Everest, K2, Kilimanjaro, etc.)
The New Hampshire 4K Club (the 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are 4,000′ or higher – Washington, Adams, Jefferson, etc.)
The Adirondack 46 (all 46 major peaks in New York’s Adirondack Mountains)
The list that I’m working on, specifically called high pointing, is the list of the 50 highest natural points in all 50 states. These high points (or HP’s) truly run the gamut in difficulty, from Jerimoth Hill in Rhode Island (elevation 812′ – a short trail walk from a paved road) to Mount Denali in Alaska (elevation 20,320′ – a major expedition). Earlier today, I bagged my 8th HP on Mount Sunflower in Kansas, having previously completed:
#1 – 6/27/19 – South Slope of Mount Frissell – Connecticut
#2 – 7/3/19 – Panorama Point – Nebraska
#3 – 8/7/19 – Eagle Mountain – Minnesota
#4 – 8/19/19 – Mount Greylock – Massachusetts (with my Dad, his HP #1)
#5 – 8/30/19 – Mount Washington – New Hampshire (with my Dad, his HP #2)
#6 – 9/7/19 – Jerimoth Hill – Rhode Island
#7 – 10/27/19 – Taum Sauk Mountain – Missouri
At many, but not all, of these summits, the land owner (which could be a private individual or a government agency/park) usually has a waterproof container of some kind (mailbox, ammo can, etc.) with a notebook that serves as the register. I always really enjoy reading though previous visitors’ entries, and I thought I’d share some of the more interesting ones here.
I spend A LOT of time driving – since buying my 2017 Subaru Outback Premium 2.5i in late May, I’ve put over 10,000 miles on her. I’ve always enjoyed listening to podcasts in my free time, usually while walking or taking the train to work, but long cross-country trips demand a deep library to rotate through and keep my mind engaged while driving through the Indiana flatlands. These are some of the podcasts I keep coming back to:
This is hands down my favorite podcast. Opening Arguments is hosted by Thomas, a journalist, and Andrew, a lawyer, and each episode is packed full of current events analysis through the eyes of the law. Andrew and Thomas go into an incredible amount of detail while discussing whatever news just broke – Mueller’s testimony, the Stormy Daniels lawsuit, the emolument lawsuit, etc. Fair warning, there is a significant liberal bias here, but both hosts take care to strongman the opposing argument whenever possible. To get a taste of their style, check out their first four episodes, doing a “Deep Dive” on the 2000 Florida recount Supreme Court case. https://openargs.com
99% Invisible, hosted by Roman Mars, is an exploration of the design choices that have shaped the world as we know it. Episodes have explored why Braille was chosen above all it’s competitors as the written language for the blind, how the credit card rose to prominence, the history of mail-order homes, and more. Currently on episode #367, there is a deep backlog for you to binge if you fall in love with 99PI like me. https://99percentinvisible.org
I look forward every week (or two) to when the next episode of Backpacker Radio, hosted by Zach “Badger” Davis and Juliana “Chaunce” Chauncey will drop. Centered around the world of long-distance hiking, this is a hilarious show with a lot of heart and some high power guests, like FKT (Fastest Known Time) holders and the directors of the nation’s various trail associations. Come for the interviews and banter, stay for the poop jokes. https://thetrek.co/category/podcasts/backpacker-radio/
I am a HUGE AvGeek and the AvTalk podcast is a great way to stay up on current aviation news. The hosts, Jason and Ian, update you on investigations following accidents, developments in the 737 MAX grounding, airline bankruptcies, and more! I’d encourage anyone with an interest in aviation to check out flightradar24.com and click around on any of the tracked flights. https://www.flightradar24.com/blog/category/avtalk-podcast/
The Chernobyl Podcast, the behind-the-scenes companion series to the HBO mini-series, gets an honorable mention ONLY because it is no longer being produced. Each podcast episode matches an episode in the HBO series and is an in-depth discussion with the show’s creator and writer, Craig Mazin, that explores what was entirely accurate and what facts he had to bend for dramatic effect. The Chernobyl HBO series is fantastic by itself, and this just adds so much to the experience. I cannot recommend listening to this enough if you enjoy the mini-series. https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/pineapple-street-media/the-chernobyl-podcast
Please see my previous post for details on the day-by-day itinerary of my thru-hike.
Here’s a link to my LighterPack list- I’m pretty proud of my 18lb base weight. I’d like to get that lower, but I think it’s a good starting point.
I did a significant amount of research on gear over the months leading up to the hike, and I am pretty happy with 90% of what I carried. I had two significant fears going in, and consequently, I KNOW I overpacked here:
Food: I had not done an extended backpacking trip like this since 2008 (Philmont expedition with the BSA) so I had no idea how much food to pack. I packed almost 4 LARABAR snack bars AND 2 Cliff protein bars per day as well as “backup” ramen and Knorr pasta sides to reinforce freeze-dried Good to Go dinners. This was WAYYYY too much food, and I made the mistake of including the exact same items in my resupply box (sent to South Lake Tahoe.)
My tastes also changed very quickly, and I found that I was forcing down my LARABARs every day. When I picked up my resupply box, I had zero interest in eating more of them, so I left the whole batch in the hiker box at the hostel and picked up a handful of KIND bars at Raley’s.
On future trips, I think I’ll move away from freeze-dried meals… they just don’t taste that good for the weight and cost, in my opinion. I had a variety of Good to Go meals (New England Corn Chowder, Pad Thai, 3 Bean Chili, Thai Curry, etc) and they were all fine, but the 20 minute cooking time (especially compared to my hiking partner John’s 8 minute Mountain House meals) really annoyed me before long.
Electronics: I knew that certain sections of the trail would be challenging to navigate in a high snow year, and I planned on using my iPhone with the Guthooks app to navigate. I was really nervous about running out of battery juice, so I brought along two Anker 10,000mAh batteries. I never fully depleted the battery on the first, so the second would have been a waste (if not for allowing my hiking partners to charge up.)
Pack: I LOVED my Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60L pack. It was the perfect size for the trip – especially because I was carrying a bear canister. I really liked that I could store 2x Life Water bottles in the right-side outer pocket and reach them without taking off my pack. Additionally, the one massive, stretchy pocket was stuffed to the brim on the daily and didn’t wear it out. The mesh did sustain a few small holes in the bottom, but I was not really careful with where I set the pack down.
Sleep System: I jumped on an Enlightened Equipment Revelation 30deg (Wide/Regular) when they had it on inventory closeout and, together with my ThermaRest NeoAir XLite (women’s version… it’s warmer for the same weight), it performed well on some cold nights – only once did I wear an extra layer (both my base layer top and my R1 on top of my normal hiking shirt) to bed because I was concerned about the overnight lows.
Cold Weather Layers: I decided to take both my Patagonia R1 fleece hoody and Patagonia Nano Puff hoody and I am really glad I did. We typically camped at altitude (around 8,000 ft) and the temperatures really dropped once the sun set. I frequently would wear my puffy to cook dinner in and after getting up in the morning. I also liked hiking in the R1 fleece early and later in the day because I could shed heat by unzipping the big 3/4 zipper and/or rolling up the sleeves (I bought it in a bigger size intentionally)
Water Filtration: I used the Sawyer Squeeze (full size) and was really, really happy with how it performed. Despite some really murky lake wake (Spooner Lake… looking at you) running though it, I never once had an issue with clogging or reduced flow rate. Towards the end of the tip, I did end up losing the small white O-ring that seals the “dirty” water containers into the filter, but, apart from a gurgling noise occasionally when I would take a drink, it didn’t affect the performance of the Squeeze. My routine was to always keep 2L of water on me, in Life Water bottles in the Mariposa’s very handy lower-right side pocket. Both would be filled with “dirty” water, one with the Squeeze screwed on top, and one with the normal black cap on top. John had a Katadyn BeFree which seemed to have a better flow rate rate, but I preferred being able to drink straight from a water bottle with my Squeeze.
The Things I’d Change
Bear Canister: Holy crap was this thing heavy. I picked up a BV500 on sale from REI because I needed all that space for my (excess) of food and added 2 lbs 9 oz (almost 3 lbs!!) to my pack just like that. I’m currently in the process of trading the BV500 for a BV450 (only 2 lbs) for future trips into parks that require bear can use. Which brings me to:
Food Storage: For some reason, I chose not to bring a food bag in which to store my food when it wasn’t in my bear canister at night. Which meant that I had to take all of my lunches and dinners out of the bear canister while it was still in my pack on trail – which often meant feeling blindly around in there, because the canister sat so deep inside my pack. I’m seriously considering picking up a ZPacks DCF Bear Bag Kit so that I not only gain a food bag, but I also have a system to hang in food when in territories that don’t mandate bear canister use.
Insect Spray: I decided to try out the Sawyer Picardin personal insect spray (I did not treat my tent or clothes with Sawyer Permethrin) and it did NOT work against the voracious mosquitos on the west side of Tahoe. I might as well have just poured water over my head, because they were on me whenever I stopped. Luckily, Kevin had some 100% DEET spray and I slathered that shit on for the last two days.
Shelter: I carried the Sierra Designs High Route 1 FL one-person double-walled trekking pole tent and it worked well on the TRT. We saw some pretty windy nights (but never any precipitation overnight) and, fully guy’d out, I never had an issue with it in the wind. In my opinion, it’s a tricky tent to get an ideal pitch on, and despite practicing beforehand and using it every day on the TRT, I never felt quite confident that I had gotten it exactly right. I am trading this tent out because, on a subsequent car camping trip, I got rained on three nights in a row, and I was unhappy with how much water was absorbed by the High Route’s silnylon’s fly, causing sagging against the inner mesh and condensation issues. I’m excited to try out my new DCF Tarptent Notch Li on my next trip!
Again, check out my LighterPack for a full breakdown of my gear.
Since last Sunday, I’ve been making my way around the shores of Lake Superior, camping and hiking where I can. I’ve spent nights at Wyalusing State Park (Wisconsin), Superior National Forest (Minnesota), and Pukaskwa National Park (Ontario). While at Pukaskwa, I did a day hike out to the White River Suspension Bridge – on the Coastal Hiking Trail.
Pukaskwa National Park is GORGEOUS. It’s rather isolated – 3.5 hours from Thunder Bay, ON and 5 hours from Sault Ste. Marie, ON on the Trans-Canada Highway. I arrived around 9pm and the Park Kiosk (the check-in/registration station) was closed, but you can self-register. Rates were $5.80CAD/adult for entry and $25.50CAD/night for a non-electrical site. I had a brief moment of panic when I realized I didn’t have $30CAD+ in cash on me, but then I realized that they allow you to write down your credit card information on the self-registration for. NPS and USFS should take a page out of their book here!
I was blown away by the park’s “comfort stations” with multiple hot shower stalls, multiple real toilets (at least in the men’s room), climate control, and motion-sensitive lighting. There were bear-proof trash and recycling containers scattered conveniently around the park. Lastly, the Visitors’ Center had satellite wifi internet that you could sit on the back porch and use after hours.
There are a number of day hike options within the park, ranging from easy to difficult. I had my eye on hiking out to the White River Suspension Bridge via the Coastal Hiking Trail. Total length (round trip): 18km or 11mi
I set out at about 10:15am and started the day by walking through an area that had been the site of a prescribed burn in 2014. I thoughts Parks Canada did a tremendous job highlighting why that area looked different than all the rest and the role of fire in maintaining a healthy forest. There were multiple informational panels placed in that ~1km section describing how they lit the fire, what weather concerns they had, how they prevented the blaze from spreading, etc.
The trail was very well maintained and crossed a variety of terrain over the 7.5km route out to the bridge. There was a good amount of ascent and descent, but never so long that I’d describe the trail as strenuous. The park had built raised walkways over mud and small stream crossings as well as brand-new looking bridges over larger rivers and creeks.
I arrived at the east side of the bridge around 12:30pm and, for a guy still working on overcoming a fear of heights, was looking pretty intimidating.
Crossing 23m (or 75ft) above the White River at Chigamiwinigum Falls, it’s a good rush to walk across the bouncing bridge during a stiff gust of wind. I crossed over, ate lunch on the other side, and then took my time photographing the moment while I had the bridge to myself.
After spending about 20 minutes at the bridge, I headed back, and arrived to the trailhead around 3pm. This was a GREAT hike and I was sad to be leaving the park that day!
Earlier this week, I completed a clockwise thru-hike of the Tahoe Rim Trail in 9 hiking days and 2 zero’s in South Lake Tahoe. Although I started as a solo hiker, I met a number of other thru-hikers while I was on trail, and finished with two guys named John and Kevin. John, I met mid-way through day 2 and we added Kevin to the tramily the day before finishing.
Day 1: Mt. Rose Summit Trailhead to Marlette Peak Campground
Trail Mile (TM) 40.1 to TM 54.4 = 14.8mi (includes backtracking from alternate)
Notes: I attempted to complete the Christopher’s Loop side trail (leads you to the most-photographed potion of the TRT) about 3/4 of the way through the day, but bailed out after taking a nasty fall into some rocks while climbing a snowy slope. I elected to take the Marlette Lake View Alternate to get to the camp site, as that led me around the south side of the peak and avoided some of the snow.
Trail Magic: When I rolled into the camp site, I was shocked to see two dozen volunteers from the Tahoe Rim Trail Association sitting around a camp fire and a FULL kitchen setup. They were so gracious as to invite me into their circle to talk about the trail AND gave me a big plate of pasta salad, spicy rice, roasted peppers, and a shortcake dessert. Not at all how I thought my first night was going to shake out!
Day 2: Marlette Peak Campground to Dirt Road outside Kingsbury
TM 54.4 to TM 70.5 = 17.1mi (includes 1 mi round-trip to Spooner Lake for water)
Notes: Today I met Bumble, Scott, and John! I hiked with Bumble and Scott until just after lunch and then got together with John, but the four of us ended up camping together at the dirt road. This section between Spooner Lake and Kingsbury North was completely dry, and I was very lucky to find a patch of snow by the road to melt and cook with.
Thru-Hikers Met: Peter and Dani, Bumble and Scott, John
Day 3: Dirt Road outside Kingsbury to Under Heavenly Mott lift
TM 70.5 to TM 84.7 = 14.2mi
Notes: John and I made our first town stop today! We hiked about .8 mi (all uphill!) into Kingsbury from the Kingsbury North trailhead to grab some snacks at the Tramway Market and lunch at the Fox & Hound pub next door. A burger has never tasted so good!
Day 4: Under Heavenly Mott lift to Luther Pass Campground
TM 84.7 to TM 103.9 = 19.2mi
Notes: We wanted to push our biggest day yet so we could get as close as we could to Big Meadow. We had a pretty challenging time following the trail in the afternoon as we navigated the trail over Freel Pass. Luther Pass Campground was pretty disappointing, as we had a .5mi (plus) road walk down into the campground, where we discovered that all the sites were taken, so we just setup in a sheltered spot in the woods all the way in the back.
Day 5: Luther Pass Campground to Echo Chalet
TM 103.9 to TM 122.1 = 18.2mi
Notes: We are officially halfway done! We passed the southernmost point of the TRT and joined the PCT, which we’ll be on for the next 50 miles. This was easily the hardest day on trail so far, with literally miles of snow covering the trail on the ascent to Echo Summit. I gritted my teeth and got through it, though, because I know John’s wife was waiting for us at Echo Chalet to bring us into South Lake Tahoe for a few days off! At the beginning of the descent into Echo, we lost the trail and ended up following a bunch of PCT hikers down this near-vertical cliff next to a waterfall. Later, closer to the Chalet, John and I got separated and each independently got lost. Eventually, we both made it to the Chalet and headed into town – stopping by Big Daddy’s Burgers for dinner.
Thru-Hikers Met: Beaver, Trash Can and Store Brand
A Note about the PCT: It was such a special treat to be able to share the trail with Pacific Crest Trail hikers, coming up from Mexico or coming down from Canada. Those coming from Mexico had hiked 1,000+ miles at that point, but were still so jovial and willing to answer questions and give advice.
Day 6: Zero in South Lake Tahoe
Notes: Woke up incredibly sore and took it very easy today. John picked me up after breakfast to pickup my resupply box from the Post Office, hit an outfitter so he could get a new pad (his NeoAir UberLite developed a leak on night one), and stop by Raley’s to grab some different snacks. I had a nice long conversation with my family on the phone and then just walked around town for the night.
Day 7: Zero in South Lake Tahoe
Notes: Today I moved from the Holiday Inn (where I had spent the previous two nights) down the street into the Mellow Mountain Hostel and a bunk in an 8-person dorm. I wish I had stayed in the hostel the previous few nights – cool atmosphere and a lot of other friendly travelers to chat with. I watched the sunset over the lake from nearby Lakeside Beach and had dinner at my quickly-favorite SLT restaurant: Poke Rok.
Thru-Hikers Met: Victor
Day 8: Echo Chalet to Fontanillis Lake
TM 122.1 to TM 138.2 = 16.1mi
Notes: Back at it! We took an early 6am Uber back out to Echo Chalet and embarked upon the part of trail that we were both looking forward to: Desolation Wilderness. After a beautiful, easy hike past Echo Lake we reached the crown jewel… Lake Aloha. Past Aloha, we got ready to head up Dick’s Pass – the biggest climb of Desolation. After making our way down several hundred vertical feet of snow on the other side of the Pass, we stopped for the night at the best camp site of the trip – on a rock ledge overlooking Fontanillis Lake.
Day 9: Fontanillis Lake to north side of Barker Pass
TM 138.2 to TM 187 = 18.8mi
Notes: Another day working towards Tahoe City. We hit some pretty major snow coming down Barker Pass, so we decided to call it a day at a nice campsite next to the trail.
Thru-Hikers Met: Filter
Day 10: North side of Barker Pass to alongside Mt Watson Rd
TM 187 to TM 9.1 = 23.3mi
Notes: We made it to Tahoe City! Early in the morning, John and I met Kevin on the descent after Twin Peaks and the three of us hiked the 10 miles into town. Although I debated staying the night in town, the allure of finishing the next day eventually drew me into hiking back out after polishing off a medium pizza and stopping by Raley’s to resupply. The section after Tahoe City is pretty dry – we were aiming to make it to Watson Lake, but ended the day a few miles short.
Thru-Hikers Met: Kevin
Day 11: Alongside Mt Watson Rd to Mt Rose Summit Trailhead!
TM 9.1 to TM 40..1 = 31mi (172.7mi total)
Notes: WE DID IT! We started off early, at 6:55am, and started hiking at a good pace. We ate lunch at Brockway Summit Trailhead and set off on the 20 mile push to finish the whole trail. The section from Brockway to Mt Rose was completely dry and almost completely uphill – it was a total ass-kicker of a day. We battled hundreds of vertical feet of snow on the climb and descent onto/off of Relay Peak (the highest point on trail) and at times, though the trail was switch backing under us, we just went straight up or straight down on the snow. I was utterly exhausted by the time we reached Relay Peak, and was thankful that the remaining 5 miles were all downhill (we elected to take the Old TRT alignment down). We finished our thru-hikes just before 9:45pm.
Trail Magic: The Trail Magic we received today absolutely saved me. A few miles into the morning, we reached Watson Lake and were able to refill water (having not had a reliable source since before noon the previous day), but still had most of the day to cover without reliable water. A Trail Angel left a gallon of water at Brockway Trailhead, which was 2/3 gone by the time we got there, and the three of us split it between ourselves. Then, about a half hour into the biggest ascent of the day, we ran into a group of three elderly women coming down the trail. I got to talking with the woman on the end, and she handed me two of her spare water bottles – these would prove invaluable over the course of the day as I drank far more than my hiking partners.
Not a single day on the Tahoe Rim Trail was easy, but I loved the experience. The people I met on trail, especially John and Kevin, were incredible – I think they represent the best of humanity. The fact that it is a high snow year certainly added an extra degree of difficulty, but I think that just adds to the accomplishment. I’m so proud to call myself a thru-hiker, and I’m excited to do this again.
Coming up next, I’ll describe my gear: what I took, what I liked, what I didn’t like, and what I’ll do differently next time.