Saturday, February 27, 2010

Hiking Around the Web

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
-- Henry David Thoreau

Here’s a few good things related to backpacking from around the web recently:

First something funny – From the Smoky Mountain hiking Blog a three legged bear walking upright like a man.


On a more serious note, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities approved PSE&G’s proposed new power lines from the Delaware Water Gap through the Jersey Highlands.  This will add a new 500Kv line and double the height of the existing towers to 175 feet.  The National Park Service will hold public hearings next week Feb 16 – 18, 2010 on the impact on the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, The Appalachian National Scenic Trail and the Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River. 

Can’t make it to a meeting? Click here to email your comments to the National Park Service. The deadline is March 5, 2010.

http://parkplanning.nps.gov/commentForm.cfm?parkID=220&projectID=25147&documentId=31664  You can keep up with the issue at the NYNJTC web site: http://www.nynjtc.org/issue/pseg-powerline-proposal .

Now some shameless promotion….

Patagonia is having it’s “Winterfest Sale” with 30-50% of Winter Gear.  In the interest of full disclosure, I want to let you know BackpackBaseCamp.com is an affiliate of Patagonia and will receive a small (very small) commission if you make a purchase through the advertisements on this site.  It would help to off set some of our costs and would be much appreciated.

Patagonia - Web Specials, Save 40% - 60% Shop Campmor Today!


Enjoy the winter!


The Stick Pic Hiking Pole Camera mount

“The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet.”  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Self-Reliance," 1841

About a month ago I wrote a post about the UltraPod camera tripod, in that post I mentioned “The Stick Pic”, a tiny device for the end of you hiking pole to hold a cameral.  Rod at “TheStickPic” sent me one to try out.  This is quite an ingenious little gadget.  There are various models of the Stick Pic made for specific brands of hiking poles, so that they fit on perfectly.  Rod sent me the #5 for my Black Diamond hiking poles.

The Stick Pic weights practically nothing (10.5 grams about 1/3 of an ounce) versus the 2.6 ounces for the UltraPad tripod.  So for these ultralight backpackers out there, the Stick Pic wins hands down.  You use the gadget by holding your hiking pole out with the camera on the end of it, this easily lets you take a self portrait or a picture of you and your friends. Tip: Putting a small mirror like the stick on tiny mirrors they sell for cars (at Walmart) more easily allows you to see what the camera lens is seeing.  You can also invert your hiking stick (handle on the ground) to use the pole to steady the camera as you take landscape photos.

Video of The Stick Pic:


On the downside, using the Stick Pic with heaver cameras like an SLR is a bit more problematic, and I was not able to find any good way to use it as a tripod since the angle is not adjustable (built into the curve of the hole in the plastic ring). You could try adding a second swivel screw type device onto it (like tripods have) to solve this problem, but I didn’t attempt that.

Overall, I love this little gadget. If I’m taking a more serious camera on my hike or think I will need a tripod, I will still take the UltraPod, but for simple shots of me and my friends the Stick Pic is perfect for the job.

Related Sites:


Ultrapod @ REI


Related Posts:

UltraPod Camera Tripod

The StickPic or self portraits made easy

Gen2 StickPic

Patagonia - Web Specials, Save 40% - 60% Shop Campmor Today!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Southbound – A Tale of Two Sisters…Backpacking on the Appalachian Trail

“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost.”
- - J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings

A review of the book Southbound by Susan & Lucy Letcher

This book is a bit different than the typical Appalachian Trail journal. Obviously our heroes are walking south – Maine to George; whereas the vast majority of hikers go North. Of course the primary reason for the migration north is the weather. Most thru-hikers walk with (or into summer) spring, avoiding the dangers of winter. Our sisters are starting in Maine in black fly season and hiking directly into winter. They’re doing this with the added challenge of attempting to hike the trail barefoot – at least for “as long as it’s fun”. For me it would be comfortable for about two minutes and I’d have my boots back on. But I don’t think the sisters are crazy, they actually enjoy being close to the earth and are willing to patiently train their feet and minds to handle it. This process slows down there progress considerably, including an injury (that could have happened with or without boots) and puts them in the Smoky’s in mid February.

Walking south, fighting winter and trail stories is not what sets this book apart. The book is written by two sisters alternating writing a few pages at a time. The reader gets both of their points of view. We get a genuine understanding of the thoughts and emotions of each of the hikers. They’re not holding anything back. They’re not sugar coating reality. From ranting about the AMC to Jackrabbit (Susan) struggling on an off with what appears to be mild depression. Jackrabbit is younger (just out of college), very athletic with a black belt in Taekwondo and a passion for playing the piano. Iris (Lucy) is a few year older. She feels responsible for her little sister but starts out on the trail feeling inferior – not in the same physical condition as Jackrabbit, she’s afraid she will be left behind. Their adventures bring them to the depths of despair. Struggling with real life and death situations, learning to cope with loneliness as well as being engrossed in the beauty of nature and the solitude it allows. You can see them grow in mastery over their own minds and bodies as they approach Georgia. This book is honest and straight forward, filled with tenderness and love; it touches the depth of human emotions.

This book also has a sequel…I look forward to reading it soon.


Related Articles about AT Adventures….

White Blaze Fever

Ten Million Steps

Halfway to the Sky


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Ultralight Down Jackets

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“Always watch where you are going. Otherwise, you may step on a piece of the Forest that was left out by mistake.”

- Pooh

For the past few winters I’ve been bring my Mountain Hardware Down Sub-Zero jacket with me on backpacking trips were I expected cold nights. I love the Sub-Zero jacket, it is super warm and it is build tough.  It can withstand quite a lot of abuse.  It’s 650 fill down in a z-rip fabric that is wind resistant.  Like every Mountain Hardware product I’ve tried, the quality is outstanding Link to Sub-Zero Jacket at Altrec.com . The down side (no pun intended) of the jacket is that it weighs 25 ounces.  I’ve been looking for a ultra-light jacket that would be just as warm and weigh under a pound. 

Montbell Permafrost JacketI almost bought a Montbell Permafrost Jacket Link to Permafrost Jacket on Campsaver.com but the $250 price tag caused be to procrastinate. The Permafrost is only 14 ounces with 800 fill down plus Gore Tex Windstopper.  This is definitely the warmest ultralight jacket on the market.  Plus it is cozy with a micro fleeced lined collar, zippered pockets with fleece lining and articulated elbows.

LLBean Ultralight 850 JacketJust before almost deciding to buy the Montbell Permafrost I saw an ultralight jacket in the LL Bean catalog.  It is the “Ultralight 850” Jacket. It was ‘only’ $149 so I thought I would give it a try.  The medium jacket weighs just under 16 ounces.  It has 850 fill down insulation and compresses down in your pack (stuffs into it’s own pocket) to very small. It is made of a water resistant ripstop nylon with a drawstring waistband and elastic cuff. So far I’ve found it to be extremely comfortable to wear.  I’ve had it out in temperatures to the mid-teens and found it quite warm.

I thought I was set for a while, then I saw a blog post from the “Jolly Green Giant” (link to post) talking about the New Balance Fugu jacket.  New Balance has stopped making the this jacket it it is hard to find, but can be found on some close-out sites.  The Green Giant said there was some being sold a recreationoutlet.com so I surfed over there and purchased one for $119 (retail was $385).  The Fugu (Japanese for Blowfish) jacket is nearly if not just as warm as the Montbell Permafrost. It is under 14 ounces (for a medium-tall).  The 850 fill of this jacket is so warm I’ve had it out in 15 degree days with no laying under it and still felt comfortable. It has much more loft then the Bean Ultralight and has a radiant barrier liner laminated to the inside that adds 4 1/2 degrees of more warmth. It also has a super DWR exterior (that I have not yet tested in wet weather).  So far I’m loving it.

  New Balance Fugu Jacket










  Related Articles:

Review of Montbell Ultralight Down Inner Jacket


Monday, February 1, 2010

Backpacking the Great Smoky Mountains

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“Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory.”
-- Ed Viesturs (No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World's 14 Highest Peaks)Smoky Mountains Map








The Great Smoky Mountains National Park sits on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina.  The park is massive at about 500,000 acres, 95% of which is forest.  The park has over 800 miles of maintained trails with elevations ranging from 800 feet to 6,643 feet, including the Appalachian Trail (AT) running right through the park.  This park attracts more visitors annually then any other national park, because it is within a days drive of about 60% of the population of the United States.  This puts about nine million visitors a year in the park.  You would think this would make the park crowded and perhaps parts of the park at certain times of the year are crowded.  But when I was lucky enough to visit last October for a backpacking trip, we saw few people.  I’m guessing that, as with most parks, the majority of people go only at the peak of the season and even then they don’t venture far from the main roads.  

These ancient southern Appalachian mountains are some of the most beautiful in the world.  The park holds a wide diversity of animal and plant life as well as the remains of the mountain culture that was in these lands prior to the park being established.  The plant life creates a blue misty haze accounting for the name “Smoky” mountains.

For my first Smoky Mountain backpacking trip, my brother and I chose a two night hike near Fontana Dam up to Gregory Bald. Since I was flying in and my brother was driving we decided to meet at the airport and spend Friday night at a Bed & Breakfast close to the trail head.  I’m not crazy about the idea of going right from an airplane to the trail head.  This time it turned out to be a smart move staying at an Inn then hiking in the morning – mainly because when I arrived at the airport in North Carolina, my backpack didn’t. It didn’t make it onto the plane with me (probably because I checked-in 5 minutes before the plane was schedule to take off).  Continental Airlines was very good about it and offered to have the backpack delivered to me at my hotel – which they did.  The plane my pack was on was delayed by bad weather, and our B&B was way off the beaten path, but about 4:30 AM – it was delivered.  The B&B we stayed at was The Appalachian Inn in Robbinsville, NC (their web site).  I highly recommend this place! Run by Lance & Elizabeth Butler it was a very pleasant stay and the breakfast was a wonderful start to our hike.Gregory Bald map









We started our hike at Twentymile ranger station, a small outpost (no ranger there) off Lake Cheoah.  From there we walked up “Twentymile Trail” until it intersected with the “Long Hungry Ridge Trail”.  The walk through this part of the park is close to many steams and rivers, there were several crossings, some by log bridges others were small fords. We stopped at campsite #92 along that trail and had a nice relaxing evening.  Campsite #92 has no shelters, just a few spots to pitch tents and a rock fire pit.  I put my tent up not to far from a small stream that runs through that site and was able to sleep to the very nice sound of the running stream.  The campsites in the GSM park all have bear poles – tall steal flag pole type things with metal cables you can use to hoist up you food bags.  Much more convenient that having to throw up you own cord over a tree.

The next day we woke up to perfect weather and hiked up to Gregory Bald (elevation 4,949 feet).  Unfortunately on this trip I didn’t bring my camera so I’m including this video Trent put out on youtube (Trents youtube site) as well as a couple public domain photos. 

Gregory Bald

Gregory Bald Summit-east1We planned on spending the night at campsite #13 which is just past the bald off the “Gregory Bald Trail” but as we got there in mid-afternoon we discovered the site was closed due to excessive bear activity. So we found ourselves hiking down the “Wolf Ridge Trail” to campsite #95.  This was an extremely nice walk and did include a few close encounters with bears (including a few bear cubs up in trees). 

The next day we walked out of the woods and went over to Fantana Dam (a site worth seeing all on it’s own) and made use of the public showers there.  The AT goes right over Fontana Dam and there are shower facilities there for the thru-hikers. I’m sure the person sitting next to me on the plane back home appreciated this as much as me!

Fontana Dam Powerhouse

Link to purchase map… gsm map










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