Posts in Category: Gear

A short round on The Beaten Path

Autumn colors and the East Rosebud

Autumn colors and the East Rosebud

Weather and Labor Day plans don’t always see eye-to-eye when living in the Northern Rockies. While a lot of the US is heading into an ideal backpacking season, Montana can be getting snowed on this time of year. Despite the definitive forecast of rain/thunderstorms/snow up high, Julia and I packed our rain gear and headed into the Beartooth this recent holiday weekend.

Julia getting soaked on The Beaten Path

Julia getting soaked on The Beaten Path


Pit-stop for berries on the way in. (photo: J)

Pit-stop for berries on the way in. (photo: J)

While we planned to hike a bit further on The Beaten Path via East Rosebud, we stopped short at Rainbow Lake after being properly soaked for the duration of the hike in. Berries, bear scat, moose, and the surreal scenes that occasionally crept through the clouds kept us occupied along the way. It ranged from a steady drizzle to a full-on gale during the walk and we soon realized that wet was going to prevail. The early stop allowed us to properly set up camp, attempt to dry out, and have a fire with dinner. We even utilized a high-pitched HMG Flat Tarp for standing protection when away from the fire. The decision to stop early resulted in quite the enjoyable evening.

#nofilter. Rain and a fogged lens leads to this.

#nofilter. Rain and a fogged lens leads to this.


Alpine lakes and stream-like trails for us.

Alpine lakes and stream-like trails for us.

The next morning we eased into things – lying in and listening to the constant patter of rain on our silnylon shelter. The rain eased up and we slowly broke camp while enjoying coffee/tea and shortbread. We then hiked a couple of miles up the trail to scope the next alpine lake prior to turning around to head back. We lucked out with a little bit of clear skies at Lake at Falls which was soon to be socked in on our way back. The rain heightens the colors and the experience. Not every trip can be with bluebird skies and waist-deep wildflowers. At least that’s the mantra when in the thick of some nasty weather.

Morning break in the clouds above Rainbow Lake.

Morning break in the clouds above Rainbow Lake.


Granite and rain and me. (photo: J)

Granite and rain and me. (photo: J)

The gear highlight of the trip goes to the new MontBell Ex Light Down Anorak. This hooded, UL down pull-over has a big kangaroo pocket and a draw hem. My men’s medium (sans stuffsack) comes in at 173g/6.1oz with a claimed 65g/2.2oz of 900 fill power goose down. At over 35% down and just a hair heavier than its predecessor, the Ex Light Down Jacket (160g/5.6oz), this new anorak has me grinning. This little number was unleashed soon after arriving at our soggy night’s camp and provided plenty of warmth as part of my layering system throughout the night and into the next morning. Low temps were around the upper-thirties (°F) based on overnight snow levels. While not the burliest or warmest, it is one of the most viable UL jackets currently on the market. Nice job, MontBell.

Thumbs up to the Ex Light Down Anorak. An instant classic.

Thumbs up to the Ex Light Down Anorak. An instant classic.

It just snowed again (!) – this time to the valley floor, but will be trending back to traditionally warmer end-of-summer temps come tomorrow and for the next week or so. In the meantime I’ll be participating in Big Sky’s 2nd annual The Rut 50K on Saturday along with a slew of other runners. Best wishes to all involved and a big thank you to all of the folks who manage such an event – here’s to a great race and a wonderful autumn!

Hucks. By the handful. (photo: J)

Hucks. By the handful. (photo: J)


Pika and raspberries make for good times.

Pika and raspberries make for good times.

The Teton Crest Trail in a day

AM traffic jam on the trail

AM traffic jam on the trail

One of my favorite places in the lower 48 has yet again, lived up to its hype. Glenn Owings and myself recently both jogged the Teton Crest Trail from Phillips TH to String Lake TH. Although finishing at String Lake, we cut off the last pass (Paintbrush Divide) due to time limitations. So instead of ~39 miles, we did ~33 point-to-point. Regardless of the deviation, it was a beautiful trail and a wonderful day in the mountains with a friend. That’s what’s up.

Warming sun and wildflowers. Glenn early on the TCT

Warming sun and wildflowers. Glenn early on the TCT

We both carried and wore similar gear for the day, with the standouts being the Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 2.0 and the Sawyer Water Filter Bottle. First up, the UD SJ Ultra Vest. Now in it’s second iteration, the SJ UV has just enough volume (7L) and compressibility for a full day in the hills. The SJ UV also has front bottle carry, ala the rest of their signature series of running vest-style packs, which allows for a well-balanced and efficient method of water carry. And as in this case, bear spray can go up front in a bottle pocket when running in grizzly country. The vest has very little bounce when loaded and fit properly, which is a key component to this style of carry. I also carried a pair of Ultra Distance Z-poles collapsed on the back of the pack for over a dozen miles and didn’t notice them there. Both Glenn and myself used the SJ UV to great success and would definitely use it again for similar long-day outings.

Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 2.0 and the Tetons

Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 2.0 and the Tetons

Next up, but no less successful is the Sawyer 24oz Water Filter Bottle. I’ve mentioned this dip/sip method before but the latest version incorporates Sawyer’s Mini Filter into the equation, thus lightening and lowering the volume of the system. The only modification that I’d suggest is doing away with the stock Sawyer bottle due to it’s stouter profile and hard plastic, and replacing it with a cheapo bike bottle of your preference. Most that I’ve found have a universal thread that mates up with the Sawyer lid. This way, the end result is trimmer for front vest carry and also facilitates being able to squeeze the bottle for increased flow. Glenn and I used this system to great success for the entire length of our Teton Crest experience. I’ve been using it for over a year now and find it to be a very time-effective solution to water filtration in the backcountry. Dipping and sipping, we carried no extraneous water weight the whole way.

Glenn demonstrating the 'dipping' half of the process

Glenn demonstrating the ‘dipping’ half of the process

So, those two pieces were the winners used for this trip. Everything else was fairly standard and trusty, with a windshirt, small emergency/FAK, LW gloves, buff, headlamp, and extra calories being carried inside the vest back. All other stuff, such as camera, gels, chews, electrolyte tabs, water, mini-map, and bear spray were carried somewhere in the external front and lat pockets. The system works pretty damn nicely.

Myself and AK Basin behind me (photo: Glenn)

Myself and AK Basin behind me (photo: Glenn)

The route went something like this: Headlamps, running, and the rising sun. Wildflowers and surrounding mountains begin to show themselves. Wildlife as well. Six moose in the course of a mile. Deer on the trail. Ten miles and Marion Lake, the day has just begun. Shelves of flowers and the first glimpse of the Tetons. Death Canyon Shelf was awfully nice. Granite, Whitebark, and elephant’s head in AK Basin. The best flowers of the trip out of said basin. Cheeky marmot and the three Tetons from atop Hurricane Pass. Schoolhouse glacier and the best of moraines. Old growth Whitebark and Doug fir, huckleberries, tourists, Jenny Lake, tired feet, no shade, String Lake, and a celebratory soak in the outlet. Pica’s in town for the best burrito and margarita combo around. Campfire back at Gros Ventre with Julia, shooting stars and the milky way to accompany. A sound night’s sleep.

Phillips Pass and one of many moose

Phillips Pass and one of many moose

Right after Marion Lake with the first glimpse of the Tetons. Oh yeah, and the wildflowers weren't bad either

Right after Marion Lake with the first glimpse of the Tetons. Oh yeah, and the wildflowers weren’t bad either

Leaving AK Basin while treated to colors and vistas

Leaving AK Basin while treated to colors and vistas

Approaching Hurricane Pass

Approaching Hurricane Pass

Marmot and the Grand. Hurricane Pass

Marmot and the Grand. Hurricane Pass

The Grand, Middle, and South Tetons in all of their glory

The Grand, Middle, and South Tetons in all of their glory

We really couldn’t have asked for a better day in the mountains. I can say it was training for The Rut 50K, but it was really just a gorgeous day out in some pretty nice wilderness. Just how we like ’em.

Glenn at the outlet of String Lake some miles later

Glenn at the outlet of String Lake some miles later

The 2014 Old Gabe 50K

Old Gabe ridge singletrack adorned with Larkspur and Arrowleaf Balsamroot.

Old Gabe ridge singletrack adorned with Larkspur and Arrowleaf Balsamroot.


Ahh, summer. It comes and it goes around here. It’s been a while (recently married! and a house purchase!) but here are some late thoughts on my first official ultra. The Old Gabe did not go as I had expected but I still finished and learned quite a bit in the process. Held on the summer solstice with perfect weather, the OG50 provided participants a full-value run in the mountains. The week prior it was snowing up high and raining down low so a break for June 21 was very much appreciated. The course was a little wet in places, but a lot of it was dry and somewhat runnable. Some of it not so.

Running when I could (this and most of the photos are  courtesy of Julia)

Running when I could (this and most of the photos are courtesy of Julia)


Sypes Ridge

Sypes Ridge

The race was rough and I experienced cramping early on that I then fought for the next 20 miles of the race. Much of this was due to an early and fast ascent-descent-ascent. By the time I was cresting Middle Cottonwood’s Saddle Pass for the second time (mile 12), my quads ceased working as I had expected them to. This was awfully disconcerting and it took me a few minutes to get going again. I still somehow held on and managed a sub-8 hour finish despite the cramp troubles. I kept the pace as manageable as possible and stuck to a good regiment of GU, GU Roctane, Bolt Chews, electrolyte pills, and water. There was mud, blood, snow, sweat, abundant stream crossings, wildflowers, wildlife, amazing volunteers, and great company. Even a stout 7-year old Scott Creel 50K record was broken by a very fast, Jim Walmsley of Black Eagle, MT! (results here)

Around mile 20 or so on the Old Gabe

Around mile 20 or so on the Old Gabe


Regarding gear, I’ll tell you what worked out nicely. I’ve been happy with these for numerous training runs as well as for the race. I’ll also be using them for the upcoming Rut 50K. After sitting pretty deep on the wait list for months as penance for a late registration, I recently received an email notice with entry confirmation. I am very excited and appreciative to be able to compete in such a world-class event here in my backyard. The Rut (VK, 12K, 50K) is hosted by The North Face athletes and fellow Montanans, The Mikes (Mike Wolfe and Mike Foote). It is part of the Skyrunner World Series and will host a deep field of elite mountain runners from across the globe. It’s bound to be a blast! Anyway, here’s the gear highlights from an otherwise pretty difficult Old Gabe 50K:
Sypes Ridge. Jurek Essential helping me grind it out.

Sypes Ridge. Jurek Essential helping me grind it out.


Ultimate Direction is the standout. I’ve been using numerous products of theirs for a couple of years now and I’m rarely disappointed. The two winners this time around are the Jurek Essential and the Jurek Grip. Both are lessons in simplicity and are obviously well thought-out pieces. The Grip is a no-frills 15g, 20 fl oz handheld solution. The Essential is a 59g waist belt that has two fixed pockets (one stretch and one nylon) as well as a small, stretchy, removable valuables/electrolyte pocket. It is built on a 3/4″ belt and can be worn next-to-skin and over a shirt. I personally carry a small emergency/FAK, 2-4 extra gels, one packet of chews, and electrolyte pills in the Endure with room to spare. There is virtually no bounce and I barely notice it is there for dozens of miles on end. It had become a staple of my mountain running kit. Paired with the Jurek Grip, I have quite the duo to get through most ultras that have regular aid.
Jurek Grip (upper left) and Jurek Essential (below), with example of what the belt will easily hold

Jurek Grip (upper left) and Jurek Essential (below), with example of what the belt will easily hold


So that’s it for now. It’s three weeks until The Rut and it’ll be taper time soon. Summer is winding down here with rapidly dropping temps and days of rain. I’ve got more than I had bargained for this go round, so I’m looking forward to the changing of seasons and the upcoming snow. But until then, there’s some more mountain running to be had!
Bridger ridge running, early August '14

Bridger ridge running, early August ’14


Bridger ridge running, late August '14

Bridger ridge running, late August ’14

 

Ultra Running and the Old Gabe 50K

Drying trails and melting snow. Late April 2014 training

Drying trails and melting snow. Late April 2014 training


Back in the beginning of April with still a ton of snow in the surrounding elevations, I made a somewhat rash decision to enter the Old Gabe 50K (OG). A long winter and lots of ridiculously good skiing soon yields to yearnings for the dry mountain trails. This race is held here in the Bridger Mountains and consists of both a 25K and a 50K. The latter consists of over 11,000′ of elevation gain and is said to be one of the hardest 50Ks in the world. Think Utah’s Speedgoat 50K in vertical gain but instead held mere minutes away from my home here in Montana. How conveniently fun!
Some of the Old Gabe singletrack. Fall 2013

Some of the Old Gabe singletrack. Fall 2013

By signing up for the race it forced my somewhat sloppy (read: half-assed) training to become focused. I’ve been much more diligent with my running since then and I’m now one step closer to yes. My few longest mountain runs last year were in the 20+ mile range and at the time, I felt it was quite a long distance to run/hike in 4-5 hours. Not to mention the time it takes up in one’s day.

Retracing my steps on a spring run

Retracing my steps on a spring run


I am now putting in regular 20+ mile runs and am even functioning after the fact. I feel that I am getting stronger and with more hard work and a good pre-race taper, I should be able to go into the OG with confidence that I’ll finish without destroying my body. Or at least finish! I’m still sorting out some of the key ingredients, such as two big Fs: Footwear and Fueling. I may have a winner in the new Scarpa Ignite but time will tell. With just about one month to go, I’ve still got my work cut out for me. It’s all in good fun though, and I hope that the little bit of training that I’ve logged will help me in success. If anything noteworthy comes up between here and the race, I’ll keep you posted. If not, wish me luck! I’ll fill you in after the event as to what worked and what didn’t. Should be interesting.
Recent push to higher elevations. Snow is still quite abundant. Slowly, but surely

Recent push to higher elevations. Snow is still quite abundant. Slowly, but surely

Down low, the flowers are blooming

Down low, the flowers are blooming

Snow and ice trail running – The INOV-8 Oroc and Sportiva Crossover GTX

Inov8 Oroc 340 (bottom) and Sportiva Crossover GTX (top)

Inov8 Oroc 340 (bottom) and Sportiva Crossover GTX (top)

When it comes to winter recreation here in Montana, there is no shortage of fun and fit things to get oneself into. While my main go-to is AT skiing through the snowy months, it doesn’t hurt to occasionally throw in an alternative means of locomotion. For me, this entails ice climbing, nordic skiing, and every now and then, a winter trail run.

Mountain goat sighting on a Bridger Mtn run (on RH ridgeline)

Mountain goat sighting on a Bridger Mtn run (on RH ridgeline)

Running in the winter and shoulder seasons often entails a mix of snow, slush, ice, dirt, and/or mud. Proper attire is one thing necessary for winter running, but footwear can involve an even more complex set of choices. After some trial and error, I have come up with two shoes that have served me well throughout these winter months for nasty trail running conditions:

Crossover GTX (google image)

Crossover GTX (google image)


La Sportiva Crossover GTX

Oroc 340 (google image)

Oroc 340 (google image)


Inov-8 Oroc 340

The Crossover GTX has been around for a while and for those unfamiliar, it is a trail running shoe that is very similar in design to the now discontinued Sportiva Crossleather. The Crossover is essentially a synthetic version of the Crossleather with an additional goretex liner and also a breathable, attached mini gaiter. One noticeable difference is that the CL had only a 4mm drop while the CO has a drop of 8mm.

Sportiva Crossleather above, Crossover GTX below

Sportiva Crossleather above, Crossover GTX below

My personal preference is towards the 4mm drop but I have done just fine adjusting to the higher delta of the Crossover. Each of these shoes has an amazing lug pattern and a deeper lug relief, as well as a good mix of two rubber compounds. Sportiva is world-renowned for their various rubber types and these two shoes utilize the same great Frixion sole composition.

Older Crossleather sole on top, Newer Crossover below

Older Crossleather sole on top, Newer Crossover below

Frixion sole on left, mid-run in Gallatins

Frixion sole on left, mid-run in Gallatins

I tend to grab the Crossover GTX when in sloppier conditions or when in unconsolidated and deeper snow. The integrated, breathable gaiter works as expected and overall, the shoe seems to get the job done whenever I’ve used them this winter. My feet tend to heat up quicker in these due to the goretex liner, but occasionally in cold weather I have not minded this effect. I did have to size a half size up from my normal Sportiva size for all its worth. To the best of my understanding, this model is discontinued for next year so I’ll keep it short: a good idea with room for improvement. I believe we’ll see a newer version of the Crossover next season for those who like this sort of shoe.

Crossover GTX in its element

Crossover GTX in its element

The Oroc from Inov8 comes in two iterations, the Oroc 280 and the Oroc 340. I personally own the 340 and it is heavier (340g vs 280g, hence the name) and also has a higher drop (9mm vs 6mm respectively). Otherwise, the Oroc series stands out in that they have small built-in metal studs that extend from nine of the shoe’s cleats.I’ve found that the major stand-out of the Oroc is the use of integrated studs, which have allowed me to go on winter trail runs that would have otherwise not been possible. While this may be a highly specified fell/winter running shoe, I do feel that it more than adequately fills its niche. I’ve been able to charge down water-iced trails in expectation of crashing and have somehow come out unscathed. Something that would not occur without the seamless integration of metal and rubber ala studded snow tires. A great, but specified shoe.

Inov-8 X-talon 212 above, Oroc 340 with studded cleat detail below

Inov-8 X-talon 212 above, Oroc 340 with studded cleat detail below

Another unique feature is that the Oroc series no longer utilizes goretex as a liner, but instead chooses to use a DWR coated, synthetic ripstop outer to protect from the elements. As for this change, I can say that goretex stays drier a bit longer when in sloppy conditions than the newer DWR finish, but once both of them get soaked the DWR version dries much quicker. The DWR finish also seems to be more air permeable (dries faster and vents better) when compared to its goretex counterparts for those that are interested.

Oroc 340 outer (2013/14 version with DWR)

Oroc 340 outer (2013/14 version with DWR)

As I type, the snow is still flying. I’m happy to say that I’ve been able to accumulate some trail running miles this 2013/14 winter that have helped maintain a spring base training level that I haven’t had in years. I’m curious to see what this upcoming running season has in store. I’ll do my best to keep you posted. Until then, keep up the good work folks.

Hyalite snow running 2013

Hyalite snow running 2013