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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.