Wednesday, December 30, 2009

NEOS Overshoes

Santa Claus was good to me this year and got me a pair of NEOS Overshoes, the Adventurer model. I intend to use these this winter for backpacking.

I had been thinking about getting a pair of winter hiking boots. But I chickened out because boots are expensive considering how much snow we get here in Missouri. Also I'm not used to hiking in boots and I was concerned about getting some that felt comfortable without requiring a long break-in period.

Overshoes fit the bill because you just wear your normal hiking shoes inside.

The inside sole of the overshoe is rubberized so that your own shoes don't slip and slide inside the overshoe. This works remarkably well.

The overshoes close with a velcro strap around my calf and fasten with a strap over your foot.

Another very nice design feature is that the only opening is at the top, 15 inches from the sole, so it is waterproof. I put this to the test on my recent hike of the northern Trace Creek section of the OT. I had to ford a river that would have been REALLY cold to cross in sandals or water shoes. The overshoes worked like a charm.

When I didn't need the overshoes I collapsed them and packed them away. They collapse down quite small and weigh very little.

Recently we've been blessed with some snow here in St. Louis so I took them outside to walk around in the snow for 45 minutes or so. Not only are they well suited for this purpose in terms of keeping my feet dry but my feet were amazingly warm as well. The NEOS website was suggesting they would be comfortable down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit. It was in the low teens when I was walking around and my feet were more than warm enough.

I'm looking forward to some nice hikes in the snow in these babies.

North Trace Creek

On Wednesday, December 30th, I joined 3 other hikers from the motrails group for a day hike of the northern half of the Trace Creek section of the Ozark Trail. It was fun to finally be able to put a face to some of the names of people I'd met online. I was finally able to meet Danny McMurphy face to face. He is the expert on hiking trails in Missouri. His website is the go-to source for information on Missouri hiking trails.

We parked at an Unofficial parking spot off route DD near Council Bluff lake (about the half-way point of the Trace Creek section) and then shuttled up to the Hazel Creek campground and hiked south back to our cars.

I went up the night before and camped near where we left our cars so I would be sure to be on time in the morning (we were meeting at 9am). It snowed all night a very dry kind of snow. Really more like little balls of ice. I used my bivy because it's a perfect shelter for that kind of thing. I pitched my poncho over my head to keep snow out of my face.

The Trace Creek section, like the nearby Middle Fork section which I hiked last year, has many small creeks and rivers which beautify the trip. During the leaf-off time of the year there are nice views of the river valleys. The light dusting of snow added to the beauty of the woods.
One of the fun things about winter is the interesting ice formations you see on the creeks. I really can't imagine how some of them form. This one looks for all the world like "ice bats" hibernating or something.
The Ozarks is a great place to be in the winter.

Thermal Regulation

I've been thinking about thermal regulation while hiking this winter. During a hike your need for insulation can change quite quickly depending on outside temperature, wind speed, humidity, and exertion. Being too cold is no fun of course but being too warm can be a problem as well because perspiration can quickly chill you once you stop hiking.

Conventional wisdom says that the right thing to do is to dress in layers and remove layers as you get warmer or put them on as you get cold. However this is a lot of trouble because it involves stopping and taking off your backpack to put away or take out a layer. To avoid this nuisance most hikers don't vary their insulation enough.

I've discovered a better solution. It turns out that most heat lost you experience is through your head and your hands. I used to take my hat and gloves off when I got warm but I ended up having to try and shove them in the pockets of my pants (which were already full from my GPS and snacks). For the past few hikes I've instead worn my Sugoi Speedster 2 hoodie. I originally bought it for winter running and biking but now I'm finding it very useful for winter hiking as well. The fabric is a full stretch, wicking, midweight base layer with fleeced inner side so it's comfortable and warm. But the best features are the hood and cuff gloves. If I'm warm I can keep the hood off and my hands bare.

When I begin to feel cold I can pull the hood up and tuck my hands inside the cuff gloves. They aren't really gloves, just a fold of fabric that encases your hands. It doesn't allow for any dexterity but this is a feature I use while hiking, not while setting up camp or cooking.

I've really been loving how easy this makes it to adjust to my changing needs for insulation while hiking. In previous posts I've sung the praises of merino wool and of course this top is synthetic. The tradeoff is that the synthetic tops have a problem with odor while wool seems impervious to body odors.

On my most recent trip to hike the Trace Creek section of the OT I made a mistake when it comes to nighttime thermal regulation. I went to bed with little insulation on my legs. When I went to Sam A Baker state park a few weeks before I had worn very good lower body insulation to bed and found that it was too much and so removed it. I had brought that same insulation with me on this trip but left it in my pack. Once I realized I was a bit cold in the night it was snowing and blowing quite hard and I didn't feel like getting out of my quilt to rummage through my pack to change so I just settled for being uncomfortable.

The lesson is that you should always wear you warmest clothes to bed. It's easy to take things off in the night but it's hard to add insulation that you didn't take to bed with you. Oh well. Lesson learned.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sam A Baker State Park

View Mudlick Trail in a larger map

After I had graded the final exams I decided to spend two nights on the Mudlick Trail in Sam A Baker state park. I had heard good things about it. I enjoyed my trip but I ended up spending only one night because I finished the trail sooner than I thought I would.

The Trail
Above you can see some waypoints I uploaded from my GPS after I got home. I started the loop at the trailhead on the right side and went counter clockwise.

I arrived Wednesday afternoon about 4pm and hiked north until I came to the hiking shelters. I had heard mixed reviews on them. They were actually really nice for a winter hike: 3 sided stone shelters with stone floors and fireplaces.
I stayed at hiking shelter 1 because it was perched right on the cliff facing East over the valley where the Big Creek runs and I thought it would provide nice sunrise views. I wasn't disappointed.

After leaving the shelter I hiked north along the ridge and then down into Mudlick hollow where Mudlick creek runs. Along the trail down into the hollow I found some really nice frost flowers. Some of the pictures didn't turn out and even this one isn't very well focused. But you can see the delicate structure of the ribbon of ice that comes out of the stem of a plant when the ground is moist and the air termperature drops to well below freezing.

The creek itself is really pretty. The highlight of the trip in my mind. Notice the icicles hanging from the moss-covered rock wall over the creek.
I love this picture. It was just a little waterfall but the combination of rushing water and ice on the rocks made it seem magical.

The rest of the trip was very pleasant. The forest must burn regularly because it was quite open and free of undergrowth. There are significant changes in elevation so it's a good workout. The only really difficult part was the downhill on the bottom right of the map. This is a `hiker only' section of the trail because it is too rugged for horses. It's almost too rugged for hikers. You are traveling down and along a steep hill side covered with rocks about the size of your head. Lots of opportunities to twist your ankle. I never fell but the constant twisting of my foot made my Achilles tendon hurt.

I had planned on spending two nights on the trail and camping the second night near Logan creek (bottom left on the map). But I made better time than I thought and so continued on to the trailhead. I reached my car almost exactly 24 hours after I had parked.

Thoughts on Gear for Winter
On every trip I learn a little more about backpacking. This trip was cold but dry and I brought my bivy and air mattress. People tend to like bivy bags for two reasons: protection from mild precipitation, and extra warmth. I think the first of these makes sense but I don't buy the second reason any more. During the night I was plenty warm on my legs and body but I had trouble with condensation from my breath when I slept on my side. I think I would have been better off to add warmth with a small liner bag and avoid the condensation problems. Now if there had been rain or snow forecast (and I wasn't in the shelter) then the bivy would have been perfect. The small amount of condensation is a small price to pay for keeping your bag from getting wet.

I've occasionally had fires on my backpacking trips and so I began thinking about carrying some kind of tinder. Well I think I have found the ultimate fire starting material -- cotton balls smeared with vaseline. Other hikers had recommended it but I had never tried it until this trip. You get a nice hot flame that lasts a long time, plenty of time to get your fire started.