Monday, March 16, 2015

Snow Shoeing on the Black Forest Trail

Got out for another winter hike recently.  And, as it turned out, it was my last chance.  The weather since then has been warm and spring-like.  I went with my hiking buddy Chris, who suggested the location, a short hike along the Black Forest Trail.  Friday was cold but sunny and we were treated to nice views.

There was about 2 feet of snow on the ground and so we used snowshoes.  They didn't help as much as you would think because the weather this year has been so cold.  There was a crust of ice on top and the snow underneath was very dry.  Even with the snowshoes it was like walking on sugar.

I don't own any waterproof shoes appropriate for snowshoes so I just wore my trail runners with waterproof sock on underneath.  That worked reasonably well the first day but not so well the second day as you will see.

The route we took stayed on the plateau with occasional vistas over surrounding valleys.

Unlike last hike, when I ran out of fuel, this time I had my trusty SVEA 123R which I've written about before.  Chris had his MSR stove.  Shug has recently compared these two on a hike.  Just as he found in that video the MSR puts out much more heat per unit time.  But I'm fond of my SVEA becaues I think it has character.

I slept again in my warbonnet ridgerunner hammock with a spindrift cover to keep out any wind or light snow.  No snow was predicted so I didn't even bother with a tarp.  For underquilt I have the 0 degree lynx underquilt that is made for the ridgerunner hammock.  Had one problem tho.  During the night my feet got cold and I reached down and realized that part of the underquilt suspension had failed and the underquilt was not attached on one corner.  It was in the single digits and I was afraid I would have to hike out that night.  But then I remembered that my west german army wook pants have, in each pocket, long ties which are loosely sewn in.  Some have suggested to me that they are there for makeshift tourniquets during war.  But this night I just yanked one loose and used to make a quick repair.  Only took a minute or so and after that I slept cozy.
Chris uses a gathered end hammock.  His new model has an 11-foot length which he says is much more comfortable than the typical 10-foot hammock.

One of the challenges of winter camping is that you need to allow for ventilation (to prevent condensation and freezing) while also keeping your nose warm.  Chris invented this brilliant solution using a wool sock that he put a slit in the middle of.  He pulls the slit over his head and then the leg of the sock forms a kind of elephant trunk.  His mouth and nose stay warm even when it's cold.

In my spindrift I do have problems with condensation.  However at these temperatures it's easy to deal with because it the morning it's just like snow all over the inside.  If I turn it door-side down and shake it all the frost will fall out easily. 

In the morning I had to deal with the fact that my shoes had frozen during the night.  So I fired up the SVEA from the hammock and used it to carefully defrost the trail runners.  One of the fun things about the SVEA is that to prime it in this type of situation is easy.  You just hold the cold stove in your warm hands (or bring it into the bag with you for a minute).  As the fuel inside heats up it builds up pressure so that you can turn the key and enough fuel dribbles out that you can light it and it will prime nicely.
The hike out was a little difficult, just like the hike in.  But it was nice.  My legs were really sore by the end.  Snowshoeing uses muscles I don't often use I guess.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Seven Mountains to Poe Valley

We've been getting a lot of snow this winter and I was anxious to get out in it.  So on January 6th I decided to continue my exploration of the Mid-State Trail.  Below you can see a "selfie" of me next to one of the orange blazes on the trail.  I knew it was going to be cold so I grew a bit of a beard in advance.  It made a huge difference in how cold my face felt. 

My favorite time to hike in the winter is shortly after a snow.  It makes everything more beautiful and magical looking.

One funny thing I found was that my iPhone has a lower temperature range.  Don't know what it is exactly but it was in the teens while I was walking.  So often when I would stop to take a photo the phone wouldn't be able to work until I warmed it up a bit. 

Apparently I was the first to hike the trail since the snow.  Above you can see the trail ahead of me with nothing but snow on it.

The drop in temperature had been pretty recent so the streams were still flowing and not completely frozen over.

At one point the trail looked like it was going to cross over this old bridge.   Thankfully it didn't.  I could easily see myself falling through into the frigid water below!

I think winter is a good time to hike this section of the trail.  There are many upland bogs here and although there are sometimes boards set up for walking on I think that I would have had wet feet during the other three seasons of the year.

As with any other trail there are maintenance problems.  There were a few downed trees the blocked the way forward and so I had to bushwhack a fair amount.  I was grateful for my West German wool army pants.  They kept me toasty warm and I didn't have to worry about hurting them during even the worst bushwhack.

In fact I was quite pleased with my entire winter setup.  On top I worse my synthetic hoodie and a light-weight fleece jacket.  On top of the hoodie I wore a hat that I could take off and stuff in my pocket when I got warm.  Similarly with my OR Meteor Mitts.  I could slip the outer shell off and let it hang from it's cords around my wrist and just wear the liners when I was warm and I could slip the shells back on when needed.  I really value being able to regulate my temperature without stopping to repack.

In the evening I stopped and made camp just off the trail and got ready to make dinner.  Here I discovered my big mistake of the trip.  I had recently bought a Primus Eta-Lite canister stove.  My son and I had used it on a hike and I had done a test boil or two but I had never tried it in the cold.  What I discovered was that those little canisters run out faster than I had thought.  So I had no warm dinner that night.  I should have brought an extra canister because not only was I not able to cook dinner but my water froze during the night.  Ideally what I wanted to do was boil some water, put it in my water bottle and sleep with it so that I would have plenty in the morning.  As it was I ate cold snacks for dinner and drank from a cold stream in the morning.  Man is it hard to drink much when the water is that cold!

Fortunately my sleeping system worked great.  I brought my Warbonnet Ridgerunner hammock with a new (well, since last winter) Lynx full-length 0 degree underquilt.  Slept toasty though the temps dropped to near zero.

Poe Valley State Park, where I ended up looks like it would be a very nice park in the summer.  I might have to come back so I can finish a hike with a swim in the lake.

My wife came and picked me up at the park and on the way up out of that valley there is this great view of Penns Valley.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Quehanna East

I'm finally getting around to documenting a hike I took a long time ago.  Chris and I hiked the Eastern half of the Quehanna trail.  It's one of the nicest places I've hiked in Pennsylvania.  There are many fields like this just covered in wild blueberry.

As always, I'm a sucker for a nice view of a creek or river.

There are large areas where birch is the predominant tree.  It makes a nice change from the oaks, maples, and hemlock I see most of the time when hiking.

Another really nice view.  As I said this was a beautiful hike.

It was interesting for me to see my first "bear tree".  Here you can see where a bear has marked the tree with his claws to show his territory.  

We camped near an old farmhouse.  The farmhouse is long gone but their "plumbing" is still working.  They carved troughs in logs to bring water from the spring to near the house.  Since wet wood doesn't rot it remains to this day.

We camped near this convenient water supply.  We both went with a ground setup rather than hammocks this time.  I packed my pad and synthetic quilt inside my bivy so my setup was literally 30 seconds (plus the time to inflate the pad).  Of course the next morning the inside of the bivy and the quilt were damp but I set them in the sun and they dried quickly.

This part of Pennsylvania is the only part with herds of elk.  These spots have been cleared and during the mating season the males stake out a part of one of these fields and bugle to try and attract a female.  People come to watch often.  We saw a number of elk but not close enough for a picture.

Nearly stepped on this guy.  He was sunning himself in the trail and I walked right over him and then heard the rattle.

This was one of the best views near the end of the hike.