Monthly Archives: September 2015

Gear Shakedown: New sleep system

I love sleep. On the Appalachian Trail, I can’t say I slept well. Perhaps it was using a zlite for 5 consecutive months (they compress beyond usefulness after only a month or so of daily use) Perhaps it was the 20 degree nights in a 39 degree bag. Perhaps it was my knees painfully knocking together throwing my hip outta whack.

Well enough senseless suffering! For the PCT I’ve upgraded and never felt better. Meet the new system:

Mountain Laurel Designs Bivy

A new addition to the system to make cowboy camping more pleasant. Water proof sil nylon bottom acts as a groundsheet, extra layer of sleeping bag material on top adds 5-10 degrees warmth and protects from winds. Zipper system keeps out bugs and spiders. I LOVE THIS PIECE OF GEAR.

One note: In 30-degree weather, condensation from my breath occasionally builds up on the inside of the bivy, leaving me with a damp face/head if I’m not careful. I often sleep with my head covered, and in that situation, I made sure to sleep so there was at least a little tunnel for air from my mouth to more directly escape through the mesh of the bivy.

Mountain Laurel Designs 28 degree quilt

Lighter than a sleeping bag and just as toasty. Read my review here

Thermarest NeoAir xLite Torso Length pad

Child sized for extra lightness. Blows up quickly. Infinitely more comfortable than zlite. Never had any issues with punctures or loss of air because of my….

Gossamer Gear foam pad

Laid out under Neo lite to protect blow up mattress from pine needle punctures. Also works well as a sit mat!


Placed under my feet to elevate swollen feet and compensate for torso-Lenth pad.

Stuff sack with extra clothes

As a pillow Or between my legs Or to insulate my feet more


Harpo’s PCT Journal: Sep 17-18 

 Day 93-94 (Fish Creek to Evolution Valley)

Miles hiked this section: 41

PCT hiked so far: mile 2660 – 847

Day 92

I wake with dew on my bag – created by the condensation of my own breath…. And ice shards in my water. It was around 32 degrees last night. Although the dawn comes later and later, we wake at the same cruel hour every morning. Hardly any of us set alarms… Inevitably someone starts the squeaky, crackling process of packing up around 5am. The stars are bright and it’s the coldest part of the night. The trick is to keep your eye on everyone so you are finished packing up precisely when they are. Finish too early and the precious heat you’ve conserved from sleep will evaporate and you have to do push ups to stay warm while you wait to get going. I hate to start the morning shivering. Sometimes I can’t feel my toes for 45 minutes. 

This day we walk down the river valley before ascending Silver Pass. The cold air shoots thru the valley and I feel colder and colder as the ground grows frosty. We can’t wait for the sun to come. Huck starts to jog and his bear canister jostles free and goes flying down a ravine. I loan him my flashlight and he descends after it. We cross the river and watch his headlamp and the flashlight moving erratically almost drunkenly down the steep bank to the river. He finds the canister nestled in a bush at the rushing bank. A yard to the left and his canister would’ve been lost down stream. 

At silver pass we find sun and take a break. On the descent I chat up Huck learning a lot about the Iditarod. We get to our lunch spot in good time. Twinless arrives a bit late and confesses her body feels out of whack. She will camp a few miles early tonight. I power up the LOTR soundtrack to make it up a legitimately steep climb after lunch. Dozens of switchbacks. I worry about Twinless and whether we should slow to keep the group together. It’s unclear if she wants some more autonomy… we all feel the frustrations of group decision making at times. 

The afternoon holds a mighty pretty section of trail along bear creek with so many swimming spots… Although I fail to swim in any of them. Staying warm is becoming a priority. Around 5pm we make a final push up to lake Marie and our first pass around 12,000 feet – Selden. There we are greeted by a pika buddy. I sing him my pika song. We descend quickly and camp at sallie Keyes lake. Huck McGyvers a wind shelter from his tarp that we all sleep under to be warmer tonight. We are perched high enough above the lake to avoid the cool condensing night air but the sky is brutally clear and crisp. The moon sets early and we see so many stars. 

Day 93

We sleep in a few hours because we don’t want to arrive too early at Muir ranch and we want Twinless to catch up. We arrive at the remote horse camp around 10am. We scour their famously organized hiker box (free discarded resupply items) scoring powered hummus,tortillas, peanut butter, cliff bars, and 16 Starbucks via packets which alone are valued at $20. Jackpot. It’s a good thing because the cold weather and climbing terrain ramps up our appetites and we will go into town on utter empty in 5 days, even with these bonus treats. We find a large hot spring bubbling up from the meadow behind the ranch and soak for an hour before hitting the trail again. 

In the afternoon Huck gives me a lot of training. It’s not embarrassing as much as charming … but he looks at my body like he would a husky he is conditioning to race… so I learn about my idiosyncratic movements … How I bounce when I walk and use my dancer’s reléve (half point) to power me up hills which is why I am sporting Popeye-style calf muscles. He offers tips how to improve my stride and pace. He also suggests I would go into fat burning mode if I took fewer breaks but maintained a more relaxed pace for the whole day. I am skeptical about the benefits of not taking breaks but intrigued by the process of testing my body. 

At 5:00 we run into Twinless who is hustling but exhausted. Her pack is easily twice as heavy as mine and so I give her a quick Thai massage on her aching leg and then steal her tent. Groucho steals her stakes, Huck steals her maps. We lighten her load cause we want her to make it up camp tonight. We pass the gorgeous Evolution Creek Falls before fording the Creek itself. It is shin deep. It dawns on me how many scary fords Northbounders must encounter in their hike as the streams swell with snow melt. We see a distinguished gentleman in a leopard print version of our exofficio shirts and cutoff short shorts. He has amazing legs that gave probably seen thousands upon thousands miles. He is our hero. 

We get to another ideal creek side camp spot with a fire pit. Groucho reveals forgotten marshmallows. As I brush my teeth, Huck finds my secret mascara. I bought it in a moment of crippling self doubt in mammoth and tried to hide it in my ditty bag. Two steps forward one step back in the journey of radical self acceptance. 

Harpo’s PCT Journal: Sep 14-16


 Day 90-92 (Mammoth Lakes to Fish Creek)

Miles hiked this section: 17

PCT hiked so far: mile 2660 – 890

Day 89

We wake early enough to get vegan breakfast burritos at stellar cafe. We are told they sell out by 8am and can’t make more because the grill gets contaminated by meat juices.  After blogging, groceries and a visit to the post office we decide to investigate the pizza shop before leaving town. There we find another EXCELLENT VEGAN PIZZA. We are all packed and ready to leave the shop when suddenly… pouring rain. 10 minutes later we check out the 24-hours-of-rain weather forecast and unanimously decide on an unplanned zero. We could power thru this… But we rationalize we don’t want the alleged prettiest scenery of this section to be socked in the clouds. Also it sucks to start a 6 day section with wet gear. We joyfully get a discount at the hostel, purchase ingredients for vegan Mac and cheese and check out the famous local brewery. Upon return to the hostel we set up Netflix and watch poirot. Twinless and I make Pamela’s vegan brownies. And Groucho kills it with the Mac and cheese. Everyone agrees… It is an ideal night. 

Day 90

We wake up in cozy beds to rain drumming on the window and roof. Despite laundry and showers the room smells like farts and it is all of our faults (sorry mom). We’re willing to wait a bit for the dreariness to lift so Twinless and I walk 3 miles to purchase everyone breakfast burritos. Upon our return I check and the forecast says the rain extends thru tonight. After some deliberation we decide on another zero. We want to be back on trail but not in these conditions. We heard it is snowing in the mountains. So we indulge in more food and blogging and murder mysteries and a cozy fire place and soft beds while rain then hail and wind pummel the roof of the hostel. maybe we will never leave mammoth. 


Day 91

We are packed and ready to roll by 7am with a vow to go even if it looks stormy. Thankfully the clouds are lifting. On the way to the trailhead we see a coyote and Andy -our excellent hostel host- talks about random deaths by trees in the back country. We are dropped at reds meadow… a campground with a store and restaurant. We dawdle writing postcards and drinking coffee before getting on trail at 9:30 am.

It feels distinctly northwest…. Cold fog obscuring any views and drops of yesterday’s rain fall from branches onto my fleece. The birds flit and flutter… So happy for the rain and trying to keep warm.  It’s fall here. We climb up and up… 

I spend much of the day alone. Then around dusk the crew gathers together by windy Lake Virginia. We continue together down into the valley and camp near the creek. 

The views open up as we descend and craggy red peaks tower in the near horizon. At the creek we find the invitation of a fire pit and water bucket. The ground is still wet so it’s safe to make a tiny fire which we huddle around trying to snack our way out of a weight crisis. We have 6 days of food for this stretch – ramen crumbled into tiny pieces, dozens of power bars, oatmeal packets, and random chips and snacks sent by our saviors Lynn, sandy, 3D and kate. We also horde brightly colored drink packets that claim to stimulate via caffeine, electro lites, vitamins or herbs. We each carry at least 12 lbs of just food… and the newish burden of bear canisters which weigh 2.7lbs each. Tomorrow we begin ascending our first major mountain passes and the added weight is daunting. 

As dark falls, so do the temps. Tonight will be in the low 30’s. I get into my quilt and am asleep before the clouds clear and the stars come out. 

Pika Love

ack! Pikas! It’s been 2 months and 2 states since I’ve spied or heard one of these buddies. Pikas are my most adored and most beloved mountain creatures.   They collect and dry grasses in high mountain tallus fields. They make loud peeping sounds when they feel alarmed. They look like bunnies with round ears. 
In the high Sierra, approaching Donahue Pass this little guy took time out of his busy schedule to model for me. 

Gathering Grass:

Transporting Grass:


Looking Hella Majestic: