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Begins: Apr 3, 2015
Date: Tue, Sep 22nd, 2015
Trip Distance: 2,650.1
Entry Visits: 4,981
Journal Visits: 143,271
Guestbook Views: 11,971
Guestbook Entrys: 142
Gear List Comments:
My gear list has been posted, and I will finish filling in costs. I won't comment on every item but will hit the main points that occur to me when thinking back on the entire hike, with details still relatively fresh in my mind.
Big 3: Backpack: My ULA Circuit backpack now has over 3,300 trail miles on it. It did everything I asked of it on the hike and looks/acts like it is up to another 2650 miles. There are a few small holes in the mesh of the large back pouch and the waterproof lining on the roll-top has degraded, but it is still functionally perfect: a fantastic pack! The Bear Vault 500 will fit only vertically in this pack and took up a huge fraction of the total pack volume in the Sierras. The ULA Conduit, with its larger volume, will also accept the BV 500 horizontally. I saw a number of thru-hikers with the Conduit and it is the only alternative to the Circuit that I would consider. Quilt: Responding to some slightly cold sleeping experiences in the first 560 miles of the trail I switched to a Western Mountaineering 20 degree Fahrenheit sleeping bag for the Sierras. In a "redo" I would stick with my quilt for the entire hike and use long underwear bottoms and more frequent pitching of my tarp as a way to deal with cold nights. The superior performance in the North Cascades of the quilt, with its synthetic insulation, convinced me that it is much less likely than a down bag to fail when needed the most. Tarp: I love my Hyperlite Mountain Gear 8.5 x 8.5 flat-cut tarp and would, knowing what I know now, confidently take it on another PCT thru-hike. However, the 8.0 x 10.0 version (which I purchased more recently) gives extra length for the most extreme conditions of rain and wind and adds less that an extra ounce to base pack weight. Use of a tarp rather than a tent is clearly not for everyone, but tarps do have certain advantages including: much less condensation, the ability to trench and monitor stake placement without going outside, greater awareness of one's surroundings including who/what is outside, versatility in the way it can be pitched. For sustained use of a tarp in a wet climate like the North Cascades I would seriously consider switching to a groundsheet with a "bathtub" configuration and/or use of inflatable insulation as an added margin of protection against getting wet. The mosquito net pyramid, which can be pitched independently or inside the tarp, was used once on the entire thru-hike and sent home after Cascade Locks, Oregon. Tent stakes are no place to economize on weight, and in a "redo" I would take 4 each full length and short MSR groundhogs.
Food and Water: My Olicamp burner is the lightest one I have seen on the trail. It is certainly not as stable as larger burners, but I would use it again. I did lose one pot of almost boiled water and one of almost cooked food when in crowded cooking situations around campfires but never when paying attention while cooking alone. The burner offered excellent temperature control and hence excellent fuel economy. Use of my food bag, pack and/or rocks always provided a sufficient windbreak. The full size Sawyer Squeeze is, in my opinion, vastly superior to the mini version. Filtration was much faster, and the need to apply less pressure to achieve a reasonable rate of filtration resulted in a lower frequency of bag breakage. The tall, thin configuration of the 1.0 liter Smartwater bottle allowed it to nest inside the Snow Peak cup in an easy-to-access side pouch of the Circuit. Likewise, the slightly narrower 750 ml Smartwater bottle nested inside the "scoop" and also eliminated the need to bring the "back-flushing" syringe for the Sawyer Squeeze. The spout on the 750 ml bottle fits perfectly over the "clean" side of the Squeeze filter. In the dry regions of Southern California I would use three 1.0 liter Smartwater bottles and two of the 750 ml variety plus two Platypus 1.0 liter bags as backup. The Zpacks food bag is lightweight and kept my food dry while being used frequently for "bear bagging". As with cuben fiber items in general, it did not tolerate friction well and ended the hike with numerous Tenacious Tape patches and ready to be retired.
Clothing Not Worn: In addition to my Smart Wool T-shirt, my puffy jacket, rain jacket and lightweight windbreaker gave me every combination I could want for upper body warmth and temperature control on the entire trip. The synthetic insulation of the Thermoball jacket repeatedly proved to be superior to down in the North Cascades, and I consider the lighter weight of a down jacket to be a false economy. The Mountain Hardwear gloves were not warm enough when wet. SealSkinz gloves were recommended as an alternative but I have not tried them personally. The waterproof overmits saved my hands on a number of occasions. The umbrella was fantastic in the rainy north and I wish that I had brought it along on the southern part of the trail for sun protection. Even though I never used the mosquito head-net, I would take everything on this section of my list on another thru-hike. I would add a lightweight pair of fully waterproof rain pants. These would be mainly for use in camp, hiking through soaking wet vegetation or hiking on very cold days with wind-blown rain.
Miscellaneous: I had been using a flip-phone one month before I began the hike and was, therefore, immensely pleased with the iPhone 6 plus. The camera performed well and the large screen was perfect both for viewing photos and for the larger keyboard, which came in very handy when composing journal entries as e-mails. Power consumption was substantial but the MyCharge auxiliary source allowed me to make it from one trail town to the next with no down time. Two power adapters made a big difference in trail towns; before I purchased my second higher wattage one, slow, sequential charging of my phone and auxiliary power source from a single adapter often delayed getting out of a trail town. The SPOT 3 messenger generally worked well, but when under dense tree cover or in a steep-walled canyon I occasionally had to walk to a clearing or up-trail to establish proper satellite contact. In several instances, where no call phone contact was possible, the more expensive DeLorme InReach product, which offers 2-way satellite-based communication, would have been very useful for communicating with my wife about changes in resupply needs, a different day for leaving the trail, etc.
Clothing worn: In the end I loved the Wildcat trail running shoes. The soles were thick enough that I never got rock bruises, and the torsional rigidity was great for edging on snow/ice. The traction of the soles was excellent on wet or dry rock. I got a bit more than 3000 miles, including 400+ pre-hike miles, out of 4 pairs. It did take me almost 700 miles to understand that the symmetrical blisters on big toes and heels of both feet would go away if I just skipped lacing the top eyelets. Although it is dangerous to generalize from a small sample size, near Crater Lake I passed the same tip on to another thru-hiker who was having the same issues with her Wildcats, and within a few days she reported that her feet were healed. For typical trail conditions I found that cheap, lightweight, synthetic dress socks were best for my feet. They dried quickly and minimized blister formation. When it was cold and wet the Darn Tough lightweight wool socks were preferable. I loved my Tilley Hat! If I were to repeat the hike I would replace the convertible trousers with a pair of lightweight synthetic running shorts and a pair of nylon running tights. Especially under cold and wet conditions the tights would dry much faster than the trousers and would afford greater lower-leg warmth.
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