The Search for the Perfect Pack

If you have been here before there is a major 2018 update at the bottom, otherwise read on!

For me, especially for the desert and the occasional heavier loads

This piece is as much about the decision making process, what I wanted in a pack, as to which pack I ended up with.  It took nearly a year to finally arrive at a decision.

The more than decade long descent from traditional loads to the edge of ultralight with lighter equipment and smaller volumes has been a good learning curve, particularly when it comes to the pack to carry it all in.  The only other piece of equipment that is as personal to the user in fit and use is shoes.  The three packs I have used during this time (#3-5)


all have some good features that I really like but no one design or kinds of materials meets all my needs.  My main requirements in looking for a new pack were comfort/load carrying capability, durability (particularly for harsh desert conditions) and a few features that I find essential, all in a unit under 2 pounds.

My design needs: Continue reading

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Big Bend XI (Down The Eastern Side), 2/14

Dog Canyon to Marufo Vega, almost.

Feb. 2nd-9th, 2014

79 miles walked, 68 with pack, 11 without

I always have trips in the planning stage, some take years to get around to actually doing, this one was just such a case.  The idea of a long walk, north to south down the long eastern side of the park that would tie together many interesting places I had never been to was the basic idea.  The initial sparks for the actual route came from threads on Big Bend Chat about some out of the way places not normally seen by folks.

2013 marked the 40th anniversary of my first trip to Big Bend but we couldn’t get it together to do a December trip which has become my normal window.  Early February would do nicely but the crazy winter weather of 2014 would conspire against us a bit.  Scott and Lee would both return to the park with me, the first time back for each of them since Scott walked with me across the eastern half of the park in 2004 and Lee the western half in 2008. Just getting to the park was its usual endeavor.

Flying into Austin, Lee’s flight was delayed by 5 hours and put us into Ft. Stockton at midnight, long day.  Up early with rain and wet snow it begins to clear and warm up as we drop down out of the Glass Mountains, the clouds spilling down off the mesa after us.


A stop at the Marathon Café for the last real meal for a week then into the park where we drop a cache off the Dagger Flat road and then to Panther Junction for a permit. Our exit is the Marufo Vega/Strawhouse/Ore Terminal trailhead which we don’t want to leave a car at for a week, overnight OK but not 7 nights, so we drive down to the Boquillas border crossing station to see if we can leave it there in the relative safety of the Border Patrol etc. and it would only be about a mile and a half walk from the trailhead.  They say sure.  We drive back to the Rio Grande Village visitor center to finish packing and meet our shuttle by 11:30.

I had put out a feeler on Big Bend Chat for a ride and got a reply about a week before we were to leave.  Casey showed up right on time and had us to Bone Spring draw by 1:00.  It was great to meet him, found out we even graduated from the same high school!  Without his help the logistics of getting to the trailhead would have been more difficult and expensive, we cannot thank him enough!

Off down Bone Spring draw, just about a mile, to the Devils Den exit for the night.  I had planned this first day to be just a short walk in as I was not exactly sure how long it would take to drop a cache, get permits and get back to the starting point so we carried in an extra gallon of water each just for the afternoon and next morning with the rest of the water in the packs that would get us to our cache on the third day.  You can see Devils Den cutting its way down the slope directly ahead.


It was a beautiful day but windy, we found a campsite up on the flats mostly sheltered behind some big creosote bushes and settled in for a late lunch.  Late afternoon we day hiked on down into Dog Canyon with its flat bottom and tortured geology, especially on the southern Sierra del Carmen side.


??????????????????????????????? Back to camp we have a nice dinner with a gentle sunset on the Santiago mountains.

??????????????????????????????? Continue reading

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MST (NC 181 to and then over Grandfather Mtn.), 8/13

Waterfalls, swimming and nearly 6000′ on Grandfather Mountain

August 10-12, 2013

33 miles

The summer sweatfest was on.  We tried to combine some low level walking with plenty of swimming opportunities and a bit of high ridge walking with good views, partially successful.  The usual early departure and we were on the trail by 9:00.  Parked Bob’s truck where the MST crosses NC 181 just east of Linville Gorge, muggy and some pesky gnats as we descended towards the first of our tens of stream crossings at Upper Creek


Plenty of water in all the streams after this really rainy summer.  The only map we had was the large scale Trails Illustrated which leaves some to be desired but we could follow the trail fine with the MST blazes.  Found the junction with the Raider Camp trail which we wanted to take over to South Harper creek.  Somewhere it drops off the old road bed but we missed it and entered into some prominently marked private land but made our way to the creek just below a nice set of falls, first swim at noon


Bob wasn’t familiar with these falls but we ran into three gentlemen all dressed in kilts (anyone hear bag pipe music?) who assured us we were just above the really big South Harper Creek falls.  Can’t really get a good picture from the top but they are 200 feet high. Continue reading

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Peaks of Otter area, VA (AT and Glenwood Horse Trail loop), 2/13

Feb. 1-3, 2013

32 miles

So Bob and I headed up to Virginia for our favorite holiday of the year, Groundhog Day.  We drove up through some pretty serious flurries/light snow as we went over the Blue Ridge to the north entrance to Jennings Creek (FS road 21) and the trail head at the base of the Apple Orchard Falls trail.  Our route is in blue, going clockwise.

Peaks of Otter map

It was cold as hell as we started up the trail in a 1 inch dusting of snow, in the teens for sure.


We got to the falls and the water was flowing over the walk way and was a bit tricky to cross with all the ice, sure as hell didn’t want to fall and get wet in these temperatures.


Continue reading

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GSMNP XI (Cataloochee Divide/Mt. Sterling ridge run),12/11

Dec. 29-31, 2011

40 miles in 45 hours!

Not quite a New Years run but close enough.  We had the opportunity to do this route because we had the rare situation with two vehicles because Chuck met us after visiting with family in Waynesville.  We left one at the Big Creek trail head and then drove around to Cove Creek Gap and headed out under beautiful clear skies.


We made good time up the trail, taking in great views of the Mt. Sterling Ridge, the object of tomorrow’s walk.

mt. sterling ridge pano

We strolled into the SWAG Inn’s grounds.  They were open for guests, I guess for New Years as they were not when Bob I last walked this trail in Dec. 2009.


We pushed on up to the top of Hemphill Bald and the view was tremendous and better than we had seen it before. Continue reading

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The Hayduke Trail Planning, Preparation and Equipment Notes

Planning info and resources for the Oct. 2012 hike

We used several sources for planning information including the The Hayduke Trail book which is good but a bit maddening in that the route is only described in an east to west direction, and severely so.  It is really hard in places (usually critical, like west of the pass in the Circle Cliffs) to envision the description in reverse.  The maps are only for general planning purposes and the way the mileage points are done in the route description sections are very confusing as the mileage point/location is for where you will end up after following the written description, not where you are.

The single best resource is Continue reading

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The Hayduke Trail (The Burr Trail to Hite), 10/12

Part Two- Burr Trail to Hite

Oct. 22nd-26th

~70 miles walked

Day 8

49 degrees the low and still at daylight but the wind blew like hell again last night and the clouds were passing through all night, must be a front blowing in.

Easy walking up Swap canyon on the hard clay wash.  The geology of Swap and Tarantula mesas is all very young rocks mostly shales and mudstones with some soft sandstones interleaved.  We get to the springs and they run for a quarter mile or more and look quite clean as opposed to the reports of “manky” water.

They actually start flowing up a right hand/east fork that we take to get up into a sandstone rimmed amphitheater guarded by point 6064 that looked like some big temple and that in the end we would almost circumnavigate once up on Swap mesa.

We find the route up through to the top of the mesa.  Continue reading

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