Friday, March 30, 2012

Ten Essentials Series - Fire Starter

This entry is the start of a series I'm going to call the "Ten Essentials Series."  In this series of blog entries, which will probably span a few weeks or so, I will talk specifically to the items in your "Ten Essentials" kit that you should never hit the trail without.  If you recall, I posted a blog entry some time ago, where I briefly described each of the Ten Essentials.  Now, I'm ready to get into the nitty gritty and post up some details as well as a few pictures to help get you started.  In this first entry, I'm going address fire making.  What I'm going to specifically talk about is my personal setup because it's easier this way.  Be aware that there are as many fire starting kits as there are opinions about how fire should be made.  This is simply one way of doing it.  You may tailor yours to suit your needs and your climate, but these basic tips should help point you in the right direction.

First off, we need to incorporate some kind of matches.  I use these matches I found on Amazon.com.  This is the UCO Stormproof match kit.  If you don't want to use Amazon, you can find them at REI.  This match kit features a waterproof container with a rubber seal, a replaceable striking surface, and 25 storm-proof matches that relight even when submerged in water.  They are highly wind-resistant and they are extra long to help keep your fingers from being burnt.

In the lid, mine came with a piece of cotton, which is probably used to keep them from rattling around inside, but could also be used as an improvised piece of tinder to get kindling going.

Now, you might ask, "Why do I need matches?  Fires aren't allowed at Mt Rainier Natl Park."  Well, you don't always hike at Mt Rainier do you?  Besides, unless you have a camp stove with autostart, you need to light it somehow, right?  Additionally, just because the rules say "no fires" doesn't mean you shouldn't make one in the event that you, or a member of your party needs to get warm in a hurry or dry out critical gear.  I'm not saying to disregard the rules, but in an emergency, you have to do what you have to do to survive.  In the decision of risking a fine for prohibited fire in the park, or a head stone, I'll take the fine any day.

Another item you should always have in your kit, which is not pictured, is a simple bic lighter.  You don't need anything fancy.  You just need a disposable lighter.  They come in handy so often.  If using your cheap convenience store lighter for mundane tasks saves you from using your life saving matches unnecessarily, then it's money well spent.  Why waste a perfectly good stormproof match to light a stove when it is 65 degrees outside, sunny, with no wind?

Another item to have in the kit is a fire starter.  I like this little one from Ultimate Survival Tehnologies.  It is called The SPARKIE.  It weighs less than an ounce, yet it delivers high intensity sparks right where you want them.  In the photo above, you see the flint rod deployed.  The photo on the left shows the flint rod stowed.  The nice thing about this fire starter is that operation of it is completely one-handed.  The body is shaped so that the fire starter is held by your index finger and thumb.  It's kind of hard to describe the operation in words and pictures, but I will include a video below to show how it is done.  It is very easy.

You should also carry tinder in some form or another.  UST sends you a wrapped piece of tinder with your fire starter, but I prefer to use dryer lint as my medium for getting a flame going.  The dryer lint is virtually moisture free, and if kept in a waterproof bag, it will stay that way.  One tiny spark, and it goes up instantly, burns hot, but goes out quickly.  You should always gather your fuel, process firewood and kindling, and get dry tinder before you attempt to light a fire.  Once you have gathered some natural tinder, process your kindling, and have your fuel logs all prepped and ready, you place the lint down on your tinder and press the fire starter into it.  Instant flame.  Now, if you do your part to get your fire going, using good fire craft skills, then you will have a sustainable fire.  Later this year, I might shoot a series of videos on some survival tasks, but for now, I'll stick to gear and philosophy.

As far as portability goes, what are we sacrificing in weight to carry these items?  Well, many fire starters, by themselves, weigh in at over 2 ounces.  This setup, with just the fire starter and the match kit, weighs in at 2 1/2 ounces.  That's not bad when you consider the positive benefits of having fire starting capabilities.  Now, I didn't weight it with tinder or other supplies because whatever you choose will vary, and what you want to saddle yourself down with is completely up to you.  I've seen people use parafin wax and sawdust melted into ice cube trays as their initial fuel to get the tinder going.  I've also used fire paste, which is my favorite for car camping.  It is essentially Napalm in a tube.  It lights up, burns for a good amount of time, and gets anything around it going with a healthy little flame.  The weight of the tube and the paste is 3.75 ounces, so if your situation can bear the weight, go with it.  For me, I'll skip the paste when I'm trying to travel 1,000 feet of vertical elevation in 1 mile.  I like the drier lint and whatever materials I can scavenge while in the woods.

All of these items go into a common ditty bag with my other ten essentials and small gear.  I used to have different bags with compartments and stuff, but in the end, all the gear ended up in one bag by the end of the trip anyway, so I said to hell with it and now I just use one common bag.  It saves a tremendous (well in ounce speak) of weight because there is less material with just one bag vs a lot of different ones.  Besides, when you go to get your piece of gear, you simply need only grab one bag and all your crap is in it.  Get a heavy mesh bag so you can see your stuff inside without rifling through it with your hand.  Just keep sharp things either sheathed or separate.  One last thing about the bag: make sure it is highly visible so you can see it at night.

Alright, it's movie time.


See, that wasn't so hard, was it?  It is very easy to use and they are cheap.  You can buy the SPARKIE at REI for about $10 or choose Amazon.com.  Sometimes, you can get them for half of what REI is charging.  All in all, for about $15 to $20, you have amazing fire starting capabilities at your fingertips that your grandfather... heck, your father could have only dreamed about.

-James

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Gold Creek Trail Hike at Green Mountain

I'm a couple of days late on my trail report because I was waiting for my wife to process all the photographs she took from our hike.  On Sunday, we headed out to Belfair, Green Mountain specifically.  We hiked the Gold Creek Trail, which meets up with the Vista trail near the top of the mountain.  Mileage for this hike was 5 miles round trip.  We took the Plummer trail on the return because of the promise of some Olympic Mt views, and we were not disappointed.  Elevation gain was 1000 feet one way.  This is a good hike.  I really enjoyed the elevation profile and the view was amazing at 1639 feet.

The trail head.  Yep, the whole family was present for this one.

For this hike, I wanted to get my son used to walking the trails, so we had him trucking right behind me for the first half mile or so.  Notice I'm wearing his Kelty FC 3.0 child carrier backpack; always ready.

My son really enjoyed his independence along the easy part of the trail.

Lindsay and our baby girl.

At the Vista Trail junction. Daddy now baby-wearing his son. 

In a rare moment, Lindsay finally got a shot of all of us looking at the camera: My son, Kobun the dog, and me.

These friendly little birds were at the top.

A little haze in the air, and the lighting was the greatest, but Lindsay was able to make this photograph pretty nice in black and white.

On the return, only 1/3 a mile to go.

Just truckin' along the trail.  Nothing to see here. :)

This is a nice photo of my son on the Gold Creek Bridge.

We Made it!  Okay, this one's a little out of sequence, but this is the top.  You can see for miles!
-James

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Week 22

Week 22 brings with it no complaints and no issues to report.  I did alright this week.  To start, let's get the numbers out of the way.  Upon weighing in this morning, I found myself at 255 and some change.  That's better than goal weight for this week, and I'm now down 61 lbs overall for the program; just 39 lbs to go!

We are all getting sick!  Lindsay got the worst of it Thursday to Friday, but she is still feeling very run down.  She was a trooper today, however.  She came out and hiked up to Green Mountain with me even though she had a hard time.  Kudos!

I started Jeff's extra program.  A couple of days this week, I hit it really hard.  We are working on building my aerobic fitness up now that a good portion of the weight has been shed.  It helped out today because even with my 40+ lbs load-out, I didn't have a difficult time breathing and my legs didn't want to crap out on me as they have in previous hikes.  That's a plus.  I've been walking on the tread climber at the gym.  Holy crap!  You want a good leg workout?  Walk on that for 5 minutes!  Jeez!  After 30 minutes of hitting the elliptical really hard, finishing up on the tread climber is brutal!  I love the burn I get in my legs though.  I'm going to continue using that machine a couple days a week because it simulates a steep hill ascent so effectively.

While talking to Lindsay about how much weight I've lost, she made the comment, "Now imagine if you had to put all that in a backpack and hike with it."  Um, no!  I told her that I'd rather not, and mused to myself about what it would be like to go trucking up that trail with all that extra weight on me.  I'd be tired as hell by the time I got to the top.  No wonder fat people are always out of breath and sweaty.  The irony is that they'd feel much better about themselves if they'd just build up the constitution to lose the weight.  I encourage any of my overweight friends to seriously get into a program, and go on a diet.  Trust me when I say, the benefits are so worth it!  You cannot begin to imagine how good I feel, how young I feel and how vital I've become.  It's fantastic!

Even a little nature walk around a pond used to be difficult for me.  My hands would get all clammy, my legs would want a rest, and I felt like crap in general.  Not anymore.  These days, I'm ready to get moving and want to walk long distances because it feels good to get that burn on.  I know my wife would disagree with me, and that's okay.  You start working out, feeling that endorphin rush, and when it is all over, you start wanting it more.  If this is an addiction, I'll take it over drugs, alcohol, and food any day.  Doing this stuff literally gives me a high that I can't explain.

I have a nice video update here.  Included with the typical update stuff, the metrics, and so forth, I have a short clip at the beginning of the hike we all went on today.  It was just perfect, all colds aside.  The family was together, the sun was out, and we enjoyed a nice simple picnic at the top of Green Mountain.  This is what it's all about folks.


-James

Saturday, March 24, 2012

No Compromises; GSI Halulite Kettle

13.25 ounces with stove and Utensils Inside
If I had seen this kettle when I bought my MSR Alpine Stowaway Pot, I might have given serious pause to going with the much heavier and much larger MSR.  This is the GSI Halulite 1 quart kettle, and it is much lighter.  Compared to the 19.5 ounce MSR, the GSI kettle only weighs in at 5.5 ounces naked.  That's light!  In my previous entry about cook pots, I mentioned the fact that I really like the MSR pot for it's size, despite the fact that it is a bit on the hefty side.  Indeed, the weight savings from such a large pot more than made up for the dry weight of the pot itself.  Now, if only you could stow your stove, utensils and a few other necessary things for much less weight, then you'd really have something going for you.  The GSI kettle does have something going for it because it does indeed fit all your essentials and comes in a lot lighter.  In the photograph to the left, you can see this kettle, with my MSR Superfly stove, my MSR folding utensils and a neat MSR Universal Canister Stand stowed away inside.  The pack weight: 13.25 ounces!  That's a 6.25 ounce savings over the weight of the MSR Alpine Pot alone!  Lighter is better, especially when you're talking about a man-portable cooking system.

Oh, but what about the rest of the crap I intended to store in the MSR pot?  Well, everything you saw pictured in the last entry, sans the knife sharpener, fits into this kettle, so I'm not losing anything... except for some weight.  When it comes to pack weight, you need to speak in the language of ounces saved vs ounces gained.  No piece of gear you have should be measured in terms of lbs because it is such a misnomer to the uninformed backpacker.  I could easily say that this cooking system weighs just under a lb, but that doesn't mean anything to anybody except for what they know; and who really knows what a lb is?  People know ounces.  You say something weighs 5 ounces, they know it's light.  You say something weighs half a lb, it doesn't mean anything.  What it all boils down to is what that weight feels like on the trail.  On a short 5 mile hike, a few ounces won't mean a whole lot to you.  On a 50 mile hike, a few ounces is the difference between being completely miserable and enjoying your time in nature.  To those who say, "Don't be a wuss," I say ruck it up with Grandpa's old camp stove and cast iron pot, and then tell me how your vacation was.


Here are the contents and the kettle.  You've seen the utensils before, but you haven't really seen the stove.  As you can see, mine's had some use in the field.  The burner discoloration is normal.  There is a lot of heat coming off that sucker!  In the bottom middle, you can see the canister stand.  It's job is to stabilize the canister and basically create a wider footprint for the entire setup.  Stability is a good thing when you are trying to boil water or cook some Top Ramen on surfaces that may or may not be perfectly level.


The setup.  The fuel canister does stow in the pot, but the stove does not fit with it.  That's a non-issue because I generally store my fuel in a separate place on my pack anyway.  Plus, the canister is more durable than the comparatively more sensitive and fragile stove.  This isn't to say the stove is fragile itself; it's durable.  There are just some things that I prefer to keep safe from being banged around by other gear or trail obstacles.  You can stuff a canister between a few pairs of shirts and it is completely protected.  The stove, on the other hand, is more susceptible to damage from other things.  As with the stove, the utensils and the stand are protected when stowed away inside.


Room to spare.  The stove gets in through the opening for the lid, barely.  Yeah, you have to put it inside in a sequence, and it comes out in a different sequence.  It seems like a pain in the butt, however, it stays put once inside and won't rattle around.  There's enough room in their for a couple other things, like a mini salt/pepper shaker, small knife, flashlight, etc.  It just depends on what your cooking system is going to be.  I'm pretty basic, so this will work for me.


Here's a few more pictures of the canister stand.  It weighs in at 1.2 ounces and folds up for storage like so.


Once opened, it creates a wide base with a triangular footprint.  The spring-loaded canister adjuster is made of abs plastic.  On the other legs, you have two hooks to accommodate different size fuel canisters.


To mount, you simply place the canister in the appropriate hooks on each leg without the adjustment.  Then pull the spring-loaded adjuster away from the canister with your fingers.


Once the canister rests on the leg, you simply let the adjuster press against the base of the fuel canister.  Note how the bottom rim of the canister is now captured.  I can hold the whole stand upside down and the canister does not fall off.  This creates a very wide base for use with larger pots, such as the MSR Alpine Pot that I have, which is a great stove - ideal for short trips, car camping, etc.

I wouldn't say that I'm an ultralight backpacker because there are just some places I refuse to compromise as far as comfort and safety go, but in terms of gear like this, lighter is definitely better.

-James

Monday, March 19, 2012

My thoughts after all this time.

It's been a while since I have had the time to post to this blog.  There are a couple of things I want to mention today that I consider to be noteworthy.

First, I am absolutely proud of the work James has been able to accomplish so far.  A loss of nearly 60 pounds is a tremendous feat for anyone and it is proof that significant weight loss is possible and also a testament of my abilities as a trainer to provide the proper guidance to make this possible.  Yesterday, I had not seen James in quite some time and he comes over to my home a lot thinner.  It's impressive to see how far his gut has receded from where it was originally.  It's also impressive to see his health and his fitness improving.  In two weeks time I will be assessing his body fat, blood pressure, and other things so that I can document these changes on paper.

Second, we're going to be starting a shift in James' program.  For the last 5 months we have been focusing solely on foundational fitness and weight loss.  While these things will continue, we're going to spend a little more time working on his aerobic capacity and increasing his VO2 Max to the point where he will be able to withstand the rigors of the Wonderland Trail hike next year.  I want to see his VO2 Max increase to at least 40mL/kg/min in the next 6 months (he started at 31).  Beyond that, I'm going to try to get him up to near 50mL/kg/min.  I'd be willing to bet he has already made some significant progress because he went from very unfit to exercising most days of the week, a lot of it being aerobic in nature.  In two weeks I will test his VO2 Max and we will know for sure.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Week 21

I don't have a lot to report on this week.  I came, I saw, and I kicked a little butt.  Of course, all that hard work only netted me about 1 lb of weight loss.  Jeff and I talked about switching up my workout a bit to start getting better results.

For the first part, it was about getting myself from being a total fat ass to thin.  Well look at me now!  It's no longer about getting me thin.  That's already happened.  Oh sure, I still have a bit of a gut, but it is hardly noticeable.  What we need to focus more on is getting my VO2 Max increased so I can have better endurance on hikes and during other strenuous activities.  Of course, with efforts shifted toward that, the weight will still fall off because weight loss is a byproduct of working out, eating right, and strength training and conditioning.

Okay, so weight wise, I am sitting at 258 lbs, just 42 lbs shy of my goal of 100 lbs.  Not bad.  I'm hoping to break the 60 lbs lost mark by the end of next week because I really want to say that I've lost 60 lbs.  I can't claim it just yet.

So, for this week's update, I also included a lot of video footage from the Manastash Ridge hike we did today. I like this one. It's spread out, steep and the views are amazing the entire time.  You don't just get a peak of a cool view once in awhile.  It's 360 degrees of awesomeness the entire time.  On the way down, the view of the valley is 180 degrees.  No matter where you look, the views are breathtaking.  Anyway, check out the video.  It's long, I know, but I had fun making it.


-James

Manastash Ridge Hike (The Manstash Hike)

Today's hike was in Ellensburg.  Jeff and I hiked the long-awaited Manstash Ridge Hike.  You read that right!  We call it Manstash.  It's really Manastash, but Manstash is comical.  Anyway, We started out at the trail head just west of Ellensburg at 1542 feet.  The hike was about 2 miles up with 2038 feet of elevation gain, ending at "The Book" viewpoint at 3580 feet.  Total roundtrip distance is about 4 miles.

At the start.  This is a dead end road with parking on the right.

We took the Westberg Trail up straight up the spine of the ridge.

In the distance, you can see the wind mills north of Thorp.

More of the valley to the North.

Jeff stopping to snap a pic or two.

Me!  That shirt makes me look thin, LOL!

"The Book" is the highest point in this photograph.

Definitely the most memorable part; mud!  Mud everywhere.  My boots were definitely not suited for it.

We Made it!  We are standing at "The Book."  3580 feet.

If you look closely, you can see where the beginning of the ridge is.

Closely now.  This is the last descent off the ridge, and it was steep.  Of all the times I could have slipped and fallen on my butt, I did it here at the last part.  Go figure!
-James

Thursday, March 15, 2012

MSR Folding Utensils

I was at the local sporting goods store today.  I was looking for ways to put my backpack on a diet as well as myself.  On my trip around Mt Rainier, every ounce saved is going to be a huge benefit to me and my back.  I have a utensil set that I purchased a few years ago.  The set I have consists of a metal fork, knife, and spoon held together with a small metal carabiner.  The set doesn't weigh much, but as I said, anywhere I can shave weight is better than nothing.

Normally, I don't buy into things made from all this high tech nylon plastic stuff, but at $5 a piece, each MSR folding utensil is cheap enough to use, abuse and destroy without worrying about breaking the bank.  If I like them enough, then I'll buy a couple spares.  I already bought a separate spoon to keep in my work van.  Of course, I took it over to Panda Express to give it a test run.  If a fork is going to hold up against being stabbed through Panda Express's overcooked Orange Chicken, then it is tough enough for my use.  As a note, I've busted the little prongs right off the forks supplied by Panda.  It did well.  The long length of the extended handle feels a bit odd at first; it's as if you are trying to eat with a soup ladle.  After a few minutes, it was a non-issue.  The pivot point locks in the open position, but there is some play.  There isn't much.  Fortunately, the fork opens out, so the weight of food won't cause it to fold over itself.  If the bit of slop in the pivot bothers you, then you might want to look for something else.  For me, for what I paid and what I know it is, I can deal with it.  It doesn't bother me.  I just noticed it while eating.

MSR doesn't make a knife.  You don't need one anyway.  If you already have a knife on you, use that.  These utensils seem well constructed.
Folded up, they get compact, and store neatly in a cup.
Folded up, the MSR folding utensils aren't much shorter than my other fork and spoon, but the difference is appreciable if you are trying to pack small.  Additionally, the weight savings is worth note: 7/8 of an ounce for the folding set vs 2 1/4 ounce for the metal set.  That's a savings of 1 3/8 ounce.  It's not much, but every ounce eventually adds up... or gets taken away.

-James

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Week 20

I can't believe I'm in week 20 of my program!  How many months is that?  I've been at this 5 months!  It's been worth it too.  I'm losing weight on my terms and I'm living life better than I have in the last few years!

I lost 2 lbs this week, so I'm slowly getting back into the saddle after last week's mess up.

I was able to get in a makeup hike this week, so I only need to make up two other hikes and I'll be on track for "52 Hikes in 52 Weeks."  Today, I knocked out an interesting diversion from my normal hiking style.  Went over the Narrows bridge twice.  It was windy as hell out there and on my way back, I found myself smack dab in hail, sleet, rain & snow mix, and I couldn't have been happier.  I love being outdoors, even if that outdoors is an urban setting.  I plan doing some more urban type walks because they are close and can be interesting.  Plus, with the warmer weather on the way, the daylight lasting longer, and the need to be with family as strong as ever, some of these "walks" will be a good way to get us all out of doors enjoying life and good health.

This week's update is short, but when all is well, there's not much to say.  Just keep on keepin' on.


-James

Tacoma Narrows Bridge Stroll

Today, I decided to do something a little different.  I walked across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and back.  Total distance was 3.4 miles round trip according to Google Earth.  Not a bad little stroll.  The wind was something fierce.  I'll let the pictures tell the story.

Started at War Memorial Park in University Place.

The Narrows Bridges coming into full view.

On the pathway leading to the bridge.

Finally!  On the bridge deck.

Halfway across.

Taking a quick look back.  Getting ready to head down the other side.

We made it!  Well, it was just me today.  Taking shelter from the insane wind for a moment.

Another gratuitous photo of the bridges.

Ideal weather for sailing.  The winds were blowing so hard out there.

Rainstorm looming.  I didn't quite make it out before the hail started pelting me.
-James