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Rockwall: the Featherweight Division

I got some groceries, some peanut butter
To last a couple of days
But I ain’t got no speakers, ain’t got no headphones
Ain’t got no records to play

Talking Heads

We Love the Rockwall Trail

On our recent third hike of the Rockwall Trail in Kootenay National Park, Fiona and I were discussing trail runners and ultralight backpackers. The Rockwall is everything we love in a mountain trail, with beauty everywhere around you. It also has a few mountain passes to climb.

We were due for an adventure together, and though we are both hooked on bikerafting trips, we also like hiking and we decided that the long weekend was a good time to test our limits in terms of minimizing what we take with us on a hike. We’ve done the trail as a 6 day trip, and with the skimpy packs, we’ve booked campsites to do it in 3 days, 2 nights. Availability on the long weekend was sparse, so our Friday and Sunday are both over 20km while the middle Saturday is a mere 8km.

How Low Can We Go?

Each year, my pack gets lighter. I try to take less stuff every trip, but I still carry a massive pack by ultralight standards. One of the goals of this hike is to cut back to an absolute minimum when it comes to weight. The idea is that even with longer distances, the hike will be more enjoyable when our packs are barely noticeable.

The goal is 5 pounds for Fiona’s pack, and 15 pounds for mine.

What do we Really Need?

I don’t mess with safety. If I need it to be safe, or to keep Fiona safe, I’m bringing it. That means my InReach Mini gets a free 100g ride, along with 350g of bear spray. The first aid kit is getting stripped down to a backcountry minimum, mostly gauze and duct tape which should cover bleeding emergencies, with ingenuity left over for splints.

Stoves are great, and anyone who knows me knows my love for coffee, but a stove, fuel, and pot, not to mention the coffee grinder and Aeropress. Food is going to be stove-free. Water filters are great, but if we want to count grams, even the lightest is going to weigh us down. Mountain stream water in BC is generally drinkable right from the stream, with the exception of Giardia, and a couple of grams of tablets will deal with more water than we can possibly drink in a week.

Nobody wants to sleep in the rain, so shelter matters. We have a selection of shelters, but our usual is my home made tarp which comes in under 450g with pegs. I’ll use my hiking poles this trip so I don’t have to use sticks or find trees to hold the tarp up. Our quilts are good down to about -10ºC, and we shouldn’t see colder than that. We discussed bringing closed-cell foam mats, but our Therm-a-Rest Neoair X-Therm mats are only a little heavier and a lot more compact.

My spare clothing is a wool puffy jacket, a Buff, wool longjohns, and a pair of wool socks. Fiona’s is similar. A mylar space blanket poncho and a cinch-sack rain skirt pass as rainwear. I plan on rocking a Buff as an all-purpose hat.

Toothbrushes, toothpaste, a couple of sports-drink bottles for water, and toilet paper pretty much round up the rest.

My pack, and all the contents. red bag is food, blue is clothing.

 

That’s a Wrap!

The food plan is to bring leftover thin-crust pizza, bean and cheese burritos, and peanut butter and honey wraps as our main food, with some Cliff Smoothie bars as snacks. Without my beloved coffee in the morning, I’m bringing some chocolate-covered coffee beans for breakfast.

Pack it in!

I have been using a 1982 Lowe Alpine pack. It is massive, and carries lots of stuff for the family, but it weighs 6 pounds empty. Instead for this trip I will be using my HMG pack which is just over 2 pounds. Fiona is getting in on the pack lightening with a summit pack that has less support and less weight than her usual one.

By the Book

We would normally bring a book to read in the evenings, when we aren’t ready to sleep but do feel like a rest, but books are heavy. As a compromise, we will bring an encyclopedia containing all scientifically proven astrology – total weight 0 grams.

Are You Ready to Rock?

With the packs full, and a bottle of water, Fiona will be carrying 7 pounds, or 3.2kg. My Pack without food but with a full water bottle is 14 pounds (6.3kg) after I add food for 3 days that goes up to 10.3kg, or 22.8 pounds. We’ll let you know how it goes.

 

 

 

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Fish Lakes Adventure – F****ing Porcupines, Kickboxing with Grouse, Hail, Snow, Mosquitoes, and More.

The difference between an adventure and an ordeal is attitude.

Bob Bitchin

Fish Lakes and Pipestone Pass are two of the most beautiful places in the Canadian Rockies. We’ve been before, and we’ll be back, but this time we brought our friends to show them one of our favourite hikes.

The Hike

The hike is gorgeous, especially from km 8-16 to Fish Lakes, and our day hike 18km through Pipestone Pass and back. There are not enough good things to say about the mountains, the flowers, the rocks, and more. This is not a hike that one regrets doing.

But That’s Not What This Story is About…

What a Sap!

The trip up the pass featured our first interesting event. Fiona’s braces had a bracket break in an unfortunate granola bar incident. She didn’t have any wax with her to keep the braces from irritating her mouth. A trail query failed to produce a hiking orthodontist, but it did spark a discussion about wax-like substances, and coupled with a book I had recently read about birch bark canoes, using sap from trees seemed like a viable option. Level 1 complete.

The Perils of Camping by a Boggy Lake

Upper Fish Lake is Stunning. Mountain lakes are generally an attractive lot, but this one goes to 11.

But, it’s surrounded by marsh.

At first glance, apocalyptic mosquitoes might seem tragic, but aside from photobombing the rainbow pictures, and falling into our dinner by the dozen, and of course sucking our blood, the mosquitoes motivated us to hike up the Pipestone River to Pipestone Pass and beyond. No one complained about the distance of our day hike when the destination was windy enough to be mosquito-free. And mind-blowingly beautiful.

Things May Not Have Been Perfect

There were creeks and marshes to cross.

A Prickly Situation.

Our last night out, we awoke near midnight to some very peculiar sounds. Sounding somewhat like a small whining dog, somewhat like a cat wanting to be fed, and a lot like an out of tune violin, the sound had me up almost right away. I didn’t want to wake anyone else up, so I kept my light off until our friend asked if I knew what the mysterious sounds were.

Porcupines Sure are Cute for Animals that Keep me Awake!

By then, I had seen that they were porcupines, fighting, mating, fighting over mating, whatever they were doing was not conducive to our sleep. It ended up that all of us were awake.  Porcupines are indeed cute, and I got a couple of mediocre pictures before going back to bed. Pretty soon, the porcupines were back at it, at one point one was chewing my pack (right beside Fiona) while another was harassing it (“hey prickly girl, can I buy you a drink?”)

Conveniently, it started raining around 2:30 AM, and apparently porcupines don’t date in the rain.

Rain, Snow, Hail in the Pass

North Molar Pass is not particularly difficult to cross, especially considering how spectacular the views are from the top.

This time round, nature was throwing us a challenge. On the climb to the pass summit, the wind had picked up, and clouds were moving in. As we reached the windiest part, the hail began. The wind-driven hail was not comfortable, but with little choice, we continued. A little past the summit, the hail turned to snow. To the untried, snow doesn’t sound that great, but it is much more comfortable than hail. Slush accumulated on our rain gear.

After the hail and snow, we were well prepared for the rain pouring from the sky and running in creeks down the indented trail. The slippery mud was treacherous, but we continued on.

Chicken Fight!

We were hiking down the trail, at the tail end of the storm when Fiona spotted a “chicken”. Male spruce grouse are attractive birds, with bright red plumage on their brow. We were impressed with the fearlessness of the bird until it attacked our 8-year-old friend’s legs.

The chicken held on while the youngster kicked and ran. Eventually, I kicked it away. The bird tumbled a couple of metres, and I got between it and the rest of our crew. The bird came at me again and again, with me trying my hardest to keep it back without seriously wounding it. After a few dozen metres of kickboxing with the bird on the slippery clay of the trail, I reached the limit of its territory and it stood glaring at me to be sure I wasn’t returning.

We’ll be Back!

In spite of all this, this is still one of our favourite places and this was one of our favourite trips. Having an adventurous weekend is not the kind of thing that turns us off a trail. This mere four-day-trip brought memories and experiences to us that may have challenged us at the time, but at the same time have enriched our lives.

Epilogue

Back when I had the punctured bear spray can empty in my face, my friend Vik suggested that he would not take pictures of my crying on the side of the trail. I told him that no, he should take pictures, because one day it would be funny. I retold that story to the kid who was ravaged by the bird, and in fact, it is a funny story. The kid was able to see the humour in his bird attack as well. None of the other kids in grade 4 are going to have bird attacks on their “How I Spent my Summer” essay.

Note: many of these photos (the good ones) are from Tania, be sure to follow @taniachimo on Instagram.

 

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DIY Packraft Early Review

What the Heck?

Packrafts are inflatable rafts that are light enough to pack on a bike or in a backpack. Though they are all light, many have whitewater capability. In general, the lightest flatwater models weigh 1-3kg and the whitewater styles can be as heavy as 5kg.

I heard about DIYpackraft.com through internet searching. He is a one-man part time operation making raft kits that customers must assemble for themselves. By assemble, I mean cut, align, heat weld, and seal. The kits consist of a pile of fabric scored with the pattern, and some valves. There is an optional TZip waterproof zipper to allow you to open the tube and store bags in it.

I Bought Some.

Manufactured packrafts are great, I’ve tried a few. But I wanted packrafts soon, and that meant I needed to improve drastically on the $4000 cost of a pair of manufactured packrafts. DIYpackraft fit the budget.

I bought the required tools while waiting for the rafts to arrive. They arrived on time, with the password for the instructions, and the kits enclosed in a no-frills wrapping. I was glad to see that I hadn’t wasted money on frivolous packaging.

I Build Some Rafts:

The kits are very basic, the fabric is scored, but needs to be cut out. I was a little disappointed in the depth of the scoring, it was inconsistent and sometimes even hard to see. The uneven scoring was my biggest complaint about the whole experience.

In any case, in about 27 hours I had yellow raft built. Sealing the leaks was definitely not as difficult as some of the customers on the forum complained of, but neither was it easy. In hindsight, I would have practised some large seams like the floor seams before doing the actual raft welding.

Let’s Paddle!

Once the first raft was assembled, it was time to hit the water. I strapped the raft to my bike and fit a test paddle in between running some errands. Though there were some leaks, I could refill on the fly, and I was happy with the performance.

After some quick patching, I was ready to bring a passenger, and by that I mean a kid.

I arranged a field trip with one of my Hobo Daycare™ girls on a day when she was the only client.

The Red Raft:

Once I had the second raft made, I brought Fiona with me. Her paddling experience is limited, and highlighted how well the rafts handle. With a slight load on the front to keep it down and help the raft track, she could manage the raft in the riffles of the river.

Post Testing Use:

I’ve had my rafts out for several weekend outings now, I’ve written about them previously on this blog. While both rafts had some persistent leaking, I’ve only had to re-inflate about once per hour or less. I spent a couple of hours last week doing some further sealing and they seem to be much improved. None of the leaks have been random, they have been consistently in the hardest to seal places, or in places where I made an error in assembly.

Conclusion (for now):

I really like these rafts. After re-working the yellow one due to some deficiencies with my iron, it has been great.

I feel confident taking my rafts up to class 2 rapids (with a bike strapped to the bow!), though by some standards I’ve paddled class 3 with them. I built spray decks for both of them, and they really help keep the waves out.

Make no mistake, these are not an easy weekend project. They require attention to detail and meticulous assembly. They will not forgive poor assembly. I am confident that if I get a third, it will be incrementally better than the first ones.

For those willing to commit the time to assembling them properly, these are a budget-friendly entry into the world of packrafting. For others, these will be a frustrating experience. If you enjoy working with your hands, crafts, or sewing, than these are the bargain start to a packrafting hobby.

Stay tuned for a longer term review some time next year!

Post Script:

Yes, you want the zipper!

Disclaimer:

I bought these with my own money. I have no relationship with DIYpackraft.com other than as a customer. I did not warn him that I was doing this review, nor did he ask me to do it. I did not get a discount for being an obscure winter bikepacking blogger.