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.
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.
Last year’s hike to the Rockwall was spectacular, but trail conditions were a little questionable, and the weather ranged well into the adverse zone with snow, sleet, hail, wind, and rain. We thought we would have another go at it this year to see if we could top our previous experience.
There were many emails warning of bridges out and deadfall and avalanche debris on the trail. We weren’t overly concerned, since last year featured whole days of mostly climbing over deadfall, routefinding over large expanses of snow, avalanche debris, and the very same bridges missing.
We were very concerned about the possibility of smoke obscuring the views, but we saw pictures and heard reports that it was clear, so we went ahead with our trip in spite of some trepidation. It is way less fun to do a world-famous hike when you can’t see the world-famous mountains – we experienced that at Mt. Assiniboine and had no desire for a repeat.
We ended up having the luckiest hike in history. We lucked out on weather, though if we need to complain, a couple of days were too hot and sunny. We were also fortunate that the smoke was elsewhere, and the views were spectacular. The trail crew had been hard at work to clean the trail debris, the missing bridge was a trivial wade across the river, the sun had melted most of the snow, and there was less deadfall for the whole hike than we experienced some days of last year.
[click pictures to enlarge]
One of our ideas for going in later July was that the wildflowers would be in bloom, and we certainly were treated to some impressive displays.
On our third morning we were were alerted to the presence of a bear by some other campers. The bear had come between the two eating areas of the campground after circling the one where we weren’t. We made some substantial noise and the bear left. Our last 5 minutes of hiking were also enlivened with a bear sighting, this time an adult bear about 50m to the side of the trail. We again made some noise, this time with the safety latch of the bearspray off, and we made it to the car with the bear having been last seen heading slowly away from us.
There was the porcupine attack…
I awoke at 1:45 AM to a gnawing sound. I looked out the mosquito net to vaguely discern a shape that was possibly gnawing on Fiona’s flip flop. I bravely attempted to retrieve or bat the flipflop away from the (blurry) large-cat-sized rodent, possibly a large marmot? Fortune smiled upon me once again. The rodent was not a skunk. I am 100% certain of my mammal identification because my swipe at the sandal was interrupted by the pain of a couple of porcupine quills stabbing into the backs of my fingers.
Once I had painfully removed the quills from my flesh, (the backs of fingers fortunately don’t have too deep of flesh before the quills hit bone) mopped up the blood, and calmed down a little, I wanted to go hunt down the porcupine to take a picture of it. I am pretty certain that it was very cute, even though it did a number on the handle of Tania’s hiking pole handle (its actual chewing victim, not the flipflop). Fiona would have no part in the chase, “Dad, it isn’t cute, it’s a porcupine!” For his part, Tadhg was concerned about possible venom in the spines and asked “What if it comes back to eat us?”
The porcupine wounds cleared up, and I hope I have learned an important lesson about finding the flashlight before lashing out at vague shapes in the night.