02 May 2012

CAMP X3 600 Ski Pack Review @ Backpacking Light

This is the day backpack that I used for backcountry skiing all last year. Could have been a pretty good pack, but there were some serious flaws...
CAMP X3 600 Ski Pack Review @ Backpacking Light

11 April 2012

Skiing Tahoe's Deep Creek

It has been a challenging winter for us backcountry skiers. We've had to be patient through the dry periods, and then chase the storms for fresh snow. The risks are higher as new snow can increase avalanche danger, as well as make the roads treacherous (of the two, the latter is really the bigger risk).

As much as we try to plan our weekends, we've also had to be flexible with our trips. Two weeks ago, we were set to ski the whole weekend, staying at our friend's house in Truckee (Thanks again Treesh!). However, the start of the storm was warm, dropping rain instead of much-needed snow. Moreover, visibility was minimal and winds were up to 100mph.

We delayed our trip for one day, hanging out at home while the rain poured down here, hoping it was turning to snow up there!

Sunday morning came and we woke early. Not exactly with delight, but with a half-hearted determination. After several hours of driving, we finally parked at what we thought might be our destination: Deep Creek.

We didn't have good directions, there were no road or trail signs, and I couldn't pull up a map on my iPhone as I had no reception. However, there were two other cars parked there, and ski tracks heading up the first hill. Whether or not this was the right place, we were going anyways.

Skinning up was not easy as the slope was steep and snow was sticking to our skins, reducing their grip. 

Deep Creek is located on the west side of 89, less than 5 miles south of highway 80 and Truckee. The trail starts with a few switchbacks, zigzagging up the hill. Then the trail flattens out and continues westward along the drainage, adjacent to the namesake creek. At this point, most skiers turn south and skin up the ridge, until they get to where they want to descend. We didn't know this and so continued along the creek's edge until we met some other skiers returning to their car. They were very helpful in pointing us in the right direction.

We did two big laps on the north side of the mountains. It was very, very challenging getting up the mountain, and the skiing down was difficult in it's own right.  Deep snow, steep slopes, dense tree growth, and most importantly - poor planning. The trip would have been much easier had I done more research beforehand. Too often, that is the story. Somehow my amazing wife puts up with my ineptitude! (Or is it laziness?)

What is she looking at?

Oh that's right, the incredible skiing conditions! This was one of the few open areas to ski. You can see our skin tracks on the far right. 

This was much more representative of our day - weaving around the trees.

The hard work was worth it though.

After our first run, K. agreed to do a second lap as long as we could take a break by building a snowman. Agreed.

The second lap was harder than the first, but also that much more rewarding.





Sunday night we ate two dinners. And two desserts.

Amazingly, K worked for two hours so that we could spend the night in Truckee and ski the next morning. What a trooper!

Monday morning rolled around, we had a light breakfast and drove to Pole Creek (one drainage south of Deep Creek). We skied half an hour uphill before agreeing that this was dumb. The snow had gotten warm the day before and then froze at night, so now it was crust. Backcountry skiing would be miserable. We skied back to the car, drove a few miles south, and spent the next 90 minutes skiing the mostly empty slopes of Alpine Meadows. It was fun to ski a few long runs WITHOUT having to work for it!

Top of Alpine Meadows with Lake Tahoe behind me. 
Next weekend we are skiing at Kirkwood resort for one day, then backcountry skiing into the Bradley Hut where we'll stay for two nights. This will probably be our last ski trip of the year. Look for the trip report and photos next week.

*     *     *     *     *
2 Years Ago: Saying Goodbye to Bogota, Colombia

05 April 2012

Diablo Trails Challenge 50k, #2

Wind turbines to the south of Mount Diablo, as seen from the summit. 
I've learned a few things as I've gotten into trail running and am now preparing for two ultra marathons. You can read my six tips for helping you train:

I'd be very appreciative to any one who leaves a comment for the article. Thanks!

03 April 2012

Berghaus Octans 40 Review @ Backpacking Light

Testing the pack in Chamonix, France. 
My review has been published on the adventure race Berghaus Octans 40 pack in Backpacking Light Magazine. Read it here!

Also, I am trying to sell an amazing down jacket that I got for K, but it was tad too small. It is the Rab Infinity, womens small, still brand new. Click here to learn more. 

The Best All-Around Headlamps

Sunset at 10,000' on Mount Shasta. Better hope your headlamp works for that 2am alpine start! 

In two years of traveling and blogging, I have yet to write one product review for Trek Together. This would shock most of my friends and co-guides, as I'm known as a bit of a gear junkie. 

It is true: I tend to study websites, catalogs and press releases in my spare time. I know a lot about what's on the market. But unlike the stereotypical gear junkie, I actually don't buy much. Sure, I went through a phase where I acquired a lot of gear pretty quickly as I was just getting into many new sports. 

Since then, however, I've reduced my arsenal to a fairly minimal level. This progression (regression?) started before traveling, but certainly after selling most of my belongings and living out of a backpack for two years, I've grown fond of the Spartan lifestyle. So while I love exceptional gear and am always interested in new technologies, I'll only review gear that I feel is of value to you. My focus will be on simple, lightweights products that are versatile. Enough said. On to the first review!

3am on Mount Shasta. Five minutes to refuel before continuing our climb.

Headlamps might be one of the un-sexiest products, but they are probably the most useful. One good headlamp can be used for reading at camp, hiking at night, alpine starts, cycling around town, and even at home. It's worth doing a little research and spending $40 on a good headlamp that will last you ten years, rather than skimp on a generic one from a big box store for $15. 

After extensive use, abuse and review, I have determined that the two following headlamps are excellent and would be ideal for most users. Both headlamps weigh less than three ounces and take AAA batteries. They accept rechargeable Lithium batteries, which is a newer development. The strap is adjustable and helmet-compatible. Both headlamps are fairly weather resistant, durable, and easy to use with one button. 

The Spot and Tikka have a very bright central LED, which is what I use if I'm actively moving at night, like getting to a campsite after dark or starting up Mount Shasta at 2am. The light is too bright to use casually around camp, and it also wears out the battery quickly. So the headlamps also have a smaller white LED for reading and camp chores, as well as a red LED for maintaining night vision. I love this latter feature as it really allows me to have a better picture of what's around me, rather than what's illuminated directly in front of me. All white LEDs are dimmable. Finally, there is a small indicator light that flashes when the batteries are getting low. This is helpful in case you are about to start an activity, like a midnight hike. 

Most headlamps that are smaller/lighter do not have the variety of lighting options to make them useful at camp and on the trail at night. Larger headlamps are heavy, unwieldy, and unnecessary considering the brightness and longevity of modern LED bulbs. 

Black Diamond Spot

The Spot has a powerful 90 lumen LED that last 50 hours on maximum brightness. Of the other four small lights, two are red LEDs and two are white. I use the white lights for eating and reading. I use the red LEDs all other times at night. The red LEDs allow me to maintain good night vision as my pupils don't dilate as much. 

Petzl Tikka Plus

The Tikka Plus has a less powerful white LED, rated at 50 lumens. At maximum brightness, this will still throw light 35 meters (115 feet). So, that's still plenty powerful! However, Petzl went with a simpler setup by using only one white LED, but allowing it to be dimmed significantly and last 150 hours. There is also only one red LED, which works to the same effect as the Black Diamond Spot. 

The Tikka Plus clearly has a more svelte appearance, but they are nearly identical in size. The casing on the Tikka Plus is also transparent. While this doesn't serve a practical purpose, it looks pretty cool.

 The Tikka Plus has a larger button than the Spot. However, the Spot's button protrudes more, which makes it easier to find by touch. Additionally, the strap attachment is beefier on the Spot. Both headlamps have a pivot to allow directional adjustment to the beam of light.

[Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in reviewing these headlamps. However, I do received a very small commission if you buy anything through this Amazon link. This helps pay for this website and photo hosting. If you'd prefer, you can go directly to Amazon, search for these products, eliminate my commission, and give Amazon all of your money. Either way, you pay the same price.]

*     *     *     *     *
1 Year Ago: Hiking and skiing in Chamonix, France
2 Years Ago: Minimizing Risk

30 March 2012

Diablo Trails Challenge 50k

I recently started volunteering at Save Mount Diablo, a local non-profit that focuses on land preservation and restoration as well as environmental education. Sounds like a perfect fit for me!

Save Mount Diablo is hosting a 5k, 10k, 21k, and 50k trail race on Earth Day (April 21). If you're in the area, you should consider running/walking one of the races. If that's not your cup of tea, then please help out by volunteering in the morning. Comment below if you're interested and I'll put you in touch with the right person.

Oh, and I'm writing about my progression as a runner and training for this race for a local newspaper. My first article is now published

29 March 2012

Peter Grubb Hut Ski Trip

You know the cliche: when it rains, it pours? Well, we've been having a severely dry winter up until three weeks ago. Then it started pouring. And it's been that way every since. 

Rain here brings a smile to my face, and not because of the positive ions. Rain down here means snow up in the Sierras. And it couldn't have come at a better of time. 

Flash back to November, when K made reservations for the Peter Grubb Hut near Donner Pass (NW of Lake Tahoe). There are a few huts in the Tahoe area and reservations fill up quickly for winter weekends. K was able to make reservations for Sunday through Tuesday. The timing lined up with Spring Break, and seasonally usually means good snow and longer days. 

Flash forward to the Saturday prior to our trip. It was raining here, snowing up there. Not just snowing, but dumping. Multiple feet per day of fresh snow. I don't think we would have gone on this trip had this giant storm system not come through. 

Our trip was a great success. I can't thank K enough for organizing this trip, and B for flying half way across the country to join us, and E for being E. 

Peter Grubb Hut.
A few notable things from this trip:
  • We didn't have a map or GPS. This is pretty standard for me. However, we were trying to find the hut in a near whiteout snow storm, which covered most snow tracks. Using our memory and a few navigation techniques, we got pretty close to the hut. Eventually we resorted to using our iPhone which showed the location of us, the trial, and the hut. It was almost too easy. Of course, this is not something to be relied on. But still, it's amazing!
  • The Peter Grubb Hut is really well designed and in a fantastic location. However, the enjoyment of your trip is related to many things out your control, mostly weather (in our case: snow!) and hut-mates (in our case: a huge group with several snorers)
  • While skiing on day two, we met Louise, a 70 year old woman who was backcountry skiing by herself. She is an incredibly athletic, accomplished person that was kicked our butts up and down the mountain! 
  • Louise mentioned the Tahoe Vertical Challenge.  This is a fairly new website where backcountry skiers can log how much vertical they ski each day. In addition to building the backcountry skier community, it also benefits the Sierra Avalanche CenterAlpenglow Sports has agree to donate a certain monetary amount for each foot of vertical recorded. As of today, skiers have logged 5.5 million feet! That sounds great, but it's still a far way from the target of 15 million feet. So if you ski, snowboard, or snowshoe in the backcountry, please sign up at TahoeVertical.com and start logging your activities!
All smiles on the way in . . . until we got lost in a white out. 

E. skiing along Castle Ridge

We started the second day with avalanche transceiver practice. This was B's first time using a transceiver, or backcountry skiing for that matter, but you would never be able to tell! 

B. on her way up. 

We had to quickly adjust our group photo as my camera, on a 10-second timer, started tilting downwards. 

Discussing our options.

Who wouldn't be happy here?

And this is why we do it! E. getting in some great turn on her tele skis. 

Our day: skin up, ski down. Repeat. 

Winds were supposed to be gusting 70-100 mph. I don't know how it didn't wipe the smile off of B's face!

You can see the snow whipping across me.

Taking cover behind a tree while planing our descent. 

My favorite photo. 

They keep coming back for more.

We followed Louis' advice to find the best powder. It was worth the extra climb.

Sporting our Berghaus Velum Smock (l) and Jacket (r).

The hut one morning after a good snowfall. 

We dug a snow pit to test the snow layers. E. Measured the snow depth at almost 2 meters, which is quite low for us.
How many people can we fit in this snow pit?

E. isolating a column of snow with her Black Diamond Saw.

K. thought she'd bring home an snow block.

Last descent of the trip and it's coming down hard!

B. - a natural rock star.

Second favorite photo. More subtle.
Do we have to go home? 

*     *     *     *     *
1 Year Ago: Southern France
Published photo essay: Argentina's Lake District
2 Years Ago: Bogota, Colombia