Thursday, November 26, 2015


Thursday, November 26

I went for a walk in the woods this morning. The sun was bright. The air was crisp.I wore my layers of hiking clothes - flannel, wool and nylon.

As I approached Lake Sawyer, I noticed a rock that had been written on. It said, "Sex Rock". It brought a smile to my face. I imagine there is a good story behind that one!
There must be a good story here
Soon, I wandered the trails following Ravensdale Creek and I began to think about how blessed I am. My hike on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) really gives me a new perspective.

I am thankful for healing. After finishing the hike in late August, I found that my feet ached all the time. It took three months for the pain to subside. At night, I would have to take pain killers to be able to fall asleep, only to wake up in the middle of the night with painful throbbing feet. That is gone now. My toenails are still healing. The nails on my big toes will probably take another two months to fully recover. But they are healing.

I am so thankful for clean and abundant water. On the PCT, water was often a major concern. Where was the next reliable source of water? Sometimes, the reliable source of water would be gone. And, if there WAS water, would it be clean enough to drink? Now, I am so thankful for clean and abundant water. I have a new perspective.

I am thankful for an abundance of food. On the PCT, I often thought about food. I dreamed about going to my favorite pizza restaurant and eating a slice of pizza and downing a cool mug of beer. When I got home, I went back to that restaurant and ordered pizza and beer. Tears flowed down my face as I ate that food, remembering how often I had dreamed about it while on the trail. The taste was amazing!

Tonight, I think my family will be thankful that my hiker hunger is gone. Otherwise, there might not have been enough to go around! But seriously, we are so lucky to be able to obtain and consume delicious food. It is everywhere. I now have a new perspective.

Finally, I am thankful for family and friends. Alone and without phone service on the trail, I walked for days in the middle of the wilderness. And yet, to my delight, when I finally got phone service again, I found messages left for me on my phone! I especially enjoyed the messages left by my "hiking buddies" back home. They left me funny stories that made me laugh, and let me know that they cared. In addition, I got wonderful comments on my blog posts. I often go back and re-read them. I will treasure them forever.

As I headed home on my walk this morning, I saw a beautiful "frost flower".
Frost Flower
Although I have heard that it is rare to see one, I have seen many of them recently. I am so thankful to have such a wonderful place to walk and enjoy the world.

As I neared my home, I walked with a lighter step and a smile on my face. I have so much to be thankful for. And I have a new perspective on life.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

PCT Thru Hike Gear Review - Clothing

For me, choosing the right clothing was difficult. There are so many options. What works for one person might not satisfy another. Here is the clothing I took and what I thought about it.

I took a SmartWool beanie. It is fairly light weight, and is wonderful to wear while sleeping when it is cold. It can also be worn during the day when there is a cold wind and you need some extra warmth.

I would definitely take this again.

Sun Hat
I wore a sun hat every day on my hike. At my age and with my bald head, I needed the protection. But in addition, the hat keeps the sun off the face. My hat was an Outdoor Research Helios hat that I bought at REI.

I found it important to have a hat that wicked away excess moisture and had a draw cord to keep the hat from blowing off. There certainly were a number of windy days and places where a hat without a draw cord would blow off.

I would definitely take this hat again, but might find another hat with a bit more character!

I wore this every day on the trail. It is very light weight, and the material wicks away moisture from the skin.

More importantly, it provides UV protection. Much of the desert has very little shade, and I saw some hikers with very bad sun burns. My buff protected by neck.

In the high Sierras, the buff kept me warmer and provided protection from the sun and the reflected sun from the snow.

In northern California, I hiked during some very hot weather. I found that I could dip my buff into a stream. The cool water would slowly evaporate, keeping me cooler.

I would definitely take this again.

I wore a shirt from RailRiders called the "Madison River" shirt. The shirt is made with nylon/polyester fabric that's lightweight, wrinkle-resistant, odor-resistant, sun-blocking (UPF 30+), and quick-drying. There are side and back vents that provide upper-torso ventilation and air flow.

It was perfect for hiking in the hot desert, and the ventilation helped keep me cool as I made those long climbs.

The fabric was treated with Insect Shield® repellent technology which is invisible, odorless, built right into the fabric, and lasts through 70 washings. When the mosquitoes got really bad, I noticed that they did not like to land on my shirt, and I never did get any bites while wearing it.

There were two shirt pockets and one zippered pocket. I kept my Leatherman, whistle and clippers in one pocket and my sunglasses in the other. I used the zippered pocket for a black sharpie marker, ball point pen and eyeglasses.

RailRiders claims to have the "toughest clothes on the planet". I would agree. The shirt lasted me the entire trip. I only had one small tear in the sleeve.

Although this shirt has been discontinued, RailRiders has other shirts that I would highly recommend.

I would definitely take this again.

Flannel shirt
I decided that I would use "layering" approach to warmth, instead of just taking one jacket. My logic was that I could add or remove layers to better suit the hiking environment.

The flannel jacket is 100% polyester. I felt warm even when it was wet with perspiration. On a cold morning, I would often wear it over my shirt for extra warmth. In the Sierras, there were nights that were really cold. Without the flannel, I would have really been cold.

My only complaint was that the flannel shirt was heavy in comparison to the other shirts and jackets that I carried. It weighted 12.7 ounces.

In retrospect, I would consider getting a warm, light-weight raincoat on my next trip.

Down jacket
 I took a Ghost Whisperer down jacket. It is very light-weight at only 7 ounces. The jacket has a nylon shell and is filled with 800-fill down. It has two zippered pockets and a waist drawstring.

I wore it over my flannel shirt and under my rain jacket when the weather was really cold and windy. On cold nights, I wore the jacket while sleeping. It was also a great item to put on when arriving at my campsite at night. It provided just the right amount of warmth.

I tried wearing the jacket over my shirt while hiking, but the jacket soon became wet with perspiration. The problem was especially bad on my back and arms.

I liked the fact that the jacket is easy to store and packs down into a very small bundle. However, the jacket needs to be protected from the weather. Once I had the jacket stuffed into my pack during a rain storm. The rain soaked into my down jacket. From then on, I always carried it in stuffed in a plastic bag for protection.

I would definitely take this again.

Rain jacket
ZPacks makes great gear for the outdoors, so I got their Challenger rain jacket. It is made from waterproof but breathable material. It has one zippered pocket, a hood, a full-length front zipper, and arm-pit zippers for additional ventilation. The jacket with optional arm-pit zippers weighs only 5.9 ounces.

I wore the jacket mostly for wind protection, but it did well in rain and snow. As advertised, the jacket is waterproof. The breathable material works okay when the temperature outside is cold. It does not work very well when it is warm.

The jacket functioned well over both my flannel and down jackets. The hood came in handy during rainy days to keep water from dripping down my back.

My major complaint about the jacket was the front zipper. I had a very difficult time getting the zipper to engage. It got so bad that I decided to keep it partially zipped, meaning that I had to step into and out of the jacket. For a garment as expensive as this one, I would expect the zipper to work better.

In retrospect, I would NOT take this jacket. I would consider getting a light-weight insulated rain jacket for my next trip. An insulated rain jacket would take the place of this jacket and my fleece.

Sun gloves
These were great. I noticed that a lot of hikers who did not wear sun gloves ended up with a bad sun burn on their hands. I wore these almost every day. They kept my hands protected. As a bonus, they also protected my hands from stickers and bugs.

There were only two drawbacks to using them. First, they tended to get really dirty, which makes sense since they are touching my trekking poles all day long. Second, since they are 3/4-finger length, my hands ended up getting tanned on the fingers. It made for some funny-looking tan marks!

I would definitely take these again.

I carried a pair of light-weight Marmot softshell gloves. I used them when it was really cold, or when I was hiking over snow.

The gloves are not waterproof, so I also brought along a pair of light-weight rubber gloves that would fit over them. In retrospect, I never used the rubber gloves, and would not bring them again.

I used the gloves all along the trail. In the desert, the high mountains can have snow or ice. I encountered snow and ice in the San Jacinto mountains and in the high Sierras. The gloves are great on cold mornings or evenings.

I would definitely take these again.

I wore RailRiders Eco-mesh pants with insect shield. The pants are made from nylon and include leg venting that can be opened for maximum ventilation. There are two zippered pockets and two regular pockets. I carried my iPhone in my left pocket, my ID in my back pocket, and used my right pocket to collect candy wrappers and trash.

The material was treated with Insect Shield® technology for protection against mosquitoes, biting flies, and ticks. Mosquitoes would land, but didn't bite through the fabric.

RailRiders make very durable products. I ended up replacing them in Mammoth Lakes because I had fallen on some sharp rocks and ripped them just below my knee. Had they not been ripped, I suspect they would have lasted the entire trip.

I would definitely take these again. 

I normally don't wear shorts. It's probably because my legs never got exposed much to the sun and would burn easily. Also, I had lots of scars from falling on rocks in the Sierras!

However, I got tired of wearing my rain pants in town when I did laundry. With a pair of shorts, I could wear them while washing everything else.

I picked up a pair of shorts at Timberline Lodge in Oregon. I should have taken some with me in the first place.

The shorts I carried were adequate. I could wear them while swimming, and they were comfortable. I am sure I could have found something more light-weight that would have worked just as well.

I would definitely take a pair of shorts again, but find something more light-weight.

Some hikers wore no underwear, but I chose to wear Under Armour boxer shorts. They are light-weight at just 4.7 ounces, and are made from polyester/elastane fabric.

I never experienced chaffing while wearing them, a problem some other hikers had while wearing other brands of underwear.

I also wore these while soaking in the hot tub, so they doubled as shorts in a more private environment.

I would definitely take these again.

Rain pants
I struggled with the decision regarding rain pants. I don't like the fact that rain pants keep the rain off, but often also keep the sweat in. The result being that I am wet at the end of the day.

I chose to take Frogg Toggs rain pants, basically because they were the lightest choice and least expensive. I also liked the fact that I could pull the rain pants on without taking off my shoes.

I did not like the durability of these pants. Sharp sticks, plants, stickers and even rough rocks would poke small holes in them. I even got holes in the back of the pants while resting on a rock along the trail! The pants also do not have any pockets, so I struggled with a place to carry my phone.

In retrospect, I would NOT bring these again. I would investigate other options, including a poncho or kilt!

I wore Dirty Girl Gaiters for my entire trip. The Dirty Girl gaiters were very popular on the trail, and are one of the easiest use. They also worked very well in keeping out all of the rocks and sticks which are so common on the trail. They will not keep out the dust, however, but neither did my lightweight shoes!

The only drawback was the requirement to install a tiny strip of Velcro to the heel of the shoe. I knew I was going to wear gaiters, so I attached the Velcro to all three pairs of shoes before I left on my hike. I also used Super Glue to ensure that the Velcro didn't come off the shoe. Attaching the Velcro while on the trail is much more difficult, since the Velcro can become detached if not attached properly.

I found that my pair of gaiters lasted well for half of my hike. I ended up having to sew the metal retainer back onto the gaiters just after I left the Sierras. I also had to sew on the Velcro that was attached to the gaiter.

In retrospect, I would take them again. I would also send a new pair midway through the hike as they tend to wear out along the way.

I wore Darn Tough socks the entire trip. They provided comfort and durability. Their seamless construction ensured that there would be no slipping or bunching.

I took three pairs, and rotated to a new pair each day. The pair from the previous day were washed out and hung from my pack to dry. I re-used the first pair on the fourth day and so on. When I was in the desert, I often rotated my socks every three hours. I found that putting on dry socks kept me from getting blisters, which are very common in the first month of hiking.

The socks have a lifetime unconditional guarantee. I managed to wear a hole in one pair, so I can exchange them for a new pair. What could be better than that?

I would highly recommend these socks and would take them again.

Sleeping socks
At the start of my hike, I took a regular pair of Darn Tough socks to use while sleeping. That was a mistake. My regular socks did not keep my feet warm. I ended up buying a pair of fuzzy wool socks midway through the Sierras.

The thick wool socks weighed more, but kept my feet warm and cozy all night.

I would take warm socks again, but investigate other options that might be more light-weight.

Pajama top and bottom
I chose Icebreaker merino wool tops and bottoms as my sleeping clothes. I only used these clothes for sleeping, and kept them in the stuff bag for my sleeping bag. The clothes were rated as 200-light-weight, best for moderate to cool conditions.

I liked the clothes as pajamas (they were very soft), but found I was still a bit chilly on the coldest of nights. I also liked the fact that the wool allowed me to wear them for multiple days in a row without worrying about odor.

I would bring them again.

Everyone has a different foot, so the choice in shoes depends on fit, feel and durability. I found that Vasque Pendulum shoes fit very well. I normally wear a size 10.5, but when hiking I found that I needed a size 12!

The Vasque Pendulum is a running shoe. I thought that I could get 700 miles for each pair of shoes. I started with a new pair, and planned to send new shoes to Kennedy Meadows (south), Dunsmuir, and Cascade Locks. As it turned out, my shoes sent to Kennedy Meadows wore out early, and I had to replace them at South Lake Tahoe. I then sent my third pair to Timberline Lodge instead of Dunsmuir.

The shoes I bought in South Lake Tahoe were Merrell Moab Ventilator shoes with a wide toe box. I wore these straight from the box with no problems. They were not as light as the Vasque shoes, but were tougher and had a great Vibram sole for better traction.

In retrospect, I would start out with Vasque Pendulum shoes for the desert, but would switch to Merrell Moab Ventilator shoes for the rest of the hike. The rough and sharp rocks of the Sierras and Washington Cascade mountains, and the rough lava rocks of Oregon ate up my Vasque shoes.

Shoe inserts
I always used Montrail enduro-sole heat-moldable foam inserts. These shoe inserts had thermo-moldable foam which conformed to the unique bone structure and shape of my foot, offering more surface area contact, and dispersing pressure points. It was as if I had a prescription insert!

I would definitely take these on every hike.

Looking back on this list of clothing, it is obvious that clothing choices can add a lot of weight. There always seems to be a balance between comfort, weight and peace of mind. I've heard it said that we carry our "fears" while hiking. I am sure there is a lot of truth in that.

Please feel free to comment on what worked for you, or if you have discovered that new piece of clothing that is a must-have for the through hiker!

More reviews to come.

Bobaroo, PCT class of 2015
Started April 16; Finished August 20

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

PCT Thru Hike Gear Review - SmartPhone, Applications & Accessories

A phone could be considered a "luxury" item. It is not necessary for a successful through hike. However, almost everyone carries gear that adds to a more satisfying hiking experience. I am no exception. I carried a smartphone and a battery backup for the entire trip.

Apple iPhone 5c with charging cord and wall charger

I used my iPhone every day to take pictures, keep track of the time, to write my blog, to navigate, and to communicate. I can't imagine being without it.

I had one of those thin plastic screen protectors on mine. The screen will definitely get scratched without one. The desert dust gets into everything.

I also used a LifeProof case and recharged my phone every night with a battery backup (see the reviews below). My phone had 32GB of memory, which was adequate for my pictures and my favorite music.

The iPhone 5c uses a unique charging cord. I ended up replacing my cord halfway through my hike. The wire connections were beginning to fail. I would definitely include a new charging cord in one of my resupply boxes about half-way through the hike.

The wall charger is used when plugging into an electrical outlet. I used it to charge both my iPhone and my battery backup. Since this too is an essential piece of equipment, I would include a new one in a resupply box. Make sure the charger will actually charge your phone. I bought a generic charger, but my phone would not charge up using it. I carried the wall charger, charging cord and battery backup in a separate Ziploc bag that I carried in my Sea-to-summit ultra-sil dry sack.

My service provider was Verizon. Cell service in southern and central California was not as good as people who had AT&T. Verizon service was better than AT&T in northern California, Oregon and Washington. I had no service in many remote areas, including the high Sierras and many other wilderness areas which were long distances from cities or major roads. Apps that require cell service will not function at many locations on the trial. There is a summary of cell service entitled Cell Phone Reports, provided by Halfmile Maps.

I carried ear phones for most of my hike, but ended up sending them home because I found I was not listening to my music, podcasts or audio books. Although many listened to music all the time. I preferred to listen to the sounds of the wild instead. The few times that I did listen to music, I placed my phone in my shirt pocket and listened through the iPhone speakers. That way I could hear the music and sounds around me at the same time. I was careful not to annoy others with my music and always turned it off when others were nearby.

I kept my iPhone on "airplane" mode to reserve power. If the phone is left searching for service, it will run down the battery very quickly.

I used my iPhone contacts app to enter phone numbers for trail angels and close friends. Several times there would be signs at trail heads with the name and number for people who will give rides. I entered them in my contacts list, even if I didn't need their help. It was amazing how often the information came in handy when another hiker needed a ride and a phone number. For bigger lists of trail angels, I took a picture of it for easy reference later. For close friends, I learned the hard way that I needed to test the phone number I had been given. One time I tried to call a friend and discovered the number was wrong. From then on, I always sent a quick text message to ensure I had entered the information correctly. And, by sending a text message, it gives you friend your contact information!

My iPhone became my camera. Initially I also carried a Samsung WB350 camera with 21X optical zoom. The camera had built-in Wi-Fi which enabled me to transfer my pictures to my iPhone for upload to my blog. As I headed into the high Sierras, the zoom lens stuck in the open position. I ended up sending the camera home, along with a mini tripod and SticPic. In retrospect, I would not take a separate camera. The iPhone was always handy (since I kept it in my pocket) and the picture quality of the iPhone was adequate for what I needed. My only problem with the iPhone was to keep the lens clean and free from moisture. I used a Q-tip dipped in water to clean the lens, and kept the iPhone is a plastic Ziploc bag when it was raining.

My most used and useful Smartphone applications

Guthook's PCT Guide
I used this every day. It shows water sources, campsites, points of interest, trail junctions, roads, parking areas, resupply locations, and elevation profiles for the trail. The visual interface shows your GPS location relative to the trail, a very helpful tool when trying to find a route that is covered in snow. A simple touch on an upcoming point of interest shows how far ahead or behind it is. This is very useful when deciding to fill up with water or head to the next reliable source. User comments are also available, which helped me determine if a "seasonal" water source was likely still available. The app also includes pictures of most points of interest. It's nice to know what the campsite or water source looks like in advance. The maps and pictures are resident on your phone, so no cell service is necessary while using it. The app costs $5.99 each for Southern California, Central California, Northern California, Oregon and Washington. I bought the entire set for a reduced price of $24.99.

Halfmiles PCT
This application was widely used by many hikers on the trail, and the new version includes information from the official 2015 Halfmile maps and GPS data. The application goes well with the free Halfmile map set. I carried the printed copies of the Halfmile maps, just in case something happened to my electronic guide. In a few instances, I found the information from the Halfmile guide to be more useful than the information from Guthook's guide. For example, when the trail started following a road, the Halfmile guide often stated that the trail joined the road and would follow it for 1.5 miles. The Guthook guide did not give this information. The Halfmile application also listed additional sources for water and campsites that were not included in the Guthook guide. The difference is probably because Halfmile rewalked the trail last year (2014) with new GPS equipment, and noted over 1,000 new waypoints. I used the Halfmile PCT application as a cross-reference to the Guthook application. To me, the visual presentation of locations and waypoints were better represented in the Guthook app. However, I would not go on the trail without this app. The best news? The app is a free download!

BlogTouch Pro
My blog is hosted on Blogger. I started out using the app, BlogPress, but found that it crashed too often, and almost lost five days worth of blogs when it refused to open the files. BlogTouch Pro is easy to use and has never crashed on me. I would write my blog in my Notes application, and then copy it to the BlogTouch Pro app where I would add my pictures. I saved the blog as a "local" file. The local file is resident on my phone. When I had adequate phone service, I would upload the blog. One lesson I learned is that when I create a new blog and have no phone service, I must select the "Offline" function, start the new blog, and then select "options" and check the post status of "Offline". If I left the option set as "Public", when I was finished writing the blog I would often lose my blog because the phone couldn't connect to service. Fortunately, because I always wrote my blog in my "Notes" app, I could just re-paste the information. Another lesson I learned was that I needed a fairly strong phone signal to successfully upload a blog with several pictures. On several occasions, the blog would fail to upload if I had a weak phone signal. Another nice feature is that the app let me read comments on older blogs, and easily let me update existing blogs when I had phone service. The download costs $4.99.

I found that I needed a way to tweak some of my pictures. The problem with taking pictures on the iPhone is that the picture size on the screen is so small that it makes it difficult to evaluate the quality of the picture. I used the "lightbox" feature to import my picture and use the many tools to lighten, darken, sharpen, straighten or crop a picture. The picture can then be saved to the camera roll and I still have the original should I change my mind about the edited picture. The download costs $.99.

This was a cool app that allowed me to place an annotation or title on a picture. I kept a file of all of the important dates for birthdays of family and friends. I could annotate a photo with "Happy Birthday" and add it to my blog. The learning curve is easy too. Just type in a title, move it around on the picture, resize the text if necessary. The program allows multiple titles in different sizes, colors and transparencies. The download costs $1.99.

Web Albums by Pixite
This is a great little app for backing up my photos. You need to have a Google account because the program backs up your photos to your online album.  You can access all of your online photos, view them in a slide show, and manage the albums from your phone. When I got to town, I found a place that had Wi-Fi access. The program automatically uploads full-size copies of all of your photos on your Camera Roll. The only drawback is that it will only backup 1,000 photos to a single album on the web. If you have more photos than that, you need to upload them to a new album or move some of the existing photographs from the "auto upload" album to another album.  This app gave me peace of mind should anything happen to my iPhone while on the trail. It only costs $1.99 and is well worth it.

Adobe Acrobat Reader
I stored files on my iPhone as a resource while on the trail. These included photographs of instructional guides for using my battery backup and headlamp, lists of extra gear left at home, text files for Giardia symptoms, photo of my long distance hiking permit, my resupply plan, the PCT town guide, guide for using my digital camera and the Double Tap Hikes PCT section summaries. The Double Tap summaries had good information on "Permits & Timing, Special Gear & Clothing, Resupplying Strategies, Resupply Box Labels, Water Sources, Camping, Lodging, Meetup Spots, and Detours." I often would read them in the evening to refresh my memory regarding the upcoming sections of the trail. I found I was frequently referring to my resupply plan, to make sure I knew when my next resupply town was, and to be sure that I knew how to get there. It is amazing how easy it is to forget the details of the resupply plan! The download is free.

Google Drive
This app allowed me to save the latest water report from the Pacific Crest Trail Water Report web page. The file is saved to my iPhone, which could be accessed when I didn't have phone service. I would re-download the most current file every time I had phone service. The availability of water along the trail often determined how far I could hike each day, where I would cook my food or camp. It also meant the difference between carrying a heavy load of water or carrying less water with the knowledge that the next reliable source of water was close by. The water report is updated as hikers walk the trail and report on water sources. The app download is free.

I loved this guide! It covered the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to the Oregon-Washington border. It was organized by trail section. It has lots of information on botany, geology, history, wildfires, and mountaineering. I often read the summaries in the evening and then looked for the amazing sights as I passed along the trail. I wish it included a section for Washington, but perhaps that will come in a future release. The program also has a good map set, and shows many side trails and identifies lakes and mountains that many of the other electronic apps do not. The download is free!

I like the Kindle app, even though I didn't read that much while on the trail. I had several books downloaded to my iPhone and even had an audio book. However, I often referred to the book, "The Pacific Crest Trail", by Brian Johnson. The author has hiked the trail three times and has compiled a wealth of information that is useful to the beginning hiker. Half of the book is devoted to an overview of the trail - the geology, weather, plants and wildlife, planning, preparation and equipment. The second half of the book goes into details, including maps of the trail, town information and much more. The Kindle edition of "The Pacific Crest Trail" is available on Amazon for $13.49. One more benefit of the Kindle application is that it can also be used to open the PCT water report, if you don't use the Adobe Reader. The app download is free.

Google Maps
Although this app only works if you have cell service, I found it helpful when in a new town to check out where I was in relation to the services I needed. Often I could see where stores were located on the map, and I could find out how to get there. It was also helpful when doing a road walk. When I left Big Lake Youth Camp, I walked down the road and needed to take another road to get to the trail. The roads where shown on Google Maps, so I could check my progress to make sure I didn't make any wrong turns. The application is a free download!

I used the iPhone built-in Notes application for all of my blogging. I opened a new note, put the title of my blog at the top, and entered the day and date on the line below. I was able to use the predictive word feature to more quickly type my blog. When done, I would copy the information into my BlogTouch Pro application. If something went wrong, I would always have the Notes file for reference. I also used Notes to keep track of my shopping list when I did my resupply, a list of my extra gear at home (so I would know what was available), and a list of family birthdays and events (so I wouldn't forget). It is a great little application for the forgetful hiker!

Weather Underground
I used the weather underground application to view the current forecast. Although you need a phone connection, the forecast was the most accurate. It uses a network of 100,000+ personal weather stations to provide an accurate view of upcoming weather, including temperatures, rainfall estimates, and an understandable summary. In addition, it provided a good look-ahead, with fairly accurate forecasts. I always checked the forecast when in town or when I could get cell service. The download is free.

LifeProof Case with headphone adapter cord

If you are going to take a phone on the trail, you MUST have a protective case. While hiking in the desert and on many of the trails through Oregon and southern Washington, the trail is dusty. I mean, really dusty. The dust gets into everything. In addition, there are lots of opportunities for dropping your phone into water, or simply dropping it on the rocks. It will happen and it does.

I bought the LifeProof case for my iPhone 5c. The case can be submerged in water and protects the phone from a drop of over six feet. They provide an instructional video which shows how the case is installed and removed. The case adds less than an ounce to the weight of the iPhone.

I had only two issues with mine.

First, to listen to music with head phones, I had to remove the tethered jack cover and screw in an adapter cord. The cord sticks out from the case, making it inconvenient to carry. It just didn't feel right in my pocket. I ended sending the adapter cord home when I realized that I wasn't listening to music.

Second, the dust will eventually get on the outside camera lens of the case. Occasionally I forgot to clean it, making for a blurry picture. It was easy to clean with a Q-tip and a bit of water. The same thing happened with the self-portrait lens cover. It was recessed into the case, and was much more difficult to clean. In addition, the dust and lint would collect in the microphone slot. Several times my caller could not hear what I was saying due to all the built-up dirt. I cleaned it out using a toothpick.

I also wrote my email address on the outside of the case with a black permanent marker. If I ever lost the phone, someone finding it would have a way to contact me. Fortunately, I never lost it, but I heard of several other hikers who lost theirs.

The case costs just under $80, but will save your phone. I would not carry a phone on the trail without one.


Powerpack with charging cord

The New Trent Powerpack with charging cord weighs a whopping 11.4 ounces. Ouch! However, I was willing to carry it because it made blogging and communication in the wilderness possible.

I used the New Trent model NT350T which has a capacity of 13,500mAh. It will recharge an iPhone five times (from a completely discharged battery). I never fully discharged my phone battery, so I suspect it would keep mine charged for over ten days on the trail. It has two USB charging ports. One with 2.1-Amp (for charging a tablet) and one with 1-Amp (for charging a phone). There is a mini-USB port for recharging the power pack with the supplied charging cord. The unit does not come with an Apple cable, but I already had one of those with my iPhone wall charger.

When on the trail, I would charge my iPhone every night. I could work on my blog while the phone was recharging. One lesson learned the hard way was to keep the power pack in a Ziploc bag when not in use. One evening I was cowboy camping, and I fell asleep while the unit was charging my phone. When I awoke in the morning, there had been a heavy dew, and everything was damp, including my power pack. When I went to top off the charge on my phone, I found out that the power pack had discharged overnight due to the wet condition. Fortunately, I was headed into town the next day and was able to recharge it. I never left it plugged in overnight again.

The power pack takes about eleven hours to recharge from a fully discharged state. When in town, the first thing I did was to plug in the power pack. After three days on the trail, it would take several hours to fully charge. I also found that I needed to make sure the unit was charging when plugged in. One time I plugged it in, and the indicator light showed it was fully charged. Fortunately, I unplugged it and plugged it in again, and noticed it started charging. I don't know if this is a bug in the way it operates, but it would have been awful to think it was fully charged with it wasn't.

I saw several people on the trail who used solar chargers. Some were very happy with them. I didn't want to keep my phone or battery backup tethered to a solar charger. And, I heard that often the phone would not charge if the solar charger lost sunlight in a shady section of the trail. I was completely satisfied with recharging my battery pack in town. It worked well for me.

There are newer power packs on the market now. A hiker named "River" showed me a newer version of the New Trent power pack while we were in Etna. I would look for one with a large capacity. Less weight, however, would be a big plus!

I would definitely take this one again (or a newer version) since it was reliable and kept my iPhone charged.

More reviews are coming soon! 

It's amazing how long it takes to capture all my thoughts on gear.
Hopefully some of the links are helpful too.

2015 PCT Through Hiker
Started April 16, Finished August 20

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Welcome Bob home BBQ Sunday

Hi faithful readers, this is Valorie, Bob's wife and blog editor.

We're hosting a BBQ at our house Sunday, Aug. 30. Please come and help us celebrate Bob's accomplishment. Please email me if you need our home address or directions.

See you Sunday!

Valorie, valorie dot zimmerman at gmail dot com

PS: Let's send the predicted rain over the mountains, where they sorely need it. -v

PCT Thru Hike Gear Review - The Big 3 (plus 1)

Like many hikers, I chose my gear after doing considerable research and testing. I don't think there is the "perfect" gear choice. There are always trade offs. Do you go for less weight, but perhaps have less durability? Is the product backed by a company with great customer service?

The "big 3" are the three pieces of gear that are often the heaviest and often the most expensive pieces of gear taken on a hike. This is what I used on my 2015 through hike of the Pacific Crest Trail.

ULA Catalyst
ULA Catalyst backpack
The ULA Catalyst is a work horse. It is certainly not the lightest pack on the market, weighing in at 48 ounces.  I chose it because it can hold a large bear canister horizontally, is relatively light weight, and has a track record of being a very durable product. And, if popularity has meaning, there were a lot of ULA packs worn by through hikers on the trail.

The pack can handle loads up to 40 pounds. While hiking through the Sierras, this was important to me. The added weight of a bear canister coupled with carrying many days of food meant pack weights leaving town were heavy. This pack was able to handle the load and didn't make me feel like a pack horse! The pack has a wide waist belt to transfer the pack weight to the hips and the belt comes with two zippered pockets. I used the zippered pockets to carry snacks and my camera. There are side pockets are big enough to hold a 32-ounce Gatorade bottle. I carried one on each side filled with drinking water. There is also an inner pocket that can hold a large water bladder. I chose not to use this, but saw a lot of others who did. I removed the inner pocket and attached it to my shoulder strap and carried a water bottle.
There is no way to access items in the bottom of the pack without opening the pack from the top. It would have been nice to have another access point. Also, I was not able to reach back and retrieve my water bottle while wearing the pack. Perhaps it was just me or the shape of the bottle? I did have a problem with the waist belt size. As I lost weight during my through-hike (30 lbs!), my waist belt could not longer be tightened enough to carry the weight of the pack on my hips. I had to contact ULA customer service several times to identify the problem. They sent me a smaller belt and it corrected the problem. It also took me a long time to understand all of the adjustments required to get a good fit. ULA has a video which explains how to adjust the pack each time it is worn. I finally got to understand that adjustments were needed, especially when I changed the pack loads. To me it seemed overly complicated, and I had a problem at first finding the correct straps to pull while wearing the pack.
In Retrospect:
If I had to choose again for a pack to use on a long through hike, I would consider getting the ULA Circuit. It is a bit smaller and lighter, and can handle loads around 30 pounds. Most of the time my pack weighed under 30 pounds. Also, many hiking the trail used a small bear canister (BV450) for their food, rather than the large canister that I chose (BV500). That would solve the issue with the fit of the bear canister in the pack.

ZPacks Hexamid Solo-Plus
ZPacks Hexamid Solo-Plus Tent
The ZPacks tent is made from Cuben Fiber material. It is waterproof and does not stretch when wet, so readjustment of the tent guy lines is not necessary in rainy weather. It uses one trekking pole for support, so no extra support poles are required. The tent has a "beak" that can be deployed during driving rain to provide more protection. The tent is fully enclosed with a bug screen and has a removable bathtub floor. I also opted to get the V-shaped titanium tent stakes, rather than the round ones. The V-shaped stakes held much better in most types of soil. The tent with tent stakes weighs just 19.6 ounces!
I loved that the tent weighed just 19.6 ounces, that includes the stuff sack and tent pegs. There was enough room inside for everything I carried, including my backpack. The material dried quickly in the sun and the bug netting was a life-saver on those buggy evenings when I was tired. It became my sanctuary. The removable bathtub could be removed and used separately. I never used it that way, but would save having to carry an extra ground cloth when cowboy camping. The front entry has a dual zipper on the bug netting. I could unzip just a portion of one side to enter the tent or add/remove items. The zipper was well made. I never had any problems with zippers, unlike others with different tents. The tent is provided with repair tape, should it be punctured during use. I carried the tape with me, but never had to use it. With practice, the tent can be put up or taken down quickly. Zpacks has an instructional video that should be studied and practiced before heading out for the first time.
The tent requires more space to erect than other free-standing tents. A few times I found a perfect campsite, but was unable to set up my tent because there was not enough room for the guy lines. In regards to set up, it takes practice to get the right height for the tent pole and for setting the guy lines. The spacing between the two front guy lines is critical. I marked my second guy line with a black permanent marker so I could put in the second tent stake at the proper location each time.The tent is completely open in the front, allowing for lots of ventilation. The downside to this is that there is not a lot of privacy from the front. In addition, on windy nights, there can be too much ventilation. I had to use my Zlite sleeping pad propped up on the inside of the tent to block some of the breeze during cold breezy nights. On windy nights, I also noticed that the fabric wrinkles would vibrate, creating additional noise. I could find no way to reduce this and couldn't see any difference when readjusting the guy lines. Also, being a single-walled construction, I got freezing condensation on the inside of the tent and frost on the outside of the tent on several cold nights in the Sierras. I envied those who had rain flies who could just shake the frost off. When the frost melted on the inside, it got the bathtub floor wet. In regards to the entry-way zippers, I found that I could not zip them shut using just one hand. It takes two hands; one to hold the fabric below the zipper and one to pull the zipper. On rainy evenings, I also found that there was back-splash that splattered through the front screen and into the bathtub. This was especially true on hard ground. I came to look for campsites with soft ground or pine needles, especially if rain was in the forecast. Finally, at the end of my hike, I noticed wear on the tent fabric and around the doublers where the guy lines attached to the fabric. With additional use, I suspect resealing or patching would be required to keep the tent water tight. The Cuben Fiber stuff sack had the most wear by the end of my hike. It would need to be replaced before my next excursion.
In Retrospect:
ZPacks makes great products, and is updating them all the time. I would seriously consider one of their newer products or perhaps their Duplex Tent at just 20 ounces! At a little more weight, I know of many people who used Big Agnes or the TarpTents, and they were very happy with them.

ZPacks 10-degree Down Bag
ZPacks 10-degree Down Sleeping Bag
This sleeping bag combines the best aspects of a down quilt and a down sleeping bag at an unbeatable weight. The bag opens up underneath like a blanket for easy temperature control when it is warm out, and a 3/4 length zipper and neck elastic allow for bundling up when the temperature turns cold. ZPacks uses premium 900 fill power goose down. I chose the 10-degree bag with water-resistant down, a draft tube over the zipper, wide width and extra long (6 foot 5 inches).
This bag is light weight at 28.8 ounces, yet kept me warm on freezing nights. The wider width gave me more room to thrash about during the night.  I used it both as a quilt when evenings were warm, and enjoyed having the neck elastic so that I could bundle up and trap heat on the coldest nights. The black inner liner made it quick to heat up when I would lay it out to dry in the sun. The black color also hides the fact that I didn't always change into my sleeping clothes every night. I presume a light colored liner would show a lot more dirt! The bag comes with a Cuben Fiber stuff sack. I stored my sleeping clothes in the stuff sack with the sleeping bag, making it easier to find them on cold evenings. I am glad that I got the 10-degree bag; there were some nights that I was cold in the bag, even though I was also wearing a down jacket and a fleece jacket.
I have very few negative comments. This is an exceptional bag. One problem I did notice was that the zipper, which is designed to be underneath you as you sleep, put pressure on my Thermo-rest NeoAir mattress. I ended up with three separate holes in my mattress, all aligning with the position of the zipper on my sleeping bag. My theory is that my feet put excessive pressure on the zipper, which, over time, pushed a small hole in my mattress. When I used the bag with the zipper on top, I never had any problems with holes in my mattress again.
In Retrospect:
I would get a 10-degree bag again. I would not get the water-resistant down. I understand that the treatment can make it harder to fluff up the down, and has minimal effect on keeping the down dry. I would not get the draft tube option. This is a piece of material that covers the zipper. I thought the zipper would feel cold without one. In reality, the draft tube became a nuisance because it kept getting caught in the zipper. I ended up having my wife double-back tape the draft tube to the bag to keep it out of the way.

Thermarest NeoAir Xlite Sleeping Pad
One of the main functions of a sleeping mattress is to provide insulation between the sleeper and the ground. The other is comfort. I got the regular size mattress, which is 20 inches wide, 6 feet long and 2.5 inches thick. I has an R-value of 3.2. It takes several minutes to inflate. For me, it was about forty lungs-full. I always tried to keep it clean and folded it up and kept it in its carrying bag while hiking. I also took the extra precaution by putting my Tyvek ground sheet under it, even when using it in my tent with a built-in bathtub ground cloth.

This mattress was like heaven. I loved it. It made for restful sleep. Some have complained that there is a crackling noise whenever the sleeper moves on top of it. I heard it at first, but it seemed to diminish after several uses. I have used my Thermarest Z-lite pad on occasion while cowboy camping, and it is not nearly as comfortable. I also placed my shoes under the head of the mattress, to elevate it. Then, using my clothes bag as a pillow, I was able to do my blogging with great comfort every night. It was a perfect set up!
Almost everyone who uses a mattress like this ends up with a puncture at one time or another. I thought I was really careful, but my zipper-pull on my sleeping bag managed to poke three holes in my mattress. Fortunately, I had brought along my field repair kit. I found the holes by submerging the mattress in a lake and looking for bubbles. The leaks are hard to find otherwise. The repair consisted of applying a special tape, which worked well and stopped the leaks. I wish the mattress was more robust and less likely to get punctured. There is nothing worse than to wake up in the middle of the night and realize the mattress has deflated.
In Retrospect:
I would get a shorter mattress. The regular-size six foot length is not needed, and adds weight. The smaller size (47 inches long) would have been adequate, and the weight would have been 8 ounces rather than 16. I regularly used sleeping socks, so I wouldn't need my feet elevated on a mattress. It would also have solved my issue with the sleeping bag zipper poking on the mattress.

I'll post more gear reviews in the coming days. Still trying to put some meat on my bones!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Manning Park

Friday August 21

As I lay in my tent last night at the campground just beyond the northern monument, I found it hard to sleep. Like the ending of a good book, I didn't want it to be over. And yet, this adventure has come to an end. 

I could have slept in, but it was getting light and I had eight miles to go to get to the lodge at Manning Park. The trail climbed 1,000 feet. Unfortunately, the trail was in poor condition with lots of trees across the trail and steep slippery slopes. It was unusually dark in the forest, so I decided to play music, both to pass the time and to alert other creatures of my presence. 

The weather is turning this morning. Several times there were rain showers; just enough to wet the bushes. As the rain showers fell, the sun peeked through for just a moment and created an amazing rainbow pointing to the northern terminus. What an appropriate ending message from Mother Nature!

For the first time on this hike, I used my umbrella. I was rather awkward trying to maneuver with both hands full. The umbrella is one item I probably would not carry again. 

I arrived at the lodge at 8:30. There were no rooms at the lodge, but I got one at the hostel. The room is tiny, and shares a bathroom with five other rooms. There is no phone service here and no way to contact my wife to let her know where I am.

I got a vegetarian omelette at the restaurant and then decided to wait for my wife in the lodge. 

"More Cowbell" stayed at the hostel last night, so I got to visit with him one last time. He left on the bus headed to Vancouver. 

I had a Wi-Fi connection at the lodge, so I posted my successful ending on Facebook. I immediately got many congratulatory messages. A few other hikers showed up throughout the day, but none I knew. 

My wife arrived in the early evening and I discovered that she had reserved a cabin! The manager at the lodge was gracious enough to refund my money on the room at the hostel. 

We had a wonderful dinner at the Pinewoods restaurant. Because I was a PCT hiker, we both got a free drink. For dessert we enjoyed chocolate cake with chocolate ice cream!

It was odd this evening as I took a shower and removed the protective tape from my toes. I won't be needing it anymore. The same was true for my toiletry supplies and my drinking water. 

I read on Facebook that a lot of hikers are quitting the trail at Stevens Pass. There are just too many wildfires and uncertainty. I feel lucky to have been able to hike the north cascades and to see the PCT northern terminus. 

Manning Park is beautiful, but I am ready to head home and begin a new adventure. I am interested in becoming a trail angel. I want to pay back a little kindness that was shown to me. 

But first I need rest and according to my wife, to put some meat back on my bones!

Thoughts on finishing the PCT

Thursday August 20

I am laying in my tent listening to the wind in the trees. Sometimes it sounds like a river; a soothing sound. Sometimes the gusts are stronger and a few trees creak and groan. 

There are birds living here too. I believe they are Camp Robbers. They make a funny chirping sound. One landed close by, as if to announce that it needed something to rob. 

A chipmunk lives here too. I heard it chiding me as I was setting up my tent. 

There are plenty of insects. As soon as I set down my pack, the black flies smelled the lingering perspiration. They were also interested in the smell of my dinner. One fly managed to get into the tent. With a little bit of encouragement, I got it to fly out as I zipped shut the mosquito netting. 

I am just a visitor in this place. As I have wandered from Mexico to Canada, I have always tried to remember that. I made it my goal to never knowingly harm any animal on the trail, whether it be an ant, butterfly, beetle, lizard, stink bug, baby skunk, dragonfly, spider, caterpillar, worm, moth, slug, bee, grasshopper, snake, fly, centipede, or frog. I want them to live at least for another day. 

I have witnessed that all life is connected. The forest that was burned by fire appears to be tragic. Indeed it was for the living forest that died. But new plants are given a chance to thrive. And new creatures find this their home. 

Most of all, however, I have a restored faith in people. Even though I was a complete stranger, they opened their homes to me. They gave me transportation and went out of their way to get me to my destination. They prepared fantastic dishes of food and tasty beverages and invited me to partake until I was full. 

I met extraordinary people who were also walking the trail. Most would share anything that they had if there was a need. We all had a common bond and the same goal. We all were trying to do something extraordinary. 

I feel sad that I'm heading back to the busy world again. I will miss my nightly cup of hot chocolate and laying here listening to the music of the wild. 

But I have reached my goal and come to an ending. I believe that as one door closes, another will open. 

I just need the courage to walk on through. 

A Dedication

I have been thinking about this for a long time, almost from the first day of my hiking adventure. I wanted to dedicate this hike to a very special person. A person who I loved. A person who died young.

I chose the trail name Bobaroo long before I took a step on the Pacific Crest Trail. The name Bobaroo was given to me by my niece, Angel Betts. I can still hear the ring in her voice when she would see me, "Hey, Bobaroo, how are you?"

Angel took her life many years ago. But her memory lives on.

When people on the trail asked me my trail name, I would tell them it was Bobaroo. I usually would have to repeat it, or say something like, "it's just like kangaroo except with the word Bob. You know, Bob-aroo". 

Some people asked me how I got my trail name, and I would tell them the story. They understood, and many had tears come to their eyes. 

I have proudly carried the name from border to border. I wish to dedicate this hike and all that has transpired to the special person who gave me my trail name. Angel, may you rest in peace.

To my readers, thank you for following along. Now you too know the rest of the story.

Day 127 - Canada

Thursday August 20

A flood of emotions overwhelmed me as I caught sight of the monument at the U.S. and Canadian border. I had walked from Mexico to Canada! Tears filled my eyes. 

It is hard to explain all of my emotions. Mostly I am thankful. 

I am so thankful for all of the people who made this possible. 

My wife was my resupply person and she never missed sending a box or giving me encouragement. She drove for hours to get me to trailheads and meet me as I would finish. 

My family gave me the courage to keep going when times were difficult. My son and his friend Nick surprised me with the ultimate trail angel gift by meeting me at Crater Lake, feeding me and treating me to an airplane ride over the trail. And thank you to my daughter Anne and my brother Ron for sending such wonderful treats to Crater Lake. To my son, Thomas, thank you for house sitting and a special thanks for the brownies. They were a special treat each morning as I got on my way. 

Also, thank you goes to our friends Cody and Jenessa, who dropped everything at a moments notice and hosted my wife and I for a wonderful evening. 

I owe a huge debt of thanks to the trail angel, "Legend", who showed up when I was ready to quit and helped me find the courage to go on. 

Others on the trail gave me advice and help. A special thank you to "No Trace" and "Unbreakable" for answering all my silly questions and helping me solve my problem with my backpack. 

A special thank you to "Willie", as we hiked many hundreds of miles together. He became a good friend and helped me become a better hiker. 

Another thank you goes to my hiking buddies, Deb and Patti. They gave me encouragement to believe in myself, and to make a dream become reality. And thank you Deb for having the courage to walk with me and enjoy the trail from Timberline Lodge to Cascade Locks. 

There are so many other trail angels to thank. Bob Riess hosted me when I first arrived in San Diego. He gave me the confidence I needed at the start of this journey. 

Some trail angels left coolers of treats. Others gave me rides or shared their homes. It is incredible that they did this for a complete stranger. 

I would not be standing at the monument without everyones help. 

You all believed in me. 
Thank you!

A special treat awaited me a the monument. It was "More Cowbell"!  He had arrived just twenty minutes before. We reminisced about times and people who we had met on the trail. It was so good to see him!

I am going to camp tonight at the campground just beyond the monument. I will hike out to Manning Park tomorrow morning and meet my wife there. 

Wow, this is an amazing adventure!