Sunday, May 17, 2015

Up to the Edge

L. and I climb up the verdant valley towards towards Huckleberry Lookout in Glacier National Park, Montana.  The snow line is receding.  How far will we make it?  Does that even matter?
The forest bursts with spring wildflowers.  Intricate shapes and varied colors.  Trillium in every shade of white to pink-purple; they change color once they are pollinated. 
Trillium "blushing" after pollination.
A lone runner passes us heading back down to the parking area.  The only other car parked there.  Now we have the place to ourselves.  Just us and the bears.  L. mentions that Backpacker Magazine rated this as one of the most dangerous hikes in America due to high grizzly bear densities.  Its too early for huckleberries, so all the grizzlies are elsewhere, right?

We ascend the south-facing slope on well-graded trail.  Into the sub-alpine landscape of glacier-lilies.  The valley opens up.
Glacier-lily lined path.
Montana continues to amaze me with its beauty.  I want to know everything about this place.  Are the intense green slopes across the valley larch trees?  L. says in the fall they change color and light up the slopes.  What must that look like?

I put on my microspikes at snowline, after 4.5 miles where the trail pops over the saddle and shoots around to the shaded edge of a hillside.  A different world here, up in the clouds.  Snow is falling lightly.  The snow pack is thick.  The slopes are steep. 
Snow line (on the way back down).
We follow kicksteps cut into the hillside.  Their tracks show they were wearing real crampons, and we think they had an ice ax.

Alarm bells going off in my heard, stomach lurching at the steepness of the slope.  I automatically think, don’t look down, don’t look down, my mantra that has gotten me through so many miles of terrifying trail.  But I do look down, to see how far we’d slide if we slipped.  Those mental calculations, weighing the price of broken bones (or worse?) against the lure of the trail ahead, to the beckoning tower, the potential exhilaration of traveling those snow-covered slopes and reaching the lookout tower.
Steep slope where we turned around.
I am glad when L. hesitates.  Do we want to continue?  I know we could make it.  I’ve done harder, and so has she.  But there is that possibility that we wouldn’t.  Is it worth it?

An hour is spend going up the snow along the ridges above the saddle in either direction.  Looking for another way around.  Views open up of mountains beyond.  The snow lets up, clouds part, sun glistens on peaks.  We try the trail again, going out to the steep part for another attempt.  Decide again to turn around.
Shifting clouds revealing distant peaks.
I love being here at my edge, knees shaking a little as my heart pounds loudly.  Here, I am fully aware of my balance and how the snow feels beneath my feet, the grip of my hands on my hiking poles, the rhythm of three points always in contact with the snow.
Up and down the ridge above the saddle.
Views opening up.
 Being at the edge, you find out things about yourself.  In moments where you are well beyond your comfort zone, that is where they say “the magic happens” which I think means “where you can grow and find out what is meaningful in your life.”   I am so glad we’ve come out here today.  It gives me the perspective I’ve needed.
At the edge.
I think about climbing Whitney last year.  I think about how heart-wrenching it felt to turn around so close to the summit.  Now, I am more comfortable in not making it to the top.  I know what it feels like to not hike for 10 weeks while broken bones heal.  I am happy for the hike that has brought me to this place where I can see so far, where I get to push my comfort zone.  It is so satisfying to be exactly in this place. 

More info on this hike:

Huckleberry Lookout Trail

Backpacker Magazine's writeup
Meadow rue.

Monday, May 11, 2015

What do you want, Mountain Goat?

I’m feeling great as I begin climbing one of the steepest trails in Glacier National Park—Mt. Brown Lookout with over 4,000 feet of elevation gain in 5.4 miles.  My endorphins are surging and my strong legs are full of energy.  Ah I love to climb!

At the trailhead, I didn't even pause at the “caution grizzly bears… don’t hike alone” sign. I’ve gotten some internet advice from a bad-ass hiker who did many solo miles in grizzly country, and I’m feeling tough.  My bear spray feels less awkward at my hip, and my “hey bear” shouts up the empty trail are confident.

I’m in my element.  Lungs full of the sweet scent of the dense cedar forest.  After a month in Montana, I already I know the names of all the blooming wildflowers: the nine-leaved desert parsley, utah honeysuckle, calypso orchids, and glacier lilies.  Montana is feeling more like home.
Spring beauties.
My mind wanders.  While I like to hike solo, I think about how I also would like to find hiking buddies out here.  But I’m old and set in my ways.  I don’t want to backpack with just anyone.  As I daydream, my list of requirements for a trail buddy begins to sound more like a personal ad:

Seeking backpacking companion for two day trips in northwestern Montana.  Must be an early riser.  Must like plants or be able to tolerate excessive oooing and ahhing over wildflowers/ big trees.  Must like bushwhacking and exploring, and value solitude and wilderness.  Introverts preferred, but extroverts that don’t talk nonstop OK. 15-25 miles a day at a 2-3 mph pace, with snack breaks ever two hours, but willing to compromise on pace and mileage if you have a high clearance vehicle to get us to trailheads down FS roads.”

A girl can dream, right?  Of course I would never post that!  Sheesh it’s not like I’m desperate!  I can hike solo just fine.  I can handle anything!

When the trail climbs up into the snow, I slip into my microspikes.  Lake McDonald, where I started, is so far below, I can hardly believe I just started down there.  I feel like I could climb forever.
Lake McDonald, far below.
At the end of a switchbacks, I see a mountain goat ahead munching on bear grass.  There are two hikers behind me, and my first thought is that I don’t want to startle the goat so that they get a chance to see it.  As I am waiting, the mountain goat stops eating and starts walking towards me.  WHAT THE @#$%!?  I wrack my brain trying to remember if I’ve read anything about mountain goats.  Do I act big and yell, or play dead?  I try yelling but he just keeps moving towards me so I slowly back down the trail.  I contemplate pulling out my umbrella but decide that’s more suitable defense against imaginary foes.  This mountain goat is real.  I look at its horns.
What are you looking at, Mountain Goat?
Fortunately, the other two hikers behind me come up and I tell them about the mountain goat.  Rocks, the woman says, throw rocks at them. 

I let them go past me and I follow close behind.  The woman gives a few authoritative shouts, and the goat scampers off.  The couple goes ahead of me and I fall behind, taking photos and taking my time as the trail gets steeper and steeper in the deep snow.
Views into Glacier.
After another half hour of climbing, as I get up close to treeline, I decide it’s too steep for me to continue on my own.  I can see the fire tower isn’t too far away, but I don’t like the sheer drop-offs and the kick steps in the snow are shallow.  If I slipped, it would be a long way down, and I don’t have an ice ax with me.  I’ve already made it well outside my comfort zone, being this high up in the snow on my own.  At times like this, it doesn’t bother me to turn around.  The climb is what I live for, not getting to the top. 
Fewer tracks up here.
As I start to descend, I see the mountain goat heading up the trail towards me.  HE FOLLOWED ME!  For half an hour!  What does he want?!?!  I stare at him, wishing I could understand goat behavior.  He tilts his head and stares back at me, expectantly, as he continues walking towards me.

Stay back, I yell.  But he doesn’t.

Rocks are not easy to find in deep snow.  I locate a bare spot in a tree well, and fill my pockets with as many rocks as I can find.  When he gets closer, I start throwing them.  I don't aim at him, of course, but close enough.  He finally gets the message, and scampers uphill, as I pass below him and then continue on down the trail, looking over my shoulder ever few minutes.

I hurry down the trail.  I can see how his mountain goat footprints followed my own.  Why was this mountain goat following me?

I get down past the snow, into the cedar forest, into the land of wildflowers.  Yay plants! Plants don’t follow you, you don’t need to carry bear spray because of them, you don’t have to throw rocks at them. I love plants!
Utah honeysuckle.
Within a half mile of the trailhead, I stop to say hi to a father with his two young sons.  They are throwing rocks down the hillside.  The father says, it’s a nice day to throw rocks.  I reach down and feel a few rocks still in my pocket.  Yes, it is a good day to throw rocks!

When I get back to cell phone range, I ask on facebook about mountain goat behavior, and another hiker tells me that goats sometimes follow hikers looking for salt.  They will leave you alone if you go pee.

When I talk to my neighbor about it the next day, she thinks that mountain goat was trying to give me a message.  She believes things like that about animals.  But what do mountain goats have to say?

Perhaps, "Let’s go for a hike!  We'd make a great team- you supply the salt and I'll not talk your ear off.  I like plants too..."
Are you potentially dangerous, Mr. Mountain Goat?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Avalanche Lake in Glacier

I finger the bear spray at my waist, which my new coworkers insisted I carry.  I read the trailhead sign again, and glance around the deserted parking lot.  I am alone.
Hiking alone is not recommended.
The guidebook says Avalanche Lake and the Trail of the Cedars are the most popular trail in Glacier National Park, so where is everyone?  It seems really late in the morning to me, like there should already be a ton of people here by now.  Why am I the only one here? 

Alone, I walk up the trail through the ancient grove of cedar and hemlock.  Massive trees block the early sunlight.  It’s incredibly quiet.  I keep thinking of the cautions of the locals I’ve talked to, their grizzly stories have my imagination running wild.  Are there really grizzlies lurking behind every tree?  Glancing around, back over my shoulder, my voice sounds strange as I shout “hey bear, hey bear” into the shadows. 
Big trees.
I should feel safe in this forest, it smells safe, my gut says safe.  I've hiked 1500 miles on the PCT, much of it solo, aren't I a tough hiker?!?  But I am conflicted.  I’ve encountered dozens of black bears while backpacking solo in California (including Yosemite) and in Georgia and North Carolina. I though I’d gotten over my fears of bears.  But apparently these grizzlies are a totally different thing, or so I’ve been told.  Aren’t they?  They require bear spray and constant vigilance and don’t go hiking solo or else.  Is that true?  Or is this like when I moved to Georgia after that murder of the young woman at Blood Mountain and everyone told me not to hike solo, and it took me a good year to realize I just had to ignore that advice.  I discovered the joy of backpacking on my own.  I want to go backpacking here in Montana. I’m so antsy and feeling trapped just doing dayhikes.  I can’t find anyone with my same days off and I want to go alone but is that safe? I don’t know.

 Suddenly, there is something big, huge and brown rustling behind a tree…  OH NO!!!!
Scary wild beast.
Why am I so easily spooked out?!?!  I don’t know what to think.  I miss the safe feeling I find in the woods, miss feeling at home amid the towering trees.  I start to cry.  Fed up with myself, I turn around and trace my steps back to the trailhead.   Back at my car, I pace around, a trapped animal.   I’m driving myself crazy with this fear.  I look at the sign again.  Don’t hike alone.  I can’t tell if my fear is rational or irrational.  So I wait.

Finally, three cars arrive at the trailhead. They are going to Avalanche Lake!  I put on my pack and take off up the trail. Oh silly me.  I can do this.  It’s the most popular hike in the park.  I’ve got hikers behind me. 

I bound up the trail to the lake with confidence through the magical forest.  The forest is now all friendly.  Sunlight streams down.  It’s the opposite of scary.  No shadows here. 
Friendly forest.
There is still no one ahead of me when I arrive at the lake, I have it all to myself for a while.  Deep green water reflects the snow-covered peaks.  Glacier lilies shine brightly in the sun. 
Avalanche Lake.
I take off my shoes and dip my feet in the water and watch the ducks frolic and play.  I breathe it all in. 
I can feel myself being restored.
On the way back, I pass the group from the parking lot and they take my photo and say they will send it to me so I give them my card with my email address and they laugh that my name is “Hemlock.”  They all jokingly give themselves tree names too, and I laugh.  Silly trail names.  But hearing my old trail name reminds of those instant connections that I made on the PCT last year, of those deep friendships, of that amazing trail community that feels so far away. 
Thanks for sending me this photo of myself, K.P.
Further down the trail, there is a middle age guy carrying a fancy camera with a big lens and wearing shinny leather loafers like he just got out of a meeting.  He is a local, and tells me his favorite hikes in Montana, about must-see alpine lakes and waterfalls.
Along the Trail of the Cedars.
As we hike, I relax into friendly chatter.  I ohh and ahh at the trilliums and exclaim about how wonderfully furrowed the cottonwood bark is.  Somehow we end up hiking the whole way back together, go for another loop around the Trail of the Cedars (this time I can enjoy it cause I’m not scared), and then depart ways back at the trailhead. 
Trail of the Cedars.
Then, I start second guessing myself, like perhaps I talked way too much about where I work and live like I didn’t just meet him 15 minutes ago and sheesh I don’t need the internet to meet sketchy people because I can do it all in person.  But what is sketchy anyway?  Am I a good judge of character when I don’t have the protective trail community around me like I did on the PCT to keep me safe?  I don’t know.  My judgement feels out of equilibrium.

On the drive home, I start to cry. I miss feeling safe in the woods.  I miss feeling comfortable about my place on the food chain, and not being scared of bears.  I miss my hiking buddies, my friends scattered around the country and I miss everyone I’ve ever loved.  I miss laughing so hard my belly aches.  Because I don’t know anyone yet who I can belly-laugh with here.  Yet.  But maybe it’s getting closer, yesterday hiking with someone I could bushwhack with, that was close.

Patience.  Making friends takes patience.  Getting comfortable hiking in grizzly territory takes patience.  I know I’ll get there before I know it.

More information about these hikes in Glacier National Park, Montana:
Avalanche Lake
Trail of the Cedars

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Great Bear Wilderness Hikes

After all the warnings about grizzly bears, I am delighted when an internet friend puts me in touch with her sister in the next town over who is interested in going for a hike.  L. suggests Skiumah Lake in the Great Bear Wilderness of Montana.  It’s somewhere she has been reluctant to go to on her own due to possible grizzly bears.  See, I'm not the only one who is cautious!
Bears are even in the name.
I'm happy all we see are trillium on the Skiumah Creek Trail.
It’s always tricky finding compatible hiking buddies.  I am so relieved that L. seems to have a similar pace, and that she doesn’t seem to mind silence.  I forget how much I like being around other people who don’t talk nonstop.
Up the Skiumah Creek Trail.
As we climb higher, the trail disappears under snow.  Scanning up and down does not reveal any logcuts or obvious signs of trail. Should we try the dense vegetation or postholing through snow?  Turns out, we’ll get our share of both.
Honestly, I am laughing with delight to get lost in the dense undergrowth, to get swallowed up by forest.  To have a bit of adventure. To finally emerge at the shore of the lake!
Skiumah Lake.
Skiumah Lake is still partially frozen over.  On this overcast day, with clouds hanging low over the tops of the mountains, the clouds and snow a blur of white where does snow end and sky begin.

Why is the lake so low? Why are the banks so tangled with logs?  And where does the trail come out?  We find no answers.

It is still early when we arrive back at the trailhead.  So we head up to the Stanton Lake Trail (#146) which is not much further up the road.  However, the forest around Stanton Lake is a whole nother world.  Smaller denser trees but more open understory.  A much bigger lake with more yellow of glacier lilies.
Stanton Lake.
Every forest has subtle, and not so subtle, differences.  I try to figure out what factors of elevation, slope, exposure, maybe fire history explain the variation in plant distributions.  Back in the southeast, I could anticipate where to find various plants.  Here, there are so many new surprises.

I’ve only been here a short time, but already I am longing to stay here. I want to walk these trails over and over and watch them change.  I think I will find answers to some of my questions here.

More information on these hikes in the Great Bear Wilderness of Montana:
Skiumah Lake Trail #204
Stanton Lake Trail #146

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Arriving at Glacier

At my first glimpse of the high mountain peaks surrounding Lake McDonald, my heart skips a beat and I feel the flood of emotion wash over me.  I am finally here!  Glacier National Park!  A long-time dream finally becoming a reality.  That sense of things falling into place.  That solid feeling of knowing that you are exactly where you need to be.  
My first view of Lake McDonald.
I’ve felt the tug of Glacier National Park since early in grad school.  I remember watching a program on PBS about the lodges that were build by the CCC (back when I used to watch TV-that tells you how long ago it was!).  The rugged landscapes, the wildflowers, the glacier carved valleys and alpine lakes— all of this called to me.  I’d even booked a trip out here, researched trails, got backcountry permits and everything, and had to cancel for reasons I can’t recall. 

But now I’m out here for the summer.  You might say the stars finally aligned.  Or you could say that I’m working my way through my bucket list, that I am methodically making my dreams a reality.   I did that exercise where you imagine you won a the lottery:  what would you do if you could do anything right now, had absolutely no financial constraints?  Then, realize that you really can do anything (well, you know… especially if you don’t have kids), that you can make it happen if you really want and it’s that important.  So I am here in Montana.  Life is short.  The glaciers are melting.

The roads are deserted, the parking lot at Lake McDonald Lodge (which is closed still) has only one other car.  How can this be Glacier?  Where are the crowds of people?  Apparently they are not early birds. 

As I am getting ready, a couple arrives at trailhead and we strike up a conversation.  I luck out and they are extremely knowledgeable hikers who offer advice on trails, answer my questions about grizzly bears ("Carry Bear Spray."), snow conditions (they’ve hiked this the previous week, and tell me to pack microspikes), AND it turns out they are botanists (they have a native plant nursery)!  I guess I should no longer be surprised when I meet EXACTLY who I most want to run into, who I most need— seems to happen a lot out here.  (Though I’m still reluctant to call this fate.  I don’t believe in that.  Nope.  I just smile and enjoy the coincidences that life throws at me.)
Red cedars.
Anyway, the couple offers to hike with me.  I am treated to an hour crash course in Montana botany.  I breath sighs of relief at the familiar plants whose cousins are on the east coast.  Rattlesnake orchid, indian pipe, pipsissewa, round leaved violet.  I take notes as quickly as I can on all the new plants.  What a delightful introduction to Glacier—meeting wonderful people and being introduced to the  natural history of the area!
After the couple and I part ways (they take another trail), I start to climb into deeper snow.  I put on my microspikes and continue on alone all the way to Snyder Lake.  It feels like wilderness, even though I know I am on a “popular” trail because there are few footprints, and no people. 
Climbing to Snyder Lake.
Majestic peaks rising around me, the deep snow, the crunch of microspikes on ice, the eery sound of streams beneath icebridges.  Then the ice covered lake, tree wells, wondering if I should be here by myself.
Snow drifts.
I assess my skill level and the terrain. I’ve crossed the snow of the High Sierra, taken a snow skills course and avalanche awareness in Colorado.  But, NO I don’t know the snow in these mountains, and probably would be smarter to be with someone else.  But I love the solitude.  I love having this place to myself.  I continue on.
I could get around this ice bridge OK.
Snyder Lake is full of ice, surrounded by huge peaks.  I try to skirt the edge.  I turn around when I hear the ominous deep sound of snow shifting underfoot.  No, I should NOT go further around the lake.  I backtrack, heart pounding.  It’s not a long hike, but it makes me feel alive and fills my heart with joy.
Snyder Lake.
How incredible to be alone in the snow, to be in Montana, after dreaming of this place for so long.  It feels beyond words.  Still not quite comprehending that I will be here in Montana all summer.  It's going to be so different from last year when I spend my summer on the PCT, but yet... I am still living the dream.
This is how deep the snow is.
For more information about the Snyder Lake Trail:  see this website

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Arizona Trail Gear

My Arizona Trail gear was similar to what I used on the Pacific Crest Trail last year.  To avoid redundancy, I will only describe my favorite gear for the Arizona Trail and the specific aspects of my clothing system that were well suited for this trip.  Otherwise, just refer to this post on my hammock gear and this post on everything else.

Here is a spreadsheet of my Arizona Trail gear.

Environmental conditions on the Arizona Trail
Temperatures varied substantially over the course of a day and with elevation.  I know it's hard to imagine, but it dropped below freezing several nights (the northbounders we passed said it got into the 20s for them). We woke up with frost-covered tarps a couple times.  Other nights stayed warmer.  I’d often hike for the first hour in my down puffy coat and gloves, with long underwear bottoms or rainpants.  At higher elevations, I’d keep my puffy handy to wear when we stopped at rest breaks.  Do not underestimate how cold it will be on the Arizona Trail!
Wearing all of our warm clothes while hiking during cold mornings. Photo by Jan.
Daytime temperatures swung wildly- from the 30s to the 80s, but we lucked out an it can got much hotter for the hikers that left a few weeks after us.  The sun and heat were intense. Because I am fair-skinned, burn easily, and have a family history of skin cancer, I cover up in loose clothing, carried a sun umbrella, and applied frequent and copious amounts of sunscreen.
Staying covered up and using my umbrella hands-free.  Photo by Jan.
Spines and nasty, sharp, overgrown brush on the trail were a huge factor in clothing choices.  Abrasion-resistant fabrics helped (but didn’t totally prevent) skin from getting scratched and slashed up.
Overgrown trail.
Biting and stinging insects were not much of a problem.  Though I admit I’m a person who is not normally bothered by insects.  Had a few gnats swarming around a couple days, but not enough to put on a headnet.  No mosquitoes.  Lots of bees but I only got one sting and it was because I went near a pothole where water was scarce and I figure the bee was just defending a rare water source.

Rain was more frequent than I’d expected— rained several days in the afternoon, and two nights we got a soaking rain.  This was an unusually wet spring.  Condensation soaked us a few nights when we camped down low.

Personal style
I am a lightweight backpacker with a baseweight of 12 pounds.  I carry a hammock because it allows me to sleep soundly, but I do NOT recommend a hammock on the AZT (see my article here).  I carry a lot of insulation because I get cold easily.

Favorite gear items for the Arizona Trail: Umbrella, Comb, Tweezers, and Sunscreen

Umbrella: Chrome Dome (8 oz)  (see my post for how to rig the umbrella on your pack)

Hands down my favorite piece of gear on the Arizona Trail was my umbrella.  The sun out there is fierce, intense, and relentless.  The umbrella kept me significantly cooler and allowed me to hike during the heat of the day without passing out from heat exhaustion.  At rest breaks, it provided shade when none was available.
Rest break under the shade of umbrellas.
Umbrellas also provided us countless hours of entertainment and/or protected us from mountain lions and other dangers.  The umbrella also kept us dry in the rain.  Who knew it rained in Arizona!?!?  I can’t imagine hiking the Arizona Trail without an umbrella.
I thought Arizona would be sunny all the time.  So, what is this wet stuff falling from the sky?
Comb (plastic, from the hiker box) and tweezers (from my Swiss Army Knife, classic)
A comb removed cactus spines more easily than tweezers, but both were essential on the Arizona Trail.  Jumping cholla and burrs could be brushed off immediately with the comb before they’d work themselves in further.  Using your fingers for spine removal hurt too much--don't even think about it these spines have barbs.   When you’ve got a cholla sticking out of your skin, you want it off RIGHT NOW.  I kept my comb in the hipbelt pocket of my pack for easy and quick access. 
Removing a jumping cholla with my pink comb.
Tweezers extracted problematic spines that would embed in your skin. They also removing a bee sting from my cheek. 

Sunscreen: 3 oz bottle of Neutrogena Ultra sheer dry-touch SPF 70
I tend to be fairly thrifty, but I’ve learned not to skimp when it comes to sunscreen.  This type has a non-offensive odor and goes on thick but doesn’t feel gross.  I carry the 3 oz bottle because I need to apply it every two hours in copious amounts so I don’t burn to a crisp, even under my umbrella and hat.  Do not underestimate the Arizona sun.
If you are fair skinned like me, just suck it up and carry the 3 ounce bottle.
Clothes System

Hiking shirt: Railriders adventure shirt (6.5 oz)
Loved this shirt!  Great abrasion resistance for the brushy, thorny parts of the trail.  It prevented my arms from getting slashed up.  Provided great sun protection, side vents were good for cooling, roomy cut felt comfortable and breezy.  My major complaint with this shirt is that the sleeves are too short.

Hiking skirt: DIY skirt (4.5 oz)
A skirt worked really well for me.  Skirts are cooler, so prevent problems with heat rash.  I also love the versatility of being able to take off or put on long underwear/ rainpants over or under my skirt.  It also makes it very easy to go pee standing up.

Gaiters: DIY tall gaiters (3 oz)
These tall gaiters that I sewed myself were ESSENTIAL for protection from spines and nasty brush.  I can not emphasize how overgrown some parts of the trail were, and how many prickery, pokey plants are out there waiting to attack your flesh.  Having tall gaiters to protect my lower legs allowed me to wear a skirt, which together with the gaiters is a versatile system.  This combination was cool in the heat, and then in the cold I would wear my long underwear under the tall gaiters. 

Fleece Hoodie: Melanzana Micro grid  (9 oz)               
I love the warmth and coziness of sleeping in my fleece hoodie.  The material feels great against my dirty, sweat-encrusted skin.  The front pouch keeps my hands warm.   Some people might get away with sleeping in just long underwear, but I sleep cold so prefer to sleep in my fleece layer.

Long underwear bottoms: Patagonia capilene 4 (5.5 oz)
Wore these every night and hiked in them the first hour or so in the cold. 

Down coat: Montbell UL (7 oz)

Went with my lighter-weight down coat this trip and that worked well.  Wore this for hiking the first hour every day, and used it at rest breaks at higher elevations.  My down coat is an essential part of my sleep system because I use it as a hood with my top quilt.

Down booties: Goosefeet socks (2.8 oz)

Love my down booties!  Keep my feet from freezing at night.  I no longer question the extravagance.  These are an essential part of getting a good nights sleep.

Down hat: Black Rock Down (1 oz)
OK so maybe this was excessive.  But I wore it most nights and mornings, and it sure felt good to not be freezing cold.  This hat provides lots of warmth for just an ounce.  Love the band, and it stays on when I sleep.

Gloves: Surplus Wool Liner Gloves (1.5 oz)
Wore these while packing up and hiking the first hour.

Sun hat: Sunday afternoons sport hat (2.5 oz)

It was sometimes too windy for the umbrella, so the wide-bimmed hat was essential for sun protection..  This one has excellent coverage and ventilation.  The chin strap held the hat on in strong wind.

Sun wristies: DIY fingerless (1 oz)
Essential for sun protection.  Protected my hands from spines, abrasion, and windburn too.

Sunglasses: Oakley Juliet  (1.8 oz)
Wrap around, good quality sunglasses were also essential.  Also helped for wind, dust, and bug protection.

Raincoat and Rainpants: Zpacks Cuben jacket and pants  
Just right for the few times it rained.  Plus wore for extra warmth and while doing laundry.
Raincoat, rainpants, and umbrella--because it does rain on the Arizona Trail.
Trail Shoes: Keen Voyagers and Altra Lone Peaks
I prefer low-cut trail shoes that are highly breathable and NOT gortex.  But I have major problems with finding shoes that fit my huge feet (they are so big I have to wear men’s shoes) and my bunions.

I love/hate both of these shoes.  The keens give me blisters on my pinky toes when I carry more than 5 L of water.  I got a stress fracture last summer while wearing the altras with microspikes, and while I thought my stress fracture had healed completely (hadn’t felt anything in 6 months), wearing the altras again started to aggravate the old stress fracture injury two weeks before I started this hike. 

On the Arizona Trail, I started with the keens but got annoyed with how hot they felt and with my pinky toe blisters.  So after 100 miles I picked up the altras and carried TWO pair of shoes, and alternated during the course of each day.  It felt ridiculous carrying two shoes, but this was the healthiest option because I’ve struggled so much with my feet.
Shoe frustration.
Carrying two shoes for a little while allowed my blisters to heal and my feet felt great in the altras, but I hoped that wearing them only part of the time would not put too much stress on my feet.  Unfortunately, my stress fracture site started feeling weird after a few days of wearing the Altras-  not painful, but I could feel it.  It was so frustrating because the altras feel awesome otherwise and give me no other problems, but I was not gonna mess with that stress fracture.  So for the last 100 miles I wore only the keens.  Since I was carrying less water and doing low miles, I had no foot problems.

For future hikes, I dream of finding trail shoes that give me neither blisters nor stress fractures, and that don’t hurt my bunions.  Is this too much to ask? If anyone has suggestions for me, please comment below...

That's it for the gear talk.  As I said, my hammock gear was reviewed in another post, this post is on everything else, and I talk more about my water system for the Arizona Trail here.  Let me know if you have any questions or comments!

Disclaimer: I am a Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador, and I got the Mariposa pack from them for free.  All other gear was purchased by me.