Monday, December 16, 2013

PCT training: More rain

I’ve been working on my cold, wet-weather backpacking skills.  On this weekend’s solo backpacking trip, I set up camp purposefully in one of the coldest, wettest, windiest spots.  My goal was to test my tarp and sleeping system- I’ve been testing combinations of quilts, footpads/torsopads, and sleeping clothes in anticipation of my Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) hike next year.  The weather forecast showed it would be raining and drop into the 40’s, with high winds towards morning.  On top of a mountain, I was hoping it would get even colder.
Setting out into the rain.
First there was fog
I was looking for a challenge and that’s certainly what I got!  It had been raining and cold all day, and by the time I set up, a thick fog rolled in and left a layer of droplets UNDER my tarp.  I considered packing up and moving to another location down the hillside to avoid the weather, but I’m stubborn and wanted to stay keep practicing until I am confident I can handle adverse conditions.  I readjusted my tarp, formulated a "plan B" in case things got worse, and crawled into my hammock for the long dark night ahead.

After waiting and waiting to see if I would get warm (it always takes a while for the quilts to warm up), I wondered why I was taking such risks.   “What the &*^%$ I’m doing out here?!?”  I texted my friend, and she replied “You are living life to the fullest!”  Ah ha!  It was true- I was uncomfortable, but at least I was out there pushing myself, doing what I felt I needed to do to prepare for my PCT adventure.  Yes, this was living!

Finally, I warmed up enough to realize I would not turn into an icicle during the night.  I drifted off to the pleasant patter of rain on the tarp.  Happy that I had managed just fine! 

Next came the wind
About 5 AM, the next challenge came in the form of high wind gusts.  Normally, I do NOT camp in the wind- I’m skilled at choosing campsites that are sheltered.  I’d been curious though about my guyline/ stake system- and reading online accounts on hammock forums only gets me so far.  I’m the type of person that never fully understands something without trying it out for myself.  While I anticipate avoid camping in wind while on the PCT, I also want to have experience under a variety of conditions.  

The wind gusts ripped a few of my tarp stakes out of the ground.   I saw which stakes held and which pulled out (I was testing several types of stakes).  I was also pleased that I had oriented the tarp properly, confirming I anticipated the wind direction by looking at the topography.

While packing up in the morning, I found my bear canister had ice on the lid, requiring some extra fiddling to get it open.  Perhaps next time I could put a plastic bag over the bear canister if there may be ice.  Guess it really did get as cold as I thought up on that mountain.  Which is of course why I've always been smart enough to avoid such places.
Making a silly bear impersonation as I open my icy bear canister.
Some thoughts:

On this trip, I made things much more difficult on myself.  One of my friends is always telling me that I create extra stress for myself and am overly self-critical.  She’s right of course. But at least I have drive and focus when I set my mind to something- hopefully that will serve me well on the PCT.

At home when I’m in front of my computer reading things about the PCT, I study articles that talk about the completion rate- only 40% of people who set out on a thru hike actually make it to Canada.  I examine why they left the trail, and try to figure out how I can be one of those 40%.  I wonder if I am using my preparation time wisely, and if I am prioritizing the right things.  Should I spend more time on my gear list?  Should I read more trail journals?  When it comes down to it, what I end up doing to prepare is what I always fall back on- I head out up to the mountains.  I go out backpacking.
(Edit: this training hike took place on the Bartram Trail in Georgia, out and back from Warwoman Dell.)


  1. I doubt you will encounter a lot of rain before Washington, but it is good to be comfortable in it. is that a golite umbrella? I'm about to test one out.

  2. I'm anticipating the rain in Washington. Yes, it's a golite. Let me know what you think of the umbrella.

  3. I still think that the mental is what gets most people or the poor funding. You are already far ahead of the game.

    I hadn't heard about hiking with umbrellas until we were far into the AT and someone who had hiked the PCT came through. I still haven't hiked with one in the rain on the trail yet.

  4. I think you are absolutely right about it being mostly mental (well, and $ too that makes sense). Do people train/ prepare for the “mental” aspects of thru hiking? Only things I can think of setting goals, thinking of why I want to do this, and then use techniques I have learned to help prepare for trapeze shows like visualization. Maybe try listening to my friends who keep telling me they believe in me and think I can make it. Oh and stopping saying I’m gonna “attempt” the PCT. :) Any other ideas?

    Re. umbrellas- they're great if you don't have a narrow trail. I keep ending up getting stuck on blowdowns but still think they are worth it.

  5. Rambling,
    Good advice. Thank you for making a test run under adverse conditions. Nothing like the real thing.
    I'm on my 10th year of section hiking the PCT at mile 2188. I had rain twice(for the first time!) on this years section.
    First at night where the tent bottom leaked a little bit under my air mattress. Hard to orient the tarp tent (with a bottom) properly to avoid a low point.
    Second was the last day. I pulled out my raingear under a tree and proceeded to turn my body into a sweat lodge :). I guess raingear is helpful if you're not moving. I think I was drier outside. It's all a tricky business. I do think the most important thing is to keep the sleeping bag dry.
    I'm in San Diego. 45 minutes from the trail-head. Now you have a ride from the airport and support for next years hike. I'd love to help.
    Dana Law "Magician"

  6. Just curious, what are you planning as a shelter system for the desert portion of the trail where a hammock will not work?

  7. Good to see more hikers in Zero Drop footwear. I will be following your adventure. Good stuff.

  8. I'm curious about your hammock setup too. I have a HH Hyperlite, with an OES tarp, and a 20F setup with a HG UQ and a EE TQ. Are you planning to go to ground the first bit of the PCT or will you prove the naysayers wrong and hang the whole way?! :) Inquiring minds want to know!

  9. Dana- Rain only twice in over 2000 miles- WOW! Here in Georgia, we’ve had one of the wettest years in a long time. It is tricky to find the right balance with rain gear. Haha yes a sweat lodge that’s so true sometimes. Thanks so much for the offer of support— how wonderful!

    Gerry- Ha I was wondering if anyone would ask this question! I’m actually planning to take my hammock. :) I understand that there are tree-less sections, but I am doing my homework so I can find possible hang sites, getting advice from other hammock hangers, and I am bringing gear that allows me to “go-to-ground” including ground sheet and pad (that does double-duty as leg insulation in my hammock), and I can set up my tarp using my poles.

    Jake- I’ve really enjoyed trying out zero drop shoes- they are still very new to me, but they’ve exceeded my expectations so far. Your website has actually been a source of information and inspiration to try minimalist footware- thanks for stopping by!

    Heather- Ohhh you’ve got a super hammock setup! I’m bringing a hammock even in So. Cal. I’ll go to ground if I need to, but it is my intention to hang the whole way. There are actually four of us hammock hangers intending to set out on the PCT next year- there is a thread about it over on Hammock Forums. One of these days I’ll pull together the planning and gear info I’ve gathered for a post on the topic, but I’m still sorting through it, and obviously testing my setup(s).

  10. the hammock didnt work for me, last time i tried. it felt like sleeping in a narrow basket with my head and feet poking out the top. im lean and athletic but could never touch my toes, and my body just doesnt wanna bend that way

  11. Sean- Hammocks certainly don't work for some people, but nice that you gave it a try. :) That sounds quite uncomfortable though! I've found huge variability in comfort due to fit of different types of hammocks- sort of like trying on different shoes. Guess that's why there are so many different styles.

  12. You have some really wise friends. :)

  13. Hey there, gadawggirl1! Yep, I sure know how to surround myself with the smart people. Now I just gotta listen to you all. ;)

  14. How do you have your umbrella secured in that picture? I'm toying with ways of hands-free umbrella carrying.

  15. Great question, dipink! Been experimenting with various hand-free umbrella rigging. One really helpful tip is to use a couple inches of 1/2 inch foam pipe insulation around the shaft and secure a shock cord loop around the foam and attach the cord to the pack strap. Then loop another bit of shock cord to the bottom handle of the umbrella to a lower part of the strap. Tricky to find attachment points to avoid too much motion and get the right angle. It really depend on the pack and strap arrangements. I’ve also had success just tucking the handle of the umbrella through my chest strap, because that made it easier to adjust the angle when wind directions changed frequently.

    What worked for me was going out on a rainy day with a bunch of shockcord loops and foam, and just trying different things. I also needed to switch sides throughout the day, otherwise one shoulder would get sore- I had trouble not hunching my shoulders at first too.